Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Cleaning up the rivers in Burnley

Parking round the back of the shops in the town centre I spotted these stone monuments.

They are commemorating the clean up of the River Brun (from which Burnley takes its name). The river runs through the town centre, mostly hidden from view but can be seen if you know where to look.

The poem about the Brun, by George Hindle in 1896, refers to the “radiant sun”. I’ve not seen much of that in Burnley lately!

Advertisements


Going to Scarborough

As I crossed the Pennines last week the weather didn’t improve. I got on a bus in East Lancashire where it was 5 degrees and overcast. Then I caught a train in Manchester which was the same except it was trying to rain.  Just over three hours later I arrived in Scarborough where it was just as cold and overcast but with the sea mist in the air – or was it a sea fret?

I’d gone to see my brother working at the “Books by the Beach” book festival which he co-founded 5 years ago with the present director. This year he’d handed over the reigns and was acting in a consultancy role as well as chairing/convening several sessions with well-known authors.

So I had an invitation to stay at the Crescent Hotel, which is at the end of a row of Georgian buildings, and catch up with him for a couple of days. As a crime writer he travels the world and trying to meet him is not the easiest, the last time being briefly before a funeral. My friend calls him the yeti.

Starting off with a quick exploration of the town it was obvious that the book festival was well-publicised. I also noticed that the seagulls were enormous. No wonder they use owls to try to stop them pinching food from tourists.

We wandered up an alley where my brother showed me this wonderful shop full of guitars. Very expensive ones too. I made a note to visit Guitar Galleries the following day when it was open – not that I thought that I could actually afford anything in there.

Then we walked down to the Grand Hotel, in its heyday the largest hotel in Europe.

Architecturally it is interesting both outside and inside, reflecting its former grandeur.

In the evening we went down to the sea front to eat and found ourself in Antons, a converted chapel.

The following morning it was time for more exploration. We took the funicular down to the beach promenade and walked along the front. The funicular is operated by the Central Tramway Company and reminds me of Lisbon (or the Angels’ Flight one if you’ve watched the Bosch films based on Michael Connelly’s books).

The spa was off to our right but we headed towards the harbour and pubs. It seems like every seaside resort has the same arcades and fish and chip or ice cream parlours.

But there are also great views of the harbour, the castle, the Town Hall and the boats.

 

Then it was time to refresh ourselves in a local Sam Smith’s pub chatting with friendly locals and tourists mingling in the bar looking across the harbour.

We realised it was time to head back, past the house that King Richard III allegedly stayed in, past reminders of the old packet ships that sailed up and down the coast, and a reminder of how uninviting the sea was!

My brother Peter had to do his thing, chairing a session and interviewing author Robert Goddard, whom I’d met the previous evening. He was talking about his latest book “The Panic Room”, which I am now enjoying reading.

The fresh air had knocked me out so I retired to my comfortable room in the Crescent whilst Peter did another session with “The Yorkshire Vet” before we met up for a meal at the Fish Restaurant round the corner. Great food and friendly helpful staff. What more could you want?  And did I mention that food portions in Scarborough are huge?

As I was leaving my hotel to catch the train I noticed that the hotel was using the “mirrors by the lift” psychology. It’s used in stores too but basically the idea is that if the lift is a bit slow  then putting mirrors by the doors makes people less impatient as they are too busy checking themselves out in the mirror.

So this is my impression of Scarborough: a seaside fishing town with lots of grand old buildings alongside the amusement arcades, an expensive guitar shop, a funicular and a spa, friendly people, generous food portions, famous writers and a bit of psychology to finish off with.

Lots to think about as I headed back to Lancashire.


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.


1 Comment

Norway tops World happiness league

Yes the Norwegians have toppled the Danes from the top position, but it was a close finish.

The UN’s World Happiness Report measures “subjective well-being” mainly by asking a simple question: “Imagine a ladder with steps numbered from 0 at the bottom to number 10 at the top. The top of the ladder represents the best possible life for you and the bottom of the ladder the worst possible life for you. On which step of the ladder would you say you personally feel you stand at this time?

The average result is the country’s score. So Norway scored 7.54 whereas the Central African Republic scored only 2.69.

The report also looks at economic strength (GDP) social support, life expectancy, freedom of choice, generosity, and perceived corruption. Having a job was also important although white-collar jobs were more associated with happiness than blue-collar ones.

