We rarely consume alone

In this post, Dr Richard Nicholls discusses how the other customers around us during the consumption of a service can exert an influence on how we experience that service. This area of research, usually known as customer-to-customer interaction (CCI) or C2C interaction, is expanding rapidly.

The second half of the 20th century saw a growing awareness of the dominance of the service economy. An important consequence of this is that services and their management have received increasing research attention. Evidence of this can be found in the proliferation of service journals over recent decades. For example, the Journal of Services Marketing; the Journal of Service Research; Journal of Service Management; and The Service Industries Journal. A core theme of service research has been customer interaction. The scope of customer interaction has broadened over the decades. In the early years of service research, the focus was on human interactions with employees, but these days interaction research includes interactions with brands, websites, virtual digital assistants, service robots and with other customers.

The growing realisation that interactions between customers are important

In the 1980s and 1990s there was a prevalent customer interaction research focus on interactions between frontline employees and customers (i.e., E2C interaction). It was, however, increasingly realised that many interactions occurred between the customers themselves (i.e., customer-to-customer or C2C interaction). Early work helped to conceptualise how C2C interaction could be understood and to identify areas for future research. The growth of the internet, and new service formats enabled by the internet, made more people receptive to the idea that customers can co-create (or co-destroy) value with one another.   Furthermore, partly due to the rapid growth of self-service, it was realised that some services had more C2C than E2C interaction. Moreover, as suggestions increasingly came forwards for ways of managing interactions between customers, growing numbers of managers and researchers felt C2C to be a field worth investigating.

A focus on C2C interactions inside service settings

The influence of customers on one another is a wide-ranging research theme (Heinonen et al., 2018; Heinonen & Nicholls, 2022). Whilst much C2C influence takes place away from the service setting through consumers exchanging views, often in their own social circles, on the merits of various products and providers, this is generally labelled word-of-mouth (WOM). Moreover, it is not specifically connected with services, as much WOM concerns goods. Following a ground-breaking paper by Martin and Pranter (1989), some service researchers have focused on the C2C influence occurring in service settings themselves, often referring to this as CCI (customer-to-customer interaction). Three main groupings of CCI exist. The first is in-group interaction, which is often seen as family or group consumption behaviour and concerns how family and/or friends in a group interact with one another during service consumption (e.g., shopping together). The second group is the influence of other customers, typically strangers and not family or friends, who merely happen to be part of the scene and exert indirect influence such as contributing to the collective ambiance of a service setting. A third group is direct interactions in a service setting between customers, typically strangers, who have entered the setting separately. Such interactions, known as direct on-site CCI (Nicholls, 2010), are often short and unplanned. Some C2C interactions can, however, be quite extended, especially in industries such as travel, tourism, and education.

Interactions between customers take many forms

The author’s research has focused mainly on direct on-site CCI. It has included conceptualising such interactions, identifying types, and considering how these interactions can be managed. In a recent paper (Nicholls, 2020), the author identified nine distinct categories of CCI: (1) shared use space, (2) assigned space and possessions, (3) information provision, (4) assistance, (5) social conversations, (6) disrespectful attitude, (7) queuing discipline, (8) transaction efficiency and (9) undesired customers and ‘camouflaged customers’. These categories are designed to accommodate most of the customer behaviours that affect the service experience of other customers as consumers attempt to do things like share a common space with strangers, queue for service, and ask or offer assistance to strangers. For example, the ‘shared use space’ category reflects the reality that in many service settings, such as trains, libraries and cinemas, common space exists that needs to be recognised as sufficiently under a customer’s control or influence to gain appropriate benefit from the service. An illustration of this is the desire of many customers for a train environment that excludes other passengers playing their music loudly or talking persistently on their mobiles. The article (Nicholls, 2020) provides detailed descriptions, discussion, and illustrations of all nine categories. It also provides a 38-question audit tool to assist practitioners in identifying the aspects of CCI that are most pertinent to their organisation. Understanding that customers rarely consume alone and can be influenced, both positively and negatively, by the other customers surrounding them, offers a useful path for gaining fresh insights into customer care. Moreover, the relevance of interactions between customers has never been more relevant than in these Covid-dominated times, with concerns such as how near others are, why others are loitering by the shop entrance, and who has touched what (e.g., a shopping trolley handle) before us.

Dr Richard Nicholls

Richard is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Marketing and Enterprise at Worcester Business School and the Customer Interactions Research Theme (CIRT) Lead, which is part of the Interpersonal Relationships and Wellbeing Research Group. Richard has published extensively on customer-to-customer interaction (CCI) in leading service journals and in specialist academic research books.  Three members of the group are currently working on a project that examines the management of customer-to-customer interaction in supermarkets. Research is also underway into how family members may influence one another’s food consumption.    

Appointment of new Ambassadors of the Children’s Alliance 

The Children’s Alliance emerged from ‘Water Babies’, an organisation aiming to give all young children access to the nurturing impact and confidence of water time.  In seeking to help children from early years through to young adulthood, The Children’s Alliance extended this childhood-centric orientation.  With the adage ‘it takes a village to raise a child in mind, the Children’s Alliance has collaborated with a range of committed specialists and practitioners from a variety of backgrounds, to explore how best to improve the quality of children’s lives.  

For children throughout the UK, the Children’s Alliance has created information-rich sources and facilitated evidence-based knowledge exchange, to influence community and national practices enabling children’s development. It is through this medium Pamela and Alison have joined forces with peers to ensure that challenges faced by children, which detract from their living healthy and happy lives, are identified and addressed. Pamela and Alison have contributed towards the development of four published reports:

Children’s Alliance (September, 2022) Family and Community

Children’s Alliance (July, 2022). The Mental Health of Children and Young People.  

Children’s Alliance (October, 2021).The Health and Wellbeing of Children in the Early Years

Children’s Alliance (December, 2021).The Physical Health of Children and Young People.  

The first aim of the reports is to broaden politicians’ awareness of the health and wellbeing issues currently facing children in the UK (such as, detrimental impacts of inadequate physical activity, poorly recognised or inadequately supported mental health issues, or socio-economic and cultural inequalities). 

The second aim of the reports is highlight the need for a ministerial position dedicated to the health and wellbeing of children and young people. The culmination of the work undertaken provides a policy template that is proof positive of the Children’s Alliance contention that the new Prime Minister should appoint a cabinet minister with overall responsibility for Children and Young People at the earliest opportunity. 

