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psychologist vol 24 no 7

july 2011

Is it not beautiful? Alex Forsythe and the late Noel Sheehy look to understand art through aesthetics and fractals

Incorporating Psychologist Appointments ÂŁ5 or free to members of The British Psychological Society

letters 474 news 482 careers 540 looking back 552

annual conference reports 490 how rudeness takes its toll 508 interview with Janice Haaken 512 new voices: dominant themes 550

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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 7

july 2011

letters 474 speaking out on Coalition cuts; new phrenology; and Kanazawa strikes again


news and digest 482 the future of undergraduate psychology; Royal Society fellows; gossip and vision; echolocation; and more, including nuggets from the Research Digest

This was to be the ‘Noel Sheehy issue’, welcoming him as incoming President in a variety of ways. Following his tragic and unexpected death in May we are still celebrating his life and work, just not in the circumstances any of us would have wished. Turn to p.504 for the article Noel wrote with his wife, Alex Forsythe, who requested that we continue with publication. And on p.520, you can read a tribute to Noel. Sadly, we will never have the pleasure of Noel’s President’s columns, which I am sure would have been packed with the kind of candid humour he displayed when I and others met him. He told me that the first one was to be on the topic of Kafka and the Board of Trustees; second, ‘Psychology, will it never end?’, with reference to Freud’s idea that the shelf-life of psychology would be determined by advances in biochemistry; third, Albert Camus: ‘Ne marche pas devant moi, je peux ne pas suivre. Ne marche pas derrière moi, je peux ne pas mener. La promenade près de moi et sois mon ami.’ I think Noel wanted members to ‘walk by the Society and be its friend’, and I hope that spirit lives on. Dr Jon Sutton

media Sinéad Rhodes on the risks of the media’s generic view of psychologists



Is it not beautiful? Alex Forsythe and Noel Sheehy look to aesthetics, fractals and more in order to understand art


490 508

Reports from the Annual Conference Phil Banyard, Uta Frith, Sarah Haywood, Fiona Jones, Christian Jarrett, Annette Karmiloff-Smith, David Lavallee, Elizabeth Loftus, Catherine Loveday, Neil Macrae and Jon Sutton give their memories of this year’s event in Glasgow


How rudeness take its toll Christine L. Porath and Amir Erez ask if incivility leads to a spiral of aggression


The school of hard knocks Catherine Campbell talks with Janice Haaken about the challenges facing the domestic violence movement


book reviews 516 rationality for mortals; adjusting to life after deployment; stories of recovery and hope; and more society



a tribute to Noel Sheehy; performance in psychology; honorary awards; work–life balance; response from Health Secretary; IQ at the Science Museum; and more

careers and psychologist appointments


Hilary Clarke, a health psychologist with the Queen Elizabeth’s Foundation, issues a rallying call for more health psychologists; and all the latest vacancies new voices


Christopher Watkins investigates the relationship between physical characteristics and dominance in our series on first-time Psychologist authors looking back


Tamsin Williams looks at Benoît Mandelbrot and the creation of fractal geometry one on one …with Ben (C) Fletcher

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Museum-goers often scoff that costly abstr expressionist paintings could have been m by a child; paintings by chimpanzees have been mistaken for professional art. Angelin Hawley-Dolan (Boston College) finds this intriguing. ‘People do not confuse stories by children with literature by established writers. Nor do they confuse scientific reasoning by children with that of establish scientists. Why, then, do people make such confusions when it comes to modern art? Either abstract art really is indistinguishab from the markings of the unskilled or thes confusions are more apparent than real.’ Working with Ellen Winner (Project Zer Harvard Graduate School of Education),

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abstract en made have ngelina this ries hed c ablished such art? ishable these al.’ t Zero, n),

Hawley-Dolan showed art and non-art students paired images, one by an abstract expressionist and one by a child or animal, and asked which they liked more and which they judged as better. ‘Participants preferred professional paintings and judged them as better than the non-professional paintings even when we reversed the labels – e.g. “artist”, “child” – on them. Art students preferred professional works more often than did non-art students, but the two groups’ judgements did not differ. Participants in both groups were more likely to justify their selections of professional than of non-professional works in terms of artists’ intentions. I think this shows that the world of

Seeing the mind behind the art Can you tell which of these pictures is the work of a child? If your work lends itself to a striking image, get in touch on abstract art is more accessible than people realise.’ And for those wondering, the painting on the left is by artist Hans Hoffman; on the right is the work of four-year-old Jack Pezanosky.


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The British Psychological Society President Vacant President Elect Dr Peter Banister Vice President Gerry Mulhern Honorary General Secretary Professor Pam Maras Honorary Treasurer Dr Richard Mallows Chair, Membership Standards Board Dr Peter Banister Chair, Psychology Education Board Professor Dorothy Miell Chair, Research Board Professor Judi Ellis Chair, Publications and Communications Board Dr Graham Powell Chair, Professional Practice Board Dr Carole Allan The Society has offices in Belfast, Cardiff, Glasgow and London, as well as the main office in Leicester. All enquiries should be addressed to the Leicester office (see inside front cover for address). The British Psychological Society was founded in 1901, and incorporated by Royal Charter in 1965. Its object is ‘to promote the advancement and diffusion of a knowledge of psychology pure and applied and especially to promote the efficiency and usefulness of Members of the Society by setting up a high standard of professional education and knowledge’. Extract from The Charter


Obituary Noel Sheehy 1955–2011 This was to be Noel Sheehy’s first column as Society President. Professor Antony J. Chapman (Vice-Chancellor, University of Wales Institute, Cardiff) pays tribute.


oel Sheehy was Professor of Psychology successful partnerships across disciplines, in Liverpool John Moores University across commercial and public health sectors, when he died tragically early, in May. and across EU member states. He had previously occupied chairs in Queen’s Noel was a ‘diplomatic idealist’, treating University Belfast and University College everyone with dignity and with respect for their Dublin, before which he held academic feelings. Nothing seemed to ruffle or fluster positions in the University of Leeds, Dublin him; he appeared to be calmness personified. City University, Cardiff He was affable and University and Ireland’s easy-going, never Institute of Economic and seen to lose Social Research Institute. patience or Noel was a prolific become irritable. researcher. With colleagues, Although he won over 50 major enormously grant/contracts; he produced energetic and several books and numerous productive, he articles; and he edited an had an outwardly international journal and serene demeanour. a book series. That said, he That was mixed was not a careerist in any with a can-do instrumental fashion. He attitude and was erudite and exceptional ability, fundamentally interested making Noel an in people and ideas and absolute pleasure in applying psychology. to work with and He addressed practical to be around. issues in an applicationsHe had a oriented, problem-focused strong desire to fashion. Primarily an please, and he applied social psychologist, avoided conflict. he became expert in areas of He hated Professor Noel Sheehy was due to take over interpersonal tension abnormal psychology, child as Society President in June development, forensic and would bend over psychology, public health backwards so as not to and philosophical cause the least offence psychology. He maintained that psychologists to anyone. He was a peace-maker and a rescuer. can release creativity in philosophers, logicians Everyone who knew Noel recognised that he and metaphysicians. He worked across was good to the core. He saw the goodness in disciplinary boundaries on a diverse range of others, and he was kind and considerate to all. topics including attitudes to death and dying; He helped whomever and whenever he could. suicide; perceptions of hazard and risk; He had no unkind word for anyone; he saw the accidents; social aspects of teleworking; best in everyone. children’s early-years learning, thinking in Tributes from former-students on the BPS classrooms, and thinking about systems; and website (see sentiment. professor-noel-sheehy) offer testimony to Noel By any standards Noel was gifted and having been a dedicated and inspirational talented, in terms of imagination, theoretical university teacher. He was approachable and reach and analytical ability, and also in terms positive, and he improved lives. He would give of integrating ideas from apparently disparate the fullest possible backing to those in need, he fields of study and then applying them to was loyal to the core, and utterly reliable. He people’s lives. He was an intellectual would deliver work to a high standard, on time, heavyweight. He was a terrific team-player and every time. team-leader, and a magnificent communicator, An especially endearing feature was his and he was adept at creating and maintaining wicked sense of mischief and comedy; but, even

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PERFORMANCE IN PSYCHOLOGY RESEARCH The UK’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), British Psychological Society, the Experimental Psychology Society and the Association of Heads of Psychology Departments agreed in 2009 to work in partnership to benchmark the quality and impact of research in the UK against international standards. In recognition of the breadth of the psychology discipline, the ESRC consulted with other research councils (BBSRC, EPSRC and MRC). A Steering Group, chaired by Professor Judi Ellis, and comprising prominent UK academics, research users and funders, was appointed to commission and oversee the review. The Group appointed an academically distinguished International Panel, chaired by Professor Max Coltheart (Macquarie University, Australia), to make an independent qualitative assessment of the UK’s performance in psychology research and to report on its findings. The report (available to download from was formally launched by the ESRC Chief Executive, Professor Paul Boyle, at a wine reception during the Society’s Annual Conference in Glasgow on 6 May 2011. The review used evidence from a variety of sources, including bibliometric analysis, statistical information on the UK discipline, a survey of non-academic users, submissions from Research Councils and UK psychology departments, as well as a series of meetings with a range of stakeholders from UK psychology. The main overall finding of the review is that the quality of UK psychology research is very high, bettered only by psychology research from the USA. In a substantial number of areas, UK psychology research is unsurpassed anywhere in the world. Many examples of research excellence have been identified in areas such as: animal learning and cognition, social psychology, clinical psychology and psychopathology, biological psychology, developmental psychology, and cognitive psychology. UK psychology research also has

a considerable impact on policy and practice. Examples of impact were identified in many psychology subdisciplines. Psychology in the UK continues to be an extremely popular university subject, at both undergraduate and postgraduate level. Research training is performing strongly, although concern is expressed regarding the lack of funding for postgraduate research training and postdoctoral research positions and the potential impact of this on UK-trained individuals securing academic appointments – with many HEIs showing an increasing trend to appoint non-UK trained academics. The report outlines a number of recommendations aimed primarily to eliminate threats that may potentially impact on the currently strong research reputation in UK psychology including monitoring awards to psychological research to confirm that no psychology subdiscipline falls between remits of research funders; undertaking further research to determine whether current PhD studentship support is adequate in psychology; the development of discipline-appropriate postgraduate research training for psychology PhD students, and considering an alternative PhD format (thesis written in the format of journal articles); and ensuring availability of postdoctoral training and the competitiveness of early-career psychology researchers in the UK. The report’s recommendations will be considered fully by ESRC and the other main research councils, with an Action Plan agreed and published later in the year that sets out how the findings will be taken forward.

so, there were no casualties from Noel’s knew how of himself, without asking for humour. He had an attractive, harmless anything in return. He gave generously of sense of fun, drawing mainly from the his time and ideas for those whom he idiosyncrasies and peculiarities to be thought he could help, and he was a great found in us all. There was a friend and ally twinkle in the eye as he constantly to many. With identified and promoted the funny Noel one was “He saw the goodness in side of things. He was never less safe revealing others, and he was kind than great company and easy to be one’s true self and considerate to all” with. Spirits were raised when and insecurities. Noel entered the scene. Getting to know Noel was the most grounded, Noel himself was self-effacing, unobtrusive and tolerant of more difficult, but he gave all that he could men. People were drawn to his personality, of himself to as many as he could, and he intellect, energy and boundless enriched the lives of very many. enthusiasm. He was never one to put Noel loved Psychology, in all its facets. himself first. He shared as much as he He was truly eclectic in his interests, and

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his knowledge was encyclopaedic. He had unlimited enthusiasm, and he could work phenomenally long hours. Dating back to his student days, he always had wisdom beyond his years, and he was admired by his contemporaries and colleagues and by the psychology community more generally. It was fitting, then, that he had been elected to be President of the British Psychological Society from June 2011. Notwithstanding his exceptional accomplishments as a psychologist, it was always his family, his friends and his individual students that came first for Noel. He leaves behind his wife Alex, son Daniel, and step-daughters Brittany and Francesca.



