Positive psychology, expressive writing and the confidence cult – BPS 2017

In early May 2017, BMC Psychology attended the British Psychological Society annual conference, in Brighton, UK. The congress provided a platform for talks and sessions covering a wide range of topics in psychology with the three themes for the 2017 conference centering on Wellbeing, Looking Forward and Social Justice. Here we look back at some of the highlights of #bpsconf


The conference boasted an impressive line-up of keynote speakers. The ‘father of’ positive psychology Martin Seligman (University of Pennsylvanna, USA) provided a fascinating summary of the ever growing field and discussed his updated theory of well-being, PERMA (Positive emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and purpose, Accomplishment). Helen Bevan (Chief Transformation Officer, Horizons team, NHS England) discussed her experience of ‘Leading change into the future’ – of particular interest was her experience of using social media and disease specific patient forums as platforms to aid healthcare transformation.

Rosalind Gill
Rosalind Gill

Rosaline Gill (City University London, UK) provided a stimulating critique of what she has termed the ‘confidence cult’ – the mindset that “whatever the problem, confidence is the solution”; she highlighted some of the key ways in which social questions of inequality are inappropriately portrayed as individual psychological issues, using pertinent examples from mainstream advertising to her illustrate the problem in relation to gender inequality. Last but not least, James W Pennebaker (University of Texas at Austin, USA) began the last keynote of the 2017 conference by discussing his early work exploring the links between emotion, language and health; which culminated in his finding that expressive writing interventions can improve both physical and mental health. He went on to focus on his current research studying how the use of everyday language reflects personality, with a particularly fascinating analysis of the linguistics of US presidential debates.

James W Pennebaker
James W Pennebaker


Replication crisis averted?

Concerns that scientific results are often not reproducible is by no means limited to the field of psychology. However, when the scale of the problem in psychology was revealed by the Open Science Collaboration in 2015, rather than despair the psychology community has used its replication crisis as an opportunity to focus on improving research practices. In the vein of the ‘Replication and Reproducibility in Psychology event’ held in 2016 (summarized in this blog), Daryl O’Connor (Leeds University, UK) hosted a workshop designed to improve scientific practice, research methods and transparency. Using a series of elegant statistical demonstrations, Mark Andrews (Nottingham Trent University, UK) highlighted the flaws in the current statistical system and the importance of conducting replicable, well powered, and statistically strong research. The discussion centered on possible solutions for improving reproducibility, including pre-registering studies and providing improved statistical inference training to undergraduates and early career researchers. We hope that BMC Psychology can be part of the solution! BMC Psychology has a policy of publishing all sound science, thus aiming to reduce the impact of publication bias that may currently exist within the field of psychology; we do not make editorial decisions on the basis of the interest of a study or its likely impact, and encourage submissions of replication studies and null results. We operate an open peer review model in order to increase transparency. In addition, we are now trialing Results-free review, a new model of peer review, where editors and reviewers are blinded to the results, focusing editorial decisions on the rationale and methods alone.


Wellbeing and social inequalities

It is well established that certain populations experience prejudice, discrimination and stigma, and have disparities in both physical and mental health. The psychological aspects of social inequalities in various ‘minority’ populations were a major focus of the conference. This included the ‘Sexuality and wellbeing’ session which kicked off the first day of the conference. Joanna Semlyen discussed the importance of using population representative data to investigate inequalities in mental health, including her study recently published in BMC Psychiatry, which demonstrates that lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) populations are twice as likely to suffer from common mental disorders and/or low wellbeing, than heterosexual adults. Joanna discusses her work in more details in this blog. In the same symposium Celia Kitzinger highlighted the fact that despite the UK being ranked best in the world for end of life care, LGBT individuals face significant discrimination during this already difficult time. Another interesting discussion was found in the ‘Wellbeing in Dementia’ session; Linda Clare discussed the IDEAL project, which focuses on improving the quality of life of those living with dementia and Peter Mittler talked about his work to improve the human rights of those living with dementia, following his own diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease 10 years ago.



Social media psychology

Social media is embedded in today’s society, with many people using some form of social media on a daily basis. Another big focus of the conference was the psychology of social media. Martin Graff presented his recent study examining how receiving ‘likes’ and other kinds of online validation influence the way people interact on social media; he demonstrated that personality and self-esteem are key factors in the individuals responses to online validation. Megan Davis then demonstrated how the content of online messages can predict adverse dating experiences, suggesting that this can be used by online daters to take appropriate precautions when deciding to meet online communication partners face to face.

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