Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

Hattie’s true colours?

Harriet Harperson having to apologise for referring to Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander as a “ginger rodent‘ and by implication insulting a whole nation – priceless.

How I wish we still had Spitting Image.

Described as the “Po-faced doyen of political correctness” by Nationalist MSP Shirley Anne Somerville, she not only insulted Alexander in a speech attacking the Liberal Democrats but actually did it in Scotland where red-heads are more common than anywhere else.

How could she get it so wrong? Well-known for her equal opportunity leanings (she made her name on equal pay issues) and her appropriation of the quite funny observation about the Lehman sisters bank, her comments allowed Alexander to make a clever political riposte via Twitter.

Red-faced she may be but it makes me wonder if she really believes all the PC stuff she has spouted in the past or whether she just used it as a political means to an end.


The Golden Boy syndrome

Mums have come clean and admitted that they treat their sons more favourably than their daughters.

At least the 2,500 Mums on the notorious advice web-site Netmums who contributed to the study reported in the press today.

Mums say they are more critical of their daughters whilst accepting poorer behaviour from their sons which they put down to playfulness rather than the stroppy behaviour they attribute to their daughters.

Although the majority (but not all) said that they believed they should treat their children the same regardless of gender 10% admitted providing treats for their sons more than their daughters, one-third admitted they were closer to one of their children and two-thirds of that group said it was their son they were closer to.

1 in 3 admitted they had fallen out with the child’s father about this discrimination resulting in Dads making up for it by spoiling their daughters (and some Mums may also overcompensate by treating their daughters to a girls’ day out).

A counsellor who analysed the findings said that a more critical upbringing could have serious effects in later life and that women in particular seemed to carry the feelings of parental disapproval into adulthood.  She said that because women received more negative reinforcement than their brothers they could view themselves as needing more censure and it could explain why women were more self-critical than men.

A support team at Netmums was offering advice to help Mums break this cycle of picking on daughters. For example they suggest encouraging young girls to play with trains as well as dolls as well as giving them more time and space to struggle and solve tasks rather than rescuing them.

I can go along with some of that, for example women do seem to be more self-critical in managerial roles and suffer “imposter syndrome” more than men but having girls play with boys’ toys seems a bit too PC these days. And if they believe that shouldn’t they have a word with Tesco about their Xmas adverts along the lines of;  “a transformer for the boys and a doll for the girls”?


What sex is your job? 

Generally speaking the more attractive you are the more you earn (see “Take me to your leader…“).

This is even true of lecturers and lawyers, professions where you might think expertise was more important, and what’s more people think you are also better at your job – an example of the “halo” effect.

It’s especially true for women who compensate for their lack of what you might call traditional skills to get to the top by utilising their feminine assets, what has been called “erotic capital“. So maybe it’s no surprise that many women believe attractiveness is more important for their self-esteem than job competence or intelligence.

However a recent study at the University of Colorado Business School, widely reported in the press, shows that women can be too attractive for their own good. Pretty women will always have an advantage in secretarial jobs and jobs considered feminine, or where there is face to face contact such as in sales or customer service, but in jobs where attractiveness is unimportant attractive women might as well not bother applying.

In jobs considered masculine such as security, truck driving, prison guard, hardware sales, and even  some management jobs, attractive women were at a disadvantage and discriminated against.

Men will be pleased to learn that being good-looking is always an advantage for them and they are never discriminated against because of it.

It seems that the more politically correct we become the more research demonstrates that human beings aren’t always rational and we make decisions based on emotions more than we might like to think.

Updated 19 August 2010: Women’s salaries increased by 2.8% last year compared to 2.3% for men – according to a survey by the Chartered Management Institute. If women’s pay continues to improve at that rate women will have parity with men by 2067 -almost 100 years after the Equal Pay Act.

The average salary for male managers was £41,337, about £10,000 more than women managers earned (these surveys don’t seem to take into account the sectors where women work which may pay less than the sectors dominated by male managers).

This is also reflected at the bottom of the career hierarchy with junior male executives earning £22,253, just over £1,000 more than their female counterparts. There were bigger gaps in IT and pharmaceuticals at this level, over £3,500.

In the boardroom however it’s a different story. Female directors out-earn men with an average salary of £144,729 compared with £138, 765 for men.


