Category Archives: Psychology

Man Has Nose Chopped Off To Resemble ‘Captain America’s’ Red Skull… Dedication Or Madness?

Body Modification

My face flared up like a tomato…

We all know how far people will go when it comes to making sure their Cosplay outfits are up to scratch. With a myriad conventions becoming worldwide institutions and attracting bigger crowds every year such as San Diego Comic Con, the photographs of some of these outfits are sublime. Moreover, in recent years there have been outfits that have been the result of much blood, sweat and tears, such as the vast array of superhero outfits like Xenomorphs, Predators, Mech Suits and Iron Man replicas that provide us all with something to marvel at (did you see what I did there?). As it stands, most people know just how far to take it but there are always a minority of individuals’ out there that like to take things that little bit further, toying with the translucent lines of societal norms. Which brings us to this absolutely insane Redskull cosplay Continue reading

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Piaget’s developmental theory challeged

Piaget's four stages in the developmental journey

Piaget’s four stages in the developmental journey


Indeed, it is a healthy endeavor to discuss aspects of Piaget’s theory that have been challenged by subsequent psychologists using variations of his original experiments. Piaget is said to have created the foundations of the contemporary educational system that is held in place today. Piaget supported the idea that the child would be more beneficial in a rich learning environment rather than being subjected to direct tuition (Claudia Hammond, 2006). To discuss what aspects of his theory have been challenged, this essay is going to give an overview of Piaget’s theory of child development. In addition, three variations of Piaget’s famous experiments will be discussed. Subsequently this will show how aspects of Piaget’s original theory have been questioned. Continue reading

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Looking at different aspects of psychological theory and research including therapeutic jurisprudence within a forensic setting.

It's all about striking a balance.

It’s all about striking a balance.

As an individual, one is entitled to their human rights throughout all walks of life – and this is especially true when it comes to victims of crime (Towl & Crighton, 2010). Unfortunately, criminogenic activity is ubiquitous in society, and thus, no – one individual, is entirely impervious to the indirect injustices’ and misfortunes that make them vulnerable to such unlawful acts of criminality (Towl & Crighton, 2010). Consequently, whilst investigating acts of crime, the testimony of victims and witnesses is a paramount, but often a poorly remembered aspect of the legal procedure (Kebbell & Milne, 1998; Rand, 1975). Therefore, there has been an increase in the acknowledgement that certain individuals’ may have distinct needs that could facilitate investigative and legal procedures (Bull, R., 2010). However, due to mixed findings reported from police officers, there are obvious circumstantial differences in obtaining information from witnesses, victims and suspects (Bull & Soukara, 2010). Thus, this article aims to explain the shortcomings of the Cognitive Interview (CI) and the developmental aspects that have been applied to improve its efficacy in in trying to facilitate a two-way dynamicism between the interviewer and the interviewee (Bull, R., 2010). Also, the article is going to look at the possible beneficial value of promoting psychological wellbeing during the interviewing process (Winick, 1997). Thusly, the concept of synergizing therapeutic jurisprudence with the CI could be highly beneficial to police in obtaining information, and militate against witnesses’ overcoming psychological problems (Fisher & Geiselman, 2010). To conclude, examining meta-analytical research and contrasting the results with that of individual research will amplify limitations in empirical based research that could further provide insight into how practical methods can be improved (Clarke, C., Milne, R., & Bull, R., 2011). Continue reading

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The overlap of victimisation and offending


The circuitous nature of victimisation and offending.

The circuitous nature of victimisation and offending.

The overlap of victimisation and offending. Looking at victims of violence desisting from crime and reaffirming social bonds. (Work, routine; Something to live for again; Feeling of self worth; Familial reconnections, Sense of being, Reconnecting bonds)


The overlap between victimisation and offending and PTSD.


The overlap of victimisation and offending in renowned low socio-economic areas with regards to mental health.


The overlap between victimisation and offending in marginilised urban areas renowned for sectarian and territorial gang behaviour in the West of Scotland. Specifically renowned and run down hotspots (high poverty stricken areas). Continue reading

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Join the crowd and create some distraction – or lack of; the effect of target proximity and set-size in a visual search task

The Eye

All eyes on the stimulus? Maybe not so, ….




This experiment examined the effect that different set-sizes and proximity distances had on a feature integration visual search task. Different set-sizes were used as there have been mixed findings as to whether the amount of distractors have an effect on participants reaction times when locating a target. Proximity explored whether large and small display sizes had an effect on visual ‘pop-out’. It was concluded that reaction times were slowest in smaller set-sizes and distant proximity conditions and this was supported with asignificant interaction. These findings are similar to experiments carried out by Schubo, Schroger and Meinecke (2004) on set-size manipulation, although the reasons for the results remain inconclusive. The results support Wolfe’s (1998) theory that it may make more sense to talk about different degrees of efficiency in visual search tasks as opposed to the distinction between parallel and serial processing. Continue reading

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Psychology has a great deal to offer the law, but what exactly does this mean in regards to young offenders – Is there room for improvement?

Cillian Murphy

Now, …what will it be?!

Despite the consequences of public sector cuts, the attack on welfare and growing unemployment, crime rates have been steadily declining, a trend that has been discerning for the last fifteen years (Hancock & Raeside, 2009). Although there is a highly correlated systematic relationship between the marginalisation and deprivation of communities and the increased risk of violence and imprisonment for youth offenders, a myriad other factors compound these multivariate issues – with a vast degree of overlap – including territoriality, previous convictions, previous custodial sentencing and impulsivity and irrational decision making (Hancock & Raeside, 2009). Thus, youth offenders seem to become attracted to the metaphorical pitcher plant, and thus, become accustomed to the nectarous fast track benefits of criminal activities in a vast consumerist market – where wages are paying way below rising inflation rates (Bannister, 2012). This can create a despondent, circuitous and synonymity between incarceration and criminogenic tendencies (Copas, Marshall & Tarling, 1996). Thus, there is evidence that a major element in the increase in prison population is due to the failure to rehabilitate youth offenders and to plan for a seamless interaction back into a structured societal and familial algorithmic patternisation (Barry, 2013). Subsequently, this article will take a critical approach – using psychological theory – to gauge the current benefits and shortcomings of sentencing approaches in Scotland for youth offenders (Kearney, Kirkwood & MacFarlane, 2006). Also, it will look at the heuristic, moral, ethical and experiential methods that sentencers’ implement to create a narrative of the offender when sentencing them (Millie et al. 2009). Lastly, a critical review of the current universal multi agency approach and whether therapeutic jurisprudence can aide the desistence programme will offer some insight into any improvements that are needed to the current sentencing approaches which will, in turn, prevent individuals’ from falling into a never-ending cycle of crime (Lambie & Randell, 2011). Continue reading

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Processing Bias for Aggression Words in Forensic and Nonforensic Samples – Does Internal Dialogue Influence Schematic Algorithmic Thinking Patterns

Samskara is the Sanskrit term for the word 'Schemata'.

Samskara is the Sanskrit term for the word ‘Schemata’.

