Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Autism charity supported at Tesco Burnley

Alison Booth, a member of staff, has volunteered to live inside a glass cage for 50 hours to raise money for the Caudwell Children charity.

She says “I’m really passionate about generating much needed understanding and acceptance of autism and can’t wait to help Caudwell Children raise vital funds for their support services. Wish me luck

It’s not the only support this Tesco store provides. See earlier post

Well done Tesco!


Netiquette for the digital generation (and parents)

It seems schools are now teaching children “netiquette”. A company called Digital Awareness UK is working with schools to raise awareness of what is considered rude behaviour around digital platform use.

Schools have a role to play to model good behaviour and teach children what is not socially appropriate“.

Sorry but isn’t that the parents’ job?

Anyway here are some of the rules:

  • Don’t text at mealtimes
  • Don’t check your phone during a meal
  • Don’t announce deaths on Facebook (only jihadists or murderers are “allowed” to do that)
  • Don’t dump your partner via WhatsApp
  • Don’t interrupt a face-to-face conversation because you’ve just had a message (how many children understand what a face-to-face conversation actually is?)

And back to parents; a third of children surveyed recently (by Digital Awareness UK) said that their parents were terrible role models – always checking their devices. Even when the children asked them to stop it made no difference.

These were kids from top private schools whose parents obviously had terribly important jobs. But I think it’s the same everywhere among parents of young children. You see them out for a family meals with the kids given tablets to play on while the parents have grown up talk.

And the survey revealed that parents have no idea what the kids get up to on online putting themselves at risk of sexting, grooming, addiction and sleep deprivation. Given that almost 10% of kids spend 10-15 hours a day online when not at school is it any wonder. And 10% of 11-18 year olds admit to checking their mobile phones at least 10 times a night.

Many children have said they would like firmer rules and for their parents to be better role models and half said they wouldn’t mind if their devices were taken off them for a weekend. Really?

I’ve posted before about how addictive social media can be and its detrimental effect on children.


Oxford University publishes list of micro-aggressions

In the latest snowflake newsletter from Oxford University students are warned to be aware of micro-aggressions by the university’s equality and diversity unit (an oxymoron if ever I heard one as you’re not allowed to express different views anymore).

So if you don’t look another student in the eye you might be guilty of racist behaviour. This is absolute poppycock. What about cultural differences where it’s considered inappropriate to look someone directly in the face? Or people who are shy, or introverts, or on the autistic spectrum?

And don’t ask a black or minority ethnic student where they are “originally” from. It might suggest you don’t believe they are British. Well they may not be and what if you are interested in knowing more about other cultures? Isn’t that why you go to university – to expand your mind?

And don’t joke about someone’s accent. Not even Geordie, black country (can we still call it that?) or scouse accents? (And didn’t Sir Lenny Henry make a living out of funny accents?)

The newsletter says that subtle everyday racism can appear trivial but “repeated micro-aggressions can be tiring and alienating (and can lead to mental ill-health”).

It says some people who do these things may be entirely well-meaning and would be mortified to realise they had caused offence. “But this is of little consequence if a possible effect of their words or actions is to suggest to people that may fulfil a negative stereotype or do not belong”. Or they might just think “get over it”.

The coordinator of the Free Speech Ranking project that highlights censorship on university campuses, called it ridiculous. “This is all part of a chilling desire on the part of university authorities to police not just opinions but everyday conversations between students. It’s not only deeply authoritarian, it has a chilling effect on how students interact with one another“.

The university defended the advice saying that “the equality and diversity unit works with university bodies to ensure that the university’s pursuit of excellence goes hand in hand with freedom from discrimination and equality of opportunity and the newsletter is one way of advising and supporting staff towards achieving these aims

What about freedom of speech and encouraging students to think for themselves? All this advice is tiring and irritating to those of us who live in the real world.

Update 28/4/17 from BBC website

Oxford University has apologised for saying that avoiding eye contact could be “everyday racism” after it was accused of discriminating against, and criticised for being “insensitive” to autistic people who can struggle making eye contact.

It said it had made a mistake and not taken disabilities into account. In a series of tweets, the university replied: “We made a mistake. Our newsletter was too brief to deal adequately and sensibly with the issue. “We are sorry that we took no account of other reasons for difference in eye contact and social interaction, including disability.

“Oxford deeply values and works hard to support students and staff with disabilities, including those with autism or social anxiety disorder.”

Some academics argued the guidance was “trivialising racism“. Emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent, Prof Frank Furedi, said the newsletter’s authors “need a reality check“.

It was basically a misguided PC argument put out by ill-informed people at what is supposed to be one of our top universities. Despair.


Police catching up with drivers using mobile phones – at last!

texting_behind_the_wheel_1600_wht_10007

Today’s the start of the new police campaign. Covert filming from unmarked cars. 6 points (enough to take a novice driver off the road) and £200 fine.

I look forward to seeing the results.

