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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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The Acquisition of Language – Empiricist and Nativist approaches.

The fundamental source of knowledge has created an ongoing debate, be it linguistic or non-linguistic, between nativists and empiricists. One has to critically consider the empiricist position on language development which challenges the nativist theory that the the child is equipped with innate, domain-specific mental structures dedicated to learning language. Nativists like Chomsky and Pinker (2008) consider lexical rules to be too intricate simply to be passed down through the child’s environment. Conversely, empiricists argue that such genetic programmes are unnecessary as the child will learn all they need to know about grammar from the language of those around them.

Empirical researchers focus primarily on environmental factors to understand how children acquire language skills from an early age. They believe that language is a learned behaviour within the child’s social context. This enables researchers to observe how children gradually acquire the rules of grammar and the complexities of word comprehension that eventually lead to the production of words and sentences. In addition, empiricist researchers believe that the fragmentary acquisition of language during infancy facilitates the acquisition of more complex structures later on during the child’s developmental stages of learning. This can be explored using connectionist models, which enable theorists to test their theories regarding the cognitive architecture needed to realize the acquisition of grammar (Plunkett & Wood, 2004). According to Piaget, the ‘chaos’ of early perception only begins to make sense as the child begins to interact with the world (Slater & Oates, 2005). Consequently, looking at Piaget’s ‘sensori motor stage’ can help elaborate on empiricism as he claimed that the main developmental task for the child is to learn the links between sensation and action, thus creating a basis for the construction of mental representations of the world, and hence thought (Slater and Oates, 2005). Although Piaget went on to create cognitive constructivism, this is a good example of the child coming into the world with a ‘clean slate’. This is the philosophical approach explaining how the child comes to experience the world, and based on that knowledge an extrapolation can be made that the child then goes on to construct the world through their own actions.

On the other hand, nativists propose that the ever-changing nature of experience does not have the sufficient stability to permit the individual to form ideas and knowledge. Nativists believe that the linguistic environment is too ambiguous and complex for the child. Therefore, believing that the child is born with a whole range of concepts and abstract knowledge already present in the mind that allow the child to make sense of an ever-changing environment (Slater & Oates, 2005). Consequently, just like empiricists focus on external environmental factors to explain the acquisition of language, nativists are more concerned with the internal, biological reasoning behind the complex rules governing linguistic syntactical knowledge. Chomsky (2005) states that language is a component of human biology and it is more or less on par with the systems of mammalian vision, insect navigation, and other innate features. Furthermore, Chomsky believes that the child is pre-wired with information – they only have to be exposed to relatively little language to set off triggers that act like switches. These triggers will, in turn, choose the route that the child’s own language has chosen (as cited by Aitchison, 1998).

Looking at developmental phenomena gives a better insight into the complexity of the arguments that challenge the nativist theory of language acquisition. In addition, one has to look at the nature of spoken language and different phenomena that empiricists and nativists have had to work with to solidify their theories. According to Clark (2009) children produce their first recognizable words round about the age of twelve to eighteen months of age, they start to combine words together and produce their first phrases at around the age of two and this leads to complete utterances. Between the age of one and six, children acquire extensive use in language skills, and between the age of ten to twelve they have gained adult level-competence in using complex constructions and a large lexicon (as cited in Alishahi, 2011). When the child learns to combine sounds in a way that is appropriate, they develop a largely implicit understanding of phonology, morphology and syntax (Plunkett & Wood, 2008). There is a hierarchical structure that leads to spoken language that is built using and combining grammatical rules and their sub-groups. The first point to note is, the child has to develop an understanding of phonology – which refers to the knowledge that one possesses an understanding of the sound patterns of their language. The second point is that, the child has to have implicit knowledge of morphology, which refers to the knowledge one has about the rules in which new words and grammatical morphemes can be created from units of language. The third point to note is how these grammatical terms are all put together using syntax, which is the the knowledge one has about the ways words are combined to form sentences. The last point leads to what is know as morpho-syntax, this is the use of morphology and syntax to signal ‘who did what to whom’. Morpho-syntax can vary in structure amongst different languages. Variations in different languages can lead to the problem of how the child is able to discover the extent to which their native language relies on either syntax or morphology (Plunkett & Wood, 2004).

Subsequently, this leads to Chomsky’s theory that the child already has an innate predisposition about morpho-syntax in order to develop and acquire information through cues which can ‘switch on’ morphological and syntactical constraints depending on the language. Chomsky referred to this as Universal Grammar in which the idea of switch and cue constraints were dependent on one’s native language. For example, languages can differ in their grammar and typical word order may vary. In English, the common order is subject, verb, object. In Japanese it is subject, object, verb. In Welsh it is, verb, subject, object. Languages can differ in whether they make a distinction between intransitive verbs and adjectives. And there are many subtler sorts of grammatical differences as well. Many researchers have urged that large differences in language lead to large differences in experience and thought. There have been studies that have shown that due to different languages, people think of the world in quite different ways. However, one has to wonder why foreign languages are not more similar according to universal grammar as it would seem most logical in accordance with the theory of Chomsky’s universal grammar.

The child’s development of plural and past tense inflection proceeds from a period of error-free performance, which moves on to a period where some errors are noticed, and finally moves to a later stage of adult like performance, this is know as the U-shaped development (Plunkett & Wood, 2004). The nativist ‘duel route theory’ and empiricist ‘single route theory’ both use different models to explain the phenomenon of U-shaped development, and researchers use different sources of evidence to back their claims. Duel route theory, proposed by Pinker and Prince (1988), uses two cognitive rule systems that run in parallel with each other. The child has a rule system for word endings and also has a memory system, which contains the most common and irregular morphological inflections in their native language. According to Marcus (1992), as the child gets older, memories for rare types of inflection are consolidated and errors diminish. The dual route theory infers that the inflections that occur the most within the greater number of words become the default rule. So, the dual route theory indicates that over-regularization errors result from a competition between a memory system and a rule system (Plunkett & Wood, 2008) These two rule systems run in parallel simultaneously to produce the correct grammatical utterances.

