How science can make your baby sleep better

Alice_Gregory_Oct_2015Alice M. Gregory is Professor of Psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is a member of the Advisory Board for a digital parent education endeavor on infant and toddler sleep that is being supported by Johnson’s Baby. She is a Corresponding Editor (Sleep) for the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. She has previously received funding to support her work from multiple sources including the MRC, ESRC, Leverhulme Trust and the British Academy. She is a member of the Labour Party. She is currently writing a book (Nodding Off: Sleep from Cradle to Grave) to be published by Bloomsbury Sigma in Spring 2018.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Asleep, but for how long?


A friend of mine recently gave birth to a beautiful baby boy, but within months she was at the end of her tether with sleep deprivation. Like many parents, she was confused by conflicting advice from midwives, nurses and well-meaning friends – not to mention the many books available. But as a professor of psychology who specialises in sleep research, my advice was to consider the science, then make a choice that suits the whole family. This advice is shared by paediatric sleep experts worldwide who have now introduced Baby Sleep Day on March 1. The Conversation

Sleep is important for a child’s development – it has been associated with attention, school performance and emotional regulation which is important in developing social skills and making friends. My own research has focused on sleep problems early in life and indicates that they are associated with later difficulties such as anxiety, depression and behavioural problems.

Learning to sleep better

Research to date also seems to suggest that certain techniques might help support good sleep in young children. There is moderate evidence that behavioural techniques for sleep such as graduated extinction – putting a child to bed and ignoring all negative behaviour, such as crying, until the morning – promote good sleeping habits. This technique includes brief checks to ensure the child is okay.

Tried everything?

Techniques such as this can improve the time it takes young children to fall asleep, the number of times they wake up at night and the length of time they are awake. However, parents sometimes struggle to implement these techniques, because they feel that ignoring the child will affect the bond they share.

A recent study, however, suggested that such techniques don’t increase stress or lead to long-term attachment or behavioural difficulties in infants. Certain techniques are not recommended for babies under six months of age, however, and safety should always come first, especially when considering the sleep of the very young child.

However, questions about infant sleep go well beyond the effectiveness of behavioural interventions. Researchers have collated a list of the questions most commonly asked by examining queries submitted to an “ask the expert” section of a mobile phone app.

Questions raised by users were about awakenings during the night, sleep schedules, bedtime problems, the sleep environment and sleep training, as well as a whole host of other sleep problems. It is beneficial to understand their concerns for the continued development of resources for caregivers. Research has addressed many of these issues, and advice is available for families, but we must remember that scientific evidence does not necessarily have a bearing on personal preferences.

Personal preferences prevail

Every family is unique. My own bedtime ritual as a young child involved pestering my father for a fireman’s lift up the stairs to bed (not a good technique for the safety conscious). I have also been known to deviate from scientific advice on sleep with my son, who occasionally crawls into my bed during the night. The scientifically correct response to deter this unwanted behaviour is to return him to his own bed. However, my sleep-deprived self is sometimes too tired to bother – as is the case for many parents.

Sleep deprivation is a serious issue.

But encouraging your child to sleep well can limit the disruption to your own sleep. One study found what many parents feel they already know – that disturbed sleep is as problematic as insufficient sleep. Sufficient sleep is also important to maintain good physical and mental health, as well as optimal brain functioning which allows us to perform well at work and avoid accidents.

However, whether your personal choice leans you towards or away from techniques supported by the science, a baby’s sleep always needs to be considered in your own family’s context. A crying baby can wake other children, and night-time rituals and choices have serious implications for parents. So, while I wouldn’t recommend it, if a fireman’s lift to bed is what suits your family, then that decision is yours.

Alice M. Gregory, Professor of Psychology, Goldsmiths, University of London and Erin S. Leichman, Child Psychologist, St. Joseph’s University

Alice rests on Twitter  @ProfAMGregory

What to expect when collective narcissists get political power

a_golecDr. Agnieszka Golec de Zavala is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Psychology. Her research interests and expertise lie in the areas of social and political psychology.  She is  interested in how prejudice is embodied. For example – why do we use a metaphor of cleansing when we mean exterminating others (e.g. ´ethnic cleansing´). She  has examined how intergroup attitudes are shaped by the interaction of ideological orientations – such as political conservatism, nationalism or religious fundamentalism – and epistemic motivations (need for cognitive closure, death anxiety, uncertainty avoidance). She is also particularly interested in predictors of political radicalisation, violence and prejudice, and in  in collective and individual narcissism and their social consequences. It is to this  interest that her post speaks.

