Teaching in Hong Kong

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Hong Kong to deliver the beginning of Social Psychology 2 to students studying BA (Hons) Social Sciences at HKU Space University.  This was my first experience teaching overseas and my first visit to Hong Kong.  What a time to visit the Pearl of the Orient…  In the week I was there planned student protests were confined to the financial district (Central) and Tamar Park.  I followed these with interest and while there was widespread awareness of the protests and TV coverage, there was no real disruption in the city and I managed to get about quickly and easily.  The real escalation in activity began about 24 hours after my departure and I am following developments through some excellent accounts on twitter such as Occupy Central and Varsity CUHK.  I support the students in Hong Kong and I hope they can all keep safe.

Teaching overseas was intense and hard work.  After about 19 hours of travelling from Edinburgh I arrived at 5.30pm on Sunday and went straight into meetings at 9am on Monday (no mercy for my cold or the considerable jet lag!)  Tiredness inevitably strikes in the mid afternoon when it is bed time in the UK.  On Tuesday morning teaching began at 9am for an intensive three and a half hours.  This is where I made an effort to get to know my new students for the few days I would be with them.  The students at HKU Space were very friendly and very keen to learn.  It was a genuine pleasure to meet and work with them.

My Social Psychology 2 class at HKU Space.

My Social Psychology 2 class at HKU Space.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I was going to be learning a lot alongside my students.  I had never considered how much cultural information I take for granted when teaching – examples, jokes, prices, imagery – all of these things have to be adapted for your teaching to have the same meaning in a different context.  Sometimes my efforts were met with amusement (e.g. when I decided to talk about the Happy Valley Racecourse in Hong Kong for my gambling example instead of betting on football matches at William Hill!).  The next day I was teaching again for a four hour block in the afternoon and my students showed impressive focus during a week where they attended from 9am to 5.30pm almost every day.  I found such long periods of teaching hard work but then had a day free to explore wonderful Hong Kong.

View from The Peak.

View from The Peak.

Dim Sum on the Street.

Dim Sum on the Street.

My teaching in Hong Kong raised some questions for me about the value and meaning of psychology.  In May I attended a conference in Singapore where Professor Olwen Bedford spoke about indigenous psychology.  I really enjoyed her presentation – it quickly made sense to me and I was keen to know more.  For Social Psychology 2 I was teaching attitude formation and heuristics developed in a western culture.  This is essential for a British psychology degree and my Hong Kong students are specifically working towards a British degree, but I can’t deny it felt strange telling them what was ‘normal’ when for them, it may not be.  Both of my visits to Asia this year have caused me considerable reflection on psychology and teaching and I’m glad of that.  I think Hong Kong will be in my thoughts for some time.



Research Participants Wanted!

I am currently working on an interdisciplinary research project which focuses on feederism.  Earlier in the year my co-author (Michael Palkowski) and I were delighted to sign a contract with Palgrave Pivot to write the first academic book on feederism – due for completion in summer 2015.  Feederism has varying definitions but it is commonly used to refer to individuals who gain sexual pleasure from gaining weight (feedee) or from feeding another person so that the other person gains weight (feeder).  There are also individuals who classify themselves as ‘mutual gainers’ because they enjoy both the feeder and feedee role.

You might have read or heard about feederism in the media through magazine articles or documentaries with titles such as Fat Girls and Feeders.  These representations do not accurately show the full spectrum of behaviours and attitudes in the feederism community.  They offer a niche view of feederism and are produced for entertainment.  They suggest that feederism is mainly about coercion and this has not been substantiated by research.  There is some interesting work in sociology which seeks to explore and understand feederism (most notably by Bestard (2008)) but there is very little in the psychological literature.  Michael and I will be making both a psychological and sociological contribution to this field with our forthcoming book.

If you would like to be involved in our research we would love to hear from you.  We are currently looking for participants who have experience of feederism either as a feeder, feedee, or mutual gainer.  We are interested in hearing about your experiences, feelings, and opinions on this topic.  We promise you complete confidentiality and anonymity.  We’re happy to provide further information if you have questions and getting in touch with us doesn’t mean you have to take part in our research.  Thanks and we hope to hear from you!

Kathy Charles (k.charles@napier.ac.uk or @kathy_charles on twitter) or Michael Palkowski (mibadiou@gmail.com).


Edinburgh Napier Postgraduate Conference

Just a small part of the lovely venue hosting the conference.

Just a small part of the lovely venue hosting the conference.

