Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Universities must promote free speech

Enough of safe spaces, no-platforming, and other pathetic leaning-over-backwards to placate the sensitive snow-flake generation.

Toughen up you brightest of the bright (allegedly)

Sir Michael Barber, the head of the new student watchdog has vowed to enforce free speech on campuses.

He says that students or academics who prevented discussion or debate out of fear of offending others were on a “slippery slope“. Universities, in his view, “should be places of intellectual and personal “discomfort”. Being comfortable was a step towards being “complacent” or “self-satisfied” whereas he thought more profound learning required discomfort.

The Office for Students  will adopt “the widest possible definition of freedom of speech – namely anything within the law” when it begins monitoring campuses in April.

He says he hopes they will never have to intervene (I think they’ll be busy) but if they do “it will be to widen freedom of speech rather than restrict it”

In defence of students he thought this generation “was demonstrably the best educated in history, hard-working, thoughtful, curious and ambitious“.  He then added “Then, just occasionally I read or hear something that suggests a potential threat to the freedom of speech that underpins such optimism”.

I think the problem is more widespread than he is prepared to admit. I anticipate some universities will be criticised and fined, if not suspended.

I have posted before about daft campuses.

 

 

 

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Young people addicted to smartphones

An experiment to separate young people from their smartphones discovered that they suffer from anxiety, unhealthy eating and loneliness when they are not online.

Not only are they becoming part of Generation Mute (people who are obsessed with their phones but hardly ever use them to actually speak to people) they are becoming addicted to their mobile devices and appear to be suffereing from FOBO (fear of being off-line).

In the experiment the young people had to live with a basic phone and no internet access for a week.

They missed out on the news and celebrity gossip and were less punctual because they couldn’t access timetables on line. But they did spend more time reading (surprised they knew how to).

Some of the participants slept better. One was appalled at having to use a paper map to find a venue.

The Chief Executive at Innovationbubble which provided the psychologists to run the experiment said “We are psychologically overloaded with so many jobs … which means that mindlessly using our mobile can contribute to our fatigue levels and overall mental health

Ask yourself why are we overloaded. How did we manage before social media took over the world? Young people can’t think for themselves relying on their mobile devices and spending hours every day on them.

As I’ve posted before this affects their brains .

And as for being lonelier without their phones, the evidence is that using social media like Facebook can actually make you lonelier and depressed.


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Generation mute missing out on real conversations

16-24 year olds are increasingly losing the ability to communicate face to face – or even on the phone. Telephone calls are now the 10th  most used function on a mobile phone. People who use their mobile phones for over 2 hours a day only spend 20 minutes actually speaking to someone on it.

Only 15% of them consider phone calls the most important method of communication compared to over twice that many who prefer instant messaging. In America 80% of millennials (born 1981-1997) felt more comfortable using text messaging rather than having a telephone conversation.

On the other hand 43% of adults over 24 years of age say phone calls are the most important means of contacting others, more than double the younger age groups.

Teenagers even prefer texting each other when with each other according to an Ofcom survey.

Ofcom said that respondents admitted to instant messaging, texting or e-mailing others even when they are in the same room. Just over quarter of adults did the same but the figures rose too 49% for teenagers.

Instant messaging services such as Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp are becoming more popular as wi-fi access becomes less of a problem as traditional texting is declining. Facebook Messenger claims to have reached 65% of the UK population via mobile phone and WhatsApp 47%.

When people are actually avoiding having a telephone conversation something is going wrong. But  the statistics show that time spent on phone calls in Britain reduced by 10% between 2011 and 2016.

Phil Reed, professor of psychology at Swansea University and an expert on internet addiction is concerned that the increased use of social media can lead to isolation and loneliness (a theme I have posted about regularly).

He says “Friendship involves reciprocity and empathy, which social media does not lend itself to. Talking we can interact, interject; we present ourselves relatively unedited”.

It seems young people are losing the art of conversation which is important in life. Not just socially but going for interviews and in adapting to new settings.


At last government proposes getting tough on universities for smothering free speech!

Universities will be told by the government that they must uphold free speech and clamp down on student unions that “no platform” controversial speakers.

According to the Times, this could include powers to fine, suspend or deregister universities if they do not meet a statutory duty to commit to free speech in their governance documents, ensuring it is upheld by staff, student unions and student societies.

Jo Johnson, the universities minister, set out plans to challenge the culture of so-called safe spaces in universities and punish universities that fail to protect freedom of speech on campuses.

In recent years student unions and campaigners have banned, or attempted to ban, a number of high-profile people from speaking at universities because of their controversial opinions. In one of the most infamous cases, feminist writer Germaine Greer risked being unable to give a lecture after Rachael Melhuish, women’s officer at Cardiff University, called for her to be no-platformed for her “transphobic” views. Greer eventually spoke under tight security.

