Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Happiness is being cash rich

Yes, rich enough to employ other people to do the stuff you don’t like doing – like cleaning.

A study of 6,000 people in the Netherlands, Canada, Denmark and the USA asked people how much they spent outsourcing disliked tasks.

Despite the vague description people didn’t hesitate to identify scrubbing the toilet bowl as their least favourite task.

The researchers also gave 60 people $40 to spend on two occasions. On one weekend they had to buy a material product and on another they had to buy something that would save them time.

In all cases people were happier spending money to save time, such as taking a taxi home. People with less money were even happier. So ideal for the cash rich and time poor.

The Professor who ran these studies has since employed a host of domestic services and moved house to cut down commuting time and spend more time with her partner.

What happened to the protestant ethic?

Other post on happiness


Swearing has its plus side

As someone who doesn’t swear a lot and gets a bit embarrassed when I hear young women using profanities I was surprised to read some of the latest research on this subject.

Researchers have discovered that as much as fine words might inspire you actually swearing gives you strength.

Psychologists led by Richard Stephens from Keele University measured people’s grip strength and exercise bike performance. They found they did better if they were allowed to swear at the researchers while doing it. 

Stephens wanted to investigate the power of swearing as “there are strong links between swearing and emotional arousal” and wanted to see how deep the links went. Earlier research had found that people resisted pain better if they were allowed to swear.

In his pain research he had people holding their hand in iced water for as long as they could. They were allowed to repeat a swear word of their choice or a neutral word. Those swearing lasted longer but their heart rate increased. He wondered whether it was connected to the fight or flight response in which case they might also be stronger when swearing as they prepared themselves for action.

So swearing during the strength tests proved effective – but there was no evidence of a fight or flight response. However swearing lessens pain and when people felt less pain they were stronger.

Stephens wonders whether or not the fact that the people in the experiment knew the words were taboo but said them anyway somehow loosened up their constraints and let them go for it a bit more.

So expect more cursing down the gym any day now!

And in a completely different field of endeavour, book publishing, it seems that they have overcome the traditional reluctance to use swear words on the cover of their books. Because they sell more!

Last year there were 181 titles with the F word in the title, three times more than the previous year. And titles with the word shit in them have doubled (so have shit titles in my view but that’s another story).

So you can buy cookbooks, style books, colouring books and self-help manuals all featuring the F word.


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!