On April 3rd I attended Edinburgh Napier’s Faculty of Health, Life & Social Sciences Postgraduate Research Conference at the beautiful Royal College of Physicians in Edinburgh.  This day was almost as long as last month’s BPS Conference but it was well worth it and highly interesting.

After Dr Gary Hutchison’s opening address I went to the first parallel session.  With a focus on social sciences, psychology, and sport this session included my PhD student, Kai Li Chung, who spoke enthusiastically about her research on aversive personalities.  Kai Li focussed her presentation on toxic leaders and the followers who enable them.  Although she was limited to just five minutes, Kai Li gave an interesting glimpse into what her PhD will cover over the next two and half years and she dealt really well with numerous questions posed at the end of her talk.  We were both delighted when she was later awarded a prize for one of the best presentations.

Also in the first session was Hannah Carver talking about how ‘at risk’ young people communicate about alcohol and drugs, Elumaro Adeboye Israel discussing the development of sport in Nigeria, and Chrissi Nerantzi who shared her presentation on collaborative learning using a handy flyer.  It was a diverse and interesting session showing some promising ideas.

The second parallel session offered a similar diversity of speakers beginning with a thought-provoking and detailed piece of research by Anna Sierka.  Anna’s research explored the mechanisms underpinning the relationships between trauma, substance misuse, and offending in the lives of Scottish female prisoners.  Anna had an excellent presentational style and dealt very competently with the many questions she was asked at the end of her talk.  Using a qualitative approach to her research, Anna had interviewed eight female prisoners and presented her analysis using quotations from her participants and life history calenders to show how and when alcohol, drugs, and trauma had entered the women’s lives.  Anna was also awarded a prize for her presentation.

Left to Right: Prize winning Lindsey Carruthers and Kai Li Chung show their certificates next to Dr Alex Willis followed by Barbara Piotrowska, Robyn Love, and conference oraganiser and best poster winner, Margarida Dias.

Left to Right: Prize winning Lindsey Carruthers and Kai Li Chung show their certificates next to Dr Alex Willis followed by Barbara Piotrowska, Robyn Love, and conference oraganiser and best poster winner, Margarida Dias.

The second session also contained interesting work from Janyne Afseth on developing a holistic needs assessment tool for brain cancer patients, Susan Watt’s research on angina patients’ self-management of coronary heart disease, and Geraldine Finnan’s ethnographic approach to nurses’ experience of death in palliative care.  The session concluded with a perfectly timed presentation from Barbara Piotrowska outlining her early findings and planned research on the development of a novel screening tool for dyslexia.  This was another topic which generated many questions all of which Barbara answered deftly.

After lunch I had the pleasure of chairing a parallel session in the Great Hall.  This session focussed on psychology but from many different perspectives.  Lindsey Carruthers spoke first on her research covering incubation and creative problem solving.  Lindsey’s interesting talk using a quantitative, experimental approach received an encouraging tweet from our Head of School as well as earning Lindsey a prize for one of the best presentations.

Alexandra Todoran followed Lindsey with a five minute outline of her work using Lacanian discourse analysis to understand perspectives on Romanian national identity.  Alexandra has a wonderfully calm and clear presentational style and it was a pity her time was limited to five minutes as there were many questions on her research – all of which she gave thoughtful and engaging answers to.  Margaret McGowan and Gillian Matthews provided the final two talks.  Margaret’s presentation also featured discourse analysis as a methodology for examining how science is used to evaluate and often criticise complementary and alternative medicine.  Gillian presented an interesting analysis of a one year study exploring mindfulness as experienced by people living with long term conditions.  This was another topic which generated a lot of questions and Gillian’s exploration of how participants developed their mindfulness skills was very enlightening.

There is such a thing as free tea and cake.

There is such a thing as free tea and cake.

The day concluded with two guest speakers.  Edinburgh Napier’s Dr Clare Taylor, and public engagement officer Jamie Gallagher from the University of Glasgow.  Clare’s talk addressed observed gender differences in academia – specifically within certain scientific disciplines – when it comes to PhD students, lecturers, and professors.  Gender differences observed in the numbers of male/female students studying at undergraduate level become increasing pronounced at each level of career progression.  Typically the percentage of males increases at each level.  Her graph made female chemistry professors look like an endangered species!  Clare also promoted the efforts of Athena Swan and Science Grrl in raising awareness of, and tackling, these issues.

Jamie Gallagher gave a humorous and colourful presentation outlining his work in science public engagement.  Jamie’s extensive experience of public engagement and entertainment provided a lot to think about and it was good to finish the day with such an upbeat and motivated account of science engagement across many different levels.  Jamie’s upcoming activities can be seen here.

