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psychologist vol 24 no 11
The lure of horror Christian ‘Jeepers’ Jarrett with a Halloween treat
Incorporating Psychologist Appointments £5 or free to members of The British Psychological Society
news 804 methods 828 careers 854 looking back 866
the appliance of science 816 until death do us part 820 thoughts on suppression 824 interview with Geoff Bunn 832
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The British Psychological Society Contact The British Psychological Society St Andrews House 48 Princess Road East Leicester LE1 7DR tel 0116 254 9568 fax 0116 227 1314
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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, Alana James International Nigel Foreman, Asifa Majid Interviews Nigel Hunt, Lance Workman History of Psychology Julie Perks
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letters 794 what the BPS is, and isn’t; helping applied psychology bloom; strategy and rioting; Anders Breivik; cameras in court; digital tourists; null results; and more
news and digest 804 memory bus; the homeless; Ig Nobels; event reports; Digest nuggets and more
This month’s cover feature is a typically engaging and timely contribution from our staff journalist and Research Digest editor Dr Christian Jarrett. But it’s the article from Roz Shafran, winner of the Society’s Award for Distinguished Contributions to Professional Psychology, that I would like to direct your attention to. Writing on ‘the appliance of science’, Shafran cites others who call for not just evidence-based practice, but practice-based evidence too. Bridging the academic/practitioner divide has always been a goal of the Society and The Psychologist, and I would love to hear how our members ensure that research has the desired impact on the ground. Has evidencebased practice reached all corners of the discipline? I feel there could be an article, special issue or even a regular feature in The Psychologist on this topic, so do get in touch on email@example.com. And as we near the end of another volume, remember that I welcome your comments on this year’s issues of The Psychologist, to continue our own evidence-based practice! Dr Jon Sutton
media the surprising status of psychology in the French media, with Lucy Maddox
The lure of horror Christian ‘Jeepers’ Jarrett with a Halloween Special
The appliance of science Society award winner Roz Shafran looks at implementation science
Until death do us part Louise Dixon and Nicola Graham-Kevan on preventing intimate partner homicide
Thoughts on suppression James Erskine and George Georgiou with some surprising effects
So you want to do (free) research? Simon Knight offers some handy tips and resources for austere times
Broadcasting brain stories Geoff Bunn talks about writing and presenting a history of the brain
book reviews 836 the empathic brain; the madness of women; rethinking school bullying; psychology in social contexts society
President’s column; EuroPsy; Spearman Medal; guidance on electronic health records; consultation responses; public engagement awards; and more
careers and psychologist appointments business, technology and dangers of an ignorance of modern psychology; undergraduates contribute to research; all the latest jobs; how to advertise
new voices the zoo of the new: Andrew P. Allen looks at organisational innovation in universities
looking back 866 Robert S. Gable on how he and his brother invented electronic monitoring, but with an early emphasis on positive reinforcement one on one …with Adrian Furnham
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BPS is not the Opposition Strange as it might seem there is no evidence that the majority of members feel the same as Harper et al., or Professor Orford. ‘Nearly half a million people marching in opposition’ would hardly satisfy even the most liberally
Hard on the heels of Dave Harper and his 98 colleagues (Letters, July 2011) comes Professor Jim Orford (Letters, October 2011). Harper et al. appear to confuse debate with political activism, while Orford’s assertion proposes that the Society take a clear stand on big policy issues, citing ‘privatisation by stealth of the NHS’, a typically simplistic statement so beloved of political activists and the media. Somewhere in the midst of this invective is lost the vital difference between the provision of health services free at the point of delivery, and privatisation, by stealth or otherwise. Why is it that any attempt at reform of what is often inefficient and ineffective service provision frequently triggers waves of emotive, and often ill-informed rhetoric, aimed at stifling any change. While reforms, and yes, cuts too, may be the work of the devil, the fact remains that they are part of a legitimate economic strategy being adopted by a legitimate government. Debate them by all means, but to suggest that the Society should take a stance purporting to reflect the views of the membership is arrant nonsense.
minded statistician as being a majority view of the population at large, let alone the broad church that is the BPS. Furthermore, phrases such as ‘de facto privatisation’, ‘creeping marketisation of the NHS’ and ‘the continuation of neoliberal policy frameworks’ do rather suggest that Harper et al. are less interested in debating issues than in, as they themselves say, ‘putting pressure on the government to change its course’.
The Society is a Registered Charity
Jim Orford (Letters, October 2011) agrees with Dave Harper and others (Letters, July 2011), who ‘call for the Society to take a clear stand on those big public policy issues of the day that threaten to have profound psychological effects’. In particular, he asks: ‘Does the Society stand for the social solidarity of which the NHS is such an outstanding example, or does it stand for the commercialisation of
psychology, in support of the psychopreneurs?’ My answer is, no, it does not. It does not and cannot stand for either position. The Society operates under its Royal Charter, which states its aims precisely as: ‘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’. It may be that a majority of members agree with Jim Orford and Dave Harper, but even if they were unanimous, which is unlikely, the position would be outside the Charter, in my view. Further, the Society is a Registered Charity. As I understand it, its aims must fall within 13 purposes prescribed by the Charities Act
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2006. And a Registered Charity cannot have some aims that are charitable and some that are not. A Charity can engage in campaigning and political activity, but only where these are such as to support the Charity’s purposes. I do not see how campaigning for (or against) the National Health Service, for example, can be said to advance the Society’s aims as in the Charter.
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This is the work of the opposition parties, not the British Psychological Society. That the BPS has a role to play is a view with which I heartily concur. There are many ways in which our profession can contribute to the quality of life in the current environment. Helping individuals and groups cope with the psychological stress of the economic crisis; working with organisations in finding creative ways of maintaining high levels of capability despite a reduction in resources; working to reframe the paradigm that oversimplifies the nature of the correlation between funding and effectiveness; researching the impact on the NHS and the reasons behind the huge volume of missed appointments by patients and ways of mitigating this; undertaking additional pro bono work to aid deserving causes; finding new ways of accelerating learning and retraining to enhance employability; and perhaps most of all, helping our colleagues and ourselves to develop the ability to hold two opposing ideas in one’s head at the same time, while still retaining the ability to function; these are just some of the ways we can add value. Encouraging the Society to grandstand on our behalf is not a noble aim.
