One way of saying thank you

After I’d cross-posted my last blog entry onto the B07 Facebook group, some one asked me if I was still using the notes I’ve published here to help support a charity. Back in 2010 I asked readers of this blog to think about contributing to the HOPEHIV charity – and we jointly managed to raise around £700.

The justgiving page I created for this purpose is long since closed, but if you’d like to make a donation to HOPEHIV I know that it would be appreciated by them and used well. Their own donation page is here should you wish to drop them the odd pound or two. For those of you who don’t know what they do, they support a wide range of projects in Africa to help children orphaned through HIV.

More recently, I’ve also become aware of the work of a charity known as The Matthew Project – who work with people and communities affected by drugs and alcohol in Norfolk and Suffolk. It just so happens that their chief executive is part of my wife’s music group – and charity does begin at home (even though it should never end there). You can find their donations page here if you’d like to support their work.

If you have (or are!) finding my notes useful in your studies and are able to – and only if you are genuinely able to as I do appreciate how tough times are for many – please think about donating a small sum to one or both of these incredibly worthwhile causes.

Thank you.

Mopping up week

There’s nothing like an OUPS revision weekend to reignite my enthusiasm for psychology and focus my mind on the task in hand – the exam on the afternoon of 13th October. When I got home on Sunday evening, I decided that this week needed to be ‘mopping up week’. My list of tasks was/is as follows:

1. Decide which three of the four blocks from the course I’m going to revise. That task was easy and I’d already come to the conclusion that the block on social selves (2) was going to have to go, as it has four chapters and there was too much (i.e. any at all!) social psychoanalytical stuff in it. So my revision from now is going to be focussed on block 3 – social judgement, block 5 – group processes and block 6 – production of knowledge.

2. Turn into a useful and readable format my handwritten scribbles and markings on the chapters where I hadn’t already done so. There were five of these, two of which I’ve now finished:

Book 1 Chapter 7 – Embodiment

Book 2 Chapter 4 – The fundamental attribution error

… which leaves another three to sort out this week. I’m currently working on  I’ve just finished (8th September) Book 2, Chapter 7 on bystander intervention, which leaves chapters 6 and 8 of the same book to cover. However, these were also covered to some extent by TMA05 and TMA06 respectively. A question on individual differences has never come up on the exam so far, so I may decide not to bother too much more with chapter 8. I’ll see how much time I have and how well the rest of the material starts to sink in.

3. Most important of all, get rid of the SD226 EMA!!! That’s going to be this weekend’s task and I’m not going to watch the Italian F1 Grand Prix until I have finished the bits I got bored with first time around, checked it, tidied it up and submitted it. So please, no-one tell me the result!

Nearly there

I didn’t manage to get DD307 TMA05 done before I set off on holiday, so my laptop and books all came with me. It somehow felt appropriate though to be writing about intergroup conflict while I was watching the news from home. I hope everyone who reads this blog has managed to stay safe.

In the end, I managed to write what I hope is a half decent essay. Billig’s criticism of SIT is quite a slippery one to get to grips with. I’m just concerned that my essay really wasn’t critical enough and rather repetitive in some places. Actually, come to think of it, rather like Billig’s critique of Tajfel to be honest. If he’s still at Loughborough University, I might just pop down the M1 to thank him 🙂

Anyway, I’m now cracking on with my final SD226 TMA and drafting an essay on how classical conditioning and the extent to which all other forms of learning can be explained by synaptic changes. I’d better not let my DD307 tutor see it!

I’m also starting to think about the final DD307 TMA which I’ve realised has to be in on 7th September. I’ve still got nearly all of the reading for that one to do and I’m also miles behind in my note making. At least there’s a decent gap between it and the exam on 13th October. Something tells me revision is going to be a little fraught this year with the SD226 EMA to fit in as well. I’m hoping that the OUPS revision weekend at Warwick will help me focus on what I need to cover. If anyone reading this is going too, it would be nice to say hello – I don’t bite, even if I’m a little grumpy at times. I also promise not to take my leg warmers to the disco with me this year!

But after the exam my OU journey will be over.

I’m not sure what I’m going to find to occupy my time next year. I’ve decided to try to get fit and play more with my vintage computers that are collecting dust in the attic and garage. I’m also going to spend more time doing fun things with my wife! She complains that she’s barely seen me over the last 5 years because of the OU and work … Lots of walks in the Peak District are called for, or perhaps making more use of our NT membership.

I’m not sure if I’ll carry on blogging after the end of my degree, or at least not here anyway. Somehow I think may just about reach a natural end by the time the results are out.

