Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


We need sunshine to be healthy

unless you’re a vampire of course

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P1030120Lack of sunshine has been blamed for rickets and poor eye-sight.

Now it’s suggested that a lack of exposure to strong sunlight may be giving people multiple sclerosis (MS).

Suspicions were aroused when it was found that ethnic minority people form countries close to the equator had a far greater prevalence of the disease in London than in their own countries.

The chances of contracting MS vary greatly by ethnicity anyway. There are about 100,000 MS sufferers in the UK with white people most at risk while people from sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia suffer least.

Based on a study of health records of almost a million people in east London, the gap narrows significantly in populations living there. Asian and black people had several times the risk of those still living in their home countries.

They found that the prevalence of MS among white people was 180 per 100,000…

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Olympic feel good factor – if you’re a Londoner!

UnknownThe 2012 Olympic games cost us £8 billion. Think what you could have built with that?

A new study has estimated that the Games gave the average Londoner an uplift in happiness equivalent to a £8,000 pay rise! Unfortunately the feelings of happiness wore after after 12 months.

We had all the usual promises about the legacy the games would leave if we hosted it but it just doesn’t happen. “The overwhelming conclusion is that in most cases the Olympics are a money-losing proposition for host cities”

Apart from the IOC fat cats of course who do very well thank you.

Paul Dolan, a professor of behavioural sciences at the LSE, and Georgios  Kavestos, at Queen Mary University London, wondered if the feeling of satisfaction would make up for the financial losses. Immediately after the games 55% of Brits interviewed thought it was a worthwhile investment.

Researchers in London, Berlin, and Paris looked into life satisfaction, short-term happiness, anxiety levels and the sense that people’s lives were worthwhile.

Londoners felt significantly happier and more satisfied with their lives for a short time. It had the same effect as moving them from earning £10k a year to £18k. There was no such effect in  Paris or Berlin (and what about in the rest of the UK? Londoners are not the UK). And some of them would no doubt prefer to have the money.

The opening and closing ceremonies also produced a spike in happiness levels at both games (Olympics and Paralympics) albeit accompanied by a strong sense of anxiety about terrorist attacks.

The feelings of satisfaction were not connected with athletes’ success which is strange as we were third in the medals table. Maybe people just don’t care about the medals – just the medallists who cashed in on their fleeting fame.

And as stated the post-Olympic hangover cancelled out any gains. So was it worth it? Spending all that money on the games instead of “more lasting benefits like schools, infrastructure or employment?

If you want to host a party, host a party and that’s fine.The problem with events such as the Olympics is they come with all these claims that they are going to boost jobs and the economy. If you look at the literature that isn’t true. Like any party you have a great time but wake up with a hangover” said Dr Kavestos.

Some of us have been saying that for years. And don’t even mention what happened when they gave the stadium to a premier league football club! It’s always all about London.


London – love it or hate it

P1000602 - Version 2First the good news: London is apparently the world’s best city in which to work.

In a poll of almost 200,000 people in nearly 200 countries, one in six people said they would like to work there. And the UK as a whole came second to the USA although no other city in UK came in the top 40 world-wide .

Brits aren’t as keen to work abroad as other nationalities – only 40% of us compared to 2/3 from other countries according to the Boston Consulting Group and TotalJobs recruitment website. Those who do prefer the US, Canada, Germany, Australia and France. The UK attracts workers from Portugal, Israel, Barbados, Romania and Jamaica.

The international director at TotalJobs said “This report cements London’s position as a truly global city. Not only does it offer a wealth of job opportunities min a range of industries but it boasts some of the world’s top cultural attractions so it’s no surprise that people across the globe want to come and work here.”

London is the only city in Britain to enjoy such popularity based on its high salary prospects, cultural diversity and the finance industry. In America seven cities vied for job attractiveness.

The other 9 cities in the top 10 are (in descending order):

  • New York
  • Paris
  • Sydney
  • Madrid
  • Berlin
  • Barcelona
  • Toronto
  • Singapore
  • Rome

Secondly the bad news. While London may be a magnet for jobseekers from around the world people who live there report the highest levels of unhappiness, dissatisfaction with life, and anxiety than almost everywhere else in Britain.

The nation as a whole feels happier in 2014 than at any time since 2011, thanks largely to the improving economy, with those in the SouthEast, east Midlands, and the NorthEast of England registering the highest levels of life satisfaction.

Although scores have improved Londoners still score lower on every measure. Only 1 in 3 of them said they rarely felt anxious or stressed compared to half the population elsewhere in the country.

The London boroughs of Lambeth and Barking & Dagenham are in the “misery” top five while Hackney has the highest levels of anxiety.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) says its research suggests there are drawbacks to living in the capital despite its economic success.

The statisticians point out that population density is a negative factor and the age profile influences the findings with middle-aged adults with children feeling unhappier than younger people.

They also point out that the increase in well-being scores in London may be influenced by expectations of future events as the economic benefits have not yet filtered down into pay packets.


