Critical Review: Dear Sword and Zimbardo, my University Made me Write this

Most available self-help for post-traumatic stress (PTS), or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is based on a general assumption that the problem is cognitive or perceptual, instead of situational or circumstantial (known as a fundamental attribution error). Sadly, prolonged exposure therapy (PE) is sometimes used to treat such symptoms. This document will start by defining some key terms, and then it will proceed to critically evaluate some of Sword and Zimbardo’s (2018) statements about self help and therapy for PTS as cited in The Open University (2019). Finally, it will touch on the topic of suicide in the UK, and how the rates suggest that sometimes a change in the system, rather than in the patient is needed. 

According to Ghafoori (2018, p. 124), PE involves ‘sufficient processing of the traumatic event by revisiting, repeating, recounting, and actively engaging with the trauma memory’. In other words, clients are deliberately exposed to the threatening stimuli that trigger their worst fears. This is similar to the definition posited by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (2018), which describes torture as happening ‘when someone deliberately causes very serious and cruel suffering (physical or mental) to another person. This might be to punish someone, or to intimidate or obtain information from them’. Such form of therapy can be described as the most barbaric way to treat someone with PTSD. Some might be tempted to counter-argue that PE is not done to intimidate or punish, but rather to help. Nevertheless, the evidence in neuropsychology shows that the mere perception of pain or internal discomfort can damage the nociceptor neurons (those which process pain signals); and can therefore induce, for example, hyperalgesia (an abnormal hypersensitivity to pain, or the perception of pain; Medical News Today, n.d.; Miguez et al., 2014), which is the opposite of analgesia (a reduced sensitivity to pain).  It is triggered by associative cues which produce assimilative signals that trigger psychosomatic hypervigilance, and an aversion to such cues therefore. This is why those who suffer from PTS can at times feel as though ‘they were being tortured’, and actively seek to escape or avoid such stressful stimuli. This will be explored further in the following paragraphs, especially when talking about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), a severe mental health illness manifesting in those who have experienced prolonged and extreme forms of trauma since childhood (NHS.UK, 2019). 

Sword and Zimbardo’s (2018) excerpt describes PTS correctly when they say that it is trauma which is carried on after an event happens, and which manifests as flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and sleep disturbance. Moreover, they also ratify the set of symptoms as categorised by the American Psychiatric Association (2013): ‘depression, anxiety, flashbacks, avoidance, isolation, difficulty falling and/or staying asleep, difficulty concentrating, irritability, an exaggerated startle response and hypervigilance’. However, as a caveat it must be stated that ‘avoidant’ behaviour should at times be categorised as a survival skill, rather than a symptom. For instance, hyperalgesia can be induced by overwhelming the nociceptors in the brain with painful contextual cues which a person already perceives to be unpleasant, as explained by Miguez et al. (2014). This means that avoidance of painful stimuli can at times save someone from an increased sensitivity to painful situations. Moreover, Rotter’s (1966) theory of the locus of control as cited in Cherry and Barker (2015:235) would indicate that avoidance of a destructive stimulus would be in the individual’s locus of control, and this would also be supported by Rogers’ (1975) protection motivation theory as cited in Boer and Seydel (1996) which posits that fear-inducing stimuli are emotionally unpleasant, and it can therefore be expected that people will seek to avoid such stimuli. In addition, another problematic statement made by Sword and Zimbardo (2018) is that people with trauma see the world through a ‘darker lens’. Cherry and Barker’s (2015) work posited how self-help psychology at times fails to understand that it is not always the individual’s cognition that is faulty, but rather the reality around such individual (i.e. scientists can sometimes make fundamental attribution errors). A good example mentioned by Cherry and Barker (2015:244) is that of poverty, which effects on the human psyche include a lack of self-worth, a disruption of normal functioning, and feelings of marginalisation. As this is a circumstantial situation, trying to change a person’s perceptions of such real hardships might only contribute further to their symptoms. This is why it can be said that those who are seeking to profit from their work are avoiding poverty, which again is a protection-motivated behaviour, and not a symptom; therefore, challenging assumptions that avoidance is a mental health problem is crucial to improving mental health systems. Furthermore, Sword and Zimbardo (2018) also describe resentment as being a phenomenon experienced by those with PTS; however, the cluster symptomatology they list- ‘going to work, preparing meals, being interested in what they did that day—become chores’- is more consistent with the construct of anhedonia (losing pleasure in doing things that once brought a sense of comfort and satisfaction; Ritsner, 2014) than that of resentment, and this distinction is very important when trying to understand PTS; because depression-induced, affect-reactive behaviour is often mistaken with and stigmatised as narcissistic rage, or a toxic personality.  

Furthermore, not only can PE induce hyperalgesia, but it can also create more repressed forms of trauma, and people can end up getting worse. Since pain-avoidant behaviour is not irrational when thinking about the way in which human neurons’ function and how these react to overwhelming amounts of discomfort, why is such inhumane treatment so often justified? Indeed, exposure to stressor cues which produce psychological discomfort can physically damage nociceptors, and this might explain why BPD with comorbid PTS patients, for example, are seen as ‘difficult to work with’ (Harvard, 2006) due to their exhibited hypersensitivity and hypervigilance (Palmer and Unruh, 2018). This type of systemic prejudice is based on a presumption of cognitive and behavioural guilt; especially if such expectations and attitudes are perceived as torturous by the client.  No wonder many BPD clients develop an aversion to health-care, and no wonder Cherry and Barker’s (2015) chapter on self-help highlighted some of the paradoxical reactions that can happen when people are given the wrong type of help, or the wrong set of coping techniques. For example, some expectations when it comes to treating traumatised individuals are unrealistic and can make some individuals feel worse. Some of these errors include expecting someone to only think optimistically, or to ignore the circumstantial stressors they experience.  Furthermore, Eysenck (1998) posited that when the nervous system is overwhelmed by external stressors, this causes an increase of the release of corticosteroids (stress hormones) and when too many corticosteroids are released, the immune, endocrine, and circulatory systems can malfunction. So the awareness of the potential repercussions of prolonged psychological torture, or PE is not new, and many of those who engage in such activities know that what they are doing is perceived as harmful by others (actus reus) and if they continue doing it nevertheless, then there might also be a guilty intent behind such decisions (mens rea; Palmer, 2018). 

