Recently the new REF results were published. “What is the REF?” I hear some of you say. Well, unless you work in a University, then the chances are that you have not heard of the REF, or if you have, you don’t really know much about it. This post will hopefully make things a little clearer for you!
The REF stands for the Research Excellence Framework and it is a national review of the research conducted at UK Universities. This recent review was newsworthy because, for the first time, the research was also judged on its impact.
This leads us to a further question: What is impact? The Research Councils UK (RCUK) defines research impact as “the demonstrable contribution that excellent research makes to society and the economy”. So although research can have an “impact” in the academic world, what is really key here is the impact outside of academia, e.g. has it made a difference in the real world?
Why is the REF important?
The government allocates a substantial amount of public funding for research conducted at Universities. Therefore, it is understandable that they want to ensure that this research is of a high quality and that is of benefit to society. So the REF assesses each University in the UK and then later in the year the results from this assessment are used to calculate how much funding that University will receive. It is important to note that this kind of review is not completely new; in fact, national reviews of this kind have been conducted roughly every five years since 1986. However, what was is new this year is the inclusion of impact.
Arguably, the inclusion of impact into the criteria can only be a good thing for the future of research. The main reason that I pursued a career in Psychology was to try to understand issues within society. In my case, I research bullying within schools. I think it is extremely important that what I find in my research feeds back into schools in order to help try and tackle this problem.
What were our results?
81-98% of research undertaken and submitted to the 2014 REF by staff in Psychology across a range of units of assessment has been recognised as world leading or internationally significant. CCCU’s submissions to the REF 2014 improved upon the results from the previous RAE (Research Assessment Exercise) review. This represents growth in our established research areas as well as new, emerging areas of research excellence. Well done to all staff involved!
From September 2015, we will be expanding our taught provision with a brand new master’s level conversion course for those who would like to pursue a career in psychology but don’t yet hold a BPS-accredited psychology degree.
Currently in the process of validation and accreditation, this programme will confer eligibility for the Graduate Basis for Chartered Membership (GBC) with the British Psychological Society (BPS). Graduate Basis is a requirement for vocational training in psychology (e.g. Clinical Psychology; Forensic Psychology).
This conversion course can also be used as a stepping stone onto postgraduate research in psychology (e.g. PhD). However, the MSc Psychology (conversion course) at CCCU goes well beyond the core areas of psychology. The training in research methods will offer students the opportunity to engage in sophisticated, postgraduate level-research under the themes of our team: Society & Environment; Learning & Development; Cognition & Creativity; Health & Wellbeing. These modules will immerse students in current research by the Psychology Team and, together with their project, offer them the chance to actively contribute to that research.
In addition, students will receive career-orientated sessions, led by qualified practitioners, to help them along their chosen career path. To learn more about this course, please visit: www.canterbury.ac.uk/psychology
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.
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.
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.
At this time of year, as the school’s resident music psychologist, life is normally all about singing and playing carols. Sheffield is my adopted northern home, having trained, worked and lived there for 13 years. “Oooop” north, as those down here say, we have a lot of local traditions; Sheffield carols has being going on since the 18th century—it is one of Yorkshire’s best.
For a few hundred years, Sheffielders have gathered in local pubs (particularly in the North West of the city down into Derbyshire) and sung Christmas Carols. ‘So what?’ you might say, ‘I sing Christmas Carols at home whilst prepping the brussels.’ But these, dear southerners, are a very special, quite magical and an entirely different community experience.
Sometimes these carols are a cappella, sometimes accompanied by a brass band or the pub’s organ, but they are always complemented by a pint or two. Carol sessions begin in November and are mostly riotous, boozy and packed into the back room of a pub. Done this way, they aren’t really for listening to; they are for experiencing, joining in, and they are a life-loving event (remember that when you look at the clips!). As a psychologist interested in how we can enhance health and wellbeing through music, it is the sense of community, shared meaning, and the physicality of singing and engaging in that experience that interests me. It is quite amazing, unique, and makes me proud to be a northerner (as I’m sure it does for everyone who attends these events).
The music, however, is not your traditional ‘While Shepherds Watched’, or ‘Ding-Dong Merrily’. It has often been created locally, over hundreds of years. By locally, I mean tiny enclaves of Sheffield: Bradfield, Stannington, Loxely, Dungworth, Oughtibridge. Many of these areas will vary their words, melody, tempo and harmony depending on which location, or indeed which pub you attend. Local compositions and ancient Christmas songs are standard and our sanitised contemporary ‘standards’ are shelved, for the love of communal singing.
Sometimes songs work in a sort of fuge, or call and response manner:
Sometimes words to a known carol (e.g. While Shepherds Watched) are placed over a known tune (e.g. Cranbrook/On Ilkley Moor):
My personal favourite is Diadem: (yes there are elements of harmony, but by a this time of night, they are simply forgotten)
So many elements of this experience are fascinating as a music psychologist: How has this tradition continued and remained part of the South Yorkshire culture? How do the energy and connections (sense of group cohesion and group bonding) enable you to feel pride in being a Sheffielder or northerner? Why is it that, when the majority of traditional choirs or singing groups are made of women, these events contain the whole spectrum of the family, and particularly middle aged men?
