Archive for December 31, 2013

GENEVA (24 December 2013) – Two United Nations independent human rights experts today welcomed the publication of parts of Sir Peter Gibson’s interim report, an official investigation into the extent of the United Kingdom’s involvement in torture and other human rights violations concerning people detained overseas in the context of counter terrorism operations.

However, the UN Special Rapporteurs on torture, Juan E. Méndez, and the Special Rapporteur on the protection and promotion of human rights while countering terrorism, Ben Emmerson, expressed concern that a proposed official inquiry is to be entrusted to a parliamentary body, the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC).

“The Gibson Inquiry suffered from a number of procedural shortcomings which were identified in my March report (see below) to the Human Rights Council,” Mr. Emmerson said, stressing that “the UK has, until now, indicated a commitment to the establishment of a judge-led inquiry to take forward the work of Sir Peter Gibson.”

“I am concerned that this proposal appears to have been abandoned in favour of a purely parliamentary inquiry which is likely to suffer from many of the same procedural shortcomings,” he warned. “I urge the British authorities to ensure that the fresh inquiry is given the powers it needs to get at the truth.”

Special Rapporteur Méndez also expressed disappointment that the inquiry would now be handed to the parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee to examine and complete the investigations, as announced by the Minister without Portfolio Ken Clarke.

“It is particularly discouraging to know that the decision was handed over to the ISC which is known to have previously failed to fully investigate prior allegations of torture, ill-treatment, rendition and surveillance in the context of counter-terrorism and national-security,” the independent expert said, recalling the findings of the ISC 2007 report which concluded, among other things, that “no evidence [was found] that the UK Agencies were complicit in any ‘Extraordinary Rendition’ operations.”

Mr. Méndez reminded the UK Government of its obligation under the UN Convention against Torture*: “Each Government should undertake a prompt and impartial investigation wherever there are reasonable grounds to believe that torture has been committed, and prosecute suspected perpetrators of torture.”

“The British authorities should take persistent, determined and effective measures to have all allegations of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment investigated promptly, effectively and impartially by an independent, competent domestic authority, as well as whenever there is reasonable ground to believe that such an act has been committed,” Mr. Méndez said quoting the Convention.

The expert stressed that UK Government also is obliged to hold responsible, bring to justice and punish all those who encourage, order, tolerate or perpetrate such acts responsible, including the officials in charge of the place of detention where the prohibited act is found to have been committed.

“The British Government should take note, in this respect, of the Principles on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Updated Set of principles for the protection and promotion of human rights through action to combat impunity as a useful tool in efforts to prevent and combat torture,” he said.

Mr. Emmerson and Mr. Méndez will follow up with the UK Government over the terms of reference and powers of the Intelligence and Security Committee inquiry, with a view to determining whether it is capable of meeting international minimum standards.

(*) The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment:


Ben Emmerson (United Kingdom) is the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. On 1 August 2011, he took up his functions on the mandate that was created in 2005 by the former United Nations Commission on Human Rights and renewed by the United Nations Human Rights Council for a three year period in September 2010. As Special Rapporteur he is independent from any Government and serves in his individual capacity. Learn more, log on to:

Check the Special Rapporteur’s report:

Juan E. Méndez (Argentina) was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council as the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment on 1 November 2010. He is currently a Professor of Law at the American University – Washington College of Law and Co-Chair of the Human Rights Institute of the International Bar Association. Mr. Méndez has previously served as the President of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) until 2009, and was the UN Secretary-General Special Advisor on the Prevention of Genocide from 2004 to 2007, as well as an advisor on crime prevention to the Prosecutor, International Criminal Court, between 2009 and 2010. Learn more, visit:

1. Want people to trust you? Try apologising for the rain.
“Superfluous apologies represent a powerful and easy-to-use tool for social influence,” the researchers said. “Even in the absence of culpability, individuals can increase trust and liking by saying ‘I’m sorry’ – even if they are merely ‘sorry’ about the rain.”

2. The 100+ most followed psychologists and neuroscientists on Twitter.
When we updated the list in July, the top five were: Andrew Mendonsa (clinical psychologist), Kiki Sanford (neurophysiologist turned science communicator), Sam Harris (neuroscientist and author), Richard Wiseman (psychologist, blogger and author) and Laura Kauffman (child psychologist). Look out for another update next year.

