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psychologist vol 24 no 1
Psychology at the end of the world Ron Roberts examines mind and behaviour in the Antarctic
Incorporating Psychologist Appointments ÂŁ5 or free to members of The British Psychological Society
forum 2 big picture centre careers 58 looking back 72
survival psychology 26 and 30 movement difficulties in children 34 interview with SeĂĄn Haldane 38 the problem with rumination 70
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Associate Editors Articles Vaughan Bell, Kate Cavanagh, Harriet Gross, Marc Jones, Rebecca Knibb, Charlie Lewis, Wendy Morgan, Tom Stafford, Miles Thomas, Monica Whitty, Jill Wilkinson, Barry Winter Conferences Sarah Haywood International Nigel Foreman, Asifa Majid Interviews Nigel Hunt, Lance Workman History of Psychology Julie Perks
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psychologist vol 24 no 1
letters Measuring well-being; sexuality; military families; tuition fees; and more
news and digest 12 feeling the future or ‘pathological science’; measuring well-being; awards and event reports; and the smell of anxiety and more nuggets from the Digest media health in the forces, and parliamentary communication, with Mark Sergeant
Psychology at the end of the world Ron Roberts examines mind and behaviour in the Antarctic 22
Survival psychology: the won’t to live John Leach looks at why people perish unnecessarily, and the role of cognition
Survival – mind and brain Sarita Robinson and Nikola Bridges on the psychology and physiology behind staying alive
Movement difficulties in children Elisabeth Hill and Anna Barnett examine the case of Developmental Coordination Disorder
Fragments of the past Jon Sutton talks to clinical neuropsychologist and poet Seán Haldane
book reviews 40 detention and release of mentally disordered patients, the environment, policy making and personnel selection society resolutions in the President’s column; Lifetime Achievement Awards; International Congress of Coaching Psychology; and more
THE ISSUE Antarctica: as Ron Roberts writes on p.23, a place where ‘the transcendent coexists with the tragic, a juxtaposition of beauty and threatening natural power’. The transcendent and tragic, beauty and peril, are all themes that pervade this first issue of 2011. First off, let me introduce you to a new feature of The Psychologist. You may have noticed that I am a fan of words, but we do throw an awful lot of them at you and I felt it was time to show how psychology, psychologists and The Psychologist itself can be visually striking. I hope that ‘Big picture’ (centre spread) becomes an eagerly anticipated part of The Psychologist. The ‘history of experimental psychology’ poster we gave away with the last issue was well received, and it would be great if this new series of pull-outs built on that success and adorned walls across the land. As always, we need the support of our community – if your own work lends itself to an interesting image, do get in touch. Secondly, if you had any doubts as to the importance of psychology, several contributions to this issue show how it can literally be a matter of life and death. Dr Jon Sutton (Managing Editor)
careers and psychologist appointments
Working in Norway; working in Australia; featured employer – the Royal Navy; and all the latest jobs new voices
the problem with rumination, by Matthew Coxon, in the third of our series for budding writers looking back
recollection, testimony and lying in early childhood: a century-old text revisited by James T. Lamiell one on one
…with Jon Driver
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‘Smelling’ others’ anxiety increases risk taking When people are anxious they release a chemical signal that’s detectable on a subconscious level by those close to them. That’s the implication of a new study that collected sweat from people as they completed a high-rope obstacle course, and then tested the effect of that sweat on study participants as they played a gambling game. Katrin Haegler’s team placed the sweat samples inside odourless tea bags which were attached with an elastic band to the underside of the gambling participants’ noses. For comparison, the participants were also exposed to sweat collected from non-anxious riders of an exercise bike. When exposed to the anxious sweat, the participants took longer to decide over, but were more likely to bet on, the highestrisk scenarios – wagering that the next playing card in a pair would be higher than a 9 (where 10 was as high as the cards went) or lower than a 2 (where 1 was the lowest). In other words, the detection of another person’s anxiety made them more willing to take risks. Quite why this should be remains unclear. However, the idea that humans can detect the anxiety of others via chemical signals is not In the November issue of new. For example, a 2009 Neuropsychologia, researchers study showed that sweat found that participants exposed to collected from an anxious ‘anxious sweat’ appeared more person, compared with from willing to take risks an exerciser, triggered extra activity in a range of emotionrelated brain areas. The participants in the present study rated the anxietylaced sweat and anxiety-free sweat as equally unpleasant and intense, suggesting, consistent with past research, that they couldn’t consciously tell the difference between the two. So the effect of anxiety-laced sweat on risk-taking seems to have been a non-conscious influence. ‘Although it is not fully understood if perception of emotional chemical signals in humans may have the ability to alert conspecifics about possible danger [as happens with some animals],’ the researchers said, ‘our findings suggest that anxiety in humans can be communicated through chemical senses.’
Queen Bees and sexist workplaces In the British Journal of Social Psychology ‘Queen Bee’ is a term used in business psychology to refer to women in senior positions who boast about their own masculine attributes, whilst derogating their female subordinates and endorsing sexist stereotypes. According to articles in the popular press (e.g. tinyurl.com/27soorj), the presence of Queen Bees is as much a cause of gender inequality at work as is the sexism shown by men. A new article by Belle Derks and her colleagues challenges this claim, arguing instead that sexist workplaces are a breeding ground for Queen Bees – that the latter are a consequence, not a cause, of sexism at work. Derks’ team surveyed 94 women holding senior positions in several Dutch organisations (in the Netherlands, women make up only 7 per cent of the boards of the largest 100 companies and on average earn 6.5 per cent lower pay than men). The central finding was that those women who showed all the hallmarks of a Queen Bee tended to recall having suffered more sexism and prejudice in their own careers and, moreover, tended to report feeling less identification with other women when they started their careers. According to Derks and her colleagues, when women join a sexist workplace, they have two options – they can either bolster their ties to other women or they can distance themselves from their feminine identity. The new findings are consistent with the idea that women who have a weaker feminine identity in
the first place are more likely to go for the second option. Derks' central point is that it's the sexist culture that forces women to make this choice and start on the path to becoming a Queen Bee. In common with much psychological research, this study suffers from the serious weakness of being crosssectional in design. This means that rather than a sexist culture causing women to reject their feminine identity and become a Queen Bee, the effect could work backwards such that being a Queen Bee somehow makes you more likely to recall being the victim of sexism. However, the researchers argue this is unlikely – if anything they think established Queen Bees would be likely to downplay the presence of gender discrimination. The new results have important implications for organisations seeking to reduce sexism. Simply appointing a few token female senior managers in a sexist culture is likely to backfire as this will dispose them to becoming Queen Bees, thus worsening the situation for their female subordinates. Instead greater emphasis should be placed on reducing sexist beliefs and practices in the organisation. ‘In companies that ensure that women can achieve career success without having to forgo their gender identification,’ the researchers said, ‘women in senior positions are more likely to become inspiring role models who have positive attitudes about the potential of their female subordinates.’