The Rt Hon Anna Firth MP receiving the quartet of reports on behalf of the Houses of Parliament.

To this end the Children’s Alliance Reception, hosted by the Right Honourable Anna Firth MP, took place on 7th September 2022 in the Terrace Pavilion at the Palace of Westminster. 

As Ambassadors, Pamela and Alison joined the throng of voices aiming to champion viable beginnings for every child to experience physical, social, emotional and mental wellbeing for life.   Pamela and Alison are pictured below with the Children’s Alliance Honorary President the Rt. Honourable Baroness D’Souza at the event. 

You can read more about Pamela’s work as an ambassador for The Children’s Alliance in her earlier blog post:

Dr Pamela F Murray

Pamela is a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Organisational Behaviour at Worcester Business School and member of the Interpersonal Relationships and Wellbeing Research Group. 

A Road Less Travelled

The PhD by Publication

Gray Asphalt Road in Between Trees
Peter Fazekas

Life is difficult. This is a great truth. One of the greatest truths.’ The opening sentence of M. Scott Peck’s seminal text, The Road Less Travelled, had my attention immediately. I read his book in my very early twenties just as I was completing my student training to qualify as a Mental Health Nurse, in my home county of Donegal. The book resonated with me as young woman back then, as I had seen a lot of the harshness of life as a student nurse and the difficulties that people experienced due to mental ill health. I was also quite naive about what lay ahead for me in my life. I was optimistic about where life would take me and what I might accomplish over the course of my future and my career. I had no appreciation then that I would travel to England and be domicile here for the next thirty-five years or more, as my career and continued education opened paths and gateways that I never envisaged or anticipated. And yes, some parts of my journey were difficult, as a nod here to M. Scott Peck. When I left home for England in 1987, I promised that I would return once I considered myself to be more qualified and accomplished in my career. Surprisingly perhaps, I never thought that I would eventually achieve what would be one of my greatest achievements, that is, my PhD award.  

The QAA 2020 defines the main characteristics of the PhD by Publication as follows:  

‘A candidate presents a portfolio of interconnected published research papers contextualised by a coherent narrative, demonstrating overall an original contribution to knowledge. Such publications may include papers, chapters, monographs, books, scholarly editions of a text, technical reports, creative works in relevant areas, or other artefact’ (p.8).  

Smith 2015 emphasizes that the PhD by Publication is a very useful alternative for individuals who are already widely published, are established researchers or mid-career academics. I would also add that the route can appeal to those individuals who have a diverse professional back story on which to draw from, in the context of prospective publications on a given theme and research interest. It is fair to say that the typical traditional research doctorate is just one form of the range of other PhD programmes, including a taught PhD, or a professional doctorate. There is a consensus in academia that the undertaking of a doctoral study is about the creation of original and coherent  contribution to knowledge. However, there are two key differences between the traditional PhD route and that of the PhD by Publication.

Firstly, the traditional PhD is based on a supervised programme of study with an allocated supervision team, to assist with the progression towards the submission of the final thesis. Whereas the PhD by Publication candidate will work closely with their Mentor and, their thesis is based on a selection of coherently themed peer-reviewed publications. Secondly, the candidate on the traditional route will be trained and supervised by their allocated supervisors in research methodology, to identify the most appropriate methodology for their research. Whereby the PhD by Publication candidate’s research methodology is recognised and evaluated within the retrospective analysis of their publications. The PhD by published work still attracts the smallest uptake by candidates. Admittedly, this road less travelled that I decided to navigate was in fact, long and windy. There were plenty of bumps on the way which jolted my confidence on occasion and, at certain times I got a bit lost or ran out of fuel. In some ways, it felt like a pioneering journey and at times lonesome, as there were very few of my academic colleagues or, other doctoral candidates who had or were pursuing this route.  

To cut a very long story short, having worked in various services relating to mental health, drug and alcohol misuse, domestic violence, and child protection, I eventually started my academic career with the University of Worcester in the summer of 2007. I took up my position as a Senior Lecturer with the former Centre for Early Childhood and I quickly immersed myself in the business of teaching and subsequently researching and writing for publication. I was very fortunate to work with inspirational colleagues who invited and encouraged me to write a series of book chapters which focused on my expertise from my professional history. The chapter themes and peer-reviewed journal articles related to issues of children’s rights, child protection, domestic violence and subsequently, the professional development of Early Childhood Educators and Carers. My research did not happen in an isolated vacuum, I was very involved with my collegiate communities of academics and students within and beyond the university. Mantai 2017 describes how PhD candidates interact with others, develop their own support networks and learn and develop internally and externally to their research environments. This is despite the soundings in the literature of student isolation and loneliness.  

Mantai (2017) also relates how doctoral candidates face many intellectual and emotional     challenges, some of which can result in students’ ‘feelings of intellectual inferiority’ amongst their peers, akin to imposter syndrome (p.638). I reflect on how I had to really dig deep at times to find my doctoral voice. One of the safest places in doing so was with my wonderful PhD Mentor, who gave me the time and space to articulate my ideas, my research woes and my thinking about how to extrapolate the essential ‘cover story’ Lee, 2010, of my combined selected publications for the final portfolio. In amplifying my doctoral voice, I made good use of research seminars to talk to my peers about my research journey so far. I also attended national and international conferences to present my research and the germinating synthesis of my combined publications and their contribution to knowledge.  

The final examination of the PhD by Publication does of course involve the Viva as with all PhD candidates. The submitted review of my selected publications, along with the necessary synthesis of the publications to demonstrate their coherency, originality and critical contribution to knowledge underwent the required examination and scrutiny. Undoubtedly, this was a challenging and extraordinary experience in the last lap of my PhD journey, but I endured and enjoyed it very much indeed.

