genes

Boobs, botox and erotic capital

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IMG_0536What do Obama, Jordan, Beyoncé, and Tina Turner have in common but Gordon and Sarah Brown don’t?

Well according to Catherine Hakim a sociologist at the LSE it’s Erotic Capital. Something she believes is 50% innate and 50% learned. She thinks EC is; “sex appeal, charm and social skills, physical fitness and liveliness, sexual competence and skills in self-presentation”.

If you have it you can earn 10-15% more than your colleagues (but that applies to taller people too). She thinks women usually have more than men but men are catching up with their use of botox (see my previous posting “Body Language and the B problem“) and male moisturisers, whilst both sexes are found spending time at the gym, or under the knife, improving their appearance.

Using EC apparently means anything from flirting subtly with the boss to commercially exploiting a large pair of breasts. She sees Katie Price and Posh Spice as people not endowed with high IQs who make the most of what they have but are looked down on for it – perhaps because of our Anglo-Saxon puritanism.

I can’t decide whether this is good news or not! Annoying radical feminists can’t be all bad but do we want to see more sexualisation in the work place?

Is this the new “emotional intelligence”? Is there a role for HR and training experts?

Kate Spicer who interviewed her for The Sunday Times was clearly a little confused too. She referred to Hakim’s foxy red hair, expertly applied makeup with a dash of botox and also her use of some of the EC skills she seems to be endorsing, whilst claiming to be a feminist.

A Personnel Today’s journalist also picked up on this story in his blog amusingly referring to erotic capitals such as Paris, Amsterdam or Prague! However like me and my reader TG he suggests a niche market for seminars and consultants as EC becomes a new, sexier, version of Human Capital Management.

Updated 19 January 2011: Researchers have now found that you can have both brains and beauty! Life can be so cruel.

Studies in America and the UK show that handsome men and beautiful women tend to be cleverer than the norm by about 14 IQ points. The findings suggest that as both beauty and intelligence are inherited the offspring of people with these attributes will inherit both qualities and this will be reinforced in subsequent generations.

Satoshi Kanazawa, the LSE researcher, found that the association between physical attractiveness and general intelligence was stronger for men than for women: 14 points higher than average for men and 12 points for women – so hard to maintain a view about dumb blondes.

This research, published in Intelligence, was based on the Child Development Study of 17,000 British children born in March 1958 which has monitored them ever since, and the American National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health – a similar study of 35,000 young Americans.

Kanazawa’ argument is that; “if more intelligent men are more likely to attain higher status, and if men of higher status are more likely to marry beautiful women, then, given that both intelligence and physical attractiveness are highly heritable, there should be a positive correlation between intelligence and physical attractiveness in the children’s generation”.

Beauty happens to be Kanazawa’s special research interest and he has also found that middle class girls not only have higher IQs than working class girls but are also more attractive.

The report in the Sunday Times (16/1/11) doesn’t explain how physical attractiveness was measured or rated and the example given, model Lily Cole who is studying at Cambridge, is not, in my opinion, beautiful (but to me neither is Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell, so it shows how subjective beauty can be). To his credit Kanazawa does say that these are purely statistical findings and shouldn’t be applied to individuals or prescribe how to judge people.

Updated 19 August 2011: You’ve read my blog on this topic and now you can buy Carol Hakim’s new book; “Honey Money: The Power of Erotic Capital”.

The Daily Mail also published a piece by the author which is bound to upset the feminists and PC brigade (so that’s a plus).

I can’t say I necessarily I agree with some of the celebrities used as examples. I don’t find Posh Spice the least bit attractive nor Renee Zellwegger or Madonna but it just goes to show that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.

Learning to become an Optimist

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glass_half_full_empty_1600_wht_5473Do you see the glass as half-empty or half-full? Are you a born optimist?

Or do you always see the down-side? And can you do anything about it if you do?

Michael Mosley is presenting a BBC2 Horizon programme this week, 10 July at 21.00: “the Truth about Personality” 

He was suffering from insomnia, and worrying all the time so he decided he would investigate the latest ideas on personality and see whether or not he could become more optimistic.

A psychologist and neuroscientist at Oxford University, Professor Elaine Fox, believes that our basic drives are reflected in our patterns of brain activity which determine how we see the world.