Salient stimuli that are of concerning consternation toward individuals’ of clinical and nonclinical populations produce specific configurations of bias towards avoidance, vigilance and aggression. Individuals’ with an aggressive disposition may have a predilection towards aggressive and/or violent behavior as has been evidenced in various dot probe and emotional stroop tests. There have been discussions about ecological validity implementing words in dot probe tests and many researchers are now using photographic face stimuli (NIMRID). However, there has been evidence to suggest there is a strong bias towards lexical stimuli due to numerous cognitive traits including individual schema and scripts (Smith and Waterman, 2003). Due to uncertainty of the nature of the dot probe test and its efficacy in a forensic environment, the study will include both; the emotional stroop test and the dot probe test. The study looks at the differences priming aggressively displayed words has on population samples reaction times (RTs) from non-forensic (based on Buss-Perry Aggression Questionnaire) and forensic based (based on their index offence) environments. Continue reading

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Understanding Knife Crime In Scotland

Have Face Walk Away

Have Face Walk Away

Table Of Contents


1.    Executive Summary

2.    Introduction

3.    Knife Carrying

3.1. Defensive vs Offensive weapon-carrying

3.2. Crime Victimisation

4.    Family Relationships

4.1. Sociological Inheritance

4.2. Territoriality

5.    Peer Relationships

5.1. Peer Influence

5.2. Popularity Amongst Peers

5.3. Previous Offending Amongst Peers

5.4. Gender Relation and Peers

6.    Alcohol

6.1. Alcohol Typologies

6.2. Alcohol and Violence

6.3. Alcohol and Weapons

6.4. Overall Alcohol Related Offenses

6.5. Drug and Alcohol related Homicide in Scotland                                   

7.    Gangs

7.1. The Nature and Impact Of Gangs

7.2. Individual Vulnerability

8.    Strain Theory

9.    Policy based on Ambiguous Statistical Findings

9.1. Measuring the Immeasurable

10.  Intervention Strategies

10.1. Perspectives and Viewpoints towards Recidivism

11.  Conclusion





Knife crime in Scotland is typically linked to a ‘booze and blades’ culture. This paper strived to give a factual account critically analysing the relationship between alcohol and weapon-related violence in Scotland. Dysfunctional familial relationships, gangs, fear of victimization, low self esteem all have different roles at different developmental stages that can either: exacerbate or alleviate violent criminogenic tendencies. There are other factors that add to the complex interrelationship of alcohol and knife crime including a persistence of violent territorial conflict between groups of youth gangs, and also low socio-economical factors including families living in disadvantaged and marginalised neighbourhoods. Alcohol and knife related violence creates restricted mobility and criminalisation, which can lead to a self-perpetuating life on the wrong side of the law. In recent years there has been a growing concern about the existence of youth gangs, alcohol and violent conflict between individuals and gang members using knives and other weapons. However, there is mixed information based on evidence relating to the nature, form and prevalence of youth ‘gangs’ and knife carrying in Scotland. Recognising these information shortfalls, the research has reported on several problem areas and produced potential policies that could alleviate some of these problems. Some of the findings are listed here:



  • Many young people carry knives not with the deliberate intention to harm, but to protect themselves or to gain respect from peers. It is important to decrease fear of crime and to rejuvenate low social-economic schemes to give young people alternative strategies to build self-esteem.
  • Territoriality and familial aspects are culturally embedded, which forms idiosyncratic ‘Norms of behaviour’. Such Norms are acquired through social learning and can lead to automatic behavioural choices: viewing social cues differently, aggression, fighting for one’s territory.
  • Adolescence, a period of increased sensitivity to peer pressure, a heightened propensity towards risk taking and decreased sensitivity to punishment, adds to the risk of becoming involved in gangs and violent conflicts.
  • The probability of predict whether and when individual will commit a violent crime is near impossible, however, research into the psychology of violent behaviour has revealed individual and social factors that are likely to increase the prospect of a violent act.
  • Commitment to decriminalization and destigmatization appears to be failing many young people. A ‘Zero-Tolerance’ approach can create a circuitous loop for offenders within the legal system. Diversionary strategies facilitate the desistance process.
  • To decrease recidivism, custodial punishment should focus on long term, psychological and social interventions. Universal aspects can change a young person’s social environment, or they can be given cognitive tools to diminish the impact of a negative social environment.
  • To increase efficiency there should be universality to all interventions and they should be designed based on scientific theories and evidence. Multi-agency partnerships that involved, schools, local authorities and community organisations in challenging longstanding cultural divisions.



‘Youth culture’ has taken many forms throughout the years, with various emphases on anti-social behaviour, specifically focusing on low socio-economic areas and the engrained cultural aspects within the confines of the area (e.g. territoriality, urban peer contacts). The current ‘knife culture’ is yet another manifestation of an important but difficult transition in a young person’s life. Psychologically at an age where impressionability, precariousness and fragility bridge the gap between the maturational point of adolescence that requires secure emotional support, moral guidance, and structure from parents, teachers and peer relationships. Situational factors can have devastating consequences during this developmental stage in life. For example, evidence has highlighted that young low self-esteemed adolescents can fear victimization in low socio-economic marginilised areas. Conversely, actions to suppress this fear can result in carrying of a knife, and even joining a gang, in which – both, create a sense of security, but neither, are a serviceable solution (Bannister et al. 2012).

2. Introduction


In recent years, increased alcohol consumption, youth knife-crime, and related ‘gang membership, have become issues of increased policy relevance across the UK (Eades et al, 2007; Lemos & Crane, 2004; Maxwell et al, 2007; Squires, 2009).  This re-emergence represents a change at the discursive level: a new label to claim dibs on the – not so radically changed – experiences of patterned behaviour from the marginalised urban youth (Eades, Grimshaw, Silvestri & Solomon, 2007). In Scotland, the national newspapers have led the public to believe that there is a gang epidemic, with at least 300 organized street gangs and anything between 130–170 in Scotland’s largest city – Glasgow (Deuchar, 2009). Media portrayals’ and sensationalism have led to ambiguities within the public hemisphere and it is not surprising that the public perception of crime has remained moderately consistent over the last 5 years (Scottish Government, 2010). Still, there has been an overall decline in crime in Scotland in the last 10 years; however, the most common method of killing over the same time period has consistently been with a sharp instrument. In 2012-13, of the 51 persons accused of homicide, for whom – alcohol and drug status was known, 71 % were reported to have been drunk and/or under the influence of drugs at the time of the offence (Scottish Government, 2013). The reason for the lack of research on specific areas of alcohol and knife crime is due to the baseline of uncertainty that lies in the relationships between alcohol, gangs and violence (Bannister, 2010). Furthermore, definitional aspects remain problematic as to what actually constitutes being part of a gang (Deuchar, 2009, 2013; Bannister, 2013).


3. Knife Carrying

 3.1. Defensive vs Offensive


 Not all knife carriers are offenders, and not all offenders of knife crime are carriers. Fear of violence amongst individuals’ most at risk yields a defensive mentality that is mirrored in various aspects of contemporary ‘street culture’, specifically carrying a weapon (Clement, 2010). Furthermore, knife carrying is significantly enhanced amongst individuals’ who have experienced criminal victimisation, and feel socially isolated (Forsyth, Khan & McKinlay, 2010). As a defense strategy, individuals’ turn to a combinational miscellany of substances, which are abused to create a cushion of ignorance against the spatial stigma that discredits them in their disadvantaged neighbourhood (Wacquant 2008). This can lead to further violence and decivilisation (Clement, 2010). The risk of knife carrying is significantly increased amongst individuals’ who have experienced personal forms of adversity (Smith, McVie, Woodward, Shute, Flint & McAra, 2010). Evidently, Bannister et al (2010) found that young people described joining a local gang as a means of ensuring personal protection and reducing the risk of assault from others. This might explain why those living in more crime-ridden areas partake in gang relations – possibly minimally, at the outset, as part of a defense mechanism (Bannister, 2013). However, for many young people who feel in need of protection but do not have the safety net of a gang, carrying a weapon may be an alternative coping strategy (Smith et al. 2010). This could explain why individuals’ who live in relatively gang free regions, are found to be more likely to carry a knife for their own protection.

