Keep calm and manage impulsivity

By Aleksandra Herman

Have you ever gone grocery shopping to get some bread and milk, and you found yourself leaving the shop with a bag full of items that you never intended (and needed) to buy? Or maybe you’ve committed to keeping a diet, but found it impossible to resist another helping of that delicious chocolate cake? Or perhaps instead of analysing all available information before making an important decision, you tend to make a choice on impulse?

We all behave impulsively, to some extent, on a daily basis. Sometimes, acting impulsively is harmless or even advantageous, for example when there is little time to react, or when the matter is of little importance (e.g. ‘what am I having for dinner tonight?’). Keeping a healthy balance is important though: Too much impulsivity leads to negative consequences and has been associated, among other things, with alcohol abuse, addictions, overeating or dangerous sexual behaviours (e.g. unprotected sex). Increased levels of impulsivity are also characteristic features of certain neuropsychiatric conditions such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).  Read more ›

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Final Year “Retreat” Programme 2018-19

It’s back and it’s bigger and better than ever – drawing on student feedback from the January and September 2017 events, we’ve put together 3 events over your final year to provide extra support on careers, wellbeing, and the dissertation. Find out more and sign up below!  Read more ›

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Depression and Cognitive Ageing

By Amber John

Depression is a common mental health problem which is experienced by people of all ages. It is estimated that each year around 1 in 5 people in the UK will experience depressive symptoms. Depression encompasses lots of different kinds of symptoms which can range from mild to severe. This can include psychological symptoms (such as a continuous low mood, feelings of hopelessness and guilt and lacking motivation), physical symptoms (such as changes in sleeping patterns, weight and appetite changes, and loss of energy), and social symptoms (such as withdrawal from friends and family, or underperforming at school or work). For more information on recognising symptoms of depression, follow this link to the NHS website, which can describe this in more depth: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/clinical-depression/symptoms/  Read more ›

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The dangers of over-hyping ‘sugar addiction’.

By Jenny Morris

 

Sugar seems to be frequently vilified in the media. Just a quick google search and headlines report ‘Sugar can destroy your brain’‘Sugar is as addictive as cocaine’ and ‘Sugar addiction ‘should be treated as a form of drug abuse’. It’s frequently referred to as an addictive drug, which supports people who build successful careers out of teaching people to avoid the perils of sugar. But how well founded are these claims and should you really cut sugar out of your diet?

Firstly, it’s important to understand that we absolutely need sugar in our diets. Glucose is an essential substance for cell growth and maintenance. The brain accounts for only 2% of our body weight yet uses approximately 20% of glucose derived energy, it’s vital to consume sugar to support basic cognitive functions. Disruption of normal glucose metabolism can have dangerous effects, resulting in pathological brain function. Yet there is concern that overconsumption may lead to a multitude of adverse health effects.  Read more ›

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An appetite for bringing research into practice at ResearchED

By Ian Hadden

ResearchED is getting big. A ‘grassroots movement’ started by a former teacher, it aims to bridge the gap between research and practice in education. Since I’m researching how simple, well-timed social psychological interventions can help kids from low-income families thrive at school, I went along to their London event last September see what it was all about. That is, me and an awful lot of other delegates. On a Saturday. Standing room only.  Read more ›

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Meet your PGR Student Reps (2017-2018)

This year’s PGR student reps: Jo, Lina and Toni

Read more ›

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How hate crime affects a whole community

This article was originally published by the BBC on 12th January 2018.

Thousands of people are physically and sometimes brutally attacked each year in hate crimes. Such offences not only affect the victims, but also the thoughts and behaviour of others.

Within 24 hours of the massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, protests and vigils were joined by thousands in London, Sydney, Hong Kong, Bangkok and many other cities around the world. Although a particularly stark example, the response shows how the effects of hate crime are not limited to the immediate victims: they also affect others who learn of such events.

Prof Rupert Brown presenting at the Sussex Hate Crime Project launch.

Over the past five years, the Hate Crime Project at the University of Sussex has investigated these wider impacts of hate crime, looking at how simply knowing a victim, or even hearing about an incident, can have significant consequences. Many such attacks take place: in England and Wales, for example, the number of hate crimes recorded by police has increased sharply, rising 29%, to more than 80,000, in 2016-17. Race hate crimes were most common, but victims might also be targeted because of their sexual orientation, religion, disability, or because they are transgender.

