Friday, 29 January 2016

Research Seminar, Sarah Edwards, Middlesex University


Date: Thursday 11th February
Location: Town Hall Committee Room 2
Time: 12:00 - 13:00
Title: Empathy, Mentalisation and Violent Behaviour

Abstract: Quantifiable outcomes of victim empathy interventions have not shown consistent reductions in recidivism, leading to calls for a movement away from the use of empathy within the Criminal Justice System (Mann & Barnett, 2012); however, qualitative analyses have shown more promising results (Adler & Mir, 2012). Moreover, there are limitations surrounding current measures of empathy, hindering effective assessment of the effects of interventions on recidivism. This has been exacerbated as empathy has recently been reconceptualised as a process, in which, an empathic response may be influenced by situational contexts (Barnett & Mann, 2012); however, this model is yet to be tested. The current research focuses on building a stronger conceptualisation of empathy within an ecologically derived understanding of the empathic process from the perspective of violent offenders. This research was structured across two stages. Using focus group explorations of these concepts by knowledgeable researchers and practitioners, stage 1, aimed to consider the issue of state empathy, and how the empathic process may be affected by different situational contexts. After stage 1, a thematic analysis informed the development of a scenario based assessment and interview schedule to assess empathising and mentalising skills. Stage 2 tested these materials using four male and two female offenders between the ages of 16 and 25, who had committed a violent offence. After stage 2, a phased process was also applied to the assessment and analysis of the findings. Transcripts were assessed for expressive or instrumental violence to allow a more refined interpretation of the level of affect regulation; individual differences and wider influences on behaviour (e.g. substance misuse and life stressors) were also considered. Thematic Analysis was used to conduct an inductive and iterative analysis to derive themes from the scenarios and interviews to explore which factors appeared to be influencing the use of empathy and mentalisation. Findings highlight the barriers which may enable or hinder an empathic or mentalising response; for example, how implicit theories of violent offending and affect regulation influence this process on a situational basis. Findings further illustrate the limitations of current measures; proposals for development are discussed.

Biography: Sarah Edwards is a PhD research student and Research Associate within the Department of Psychology at Middlesex University. Prior to this, Sarah worked in secure forensic and specialist educational facilities (including the Prison Service, Secure Children’s Homes and Pupil Referral Units) with adult and young offenders who have committed violent and/or sexual offences. Sarah also holds an MSc in Forensic Psychology from Middlesex University. 
Sarah’s research interests include empathy, mentalisation and the efficacy of offending behaviour interventions. Sarah’s doctoral research is focussed around the uses of empathy and mentalisation within criminal justice interventions aimed at reducing re-offending. 

Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Beyond the nuclear family: A series of seminars funded by the British Psychological Society

As part of a series of seminars looking into modern-day, non-traditional families, funded by the British Psychological Society, Professor Olga van der Akker will be considering non-nuclear family planning in a seminar to be held on April 20th. The series of seminars aim to challenge the image of family provided by most undergraduate psychology textbooks, which is becoming increasingly out of date. For more details about the series, please visit the following link: 

The seminar series will consist of four seminars, in Cambridge (18 March), Bristol (7 June), London (20 April - Professor Olga van der Akker) and Manchester (11 May), around two themes: beyond genetic relatedness; and beyond nuclear family structures. The organisers, including Dr Naomi Moller (Open University), aim to bring together disparate pockets of research to develop a more cohesive narrative about new family structures.

Dr Moller, who has co-organised the seminars alongside Dr Victoria Clarke, Dr Nikki Hayfield (both University of the West of England) and Dr Fiona Tasker (Birkbeck, University of London), said: ‘Families are now being formed through the use of donated sperm, eggs and embryos, through adoption by same-sex couples and there are increasing numbers of families which are voluntarily childless. The BPS research seminar grant gives us a chance to bring together UK and international researchers, both really experienced and early-career researchers, to share their research and understandings with the seminar audiences. We are hoping that the series will stimulate debate over new family formations, set agendas for future research in the area, and get more psychologists thinking about how they can contribute to broadening our understanding of family in the UK.’

The Cambridge seminar includes a keynote speech from Professor Susan Golombok (University of Cambridge) on the psychological implications of new family forms; in London, Professor Olga van der Akker (Middlesex University) considers non-nuclear family planning; in Manchester, Professor Eric Blyth will take the audience ‘beyond genetic kinship’; and in Bristol, there will be a keynote presentation from Professor Damien Riggs on queering kinship and family diversity.

