Thursday, 18 April 2013

Visiting researcher talk: 25 April 2013, 4pm, HG09

Individual differences in sensitivities to aggressive events:
Situational Triggers of Aggressive Response

Claire Lawrence
Nottingham University

Measures of trait aggression are typically used to predict who is likely to act aggressively in any given situation. However, reactive aggression is typically the result of the interaction between the person and the situation, and may be determined not solely by trait aggression, but by individuals’ sensitivity to potential triggers in their environment such as provocations from others and frustrations (Anderson & Bushman, 2002). I will present three studies outlining the impact of individual differences in sensitivity to aggressive triggers (Lawrence, 2006). I will report the generation of the scales assessing individuals’ sensitivity to frustration (SF) and provocation (SP). I will then present data showing the impact of these sensitivities on the way in which behavior of other individuals are interpreted. Finally, the influence of individual differences in sensitivity to provocations (SP) as opposed to sensitivity to frustrations (SF) on provoked aggressive behavior will be presented.  The implication of such sensitivities for models of aggressive behavior will be discussed.

Interdisciplinary work

Part of the subtext to the current research chatter at Middlesex University addresses the need to work across departments and grow fruitful networks.  The recent poster conference and the forthcoming meeting on fairness are all a part of that aim.  With this in mind, Fabia Franco sent the following link to a Guardian article on just that topic:

How to inspire interdisciplinarity.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Psychology Placement at Middlesex University

Placements at Middlesex University date back to 1968, and since then have played a significant role in providing relevant work experience to complement the academic training gained at university, thus enhancing employment opportunities. Indeed the placement programme has also played an essential role in providing the experience required for those students wishing to continue at postgraduate level in areas such as Educational, Clinical, Forensic and Occupational Psychology.

The Placement is normally for one academic year (33 weeks), and in most cases is based at an established organisation within the UK. In some cases there have been a number of overseas placements in the USA and Canada, and more recently there have been internal placements within the Psychology Department.

At the beginning of each academic year the students enrolled for the Sandwich Degree register with the Placement Officer and are introduced to the Psychology Placement coordinator. This it to ensure that they receive full support in their preparation for, and placement at, their chosen organisation.

The placement year commences after students have successfully completed their second year of BSc studies at University. Each student will then be assigned an academic member of the Psychology Department to act as their visiting tutor.  The visiting tutor’s role is to liaise with the organisation regarding the student’s progress and fulfilment of the placement requirements.

A wide range of influential and established organisations are involved with the placement programme, for example Great Ormond Hospital School, St Georges Hospital, Priory Hospital, Institute of Psychiatry, Institute of Education, University College London, Holloway Prison, and the Metropolitan Police. Students’ involvement in such organisations includes engaging in everyday activities, for example classroom education within the hospital school and running of anger management courses for the prison inmates. In addition, placement students have been engaged in a wide range of clinical and educational research, for example eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, autism and stuttering, and investigating the psychological factors in relation to male and female rape.

During the placement year, students are required to keep a log-book for each week’s activity, to produce a critical review of their placement year and to make a presentation to the university organised Placement Conference. Indeed the Placement Conference has been a great success during the past 19 years of its addition to the placement programme. This is an opportunity for students to get feedback on what placement students have been engaged in and achieved at their placements, to learn about any new departmental and curriculum changes since being away from university and an opportunity for future placement students to learn more about different placements in preparation for their own placement (attached the programme for this year’s Placement Conference).

Furthermore, the placement year is expected to provide an excellent opportunity for the students to develop and complete a scientifically based project in line with their placement experience, and submit as their final year BSc dissertation. Indeed a number of students have managed to have their final year dissertation based on research at their placement published in refereed journals.

