Spirit of Sussex Award -Psychology Nominees: Bushra Farooq

The Spirit of Sussex Award (SoSA) Connector team has been in contact with Psychology students to highlight their impressive extra-curricular activities. Log onto the Spirit of Sussex Award website to start logging points for your own extra-curricular activities to secure a Bronze, Silver or Gold Award. 

This month the SOSA Connector team wish to highlight the activities of Bushra Farooq, who studies an MSc in Clinical Psychology and Mental Health.

Have you been involved with any societies whilst at Sussex? 

I was invited by the South Asian Society for a collaboration on a cook along as I have an Instagram page called @anotherfoodstory_ for One World Week which was held 15-20 March 2021. I’ve been an advocate for physical and mental health for years and my page is just a channel for everyday tips on nutrition and overall wellbeing.  

What have been your personal highlights at Sussex outside of class time? 

I’ve not had any particular highlights at Sussex because I stay off-campus. That being said, walks in different parks around Brighton. My favourite spot has to be near the beach as I feel so much more at peace and helps me disconnect from the immense overload of sensory experience. I believe being on your own does not have to be unhealthy or toxic, allowing yourself to sit with uncomfortable feelings, such as disconnection with others, allows you to know more about yourself, which contributes to personal growth. 

What have you been doing during lockdown?

 I took up the 56 miles running challenge with Cancer Research UK to raise money for cancer research. I successfully completed 56 miles in February and have gotten into a healthy exercise routine. I’m hoping to continue as it feels like a great way to connect with nature and listen to my favourite podcasts. 

What motivated you to get involved in those activities? 

Working towards a cause and being able to make a contribution motivates me to continue those activities. And a bigger picture of my overall health.

Where do you hope to take your activities in the future? 

I’m hoping to promote different health challenges within the University of Sussex for students from different clubs and societies and to encourage them to raise funds for organisations. I also want to create further awareness on the importance of nutrition, mental health and sleep in our lives.

Have you done any charity work in the past 12 months? If so, what did you do to raise money for those charities?

Role: Director in Public Affairs and Campaign Strategy at Child Awareness Project (CAP) (2016-present) 

This year, unlike previously, the majority of the advocacy projects moved online. One of the moments this year that I believe made a difference was a collaboration work with over 10 different individuals including myself on topics such as productivity during the pandemic, self-care and mindfulness, cyberbullying, habit formation, gratitude, resilience building, journaling, laws surrounding children, physical health and mental well-being and importance of handwashing. We all seem to be aware of these topics in passing but going in-depth and working with my team on making a consistent flow for the youth and children who follow us on social media was the most impactful and successful online campaigns CAP has run. 

Role: Project Leader at Shashwat Jigyasa (2020-present) 

Bushra delivering a training workshop on menstrual hygiene for Shashwat Jigyasa

In March 2020, I began a project on menstrual hygiene education for girls with Autism in Lucknow, India. We ran a successful workshop and were going to continue running in-person workshops for parents, caregivers and schools with special children, but due to the pandemic, I had to put a hold on on-field activities. I’ve been in the midst of training volunteers online and educating them about sexual education and menstrual hygiene and speaking with the girls’ parents to make the training more relevant and address the challenges mentioned by them. Lastly, the proudest moment of mine was raising over £500 for sanitary products for the schools so girls don’t have to miss school and be comfortable if they get their period during the school hours. Ongoing work with creating training manuals in Hindi and English for the parents. 

Other positions: 

"Taking the time and effort to go beyond what's expected of you and ensure that communities around you are being helped is what truly makes you a representative of TheirWorld"

Youth Opportunities – Global Youth Ambassador (Representative for India) 2020 

Theirworld – Global Youth Ambassador (Representative for India) 2020- present 

I’ve been doing work in communities for over eight years now in India, Oman, Vietnam, Malaysia and now the UK. My inspiration stems from the principle of paying it forward. 

Do you have a part-time job at University? If so, what is it, and what do you do in the role?

I currently hold three different positions:

International Student Ambassador (Part-time Job) 

My role focuses on working with the international student support and marketing team to help with Open Days, and emailing/speaking with students on the experience at Sussex, especially during the pandemic. Stating the pros and cons of being an international student in the UK and painting an honest picture of what the options are for the overseas students arriving at Sussex. 

Post Graduate International Student Representative (School of Psychology) 

My role focuses on being a voice for the international students at the School of Psychology. Whether that is talking about the attainment gap, feedback for examinations, further academic support for essays, providing further global examples in teaching and more. In addition to this, I also work with the UG International representative to create and leading events e.g. International Student Social.

This role is extremely important to me as there is a lack of representation for International Students at school level. The University of Sussex is a strong research-based university but it has a long way to go in catering completely for international students. 

Course Representative for MSc Clinical Psychology and Mental health program

My role focuses on creating a space for the students to contact me about any queries they might be having, whether they are course related e.g., EC claims or about their own physical or mental health. I help to provide resources on and off-campus after consulting with the student experience team, I make sure to inform the Student Director so they can provide any extra information. 

Are you feeling inspired? Log onto the Spirit of Sussex Award website to start logging points for your own extra-curricular activities to secure a Bronze, Silver or Gold Award. The award is open to all undergraduate and postgraduate students at Sussex, and you will receive your certificate at your Graduation ceremony. 

