Professor Brian Moore awarded ASA Gold Medal
By Diane FitzMaurice from News. Published on Dec 09, 2013.
CSLB research identifies differences in how the brain processes the meanings of words and objects
By Diane FitzMaurice from News. Published on Dec 04, 2013.
AIHHP recognises Professor Brian Moore's contribution to audiology
By Diane FitzMaurice from News. Published on Dec 02, 2013.
Prof. Claire Hughes wins the BPS Academic Monograph Award 2013
By Diane FitzMaurice from News. Published on Nov 26, 2013.
Dr Gonzalo Urcelay to give Extinction Learning Symposium lecture
By Diane FitzMaurice from News. Published on Nov 25, 2013.
Dr Jennifer Murray lecturing in USA
By Diane FitzMaurice from News. Published on Nov 24, 2013.
Department members attend Neuroscience 2013
By Diane FitzMaurice from News. Published on Nov 10, 2013.
Professor Zoe Kourtzi and Dr Andrew Welchman join the Department
By Diane FitzMaurice from News. Published on Nov 04, 2013.
Assisted Reproduction and Family Development: The New Parents Study
By sj387 from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on Nov 01, 2013.
Family structure has changed markedly in the past few decades. Starting a family is now possible for a greater variety of intended parents due to the advances in assisted reproduction technologies (ARTs), allowing lesbian and gay parents to start families for example.
Despite the increasing numbers of couples and individuals helped by ARTs, these families have not been sufficiently represented in studies looking into how families develop. In order for policy and support to reflect the reality of life for these families, research needs to include all family forms. The science behind ARTs is developing rapidly and as such the science focusing on the psychological, social and emotional wellbeing of these families needs to keep up.
Of the extensive literature on family development conducted over the last century, comparatively little empirical focus has documented the wellbeing of same-sex parents and their children, in particular in families headed by gay dads. Studies including families with lesbian mothers have found children do not show signs of psychological maladjustment, do not have poorer peer relationships and do not show differences in gender identity. Indeed, children of lesbian mothers appear to be functioning well into adult life.
Even fewer studies have focused on gay fathers and their children. The few studies that have followed children of gay fathers have found these children did not show adverse effects, and were well adjusted.
Understanding the development and experiences of these families is important, as increasing numbers of gay men are becoming fathers. Not enough is known about the well-being of these fathers, and the development of their children. Therefore, more empirical evidence and less assumption is needed to understand the effect of gay parents on their families wellbeing and experiences to ensure the correct support is in place, if needed.
This need for empirical evidence to understand the wellbeing of parents and children following ARTs is what drives The New Parents Study, an ambitious study following families with babies 4 months old are visited at their homes, with a follow-up invitation to Cambridge University when the babies are 12 months old. Families included are those who have gay parents, where the child was born through surrogacy; families with lesbian mothers, where the child was born through Donor Insemination; and heterosexual couples where the child was born through IVF. One father involved with The New Parents Study recently spoke about why he was driven to participate and what it was like being part of the study:
“As a family helped by surrogacy we are a minority, we need studies like this which represent us and our families, at the same time knowing the research is anonymous is also really reassuring….
“Taking part was enjoyable and speaking about our experiences of becoming parents really gave us food for thought. Normally when you talk to people about your children there’s a ticking clock, most people don’t want to hear all about what you’ve been up to and how we felt about everything! The New Parents Study team were really interested in what we had to say and were empathetic to talk to.
“All in all the visit was really enjoyable and I’d really recommend any first time parents who have been helped by ARTs to get involved.”
The New Parents Study is an exciting project to work on as we are following couples who have recently become first time parents (with babies up to 4 months old), inclusive of gay, lesbian and straight couples. The study brings two groups based in Cambridge, the Applied Developmental Psychology Research Group, and the Centre for Family Research, together with groups based at the University of Paris in France and the University of Amsterdam in The Netherlands. All of the groups involved in the New Parents Study have yielded findings over the years that demonstrate that it is the dynamics of a family that is far more important than the family structure when we are trying to understand child wellbeing.
Another reason being involved with The New Parents Study is so exciting is that we will be able to learn more about fathers who are primary caregivers. In addition, we have the honour of seeing these families grow and develop while hearing about their family stories.
With such an ambitious project we are indebted to the on-going support and assistance we receive in reaching potential participating families, from charities, clinics, agencies and support groups.
Dr. Alice Winstanley and Dr. Kate Ellis-Davies recently attended several national and international events for ARTs, fathering and alternative families, including: the Alternative Parenting Show (London); Paternal Involvement in Pregnancy Outcomes from Preconception to First Year of Life (National Institutes of Health, Maryland, MD); New York Fertility Services (New York, NY); Surrogacy UK AGM (Warwick).
In March 2014, the Applied Developmental Psychology Research Group, alongside the Centre For Family Research, will be organising an event for National Science and Engineering Week on “What Makes A Family”, where researchers, clinicians, charities, parent groups and the general public will be able to engage in discussions on recent research into family development, and how researchers can take account of the publics interests in family development.
For further information, please contact Alice Winstanley and Kate Ellis-Davies at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alice Winstanley and Kate Ellis-Davies, are researchers in the Applied Developmental Psychology Research Group working on The New Parents Study, a ground-breaking international project lead by Professor Michael Lamb and Professor Susan Golombok into the experiences of parents who have used assisted reproduction technologies, and the development of their children.
Imaging study shows dopamine dysfunction is not the main cause of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
By gm349 from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on Oct 28, 2013.
A new Cambridge study questions previous suggestions that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the result of fundamental abnormalities in dopamine transmission, and suggests that the main cause of the disorder may lie instead in structural differences in the grey matter in the brain. This landmark study, published in Brain, could significantly improve understanding of how ADHD is caused and help inform the development of treatments in the future.
The double-blind study, which was carried out by researchers at the University of Cambridge MRC/Wellcome Trust Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute (BCNI) and funded by the Medical Research Council (MRC), found that administering methylphenidate (more commonly known as Ritalin) to healthy adult volunteers as well as those who exhibit symptoms of ADHD as adults, led to similar increases of the chemical dopamine in their brain. Both groups also had equivalent level of improvements as a result of the drug when tested on their ability to concentrate and pay attention.
Dopamine is a crucial chemical for concentration or sustained attention, working memory and motivational processes in the brain and acting as a chemical transmitter between brain cells by combining with specialised receptors on nerve cells. Ritalin works by increasing the levels of dopamine which binds to the receptors and increases the flow of communication between these cells.