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The knowledge of the unfamiliar
The whole truth and nothing but the truth
In the December issue of the Journal of Environmental Psychology
In the November issue of Behavioral Sciences and the Law
London taxi drivers undertake years of intense training to gain their operating licence, learning the layout of over 25,000 of the city’s streets. But does ‘the Knowledge’ generalise to skilled way-finding in new situations? The answer is far from obvious given that previous research using ‘table-top’ tests of visuospatial memory have actually found taxi drivers to perform worse than controls, almost as if their London expertise comes at a cost. Katherine Woollett and Eleanor Maguire had 20 male London taxi drivers and 18 IQmatched male controls (London residents) watch four repeats of a five-minute video of two unfamiliar routes through a town in Ireland. All participants then completed several tests of their knowledge of the new routes. The two groups were equally good at saying which route, if any, photos of buildings and other scenes came from, and making judgements about the relative proximity between landmarks; but taxi drivers were substantially better at navigating new routes within and across the two areas, and were superior at sketching out the routes with a pencil and paper. ‘Taxi drivers undergo years of training… Similarly in their job, day in day out, they are required to plan and execute routes,’ the researchers said. 'Clearly these general attentional, learning and memory mechanisms are finelytuned and readily called upon when they are required to learn a new town.’
However, it wasn’t all good news for the cab drivers. A second investigation tested their ability to learn unfamiliar routes (taken from Bath and featuring similar architecture) that were integrated into familiar areas of London. At this task, the taxi drivers struggled compared with their performance when learning entirely new routes. Woollett and Maguire speculated that in this case the drivers’ expertise was getting in the way of learning the new routes: ‘When presented with new information to learn that is similar to their existing knowledge, their poorer performance may reflect expert inflexibility and an inability to inhibit access to existing (and now competing) memory representations.’ This finding tallies with the real-life experiences of taxi drivers. For example, several of them reported struggling a few years ago to incorporate new layouts around the Canary Wharf district into their existing knowledge.
It may sound twee, but a North American study claims that merely asking children and teenagers to promise to tell the truth can be surprisingly effective. Angela Evans and Kang Lee had just over 100 8- to 16-yearolds complete a trivia test, which unbeknown to the youngsters featured two impossible questions. The participants were promised a $10 reward if they got all 10 answers right and told to refrain from peeking at the answers located on the inside of the testing booklet. For 54 per cent of the sample, the temptation proved too great and hidden cameras caught them peeking. When interviewed, 84 per cent of the peekers lied and said they hadn’t peeked. Next they answered some questions about their understanding of truth and lying and the morality of dishonesty. Finally, all the participants were asked to promise to tell the truth in answer to the next question. This was a repeat of the
question about whether they'd peeked at the answers. This time just 65 per cent lied. Of course this doesn’t show that the promise to tell the truth was the active ingredient in reducing lying – perhaps it was the discussion about morality or merely the act of being asked the same question twice. A second experiment with another 41 youths was identical to the first except the bit about promising to tell the truth was omitted. Eighty-two per cent of peekers lied when first asked if they’d peeked. When asked again after the morality questions, 79 per cent still lied. The lying youngsters in the first experiment who were asked to promise to tell the truth were eight times as likely to switch from lying to truth-telling than were those in the second. ‘When conducting forensic interviews with child and adolescent witnesses, police officers, social workers, and lawyers could use the honesty-promoting technique of promising to tell the truth,' the researchers said.
The material in this section is taken from the Society’s Research Digest blog at www.researchdigest.org.uk/blog, and is written by its editor Dr Christian Jarrett. Visit the blog for full coverage including references and links, additional current reports, an archive, comment and more.
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Psychology at the end of the world Ron Roberts examines mind and behaviour in the Antarctic Great God! This is an awful place. Robert Falcon Scott
Psychological research in Antarctica addresses a number of key issues that are important to understanding how people (as individuals and groups) function in isolated and extreme environments: the selection of appropriate personnel to work/live there; the processes of adaptation to the conditions; and the psychological consequences (both beneficial and detrimental) of prolonged residence there. The importance of these issues underpins the exploits of the earliest explorers and continues in present-day attempts to utilise the Antarctic environment as an analogue for deep space missions.
In memories we were rich. We had pierced the veneer of outside things… grown bigger in the bigness of the whole. We had seen God in his splendour, heard the text that nature renders. We had touched the soul of man. Ernest Shackleton
Is prolonged living and working in Antarctica beneficial for mental health?