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ToyBox: a mental health start-up founded by students

Théoni Fernando is one of our students in the Occupational and Organisational Psychology MSc that we run in collaboration with the University of Sussex Business School. She and her friends Chloe, Diva and Arjin are the founders of ToyBox, a start-up company that promotes mental health. I’ve asked Théoni to explain a bit about their business and how they came up with the idea.

The concept behind ToyBox is that the mind is very much like a toy box. Toy boxes are usually filled with the same type of items: teddy bears, toy cars, building blocks, etc. But the combination and actual contents vary from box to box. This is similar to the mind. Most components are the same, such as the ability to feel or to think, but for every person it’s slightly different and has a different combination. This results in different personalities and individualities. As we are all so similar yet so uniquely different, the way we cope with mental health also varies. The purpose of ToyBox is to provide services and advice tailored for each individual, as well as to create a safe space for anyone who needs it.

We first had the idea of a business to promote mental health when we were studying for an undergraduate degree in psychology at the University of Kent. As students, we encountered poor mental health, whether mild or severe, and we became passionate about helping people to navigate the obstacles to access mental health services. We felt that, although steps have been taken to normalise mental health, there was still more to be done.

Since then, we’ve joined business start-up events at Kent, Sussex and outside uni. We started developing skills, learned how to pitch ideas, write business proposals, and figure out the intricacies of running a business. The project started feeling real when we wrote a 10-page business proposal and applied for 2 funding opportunities. This motivated us to get things started. We organised bi-weekly meetings and pushed our idea even further to create amazing things!

toybox logo

The current global pandemic has highlighted the importance of wellbeing and mental health. It has also made it difficult to provide any sort of in-person services or events. For this reason, in November 2020 we decided to launch our Instagram account @toybox_uk to raise awareness and reduce the stigma of mental health. Since then, we’ve also expanded into Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Spotify to reach a wider audience.

After much preparation, in January, we started themed months. Each month we tackle a different mental health issue through a variety of content. We publish posts full of information, meaningful quotes and stories of people who have struggled with mental health. We do Instagram live sessions to discuss issues surrounding the topic at hand. And we’ve also compiled a list of different media, such as tv shows, books and movies, that we think portray the mental health issue fairly. So far, we have discussed depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). And this April we are discussing autism for National Autism Awareness Month.

At the end of every month and after thorough research, Arjin choreographs and performs a dance to represent the mental health topic being discussed. We hope to show people a more honest and realistic portrayal of mental health in a unique and interesting way.

I host a podcast, “MusicBox Chatters”, which also airs near the end of the month. I present the topic in an enjoyable and educational manner. Occasionally, I also invite guests with experience with the monthly topic so that they can provide an insider’s perspective. At the beginning of the month, we ask our followers on social media to share their experiences with mental health or as friends and family of somebody who have experienced it. We hope real-life first-hand stories will help to educate and raise awareness, and thus reduce the stigma that mental health issues are all bad and scary.

To wrap up the month, we host a discussion session on Zoom called “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.” During these sessions, we recap the topic and give the public the chance to share their views. The event is not just for people who have experienced mental health problems. Our goal is to raise awareness. Everyone is welcome! 

If you’re interested in mental health, you can follow ToyBox on Instagram @toybox_uk where you’ll find more information and links to all their other social media channels. This month ToyBox is discussing autism. You’re invited to join their FREE Zoom discussion session on the 30th of April 2021 at 1pm (BST). Sign up now

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Creating a society that works for autistic people: The ACoRNS Health webinar

By Ethan Lam and Prof Nicola Yuill

The Autism Community Research Network Sussex was launched last year as a collaboration between Psychology and Education researchers at the University of Sussex and local autism stakeholders involved in education, health and social care services. ACoRNS is a sister organisation to AcoRN Southampton and seeks to develop, research, understand and share good practice in services used by autistic children and their families. The launch event focused on re-imagining education: 1 in 100 children in UK schools is autistic and the Covid-19 pandemic threw into sharp relief the pressures that autistic pupils can experience.

ACoRNS logo, an upside down acorn with 3 stick men on the green part covered by a rainbow. The acorn is surrounded by the message Autism Community Research Network

We held our second event on 24th March, focusing on Re-imagining Healthcare in Autism. The Westminster Commission on Autism identified many ways that autistic people experience greater health risks and reduced life expectancy compared to the general population. How can healthcare be made more accessible? Seven speakers presented their experiences and new initiatives.

Dr Stephanie Daley from the Brighton & Sussex Medical School (BSMS) shared their progress of setting up a ground-breaking new programme, Time for Autism, based on the award-winning Time for Dementia initiative. Families were concerned about doctors’ lack of awareness and understanding about autism, meaning that it is a challenge to provide care and treatment in ways that consider the specific needs of autistic patients. Parents felt that communication between healthcare professionals was not efficient and that they, as the experts of their child, wanted to be listened to more. Time for Autism starts in September 2021 as a mandatory part of medical student training at BSMS. Each student will visit a family with an autistic child over the course of a year. The goal is for medical students to develop a relationship with the families and understand more about their lived experiences, creating a new generation of doctors who can adapt to better suit the needs of families and their autistic child. The project is encouraging families to sign up to take part.

Dr Samantha Holt, a researcher in autism from the Children and Technology Lab (University of Sussex) shared her experiences as a parent of an autistic daughter. She described how challenging a visit to the GP can be. Being in an unfamiliar and busy environment creates anxiety and having to sit and wait exacerbates the level of stress her daughter experiences. Sam shared some of the strategies she has developed over the year, including bringing a DVD player with her daughter’s favourite movies playing and asking for a separate place to wait. She recalled a time that her daughter was seriously ill and the difficulty of getting into an ambulance, as the system could not cope with them arriving in their own familiar car.

