My baby: Charles xavier II

patrick stewart as babyAs labour day looms ever nearer for my wife, our baby has become increasingly active. We’ve discovered that baby will kick a lot when jamiroquai, Coldplay, and rhiana play. Sadly, at every attempt I make to feel baby’s kicks, baby becomes uncharacteristically still meaning that after nearly 8 months, I’m yet to feel baby kick! (We did have a false alarm when I thought I felt baby kick, but it turns out Laura was feeling particularly hungry so her tummy was grumbling). These occurrences have led me to believe that my child has received optimal genetic material (from its genetically superior parents) allowing it to jump a million years along the evolutionary chain and develop psychic abilities that tell it when I’m about to touch Laura’s belly (causing it to stop kicking). Essentially, my baby is an x-man (or x-woman).

While this may simply be the wishful thinking of an over enthusiastic father, it does seem that babies are aware of certain things occurring outside the womb. When a baby is just born, studies have found that newborns recognise the voice of their mother over the voices of other women, despite having little or no experience of the mothers voice outside of the womb (apart from the standard grunts and screams of labour).

It’s thought that this is because the unborn infant can hear the mother’s voice inside the womb and become familiar with it. Another study had mothers read a story out loud every day for the several weeks before the baby was born. Post-birth, When read several stories (including the one read during pregnancy), the baby showed a preference to the familiar story read during pregnancy.

So is my baby psychic, or does it just hear my voice and recoil? This research has important implications. If an unborn child can learn to recognise its mother’s voice while in the womb, what else is the infant learning? Should father’s spend copious amounts of time talking to their wife’s womb to form an attachment? Can we influence the musical taste of a child? Will shouting more increase fear levels or reduce the attachment between infant and parent? It’d be great to hear your insights, what do you think a baby could learn while in the womb, and have you read any research about this?


Phobia fearies

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Before you read this post, take a gander at the video on the link below.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ta-FGE7QELQ

This girl has one of the most bizarre phobias I have ever heard of and it makes me wonder what must have happened to her to make her afraid of pickles? Here’s a few common “fearies” that likely apply to other phobias too:

1. Associative experiences
Some of you may have heard of little Albert, a baby experimented on by John Watson. The baby started the experimented unafraid of mice (and all the other stuff Watson showed him) but after several trials of making a loud bang at the same time as the mouse’s appearance (which made little Albert cry) he became afraid of the mouse too (even if there was no loud bang). So maybe pickle girl has bad associations with pickles, maybe they make her vomit or she associates them with other unpleasant experiences.

2. Biological predisposition
I have a fear of heights, and though this isn’t serious fear, there are some roller coasters I won’t ride because they’re too high (or if I’m coaxed enough, roller coasters that I ride and subsequently really wished I hadn’t). Obviously taking my wife on a first date to flamingo land was a brave (or stupid) idea. Interestingly, my father is also afraid of heights meaning that maybe pickle girl’s phobia is hereditary. This is unlikely as her parents didn’t seem to be afraid, but this explanation might apply to other phobias and more likely is linked to a predisposition towards a certain fear.

3. Stress
One interesting case of a pea phobia has been explained by the stress of having a new born baby to deal with. The stress overload is believed to have caused particularly irrational thinking leading to a pea phobia.

Obviously this girl has a particularly irrational fear, but most of us have fears that are almost as irrational, they’re just easier to justify because in some contexts they are rational. For instance, my fear of heights is rational when I’m clinging on by my finger tips to a sheer cliff ledge, but not when I’m safely strapped into a roller coaster. Equally, my wife’s fear of spiders is rational when faced with a black widow, but not when living in England where venomous spiders don’t exist.

If you have an unusual fear, or might know why you developed a certain fear, just write about it in the comments section below. Do my explanations match your experiences, or do you have a different explanation for your phobia?


