gmusic@nurturingnatures.co.uk

This blog is to critically introduce, and contextualise, new research findings from developmental research, neuroscience, attachment theory  and other areas of psychology that are topical or are likely to whet the appetite of  anyone interested. The aim is to discuss research which will feel relevant and which might even, if lucky, make a...

This blog is to critically introduce, and contextualise, new research findings from developmental research, neuroscience, attachment theory  and other areas of psychology that are topical or are likely to whet the appetite of  anyone interested. The aim is to discuss research which will feel relevant and which might even, if lucky, make a difference to how we approach our work or other areas of our lives.

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Jimmy Saville, psychopaths and you and me

The controversy surrounding Jimmy Saville raises many crucial issues, and stirs up powerful feelings, as it should.  We should be shocked and disgusted by what has happened to his victims, and appalled that he was allowed to carry on in the way he was in institutions which we have trusted and relied on, such as the BBC, hospitals and prisons. Shock, disgust, anger and blame are appropriate and expectable emotions in the face of such unthinkable behaviour, and the collusion of too many people with those behaviours.

At the same time I feel like urging a note of caution. Not in a way that will condone anything that has happened, but rather about our reactions, and particularly the inevitable braying for blood and revenge and the need to hold people to account and punish, which while it makes sense on one level, can also be a dangerous route to follow. The note of caution I want to sound is that if we put all our energy into condemning, litigation and revenge we are far less likely to be able to make sense of what has actually happened.

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Recent Comments
Guest — Liz
thank you - good to think about it without the knee-jerk reaction which I have to admit i was having and very sobering as well.... Read More
Tuesday, 23 October 2012 22:29
Guest — Robert Glanz
Impressively manages to pack in a great deal to reflect on in a very short piece. I particularly think it is brave of you to speak... Read More
Thursday, 01 November 2012 08:29
Guest — Jane O'Rourke
I think what is interesting about this article is that it challenges us to think honestly about ourselves. This has led me to thin... Read More
Monday, 05 November 2012 12:48
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Povery, parenting and impulsivity

This week was typical in my NHS therapy work in that just about all the cases I was involved with concerned children, mainly but not only boys, who have come from emotionally neglectful situations, but also dire poverty and very deprived environments,  and who seem to be a huge worry to professionals and other adults in their lives. It is striking how many are excluded from school, have few friends, cannot concentrate very much, have little capacity to understand their own and other people’s emotional states, and are very impulsive. Many of us in the field take this for granted now, but have struggled to both make sense of the exact mechanisms and to do enough to help with such issues.

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The risks of the dominance of evidence based practice

A scientific study this week has been published suggesting that doctors need to trust their ‘gut feelings’ and intuitions for the sake of their patients. This study [1], published in the British Medical Journal,   looked at  the cases of nearly 4,000 children, and found that a doctor’s intuitive feeling that something is not right, even when a formal examination has found nothing wrong,  can have greater diagnostic value than relying on most symptoms and signs, when trying to spot certain illnesses.  In these cases, the probability of a serious infection decreased from 0.2 percent to 0.1 percent when gut feeling was absent. It is not always possible to work out what signals are being picked up which give rise to the alarm bells ringing, sometimes this comes from the way parents talk about the issues, sometimes from other signs. The researchers go as far as recommending that medical schools should make it clear that an “inexplicable gut feeling is an important diagnostic sign’. This is one of a number of studies which have been questioning the principles of Evidence Based Practice (EBP), and indeed another was published online this week that challenges the very epistemological foundations of EBP [2].

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Research on the effect of the recession on mental health

We are seeing some very worrying mental health trends begin to emerge in response to the current economic situation. A recent article in the British Medical Journal  [1] published by researchers from the Universities of Liverpool, Cambridge and the London school of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine has found that suicide rates in the last few years have bucked the trend of the previous 20 years and have started to rise. This study interestingly looked at 93 regions of the UK and found that the areas experiencing the highest levels of unemployment were the ones where suicide rates had increased the most. For every 10% increase in unemployment there was a 1.4% increase in suicide rates, which in the UK amounted to 1000 suicides. There was even a slight improvement in areas where employment rates briefly picked up, again suggesting a causal link. The same link between unemployment and suicide rates was also found in a recent study in Finland [2].

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Empathy, feeling good and healing

Empathy and its effects have been known about for a long time now, but recently a new and very large study has illustrated this in a fascinating way. The study, a collaboration between Thomas Jefferson University and some Italian researchers, looked at  a huge sample of over 20,000 patients and 242 doctors [1]. They used a validated scale to measure empathy, a scale designed especially for use in medical settings (Jefferson Scale of Empathy (JSE)) which assesses levels of understanding of a patient's worries, pain, and suffering, as well as the extent of an intention to help.  They found that significantly more patients with doctors who showed high empathy had lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and indeed they had considerably fewer complications leading them to be hospitalized. There have been many smaller scale studies in recent years that have shown similar results. For example a study a few years ago found that, looking at  patients  with similar symptoms and backgrounds, those with more empathic doctors recovered from the common cold on average a day quicker, and had better immune responses [2].

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Power, confidence and politics

Power corrupts, as the old adage goes. An interesting set of new experiments sheds some light on this.  Deb Gruenfeld had noted in personal situations just how unthinking some powerful people could be, such as the businessman sitting next to her on the plane who turned the fan away from him and towards her for the flight so she became increasingly cold. With this to spur her on she, with colleagues undertook a range of experiments to explore such  issues[1] . For example people were asked to write an essay in which either they had lots of power or very little power. They were then asked to go into another room for a further test and the instructions were on the desk. In fact also on the desks was a powerful and annoying fan.  Interestingly 69% of those who had written about having power moved the fan, but only 42% of those who wrote about being in a low power situation. Other subjects in a 2nd experiment were again asked to write an essay in which they had high or low power. They were then asked to do a few tasks, the most interesting of which was to draw a capital E on their forehead as quickly as they could. What was fascinating was that those in the high power position were nearly three times more likely to write the E in a “self-oriented” direction, compared to those in the lower power position who were more likely to write an E facing outwards so that others could read it. These are the kind of findings we have come to expect. Other studies have shown that if people randomly sit on a high or low desk, those on the higher ones tend to be more assertive. More relevantly Paul Piff had found that those with higher social class and more money tended to be not only more assertive but also less prosocial, for example less likely to give way to others in a car and more likely to cheat [2].

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