Our ongoing research showed that people who agreed with statements like ‘My national group deserves special treatment‘; ‘Not many people seem to fully understand the importance of my group.‘ or ‘I will never be satisfied until my group gets the recognition it deserves.’ voted to Leave the European Union in the referendum in the UK in June 2016. They elected ultraconservative, isolationist government in Poland. They voted for Donald Trump in the US presidential election. These people can be described as collective narcissists and we will face the consequences of their getting to power in the years to come. Thus, we should understand how they think and act.


Collective narcissism is analogous to individual narcissism: emotional dependence on admiration by others (Rodthewald & Morf, 2001) but collective narcissists seek admiration for groups they belong to. In general, people relate to important groups in similar ways they relate to the self (Scheepers, et al., 2013). Insightfully, Jean-Jacques Rousseau differentiated two types of self-love.  Amour propre (self-love) is a preoccupation to amount to something in the eyes of others. It can be compared to individual narcissism, self-esteem contingent on recognition by others. Amour de soi-même (love for the self) is a need to care for and nourish oneself.  It can be compared to self-acceptance or self-compassion.

Similarly, attachment to groups can take two distinct forms. Collective narcissism is an emotional investment in an exaggerated image of an(y) important group contingent on recognition and admiration of others (analogous to image-cautious self-love). It is characterized by an unrealistic belief in group’s grandiosity and demands for privileged treatment (Golec de Zavala, et al., 2009). Collective narcissism may be contrasted with attachment to a highly valued group expressed as feeling responsible for the group’s welfare (analogous to love for the self). The two forms of group love have distinct consequences for inter-group relations. Collective narcissists are hostile towards groups that they see as a threat to their group’s image. People satisfied with their group but not narcissistic about it hold positive attitudes towards other groups (Golec de Zavala, et al., 2013).

Collective narcissists believe their group is unique but not sufficiently recognized by others. In fact, they themselves unconsciously doubt their group: They do not automatically associate group symbols with positive stimuli. People who are attached to a group believe in its good qualities (Golec de Zavala, et al., 2009). For example, in our ongoing studies collective narcissists voted to Leave the European Union because they feared and rejected immigrants. Those who were proud but not narcissistic about being British, voted to Remain because they saw their country as indispensable in defining the European Union’s identity.

Collective narcissists are determined to get the recognition of others. When they think their group is not sufficiently recognized, they advocate hostile revenge. They attack not only the ‘offenders’ but the whole groups they represent. In our studies, when their group was criticized by one person, collective narcissists responded with aggressive intentions and behaviours towards the whole group (Golec de Zavala, et al., 2016). Collective narcissists are also indirectly hostile. They rejoice in misfortunes of groups or people they hold accountable for offending their group.

Worryingly, collective narcissists can construe almost anything as offence to their group. For example, Polish collective narcissists felt offended by a movie about one of the least laudable aspects of Polish modern history: post-war anti-Semitism. In response, they attacked a celebrity actor who played the protagonist in this movie. They expressed intentions of harming and offending him. They rejoiced in his personal hardships (Golec de Zavala, et al., 2016).

Since they constantly monitor their group image, collective narcissists are prone to conspiracy thinking to explain anything that may undermine their group (Golec de Zavala & Cichocka, 2012; Cichocka, et al., 2015). Consider the catastrophic plane crash in 2010 that killed 96 members of the Polish ruling elite including the President and his wife. Collective narcissists could not believe such monumental national loss might have been caused by something as mundane as human mistake. Especially, not one made by the president himself who ordered the plane to land despite averse atmospheric conditions. Thus, they spread and believed in conspiracy theories about a secretive Russian attack. Our ongoing research shows that national collective narcissism predicts support for political parties that most actively promoted such theories.



Collective Narcissism Scale

So what can we expect from collective narcissism being now in power and on the rise? Collective narcissistic rulers are likely to make unrealistic demands on other countries. This will result either in increased international tensions or international marginalization, depending on the country’s actual economic and political power.  Their alliances are likely to be short-lived. Collective narcissists look for allies but they quickly get used to their support and make further demands. Conspiracy theories are likely to become more prominent in political rhetoric. In internal affairs, the divide between ruling parties and opposition is likely to increase. Active opposition undermines the image of the governors.  Internal intergroup tensions are likely to increase because collective narcissists rely on a narrow definition of what constitutes a nation. They do not like it when their group is comparable to other groups. We are likely to witness efforts to marginalize minority groups and limit the rights of immigrants and foreign workers. The more immigrants are presented as economically successful (and comparable to hosting nationals), the more threatening they would seem to national collective narcissists. There will be less help for refugees. Refugees who can successfully settle in a host country become comparable to the hosting group. Such prospects are likely to be threatening to national collective narcissists. In short, we will also see more efforts to secure, legitimize, and further legalize group-based privileges.