Following the tragic death of Oliver McGowan, his mother Paula McGowan started a petition to campaign for mandatory training for autism and learning disabilities in health practitioners and she shared the recent progress of the scheme with us. The Oliver McGowan Mandatory Training in Learning Disability and Autism Awareness, co-designed by autistic people, is based on the Capabilities Framework for Supporting People with a Learning Disability and Autistic People. It aims to educate all health and social care staff on what these issues are and how they affect people living with it, how to apply reasonable adjustments consistently across contexts, and for staff to reflect on their own behaviours, biases and prejudices. Another goal Paula hopes to achieve is for health practitioners to develop skills to communicate well with the patients themselves and to work with them collaboratively on their treatment. The ultimate objective is for healthcare for learning disabled and autistic people to reach outcomes at the same level as in the general population.

Dr Jennifer Parry, consultant in paediatric dentistry from the Sussex Community Foundation NHS Trust, talked about overcoming the difficulties of attending dental care experienced by autistic people. Dental surgeries can be very challenging for autistic people with sensory sensitivities: the bright lights, the closeness of the dentist and the probing instruments in the mouth, as well as the smells, can all trigger real distress. The trust has increased training for staff in ASD following feedback of experiences during the pandemic. The training consists of 2 videos, the first from an autistic person’s point of view showing some possible triggers for anxiety they may encounter in a dental surgery. They then ask staff to reflect and think of possible solutions to ease these anxieties. The second video shows how they might adapt their practice and the way they talk to their patients, such as explaining what is going to happen and why, and giving time for patients to process the information they have been given.

Dr Ian Male and Will Farr of the autism diagnostic clinic at Sussex Community Foundation NHS Trust shared their current project on improving the diagnostic pathways for Autism. The pandemic has accelerated the move from in-person practices to more digital ones like online GP calls and video observation. The project came about because of the concerns about the long waiting times and growing waiting lists for autism diagnosis. Many families saw the use of video observation as positive, but it also places challenges to standardised testing, as variations in the environment affect the reliability and validity of diagnostic testing. They also spoke about integrating different professionals across fields to improve competencies and skills.

Finally, Professor Nicola Yuill from the Children & Technology Lab shared the early work on the new Our Stories project, in collaboration with the University of Southampton ACoRNS group. Our Stories builds on the Autism Transitions project which co-creates video stories showing the perspectives of autistic children. The Sussex part of Our Stories is working with Time for Autism and with Just Right, an initiative in Brighton & Hove schools that aims to support autistic children manage their emotions in the classroom environment to help them be in the best frame of mind for learning.  The project is working with a technology company, PALS Society, to produce video stories with children and young people,  and virtual tours of settings so that people can ‘walk round’ virtually before they even enter a building.

The breakout groups produced lively discussions about how health services could adapt, and how quickly these new initiatives might help close the health gaps.

Ethan Lam is a Psychology undergrad student doing a placement year with the Children and Technology Lab (ChatLab). Nicola Yuill is a professor of Developmental Psychology in the School of Psychology at Sussex. She is part of the Developmental and Clinical Psychology research group, the director of the Children and Technology Lab and one of the founders of ACoRNS.

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Spirit of Sussex Award -Psychology Nominees: Shannon Plant

The Spirit of Sussex Award (SoSA) Connector team has been in contact with Psychology students to highlight their impressive extra-curricular activities. This month the SOSA Connector team wish to highlight the activities of Shannon Plant, a second-year Psychology with Neuroscience student. 

This is what Shannon had to tell about her activities outside her course:

Have you been a part of any societies whilst at Sussex? If so, which ones, why did you join and what did you do for them? 

Yes! I joined the board games society when I joined Sussex, however more recently I joined the neuroscience society, created their discord server and organised their first social event (I even made the poster for the event!)  

What are the best things about being a part of those societies? 

I think the best part of being in any society is being able to talk to like-minded people and have intellectual discussions that aren’t assessed and as such are much more relaxed.  

What have been your personal highlights at Sussex outside of class time?

I think a big personal highlight was joining the active US beginner’s running group in my foundation year, as I had never run before and it helped me really get into running – I run 6 days a week now!  

What have you been doing during lockdown?  

During lockdown, I started a small business selling stickers I had manufactured based on designs I’d created. It really helped me continue to have things to do and look forward to, as well as developing organisational skills, digital marketing skills, building a network of friends selling their artwork online in the UK and slowly learning how to create digital art! I still have a lot to learn, but it is extremely fun and satisfying to see my progress and seeing products I’ve created being used and enjoyed by people across the country and in the US. 

What motivated you to get involved in those activities? Where do you hope to take your activities in the future?  

I was motivated to start a business by becoming more interested in art communities on social media and seeing small businesses that they had built. I also really enjoyed challenging myself to invest in it and see how much I was able to grow. In future I’m planning on expanding with more designs and eventually a wider array of products, I’d also like to try to find ways to make my small business as eco-friendly as possible, so I’ve been hunting around for UK and EU manufacturers that have similar values while I have been closed. 

As for running, it became a really good tool over lockdown to help with my mental health, and I have since started challenging myself to get further and further each month hoping to work up to being able to run a half marathon soon – although I have a long way to go! 

