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.



Brits are among the loneliest people in EU


Only Germans are less friendly with their neighbours.

sitting_on_curb_holding_sign_12927It seems we’re unlikely to know our neighbours and will probably have to fend for ourselves in a crisis.

Only 58% of Brits feel connected to people in their neighbourhood.

Cyprus and Romania topped the table in a survey of the 28 EU countries.

The UK came 3rd from bottom when asked if they had a close friend to turn to in a personal crisis – only 1 in 8 people could say yes. Only the French and the Danes have fewer reliable friends. Eastern Europeans, Spaniards and Greeks have more friends they can rely on with Slovakia and Lithuania topping the table in that respect.

Bottom 5 overall

  • Germany 58%
  • UK 58.4%
  • Finland 61.7%
  • Austria 61.9%
  • Italy 64,4%

Top 5 overall

  • Cyprus 80.8%
  • Romania 79.9%
  • Croatia 78.8%
  • Latvia 78.5%
  • Spain 78.2%

Britain’s position is curious given that we participate far…

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Those you have read – top 10 in 2010

When you first sit down to write a blog you hope people are going to want to read it – unless you plan it as a private journal where you can unburden yourself or have a rant at the world (OK so occasionally I have a rant too).

So it’s great for me that so many people have read my blog posts and some of them have even posted comments  – usually in a friendly way although occasionally mischievously.

So which posts had most readers in 2010? In reverse order:

10th most read: Living Together Apart (LTA) on the increase

This was a follow-on from my first ever posting and obviously reflected current trends among couples of all ages

9th most read: Daydream believer

This was an early post which originated in contributions I made to the Daily Mirror and Eve magazine. Perhaps we are all romantics at heart and want to believe in the power of dreams but it was also expanded into a guest business blog for my friends at Smoking Gun PR

8th most read: I’m stressed – gaze into my eyes

Well we all prefer a pretty face don’t we but it turns out that swearing also helps us withstand pain better!

7th most read: What sex is your job?

And still on pretty faces it seems you can sometimes be too attractive for your own good.

6th most read: Shoot yourself in the foot – join Facebook

As an avowed non-Facebook person it was pleasing to see that people did want to understand the down-sides of entrusting your personal life to it.

5th most read: Pigeons smarter than people??

Surprisingly popular perhaps but maybe it explains why some people still feed these flying vermin, especially outside high street bakers’ shops.

4th most read: What makes you happy?

And on a more positive note .. don’t we all want to be happy?

3rd most read: So many “friends” yet still lonely

My first post about the perils of Facebook – and yes I admit it was a bit of a rant!

2nd most read: 101 reasons why you can’t live together

The very first thing I ever posted and it obviously struck a chord (and thanks to everyone who contributed both willingly and unknowingly!)

But by an overwhelming number of views – 3 times the second most read – the clear favourite and most read post:

Blushing – do men find it attractive?

This was another early post and originated with a contribution I made to an article in the Daily Express but has continued to appear in my top posts section.

So thank you everyone and all the very best for 2011 when I will do my best to bring you more interesting posts.

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Money makes the pain go away

Literally. Researchers have discovered that money gives people inner strength and can reduce their emotional and physical pain. Even thinking about it works.

We know swearing helps you withstand pain as does looking at attractive women but it also seems that having cash in hand  can have the same effect.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota asked subjects to count either money or slips of paper before putting their hands in extremely hot water or playing a computer game that was rigged so that they  would be excluded by other players.

When asked to rate either their pain level or feeling of exclusion those who had counted money felt significantly less pain and less excluded.

It also works in reverse. They asked people to either write down all their expenses for the previous month or record the weather. When they put them into the hot water or gaming scenarios afterwards the ones who had recorded their expenses felt more physical and emotional pain.

So having money makes you feel strong whilst lacking it makes you feel weak. It also makes you want to work alone and sit further away from other people (when they had cash on screen savers compared to tropical fish), not ask for help, and be less helpful. It also makes people want to spend their leisure time alone rather than with friends.

They also found that people became more self-sufficient because of money –  even Monopoly money or screen savers showing cash made people work harder to achieve their goals, even when given impossible tasks. They were more focused and less distracted and hence more productive.

This only seems to work with money – not other expensive items such as jewellery. The researchers suggest that people should be rewarded in cash rather than bank payments; people complaining at customer services would be happier to be given real money rather than a voucher.

It gives the phrase “cash in hand” a whole new meaning.

Source: HBR March 2010


So many “friends” yet still lonely? 

Woman Against Orange WallWith “Quit Facebook Day” approaching (31 May 2010) many people are re-examining their relationship with the social networking site Facebook – the site that keeps on sharing.

Or over-sharing according to Time Magazine this month (Facebook – friends without borders”).

Some time this month Facebook will officially log its 500 millionth active citizen – a bigger population than the USA.

Not bad for an idea, dreamt up just over 6 years ago by Harvard undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg to keep track of Ivy League students, which alongside Microsoft, Google, and YouTube, is bringing the web into people’s lives.