Speaking about Greer’s situation, Johnson said it was “preposterous” for her to be banned from speaking in campuses. “She has every right, if invited, to give views on difficult and awkward subjects,” he said. “No-platforming and safe spaces shouldn’t be used to shut down legitimate free speech”.

Our young people and students need to accept the legitimacy of healthy, vigorous debate in which people can disagree with one another. That’s how ideas get tested, prejudices exposed and society advances. Universities mustn’t be places in which free speech is stifled.”

Nick Lowles, director of Hope Not Hate, LGBT activist Peter Tatchell and Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, have faced being barred from speaking. The feminist activist and writer Julie Bindel has been no-platformed by the NUS for several years.

Johnson said that free speech was one of the foundations on which the UK’s higher education tradition was built. “It goes to the heart of our democratic values and is a principle universities hold dear,” he said. He also told the Times: “Freedom of speech is a fundamentally British value which is undermined by a reluctance of institutions to embrace healthy vigorous debate. Our universities must open minds, not close them”.

Johnson said: “I want the OfS to work with universities to encourage a culture of openness and debate and ensure that those with different backgrounds or perspectives can flourish in a higher education environment.”

The scary thing about this whole no platform/safe space nonsense is that students want itA survey last year found that most university students (63%) are in favour of the National Union of Students (NUS) having a “no platforming” policy.

An Analysis by Spiked magazine, supported by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, found that more than nine in 10 UK universities are restrictive of free speech. It’s just not acceptable. How can we prepare young people for the real world if they are over-protected at university?

Sir Michael Barber, chair of the OfS, said: “Ensuring freedom of speech and learning how to disagree with diverse opinions and differing views of the world is a fundamental aspect of learning at university. The OfS will promote it vigorously.

If this does get the go-ahead it might kill off this “snowflake” culture which has arisen and which helps nobody least of all students who should developing resilience. 

Just this week it’s been revealed that Cambridge University lecturers believe that the works of Shakespeare are too grisly for its English undergraduates and have issued timetables with trigger warnings and red triangles. The university says it’s not official policy and is at the lecturers’ discretion. Well it shouldn’t be.

Oxford law students are also given trigger warnings about violent cases. Glasgow medical students can skip lectures about how to break bad news to families.

Poor sensitive things – and that includes the wimpish lecturers  feeding these totally unnecessary demands. Let’s hope that when things change those highly paid (many would say overpaid) vice-chancellors might actually earn their money and stamp out this nonsense.

Sources: Guardian, Telegraph, Times


You’ve got to feel sorry for the millennials

Researchers at Goldsmiths, University of London, have surveyed 2,000 people aged 18 to 70 on behalf of a Taiwanese electronics company to discover what worried them the most. They were concerned with trivial or “first world” stuff.

The biggest worries were:

  • waiting at home all day for online deliveries
  • forgetting passwords
  • fear of leaving their phones at home (See FOBO)
  • not getting enough “likes” on Instagram (See “like-buttons“)

The millennials in the study complained about avocado anxiety i.e. worrying about the quality of avocados in supermarkets – too hard or too mushy? Can’t have all those hipsters skipping  brunch can we?

And a third of Londoners worry about a shortage of Prosecco! This is twice the proportion of the rest of the country. Well they say capital cities don’t reflect the rest of the country.

The researchers compared the results with those from twenty years ago. In 1997 people were worried about:

  • having a happy relationship
  • earning enough to pay the bills
  • getting on the housing ladder

And people say that’s the kind of thing young people are worrying about today. It’s always been a worry!

But back to those fickle Millennials – so much has been written about this generation born between the 80s and the noughts. Sometimes called generation Y because they came after generation X.

Millennials grew up in an electronics-filled and increasingly online and socially-networked world. They are the generation that has received the most marketing attention. As the most ethnically diverse generation, Millennials tend to be tolerant of difference. Having been raised under the mantra “follow your dreams” and being told they were special, they tend to be confident.

While largely a positive trait, the Millennial generation’s confidence has been argued to spill over into the realms of entitlement and narcissism.

They are often seen as slightly more optimistic about the future than other generations – despite the fact that they are the first generation since the those born between the two world wars that is expected to be less economically successful than their parents.


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Facebook’s “like” button is harming users

Who says so? Well the guy who created it ten years ago.

Justin Rosenstein has removed the app from his phone over fears of the psychological effects of social media.

He says “It is very common for humans to develop things with the best intentions and for them to have unintended negative consequences“. The thumbs-up symbol only brings “bright dings of pseudo pleasure“.

The like button was designed to increase your engagement with Facebook while analysing your preferences. Basically companies want your attention and your preferences so they can harvest more data about you to sell to advertisers.

You are making them mega-rich.

Other former employees of high-tech companies have warned about the dangerous effects of the “attention economy”.  Being distracted by technology seriously affects people’s ability to focus and also damages relationships.

See my earlier post on this here.