It is dangerously equivocal on one hand to call avoidance of suffering a problem, and on the other hand wonder why people are self-harming. For example, Wager (2015) explained that only 1 in 800 cases of child sexual abuse make it to child protection services, which means that most of the victims of such henious acts grow with the trauma they experienced, and recreating their sexual abuse not only would be illegal, but it would only make things worse for them. This is why PE can have disastrous consequences for those who are severely traumatised. Moreover, expecting someone who has endured sexual abuse to stop avoiding their worst fears would be irrational; and such confusion could potentially lead the individual into further traumatic circumstances and relationships, or to suicide, which is not that uncommon in the UK nowadays. For instance, according to Samaritans (2019) there were 6,859 suicides in the UK in 2018. This was a ‘significant’, and tragic increase in rates from previous years. The cruel nature of everyday mental health misconceptions might have contributed towards such results (Kinderman, 2015). The ambiguous messages sent by certain frameworks can leave people feeling hopeless, confused and neglected, a prerequisite for suicidal ideation. Compassion, however, could save lives (Kinderman, 2015:291). So in the case of BPD with comorbid PTS, a treatment going wrong is often blamed on the patient rather than on the health system. It is a paradox because the mere action of the patient complaining is categorised as a symptom, rather than as a rational response to a painful, unfair, and/or stressful trigger.  This is why taking into account socio-environmental stressors should not be an exclusively academic matter, but rather a general rule for the prevention of inhumane and degrading treatment. Nevertheless, it is good that Sword and Zimbardo (2018) display a well-intentioned contribution to the development of more effective mental health apps, a topic that is beyond the scope and capacity of this document. 

To summarise, Sword and Zimbardo’s (2018) work as cited in the Open University (2019) mentions PE as one of the traditional forms of therapy used to treat PTS; nevertheless, they seem to attribute most problems to human cognition, rather than to situational factors. Furthermore, they seem to be deleteriously equivocal when they use the criteria for anhedonia to describe resentment, without providing satisfactory evidence to support their claims. Finally, they describe avoidant responses as a symptom, rather than as an everyday behaviour. However, research has shown that avoiding certain situations is rational, and mental health frameworks should take this into consideration when treating severely traumatised individuals, instead of speculating and risking someone’s physical integrity to death. 


American Psychiatric Association (2013a) ‘Posttraumatic stress disorder, in Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed, Arlington, pp. 271-280.

Boer, H. and Seydel, E. R. (1996) ‘Protection motivation theory’, Conner, M. and Norman, P. (eds), Predicting Health Behaviour, Buckingham, Open University Press, pp. 95-120. 

Cherry, S. and Barker, M. J. (2015) ‘Self-help: changing people’s understandings to change their experience’, in Turner, J. and Barker, M. J. (eds), Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 227-259. 

Equality and Human Rights Commission (2018) ‘Article 3: Freedom from torture and inhuman or degrading treatment’, 15 November [Online]. Available at (Accessed 26 April 2020).  

Eysenck, M. (1998) ‘Biological bases of behaviour’, in Eysenck, M. (ed), Psychology: an integrated approach, Essex, Addison Wesley Longman Limited, pp. 23-67. 

Ghafoori, B. (2018) ‘Prolonged exposure therapy for experiential avoidance: a case-series study’, SAGE, pp. 122-135 [Online]. Available at  (Accessed 26 April 2020). 

Harvard (2006) ‘Borderline personality disorder: treatment’, in Harvard Mental Health Letter, 1 July [Online]. Available at (Accessed 26 April 2020). 

Kinderman, P. (2015) ‘Beyond disorder: a psychological model of mental health’, in Crighton D. A. and Towl, G. J. (eds), Forensic Psychology, 2nd edn, West Sussex, John Wiley and Sons, The British Psychological Society, pp. 291-300.

Medical News Today (n.d.) ‘Hyperalgesia: What you need to know’ [Online]. Available at (Accessed 26 April 2020). 

Miguez, G., Laborda, M. A. and Miller, R. R. (2014) ‘Classical conditioning and pain: conditioned analgesia and hyperalgesia’, Acta Psychologica, Elsevier, pp. 10-20. 

NHS.UK (2019) ‘Borderline personality disorder’, 17 July [Online]. Available at (Accessed 1 May, 2020). 

Palmer, B. and Unruh, B. (2018) Borderline Personality Disorder : A Case-Based Approach, 1st ed, Belmont, Harvard Medical School [Online]. Available at (Accessed 27 April 2020). 

Palmer, E. J. (2018) ‘Psychological approaches to understanding crime’, in Davies, G. M. and Beech, A. R. (eds), Forensic Psychology: Crime, Justice, Law, Interventions, 3rd ed, West Sussex, The British Psychological Society/John Wiley & Sons, pp. 27-47.

Ritsner, M. S. (2014) Anhedonia: A Comprehensive Handbook Volume I : Conceptual Issues And Neurobiological Advances, 1st ed, London, Springer [Online]. Available at (Accessed 27 April 2020).  

Samaritans (2019) ‘Suicide Statistics Report’, December [Online]. Available at (Accessed 26 April 2020). 

The Open University (2019) ‘Excerpt 2’, DD210-19J Study Guide: Week 27: TMA 05 [Online]. Available at (Accessed 26 April 2020). 