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Is it not beautiful? Alex Forsythe and Noel Sheehy look to aesthetics, fractals and more in order to understand art



Which provides a better explanation of beauty – biological or social processes?


Reber, R., Schwarz, N. & Winkielman, P. (2004). Processing fluency and aesthetic pleasure: Is beauty in the perceiver’s processing experience? Personality and Social Psychology Review, 8(4), 364–382. Lesmoir-Gordon, N., Rood, W. & Edney, R. (2009). Introducing fractals: A graphic guide. London: Icon Books.


Which can provide the deeper understanding of beauty: science or art? Can science advance our understanding of beauty? To what extent is there beauty in science? It is often said that psychology stands midway between the arts and sciences and as such is ideally placed to advance our understanding of beauty. Is there a scientific way to predict the experience of beauty and its opposite? What might exploring the science of hedonistic experience tell us about this conundrum?

Barthes, R. (1988). The death of the author. In D. Lodge (Ed.) Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader (p.166–172). London: Longman. (Original work published 1967) Bartlett, F.C. (1932). Remembering. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Berlyne, D.E. (1970). Novelty, complexity and hedonic value. Perception & Psychophysics, 8, 279–286.


Zeki (1999) considered that any theory of aesthetics will be incomplete without incorporating underlying neuropsychological processes. Art – in its conception, execution and appreciation – is largely a product of the ‘laws of the brain’. When we say that something pleases us, it is the same as saying that it pleases the brain. If we are to agree with this neuropsychological perspective, then it is important to disentangle the recursive relationship between beautiful art and brain function. Take da Vinci’s idea that ‘Of all colours those that are the most pleasing are the ones that constitute opponents’. What da Vinci described were excitation processes in colour processing: responses to one colour are antagonistic to those of another (red versus green, black versus white, yellow versus blue but not yellow versus white). Opponents show better colour consistency than their intermediates and there seems to be

mmanuel Kant argued that if we think something is beautiful then we expect most people to agree, but some will not: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Beauty has to do with pleasure to the senses, considered ‘unspeakable’: a beauty that needs no words, yet numerous writers have accumulated terms to describe the experience of beauty or lack of it. ‘Grace’, ‘daring’, ‘ugly’, ‘mournfulness’ and ‘beautiful’ are common aesthetic descriptives (McAllister, 1996). Is there a scientific way to predict the experience of beauty and its opposite? Alternatively, does reducing beauty to a ‘formula’ overlook its value, its appeal and the way in which it arouses emotions? This disconnect is eloquently described by Kemp’s (2009) report on the ‘bloody seminar’ that erupted at the Getty Research Institute in 2002, when Ramachandran and Zeki addressed an audience of art historians on the topic of art, aesthetics and brain function. A ‘discourteous dialogue of the deaf’ ensued. Most art historians now agree that Kant’s argument that ‘art exists in a definable aesthetic realm that serves no purpose beyond itself’ is no longer sustainable (Kemp, 2009). If beauty were beyond scrutiny, then how could we form an authority on what is Da Vinci’s Baptism of Christ uses antagonistic colours beautiful?

Birkhoff, G.D. (1932). Aesthetic measure. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Cupchik, G.C. (1992). From perception to production: A multilevel analysis of the aesthetic process. In G.C. Cupchik & J. Laszlo (Eds.) Emerging visions of the aesthetic process (pp.83–99). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Fechner, G.T. (1876). Vorschule der

Ästhetik. Leipzig: Breitkopf & Härtel. Festinger, L. (1957). A theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. Forsythe, A., Mulhern, G. & Sawey, M. (2008). Confounds in pictorial sets: The role of complexity and familiarity in basic-level picture processing, Behavior Research Methods, 40(1),116–129. Forsythe, A., Nadal, M., Sheehy N. et al.

(2011). Predicting beauty: Fractal dimension and visual complexity in art. British Journal of Psychology, 102, 49–70. Furnham, A. & Walker, J. (2001). Personality and judgements of abstract, pop art, and representational paintings. European Journal of Personality, 15, 57–72. Hagerhall C.M., Laike T., Taylor R.P. et al. (2008). Investigations of human EEG

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a universal preference for the colour blue. tensions between beauty and visual seem to be those in which there is But none of this helps us understand why complexity perhaps generate some degree uniformity amidst variety’. we like opponent colours. Recursive of arousal. Complexity arises in situations Berlyne’s theory has received mixed arguments are only support because it has poor predictive worthwhile if we have learned validity; it is not possible to determine the something when we come point of the cusp and until recently results back to the start of the circle! consistent with the Berlyne hypothesis We can, of course, move were limited by sample size (see Forsythe away from general ideas as the et al., 2011). Visual complexity measures entry point to understanding a tended to be biased (Forsythe et al., 2008); piece of beautiful art. Instead, complex images that were unfamiliar some ‘facts’ about particular tended to be reported as more complex pieces of art can be worked up than they physically are. Using towards a more general idea computational measures of visual about what a piece of art ‘is’. complexity and human judgements This is ‘experimental Forsythe et al. (2011) standardised some aesthetics’, and Fechner (1876, 800 artistic images for visual complexity and see The Psychologist, and beauty. When familiarity was December 2010) is often controlled for, the relationship between credited as the father of the beauty and visual complexity was much Humans seem to prefer moderately complex field. Aesthetics ‘from below’ more linear in nature. The preference peak environments, for example grassland with trees emerged from his study of two occurred much later than predicted by versions of the Madonna of Berlyne’s model. Burgomaster Meyer that were displayed where an increasing number of Over the past decade researchers have in the Dresden Museum. There was much independent variables begin interacting focused on understanding experiences of controversy over which painting was in unpredictable interdependent ways. beauty and preferences for the natural authentic, and Fechner asked viewers to In his study of beauty Berlyne (1970) environment across continents and compare the images and determine which suggested a curvilinear relationship cultures. The Kaplans (Kaplan & Kaplan, was the better or more valued. Few people between beauty and visual complexity. 1989) offer a complementary explanation responded to Fechner’s study, or if they did Generally measuring lines, curvature, to arousal theory by replacing arousal with they misinterpreted the instructions, but angles and edges, Berlyne argued that an information-processing approach. Based the work marked the beginnings of the complexity increases linearly with on an extension of Gibson’s ecological study of the conceptual structure of the preference until an optimum level of visual perspective, they argued that humans aesthetics of objects. Today more arousal is reached. prefer environments that make sophisticated neuro-imaging techniques At this point sense. We seek information have helped determine that people respond further increases in and understanding and are “does reducing beauty to differently when they believe they are complexity elicit a predisposed to environments a ‘formula’ overlook its looking at an authentic, as opposed to downturn in that are both interesting value…?” a forged, painting. When viewers are told arousal and (complex) but also coherent about the authenticity of a painting, preference would (offering a degree of involvement features previously ignored become decrease. In other that makes sense). Humans seek out ‘obvious’ to the viewer and this awareness words, when visual stimuli are of low a mixture of coherence and legibility (for has been linked with changes in neural complexity (i.e. simple), preference and understanding), but for exploration we activity in areas associated with expectancy judgements of beauty will also be low. prefer complexity with a degree of memory and value systems (Mengei & People will seek to maintain a level of obscurity or mystery. Evolutionary research Parker, cited in Kemp, 2009): as if a arousal that supports their preferred level offers some support for this idea. Humans ‘former lover is no longer blinded with of stimulation. Individuals who are highly seem to prefer moderately complex love’ (Kemp, 2009). aroused will seek out certainty, whereas environments, for example grasslands with Contemporary perspectives are those low on arousal will seek more scattered trees (Heerwagen & Orians, underpinned by the arousal between the stimulating environments. As described by 1993). This biophilic or topophilic existing and the unexpected (see Forsythe Hutcheson (1726/2004, p.15), ‘The figures preference explains the tendency for et al., 2011, for a review). The competing which excite us in the ideas of beauty humans to seek out nature and living

response to viewing fractal patterns. Perception, 37(10), 1488–1494. Heerwagen, J.H. & Orians, G.H. (1993). Humans, habitats, and aesthetics. In S.R. Kellert & E.O. Wilson (Eds.) The biophilia hypothesis (pp.138–172). Washington, DC: Island Press. Hutcheson, F. (2004). An inquiry into the original of our ideas of beauty and virtue in two treatises (W. Leidhold, Ed.). Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund.

(Original work published 1726) Joye, Y. (2006). Some reflections on the relevance of fractals for art therapy. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 33, 143–147. Kaplan, S. & Kaplan, R. (1989). The visual environment: Public participation in design and planning. Journal of Social Issues, 45, 59–86. Kemp, M. (2009, 15 October). Art history’s window onto the mind. Nature, 461, 882–883.

