Category Archives: Literature Overview

The EU Referendum – an overview

The European Parliament, Strasbourg. Image © European Union 2015 – European Parliament and used under a CC-BY-NC-ND license.

You’ve probably heard quite a lot by now about the European Union (EU) Referendum that is due to take place this year on 23rd June. As the referendum draws ever nearer there’s likely to be an ever increasing volume of information (and propaganda!) thrown our way as we consider whether to remain in the EU, or leave.

Before the waters are muddied too much by the flood of claims and counter-claims, I figured now is as good a time as any to put together some useful resources in terms of the referendum.

The Question

Following acceptance by MPs of the proposal put forward by the The Electoral Commission, the question put to the people at the referendum will be:

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

Voters will be offered the chance to vote to “Remain a member of the European Union” or “Leave the European Union.”

Who can vote?

British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens over 18 who are resident in the UK, along with UK nationals living abroad who have been on the electoral register for the past 15 years. (Source: The Electoral Commission]


As with the last general election, Full Fact will be fact checking claims made during the referendum campaign. Full Fact is an “independent, non-partisan factchecking charity” and methodically analyses claims to check their veracity. You can find their analysis of some of the key issues at their dedicated EU Referendum pages.

The European Union

The official EU website is accessible at

A range of datasets relating to the European Union are available via Eurostat, the EU’s official statistics portal.

The European Court of Justice is the highest court in the European Law in matters of EU law and is responsible for interpreting EU law and ensuring it is applied equally across all member states. You can search for case law and view the most recent rulings at the Court’s official website.

Campaign Groups

Britain Stronger in Europe – The main cross-party group campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU. Led by the former Marks and Spencer chairman Lord Rose, it includes figures from all major political parties and has received funding from a range of sources, including Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan.

Vote Leave – A cross-party campaign led by the Labour MP Gisela Stuart. It is also backed by the Labour Leave group – the Labour Party’s campaign to leave the EU. It has received funding from Conservative Party donor Peter Cruddas and Labour donor John Mills. Vote Leave’s Chief Executive is Matthew Elliott, founder of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, a right-wing think tank campaigning for low taxation.

Grassroots Out (Go!) – Founded by UKIP donor Arron Banks, Grassroots Out has been backed by figures across the political spectrum, including Nigel Farage (UKIP), George Galloway (Respect), Kate Hoey (Labour) and David Davis (Conservative).

The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition – An anti-austerity movement established in 2010, it is currently led by former Labour MP Dave Nellist and has a number of constituent organisations including the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, the Socialist Party and the Socialist Workers Party.


Details on how to vote are available on The Electoral Commission’s website, including details of how to vote by post.


What UK Thinks:EU is a non-partisan source of information on UK attitudes to the EU and the EU referendum and is run by NatCen Social Research, an independent social research agency. The website offers analysis by renowned pollster, academic and media commentator, Professor John Curtice.

Previous Referendum

An EU referendum was last held in 1975, when voters were asked “Do you think the United Kingdom should stay in the European Community (the Common Market)?”. 67.5% of votes were in favour of staying in.

It’s interesting to note after the controversy surrounding the government’s decision to send everyone a leaflet explaining the benefits of the EU, that the government distributed a similar leaflet in 1975. You can read the full text of the leaflet here and you can find details of more campaigning materials from that referendum courtesy of the archives at the LSE here.


The Refugee Crisis – A Literature Overview

Syrian Refugee | Flickr - Photo Sharing! : taken from - Bengin Ahmad

Syrian Refugee Author: Bengin Ahmad CC-BY-ND 2.0 license.

The ongoing refugee crisis led to the European Federation of Psychological Associations (EFPA) recently urging governments and agencies to engage with psychologists across the EU to coordinate efforts and deal with the refugee crisis. The crisis does, of course, raise a number of serious issues about how best we can support those fleeing war zones. With this in mind, I take a look at some of the key issues regarding psychology and the refugee crisis.

