There is a non insignificant portion of society that holds the belief that poverty, is a choice. This belief is held, traditionally, by those with a conservative perspective on the world. For them, it was their hard work that lifted them from poverty, and not luck, hidden social privileges or, more frequently, family connections. Therefore, from their perspective, it makes no sense that people can’t just do the same thing they did.
For centuries, but more so since the industrial revolution, poverty has been a pressing global issue that affects millions of people everywhere. Surely, they can’t all be lazy. Many times, those who live in poverty are mistakenly perceived as making a personal choice to remain in their circumstances. However, this perspective is far from the truth. Poverty is not merely a personal choice, but a complex interplay of biological, social, and psychological factors that often trap individuals in a cycle they cannot escape. In this blog post, we will delve into the underlying factors that contribute to poverty and provide evidence to debunk the notion that it’s merely a matter of personal choice.
1. Biological Factors:
Biological factors, such as genetics and health, can play a significant role in perpetuating poverty. Some people may be born with genetic predispositions to certain diseases or health conditions that limit their ability to work, ultimately hindering their economic progress. Additionally, lack of access to healthcare in impoverished communities can exacerbate health problems, further restricting one’s capacity to escape poverty. Furthermore, there is evidence that prolonged poverty is linked to higher stress levels that consequently lead to adverse health outcomes overtime.
Society and its structures can also contribute to poverty in various ways. Factors like inadequate access to quality education, limited job opportunities, and systemic discrimination can significantly impact an individual’s economic well-being. Furthermore, people living in poverty often lack the social connections and networks that could help them find better opportunities and climb the socioeconomic ladder. The lack of a community support is also linked to disenfranchised youth being vulnerable to grooming by gangs.
The psychological aspects of poverty are often overlooked but can be just as influential in perpetuating the cycle. Living in poverty can lead to chronic stress, which can impair cognitive function and decision-making abilities. Additionally, it can cause feelings of helplessness, low self-esteem, and hopelessness, which may further hinder an individual’s motivation and drive to break free from their circumstances.
Prolonged poverty will also likely lead to poor mental health and generally leaving one unable to cope and overcome their circumstance.
Addressing poverty requires a multifaceted approach that acknowledges the interplay of biological, social, and psychological factors. By understanding these underlying causes, we can design more effective policies and interventions that can help break the cycle of poverty. Some potential solutions include:
– Investing in quality education and healthcare for all, regardless of socioeconomic status
– Implementing job training programs and economic initiatives that create new opportunities in impoverished communities
– Addressing systemic discrimination and promoting social equality
– Providing mental health support and resources to those living in poverty
Poverty is not a personal choice, but a complex outcome of various factors beyond an individual’s control. By acknowledging the biological, social, and psychological roots of poverty, we can work together to create a more equitable world where everyone has the opportunity to thrive. Let’s challenge the stereotypes surrounding poverty and commit ourselves to finding comprehensive solutions that address its multifaceted nature.
DISCLAIMER: This paper has not been peer-reviewed by any publication, but only confirmed as valid as part of a university project by my former Open University tutor.
ABSTRACT Increasingly, people are more reliant on social media as the source of their news from platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. But these companies have not yet adequately addressed the lack of moderation of the quality of the news that is shared on them. This lack of action has led to the spread of misinformation at a scale and reach that was not previously possible with traditional media. In particular health-related misinformation can spread unchecked on these platforms and users are left with the responsibility to assess their veracity on their own. It is of particular interest, therefore, to investigate what are the variables that make one susceptible to health-related misinformation online, such as personality traits. To investigate if Dark Triad traits and Empathy Quotient can be predictors of General Susceptibility to Health-Related Misinformation Online (GenSHRMO), I conducted an electronic survey (n=122) where participants have been asked to complete a battery of questionnaires. Responses have been measured with both a 5-points Likert scale for the first 2 personality questionnaires and a 4-points Likert scale for measuring GenSHRMO. The data collected has then been entered into IBM SPSS for multiple regression (1-tailed) and correlation (2-tailed) analysis so that to determine the strength of the relationships between these variables and assess their validity as predictors. The results of this research show that only a weak relationship was observed between Psychopathy and GenSHRMO in the multiple regression analysis, but it was not present in the correlation analysis. No further statistically significant relationship between the other measured personality traits and the values of GenSHRMO was found. Findings, other significant correlations, and conclusions are discussed and explored in more detail in the Discussion section.
The widespread adoption of smartphones in the last 10 years coincided with the rise in popularity of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter all around the world (Ortiz-Ospina, 2019). These platforms, in turn, have become crucial tools for journalists on which to spread and promote their work (Newman, 2011). At the same time, people increasingly are getting their news from these platforms rather than traditional media outlets and hardly pay attention to their source (Sumida, et al., 2019). As the business model of social media platforms is based on user engagement so that to increase exposure to advertisements, they have been reticent historically to moderate the content that is being shared on their platform. The cost of entry that is responsible for the rise in their popularity also leaves the door open to the opportunity of misuse by bad actors and access to less than reputable sources of news. Consequently, social media platforms have been the main medium by which so-called “fake news” have been able to proliferate and spread widely online (Ortutay, 2016). For example, it has been reported recently that Facebook is still, as of the time of this publication, actively profiting from the engagement generated from pages and groups spreading health-related misinformation on vaccines (Graham-Harrison, et al., 2021).
As the responsibility to discern legitimate news from falsehood has been placed on its users, it is of particular interest for Psychology research to investigate what variables would make one susceptible to misinformation online, and which personality traits can be considered as predictors. For the scope of this research, the focus is on health-related misinformation specifically, as its spreading has far-reaching financial and social consequences (McKenna, 2019). Understanding the degree to which personality traits play a role in this could potentially help the development of tools and measures to combat the spread of misinformation on health-related topics.
The role of personality and motivation has been previously investigated, and it was found that the content of the message being shared holds less value than the action and outcome of the act of sharing (Chen, 2012). The author of the research noted that open-mindedness is positively related to susceptibility to misinformation and that “users that are aware of the falseness of misinformation, may still share it”. Chen suggests that this behaviour might be explained by it being motivated by seeking status and recognition within the person’s in-group. He also states that “the action of sharing, rather than the perceived accuracy and characteristics of the information being shared, is what matters most”. The author did not, however, seek to expand in his research on the possibility that Dark Triad personality traits (such as, for example, Narcissism) may play a role in the motivation for intentionally sharing misinformation on social media.
Motivation and personality types do not, however, account for the possibility that other factors may be at play such as the bandwagon effect, trust in the content and its source, fear of missing out and social media fatigue, where people find themselves lacking mental bandwidth to assess the veracity of what is being shared (Talwar, et al., 2019). Indeed, a more nuanced look at the motivation for sharing misinformation that does not require the invocation of personality type as justification has been proposed to explore this. Nonetheless, the role of personality traits cannot be discarded altogether as a personality is linked to motivational patterns of behaviour (Hansel & Visser, 2020). Since high trust in the content is linked to no hesitation from people sharing information that has not been verified, it leaves open the question as to which type of personality is more likely to be sufficiently open-minded to believe in certain kinds of misinformation as well as more prone to taking risks in sharing it and disregard the impact that sharing something that may be false may have on those exposed. After all, people are generally more likely to believe and share information that is consistent with pre-existing beliefs or worldview for both self-validation and confirmation (Lewandowsky, et al., 2012).
Dark Triad personality traits have indeed been found to be positively correlated to the susceptibility to health-related conspiracy theory in recent survey research (Malesza, 2020). The survey’s findings indicate a link between manipulative behaviour and hypersensitivity to being manipulated. These factors are then linked to higher susceptibility to a counter-narrative and consequently to the spread of misinformation to justify and reinforce the pre-existing belief, particularly in participants that scored high in Narcissism. Yet, another research’s finding suggests that highly empathetic individuals might place more importance on, or be more affected by, irrelevant information and thus, be more susceptible to misinformation just as well (Tomes & Katz, 1997). Moreover, findings from other research do suggest that narcissist personalities can take other people’s perspectives into consideration reflecting a potential for intervention (Hepper, et al., 2014). It is thus unclear which of these personality traits may be the most valid in predicting susceptibility to health-related misinformation online.
Based on the findings of previous research, it is possible to conclude that narcissistic personalities who are also susceptible to health-related misinformation online would manifest the following behaviour online: guided by an inflated sense of self and righteousness they would engage in the sharing of health-related misinformation masqueraded as an altruistic gesture that hides the seeking of social status and validation of existing beliefs. It is also possible that such behaviour is unlikely to be guided by malicious intent as people who genuinely hold beliefs that are based on health-related misinformation feel it is their duty to inform others, as it reinforces and validates their own belief. Similarly, people who show high empathy would also be more likely to spread health-related misinformation sharing the same beliefs and justification, and ultimately to the same end. Machiavellian personalities, on the other hand, would engage in similar behaviour knowingly ignoring the veracity of what is being shared for the self-serving purpose of status-seeking and validation, but still, perhaps see themselves as empathetic personalities.
Thus, the primary goal of this research has been to identify to what extent Dark Triad personality traits would predict participants’ susceptibility to health-related misinformation, alongside how they viewed themselves in relation to others, hence the Empathy Quotient questionnaire. The hypothesis this research is trying to prove is to assess if participants who show susceptibility to health-related misinformation online score highly in Dark Triad traits, in particular, that of Narcissism and Machiavellianism, and will also score highly in the Empathy Quotient test.
There are currently 53 million active social media users in the UK (Tankovska, 2021). To expect a 95% confidence level that the data collected would accurately reflect the general population, with a margin of error of 10%, the recommended sample size is 97 participants (Qualtrics, 2021). In total, 131 respondents provided consent to participate. However, only 122 fully completed the survey (completion rate: 93.02%). With 122 participants, the margin of error is close to 9%. Participants for this study were recruited primarily via the Open University EPW portal (99 participants, 75.57%), with others from social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Reddit (32 participants, 24.43%). The criteria for participation required participants to be at least 18 years old with no upper age limit; no other restriction prevented participation and participants were assumed to have been exposed to degrees of health-related news on social media platforms.
The majority of participants have identified as female (71.54%). The age of participants ranged from 18 to 63 years old with the majority (30.77%) falling in the 35 to 44 age group. No other demographic data from participants was collected other than gender and age. Participation in the survey was voluntary and the research proposal, alongside ethical considerations, was approved by the Open University D300 tutor.
2.2 Materials and Procedure
The core of the survey is composed of 2 personality questionnaires and 1 questionnaire to measure degrees of general susceptibility to, and the likelihood of spreading, health-related misinformation online.
2.2.1 Survey Administration
All three questionnaires were administered through the online platform Qualtrics (https://qualtrics.com). The survey was designed to be accessible from all known browsers for both mobile and desktop platforms. The survey consisted of a welcome page where participants were briefed on the nature of the project and the research’s goal, as well as provided with all the necessary information needed in order to give an informed consent. Participants were not allowed to proceed with the survey unless consent was confirmed. Participants were then asked for demographic identifiers of age and gender. This was followed by the battery of questionnaires, each on a dedicated page (3 pages in total), comprised of a total of 58 self-reporting items, concluding with a thank you note and a short debrief. The survey took approximately 15 minutes to complete. Participants were permitted to complete the survey without completing all items; they were also permitted to complete the survey up to a week from starting it. All the data for this research was collected over the entire month of March 2021 only.
2.2.2 Questionnaires and Scales
The first personality questionnaire is the “Short Dark Triad” by Paulhus and Jones (2013). It consists of 27 questions divided into 3 groups to measure traits of Machiavellianism, Narcissism, and Psychopathy. Participants are asked about their level of agreement on a 5-point Likert scale (1 = “Strongly Disagree”, 5 = “Strongly Agree”). The scoring of this questionnaire and its procedure have been kept as published at the source. This particular questionnaire was chosen for its concise length and because, according to its authors, “it provides efficient, reliable, and valid measures of the Dark Triad of personalities”. The internal consistency of this scale in the current sample was very good (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.733).
The second personality questionnaire is “The Toronto Empathy Questionnaire” by Sprend et al. (2009). It consists of 16 statements and participants are asked to state the frequency of occurrence for each on a 4-point Likert scale (1 = “Never”, 4 = “Always”). The scoring of this questionnaire has been kept as documented at the source. It aims to measure the Empathy Quotient of participants, and it was chosen for both its length and deemed validity as an instrument for assessing empathy. The internal consistency of this scale was low in the current sample but still valid (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.279).