Niven and Grant 2012 write how they discovered that PhDs by publications ‘are not an ‘easy way out’ to the qualification’….there is nothing in our experience that suggests this mode is ‘easier’ than traditional doctoral studies’ (p.110). The authors comment on the most rewarding and creative aspects of this PhD route which is the ‘importance of the person of the researcher’ (p.110) and the significance of the reflective narrative of the doctoral experience as a journey. These thoughts are salient as I conclude with my own observations as a previous PhD by Publication candidate. In research ‘emphasis is given to the importance of “critical subjectivity” which should not be suppressed, as it is also an anchor to the researcher’s inquiry so that we do not become overwhelmed….[or] become lost in our own narrative’ McLoone-Richards, 2021, p. 4. In short, as researchers we all have our stories based on our personal, professional and academic experiences. These narratives inform who we are as researchers, and it is this recognition that particularly resonates with the PhD by Publication in extricating the so called ‘cover-story’ of our collected works.  

Key Messages for the potential PhD by Publication candidate:  

As a published author or if you are considering developing your publication profile, do remain mindful of the importance of identifying the common and coherent theme/s within your final selection of publications for your thesis.  

You should have the opportunity to be involved in the selection of your Mentor who will work closely with you for the duration of your PhD journey. Ideally, this should be someone who has previous knowledge and experience of the PhD by Publication route. So, ensure this person is someone you can relate to as this is important in developing a constructive, challenging and supportive academic relationship.  

Finally, have faith in yourself and your abilities. There will be good days and there will be days when you may feel like giving up on your PhD, but keep going on that road!    

Dr. Claire McLoone-Richards

Claire is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of  Violence Prevention, Trauma and Criminology, School of Psychology,  University of Worcester, and a member of the Trauma & Violence Prevention research theme within the Interpersonal Relationships and  Wellbeing Research Group. She is currently the Course Leader for the  MA in Understanding Domestic and Sexual Violence  MA Understanding Domestic and Sexual Violence  and her research and teaching expertise is related to child and adult protection, institutional child abuse, professional advocacy and violence prevention.

Working for all children and young people with the Children’s Alliance

Sharing an aim to support the lives of children and young people, I have worked alongside peers and professionals from many walks of life. I have relished the opportunity to be a part of the Children’s Alliance Campaign, targeted at enhancing life conditions for children, young people, their families and carers.

Based on the vision of Steve Franks (former Chief Executive of Water Babies who was tragically lost to COVID-19), the Children’s Alliance is child-centric. Steve’s aim was to enable opportunities for activity for all young children. This vision was embedded strategically and carefully broadened via the Children’s Alliance who seeks to ‘work for the next generation’, by raising awareness of children’s circumstances and influence their futures through policy and community.

In responding to the prevailing ailing conditions for children and young people, the direction set with ‘Building a brighter future for young people: The Children’s Alliance’ called for fundamental change. It was decided to produce four reports with the intention of persuading the UK Government to appoint a Cabinet Minister with responsibility for Children and Young People.

For me (like many others), to better understand and account for how things are for children and young people, and dedicate time to join efforts to redress inequalities therein, is an honour. I am grateful for the opportunity to participate in the initiative and for this, thank Campaign Manager Helen Clark.

I have contributed to each report of this series focusing on children and young people’s living conditions and life chances. My involvement has been poignant and at times, made for stark learning on my part. As a result, I have attempted to use my University-developed acumen to seek to establish ‘what is’ with curiosity and resilience, underpin the evidence search with academic rigour for accuracy and credibility, and, try to better empathise with the conditions found to impede or crush the flourishing lives of our children and young people.

Working together

In terms of the writing collaboration process, it seems to be both science and art. Clearly identified chapter titles are disseminated, who will do what and by when is established. The adherence parameters are set by the Lead Author Helen Clark, and actively supported by Paul Wright, [Founding Member of the Children’s Alliance at the House of Lords] who keeps everyone in-touch and in-check.

Report contributors have opportunity to ‘speak to’ what they feel they can provide evidential indicators of and/or practise insights into. The production of tenable contributions is a well-oiled machine where keen contributors comply with the spirit and reality of the explicit topic boundaries and deadlines.

Our research provides a glimpse into the hardship and challenges facing children and young people. Multiple issues around lack of physical activity, deterioration in mental health issues and socio-economic and cultural inequalities, magnified by the Covid pandemic, have beleaguered thousands of children and young people. These limitations make it difficult for children and young people to meet the functional needs in their lives. Instead of reaching their fullest potential, for instance:  

40,000 children begin school obese

200,000 young people have been referred to mental health services in 3 months

1 in 3 children in the UK are living in poverty, including 2.2 million under-5s

With that, the recognition by Government that the initial 1001 days of children’s lives impact their physical and mental wellbeing for the remaining days of their lives, is needed to secure monies to give every child their voice and the best start in life.

Read more:

To date, the Children’s Alliance has published: 

Report 1) The Early Years Children’s Alliance (October 2021) The Health and Wellbeing of Children in the Early Years

Report 2) The Physical Health of Children and Young People Children’s Alliance (December 2021). The Physical Health of Children and Young People. 

Forthcoming in 2022: 

• Report 3) Mental Health 

• Report 4) Family and Community 

The collaborative writing has come to an end with the final report deadline met. Contributors to this Children’s Alliance body of work will be joining together for its presentation to the Houses of Parliament on March 1st 2022. Pamela will be there with fellow supporters hoping for a positive fruition to this worthy campaign and will continue to support The Children’s Alliance through her work at the University of Worcester.

For further information and to find out more about Pamela’s work, please get in touch p.murray@worc.ac.uk.

Dr Pamela F Murray

Pamela is a Senior Lecturer in Leadership and Organisational Behaviour at Worcester Business School and member of the Interpersonal Relationships and Wellbeing Research Group. 

Giving Thanks at Christmas

The relationship between giving and gratitude


In the run up to Christmas, you may be considering what presents to buy for others, or even pre-empting what gifts you may receive. This short blog post considers the possible impacts of giving and receiving gifts, with a particular focus on experiences of gratitude.

What is gratitude?

When considering the Christmas gifts that we receive, there are three significant factors that might influence the degree of gratitude that we experience. The first is cost. That is, how much does it cost the benefactor to bestow this gift? This doesn’t necessarily mean financial cost, however, as a benefit can be viewed as ‘costly’ if it required considerable effort or thought. For instance, a handmade scarf might not cost the benefactor much to make yet would be costly in terms of time. We tend to be more grateful for the gifts we consider as costly to provide.