Palinkas, L.A. & Suedfeld, P. (2008). Psychological effects of polar expeditions. The Lancet, 371, 9607, 153–163. www.antarctica.ac.uk/about_antarctica/ index.php www.bigdeadplace.com/about.html
Bell, P.A., Greene, T., Fisher, J. & Baum, A.S. (2001). Environmental psychology. Hove: Psychology Press. Cherry-Garrard, A. (2003). The worse journey in the world. London: Pimlico. (Original work published 1922) Droseltis, O. & Vignoles, V.L. (2009). Toward an integrative model of place identification: Dimensionality and predictors of intra-personal level place preferences. Journal of
that fateful adventure with a mournful recognition of the importance of ‘polar psychology’, claiming that on the white continent fundamental questions of value arose – ‘what is worth what?’ He reflected upon the ‘unique factors’ of the Antarctic environment ‘…especially the complete isolation’ (Cherry-Garrard, 1922/2003, p.595), which today remains at the heart of what drives behavioural science at the end of the world. The pertinence of psychological adaptation to Antarctic exploration, however, had been apparent even before Scott’s travails. During De Gerlache’s 1898/99 expedition aboard the Belgica, the first ship to winter in the Antarctic, the ensuing stresses led to widespread psychological disturbance amongst the crew. ‘Mentally, the outlook was that of a madhouse’ wrote the ship’s doctor (cited in Huntford, 1999, p.53). However, for one of those aboard – Roald Amundsen – it provided a formative learning experience on the importance of man-management, a lesson which was not lost throughout his later quest for the South Pole. The context and importance of
t may be considered something of an irony that the place on earth that has arguably presented human beings with the greatest of physical and psychological challenges has attracted so little attention from psychologists – the keepers of the science that seeks to comprehend what Shackleton (1919/1999, p.226) described as ‘the soul of man’. But it is equally fair to say that the relevance and importance of psychology in the ‘South’ has not been altogether ignored either. Cherry-Garrard, a member of Scott’s 1912 expedition concluded his Ron Roberts in the Antarctic own account of
Environmental Psychology, 30, 23–34. Fogg, G.E. (1992). A history of Antarctic science. New York: Cambridge University Press. Huntford, R. (1999). The last place on earth. New York: The Modern Library. Kaiser, H. (Producer) & Herzog, W. (Director) (2008). Encounters at the end of the world [Motion picture]. USA: THINKFilm.
Liu, J.H. & Hilton, D.J. (2005). How the past weighs on the present: Social representations of history and their role in identity politics. British Journal of Social Psychology, 44, 537–556. Lugg, D. (2005). Behavioral health in Antarctica. Aviation Space and Environmental Medicine, 76(6 Suppl.), B89–93. Moscovici, S. & Duveen, G. (Eds.) (2000). Social representations: Explorations in
social psychology. Cambridge: Polity. Palinkas, L.A. (n.d.). On the ice: Individual and group adaptation in Antarctica. Unpublished manuscript. Palinkas, L.A., Glogower, F., Dembert, M. et al. (2004). Incidence of psychiatric disorders after extended residence in Antarctica. International Journal of Circumpolar Health, 63(2), 157–168. Palinkas, L.A. & Houseal, M. (2000). Stages of change in mood and
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understanding men and women in extreme climes has undoubtedly changed. Beyond the personal diaries of polar travellers, early attempts to discuss the psychological issues pertinent to polar exploration did little more than recognise the spiritual impact of the environment on human thought or else recount the commonsense strains and irritations resulting from the intense nature of the work, blending this with discussions of the dreams of Antarctic travellers (Fogg, 1992). Since the advent of the International Geophysical Year (1957–1958) and the attendant growth in Antarctic work stations, concerns have been more pragmatic – how to identify those best suited to working there. Precipitated by the mental breakdown of an individual at one station and interpersonal meltdown due to poor leadership at another, US stations set the ball rolling with extensive use of attitude and personality tests. While much of the psychological research conducted in Antarctica has been characterised by the (necessarily) small sample sizes and attendant restricted statistical power (Taylor, 1987), an analysis of over 1000 people who had wintered led to the conclusion that three factors were critical to effective performance in the Antarctic. Subsequently replicated in a number of studies, these factors have been described as ability (competence), stability (mental health) and compatibility (social skills) (Suedfeld, 1991). In personnel selection, viewed by many as constituting the core of Antarctic polar psychology, quantitative methods have been favoured (though interviews, self-reports and projective test have also been employed) and together have set the tone for much of the behavioural science research conducted by nations with a presence in the Antarctic. For example Rosnet et al. (2000) related ‘good’ cognitive and psychomotor performance in a group of male French Antarctic staff to low scores on extraversion and assertiveness, whilst Peri et al. (2000), working with an Italian team, linked successful Antarctic performance to resistance to stress as well
behaviour during a winter in Antarctica. Environment and Behavior, 32(1), 128–141. Palinkas, L.A., Johnson, J.C., Boster, J.S. et al. (2004). Cross-cultural differences in psychosocial adaptation to isolated and confined environments. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, 75(11), 973–980. Palinkas, L.A. & Suedfeld, P. (2008).
Transcendent and tragic In Antarctica the transcendent coexists with the tragic, a juxtaposition of beauty and threatening natural power that gives rise to and simultaneously reflects a unique social construction of place. It is as if the sociocultural ‘memory’ of the Antarctic, constructed through literature, photography, personal diaries, national myth, raw experience, historical monuments and personal imagination – born in the heroic age of Shackleton’s endurance, Amundsen’s triumph and Scott’s demise – continues to shape how it is experienced. For some it may afford a respite from the ills we have beset upon the world and offer an alternative vision of an unspoilt existence, whilst for others it may seem altogether less welcoming, but for both parties a reaction is shaped from the interplay of public (social) representations (Moscovici & Duveen, 2000) of place and the ‘emotional
geography’ and personal history of the self. Representations of Antarctica have arguably come to comprise what Liu and Hilton (2005) describe as a charter – a founding representational myth that ascribes to it a set of characteristics that govern its historical mission. More usually, historical incidents of warfare are privileged in the events that shape the myths of identity and nation bonded to land. In the case of Antarctica it is arguably the absence of these from its history (though death certainly plays its part) and the lack of national ownership that form key elements in its construction, setting it uniquely apart from the rest of the earth in realms other than its climate and terrain. It is these that have helped shape its future as a natural reserve devoted by international agreement to peace and science and protected therein from territorial claims or military
as emotional stability. Given the predilection for empiricism in British philosophical thought, however, it is of interest that the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) continue to eschew the use of psychometric tests and psychiatric screening in favour of a formal application and personal interview for determining suitability. Nowadays the importance of Antarctica as a milieu for human habitation derives from its status as a prototypical extreme
Psychological effects of polar expeditions. The Lancet, 371, 9607, 153–163. Palinkas, L.A., Suedfeld, P. & Steel, G.D. (1995). Psychological functioning among members of a small polar expedition. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, 66, 943–950. Peri, A., Scarlata, C. & Barbarito, M. (2000). Preliminary studies on the
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and industrial misadventure. The classic Antarctic literature of the age of exploration not only forms the backdrop to our contemporary social constructions, it also opens a window on our recent cognitive history, reflecting to us the desires and hopes of the ‘professional dreamers’ (Kaiser & Herzog, 2008) of the past through the mirrors of culture, class, gender, and national and imperial aspiration. The subjugation of personal achievement, want and ambition to the mores of the nation – so evident in the writings of the early explorers (see for example Huntford, 1999; Scott, 2006) – tells us much, if we care to listen, about the reins on our current psychological make-up. ‘The past’, as American writer Greil Marcus once remarked is not just ‘another country’. It lives and breathes in the present, as do its architects, and from it we form the bridge to the future.
