Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Boys need a leg up at school but treating them like girls?

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babies_with_blocks_spelling_learn_1600_wht_13401The latest research on children’s achievements suggest that there are a million lost boys out there.

These are the boys who have fallen behind girls in the communication skills they need to cope in class.

The research by the charity Save the Children and researchers from Bristol University says that this gap exists regardless of social class.

A professor of education at Bristol University said ” We found gender affects literacy attainment and language development irrespective of social class and includes boys from middle-class homes.

The worst affected area was Merseyside, where 5-year old boys were 17% behind girls in reaching expected standards in language and communication skills. But even in Rutland, which has low poverty levels, the gap was still 14%.

Girls are ahead of boys in all 152 local council areas in England.

This is worrying because children who fall behind before they reach school tend to stay behind…

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Dolphins not so smart after all?

CNV00005_14We’ve been told that dolphins are the smartest creature after humans.

Apparently it’s not true! We’ve been conned by the dolphin’s smile and stories of its social and sometimes helpful behaviour.

That’s according to Justin Gregg, a biologist and researcher with the Dolphin Communication Project, who has just written a book “Are dolphins really smart?” in which he challenges previous scientific research.

Dolphins show many complex behaviours such as living in large groups, showing empathy and communicating with their peers but such behaviours are also found in other animals such as chickens, pigs, and bears.

So dolphins are not so special after all it seems and furthermore have a propensity to be violent towards their fellow cetaceans such as porpoises.

The book comes out at a time when some academics are calling for more protection and moral rights for dolphins based on their brain power. Only last year scientists called for them to be classed as non-human persons.

The idea that dolphins were special dates back to the 1950s when neuroscientist John Lilly wondered why they had such large brains and experimented on them convinced they were trying to communicate with him in dolphinese.  The television series Flipper contributed to their popularity in the 1960s. And in the past both American and Russian navies have used trained dolphins for marine warfare purposes.

Gregg thinks that in some respects they are less sophisticated than chickens having no distress or food calls.  And bottle-nosed dolphins have been recorded killing harbour porpoises, seemingly for the fun of it as they don’t eat them. In Australia groups of male dolphins have been observed isolating females and forcibly mating with them.

My only experience of dolphins, swimming with them in Cuba, was a painful experience when one of them (pictured) thrashed my leg with it’s tail giving me a dead-leg in the water. Very painful but I put it down to the young creature’s mischievousness and went back in for a second session. Looking back I’m not so sure!


Facebook – no global domination just yet

Megalomaniac Mark Zuckerberg must have been really annoyed when he read in the Independent that his creation is not the most popular social networking site everywhere in the world (assuming he ever reads an actual newspaper).

Rhodri Marsden’s Cyberclinic column spelled it out: Facebook hasn’t yet “connected the world”.

An Italian blogger has pulled together data from web ranking service Alexa.com to produce a colour coded map of the world showing each countries most popular social networking sites. Last year there were 18 but there are now only 11 resisting after Facebook’s onward march into Hungary, Poland, and other countries.

So raise a glass to the resistance: Discounting China (because they say so) Iran prefers embracecloob.com; Netherlands prefers Hyves.nl and in Russia and other former soviet republics including Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan they have V Kontakte or VK (“in contact” or “in touch” –  a cross between Facebook and Linkedin) which is the biggest in Europe, and Odnoklassniki (more like Friends re-united), and in Latvia they have Draugiem.lv (“for friends”).

But it’s Brazil and Japan who are resisting the strongest with a Google owned site Orkut being the most popular in Brazil. You have to be aged 18 to join and 48% of its members are in Brazil, 40% in India and only 2% in the USA.

In privacy-conscious Japan it’s Facebook which only has a 2% membership, compared with 60% in America, whilst sites like Mixi, Gree, and Mobage-Town, where you can have anonymity and pseudonymity – which Facebook doesn’t allow – have the most members. And unlike on Facebook half of Japanese users don’t actually know their on-line contacts.

See: “So Many friends…


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Halfalogue is not better than none

Why are mobile phone conversations so irritating?

I can’t be the only person to have asked people in quiet carriages in trains to stop making calls or  to speak more quietly on a metro train.

I understand that people speak more loudly into a mobile phone than a land line because of the way a mobile phone is constructed and part of it is about being a captive audience. Now researchers at Cornell university have found another reason.

When you listen to a “halfalogue”, or just one half of a conversation, it’s hard to predict what the other, unheard, person is going to say. This makes it more distracting and demands more of our attention.

In the experiments, described in Psychological Science, listening to halfalogues was more distracting than a monologue or a two-way conversation and it resulted in poorer performance on reaction time and tracking exercises.

It seems that when people speak on mobile phones they think no-one is listening when in fact everyone is whether they want to or not, almost like a reflex. Unintentional eavesdropping means you have to pay more attention to work out the meaning.