Aid workers

The Guardian reports that there is a mental health crisis amongst aid workers. Following a mental health and wellbeing survey on the newspaper’s Global Development Professional Network, they found that 79% of the 754 respondents reported that they had experienced mental health issues. Over 93% believed that these mental health issues were associated with their work.

In a paper written for the British Journal of Social Work, Kim Robinson investigates the demands and issues faced by social workers in providing support for newly arrived communities. Robinson’s paper is based on a qualitative study conducted in 2006-11 with thirty front line workers. The study offers a comparison of support provided in the UK and Australia. [Access here with your Athens login.]

Mohammad Abo-Hilal and Omar Said Yousef, both refugees, write a brief report for Peace & Conflict about their non-profit organisation Syria Bright Future. As a consequence of the persecution they had faced in Syria, both fled to Jordan where they met and began working with Syrian refugees in Jordan, providing exploratory evaluation appointments and follow-up treatment sessions. [Access here with your Athens login.]

Akoury-Dirani et al (2015) examine the efficacy of a national training programme in psychological first aid (PFA) in Lebanon. Trainees received a 2.5 day training on PFA and screening for mental health disorders in children. Evaluation took place before, immediately after and a period of time after the completion of the training. The data of sixty participants were analysed to evaluate the training. [Access here with your Athens login.]

Harrison et al (2013) report on the UNHCR’s mental health and psychosocial support programme for Iraqi refugees and internally displaced Syrians [full text accessible here].


Rhodes et al (2014) explores the experience of refugees diagnosed with psychosis. The study is based on interviews with seven refugees from a clinical service. Six main themes emerged: bleak agitated immobility, trauma-related voices and visions, fear and mistrust of others, the sense of a broken self, the pain of losing everything, and the attraction of death. This paper was also reviewed by Christian Jarrett for Research Digest (available here). You can read the full paper here (Athens login required).

Mueller et al (2011) studied the mental health of failed asylum seekers through structured interviews with participants. They found that the long asylum processes and withdrawal of social welfare benefits were particularly problematic. Furthermore, they noted high rates of psychopathology amongst rejected asylum seekers. [Full paper hereAthens login required.]

Stephanie Parker (2015) looks at the violence against Syrian female refugees, noting that gender based violence is one of the “most salient features of the current conflict”. Parker also highlights the exploitation of Syrian women as they seek to escape the violence engulfing the country. [Full paper available hereAthens login required.]

Children and adolescents

Kronick et al (2015) examine the detention of children and parents seeking asylum in Canada. Taking a qualitative approach, the study sought to understand the experiences of detained children and families using semistructured interviews and ethnographic participant observation. The authors note that the experience is “acutely stressful” for the children and that they should not be detained on immigration grounds and that parents should not be detained without their children. [Full text hereAthens login required.]

Bronstein et al (2012) examined the mental health of Afghan unaccompanied asylum seeking children in the UK, seeking to identify an estimate of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) within this particular group. The authors conclude that future research should consider approaching mental health issues from a resilience perspective. [Full text hereAthens login required.]

Published as Open Access, Unterhitzenberger et al’s case study evaluates the feasibility of trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy for unaccompanied refugee minors with posttraumatic stress symptoms. The participants included minors that had arrived in Germany 12-25 months before baseline assessment and the majority had completed basic school education. However, due to the small sample size (six individuals), the authors note that the study has limitations and cannot be generalised. The full paper is available here.

Other resources

UEL hosts the Refugee Council Archive. You can access the Refugee Archives blog here. You can also visit the Living Refugee Archive Digital Library a pilot project funded by the University of East London’s Civic Engagement Fund.

You can find out more about the Refugee Council here.

Young Roots – a charity supporting young refugees and asylum seekers.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) website is here.

The UNHCR’s Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees is accessible here [pdf].

The Refugee Council publish regular briefings on statistics about refugees and asylum. You can view those briefings here.

