The Brilliant Club launch

Yesterday was the Scottish launch trip for The Brilliant Club. The aim of the charity is to increase access to university for children from under-represented backgrounds, and after a very successful pilot last year, the Brilliant Club is now extending into Scotland. We are going to be working with three schools in Glasgow and one in Dundee. The children are going to be sitting courses in physics and biochemistry as well as my own social psychology course.

I’m hoping my course will give the youngsters some insights into their own relationships, but also some of the events they are currently witnessing in the wider world.

 

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The Brilliant Club

I am delighted to have been employed by The Brilliant Club to help them with their expansion into Scotland. The Brilliant Club is a charity that aims to improve access to higher education for children from under-privileged backgrounds. Previously the charity has been working only in England and Wales, but as of January, we will be working with schools in Scotland too. As part of this, we are teaching courses in our areas of specialism to 3rd and 4th year pupils. I’m very excited to be involved in this project, and will report back regularly.

Below are a few pictures from my first training weekend in Manchester.

Publication in British Journal of Clinical Psychology

My colleagues and I recently had a paper published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology. Our paper, ‘On the reciprocal effects between multiple group identifications and mental health: A longitudinal study of Scottish adolescents’ is my fourth publication from my PhD research, and I would like to once again, thank the pupils and staff who contributed to it.

Our paper examines the link between social group identifications and mental health outcomes in high school students. We found that greater number of high group identifications predicted better mental health outcomes amongst students. However, we also found that better mental health also predicted greater number of high group identifications, suggesting that there is a cyclical relationship between both variables.

The findings highlight the importance of conceptualizing the link between group identification and mental health as cyclical, rather than unidirectional. This reconceptualization has implications for mental health promotion strategies, as it highlights the importance of attempting to turn a potentially ‘vicious cycle’ of social disidentification and mental ill health into a ‘virtuous cycle’ of social identification and mental health.

To view the paper, please see:

Miller, K., Wakefield, J. R. H., & Sani, F. (2017). On the reciprocal effects between multiple group identifications and mental health: A longitudinal study of Scottish adolescents. British Journal of Clinical Psychology, DOI:10.1111/bjc.12143.

Higher Education Academy Conference

A poster that I contributed to was recently presented at the prestigious Higher Education Academy Conference in Manchester. It was a privilege to work on this with my colleague David Martin from the School of Life Sciences at Dundee University.  David’s presentation at the conference considered the role of self-assessment in teaching – a project that I hope we will be able to develop further in the future.

 

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Addiction, Behavioral Change and Social Identity

A chapter that my colleagues and I wrote has been published today in a book entitled ‘Addiction, Behavioral Change and Social Identity: The path to resilience and recovery’ . The book ‘explores the social and cognitive processes that enable people who join recovery groups to address their addictive issues. In an era of increasing concern at the long-term costs of chronic ill-health, the potential to leverage group identity to inspire resilience and recovery offers a timely and practical response.’

It ‘examines the theoretical foundations to a social identity approach in addressing behavior change across a range of contexts, including alcohol addiction, obesity and crime, whilst also examining topics such as the use of online forums to foster recovery’ and promises to be essential reading for students, researchers and policy makers across health psychology, social care, as well as anyone interested in behavioural change and addiction recovery.

The chapter that I wrote with my colleagues Juliet Wakefield (Nottingham Trent University) and Fabio Sani (University of Dundee) considers the impact of group identification on addictive health behaviours amongst an adolescent population. We hope you find it interesting and informative!

 

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Happiness and kindness towards others

As a follow-up to the previous post, here is a brief overview of recent work that investigated the impact of prosocial behaviour on an individual’s happiness. This is a nice study to the extent that it compared the happiness levels of individuals who ‘treated themselves’ with those of individuals performing actions that benefited others. The authors found that only those who were kind to others benefited from improved happiness, whereas those who only did something for themselves did not find any improvements. The moral of the story? If you want to feel happier, do more for others….

Reference to original study: Nelson, S. K., Layous, K., Cole, S. W., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2016). Do unto others or treat yourself? The effects of prosocial and self-focused behavior on psychological flourishing. Emotion, 16, 850-861. doi: 10.1037/emo0000178

Children’s body image

Radio 4 recently ran a short podcast entitled ‘How to help your child with their body image‘ by Aric Sigman. In this, Sigman claims that the adults in children’s lives (often the parents) can compound the negative effects of the media’s use of ‘slender images’. The idea is that parents can unwittingly transmit their own body dissatisfaction to their children, thus creating a ‘compound (or additive) effect’.

Although the role of the media in body image is an important one, today lets focus on the role that parents play in the development of children’s body image. Sigman suggests that there are easy steps that parents can take to help protect their children, beginning by not voicing their own body dissatisfaction. This should include avoiding more subtle forms of expression, for example, not using diet books, scales, or discussing weight or image concerns in front of children.

This strategy is very simple, and is consistent with Social Learning Theory – a well established psychological theory that suggests that children learn through modelling the behaviour they see around them. While clearly role models can include peers, wider family members and television or media personalities, the first role models that children are exposed to are usually parents. To this extent, parents should be especially cautious about how they behave in front of their children, to avoid unwittingly passing on bad habits. As Sigman says, ‘Parents who hate their bodies are more likely to produce children who hate their bodies’.

The podcast also notes the importance of discussing any body-related concerns with children. In particular, countering and addressing children’s worries will allow open discussion, as well as the opportunity for reassurance and support. As we know, any opportunity for discussion is beneficial for mental wellbeing, and developing these habits from an early age paves the way for positive family relationships.

However, it is Sigman’s final advice that we might consider to be most useful, not only for children’s views about their bodies, but also for their mental wellbeing in general. He suggests that the key is to stop self-focusing; claiming that those who develop body dissatisfaction have an attentional bias to look and think about themselves physically. His advice is therefore for parents to engage their children in other pursuits – ones that they enjoy and are interested in. In particular, he suggests focussing on their talents, skills, strengths and achievements, so that they ‘put their self-esteem eggs in baskets that are not physically based’.

This latter advice is timely and pertinent for a variety of reasons. Firstly, research has shown that focusing on others improves mental wellbeing. One of the often cited problems with modern life is that it is increasingly isolated, self-focussed and self-interested. Thus we could reasonably suggest that rather than focussing on oneself (literally navel gazing), which could increase the likelihood of body dissatisfaction and other psychological problems, it would be more beneficial for us to try to become more ‘other focused’. Indeed, a growing body of research has suggested that feeling connected to others can have a variety of positive outcomes for all aspects of health and wellbeing.

Furthermore, prioritising looks or appearance is likely to increase not only dissatisfaction with the self, but also one’s life more generally. While this is true of all of us who are subjected to increasingly unrealistic body ideals, it is particularly so of young people who may be yet to determine or understand the unattainable physical standards presented in the media. To this extent, a drive to focus on characteristics or skills that they have some control over and that can be developed or worked on, is likely to provide a multitude of positive outcomes for both self-worth and mental wellbeing.