By using positron emission tomography (PET) imaging techniques to measure dopamine receptors, the researchers were able to measure how Ritalin affects dopamine in patients with ADHD and people unaffected by the condition. In both groups, volunteers were given either a dose of Ritalin or a placebo pill. Researchers then analysed the results of tasks done by the volunteers which tested their ability to concentrate and pay attention over a period of time.
Patients with ADHD, who had significant loss of grey matter in the brain, as measured by magnetic resonance imaging, showed significant impairments in attentional performance compared with healthy individuals. Consistent with its therapeutic use in ADHD, Ritalin improved sustained attention performance in the patients. However, dopamine receptor levels in an area of the brain called the striatum were similar in the patients and healthy individuals. Ritalin also increased dopamine levels in the striatum to a similar degree, importantly suggesting that there was no underlying deficiency in dopamine function in the ADHD patients. Interestingly, Ritalin also improved sustained attention performance in some healthy individuals as well, and this overall ability of the drug to improve performance (with or without ADHD) was related to the increases in dopamine levels in the striatum caused by Ritalin.
Professor Barbara Sahakian who led the study at the BCNI said: “We feel these results are extremely important since they show that people who have poor concentration improve with methylphenidate (Ritalin) treatment whether they have a diagnosis of adult ADHD or not. These new findings demonstrate that poor performers, including healthy volunteers, were helped by the treatment and this improvement was related to increases in dopamine in the brain.”
Professor Trevor Robbins, co-author of the study and Director of the BCNI, said: “These findings question the previously accepted view that major abnormalities in dopamine function are the main cause of ADHD in adult patients. While the results show that Ritalin has a 'therapeutic' effect to improve performance, it does not appear to be related to fundamental underlying impairments in the dopamine system in ADHD.”
Research suggests that the main cause of the disorder may lie instead in structural differences in the grey matter in the brain.
We ask the experts: does society really care about the old and the vulnerable?
By sj387 from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on Oct 28, 2013.
Care of vulnerable groups is an emotive topic, often seen through the prism of crisis, scandal and rising costs. Funding is indeed a critical issue. According to Alzheimer’s Research UK, there are more than 820,000 people in the UK living with dementia: on average each one costs the economy more than £27,600 per annum. But discussions about how the ‘burden’ of care should be met, and by whom, also reveal much about our value systems and how we feel about each other. We asked three people some fundamental questions about care.
Charlie Cornish-Dale is a freelance journalist and editor. As part of his postgraduate research in social anthropology (St Catharine’s and King’s Colleges, Cambridge) he volunteered as a carer in a care home for the elderly where many of the residents had dementia. Dr Gail Ewing is a senior researcher at the Centre for Family Research, University of Cambridge. After training as a nurse, she later moved into research where she has focused on palliative and end-of-life care, particularly from the perspective of unpaid carers. Dr Claire Nicholl is Consultant Physician in Medicine for the Elderly at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. She is a practising clinician and advises on the interface between primary and secondary care as a champion for older people's services.
How do we think about care – and could we think differently?
Charlie Cornish-Dale: As someone trained to think as an anthropologist, I would say that care is a fundamental aspect of human relationships and of societies more generally. Care is something we all must do for each other at some time, through pregnancy, childhood, illness, disability and old age. It’s not something which happens only in institutions; care did not suddenly become a concern with the arrival of the care home. Kinship is care: whether we are brought up in an archetypal nuclear family or as part of an extended lineage or clan, we have obligations and duties towards defined groups of relations (sometimes even including the dead), which we must learn to fulfil. In talking about obligations and duties, we are, of course, entering the realm of ethics.
As different societies think about and do ethics in different ways, so it is with care. But what we think about care, and how we care, has changed, as our own society has changed, over a span of many centuries. The progress of individualism has profoundly changed the way society is organised and with it the structures — kin-based, religious and economic —for organising care. The celebrated anthropologist, Alan MacFarlane, in The Origins of English Individualism, traces individualism back to the 13th century, by which time England, unlike other medieval nations, already had a social structure based around the unit of the nuclear family; this, he claims, was a prerequisite for England’s emergence as the first capitalist industrial power, allowing for rapid industrialisation and urbanisation.
Gail Ewing: Care is part of everyday life for most people; whereby we care about others, not just care for them. From day to day, care is the practical stuff we do for each other as the result of our emotional bonds. We’re cared for within our families and we go on to care for our families. When our children are young we care for them in a hands-on way but as they grow up we move out of that physical sphere of caring. There are, of course, exceptions: some people need life-long care. When care is mentioned, our first thought is care of the elderly – but there are other groups who need care too. When someone develops a long-term condition, he or she may need increasing care over many years. Cancer can progress rapidly, in which case family members find themselves thrown into a caring situation with no preparation. Care is something many people find themselves doing to varying degrees.
Claire Nicholl: I chose to specialise in medicine for the elderly because of the huge variety it offers you as a physician in terms of a career. Most of the time, I absolutely love my job: I now work mainly on the wards and in outpatients clinics, I teach student doctors and train and examine postgraduate doctors. I ‘m also Trust co-lead for dementia services. I see lots of elderly frail people; each has different needs and often there is a chance to make a real difference to their lives. The negative media about the NHS, which I hear when I switch on the car radio, is depressing. Some terrible things have happened and urgently need addressing. But we mustn’t lose sight of the excellent work that goes on or launch an attack on the thousands of people who work in caring roles.
Nevertheless, I do feel that as a society we have moved backwards in terms of how we look out for each other. We tend to stand back in situations where in the past we might have got involved in reaching out to someone in need: if a child falls over we feel nervous about helping them up in case we are accused of touching them inappropriately. In many communities there’s been a loss of reciprocity – the idea of people coming together to help each other. On a more positive note, many of the elderly people I meet do have wonderful families and neighbours.
In terms of what the state does to look after people, there’s been a rise in public expectations of what the NHS can provide. For example, people who experience infertility, now expect to have IVF treatment into their 40s; people diagnosed with cancer want access to the best drugs and treatment which can be very expensive for very small benefits. The NHS doesn’t talk about rationing healthcare, it talks about prioritising – but in effect there’s a finite pot of money and it has to make decisions about who gets what and how much.
Who should be responsible for care?
CCD: What’s interesting is how we, in the west, categorise people and treat them accordingly, and, in particular, how we order lives into distinct stages, each having its own distinct expectations, responsibilities and mode of experience. This affects not only how we experience and understand our own lives but also how we treat others and, in turn, are treated by them. But our categories aren’t the only way of ordering a life. One of my favourite books in anthropology is No Aging in India, by Lawrence Cohen. Cohen considers the idea that, until very recently, there wasn’t such a thing as ageing in India. This might sound like post-modern nonsense; but what he means is that there wasn’t “ageing” as a distinct stage of life, as an irredeemable descent towards death in the way that we understand it. The elderly weren’t sent to liminal environments away from everybody else, but remained a central part of their communities.