Neville Osrin University of Exeter
The Society does not ‘hide behind’ the argument that it must avoid taking a political position. It cannot do so. The issue has been raised periodically within the Society. What the writers of both the present letters seem to want is a different sort of organisation. There are many that can and do espouse political causes, or they are of course free to form their own. Personally I very much hope that members who share their views will not feel they must abandon the Society because it is not the body to take the sort of action they desire. John Radford Emeritus Professor of Psychology University of East London
Helping applied psychology bloom We do not yet know whether 2011 will go down in the history of applied psychology as the year in which psychologists took control of their destiny. All we do know is that an almost ‘perfect storm’ seems to be gathering around us: I As more and more under-qualified and unregistered practitioners claim to offer psychological services, there is a reduction in the quality of services to the public and an erosion of the professional status of applied psychologists. I A challenge is made to the credibility of psychologists, shown by a lack of interest in what applied psychologists can really do. I There is a loss of prestige for psychologists as others take over work that they have done in the past. All this plus the loss of public sector posts, the dearth of opportunities for strong leadership, and the unfulfilled desire of applied psychologists to crystallise a strategy and bring it to life, make the future highly ambiguous, uncertain, even frightening. But some of us take a resilient view. We see the opportunity to breathe life back into applied psychology services, to make them buzz with excitement, motivation and pride. We see the future as opportunity time, the opportunity for applied psychologists to show their abilities to make a difference to people’s lives. We see society, business, education as opportunities to demonstrate the power of applied psychology for the benefit of all. We see applied psychology as the dog that wags the tail of those lacking this expertise. The Health and Social Care Bill has now passed the House of Commons. It will soon be debated by the House of Lords but they are not expected to change it much. The government is already
implementing many of the changes in anticipation of the final legislation, which has been presented as the most radical reform of the NHS since it was created. The changes include a new balance between competition and integration in health care and an increase in choice between services provided by ‘Any Qualified Provider’. Psychological therapies in primary health care is one of the first services to be exposed to the new regime. The current pattern of many psychologists working independently of the public services, primarily for themselves or for small psychology companies or national rehabilitation agencies, does not provide a basis for bids by psychologists for the contracts that will be offered by the new commissioning agencies. It is vital that we create an infrastructure that permits psychologists to bid for and lead psychological services, offering professional standards of competence and conduct as an alternative to businesses led purely by the opportunity to make quick profits. We believe that Centres for Psychological Health, Wellbeing and Performance will provide the appropriate infrastructure, offering a balance between independence and cooperation as serviceproviding businesses. Clinical psychology enjoyed healthy growth in the 20th century, as did the other domains of applied psychology. Things have moved on. The 21st century can be the time for improving everyone’s access to the benefits of applied psychology services. Contribute your ideas and energy (see tinyurl.com/4yzkf3q). Together let us bring 100 flowerings of applied psychology into bloom. Derek Mowbray Winchcombe, Gloucestershire Bernard Kat
Laughing at yourself Your Digest piece reporting research on people laughing at themselves (September 2011) ignored the fact C.W. Valentine in his magisterial The Normal Child saw many examples of this. So did I in my PhD on the development of laughter, part of which is in my book The Development of Play. I found instances of children from the age of three laughing at themselves
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when they had made mistakes, saying Oops! and then repeating the action. There is also no reason to suppose that laughing at a distorted image of oneself is quite the same as laughing when you make a slip, Freudian or otherwise. David Cohen London
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All aboard the Memory Bus and props, including an original ticket machine, add to the sense of theatre. ‘There’s plenty of research on the benefits of reminiscence therapy for people in care homes,’ Darvill explained, ‘but not much involving people in the community. These are people who usually receive very little support.’ Darvill is working with Professor Cath Haslam of the University of Exeter to evaluate the impact of the memory trips, which will involve measures of cognitive ability, social support, mood, identity and carer stress. The final trips are planned for April 2012, after which Darvill and Haslam will begin writing up their findings.
People in Devon with dementia and their carers are climbing aboard a vintage 1959 double-decker bus as part of a project assessing the benefits of reminiscence therapy. Conceived and led by psychologist Dr Ruth Darvill, the project is funded by the National Lottery and run in association with Age UK. Two groups of 20 people (10 patients and 10 carers) are being taken on six themed trips. For example, a visit to Sidmouth began with the singing of old songs en route, followed by a Punch and Judy show on the beach. Participants then took turns sharing their memories, which are to be collected in a memory book. ‘As soon as people get on the bus, they talk about their memories,’ Darvill told us. ‘The smell of the diesel and the feeling of the bus as it starts to move, takes people back in time instantly. It’s a very multisensory experience.’ The driver’s and conductor’s vintage uniforms
‘We’re hoping the scientific evaluation will demonstrate the impact of the memory trips and help attract more funding,’ Darvill said. CJ
‘Psychologically informed environments’ for the homeless St Basils, a West-Midlands homelessness charity, has begun implementing a project to create ‘psychologically informed environments’ for local homeless youth, an idea advocated by Chartered Clinical Psychologist Nick Maguire, of Southampton University, in government guidelines published last year (see September 2010 News and nmhdu.org.uk/ complextrauma). Thanks to funding from the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG), Maguire and Chartered Clinical Psychologist Amanda Skeate of the Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust are training 120 of St Basils’ front-line staff in basic CBT formulation and change techniques, and developing reflective practice sessions for
problems in the same way, them to reflect on the impact they do, but also in terms of generating the same of their interventions. This the environment. It really feels includes teaching them how to understanding of what’s going like a tipping point,’ he said. monitor and detect even small on,’ Maguire told us. ‘It’s also very good news that ‘The whole homelessness incremental changes. This is the government are still vital because it willing to put money allows staff to see the into the development of psychologically benefits of their informed projects.’ work, which might The St Basils otherwise be missed, initiative is one of the and it’s highly first such projects of its motivating for clients kind in the country, who get to see the with similar initiatives changes they’re planned by St Mungos making to their lives. in London and Two ‘An important Saints in Hampshire. thing with “psychologically Dr Maguire is currently informed in the process of coenvironments” is writing further St Basils’ front-line staff are being trained in that you get as many guidelines on basic CBT formulation and change techniques of the staff as ‘psychologically possible working informed environments’ area is starting to pick up on with the same psychological for DCLG and will be involved understanding of their clients’ the idea that places like hostels with Dr Skeate in an ongoing problems, using the same need to be psychologically assessment of the St Basils language, describing the informed, in terms of what project. CJ
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Laughs, sighs, and full bladders Psychology has again dominated the annual Ig Nobel awards – the irreverent prizes given by the Annals of Improbable Research to researchers that make us laugh and then think. The designated Psychology prize at these, the 21st Ig Nobels, was picked up by Karl Halvor Teigen of the University of Oslo for his investigation into human sighing, ‘Is a sigh “just a sigh”? Sighs as emotional signals and responses to a difficult task’, published in the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology. Professor Teigen told us he was ‘extremely surprised, honoured, and embarrassed’ by the award. Psychology also featured in other categories. The award for Medicine was given to Dr Mirjam Tuk of the University of Twente (she’s moving to Imperial College, London) and her colleagues for their investigations into the effects of bladder fullness on decision making published in Psychological Science and Neurology and Urodynamics. ‘It has been fun,’ Dr Tuk told us. ‘I mainly see it as a recognition of creativity and originality, which is important for scientists.’ In the spirit of the awards (honourees are allowed just 60 seconds to deliver an acceptance speech), we asked Teigen and Tuk to describe their findings in one sentence each. ‘We concluded, tentatively,’ Teigen said, ‘that sighs psychologically imply a realisation that one has to give up something (a hope, a desire, a person, an idea, or an attempt); for instance people sighed a lot when working on an insoluble task.’ Tuk said: ‘Our study reveals that people who have to control their bladder to a larger extent are also better able to control behavioural impulses, such as desire for immediate but small rewards.’ Other award recipients with a psychological flavour included a paper on procrastination, which won the Literature prize, and an investigation into the distracting effect of a flapping visor on driving ability, which won the Public Safety prize. The Awards ceremony was held at Harvard University at the end of September and broadcast live on the internet. CJ
