Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


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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?


Semen good for depression but polygamists end up firing blanks.

Political correctness can get in the way of science. Lazar Greenfield, president-elect of the American College of Surgeons (ACS), recently had to resign as editor of Surgery News and from his position in the ACS after being accused of sexism despite his reputation for supporting women in surgery.

What caused this fall from grace? He wrote in a Valentine Day themed editorial in Surgery News about the anti-depressant effect of semen.

He cited a study that reported the mood enhancing effects of semen on women and suggested that “there was a better gift on Valentine’s day than chocolate”.

The original study in 2002 by Gordon Gallup, a psychologist at SUNY-Albany, found that women whose partners didn’t use condoms were less depressed. Depressive symptoms and suicide attempts were higher among women who used condoms regularly compared to those who didn’t. Furthermore women who didn’t use condoms became more depressed the longer they went without sex.

Gallup suggested that this was because semen contains oestrogen and prostaglandins, which have been linked to lower levels of depression, and oxytocin a hormone which promotes bonding. He also added a health warning about unwanted pregnancies and STDs which would offset any positive psychological effects.

In fact he elaborated further on this after the so-called “semengate” controversy. He thinks the anti-depressant properties of semen may promote bonding between sexual partners. He also thinks the reaction to Greenfield is “a tragic over-reaction” and “the point at which the political agenda dictates what science is about is the point where science ceases to be a viable enterprise”.

And still on the subject of semen, biologists at Indiana University have been looking at 19c family records of Mormons in Utah when polygamy was still common (Mormon leader Brigham Young had 55 wives and 56 children). They have published their findings in the US Journal of Evolution and Human Behaviour.

They discovered that the more wives they had the fewer children each wife produced. So although it’s great in overall numbers of children produced for men to have harems, for every new women added to the harem the number of children each wife produced went down by one.

This is the first example of the Bateman gradient in humans. Bateman was a geneticist who observed in fruit flies that the more sexual partners the male had, the fewer pregnancies amongst the females.

Basically after a while the dominant male is firing blanks. Whether through sheer exhaustion or lack of stamina, competition between women in a plural marriage for shared resources, or some other reason.


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Teachers – must do better!

pointing_at_chalkboard_text_10562Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, is proposing that trainee teachers will only be allowed to take their numeracy and literacy test three times.

At present there is no limit on the number of times the tests can be taken.

In my view the misguided philosophy of endless retakes undermines the whole point of exams and goes some way to explain why exam grades appear to improve year on year, plus team course assessments which are open to all kinds of fiddling.

Looking at the examples of test questions reported in the press, many of them multiple choice, anyone with a modicum of intelligence should pass with flying colours the first time. Rather than wait until the trainees start their courses wouldn’t it be better if they took the tests as a selection filter so if they failed they didn’t waste their time and our money on resits which they might fail? That would save everyone’s time and protect our children from bad teachers.

Gove also proposes that teachers should all have at least a 2:2 degree. Whilst this is more contentious most averagely intelligent graduates obtain this class of degree and if they can’t they don’t deserve to become a teacher. This is a vast improvement on former Ofsted chief  Zenna Atkins who (in)famously said “every school should have a useless teacher….”

Something needs to be done when 20-25% of children leave primary school unable to read or write properly and the last Chief Inspector of Schools admitted that only 4% of schools offered “outstanding teaching”.

And he wants to make it easier to sack bad teachers. There are an estimated 15,000 of these of which less than a dozen have been dismissed since 2008. He probably needs to toughen up some head teachers before that happens as in the past they have had a habit of giving references to poor teachers to move them on or otherwise rewarding poor performance (see “Don’t reward failure”).

One of Gove’s earlier ideas was to follow the US example and recruit and pay ex-soldiers to train as teachers to help improve discipline in schools. Ex-army graduates would receive 6 weeks training and non-graduates would be paid a £9,000 a year bursary to complete a two-year degree. Of course the unions don’t like it but it worked in American where research shows that ex-soldiers were better at dealing with classroom disruptions than regular teachers and also got better exam results.