It would be a typically anthropological gesture to say there is no ‘natural’ way to care; that there are many possible dispensations for caring for children, the vulnerable, the ill and the elderly, and that these are demonstrated by different cultures. This is all well and good, but it tells us little about what we should do in this, our, situation, other than that we shouldn’t believe our way is or was in any way inevitable. Cohen’s book is provocative, but it isn’t a guide in any meaningful sense. We have very specific problems. For instance, I worry that the terms of the care debate are solely economic. The ‘burden of care’ is always monetary, never moral. But the question of responsibility is a moral question. We have the resources to have a moral debate, but lack faith in them. All too often, moral debate is silenced by somebody who says, “Well, that’s just your opinion”, the implication being that moral opinions are just subjective; we feel confident when we talk about facts, because they have ‘substance’ we can get our teeth into, but we don’t feel the same about values.
GE: Historically, care has been something that families undertake and, when it’s good and families are well supported, nothing can substitute this kind of care. It’s always been the case that most carers - both unpaid and paid – are women. When larger numbers of women spent their lives at home rather than the workplace, care was something they built into their other activities. But families have changed: most women have jobs as well as family responsibilities and they find themselves juggling their roles. Despite these changes, women undertake the overwhelming responsibility of care. And it’s women who more often than men find themselves alone and needing care at the end of life.
CN: As Gail says, care falls largely to women, whether they are paid or unpaid. And in both these cases, women are generally juggling a number of roles. Families are often geographically dispersed and women are likely to be working. So women face all these pressures. Paid carers get minimal training, their work is low status and poorly paid: yet they work they do is demanding, both mentally and physically, and they are in roles that carry a lot of personal responsibility. This isn’t something easy to fix because for people paying for care at home, or for a place in a home, the costs are already high. Those people paying for places in care homes are effectively subsidising the care of those in the same homes who are paid for by their local authorities. So society does face some really big challenges in this respect – and there are certainly no easy answers. And the pressures on families, and on the NHS and other services, are inevitably going to get greater.
Can caring be taught?
CCD: My research focused precisely on the question of learning to care. One doesn’t just walk off the street into a care home and start caring: I had to shadow experienced carers as they worked and learn from them. They told me that in order to care I had to “turn off” my emotions, to dissociate doer from deed and ignore provocations from the residents. Because residents were seen as lacking the necessary stable mental state to be responsible agents, you couldn’t blame them for bad behaviour, and reproaching them would only upset them and aggravate their condition. All this might sound rather different from the official line on caring, but this is exactly what new carers were doing: learning to see the residents as being irresponsible and undeserving of blame. This account of care’s necessary work on the self comes very close to a famous philosophical account of attributing blame. In his essay Freedom and Resentment, PF Strawson argues that attributing responsibility has nothing to do with an objective measure ‘out there’ in the world, but is about the emotional stances we take towards each other.
When we see someone as irresponsible, we suspend our habitual emotional responses, adopting what he calls an “objective attitude” and making that person no longer a full player in our moral games. This was something I had difficulty doing at first, being completely unused to interacting with elderly people with dementia. I had never been in a care home before and my family has been blessed with remarkable longevity: at 94 my great-grandmother Winifred was still taking a restorative Guinness daily and leaning over the banister to pop money in the electricity meter. Though some of the residents seemed to me as close to dead as it is possible to be when alive, others were less obviously incapable, and yet their behaviour could vary quite dramatically from day to day, or even within a single day, making it unclear what to expect of them and how to respond.
GE: I trained as a nurse at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and I can clearly remember being shown by the ward sister how to bathe a patient. She demonstrated to me, by the way she went about her this task, just as much as by what she said, that washing someone was not a lowly task but something quite vital. It was an opportunity to assess the patient, observing how they were, talking to them, while the care was provided. When it came to serving meals, there was the same attention to detail: food was selected from the trolley for its suitability to individual patients. We were taught to make a note of how much patients ate and drank, and help them if they needed help. Basic nursing care was something seen as valuable and skilled. I found the example of this sister inspirational; she taught me a tremendous amount about taking a pride in your work and upholding standards of care.
As for learning to “turn off” your emotions, I think that you do need a level of professionalism but I think this can be overdone. It’s not appropriate to be cold – but on the other hand it’s not appropriate to be too matey either. Niceties such as how you address a patient – by their first name or as Mr, Mrs or Miss if that is preferred – are so important to the dignity, and self-esteem, of the patient. All these apparently small things add up to create an environment that is either caring or not.
CN: I think the ability to care generally goes back to how you were brought up – and whether you were encouraged to be kind to people and animals, to think about others, and to respect other people’s space. Communication skills can be taught and improved on through tips and strategies to raise professionalism. But it’s very hard to teach caring from scratch. The extent to which someone feels empathy, or a sense of compassion, varies from person to person. If you don’t feel empathy for the people you’re working with, and paid to look after, you really shouldn’t be working in a hands-on caring role. The reality is, however, that if you’re unskilled and looking for a job, then the jobs readily available to you are likely to be in the care sector. As for how you go about caring, your personal style, it’s also true that everyone has a different way of doing things: an approach works with one patient won’t necessarily suit another. That’s a fact of life we can’t avoid.
Is there a crisis of care?
CCD: I think how the idea of how a care crisis is framed in the media and the public imagination, is as interesting as the question of whether it actually exists or not. Clearly, the economics of care are frightening, and made even more so by the current political and economic dispensation. But we need to make sure we are asking the right questions and looking in the right places. The general idea of a “crisis” might itself be a problem, smuggling in certain assumptions which cloud our thinking or make us favour certain lines of questioning over others.
We should be alert to the fact that we seem only to have economic crises today. The care crisis is no different, being presented as an economic, not a moral, problem. Even a major study like Dementia 2010 sticks to the facts (the figures) and avoids the language of values. It’s the same in the newspapers, more or less. In a recent piece on Labour’s care policy, for instance, Polly Toynbee used the word ‘fair’ essentially to mean ‘distributed along more economically equitable lines’; she did not question whether there might be a way to care for the elderly which not only takes into account the distribution of the cost, but equally asks what they deserve and are due from their loved ones and from society.