The third questionnaire was designed specifically for the purpose of this research to measure the degree of susceptibility to health-related misinformation on social media and to assess the behaviour around sharing it. It consists of 15 statements where participants are asked about their level of agreement on a 4-point Likert scale (1 = Strongly Agree”, 4 = “Strongly Disagree”). In particular, statements were designed to measure degrees of critical thinking on beliefs around health, trust in mainstream media messaging about health, trust in the opinion of medical professionals, and trust in the source of information on social media platforms. Examples of items are as follows: “I hold views and beliefs about my health that are ignored by the mainstream media”, “I trust my GP with concerns I have about views and beliefs about my health”, “I always check on the source of the articles I share that support my views and beliefs about my health”, “I do my own research to be informed about my health by reading on blogs of famous people I agree with” (see Appendix A for a full list of statements and scoring). Please note that other questionnaires may be better designed to measure this particular variable, but at the time of research design, none was found that was adequate. The internal consistency for this scale was good (Cronbach’s alpha = 0.643).
2.3 Data Analysis Strategy
As out of the 131 respondents only 122 completed the survey fully, the data from the 9 participants who did not fully complete it were removed from the dataset. The data file was further cleaned from not relevant information columns such as the time of completion and the date of administration.
All answers provided were measured on a Likert scale. For the “Short Dark Triad” and “The Toronto Empathy Questionnaire” personality tests, the value for each answer was kept identical to the source. As to the questionnaire on “susceptibility to, and sharing of, health-related misinformation online”, values were attributed to each statement’s likelihood of matching what is being measured (see Appendix A for details).
The values of the Dark Triad personalities have been grouped into each of the measured traits: Machiavellianism, Narcissism, and Psychopathy. Furthermore, the sum of each personality value has also been grouped as a variable and named “Sum of Dark Triad Traits”. Each Dark Triad trait is considered as an independent variable for the purpose of this research’s data analysis, in addition to the value of the Empathy Quotient. The Sum of Dark Triad Traits variable has only been measured alongside the Empathy Quotient variable. Although the questionnaire on susceptibility to, and sharing of, health-related misinformation contains statements to measure each of its two components, the sum of all values has been summarised to the variable “General Susceptibility to Health-Related Misinformation Online” (GenSHRMO). This value is considered the dependent variable in this research’s statistical analysis.
Analysis of the 6 assumptions needed to proceed with multiple regression was carried out. Two instances of multiple regression analysis (one-tailed test) were carried out: first, to investigate the strength of the relationship between each of the individual Dark Triad traits (Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy), the Empathy Quotient scores and GenSHRMO, and secondly to investigate the strength of the relationship between the total sum of the Dark Triad Traits score, the Empathy Quotient scores and the same GenSHRMO.
Two instances of two-tailed correlation analysis were also carried out so that to provide a complete overview of the strength of relationships between the aforementioned variables and to assure no bias in the data analysis. Furthermore, the distribution of the means responses and related standard deviation values were measured to provide an overview of the participants’ average responses. All statistical analyses were conducted in IBM SPSS V25. Some calculations of averages have been carried out with Microsoft Excel.
2.4 Data validity
To assess whether the dataset collected is valid, 6 assumptions have been tested and confirmed to be met for multiple regression analysis. The scatterplots for linearity between IV and DV for all variables show homoscedasticity as variance along the line of best fit remains similar throughout; on the assumption of multicollinearity, the correlation table for the Pearson’s Correlation values for each IV does not exceed 0.8; the values of Durbin-Watson for each of the 2 models are of 1.88 and 1.89 respectively satisfying the assumption that the values of the residual are independent; the assumption that the variance of the residual is constant has also been met as the scatterplots of both models show equal homoscedasticity; the P-P plots of each model show that the majority of dots do lie close to the diagonal line thus satisfying the assumption that the values of the residuals are normally distributed; lastly, the assumption that no influential cases are biasing the model has also been met as there are no values that are above 1 in the column for Cook’s Distance statistics produced by SPSS onto the data file.
3.1 Participants and means with standard deviation distribution
The total number of participants that provided consent to proceed with the survey questionnaire was 131. Of these, only 122 completed it to 100% (completion rate: 93.02%).
On average, participants scored low on Dark Triad traits and Empathy Quotient but high on GenSHRMO. Here below are the details of each mean and corresponding standard deviation measure.
The mean score for the Dark Triad trait of Machiavellianism is 26.01 (N122, SD 6.29, max score 45. See Figure 1).
The mean score for the Dark Triad trait of Narcissism is 25.20 (N122, SD 3.51, max score 45. See Figure 2).
The mean score for the Dark Triad trait of Psychopathy is 19.04 (N122, SD 3.53, max score 45. See Figure 3).
The mean score for the Empathy Quotient is 47.65 (N122, SD 3.99, max score 80. See Figure 4).
The mean score for the Sum of the Dark Triad Trait is 70.25 (N122, SD 10.13, max score 135. See Figure 5).
The mean score for the measure of GenSHRMO is 42.53 (N122, SD 5.2, max score 60. See Figure 6).
3.2 Continuous predictors
Summary of one-tailed and two-tailed Pearson’s correlation coefficient between the sum of the score for GenSHRMO, the Dark Triad personality traits and Empathy Quotient as continuous predictors are provided in Table 1. As shown in the table, there is only 1 statistically significant relationship between the Dark Triad trait of Psychopathy and GenSHRMO (p-value < .05) on the 1-tail test, possibly indicating a negative correlation between the two values. In the two-tailed test, however, the same correlation does not appear (p = .096). There are other statistically significant relationships between personality traits on both 1-tail and 2-tail tests, such as between Narcissism and EQ (p-value < .01) as well as Machiavellianism and EQ (p-value < .01).
Pearson’s correlation coefficient between the sum of the score for GenSHRMO, Sum of Dark Triad Traits and Empathy Quotient as continuous predictors are provided in Table 2. As the table shows, there is no statistically significant relationship between neither the Sum of Dark Triad Traits nor the Empathy Quotient and the score of GenSHRMO. The only statistically significant relationship that exists is between the Sum of Dark Triad Traits and the Empathy Quotient (p-value < .01) in both 1-tail and 2-tail tests.
3.3 Multiple regression analysis
Two instances of multiple regression analysis were carried out. First, to investigate if the Dark Triad traits of Narcissism, Machiavellianism and Psychopathy, and the Empathy Quotient scores could be valid predictors of scores of “susceptibility to, and sharing of, health-related misinformation online”. The result of the first regression analysis indicates that the model explains 28% of the variance and that it is not a significant predictor of participants’ susceptibility to and sharing of health-related misinformation online, F(4,117) = 0.854, p = 0.494. None of the measured personality traits contributed significantly to the model (Machiavellianism B = 0.42, p = 0.623;Narcissism B = 0.040, p = 0.788; Psychopathy B = -0.256, p = 0.089; Empathy Quotient B = -0.086, p = 0.499).
The second instance was to investigate if the Sum of Dark Triad Traits and the Empathy Quotient scores could be valid predictors of scores of “susceptibility to, and sharing of, health-related misinformation online” as well. The result of the second regression analysis indicates that the model explains only 8% of the variance and that it too is not a significant predictor of participants’ susceptibility to, and sharing of, health-related misinformation online, F(2,119) = 0.460, p = 0.632. Equally, neither the score of the Sum of Dark Triad Traits nor the Empathy Quotient contributed significantly to the model (Sum of Dark Triad Traits B = -0.33, p = 0.496; Empathy Quotient B = -0.56, p = 0.655).
The average participant of this survey scored slightly above 50% of the scores for both Dark Triad traits of Machiavellianism (65%) and Narcissism (63%) whilst scoring just below 50% on the score of Psychopathy (47.5%). On Empathy Quotient, the average participant scored 58.31% of the total score, whilst on GenSHRMO – 75.88% of the total score.
In the 1-tail multiple regression analysis carried out to investigate the strength of the relationships between the individual Dark Triad traits of Machiavellianism, Narcissism, Psychopathy, and Empathy Quotient against participant’s susceptibility to, and the likelihood of sharing, health-related misinformation online, the result indicated that the only marginally significant trait that could be a valid predictor is that of Psychopathy with a p-value of .048. However, on the 2-tail correlation analysis test, this statistically significant relationship is no longer present (p= .096). This conflicting result would suggest that although a relationship is present, it is not sufficiently strong to meet the criteria for being statistically valid to be used as a predictor for participants’ susceptibility to health-related misinformation online. Similarly, both the 1-tail and 2-tailed correlation analysis tests carried out to investigate the strength of the relationships between the Sum of Dark Triad Traits, Empathy Quotient and participant’s susceptibility to health-related misinformation online have shown that neither personality traits are valid predictors. With regard to the goal of this research, therefore, the hypothesis that people who scored high in Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Empathy Quotient would also be more likely to be susceptible to, and be spreading, health-related misinformation is not validated by the survey’s results.
Of note, however, is that data on both 1-tailed and 2-tailed multiple regression and correlation analysis show that there is indeed a statistically significant relationship between the Dark Triad trait of Narcissism and Empathy Quotient with a p-value of .00 for both, and that of Machiavellianism and Empathy Quotient with a p-value of .006 in the 1-tailed and .011 in the 2-tailed test. Similarly, both 1-tail and 2-tailed multiple regression and correlation analysis show a statistically significant relationship between the Sum of Dark Triad Traits and Empathy Quotient with a p-value of .001 for both tests. The Pearson’s Correlation values do indicate it is a negative correlation in both cases, where the higher score of Narcissism and Machiavellianism would be related to lower scores of Empathy Quotient. Interestingly, the results indicate no statistically significant relationship between the trait of Psychopathy and Empathy Quotient in neither 1-tail nor 2-tailed test.
The rationale that guided this research was based on the assumption that participants would respond more truthfully to the Dark Triad personality test and provide more embellished versions of themselves in the Empathy quotient test. The expectation was that the scores of Narcissism and Machiavellianism would positively correlate to the Empathy Quotient and consequently also positively correlated to the scores of GenSHRMO. The hypothesis was that someone with an inflated sense of self, who also has low considerations of and for others, would nonetheless portray themselves as being someone who cares about others. This factor, related to a hypersensitivity to manipulation, higher susceptibility to a counter-narrative consequently leading to the spread of misinformation to justify and reinforce the pre-existing belief, provided the foundation for the research question. The results of this research, however, do not support this model.
There are a few considerations to make that could explain why the result does not support the proposed hypothesis. Firstly, it is the nature of self-reporting of surveys: as participants were aware that the first personality questionnaire pertained to Dark Triad personality traits, there is a possibility that the better-than-average effect may have influenced participants responses. Even though responses are fully anonymous, people could potentially seek to reinforce their self-image in a positive light. Research has shown that people who compare themselves with an average peer would consistently evaluate themselves more favourably than them (Alicke, et al., 1995). Some of the statements in the Short Dark Triad Test may indeed focus the attention of participants on less favourable traits such as the following: “You should wait for the right time to get back at people”, “I know that I am special because everyone keeps telling me so”, “I insist on getting the respect I deserve”, “Payback needs to be quick and nasty”, and “I like to pick on losers”. Thus, it is possible that consequently, participants would rather portray a more likeable version of themselves to themselves and therefore not be able to truthfully assess their level of agreement to such statements. It must be noted, however, that the average score of Empathy Quotient is 58.31%, which does contradict such hypothesis, as for it to be true the average score should have been perhaps higher.
Secondly, the pool of voluntary participants could have had an unexpected impact on the data collected. As the majority of respondents were recruited from the Open University portal that is only available to its students (n99, 75.57%), it is possible that such a pool of participants may not necessarily adequately represent the segment of the population that would likely fit the criteria of the proposed hypothesis and the general population of social media users at large.