The Home Office produce statistics on immigration, including asylum. These statistics are available here.

All of the materials above are freely available online or are accessible through UEL’s online subscriptions. If you need any assistance in conducting a literature search, please contact me using via the contact option at the top of this page.

The General Election – a literature overview

The Houses of Parliament (c/o Eric Hossinger on Flickr used under a CC-BY license).

With the general election just over a week away, I take a look at some interesting psychology resources available to you on a variety of aspects of the election process, including polling, leadership, young voters and more…


Huberty (2015) looks at the difficulty of using social media to predict the outcome of an election. Huberty explores the use of tools such as Twitter for forecasting elections in a number of democracies, including the United States and Germany. He concludes that social media does not (“and probably never will”) offer a stable representative picture of the electorate and will not replace traditional polling methods as a means of assessing voting intentions.

The failure of polls to accurately predict the outcome of the 1992 election are often cited as a reason we should be cautious in drawing too many conclusions from what the polls appear to indicate. Adam Phillips (2010) of the Market Research Society reflects on the 1992 election result and what polling organisations learnt from it.

More recently, polls in 2010 did not accurately predict the Liberal Democrat vote, with far fewer turning out to vote for the party than the polls had suggested in the run-up to the election. Whiteley et al (2010) examine some of the reasons why this may have been the case.


Mortimore et al (2014) examined national survey data on voter perceptions of the party leaders during the election campaign in 2010, exploring the relationship between specific image attributes and overall satisfaction for each of the leaders. Their research found evidence that negative perceptions have “more powerful effects on satisfaction than positive ones”.

Drake & Higgins (2012) explore the use of language by the leaders during the 2010 debate, paying particular attention to the ways in which language is used to align the speakers with opposition to the political establishment.

Ryan et al (2010) considered the relationship between the likelihood of winning a seat and the gender of the candidate contesting it. The researchers found that where a seat is considered “safe” a male candidate would be more likely to be selected to contest the seat, but there was a strong preference for a female when the seat was described as “hard to win”.

Garzia (2013) investigates the effects of the changes in relationship between Western European political parties and their electorates. Garzia notes the decline in social identity in predicting attachment to a particular party, and the increasing influence of voters’ attitudes towards political leaders.

Young voters

Ipsos Mori (2010) produced a report that revealed how the votes at the 2010 general election were broken down by gender, age, social class and housing tenure. According to their findings, the turnout for the 18-24 age bracket was lower than all the other age groups, with women aged 18-24 particularly low (39%).

Cammaerts et al (2014) question the common perception that young voters are apathetic and not engaged in political issues. Through interviews, surveys and focus groups, they found that young voters were politically engaged but are turned off by mainstream political discourse. (Article is behind a paywall but accessible via ResearchGate.)

Leppäniemi et al (2010) acknowledge the issue with low turnout with young people throughout Europe and they examine a digital marketing campaign targeted at young voters in the 2007 Finnish general election. The study consisted of in-depth interviews with key figures involved in the campaign planning and implementation.

Becker and Waisanen (2013) examine the impact of political comedy, asserting that exposure to political comedy has an “encouraging effect on individuals” and increases their “personal evaluations of their ability to effectively contribute to the political process”. In another paper, based on research in America, Becker (2013) argues that watching shows such as The Colbert Report and The Daily Show increases the likelihood that young people will engage in politics, whether it be taking part in a demonstration or signing a petition.

Condon and Holleque (2013) examine the effect of general self-efficacy on young adults’ voting behaviour. They found that general self-efficacy has a positive effect on voter turnout, particularly amongst young people from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

At the LSE’s European Politics and Policy blog, James Sloam argues that whilst young Europeans are generally “increasingly disillusioned” with conventional forms of politics, there has been a resurgence in youth political protest. Sloam also notes that there has been a “diversification of political engagement” with regard to how young people discover their political voice.