and unusual environment, important in scientific research because it could serve as an analogue for off-planet journeys and settlements (Suedfeld & Weiss, 2000). It has been said that it is ‘as close to Mars as we can get’ (Wheeler 1999, p.61). In fact, Vostok – the Russian base in East Antarctica where the lowest temperature on the planet has been recorded (–89.2C) – was formerly used as a behavioural test bed for the Soviet Salyut space programme. The first International
psychological adjustment in the Italian Antarctic summer campaigns. Environment and Behaviour, 22(1), 72–83. Pettigrew, T.F. & Tropp, L.R. (2006). A meta-analytic test of intergroup contact theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90, 751–783. Rivolier, J., Goldsmith, R., Lugg, D.J. & Taylor, A.J.W. (1988). Man in the Antarctic: The scientific work of the
International Biomedical Expedition to the Antarctic (IBEA). London: Taylor & Francis. Rosnet, E., Le Scanff, C. & Sagal, M-S. (2000). How self image and personality influence performance in an isolated environment. Environment and Behavior, 32(1), 18–31. Scott, R.F. (2006). Journals: Captain Scott’s last expedition. Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics.
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Biomedical Expedition to the Antarctic (Rivolier et al., 1988) – where a multinational team of 12 travelled for 10 weeks across the polar plateau conducting investigations in physiology, biochemistry, microbiology, immunology, epidemiology and psychology – has had lasting influence as a potential simulation of human adaptation in an off-world environment. Besides the physical aspects of the Antarctic terrain and the parallels between the length of the austral winter and the duration of deep space missions, the human aspects of Antarctic life that render this comparison meaningful are numerous; ‘physical danger, a hostile climate, dependence on external supplies, isolation, enforced small-group togetherness, restricted mobility and social contact, and the disruption of normal recreational and professional activities’ (Suedfeld, 1991, p.653). From these issues stem further problems – communication with home, potential medical emergencies and equipment breakdowns, not to mention isolation from normal family life, social and sexual relationships. ‘Both sexually and socially the polar explorer must make up his mind to be starved’ wrote CherryGarrard (1922, p.596), and investigation of the former has almost constituted a taboo (Huntford, 1999). With the above catalogue of physical and psychological challenges it is important to understand not just the nature of the people who are likely to endure these better but to ascertain what the processes of adaptation to them are. Researchers have identified a ‘winter-over syndrome’ including insomnia, depressed mood, irritability, reduced physical and cognitive tempo, social withdrawal, and fugue-like states (the 20-foot stare in the 10-foot room, referred to as the Antarctic stare), as well as psychosomatic symptoms. Many of these responses are consequences of disrupted circadian rhythms whilst some can be considered reasonable adaptations to an environment lacking in stimulation and demanding prolonged exposure to constant darkness (Suedfeld & Weiss, 2000). Only rarely do these
Shackleton, E. (1999). South: The Endurance expedition. Harmondsworth: Penguin. (Original work published 1919) Steel, G.D. (2000). Polar bonds: Environmental relationships in the polar regions. Environment and Behavior, 32(6), 796–816. Suedfeld, P. (1991). Polar psychology: An overview. Environment and Behavior, 23(6), 653–665.
and subsyndromal seasonal affective disorder. The emphasis on individual adaptability and biomedical analysis, however, has not precluded a social perspective. Not surprisingly interpersonal relationships are seen as a critical factor in polar wintering (Palinkas et al., 1995), and the social environment may in fact exert a stronger influence on coping and psychological well-being than the unique physical environment. The nature of leadership, conformity to group norms – which may assume added importance in an isolated and confined environment – and the effects of social comparison in groups whose composition may vary along lines of social class, occupation or gender are all important determiners of how ‘Antarcticans’ function in their social milieu (Palinkas & Suedfeld, 2008). Then there is the question of the role of culture in moderating or mediating how groups function. Investigating this question, Palinkas, Johnson and colleagues (2004) administered the Profile of Mood States along with various indices of structural and functional social support to 13 winter-over crews from five nations. They found New Zealand Department of Scientific changes in different and Industrial Research. Bulletin no. mood states occurred at 244. SIPC, Wellington. different stations (those Wheeler, S. (1999). Terra incognita. New with an individualistic York: The Modern Library. Wood, J., Hysong, S.J., Lugg, D. & Harm, cultural orientation D.L. (2000). Is it really so bad? A tended to exhibit both comparison of positive and negative low social support and experiences in Antarctic Winter low negative mood) and Stations. Environment and Behavior, that the relationship 32(1), 84–110. between mood and
reactions reach levels that warrant clinical intervention however, with the prevalence of psychiatric disorders at Antarctic research stations estimated at around 5 per cent (Lugg, 2005; Palinkas, Glogower et al., 2004) with mood and sleep disorders being the more commonly cited complaints (Palinkas & Suedfeld, 2008). Though this rate is not high it should be remembered that the people manifesting these problems belong to an already highly screened population. It has been suggested (Palinkas & Houseal, 2000) that adaptation to the prolonged isolation and confinement may occur over a number of stages and can be related to Selye’s notion of a general adaptation syndrome. More recently Palinkas and Suedfeld (2008) argued that the seasonal occurrence of symptoms in fact suggests the existence of three overlapping syndromes: the winter-over syndrome described above, the polar T3 syndrome (a cyclic pattern of mood strongly resembling seasonal variation in serum thyrotropin-stimulating hormone concentrations seen at the polar regions),
Suedfeld, P. (1998). What can abnormal environments tell us about normal people? Polar stations as natural psychology laboratories. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 18, 95–102. Suedfeld, P. & Weiss, K. (2000). Antarctica: Natural laboratory and space analogue for psychological research. Environment and Behavior, 32(1), 7–17. Taylor, A.J.W. (1987). Antarctic psychology.