It must be noted, however, that the average score for general susceptibility to, and sharing of, health-related misinformation online is quite high (75.88%), which is a surprising result considering the composition of the majority of participants. As most students that had access to the EPW portal would have been engaged in their own scientific research, a certain degree of critical thinking skills that ought to lead to a lesser susceptibility to misinformation online, specifically health-related, was expected. Of statements that scored surprisingly high, of note are the “Homeopathic Doctors are better informed than Medical Doctors” with a total of 108 participants (88.52%) scoring an average of 3.5, and the “Famous people are better at informing me about my health than scientists” with 106 participants (86.82%) scoring an average of 3.7. This does suggest that the majority of participants do indeed display a degree of susceptibility to health-related misinformation in general. It is possible, however, that the questionnaire used to measure GenSHRMO may not have been sufficiently adequate to measure what it was meant to. Some of the statements may be a reflection of my own beliefs and prejudices about what would make one susceptible to health-related misinformation.
The results of this survey do, nonetheless, challenge the 1997 findings by Tomes & Katz that highly empathetic individuals would be more susceptible to misinformation, as the high score for GenSHRMO did not correlate with a high score of Empathy Quotient. Furthermore, as the previous research conducted by Malesza in 2020 has suggested, a stronger relationship between Dark Triad traits and GenSHRMO should have been present in light of her findings that linked manipulative behaviour to hypersensitivity to being manipulated. Only the data of the 1-tailed test shows a weak link in the relationship between Psychopathy and GenSHRMO, which would give merit to the previous research’s findings. As previously mentioned, however, that statistical significance is not present in the 2-tailed test.
The results of the data collected do show a strong statistically significant relationship between individual Dark Triad traits and Empathy Quotient, as well as the Sum of Dark Triad Traits and EQ, which suggests that the overall results are a fair representation of the participants’ personalities rather than the outcome of subconscious manipulation from their part. Indeed, the Pearson’s coefficient table shows a negative correlation between the variables, as it would be expected by participants answering truthfully. This research, therefore, supports the notion proposed in Talwar et al.’s paper that a more nuanced look, which does not require the invocation of personality type as justification, is required to investigate what makes people susceptible to health-related misinformation in the first place.
Future research into this matter could benefit from a more ample pool of participants, not composed of mainly university students, that is more adequately representing the general makeup of social media users. The low score of Empathy Quotient would suggest that this personality trait is not as important as initially hypothesised to predict people’s GenSHRMO and could be removed from the proposed model. Furthermore, it is possible that a larger and more comprehensive Dark Triad test may help in providing a more accurate assessment of participants’ personalities, for example, by including reverse wording. It would be interesting to confirm which of the three main Dark Triad traits is a more likely predictor of GenSHRMO, as this research did suggest a possibility of correlation between GenSHRMO and Psychopathy. Although, it must be acknowledged that one’s susceptibility to health-related misinformation seems to be more rooted in people’s beliefs and views of the world rather than depending on their personalities and predispositions towards others. Therefore, a qualitative approach may be more appropriate to investigate this subject matter alongside a survey so as to capture the nuances of the subject matter.
In conclusion, guided by previous research, the goal of this project was to prove a positive correlation between Dark Triad personality traits, Empathy Quotient, and people’s general susceptibility to, and the likelihood of spreading, health-related misinformation online. The results of this research do not support the hypothesis that people who scored high in both Dark Triad traits of Narcissism and Machiavellianism would also score high on Empathy Quotient and that these could be used as predictors of the score of GenSHRMO. Instead, the data indicated a small but statistically significant correlation between Psychopathy and GenSHRMO in the 1-tailed test, which was not present, however, in the 2-tailed test. This particular finding should be analysed in future research with a deeper investigation into Dark Triad personality traits, also including a provision for a qualitative perspective for a more nuanced and complete understanding of what makes people susceptible to, and what makes them spread, health-related misinformation online.
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Sumida, N., Walker, M. & Mitchell, A., 2019. News Media Attitudes in France, Washington: Pew Research Center.
Talwar, S. et al., 2019. Why do people share fake news? Associations between the dark side of social media use and fake news sharing behaviour. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, Volume 51, pp. 72-82.
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Tomes, J. L. & Katz, A. N., 1997. Habitual Susceptibility to Misinformation and Individual Differences in Eyewitness Memory. Applied Cognitive Psychology, Volume 11, pp. 233-251.
Questionnaire and scoring on General susceptibility to and sharing of health-related misinformation online.
Susceptibility to (ST) – Sharing of (SO)
I hold views and beliefs about my health that are ignored by the mainstream media. (ST)
Homoeopathic Doctors are better informed than Medical Doctors. (ST)
I regularly engage with news that discusses in a negative light something that I believe in, about my health. (ST)
I trust my GP with concerns I have about views and beliefs about my health. (ST)
I often disagree with health-related news presented by the mainstream media. (ST)
I am part of one or more groups on social media where I feel free to discuss my views and beliefs about my health. (SO)
I share articles on social media the support my views and beliefs about my health. (SO)
I always check on the source of the articles I share that support my views and beliefs about my health. (SO)
I do my own research to be informed about my health by reviewing peer-reviewed scientific publications. (ST)
I do my own research to be informed about my health by reading blogs of famous people I agree with. (ST)
Famous people are better at informing me about my health than scientists. (ST)
I do remove an article I have published on social media if and when I find it was misleading. (SO)
I search online for information about my health from multiple sources. (ST)
Articles that make me feel a strong emotion about my health are more valid than science articles about the same subject. (ST)
Articles that promote my existing views and beliefs about health from people I know are more valid than articles from scientists that contradict them. (ST)
Social media has provided a low-cost entry to the opportunity to communicate and create relationships with virtually anyone in the world with access to the internet. Just like in the real world, in-groups and out-groups on social media form out of shared passions, interests, ideology and beliefs about the world, with ideas flowing in and out of them. Which personality type is more or less susceptible to misinformation has been the topic of numerous researches, as well as many investigations were carried out into which age demographic is more likely to share misinformation that agrees with existing beliefs. However, not much research exists that specifically looks at susceptibility to, and the spread of health-related misinformation and its relationship to Dark Triad personality traits, or empathy quotient. Therefore, the goal of the proposed research is to measure these factors and assess their relationship to understand which personality traits within different age groups are more likely to contribute to the susceptibility to, and the spreading of health-related misinformation online. In this essay literature review of five papers, three of which are published researches on personality and misinformation, one has a pending peer-review on Dark Triad traits and conspiracy belief, and another summarises findings on the topic of age and health-related misinformation, will be presented to provide a rationale for the proposed research. The findings of these papers will be briefly described, accompanied by a summary of the methodology and an equally brief discussion on the unresolved questions of their research.
Seeking to investigate the role of personality and motivation in the sharing of misinformation on social media, a survey among university students was conducted in Singapore (Chen, 2012). Chen had identified in his research that the content of the message being shared holds less value than the action and outcome of the act of sharing. He noted that open-mindedness is positively related to susceptibility to misinformation and that “users that are aware of the falseness of misinformation, may still share it”. The author suggests that this behaviour might be explained by it being motivated by seeking status and recognition within the person’s in-group. Chen states that “the action of sharing, rather than the perceived accuracy and characteristics of the information being shared, is what matters most”. His research consisted of a survey questionnaire administered to 171 students across two universities. The questionnaire comprised of the Big Five Inventory to measure personality, an ad-hoc questionnaire to measure motivation based on uses and motivation theory, and six examples of inaccurate news rated for accuracy by the participants. The author acknowledged some limitations of his research, such as the use of convenience sampling as well as the arbitrary choices of examples of misinformation. Although he did not expand on the possibility that Dark Triad personality traits, such as narcissism, may play a role in the motivation for intentionally sharing misinformation on social media. Chen did, however, suggest that future research should focus on various categories of misinformation and target a larger sample size of more varied age groups.
A more recent study also sought to investigate the motivation for sharing fake news and linked several factors to the behaviour, such as trust in the content and its source, fear of missing out (bandwagon effect) and social media fatigue where people find themselves lacking mental bandwidth to assess the veracity of what is being shared (Talwar, et al., 2019). This qualitative research was conducted with an open-ended survey of 88 WhatsApp users, 65 of which were females with a median age of about 21 and a half. The answers were analysed, and factors were extracted from the emerging themes. The main limitation of this research is its sample size and, possibly, the age group of the participants, although the data offers a more detailed perspective on the topic. The findings do indeed propose a more nuanced look at the motivation for sharing misinformation that does not require the invocation of personality type as justification. The factors that emerged provided some context as to what underlying motivations may be related to the susceptibility to, and the sharing of misinformation online, but no indication if age is one of them. High trust in the content is, however, linked to no hesitation from people sharing information that has not been verified, thus leaving open the question as to which type of personality is more likely to be both sufficiently open-minded to believe in certain kinds of misinformation as well as more prone to taking risks in sharing it.
Only one recent yet to be peer-reviewed research aimed to address specifically the relationship between Dark Triad personality traits and beliefs in COVID-19 related conspiracy theories (Malesza, 2020). In her paper, the author identified a positive relationship between Dark Triad traits, such as Machiavellianism, narcissism, psychopathy, and the susceptibility to belief in conspiracy theories about the recent pandemic. This research was conducted with a survey of 564 adults, 298 of which were females and between the age of 18 and 64. It included a short Dark Triad questionnaire and a belief in conspiracy theories inventory. The author’s conclusion on her findings indicates a link between manipulative behaviour and hypersensitivity to being manipulated. These factors are then linked to higher susceptibility to a counter-narrative and consequently to the spread of misinformation to justify and reinforce the pre-existing belief, particularly in participants that scored high in narcissism. However, only towards the end of the discussion section does Malesza note how age is a statistically significant factor influencing belief, with younger people being more susceptible to conspiracy theories, without mentioning specifically how other age groups are impacted. Furthermore, her research leaves open the question as to which personality and age group is more likely to spread misinformation that supports existing belief into any particular conspiracy theory.
To offer different perspectives on who would be more susceptible to health-related misinformation online, a recent editorial brought together the findings of various researches (Scherer & Pennycook, 2020). In the article, the authors surmise concisely several results, for example, those from Brashier and Schacter’s research suggesting that older people may be more prone to share fake news online not because of mental decline but rather due to lack of digital literacy (2020), or, as per Lewandowsky et.al.’s paper (2012), that people are more likely to believe and share misinformation that is consistent with pre-existing belief or worldview. This article is in no way a comprehensive review on the existing literature on the subject but proposes some relevant points for future research, such as that other individual characteristics have not yet been adequately researched concerning susceptibility to health-related misinformation, as well as whether if it is a generalised trait or if it is context-dependent.
The role of empathy in relation to misinformation of any kind and susceptibility to it has not been explored very much in the context of it being a predictive factor to determine their relationship. Tomes and Katz (1997) sought to identify personality traits that would lead to habitual susceptibility to post-event misinformation in eyewitnesses. The authors carried out an experiment focused on a memory recollection task with 183 participants ranging from 17 to 43 years old, by exposing half of them to video clips and questionnaires with misinformation, whilst the other half also watched the same clips but was not exposed to misinformation. The goal was to assess the influence of post-event information. Among their findings, it emerged that highly empathetic individuals might place more importance on, or be more affected by, irrelevant information and thus, be more susceptible to misinformation. The paper does not, however, explain how the empathy of the participants was measured, but only reports that females scored higher than men and clarified that sex is not a predictive factor, but only that cognitive correlates of sex are related to habitual suggestibility. It must be noted that this research only offers a tenuous link to the relationship between empathy and susceptibility to misinformation.
In conclusion, the papers presented offer an interesting starting point for the research into the relationship between age groups, Dark Triad personality traits, empathy quotient and the susceptibility to, and the spreading of health-related misinformation online. Chen’s research put forward the idea that young people care more about the act of sharing rather than preoccupying themselves with the veracity of the content, motivated by seeking clout in their social groups thus suggesting that narcissism and lack of empathy may be predictive factors. At the same time, however, Talwar et.al’s research points to fear of missing out and social media fatigue as a motivator for taking risks in sharing information that has not been confirmed as true. Tomes and Katz’s findings tenuously suggest that empathy is positively related to being more affected by irrelevant information. Indeed, health-related misinformation goes viral when attached to a story to elicit an emotional reaction on the reader rather than a factual account of medical progress (Xu, 2019). Other research has also looked at the demographics being a predictive factor without exploring common personality traits, whilst only a recent unpublished paper sought to explore Dark Triad traits in relation to belief in specific conspiracy theories. Therefore, the proposed research aims to fill this gap in the current body of work to get a better understanding of the intersection of age groups, personality types and empathy to the susceptibility to, and the spreading of health-related misinformation online.
