Maximise your potential……it just take an hour a day.

“The data suggest that spending 60 minutes a day doing homework is a reasonable and effective time.”

Read a recent article from The Independent Newspaper highlighting a recent study investigating the study habits of successful students.

Here though is a key finding….

…………did significantly better in standardised exams if they had done homework on their own in regular hour-long blocks, researchers from the University of Oviedo found. Students who were assigned homework regularly received nearly 50 more test points than their previous exams…………

Good to know.

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Ethics in Psychology…….a necessary evil?

The answer is absolutely yes. When you think of controversy in Psychology ethics is often the starting point.  But are we in danger of limiting our ability to validly measure behaviour by imposing too strict ethical principles?  All psychology students are well versed in studies of historical importance but also ethically controversial, Milgram, Zimbardo, Bandura, Freud, Rosenhan, Watson and Rayner  to name a few of the more infamous cases.

Animal behavioural experimentation has also all but long been confined to the history books particularly as the Behaviourist principles fell out of favour in the 1960’s (Behaviourists believed that there was only a quantitative difference between humans and animals and thus pigeons, rats, cats, dogs, etc. were all easily accessible test subjects.  Human participants have been the main focus in the past 50 years however ethical concerns has always been and (always will be the necessary evil).  Psychology today understands that validity has to come second to the protection of harm either psychologically or physically of participants.

The British Psychological Society – has identified 4 core Ethical principles that need to be adhered to.

1) Respect for the autonomy, privacy and dignity of individuals and communities.

Psychologists value the dignity and worth of all persons equally, with sensitivity to the dynamics of perceived authority or influence over others and with particular regard to people’s rights including those of privacy and self-determination’

2) Scientific integrity. 

 Research should be designed, reviewed and conducted in a way that ensures its quality, integrity and contribution to the development of knowledge and understanding. Research that is judged within a research community to be poorly designed or conducted wastes resources and devalues the contribution of the The British Psychological Society participants. At worst it can lead to misleading information being promulgated and can have the potential to cause harm.

3)  Social responsibility.

The discipline of psychology, both as a science and a profession, exists within the context of human society. Accordingly, a shared collective duty for the welfare of human and non-human beings, both within the societies in which psychology researchers live and work, and beyond them, must be acknowledged by those conducting the research.

4) Maximising benefit and minimising harm.

Responsibility of the Code of Ethics and Conduct, psychologists should consider all research from the standpoint of the research participants, and any other persons, groups or communities who may be potentially affected by the research, with the aim of avoiding potential risks to psychological well-being, mental health, personal values, the invasion of privacy or dignity.

Here is an extract from The British Psychological Society website discussing how they deal with key issues pertaining to ethics.

Question: If I wanted to do a small piece of research looking at the general public’s perceptions of risk (about drug taking, offending and outdoor activities), how can I do it independently? I would like to do some research but it won’t be anything to do with the university and hypothetically, would involve asking people on the street to volunteer to take part. The aim would be to have people volunteer through the provision of informed consent. Obviously, I would not like to proceed with research unless it has been reviewed by an Ethics Committee. I have the latest code of ethics and conduct but cannot find information about what to do when there is no obvious ethics committee. It is critical to adhere to the guidelines as I am a professional.

Answer: We would strongly recommend that you submit the research proposal for consideration under your university’s institutional ethics procedure.

There are several reasons why we recommend you to do so:

First, as a protection for the participants, so that your research protocol can be properly reviewed and best advice given as to any modifications to cover eventualities/risks not previously anticipated.

Second, as a protection for yourself. The specifics of this case put you at risk of being in a situation where the fact that confidentiality can never be absolute is activated as the research sets out to canvas ideas/options about potentially illegal activities (drug taking, offending behaviour). This leaves you in a tricky dilemma if participants disclose actual engagement in illegal activity; you may have a legal duty to pass that information on, and if so how does this impact then on informed consent aspects related to confidentiality and anonymity of participants’ disclosures? The duty of care might override any confidentiality clause in consent. It is crucial that a risk management strategy is in place and has been reviewed by a competent body such as an institutional ethics committee. Personal liability insurance may or may not be in place (it perhaps should be), but if it is and there is a claim against you for negligence, if there has not been ethical review, the insurers would have a case for refusing to cover a claim.