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Mandelbrot, B.B. (1977). The fractal geometry of nature. New York: Freeman. McAllister, J.W. (1996). Beauty and revolution in science, Ithaca, NY: McWhinnie, H.J. (1987) Some studies on aesthetic preference. British Journal of Aesthetics, 27, 1. Rawlings, D., Barrantes-Vidal, N. & Furnham, A. (2000). Personality and aesthetic preference in Spain and

England: Two studies relating sensation seeking and openness to experience to liking for paintings and music. European Journal of Personality, 15, 553–576. Russell, P.A. (2003). Effort after meaning and the hedonic value of paintings. British Journal of Psychology,94, 99–110. Taylor, R.P. (1999). Reduction of physiological stress using fractal art


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The fractal dimension The fractal-dimension (D) is the measure to which a fractal ‘fills a space’, a phenomenon observable at increasing magnitudes. A coastline is a one-dimensional fractal because it is a line (i.e. its topology is one dimensional). The repeating patterns in this line cause it to spread across twodimensional space, and hence the fractal dimension lies between 1 and 2. A mountain is a two-dimensional fractal because it is a surface (i.e. its topology is two dimensional). The repeating patterns in this surface spread across three-dimensional space and hence the fractal dimension is expected to lie between 2 and 3.

organisms. Biophilia possibly explains why of artists and physicists alike. With everwe find aspects of the natural environment widening appeal, they have been referred so pleasing (Kaplan & Kaplan, 1989). to both as ‘fingerprints of nature’ and ‘the Fractals have been demonstrated to new aesthetics’ (Taylor et al., 1999, 2003). characterise the detail and irregularity It is thought that fractals tap into of the natural world (Mandelbrot, 1977). specialist cognitive modules that have They can be found in mountain ranges, developed to moderate information about deserts, coastlines, living things, and that clouds, rivers, trees, such modules are linked plants and animals, with emotional “As viewers begin to as well as in sound regulation (Wilson, understand an artist’s (waves, waterfalls and 1984). More recent message it becomes more rain) and music research also suggests (birdsong and nursery some brain areas are meaningful and less effort is rhymes). responsive to fractal required for interpretation” Mathematical patterns. Hagerhall et al. fractals are infinite in (2008) reported that viewing detail and in length, whereas natural fractal patterns elicited high alpha activity fractals can be fragmented (fractus), in areas of the brain concerned with discontinuous and range-restricted. Fractal attention and visual spatial processing (the analysis has been extraordinarily successful frontal lobes and the parietal area). These in quantifying the complex structure studies support research that suggests that exhibited by many natural patterns, training using fractal shapes could help the enabling precise measurement of development of perceptual concepts of the phenomena as diverse as galaxies and natural, stimulate biophilic responses and sea-shells. The adaptability and beauty trigger aesthetic interest and restorative of fractals have captured the imagination responses (Joye, 2006). The strongest

and architecture. Leonardo, 39, 245–251. Taylor, R.P., Micolich, A.P. & Jonas, D. (1999). Fractal analysis of Pollock’s drip paintings. Nature, 399, 422. Taylor, R.P., Micolich, A.P. & Jonas, D. (2003). The construction of Pollock’s fractal drip paintings. Leonardo, 35, 203. Williams, T., Forsythe, A.M. & Sheehy, N. (2010). Painting by numbers: Fractal


analysis acts as an early predictor of neurological deterioration in artists. Paper delivered at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference, Stratford-upon Avon. Wilson, E.O. (1984). Biophilia: The human bond with other species. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Zeki, S (1999). Inner vision: An exploration of art and the brain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

evidence for the application of fractal patterns in therapeutic environments is that fractal patterns reduce physiological stress (Taylor, 1999). Fractal geometry has established its usefulness in understanding the structure and authenticity of major works of art. Taylor et al. (1999) examined film footage of Jackson Pollock at work and concluded that Pollock was clearly generating paintings with a high fractal dimension, or ‘D’ (see box) and that Pollock was actually able to fine-tune the D value of his paintings. Detailed analysis of sections of Jackson Pollock’s work demonstrated that the fractal dimension of his work increased steadily over a 10-year period. Following this analysis it was possible to deauthenticate recently discovered paintings attributed to Pollock, because the dimension values were not consistent with previous works. Taylor’s work may also be useful in addressing some of the shortcomings of the Berlyne (1970) hypothesis (predicting the cusp). Taylor has reported the presence of three categories with respect to aesthetic preference for fractal dimension (Taylor et al., 2001). These can be categorised into low preference (1.1–1.2), high preference (1.3–1.5) and low preference (1.6–1.9). Humans are consistent in their preference for fractal images in the 1.3–1.5 fractal dimension regardless of whether these fractals were generated by mathematics, humans (e.g. the art of Jackson Pollock) or natural processes (coastlines, trees or clouds). Combining fractal measures with measures of visual complexity explains even more of variance in aesthetic

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judgements, especially when those images represent scenes in the natural world (Forsythe et al., 2011). These combined measures possibly capture something of what Fechner, and later Birkhoff (1932), described as ‘unitary connection’ – where pleasant stimuli achieve a balance between complexity and order. Fechner’s definition of complexity concerned the fixation points of interest. More fixation points equated with more complexity but also more interest. This is akin to Berlyne: we can see that interest is maintained at medium levels of complexity and that viewers will tolerate this level of stimulation for longer periods of time. High complexity without order, however, will not result in a positive aesthetic experience. Aesthetic preference is orientated towards organisation, and fractals capture something of that ordering process. What remains difficult to untangle is the interrelationship between interest, beauty, visual complexity, familiarity, ambiguity and other aspects of sense making. As viewers begin to understand an artist’s message it becomes more meaningful and less effort is required for interpretation (Bartlett, 1932; Russell, 2003). Effort after meaning goes some way

Do changes in fractal structure reveal underlying neurological problems?

to explaining why representational art (such as a Van Gogh or a Rembrandt) is consistently preferred Tragically, Noel Sheehy died in May. His widow, and main author on over abstract art this article, Alex Forsythe, requested that we continue with (McWhinnie, 1987) publication as a testament to and why responses Noel and his work. will differ with A tribute to Noel, who was education, social and President Elect of the British cultural experiences, Psychological Society, can be as well as individual found on p.520. differences and Alex Forsythe said: ‘Noel personality (Cupchik, loved music, and any donations 1992; Furnham & to Walker, 2001; musicispower – a charity that Rawlings et al, 2000). helps disadvantaged kids with This evidence explains music – would be gratefully why it is important to received.’ consider factors such as familiarity before attempting to explore the aesthetic process. understand how memory and experience Experiencing the world in a different shapes our likes and dislikes, and way can lead to paintings that challenge evolutionary theory explains why we will conventional feelings for what have come always have a preference for the natural to be regarded as beautiful pictures. There over the anthropogenic. Computerised are a number of neurological disorders that measures of fractal dimension and are linked to the creative process: migraine complexity build on established and or epilepsy in Giorgio de Chirico and theoretically informed measures of Vincent Van Gogh, and drug excess and perception (see Attneave, Marr and Parkinsonism in Salvador Dali. Our others) by offering fast, detailed and current work (Williams et controllable measurement of potentially al., 2010) demonstrates vast image sets. that it is possible to Perhaps it is reductionist to reduce identify microscopic beauty to a measurement; after all it is changes in the fractal possible that some things exist for no structure of works of art other reason than to be viewed. The many in the works of a painter processes involved in the formulation of decades before they were judgements relating to beauty make it diagnosed with a challenge to successfully isolate the neurological problems. measurement of beauty constructs. We How these changes can still have some way to go in determining influence the aesthetic the ways in which emotion interacts with experience is still to be our experience of beauty – beauty as determined, but what is feelings not as thoughts. These challenges key to this work is the are significant, but, as argued by Berlyne, acknowledgment of the we should not use them as an excuse for process of artistic saying little about the subject. production. The birth of the viewer need not be at Alex Forsythe the cost of the death of is in the Department of the artist (Barthes, Psychology, Aberystwyth 1967/1988). University Clearly there is no one factor that is truly responsible for our aesthetic experiences. Neuropsychology has taken us some way Noel Sheehy towards understanding was Professor of why the structures of Psychology in the School of some paintings enable us Psychology & Natural to process and understand Sciences, Liverpool John paintings as they are in the Moores University three-dimensional world. Cognitive theories help us

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Noel Sheehy 1955–2011



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Memories of Glasgow embellished the fiction – ‘The Chicago all the participants were shown an array Trib had a big picture of this meeting,’ of nine faces and asked to pick out their said one. interrogator. The random face In case the audience were in any misleadingly shown earlier to some doubt that they too could be prone to participants was in there, but the true false memories, Loftus provided an interrogator’s face was absent. interactive example with successive pairs The alarming finding? 84 per cent of faces. By the end, half the audience of the participants shown the random believed they’d seen one face in a pair face during their earlier questioning before, the other half swore it was the subsequently picked out this random other face that had been shown earlier. face as belonging to their interrogator Loftus’s findings showing how easy it (compared with just 15 per cent of is to implant false memories raise obvious control participants who’d seen their ethical questions. Nowhere is this more interrogator’s face during their earlier apparent than in a new line of work she’s questioning). conducting with the US military at their ‘In a way this makes me feel a little school for survival training. bit uneasy,’ Loftus admitted. ‘What we’re After a stressful mock interrogation, soldier participants were presented with a photo, ostensibly of their interrogator, and asked questions about their experience (e.g. ‘Did he feed you?’, ‘Did he give you a blanket?’). Crucially, some participants were shown a random face during this questioning rather than the face of their real Discussion at this year’s Annual Conference in Glasgow interrogator. Next,


Star power arrived at the Annual Conference this year in the form of Elizabeth Loftus (University of California, Irvine), the doyenne of false memory research who’s had the mixed fortune of attracting death threats and the highest academic accolades. Anyone can experience false memories – that is, memories that feel as if they’re based on real events but are in fact fabricated in part or in full. Loftus gave the example of Hilary Clinton’s dramatic memory of the time she landed at Sarajevo airport in 1996, running for cover under sniper fire. Photographic and video evidence tells a different story, as Clinton is seen kissing children at a calm welcoming ceremony on the tarmac. ‘I made a mistake… that proves I’m human,’ Clinton said later. The US Secretary of State is far from being alone in her memory fallibility. Loftus described an online experiment conducted by Slate magazine in 2010, in which readers were presented with skilfully doctored photos including one showing Obama shaking hands with the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and another showing George W. Bush on holiday with former baseball star Roger Clemens (see Neither event happened in reality, yet over 25 per cent of five thousand participants recalled the handshake and over 15 per cent recalled the holiday snap. In many cases participants

