Posts By / bparris

Wonderful Word of Placebo: A talk by Professor Irving Kirsch

Professor Irving Kirsch is Associate Director of the Program in Placebo Studies at Harvard Medical School and is noted for his work on placebo effects, antidepressants, expectancy, hypnosis and the originator of response expectancy theory, is coming to give a talk at Bournemouth University. His influential book “The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth” was shortlisted for the 2010 Mind book of the Year award and was the central premise of a CBS 60 Minutes documentary. His work has changed how anti-depressants are prescribed in the UK. He will be giving a public lecture on the “Wonderful Word of Placebo” on Wednesday the 21st of June at 6.30pm in the Allesbrook LT. I have created an Eventbrite registration page ( should you want to attend this.  Professor Kirsch will also be giving a talk that will be more directly about his book on Friday the 23rd of June at 12.30pm in the Lawrence LT. The abstracts for both talks are also below.

Wonderful Word of Placebo

Wednesday 21st of June 2017 18:30 in the Allesbrook LT


There is not just one placebo effect; there are many placebo effects. Placebo effects can be powerful or powerless depending on the color, dose, strength of the active treatment, branding, price, mode of administration, and the condition being treated. Psychological mechanisms underlying the placebo effect include Pavlovian conditioning, expectancy, and the therapeutic relationship. Because the placebo effect is a component of the response to active treatment, these mechanisms can be used to enhance treatment outcome. Also, contrary to received wisdom, placebo treatment can produce meaningful effects even when placebos are given openly without deception.

The Emperor’s New Drugs: Exploding the Antidepressant Myth

Friday 23rd of June 2017 12:30 in the Lawrence LT

Antidepressants are supposed to work by fixing a chemical imbalance, specifically, a lack of serotonin or norepinephrine in the brain.  However, analyses of the published and the unpublished data that were hidden by the drug companies reveal that most (if not all) of the benefits are due to the placebo effect, and the difference in improvement between drug and placebo is not clinically meaningful.   Some antidepressants increase serotonin levels, some decrease serotonin, and some have no effect at all on serotonin.  Nevertheless, they all show the same therapeutic benefit.  Instead of curing depression, popular antidepressants may induce a biological vulnerability making people more likely to become depressed in the future.  Other treatments (e.g., psychotherapy and physical exercise) produce the same short-term benefits as antidepressants, show better long-term effectiveness, and do so without the side effects and health risks of the drugs.


Scanning Brains, Bones, and Artefacts: Magnetic Resonance Imaging at Poole Hospital

For the past two years I have made very slow progress in attempting to convince Poole Hospital to open access to their MRI scanners for research purposes.  Whilst I had originally responded to an email from them it seems there were not at all ready to deal with my requests. More recently there has been some positive movement on the issue.  I am hoping that this technology might interest you.  Poole Hospital has three scanners of two field strengths: two at 1.5T and one at 3T, the latter being the standard for neuroimaging, but the former being of use for high-resolution structural scans of people and objects.  The applications for this type of technology are many; in psychological research it is used most commonly to get brain scans of patients or to measure brain activity as people perform tasks, but has been used effectively as an analytical tool in Archeology and Sports Science; you will know better than I how this technology has been used in your fields.  I am trying to gauge the level of interest in this technology at BU so as to make a better case  to BU and to the hospital.  Please contact me on if there is utility in the use of this technology in your research or teaching or if there could be in the future.

An Appetite for Research in the Undergraduate Population

For the past four years we have run Research Assistantship Schemes in the Psychology Research Centre. These schemes, both voluntary and paid (fusion-funded), have lead to both expected and unexpected benefits. Read on to find out more.

The 2nd year Psychology undergraduate voluntary Research Assistantship Scheme received 45 applications this year which represented 25% of the eligible year group. This represents an almost 50% increase on the year before. Prior to formalising the scheme numbers were much lower than that. Formalising the scheme has helped reveal an amazing appetite for research in the undergraduate population, but our schemes have had further reaching benefits. One benefit has been that our accrediting body, The British Psychological Society, has commended the RA scheme. We have also learned that some students applied to our undergraduate course because of the RA scheme.

The related Fusion-funded Research Assistantship Summer Scheme received 37 applications for the 7 paid positions. Two of the positions were advertised to completed 3rd year students. Advertised as prestigious positions and a potential platform to MSc level study, all of the 3rd year applicants went on to apply for our research MSc in Lifespan Neuropsychology. This year the number of BU students recruited to the MSc has doubled (acting as somewhat of a buffer against the sector-typical drop in external applications). Furthermore, 66% of the unsuccessful applicants volunteered as RAs with us over the summer instead of missing out. Some of these applicants joined our RA schemes in their second years as volunteers meaning that we have provided them with a pathway for research training from early in their degree through to MSc; for some this has lead to their names’ inclusion on submitted papers.

