Saturday, July 20, 2019

Revisiting Recall





In a recent Irish Times obituary for actor Karl Shiels, Peter Crawley recalls "...he once played a role in the Gate Theatre, and a role in the Abbey Theatre, on the same damn night, dashing down O’Connell Street to make his entrance" 

Many people's autobiographies contain a wealth of these tidbits alongside the broader changes in life. I think one of the best things to come out of the reminiscence project I was working on with Richard Roche, Caoilainn Doyle and others was the archive we created of participant's memories. Some of my personal favourites include:

Teaching in Nigeria in the 1960's: This one captures a formative time near the start of a young woman's career-the other people in the group were keen to hear of her experiences in Africa.

Early morning weddings and the mail train: A reminiscence that wryly captures the difference between experience in the moment and hindsight, and subtly tells of major changes in Irish society.

Emigration to UK and USA: A familiar experience to many Irish people; this individual emigrated to different countries at different phases in life.

Nuclear war fear: A moment in history from a child's eye view-captures the anxiety of the time, but still packs a laugh-out-loud moment near the end.

Mining in Connacht in the 1950's: Memories of a father's working in the mines, an accident at work and its aftermath.

These are just a handful of selections from the collection. Although material on the internet can disappear over time if it's not maintained, as this archive is on the Digital Repository of Ireland, these recordings will be preserved for posterity. People wishing to make use of this archive for social sciences/humanities research are free to do so-just get in touch!  

Related articles: 


Follow me on Twitter: @ArchivePsych

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Creativity: new stages from old pages?

Having written an article on applying stage theories of creativity, I was aware that different thinkers have broken the creative process down into different numbers of stages. However, I was unaware that another stage was hidden in plain sight in the classic 1920's work of Wallas. Typically, those citing Wallas's work refer to four main stages in the creative process: (1). an initial preparatory phase, (2) an incubation phase when the creative task is left aside for sometime (and, it is often presumed, unconscious processes are at work), (3). an illumination phase, when there is some kind of breakthrough in the creative process and (4). a verification phase, when the creative idea is tested, probed or checked for its quality.

However, in a recent article, Eugene Sadler-Smith proposes that intimation is a further stage in the creative process, between incubation and illumination. This is described as a fringe consciousness that links incubation to illumination. It could be described as straddling conscious and unconscious thinking. An indicative description (taken from conversation with a civil servant) is how a person can sense that the solution is coming, but they do not yet know what form this solution will take.

A bit embarrassing that I only encountered this idea recently, but the 4-stage description has been quite pervasive. To me, this extra stage does seem to place an emphasis on more active unconscious processes than other factors that break "writer's block" or comparable phenomena in other creative domains, such as forgetting an unhelpful conceptualisation of a problem, reduction in fatigue or serendipitous discovery of a helpful method of approaching the problem. It will be interesting to see if more researchers and thinkers start trying to pin this stage down in more detail in the coming years.

Sadler-Smith, E. (2015). Wallas’ four-stage model of the creative process: More than meets the eye? Creativity Research Journal27(4), 342-352.


Related posts: 
Two different ways 


Follow me on Twitter: @ArchivePsych

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Book excerpt, take 2: Lecture 1, Draft 2



Following advice from a literary agent, I have fleshed out a character from the novel, Graham, a student of Professor David Hector with a generally more mundane life than David. I am keeping the dialogue of David as he gives the lecture, but the asides are not from the first-person perspective of David, but rather in the third person, with the reader following Graham as he sits the module. It changes the tone somewhat, although I am also bringing in more material on Graham's life between the chapters-I can post some excerpts on this in the near future.

The students waiting for their first class pushed back to let the students from the previous lecture file out of the hall. Graham’s left pocket was empty; he would have to borrow Dara’s key to the flat and get a copy made. He took a seat at the very back row, perched between an empty seat and the Brutalist concrete wall.
The students scattered around the hall, clumping towards the front and the back. The tall man standing at the lectern, one hand in waistcoat pocket as he paced the stage, looked a stereotype of a university Professor. He regarded them one by one as they took their seats. His face alternated between bored cynicism and muted sadism. Graham cast his eyes down to his A4 notepad when the Professor’s gaze turned on him. Even from this distance, he felt exposed.  

