Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Research Shows the Power of Hand Gestures in Police Interviews

In a research thesis entitled The Misleading Potential of Communicative Hand Gestures in a Forensic Interview, Daniel Gurney conducted a series of four studies based on role plays of police interview scenarios which proved that hand gestures can exert an influence on witnesses and skew their responses when questioned.

"We found that eyewitness could be led to believe they saw something they didn’t when the interviewer performed misleading hand gestures,"  he said.  "For example, many people remembered a man having a beard when they saw the interviewer rubbing his chin."

According to Dr Gurney, this is the first study to show that eyewitnesses can be misled non-verbally and continues research into how gestures can communicate carried out by his supervisor, Professor Karen Pine.

Dr Gurney is now continuing his research and is looking at the influence of hand gestures in more severe crime scenarios, where a ‘stabbing’ gesture can cause eyewitnesses to remember a crime being more violent than it actually was.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

"Philosophy is what you want to keep in a good world"

On 23rd of April 2010, Bill Gates gave a talk at MIT in which he asked: “are the brightest minds working on the most important problems?” By “the most important problems” he meant “improving the lives of the poorest; improving education, health, nutrition”. Unfortunately, the list should probably include improving peaceful interactions, human rights, environmental conditions, living standards… and this is only the beginning. Clearly, the brightest philosophical minds should not be an exception, but turn their attention to such pressing challenges.

The first question is how. Of course, one may stop philosophising and start doing something about this messy world instead. We may, in other words, close down our philosophy departments and never corrupt our brightest youths philosophically. Yet, such solution smacks of self-defeat. It would be like deciding to burn the wicker basket in which we are travelling, because our hot air balloon is descending too quickly. Philosophy is what you want to keep in a good world, not what you want to get rid of in a bad one. So there must be a different way forward. The fact is that philosophy can be extremely helpful, for it is philosophy, understood as conceptual design, that forges the new ideas, theories, perspectives and more generally the intellectual framework that can then be used to understand and deal with the ultimate questions that challenge us so pressingly. In the team effort made by the brightest minds, the philosophical ones can contribute insights and visions, analyses and syntheses, heuristics and solutions that can empower us to tackle the most important problems. Every little effort helps in the battle against idiocy, obscurantism, intolerance, fanaticisms and fundamentalisms of all kinds, bigotry, prejudice and mere ignorance. If this sounds self-serving recall that the longer the jump forward is, the longer the run-up to it should be. Or, with a different metaphor, philosophy takes care of the roots, so that the rest of the plant might grow more healthily.

Read the full article in Philosopher’s Eye

This opinion piece is one of a series of five being released this week and next to celebrate World Philosophy Day and to publicise the upcoming workshop entitled Editor’s Cut – A view of philosophical research from journal editors. the workshop will take place at the University of London on Friday 13th of January 2012.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

‘Legal high’ drugs are misleading and not ‘safe’

The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) has published a ground-breaking report  on tackling the issue of Novel Psychoactive Substances (NPS), sometimes euphemistically referred to as ‘legal highs’ by retailers and consumers alike.

The concern about such products is they are being used recreationally without consumers actually appreciating what they are taking. Retailers of branded products do not state what is inside the packets they sell i.e. the ingredients – so the potential consumer does not know what they are taking. It’s likely the retailers themselves don’t even know. Even if the names of the active ingredients are listed there is no guarantee as to quality or consistency over time. Because there has been no scientific investigation of these novel psychoactive substances, the pharmacology, pharmacokinetics, metabolism, and toxicity of these products are unknown. Labelling products as ‘legal highs’ can also be misleading on at least 2 counts: (a) ‘legal’ does not imply ‘safe’; and (b) many of the products actually still contain controlled drugs.

Governments have tried to keep pace with these rapid developments, trying to ascertain whether such substances pose any harm to individuals and society. However, it is very difficult to know in real time what is actually being used by consumers as the time taken by many of these substances to emerge and then disappear again off the radar has typically been very short. Many Governments have rapidly controlled these substances through ‘generic’ legislation. The result of this was that these ‘research chemists’ started changing the molecular structures of substances so that they could get round these new controls. Control using ‘analogue’ legislation also has its problems. This report from the ACMD sets out a number of “tried and tested” as well as novel options to regulate/ control such substances. The UK Government will now consider these options. At a European level, similar considerations have started. Our informed international sources say that a copy of the report is on its way to the White House!

We, at the School of Pharmacy welcome these developments to which we contributed through research being carried out by myself, Professor Fabrizio Schifano and Dr Ornella Corazza through her work on the RedNet Project.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Social context must be taken into account when tackling obesity

Even when alone, what you choose to eat is influenced by who you are – your gender, age, ethnicity and background for example. I am particularly interested in the way that social class influences what teenagers and their families eat. For a number of years I have been conducting interviews with teenagers and parents from different social class groups. In the paper I have just published with colleagues in the Sociological Review, we use the example of two families, the working class Watsons and the middle class Connell family to illustrate not just the different foods that they eat but the way that their beliefs and values inform their eating habits.

The Connells had lots of foreign holidays with their daughters, ate in restaurants and encouraged their children to try new foods, widen their tastes and taught them the importance of doing so. It was considered unacceptable by Mrs Connell for her girls to be ‘fussy’ eaters – that is, to not accept the values the family wished to instil in them. In the Watson household, the emphasis was on ‘getting by’ – everyone eating what they wanted, when they needed to, to ensure that daily life could proceed as smoothly as possible.

The context for everyday eating was very different for our families, with the Connells describing a secure lifestyle where food, eating and health could more easily be prioritised. For the Watsons, life was more chaotic and insecure. Some of our working class participants worried daily about their children in terms of who they were with inside and outside school, whether they were drinking or smoking and also whether their neighbourhoods were safe. In this context, whether children were eating breakfast simply became of lower importance.

When trying to tackle inequalities in diet and obesity it is incredibly important that social context is taken account of. This is not easy and very often policy tends to favour the middle class approach to diet and health. This is not helpful for those from lower social class groups and we urgently need to find ways of capitalising on the good things that many disadvantaged families are doing in terms of feeding their children.