Brashier, N. M. & Schacter, D. L., 2020. Ageing in an Era of Fake News. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 29(3), pp. 316-323.
Chen, X., 2012. The Influences of Personality and Motivation on the Sharing of Misinformation on Social Media. s.l., iSchools.
Lewandowsky, S. et al., 2012. Misinformation and Its Correction: Continued Influence and Successful Debiasing. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 13(3), pp. 106-131.
Malesza, M., 2020. The Dark Triad and Beliefs in Conspiracy Theories About the COVID-19, Warsaw: The University of Economics and Human Sciences in Warsaw.
Scherer, L. D. & Pennycook, G., 2020. Who Is Susceptible to Online Health Misinformation?. American Journal of Public Health, 110(S3), pp. S276-S277.
Talwar, S. et al., 2019. Why do people share fake news? Associations between the dark side of social media use and fake news sharing behaviour. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services, Volume 51, pp. 72-82.
Tomes, J. L. & Katz, A. N., 1997. Habitual Susceptibility to Misinformation and Individual Differences in Eyewitness Memory. Applied Cognitive Psychology, Volume 11, pp. 233-251.
Xu, Z., 2019. Personal stories matter: topic evolution and popularity among pro- and anti-vaccine online articles. Journal of Computational Social Science, Volume 2, pp. 207-220.
Understanding why people do or do not help one another has been a question that involved social scientists, psychologists, anthropologists as well as neuroscientists. As noted by authors Manning and Levine (2017), “helping”, “prosocial” and “altruism” are terms that are often used interchangeably in the scientific literature, often without consistency from the same authors. This is because, although all three behaviours are objectively the same, in that they all describe a form of interpersonal support from one individual to another, they differ in underlying driving motivation for each. Research has shown how social and cultural influences, emotions as well as identity and genetics, all play a role in the manifestation of altruistic behaviour. Thus, in this essay, the extent to which human altruism exist will be critically evaluated, starting from an evolutionary and anthropological overview of its origin, followed by a brief discussion on the biology and neuroscience involved and how it develops from childhood to its morality and social importance.
Evolutionary theory has consistently and accurately predicted how the environmental challenges a species face, shape its gene pool promoting the survival of the fittest. Thus, in an environment of scarce resources, fierce competition and a consequent pursuit of self-interest lead to selfish behaviour so to ensure the passing on of genetic information to the next generation; humans are not exempt from this natural order, as described by Dawkins (1976). However, humans are distinct from other animals in that they will frequently help unrelated strangers as well as people they have never met, without any expectation of a reward or reciprocity (Richerson & Boyd, 2005), a behaviour at odds with most other lifeforms. Among the first ideas that sought to explain altruism from a genetic perspective, was that of inclusive fitness theory where this behaviour is explained as outcome-oriented instead of emerging from inherent motivation (Hamilton, 1964). These theories would suggest, however, that helping behaviour is dependent on the individual’s cost-benefit analysis of any given situation, such as the notion of reciprocal altruism which describes how people may help others with an expectation of being helped back in the future (Trivers, 1971).
As truly altruistic behaviour is understood as the action an individual takes towards another or a group outside that individual’s self-interest, it has been argued that it is impossible to demonstrate pure altruism (Piliavin, et al., 1981). Egoistic or selfish behaviour is indeed distinguished by the fact that it only benefits its actor. However, when one’s personal benefit includes the wellbeing and happiness of one’s tribe or group of belonging, the scope of self-interest extends beyond the self. Thus, altruistic behaviour emerges as an extension of self-interest, as described by Batson’s model (1987), where an overlap occurs between the self and the other. Moreover, the theory of reciprocal altruisms also supports the viewpoint that the motivation driving such behaviour is the expectation that it will be reciprocated in the future. As Hamilton (1964) suggested, natural selection would favour an altruistic gene if the benefit of altruism outweigh its cost, thus ensuring that altruistic behaviour is passed on to the next generation.
More recent research in evolutionary psychology, however, suggest that, has early humans learned to cook, and thus gained a more efficient and less time-consuming method for obtaining calories, the brain had the opportunity to develop its prefrontal cortex by increasing the number of cortical neurons (Gabi, et al., 2016). This development of the brain is significant as the relationship between the feeling of empathy and activity in the prefrontal cortex has been demonstrated both the research conducted with fMRIs (Seitz, et al., 2006), as well as in studies involving patients with brain damage to that region of the brain (Shamay-Tsoory, et al., 2003). As the human ability and capacity to experience empathy increased, the species was better equipped to deal with the evolutionary challenges it encountered on its path, as helping others would have increased the chances of survival through cooperation instead of pursuing rigid competition. Indeed, one crucial and distinctive feature of human empathy is that it is not restricted to interaction with kin, nor does it have to be prompted by the actual perception of distress signal or emotion contagion (Decety, 2011, p. 35).
The claim that truly altruistic behaviour would be impossible to demonstrate, however, was soon disproved by the research conducted by Dovidio et al. in 1990, in which an experiment with the goal to demonstrate purely egoistically motivated helping, as posited by the empathy-altruism hypothesis, showed the opposite, as also noted by Piliavian in 2009. This hypothesis posted that it would be in the individual’s self-interest to minimize emotional distress and thus when in the experimental condition participants were exposed to a person in emotional distress and then given the chance to help, it was thought that altruistic behaviour would decrease. Instead, the opposite was found to be true: participants would consistently help more in relation to the distress perceived. Such finding seems to indicate that the motivation driving altruistic behaviour is the same as the helping behaviour, as in an empathic response from individuals towards one another. The arousal: cost-reward model put forward in the research by Piliavin et al. (1981), does suggest that observing a situation of emergency, raises a state of arousal in bystanders that becomes increasingly unpleasant the longer it continues, thus perhaps explaining what would motivate the helping behaviour in such circumstances. This, however, does not apply when other people are present as, in such a scenario, another effect comes into play: the bystander effect, where the diffusion of responsibility can be observed and the reaction is heavily influenced by social influence (Darley & Latané, 1968).
Is altruistic behaviour, therefore innate or a social construct product of the required cooperation for ensuring survival? Studies have shown that small children display a preference for actors that demonstrate altruistic behaviour, as the research conducted by Hamlin et al. (2011) has shown. Further research has also shown that babies from the age of 14 to 18months, will help others without the expectation of any reward; interestingly, rewarding the behaviour appears to reduce its occurrence (Warneken & Tomasello, 2009). This would suggest, therefore, that altruistic behaviour is not only understood but also sought intuitively from an early age, thus validating, to some extent, Hamilton’s theory on the role of genes in the propagation of altruistic behaviour through the generations of the human species and thus that it is innate in humans.
Yet, the early theory of mind, pioneered by Jean Piaget in the 1920s, acknowledges that one of the states of early childhood development is egocentrism, in that the child is not yet aware that other people have different thoughts and feelings about the world. Although, there is evidence that helping behaviour remains stable throughout childhood, as the research by Zahn et al. (2001) suggests, developmental psychology identifies the achieving of the child recognizing its own mental state, thoughts and belief and, consequently the ability to infer the mental state of others, by the age of five (Hughes & Donaldson, 1979). Moreover, one of the stages of moral development identified by Kolhberg (1969) also shares the quality of altruistic behaviour: stage 3 – The morality of interpersonal concordance “Be considerate, nice and kind: you’ll make friends”. Such stage explicitly indicates the social value of prosocial behaviour as it helps create a new connection with other people using kindness as a currency, indicating, therefore, that altruistic behaviour is an acquired social tool in the developmental stages of childhood. Indeed, in a social world, reputation is as valid as a currency and consequently, altruistic behaviour acquires value to one’s group (Mifune, et al., 2009).
From a social perspective, moral foundation theory (Haidt & Joseph, 2004) suggests that there are fundamental rules to ethical behaviour that are true throughout all cultures as they are the foundation upon which moral behaviour is built upon. Of these foundations, two appear to reflect features of altruistic behaviour: the care/harm foundation, which underlies the virtues of kindness gentleness and nurturance, and the foundation of fairness/cheating from which the principle of reciprocal altruism and justice can be extrapolated. This would indicate, therefore, that altruistic behaviour is both a social construct, as much as it is one of the underpinnings of human cooperation that is innate of the human species on which rules for cooperation have been built upon.
Therefore, considering this body of research, altruistic behaviour could be understood to be both a product of human evolution, as well as the outcome of social reinforcement, as well as people’s empathic reaction towards the world around them. As experiments have shown (Coke, et al., 1978), helping behaviour is driven by one’s empathy, yet social influence also plays a role in the reaction time of the actual helping, if any does indeed occur (Piliavin, et al., 1981). The definition of Prosocial behaviour, however, indicates that it is the kind of behaviour that is generally beneficial to other people and to the ongoing social system (Piliavin, et al., 1981, p. 4). It has indeed been argued that the same emotional and cognitive processes which lead people to display altruistic behaviour towards strangers, constitute an inherent part of the human psychological equipment (Tamas, 2008).
In conclusion, it is undeniable that human altruism does indeed exist. Evolutionary theory and anthropological psychology both describe how it was a natural development of early humans have adapted to a changing environment, particularly stemming from the most important discovery of humankind: cooking, which then led to the ability to experience empathy with far more complexity than any other animal in nature. Consequently, this led to the development of the social structures at the foundations of civilization, from its moral and ethical rules to its cultures. Although innate, it is reinforced through childhood that helping one another is far more beneficial and advantageous than competing against each other.
Batson, D. C., 1987. Prosocial Motivation: Is it ever Truly Altruistic?. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, Volume 20, pp. 65-122.
Coke, J. S., Batson, D. C. & McDavis, K., 1978. Empathic mediation of helping: A two-stage model.. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(7), pp. 752-766.
Darley, J. M. & Latané, B., 1968. Bystander intervention in emergencies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Volume 8, pp. 377-383.
Dawkins, R., 1976. The Selfish Gene. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
Decety, J., 2011. The neuroevolution of empathy. Annals Of The New York Academy Of Sciences, Volume 1231, pp. 35-45.
Dovidio, J. F., Allen, J. L. & Shroeder, D. A., 1990. Specificity of empathy-induced helping: Evidence for altruistic motivation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79(2), pp. 249-260.
Gabi, M. et al., 2016. No relative expansion of the number of prefrontal neurons in primate and human evolution. National Academy of Sciences, 8 August.
Haidt, J. & Joseph, C., 2004. Intuitive ethics: How innately prepared intuitions generate culturally variable virtues.. Daedalus, 133(4), pp. 55-66.
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Hughes, M. & Donaldson, M., 1979. The use of hiding games for studying the coordination of viewpoints. Educational Review, 31(2), pp. 133-140.
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Manning, R. & Levine, M., 2017. Why do we help on another? Helping, altruism and prosocial behaviour. In: R. Capdevilla, J. Dixon & G. Briggs, eds. Investigating Psychology 2 From social to cognitive. London: The Open University, pp. 187-228.
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Piliavin, J. A., 2009. Altruism and Helping: The evolution of a field: The 2008 Cooley-Mead presentation. Social Psychology Quarterly, 72(3), pp. 209-225.
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Seitz, R. J., Nickel, J. & Azari, N. P., 2006. Functional modularity of the medial prefrontal cortex: involvement in human empathy. Neuropsychology, 20(6), pp. 743-751.
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OUTLINE: When making decisions concerning the care of patients, the team must ensure patients’ best interests are kept in mind. To ensure that the best decisions are being made, we will be looking at two psychological theories that consist of the main phenomena observed in the decision-making process and how they can be applied practically.
GROUP POLARISATION THEORY (MOSCOVICI AND ZAVALLONI, 1969)
‣ In 1969, psychologists Moscovici and Zavalloni observed the tendency of members of a group engaged in the decision-making process to shift their initially held views to a more extreme position after a group discussion.
‣ THIS LEADS TO riskier decisions being taken by the group and potentially going against the best interests of patients.
‣ WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN? It has been suggested that this could be the result of a combination of two factors, here described by corresponding theories: social comparison theory, where we compare ourselves against others in order to pursue conformity, and persuasive arguments theory, where arguments brought forward are more likely to reinforce existing views of other members of the group. (Isenberg, 1986).
