psychologist vol 28 no 3
march 2015 www.thepsychologist.org.uk
Words and sorcery Simon Oxenham and Jon Sutton consider the causes of bad writing in psychology, and its impact
letters 172 news 184 careers 236 reviews 244
eldercare: the new frontier 202 sweet memories 206 sexual identity at work 212 masculinity, trauma and â€˜shell shockâ€™ 250
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Words and sorcery 198 Simon Oxenham and Jon Sutton consider the causes and consequences of bad writing in psychology
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Eldercare: The new frontier of work–family balance Lisa Calvano on the psychological impact of caring for spouses and parents 198
Managing and coping with sexual identity at work Y. Barry Chung, Tiffany K. Chang and Ciemone S. Rose consider LGBT issues
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New voices: Are we mindful of how we talk about mindfulness? 216 Kate Williams with the latest in our series for budding writers
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Sweet memories Michael A. Smith looks at glucose effects on human memory performance
news thinking machines; scars; cigarette packaging; 23 questions about scientists; and more
society President’s column; conversion therapy
The Psychologist is the monthly publication of The British Psychological Society. It provides a forum for communication, discussion and controversy among all members of the Society, and aims to fulfil the main object of the Royal Charter, ‘to promote the advancement and diffusion of a knowledge of psychology pure and applied’.
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psychologist vol 28 no 3
the issue ...debates letters psychologists against austerity; public engagement; the right to be forgotten; anonymous contributors; the fitness to practise process; and more
...digests dismissing evidence from psychology; bad managers; the Cyranoid illusion; how brains respond to corporations; and more from our free Research Digest. See www.bps.org.uk/digest for more, including episode one of PsychCrunch
...meets interview 220 an interactive mind: Jon Sutton talks to Andreas Roepstorff (Aarhus University) careers 236 we talk to social psychologist Robin Goodwin; hear about the role of psychological well-being practitioner from Katie Bogart; and Harriet Mills tells us about her work with Triumph Over Phobia one on one with Peter Venables, Emeritus Professor at the University of York and winner of the Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award
...reviews Eye on fiction: A disquieting look at dementia Mike Bender provides a critique of Lisa Genova’s novel Still Alice, the film adaptation of which is out this month
also the usual mix of books and other media reviews, including The Eichmann Show, The Hard Problem at the National Theatre, a synaesthetic dining experience, Invisibilia, Happy Maps and much more
Academic writing can be beautiful. It can be elegant, whimsical, moving, funny, passionate, persuasive. But mostly it’s not. What we read in books, journals, yes, even in these pages, often leaves us cold. Why do many psychologists write so badly? Other scientists have pondered this question: for example, see Stephen Heard’s call ‘to deliver (and to value) pleasure along with function in our scientific writing’ (tinyurl.com/pdlfmnf). Amongst much support for this notion on social media were complaints that such attempts had been quashed by editors – is the academic system simply not set up for beauty? Or is there more to it than that? On p.198 Simon Oxenham and I discuss the uncomfortable idea that there is some sorcery at play… that obscure writing not only survives but thrives, because it works. We then get tips from psychologists who do write well, and seek your views. Talking of beauty in prose, see our website for our first poetry competition (and so much more). And over on www.bps.org.uk/digest, listen to the new Digest podcast! Dr Jon Sutton Managing Editor @psychmag
...looks back Masculinity, trauma and ‘shell shock’ Tracey Loughran delivers a fitting tribute to the men who suffered in the First World War, and more modern conflicts
The Psychologist and Digest Editorial Advisory Committee Catherine Loveday (Chair), Phil Banyard, Olivia Craig, Helen Galliard, Harriet Gross, Rowena Hill, Stephen McGlynn, Tony Wainwright, Peter Wright
Five years ago Go to www.thepsychologist.org.uk for our archive, including Alison Gopnik on the supreme infant
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Big picture centre-page pull-out the path to participation: Society award winner Guy Holmes on ‘walk and talk’, part of a growing movement in community psychology
Have you visited The Psychologist’s new website? Dr Jon Sutton, Managing Editor of The Psychologist, said: ‘For me, the relaunch has fundamentally changed the nature of The Psychologist. Yes, our priority remains the print edition for members. But it has been exciting to present regularly changing, exclusive and multimedia content on our homepage. Open access material can fulfil the Society’s Royal Charter objective of disseminating a knowledge of psychology, and we’re sharing widely on Twitter @psychmag. So take a look at what’s changed, and browse a complete archive of 327 issues.’ For those who like the layout of the print version with added functions, Society members, affiliates and e-subscribers can also access digital editions to read on desktop, tablet and smartphone. Just log in via http://tinyurl.com/yourpsych. Visit www.thepsychologist.org.uk now!
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Meanwhile, the Research Digest goes from strength to strength. The blog version is now 10 years old, and its editor, Dr Christian Jarrett, is disseminating the latest findings in psychology in numerous ways to a large and international audience. He now publishes posts by guest bloggers and material from regular contributor Dr Alex Fradera, giving the Digest new content every day of the week bar Sundays (when the previous day’s ‘Link feast’ will give you plenty of reading). All this activity has helped our visitor numbers to rise, and on Twitter @ResearchDigest has passed 50,000 followers. We also have a presence on Facebook, Google+ and Tumblr alongside our free fortnightly e-mail (now in html). And February saw us launch episode one of our very own podcast, PsychCrunch! See www.bps.org.uk/digest for all the latest content, to listen to the podcast, sign up for the free fortnightly e-mail, ‘friend’ or follow us.
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Thinking about thinking machines The potential for bridging the empathy gap between humans, flawed notions of a robot-ruled dystopia and an end to the drudgery of every day life were among the ideas that emerged from psychologists who answered this year’s Edge.org question: ‘What do you think about machines that think?’ Scores of psychologists contributed their thoughts. Molly Crockett, Associate Professor at the University of Oxford’s Department of Experimental Psychology, asked whether thinking machines could be used to bridge the empathy gap between human individuals. Crockett said the empathy gap is most acute in moral dilemmas, writing: ‘Utilitarian ethics stipulates that the basic criterion of morality is maximising the greatest good for the greatest number – a calculus that requires the ability to compare welfare, or “utility” across individuals.’ But the empathy gap makes interpersonal utility comparisons difficult, if not impossible. Perhaps, Crockett adds, thinking machines could be up to the job of bridging the empathy gap by quantifying preferences and translating them into a ‘common currency’ that can be used across individuals. Fears of computers running amok are a waste of emotional energy according to Steven Pinker, author and Harvard Professor. He writes that human-level AI is 15 to 25 years away and it is bizarre to think that robotics experts will not build safeguards against harm into the machines they are creating. He asks why an intelligent system would want to disable its own safeguards, writing: ‘AI dystopias project a parochial alpha-male psychology onto the concept of intelligence… It’s telling that many of our techno-prophets don’t entertain the possibility that artificial intelligence will develop along female lines: fully capable of solving problems, but with no desire to annihilate innocents or dominate the civilisation.’ Similarly Michael Shermer, psychologist and founding publisher of Skeptic magazine, warns against assumptions that intelligent machines will result in either a horrifying dystopian future or an idealistic utopia. He argues that these prophecies are based on a flawed analogy between human nature and computer nature. He argues that emotions are built into humans through evolution, and such emotions will not be built into machines, thus making fears that machines will become evil unfounded. Other psychologists considered the possibility of a future where machines do our thinking for us. Athena Vouloumanos (New York University) writes that the kind of thinking machines do will define future human societies. She predicts that once machines start thinking properly, inane tasks such as
cleaning and food shopping will be the first things to disappear and eventually they may be able to do our work and create our art for us. She admits that this could result in a dystopian image of humans becoming ‘zombie consumers in a machinerun world’. A cheerier possibility is that we may have more time to spend with our families or learning new skills simply for the joy of it. Arnold Trehub (University of Massachusetts) argues that machines cannot think at all. He writes: ‘No machine has a point of view; that is a unique perspective on the worldly referents of its internal symbolic logic.’ He argues that humans judge the output of ‘thinking machines’ and give our own referents to the symbolic structures spouted by them. Will thinking machines ever develop a sense of self? This is the question posed by Professor of Psychology Jessica L. Tracy (University of British Columbia) and Kristin Laurin, Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour (Stanford Graduate School of Business). They ask whether machines will be subject to the same evolutionary forces that made the human sense of self adaptive, in learning the need to get along with others and attaining status. They start with the assumption that machines would, one day, control their own access to resources they need like electricity and internet bandwidth. They go on to assume that machines that survive in that environment will be the ones programmed to increase their own efficiency or productivity. Those that learn to form alliances in a competitive environment for limited resources will be most effective. They suggest that, unlike humans, machines will be able to access each other’s inner thoughts: ‘There’s no reason that one machine reading another’s hardware and software wouldn’t come to know, in exactly the self-knowing sense, what it means to be that other machine… When machines literally share minds, any self they have would necessarily become collective.’ They suggest that self-awareness in machines could be adaptive and could result in them feeling empathy and motivate them to protect rather than harm human beings – a species ‘several orders of magnitude less intelligent than them’. Read all 186 responses, including the thoughts of Susan Blackmore, Nicholas Humphrey, Christopher Chabris, Alison Gopnik, Martin Seligman, and many more at: http://edge.org/annual-question/what-do-you-think-aboutmachines-that-think ER I Do you have any thoughts on machines that think? Send your thoughts to firstname.lastname@example.org
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Baring the scars Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery is hosting a photo exhibition of adults with congenital heart disease (CHD) baring their scars in celebration of life, led by psychologist Dr Liza Morton. Scarred FOR Life was created on behalf of heart charity The Somerville Foundation by three friends with CHD: Liza Morton (see The Psychologist, September 2013), Caroline Wilson and Jenny Kumar. The exhibition aims to raise awareness of how the often invisible condition impacts on adult life through participants’ stories. Fashion and portrait photographer Kirsty Anderson joined the team to transform the participants into works of art. Dr Morton told us: ‘The idea is to change the perception that scars should be hidden away, and instead turn them into a celebration of life. There is estimated to be over 250,000 adults who were born with a heart condition, in the UK. Over half will experience medical and social problems at some time in their adult lives. Many can be “cured” in the first few years of life but others require lifelong follow-up. Advances in heart surgery made in the last 50 years, combined with patients’ own fighting spirit, have ensured that more congenital heart patients are surviving longer than ever before.’ Pictured, from the exhibition, is Scott Burrell (36), a development scientist who lives in Lanarkshire. He had pulmonary stenosis corrected when he was three years old and an artificial pulmonary valve fitted in September 2014. ‘I’ve had my scar as long as I can remember since surgery aged three,’ he said. ‘Growing up it was good for impressing other kids and grossing out girls but I never really linked it to any
memories of surgery, as I was too young to remember anything. Over the years I sort of forgot about it, as the only reminder I had of having CHD was yearly check-ups all of which passed without the need for further treatment.’ In May last year, Burrell had a valve replacement. ‘Thankfully everything went to plan and I now have a new, more prominent scar on top of my old one. I know I'll probably have to get through at least one operation if not more in the future, my scar reminds me of that. Though it also reminds me that I had the strength to get through it twice before and I can do it again when the time comes. Plus, it's still useful to gross out girls.’ The Somerville Foundation aims to provide practical and emotional
support, enabling survivors to take control of their lives and manage their condition. In addition to empowering people with CHD and raising awareness about their unique needs, the campaign hopes to raise funds for this work. The exhibition runs to 15 March, and is then likely to tour other venues. For information and stories from people with CHD, see www.scarredforlife.org.uk. JS
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THE KEY TO NATIONAL SECURITY? The formation by the British Army of the 2000-strong Brigade 77 has made the headlines recently, its future members being referred to as Facebook Warriors and PsyOps. The new brigade, set to be formed on 1 April, will have a particular focus on information, media and psychological operations. A spokesperson for the Army said the brigade would be formed to respond to the shifting character of modern conflict and will focus on the ‘integration and delivery of non-lethal and non-military effects on military operations’. He added: ‘It supports the delivery of information operations, including psychological operations and deployed media operations looking at the traditional and unconventional means of shaping behaviours through the use of dynamic narratives… 77 Brigade will play a key part in enabling the UK to fight in the information age.’ However, the plan for restructuring and expanding the Army’s operations is not a new one and was reported last year in British Army 2014, an annual publication. This document stated that the Army’s potential adversaries were increasingly blurring the lines between regular and irregular and between military, political, economic and information activities. It adds: ‘At least three nations who operate large conventional “traditional” armies have now also adopted the Chinese concept of Unrestricted Warfare.’ The publication says that to succeed in such as environment the Army needed to compete on an equal footing. ‘To do this, we must change not only our physical capabilities but our conceptual approach, our planning and our execution. This is not to say that the virtual and cognitive domains now produce a “silver bullet” that will mean the end of combat, but that “superiority in the physical environment was of little value unless it could be translated into an advantage in the information environment”.’ A Security Assistance Group (SAG) was to be formed in September 2014 through the amalgamation of the current 15 Psychological Operations Group, the Military Stabilisation Support Group, the Media Operations Group and the Security Capacity Team. The annual publication concluded: ‘However, these structures are merely the start point for a fully integrated capability that will harness a wide range of powers to achieve the desired effects – from cyber through to engagement, commercial, financial, stabilisation and deception. At the heart of the new structure must be a culture and attitude that is both Defence and civilian orientated.’ Psychologist Dr Vaughan Bell, writing for the blog MindHacks (tinyurl.com/ok4pz2p), said the idea of the brigade was to make information operations a more central part of military doctrine, which includes electronic warfare and computer hacking, physical force targeted on information resources, psychological operations – changing belief and behaviour, and behaviour in the theatre of war – and media operations. He added: ‘The Daily Express reports that “the brigade will bring together specialists in media, signalling and psychological operations, with some Special Forces soldiers and possibly computer hackers” which seems likely to reflect exactly what the Army are aiming for in their new plan. From this point of view, you can see why governments are so keen to hold on to their Snowdenera digital monitoring and intervention capabilities. They typically justify their existence in terms of “breaking terrorist networks” but they are equally as useful for their role in wider information operations – targeting groups rather than individuals – now considered key to national security.’ ER
The civilisation of virtual worlds Ella Rhodes looks into the future of video gaming For decades the world of video gaming has been viewed by the mass media, and some academics, as a home for gratuitous violence and online bullying. But is this world actually evolving into a place of polite communities? Are the games themselves increasingly appealing to, and fostering the creativity of, those who play them? Writing for Medium.com’s Backchannel (tinyurl.com/kap4bck), Jeremy Hsu outlines the work of Riot Games, creators of the monumentally popular League of Legends, who have been using the knowledge of psychologists to moderate gamers’ attitudes and behaviour to one another. Hsu writes that the company has been testing machine-learning techniques to automatically classify behaviours and swiftly punish or reward players accordingly. League of Legends attracts around 67 million players a month, who are all potential test subjects for Riot Games. The experiments have been developed by Jeffrey ‘Lyte’ Lin, a game designer who also has a PhD in cognitive neuroscience from the University of Washington in Seattle. He is the head of Riot’s player behaviour team, more than 30 researchers who devise social psychology experiments on competitive League of Legends gamers. Lin began his experimentation with priming, the idea that exposure to certain stimuli can subconsciously influence behaviour. Hsu writes: ‘In one study, called the “Optimus Experiment,” they tested five categories of messages displayed to players in red and blue, with white serving as a baseline for comparison. Among Western gamers, they found that a red message warning about the counterproductive results of negative behaviour – such as, “Teammates perform worse if you harass them after a mistake” – led to a bigger drop in players having a bad attitude toward their teammates or insulting other players than the same message displayed in white. A blue message highlighting the benefits of positive behaviour also helped reduce toxic behaviour.’ The team has also been trialling punishment for misbehaving players, developing a restricted chat mode that temporarily limits the amount of messages abusive players can type per match. Hsu writes: ‘[It] has led to a noticeable improvement in player behaviour
afterward – on average, individuals who went through a period of restricted chat saw 20 per cent fewer abuse reports filed by other players. The restricted chat approach also proved 4 per cent more effective at improving player behaviour than the usual punishment method of temporarily banning toxic players.’ The online gaming community, then, are perhaps being persuaded to change. But how about the games themselves? Will Wiles, writing for Aeon (tinyurl.com/qjs3yts), asks why survival games that present the player with scarcity and austerity have grown in popularity over the past two years. He points, in particular, to the game Banished, which asks players to build a village and survive using very scarce resources. Wiles writes: ‘Scavenging sells. Starvation sells. Survival sells.’ Wiles continues, saying that although diminishing resources, such as ammunition and health, have long been a basic part of games, they do not deplete if a gamer should stand around doing
nothing. The difference in survival games is that a player can die through simple inaction – just as you would in real life. Wiles concludes: ‘At the heart of the new digital melancholy – wrapped in all that beauty – is primal simplicity, the basic animal equation: eat, don’t get eaten, keep going... Vulnerability imposes a measure of passivity – in some situations, for instance, the only workable strategy might be to wait for danger to pass, to hide behind a hedge, to stay in the shelter until dawn or nightfall – so the environment and the atmosphere become more important, they are not just a Niagara of garish detail to be rushed past.’ Similarly Keith Stuart, writing for The Guardian (tinyurl.com/omwt89a), explores a new generation of games whose main themes are creativity and exploration rather than action and explosions. He describes new game No Man’s Sky: ‘…a vast universe filled with worlds that have been procedurally generated by computer algorithms, and it tells you to go out there and explore.’
