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Some psychological perspectives on the corona virus

We assume that during the last days, you have wrestled with a lot of questions, as we probably all did and maybe some of them were highly psychological in their nature. The field of psychology has a lot to say about all kind of areas that are currently making headlines and are relevant for our society, as we are navigating through this exceptional time. That’s why we decided to give you a brief compilation of some interesting content in this respect.

Below, you will find descriptions of some absorbing articles (along with their hyperlinks) about psychology and its contributions for the fight against the current corona virus outbreak. 

The Federation of Swiss Psychologists (FSP) has published an important article about mental health and self-care during quarantine. On their webpage, you will find valuable materials, such as contact details from professional aid providers and practical advice for coping with isolation and anxiety (Note: On the website below the article, you can switch to another language). We also highly recommend you to visit dureschnufe.ch, a special platform for mental health in connection with the corona virus.

Maybe you or someone you know is currently working in home-office and therefore has to deal with quite unusual working-conditions, depending on their experiences with working from home. In order to adjust to this situation, one should particularly look for advice from an occupational psychologist. Here you’ll find an article that provides you exactly that. Also, since all universities are closed for an unforeseeable time, it might be useful for all of us to implement some of these tips in our daily routines, as well.  

As you clicked through the internet, you might have encountered some rare or even strange theories about why the world is now dealing with this global pandemic. Here, too, psychology has a lot to offer, as it attempts to explain why people come up with such a variety of highly alternative and often paradoxical theories about major events, such as the corona virus outbreak. We came across two contributions to this intriguing topic, another article published by FSP, and a radio show aired on SRF 1.

Lastly, we would like to present you some initiatives that allow you to use your particular skills and become active during the current crisis. If you are interested in voluntarily supporting people who are struggling with social isolation or medical workers by providing an open ear to them, click on the links! Also, if you want to help your local hospital, here’s a possibility to do that.

We hope you will find this material as valuable and interesting as we did. The psyCH-team wishes you to stay healthy and we will go on with providing you gripping and useful articles in the upcoming weeks.

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Personality tests – fraud or meaningful help?

In the context of recruitment procedures, most people have already had to deal with personality tests. Since personality tests have their origin in the diagnostic and therapy of mental disorders there are still prejudices against such procedures. In the USA it has been a common practice to take such tests. Furthermore, in Germany, the decision-making process which a personality test can provide is gratefully accepted by more and more companies. There is a wide range of testing methods available, and so there are some serious and reliable tests as well as several tests that are less useful or not useful at all.

This small blog entry is about giving an overview of personality tests, where they can be used, what kind of tests are available and what you should consider (quality criteria, manipulability …).

Use of personality tests

First of all, it is important to realize that such a screening alone cannot reflect whether a candidate is a suitable candidate for the job. Nor is it possible to capture the entire character. The personality tests merely help to confirm the impression gained from the application and interview and/or to provide additional information. However, assisting in the selection and placement of personnel is by no means the only purpose for which personality profiles can be useful. Personality tests are used in the preparation of an application procedure, in the creation of competency models and requirement profiles. Also, they can be informative in questions of career planning and management development. These tests are also used more often for training (especially team development), coaching and career counseling. In all these applications, personality profiles serve as a basis for feedback processes and/or as a supplement to the basis for decision-making. Additionally, a self-test can be helpful in structuring and supplementing self-image and requirements to illustrate one’s strengths, weaknesses, and potential.

Types of personality tests

A distinction is made between projective and objective personality tests.

Projective tests: Projective test procedures work with ambiguous pictures, abstract patterns or drawings. In such a test the participants should describe what they see. In this way, they project their experiences, feelings, and conflicts into the test material. A well-known projective test is the Rorschach test, in which inkblot images are interpreted individually. This type of personality analysis is unsuitable for personnel management and is rarely used in clinical practice.

Objective tests: Objective personality tests are usually questionnaire-based procedures that are relatively simple to carry out, but the evaluation (with the help of software) is quite complex. These questionnaire procedures consist of questions and statements on which comments must be made.

