Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Helicopter parenting isn’t helpful for child’s development but nurseries are!

A recent study of more than 400 children, starting at the age of two, suggests that helicopter parenting harms a child’s emotional well-being. 

This is a term used to describe parents who become over-involved in their children’s activities.

Toddlers whose mothers intervened more frequently in their play grew up to be less able to control their emotions and behaviour.

At age two the children were filmed playing and tidying up with their mothers. The activity was scored on how controlling the mother was – was she helping or intervening when the child became frustrated?

Over the next eight year the researchers returned to see how the children were developing. They interviewed them and teachers and parents and measured behaviour such as emotional control.

“When mothers are too controlling at age two and don’t allow their children to experience a range of emotions and practise managing tim, the child loses out on an important learning opportunity” said Nicole Perry from the University of Minnesota who carried out the study published in the journal Development Psychology..

The ability to regulate emotions ( a key component of emotional intelligence) was linked to a host of adaptive outcomes, including mental and physical health, greater peer likability, healthier social relationships, positive teacher-student relationships, and greater academic adjustment.

If parents want better outcomes they should send their children to a nursery. A recent French study has found that children sent to nurseries have better social skills and behaviour than those kept at home by parents.

Opportunities for socialisation and stimulation offered by quality centre-based childcare might prevent children from developing emotional difficulties, according to an observational study of 1,400 children who were tracked from birth to the age of eight.

Parents were asked to complete questionnaires at three, five-and-a- half, and eight years of age. They were asked how easily their children made friends, their behaviour and social skills. At four, eight, and twelve months of age parent were asked what childcare support they used.

The researchers found that for psychological development a nursery or crêche staffed by professionals was better than being cared for informally by family, friends, or a childminder.

Children who had been to a nursery, daycare centre or crêche – formal childcare (26%)- had lower odds of poor social skills, difficult relationships with peers, and behavioural problems, compared to those who received informal childcare (30%) or went to a childminder (45%).

If they had been in formal childcare for a year the odds were even lower. In contrast those who had been cared for by a childminder appeared more likely to have behavioural problems.

It seems girls do better than boys which they say is because formal childcare is about internalising behaviour, more common in girls than boys.

The study doesn’t prove cause and effect and the families were better educated and more affluent than average and the researchers couldn’t assess the quality of the childcare.

However the researchers concluded that “Access to high quality childcare in the first years of life may improve children’s emotional and cognitive development, prevent later emotional difficulties, and promote pro-social behaviours”.

In France 97% of children start school at three (in contrast to Scandinavian countries where they start later than in the UK) and formal childcare provision is open to everyone.

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Social media makes young people more lonely than the elderly

This comes as no surprise to me as I first blogged about this eight years ago – and a couple of times since.

The evidence is out there: social media is not good for your mental health. The survey linked the increase in loneliness directly to social media.

A new survey of 55, 000 people was conducted by BBC4’s All in the mind programme led by Professor of Psychology Pamela Qualter at the University of Manchester said “the response to the BBC Loneliness Experiment has been significant. People have provided valuable insights into when and how loneliness is experienced, how it relates to age, being alone, carrying responsibilities, employability and discrimination”.

40% (4 in 10) people aged between 16 and 24 sat they are often lonely compared with 30% over-65s. These are people with more so-called friends on Facebook – who they don’t know face-to-face -than they have in real life. They say that being told to get out more and date is the least helpful advice they receive because they can still feel lonely in company.

A similar exercise carried out earlier this year by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) also found loneliness is much more common among the young rather than the older generations.

The government actually appointed a minister for loneliness, Tracery Crouch. It sounds like something out of a sci-fi story.

There have been behavioural changes in the younger “sensible generation” less drinking and drug-taking, fewer pregnancies and this is probably because they are spending more times connected through phones and tablets and less time socialising (down 30 minutes a day since 2,000).

Professor Qualter also said “.. the stigma of loneliness… suggest we need to be kinder to ourselves when we feel disconnected from others“.

Just stay off social media and get a real life

Previous posts

Loneliness and health

Friends

Young people not communicating


First Facebook now Instagram envy – and despair?

Just as Facebook makes people feel less satisfied about their lives as they look at exaggerated posts and touched-up selfies it seems Instagram is having the same effect.

It’s become a popular place to get ideas about your home decor with perfect pictures of the new extension or bathroom or anything else in the home considered of interest.

A recent survey by a window manufacturer found that after viewing these beautiful settings half of the of 1,500 UK adults it asked, felt dissatisfied with their homes after seeing other people’s.

And one in ten felt disappointed with their homes “several times a day” after looking at others’ on social media.

Dr David Lewis, a well-known psychologist, describes this as Home Dysmorphic Disorder or HDD. Now Dr Lewis has a flair for publicity and labels but he has a point. People with OK homes can be made to feel dissatisfied as they look at all these perfectly staged pictures. Just like scrutinising Facebook.

There’s no doubt that many people will get good ideas for making over their homes and according to the Sunday Times these are the key elements:


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Full fat fiasco at Costa Coffee

Costa Coffee used to be my favourite coffee shop. I went in most days for a large cappuccino or more recently flat whites.