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Sean Murray, co-founder of the studio behind the game, explains how the market for games may be changing, becoming more cerebral. ‘I was in the Arctic for a while, where there’s this sense of utter isolation. It’s something games just don’t do. Danger in games is always about explosions. That’s not the danger most of us experience in real life. Games are obsessed with having no breathing space – they never let the player walk around and enjoy something… I mean, games are amazing now, they’re beautiful. But you sit and watch something that looks glorious, and hundreds of people have worked on it, and you find yourself yawning. Then you play something much more simple, like Amnesia, and you have so many more emotions – just because there are lulls, there is sometimes nothing, so when something does happen, it surprises you. That’s what real life is like. Anything you see enough of, just becomes normal. Games are terrible for that.’ Murray is anticipating a new chapter for game design. ‘The kids who grew up with Minecraft will really struggle to relate to something like Assassin’s Creed,’ he told The Guardian. ‘They won’t want to be that guy.’ Chris Ferguson (Stetson University) is a psychologist specialising in the study
of video games and society. Professor Ferguson told me that the social narrative on gaming had been shifting slowly over time, interestingly, mirroring the shift in attitude towards comic books in the 1950s, which were initially thought to cause delinquency. He explained: ‘It's very much a generational issue. Older adults remain relatively suspicious of video games, but younger adults are much less so. As the younger folks who grew up with gaming age into the “power structure” of society (politicians, scientists, journalists, even just people who vote), stoking moral panics about games is becoming more difficult and getting met with more resistance. This is fairly identical to what happened with comic books.’ Ferguson said the rise in popularity of ‘scarcity games’ was part of a more general interest in dystopian books, films and TV shows, he added: ‘I've seen some theories that depictions of scarcity can also go along with periods of strain, such as during financial downturns. Although economies are overall going up, that hasn't always trickled down to the lower wage earners and unemployed. So themes of scarcity may connect with them in an emotional way.’ He also pointed to some of the
psychological benefits of video games in general: ‘Probably one of the most publicised areas of research is the notion that action (e.g. violent) games can promote visuospatial cognition, the types of tasks involved in careers like surgery, engineering, etc. That area has sometimes been controversial due to failed replications, just like the difficult-toreplicate aggression research. But in my own work I've seen some consistent data indicating that video games, both violent and non-violent, reduce stress. And more complex games do seem efficient in fostering a sense of creativity.’ Ferguson concluded that, generally, people are coming to change their minds about video games being the root of all evil or societal violence: ‘I think probably a lot of people are realising it's becoming harder and harder to get traction on blaming video games for societal problems. The data just isn’t there. What will be interesting will be to see if the current generation that grew up with games will be able to learn from the historical cycles of moral panic and avoid doing the same thing with whatever new media the future will bring!’ I Visit tinyurl.com/oxpkjff to see Chris Ferguson’s article in The Psychologist on video game violence from May 2014
23 QUESTIONS ABOUT THE LIVES OF SCIENTISTS Cognitive neuroscientist SarahJayne Blakemore (University College London) has created a website aimed at inspiring young people to get involved with the sciences. The Scientific 23 poses 23 questions to a varied group of scientists about their work, background and what inspired them to become involved in their scientific pursuits. Professor Blakemore’s lab focuses on the development of the teenage brain (see The Psychologist, October 2007), so she spends much of her time in schools with teenagers. She said: ‘Something that surprises me when I visit schools is that the view still seems to prevail amongst students that professors of science must surely be men! This is surprising because there are
now many women professors of science, but they are perhaps not as visible as the men, who have the advantage of centuries of scientific history behind them – it is mostly men whose findings make it into the textbooks. For a long time I have been thinking about how to raise the visibility of women scientists amongst school students.’ In 2013 Blakemore was given the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award, which supports the promotion of
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women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. She decided to use it in order to create the website exploring the lives of scientists, their inspirations, and how studying science at school or university can lead to many different careers. The current interviewees include psychologists Essi Viding (UCL), Tim Dalgleish (Cambridge) and Tanya Byron, as well as eminent doctors, physicists and even science exhibit curators and journalists.
Each interview includes 23 questions submitted by teenagers and is aimed as a resource particularly for secondary school students. Why 23? The site explains that, amongst other things, we have 23 pairs of chromosomes, and in a room of 23 people, there’s 50 per cent chance that two will share a birthday (the birthday paradox). 'We’re not saying that there’s anything special about the number 23, but it’s certainly an interesting number!' An interview will be added each month for the next year. Blakemore and her research assistant, Medical student Emily Garrett, have interviewed the scientists, while journalist Adam Rutherford has written them up. ER I To see the interviews visit www.thescientific23.com
Secure setting report ‘shocking’ Many prison officers and workers in secure psychiatric hospitals feel unable to seek help for psychological problems, and the majority feel pressurised to come to work when sick due to fear of repercussions and loyalty to colleagues. And proposed changes to the pensionable age of prison workers mean that many fear having to continue working under such conditions until the age of 68. These are the results of a psychologist-led survey of more than 1500 such staff, which has now been debated in the House of Commons. The survey was conducted by British Psychological Society Fellow and occupational health psychologist Professor Gail Kinman, along with University of Bedfordshire colleagues Andrew Clements and Jacqui Hart. It was commissioned by POA, the trade union for prison, correctional and psychiatric workers. After results were published, a seminar was held at the House of Commons, chaired by Elfyn Llwyd MP, chair of the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group. The findings of the survey were the subject of an Early Day Motion and subsequently debated in the House of Commons, and a meeting of the Justice Parliamentary Group and the Minister was recommended and agreed by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Andrew Selous. Kinman said she had been alarmed
by the results of the study. She said: ‘I’ve worked with people in stressful and emotionally demanding jobs for many years, but I was shocked by the results. I have particular concerns about the high levels of mental health problems: 72 per cent achieved scores which were indicative of the need for some intervention.’ Of the 1682 people questioned (85 per cent male) only just under one third said they had never been harassed at work and only 40 per cent never experience bullying at work. Three respondents out of 10 had been physically assaulted by a prisoner while seven out of 10 said they regretted their choice of job. The survey used HSE Management Standards Indicator Tool to assess members’ perceptions of their job, as well as measures of mental health, burnout, work–life conflict and job satisfaction. Lower than average levels of well-being were found for all of the HSE’s work stressor categories. The biggest ‘well-being gaps’ relate to demands, job control, manager support, change management and relationships. Due to government pension changes, prison officers, who made up the majority
of those surveyed (72 per cent), will need to work until they are 68, a prospect that seems daunting to many in the job. Kinman said: ‘The government has decided that jobs in prisons are not “unique”. It is argued that the fire service and police should retire at 60 because of the inherent pressures of those jobs, but prison officer jobs are not deemed to have those unique characteristics. So people will have to work in the front line of the prison service until they are 68. Many older prison officers and their younger colleagues are extremely concerned about dealing with potentially violent young prisoners when they are over 60.’ Many of the people surveyed felt that any support available to them to deal with assaults or stress was not confidential. They also commonly reported that workplace stress was highly stigmatised in their institution and could not be discussed openly. Similarly, many felt guilty for taking time off sick, and 84 per cent said they felt under pressure to come to work while unwell. Kinman said: ‘The fact that workplace stress was not a topic for discussion in prisons was a thread which ran through our findings. This means that support services are either not offered or not taken up. Almost half of the sample didn’t even know if there were support services available to them.’ ER
Mental health heroes February saw psychology research associate and psychosis expert Dr Eleanor Longden (Liverpool University) invited to attend the Deputy Prime Minister’s Mental Health Heroes Awards at Whitehall. The reception was organised by Nick Clegg to recognise individuals who have helped, supported or inspired those with mental health difficulties. It was held to mark Time to Change’s ‘Time to Talk’ initiative, which encourages people to challenge stigma and speak out about mental health issues. Other attendees included Professor Louis Appleby, Norman Lamb, and television
personalities Fiona Phillips and Denise Welch. When addressing the audience, Mr Clegg emphasised the ‘Cinderella status’ of mental health research and clinical input in comparison to other healthcare branches. He stated that psychiatric treatment must be placed on the same level as physical health, and that taboos surrounding mental health issues must end. Whilst at the ceremony, Dr Longden discussed some of the work being carried out at Liverpool University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society. This included contributions from herself, Professor Peter Kinderman,
Professor Richard Bentall, and the recent head of Liverpool’s clinical psychology programme, Professor John Read, to the recent BPS report Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia. Among the 10 regional winners were Kai Moore, a former Youth MP for West Sussex who started the ‘Free Your Mind’ campaign two years ago; Debbie Humberstone, founder and coordinator of The Project, a charity in Devon that supports young people with mental health issues; and Becki Luscombe, a mental health campaigner who was given her award posthumously.
Longden was nominated on the basis of her academic and media work in highlighting the psychosocial causes of mental health difficulties (see her article in The Psychologist, August 2013: tinyurl.com/n4y5t7h), as well as public discussion of her own experiences of trauma and psychosis, particularly her 2013 TED talk, ‘The Voices in My Head’ (see the video at tinyurl.com/tedlongd), which has been viewed nearly three million times, been translated into 34 languages, and was named by The Guardian newspaper as ‘One of the 20 Online Talks That Could Change Your Life’. ER
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Laugh and think with TED This month’s TED conference in Vancouver will feature a number of talks from eminent neuroscientists speaking around the theme ‘Truth and Dare’. The global Technology, Entertainment and Design events have gathered a vast following with their free online talks and draw together a vast array of scientists, thinkers, artists and musicians. Among those speaking this year will be neuroscientist Professor Sophie Scott (University College London). Scott is Deputy Director of the university’s Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, and her research focuses on the neurological basis of communication, including speech and vocalised emotion. During her research into laughter she has made some unexpected discoveries, including that the one almost guaranteed way to get someone to laugh is to show them another person laughing. Professor Scott puts her knowledge to good use as an occasional stand-up comedian with UCL’s Bright Club. She said: ‘I am surprised, delighted and honoured to have this opportunity. I really enjoy planning and giving talks, and I sincerely desire to do this as well as possible.’ Speaking in a session titled ‘What are we thinking?’ is neuroscientist, and acclaimed author of short story collection Sum, David Eagleman. In a career including research into time perception, brain plasticity and neurolaw, Eagleman has also worked on a six-part TV series The Brain, which will air in autumn. Some of his most recent research looks into technology that bypasses sensory impairments, including a smartphone-controlled vest that translates sound into patterns of vibration for the deaf. Donald Hoffman, also speaking in the ‘What are we thinking?’ session, is a cognitive scientist who studies how our visual perception guides our everyday reality. He is a faculty member at
FUNDING NEWS The ESRC invites applications for its Research Grants. Awards ranging from £200,000 to £2 million are to enable individuals or research teams to undertake anything from a standard research project through to a large-scale survey.There is considerable flexibility on subject area, as long as it falls within the ESRC’s remit. Applications to the scheme can be submitted at any time. I tinyurl.com/4o5a3ag
UC Irvine and a recipient of the Troland Award of the US National Academy of Sciences. ‘To put it simply,’ the TED website says, ‘we actively create everything we see, and there is no aspect of reality that does not depend on consciousness’. Another cognitive scientist to speak at the event will be Laura Schulz (MIT), whose developmental behaviour studies are exploring how children learn. Schulz is the university’s lead investigator of the Early Childhood Cognition Lab and her work bridges computational models of cognitive development and behavioural studies in order to understand the origins of inquiry and discovery. She works in play labs, children’s museums, and on a recently launched citizen science website. Schulz has uncovered surprising results, including that before the age of four, children expect hidden causes when events happen probabilistically, use simple experiments to distinguish causal hypotheses, and trade off learning from instruction and exploration. ER
The Wellcome Trust invites applications for its Research Fellowships scheme. This scheme supports individuals at all stages of their career not in established academic posts, wishing to undertake a period of research. The maximum duration is three years. The awards are full-time but can be on a parttime basis if personal circumstances require this. Fellowships provide research expenses and a salary, plus appropriate employer's contributions. The next round of applications will be in July. I tinyurl.com/qbyqzco The Experimental Psychology Society invites applications for its Mid-Career Awards. The purpose is to recognise an experimental psychologist who is currently active in research and has a distinguished record of a substantial period. Nominees have typically gained their PhD 15–25 years previously. Nominations may be made by any Ordinary Member of the Society by 1 September each year. I tinyurl.com/n9wqm42
I TED Vancouver runs 16–20 March. See https://conferences.ted.com/TED2015/
The Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) registration renewal period for practitioner psychologists opens on Sunday 1 March 2015 and closes on Sunday 31 May 2015. The HCPC will write to all registered practitioner psychologists at the beginning of March with information on how to renew. To renew, registrants must complete a professional declaration and pay a renewal fee no later than midnight on 31 May. The easiest and quickest way to do this is via the online system. More information, including video guides, is available at www.hcpc-uk.org/renew. A random sample of 2.5 per cent of the profession will also be selected to submit a continuing professional development (CPD) profile during this period. Those selected for audit will receive a separate letter after the renewal notices are sent out. More information, including sample profiles, activity types and video guides, is available at www.hcpc-uk.org/registrants/cpd. Registrants can contact the HCPC Registration Department with any queries on renewal or the CPD audit process from 1 March, Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm on 0845 3004 472.
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HCPC REGISTRATION RENEWAL REMINDER
For BPS awards and grant schemes, see www.bps.org.uk/awards&grants Funding bodies should e-mail news to Emma Smith on email@example.com for possible inclusion
Is packaging the plain and simple answer? Government plans for changing the way cigarettes are sold in England are gathering pace – but does the research evidence support the strategy? Jon Sutton speaks to two health psychologists.
Tobacco manufacturers could be forced to adopt so-called ‘plain packaging’ in England as soon as 2016, after Public Health Minister Jane Ellison outlined the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition government’s move in January. MPs are expected to be given a free vote on the issue before Parliament is dissolved ahead of this year’s general election campaign, which begins in April. Wales has already voted to accept any Westminster legislation on the matter. Scotland and Northern Ireland are also expected to vote on whether to back the move. But does the psychological evidence suggest the change will be effective in reducing smoking? The UK government consulted on plain packaging in 2012, and last June we reported that the Department of Health had opened a six-week consultation and review of the evidence. Dr Olivia Maynard, a Research Associate at the University of Bristol, is part of the Tobacco and Alcohol Research Group in the School of Experimental Psychology. She told us: ‘Our research contributed to
Kenny, P.J. & Markou, A. (2006). Nicotine self-administration acutely activates brain reward systems and induces a long-lasting increase in reward sensitivity. Neuropsychopharmacology, 31, 1203–1211. Maynard, O.M., Munafò, M.R. & Leonards, U. (2013). Visual attention to health warnings on plain tobacco packaging in adolescent smokers and non-smokers. Addiction, 108(2),
evidence supplied to the consultation. Given the policy relevance of this research, it has been important to disseminate it to policy makers and other interest groups.’ Dr Maynard points to ‘considerable scientific evidence supporting the introduction of plain packaging. Two systematic reviews (Moodie et al., 2012, 2013) have shown that plain packaging reduces the appeal of smoking, particularly among young people, increases the noticeability and effectiveness of the health warnings and prevents smokers from being misled about the relative health risks of smoking. The research we’ve conducted at the University of Bristol supports this and has found, using eye-tracking technology, that plain packaging increases attention directed towards health warnings among nonsmokers and non-daily smokers (Maynard et al., 2013; Munafò et al., 2011). This is important, as we know that health warnings are key in educating both smokers and non-smokers about the health risks of smoking.’
413–419. Moodie, C., Stead, M., Bauld, L. et al. (2012). Plain tobacco packaging: A systematic review. Available at tinyurl.com/kt3u5cl Moodie, C., Angus, K., Stead, M. & Bauld, L. (2013). Plain tobacco packaging research: An update. Available at tinyurl.com/kelpqxc Moodie, C., Mackintosh, A.M. & Hastings, G. (2013). Adolescents’ response to
But it’s not just work conducted in the laboratory that has shown that plain packaging might be effective in changing smoking behaviour. Maynard points out that since being introduced in Australia in December 2012, research has found that plain packaging has reduced the appeal of smoking (Wakefield et al., 2013), and cut down the prevalence of smokers displaying their packs on tables (Zacher et al., 2014). She adds: ‘Although it’s still too early to determine the effect of plain packaging on actual smoking rates in the country, researchers have observed increased numbers of calls to the stop smoking Quitline in the months after the introduction of plain packaging (Young et al., 2014). However, not all are convinced that plain packaging will have an impact on current smokers. We spoke to Chris Armitage, Professor of Health Psychology at the University of Manchester and a member of the British Psychological Society Behaviour Change Advisory Group. He pointed out that Moodie and colleagues had actually found that regular
pictorial warnings on the reverse panel of cigarette packs: A repeat cross-sectional study. Tobacco Control [Advance online publication]. doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2013050999 Munafò, M.R., Roberts, N., Bauld, L. & Leonards, U. (2011). Plain packaging increases visual attention to health warnings on cigarette packs in nonsmokers and weekly smokers but not
daily smokers. Addiction, 106(8), 1505–1510. Peterson, D.E., Zeger, S.L., Remington, P.L. & Anderson, A.H. (1992). The effect of state cigarette tax increases on cigarette sales, 1955 to 1988. American Journal of Public Health, 82(1), 94–96. Wakefield, M.A., Hayes, L., Durkin, S. & Borland R. (2013). Introduction effects of the Australian plain
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A BEHAVIOURAL SCIENCE LARGE HADRON COLLIDER? The Centre for Behaviour Change at University College London has launched a new venture with global health provider Bupa, to develop applied digital behavioural change initiatives in key health issues. Named the Global Institute for Digital Health Excellence (GLIDHE), the initiative is a bridge between academic and private company worlds that tests behaviour change theories on a wide scale, and helps solve major health and well-being issues. Professor Susan Michie, Director of the UCL Centre of Behaviour Change (see www.ucl.ac.uk/behaviour-change), says, ‘The goal is to support people to change behaviour in their everyday lives. This means that partnerships between academia and organisations that can provide field testing at scale is imperative. The concept is not specific to health – it applies to all areas of life where behaviour is key – for example, environmental sustainability, organisational functioning, international conflict, an equitable and just society.’ GLIDHE was developed following research collaborations between Bupa’s Group Digital Director Alan Payne, UCL Professor of Health Psychology and Associate of the Centre of Behaviour Change Robert West, and UCL Professor of Computing Science Philip Treleaven. Bupa’s vision to work as a global healthcare provider with behavioural and computing science at its core led to a neat fit with UCL, who will provide the behavioural science input. This academic rigour is an important element in a time of rapid growth in ‘mobile health applications’. ‘It’s showing up the weaknesses of traditional research methods and we are having to create new, much more agile, methods of evaluating interventions, while still having confidence in the robustness of the findings,’ explains Professor Michie. Alan Payne adds, ‘Bupa’s priority is prevention and reducing the demand on health eco systems. Our scope includes the use of smartphones and devices to telephone interventions, allowing us to cross the digital divide and service all demographics at all times.’ For UCL, this ambition, as well as Bupa’s scale (with over 22 million ‘customers’ in 190 countries), allows researchers to test and
smokers were less inclined to quit smoking in response to packaging in 2011 (after graphic images were introduced on packaging), compared to 2008 (before graphic images were introduced on packaging). Regarding young smokers, Professor Armitage said that before advertising bans on smoking, research tended to show that awareness of advertising and motivation to smoke were linked and therefore any reduced exposure to advertising is likely to reduce
packaging policy on adult smokers: A cross-sectional study. BMJ Open. 3, e003175. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2013003175 Young J.M., Stacey I., Dobbins T.A. et al. (2014). Association between tobacco plain packaging and Quitline calls: A population-based, interrupted timeseries analysis. Medical Journal of Australia, 200(1), 29–32. Yurasek, AM., Murphy, J.G., Clawson, A.H.
study behavioural theories more quickly. In particular it allows UCL to advance discoveries in its ‘Grand Challenges’ programme, which aims to bring disciplines together to address wider societal problems and input to practitioners, policy makers, and the public. ‘The initiative allows behavioural science and computer science to work closely together to create what we hope will be the behavioural science version of the Large Hadron Collider!,’ Professor Michie says. ‘The datasets will be huge and complex and the challenges will be methodological, practical and theoretical.’ Some of the areas GLIDHE are looking to test initially will involve smoking cessation, following positive trials with Robert West, whose work in developing SmokeFree 28 formed the basis for the first GLIDHE project, BupaQuit. GLIDHE will also look at areas of cravings management and alcohol intake reduction apps, in collaboration with national health institutions. Two advisory boards, one scientific and one of global organisations, will systematically identify and prioritise research topics; develop, test and evaluate interventions; and deliver the products with a view to maximum take-up. Professor Michie says, ‘We will test those models that combine empirical support with practical utility for our purpose.’ She clearly has big ambitions for the GLIDHE’s work. ‘I foresee two major impacts. From the perspective of a scientific partner, it is to see significant advances in our understanding of behaviour change and in the synergistic advances in scientific thinking and practice of working closely with computer scientists. The second impact is social and health – to engage millions, especially those in low- and middle-income countries, to use products that will improve their health. But we’re even going beyond narrow definitions of health to encompass well-being, addressing topics such as stress and sleep.’ I Written for The Psychologist by Eloise Smart, BPS member and blogger at www.littlegreymatters.com. For more on this story and other news, see www.thepsychologist.org.uk/reports
the chance of smoking uptake. But he added: ‘One concern for the future is whether e-cigarette advertising and/or e-cigarette uptake ultimately turns out to be a precursor to future cigarette smoking. Although nicotine consumption per se does not appear to be related to increased risk of cancer, there is some evidence that nicotine disrupts brain reward mechanisms that could increase susceptibility to other drugs (e.g. Kenny & Markou, 2006; Yurasek et al., 2013).’
et al. (2013). Smokers report greater demand for alcohol on a behavioral economic purchase task. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, 74(4), 626–634. Zacher M., Bayly M., Brennan E. et al. (2014). Personal tobacco pack display before and after the introduction of plain packaging with larger pictorial health warnings in Australia. Addiction, 109(4), 653–662.
