If you really have to make new year resolutions..

Mike the Psych's Blog

here are some sensible ones from Dr Mark Porter who writes for the Times (with my own comments added):looking_in_mirror_1600_wht_5647

  1. Get a tape measure and measure your waist. This should be less than half your height to maintain good health. Body Mass Index (bmi) is so out-of-date as I’ve written before.
  2. Buy a blood pressure monitor as one in three of us develops high blood pressure which often requires lifelong treatment. Taking your BP at home may be more accurate than if taken in a stressful environment such as a hospital or GP’s surgery (the well-known white coat effect).
  3. Buy a petrol car next time as diesel has been proved to be dirtier fuel and unhealthy in built-up areas
  4. Learn what sepsis looks like. Blood poisoning or septicaemia as it was once called kills thousands of people a year. It typically starts with bacterial infections of the chest…

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Ditch your smartphone, get out in the countryside, and feel better about yourself


Nature lovers are significantly less anxious and have higher self-esteem than people obsessed with their smartphones according a recent study.

They are also more conscientious, emotionally stable and more open to new experiences than those addicted to technology.

The on-line research at the University of Derby examined people’s mobile phone use and their connection to nature. Participants were also assessed on their personality and self-esteem

It found that those most in touch with nature used their phone half as much each day as the rest of the population and were more emotionally balanced i.e. 2 hrs 15 mins each day (which seems a lot to me) compared to 4 hrs 8 mins for those less connected to nature.

They also took 87% fewer selfies but three times as many pictures of nature.  So we can probably assume that they are also less narcissistic.

Miles Richardson, head of psychology, said “Nature connectedness isn’t about going back to some halcyon days where we lived in harmony with nature. It’s about realising our place in a wider ecology here and now

I’ve posted on this topic several times over the past few years and my message is still the same. Forget the smartphone (and social media) and get a life!

More needs to be done about drivers using mobile phones

texting_behind_the_wheel_1600_wht_10007It seems some motorists are addicted to using apps when driving and the current £100 fine plus 3 penalty points is no deterrent (which was to be increased to £150 and 4 points – 6 for HGV drivers after the consultation period ended in March).

An RAC survey found that drivers think that the fine should be even bigger, perhaps £450, to try and deter drivers using everything from texting to updating Facebook because drivers see the existing fines as unduly lenient.

10% of drivers believe that using a phone when driving should lead to instant disqualification, and I couldn’t disagree with that. Mobile phone use is the top complaint by drivers.

Prosecutions have dropped  by almost half between 2009 and 2014 and fewer drivers have been handed fixed penalties. This suggests that the police aren’t taking it seriously. All they would have to do is park near my nearest roundabout to regularly see drivers on the phone as they manoeuvre around it.

There have been a lot of promises about clamping down on this problem but little action.

What does it take to be a success as a woman?

woman_shopper_carrying_bags_500_wht_8079Researchers commissioned by House of Fraser found that earning £49,000 a year, having a great sex life and having 500 followers on Instagram were considered indicators of success.

A House of Fraser spokesperson said “The survey has revealed some really fascinating insights into how modern women define success. From financial independence to being a great mum to keeping up with the latest fashions and trends, the research has revealed that British women are more confident than ever”

They’d asked 2,000 working women aged between 18 and 45 how they defined success in the 21st century. Just over 80% of those surveyed thought women were just as successful as men and almost 90% of them described themselves as successful which they began to feel at age 25.

The majority thought they were as successful as their partners whilst 25% thought that they had actually overtaken their partners.

See how you measure up against the findings of how they measured success:

1. Being financially independent

2. Being happy most of the time

3. Being trusted by your friends

4. Being organised and efficient

5. Being a good mum

6. Having a partner who is devoted to you

7. Keeping in good shape

8. Making people laugh

9. Being well read

10. Being in a senior position at work

11. Not creating dramas in your life

12. Being able to do DIY yourself

13. Having travelled the world

14. Being able to lend cash to a friend in need

15. Having a partner who would rather be with you than his friends

16. Looking your best at all times

17. Having an immaculate home

18. Being able to cook with flare

19. Having people compliment you on your style

20. Having a great sex life

21. Going on at least two foreign holidays a year

22. Picking up the bill after lunch with family and friends

23. Going on European mini breaks

24. Throwing great dinner parties

25. Shopping for high end brands

26. Earning more than your partner

27. Earning more than your friends

28. Owning designer shoes and handbags

29. Eating out more than twice a week

30. Driving a better car than your friends

31. Having people ask you where you buy your clothes from

32. Having more than 500 Instagram followers

33. Getting more than 50 likes on your best Facebook posts

34. Following the latest fashions

35. Having more than 300 Facebook friends

A sign of the times? After the first ten or so items it goes downhill for me. Some of the factors identified suggest that they care more about what people think of them than anything else.
Are women becoming more shallow, headstrong or self-obsessed narcissists? What happened to kindness, contributing to the community, making other people happy, caring about other people?