There is something wonderful and unexpected about an unlikely, hearty bunch of folk singing the lines ‘behold the grace appears! The promise is fulfilled’ or ‘Hail hail hail, smiling morn, smiling morn.’
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.
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.
Talking to young people about the media’s portrayal of “teenagers”
Newspapers and media coverage can demonise some groups and present them as bad or vicious. One such group is teenagers, who are often depicted as the sole reason for vandalism, petty crime and even the London Riots in the summer of 2011.
A quick look at media coverage of young people identifies a web of negative terms like “rioters” (The Sun), “yobs” and “thugs” (both Daily Express).
One article describes British youths “[as] the most unpleasant and potentially violent young people in the world, [with] the British … now in great fear of their own arrogant, knife-wielding children” (Daily Mail, article accessed 9 June, 2014). The article blames a “sense of entitlement” and quotes a retired prison doctor and psychiatrist, Anthony Daniels, who wrote in the New York Daily News that “Of course it is true that not all young Britons are unattractive in appearance and conduct, only a far higher proportion of them than of the young of any other nation.”
The negative portrayal of young people by British media is so pervasive that research cited in The Independent claims that “the best chance a teenager had of receiving sympathetic coverage was if they died”.
Young people’s comments
As part of the Universities Week event that my colleague Nicola Abbotts wrote about in an earlier post, we asked young people what they thought about their negative portrayal in the media. Their responses showed how uncomfortable they were with the negativity that they experienced from both the media and, sometimes, people on the street. Here are some of their thoughts:
They suggested that the negative portrayals of teenagers and other groups was often due to journalists trying to write a better story.
“I think the media exaggerates subjects to create a better story so they might also target certain ethnic groups such as teenagers, unemployed, foreigners.”
They also emphasised that the positive contributions of young people should be acknowledged, in clear contrast to the media’s description of young people as having a sense of entitlement.
“Most children aren’t as bad as we’re portrayed in the media. We don’t get enough respect and praise for good things we do. Most of us work really hard to help other people as well as ourselves.”
“More positive media equals a more positive nation. We need to stop hearing about thugs and start praising achievements.”
Young people also identified with other groups who receive a lot of negative coverage, and some highlighted the similarities in the description of teenagers and the so-called dangerous breeds of dogs:
“I hate how young people are portrayed as bad. Some of us are doing good in the world! Some of us work hard at school and don’t carry knives! We are like dogs, because of how dogs like [Staffordshire Bull Terriers] have been brought up they have a stereotype of being bad and violent.”
“If you think of us as dogs, the upbringing is really important. A trained Rottweiler is like a disciplined teen. On the outside they look dangerous but they are not.”
The above illustrates that young people feel that they are seen as being all the same, even though only a minority of young people behave in the way that is described in the media, and that there are factors that might influence the teenagers who behave badly, such as their environment.
Impact of media
Interestingly, young people mentioned that they felt that they were treated negatively by people they met in everyday life because of media coverage.
“The media are missing out the good parts of young adults and teenagers. Many people judge us by how we look and on first impressions.”
Many recounted experiences of people crossing the street to get out of their way, or looking at them disapprovingly in buses.
This impact is in line with research that suggests a role for media representations on how certain groups of people are viewed and acted towards. This is certainly the experience of the young people who took part in the CCCU Universities Week event.
From listening to the teenagers during this event, it is clear that we need to be aware of the media’s portrayal of stereotypes and that teenagers, and other groups, are not all ‘yobs, horrible thugs’.
It is important to listen to those people who are marginalised or demonised in our society and to not get swayed by catchy media headlines. It is our responsibility as thinking human beings to reflect on and critique our own and others’ judgments on members of these groups (be it teenagers or ‘dangerous’ dogs), and give a voice to marginalised people.
Last week, a brave band of ninety-two first year psychology undergrads faced wind and sunshine to observe primate behaviour at Howlett’s Animal Park. All this in the name of science! As part of the first year module of ‘Practicals in Psychology’ the students collected observational data in small groups. They recorded positive and negative social interactions in a variety of primates at the park. Previous research has shown that there is no simple relationship between group size, available space and social behaviours (de Waal, 1989; Hosey, 2005).
Although the rather fresh temperatures kept many animals in their warm indoor cages, there was still plenty of action to record, including the intimidating dominance behaviours of a huge silverback gorilla. These were not only directed against its own species but also against visitors, especially some of our male students! Talk about scary… All in all, the students carried out 135 ten-minute observations, resulting in almost 23 hours worth of data.
The data from all observers have now been collated and our first years will use this set to conduct their first ever data analysis. This will then form part of their very first practical report. Some students do find this prospect rather scarier than the silverback…
De Waal, F. (1989). The myth of a simple relation between space and aggression in captive primates. Zoo Biology, 8(S1), 141-148.
Hosey, G. R. (2005). How does the zoo environment affect the behaviour of captive primates? Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 90(2), 107-129.
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.
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.
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.