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(For more on this, see Lynne Dawkins’ article in last May’s issue). When asked whether standardised packaging should be the priority for the government in its attempts to stop people from smoking, Professor Armitage told The Psychologist: ‘There is a large body of evidence, stretching back quite a few years (e.g. Peterson et al., 1992) suggesting that increased taxation will reduce both uptake and consumption of cigarettes. Given that all the regulatory mechanisms are already in place, increased taxation would seem to be a more straightforward way of preventing smoking uptake than developing new rules about packaging.’ Dr Maynard may not disagree with this, telling us: ‘Despite the expected benefits of plain packaging, it is important to remember that it will be most effective as part of a comprehensive tobacco control strategy that includes other policies, such as access to stop smoking services, restrictions on sales to young people and effective taxation.’
People quicker to dismiss evidence from psychology than neuroscience Imagine a politician from your party is in trouble for alleged misdemeanours. He’s been assessed by an expert who says it is likely he has early-stage Alzheimer’s. If this diagnosis is correct, your politician will have to resign, and he’ll be replaced by a candidate from an opposing party. This was the scenario presented to participants in a new study by Geoffrey Munro and Cynthia Munro. A vital twist was that half of the 106 student participants read a version of the story in which the dementia expert based his diagnosis on detailed cognitive tests; the other half read a version in which he used a structural MRI brain scan. All other story details were matched, such as the expert’s years of experience in the field, and the detail provided for the different techniques he used. Overall, the students found the MRI evidence more convincing than the cognitive tests. For example, 69.8 per cent of those given the MRI scenario said the evidence the politician had Alzheimer’s was strong and convincing, whereas only 39.6 per cent of students given the cognitive tests scenario said the same. MRI data was also seen to be more objective, valid and reliable. Focusing on just those students in both conditions who showed scepticism, over 15 per cent who read the cognitive tests scenario mentioned the unreliability of the evidence; none of the students given the MRI scenario cited this reason. In reality, a diagnosis of probable Alzheimer’s will always be made with cognitive tests, with brain scans used to rule out other explanations for any observed test impairments. The researchers said their results are indicative of naive faith in the trustworthiness of brain-imaging data. ‘When one contrasts the very detailed manuals accompanying cognitive tests to the absences of formalised operational criteria to guide the clinical interpretation of structural brain MRI in diagnosing disease, the perception that brain MRI is somehow immune to problems of reliability becomes even more perplexing,’ they said. What about the students with a very strong political identity for whom the diagnostic evidence was therefore particularly unwelcome? The researchers found that the gap between the perception of MRI and cognitive testing was largest for this group. This is because, when the students were highly motivated to disbelieve the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, those told about the cognitive tests were very dismissive, but those told about the MRI scans showed similar levels of trust to their less In Basic and Applied Social partisan peers. The authors said this suggests we Psychology are more willing to discount unwelcome psychological evidence than we are to discount brain-based evidence. These new results add to past findings showing people’s bias for neuroscience and other ‘hard’ sciences and against psychology. For example, medical students think their psychology lectures are ‘soft and fluffy’; students think psychology is less important than the other natural sciences; children rate psychological questions as easier than chemistry or biology questions; and expert testimony supporting an insanity defence is seen as less convincing when delivered by a psychologist than a psychiatrist. Another line of research suggests people are particularly influenced by images of brain scans, although recent attempts have failed to replicate this finding [links to all studies can be found on the blog version of this, at tinyurl.com/pedla3x]. The researchers called for their work to be extended into other contexts, and for the allure of neuroscience to be probed more deeply. ‘The need for the general public to accurately evaluate the scientific methods used by psychologists is especially relevant to real-world situations,’ they said, ‘in which strongly held values, beliefs, or identification with specific groups renders people particularly likely to discount psychological evidence.’ CJ
How bad managers inspire team camaraderie In Journal of Applied Psychology An unfair, uncaring manager makes for an uncertain working life, one characterised by stress, absenteeism and poor performance. But new research suggests a silver lining: when the boss is unjust, team members come together. A multi-institution collaboration led by Adam Stoverink presented teams of students with an awkward event. The students thought they’d been recruited to solve tasks for a cash prize, but they were left twiddling their thumbs while waiting for an assigned supervisor to show up. When he eventually did, he gave a sincere apology to half of the groups, but the rest were fobbed off with a shrug, as he explained, ‘clearly my time is more important than yours’. Post-experiment, participants who were fobbed off rated their supervisor poorly, but also expressed feeling closer to their team-mates. The evidence suggests the participants were seeking to relieve cognitive dissonance, the discomfort caused by an ambiguous situation that doesn’t line up with their beliefs. One way to do this is to seek solidarity with others in the same position. This was characterised as ‘misery doesn’t just love any kind of company, it loves only miserable company’ by eminent social psychologist Stanley Schachter on the back of his classic experiment, where people who had volunteered for an electric shock of unknown severity unanimously chose to wait in a room with others sharing their fate, rather than people who didn’t. In the current study, ambiguity was provoked through injustice, in the form of a leader who didn’t appear to have his team’s interests at heart. As predicted, the greater the participants’ unease, the closer they felt to others in the same boat. Bad situations can generate perverse benefits: in this case, solidarity amongst mistreated people. But this is still a silver lining on a dark cloud: in this paper alone, a follow-up study reports that teams with a rude supervisor squandered more of their precious remaining time trying to make sense of the supervisor’s rudeness, instead of progressing on the tasks. More broadly, such employees would be beset by rumination, doubting and second-guessing motivations, to say nothing of the effects of specific acts of injustice against them. And of course, some unjust leaders end up playing team members against one another, counteracting the camaraderie effects. The lesson for organisations is not to assume that a cohesive team is a credit to their leader; it can be the opposite. AF
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Welcome to the Cyranoid illusion In Journal of Social Psychology Imagine if the words that came out of your mouth were spoken by another person. Would anyone notice? This idea was explored by social psychologist Stanley Milgram, famous for his studies into obedience, but he never published his results. Milgram called the hybrid of one person’s body and another person’s mind, a Cyranoid, after the play Cyrano de Bergerac, in which the handsome Christian woos a woman using the graceful words provided by plain-looking Cyrano. Now the concept has been resurrected by a pair of British researchers, Kevin Corti and Alex Gillespie, who say the approach has huge potential as a paradigm in social psychology. The first study was a proof of concept. Forty participants (average age 30; 22 women) spent 10 minutes in conversation with a 26-year-old man, getting to know him. They thought this man was another participant, but in fact he was working for the researchers. For half the participants, the man spoke freely as himself. For the other half, he was a Cyranoid and spoke the words of a 23-year-old woman hidden in an adjacent room. In this condition, the woman could see and hear the man’s interactions, and she fed him what to say live, via the wireless earpiece he was wearing. Afterwards, the participants were asked whether they thought the man had spoken his own thoughts, or whether his answers were scripted. Only a tiny minority of participants in both groups thought this might be true. None of them thought he’d had his words fed to him by
radio. The participants in the Cyranoid condition were astonished and amused when told the truth of the situation. A second study went further. This time, panels of between three and five participants interrogated either a 37-year-old man or a 12-year-old boy about who they are and what they know about science, literature, history and current affairs. For half the participants, the man and boy simply answered as themselves. For the other participants, the boy or man was Cyranoid. If the Cyranoid boy was present before the panel, his answers were fed to him by the man; if the Cyranoid man was present, the words he spoke came from the boy. Amazingly, the participants in the Cyranoid conditions were no more likely to say afterwards that they thought their interviewee had given scripted responses, spoken words relayed by radio, or wasn’t speaking his own thoughts. No participants raised any spontaneous suspicions about the interviewees’ autonomy during the interviews. And afterwards, when prompted directly, only one person out of 17 in each condition (two Cyranoid conditions and two normal) believed their interviewee’s answers had been fed to them. The Cyranoid set-up is especially intriguing to social psychologists because it allows the influence of a person’s appearance to be weighed against the influence of their words, as spoken by another person. In this study, the participants rated the personality and intelligence of the man and boy equally positively when they spoke as themselves. Yet when the man spoke the
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words of the boy, he was given more negative ratings. This is in spite of the fact the participants failed to adjust the difficulty of their questions in this condition, presumably so as not to patronise the man publicly. You can begin to see how the Cyranoid paradigm can illuminate issues to do with social stereotypes triggered by appearances and words, and the differences in people’s responses in terms of their private thoughts and public actions. Another angle is how a person’s speech is changed by the fact they are speaking through another body. In this case, the man and boy were trained to speak as themselves, yet the man shortened his sentences when speaking through the boy. The boy did not increase the length of his utterances when speaking as the man, perhaps because of the difficulty of doing so. There could also be practical applications for this technique – for instance, imagine helping people with social anxiety. They could occupy an intimidating situation bodily, but have their words dictated by someone else; or conversely, they could practise providing the speech in such a situation while having the relative comfort of speaking their words through someone else’s body. ‘Though Milgram did not live to see his Cyranoid method come to fruition, the current research provides ample basis for the continued exploration of this intriguing methodological paradigm,’ the researchers said. ‘Indeed, the Cyranoid method may yet prove to be a long overdue addition to the social psychologist’s toolkit.’ CJ
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Imagining walking through a doorway triggers increased forgetting In Memory We’ve all had that experience of going purposefully from one room to another, only to get there and forget why we made the journey. Four years ago, researcher Gabriel Radvansky and his colleagues stripped this effect down, showing that the simple act of passing through a doorway induces forgetting. Now psychologists at Knox College, USA, have taken things further, demonstrating that merely imagining walking through a doorway is enough to trigger increased forgetfulness. Zachary Lawrence and Daniel Peterson divided 51 students into two groups. One group spent a minute familiarising themselves with
a large, furnished room. The other group wandered round the same room, but this one was divided in two by drapes, with a doorway connecting the two separated areas. Next the participants were shown an abstract swirly image, and asked to remember it as they closed their eyes and imagined walking from the podium to the piano in the room they’d just experienced. For the second group only, this imagined walk meant passing through the room’s doorway (but the walk was the same distance as the other group’s). After imagining the walk in the room, both groups had to pick out the image they’d been shown earlier
from an array of ten alternatives. The group who’d imagined passing through a doorway performed worse at the task than the first group who didn’t have to go through a doorway. This result fits with the event horizon model, which explains the forgetting effect of doorways in terms of the fact that we divide our memories into distinct events, that doorways trigger such a division, and that more forgetting occurs across event boundaries than within the same event. The new study shows that this event division effect can occur in our imagination and doesn't require
literally seeing a doorway and passing through it. The first experiment wasn’t without issues – for example, the doorway group spent more time imagining their walk than the other group. Lawrence and Peterson conducted a second experiment in which two more groups of students were first exposed to a basic virtual reality room on a computer screen. One group saw a room with a partition and doorway; the other group saw the same room with no partition or doorway. Both groups were asked to imagine making a walk through the scene they’d been shown. This time both groups took the same time to complete their imagined
Our brains respond to corporations as if they are people In Social Neuroscience The US Supreme Court has recently made a number of rulings that suggest it sees corporations as having similar rights and responsibilities to individual human beings, such as that they have the right to free speech, and can be exempt from laws that contradict their owner’s religious beliefs. Can a new neuroimaging study help us determine whether the court’s approach is justified? Forty participants viewed written vignettes while their brains were scanned, each describing a prosocial, antisocial or neutral action committed either by a person or a corporation. An example of
an antisocial vignette was a freelance gardener or a gardening company deciding to charge an invalid falsely, for work they didn’t carry out. When David Eagleman, and his colleagues Mark Plitt and Ricky Savjani, directly compared the corporation and person conditions they found no significant differences in brain activity. Moreover, compared to a neutral baseline (descriptions of objects not performing a social action), there were a number of common areas of activation in response to individual people or corporations, with Eagleman’s team particularly interested in an area of the medial prefrontal
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 and contributor Dr Alex Fradera. Visit the blog for full coverage including references and links, additional current reports, an archive, comment and more. Subscribe to the fortnightly e-mail, friend, follow and more via www.bps.org.uk/digest
cortex previously implicated in predicting mental states and discriminating emotion. They argue this is significant because past studies have shown deactivations in this area when manipulations present human beings as dehumanised, so you might expect to find a difference in this area when viewing a non-human target – but this was not the case for corporations. After viewing each vignette, participants were also asked to make an evaluation of how they were feeling – a rating of intensity of a menu of feelings including ‘admiration’ or ‘indignation’ – and this data did point to a difference: humans behaving prosocially were met with stronger approval than were corporations, and misbehaving corporations made participants angrier. This sense that corporations are judged more harshly is consistent with a finding from the imaging data that the superior temporal gyrus, an area that responded differently for positive versus negative actions, responded in the ‘negative’ way for corporation’s
neutral actions. Previous work has also suggested that we take unethical corporate behaviour as a strong predictor of future behaviour but we are more lenient when it comes to people, as to err is human. Can we gain any legal insight from these findings? They could be seen as an endorsement of the extension of rights to corporations. On the other hand, we could argue that our brains are simply doing their best to model the active intrusions of corporations into our lives, by treating them more like people than inanimate objects. But this wouldn’t make this an acceptable situation; in fact, low tolerance for corporate actions could suggest that we resent the people-like status that corporations already have. Ultimately, as a question of how society ought to be, science can provide insights, but not answers. AF
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DIGEST DIGESTED journeys. But again, the group who imagined passing through a doorway performed worse when attempting to remember an abstract image they’d been shown before the imagined walk (roughly 18 per cent worse, which is comparable to the effect found for actually walking through a doorway). ‘That walking through a doorway elicits forgetting is surprising because it is such a subtle perceptual feature compared to the rich environment in which it sits,’ the researchers said, ‘that
simply imagining such a walk yields a similar result is even more surprising, particularly when compared with actually walking through doorways.’ This effect of an imagined spatial boundary on forgetting is consistent with a related line of research that’s shown forgetting increases after temporal or other boundaries are described in narrative text. It seems real-world influences on your memory also apply in imagined realms, whether they’re of your own creation or someone else’s. CJ
How Real Are Facebook Friendships? The photographer Tanja Hollander found that most of her friends on the network were willing to pose for portraits, and they showed her great hospitality, even those she'd never met or hadn't seen for years. tinyurl.com/pambx99 Batgirl’s Psychologist The amazing story of Andrea Letamendi – the clinical psychologist whose once-secret love for comic books led to her being written into one story as Batgirl's therapist. tinyurl.com/osq7la2 The Story of Now – Morality Neuroscientist Molly Crockett discusses the psychology and neuroscience of morality as part of the BBC's experimental and interactive Story of Now project. tinyurl.com/pgl25xh
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How Your Eyes Trick Your Mind An interactive guide to the history of visual illusions and what they've taught us about the mind. tinyurl.com/mzwbtfn
There are two types of envy, psychologists report. The benign variety is focused on the attainments of the envied. The malicious variety, by contrast, is focused more on the envied person and combating their superiority. Only malicious envy is associated with feelings of schadenfreude when the envied suffer. Cognitive and Emotion Introverts tend to give their extravert teammates unfair peer appraisals – that is, lower ratings than non-extravert team-mates who made the same contribution to team-performance. Extraverts do not take personality into account when rating their peers. Academy of Management Journal When people’s cherished beliefs are threatened by hard facts, they shift the justifications for what they belief, turning to unfalsifiable arguments. Psychologists say this can make people’s beliefs increasingly hard to challenge. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology
Exporting Trauma: Can the Talking Cure Do More Harm Than Good? It's dangerous to assume that other cultures will benefit from our own Western approaches to psychotherapy, says Anna Leach in the Guardian. tinyurl.com/o5gzxnx How to Survive a Disaster In a catastrophic event, most people fail to do the one thing that would save their life, says Michael Bond at BBC Future. tinyurl.com/pykqagk
Full reports are available at www.bps.org.uk/digest
A study involving video games has found that people enjoy competitive challenges more when there is a serious risk of losing, as opposed to when victory comes easily. Researchers say this rewarding power of suspense has largely been neglected by current theories of motion. Motivation and Emotion Based on in-depth interviews with nine mothers who gave birth through IVF and related medical procedures, researchers in Iran have proposed the concept of ‘super-mothers’. These women who conceive with medical help are extra protective and have heightened attachment to their offspring. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology Helping other people makes it easier for us to accept the help we need. Researchers made the discovery by having people write hints to help others solve puzzles. Doing this made the participants feel better about receiving help from others. Journal of Applied Social Psychology A technique that involves applying weak electrical currents to the brain – transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) – makes no difference to cognition, at least not after a single session. The claim comes from a meta-analysis of previous findings and contradicts the hype the technique has attracted in the media. Brain Stimulation
without deeper knowledge… ‘using an impressive concept, not to identify a discovery, but to cover over a lack of discovery’ (Billig, 2013). In short, it is, as psychologist and author Steven Pinker says (2014b), ‘prose that is turgid, soggy, wooden, bloated, clumsy, obscure, unpleasant to read, and impossible to Simon Oxenham and Jon Sutton consider the causes and consequences of understand’. bad writing in psychology That’s as much as we’re going to say about what bad writing is… we’re not here to give examples, to point the finger. (And yes, we’re painfully aware of Muphry’s Law – http://en.wikipedia.org/ wiki/Muphry's_law – writing about have you started to read an article or ack in 1971 Stanislav Andreski’s writing is a risky business). In any case, chapter – yes, in this publication as much Social Sciences as Sorcery slammed you already know what bad writing looks as in more specialist journals and books – academics for their inability to like, and you know what it feels like: the before becoming hopelessly lost in a write clearly. There was, he argued, an shudder when you encounter it, the thicket of writing that is stuffed full of big ‘abundance of pompous bluff and paucity nagging sense of guilt when you resort nouns and noun phrases, all ‘ontologies’ of new ideas’, a use of ‘obfuscating jargon’ to writing it. So this is not a style guide. and ‘epistemologies’? Might you own up to to conceal a lack of anything to say. This You will find little for the similar failings in was, Andreski argued, another reflection linguistic explorer; other your own written of modern society’s ‘advanced stage of pioneers, far braver than work? cretinization’. “Why do so many we are, chart that territory OK, let’s be Fast forward to 2013 and social psychologists write badly? (e.g. Pinker, 2014a). generous: all walks psychologist Michael Billig’s superb Learn What impact does it have?” Instead, we roam the of life have their to Write Badly: How to Succeed in the fantasy land, considering specialist language. Social Sciences. Billig, while clearly a fan why bad writing thrives. Why As Professor Roy of Andreski’s ‘gloriously ill-tempered do so many psychologists write badly? Baumeister (Florida State University) stuff’, would recoil at his use of What impact does it have? And can we tells us, ‘[J]argon has a positive function. ‘cretinization’. ‘Here, then, is the centre chart a route out of the mire? Psychologists work with concepts that are of my argument’, Billig writes. ‘The big often somewhat familiar to everybody – concepts which many social scientists are but the everyday terms are used in fuzzy using – the ifications and the izations – and sloppy ways and carry lots of are poorly equipped for describing what Bamboozling and boasting… connotational baggage. Jargon is used people do. By rolling out the big nouns, Are writers who can’t write simply bad because it is precise. New terms can be social scientists can avoid describing people, lacking in the right stuff? defined carefully, so that writers and people and their actions. They can write American philosopher Brand Blanshard informed readers share an exact in highly unpopulated ways, creating wrote in 1954: ‘Persistently obscure understanding of what is meant.’ And it fictional worlds in which their theoretical writers will usually be found to be does at least seem that scientists use less things, rather than actual people, appear defective human beings.’ According to jargon in communication with a general as major actors.’ Blanshard, to fail to write as clearly as audience than when talking with peers None of us want to live in that possible is simply ‘bad manners’. Michael (although not always less obscure jargon: fictional world: a land of bluff and Billig feels that such a person is ‘like a see Sharon and Baram-Tsabari, 2014). sorcery, of ivory towers, where maps of bully, who tries to humiliate others into Simply criticising jargon, therefore, misunderstanding leave vast wastelands submission’. And Pinker claims that the misses the point: there’s more to bad marked only ‘Here be dragons’. Or do we? most popular explanation outside the prose. We find it in an abstract style, academy for bad writing is ‘the cynical with the individual invisible; it hides in one: Bad writing is a deliberate choice. shadowy extra syllables (step forward Scholars in the softer fields spout obscure Beyond jargon ‘methodology’ and ‘utilise’); it’s there in verbiage to hide the fact that they have How many conference presentations have the academic terms chained together nothing to say. They dress up the trivial sailed right over your head? How often
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Andreski, S. (1971). Social sciences as sorcery. Harmondsworth: Penguin. Baumeister, R., Vohs, K.D. & Funder, D.C. (2007). Psychology as the science of self-reports and finger movements. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2(4), 396-403. Billig, M. (2013). Learn to write badly: How to succeed in the social sciences. Cambridge University Press. Blanshard, B. (1954). On philosophical
style. Indiana University Press. Davies, J. (2012). Academic obfuscations – the psychological attraction of postmodern nonsense. Skeptic Magazine, 17, 44–47. Eubanks, P. & Schaeffe,r J. (2008). A kind word for bullshit. College Composition and Communication, 59(3), 372–388. O’Connor, C. & Joffe H. (2014). Social representations of brain research exploring public (dis)engagement with
contemporary neuroscience. Science Communication, 36, 617–645. Oppenheimer, D.M. (2006). Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20(2), 139–156. Pinker, S. (2014a). The sense of style. London: Allen Lane. Pinker, S. (2014b). Why academics stink at writing. The Chronicle of Higher Education. tinyurl.com/writestinks
Sharon, A.J. & Baram-Tsabari, A. (2014). Measuring mumbo jumbo. Public Understanding of Science, 23, 528–546. Sperber, D. (2010). The guru effect. Review of Philosophy and Psychology, 1(4), 583–592. Starfield, S. (2004). Word power: Negotiating success in a first-year sociology essay. In L. Ravelli & R. Ellis (Eds.) Analysing academic writing (p.72). London: Continuum.