There is a chance that collective narcissists’ hostile sentiments may become ‘tamed’ by participation in democratic processes and institutions based on transparency and equal rights. However, there is a real danger that democratic institutions and processes may become compromised by collective narcissistic sentiments.

The Talking Brain: Adventures of a Travelling Neuropsychologist

imageDr Jansari studied Experimental Psychology at King’s College Cambridge followed by a PhD at the University of Sussex with Alan Parkin and then a post-doctoral fellowship in the States with Antonio Damasio and Ralph Adolphs. His research in cognitive neuropsychology has spanned amnesia, facial emotions, prosopagnosia, synaesthesia, mindfulness meditation and most notably assessment of executive disorders using a novel virtual reality task that he has developed and which has been translated into ten languages.

In 2004, Dr Jansari was awarded the International Neuropsychological Society’s Cermak Award for best research in memory disorders; in 2008, he won a Media Fellowship from the British Association for the Advancement of Science for his skills in communicating science to the general public; and in 2014, he was taken onto the BBC’s Academy for Expert Voices. He has lectured extensively around the world and collaborates with scientists in 15 countries spanning five continents. Here he talks us through his latest geographical, neurological challenge.


In 2010, I managed to run a half marathon (in just under two hours if you are asking…) but this year I did an ‘academic marathon’  – I gave 9 invited talks, in 5 cities, on 2 continents in 5 weeks. Like all endurance events, there had been training in the past – I had been to Australia a few times before, and therefore knew neuropsychologists in a number of different places who had wanted me to come to give research talks. On one of these previous trips, I had met a British neuropsychologist who teaches at the National University of Singapore (NSU), who invited me to speak there if I was ever coming through. Additionally, given that one of our own Goldsmiths’ PhD students, Aga Janik had told me that she was moving to Singapore for a temporary lectureship, we arranged for me to give a talk at her new university, James Cook University (JCU), an Australian university that has a satellite campus in Singapore.


London to Singapore via Dubai and then after two talks, onto Sydney


The academic marathon started with a long flight via Dubai to Singapore, where I spent a day and a half trying to get over jetlag -if you haven’t experienced it, jetlag means that you feel totally fine in the first part of the day but then at some point, feel like you have been hit by a truck! Added to this, maybe because of the standard lurgies that are being recycled when you are flying in an aluminium can for half a day at 30,000ft, I had a very sore throat. Therefore, when I rocked up at JCU on 25th February, I wasn’t in the best physical state, as not only was I recovering from jetlag, but worse still I coughed throughout my talk – at some points, I had to apologise to the audience for sounding like I was crying because of my throat! But plenty of lozenges got me through…. I gave my ‘Where’s the boss?’ talk about my virtual reality assessment of executive functions, which I first developed in 2004. I have been refining it since then, extending the work beyond acquired brain injury. Having created the Jansari assessment of Executive Functions (JEF©) as a more ecologically-valid assessment than the rather blunt instruments that clinicians currently use, we have since published five papers using it to look at the impact of ecstasy, alcohol, cannabis, nicotine, and more recently, coffee on the executive functions of healthy individuals. Recent work (see graph below) has taken the research into looking at the impact of repeated head knocks in contact sports, an issue known as ‘Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy’ or CTE – indeed, a lovely study conducted by one of my BSc students comparing amateur boxers, amateur wrestlers and people who don’t engage in contact sports found a direct link between level of contact in a sport and poorer performance on JEF©. Given that this work could potentially form part of an impact case study in the next REF, I think that this work could be the impact of the impact of impact J  In a final aspect of this work, we are using JEF© to look at the potential contributory role of head injuries during childhood on subsequent criminal behaviour, and the cycle of reoffending that means that 50% of individuals are back in prison within a year of being released. Click to hear lecture at JCU.


Jansari & Walczak (in prep). The impact of impact on executive functions in contact sports


The following day, I went to NSU where I had been asked to talk about memory rehabilitation to Masters students. Although this is an area that I don’t work in that much these days, it was useful to have to prepare a talk to brush up on my skills. The talk went well but the exclusively female Chinese Singaporean student body was very quiet and not really willing to ask questions which was a disappointment – this is quite usual culturally so if it happens to you, don’t take it personally!


