Report on Psychology Group Meeting - Meeting, Friday, 20 November 2015

Report of the Psychology Group meeting on 20th November 2015.

We met as usual in The Owl Hotel at Hambleton and it was pleasing to see that we are steadily growing in the number who are able to attend as some have returned from exotic holidays or prolonged stays abroad. It was particularly pleasing that our Deputy-Leader, Judith, was able to join us along with Ron after their summer in France. In accordance with our policy of rotating the chairmanship of meetings amongst elected group officers Judith took the chair.

For those who weren’t present at the last meeting or who hadn’t seen the report on the website I read through it and was accepted.

We then proceeded to our topic for the meeting which was the intriguing and often popularly discussed condition that has become known as ‘Autism’. For anyone had not heard of it before then Dustin Hoffman’s brilliant portrayal of an exploited autistic ‘idiot savant’ in the film, ‘Rain Man’ would have been enlightening We began by looking at how experts define the condition which when compared to genetic conditions such as Down’s Syndrome is more challenging resting as it does on three main agreed behavioural criteria: the impairment of social interaction, the impairment of communication and the presence of stereotyped patterns of behaviour. Experts also agree that whilst all these factors are present their severity varies greatly between individuals and for this reason talk of an ‘autistic spectrum’.

We then watched a Horizon programme made by Prof. Uta Frith a clinical psychologist and leading expert who has spent the last 50 years researching the condition. She emphatically denies that there is a modern epidemic of autism in children it is simply that we are now so much more aware of and so much more understanding of the condition that a much more frequent diagnosis of its presence is inevitable. She also gave historical examples of the existence of the condition showing that it has always been with us but simply wasn’t recognised for what it was. The fascinating programme then went on to show the experimental work of many different researchers in the field and the conclusions they had drawn. Prof. Frith concluded by posing a number of fundamental questions about the condition that still require answers such as: how does the brain create minds that are so different, why are some people autistic in the first place and why does autism present itself in so many different ways?

In the discussion that followed we all felt that we had been given much food for thought and that we should continue our discussion of this subject into our next meeting. Of particular interest to some was the related condition of Asperger’s Syndrome and Judith and I both agreed to research this further and present anything we could find next time we met. Barrie also raised the issue of artificial intelligence (AI) which had been alluded to in our previous meeting but not discussed in any depth so I agreed to look into the topic and present what I could find at our next time meeting.

We then as a group decided to meet again on the 18th December though inevitably some will not be able attend because of Christmas related commitments and the venue has been booked for that day.

John Moore – Group Leader

Back to Top