Psychology

Is it possible to help criminals with psychological interventions?

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Recent reports in the press suggest yes – but not in a good way.

In fact research shows that rather than make them better citizens it just helps them to be better at criminal activity.

In the latest reverse researchers at the George Mason University in Virginia tested Mindfulness Meditation on 259 prisoners. They were shown how to meditate focussing on their thoughts and accepting negative feelings.

They were tested before and after the sessions to assess their criminal tendencies and chances of re-offending. The results?

It actually made offenders more likely to blame others and psychologists said there was a direct link between mindfulness and the conditions likely to cause criminal behaviour.

It failed to bring prisoners out of “criminal thinking patterns” and actually made them worse because mindfulness encourages people not to judge themselves, which may have led offenders to avoid responsibility for their actions.

And this is a treatment accepted by the NHS for anxiety and depression with 20 or more apps you can use on your smart phone. Yet the warning sign were there. Mindfulness doesn’t work well with men.

Researchers at Brown University found gender differences in the effect of mindfulness meditation. “The mechanisms are highly speculative at this point, but stereotypically, women ruminate and men distract,” said a Dr Briton.

And in the UK the Ministry of Justice has shut down two Sex Offender Treatment Programmes (SOTPs) including a six months psychological group therapy programme designed to rehabilitate rapists and paedophiles. These have cost £100 million since being set up in 1991.

An independent study of the programmes found that it only made the criminals more dangerous and they had an above-average re-offending rate.

For example paedophiles who took the course had a 25% higher re-offending rate over a 10-year period especially those convicted of attacking children.

The programmes included CBT (which the Ministry believes to be the most effective way of reducing offending behaviour) and group discussions to help the sex offenders to understand their crimes and increase their awareness of victim harm. 

A former consultant on the programme who resigned told the Mail on Sunday that they weren’t adapting the course in line with new knowledge and many delivering the programme weren’t qualified but chaplains, prison officers and other para-professionals.

You can imagine that some in the group would relish the re-telling of their crimes and/or learn from others’ experiences.

Some years ago I remember reading about attempts to teach psychopaths to have more empathy and be more emotionally intelligent. It turned out that it just made them better at convincing victims they could be trusted. I couldn’t find the original source of that and it was a few years ago but in my search I came across Dr George Simon’s blog on this topic.

He wrote: “Times were when empathy training was a required component of most treatment programs for sexual offenders and predators. But the evidence indicated that providing such training had no effect on recidivism rates.

Moreover, some evidence emerged that teaching psychopathic predators about empathy only gave them increased knowledge about the vulnerabilities and sensitivities of others, which, in turn, they were prone to use to become even more adept predators“. (George Simon blog – already tweeted).

And more recent research shows that psychopaths do have an “empathy switch” but choose not to use it leading some scientists to believe it could help their rehabilitation. They need to revisit earlier work in this area if they believe that.

Given that some of these criminals will have personality disorders – notoriously difficult to deal with therapeutically – it comes as no surprise to me that these interventions show such poor outcomes.

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Are you teaching your kids to be quitters?

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Not a good thing! Research clearly shows the importance of perseverance in school and in life.

So next time you are struggling with a task in front of your children don’t make it look too easy. By trying and repeatedly failing at a task you are helping children understand the value and importance of persistence.

Many cultures emphasise the value of effort and perseverance. This emphasis is substantiated by scientific research: individual differences in conscientiousness, self-control and ‘grit’ correlate with academic outcomes independent of IQ” wrote scientists at  the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

They wondered if persistence and quitting could be learnt. “Does seeing an adult exert effort to succeed encourage infants to persist longer at their own challenging tasks?”

In an experiment they ran at MIT, reported in the journal Science, 250 15-month old children watched adults perform a task getting a keychain attached to a carabiner out of a box.

Half the time the adults easily removed the keychain but half the time struggled before they accomplished the task.

The toddlers were then given their own task – a music box with a big button to press (which didn’t make the music play no matter how many times they pushed it). The idea was to see if the number of times they pushed the button depended on whether or not they had seen adults persevering.

The experiment was stopped after two minutes or after the toddler threw the box on the floor three times in frustration.

