“How would you like to use this time?” Thoughts on two group relations conferences

I attended two group relations conferences in 2019: one for a weekend, another for a week. I’ve just rediscovered an evaluation sheet from the first, which we were asked to complete. Here are a couple of sections from that:

How would you describe this conference to a colleague?

A group relations conference is very different to traditional academic conferences. There were about 70 participants, 10 of those consultants. A series of contrived, ambiguous situations were setup encouraging us to experience, think about, and discuss intra- and inter-group dynamics, and how we and others feel in groups. Conventions we take for granted were challenged. Along the way, consultants provided thoughts and feelings about what might be going on from their somewhat detached perspective, sitting slightly outside the group. I don’t want to say more because it might spoil your experience of how a conference evolves, but one theme for me was becoming much more aware of the different kinds of events and experiences which I have already had in various groups. Something about the conference amplified these.

What do you think will prove to be the most useful thing you have learnt on this weekend?

It’s a collection of things – I can’t bring myself to reduce them to one!

  • Renewed faith in the kindness of strangers – how quickly people can develop connections with each other in challenging circumstances.
  • Renewed awareness that people have a lot going on in their lives, which they bring to groups. We heard many specific examples of this.
  • Committees and other meetings extend beyond the meeting room.
  • Smiles and eyes across a room can be comforting in difficult situations. (I already knew this but now feel more conscious of it.)
  • Thinking also about the differences between the brief relationships setup at conference and longer-term working relationships.
  • Thinking about how the child vs. adult vs. parent distinctions (e.g., in transaction analysis) aren’t completely clear cut, e.g., adults can be playful, children can have immense caring responsibilities.
  • Thinking about the huge number of ideas, theories, we each have about ourselves, groups, authority. How we learn, express, and (sometimes) test these out and (even less frequently) change our minds.

Was turnout associated with the composition of Labour, Tory, and Reform votes?

Was turnout associated with the composition of Labour, Tory, and Reform votes? An excuse to test drive the {compos} package, by David Firth and Fiona Sammut, which implements the generalized Wedderburn logit model. See preprint by Firth and Sammut (2023), Analysis of composition on the original scale of measurement.

Knitted output over here.

Over 40 researchers agree key mental state attribution concept definitions

“The terminology used in discussions on mental state attribution is extensive and lacks consistency. In the current paper, experts from various disciplines collaborate to introduce a shared set of concepts and make recommendations regarding future use.”

Quesque, F., Apperly, I., Baillargeon, R. et al. Defining key concepts for mental state attribution. Commun Psychol 2, 29 (2024).

From the archive – Yeltsin summarising the state of Russian economy

A John Major/Yeltsin story I’ve just heard (2024 context was discussion about how to sum up Tory record in one word): ‘Major described how he had once asked the Russian leader to sum up the state of the Russian economy in one word. “Good,” came the reply. Major pressed him for details, asking him to go further by summing up the situation in two words. “Not good,” was Yeltsin’s considered response.’

Origin of jingle and jangle fallacies

‘To use an illustration given by Thorndike (1904, page 14), the expression “college student,” found so frequently in general discussions, covers a multitude of classes: male and female; part time, full time; extension students and those in residence; native, foreign, lower classmen, upper classmen, graduates; etc. In each connection the expression “college student” sounds the same, and thus we come to treat it as a single concept. Dr. Thorndike quotes Professor Aikins as describing this as the “jingle” fallacy because there is merely a verbal resemblance and no sufficient underlying factual similarity between the classes.

‘Equally contaminating to clear thinking is the use of two separate words or expressions covering in fact the same basic situation, but sounding different, as though they were in truth different. The doing of this latter the writer will call the “jangle” fallacy. “Achievement” and “intelligence” sound as though they were different; they have different “jangles,” and thus we treat them as though they were different in truth.’

– Truman Lee Kelley (1927, pp. 63-64)


Kelley, T. L. (1927). Interpretation of educational measurements. World Book Company.


Gender modality

“If a trans woman is fired for being trans, should we say that her gender identity was targeted when she has the same gender identity as cis women? Although her gender identity was part of the equation, it would be more accurate to say that she was discriminated against on the basis of her gender modality.”

“Not everyone is male or female. Not everyone is cis or trans. The sooner we make space for these truths, the better. And inviting scientists to adopt the concept of gender modality will hopefully foster research that better reflects the intricacies and nuances of our increasingly gender-expansive world.”

Ashley, F., Brightly-Brown, S., & Rider, G. N. (2024). Beyond the trans/cis binary. Nature, 630, 293–295.

The problem with tennis and Alan Turing’s solution

“Turing would rather suddenly develop a tremendous passion for some form of activity, or some study, and wish to devote a lot of his time and energy to it. On my first encounter with him at Bletchley Park he was obviously very much fascinated by chess problems. At BP he developed a real delight in playing tennis, and especially enjoyed playing doubles. He was very good up at the net, where his speed and good eye enabled him to make many effective interceptions. However, he was dissatisfied with his success rate: too often he intercepted a return from an opponent, but sent the ball into the net. Applying his remarkable thinking processes to a mundane problem, he reasoned as follows: ‘The problem is that, when intercepting, one has very little time to plan one’s stroke. The time available is a function of the tautness of the strings of my racquet. Therefore I must loosen the strings.’ And, being Alan Turing, he then carried out the necessary alterations to his racquet himself. At this point my recollection may be coloured by the great distance in time, but I seem to recall Turing turning up for his next game with a racquet somewhat resembling a fishing net. He was absolutely devastating, catching the ball in his racquet and delivering it wherever he chose—but plainly in two distinct operations and, therefore, illegally. He was soon persuaded to revert to a more orthodox racquet!” (Hilton, 2006, pp. 198–199)


Hilton, P. (2006). Living with Fish: Breaking Tunny in the Newmanry and the Testery. In J. B. Copeland (Ed.), Colossus (pp. 189–203). Oxford University Press.