Third, as a protection for the institution. Even if the study is done independently, the press are more than happy to link lecturers’ personal behaviour with their professional posts and name the institutions. It is not hard to envisage a situation where this proposed study might be reported in such a way as to bring the institution into disrepute.

The Society’s Code of Ethics and Conduct also provides guidance on the general ethical principles that should be borne in mind.

Informed consent

Question: I am planning some research involving volunteer participants. How do I go about obtaining consent and what form should this take?

Answer: Researchers should ensure that every person from whom data is gathered for the purposes of research consents freely to the process on the basis of adequate information. They should be able, during the data gathering phase, to freely withdraw or modify their consent and to ask for the destruction of all or part of the data that they have contributed.

The way in which consent is sought from people to participate in or otherwise contribute data for research should be appropriate to the research topic and design, and to the ultimate outputs and uses of the analyses. It should recognise in particular the wide variety of data types, collection methods, and the range of people’s possible responses and sensitivities. The principle of proportionality should apply, such that the procedures for consent are proportional to the nature of participation and the risks involved.

For example, for data from existing datasets where consent was properly gained in the initial collection and this consent covers the uses of data proposed, no further consent will normally be needed. For anonymised-at-source, non-sensitive data, consent may appropriately be minimal or may be considered to have been given by the act of participation. Nevertheless, the risks involved in some anonymised-at-source research, for example, web-based research on sensitive topics such as sexual behaviours, will require carefully prepared prior information and clear consent processes.

When research involves the collection of identity capturing data on sensitive material, using video or audio recording, or other methodologies where an individual may be identifiable, it is important to consider additional informed consent procedures. These procedures need to be related to both the nature of the data collected and the ultimate use of the data. Separate informed consent agreements for data collection and the dissemination of the study’s results may be required.

A prior assessment of potential risks should inform the preparation of the information to be given to potential participants and the procedures for seeking consent. The assessment should be used to determine the appropriate form of consent and the nature of any risk management required. When in exceptional circumstances harm, unusual discomfort, or other negative consequences for the individual’s future life might occur, the investigator must inform the participants clearly of these additional risks prior to consent. For all research where risks are present, secure liability insurance should be in place to adequately cover the levels of possible harm identified in the risk analysis.

Giving potential participants sufficient information about the research in an understandable form requires careful drafting of the information sheet. It is recommended that at least one pilot test of the draft documents be carried out with a naive person having a literacy level at the lower end of the range expected in the planned research sample.

In exceptional circumstances the aims of the research may be compromised by giving full information prior to data collection. In such cases, it should be made clear that this is the case in the information sheet and the means by which the withheld information will be given at the conclusion of data collection should be specified. The information withheld and the delay in disclosing the withheld information should be kept to an absolute minimum.

Confidentiality

Question: Does confidentiality really apply in case of teenage research participants? That is, could I  withhold  information from a  parent the contents of the discussions held between his fourteen year old daughter and myself?

Answer: Our guidelines for conducting research with human participants are currently undergoing full review. However, in the meantime, the Society’s Code of Ethics and Conduct provides guidance on the general ethical principles that should be borne in mind. There are also guidelines on the General Medical Council website that may find the guidance of use to you.

The sections on making decisions and principles of confidentiality are particularly straightforward and helpful.

We would also recommend that your research proposal is submitted for consideration by the University’s Research Ethics Committee.

Question: I am a trainee clinical psychologist and am completing my doctoral thesis this year. As part of the project I plan to recruit a control group of University students. This control group will be asked to complete a number of questionnaires including the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and a short evaluation of eating disorders. I had initially planned for the questionnaire responses to be confidential but I am concerned that I may receive questionnaires from control participants which score highly for anxiety, depression and eating disorder. I am aware that I need to balance the need for confidentiality with duty of care to the individual. I could indicate on the information sheet that if the person reveals scores that would indicate I have a concern about their well being that I would contact them but this would be at the expense of confidentiality. I wonder if you would be able to offer some advice?