In contrast, single route theory indicates that regular and irregular inflections are produced by a single system that stores all the inflections in the language (as cited in, Plunkett & Wood, 2004). The single route theory offers an entirely different view of why the child begins to make over-regularized errors. As more and more inflections are stored in memory, the competition between these words cause interference effects, and due to words being stored that are similar in nature, confusion occurs. Rumelhart and McClellend (1986) found that when they trained their regular and irregular verb inflections on their connectionist network, the irregular verbs became more solidly stored in the network, and therefore, were able to resist the effects of interference or regular verbs. They argued that a connectionist model can learn the past tenses of English verbs in the way children learn them, without being given, or learning, any linguistic rules. (as cited in Plunkett & Wood, 2004). However, Pinker and Prince (1988) and Lachter and Bever (1988) argue that the model only appears to do this because linguistic information was built in and unnatural (as cited in Behme & Deacon, 2008) . The network ‘learned’ plural inflections before past-tense inflection which is consistent with studies of grammatical development in children. Nevertheless, both theories do come up with the same grammatical development, however, dual route theory predicts that regular words are not susceptible to interference from irregular words, but single route theory predicts that this can happen and it does. As a result, the connectionist model seems to support the single route theory more than the dual route theory.

Sometimes the best way to test theories is to test them on atypical children, where the production of a behaviour is known to be problematic. Pinker (1991) has argued that instances of the breakdown in usage of inflections favours the duel route theory (Plunkett & Wood, 2004). Pinker (1991) cited two developmental disorders; Williams Syndrome and Specific Language Impairment (SLI) where researchers have discovered different behavioural patters for, both, regular and irregular forms of past tense word forms. For example, Williams Syndrome has shown that children can produce forms of past tense verbs, but they seem to have difficulty in producing irregular past term verbs. In contrast SLI seems to show the opposite. The evidence from these developmental disorders creates a double dissociation between regular and irregular inflection, which infers that two cognitive processes seem to be unrelated to each other. Duel route theory can offer a simple explanation of a double dissociation between Williams Syndrome and SLI, namely that impairment of memory will affect irregular verbs, but leave regular verb production intact and impairment of the [rule route] will affect regular verbs, but leave irregular verbs intact. On the other hand, if regular and irregular inflection shares the same processing resources in single route theory, then impairment of one type of inflection should appear together with impairment in the other. Therefore, looking at developmental disorders seems to favour the duel route theory. Nevertheless, there is empirical and theoretical considerations which give caution to dismissing single route theory in developmental disorders. The first point to note is the inconsistency in the evidence as Thomes et al. (2001) no difference in performance of regular and irregular past term verb forms in Williams Syndrome. And the next point to note is that single route theorists have been able to replicate double dissociations between regular and irregular verbs in their connectionist models, (as cited in Plunkett & Wood, 2004) and this is because resources to the system are not shared equally between regular and irregular inflections.

In conclusion, the acquisition of language from birth seems like a monolithic task for the child. Picking up on complexities like, phonetics, morphology and syntax, especially in a piecemeal fashion, seems like a daunting task. Single route theory of development and syntax development suggest that the child can acquire representations of grammatical forms and learn how to use them from the environment and those around them. Conversely Pinker’s duel route theory and Chomsky’s universal grammar offer support that the child already has the cognitive mechanisms they need for grammatical competence. As technology moves forward it can become much easier for psychologists to back up their theories with neural networks. The connectionist model, although limited, allows one to have a better understanding of what is happening inside the ‘so called black box’ of the neonate during the developmental stage of language acquisition.




Alishahi, A. (2011) ‘Computational Modeling of Human Language Acquisition’, in Hirst, G. (eds) Computational Models of Language Learning, pp. 11-24, Morgan and Claypool.

Behme, C. & Deacon, S (2008) ‘Language Development’, in Philosophical Psychology, Language Learning in Infancy, Vol. 21, No. 5, October 2008 pp. 641–671, Routledge.

Harris, M. (2004) ‘First words’, in Oates, J. and Grayson, A. (eds) Cognitive and language development in children, Oxford, Blackwell/The Open University.

J. Aitchison (1998, 4th edn) ‘A blueprint in the brain?, in The Articulate Mammal: and introduction to psycholinguistics, pp 109-29, London and New York, Routledge.

Plunkett, K. & Wood, C. (2004) ‘The development of children’s understanding of grammar’, in Oates, J. and Grayson, A. (eds) Cognitive and language development in children, Oxford, Blackwell/The Open University.

Slater, A. & Oates, J. (2005) ‘Sensation to perception’, in Oates, J. Wood, C & Greyson, A. (eds) Psychological Development and Early Childhood, Oxford, Blackwell/The Open University.

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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.


The notion of power relations and why it is a central component of critical evaluation


The epistemological ground of social research developed, in part, as a legitimated form of knowledge about the universality of the western individual – produced by, and for those in power (Foucault, 1980). As a result, social research itself is a relation of power that produces – and is produced by – individual theoretical perspectives (Foucault, 1977) Thusly, Critical social psychology acknowledges and focuses on the datum that all knowledge is socially constructed, and historically situated (Finlay & Langdridge, 2005). Furthermore, social psychologists understand that different perspectives and methodologies produce social formations that restrict culturally specific forms of knowledge (Finlay & Langdridge, 2005). Therefore, exploring some of the substantive topics that social psychology concerns itself with can highlight interrogative themes – such as situated knowledge and power relations (Holloway, 2005). Thusly, this allows one to step back from the information and begin to understand how these power relations came to be, and how they are linked to the wider forces that create and sustain the production of power (Motzkau, J., 2012). This essay aims to look at different power relations, why they are so important and how they are constantly changing by critically evaluating topics of research within social psychology (Motzkau, J., 2012).

