August 9, 2018, by Kate
Dr Vincent Egan discusses the International Congress on Applied Psychology conference
Dr Vincent Egan, Clinical and Forensic Psychologist at the Centre for Forensic and Family Psychology (University of Nottingham), was invited to speak at the International Congress on Applied Psychology conference in a symposium on sadism.
The International Congress on Applied Psychology (ICAP) conference was held in Montreal over five very hot days in late June, 2018; one would not have known Montreal is more northern than Moscow. The conference was held in the Palais de congrès de Montréal, a venue I last attended in 1989 for the International AIDS Conference, and capable of holding 10 000 people then (I was told the building had even more capacity now). ICAP was a huge event, with about 20 parallel sessions as well as plenary talks, master lectures, workshops, invited symposia, and poster sessions in rooms the size of football fields. Academic events occurred from 8 am to 8 pm. Experts from all areas of applied psychology – occupational, clinical, health, forensic, educational – attended. Given the size of the event, it could be difficult to fraternise across disciplines outside of coffee queues, as the venue took 10 minutes to get from one end of the building to another. Other times, sessions you wished to attend were already very full.
I was invited to speak in the symposium on sadism (“The Sadistic Personality: Measurement and Interactions with Context”) within the Social and Personality Psychology stream of the meeting. This was a great honour, as all other speakers were from the Canadian researchers on the topic, who circulate around Professor Delroy Paulhus, who devised the concept of the Dark Triad (DT; psychopathy, Machiavellianism, and Narcissism, all parts of general antagonism) and is based in Vancouver. Paulhus is testing whether the DT should be extended to include sadism (i.e., deriving pleasure from another’s distress), and included me as a friendly critic, as my own work suggests that sadism adds very little to DT measurement, and is more a behavioural description of psychopathy. The symposium went very well, with a full room, many questions, and other speakers finding their results upheld my argument (without wanting to sound narcissistic, it is always nice to be right). One speaker invited me to be a plenary speaker at next year’s International Society for the study of Individual Differences conference in Florence, Italy, which I was very happy to accept.
Conferences provide an opportunity to learn about current research in the field of forensic psychology
I also attended symposia on violent extremism and terrorism, and was pleased to find that I have not missed new findings and discoveries in this field, which remains as broad and fraught with the problems of doing research in the field as ever. (Terrorists and violent extremists often kill themselves in pursuit of their acts, and when in custody are often disinclined to speak to psychologists any more than they need to, making systematic and broad data gathering from such cohorts difficult.) At the other end of the offending range, I also attended sessions on dangerous driving, which probably kills more than terrorism, and has more personal impact on most people. There is good work being done on developing the cognitive dissonance associated with the notion that “your speeding is acceptable whilst others is dangerous”, and discussing the hypocrisy of this position leads people to drive more cautiously – though they continue to keep their false belief in their own speeding being acceptable.
As a clinical psychologist, I took the opportunity to revise some of my basics, and enjoyed a session reiterating that mental illness is more than negative affect, and the depressive pathways to addictive behaviour, the latter research being experimental and longitudinal, so carrying a firmer scientific basis than the often-descriptive work done in such fields. I also saw a talk on cognitive biases in practitioners; patients of practitioners who have more self-doubt and self-criticism about their own practice have better clinical outcomes – perhaps because such practitioners do not become complacent about their performance and allow deterioration and downward drift of performance.
Conferences also great places to network and learn about new assessments and methods
I met many colleagues at the conference, along with given the size of the event, missing others who I subsequently heard had attended. I was particularly pleased to renew friendships with Scott Lillenfeld, whose work I have followed since I discovered it 20 years ago, and is a strong proponent of the need for evidence-based practice in psychology, and a keen debunker of pseudoscientific influences within psychology and it’s applications. I also caught up with Adele Forth, who is a major researcher in the field of psychopathy, and whom I had not seen in some years.
One good aspect of conferences is picking up new methods and assessments, and ICAP was very fruitful in this respect. There were a number of student posters on statistical methods which were pragmatically focussed, and showed that even ordinary psychology post-graduates can produce sophisticated but practical tools. I discovered that there is now a large video database of YouTube clips rated for affective content analysis, called LIRIS-ACCEDE which will be very useful for studies requiring realistic emotional stimulus material, and which I hope to implement in student projects from September. I also intend to pursue more on sadism using the “Fear Enjoyment Questionnaire”, which was discussed in one of the sessions.
Overall, the conference was very successful; one is often frustrated at what one has to miss at events of this size, but it is a context to promote one’s work and the quality of one’s institution and in that respect, I think North American applied psychologists saw that we are serious counterparts to for future collaborative research. I would recommend that other researchers attended this meeting, provided they do not seek to do too much, as if so, they will only be disappointed; even reading the conference abstracts (376 pages) is overwhelming.