The second factor is value of the benefit. In other words, do we want or need the benefit that we have received? Research conducted in the UK and Australia suggests that we are less grateful for something we consider non-valuable or unwanted (Morgan, Gulliford & Waters, in press). From personal experience, you might recognise that the festive mug that won’t fit into your already overfilled kitchen cabinet or the itchy Christmas jumper that it two sizes too big is unlikely to elicit the same level of grateful emotion as a gift that you will really enjoy. This doesn’t mean that we don’t experience any gratitude in these cases though, often we still acknowledge the cost involved or the good intentions of the benefactor. As the proverb states, sometimes ‘it’s the thought that counts’.


This brings us nicely onto the third amplifier of gratitude experience, intention. We tend to be more grateful for gifts that are bestowed through good intention. Benevolence has been considered a key determinant of whether we experience gratitude, and philosophers have argued that gratitude is not warranted in cases where an individual hasn’t intentionally tried to benefit you or where the intention is not altruistic (McConnell, 2021). Empirical data and anecdotal evidence does suggest, however, that gratitude can be experienced in some cases where there is no intention or where there is an ulterior motive at play (Morgan & Gulliford, 2015). For example, one can be grateful for a much-needed organ donation (where there is no explicit intention to benefit a particular individual) or in situations where a benefactor is motivated by the prospect of receiving help or reciprocation in the future (i.e., a self-serving purpose). These examples illustrate how the three amplifying factors can interact and all three needn’t be present at once to experience gratitude. We may be grateful when there are non-benevolent intentions should the benefit be of great value, or, as noted earlier, we can be grateful for an unwanted gift when we consider it to be costly or well-intentioned.


Why is this important?

Being aware of these amplifiers can be useful when reflecting on benefits received to gauge appropriate (or proportionate) responses to benefaction. Expressing our gratitude to the benefactor allows the ‘upward spiral’ of gratitude to continue. That is, when a benefactor is thanked for their benefaction, these actions are reinforced and they are more likely to behave in similar ways in the future (McCullough et al., 2001). At the same time, experiencing grateful emotion can motivate the beneficiary (or recipient) to act pro-socially towards others as well. For example, helping a stranger in need. This allows the positive aspects of gratitude to be passed on from person to person.

An important caveat

It is important to note that receiving a gift or benefit may not necessarily lead to feelings of gratitude. Evidence also demonstrates that our emotional responses to gratitude may not be entirely positive (Gulliford & Morgan, 2016). For example, receiving a benefit that is perceived to be extremely costly to the benefactor could prompt a sense of indebtedness, or even concern about how one could ever repay such a benefaction. Alternatively, should you receive a gift that you really dislike, you may fail to experience grateful emotion. This can lead individuals to feel guilt or awkwardness. These are natural responses to receiving gifts that many of us can empathise with. So, whilst gratitude has largely been described as a positively valenced experience, there are certainly cases where gratitude might co-occur with unpleasant feelings too. Acknowledging and embracing this might help to counteract these unpleasant feelings and promote psychological wellbeing (Morgan et al., 2015).

With luck, this blog post will encourage you to consider your own experiences of gratitude, and the diversity of feelings that might be prompted by others’ gift-giving. To end on a positive note, gratitude can be a powerful source of positivity and a motivator of prosocial behaviour – hopefully we can all play a role in continuing the upward spiral of positive emotion this Christmastime!

Dr Blaire Morgan

Blaire Morgan is Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Worcester. She received her B.Sc. and Ph.D. from the University of Birmingham. Her research spans Positive Psychology and Cyberpsychology and examines character strengths and wellbeing in children, adolescents and adults. This has included, for example, development and evaluation of character strengths and wellbeing programmes, social media research into authenticity and empathy online, and developmental and cross-cultural explorations of gratitude and wellbeing in the UK and Australia. Her research has appeared in print and broadcast media and has led to a number of invited presentations internationally as well as invited book chapters alongside experts in the fields of psychology, moral education and virtue ethics. At the University of Worcester, Blaire leads a research theme on “Strengths and Adversity Across the Life Span”, and she has a number of ongoing national and international collaborations alongside academics within psychology, public health, philosophy and education.

Exploring the experiences of domestic abuse survivors working in the field of domestic abuse support.

What are the psychological consequences of working in this field for women survivors of abuse?

Women’s community groups as well as domestic and sexual abuse support organisations provide safe spaces of healing for women surviving trauma and abuse; spaces where mutual understanding and shared experience can offer a sense of hope and recovery. It is quite usual for a significant proportion of support workers and practitioners within these organisations to share lived experiences of abuse, estimated to constitute over 50% of organisational staffing (Slattery and Goodman, 2009; Bemiller and Williams, 2011). This has been common since the first women’s groups were formed in communities in the 1960s and 1970s in England and these women’s community services are arguably never more needed than currently, given the current epidemic of violence against women and girls being perpetrated (Justice Inspectorates, 2021).

However, what of the impact on support workers with lived experience of abuse? I interviewed twelve women support workers from five different women’s support organisations to ask about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences regarding their career choice and to enquire how this had affected them in terms of both positive and negative emotional impacts. What were they gaining personally and what was the impact on them when undertaking this emotionally challenging work?

Creating something positive from lived experience of abuse

The findings from my study (Gilbert, 2020), found that the experience was distinctly personal to each woman I interviewed, as was the readiness to feel able to work in women’s support work. Overwhelmingly, a key benefit for interviewees was the notion of purpose. For women survivors who chose to work in domestic abuse support work, this practice role could be the mechanism for many to achieve a personal sense of purpose and to make sense of a traumatic period in their own lives, using the experience in a positive way. One woman spoke about this in detail to me and said,

“I suppose it’s a silver thread that can be pulled from the trauma of what I went through. I can pull one positive aspect from the experience of abuse and use it for something good, something honourable – helping other women to move from victim to survivor, like I was able to, with the help of other women survivors. “

In addition to purpose and meaning, women spoke of the rise in their own self-esteem and their feelings of a sense of belonging to something important. In being able to work as a professional in domestic/sexual abuse support work, this enabled survivors to rebuild their sense of confidence and created a sense of empowerment by enabling them to create a professional life after experiencing abuse themselves. Women interviewed identified an environment of shared understanding, a sense of feeling comfortable, and to have had a sense of a unique connection with their women service users. The notion of having ‘walked in the same shoes’, enabled survivor support workers to feel able to provide what they described as an authenticity of support to other women experiencing abuse and violence. They strongly believed that in offering what could be termed ‘peer’ support, this felt very different to support from someone without similar shared lived experience.