The contemporary methodologies and perspectives used in recent times were borne out of the social psychology crisis in circa 1967, in part, due to the American social psychologist Kenneth Ring (1967) who published an article in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology entitled; ‘Experimental social psychology: some sober questions about some frivolous values’. Thusly, Kenneth Ring (1967) pointed out the shortcomings in social psychology and – in particular – experimental psychology and how it fostered a dehumanising vision of participants and ignored real world settings. Subsequently, what followed was criticism based on the scientific method, which was – for a long time during, and after the behaviourist period – considered the only valid means of obtaining objective neutral knowledge, unaffected by ideology and cultural embeddedness (Simpson & Dovidio, 2013). Conversely, experimental psychologists view was that scientific research made it possible to get at the facts; facts that were considered as accurate, irrespective of politics, values, ideology or cultural embeddedness (Finlay & Langdridge, 2005). As a result, the scientific basis of experimental social psychology was considered to be impervious to, and unaffected by, ideology (Finlay & Langdridge, 2005).

Subsequently, due to the foucauldian notion of reciprocity in the relationship between social psychological research and the social world it investigates; there is affirmation that research questions could be influenced by social, political and historical contexts, as much as they are being influenced by the findings from said research (Lemke, 2002). Thusly, this is due to the ontological nature that an individual socially constructs their being in relation to the constant dynamicity of ever changing knowledge (Hollway, 2005). Therefore, due to the circuitous nature of the production of knowledge, epistemologically – social psychology can be shaped by – but also directly contribute to – continuously re-shaping the lived realities of those it investigates (Hollway, 2005). Thusly, the relationship between social psychology and its subject area can be referred to as a powerful ‘two way dynamic’ (Hollway, 2005). Contextually, this can facilitate the extraction of power relations that can be present where knowledge is constructed, generated and dissipated (Finlay & Langdridge, 2005). Furthermore, power relations, and reciprocal dynamics, are considered to be ubiquitous, and thusly, unavoidable and constantly changing (Langdridge, 2005). It is in this sense that power itself is considered to be neither good ‘nor’ bad; but merely producing effects, which can be positive in the production of extracting value judgements (Motzkau, J., 2012). Therefore, one can critically evaluate the effects that power produces in relation to specific contexts providing value judgements (Motzkau, J., 2012). This in turn, can serve as a function on whether these effects may be good or bad – and for whom (Hollway, 2005).

Incidentally, looking at the topic of embodiment and the self can start to draw out issues of power relations (Finlay & Langdridge, 2005). For example, Foucault’s examination of the effects that power relations had on individual’s bodies, resulted in his theory of the ‘docile body’ (Finlay & Langdridge, 2005). Consequently, the docile subject has no capacity for resistance, and is subject to the power of the state (Finlay & Langdridge, 2005). Moreover, Foucault saw subjectification as a dual process that operated both; externally, and internally, as a process through which individuals make themselves subjects of state regulation (Foucault, 1973). Thusly, the construction of subjectivity is constantly in flux, and it is not something that the individual formulates or conceives, but stems from ‘taken-for-granted’ normalizations, which create patterns, found within culture, society and social settings (Finlay & Langdridge, 2005).

As a result of the docile body, Foucault (1990) developed the idea of the ‘reflexive subject’ through which power is exercised, rather than possessed – and its functions are multiple and verbose. Thusly, it can be viewed as productive, as well as repressive, and where power exists, resistance is inevitable (Foucault, 1982). Contrastingly, following this formulation – instead of operating as an oppressive force exercised over individuals – power operates in relations between individuals and groups (Otto, 1999). Furthermore, relational power circulates in discursive networks like chains through the whole social structure (Otto, 1999). Also, Foucault explained the intimate operations of power within the individual in what he termed ‘care of the self’.

Accordingly, discourses construct particular versions of how people should be, how they should act, how they should look, and creates a demarcated line of normality for which to gauge anything that deviates from that standardized normalization (Finlay & Langdridge, 2005). Essentially, this can have certain effects, both advantageous, and disadvantageous (Westmarland, 2001). Applied to the body, discourses defining a ‘normal body’ get taken up as ‘truths’, which then invalidate other accounts that deviate from what is constituted as normal (Foucault, 1980). A discourse on able-bodied people being ‘normal’, for instance, has the effect of constituting disabled bodies as somehow abnormal, unattractive and to be pitied or avoided (Foucault, 1977). Furthermore, by presenting heterosexuality as natural and normative, it automatically delineates homosexuality as some sort of deviance (Foucault, 1980). Some of these binaries, such as homosexuality and transgenderism have brought about the theoretical development known as queer theory (Finlay & Langdridge, 2005).

Foucault establishes standards of ‘normality’ as discourses people soak up unsuspectingly and this is why medical recognition and diagnostic testing are so important to people who suffer from controversial conditions (as cited in Finlay & Langdridge, 2005). If the experience of illness is not legitimated and labelled through a medical diagnosis, it is difficult to explain to others and have the illness socially and medically accepted (Horton-Salway, 1998). For example, individual’s suffering from illness are often keen to pursue a proper diagnostic test that will prove without doubt the existence of the illness (Finlay & Langdridge, 2005). The ongoing pursuit of a positive test is linked to a need to fit the gold standard of proof as defined by dominant discourses of empirical science; a need to be prototypically categorized (Foucault, 1980). Furthermore, disciplinary regimes such as medicine and psychiatry generate languages of description and explanation where one learns to classify themselves and view their bodies as normal or abnormal, healthy or unhealthy, sane or mad, fat or thin, and so on (Foucault, 1980). Thusly, classification of oneself creates the construction of ‘binaries’ and the potential for ‘othering’ and marginalization, which gave birth to queer theory as mentioned in the above paragraph (Finlay & Langdridge, 2005). Subsequently, individuals are inclined to think that practitioners and doctors know what is best for them, thusly, they are passively handing over their bodies to the control of medical experts (Langdridge, 2005).