When we do discuss morality, usually in cases of abuse by carers, what’s often emphasised is its singularity— there are only individual scandals involving individual care homes and individual carers (Winterbourne View, Mid-Staffs, Hilton Gardens, etc).The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu famously said that Watergate wasn’t a scandal, because for something to be a scandal it had to be individual or unusual; how many Watergates had there already been, and how many were there to come? American politics itself was the real scandal. He could just as easily have been talking about care today.
GE: The scale of need created by the growing elderly population has been well documented. Many paid carers working in residential homes and in the community do an exceptional job – but they receive minimal training and are rewarded by minimum wages for caring for some of the most vulnerable people in society. This doesn’t give carers – or the public at large - a good message about the importance of their role. It’s shocking that carers paid to support people in their own homes are generally not paid for the time they spend travelling between visits – and sometimes not even reimbursed for their travel costs. Some paid carers are on zero hour contracts which give them no job security. This situation urgently needs addressing.
There is another less immediately visible problem too: a crisis of individual people not recognising the situation they are in. Carers looking after family members or friends start out by providing one level of care but it often escalates so they continue to provide care with no service input – and often no knowledge of what support they could access. This can lead to cases of crisis – especially when one elderly or frail person is looking after another.
CN: I fear that this winter, and if not this winter then next winter, could be a really difficult time for the NHS. In my opinion, we have had far too much political interference and reorganisations which have led to a loss of staff morale and affected the ways in which people feel a sense of ownership of their jobs. In the case of recent scandals, which are inexcusable, most of those involved were not ‘bad people’: they were let down by the system and slipped into struggling to meet targets and jumping through hoops rather than looking at the care provided to patients for whom they were responsible. A system in which one Trust has to compete with another, and is judged on the bottom line, is not a system that is putting compassion first: it’s a system that prioritises targets over people.
Is there a solution to this crisis?
CCD: I think we need to be certain what the nature of the crisis is. There clearly are economic problems. But even if we solved the immediate economic problems— if more funding were made available for dementia research, diagnosis and treatment, for instance — then the structure of care institutions, if it remained intact, might still make abuse and mistreatment inevitable.
As long as the elderly and the vulnerable are treated as objects to be administered to, in a better or worse way, then I think the moral problem will remain. The question is whether we can find ways to allow the elderly and the vulnerable to exist actively, rather than passively, within, rather than outside, society. This is the provocative message at the heart of No Aging in India, that we don’t have to do things this way — that the elderly don’t have to be passive and that their existence and experience can be profoundly meaningful, both to themselves and to those around them. But moral questions barely register at the moment. Making them register won’t be easy.
GE: We certainly need a much better career structure for carers to encourage them to develop and move forward – the introduction of NVQs is a valuable first step and must be encouraged. Care is unpredictable by nature: this is at the crux of the challenge. As the journalist Jackie Ashley, wife of Andrew Marr, has pointed out in interviews about their experience of Andrew’s stroke and recovery, paid-for care is organised to pre-planned time slots. Andrew’s carer would arrive at 7am – but he wanted to get up at 6am which meant that when the carer arrived assistance was no longer needed. This is just a small detail but it reveals so much about a crisis facing not just one family but many others too. Jackie Ashley has also raised the question of whether family leave could be broadened beyond maternity and paternity leave to include a range of situations and scenarios. There is no substitute for quality family care – and we can strive to help families to make that care possible.
CN: Caring for the frail older people whom I see, many of whom have cognitive problems, takes a lot of time and this puts real pressure on staffing budgets. People with dementia don’t necessarily feel hungry at meal times and feeding them takes time, skill and patience. We’re now seeing an increase in the use of volunteers to undertake these tasks in hospitals. At Addenbrooke’s Hospital, Giles Wright, Voluntary Services Manager, is working on a programme to ensure that all volunteers in the hospital have basic training about dementia and those who express a particular interest in working with older people have additional training and on-going support.
There’s a lot of talk about assistive technology and how it can play a role in care. It’s a term used to describe not just devices that allow people to do things like close the curtains, switch the radio on and heat up food remotely, or ways of monitoring people at home – for example whether they are walking around and have opened the fridge – but also covers the development of robots as companions in the home, something that’s been explored in Japan. I’m sceptical about a lot of this: essentially people need people, not gadgets. Pets can provide companionship and a new development is the training of dogs. Dogs can enhance the quality of life of a person with dementia – but once again dogs need people to look after them.
With the number of very old people increasing dramatically it’s likely that attitudes to euthanasia will eventually change. At present, there’s a lot of skirting around the issue in professional circles. Many people, especially older women, tell me that they are worried about becoming a burden on their families, and are really frightened about losing their independence and dignity. These people tell me that they would like to have the choice of going to Dignitas but are concerned that when they might want to end things they will not able to make the journey.
For more information about this story contact Alex Buxton, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge, email@example.com 01223 761673
Inset images from top: Vinoth Chandar, Sceptre Publishers, Jess Golden, Magnus Franklin, Phil and Pam, Marmotte73, Melvyn Bragg
On November 1 Melvyn Bragg will talk about his book Grace and Mary at the Festival of Ideas. The novel is based on Bragg’s own bitter-sweet experience of his mother’s dementia. Looking back across three generations, it raises fundamental questions about social attitudes and how they shape our lives. Three people discuss some of the big challenges that face us.
Revealing words: what our language on Facebook says about us
By Diane FitzMaurice from News. Published on Oct 18, 2013.
The musical ages of modern man: how our taste in music changes over a lifetime
By fpjl2 from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on Oct 15, 2013.
The explosion in music consumption over the last century has made ‘what you listen to’ an important personality construct – as well as the root of many social and cultural tribes – and, for many people, their self-perception is closely associated with musical preference. We would perhaps be reluctant to admit that our taste in music alters - softens even - as we get older.
Now, a new study suggests that - while our engagement with it may decline - music stays important to us as we get older, but the music we like adapts to the particular ‘life challenges’ we face at different stages of our lives.
It would seem that, unless you die before you get old, your taste in music will probably change to meet social and psychological needs.
One theory put forward by researchers, based on the study, is that we come to music to experiment with identity and define ourselves, and then use it as a social vehicle to establish our group and find a mate, and later as a more solitary expression of our intellect, status and greater emotional understanding.
Researchers say the study is the first to “comprehensively document” the ways people engage with music “from adolescence to middle age”. The study is published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Using data gathered from more than a quarter of a million people over a ten year period, researchers divided musical genres into five broad, “empirically derived” categories they call the MUSIC model - mellow, unpretentious, sophisticated, intense, contemporary - and plotted the patterns of preference across age-groups.
These five categories incorporate multiple genres that share common musical and psychological traits - such as loudness and complexity.