For those of you that are awaiting the results of the caption competition, I’ve decided to keep it open until Sunday at which point I’ll announce the winner of the very small prize! So there’s still time to have a go.

DD307 Block 5 – Group Processes

It’s amazing how a little thing like an approaching holiday can concentrate the mind.

In the last few days, I’ve managed to read and make notes on two of the three ‘group processes’ chapters of DD307. So it’s farewell to prejudice & conflict and intragroup processes! I’m even managing to get through the TMA05 chapter on intergroup processes too. This is just as well, as I only have this weekend left in which to write my essay if I’m not going to be scrabbling around for an internet connection while I’m in Cyprus. It wasn’t too difficult to find one last year, but even so, I’d rather not take the risk.

I seem to be getting a second wind on the course now that the project is out-of-the-way and marked. Given that I managed to score 80% on it and the marks I did drop could have been avoided if I’d read the instructions more carefully,  perhaps it means that I’ve finally managed to find a way of dealing with this interesting, but incredibly frustrating course.

I’ve also had my examination centre allocated in the last week. It will be in the Derbyshire CC pavilion yet again – perhaps this time I won’t get a wobbly desk! But it is a really convenient location for me as it’s only a 10-15 minute drive from home (and even less from the office). I know many other OUers are not quite so lucky, so I’m not going to moan. Instead, I’ll grab a couple of beer mats from the bar as I go in so I have something to stick under the table leg if I’m unlucky. And maybe, when I’ve finished my last exam for this degree, I might just sneak back in and buy the odd pint or two.

It’s all a bit frantic and stressful at the moment, but I know I’m going to miss the OU when I finish in October.

DD307 – Attitudes

I’ve been catching up with a bit of note making today by finishing off my scribbles on the attitudes chapter of the critical readings book. As I was reading it, I was reminded of an old episode of “Yes Minister” where Sir Humphrey demonstrates that depending on the sequence of questions being asked (or the context, as Potter and Wetherell might call it), the same person can appear to have an entirely different and contradictory attitude in response to the same question “are you in favour of reintroducing national service?”


1-0 to the discursive psychologists I think!

DD307 – Sniggering at the Social Psychoanalytical approach

I’ve just finished making my notes on ‘Self’ – chapter 5 of the DD307 Social Psychology Matters course book. Again, it’s been an interesting and thought-provoking read. I was particularly taken by the phenomenological approach to self as illustrated by the Ashworth and Ashworth research into how carers can better relate to Alzheimer’s sufferers. It struck me as being an eminently sensible and reasonable approach – and one which was generating “proper” knowledge that was genuinely useful.

However, I found myself sniggering all the way through the case study on “Vince” (and “Esther” too for that matter), which formed one of the examples for the social psychoanalytical approach in the chapter.

I understand the idea that there is more to self than the conscious mind, but what I still can’t quite square off is that Freudian psychoanalysis is founded in anything empirically sensible at all. Surely building a ‘social psychoanalytical’ perspective on such a dubious body of work is rather like building a house on quicksand.

The conclusions in the “Vince” case study may or may not be valid, but I keep on going back to wanting to apply Occam’s razor – “entities are not to be multiplied beyond necessity”. In other words, “keep it simple, stupid”. While “Vince” may not have had a condition that could be detected by medical science at the time, the most likely explanation is that he probably did, rather than appealing to some quasi-mysterious (and ultimately unknowable) set of unconscious motivations.

Sigh. I can see I’m going to make a rotten critical social psychology student if the social psychoanalytical perspective in this course doesn’t come up with anything a little more convincing – and fast!

SD226 and DD307 – first week progress report

I know it’s not really my first week on either of these courses, but with the official start dates for both DD307 and SD226 behind me, I can feel the clock ticking towards the DD307 exam and the SD226 ECA. Or whatever it’s now officially called. Even after four years I can’t keep on top of all of the OU acronyms and abbreviations and their changes; I know that both DD307 and SD226 are now modules, yet I’ve already called them courses in this post.

Progress on DD307 is good, I think. I have a fairly reasonable effort at TMA01 in the bag (this weekend’s task will be to re-write it a bit and then forget about it until closer to the submission date) and I’m at last starting to make some real progress on SD226 as well. I’m avoiding the course forums on SD226 though (but the tutor group one seems ok at the moment) as they’re just far too frantic to make any real sense of. The DD307 one is a bit more measured at the moment (perhaps surprisingly, given the passions the course seems to arouse in so many) so maybe that’s where I’ll spend most of my time hanging out this year. Oddly enough, even with me having a scientific and mathematical background, I’m enjoying DD307 much more than SD226 so far.

