Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

Masters graduation

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019 | Life

I finished my masters degree last year (with a distinction and 82% in my final project, thanks for asking :D). Because it takes the exam board a few months to award the degree, and then you have to wait for the next set of graduation ceremonies, that meant nearly a year’s wait.

Earlier this month, the day finally arrived.

Beckett is currently holding their degree ceremonies at the Leeds Arena. This is not as pretty as the Headingley campus but did mean there were enough seats for everyone. This was critical as it meant I could take Elina and not have to decide which one of my parents I loved the most.

The ceremony itself was long and dull. There were 1,000 students graduating in the same ceremony. Some in absentia, but that still a lot of people. And, because of the way they lay things out, I was almost last. Literally, I was sat next to the three PhD graduands whose presentations are reserved for the end. However, the vice-chancellor did give a good speech at the end.

After the ceremony, we headed over to the Rose Bowl where they had turned the car park into a reception area with some food and drink stalls and places to take photos.

All in all, a nice ceremony, but not a patch on Leeds University. When I graduated for my bachelors, the whole school got together and put on refreshments and all the staff were there to congratulate us. This was very different. It was all run centrally, very busy, expensive, I saw almost nobody from my course because of the size of the group and there was no school-specific stuff or any of the faculty there.

I did get a video, though, including a slow-motion relay:

How do you keep going for 14 hours?

Sunday, June 30th, 2019 | Sport

When I tell people that it took me 14.5 hours to complete my full distance triathlon they often ask “how do you keep going for that long?” It might be meant as a rhetorical question. But I’ve some thought into it.

Prepare your body

You need to do the training. Nobody would be surprised if someone did not do the training and failed to finish. It’s not just the volume of training: you need to do some distance work. You need to prepare your body for each discipline because otherwise, you run into things you hadn’t run into.

In the run-up to the event, I did a 4km swim in the pool, a 3km swim in open water, 2 x 100-mile bike rides and a three hour 30km run. Three of them were on back-to-back days.

I think it is important to do this because you hit things you wouldn’t hit in short workouts. Things like cramps. Things like back pain that only sets in in the later hours of the ride.

Prepare your mind

Two things you need to do here:

First, make sure your training gives you the psychological belief that you can do it. Do this by doing hard events. Few people believe they can do a full distance race if they have never done a triathlon. Neither did I. But I did understand I only had to believe in the next step.

I did a sprint. Then a standard. Then a load more standards. Then a half. Even then, it was only after I ran a marathon and an ultramarathon that I started to believe I could do it.

In preparation, I did some long sportives including the Tour de Yorkshire (only 123km but 2,400 metres of climbing) and The Flat 100 (160km). The latter was down as part of a race simulation weekend where I also swam 4km on the day before and a 3-hour run on the day after.

Second, it helps to have some mental strategies to assist you on the day. Mindfulness and self-talk are two of the most important and I teach both of these on my sport psychology course.

Keep eating

Providing you don’t get injured (you did some strength training, right?), the two things that are going to stop you are running out of energy and running out of mental resilience.

Your body cannot convert fat into energy fast enough, so you need to supplement this with food to avoid hitting the wall. Being hungry or dehydrated will also make you grumpy, which will increase your chances of wanting to give up.

Therefore, it is important to keep eating throughout the entire event. I’ve written about my fuelling strategy here.

Pace yourself

As you get more tired and fed up, you may encounter a desire to speed up. You want to get it over with. Do not listen to this voice.

Going above your target pace increases the risk of cramps, increases the risk of hitting the wall and is generally unsustainable, so will produce a slower time overall and maybe even a DNF.

Summary

It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Actually, it’s a marathon plus 112-mile bike ride and 2.4-mile swim. So, take it easy, keep eating, and make sure you have spent the time building up your muscles and building up your confidence.

Introduction to Social Psychology course

Saturday, April 27th, 2019 | News

I’ve launched a new course on social psychology. Here is the blurb:

Do you want to better understand the people around you? Why they think and act as they do? Maybe you have noticed people don’t always act rationally and are wondering why.

These are the questions that social psychology answers. It looks at how other people, groups, and wider society shape the way we think and behave.

It is an academic overview, but presented in a fun way with real-world examples, like what we can learn from climate change, elections, and even online dating.

And here is the trailer:

You can check it out on Udemy here.

Dissertation

Saturday, September 15th, 2018 | Life

It’s in. After a year of hard work on the MSc programme, including nine months working on the research project, my dissertation has been submitted. Now begins a two month wait for the results.

Why do video assistant referees wear full uniform?

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018 | Sport, Thoughts

If you’ve been watching the World Cup, you may well have seen inside FIFA’s VAR (video assistance referee) control centre. Here a team of officials sit watching computer monitors so that they can double-check the on-pitch referee’s decisions in case they have missed something obvious.

You may have also noticed they are wearing full referee’s kit.

Why? You could argue that as they are set in a control centre in Moscow, sometimes 1,000 kilometres away from where the game is happening, there is little need for a dress code. Or, at least, little need for one that stipulates the traditional outfit of a referee.