Ideally, it might be argued, the psychologist is a superior being, for over all other scientists he has the advantage of being a psychologist. 
Edwin G. Boring, Address of the President before the American Psychological Association at New York, December 28, 1928

The Professor had written this quote on the whiteboard-he didn’t have the projector going. Graham found the quote (and Edwin’s name) somewhat amusing, although he wasn’t quite sure what the implication of the quote was. 
“Hello everyone, my name is Professor David Hector. I will be teaching you introduction to psychology for this semester. From experience, I know that often students remember their teachers more than what they teach, so I’ll indulge you with a few details about myself. I spent the first few years of my life in Ranelagh, Dublin. My father was from London and my mother from Cavan. I live in Dublin with my husband. My hobbies include reading, running and restaurants.
In the front row, a handful of mature students aged 40-60 crouched over the front desks, scribbling furiously. Graham was unsure whether this preamble was supposed to be something he would need notes on later. Were they going to be examined on this man’s personal life?
 “Actually, it's funny, but sometimes the material I teach in class about psychology mirrors aspects of my own life. Maybe I can tell you a bit about it. Of course, I'll have to give you a heavily edited version of these aspects of my personal life, as I am quite an abusive person, haha.
 “But, on a more serious note…I want you to think about yourself for a moment. Whatever you’re writing on, doesn’t matter what material or device, skip on to a new page or paragraph. Ask yourself the following questions:
How much do you know about what others think? Can you infer much of their thoughts from what they say?
Where do our ideas come from? Can you become more creative?
What makes you mad? Is it just the trauma in your life, or perhaps there is some biological predestination?”
 Graham jotted down these questions on the page, realising that he had never thought much of the nuts and bolts of some of these queries. There were a few lads at the far end of the back row suppressing giggles in their rugby jerseys. They sounded like they came from one of those private schools fed by the affluent Dublin suburbs. Graham had heard their boisterous voices echo in the corridor the last few days, had tasted the fog of their cheap deodorant in the university changing room. He could imagine their snoring mouths drooling over an open exam paper.
“What exactly is psychology? It concerns itself with the kind of questions I’m asking you now. It can be defined as the study of human thought, emotion and behaviour. It is systematic work. Understanding statistics, which will be covered in your statistics labs, is key to any degree course in psychology. However, you will also be trained in qualitative research methods with Dr Eileen O’Riordan, allowing you to employ analytical methods for non-numerical psychological data.      
“One accusation that is sometimes thrown at psychology is that much of it is common sense. ‘My grandmother could have told you that!’ is a frequent complaint. No. Unless she’s done the work in the area, no she couldn’t1. It’s understandable where this attitude comes from. We are all interested in the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of other people, and ourselves. Common sense and introspection leads us to develop a theory of others’ minds, and a piece of research might back up this intuitive idea. However, common sense often produces two conflicting accounts about human psychology; people will tell you that opposites attract, but later tell you that birds of a feather flock together. This is why we need to study human mind and behaviour in a systematic way. Using statistical methods also allows you to quantify the extent to which different circumstances affect psychological phenomena. It might be boringly obvious to say that abuse in childhood leads to a higher likelihood of developing depression in adulthood. However, what if we ask how much more likely is it that abuse victims will develop depression, compared to people who have not experienced childhood abuse? And what is the explanation for such an effect? Taking a more scientific approach allows us to grapple with these questions in a controlled manner.
 “There’s a lot of overlap between psychology and other disciplines. Neuroscience is a big one. Being a branch of biology, neuroscience tends to soak up - I mean attract - a lot of precious research funding. Most people interested in how the mind works have some interest in how the brain makes this happen. Philosophy, particularly philosophy of mind, provides a lot of the theoretical background for psychology, and in turn a lot of philosophers are influenced by psychological theory and research. At the moment there is only one department of anthropology in Ireland, so it’s sadly not the most thriving discipline in this nation. I could go on, but suffice it to say that psychology allows you to delve into other areas of study-I think you’ll benefit from learning a bit more about these.
 A few girls of Graham’s age sat around the middle row, their hands wired to play with phones and hair. One in particular struck Graham as attractive, though he could immediately see her working through the rugby guys one by one before she would spend five minutes of her time with him.
“One could easily get overwhelmed by just how much there is to study. Don’t lose focus. You may just be beginning to study psychology, but you should have the endpoint in sight. The reality is that many of you sitting here today will not complete ‘your’ degree in psychology. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You may go on to study another subject, or work in another area, or become a homemaker, I don’t know. It’s about as likely as not that at least one of you will end your own life over the course of the three or four years of your degree.  