My baby is not a clownfish: my top 5 rubbish psychology myths

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My wife and I will soon be having a baby and though we decided not to be told the gender of the baby, we have experimented with several supposedly "genuine" techniques in an attempt to reveal the baby's gender such as seeing which way a pendant swings in front of the womb, the day the baby was conceived and analysing my wife's pattern of cravings….according to our findings, the only conclusion we can make is that the baby is actually a clownfish as it seems to change gender at will!

Obviously many of these gender-determining tricks are rubbish, but why do people believe them!? Part of the problem is that people have misconceptions about what counts as real evidence. Many people are happy to accept that because Margaret's husband's second cousin's neighbour experienced a certain thing, that this must be true. Other people may not be so reliant on the rumour mill, but believe that correlation equates to causation. Imagine, one lady who gives birth to a girl, and a few years later to a boy. When she had the girl, she craved avocados, but when she had the boy, she craved egg nog. She now reckons the avocado cravings always mean she's having a girl, and egg nog cravings always means she's having a boy, but actually, all she's found is a correlation, not a cause.

So now you're asking "uncle ben! What other myths are ridiculous?" And as it happens, that's exactly what this article is all about! Check out my top 5 psychology myths disproved below:

1. We only use 10% of our brains
This myth is truly ridiculous, but believed by almost every amateur psychologist (and many experts too). Actually, neurons in the brain are almost constantly active and just increase in activity when they come into specific use, this means that everyday we are using 100% of our brain.

2. Playing Mozart to your unborn baby will make it more intelligent
This is a classic example of popular media taking one finding, and making completely unrelated conclusions. The actual research this is implied from was neither testing intelligence or unborn infants, but the spatial ability of college students. While there is no convincing evidence debunking this myth, there is also nothing to imply that it’s true either.

3. If unsure of a test answer, it’s best to stick to your original hunch
A phenomenal number of people follow this rule of thumb when taking tests, and many people are afraid to change a wrong answer because it goes against their initial hunch. Interestingly, research shows that the opposite is true, and that more often, when students change an answer in a test, it has been changed from a wrong answer to a right answer.

4. Dreams have symbolic meanings
During an episode of qi, Stephen fry had contestants share dreams, which he then analysed according to certain dream analysis books. each time the dream guide was consulted, it was concluded that each contestant’s dream meant they were subconsciously gay. In fact this particular dream guide would have us believe that the entire dreaming population is subconsciously gay. While many other dream guides don’t make such dramatic conclusions, there is absolutely no evidence that dreams are symbolic and books that claim they are a definitive guide are simply guessing.

5. There are many facial and verbal cues that reveal that a person is lying
The popular tv show “lie to me” would have us believe that there are hundreds of tell tale signs of lying such as shifty eyes and micro expressions. Really, there are very few (if any) reliable signs of lying as often it is very dependant upon the individual. Psychopaths will lie and look you straight in the eye while someone telling the truth might appear to be lying because they are so keen to convince you they are telling the truth that they make supposedly lying micro-expressions.

If you know of any rubbish psychology myths, I’d love to hear about them, just write about it in the comments section below.


Sleep deprivation: Why I started (and stopped) Wearing a lamp on my knee

Before you ask, yes, that masculine mass of muscle is my leg……. And no, I’m not single!

Now for the less exciting question: “Why is there a lamp attached to the back of my knee?” And I would respond by asking, “Why don’t you have a lamp strapped to the back of your knee?” Because if you did, you might be able to control what is perhaps the most common disorder known to man, that of sleep deprivation.

A person’s sleep-wake cycle can be controlled by their exposure to light (which is why we tend to sleep at night, and wake up when it’s light). An experiment in 1998 seemed to show that even the backs of our knees could transmit this information to our brain via the circulatory system, meaning that we could control our sleep-wake pattern by shining a light on the back of our knees. Unfortunately for the sales of my knee lamp, but fortunately for my fashion sense, the findings of this experiment have recently been debunked.