More UEL resources

Check out the journal Political Psychology for a wealth of research on the relationship between psychology and political phenomena. Either search within the journal (see “Search within this publication”) or enter the following search string in Academic Search Complete:

(JN “Political Psychology”) AND (election)

(“JN” is Ebsco code for restricting the search to a particular journal.)

Open Access

The Journal of Social and Political Psychology is an Open Access publication (see here for a quick primer on Open Access) which publishes articles “as soon as they are finalized” rather than publishing complete issues at periodic intervals. In terms of focus and scope, it publishes articles “at the intersection of social and political psychology that substantially advance the understanding of social problems, their reduction, and the promotion of social justice”.

More information

Full Fact is an independent fact-checking organisation that checks the claims of politicians and the media. The Full Fact team will be working throughout the general election to check the claims of all parties as the election draws nearer.

The BBC are running a poll tracker ahead of the election, producing a poll of polls based on the findings of all the main polling organisations.

You can fact check some of the claims made by politicians at the Office for National Statistics website.

The Electoral Commission website has information for disabled voters on their rights, as well as a voting factsheet provided by Mencap here. Mencap also provide more resources for people with learning disabilities here.

Open Rights Group have created a tool so that you can see where your parliamentary candidates stand on surveillance.

Your Next MP provides information on all the candidates standing for election in your constituency.

You can also find lots of useful information on your current MP, including voting record, appearances in parliament and various statistics, on the They Work For You website.

Democratic Dashboard provides lots of information about your constituency, including previous election results, general information about the constituency, forecasts and polling and demographics.

Votr is an app that anonymises the Twitter feeds of your local candidates and gets you to “like” or “dislike” each tweet before displaying your results to see who you most agree with. Votr is available in iTunes and the Google Play store.

The Warwick Policy Lab, based at the University of Warwick, is carrying out a survey about young people and voting in the UK. If you wish to take part in the survey, you can do so here.

If you are going to vote on the 7th May, do resist the temptation to take a selfie inside the polling station! The Electoral Commission advises that this may be a breach of the law (The Electoral Commission, 2014) and you risk a visit from the police should you choose to do so.


Check out the Politics subject support page for more resources on politics both in the UK and beyond.

World Autism Awareness Day – a literature overview

Today is World Autism Awareness Day, a day where autism organisations across the world seek to raise awareness of the condition. But what do we know about it? What are the key issues and where can we find out more?

Living with autism

  • In February, John Harris talked to Penny Andrews for BBC Radio 4’s One to One programme. Penny, not diagnosed until her thirties, talks about how the condition has affected her life, how it impacts upon her career and personal life. Penny and John also reflect on how employers and schools can provide more support and assistance.
  • Author Corinne Duyvis writes for The Guardian on how being diagnosed with autism was a moment of “sharp relief”. She goes on to explain how she believes the condition has “opened worlds” to her.


  • Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental psychopathology at the University of Cambridge and Director of the university’s Autism Research Centre, is one of the leading figures in autism research and has written a significant number of papers on the subject. A collection of his key papers are indexed in Scopus (remember to click “Look for full text” to see if we have full text access to the paper!).
  • Case-Smith and Arbesman examine the research literature on interventions for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) of relevance to occupational therapy. Abstract, references and documents citing this paper are accessible via Scopus.
  • Individuals with ASD face significant barriers when it comes to employment. Dawn Hendricks (Virginia Commonwealth University) reviews the evidence based research related to employment for individuals with ASD. The review specifically focuses on the benefits of employment, obstacles to employment and an “in depth review of supports needed for success”. Hendricks’ paper is available via EBSCO (remember to login via Athens!).
  • Shuttock, P.T., Roux, A.M et al review English language research with respect to services for adults with ASD. They conclude that the evidence base about services for adults with ASD is “underdeveloped and can be considered a field of inquiry that is relatively unformed”. Their paper is available via SCOPUS.
  • Van der Meer, L.A.J. and Rispoli, M. look at the use of speech-generating devices (SGD) for children with autism. They conclude that the evidence base suggests that “SGDs are viable communication options for children with autism”. Their paper is also available via SCOPUS.
  • Allison Shefcyk looks at the preponderance of boys and men diagnosed with ASD, with girls and women often overlooked and diagnosed “considerably later than boys”. Her article is available here.
  • Bejerot et al revisit the hypothesis that the cognitive style in autism is best described as “an extreme variant of male intelligence” with the aim of shedding light on the biological underpinnings of autism. Their paper is available via The British Journal of Psychiatry here.

