Barnard (unit)

The Barnard (abbrev: Bn) is a unit of measurement used in psychological, sociological and anthropological studies. It is named after the leader of the first team to outline its properties, Dr Victoria L Barnard.


Coined as a result of studies conducted by Dr V.L. Barnard et al at John Radcliffe Hospital's psychiatric wing in Oxford, UK, the 'Barnard' (Bn) is a unit of perceived mental discomfort in sexual situations. Over a series of psychological experiments between 1998 and 2002, the team under Dr. Barnard studied over three hundred subjects in double-blind psychological experiments.

In these studies, participants were asked a number of questions, both sexual and otherwise, to gauge their discomfort in the face of such questions. As a further step, certain members of the team started to display overt sexual excitement, including both audible and physical manifestations. The participant's response was recording using both immediate testimony, galvanic skin response, EKGs and, in one study, Magnetic Resonance Imaging.

Using the data collected from the various studies, the team noticed a continuum of responses, encompassing apathy, sexual responsiveness/excitement, fear (including concomitant adrenal response) and anger. It was posited by Dr Barnard that the continuum could be graduated using arbitrary units, in order to further understand levels of mental discomfort in tightly defined circumstances.

The completed write-ups of the study were first published in the European Journal of Cognitive Psychology (Vol 15, Issue 4, 2003), receiving a lukewarm response from other researchers in the field.


Doubts have been expressed about both the arbitrary units involved in the study, and the qualitative standard of the studies taken as a whole. A particularly vociferous opponent of the study, and units, is Professor H.R.J Cleft of Dublin University. During the BPS Conference (Cognitive Section) conference held in Reigate in 2003, Professor Cleft took the opportunity to decry the Barnard team's findings, stating that 'the reductionist and positivist shroud of the study ensures that it will not be taken seriously by any reasonable psychologist.'


As of the time of writing (2006) Dr Barnard is currently conducting further studies, including ethically guided field studies amongst a troop of gorillas in the Gambia. Preliminary results are expected early 2007.


European Journal of Cognitive Psychology (Vol 15, Issue 4, 2003). BPS Conference Notes - Cognitive Section

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