After a couple of days of catching up with my best friend from undergraduate days and also a former student from UEL who both live in Singapore, I did the seven hour flight to Sydney where the major part of the marathon was going to take place. After a couple of days of adjusting to the new time zone (only three hours different from Singapore so the worst part of the jetlag had been taken care of by now), I gave two talks organised by a clinical psychologist in Sydney. The first of these was my generic ‘Life of Brian (the brain)’ talk which is an overview of the field of cognitive neuropsychology – at the end, I make an analogy between the 3000 years since the word ‘brain’ was written down by the ancient Egyptians, and a 30 year old man called Brian, tracing major landmarks through his life….


My route around Australia from Sydney to Canberra, back to Sydney, then Coffs Harbour, Brisbane, Melbourne and finally back to Sydney


Having survived my first two talks in Sydney, I recovered a bit, and on 8th March moved to the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, the capital. There, I had been invited to give a talk by a former colleague from UEL. Since one of the leading Australian researchers in face-recognition, Eleanor McKone is at ANU, I decided to give my talk entitled ‘The man who mistook his neuropsychologist for a popstar: The fascinating world of face-blindness, super-recognition and everyday face-recognition’. In this talk, I go through research suggesting that faces are treated specially by the brain with a dedicated processing system and demonstrate evidence from a brain-damaged patient I have worked with for years who cannot recognise once-familiar faces, such as family or famous celebrities. I then flip into the reverse of this which is my work on people who are exceptional at face-recognition, i.e. ‘super-recognizers’, covering my work with the Metropolitan Police where we are using cognitive psychology to catch criminals. It was great to meet Eleanor’s team, especially since one of them has been working on the Own Race Effect, in which people tend to be better at individuating people from their own ethnic race than those from other races (see example stimuli below from my work); I have done some work on this and we discussed sharing ideas, paradigms, etc..


Test items in our Own Race Bias study with three panels for three different races (South Asian, Black and White) with the faces becoming more difficult progressing through the test


After ANU, I took a bit of a break for ten days during which I tried to catch up with work back home, and then on the 18th of March I gave my executive functions talk at Griffith University in Brisbane. They run a big clinical training programme and so students and faculty there were interested in the assessment angle of this work. Without taking much of a breath, I moved on to Melbourne. I was scheduled to give two talks again on the executive functions work at the Royal Melbourne Hospital for Children and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute. These two places are within one of the most concentrated medical areas in the world and are particularly world-leading in paediatric work. Therefore it was a privilege to give a talk to people who work with children with different forms of brain injury – I very much hope that this will result in some collaborations for the future using the children’s version of JEF©.


I ended my marathon on the 29th of March in Sydney at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). A team there had published a fantastic paper demonstrating that passport officers can make 1 in 7 errors when deciding whether or not someone is carrying the right passport (which is quite worrying in today’s global security setting….). They were therefore very interested in my face-recognition work, particularly the super-recognition work. Although this was the last talk, it was one of the best attended talks, totally packed with people having to bring in chairs – so a nice way to end! Afterwards, I had a great time talking to Professor Richard Kemp and Dr. David White, along with their team, about their work and possible research synergies.


And then I collapsed…… After an early dinner, I went back to my Airbnb room with the intention of having a rest for a bit before going out for a celebratory drink. However, suddenly the exhaustion hit me almost like the jetlag truck from a few weeks before, to the point where I was lying on the bed not even wanting to go to the bathroom to take off my contact lenses! And the following day, having moved to my friends’ house in the suburbs, I felt so googybrained that I lay horizontal on the sofa for most of the day making my way through four films from my friends’ extensive collection!!!!


So an exhausting marathon……but well worth it. Since coming back at the beginning of April, already two research projects using JEF© have been developed and are awaiting ethical approval, one in Singapore and one in Sydney. In addition, I’m in contact with the face-recognition researchers, at both the ANU and the UNSW, about possible collaborative projects and the researchers at the two centres in Melbourne are also very interested in using the children’s version of JEF© for work in paediatric brain injury.

Exhausting yes, but also very exciting and hopefully potentially fruitful in the future. I didn’t mention, by the way, that while trundling through Singapore and around Australia, I was also trying to buy a house back home in Brighton and because of a huge increase in stamp duty that was coming in on the 1st of April, I was juggling the work stuff with co-ordinating solicitors, mortgage people, valuers, etc. – my luck was in because I managed to complete on my house purchase on the 31st of March just two days after giving my last talk and five days before returning to London!!!!! How did I manage all of this without going mad? Mindfulness meditation – but that’s another story……


Dr. Jansari tweets around the world from @ashokjansari