Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Religious children more selfish, not a good sign

Given the current problems with religious fundamentalists trying to influence school policies about uniforms and the way children are taught British values – for example the way  head teacher Neena Lall, of St Stephen’s state primary in east London, who tried to prevent children under the age of eight from wearing the hijab in class, was attacked by muslim fundamentalists, I thought it worth while updating and re-posting this from one of my other blogs two years ago.

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The idea that religious children might be more selfish  may seem counter-intuitive as you might expect people with strong religious beliefs to be “better” people.

However a study carried out by the University of Chicago of children around the world aged 5 to 12 found that children brought up in a religious families were more selfish than those from atheist or agnostic ones. And the more they went to their place of worship, be it church or mosque, the more selfish they were.

The study used a test of altruism and involved sharing stickers with anonymous children in their school. The idea was to test the notion that being religious has positive associations with self-control and moral behaviours. Jean Decety, the lead author of the study, says this view is so deeply embedded that in some countries e.g. the USA, not being religious can make you a morally suspect person.

While Jesus may have believed in the social benefits of sharing in this study it was the non-believers who demonstrated the principle not his followers. Furthermore muslim children were more likely to believe that when their peers transgressed they should receive more punitive punishments.

This research fits with earlier studies which showed that religious people were the most selfish. And the point in a colleague’s blog about not needing to be religious to have moral values seems borne out by this research.

Why should this be the case? One view is that it is due to what is called “moral licensing when people use something good to justify something bad” without realising what they are doing. Religious people believe they have done something good simply by being religious and this gives them the licence to do something bad.

Doing something which strengthens their positive self-image makes them less worried about the consequences of doing something immoral. Decety said “I hope people begin to understand that religion is not a guarantee for morality and that religion and morality are two different things. Societies that cultivate secular values are more peaceful and generally “healthier” than those countries which anchor or base their values in religion

Personally I don’t think we should have any faith schools as I believe they are divisive. And when the Chief Inspector of Schools Amanda Spielman is warning that religious extremists are using schools to narrow children’s horizons and “pervert education”, I think that supports my view. She said some community leaders see schools as vehicles to “indoctrinate impressionable minds” – with extremist ideology in some cases. This is really worrying as there is good evidence that religious societies are more violent and suffer more anti-social behaviour than more secular ones.

 

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British women walking taller

Scientists say British women have grown taller faster than most of the rest of the world.

British women now average 5′ 5″ (164.4 cm) compared to 5′ (153.4 cm) at the start of the century.

This pushes them up the world league table of the tallest from 57th place in 1914 to 38th place today.

British men have grown to 5′ 10″ (178 cm), up 10.6 cm, and have moved up from 36th to 31st place.

Who are the tallest?

Latvian women are the tallest and  average 5′ 7″ (170 cm)

Dutch men are the tallest at 6′ (183 cm)

Who are the shortest?

Men from East Timor and the Yemen at 5′ 3″ (160 cm), Laos (161 cm), Madagascar and Malawi (both 5′ 4″ or 162 cm).

Women from Guatemala at 4′ 11″ (149 cm), the Philippines  (150 cm), and Bangladesh, Nepal and East Timor (all 151 cm).

The researchers compared data from people who were 18 in 914 with those of the same age in 2014. The difference is partly genetic and partly due to nutrition, sanitation, and health. Particularly important is the mother’s health and nutrition during pregnancy.

Height is a mirror to our social environment” said Professor Majid Ezzati from the School of Public Health at Imperial College.

The biggest increases have been in rapidly developing countries such as Japan and South Korea where women are now 8″ (20 cm) taller than before WW11. Iranian men have grown by the same amount.

Americans have grown by 5cm over the review period but have dropped down the league tables from 3rd for men and 4th for women in 1914 to 37th and 42nd place respectively. This was probably connected to their obesity problem – lots of calories but not good nutrition – said Professor Ezzati.

In sub-Saharan Africa people are actually getting smaller.

Tall people tend to have a longer life expectancy, with a reduced risk of heart disease. On the other hand, there is some evidence that they are at greater risk of certain cancers, such as colorectal, postmenopausal breast and ovarian cancers.

One hypothesis is that growth factors may promote mutated cells,” said another Imperial co-author, Elio Riboli.

I’m always a bit bemused by stories like this about average height because I come from a tall family and am used to being around tall people. 6′ (183 cm) doesn’t seem tall to me yet it’s taller than the average British male.