I Further information at http://improbable.com/ig
Twitter mood Imagine it were possible to chart the mood changes of millions of people around the world. A new study shows how Twitter has made this research fantasy a reality. Scott Golder and Michael Macy at Cornell University analysed the affective tone of the words used in half a billion English-language tweets written by 2.4 million users worldwide from 2008 to 2010. Across cultures, they found most people expressed a peak in positive affect early in the morning and again near midnight. Negative affect had an independent trajectory, being lowest in the morning and rising through the day to a night-time peak. An exception was nightowls. Their morning peak in positive affect was delayed and they had no night-time peak. There were also signs of seasonal effects across the sample. A greater rate of change in increasing daylight benefited positive affect, such that people appeared happiest at the spring equinox. By contrast, absolute length of days had no effect on mood. Surprisingly perhaps, negative affect was not affected by the seasons (Science: tinyurl.com/67hp5jo). CJ
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THE RESILIENT BRAIN Catherine Loveday (University of Westminster) reports from a joint British Academy/British Psychological Society lecture Which of us has not at some point wrestled to remember the name of a famous film star whose face we can quite clearly picture? Or walked into a room to fetch something, only to forget what it is we went there for? These so-called ‘senior moments’ do occur in all of us, but become increasingly common as we get older. However, Lorraine Tyler, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Cambridge, argues that to believe that cognitive decline is inevitable is dangerous and outdated. Outdated because substantial research now tells us otherwise; dangerous because negative attitudes can in themselves impact on cognitive performance and health: a 39-yearlong study by Becca Levy and colleagues at Yale evaluated 18- to 48year-olds for their attitudes to older people, and found that those with negative attitudes were significantly more likely to have early heart attacks and strokes. So how can we convince society and individuals that age does not have to be something to mourn? Tyler showed us an animation of a healthy brain slice as it passed through the decades. There were nervous gasps from the audience as we watched the staggering reduction in grey matter between the ages of 20 and 80. And if any of those in the younger bracket were feeling like this was all a distant concern, they were soon put to rights as Tyler pointed out that brain shrinkage has already started by the time you reach 30. ‘Don’t panic though!’ she urged us. ‘It is what you can do with your brain that matters, not how much of it you have.’ There is also a lot we can do to stave off the effects of age. A key feature of the ageing brain is the huge variability both within and between individuals. Because some regions of the brain are more prone to age-related loss of cells than others, some cognitive functions are more vulnerable to the passing years. Verbal and numeric ability are extremely resilient and often even improve, while factors such as processing speed, problem solving and verbal memory are more susceptible to the effects of age, and most of us can expect these functions to decline to some extent. This is where individual differences come in though. Some people over 80 can perform in line with much younger people, even in cognitive functions that typically decline. A parallel resilience can be seen in the brain itself, and Tyler demonstrated this with pictures of very young-looking brain slices from a 115-year-old woman. Tyler proposes that we consider a different take on ageing. Yes, chronological age matters, but brain health matters much more. The brain is capable of reorganising its functions and compensating for lost neurons: it remains adaptive and reactive. For example, older adults who perform well on cognitive tasks not surprisingly have more grey matter than those who perform poorly, but they are also more likely to use both sides of their brain. So what can we do to improve brain health and function? Some have argued for cognitive training, but according to Tyler for every positive study there is a negative one and the jury is still out. Far more compelling is evidence of the link between regular exercise, cardiovascular health, brain volume and cognitive performance. Kirk Erikson showed this year that compared to stretching, a year of aerobic exercise led to greater levels of hippocampal function and better working memory and other work shows that exercise actually stimulates neurogenesis, the development of new neurons. We cannot avoid getting older, Tyler says, but there are evidencebased steps to build resilience in the brain and thus the mind. Keep exercising and keep the mind engaged. ‘Get out there!’ concluded Tyler. ‘Believe the science and change society’s views.’
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Psychology’s version of ‘Battleships’ The next time an ignoramus asks you what psychology has ever achieved, here’s a new answer for you: it helped in the 2008 discovery of the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney II, lost in deep water off the west coast of Australia since its sinking in November 1941. John Dunn and Kim Kirsner have documented in a new paper how they used insights from research into memory transmission to analyse the testimony from the German survivors of the ship HSK Kormoran, which battled with the Sydney not long before both vessels were lost. Whereas, tragically, all the crew of the Sydney perished, 317 of the German crew survived and many were interrogated by Australian authorities about what happened. Finding the Kormoran was the key that would unlock the location of the Sydney, as the ships were proximate at the time of their sinking.
In the July/August issue of Applied Cognitive Psychology Dunn and Kirsner applied many principles from cognitive psychology to the testimony provided by the German survivors, which included 72 references to the last known location of the Kormoran, many of them contradictory. One of these principles is that as memory becomes degraded, either over time in an individual, or through transmission from one person to another – it becomes progressively influenced by a person's topdown expectations and expertise. Consider a study in which participants were asked to recall pictures of fruit and veg, some portrayed larger, some smaller, than their real-life sizes. People’s memories for the pictures were distorted in the direction of prior knowledge, so that large vegetables were recalled as having been portrayed as larger. Based on this idea, and with reference to
the status and opportunity of the various witnesses, Dunn and Kirsner identified seven ‘source statements’ about the location of the Kormoran that had informed the testimony of the other witnesses and had been (further) distorted by them. For example, one of the statements, now known to be inaccurate, was from the Kormoran captain Theodor Detmers. To confirm this assessment of the available data, the researchers exploited techniques used in the analysis of species evolution, to identify clusters of statements, with each cluster containing statements of various levels of degradation or ‘mutation’ from the key source statements. Once the source statements were confirmed, the researchers tested candidate locations for the Kormoran and worked out the potential of each one in relation to its distance from the seven source statements. A key facet of Dunn and Kirsner’s approach was to use all the available testimony to arrive at a prediction of where the Kormoran would be found. By contrast, other non-psychological experts involved in the search had tended to rely on just one or two key witnesses, such as Detmers. By combining the best fit approach from the seven source statements with two further physical landmarks – drift objects lost from the Kormoran and an emergency signal sent by the Kormoran just prior to battle – Dunn and Kirsner identified a recommended search area. On 16 March 2008 the Finding Sydney Foundation located the Kormoran just 5km from Dunn and Kirsner's best prediction of where she lay. Five days later, the Sydney was found 21km away. The discovery helped heal a scar in Australia’s history. ‘The method we developed in response to the problem that was placed before us was necessarily tailored to the specific details of that problem,’ the researchers said. ‘Nevertheless, it may provide a blueprint for potential solutions to other similar problems. Such problems may include, but would not necessarily be restricted to, search problems for missing objects. In our view, the critical feature of a problem that would make it suitable for our methodology would be a set of statements or similar data that can be regarded as a set of constraints on a state of affairs that can be evaluated quantitatively. For example, and to move away from the present spatial domain, a relevant problem may involve the evaluation of eyewitness descriptions of a particular person, e.g. a criminal.’
