Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Facebook – yet another intrusion into your privacy

Yes they want to spy on your facial features in real-time so they can judge your mood and target you with relevant adverts. Just split up? Have some booze. Where will it end?

Facebook was granted  a patent in 2015 for emotion-detection software that will allow them to discreetly take control of your phone or computer camera while you are browsing so they can analyse your emotions. Then they can serve you uplifting adverts. Or manipulate you in other ways of course. They will be spying on you without your knowledge.

Facebook calls this spyware “passive imaging data” which means its taking footage when you’ve not got your device switched on. Then an algorithm (they love their algorithms at Facebook (and Amazon too for that matter) decides if you are happy sad or bored.

Facebook has continued in its quest to analyse your emotions and manipulate you by getting patents that analyses how hard and fast you type  and adjust the font size or change the emoji to reflect your mood. In fact the have another where they analyse your facial expression instead.

They’ve already been criticised for telling advertisers that it could identify when teenagers felt insecure” or “worthless” and in need of a confidence boost.

You have to ask about Facebook‘s ethics here. Never mind that fact that they are lax in closing down jihadis and hate sites, relying on the public rather than employing enough people to monitor the platform, this is yet another intrusion into your personal space.

Zuckerberg is a messianic about this believing that no-one should have any boundaries and we should all share information (except himself). It’s time Facebook and the other tech companies learnt to respect their users a bit more.

If the government did this there would be an uproar. Companies like Facebook try to operate globally so they can avoid legal restrictions (and tax).

Part of this I blame on the freebie culture and sense of entitlement among young people. If they had to pay for Facebook directly (rather than through the advertising revenue Facebook generates) they might think differently. However given they way they voted in the recent general election I doubt it. One day they will realise that nothing in life is free.


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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.

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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).


My most read posts in 2013

top_5_pedestal_1600_wht_6489The people behind WordPress provide me with an annual report complete with lots of statistics.

First, last year I published 115 new posts, many of them re-blogged from other interesting sites – so thank you fellow bloggers.

Secondly, I also know that October 29 2013 was my busiest day and that my blog is read in 123 countries with most readers in the USA, the UK, and Canada.

My most read posts, in reverse order, were:

5th – Gorillas (and other great apes) you might have missed

4th – Ogling breasts no substitute for the gym

3rd – Apples and Pears – what fruit is your bum? This was the 2nd most popular both in 2012 & 2011

2nd – Women in uniforms

and first, for the fourth year running, Blushing – do men find it attractive

There seems to be a pre-occupation with women’s appearance here! Just saying..


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Baby blue eyed boozers get bossed

Mexican faceApparently blue eyed people are seen as less dominant than brown-eyed people – regardless of whether or not they are attractive (see my earlier post; Take me to your (tall and probably attractive) leader).

But it’s not just because of the eye colour. Czech researchers think it might be because people with blue eyes are treated as children longer and become conditioned to being more submissive.

And according to economics writer Chris Dillow in The Times (2/6/10): binge-drinking is more common in northern than southern Europe. Researchers at the Universities  of Oslo and Wyoming say that it’s in the genes and because blue-eyed people, more common in the North, are shyer they drink more to loosen their inhibitions.

Back in December 2010 it was reported that Scientists had discovered a gene, HTR2B, which can make people more susceptible to bouts of sudden aggression when under the influence of alcohol. Research with violent criminals in Finnish prisons found they were three times more likely to carry an abnormal variant of the gene than ordinary people.

Although not the full answer as to why people engage in spontaneous and motiveless violence it explains how it can be triggered by other genetic and environmental factors.

This Q20* gene mutation is only found in Finns, and in only 1% of them, and as most of whom are not violent so there is no point in screening for it.

And it doesn’t explain what happens in the UK. But research at the US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism published in Nature shows that genetic factors coupled with drug and alcohol abuse can lead to impulsivity and spontaneous violence.

The Finns were chosen for the prison study because they are genetically distinct but they also appear to have problems with depression and drinking, maybe due to the long hours of darkness. The first time I was in Helsinki it was still Winter yet there were a number of people lying in the streets in a drunken stupour in the freezing cold. Passers-by just checked to see if they were OK and moved on as if it were quite normal.

And the last time I was in Helsinki wandering round a supermarket I couldn’t find the section for wines and spirits. I eventually asked a local who pointed me to a separate Alco section (the beer was with the bottled water so it shows their take on what constitutes an alcoholic drink)She explained that it was for their own good as alcohol-related problems are in their genes. Seems like she was right.

Despite that particular problem Finland is one of the most highly rated countries in the world on a range of measures and a popular one for people who want to live elsewhere.

First version posted June 2010


A kiss is just a kiss …

unless you are a German businessman. The Knigge Society, a body set up to preserve etiquette, is not happy and is complaining.

It says that kissing has become commonplace with men and women kissing each other in the office and in meetings.

Traditionally Germans are taught to keep a respectful distance (60 cm is recommended), to shake hands and briefly bow the head (they no longer suggest clicking your heels but you get the idea).

The Society’s advice is no kissing in the office. Apparently some people are even receiving two kisses French style!

It sees this as a form of terror and suspects there may also be an erotic element to it. The chairman of the society says he respects the French habit, and the Russian one of men kissing men – but that’s not the German way and is an affectation of the “In crowd”.

No we know the French are the most miserable europeans so you can’t blame them for a bit of lip exercise but it can get a bit confusing once you cross a european border.

I know this from personal experience. Some years ago I had been in Ukraine where everybody kisses everybody three times (how would the Germans cope with that I wonder) and shortly afterwards found myself in neighbouring Lithuania.

I was saying goodbye to a professional colleague and thanking her for inviting us to her university. I shook hands then kissed her on the cheek. At that point I wondered how many kisses was normal so asked if it was two or three. Her answer was none.

My English colleague thought this was hilarious and never lets me forgot (although I do wonder if she was winding me up as most Lithuanians, whilst not over-familiar are friendly when they get to know you).


Boob jobs attract staff

What can we offer you to renew your contract? Free language lessons? 5 weeks holiday? How about a free boob job?

A report in the New York Times described how nurses in the Czech Republic were offered such perks.

One nurse in the private sector who opted for the cosmetic surgery had breast enhancement and liposuction, worth over £3,000, which she would never have been able to afford on her €1,ooo a month salary – less than earned by a bus driver. … Read More

via SGandA on Management & Leadership edited with permission