‣ PLEASE REMEMBER, of course, that taking a more polarised view does not imply that the decision is necessarily wrong.
GROUPTHINK THEORY (JANIS, 1972)
‣ In 1972, Irving Janis identified a phenomenon that was observed in group decision making where members’ desire to reach a unanimous agreement overrides the motivation to pursue a proper and rational decision-making process.
‣THIS LEADS TO the members having the illusion that the group is “invulnerable, moral and unanimous”, thus encouraging policing of the group to ensure conformity among themselves and others.
‣ WHY DOES THIS HAPPEN? Because not all available options are being properly and fully evaluated by the group whilst also being unaware that discussions and evidence brought forward are more likely to further the dominant view.
‣ ALTHOUGH empirical research on the concept has produced overwhelmingly equivocal support for the groupthink model, it is something to consider when reaching a decision as a team.
HOW CAN THIS BE ADDRESSED?
Methods for overcoming groupthink and group polarisation:
• Be impartial – don’t endorse any specific position.
• Assign a devil’s advocate.
• When possible, subdivide the group occasionally and reunite to air differences.
• Consult outside experts or colleagues.
• Call a ‘second chance’ meeting before implementing decisions.
HOW CAN YOU TRY TO ENSURE THAT DECISIONS ARE MADE IN THE PATIENTS’ BEST INTERESTS?
The decision-making process must include provisions for ensuring that focus remains on patients’ best interests. As the two theories mentioned above have shown, it is with ease that members of groups may inadvertently fall into the trappings of seeking social conformity, thus leading astray from the desired outcome. A systematic and structured approach to this process is, therefore, recommended when undertaking the tasks of making decisions as a group, ensuring that all options are adequately considered and evaluated so that the patients’ best interests are kept paramountly.
Isenberg, D.J. (1986) ‘Group polarization: a critical review and meta-analysis’, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 50, no. 6, pp. 1141–51.
Janis, I.L. (1972) Victims of Groupthink: A Psychological Study of Foreign Policy Decisions and Fiascoes, Boston, MA, Houghton Mifflin.
The systemic approach to psychotherapy involves drawing from different approaches of therapy and, it is often useful when counselling family groups and/or individual cases within such groups. The key factor of this approach is to acknowledge the individual as a relational being that can only be understood as part of a social system (Vossler, 2016). In this approach, the focus is shifted away from the individual and towards its relationships and social interactions within the family group. As such, there is no ‘right’ way to interpret a situation but, instead, different perspectives to understanding it; conflicts that emerge can often lead family members to be ‘stuck’ in their interactions, thus requiring counsellors to draw from multiple approaches towards the development of multiple hypotheses. In this essay, the fictional case study of Davide and the relationship with his sister Rosa will be discussed to illustrate how a systemic approach to therapy might be more advantageous than any individual approach in resolving their relational conflict. Starting with a description of the case study, a discussion of possible interpretations and a few hypotheses will follow, with a further discussion on how a systemic approach would benefit the resolution of this hypothetical scenario.
Davide is a 66 years old man originally from Palermo, Italy, and has lived in the suburbs of West London for the past 30 years. He has recently moved in with his sister Rosa following a particularly difficult divorce that separated him from his only son. Davide used to be a restaurant owner for the past 25 years but has been forced to retire as the business did not survive the competition from the high street. Davide and Rosa migrated together to the UK in the 1980s, and they are from a strict catholic upbringing. She is younger by 5 years and has had a history of alcohol and heroin abuse that started after their relocation. Rosa has been relying on Davide for financial support for most of her life as she was never able to hold a job long enough to be independent. They were raised by their single mother and never met their father as he abandoned the family soon after Rosa’s birth. Their mother then passed away when Davide was in his early twenties, and he has looked after his sister ever since. He had been divorced before when he married young, with a local girl from Palermo, and it ended abruptly when he discovered she became pregnant out of an affair entertained with a childhood friend of theirs. This was the single motivator behind their migration. He then remarried a woman of Caribbean origin he met in the UK, and together they had a child. Years later she filed for divorce for unreasonable behaviour due to Davide spending most of his time absorbed by his business and never taking any real-time off; he was working 7 days a week with shifts of 15 hours a day at the time. After moving to the UK, Davide has never developed any real friendships other than with his ex-wife. The closure of his business followed soon after the divorce; he briefly attempted to return to the workforce as a cabbie driver for an online company, but lacked motivation and stopped soon after. Around the same time, he started having heated arguments with Rosa almost daily. According to his GP, Davide has lost significant weight in the past 6 months and has developed irregular sleep patterns often being unable to sleep at all for days in a row. He has also been experiencing episodes of panic attacks whenever outside of the house. Davide also reported being in a depressed mood most of the time and now feels unable to leave his room as moving anywhere requires considerable effort. Moreover, for the past six weeks, Davide has been experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Case study discussion
To understand Davide’s situation, a sociocultural perspective is required as he is originally from a small town in the south of Italy, where certain values about what it means to be a man are instilled from an early age. Qualities such as being hardworking, upholding one’s honour and patriarchy are at the core of Italian masculinity both in Italy and outside of the country’s boundaries (Perrotte, 2000). Thus, his inability to fulfil such standards inherited from his culture would potentially influenced his self-esteem and overall mental well-being. With his manhood in question, Davide may be unable to adequately react and adapt to the adverse circumstances he finds himself in. His age is also a factor to consider as, in combination with his perception of himself as a hard-working man, he is unable to return to the workforce in a way that he sees dignified. Moreover, as both he and Rosa experienced being migrants, being outsiders without speaking the language at first, they would have encountered a degree of difficulty in integrating into communities that could have impacted their ability to develop meaningful social connections. As Rosa was dealing with her own struggle to integrate, her path towards alcohol and heroin abuse could be explained by having made the wrong type of connections within the framing of this forced change of environment. Davide’s relationship with his sister is also affected by the lack of a father figure in their lives. Studies indicate that such absence can impact the economic and social as well as emotional well-being of children throughout their lives (McLanahan, Tach & Schneider, 2013). Moreover, since the death of their mother, Davide would have filled the role of a parent in Rosa’s life, altering their sibling relationship. It must be noted that southern Italy, particularly Sicily, is known to promote a strict hierarchical family structure where women are to ‘know their place’ from an early age (Cucchiari, 1990). Due to having moved to the UK at the cusp of cultural change, Rosa may not have benefited from the shift in perception of her womanhood and change of expectations of her gender. By swapping the familiar role of the caring brother to that of the surrogate father, Davide may have imposed his direction in life to Rosa, limiting her choices. By behaving in an overly protective manner, he removed that level of relationship that exists between accomplice siblings that would have been crucial for the development of her independence. Without that crucial emotional support, replaced by Davide’s role as a guardian in Rosa’s life, she was perhaps unable to fully experience freedom in adulthood (Namyslowska & Siewierska, 2010). Rosa’s path towards alcohol and heroin abuse can be, therefore, seen as the logical adaptation to a circumstance that was not of her choosing. Similarly, Davide might have felt that he had no choice but to help his sister, fuelling further his sense of responsibility towards her. Often, acts of love can be misunderstood as an imposition of control when that love is not communicated adequately, as in the case of Ryan from the documentary analysed in the module material (The Open University, 2016). Ryan’s perception of his mother trying to fulfil her role was perceived as an impediment to his freedom, leading to him aggressively resenting her and thus resulting in their damaged relationship during his teenage years.
Another aspect to consider is Davide’s trust issues that emerged following his first divorce as it would have impacted his ability to build new social relationships and friendships necessary to integrate into any community he would be part of. By developing a self-defence mechanism that did not allow him to trust anyone to get too close to him and his family, he also missed the opportunity to have the support that comes from such relationships. As his reaction to that event was to put literal distance between him and his past, it would have undoubtedly affected his identity in such a way that it influenced his behaviour for the remaining of his life. As a further defence mechanism, Davide would have found comfort in pouring all his energy into his work and becoming a workaholic. As the existential psychotherapist Yalom (1980 ) suggests, placing himself as the ‘ultimate rescuer’ would be a way to overcompensate and take control over his life (Yalom, 1980), albeit in the most dysfunctional manner that jeopardised his second marriage. Davide, therefore, feels he has no choice but to continually `sacrifice` himself for Rosa by providing financial support in the role of parent and elder brother.
Working with this client systematically
The first issue to address is that Davide would fit the diagnosis for ‘major depressive episode’ according to the criteria set in the DSV-IV. It is important to note, however, that these symptoms did not occur in a vacuum. They are the result of the deterioration and alteration of Davide’s social and personal relationships which have significantly impacted his perception of the world and of himself. Losing his business would have impacted his self-esteem, particularly due to how much of his time he spent working in it, as well as the breaking up of his second marriage and the separation from his only child. His recurring heated arguments with his sister, for whom he provides, are also to be considered in understanding the origin of his depressive mood. Therefore, systematically, this case would have to be approached from multiple perspectives.
Approaching this case systematically involves the participation of his sister Rosa, as their relationship is now identified by their arguments rather than by their biological bond and history. Davide and his sister are now `stuck` in a pattern of behaviour that is leading to an increasing conflict and are unable to resolve it on their own. Indeed, families can get `stuck` when unable to adapt to the changing demands of the `family life cycle` (Carter & McGoldrick, 1999). Since moving in with Rosa, Davide, partly due to his patriarchal upbringing and partly out of feeling a lack of control in his life, may have behaved in an increasingly overprotective and controlling manner towards his sister leading to their relationship spiralling outside of their normal roles.
During the course of systemic treatment, they would benefit from the practice of `reframing` both their relationship and their interaction. At present, Davide feels that his sister is being ungrateful towards him whilst she blames him for using her state of helplessness as an excuse for controlling and limiting her freedom. Another tool available to the systemic counsellor is that of engaging in circular questioning during the assessment phase. As Vossler (2016) notes, the answers can have illuminating effects and offer the potential to change their interaction (Vossler, 2016). Moreover, role-playing with the help of a team of counsellors would be beneficial for them as observers, as it would offer them a perspective of how the other feels in regards to their circumstances. As they are both resentful of the circumstance they find themselves in, they perhaps lack the ability to understand or see one another without the filter of their own narrative due to their excessive emotional investment in them. A team of counsellors would help by suggesting alternative narratives to their own. Indeed, as Vossler (2016) notes further, there are no `correct` assumptions about a situation, but there are multiple hypotheses that would be useful to trigger the change necessary for relationships to improve.
Davide and Rosa’s case can also be approached from a humanistic perspective as his depressive mood, loss of motivation and her feeling entrapped in a situation, not of her choosing, would be understood as a state of incongruence. Their idea of themselves is at odds with the reality of the situation they find themselves in, thus leading them to a loop in which the concept of the self is being threatened. This, in turn, leads them to feel increasingly anxious and vulnerable, potentially blocking them from getting ‘unstuck’ as they are incapable of understanding the cause of their pain.
In conclusion, this fictional case study has illustrated the importance of approaching therapy by acknowledging the relationship of individuals and the social interactions that occur first in the family as well as the social environment surrounding them. Davide and Rosa have both found themselves in circumstances not entirely of their own choosing and were unable to adapt to changing demands of the family life cycle; their interaction deteriorated due to their inability to adequately communicate their intentions leading them to be both ‘stuck’ in their own narratives and, therefore, unable to make the necessary changes towards a resolution on their own. Approaching cases like this systematically allows the counsellor to adequately attend the full sphere of factors that lead individuals like Davide and Rosa towards the deterioration of their mental well-being, as all perspectives are considered as well as offering the benefit from different therapeutic approaches towards a path of improvement and, hopefully, resolution.
Carter, B., & McGoldrick, M. (1999). “The expanded family lifecycle. Individuals, family and social perspective”. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Cucchiari, S. (1990, November). “Between Shame and Sanctification: Patriarchy and Its Transformation in Sicilian Pentecostalism”. American Ethnologist, 17(4), 687-707. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/645708. Online, accessed on March 8, 2017.
Langdridge, D. (2016). “Existential psychotherapy”. In The Open University, Understanding counselling and psychotherapy (pp. 125 – 143). London: The Open University.
McLanahan, S., Tach, L., & Schneider, D. (2013, July). “The Causal Effects of Father Absence”. Annual Review of Sociology, 39, 399-427. doi:DOI: 10.1146/annurev-soc-071312-145704. Online, accessed on March 8, 2017.