“The project started with a common conception that musical taste does not evolve after young adulthood. Most academic research to date supported this claim, but - based on other areas of psychological research and our own experiences - we were not convinced this was the case,” said Arielle Bonneville-Roussy from Cambridge’s Department of Psychology, who led the study.
The study found that, unsurprisingly, the first great musical age is adolescence - defined by a short, sharp burst of ‘intense’ and the start of a steady climb of ‘contemporary’. ‘Intense’ music - such as punk and metal - peaks in adolescence and declines in early adulthood, while ‘contemporary’ music - such as pop and rap - begins a rise that plateaus until early middle age.
“Teenage years are often dominated by the need to establish identity, and music is a cheap, effective way to do this,” said Dr Jason Rentfrow, senior researcher on the study.
“Adolescents’ quest for independence often takes the shape of a juxtaposed stance to the perceived ‘status quo’, that of parents and the establishment. ‘Intense’ music, seen as aggressive, tense and characterised by loud, distorted sounds has the rebellious connotations that allow adolescents to stake a claim for the autonomy that is one of this period’s key ‘life challenges’.”
As ‘intense’ gives way to the rising tide of ‘contemporary’ and introduction of ‘mellow’ – such as electronic and R & B – in early adulthood, the next musical age emerges. These two “preference dimensions” are considered “romantic, emotionally positive and danceable,” write the researchers.
“Once people overcome the need for autonomy, the next ‘life challenge’ concerns finding love and being loved – people who appreciate this ‘you’ that has emerged,” said Rentfrow.
“What we took away from the results is that these forms of music reinforce the desire for intimacy and complement settings where people come together with the goal of establishing close relationships – parties, bars, clubs and so on.
“Whereas the first musical age is about asserting independence, the next appears to be more about gaining acceptance from others.”
As we settle down and middle age begins to creep in, the last musical age, as identified by the researchers, is dominated by ‘sophisticated’ – such as jazz and classical – and ‘unpretentious’ – such as country, folk and blues.
Researchers write that both these dimensions are seen as “positive and relaxing” - with ‘sophisticated’ indicating the complex aesthetic of high culture that could be linked to social status and perceived intellect, while ‘unpretentious’ echoes sentiments of family, love and loss – emotionally direct music that speaks to the experiences most will have had by this life stage.
“As we settle into ourselves and acquire more resources to express ourselves – career, home, family, car – music remains an extension of this, and at this stage there are aspects of wanting to promote social status, intellect and wealth that play into the increased gravitation towards ‘sophisticated’ music,” said Rentfrow, “as social standing is seen as a key ‘life challenge’ to be achieved by this point”.
“At the same time, for many this life stage is frequently exhausted by work and family, and there is a requirement for relaxing, emotive music for those rare down times that reflects the other major ‘life challenge’ of this stage – that of nurturing a family and maintaining long-term relationships, perhaps the hardest of all.”
Adds Bonneville-Roussy: “Due to our very large sample size, gathered from online forms and social media channels, we were able to find very robust age trends in musical taste. I find it fascinating to see how seemingly trivial behaviour such as music listening relates to so many psychological aspects, such as personality and age.”
For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
New research charting broad shifts in changing personal music tastes during our lifetimes finds that - while it’s intrinsically linked to personality and experience - there are common music genre trends associated with key stages in a human life.
"From early childhood, I attended specialised classical music schools. Together with my school friends, I grew up with the idea that Beethoven and Debussy were cool. I was clearly an outlier. During adolescence, although I still preferred classical music, I used to listen to pop music such as the Spice girls and Madonna to please my ‘non-classical’ friends. I would go out with my friends and would shape my taste according to the latest trends I would hear.
"During adolescence, my musical preferences would change according to those of my ‘non-classical’ friends, going from teen pop to rap and R&B, and then later rock and funk. My taste for mellow, contemporary and intense music would last until I entered university, where I could freely display my true preference for classical music once and for all."
“I definitely liked loud, raw music that concerned my parents during adolescence – Rage against the Machine, Ministry, Jane’s Addiction, Beastie Boys were all staples of my teenage years. I was in a lot of bands and used to play the drums, I definitely enjoyed making serious amounts of noise!”
“I loved going to dance clubs and was very into drum and bass in early adulthood. I also really enjoyed salsa music and me and my girlfriend of the time (now my wife) would spend a lot of evenings going out dancing. I also really enjoyed a band called Phish, who specialised in extended improvised jams - great for long, late night conversations.
"I’m still a fair way off middle age! But, I can certainly see similar patterns emerging. Jazz became increasingly important to me in my twenties and thirties – particularly John Coltrane – but it’s really demanding stuff, and with a 14 month old baby things are a lot more hectic now and I don’t have so much time to invest in such rigorous music.
"Interestingly, I have noticed I’ve begun to develop more appreciation for country music. I grew up in Texas, and always hated country music and its fans – we used to call them ‘sh*tkickers’, the guys with boots and hats. But while I don’t listen to the mainstream ‘stadium’ country, certainly Johnny Cash, Townes Van Zandt and even some types of bluegrass have become more appealing of late."
AS-Level Essay Competition winner receives prize
By Diane FitzMaurice from News. Published on Oct 14, 2013.
Dr Jason Rentfrow is editor of newly published APA title, Geographical Psychology
By Diane FitzMaurice from News. Published on Oct 06, 2013.
Double recognition for Melanie Jensen's research project
By Diane FitzMaurice from News. Published on Oct 03, 2013.
Alumni Festival Lecture given by Nicky Clayton and Clive Wilkins
By Diane FitzMaurice from News. Published on Sep 30, 2013.
Ion Channels in Health and Disease: the 4th Biennial Cambridge Neuroscience Symposium
By Diane FitzMaurice from News. Published on Sep 28, 2013.
Best of the year: Dr James Russell's Journal of Cognition & Development paper receives award
By Diane FitzMaurice from News. Published on Sep 23, 2013.
Research reveals how elephants 'see' the world
By gm349 from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on Aug 28, 2013.
A new study reveals that elephants are not able to recognize visual cues provided by humans but are responsive to vocal commands. These findings may directly impact protocols for future efforts to conserve elephants, which are in danger of extinction in this century due to increased poaching and human/elephant conflict.
The study, led by Dr Josh Plotnik from the University of Cambridge and founder of Think Elephants International, a not-for-profit organization that strives to promote elephant conservation through scientific research, education programming and international collaborations, was designed in partnership with and co-authored by 12-14 year-old students from a middle school in New York. It was recently published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.