Personal costs of survivor support work

Conversely, there were personal costs to being involved in support work as a survivor. The main issue appeared to be triggering painful memories and trauma, irrespective of the time between experience and practice. Some women survivors found it difficult not to recall events in their own lived experience when working with women service users, especially if their personal accounts resonated with their own experiences. Vicarious trauma is a potential risk for all support workers of victims of domestic abuse, so, too, burnout or countertransference (Iliffe and Steed, 2000).

The protective factor to mitigate against risk was supportive supervision from a line manager or a clinical colleague, and from this small-scale study, for many of these practitioners, this was not provided and did not meet their needs as survivors support workers. The further saturation of hearing about domestic abuse and in hearing the distress of service users over and above the survivor’s own lived experience is likely to be damaging without such clinical support.


The benefits to both survivor support work and to the women service user can be powerful within the domestic violence and women’s support sector. Survivor support workers can gain a sense of self- actualisation, esteem and belonging when working in their practitioner roles.

However, there can be a risk of re-victimisation to the support worker, particularly where appropriate clinical supervisory support is not provided. In using their own lived experience as a source of knowledge, a survivor support worker can enhance her own sense of self-worth, using her experience positively to add to her own process of recovery and self-actualisation.

There is a wealth of specialist women’s community support knowledge in the UK, including grassroots organisations formed by and for survivors themselves. Many of these are outside of the main large charity organisational funding steams and they struggle to maintain their services in the face of increasing demand and short-term funding arrangements.  The whole domestic abuse support sector needs longer term, ringfenced funding for specialist domestic abuse support organisations (SafeLives, 2021), especially those who provide for disadvantaged groups, those with complex disadvantage or those serving (semi) rural areas. This will then enable all survivor support workers to access the appropriate level of clinical or support supervision that they need to remain safe whilst undertaking this challenging but essential service in our community.

This blog post is based on a presentation delivered by Beverley Gilbert, Senior Lecturer, University of Worcester at the 4th European Conference on Domestic Violence on 15th September 2021, held online from Slovenia.

Beverley Gilbert

Beverley is a Senior Lecturer in Violence Prevention and Criminology at the University of Worcester. Her academic career follows 30 years working in various roles within the criminal justice sector. Her PhD research with Anglia Ruskin University examines peer mentoring with women who have multiple and complex disadvantages. Beverley is a member of the Trauma and Violence Prevention research theme at the University of Worcester, she is an Independent Member of Women Against Violence in Europe (WAVE) and Associate Member of Work with Perpetrators – European Network (WWP-EN).

Rebuilding trust in the police

The horrific details of the murder of Sarah Everard are shocking. Wayne Couzens,  an off-duty police officer with the Metropolitan Police, admitted killing Sarah in March 2021. He used his power as a police officer and falsely arrested Sarah Everard as she walked home in London, abducted her, then raped and murdered her. The details of the case are harrowing, and the impact of Sarah’s murder described by her family and friends is heart-breaking. Couzens has received a whole-life sentence for his crimes, meaning he will never be released from prison. The case has highlighted fears that many women face about their own safety, and has a much wider impact on society and trust in the police.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, acknowledged that the actions of Couzens had ‘shaken’ trust in the police. So what does this mean for policing, and what can the police do to rebuild the trust of the public?

Why trust matters in Policing

Effective policing relies on having the trust of the public. Levels of trust in the police depend on both personal contact and expectations of individual encounters with the police, and also confidence that the police as an institution will act as expected. Bradford and Jackson suggest that there are three dimensions of trust in the police, with the expectation that the organisation and individual officers will “be effective, will be fair, and will display values that are aligned with one’s own or one’s community.” Trust is a key element of police legitimacy whereby the public essentially accept the authority of the police as legitimate, and therefore comply with police actions and decisions. The procedural justice model found that compliance and legitimacy is gained through officers acting with fairness, treating people with respect and explaining their actions.

Measures of police legitimacy have been included in the Crime Survey for England and Wales which asks to what extent respondents agree that the police act lawfully, act consistently with their own ideas of right and wrong, and should accept police decisions. The results showed that whilst three quarters of people said they had confidence in the police, fewer (61%) agreed it was their duty to accept police decisions.

How might trust be restored?

Following on from the events surrounding the circumstances of Sarah Everard’s murder, there are a number of areas that the police could consider to start to restore the trust and confidence of the public.

Firstly is recruitment. Police officers and staff are vetted prior to being employed, to assess their integrity and suitability for police work. Couzens passed the vetting process and remained in post with full authority. The vetting processes and procedures for maintaining professional standards may well need to be reviewed to check they are robust and fit for purpose. The College of Policing offers guidance for police forces on making decisions about integrity, making sure officers and staff behave in an appropriate way, and providing transparency about the decisions that are made. The College of Policing publishes the Barred List annually, detailing officers and police staff who have been dismissed from their roles, including reasons for dismissal. In 2019-20,  232 officers were added to the barred list; most frequent reasons for their barring were: integrity (n=85), honesty (n=59), failure to perform duty (n=31), and abuse of position for sexual purposes (n=31). Whilst this offers some level of transparency, and the process has removed officers who should not be in a position of trust, there may be some question as to whether this is effective enough.

Changing Police culture

A culture of sexism and institutional misogyny has been reported to be widespread within the police service, and needs to be thoroughly investigated. This has been highlighted by the Police Federation’s National Women’s Group who described the pervasive nature of misogyny, frequently facing male ‘banter’ and questioning their competency for the job. However, in wider society misogynistic behaviour towards women is often tolerated, and accepted as part of the normal culture. Nottinghamshire Police piloted a policy of recording misogyny as a hate crime. An evaluation of this police found shockingly high levels of misogynistic activity, with the majority of women experiencing this behaviour, but with very few incidents being reported to the police. The experiences described have become normalised, and many women thought the police would not take any action, would not take it seriously or may blame them for attracting this behaviour.

Photo by  Ethan Wilkinson on Unsplash

Police effectiveness in tackling violence against women and girls

Violence against women and girls is widespread – women and girls are disproportionately victims of violent crime including rape, other sexual offences, domestic violence, stalking and honour based crimes. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services (HMICFRS) recently published the report of their inspection of how effectively the police engage with women and girls. Data reported by HMICFRS indicated many types of violent crimes where women are disproportionately victimised, with sexual grooming, sexual activity involving a child under 16, exposure and voyeurism and stalking all recording over 80% of victims as being female.