Wager, N. M. (2015) ‘The psychology of extreme circumstances’, in Turner, J. and Barker, M. J. (eds), Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 139-178. 


Coronavirus (COVID-19): New Developments, Calculating Discrepancies, and Analysing Intel Stories

UK-specific numbers

As of 17 April 2020:

TOTAL CASES: 108,692.




How can I check the UK numbers for myself?

The GOV (2020) has recently created a more accessible dashboard at By visiting such link you will be able to access the number of total cases, the number of lab-confirmed daily cases, the number of total deaths, and the number of daily deaths.

For more specific statistical information, such as the total number of active cases, and the percentage of cases per 1 million population, visit

How can I calculate the number of recoveries?

You can calculate the recoveries by subtracting the total of active cases and the total deaths from the total number of cases, much like the following formula:

#total cases – #active cases – #deaths = #recoveries.

108692 – 93772 – 14576 = 344.

Is the number of recoveries being reported appropriately?

No. There is something suspicious about the number of recorded recoveries. The number ‘344’ as calculated above was first published on the 9th April, 2020. Since then, Worldometers (2020) has been showing “N/A” in the relevant UK box only. This gives the impression that nobody else has recovered, or has been discharged from hospital since then. However, the evidence shows that such is not the case. For instance, the media (Cooper, 2020) reported that prime minister Boris Johnson was discharged from hospital on the 12th April, 2020. Nevertheless, the number of recoveries continued to show as 344. Furthermore, there have also been news coverages of patients who have been treated successfully and have consequently been discharged from hospital, such as the story published on BBC News (2020) featuring a 106 years old patient who was discharged from Birmingham’s City Hospital on the 15th April, 2020. Yet, the numbers did not register this or any other recovery, and as can be seen from the above calculation, the number continues to add up to 344. All this shows that there is something wrong with the numbers, and this by all means causes anxiety to those who want to have a clear understanding of the death rate in the UK. It is also demotivating to those who are making efforts to follow the medical advice available.

Why are accurate numbers crucial to good mental health?

In order for people to make good decisions through the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential that the threat is appraised correctly. With false information, life can feel too uncertain to cope with, and some might develop feelings of confusion, panic and consequential self-neglect. Trusting in our government and in our newspapers has never been more important. Losing such trust can elicit disorder, and reduce health behaviours associated with a stable response. In order for people to successfully follow protocol, and to be motivated to self-protect, the information has to be free from deception. In order to allow the public to feel efficient in their efforts, the number of recoveries should be publicised, not skewed or censored. Whilst death is indeed a tragic stimulus, taking into account recoveries can serve as a positive reinforcement to those working in the frontline, and to those self-isolating. We do not want to enter a collective state of despair and depression. We are already experiencing a collective state of grief. This is why it is so crucial to report all numbers accurately, not just the bad ones. As the government continues to neglect and censor the good news, hope is being taken away from the British people, and that is by all means unfair and unacceptable.

Are there any new major developments?

After things had relaxed in China, and as of the date of this writing, there has been a new high record of reported deaths. In the past few days and weeks, China had been reporting less than 10 deaths per day, however, today it has again reported 1,290 deaths (Worldometers, 2020) which is certainly a reason to worry as it was thought that the crisis was over in China, and this is why the Chinese government was easing on its restrictions as reported by the The Guardian (Falush, 2020) at the end of March. This is certainly worth taking into account, especially since there have been fears of a second wave of the outbreak.

Moreover, here I share 5 stories that I personally found worth mentioning:

  • 13th March: Barrett (2020) reported concerns from the United States about some statements made by the Chinese government which claimed that the US military allegedly took the coronavirus to Wuhan. The US has responded by classifying the meetings related this conversation. This has led some journalists to feel that the COVID-19 crisis has the potential to trigger WWIII [read here].
  • 30th March: Guy et al. (2020) reported that the Spanish Royal, Princess Maria Teresa died of coronavirus [read here].
  • 9th April: Fiorillo (2020) reported that at least 150 members of the Saudi Royal family have become infected with the coronavirus and patients are being moved from hospitals in order to make room for the privileged [read here].
  • 11th April: BBC Newsround (2020) reported that animals all around the world are taking over the empty cities since the global quarantine has made human beings disappear from normally crowded spaces [read here].
  • 12th April: Sabbagh (2020) reported that the UK’s intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6 have urged the government of the UK to reconsider the industrial relationship we have with China after the crisis has ended due to suspicions [read here].


Barrett, K. (2020) ‘US biological warfare against China could lead to World War III’, PressTV, 13 March [Online]. Available at (Accessed 17 April 2020).

BBC News (2020) ‘Coronavirus: “Oldest” patient discharged from Birmingham hospital’, 15 April [Online]. Available at (Accessed 17 April 2020).

BBC Newsround (2020) ‘Coronavirus: Animals takeover cities during self-isolation’, 11 April [Online]. Available at (Accessed 17 April 2020).

Cooper, C. (2020) ‘Boris Johnson discharged from hospital’, Politico, 12 April [Online]. Available at (Accessed 17 April 2020).

Falush, D. (2020) ‘As the west is in lockdown, China is slowly getting back to business’, The Guardian, 30 March [Online]. Available at (Accessed 17 April 2020).

Fiorillo, C. (2020) ‘At least 150 Saudi royals have coronavirus as patients are moved out of top hospitals to make way for “the elite”‘, The Sun, 9th April [Online]. Available at (Accessed 17th April 2020).

GOV.UK (2020) ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the UK’, 17 April [Online]. Available at (Accessed 17 April 2020).

Guy, J., Ramsay, M. and Lister, T. (2020) ‘Spanish princess becomes first royal to die from coronavirus’, CNN, 30 March [Online]. Available at (Accessed 17 April 2020).