The University of Sussex project used studies, experiments and interviews with a total of more than 1,000 Muslim and 2,000 LGBT people in the UK to investigate the indirect effects of such crimes. It found that four out of five participants knew someone who had been victimised in the past three years, with about half knowing someone who had been physically assaulted. As a result of hearing about hate crime in their community, the most common responses were anger, anxiety and feelings of vulnerability.

These emotional reactions had a significant impact on both LGBT and Muslim participants’ feelings of safety. Many said they took steps to increase their own security and avoided parts of their neighbourhood where they thought an attack was likely. Others joined community support groups. One Muslim woman described how she had responded to reports of Islamophobic hate crimes, including the murder of 82-year-old Mohammed Saleem, who was stabbed as he walked home from a mosque in Birmingham. “I do feel vulnerable… and it does affect my behaviour,” she said. “I become more fearful and avoid going to certain places that I feel might be a risk to my safety. And especially within certain times, I would avoid walking within those areas.”

One reason for these indirect effects is that people feel more empathy for victims who come from their own community. When they learned about a fellow Muslim, or LGBT person, being abused because of their identity, they put themselves in the victims’ shoes and felt something of what they must have felt during the attack. This made them feel angry on the victims’ behalf, but also threatened and fearful that they could also become a victim. These feelings can lead people to change their behaviour – for example, using social media to raise awareness of such attacks – with the effects lasting three months or longer in many cases.

Dr Jenny Paterson at the SHCP launch on 12th January 2018

The University of Sussex research demonstrated these effects through experiments in which participants read newspaper articles about someone being attacked. All the articles were identical, except that some described the attacks as anti-LGBT or Islamophobic hate crimes, while the others portrayed the attacks as random, with no mention of hate as the motivation. Those who read about hate crimes reported more empathy for the victim which, in turn, made them more likely to express feelings of anger or anxiety than those who read about the non-hate crimes. The strength of their responses suggest that hate crimes can have a greater impact on the victims and those in the wider community than otherwise comparable attacks which are not motivated by hate.

Among the Muslim and LGBT people who took part in the study, simply knowing someone who had been a victim of a hate crime was linked to them having less positive attitudes towards the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the government. They were also more likely to support laws designed to enhance the penalties for hate crime and different methods of policing – for example, special procedures for dealing with victims and more police in the community. Most had not had any contact with the police about a hate crime, but members of the Muslim group who had been in touch with them were less likely to believe that they would respond effectively than those who had not had contact. During one interview, a Muslim man said: “For me it seems that a lot of the police force come from a certain background, and sometimes that’s why I think they won’t take it [Islamophobic hate crime] seriously.”

Dr Mark Walters from the School of Law presenting at the SHCP launch

Attitudes towards different forms of justice used to deal with those responsible for hate crime were also investigated. More than six out of 10 Muslim and LGBT people who took part in the study said that instead of an enhanced prison sentence, they preferred restorative justice – in which victims meet or communicate with the perpetrators in order to explain the impact of their crime and agree a form of reparation. This, they believed, was more likely to be an effective way to repair the harm caused by hate and prejudice. One LGBT person said: “I’m not sure that just sending somebody to prison… is going to change somebody’s attitude… Whereas [restorative justice is] a much better route to be able to understand the impact that their behaviour has had on somebody.”

The question for police and politicians now is what they can do to reduce the impact of hate crimes. One step might be to investigate measures – like restorative justice – that aim to address the harm to both the victim and community. Another might be to ensure greater use of community impact statements in criminal trials. With tens of thousands of people affected each year, there are many in the Muslim and LGBT communities, and other parts of society, who will be keen to know the answer.

 


This analysis piece was commissioned by the BBC and edited by Duncan Walker. 

Prof Rupert Brown, Prof Mark Walters and Dr Jenny Paterson are at the University of Sussex and are members of the Sussex Hate Crime Project, which was funded by the Leverhulme Trust.

