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BPS updates

Letters, May 2006

Including extreme pornography consultation, voluntary sector symbiosis, ADHD training gap and much more.

18 May 2006

Extreme pornography consultation… 

WE write to express our deep concern at the Society's response to a Home Office consultation paper on internet pornography. We are concerned that the response was based on virtually no evidence of harm, yet recommends extremely authoritarian measures.
The government is considering making it a crime to download sexually violent pornography. This will extend the legislation on child pornography to adult material that is defined as the realistic depicting or acting of a scene that would, if acted out, cause grievous bodily harm. This would include a variety of bondage and masochistic scenes acted out by consenting enthusiasts, as well as images of the notorious Spanner trial of a decade ago (in which consenting men were imprisoned for sadomasochistic practices). Simply viewing the material will now constitute a serious criminal offence. And anyone looking at bondage scenes where somebody is wearing a mask and might suffocate (if this scene were acted out 'in reality') must be prepared to defend themselves in court. However, there is no engagement in the BPS response with the complex issues of consent and agency.
The BPS was asked to cite evidence of harm. Only three papers were cited, and the extensive literature pointing to no simple causal links between viewing pornography and committing crimes was ignored. The 'evidence' focuses on the effects of pornography on either children or disturbed offenders. We do not dispute that psychopaths may be kick-started into action by all manner of things, including pornography. But there is no evidence at all that those not already predisposed to such action will be similarly affected.
In fact, the response is based not so much on evidence, but on assertion and argument. This is mainly that pornography degrades women. There is no mention in the response about violence towards and degradation of men, indicating its partial and selective nature. The proposed legislation will make the possession of photographs (but not cartoons and text) an offence. The reason the government is concerned about sexually violent pornography is that atrocious crimes may be committed in the making of the material. But of course, this is already a crime, and rightly so. The government's aim here is to punish consumers, not perpetrators.
Most worryingly, the report then goes on to recommend the toughest option for this new offence: three years in prison. This cannot be based on evidence (no evidence on the effects of imprisonment is cited). We believe that the UK imprisons too many of its citizens; that generally, only violent criminals who are a threat to society should be incarcerated. We do not believe this as a result of evidence. It is a political position. We find, however, that our Society takes a very different and authoritarian position. One of us was involved in the 1980s in the STOPP campaign to abolish corporal punishment in schools, and tried unsuccessfully to encourage the BPS to take a stance against it. But this was deemed too political; any BPS response had to be based on hard evidence. Since then, the BPS has refused to take a stance supporting other liberal issues such as apartheid and gay marriage. But it has rushed to support an authoritarian piece of legislation.
This response appears to have been made without any wide consultation. It also seems to fly in the face of the Society's guideline that no recommendations can be made on the basis of partial or selective evidence. If any of us were given the job of refereeing this report for publication in a peer-refereed journal, we would have to recommend rejection on the basis of an inadequate literature review and insufficient rationale for the conclusions.
Vivien Burr, Trevor Butt, Nigel King, Kate Milnes
University of Huddersfield
Ralph Goldstein
Chair-Elect, Division of Counselling Psychology
John L. Smith
University of Sunderland

 ...and a reply from the President, Ray Miller:

To put the above letter and this reply in context it may help to quote from the Home Office consultation document on the possession of extreme pornographic material, to which the Society responded (see
This document sets out options for creating a new offence of simple possession of extreme pornographic material which is graphic and sexually explicit and which contains actual scenes or realistic depictions of serious violence, bestiality or necrophilia. The material in question would be illegal to publish, sell or import here under our existing obscenity legislation...The material depicts activities which are illegal in themselves and the participants may in some cases have been victims of criminal offences… Any new offence would apply only to pornographic material containing explicit actual scenes or realistic depictions of: (i) intercourse or oral sex with an animal; (ii) sexual interference with a human corpse; (iii) serious violence in a sexual context; iv) serious sexual violence.
One of the measures of the success of the Society in advancing a knowledge of psychology is the increasing number of requests for responses to consultations. At any time some 30–40 may be under consideration. We welcome opportunities to influence decision makers and have established a Policy Support Unit (PSU) to assist members and subsystems (Divisions, Special Groups, Sections and Branches) in participating in responses.
On receipt of a request (sometimes we don't wait to be asked) details are circulated to the relevant boards and all subsystem representatives on those boards. In addition all consultation exercises are logged on the Society website (at Any member can see what is current and the closing date for contributions. Members are encouraged to communicate their views through a subsystem, where appropriate, to ensure perspectives are collated and comprehensive.
This particular consultation was circulated and posted on the website with a closing date of 16 September 2005 for expressions of interest and circulated by the PSU to all members of the Research Board on 31 August. Deadlines are set by government departments and we must respond on time if we wish to be heard. Sometimes deadlines are tight. It is important that subsystems and members keep abreast of issues of interest and have effective ways of communicating so that opportunities are not missed.
It is not clear how consultation could be much wider as every member and subsystem has a chance to contribute. The more those with particular knowledge and perspectives do so, the more assured we can be that our responses will be truly representative.

