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January 30, 2014
  Science Museum 'Mind Maps' exhibition opens

The Science Museum in London has launched a dedicated psychology exhibition called Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology. Supported by the British Psychological Society and curated by BPS Curator of Psychology Philip Loring, the exhibition charts changes in the ways we've studied the mind and treated mental illness from 1780 to the present day.

The exhibition is free to the general public, and our readers are encouraged to visit. ‘I hope psychologists and psychology students will experience the pleasure of encountering historical figures they may have heard of in textbooks in a new and surprising context,’ says Phil Loring. ‘They’ll also be able to appreciate the continuing significance of some of the “historical” technologies on show, like brain scanning, EEG, and behavioural therapy.’

Mind Maps, which opened in December and runs until the summer, begins with a zone called Picturing Brain Activity (1980s to present). Here visitors are introduced to modern methods for visualising the brain and they can see one of the earliest PET brain scanners used for research. The remainder of the exhibition is then divided into four main time periods and themes: From Spirits to Nerves (1780 to 1810); Nervous Exhaustion (1880 to 1920); Brain Waves and Wonder Drugs (1945 to 1985); and Into the Future (2013 to… ).

From Ancient Greece to the Middle Ages and beyond, physicians and scientists believed that nerves were filled with ‘animal spirits’ – a kind of mystical substance supposedly created in the brain’s cavities. The first main section of Mind Maps explores how this idea was displaced thanks to advances in the understanding of electricity and magnetism.

In Italy in the 1780s Luigi Galvani discovered that sparks of electricity caused frogs’ legs to twitch, leading him to propose that nerves work via ‘animal electricity’. Visitors can see some of Galvani’s original tools he used to make this discovery – items that haven’t been displayed in public for over a hundred years. Early in the 19th century, individuals like cleric John Wesley began to champion the use of electric shocks to treat ailments supposedly caused by nervous disorders. Some of the earliest shock generators used for this purpose are also on display.

The second part of the exhibition coincides with the dawn of experimental psychology. Here visitors can see instruments used by Hermann von Helmholtz to study the speed of a nerve impulse – ‘the speed of thought’. This section also contains Wilhelm Wundt’s control hammer (for calibrating reaction time apparatus), Gustav Fechner’s sound pendulum for studying the ‘just noticeable difference’ in time intervals between clicks, and much more. ‘The closer [these early psychophysicists] looked the less clear the distinction between the physical body and the mind became,’ reads the exhibition display.

After the Second World War, technological advances that had been applied to radar and radio were now directed towards study of the brain, giving rise to such innovations as EEG (electroencephalography, used to record the surface electrical activity of the brain). The third part of the exhibition explores these techniques: visitors can hear what a recording of nerve cells sounds like, and they can see one of the first commercially available EEG recorders.

The same era also witnessed the rise of several controversial treatments, including electro-convulsive therapy (where electricity is used to induce a brain seizure – this remains a radical form of treatment for depression today), lobotomy and drug therapies. Other exhibits here include apparatus used by the EEG pioneer Greg Walter, and modern and retro packaging for psychotropic drugs.

The final part of the exhibition takes us up to the present day and beyond, with the recent announcement on both sides of the Atlantic to invest in bold new initiatives to map the structure and function of the brain. Here you can see a coil used for transcranial magnetic stimulation (a technique that allows researchers to temporarily interrupt function in specific parts of the brain), dramatic images of the brain’s white matter pathways, and a modern EEG sensory net used for sleep research. There are also displays related to cognitive behavioural therapy and the recently launched self-help book prescription scheme.

‘With a few notable exceptions borrowed from other London museums, such as the Renaissance dissection of the human nervous system and Freud’s original sketches of nerve cells, we sourced almost all of the over 150 objects from the Science Museum’s extraordinary storage vaults,’ says Loring. ‘The BPS curatorship began in 2009, which allowed me a couple years to get to know the breadth and depth of these vast collections. Once I had that background, developing the exhibition took about two years of intensive work in collaboration with a team of experienced exhibition developers and designers.’

Walking through this wonderful exhibition I was struck by how many modern controversies have echoed through the ages – the desire and struggle to explain the mind in terms of the physical matter of the brain, and the ongoing tension between biological and psychological perspectives on mental illness. ‘Do you think the exhibition tells a story of progress,’ I asked Phil Loring, ‘or are we just as far as ever from reconciling the worlds of mind and brain?’

‘I don't think it is an either-or situation,’ he told me. ‘Psychological knowledge and techniques have undeniably progressed, and at the same time the terrain we now call “mental health” has changed so profoundly that a single overarching progress narrative would be misleading. We chose to organise the exhibition as a series of episodes which could be explored backward or forward in time in order to reflect this complexity.’


Christian Jarrett

Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology is at the Science Museum in London until 12 August. Photographs of some of the exhibits are available online together with further information about the exhibition.

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    Posted By: Debbie Gordon @ 30/01/2014 01:52 PM     News from the Psychologist     Comments (3)  

  Human Mind Project

The first half of last year saw the initial announcements of the EU’s Human Brain Project and, in the USA, the BRAIN initiative. Now we have the Human Mind Project, launched by The School of Advanced Study in London in December. ‘The ambitious project represents a coordinated, international effort to define the major intellectual challenges in understanding the nature and significance of the human mind,’ says the Project’s website. ‘It will highlight the contribution of the arts and humanities to the study of human nature, and the importance of a comprehensive and interdisciplinary approach to the study of the mind, integrating science and the humanities.’

The Human Mind Project is led by neuroscientist Professor Colin Blakemore and guided by a multidisciplinary steering group that includes several psychologists, among them the BPS Fellows Professors Nicola Clayton, Uta Frith, Chris Frith, and BPS Associate Fellow Professor Charles Fernyhough. The Human Mind Project held its inaugural event in December entitled ‘What’s So Special About the Human Mind?’

Fernyhough said: ‘The arts and humanities don’t just give us compelling depictions of mental processes; they give us intellectual systems for making sense of how people understand their experience. At the moment, a group of enthusiastically interdisciplinary researchers are sketching out the main challenges facing the science of the mind, with a view to initiating a large-scale conversation about how different disciplines can work together in pushing back the scientific boundaries.’


