We’re proud to announce the publication of our first Psychology Newsletter, produced under the stewardship of Nicola Abbott. In the newsletter you’ll find out all about our latest research, success stories, and upcoming events, as well as news from PsySoc. But no spoilers—download it now to read more!by
My expensive and occasionally dangerous fascination with science goes back to my childhood. In those pre-Internet days, before TED Talks about the power of introversion, YouTube videos of science tricks, and the ever-awesome Wikipedia, the broadcast documentary output of the BBC was the only way to see science in action, and—in one of the poorest areas of Cornwall, almost two hours’ drive from the nearest university—get a sense of what scientists looked like and how they talked about their work.
One science-loving friend—or ‘known associate’, as Dad called him—was Paul Johns. We were peerless in our knowledge of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Airplane!, and, not least, science. We once had a blazing row about artificial intelligence and didn’t talk for days; we agreed that substance dualism was codswallop before knowing its official name; and were only too happy to inform the interested, and many of the uninterested, that the longest word in English is pneuomonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. We were, in short, insufferable.
In the first paragraph, I mentioned that my fasincation with science was occasionally dangerous. The danger began when Paul and I tried to make silly putty in his parents’ garage. The fumes made me dry-heave for several hours. The danger increased during a maths lesson, when Paul showed off a trick syringe whose needle retracted when pressed against a confederate’s body; unfortunately, the plunger pushed it right out again, which Paul proceeded to do, into my leg. Finally, during another maths lesson, Paul produced a thermometer and managed to break it over the back of my hand while demonstrating some kind of technique to re-settle the mercury by flicking it. Cue long conversations in the science technician’s room about the best way to get mercury out of my bloodstream.
Paul went on to a career in medicine. I was on the same track, but somehow ended up as a psychologist. A physician might argue the mercury poisoning played a role. A psychologist, on the other hand, might say I have a conditioned fear of medical equipment.
Last night, my friend Paul, who is now Consultant Neuropathologist at St George’s Healthcare NHS Trust, Senior Lecturer in Neuroanatomy at St George’s University of London, creator of an internationally-acclaimed neuroscience course, was featured on an episode of Horizon talking about the neuroanatomical structures implicated in obsessive compulsive disorders. I marvel to think what we as, teenage boys, would have thought of this.
At university, we reach out to people who might not otherwise think of higher education. We want to show there are systematic ways of thinking, of looking at the world, that can take us beyond the obvious and beyond common sense. For young Paul Johns and Ian Hocking, each the first in our respective families to attend university, programmes like Horizon were important in showing us the potential of those new world views. There are more avenues to knowledge now—Wikipedia, YouTube—but they share the same sense of wonder, possibility and fun.by
Breaking Through To The Other Side: Coping With Death
Jessica Kane is a professional blogger who writes for Legacy Headstones, a leading Ohio-based headstone manufacturer and vendor.
The death of a loved one is something that is guaranteed to happen during the course of your life. Yet for many people, that unexpected happening creates a period of grief that can be hard to move past. While coping with death is something that is not easy and requires time, it is the case that there are strategies that you can follow that will help put your mind at ease sooner.
Here are some of the top ways to move past grief when a loved one has passed on:
Use family history to intellectualize
In modern psychology, one of the coping mechanisms that people have in dealing with the loss of a loved one is to intellectualize their feelings. Intellectualization is a coping device in which the person will gather as much information and knowledge as possible in order to analyze the situation leading to the loss. By doing this, an individual detaches emotionally and views the situation as an outside observer instead of being directly affected by it. Sometimes, intellectualization allows for an individual to feel that they more control of the situation.
While that can be a positive process from the standpoint that it creates a layer of insulation, it may help to channel the potential of intellectualization into a process that increases your perspective and helps you cope with grief. Using family history to learn about the lives and deaths of your ancestors can be a good way of adding perspective by creating a complete picture of how your family has died over time. Once you know the totality of the last few hundred years, it should make it easier to understand that your family has been dealing with death for a very long time. It can also help to work on a project like this that your loved one would have been proud of. In Japan, grief cycles tend to be shorter because families use a centralized crypt or grave for several generations of family member, which means that there is holistic perspective regarding the life and death of their family from the onset.
Understand terror management
Terror Management theory is a simple theory that comes from the desire to live but knowing that death is inevitable. This conflict produces terror in humans. It is with culture that humans are able to handle the terror of death because culture gives meaning and value to life. Some psychologists have shown through research that those behaviour changes can include increased zealousness, strengthening of beliefs, and a willingness to go outside our current belief systems–all aspects of culture. Because a lot of these behaviours are unconscious, it is a good idea to go online and look at terror management theory so that you can have a deeper understanding of how grief is or will affect you. Once you know, it will be easier to navigate through your own feelings when the time comes.