3.2 Crime Victimisation

Public perception of youth crime should be congruently proportional to the actual prevalence of crime and this is down to the importance of the media, newspapers and Internet. Disproportionate fear of crime can lead to the allocation of security resources in the wrong areas. This is ineffective at both a personal and governmental level which could lead to unnecessary confliction in misdirecting police officers to areas subjecting groups of individuals’ to unreasonable and consistent harassment. There is a focus on the risk of stereotyping within communities, ethnic groups, and young people more generally (Clement, 2010). The way crime is covered by the media is often sensationalized and as a consequence, can create excessive fear of ‘knife crime’ and of young people. It is desirable that media presentation of news be more factual and less sensationalist (Watson, 2005). It should also be of the utmost of importance to present statistical data in a transparent and easy to understand manner.


4. Family Relationships

 4.1 Sociological Inheritance

Due to sociological inheritance the rules and values implied in the experiences of young people growing up in marginalised families – moreover, families that are unstable and disordered, holds a significant influence in shaping the self-image and identity of young people. More recently, Bannister et al. (2010) found that youth gang members frequently cited the participation of their older siblings and parents in youth gangs as informing their awareness of gang culture, and thus, serving to legitimise their participation (Elias, 1969). It follows that a clear recognition and demarcation of traditional territorial boundaries might, for some individuals’, form part of a neighbourhood and family’s legacy, as might a set of practices inclusive of violent conflict with those from adjacent territories (Bannister, 2012).


 4.2 Territoriality

Culture can be understood in terms of a set of ‘symbolic boundaries’, the split between ‘us’ and ‘them’ being critical to the establishment of groups and the creation of a collective identity (Bannister, Kintrea & Pickering, 2013). It is an expression of human need (Sacks 1986). Territoriality as a social system through which control is claimed by one group over a well-defined geographic area and defended against others’ (Deuchar, 2009). Individuals differentiate themselves from others by drawing on principles of common traits and experiencing a shared sense of belonging. They must be recognised by outsiders as distinct for their collective identity to crystallize’ (Lamont and Small 2008; Bannister et al. 2012). Territoriality has several prospective impacts; in particular social exclusion, the growth of insular (‘bonding’) social capital, and, surprisingly, social cohesion (Bannister, 2010). Across the globe, territoriality tends to be found in association with youth gangs, social disorder, masculinity and poverty (Deuchar, 2012), but attachment to a place and a desire to protect it does not logically entail a propensity to disorder. Territoriality may emerge naturally in the human species, reflecting developmental demands for augmenting ownership of space beyond the boundaries set by family (Robinson 2000, Childress 2004, Thomson and Philo 2005).


5. Peer Relationships

 5.1. Peer Influence


Knife carriers are more likely to have troublesome peers and are more likely than non-knife carriers to socialise with peers who have been involved in offending behaviour and peers who tend to engage in a wider variety of offending types. In addition, knife carriers are more likely to associate with friends who had been in trouble with the police during the course of the previous year. Research findings have highlighted that these associations similarly occur between the ages of 13 and age 16 respectively (Smith et al. 2010). This indicates the importance of peers as a potential source of behavioural influence (Smith, et al 2001). Indeed, this is supported by the finding that knife carriers are more likely than non-knife carriers to score highly on a measure of ‘peer influence’. This measure was created from a series of questions about whether an individual would continue to associate themselves with friends, if these particular friends were getting the individual in trouble at home, in the community or with the police. Smith et al (2010) found that peer influence was consistently higher amongst knife carriers between the ages 13 and 16.


 5.2. Popularity amongst peers

Another reason often given for carrying knifes is the need to be accepted and “respected” by peers (Silvestri, Oldfield, Peter, Squires & Roger Grimshaw, 2009). Peer socialization becomes crucial in late adolescence. The consequences of acquiring popularity amongst peers can go from accepting certain dress codes, to substance use and delinquency, (e.g. carrying a weapon). Whether young people will decide to carry a weapon, excel in sports or an academic discipline to increase their status amongst peers, depends on the social settings, which prevail in the community at large or within their families or peers. Studies have shown that in the presence of peers, adolescents are biased towards making risky decisions and increase their willingness to behave in an antisocial fashion because it is an opportunity to reaffirm status within the presence of the peer group. The complexity of circumstances affecting behaviour is coupled with the complexity of social meanings, values and behaviour, which young people experience and re-negotiate, individually and in groups (Silvestri et al. 2009). Acting to maintain one’s local reputation and the ‘respect’ of others can provoke conflict and violence (McKinlay, Forsyth & Khan, 2009).


 5.3. Previous Offending amongst peers


Knife carriers are more likely than non-knife carriers to socialise with previous offenders and to socialise with peers who engage in a wider variety of offending types. In addition, knife carriers are more likely to say that their friends have been in trouble with the police during the course of the last year. These findings were remarkably consistently similar between ages 13 and 16, which indicates the importance of peers as a potential source of behavioural influence (Smith et al. 2010). Indeed, this is supported by the finding that knife carriers are more prone than non-knife carriers to score highly on a measure of ‘peer influence’ (Holligan & Deuchar, 2009). This measure was created from a series of questions about whether the respondent would continue to hang around with or listen to his/her friends if they were getting the respondent in trouble at home, in the community or with the police. Although peer influence appeared to decline between age 13 and 16, it was consistently higher amongst the knife carriers (Smith et al. 2001). Notions of ‘street credibility’ and ‘respect’ can become very significant to young people who may lack legitimate access to other forms of status achievement. Yet this ‘street social capital’, while it bonds young people closer to their peer groups can also serve to distance them from the wider community and societal values (Knife, Guns & Crime).


 5.4. Gender relations and peers


Although most violence occurs from males, both females and males are vulnerable to similar risk exposure including: violent/chaotic familial situation, disorganised community with gang presence where violence a daily event and similar rationale for joining a gang. Females’ reasons for joining gangs differ substantially from males’ although in Scotland membership is viewed as normative as a means of protection and the opportunity for socializing. Important gender differences noted are; age of entering a gang and patterns of offending behaviour i.e. girls are less likely to seriously offend and are also, less likely to be targets of violence. Females use different forms of aggression, inflict less harm, and are more likely to have defensive intent compared with men. She also contends with knowledge of prior evidence that women are more likely to use indirect or passive forms of aggression; such as angry looks and body language, as opposed to men’s’ more direct forms (Kathryn Graham, 2006).