Sabbagh, D. (2020) ‘UK spy agencies urge China rethink once Covid-19 crisis is over’, The Guardian, 12th April [Online]. Available at (Accessed 17 April 2020).

Worldometers (2020) ‘Reported Cases and Deaths by Country, Territory, or Conveyance’, in COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, 17 April [Online]. Available at (Accessed 17 April 2020).

Journalism Opinion

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Brief: Protection Motivation Theory, Outbreak Appraisal, and Understanding Collective Behaviour

The world is in chaos. The coronavirus has accelerated at an unprecedented rate, leaving planet Earth feeling vulnerable and in a state of collective sorrow. Things have never been like this. Unless you are over 100 years old, you have never witnessed this level of transnosological danger in your entire life. Due to the panic-ridden headlines, many people are experiencing an aversion to potential loss or potential grief. Others seem to be in denial. Where is the balance? This article aims to explore some of the facts, figures, and dynamics determining coronavirus-associated behaviour.

“Protection motivation theory describes adaptive and maladaptive coping with a health threat as the result of two appraisal processes: threat appraisal and coping appraisal“.

Norman and Conner (1996, p. 11)

Threat Appraisal

Worldometers (2020)

As of 28/03/2020:




How severe is the threat?

The threat is perceived by the public as extremely severe and unprecedented. Here in the United Kingdom it has been set as high risk; and this is why Primer Minister Boris Johnson has enforced the draconian lockdown (Cabinet Office, 2020). The virus is very contagious, and due to the increasing death rates people are feeling very susceptible with this disease threatening their physical integrity, and potentially their life or the life of those whom they love. Nevertheless, it must be objectively said that 95% of recorded cases worldwide report mild symptoms. Yet, from mild symptoms have arisen many deaths.

How susceptible am I to the threat?

It seems that among the high risk groups are people over 80 years old, those with underlying health conditions, and smokers with chronic pulmonary problems. Furthermore, according to the United Nations (2020): “The risk depends on where you are – and more specifically, whether there is a COVID-19 outbreak unfolding there”. In other words, demographic variables will indicate the level of risk in specific areas. For instance, the South West area where I live in the UK is the area with the lowest risk of contamination (GOV.UK, 2020b), and my city (Plymouth) has only 26 cases so far (O’Leary, 2020). Furthermore, commenting on the safety of packages and deliveries, the UN (2020) further states: “The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes COVID-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low”. So if you are concerned about me, don’t worry, I am ready.

I sanitise my body, my environment, and my mind. Call me mad, but I’ll survive.

How is the virus appraised by the global government?

The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned the world about the fact that no antibiotics, no medication, and no vaccination has proven to prevent or cure the coronavirus. Therefore, they appraise this as a serious situation.

World Health Organization (2020).

What are mental health experts saying?

Mental health experts understand that this is without a doubt a stress-generative situation. The uncertainty that COVID-19 triggers is in many cases inevitable. Furthermore, the unpredictability and uncontrollability that manifest with the facts and figures are a source of anxiety for many people. Nevertheless, this does not mean that pre-emptive and preventive action cannot be taken. The GOV and the WHO have issued specific guidance which can help reduce the hazard and intensity of the situation. Sanitary action is in this case reasoned action, and this can be planned, performed, and maintained in order to cope with the threat in an adaptive way. Moreover, because this is an extraordinary situation which has disrupted the standard routines of many people, there is a certain level of confusion, fear, and worry. Remember to:

  • Wash your hands with soap as frequently as possible for 20 seconds.
  • Stay indoors unless it is absolutely necessary to go out to seek medical care.
  • Order groceries online as infrequently as possible instead of going to the shop (even though online deliveries are the least unsafe option, there is still a risk of contamination through such medium).

Coping Appraisal

INTERNAL LOCUS OF CONTROL: Factors which can be totally controlled by and depend solely on the individual.

EXTERNAL LOCUS OF CONTROL: Factors which can’t be controlled by and do not depend on the individual.

(Norman and Conner, 1996).

I see people behaving like nothing is happening. Am I too paranoid?

No. What you see happening is a state of collective denial. People keep going to work, doing physical exercise outdoors, and attending social gatherings because they are underestimating the severity of the threat. The kind of self-absorption that is dominant in individualistic, Western societies is an intellectual disadvantage in this case which requires an analysis of global events and behaviour. It only takes analysing what is happening in China, the US, Italy and Spain to understand that due to the incubation period of the virus (up to 2-3 weeks; Worldometers, 2020) it is quite possible that the COVID-19 is having a delayed impact in the UK. The virus does survive a long time in the air, meaning that it can be breathed quite easily. This is why a two metre distance is advised. Those behaving as if nothing was happening are not able to rationalise the threat because being able to move around gives them a false sense of being in control of the situation. In my opinion, it is an unnecessary risk they are taking. Similarly, those going to work outside the emergency system are still playing down the risk.

According to Norman and Conner (1996), the more an individual perceives potential health susceptibility, and the more that the threat is perceived to be severe, the more fear arousal there is. This means that the way people respond to the outbreak will depend on their level of awareness about the high risk the coronavirus poses. For instance, here in the UK there are more deaths than recoveries, and the counter for recoveries has been stuck at 135 (GOV.UK, 2020b) for several days already, unlike the counters for new cases and deaths, which keep burgeoning. This is problematic and worrisome. So if you are feeling too paranoid and as if you are being too careful, rest assured that you are just being as careful and responsible as you and everyone else are expected to be.

What can I do to calm down?