Conversely, phenomenology offers a framework for the study of experience from the perspective of the individual. Thusly, epistemologically the discipline is concerned with discovering and understanding the meaning of an individual’s lived experience, and is driven by a desire to understanding subjective experience, gaining insights into people’s motivations and actions, and cutting through the clutter of taken’for’granted assumptions and conventional wisdom (Lester, 1999). Phenomenological theories of embodiment have been concerned in distinguishing between the various essentialist physiological and biological causalities that structure bodily existence, and the meaning that embodied experience assumes in the context of lived experience (Butler, 1986). Drawing on the phenomenology of French philosopher, Merleau-Ponty (1945), Butler (1986) explained that, rather than viewing bodily experience from an essentialist perspective, Merleau-Ponty (1945) claimed that the body is a ‘historical idea’ rather than a ‘natural species’ (Butler, 1986). From this perspective, the body can be understood as being in an active process of embodying certain historical and cultural possibilities, and that this complicated process is one, which any phenomenological theory of embodiment needs to describe (Dyson, 2007).

Thusly, phenomenologists support the use of qualitative evidence, but fundamentally take issue with what they see as the relegation of actual bodily experience (Finley & Landridge, 2005). For them, meaning originates not in discourses but in lived experience and only through this is it possible to understand what it means to have and be a body, to be sick, in pain, and oppressed (Finley & Landridge, 2005). Furthermore, phenonemologists took note that Foucault spent a great deal of time writing about the body, as opposed to studying the individual’s actual bodily experiences when it came to issues such as sexuality, oppression and illness (Finley & Landridge, 2005). In particular, phenomenologists disagree with Foucault’s assertion that there is nothing meaningful outside discourse and that what passes for truth about the body is only the knowledge that has been accepted in society (Finley & Landridge, 2005). For example, Foucauldian discourse deals exclusively with production of language and classifications that marginalise the individual and there is no particular acknowledgement of the individual’s lived world; their subjective and objective issues emotionally and physically whilst dealing with certain health issues (Finley & Landridge, 2005).

Incidentally, an existential-phenomenological method was used with the aim of describing the lifeworld of an individual with multiple sclerosis (MS) (Giorgi, 1985; Valle and Halling, 1989). Importantly, the individual’s illness is confronted in the context and of family connections and other relationships. In other words, the individual will describe what limitations they are faced with – intersubjectively within the social realms of their life (Finley & Landridge, 2005). Furthermore, the individual’s experience of having/being a body with MS cannot be separated from their world. Thusly, the multiple sclerosis is in the individual; it has become embodied; intersubjective with relations with others (Finlay, 2003). As Merleau-Ponty has famously explained: ‘There is no inner man [sic] … Man is in the world, and only in the world does he know himself’ (as cited in Finley & Landridge, 2005).

By conducting a between – analysis of phenomenological and the discursive psychological perspectives they co-exist to a certain extent in the sense that the methodologies are qualitative and essentially about the agentic individual being able to make their own decisions (Finlay & Langdridge, 2005). As Harre (1990) noted, both approaches take people to be active agents, who attempt to realise, together with others, plans, projects and intentions according to the rules and norms of the local society. However, contrast arises due to the phenomenologist approach focusing more on the ontological assumption that information is gained through the individual’s lifeworld (Finlay & Langdridge, 2005). Whereas, the discursive perspective is more about how social norms are produced from language and how these social norms come to be valued as normative assumptions (Finlay & Langdridge, 2005). Ultimately, the two perspectives mentioned can somewhat co-exist to offer a more enlightening picture of theoretical questions being asked and the different methodologies used that each provide different sources of knowledge (Finlay & Langdridge, 2005).

In conclusion, the construct of power is difficult to define, measure, and test (Finley & Landridge, 2005). However, it is far too important to ignore or relegate to mere theoretical speculations (Foucault, 1990). So, it must be studied and looked at contextually; especially as power relations and situated knowledges are dynamically established relationships (Hollway, 2005). Thusly, the question of who has the power to interpret people’s experience applies to all social psychological research (Hollway, 2005). Moreover, it is a political and ethical question, as it involves the process of giving meaning to events and accounts, it is researchers who evaluate them (Hollway, 2005). Consequently, since it is impossible to avoid this process of researcher evaluation, there is a need to be careful when basing interpretations on evidence (Finley & Landridge, 2005). Also, the research process must interrogate how specific evidence and the meanings from that evidence came to be produced and within what assumptions and power relations (Hollway, 2005). It is of paramount importance to hold in mind the many levels at which power relations operate when topics are situated historically and critically (Hollway, 2005).


Bertrand Russell, Power: A New Social Analysis (1938)

Brownmiller, S. (2005). Against Our Will: Men, Women and Rape (1975). Pearson Education New Zealand.

Butler, Judith, 1986. “Sex and Gender in Simone de Beauvoir’s Second Sex. ” Yale French Studies 72:35-49

Burr, V. (2005). ‘Bystander Intervention’, in Hollway, W., Lucey, H., Phoenix, A and Lewis, G. (eds) Critical Readings In Social Psychology, The Open University.

Cherry, F. (1983) ‘Gender roles and sexual violence’ in Allgeier, E.R. and McCormick, N. B. (eds) Changing Boundaries: Gender Roles and Sexual Behavior, Palo Alto, Ca., Mayfield Publishing.

Crossley, N. (1996). Body-subject/body-power: agency, inscription and control in Foucault and Merleau-Ponty. Body & Society, 2(2), 99-116.