But since they became health fascists trying to dictate what kind of milk we have I am falling out of love with them.

A few weeks ago a barista mentioned that they would only be serving semi-skinned milk in future, except for the flat white family which would still have full fat, whole milk.

They are doing this by stealth. There are no signs anywhere explaining their new policy. What happened to transparency and honesty?

I tweeted (the first of several) complaints to @CostaCoffee to be told by Natalia that there had been demand for semi-skimmed from customers and team members. Well Costa team members shouldn’t be dictating what customers want and many of us want whole milk.

Since then trying to get a coffee with whole milk has proved difficult and sometimes impossible.

Family members have experienced difficulty at several stores  – Haslingden Tesco, Burnley Tesco, and Rawtenstall and Accrington Costa shops. I reported this to Costa to be told they were still adjusting delivery levels.

Well this morning they hadn’t done a very good job as after queuing for my flat white, I checked they had whole milk, to be told they hadn’t because head office hadn’t sent enough. So I walked out.

Sometimes staff miraculously find some as we walk away. Sometimes staff are borderline rude about our asking for it as if they know best.

They say it’s part of a health drive. Don’t make me laugh! This country has an obesity problem and the coffee culture has a lot to answer for apparently.

People are drinking more elaborate coffees (you with the syrup and the whipped cream for example) and have cakes on the side. Lots and lots of calories. And Costa is no different.When asked why they still serve people with sugary syrups and the like they say “those are extras”.

Milk provides a lot of nutrients — including a few that most people don’t get enough of, like vitamin D. Calcium is important for kids and teenagers who are still building bone and for adults who need to maintain the bone they have.

Although it’s lower in fat and calories, semi-skimmed milk also has lower levels of fat-soluble vitamins, including A and E, than whole milk, so children and grown-ups might be missing out on nutrition

Research from America found that people who drink whole milk have a lower risk of diabetes than those who don’t.

The 15-year-long study by Tufts University looked at 3,333 people aged between 30 and 75. The researchers found that people with high levels of three different by-products of full-fat dairy in their bodies had a 46% lower risk of diabetes mellitus than those who had low levels of dairy fat.

Dr Dariush Mozaffarian, whose findings were published in the journal Circulation, told Time:  “I think these findings, together with those from other studies do call for a change in the policy of recommending only low-fat dairy products. There is no prospective human evidence that people who eat low-fat dairy do better than people who eat whole-fat dairy.”

As a psychologist I wonder if they are taking advantage of something called moral licensing. This is a phenomenon that causes people to overeat by giving them permission to indulge, the psychological tendency to indulge ourselves in one area of our life when we’re being good in another. 

The phenomenon accounts for why many runners gain weight while training for a race. They expend more calories during their runs, but by rewarding themselves with indulgences throughout their day like an insulin-spiking post-workout “sports drink,” they ultimately negate many of the health benefits of exercise.

Some studies found participants who believed multivitamin pills provided significant health benefits also exercised less, were less likely to choose healthy food, and smoked more.

So having a skinny decaff latte (can you actually call that coffee?) doesn’t justify that syrup and whipped cream you are adding to it, and the sticky bun on the side.

Costa should rethink this policy. They are still selling syrup, whipped cream, marshmallows etc so they aren’t really serious about the health issues.

Furthermore they are foisting this on people unknowingly – not very honest. Why haven’t they put up signs or posted it on their web-sites?

There are half a dozen other coffee shops in the town centre. Costa shouldn’t take customers for granted.


Are millennials turning into snowflakes?

Everyone is aware of the snowflake generation by now, scared of their own shadows seeking safe places and avoiding anyone with a different opinion from theirs. Well that’s their loss of course and they will discover when they enter the world of work that you just can’t “no platform” someone you don’t like.

Now it seems the millennials – those born after 1980 –  are having problems too. Following the story that they are scared of handling raw chickens two new reports suggest that they are also scared of answering machines and sex!

Yes answerphone anxiety is the new affectation among these avocado loving hipsters. Some of them think that because they can be reached by multiple social media apps people don’t need to leave a voicemail.

It’s true that companies are tending to use voicemail and answerphones less these days in a move to improve productivity but some of us might actually prefer an answerphone to waiting in a customer queue.

But on a personal level the critics say it’s awkward to think of a suitable message when you receive one and it’s less convenient than an e-mail or text. Others claim having a voicemail helps them avoid real-time conversations that would cause them anxiety.

Perhaps if they spent more time having real face-to-face conversations and less time tweeting,  texting or communicating via apps they might develop sufficient social skills to help them deal with a phone conversation.

But at least one person said “I disagree because 99% of the time I don’t answer my phone. I say if it’s important enough they’ll leave a voicemail” You’ve got to wonder why they don’t answer their phone. Maybe they think they are too important to bother and it’s ok to inconvenience others. Narcissism is alive and well!

But not when it comes to having sex it seems. Millennials are putting off having sex longer than their parents did with over 10% of people still virgins at age 26.

