Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category
Perhaps it has always been this way. But it seems that we have been inundated with disasters – both man-made and natural – recently. Japan; New Zealand; Haiti. In each case, our TV screens are filled with images of rescue workers. Countless aid agencies are active, from Save the Children to the medical wing of the Israeli Army, delivering essential humanitarian aid. But what about the psychological damage?
This is where Dr James Gordon, a 69-year-old psychiatrist from Washington DC fits in. Gordon is a big man with a flashing smile and something of the evangelist about him. His medical credentials are impressive: Harvard and the National Institute of Mental Health, a former adviser to Presidents Carter and Clinton. But he is also an expert in alternative medicine. In 1991, he founded the Centre for Mind-Body Medicine, which “combines the precision of modern science with the wisdom of the world’s healing traditions”. And he has made it his mission to work in disaster zones.
Last week my daughter, who is three years old, went to play at a friend’s house. When she returned, she was in a mood that can only be described as Satanic. After an hour or so, thankfully, she recovered. The cause? While I thought that she and her friend had been digging for worms in the garden, in actual fact, she told me, they had spent the whole day cooped up in front of the TV.
As it turned out, her friend’s mother had been busy, so she had used the “goggle box” (as my mother calls it) as a mechanical baby-sitter. To some extent, this was understandable. Which parent isn’t familiar with the strategic deployment of CBeebies? But for an entire day? No wonder my daughter was in a monster grump.
Now that VAT has increased to 20 per cent, you’re probably checking price tags a little more carefully before parting with your hard-earned cash. The problem is that shops are fighting back. According to Philip Graves, author of Consumer.ology, a study of the psychology of shopping, retailers are using their knowledge of the human mind to turn the VAT increase to their advantage.
“Thousands of people are being manipulated into actually spending more,” he says. “Many shops are claiming that they are not increasing VAT, and that is encouraging people to spend. But there is more to this than meets the eye.”
Behind the price tag, Graves explains, lie a variety of psychological tricks. For example, research has shown that people are more inclined to buy an item when it has a “charm price” of .99 on the tag. The VAT increase, however, would demand strange prices such as £32.20, which are not attractive to the consumer. So the shops are taking a two-pronged approach. “On the one hand they are keeping some items at the original charm price, and highlighting the fact that the VAT is staying the same,” Graves explains. “With other items, however, they are raising the price even higher than the VAT increase demands, from £34.99 to £39.99, for example. Amazingly, people will buy something for £39.99 more readily than £32.20. So overall, the shops come out on top.”
Last week, the news took on a decidedly trippy tinge. First, Professor David Nutt, sacked as an adviser to the Labour government for criticising its policy on drugs, sparked controversy when he published research suggesting that heroin was less damaging than alcohol. The following day, Californians went to the polls to vote on a proposal to legalise cannabis. In a dramatic move, President Obama and his Attorney General, Eric Holder, threatened to intervene if the outcome was a “yes” (it wasn’t).
It is timely, then, that this Thursday, the Wellcome Trust will open the doors on High Society, an exhibition exploring the history of mind-altering drugs.
In case you hadn’t noticed, a much-hyped single called Choices is released this week. Written by the mildly irritating English-Swedish pop outfit The Hoosiers, it is a record-breaking 43 minutes long. As if one gimmick wasn’t enough, the band invited fans to write some of the verses and appear in the music video. But even though Choices is a pygmy of a tune compared with the iconic songs of previous eras such as All You Need Is Love, Purple Haze and Smells Like Teen Spirit, The Hoosiers’ new single might one day rank among them as the song of this generation.
The reason? It’s the lyrics, stupid. “Stop giving me choices. Stop giving me choices,” whines Irwin Sparkes, the elfin lead singer. “I’m the victim of this day and age, I’ve forgotten how to feel, I’ve forgotten how to change.”
According to Harriet Bradley, professor of sociology at the University of Bristol, this is an apt summary of the way things are. This week she published the results of a ten-month project looking at how people in the UK deal with choice. The report, State of Confusion, presents the results of a study of 6,000 people from across the UK. The conclusion is resounding: Britain is a “nation crippled by too much choice”. Read the rest of this entry »
Dr Steve Ilardi is slim and enthusiastic, with intense eyes. The clinical psychologist is 4,400 miles away, in Kansas, and we are chatting about his new book via Skype, the online videophone service. “I’ve spent a lot of time pondering Skype,” he says. “On the one hand it provides a degree of social connectedness. On the other, you’re still essentially by yourself.” But, he concludes, “a large part of the human cortex is devoted to the processing of visual information, so I guess Skype is less alienating than voice calls.”