3. Smiling fighters are more likely to lose.
… [UFC] fighters who smiled more intensely prior to a fight were more likely to lose, to be knocked down in the clash, to be hit more times, and to be wrestled to the ground by their opponent (statistically speaking, the effect sizes here were small to medium). On the other hand, fighters with neutral facial expressions pre-match were more likely to excel and dominate in the fight the next day, including being more likely to win by knock-out or submission.

4. A study of suicide notes left by children and young teens.
Contrary to their predictions, the researchers said that “the notes are coherent and do not reveal confusion or overwhelming emotions. The children and young adolescents emphasise their consciousness of what they are about to do and they take full responsibility.”

5. Women’s true maths skills unlocked by pretending to be someone else.
By separating their performance from their own identity, it seems the women performing under an alias no longer felt pressure to avoid being seen as an example of the harmful gender stereotype [that women are weaker at maths than men].

6. Older, more experienced therapists cry more often in therapy.
Looking at the correlates of being a therapist who cries in therapy, it was older, more experienced therapists and those with a psychodynamic approach, who were more likely to be criers. Surprisingly perhaps, female therapists were no more likely to cry in therapy than male therapists, despite the fact that they reported crying more often in daily life than the men.

7. Kids experience schadenfreude by age four, maybe earlier.
The kids of all ages (four to age years) showed evidence of schadenfreude, suggesting their emotional response to another person’s distress was influenced by their moral judgements about that person. That is, they were more likely to say they were pleased and that it was funny if the story character experienced a misfortune while engaging in a bad deed.

8. LEGO figures are getting angrier.

Nevermind increasingly violent video games or the ever-present danger of an uncensored internet, a far more insidious and unexpected change is afoot that could be affecting our children’s emotional development. Researchers have discovered that the faces on LEGO Minifigures are becoming increasingly angry and less happy.

9. The supposed benefits of open-plan offices do not outweigh the costs.
“Our results categorically contradict the industry-accepted wisdom that open-plan layout enhances communication between colleagues and improves occupants’ overall work environmental satisfaction,” the researchers concluded. They added: “… considering previous researchers’ finding that satisfaction with workspace environment is closely related to perceived productivity, job satisfaction and organisational outcomes, the open-plan proponents’ argument that open-plan improves morale and productivity appears to have no basis in the research literature.”

10. Working memory training does not live up to the hype.
The results were absolutely clear. Working memory training leads to short-term gains on working memory performance on tests that are the same as, or similar to, those used in the training. “However,” the researchers write, “there is no evidence that working memory training produces generalisable gains to the other skills that have been investigated (verbal ability, word decoding, arithmetic), even when assessments take place immediately after training.”

Compare this year’s top 10 to last year’s.
See also: the top 10 psychology books of 2013.

Christian Jarrett has edited and written the BPS Research Digest since its inception in 2003 and he created the blog in 2005 (contact him on christianjarrett [@] Christian chooses and writes up the studies covered here. He also compiles the fortnightly Digest email, manages the Twitter and Facebook pages, helps with promotion and advertising, and oversees the new Occupational Digest (edited by Dr Alex Fradera).

The number of teenagers deliberately hurting themselves is on the increase. For example, the latest data for England show that over 13,000 15- to 19-year-old girls and 4,000 boys were admitted to hospital for this reason in the 12-month period up to June this year, an increase of 10 per cent compared with the previous 12-month period. More than ever we need to understand why so many young people are resorting to this behaviour.

A common motivation teenagers give is that non-suicidal self-harm provides a way to escape unpleasant thoughts and emotions. Another motive, little explored before now, is that self-harm is a way to deliberately provoke a particular desired feeling or sensation. A new paper from US researchers has explored this aspect of self-harm, known as “automatic positive reinforcement” (APR).

Edward Selby and his colleagues gave 30 teenagers who self-harm (average age 17; 87 per cent were female) a digital device to carry around for two weeks. Twice a day, the device beeped and the teens were asked to record their recent thoughts of self-harm, any episodes of self-harm, their motives, their actual experiences of what it felt like, as well as answering other questions…

::: click here for piece in full @ BPS Research Digest :::

J citation: Edward A. Selby, Matthew K. Nock, and Amy Kranzler (2013). How Does Self-Injury Feel? Examining Automatic Positive Reinforcement in Adolescent Self-Injurers with Experience Sampling. Psychiatry Research DOI:10.1016/j.psychres.2013.12.005

Further reading…

Goth subculture linked with history of suicide and self harm
The attitude of casualty staff towards self-harm
Tattoos, body piercings and self-harm – is there a link?
The sight of their own blood is important to some people who self-harm

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