The results seemed to support the scientists’ hypothesis. Those children who had seen adults persevere, albeit in an unrelated task, kept pushing the button for longer.

While they are not suggesting this is the only way for children to learn the value of perseverance – they might also learn by just observing adults completing tasks or by being told about the importance of hard work – the study did suggest “the potential value in letting children “see you sweat”. Showing children that hard work works might encourage them to work hard too

It’s good to be reminded that we are role models for our children in everything we do!

Walk the talk and keep healthier

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Public Health England (PHE) are this week recommending that you hold your meetings outside. This will reduce stress, back and neck pain.

Sitting at your desk all day means companies are “haemorrhaging productivity” according to PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie.

He wants us to get up and move more, have walking meetings (it reminds me of that phrase used by bosses “walk with me” which also seemed controlling to me, but moving on, literally) because we like bursts of energy.

He thinks firms would benefit more by spending less time sitting in a chair and more time moving around. He wants employers to think about how to get people moving more.

They did a similar campaign two years to get people to stand up more, about which I posted. Standing up more is one thing but given our climate holding outdoor meetings could be quite a challenge.

However research shows that being sedentary is linked to all kinds of health problems: obesity, type 2 diabetes, some forms of cancer, and heart disease. So if you take your health seriously you should consider it.

And being outside and seeing some greenery is definitely stress-reducing and can boost productivity.

I remember visiting the BASF factory in Munster a few years ago and seeing the outdoor meeting area (picture below). It seemed to work for them.

Does driving make you dumber?

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Research suggests that driving puts your brain in reverse. Driving for more than two hours a day steadily reduces your intelligence.

The researchers at Leicester University studied more than 500,000 Britons aged 37-73 who were given intelligence and memory tests.

They were actually looking at the effect of sedentary behaviour on brainpower. They found it fell faster among middle-aged people who drove long distances every day.

So middle-aged people should cut out that long-distance commute and find more socially stimulating things to do.

It was already known that sedentary behaviour was bad for your heart but now it appears to be bad for your brain too “perhaps because the brain is less active in those hours (I hope they weren’t referring to driving).

Cognitive decline can happen quickly “(It’s) decline is measurable over five years because it can happen fast in middle-aged and older people. This is associated with lifestyle factors such as smoking and bad diet – and now it’s time spent driving” said Kishan Bakrania.

93,000 of the participants who were already driving two to three hours a day had lower brainpower when the research started – and it continued to decline and faster than people who did little or no driving.

Similar results were found with TV watching. Those who watched 3 hours a day had lower brainpower at the start of the research and it fell faster over five years.

Although studies are suggesting that cognitive decline is linked to physical inactivity using a computer at work or for playing games actually stimulates the brain – whereas watching TV doesn’t. However sedentary behaviour is also linked with obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular problems. So get off that couch!

The research results were no surprise to the Alzheimer’s Society. Cardiovascular health will affect memory and thinking skills and “staying mentally and physically active hips keep the brain healthy“.

Music while you work

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Millennials are re-creating the war-time experiences of having music played in factories by bringing music into offices.

Last year PRS for Music, the music licensing organisation which collects royalties for musicians, granted 27,000 licences for offices to play recorded music, up almost 10% on the previous year.

And that’s good news for musicians who must be heartily sick of being ripped off by young people ripping tracks from web-sites in the belief that they are “entitled” to free music.

Whether or not music does help productivity is open to debate. Certainly the government thought it did during WWII when they promoted “Music While You Work“.

The American company Musak actually patented a “Stimulus Progression” system to keep factory workers focussed by varying the intensity of the music in 15 minute chunks; something I have posted about elsewhere

Many factories have scrapped music on health & safety grounds i.e. workers getting distracted, but the opposite seems to apply particularly in the creative and digital world.

So in addition to play areas and relaxed dress codes staff can bring their own favourite tracks to work in any genre from hip-hop to metal. Managers can also pick “office playlists” from streaming services like Spotify but heaven help you if you have a David Brent-type manager. (Even my local barber’s shop uses Spotify but he gets instant feedback on his choice of music!).