School pupils need lessons in getting a good night’s sleep

stick_figure_sleeping_1600_wht_5121Teensleep is a project being rolled out in English schools by Oxford University to help pupils sleep better and improve their exam results as a result.

The teenagers will be taught about their body clocks and the circadian rhythm which shifts in their teens and again when they reach their twenties. They will also learn about the damaging effects of watching TV or playing video games late at night and how the blue light from screens disrupts their sleep cycle.

The project will involve 100 schools divided into four groups. One will start classes at 10.00 am or later, one group will receive sleep education, one group will have sleep education and start lessons later, and the fourth (control) group will follow the usual school timetable.

Professor Russell Foster hopes to get enough data from the project to enable a definitive view to be reached. He said “Studies in the States have shown that if you start the school day later you can reduce self-harm and truancy and academic performance goes up.

Pupils’ grades will be measured before and after the interventions and wrist-worn monitors will record sleep patterns. The teenagers’ modes will also be assessed.

One college principal says that “parents have a more relaxed attitude about bedtimes these days and teenagers’ rooms are like entertainment zones. A lot of kids are involved in playing video games against kids from other countries across different time zones so they stay up much later. The 24/7 social media lifestyle is a real issue. If you wake up in the night and find you have to reach for your phone to check what is on, that will prevent you going back to sleep

Many children are suffering from poor quality or disrupted sleep and as a result are tired and irritable in school. They fuel themselves on  caffeine or sugary drinks, and then they can’t sleep. Professor Foster thinks teenagers need nine hours sleep a night for peak intellectual performance.

  • Sleep helps consolidate memories, integrates information, and clears toxins from the brain.
  • Lack of sleep increases impulsivity, reduces empathy and causes memory difficulties. It also releases hormones which make you feel hungry which contributes to the obesity epidemic.

Not everyone agrees with starting school lessons later. As one head said “We have to prepare pupils for the adult world, which often doesn’t revolve around them”.

Improve your sleep by:

  1. making sure your bedroom is comfortable and dark with no distracting noises
  2. have a winding-down routine 60-90 minutes before bedtime. Read a book or play relaxing music. Write a diary or plan the next day.
  3. switch off all electronic devices and televisions at least an hour before you want to sleep
  4. don’t use smart phones, iPads or watch TV in bed
  5. set a regular time to get up and stick to it
  6. if you are not asleep in 15 minutes go through your winding-down routine again until you feel sleepy

Too many people are addicted to their smart phones and suffer from FOMO. Students are particularly obsessed with social media

Source: Sunday Times

See previous post on getting a good night’s sleep and becoming smarter

Facebook can be used against you

dislike_ink_stamp_1600_wht_9113If you publicise your extravagant social activities on Facebook and other social media you run the risk of it being held against you.

Not just in your career (about which I have posted previously elsewhere) but in getting a mortgage or a loan .

A new company called Big Data Scoring is offering its services to banks and other financial organisations and says there has been a lot of interest.

It uses models and algorithms to predict the likelihood you will default on a loan based on thousands of data points including social media, blogs, web pages you have visited and information available on google.

Lenders ask permission from Facebook account holders to access the information as part of the loan application.”This is not as stalkerish as it sounds.We don’t look at the photographs or read people’s messages. We focus on the overall nature of the profile – how active people are on Facebook, what sort of activity is it, what do they like and what it says about their personalities. (During R & D) we have spotted important aspects that help to predict one’s credit behaviour

The company CEO gives an example of someone who is extremely active on Facebook even in working hours, someone who responds to every ad campaign, someone who is forever updating their relationships status on the wall, or is playing games all day.

Compare that with someone who uses social media to keep in touch with old friends, who only logs in after work and not much at the weekend, and who knows responding to ad campaigns only leads to spam mail. Which is the more trustworthy person?

They say they never give the lenders an absolute statement about someone’s credit rating but just give a probability of whether or not the person will default.  If you are one of the 25% of 18-29 year olds who’ve been turned down for a loan then that’s just a question of semantics.

Another credit scoring company is Experian which doesn’t use big data relying instead on the electoral register, public government records, and transactions from financial companies to predict how people will behave with regard to payments and debts.