The Olympic party’s over – now back to reality

P1000268Before the Olympics started we had lots of negative stories – so-called “Zil” lanes for the favoured Olympic family, the ticketing fiasco, the G4S fiasco, the sponsors having it all their own way with small businesses suffering from not being able to identify with the Olympics, even those who had actually worked on building the Olympic facilities.

There was so much PR and positive spin being put out that I posted a blog last December asking what the Olympics were actually good for“.

And in April 2 out of 3 people in a BBC survey thought the taxpayers had paid too much for the Olympics.

Then we had a slow start before we won anything with even more acrimony about tickets and half-empty venues; and the centre of London was pretty empty too with trade down between 30 and 60% and being branded a ghost town.

Some of this was self-inflicted by hotels which had hiked up their prices and then suffered for their greed when tour companies didn’t take up bookings and people stayed away because of high prices and warnings about traffic congestion. Of course the 5-star hotels were fully booked by Olympic sponsors and officials and their families on tax-free junkets.

The fall in numbers also affected shops, museums, theatres, taxis, and restaurants right in the middle of the peak tourist season.

Then we began to win medals and in the end had a very successful Olympics, perhaps better than we expected.

Of course we had disappointments and failures too. And there were also examples of unfairness. The Taekwondo selection was bizarre, not selecting the World No 1 because he trained independently. And, as he predicted, he had beaten the eventual Gold medal winner. In cycling Victoria Pendleton was unfairly disqualified after her rival clearly nudged her out of the lane.

And unfairness to our armed forces being forced to give up their leave after returning from Afghanistan. This however turned into a PR victory for them as everyone seemed to appreciate their role. But that was no thanks to the mismanagement of the G4S contract by the government.

There was also blatant sex discrimination when male teams travelled first class and the female teams flew in economy.

And the big question remains about the legacy. Apparently sales of bikes and rowing machines are up but we still don’t have sport in schools as a priority.

Will we make any money out of it? Well the gold medallists will be set up for life with their honours and sponsorships. That seems a bit unfair too after the tax payer has supported them in doing something they love and they are the only ones to get rich. But the Olympics is a get-rich mechanism for the International Olympic Committee and the sponsors who don’t pay any tax.

We put in about £10 Billion  as taxpayers, paid through the nose for tickets, and yet it’s the sponsors who get the credit for a few measly millions they write off as expenses anyway. And it wasn’t as if it created any real lasting employment. Jobs might have been created during the construction phase but that was two years ago. The games wouldn’t have worked without the 10,000 volunteers who only got free transport and maybe a luncheon voucher.

David Cameron says there will be a £13 Billion legacy from the Olympics and is desperately setting up meetings for investors. He should be reading the in-depth analyses of previous events set out in the business sections of The Observer and the Sunday Times (and probably elsewhere). It doesn’t make good reading.

The Centre for Economics and Business Research estimates that the games could pay or themselves by 2021 by helping London generate an extra £1.8 Billion a year by 2015. Note the reference to London.

A BBC survey in July showed that 3 out of 4 people thought the rest of the UK wouldn’t benefit – not really surprising considering it was billed as the London Olympics. People in power seem to forget that there is life outside London and that Team GB was actually Team GB & Northern Ireland. And where would we have been in the medals table without the magnificent contribution from Yorkshire?

The Centre also estimates that the lost revenue from tourists and the drop in productivity due to 1.5 million people working from home during the Olympics has cost the UK economy £1 Billion this year.

The director of the Greater London Group at the London School of Economics said that the Olympic games were not the way to get Britain out of the recession and that even if there was a short-term boost to the economy it would be very small. The fall-back in tourist activity has damaged estimates of economic activity arising from the games.

We may have already seen any benefits we were going to get two years ago and now we are more likely to see the downside as productivity fell during the games. And there is no guarantee that global companies will want to  invest in the UK or buy our products when labour is cheaper elsewhere and taxation even more flexible.

But this is typical of Olympic games. Australia’s economy went flat after the 2000 games as did Greece’s after 2004. Citi examined data from 10 Olympics between 1964 and 2008 and found that growth rose in the run-up but started to fall away as the games began and was weak thereafter. Australia saw a 16% increase in visitors for their Olympics but suffered a drop for the 3 years afterwards

The BBC survey back in April found that just over half the people (mistakenly) thought the Olympics would prove to be good value in terms of benefits. Now a survey shows that a similar proportion of people don’t expect the Olympic buzz to last – and they’d be right to think that.

Professor Stefan Szymanski, a specialist in the economics of sport at the University of Michigan, says there is evidence that there are negligible economic benefits but that it can make people happier. He said; “If you tell me there’s going to be a party, that’s great – but if you tell me that you’re going to have a party  and get rich at the same time, then I’m not going to believe you”.

It’s not just the Olympics but any major sporting event such as the World Cup. Organisers (who insist on special tax dispensations for themselves) bang on about the legacy in terms of sport and the economy but it just doesn’t happen. The last World Cup in South Africa is a good example.