Following Freud’s popularisation of psychoanalysis, his successors found that the approach they had been taught did not, fully satisfy the needs they were confronted with. Although psychoanalysis is preoccupied with past events, the subconscious, the intangible which lies below the surface of consciousness, it did not deal with the immediacy of the present, such as those experiences that preoccupy the day-to-day life reality of people seeking therapy. New theories and new approaches to counselling emerged in response, some with philosophical roots such as existential therapy, and others backed by scientific research such as cognitive-behavioural therapy. With an emphasis on the present and the future rather than the past, Existential therapy was developed at the dawn of the 20th century and refined in the last 30 years, stemming from ideas of existential philosophy from the 19th century onwards. Similarly preoccupied with resolving immediate psychological problems, Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT) focuses on dealing with the management of symptoms. Emerging from theories on cognitive and behavioural approaches, it evolved as a therapy method thanks to the work of Beck (1976) on the cognitive theory of emotion (Beck, 1976). This essay will discuss these two approaches by comparing and contrasting them in relation to understanding fear and sadness, starting with a summary of each and a discussion of their similarities and differences, merits and flaws, concluding with an explanation of why an evidence-based approach, such as CBT, is more adequate in understanding anxiety and depression.
The Existential Approach
Existentialist philosophy focuses on the individual’s responsibility to existence, freedom and choice. When, in the 19th century, Kierkegaard proposed that the responsibility of finding meaning in life lies with the individual, he did so to counter the prevailing thought of the time, dominated by the hierarchical doctrine of Christianity (Stanford University, 2016). This idea on the individual’s responsibility is what led Nietzsche and other philosophers to build upon it and develop it to its current form, highlighting the importance of acknowledging the inevitability of the “human condition” and one’s own fate. These ideas then influenced the development of the existential approach to therapy by Ludwig Binswanger and Medard Boss in the early 20th century as an alternative to the psychoanalytic model, which they both had been trained in, and by the work of Emma Van Deurzen and Ernesto Spinelli in recent years, with their further contribution in refining the method of practice(as cited in Langdridge, 2016). This therapeutic approach focuses on the phenomenological method, which aims to understand the world as it appears to the client, without prejudices. This method engages in a process known as epoché and is divided into four parts, beginning with bracketing where the therapist attempts to better understand the world of the client by setting aside prejudices and preconceptions during an initial assessment. This leads to the building and developing of an understanding of the client’s state of mind from their point of view allowing for an authentic relationship to form during therapy. Following this, the next step is to describe the world as it is, rather than seek reasons and explanations as to why things are the way they are, empathising the experience of the world, rather than its meaning. Once the experience is described, the step that follows is to horizontalize it, so as to avoid placing hierarchical importance when compared to other events. In the mind of the counsellor, during this step, all events and experiences described by the clients are of equal importance. Finally, the counsellor will seek to verify their understanding of the client’s experience to ensure its description accurately reflects their reality by engaging in a conversational approach focusing on the what and how. During the process, the counsellor is highly engaged and entertains a dialogue with the client, where ideas from existential philosophy are occasionally used as tools to bring self-awareness to one’s self, as well as awareness of the world as it is. This awareness, both of the self and the world, can then be directed towards the realisation of the client’s potential and freedom to choose their own path, as existential therapy aims to eradicate what obstacles that lead to it.
The Cognitive-Behavioural Approach
In the 1960s, following the research on behaviourism led by Skinner which built upon the work on conditioning by Pavlov, theories of cognitive and behavioural approaches emerged in response to the dissatisfaction and inadequacy offered by traditional psychoanalysis in the 1960s. However, these ideas on their own did not offer a useful approach method (Salkovskis, 2016). When Arron Beck, a trained psychoanalyst, was conducting research on dreams, he noticed how the thematic content did not reflect the existing notion in psychoanalysis of wish fulfilment (as cited in Salkovskis, 2016). As Salkovskis (2016) notes, those dream accounts involved more of the everyday experience, daily concerns and fears of people, rather than their subconscious desires (Salkovskis, 2016). This led Beck (1976) to develop his theory of cognitive emotion (Beck, 1976). This theory proposes that it is not so much the events causing an emotional response but the meaning attached to it. Beck’s theory suggests that the meaning an individual assigns to any given event is the result of a complex interaction between that person’s mood state, context and personal history. As Salkovskis (2016) notes further, “Often the meanings are conscious, sometimes there are not, but with careful questioning they can be identified” (Salkovskis, 2016). This therapeutic method involves identifying the client’s issues and obstacles so as to find ways to overcome them by offering alternative narratives, often challenging a pre-existing belief. The approach begins with an initial assessment where clients are asked about how their psychological problem or problems are affecting their lives and identifying what coping mechanisms they have devised to overcome them. Outlining the goal sought by the client in terms of short, medium and long term, helps design the trajectory of the therapy sessions as well as provide realistic objectives. The relationship that builds between the counsellor and the client is akin to an alliance, where an emphatic response to the client’s experience helps build the trust necessary throughout the process. Following this, a more specific assessment takes place where the counsellor works with the client to understand how the problem works, identify a recent occurrence, and work through understanding the process by deconstructing it. This leads to a formulation in which the vicious cycle is broken into easily identifiable parts, with an emphasis on the cognitive mechanism which feeds the intrusive or negative thoughts and the safety-seeking behaviour. This formulation is then put forward to the client as a theory to the problem, followed by a discussion leading to an alternative interpretation of the stressful event. Understanding the client’s own coping strategy is key to the process and leads to the development of an alternative theory in an attempt to break the cycle. Throughout the course of the therapy, the client will be encouraged to engage in behavioural experiments so to determine what works and what does not. This offers the client an opportunity to evaluate their own belief and to consider alternative cognitive behaviours to take outside of the therapy.
Existential vs Cognitive-Behavioural Approach
Fear and sadness, respectively an extension of anxiety and depression, are interpreted differently by each approach. Kierkegaard saw anxiety as the price to pay for freedom and Martin Heidegger described it as a fundamental feature of human existence (as cited in Langdridge, 2016). Furthermore, Langdridge (2016) goes on to explain that existential psychotherapy sees fear as a form of anxiety, better understood as a universal aspect of existence rather than a diagnosis (Langdridge, 2016). Similarly, sadness and depression are interpreted in the existential approach, as a consequence of a person’s restricted understanding of the world and thus unable to be truly free. Eugene Minkowski proposed that depression is the manifestation of an unfulfilled or unrealised potential leading to existential guilt. This notion leads to entrenched beliefs which, in turn, work towards reinforcing it. Thus, the phenomenological method helps identify which aspects of the world are being ignored and which are instead being embraced. Whereas in CBT, fear and anxiety are viewed within a cognitive framework, where meaning is attached to what is happening and thus, can be changed by proposing alternative ways of thinking. Similarly, sadness and depression are also viewed as problems to be tackled by behavioural experimentation: a process aimed at breaking the pattern of behaviour that leads to the reinforcement of the psychological problem. Both approaches acknowledge the vicious cycle of negative thought and offer different ways to counter it. As described above, breaking from traditional psychoanalysis, both approaches are not preoccupied with the past in their treatment methods, but instead focus on how to empower the individual to move forward. Albeit in different ways, they both aim at an awareness of the client of how things are so that to help understand how the world works. Existential therapy seeks to help the client by raising self-awareness as a means to cope with the inevitability of existence. CBT, on the other hand, is more concerned with the attributed meaning of events, finding ways to challenge preconceived beliefs in order to alter the self-reinforcing pattern of negative behaviour. In the methodology of existential therapy, all events are dealt with as equally important whereas in CBT the focus is on the most recent occurrence of the problem that is to be resolved. Both approaches aim at empowering the client to choose their own path, thus both approaches can be said to be neither directive nor non-directive but rather directional. Critically, however, CBT is an evidence-based approach where behavioural experiments play a key role during the therapeutic process; on the other hand, existential therapy, although based on a significant body of work, lacks empirical evidence and does not offer reliable methods of quantifying progress during the process. Moreover, the existential approach to therapy relies heavily on the ability of counsellors and their knowledge with a considerable intellectual toll, as philosophical ideas must continuously be engaged with, outside of the therapeutic sessions and developed to fit the client’s needs during the process (Langdridge, 2016). Both approaches do require a level of high engagement with the client, as in both cases the process is based strongly on a relationship built upon trust and understanding. A criticism that both approaches face is the risk that such therapy may resolve in worsening the condition of the client, as the process can potentially feed the pre-conceived notion and negative thought into the intrusive pattern which leads to the psychological problem.
In conclusion, an evidence-based approach is, in my opinion, more equipped, than one lacking empirical evidence on its benefits, to understand how to better deal with fear, sadness, anxiety and depression. Although, there are undeniable merits to the existential approach to therapy, such as when assisting terminally ill patients (Spiegel, 2015), it may lack day-to-day practicality when dealing with issues that a client suffering from anxiety or depression encounters, as it appears too abstract in its interpretation. Furthermore, there is evidence that CBT does alter brain connectivity over time(Liam Mason, et. al 2017). Also, CBT has been proven to be an effective method of treating phobias via the method of graded exposure (Salkovskis, 2016). It is indeed due to the growing amount of empirical evidence that CBT is rapidly evolving, making it an increasingly effective treatment alternative to a pharmacological approach (Kathryn McHugh, et. al 2013). Moreover, it is worth noting that neither approaches are set in stone nor are their methods definitive. Both existential therapy and cognitive-behavioural therapy are still evolving, often one borrowing ideas from another. As discussed, Freud’s psychoanalyst approach was unsatisfactory for the 21st century, leading to the emergence of alternative therapies and approaches, such as the humanist and the more recent mindfulness approach. The tools and technology available to contemporary research are helping, now more than ever to determine which is more effective, but not necessarily excluding one over the other. In my opinion, cognitive-behavioural therapy is a more effective approach because of its roots in the scientific method as well as the growing evidence of its effect on the wiring of the brain, thus leading me to conclude that it is a more efficacious approach in understanding fear and sadness.
Beck, A. T. (1976). “Cognitive Therapy and the Emotional Disorders”. New Yotk: International Universities press.
Langdridge, D. (2016). Existential Psychotherapy. In T. O. University, Understanding Counselling and Psychotherapy (pp. 125-143). London: The Open University.
Mason, L. Peters, E.Williams, S.C. and Kumari, V. (2017). “Brain connectivity changes occurring following cognitive”. Translational Psychiatry, 7. doi:doi:10.1038/tp.2016.263. Online, accessed on January 28, 2017. Available at http://www.nature.com/tp/journal/v7/n1/full/tp2016263a.html#aff2
Kathryn McHugh, R. Sarah W. Whitton, Ph.D., Andrew D. Peckham, B.A., Jeffrey A. Welge, Ph.D., and Michael W. Otto, Ph.D (2013). “Patient Preference for Psychological vs. Pharmacological Treatment of Psychiatric Disorders: A Meta-Analytic Review”. The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 74(6), 595-602. doi:10.4088/JCP.12r07757. Online, accessed on January 28, 2017. Available at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4156137/
Salkovskis, P. M. (2016). Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy. In The Open University, “Understanding Counselling and Psychotherapy” (pp. 145-166). London: The Open University.
Spiegel, D. (2015). “Existential Psychotherapy for Patients”. JOURNAL OF CLINICAL ONCOLOGY, 33(24). Online, Accessed on January 28, 2017, from http://ascopubs.org/doi/pdf/10.1200/JCO.2015.62.2365
Stanford University. (2016, July). “Søren Kierkegaard”. Online, accessed on January 28, 2017, from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kierkegaard/
The events that took place in August 2011, following the deadly shooting of Mark Duggan by a police officer, stemmed from a protest in the streets of the London borough of Tottenham. Only hours later the situation quickly turned violent and escalated to full urban riots that lasted over four days and spread to some other cities in England. Many people lost their homes and many more businesses suffered the damages (BBC, 2011). As stated by Geoff Andrews in Chapter 8 of our study material, the radical view that “the rioters are seen not as a ‘mob’ or ‘thugs’, but as alienated youth, protesting against their lack of opportunities” comes from taking into account not only the violent behaviour of the people who rioted but also from an understanding of social circumstances which have led a significant portion of the population to completely disregard the law (Andrews, 2014 p. 318). In this Essay the radical and conservative ideologies behind how these events are viewed and interpreted will be discussed, starting by an impartial account of what caused the riots, followed by a review of the conservative stance of the government and the public’s opinion perspective, the radical justification for rioting, as well as the historical roots of these ideologies and their contemporary ramifications, concluding with a summary of how they impact communities.