And there was a great article in The Times magazine this week on Charlie Taylor who runs Willows School; which deals with London’s naughtiest children and which has been rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted. He is also the newly appointed “behaviour czar”. The article describes how he uses a range of positive psychology and behavioural techniques. He also believes that if discipline is carried out consistently the core group of trouble makers can be reduced to a manageable size. He wrote a book called “Divas and door slammers” in which he describes how he won one group over by being civil with them.

He also believes that the ratio of positive to negative feedback needs to be 6:1 (something I have long advocated in performance appraisal schemes). He also believes that teachers get better results from constructive praise. Things might be looking up for the future of our children’s education.


Where would you have a better life?

If you want to know which country to live in to enjoy life more go to the OECD better life index.

They  have identified 11 key factors such as health, education, earnings, and sense of community.

You can decide how important these are to you. After I’d scored my choices and pushed the buttons it turned out Australia would be my ideal place to live, followed by the Nordic countries, with Turkey at the bottom of my list. The UK came 13th!

Australia is also top of the official OECD list followed by Canada and Sweden with the USA 7th and the UK not in the top 10 so my preferences seem to be shared by many people across the developed world.

Three quarters of Australians say they are satisfied with their lives and over 80% still expect to be satisfied in 5 years time with 85% reporting that they are in good health. They also trust their politicians (doesn’t mention bankers in the survey), 71% of women with school age children are working and relatively few people work extremely long hours. And the gap between low performing and high performing children is extremely small.

In other surveys Finland and Denmark have featured as the best countries to live in for various reasons and France the most miserable.

Denmark has also come out top of countries in the OECD for the best work-life balance (WLB).


Ginger kid gets free pizza

The story of the 11 year old who got upset when he saw that the pizza server had written “ginger kid” on his receipt was put into perspective by Barbara Ellen in The Observer yesterday.

She points out that it wasn’t done maliciously but just to identify the child (who had a Polish or Ukrainian surname which was probably hard for the staff in Domino’s to write down or pronounce). They apologised and offered him a free pizza but his parents want a full apology from Head Office. Not sure what a full apology is compared to what they have already received. Free pizzza for ALL the family?

Ellen suggests that by pursuing this to a higher level the parents are reinforcing the child’s sense of being a victim. Kids get picked on at school for all kinds of reasons and having ginger hair is just one of them.

Besides which there are several celebrities with red hair which just makes them more distinctive.

If you decsribe someone as a red head or titian haired it certainly has a different connotation from ginger which seems to have a negative aspect.

And I can identify with the server writing a description on the receipt so he or she could remember which customer it was. Years ago, in admittedly less politically correct times, when I used to recruit it was quite common to write short descriptive comments against candidates names so you would remember them more easily later.

Then there was a tribunal case where a woman claimed discrimination and when she saw the papers relating to the interviews saw that someone had written “big tits” against her name. Was it sexist or purely descriptive?

Picture: Wikimedia Commons


Eat your greens to get the baby you want

Eat your greens to get the baby you want Breast might be best for boys but having a boy in the first place is a different matter.

Some experts believe you can strongly influence the sex of your baby by eating the right mix of foods. A study suggests that women who eat plenty of fruit, vegetables and rice, are more likely to have daughters.

In a study reported in the Sunday Times (2/1/11) 80% of women who took part in the experiment had baby girls after eating diets rich in calci … Read More

via EI 4u with permission


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Faithful families outbreed atheists

A study of 82 countries by researcher Michael Blume at Jena University in Germany found that those where the inhabitants worship at least once a week have 2.5 children whilst those who never worship have just 1.7 – not even enough to replace themselves. He calls it the Reproductive Advantage of Religiosity and predicts that over time societies dominated by non-believers will die out.