However, I have discovered a technique that appears more plausible than the knee lamp method, called ‘Stimulus Control Therapy’ (Morin et al, 2006), and, in the interests of science (and the bags under my eyes), I have decided to undertake the methods of this technique, which I’ve outlined below, the results of which, I will post in a future article:

  1. Only go to bed when you are sleepy.
  2. Use your bed exclusively for sleep and nothing else.
  3. If after about 10minutes of lying in bed, you haven’t fallen asleep, get up and go into another room, until you feel sleepy, keep doing this until you fall asleep.
  4. Set your alarm for the same time each morning, no matter how much sleep you had the night before.
  5. Do not nap during the day.

The idea behind this form of sleep therapy is association, we are to associate our bed with sleep and nothing else, when we do this, our body will respond appropriately. It is also about developing a consistent sleep pattern, which will be determined by the alarm time, our body will then associate a certain time with waking up, and in turn, will adjust when it needs to fall sleep accordingly.

If you also decide to try this method out, please post below how it goes, I’d love to hear your feedback, or, if you have a different method that works for you, please also, post below.

You can check out Morin et al’s work on Stimulus Control Therapy here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17162986

Research debunking the idea that sleep cycles can be controlled by lights shone on the back of the knee can be found in this article: Absence of circadian phase resetting in response to bright light behind the knees. By Wright and Czeisler.


Unravelling the brain……. Literally!

knitted brains are much easier to unravel (and much less messy)

First of all, check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0grANlx7y2E

The human brain contains about 100billion neurons (give or take a few billion), this means that if for some sick reason, I wanted to unravel a brain and use its connected neurons to plot my travels across Europe (Hansel and Gretel breadcrumbs style), I could get from Paris (that’s in France) to Kiev (in Ukraine), before having to unravel my spare brain, that’s about 600miles! Now, each of these neurons is connected to many other neurons via synapses, so information can be sent from the brain, to other parts of the body, and back again. We have about 1,000,000,000,000,000 of these synapses in our brain. All these synapses and neurons are working hard to tell us what is going on around us, and what we need to do. The common misconception that we only use 10% of our brain is a myth, we use all of our brain, maybe not at the same time, but it all gets used. I hope we can appreciate just how much is going on in that noggin of ours.

So why do people miss the moonwalking bear?

Because, as remarkable as our brain is, there is a lot of information for our brain to process. For example, take a look at the room you’re in, how many colours and different shades of colour are there? How many objects are there? What are these objects used for? Is there a TV on? What’s happening on the TV? This will probably be constantly changing, so this requires constant attention. What clothes are you wearing? Who else is in the room? And so on. We probably wouldn’t have noticed all these things in the room because, most likely, they are not as important as whatever it is we’re focusing on (like my blog). This is because the brain doesn’t want to clog itself up with information that we do not need, so it will attempt to store more of the information that we’re focusing on, and cast aside those items that our attention isn’t focused on, even if those items might be within the edge of our senses (like the moonwalking bear).

One more clip for you to take a look out where Harvard Psychologists perform an experiment that illustrates an aspect of this point (called change blindness, we don’t notice the change because we were never focused on what was doing the changing).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38XO7ac9eSs


How to appear more attractive than you really are

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gRGE46VQ4hQ

Before you read my article, please check out the video from the link above.

So I was wandering about on the internet the other day, when I stumbled across this video (honestly, I wasn’t looking for tips on how to be more attractive, I promise!), it seemed like a bit of fun, so I checked it out. Some of what it explained seemed like good advice, but then, some of the conclusions it made seemed a little odd to me, so I figured I’d check out the research behind these claims, and use a bit of my own intuition to work out the which claims were fact, and which claims were fake. Here’s my analysis.