Christian Jarrett


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    Posted By: Debbie Gordon @ 30/01/2014 01:44 PM     News from the Psychologist     Comments (0)  

  National honours in psychology

The sterling work of members of the British Psychological Society has been recognised once again in this year’s round of New Year’s Honours. Among them is Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow Professor Shirley Pearce, who has been made a dame for services to higher education.

Professor Dame Shirley Pearce has had a distinguished and varied career, including: working as a clinical psychologist at St Mary’s Hospital; establishing a postdoctoral programme in clinical psychology at UCL; establishing the School of Health Policy and Practice at the University of East Anglia; working as Vice Chancellor at Loughborough University; and holding the position of Non-executive Director of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority.

In 2005 these roles and others led Professor Pearce to receive the honour of CBE for services to education in the NHS. On receipt of her latest and even higher honour, Dame Shirley told us she feels privileged and indebted to the excellent colleagues she’s worked with. ‘Everything I have done has been as part of a team,’ she said. We asked her what achievement she is most proud of to date. ‘I am proud to have been part of the team leading Loughborough University to its research and teaching successes of the last few years. Especially winning the “Best Student Experience” award for six consecutive years,’ she said.

Today Professor Dame Shirley Pearce has what she describes as a ‘portfolio role’, including being the independent Chair of the College of Policing, which was established in 2012. ‘The world of policing is new to me, which is exciting and gives me the opportunity to bring my experiences of working in higher education and health to the challenge of establishing a professional body for the police.’ Her other roles include sitting on the boards of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, and Health Education England, and being a member of Council at Cambridge University.

Another honouree this year was Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow Dr Jackie Craissati, who has been appointed MBE for services to mental health. Dr Craissati is a Consultant Clinical and Forensic Psychologist and Clinical Director of the Forensic and Prisons Directorate at Oxleas NHS Foundation Trust in Dartford, Kent. Dr Craissati told us she was ‘absolutely delighted’ to receive this honour and ‘touched by people’s generous responses.’ She also acknowledged the support of her ‘wonderful workplace and peer group’.

She added: ‘The award is for services to “mental health” but the truth is that I have worked with individuals who are doubly stigmatised – on account of their diagnosis of personality disorder, and on account of their high-risk offending behaviour. The work is endlessly stimulating but often challenging and sometimes anxiety-provoking.’

Meanwhile, Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow Professor Sonia Livingstone has been appointed OBE for services to children and child internet safety. Professor Livingstone holds a chair in the Department of Media and Communications at LSE. The author or editor of 18 books, she is a past President of the International Communication Association, and currently directs the 33-country network EU Kids Online. Her many other roles include sitting on the Executive Board of the UK’s Council for Child Internet Safety. ‘It’s been a fascinating experience over the past 15 years to take my research into often-contested policy and public debates on how to empower and safeguard children online, at a time when internet access was becoming ever more important,’ she said.

Finally, congratulations are also due to BPS member Dr Eva Lloyd, Reader in Early Childhood at the Cass School of Education and Communities, who was appointed honorary OBE for services to education in the Honorary British Awards to Foreign Nationals late last year. Dr Lloyd’s appointment was made following a nomination from the Department of Education; it is honorary by virtue of her Dutch citizenship.

‘I am surprised and delighted to have been awarded this honour, which does reflect the hard work of the many early childhood sector and DfE colleagues who were involved in the early childhood policy co-production process during the first half of the Coalition Government,’ Dr Lloyd said. ‘Naturally I am immensely grateful to them. I look forward to making further contributions to the public understanding of developmental psychology and to research-informed early childhood policy development and implementation.’


Christian Jarrett

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    Posted By: Debbie Gordon @ 30/01/2014 01:38 PM     News from the Psychologist     Comments (0)  

  Mental health cuts hit the young

Local authorities in England are failing to prioritise children and young people’s mental health, according to a report by the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition. Overlooked and Forgotten was published in December and is available to download.

The authors Laurie Oliva and Paula Lavis researched the 145 local authority mental and physical health needs assessments and strategies that were publicly available in 2013. They discovered that two thirds of the needs assessments failed to specifically address the mental health of children and young people, and one third of the strategies failed to prioritise the mental health needs of this group. The authors also found that the majority of the needs assessments for children and young people were based on data from 10 years ago.

The report was welcomed by Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for the Department of Health, and she renewed her call for an updated review into the prevalence of mental health problems in children and young people. Barbara Rayment, Chair of the Children and Young People’s Mental Health Coalition, added: ‘Local authorities have difficult decisions to make about how to allocate dwindling health budgets. While it is very welcome that two thirds of [local authority health strategies] are prioritising children and young people’s mental health, too many are not giving this the priority it needs.’

In related news, the BBC reported in December that the budgets of mental health trusts in England were cut by an average of 2.36 per cent in real terms for 2013/2014, compared with the previous 12 months. Given that the government has guaranteed the overall NHS budget to rise modestly in real terms, this suggests that local commissioners are diverting funds away from mental health. The data came from a freedom of information request by the BBC.


Christian Jarrett

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    Posted By: Debbie Gordon @ 30/01/2014 01:34 PM     News from the Psychologist     Comments (0)  

  Neuroscience in education

Psychologists and neuroscientists are invited to bid for grants from a new £6 million education and neuroscience fund announced by the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation. The money is available for collaborative projects between researchers and educators, to investigate ways that neuroscience can benefit the learning of children aged 5 to 16, especially those with learning difficulties.

The new fund has been launched in the wake of survey data suggesting that many teachers are interested in neuroscience, and keen to use neuroscience insights in their work, and yet many have difficulties distinguishing genuine neuroscience from pseudoscience and brain myths. A study published in 2012 (, for instance, found that the more interest British and Dutch teachers expressed in neuroscience, the more likely they were to endorse a range of educational neuromyths, such as the idea of left- and right-brain learners or children having distinct ‘learning styles’ (visual, kinaesthetic, etc.). Overall the teachers endorsed one in two of the myths.