An example

  • Question: I am often uncertain about my decisions.
  • Answer possibilities: from does not agree at all to agrees exactly (e.g. 1-6)

The personality traits of a test person determined in this way can then be compared with the average values of a norm sample and/or existing requirement profiles.

Quality features

Serious and informative personality tests can be recognized by the following quality criteria.

  • Objectivity: The result must be independent of the test instructor and the test conditions are always the same for all participants.
  • Validity (=expressiveness): How accurate is the test in its statements? A test is valid if it measures exactly the characteristics it is supposed to measure.
  • Reliability (=measurement accuracy): If a test is repeated with the same answers, the same result should be obtained.

If one of these quality criteria is not sufficiently applied, the test can be described as not being of good quality.

Possible factors that could falsify the test
  • Manipulability: Particularly in the area of employee selection, but also all other areas of application, there is always the problem of manipulability of the results by the respondent. This is mainly due to the fact that the questions almost always show which characteristics the answers show and which of them are positively evaluated for the respective purpose. A good test procedure for personality analysis is therefore characterized by the presence of control questions that recognize the logic (inner coherence) of the answering behavior and would indicate possible manipulation.
  • Language problems: Unnecessarily complicated formulations, long sentences, double negations, and passive formulations can lead to linguistic misunderstandings and misinterpretation. A good personality test tries to avoid these traps as much as possible.
  • Social desirability: Most people want to please and thus tend to give answers that are considered positive and desirable. In personality tests, this desire to make a good impression can falsify the results. This type of falsification differs from conscious manipulation in that it is unconscious and unintentional. The impairment due to social desirability can be reduced and controlled with control scales. Such control scales consist of questions about behavior that is rarely found but which is socially desirable (e.g. always washing your hands before eating) and behavior that is common even though it is socially undesirable (e.g. the use of white lies).

Despite these potential sources of mistakes, personality tests can be a practical tool and minimize errors of judgment if they are conducted solidly and seriously. However, it is important to be aware of their limitations and weaknesses and never apply them in isolation or view the results dogmatically.

Bibliography

Dibbern, H. (2016). Persönlichkeitstests – Sinnvolle Hilfe oder Humbug?. Retrieved December 29, 2019, https://www.hoppe7.de/blog/persoenlichkeitstests-sinnvolle-hilfe-oder-humbug

Author: Alexander Ariu

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Psychology’s role in environmental issues

Climate change, which has been increasingly identified in recent decades, confronts us with one of the greatest challenges of our time. International agreements such as the Paris Climate Conference in 2015 have already taken the first decisive steps towards a more sustainable energy policy. Switzerland has also recognized the need to change its energy policy and has initiated the transition of the energy system with its “Energy Strategy 2050”. However, the success of this energy system transformation depends not only on the development and expansion of new infrastructures and technologies but also on fundamental changes in consumer behavior and decision-making patterns. The potential for such changes is huge: the Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences estimate that energy consumption could be reduced by up to 30 percent by 2050 compared with 2010. Behavioral sciences, and psychology, in particular, have the potential to make a major contribution to energy system transformation by providing information on the mechanisms underlying consumer behavior and the factors that favor the behavioral changes needed to reduce energy consumption (Brosch & Mertens, 2017).

Previous approaches to promote more sustainable energy consumption have focused on providing information and financial incentives. For example, the Swiss Federal Office of Energy provides brochures on the subject of energy saving. Additionally, some Swiss cantons support the purchase of energy-efficient vehicles with tax benefits. However, research in behavioral economics and psychology has repeatedly shown that consumers only behave rationally to a limited extent, especially when it comes to complex issues such as climate protection. Therefore, these measures only partially achieve the desired behavioral changes among consumers. In recent years, the effectiveness of so-called “nudging” has therefore been increasingly investigated. These are interventions that, through small changes in the decision-making environment, can lead to more energy-efficient decisions and behaviors without creating financial incentives or restricting consumer choice through prohibitions (Brosch & Mertens, 2017).