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social support varied with national group. This demonstration of different patterns of psychosocial adaptation in workers from different countries is of relevance not only for planning collaborative work in the polar regions but also for determining the composition and functioning of multinational crews for potential longduration missions in space. Much of the psychological work in the south, then, has focused on what can go wrong and to whom. But it has not escaped the attention of observers past and present that profound positive changes may also occur: that the continent ‘has also melted frozen hearts’ (Wheeler, 1999, xviii). Shackleton’s remarks that opened this piece are testament to the ‘cosmic perspective ’ that the Antarctic seems to stimulate – reflections on the beauty, spiritual significance and grandness of nature – issues, though relatively neglected in the research literature, to be found in abundance in the diaries, interviews and personal accounts of numerous Antarctic travellers. Despite the attention given to negative reactions the evidence base in fact indicates that positive reactions are more common (Wood et al., 2000), which broadly speaking may relate either to situational characteristics or having successfully surmounted the challenges posed by the environment (Palinkas & Suedfeld, 2008). Woods and colleagues comment that the relatively high percentage of returning Australian winterers (25 per cent) would suggest that the experiences are sufficiently gratifying to warrant a return visit to what is a harsh environment, a view endorsed by Steel (2000) in his investigation of positive place attachment to the polar regions. In their own research they found the most frequent positive experiences were related to field trips, a feeling that life is good, communications with outside, and feelings of awe engendered by the environment. Not surprisingly given the predominance of positive affective reactions to the Antarctic environment, a number of studies report high levels of emotional adjustment – which in combination with successful coping strategies, whether honed in the challenging Antarctic environment or brought there from home, may translate into longer-term emotional and physical
well-being (Palinkas et al., 1995) and more successful careers (Palinkas & Suedfeld, 2008) in an example of postreturn growth.
Social identity In matters of psychology, beyond the realm of personality, adaptation, social interaction, social support, leadership and cognitive history, there remains in Antarctica the issue of identity. The Antarctic landscape has to some appeared to offer freedom from ‘cultural moorings’ (Wheeler, 1999, p.68), being ‘intact, complete and larger than my imagination could grasp…sufficient unto itself untainted by the inevitable tragedy of the human condition’ (p.99). Yet it may well be that the strength of an Antarctic identity is what sets apart those who adapt successfully and thrive there from those who do not. Antarctica, as a place where people live and work, albeit in small numbers, and potentially free from the shackles of national territorial bonds, offers a natural laboratory from within which psychologists could understand not just the nature and dynamics of the bonds that develop between person and place or people and place, but also how these relate to the development of identity – both its personal and social/cultural dimensions. The study of the psychological relationships between people and place is still in its infancy (Bell et al., 2001; Droseltis & Vignoles, 2009), and while Palinkas (n.d.) notes that Antarctica’s lack of indigenous inhabitants has meant that it has never attracted serious attention from anthropologists, the people who inhabit Antarctica are worthy of serious study if for no other reason than that their identity is rooted in cultural practice and experience rather than biological essence. The study of identity in Antarctica may have important ramifications for how we think about social identity itself, that it is not necessarily related to social comparison
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or grounded in conflicted relationships. There are as well additional reasons for such an interest. Currently psychological studies of Antarctic personnel are situated within the working group on Human Biology and Medicine – a reflection of a preoccupation with work performance in an extreme environment. This, however, has its limitations. As indicated, Antarctica is considered a prototypical environment for deep-space missions. If ever humans do venture into the cosmos, then they will invariably, and of necessity, develop their own off-world cultures and identities. The processes of understanding such identity formation and what issues will ensue from it can begin now. The practical significance of this may well pertain to current projects as well as to future work undertaken in isolated and extreme environments. There is certainly evidence that social rifts or microcultures may emerge in Antarctic work teams along the lines of existing social identities (based around nationality, occupational role and gender, for example (Palinkas, n.d.). The question of how significant these are or might be over prolonged periods of contact in an extreme environment is unknown. Intergroup contact theory (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2006) would, however, suggest that engaging people of equal status in prolonged, cooperative and supported activity of high importance can overcome existing social divisions. Thus, current evidence of social tensions in Antarctic work teams and the presence of national microcultures does not preclude the emergence of an overarching Antarctic group identity.