The Wellcome Trust also conducted its own survey of over a thousand teachers last year. Again there was great interest in neuroscience but also widespread use of scientifically unfounded ideas. Seventy-six per cent of teachers said they used learning styles; 39 per cent used Brain Gym (an empirically unsupported commercial exercise programme); and 18 per cent used the distinction between left- and right-brain learners.

‘Neuroscience is an exciting field that holds a great deal of promise both for understanding how our brains work and, through application, for improving how we learn and perform,’ says Dr Hilary Leevers, Head of Education and Learning at the Wellcome Trust. ‘Neuroscientists and educators both recognise and wish to explore this potential. By bringing together our expertise and approaches, the Wellcome Trust and the Education Endowment Foundation hope to make this possible.’


Christian Jarrett

Click for more information and to apply; for a useful review of neuroscience-based educational interventions.

Edited: 30/01/2014 at 01:38 PM by debgor

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    Posted By: Debbie Gordon @ 30/01/2014 01:31 PM     News from the Psychologist     Comments (0)  

  Looking ahead to '...isms in fashion'

As part of London College of Fashion’s initiative to use the discipline of fashion to drive change, build a sustainable future and improve the way we live, the 2014 Better Lives seminar series will focus on ‘Looking Ahead ...isms in Fashion’.

Dr Carolyn Mair, a Chartered Psychologist and Reader in Psychology at the London College of Fashion (LCF), featured in our ‘Big picture’ in the September 2013 issue. She told us: ‘Psychology and fashion are inherently intertwined, yet until recently, the two have not been seriously considered by psychologists as worthy of study. This year, as last, the seminar series aims to investigate the relationships between psychology, fashion and well-being.’

The first seminar, on 10 February, is on ageism in fashion, with talks from Professor Paul Matts, Research Fellow, Procter & Gamble, and Dr Ros Jennings, Reader in Cultural studies and Director of the Centre for Women, Ageing and Media, University of Gloucestershire. On 24 February the focus is racism, presented by Jody Furlong, Director of The Eye Casting Company and The Eye Models. Then on 10 March, paralympian Stef Reid, model Kelly Knox and actor Michael Shamash discuss ablism in fashion.

At each seminar, following the talks, Dr Mair will lead an audience discussion to increase awareness and understanding of the important reciprocal roles of psychology and fashion.

On 24 March the evening will be chaired by Dr Phil Sams, Honorary Doctor at LCF and Visiting Professor at Northumbria University. Panellists including Caryn Franklin (former fashion editor, BBC broadcaster and co-founder of the award-winning All Walks Beyond the Catwalk: and James Partridge OBE (Founder and Chief Executive of Changing Faces, the leading UK charity supporting and representing people with disfigurements) will discuss psychological aspects of …isms in fashion and how these impact well-being.

The events take place at 6pm–8pm at the London College of Fashion’s Oxford Circus site, 20 John Princes Street, WG1 0BJ. All events are open to the public and are free.

Jon Sutton

click for more information, or book your place on the seminars by e-mailing

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    Posted By: Debbie Gordon @ 30/01/2014 01:26 PM     News from the Psychologist     Comments (0)  

December 20, 2013
  Finding a way to respond to Typhoon Haiyan

Over five thousand people died and several millions were adversely affected in November when Typhoon Haiyan blasted the Philippines with wind speeds of up to 200 mph. One of the most powerful storms on record, many towns and cities were left devastated.

Professor William Yule of the Institute of Psychiatry is chair of the Society’s recently inaugurated Crisis, Disaster and Trauma Psychology Section. He told us that although the first priority in mass disasters of this kind is always clean water, sanitation, food and shelter, ‘preparing the ground for psychological help starts immediately.  There is support and advice for first responders. Helping them pace themselves and not burn out.  What to say, especially to children about deaths of loved ones, ensuring accurate lists of survivors, etc.  Helping rudimentary schools to get back a rhythm of daily living. Psychological intervention should be available at the outset, but formal therapy in groups
or for individuals comes a bit later.’

Aid organisations such as Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) responded rapidly to Haiyan, including sending psychologists to the scene. Writing on the organisation’s website, MSF psychologist Ana Maria Tijerino explained that many people were not able to evacuate in time so they saw the destruction unfold before them. ‘After living through such a severe experience, it is almost impossible to come out mentally unscathed,’ she said.

‘Arguably, depression can be as much of a disability as blindness,’ she added. ‘Anxiety disorders and panic attacks prevent people from performing their daily routine. These are the kinds of long-term consequences that we are trying to prevent.’

The Red Cross also sent psychological support to the area. Writing for the Canadian RedCrossTalks blog, volunteer Sandra Damota explained that her role was to provide psychological first aid (see box): ‘When a disaster happens, it’s easy to see the physical destruction and the physical wounds and injuries,’
she wrote. ‘But what we don’t see is the hurt people feel inside. There has been incredible loss for the people affected by Typhoon Haiyan, in terms of losing family and friends, but also losing their homes, and everything they owned.’

Local psychologists have also played a vital part in the disaster aftermath. Importantly, they have the local knowledge to help understand victim reactions. For example, in her column for the Philippine paper MindaNews Gail Tan Ilagan, Director of the Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services at the Ateneo de Davao University, explained that for many people Haiyan (known locally as Typhoon Yolanda) would have stirred up memories of the deadly Typhoon Pablo that struck in December 2012. ‘Don’t forget the Pablo survivors,’ Ilagan wrote. ‘Yolanda awakened for some their dread and unspoken terror of
a world gone mad. Like terrified children waking from a blood-curdling nightmare, they too need soothing at this time.’

Chartered Psychologist and Associate Fellow of the Society Dr Debbie Hawker specialises in supporting humanitarian workers. She echoed the importance of sensitivity to local ways of coping. To ignore this can leave people feeling devalued and less confident about coping in the future. ‘As long as the practices are not harmful, it may be beneficial to encourage people to use the resources which are already available to them,’ she said, ‘offering any additionalresources to supplement these rather than replace them.’

Another issue psychologists on the ground need to be aware of, according to Dr Hawker, is the increased risk of rape, domestic violence and even child abuse in the wake of a mass disaster. David Miliband, President of the International Rescue Committee, also pressed home this point in an interview with BBC’s Newsnight programme. ‘To neglect [the risk of violence], to turn our minds away from that would be dangerous and wrong,’ he said.