To see the full report go to http://worldhappiness.report/

The top 10 countries

  1. Norway
  2. Denmark
  3. Iceland
  4. Switzerland
  5. Finland
  6. Netherlands
  7. Canada
  8. New Zealand
  9. Australia
  10. Sweden

The USA came 14th and the UK 19th (Bristol was named the best place to live in Britain in 2017 by the way)

Western Europe dominated the list with African countries doing least well. The regular dominance of the Nordic countries (see previous reports) has encouraged others to adopt the Danish concept of Hygge – the concept of cosiness and relaxation.

Denmark has always done well in these kind of comparisons, for example for work-life balance, for how satisfied they are and for  being a good place to live

Note on the flag. The Norwegian flag is interesting because apart from using the red, white and blue  – symbolising liberty – and the Nordic cross (centred towards the hoist or flag pole), it incorporates the white cross of Denmark and the blue cross of Finland.


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.


Top UK university upsets students by encouraging them to work hard

Top ranking Cambridge University has really gone floppy on its attitude to students having to work hard.

When Professor Eugene Terentjev, director of studies in the natural sciences, e-mailed his students about the need to work hard and party less if they wanted to succeed, saying the course required their full attention it created shock waves.

Students were said to be horrified saying his stance was “extremely damaging“. The vice-chancellor  at Buckingham University (VCs are those over-paid people we keep hearing about who seem to do very little) accused him of “frightening impressionable undergraduates“. And mental health campaigners said the message was “neither appropriate nor acceptable“.

You might think him a bit of a killjoy for saying they would need their full mental capacity for the course with not much time for fun “Physical science is a VERY hard subject, which requires ALL of your attention and your FULL brain capacity (and for a large fraction of you that will not be quite enough” but the reaction was way, way OTT.

He also had a dig at other universities where students drink a lot and have a good time, and even other courses at Cambridge saying that some of them sadly found that kind of behaviour acceptable. He did however finish by wishing them well and hoping they would succeed like previous students.

The mental health campaigning group Student Minds Cambridge was worried that the message could enforce feelings of “imposter syndrome” (where people don’t believe they are good enough and are there under false pretences).

The students’ union said it would have welcomed advice about work-life balance and ensuring you had enough rest between parties but didn’t like the message that having any kind of social life was unacceptable. It urged students adversely affected by the e-mail to seek counselling or see their GP. Definitely in snowflake territory if these so-called top students are so affected by an e-mail.

The university said that “the university believes that all first-year students in all disciplines, having undergone the thorough admissions process that Cambridge requires, have the capacity to succeed academically

That’s OK then. Stop worrying and do what you parents told you – work hard and don’t drink too much.


Pendle Forest Sculpture Trail

I’d set off expecting a mile walk along the trail. The teacher who told me about it forgot to mention you had to walk 2 miles from the car park in Barley just to get to the start point at Aitken Wood. NB The pamphlet advises you that you need 2-3 hours to get round.

Someone else told me it was a bit steep and I took this to mean the trek up past the reservoirs – not the actual trek up through the forest. There’ll have to be a cable car to get me up there again!

And as for the weather. Never mind Mist over Pendle, it was raining most of the afternoon. The proper wet stuff you get in Lancashire.

The story of the Pendle Witches has long been familiar round these parts and the sculpture trail is an excellent way to get involved with local history.

The sculpture trail is very well done. A combination of sculptures and plaques produced by four artists: Phillipe Handford, Steve Blaylock, Martyn Bednarczuk, and Sarah McDade.

I was in the company of two coach loads of primary school children who swarmed over everything making it almost impossible to get clear photographs and the wet overcast weather didn’t help either.

However here are a few of the sculptures starting with one of  a witch-finder based on the local magistrate Roger Nowell who started the investigation and subsequent prosecutions. He’s shown with papers with Alice Nutter’s name on the top.

There are also bats, an owl, a spider’s web and a copse of broomsticks among other interesting sculptures made from wood, ceramic and steel, plus ten ceramic plaques which symbolise the ten people prosecuted as witches back in 1612.

There is even a symbolic Quaker tree which represents where the Quaker movement started when George Fox had a religious vision on top of Pendle Hill in 1652.

Statue based on local magistrate & witch finder Roger Nowell

Bats

Spider’s web strung between trees

An owl in flight

Look closely and you’ll see broomsticks growing