  6 Alcohol

6.1. Typologies


A substantial amount of aggression can occur when people have been drinking alcohol (Graham, Wells & West, 1997). It has been highlighted that alcohol can affect different people in different ways due to social contextual factors; emotional stability and general mood factor before and after comsumption may potentiate the effects of alcohol (Graham et al. 2000). Alcohol affects the GABA (Gamma amino butyric acid) benzodiazepine receptor complex (Miczek, Weets & DeBold, 1993; Miczek et al. 1997). Because benzodiazepines are an anti-anxiety drug, mixing them with alcohol could lead to excess aggression by making the drinker less anxious about the consequences of their actions in social settings. (Graham, West & Wells, 2000). Alcohol also causes cognitive impairment reducing the individual’s inability to think clearly, it leads to short sightedness – where the individual does not have the cognitive ability to thing through the consequences of their actions (alcoholic myopia), and it may also be related to uncontrollable power, force and physical numbness (Graham et al. 2000). Some of the hypotheses that have been developed through natural observation, quasi-experiments and empirical studies are listed below:


  • Disinhibition Hypothesis – loose sense of ‘right and wrong’, misjudge situations, (“it makes a man mistake words for thoughts”, [Samuel Johnson]) (Young, Sweeting & West, 2008)
  • Alcoholic myopia’ a failure to think through the consequences (Schreiber Compo, Evans, Carol, Kemp, Villalba, Ham, Rose, 2011)
  • Arousal Hypothesis – some drugs trigger our aggressive tendencies, get ‘psyched up’, automatons acting ‘out of character’ in the moment (Pihl & Zacchia, 1986)
  • Susceptibility Hypothesis – background factors, both genetic (e.g. men) and/or social (e.g. ‘hyper-’masculinity), individual or societal (Saunders & Williams, 1983)
  • Deviance Disavowal  – post-hoc attributional, ‘only an excuse’ (‘must have been drunk because I’ve got a head injury) (Quigley & Leonard, 2006)
  • Rational Disinhibition – pre-planned intoxication (McCarthy, Kroll & Smith, 2001)
  • Dutch courage’ to facilitate violence (or a controlling fear of it) (Jones & Fear, 2011)
  • Expectancy Theory – (Cultural) belief that (some) drink(s) ‘makes you violent’, conditioning and placebo effects (e.g. whisky = fight, gin-depressed, brandy=randy) (Jones, Corbin & Fromme, 2001).
  • The drunken comportment Cultural tradition ‘They have their own reasons. And those, too, shape subsequent drunken behavior’. (MacAndrew & Edgerton, 1969)
  • Attentional Hypothesis – overreact to cues / conditioning, triggers, act on impulse (Giancola, Josephs, Dewall & Gunn, 2009)
  • Drinking Context – Drinking Buckfast in the park is the same as drinking Merlot plus coffee in a fancy restaurant (but the drinker in the park is less likely to drive home!) (Ham, Zamboanga, Bridges, Casner & Bacon, 2013)
  • Appraisal Disruption – failure to respond to stress or interpret threat (e.g. facial expressions – Ekman’s Faces) ‘who are you looking at?’ (Sayette, 1993)


Personal characteristics that may predispose individuals’ to alcohol-related aggression include age, deviant attitudes, general concerns about power, poverty or membership in a marginalised subpopulation i.e. contextual element (Graham et al. 2000).

It was thought in the past that alcohol violence was primarily due to a psycho-pharmacological consequence of drinking. But other factors must be taken into consideration such as, clientele of the night-time economy, poor management, entertainments, sexual behaviours, cultural norms and perceptions.


 6.2. Alcohol and Violence

Alcohol misuse is viewed by a majority of the population aged 16 and over as a serious social issue in Scotland. 66% of respondents to the Scottish Crime and Victimisation Survey 2004 rated alcohol as a big problem in Scotland (only 5% said it is not a problem) (Alcohol Focus Scotland). One of the most salient behavioral effects caused by alcohol is the enhanced predisposition to risky, impulsive and aggressive behaviour. Heavy episodic drinking appears to interfere with individuals’ decision making processes (working memory) during potentially violent encounters, which could facilitate weapon use during a fight, and therefore more risk of attaining a custodial sentence. Hence, the large number of respondents blaming alcohol for their imprisonment. This was further evidenced by interviewees who had used a knife but were unable to remember how they obtained this weapon, let alone why they used it.

In the Youth Offender Qualitative Study (2007) the proportion of offenders that had consumed alcohol prior a current offence fell to 41.3% (1996) before increasing to 81.3% (2007) doubling in the space of ten years. Research has highlighted that the proportion of offenders that blamed a current offence on drinking rose from 40.0% (1996) to 56.8% (1997). All interviewees questioned linked alcohol to their offending, and in some cases individuals’ linked alcohol to their previous offences (reference). While intoxicated offenders are also more likely to get caught after a violent incident, both by the police or rival gangs depending on the circumstances. The research also supports evidence from Scottish Accident and Emergency rooms, which indicate that alcohol consumption by victims, as well as by perpetrators, is a factor in the severity of the knife injuries (Forsyth, Khan & McKinlay, 2010). There is little evidence of a causal link between alcohol and violence in Scotland (see 6.5), or elsewhere, but when violence does occur alcohol may make the consequences more serious.


  6.3. Alcohol and Weapons


Although the two are clearly linked, the evidence presented here suggests that it is simplistic to think only of a ‘booze and blades culture’ among violent offenders in Scotland. Such violence was not restricted to bladed weapons, and even terms such as ‘knife-carrying’ and using do not fully describe the patterns of weapon involvement found here. Free ready made weapons, bottles conveniently lying around and domestic tumblers as a weapon. A “knife” was the most commonly ‘used’ weapon (n = 43). “Knife” ‘users’ tended to be a subset of those who had had carried (n = 53), (this excludes ‘special’ knives e.g. ‘lockback’, ‘flick’, Stanley®, sword, machete, etc.). A “bottle” was the second most often ‘used’ weapon (n = 21). In contrast to a knife only 2 prisoners had ever ‘carried’ a “bottle”. Focusing upon the weapons themselves may prove something of a distraction. A long-term and multi-faceted approach is needed to understand and tackle the conditions in which weapon carrying and use comes to be considered an option – or a necessity (Silvestri, 2009). The ubiquitous nature of knives (and other bladed implements) suggests that more imaginative and broader policy interventions are needed, either in conjunction with or instead of stop-search and licensing / restricted prohibitions.


   6.4. Overall Alcohol Related Offenses


Drunkenness can be a contributory factor in many crimes (such as assault or breach of the peace but is not recorded as such. Variation in the offence of drunkenness both over time and by geographical area may be influenced by local policing practice and interventions. In 2009/10 there were 5,722 offences of drunkenness recorded by the eight Scottish police forces, a decrease of 5% from 6,045 offences recorded in 2008/09. Offences of drunkenness have fallen overall between 2000/01 and 2009/10, from 7,789 offences in 2000/01 to 5,722 offences in 2009/10. There were 11 drunkenness offences recorded per 10,000 population in Scotland in 2009/10 (Alcohol & Social Harm, 2011).

In 2012-13, a sharp instrument was the main method of killing for 26 (42%) of the homicide victims. This is a decrease of nine percentage points in the percentage of victims where the main method of killing was with a sharp instrument compared to 2011-12. Whilst this figure is down compared to 2011-12, sharp instruments were still the main method of killing in over one and a half times as many homicides as the next most common main method of killing, which in 2012-13, was hitting and kicking. Also, sharp instruments were the most common main method of killing for both male and female victims. For females, a sharp instrument was the most common main method of killing jointly with strangulation or asphyxiation. For male victims, the next most common main method of killing was hitting and kicking, affecting 26 % of male victims (Scottish Statistics).


 6.5. Drug and Alcohol related Homicide in Scotland


Homicide: Accused drink/drug status (where known) 2003/04-12/13

Although there is not proof of causative measures of alcohol facilitating violence, there is a high percentage of offenses that take place while individual’s are under the influence of alcohol.