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and obvious with the trappings of best simply isn’t that good’. as we become familiar with something, scientific sophistication, hoping to So what exactly is it that the bad we think about it more in terms of the bamboozle their audiences with writer lacks? The obvious answer would use we put it to and less in terms of what highfalutin gobbledygook.’ be education, but this is not the case. As it looks like and what it is made of.’ But are bad writers like an evil Billig says, ‘You have to study long and Pinker cites a paper in which researchers Wizard of Oz, conning their readers with hard to write this badly. That is the used true/false statements, but wrote: elaborate tricks to make themselves seem problem.’ What Billig hints at here is ‘Participants read assertions whose great and powerful? Or are they simply reflected in the Curse of Knowledge, veracity was either affirmed or denied by ‘following orders’, delivering what they which Pinker argues is central to the the subsequent presentation of an think is required by academia? Pinker appallingly opaque standard of assessment word’. In Pinker’s eyes the acknowledges this explanation too, communication that makes up much of researchers fell into the trap of functional saying: ‘People often tell me that academic writing. The Curse of fixity, describing a word by its function, academics have no choice but to write Knowledge has many guises: lack of a rather than in terms the reader can readily badly because the gatekeepers of journals theory of mind, mind-blindness, egointerpret. and university presses insist on centralism, hindsight bias, false The solution to the Curse of ponderous language as proof of one’s consensus, illusory transparency, to name Knowledge seems straightforward, and seriousness.’ The former Guardian science a few. Pinker writes: ‘It simply doesn’t is common to many forms of editor Tim Radford agrees, communication: we must once telling this publication consider our audience. Go (see tinyurl.com/radford0503): the extra mile, break down ‘I get the feeling scientists often our chunks so that they match get rewarded by journal editors the repertoire of our audience; for dressing up trivia in consider that our expertise jargonistic language… [Papers] may have caused us to lose don’t have to be written like sight of what the words that. On the 100th anniversary actually mean to others. But of Roentgen’s discovery of Xeven if we do begin to see rays it was quite weird seeing through the readers’ eyes, his paper and realising that Pinker explains that fear anyone could understand it.’ can blind us: ‘[I]f our readers But we would argue that do know the lingo, we might the problem is bigger than be insulting their intelligence journal publishing. Academia by spelling it out. We would has changed. With increasing rather run the risk of pressures on their time, confusing them while at least academics produce hastily appearing to be sophisticated Are bad writers conning their readers with elaborate tricks to written works. There is an old than take a chance at belaboring make themselves seem great and powerful? saying ‘easy writing makes hard the obvious while striking them reading’, and founding father psychologist as naive or condescending.’ occur to the writer that her readers don’t William James said that if there was Could something even deeper be at know what she knows – that they haven’t anything good in his own style of writing, play here? Might that ‘appearance of mastered the missing steps that seem too it was ‘the result of ceaseless toil in sophistication’ be rather alluring? obvious to mention, have no way to rewriting’. visualize a scene that to her is as clear as Billig also warns of a ‘culture of day. And she doesn’t bother to explain the competition and self-promotion’ that is jargon, or spell out the logic, or supply Does bad writing ‘work’? seeping into the content of our academic the necessary detail.’ The fact that bad writing not only writings. ‘This is a culture in which Pinker partially explains the Curse of survives but thrives in a hostile world of success and boasting seem to go hand in Knowledge through the phenomenon of grant applications and peer review might hand. When we write, we are constantly chunking. If the receiver doesn’t possess lead us to believe that writing using boasting about our approaches, our the same ‘chunks’ of information that we jargon and superficially sophisticated concepts, our theories, our ways of doing are using to communicate, then we might language can enhance the perceived social sciences and what these products as well be speaking gobbledygook. Pinker quality of our work. In 2010 social and can achieve. It is boast after boast, but also borrows another concept from cognitive scientist Dan Sperber dubbed we scarcely notice that we are writing like cognitive psychology, that of functional this phenomenon the ‘guru effect’: ‘All too academic advertisers and that we are fixity. People typically fail to see that often, what readers do is judge profound training our students to do likewise.’ objects can have uses other than their what they have failed to grasp. Obscurity intended function: given a candle, a book inspires awe’ (see box, over, for more). of matches and a box of thumbtacks and Worse still, the opposite may be true if we asked to attach the candle to the wall fail to perform as expected, as Billig …Or blinkered? without it dripping on the floor, it explains: ‘[I]f students and their teachers Other explanations for bad writing are might not occur to us to fix the box try to use simple, clear language, rather more forgiving. Roy Baumeister tells us: of thumbtacks to the wall in order to than big specialized concepts and phrases, ‘There are probably hundreds of thousands hold the candle. According to Pinker, then they will risk appearing as if they of social scientists worldwide, and many academics face the same problem. were inadequate, untrained and, most never really mastered the art of writing. ‘Expertise can make our thoughts more importantly, as if they did not belong.’ Usually they are trying their best to write idiosyncratic and thus harder to share: There is some evidence that this as they think the journals require. Their
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The guru effect ‘… participating in such a collective process [of interpretation] involves not just an intellectual but also – and more surely – a social benefit, that of belonging, of getting recognition as a person in the know, capable of appreciating the importance of a difficult great thinker. Not participating, on the other hand, may involve the cost of being marginalised and of appearing intellectually stale and flat. ‘Here emerges a collective dynamics typical of intellectual schools and sects, where the obscurity of respected masters is not just a sign of the depth of their thinking, but a proof of their genius… Now sharing their interpretations and impressions with other admirers, readers find in the admiration, in the trust that other have for the master, reasons to consider their own interpretations as failing to do justice to the genius of the interpreted text. In turn these readers become disciples and proselytes. Where we had the slow back-and-forth of solitary reading between favourable interpretation and increased confidence in authority, now we have a competition among disciples for an interpretation that best displays the genius of the master, an interpretation that, for this purpose, may be just as obscure as the thought it is meant to interpret. Thus a thinker is made into a guru and her best disciples in gurus-apprentices.’ Dan Sperber (2010)
process is at play in university teaching and testing. A study of first-year South African sociology students found that students were awarded higher marks for conceptual ‘highly nominalised’ language (Starfield, 2004). Incidentally, as Billig points out, in the very same study the author herself uses highly nominalised language such as ‘ideational metafunction’ and ‘semantic fields’, when ‘content’ and ‘concept’ would do the job. Yet this style of writing has clearly worked for Starfield, who is now editor of the journal English for Specific Purposes, a journal covering academic English. Cognitive scientist Jim Davies has a theory on the pull of obscure writing. ‘I argue that some prefer it because each reader has to do so much work to get any meaning out of it, and when we have to work hard for something, we really value it’ (Davies, 2012, p.45). Davies’s conclusion is based on ‘effort justification’, an idea stemming from Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance. Could it be that in the same way one might value a group membership after being put through an initiation ceremony, we place greater worth on works if we are forced to toil through them? There have been high-profile examples of obscure writing gaining acceptance: in 1996 physicist Alan Sokal successfully submitted an entirely spoof article to a postmodernist journal. But perhaps it is simply that you can fool some of the people some of the time, but
we are not all falling victim to a giant case of pluralistic ignorance. In 2006 Daniel Oppenheimer challenged the ‘prevailing wisdom’ that complicated language increased perceived intelligence. He adjusted student dissertations using an algorithm that simply switched words of nine letters or more with the second shortest entry in Microsoft Word’s thesaurus. The simplified abstracts were rated as more intelligent than the original versions. Oppenheimer’s acceptance speech for his Ig Nobel prize, which is given for ‘Research that makes people laugh and then think’, neatly sums up his findings: ‘My research shows that conciseness is interpreted as intelligence. So thank you.’
Falling on barren land Bad writing becomes a particularly serious problem when scientific work is made inaccessible not only to our peers, but to researchers in adjoining fields and to the wider public beyond. Are we creating a generation of researchers who study the same things in similar ways but speak different languages to one another, a Babel filled with numerous disciplinary voices? If so, we risk preventing the cross-pollination of ideas and discoveries within the broad ecosystem of psychology. If readers have to reach for a dictionary – or, worse, tumble into a rabbit hole of successive journal articles – in order to find the meaning of a specialist term, our ideas risk getting lost.
According to Billig: ‘Size really does matter; and the intellectual circles, which specialist professors address in their writings, are becoming ever smaller.’ Another nasty side-effect of bad academic writing in psychology is the impact on the perception of the discipline among those outside of the field. Not too long ago the vast majority of academic research was locked up in an ivory tower, only seen by a relatively small community of career academics and psychologists. If a newspaper picked up a research story, researchers could expect journalists to be satisfied with a press release: the public weren’t likely to trek down to a university library to request a copy. Today, an increasingly educated and connected public may expect research covered in the news to be accompanied by a link to the paper itself. And, as Eubanks and Schaeffer (2008) point out, bad writing can then be ‘reprinted gleefully in the mainstream press as evidence that the eggheads at our universities are not just loons but absolute bullshitters… Such writing is seen as gamesmanship in a game that is rigged. In the public mind, there is no admirable art or craft to bullshitting an audience of fellow academics who suspend disbelief so willingly.’ If the public are having the smell of bullshit wafted under their noses, it’s no surprise that they don’t like it. According to O’Connor and Joffe’s (2014) study of social representations of brain research, drawing on interviews with 48 London residents, the public’s disconnect with academia can boil over into resentment and withdrawal. ‘Where do these people come from, that actually understand these things?’, asked one respondent: not her world, was the implication. ‘You just, like I say, blind people with science, don’t you,’ said another. ‘And then it becomes a subject that you just don’t understand. With me, I just switch off. I’m not understanding what you’re talking about here, so I just switch off.’ Even scientifically trained journalists, paid to read your work, can react in that way: they’re only human. As editor of the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, Dr Christian Jarrett has reported on the scientific literature for more than a decade. ‘I feel as though I’ve evolved a mental machete for wading through thickets of jargon,’ he tells us. ‘Despite this, there are still instances where the writing is so dense that I give up, even though the topic of the study might
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sound fantastically intriguing. When the writing is that bad, it can make your head hurt. Conversely, to discover a wellwritten journal article is a joy. I find myself wanting to thank the authors for bringing pleasure to my day. That said, if the actual science is poor or boring, an eloquent author won’t be enough to convince me to cover the findings.’
A way forward If we want to understand, resist and, maybe, change how people are doing things in the academic world and elsewhere, then we will have to dream that we can do things differently. We might take note of the verbs – to understand, to resist, to change and to dream – and we might hope, but not expect, to find ways to set these old linguistic servants free on our pages. (Billig, 2013)
You may detect a note of pessimism in Billig’s suggestions. Indeed, he feels he is ‘whispering in the wind’. The conditions of academia will persist, and the motivation and awareness necessary for change are simply not there. ‘Academics today are not writing in answer to a higher calling,’ he says. ‘We are, to put it bluntly, hacks who write for a living… Most social scientists, like fishes in water, do not notice what they are doing. They just keep swimming through the density of their own prose.’ Can we reach a more optimistic conclusion? There are psychologists out there who write with intelligence, clarity and passion. Why not turn to them for an alternative view? Professor Alex Haslam, a social psychologist at the University of Queensland, studied English at university, and his love of the written word shines through. ‘I think that an appreciation of the beauty and musicality of words – as well as their power – is very important,’ he tells us. ‘Treat language as if it were a Stradivarius not a sledgehammer.’ Haslam also describes writing as a critical vehicle for thought. ‘Put another way, I often don’t know exactly what I think until I have written it, and I use the writing process as a forensic means of honing my own thinking. For this reason it is critical that what one writes is as precise and as economical as possible. There’s also a lot to be gained from changing the mysterious into the concrete, and for writing in ways that make it clear what one’s own perspective and role is (rather than implying, through omission of these details, that such things don’t matter).’ According to Haslam, writing for more popular publications like The
Psychologist, Scientific American Mind and New Scientist can help you hone your skills. ‘Writing for those outlets generally forces you to weed out woolly and wasteful prose, because (a) their readership is generally less tolerant of obfuscation and evasion and (b) their format generally places a premium on a high impact to space ratio.’ Others advocate putting the personal back at the centre of psychology, populating that world in order to move away from the science of ‘self-reports and finger movements’ (Baumeister et al., 2007). Professor Elizabeth Loftus tells us: ‘I like to include “stories” in my writing… stories of people who were wrongfully convicted based on someone’s faulty memory, stories of a famous person who misremembered something important from their past. Stories grab people and make them interested in learning more about the science behind the story.’ Writing for an online audience can also help tailor your style. Dr Jarrett says: ‘When you write online, you often receive instant feedback and this can help you better understand the audience’s perspective and expectations. With online writing there is also this sense that you’re competing for people’s attention. More than ever, you need to learn to grab their eye and lure them in. Once there, don’t waste their time whatever you do. Any waffle and they’re just one click away from the exit.’ Psychologist and blogger Professor Dorothy Bishop (University of Oxford) agrees that writing for social media helps develop a more readable style. She also tells us that she has had journal referees comment that the language in her papers is ‘rather informal’: ‘I am now old enough to just reply “I take that as a compliment”,’ she says. Bishop also gives us a simple tip for weeding out those tortuous sentences: ‘Just read your work aloud. I do this for most things I publish and it helps a lot. I think it was Alan Baddeley who first told me about this, and he proves the method works – his books are far more readable than most.’ Reading your work back all adds time, and we’re back again to the pressured and competitive conditions of academia. But some are convinced this is the key. ‘To me, good writing is simple writing,’ Professor Uta Frith (University College London) tells us. ‘But simple is not fast. In fact it is very slow, and it is all about knowing what not to say. Inspired by the Slow Food movement I have tried to argue for slow science. Belatedly, I have realised that I need to argue also for slow writing.’ Professor Frith’s advice is this:
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‘Feel proud if you can delete what has taken lots of time to write. It may seem like a waste of effort, but it’s not. Slow food is good because you leave out lots of unnecessary stuff that you believed was important. When writing, it is amazing how the necessary ingredients are revealed only after you have also put in some unnecessary ones and then – slowly and painstakingly – removed them. Actually, it works best when there is another person to read what you wrote and will discuss it with you. This puts in some brakes and is an excellent way to slow down the process. And at the same time it makes it fun.’
Resisting the onslaught We’ve heard from some of the very best psychologists: when the chips are down the top dogs come up smelling of roses. If we can just follow their advice, hit that bullseye, the rest of the dominoes should fall like a house of cards. Checkmate. OK, so maybe we’re as guilty of bad writing as anybody. And our clumsy, idealistic pleading may fall on deaf ears. Perhaps we are preaching mainly to the new generation. As Billig writes, ‘I can see young postgraduates struggling to understand what they know they must read. Sometimes, I see their confidence draining away in the face of big words, as if they were failing the test that defines whether they are fit to think intellectually. I want to tell them to trust their own supposed inadequacies, for their failings might protect them from the onslaught of big words.’ So our message for students and anyone else who will listen… take time over your writing: it matters. Don’t drain it of colour. Put yourself and others back into the worlds you write about. Above all consider your audience and try to write in smaller words for bigger circles. I Simon Oxenham is a science writer based in Bristol: follow @neurobonkers and see www.BigThink.com/Neurobonkers I Dr Jon Sutton is Managing Editor of The Psychologist: firstname.lastname@example.org
Have your say Do you think bad writing is a problem in psychology? Perhaps you would like to share examples of beautifully written journal articles and books in psychology? Send your letters for consideration to email@example.com or connect with us on Twitter @psychmag.