Shoot yourself in the foot – join Facebook 

Actually any social networking site will do it according to an article in The Times (2/7/2010).

The American Academy of Divorce Lawyers says 80% of its members have used or been faced with evidence from social networking sites.

The biggest source is Facebook (66%), then MySpace (15%) and Twitter (5%).

From pot-smoking denials to claims of being childless whilst fighting for child custody, members seem to forget the information is out there forever. And in the UK a DIY Divorce site says 20% of its cases mention Facebook.

But it’s not just divorce lawyers or jilted partners who are using these sites. A survey of British employers found that 20% checked Facebook, MySpace and Bebo – and a quarter of them had rejected candidates because of what they had found. In the USA a Microsoft survey found that 78% of recruiters searched the internet to check applicant’s backgrounds.

So in addition to the potentially negative social and emotional aspects of Facebook you now run the risk of jeopardising your marriage and your job prospects. With 40% of the UK population having a Facebook account there’s plenty of dirt to dig.

Updated 17 January 2011: Social networking sites are being cited with increasing frequency in the UK, particularly in the post-Xmas divorces, according to another article in the Times (15/1/2011). Facebook is the main culprit but Second Life, Illicit Encounters and Friends Re-united are also in the frame. Suspicious spouses are searching these for evidence of flirting and affairs.

Some lawyers report 10 times as many divorces in the weeks immediately after Xmas and a 20% rise overall. One said; “Facebook is the divorce lawyer’s jewel in the crown”. Facebook pages, along with sexy tests and chats are now being used as evidence of “unreasonable behaviour”.

People are also resorting to Facebook to get back at former partners by slagging them off or posting pictures of their new lovers. In fact Facebook already has a divorce page where people can describe what it was like going through their divorce.

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Beauty may only be skin-deep but….

How we look is important but to some people it’s everything.

In America 1 in 3 women think the way they look is more important for their self-esteem than intelligence or job performance.

Students said they would rather marry an embezzler, a shop lifter, or a drug smuggler than someone who was obese.

And 11% of them would abort a foetus if they knew it was  genetically disposed to obesity. It’s perhaps no surprise then that fat women are 20% less likely to get married than slimmer ones.

Now Deborah Rhode, the Director of Stanford University’s Institute for Research on Women and Gender, has published a book; “The Beauty Bias: The injustice of Appearance in Life and Law”. In it she asks such searching questions as why they spent more on Sarah Palin’s makeover and personal shopper than on a foreign policy advisor? She discovered that good looking teachers are considered better educators and that attractive lawyers earned 12% more than their plainer colleagues despite being no more competent.

I’ve posted on this topic before, about tallness, attractiveness and earnings and about “erotic capital” and how (usually) women can exploit their looks. Taking a slightly different view Rhode refers to the “bloopsy” effect which is where beautiful women, especially those with big breasts, are considered dumb even if they have a PhD.  Attractive women have been known to be sacked for being too attractive.

But so have unattractive or ugly people and research shows that ugly criminals get longer sentences – one way to beautify the neighbourhood I suppose. Now it’s being suggested that you could be sued for calling people ugly or not attractive enough for a job. Don’t HR people and the diversity police have enough to do?

Updated 14 July 2010: Anyone watching last night’s Channel 4 programme “The Ugly Face of Beauty” would have been horrified by the sight of operations that went wrong. Or of an England footballer’s relative wanting to have the UK’s biggest boobs (double J) plus an unnecessary liposuction on her size 8 body.

But the really scary part was that 50% of 16-21 year olds say they would like plastic surgery. “Boob jobs” are the most popular in the UK at around £3,000 (but only £800 in Cuba) with many unscrupulous, not to say unqualified, clinics offering surgery as part of a holiday package. Next week: “tummy tucks” that end up looking like shark bites!


Male modesty doesn’t pay

Modest men are getting the brush-off from women.

Modest? Shy? Reluctant to tell everyone how brilliant you are? If you’re male, then you can probably add ‘single’ to that list.

‘New men’ beware: research has revealed women don’t like modesty in a man. Instead, cocky types are more likely to win their hearts. Other men also find male modesty an unattractive trait – perhaps because they believe that bashful boys are letting the side down.

