Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


On-line bullying persists

The internet and mobile technology generally has been a boon to bullies.

As well as Facebook, sites such as Little Gossip – recently shut down because of pressure from schools – provide anonymity to cyber-bullies who can make life hell for their victims.

And now there is another such site, Formspring. The comments that are put on the site are not worth repeating but are personal and hurtful and can be completely untrue.

There is even a Facebook group called: “Congratulations Formspring. You’ve just created the No 1 bullying site”. Surely a case of the kettle and the pot?

The sad thing is that to be bullied on Formspring you have to sign up to it. What is it about young people that they can’t/daren’t/won’t be without constant links to their “friends” and the outside world.

I once endured a 30 minute bus ride whilst the young women behind me texted all the way, her phone beeping every time she hit a key and recently at a main-line railway station everyone within a 5o yard radius was texting or e-mailing on their mobile phones. This self-centred and possibly narcissistic activity is an addiction and a curse.

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Do we get the customer service we deserve?

Over the years I have experienced some poor customer service – and not all of it in the former soviet republics (“service without a smile”). Some of the best has been in the USA – and not the “have a good day” or “missing you already” stuff, but the fact that even in a basic chain restaurant they will smile, wipe your table, and give you a jug of water, without having to be asked. Scandinavia is pretty good too.

But here in the UK it’s a mixed bag. Some coffee shops are good, in others the staff just talk to each other and ignore the customer. It’s the same in supermarkets with bored checkout staff who talk to their colleagues next to or behind them and who don’t even attempt eye contact once they’ve asked you if you need help packing your bag.

Yet research shows that waiters who touch you when giving you change get bigger tips; smiling will get a positive response 50% of the time depending on whether you are an extravert or an introvert; and remembering your name and your preferences is a good way to create loyalty.

So should it all be one-way? I went to collect a parcel from a depot recently and the first thing I saw was an A4 sized notice saying; “Customers conducting conversations on their mobile phones may find staff are unable to serve them until both parties have each other’s full attention”. Good for you I thought.

Apparently a regular customer would get out of her car and get on her mobile phone before coming to the reception desk and then carry on a running commentary with someone in the office – not just about what she was doing but what the other customers were doing as well!

We’ve all seen, or rather heard, mobile phone conversations carried on in public places with no regard for their intrusion into other people’s space. I have in the past asked people on trams to speak more quietly. It didn’t go down well but I didn’t really want to know what he had been doing with his girl-friend the previous night or what pizza toppings it led to!

People seem to be getting more egotistical or narcissistic, tweeting, texting, sexting and generally talking about themselves. And yes you could argue that bloggers like me are similar but you’re not forced to read this.

Updated 12 January 2010: Bad customer service is unforgivable says Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr. He thinks people are surly, and slapdash and it’s dreadful. “It’s not just in restaurants, you get bad service anywhere,” he says. “Even buying a newspaper you can find that you’re not even acknowledged. There’s no eye contact, no greeting or anything. Bad service is unforgivable and it’s everywhere in the UK.

He has a point. The UK came a disappointing 14th in the 2010 international customer service rankings from the Nation Brand Index and was ranked 13th for its “welcome” by visitors. Top is Canada, followed by Italy and Australia.

It doesn’t bode well for a country just months away from a royal wedding that’s expected to attract millions of visitors to the UK, followed by the Olympics next year. Even for Britons, poor customer service is a national bugbear, up there with the weather. See: “Why is service still so bad in the UK”




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Male modesty doesn’t pay

Modest men are getting the brush-off from women.

Modest? Shy? Reluctant to tell everyone how brilliant you are? If you’re male, then you can probably add ‘single’ to that list.

‘New men’ beware: research has revealed women don’t like modesty in a man. Instead, cocky types are more likely to win their hearts. Other men also find male modesty an unattractive trait – perhaps because they believe that bashful boys are letting the side down.

Research shows that women prefer cocky types like Simon Cowell rather than Hugh Grant’s bumbling on-screen behaviour. Three female researchers showed more than 200 people videotapes of a man and a woman applying for a job as a computer lab manager. The male and female actors both followed the same script in the mocked-up interview and were equally humble about their achievements. The volunteers were asked to rate them for modesty, likeability and a range of other factors.

