Category Archives: Human Behavior

T.V. kids

Yet another study has confirmed the growing consensus that toddlers watching T.V. is not a good idea.  A Time.com blog post cites the following information from the study:

The results, the study authors say, were striking. Based on their analysis, each additional hour of TV that children watched at 29 months corresponded with a 7% decrease in classroom engagement, a 6% drop in math achievement, a 13% decrease in physical activity on weekends, a 10% increase in video-game playing and a 10% greater likelihood of getting teased, assaulted or insulted by classmates. The authors say the findings underscore the importance of limiting TV-viewing during the toddler years, which are a critical time for development.

On average, the study found, children were watching nearly 9 hours of TV per week at 29 months, and nearly 15 hours per week by 53 months. (Children with more educated mothers watched less; those from single-parent homes watched more.) The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children under 2 watch no TV at all; children older than 2 should get no more than 1 to 2 hours of “quality programming” each day. Although the TV-watching habits of children in the current study were within or close to the limits set by the AAP, the data suggest the children still suffered negative consequences.

A comment on this posting seems to represent a common response; the comment notes, “As a father of a 3 year old who is obsessed with Dora, I can tell when enough is enough. Some days she gets no TV, other days, she may get 1 or two Doras. Otherwise – it’s outside with the dogs or we play a game.”  But this father seems not to recognize from his rather self-satisfied belief in his parenting skills (which, I am sure are indeed excellent) that not all children are in a position to go outside to a nice yard to play with the family pet nor all parents able to spend an idyllic afternoon playing games with the little one.

A study conducted by Joanne Wood of the University of Waterloo in Canada seems to to show that the power of positive thinking cuts both ways: if you think highly of yourself to begin with, positive thinking reinforces your sense of well-being, but you start with low-self-esteem, positive thoughts meant to encourage you only end up depressing you further.  The researchers

questioned a group of 68 men and women using long-accepted methods to measure self-esteem. The participants were then asked to spend four minutes writing down any thoughts and feelings that were on their minds. In the midst of this, half were randomly assigned to say to themselves “I am a lovable person” every time they heard a bell ring.

Immediately after the exercise, they were asked questions such as “What is the probability that a 30-year-old will be involved in a happy, loving romance?” to measure individual moods using a scoring system that ranged from a low of zero to a high of 35. Past studies have indicated that optimistic answers indicate happy moods.

As the researchers report in Psychological Science, those with high self-esteem who repeated “I’m a lovable person” scored an average of 31 on their mood assessment compared with an average of 25 by those who did not repeat the phrase. Among participants with low self-esteem, those making the statement scored a dismal average of 10 while those that did not managed a brighter average of 17.

Dr Wood suggests that positive self-statements cause negative moods in people with low self-esteem because they conflict with those people’s views of themselves. When positive self-statements strongly conflict with self-perception, she argues, there is not mere resistance but a reinforcing of self-perception. People who view themselves as unlovable find saying that they are so unbelievable that it strengthens their own negative view rather than reversing it. Given that many readers of self-help books that encourage positive self-statements are likely to suffer from low self-esteem, they may be worse than useless.

What gives?

A report by Frank Greve of the McClatchy Newspapers (via Consumerist.com) on charitable giving by Americans shows that “America’s poor donate more, in percentage terms, than higher-income groups do, surveys of charitable giving show. What’s more, their generosity declines less in hard times than the generosity of richer givers does.”

Indeed, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ latest survey of consumer expenditure found that the poorest fifth of America’s households contributed an average of 4.3 percent of their incomes to charitable organizations in 2007. The richest fifth gave at less than half that rate, 2.1 percent.

In terms of income, the poorest fifth seem unlikely benefactors. Their pretax household incomes averaged $10,531 in 2007, according to the BLS survey, compared with $158,388 for the top fifth.

In addition, its members are the least educated fifth of the U.S. population, the oldest, the most religious and the likeliest to rent their homes, according to demographers. They’re also the most likely fifth to be on welfare, to drive used cars or rely on public transportation, to be students, minorities, women and recent immigrants.

However, many of these characteristics predict generosity. Women are more generous than men, studies have shown. Older people give more than younger donors with equal incomes. The working poor, disproportionate numbers of which are recent immigrants, are America’s most generous group, according to Arthur Brooks, the author of the book “Who Really Cares,” an analysis of U.S. generosity.