The ability to control the playlists is obviously popular with staff until some people hi-jack the lists which leads to playlist rage.

A marketing agency in London found that eight out of ten people wanted music in the workplace. Some people had reservations about having music on when they were on the phone, some conceded it might be OK on a Friday (typically a more relaxed day for dress codes too).

Songs that appear to have met with universal approval include: “Where are Ü” by Jack Ü and Justin Bieber and “Little Bit of Luck” byDJ Luck and MC Neat (Is it just me but isn’t it strange that the songs have the artist’s name in the song titles or are people blind to narcissism). To me these tracks are repetitive and just mind-numbing. Is that the idea?

Research conducted by PRS for Music and PPL ( a royalty collection group) found 88% of participants performed better on office tasks with music with improvements in speed, accuracy and productivity – and people were happier!

However other research suggest that even bland instrumental music can hinder performance on more cognitive complex tasks which are best done in silence.

So it’s not straightforward.

Responses depend on a number of things: the person’s personality, the complexity of the task, and the music chosen.

The answer might be for the person to wear headphones when they want to listen to music of their choice which would also drown out other distracting noises.

Signs of Collective Narcissism

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MakeItUltra™

By Eric Charles, MA., PhD-c

Audio version | Click here


“In the final analysis I believe in man in spite of men.” ~Elie Wiesel

I recall as a young boy thinking of girls as alien beings inhabiting the same planet but playing by a whole different set of rules. They were seen as the enemy and I was convinced that boys were superior to girls. I recall my sister arguing that boys had cooties and that girls rule. I believe she won that argument. Without awareness, we were taking part in collective narcissism. Collective narcissism, also known as group narcissism, is a type of narcissism where an individual has an inflated self-love for their in-group. The individual will see his or her group as superior to all other groups and it may function as a narcissistic entity. At that point of my young life, my sister and I were actively…

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Brits like to keep people at arms length

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It’s been well documented that different cultures have different concepts of personal space. I was including this stuff in my presentations on NVC a long time ago, and have taken part in international cross-cultural conferences where the concept was used to great effect in workshops. So I thought there was nothing new.

However scientists around the world have come together looking at the way people interact and how their personal space is influenced not just by culture but by wealth, and even weather and published their findings in the Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology with some intriguing results.

9,000 people were asked how far they would prefer to stand from someone – depending on their relationship. Stranger, acquaintance, or intimate or close friend?

Temperature was one factor tested in the research. One theory is that hotter climates make people stand closer because hot weather encourages emotional intensity and friendship. Alternatively it could make people stand further apart to avoid the risk of contracting disease or parasites. (Interestingly it’s been suggested that head lice is spreading in schools due to kids standing close together sharing their smartphones).

People from warmer countries did on average stand closer to strangers, but relatively farther apart from people they knew. Interestingly it was Germany and Norway who kept their closest friends closest.

Previous research had scientists standing at different distances from people in an MRI scanner. When they got too close for the subject’s comfort the amygdala was activated. (The amygdala is responsible for assessing threats and activates the fight or flight response. Also referred to in the EI literature e.g. Amygdala hi-jacking). So personal space is probably a defensive measure although why should it vary so much between cultures?

At opposite extremes were the Argentinians and the Romanians, at lest with regard to strangers. The Argentinians are the most touchy-feely people with preferred distances for strangers, acquaintances and intimate friends at 76cm, 59cm,  and 40cm respectively. They keep strangers at the same distance that Canadians keep lovers.

Romanians prefer to keep strangers more than 1.3 m away but once they know you they are happy for you to be as close as the Argentinians at 40cm.

Brits like to keep people at 1 m, 80cm, or 50cm depending on their relationship with them. 

Keeping strangers at arm’s length seems sensible to me and has probably evolved over time as a survival mechanism. As we become a more crowded island we may value our personal space more or adapt to shorter distances but with less eye contact or with other ways of protecting our space.

Women bosses are the best? The jury is still out

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Researchers in Norway at the BI Business School say that women almost have it all when it comes to leadership ability.

They are better than men at using people skills, the ability to take others with you, to compromise with good grace and to make employees feel valued.