Myers, G. M. (2008). Social Psychology (9th ed.). By David G. Myers, New York, McGraw-Hill

Finlay, L. (2003). The intertwining of body, self and world: A phenomenological study of living with recently-diagnosed multiple sclerosis. Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, 34(2), 157-178.

Finlay, L. and Langdridge, D. (2005). ‘Embodiment’, in Hollway, W., Lucey, H., Phoenix, A and Lewis, G. (eds) Critical Readings In Social Psychology, The Open University.

Foucault, M. (1977) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, (trans. A. Sheridan), Harmondsworth, Penguin.

Foucault, M. (1980). Power/knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings, 1972-1977. Random House Digital, Inc..

Foucault, M. (1990). Politics, philosophy, culture: Interviews and other writings, 1977-1984. L. Kritzman (Ed.). Psychology Press.

Giorgi, A. (1985). Sketch of a psychological phenomenological method. In A. Giorgi (Ed.), Phenomenology and psychological research (pp. 8-22). Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press.

Gough, B. and McFadden, M. (2001) Critical Social Psychology: An Introduction. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Harré, R. (1990) Exploring the human Umwelt, in R. Bhaskar (ed.) Harré and His
Critics: Essays in Honour of Rom Harré, with His Commentary on Them. Oxford: Blackwell.

Hollway, W. (2005). ‘Social Psychology: Past and Present’, in Hollway, W., Lucey, H., Phoenix, A and Lewis, G. (eds) Social Psychology Matters, The Open University.

Hollway, W. (2005). ‘Conclusion: Social Psychology Matters’, in Hollway, W., Lucey, H., Phoenix, A and Lewis, G. (eds) Social Psychology Matters, The Open University.

Howitt, D. (1991) Concerning Psychology: Psychology Applied to Social Issues, Milton Keynes, Open University Press.

Infinito, J. (2003). Ethical Self‐formation: A look at the later Foucault. Educational Theory, 53(2), 155-171.

Langdridge, D. (2005). ‘The Settlement of Social Psychology’, in Hollway, W., Lucey, H., Phoenix, A and Lewis, G. (eds) Critical Readings In Social Psychology, The Open University.

Lemke, T. (2002). Foucault, governmentality, and critique. Rethinking Marxism, 14(3), 49-64.

Lester, S. (1999). An introduction to phenomenological research. Stan Lester Developments, 1-4.

Levine, M. (1999). Rethinking bystander nonintervention: Social categorization and the evidence of witnesses at the James Bulger murder trial. Human Relations, 52(9), 1133-1155.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962). The phenomenology of perception(C. Smith, Trans.). London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. (Original work published 1945).

Motzkau, J. (2012). ‘How Does Social Psychology Matter? Producing Knowledge – evaluating research’, in Block 6 Online Commentary: The production of knowledge. The Open University

Otto, D. (2010). Power and Danger: Feminist Engagement with International Law through the UN Security Council. Austl. Feminist LJ, 32, 97.

Peerenboom, R. (2003). Beyond universalism and relativism: the evolving debates about values in Asia. Ind. Int’l & Comp. L. Rev., 14, 1.

Ring, K. (1967). Experimental social psychology: Some sober questions about some frivolous values. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 3(2), 113-123.

Russel, B. (1938) Power: A New Social Analysis, London: George Allen and Unwin; New York: W.W. Norton.

Shotland, R., & Straw, M. K. (1976). Bystander response to an assault: When a man attacks a woman. Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 34(5), 990-999. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.34.5.990

Stainton-Rogers, W. (2003) Social Psychology: Experimental and Critical Approaches, Buckingham, Open University Press.

Tuffin, K. (2004) Introduction to Critical Social Psychology, London, Sage.

Valle, R., King, M, & Halling, S. (1989). An introduction to existential-phenomenological thought in psychology. In R. Valle & S. Halling (Eds.),
Existential-phenomenological perspectives in psychology (pp. 3-16). New York: Plenum Press.

Westmarland, N. (2001, February). The quantitative/qualitative debate and feminist research: A subjective view of objectivity. In Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research (Vol. 2, No. 1).

Willig, C. (2001) Introducing Qualitative Research in Psychology: Adventures in Theory and Method, Buckingham, Open University Press.

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How to write 1000 words a day (and not go bat shit crazy)

The Thesis Whisperer

Recently I Tweeted a link to an article called “How to write 1000 words a day for your blog” which I thought had some good productivity tips for thesis writers. @webnemesis wrote back: ” would like to see someone write a blog post on how to write 1000 words of substance for yr dissertation every day”. Of course I answered: “Challenge? Accepted!”

When I was nearing the end of my PhD, I added up the number of words I had to write and divided them by the number of days of study leave I had left. Then I freaked out and had to have a little lie down. According to my calculations I had to write 60,000 words in 3 months.

After a  cup of tea (with maybe just a whiff of scotch in it) I contemplated this problem and made a PLAN, which was cobbled together from all the advice books on writing I…

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Marginalised Adolescents and Inner-City Knife Crime


Marginalized Adolescents and Inner-City Knife Crime – Interdisciplinary Approach to Interrelated Risk Factors: Agency, School Exclusion, and Delinquency – A Constructivist Method


Is the desocialising failure to maintain a marginalised minority within the state education system facilitating the ‘triangulation’ of school exclusion, ‘looked-after’ status and criminality?





The plethora of sensationalist coverage in the media in the past two years on the subject of teenagers involved in knife crime is creating an ever-expanding public concern (Clement, 2010). The question prompting this commentary is, ‘What are the realities confronting marginalised young people in the UK transitioning into the full rights and responsibilities of adult citizenship?’ (Clement, 2010). With the condition of marginality advancing, alongside the looming recession still threatening free-market economies, the future appears increasingly uncertain for many with personal biographies sharing much in common with many of their peers living in the more deprived neighbourhoods of Britain (Clement, 2010). In conclusion, the value of synthesising rather than disputing paradigms to produce different layers of knowledge should facilitate discussion (Clement, 2010).