Neither drunk nor on drugs = 21.9% n=199

On drugs = 11.3% n=103

Drunk and on drugs= 14,3% n=130

Drunk, 52.3% n=477


Source: Statistical Bulletin Crime & Justice Series, 2013, Homicide in Scotland 2012/13


7 Gangs

 7.1. The nature and impact of gangs


Scottish gangs are not profit making hierarchical criminal enterprises and they have no interest on franchising themselves by active recruitment. They are far more territorial and embedded within the culture of marginalized low socio-economic areas. 65.7%, of Youth Offenders in the 2007 sample stated that they had been in a gang while in the community. Interviews have revealed that analogous groups do not necessarily relate overtly to a gang per se – as it is the mere geography of their territory, that establishes their gang membership, this is very particular of parts of Scotland where gang membership is not overtly acknowledged. Some young people attach real significance and meaning to belonging to a recognisable group or gang. While the term ‘gang’ might be used broadly to refer to many groups of young people, it is important in policy terms to recognise the difference between the large number of young people who may be associated as a somewhat troublesome youth group and the very small minority of youths who feel strongly attached to a more problematic gang. Bannister (2010) also highlighted that there are definitional problems with the term ‘gang’ that need to be understood in interpreting data such as these (Smith et al. 2001).


Whereas gang membership is strongly linked to social adversity, risk of knife carrying is significantly increased amongst those who have experienced more personal forms of adversity. As mentioned earlier, some individuals’ described joining a local gang as a means of ensuring personal protection and reducing risk of assault from others. However, for many young people who live in crime-ridden areas and feel the need to protect themselves and do not have the option of joining a gang, carrying a weapon may be an alternative coping strategy. Risk of knife carrying is significantly enhanced amongst young people who have had experience of criminal victimization.


 7.2 Individual Vulnerability

Research evidence suggests that young people who offend are likely to have low self-esteem, are socially alienated or marginalised within society and have a tendency to be highly impulsive. This was borne out by the findings on knife carriers, who displayed lower mean scores for self-esteem, and high mean scores for both impulsivity and alienation compared to non-knife carriers. Also, knife carriers living in social isolation can are more susceptible to engaged in self-harming behaviour Overall, however, self-esteem increased between age 13 and 16 while levels of both impulsivity and alienation reduced. This may suggest that these personality indicators may be more important determinants of behaviour at younger ages. (Smith, McVie, Woodward, Shute, Flint & McAra, 2001)


These characteristics indicate that knife carriers are a highly vulnerable and at risk group, for whom carrying a knife is a rational choice based on the fear of experiencing a personal attack. In policy terms, these findings highlight the importance of educational strategies that demonstrate the dangers and risks of carrying weapons, but also of making available a set of wider resources and services targeted at families and neighbourhoods that can help and support very vulnerable young people who live in regular fear of persecution. Such services need to be widely available, not just in deprived areas, however (Smith et al. 2001).


 Strain Theory


According to General Strain Theory, social strains such as stressful life events including, poverty, unemployment, separation, death or absence of parents, health problems, neighbourhood problems, vandalism, drug abuse or other forms of crime, goal obstruction, lack of opportunities for employment, failure to achieve monetary success, masculine status, challenging relationships with adults or abusive peer relations can all conspire to bring about negative emotional reactions and attraction to delinquent groups (Agnew, 2007). It has been argued that, in such cases, efforts to control crime with an exclusive focus on punishment and ‘law and order’ principles may, in reality, exacerbate the likelihood of further crime by producing additional strains such as anger and frustration (Agnew, 2007). In terms of GST, Agnew (2007) argues that a reduction in juvenile offending can only be achieved by eliminating or altering strains conducive to crime or altering young people’s perceptions and goals so that they are less likely to view certain strains as severe and unjust.


 9 Policy based on Ambiguous Statistical Findings

 9.1. Measuring the Immeasurable


It is a difficult task to estimate how likely it is for an event to occur, especially for rare events (i.e. being attacked in the street by a youth gang). The media greatly contributes to this misperception. People who read newspapers, which present a large proportion of highly emotional crime news, report higher levels of fear. People’s judgments of causes of death follow closely the proportion in which they are reported by the press, with violent death being overrated and disease underrated (Clement, 2010). Scotland’s association with alcohol, related violence and policies to counter these issues is long-standing. At present, there is little evidence to indicate that Scotland’s problems with alcohol are improving. Police recorded data are generally limited in their reliability because of a number of factors, including: much criminal activity does not get reported to the police, is not detected, or does not get recorded by the police. Moreover, changes in recording practices make it difficult to compare data historically. Trends in police data are also susceptible to changes in the way the police go about their activities. Home Office requirements and in the way suspected crimes are recorded are under constant system changes.


 10 Intervention Strategies

 10.1. Perspectives and Viewpoints towards Recidivism


 Based on the assumption that knife carrying leads to the commission of a violent crime, the sentencing options for being in possession of a bladed implement have been increased from a maximum of two years to a maximum of four years imprisonment. However, recent surveys, and previous psychological research on the motivations behind weapon carrying suggest that intending to threaten or harm is only one of the reasons, other significant motivations being personal protection, or protecting family and friends, which may overcome the fear of imprisonment (Pitt, 2008)..

To deliver justice, systems need to address key facts about youth crime: serious offending is linked to a broad range of vulnerabilities and social adversity; early identification of at-risk children runs the risk of labelling and stigmatizing; pathways out of offending are facilitated or impeded by critical moments in the early teenage years, in particular school exclusion and diversionary strategies facilitate the desistance process. The Scottish system should be better placed than most other western systems to deliver justice for children (due to its founding commitment to decriminalization and destigmatization). However, as currently implemented, it appears to be failing many young people (McVie, 2010).

Early intervention with gang members and knife carriers would be likely to reduce the risk of such behaviours becoming more persistent and engrained amongst some offenders. It might be concluded that early intervention should focus on tackling both; violent and non-violent forms of offending behaviour identifying welfare needs and underlying aspects of adversity and vulnerability at social and/or personal level. Early intervention might best be achieved through working with peer groups, in a universal or group-based approach, given the significance at age increasing risk of both gang membership and knife carrying is strongest around the age of 13. Much greater research would need to be conducted to consider when such intervention should be imposed for the maximum positive and minimum negative effect, however (Smith et al. 2001).

There is a substantial importance to focus on welfare needs and of educational inclusion rather than more narrowly circumscribed criminogenic need such as the ‘what works’ paradigm (McVie, 2010). School exclusion is a key point that adversely contributes to subsequent conviction trajectories. Although there are current governmental policies that highlight the importance of inclusional education, there is an urgent need to develop more imaginative ways of retaining challenging children within mainstream educational provision. It is imperative that the culturally embedded problem of Scotland’s drinking culture be addressed through the school curriculum at an early age.


 11. Conclusion

As gatekeepers to the care and justice systems, and as the principal agency, which first encounters many problematic children, the police an important role to play in providing justice for children. In particular there is a need to continue to develop policing strategies that provide a precipitatous, firm but flexible response to youth offending and one that offers meaningful diversion wherever possible. This could be run adjacently between multi-agency partnerships that involves, schools, local authorities and community organisations in challenging longstanding cultural divisions and providing positive opportunities and outlets for young individuals’ who would also tackle gang accruement. Efforts to reduce knife crime could be built into such an overarching strategy alongside a desistance paradigm with the aim of helping construct a non-offender identity for young individuals’ (Pitt, 2008). This could perhaps be a step in the right direction as opposed to zero tolerance policies that have been evidenced to be counter productive in creating circuitous loops of frequent reoffenders (Pitt, 2008). This, in turn, has been known to increase the risk of being part of a gang. For this work to be effective it has to be juxtaposed and undertaken within a broader context of societal inclusion and meaningful economic opportunity (Maruna, 2001; McNeill, 2006). The overall aim is to challenging longstanding cultural divisions and providing positive opportunities and outlets for young people so that they can see hope in their future prospects.