How else have you been staying busy/connecting with others during lockdown?   

I’ve been staying busy during lockdown by focusing on school, sharing revision resources and trying to arrange occasional study sessions over discord. I have also been running a D&D campaign once a week and caring for my grandmother to connect with others.  

Have you done any charity work in the past 12 months? If so, what did you do to raise money for those charities?  

I raised £100 for Kent Surrey Sussex air ambulance over January by participating in their Run31 challenge! The challenge was to run 31 miles over the whole month and I ended up at over 100 miles. I think I was inspired by the air ambulance in particular, as it is local and what they do is extremely important. 

Do you have a part-time job at University? If so, what is it, and what do you do in the role? 

I have a part-time job working at my local village club! I essentially manage the bar for the members, it’s very small so I know everyone there (and what they drink!). Being friendly and remembering what drinks they like (and how they like them) is most of what I do. However, I was also hired as a cleaner there before lockdown. I have also recently been put in charge of their social media presence but as we aren’t open, I haven’t done much yet aside from setting up the Facebook page and designing the new profile picture! 

Are you feeling inspired? Log onto the Spirit of Sussex Award website to start logging points for your own extra-curricular activities to secure a Bronze, Silver or Gold Award. The award is open to all undergraduate and postgraduate students at Sussex, and you will receive your certificate at your Graduation ceremony.

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World Sleep Day 2021: 4 top tips for a good night’s sleep

Teenaged girl sleeping in a dark room sharing the bed with a black cat.

Today is World Sleep Day, and this year’s focus is ‘Regular Sleep, Healthy Future’.

Most of us have experienced the consequences of a bad night’s sleep at some point in our lives. It can make us grumpy and agitated, emotionally reactive, and it can be hard to focus. But how much does the quality of our sleep play a role in our long-term wellbeing?

First it may be helpful to understand the two basic processes that help us to sleep. The first is our circadian rhythm, this is our body clock, it runs on approximately a 24-hour clock, and is responsible for the release of hormones that instruct our body when to initiate sleep. The second is sleep homeostasis, or rather sleep ‘pressure’. This works on the simple basis that the longer we are awake, the more pressure we build, and the easier it is to fall asleep. This pressure then dissipates over the course of the night. In order to get a good night’s sleep, the circadian rhythm should be preparing for sleep at the point in which our sleep pressure is reaching its peak.

My research examines the impact of sleep difficulties in teenagers. During our teenage years, a range of factors result in us going to bed later. This is due bioregulatory processes, i.e. changes in our circadian rhythm and homeostasis, as well as psychological and social factors such as socialising in the evening. However, this delayed bedtime is not matched with a delayed wake up time on school days, due to consistent school start-times. So whilst it is recommended that teenagers receive 8-10 hours sleep a night (Paruthi et al., xx), less than a third of teenagers worldwide actually achieve this (Eaton et al., 2010).

Whilst some teenagers can function with less sleep, or can sufficiently ‘catch up’ at the weekend, others may find that they are becoming increasingly ‘sleep deprived’ and may begin to experience consequences of a more persistent sleep problem.

Using data from the ‘Children of the 90’s’ research, otherwise known as the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, we were able to look at the relationship between teenage sleep and later mental health (Orchard et al., 2020). We found that total sleep time on school nights, and the quality of the sleep, at age 15, was predictive of anxiety and depression at ages 17, 21 and 24.

To add fuel to the fire, over the past year whilst we have been adjusting to life in the COVID-19 pandemic, young people are on average experiencing greater difficulties getting to sleep, and staying asleep, compared to pre-pandemic. They are also going to bed even later. At this stage it is not known whether these exaggerated sleep problems are putting young people at greater risk of mental health difficulties.

So it would appear that the slogan for this year’s World Sleep Day, ‘Regular Sleep, Healthy Future’, does carry an important message, for all of us, but perhaps particularly for our young people. So what can we do about this potential sleep crisis?

There are some really well evidenced tips and tricks for improving sleep, drawing on cognitive and behavioural techniques for treating insomnia. These are relevant to adults as well as teenagers.

Four top tips for a good night’s sleep:

1. Stick to a routine

It is helpful to maintain consistent bedtimes and waketimes across weekdays and weekends. A consistent routine will ensure that our body knows when to release our sleep hormones, as well as building up the right amount of pressure each day to be able to get to sleep more easily.

2. Avoid napping

Napping interferes with the processes that initiate sleep, particularly the build-up of sleep pressure. If we nap, some of this pressure dissipates and there is less pressure to encourage us to feel tired when we get to bedtime.

3. Wind down and switch off

It is important to dedicate time in the evening to switch off from work or study, and from electronic devices. This might include having a relaxation routine, or it might involve writing in a journal to offload any worries or stresses from the day.

4. Utilise your environment

Keeping the bedroom dark and cool during the night, and opening the curtains first thing in the morning, will support the sleeping and waking process. We also want to create a strong association between bed and sleep. This may be particularly relevant for young people who often spend a lot of time in the bedroom. It is good to avoid doing any stimulating activities in bed, such as studying or gaming, and if possible, to do these things in a different room altogether.

Dr Faith Orchard is a lecturer in Developmental and Clinical Psychology. Her research aims to understand the factors involved in adolescent depression, including negative thinking patterns and sleep disturbances.