The personality of companies In the July/August issue of Applied Cogn When we think about other people, we do so in terms that can be boiled down to five discrete personality dimensions: extraversion, introversion, neuroticism, conscientiousness and agreeableness (known as the Big Five factors). A new study suggests that a similar process is at work in our perception of companies and corporations. Google and Apple have personalities too, it seems. Philipp Otto, Nick Chater and Henry Stott quizzed thousands of people about their perception of hundreds of companies, and they’ve found that our view of companies is encapsulated by four fundamental dimensions: honesty, prestige, innovation and power. These perceived characteristics correlate with traditional economic measures of company performance, but they offer something more. ‘With the introduction of personality factors for companies, a new way of describing companies is provided,’ the trio said, ‘which directly reflects the public understanding of companies... Tracking measures of corporate personality might add important dimensions to economic measures of company performance and could be used both in shaping marketing and brand strategy, and potentially also in evaluating and predicting company success.’ Otto’s team kicked off its investigation by using George Kelly’s Repertory Grid technique. Six participants named nine well-known
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Money makes mimicry backfire
In the September issue of Psychological Science
companies and then, taking three at a time, they identified an adjective on which two companies in that group differed from the third (a process known as ‘triadic elicitation’). The idea of this approach is to cultivate responses from participants without putting ideas into their heads. Named companies included Tesco, BT and Chanel, and popular themes were quality, price, general appearance and experiences with the companies. For a second study, the adjectives from the first were combined with adjectives taken from the existing literature on categorising objects, giving a total of 118. Twenty students then rated 20 companies on all these 118 adjectives. Adjectives were retained if they distinguished between companies (an adjective is useless if all companies score the same on it), and if different participants tended to give the same company a similar rating on the same measure. This whittling led to a list of 31 adjectives. In turn, these 31 were analysed for clustering so that highly correlated adjectives like ‘luxurious’ and ‘upper class’ were part of the ‘prestige’ dimension. Next, thousands of participants recruited via the I-points web-service rated 64 companies along four of the 31 adjectives, and 10 more social adjectives like ‘friendly’ and ‘helpful’. Again, the superordinate factors of honesty, prestige, innovation and power fitted the results
well and were found to correlate with traditional economic factors: for example, prestige correlated with company size and profit; innovation correlated with company growth. The final phase of the study repeated this exercise precisely a year later (in 2006) with many of the same companies, to investigate the stability of the measures. There was a high correlation in the factor scores the companies achieved, although there were also some interesting changes in the relative rankings of the companies on these measures – for example, German car manufacturers showed gains in perceived innovativeness. ‘The proposed methodology not only has substantial commercial value in helping companies understand and track their public perception, but scales of this type can potentially guide and manage the decision making of individuals or groups inside and outside rated organisations, thus influencing their organisational culture,’ the researchers said.
It’s one of the first rules of persuasion: mimic subtly your conversation partner’s movements and body language (with a slight delay), and they’ll perceive you to be more attractive and trustworthy. Being mimicked, so long as it’s not too blatant, apparently leaves us in a better mood and more likely to be helpful to others. It sounds easy, but Jia Liu and her colleagues have thrown a spanner in the works. They’ve demonstrated that reminders of money reverse the benefits of mimicry – leading mimics to be liked less, and the mimicked to feel threatened. It’s all to do with the selfish, egocentric mindset money triggers, leaving us yearning for autonomy. Liu’s team had 72 undergrads complete some irrelevant questions on a computer on which the screen background was either filled with shells or currency signs. Next, each participant chatted for 10 minutes with a stranger who either did or didn’t mimic them. Finally, the participants rated how much they liked that
person and completed an implicit measure of threat. Without the initial reminder of money on the computer screen, mimicry had its usual beneficial effects – participants in this condition who were mimicked felt less threatened and liked their conversation partner more. By contrast, mimicked participants reminded of money at the outset, liked their partner less and felt more threatened (compared with participants in the money condition who were not mimicked). Feelings of threat were found to mediate the links (positive or negative, depending on the condition) between mimicry and liking. ‘Being mimicked typically leaves people with positive feelings,’ the researchers wrote, ‘but this experiment showed that mimicry can diminish liking of the mimicker if people have been reminded of money.’ ‘The findings take the psychology of money in a new direction,’ they added, ‘by demonstrating money’s ability to stimulate a longing for freedom.’
The material in this section is taken from the Society’s Research Digest blog at www.researchdigest.org.uk/blog, and is written by its editor Dr Christian Jarrett. Visit the blog for full coverage including references and links, additional current reports, an archive, comment and more.
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The lure of horror Christian ‘Jeepers’ Jarrett with a Halloween special, on the intriguing insights into our psyche offered by scary stories
ear coils in your stomach and clutches at your heart. It’s an unpleasant emotion we usually do our best to avoid. Yet across the world and through time people have been drawn irresistibly to stories designed to scare them. Writers like Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Stephen King, and Clive Barker continue to haunt the popular consciousness. Far longer ago, listeners sat mesmerised by violent, terrifying tales like Beowulf and Homer’s Odyssey. ‘If you go to your video store and rent a comedy from Korea, it’s not going to make any sense to you at all,’ says literature scholar Mathias Clasen based at Aarhus University, ‘whereas if you rent a local horror movie from Korea you’ll instantaneously know not just that it’s a horror movie, but you’ll have a physiological reaction to it, indicative of the genre.’
been shaped over millennia to be afraid, but not just of anything. Possibly our ancestors’ greatest fear was that they might become a feast for a carnivorous predator. As science writer David Quammen has put it, ‘among the earliest forms of human self-awareness was the awareness of being meat’. There’s certainly fossil evidence to back this up, suggesting that early hominids were preyed on by carnivores and that they scavenged from the kill sites of large felines, and vice versa. Modern-day hunter-gatherers, such as the Aché foragers in Paraguay, still suffer high mortality rates from snakes and feline attacks. Such threats have left their marks on our cognitive development. Research by Nobuo Masataka and others shows that children as young as three are especially
Why is horror the way it is?