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The stigmitisation of late childbearing in contemporary western society – a media instigated chasm between conscientious decision making and circumstantial factors.

Critical discursive research draws attention to the various ways power; authority and inequality are communicated and represented in the content and construction of talk and text (Van Dijk, 1999). Furthermore, CDA distinguishes between discourse and institutions as two different types of social phenomena (van Dijk, 1999). Therefore, CDA facilitates the studies of how discourse and institutions interact in the construction of the social world, and how discursive practices are moved from being linguistic remarks to set conditions for stable social relations (Campbell, 2011). Furthermore, whilst CDA attempts to uncover the ideologies that contribute to the production and reproduction of power, it also has a political underpinning looking at how discourse limits one’s understanding of the world and how individuals’ can contain several competing discourses whilst creating the possibility of dominant ideologies to be contested within different subject positions (van Dijk, 1993).

Consequently, language is functional and constructive, and meanings are embedded in the terms that are chosen to portray specific topics as well as particular ways of talking about specific topics (Potter & Wetherell, 1987). A CDA approach will allow the researcher to base claims on identifiable patterns, constructed and negotiated in the participants’ talk using interpretative repertoires, subject positions and ideological dilemmas, as well as the information that is available in society about a topic (Edley & Wetherell, 1999).

It is important to analyse institutional and media representations critically, as they explicitly examine the social, cultural and political context of societal health and wellbeing (Lyons, 2000). Furthermore, in critically analysing dominant representations it increases awareness of any control and power issues, and thusly, provides possibilities for change and resistance (Campbell, 2011). Previously, medical practitioners dominated and claimed a monopoly on the domain of bioethical issues and treatments, whereas today there are a variety of voices from many institutions creating a cacophony of inconsistent commentaries’, including dissenting doctors, alternative therapists, journalists, campaigners, academics, and the superfluous array of information available at the disposal of one’s fingertips on the internet (Bury, 1997). Thusly, one of the major roles of the media is providing both, expert and lay knowledge to the public (Lyons, 2000). Subsequently, this could be seen as problematic in creating competitive views and discourses (Hepworth & Featherstone, 1998).

Through framing and linguistics, discourses are employed in the media that provide particular ways of viewing sensitive topics and competing knowledge’s, all of which, are rarely discussed with neutrality or objectivity (Budds, 2011). Rather, they are described within ideological frameworks or discourses that reflect competing interests within society (Clarke & Robinson, 1999). For example, Giles & Shaw (2009) analysed a selection of newspapers and noted that the framing of different reports were constructed in order to direct readers towards certain interpretations of older women. Thusly, they concluded that older mothers were negatively framed in the media and that the cultural construction of a ‘perfect mother’ is one who is not ‘too old,’ ‘has a good career’, and is ‘financially stable’ (Giles & Shaw, 2009). Nevertheless, Giles and Shaw (2009) failed to mention the target readership of each newspaper, so it is quite possible that different newspapers (e.g. tabloids & broadsheets) could have their own agendas, to fit their political motives.

Subsequently, in the past few decades researchers have been increasingly turning their attention to the notion of the health risks in delayed childbearing (Campbell, 2011). Some researchers have linked society’s consternation of risk factors with Foucault’s concept of governmentality (Foucault, 1991). So, seeing discourses formed through a knowledge/power juxtaposition hints at an attempt to capture an already established hold exercised over women’s moralities by focusing on normative aspects set within society (Foucault, 1981). Furthermore, the saliency of contemporary risk factors could be viewed as an aid to observe, monitor and contribute to the surveillance of the population (Faucault, 1991). As a result, individuals are positioned within governmental discourses with the capacity for self-surveillance using salient risk factors to aid their judgment and decisions (Lupton, 1999). Therefore, it has been proposed that once an individual has been made aware of associated health risks, it serves their best interests to avoid delaying childbearing as they are seen as responsible should there be any adverse outcomes (Campbell, 2011).

In addition, it is argued that representations in the media can both, produce and reproduce meaning, and are influential both socially and individualistically (Kirtzinger, 1999). Davies and Harré (1990) argue that discursive practices used in language can constitute individuals in different ways and provide them with subject positions. Thusly, it has been proposed that once an individual has taken up a subject position, they will see the world from that vantage point, which, in turn, has implications for their individual subjectivity (Davies and Harré, 1990). Furthermore, media analysis is important because it provides a way to access representations of the various framings and public negotiations surrounding social controversies (Bury, 1997). Moreover, risk is framed in terms of ontological boundaries between the natural and the unnatural in the case of delayed childbirth and acts as the source of legitimation both, morally and culturally (Campbell, 2011). Consequently, the aim of this paper is to examine and highlight dominant ideologies of motherhood that are operating within society and to explore the implications these may have for women who either; choose to abstain from having children, or are delaying childbearing (Cook et al, 2011). Thusly, the research question is examining ‘if later childbearing is a conscientious decision for women in contemporary western society or whether circumstantial factors compound their decisions.’

In the media, the subject of older woman the main focus seems to be based on the declination of a women’s fertility after the age of thirty-five and most medical reports in the media espouse the importance of starting a family well before this age, but yet, heavily stigmatize young mothers as ‘uneducated’, ‘welfare scroungers’, and ‘Chavs’ (Perrier, 2013). Furthermore, this declination of fertility enters the realm of the personal domain, and contrasts that with popular discourse in the public domain (Perrier, 2013). As a result, the ideologically one-sided view of motherhood prevails (Perrier, 2013). There have been overwhelming contradictions about ‘choice’, ‘risk’ and ‘agency’, and it is this type of Daily Mail scaremongering that lead to further depths of stigmitisation. Aspect including, the importance of a woman’s career, starting a family, and whether both can be prioritized, remains a highly contentious subject (Bailyn et al, 2001).

Women delaying childbearing are now being positioned against traditional family values (Cook et al, 2012). Consequently, they are portrayed as hedonistic career women, in which there becomes a divide between a females’ role in the workplace and their role as a mother (Bailyn et al, 2001). However, some factors are beyond a woman’s control and delayed childbirth is not fully down to choice (Campbell, 2011):

Central to the discourse on the issue of the biological clock is talk that in the public domain, employment interferes with a woman’s fertile years (Gilles & Shaw, 2009). Also, there seems to be a heterogeneous line of demarcation just after thirty-five years of age that separates the natural from the unnatural due to older women possibly needing IVF treatment (Campbell, 2011). This suggests that while it is the family unit that is celebrated, it is the role of women in reproduction; both sociologically and biologically that remains at the forefront of the public domain (Campbell, 2011). This has been another particular theme that traversed throughout dominant research. There is no doubt that biological time restrictions create a lack of agency for woman, but there is disagreement about when the time is right from different sources and in particular – the media.

