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Psychologically disturbed and manic society

An interesting paper was recently published by Dr. Mark Stein,  [1] an award-winning scholar from the University of Leicester, arguing powerfully that  bankers, politicians and economists have in recent years been displaying behaviour very similar to that seen in many disturbed individuals, behaviours which could be described as 'manic'. In particular there has been a massive denial of reality and of the risks being taken, and many foolhardy and dangerous practices which have led to recent financial crises, he argues, a trend he sees as has having been happening for the last two decades. He interestingly uses psychoanalytic concepts less in fashion these days to describe a manic state of mind marked by omnipotence, triumphalism, overactivity and denial of reality. The kind of actions he singles out include the huge increase in credit derivative deals, industrializing credit default swaps and the removal of regulatory safety checks, such as the repeal in the United States of the landmark Glass-Steagall banking controls. These are all viewed as a manic response to the financial crises within capitalism. He argues that unfettered liberalisation, with a very triumphalist feel following the collapse of communism, has hastened this path.

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The trouble with testosterone: confidence, aggression and dominance

Watching the demise of my football team’s champions league hopes, and being all too aware of not only stress levels but also how my optimism and confidence gave way to despondency as hopes began to fade, I coped by an intellectual defence. I begun to think again about sport and hormones and managed my disappointment by  trying to make sense of the contradictory role that testosterone plays,  in male lives particularly but also in females. A recent study   by  Leander van der Meij of the VU University, Amsterdam showed that testosterone levels increase when watching football matches, and the researchers suggest that this is linked to the response to threat and to dominance levels [1]. Indeed another study just published showed that males when given artificial does of testosterone stare for longer at faces which represent threat, even when these faces are out of awareness[2]. We have known for a while that sports players have higher levels when playing at home and when playing fierce rivals, and even found that male  Obama supporters had higher levels than McCain supporters on the night when the last presidential election results were announced. Such research gets right to the heart of much nature-nurture debate. While we are often saddled with our testosterone levels from pre-birth, and indeed much research suggests that prenatal testosterone levels influences a range of behaviours from sexual choice to the toys we play with, levels rise and fall in response to specific circumstances and in all likelihood particular cultural influences. Southern American men, for example, tend to respond more reactively to potential threat than their northern counterparts.

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