The academic argues that evolution favours the faithful because they are encouraged to breed as a religious duty. Over thousands of years atheist have had fewer children and the societies they belong to are more likely to disappear as a result. This of course contradicts the views of evolutionary biologists such as Richard Dawkins who described religion as; “a virus of the mind” which imposes health risks and costs. But Blume argues that a tendency to religiosity has become embedded in our genes over time.

As well as the promotion of child-bearing, strong religious beliefs allow people to fit into their community and accept rules of behaviour and share tasks. This raises the chance of the children surviving and the religious people have far more of them in the first place with fundamentalists of all religions having the biggest families.

A Swiss census in 2000 found that “non-affiliated” women had the lowest number of babies at 1.1, Hindus had 2.79, Muslims 2.44, and Jews 2.06. These are averages of course and many larger families can be seen amongst jewish and muslim communities around the North-West of England. Apart from the religiosity I also wonder if  immigrants from poorer countries are “programmed” to have more children because of the lower survival rates in their own countries where they don’t expect all their children to survive.

The last census data in the UK showed that the birth rate among minority ethnic groups (not the same as religious followers I know) was growing at 15 times the rate of the white population The census report said that these figures were influenced by waves of immigration and the younger age profile of immigrants who were mainly young adults ie of child-bearing age.

Interestingly those groups which had been in the UK longest eg black people of Caribbean origin, showed no growth at all compared to black Africans with a 37% growth rate.

On the basis of this you might be forgiven for thinking that the more religious societies or countries are, the more social benefits they enjoy. Not necessarily so as there is evidence that the more religious the society the more violent it is.

Research published in 2007 by social scientist Gregory Paul in the Journal of Religion and Society showed that: “religious belief can cause damage to a society contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity, and suicide.” The study also said that belief in and worship of God are not only unnecessary for a healthy society but may actually contribute to social problems.

This of course is the exact opposite of what many believers think viz that religious belief is socially beneficial and the “spiritual capital” helps to lower the rates of crime and other social ills. Paul’s research concluded however that: “In general higher rates of belief and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion, in the prosperous democracies”.

The study concluded that America is the world’s only prosperous democracy where murder rates are still high and that the least devout nations were the least dysfuntional. As an example the rate of gonorrhoea in American adolescents is 300 times higher than in less devout democratic countries. The report also concluded that England, despite its problems, was actually performing a good deal better in most indicators even though it is a much less religious nation than America. There was an even greater difference between America and countries like France, Japan and Scandinavian countries.

Paul concludes that most Western nations would; “become more religious only if the theory of evolution could be overturned and the existence of God scientifically proven“. He also thought that the theory of evolution would never enjoy majority support in America unless there was a marked decline in religious belief. If Blume’s research conclusions are correct that isn’t likely to happen. So bigger families for believers but a higher level of crime and other social ills. It sure makes it hard for non-believers!

A Californian sociologist called Phil Zuckerman published research in 2009 that showed that the more atheists or agnostics a free society has the more moral it becomes. Atheists were more tolerant supporters of women’s and gay rights than believers. People like the Pope, militant Muslims, orthodox Jews, and other fundamentalist groups don’t seem to view the world in the same way when it comes to human rights that we take for granted such as women being equal to men.

And a study in the 1990s of the American prison population found that only 0.2% (that’s two in every thousand) of them were atheists. Non-believers are more likely to indulge in under-age drinking and illicit drug use but the US states with the highest murder rates tend to be the most religious ones in the bible belt while the lowest murder rates are found in the least religious states like Vermont and Oregon.

Zuckerman also found that atheists and non-believers were better educated and less prejudiced and were more likely to encourage their children to think independently.

When it comes to aid-giving the most secular country in the world, Sweden, gives the highest proportion of its GDP. Of the top ten donors only America is a strongly religious country and oil-rich countries are nowhere near as generous preferring to export ideology rather than aid.

Source: Nick Cohen in the Observer (12/9/10)