Smiling

I’m definitely a believer that smiling makes you appear more attractive. For me, if I don’t think someone’s interested in me, I start to become uninterested in them, perhaps this is a social defence so I avoid hurting myself by not chasing a potential relationship that will only end in failure. When someone smiles at me, I feel like they’re interested in me, or enjoying what I’m saying or doing. A guy called Mehu did some research which found that we rate people as more trustworthy or kind if they smile a lot (this is why I don’t think Megan Fox is attractive), and these are qualities that we should all want in a partner

Uncle Ben’s verdict: Fact

Grapefruit scent

A study in Chicago showed how when men rated pictures of women while wearing masks infused with grapefruit aroma, they judged these women to be on average, 6yrs younger than they actually were. Maybe grapefruit is associated with youth, so gives that impression of the person wearing that fragrance. I think that any pleasant smell is going to signal something pleasant in our brains, so we become more likely to place positive attributes upon the person giving the pleasant smell. I think this is an over-generalisation, and think that the same would happen if we were smelling strawberry scent or pineapple scent. These results are especially unsurprising when you find that the scents that grapefruit was being compared to were scents like broccoli and lavender! I should recommend that you don’t try this experiment by personally sniffing women you meet and guessing their age, this is inappropriate, even in the interests of science.

Uncle Ben’s verdict: Fake

Spicy floral scent

I should say that I am a believer that scents can have a strong effect upon our brain, I nice smell is always going to be more pleasant to be around, so definitely go for some nice perfume, but do such specific scents really have such a specific effect upon our brain……. I am a little sceptical, but, have you ever noticed that smells bring certain associated memories to remembrance, like whenever I smell sewage or burning rubbish, I feel like I’m back in the slums of Africa (ahh, fond memories), perhaps there is some kind of association with these scents, maybe spicy flora is associated with being slim……. As I said earlier, I think what’s more likely is that a pleasant scent helps us see a person in a more pleasant light, so see the best in her, but I’m not yet convinced it is quite as specific as some research claims.

Uncle Ben’s verdict: Fake

Eye contact

Have you ever been talking to someone and you just know they’re not that interested in what you’re saying? Probably, one of the big clues is that their eyes will be darting around, maybe looking for an excuse to get away, or for the guy they “really” wanted to talk to. So when we’re making plenty of eye contact with someone, it tells them we’re interested in what they’re saying and doing.

Uncle Ben’s verdict: Fact

Hand gestures

The most engaging speakers are the ones that not only draw your attention with what they say, but also with what they do, they’ll often use their hands as an extension of their communication. I don’t know why this would make you more attractive, but perhaps it portrays confidence and helps us to become engaged in what they’re saying.

Uncle Ben’s verdict: Fact

Wearing red

Next time I go out, I’m definitely going to be looking for girls in red, just to see if I’m more attracted to them. A recent study did show that women dressed in red were not only considered more attractive than their other colour counterparts, but were also treated to a more expensive date. One scientist attempted to explain this phenomenon as red being the colour a female monkey’s genitalia turns when it is ready for mating……… I’m not so sure about this one……..

Uncle Ben’s verdict: Fake

Teeth whitened

To me, this is a no brainer, it’s like saying having nice hair or soft skin will make you more attractive, it’s just obvious.

Uncle Ben’s verdict: Fact

Good posture

Have you ever noticed some people just seem to hunch over, as if they’re hiding from the world? Women often like a man with confidence, a confident man is seen as someone who can take care of himself, and thus, take care of someone else. Good posture suggests a man with confidence, it also gives the appearance of a desirable waist to shoulder ratio (slimmer waist and broader shoulders), so you appear a little fitter.

Uncle Ben’s verdict: Fact

Name dropping

To me, this just sounds weird, there just seems to be something a little bit odd about having my name said more often than necessary. Studies may show that there is a small amount of excitation in the brain when we hear our name, but I wonder if this (like a lot of psychological research) should really be kept in context. Maybe the excitation is due to the fact that we are being spoken to (it’s socially rewarding to be a little more popular and have someone pay attention to us), and our name is usually said at the beginning of a conversation, so I wonder if this is an overgeneralisation of psychological research. Besides, normally when someone says my name a lot in a conversation, they’re normally telling me off!

Uncle Ben’s verdict: Fake

Let me know what you all think of my verdicts, and enjoy being a little more attractive.


“Drop Dead Fred” rears his ugly head…… But is it really that ugly?