Dr Hawker explained there are various reasons for the increased violence, from the lack of protective services, abuse of alcohol, to people’s desire to re-establish feelings of their own power. ‘It is important to find out about such problems and not to assume that the only “trauma” is the obvious one,’ she said. ‘The key is to spend time with local people, respect their views and listen carefully to their portrayal of what the major needs are.’


Christian Jarrett

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    Posted By: Debbie Gordon @ 20/12/2013 02:49 PM     News from the Psychologist     Comments (0)  

  Psychological first aid

According to guidelines published by the World Health Organization (WHO) humanitarian aid workers should consider offering ‘psychological first aid’ as a matter of routine to adults and children showing signs of acute traumatic stress symptoms after a traumatic event. Psychological first aid is defined as ‘basic, non-intrusive pragmatic care with a focus on listening but not forcing talk, assessing needs and concerns, ensuring that basic needs are met, encouraging social support from significant others and protecting from further harm’.

Psychological first aid has largely replaced ‘debriefing’ as the recommended intervention for people affected by disaster. Critical incident stress debriefing (CISD), to use its formal name, refers to a single session of therapy in which the traumatised person is encouraged to vent their feelings. The WHO, NICE and the Cochrane Collaboration have all published guidelines and analyses suggesting the routine practice of debriefing may do more harm than good.
However in 2011, a team of therapists and trauma consultants – Debbie Hawker, John Durkin and David Hawker – published a paper arguing that properly executed debriefing by trained personnel with a peer debriefer can be helpful for aid workers and emergency responders (Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy).

Dr Debbie Hawker told us new research supports their case, such as a meta-analysis published this year showing lower alcohol use and better quality of life in emergency workers who had the benefit of CISD (Anxiety, Stress, and Coping). ‘Many aid workers want to receive psychological debriefing, and it appears to be beneficial, as long as correct procedures are followed,’ she said.


Christian Jarrett

Edited: 01/06/2014 at 02:54 PM by debgor

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  Many labs make enlightened work

A team of over 50 international researchers has published an ambitious attempt to replicate 13 existing findings in psychology. Several questionnaires and tests were bundled into a single computer package that was completed by 6344 participants across the USA, Europe, South America and Malaysia – 27 of the samples were tested in a lab, nine online.

The ‘Many Labs Replication Project’ comes during what some have described as a ‘replication crisis’ in psychology, with high-profile failures to reproduce published results, especially in the field of social priming. Indeed, it is just over
a year since Nobel-winner Daniel Kahneman wrote an open letter to the social priming community urging them to take bold action to address the doubts raised about their field.

The 13 effects under investigation were selected from a wide time period. The earliest ‘quote attribution’ effect (people are more likely to endorse quotes attributed to people they like) was first published in 1936. The most recently published ‘currency priming’ effect (after exposure to money, people are more likely to justify the current social system) was published in 2013.

Other effects tested included ‘anchoring’ (people’s judgements are swayed by initial irrelevant numbers), first documented by Daniel Kahneman and Karen Jacowitz; ‘gain versus loss framing’ (people’s tendency to take greater risks to avoid outcomes framed as a loss, also studied by Kahneman with Amos Tversky); ‘retrospective gambler’s fallacy’ (e.g. rarer outcomes on a dice throw, such as three sixes, are assumed to have been preceded by more throws of the dice); ‘flag priming’ (seeing the US flag increased agreement with conservative policies); and ‘imagined contact’ (imagining contact with religious outgroup members reduced prejudice towards them).

The results, submitted for publication in Social Psychology, provide some comfort for psychology as a whole, but not for the social priming field. Ten of
the effects were replicated convincingly with similar or greater effect sizes than
in the original research. It’s reassuring that Kahneman’s seminal work came out stronger in the replications. The imagined contact study replicated but with a weaker effect than found originally. The two priming studies, involving the effects of flags and currency, failed to replicate.

Chartered psychologist Dr Sharon Coen (University of Salford) is Secretary of the BPS Social Psychology Section. She said: ‘The transparency with which
the data, their origin and their analysis are shared with the public is commendable and should set the standard for future work.’ However, she also argued there is room for improvement – the effects under investigation were mostly very basic, and she noted that ‘of the 36 samples, only three were non-Western (Turkey, Malaysia and Brazil) and three from Eastern Europe (two in the Czech Republic and one in Poland), thus there are still issues to be addressed regarding the applicability of findings outside the Western world’.

The project was co-led by University of Virginia psychologist Brian Nosek of the Open Science Framework. He and his many collaborators said that the ‘primary contribution of this investigation is to establish a paradigm for testing replicability across samples and settings’. Their hope is that others will emulate their ‘crowdsourcing approach’ to explore other findings in psychology.

An interesting pattern to emerge from the new results is that the geographic location of the sample and the context of testing (lab or online) made little difference to the size of effects. The main determinant of effect size was the nature of the effect under investigation. Also intriguing was the fact that more robust experimental effects showed more variability in their size than weaker effects.

BPS Fellow Professor Richard Crisp (University of Sheffield), co-author of the original imagined contact research, described the project as ‘an exciting initiative for psychological science’, and he noted that the revised effect-size estimate for imagined contact with religious outgroups converges with
the findings from a meta-analysis he’s co-authored looking at results from over 70 imagined contact studies (currently in press).

However, Crisp added a note of caution. ‘There is an important distinction between replication of experiments, and replication of effects,’ he said. ‘Single-study replications provide important information about the replicability of experimental findings carried out under very specific study conditions, but not about the conceptual replicability of the effect manifest using different task variants, different dependent measures, or focusing on different groups or issues. To be truly confident about how robust a particular phenomenon is, we need both replications of specific studies, and replications of effects. In other words, we need both depth of replication (specific studies) and breadth of replication (meta-analyses).’


Christian Jarrett

See our special issue on replication (May 2012)

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    Posted By: Debbie Gordon @ 20/12/2013 02:21 PM     News from the Psychologist     Comments (0)  

  APA criticised in detainee abuse report

New details have emerged about the involvement of psychologists in the abuse of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and other US military sites. The revelations appear in a task force report Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror – which documents the results of a two-year long investigation supported by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession and the Open Society Foundations.