"Dogs have a great sense of smell, but appear to be able to follow human pointing as a way of finding food," said Dr Joshua Plotnik, founder and CEO of Think Elephants and a researcher at the University of Cambridge. "Perhaps elephants' sense of smell is one of their primary senses, meaning that they prefer to use it when navigating their physical world."
The research tested whether elephants could follow visual, social cues (pointing and gazing) to find food hidden in one of two buckets. The elephants failed at this task, but were able to follow vocal commands telling them which bucket contained the food. These results suggest that elephants may navigate their physical world in ways that primates and dogs, prior subjects of animal cognition studies, do not.
In the field of animal cognition, there has been considerable attention focused on how animals interact with each other and humans. Particularly, there is a lot of interest in how dogs are able to read social cues to understand what people see, know or want. Remarkably, non-human primates such as chimpanzees are not good at this, suggesting it may be that through domestication or long-term human contact, dogs have developed a capacity for following social cues provided by people. Think Elephants aimed to test elephants on this because they are a wild, non-domesticated species that, in captivity in Thailand, are in relatively constant contact with humans.
The study's findings have important implications for future protection protocols for wild elephants. According to Dr Plotnik, "If elephants are not primarily using sight to navigate their natural environment, human-elephant conflict mitigation techniques must consider what elephants' main senses are and how elephants think so that they might be attracted or deterred effectively as a situation requires.
“The loss of natural habitat, poaching for ivory, and human-elephant conflict are serious threats to the sustainability of elephants in the wild. Put simply, we will be without elephants, and many other species in the wild, in less than 50 years if the world does not act."
To mitigate this, Dr Plotnik suggests additional research on elephant behaviour and an increase in educational programming are needed, particularly in Asia where the market for ivory is so strong.
The publication of the research is the climax of a three-year endeavour to create a comprehensive middle school curriculum that brings elephants into classrooms as a way to educate young people about conservation by getting them directly involved in work with endangered species. Think Elephants' education program in NYC is a pilot that will be expanding to Thai schools later in 2013.
The students were integrally involved in the development of this study, even helping to design some of the experimental control conditions. The study was carried out at Think Elephants' field site in northern Thailand, and students participated via webcam conversation and direct web-links to the elephant camp. This shows that collaborations that include both academics and young students can be productive, informative and exciting.
According to Dr Jen Pokorny, Think Elephants' head of education programs, "We are so proud of our pilot program with East Side Middle School and hope to use this as a model for other schools. This wonderful group of students had an opportunity that very few young people have and, as a result, are now published co-authors on a significant piece of animal behaviour research.
“Think Elephants is committed to showcasing these productive, informative and exciting student collaborations, and we believe similar studies can help to change the way in which young people observe and appreciate their global environment."
Inset image: Josh Plotnik with elephants and some of the co-authors of the research
Designed with middle school students, study helps to inform better practices for protecting these endangered animals.
British Academy New Fellows 2013
By amb94 from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on Aug 08, 2013.
Each year the Academy recognises academics for their outstanding research and work across the humanities and social sciences. It represents the counterpart to the Royal Society, which exists to serve the natural sciences.
“The humanities and social sciences celebrate the study of what it means to be human and how we relate to the world around us. They can also help us tackle many of the challenges faced in this country and the world as a whole,” Professor Lord Nicholas Stern, new President of the British Academy, said. “Our new Fellows, from across the UK and world, are world-class experts in the humanities and social sciences and can play a vital role in sustaining the Academy’s activities – helping select researchers and research projects for funding support, contributing to policy reports and speaking at the Academy’s public events.”
The distinguished individuals who join the 900-strong fellowship are:
Professor Richard Hunter, Regius Professor of Greek, Trinity College
Professor Roel Sterckx, Joseph Needham Professor of Chinese History, Science and Civilization, Clare College
Professor Hans van de Ven, Professor of Modern Chinese History, Department of East Asian Studies, Fellow at St Catharine's College
Professor Christopher Page, Professor of Medieval Music and Literature, Sidney Sussex College
Professor Gareth Stedman Jones, Director of the Centre for History and Economics, King’s College
Professor John Kerrigan, Professor of English 2000, St John’s College
Professor Eilís Ferran, Professor of Company and Securities Law & JM Keynes Fellow, St Catharine’s College
Professor Usha Goswami, Professor of Cognitive Developmental Neuroscience and Director, Centre for Neuroscience in Education, Department of Psychology, St John’s College
Professor Hamid Sabourian, Professor of Economics and Game Theory, King’s College
The British Academy was established by Royal Charter in 1902. Many of Britain's most distinguished scholars in the humanities and social sciences have been involved in the life of the Academy and the roll call of past Fellows includes many of the greatest British names of the 20th century.
The Academy is also an important funding body, in receipt of Government grant-in-aid, to support individuals and intellectual resources, and enables UK researchers to work with scholars and resources in other countries, as well as attracting overseas scholars to the UK.
For more information go to http://www.britac.ac.uk
The British Academy has welcomed 9 Cambridge professors at this year’s Annual General Meeting
Want to stick with your diet? Better have someone hide the chocolate
By gm349 from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on Jul 25, 2013.
If you are trying to lose weight or save for the future, new research suggests avoiding temptation may increase your chances of success compared to relying on willpower alone. The study on self-control by researchers from the Universities of Cambridge and Dusseldorf was published today in the journal Neuron.
The researchers compared the effectiveness of willpower versus voluntarily restricting access to temptations, called ‘precommitment’. (Examples of precommitment include avoiding purchasing unhealthy food and putting money in savings accounts with hefty withdrawal fees.) They also examined the mechanisms in the brain that play a role in precommitment to better understand why it is so effective.
Molly Crockett, who undertook the research while at the University of Cambridge and is currently a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow at UCL, said: “Our research suggests that the most effective way to beat temptations is to avoid facing them in the first place.”
For the study, the researchers recruited healthy male volunteers and gave them a series of choices: they had to decide between a tempting “small reward” available immediately, or a “large reward” available after a delay. Small rewards were mildly enjoyable erotic pictures and large rewards were extremely enjoyable erotic pictures. Since erotic pictures are immediately rewarding at the time of viewing, the researchers were able to probe the mechanisms of self-control as they unfolded in real-time. (The scientists could not use money, for example, since subjects could only reap the rewards of money once they left the lab.)
For some of the choices, the small reward was continuously available, and subjects had to exert willpower to resist choosing it until the large reward became available. But for other choices, subjects were given the opportunity to precommit: before the tempting option became available, they had the ability to prevent themselves from ever encountering the temptation.