In short it has generally been the case that students who successfully completed their placement year benefited greatly in practical experience in relation to the application of theoretical concepts gained at university, showed a greater sense of maturity and self confidence, developed an insight into their strengths and weaknesses, developed an appreciation of the reality of work and organisation and, most importantly, enhanced their career prospects. Indeed a number of our BSc graduates in Psychology have been in positions of full-time employment with their placement organisation, for example the Metropolitan Police, Priory Hospital, Institute of Psychiatry, Institute of Education and St Georges Hospital.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

European Human Behaviour and Evolution Association Conference 2013

Last week I attended EHBEA2013 in Amsterdam.  This was the eighth meeting of the association, the ninth will be held in Bristol.

EHBEA is not an exclusive evolutionary psychology organization but rather one that encourages contributions from evolutionary psychology, human behavioural ecology, cultural evolution, behavioural economics and other traditions.  The only stipulation is that the hypotheses are drawn from evolutionary theory.  This year's meeting conformed to this ambition (click on the EHBEA2013 link above for more details).

One thing that caught my imagination was work on public goods games (PGG). PGG work as follows:

(1) A group of people each have individual pots of money;
(2) They are asked to make a contribution to the common pot;
(3) When all contributions are made the pot is multiplied (the multiplier varies from experiment to experiment);
(4) The new amount in the common pot is divided equally between all the players.

A key thing to note is that players do not have to contribute to the common pot and most games are conducted anonymously.

Free-riding in this game is a rational strategy under neo-classical economic assumptions and also possible fitness maximizing assumptions of a certain sort. Make no contribution, but still yield a return and watch your money grow!  Given anonymity one might predict a zero contribution would be the normative response, but in fact this has been shown not to be the case time and time again.  People make 'generous' contributions that do fall off over repeated plays but still remain well above zero.  Of course, there are some free-riders, but it is not a majority strategy.

This paper by Simon Gachter, one of the keynote speakers this year, takes you through some interesting details.  One detail that he discussed at the meeting was the effect of social contact.  If players get to meet, with no proper interaction, for 30 seconds or so just before they go to their anonymized computer terminals to play, the average contribution goes up and remains higher than normal, in spite of a standard decline in contribution over repeated plays.  This social meeting is minimal, with no conversation or any information exchanged.  They just see each other for a short spell.

This is of interest to evolutionary theorists because cooperation of any sort is a hard thing to stablize in populations.  Check this paper out for a clear-sighted view on the field.  It might also be interesting to those managing people to solve a collective action problem.  Our department is one such space with parallel iterated collective action games ongoing.  Whether or not they are all technically public goods games is something to ponder, as is the possibility of rendering them so, should they fail to conform.

I had some other thoughts about the trip which can be found here.

Tom Dickins

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New to the library

New to the library! Latest research from National Academy of Sciences

The library has extended its access to PNAS: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America to include the latest 6 months of research, e-pubs and pre-pubs. We previously only had access with a 6 month embargo.

This means you can now get access to the latest Psychology research undertaken by the NAS.

Access PNAS like all other journals through the library catalogue or E-journals list - make sure you remember to log into MyUniHub!

New! This month in the Psychological and cognitive sciences:

Image property and courtesy of (current issue)

The changing profile of surrogacy in the UK – Implications for national and international policy and practice

The changing profile of surrogacy in the UK – Implications for national and international policy and practice

Marilyn CrawshawEric Blyth & Olga van den Akker

Journal of Social Welfare and Family Law
Volume 34, Issue 3, 2012, pp. 267-277

Since 2007, the numbers of UK Parental Orders granted following surrogacy have markedly increased. More recently, eligibility criteria have been extended to unmarried heterosexual couples and same-sex couples rather than only married couples. Numbers seeking fertility treatments, including through surrogates, outside their country of residence have also increased. This paper presents the limited data currently available – from UK General Register Offices, Child and Family Court Advisory and Support Service for England and the UK surrogacy agencies: COTS, Surrogacy UK, British Surrogacy Centre – to consider potential reasons for the increase and to consider policy and practice implications. It charts the apparent decline in involvement of surrogacy agencies and suggests the potential for exploitation where scrutiny of arrangements and follow up are limited. It recommends improvements to data collection and argues the need for a more integrated approach to review of surrogacy arrangements both nationally and internationally.