For the first time this year the summer scheme positions sought sponsorship. Non-financial sponsorship came from three local charities alongside which the RAs worked giving them further invaluable experience. At least one of these is now considering providing financial sponsorship for summer 2014; we hope to introduce matched- or fully-funded sponsorship options in the near future. In sum, the RA positions are a useful route route to engagement with local, external bodies and could entice first-time funders, representing first-step funding, and potentially leading to funding for matched- or perhaps fully-funded PhD positions and beyond.

The RA schemes have been running in the Psychology Research Centre for four years. Increasing formalisation has led some important benefits for students and staff and revealed an appetite for for research in the undergraduate population that previously could only have been guessed at. For sure, some of this represents the desire for more general experience for CVs but most are genuinely interested in the outcome of the research. Students learn the difficulties involved in research and begin to better understand and appreciate what academics spend their time doing when they are not teaching. Staff are learning more about the utility of involving fresh, eager minds in their research. If wielded properly, RA schemes have the potential to meet student demands, increase MSc level study here at BU and as a consequence prevent the loss of our best students, and help build future researchers. We are happy to report all of these outcomes in the four years the schemes have been running. We aim to continue the formalisation and offer Certificates for newly defined stages of Research Assistantship, which involves combining our up until now separate voluntary and paid schemes. We have spoken to at least one head of group who is interested in porting this formalised scheme to their discipline and to allowing our RAs to interact in the hope of fermenting interdisciplinary discussion and research and the undergraduate level. We hope that this blog entry will spark more interest.

The Research Apprenticeship Summer Scheme, networking and ‘brain drain’

Dr Sarah Bate, Professor Sine McDougall and I were recently awarded money to expand our previous efforts to give second year undergraduate students the opportunity to experience life as full-time researchers. Run for 8 weeks last summer for the first time, the selected students applied for and won the opportunity to work closely with a member of the Psychology Research Centre, and took part in discussions about experimental design, analysis and theory.  They contributed fully to the whole process. The students reported gaining tremendous benefits from the scheme in terms of knowledge and skills gained (and consequently applied to their final year of study); particularly, they said, in their ability to digest academic articles, a task previously daunting and time-consuming.

Buoyed by this first run, this year’s scheme will not only give new students the same opportunity but will also involve sponsorship (financial and non-financial) by external bodies, generating greater interaction with significant external bodies; relationships/networks that have the potential to help with research goals and award funding in the future. This first-step engagement with potential grant funders could represent a new path to funding larger projects; we foresee the possibility of matched-funded positions (at less than £1000 per student it is not too much to ask).  Our aim is for each of the positions to be associated with a local charity or business. For example, one RA position this year will be referred to as the ‘Dorset ADHD Support Group Research Apprenticeship Position’.  Engaging with this support group to garner non-financial sponsorship has led to an invitation to the NHS ADHD Strategy Group and discussions about how future financial sponsorship might come about (not to mention their help in identifying families that live with ADHD and the introduction to other key personnel in the local NHS Trust and other relevant bodies).

A further betterment of the scheme this year is specifically aimed at preventing ‘brain drain’. We recently lost three of our best students to some prestigious institutions in the transition from BSc to MSc level. In the present bid we also applied for funds to have two excellent students work as RAs between their undergraduate and postgraduate degrees on projects specifically geared towards a topic they could address at MSc level. Importantly, for the very best students this will complete the path from the voluntary term-time RA scheme which we also run at second year level to the summer apprenticeship scheme right through to MSc project, ensuring an unprecedented level of co-creation. The postgraduate RA scheme will, we hope, act as an incentive for these students to stay with us.

In future we hope to port this model to other Centres and Schools. It is relatively cheap to run, and the benefits are considerable and, even if we do say ourselves, great fusion. If you are interested, please contact us.

Involving undergraduates in research: the Psychology Research Apprenticeship Scheme

Following on from Sally Gates’ recent blog about involving undergraduates in research, we thought it would be good to share with the blog readership our experience of the Research Apprenticeship Scheme that we have been running in the Psychology Research Centre for the past three years.

Undergraduate students in their second year are offered the chance to work alongside staff and help them with their research.  These positions enable 2nd year students to work directly alongside staff and help them with their research.  Students get the chance to work together with researchers, gathering and analysing data, and working out what experimental findings might mean.  The students often get a chance to work with specialist equipment that they might not have been able to otherwise and gain in-depth knowledge of what research really involves. And of course it looks great on their CVs. This experience engenders the research bug in the students – two were intrigued enough to apply for and win funding from the Nuffield Foundation for summer work in the Psychology Research Centre – and those students and others from the scheme are busy applying for PhD positions this year.   The scheme also provides the students with invaluable experience for their own research project in their final year of study.

Of course, the scheme also helps staff.  We really appreciate the help and support the ‘apprentices’ provide.  The scheme has really grown and this year we were able to offer 25 research apprenticeship positions to 2nd year students.  We hope the scheme will go from strength to strength and that in future years we may be able to offer one or two paid summer placements to our best undergraduate apprentice researchers.