The worst way to have best time Cherry-Garrard considered an Antarctic expedition ‘the worst way to have the best time of your life’. Hopefully this brief review has also shown that travelling, working and living in the polar environment, where many of the usual parameters that control psychological processes are attenuated or stripped away, may offer deep insights into the human condition, revealing the inner man or woman (Suedfeld, 1998). Nowadays of course, getting to the Antarctic is less arduous and more fun than it once was, and ‘being there’ even better. Ron Roberts is Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Kingston University firstname.lastname@example.org
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Fragments of the past Jon Sutton talks to clinical neuropsychologist and poet Seán Haldane
ou have said ‘I now think poetry Y has more capacity to change people than psychotherapy’. Lack of faith in
psychotherapy, or faith in poetry? I was thinking of my own experience of psychotherapy. I had started off as a poet and publisher but wanted not only to record the world around me but to change it for the better. I went through a training analysis in Canada with a Lacanian who had turned Reichian, then through Reichian training in the US with a former trainee of Wilhelm Reich’s. This involved work on body movement and emotions as well as the mind, and behind it was the agenda of changing people so that they could then change society. All very radical and 1970s. After practising as a psychotherapist in private practice along these lines for some years I became disillusioned and emotionally drained. I couldn’t change people, and hadn’t changed very much myself either. I completed more training and became a proper clinical psychologist and learned to do the more modest therapies we do now. In publicly funded health services, including the NHS, we no longer think of changing people or society. Our goals are time-limited, negotiated, to an extent measurable, and focused on practical outcomes. And when I think of changes in myself, I don’t think of therapy but of spontaneous experiences. Some of the most intense spontaneous experiences for me are in writing or reading poems. They change my mind. I have certainly lost faith in psychotherapy in its grandiose aim of changing people, and regained my faith in poetry’s capacity to change minds and therefore people. But I still have faith in psychotherapy at its best, which is when I would define it as realistic. You were in the running for the Oxford Professor of Poetry position. In the run up to the election, you told me: ‘I still hope the crossover appeal of explaining the phenomenon of poetry, though not individual poems,
scientifically will come through.’ Can you explain? As poetry becomes more and more associated with school-work and academic study it is becoming more and more seen as a conscious artefact – a work of verbal art, a sort of word picture written on a whim or at will or for a creative writing course. But over thousands of years and in many societies it has been considered mysterious and magical – something out of human control that occurs in moments of inspiration or trance. It is a distinct phenomenon. Quite a few people have experienced it occasionally, and some people who may eventually be called poets experience it more often. It is a voice talking inside one’s head – it spontaneously utters, in a rhythmic or musical way, a message which is out of one’s control. Almost like psychosis? But heard as one’s own voice. When it first happened to me at the age of 17 I thought I was mad though. Or more precisely, I wondered – since I’d had a minor head injury a couple of years before which had left me with occasional ‘Jacksonian march’ minor seizures – whether my poems were due to brain damage. I gave a paper in my school literary society on ‘mad poets’. (One of them was John Clare, the early 19thcentury ‘peasant’ poet who ended up in a lunatic asylum. He is usually considered to have been bipolar, but I wrote a recent essay about him in which I propose he was suffering from neurosyphilis). Then I was reassured by reading essays by Robert Graves on his experience of inspiration that whatever inspiration was I wasn’t mad. Has working as a neuropsychologist for the last 20 years helped you to understand inspiration better? I understand something of how neuroscience can explain it. In the 1960s a Princeton psychologist Julian Jaynes in
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind explained poetry in terms of the right hemisphere of the brain speaking to the left: the ‘voice’ from the right is perceived by the left as ‘other’. At the time this theory was considered rather wacky. It was inconsistent with the prevailing modular view of the hemispheres in which the left, not the right, dealt exclusively with language. But recently neuropsychology has caught up with Jaynes’s intuition. Elkhonon Goldberg, for instance, in The Executive Brain, tips his hat to Jaynes when proposing that the right hemisphere processes new experience which is passed through a gradient to the left to be stored. Jaak Panksepp in Affective Neuroscience discusses what he calls the ‘chills’ – feeling shivers down the spine when moved by music or poetry – in terms of activation of the emotional operating circuit that mediates separation distress and longing. In other words, it’s becoming possible to explain the phenomenon of poetry as a voice in the head in neuroscientific terms. I intend to do some work and writing on this. I think people may find such explanations interesting. The ‘crossover’ is talking to literary audiences about science. But isn’t the business of the poet to talk in poetry, rather than about poetry? Yes, but since the Enlightenment, around 1800, poets, being part of intellectual tradition, have often felt the compulsion to explain what they are up to. Think of Goethe and Coleridge. You have also written that poems need to be worked over again and again, looking for the blurring of the truth
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that the poet might find hard to face. So that can change the author? Graves said that working over a poem was like doing an operation on one’s own brain. Since the experience of writing a poem is rather like taking dictation under extreme emotional stress, it can falter and contain errors. Revising the poem spots the errors and corrects them by making the utterance more clear. My friend the poet Martin Seymour-Smith, who had read widely in psychoanalysis, used to warn me that poems often told one what one did not want to hear. It’s tempting to change this and make the poem more acceptable to oneself and others. If one doggedly avoids changing the poem towards acceptability, one ends up facing what it really says. All this is like in psychotherapy where the therapist helps the client face him- or herself. So the poem can be psychotherapeutic for the poet, and by extension perhaps the reader who identifies with the poet. Which can lead to change. But I don’t mean by this that a poem should be consciously written or read as therapy. Poems are spontaneous. As the German poet Wilhelm Lehmann emphasised, poems originate (‘sie entstehen’). Didn’t Seymour-Smith write that your later poems express your sense of evil? Again it’s about facing oneself, including the evil in oneself. Evil is not a very politically correct concept, but we all have the capacity for it, and psychology can explain at least some of it. I recommend Barbara Oakley’s book Evil Genes. She is not a psychologist, but she summarises borderline and narcissistic personality very accurately. Tell me about how you write. In the foreword to your collection, you say ‘I don’t trust a poem unless it is written straight out in a state of something like shock’. Is your frame of mind at the time vital? The voice in the head is usually a