Fresh from a study visit to the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Clasen believes the timeless, cross-cultural appeal of horror fiction says something important about humans, and in turn, insights from evolutionary psychology can make sense of why horror takes the form it does. ‘You can use horror fiction and its lack of historical and cultural variance as an indication that there is such a thing as human nature,’ he says. This nature of ours is one that has
Barrett, J.L. (2000). Exploring the natural foundations of religion. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 4, 29–34. Clasen, M. (2010). The horror! The horror! The Evolutionary Review, 1, 112–119. Clasen, M. (in press). Monsters evolve: A bio-cultural theory of horror stories. Review of General Psychology. Clasen, M. (2012). ‘Can’t sleep, clowns will eat me’: Telling scary stories. In
C. Gansel & D. Vanderbeke (Eds.) Telling stories: Literature and evolution. Berlin: de Gruyter. Davis, H. & Javor, A. (2004). Religion, death and horror movies. Some striking evolutionary parallels. Evolution and Cognition, 10, 11–18. Fischoff, S., Dimopoulus, A., Nguyen, F. & Gordon, R. (2005). The psychological appeal of movie monsters. Journal of Media Psychology, 10, 1-33.
fast at spotting snakes, as opposed to flowers, on a computer screen, and all the more so when those snakes are poised to strike. Modern-day threats, such as cars and guns, do not grab the attention in this way. That we’re innately fearful of atavistic threats is known as ‘prepared learning’. Another study published just this year by Christof Koch and his team has shown how the right amygdala, a brain region involved in fear learning, responds more vigorously to the sight of animals than to other pictures such as of people, landmarks or objects. Viewing the content of horror fiction through the prism of evolutionary evidence and theory, it’s no surprise that the overriding theme of many tales is that the characters are at risk of being eaten. ‘Do we have many snakes or snake-like creatures or giant serpents in horror fiction?’ Clasen asks. ‘Yes we do: look at Tremors – they were really just very big snakes with giant fangs’. In fact, many horror books and movie classics feature oversized carnivorous predators, including James Herbert’s The Rats, Shaun Hutson’s Slugs, Cat People, King Kong, and the Jaws franchise, to name but a few. Where the main threat is a humanoid predator, he or she will often be armed with over-sized claws (Freddie Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street) or an insatiable taste for human flesh (e.g. Hannibal Lecter in the 1981 novel Red Dragon).
Vampires and other mythical monsters And yet, arguably, the most iconic horror monsters are not the furry or slimy toothed beasts of the natural world, but the unreal, mythical fiends that we call vampires, werewolves, zombies and ghosts. Can a psychological approach explain their enduring appeal too? On the face of it, the answer is straightforward: with the exception of ghosts, these mythical monsters are exaggerated, souped-up versions of the more
Freud, S. (1919/1955). The uncanny. In J. Strachey (Ed.) Standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (pp.219–256). London: Hogarth Press. Hoffner, C.A. & Levine, K.J. (2005). Enjoyment of mediated fright and violence: A meta-analysis. Media Psychology, 7, 207–237. Ketelaar, T. (2004). Lions, tigers, and bears, oh God! How the ancient
problem of predator detection may lie beneath the modern link between religion and horror. Behavioural and Brain Sciences, 27, 740–741. Masataka, N., Hayakawa, S. & Kawai, N. (2010). Human young children as well as adults demonstrate ‘superior’ rapid snake detection when typical striking posture is displayed by the snake. PLoS ONE, 5, e15122. Mori, M. (1970). The uncanny valley.
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realistic threats faced by our ancestors. They’re strong, they’re unstoppable and very, very hungry. But digging deeper, these monsters may also endure culturally because they press the right cognitive buttons. For example, just as Pascal Boyer (cited in Barrett, 2000) has argued that many religious entities thrive by being ‘minimally counter-intuitive’ – that is, they fulfil nearly all the criteria for a given category, but violate that category in one particularly memorable, attentiongrabbing fashion (a random example would be Moses and the bush that’s in flames but doesn’t burn) – a similar account could explain the enduring appeal of horror monsters. In this vein (ahem), vampires fit the human category in most respects, except they are undead. Ghosts are similarly person-like but have no body. Another cognitive button pressed by horror would be our tendency to see agency where there is none, a kind of over-active theory of mind that facilitates a belief in wraiths and spectres. Similarly, perhaps clowns (e.g. as in Stephen King’s 1986 novel It) have the capacity to provoke fear because their make-up conceals their true facial emotions, thus thwarting our instinctual desire to read other people’s minds through their faces (it’s notable that many other horror baddies conceal their faces with masks). There are other overlaps with religion based around the disgust-reaction and the far-reaching effects of our deep-seated fear of infection. The term ‘psychological immune system’ is used to describe findings such as that people are more prone to racial prejudice when primed with reminders of infection. In the same way that many religious practices are thought to have evolved to deal with corpses and the infectious health risks they present, the cultural origin and persistence of some mythical monsters can similarly be understood in terms of our fixation with death and infection. For example, one theory has it that the vampire myth emerged from a pre-
Energy, 7, 33–35. Mormann, F., Dubois, J., Kornblith, S. et al. (in press). A category-specific response to animals in the right human amygdala. Nature Neuroscience. Oliver, M.B. (1993). Adolescents’ enjoyment of graphic horror. Effects of viewers’ attitudes and portrayals of victim. Communication Research, 20, 30–50.
Psychoanalysis and metaphor Traditionally, horror fiction has been interpreted in cultural and metaphorical terms, often with a psychoanalytic bent. By this account, the vampire’s blood lust can be seen as representing repressed sexual desires, and the threat of daylight as the disapproval of society. Werewolves symbolise the beast within us all, our perennial battle to constrain the insatiable Id. Freud himself wrote about ‘das Unheimliche’ in literature, which translates as ‘the uncanny’. In a long, meandering essay he said an uncanny experience occurs ‘either when infantile complexes which have been repressed are once more revived by some impression, or when primitive beliefs which have been surmounted seem once more to be confirmed.’ Later commentators have picked up these ideas and interpreted horror fiction as a safety valve for our raging passions and fears. While this idea may contain a kernel of truth, many readers will find psychoanalytic interpretations far-fetched. Barbara Creed (cited by Tudor, 1997), for instance, has argued that the ubiquity of blood, and especially bleeding women, in horror films is a manifestation of castration anxiety; David Gilmore (cited by Clasen, 2012) sees the abundance of richly toothed monsters with gaping mouths as a sign of the oral-aggressive stage of psychosexual development; and Elaine Showalter (cited by Clasen, 2010) sees Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as representing turn-of-the-century homosexual panic, with the novel’s ‘chocolate-brown fog’ indicative of anal sex. Other metaphorical and cultural interpretations are more credible. For instance, George Romero has admitted that the zombies in Night of the Living Dead (1968) were intended to symbolise the mindless consumer society of the USA. The tensions between vampire and human communities in True Blood seem to be an obvious metaphor for racial tension – an undertone arguably shared by other vampire tales such as the Anita Blake Vampire-Hunter series. And no doubt films like Outbreak (1995) tapped into the then and now media-driven fear of mass infection.