Web resources

  • The Mental Elf has a collection of interesting articles via the ‘autism’ tag.
  • The website for the charity Research Autism includes a range of information, including links to research articles, research they have sponsored and personal accounts by those with the condition.
  • Guidelines published by NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) for the recognition, referral, diagnosis and management of adults on the autism spectrum, are available on their website. There is also a wealth of information available via NICE’s Evidence Search tool.


  • The National Autistic Society is the leading UK charity for people with autism and their families. The website provides information, support and campaigns on behalf of those with the condition.
  • The leading organisation in the United States, Autism Speaks, has come under some criticism from people on the autistic spectrum (see here, here and here).

Many thanks to Penny Andrews for her assistance in pulling together these resources.

If you need help conducting a literature search, please get in touch (email and Twitter are the best options) and we can arrange a one-to-one.

Cigarettes and plain packaging – a literature overview

Cigarette vending maching in Tokyo (image c/o C.K. Koay on Flickr).

Plain packaging for cigarettes has once more jumped up the agenda with the government apparently keen to push through legislation before the next election. Now seems as good a time as any to look at some of the key issues around plain packaging for cigarettes.

The politics

  • The government had previously shelved plans to legislate for plain cigarette packaging, claiming it wished to study the impact of the move in Australia before pressing ahead.

The Tobacco Industry

  • The tobacco industry has been resistant to the introduction of plain packaging and has previously launched “stealth-marketing” campaigns to rally opposition to the proposals, including the creation of a website supposedly representing British smokers and presenting the “facts”. The website presents a number of “facts” but provides no objective evidence for any of the assertions it contains.
  • A study in 2014 by Costa et al (PDF) used quantitative text mining techniques to examine the extent to which tobacco industry lobbying affects tobacco policy in the EU. The authors found evidence that “tobacco industry lobbying activity at the EU was associated with significant policy shifts”.


  • Jon Sutton from the British Psychology Society’s The Psychologist publication talks to two health psychologists about the evidence for supporting the introduction of plain packaging. (The article is free to read but requires an account to be created.)
  • Freeman, Chapman and Rimmer review the available research into the likely impact of plain packaging and investigate internal tobacco industry statements about the importance of the packs themselves as promotional tools. Searching across a number of databases as well as grey literature (government documents etc) and non-government organisation papers, they conclude that the introduction of plain packaging is consistent with the goal to restrict tobacco advertising and promotion.
  • In a paper published in The European Journal of Public Health, Hammond et al investigated cigarette packet design and the perception of risk among UK adults and youth. Following a survey of 516 adults and 806 youth aged 11-17, they found that there was a perception that “smooth”, “silver” and “gold” branded cigarettes were a lower health risk. According to their survey, over 50% of adults and youth believed that brands labelled “smooth” were less harmful than regular cigarettes.
  • Germain et al examine the effect of plain packaging on adolescents’ perceptions of cigarette packs. They found that as branding was removed from products, so they became less appealing. They conclude that removing branding was likely to reduce “positive cigarette brand image associations” among adolescents.
  • Doxey and Hammond look at the impact of cigarette packaging on young women and found that branded packs had a number of positive associations, including glamour and attractiveness, compared to plain packs. They conclude that plain packaging may consequently reduce brand appeal.
  • The Office for National Statistics compiles a host of statistics as part of its “Integrated Household Survey” every year, including statistics on the prevalence of smoking. The most recent statistical release (October 2014) reveals that smoking prevalence in the UK fell from 19.8% to 18.7%.