This is a good question, as everything functions better when people remain calm. There are many variables that are within your locus of control, such as the way you interpret the situation (perception) which can be optimised by engaging in intellectually stimulating activities such as reading, watching films, or having conversations. The more you learn, the more confident you will feel in assessing risk, and the more you will engage in reasoned behaviours that promote health and prevent disease. Another variable that you can control and nourish in yourself is your emotional wellbeing, which can be enhanced by ensuring that you get enough sleep (this will also boost your immune system, and will therefore help you fight off infections; NHS.UK, 2018), that you eat well, and that you have a tidy and clean environment around you. If you have long-term conditions, it is necessary that you continue to take your prescribed medications during this time in order to keep healthy. Furthermore, remember that you have the capacity of preventing contamination by following the guidance. Successfully executing the recommended courses of action will help you feel self-efficient and safe. Engage in some yoga or pilates at home, entertain yourself, and stay in touch with your family and friends digitally. Keep the following points in mind:

  • Neither underestimate nor overestimate the magnitude of the situation. Stay tuned for the facts and figures.
  • You can sign online petitions to participate in requesting specific outcomes for the common good.
  • Plan for short to medium term supplies and associated variables of a lockdown.
  • Mental contagion can happen if you allocate too much time and attention to digital material which is sensationalist or misinformed. Be wise about the type of information you consume.
  • Double check that your beliefs about what is healthy are not based on misinformation. Here are some myth busters to keep in mind:

What factors are not under my control?

There are several variables that could become a source of frustration during the lockdown. Anything that is outside your mind, and outside your environment is outside your control. You are not responsible for the behaviour of others, and the best thing you can do is share the guidance with your loved ones and hope that they follow it. Moreover, you have no current participation in most of the decision-making processes of the jurisdiction (e.g. the legal measures being duly taken by the GOV in relation to this pandemic). If you are not able to work from home, and cannot make money as a result, you might feel like everything is going to collapse, and in such case all you can do is hope that the GOV will protect your welfare, as such decision is within their locus of control. If you are a key worker, you might feel that your life is being put at risk in order to save the life of others. All you can do is hope that the GOV will listen to the healthcare industry in regards to the much needed protective equipment, spaces, and ventilators. This too is within the GOV’s locus of control. For example, medical staff in Spain are being forced to sedate and asphyxiate the elderly to death in order to use their ventilators on younger patients. Because providing equipment is a decision which only the Spanish political leaders can make, doctors are having a psychological breakdown and are accusing the authorities of genocide for neglecting the welfare of vulnerable citizens. Take a look at this video:


Cabinet Office (2020) ‘Guidance: Staying at home and away from others (social distancing)’, GOV.UK, 23 March [Online]. Available at (Accessed 27 March 2020).

GOV.UK (2020a) ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): what you need to know’ [Online]. Available at (Accessed 27 March 2020).

GOV.UK (2020b) ‘Total UK COVID-19 Cases” [Online]. Available at (Accessed 27 March 2020).

Hamzelou, J. (2020) ‘How long does coronavirus stay on surfaces and can they infect you?’, New Scientist, 25 March [Online]. Available at (Accessed 27 March 2020).

Johnson, B. (n.d.) ‘About Boris’, Boris Johnson [Online]. Available at (Accessed 27 March 2020).

NHS.UK (2018) ‘Why lack of sleep is bad for your health’ [Online]. Available at (Accessed 27 March 2020).

Norman, P. and Conner, M. (1996) ‘The role of social cognition in health behaviours’, in Conner, M. (ed) Predicting Health Behaviour, Buckingham, Open University Press, pp. 1-22.

O’Leary, M. (2020) ‘Four new coronavirus cases confirmed in Plymouth’, Plymouth Herald, 26 March [Online]. Available at (Accessed 27 March 2020).

United Nations (2020) ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19): Frequently Asked Questions’ [Online]. Available at (Accessed 27 March 2020).

World Health Organization (2020) ‘Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) advice for the public: myth busters’ [Online]. Available at (Accessed 27 March 2020).

Worldometers (2020) ‘Coronavirus Update (LIVE)’ [Online]. Available at (Accessed 27 March 2020).


The Psychology of Nature: Climate Change and the Anthropocene

Climate change is happening, and the natural world is struggling. The scientific world and the media industry are signifying “doomsday”, and the evidence is accumulating. Human beings have been aware of this for a while, and in 1988 the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was created in order to tackle such problems (UN, 2017). Nevertheless, global warming is still happening, threatening to destroy our natural world and the survival of our species. Adams (2015) explained that even though there are people who know and care about climate change, they still struggle in their efforts to take individual action, and make the necessary changes. This document will address all these issues, as well as the relationship humans have with the natural world, and what happens when nature is not accessible.  For purposes of clarification, the term “nature” will be used along with Stevens’ (2015, p. 327) definition of the natural world: “those environments which have not been heavily modified by human activity”. 

According to Zalasiewicz et al. (2016), the term “anthropocene” is understood as the epoch we currently live in, which is considered the most environmentally destructive time in history due to anthropogenic (man-made) activity. In other words, the way in which people go about their daily lives (including their habits) is having a record-breaking negative impact on the environment. This suggests that human beings are in some way or another responsible for global climate change (GCC). The evidence is compelling (NASA, n.d.), and has been disseminated for such a long time that there even exists an international legal framework for it.  The United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCC) took effect in 1994 and since then, it has been guiding global initiatives to reduce the greenhouse effect. Before this was the case, in 1988 the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) created the IPCC (n.d.) to conduct assessments, and report information about the topic. Furthermore, Adams’ (2015) work posits the fact that there are many problems directly related to climate change; such as the potential extinction of wildlife, overpopulation, deforestation, and air pollution. Such serious threats and their increasing likelihood cause a lot of collective distress, and this has led psychologists to wonder why despite the fact that survival is at stake, and despite there being so much circulation of such information; people are still living as if nothing was happening. Adams (2015) further explained using Freud’s psychoanalytic framework that people develop defence mechanisms to protect their mind from the unpleasant knowledge of reality. This is problematic, as the urgency for taking action increases every year, and an individual behavioural focus is necessary.

The UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS, 2019) cited in Sonnichsen (2020) conducted a national survey in 2019 where 4,224 participants from randomly selected households in the UK were interviewed face-to-face and were asked the question: “How concerned, if at all, are you about current climate change, sometimes referred to as ‘global warming’?” 45% of respondents stated that they were “fairly concerned”, 35% stated that they were “very concerned”, 13% said they were “not very concerned”, 5% stated that they were not at all concerned, and only 1% stated that they did not know. Therefore, it can be inferred that the great majority of people in the UK are conscious about climate change.  Furthermore, the same sample was asked about their beliefs in the causes of climate change: 40% believed that both natural and anthropogenic processes were to blame. 33% believed that it was caused mainly by the anthropocene. 15% believed that human activity was the sole cause, 2% were skeptical about it, and the rest either did not know or had no opinion about it. More questions were asked which showed that in the UK, changes are expected both from government and society.

Further evidence (Evans, 2019) has compounded that the behavioural impact of society on the climate is rising along with the temperatures. This means that factors such as negative affect, conflict, and psychological distress are more common as exposure to extreme weather events and threats increases. What all of the mentioned above suggests is that GCC is a result of urban, every day industrial and domestic activities (Adams, 2015; Evans, 2019). Not surprisingly, scientists are worried about a potential doomsday (Meckling, 2020), and they are not the only ones. Research (Stevens, 2015) has shown that people have higher levels of arousal when they are exposed to urban environments than when they are exposed to natural environments. This indicates that anthropogenic city life is associated with more stressful experiences than rural life. The term biophilia means “love for life” (Stevens, 2019b), and it is used to describe the way in which human beings have an inherent attraction towards and a need for nature. Evidence about embedment- the idea that the environment in which the body is located has an effect on mood and behaviour- suggests that individual identities are made and remade in the light of the world around the body (the ego; Sanchez Marrugo, 2019); and such world influences mental health (Bishop, 2015). Ulrich et al. (1991) as cited in Stevens (2015) produced evidence about how the natural world triggers relaxing psychosomatic responses, which means that it serves as a mood stabiliser. Whether it is a picture, a visualisation, or an actual trip to nature.

Moreover, Stevens (2015) highlights the importance of a restorative environment when it comes to healing. Ulrich (1984) cited in Stevens (2015) conducted research to determine whether the outside view of a window influenced the speed of recovery for patients, and found that indeed those who were able to see natural landscapes from their windows had a faster recovery and were subsequently discharged earlier than those who could only see a brick wall. This evidence suggests that exposure to the natural world is beneficial for people. Since humans have a natural need to embed themselves in the natural world due to the unique and impossible to replicate sensory stimulation provided by such an environment, it can be said that having a close relationship with nature is therapeutic. According to Louv (2005) cited in Stevens (2019a), a good descriptive term when it comes to this phenomenon is “Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD)”.  He posited that not embedding oneself in nature often enough can have detrimental effects on overall wellbeing, and this could be interpreted as a form of self-neglect because if a person does not meet their natural, psychoevolutionary needs; they can indeed forget what it feels like to love life, and might even become suicidal. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported an increase in suicide rates in recent years (Kaur and Manders, 2019), which suggests that less people are in love with life. Evidence indicates that people can heal from nature deficits through what is known as attention restoration therapy (ART; Stevens, 2015). It consists of embedding oneself in an environment that is away from urban life, and which elicits grounding and relaxation. For instance, it has been found that sunlight has a positive effect on human health when it touches the skin, as it triggers a chemical reaction and creates vitamin D, which boosts the immune system and improves mood (Stevens, 2015). Therefore, embedding oneself in natural places has many benefits. This compounds the understanding of natural environments as a necessity.

To summarise, the threat of climate change is very real and every human being is impacted by it. The natural world has an important role to play in mental health wellbeing, and lack of access to it can have detrimental effects on public health. Suicide, the anti-thesis of biophilia has been increasing in the UK. It is unclear at this point how biophilia can be elicited through the status quo in order to reduce anti-life outcomes such as suicide and global warming.


Adams, M. (2015) ‘The wider environment’, in Taylor and Turner (eds) Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 373-409.

Ainslie, D. and Clarke, H. (2019) ‘UK Environmental Accounts: 2019’ [Online], Office for National Statistics. Available at (Accessed 30 January 2020).

Bishop, S. (2015) ‘Boundaries of the self’, in Taylor and Turner (eds) Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 287-318.

Evans, G.W. (2019) ‘Projected Behavioural Impacts of Global Climate Change’, Annual Review of Psychology, vol. 70(1), pp. 449-474 [Online]. Available at (Accessed 30 January 2020).

IPCC (n.d.) About [Online]. Available at (Accessed 30 January 2020).

Kaur, J. and Manders, B. (2019) ‘Suicides in the UK: 2018 Registrations’ [Online], Office for National Statistics. Available at (Accessed 30 January 2020).

Meckling, J. (2020) ‘It is 100 Seconds to Midnight: 2020 Doomsday Clock Statement’, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists [Online]. Available at (Accessed 31 January 2020).

NASA (n.d.) Climate Change: Evidence [Online]. Available at (Accessed 30 January 2020).

Sanchez Marrugo, B.P. (2019) TMA 02, Milton Keynes, The Open University. 

Sonnichsen, N. (2020) ‘Levels of concern about climate change in the United Kingdom (UK) 2019’, Statista, 31 January [Online]. Available at (Accessed 1 February 2020).

Stevens, P. (2015) ‘Relationships with the natural world’, in Taylor and Turner (eds), Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 327-363. 