scientific misinterpretation of the appearance of corpses – bloated and apparently full of fresh blood. A 16th century skeleton with a brick jammed posthumously in its jaw was uncovered recently from a mass grave near Venice. Archaeologists at the University of Florence believe the brick was intended to prevent the corpse feasting after death. The horror creature whose popularity feeds most obviously from our fear of contagion is the unstoppable, flesh-eating automaton known as a zombie. One possible source of the zombie myth is Haiti where deceased relatives are sometimes believed to be living with their families in an undead state. Research suggests these ‘zombies’ in reality are brain-damaged or mentally ill relatives, but a controversial suggestion made by
Quammen, D. (2004). Monster of God. New York: W.W. Norton. Steckenfinger, S.A. & Ghazanfar, A.A. (2009). Monkey visual behaviour falls into the uncanny valley. PNAS, 106, 18362–18366. Straube, T., Preissler, S., Lipka, J. et al. (2010). Neural representation of anxiety and personality during exposure to anxiety-provoking and neutral scenes from scary
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anthropologist Wade Davis is that victims are enslaved by witch doctors using a ‘zombie powder’ containing tetrodotoxin, a compound found in puffer fish, which can cause zombie-like symptoms such as lassitude and loss of will. Besides its disgustingness, another feature of the zombie movie monster that exploits our cognitive machinery is known as the uncanny valley (see box overleaf) – that is, there’s something particularly unnerving about an entity that moves jerkily in a way that’s nearly human, but not quite. ‘Zombies also drastically reduce the moral complexity of life,’ says Clasen. ‘Zombies are unequivocally bad, they need to be killed, they need to be shot in the head. There is no moral shade of grey and that can be a pleasurable fantasy – a way to relax your
movies. Human Brain Mapping, 31, 36–47. Tudor, A. (1997). Why horror? The peculiar pleasures of a popular genre. Cultural Studies, 11, 443–463. Welsh, A. & Brantford, L. (2009). Sex and violence in the slasher horror film: A content analysis of gender differences in the depiction of violence. Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture, 16, 1–25.
Zillmann, D., Weaver, J.B., Mundorf, N. & Aust, C.F. (1986). Effects of an opposite-gender companion’s affect to horror on distress, delight, and attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 51, 586–594.
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mind.’ No wonder, in the competition to scare audiences, zombies are staggering towards dominance at the box office (recent hits including Zombieland, I am Legend and 28 Days Later). Does this idea, that fictional monsters tap into our evolved mental habits and fears, amount to anything other than speculation? In a 2004 paper, Hank Davis and Andrea Javor at the University of Guelph provided a simple test. They took three of the evolutionary-cognitive themes we’ve discussed so far – predation, contagion and violations of the person category – and had 182 participants rate 40 horror films on their successful portrayal of these features. Films that scored higher tended to have performed better at the box office. The Exorcist, often described as the ultimate horror film, scored highest and came out joint fifth in terms of box office revenue. ‘Successful horror films are those that do the best job of tapping into our evolved cognitive machinery – they exploit topics and images we already fear,’ says Davis. If monsters succeed by playing on our primal fears and flicking our cognitive switches, this begs the question: which monster does it most successfully? The zombie may be clawing its way ever deeper into pop culture, but vampires probably remain the quintessential movie monster, at least according to a 2005 survey by Stuart Fischoff at California State University’s Media Psychology Lab. Fischoff’s team asked 1166 people aged 6 to 91 to name their favourite movie monster and the reasons for their choice. Vampires, and in particular Count Dracula, came out on top overall. The youngest age group (aged 6–25) preferred Freddy Krueger, but vampires still came in at number two. In general, younger viewers were more partial to slasher film
The uncanny valley
selfish, impulse-ridden, tantruming child who battles with our adultparent side.’
Who wants to be afraid?
baddies than older participants. Popular reasons for participants’ choice of monster included superhuman strength, intelligence and luxuriating in evil. ‘Movie monsters tap into our archetypal fears that never entirely disappear no matter how mature, smart, informed and rational we think we’ve become,’ says Fischoff. ‘As the American cartoonist of Pogo, Walt Kelly, might have said, “We’ve met the monster and he is us”.’ But why the particular appeal of vampires? Fischoff thinks it may have to do with their sexiness. Since at least Bram Stoker’s Dracula (but with the exception of F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu) and continuing to modern incarnations in the True Blood and Twilight series, they are, Fischoff says, ‘…inherently sexy… Even their act of monstrousness, neck biting and blood sucking, with or without killing, is intimate and sensuous.’ Other factors, according to Fischoff, include: their immortality; their fascinating, tormented characters (most of them are not simple killing machines); and the fact they often have a vestige of humanity, and can fight their impulses. ‘They can be “us”,’ Fischoff says, ‘epitomising our flirtation with our dark side, our Id, our
One likely reason that zombies are so disturbing is that they are located in the depths of what roboticist Masahiro Mori called the ‘uncanny valley’. In the 70s Mori noticed that as robots became more realistically human, their appeal increased until, that is, they became too human-like, at which point people’s reaction to them darkened, as they experienced an eerie feeling. Zombies have human faces and bodies, but with their plodding gait and empty gaze it’s clear that they’re not fully human, which particularly creeps us out. An explanation proposed for the uncanny valley is that an entity that appears almost like us, but not quite, triggers our evolved fear for disease and infection, or an innate mating aversion. Mori himself thought that ultra-realistic entities remind us of corpses and death. A recent study by Shawn Steckenfinger and Asif Ghazanfar showed that macaque monkeys also exhibit the uncanny valley. They were found to look longer at pictures of real or unrealistic macaque faces than pictures of almost-real cartoon macaque faces, with looking-time taken to be an indicator of preference. Steckenfinger and Ghazanfar proposed that as an entity becomes hyper-realistic it triggers raised perceptual expectations – for example, about skin tone and subtle movements – and when these are not met, an uncomfortable feeling ensues.