In sum, “The lowest-income fifth (of the population) always give at more than their capacity,” said Virginia Hodgkinson, former vice president for research at Independent Sector, a Washington-based association of major nonprofit agencies. “The next two-fifths give at capacity, and those above that are capable of giving two or three times more than they give.”

Hear a good one lately?

Two recent articles both cite Robert Provine (who has been mentioned here before in an earlier post) in a discussion of why good jokes are hard to remember.  Natalie Angier’s column in the New York Times is more generally about human memory; from her we get the following:

Really great jokes . . . work not by conforming to pattern recognition routines but by subverting them. “Jokes work because they deal with the unexpected, starting in one direction and then veering off into another,” said Robert Provine, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author of “Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.” “What makes a joke successful are the same properties that can make it difficult to remember.”

This may also explain why the jokes we tend to remember are often the most clichéd ones.

The other article supplies  the following:

Examples of a bad joke:

What do you call a judge with no thumbs? Justice Fingers

Why do cows have bells? Because their horns don’t work.

Examples of a better joke:

A linguistics professor was lecturing his class one day.

“In English”, he said, “A double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative.”

A loud voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah, right.”

Not compatible with life or I can die now

A Scientific American interview with Martin A. Samuels, chairman of the neurology department at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, examined the phenomenon of being “scared to death.”  (Via post in Boing Boing.)  It was prompted by a criminal case going on now:

A Charlotte, N.C., man was charged with first-degree murder of a 79-year-old woman whom police said he scared to death. In an attempt to elude cops after a botched bank robbery, the Associated Press reports that 20-year-old Larry Whitfield broke into and hid out in the home of Mary Parnell. Police say he didn’t touch Parnell but that she died after suffering a heart attack that was triggered by terror.

Samuels explains that the “fight or flight response” can cause the heart to “go into abnormal rhythms that are not compatible with life.”  When asked if “other emotional states besides fear could lead to these fatal heart rhythm,” he responds:

Any strong positive or negative emotions such as happiness or sadness. There are people who have died in intercourse or in religious passion. There was a case of a golfer who hit a hole in one, turned to his partner and said, “I can die now”—and then he dropped dead. A study in Germany found an increase of sudden cardiac deaths on the days that the German soccer team was playing in the World Cup. For about seven days after the 9/11 terrorists attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon there was an increase of sudden cardiac death among New Yorkers.

The color of dreams

An article in The Telegraph relates this fascinating tidbit:

Research from 1915 through to the 1950s suggested that the vast majority of dreams are in black and white but the tide turned in the sixties, and later results suggested that up to 83 per cent of dreams contain some colour.

The article presents the results of research done by Eva Murzyn, a psychology student at Dundee University that attributes this change to whether we were exposed to color television as children or only to black & white.  She notes, “What is even more interesting is that before the advent of black and white television all the evidence suggests we were dreaming in colour.”

Her research confirms the t.v. hypothesis.   Her results showed

Only 4.4 per cent of the under-25s’ dreams were black and white. The over-55s who had had access to colour TV and film during their childhood also reported a very low proportion of just 7.3 per cent.

But the over-55s who had only had access to black-and-white media reported dreaming in black and white roughly a quarter of the time.

You are what you listen to

According to a study conducted by the department of psychology at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, the type of music you prefer says a lot about what kind of personality you have.  The Independent summarizes the results of the study:

Indie: Devotees have low self-esteem and are not very hard-working, kind or generous. However, they are creative.

Rock ‘n’ Roll: Fans have high self-esteem and are very creative, hard-working and at ease with themselves, but not very kind or generous.

Blues: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing and at ease with themselves.

Classical: Classical music lovers have high self-esteem, are creative and at ease with themselves, but not outgoing.

Heavy metal: Very creative and at ease with themselves, but not very outgoing or hard-working.

Reggae: High self-esteem, creative, outgoing, kind, generous and at ease with themselves, but not very hard-working.

Country & Western: Very hard-working and outgoing.

Dance: Creative and outgoing but not kind or generous.

Rap: High self-esteem, outgoing.

The biggest surprise that people have noted is the high correspondence in the personality profile between those who prefer classical music and those who prefer heavy metal.