Think about past times that you shared with your loved one
Some psychological researchers have shown that using nostalgia to cope with your loss can be a very positive way of helping you through the grief process. In one experiment, it was noted that people exposed to sad news following a recent death tended to think nostalgic thoughts about the happy times that they shared together with their loved ones. That type of response was then shown to make them happier overall.
Honour your loved one's memory
Another positive way of coping with death is to take up a project that honours the memory of your loved one. Whether that project takes the form of a hobby that they loved or is one that helps create a tribute to their life, you still end up forming a sense of completion and an understanding that you are not helpless in the face of grief. Both things can help you to cope with death better.
Don't grieve alone
Depending upon your culture, you may find that after the funeral most people that were close to a loved one tended to grieve for them on their own. If you are able to instead spend time with each other while you are still grieving, it can be a positive way of helping everyone move past the death and back to a focus on your own lives.
Coping with death is something that is important for everyone close to a deceased one to go through. It can be harder for some than others, but by approaching the grief process with strategies that help you both honour the departed loved one and help you to recover your balance, you can break through to the other side of grief.by
This summer, I’m looking forward to putting together a new module for 2014/15 on artificial intelligence. What happens when we try to model the mind? Is it even possible to model the mind? These questions, and others, are fascinating, and I can’t wait to discuss them with students.
Meantime, I’ve been discussing them with journalists at the Kent on Sunday about the new Channel 4 drama
Humans. As a psychologist, I’m slightly more interested in operational aspects of AI, i.e. how models can be implemented and what they tell us about the mind, but that won’t stop me flapping my gums about the wider issues.
I agree wholeheartedly with Dominique Chu from the University of Kent, who is quoted as saying:
There will always be so many short-comings with artificial intelligence at a human level. That is because the brain is so complex, we still don’t understand how it all works. Until that has been done, we won’t be able to program robots to that level…I have to ask if really want to go that far.
The human mind is a complex beast, and maybe it can be modelled – but should it be?
That’s the question asked by Humans. I suspect the answer, in good science fiction tradition, is “Probably not”.by
We’re still in the process of building up our research and knowledge exchange mini-sites (check out the widget on the right), but we wanted to flag up two videos to give you a flavour.
The first is brief overview of a study conducted by David Vernon and Ian Hocking in the Creativity and Cognition group. The second shows Nicola Abbott and Amanda Carr of the Learning and Development group in our new observation lab.by
If you look carefully, you’ll see a new widget on the right hand side of the blog page. That’s a list of research and knowledge exchange groups within the Psychology Programme. The links will take you through to individual websites where you can read about what we’re doing, sign up for updates on projects that interest you, and discover the results of our studies.
Watch this space!by
Summer Hubble is a third-year psychology undergraduate. As part of her module on intergroup conflict, she looked into the October 2014 NHS strike.
On 13th October 2014 NHS staff including nurses, midwives and paramedics took part in a four hour strike over pay (Triggle, 2014a). Six trade unions took part with a total of 410,480 union members in England and Northern Ireland potentially striking. The strike was in protest to the refusal of a 1% increase in pay. However, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt stated that the proposed increase would result in the loss of 4,000 nurses in the year 2015 and 10,000 nurses in the year 2016 (BBC News Health, 2014). I’d like to examine two social-psychological theories, relative deprivation and social identity theory, in explaining the antecedents for this conflict.
Relative Deprivation (RD) was first proposed by Stouffer et al. in 1949 (Stouffer et al., 1949; as cited in Walker & Smith, 2002). The theory states that if an individual (egoistic RD) or group (fraternal RD) believes they do not have what they deserve in comparison to other groups there will be feelings of anger and resentment (Smith, Pettigrew, Pippin, & Bialosiewicz, 2011). This process occurs in three stages. The first stage is a comparison, the second is a cognitive appraisal leading to the perception that the individual or group is at a disadvantage and the third is the assessment that this disadvantage is unfair. This assessment of fairness is important as an individual or group can be disadvantaged compared to another and perceive it as just, in which case RD does not occur. Walker and Smith (2002) state that “people’s reactions to objective circumstances depend on their subjective comparisons” (p.1).