Based on a comprehensive review of military and other records in the public domain, the report describes how psychologists helped design and implement interrogation practices that included torture techniques such as waterboarding and sensory deprivation. Psychologists also advised interrogators on ways to exploit suspects’ psychological vulnerabilities. The US Department of Defense and the CIA recruited psychologists for this purpose into so-called Behavioral Science Consultation Teams. Psychologists and medical professionals fulfilling these roles were described as ‘safety officers’, yet at the same time they were categorised as combatants, supposedly abrogating their usual professional ethical responsibilities.

The 20-strong task force, comprising medical, military and ethics experts, criticises the American Psychological Association (APA) for failing to prohibit psychologists from participating in interrogation practices. ‘In the Task Force’s view, the APA incorrectly permits psychologists to balance professional obligations against national security interests and embraces the idea that psychologists can simultaneously and without conflict play the roles of aiding in intelligence gathering and safeguarding the well-being of detainees in interrogation.’

The APA has published various position statements and passed referendums outlining the practices it considers to be torture, and prohibiting psychologists from working where people are detained against international or US law. However, unlike the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, the APA still permits its members to be involved in interrogation practices.


Christian Jarrett

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    Posted By: Debbie Gordon @ 20/12/2013 02:11 PM     News from the Psychologist     Comments (0)  

November 29, 2013
  Cigarette packets are 'advertising'

Psychologists at Surrey University have uncovered evidence that bolsters the case for the introduction of plain packaging for cigarettes. Such a policy has been introduced in Australia, but the UK government has yet to make a decision on its introduction here, despite broad public approval for the move.

Michaela Dewe and her colleagues analysed 204 cigarette print advertisements published between the 1950s and 2000s (Journal of Health Psychology). They were particularly interested in the appearance of cigarette packets in these advertisements because tobacco firms claim that branded packaging is a neutral product that makes no difference to consumer behaviour.

From the 1950s to the 1990s, the researchers found an increase in adverts that displayed a cigarette packet, but not the actual cigarette – a trend that showed a slight reversal in the 2000s. This pattern went hand in hand with a reduction across the decades in the appearance of cigarettes themselves.

The researchers believe this shows the tobacco companies were using the cigarette box as a cue to remind consumers of claims in the adverts about their product’s quality, flavour, pleasure and cost. These results ‘provide further evidence that the cigarette box is…an advertising vehicle in its own right,’ they said. Chartered Psychologist and co-author Professor Jane Ogden added: ‘The box cannot be considered a neutral object that has no impact on consumer choices, which provides evidence in support of the call for compulsory plain packaging.’

Christian Jarrett

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    Posted By: Debbie Gordon @ 29/11/2013 04:03 PM     News from the Psychologist     Comments (0)  

  Educational psychology worries - north and south

Ongoing concerns in Scotland about the lack of educational psychologists have intensified. In October the National Scottish Steering Group for Educational Psychologists published a workforce planning report in which it stated that increased demand, staff retirements, the recent loss of central funding for postgraduate trainees, and other factors together mean that the ‘profession is in the midst of a critical period’. The report concludes by calling for an urgent review of psychological services in Scotland.

The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition (SCSC) responded by urging the Scottish government to take immediate action. The ratio of educational psychologists to population was poorer in 2012 than in 2001, the SCSC highlighted, and people requiring the services of educational psychologists are subject to a postcode lottery. ‘We are sitting on a ticking time-bomb of increased demand,’ said an SCSC spokesperson, ‘and we cannot allow those who require psychiatric and psychology services to be left confined to the fringes simply due to a lack of personnel to address this need.’

In Scottish Parliament Portfolio Questions early in October, Labour MSP David Stewart asked the Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages, Dr Alasdair Allan, what action the government was taking to increase the availability of educational psychologists in Scotland. ‘t is important to point out that 38 students are currently training as educational psychologists and that that meets the demand that has been set out,’ Dr Allan replied.

There are also worries about educational psychology services south of the border. In September, the Association of Educational Psychologists published figures showing that councils in England have cut funding for educational psychology by 5 per cent over the last three years. This is at a time when demand for educational psychologists is reported to be increasing.


Christian Jarrett



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    Posted By: Debbie Gordon @ 29/11/2013 04:00 PM     News from the Psychologist     Comments (0)  

November 28, 2013
  New research standards set to affect psychology publishing practices

The World Medical Association has published a revision to its Declaration of Helsinki that prescribes ethical standards for conducting research with human participants (JAMA). Although the Declaration is aimed principally at medical researchers, it has been influential in psychology since the first edition was published in 1964.

Two additions to the Declaration in particular look set to affect psychology researchers. First, the document now states explicitly: ‘Every research study involving human subjects must be registered in a publicly accessible database before recruitment of the first subject’. This is timely because researchers like Chris Chambers, a Chartered Psychologist at Cardiff University, are campaigning successfully for the widespread adoption of pre-registered journal reports in psychology and the life sciences (see News, July and September).

Advocates of research pre-registration hope that it will reduce the prevalence of questionable research practices, such as so-called p-hacking – manipulating methodological design until the desired result is found. Pre-registration should also facilitate the publication of negative results, which might otherwise never see the light of day.

This last point tallies with a second significant revision to the Declaration of Helsinki relating to the dissemination of research findings. ‘Researchers have a duty to make publicly available the results of their research on human subjects and are accountable for the completeness and accuracy of their reports,’ the Declaration states, adding: ‘Negative and inconclusive as well as positive results must be published or otherwise made publicly available.’

How relevant are these changes to psychology researchers in the UK? This is difficult to gauge at present, but it’s worth bearing in mind that many British research institutions specifically state that research must be undertaken in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki. Many psychology journals also make similar demands. For example, the submission guidelines for the Wiley journal Clinical Psychologist state that researchers must indicate whether their work ‘conforms to the provisions’ of the Declaration.