Subsequently, there has been a decade-long escalation of precariousness in employment, which threatens to universalize the conditions up to now associated with ‘marginalisation’ across wider paths of the working class (Clement, 2010). Growing up on the sink estates of the city, young people in the age of transition from child to adulthood see their future life chances profoundly undermined by the present lack of opportunities for development educationally, psychologically and vocationally (Clement, 2010). There are better ways of dealing with the marginalized minorities; involving individual’s from under-privileged groups to become involved in positive activities, supporting parents with limited resources and supervising and supporting young offenders caught up in the criminal justice system (Alexander, 2008). Subsequently offering these individuals a sense of agentic scope (Alexander, 2008).


A detailed analysis of the sociology of this form of advanced marginality, which distinguishes an increasing minority of urban youth, demonstrates how it both has causes that are ‘properly political, rooted in the abandonment of the ghetto by the state’, and heralds ‘the social question of the new century, namely the desocialization of wage labour’ (Wacquant 2008a, pp. 224, 287)


Anti-social sources of crime are not merely symptomatic antisocial behaviour of the accused, but, rather, the desocialising failure to maintain a marginalised minority within the state education system (Clement, 2010).


As MacDonald and Marsh emphasise, most youth are not ‘disconnected’.

“The habitus of self-restraint begins to give way to more unrestrained outlets of emotion, as all the old assurances begin to unravel . . . without the social solidarity of the pre-1970 period ad hoc outbursts of anger can now become our response to delays, frustrations . . . a new intolerance – zero tolerance of those not making a contribution to social well-being.” (Pratt 2005, p. 265).


This contrast in fortunes between the working and non-working poor breeds divisions, encouraging a climate of ‘new punitiveness’ (Clement, 2010).




Risk factors for different age groups


Risk factors change over time, with different age groups being affected by the same factors to varying degrees: a risk factor that predicts a 7 year old will be violent later in life may not be a good predictor when that individual is 12. As an example, the most significant predictive factors of serious and violent offending among young people aged 12-14 (as established by Lipsey and Derzon’s meta- analysis) are shown in below. These factors, when present among young people aged 12-14, are likely to predict (further) violent offending when they are aged 15-25. The factors are ranked according to their statistical strength, with group 1 containing the most reliable predictors and group 5 the least reliable. (Within each group, the factors are also ranked according to statistical strength, e.g. ‘weak social ties’ being a relatively stronger predictor than ‘antisocial peers’.) Questionnaire will be based on the statistical probabilities as shown here:

Predictors for serious and violent offending for young people aged 12-14, in descending order of statistical reliability

(Source: Lipsey and Derzon 1998)

1. Weak social ties (engage in few pro-social activities; low popularity with friends/acquaintances)

1. Antisocial peers (i.e. peers engaging in criminal activities) 2. Carrying out other types of crimes

3. Aggression (aggressive/disruptive behaviour; verbal aggression toward others)

3. Negative attitude toward school, poor performance and behaviour at school

3. Having a one or more of the following psychological conditions: problematic behaviours, high activity levels, impulsiveness, poor eating habits, high levels of daring; psychopathology, short attention span

3. Having a poor relationship with parents 3. Being male 3. Being physically violent toward others

4. Having antisocial parents

4. Previous crimes against people using threat or force and including sexual offences

4. Problem behaviour such as aggression, antisocial behaviour, temper tantrums

4. Low IQ (e.g. learning difficulties, verbal and non-verbal reasoning problems, low language ability)

5. Coming from a ‘broken home’, where either the parents have separated or the young person is living separately for some reason away from the parents

5. Being a member of a poor family (as indicated by measures of socioeconomic status, housing stock in one’s neighbourhood, parental and siblings employment status)

5. Experience of childhood abuse – emotional, physical, sexual, neglect or other maltreatment

5. Other family characteristics (e.g. high family stress, large family size, discord between parents)

5. Using drugs/alcohol 5. Ethnicity – youth from ethnic minorities had a greater risk of offending





Alexander, C., (2008).Constructing The ‘Gang’. Published by Runnymede in June 2008, this document is copyright © 2008 the Runnymede Trust. ISBN-13: 978-1-9067320-1-1

Crighton A. D., (2010). Assessment. In G. J. Towl, D. A. Crighton (Eds.), Forensic psychology (pp. 244-258). Wiley-Blackwell.

Crighton A. D., (2010). Risk Assessment. In G. J. Towl, D. A. Crighton (Eds.), Forensic psychology (pp. 260-270). Wiley-Blackwell.

Clement, M. (2010). Teenagers under the knife: A decivilising process. Journal Of Youth Studies, 13(4), 439-451. doi:10.1080/13676261003802406

Evaluation of Psychology Reports in the NSW Department of Juvenile Justice Program: An Analysis of Their Effectiveness

Fazel, S., Singh, J. P., Doll, H., & Grann, M. (2012). Use of risk assessment instruments to predict violence and antisocial behaviour in 73 samples involving 24,827 people: Systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 345(7868), 1-12.

Fitch, K., (March 2009). Teenagers at risk. The safeguarding needs of young people in gangs and violent peer groups, NSPCC

Kemshall, H., Marsland, L., Boeck, T., & Dunkerton, L. (2006). Young People, Pathways and Crime: Beyond Risk Factors. Australian And New Zealand Journal Of Criminology, 39(3), 354-370. doi:10.1375/acri.39.3.354

Lennings, G, J., Stephenson, J., Cotter, M., Johnston, I., Jenkins, T., (2001)

Towl, G. J., (2010). Ethical Issues in Forensic Psychological Policy and Practice. In G. J. Towl, D. A. Crighton (Eds.), Forensic psychology (pp. 62-69). Wiley-Blackwell.