The project recruited more than 2,000 LGBT and 1,000 Muslim people from a wide number of sources, including specific community groups and charities -for example, Stonewall, GALOP, the Muslim Council of Britain and LGBT and Muslim university groups.

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Statement for Excellence in Research Degrees

By Dr Zoë Hopkins

Trite as it sounds, I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I became interested in autism and language. Throughout my undergraduate years (as a student of English Literature, rather than Psychology), I was employed as a support worker on the fabulous Artz and Sportz+ scheme (https://www.dorsetforyou.gov.uk/artz+), for children with additional needs. At a sports workshop, I was supporting a child with autism who had echolalia; he would repeat words and phrases that I said, over and over again, and it was really difficult for us to hold a conversation with each other. The boy’s use of language suggested to me that, in conversation, there is an ‘optimum’ amount of language repetition between speakers: too much copying might be disruptive (as it was in the sports workshop), but not using any of the same words as a partner might convey that s/he wasn’t being listened to. This issue gets even trickier within the context of autism, which is associated with both under- and over-imitation (of language, actions, etc.)

Against this backdrop, language imitation in children with autism became the focus of my Masters thesis at Sussex. As a student on the MSc in Experimental Psychology – an intensive, year-long conversion degree – I was attached to the ChaTLab (http://www.sussex.ac.uk/psychology/chatlab/), where I spent a year studying and hearing presentations about children with autism, and their difficulties with social interaction. When I left Sussex in 2011, it was to move to Singapore, where I spent six months as an intern in the autism team of the Child Guidance Clinic (CGC), as part of the Institute of Mental Health (https://www.imh.com.sg/clinical/page.aspx?id=267). While working at the CGC, I supported two clinicians to run social skills classes for boys with autism; this experience in particular made me think about why conversation doesn’t always run smoothly for people with autism and their social partners.

From Singapore, I returned to Sussex in 2012, to take up an EPSRC-funded PhD scholarship in the ChaTLab, entitled ‘Meeting of Minds in Conversation’. My PhD thesis – co-supervised by Drs Nicola Yuill (Psychology) and Bill Keller (Informatics) – considered the conversational difficulties of children with autism from a language-processing perspective, drawing on theories of linguistic alignment. Alignment is the tendency for speakers to imitate each other’s language in conversation: it is widely observed in the conversations of typical adults, and is associated with more effective and satisfying interactions (c.f., e.g., Fusaroli et al., 2012). Furthermore, alignment may be influenced by ‘audience design’ (=tailoring speech to take a listener into account) and social-affective goals; these are recognised areas of impairment for children with autism. In my thesis, I report three experiments, which consider whether atypical alignment could explain why children with autism might find conversation difficult, and in turn why their social partners might find their interactions odd and unrewarding.  My thesis will be available online soon (http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/60608/).

Having survived my PhD viva in February 2016, I have since been working as an Assistant Psychologist at the Disabilities Trust, in a residential service for adults with autism and learning disabilities (http://www.thedtgroup.org/autism-and-learning-disabilities/our-services/hollyrood/news/service-user-helps-to-appoint-new-psychologist/). I continue to be intrigued by conversation in autism, and to think about what can be done to support people with autism with their social interaction. Happily, I was offered a post-doctoral position at Edinburgh University, which will allow me to pursue some of the outstanding questions from my PhD. In April 2017, I joined an ESRC-funded project – ‘Conversational Alignment in Children with an Autism Spectrum Condition and Typical Children – led by Professor Holly Branigan; Nicola Yuill is a co-investigator on this project, which will enable me to maintain my connections with the Sussex ChaT Lab.

I am very excited about the new chapter in my academic career, and welcome enquiries from anyone regarding my research interests. Please consult either my Sussex or Edinburgh University profile pages for contact details.

 

Academic funding:

Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) – doctoral research position

Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) – post-doctoral research position

 

Relevant publications:

My research has involved both experimental paradigms and natural language processing methodology.

Hopkins, Z., Yuill, N., & Keller, B. (2016). Children with autism align syntax in natural conversation. Applied Psycholinguistics, 37(2), 347–370. doi:10.1017/S0142716414000599

 

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Why do bystanders justify the use of violence by protesters?

