Tuesday, 24 October 2017

PERFECT Year 4: Valeria

Today's post is by project  PERFECT Doctoral Researcher Valeria N. Motta




2018 is my second year as a doctoral researcher on project PERFECT.

During my first year, I’ve been investigating loneliness and solitude. For that I did research on existing literature from different philosophical traditions and on the outcomes of empirical research. The existing literature on loneliness has focused on identifying its characteristics and has utilised different approaches. The idea behind finding common features (such as boredom or passivity) is that if we are able to identify them, a specific treatment can be developed in order to alleviate the problem. But documented in the literature I have also found an array of different ways of experiencing loneliness (such as those that emerge from failure to remember traumatic events, or which are masqueraded as connectedness via social media). These cases require a more fine grained approach.

I have the privilege to get the support and multi-disciplinary guidance of the Principal Investigator Lisa Bortolotti and the Co-Investigator Michael Larkin. An approach that we find promising consists in viewing loneliness as a social construction that has cultural and personal meanings. The approach could potentially answer the question of whether the experience that we categorise as ‘loneliness’ is always or entirely harmful. Since we are interested in the complex web of costs and benefits that many human experiences have, it is important to contemplate that even something that is as disruptive as loneliness can have a temporarily positive role to play.


Thursday, 19 October 2017

Interview with Matthew Broome on the new Institute for Mental Health


In today's post Kathy Puddifoot interviews Matthew Broome, Professor of Psychiatry and Youth Mental Health, on the new Institute for Mental Health at the University of Birmingham that he directs. 





KP: Can you tell me about the make-up of the Institute for Mental Health at the University of Birmingham?

MB: The Institute for Mental Health (IMH) is a cross-college Institute at the University of Birmingham. It is housed within the School of Psychology and the College Life and Environmental Sciences, but the Institute will also include colleagues from the College of Social Sciences, of Arts and Law, and Medical and Dental Sciences. We are hoping that staff at the IMH will have affiliations with each of these groups and represent a variety of disciplinary backgrounds. In terms of appointments, we will have colleagues appointed at different grades, from professor to lecturer, as joint appointment with the Colleges linked to the IMH. Appointments will be made between the Institute and Schools across the University. We will also have some clinical academic staff joining us, as well as core IMH appointments.  

KP: What are the main goals of the IMH?

MB: The main focus is to address issues concerning youth mental health with the recognition that to solve these complex problems will need interdisciplinary work. The focus will be to improve the care of young people with mental health problems and to improve services for those people.  We think that Birmingham has something distinctive to offer here. We can draw together expertise across the different disciplines but also build on the very strong areas we have across the university, such as cognitive neuroscience, philosophy and ethics, and social policy.

KP: Why do think it is important to focus on young people in particular?

MB: The first answer to that question comes from the epidemiology of mental health issues. Most disorders tend to begin in young people. The vast majority of adult mental disorders begin before the age of 25. Focusing on youth allows you to focus on how disorders develop, to detect mental health issues, and intervene early.  The second answer is connected. Mental disorders that begin in young people last a long time so the benefits of intervening in youth will be greater to society. If you help young people to navigate a tricky period of their life then you will see the benefit for them and for society for many years to come.  Also, Birmingham is the youngest and most diverse city in Europe, in terms of population demographics, so our research focus reflects that .

KP: What is the connection between the IMH and the Mental Health Policy Commission?

MB: The connection is that some members of the Institute are leading on the commission. In particular Professor Paul Burstow ,  Dr Karen Newbigging and Professor Jerry Tew. The commission predates the Institute and is doing work around social policy on mental health provision in the West Midlands, in particular examining the gap in care for young people between those who need help for mental health problems, and those that receive it. The commission is a project that the Institute will be connected with and some of its members will be a key part of.

KP: The IMH aims to contribute to the development of interventions based on academic research to improve practice in mental health care. To succeed in this task, you will work with non-academic partners. Can you tell us something about the partners that you intend to work with?

MB: At the moment the key partners are NHS service providers. There are two mental health trusts in Birmingham that we are working with. One is the Forward Thinking Birmingham Trust, which delivers youth mental health care between 0 and 25 years of age, and also the Early Intervention Psychosis services. The other mental health trust is the Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust. They are our two main non-academic partners. There is also an organization called Birmingham Health Partners, which is a strategic partnership between the University of Birmingham and some of the acute hospitals. These are strong partners for us. I am hoping to expand our partnerships further to include work with charities, the voluntary sector, and involvement with education and social services. That is a step for me to develop over the next couple of months.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

PERFECT Year 4: Kathy


Today's post is by Project PERFECT Research Fellow Katherine Puddifoot.  




I am entering my third year as a Research Fellow on Project PERFECT.

During my time on the project so far I have had the opportunity to develop my views on memory and stereotyping. 