——————————————-

Original post from 23/01/17

The promised crackdown on irresponsible drivers who use mobile phones began in earnest last November when a week-long campaign by 36 forces across England, Wales and Northern Ireland (but not Scotland for some reason) resulted in 8,000 fixed penalty notices given at the rate of 40 an hour.

This followed the tragic deaths of Tracy Houghton and her family members when they were crushed by Tomasz Kroker who was scrolling through his music on his phone when driving his lorry. He received a 10-year prison sentence.

The campaign stopped 10,000 vehicles, detecting almost 8,000 mobile phone offences plus other distraction offences. These figures are four times that in previous month-long campaigns in 2015 (twice) and last year.

The good news for safety conscious drivers and pedestrians is that the police are doing it again this week!

They are running targeted operations and education campaigns. And ministers are still planning to double the fines to £200 and the penalty points to six (which means for new drivers it will be one strike in your first two years of driving and you’re off the road).

I’d go further and introduce an iSBO – take the phones away, recycle them or crush them, burn them in a public bonfire (probably a health & safety issue with that). You get my point. It’s stupid and irresponsible and causes accidents.


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Should we dumb down our smartphones to stop us becoming more stupid?

Last September I asked on my other blog: Have we finally realised we need to unplug ourselves from endless apps and social media connections?

aansyq1I described the Light Phone and the fact that the old Nokia 3310 from 2000 was selling well on the internet. Now it’s been announced that the Nokia will be sold again with a larger colour screen but with only basic call and text facilities for around £49 in the UK.

It seems that the smartphone idea was being dumbed-down. Is that a bad idea?

Well in the Times Body & Soul section last weekend they asked “is your smartphone making you stupid?.

41-epxoutyl-_sx309_bo1204203200_They thought it was – if you count a fleeting attention span, a poorer memory, and a more passive intellect as signs of increasing stupidity.

Arianna Huffington‘s book “Thrive: The third metric to redefining success and creating a happier life” made similar points referring to the downside of online life as poor sleep, low attention span, diminishing empathy, not to mention wasted time.

And in Adam Alter‘s new book “Irresistible. The rise of addictive technology and the business of keeping us hooked” or in the UK edition “Why we can’t stop checking, scrolling, clicking and watching” the author , an associate professor of marketing at New York University’s school of business, describes how the internet changes your brain.

41xdmdoe5wl-_sx336_bo1204203200_Or as he says “Once your cucumber brain is pickled it can never go back to being a cucumber”. Tech companies manipulate you in all sorts of ways using random reinforcement methods (like slot machines), where the unexpected win increases the level of the pleasure chemical dopamine in the brain e.g. using “likes” – you have to check your post because you’re not sure how it will be received.

A company designed an app, Lovematically, that automatically liked everything you posted . It was banned within two hours. Instagram (owned by Facebook) wanted to remain the dealer not have the “online crack” given away for free.

And he’s not the only one writing about this. Nicholas Carr’s book “The Shallows: what the internet is doing to your brain” was listed for a Pulitzer prize in 2011 so he’s been making his points for a few years now.

41gwbs8qckl-_sx327_bo1204203200_He thinks “We’ve never had a technology so intrusive into our moment by moment thinking, perception and attention. … it hijacks our attention faculty. Instead of choosing what we focus on we begin to focus the newest thing on our smartphone, whether it’s important or not”.

He points out that our short-term memory has a limited capacity but the contents can be transferred to our long-term memory through making associations and connections. He says “everyone who has a smartphone and is honest with themselves knows that it is shaping their consciousness and the way they think or don’t think

He cites research at Stanford University which found that media multi-taskers (never a good idea) i.e. those who jump from one social media app to another, browsing or posting, had a weakened anterior cingulate cortex, that part of the brain area involved in high level information and emotion processing. They had smaller grey matter density and decreased cognitive control. 

So  a shrunken brain, more impulsive, and less empathetic?

Larry Rosen, a professor in psychology at California State University, agrees about the effect of smartphones and says “We don’t process information as deeply any more. Our brains are wired to process it just enough to get it through the moment, knowing full well that if we need it, we know where to find it again because we have this great external memory called Mr Google“.

41qm9rez-wl-_ac_us218_ 41r7ybyxnjl-_ac_us218_Author of “iDisorder: Understanding our obsession with technology and overcoming its hold on us”  and co-author of “Distracted Minds: Ancient Brains in a high tech world“, he believes the short attention span we now have is linked to smartphone technology.

The smartphone “stimulated this concept of ‘do it and get out’. We’re very task driven and categorise every action as a task.”

Now that we don’t have to rely on our recall as much we’ll see less of the taxi-driver effect where their hippcampuses, the part of the brain associated with long-term memory and spatial awareness, became more developed than normal because of learning “the knowledge.

Tech companies like to promote intelligence based on the idea that the more information we take in the smarter we get. Carr believes the opposite is true. “We don’t get smart, we don’t become knowledgeable through the speed with which we take in information, but through our ability to synthesise information into context, into some broader understanding of the world”.

