Most of us are not surprised to hear that a child’s chances of achieving success, physical health, and mental well-being depend heavily on the socioeconomic status of the family into which they are born. A large-scale global study commissioned by the World Health Organisation found that the lower the income of a family, the more likely their child is to suffer physical and mental health issues later in life, run into problems with the legal system, and die early.
But a physical lack of resources may not be the only factor driving poor outcomes. Last month, a study published in PNAS revealed that children’s perceptions of their family’s socioeconomic standing might matter more than how well their families are actually doing — at least when it comes to their mental health.
Memes have become an integral part of online communication — and a ripe area for research. Underlying the simplicity of a grainy picture and a few words of text are countless more complex psychological questions. What determines why some memes go viral? How do they shape people’s political or social views? And in what ways do our perceptions of memes change depending on our personalities — or even on our mental health?
To this latter question, at least, a new study in Scientific Reports has some answers. Researchers have found that depressed people seem to enjoy memes with depression-related themes more than non-depressed individuals — a finding that points at differences in how people with mental health difficulties use humour as a coping mechanism.
However, the visibility of these features is poor at best — and it remains unclear if the public even wants them in the first place. Now a study in JMIR Mental Health has asked whether the general public would be happy for tech companies to use their social media posts to look for signs of depression. The study found that although the public sees the benefit of using algorithms to identify at-risk individuals, privacy concerns still surround the use of this technology.
In an ever-more connected world, it would be easy to assume that loneliness was on its way out — after all, we now have unlimited opportunity to communicate with almost anyone we want at any time we please.
But, in fact, it’s still rife: according to the Campaign To End Loneliness, over nine million people in the UK describe themselves as “always or often lonely”. Age has an impact here, too: an Age UK report suggested that the number of over-50s experiencing loneliness will reach two million by 2025 — a 49% increase from 2016.
This is Episode 19 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.
Do we worry too much about screen time? The issue of screen use by children and teenagers is rarely out of the headlines, and institutions including the World Health Organization have recommended specific limits on screen time for the youngest age groups. But what does the science actually say about the effects of screen time?
For a “rich” country, by global standards, the UK has an awful lot of people who are not. Fourteen million people — one fifth of the population — live in poverty. Of these, four million are more than 50% below the poverty line, and 1.5 million are classed as destitute, unable to afford even basic life essentials.
For children who grow up in poverty, there are impacts that go way beyond the fact of material shortages. “Children experience poverty as an environment that is damaging to their mental, physical, emotional and spiritual development,” notes UNICEF. Clearly, there’s a critical role for psychological research in this area, first in revealing just what poverty does to children and adults — but also in developing strategies to ameliorate those impacts.
If you ever daydream about retirement, what do you picture? Lie-ins, instead of being woken by an alarm? Walks on a beach, in place of the morning commute? More time for beloved hobbies? Or perhaps endless open, solitary days, with nothing much to do…?
Retirement is what psychologists term a “major life transition”. As such, it’s regarded as a stressor that carries risks as well as potential rewards. Now that the number of retirees in many countries is soaring, so too is the number of studies into whether retirement is good for your mental and physical health — or not. This work certainly suggests that it can be, but there are a few warnings lurking in the results, too.
The placebo effect is a curious phenomenon. A wealth of literature has shown that inert treatments can not only produce medical benefits like pain relief, but also have cognitive effects like boosting creativity and learning. And while many of those studies involve misleading people into thinking that they are receiving an effective intervention, a new study in Scientific Reports shows that this deception is not always necessary. Researchers have found that taking a placebo can reduce people’s anxiety before a test — even when they know they are taking an inactive pill.
Researchers have long known that people who are more extraverted tend to be happier, leading some to suggest that encouraging extraverted behaviour could improve wellbeing. Last year we reported on the first trial of such an intervention, which found that acting like an extravert for a week led to an increase in positive emotions in certain people. Now a second study appears to have replicated that result — and shown that behaving like an introvert may also reduce wellbeing.