In the case of the NHS strike, the staff felt that they were disadvantaged in terms of pay compared to the rate of inflation, which was 2% when talks began and 1.2% in September, just before the strike. Cathy Warwick, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, clearly demonstrated that the experience of RD had occurred, as she stated, “it feels to a great many people, including midwives, that there is one rule for them [MPs] and another rule for everybody else” (Triggle, 2014a, para. 31). This remark refers to the pay rise of 11.5% for MP’s, which was quoted by Peter Carter, General Secretary of the Royal Collage of Nursing (Triggle, 2014b). Prof. Warwick also stated, “at a time when MPs are set for a 10% pay hike, we’re told that midwives don’t deserve even a below-inflation 1% rise” (Triggle, 2014a, para. 30). This statement demonstrates one of the six preconditions for RD, as proposed by Crosby (1976; as cited in Sweeney, McFarlin & Inderrieden, 1990). Crosby’s (1976; as cited in Sweeney et al., 1990) model of RD has been used by many researchers in organisational behaviour and been found to have many of the same subjective predictors as does satisfaction with income (Sweeney et al., 1990).
Sweeney, McFarlin and Inderrieden (1990) conducted four studies to further investigate if Crosby’s (1976; as cited in Sweeney et al., 1990) preconditions for RD are useful for explaining pay satisfaction. They found empirical evidence in support of this hypothesis and note that social comparisons of similar others are particularly important. This can be seen in the case of the NHS strike, as further to the pay discrepancy between NHS staff and MPs (Triggle, 2014b, para. 13):
data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the RCN shows that the amount spent on executive directors, who sit on the boards of NHS trusts, has grown by an average of 6.1% in the last two years compared to the 1.6% extra nurses, health visitors and midwives have got.
Social identity theory (SIT) could also have played a part as an antecedent for the conflict. SIT states that part of the self-concept is defined by the social groups individuals belong to (Trepte, 2006). Tajfel (1979; as cited in Trepte, 2006) suggested four underlying principles of SIT. These are social categorisation, social comparison, social identity and self-esteem. Social categorisation is a cognitive tool to help us make sense of our surroundings; however, the mere categorisation of social groups is enough to create a bias for one’s own group (Billig & Tajfel, 1973; Tajfel & Billig, 1974; Tajfel et al., 1971; as cited in Gaertner & Insko, 2000). Social comparison between one’s own group and other groups then occurs and social identity is formed from this (Trepte, 2006). An individual’s aim is to achieve positive social identity, which also leads to in-group favouritism (Brown, 2000) and competition for a higher status position in the social order (Brown, 2000; Hogg, Terry & White, 1995).
There is much research into social identity within organisations (Haslam, van Knippenberg, Platow & Ellemers, 2003). Ashforth and Mael (1989) explain that an individual’s social identity may derive from the organisation they belong to, their work group, department, union or even lunch group. Although there is little published evidence specifically on the social identity of NHS workers, research has found that they fit with existing literature on organisational social identity (Edwards, 2003). Edwards (2003) conducted a case study and discovered identification with the NHS is mediated by the support it provides for employees and the distinctiveness and attractiveness of the NHS as a place to work. Lancaster Patient Safety Research Unit conducted an analysis of social identity within healthcare workers and found the notion of being part of a team to be emphasised greatly by participants. They conclude that the healthcare professionals in their study reported strong identification with groups within their workplace.
When balloted regarding their opinions on striking, “some 68% [of Unison members] voted in favour of a strike and 88% for industrial action short of a strike” (Triggle, 2014c, para. 10) and “more than 94% of midwives and maternity support workers taking part in a consultation said they would consider strike action” (Gallagher, 2014). These majority votes demonstrate a group norm within NHS workers, which is a thought, feeling or behaviour shared within a group. SIT states that group norms define the group and become internalised for the individual group members so that they actually influence behaviour (Hogg & Reid, 2006). These majority votes for strike action are an example of when this group behaviour is driven towards gaining a better position in the social order, as SIT predicts (Brown, 2000; Hogg, Terry & White, 1995).
Overall, there are two theories from social psychology which explain the reason for the conflict that arose from the dispute over pay. The first and most prominent theory is relative deprivation. Relative deprivation states that conflict arises when a group feels they are unfairly disadvantaged compared to another group (Stouffer et al., 1949; as cited in Walker & Smith, 2002; Smith, Pettigrew, Pippin, & Bialosiewicz, 2011).The NHS staff felt they deserved a 1% pay increase, however despite the 11.5% pay increase MP’s received (Triggle, 2014b), this request was rejected by the Department of Health. The second social-psychological theory that can explain the strike is social identity theory. Social identity theory states that the self-concept is defined by the groups individuals belong to (Trepte, 2006). NHS workers have a social identity (Edwards, 2003) and group norms which shape behaviour (Hogg & Reid, 2006). By striking the staff engaged in competition for a higher social position and a more positive identity, as predicted by social identity theory (Brown, 2000; Hogg et al., 1995).