NEIL MACRAE ON UTA FRITH AND UTA FRITH ON NEIL MACRAE Around a decade ago, a purportedly new area of psychological inquiry appeared on the intellectual landscape – social cognitive neuroscience (SCN). In reality, however, SCN had been around for quite some time, it was simply that social psychologists had failed to grasp the brain science nettle. Now, the nettle is well and truly grasped. Together with colleagues in cognitive neuroscience, experimental social psychologists are exploring how an understanding of the brain can inform basic questions in human social cognition. Who better then


to provide a general overview of SCN than one of its most thoughtful and skilled practitioners, Uta Frith. Cutting through unnecessary definitional debates, Uta commenced with an exposition of what is ‘social’ and ‘cognitive’ about SCN. Armed with a raft of general-purpose cognitive processes, the mind quite simply gets to work solving a range of fundamental social problems (e.g. navigating the social world, learning from others, mind perception). As key illustrative examples, Uta considered the topics of observational learning

and person understanding (i.e., ToM). Grounded in mirroring and mentalising systems in the brain, she identified the neuroanatomical substrates that underpin imitation, empathy and mental state attribution. Adroitly combining imaging and behavioural research, Uta’s presentation highlighted how implicit and explicit processes support core aspects of socialcognitive functioning. Even allowing for my own research interests, Uta’s keynote address was a highlight of the meeting. Cutting-edge, eclectic science delivered by a leader in

the field, outstanding. Top notch slide transitions too. NM If Dr Who was invited to give a keynote speech at the BPS Annual Conference he should come in the guise of Dr Macrae. Of course, the vehicle for time travel is not the Tardis, but the Brain. The brain will transport you into the past as well as into the future, but Neil can tell which direction you are moving in. Not only this, he can nudge people into going into a particular direction. How is this possible? Neil invites potential time travellers to his lab and gives

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putting out there is a recipe for how to commit some atrocious act against somebody else and then tamper with their memory so they are unable to identify the person who committed that act upon them.’ Other applications of Loftus’s research are more salubrious. In one study, participants were tricked into recalling

that strawberry ice-cream had made them sick as a child; they subsequently chose to avoid that food when it was listed on a menu. It works the other way too – another study led participants into believing they’d grown up with a penchant for asparagus. ‘I never really thought I’d be getting into the business of applying this research to the problem

of nutritional selection – maybe even making a dent in the obesity problem in our society – but I can see the work being taken in that direction,’ Loftus said. Her take home message? ‘If I’ve learned one thing, it’s this,’ she concluded: ‘just because it’s vivid, just because it’s detailed and expressed with confidence and emotion doesn’t mean that it’s true.’ CJ

Sexual health interventions in action There has been a rise in sexually transmitted infections in the UK in recent years and the need for effective interventions is all too apparent. Hence this symposium, introducing a number of practical studies from the Applied Research Centre in Health and Lifestyle at Coventry University, was highly topical. The symposium was convened by Jude Hancock, who opened the session by describing a theory-based approach, incorporating literature reviews and preliminary data collection. She described a study based on the theory of planned behaviour, in which an internet survey was used to elicit individuals’ beliefs about five condom behaviours. This can then provide a basis for changing the behaviours. For example, people may be reluctant to carry condoms because they believe that it gives an impression they are looking for casual sex. Reframing that belief so that they feel it is a responsible course of action may help promote the behaviour. This introductory talk was followed by

them questionnaires about their daydreams. He uses them later to correlate with activity of their brain’s so-called default system. Your preference might be either as a dweller in the past (with predominant activity in parahippocampal cortex) or as an explorer of the unknown (in prefrontal cortex). Now potential time travellers are given a mean working memory task, over several days, repeating certain sequences of letters to the point that just seeing them induces boredom. When the boring sequences appear, thoughts take flight. Past or future? Body sway

a series of interesting presentations of examples of interventions. Katie Newby described the development of a sex education lesson on chlamydia for secondary-school pupils. This used an intervention mapping approach that translates theory into practical approaches to meet the needs of the target population via a series of iterative steps. This resulted in an engaging classroom lesson, which will be hosted on the Health Protection Agency European-wide e-bug website. The second example of an intervention, presented by Julie Bayley described a programme to improve parent–child communication about sex. We were told that half of young people get little or no information about sex from their parents – a fact that may be linked to the high rate of teenage pregnancy. The researchers used a similar intervention mapping approach to the previous study and resulted in the production of a training course and a computer game. The latter was designed to reach those parents who cannot or

you can tell you. If you ever so slightly lean forwards, your mind is probably going to the future. If you lean backwards, it is in the past. Cleverly, Neil put this phenomenon into reverse to shape the direction of travel. He induced strong illusions of motion, as when sitting in a motionless train at a station and observing a moving train on another platform. If the apparent movement direction is backwards, the mind wanders into the past, if it goes forwards, into the future. In other words, he has demonstrated that there is a bi-directional

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chose not to attend courses. The game gives a series of scenarios and the respondent is given a choice of reactions. They then receive feedback on their response. This game can be seen on the website The final talk by Katherine Brown described an online volitional intervention to increase contraception use in adolescents who have already decided they want to use contraception. Thus it focuses on closing the gap between intention and behaviour. Given that we were told that 85 per cent of the adolescents studied held strong intentions to use condoms, but less than half were effective users, there is a clear need for this. The intervention was developed in collaboration with Charles Abraham from the University of Exeter through an elaborate process of consultation with users and health professions, utilising the well-established approach of forming implementation intentions. This and other interventions can be seen at FJ

mind–body link. It will not escape the astute reader, and it did not escape Neil, that cultural factors might have an effect. For instance, the direction used in different writing systems might shape time travel direction. Can one and the same person entertain two time lines simultaneously? Bilingual English and Mandarin readers in Singapore can. They would flexibly adopt a vertical mapping of time when Mandarin words were used, and a horizontal mapping when English words were used. In another innovative study, Neil used priming to demonstrate

that a particular location in space would ‘attract’ the movement a person made with a mouse tracker – left for past, right for future. Compatible and incompatible pairings could be compared, and compatibility is reflected in movements of the hand. Again this work shows how closely our body movements are bound up with the dimension of time. ‘Time has a place’, according to Neil Macrae, and this means he can subtly suggest the direction of time travel and can confidently launch us on a journey in the mind. UF


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A weighty issue As the philanthropist and medical research advocate Mary Lasker once said, ‘If you think research is expensive, try disease’. Obesity is perhaps a modern-day epidemic, carrying huge personal and societal costs. So it was heartening to see a workshop devoted to psychologists in obesity management at the Annual

IN BRIEF I swear it’s less painful Swearing can help you tolerate pain, explained Richard Stephens (Keele University) in a colourful talk. In the cold pressor task, 73 per cent of participants kept their hand in longer if they were swearing. The average increase in tolerance was 31 seconds. However, people who swear more in daily life get less benefit. Stephens said this demonstrates a habituation effect consistent with the hypothesis that swearing increases pain tolerance by eliciting an emotional response. Stephens’ latest study involves students listening to the C-word repeatedly through headphones, while having their skin conductance assessed for habituation. JS Cheap memories How do people reconstruct events in the absence of memory, asked Robert Nash (Lancaster University). Making ingenious use of alcohol-induced memory blackouts, Nash discovered that people are interested in minimising the cost and effort involved in reconstruction, as well as reliability. Blackout sufferers who had relied on intoxicated people for information were more likely to report being misled, but were still more confident in the reliability of intoxicated people. The need to achieve closure, with minimal cost and effort, can lead people to seek and trust information from unreliable sources. JS New school and children’s perceptions With the government’s school building programme scrapped last year, Edward Edgerton (University of the West of Scotland) provided a timely look at the impact of new premises on the children. Looking at the transition to six new buildings, Edgerton found that more positive perceptions of the school environment are associated with more engaging behaviour, greater mastery approach in goal behaviour, and increased academic self-esteem. The associations were more important for first-year students and increased after the move to the new sites. JS


Conference, particularly so soon after the publication of a report from the Society’s Obesity Working Group (see In the opening presentation, Consultant Clinical Psychologist Susan Boyle provided an overview of the Glasgow and Clyde Weight Management Service. This service provides a comprehensive, multidisciplinary weight management pathway of care, from prevention through to the management of severe obesity. Appropriately, the service was developed with an evidence-based underpinning and continues to modify its services based on research (e.g. NICE Clinical Guideline 43, 2006). Rather than asking the question ‘Is obesity related to psychopathology?’ they consider ‘Which obese individuals are at most risk of psychological disturbance?’ It was reported that consistent results (regardless of socio-economic background) have been obtained since 2004, with 50 per cent who start the programme completing it and 36 per cent completers being successful in achieving the programme goal (lose 5kgs). In the second presentation, Fiona Wright presented results from the programme showing significant improvements in emotional well-being (anxiety and depression) and in all domains of health-related quality of life. Both weight loss and changes in depression predicted meaningful improvements in quality of life, and these improvements were due to weight loss,

when participants had lost 5kgs or more in weight. When participants were less successful with weight loss, positive changes in depression accounted for changes in quality of life. Next up, Marie Prince discussed the aspect of the service focusing on bingeeating disorders. In a previous service model the Glasgow team screened for disordered eating and offered psychological assessment (the individual treatment was in addition to the group weight loss interventions offered), resulting in 50 per cent cases of disordered eating. Their more recent service model includes group CBT for binge-eating disorders to their standard weight loss intervention. This has encouraged weight loss and weight maintenance, and has been beneficial for clients. This service appears agile enough to make changes based on developing evidence, could see benefits through the changes to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders due out in May 2013. Binge Eating Disorder will be

ALWAYS TELL THEM A STORY ‘What do I get for my £135 lecture?’, John Maltby’s students ask. If we accept that practicalities dictate that lectures will be to large groups of students and employ fairly limited technology, how can teachers improve the learning experience? Maltby’s view is that the story surrounding student teaching and learning is largely one of description and argumentation, with narration and exposition relatively underused. Maths used to be taught by puzzles, games and stories, and Maltby feels psychology should be no different. Drawing on Aristotle’s theory of tragedy for inspiration, Maltby argued that the quality of teaching will be determined by six aspects: plot, characters, diction, thought, spectacle and melody. We already use these, he said: we assemble topics that have an interesting story, we find topics that emotionally connect, we introduce skills and difficult material, we use IT to supplement not dominate. Above all, said Maltby, have the confidence to keep it simple, and always tell a story. JS

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COSTLY CONUNDRUM listed as a stand-alone diagnostic category under Eating and Feeding Disorders, rather than the new Addictions and Related Disorders category (which is planned to replace the Substance Related Disorders category). The Eating Disorders category has previously focused on conditions characterised by under-eating rather than over-eating, leaving people with problems of over-eating sometimes unable to access support through eating disorders treatment services. Ross Shearer then presented data from interviews with eight female participants one year after bariatric surgery. Participants saw the gastric band as an ‘aid’ and that they themselves play an important role in managing their eating behaviours, contrary to what many had anticipated prior to surgery. The participants noted that their expectations before surgery were often unrealistic, many believing surgery would be a ‘quickfix’, despite receiving professional-led surgical preparation. Despite imposed control over their eating, some

participants’ psychological state appeared to play a part in their behaviours, often resulting in difficulty adhering to the lifestyle changes required postsurgery and seemingly poorer weight loss outcomes. Post-surgical patient support appears to be crucial in achieving best possible outcomes. Concluding this important and timely workshop, Mira Mojee presented a case study for discussion, pulling together the previous presentations and recommending future directions. The importance of multidisciplinary interventions, and involving family members in behavioural treatments for weight loss, were highlighted. DL

