Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Scrap GCSEs and help develop children’s character

What a refreshing change to actually have a head teacher criticise the headlong dash for A* and A grades.

Jenny Brown, head of the highly academic St Albans High School for Girls, said children were forced to sit dozens of exams which they don’t need.

She thinks 4 or 5 would be enough – English, Maths, A Science and a couple more (I’d like to see a foreign language being compulsory).

She admits this will create tension between school,s and pushy parents. She believes  “we have to educate and lead parents. It is insane that at the age of 16 we have an eight-week period where (they) have to sit for over eight weeks of exam sessions, something like 24 papers”. At present her pupils take about 10 GCSEs with 90% getting A* or As so she probably has an uphill struggle.

Education is not a mad qualification grab. Employers are increasingly moving to qualification-blind applications and are assessing and making hiring decisions about qualities of character and mind in an hour-long interview” she added.

The qualities she is talking about that she thinks employers want are: curiosity, adaptability, and being a decent person with integrity. She believes schools have to help pupils develop in these areas. I couldn’t agree more.

She is not alone in these, what appear to me, sensible views. Sir Mike Tomlinson, former chief inspector of schools, called GCSEs a lot of wasted time and recommended only 4 key skills be tested at age 16.

Even President Macron of France is calling for the French baccalaureate to be simplified.

Most countries only test at 18 before university. British children are among the most tested in the world but what good does it do them?


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Men, women still want you – but only if you are perfect!

Women only want Mr Perfect!

If you thought the chick-lit era was over, with no more searching for Mr Right a la Bridget Jones or Sex in the City; or that WAGS were now irrelevant –  then you were right, but oh so wrong! At least according to Amy Turner’s piece in the Sunday Times a while ago (which I just found in my draft box); “Mr So-So has no chance with the SAS girls”. That was 7 years ago; has anything changed?

Because it seems that then women still wanted to meet the man of their dreams – Civitas think tank found that 70% of women aged 20 – 35 want to get married – but only if they found Mr Right. In particular so-called SAS women: successful, attractive and single – say they are happy enjoying themselves.

As one SAS women, described as having “endless legs and sparkling repartee” (sycophant-speak for skinny public school girl) said; “I’m fabulous and I want someone equally as fabulous to join my party“. Not much narcissistic self-referencing there then and hardly suggesting an equal partnership (see “Princess on board…”).

Not for them Lori Gottlieb’s advice in; “Marry him: the case for settling for good enough”. As my management consultant colleagues might say, SAS women are taking a “six sigma” rather than just a “fit for purpose” approach and as one of my guest bloggers pointed out recently; “Male modesty doesn’t pay”.

But why should women settle for less now that they are increasingly holding the purse strings? Experts  in the USA think that by 2024 women will be earning more on average than men , particularly in Law, Medicine, and in academia.

There are already more females than males graduating and higher education is the best predictor of future financial success. And the trend is pretty much the same in the UK with more females than males graduating in Law and Psychology for example.

In America five years ago only 1 in 4  women in dual-income households earned more than the men; now it is up to a third and if that trend continues more women in middle-income jobs like teaching and healthcare will overtake men.

In America female graduates have flocked into cities such as New York and Dallas to find “gender-blind” jobs with the result that women in their 20s are now earning 20% more than their male counterparts.

A number of factors have influenced these trends: a sharp decline in the birth rate in cities where more women go to college, more men losing their jobs than women (women occupied more part-time jobs) in the recession (the “mancession“), and an increase in family-friendly – which usually means women-friendly – jobs.  And you could probably add to that the feminising of education.

So what do you think? Will women today settle for second best?


Running is popular but there’s a dark side

There’s no doubt about it, running is popular. Increasingly you see people out and about clutching their bottle of water and wearing hi-tech clothes and running shoes.

All to the good you might think, and there is evidence of the health benefits of running e.g. enhanced mood and self-esteem as well as the physical improvements to your body – although there is also the potential to damage your health if you go to extremes.