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The Role of Collective Psychological Empowerment in the Capitol Insurrection

By Carina Hoerst

On January 6 this year, Trump supporters gather in front of the White House to attend Donald Trump’s rally to “Stop the Steal”. Confederate and USA flags, together with those bearing “Trump 2020” and “Jesus saves” mark the scene. Among the crowd of red MAGA caps: young and old, women and men, and even some people of colour.

Rioters outside the US Capitol on January 6th 2021
Tyler Merbler from USA – DSC09254-2CC BY 2.0

Near the Washington Capitol, another group is already getting organised, skipping the rally completely: the far-right group, the Proud Boys, infamously known for their racist and misogynist agenda. Remember when Trump told them to “stand back and stand by”? – well, they answered by “Standing by sir.”

Not surprisingly then, when rally attendees arrive at the Capitol, members of the Proud Boys significantly drive the forceful access to the building. Chants like “USA, USA”, “stop the steal”, and “our house” are dominating the scene. Now united, the self-defined “patriots” (a term commonly used among the far-right) are on a mission to take over the Capitol. Only a minority amongst the crowd – now dominantly white male, is covering their faces, however, the majority is seemingly not camera-shy.

While some of the documentation has been provided by on-site journalists, a significant amount of live footage was streamed, uploaded, and shared online by white supremacists themselves. While this was mainly directed towards like-minded others, the question remains why anyone would publicly document their part taking in gaining unauthorised access to a government building.

From a social psychological perspective, one answer to this is because rioters perceived that what they did was right and justified. However, a commonly neglected variable in the explanation of collective action, we suggest, is collective empowerment. But what would the sources of empowerment be in this case?

In my research, I investigate the question of how racists become vicariously empowered by events of socio-political importance and what consequences this entails. In a recent study, we surveyed Democrats and Republicans a month before and two weeks after the 2020 US election. We found that Republicans who expected an electoral victory experienced a drop in collective psychological empowerment from before to after the election, suggesting that election results can have profound effects on supporters’ sense of power and possibility. Empowerment is a continuum and can go both ways: while perceived electoral defeat of one’s supported party is associated with disempowerment, perceived electoral victory can lead to empowerment.

The motivation to partake in violent action can thereby come from multiple ways. First, there is a “cognitive pathway” involving a shared social identity leading to expectations that ingroup others will support actions we might take in line with our norms. We believe that dynamics observed in progressive movements can also be applied to situations in which a shared social identity is characterised by self-defined injustice: Trump supporters were convinced that Donald Trump was the legitimate winner and the Republican Party in power, and therefore that a majority in the public would agree with them in their actions to realise this victory.

The other way to empowerment and hence collective action derives from a “strategic” pathway which does not require identifying with the wider group, but which follows from the vulnerability of a shared outgroup, in this case, the government. This can explain why the Proud Boys were mobilised not only through Donald Trump’s approval, but significantly through the immediate situation that was handed to them, realising their agenda, and entering a “combat zone”.

The enactment of rioters’ shared anti-government identity was, however, not only an attack on the American legislature but also sends a threatening message out to marginalised communities. It thereby does not solely derive from those storming the building but also from those “opening” doors. The existing double standard among the police is obvious: while BLM protesters, who were fighting police brutality against African Americans and systemic racism, were faced with lethal treatment by the police or confronted with heavily armed special forces summer last year, white officers apparently facilitated gaining access to the building last month, literally enabling the Capitol rioters. As an African American police officer reports, he was not only called by the n-word 15 times that day, but he was also let down by his white superior and colleagues.

The risk for target groups is further increased through the effects the mobilisation has on racists and white supremacists themselves: a successfully enacted collective identity as a consequence of an empowerment experience can lead to further empowerment and corresponding action in the future. Although objectively speaking, the riot could be viewed as a failed attempt to take over, the definition of “success” depends upon how it is framed: the sheer ability to gain access to the building on January 6 was perceived amongst the international far-right scene as showing “positive potential”, and individual rioters were even hailed as heroes.

Thus, analysing the dynamics behind collective psychological empowerment is crucial to understand why, when, and how hate crimes and far-right violence occur. More importantly, though is thereby to understand how we can disempower perpetrators to make scenes as seen last month not happening again.

Carina Hoerst is a PhD student in Social Psychology under the supervision of Prof John Drury. This post was originally published on the Crowds and Identities Research Group blog.

Find out more about our research on Social and Applied Psychology.

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6 Frequently Asked Questions about Recycling

As part of our green commitment, every week we publish a series of sustainability tips on our staff newsletter. These are some of the most common questions that our staff and PhD students have asked our Faculty Green Officer, Dr Charlotte Rae:

1. What do the numbers and symbols mean on plastic items?

If you look closely at your plastic item, you will spot a number (1-7) and letters (such as PET or PP). The number is a resin identification code and indicates the type of plastic the item is made from. You will most commonly find types 1 and 2 on plastic bottles (clear and opaque respectively), type 4 on plastic bags and wrappers, type 5 on hot food containers, and 7 for ‘everything else’. These numbers are used by recycling processing plants to sort the waste into categories by plastic-type.

Historically, in the UK, local authorities often asked you as the consumer to inspect all your plastic items for these codes, and only put items with the numbers they collected in your recycling bin. However, they have since recognised that expecting residents to inspect every time and remember which numbers are ok and which are not accepted is a barrier to engaging in recycling. So, most local authorities now ask you to consider the type of item – such as plastic bottle, bag, or pot/tub/tray – instead of the number.