(Research articles were obtained following a literature search on electronic databases such as PsycInfo and ScienceDirect as well as Library Search. All articles are accessible using your Athens login!)

Does Blue Monday really exist, or is it a load of ****?

It’s Monday. Or, as the PR industry and media would have it, it’s “Blue Monday” – supposedly the “most depressing day of the year”. Every year the “phenomenon” rears its head on the third Monday of January (have a quick glance at Google to see how many articles have been published online in the past 24hrs). But where does this idea come from and what is the basis for it?

The origin of “Blue Monday”

  • The notion that there is a “most depressing day of the year” was first put forward by Cliff Arnall in 2005. Arnall’s formula that led to him pinpointing a particular day was as follows:

By taking into account various factors such as avg temperature (C), days since last pay (P), days until next bank holiday (B), avg hours of daylight (D) and number of nights in during mth (N), we create a formula such as C(P+B) N+D. This formula allows us to work out the day with the highest ‘depression factor’ which you can then use as a focus for making things better, booking your holiday etc …

Is there really such a thing as “Blue Monday”?

  • Dean Burnett (The Guardian) looks at the methodology of such formulas and exposes how difficult it would be to actually conduct quality research on such a phenomenon.
  • Ben Goldacre looks at the evidence of Blue Monday on his blog (post published in 2009), conducting a miniature literature review to see if Arnall’s formula really stacks up.
  • Peter Etchells (also The Guardian) points out its flaws and also looks at a more recent claim to the “most depressing day of the year”.

Is there a relationship between season and mood?

Not that any of this matters as far as the media are concerned. No doubt there will already be countless articles online about this phenomenon by the time I hit publish on this post…


  • The Samaritans are available 24hrs a day, 365 days a week to provide support.

Psychology and torture – a literature overview

Capitol Hill at Night (c/o Jeff Nickel on Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Content warning: some of the materials referred to below may contain content that some may find distressing.

There has been a lot of media coverage of the US Senate intelligence committee’s report on CIA torture since the publication of the summary yesterday. One of many areas of controversy has been the role of psychologists in assisting the development of “enhanced interrogation techniques”, as well as the position taken by the American Psychological Association (APA).

So, where can you find out more about this story, the position of the APA and its UK equivalent, the British Psychological Society (BPS)?

Definitions of Torture

  • The International Criminal Court Act (2001) sets out the definition of ‘torture’ in relation to the UK’s obligations regarding the International Criminal Court (a separate Act applies to Scotland):

…the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, upon a person in the custody or under the control of the accused; except that torture shall not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to, lawful sanctions.

The Senate report

  • Whilst the full report is still classified by the US government, a 525 page summary has been published and is available online via CNN.
  • The Guardian has published a summary of what it calls are ‘the key findings’.

The position of the APA and the BPS

  • The BPS response to the published summary is available here. The BPS have previously repudiated torture and you can read the Declaration of the British Psychological Society Concerning Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment on the British Medical Journal website here.

Research on psychology and torture

  • In 2009, a study on torture by Metin Başoğlu was published in the American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. Başoğlu studied two groups of torture survivors, one from Turkey and one from the former Yugoslavia. He concludes that the “reality of torture is far more serious than people generally believe”. (Başoğlu’s research is available via PsycArticles – Athens login required.) DOI: 10.1037/a0015681
  • In 2008, Psychoanalytic Dialogues published a special issue on ‘Coercive interrogations and the mental health profession’ featuring a number of articles on psychology and torture (Athens login required).
  • In an article published by the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry in 2012, Kenneth Pope explored ideas and resources to support in conducting psychological evaluations of people who have been tortured. (Article available via ScienceDirect – Athens login required.) DOI: 10.1016/j.ijlp.2012.09.017

Support for victims of torture

  • Freedom From Torture provides direct clinical services to survivors of torture who arrive in the UK.