The annual British Psychological Society Conference seems to come around more quickly every year. Luckily, the subjective nature of time perception was the focus of one of the talks so I gained a bit of insight into why this might be the case. Claudia Hammond, who was receiving a media award from the Society, spoke about her new book (pictured right) Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception, (click on title to see more information as well as phenomena such as the ‘Oddball effect’). Claudia is able to communicate really complex ideas in an engaging and accessible way. She gave a convincing account of time dragging for kidnap victims such as Alan Johnston and managed to stimulate a few ideas about primacy/recency effects in wine tasting. I can’t wait to read it.
Congratulations also to John Radford who received a Lifetime Achievement Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology Education. He is an inspirational psychologist who established Psychology as an ’A’ level subject in 1968 and oversaw its development as Chief Examiner for 9 years. He also set up what has become the department I work in and I was lucky enough to interview him recently for an article in The Psychologist Magazine about his take on the last 50 years of Psychology in the UK.
Other good sessions included Diane Halpern on gender (she handled this perennial hot potato adeptly), Peter Hegarty on Foucault (part of a History of Psychology series) and Dan Gould on Olympic success. The latter made some really important points about encouraging kids to have fun and experience lots of different sports before you start ‘training them to win’. I found myself drawn to quite a few of the presentations from the Sport and Coaching section because they seem to be working at the forefront of applied psychology. For example, Mark Bawden spoke about the contribution of Positive Psychology in his work coaching the English cricket team and his talk ‘Building super strengths and flooding weaknesses’ was superb in terms of delivery and content. It is always good to hear the story of the African violet lady of Baltimore (look it up) and to see an underdog triumph through tenacity (Steven Bradbury – watch him on you tube here).
The venue for the conference this year was The Grand Connaught Rooms in Holborn, dead handy for me and also surrounded by good places to eat and drink. I managed to fit in an old favourite, Great Queen Street, as well as a great new Mexican bar and restaurant La Bodega Negra (website here) where I had one of the best ‘Old Fashioneds’ I have ever tasted. Given the state of the en primeur campaign and general state of disarray in the wine world I might stick to cocktails for a bit.
I was really pleased to see that the British Psychological Society Research Digest Blog (here) has been voted the best psychology blog in the inaugural Research Blogging Awards. I subscribe to the digest and it is a great round-up of interesting and topical studies such as the one below (which is relevant given some of the current stories about wine and health).
Well done to Dr Christian Jarrett who does a great job with it.
A short while ago there was a shocking advert on British TV that used slow motion to illustrate the bloody, crunching effects of a car crash. The driver had been drinking. Using these kind of scare tactics for anti drink-driving and other health issues makes intuitive sense. The campaigners want to grab your attention and demonstrate the seriousness of the consequences if their message is not heeded. However, a new study makes the surprising finding that for a portion of the population, scare tactics can back-fire, actually undermining a message’s efficacy.
Steffen Nestler and Boris Egloff had 297 participants, 229 of them female, average age 35, read one of two versions of a fictional news report from a professional medical journal. The report referred to a study showing links between caffeine consumption and a fictional gastro-intestinal disease ‘Xyelinenteritis’. One version was extra-scary, highlighting a link between Xyelinenteritis and cancer and saying that the participant’s age group was particularly vulnerable. The other version was lower-key and lacked these two details. Both versions of the article concluded by recommending that readers reduce their caffeine consumption.
Before gauging the participants’ reaction to the article and its advice, the researchers tested them on a measure of ‘cognitive avoidance’. People who score highly on this personality dimension respond to threats with avoidance tactics such as distracting themselves, denying the threat or persuading themselves that they aren’t vulnerable.
The key finding is that participants who scored high on cognitive avoidance actually rated the threat from Xyelinenteritis as less severe after reading the scary version of the report compared with the low-key version. Moreover, after reading the scary version, they were less impressed by the advice to reduce caffeine consumption and less likely to say that they planned to reduce their caffeine intake.
On the other hand, highly cognitive avoidant participants were more responsive to the low-key report than were the low cognitive avoidant participants. In other words, for people who are cognitively avoidant, scary health messages can actually back-fire.
‘Practically, our results suggest that instead of giving all individuals the same threat communications, messages should be given that are concordant with their individual characteristics,’ Nestler and Egloff said. ‘Thus, the present findings are in line with the growing literature on tailoring intentions to individual characteristics, and they highlight the role of individual differences when scary messages are used.’
Nestler, S., & Egloff, B. (2010). When scary messages backfire: Influence of dispositional cognitive avoidance on the effectiveness of threat communications Journal of Research in Personality, 44 (1), 137-141 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2009.10.007
Author weblink: http://www.psych.uni-mainz.de/abteil/pp/nestlers.html
It was nice to be asked to speak about Psychology and Wine as part of the British Psychological Society London and Home Counties series of lectures. I was amazed, and appreciative, that so many people braved the heat and sacrificed watching Murray play at Wimbledon to attend my talk. It was interesting to talk to people from the wine world who had managed to get tickets, as well as colleagues from the various Divisions of psychology. I have had some lovely feedback and really enjoyed the night.
I had kindly been invited to celebrate with a few friends afterwards at The East Room. This is part of the Milk and Honey stable of members clubs and is very handily situated in Tabernacle Street a few doors down from from the BPS offices. It has some excellent wines available including a selection of New World bottles in Enomatic (vending)machines which allowed us to sample some cracking Rieslings before heading upstairs to the roof terrace. The star for me was Jeffrey Grosset’s Polish Hill 2008 Reisling which was minerally and somehow lean yet rich (I know this is somewhat oxymoronic). It was packed with refreshing lime and slightly nutty notes. A really refreshing glass of wine on a hot London night.
Thanks again to Laura and the staff at The East Room.