The scientists measured people's choices and brain activity as they made these decisions. They found that precommitment was a more effective self-control strategy than willpower – subjects were more likely to get the large reward when they had the opportunity to precommit. They also found that the most impulsive people (those with the weakest willpower) benefited the most from precommitment.
The scientists were also able to identify the regions of the brain that play a role in willpower and precommitment. They found that precommitment specifically activates the frontopolar cortex, a region that is involved in thinking about the future. Additionally, when the frontopolar cortex is engaged during precommitment, it increases its communication with a region that plays an important role in willpower, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. By identifying the brain networks involved in willpower and precommitment, the research opens new avenues for understanding failures of self-control.
Tobias Kalenscher, co-author on the paper from University of Dusseldorf, said: “The brain data is exciting because it hints at a mechanism for how precommitment works: thinking about the future may engage frontopolar regions, which by virtue of their connections with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex are able to guide behaviour toward precommitment.”
For more information about this story, please contact: Genevieve Maul, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge. Email: Genevieve.Maul@admin.cam.ac.uk; Tel: 01223 765542.
Study indicates that removing a temptation is more effective than relying on willpower alone.
People can ‘beat’ guilt detection tests by suppressing incriminating memories
By gm349 from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on Jun 03, 2013.
Brain scans that claim to be able to determine whether a criminal is guilty of a crime can be fooled, new research reveals.
The study has shown that people can intentionally suppress incriminating memories and thereby avoid detection in brain activity guilt detection tests.
Such tests, which are commercially available in the United States and are used by law enforcement agencies in several countries, including Japan and India, are based on the logic that criminals will have specific memories of their crime stored in their brain. When presented with reminders of their crime, it was previously assumed that their brain would automatically and uncontrollably recognise these details. Using scans of the brain’s electrical activity, this recognition would be observable, recording a ‘guilty’ response.
However, research by an international team of psychologists from the universities of Cambridge, Kent and Magdeburg as well as the Medical Research Council, has shown that some people can intentionally and voluntarily suppress unwanted memories.
For the study, the researchers had participants conduct a mock crime. These people were later tested on their crime recognition while having their brain activity monitored using electroencephalography (EEG). Critically, when asked to suppress their crime memories, a significant proportion of people managed to reduce their brain’s recognition response and appear innocent.
If suspects can intentionally suppress their memories of a crime and evade detection, the research calls into question the reliability of brain activity guilt detection tests, and suggests careful consideration is needed before such evidence is introduced in criminal trials.
Dr Zara Bergstrom, formerly with the University of Cambridge and currently a lecturer in cognitive psychology at the University of Kent and principal investigator on the research, said: “Brain activity guilt detection tests are promoted as accurate and reliable measures for establishing criminal culpability. Our research has shown that this assumption is not always justified. Using these types of tests to say that someone is innocent of a crime is not valid because it could just be the case that the suspect has managed to hide their crime memories.”
Dr Jon Simons, of the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, added: “Our findings would suggest that the use of most brain activity guilt detection tests in legal settings could be of limited value. Of course, there could be situations where it is impossible to beat a memory detection test, and we are not saying that all tests are flawed, just that the tests are not necessarily as good as some people claim. More research is also needed to understand whether the results of this research work in real life crime detection.”
Dr Michael Anderson, Senior Scientist at the Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, commented: “Interestingly, not everyone was able to suppress their memories of the crime well enough to beat the system. Clearly, more research is needed to identify why some people were much more effective than others.”
Dr Anderson’s group is presently trying to understand such individual differences with brain imaging.
Research calls into question reliability of such tests
Mood-tracking app paves way for pocket therapy
By tdk25 from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on May 08, 2013.
A smartphone app that tracks people’s feelings and works out what might be triggering peaks in their mood, using the data invisibly captured by their phones, has been developed by researchers.
The free app, called “Emotion Sense” has just been launched and is available for Android. It takes advantage of the fact that smartphones are increasingly capable of collecting information about where we are, how noisy our environment is, how much we are moving around, and who we communicate with.
Unlike other, similar, research projects, Emotion Sense then combines systematically-gathered data from a wide range of sensors with the user’s own report about their mood, which is entered through a system designed by psychologists. First, the user is asked to mark how they feel using an on-screen matrix called an “emotion grid”. Based on their response, the phone then conducts a brief survey, to clarify their emotional state.
By cross-referring both sets of data, the app’s designers hope that it will accumulate a very precise record of what drives people’s emotional peaks, showing, for example, when they are likely to be at their most stressed, or when they feel most relaxed. This could prove particularly valuable for helping people who need specialist psychological support.
Emotion Sense is also a live research project. The University of Cambridge-led team behind it previously carried out lab-based investigations in which participants were asked to record their feelings in a diary. The new system allows them to gather data about both the drivers of people’s moods, and how far smartphones can record this, in a “real world” setting.
Dr Neal Lathia, a research associate in the University’s Computer Laboratory, explained: “Behind the scenes, smartphones are constantly collecting data that can turn them into a key medical and psychological tool. Any smartphone now comes with numerous sensors that can tell you about aspects of your life, like how active you are, or how sociable you have been in the past 24 hours. In the long term, we hope to be able to extract that data so that, for example, it can be used for therapeutic purposes.”
The app was created as part of a wider project, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, called “Ubiquitous and Social Computing for Positive Behaviour Change” (or “UBhave”). Its overall aim is to see how far mobile phones can be used to monitor people’s behaviour and, where appropriate, change it for the better to improve their health and well-being.
“Most people who see a therapist may only have an appointment once every fortnight,” Dr Cecilia Mascolo, a reader in mobile systems at the Cambridge Computer Lab said. “Many, however, keep their phones with them most of the time. In terms of sheer presence, mobiles can provide an ongoing link with a person.”
Researchers have long been interested in the potential of mobile phones to monitor people’s behaviour. By combining the data from the GPS, accelerometer, and microphone with a log of the user’s calling and texting patterns, a study of a person’s smartphone can offer a very useful record of their habits, activities and routines.
Previous research by the Emotion Sense team focused on the potential of the microphone, tracking users’ conversations to work out how they were feeling. The research now seeks to exploit a wider range of sensors, combined with self-reporting from the user themselves, who can input data about how they feel.
When Emotion Sense is opened for the first time, only one sensor is “unlocked”. The app spends roughly a week collecting data from this sensor and testing it against the user’s emotional state. At the end of this, the user is asked to complete a short life-satisfaction survey, which unlocks a new sensor. After about eight weeks, a full range of sensors has been tested. This systematic approach provides the researchers with valuable data for study, but it is also designed as a “journey of discovery” for the user, giving them a step-by-step insight into what might be influencing their own mood swings.