Wacquant, Loïc. (2008). Urban outcasts: A comparative sociology of advanced marginality; Cambridge: Polity Press

Wacquant, L. (2012). ‘The prison is an outlaw institution’. Howard Journal Of Criminal Justice, 51(1), 1-15. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2311.2011.00686.x

All processing beneath conscious awareness is carried out by the subcortical structures.


The subcortical structures come into play when one feels that they are under threat or in a dangerous situation. When fear is induced in an individual numerous hormones are released that send information to the amygdala – which in turn, trigger what is know as the ‘fight or flight’ response. It is thought that there are two distinct pathways in the fear system, which are the cortical pathway, and the subcortical pathway (Datta, 2006). To find out if all processing in the subcortical system is unconscious one could look at the cortical system which is thought to be the more rational part of the conscious pathway in response to a ‘fight or flight’ situation. Both, the cortical and the subcortical pathways are linked to the visual structures of the brain; the former being more ‘direct’ and using the visual cortex and the latter being ‘indirect’ but still using the visual system. Understanding why there are two fear systems and the processes of these systems will give a better insight into whether all processing carried out by the subcortical system is strictly an ‘indirect’ and unconscious process. One should bear in mind that unconsciousness is tricky to study because it is subjective to the individual. If one is asked to perform a task in an unconscious state they will consciously be aware of trying to reach that unconscious state.

The subcortical system is dubbed the dirty pathway due to fact it sends less information about stimuli from the visual sensory input to the thalamus, and then the amygdala without any rationalisation from the individual due to it being processed unconsciously (Datta, 2006). Consequently, working almost instantaneously, this could facilitate a life saving response by individual, but on the other hand, it could also create an inappropriate response to harmless stimuli due to lack of reasoning. Conversely, the more conscious cortical pathway can add a delay somewhere in the region of one hundred to five hundred milliseconds (Datta, 2006). This is due to the cortical system consciously sending more information about visual stimuli from the visual sensory input to the thalamus, then to the visual cortex, and finally to the amygdala (Datta, 2006). By the time the conscious and more rational cortical system has kicked in the individual has already reacted unconsciously to the affects of the subcortical system. The possible explanation of the purpose of the cortical pathway could be so that the individual can gauge the situation in a more rational manner in the event that danger is still in play and act accordingly in the environmental settings. Thusly, it could also help with emotional responses to fearful and dangerous situations. Both pathways might work synergistically, or one pathway may set off the other. Looking at studies and experiments of visual face masking and also visual blindsight can help gain a better understanding of these different pathways.

An experiment was carried out to test whether participants would react to subliminal pictures of different emotive faces and how this would subsequently affect their reaction afterwards. Happy, angry and neutral faces where displayed for sixteen milliseconds and then a neutral face was finally shown for 400 milliseconds. The patients were asked to perform an unrelated  task. How they responded to the task was wholly dependent on which subliminal picture they had seen. Subsequently, the participants had emotionally engaged with the different emotions of the subliminal photos unconsciously. Essentially what this indicates is that, what they saw visually – which was a neutral face – did not correspond to the emotional engagement that they were subjected to unconsciously. Also, similar studies on patients with lesions to the primary visual cortex (V1) have shown similar results. Thusly, these have shown that individuals with a blind field of vision still have an unconscious visual function and are able to point to and describe objects in their blind field of vision. This has led to the phenomenon being called affective blindsight. Henceforth, it could be possible that visual processing is separate from conscious awareness. Furthermore, It has been suggested that the subcortical pathway processes visual information independently of the cortical face processing areas that are necessary of conscious awareness (Morris, Ohman & Dolan, 1999).

To conclude, the subcortical system mediates the cortical system and this separates visual processing from conscious awareness. It could be said that the subcortical pathway is processed unconsciously as it sends information to the amygdala and the cortical pathway is processed consciously. This would make sense in an evolutionary aspect as fight or flight situations with any slight delay could mean life or death tactics. There is evidence that backs these claims, but one must be aware that lesions in brain-damaged patients are different in every case study and there are different changes and neural processes after damage. Therefore continued study in this area would be beneficial.


Datta, S. (2006) ‘Introduction to Brains, Mind and Consciousness’, in Bearman, G., Graham, R., Riley, G. & Wardell, P. (eds) From Cells To Consciousness, pp. 140 – 57, The Open University.

Morris, J.S., Ohman, A., and Dolan, R.J. (1998). Conscious and unconscious emotional learning in the human amygdala. Nature, 393, 467-470.

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British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Bias and Psychological mind games.

British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Bias and Psychological mind games.[youtube

BBC Bias against Scottish Independence reported on Russia’s Today News Program.

Propaganda is not something that you would expect from a state owned broadcaster in this day and age. One would only have to look back to Nicolae Ceausescu’s last speech in the 21st of December 1989 Romania and realise that people will eventually stop sucking Brain Taylor’s teat(s) (depending on how hungry one is – although one can only presume that full fat milk is the only option here – judging a book by it’s cover of course). There seems to be somewhat of a dichotomy when the nation is being forced to believe that there is an obesity problem; but that, there is ‘no’ option other than sucking Brain Taylor’s malnutritional, calorifical full fat milk, paying for it, and becoming ill from misinformation being espoused from the top of the hierarchical pyramidal unionists to the bottom feeders, who are left to clean up a long brown stain of lies.


We all love the word ‘reform’. Which essentially and ultimately means changing a corporation from being state owned to becoming a privatised money chugger for the people in power. BBC does not need reform, ….it needs to be stopped and we need to see an abolishment of the TV license fee.

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Some violent movies can increase violent responses to provocation and acceptance of violence in real life

I saw the devil
Jee-woon Kim’s ‘I Saw The Devil’ Starring Min-sik Choi

Two recently published studies show that prolonged exposure to gratuitous violence in the media can escalate subsequent hostile behaviors and, among some viewers, foster greater acceptance of violence as a means of conflict resolution.