By Patricio Saavedra Morales

Recently, the UN Human Rights Office published an extensive report about human rights violations and abuses during protests occurring in Venezuela from 1st of April to 31st July 2017.  In the document, UN officers accused the Venezuelan police force of excessive use of force during protests and illegal detentions of both protesters and political opponents. Furthermore, the report claimed that the right of peaceful assembly has been systematically violated, and the protesters (as well as journalists who have tried to report protests) are treated as ‘terrorist’ and ‘enemies of the state’ by government authorities. In this context, the report argues some protesters resorted to the use of violence as a method to confront the action of the police and pro-government groups.

However, the use of violence during protests is neither a new issue nor exclusive feature of Venezuelans. Social psychologists from different countries have demonstrated that emotionsthe perceived efficacy of violent actions, or the lack of collective efficacy could be antecedents for people consider getting involved in violent actions during protests. Moreover, an outstanding approach based on identity dynamics and crowd psychology has proposed that the use of violence by members of a crowd (as in protests) follows a specific logic where violent tactics are legitimised due to the indiscriminate actions of the police, and a subsequent change of group representations to ‘us’ (protesters) and ‘they’ (the police). Hence, ‘violent actions’ can be justified as self-defence or retaliation by the protesters (as a group) when they see other group (the police) as an enemy because of the use of transgressive actions against them.

Despite the findings mentioned above, both the influence of the perceived political context on bystanders (the extent to which people perceive their government and the police restricting or facilitating protests) and how these bystanders perceive that other people give legitimacy to protests have barely been explored as antecedents of the justification of the use of violence by protesters. To address these topics, we carried out four quantitative studies using samples from Chile and the UK for each of them.

A few brief words are necessary about the countries involved in the studies before describing the results. On one hand, Chilean historian Gabriel Salazar has claimed that the use of violence in protests and by social movements has been present across Chilean history to try to achieve social change. The same scholar has also argued that in spite of the presence of popular violence in their history, many Chilean people have often focused their efforts on condemning its use (because of its assumed ‘irrationality’ and supposed criminality) rather than trying to understand why or when some people have considered it as a valid approach. On the other hand, the UK (specifically England) has seen episodes such as the ‘Battle of Westminster’ in 1988 and the riots in Tottenham and Hackneyduring 2011, where the actions of the police against protesters operated as a trigger for a series of events in which the use of violence became legitimized. Regarding these facts, a group of scholars from this country have developed a scientific approach to understanding the occurrence of riots based on social identity dynamics instead of assuming that crowd’s actions are a product of pathological irrationality.

With respect to the main findings of our four studies, we demonstrated that people from the UK and Chile were more willing to justify the use of violence by protesters when they perceived their political context as more restricted in relation to protests. We also found that besides the general perception about political context, police transgressions are especially relevant for Chileans, compared to people in the UK, in their legitimisation of the use of violence during a protest.

Another significant result of our studies was that when people perceived their political context as more open to protests, they were more likely to also think that other people would legitimise the implementation of protests in the streets (a process called meta-perception). The latter is relevant because the perceptions about another important actor within the political context – other people – were included in the equation beyond institutional actors. Interestingly, we also found that for British people the perception of what other people thought about protests was a relevant factor to justify the use of violence by protesters, but this was not the case for the Chilean sample.

In conclusion, our results suggest that what the government authorities and the police do in relation to protests is an important factor that people evaluate in forming attitudes to different protest activities. At the same time, we think the special relevance that police transgressions have for Chileans may be due to historical antecedents (during the fascist dictatorship, Chilean police actively repressed and killed people during protests), and/or the unnecessary or excessive use of force against protesters frequently alleged by international organizations as Amnesty Internationaland Human Right Watch. A third hypothesis which could explain the importance of police behaviour in the justification of the use of violence in Chile is the massive use of paramilitary policing to manage protests in that country. Paramilitary policing is characterized by the use of water cannons, rubber bullets, and tear gas against protesters, as well as an extensive control of public space by the police force. Although recent psychological literature has demonstrated that paramilitary policing has a negative impact on the protesters’ trust in the police and the fact that policing approaches based on coercion could help to escalate violence between the police and crowd members, it seems that Chilean authorities have allowed the police force to retain its old and repressive tactics without considering non-coercive methods before crowds events and protests (Some remarkable examples of the use of a non-coercive approach during crowds events have been carried out in the UK.)