He argues that feeding us information like feeding babies milk makes us more dependent, lazier and more accepting. We become less able to apply intellectual or critical analyses to the information.

Acquiring true knowledge takes time and “requires us to think without interruption or distraction. All higher forms of thought, reasoning, critical thinking, require control over our attention; require the ability to turn off the flow of information and think deeply and over an extended period of time about things.

To develop common sense we need to think for ourselves says Richard Graham, a psychiatrist and technology addiction specialist in London. “Otherwise we become passive recipients of all sorts of information – one would file fake news into that category. One absolutely needs to have that mental agility and critical thinking to not become passive to information and judgement”.

So not looking good is it? And there’s more. What about its impact on our creativity? Well smartphones and social media might enable collaboration but being “always on” doesn’t allow much time for daydreaming which, according to neuroscientists at the University of California, leads to the brain engaging in a default mode of neural processing linked to “positive mental health  and cognitive abilities like reading, comprehension, and divergent thinking“.

While bouncing ideas off people can lead to creativity “original individual thinking does require an ability to be contemplative and reflective and introspective. None of these things can happen when you’re completely bombarded with information” says Carr.

And talking of collaboration, social media users might believe that they’re being thoughtful sending messages to their “friends” but it’s a fairly shallow and primitive method. Is sending someone a text message as meaningful as writing a letter or sending a card? “Online empathy is weak empathy and not as good as real-world empathy”. 

Sending a text message is often an emotional response without any thought going into it because it’s too easy. That lack of time for reflection makes us less human. No matter how many friends you think you have online the sad truth is that most of them aren’t real friends.

And part of this is due to the fact that we hate being bored. Students would rather give themselves electric shocks than sit quietly in a room for 15 minutes (University of Virginia). It seems we’d rather play mindless games that reward us with flashing lights or different levels than sit and reflect.

Have you noticed that when you watch a TV series on Amazon or a film on Netflix it automatically moves to the next episode? Its default setting is opting in not out and given our predilection for generally not changing things (Brexit being a rare counter example) its easy to see how viewers get sucked in.

Alter says silicon valley leaders are hypocrites who know the damage they are doing to people’s lives. Steve Jobs banned his kids from having iPads and many restrict screen time. He says games designers avoid playing World of Warcraft because they’ve seen how immersive socially interactive games can turn intelligent but lonely young men into overweight college dropouts.

The designer of Flappy Bird actually took the game app down because he feared the effect it was having on people.

So what’s to be done if we are not to succumb to smartphone induced mediocrity? Alter suggests the usual such as parental restraints, stopping programmes before the end so you can resist the next instalment (bloody annoying if you ask me) , or punishing yourself.

One tech entrepreneur apparently hired a woman from Craigslist to slap him across the face ever time he opened his Facebook account. You can use a program called WastenoTime which blocks you accessing youTube or Facebook between certain hours. Or if you use your smartphone more than an agreed number of hours you can pledge to donate to a cause you hate.

Or you can just leave your phone at home and go out for some fresh air.

I’ve posted before about nomophobia and trying to overcome anxiety from FOMO or FOBO? Research shows that half of smartphone owners are spending two to four  hours on our phones every day and say they couldn’t live without it, and a quarter of them more than that.

If you’re in denial about how much time you spend on your phone you can get an app called Moment which tracks how much time you spend on it. Try it, it might be a wake-up call to get a life! 


Cambridge snowflakes complaining about food

chef_stiring_pot_anim_500_wht_6703Have students nothing better to do than accuse a college chef of cultural appropriation or misrepresentation and micro-aggressions by (mis)naming food?

Among their targets at Pembroke College Cambridge are: Jamaican Stew, Chinese Chicken, Indian Fish pie, African stew with sweet potato, and a Tunisian rice dish.

Various students have complained that these dishes don’t exist in their home countries.

It started when a student posted on a Facebook page called Grudgebridge “Dear catering staff, stop mixing mango and beef and calling it Jamaican stew; it’s rude“. Not to be confused with “rude boys” presumably i.e. those wild Jamaican boys who like reggae and ska?

The complaints then built up citing the other dishes as micro-aggressions. There was only one student, an Indian, who suggested that the catering staff should at least be given credit for trying saying “I urge people to look around and realise there’s a lot more to life than complaining about fruity chicken“. Well said!

To which a black student complained about  being constantly invalidated when flagging up specific issues and claiming that micro-aggressions are a reality of everyday existence for people of colour. Well maybe if you are always looking for them.

Of course the college is leaning over backwards to appease the students and the college bursar said that the college encouraged catering staff to take the views of students seriously.

The current generation of students are a real timorous bunch who should be thinking hard about their futures and how employers will perceive all this petty PC behaviour.

Don’t the students realise that we have a habit of messing about with foreign cuisine here in the UK?