‘While the Declaration is primarily for medical research, it has been widely adopted as a benchmark and is one of the key documents used as reference for the British Psychological Society’s Code of Ethics and Conduct and has major implications for psychological research,’ says Chair of the BPS Ethics Committee Chartered Psychologist Dr Tony Wainwright at the University of Exeter. On the new requirement that all research with human subjects is pre-registered, he added: ‘Ben Goldacre and colleagues from will be pleased as they have been campaigning for this for some time. It remains to be seen how these important ethical principles will be translated into practice.’

In related news, the editor-in-chief of Psychological Science, the flagship journal of the Association for Psychological Science, has announced a raft of significant changes to the publication’s submission guidelines for 2014. These are intended to reduce research malpractice and to boost the transparency and replicability of psychological science. The changes include new disclosure statements for excluded data, sample sizes and other aspects of research design; a lifting of the word-count limit for methods and results sections; and public badges of acknowledgement for authors who share their data or materials online, or who preregister their design.


Christian Jarrett

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    Posted By: Debbie Gordon @ 28/11/2013 01:59 PM     News from the Psychologist     Comments (0)  

  Sick chidren or sick society? - the Maudsley Debate

Diagnosis rates for childhood mental illness have increased at pace in recent years. So too have the prescription rates for psychotropic drugs, such as Ritalin used to treat ADHD. Are these changes a sign of sick children or of a sick society? This was the question addressed at the 49th Maudsley Debate held at the Institute of Psychiatry in October.

On the panel in front of a packed house were Claire Fox, BPS Fellow Simon Baron-Cohen, Stephen Scott, Ken McLaughlin and Chartered Psychologist Barbara Sahakian. Held as a satellite event of the Battle of Ideas, the Maudsley’s usual formal debating format was replaced by a round-table discussion chaired by David Bowden of the Institute of Ideas.

Professor Baron-Cohen from Cambridge University defended the importance of mental health diagnoses for children. Many children have had years of bad experience before they arrive in the clinic, he said, and for them it’s a relief to hear that there’s a name for their problems. A positive development in recent years, he argued, is the idea of neurodiversity – recognising that some children have special needs and may not thrive in conventional environments.

Stephen Scott, Professor of Child Health and Behaviour at the Institute of Psychiatry, also supported the importance of diagnosis. While acknowledging the risk of over-pathologising, he argued that increased recognition of conditions like autism brings greater humanity. In a similar vein, Barbara Sahakian, Professor of Clinical Neuropsychology at the University of Cambridge, drew attention to the importance of early detection of mental disorder. Seventy-five per cent of mental health problems start before the age of 24, she said, and the longer a person goes without help, the worse their outcomes tend to be.

Claire Fox, director and founder of the Institute of Ideas, was more sceptical. She lamented the way that to have your behaviour legitimised today, you have to have it pathologised. Fox also argued that encouraging children to dwell on their feelings and to seek medical help for their problems was undermining their natural resilience. ‘Everyone is queuing up for a diagnosis,’ she said, ‘and it’s trivialising serious mental health.’

Scott retorted sarcastically: ‘I like your neo-Darwinian approach. Toughen up, get resilient. It’s very British. But the kids I see haven’t managed to toughen up.’ Fox was unabashed. ‘My advice to psychiatrists if you want us to be more resilient,’ she said to muted applause, ‘is to butt out of our lives. We’ll be much better off without you.’

Also arguing that it’s our society that is sick was Dr Ken McLaughlin, a lecturer in mental health at Manchester Metropolitan University. ‘The moral question over how we live our lives and what we consider acceptable behaviour is being recast as a psychiatric one,’ he said.


Christian Jarrett

Watch the entire debate, including contributions from the audience, at

Edited: 28/11/2013 at 02:00 PM by debgor

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  New NICE guidelines

NICE – the UK government’s independent health advisory body – has renewed its call for all young people who self-harm to be given a full psychosocial assessment each time they harm themselves. Their plea followed the release in October of new statistics for England by the Health and Social Care Information Centre. These showed that in the 12 months to June this year, 13,400 girls aged 15 to 19 received hospital treatment for self-harm. The same period saw 4000 boys of the same age treated for self-harm.

NICE refers health professionals to its recently published quality standard on self-harm that’s aimed at improving the care of children and adults who harm themselves. This guidance includes the recommendation to conduct a psychosocial assessment following each case of self-harm. This is to establish the underlying reasons for the act and to help foster a relationship between the patient and healthcare professional. The guidance also states that the healthcare professional should discuss the likely benefits of psychological therapy with the patient.

In other news from NICE, the organisation published guidance in October on managing obesity in children and young people. This included the recommendation that weight management programmes should be designed by multidisciplinary teams that include a professional, such as  a clinical or health psychologist, to provide expertise on mental well-being; and a behaviour change expert, such as a sports psychologist. The guidance also calls on the providers of weight-management programmes to check whether a young person is distressed by their weight, and/or whether their weight is a consequence of stressful circumstances.


Christian Jarrett

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    Posted By: Debbie Gordon @ 28/11/2013 01:51 PM     News from the Psychologist     Comments (0)  

  Stories of psychology and the arts

‘Psychology and the arts’ was the theme of this year’s public symposium organised by the BPS History of Psychology Centre. Introducing the event, convener Dr Alan Collins (University of Lancaster) acknowledged this may seem an odd choice of topic, what with psychology increasingly turning to the neurosciences. However, he argued, psychology’s cultural links with the arts are just as important.

These deep historical ties between psychology and the arts were brought to life by the day’s five speakers. The first, Dr Greg Tate from the University of Surrey, described how 19th-century poet John Keats’s deliberations over whether to pursue medicine or verse reflected the philosophical wrangles of the time over the relative merits of, and differences between, thought and feeling.

Although Keats studied medicine, he famously pursued poetry rather than becoming a doctor. ‘O for a life of sensation rather than of thoughts!’ he wrote to a friend. However, it would be a mistake to think he ever gave up on reason. Indeed, Tate referenced lines from Keats’s 1819 poem ‘Ode to Psyche’ illustrating his vacillation between mysticism and rationality; between the ‘untrodden region’ of his mind and ‘the wreath'd trellis of [his] working brain’. Staying in the 19th century, the next speaker Alexandra Lewis, a literary scholar at the University of Aberdeen, reflected on Charlotte Brontë’s 1853 novel Villette. Brontë had an interest in medicine and psychology, said Lewis, and in Villette she explores the effects of trauma on the mind and body of the main character. Doing so she anticipates by more than a century the concept of post-traumatic stress disorder that wasn’t defined formally until 1980.