“Nonetheless, most of you will finish this degree. However, of those who do so, only about half of you will work in something directly related to your degree. To work as a professional psychologist, you will need to do more specialised training. This could be a postgraduate degree in clinical or counselling psychology, educational psychology, forensic psychology, or perhaps some other specialisation. I can’t give you an exhaustive list of the careers people with a psychology degree go on to pursue. Oftentimes, students can be quite creative in their career paths.
Graham wanted to be a counsellor; he had been to an open day at the university where they had mentioned some of these points before, although he hadn’t realised the odds were so low that one would become a counsellor after beginning a degree in psychology. It was probably just a matter of persistence.
“Let me talk just a little bit about clinical psychology, and then about an academic career in psychology. Unlike medicine, where psychiatry is perhaps not seen as the most desirable specialisation these days *cough cough* stigma *cough cough*, clinical psychology is often perceived as the ‘prestige’ career within psychology, at least in this country. It’s rather apprentice-like, in that you’re trained by the public health board, and are obligated to complete a number of years’ service with them once you complete your training. Once this is over, of course, you can go into private practise and allow the public health waiting lists to build up.”
A mature student raised her hand. She embarked on a story about her own mental health, a major depressive episode, during which she had to take several months off work. She emphasised that she tried taking psychiatric medication for two weeks before stopping as it did nothing for her and she experienced side effects. Her key point was that once she pursued psychotherapy things improved, although this was as much to do with a strong client/therapist relationship as anything else. Professor Hector held up his hand and opened his mouth to gesture for her to wrap her point up.
“Thanks for sharing your story. It’s not really my place to comment on individuals’ stories of treatment. I would say that first line pharmacological therapies usually take more than two weeks to work. But like I say it’s not my place.”
“I don’t work with clients in a clinical capacity anyway. On that note, another option is you could stay within the academic side like me. This is quite competitive to get into, and gets more competitive as you progress through your career. With this career path, you would be expected to complete a doctorate in research. After their doctorate, most people these days work for a few years in research, then focus on research and teaching as a lecturer.  
“So, when I outline the topics we cover in this module, you should consider whether you wish to study them in greater depth in the coming years. The lecture topics are as follows:
Lecture 1: Introduction and housekeeping
Lecture 2: Methods in psychology
Lecture 3: History of psychology
Lecture 4: Developmental psychology
Lecture 5: Social Psychology
Lecture 6: Personality
Lecture 7: Intelligence and thinking
Lecture 8: Memory
Lecture 9: Creativity
Lecture 10: Psychological disorder and its treatment
Lectures take place every Wednesday here in lecture theatre 101. The module is assessed via one essay plus a multiple-choice questionnaire towards the end of the semester. I will make the notes available online, but in order to really get to grips with the material it’s best to attend lectures and tutorials, discuss the topics with me and with your fellow students.”
There were a few other small cliques through the hall, including couples of secondary school lovers. Graham wondered if their relationships would last the whole degree.
“In fact, why don’t you take a few minutes to introduce yourself to someone with whom you haven’t spoken yet? Introduce yourselves and say a little bit about why you’re studying psychology; what do you hope to get out of the course?”
Graham took the chance to move away from the rugby dudes, absorbing voices as he stepped down the middle steps. Snatches of dialogue about TV shows, queries about other modules on the course, not knowing how to afford the rent, some girl being a bit of a slut, wanting to be a psychoanalyst. A slender, elderly man at the front gestured for Graham to sit beside him. He introduced himself as Tom; he was studying psychology after having retired as a managing director of a logistics firm. Tom had long had an intuitive interest in psychology from his line of work, but wanted to study it as a subject now. Graham said his name and explained that he had just moved to Dublin from Meath last week.        
“OK…OK everyone, you can move back to your original seats. Another housekeeping thing to mention is that, as part of your first year in psychology, you will be expected to complete 20 hours of participation in psychological experiments. It would be unethical to oblige you to take part in research. Consequently, if you wish you can ‘buy out’ that time by doing two extra essays. However, we strongly encourage you to do those hours of psychological experiments. Why? Well, we need people to take part in our experiments. From your perspective though, it will give you an insight into what kinds of research are happening at the department. It will also make you see what it’s like taking part in a study.
“With this course, the key thing is to make a good start. I’m sure many of your heads are still buzzing from the first week of university, but try to get into a regular study habit as soon as possible. If the work you submit is rushed through at the last minute, this tends to be quite visible in its quality.”
Graham had promised himself that he had turned over a new leaf, and he was not going to “freestyle” his essay on the night before it’s due to be submitted.
“Does anyone have any questions?”
 A young woman towards the back put her hand up and asked about how the module would be assessed.
“As I said earlier in the lecture, you will have an essay to write, and there will be a multiple choice questionnaire towards the end of the semester. Any other housekeeping questions? Or questions about the content of the module?”
Blank stares.
“Well then, I’ll see you next Wednesday.”