Thanks for reading, thanks to all the student presenters, and thanks to Margarida Dias for putting so much work into organising the event.









Conference Review

Yesterday (March 22nd) I spent the whole day at the BPS Undergraduate Conference hosted by Edinburgh Napier University (#BPSscotUGconf).  I don’t blog very often but yesterday was such an interesting and positive event I wanted to say something about it and share some of the promising research and ideas that are coming from Scotland’s psychology undergraduates.

Delegates visiting the Psychology Futures Fair.

Delegates visiting the Psychology Futures Fair.

Three hundred delegates from all over Scotland and the north of England got themselves to Edinburgh for the 9.30am start with 100 student presenters scheduled for the day.  I attended five talks in the morning covering research on: malevolent personality and creativity; mindfulness; hair colour and attractiveness; how to improve the rehabilitation of young offenders; and our relationship with death.  A wide variety of research methods were used from psychometric tests and statistical analyses, physiological measures of arousal, thematic analysis of e-mail interviews, and Lacanian discourse analysis.

BPS President Dr Richard Mallows talking with students in the library.

BPS President Dr Richard Mallows talking with students in the library.

I was very impressed with the way in which student presenters dealt with questions (particularly Edinburgh Napier’s Eric Fitchel (researching mindfulness) and Amanda Diserholt (using Lacanian analysis).  It was also great to see students so open to suggestions from the audience.  Paula McGillian from the University of Abertay took my suggestion to consider women’s hair colour preferences at sperm banks very well!

Warming up to give my lecture!

Warming up to give my lecture!

After lunch I delivered a short keynote lecture on therapeutic jurisprudence and future thoughts for forensic psychology.  The blurb from the conference programme is here and my Prezi is here.  Two key aims from my lecture were to introduce therapeutic jurisprudence to a wider audience, and to encourage a wider appreciation and use of different methodologies in forensic psychology.  The references I used in my lecture are at the end of this blog post.

In the afternoon I chaired a session dedicated to forensic psychology which comprised the following students and projects: Dimitar Karadzhov – University of Glasgow – Psychopathy; Rebecca McCartan – University of Strathclyde – Implementation intentions; Ashley Blandford-Newson – University of Abertay – The CSI Effect; Samantha Termer – University of the West of Scotland – Ear witness line-ups; and Jennifer McAllister – University of Abertay – CCTV through deaf eyes.

Our purple shirted students ensured the day went smoothly and everyone knew where to go.

Our purple shirted students ensured the day went smoothly and everyone knew where to go.

All of these presentations were delivered in an engaging and enthusiastic way even by students who said they were really nervous beforehand.  I learned about some new topics in this session and I will be using some of the content in my own teaching.  Samantha’s presentation on ear witness line-ups and emotion was all new to me and I will be including some of it in my fourth year module where I discuss the reliability of witnesses in different contexts.  I was also fascinated by Jennifer’s presentation on the differences between deaf and hearing people on a CCTV task.  Her well designed study tested the detection abilities of deaf and hearing participants when detecting crimes on a panel of four CCTV screens.  Deaf participants showed enhanced performance on this task.  Jennifer’s inspiration for this research came from a news story about deaf CCTV operatives in Mexico.  I knew nothing about these differences until Jennifer’s talk and this new knowledge will definitely feature in my teaching about the abilities of different witnesses.  It was a superb talk to end the day with.

Delegates enjoying a drink after a busy day presenting.

Delegates enjoying a drink after a busy day presenting.

The conference concluded with a wine reception on the fifth floor of the Sighthill library which has floor-to-ceiling windows and a view of Edinburgh and the castle.  I’d like to thank Dr Phyllis Laybourn not only for all her hard work organising the conference but also for providing photographs for this blog.  Thank you to everyone who took part in the conference and I’m looking forward to next year’s!

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And finally, a few tweets:


References from the keynote

Baxter, J., Charles, K., Martin, M., & McGroarty, A. (2012).  The relative influence of leading questions and negative feedback on response change on the Gudjonsson Suggestibility Scale (2): Implications for forensic interviewing. Psychology, Crime & Law, 1, 1-9.

Canter, D. & Youngs, D. (2009). Personal narratives of crime.  In Canter, D. & Youngs, D. (Eds.) Investigative Psychology: Offender Profiling and the Analysis of Criminal Action.  Chichester: John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

Carson, D. (2003).  Therapeutic jurisprudence and adversarial injustice: questioning limits.  Western Criminology Review, 4, 124-133.