And being tall does have some advantages at work.

League table showing top 10 from 187 countries surveyed

The nations with the tallest men in 2014 (1914 ranking in brackets):

  1. Netherlands (12)
  2. Belgium (33)
  3. Estonia (4)
  4. Latvia (13)
  5. Denmark (9)
  6. Bosnia and Herzegovina (19)
  7. Croatia (22)
  8. Serbia (30)
  9. Iceland (6)
  10. Czech Republic (24)

The nations with the tallest women in 2014 (1914 ranking in brackets):

  1. Latvia (28)
  2. Netherlands (38)
  3. Estonia (16)
  4. Czech Republic (69)
  5. Serbia (93)
  6. Slovakia (26)
  7. Denmark (11)
  8. Lithuania (41)
  9. Belarus (42)
  10. Ukraine (43)

Source: eLife


The world is becoming more short-sighted

A couple of years ago I posted this elsewhere when experts were blaming too much time spent on near electronic devices, smartphones, tablets, Kindle et. With the increase in the use of mobile gadgets and smartphones since then the risk must still be there, if not greater.

It’s been suspected for a while that lack of outdoor activity – for various reasons including safety fears – where you are exposed to UV light and can focus on distant objects more easily, and over-indulgence in screen time, has led to an increase in the number of myopic i.e. short-sighted, children. I also posted on research from Cambridge University about this over six years ago.

More recently scientists, at the Brien Holden Vision Institute in Australia, were predicting that half the world could be short-sighted by 2050 with 1 in 10 people suffering sever myopia.

The increase is particularly acute in Asia. 90% of teenagers and young people in China are short-sighted and in Seoul 96.5% of 19-year old men are too. In Europe and the West about half of young adults have the condition.

The scientists, reporting in the journal Opthalmology,  said “Among environmental factors, so-called high pressure educational systems, especially at a very young age in countries such as Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, and China, may be a causative lifestyle change, as may the excessive use of near electronic devices

If true the message is clear. Get off your backside, ditch the gadgets and get outside to enjoy the scenery.


Brits are fatties – no getting away from it

  • Almost two out of three British adults are overweight.
  • We are the fattest country in western Europe.
  • Our obesity rates have doubled in the past 20 years.
  • We are the 6th heaviest developed country behind Mexico, the US, New Zealand, Finland, and Australia (some surprises there for me)

We also have high rates of teenage drunkedness (even though teenagers now drink less that previous generations), high cancer rates (and above average cancer deaths) and a shortage of doctors and nurses (18% lower than average for doctors and 12% lower for nurses), according to the OECD.

Our health overall is average for all the OECD countries but our obesity levels stand out. At least our child obesity rates have become stable at 24% unlike the rest of Europe where it is increasing. But that still means 1 in 4 children are very fat!

The worry is that it’s now becoming normal in Britain to be overweight. With Public Health officials being sensitive to medical staff actually telling parents their kids are fat.

The Obesity Health Alliance of doctors and charities said the results were shocking and the solution lies in stopping children becoming obese.

The National Obesity Forum chairman said “One could weep over the figures, the results of successive governments who have done nothing for 30 years”

Public Health England said “our plans to tackle obesity are among the most ambitious. We’re working to make food healthier and delivering campaigns encouraging people to choose healthier food and lead healthier lives. Change will not happen overnight

Perhaps if we called a spade and spade and named and shamed parents of obese kids we might get somewhere instead of pussyfooting around so as not to upset anybody. Letting your kids become obese is child abuse surely?


Are you teaching your kids to be quitters?

Biz Psycho

Not a good thing! Research clearly shows the importance of perseverance in school and in life.

So next time you are struggling with a task in front of your children don’t make it look too easy. By trying and repeatedly failing at a task you are helping children understand the value and importance of persistence.

Many cultures emphasise the value of effort and perseverance. This emphasis is substantiated by scientific research: individual differences in conscientiousness, self-control and ‘grit’ correlate with academic outcomes independent of IQ” wrote scientists at  the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

They wondered if persistence and quitting could be learnt. “Does seeing an adult exert effort to succeed encourage infants to persist longer at their own challenging tasks?”

In an experiment they ran at MIT, reported in the journal Science, 250 15-month old children watched adults perform a task getting a keychain attached to a carabiner out…

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