Here’s a summary of what plastic items you can put in recycling bins on campus, and in your residential collection in various local authorities:

On campusYESnono
Brighton & HoveYESnono
Lewes DistrictYESYESYES
Mid Sussex District CouncilYESnoYES
Wealden District CouncilYESYESYES

2. Should I take lids off plastic bottles before recycling or leave them on?

This unfortunately is something that also differs amongst local authorities, but most now accept bottles with lids on. The lid is then taken care of at the recycling processing plant. Here is a summary:

AuthorityLids on?
On campusYES
Brighton & HoveYES
Lewes DistrictYES
Mid Sussex District Councilno
Wealden District CouncilYES

Wash and squash bottles if possible before recycling (helps take up less space in lorry and thus more recycling can be collected with fewer lorry miles).

3. Why won’t my local authority accept an item when others do?

In a word, finances: difficult to recycle items with low re-manufacture value (such as plastic pots, tubs & trays) often cost the authority to dispose of, so they are faced with the difficult decision of having to balance the sustainability benefits against increases to council tax.

The best solution (until national legislation places the burden of disposal cost on manufacturers) is to reduce, and reuse, before you recycle – i.e. try to avoid buying plastic items where possible.

4. Are glass jar and bottle lids metal or plastic? Can I recycle them?

Most glass jars and bottles are sealed with a metal lid that has a plastic lining. These are recycled as metals rather than plastics, because the plastic component is burned off during the recycling process to leave the metal, which can then be remanufactured.

Most local authorities accept both glass jar and bottle lids in their recycling collections. Brighton & Hove will accept glass jar lids, but not bottle lids (this is probably due to the small size of bottle lids, which can cause problems during waste sorting by falling through gaps in machinery, rather than the plastic presence). I could not find any info about whether we can recycle metal lids on campus, but if you are recycling glass jars and bottles on campus, please put them in separate dedicated glass recycling bins rather than the mixed recycling bins.

AuthorityJar lids?Bottle lids?
On campusProbablyProbably
Brighton & HoveYESno
Lewes DistrictYESYES
Mid Sussex District CouncilYESYES
Wealden District CouncilYESYES

5. Can I recycle Tetrapaks & cartons?

These food and drink containers are items that contain a mixture of cardboard, foil, and plastic. As a result they are hard to recycle, because only the cardboard can be recycled and the other components have to be incinerated.

Although these items can technically be recycled (or at least, the cardboard component can), many authorities will not accept them for recycling because it is such an involved (and therefore expensive) process. Try to avoid purchasing items packaged in tetrapaks and cartons if the item is available in another form of packaging (e.g. passata comes in glass jars as well as cartons).

While Brighton & Hove will not accept tetrapaks in their doorstep recycling collections, you can take them to drop-off recycling points around the city.

AuthorityTetrapaks & cartons?
On campusYES – York House car park
Brighton & HoveTake to recycling point
Lewes Districtno
Mid Sussex District CouncilYES
Wealden District Councilno

6. Where can I recycle batteries?

All household batteries, like AA, AAA, and C ‘button-shaped’ batteries (used in watches and kitchen scales), can be recycled. (So can car batteries and mobile phone batteries, but that’s for another day!)

Some local authorities will accept household batteries in your doorstep collection (see below). Otherwise, you can take your batteries to drop-off points, including council recycling centres, and some supermarkets (search for your nearest here, selecting ‘Where to recycle a specific item’ -> Batteries -> location: https://www.recyclenow.com/local-recycling).

On campus, there are battery recycling boxes where you can deposit batteries (please do not put in the mixed recycling bins). We have one in Pevensey 1 opposite the staff kitchen, which you can use for household batteries from home as well as any you use at work.

However, if possible, it’s best to use rechargeable batteries rather than single-use ones. These are mostly AA and AAA rather than the circular types used in for example kitchen scales, so it may not be possible for all household items. If you can switch to rechargeable batteries, a charger will cost around £10-15, which is soon recouped. And if you have a renewable energy supplier at home, your batteries will be charged with green electricity too. Be aware that you CANNOT put non-rechargeable batteries in a charger – they are made of different materials and this would be both dangerous and risk damaging your charger!

If you do purchase single-use batteries, look for those containing recycled content for ‘closed loop’ recycling. However, some I purchased recently, upon reading the small print, contained only 4% recycled material! So it really is better to reduce, REUSE, recycle by switching to rechargeable batteries where possible.

AuthorityWhere to recycle batteries?
On campusDrop off in battery recycling box
Brighton & HoveTake to household waste recycling site
Lewes DistrictTake to household waste recycling site
Mid Sussex District CouncilTake to household waste recycling site
Wealden District CouncilDoorstep collection: place in a separate plastic bag on top of recycling bin (plastic bag will also be recycled)

Do you have a recycling question? Contact Charlotte Rae.

In addition to being Psychology’s Faculty Green Officer, Dr Charlotte Rae is the director of the Adaptive Behavioural Control Lab which researches the processes by which how we feel (interoception) influences how we behave (action). She feels passionately about the environmental impacts of academic activities, which is why she became the Founding Chair of the Organization for Human Brain Mapping’s Sustainability and Environment Action Special Interest Group.

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The American Psychiatric Association’s apology to ‘Black, Indigenous, and People of Color’: Performative Action or Genuine Atonement?