They also outperform men in getting things done, can set ambitious goals and follow them through methodically.

They are even better at entrepreneurial skills such as innovation and have the courage to seize the initiative and communicate a vision clearly.

So what’s the catch? Well when the going gets tough it’s men that get going apparently.

After examining personality traits among Norway’s managerial elite it seems women are more likely to lack the emotional stability required in leadership so they wilt under pressure.

The authors said ” The survey suggests that female leaders may falter through their stronger tendency to worry – or lower emotional stability. However this does not negate that they are decidedly more suited to management positions than male counterparts. If decision-makers ignore this truth they could be employing less qualified leaders and impairing productivity”.

The researchers looked at the correlation between leaders and emotional stability, an outgoing personality, openness to new experiences, agreeableness and a methodical nature (these are all traits in the Big 5 personality model).

They also compared  managers in the public and private sectors. They found that public sector leaders showed higher degrees of innovation, stronger people skills and more meticulous attention to detail. This applied more to senior rather than middle managers.

The most effective managers were those motivated by a genuine interest in their work and a sense of its value.

After the recession there were lots of anecdotal stories of female CEOs being preferred to mop up the mess left behind by former (male) CEOs and research that showed that female CEOs were trusted more. And there is evidence that having females in your team can make it more effective.

Whether or not people like working for female bosses is a different matter. Are they too nice, or too bossy?

Marissa Meyer seemed to have lost the plot at Yahoo after banning working from home and building a creche next to her office so she didn’t have to.

Here in the UK there have been some embarrassing examples of senior women managers in the NHS who have had to leave their posts in disgrace. Perhaps only proving that there is equality and that women can be just as bad leaders as men

Interviews? The computer says No!

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Those traditionalists among you who doubt the use of aptitude and other psychometric tests adding value to a notoriously unreliable interview-based recruitment process now have another problem.

Robots. Yes robots or rather AI is being used by Vodaphone to help recruit callcentre and shop floor staff according to a report in The Times.

So now candidates submit videos of themselves answering a standard questionnaire and that is then assessed by a computer algorithm which assesses their suitability for a role.

The AI examines subtle face cues and voice intonation. Only once they have been given the go-ahead by the robot do they get an interview with a human being. (So still back to the good old unreliable interview).

Vodaphone has processed about 50,000 such applications so far and is so pleased with the results that it plans to extend the system to help it hire senior managers and executives. I’m sure candidates at that level will be looking forward to being rejected at the shortlisting stage by a robot.

Catalina Shveninger, head of resourcing, said “It takes a tremendous amount of time out of the hiring process: it halves the time and allows us to fish in a much bigger pool

We are the first multi-national implementing a programme like this one on a global scale. This is the future of resourcing”.

Wow, not only are robots taking our jobs they’ll be choosing which of us can have any jobs left over!

This is all possible because  of huge leaps in the computing power and storage available. The algorithms “learn” as they process more and more data (just like Amazon’s  learning what you like to shop for to target you).

Of course they need to be programmed by human beings to start with. If Facebook can infer users’ mood swings using its algorithms what other aspects of human communication will such algorithms identify. Posh accents? And are they colour blind? Presumably they will not suffer from implicit bias but how good are they at detecting lies (or sociopaths at senior levels)?

The company that developed it has sold it to more than 50 businesses including airlines (that might explain RyanAir’s robotic approach to passengers) and banks in America.

Some techies are unhappy about these developments. Critics say AI systems like these are the “biggest existential threat to humanity“. Terminator stuff indeed.

Now you might argue Vodaphone needs all the help it can get given its standing with customers (EE and Vodafone generated the most complaints throughout 2015 – both at a volume above the sector average and considerably higher than rivals O2 and Three. For EE, the amount of complaints decreased in the second half of the year, whereas Vodafone’s went up)

Perhaps it’s a bigger threat to HR departments and recruiters. Instead of sending in your CV you upload a video shot on your smartphone and the computer says Yes or No. Might be scope for fancy filters on your camera and off-screen coaching by former recruiters re-purposing themselves . As young people are addicted to selfies they will probably love the idea. And the narcissists among the senior management candidate pool.