Riots are commonly defined and known as being a violent disturbance of the peace by a crowd (The Oxford Dictionary, 2015).
On Thursday, the 4th of August, Mark Duggan was shot dead by police in Tottenham. Two days later, a peaceful protest of around 300 people takes place in the afternoon, claiming “justice” for Mr Duggan and his family. Riot officers and police on horseback are sent to disperse the crowd but come under attack soon after. Unconfirmed reports say the incident was sparked by a teenage protester and a police officer. That same evening violence erupts against the police as patrol cars are set on fire. Other fires erupt and riots lead to looting. In the following days, riots and lootings spread across other boroughs of London and other cities such as Nottingham, Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and Leicester. Social media and, especially popular at the time, the messaging service BBM had been identified as the media of choice via which people would incite others to join in and riot; an article on The Economist will later coin the term ‘Blackberry riots’ (The Economist, 2011). A week after the protest, the metropolitan police say it arrested over 1,100 people, many people have lost their homes in fires, countless businesses suffered damages and people were trying to make sense of what has happened (BBC, 2011).
Three days after the riots began, the government issued its first statement. The speech was delivered by Prime Minister David Cameron, at that time the leader of a government coalition between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, in which he completely dismissed the riot as a political gesture and focussed instead on what he referred to as a ‘morally corrupt and broken society. Despite being the leader of the coalition of contrasting ideologies, Mr Cameron’s built his speech with his conservative political idea and his ideological assumption about what is wrong and what needs to be changed (Andrews, 2014 p. 312). His statement was clear in pointing out how the situation was not the product of racial issues in segregated communities, nor about the government cuts to welfare and neither was it about poverty. As Andrews points out, “his own position emerges from a critique of rival explanations” (Andrews, 2011 p. 312). This position allowed him to not recognise riots as a form of social protest but simply as acts of vandalism and violent behaviour alone, symptomatic of a society with a moral void. Particular emphasis was given to private property in that it seemed to have wider importance to the stability of society. As the philosopher Slavoj Zizek explains in his documentary ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’, “Cameron statement highlights how the ‘ultimate sin’ was to take things without paying for them. So the Conservative solution: we need more police” (Zizek, 2012).
A year after the riots, an independent panel was set up by the government to study the causes that led to riots and concluded “that the riots were fuelled by a range of factors including a lack of opportunities for young people, poor parenting, a failure of the justice system to rehabilitate offenders, materialism and suspicion of the police” (Fiona Bawdon, 2012). Darra Singh, chair of the panel also added: “when people don’t feel they have a reason to stay out of trouble, the consequences for communities can be devastating” (Singh, 2012). This view is also shared by Zizek, as he carries on explaining the ideology behind the riots in his documentary: “man is not simply a product of circumstances and you have to see how these people live in practically ghettos and isolated communities, with no proper family life, no proper education and no prospect of regular employment” (Zizek, 2012).
In light of the verdict of the panel, how could the government response to these events be so detached from the underlying social issues that surround them? The answer lies in the historical root of conservatism. The book that is now considered a classic work of modern conservatism, written shortly after the French Revolution by Edmund Burke, titled ‘Reflection on the revolution in France’, divided the conservative ideology with four organising concepts: social order and stability can only be maintained by a natural hierarchy, rejection of the idea of popular sovereignty and preference for wisdom rather than reason as the basis of political change (Andrews, 2014 p. 304-305). Modern conservatism still has the same core ideas, and in addition, there is a belief that people should take care of themselves rather than expecting the government to provide welfare (Singh, 2013) and that consumerism should be protected at the cost of an unequal society. Therefore, riotous acts are seen by the government not as acts of political protest but as actions of pure criminality that require more policing (Cameron, 2011).
On the other end of this ideological spectrum, contemporary commenters, such as Camila Batmanghelidjh’s on The Independent, instead claim that the riots were ‘the natural human response to the brutality of poverty’ (Batmanghelidjh, 2011). Alex Hiller makes a similar point: “The shocking acts of looting may not be political, but they nevertheless say something about the beaten-down lives of the rioters” (Hiller, 2011). Even Zizek in his documentary explains that “it is the reaction of people who are caught in the predominant ideology [consumerism] but have no grace to realize what this ideology demands of them and thus, a wild ‘acting out’ within this ideological frame of circumstances is the result of a specific ideological constellation even though there seemed to be no apparent reason behind the violence” (Zizek, 2012). And riots have historically been an instrument of political and social reforms since the time of the French Revolution, as the roots of radical ideology can be traced back to the period of the French Enlightenment when political arguments, such as the ‘rights of man’, became popularised and spread through the population. These ideas stemmed from the notion of reason, progress and reform, which were considered revolutionary at the time when Europe was ruled by monarchies (Andrews, 2014 p. 301). The three organising concepts of radicalism are popular sovereignty, universal rights and social progress. Modern radicalism includes in its core values all of the radical organising concepts as well as a strong interest in helping the poor rise from their place (Singh, 2013). So when people take to the streets to voice their discontent, the underlying reasons and motivations have not changed since the time of the French Revolution as they remain social and economic (Andrews, 2014 p. 298). As Alex Hiller stated: “Consumer society relies on your ability to participate in it. So what we recognise as a consumer now was born out of shorter hours, higher wages and the availability of credit. If you’re dealing with a lot of people who don’t have the last two, that contract doesn’t work. They seem to be targeting the stores selling goods they would normally consume. So perhaps they’re rebelling against the system that denies its bounty to them because they can’t afford it” (Hiller, 2011).
As the government is guided by an ideology towards a direction that takes away from part of its population the ability to actively participate equally in society, this marginalisation inevitably leads to a lack of trust towards the system that creates more inequality and injustice. Increasingly police officers are seen less as active members of communities, available to help and solve problems, and more as enforcers of laws that these marginalised communities did not necessarily agree to (BBC, 2011). After the riots, when being interviewed by journalists, “Rioters identified a range of political grievances, but at the heart of their complaints was a pervasive sense of injustice. For some this was economic: the lack of money, jobs or opportunity. For others, it was more broadly social: how they felt they were treated compared with others” (Lewis, Newburn, Taylor and Ball, 2011).
In conclusion, as Andrews stated, “the meaning of ‘riot’ is often held in the eyes of the beholder at any given time” (Andrews, 2014 p. 288). Perhaps riots are a manifestation of a society that is evolving faster than its government is able to adapt, and the ideologies behind the narratives of each side are nothing but the ongoing tug of war between society and the government that rules it. In this essay, the riotous events that took place in London in 2011 have been discussed as well as the stance of the government and the public’s opinion, the roots of radicalism and conservatism and their contemporary ramifications, concluding with how marginalised communities are affected.
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Geoff Andrews (2014) ‘Reading the riots from Below, the radical case’ in Clarke, J. and Woodward, K. (eds) Understanding Social Lives, Part 2, Milton Keynes: The Open University.
Slavoj Zizek (Writer), Sophie Fiennes, Katie Holly, Martin Rosenbaum, James Wilson (Producers), Sophie Fiennes (director) (2012) ‘The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology’ [Motion Picture]. United Kingdom: Zeitgeist Films.
Fiona Bawdon (2012) ‘Verdict on UK riots: people need a ‘stake in society’, says report’, The Guardian [Online].
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Chanpreet Singh (2013) Essay on ‘Liberal vs. Conservatives: What Do They Have in Common?’ [Online].
Available at http://www.booksie.com/other/essay/chanpreet_singh/liberals-vs-conservatives:-what-do-they-have-in-common (Accessed 15 August 2015).
David Cameron (2011) ‘Fightback after the riots’, speech to Witney constituents, 15 August, official website of the Prime Minister’s office [Online]. Available at https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pms-speech-on-the-fightback-after-the-riots (Accessed 15 August 2015).
Camilla Batmanghelidjh (2011) ‘Caring costs – but so do riots’, The Independent [Online].
Available at http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/commentators/camila-batmanghelidjh-caring-costs-ndash-but-so-do-riots-2333991.html (Accessed 15 August 2015).
Zoe Williams (2011) ‘The UK Riots: the psychology of looting’, The Guardian [Online].
Available at http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/aug/09/uk-riots-psychology-of-looting (Accessed 15 August 2015).
Simon Coates (2011) ‘Non-riotous Behaviour’ Analysis, BBC Radio 4 [Podcast].
Available online at http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b014pw7g (Accessed 15 August 2015).
Paul Lewis, Tim Newburn, Matthew Taylor and James Ball (2011) ‘Rioters say anger with police fuelled summer unrest’ The Guardian [Online]. Available at http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/dec/05/anger-police-fuelled-riots-study (Accessed 15 August 2015).
The process of migration is one of transition from one community to another. It has an impact on both the place of origin and the place where migrants settle as there are disconnections and connections that take place during the process; the push and pull factors usually at work can be economic, social, political or environmental. In this essay, qualitative and quantitative evidence from the study materials in support of the claim that “disconnections can lead to new connections” will be discussed, such as the personal experience of a migrant working on Cardiff’s City Road, the relationship that migrating mothers have with their home country, cultural roots and the place they have migrated to, the cultural sense of identity of Kurdish migrants and the effects of internal migration in the developing cities of Britain during the industrialisation period of the 1800s.
Connections and disconnections in relation to migration are about the relationships migrants leave behind and the new ones that form at their destination. These new relationships can form in the social world as they stem from a new job or neighbourhood. In Chapter 3 of Understanding Social Lives, Part 1, a few case studies from City Road in Cardiff are discussed, and the story of Nof Al-Kelaby, an Iraqi immigrant, is one of the new connections taking place in response to disconnections (Havard, 2014). Nof emigrated to Cardiff in the 1990s to study engineering; after graduation, he was unable to get a job in his field but found the opportunity to open a restaurant that had run successfully for fifteen years. Recently, however, the business was declining due to the rising competition in Cardiff, and Nof realised that the only way he could keep his business was to reinvent it to attract a different clientele. During the time when ‘The Hawaiian’ was successful, the social connections Nof had made were with the local community of the whole of Cardiff; when he reinvented his business and opened the ‘La Shish’ restaurant, the new social connections that formed were with the local Arabic community of City Road. Not found himself reconnecting with his own Iraqi identity as a result (The Open University, 2015).
For migrants, the sense of personal identity is strongly linked to one’s own background, native traditions and cultural heritage. Mothers play a fundamental role in creating and maintaining a connection with the culture that was left behind and the culture of the adopted country. ‘Translocalism’ is the term used by social scientists to describe the link people have to more than one place at the same time (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.157). In the focus group discussion led by Umut Erel (The Open University, 2015), three immigrant mothers are interviewed to get a better insight into their experience as migrant mothers. They all account for their likes and dislikes about living in London, yet they all have a definite awareness of where they come from, what that means for the children they are bringing up, what it means for them to be able to go back and teach the children their traditions, foods and language. Engaging with the neighbourhood is also very important to all of them, yet the most significant connections are made through their children’s schools, since for parents, and mothers in particular, networking with other parents is what leads to new social connections. All of these connections, both personal and social, are essential to the sense of identity, such as in the case of the mother of Kurdish descent, who, although raised in Germany from the age of five, finds it important to pass on to her children both German and Kurdish traditions.
The Kurdish population that has been migrating away from Turkey is a good example of a strong cultural identity that is being kept alive by traditions and language passed on from generation to generation. In Chapter 4 of Understanding Social Lives, Part 2, Raghuram and Erel describe the term ‘Diaspora’ to identify a geographically sparse population that shares some common elements of heritage linked to a home, real or imagined (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.153). They go on to explain that “diasporic cultural identity is often invested with a search for origins, yet it undergoes constant transformation” and add that “for many migrants the idea of a homeland is contested, particularly for refugees” (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.154). Even though the Kurdish people are the dominant ethnic group in parts of Eastern Turkey since the foundation of the Turkish Republic in 1923 Kurds have not been officially recognised (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.154). Those publicly identifying themselves as belonging to that ethnic group have been marginalised or persecuted, particularly in recent years: the ongoing war the Turkish state is engaged in with the Kurdish guerrillas cost an estimated 40,000 lives and forced internal displacement of approximately one million Kurdish villagers (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.155). It is therefore important for the Kurdish people to maintain that fundamental sense of identity and pass it on and keep it alive with their future generations, often merging with the identity of the places they have migrated to. They regularly visit Kurdish community centres, they learn the Kurd language and attend religious, political, social events to reinforce their cultural identity (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.156). As Raghuram and Erel put it, “these Kurdish mothers make new identities for themselves and their children as (in the case of Kurds that have migrated to the UK) British Kurds or Kurdish British”.