Ashforth, B. E., & Mael, F. (1989). Social identity theory and the organization. The Academy of Management Review, 141, 20-39.
BBC News Business. (2014, October 14). Economy tracker: Inflation. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10612209
BBC News Politics. (2014, March 13). Fresh squeeze on NHS pay sparks union strike warning. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-26556047
Brown, R. (2000). Social identity theory: Past achievements, current problems and future challenges. European Journal of Social Psychology, 30(6), 745-778.
Edwards, M. R. (2003). Disentangling organisational identification: A case study of an NHS trust. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, King’s College London, England.
Gaertner, L., & Insko, C. A. (2000). Intergroup discrimination in the minimal group paradigm: Categorization, reciprocation, or fear? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 791, 77-94.
Gallagher, J. (2014, June 30). Midwives support strike action. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-28090428
Haslam, S. A., van Knippenberg, D., Platow, M. J., & Ellemers, N. (Eds.). (2003).Social identity at work: Developing theory for organizational practice. Hove, England: Psychology Press.
Hogg, M. A., Terry, D. J., & White, K. M. (1995). A tale of two theories: A critical comparison of identity theory with social identity theory. Social Psychology Quarterly, 58(4), 255-269.
Hogg, M. A., & Reid, S. A. (2006). Social identity, self‐categorization, and the communication of group norms.Communication Theory,161, 7-30.
Lancaster Patient Safety Research Unit. (2014). Professional identity and communication. Retrieved November 2, 2014, from http://www.lpsru.org.uk/resources/90-communication.html
Smith, H. J., Pettigrew, T. F., Pippin, G. M., & Bialosiewicz, S. (2011). Relative deprivation: A theoretical and meta-analytic review. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 163, 203-232. doi:10.1177/1088868311430825
Sweeney, P. D., McFarlin, D. B., & Inderrieden, E. J. (1990). Using relative deprivation theory to explain satisfaction with income and pay level: A multistudy examination. The Academy of Management Journal, 332, 423-436.
Trepte, S. (2006). Society identity theory. In: J. Bryant & P. Varderer (Eds). Psychology of entertainment (pp. 255–271).New York: Routledge.
Triggle, N. (2014a, October 13). NHS staff staging four-hour strike over pay. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-29595982
Triggle, N. (2014b, June 16). Target MPs over pay – nurse leader. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-27822660
Triggle, N. (2014c, September 18). NHS staff vote in favour for strike action. BBC News. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-29253073
Walker, I., & Smith, H. J. (2002). Fifty years of relative deprivation research. In I. Walker & H. J. Smith (Eds.). Relative deprivation: Specification, development and integration (pp. 1-12). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.by
Parents’ support is especially important for children at the beginning of their school life. However, family members are varied in the way they communicate and interact together, which may influence the process of Learning @ Home and child’s future academic achievement.
The purpose of our project is to observe how parents and children interact with each other when working together on homework, looking specifically at the support the parent provides the child. We will also be looking at what impact the home environment has on how the parent and child interact. The study has an international scope, so we will compare how parents and children from different countries complete homework together.
Would you like to help? We are inviting families to take part in this research study to help us understand what makes family learning interactions so important for children’s achievement.
We are looking for mothers whose children are just at the beginning of their school life (Reception year). In order to participate, you must be the mother of a child between 4 and 5 years old. You and your child will both participate in the project. We are aiming to recruit 100 families from various schools.
If you wish to learn more about Learning Together @ Home project or would like to participate with your child please contact me, Ekaterina Cooper, at email@example.com. Our Facebook page is over at www.facebook.com/homeworktogether and you can find out more about the project at Learning Together @ Home.by
A computer told me that joke on Saturday. I’m still trying to work out whether it’s funny. The computer didn’t think it’s funny, of course.
It’s a computer.
The Loebner Prize dates from 1991, when Hugh Loebner put up some of his own money to incentivise natural language programming. To win the prize, a program must successfully pretend to be a human. It’s been hosted at various universities around the UK over the years. As of 2014, the Society for the Study of Artificial Intelligence and Simulation of Behaviour (AISB) will take over its administration, holding it in perpetuity at Bletchley Park. There, as we all know, Sherlock Holmes—sorry, Alan Turing—helped develop the mathematics and technology to break Axis encrypted transmissions.