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) presents healthcare providers with a costly conundrum. Known by medical professionals as ‘frequent consulters’, sufferers of CFS tend to report around 16 different symptoms per patient. Most commonly these include concentration difficulties, muscle pain, fatigue, weakness and fever. At present there is no known underlying cause for CFS and no coherent approach to treatment. Moreover, outcomes for patients vary wildly depending on how ‘improvement’ and ‘recovery’ are defined and measured. Marie Thomas (University of Wales), Andy Smith (Cardiff University) and Gary Christopher (University of the West of England) ran a three-year study with the aim of developing a toolkit that would help to understand outcomes for sufferers of this most mysterious of ‘functional somatic syndromes’ (others in this ‘family’ include irritable bowel syndrome, tinnitus and chronic lower back pain). Over 200 patients were recruited from specialist CFS clinics and asked to fill out measures of wellbeing, quality of life and psychopathology as well as symptom checklists and measures of illness beliefs, history and severity; 84 per cent of participants believed that their illness had been preceded by a specific event, often a bout of flu. At three-year follow-up, 45 per cent said they were recovered with occasional relapses, while only 2 per cent felt they had recovered completely. One of the best predictors of ‘recovery’ seemed to be employment; participants who were in work at initial testing were more likely to be in the ‘recovered’ group at the end of the study. SH

Why do people have activity limitations? Activity limitations – difficulties executing a task or action – are clearly important, as lack of activity is a risk factor for disease. Traditional biomedical explanations focus on poor health, age, disease or impairment: primarily physical factors. While most people accept that the reality is more complex, this implicit theory needs to be challenged. Marie Johnston presented a compelling argument based on a wealth of research for the importance of psychological factors. For example, in a Swedish experiment musical stairs looking like piano keys were successful in persuading people to take the stairs rather than the escalator (visit and select ‘piano stairs’). A further illustration was provided in the recent reality-TV

programme The Young Ones, which aimed to increase activity and independence in six elderly celebrities by putting them in surroundings similar to their 1970s housing with little support. This provided a good illustration of how changing the environment can increase activity. However, behavioural explanations of activity limitations are often ignored in favour of medical explanations. Factors that are important include intentions, planning, self-efficacy, social support, environmental cues, rewards, coping, peer pressure and social support. To illustrate this, Johnston gave an example of the frequently replicated finding that perceived control predicts recovery following strokes after controlling for

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impairment. She suggested that combined behavioural and biomedical models might be more predictive and be more helpful for informing clinical interventions, for example by incorporating the theory of planned behaviour (TPB) into the dominant model of activity limitations (the WHO International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health – ICF). The TPB suggests behaviour is predicted by intention, which in turn is predicted by attitudes, subjective norms and perceived behavioural control. Johnson’s research indicates that people do talk about their disability in terms of these kinds of construct and thus recognise their relevance. She describes research using a medical and a behavioural model separately and combined to predict activity

limitation in the case of those undergoing joint replacement surgery. She found that the combined model was more successful than the two separate models. Impairment and perceived behavioural control were the best predictors in this model. The inclusion of psychological variables is also important for interventions. Here, Johnston gave the example of an intervention using workbooks for stroke patients. The use of behavioural change techniques including goal setting, planning and social support helped people recover from their activity limitations faster. Finally, Johnston discussed a study aiming to develop a taxonomy of effective behaviour change interventions (see FJ


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Digital natives and digital tourists It is a given in life that a help desk won’t help you, that it will rain on bank holidays and that any talk about the use of technology in education will start with a technical problem. And so it was for this symposium, ‘Reinventing the wheel? The role of technology in teaching psychology’. In fact this illustrates the most robust finding of the last 20 years of research into new technologies, which is that they are not nearly as easy to use as they appear. Just think back to the number of times a lecture or a lab session has ground to a halt because a video hasn’t loaded or you’ve got the wrong cable. These experiences make us aware of

the risks of relying on technology and make us cautious in our use of new technologies – in stark contrast to the behaviour of our students. This symposium, convened by the Tim Jones from the University of Worcester, looked to present papers from advocates of new technologies in teaching. The aim was to develop a framework for best practice in the use of technology while at the same time being careful to hang on to the best traditional techniques of teaching. The question that underlies this discussion is whether we are doing anything new with these technologies or whether

it is just the same type of teaching and learning but with shiny, fancy gadgets. In the first talk Jacqui Taylor from Bournemouth University outlined the development of technology in education over the last 30 years and raised Marc Prensky’s idea of the ‘digital native’ (download PDF at The current generation of primary school children know no other world than the digital one. They log on to their laptops before they can read or write, and although our current undergraduates have not been as immersed as this, their world is a digital one and Prensky argues that they ‘think

‘SKILL’ AND ‘WILL’ Convened by Helen St. Clair-Thompson from the University of Hull, with four papers from her colleagues at Hull, the symposium raised a series of critical questions: Why do individuals engage in learning activities? Is it for extrinsic reasons just to please others, or for intrinsic reasons to do with meeting new challenges and enjoying exercising one’s brain? What is the relationship between motivation and academic achievement? In other words, how do ‘skill’ and ‘will’ interact? And, does motivation predict improvement over time in the whole cognitive system, or is it confined to the current level of achievement in a domain-specific way? St. Clair-Thompson herself opened the symposium showing that individual differences in motivation predict children’s attainment over and above individual differences in the actual cognitive skills. She argued that while it is possible to foster extrinsic motivation by monetary and other promised rewards, the promotion of intrinsic motivation is much harder, perhaps by the route of teaching metacognitive awareness. Myfanwy Bulger’s paper dealt not only with motivation, but also with self-belief, showing how it plays a critical role in adolescent behaviour, attitudes and academic achievement. Indeed, the typical adolescent may cleverly switch off motivation with the reasoning that ‘if I don’t try hard, then I have a nice excuse for not doing well!’ Her results showed that it was not just sex differences that were predictors of motivation, but gender identity, raising the long-standing issue of whether girls do better in science and maths subjects and boys better in the humanities when in single-sex schools. Sarah McGeown (née Logan) addressed sex differences in reading as they relate to the relationship between motivation and achievement, showing that gender differences in attitudes to reading contributed significantly to predicting reading outcomes. This, she showed, was even true in early development, with parents reading more to girls because it is seen as a ‘female-based’ activity compared to physical activities for boys. We should, she argued, be choosing topics boys want to read about, like football, because this might create the intrinsic motivation to read. Emma Medford presented the final paper, making a strong case for considering motivation as an ‘energiser’ for cognitive skills, rather than separate from cognition. Medford showed how, while motivation plays some role for high achievers, it is particularly important for low-ability readers. Medford also argued that reading tests indirectly measure motivation and not just reading abilities, so they may underestimate reading levels when motivation is low. In general, this symposium served as an important reminder that cognition is just one part of a complex interaction of motivation, self-belief, attitude and intellectual abilities that cannot be treated in isolation of one another. AKS


and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors’. They are digital natives and we are merely tourists to this digital world. The narrative on educational technology commonly highlights examples of good practice and points towards what might be achieved if this practice is rolled out. Taylor showed examples of how social networking can be used in education and how it can be related to academic performance, and also how knowledge of the impact of new technologies can be used to design new learning experiences. This optimistic narrative was continued in a discussion of patchwork assessment, first by Caroline Wesson and Wendy Nicholls from Wolverhampton University and then by Penny Upton from Worcester University. Patchwork assessment can be used as an alternative to the traditional essay, which is a format that has surely passed its sell-by date. Students are required to build up a portfolio of short pieces of work across a module. These formative pieces of work are commented on by the tutor and by peers. The final piece of work at the end of the module is a composite of the short pieces, which have been enhanced by comment and reflection. The software used by both teams of teachers was Pebblepad, which is designed for this kind of activity and brings the strengths and weaknesses of bespoke educational software. On the plus side the modules that adopt this method receive good feedback from students and facilitate good-quality work. On the negative side the start-up costs in terms of time and training are heavy, and the time to review the patchwork

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STONES AND BONES, BRAINS AND HANDS Annette Karmiloff-Smith discovers what determines lateralisation in handedness in the great apes and both prehistoric and modern humans

contributions is substantial. The problem is, then, that although enthusiastic and technology-competent teachers can develop and use facilities like Pebblepad there is reluctance from other staff to adopt these techniques. A final paper by Valerie Bentinck from Birkbeck, University of London took a less optimistic approach and described her involvement with an e-learning project that had attracted substantial financial support but was unlikely to have much enduring impact. Xerte is an open source e-learning tool that is described as easy to use; but that is not the common experience of the facility, and it is also not entirely clear what it would be used for. So are we reinventing the wheel? On one level we are, and by introducing bespoke educational software that has some of the features of public domain facilities such as Facebook or Twitter we have a few special extra features, but the barriers this creates means that wide adoption is unlikely. It can be argued that the use of virtual learning environments (VLEs) constrains students and de-skills teachers, so why not make use of the facilities that students are already using? Why bother to introduce VLEs when we tap into the way students are already communicating and learning? The jury is out on this one but it is clear that we have to change our practice of teaching. We have to adapt to the undeniable change in the way that our students access information and learn. As teachers we are in danger of remaining tourists to this digital world. PB