Eldercare: The new frontier of work–family balance Lisa Calvano on the psychological impact of caring for spouses and parents
How does having eldercare responsibilities impact caregivers with jobs?
What can organizations do to help their employees cope with the demands of eldercare?
Chast, R. (2014). Can’t we talk about something more pleasant? New York: Bloomsbury. www.carersuk.org www.caregiving.org
Austen, S. & Ong, R. (2014). The effects of ill health and informal care roles on the employment retention of midlife women: Does the workplace matter? Journal of Industrial Relations, 55(5), 663–680. Boise, L. & Neal, M.B. (1996). Family responsibilities and absenteeism: Employees caring for parents versus employees caring for children. Journal of Managerial Issues, 8(2),
ork–family balance is a popular topic in the media, with the discussion usually focusing on the challenges of having a career and raising a family at the same time. However, there is another issue that should be part of the conversation – eldercare. As lifespans increase around the world and more working adults care for ageing family and friends, eldercare is an emerging issue for organisations and their employees. According to a report by Carers UK (2013), ‘by 2017 the UK will reach the tipping point for care when the numbers of older people needing care will outstrip the numbers of working age family members currently available to meet that demand’. In this article I will discuss the impact of eldercare on the health and well-being of caregivers, explore the relationship between employment and eldercare, explain why working is good for caregivers and describe how employers can play a positive role in helping employees deal with eldercare responsibilities. I will begin with a personal story, because it explains what inspired me to study the intersection of eldercare and work.
In the UK the number of people 65 and older is expected to double by 2050 to 19 million. With an ageing population and greater longevity, more family members will need to step in as caregivers. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development added a question about the impact of caregiving responsibilities on employee absences to its 2014 Absence Management Report. While the report indicates that caregiving has a slight to moderate impact on absence, at present few employers have policies in place to support caregivers beyond the minimum required by law. This article explores the relationship between eldercare and work and suggests that employers should create supportive workplaces that help employees balance the two roles.
An eldercare odyssey Until she was 85 years old my mother lived on her own and enjoyed good health. I never gave much thought to what would happen if she could not care for herself. As is often the case, my introduction to eldercare began with a phone call that went something like this:
218–238. Carers UK (2013). Supporting working carers: The benefits to families, business and the economy. London: Author. Davis, C.G., Nolen Hoeksema, S. & Larson, J. (1998). Making sense of loss and benefiting from the experience. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 561–574. Dembe, A.E., Dugan, E., Mutschler, P. &
‘Hello, Lisa. This is Helen. Your mother passed out at church, the paramedics are here and she refuses to go to the emergency room.’ This call began a twoyear odyssey that included three hospital stays, major surgery, two stints in a rehabilitation facility, frequent outpatients tests and regular follow-up visits with doctors. In addition to coordinating my mother’s medical care, I arranged in-home help and home modifications, worked out health insurance issues and managed her finances and household needs while she was hospitalised. The most difficult role was providing emotional support as my mother struggled with the loss of her independence and, at times, resisted getting the treatment and help she needed. The call came at a challenging time for me professionally – one week after I had completed the first year of my first tenure-track academic job. Fortunately this happened during the summer when I had more flexibility, but a couple of months later I found myself juggling a demanding job and my mother’s care. As an only child, balancing the two roles was particularly challenging even with support from my spouse, extended family and friends. At a stressful time like this, as only an academic would do, I turned to the literature to try to make sense of my predicament. What I discovered was a compelling topic that was understudied compared to other work–family issues. As a result, I stumbled into a new and unexpected research area. Studying it helped me understand my own experience and launched a new research agenda as I encountered friends and colleagues who said ‘Me too’. Here are some highlights of what I learned as both a researcher and a caregiver.
Effect on caregiver health and well-being One definition of eldercare is informal care of ageing family and friends that may entail addressing a combination of
Piktialis, D. (2012). Employer perceptions of elder care assistance programs. Journal of Workplace Behavioral Health, 23(4), 359–379. Duxbury, L., Higgins, C. & Smart, R. (2011). Elder care and the impact of caregiver strain on the health of employed caregivers. Works, 40(1), 29–40. Feinberg, L. & Choula, R. (2012). Understanding the impact of family
caregiving on work. Washington, DC: AARP Public Policy Institute. George, L.K. & Gwyther, L.P. (1986). Caregiver well-being: A multidimensional examination of family caregivers of demented adults. The Gerontologist, 26, 253–259. Gouin, J., Glaser, R., Beversdofy, W.B. & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. (2012). Chronic stress, daily stressors, and circulating inflammatory markers.
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physical, psychological, medical, household and financial needs (Smith, 2004). Care recipients may live with their caregivers, remain in their own homes or live in a residential facility. Examples of typical eldercare responsibilities include: providing direct care such as bathing and feeding; coordinating medical care; managing medication; arranging inhome services; offering emotional support; handling finances; and providing transportation to appointments. Eldercare is psychologically distinct from childcare because the need for care often begins with an unexpected The daily stress of caring for a dementia patient, especially emergency and usually a spouse, has been associated with increased depressive increases over time as the symptoms care recipient becomes more dependent. Eldercare characteristics of caregivers and care can also generate complex emotions recipients make a difference. For example, because of the role reversal of children spouses fare worse than adult children caring for parents, and the surfacing of who provide care, and caregivers of unresolved family issues (Smith, 2004). people with dementia are the most Research indicates that all types of negatively affected of all groups. The daily caregivers experience more stress than stress of caring for a dementia patient, non-caregivers (Lee, 1997), but eldercare especially a spouse, has been associated seems to produce more psychological with increased depressive symptoms, strain than childcare (Duxbury et al., decreased immune function and elevated 2011). Indeed, eldercare affects the markers of inflammation (McGuire et al., physical, psychological and economic 2002; Gouin et al., 2012). health of caregivers, which is collectively While there are various known as ‘caregiver burden’ (George & methodological limitations in the Gwyther, 1986). Numerous meta-analyses academic research, and some have revealed how eldercare impacts contradictory results, it is clear that caregiver health and well-being. Vitaliano certain groups – such as women, ethnic et al. (2003) found that caregivers have minorities and people with lower socioa slightly greater risk for health problems economic status – experience more than non-caregivers. Pinquart and negative outcomes (Pinquart & Sörenson, Sörensen (2003) found that four 2003, 2005, 2006). Public policy research dimensions of psychological health – in the United Kingdom, United States and depression, stress, self-efficacy and wellCanada reaches the same conclusion being – are affected more strongly than (Carers UK, 2013; Feinberg & Choula, physical health. They also found that the
Health Psychology, 31, 264–268. Greenhaus, J.H. & Powell, G.N. (2006). When work and family are allies: A theory of work–family enrichment. Academy of Management Review, 31(1), 72–92. Katz, R., Lowenstein, A., Prilutzky, D. & Halperin, D. (2011). Employers’ knowledge and attitudes regarding organizational policy towards workers caring for aging family
members. Journal of Aging and Social Policy, 23(2), 159–181. Keene, J.R. & Prokos, A.H. (2007). The sandwiched generation: Multiple caregiving responsibilities and the mismatch between actual and preferred work hours. Sociological Spectrum, 27(4), 365–387. Kelly, E.L., Moen, P., Oakes, J.M. et al. (2014). Changing work and work–family conflict: Evidence from
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2012; Schroeder et al., 2012). Another finding is that having greater financial resources and stronger informal support systems positively affects physical and psychological outcomes (Pinquart & Sörenson, 2007). Thus, inequality of outcomes is evidence of a social equity dimension to burdens of eldercare, although the issue is seldom discussed in these terms.
Balancing caregiving and employment Because caregiving responsibilities and careers tend to peak around the same time – between the ages of 45 and 64 – another important area of inquiry is the effect of eldercare on work (Carers UK, 2013). Although employed caregivers report higher levels of work-family conflict (Zuba & Schneider, 2013) and experience more stress than non-caregivers (Keene & Prokos, 2007), there is no conclusive evidence that the stress of eldercare translates into negative work outcomes (Zacher et al., 2012). Although research results are ambiguous about the extent to which eldercare disrupts work, anyone who juggles both roles knows that spillover is inevitable. The most extreme reaction to an increase in caregiving responsibilities is to reduce work hours permanently or drop out of the workforce entirely, leading to a phenomenon known as the ‘caregiver penalty’. This refers to the long-term financial impact of lost earnings, employment-related benefits and pension contributions (Feinberg & Choula, 2012). Again, both academic and public policy research agree that women, especially those in low-skilled and lowstatus jobs, as well as low-income workers and ethnic minorities, are most likely to reduce their hours or leave the workforce (e.g. Austen & Ong, 2014; Feinberg & Choula, 2012). For caregivers who stay in the
the work, family, and health network. American Sociological Review, 79, 485–516. Kim, J., Ingersoll-Dayton, B. & Kwak, M. (2011). Balancing eldercare and employment: The role of work interruptions and supportive employers. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 32(3), 347–369. Lee, J.A. (1997). Balancing elder care responsibilities and work: Two
empirical studies. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 2(3), 220–228. Marks, S.R. (1977). Multiple roles and role strain. American Sociological Review, 42, 921–936. McGuire, L., Kiecolt-Glaser, J.K. & Glaser, R. (2002). Depressive symptoms and lymphocyte proliferation in older adults. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 111, 192–197.
workforce, being absent from work is also unavoidable. Boise and Neal (1996) define absenteeism as days missed, lateness, leaving work early or during the workday and other interruptions resulting from caregiving responsibilities. Absenteeism is an interesting variable to study because employees with children tend to miss more work than those caring for elders, even though managers perceive eldercare to be particularly disruptive (Katz et al., 2011). This may be because parents experience regular interruptions, whereas eldercare frequently entails brief but intense periods of care (Boise & Neal, 1996). Boise and Neal also found that women caring for elders experienced more absenteeism than men, again demonstrating the inequality of outcomes. Although combining work and eldercare does not result in more absenteeism, it may impact productivity when employees focus their time and attention on care issues during the workday. This phenomenon is known as ‘presenteeism’ (Smith, 2004). For example, caregivers may worry about the care recipient, plan what needs to be done at night or spend time on the phone coordinating care (Zuba & Schneider, 2013). Since most healthcare providers and other services are primarily open during business hours, caregivers often have no choice but to make calls during the day. While they may try to do this during lunchtime or breaks, it is likely that calls will be returned at other times. In my own experience, I would make calls during a long train commute, only to have them returned while I was in class or during office hours.
According to scarcity theory (Marks, 1977), the demands of eldercare and work compete for a person’s time and energy, ending in a zero-sum game where one role impinges on the other. In contrast, enhancement or enrichment theory says that people with dual roles are better off because the benefits of each role positively spill over into the other (Greenhaus & Powell, 2006). For example, work may provide financial resources to arrange outside care, increase self-esteem, foster a sense of personal accomplishment, provide access to social support systems outside of family and friends and offer respite from caregiving duties (Utz et al., 2012; Zuba & Schneider, 2013). At the same time, successfully navigating the challenges of caregiving and finding benefit in the experience can lead to personal growth, enhanced relationships and clarification of goals (Davis et al., 1998; Parkenham, 2005). In an analysis of the scarcity versus enhancement debate, Reid et al. (2012)
You’re better off if you work While there are challenges to balancing work and eldercare, employed caregivers receive psychological benefits from working. Within the work–family literature, there are two schools of thought on the dual roles of caregiver and employee (McMillan et al., 2011).
McMillan, H.S., Lane Morris, M. & Atchley, E.K. (2011). Constructs of the work/life interface. Human Resource Development Review, 10(1), 6–25. Pakenham, K.I. (2005). The positive impact of multiple sclerosis (MS) on carers. Disability and Rehabilitation, 27(17), 985–997. Pearce, J.A. & Kuhn, D.R. (2009). Managers’ obligations to employees with eldercare responsibilities.
Women caring for elders experienced more absenteeism than men
University of Richmond Law Review, 43(4), 1319–1372. Pinquart, M. & Sörensen, S. (2003). Differences between caregivers and noncaregivers in psychological health and physical health: A meta-analysis. Psychology and Aging, 18(2), 250–267. Pinquart, M. & Sörensen, S. (2005). Ethnic differences in stressors, resources, and psychological outcomes of family caregiving for
conclude that psychological outcomes are highly individualised in that ‘some caregivers may find their employment adds to their stress, whereas others do not; indeed some may find that it provides respite from caregiving and enhances their well-being’. They also conclude that someone can feel stressed and be productive at the same time, and what seems to make the most difference is caregivers’ ‘subjective assessment of the effect that caregiving is having on work performances’. Therefore, how someone views her ability to juggle eldercare and work may be a more important determinant of role conflict than more objective measures of interference.
Employers can help Research shows that having a supportive employer may help reduce work–family conflict generally (Kelly et al., 2014) and lessen the psychological strain of eldercare in particular (Zacher & Winter, 2010). However, most employer work-life integration programs still focus on childcare (Kim et al., 2011). Thus there is scope for employers to play a meaningful role in helping employees deal with their eldercare needs, especially at a time when governments are reducing expenditures on health care and social services (Schroeder et al., 2012). Employer eldercare assistance takes three basic forms: compliance with family leave laws; formal programmes and services; and informal support from managers and supervisors. Although family leave laws vary greatly from country to country, careful adherence to these policies is the minimum that organisations can do to support employees with eldercare needs (Pearce & Kuhn, 2009). In countries with weaker social safety nets, private employers may be more likely to offer formal eldercare benefits such as information and referrals, insurance and financing for care, services such as onsite daycare and respite care, paid leave that exceeds the legal mandates and work schedule modifications (Yang
older adults: A meta-analysis. The Gerontologist, 45, 90–106. Pinquart, M. & Sörensen, S. (2006). Gender differences in caregiver stressors, social resources, and health: An updated meta-analysis. Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 61B, P33–P45. Pinquart, M. & Sörensen, S. (2007). Correlates of physical health of informal caregivers: A meta-analysis.
Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, 62B, P126–P137. Reid. R.C., Stajduhar, K.I. & Chappell, N.L. (2010). The impact of work interference on family caregiver outcomes. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 29(3), 267–289. Schroeder, B., MacDonald, J. & Shamian, J. (2012). Older workers with caregiving responsibilities. Aging International, 37, 39–56.
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Combining work and eldercare may impact productivity when employees focus their time and attention on care issues
advantage of programmes and services & Gimm, 2013). However, recent (Zacher & Schulz, in press). However, research in both the United Kingdom even when formal and United States organisational eldercare indicates that formal services are available employer eldercare “a supportive employer employees tend not to services are not widely may help reduce use them (Dembe et al., available (Carers UK, work–family conflict” 2012). This may be due 2013; Feinberg & to employers not Choula, 2012). publicising the services and/or Of all the formal encouraging employees to use them or employer services mentioned above, employees not knowing or thinking to employees seem to desire and benefit the ask about them. Another explanation is most from work schedule modifications, that employees, especially women, may such as flexible hours (Dembe et al., perceive a stigma attached to disclosing 2012). Similar to family leave laws, eldercare issues at work and fear negative flexible work arrangements differ from career repercussions (Kim et al., 2011). country to country, and also by industry Thus, employers who cultivate a work and type of job. For example, control culture the supports work–family balance over work hours is available primarily to are more likely to have employees who professional and managerial employees in feel comfortable disclosing care needs at the United States (Sweet et al., 2014). work (Zuba & Schneider, 2013). Some of the most interesting findings about employer eldercare support centre on employee perception. Employees who perceive their employer to be supportive Conclusion are less likely to experience stress Several conclusions about the relationship regardless of whether they actually take between eldercare and work can be drawn
Smith, P. (2004). Elder care, gender, and work. Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, 25(2), 351–399. Sweet, S., Pitt-Catsouphes, M., Besen, E. & Golden, L. (2014). Explaining organizational variation in flexible work arrangements. Community, Work & Family, 17(2), 115–141. Utz, R.L., Lund, D.A., Caserta, M.S. & Wright, S.D. (2012). The benefits of respite time-use: A comparison of
employed and nonemployed caregivers. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 31(3), 438–461. Vitaliano, P. P., Zhang, J. & Scanlan, J.M. (2003). Is caregiving hazardous for one’s physical health? Psychological Bulletin, 129, 946–972. Yang, Y.T. & Gimm, G. (2013). Caring for elder parents: A comparative evaluation of family leave laws. Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics,
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from the research presented in this article. First, certain groups experience a greater caregiver burden, resulting in inequality of health, well-being and economic outcomes. To remedy this, policy makers should recognise and address the social equity dimension of eldercare. Second, perceptions impact the degree to which eldercare affects work outcomes. If people perceive that they are able to cope with the demands of both roles, or if they have personal resources and social support, or if their employers are supportive, then they may experience less stress, strain and work–family conflict. Thus, building individual resiliency is key to positive outcomes. Third, for formal employer support programmes to be effective, employees need to know about them, feel comfortable asking about them and be assured that there will be no penalty for using them. Thus, education and training of supervisors and manager is critical to increasing employee awareness and use of eldercare programmes. With the engagement of all stakeholders, including governments, private employers, the voluntary sector and families, eldercare can be addressed proactively before emergencies happen. Just as parents have ‘the talk’ with their teenage children about life and the future, perhaps the time is right for adult children to institute ‘the talk’ when their parents and other elders reach a certain age. This talk would encompass what is needed to ensure both the health and safety of the elder and the well-being of the caregiver. As populations age and more people balance caregiving and work, eldercare must become part of a critical conversation at home, at work an in the media.
41(2), 501–513. Zacher, H., Jimmieson, N.L., & Winter, G. (2012). Elder-care demands, mental health, and work performance. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 17(1), 52–64. Zacher, H. & Schulz, H. (in press). Employees’ eldercare demands, strain, and perceived support. Journal of Managerial Psychology. Zacher, H. & Winter, G. (2010). Eldercare
Lisa Calvano is Assistant Professor of Management at West Chester University, USA LCalvano@wcupa.edu
demands, strain, and work engagement. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 79, 667–680. Zuba, M. & Schneider, U. (2013). What helps working informal caregivers? The role of workplace characteristics in balancing work and adult-care responsibilities. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 34, 460–469.
The path to participation Image by Nicki Evans, member of Walk and Talk, who runs the website Psychology in the Real World Two dogs make their way along the River Severn, ahead of their owners – people taking part in Walk and Talk, a weekly walk that follows a footpath beside the river from Shrewsbury town centre into open countryside. The walk is always beautiful; this time it’s remarkable. A January day in 2011, and for the first time in many decades the Severn has frozen over. One dog walks across the ice towards the other bank. Members of Walk and Talk decide not to risk it. Walk and Talk is one of a number of Psychology in the Real World groups that Guy Holmes, alongside other members of the general public, has helped set up over the past decade in Shropshire (see www.psychologyintherealworld.co.uk). Guy won the 2014 BPS Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology in Practice. Guy tells us that unlike most groups that
have NHS psychologist involvement, Walk and Talk is open to all. ‘People with involvement in mental health and other statutory services both participate in and co-facilitate Psychology in the Real World groups, which take place outside the clinical and often stigmatising venues where most services occur. Such groups bring people together because they have a shared interest – in this case, an interest in walking and being in the countryside – not because they have a shared problem or diagnosis. They are part of a growing movement in community psychology. For participants in such groups the focus is more on critiquing and changing mental health practices rather than passively receiving them, on prevention rather than treatment, and on community participation in projects that improve the social conditions for all local people.’