After poetry and literature came James Kennaway (University of Newcastle) with an amusing history of people’s beliefs in the mind control powers of music. This took in 18th-century fears over the seductive power of music used by mesmerists; Jean-Martin Charcot’s use of tuning forks to induce hypnotic trance states in his patients; and 20th-century panic in America over the supposed use of music-based brainwashing techniques by communists. These fears later switched their focus to Satanism and the popular belief that heavy metal songs contain subliminal content and secret messages when played backwards. The truth? In Ozzy Osbourne’s words: ‘The only black magic we ever had was the chocolates.’

These paranoid beliefs never disappear, they just change with the times. The latest version, said Kennaway, is the idea of i-dosing – listening to binaural beats to achieve a trance-like state. Googling the term takes you to a Daily Mail story: ‘I-dosing: How teenagers are getting “digitally high” from music they download … ’ accompanied by pictures of head-phoned adolescents contorted in trances. The reality according to Kennaway is that music is only of very little help to hypnotic suggestion. ‘People aren’t passive when they listen to music,’ he said, ‘and claims about loss of control are hard to take seriously.’

Next, Nick Lambert, from nearby Birkbeck, University of London, showed us the ways that humans, for millennia, have sought to immerse themselves in images, from the panoramic cave paintings of Lascaux to the modern IMAX movie theatres that are closer to what Lambert calls a ‘full-dome experience’. Other ancient precedents include Maeshowe, the neolithic dome-shaped burial mound located in Orkney, and the Pantheon in Rome.

There are more links here with psychology – Wilhelm Wundt, the godfather of experimental psychology wrote that ‘the half-darkness of caves is more appropriate than most interiors to arouse an after-image fantasy’. Contemporary psychologist Stephen Kosslyn at Stanford University, meanwhile, has likened the mind to a screen in his theories of mental imagery. Lambert also highlighted the intriguing observations of cognitive archaeologist David Lewis-Williams regarding the commonality of cave art around the world. It’s controversial, but Lewis-Williams suggests the same geometric shapes are found repeatedly because they somehow originate within the visual system (i.e. are seen in the mind’s eye), perhaps following the use of hallucinogenic substances.

Rounding off the day was psychologist Nicholas Wade with tales of rivalry and ingenuity among the scientists, mostly physicists, who with their various inventions – known as ‘philosophical toys’ at the time – made great strides in our understanding of visual perception. Among these men was John Ayrton Paris, the inventor of the thaumatrope, a toy that shows two images in such quick succession that they appear to combine. Also known as the ‘wonder turner’ the device demonstrated the principal of visual persistence – the fact that, in Wade’s words: ‘things occurring in physical succession could be visually simultaneous.’ Other important characters and their inventions included Charles Wheatstone and the kaleidoscope; David Brewster with a version of the stereoscope; and Joseph Plateau and the phenakistoscope – another device that created the illusion of movement. Rivalry and ill feeling was intense among these pioneers, especially between Wheatstone and Brewster. And yet Wade finished his talk with a photograph depicting Wheatstone, Brewster, Michael Faraday and others posing together as friends. ‘I’d like to finish on the topic of harmony,’ Wade said. But then we heard the photo is a fake. ‘This shows the power and perfidy of photography,’ Wade said with a smile.


Christian Jarrett

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    Posted By: Debbie Gordon @ 28/11/2013 01:42 PM     News from the Psychologist     Comments (0)  

  Art and the brain

Is headline-grabbing media coverage on the neuroscientific understanding of art (so called ‘neuroaesthetics’ ) another example of ‘neuromania’, the current desire to explain all human endeavours through patterns of brain activity? Can understanding the workings of the brain ever hope to explain the magic of music or the power of great literature? In this lively debate a panel of scientists, critics and authors shared their views.

For Philip Davis, Professor of English at Liverpool University and editor of The Literary Agenda, reading serious literature makes words come alive in a biological, real way. With Rhiannon Corcoran, Professor of Psychology at Liverpool, they used fMRI to scan the brains of participants whilst they read Shakespeare or modern paraphrases of the text. Reading the original increased brain activity for words not seen in modern English (such as ‘madded’ ) and for pronouns used as nouns (as in this line from Twelfth Night ‘Lady, you are the cruell’st she alive’ ).

As explained by Rhiannon Corcoran, these poetic ‘aha’ moments play with our expectancies and produce prediction error signals from which the brain updates beliefs about the world. They also activate brain reward centres and may be the reason why we find literature so satisfying.

George Szirtes, poet, translator and lecturer in creative writing at UEA used Emily Dickinson’s poem ‘My Life Closed Twice Before Its Close’ to demonstrate how we are forced to become interested in the person in the poem by physically re-enacting the emotional experience. But can neuroscience tell us anything more about that experience? This question was addressed by Raymond Tallis, humanist philosopher and author. He presented examples of neuroscientific studies on music, art and literature to demonstrate their lack of functional specificity: the same brain areas that respond to music that gives you ‘shivers down the spine’ also activate to other rewarding stimuli, such as food, sex, drugs (and presumably rock ’n’ roll). What’s missing in brain-imaging studies is the person and how we interpret music or art based on our own experience.

So is it better to talk to people about art than look at their brain and does neuroscience tell us anything more? A lively question-and-answer session discussed these and other points including what it means to describe a Wayne Rooney goal as ‘sheer poetry’! Many agreed that the neuroscientific understanding of art is of interest, it provides one level of description of our aesthetic responses, but it shouldn’t try to explain everything. Neuroscience is after all the study of the nervous system. Neuroaesthetics might tell us more about brain function, but whether it will tell us more about art is still open to debate.

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    Posted By: Debbie Gordon @ 28/11/2013 01:33 PM     News from the Psychologist     Comments (0)  

October 28, 2013
  Best practice research recommendations

Following the fraud scandals and replication problems endured by social psychology and other scientific disciplines in recent years – many documented on our news pages – the Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) Task Force on Publication and Research Practices has released a remedial report: Improving the Dependability of Research in Personality and Social Psychology: Recommendations for Research and Educational Practice.

