Recently by Craig Jackson
More developments from the battlefront on the war with stress. Unfortunately, it looks like "stress" is winning the PR war...
Stressful jobs that involve a lack of control and decision-making from the worker are linked to increased risks of heart attacks, a new study has found, that has been published in the latest edition of The Lancet. This of course, is nothing particulalrly new, other than the results eminate from a meta-analysis of the data from over a dozen high-quality large-sized cohort studues in the field. Research in this area is often faced with a wall of indifference - on one hand the results state the obvious, which turns off many lay-readers from looking beyond the headlines. Yet on the other hand the results are important in terms of public health promotion, but still become over-shadowed by the authors' own assertions in the very same article that the health effects are minimal compared to those of smoking.
The paper, led by Mika Kivimaki, was a combined effort from researchers at many top-level research institues, and does indeed show strong evidence of the links between those jobs with little freedom, autonomy and worker-choice and heart attack episodes. Sensibly the authors also address their data seperately, taking account of the publication bias that often exists, resulting in published papers demonstrating larger effects (numbers of heart attcks) than those in un-published papers. All-in, the researchers found strong links that show decision-poor jobs have an odds-ratio of 1.23 (23% increased likelihood) of heart attacks than jobs which involve worker decision-making (based on workers' own self-rated questionnaire responses).
The researchers state that "Our findings suggest that prevention of workplace stress might decrease disease incidence; however, this strategy would have a much smaller effect than would tackling of standard risk factors, such as smoking." This statement, while providing balance and setting the results in context, also delivers an own goal to those who campaign for improved and healthier work environments.
We should not infer from this important piece of work that improving workplaces and the quality of working lives is neither impossible or pointless relative to other hazards, but we should also accept that making working lives better for millions of people will also contribute to reducing the exposure to hazards such as smoking and drinking. There will be an additive effect.
Improving workplace conditions, health promotion possibilities and work-life balance will reduce the wilfull exposure to other recreational hazards for millions of workers. What's that you say? You want a meta-analysis to prove it? OK.....
The tabloids have been quick to label as "skivers" those ten thousand civil servants who have been given permission to work from home when suitable over the Olympic and Paralympic games. Can our understanding of human behaviour in the workplace help us to predict what may happen to Londoners who have been advised to work from home over the Olympics to avoid travel chaos and those extra three million journeys that will be made? What will be the downside to this natural experiment?
Civil servants are one group who have been given dispensation to work from home from July 21st (6 days before the Olympics started) until the Paralympics end on September 9th. May have criticised the decision - complaining there will be a backlog of public sector work for up 7 weeks. However, when we're not working within the confines of an office, does our behaviour change differently when we're working at home, on our own, and could there be longer-term implications to follow?
I'm always on the lookout for a new behavioural phenomenon. You know, the sort of curious human behaviour that is almost universal in frequency so that everyone can relate to it, and is yet so simple that it seems to make counter-intuitive common sense. This would include phenomena such as:
+ why right-handed people are slower to solve a rubik's cube puzzle than lefties;
+ why introverts are not as good as extraverts at slicing cakes into an odd number of pieces;
+ why those of us who find driving a car difficult actually have fewer crashes.
In fact, one of those phenomena was made up by me just now, but the other two are true. You see, the other satisfying thing about such simple explanations of the human condition is their simplistic plausibility - they are often so simple that we want them to be true, so we are happy to afford them extra credibility.
Now, I'm not saying I have an explanation for this one, because I think it might belong in the hands of the economists, ergonomists or mathematicians even. All I can give you is a series of observations of behaviour, with a loose psychological interpretation of what might be going on. Which may be correct, or not. I think I have discovered, the Mega-Queue . . .
I grew up in the 1970s and 1980s, on a heavy diet of carefully crafted and thoughtfully produced educational tv programmes that even Lord Reith would've been proud of; from The Ascent of Man through to Arthur C Clarke's Mysterious World. Last year, I bumped into the tv presenter Johnny Ball (oh, how even his name evokes fond memories in seventies-kids like me) on a cruise ship, where he told me how he had liked my lectures. I gushed in response, that the educational programmes he made during my childhood where the reasons why and how I became an academic who enjoys a good lecture. How quickly then, that the conversation turned to the demise of good "educational science" on tv. As a result of the impressive nature of educational tv in my childhood, I grew up firmly believing that tv should always be made by people who are cleverer than me. There's a lot to be said for that - although some will no doubt debate what "cleverer" really means.
Modern work and presenteeism are taking over our lives - smartphones are merely just the whip.
There is no doubt that smartphones are great at what they do - although they are not necessarily good examples of what a good phone should be like.
If you want to carry a phone, pager, word processor, web browser, email inbox, photo album, variety of social networking tools, music player, sat-nav, video player, book library and camera in one single gadget, coupled with a plethora of other software applications and reference databases, then a smartphone is clearly ideal for you.