Psychology can help explain why horror takes the persistent form that it does, but that still leaves the question of why we should want to scare ourselves through fiction in the first place. One suggestion is that, like play, it allows us to rehearse possible threatening scenarios from a position of relative safety. ‘Movie monsters provide us with the opportunity to see and learn strategies of coping with real-life monsters should we run into them, despite all probabilities to the contrary,’ says Fischoff. ‘A sort of covert rehearsal for… who knows what.’ Despite its fantastical elements, Clasen explains that successful horror fiction is usually realistic in its portrayals of human psychology and relationships. ‘That’s where horror matters,’ Clasen says; ‘that’s where horror can teach us something truly valuable.’ Further clues come from a line of inquiry, most of it conducted in the 80s and 90s (coinciding with the rising popularity of slasher films), that looked at individual differences in horror film consumption. After all, although many people enjoy horror, most of us don’t. Who are these people who pay out money to be scared? A meta-analysis of 35 relevant articles, by Cynthia Hoffner and Kenneth Levine published in 2005 in Media Psychology, highlights the principal relevant traits: affective response; empathy; sensation seeking; aggressiveness; gender; and age. The more negative affect a person reports experiencing during horror, the more likely they are to say that they enjoy the genre. Media experts like Dolf Zillmann make sense of this apparent contradiction as a kind of conversion process, whereby the pleasure comes from the relief that follows once characters escape danger. This explanation struggles to account for the appeal of slasher films, in which most characters are killed. Part of the answer must lie with meta-emotion – the way we interpret the emotional feelings we’re experiencing, with some people finding pleasure in fright. Another possibility is that, for some, pleasure is derived from the sense that film victims are being punished for what the viewer considers to be their immoral behaviour. Consistent with this, a 1993 study by Mary Oliver found that male high school viewers who endorsed traditional views on female sexuality (e.g. ‘it’s okay for men to have sex before marriage, but not
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women’), were more likely to enjoy horror movie clips, especially if they involved a female victim portrayed with What goes on in the brain of a person watching horror? Readers may be surprised to hear that the her lover. amygdala – that almond-shaped brain structure so often associated with fear – was not one of the Other researchers have areas identified in a brain-scan study by Thomas Straube and his colleagues at Friedrich-Schillerexamined related claims that University of Jena. They used fMRI to monitor 40 participants as they watched scary scenes from Aliens female characters are more (1986), The Shining (1980), The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and The Others (2001). Neutral scenes from likely to be killed than male the same films served as comparison material. Scary clips triggered increased activity in the visual characters, especially if cortex, the insular cortex (a region involved in self-awareness) and the thalamus (the relay centre they’re portrayed as sexually between the cortex and sub-cortical regions). Subjective feelings of anxiety were associated with more promiscuous. A 2009 study activity in the dorso-medial prefrontal cortex (DMPFC) – an area previously associated with the by Andrew Walsh and Laurier assessment of the emotional significance of stimuli and situations. In relation to the lack of amygdala Brantford analysed 50 slasher activity, Straube’s team reasoned that amygdala activation is more often associated with sudden, films released between 1960 unexpected threats, rather than the sustained anxiety elicited in the current study. and 2007, including the Texas Another aspect to their investigation addressed the trait of sensation seeking. Consistent with prior Chainsaw Massacre and research that found sensation seekers are more aroused by stimulating material, high scorers on Hatchet. The researchers sensation seeking in the present study showed a greater response in the visual cortex when watching found that male characters horror clips. Also, high sensation seekers exhibited lower activity in the thalamus and insula during were more likely to be neutral clips, consistent with the idea that they might be under-aroused in usual circumstances. The victims of rapid, serious greater baseline activation in low sensation seekers could represent a signal of potential danger, the violence, whereas females researchers said, and therefore limit their search for further challenges, including horror movies. were more likely to be Much of this is clearly speculative and more research is needed. ‘Researchers need to find out the victims of less serious, but neural differences between different forms of horror (with or without disgust, etc.) and the interactions more drawn-out violence, between bodily responses, inter-individual differences, and brain activation,’ says Straube. including confinement and stalking. Female characters were also more likely to be seen partially or fully naked, slasher films, neglecting the psychology undergrads paired with a female partner and when scenes involved a mix of sex of more subtle horror experiences, which (unbeknown to them, a research and violence, the victim was more likely would have been trickier to study. Looking assistant), enjoyed a 14-minute clip from to be female. ‘Frequent depictions of ahead he believes that changes to the way Friday the 13th Part III almost twice as women in prolonged states of terror may we consume media – especially the ability much if she showed distress during the reinforce traditional gender schemas of to access niche material online in limitless film. Female undergrads, by contrast, said women as helpless and, as a result, may supply – also poses new questions about they enjoyed the film more if their male serve to normalise aggression or hostile our enjoyment of horror. ‘We need to companion appeared calm and unmoved. attitudes toward women,’ Walsh and understand how this media-rich Moreover, men who were initially Brantford said. environment affects consumption of considered unattractive were later judged Unsurprisingly perhaps, people with extremely violent and disturbing content,’ more appealing if they displayed courage lower self-reported empathy levels are he says. ‘In particular, one would expect during the film viewing. ‘Scary movies also more likely to say they enjoy horror that it provides unlimited material for films. However, this literature is and monsters are just the ticket for girls those high in sensation-seeking. New hampered by conflicting findings to scream and hold on to a date for dear research approaches would benefit from depending on whether one includes or life and for the date (male or female) to analysing media consumption in this omits films that include scenes of graphic be there to reassure, protect, defend and, torture and violence. People who seek out virtually unlimited virtual environment.’ if need be, destroy the monster,’ says intense thrills and experiences (as Another intriguing angle for the Fischoff. ‘Both are playing gender roles measured by Marvin Zuckerman’s future is whether insights from prescribed by a culture.’ Sensation-Seeking Scale), and those who psychology could help guide horror are more aggressive, are also more likely writers and producers to develop even Conclusion to report enjoying horror films, as are scarier material. Clasen believes most The horror genre, as popular as ever, offers men, probably in part because they tend successful horror writers have an intuitive intriguing insights into our psyches and is on average to be more aggressive and insight into human psychology – ‘H.P. surely ripe for further investigation. Brainhave lower empathy (see ‘Your brain on Lovecraft, for example, had a solid grasp imaging technology is only just starting to horror’). of human biology and psychology and be deployed to study the neural correlates With regard to age, there’s a used that in stories to creep people out’ – of the horror experience. The notion of suggestion that enjoyment rises through but he agrees the ultimate horror story meta-emotion, or how some people are childhood, peaks in adolescence and has yet to be told. It’s when the day able to interpret negative affect as a then gradually fades with age. Related to comes that there is no horror fiction, if it positive experience, is another intriguing this is the ‘snuggle theory’ – the idea that ever does, that we should probably worry. area for study. Norbert Mundorf at the viewing horror films may be a rite of As Arthur Conan Doyle wrote, ‘Where University of Rhode Island, one of the passage for young people, providing there is no imagination there is no scholars who studied individual differences them with an opportunity to fulfil their horror.’ in horror appreciation back in the 80s and traditional gender roles. A paper from I Dr Christian Jarrett is The Psychologist’s 90s, admits that he and colleagues perhaps the late 1980s by Dolf Zillmann, Norbert staff journalist. email@example.com focused too much on the enjoyment of Mundorf and others found that male
Your brain on horror
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With Halloween looming, perhaps you feel more susceptible to spooky sensations and ghostly goings-on. But before you blame the spirits, consider that you may be influenced by a sound below the normal threshold of human hearing. Dr Ciarán O’Keeffe has been researching infrasound detection and generation for several years. ‘We’ve been running surveys and controlled experiments testing Vic Tandy’s original theory that a frequency of around 18Hz could be responsible for people’s haunting
experiences. For example, we’ve had 600+ people walk around Mary King’s Close in Edinburgh in infrasound and non-infrasound conditions, with ARIA positioned out of sight in an area not accessed during the public tours. We conclude that infrasound (at that frequency) is a contributing factor in haunting experiences – the experience has to happen anyway, either due to some psychological or other environmental factor, but the infrasound increases the intensity and frequency of those experiences.’
Ciarán O’Keeffe (right) and Steve Parsons with the Acoustic Research Infrasound Array (ARIA). E-mail ‘Big picture’ ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A haunting sound?
