BJPsych Kaleidoscope February 2019


Bullying is not who we say we are

One of the Kaleidoscope authors recalls getting occasionally bullied at school for being short and chubby. He remains – ahem – vertically disadvantaged, but as he get older, he recognises that he has different strengths (he doesn't like to go on about it, but he can pat his head and rub his tummy at the same time*). We have all experienced the pain of bullying and society rightfully tries to clamp down on it, mindful that the more severe end can lead to enduring psychological harms and serious mental health consequences.

Did you know that the UK has greater rates of bullying than other European nations? Hard to believe when we watch the model behaviour of those in charge of the country. Anyway, February's Kaleidoscope reports on a study of a school-wide intervention tackling the issue at a policy level, training teachers in 'restorative practice' that facilitates communication of harms between the bully and the victim, and a wider curriculum initiative on embedding emotional skills. The outcome was that it showed significant gains over schools that did not have this, and cost about £58 per pupil. There's more work to be done on this, but nice to see positive results. From schools to workplaces, it'd be interesting to test, and it reminds us that bullying is not who we say we are as clinical and academic organisations.

The 'liking gap'

More positively, people like you more than you think. You know that feeling of anxiety anticipating meeting someone new, and the – urgh – annoying sense after about the awkward silences, how you yabbered on too much, and why-oh-why did you tell that embarrassing story about your uncle? You think 'God they must think I'm a fool' - yeah, we all know the feeling; there's even a name for it, the 'liking gap'. Some recent research tested this with a range of people meeting for the first time: it got them to self-rate and asked those they met to also describe the interaction. Everyone thought they were awkward and probably didn't do so well in the conversation; by and large the people they had met thought they were lovely. It honestly isn't you, we're all like that – remember it.

Following on from this, Kaleidoscope also reports on a study that looked at how to avoid 'choking under pressure'. This phenomenon tends to be proportional to the size of the potential win; Chris Tarrant built a TV career pushing contestants on it, but it happens to us all. The study showed how the simple technique of reappraisal to change one's thinking away from 'do well and I win money' to considering that you will lose money by doing badly led to massive improvements in performance. We know, sounds too simple to be true, but it worked. So, moving forward, you need to reframe pending stresses to think 'this person I am talking to will not get the life-changing opportunity to date/hire Amazing Me if I do not show them my stuff!' Sadly, however, one group appears immune to this technique: the English football team's penalty takers.

*Straight up, no kidding.


(All questions true or false; full answers – and source material - will be in February’s Kaleidoscope column in the BJPsych)

  1. A head to head comparison between sertraline and talking therapy for PTSD failed to show any difference between the two modalities.
  2. ‘Shame’ as an emotional state has been shown to be a largely genetic inheritance from our past, with little cultural variation across human populations.
  3. The UK has the highest rates of school bullying in the EU.


  1. True. Most meta-analyses preferentially recommending talking therapies are not from head to head data.
  2. True.
  3. True, though presumably not for much longer.
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