In addition, a public survey by the HMICFRS found that trust in the police to keep women and girls safe was low: they reported that 14 percent of respondents agreed with the statement that ‘Police in my area work to prevent violence against women and girls’, with the same percentage agreeing that ‘I trust the police to prevent violence against women and girls’. Respondents wanted the police to:


  • Take offences against women more seriously (including arresting and charging more offenders for all types of violence/abuse; acting earlier so violence doesn’t escalate; speed up the process of dealing with offences; listening to women’s concerns about safe spaces; prioritising violence against women)
  • Ensure police have the correct values with more empathy towards female victims and that misogynistic behaviour is tackled;
  • Stop victim-blaming and put the responsibility on male perpetrators; and
  • Work in partnership with other organisations to address the epidemic of sexual violence and image-based crimes that particularly affect girls.

Making changes

The Government’s strategy for Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls focuses on increasing support for victims, and increasing the number of perpetrators brought to justice, with the overall aim of reducing the prevalence of violence against women and girls. Victim engagement with the police is key to this, to increase the number of women feeling confident enough to report these crimes,  and to engage with the police and the wider criminal justice system. Effective implementation of this strategy needs the police to be seen to be trustworthy. As the Metropolitan Police announce an independent review into the standards and culture with the aim of rebuilding public trust, and the Home Secretary promises an public inquiry into police vetting procedures, behaviour and discipline, this may lead to culture change and improved practice within the police service more widely.

Dr Rosie Erol

Rosie is a researcher in the School of Psychology, and leads the Trauma and Violence Prevention research theme. She joined the University of Worcester in 2011, having worked previously as a senior researcher at the Home Office.

Forward into the past: Emotional Intelligence turns 30

Emotional intelligence (EI) enjoyed its 30th birthday last year and is fast becoming middle-aged, that is, if we take the writings of Peter Salovey & John (Jack) Mayer (1990) as the starting point for modern research into EI.  This anniversary gives us much to reflect on – certainly for me personally, as a researcher who has spent over a decade investigating EI (a third of its life) – but also for those of us interested in psychology more broadly and the study of individual differences. 

I began my EI adventure in 2008.  At that time EI was everywhere, and it had become a catch-all buzzword for improving society’s ills – take, for example, David Cameron’s infamous speech about emotion and compassion being at the core of understanding the causes of youth crime, which became known as the ‘hug a hoodie’ campaign. Self-help books were springing up regularly, telling us how to be more emotionally smart and how this was the ticket to solving all of our interpersonal problems.   This explosion of interest hadn’t escaped the attention of the UK government, who invested significant resources in school-based social and emotional learning programmes  in an effort to train EI in young people.  But we actually had very little scientific evidence about what EI was, whether training this was possible, and whether this made a tangible difference to young people in terms of academic success and mental wellbeing. 

In the academic world, EI was viewed as either representing a collection of specialist skills for perceiving, understanding, and managing emotions in ourselves and others, or as a collection of emotion-related personal qualities and competencies. This seemed to split opinion amongst researchers; some suggested EI was too ill-defined to be meaningful, others argued it was nothing new, and we were just measuring things we already knew a good deal about, like personality or intelligence, and cautioned against falling into the “jingle” or “jangle” fallacy trap.  Yet there were others still, who wholeheartedly embraced this as a new form of intelligence that could predict success in all areas of life – here is a detailed summary of the main arguments for those that want to delve more deeply.

As a newly minted PhD researcher, all of this debate and uncertainty meant there was plenty for me to explore.  I set about examining the ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘why’, and ‘how’ of EI, starting with finding out whether EI was actually useful for young people who were experiencing a range of different (everyday) stressors, but I found that this wasn’t clear-cut – if we measured EI through self-reports (as emotional self-efficacy), higher levels were useful for maintaining lower levels of symptoms in young people experiencing family dysfunction.  But if we measured EI as an ability (or skill set through IQ style testing), very high levels were counter-productive for those young people experiencing socio-economic adversity. 

With colleagues, we then went on to find other interesting (and potentially counter-intuitive) things.  We confirmed that the way that you measure EI matters because this predicts different ways of coping and engaging with emotion (here and here), but that universally ‘high’ levels of EI may not always be beneficial in all contexts – here is an open access review we wrote on this.  


So emotional skills and self-efficacy are different sides of the EI coin, but doubt remains over whether we are actually capturing an ‘intelligence’ and whether this is always a good thing.

Fast forward to 2020, and some of our most recent work has, in a sense, gone forward into the past to try to answer some of these questions.   One of the core tenets of EI theory is that emotionally intelligent individuals should be adept at recognising emotional expressions in others to facilitate effective social interactions.

Photo by Simon Schwyter on Unsplash

We tested 92 people in the lab, to see whether those with high scores on measures of EI could recognise dynamic emotional expressions at an earlier, more subtle stage of presentation than those with lower scores.  Using the Emotion Recognition Task, we showed people a set of video clips of faces morphing from neutral expressions into different emotions, from subtle through to intense levels, and found that: 1) emotional self-efficacy (self-reported EI) was not associated with recognition performance, 2) higher skill in emotional understanding did relate to better performance of emotion cues (subtle through to intense and particularly negative emotion) but that, 3) fluid cognitive ability was a better predictor of performance. In a separate study with young people, we found EI skills did not predict accurate recognition of emotion in voices.

So, this continues to raise questions about whether existing measures of EI are sensitive enough to represent individual differences in socially relevant aspects of emotion recognition, and also the validity of EI as a discrete, and meaningful, individual differences factor.  

What can we say about all of this?  

Three decades on, and it seems we are still grappling with key questions from the past.  Many researchers picked EI up and ‘ran with it’, without us really knowing what makes someone emotionally intelligent, or us being able to measure EI ‘in action’.  I don’t doubt that for most researchers, this urgency came from a good place, and a desire to make a difference to people’s lives through intervention.  However, a critical eye is needed. 