Despite the actors being equally qualified for the job, the man was liked less than the woman. Meekness makes men seem less confident and ambitious and more weak, uncertain and insecure, the journal Psychology of Men & Masculinity reports. ‘Modest men were not liked as much as modest women because they were viewed as ‘too weak’ for a man and because they were viewed as insufficiently confident and ambitious,’ the U.S. researchers wrote.

They said the results showed that while women had been able to change their roles to become more assertive, men still faced prejudice when they tried to change. Professor Laurie Rudman, of Rutgers University in New Jersey, said: ‘Our findings demonstrate that men encounter prejudice when they behave modestly. They also raise the possibility that men may avoid behaving modestly because they risk backlash when they do”.

Changes in gender roles that have afforded women more financial independence have not yielded relaxed demands for men. ‘Men are still required to uphold masculine ideals that require chronic exhibitions of strength while avoiding signs of weakness.’

Professor Rudman added that pressure to be macho can be bad for men’s health. ‘Men are expected to be successful, powerful, and dominant, show no weaknesses or chinks in the armour, and avoid acting in ways that might be perceived as feminine,’ she said. ‘Men’s mental and physical health can suffer from adhering to masculine ideals.’

Guest blog from Terry G who says; “What does all this mean for us blue eyed modest men????????…………..I am going outside and I may be a while…………..”


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Princess on board – is that really a good thing?

“Have you let kids take over your life?” asked The Times’  Janice Turner – appropriately in the paper’s “Body + Soul” section – as the gist of the article was that they had done just that.

As I read the article I was agreeing more and more and getting quite annoyed. (It was in  half-term week after all).

A colleague and I used to meet regularly in a cafe bistro for a coffee and a glass of wine to catch up on mutual business matters. The cafe had big leather settees and proudly advertised wi-fi facilities which was great for nomads like us – a perfect mobile “office” and we could invite clients and colleagues to join us for lunch.

Then disaster struck – they introduced a kiddy menu (but not for them as there is probably more profit in a small portion than an adult one).

Now the place is crowded out with mums and kids in those over-sized “off-road buggies” which take out everything in their path. The noise level has increased and drowned out the background music – and that’s just the mums on their phones never mind the screaming kids. The staff often have to clear up the mess left by the kids around the settees (sticky drinks and leather – not a good combination) and not a laptop in sight.

And in an alternative venue I discovered that the mirror above the washbasin is fixed so low on the wall that any adult has to bend double to see in it (I had similar experiences in Wales but that’s a different story). It was put that way for the “little people” apparently (and no, we’re not in Ireland either).

We misinterpret “family friendly” as “child friendly” and over-indulge them, allowing them to dictate our lives rather than helping them adjust to the adult world. And as Turner points out other countries may be considered more family friendly but they expect children to fit in and be courteous.

Here we seem to be determined to raise a generation of accessorised little people with over-inflated egos, because they only ever receive praise, well on the way to developing a sense of  narcissistic entitlement. Simon Cowell needn’t worry about running out of X-factor wannabes any time soon.

As a parent I think I’ve done my share of tax-driving kids to activities and events but every time I see a car, or more probably a SUV, with a “Princess on Board” sign in the back, it makes me want to call social services and report a severe case of over-indulgence and parental self-flagellation.

Updated 15 February 2011: Seems I’m not the only person who gets annoyed when kids run around in restaurants. A report on the BBC News web-site reveals how attitudes vary and which restaurants welcome children. So you now know which ones to avoid.


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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.


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101 reasons why you can’t live together?

“Living together apart” seems to be a popular choice these days,  whether to maximise benefits payments or so you can have breathing space to do your own thing. But I wonder how far apart you can actually get with text messaging, skyping, not to mention tweeting and face-book!

So what are the reasons people can’t live together?

