THE SOCIAL SOLUTION TO HEALTH (If you want to live longer and more healthily, have friends)

March, 2018

It’s always puzzled me that within Psychology a culture of creating and reinforcing silos of knowledge* (See definition below) exists. For example, consider social psychology, an organisation of knowledge and related research on that most complex aspect of human behaviour. Recently the London & Home Counties Branch of the BPS hosted a talk for members by Professor Alex Haslam and Professor Catherine Haslam from the University of Queensland, Australia, on the relationships between social identity, health and wellbeing; the topic of their recent publication ‘The New Psychology of Health: Unlocking the Social Cure.’ In their presentation they made links between mortality, mental health, the importance of social identity and social connection.

As an Educational Psychologist I have seen and heard about the effects of friendship, family and organisational social contexts on learning, development and wellbeing time and time again. In many ways, good friends and social support are like ‘gold’ in people’s everyday lives and the more of this treasure you can amass the more you will cope with the challenges of life. Empirical research and academic verification of this is to be welcomed and indeed is highly valued by practitioners like myself but I do wish that the link between the research and the academic was not promoted as being such a one-way, non-reciprocal entity.

I frequently explain my job as being to research the issues/questions that people bring. I work in many ‘real world’ contexts with different individual children, young people and adults and within the framework of individual assessment I and other practitioner psychologists communicate what we find to everyone involved but the patterns that emerge over time from many different cases are not, on the whole, shared, let alone used, as a way of informing and building theory.

The idea of a whole learned body of theories and principles labelled social psychology and generated by academics to be applied by practitioners doesn’t make sense. However, this dichotomy of academic/applied practice and a seeming imbalance in value afforded to practice relative to theory is deeply embedded within psychology. and evident in the rationale, ethos, activities, focus and hierarchy of my learned body ‘The British Psychological Society.’(BPS) Whilst I agree with Kurt Lewis (1951) that there is nothing so practical as a good theory, what about the inverse of this statement ‘there is nothing so theoretical as a good practice’ or, as Anthony G. Greenwald (2012) titles in his interesting article ‘There is nothing so theoretical as a good method’.

Click to access NothingSoTheoretical.PPS.2012.pdf


*In management the term silo mentality often refers to information silos in organizations. Silo mentality is caused by divergent goals of different organizational units. It can also be described as a variant of the principal-agent problem. Silo mentality preferably occurs in larger organizations and can lead to a decreased performance and has a negative impact on the corporate culture. Silo mentality can be countered by the introduction of shared goals, the increase of internal networking activities and the flatting of hierarchies. Predictors for the occurrence of silos are:

Number of employees

Number of organizational units within the whole organization

Degree of specialization

Number of different incentive mechanisms

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