An example of such a nudge is the so-called “default effect” (= the tendency to keep the default settings). In one study, two economists show that the careful selection of defaults in the energy sector can also be an extremely effective way of persuading consumers to make more sustainable decisions. As part of the study, around 42,000 households were able to choose between different tariffs of an energy supplier. Each of these tariffs offered the option of purchasing electricity from renewable energy sources for a small additional charge. Consumers who already were pre-selected with this “green” add-on option were ten times more likely to use renewable electricity than consumers who first had to actively choose this option (Brosch & Mertens, 2017).

How can this effect be explained? One explanation is that consumers see the pre-selection of certain options as a standard or recommendation. The two economists offer a further explanation: The conscious decision against a green electricity tariff, which should be preferred from a moral point of view, could be much more difficult for consumers than not to choose this tariff if there are no defaults (Brosch & Mertens, 2017).

In this example, a study of environmental psychological interventions by economists was briefly described. However, economists are not the only ones who deal with environmental psychological interventions. Other professional groups are also involved in such interventions, such as environmental psychologists.

Environmental psychologists deal both with the influences of the environment on humans and with the influences of humans on the environment. In the psychological sense, the environment is regarded as the outer physical-material and sociocultural habitat of humans. Accordingly, this does not only mean the “natural” environment but also, for example, the urban areas (Netzwerk Psychologie und Umwelt, 2019).

Environmental psychological research relates to topics such as the perception, assessment, and design of environments. Thus, environmental psychology provides a crucial contribution to explaining, understanding and predicting environmental human behavior and experience. Environmental psychology is very interdisciplinary, application-oriented and has high relevance for society as a whole due to its broad range of topics (Netzwerk Psychologie und Umwelt, 2019).

Topics for environmental-psychological questions are for example:

  • Environmental perception and assessment
  • Environmental planning, environmental design, participation processes
  • Spatial behavior and mobility
  • Environmental awareness and environmental protection behavior
  • Environmental education and influencing environmentally relevant behavior
  • Mediation in environmental conflicts
  • Evaluation of environmental actions

 (Netzwerk Psychologie und Umwelt, 2019).

Bibliography:
  • Brosch, T., & Mertens, S. (2017). Kleine Intervention mit grosser Wirkung – Green Nudges als Feinjustierungen am Anpassungsmechanismus an sozialen Normen. Psychoscope, (3), 10 – 13.
  • Netzwerk Psychologie und Umwelt (2019). Was ist Umweltpsychologie?. Retrieved December 14, 2019, from http://www.umweltpsychologie.at/?page_id=889
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Author: Alexander Ariu

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Update coverage of psychotherapeutic care

On 26 June 2019, the Federal Council instructed the Federal Department of Home Affairs (FDHA) to conduct a consultation procedure on the adjustment of the Ordinance on Health Insurance and the Ordinance on Nursing Benefits on the revision of psychological psychotherapy as part of obligatory health insurance (OHI). The consultation draft contains a new regulation on psychological psychotherapy within the framework of the OHI. Psychological psychotherapists who are licensed to perform psychotherapy should be able to provide all psychotherapeutic services independently and on their own account on the basis of a medical prescription. So far, the basic insurance only covers these costs if the service is performed under the supervision of a doctor (BAG, 2019).

Psychotherapists welcome the Federal Council’s proposal to restructure psychological psychotherapy. The amendment helps to eliminate the existing supply problems in rural areas and among children and young people. However, psychotherapists, professional associations and students have concerns about the current proposal. Until October 17th, 2019 (end of the consultation period), comments could be sent electronically to sub-offices of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) electronically (BAG, 2019). An aspect which is disturbing about the current proposal, for the professional associations FSP and SBAP for example, is that the regulation has issued an order for only fifteen meetings. Hence, a doctor’s appointment would have to be arranged again after only fifteen sessions in order to be prescribed another fifteen sessions. This would be cost-increasing, without creating additional benefit, as well as disadvantaging psychological psychotherapists compared to medical service providers (FSP, 2019). There is also resistance among experts concerning the regulation that a report should now be sent to the doctor of the health insurance company after 30 sessions so that the therapy can be continued. Here the professional associations demand that the previous arrangement of 40 meetings should be maintained, as this has proven to be successful in practice and the limitation of 30 meetings could cause additional work and costs (FSP, 2019).