While the sessions are free, those interested in attending should register as early as possible to avoid disappointment. See the website for how to register: 

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Dreams and Creativity Conference; Centre for Psychoanalysis and Freud Musuem

A conference which may be of interest, co-organised by the Centre for Psychoanalysis, Middlesex, the Freud Museum, London and the Pandora Research Group, Paris.

4 March 2016 18.00 - 21.00
5 March 2016 9.45 – 17.30

Je suis le reve/I am the dream
Dreams and Creativity: Psychoanalytic Perspectives
What is the place of the image in contemporary creative work ? How do artists make use of the images that arise in their dreams, daydreams and fantasies? We wish to propose and discuss the ways in which the creation of ‘original’ images is a matter of the encounter between the present and the past, an encounter between the images that present themselves in the daily life of the artist at work and the dream imagery of the unconscious. According to Walter Benjamin’s formula, pre-figured in Freud’s ‘Creative writers and daydreaming’, the artist is the one who acts on the images of his or her thoughts, that is to say that the artist finds the way towards a psychic and material remodelling by turning dream or fantasy images into images that are presentable and shareable.
We will also be interrogating what we call Excited Images (Images excitées) in contemporary society, images that captivate us because they carry a measure of excess which at times prevents the unfolding of dreams and fantasies. Their very overexposure and banalisation hides a meaning which may have become taboo and unthinkable.
Further information, and registration is via the link below (and via the Freud Museum website) . Please note that there is a limited number of highly discounted tickets available for Middlesex Univsersity students—please contact Julia Borossa ( to access those.

Friday, 15 January 2016

Visiting Speaker, Prof Karen Douglas, University of Kent


Date: Thursday 28th January
Location: Town Hall Committee Room 2

Time: 12:00 - 13:00

Title: Secrets and Lies: The Psychology of Conspiracy Theories

Abstract: Was 9/11 an inside job?  Is climate change a hoax?  Was Princess Diana murdered?  Millions of people appear to think so, disbelieving official explanations for significant events in favour of alternative accounts that are often called ‘conspiracy theories’.  In recent years, psychologists have begun to investigate what makes conspiracy theories appealing to so many people.  In this talk, Karen will broadly overview what psychologists have found out so far, and will discuss some of my own findings on the causes and consequences of conspiracy theory belief.

Biography: Karen Douglas is a Professor in Social Psychology at the University of Kent.  In addition to conducting work on the psychology of conspiracy theories, she is involved in projects examining sexism in language, the influence of sexist ideology on attitudes toward pregnant women, and the psychology of internet behaviour.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Research Seminar Tim Weaver, Middlesex University


Date: Thursday 14th January
Time: 16:00 - 17:00
Location: Town Hall Committee Room 2

Title: Contingency Management in UK Drug Treatment Services

Biography: Dr Tim Weaver is Associate Professor of Mental Health Services Research. He also holds honorary positions at Imperial College and Kings College London. Dr Weaver is a social scientist with over 25 years’ experience of health services research in a range of substance misuse and mental health treatment settings. He is co-principal investigator on the first two UK trials of contingency management (voucher based positive re-enforcement).  The seminar will describe these trials and the findings to date.

Dr Weaver’s current research interests also include the community management of severe mental illness, personality disorder, and populations in whom mental illness and substance misuse co-occur, service user involvement in research, and the management of forensic mental health services. He has developed particular expertise in evaluative research that combines qualitative and quantitative methods to investigate the process and outcome of complex health interventions.

Abstract: Within addictions, evidence-based treatments exist (e.g. opiate substitution treatment, OST), but do not generate their full patient benefit because of poor adherence and high progressive drop-out. Building on the behavioural principles of operant conditioning, contingency management (CM) involves the systematic application of positive reinforcement (utilising financial or material incentives) to promote adherence to treatment and/or patient behaviours consistent with treatment goals. In this way the effectiveness of existing treatment may be amplified. There is a strong US evidence for the effectiveness of CM, and considerable interest in its application in the UK, but until recently no evidence base for its effectiveness in UK treatment settings.

Over the past 5 years a team of UK researchers has been investigating the effectiveness of CM in UK drug services undertaking two large randomised controlled trials. The first of these trials – completed and published in 2014 – demonstrated that contingency management could be used to promote increased completion of hepatitis B vaccination amongst people receiving opiate substitution treatment. The second trial - the PRAISE trial – is investigating the effectiveness of contingency management in promoting abstinence from street heroin and is expected to report in 2016.

The seminar will briefly describe the basic principles and practice of contingency management and review the evidence base. However, the primary focus will be on the recent programme of research undertaken within the UK – its rationale, its aims, trial design and results achieved to date. The seminar will also focus on the potential next steps as the emphasis shifts to implementation in routine practice.