And I wonder if the robot/AI has a name? Being a big fan of Arthur C Clarke and the infamous HAL (Heuristically programmed Algorithmic computer) I think it should have a name. Perhaps TERRY (The End of Real Recruitment)?

So exactly what criteria should we actually use for recruitment now?

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Employers are realising that students with better grades or degrees aren’t necessarily the best performers (and for that I blame the devaluing of degrees and A levels in attempts to attract more students or get more brownie points. You can no longer trust a degree classification).

And in the march to more social diversity it seems you can forget about spells working abroad, being in a sports team, or having a good internship. Now I can see how the latter would disadvantage people from lower socio-economic groups but where do you draw the line?

Do you want token ethnic minority or working class or female employees just to look good? Do you want to be a social engineer or just employ the best people?

I read about a consultancy firm recently that had changed its recruitment process by excluding from CVs the following information:

  • Academic achievements
  • Work experience

They claim such blind CVs led to almost 20% more candidates in its graduate and school leaver intake who would previously have been ineligible. So what are they actually using as criteria?

And this approach has been tried decades ago leaving off the name of the school, the marital status, age etc to try and level the playing field. But then you still have to get through interviews.

We all know interviews are notoriously unreliable partly because of the way candidates present themselves and how attractive they are. But they could be better if interviewers, and candidates for that matter, were trained properly.

Recent research from the US suggests that highly qualified candidates are three times more likely to get a job if they are honest about their shortcomings as they come across as more authentic. Of course whether it works for less qualified or less competent candidates is a different matter.  Candidates often lie about their skills or experience (between 2/3 and 9/10 if research is to be believed).

Psychometrics including aptitude and situational tests are more reliable than interviews – but you need specialist expertise to use them.

Assessment centres are more reliable predictors with multiple tasks for candidates and multiple trained raters. But again you need the expertise to do it and they are expensive to set up when most companies want a quick and easy solution.

Companies are trying a range of things to attract more diverse applicants but diversity isn’t necessarily a good thing for the business in every situation as research shows.

Take me to your tall (and probably attractive) leader

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An old post from 2010 has popped up as one of my top posts on another of my blogs. This was a piece I wrote about leadership and tallness (before I had this blog). This is an extract from it.

I first came across this a few years ago and raised  it in a leadership workshop I was running in Sweden – along the lines of biological impact on leadership eg good looks, tallness, being a first-born etc.

The Swedes were a bit sceptical, especially when I said some of the research had been carried out in Norway – not much Scandinavian sisterhood that day.

However research across the world by psychologists and economists show that every extra inch of height is worth between $500 and $1000 a year. So a 6′ person earns up to $6,000 a year more than a 5′ 6″ person (or $12,000 a year more than someone an anthropologist would class as a pygmy). UK research showed that tall men earn 5% more than average men and 10% more than short men.

There is a mixed message for diversity campaigners: fat men don’t earn less than thin men – but fat women earn less than thin ones.

And good looks seem to effect both men and women equally with unattractive people earning up to 15% less than their more attractive counterparts.

It may be that we give more respect to taller people or think they are smarter because they look down on us. Historically military leaders would come from aristo backgrounds where they were better fed and likely to be taller than the peasants or local villagers. And there were always tall military headpieces to enhance any natural advantage.

Anyway the bottom line is: Tallness = Leaders = higher earnings and Attractiveness = higher earnings.

Not much joy then if you are short and/or ugly – although if you are vertically challenged you could always go down the same path as Prince, the Hamster, and Nicolas Sarkozy who have all worn height-enhancing heels, and not just the cuban-heeled/glam rock throwbacks but “status shoes” offering a more subtle look.

A visible heel of 1.25″ can hide an extra lift of 1.5″ – or at least £500 worth of  height-related earnings!.

Let’s see how HR sort that one out when they are practising non-discriminatory recruitment.

 

Tesco helping people with autism cope

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See earlier post on this topic here.

Mike the Psych's Blog

Well done Tesco Burnley. Now how about a slow lane for older customers?

For more information on autism spectrum disorder (ASD) check out NHS info page

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