Maybe something will click for me on SD226 eventually – it’s just that compared to the topics being discussed in the social psychology course (Families! Emotion! Embodiment! Fundamental Attribution Error!) information about neurons and receptors and nervous systems seems to be rather low-stakes stuff to be honest. And just a teeny weeny bit dull, too.

I’ve now managed to complete my notes on the DD307 emotion chapter. This has probably been my favourite chapter on the whole of my OU journey to date – partly because the topic and the debates are interesting in their own right but mostly because of the style the chapter is written in. I wish I could write like that. Take a bow, Brian Parkinson of the University of Oxford. I’m in love with this chapter so much I can hardly bear to move on to “Self”, but I fear that I must.

DD307 – I’m rather enjoying this course so far!

I really didn’t think I was going to enjoy DD307, but I am making good progress with it so far. I have a draft TMA01 essay (which is not due in until 2nd March). I’ve finished my notes on families this afternoon and earlier on in the week I read through the chapter on emotion for the first time.

The chapter on families majors on two of the critical approaches.  The discursive approach is positioned using discussions on singleness and how the domestic division of labour between the sexes is achieved. The social psychoanalytic approach is introduced by looking at the role of siblings and the impact of wider social and cultural influences in the formation of our identities.

Much as I’m sceptical about the social psychoanalytical perspective, I am hugely attracted by Wendy Hollway’s notion that it is “investment” rather than “choice” which explains the contradictions and complexities found in the subject positions we take up.

In other words, some of the social discourses we could apparently “choose” from are in reality (I need to be careful about using that word!!) unavailable to us because our unconscious defence mechanisms kick in to limit our choices. These unconscious mechanisms have been built up through the close (parental and sibling) relationships we have, which are in turn impacted by social factors including our cultural, historical and physical location.

I’m still of the view that the discursive perspective is more useful, as it doesn’t appear to rely on anything quite so speculative as unconscious processes, which by their very nature are unknowable. I think I’ve backed down a little from the view I expressed in a tweet I sent a few days ago that the social psychoanalytic perspective was no better than astrology!

SD226 is a different matter. I’ve still not really started looking properly at the course materials, although I have printed off the first TMA, which seems to based largely on book 1 (and a discussion on plagiarism). I think the way I’m going to tackle the first part of this course will be to strategically read book 1 with just the TMA in mind.

At the moment, I really wish I didn’t have to do SD226 as part of my degree. But DD307 is fun!

DD307 – Block 1 notes finished

I managed to get to the end of the reading and note making for block 1 of DD307 a couple of days ago. It felt mostly like a very, very long introduction, with chapters dedicated to the history of social psychology, the different epistemological stances and methods used and a brief overview of the topics that the British Psychological Society say make up the domain.

It means I now have to face writing my first essay of the year which needs to discuss the ways that different methods either limit, constrain and distort people’s experiences or to reflect their richness.

Let me see, that would be an open invitation to bash the cognitive social perspective wouldn’t it? Or maybe I can be brave and try to argue the opposite case … I’m not sure if that’s necessarily advisable though.

My alternative is to flick through some more of SD226 and its lovely pictures of brains.

No contest really – it has to be the DD307 essay!

DD307 – first chapter down

I’ve finally finished making notes on the first chapter of Social Psychology Matters (in between removing all kinds of interesting malware from my daughter’s laptop). It was certainly an interesting read and laid out the starting positions for the critiques of ‘traditional’ social psychology that the course covers.

One area that was emphasised was the use of unrepresentative samples of participants in many social psychological experiments of past decades. For example, Erikson’s work on lifespan development only considered males and many North American social psychology studies confined themselves (and probably still do) to using only undergraduates as participants. Through the magic of  and misuse of statistics, such findings are then argued to be generalisable across whole populations.

This and other criticisms of (experimental) social psychology are used as a way of justifying different methods of enquiry and for challenging the whole notion of what knowledge is. It’s all very compelling stuff and I have a great deal of sympathy with the stance of the author.

However, there’s one nagging doubt in the back of my mind that won’t go away: surely bad science (which is what many of the criticised studies are) is simply bad science? If a group of researchers can’t be bothered or aren’t able to conduct research on population samples other than US undergraduates, then their claims of generalisability ought to be dismissed for what they are – highly questionable.

For example, a parallel in the physical sciences would be chemists only conducting experiments on (say) metals and then assuming that the properties of inert gasses were identical. If social psychologists only ever conduct experiments on undergraduates, then you’re bound to end up with an incomplete picture at best and a completely misleading one at worst.

As the chapter points out, research into social psychology can have a huge effect on public policy depending on what findings are presented. It will be interesting as the course progresses to see if there are any answers to be had as to how the consequences of poor research might be effectively addressed.