Mood itself is registered through a system designed by psychologists within the research team. At different times of the day, the app sends the user a notification, rather like receiving a text message, asking them about their mood. These can be set to pop up on the phone as little as twice a day, and assess the user’s mood using a custom-designed “emotion grid”, followed by a survey.
The grid has two axes, one stretching from “negative” to “positive” feelings, and one from “active” to “inactive”. Using their touchscreen, the user simply chooses the point on the grid that reflects how positive and active they feel. For example, a point close to the top right indicates high positivity and activity, suggesting that they feel energised or excited.
Uniquely, this general overview is then refined by a short survey, which asks the user to clarify exactly how they feel. The entire process takes about two minutes to complete.
“Most other attempts at software like this are coarse-grained in terms of their view of what a feeling is,” Dr Jason Rentfrow, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, said. “Many just look at emotion in terms of feeling happy, sad, angry or neutral. The aim here is to use a more flexible approach, to collect data that shows how moods vary between people . That is something which we think is quite unique to the system we have designed.”
The code which is used in Emotion Sense to collect sensor data from people’s phones is also being made available on an open-source basis so that other researchers can conduct their own experiments. It can be found at http://emotionsense.org/code.html. For information about the app in general, visit: http://emotionsense.org
For more information about this story, please contact: Tom Kirk, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge. Tel: 01223 332300; Mob: 07764 161923; Email: email@example.com
An Android app which keeps tabs on users’ mood swings and works out what might be causing them has been developed by researchers, with implications for psychological therapy and improving well-being.
Investigating child abuse: how interview training really matters
By amb206 from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on Apr 05, 2013.
A study of the outcomes of child sex abuse cases in the US state of Utah suggests that the introduction of improved techniques for interviewing young victims leads to fewer cases being dropped early in the investigative process and results in a greater percentage of prosecutions. The findings support the argument for better training of police interviewers who have the highly sensitive task of gathering information about traumatic incidents.
A paper summarising the study (‘Do Case Outcomes Change When Investigative Interviewing Practices Change?’) will appear next month (May 2013) in the journal Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. The research was carried out by an international team including Michael Lamb, Professor of Psychology at Cambridge University, who is an expert on children and forensic interviewing.
The study is the first to focus on the investigative interview as a predictor of outcomes – such as the filing of criminal charges, prosecution, and guilty pleas or convictions.
The research drew on data from Salt Lake County Children’s Justice Centre which in mid-1997 introduced training for all its police interviewers in techniques developed under the auspices of the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and known as NICHD Protocol. The study centred on a before-and-after comparison of outcomes of child sex abuse cases across two periods: a pre-Protocol period of 1994-1997 and Protocol period of 1997-2000.
The NICHD approach to interviewing was developed by Professor Lamb and his colleagues in response to widespread evidence that free recall memory prompts, such as open-ended questions, are most likely to elicit accurate information from children. Previous studies led by Professor Lamb, using data gathered in Israel, the USA and the UK, showed that open-ended questions were effective in interviewing children as young as four years’ old about incidents that may have involved abuse.
The NICHD Protocol – or similar approaches – is now favoured by a growing number of countries with training being given to those who carry out the highly sensitive process of gathering evidence from children who have suffered trauma. The open-ended questioning style replaces or contrasts with a more directive, option-posing or suggestive line of enquiry which research has shown to be associated with erroneous responses.
The results from the study of child abuse cases investigated by police in Utah have clear implications for the UK where the NICHD Protocol has been explicitly recommended to forensic investigators since 2011 in the Home Office’s manual, Achieving Best Evidence.
Professor Lamb and his colleagues believe that similar results would be likely in the other countries where the Protocol has been adopted because such interviews provide investigators with a much better understanding of what actually happened to the child, tend to be very compelling when the interviews are shown to jurors, and also provide interviewers with other investigative leads they can follow up in pursuit of additional evidence. Currently, English, French, Japanese, Hebrew, Finnish, Korean and Portuguese (Iberian and Brazilian) versions of the Protocol are in use around the world.
The researchers initially looked at an overall total of 760 cases of suspected abuse of children aged from three- to 13-years-old. Some of these cases were dropped and some were transferred to other jurisdictions, reducing the total to 696. Of these, 364 cases resulted in charges being filed. The comparison of outcomes across the two periods before and after introduction of the Protocol revealed a number of significant differences at two crucial points in the progress of cases through the investigative process: the filing of charges by prosecutors and the final judicial disposition, through either plea negotiation or trial.
Charges were more likely to be filed following the introduction of the Protocol with 42 per cent of cases being filed pre-Protocol and more than 52 per cent being filed once the Protocol was in use. Once charges were filed, both pre-Protocol and Protocol interviews were highly (and similarly) likely to lead to guilty pleas. This filtering-out factor means that although half the cases were prosecuted, Protocol interviews were associated with a significantly higher rate of conviction. When cases were tried, Protocol cases were almost always associated with guilty verdicts.
These findings support the view that improving the quality of pre-trial phases of investigations is extremely important. “The quality of forensic interviewing practices is of utmost importance if the rights of both child victims and innocent suspects are to be protected. When child abuse is suspected, children’s verbal allegations often constitute the only available evidence. Thus our research into best-practice approach to interviewing has important implications for policy and practice,” said Professor Lamb.
Cases involving the youngest children in the study (those aged two to four) were the least likely to yield criminal charges regardless of interviewer training. Previous research has suggested that younger children may be more reluctant than older children to disclose and talk about abuse. It has also been shown that children who were suspected victims of parental abuse provided fewer informative responses than those who were suspected victims of non-parental abusers.
“When young children are interviewed they may provide less complete accounts than older counterparts might have done, meaning that their evidence is not sufficient to convince prosecutors that a conviction could be obtained at trial. These findings point to the need for development of interviewing techniques sensitive to the needs of young children who’ve been abused. Children need protection under the law and abusers should face conviction, regardless of their victims’ ages,” said Professor Lamb.
The paper ‘Do Case Outcomes Change When Investigative Interviewing Practices Change?’ by Margaret-Ellen Pope, Yael Orbach, Michael E Lamb, Craig B Abbott and Heather Stewart will appear in the print version of Psychology, Public Policy, and Law in May. http://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/law/index.aspx
For more information on this story contact: Alex Buxton, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge firstname.lastname@example.org 01223 761673.
Gathering evidence from children about alleged sex abuse is problematic. Research shows that when interviewers are trained in a protocol that favours open-ended questions more cases lead to charges and more charges lead to prosecution.