She tested Mosley’s brain activity levels and found that he had more activity on the right side of the frontal cortex than the left, which has been found in other studies to be associated with higher levels of pessimism, neuroticism, and anxiety. She then got him to take a test to show whether he had an unconscious bias towards happy or angry faces by responding to flashing dots behind the faces. The results confirmed his bias towards pessimism.

The question was could he do anything about it? Twin studies show that there is a degree of heritability in personality  of  up to 50%. The rest is down to random factors or the environment  including whether or not the genes are switched on in response to life events and the environment (what is called epigenetics). Serious life events can not only trigger depression and anxiety but can alter genes to make people more vulnerable later in life.

He did two things: first he practised mindfulness every day for 20 minutes; secondly he used Cognitive Bias Modification using a computer programme which presented 15 blank or angry faces with 1 happy face. He had to practise finding the happy face to train his body to look for positive images.

put_on_a_happy_face_500_wht_5883After several weeks he found his mood lifting and he was sleeping better. He also performed differently on the two tests he had undergone earlier – in a positive direction.

Previous research in America involving over 1,000 people showed that optimistic people lived on average 7.5 years longer than pessimists.

Mental attitude was more important than any other factor according to the researchers at Yale. So this is clearly something we should take seriously.

 

Intelligence not all in the genes

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As I’ve said before intelligence is not that straightforward. We used to think IQ was about 50% inherited and then recognised the impact of upbringing which started the nature-nurture debate.

Geneticists discovered that your genes could also be influenced by environmental factors – epigenetics –  but also that people who were assumed to have inherited certain skills probably got them through hard work.

Other recent research show that high IQ scores are as a result of innate intelligence PLUS motivation (See posts on intelligence). That means you can improve your scores if you really want to.

It is clear now that there is no single gene for intelligence and the latest research at the University of Edinburgh shows that about 40% of the variation in knowledge (crystalline type intelligence) and about 50% of differences in problem-solving skills (fluid type intelligence) are due to genetic factors.

Scientists still can’t tell you exactly which genes have an effect on intelligence but have found broad patterns. Research like this could help to understand how people suffer cognitive decline in old age (See: Can you keep Alzheimer’s at Bay?).

Are you a lark or an owl? 

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It’s important to know when you are working at your best because it could make a difference to your career success.

Some people are bright and breezy first thing in a morning (hard to believe if you are an owl of course) whilst others don’t come to life until later in the day.

Research by biologists in Germany found that people whose performance peaks in the morning are more proactive than people who are at their best in the evening. (There may be an element of puritan work ethic in this of course)

They tend to get better grades in school, and have better job opportunities. They also anticipate problems  and minimise them. Their proactive trait is what leads to better job performance, greater career success and higher wages.

Evening people have some advantages: they tend to be smarter and more creative than morning types, have a better sense of humour, and are more outgoing. Unfortunately they are out of synch with typical corporate schedules according to Professor Christopher Randler at the University of Heidelberg.

If you find yourself waking up at the same time every day, even the weekends, then you are probably an early bird. On the other hand if you like to take advantage of  your weekend and have a lie-in  – the scientists found a 2 hour difference on average  – then you are probably an owl.

It seems more people under 30 are evening types; from 30 to 50 it’s evenly split; and after 50 most people are morning types. You can change  your “chronotype”, 50% of which is due to genetics, by changing your sleep pattern but it only works for half those who try and only a small shift of an hour or so.

Source: HBR July/August 2010

Updated 13 November 2010: Everyone has probably heard about Winter blues, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), where lack of sunlight or daylight makes us feel depressed (and may contribute to the high suicide rates in some Nordic countries which enjoy  long Summer days followed by long Winter nights).

Experts now say that we should have exposure to bright daylight throughout the year. This is because daylight sets our body clocks and if we don’t get enough at the right time of day our body clock gets out of synch. That makes us feel tired and may influence our mood and concentration so that we rely on stimulants like coffee to keep us going.

This phenomenon has been called social jet lag, by Professor Till Roenneberg at the University of Munich, and it occurs because we evolved to live by natural patterns of daylight and night.

Bright lights in the morning stimulate the production of adrenaline, cortisol, and serotonin, which help us keep awake and feel mentally alert. When light fades the pineal gland produces melatonin and adenosine which make us sleepy.