Social connectedness is important to Ilardi. In The Depression Cure, he argues that the brain mistakenly interprets the pain of depression as an infection. Thinking that isolation is needed, it sends messages to the sufferer to “crawl into a hole and wait for it all to go away”. This can be disastrous because what depressed people really need is the opposite: more human contact.
Which is why social connectedness forms one-sixth of his “lifestyle based” cure for depression. The other five elements are meaningful activity (to prevent “ruminating” on negative thoughts); regular exercise; a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids; daily exposure to sunlight; and good quality, restorative sleep. Read the rest of this entry »
Hello, Jake, how are you?”
“How was your day at school?”
“Have you got much homework?”
“What is it?”
“Darling, is everything OK? You’re very quiet.”
“Can you at least look at me when I’m talking to you? I’m asking if you’re OK.”
“I just told you, I’m fine. Stop going on at me.”
“I don’t think checking you’re OK is going on at you. I am your mother, you know.”
“OK, OK, I’m fine, everything’s OK, please can you give me some peace?”
“How dare you . . .”
Before you ask, this is not a memoir from my adolescence. It is an extract from Divas & Door Slammers: the secrets to having a better behaved teenager, a new book by the behavioural expert and inner-city headmaster Charlie Taylor. This dialogue is part of a case study, illustrating how easy it is for parents to alienate their teenagers.
“Teenagers have an inbuilt capacity to annoy their parents,” says the author when we meet at a café in Notting Hill, West London. “The sight of a pair of low-slung trousers, or a great spotty oaf slouched across the sofa, is enough to make any parent’s blood boil.” But, according to Taylor, teenagers can’t always help it. “Their brains are developing at a tremendous rate,” he says. “There is a huge amount of activity flaring in different directions. Neurones are sparking all over the place, making them go haywire.”
This means that if a cycle of bad behaviour is to end, it must be the parents who end it. “Your teenager is not going to change unless you change,” says Taylor. “If you do what you have always done, you will get what you always get.” Read the rest of this entry »
On my way out of the bathroom of a café in South Kensington, I collide with an unusual-looking man. There is something of the artist about him. He is wearing a flamboyant silk scarf and a capacious greatcoat, and peers through his spectacles like a character from a wartime spy novel. We make our apologies and I find my way to the corner of the café to wait for Oliver James, the esteemed clinical psychologist and broadcaster, author of such iconic books as They F*** You Up, Britain on the Couch and Affluenza. After a couple of minutes, I realise I have just met him.
James removes his flamboyant scarf and coat and sits down opposite me, taking a nicotine tablet. “I’ve just had the photoshoot,” he says, “I wonder if they’ve made me look horrible.” I make reassuring noises to the effect that they’ve not. “Do you have children yourself?” he asks. I tell him I have three: a two-year-old and nine-month-old twins. He looks at me in surprise. “Fuck,” exclaims the clinical psychologist.
James’ new book, How Not to F*** Them Up – the follow-on to his cult classic They F*** You Up – is a psychological guide to parenting. Unlike other books of this sort, How Not to F*** Them Up focuses on the wellbeing of the parent as a starting point for meeting the needs of the child. In reality, James argues, the happiness of the parent is “what will ultimately decide whether your child has a fruitful, sane life”. And sorting out your own wellbeing is not always easy. As he puts it, “The real challenge of parenthood is you, not your child.” Read the rest of this entry »
With some difficulty, I manoeuvre my extra-long double buggy — dubbed “the gondola” — into a room cluttered with plastic toys. The psychotherapist gets up from her beanbag to help me to fold it up. I introduce her to Isaac and Imogen, my seven-month-old twins, and then put them down on the mat. The babies, blissfully unaware of the therapist’s eyes, proceed to give the toys a good gumming. Read the rest of this entry »
It is a most unlikely scene. I am in an elegant sitting room in the Royal Society of Arts. Opposite me, sitting uncomfortably side-by-side on a too-low leather sofa, are an English peer and a French Buddhist monk. The contrast is striking. Lord Layard is white-haired, well-dressed and unobtrusive; the Venerable Matthieu Ricard is larger than life in flowing, burgundy robes. Yet despite their differences, these men have a common denominator: both have devoted their lives to the study of happiness. Read the rest of this entry »