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This blog is to critically introduce, and contextualise, new research findings from developmental research, neuroscience, attachment theory  and other areas of psychology that are topical or are likely to whet the appetite of  anyone interested. The aim is to discuss research which will feel relevant and which might even, if lucky, make a differenc...e to how we approach our work or other areas of our lives. More

The elderly, helping, altruism and health

This week once again issues of how to care for the elderly have hit the headlines with government announcements about how future care is likely to be funded. It is interesting that the primary focus in most media reports tends to be about ‘cost’ of such care, and there is a constant message about the ‘burden’ of the elderly. We know of course that the proportion of elderly people living alone has been increasing in recent years in the UK and US. We also know that living alone hugely increases the chances of suffering from depression. Research has also shown, over many years, that increased longevity and better health go with elderly people having higher levels of social contact, and in particular belonging to more clubs and organizations, for example people who are more embedded in social groups  living longer after strokes and heart attacks. The elderly do better and are healthier if they are well integrated into communities.

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Suicides and the recession

This week we learnt that the suicide rate in the U.K. has dramatically increased. It is of course male suicides that remain far higher  (18.2 per 100,000 compared to  5.6 per 100,000) and male suicides are at their highest level for 10 years.  Those most at risk are men in their 30’s and 40’s.

Of course, while this is a mental health issue, it is very linked to the serious downturn in the economy. International studies have shown that rates of suicide are, for example, very linked to unemployment rates eg http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00127-010-0275-2?LI=true.

One study of rates in 35 countries found, for example that males were particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in the labour market, but that suicide rates also decreased in countries where there was higher per capita health spending http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00127-010-0316-x?LI=true.

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Poverty, speeding up the life course and mental and physical health problems

This week we learnt that even the government has admitted that the new squeeze on benefits is likely to push another 200,000 children into poverty  (http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/jan/17/benefits-squeeze-200000-children-poverty).

Almost every week studies come out showing the impact of poverty and economic stress and hardship on psychological health.  One very interesting study which is about to be published [1] has shown very clearly that children born onto worse economic circumstances are likely to have a different psychological makeup through their lifespans. This research is based on Life History Theory, propounded by many evolutionary psychologists and researchers such as Jay Belsky. The science seems to be showing that if we are born into an environment where stress, anxiety, fear or trauma are likely, then we live a ‘faster life course’, and for example, breed earlier, take more risks and also die younger and have worse health.

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narcissism and superficality

Interesting but worrying new research has just been published by Jean Twenge who has been researching about the changes in the American character for several decades now. The trends that are being seen are an increase in narcissistic attitudes up 30% it seems in those few decades. At the same time more ‘prosocial’ (rather than antisocial) traits, like cooperativeness and understanding other people,  seem to be on the decrease  [1], [2].

In addition we are seeing a much bigger sense of entitlement, more overconfidence and belief in people’s own abilities, what popular psychology describes as self-esteem. While low self-esteem is obviously a problem, what in fact we are seeing is huge levels of over-confidence and a decrease in old fashioned values such as humility and modesty. Interestingly this increase in self-belief does not correlate with actual better performances, so it is delusional in some ways. Better performance in fact correlates with traits like being able to defer gratification and regulate ones emotions, as do all manner of things like holding down a good job or being in a relationship that lasts [3].

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New year, holidays and spreading loneliness or happiness

This blog arises as I, like many in my business, am all too aware of the fact that while the lucky ones in our society are and have been basking in the holiday closeness that Christmas and new Year brings, for all too many the experience can be one of loneliness and devastation. The children I work with who all are, or have been, in the care system, often find this time of the year the hardest of all as they are starkly in touch with what they do not have that others seem to.. While the data does not necessarily back up the belief that there is an increase in suicides at this time of the year, it is certainly a time when many feel the stark contrast between their lives and the happy relationships and families that the media constantly portray.

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Just Giving for Christmas

In our increasingly high octane and money/market oriented world it is sometimes hard to really believe in old fashioned human values such as altruism. Christmas of course challenges that. There is such a gluttonous consume and spend fest, and such a lot of anxiety about getting enough, buying the right thing, and a lot of confusion between what we really want to do as opposed to what we feel we have to do, and motives can get horribly jumbled.

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