However with modern work patterns we may wake up in the dark, go to work in artificial daylight, then as it grows dark in the evenings switch on bright lights and probably spend time in a brightly lit bathroom before we got to bed. This has the same effect as having a cup of coffee.

So too much time in the wrong kind of light at the wrong time of day.

It’s estimated that  3 out of 4 people need an alarm clock to get up in the morning (I’m definitely an owl and I need two alarm clocks if I am going out to work) as their body clock is behind the real time and they are working at times which may not be biologically right for them.

The body clock also sets our metabolism and kidney functions and if yours isn’t in synch with real time you are more likely to use coffee or cigarettes to keep you awake and alcohol to help you sleep. You also run the risk of being overweight as you will eat at the wrong body clock times.

One study found that having lower levels of melatonin encourages cancer growth. Interestingly melatonin is used as a drug to help travellers overcome jet lag and I learned is also mainly produced between 2300 and 0300 when you are asleep. So owls like me going to bed in the early hours risk reducing their melatonin production. Knowing this helped me to make an extra effort to get to bed before midnight!

NB And none of this relates directly to how much sleep you might be getting – see “Are you getting enough Sleep?”

The problem is that artificial light is not bright enough and is only about 5% of the light intensity on a cloudy day. The best light is the brilliant blue sky and white sunlight which keeps us alert and prepares us for sleep. I remember the first time I went to Finland in the Summer and how wonderful it was seeing the sky so bright and the air seemed so much fresher.

The Health Protection Agency in the UK is studying  the effect of light on people in care homes and hospital to se if it can aid recovery, or even help them sleep better, and improve staff energy levels. Working without natural daylight is a definite no-no for many people and having sight of green grass and tress is a definite stress-reducer.

The challenge is not so much having bright light in the morning – at least 20 minutes a day is considered necessary to maintain out body clock’s accuracy – but having lower light levels in the evening whilst still being able to work. Scrapping British Summer Time would make the problem worse as it would give is more light at the end of the day all the year round.

Professor Roenneberg suggests that if you suffer from social jet lag you could try wearing sunglasses from 1600 onwards. A good excuse for looking cool in the office? Source: Daily Mail 9 November 2010

Great pull-out section in The Times (8 December 2010) “Understanding Sleep”. Everything from fatigue at work, body clocks, sleep problems to medication. Well worth a read!

Updated 16 December 2010: Scientists claim to have discovered a chemical that can wind back your body clock so that you don’t suffer jet lag (reported in PLoS Biology).

A drug called “longdaysin” can slow down the body clock for up to 12  hours which means it may be possible to calibrate the dose so you can take just the right amount to offset the number of hours that your body needs to adjust. Obviously this would be a boon to frequent flyers and shift workers if it works on humans.

So far the compound – which was found after screening more than 100,000 potential ones – has only been tried on zebra fish which had their biological clock reset by 10 hours. They reportedly suffered no ill-effects and their body clock returned to normal when the treatment wore off.

How do you know how intelligent you are?

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You might be surprised to learn that there is no agreed definition for intelligence. And there is no absolute measure as there is for your height and weight.

You may have completed a test, such as a Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) which measures comprehension, vocabulary, arithmetic and comprehension, or a test of numerical, verbal, or critical reasoning ability when you applied for a job. Most of these tests are useful as they indicate how smart you are compared to other people and correlate with how well you do at school and in your job.

Now an article in New Scientist; “The 12 pillars of wisdom” explains how there are different views about whether or not there is a “generalised intelligence” – which is based on the fact that people who do well on one particular test tend to do well across the board – or whether intelligence is actually a combination of many different and independent cognitive abilities.

Howard Gardner, not mentioned in the article, proposed, almost 30 years ago, his multiple intelligence theory (MI Theory).

Although adopted by many educationalists and teachers, as it provides a broader framework than traditionally used in schools, it has been criticised as being more about ability than intelligence.

MI Theory includes: spatial, linguistic, logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalistic, and existential.

There have been additions over time from the original 7 and some of these ie inter-  and intra-personal are also included in models of Emotional Intelligence (EI).