An interactive mind Our editor Jon Sutton talks to Andreas Roepstorff (Aarhus University)
ell me about the Interacting Minds Centre. T The Interacting Minds Centre is a relatively playful environment within the Aarhus University structure. The university has gone radical interdisciplinary over the last few years. We managed to convince the university management that there was an area where it made sense to collaborate across the different faculties, and that we have a good mix of people who could actually do it. We have core funding for five years now for our research agenda.
subheadings of Cognition, Choice and Communication. The interaction between the three defines the research topic. … and Cohesion, and the Collective aspect? Yes, we could have gone on! I’ve been in another research endeavour when it was organised around columns, so there would be one topic to be pursued in five years by one group of people, and another for another group. Instead, as a coordinating principle, we had an overarching heading every academic year. The first year was about coordination; we are now in the confusion phase; next year is scheduled to be about conflict; and finally cooperation. I expected that would mirror the development within the centre, and we are indeed in the confusion phase now… I hope we won’t see too many conflicts!
And what’s the topic that makes that approach particularly suitable? What unites everyone is that people are using different methods to study the emerging patterns that happen when people are interacting. The name’s a tribute to the classic Chris and Uta Frith paper in Science. There is a core Is that a particularly Danish approach of classical anthropology, of sociology… to psychology and to we are doing science in general? experimental Not particularly. But at approaches as well, “Around an interesting Aarhus University over time but by thinking in experiment comes a we have built up such an three different ways – whole undergrowth” environment. What a lot of using the experiment people realised was that we’re as a method, as an at the end of the world, not a very aesthetic, as an prestigious university, and we don’t want experimental art – you try out novel to be intellectually what we are things. And, particularly for me as an geographically. We have to build anthropologist, experiments themselves more resources together, to create an can be interesting to study. What type of environment which is interesting to be sociality is an experiment? in and interesting to visit. So you’ve talked about making people You describe yourself as a ‘long-term from different disciplines do very tourist in psychology’ – you’ve come concrete research projects, and the from the anthropological background challenges involved in that. where presumably the experimental Ideally, it’s not just talking. Part of the approach isn’t so common. raison d’être of the centre itself is to I have a background in biology with a explore what happens when we make focus in neuroscience, and a background such projects in practice. in anthropology as well. So a foot placed on either side of what you might see as It’s a kind of ‘meta-centre’? psychology, but nothing in the middle. We’re certainly trying to practise what we preach! When we wrote the applications So what does that bring to a specific we had an obsession with Cs. We had the
project? You’ve studied fire-walking rituals for example… What my approach brought here was not the specific research topic… we had a brilliant anthropologist, Dimitris Xygalatas, who was interested in the idea that when people do rituals they don’t do it just for themselves, it somehow creates an effect for the society. The people involved are not just the performers, but the community itself. He came up and said could we do some kind of proxy measure of that. We thought we could use fluctuations in heart rate. Ivana Konvalinnka, who came from an engineering background, had the technical skills to do the measurement and analysis. It was clear when we looked at the patterns of activity, you could tell when their partners were doing the fire walking, they were spiking similar to each other. But we had no way of quantifying it, we had a year of thinking ‘What should we do with the data?’. We came across a very creative psychologist, the late Guy van Orden, who worked on complex data analysis, and he had the tools that would allow us to do something more quantitative. If anything I was a kind of catalyst, looking at what we could do with the data. In that sense it was a typical Interacting Minds project – how could we do things we couldn’t do otherwise, by doing them together. And the topic is all about interaction as well. From that you found that these rituals have an impact on the group, in terms of cohesion and synchronicity, as well as an impact on the individual in terms of prosociality? Around an interesting experiment comes a whole undergrowth, an ecosystem… the first fire-walking study was really a wild shot, completely crazy, somehow we managed to get it into a top journal, but then going on with that idea to say there is something that it does to people, a lot of other studies have been built around it. So would that shared body experience translate into prosociality? People’s willingness to donate to some kind of common good was larger for those who participated as watchers in a highintensity ritual rather than a low-intensity ritual. This suggests that there is something about the aroused bodily states which creates that cohesion. Durkheim talks about rituals in terms of the ‘electricity generated by their closeness’. What might be critical is instances of bodily pain… if you look at Christianity, a lot of the major religions, aspects of pain seem to be a critical aspect. But it’s not
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there as an actualisation in most forms of religion. You write that humans have brains, they have experiences, they’re embedded in cultural contexts, and that somehow these different factors interact with each other. Does it surprise you that this still needs saying? It does. Particularly coming from my kind of background, it’s surprising that it has been so hard for psychology to deal with the importance of the experiences. My first fieldwork in psychology was back in 2000 with Chris Frith in London. Tony Jack was trying to do a project on experiences in a scanning environment, and it just turned impossible. We basically asked people what it was like to be in the scanner, and that was considered incredibly provocative! They were just interested in the brain scans at the end of it? Yes. What struck me was that in order to do these scans, in order to make the science, it took an awful lot of interaction to make that work. Our crucial experiment was a version of the rock/paper/scissors task, which was looking at social cognition or theory of mind. People were playing against an opponent, they thought it was somebody on the outside but most of the time it was just a computer. For the neural activity we found premedial frontal cortex, but our subjective reports found huge differences between playing what they thought was a person and what they thought was a computer. All of that relied on the understanding of the situation, and that was all inter-subjectively mediated. In other words, it became clear to us that in many of these situations what we do to each other to provide these frames of understanding are what set up the experiment in the first place, but once you go out of the scanner that aspect is completely absent from the study. So you’re in the middle, trying to get anthropologists to think more experimentally and more in terms of the brain maybe, but then trying to get hardened neuroscientists to stop attaching ‘neuro’ to everything? You wouldn’t necessarily advocate a ‘neuroanthropology’? I think that issue is what anthropology was basically about in the first place. We just saw a talk at this conference on children’s development and the neural perspective, a lot of really nice stories about how it’s a good thing for a child to
be loved and have something to play with, and there was some neural evidence that pointed in the same direction, but I don’t think the ‘neuro’ story added anything to what we already know.
environment that one works in. To most researchers there’s a great degree of sensitivity as to who it is worth spending time with, who is it worth working with? So just as in the Centre there’s this somewhat playful relationship between on the one hand doing research in interaction and exploring what is an interactive framework in the first place, I would see that to be basically integral to the research process as well, particularly when you work across disciplines. You have to be sensitive to the way things are being produced along the way. At the end of the day that’s also going to decide whether this piece of evidence holds true or not. We all know the tricks you can do with statistics. What determines whether you trust a finding and talk about it has to do with all the other things that went into the making of it, that you know about and that other people know about. That would be how I would take that ‘slow science’ approach… the process of doing it is a critical element.
Uta has talked about this idea of ‘slow science’. With slow cooking there’s this idea of ‘you are what you eat’, but also ‘you become how you cook’. I think that’s critical to a research process as well. How I would translate it is that there has to be a focus on the product, the articles that we publish, but at the end of the day the real interest in most of us is the ability to set up these kind of creative yet rigid processes – having a sensitivity for these processes and how they develop seems to be a critical element.
Where does that take you next in terms of your research focus? We have quite a few projects that look at how people produce things together. We try to explore the markers – the physiology, simple movements, patterns of communication and shared language… We thought that the index of success would be measures of synchronicity, that the more you synchronise the better it feels, the better the product. What we have seen again and again is that if anything, markers of synchronisation are negatively correlated with outcome success. For instance, people built LEGO cars together, and basically it seems that an ability to complementarily organise is much more important than having synchrony. At least once a certain level of synchrony is achieved. So we are trying to understand how we get an idea of the type of organisation that is necessary, how we measure that. We’re also looking at the social understanding of the task, and we have found that when there is a perceived hierarchical relationship in the completion of a task – when there was a leader who could tell others what to do – then the subjective report of the success of that collaboration was in fact uncorrelated with how much the participants synchronised their hearts. In other words, something about the social understanding of the task seems to translate into the actual dynamic.
And that can get lost in the pressure of academia and the process of evaluation? Yes, but it’s somehow integral to the
Echoing the ideas of complementarity and trust in terms of how you organise your research centre! Yes, that’s what we’re trying with this.
You describe the fire-walking study as a wild and crazy idea… you seem to have a few of those, I don’t know if the ‘destroying money’ study was yours? The idea wasn’t mine but I clearly supported it! Christina Becchio was interested in these social objects… she came up with the idea that if money is the quintessential social object then destroying the object would be a way to see remnants of that. She made these beautiful films of cutting notes into pieces. I had been working with Chris and Uta Frith, and we discovered we had a shared interest in looking at aspects of social cognition, but not just in the passive, in the active. They trained us in the classical experimental psychology.
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EYE ON FICTION
A disquieting look at dementia Mike Bender provides a critique of Lisa Genova’s novel Still Alice, the film adaptation of which is out this month
s public awareness and concern about dementia has grown over the last 20 years, publishers have hurried to provide suitable reading material. This has come in a variety of forms. Early autobiographical accounts include My Journey into Alzheimer’s Disease (1989) by Rev. Robert Davis; Diana McGowin’s feisty Living in the Labyrinth (1993); Dancing with Dementia (2005) and Who Will I Be When I Die? (1997) by Christine Boden, one of the founders of Dementia Advocacy and Support Network International; Through the Wilderness of Alzheimer’s (1999) by Robert Simpson and his wife, Anne; and Alzheimer’s from the Inside Out (2007) by Richard Taylor, a psychologist diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at 58. There has also been a steady stream of accounts by relatives, including Iris (Murdoch) by John Bayley (1998); John Suchet’s My Bonnie (his wife) (2010); and Before I Forget: A Daughter’s Story (2010) by Fiona Phillips. Dementia has also interested novelists. An early dramatic account of caring for a person becoming increasingly forgetful was Margaret Forster’s Have the Men Had Enough? (1989), while Michael Ignatieff’s powerful Scar Tissue (1993) is an account by a son of his mother’s loss of memory and artistic skills. Lisa Genova’s Still Alice, first published in 2007, has gained a deserved reputation as a brave fictional attempt at a first-person account of the descent into dementia. Genova has a PhD in neuroscience from Harvard and is an online columnist for
Bender, M.P. (2013). You’re worried you might have Alzheimer’s: What YOU can do about it. www.beeswing.biz Bender, M.P. (2014, January). The ethics of complicity? Clinical Psychology Forum, Issue 253, pp.52–56. Bender, M.P. & Constance, G. (2005). Wadebridge Memory Bank: A psychoeducation group. Journal of Dementia Care, 13(1), 28–30. Bender, M.P., Constance, G. & Williams, J.
the National Alzheimer’s Association. From her lengthy acknowledgements, it is clear that she aims to give an accurate picture of living with increasing cognitive difficulties, and an educative exposition of the best treatment on offer for the condition in America today. The main location is Boston, Massachusetts, and the events take place between September 2003 and September 2005. (As others have commented, the deterioration is melodramatically and untypically rapid.) Alice Howland is an internationally renowned leader in the field of linguistic development and a tenured professor in psychology at Harvard. Both Alice and her husband, John, a research cellular biologist also at Harvard, value themselves primarily as successful scientists. Work must take priority over caring for each other. As early as p.3 (page numbers refer to a 2010 edition), Alice, flying out to Stanford, asks John to be home when she gets back. ‘We haven’t seen each other for a while. Please try to be home?’ she asked. ‘I know. I’ll try.’
The question mark after Alice’s request tells us, correctly, of the likely outcome. ‘He was in the middle of an experiment and couldn’t leave it to come home. She’d certainly been in his shoes innumerable times. That was what they did. This was who they were. The voice called her a stupid fool.’ (p.19)
Not surprisingly, they have passed these
(2007). Wadebridge Memory Bank Group – Three years on. Journal of Dementia Care, 15(3), 16–17. Genova, L. (2010). Still Alice. London: Simon & Schuster Pocket Books. Lock, M. (2013). The Alzheimer conundrum: Entanglements of dementia and aging. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
values down to their three children. Anna is a successful corporate lawyer, working 80–90 hours a week, and wondering if children can be fitted around career advancement. Their son, Tom, is studying to become a cardiothoracic surgeon. Only their youngest, Lydia, has not followed this road. She has spent time in Europe, and is now attempting to become a stage actress on the West Coast, and refusing, much to her mother’s fury (‘Alice nearly lost her mind,’ p.11), to go to university. Alice’s ability to understand Lydia’s life path is hampered by the fact that her busy schedule (‘swamped by too many urgent things at the time’) has meant that she has never been present to see Lydia act in a play (pp.16–17). However, Lydia’s nonconventional career path does not mean that she does not value career advancement. At a family meeting, she is quietly rehearsing her lines (p.103). Alice is 50 years old when, on a trip to give a prestigious lecture at Stanford, she experiences word-finding difficulties and misplaces her Blackberry. Her initial self-diagnosis is that these slips are due to her going through the menopause. However, her physician quickly disabuses her of this hypothesis when he refers her to a neuropsychologist, who carries out or authorises a series of cognitive and medical procedures, including a lumbar puncture, to which no risk is apparently attached. He then briskly tells her that she has (early onset) Alzheimer’s. A major theme is how illness is to be understood and treated. The body, including the brain, is a machine that must function in order to maintain the career identity; and if it is not functioning optimally, it is the responsibility of the medical profession to fix it and return it to work. Psychological factors are nearly irrelevant to this process. What matters is what drugs are available or in development. What is noteworthy is the tripartite system: drug companies, doctor and patient. There is not the linear progression of doctor keeping au fait with medical developments and explaining these to the patient. Rather, the patient has accessed the claims made by drug companies and then expects the doctor to prescribe accordingly. This unity is nicely expressed in the rooms of Alice’s physician, ‘decorated with framed Ansel Adams [a 1930’s iconic art photographer of the American West] and pharmaceutical advertisements’ (p.37). There is no suggestion that scientific advancement might be hindered by the needs of pharmaceutical companies. Only conditions that drugs can treat are ‘real’, so that emotional states must be
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eye on fiction
mutated into them. Alice has the tragedy attends a departmental presentation, of both her mother and sister being but no staff will sit next to her, some killed, while being driven by her drunken preferring to stand (p.185). As Alice father. Her traumatic grief is consistently asks herself ‘What was she if she wasn’t referred to as ‘depression’ (p.46, p.154) a Harvard professor?’ (p. 96); and the and treated with Prozac. answer from her colleagues, is a nonAlice goes by herself to her physician person. and then to two neurological examination In order to get some support, Alice sessions. The neurologist tells her that ‘in herself, even when seriously disabled, sets the future you’re going to have to bring a up a group for her fellow early dementia family member or somebody who sees sufferers (p.213ff.). Yet, Alice’s need to you regularly… you may not be the most demonstrate competence continues, as reliable source of what’s going on’ (p.55). she decides to drop out of the group The idea that she might need emotional because her condition has worsened – just support at this time does not seem to when one might have thought she needed occur to the neurologist for, at the end their support more than ever. (In the of the screening, he tells her bluntly that long-running Memory Bank group in ‘you fit the criteria of having probable Alzheimer’s disease’ (p.70). He is telling her she has early onset dementia, with a rapid decline and death within a few years – in short a death sentence and a terrible dying – without any discussion or support. She is sent away and told to come back in six months (p.72). There is no evidence that the author considers this poor practice, nor is it taken as such by Alice. It is noticeable that the doctors invariably ask closed questions, rather than seeking to explore Alice’s views and feelings through open-ended questions. It is not clear that Alice is offered any emotional support whatsoever, although she is told of Julianne Moore in the film adaptation Still Alice a social worker in the unit who ‘can help you with resources and support’. Wadebridge, Cornwall [Bender & Yet while the neurology practice has Constance, 2005; Bender et al., 2007], little to offer the sufferer, for her husband, where the decision to discharge could they have a carer’s group run by two only be made by members themselves, professional staff (p.136, p.210). we found that members offered continued Her university colleagues provide support to each other, across quite sharply little support. In a rather unconvincing varying degrees of cognitive difficulties; scene, Alice feels among friends at the and that the members only stopped departmental Christmas party (‘They attending a few months before their were family’, p.51). However, when her deaths.) teaching performance suffers, she is It is interesting to see how these effectively sacked by the head of themes play out at the end of the book, department. Students have started when Alice has emotional responses, but complaining and, as he points out, their little ability to recognise family members parents are paying $40,000 a year (p.182) or verbalise. John, her husband, is offered (despite the fact that ‘the emphasis in the an important post in New York, which he department tipped heavily toward is determined to take, arguing that Alice is research performance, and so a lot of lessnow so disorientated that it doesn’t matter than-optimal teaching was tolerated by which city she is in (p.224). However, both the students and the administration’ neither Alice nor her daughters are willing (p.45). Alice is not offered any for her to move, and the book ends with occupational health support. She informs Lydia, coming East to study, and Anna, her colleagues of her condition, and they now with newborn twins, helping their briefly call in to commiserate, but none mother. John, as expected, can only give offer support. While she has become limited support, given the demands of his irrelevant to her colleagues because of her new post. Tom plays little part in helping non-productivity, it is hard to believe that his mother, being involved in his medical they would cold shoulder her in the same studies. Men cannot be expected to stop way if her diagnosis was cancer. Later, she giving their careers priority, even when
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Alice has manifestly only a few months left to live. Still Alice is a disquieting book. Despite the family’s affluence, its value systems and those of her colleagues, along with the behaviour of the medical professionals, make Alice’s predicament far more lonely and desperate than it needs to be. The American setting does not diminish the relevance the book has for UK services. Neo-liberal capitalist assumptions, actively encouraged by UK as much as by US governments – that you are only as valuable, and your job only as permanent, as your last research grant/ sales/assessment; and that this performance is the function of the individual, not the context in which they are operating – means that career status is the only important identity marker, in terms of economic, social status and psychological well-being. The need therefore for the consumption of a drug to allow a rapid return to work makes sense in this framework. Emotional neglect, caused in large part by career aspirations and work as the major identity, would also be valid for British professional workers; while, for those in more precarious and badly paid jobs, the lack of flexibility, both of time usage and economic resources, may well result in unwilling neglect (Bender, 2013). Government policy, enthusiastically supported by research groups and dementia charities, is that the only way forward is through the development of drugs, although there is no clear understanding of the disease processes on which to base such developments (Lock, 2013). Concurrent with this policy is a lack of funding for the development of ameliorative psychological approaches. The neglect of support services also applies in the UK, where these services, never lavish, have been slashed during the last few years (Bender, 2014). The loneliness and despair of the Alices of this world cross national boundaries and demand the creation of value and work systems that permit a more caring response from families. We also need a greater willingness among psychologists, and other professionals, to visibly and vocally object to the cruelty and lack of compassion in the present provision of services for people with cognitive and skills difficulties. I Mike Bender is a retired consultant clinical psychologist for older adults and author of a number of books on dementia, most recently You're Worried You Might Have Alzheimer’s M.Bender@exeter.ac.uk
Research. Digested. Free.