Spree killing is different from serial killing - it occurs when multiple people are unlawfully killed by one or more killers, within a single onslaught or attack.
Serial killing can occur over months or years, and involves repeated murders with "cooling off" periods in between.
Spree killers are usually white, mostly acting alone, and almost always male (although some females have spree-killed).
Why is this distinction important?
If psychology can help reduce spree killings, then such distinction is vital to its understanding.
Criminal Profiling - deducing and predicting offender characteristics based on crime scenes, victims, and other evidence - is something that many people readily accept as a scientific discipline.
Seduced by a glut of high profile TV dramas that focus on crime-solving-made-possible by impossibly fast forensic techniques, unbelievablly vast and easily accessible on-line databases of personal details, and behavioural scientists dealing in the unlikely certainties of how people think and act, the "CSI generation" have been duped.
No surprise then that year after year, university degree courses that offer elements of criminology or forensic psychology prove to be very popular choices for students.
Many people are often disappointed when I tell them there is little credible evidence behind this "new" behavioural science.
News reaches us, this time from Facebook, that we cannot really cope with having more than 150 "friends" on social networking sites - any more than that number and our "networks" become meaningless and even a psychological burden. Having more than 150 "friends" causes us to feel stressed at the prospect of fighting to maintain something, anything, to keep the "friendship" going. Like a casual acquaintance we hardly know, who we may meet at a wedding, the strain of keeping the social interaction going can be excruciating.
Firstly, I have no problem with the work of the anthropologist Robin Dunbar who first published his theories about the magic 150 in 1992. He is a very nice man apparently, with lots of people claiming nice things about him. His work was preceded of course by a psychologist called Dennis Fox who published similar findings in 1985 concerning political influence. But do we really need watered-down anthropology courtesy of Facebook, to tell us that having too many friends and the responsibilities they bring, can become a burden?
A tragic case in Braintree, Essex in September 2010 involved a double-suicide. Stephen Lumb travelled from Yorkshire to meet Joanne Lee in Essex, after she posted adverts online asking for a "suicide partner". They carried out their suicide pact in a car park by poisoning themselves - having only met online not long beforehand. The instantaneous and real-time nature of social networking allows a distressed person to meet another person online and, instead of finding help, support, or time to reflect on their distress, they can end up being encouraged to do something they might not have done alone.
Suicide is currently slowly on the rise in the UK, after consistently falling each year since 1991. Since 2007 an overall increasing trend has been occurring, with approximately 5,500 suicides occurring each year. Internet-based suicide support forums, and social networking media as a whole, clearly play a role in this. The Bridgend suicide "cluster" in Wales was closely related to the phenomenon of copycat suicides and social networking among young people, only stymied by a voluntary news blackout on the topic. Although many feel uneasy about news blackouts in principle, Norway has a scheme where news media reporting of suicides is prohibited, and this no doubt helps make it the only Scandinavian country to have an average suicide rate amongst its citizens, as opposed to a much higher rate found in Denmark, Sweden and Finland.
This week, a former nurse from Minnesota, William Melchert-Dinkel (aged 48) was recently found guilty of aiding and encouraging the suicide of two individuals after meeting them in internet suicide chat forums. He entered into fake suicide pacts with the victims, because he was fascinated with, and motivated by hanging and death. He was sentenced this week for aiding the suicide of a male from Coventry who hanged himself (which Melchert-Dinkel had asked to be allowed to watch via a webcam), and a female in Canada who drowned herself after his encouragement. He was sentenced to 320 days in prison, as well as 40 extra days to be served in two day "stints" over the next ten years, on the anniversary of his victims' deaths. He was also ordered to pay 18,000 dollars in fines, and a further 29,000 dollars in restitution. He will be on probation for 15 years with a suspended six-and-a-half year sentence and will also be banned from using the internet without approval. Melchert-Dinkel will appeal on the grounds that he was exercising his rights of free-speech on the internet. He has admitted using the internet and a variety of suicide forums to encourage twenty or so people to commit suicide online, as well as entering into fake suicide pacts with ten other people, five of which he believed went on to kill themselves. That Melchert-Dinkel was a nurse who admitted being obsessed with hanging and death was worrying enough, having overtones of the UK's Colin Norris, Beverly Allit and Harold Shipman. The presiding judge compared Melchert-Dinkel's conduct with stalking, describing it as calculated, intentional and fraudulent, with even his own defence team describing his acts as "sick" and "abhorrent". Melchert-Dinkel has not yet shown any remorse for his actions. It begs the question as to whether this could be a form of vicarious serial murder. The mother of the deceased man in the case, Mark Dryborough from Coventry, who was 32 at the time of his suicide, has accepted the sentence as being reasonable, and has shown considerable grace as well as empathy and understanding to Melchert-Dinkel in her words.