It has been suggested that there is the possibility that women are looking to qualify their own choices, to remove the label of ‘other’ that positions them against the ideals of a prenatal society (Cook et al, 2011). Furthermore, seeking to construct a position that fits with these ideals, putting on a normal footing; grounding themselves and presenting examples of how they are concerned for, contribute to and directly interact with a socio-political contemporary Britain (Cook et al, 2011). Tellingly, the nation is forever in the process of maturation and its anxieties are often attributed to its youthfulness (Hutchinson, 1994). This theme is also present in the much debated topic of ‘having children’, where parenting is seen as an important developmental stage, or a rite of passage and perhaps provides a useful insight into the anxieties of some woman who think they are running out of time (Friese et al, 2006).

Conversely, public concern about young mothers has centered on their unreliability, irresponsibility and monetary problems, and the anxiety surrounding older mothers has been primarily based on medical concerns (Hadfield, 2007). Macvarish (2010) suggests that, in arguing against the controversies of teenage parents, ‘the problem’ is often shifted onto older mothers who have ‘left it too late’. Indeed there is often a tendency to ‘rescue’ the reputation of teenage mothers at the expense of older mothers who are seen as too pushy, career focused and requiring expensive infertility treatment (Campbell, 2011). Nevertheless, both younger and older mothers are often represented in the media as making untimely reproductive choices (Hadfield, 2007):

For younger women, becoming a mother is considered a route to adulthood, whilst older women have to have achieved the status of adulthood before they can have children at the ‘right’ time (McMahon, 1995). McMahon (1995) argues that the question of whether older women enter motherhood is more of an issue than when they will do so. Thus, there are stresses about the difference between biological age and another kind of age, in which talks about ‘life experience’, suggesting the idea of having some sort of life experience can then be passed on.(Shaw & Gilles, 2009). However, to gain that life experience, one would have to delay childbearing to have the freedom to attain mobility and free reign (Perrier, 2010).

There is an increasing body of research, which suggests that choice and risk in delaying childbearing are inextricably bound up with one another (Marshall & Woollett, 2000). In dominant research articles women positioned themselves as being responsible for their own decisions on delaying childbirth (Marshal & Woollett, 2000). However, timing of pregnancy, and messages concerning the notion of a ‘right’ time for a woman to become pregnant are consistently woven throughout general chit-chat with powerful interpretative repertoires about age, and what is considered too old to biologically conceive a child despite advances in science and medicine (Campbell, 2011). Furthermore, the participants discussed the right time with discussions focused on age-association, age-related responsibility and financial stability (Bury, 1997).

The notion of choice in relation to timing of motherhood presented in the newspapers is characteristic of neoliberal discourses where individuals are constructed as autonomous – or self-governing (Foucault, 1991) – and being free to make their own choices (Gill & Arthurs, 2008). Nevertheless, the research suggests differently; that the possible impact of explicit discourse that constructs delaying childbearing as unhealthy, may be linked to Foucault’s notion of governmentality (1991). Furthermore, raising awareness of risks through institutions like the media may be a way of encouraging the self-monitoring of ‘risky’ behaviour. The idea is that once women are made aware of the risks they face they should choose start families at a certain time (Friese, Becker & Nachtigall, 2006). Furthermore, in constructing delaying childbirth as a woman’s choice, accountability of risk is pointed to the individual and directed away from the state (Cook et al, 2011). Supporting this idea is the fact that newspaper articles give little attention to the societal structures that are in place which may actually limit the extent to which the timing of starting a family is a real choice for women and could actually be seen to dictate timing (Hadfield, Rudoe & Sanderson-mann, 2007).

There is evidence (e.g. Hatfield et al, 2007; Simpson, 2007; Perrier, 2011) that choosing to put a family before developing a career would constitute a big step back in the quest for equality for women “being a bit backwards – and anti-feministic” (Perrier, 2010). Instead of taking risks, the participants were far more aware of having to make rational decisions as a response to the current economic and social conditions. Consequently, thinking about financial stability in the current sociopolitical context makes sense (Perrier, 2010). Nowadays, it would seem that women are pressured to either; position themselves against – or within set societal benchmarks (Badger, 2001). Contrastingly, more women are aware of the stigmatisation, but do not feel the pressure to conform to societal constructs.

Consequently, it seems that the media does indeed have the power to influence knowledge, beliefs, values, social relations and social identities” (Fairclough, 1995). However, as referred to in other studies (e.g. Cooke et al., 2012) this may also be interpreted as a defense mechanism started in response to negative stereotyping of women who remain childless in contemporary society (Simpson, 2007). As, Giles & Shaw (2009) failed to mention, the different readership demographics that aspect was unfortunately left out of the discussion. Perhaps another study discussing different framing depending on what demographic the newspaper is aimed at would offer more insight into how different social classes are perceived (Giles & Shaw, 2009).

According to Tenorio (1997), all social science research is based on assumptions that constrain and direct the findings of the research to some degree. Subsequently, one of the difficulties – and also criticisms – regarding CDA is trying to prevent any questions or prompts to stray or lead the interview in a certain direction (Widdowson, 2004). Thusly, one has to make sure there is an equal and balanced rapport; but, again, one cannot be totally sure of this. Furthermore, another point that has been at the forefront of much debate is the conundrum of how much the analysis is actually revealing about the person performing it. For example, due to the heterogeneity of the methodology, would two different analyses from different analysts cultivate the same themes; it certainly leaves some food for thought (Tenorio, 1997). However, a more homogenous methodological approach towards CDA, which was replicable, could apply consistent principles and also a systematic linguistic theory could perhaps be a step in the right direction (Widdowson, 2004). Subsequently, there could be possibility that there is a gap between the interviewers’ meaning and interviewee’s interpretation of this meaning (Widdowson, 2004). For example, the way certain things are uttered at may affect a participants’ response at the time of the interview, but this is not a feature of the texts, but a function of discourse, in which the interviewer’s assumptions are shaped by their own knowledge and beliefs (Widdowson, 2004). Thusly, this is something one must always reflexively think about when analysing text (Merton, Fiske and Kendel, 1990).

In conclusion, women who choose to delay childbearing are far from the stereotypes of hedonistic careerists, selfish women who think the can ‘have it all’, according to the evidence in this report. The study suggests – on the contrary – that they hold conventional views about relationships and parenting and that their careers are not always the most central aspect of self-attainment. It seems that the media frame their reports for ulterior political motives and fail to take into account the circumstantial factors that sometimes relate to women delaying childbearing.


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Psychodynamic and cognitive–behavioural approaches to counselling – understanding and implementing the reciprocal nature of the counselling relationship.



Psychodynamic psychotherapy and Cognitive-behavioral therapy are the most frequently applied methods of psychotherapy in clinical practice (John McLeod, 2008). Psychodynamic counselling focuses on counsellor-client relationship and exploration of immediate and unraveling feelings and relationship dilemmas that creates difficulties in everyday life (McLeod, 2008). The aim of psychodynamic counselling is to help the individual comprehend and understand the reasons for their problems, and interpret these insights so that the individual will have the competence to cope with any future difficulties if they happen to occur again (McLeod, 2008). Contrastingly, the Cognitive-Behavioural Approach – which evolved from behavioural psychology  – follows a more empirical approach based on three key features which are; problem-solving, change-focused approaches to working with clients; a respect for scientific values; and close attention to the cognitive processes through which people monitor and control their behaviour (McLeod, 2008). Looking at how these two different theoretical approaches are implemented in counseling will offer a better insight into the advantages and disadvantages of both approaches and how they have been adapted over the years to overcome such deficits in the field of counselling (McLeod, 2008).