  1. You’ve put books on the bookshelf!
  2. You never notice hairs on the floor
  3. Why do you need so many CDs?
  4. You start clearing things away before I’ve finished cooking
  5. I can’t stand the soaps – they all have the same plots and interchangeable actors
  6. I can’t understand why you don’t like my Bulgarian gypsy music?
  7. You hate my cat! – You hate my dog!
  8. We’d need a bigger bed (and I like the one I’ve got)
  9. You’ll be upgrading my computer next – You’ve upgraded my computer – what was wrong with WordPerfect? – Of course I won’t upgrade you
  10. You move your lips when you read
  11. You tell me what’s in my newspaper before I’ve read it
  12. What do you mean you want sex more than once a month?
  13. God, you’re not watching Top Gear on Dave again are you?
  14. You never put my clothes away neatly when you’ve been wearing them! – You never put your own clothes away when you’ve been wearing them
  15. Why would you want a joint bank account?
  16. You never scrape the candle wax out of the bath
  17. Diet coke on cornflakes is not a health food
  18. I haven’t got your address in my sat nav
  19. It was definitely your turn to pay!
  20. Why would I fancy your best friend?
  21. Yes it is a rat, but it’s a pet rat – Your snake ate my pet rat
  22. You drank nearly all my vodka and filled up the bottle with water – I was p****d. You’re lucky it was only water
  23. You are always right. – No, I just can’t remember the last time I was wrong – She’s Russian and she’s right – OK!
  24. You’re still using that dating site
  25. I’m not sure I can be that flexible?
  26. You take my OK magazine and read it on the toilet…. this is not OK!
  27. Who is that with you in the photograph? I thought you were on a business trip!
  28. Why do your staff think I’m your book-keeper?
  29. Why does your mother think I’m gay?
  30. You said you’d never been married! – You said you’d never had kids!
  31. I like it that you are so independent
  32. My friends are real! – Do you really think so? Are you sure?
  33. What’s wrong with texting in bed? – You’re confusing texting and sexting, again – SMS has nothing to do with sado-masochism or sex
  34. You drink skinny decaff. What’s the point? – At least I drink coffee, not just tea with lemon
  35. I thought a birthday card would remind you how old you are – I hate seeing you getting older every day
  36. If I buy you flowers you think I must be feeling guilty – What’s wrong with a house plant? It will last longer than flowers.
  37. It’s not just an electric guitar – it’s a modern design icon! – You’ll be telling me next it’s an investment
  38. You keep using my “herbal” medication – Your Bob Marley accent is rubbish
  39. Your real long-term relationship is with your laptop and a bottle of wine – What’s wrong with multi-tasking?
  40. I’m worried about the kid’s inheritance – So how much did you say you had saved up?
  41. I heard you say you were planning to ski – you hate cold weather – I said SKI-ing darling
  42. You squeeze the toothpaste from the wrong end – At least I brush my teeth – So do I but the garlic lingers on
  43. I’m sure you told me where she had her tattoo. How else would I know about it?
  44. No? Well it must have been on Facebook! – She must not understand the privacy settings
  45. Why do you have tomato ketchup with everything? – I can’t stand the smell of brown sauce
  46. You know I want vinegar on my chips – not mayonnaise
  47. You are always quoting Mae West at me – it’s not funny any more! – And you think W C Fields is funny?
  48. I can’t believe you think I’m like that “Desperate Housewives” person! – Well at least she can cook!
  49. You’d rather believe Google than me – Well I sold the encyclopaedias because you said you knew it all
  50. Why do I have to go hungry when you’re on yet another diet? – Am I your mother?
  51. You won’t get your dog “fixed” – You first, set an example
  52. I wasn’t comparing you. I just said she looked nice – But you told her at least three times!
  53. You’re always posing – Life’s too short not to pose
  54. Which part of “I’m not the marrying kind” didn’t you understand? – Who said anything about getting married? I just want your babies
  55. Let’s wait until you’ve done that personality profile so I can match our types
  56. My therapist says it wouldn’t be advisable for me to live with anyone – And how do you feel about that?
  57. I’m not looking for a father figure – So you think I’m too old for you? – Well you said I made you feel like a dirty old man – That wasn’t because of your age!
  58. Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind it doesn’t matter!
  59. You think more about your pigeons than me – At least they know their way home
  60. You thought it was OK for the Americans to finish top of our group! – You felt sorry for the French team – cheating b*****ds
  61. I thought you told me he was bringing back one of those venezuelans? – You said you’d stop wearing the strip when England went out
  62. What’s more important, buying me a ring or going to Brazil in 4 years? – If you have to ask!
  63. You’d rather believe your dreams than me. I’ve never met this person!

Thanks to you all – let’s add some more on a different page