Bibliography:
  • Bundesamt für Gesundheit (BAG) (2019). Änderung KVV und KLV betreffend Neuregelung der psychologischen Psychotherapie und der Zulassungsvoraussetzungen nicht-ärztlicher Leistungserbringer. Retrieved on 27 October 2019. https://www.bag.admin.ch/bag/de/home/versicherungen/krankenversicherung/krankenversicherung-revisionsprojekte/aenderungen-psychotherapie-nichtaerztlicheleistungserbringer.html
  • Föderation der Schweizer Psychologinnen und Psychologen (FSP) (2019). Position der FSP zum Verordnungsentwurf zur neuen Psychotherapieregelung. Retrieved on 27 October 2019. https://www.psychologie.ch/position-der-fsp-zum-verordnungsentwurf-zur-neuen-psychotherapieregelung

Author: Alexander Ariu

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News in psychology – the good, the bad and the bigly

It’s been almost 8 years since the replication crisis has plunged psychology into a serious scientific crisis. Ironically, by now, one of the most replicable findings in psychology is that only half of the psychological studies can be successfully replicated. While some find themselves either in despair or in denial about this circumstance, I would argue that this is rather a huge opportunity to rethink, renew and complement our methodology. We’re so used to applying alleged gold-standard testing paradigms that originate in the 40ies to the 60ies of the last century that we’ve gone somewhat blind to the new and amazing construction kit that IT and the virtual world are offering us for conducting observations on a completely new scale. The internet has connected the world and allows us to go way beyond the confinements of small-scale brick and mortar lab-based psychology experiments. Taken together that constitutes an option package that allows us to put psychological research on a completely new footing. One, that can provide the evidence we currently still owe, if we only examine WEIRD people in small groups. Now, we can not only conduct field research globally with hundreds of thousands of study participants simultaneously, we can also continuously interact with them and ask them time and again: All we have to do is being bold enough to use the new opportunities and work closely together with all the necessary different professional groups to make this happen.

Yet, two requirements are central for such a web-based world-wide research endeavour to be truly successful:

  1. The whole setup needs to focus on the user experience and benefit of the study subjects. This may well be in the form of “infotainment”, as the typical monetary compensation for tediously boring experimental setups is simply out of question for ultra-large global cohorts.
  2. Collecting psychological and thus personal and highly sensitive data on a global scale needs a failsafe forward-looking data protection policy and guaranteed anonymity.

The first point can be addressed by using psychological instruments in the guise of entertaining computer games and automation of analyses that can provide individually tailored and understandable feedback to everyone taking part. In addition, the interesting research results drawn from such a project should also be made directly accessible to the general public, which made them possible in the first place.

The second point is as much about citizen empowerment as educating them about how their minds work but requires an additional independent institution to guarantee data privacy by system design: The personally identifying data should always be strictly separated from the completely anonymized “content data”. Basically, the complete opposite of Facebook and the likes: It must not be possible to turn your data into a business model without your clear consent or without giving you the lion’s share of the earnings. Advancience is a startup that is based on the COSMOS research project from the University of Basel. We’re a group of scientists that have learned that our research goals that require scaling-up psychological studies are easier to achieve, if we go down the entrepreneurial road. The Healthbank Cooperative is our strategic partner that ensures that the data generators themselves own the data and are always in charge of how their data is being used.

Together we’re building the research basis of the future for social sciences that will be open for all publicly funded scientists to use. Get ready to think big: What would you investigate, if you had a cohort of more than 100 k individuals that you can ask?

Author: Dr. Christian Vogler