Stevens, P. (2019a) ‘6 Nature Deficiency’, DD210 Week 13: Relationships with the natural world [Online]. Available at (Accessed 30 January 2020).

Stevens, P. (2019b) ‘5 Biophilia’, DD210 Week 13: Relationships with the natural world [Online]. Available at (Accessed 1 February 2020).

United Nations (2017) Basic Facts about the United Nations, 42 edn, New York, United Nations Department of Public Information.

Zalasiewicz, J., Williams, M. and Waters, C.N. (2016) ‘Anthropocene’, in J. Adamson, W.A. Gleason & D.N. Pellow (eds), Keywords for environmental studies, New York, New York University Press [Online]. Available at  (Accessed 1 February 2020).

Understanding Evolutionary Theory in the Context of Animal Minds

Evolutionary theory refers to the ontogenetic, social and phylogenetic developmental trajectory of species as a mechanism for adaptation and survival. (Hewson et al., 2015, p. 67-68). Comparative psychology draws pathological and behavioural associations between human and nonhuman animals, including how evolution occurs interspecies through the use of tools. For instance, Taylor has been investigating the intelligence of birds (The Open University, 2019b). He built a complex puzzle apparatus which required eight steps to solve, and he demonstrated how a New Caledonian crow named 007 was able to quickly solve it to get the food reward. The bird had to be trained first to use each of the individual components of the apparatus (The Open University, 2019a). This shows that birds can enhance their sophisticated, transferable, problem solving skills through the use of tools.  Furthermore, when it comes to understanding cooperation as an evolutionary trait, Professor de Waal (The Open University, 2019d) explained how animals help each other in complex ways. Two monkeys were put through extremely stressful tasks for research purposes in which one of them was privileged in terms of food, and the other was not. This food competition paradigm (The Open University, 2019e) can be considered a form of monkey-economy based on inequality. Brosnan and De Waal (2003, p. 297) called their distressed, responsive behaviour an “aversion to inequity”. All this corroborates Panksepp’s theory (The Open University, 2019c) of the seven primary emotions among which empathy is included. Whilst chimpanzees might be able to understand perception and knowledge in conspecifics; they cannot, however, understand when another individual is misinformed (i.e. when someone has a false belief; Hewson et al., 2015, pp.96-98; The Open University, 2019e).   


Brosnan, S.F. and De Waal, F.B.M. (2003) ‘Monkeys reject unequal pay’, Nature. Nature Publishing Group, 425(6955), pp. 297–299. Available at (Accessed 11 October 2019).

Hewson, C., Ramsden P., and Turner, J.  (2015) ‘Animal minds’, in Turner, J., Hewson, C., Mahendran, K. and Stevens, P.  (eds), Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 63-99.

The Open University (2019a) ‘Alex Taylor explains the problem-solving task for crows’ [Video], DD210-19J Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary.  Available at (Accessed 11 October 2019).

The Open University (2019b) ‘Chris Packham and The New Caledonian crow puzzle’ [Video], DD210-19J Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary.  Available at  (Accessed 11 October 2019).

The Open University (2019c) ‘Jaak Panksepp at the TEDx Rainier conference’ [Video], DD210-19J Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary.  Available at  (Accessed 11 October 2019).

The Open University (2019d) ‘TEDx Talk: Professor Frans de Waal’ [Video], DD210-19J Living Psychology: From the Everyday to the Extraordinary.  Available at  (Accessed 11 October 2019).

The Open University (2019e) ‘3.6 Animals’ understanding of false belief’, DD210-19J Week 3: Animal minds [Online]. Available at  (Accessed 11 October 2019).


The Psychology of Obedience to Authority: Lessons Learned from the Holocaust

Nazi Germany was a true source of critical inquiry for academics worldwide. The work of Adorno et al. about authoritarianism through psychoanalytic theory,  and the work of Stanley Milgram about obedience influenced by situational factors are at the core of modern forensic psychology practice. Authoritarianism can be described as an attitude spectrum encompassing all types of prejudices, that is, xenophobia; as well as extreme ideologies in regards to discipline and traditions, that is, conventionalism (McAvoy, 2012). This essay seeks to explore the studies conducted by the mentioned above pioneers of forensic psychology during the post-war period in relation to the holocaust events. 

Xenophobic conventionalism was the main motivation driving the mass assassination of innocent people during WWII. This inspired Sanford to invite Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswik and Levinson to join his psychological investigation project in the US, and they became a team often cited as “Adorno et al.” due to Harvard alphabetical referencing rules. They were interested in uncovering the unconscious psychopathology of war criminals, and this led them to create the F-scale (McAvoy, 2012). Based on psychoanalytic theory, they administered questionnaires and interviews to the masses in order to validate their hypotheses which drew a  correlation between extreme childhood trauma and overboard adult attitudes to authority (McAvoy, 2012). The trials being held at Nuremberg, Germany, were a powerful motivator behind social psychology research after the war (Bayard, 2012). Stanley Milgram studied Adorno et al.’s work meticulously and was interested in understanding authoritarian obedience and how it related to irresponsible cruelty. After watching the globally broadcasted trial of Adolf Eichmann in television during 1961, Milgram realised that ordinary people were capable of committing great acts of violence when following orders (Banyard, 2012).  Through systematic procedures and pressure from authoritarian figures, a death toll that today approximates seventeen million minority individuals was achieved. Homosexuals, dissenters, jews, activists, disabled people, and foreigners; all brutally discriminated against and murdered (Holocaust Encyclopedia, 2019). Milgram designed a social experiment in order to better understand the link between conscience, executive obedience, and authority in organised war crimes.  