By Alexandra Taylor

On January 18th, 2021, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) released the ‘APA’s Apology to Black, Indigenous and People of Color for Its Support of Structural Racism in Psychiatry‘. The letter from its Board of trustees aimed to acknowledge the institution’s shameful racist history. There is still, without question, a long way to go before we see equality in the field, but this apology is a start.

Their statement marks a milestone in Psychiatry. The institution has a history of racist practices dating back to its inception in 1844, including its founding segregated treatment system. At the time, the diagnosis ‘drapetomania’ was accepted – a diagnosis of mental illness for Black people who disliked the idea of being enslaved. Racist theories of white superiority were continually evidenced by the APA’s ‘scientific’ research. Despite outcry from its ethnic minority members, the APA continued to stay silent on racist practices throughout the US Civil Rights Movement. Their 2021 apology statement and historical addendum finally acknowledge their historic support of a racist agenda and apologise to those affected. But is this really the turning point they describe?

The statement makes no attempt to explain why it has not come sooner. The APA’s newest President Jeffrey Geller, MD, MPH, spearheaded its publication. As quoted by the APA’s newspaper Psychiatric News, he stated, “the events of 2020 – the killings of Black people by police, the health inequities laid bare by the pandemic – were an eye-opener for many among our membership.” A disappointing, but typical, admission of the distress levels BAME people must endure to be recognised.

The apology must be followed by tangible action to avoid going down in history as performative. ‘Anti-racist’ is a critical phrase the APA used to describe their future. Real anti-racism will require them to change their racist policies, meaning all those leading to racist outcomes. Currently, they acknowledge that leadership, education and training, research, and outcomes for patients must all be improved. Still today, we inappropriately pathologise people dealing with the effects of racism. Although their apology is admirable, it must preface structural change.

All related disciplines will need to take positive action to overcome the inequality of our social services. The APA’s institution-wide apology is a necessary step for scientific integrity. But more importantly, it is a step towards practitioners who recognise the intergenerational trauma that has been created and continues to be perpetuated by our disciplines.

Cartoon shows Black Lives Matter protestors trying to force the BPS ostrich to take its head out of the sand

As a future psychologist in the UK, I implore the British Psychological Society (BPS) to follow suit. In June of 2020, the BPS released a statement in solidarity with those feeling pain due to the year’s racial injustices. Yet, after being called out in July, they silently removed an article available on their website ‘evidencing’ the low IQ of ‘Negroids’ and small genitalia of ‘Mongoloids’. Countless incidents such as these show that although an apology is only a first step, many institutions are still not ready to take it. They would first need to grasp what it is they are apologising for.

The psychology of apologies tells us that little concern for the victim and worries about self-image are barriers to apologising. An institutional apology, therefore, shows basic respect for those impacted by racist research and practice. Institutional egos are notoriously fragile, so I commend the APA for doing the right thing. However, an apology could never heal the pain their racism has caused for entire generations. It must now be the catalyst of a radical transformation into an organisation that carries no lingering trace of racism and condemns prejudice utterly, in thought, word and deed, to history.

Alex is currently studying our MSc in Experimental Psychology. She previously completed a BSc in Mathematics at King’s College London.

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Mitigating the new variant SARS-CoV-2 virus: How to support public adherence to physical distancing

By John Drury

Journalists often ask me how the public will behave when the next set of Covid-19 restrictions begins. Will they accept the rules or ignore them? This matters crucially right now. With rising infections in many areas of the country, and with the new variant of the virus rampant, physical distancing and other behavioural interventions are more important than ever.

The first thing I point out in response is that adherence to most of the behavioural regulations has been very high (often over 90%) throughout the pandemic. 

The second thing I say is that adherence to physical distancing and avoiding contacts with others goes up in lockdown periods This probably reflects the recognition in the public that the greater restrictions signal greater need to adopt the mitigating measures.

Yet both anecdotes and the survey data suggest that adherence to 2m physical distancing declined in early December following the end of the second ‘lockdown’. It’s worth looking more closely at these dynamics of physical distancing, because this behaviour is perhaps the most visible form of adherence, and it is the one where breaches are often the subject of critical comments.

The UCL Covid-19 Social Study (data collected up to 13th December) shows that ‘complete’ and ‘majority’ compliance went up during the November ‘lockdown’, but that ‘as these [restrictions] have been eased in the past month, compliance has started to decrease again’. 

The Office for National Statistics weekly survey for data collected period 2 to 6 December noted a drop (albeit small) in distancing behaviour (whereas for other protective behaviours the compliance rate remained high).

Data from Office for National Statistics, 2-6 December 2020, showing distancing behaviours

Journalists and others are ready to frame any such decline in adherence to physical distancing as public ‘fatigue’ – an ‘explanation’ we have heard from the beginning of the pandemic.

It is true, of course, that the behavioural interventions are hard to endure – and some (such as self-isolation) are a lot harder than others (such as handwashing). But recent analysis of public responses over the course of the pandemic is not consistent with the notion of ‘fatigue’. The review showed that (1) Overall adherence has been high, as already mentioned (2) There is not a linear decline (3) Intention has also remained high.