However, a topic still unsolved is the relevance that the British (but not Chileans) give to the opinion of others for the justification of violence during protests: could this difference between countries be explained by cultural background discrepancies? Which specific cultural aspects would be behind it? Whatever the answer to these questions is, the big picture obtained across the studies matches with what other scholars have suggested on the use of violence by social movements and in collective action, which is that it follows a specific logic characterized by the emergence of new norms due to the illegitimate interaction between protesters and other groups (as the police). These new norms of interaction might mean that violent tactics (which could have been considered illegitimate in the past) become a valid strategy of action to confront or retaliate against police transgression instead of being caused by people’s ‘irrationality’ or ‘criminality’. In line with this, we suggest that knowing the extent in which people perceive their political context as open to allowing and facilitating protests would be a new piece of the puzzle to get a better understanding of the use of violence during these kind of events. Additionally, we propose the rationale described above would not be exclusive to those who actively participate in collective action but also it can be extended to bystanders (general public) who are not necessarily directly involved in the actions but can support the use of violent tactics by protesters after forming an opinion of their own political context.

Independently of the claims on international intervention in the Venezuelan crisis, we suggest that the approach described above might be applied to explain the use of violence during protests in that country. If we follow the UN report, we might conjecture that some people have justified the use of violence in the streets because of both the government restrictions to implement peaceful protests and the systematic police misbehaviour against the protesters. The latter would be aggravated whether we also consider that government authorities have explicitly considered protesters ‘as terrorists’ and sent detained protesters to military courts. Nevertheless, less clear is whether Venezuelans have considered the opinion of other people to justify the use of violent tactics in the streets. At the moment, through the press, we have just some hints that protesters (especially younger ones) perceive that the views of other people legitimise their presence in the streets to fight against the pro-government groups and the police.

 

This post was originally published on 7th September 2017 in the blog of the Crowds and Identities Research Group, led by Dr John Drury.

 

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Welcome to the School of Psychology

As we start the new academic year, I am delighted as Head of School to welcome our new cohort of Undergraduate, Masters and Doctoral students to the School of Psychology at Sussex, and to welcome back our current Undergraduate and Doctoral students. I hope you have all had a fantastic summer and are ready to hit the ground running in your studies. For those of you just starting, you are joining one of the best research-led Schools of Psychology in the UK (10th overall in the last Research Excellence Framework). For those returning, we are delighted that our performance in the National Student Survey continues to show our excellence, with a 92% score for Overall Satisfaction in the 2017 NSS results.

The summer is a busy time for academic faculty, where as well as preparing new courses and revising our lectures, we are immersed in our research. Many of the faculty are presenting events at the British Science Festival, which is being held in Brighton from the 5-9 September 2017 (www.britishsciencefestival.org). A perfect way to prepare for your studies and to get a feel for the people who will be guiding you through your degree would be to come along to as many sessions as you can, including:

One of our new innovations for the coming year is to assign our incoming undergraduates to ‘houses’, designed to provide a cohesive social environment in which you can interact with your peers, students from other years, and academic and professional staff in smaller groups. Sometimes, one can feel a bit lost in a large cohort of students: the houses are designed to provide a welcoming environment so that you can feel at home while at university. The heads of houses will arrange social events as well as coordinating the academic advisor scheme, so that you can make the very best use of your academic advisors.

If you have any suggestions for further improvements you would like us to make, pass them on to the Psychology student reps and we will do our best to act on them. We are also upping our game in use of social media, with regular blogs, Twitter feeds and Facebook posts. We would love to get stuff from students – please send material to Mar Balboa Carbon (M.Balboa-Carbon@sussex.ac.uk) who is coordinating our social media presence.

Don’t forget that it is really important for you to keep in regular contact with your academic adviser throughout the year; not only can they help you to deal with problems as they arise (e.g., understanding feedback, assistance with writing and analysis, advice about personal issues), but the more they know about you, the better equipped they will be to write that all-important reference for when you apply for jobs and further study.

I hope the coming academic year is productive and fun for all of you (and us!).

Best wishes

Tom Ormerod

Head of School of Psychology

 

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