www.bps.org.uk/digest ‘Easy to access and free, and a mine of useful information for my work: what more could I want? I only wish I’d found this years ago!’ Dr Jennifer Wild, Consultant Clinical Psychologist & Senior Lecturer, Institute of Psychiatry ‘The selection of papers suits my eclectic mind perfectly, and the quality and clarity of the synopses is uniformly excellent.’ Professor Guy Claxton, University of Bristol
vol 28 no 3
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vol 28 no 3
You will weep… Eichmann didn’t Watch The Eichmann Show. Watch it if only for the original footage of the witnesses telling their stories of deportation and the camps. A man telling his tale. Reliving how he unloaded the corpses of those who had been gassed. Finding his wife and two children. Laying himself down beside them. Only wanting to be shot himself. If you have tears, then as you watch, you will weep. Eichmann didn’t weep. The grainy old pictures show him watching. An occasional twitch. A smile? Certainly not a tear. In 1961 people around the world watched this footage. It was the first global televisual event. It irrevocably changed how we saw the Holocaust, understood Israel, explained evil. And The Eichmann Show is less about the Holocaust itself and Eichmann himself than about how the trial was televised. It is about the nature of representation and the struggles that surround it. The Eichmann trial involved many such struggles on many levels. For Ben Gurion, the Israeli Prime Minister who sanctioned the filming of the trial, the primary aim was to reshape the relationship between the Holocaust, the State of Israel and world Jewry. The Eichmann For the first time the victims were Show given a global stage on which to tell BBC Two their stories. Hitherto, inside Israel as well as outside, they had been ignored and even silenced. A proud, young, martial state did not want to hear about Jews as victims. What is more there was always the suspicion that anyone who had survived must have done something disreputable for this to be possible. The victim always had a taint of the perpetrator. But the trial, itself theatrical, held in a theatre and then filmed for the world, was to obliterate these equivocations. Victims became witnesses, pointing to a Nazi criminal in court. The fact that the trial was in Jerusalem, and Eichmann was being tried by the Israeli State, constituted the Holocaust as primarily a crime against Jews. It legitimated the Israeli state as a haven for Jews. But more than that, it showed Israelis, Jews and the world, that Israel could protect its people and punish those who attack Jews, wherever they may do it. This, in large part, explains the fury directed at Hannah Arendt for her book Eichmann in Jerusalem, which is, perhaps, the conduit through which the trial became so well known across the ensuing half century. This fury was less to do with what Arendt had to say about Eichmann himself than with what she had to say about the Juderat – the Jewish Councils under the Nazis. These, Arendt argued, were complicit with Eichmann and his kind. In effect, Arendt challenged the core representational politics of the trial. She portrayed the Zionist establishment as the oppressor rather than the saviour of Jews. Her words threatened to unravel everything that the television pictures were designed to achieve. But, of course, that’s not why we remember Arendt now – especially ‘we’ as psychologists. We remember her precisely for what she did say about Eichmann. We remember her dismay at Eichmann coming into the courtroom. Not a striking, sadistic monster governed by exceptional passions. Rather, an insignificant,
ordinary man governed by mundane concerns. We remember her phrase ‘the banality of evil’, which then fused with the work of Stanley Milgram and overturned our understanding of how human beings are capable of inflicting great harm on their fellow humans. We retain the idea that the insignificant bureaucrat becomes a mass murderer by concentrating so much on the details of the job, that he or she overlooks the consequences. But this view, too, is bound up with film and image and representation. At the start of The Eichmann Show we see a photo of Eichmann in his SS uniform: confident and arrogant and powerful. Looking straight into the lens, a sardonic smile on his lips. That is the picture on the cover of David Cesarani’s 2004 biography, which explodes the myth of Eichmann as mere pen-pusher. The prosecutors understood the power of imagery well, and for a while considered forcing Eichmann to wear his uniform. But Eichmann and his lawyer were equally conversant with the politics of representation and made a deliberate decision to adopt a mild and unassertive persona in the way he looked, in the way he stood, in the way he spoke. It is argued that Arendt bought his act. She left early in the trial, well before the witnesses gave their testimony. Had she stayed perhaps she would have painted a very different picture of him and of the human capacity for evil. The Eichmann Show points to all these levels of representation, and to others besides. Is the narrative of the trial to concentrate on the victim’s experience or on Eichmann’s (in)humanity? What does that mean in terms of which, from the various cameras covering the trial, is to be broadcast? What does it mean in terms of how the shot is framed, how close we zoom in? In part, these are technical questions of film production. But they are equally critical questions in the creation of any narrative and hence our understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. At one point in the programme, we watch as the television crew cover Eichmann’s reaction in the courtroom as images of the death camps are played. In other words, we are seeing a film about people filming a man’s reaction to film: a representation of a representation of the observation of a representation. Where is the real story in all this? There is none, except for the labours of each editor and each level to constrain our attention, construct our understanding and hence create our reaction. There is one final issue to which The Eichmann Show alerts us. That is, we often think that science and scientific understanding proceeds through our academic outputs, our books, papers and chapters. But the forms of representation that dominate popular culture – particularly film – are equally important. Our understanding of the Holocaust (which, as Baumann argues, hangs over all subsequent social science) was critically informed by the filming of the Eichmann trial. More specifically, our understanding of the role of obedience in atrocity was informed as much by Milgram’s 1965 film Obedience than by his studies in themselves. we should learn the lesson. We need to bridge the divide between ‘science’ and ‘culture’. If psychology is to thrive we need to find our own ways or re-visioning that which matters to us. Compelling science depends upon us becoming better story tellers. It depends upon us becoming more open to the various modalities through which stories are told. So watch The Eichmann Show. It will be painful. But it will be worth it. I Reviewed by Professor Steve Reicher who is at the University of St Andrews
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Intangible forces Invisibilia NPR Invisibilia is a radio show about psychology without claiming to be about psychology. It’s about the invisible things that move and motivate our actions, and it makes visible the power that our inner experiences seem to have over us. In the first episode, with a warm and self-deprecating style, This American Life’s Alix Spiegel and Radiolab’s Lulu Miller guides the listener through different theoretical and clinical approaches to ‘thinking’. If you think that sounds a little dry, then notice that thought of yours and hear this: the tales of a ‘secret revolution’ in thought science will excite even if you dare to think you know it all already. The first episode begins with an image designed to startle: a man who began to have intrusive thoughts about brutally harming his wife. The show does not shy away from the violence of these thoughts, and yet by interviewing the man in such a sincere and curious manner they duck any accusations of sensationalism. This entertaining and educative style continues as Spiegel… or was it Miller… (they admit their voices sound the same to comic effect) talk us through the changes in theory about thoughts across the last century; moving from the Freudians interpreting the unconscious meaning in our phantasies,
to the ‘nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so’ philosophy of cognitive behavioural therapy. I’ve often thought that criticism of CBT often ignores the constructivist stance of the approach, and the breezy interview with Aaron T. Beck featured in the programme gently challenges the stereotypes we may hold of psychotherapy’s most ubiquitous orientation. We’re then presented with the so-called modern, which can equally be described as the ancient. An elegant explanation of mindfulness and third-wave therapies shows how they are drawing on Eastern traditions to teach us to turn into our thoughts and to allow space for them in our mind. Staring at thoughts and seeing them as the ‘invisibilia’ that they are, helps take away the power they have over us. This academic approach to cognition in the show’s first half is then put through the wringer by a story that manages to move, shock and inspire. To share this story in a review would fail to do it justice, however suffice to say that the story of 12-year-old Martin Pistorius and his mysterious coma will change both the way you think about thoughts… and the way you think about Barney the Dinosaur. Working as a clinical psychologist across oncology and palliative care settings, I found this story offers hope
whilst acknowledging the difficult psychological places visited through the experience of physical illness. Spiegel and Miller are careful not to give us any answers about what works, though I fear they rather mischaracterise the Freudians and Beckites as arguing the toss over how meaningful thoughts are. However, their main point stands: that when you walk through a therapist’s door it is not possible to know everything about their approach. This first programme in the series leaves the mental health professions with questions about how we can best explain to those we meet about what to expect in therapy. Irvin Yalom, in Existential Psychotherapy, suggests that the key ingredient in therapy – the therapeutic relationship – is much like the hidden extras thrown in to the pudding mix in your mother’s cooking. Can and should we try to make these ‘invisibilia’ visible? The radio series Invisibilia continues on NPR and each show, covering more ‘invisible things’ from ideas and emotions, to beliefs, assumptions and desires is available for download as a podcast. I Reviewed by Dr Nick Hartley who is a clinical psychologist working in Newcastle upon Tyne
A rounded introduction Foreign Accent Syndromes: The Stories People Have to Tell Jack Ryalls & Nick Miller What does it feel like to wake one day with a foreign accent of a country you’ve never visited? Foreign accent syndrome (FAS) is arguably commonly misrepresented in both the media and public opinion as a ‘twilight zone’-type transformation. The two expert authors of this book seek to demystify this complex disorder via two approaches. The first third of the book serves as a scientific overview of the aetiology, diversity and treatment research into the condition. Although FAS can be most simply described as the use of an accent sounding different to the one an individual previously, habitually used, it is evidently far more complex than
this. Causes, diagnosis and severity are shown to all vary dramatically between cases, making it extremely difficult to treat. Interestingly, cases are almost entirely restricted to women, with the authors considering both reporting bias and differences in brain anatomy as potential factors. The diversity of FAS is captured brilliantly by the second, larger section devoted to vignettes from FAS sufferers and family. Monographs, diaries, poems and art from around the globe show a central theme. Accent is central to an individual’s identity, and the swift, dramatic changes to it in FAS clearly leave profound effects on individuals and those
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close to them. Strained personal and professional relationships are shown during adjustment to this new identity. However, these changes are also shown to motivate, with those affected describing fitness and artistic achievements following diagnosis. A lack of understanding of the disorder in health professionals and confusions in diagnosis are commonly reported, showing an evident need for awareness in texts such as this. Although insightful, I think this section would have benefited from some concluding comments by the
authors: identifying themes in experiences and areas for future research. Reading this as someone with an interest but little prior knowledge in the area, I found this a rounded introduction to research and experiences of FAS. Diagnosed individuals and affected families, as well as psychologists and speech and language workers will gain much from the tales and concise research described. I Psychology Press; 2014; Pb £28.99 Reviewed by Emma Norris who is a PhD student at University College London and Associate Editor (Reviews)
Finding the golden thread of consciousness The Hard Problem Tom Stoppard In the first scene of Tom Stoppard’s new play The Hard Problem, the charming but arrogant neuroscientist is arguing with Hilary, a psychology student about evolutionary biology. ‘Altruism is always self-interest,’ says Spike, ‘it just needs a little working out.’ In a single line, Spike captures the issue at the centre of Stoppard’s latest work: whether pure altruism really exists and what we can
Managing your anxiety The SAM App University of the West of England (Developer) The Self-Help for Anxiety Management (SAM for short) app aims to ‘help you understand and manage anxiety’. From the perspective of someone with experience of mental health apps and websites through my research I believe this is one of the better ones. The usability aspect is often overlooked in favour of replicating an established intervention. This can often lead to low levels of adherence, especially when there is minimal therapist contact. The app is easy to use and intuitive, moving the user from information about using the app to information about their anxiety. The self-help aspect is clear, with the toolkit allowing tailoring of preferred techniques, and the concept of tracking anxiety useful. My only concern is there needs to be more clarity about the function and use of the ‘Social Cloud’ for users, especially emphasising that it is an unmoderated peer-to-peer network. I http://sam-app.org.uk Reviewed by Aislinn Bergin who is a postgraduate research student in the Centre for Psychological Therapies in Primary Care, University of Chester
understand about human nature in its light. This thread glitters through the centre of the work and is the source of much of the dramatic tension, not least as Hilary, in this National Theatre production, is brilliantly portrayed by Olivia Vinall, whose confident uncomplicated performance stands out amid a consistently strong cast. The sharp setting and candid performances are certainly enjoyable but the golden thread is often lost amid layers of sometimes tangential and ultimately unnecessary neuroscience. We meet Hilary as a student, but most of the action happens when she is a postdoctoral researcher at the Krohl Institute for Brain Science – a privately funded vanity institution built by the condescending hedge-fund guru Jerry Krohl. The setting is key, and Stoppard has clearly amassed an impressively wide knowledge of both the practice and findings of modern cognitive science, but it’s also clear he never fully got to grips with its significance and, consequently, the play is somewhat awkward to the trained ear. This is a typical and often pedantic criticism of plays about technical subjects, but in Stoppard’s case the work is primarily about what defines us as human, in light of the science of human nature, and because of this the material often comes off as clunky. It’s not that the descriptions are inaccurate – allusions to optogenetics, Gödel and the computability of consciousness, game theory, and cortisol studies of risk in poker players, are all in context – but Stoppard doesn’t really understand what implications these concepts have either for each other or for his main contention. Questions about mind and body, consciousness and morality are confused at times, and it’s not clear that Stoppard really understands the true implications of the ‘hard
problem’ of consciousness. But more frustrating is how the problem of human nature is pitched. The self-important Spike says anything nonscientific is ‘gibberish’, and argues we’re just biology and therefore fundamentally selfcentred. The good-hearted Hilary questions evolution, doubts the scientific study of human nature, and thinks that not being able to explain consciousness is evidence for the existence of God. Underneath the scientificsounding fireworks in the dialogue is a fundamentally preEnlightenment view of human nature that equates mystery with moral virtue and suggests morality is necessarily mysterious. As a result, the cognitive science turns out to be a distraction, where misplaced talk of neuroscience actually obscures the central meaning. In this sense, the play is a lost opportunity to push ethical questions about human conduct up against the genuinely profound questions about the self raised by modern brain research. The one metaphor of the play that does work brilliantly is the Prisoner’s Dilemma – the classic paradigm in game theory where two criminals are caught and know that if they both keep quiet they’ll each get away with a light punishment, but if one rats and one stays silent, the rat goes free and the other goes down for a long stretch. Selfinterest says you rat – you can’t risk trying to help another if it could send you into the abyss. Hilary baulks at the concept – not at the choices, but the assumptions. ‘You’ve left out everything about Bob and me except we’re out for ourselves and we’ve got two buttons to
push.’ ‘Actually,’ she says sardonically, ‘Bob loves me.’ ‘I’m confessing… I’m going to give Bob a chance to go straight.’ Hilary’s reframing strikes at the core of how scientific models can sometimes simplify human nature into numerical dust and this is really where the play really hits its mark. At the end of the play, Hilary finds herself in her own version of the Prisoner’s Dilemma when a research assistant admits falsifying data for a study on morality that has both their names on it. The assistant declares she is motivated by love and wanted to impress. Hilary unmoved but compassionate, takes responsibility to save her junior, and loses her post. She saves a fraud in the hope of a better future. Her final act of humanity concerns her lost daughter, another important and touching story arc, but, if you’ll allow me my own moment of altruism, I won’t give it all away, for your own good, of course. There’s probably a brilliant play to be written about brain research, the Copenhagen of cognitive science perhaps, but Stoppard hasn’t managed it with The Hard Problem. He has, however, written an enjoyable work of theatre and he can always revise his ideas, we hope, based on the results of future experiments. I Reviewed Dr Vaughan Bell who is a Senior Clinical Lecturer at UCL, a clinical psychologist with South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, and blogger with Mind Hacks. The play is currently running at the National Theatre, and will be broadcast to cinemas UK and worldwide (see www.ntlive. nationaltheatre.org.uk).