Adorno et al. (1950, p. V) saw prejudice as a mental health virus: “Even a social disease has its periods of quiescence during which the social scientists […] can study it […] to prevent or reduce the virulence of the next outbreak”. They devised the F-scale with its subscales of ethnocentrism, politico-conservatism, and antisemitism (McAvoy, 2012). They used both, quantitative and qualitative methods: “Individuals were studied by means of interviews and special clinical techniques for revealing underlying wishes, fears, and defenses; groups were studied by means of questionnaires” (Adorno et al., 1950, p. 12). Tests had statements with predetermined scores that individuals could agree or disagree with. The interviews allowed the researchers to double-check whether a participant’s general demeanor matched the anti-democratic scores. Nevertheless, the overall study was not enough to determine the direction of the effect of authoritarianism, nor could this predict whether someone with the potential for fascism would actually act on their attitudes and join a fascist movement (McAvoy, 2012). “The modification of the potentially fascist structure cannot be achieved by psychological means alone. The task is comparable to that of eliminating neurosis, or delinquency, or nationalism from the world” (Adorno et al., 1950, p. 975). 

Social psychologist Stanley Milgram was impacted by such results. He modified the F-scale that Adorno et al. had created (Milgram, n.d.).  After witnessing the trial of ordinary-looking Adolf Eichmann, Milgram (1962) wanted to understand the difference between free and forced obedience in everyday life. He (Milgram, 1965, p. 57) reported: “In its more general form the problem may be defined thus: If X tells Y to hurt Z, under what conditions will Y carry out the command of X and under what conditions will he refuse [?]”. Questions like these had led him to design the base condition to test 40 normal-looking young males in 1962. They each would arrive at Yale University and would be greeted by an experimenter wearing a white coat. An actor played the role of fellow participant.  Everything was standardised, from the laboratory, to the confederates, and the apparatus (Banyard, 2012). Participants were asked to administer potentially lethal electric shocks to the actor playing learner. The electric shock machine looked realistic, but was only a prop. Milgram found that indeed normal people had the potential to harm with some pressure from an authority figure. Milgram (1963, p. 371) called this phenomena “destructive obedience in the laboratory”. He then administered the questionnaires to ratify the participants’ valence. 

The studies conducted by Adorno et al. (authoritarianism) and Stanley Milgram (obedience) gave forensic psychologists much detail in terms of personality, situational factors/influences, authority, and compliance in the system  (Byford, 2017). Monetary incentives were offered to participants in both studies: “This was the only way to insure that the staff of the Study would not be conscience-stricken” (Adorno et al., 1950, p. 26). WWII was a common theme in both approaches: “Gas chambers were built, death camps were guarded, daily quotas of corpses were produced with the same efficiency as the manufacture of appliances […] Obedience is the psychological mechanism that links individual action to political purpose” (Milgram, 1963, p. 371). Both experiments were carried out in the US, made use of pen and paper questionnaires, and included qualitative assessments; although the conditions, apparatuses, and  procedures were completely different. The results were controversial enough to elicit a lot of attention from the general public in both cases. Adorno et al.’s work was criticised for being based on psychoanalytic theory, and for the risk of acquiescence response bias (McAvoy, 2012). Milgram’s work got him in serious ethical trouble due to what he was able to uncover about his subjects; and how this impacted their real life, identities, and reputations (Banyard, 2012). Both teams reported their findings through writing, although Milgram also created a documentary about his experiment (Obedience, 1962). 

As it can be observed, there are many substantial similarities between Adorno et al.’s and Milgram’s experiments, even if these are different when it comes to structure. One preceded the next, and one added to the other. Authority and its relation to obedience can be better appreciated by drawing a correlation between the two approaches studied above. The results shed light on personality, and how adult behaviour can be a result of individual differences, as well as of contextual circumstances. Adorno et. al studied the master, and Milgram studied the slave. The general conclusion? Both sides are equally dangerous. 


Adorno, T.W., Frenkel-Brunswik, E., Levinson, D.J. and Sanford, R.N. (1950) The Authoritarian Personality, New York, Harper.

Banyard, P. (2012)  ‘Just following orders?’, in Brace, N. and Byford, J. (eds) Investigating Psychology, Oxford, Oxford University Press/Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 61-95.

Byford, J. (2017) ‘The importance of replication’, in McAvoy, J. and Brace, N. (eds) Investigating Methods, Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 47-82.

Holocaust Encyclopedia (2019) Documenting Number of Victims of the Holocaust and Nazi Persecution [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 2 April 2019)

McAvoy, J. (2012) ‘Exposing the Authoritarian Personality”, in Brace N. and Byford, J. (eds) Investigating Psychology, Oxford, Oxford University Press/Milton Keynes, The Open University, pp. 14-56 

Milgram, S. (n.d.). Modified “F” Scale, Opinion Questionnaire [Online]. Available at:|bibliographic_details|2089868 (Accessed 2 April 2019)

Milgram, S. (1962). ‘Free Obedience vs. Forced Obedience’ in Stanley Milgram Personal Papers [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 2 April 2019)

Milgram, S. (1963). ‘Behavioral Study of Obedience’, in Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, pp. 371-372 [Online]. Available at: (Accessed 2 April, 2019)

Milgram, S. (1965). ‘Some Conditions of Obedience and Disobedience to Authority’, in Human Relations, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 57-76 [Online]. Available at:|bibliographic_details|2082063 (Accessed 2 April, 2019)

Obedience (1962) Directed by Stanley Milgram [Documentary]. New Haven, Yale University. Available at: (Accessed 2 April 2019)





X0: Image Quote


Focquaert: Image Quote

Visual Theory

Sensory & Conceptual Processing


Ellis, G. (2018) ‘Top-down effects in the brain’, Physics of Life Reviews. Elsevier B.V.

Visual Theory

Reaction Time & Behaviourism


Skinner, B. F. and Hunt, E.B. (1992) ‘‘Superstition’ in the Pigeon’, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General. Washington D.C., American Psychological Association, 121(3), pp. 273–274 [Online].