I believe there is room for further high-quality scientific work which could still lead us to make progress with EI measurement. But we will only succeed if we better integrate with the work going on in Emotion sciences more broadly.  For instance, the constructed theory of emotion tells us that rather than being ‘triggered’ in situations, our emotional experience arises from brain-based predictions, created from prior experiences that are specific to our culture and upbringing.  So, developing rich and informative (early) experiences seems to be pivotal to train our system to learn about, and learn from, socio-emotional interactions.  Similarly, this suggests that our current methods of testing EI are way off the mark (e.g., identifying posed emotional expressions; multiple choice questions about effective emotion management strategies, etc).  We may find the future lies in technological solutions (such as virtual reality) and we could look to allied fields of study for clues e.g., recent developments in the gamification of cognitive testing. Until we are better able to capture authentic EI ‘in action’ I fear we will continue to chase our tails.

The future

This is far from being just another ‘academic’ debate – emotional intelligence is being readily embraced by companies interested in developing artificial intelligence systems for reading emotions in humans, which has far-reaching implications for us all…just how reliable are facial movements for judging how someone is actually feeling? What are the implications of using emotion AI for decision-making (e.g., screening for criminal intent; an angry student at school; suitability of a job applicant)? As we surge further ahead into the technological epoch, this it is something we should all care about.


Dr Sarah Davies

Dr Sarah Davis

Sarah is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology & the Interpersonal Relationships & Wellbeing Research Group Lead.  She is currently writing a new critical primer on EI for Oxford University Press with Dr Bérénice Mahoney.

The Vital Role of Bystander Intervention in Tackling Violence & Abuse

On the 28th March 1960, a fire tore across the Cheapside whiskey bond in Glasgow, causing the walls of the building to explode outwards onto the police and firefighters below. As everyone fled, a young policeman, William Gribben, spotted a firefighter buried up to his chest in the rubble and calling for help. In that moment Gribben’s first instinct must have been to turn and run – that would certainly have been the safer course of action – but instead he chose to stop and free the injured firefighter from the rubble, dragging him to safety just moments before flames engulfed the area. Ultimately, 19 firefighters lost their lives at Cheapside Street that night, but alongside that enormous loss, we can also remember the actions of William Gribben. He could have run away and not got involved, but he chose to stop and help. He chose to be an active bystander, and in doing so he saved the life of Firefighter Charles Biggerstaff, my grandfather. Despite more than 60 years passing since that night, active bystanders continue to play a vital role in our society, and in recent years, have proven to play a particularly valuable part in tackling violence and abuse.   

What is a bystander?         

Cheapside St Fire, 1960

A bystander is someone who sees a situation but isn’t actually involved in it. They’re simply a witness, someone who happens to be there. The very nature of being a bystander means that you don’t have to get involved at all. You can choose to walk away from a problematic situation with no repercussions for you. Or you could take the second option – decide that you’re going to get involved and be an active bystander. Active bystanders are a particularly valuable resource in the fight against violence and abuse. By noticing what’s happening around them and speaking out when they see problematic behaviour, active bystanders can send a clear message that violence and abuse will not be tolerated or overlooked. At Stanford University in 2015, two cyclists famously noticed a male acting suspiciously in an alley and went to investigate. Their actions interrupted Brock Turner’s attempt to rape his victim, and ultimately led to him being caught and prosecuted. These two cyclists could just have carried on with their bike ride that night. They didn’t have to stop – after all, they were just bystanders and the problematic behaviour wasn’t affecting them. But like William Gribben, they chose to stop and get involved. We continue to hear stories in the media of active bystanders who have spotted a potential problem and intervened, from the waitress in Orlando who recognised that a child may be in danger and slipped him a note asking if he needed help,  to the woman walking home in London who spotted a situation that just ‘didn’t look right’ and by intervening, she prevented a child from being abducted or the bartender who recognised that a customer was being harassed and chose to do something.

What does ‘getting involved’ actually involve?

There’s a common misconception that being an active bystander means running headfirst into problematic situations and taking direct action. This can put lots of people off, especially if they don’t feel comfortable with confrontation. However, there are lots of ways to be an active bystander without ever having to directly confront someone. Yes, an active bystander will take action when they encounter problematic behavior, but that action can take lots of different forms, depending on the situation or what they feel comfortable doing. It might mean stepping outside and calling the police, creating a distraction, texting someone to see if they’re okay, or not laughing when someone tells a misogynistic joke. It can also mean noticing when a friend has bruises on their arm, offering to go to the police with them to make a report, or staying with them while they call a domestic violence helpline.  Being an active bystander can be all of these things and much more. It’s about noticing when there’s potentially a problem and choosing to do SOMETHING.

The UW Bystander Intervention Programme

The University of Worcester’s Bystander Intervention programme has been running since 2016. The programme is aimed at training UW students to recognise problematic situations related to violence and abuse, and to feel confident and able to intervene.  The programme takes eight hours and covers bystander theory, gender, domestic violence, sexual violence, as consent as well as developing strategies to intervene in a safe and effective way. Victim blaming myths are discussed and dispelled, and students are trained in how to best respond to someone making a disclosure. Students are taught how to spot potentially problematic behaviours, and do something to help, from supporting victims to make a report to having a conversation with a friend whose behaviour they are uncomfortable with. By offering this programme to all UW students, we aim to develop a safe a positive campus community where there is a clear message that violence and abuse will not be tolerated.

A two-year evaluation was carried out to determine the effectiveness of the UW Bystander Intervention Programme (Harrop & Taylor-Dunn, 2021). 123 students completed pre- and post-training questionnaires to measure their attitudes towards violence and abuse, and their confidence and willingness to intervene in problematic situations before and after the training. Results showed that after completing the programme, participants had a significant reduction in both hostile and benevolent sexism. There was also a significant reduction in the agreement with rape myths across four key areas (‘she asked for it’, he didn’t mean to’, ‘it wasn’t really rape’ and ‘she lied’). Participants reported that they were significantly more likely to intervene in problematic situations post-programme and had significantly reduced agreement with problematic statements. Participants also experienced a significant reduction in pluralistic ignorance post-programme, meaning that they were less likely to think that their peers condoned violence and abuse. This is an important finding as people are often more likely to intervene if they believe that the people around them will agree that there’s a problem and support their intervention.

It is extremely encouraging to see the positive impact that the UW Bystander Intervention programme has already. The programme will continue to run in the 2021-22 academic year, and there are lots of exciting developments in progress, including creating a shortened version of the programme for high school pupils and work on the role of bystander intervention in gaming. A comparison of the effectiveness of online vs face-to-face delivery of the programme will also be released later in 2021.