The two studies were conducted by James B. Weaver III, head of the Department of Communication Studies at Virginia Tech, and Dolf Zillmann of the University of Alabama. In one study, the researchers wanted to see if frequent, consistent exposure to violence in films would bring out in people a greater support of violent solutions to social problems. The researchers set up an investigation in which 53 male and 40 female college students with various behavior types (empathetic, Type A, etc.) participated for extra credit in a class. They first took tests to determine their primary personality traits. Then they were told they would view five films, one each evening, to evaluate the films’ viability in the video market. They were exposed to nonviolent or gratuitously violent films over four consecutive days and rated those films. The films included innocuous movies, such as “Driving Miss Daisy” and “Little Man Tate,” in which conflicts are resolved without bodily harm, and violent films, such as “Universal Soldier” and “Excessive Force,” representing the new cinematic genre of superviolent movies that are laden with maimings and killings and often have a hero who uses such violence.

On the fifth day, approximately 24 hours after viewing the fourth film, the students were told the researchers had enough data on the video-rental study, but they could participate in a substitute project to earn their full credit. They took part in a project that they were not told was a part of the film study. An experimenter and helper administered tasks that the students were told would indicate whether they possessed important interaction skills or lacked them. The experimenter then gave them either good scores or poor grades with comments such as “Awful!” and “I sure wouldn’t hire you!” The students then were sent to the professor’s office, where they were asked to help the professor decide whether the new assistants should be given financial assistance or denied it.

Weaver and Zillmann found that no matter what type film the students saw, they reacted in a hostile manner toward the experimenter if they were provoked,. (recommending that they be denied financial assistance). Exposure to the gratuitously violent film also produced this effect without provocation by the experimenter. The study showed that prolonged exposure to gratuitously violent films is can escalate hostile behavior in both men and women and instigate such behavior in unprovoked research participants. They determined that the effect is not short lived, but remains for some time after the viewing of the films.

The researchers were surprised at the strong effect of media violence on the responses of non-provoked persons. They speculate that perhaps the fact that the fifth film was replaced with more demanding assignments annoyed the participants enough to reactivate the hostile concepts implanted by the movies. “If that is the case,” Weaver says, “it could be showing that prolonged exposure to media violence can facilitate hostility indiscriminately. That is, it may be that the concepts of hostility planted by the media violence can be activated by any ill feelings and can foster mean-spiritedness toward the person’s social environment at large.”

The researchers found other surprising responses. Women rated the experimenter as less courteous than did males, and people with empathetic, extraverted, or Type A behaviors also were more hostile. The researchers speculate that, since the experimenters were all female, the women participants were hostile to their authority and “felt comparatively uninhibited in their hostile behavior toward female targets.” Too, the male participants may have been exhibiting chivalry in rating the experimenters as more courteous, Weaver says. As for extraverts, they may be more apprehensive of being evaluated and react negatively to the authoritative – and especially to the abusive – evaluations. Type A people may have been impatient and annoyed at changing from viewing a film to taking tests, the researchers said.

In a second study, Weaver and Zillmann took a more global approach to see how violence in the media affected participants’ reactions to things that did not involve them personally. They first gave them tests to determine the level of psychoticism in their personality. (Psychoticism as measured on the revised Eysenck scale used by the researchers is a trait characterized by hostile disposition, lack of empathy, and contempt for risks and danger – a general disregard for society’s preferences. It is not the mass-murderer/ultra dangerous person associated with the general term psychopath.) The researchers exposed participants (also students who would get class credit for completing the experiment) to four types of films – nonviolent, old-style violence (e.g., “Glory”), gratuitous violence (e.g., “Death Warrant”), and horror (e.g., “Howling VI”), again ostensibly so the participants could rate them for marketability. A day after the fourth film, the researchers told the participants they were taking part in a different study on conflict resolution. They were given conflict scenarios, ranging from two kindergarten children fighting to domestic violence, and asked to evaluate various violent and nonviolent resolutions and to indicate how they would respond to the situation. Two-hundred ten men and women completed the study.

The researchers found that men who perceived themselves as socially deviant and egocentric (Eysenck’s version of psychotic) were more likely to accept violence as a means of resolving societal conflicts after watching four movies with gratuitous violence. Watching old-style violence or horror movies did not have that effect. The psychotic men also more strongly endorsed the death penalty after watching such movies. The result is socially significant, Weaver says, because roughly half of the college men in the study fell into the upper half range of this socially indifferent personality.

Other results showed that women prefer to negotiate settlements to problems and men deem violent options more effective, including recklessly violent options. Women, whether high or low in psychoticism, failed to prefer violent resolutions even after viewing the gratuitous violence. Males at the lower end of the psychoticism scale also preferred nonviolence. The fact that men with high-psychotic profiles elected violent solutions may simply reflect a general preference for violent options by men in this group, Weaver says. They may, in fact, seek out such violent movies.

The two tests, Weaver says, were not looking for the mass murderers of the world, but were trying to determine the effects of films with gratuitous violence on the general population. “We’re talking here about some people in everyday life who may not find it okay to beat up someone, but do find it all right to exchange harsh words and insult other people. These films with gratuitous violence make people less civil, more willing to say things in a meeting or in a classroom that were inappropriate a few years ago. It seems tied to the role models seen and the lessons learned from different types of films.”

The studies show a callousness of world view, Weaver says. Person A says something bad to Person B and, because Person B has viewed gratuitous violence, he reacts more harshly than he would have reacted otherwise. “I think this tendency will increase,” Weaver says, “because these films are teaching people it’s okay to break the rules of civility.”

The two studies were published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology and the journal Personality and Individual Differences, respectively. Overall, Weaver says, both studies indicate a need to take personality traits into consideration when studying the effects of violent films on the subsequent behavior of individuals