22 Aug, 2022

RMA Blog: networking and narcissism – attending the isra world meeting

The International Society for Research on Aggression (ISRA) returned this year to an in-person meeting in Ottowa, Canada. Our Head of OLR, forensic psychologist Debbie Campbell, headed there to learn all about advances in the study of aggression, and how reframing the way we think about violence could help reduce harm.

Covid may be lingering, but the world is cautiously reopening and welcoming back in-person conferences. Like many of you, I’ve attended virtual conferences over the last couple of years. While I’m grateful for the technological advances that kept my knowledge current during the pandemic; a conference online just isn’t the same as one attended in person.

Attending a conference in person always feels a bit like being back at uni for me (in a good way!). Learning about advances in the field tends to reignite my passion for forensic psychology. However, I’ll be honest with you… the prospect of networking does not set my world ablaze! I am acutely aware of my tendency towards introversion (my ability to make small talk feels astoundingly limited), but even I recognise that getting in a room with fellow practitioners and academics has its advantages

This year, I was lucky to head to Ottawa in Canada for the International Society for Research on Aggression (ISRA) conference. As Head of OLR, keeping abreast of the advances in the field of aggression is key to understanding the OLR population – so this conference was an obvious choice for me.

There were lots of highlights…

Dr Gary Slutkin encouraged us to reconceptualise violence as a contagious disease. He explained similarities in the way that violence and infectious diseases spread. He talked about how understanding violence as a contagious disease may provide a solution to addressing the epidemic.  The ‘Cure Violence Method’ and individuals employed as ‘violence interrupters’ has had encouraging results in America. Violence interrupters are trained to interrupt the transmission of violence by deescalating situations. They work to shift the perspectives of those likely to become involved in a violent act. Workers are trusted in their local area and are trained as disease control workers to support them in their role.

A little closer to home, Professor Karen Slade from Nottingham Trent University shared her research into Self Harm in Forensic populations. Professor Slade discussed the concept of dual harm; that is persons displaying both harm to themselves and harm to others. It’s a common phenomenon; between 11 and 16% (Slade, 2019) of people in custody in England and Wales are involved in dual harm. Whilst these figures didn’t necessarily surprise me, Professor Slades other findings did.

She found that this dual harming population were twice as likely to be involved in prison misconduct. They typically spent 40% longer in custody, and 2-3 times longer under restrictive regimes than those who did not evidence dual harm behaviours. For these individuals up to ¼ of their time in custody was spent in restrictive regimes, accounting for a huge percentage of prison resource (Slade, 2019). Professor Slade encouraged us to recognise that violence and self-harm are linked. She noted that a decrease in other-directed violence may result in an increase in self-directed violence, as self-harm becomes the mechanism by which individuals avoid the use of violence. Whilst this research hasn’t extended to a Scottish population, it strikes me as an area worthy of exploration.

Professor Brad Bushman had the challenge of keeping the crowd engaged on the last day of the conference – and he rose to the challenge. But then I’ve always found Narcissism to be quite an engaging topic! Professor Bushman considered ‘do aggressive people have inflated or deflated self-views?’  His findings show that there is no evidence that aggressive or violent people experience low self-esteem (e.g. Bushman, 2000). Rather, they present with high levels of narcissistic traits. When considering aggression, this is relevant as individuals high in narcissism have “thin skins” and are prone to aggression when provoked (Kjaervik & Bushman, 2021).

Professor Bushman suggested that aggression in this population may be reduced by increasing the narcissists connection to others. This could help them to see a similarity between themselves and others. After all, they value themselves and may therefore be likely to value others they perceive as having the same qualities. This will support them to see the value of the other person and reduce the likelihood of perpetrating violence against them. Interesting strategy!

And what about networking I hear you ask…

Well, I can report that I successfully pushed out of my comfort zone to speak to an array of practitioners and researchers. Keep your eyes open for future collaborations arising from my efforts!


Debbie is a Chartered and Registered Forensic Psychologist. She has experience in assessment and interventions for general and sexual violence, and has developed, delivered and managed offending behaviour programmes delivered in custody. Debbie also has a wealth of experience in psychological assessment in areas including general, sexual and intimate partner violence, cognitive functioning and personality.

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