Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?

Facebook is for losers

figure_bed_computer_1600_wht_14033Most people who use Facebook do so to add positive updates but generally people who use Facebook tend to be more frustrated, angry and lonely.

This might be because positive updates from their “friends” make them feel inadequate.

Now researchers at Ohio University have discovered that people in a bad mood turn to social network sites and look up people less attractive or less successful than themselves rather than those more attractive and more successful.

Given a choice of profiles to look at on a new social networking link called SocialLink participants who had been put in a negative state of mind – by being given poor feedback on a test – spent more time looking at the profiles of people who were less attractive and less successful.

The message is if you’re feeling bad look for someone who’s feeling even worse and regain your emotional superiority.


It’s been over a year since I posted about Facebook but my 4 year-old post “So many friends but still lonely” still regularly appears in my top 5 most-read posts so clearly strikes a chord..

My previous post about Facebook was eighteen months ago when I summed up the uses (or mis-uses) of Facebook in “Facebook Follies“.

But there’s so much stuff out there about Facebook it’s hard to keep up.




Football & happiness – a game of 2 halves 

 brazil_flag_with_soccer_ball_1600_wht_2747Now the 2014 World Cup is underway again there will be much speculation about the impact it will have on the host country.

After the last one there was quite a bit of research which showed that such events did have positive outcomes.

We’ll have to wait and see if the same thing happens this time round in Brazil.


Fans celebrating the upcoming 2010 FIFA World ...

Image via Wikipedia

Football can make people happier. Two economists tried but failed to prove that football was good for a country’s economy. But when they looked at national pride and happiness they got better results.

They looked for changes in life satisfaction in 12 European countries over 30 years up to 2004, and especially looked at how people felt following Olympic, World Cup, and European Cup competitions.

They were interested in whether or not teams doing better than expected had a positive effect on people from that country and whether countries hosting the competitions benefitted.

There was no evidence that performing better than expected had any real effect on people’s life satisfaction scores. Nor did planning to host such an event make people any happier.

But there was strong evidence that actually hosting an event did make people happier in that country. In fact it made people 3 times happier than if they had gained a higher level education, 1.5 times the happiness boost associated with getting married, and nearly large enough a difference in happiness to offset the misery of a divorce!

Sadly 1 year later the happiness effect had worn off. Whereas being married keeps you happier longer.

So perhaps the secret is to live in a country hosting such an event to get the short-term happiness boost and get married in the following 12 months for a longer-lasting effect!

FYI Married people are happier than single people (of course it could be that happy people get married more easily). And the 30% improvement in spousal happiness even counteracts all the negative affects of unemployment.

Greater Manchester Police reported an increase in domestic abuse the day England were knocked out of the World Cup. It was the largest number reported since New Year’s Eve and 16% up on the same time the previous year.

Updated 10 July 2010: The World Cup seems to have had a unifying effect on the rainbow nation, perhaps even more than the 1995 Rugby World Cup. And if the government figures are correct South Africa will break even on its investment in airports, motorways, and high speed rail links.

There has been a show of unity, pride and patriotism and the crime rates have been low despite South Africa’s reputation as one of the world’s capitals in murder and rape.

So maybe the economists have got it right. Apparently psychiatrists are concerned that South Africans will experience a post event depression when the World Cup finishes. Let’s hope it’s 1-0 to the economists.

And a 40 year research project in America reported in New Scientist (10 July 2010) shows that when local college football teams did well in the 2 weeks before an election the sitting party won more votes than when the team lost. So if you want to stay in power make sure your local team plays well!

Updated 20 September 2010: Despite concern that South African policemen are too fat to chase criminals – the police minister said they shouldn’t be “massaging beer bellies” – it seems that the get-fit boot camps put in place for the World Cup may have paid off. (This in a country, similar to USA and Germany, where 60% of the population are overweight or obese).

Despite SA having the highest murder rates in the world, outside war zones or countries with drug cartels like Mexico and Columbia, the World Cup showed what could be done. There has been a sharp decrease in murders (down almost 9%) and violent robberies for the first time since nation-wide records were first collected in 1995-6 (when there were 27,000 murders compared to 17,000 this year).

The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less


From The Tyranny of Choice

We live in a culture of unprecedented choice and often assume that more choice means better options and greater satisfaction. Is that meme true?

Although some choice is undoubtedly better than none, more might not always better than less. Assessments of well-being by various social scientists—among them, David G. Myers of Hope College and Robert E. Lane of Yale University—reveal that increased choice and increased affluence have, in fact, been accompanied by decreased well-being in the U.S. and most other affluent societies. But why?

In his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less psychologist Barry Schwartz argues that the more options we have, the more information and effort we have to go into evaluating them, the more likely we are to be dissatisfied with the outcome. There is a number of reasons for that:

1)      Most people hate making trade-offs and will often…

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Britain flies the flag in Copehagen


In the airport to be precise. Walking round during a 5 hour wait for a connection I couldn’t help noticing a number of W H Smith shops and Dixons. The prize must go to Hamley’s toy shop however which provided a life-size cuddly bear and its Danish minder to amuse the passengers especially the children who queued up to be photographed with them.P1010346

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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.


Are you flourishing?

Happiness is over-rated according to Martin Seligman, the grandfather of positive psychology. This might be a bit of a shock as his book “Authentic Happiness” was influential in persuading influential people that the government should start measuring happiness and well-being.

In his latest book “Flourish” he says he got it wrong promoting happiness as it was only concerned with life satisfaction and how cheerful you were. He thinks well-being is more meaningful as it is more measurable.

As it happens researchers at the Well-being Institute at Cambridge University have defined and measured flourishing across the EU. They found that Denmark leads Europe with 33% of its citizens flourishing, nearly twice as many as in the UK.

Denmark was previously recognised as having the most people satisfied with life in a 2006 Wikipedia survey (in which we came 41st out of 89 countries!)

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).