surprise. It doesn’t choose the convenient moment. I must confess that I once ‘wrote’ a short but intricate love poem (‘This and That’) towards the end of a rather dull psychotherapy session and went through the motions until the client left while concentrating on remembering the poem so that I could write it down. I’ve also had poems spring themselves on me in the middle of the experience they describe. Others may suddenly out of the blue describe something that occurred years ago. As Thomas Hardy advised a fellow poet, ‘Never go anywhere without a paper and pencil in your pocket.’ And has that voice stayed with you throughout your life, or does your passion for it wax and wane? I go for long periods without thinking about it, then it surprises me in the form of a new poem of my own or a sudden memory of a poem by someone else. Normally, though, my memory for poems is poor. I sometimes sit down and write a note about poetry or a poet, and I’ve written several essays on poets, cramming them in between long periods of NHS work. Poetry is not ever-present but it’s still the centre of my life. Your website describes you as ‘something of a human compass’ by ancestry – a quarter each English, German, Scottish and Irish. Has this affected either your psychological practice or your poetry? It has opened me to different ways of looking at things, to different varieties of English, and to other languages. I sometimes translate poems in other languages, and I enjoy working with patients in their own languages if I can. Robert Graves, a former Professor of Poetry at Oxford, wrote in 1968: ‘I like Sean’s poems: clean, accurate and no nonsense…they make sense, which is rare these days.’ Around the same time he called my dad, David Sutton, ‘the best young poet in England’. My dad says that far too much poetry now is manufactured stuff and there’s not much of the real article around. Would you agree? How has poetry changed over the years? Not much. There is a lot of manufactured poetry around, and there is a poetry industry, centred on universities and a few journals, which produces poems that are really acts of criticism – they are written self-consciously with the potentially critical reader in mind. So they end up very safe. Real poems are quite disturbing. Nevertheless people write them and, yes, they make sense – they are
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not clever-clever or wilfully obscure so that academics can have something to deconstruct. They may even be naive. The naive poems that people sometimes write under emotional pressure are often never published. In times of war, which quicken people’s emotions in general, these poems do often get published. An example is Marian Allen (1892–1953) who wrote very moving poems about her fiancé who died in the First World War, then wrote nothing more. The poems are now out of print and have fallen into obscurity now, but some of them are wonderful. You work in the NHS in east London, developing memory clinics. Do you share poems of yours such as ‘The Memory Tree’ with your colleagues and patients? How do they respond? No I don’t. My colleagues mostly know I write poems, but we don’t talk about them, and I don’t share them with patients. Poems are very personal. I share them with a very few friends and then they get published after a delay. I see echoes of William Blake in one of your early poems, ‘Ember Days’. I personally felt that writing about love felt uncomfortably adolescent as I grew… did you? I think that’s why so many young people stop writing poetry – meaning they stop listening to poetry’s voice – as they get older. It’s too embarrassing. And even more so if one has a family. I suspect a lot of bad poetry is a result of fudging personal emotion, or disguising the subjective as the objective. This used to be easier when people had a classical education – a poem about your love life or about wishing to murder someone could become a little piece about Mars and Venus or Hercules. Now there is less escape. The old Irish idea of the dán díreach – the direct poem – is difficult to maintain. I’m not very open, in general, about my private life, because some of it is out there in poems and I don’t want people to make the links. Psychologist Dean Simonton has assembled historiometric data to suggest that poets tend to peak in creativity around the age of 20, and then fade fast. Would you agree? Who are ‘poets’ in this study? I can think of almost no poets who wrote anything memorable before the age of 20. One was Charles Sorley who was killed at that age in the First World War and was writing literally under the gun: he wrote ‘When I see millions of the mouthless dead...’ At the other end of the spectrum, think of Thomas Hardy who wrote many of his most moving poems after the age of 80.
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Whilst research has focused upon rumination and psychopathologies, there are a number of effects on human memory that are worth observing. There are clear indications that rumination makes a difference to our long-term memories. In particular, rumination makes a clear difference to how we Matthew Coxon with the third in our series for budding writers remember things about our own lives. This occurs in at least two ways. If (see www.bps.org.uk/newvoices for more information) someone is both depressed and ruminating then, when recalling personal memories, they tend to focus on those events that are negative rather than those aybe I’m over-thinking it, but that are positive (Lyubomirsky et al., It has consistently been shown rumination sucks. If you are in 1998). Importantly, this doesn’t happen that depressive rumination is related to a bad mood already, why keep with depressed individuals who aren’t episodes of depression, and depressive thinking about why it happened and what symptoms. For example, self-reports of ruminating. This negative memory bias it means? Unfortunately, we may all do it is unlikely to help break the cycle of rumination are good predictors of the to an extent – some of us pathologically, repetitive negative thinking about beginning of a depressive episode, and some of us less so. In some cases, the negative events. sometimes how long it lasts (Nolenconsequences are negative for both our Furthermore, when remembering Hoeksema & Morrow, 1991). Even after mental health and our physical health. events from our lives generally we may the depressive episode has gone, Thankfully, research has shown there are focus upon specific single events or continuing rumination is a useful a number of ways in which some of these experiences (such as birthdays, tragedies, predictor of it occurring again at least outcomes can be avoided. or other unique events), or we may talk three months later (Kuehner & Weber, Let’s start with a definition. By and about more overgeneral memories. An 1999). Links have also been made large, rumination is considered to be overgeneral memory is when someone between depressive rumination and other a special style of thinking about things. recalls summaries of incidents that have problems, such as worry, neuroticism and Specifically, it is considered by some to happened many times over, rather than anxiety, to name but a few. However, these be a style of thinking about causes and more unique events from a particular relationships are more consistent, and consequences of one’s negative moods. time and place. Curiously, when asked to more robust, with depressive symptoms These moods are thought about in a way recall some specific instances from their than with any other psychopathological that is repetitive, focusing upon why they lives, people with depression who are problems. happened and what it all means. How made to ruminate will It is not clear often people ruminate, or how intense produce more exactly why we these ruminations are, may vary according ruminate, although overgeneral memories to the events in their lives yet the extent than similar people who there are strong to which you consider yourself to be a are not (Watkins, 2008). reasons for thinking ruminator tends to remain fairly constant As well as focusing on that it may simply be across time (Nolen-Hoeksema & Davis, negative content, people an unsuitable strategy 1999). Whilst some rumination could be with depression are adopted to try and viewed as positive, such as repetitively therefore remembering cope with these thinking about the causes of positive lifeevents in quite different emotions (Smith & affirming moods (Johnson et al., 2008), ways when ruminating. Alloy, 2009). research has generally focused on those Finally, people with Whatever the purpose, that are negative and repetitive. For these depression, who also the consequences of reasons, rumination is often referred to as ruminate, have frequent and intense depressive rumination. Indeed, it is this difficulties with some ruminations are Women who find a lump in their link between depression and rumination aspects of dealing with clearly negative, breast, and who ruminate, are that has captured the most attention over new information. For possibly leading to taking longer to seek medical help the past 20 years. example, a ruminator poorer mental health.
The problem with rumination
Aymanns, P., Filip, S.H. & Klauer, T. (1995). Family support and coping with cancer. British Journal of Social Psychology, 34, 107–124. Johnson, S.L., McKenzie, G. & McMurrich, S. (2008). Ruminative responses to negative and positive affect amongst students diagnosed with bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 32(5), 702–713.