The authors, Adrian Owen and Roger Highfield, at the UK Medical Research Council’s Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, describe how they are carrying out research to find the smallest number of tests to cover the broadest range of cognitive skills that they believe contribute to intelligence. They intend to couple this with exploration of the brain’s anatomy.

The twelve pillars they refer to in their “ultimate intelligence test” are:

  1. visuospatial working memory,
  2. spatial working memory,
  3. focused attention,
  4. mental rotation,
  5. visuospatial working memory and strategy,
  6. paired associate learning,
  7. deductive reasoning,
  8. visuospatial processing,
  9. visual attention,
  10. verbal reasoning,
  11. verbal working memory, and
  12. planning.

Updated 23 November 2010: Scientists have now identified over 200 genes potentially associated with academic performance in children. Those with the right combination do significantly better in numeracy, literacy, and science.

The study of 4,000 children attempted to find the genetic combination that influences reasoning skills and general intelligence. Researchers at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London believe their work will help predict academic potential based on a genetic test.

They believe intelligence is controlled by a network of thousands of genes rather than a few powerful ones. They checked the million or so more common ones and looked for variations which occurred most often in the children who tested with either a low or high level of achievement.

Although some aspects of human physiology such as hair or eye colour, multiple sclerosis and breast cancer, are controlled by only a few genes, more recent research suggests that for most aspects it is far more complex than that. Height for example is influenced by 300 genes but even that they only account for 15% of the variation in height.

Scientists attempts to develop profiling methods, so they can predict academic potential and devise methods of helping children who might otherwise be disadvantaged, is not as easy as originally thought despite massive computing power now being available to them for their analyses.

It is still difficult apparently to name even one gene that is clearly associated with normal intelligence in healthy adults although there are 300 known to be associated with mental retardation. So it seems that having your DNA profile available at birth is still not going to book you a place at Oxbridge just yet.

Updated 26 April 2011: Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania say that they have found that high IQ scores are a result of high intelligence plus motivation whereas low IQ scores could be because of the lack of either intelligence or motivation (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).

They say that students offered incentives can improve their IQ scores and suggest that people with high IQs may be not only more intelligent but also more competitive.

IQ is often used as a predictor of success later in life but it may be that it is the competitive element that makes the difference rather than the actual level of intelligence.

Apples and pears – the bottom line!

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Apples and pears – what fruit is my bum? It’s no longer just a question of “Does my bum look big in this?” but “what fruit is my bum?” Apparently pear-shaped women, such as Beyonce or Jennifer Lopez, are more at risk of developing dementia than apple-shaped women, such as Catherine Zeta Jones. Obesity is known to be bad for your health but it’s not just whether or not you have put on weight but where it goes. Pear-shaped women tend to put weight on their hips whereas apple-shaped women … Read More

via Mike the Psych’s Blog with permission

How to be happier 

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Despite what England fans might feel right now football competitions can make you happy. But only in the short-term – and only if you are the host country. And even that doesn’t make you as happy as a good marriage.

Married people are happier than single people (of course it could be that happy people get married more easily).

And the 30% improvement in happiness due to being married even counteracts all the negative affects of unemployment but don’t get divorced (the two worst life events are losing a spouse and unemployment).

There are some differences between the sexes and between age groups. For example women look less happy but angrier than they are, whereas men look less angry and happier than they are. Probably because we have cultural expectations that women should be happier than men and men angrier than women and we notice when people display behaviour counter to that norm.

Older people focus more on positive aspects of goods and services because they focus more on emotional goals than young adults.(See “What makes you Happy”). Optimism is associated with happiness, good physical and mental health and longevity. Conversely when we are stressed it lowers our immune system so we are more likely to become ill. Middle aged people who are happy have fewer physical symptoms of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

Extraverts are happier than Introverts because they spend more time doing enjoyable things. But introverts who are asked to behave as extroverts can be even happier than real extroverts. And we are attracted to happy people because we think we will give good genes to our children.

Happiness IS NOT associated with: wealth (once basic needs are met), education, high IQ, youth (20-24 year olds are more depressed than 65-74 year olds) and watching TV more than 3 hours a day – especially watching soaps.

But it IS associated with: religion (although it may be the community rather than the belief), having lots of friends, and drinking in moderation (compared to teetotallers).