and the stone tools of our ancestors, Uomini was Introducing this fascinating topic, Gillian Forrester able to reveal that hemispheric specialisation was of the University of Westminster argued that motor indeed part of our evolutionary history. By the way preference is not arbitrary, but represents an that the majority of flints were indented from use evolutionary bias stemming from the asymmetric over time, her studies showed that the right hand hemispheric organisation of the underlying neural was used to hold tools while the left hand played function for skilled action. Right-handedness was the role of support, much like we hold a cup in our initially considered as a unique hallmark of human right hand and the saucer in the left. Also evolution, but more recent analyses have revealed examining asymmetries in bones, she could homologous asymmetry in the great apes, determine whether one side of the body was used suggesting possible common mechanisms for more (much like tennis players become communication in humans and apes. Forrester asymmetrical via their use of rackets). And this pointed out that all human tests of handedness was all happening some 37,000–34,000 years ago! involve inanimate objects, ignoring the possibility The final paper was presented by Catherine that humans may use their right hand for Hobaiter of the University of St Andrews, who inanimates and their left hand for animates. studies the gestural systems of chimpanzees in In other words, we may be more ambidextrous the Budongo Forest Reserve in Uganda. I couldn’t than commonly thought. Caterina Quaresmini of the University of help wondering how Trento investigated western lowland gorillas this slender young to assess the laterality of hand use (left vs. woman could penetrate right) and target object (animate vs. the habitats of the huge inanimate), discovering a group-level rightwild chimpanzees to hand bias only when the gorillas interacted observe their with inanimate objects. She hypothesised spontaneous intentional that left hemisphere specialisation may have gestures, but she was arisen from the processing of sequential clearly admirably at manipulation of tools, which served as a ease. Coding only for pre-adaption to the structure of language. gestures when the This is a long-standing hypothesis, first choice of limb was enunciated by Patricia Greenfield who unrestricted, Hobaiter argued for a tight relationship between tool was able to identify over use and language development. 60 different gestures Alina Rodriguez, from the Institute of used by the chimps for Psychiatry in London, looked at atypical grooming, contact, play, Uomini’s studies show brain laterality indexed by non-right food use, etc. A large the right hand was used handedness. Interestingly, right-handedness percentage of the gestures to hold tools is less frequent in twins and infants with targeting objects were very low birth weight. One also finds more mixed done with the right limb, whereas those produced handedness in individuals with dyslexia and for social purposes tended to be bilateral. schizophrenia. Examining prenatal environmental Furthermore, certain gestures were more risk exposures in a large Scandinavian cohort, lateralised than others: the right limb was used Rodriguez identified longitudinal associations for shaking, moving and scratching objects. Males between handedness, ADHD and language turned out to be more right-limbed than females, difficulties in adolescence. Prenatal exposure and right-handedness increased over age, much to maternal stress was significantly related to like it does in human children. increased incidence of child non-right handedness. Children and the great apes, then, are similar: Rodriguez also put to rest the myth that they predominantly use a single hand/limb ultrasound examinations cause left-handedness. (typically the right) for goal-directed actions on However, atypical lateralisation in the form of objects, and both limbs for interacting socially with mixed handedness, not left-handedness, should be conspecifics. It is also clear that right-handedness considered by clinicians as a risk factor for atypical pre-dates the human/ape split across evolutionary development. time so cannot explain the hemispheric A fascinating approach to handedness was specialisation of human language. presented by Natalie Uomini from the University of Ensconced in a tiny room quite distant from Liverpool. She asked whether our ancestors were the main conference activities, this symposium right-handed and whether prehistoric manual was by far my favourite, listening to such talented lateralisation can tell us about the emergence of young researchers pull together a difficult yet language in hominids. Using fossil bones, teeth fascinating topic. AKS

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Without risk, there is no glory What is it we want our students to learn from their psychology educations, and how can we make sure they engage deeply enough to acquire that knowledge? Phil Banyard (Nottingham Trent University and Chair of the BPS Standing Committee on Pre-Tertiary Education) introduced a roundtable discussion on ‘Inspiring Students’ with a few of his own thoughts on the matter. He suggests that students come to psychology courses expecting to learn about love, relationships and serial killers. What they actually get is a very different beast: textbooks full of box-and-arrow diagrams, neuroimaging and something mysterious known as kurtosis. Banyard

argues that we tend to churn out students who are technically proficient and ready for work as research assistants, but with heads full of ‘impeccable trivia’ rather than a sense of wonder and the reflective, questioning attitude that psychology has the potential to inspire. What’s going wrong and what can we do about it? Having kick-started the discussion, Banyard threw open the floor to a small but beautifully formed group of delegates with a combined total of over 100 years of teaching psychology. (OK, that might be a slight exaggeration, but perhaps not by much – this crack squad of participants certainly appeared to have a LOT of expertise.) A lively discussion

covered changes in A-level curricula and teacher training, how well prepared (or otherwise) students are for universitylevel studies, and whether students’ relationship with knowledge itself is changing. There was much talk about the ‘wizzy lessons’ that students say they enjoy but seem to have trouble separating from the actual content of the curriculum when asked what they took away from their classes. How can we make psychology teaching fun and interesting without trivialising the take-home messages? At university level, questions included: Why do we insist on dividing courses into hour-long ‘death-by-

THAT’S THE GUY Elizabeth Loftus reports on current issues in face identification and eyewitness memory Eyewitness testimony continues to be an important topic for psychological scientists who are interested in the intersection between psychology and law. Four talks in this symposium, convened by Kim Wade of the University of Warwick, reported new findings that advance our knowledge of what happens when people see a crime and have to testify about it later. Two concerned the observation that witnesses are better able to recognise faces of their own race compared to other races, a phenomenon sometimes called the ‘otherrace effect’ (ORE). Kazuyo Nakabayashi (University of Hull) reported on several studies conducted in the UK and in Japan, finding that the ORE was shown for British subjects, but not for the Japanese. Cultural differences in eye-movement patterns might help us understand this outcome. The second talk, given by Catriona Havard of University of Aberdeen, reported on a study conducted in the UK using schoolchildren as eyewitnesses (ages 7–14). Caucasian participants (the majority race) showed the ORE but Asian participants did not. The Caucasians reported little contact with Asians, whereas the Asian subjects reported lots of contact with Caucasians. This study seems to support the ‘contact hypothesis’ as a cause of the ORE, but this probably needs to be viewed cautiously as there are studies in the published literature that do show ORE in the minority races. The third talk, by Heather Flowe of the


University of Leicester, concerned the role of looking like a criminal. The researchers ask whether suspects whose faces have features that witnesses think are typical for a criminal are more likely to be selected in a lineup. Lay people seem to have preconceived notions of what a criminal looks like; He has long shaggy hair, tattoos, beady eyes and scars. He looks dishevelled. He’s got a negative emotional expression and doesn’t make eye contact. In one study subjects looked at photographic lineups that came from actual police arrest files. They had to determine which person in each lineup was the police suspect. Sometimes they also read a description that had been given by an actual eyewitness. The researchers found that when no description was given, subjects often based their choices on the criminal appearance of the face. Examination of the reasons participants gave for their choices confirmed this basis for choice. One picked a particular photo because the man ‘looks like the hicks from my hometown that always got away with beating their wives’. Another said the chosen photo ‘looks like a drug addict that will do anything to get what he wants’. The participants used criminal appearance no matter whether they selected the suspect or a foil, doing so approximately 30 per cent of the time. In a follow-up study, a new set of participants rated all of the photos that had been used in the earlier study. They had to rate ‘the extent to which the face resembled a criminal’ meaning

‘someone who would break the law’. This study found that criminal appearance ratings were significantly associated with the likelihood that a face had been chosen by the mock witnesses (who had not been given any description). The authors speculated that in the real world, criminal face bias could be a problem when eyewitness memory for the perpetrator is weak or when witnesses are suggestible or prone to guessing. It is at these times that looking more like a criminal than others in a lineup may enhance the selection of a person, whether they are guilty or not. Police and others who are responsible for constructing lineups may need to take criminal appearance into account. The final talk, by Gary Dalton of the Royal Holloway, University of London, reported on a field study of video lineups in England, perhaps the first of its kind involving the video lineup technology. In the cases sampled, witnesses picked the suspect 40 per cent of the time, picked a filler 26 per cent of the

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WINNING POSTER PowerPoint’ lectures when we know that passive learning is not usually the best route to deep understanding? How can we Death by PowerPoint encourage students to accept a sense of responsibility for their learning? And how can we help students to develop not just the capacity but also the appetite for coming up with interesting research ideas? So many questions, but are there any answers? Participants offered a range of suggestions for engaging, inspiring and

time, and made no identification 34 per cent of the time. This is in line with many previous studies showing that real live witnesses often pick the wrong person (assuming all the fillers are mistaken IDs and some – however small – percentage of the suspect IDs are probably wrong. Another way to think about these results is that when an identification is made, 39 per cent or more of the time it’s wrong! While many interesting observations could be described concerning the behaviour of different age groups, or the behaviour for different types of crimes, or behaviour as a function of time since the crime, one result that connects to two of the other papers is the finding concerning the ORE. When the identification involved cross race, suspect identifications were lower than same race, but filler identifications were equivalent (at the 26 per cent figure). Prominent memory researcher Martin Conway praised the talks, blending his own experiences as an expert witness and his own recent findings into his commentary about the symposium talks. All in all, that hour and a half was a splendid demonstration of the talents of the next generation of eyewitness researchers, and those who missed the conference can look forward to some interesting publications based on this new work. EL

empowering students. One course offers students a chance to pose Question Time-style enquiries to a panel of teaching staff. Another lecturer gives his students a list of key terms relating to his topic and asks whether they would like to head off to the pub now or stick around the full hour and quiz him about the concepts on the list (no one has ever left). There were tales of assessments involving an imaginary conversation with Wayne Rooney, or writing an essay on any subject of the student’s choosing so long as it is suitably formatted for Trends In Cognitive Sciences. Apparently the students loved the former and loathed the latter. But whichever route we choose, Phil suggests, if we want to allow students to be great we have to give them opportunities to fail. SH

Can misleading hand gestures influence eyewitness testimony? That was the question asked in Daniel Gurney’s prize-winning poster, describing research conducted with Karen Pine at the University of Hertfordshire. The researchers found that participants seeing a ‘police’ interviewer performing misleading hand gestures (e.g. ‘Did you notice any distinguishing facial features?’, accompanied by a stroking chin ‘beard’ gesture) were more likely to report information that was conveyed through these gestures. Gurney and Pine conclude: ‘This study has serious implications for interviewing witnesses. At present, police interviews require only an audio recording (with no video surveillance). So, while any instances of verbal influence can be identified, any nonverbal influence from gestures would occur “off the radar”. This new area of research highlights the importance of considering the risk that nonverbal information could mislead witnesses.’ JS

It’s not all risky business David Farrington OBE (Cambridge University) has more articles, books, awards and positions under his belt than I’ve had hot dinners. And as we learn in the introduction to his keynote, he is also partial to a spot of disco music. Author of some 600+ research publications, Farrington had been involved in some of the world’s largest and most influential studies on the psychological aspects of criminality and offending behaviour. For example, the Pittsburgh Youth Study followed 1500 American boys from childhood through to early adulthood. In the UK, the Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development has followed 400 Londoners from age 8 to 48. Data is still coming in for what has become a multigenerational study of boys, men and the likelihood of committing violent crimes. Having been unexpectedly and gamely outed as an Abba fan, Farrington began his presentation by discussing something with which public health campaigns make us horribly familiar – the notion of a ‘risk factor’. Take smoking, for example. Smoking is now widely known to be risky business. If we smoke, we put ourselves at risk. And what’s more, the more we smoke, the greater the risks to our health. In Farrington’s field of expertise, analogous risk factors that predict a high likelihood of offending include poor housing, peer delinquency and family breakdown. Although variables predicting offending have traditionally been treated as though they are all risk factors, the picture is a bit more complicated than that. Promotive factors predict a low probability of offending: for example, offending is lower among people who do better at school. Other variables act as protective factors for people who would otherwise be at high risk. For example, poor housing is known to be a risk factor for offending, but parenting can mitigate the effects: good child rearing is linked with lower levels of offending among those living in the poorest conditions. The picture becomes even more complicated when we treat factors that predict offending behaviour not as dichotomous (is this person at risk or not?) but instead as trichotomous. Farrington and his collaborators categorise research variables as present to a low, medium or high degree in their participants’ lives – an approach that has allowed them to understand the richness of their effects in much more subtle ways. Farrington, then, suggests that risk assessment is more complex than adding up risk factors. To improve our interventions we should not only try to reduce the risks of offending, but also enhance promotive and protective factors for vulnerable groups. SH

