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Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

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A renowned cyberpsychologist (no, I hadn’t heard of that job title either) discusses the impact of the cyberworld which we are all living in, our 24/7 connection to the internet, and the effect that it is having on a generation that are growing up with the internet as a huge part of their lives.

Admittedly, the subtitle of this book, A Pioneering Cyberpsychologist explains how human behaviour changes online – led me to expect something different. I thought it was going to be more about how perfectly decent and reasonable people often descend into bullying, unkind, trolling behaviour when hiding behind the anonymity of their keyboard. There is a chapter that deals with this, but generally speaking the book is more generalised, but still an interesting subject to discuss.

I wanted to read it because I do think this is an important and fascinating subject. Because I find it interesting and upsetting to walk into a restaurant and see a couple eating at the same table, but not really together because both of them have their eyes glued to their phones. Because it’s not unusual to see a group of young friends walking together, each looking at their own smartphone screens. Because there is now a whole wealth of knowledge at people’s fingertips, yet a lot of it is false or biased.

Unfortunately I also found this book to be incredibly biased. Yes, technology is isolating for some people, but there is so much good about it too. Dr Aiken says in the introduction that she wants to keep the book fairly science-light, which she does. This makes it easier to read in many respects, but also means that a lot of what she says comes over as purely her opinion with very little if anything to back it up. There’s a lot of “I would guess…” “It is my belief that…” “I believe…” etc. She does state a couple of times that there are a lot of positives about the internet, but doesn’t really acknowledge what they are, and focusses heavily on the negative.

Some of the subjects raised are vitally important – the aforementioned effect of bullying online, and how it is affecting mainly young people. There was one chapter about the effects of screens at close range to a child’s face and the effect it can have on that child’s vision. Cyberchondria – i.e., the obsessive checking of physical symptoms online and being convinced that you have the most serious disease imaginable. But none of these are new phenomenons. I remember the debates about whether it was right or just lazy to stick a child in front of the tv for very long. Bullying is unfortunately something that has been around as long as humans have, and hypochondria is a long recognised problem for many people – sure the internet has given people a new way to do all of these things, but it hasn’t caused the problems in the first place.

Although there is little anecdotal evidence to support what Dr Aiken says, she does occasionally come up with examples of what she is trying to say – usually tragic, anomalous stories (let’s face it, you can find one story to support almost anything you believe if you look hard enough).

I will say that Dr Aiken has an engaging and readable style and had the book been more balanced I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more. As it was, it comes across as more of a lost opportunity than anything else. An important subject, but a more open-minded discussion would have been nice.

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Despite the slightly misleading title (more on that later), I enjoyed this book. The author, a senior lecturer in Psychology at Keele University, discusses the benefits and pitfalls of certain ‘bad’ behaviours, including drinking, driving too fast, swearing, time wasting and dying (!) using various tests and experiments conducted by scientists to do so.

As he explains in the introduction, he doesn’t delve too deeply into the science side of things, but explains experiments conducted and their results in layman’s terms (good for a person like me). At the end of each chapter he does provide a list of references and suggestions for further reading.

Stephens is a genial and engaging narrator – a lot of how he writes is in the kind of language you might use having a chat in the pub with friends – which makes for a fun read as well as an informative one. I’m still not convinced that some of the behaviour is beneficial or indeed that all of the behaviour constitutes ‘being bad’ – and certainly there are limits drawn; for example the book acknowledges that excessive drinking is bad for health, while pointing out that drinking in moderation can have health and psychological benefits, but then I wouldn’t say that moderate drinking is ‘bad’ behaviour anyway. As another example, the chapter on swearing states that swearing in certain situations is beneficial, but that there are of course some circumstances when swearing is entirely inappropriate.

Little niggles aside however, overall this book is interesting and provides some food for thought. I’d definitely read more by this author.

 

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This book examines whether there really are – as is so often claimed – innate and immutable differences between males and females, in the way that they feel, think and empathise with others.  The author is of the belief that sex differences (which is the term generally used throughout the book) are learned, not innate (or as my old psychology tutor would say, nurtured not natural), and discusses the evidence to support her belief, as well as examining in detail experiments which would suggest the contrary.  The book also takes a special interest in how the belief that men and women brains work differently, leads to sexism in the home, workplace and society in general.

The book is divided into three parts – (1) measured differences between the sexes and how best to explain them (2) an ascorbic take-down of many experiments which suggest that sex differences are formed within the brain and are not learned, and (3) how sex/gender differences are learned in early childhood, despite some parents’ best efforts to give ‘gender neutral’ parenting.

I enjoyed the book a lot – it is quite science-y, but Fine does a great job of breaking everything down so that it is understandable and relatable in real terms (which is just as well for me, as I – perhaps unwittingly reinforcing the stereotypes which she talks about! – sometimes find very technical scientific terms hard to wrap my head around).

Fine is also a witty, wry and sarcastic writer, and her strong opinions certainly come through in her writing.  My favourite section was where she pointed out the flaws in some studies which concluded that sex differences are innate, and (basically) we should all just accept them, and not worry about it.  Some of the methodology was very shoddy – for example, it is hardly fair to draw a comparison between males and females in one test, when only females were examined for it!  I also thought it fascinating how, although by and large, people try not to push males and females into one bracket or another, we still end up unconsciously doing it.  (Example: if you go onto any maternity ward, you will instantly know from the colours of the cards and presents, whether that mother has had a boy or a girl.  Girls will almost certainly be exposed to more pink colours during childhood, and boys more blue.  Is it therefore that much of a shock when at a slightly older age, girls gravitate towards pink and boys towards blue?)

This was definitely a book which required concentration, and for the first part I could not read more than about 20 pages a day, to make sure I was taking it in.  But by the end, I was racing through it, because it was just such a fascinating read.  I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the differences between male and female brains, in sexism in today’s society, and/or the issue of feminism.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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This is a very unusual movie, although not in a bad way. However, it definitely requires concentration from the viewer – no popping out for five minutes to make a coffee; you would probably be completely lost if you did.

Joel and Clementines’ relationship has gone wrong, and Joel discovers that Clem has had all of her memories of him erased in a procedure which he has never heard of. Hurt and feeling betrayed, he too decides to undergo the procedure, but as he is doing so, he starts to realise how much the relationship really meant to him, and questions whether he wants to erase all memories of Clem, as painful as they might be.

This film is difficult to describe, and initially difficult to follow. However, it’s definitely one that I would want to watch again, and I suspect that it is the type of film that you always spot something new in, on repeated viewings. Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet are both terrific (I’d go so far as to say that this is the best performance I’ve ever seen from Winslet).  Carey brings a real sense of vulnerability to his character, and shows that there’s far more to his acting abilities than the rubber faced comedy parts which he is most famous for.

There were a couple of subplots which felt superfluous, but these did not detract from my overall enjoyment of the film.

Year of release: 2004

Director: Michel Gondry

Writers: Charlie Kaufman, Michel Gondry, Pierre Bismuth

Main cast: Jim Carrey, Kate Winslett, Elijah Wood, Mark Ruffalo, Kirsten Duntz

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