Sunday, May 26, 2019

International literature festival Dublin: Insider's guide to publishing


The International Literature Festival Dublin is a great series of events-I had the good fortune to attend Patrick McCabe and Nicole Flattery in conversation about their influences (with Flattery counting McCabe, author of "The Butcher Boy" as one).

Given that I'm currently writing a book, I was particularly psyched to attend the full-day Insider's Guide to Getting Published.

The first panel, of five different agents, didn't always have the same preferences for submissions or how to handle them. Nonetheless, they give a clear sense of an agent's remit (and repeatedly emphasize not to sign a contract with a publisher until the agent has had a look!) We also get some useful advise on editing, and three authors (with work spanning literary to more commercial work) describe how their debuts got published. Vanessa Fox-O'Loughlin (who writes as Sam Blake) also delivers a commendably clear solo masterclass on nailing your synopsis, pitch and cover letter.

The main reason I'm at this event is that I was selected for a 10 minute one-on-one with a literary agent. The 60 people put forward for this 'date' with an agent have been selected from circa 480 submissions. Speaking to a few of them during the day, I was surprised at the extent to which some struggled to give a concise pitch about their work. Even when getting set up to meet an agent, it's easy to forget that beyond writing your work, there is a separate skillset to flogging your work!

Not that I'm so great in this regard either. I have a few pithy elevator pitch statements to make about my book, but at the meeting with the agent it's clear that my synopsis can undermine the apparent marketability of the book. It can be difficult to sell something that's straddling two different areas of literature, particularly at as broad a level as combining fiction and non-fiction (what shelf is the book going to go on?). So even if I go with fiction with non-fiction elements, it's best to pigeonhole the book as one or the other. Given that I'm not going "high" literary with this book, the agent's suggestion that I include a student's perspective on the lectures makes a lot of sense (it might be a big ask for a mainstream audience to spend an entire book in the mind of such an unlikeable/alienating protagonist as David Hector).

It's certainly made me think a bit about what I want to do with my book. From the Q & A at the broader sessions, it's clear most people taking part (myself included) are probably engaging in certain number of cognitive biases (confirmation) to keep ourselves going in the face of the challenge of actually getting published. But who knows-one of the debut authors giving a talk was in the audience five years ago.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Book excerpt: "Manipulate", Lecture 1

Here's an excerpt from the book I am currently writing, working title Manipulate. It follows a lecturer in psychology, Professor David Hector, through his personal and professional life, but also includes his delivery of an introduction to psychology module. Along with his lecture, we gain some insight into his thoughts as he delivers the lectures.