In the past year I have been developing my account of stereotyping, the multifactorial account. This account identifies multiple features of any act of stereotyping that can determine whether or not it will lead to the misperception of the people who are stereotyped. Two papers developing this view have been published (open access) in Philosophical Explorations and Philosophical Topics.

I have been working with the Principle Investigator on Project PERFECT, Lisa Bortolotti, to develop our view of memory errors. We argue that there is an important feature of distorted memories that has previously not been recognised: they are produced by cognitive mechanisms that bring epistemic benefits. It has previously been widely recognised within cognitive psychology and neuroscience that the cognitive mechanisms are adaptive, but we emphasise how they increase the chance of people obtaining epistemic goods like knowledge, true beliefs and understanding.
In the past year, I have also organised the PERFECT 2017 Memory workshop at the University of Cambridge, featuring talks from Dorothea Debus, Jordi Fernandez, Kourken Michaelian, John Sutton and myself.

I have also formed an exciting new collaboration with the Mental Health Foundation. In June we held a workshop with colleagues from the charity and people with lived experience of mental health issues. The workshop featured presentations on my work on stereotyping; Lisa's work highlighting the continuity between beliefs in the clinical and non-clinical population; and the work of the Mental Health Foundation in Scotland and with people with learning disabilities. I am extremely excited about this collaboration. We will be working closely together in the future to design practical applications of our research and pursue future research projects together.

In my final phase on the project I aim to produce a series of papers that apply the insights that I have gained about memory to specific concrete cases. I will draw out the implications for how education and the criminal trial should be conducted.

In addition to this, I plan to expand my work on stereotyping, highlighting further philosophical implications of my position that there are multiple features that can determine whether people make errors due to stereotyping.

Combining my interests in stereotyping and memory, my final research goal is to publish work examining how stereotyping can influence how we remember. There are important implications of the observation that memory can be biased by stereotyping, for both theories about the nature of memory and theories about the nature of justification (including for memory). These implications will be explored in the research I conduct in this final period of my Research Fellowship.

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Interview with Louise Moody and Tom Stoneham

In this post, I interview Louise Moody, Associate Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of York, and Tom Stoneham, Professor of Philosophy & Dean of the Graduate Research School, also at the University of York. Tom and Louise are presently researching dreaming: specifically, they are investigating an alternative model of dreaming (one that holds dreams are confabulations on waking rather than experiences of some type that are remembered and reported as dreams) and whether this model might be beneficial for those experiencing parasomnias.



SS: Why is the topic of dreaming of interest to philosophers and what contributions have philosophers made so far?

LM & TS: The first thing to say is that dreaming takes up a surprisingly large amount of our mental lives with most of us apparently dreaming 4-6 times a night – indeed, awakenings from all sleep-phases (i.e. both r.e.m and non-r.e.m sleep) elicit dream reports between 50-90% of the time (e.g. Dement & Kleitman 1957; Nielson 2000). Yet dreaming receives relatively little attention from philosophers: whilst the possibility that we are now dreaming is often used to prop up sceptical arguments, the nature of dreaming is rarely directly examined - notable exceptions include Malcolm (1959) who thought the notion of any mental activity during sleep self-contradictory, Dennett (1972) who proposed that dreams might be non-consciously composed ‘cassettes’ that are inserted into memory for ‘playback’ on waking, and more recently, Ichikawa (2009) who treats dreams as sensory imaginings.

Almost everyone who has had a dream takes their experience to support the ‘Standard Model’ of dreaming: dreaming is a conscious experience of some type which happens during sleep, is encoded in memory, recalled – often partially – upon waking, and sometimes shared with others. That is just what it feels like. But as the great Islamic Philosopher Al-Ghazali pointed out in 1105, this model is likely to strike someone who has had no personal experience of dreaming as very puzzling. People are reporting having perceptions at times when they are clearly not having perceptions, precisely because they are asleep and not in the presence of those things they report perceiving. The very familiarity of dreaming has stopped philosophers (with very few notable exceptions) from seeing just how theoretically puzzling this idea of ‘offline’ perception really is.
  
SS: I understand you’re developing an alternative model to that outlined above, one that centrally involves imperfect cognitions? Tell us more!

LM & TS: Despite seeming incredibly obvious, the Standard Model is surprisingly hard to prove or disprove, precisely because it postulates a realm of private experiences that cannot be directly reported upon (note: LaBerge (1981) purportedly found that lucid dreamers can ‘signal’ that they are dreaming by performing a series of pre-arranged eye movements, but we take this finding to be methodologically controversial). Other well-known problems with the Standard Model, as Freud originally noted (1900: Ch.1), include pre-cognitive ‘alarm clock’ dreams (suppose you dream of an explosion and wake up to find this sound merging smoothly with the buzzing of your alarm clock; then you must have somehow predicted that your alarm clock was about to buzz, which is wildly implausible) and time-compression (experiences that would take a long time in waking life are often temporally compressed in dreams, and no-one has yet explained why such experiences are special cases).