Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Ukrainian Orthodox Church wanted to break ties with Russia – updated 12 October 2018

UPDATE

Ukraine secured approval yesterday to establish an independent church in what Kiev says is a vital step against Russian meddling in its affairs, but the Russian clergy fiercely opposes as the biggest split in Christianity for a thousand years.

A three-day synod presided over by the Ecumenical Patriarch in Istanbul, seat of the global spiritual leader of roughly 300 million Orthodox Christians, endorsed Ukraine’s request for an “autocephalous” (independent) church.

The synod will “proceed to the granting of Autocephaly to the Church of Ukraine,” a statement said.

The synod took several decisions to pave the way for Ukraine to set up its church, including rehabilitating a Ukrainian patriarch excommunicated by the Russian Orthodox Church for leading a breakaway church in the early 1990s. (source Reuters)

ORIGINAL POST FROM 25 SEPTEMBER 2018

People can’t fail to have noticed  that President Vladimir Putin has found God. For a former KGB chief and a presumably a hard-line communist back in the day this is truly his road to Damascus. Or is it?

Like the Tsars he has used religion as a “soft power” approach to influence all the orthodox followers in the former Soviet Union using Patriarch Krill as his go-to church man. He is said to have his own confessor (that must be an interesting experience) and was recently seen wading in ice-cold water at Epiphany (but then he’s always bearing his chest isn’t he?).

But the Ukrainians have had enough and want to break from Moscow. They accuse the Russians of hacking and even an assassination attempt on Patriarch Filaret who has been particularly critical of Putin using the church for political advantage.

He accused him of using the church to spread “propaganda that defends Russia and Putin” on a visit to America last week. After Russia invaded eastern Ukraine he called Putin a “cynical liar” who would suffer “eternal damnation in hell“. In return his superiors in Moscow excommunicated him in 1997.

Sunday Times picture

Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, the head of the orthodox church is expected to grant the Ukrainians self-governance (autocephaly) at next month’s synod. He too has been the subject of the hacking of his e-mails.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko is very pleased about the chance of freedom from the Moscow and said he hoped that “no-one will try to turn it back”.

Moscow is understandably very unhappy, furious in fact, promising to cut off links with Constantinople (Istanbul) the heart of the orthodox faith for over a thousand years when it was capital of the Byzantine empire.

Patriarch Krill has suspended communications with Constantinople and has said he will no longer mention Patriarch Bartholomew in his prayers.

But that would be cutting off his nose to spite his face. Half of the orthodox followers – 100 million – are in Russia. Perhaps more worrying is that Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk ((similar to an arch-bishop) who is in charge of external relations in the Russian church has warned that “bloodshed would follow. Very christian!

But the former American Ambassador to Kiev, John Herbst, said that there are legitimate fears about how Russia would react as it would reduce Moscow’s “soft power”. And Moscow hasn’t just got Ukraine to worry about. Similar moves have been started in Belarus with the risk of it spreading to other former republics like Moldova and the Caucasus region. Archbishop Sviatoslav of Belarus said “Moscow has been doing everything to prevent the Ukrainian and Belorussian churches form receiving autocephaly“.

One of the reasons Moscow is worried that Ukraine will block access to Moscow’s control of holy sites including the monasteries in Kiev, the birthplace of Russian orthodoxy. There are many beautiful churches in Kiev – St Andrew’s, St Michael and Saint Sophia cathedral among others.

But the heart of it all is in the “Cave monastery” or the Kiev Pechersk Lavra. 

The Greek St Antony founded this lavrain 1051, after Orthodoxy was adopted as Kyivan Rus’ official religion.

It contains numerous architectural monuments, ranging from bell towers to cathedrals to the catacombs which St Antony and his follower Feodosy progressively dug out  and  where they and other reclusive monks worshipped, studied and lived.

When they died their bodies were naturally preserved, without embalming, by the caves’ cool temperature and dry atmosphere. The mummies survive even today, confirmation for believers that these were true holy men.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a guided tour of it with pilgrims from all over the world. Walking through narrow corridors hewed from the rock with only candles to light the way is not for the claustrophobic. You can see boxes and earthenware pots (marked with a stick-man symbol with upraised arms) of relics behind grilled alcoves as you walk along and hear monks chanting from somewhere in the depths – where only priests are allowed to go.

The main attractions of the Lavra include the Great Lavra Belltower, and the Dormition Cathedral, destroyed in World War II, and fully reconstructed in recent years. 

Other churches and cathedrals of the Lavra include: the Refectory Church, the Church of All Saints, the Church of the Saviour at Berestove, the Church of the Exaltation of Cross, the Church of the Trinity, the Church of the Nativity of the Virgin, the Church of the Conception of St. Anne, and the Church of the Life-Giving Spring. The Lavra also contains the St. Nicholas Monastery, and the Kiev Theological Academy and Seminary andstrong stone fortification walls..

When I visited Kiev and toured this 28 hectare site I was intrigued to learn that all the revenue from tourists goes to the Russian church not to the Ukrainian one.

And it is big business. Apart from the usual tourist memorabilia (I bought a “Keep me safe ring”) they sell bibles, priests’ robes and all the paraphernalia used by orthodox priest. They even sell the onion domes to put on the church roofs.

So apart from a religious disconnect there are probably financial implications too.

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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.


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


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!


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.


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Religious children more selfish, not a good sign

Given the current problems with religious fundamentalists trying to influence school policies about uniforms and the way children are taught British values – for example the way  head teacher Neena Lall, of St Stephen’s state primary in east London, who tried to prevent children under the age of eight from wearing the hijab in class, was attacked by muslim fundamentalists, I thought it worth while updating and re-posting this from one of my other blogs two years ago.

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The idea that religious children might be more selfish  may seem counter-intuitive as you might expect people with strong religious beliefs to be “better” people.

However a study carried out by the University of Chicago of children around the world aged 5 to 12 found that children brought up in a religious families were more selfish than those from atheist or agnostic ones. And the more they went to their place of worship, be it church or mosque, the more selfish they were.

The study used a test of altruism and involved sharing stickers with anonymous children in their school. The idea was to test the notion that being religious has positive associations with self-control and moral behaviours. Jean Decety, the lead author of the study, says this view is so deeply embedded that in some countries e.g. the USA, not being religious can make you a morally suspect person.

While Jesus may have believed in the social benefits of sharing in this study it was the non-believers who demonstrated the principle not his followers. Furthermore muslim children were more likely to believe that when their peers transgressed they should receive more punitive punishments.

This research fits with earlier studies which showed that religious people were the most selfish. And the point in a colleague’s blog about not needing to be religious to have moral values seems borne out by this research.

Why should this be the case? One view is that it is due to what is called “moral licensing when people use something good to justify something bad” without realising what they are doing. Religious people believe they have done something good simply by being religious and this gives them the licence to do something bad.

Doing something which strengthens their positive self-image makes them less worried about the consequences of doing something immoral. Decety said “I hope people begin to understand that religion is not a guarantee for morality and that religion and morality are two different things. Societies that cultivate secular values are more peaceful and generally “healthier” than those countries which anchor or base their values in religion

Personally I don’t think we should have any faith schools as I believe they are divisive. And when the Chief Inspector of Schools Amanda Spielman is warning that religious extremists are using schools to narrow children’s horizons and “pervert education”, I think that supports my view. She said some community leaders see schools as vehicles to “indoctrinate impressionable minds” – with extremist ideology in some cases. This is really worrying as there is good evidence that religious societies are more violent and suffer more anti-social behaviour than more secular ones.