Voluntary sector symbiosis

WE noted with interest the article on building partnerships with the voluntary and community sectors (VCS), in the March edition. The approach taken there had a strong research orientation. We should like to add our support to the idea for building bridges with the VCS, but from a rather different perspective.
For a number of years, as part of our undergraduate psychology programme at Glasgow Caledonian University, we have been encouraging our students to go out into the VCS to work as volunteers and helpers. Our general aim has been to enable students to gain experience relevant to their professional aspirations and academic development, and to allow them to ascertain whether this type of work really is for them. We also aim to help them to develop the supporting and interpersonal skills which employers often assume psychology students will have, but which few academically oriented courses seem to cultivate. We have now developed working links with a number of relevant organisations, particularly those specialising in support for people with special needs, including physical, sensory, or mental disability.
Working for these organisations may involve our student volunteers in tutoring, providing specialist information and guidance, or befriending. We provide students with guidance on how to keep systematic reflective logs of their work experience, and have an honours module in which this, combined with writing critically about the links between their voluntary work and the academic curriculum, can contribute to their gaining academic credit. We hardly feel that we need to spell out the potential benefits to students of psychology of, say, working with youngsters with autism or needing special tuition in reading or arithmetic, or enabling someone who has lost the confidence to leave the confines of their own home to go out regularly to tenpin bowling, the pictures, or for a meal.
The VCS organisations with whom we have developed links provide necessary (sometimes extensive) induction and training, and deal with required legal disclosure checks. In return, they obtain a supply of highly motivated helpers with a useful and developing background in formal psychology; they are often embarrassingly grateful.
This is not an easy furrow to plough. It is time-consuming to develop and maintain the necessary links with organisations, as well as to monitor the use of the scheme, and it brings few Brownie points in terms of RAE pay-off. Though improved contact with the VCS may lead to enhanced research opportunities, this was not a primary aim in our case. A work experience scheme of the type described requires to be resourced, and the politics of securing this can be, to put it mildly, frustrating. However, when you listen to students who have gone through the voluntary work experience, as they talk and write about their work and what they have learned from it, you are left in little doubt as to its value. 
This is work which gets behind the rhetoric of building bridges between universities and their communities – it is about psychology students and their departments making a real contribution to the lives of people who desperately need support, and gaining a greatly enhanced perspective on themselves and on their discipline in the process.
Douglas Forbes
Mike Wrennall
Rachel Mulholland
Glasgow Caledonian University

I WAS pleased to see the article 'Building partnerships with the voluntary and community sectors'. This is one area I feel hopeful about, at a time when it is hard for a clinical psychologist to feel anything other than cynical! The article concentrated largely on building partnerships for the purposes of research, and increasing knowledge. I would like to draw attention to the equally great potential benefits for service providers and clients/patients/users.
In our spinal injuries service, patients overcome a range of challenges, through the use of courage and information (with help from a small army of assorted professionals, treatments, therapies and gadgets). An important source of this courage and information is the example set by other spinal cord-injured (SCI) people. Inpatients benefit from mixing with other inpatients, especially those who have done some rehabilitation, learned to live outside hospital, and returned for a brief readmission. Inpatients also have opportunities to meet representatives from voluntary sector organisations, who have adjusted to their own injury to the point that they are working together for the benefit of all SCI individuals. The unique support and advice these representatives can provide, and the role model function they also inevitably provide, are often highly valued by our patients and their relatives.
The charities also provide teaching to us, the so-called experts, and a link to services the public sector does not provide. They offer community link schemes and accessible sports facilities, holiday experiences, helplines, research programmes and web communities. Some have well-developed strategies for informing and influencing government policies, which have an impact on all disabled people and the ways in which they are viewed.
Working with voluntary sector representatives can be challenging for healthcare professionals. Structures for communication are not always in place, and this can serve as an excuse for not involving them more. The reality is that sometimes it is hard to admit to our limitations, and to accept advice from individuals who may have very different backgrounds and experiences from our own. By involving other organisations we have to give away some of our power and our comfort. Yet the benefits to our clients can be enormous.
Helen Smith
Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital

ADHD training gap

I RUN a clinic in the multiprofesssional assessment and management of ADHD and other related neurodevelopmental difficulties, receiving GP referrals from all over the UK and also from overseas. For some time now I have been attempting to find – and advertising for – an additional clinical psychologist sufficiently skilled in the understanding of these conditions to work with us. Our search has failed abysmally, and I am concerned that it appears to reflect the way in which clinical psychologists in the UK are being trained. I have recurrently found that fully trained clinical psychologists in general appear to have very little real understanding of neurobiological conditions. Frequently, I note that these conditions are mentioned only nominally in their training. However, the slant of the training still seems to be much more orientated to psychosocial-only conditions, rather than the inclusion of biological conditions in this remit. As a result, none of the applicants that we have seen had appropriately relevant experience.
As a potential employer of suitably trained clinical psychologists, I would appreciate feedback from the BPS that gets beyond the myth and misinformation that has surrounded ADHD and related conditions, and incorporates the reality of them and the enormous international research base, the NICE report on ADHD ( and the BPS report on ADHD of 2000.
I fail to see how clinical psychologists can be expected to be effective in the management of mental health conditions unless their training is adjusted to place more emphasis on such important and well-validated conditions.
G.D. Kewley
48–50 Springfield Road
W. Sussex

Gill Nyfield 1953–2006

GILL Nyfield is probably best known as a Director of Saville & Holdsworth Ltd, and author of many SHL tests. Her 30-year career was devoted to furthering effective selection and development of people at work.After graduating from Newcastle in 1974, Gill joined NFER, working with Peter Saville on projects relating to testing in the workplace. After joining the newly formed SHL in 1978, Gill threw her boundless energy into creating radically different psychometric tests, which set new standards worldwide. She supervised the extensive analysis required to develop the OPQ. When off-the-shelf analysis programmes proved deficient, she developed her own. Indeed, Gill was one of the earliest to see the potential of the computer in the delivery and interpretation of tests, and she pioneered such applications at SHL.
Gill was an expert in the selection of a wide range of staff – from senior executives to train drivers. She was a world authority on the selection of air traffic controllers; her work with the CAA contributed directly to increased safety in our skies. As a senior executive of the SHL Group (including sometime Deputy Managing Director) she was instrumental in setting up SHL North America and South Africa, and was responsible for IT and R&D.
Gill always demonstrated the highest professional, technical and ethical standards. She took responsibility, and was dedicated and tenacious. She was passionate about furthering scientific research and often reflected that she would have enjoyed an academic career. She was instrumental in setting up a research unit at UMIST, led by Professor Ivan Robertson. She published widely, spoke at academic and professional conferences worldwide, and trained thousands of HR professionals in objective selection. Her energy and determination helped build SHL into a world-leading force in occupational psychology. Her unwavering commitment to the highest standards of practice inspired those who worked with her.
Gill learned that she was seriously ill just as she had decided to reduce her workload and enjoy life more. She dealt with illness as she did everything else, with determination, courage and cheerfulness. She continued to run training courses, travel the world, and enjoy her golf, where her ability to play to her best under pressure made her an effective and successful match player. In 2004 she was runner-up in the Surrey Ladies County Matchplay tournament, for example. She balanced her dynamic lifestyle with quiet pursuits, such as model building, and she was an enthusiastic gardener. Many people she met had no idea how ill she was, such was her positive outlook and continuing energy, and that is how she wanted it.
She will be greatly missed by her colleagues and friends, and she leaves behind Bob, her partner of 20 years, sister Sue and nephew Callum.
Peter Saville
Helen Baron
Lisa Cramp

In support of The Experiment

SINCE the broadcast of The Experiment and the publication of Reicher and Haslam's analysis of their study, including in this publication ('Tyranny revisited', March 2006), much of the debate has focused on the methodology and ethics of their study. I would like to see the debate shift now to the substantive issues raised by their findings.
First, though, let's address these methodological and ethical concerns. In terms of design, Reicher and Haslam's study is almost unparalleled: the range of forms of data collection, the amount of data collected, and the longitudinal nature of the design, make it unique. The criticism that the data were artificial because the participants knew they were being observed needs to be offset by the appreciation of a design which captures the best aspects of both experimental control and naturalistic observation. Only a design like this could both capture the dynamics of power (for experimental techniques characteristically study power only as a static phenomenon, where they look at it all) and measure its behavioural and experiential correlates (the usual observational/field techniques offer only limited data-sampling opportunities). Many of those who have carped at the involvement of the media in this study would, I would guess, themselves leap at the chance of designing a study with such resources.
On the question of ethics, too, The Experiment represents an outstanding example of how research could and should be conducted. We all have to run our plans past ethics committees (have to, but many colleagues still do not, since most departments have no power of sanction – let's admit it). But how many of us have an ethics panel overseeing the conduct of our studies every step of the way? Not many.
As for the substance of the study, it is a crucial contribution to a debate that has been depressingly one-sided almost since the inception of social psychology. Dominant approaches to the psychology of collectivities set up a false opposition between the individual as a bastion of rationality, moderate opinion, sensible judgement, sound intelligence, and social responsibility, and the collective as a locus of irrationality, extreme and unfounded opinion, emotion rather than reason, rash judgement, uncritical social influence, and lack of concern for others. Think of the doom-laden (and conservative) visions of LeBon, Allport and Zimbardo, and the many pessimistic models of small group processes – for example, 'social loafing', 'groupthink', 'risky-shift', and so on.
Over 20 years of social identity research have countered these negative views, showing collective behaviour to be meaningful, controlled and identity-based. What The Experiment adds is the connectedness between the positives of collectivity (mutual aid, empowerment, collective self-realisation, positive social change) and its potential negatives and failures. The reactionary collective is not a primitive outburst, but the failure of the liberatory collective to coalesce, realise or impose itself. What social psychology has needed has been a way of conceptualising reactionary or tyrannical collectivity without slipping into the usual trap of attributing irrationality, mindlessness, etc. (which would then serve to taint collectivity per se: Drury, 2002). The analysis of The Experiment provides such a conceptualisation, and it is precisely through its longitudinal and interactional design that it has been able to do so.
John Drury
Department of Psychology
University of Sussex