It’s the willingness of people to share information which has made it a success and also brought criticism. The default setting is maximum exposure and individuals who don’t necessarily want their friends to know what they have been buying, or have that information available on any web-site that wants it, for example, have had to reset their privacy settings.  Facebook has more than once had to pull back and allow users more privacy control after introducing new features such as Newsfeed (pre-dating Twitter) Facebook Beacon (now discredited), Open Graph, and Instant Personalization.

Zuckerberg’s Law – each year we will share twice as much information as we did the previous year – or so he hopes, is the underpinning for its business model and the site is designed to not only hook you in but also guilt trip you if you try to leave – a virtual Hotel California. With 25 billion pieces of information being shared each month, and with 1 billion images being added every week (it has 48 billion images making it the world’s largest picture collection), it’s easy to see why marketers and advertisers love it.

So people are sharing their lives, or some version of their lives, not just with close friends and families – which is how it all started – but with complete strangers. Doesn’t that seem odd? Or egotistical, or narcissistic, or voyeuristic? (And the same applies to Twitter).

Does “friending” people make them a friend? People with more extravert personalities tend to categorise the majority of people they know as friends whereas more introverted types will separate close friends from acquaintances and the thought of hundreds of people sharing their private lives would horrify them. Many people would happily pass up on their “15 minutes of fame” but not apparently those on Facebook.

And just how many “friends” can you handle anyway? Anthropologist Robin Dunbar has proposed the upper limit for the number of people we can maintain stable relationships with is 150 – the size of small settlements and military companies. Others have suggested a higher figure of almost double that but the likely range seems to be 100 to 230. Yet many people on social networking sites claim connections with far more people than this.

Apart from the social networking and (self)promotional aspects it has also been used for recruitment by some large companies – and that should make students stop and think about what they put on their Facebook in, shall we say, their more relaxed moments. Not to mention how long they spend on it with some students reportedly spending up to 4 hours a day on it.

Despite all this interaction the Mental Health Foundation’s recent report; “The Lonely Society”, describes loneliness as commonplace. More people are living alone: the number doubled to 12% between 1972 and 2008, the divorce rate also doubled since 1960 and there are more lone parents. People are also living longer but most do so alone.

The charity suggests that investing time in social activities is seen as less important than work in a modern market-driven society. People now feel more pressure to be productive and busy and neglect friends and families as a consequence. 20% of people in their survey said they spent too much time communicating on-line than in person (28% of Facebook users are over 34 and this is the fastest growing age group).

There is also concern that social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter hinder the development of social skills and the ability to read body language (NVC) . And internet contact doesn’t provide the physical contact which  helps build emotional bonds between people. In a nutshell, over-reliance on social networking to the detriment of real personal contact is not good for anyone’s mental and physical well-being.

But it’s not just Facebook: e-mail is just as much to blame for what a French philosopher Guy Debord called ; “the lonely crowd“. There are almost 1.5 billion people sending nearly 250 billion e-mails each day rather than having face to face conversations with colleagues.

According to John Freeman, author of “The Tyranny of Email“, we spend so much time checking our inboxes or refreshing Twitter pages, that we are less productive because our attention spans are shattered into tiny fragments.

Perhaps worse, Edward Halliwell, a New York psychiatrist, believes that we are so busy processing information from all directions that we are losing the ability to think and feel and becoming disconnected from other people.

The Times reported (29/5/10) that students today are 40% less empathetic than they were 20 or 30 years ago. The current “Generation Me” is more narcissistic, self-centred and competitive and less concerned with other people’s feelings. They are seen as confident and individualistic but not as kind.

2000 seems to have been the turning point attributed to violent video games, social networking sites, and an obsession with TV celebrities. The researchers believe that technology has replaced human interaction and having online “friends” means that you don’t have to respond to their problems face to face. Coupled with inflated expectations, competitiveness means hiding weaknesses and leaves no time for empathy.

Updated 14 July 2010: Quit Facebook Day seems to have been a flop with only 36,000 people closing their accounts (out of 400 million world-wide) according to New Scientist (10 July 2010). Of course we don’t know how many who didn’t have an account were put off getting one. However researchers in social networking at Microsoft believe that Facebook has become an essential utility like water and electricity.

Updated 23 February 2011: Dr Mark Porter’s column in The Times yesterday addressed the issue of loneliness. He pointed out what we already know ie that the increased use of mobile phones, the internet, and home entertainment systems has hastened the demise of community meeting points like pubs and social clubs.

But he also points out the health risks associated with loneliness. Lonely people:

  • tend to be bad at regulating their life-style and are more likely to pursue self-destructive habits such as drinking too much and over-eating
  • are less likely to seek emotional support and suffer more stress
  • tend not to sleep well. This affects their metabolism and if they are stressed can cause heart problems and affect their immune system so they are less able to fight off infections and disease.

And he cites a study of 3,000 nurses with breast cancer which showed that those with no close friends had a much lower survival rate than those with lots of friends.