What is the real psychology that determines levels of adherence to physical distancing? There is now plenty of evidence on the psychological predictors. First, knowledge and perception of risk matter. Second, there is the belief that physical distancing is effective in providing protection. Third, a number of studies show that social norms, and in particular whether relevant others are doing the same, predicts own adherence. Fourth, group identification has been found to be a predictor, including national identification and identification with the family. Fifth, linked to this, we physically distance as a way of caring for others, and so empathy for those most vulnerable to the virus is also a predictor. Finally, a negatively predictor is low trust in government. This last point ties in with what we know about predictors of other behavioural mitigations, confidence in government action against the virus, being one of the most important.

Levels of public adherence to physical distancing have varied over time. There is evidence that key public events have affected the psychological predictors and hence adherence to distancing.

In May, there was a clear reduction in reported distancing (identified in both the ONS survey and the UCL Covid-19 Social Study) which appeared to be linked to two developments. First there was a change in the messaging (from ‘stay home’ to ‘stay alert’); this impacted upon people’s understanding of what they should actually do, as it was an injunction about how to feel rather than a specific behaviour.

Also in May, there was for some people an alienation from the government in response to the Cummings incident, which starkly revealed that while most people would be fined for breaking the rules, some would not. 

Timeline of COVID-related messages and key COVID events

There was a further decline in adherence levels in July. This appeared to be a result of a signalling effect whereby there was a media fanfare around ‘freedom’ and ‘end of lockdown’ leading up to the relaxation of restrictions on July 4th. 

The decline in public adherence to physical distancing observed in early December may be due to a signalling effect similar to that in July. The positive publicity around the vaccine (approved December 2nd), the announcement of the relaxation for 5 days at Christmas (made on 24th November), and the ending of the second ‘lockdown’ (December 2nd) all came at the same time. Together they may well have communicated that risk is now lower and therefore less stringent adherence to physical distancing is required. 

But with rising Covid infections in many areas of the country, and with the new variant of the virus at large, physical distancing and other behavioural interventions are more important than ever. For the public, it’s worth reminding ourselves that:

  • Physical distancing works (efficacy)
  • Most of your neighbours and wider circle are observing physical distancing most of the time (norms)
  • Think of those most vulnerable to the virus (empathy)
  • Do it for ‘us’ as a way of showing you care (group identification)

For the UK government, it’s important to avoid those actions that undermine these public beliefs and perceptions, and to increase those actions that support public understanding of and engagement with physical distancing and the other mitigating behaviours. This would mean:

John Drury is Professor of Social Psychology and leader of the Groups and COVID Research Group. He is currently Director of Research and Knowledge Exchange at the School of Psychology. This post was originally published on the blog of the Crowds and Identities Research Group.

Find out more about our research on Social and Applied Psychology.

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Alcohol Addiction Research

By Dr Bryan Singer

The Sussex Addiction Research and Intervention Centre (SARIC) is made up of a collection of investigators who are dedicated to understanding the biopsychosocial underpinnings of addiction and developing rational therapies for its treatment. Over the years, SARIC has been extraordinarily active in investigating why there is variation across individuals in the magnitude of binge-drinking and the susceptibility to developing an alcohol use disorder. The laboratory of Professor Dora Duka, for example, uncovered that individual differences in impulsive behaviours and emotional-processing can impact alcohol consumption, as well as how unique patterns of brain activity regulate these processes. The laboratory of SARIC researcher Professor Aldo Badiani has also found that alcohol consumption may alter an individual’s perception, including by enhancing the control a person feels they have over situations (an increased ‘sense of agency’).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Bryan Singer’s lab at SARIC has started assessing how patterns of drug and alcohol use, as well as behavioural addictions such as gambling, have been changing. Participants were given several online questionnaires asking them to compare their behaviours during the pandemic to the previous year (research conducted by Adam Dickinson and Vlada Yarosh). While the data collected are still preliminary, some interesting patterns have emerged. In our previous work, we have proposed that the act of drug-seeking may not always be dominated by habitual behaviours, as some research groups suggest; we argue that individuals who have an addiction may need to adapt to ever-changing circumstances to obtain their drug of choice. Our initial findings regarding alcohol use during the pandemic support this idea; individuals changed their behaviours to adapt to where and how they acquired alcohol (Figure 1). Preliminary data regarding cannabis use are similar. These initial findings highlight that drug- and alcohol-use may continue to be problematic during the pandemic and that individuals may be adapting how they pursue drugs and alcohol to continue their use.

In a second effort to investigate if the reasons for alcohol and drug use have been changing during COVID-19, we have identified, thus far, two possible relationships. First, alcohol-use is strongly associated with employment status; individuals who have lost their job and have remained unemployed are at increased risk of showing symptoms of an alcohol use disorder. While we have not found a similar relationship between employment status and cannabis use, it appears that the degree of cannabis use is positively correlated with pandemic-related worry. Together, these preliminary findings suggest that during the pandemic how people are obtaining and why people are using alcohol and drugs may be changing.  

Across research groups, SARIC is committed to understanding all aspects of alcohol use disorder and devising novel treatments to help individuals and communities impacted by the condition. Dry January, which is supported by research from SARIC’s Dr Richard De Visser, requires that individuals commit to an alcohol-free life during the month; this has a long-term effect, helping people to reduce their alcohol-consumption throughout the year. Therefore, minimising alcohol use during January’s COVID-19 lockdown in the UK should reduce drinking in subsequent months, as pandemic-related restrictions are lifted and life slowly returns to normal.

Bryan Singer is a Lecturer in Psychology and co-director of the Sussex Addiction Research and Intervention Centre (SARIC). He is also part of the Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience research group in the School of Psychology.

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