Apparently fears surrounding intimacy and the pressures of social media are to blame. They are scared of being filmed without their consent for one thing.

A psychotherapist suggested that young people suffer from high levels of exposure to pornography and other sexualized content. “Millennials have been brought up in a future of hypersexuality which has bred a fear of intimacy. Young men fear being humiliated plus the fear of exposure in your Facebook group”

Facebook, that well-known respecter of privacy! There is a simple answer isn’t there. Don’t share on Facebook, don’t take intimate photographs to share, don’t go all over social media.

Get a real life!


Finland leapfrogs neighbours to claim top spot in happiness league

According to the UN’s annual report on happiness and well-being Finland is the happiest place on earth.

What’s not to like? Saunas, the Northern Lights, Moomins, Angry Birds, friendly people, Lapland, reindeers and Father Christmas (if you believe?).

And don’t forget heavy metal bands. A Finnish friend sent me a Nightwish CD swearing it was the national music of Finland. (Read more about them and hear them here).

The fact that it’s dark for half the year in the North and Summers are short doesn’t seem to bother the hardy Finns that much.

I’ve visited a couple of times to Helsinki and Espoo and apart from the difficulty in buying alcohol it seems a wonderful place. I’ve also flown to Lithuania via Helsinki on a number of occasions and it never closes (well once it did),and the airline crews are really helpful.

Finnair is my favourite airline – even though you don’t get free Lapin Kulta beer in economy anymore – and Helsinki is probably my favourite airport. Did I mention that the reindeer stew is very tasty too? And those liquorice and caramel toffees? And my Finnish felt boots I bought in Lithuania are perfect for this cold weather.

So congratulations on topping the list of 156 countries surveyed for the annual UN report. As usual the Scandinavians all feature in the top ten (along with several other countries that enjoy snow – is that significant?). In fact the same countries appeared in last year’s top ten but in a different order.

I described the methodology in last year’s blog on this topic here.

  1. Finland
  2. Norway (in top spot last year)
  3. Denmark
  4. Iceland
  5. Sitzerland
  6. Netherlands
  7. Canada
  8. New Zealand
  9. Sweden
  10. Australia

War-Torn countries and sub-Saharan Africa feature at the bottom of the table.

How did the UK do? We came in at 19th place, the same as last year, and the US dropped to 18th from 14th.


Nurses have no time for compassion

On the one hand the idea that all nurses are compassionate creatures was never true. I say that as someone with 20 plus years experience working in the NHS and more recently as a patient.

That’s not to say some, maybe most, nurses aren’t. I particularly remember one who held my hand throughout an uncomfortable 2-hour eye operation carried out under local anaesthetic and another who rubbed my back during an endoscopy examination.

But according to a recent study of professional values there is “a moral vacuum at the heart of nursing”.

Nurses are so ground down that they end up as “robots going through the motions” with a focus on clinical skills driving compassion from the job“. Yet compassion is part of the UK’s Nursing Vision.

Eight out of ten say their work conflicts with their personal values much of the time. The study concluded that it was that moral disengagement that leads to patients being put at risk.

Kristen Kristjansson, the psychologist from the University of Birmingham who led the study, said that the state of nursing was far more depressing than any other profession he had studied including lawyers, teachers, and doctors.

He added “When you have been working for five years or more you usually realise that following the rules is not the only important thing. You have to rely on your moral compass” But the nurses didn’t.

In the study of 700 nurses almost half of them sad they acted the way they did because it was what the rules decreed rather than because it was the right thing to do.

The only standard was what was laid down in the codes. Unlike other professions they did;t seem to pick up on their own values as they got more experienced.

This is bad news for patients who can tell when someone is going through the motions. The nurses say they don’t have time to show care and compassion and often come away from patients feeling they could have done more.

Professor Kristjansson worries that this “Mr Spock” mentality means they could struggle in a morally stressful situation such as happened at Mid Staffs where few nurses felt able to speak out about patient neglect.

He thought it was positive that nurses were now seen as a professionals requiring degree-level skills rather than just as assistants to doctors but felt the pendulum had swung too much the other way, away from the ethical core of nursing. Nurses since Florence Nightingale had done more than administer medicines – they created an ethos in hospitals to put patients at ease.

Sir Robert Francis QC, who chaired the public inquiry into the Mid Staffs scandal, backed up the Professor’s calls for more emphasis on virtue and character in nurses’ training.

A commonly accepted set of values has to be the foundation of professional practice to enable those with this vocation to navigate the ethical dilemmas they face daily”.

Janet Davies, chief executive of the Royal College of Nursing, said the report “demonstrates the emotional pressure on caring professions who, when faced with an inability to work as they know they should, become compromised”.

It’s almost five years since they decided to overhaul the training of health care assistants and introduced compassion as on of the 6Cs of nursing care (see post). Other research has shown compassion is a key characteristic of the best carers and there are questions about whether or not a degree  is really necessary?

It seems like we continually re-invent the wheel as far as nursing is concerned

The way things are going we will have fewer whistleblowers (not that the NHS has a good reputation for the way they treat such people) and the only way to wake people up will be another crisis.