Published early as an online proof in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, the report makes a series of recommendations for ‘best practices’
in personality and social psychology research (paraphrased below):
I    Recruit enough participants to ensure adequate statistical power to detect the key effects of interest. This statistical power should be reported when possible and considered as a factor when interpreting results.
I    Report effect sizes and 95 per cent confidence intervals.
I    Avoid questionable research practices, including: failing to correct statistically for multiple tests of statistical significance on the same data; recruiting more participants until a significant result is obtained; omitting conditions, participants and other experiment features after looking to see if an effect has been obtained; and running multiple experiments and only reporting those with significant results. Where any such practices are required, for example as part of an exploratory study, they must be fully reported.
I    Provide verbatim wording of all task instructions, manipulations and measures in an online appendix to aid future replication attempts.
I    Archive raw data and make it available to other researchers who wish to verify substantive claims through re-analysis (while ensuring confidentiality of participants is protected and legal rights to data are honoured).
I    Place high value on replication attempts.
I    Avoid inflexible research rules and recognise some research requires unique or unusual methods.

The report also makes recommendations for educational practice in social and personality psychology, including: fostering through student programmes, text books and editorial guidelines a culture of ‘getting it right’ rather than ‘finding significant results’; and improving methods training by increasing awareness of the issues raised in this report.

With an implicit reference to some of the rows that have broken out recently after failed replication attempts of influential social psychology papers,
the SPSP Task Force report also urges researchers to respond to failed replication attempts in a civil manner.

‘Failures by others to replicate one’s work should be treated as opportunities to work together with colleagues to find the parameters under which a theoretically expected effect is and is not found,’ the report says. ‘Critiques of research methodology or empirical findings merit constructive, not defensive, responses.’ In the same vein, it says that replication attempts should not be undertaken as point-scoring opportunities, but as ‘open-minded investigations of the generalizability of important, interesting effects’.

The six-person task force that produced the report is chaired by SPSP President Professor David Funder at the University of California, Riverside. Other members include Professor Carolyn Morf at the University of Bern and Professor Stephen G. West, Visiting Professor at Freie Universität Berlin.

Professor Funder pointed out to us that the current ‘replication crisis’ is occurring across science from cell biology to physics and is not limited to or especially affecting psychology. ‘But psychology has the potential to lead the way to improved research practices,’ he said, ‘because of its sophistication in research methodology and because of its expertise in the factors that affect the behavior of humans including scientists.’

He added that the ‘most useful prescriptions will be forward-looking, seeking to improve research and analytic practice as well as the social environment within which research is practiced. Our task force sought to generate ideas along these lines…that we hope in the long run will place all of science – not just social psychology – on an increasingly solid footing.’

Christian Jarrett

The report, which also includes a useful statistical primer covering effect sizes, statistical power and more, is available as a PDF

Edited: 28/11/2013 at 01:46 PM by debgor

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    Posted By: Debbie Gordon @ 28/10/2013 02:50 PM     News from the Psychologist     Comments (0)  

October 22, 2013
  Mapping the brain-mapping project

The initial focus of the Obama administration’s ambitious brain-mapping project, known as the BRAIN Initiative (see April and May news this year), has become clearer thanks to an interim report published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), one of the principal research agencies involved.

Outlining the priorities for the 2014 fiscal year, which started in October, the NIH advisory committee said that they had ‘identified the analysis of circuits of interacting neurons as being particularly rich in opportunity, with potential
for revolutionary advances’.

The report goes on to specify nine priority research areas to receive their share
of $40 million of initial NIH BRAIN Initiative funding, including: characterising all the cell types in the human nervous system; the development of ‘large-scale network recording capabilities’ allowing for the recording of ‘dynamic neuronal activity from complete neuronal networks’; and linking neuronal activity to behaviour. Regarding the last item, the report says: ‘[T]he clever use of virtual reality, machine learning, and miniaturised recording devices has the potential to dramatically increase our understanding of how neuronal activity underlies cognition and behaviour.’

Further details are available on the NIH website. However as we went to press there were fears the US government shutdown will delay the start of the BRAIN Initiative.

Christian Jarrett

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    Posted By: Debbie Gordon @ 22/10/2013 02:07 PM     News from the Psychologist     Comments (0)  

  Dementia screening plans criticised

Increasing the early diagnosis of dementia is an explicit aim of England’s 2009 National Dementia Strategy and was reiterated by Prime Minister David Cameron’s 2012 Dementia Challenge. The rationale is that early diagnosis allows support to be put in place to help people with dementia live well. But now a team of experts has written to the BMJ arguing that an excessive focus on early diagnosis risks misdiagnosis, increases stigma and redirects of resources away from those with severe dementia.                       

Led by David Le Couteur, professor of geriatric medicine at the Centre for Education and Research on Ageing at the University of Sydney, the group point out that 40 to 70 per cent of people diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment do not in fact progress to full-blown dementia and some even improve. The authors highlight recent research that found no beneficial effect for a psychosocial support package for people with early dementia. They also note that there are no drugs currently available that slow the illness.

Memory clinics established to aid early dementia diagnosis often use brain imaging and other bio-marker techniques even though these methods do not yet have an adequate ability to detect dementia or predict its progression, say Le Couteur’s team. Basic screening tools used in general practice are also prone to high false-positive rates. Moreover, on receiving a spurious diagnosis of early dementia, patients may be tempted by complementary, empirically unsupported remedies, including ginkgo biloba  or cholinesterase inhibitors. Worryingly, the latter have been linked with increased risk of falls and fainting, the authors said.

‘The strong political lead in the UK and US is increasing the numbers of people that receive a diagnosis of dementia and early dementia,’ concluded Le Couteur and his colleagues. ‘Yet arguably the political rhetoric expended on preventing the burden of dementia would be much better served by efforts to reduce smoking and obesity, given current knowledge linking mid-life obesity and cigarettes.’

Christian Jarrett

Edited: 22/10/2013 at 02:12 PM by debgor

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