Joormann, J. & Gotlib, I.H. (2008). Updating the contents of working memory in depression. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 117(1), 182–192. Kuehner, C. & Weber, I. (1999). Responses to depression in unipolar depressed patients. Psychological Medicine, 29, 1323–1333. Lyubomirsky, S., Caldwell, N.D. & NolenHoeksema, S. (1998). Effects of ruminative and distracting responses
to depressed mood on retrieval of autobiographical memories. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 166–177. Lyubomirsky, S., Kasri, F., Chang, O. & Chung, I. (2006). Ruminative response styles and delay of seeking diagnosis for breast cancer symptoms. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 25, 276–304. Lyubomirsky, S., Tucker, K.L., Caldwell,
N.D. & Berg, K. (1999). Why ruminators are poor problem solvers. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1041–1060. Ma, S.H. & Teasdale, J.D. (2004). Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for depression. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 72(1), 31–40. Nolen-Hoeksema, S. & Davis, C.G. (1999). ‘Thanks for sharing that’. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77,
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may find it difficult to forget or ignore information that they have seen recently, even when they are asked to. In a simple memory test, people were presented with two lists of emotional words but asked to ignore one of them. In later tests depressed individuals found it harder to forget this irrelevant information and this was strongly related to rumination (Joormann & Gotlib, 2008). Interestingly, this was found when the emotional words were negative, but not when the emotional words were positive. As with the recall of negative long-term memories, this suggests that depressive rumination may be related to biases in memory focused on negative information, at least in part. It is unclear whether rumination causes these biases or these biases cause rumination; however, it is clear that depressive ruminators may both remember things differently and process new information differently when compared to non-ruminators. But isn’t ruminating about causes and consequences just a good way of problem-solving? Not really, or at least not by these definitions. Interestingly, it is often believed by people who ruminate that it is a way to help solve their problems (Papageorgiou & Wells, 2001). However, when rumination is negative and focused on thoughts such as ‘why’ (rather than practical thoughts such as ‘how’) it may make someone a poorer problem-solver, not a better one (Watkins & Baracaia, 2002). Not only that, but ruminators are more likely to judge their problems as more difficult than nonruminators, and are more likely to believe that they may be unable to solve them (Lyubomirsky et al., 1999). This may lead to both lower satisfaction and less confidence in the solutions to problems, as well as less confidence in presenting them to others (Ward et al., 2003). A particularly worrying example has emerged from research on how ruminators respond to doubts or uncertainties about their physical health. It has been found that females who find
801–814. Nolen-Hoeksema, S. & Morrow, J. (1991). A prospective study of depression and posttraumatic stress symptoms after a natural disaster. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 61, 115–121. Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Wilco, B.E. & Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). Rethinking rumination. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(5), 400–424. Papageorgiou, C. & Wells, A. (2001).
a lump in their breast, and who ruminate, are taking longer to seek medical help than similar females who don’t ruminate (Lyubomirsky et al., 2006). Even once help has been sought, a tendency to ruminate may lead to less compliance with a treatment regime, at least with cancer patients (Aymanns et al., 1995). So, repeatedly thinking about the causes and consequences of negative moods really isn’t a good way to solve problems, and may stop people from seeking or maintaining medical help. When combined with psychpathological problems and memory biases, it is clear that rumination can be problematic. So what can be done? If someone is repeatedly thinking negatively about the causes and consequences of a negative mood, then there may be some solutions to assist in breaking this pattern of thinking. The first step is to work out what is not good advice. Friends and family of a ruminator may suggest that they simply ‘try not to think about it’. As helpful as it sounds, research has consistently shown that trying not to dwell on something tends to lead to more thoughts about it (Wenzlaff & Wegner, 2000). Thankfully, there are a number of other things that may be more effective than this. Let’s focus here on two: mindfulness training, and distraction. Changing how someone thinks about their thoughts may be the first step in the right direction. The main rule of mindfulness training (also known as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) is that the individual should not be trying to suppress their thoughts. Instead they should become more aware of their thoughts and feelings, but in a more controlled and more intentional way (Teasdale et al., 2000). This comes from the belief that negative ways of thinking may have become strongly associated with a depressed mood. It is believed that they may become so strongly related that the occurrence of a depressed mood may automatically intensify a repetitive, and negative, way of thinking. Research shows
Metacognitive beliefs about rumination in recurrent major depression. Cognitive and Behavioral Practice, 8, 160–164. Smith, J.M. & Alloy, L.B. (2009). A roadmap to rumination. Clinical Psychology Review, 29, 116–128. Teasdale, J.D., Segal, Z., Williams, J.M.G. et al. (2000). Prevention of relapse/recurrence in major depression by mindfulness-based
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that there may be therapeutic benefits, through mindfulness training, of being aware how a particular mood may be changing the way in which one thinks about it. Interestingly, this mindfulness training has been most effective when the individual has a history of several episodes of depression (Ma & Teasdale, 2004). But how about people not in this situation? Short-term distraction may also be a way to reduce ruminating and get things back on track. When it comes to distraction it is about quality rather than quantity: it may be most effective when people do things that they consider to be enjoyable, they feel completely absorbed in, and that they find uplifting (NolenHoeksema et al., 2008). Indeed, if people do activities that aren’t enjoyable, they aren’t absorbed in, and that they don’t find uplifting, it will be no surprise if their mind wanders back to the negative mood they wanted to avoid thinking about. Crucially, after distraction it is important that the person tries to solve any problems that need to be addressed, preferably in ways which focus on longterm practical solutions (NolenHoeksema et al., 2008). So rumination clearly sucks. It is associated with depression, worry, anxiety, neuroticism and other personal issues. It may also lead to biases in memory and problem solving. However, it isn’t all bad news – there are ways of avoiding these negative consequences. An awareness of the links between a person’s mood and their thoughts may help them respond in an intentional and controlled way. The problem with rumination is clear, but let’s not dwell on that. The solution? Well, we’re getting there.
cognitive therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 615–623. Ward, A., Lyubomirsky, S., Sousa, L. & Nolen-Hoeksema, S. (2003). Can’t quite commit. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 96–107. Watkins, E.R. (2008). Constructive and unconstructive repetitive thought. Psychological Bulletin, 134(2), 163–206. Watkins, E. & Baracaia, S. (2002). Rumination and social problem-
Matthew Coxon is a lecturer at York St John University email@example.com
solving in depression. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 40, 1179–1189. Watkins, E., Teasdale, J.D. & Williams, R.M. (2000). Decentering and distraction reduce overgeneral autobiographical memory in depression. Psychological Medicine, 30, 911–920. Wenzlaff, R.M. & Wegner, D.M. (2000). Thought suppression. Annual Review of Psychology, 51, 59–91.
Published on Dec 21, 2010
This is a sample from the January issue of The Psychologist, published by the British Psychological Society. To download the whole PDF or su...