Four programs made it through the qualifying heats: Rose, Izar, Mitsuku, and Uberbot. As one of four judges, it was my job to interact with them via a text interface and suss out their humanity. Each judge had two conversations on the go at once: one in the left pane of the window, one in the right. One of them, randomly, would be a computer. There were no rules guiding our conversations. We could discuss anything, from the occasional Tim Vine gag to polar geography. Would we be fooled?
By convincing three of the four judges that it was human, a program (or rather its human creator, ironically) receives a silver medal and $25,000. In the event that doesn’t happen (and it hasn’t to date) prizes are awarded in accordance with how humanlike the judges found the programs to be ($4000, $1500, $1000, $500).
The process involved chatting for two hours (four lots of twenty-five minutes, after each of which we were rotated around different computers). My fellow judges were two computer scientists, Ghita Kouadri-Mostefaoui and Paul Sant, and James May, the Top Gear presenter and broadcaster. James was filming a segment for a new series in which he checks on how close robots are to taking over the world. James had his own camera crew, which, together with the Sky News team and the audience for the prize, not to mention the people around the world watching our interactions over the Internet, made it difficult to deliver Tim Vines gags with any alacrity.
Never mind conversation being hard for me. Why is it so hard for computers? The short answer is that conversation is the tip of the human cognition iceberg, itself an enormously deep and complex edifice sculpted over millions of years. Conversation is first about empathy, creativity, memory, and a dozen other faculties before it is about language–and language is hard enough. The programs competing in the Loebner Prize are essentially simulations of the iceberg tip, and until they dig a little deeper into that, you aren’t likely to find yourself having an awkward conversation with your house computer about why you’ve been locked out.
A big thanks to Ed Keedwell at the University of Exeter, the team at Bletchley for organising the day, the human confederates for being so very human (Yasmin, Paul, Daniel and Ariadne), and Nir Oren from the University of Aberdeen for putting my name forward.
In the end, the deserving winner was Rose, though all the programs (by which I mean their programmers) should be congratulated for making it through the heats, which are fairly tough.
I don’t know what Mr May will conclude in his televisual programme about the imminent robo-apocalypse, but I’ll end with a short video of a football-playing robot that was entertaining the crowd in the foyer.
The robot didn’t laugh at the end of this clip–but, then again, neither would I if this happened to me, and I’m human.by
Kate Gee attended a symposium at the Royal College of Music on September 9th and 10th, which focused on recent advances in the science of singing, wellbeing and health. Kate writes:
Technical hitches are usually the presenter’s stuff of nightmares, not so for Rickard Astrom the performer, composer, lecturer (and self-confessed introvert). He is part of the Gothenburg research team BodyScore, and whilst the Bluetooth heart rate monitor connections failed him, he expertly vamped on the piano to entertain a couple of hundred conference delegates.
Astrom published a pioneering paper into the synchronization of heart-rate variability during singing, and was one of eight key note speakers invited to a joint venture between CCCU’s Sidney De Haan Research Centre and the Royal College of Music (RCM) in London.
The RCM is in a beautiful part of London, surrounded by the legacy of The Great Exhibition (The Royal Albert Hall, Imperial College, VA); a fitting centre for a contemporary exploration into the science of music.
Both the closed (RCM and Sidney De Haan) and open sessions were a complete joy to be involved with. I have met old friends, and academics that I have only previously admired on paper. I have listened to people discussing the evolutionary significance of singing, and the complex relationships between singing and chronic or terminal health conditions.
For me the beautiful part of being a music psychologist is experiencing and engaging in music, as well as producing academic critique. This conference was no exception and I took part in some phenomenal workshops: particular highlights were listening to ‘Choir with No Name’ perform, as well as discussing the personal impact singing had upon their wellbeing and sense of self. (Choir with No Name are drawn from London’s homeless population or otherwise reside on the edges of society). It was also a pleasure to experience some of the ‘VOCES8 Method’ lead by accomplished singer and educator Paul Smith. From brief encounters sometimes great things happen, and I’m hoping to be able to conduct some education and research work for The Gresham Centre as part of my knowledge exchange work.
Liz Spruin attended the Society for Police Criminal Psychology conference in Las Vegas. Liz writes:
The conference focused on the criminal justice system and the application of behavioral science knowledge to problems in criminal justice, including law enforcement, judicial, and corrections elements. There were 50 presentations, an engaging keynote speaker (Dr. Robert Hogan of Hogan Assessments), and over 25 poster session presentations. Conference topics included international perspectives and ranged from criminal justice, investigations, clinical assessments, threat assessments, and interventions to operational psychology. I presented a paper on the criminal narratives of mentally disordered offenders which was well received by the Suffolk County Detectives Association.