Raghuram and Erel go on to explain that “migration is caused by both the factors that ‘push’ people away from where they currently live[…] and the factors that ‘pull’ people to other destinations” (Raghuram and Erel, 2014, p.160). This is true for both international and internal migration. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, Britain experienced the growth of cities and a change in how people lived, a process referred to by the term ‘Urbanisation’ (Dixon and Hichliffe, 2014, p.85). The population shifted from small villages to towns, which would then grow into cities. The reasons for this migration, although complex, can be summarised as changes in farming and the growing importance of industrial manufacturing (Dixon and Hinchliffe, 2014, p.85). Data on the size of the population during a 90-year span was collected, beginning in 1801, and an estimate could be made: it was found that settlements with over 20,000 people increased ten-fold from 1.5 million to over 15 million over that period (Dixon and Hinchliffe, 2014, p.86). In interpreting the data, Dixon and Hichliffe state that “most of this population growth was in the centre of cities, with many people housed in appalling conditions” (Dixon and Hinchliffe, 2014, p.86): this had a significant impact on the way people lived and the connections they would make. Suddenly, numerous families would live closely together in slums, and new connections, that never occurred previously, would stem from such living arrangements. The term ‘Urbanisation’ encompassed not only the physical phenomena of growing cities but also to the subtle and important changes in the way people lived their lives (Dixon and Hinchliffe, 2014, p.87).
As the above examples have shown, the claim that disconnections can lead to new connections goes hand in hand with the concept of migration, as inevitably there will be disconnections and equally inevitably there will be connections, stemming from the job opportunities migrants will encounter at their destination or the neighbourhood they will move to. The connections that formed in the social life of Nof on City Road led him to a new sense of identity, whilst for the migrant mothers interviewed by Erel, the social and personal connections are about maintaining their sense of identity; particularly for the Kurdish migrants, the sense of identity intertwines with the identity of the place they have migrated to without losing the sense of their cultural heritage; and as seen during the industrialisation period of the 1800s, people disconnected from the old way of life to make new connections in the form of new communities and new ways that families lived together.
Catriona Havard (2014) ‘Connecting Lives’ in Allen, J. and Blakeley, G. (eds) Understanding Social Lives, Part 1, Milton Keynes: The Open University.
The Open University (2015) ‘Connecting Lives’ [Video], DD102 Introducing the Social Sciences. Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=620292§ion=2 (Accessed 18 June 2015).
The Open University (2015) ‘Migrating Mothers’ [Audio], DD102 Introducing the Social Sciences. Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=620321§ion=3 (Accessed 18 June 2015).
Parvati Raghuram and Umut Erel (2014) ‘Migration: changing and connecting places’ in Clarke, J. and Woodward, K. (eds) Understanding Social Lives, Part 2, Milton Keynes: The Open University.
John Dixon and Steve Hinchliffe (2014) ‘Connecting people and places’ in Clarke, J. and Woodward, K. (eds) Understanding Social Lives, Part 2, Milton Keynes: The Open University.
To help outline the view that in a consumer society, rising affluence is associated with both more waste and greater recycling, it is important to understand the concepts that are going to be used. Oxford Dictionary defines a ‘consumer society‘ as “a society in which the buying and selling of goods and services is the most important social and economic activity” (Oxford Dictionary, 2015). A consumer society is also often referred to as a ‘throwaway society’; both terms are often derogatory as they are associated with the waste produced and its impact on the environment. What these terms fail to identify is that with more things being thrown away, there are greater efforts at recycling from both the individual and the government. In this essay, drawing from the study material and official reports, the correlation between rising affluence and consumerism, the kind of waste produced and whether it is avoidable, approaches to recycling and the role of government policies with the help of behavioural economics will be discussed, as well as the constraints in the way individuals make their lives around this issue.
Rising affluence in the UK, for example, has been assessed by looking at the data of ‘real disposable income per head in the UK’, provided by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) over the period from 1970 to 2009, as it shows an upward trend in the available disposable income per head (ONS, 2010). It is worth noting that, as author Rajiv Prabhakar concluded from the same data, “rising affluence occurred at the same time as the growth in consumer markets” (Prabhakar, 2014, p. 235). As seen in the “Rise of Mass Consumption” (The Open University, 2015), after a period of austerity following the end of the Second World War, wages increased while at the same time the ability to make costly purchases on credit repayable by monthly instalments allowed many to buy things previously inaccessible. The manufacturing of labour-saving devices meant that women had more free time for leisure and could consider entering the workforce to add income to the household budget. The increase in living standards meant that the spending habits could shift from necessities to luxuries. Prabhakar (2014) summarised: “As people became richer, they were able to spend more money on products and also upgrade more regularly. This growth in consumption could create more waste, for example with the packaging that surrounds products as well as products becoming obsolete more regularly” (Prabhakar, 2014, p. 235). The modern consumer society is therefore a direct result of rising affluence and the rising level of waste is its consequence.
Data collected on the household waste per person produced per year in the UK also shows an upward trend for the period from 1983 to 2010, where each person produced at least 400 kg per year, peaking to over 520 kg in the period of 2002/03 (ONS, 2010). The Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP) reports that 28 million tonnes of household waste are generated in the UK each year, of which 4.9 million tonnes are packaging and 7 million tonnes are food waste (WRAP, 2015). WRAP says that 4.2 million tonnes of food waste are avoidable (WRAP, 2012). Prabhakar (2014) notes that “consumer waste is only part of the total food waste”(Prabhakar, 2014, p. 231), as the figures published by TESCO in 2013 on the food wasted by its customers claim to amount to only 16% (TESCO, 2013); waste is produced by both – individual organisation as well as the individual consumer. When discussing the impact of waste on the environment, the concept of externality is used as it reflects how the cost of waste is not adequately represented in the price of the goods and services. Prabhakar (2014) explains how “an individual’s private decision to produce or consume has wider ‘external’ effects for society” (Prabhakar, 2014, p. 232). As rising waste raises concerns about the idea of environmental sustainability, the responsibility on the issue of dealing with it becomes a social issue leading to the government becoming involved. A report on waste management published by the EU highlights a series of possible factors for the growth of waste, drawing particular attention to the role of rising affluence and advances in technology, but at the core, it notes that “these lifestyle changes may have increased our quality of life, but they also mean we are generating more waste than ever before” (EU, 2012, p. 2).
The data on household waste per person produced per year in the UK supports Prabhakar’s (2014) claim that “although rising affluence is associated with rising waste, it is also associated with greater recycling” (Prabhakar, 2014, p. 237), as it shows that in the period of 2008/09, 38% of the total waste produced was recycled, composted or reused (ONS, 2010).
Furthermore, supermarkets in the UK have also been putting greater effort into reducing waste by preventing it, starting from their supply chain to how produce is sold in their shops: when in 2013 TESCO revealed that 68% of bagged salad was thrown out, it dropped the promotion of bagged salads (Rebecca Smithers, 2013). Overseen by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), in the spring of 2014, the third phase of a voluntary agreement (The Courtauld Commitment) took place between grocery and retail sectors to cut both food and packaging waste in the supply chain (WRAP, 2015). The technology industry is also embracing a more environmentally sustainable model by reducing their carbon footprints and the cost of packaging, as in the case of Apple Inc., which is involved in both production and manufacturing of goods and has been at the forefront of environmental responsibility (Apple, 2015) since 2007, when Steve Jobs revealed details on Apple’s efforts to remove toxics from its products (Todd Woody, 2012).
“Reducing waste involves changes in the way that people make their lives” (Prabhakar, 2014, p. 238), author Prabhakar notes, adding further that “even if changes to production are introduced, then it is just as important to […] introduce changes in the individual behaviour” (Prabhakar, 2014, p. 240). This is where behavioural economics and government policy can exert their influence and promote recycling and waste reduction. The EU Landfill Directive of 1999 forced the local government to approach the issue of recycling on how the waste was collected and disposed of, thus promoting recycling to both businesses and consumers (DEFRA, 2004). Yet, there are constraints to some; not everyone is able to participate equally in remaking their lives in a consumer society by recycling properly or reducing their carbon footprints. When discussing constraints in the ability of society to recycle properly, Prabhakar states that “poverty is an obvious constraint on individual behaviour” (Prabhakar, 2014, p. 252) as it can manifest itself in lack of time as well as financial resources, which in turn puts a constraint on how people handle waste management in their household or waste reduction when shopping for groceries.
To summarise, there is evidence to support the claim that rising affluence leads to increasing levels of waste, but there is also evidence of a greater effort at recycling from individuals; in the effort towards recycling, government policies, with the help of behavioural economics, are helping to overcome poverty as a major constraint on the behaviour of individuals. The point of this essay has been to broadly review: the roots and the role of consumerism and its ties to rising affluence in the UK; who produces, what kinds of waste are produced (from the average household waste produced per person per year to the waste produced by the individual organisation) and the factors contributing to its growth; what makes an argument for greater effort at recycling, who is involved and who can’t; and the role of government policies and influence exerted with the help of behavioural economics in recycling, waste reduction and better waste management.
Definition of a ‘consumer society‘ from The Oxford Dictionary [online]. Available at http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/consumer-society (Accessed 30 April 2015).
Office for National Statistics (ONS) (2010) Social Trends 40 [Online]. Available at http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/social-trends-rd/social-trends/social-trends-40/social-trends-40—environment-chapter.pdf (Accessed on 30 April 2015).
Rajiv Prabhakar (2014) ‘Throwaway Society? Waste and Recycling’ in Allen, J. and Blakeley, G. (eds) Understanding Social Lives, Part 1, Milton Keynes: The Open University.
The Open University (2015) ‘Rise of Mass Consumption’ [Video], DD102 Introducing the Social Sciences. Available at https://learn2.open.ac.uk/mod/oucontent/view.php?id=620300§ion=5 (Accessed 30 April 2015).
European Union (EU) (2012) ‘Being Wise with Waste: The EU’s Approach to Waste Management’ [Online]. Available at http://ec.europa.eu/environment/waste/pdf/WASTE%20BROCHURE.pdf (Accessed 30 April 2015).
The Waste and Recycling Action Program (WRAP) (2012) Household Food and Drink Waste in the UK report [Online]. Available at http://www.wrap.org.uk/sites/files/wrap/hhfdw-2012-main.pdf.pdf (Accessed 30 April 2015).
Rebecca Smithers (2013) ‘UK Supermarkets Face Mounting Pressure to Cut Food Waste‘, The Guardian [Online]. Available at http://www.theguardian.com/business/2013/oct/21/uk-supermarkets-pressure-cut-food-waste (Accessed 30 April 2015).
The Waste and Recycling Action Program (WRAP) (2015) Carrier Bags: Reducing Their Use [Online]. Available at http://www.wrap.org.uk/content/carrier-bags-reducing-their-use (Accessed on 30 April 2015).
The Waste and Recycling Action Program (WRAP) (2015) The Courtauld Commitment [Online]. Available at http://www.wrap.org.uk/node/14507 (accessed 30 April 2015).
Todd Woody (2012) ‘How Apple Went from Environmental Laggard to Leader’, Forbes [Online]. Available at http://www.forbes.com/sites/toddwoody/2012/02/22/how-apple-went-from-environmental-laggard-to-leader/ (Accessed 30 April 2015).
‘Environmental Responsibility‘ published by Apple inc. online [Online]. Available at https://www.apple.com/environment/ (Accessed on 30 April 2015).
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) (2004) ‘Impact of EU Landfill Directive and National Strategies on UK Greenhouse Gas Emissions’ [Online]. Available at http://randd.defra.gov.uk/Document.aspx?Document=GA01030_1510_FRP.pdf (Accessed on 30 April 2015).