The following is a draft of his first lecture, introducing the module as a whole.



Lecture 1: Introduction and housekeeping

“Good afternoon everyone, my name is Professor David Hector, and I will be teaching you introduction to psychology for this semester. From experience, I know that often students –rather regrettably- remember their teachers more than what they teach, so I’ll indulge you with a few details about myself. I spent the first few years of my life in Ranelagh, Dublin. My father was from London and my mother from Cavan. I live in Dublin with my husband. My hobbies include reading, running and restaurants.
“Actually, it's funny, but sometimes the material I teach in class about psychology mirrors aspects of my own life. Maybe I can tell you a bit about it. Of course, I'll have to give you a heavily edited version of these aspects of my personal life, as I am quite an abusive person, haha.”
I’m more focused on those seated in the front row, who are generally more likely to persist in attending. A handful of mature students aged 30-60 are sitting towards the front, leaning over their desks and scribbling or typing furiously. One of the males laughs, while one of the women scrunches her face, at my last comment. The front row also houses a young man who seems to be from the Middle East, gazing at me impassively.  
“But, on a more serious note…I want you to think about yourself for a moment. Whatever you’re writing on, doesn’t matter what material or device, skip on to a new page or paragraph. Ask yourself the following questions: what do you value in life? How much do you know about what others think, and how much do you know about what you think?”
 It’s a smallish lecture hall for something as general as introduction to psychology. Besides the front row, there are a few lads at the back suppressing giggles who don’t look mature enough to read a newspaper, let alone attend a university. There are a few of this type every year, though this year’s batch seem a tad less rowdy than usual.
“What exactly is psychology? It concerns itself with the kind of questions I’m asking you now. It can be defined as the study of human thought, emotion and behaviour. It is systematic work. Understanding statistics, which will be covered in your statistics module, is key to any degree course in psychology. However, you will also be trained in qualitative research methods with Dr Eileen O’Riordan in her module. This involves systematic analysis of data that is not numerical as such, but rather you are working with a systematic analysis of the meaning of certain data, for example transcripts of interviews.      
“There’s a lot of overlap between psychology and other disciplines. Neuroscience is a big one. Being a branch of biology, neuroscience tends to soak up - I mean attract - a lot of research funding, and a lot of people interested in how the mind works want to delve into how the brain makes this happen. Philosophy, particularly philosophy of mind, provides a lot of the theoretical background for psychology, and in turn a lot of philosophers are influenced by psychological theory and research. At the moment there is only one department of anthropology in Ireland, so it’s sadly not the most thriving discipline in this nation. I could go on, but suffice it to say that psychology allows you to delve into other areas of study-I think you’ll benefit from learning a bit more about these.
“One accusation that is sometimes thrown at psychology is that much of it is common sense. ‘My grandmother could have told you that!’ is a frequent complaint. No; unless she’s done the work in the area, no she couldn’t. It’s understandable where this attitude comes from. We are all interested in the thoughts, feelings and behaviours of other people, and ourselves. Common sense and introspection leads us to develop a theory of others’ minds, and a piece of research might back up this intuitive idea. However, common sense often produces two conflicting accounts about human psychology; people will tell you that opposites attract, but that birds of a feather flock together. This is why we need to study human mind and behaviour in a systematic way.
 “Although you’re just beginning to study psychology, you should have the endpoint in sight. The reality is that many of you sitting here today will not complete ‘your’ degree in psychology. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You may go on to study another subject, or work in another area, or become a homemaker, I don’t know. It’s about as likely as not that one of you will end your own life over the course the three or four years of your degree.  
“Nonetheless, most of you will finish this degree. However, of those who do so, only about half of you will work in something directly related to your degree. To work as a professional psychologist, you will need to do more specialised training. This could be a postgraduate degree in clinical or counselling psychology, educational psychology, forensic psychology, health psychology, or perhaps some other specialisation. I can’t give you an exhaustive list of the careers people with a psychology degree go on to pursue. Oftentimes, students can be quite creative in their career paths.