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Highly stimulating Perverse Psychology: The Pathologization of Sexual Violence and Transgenderism Jemma Tosh Perverse Psychology provides rare insights into a hugely underresearched area; yet these are all issues that clinicians may be presented with in a day’s work. Human sexuality, gender identity, and sexual violence towards divergent sexual populations are discussed from a psychological perspective, allowing readers to fully immerse in the complexity of this area. Some of the case studies presented may be so unusual that clinicians may have never encountered anything similar previously; however, this book provides valuable and necessary insight to the complex nature of human sexual relationships and atypical sexual arousal. Particularly thought-provoking are the discussions relating to sexual fantasy, including rape and murder role-play, bondage, discipline and sado-masochism relationships. Tosh’s discussion of the contemporary problem of the role of the internet in relation to these areas and the devastating effects of
cyber-bulling and distress caused by ‘trolls’ is particularly provocative and leads readers to consider the novel nature of grooming and abuse that the internet now all too easily provides. Readers are invited to consider the role of family therapy in supporting transgender children in contemporary discussions. This book is almost ahead of its time, pushing readers to think outside of the box and hauling them into the 21st century. At last, a book that speaks about the unspoken, discusses topics that society would rather brush under the carpet and makes sense of the disorganised evidencebase. This book serves to instigate discussion and contemplation. Well written, well referenced – a highly stimulating read. I Routledge; 2014; Pb 25.99 Reviewed by Kirsten Nokling who is a trainee clinical psychologist for South Wales and Vale NHS Trust, Cardiff University
A practical and open message The Small Big: Small Changes That Spark Big Influence Steve J. Martin, Noah J. Goldstein & Robert Cialdini The Small BIG outlines how deceptively small changes can produce big results when influencing others. Social influence is introduced as the way in which individuals are shaped by the perception and actions of others. The title takes a practical perspective, distilling decades of research in persuasion science into easily digested chapters centring on a single factor of influence. The experience of the three authors, all prominent in the field, brings a critical and supportive presence to the bear on the title. Though the individual ‘small BIG changes’ discussed are highly diverse, loosely these follow Cialdini’s six weapons of influence (authority, reciprocity, scarcity, liking, consistency and social proof). Real-world examples are drawn, both from the writers’ personal experiences and further afield, including: changes that lower tax avoidance rates; developing resilience in the face of failure; and building confident and effective communication skills. The Small BIG presents a very engaging and accessible read, providing practical insight in a well-supported yet succinct manner. Whilst some may grumble that the book lacks academic detail, this is insignificant criticism in comparison to the overall practical and open message conveyed and fulfilling reading experience. I Profile Books; 2014; Pb £11.99 Reviewed by Rory McDonald who is a writer and researcher at the University of Central Lancashire
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A most enjoyable route Happy Maps (TED talk) Daniele Quercia Daniele Quercia paints a familiar picture in his TED talk, Happy Maps. So many of us take the same route to work every day, possibly using maps on our smartphones, without really stopping to think whether a better route exists, a more beautiful route, even a happier route. Quercia points out that with his background as a scientist and engineer his focus has so often been on finding efficiency just as mapping apps give us one simple, short route to our destination. But after taking a detour on his bicycle one day Quercia found a beautiful, quiet route that only took him a minute or two longer than his usual, busy, grey route. At the TED event in Berlin Quercia said that after this experience he became fascinated with the ways in which people can enjoy a city and started to use computer science tools to replicate social science. He says: ‘I became captivated by the beauty and genius of traditional social science experiments done by Jane Jacobs, Stanley Milgram, Kevin Lynch. The result of that research has been the creation of new maps, maps where you don’t only find the shortest path… but also the most enjoyable path.’ To create these maps Quercia created a crowdsourcing platform game and presented thousands of online participants with two contrasting urban scenes and asked them to choose which one was more quiet, beautiful or happy. Quercia later started working for Yahoo Labs and speaks about the development of these Happy Maps, with the potential to create a mapping tool that would return the most enjoyable routes based not only on aesthetics but also based on smell, sound, and memories. Quercia ends his talk by challenging the audience to confront some of their daily habits, concluding: ‘If you think that adventure is dangerous, try routine. It’s deadly.’ I View at tinyurl.com/my69okk Reviewed by Ella Rhodes who is The Psychologist’s staff journalist
Clear text on difficult issues The Oxford Handbook of Suicide and Self-Injury Matthew K. Nock The Oxford Handbook of Suicide and Self-Injury is a wellstructured and comprehensive commentary on this important topic. It contains detailed chapters on systems for defining and classifying suicide and selfinjury, with interesting commentary on the origins and development of current methods of classification. This section is followed by some excellent chapters outlining research detailing how these issues affect different sociodemographic groups across the lifespan. One of the highlights of the book is the collection of chapters describing different theoretical approaches to understanding suicide and self-injury. The
biopsychosocial structuring of this section and the variety of different theories explored results in an informative and comprehensive read. Particular areas of interest are chapters on information processing and psychodynamic approaches to suicide. From a clinical perspective, later sections on assessment and prevention of suicide and self-injury, were very interesting. These drew on the information and research presented in previous sections and provided detailed assessment frameworks for use
in clinical practice. However, as the book is heavily based on US research studies and guidelines, the utility for clinicians practising in the UK should be considered. Much of the
information may be relevant to clinical groups both in the UK and US; however, other sections is more pertinent to US populations, such as the impact of particular socio-cultural contexts and the nature of access to certain means of selfharm. It would therefore be necessary to take into account UK guidance, legislation and research in order to match the framework to a UK population. But overall, this book is a good, clear text on the difficult issue of suicide and self-harm. I Oxford University Press; 2014; Hb £115.00 Reviewed by Dr Liane Hubbins who is a clinical psychologist
Sensory trickery in the kitchen Synaesthesia Kitchen Theory Bringing the synaesthesic experience to the dinner table is no mean feat, but that is what modernist culinary creatives Kitchen Theory have aimed to do with their series of sevencourse meals which set out to enhance and fool the senses. Synaesthesia, a sensory condition that can cause sound to have colour and words to have flavours, is mind-boggling to those of us who don’t have it (see last month’s issue) – but can such an experience really be recreated through food? The setting for chef Jozef Youssef’s experimental meal is the Food Incubator, Maida Hill Place, London, a space designed for food entrepreneurs who want to try out their ideas. Guests are seated at a long table and given menus in enticing black envelopes but told not to look at them until after the second course – enhancing the air of mystery around this unique dining experience. Without giving too much of the menu’s content away, each course aimed to illustrate some of our preconceived ideas about food, taste, texture and even sounds we hear while eating. Among other things the courses illustrate our relationship with colour and taste, the effect of speech sounds on our perception of food shape and the potential relationship between tactile
sensations and food textures and tastes. Every course was given an intriguing name such as Night Owl’s Eastbourne Grotto or Believe Nothing of What you Hear – each one became a sensory act in its own right. Each course was accompanied by atomisers, sounds, even a cube covered with different textures that could be played with while eating to examine the effect on taste. Not only were the flavour combinations and sensory trickery fascinating, diners were also treated to some education on the topic of synaesthesia with the help of Professor Charles Spence of Oxford University’s Cross Modal Department, who has helped to design the menu. Spence, along with Sean Day, President of American Synaesthesia Association, and Richard E. Cytowic, MD MFA, Neurologist and author of Wednesday is Indigo Blue, have helped Youssef combine some of the
research into this neurological phenomenon into his menu. Youssef has worked at Helene Darroze at the Connaught, The Dorchester Hotel and the Fat Duck, and is the author of Molecular Gastronomy at Home. I Reviewed by Ella Rhodes who is The Psychologist’s staff journalist. The events are being held Thursday to Saturday every fortnight from now through to June 2015 at Food Incubator, Maida Hill Place. For more information and to book visit tinyurl.com/nuzb2d5
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Every contact leaves a trace Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime Val McDermid Since her heroine P.D. James passed away in November 2014, Val McDermid seems destined to be crowned Dame of Crime Fiction. However, her latest book is non-fiction. Forensics: The Anatomy of Crime tells the fascinating, and sometimes gory, story of the development of a wide range of forensic techniques. Every major criminal forensic discipline is covered, including fire-scene investigation, pathology, toxicology, fingerprinting, forensic anthropology, blood spatter and DNA analysis, and, of course, forensic psychology. McDermid has researched each area extensively, both in terms of its scientific development, as well as how individual cases (and individuals) have contributed. Perhaps due to her high profile, she has also obtained interviews with many of the top scientists in each field. Some chapters shed light on the historic development of a discipline, such as the origin of facial reconstruction in ‘Lombrosia’, the long-discredited concept that types of criminal face could be identified and categorised (used in court cases in the 19th century). Other chapters give facts that require a strong stomach: some might feel the need to look away from parts of the forensic entomology chapter, which throngs with the maggots and blowflies used to identify time of death. It’s no surprise that the chapter on forensic psychology is the longest. To date, McDermid has written eight books featuring Tony
Hill (aka Robson Green), who is variously described as a clinical psychologist or a psychological profiler. McDermid notes that the forensic psychologist offers ‘the perfect fantasy figure…someone who gets to look at people with an analytical and empathetic eye, but who also gets to be the hero’. McDermid identifies the first offender profile as likely to have been that made for Jack the Ripper; its more modern incarnation started in the post-war hunt for Nazi war criminals. But reliance on any one forensic technique can be problematic, and the murder of Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common in 1992 was a low point in offender profiling in the UK. The psychologist Paul Britton created a profile of the murderer that led directly to the identification of Colin Stagg as the prime suspect, and contributed to the ‘honeytrap’ strategy used against him. The case was dismissed at court and Stagg received over £700,000 in compensation. Ultimately it was a different forensic technique – improved DNA analysis – that led to the conviction of the murderer, Robert Napper. By the end of this book I’d learnt a lot about forensic science: and McDermid’s skill as a storyteller makes this an easily digestible, if sometimes gruesome, read. For anyone at all interested in the conjunction of science and crime, this is essential reading. I Profile; 2014; Pb £18.99 Reviewed by Kate Johnstone who is a postgraduate student at UCL
Learning from the patient’s perspective The Body Keeps the Score: Mind, Brain and Body in the Transformation of Trauma Bessel van der Kolk survivors (at the expert patient level) and those working with them. The book is split into five parts and uses the device of following van der Kolk’s career as a timeline to weave the history of trauma treatment and development of the field together. The use of neuroimaging techniques to examine what happens in the brain during flashbacks is intriguing and contributes to our understanding of both why and how people are affected differently by the same events. The final, and largest, part of the book focuses on the treatment of trauma. This section is again explored though van der Kolk’s encounters with each method. Because of the groundwork in the earlier sections and depth of coverage in learning to understand trauma, when each technique is raised and
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considered the reader is prepared to be more openminded towards less familiar and potentially less mainstream approaches. A key point of this book is this approach; for example, for the patient user the discussion of mindfulness adds another dimension to the selfhelp type information currently available. While Dr van der Kolk’s experiences, and the list of additional resources, reflect that
Dr van der Kolk’s epigraph ‘To my patients, who kept the score and were the textbook’ is almost a mission statement for a career spent learning from both his patients and experts outside his own field who can offer ways to help those affected by traumatic events. This is a fascinating and comprehensive look both at what causes trauma and what its effects can be, not just to the survivor, but those around and involved with them. It isn’t always a comfortable read – the statistics quoted on experiences of trauma are, frankly, terrifying – and the cases discussed are a painful necessity to illustrate relevant points. However the writing is compelling and pitched both at
he is based in the USA, this does not lessen the book’s relevance. This book deserves to be widely read not just for the overview it provides of our understanding of trauma, or for the outline of one man’s career, but for the insight it provides into the patient’s perspective. I Allen Lane; 2014; Hb £25.00 Reviewed by Louise Beaton who is an Open University psychology graduate
For a full list of books available for review and information on reviewing for The Psychologist, see www.bps.org.uk/books Send books for potential review to The Psychologist, 48 Princess Road East, Leicester LE1 7DR Our ‘Reviews’ section covers psychology in books, films, plays, TV, radio, apps, exhibitions and more. Seen or heard something psychological? Get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @psychmag for suggestions, competitions, offers and more.
Masculinity, trauma and ‘shell-shock’ Tracey Loughran delivers a fitting tribute to the men who suffered in the First World War, and in more modern conflicts
n 1914 Britain was the only major European power without a system of conscription in place. Over the next two years, the second-largest volunteer army in the history of the nation was raised (Gregory, 2008). Although the First World War is often remembered as a war of conscripts, 2.5 million men from the UK enlisted in the armed forces without any form of legal compulsion. One hundred years after the outbreak of the First World War, it is difficult to understand what motivated men to fight, and how they possibly withstood the horrors of the trenches. These are complex and contested historical questions, but it is clear that deeply embedded ideas of honourable masculine behaviour guided the actions of many men. Oscar Wilde’s eldest son Cyril was perhaps more worried than most men about how others might judge his ability to live up to masculine ideals, but his explanation of his decision to join up is nonetheless telling. He believed that ‘first and foremost, I must be a man. There was to be no cry of decadent artist, of effeminate aesthete, of weakkneed degenerate.’ He asked ‘nothing better to end in honourable battle for my King and Country’ (Sinfield, 1994, p.126). He died in May 1915 at Neuve Chappelle. The success of the voluntary recruitment campaign represented, at least in part, the triumph of Victorian ideals of manly behaviour. But when we think of this war, we also think about those who could not live up to the exacting demands of this ideal, no matter how hard they
Bogacz, T. (1989). War neurosis and cultural change in England, 1914–22. Journal of Contemporary History 24, 227–256. Eder, M.D. (1917). War-shock: The psychoneuroses in war psychology and treatment. London: William Heinemann. Feudtner, C. (1993). ‘Minds the dead have ravished’: Shell shock, history, and the ecology of disease systems. History of Science 31, 377–420.
tried. Only a few months after war broke out, soldiers of several combatant nations began to manifest strange nervous and mental symptoms. Doctors in all countries immediately noted the similarity of these disorders to well-established diagnostic categories such as hysteria, neurasthenia, and traumatic neurosis. They also debated the unknown effects of high explosive artillery on the central nervous system. In all combatant nations, doctors formulated theories that explained soldiers’ symptoms as the result of concussion, or invisible molecular damage to the nervous system caused by exposure to repeated shell blasts. As the war went on, increasingly sophisticated psychological theories were formulated to explain symptoms as the outcome of a conflict between the instinct of self-preservation and the desire to fulfil one’s duty, or as the result of the attempt to repress memories of war experience. Nowadays, ‘shell-shock’ is most often perceived as a form of psychological breakdown, equated in the popular mind with the modern construct of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). We do not know exactly how many men were diagnosed and treated for ‘shellshock’ during the war or in its aftermath: the number most often quoted for the British Army is between 80,000 and 200,000 men (Leese, 2002). But even these estimates are based only on those formally diagnosed and treated for ‘shellshock’. It is likely that many men suffered nightmares, distressing memories of war experience, and other traumatic
Gregory, A. (2008). The last Great War. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press. Hart, B. (1927). Psychopathology: Its development and its place in medicine. London: Cambridge University Press. Hynes, S. (1991). A war imagined: The First World War and English culture. New York: Atheneum. Leese, P. (2001). Why are they not cured? British shellshock treatment during
symptoms, but coped well enough in everyday life to avoid seeing a doctor. These men endured the war, but we do not know how they picked up the threads of their lives. The only indisputable fact is that after 1918, ‘shell-shock’ formed part of a new popular understanding of the potential effects of war on men’s bodies and minds. Many historians have argued that the experience of mass breakdown in the First World War led to the reconfiguration of ideals of masculine behaviour. The literary historian Samuel Hynes believes that after 1918, war was imagined in fundamentally new ways. The soldier hero was no longer the main actor in popular conceptions of war; now, he was accompanied by the coward, the frightened boy, and the ‘shell-shock’ victim (Hynes, 1991). For Elaine Showalter, ‘shell-shock’ represented ‘a crisis of masculinity and a trial of the Victorian masculine ideal’; it was an unconscious protest ‘not only against the war but against the concept of “manliness” itself’ (Showalter, 1987, pp.171–2). Other historians have suggested that the acknowledgement that any man could break down under sufficient stress ‘forced western society to take note and modify its views on mental illness, human motivation, and other issues far beyond the immediate problems of disabled soldiers’ (Feudtner, 1993, p.409; see also Bogacz, 1989; Stone, 1985). From this perspective, ‘shell-shock’ revealed the ultimate fragility of the human psyche, and undermined the bombastic stoicism applied to so many areas of social life. However, I argue that although the experience of 1914–18 did force popular awareness of the potentially traumatic effects of war, it did not completely overturn existing conceptions of ideal masculinity. This is evident in the desire of First World War psychologists to restore soldiers to self-control and manly ‘character’. Doctors used many different forms of treatment for ‘shell-shock’ during the war, and most soldiers were probably
the Great War. In M. Micale & P. Lerner (Eds.) Traumatic pasts: History, psychiatry and trauma in the modern age, 1870– 1930 (pp.205–221). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Leese, P. (2002). Shell shock. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Rivers, W.H.R. (1918, 2 February). An address on the repression of war experience. Lancet, 173–177. Showalter, E. (1987). The female malady:
Women, madness and English culture, 1830– 1980. London: Virago. Sinfield, A. (1994). The Wilde century: Effeminacy, Oscar Wilde and the Queer Movement. London: Cassell. Stone, M. (1985). Shellshock and the psychologists. In W.F. Bynum, R. Porter & M. Shepherd (Eds). The anatomy of madness. Volume 1: People and ideas (pp.242–271). London and New York, Tavistock.
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‘Analytic’ doctors consistently treated using conservative therapies. In a described re-education in the language of few institutions, such as Maghull Military a militarised, masculine ethos of honour, Hospital near Liverpool, and stoicism, and self-control. The patient’s Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, effort to gain a ‘proper’ understanding of some influential doctors developed his war experience was depicted as a analytic techniques. It was rare for confrontation, in which he squared up to doctors to employ these kinds of ‘talking his past and mastered it. The doctor had cures’, but these treatments show that to make the patient see the impossibility even the most sophisticated psychological of ‘running away’ from troubling approaches developed to deal with shellmemories (Rivers, 1918). Doctors did shock’ drew heavily on concepts of selfnot see this form of treatment as the control, self-reliance, and strength of imposition of masculine values on character. subjects who had rejected these standards. ‘Analytic’ doctors favoured forms They believed they were helping ‘shellof treatment based on analysis and reshocked’ men to regain the character and education. They believed the prolonged self-control that would allow them to live strain of war service exhausted the patient with themselves after the war. Even the and lowered his self-control, which led most sophisticated treatments for ‘shellhim to fixate on an emotional element of shock’ depended on the reassertion of his war experience. The role of the doctor masculine values. was to help the patient understand the ‘true significance’ of his history and condition, and this was achieved through the therapeutic process of reeducation (‘the process whereby causal factors, which have been elicited by analysis, are modified or re-arranged, so that they no longer produce morbid effects’: Hart, 1927, p.125). The doctor conducted extended interviews with the patient to ascertain the exact nature of the incident(s) that had led to breakdown. The doctor then helped the patient to understand why the symptoms had occurred, and to guard against their recurrence by imparting understanding of the psychological processes behind them. As the patient In August 2006 a blanket pardon was issued gained insight into the nature and origin for 306 executed British soldiers of his symptoms, both the symptoms and the emotional tone connected with Has so much really changed today? them would disappear. Rightly or wrongly, the First World War These doctors displayed considerable is popularly conceived as one of the major empathy for their patients. But they did tragedies of the 20th century. It is very not waver from the belief that the war tempting to look back and think ‘we’ now must be fought to the finish, and that know better, and that the legacy of ‘shell‘shell-shocked’ men must, if possible, be shock’ is an improved understanding of returned to some form of service (not war trauma. Perhaps this is true in some necessarily as combatants). Consequently, respects. Certainly, although no one has ‘analytic’ doctors did not reappraise the worked out a definitive way either to fundamental tenets of Victorian and prevent men breaking down or to cure Edwardian ideals of masculine character. PTSD, and there are still serious gaps in Instead, they reinforced the importance of the provision of psychiatric services for living up to the values embodied in this veterans, it is no longer possible for ideal. The psychoanalyst David Eder governments, militaries and public to described a case in which hypnotism ignore the existence of traumatic failed, and he reverted to persuasion: responses to combat. Yet when we talk Eder’s exhortations prompted ‘a flood of about ‘shell-shock’, we often unwittingly tears’ in the patient, who ‘lay awake all reinforce older ideals of heroism. This is that night making up his mind that he shown by newspaper coverage of the would walk, and the next day the sticks decision, in August 2006, to issue a were relinquished, he was cured of the blanket pardon of the 306 British soldiers paraplegia’ (Eder, 1917, pp.72–3). It is executed for desertion, cowardice or other difficult to conceive of a more literal offences (excluding murder) during the demonstration of the belief that patients First World War. For the most part, this must learn to stand on their own two feet. decision was celebrated in the media.
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Journalists explained that it was now known that many of those executed had been suffering from ‘shell-shock’. In these reports, the psychological injuries suffered justified the pardon. However, coverage also implicitly bolstered traditional ideas of heroism and cowardice. This is nowhere more evident than in newspaper accounts of the life and death of Private Harry Farr, the test case for the decision to pardon the soldiers. Farr, a scaffolder from London, joined up on the outbreak of war, but developed ‘nervous trouble’ and reported sick with nerves four times between 1915 and 1916. This included five months in hospital, during which time he had an uncontrollable shake so bad he could not hold a pen. In September 1916 he refused to go back to the trenches, stating that he could no longer stand the explosions of artillery. He was reported as trembling and not in a fit state, but was still executed in October 1916 after a peremptory court-martial. Newspaper coverage emphasised that Farr was undoubtedly suffering from ‘shell-shock’, and that this doubtless applied to many other executed soldiers. The use of Farr’s story in the media is more ambiguous than it first appears. Farr was presented as both victim and hero. As a volunteer, he had proved his courage; he broke down not once, but several times; and he was executed because he refused to return to the front, not for actions that put his comrades immediately in danger. Because Farr suffered so much, his case does not involve confronting our own attitudes towards heroism, cowardice and the demands of war. If Farr is the exemplar of the ‘shell-shocked’ soldier, then ‘we’ can remain convinced modern sensibilities are more alive to such suffering. The truly radical reappraisal of social and cultural expectations of military masculinity will come when it is accepted not just that ‘shell-shocked’ men could be heroes as well as victims, but that heroism does not need to be part of our discussions of ‘shell-shock’ – when we stop holding the dead up to these standards at all. Narratives of progress are consoling, but perhaps our starting point should be not what has changed, but what remains to be done. This is the most fitting tribute to all the men – heroes, victims, cowards, malingerers – who have tried since 1914 to survive war, in whatever ways they could. I Tracey Loughran is a Senior Lecturer in Medical History at Cardiff University LoughranTL@cardiff.ac.uk
Published on Feb 24, 2015
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