Drury, J. (2002). 'When the mobs are looking for witches to burn, nobody's safe': Talking about the reactionary crowd. Discourse & Society, 13, 41–73.

Say cheese!

AM I the only reader to have noticed that whenever a portrait of the authors of any article appears in your publication, female contributors tend to smile for the camera, while male authors tend to present a sterner image? To test this hypothesis,
I asked some colleagues to rate a series of photos from recent issues as smile/non-smile. The results showed that indeed this appeared to be the case (see box).

        Male         Female
Smile        20        23
Non-smile        20        3
Analysis showed chi square, c2 = 10.266, p = .001

I am not an expert in this field, and would welcome any explanation. My only thought was that as Riley et al. ('Institutional sexism in academia', February 2006) point out, women are underrepresented as authors in The Psychologist and when photographed are genuinely pleased to have an article accepted, while males are keen to present a cool image of assumed superiority.
Jeremy Swinson
54 Duke Street

The editor, Jon Sutton comments: An interesting observation, but I'm afraid we don't take the photographs ourselves. Authors simply send them to us, presumably just choosing one they like. They seem rarely to have one taken specially for us, so any theory about the photos revealing reactions to being published might need a bit of tweaking. Any other explanations? Are men simply less likely to smile in any photos?

Psychoanalysing fictional characters

IT seems to me that John Flood rather misses the point of psychoanalytic literary criticism (Letters, April 2006). My own view is that the endeavour of treating fictional characters as if they were real is intended neither to illuminate the fiction as in traditional literary criticism nor to explicate theoretical concepts. Instead, discussing fictional characters neatly sidesteps the problem of confidentiality and potential damage to ongoing treatment relationships that might ensue if real case material were presented.
Psychoanalytic literary criticism is therefore an alternative form of case presentation that is able to be disseminated to a wider public with none of the difficulties that real case material might present. And it is just because the material is fictional that a wider ranging and fuller account of psychoanalytic case phenomena might be able to take place.
It is surely not unreasonable to applaud these attempts and to approach them as potentially providing some insights into actual case histories and the process of treatment. It could be argued, I suppose, that such attempts are doomed to failure, a process of fiction meeting fiction, leading to interpretations and claims that are further and further divorced from reality. This is obviously a possibility. However, we must also acknowledge that authors usually have an interest in making characters and relationships as believable as possible, and people do, indeed, read fiction partly to deepen their understanding of other people and life in general. We must also trust that the imagination of the psychotherapist is rooted in some clinical reality that meets the fictional material at least half way.
Terry Birchmore
North End House
42 North End

Old news

I  FELT some irony that a study from Liverpool John Moores University, which showed the efficacy of praise in the classroom and relative inefficacy of admonishment, was located under 'News' and the heading 'Praise pays'. As reported in The Psychologist (March 2006), the result would not have been classed as news to B.F. Skinner, if he were still with us, or to anyone familiar with his writings, which have been available over the last 65 or so years. By comparison with cognitive psychology,
I cannot imagine The Psychologist reporting as news the observation that, say, an experiment had found choice reaction time to be slower than simple reaction time, or that one arm of the Müller-Lyer illusion appeared longer than the other.
My irony might seem like splitting hairs but I believe that the choice of heading reveals a deep-seated problem within psychology. I do not wish in any way to undermine the value of this important and refreshing research, quite the contrary. However, I think that it is necessary to put the reporting of it and the similar studies now frequently featured in the popular media into the broader context of psychology and to acknowledge the insights of Skinner. I imagine that what must be genuinely newsworthy in the Liverpool research is some new slant or grounds for advocacy or a different application of the basic observation. Insight into why the basic principles of behavioural psychology have been either ignored or misunderstood by mainstream psychology and are only now being rediscovered or reinterpreted would also be newsworthy.
Frederick Toates
Open University