They think that the data exhaust you leave behind in your transactions with organisations and their customer service departments are more relevant than your social media footprint.

However Experian concedes that social media may be useful in emerging markets where there is little financial information or credit history scoring is not available about a person.

Other companies such as those helping new start-ups or self-employed people say their lending criteria will be based on social media accounts one even claiming that you can tell a lot about a person (and presumably their trustworthiness) from the clothes they wear in their online photographs.

So you have been warned!

Facebook and social media have been used to catch speeding motorists in India, draft dodgers in Israel, fraudulent insurance claims, and are scrutinised by divorce lawyers in America and the UK.

On the positive side insurance companies which trawl social media sites to snoop on customers could be facing a crackdown by the City watchdog. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) has been examining how insurers use information gathered from the internet to set premiums.

Social meda sites including Linkedin and supermarket loyalty schemes generate reams of personal information which can be used by institutions to assess risk but consumers are worried about it being used in this way. An investigation by the FCA could lead to tougher rules being introduced this year.

Could companies use your supermarket loyalty card to assess your lifestyle – all that booze you keep buying – and your life insurance liability? The Association of British Insurers says big data could make insurance work better for customers and they treat personal data very sensitively.

As I said before – you have been warned!

Self-obsessed English kids among unhappiest in the world

bullying_a_kid_1600_wht_904910 – 12 year old kids in England feel worse about going to school every day than almost every other country in the world

They felt worse than children in Algeria, Ethiopia and Romania  – according to the Good Childhood Report 2015 – a research project carried out on 53,000 children by the Children’s Society and the University of York, .

Only children in Germany, Estonia andSouth Korea are more unhappy.

The results are attributed to bullying and peer pressure to look good.

More than a third of English pupils said they had been physically bullied in the previous month and more than half said they had experienced low-level bullying by being excluded from activities by other children or being taunted or belittled.

English children were also particularly dissatisfied with their appearance with girls twice as unhappy as boys about how they looked. Only South Korea came below England in how girls felt happy about their bodies and appearance compared with the rest of the world (in this case 15 countries but not including America, Russia or Japan). Girls in Columbia were happiest with their bodies.

Social media was felt to be exacerbating the problems as teenagers compare themselves with perfect images they see online.

I think Facebook and similar social networking sites, the success of reality TV shows where talentless but good-looking people get rich, the rise of selfies and the increase in narcissistic behaviour all plays its part.

You can probably add the ease of access to pornography with boys having unrealistic expectations of girls, sexting and the over-sexualisation of young girls into the mix too.

The Children’s Society produced a report in 2013 on how miserable older teenagers were  so this is nothing new, just a younger age group.

Bullying and poor body image are known to contribute to poor mental health among young people and the director of the charity Young Minds thought the results showed that adults in Britain were neglecting their children. “We just cannot ignore that in Britain so many children are suffering. These findings must not be dismissed as simply an inevitable part of growing up. Children in England are worryingly falling a long way behind in their level of happiness in comparison to other countries and action must be taken to address this

Maybe some parents do neglect their children but there is also plenty of evidence of indulgent adults “over parenting” their kids and not helping them prepare for adult life.

In fact the survey showed that English children ranked about half-way in the group of 15 countries when it came to friendships and family relationships.

The Children’s Society want it to become a legal requirement for schools to provide counselling as in Wales and Northern Ireland. They also want schools to do more to tackle bullying and promote exercise.

They said “Schools should be a safe haven, not a battleground. Despite a long period of austerity we are one of the richest nations in the world yet the happiness of our children is at rock bottom. They are unhappy at school and are struggling with their appearance and self-confidence

Certainly bullying is unacceptable and should be stamped out but when schoolchildren have no respect for their teachers and there are no real punishments available it’s an uphill task. Fortunately there is evidence that bullying may not be a totally negative experience for everybody.

The National Union of Teachers blames the “exam factory culture” which doesn’t help children to thrive and marks some out as failures early on in their education.

The Department for Education said  schools should be “happy, safe and supportive places” for children. “Bullying of any kind is unacceptable and all schools must have measures in place to tackle it. That is why we providing more than £7 million to help schools tackle bullying head on

We are also promoting greater use of counselling in schools, improving teaching about mental health, and supporting joint working between mental health services and schools. This will ensure children will thrive inside and out of the classroom

FYI There are over 8 million children in almost 24,500 schools in England. £7 million pounds is peanutsless than £300 per school! Primary school heads are paid an average of £52,000 a year and secondary heads an average of £73,000 a year but many earn a lot more. £300 wouldn’t pay a teacher or counsellor for a week.