Recently in Psychology Category
When I was a research biochemist, I used to enjoy the occasions when I would meet someone new, perhaps in the pub, and they would ask me what I do for a living. Upon hearing the word 'biochemist', you could see their face turn to stone and the panic come over them in a wave as they tried to think of a follow up line that did not involve having to ask what a biochemist is or does. More often than not, this thinking time would rapidly become a tumbleweed moment and I wish I had never said the dreaded B word. Apparently though, if you are a genetic counsellor, rather than a tumbleweed moment, one of the common responses you get is, "so you tell people not to have children then?". And this is how the October Birmingham Café Scientifique started.
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.....
Nokia released their latest Lumina smartphone to the most desultory of audience applause - but is it good or bad? Actually, I'm not going to discuss that - it has it's good points, in terms of wireless charging and camera technology, and it's bad ones - poor PR in faking its performance in an advert, for example. But are these the factors that will make buy it, or not?
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.
Recent rulings by a US Judge that Apple's approach to keeping its software locked onto its hardware are not actually secrets have taken an unexpected turn. Recent prototypes by a French company show the iPhone OS running on a Samsung Galaxy Nexus.
I try and write a piece for the first of every month - this month I've spectacularly failed. Part of this is because I decided to 'update' my computers, which seemed to do exactly the opposite.
One of the recent trends in technology is the move to the cloud. But what does this mean for people, and why is it happening?
Steve Jobs is one of the richest men in the world. However, whilst this may also be true financially, I think his true riches actually come from the supreme achievement of creating beauty and happiness in the world. He was, until a few days ago, Chief Executive of Apple, the iconoclastic leader of a company that created some of the most desirable products of our age.