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Music – embedded in everyday life A series of talks on music explored its benefits and the meaning it has in our lives. Sue Hallam (Institute of Education, University of London) opened with an investigation into the possible benefits of music making among older adults – an unexplored area. She studied nearly 400 people at three community music projects: The Sage Gateshead, the music department at Westminster’s Adult Education School, and the Connect project at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. In before/after comparisons over nine

months, the older people who’d joined these community music projects scored higher on quality-of-life measures than controls who didn’t take part. Interviews with the music participants also revealed a wide range of benefits across social, emotional and health domains. Obstacles to participation included a lack of confidence and having to look after older and younger relatives. Hallam finished with a video of participant feedback. ‘When we joined the project last October, I didn’t think it would last, I thought we’d get bored of it,’ said one gentleman. ‘As it

turned out we enjoyed every minute of it and we hadn’t missed a single meeting until May this year.’ Catherine Preston (Edge Hill University) took the discussion into the classroom, presenting work she’s done looking at the experience of ‘flow’ in music lessons. Flow is a concept described by positive psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in which you feel fully absorbed and challenged by an activity.

Presidents’ Award Lecture

PRISONERS AND RISK TAKING Are prisoners more likely to take risks than the general population? It would seem so, but only where risks could lead to losses. Yaniv Hanoch (University of Plymouth) asked prisoners and age-matched controls to make a series of two-alternative forced choice decisions based on winning or losing money. For example, would you rather take a guaranteed sum of £65 or gamble on a 15 per cent chance of winning £100? If the choice was between definitely losing £25 or gambling on a 15 per cent chance of losing £100, which would you choose? Both prisoners and non-prisoners were found to take risks where there was a high probability of gaining, but prisoners were more likely than non-prisoners to take risks where there was a high probability of losing money. SH


drew gasps from the audience, as did Burgess’s reports of the patient’s scores on neuropsychological tests. AP scored well on all measures of memory and executive function; however, he was very significantly impaired in his everyday life and was never able to return to his job. Through work in his very first job with patients with frontal cortex lesions, Burgess had already concluded that there were different facets of executive dysfunction and that these were likely to be neuroanatomically distinct. Now he believed that these tests did not necessarily measure what they purported to measure and, more importantly, did not reflect the real-life impairments that could be seen in the patients’ everyday life (a discrepancy famously noted by Mesulam in 1986). This led Burgess and his colleagues to develop tests that took patients out of the office and into the real world. The Multiple Errands Test sent participants scurrying around an unfamiliar shopping precinct with a list of tasks and set of rules, while the ‘Six Elements Test’ required people to manage subtasks that were simple enough in themselves

to the anatomy of the prefrontal cortex. But neuroimaging work by Burgess and his colleagues has now revealed the rostral prefrontal cortex (Brodmann Area 10) to be the crucial area. In fact, Burgess went on to say, just thinking about what might happen is enough to activate this area: it provides our ‘gateway to the future’. Would you choose to take £1 now or £1000 tomorrow? Probably an easy decision but what if you could have £400 now or £500 in a month? Understanding the cognitive and neurobiological basis of crucial decision making such as this has huge implications for clinicians and other areas of psychology. But what else does the rostral prefrontal cortex do? Burgess has now shown it to be a complex structure that plays a key role in a number of important skills, such as multitasking, episodic remembering and mentalising. His group is also now successfully applying this line of research to the fields of autism and schizophrenia, providing promising new insights into cognitive features and pathogenesis. CL


Twenty years ago, Paul Burgess and Tim Shallice reported on a patient, AP/NM, who had ‘lost a huge wedge of his frontal cortex in a car accident’. The slide showing the damage

but had to be carried out concurrently. Not surprisingly, AP and other similar cases were significantly impaired on these tests. Burgess went on to explain that a key cognitive feature of both of these tasks is prospective memory, our ability to plan future intentions and to act on those intentions at the right time. This, it turned out, was the predominant underlying feature of the everyday impairments seen in many of these patients and the reason behind the disorganised and seemingly purposeless behaviours often described. At that time, very little was known about prospective memory and even less about the detail of how this related

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teachers realise that some of the things they get pupils to do aren’t that exciting, aren’t that challenging. And obviously the aim is to ensure more Older people who joined community music projects scored children higher on quality-of-life measures experience flow.’ The final two Preston had four groups from year talks in the series focused on people’s seven (aged 12 to 13) complete diary experience of music in everyday life. reports after each music lesson for four Alinka Greasley (University of Leeds) weeks. This revealed that one in five sampled over 600 people (aged 16 to 79) pupils experienced flow. Videos were also via e-mail, principally to see if the way analysed of children in group discussion, people use music varies as a function of to look for behavioural correlates of selfmusical training. reported flow. Preston shared a clip Comparing those with the most featuring a girl (who experienced flow) and least musical training, there were no in a discussion with two peers about differences in the amount of music they composing lyrics for a Britpop style song. listened to, nor in their desire to have The flow girl made positive suggestions the freedom to choose the music they for discussion, showed signs of intrinsic listened to. But those with more training motivation, made critical yet positive did have larger collections, were more comments about her peers’ ideas and she likely to encourage others to listen to the focused on musical skill and challenge. music they like, and tended to provide ‘The educational implications are more specific answers, for example considerable,’ Preston said. ‘What pupils breaking down their preferences by genre want is challenge. We need to help and sub-genre. They were also more

likely to score high on empathising and systematising approaches to music (these terms are borrowed from Simon BaronCohen’s autism research and refer to how much people use music for emotional purposes or are interested in its technical qualities). Greasley thinks personality might be a more reliable predictor of music use than training extent, and plans to investigate this next. Ruth Herbert at the Open University closed the series with results from interviews she conducted with people about the power of music to trigger in them feelings of dissociation (detachment) and absorption (effortless involvement). She gave the example that some people reported feeling invisible while listening to music on headphones in public. Another person described a feeling of derealisation while listening to music in the car, with pedestrians appearing as paper thin. They stopped the car and put on some Bach and felt OK. Herbert said the power of music to cause these shifts in consciousness may be due to the way it stirs memories and to its acoustic properties. ‘In its recorded form, now it’s become portable, it can become particularly embedded in everyday life, which means it can fuse aspects of internal and external perception,’ she said. CJ

Ethics – striking the right balance The Society’s Code of Human Research Ethics was launched at the Annual Conference. The new code, which complements the existing Code of Ethics and Conduct (2009), was introduced by John Oates (Open University), the convenor of the working party that developed it. Oates explained that rather than attempting to provide a comprehensive framework for every eventuality, the new code is principles-based and designed to evolve. The core principles are: Respect for the Autonomy and Dignity of Persons; Scientific Value; Social Responsibility; and Maximising Benefit and Minimising Harm (the full code, including a discussion of these principles together with issues of confidentiality, deception and debriefing, is available via Social psychologist Stephen Reicher

(University of St Andrews), who co-led the BBC Prison Study, said he was impressed by the new document: ‘It’s robust without being zealous, principled and full of common sense.’ Reicher explained how he and Alex Haslam (University of Exeter) went about conducting a modern, ethical variant of the Stanford Prison Experiment and broadcasting it on national television. ‘We had lots of guidance from the BPS,’ Reicher said, ‘and seven layers of ethical safeguard.’ These included: vulnerable participants were screened out; there was an independent ethics committee on site; a day and a half of debriefing; and participants were followed up for two and a half years. But Reicher regrets that he and Haslam weren’t allowed to make the prison situation gruelling enough – for example, they

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weren’t allowed to use cold showers because of what he feels is a mistaken assumption by local ethics panels that all people are inherently vulnerable. ‘I think we need ambition and verve. To not do [these grand scale field experiments] biases our science,’ Reicher said. ‘We need to get back to that grand vision. Local ethics committees need to exercise common sense about vulnerability and what ordinary, robust people are capable of. And we need extremely strong safeguards to ensure that our populations are robust. I think this new document strikes the right balance.’ Also launched at the conference was a discussion paper on neuroethics, introduced and co-authored by Carl Senior (Aston University). The paper considers issues such as incidental findings in brain imaging (in which


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a participant’s scan raises medical concerns), cognitive enhancers, and the use of brain scanning as a lie detection and marketing tool. Senior quoted Adina Roskies’ comment on neuroethics that it is ‘the ethics of neuroscience and the neuroscience of ethics.’ In other words, Senior explained, it’s about the ethics of neuroscience practice but also the science of how we make moral judgements, and how neuroscience findings influence our moral values and decisions. In this way it sits between the sciences and the humanities, he said. To illustrate how neuroscience needs to tread carefully in the field of ethics, Senior pointed to a recent paper published in Neuropsychologia entitled ‘How should I decide? The neural correlates of everyday moral reasoning.’ ‘I’m sure it’s world-class

research,’ Senior said, ‘but look at the title.’ He argued that as neuroscientists and psychologists uncover how the brain computes moral decisions at a neurophysiological level, they need to be careful not to slip into moralising about



how we should make decisions – a question that neuroscience simply cannot answer. Last up, Cynthia McVey (Glasgow Caledonian University) highlighted the important role psychologists have to play in the ever-expanding number of reality TV shows, especially those involving children. A promising sign is that psychologists are increasingly being used earlier and earlier in the production process of television shows, she said. The issue of providing psychological support and screening doesn’t only apply to reality shows. McVey gave the example of a child actor in EastEnders who has been bullied in real life because of the fictional character he portrays. There’s also a need to look out for the psychological health of production stuff. But overall, McVey concluded: ‘It’s good for children and adults to take part in television programmes, we just need to make sure that we are able to protect them.’ CJ

PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS In celebrating the 110th anniversary of the British Psychological Society, its President Gerry Mulhern chose to ‘focus on several historical events and trends and use these to express some personal thoughts about the way ahead for the Society’. Mulhern illustrated how the Society has developed as a member-led organisation with a bottom-up, democratic and representative ethos – ‘something that I know is jealously guarded by many members’. But, he questioned, to what extent is democracy within the Society more apparent than real? In any case, is a maximally democratic model necessarily the best one? Using the example of setting Society fees, Mulhern showed that the attempt to modernise systems fell to the wishes of 4.1 per cent of the membership. If democracy is not overrated, he argued, we must find a way to modernise systems that require modernisation. Moving on to membership trends, Mulhern showed that growth was gradually falling off, and said that ‘recruitment, retention and quality of services to members must be paramount in the future’. Prioritising student recruitment, the President said he was encouraged by a lively uptake of the Society’s new free corporate schools membership, and suggested that it was time to open up graduate membership to anyone teaching psychology at secondary level. Calling on Divisions to reconsider their core purpose – ‘to reinvent themselves if you will’ – Mulhern then turned to the importance of Branches and the need to rejuvenate Sections. Finally, broadening his focus, Mulhern called on the Society to engage in ‘meaningful and productive work’ with our colleagues in the Experimental Psychology Society, along with a more ‘proactive and strategic’ approach to international relations. ‘International leadership must be one of our driving ambitions, he said, in ‘an exciting era of renewal and partnership in the Society for the good of our discipline in all its facets.’ JS I To download the Presidential Address, and previous Addresses, see

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Neuropsychology – not pinned down DS children show the opposite pattern. But a static interpretation (of a ‘doubledissociation’), involving a large number module being broken in one condition and the small number module being broken in the other, is mistaken. In the case of WS, atypical attentional and eye-movement processes underlie both the success with small numbers and failure with large magnitudes. WS children are impaired on basic eyemovement tasks and have a limited scan pattern – a ‘sticky fixation’. This helps them focus on individual objects but impairs their ability to discriminate between large arrays of dots, and affects other domains of function too. So how come their face processing is not impaired? Although children with WS perform well at face tasks, Karmiloff-Smith and her colleagues have uncovered evidence of atypical face processing at both the cognitive and neural levels. For example, unlike typically developing children, children with WS don’t show distinct neural activity patterns when looking at cars versus faces. Moreover, they show a reduced face inversion effect – this is the difficulty most of us have in processing upsidedown faces because it disrupts our holistic processing of those faces. The sticky focus on local features by WS children helps explain their reduced face inversion effect. This neuroconstructivist perspective has profound implications for educational interventions, suggesting they should be syndrome-specific (not domain-specific), targeting basic-level processes early in development. In the case of WS, for instance, training should be aimed at their attentional deficit, not focused solely on a particular domain such as number processing. Other implications to flow

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from Karmiloff-Smith’s dynamic developmental approach are: that genetic mutations in developmental conditions may play a role in apparently normal performance, not only impaired performance; that researchers should look for associations of function between different conditions, not just dissociations, because of the clues this provides about relevant underlying processes; that the effects of genetic abnormalities cascade over time; and that a child’s atypical developmental profile can affect their environment, with reciprocal consequences. On this last point, Karmiloff-Smith asked us to consider the parents of children with Down’s

syndrome, who rapidly intervene when they hear their children overgeneralise a word (e.g. calling all four-legged animals ‘cat’). They do this for fear that their child will never learn the correct terms. Yet overgeneralisation is a natural part of spontaneous language acquisition, and by altering their behaviour for well-intentioned reasons, parents may be impoverishing the learning environment inhabited by their children. In sum, Karmiloff-Smith said: ‘Nothing in biology or psychology is static. At all times there are dynamic, multidirectional influences between genes, brain, cognition, behaviour and the environment. CJ JON ROSS/WWW.AUBERJON.COM

Like a ten-pin bowler staring down the alley, Annette Karmiloff-Smith (Birkbeck Centre for Brain & Cognitive Development, University of London) took aim at so many misconceptions in neuroscience and sent them all flying. Consider a genetic developmental condition like Williams syndrome (WS), which some researchers characterise by low IQ, including number difficulties, yet intact grammar and face processing. It’s a mistake, Karmiloff-Smith said, to take a static view of this profile – to see WS as somehow reflecting an impaired number module combined with preserved syntax and face modules. Such neat dissociations might occur in previously normal, braindamaged adults, but in the developing brain, where different regions compete for functional specialisation, such specialisation of function is emergent, not built-in, and in some disorders modularisation fails to develop. It is more appropriate, therefore, to seek the basic cognitive and neural processes that underlie the various domains of function. Such processes might be more relevant to one domain than another, but they inevitably have an impact on multiple domains. This means, Karmiloff-Smith said, that outwardly ‘normal’ performance (for example in face processing in WS) doesn’t necessarily reflect normal brain processing – the atypical brain finds alternative ways to perform. Karmiloff-Smith fleshed out this neuroconstructivist approach with examples, including the contrasting number discrimination deficits exhibited by young children with WS and those with Down’s syndrome (DS). WS kids perform well at discriminating small numbers but poorly with large numbers (as tested with arrays of dots).

SELF-HARM IN PRISONERS Self-harm is thought to occur between four and forty times more often in prisons than in community samples. Prisoners thought to be at greatest risk include those who are on remand or in the early stages of their sentence, have mental health problems, a history of psychiatric treatment or of substance misuse. But although these risk factors have been identified, little is known about protective factors that mitigate the risks, or how the various risk factors might interact to predict who is most likely to self-harm in prison. In short, there is no comprehensive theoretical account to help spot those most at risk. Karen Slade (Roehampton University and HMP Brixton) and colleagues at Roehampton University asked participants to fill out a number of self-report measures within the first few hours of entering prison. Responses were analysed using a ‘Cry of Pain’ model to predict which prisoners were likely to selfharm or show suicidal behaviour during their first four months in prison. The Cry of Pain model comes from suicide research (Williams, 2001) and takes into account factors such as social support, resilience, locus of control, coping strategies and subjective perceptions of stress. Slade’s adapted version of the model accurately distinguished prisoners who went on to self-harm from those who did not. Her results suggest that reducing stress on entering prison, increasing vulnerable inmates’ sense of control and maintaining social support could potentially reduce the risk of prisoners self-harming. Slade recommends that assessing new prisoners using the Cry of Pain model might also help staff identify the most vulnerable inmates just hours into their incarceration. SH


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Plants as secondary metabolites Plants synthesise a huge range of chemicals, known as ‘secondary metabolites’, which have no direct role in their own metabolism, but do affect other animals and plants. One of these is resveratrol, found in grapes and therefore in wine, for which there has been some hope and hype that it could have cognitive benefits. Emma Wightman (Northumbria University) presented the results from two double-blind placebo controlled trials showing that resveratrol increases blood flow to the front of the brain during demanding cognitive tasks. This same effect was achieved at a lower dose when combined with piperine, which increases the bioavailability of resveratrol. In neither case, however, was the increased blood flow associated with cognitive or mood effects. Meanwhile, Crystal Haskell, also at Northumbria, has studied the synergistic effects of caffeine and Ltheanine, at doses equivalent to one to

two cups of tea, finding that L-theanine attenuates caffeine’s usual effect of increasing blood flow in the brain. This could explain why caffeine and l-theanine

consumed separately improved the accuracy of participants on a Stroop task, but that consumers of the combination

Before the conference got under way, the University of Strathclyde hosted a lecture from the Society’s first ever Public Engagement Award winner. Tommy MacKay, of Psychology Consultancy Services, the University of Strathclyde and Argyll and Bute Psychological Service, was the recipient in recognition of work that has achieved national and international acclaim. His success in raising educational achievement in the poorest areas of the country even led to MacKay serving as the focus of a chapter in former Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s book on national heroes. MacKay sees psychology as having more potential to improve the human condition than technology, economics or politics. Problems are caused by people, their thinking and behaviour, so psychology is Thanks to all our authors: central to the human welfare Phil Banyard, Uta Frith, Sarah agenda. As an educational Haywood, Fiona Jones, Christian psychologist, MacKay was Jarrett, Annette Karmiloffconcerned by levels of illiteracy. Smith, David Lavallee, Elizabeth Each year in the UK, over Loftus, Catherine Loveday, Neil 100,000 leave school functionally Macrae and Jon Sutton. Articles illiterate. He began to wonder: if based on award lectures will we can transform a school, why appear over the coming can’t we transform an entire months. The 2012 Annual population? MacKay made a bold Conference will be held in approach to the local authority, London on 18–20 April. challenging them: ‘Unless the




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showed no such benefit. However, since there were no correlations between blood flow and behavioural performance, it’s also possible that the brain and behaviour effects are independent of each other. Other talks in this plant metabolite-themed symposium revealed: that the cognitiveenhancing effects of sage could make it a safe candidate treatment for Alzheimer’s (David Kennedy, Northumbria University); that smoking abstinence is associated with deficits in response inhibition, and this remains the case after three months abstinence (Lynne Dawkins, UEL); and that Ecstasy use is linked with a range of small but significant visuospatial deficits, although the size of these effects doesn’t rise linearly with increased use (Philip Murphy, Edge Hill University). ‘Small effect sizes don’t mean zero implications in the real world,’ Murphy concluded, ‘What about if you are an air traffic controller?’ CJ

council is willing to risk a commitment to achieving the impossible it is only ever going to achieve the normal and the possible. There can be nothing to lose.’ He remains grateful for their enthusiastic response, committing to a programme that would attempt to eradicate illiteracy over a decade. You can read more about the Tommy MacKay scheme in The Psychologist (see It was an ambitious and imaginative undertaking, and it’s easy to see why it caught the eye of the media. For example, one aspect was the Declaration study, applying psychology from eight areas of research to something that has never been done before: simply encouraging children to declare that they were going to be good readers (e.g. ‘Reading is fun, reading is cool. We’ll all be great wee readers, for we’re going to school!’). Press coverage about children chanting their way to success swiftly followed. MacKay was honest about the impact that public engagement via the media can have on a professional career, admitting that he ‘spent three years in something of a wilderness through speaking out’ on school provision for physically handicapped children. But it was clear that MacKay’s commitment to ensuring the most needy are properly represented made this a price worth paying. We tell the world about psychology, he said, because the analytical tools we bring to the table to describe, explain and predict can have an impact on social justice. JS

vol 24 no 7

july 2011

psy 07_11 pi_iv bigpic_Layout 1 20/06/2011 18:09 Page i

Blogging on brain and behaviour

Awards A wards 2010 20 010

Winner! W Wi inner! nner!

The British Psychological Society’s free Research Digest service: blog, email, Twitter and Facebook ‘An amazingly useful and interesting resource’ Ben Goldacre, The Guardian ‘big picture’ pull-out


The Psychologist July 2011