But here are two reasons why it is better to wear the kit.

First, it puts them in the right frame of mind. Refereeing is a difficult job. You have to be impartial and fair. You have to make decisions that are difficult: did he use his arm to his advantage or was it a genuine accident that the ball struck him there? Is that fair wrestling for the ball or a foul? These are grey areas that often have no obvious correct answer.

In sport psychology, we talk about getting in the right mindset. When you are doing mental imagery/visualisation exercises, for example, the best thing to do is get the athlete to put their kit on and go to the field where they will play. It makes it more real.

If you want to make a VAR feel like they are on the pitch, making real game decisions, which they are, stipulating that they wear their usual refereeing kit is a great place to start.

Second, it gives them legitimacy. Systems like VAR are always going to get criticised for the mistakes they make and ignored for the many times they get things correct. It is easy for fans to look at them as bureaucrats tucked away in a tiny box, thousands of miles away from the action, and vilify them for any decisions they don’t like.

This concern is why they replay the footage that the VAR officials are watching and the superimposed lines showing how they make decisions about whether someone is offside or not.

Similarly, by putting the officials in full kit, it shows the fans that these are real referees doing a legitimate refereeing job. Thus, it makes it easier for fans to accept adverse decisions.

Psychology textbooks

Thursday, June 7th, 2018 | Books

I’ve spent the last year of my life reading a lot of psychology textbooks. In this post, I’m going to briefly discuss a few of them to help sort out the ones I liked from the ones I liked less.

An Introduction to Child Language Development

This is a short book by Susan Foster-Cohen. It has exercises and summaries thrown in but is otherwise just text. I didn’t find the summaries of each chapter very useful.

An Introduction to Developmental Psychology

Second edition edited by Alan Slater and Gavin Bremner. This is laid out in life sequences. However, the sequences are so broad that topics such as cognitive and language development are self-contained sub-chapters in themselves. It provides a good overview.

An Introduction to Stress & Health

This book by Hymie Anisman is a bit wall-to-wall text. However, it does provide a comprehensive discussion of the issues surrounding stress and health, including the concepts of appraisal and coping mechanisms.

Biological Psychology

Book by Marc Breedlove and Mark Rosenzweig. I did not get on with this one. It’s just walls of text.

Biological Psychology (12E)

This book by James Kalat is my favourite textbook on biological psychology. It is sometimes a little light on detail but covers all of the material and has lots of useful diagrams.

Cambridge Handbook of Child Language

This edited book by Edith Bavin has a large list of contributors. I only read the section on the usage-based theory of language by Michael Tomasello. It’s very wall-of-text but sufficiently concise that I managed to get through it while acquiring an understanding of Tomasello’s ideas.

Child Development

Useful because it goes through stages, but otherwise not that fun.

Handbook of Child Psychology

These books are huge and multilayered. The whole thing is edited by William Damon, but I only read volume two, edited by Deanna Kuhn and Robert Siegler. Specifically, I read the chapter grammar by Michael Maratsos. It’s heavy going, and a lot of text, but broken down into reasonable sections. It’s only worth reading if you really want to get into the detail.

This is an edited book by William Damon

Introduction to Biopsychology

This book by Pinel & Barness was the standard textbook used in our course. For good reason: it is well laid out and covers the main topics effectively.

Language Development: The Essential Readings

Edited book by Michael Tomasello and Elizabeth Bates. It’s a collection of papers compiled together. Most are laid out with roughly the same headings you would expect in a paper (method, results, development), but not always and the headings could be more clear. That apart, the papers are interesting and relevant. There is some author bias, though.

Lifespan Development

Sixth edition by Denise Boyd and Helen Bee. This book wasn’t ideal for our course because it is laid out in life stages, whereas we focused on topic areas. However, different topic areas were mostly in one chunk, such as cognitive development, so, in the end, it provided a concise overview. It’s quite well laid out for a textbook with good summaries and highlighted boxes.

Making Sense of Data and Statistics in Psychology

I think this was the first book I checked out of the library. It is by Brian Greer and Gerry Mulhern and appealed to me because it was relatively concise. However, it attempts to avoid teaching you the concepts straight up and instead uses lots of dialogues and round-about ways in the hope this will be more engaging. I couldn’t really get on board with it.

The Process of Research in Psychology

Nice introduction to research methods by Dawn McBride. I was able to read it all. It certainly doesn’t have the detail of books like Coolican’s, but it does give you a manageable amount.

Research Methods and Statistics in Psychology

Very good book by Hugh Coolican on conducting research, methodology, statistics and writing up. It’s reasonably light on the maths and instructions on using SPSS, but points you in the right direction. There are sample write-ups to follow, too.

Stress, Appraisal, and Coping

The original work by Lazarus & Folkman. It’s quite accessible for a classic piece of literature.

Stress, Cognition and Health

This book by Tony Cassidy provides a short and concise introduction to some of the theories behind stress and their impact on health. If you’re not too picky you can read through it in an hour or two and the topics are well organised.

The Language Instinct

Friday, March 23rd, 2018 | Books

The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language is a book by Steven Pinker.

