What is Headspace?

Headspace is Amber Marks's satirical account of her research into the policing of smell - she uses developments in smell research as an allegory for the surveillance society. Amber was working as a barrister when she started spotting sniffer dogs on her travels to courts in different parts of the country. Disturbed by the implications for civil liberties (who needs a warrant when you've got a dog) and cynical about the supposed infallibility of canine intelligence (barking up the wrong knee), Amber started researching the phenomenon. To her amazement she discovered that across the world, people are being convicted on the word of a dog alone - despite the science of smell (the fascinating history and advances of which are all included in this book) being very poorly understood. As a legal expert on canine evidence, Amber is invited to a Ministry of Defence conference where the security applications of mice, moths, salmon and plants are discussed. That's when Amber's research journey really begins.

Q & A with Amber:

Why did you call the book "Headspace"?

Quite a lot in the book is about the importance of pscyhological privacy to human liberty and autonomy. Headspace - in 1960s jargon- means psychological privacy, the cognitive shed required for the development of an individual personality. When an entomologist told me that 'headspace' is also the technical term for the area surrounding a subject in which their smell can be detected and analysed - I knew it had to be the title of my book.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I enjoyed everything about it. I enjoyed befriending security agents, police officers and scientists (they have all taken the fun I poke at their research in good humour). I enjoyed researching all the novels relating to the sense of smell (Perfume, Jitterbug Perfume, Brave New World, Oryx And Crake and millions of others) and learning about the science of smell. It was a great excuse to read Arthur Koestler's Ghost in the Machine and learn about bee brains and the manipulation of instinctive behaviour.

What is Dogwatch?

Dogwatch is the name of a secret organisation in Amber's book. It monitors potential threats to Headspace and seeks to inform people of their rights in these confusing times. It is presently focused on developments in surveillance, forensic science, less than lethal weapons, the militarisation of biology and the science of smell. Membership is easy- just send your findings to Amber and automatically become a member!

Calming the nerves

News highlights

Lavender scent calms dental patients

15 Sep 2008, PR 187/08

A study by researchers at King’s College London has found that people exposed to lavender oil scent before having dental treatment were then less anxious about going to the dentist.

Metaxia Kritsidima, an MSc Dental Public Health graduate, working with Dr Koula Asimakopoulou Lecturer in Health Psychology, from the Dental Institute at King’s, presented their results at The British Psychological Society’s Division of Health Psychology and European Health Psychology Society Conference at the University of Bath last week.

British Psychological Society press release

Metaxia Kritsidima explained: ‘A substantial number of people avoid going to dental surgeries because they are ‘scared of the dentist’, which can have a significant impact on their dental health. The anxiety experienced by these patients once they get to the dentist is stressful not only for them, but also for the dental team.

‘Working under a state of increased tension may potentially compromise their performance, as well as lengthening appointment times. This is why finding a way of reducing dental anxiety is really important.’

In this study, researchers investigated the effects of lavender scent on dental anxiety. The dental anxiety levels of 340 adult patients were measured while they waited for a scheduled dental appointment. Some patients were exposed to a lavender scent while the rest were not.

Patients who were exposed to the scent reported feeling less anxious than the control group. This significant effect was present regardless of the type of dental appointment (e.g. routine check up, drilling). However, the exposure to lavender had no effect on the patients’ anxiety regarding future dental procedures.

Metaxia Kritsidima concludes: ‘Our findings suggest that lavender could certainly be used as an effective ‘on-the-spot’ anxiety reduction in dentists’ waiting rooms.’

Dr Koula Asimakopoulou, comments: ‘This is a significant difference and it was present regardless of the type of dental appointment.’

More than 700 psychologists from the UK, Europe and further met at the University of Bath from 9 - 12 September 2008 for the joint European Health Psychology Society and British Psychological Society’s Division of Health Psychology Conference 2008.

The conference, themed ‘Behaviour, Health and Healthcare: From Physiology to Policy’, will look at how psychology can be applied at individual and group level to promote health, and even prevent illness, at a national level.