Imaginary friends are the personification of suppressed desires to do harm, be rude, create mischief and be a nuisance…… at least, this is what I learnt from “Drop Dead Fred”, one of my favourite childhood movies (check out this video on youtube if you’re ignorant to all things “Drop Dead Fred”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpIi34fCu1w ). I suppose there is an element of truth in Drop Dead Fred’s persona, but this element is dramatized for entertainment, rather than realism.

A little inspiration from a 3 year old

This topic was actually inspired by my niece, Izzy (who is incredibly inspirational for a 3yr old), and a discussion with my sister (Izzy’s mum). Izzy had developed several imaginary friends, the most prominent being a friend called “Arvur” (I’m unsure of the spelling, I could ask Izzy, but I’m not sure she even realises that letters are supposed to be put in any kind of order anyway). She often plays games with Arvur (just today, she was pushing Arvur on a swing), uses her as an excuse for being naughty, (I suppose this is the element where Drop Dead Fred comes in, though, I can assure you, Izzy’s mischief is limited to wanting more sweets than she should, rather than swearing and sinking boats), and discusses events that confuse or upset her.

Me and my sister were unsure if this should be a matter of concern, there has, in the past, been a kind of stigma associated with imaginary friends, assuming that children with imaginary friends can’t make ‘real’ friends, so create imaginary ones instead, becoming socially awkward. I figured some research might be the way forward, so dug into a bunch of scientific journals on the topic.

The factual bit

I think the first thing I should clear up is, your child isn’t weird if he/she has an imaginary friend, psychologists have found that children with imaginary friends are just as capable of developing proper friendships and relationships, as those without imaginary friends. Some researchers even reckon that up to 25% of 4-11yr olds have an imaginary friend.

Imaginary friends are more likely to be ‘created’ when;

  • The child is the firstborn in a family.
  • The child is involved in a wider variety of family-play activities.
  • That child often plays alone.

Most researchers believe that Imaginary friends are beneficial for a child when they have few people their own age to play with (which is why it’s more common in firstborn children), so this imaginary friend fills a social gap in the child’s life, which, has been seen to fulfil all the same benefits that having a real friend, would provide.

We understand that the unknown has an element of fear and anxiety about it, where we move to the edge of our comfort zone, and find ourselves cautious to overstep its bounds, like when we start a new job, or want to go talk to the cute girl at the other end of the room. We don’t know what our new workmates will be like, or if we’ll manage to hit it off with that cute girl, and it takes guts to overcome these fears, and, more often than not, a bit of encouragement from our friends or family. Children face the same anxieties when they move house, or start school, these are unknown situations for the child, and the opportunity to talk these anxieties over is a great help for a child trying to understand a world working in a way far beyond their own comprehension.

Imaginary Friends, not quite so “ugly”

So, Uncle Ben’s advice, don’t be concerned if your child has an imaginary friend, imaginary friends, unlike “Drop Dead Fred’s” portrayal, are not as “ugly” as they may seem, but, in reality, are a manifestation of an intuitive and creative way to deal with life……. Unless their imaginary friend is really called “Drop Dead Fred”, then my recommendation would be one of those portable dog cages (you can’t do much mischief in a cage). I’d love to hear about your experiences with imaginary friends, because psychology is essentially about people, and how and why they behave the way they do, and no amount of psychological research can replace the value of actual experience, so please post below about your imaginary friends, did they create mischief, or did they provide companionship?

Thanks for reading my very first article, I hope it was interesting and informative, look out for more in the near future. I’d also love to hear what you’d be interested in learning about (preferably something psychological) so please leave me any suggestions and I’ll do my best to write an article on these topics. Finally, just for any proper psychological boffins out there (or anyone who doesn’t believe what I’m saying), here’s a couple of scientific journal articles I used for most of my research on this article.

Concepts of Real and Imaginary Friendships in Early Childhood: by Tracy R. Gleason and Lisa M. Hohmann.

Characteristics of preschool children and school-age children with imaginary companions: by Paula Bouldin and Chris Pratt.