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weighed about 1kg. Certainly clumsy by today’s standards. As a participant walked through a monitored area, his transceiver activated strategically placed repeater stations, which then transmitted a signal with a special location code to the base station at the lab. At the base station there was Robert S. Gable on how he and his brother invented electronic monitoring, but with a large lighted screen that mapped various an early emphasis on positive reinforcement parts of the city, typically within five blocks of the participant’s residence. In addition to location-monitoring, a few participants had their heart rate data transmitted to the lab. Participation was hen the Harvard behavioural voluntary. offenders would be perfect research psychologist B.F. Skinner, was Generally, the lab became a subjects: they are cheap, do not require a Professor at Indiana University community attraction among wayward research permission forms, and will work (USA) he used pigeons as research youth and young adults. First, there was hard if you treat them right. Shortly after subjects. They were cheap, did not require my brother had his inspiration, he met an the high-tech equipment. For example, research permission forms, and worked the control panel of the missile tracking electronics engineer (William Sprech hard if you treated them right. equipment had three buttons: ‘Search,’ Hurd) at a cocktail party. Thus, his idea of One class with Professor Skinner ‘Track,’ and ‘Destroy’. The youths tagging (electronic monitoring) started to was all I needed to know that I wasn’t particularly enjoyed pressing ‘Destroy’ take physical shape. interested in data about pigeons. when someone was being monitored. The first project location was a cosy, Fortunately, my twin brother (Ralph (The ‘Destroy’ button had been humanely hollowed-out space with stone walls in Kirkland Gable) was also a graduate disabled by the experimenters.) Second, the basement of the Old Cambridge student, and after watching the movie the participants were being paid by the Baptist Church in Cambridge, West Side Story he had the idea that the hour for interviews, which gave them Massachusetts. The small room had thick life of the protagonist might have been social status as ‘employees’. Most of the carpet and some coloured lights, a desk saved had there been a way to warn him interviews were and a few chairs. It had the of the danger of a gang fight. ‘How about conducted in a feeling of a ‘nest’. The trying to set up a communication/ confidential, minister of this very liberal “I should have realised reinforcement system with juvenile supportive, nonchurch was also the Dean of that potential harm delinquents?’ he asked. It didn’t take long directive manner the Harvard Divinity makes better news than to realise that juvenile and young adult by psychology and School. An antenna was theology graduate installed on the steeple of innovative altruism” students. Third, the church for the tagging bonuses of various types system. Most of the (e.g. cash, food, sports seriously delinquent youths tickets) were given to participants for enjoyed coming for interviews because meaningful interviews and prosocial probation officers would never consider behaviours (e.g. attending classes, going looking for them in a church. to work, being sober). The bonuses were Later the project office moved to an given in accord with operant conditioning abandoned storefront in a rather grungy principles on a variable ratio/variable part of the city. It gave us more space but interval schedule. In brief, the lab was had the disadvantage of giving visibility to a place of fun, novelty and compassion. delinquents and police. One day while we Because participants could leave the were unloading a large truckload of project without legal consequence, one military surplus missile tracking measure of the perceived restrictiveness of equipment for the project, the police 24-hour tagging was the number of days stopped by to do some serious that they carried the equipment. Within questioning. The police were doing the first several days, participants either surveillance of us while we were doing tended to adjust to the system or reject it. surveillance of the offenders! In the years About half of the participants returned that followed, local police were never very the equipment after five days. The comfortable with ‘bad kids’ running equipment was heavy and cumbersome, around town with high-tech equipment. and a source of potential embarrassment The project ‘participants’ or among peers. Some participants did not ‘employees,’ as we called them, were paid like the idea of carrying a ‘mobile a modest fee for tape-recorded interviews, conscience’. Two participants continued during which they described their for several weeks; one participant experience with the tagging equipment as continued for five months. well as their daily activities. The The Streetcorner Project, based on equipment consisted of a transceiver and Participant with tagging device reports in using positive reinforcement and electronic a battery pack (see photos), each of which a public phone booth monitoring, elicited strong reactions. was approximately 15 x 7.6 x 2.5cm and
Tagging – ‘an oddity of great potential’
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Psychology Today in 1969 describing a waist-worn, two-way tactile unit, I was surprised by the editor’s decision to title the piece ‘Belt from Big Brother’. I should have realised that potential harm makes better news than innovative altruism. The eminent American law scholar Laurence Tribe wrote in 1973 that my brother attempted for several years to receive funding and explore the potential abuses of monitoring (tagging), but was rebuffed by virtually ‘Belt from Big Brother’ – a waist-worn, two-way every professional tactile unit organisation, foundation, and citizen group to which he that cost-effective compliance and public turned. safety is best achieved through persuasion About 20 years after the more than control for the majority of initial tagging experiments, non-violent, non-career offenders. electronic technology Advances in cellular and battery became sufficiently technology even enable the installation advanced (with the of a network of inexpensive transceivers commercialisation of the in a neighbourhood or city sector. transistor and the invention Location-specific tagging can allow realof the integrated circuit) time positive reinforcement of prosocial that tagging was behaviour along a ‘digital pathway’. economically and I do not regret the naive enthusiasm aesthetically feasible. In of our early experiments. I do regret that 1983 a judge (Jack Love) in so much of contemporary tagging has Participants either tended to adjust to the system or New Mexico (USA) sentenced turned homes into prisons instead of reject it three offenders to home curfew making public spaces into areas of with a system using a cigarettepositive excitement. the Schwitzgebel Machine could be fitted pack-size transmitter unit strapped to an In 1987 Professor Marc Renzema of with a brain implant to keep track of ankle. The transmitter propagated a radio Kutztown University in Pennsylvania known criminals. signal every 60 seconds, which was initiated the professional newsletter (now All this early experimentation picked up by a receiver connected to a journal) Offender Monitoring. In his first occurred in the pre-digital age of the a telephone line and then transmitted editorial, he concluded that electronic 1960s. Transistor radios and colour to a mainframe computer. This was the monitoring of offenders was ‘an oddity televisions were still novelties for many ‘live birth’ of tagging. Within six years, with great potential’. It still is. people. Fear of a literary-fuelled 1984 hundreds of units were deployed in the dystopia was far enough away to allow US. A few years later, a similar spread of I Robert S. Gable is Emeritus Professor of for unrealistic fantasies of technological the technology occurred in the UK, but Psychology at Claremont Graduate capability. Yet not everyone received the with more thoughtful consideration of the University system in the spirit in which it was civil rights of offenders. email@example.com intended. When I wrote an article in In retrospect, the first tagging experiment probably failed for two reasons: (1) it was technologically premature, and (2) it relied almost exclusively on positive incentives. ‘What works’ to permanently reduce crime among moderate-risk Would you like to win £75 and the opportunity offenders is both incentives to present a conference paper? and some threat of The Lovie Prize is awarded to the student sanctions. Unfortunately, who sends in the best 3000-word, unpublished most tagging today essay on a history of psychology topic. Student functions almost exclusively is defined as an undergraduate or as an information system to postgraduate student from any country. document rule violations. Send your entries to Geoff Bunn There is virtually no use of (G.Bunn@mmu.ac.uk) or Peter Lamont valid operant conditioning (firstname.lastname@example.org) by 31 January 2012. At the base station there was a large lighted screen strategies by tagging officers in that mapped various parts of the city the United States. Yet we know Favourable reactions resulted in a national magazine article, a book contract, and a movie screenplay. Negative reactions were similarly vigorous. An early manuscript submitted by my brother to the US government publication Federal Probation was returned with a note from the editor that read, in part: ‘We don’t want material of this type in our office.’ Inaccurate reporting by a few journalists resulted in a myth, still circulating on the web, that
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Published on Oct 25, 2011
Published on Oct 25, 2011
This is a preview of the November issue of The Psychologist, published by the British Psychological Society. The whole issue will be availab...