“Unlike medicine, where psychiatry is perhaps not seen as the most desirable specialisation in this country these days *cough cough* stigma *cough cough*, clinical psychology is often perceived as the ‘prestige’ career within psychology. It’s rather apprentice-like, in that you’re trained by the public health board, and are obligated to complete a number of years’ service with them once you complete your training. Once this is over, of course, you can go into private practise and allow the public health waiting lists to build up.”
The mature student who didn’t like my abuse joke raises her hand. She embarks on a story about her own mental health, a major depressive episode during which she had to take several months off work. She drills her forefinger on the desk in front of her as she emphasises that she tried pharamacological treatment for two weeks before stopping as it did nothing for her and she experienced side effects.  Blah blah pharma giants, blah blah low self-esteem. She gets to her key point about paying for psychotherapy out of her own pocket, and extols the virtues of a strong client/therapist relationship. I hold my hand up and mouth open to gesture for her to wrap her point up.
“Thanks for sharing your story. It’s not really my place to comment on individuals’ stories of treatment when I haven’t worked with them as clients. I would say that first line pharmacological therapies usually take more than two weeks to work. But like I say it’s not place.”
The mature student opens her mouth as if to interject, then returns to her notes.
“I don’t work with clients in a clinical capacity anyway. On that note, another option is you could stay within the academic side like me. This is quite competitive to get into, and gets more competitive as you progress through your career. With this career path, you would be expected to complete a doctorate in research. After their doctorate, most people these days work for a few years in research, then focus on research and teaching as a lecturer.  
“So, when I outline the topics we cover in this module, you should consider whether you wish to study them in greater depth in the coming years. We will cover topics such as memory, creativity, psychological disorder and more besides.
“The lecture topics are as follows:
Lecture 1: Introduction and housekeeping
Lecture 2: Methods in psychology
Lecture 3: History of psychology
Lecture 4: Developmental psychology
Lecture 5: Social Psychology
Lecture 6: Personality
Lecture 7: Intelligence and thinking
Lecture 8: Memory
Lecture 9: Creativity
Lecture 10: Psychological disorder and its treatment
“Lectures take place every Wednesday at 10am here in the lecture theatre 101. The module is assessed via one essay plus a multiple-choice questionnaire towards the end of the semester. I will make the Powerpoint slides available online, but in order to really get to grips with the material it’s best to attend lectures and tutorials, discuss the topics with me and with your fellow students.”
I broaden my scope of attention around the room. Tiny cliques and loners throughout the audience. A few couples of secondary school lovers, and who knows, they might just last the degree. There has been a growing anti-odour of puritanism in the academy, and yes, I think this might just be the most boring cohort we’ve had yet.
“In fact, why don’t you take a few minutes now to introduce yourself to someone in the room with whom you either haven’t spoken with or have spoken with less than the people around you?”
A few constipated looks from some students, particularly the boys at the back, but soon people have moved around a little and are talking amiably. I take the chance to move through the room a bit, absorbing voices.
“OK…OK everyone, you can move back to your original seats. Another housekeeping thing to mention is that, as part of your first year in psychology, you will be expected to complete 20 hours of participation in psychological experiments. It would be unethical to oblige you to take part in research. Consequently, if you wish you can ‘buy out’ that time by doing two extra essays. However, we strongly encourage you to do those hours of psychological experiments. Why? Well, we need people to take in our experiments. From your perspective though, it will give you an insight into what kind of specific research are happening at the department, as well as a more general insight into what it’s like taking part in a study.
“With this course, the key thing is to make a good start. I’m sure many of your heads are still buzzing from the first week of university, but try to get into a regular study habit as soon as possible. If the work you submit is rushed through at the last minute, this tends to be quite visible in its quality.
I know for a fact most of these kids are going to “freestyle” their essay on the night before it’s due to be submitted.
“Does anyone have any questions?”
 A young woman towards the back puts her hand up and asks about how the module will be assessed.
“As I said earlier in the lecture, you will have an essay to write, and there will be a multiple choice questionnaire towards the end of the semester. Any other housekeeping questions? Or questions about the content of the module?”
Blank stares.
“Well then, I’ll see you next Wednesday.” 