Answer: We would suggest that you use an appropriate coding system for the questionnaires so that the participants are only identifiable by yourself; and that you are clear about this at the outset. The possibility of follow-up for any concerns over wellbeing could also then be linked to this.

adapted from  http://www.bps.org.uk/what-we-do/ethics-standards/ethics-qa/ethics-qa

Resources 

The BPS Code of Ethics and guidelines (2009)

Here is the latest BPS ethical guidelines fro research (2014)

Dysfunctional Behaviour; Classification, explanation and treatment

Mental illness, atypical behaviour, psychopathology and dysfunctional behaviour are just some of the terms used to describe one of the most difficult areas to define both in Psychology as part of the huiStock_goldfishman experience.  Issues that surround the study of ‘dysfunctional behaviour’ are probably the most important as they can be the difference to some in terms of quality of life or even a threat to life itself.  All the debates that academically are discussed within the context of Clinical Psychology are well trod however still as fiercely debated.  Read this chapter for an overview of studies and issues relating to classification, explanation and treatment.  Want to test yourself on your knowledge of Dysfunctional behaviour – click me?

Some examples of debates are;

Nature Vs Nurture – To what extent is dysfunctional behaviour caused by our experiences or dominated by a genetic predisposition.  Consider depression, as one of the most diagnosed disorders is it due to traumatic life experience or are some people carrying a genetic predisposition which will arise irrespective of circumstance.  This question feeds directly in peoples often poor judgements ‘She has everything anyone could want..what has she got to be depressed about…….?

Reductionism Vs Holism – Can the explanation of human experience be over simplified and reduced down to basic processes.  Consider the study of Little Albert.

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Should abnormality be defined by statistical infrequency, consider the implications of such an approach?

 Issues such as ethics, validity and reliability of diagnosis, effectiveness of psychological treatments Vs drug therapy, before we even get to an agreement of what dysfunctional behaviour actually is.

What is a Clinical Psychologist?

Freewill Vs Environmental determinism; Behaviourism in focus. Was B.F. Skinner the ultimate Bond Villain?

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Everything that you do has been shaped and manipulated by your surroundings. The people you have met, the house you have lived in the school you went to further carves you in to the person that you are from the raw untarnished material of your first day as a child, every subsequent day has been another day of losing yourself as you become further immersed into a world that you have no control over and simply takes its toll on any notion of self.

A rather dystopian view accepted, however this is a world that Behaviourists such as Skinner believed in essence, to be true. In fact Skinner argued that the the world should be shaped by expert psychologists who have an understanding on how people will respond to it. Skinner – the ultimate Bond Villain. Chomsky however had other ideas….

The great Paul Bloom dissects the Behaviourist perspective. If you are going watch one video on Behaviourism – this is the one.

The Management of Stress – Cognition; Stress Inoculation Therapy

In the video below Dr. Donald Meichenbaum discusses the 3 key concepts relating to Stress Inoculation Therapy.

1.  Conceptualisation.  The ‘inner critic’ that contributes towards self doubt and poor performance is analysed and challenged through collaboration and therapeutic alliance. (What’s the problem?)

2.  Skill acquisition and rehearsal.  Coping strategies are taught that helps the individual with their specific issues. (What do I need to do to deal with it?)

3.  Application – The individual applies their new and more effective skills in the real world (I can do this!)

Here is an example of how Meichenbaum focusses his clients on the relationship between thought and behaviour.

I want clients to “take my voice with them.” The portions of my voice that I want them to take are “ACTIVE TRANSITIVE VERBS” such as “notice, catch, anticipate, plan” and the like.

NOTE: There is a need for clients not only to change, but to have the client take credit for these changes. The psychotherapist should ask the client the following questions:

“How did you handle this situation differently from how you handled this in the past?’
“Where else did you do this?”
“How long has this been going on?”
“How did you pull this off (accomplish this)?”
“Are you telling me… are you saying to yourself that IN SPITE OF….., you were able to notice …catch yourself…use your coping techniques of….How did that make you feel?”
“What does this mean about you as a person?”

Read an interview here with Meichenbaum on his method and trauma.