However the evidence about the downside has been largely about physical damage. In the June 2017 edition of The Psychologist, Andrew Wood and Martin Turner, both lecturers in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Staffordshire University, wrote about the psychological downside of running – what they called the dark side such as eating disorders and exercise dependency.

Using rational-emotive behaviour therapy (REBT), which is based on the concept of rational and irrational beliefs, they found that many athletes they worked with did in fact have irrational (i.e illogical, rigid and extreme) views and responses to setbacks and adversity. So in dealing with setbacks, injuries, or rejection and failure their distress was coming from irrational beliefs such as:

  • I want to, and therefore I must exercise (demandingness)
  • It would be terrible if I could not exercise (awfulising)
  • Not being able to exercise makes me a complete loser (self-deprecation)
  • I can’t stand it when I can’t exercise (frustration intolerance)

In turn the athletes who were dependent on running would say things like “I can’t stand missing a run” or “I hate myself for not running” and felt guilty or anxious and in some cases started eating less.

In high performance athletes having irrational beliefs can actually help them to be more dogged and determined to win e.g. “I must not fail and I’m a loser if I do” no matter the cost in injury or pain.

And there’s the rub (no pun intended). Extreme and irrational beliefs may propel these athletes to success but at what cost? Runners pushing their bodies too hard, over-training and ignoring their personal well-being leading to exhaustion and burnout.

Rather than seeking to discourage people taking up what is a healthy pursuit for most people they simply ask you to exercise caution and monitor your relationship with your running: do you do it as a healthy choice or are you driven to run – at all costs?


Drinking wine gives your brain a good workout

As you relax over the Bank Holiday weekend avoid the fizzy drinks that shrink your brain, stick to wine and give your brain a workout.

Doesn’t matter if its red or white. Either will do the job and make your brain work harder.

According to a neuroscientist drinking wine “engages more of the brain than any other human behaviour“.

Professor Gordon Shepherd has spent ten years developing a science of neurogastronomy and researching this subject at the Yale School of Medicine (I wonder what their wine bill has been?) and has now published his findings on wine drinking in a book; Neuroenology: How the Brain Creates the Taste of Wine.

One of his findings is that spitting out the wine at wine tastings prevents you fully appreciating the wine. (I always thought they spat it out so they wouldn’t get drunk before they’d sampled everything).

Swallowing the wine is a key process and vital for “obtaining the most information possible about the quality of the wine”. Well I always thought wine was for drinking so that’s good advice – if a bit obvious.

More seriously he has shown that it is our psychological, sensory and physical response to food and drink that combine to create flavours in objects that don’t inherently possess it.

Taste is an illusion created by the brain largely influenced through smell. The movement of the wine through the mouth and of air through the throat and nose are key, especially the movement of molecules released in the mouth when we breathe out. So sniffing in advance may be a waste of time.

Wine drinking engages more of the brain than listening to music or solving a maths problem apparently. “The molecules in wine don’t have a taste or flavour but when they stimulate our brains our brain creates flavour the same way it creates colour”.

Moving the wine inside the mouth engages intricate muscles that control the tongue as well as stimulating thousands of taste and odour receptors. That is then processed through a frame of reference that is “heavily dependent on our own memories and emotions and those of our companions” as well as the composition of our saliva and our age and gender.

Research in the UK at Oxford University also demonstrated how complicated our relationship with food can be and how our enjoyment of it is influenced by environmental and other factors.

But back to the wine. Once you’ve had a few you’ve saturated the system which perhaps proves the point about having the good stuff first and then moving on to the plonk when everyone’s had a few.

And while you’re digesting this science – and hopefully testing it out in a real world laboratory – you can get rid of your long-stemmed glasses.

Now the only way to drink your wine – and any other serious booze – is from a tumbler. It’s the new relaxed ambience according to those who claim to know these things.

“Formal stemmed glasses feel quite traditional … don’t be afraid to have mismatched selections on your table

This is part of the Polpo aesthetic, the tumbler style of drinking showcased by the award-winning Venetian restaurant as a reaction to the exhausting “sleek, chic” protocol of the early Noughties.

Gosh I sound so pretentious even writing this stuff!