Research shows that women prefer cocky types like Simon Cowell rather than Hugh Grant’s bumbling on-screen behaviour. Three female researchers showed more than 200 people videotapes of a man and a woman applying for a job as a computer lab manager. The male and female actors both followed the same script in the mocked-up interview and were equally humble about their achievements. The volunteers were asked to rate them for modesty, likeability and a range of other factors.

Despite the actors being equally qualified for the job, the man was liked less than the woman. Meekness makes men seem less confident and ambitious and more weak, uncertain and insecure, the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinity reports. ‘Modest men were not liked as much as modest women because they were viewed as ‘too weak’ for a man and because they were viewed as insufficiently confident and ambitious,’ the U.S. researchers wrote.

They said the results showed that while women had been able to change their roles to become more assertive, men still faced prejudice when they tried to change. Professor Laurie Rudman, of Rutgers University in New Jersey, said: ‘Our findings demonstrate that men encounter prejudice when they behave modestly. They also raise the possibility that men may avoid behaving modestly because they risk backlash when they do”.

Changes in gender roles that have afforded women more financial independence have not yielded relaxed demands for men. ‘Men are still required to uphold masculine ideals that require chronic exhibitions of strength while avoiding signs of weakness.’

Professor Rudman added that pressure to be macho can be bad for men’s health. ‘Men are expected to be successful, powerful, and dominant, show no weaknesses or chinks in the armour, and avoid acting in ways that might be perceived as feminine,’ she said. ‘Men’s mental and physical health can suffer from adhering to masculine ideals.’

Guest blog from Terry G who says; “What does all this mean for us blue eyed modest men????????…………..I am going outside and I may be a while…………..”


Take me to your (tall and probably attractive) leader!

The pygmy posting is worrying me now (see: What’s in a (politically correct) name?) because I’ve been reminded about some research on tallness. I first came across this a few years ago and mentioned it in a leadership workshop in Sweden – along the lines of biological impact on leadership eg good looks, tallness, first born etc. The Swedes were a bit sceptical, especially when I said some of the research had been carried out in Norway – not much Scandinavian sisterhood that day.

But there’s not much doubt about it. Research across the world by psychologists and economists show that every extra inch of height is worth between $500 and $1000 a year. So a 6′ person earns up to $6,000 a year more than a 5′ 6″ person (or $12,000 a year more than someone an anthropologist would class as a pygmy). UK research showed that tall men earn 5% more than average men and 10% more than short men.

There is some good news amongst the bad for diversity campaigners: fat men don’t earn less than thin men – although fat women earn less than thin ones. And good looks seem to effect both men and women equally with unattractive people earning up to 15% less than their more attractive counterparts.

It may be that we give more respect to taller people or think they are smarter because they look down on us. Historically military leaders would come from aristo backgrounds where they were better fed and likely to be taller than the peasants or local villagers. And there were always tall military headpieces to enhance any natural advantage.

And back to what’s in a name? There was a letter in the Times this week about 50% of recent UK Prime Ministers having names beginning with A, B, or C (and about a third of recent US Presidents also follow that pattern). I wondered if they got fed in alphabetical order at public school and got bigger portions, or perhaps were picked as team leaders more often?

Anyway the bottom line is: Tallness = Leaders = higher earnings and Attractiveness = higher earnings.

Not much joy then  if you are short and/or ugly. Let’s see how HR sort that one out when they are practising non-discriminatory recruitment.

It seems that it’s not just Prince, the Hamster, and Nicolas Sarkozy who can be found wearing height-enhancing heels. Men’s heels or “Meels” are back in fashion. Some are obviously cuban-heeled/glam rock throwbacks but “status shoes” offer a more subtle look. A visible heel of 1.25″ can hide an extra lift of 1.5″ – or at least £500 worth of  height-related earnings!

Updated 2 August 2010: It might help shorter people (but not fat women) to feel better knowing that scientists have shown that midges – the mosquitoes of the North which feast on human blood in the Scottish Highlands during the Summer – prefer tall men and large women.

Tall men because midges fly 6′ above the ground, and large women because they produce a greater quantity of moisture, CO2, and heat (did I say hot air?).

Professor Jenny Mordue, leading the study, said; “Larger people would provide a more substantial visual target for host-seeking midges”.  So pygmies would be safe in Scotland then?