You can follow me on Twitter: @ArchivePsych

Friday, April 19, 2019

Conference review: British Neuroscience Association Festival of Neuroscience


For the first time, the British Neuroscience Association held its Festival of Neuroscience outside the UK. Risking a Brexit crash-out which thankfully didn't come to pass a couple of weeks before the festival, BNA2019 was co-hosted with Neuroscience Ireland at the Convention Centre in Dublin city. The venue was a good size for the meeting. Although the posters covered everything from benchwork to animal models to my own poster describing reminiscence therapy and a rare memory disorder, the poster space was physically concentrated enough to get a good level of engagement going. The exhibitors included not just the usual publishing houses and companies with new toys for technique junkies, but also a career zone for job networking and a "credibility zone" to act as a thinktank for increasing factors such as reproducibility to allow neuro- and other scientists to be better able to stand over the validity of findings.

Speaking of which, a highlight of the conference was the chance to see autism researcher Uta Frith grapple with the thorny issue of the replication crisis within psychology (and empirical research in general). She called for a move towards "slow science", with theories being tested more carefully, and resisting the temptation to publish anything as fast as you can out of a fear of getting scooped. Perhaps the most impressive research plenary came from Ileana Hanganu-Opatz, who is using electrophysiological techniques to study connectivity in the brain. John Cryan (pictured centre below), whose group I have worked with, also chaired an interesting symposium on diet, brain and microbiome.


There was a great breakout session on political advocacy. Although it could have been better attended, there was a serious discussion from those in attendance about issues around how to make biggest impact in getting through to politicians (and indeed others in the public sector who are less visible but perhaps more influential) about the importance of investing in neuroscience funding. There was a particularly interesting case study of when the BBSRC made major cuts to brain research around the start of this decade, and how brain scientists leveraged the media to push back.

But this wasn't just talks and posters: this was a festival of neuroscience. There were a ton of events around the city, including theatre, dance, music and visual art. I got to the opening of Joanna Hopkin's "Connecting" exhibition. (I felt I had better show up as I had helped Hopkins to access an MRI scanner to inform this piece.) The minimal techno of the scanner pervaded the exhibit, a highlight of which was the strange homonculus pictured below. The work conjures up images of embodied cognition under an anatomical gaze. 


The Age of Arts was a great way to finish up, with a performance from the MISA choir and a commandeering of the audience by Jane Bentley to produce a percussive musical act. There were also talks from a number of people at the Global Brain Health Institute, and a representative from the Bealtaine festival, with a spirited discussion on whether the intersection between art, science and health could be used to undermine the inherent value of the arts. As a psychologist I know that it's easy to describe projects in any funding bid I write as being about all these things and more.

BNA2019 has been a huge undertaking, and any individual's perspective can only capture a snapshot of this event. I've come away with a renewed enthusiasm for the creativity that goes into both science and art. Francesca Farina noted at Age of Arts that science and art may not always have been thought of as separate endeavours; perhaps they are drawing closer together once again.

You can follow me on Twitter: @ArchivePsych

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Back with blog and book



Hello there, after a hiatus I'm back to this blog. Since my last post I have been working on an awesome/cool/savage podcast with writer and broadcaster Gareth Stack, Psychology in Mind.  I've also set up a Twitter specific to my blog: follow @ArchivePsych 

I've been working on a book, a sort of fiction/non-fiction hybrid. Expect some excerpts to appear here in the coming months. Here's a brief outline:

"Manipulate" (working title) comprises an introductory lecture series to psychology, juxtaposed with the life of Professor David Hector, who is delivering these lectures. During his lectures, David espouses high ethical standards (albeit in a cynical manner). Outside of teaching hours, David emotionally abuses his husband and mistress, bullies his colleagues and is facing accusations of sexual harassment. Although he has thus far led a charmed life, his increasingly brazen manipulation of others is causing his professional and personal life to unravel.

The segments of the book include (a). events in David’s personal life, (b). a lecture from his introduction to psychology module - these lectures are interspersed with David’s thoughts as he delivers the lecture, and (c). events in his work at the university.