I have raved about Steven Pinker before. How the Mind Works is a fascinating read and The Blank Slate has changed my worldview more than almost any other book. Along with two or three others, it is probably the more important book I have ever read.

Sadly, I could not get on with the The Language Instinct in the same was as Pinker’s other books. It was too technical for me, even as someone currently studying childhood language development (the book is about language more broadly, but can’t help but stray into development).

I found Pinker’s other books highly accessible, but, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t get into this one. Ultimately, I had to give up.

I have no doubt that the many positive reviews about this book are accurate. If you understand the material, or just stick with it, perhaps you get a lot out of it. It just wasn’t the case for me.

Sport Psychology for Athletes

Thursday, March 22nd, 2018 | News

My new Udemy course is live, Sport Psychology for Athletes. Here is the blurb:

Are you interested in sport psychology? Maybe you’re an athlete or a coach looking for practical techniques. Or maybe a student or lifelong learner who loves sport.

If so, this is the course for you. It will provide you with a beginner-level grounding in the theory, but with a focus on practical application and how to use the techniques in your own life, whatever level of sport you play.

We won’t just be looking at slides, we’ll be out there exploring, with quizzes, workbooks and practical exercises to work through.

We’ll look at:

  • Motivation
  • Focus
  • Confidence
  • Mental imagery
  • Self-talk
  • Mindfulness
  • And much more!

Click here to check it out.

Sport Psychology

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018 | Books

With a rather long full title of Handbook of Sports Medicine and Science, Sport Psychology (Olympic Handbook Of Sports Medicine), this textbook provides an introduction to the major issue in sport psychology.

It’s a really well put together book. It covers each area in short and to-the-point chapters. The whole thing is just over 100 pages and gives you a brief but comprehensive introduction to the areas.

What it’s missing are the details on some of the interventions. It talks about confidence, mental preparation and focus. And explains what these areas are. But then it goes on to say “imagery is useful for this” without going into any detail about what exactly imagery is.

Overall, though, this is a great introduction to the subject.

What Google autocomplete tells us about humanity

Monday, July 3rd, 2017 | Thoughts

If you want to find out what people are interested in, one of the worst ways to do that is to ask them. Why? Because humans respond to incentives and there is very little incentive to tell your interviewer the truth.

We humans are biased by what we think the questioner wants to hear, but what we are willing to admit, or the self-image we want to portray. For example, few people would admit to voting for UKIP or liking Justin Bieber. And we all exercise far more, eat junk food far less, and enjoy a lot more sex than reality would agree with.

Reported vs observed data

This is a major problem in psychology.

However, there is a way around it. We just have to look at times when people are incentivised to tell the truth.

There is a whole book about this for online dating. In Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking), OkCupid founder Christian Rudder points out that although people say they are not racist when it comes to rating people of a different race as equally attractive, our self-reported beliefs come unstuck.

Another example is Google Search. People are searching for the information they want, so they are unlikely to hide it. Google then anoymises this data and makes it available via autocomplete. You start by putting in “President Donald” and Google, having noticed that everyone else is searching for “President Donald Trump”. offers to complete the search term for you.

Which means you can also work backwards. If you put in the first half of a question, Google will give you the most popular options for the rest.

Should I…

Pop culture wins out here. Most people are looking for the famous song by The Clash. Once we get pasted that we move to people struggling with relationships and dating, and finally onto the big questions i life, such as switching careers or hair styles.

Visiting the doctors

If we add “go to the doctor” onto the end of that, people are worrying about two things: colds and mental health. Colds and flu makes sense: it is the most common thing to get, so there are lots of people worrying about it. Anal bleeding, for example, is less ambiguous about a doctor’s visit being required (it is) and not many people get it. Bad flu, on the other hand, occurs a lot.

Mental health is something that comes up a lot, too.

What should I do if…

Here people are worrying about health and dogs. Getting pregnant is the big question, then two entires on dogs and mental health crops up again.

How long until…

This is all about the holidays: people are already counting down the days until Christmas. Of course, if they had a tracker app like I do, they would already know it is 175. No mention of Jesus coming back, which I was surprised about. How long until I get home: I am not sure if this is some kind of Google maps query; I imagine it is as Google offers that functionality.

Is it true that…

This one is just bizarre. Is cats and cucumbers really the most fact-checked question on the internet? Good to see people are doing their research, though.

Films about…

Mental health and dogs both make a re-appearance here. What is even more interesting is if you go into privacy mode and look at the top ten…

Here mental health dominates, taking spots one and three. People are also interested in drugs, dogs, aliens, 9/11, and somewhere down the bottom is love, space and religion.

Films about self…

Taking the search a step further and adding the word “self”, the topic of self harm comes up a lot. People are interested in self-esteem and self-love, but no self-improvement on the list.

Conclusion

People are frequently concerned with their mental health and the health of their dogs. Everything else can go hang. And they’re really not sure whether 9/11 was an inside job or not.

What we can learn from this? Nothing. It’s a couple of data points pulled out in a non-scientific way. But at least now you know that it is only 175 days until Christmas.