Freud saw the human mind as divided into three regions. Firstly, is ‘The id’ (‘it’), a reservoir of primitive instincts and the ultimate motives for one’s behaviour (McLeod, 2008). Furthermore, the id has no time dimension, so it is through repression that powerful memories are stored and trapped there, powerful enough to invoke feelings as strong as when an event first happened (McLeod, 2008). The id is governed by the ‘pleasure principle’, and is irrational (McLeod, 2008). Secondly, is The ego (‘I’), the conscious, rational part of the mind, which makes decisions and deals with external reality (McLeod, 2008). And lastly, is The superego (‘above I’), the ‘conscience’, the store-house of rules and taboos about what one should and should not do (McLeod, 2008). The attitudes an individual has in the superego are mainly an internalization of ones’ parents’ attitudes (McLeod, 2008).


Freud’s psychoanalytic methods of treatment had become subject to change and modifications the more they were used by other practionioners of psychoanalytic methods of treatment (McLeod, 2008). Subsequently, due to the broad scope of subdivisions that stemmed from Freud’s work, psychotherapists had a predisposition to call themselves psychodynamic rather than psychoanalytic (McLeod, 2008). Psychodynamicism allowed for counsellors to make similar kinds of assumptions about the nature of the client’s problems and how best these problems could best be worked on (McLeod, 2008). However, the main distinctive features of the psychodynamic approach are that individuals’ difficulties have their fundamental origins in childhood experiences (McLeod, 2008). Subsequently, the individual may not be consciously aware of the true motives or compulsions behind their actions (McLeod, 2008).


Although subsequent theorists in the psychodynamic tradition moved the emphasis away from Freud’s focus on sexuality in childhood (i.e. the oral, anal and phallic stage) they would still agree that emotions and feelings that are triggered by childhood sexual experiences can have powerful effects on the child’s development (McLeod, 2008). However, the basic viewpoint that is shared by all psychoanalytic and psychodynamic counsellors is that to understand the personality of an adult client or patient it is necessary to understand the development of that personality through childhood, particularly with respect to how it has been shaped by its family environment (McLeod, 2008).


Constrastingly, behaviour modification uses the Skinnerian notion that the individual has repertoire of possible responses available at their disposal – and in any situation, or response to any stimulus, – emits the behaviour that is reinforced or rewarded (McLeod, 2008). This principle is known as operant conditioning (McLeod, 2008). For example, on being asked a question by someone, there are many possible ways of responding and an individual can answer the question, ignore the question, or run away (McLeod, 2008). Consequently, Skinner (1953) argued that the response emitted, is the one that was the most frequently reinforced in the past (McLeod, 2008). Thusly, most individuals will answer a question, because it has resulted in reinforcements such as attention, praise, or material rewards (McLeod, 2008). However, if an individual has been brought up in an environment where answering questions leads to physical abuse and running away leads to safety – then the individual will use previous reinforcement history and run off to safety (McLeod, 2008). Consequently, to help individuals with behavioural issues, this suggested that reinforcing desired or appropriate behaviour, and ignoring inappropriate behaviour, would be of benefit to the individual (McLeod, 2008). If a behaviour or response is not rewarded it will, according to Skinner, undergo a process of extinction, and fade out of the repertoire (McLeod, 2008).


Subsequently, both Ellis, the founder of rational emotive therapy, and Beck (1976), the founder of cognitive therapy, began their therapeutic careers as psychoanalysts (McLeod, 2008). Also, they both became dissatisfied with psychoanalytic methods, becoming more aware of the importance of the ways in which individuals thought about themselves (McLeod, 2008). Beck had been practising psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy for years before a patient’s cognitions had an enormous impact on his feelings and behavior (McLeod, 2008). Beck (1976) reported on a patient who had been engaging in free association, and had become angry, openly criticizing Beck (1976) (McLeod, 2008). When the individual was asked what he was feeling, he reported feeling very guilty (McLeod, 2008). Beck (1976) accepted this statement, on the grounds that, within psychoanalytic theory, anger causes guilt (McLeod, 2008). But then the patient went on to explain that while he had been expressing his criticism of Beck (1976), he had ‘also had continual thoughts of a self-critical nature’, which included statements such as ‘I’m wrong to criticize him … I’m bad … He won’t like me … I have no excuse for being so mean (McLeod, 2008). Beck concluded that ‘the patient felt guilty because he had been criticizing himself for his expressions of anger to me’ (McLeod, 2008).


Beck (1976) described these self-critical cognitions as ‘automatic thoughts’, and began to see them as one of the keys to successful therapy (McLeod, 2008). The emotional and behavioural difficulties that individuals’ experience in their lives are not caused directly by events but by the way they interpret and make sense of these events (McLeod, 2008). When individuals’ can be helped to pay attention to the ‘internal dialogue’, the stream of automatic thoughts that accompany and guide their actions, they can make choices about the appropriateness of these self-statements, and if necessary introduce new thoughts and ideas, which lead to a happier or more satisfied life (McLeod, 2008). Although Beck (1976) had been a psychoanalyst, he found that his growing interest in cognition was leading him away from psychoanalysis and in the direction of behaviour therapy (McLeod, 2008). He cites some of the commonalities between cognitive and behavioural approaches: both employ a structured, problem-solving or symptom reduction approach, with a highly active therapist style, and both stress the ‘here-and-now’ rather than making ‘speculative reconstructions of the patient’s childhood relationships and early family relationships’ (McLeod, 2008).


Similarly, Ellis, who also trained in psychoanalysis, evolved a much more active therapeutic style characterized by high levels of challenge and confrontation designed to enable the client to examine his or her ‘irrational beliefs’ (McLeod, 2008). Consequently, Ellis argued that emotional problems were caused by distorted thinking arising from viewing life in terms of ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ (McLeod, 2008). For example, when an individual experiences’ a relationship, in an full on, exaggerated manner, the individual may be acting upon an internalized, irrational belief, such as ‘I must have love or approval from all the significant people in my life (McLeod, 2008).’ Subsequently, for Ellis, a belief like the one above is irrational because it is exaggerated and overstated (McLeod, 2008). A rational belief system might include statements such as ‘I enjoy being loved by others’ or ‘I feel most secure when the majority of the people in my life care about me (McLeod, 2008).’ Thusly, irrational belief leads to feelings of anxiety or depression, if anything goes wrong in a relationship (McLeod, 2008). The more rational belief statements allow the person to cope with relationship difficulties in a more constructive and balanced fashion (McLeod, 2008).


To conclude, in practice, psychodynamic counselling involves a form of therapeutic helping that draws on the theories of psychoanalysis, as a means of deepening and enriching the relationship between counsellor and client (McLeod, 2008). Conversely, cognitive–behavioural theory is largely silent on child development, and lacks the person-centred approach of psychoanalysis, but it is historically the most recent of the major therapy orientations, and is perhaps in its most creative phase, with new ideas and techniques being added to it every year (McLeod, 2008).







McLeod, J. (2008). ‘Themes and issues in the psychodynamic approach to counselling’, in Langdridge, D., (eds) Introduction to Counselling, McGraw Hill/Open University Press.


McLeod, J. (2008). ‘From behaviourism to constructivism: the cognitive– behavioural approach to counselling’, in Langdridge, D., (eds) Introduction to Counselling, McGraw Hill/Open University Press.