We are not evolved to be happy all the time otherwise we would have nothing to strive for. However 50% of happiness may be due to our genes compared to les than 10% due to our circumstances. We may have a set point or range of happiness to which we return after experiencing ups and downs. So like the football example, winning the lottery may not make us happy forever.

According to Martin Seligman – the inspiration for positive psychology – we can raise our happiness levels by enjoying life’s experiences more eg by savouring sensual experiences, by becoming more engaged with life and by finding ways of making our lives more meaningful.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of “The How of Happiness: a practical guide to getting the life you want“, suggests the following programme to raise your levels of happiness:

  • Count your blessings – keep a gratitude journal each week of 3-5 things
  • Practise being kind – both randomly and systematically
  • Savour life’s joys
  • Thank a mentor
  • Learn to forgive
  • Invest time and energy in friends and family – these are more important than work to your happiness.
  • Take care of your body and health
  • Develop strategies for coping with stress and hardship – having a strong belief system helps.

Updated 2 July 2010: Catherine Bennett in the weekend’s Observer (27 June 2010) took a rather cynical view in her piece; “Phew. At last we can ignore the gurus peddling happiness“. Clearly not impressed by the wave of optimism being generated at a time of world-wide problems and austerity at home. She refers to the Movement for Happiness and its founder Lord Layard who said; “… as our society has become richer, our happiness has not risen in step. Despite ever greater affluence, our lives are increasingly stressful. This paradox requires a radical rethink of our lifestyles and our goals”.

Conceding that the strategies proposed by happiness enthusiasts are neither complicated or expensive she also quotes the GREAT approach (advocated by the New Economics Foundation). GREAT stands for: Giving, Relating to others, Exercising the body, Attending to the world around, and Teaching yourself something fresh – but she wonders what good they are to people who have just lost their jobs or never had one.

Well I know that exercise is the best form of anti-depressant, relating to others might help develop networks and reduce self-obsessing, and keeping up-to-date and learning a new skill is a good way to get a new job. Maybe we should just ignore the journalists peddling negativity?


Emotional Intelligence and empathy

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In an earlier post about Emotional Intelligence and marshmallows I referred to the findings of a Demos think-tank report which reported on an increase in social mobility between the end of WW2 and the 1970s followed by a period of stagnation up to 2000.

Amongst the three traits that were most important for children to improve their social lot was empathy – the ability to be sensitive to other people, to read their emotions and understand non-verbal communication.

This is one of the cornerstones of emotional intelligence. Unless you are a sociopath everyone is capable of being empathic. There is even some research evidence that we possess a mirror neurone which plays a part in empathy and learning by imitation. It may also explain the phenomenon of postural echo where two people in rapport with each other may unconsciously synchronise their movements.

There is also other evidence that may be a genetic component to empathy. Researchers in the US have discovered that people who inherit a particular version of oxytocin receptor, the bonding hormone, score significantly higher on tests of empathy, and react less strongly to stressful stimuli.

They point out that people who score lower can still be caring and empathetic individuals, and people can learn to develop more empathy. For example, people who read well-written novels are able to put themselves in the shoes of the characters and that helps them to understand others’ perspectives.

And researchers at Strathclyde University found that children who are good at standing up to bullies, whether for themselves or others, are better at resolving problems without conflict, are more emotionally literate, and better at taking other people’s perspective. See “What doesn’t kill you , makes you”

Students today, however, are 40% less empathetic than they were 20 or 30 years ago, according to a report in The Times. “Generation Me” is more narcissistic, self-centred and competitive and less concerned with other people’s feelings. People also see them as more confident and individualistic but less kind.

The decline has been more marked since 2000, attributed to violent video games, social networking sites, and an obsession with TV celebrities. Inflated expectations, competitiveness and hiding weaknesses leaves no time for empathy. Researchers believe that technology has replaced human interaction and online having “friends” online means that you don’t have to respond to their problems.

As long ago as last June  it seemed that emotional intelligence was at last being taken seriously in government. In The Times in an article about cabinet resignations it said that Shaun Woodward and Tessa Jowell were given; “prominent communication roles to provide emotional intelligence and, according to aides, address Mr Brown’s communication weaknesses”.That those attempts failed is now history.

BTW If you want to check out how good you are reading NVC go to this BBC site http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/mind/surveys/smiles/index.shtml