Other letters…

… from our July issue (including whole section in PDF).

EU referendum – what’s the question?

One’s first reaction may be ‘not again’ but it has been reported that minds are now turning to what the question should be, for the forthcoming referendum across the UK. Prime Minister Cameron is said to have suggested that one wording might be ‘Should the UK remain a member of the EU?’.

There are claims that elements other than the purely political can affect voting behaviour. Thus the taller of two (presidential) candidates has a very slightly better chance of being elected. A name at the top of a list has a slightly better chance of receiving votes than one at the bottom, and though the ‘bias is trivial if…the choice… [is]…between two men or two parties’, where the contest is close it may be better not to ignore this. Psychologists might also reflect on whether an option to say ‘yes’ may gain wider approval than would be given to a wording looking for rejection of the proposition ‘Should the UK cease its membership of the EU?’. This matter should be discussed in a perspective of what any available studies (which are replete with engaging mathematical contentions) on wording of propositions may have indicated.

My initial suggestion would be to have two sentences on the voting paper: one would be : ‘Should the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland remain a member of the EU?’; and the other ‘Should the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland cease its membership of the EU?’. Voters would be asked to place an X alongside which of these two options they prefer (rather than an X alongside the chosen one of two printed options for Cameron’s single question with either a Yes or a No).

The research evidence is of only very slight differences connected with apparently cosmetic options – but they may turn out important in a heated contest and should if possible be avoided.
J.M. Wober
London NW3


Explaining the educational imbalance

So the tutors on the Newcastle Educational Psychology course are worried that only white females are applying to train to become EPs (Letters, May 2015) and wonder why. There are, I suggest, two main reasons.

First, there would appear to be an imbalance in terms of gender and race when young people are choosing their first degree. It is well known that psychology undergraduates are overwhelmingly white and female.

The second reason concerns funding. Under present funding arrangements young people usually in their mid-twenties are expected to train to become EPs on a salary of under £15,000. If at this age you are settling down in a relationship and looking for a home or even planning to start a family, such remuneration is clearly insufficient. There is also an issue of loss of pension rights for those in training. Despite societal changes in attitude, males are still perceived as the main earners, especially those that are fathers, and clearly you can’t bring up a family on £15,000.

There may be changes in funding arrangements that would make it more attractive for males to join EP training courses, but how to attract more males to study psychology in the first place is beyond me.

Jeremy Swinson
Educational Psychologist
Formby, Liverpool


Who teaches the teachers?

The introduction to Silvester and Wyatt’s article on developing political leaders (May 2015) quotes Robert Louis Stevenson’s comments that politics is the ‘only profession for which no preparation is deemed necessary’. I am not sure how Stevenson enjoyed his studies at the University of Edinburgh, but I suspect his teachers there had no preparation whatsoever for their pedagogical duties, other than perhaps the didactic models of their own lecturers.

Since the establishment of education development centres and induction courses for new academics, the situation is perhaps somewhat better today, but I would contend that university teaching is still largely an amateur affair. This is especially ironic since universities maintain a stranglehold on the preparation and credentialing almost every profession, from accountancy to veterinary medicine. And it is doubly paradoxical in the case of psychology, given that the great bulk of research on effective teaching practices has been done by psychologists, and we now know a good deal how our teaching and assessment approaches affect student learning outcomes.

More’s the pity then that a good deal of teaching in psychology fails to reflect what the evidence tells us about effective learning. To cite just the two most obvious examples, the lecture still predominates in many departments, and assessment often relies far too much on inauthentic formal examinations. Psychology has come a long way in adopting principles of evidence-based professional practice. What a shame we have yet to achieve the same standards when it comes to our teaching.

Christopher Knapper PhD, FBPsS
Professor Emeritus of Psychology
Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario


Changing behaviours

Sue Gerrard (Letters, June 2015) makes some useful comments on the behaviour change briefings reported in the BPS Annual Report for 2014. However, her view that the focus of the briefings by the Society’s Behaviour Change Advisory Group is almost entirely on individual behaviour is perhaps slightly overstated.

The briefing on physical (in)activity presents an ecological model of the determinants of physical activity, which includes interpersonal, environmental, regional or national policy, and global influences. Inhibiting the marketing of credit to younger people, a measure recommended by the briefing on personal debt, targets the government and financial institutions rather than individuals directly. Similarly, encouraging manufacturers to make TVs without a stand-by facility (energy conservation briefing) is not an individual behaviour change intervention.

The remit for the behaviour change briefings specifies that they should show what psychology has to offer and that they should be evidence-based. While we agree with the correspondent that policy making is about changing complex systems as well as individual behaviour, lack of evidence precludes making useful recommendations about how to bring about complex change.

Stephen Sutton
On behalf of the Behaviour Change
Advisory Group

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