If you would like to hear more about the UW Bystander Programme, please feel free to contact Gill g.harrop@worc.ac.uk.  You can also watch a webinar recorded earlier this year where Gill discusses the programme in more detail and her evaluation:

Dr Gill Harrop

Dr Gillian Harrop

Gill is a senior lecturer in forensic psychology. She came to the University of Worcester from the University of Lincoln, and previously taught on both the MSc in Forensic Psychology at Liverpool University, and the BSc in Psychology at the University of East London. Prior to this, she worked for Lincolnshire Police as an Intelligence Analyst in the Force Intelligence Bureau and Major Crime Unit.

Keen to be Seen to be Green

As we look to our and our children’s futures, one concern that looms over us is the damage continuing to be done to our environment, but to the most part our societies are united in wanting to fix the world we live in. As a result we are encouraged and motivated to engage in Pro-Environmental Behaviours (PEB) in every aspect of our lives, such as by reducing waste and recycling, making environmentally friendly product choices, minimizing our carbon footprints and making sustainable lifestyle choices when it comes to our diets. Anyone who has paid the slightest bit of attention will know quite clearly what they need to do.

However, too often, we don’t do these things. Why not?

This is why I think the question of how we can protect our environment is best dealt with by a psychological answer, but this answer will no doubt be a complicated one with many aspects to it. Fortunately this is something psychology has begun conducting a great deal of research into revealing this answer one layer at a time. These layers include understanding the role of personality differences (e.g. why do some people engage more in PEB than others?), how people understand their own roles in helping the planet, and the process by which people make important decisions around PEB.  

Recycling and Mate Choice

My particular interest is how social influence can affect people’s motivations to engage in PEB’s. This is because my background is in evolutionary approaches to psychology, in particular I am interested in why people incur the costs to help others (e.g. altruistic behaviour) and I’ve explored how being altruistic can be valuable in mate choice, as it is a desirable trait in long term partners for men and women. This is because it acts as a reliable signal of that partner’s abilities and characteristics that will make them bot a good partner and parent – vital traits in humans who benefit from having investment from both parents in raising any children.

As part of this research, I am interested in how different forms of prosocial behaviour play a role in mate choice (e.g. kindness, charity, heroism, trustworthiness), and PEB is one particular application of prosocial behaviour that I wanted to explore. This is because PEB’s are costly to perform (e.g. sorting out recycling, purchasing organic produce) but they do benefit others. That’s what led to me and my colleague Manpal Bhogal to conduct research recently published in Personality and Individual Differences that explore whether people who display PEB are more desirable partners (experiment 1) and if people report engaging in more PEB in the presence of potential partners (experiment 2). Both of the experiments we conducted took place online, and were mainly psychology students and other members of the public.

For experiment 1, participants were presented with a series of descriptions of members of the opposite sex that varied in how pro-environmental they were, with either them being described as high (e.g. “Person A always sorts through their household/everyday waste so that it can be recycled and re-used (metal, plastic, cardboard etc). Even though it is time consuming, they believe it is a useful thing to do”) or low (e.g. “When buying drinks, Person B always buys disposable coffee cups, and bottles of water which they do not re-use. (Low pro-environmental behaviour.”)

They then rated each on how desirable they would be for either a short-term relationship (e.g. brief affair, one-night stand) or long-term relationship (e.g. a committed long-term romantic relationship). We found that both men and women found individuals high in pro-environmentalism to be more desirable overall, and this effect was mainly for long-term relationships (i.e. individuals high in pro-environmentalism were highly desired for long-term relationships

In experiment 2, participants were presented with hypothetical scenarios where they were asked by a researcher about their pro-environmental behaviour (e.g. how much they recycle, use reusable coffee cups/water bottles, purchase environmentally-friendly products). Each time participants were shown a picture of the hypothetical ‘researcher’ which was either a highly attractive member of the opposite sex or the same sex (we used images that had previously been rated for physical attractiveness).

We found that both men and women reported engaging in more pro-environmental behaviour when the researcher ‘asking’ them was an attractive member of the opposite sex than when asked by an attractive member of the same sex.

These results show that as with other forms of prosocial behaviours such as altruism and heroism, pro-environmentalism can act as a signal to others of important characteristics that an environmentally-friendly individual possesses. These characteristics are viewed in a positive light, and in particular here can signal characteristics (such as kindness, potential to be a good partner and parent) we find important in relationships, in particular more longer term, committed ones.

As such, it can help guide how we think about how to promote PEB, by not just highlighting its value directly from helping the planet but also indirectly by how it can enhance our reputation. This is important I think, because the direct benefits of pro-environmentalism are difficult to observe, quantify or comprehend. For example, how can you see an individual decision to reduce one’s carbon footprint by changes such as using energy-efficient lightbulbs in global figures around climate change? The answer is you clearly cannot, which is a key reason why we don’t engage in sustainable behaviours – there’s no direct benefit that can be observed. This is why findings such as this where we can show that there are clear and immediate indirect benefits to being green (in this case, increased desirability as a romantic partner) are helpful, as they can be used to promote and shape these positive behaviours overall.

Another key reason for this is the fact that it is costly to engage in, which seems counterintuitive but shows that an environmentally-friendly person is willing to incur the costs (in terms of time, effort and/or money) to take part in these behaviours (e.g. sorting through their rubbish for recycling, spending more money on greener products, eating a more sustainable diet). By doing so, they make honest displays of their prosocial character, and others recognise and value this. In fact there is evidence that environmentally-friendly products are often considered ugly, but that ugliness acts as a reliable signal of its green credentials and thus making it more desirable!

Finally, it’s important now to follow up this research by looking at actual PEB to see if the mating motivations we found do translate to real world behaviour. This then will highlight how important psychological research and interventions can be in shaping positive behaviours in the world around us, and how psychology in general can make a difference.

Dr Daniel Farrelly

Daniel is a Principal lecturer in psychology. He obtained his BSc (hons) in psychology from Liverpool University in 1999, followed by an MSc in evolutionary psychology from Liverpool University in 2000. He gained his PhD in Psychology, studying the evolution of human cooperation, from Newcastle University in 2005.

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