But it’s also a response to the recession, social media and the “democratisation of food” or what a famous chef called “elbows on the table kind of food“. It might also be about wanting to be more relaxed at home where we feel more secure (maybe the Danish Hygge influence?).

Also traditional glasses are breakable, not dishwasher friendly and take up lots of room on your shelf.

Well I have to say I’ve been drinking wine out of a tumbler for a couple of years now. I bought some small wine glasses when I was on medication so I could easily control how much I drank and the habit stuck when I came off the meds.

But eventually the glasses broke and rather than grab a large long-stemmed glass I used a tumbler. Any tumbler from a whisky glass to a coloured cheapy from Tesco that reminds me of those unbreakable Duralex glasses we use to have at school.

More importantly, I’m a big fan of Inspector Salvo Montalbano, the cool Sicilian detective that appeared on our screens a few years ago. And he always drinks his wine from a tumbler!

Cheers!


Facebook helping you suss out snoopers

It’s not often I say anything good about Facebook (and I’m still not happy with their attitude to fake news – expecting the public to discover it rather than spend money on doing it themselves – not unlike YouTube).

But dwelling on a positive for a moment. Facebook has introduced a facility so you can check who’s been looking at you. So your ex-partners or other leery types will no longer be able to stalk you anonymously.

Look for the Stories feature at the top of your news feed in the Facebook app. Tap on the roundel for any friend and you will get any short video clips or pictures they have uploaded in the past 24 hours.

This collection of selfies and video footage of your wildest moments are likely to be of much interest to anyone checking you out. Unlike ordinary updates the creators of the post can see exactly who has looked at them.

Facebook has never previously allowed users to know who was looking at their updates. A study found that a third of users in a relationship regularly checked out their partner’s Facebook page and a third continue to do so after a breakup.

This is known to have negative effects. Regular monitoring of an ex online is associated with “greater distress over the break-up, more negative feelings, more sexual desire, more longing for the ex-partner, and lower personal growth”

I knew there were many reasons I disliked Facebook!


Charging more for coffee would reduce waste

Many coffee shops such as Costa and Starbucks offer 25p discounts if you use a re-usable cup.

And that’s a great advance in reducing the number sent to landfill sites.

However researchers at Cardiff University have found that offering this discount had no effect.

But charging an additional 25p per cup increased the usage of re-useable cups by 3.4%

And if you displayed environmentally friendly messages and provided some free re-useable cups the use of such cups increased by 12%.

This is a good demonstration of behavioural economics. People are more sensitive to losses than gains when making decisions. Charging 25p more is seen as a loss and people are more sensitive to that than saving the same amount.

If we really want to change a customer’s behaviour then a charge on a disposable cup is more likely to be effective” said the author of the research report.

Many people might find it difficult to remember to take a re-useable cup with them. I have one in my car but hardly ever use even when visiting Costa at my local Tesco (partly because I don’t think Cappuccino travels well).

Last year Starbucks temporarily doubled the discount to 50p but it only increased the use of re-useable cups by 0.2% up to 1.2%.

After the success of charging people for plastic bags in shops it’s worth considering a similar move with coffee cups.


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Its the atheist dudes who are most generous…………

.. and it’s not the only thing in which they come out better than religious people

Kindadukish's Blog - I am not a number, I am a free man (The Prisoner)

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AN ARGUMENT often advanced for the encouragement of religion is that, to paraphrase St Matthew’s report of Jesus’s words, it leads people to love their neighbours as themselves. That would be a powerful point were it true. But is it? This was the question Jean Decety, a developmental neuroscientist at the University of Chicago, asked in a study just published in Current Biology.

Dr Decety is not the first to wonder, in a scientific way, about the connection between religion and altruism. He is, though, one of the first to do it without recourse to that standard but peculiar laboratory animal beloved of psychologists, the undergraduate student. Instead, he collaborated with researchers in Canada, China, Jordan, South Africa and Turkey, as well as with fellow Americans, to look at children aged between five and 12 and their families.

Altogether, Dr Decety and his colleagues recruited 1,170 families for their project…

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