Gathings, M. J., & Parrotta, K. (2013). The use of gendered narratives in the courtroom: Constructing an identity worthy of leniency.  Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 42, 668-689.

Hochstetler, A., Copes, H., & Williams, P. (2010). “That’s not who I am:” How offenders commit violent acts and reject authentically violent selves.  Justice Quarterly, 27, 492-516.

Wexler, D. B. (2013). The development of therapeutic jurisprudence: from theory to practice.  Arizona Legal Studies, Discussion Paper No. 13-51.


This blog post addresses things which people frequently contact me about.  Each week I get around 200 e-mails to my university e-mail address.  A number of these e-mails are from people asking for information, opinion, advice, and comment on various topics related to psychology.  It can be hard to reply to these messages in a timely way, especially during term time when I am teaching, so I have written this blog to address the most common topics I get asked about (facebook, serial killers, and careers in forensic psychology).

In 2009/10 a colleague and I collected data related to how people use facebook, how it makes them feel, and also about how many friends they had on the site.  One of the conclusions we reached from our data was that people were more likely to feel anxious as the number of friends they had increased.  In February 2011 Edinburgh Napier University issued a press release about our research whilst it was still under review with a journal.  This generated a considerable amount of media coverage (e.g. this from the BBC) and the findings continue to appear in media coverage now over three years later.  Approximately every two to three weeks since the media coverage I have received e-mails asking for a copy of the published research detailing our work.  Unfortunately the article was subsequently rejected by the journal we submitted it to.  Therefore, I do not have a peer reviewed article that I can send to journalists, academics, or students who get in touch to ask for it.  A non-peer reviewed version of the research is available here.

Serial Killers
I have never worked with or interviewed serial killers. I have never worked for the police as an offender profiler. I have never published research on serial killers. I do not cover serial killers in the modules I teach at Edinburgh Napier University.  In 2013 The Daily Record printed an article about me in part to promote my Lighthouse Lectures (the article is available here). One of these lectures is about serial killers.  Whilst I appreciated The Daily Record’s interest in promoting my lectures the article contained significant inaccuracies about my experience and knowledge. It also presented as quotations things which I never said.  As a result of this article I am often contacted by students and journalists asking me about “what makes people kill” and if particular individuals are “evil” or were “born evil”. Unfortunately I cannot answer these questions in the way that is expected. I have often taken the time to write careful responses to these enquiries outlining my position and offering some comments on aspects where I feel more qualified. Unfortunately it is very rare for me to get any kind of acknowledgement or thanks for taking the time to do this so I have decided to stop responding to these messages. If you have come to this blog post as a result of getting a link from me then please take a look at this pdf from the FBI which gives a very detailed account of serial homicide and probably answers your questions.

Career Advice
A third topic I am frequently asked about is how to become a forensic psychologist or how to get work experience that is relevant to this career choice. Although I am a chartered psychologist with the British Psychological Society (BPS), I am not a chartered forensic psychologist and I am not registered with the Health and Care Professions Council. I have a PhD in forensic psychology and I teach and research in this area, but I do not practice forensic psychology or work directly with offenders. If you would like to become a practising forensic psychologist you will need a BPS accredited Bachelor’s degree in psychology, a BPS accredited Master’s degree or professional doctorate, plus a period of supervised work experience. The best place to go to find out more about this is the BPS website. Most forensic psychologists work in prisons so it is a good idea to get some work experience with offenders before you undertake postgraduate courses (for some courses it is also a requirement). To find out more about getting work experience in psychology have a look at this useful link from the University of Sheffield.  If you are interested in a career in forensic psychology that gives you access to a wide range of topics outside of the prison environment then you should consider a research based career where you can specialise in a topic of your choice. This will involve doing a Bachelor’s degree in psychology followed by a PhD.

BPS Undergraduate Conference

I am delighted to be giving the keynote lecture at the Scottish BPS Undergraduate Conference at Edinburgh Napier University this year! (download poster).

Call for registrations and submissions
This free one-day event is a great opportunity for psychology undergraduates.
Final-year students: you are invited to present the findings of your honours dissertation, and all third and final-year university students are invited to attend the event.

Keynote speakers:
Dr Richard Mallows, BPS President
Dr Kathy Charles, Edinburgh Napier University.

For full details and to register for the conference, visit http://scottish.bps.org.uk/

If applying to give a presentation, you must submit the abstract by Sunday 16 February 2014.

This event is organised by BPS Scottish Branch in collaboration with Edinburgh Napier University.