Posts Tagged ‘human psychology’

Group of older men

Sixty-five to 79 is the happiest age group for adults, according to the British Office for National Statistics research.

The survey of more than 300,000 adults across the UK found life satisfaction, happiness and feeling life was worthwhile all peaked in that age bracket, but declined in the over-80s.

Meanwhile, those aged 45 to 59 reported the lowest levels of life satisfaction, with men on average less satisfied than women. That age group also reported the highest levels of anxiety.

Researchers said one possible reason for the lower happiness and well-being scores among this age group might be the burden of having to care for children and elderly parents at the same time, the financial pressures that places on a family, and emotional and social pressure.

The struggle to balance work and family commitments might also be a factor, they said. Meanwhile, those who were younger or retired had more free time to spend on activities which promoted their well-being, the researchers suggested.

Happiness and well-being dropped off again in those over 80, however, with researchers suggesting this could be down to personal circumstances such as poor health, living alone, poverty and feelings of loneliness.

The survey asked people to rate out of 10 how happy and how anxious they had felt the day before, how satisfied they were with their life generally, and how much they felt what they did in life was worthwhile.

 

Graffiti saying happiness

The published results have been broken down by age, ethnicity, religion, marital status, employment status, religion, and where in the country people live.

They suggested:

  • Married people reported the highest levels of happiness, averaging 7.67 out of 10, higher than people who were co-habiting, (perhaps due to perceived “security”?) followed by single, widowed or divorced people
  • Hardly surprisingly, people with jobs were happier than unemployed people, with part-time workers the happiest. Of those who were not working, retirees had the highest levels of happiness, followed by students.
  • Of those who followed a religion, Hindus were marginally the happiest on average, followed by Christians and Sikhs, while those who followed no religion reported being the least happy.
  • Women on average reported higher levels of anxiety than men, but were more likely report better well being and feel their life was worthwhile.
  • People of Arab ethnicity were found to be the most anxious ethnic group, with people of Chinese ethnicity the least anxious.

Reflecting the age-old adage “at least you’ve got your health”, researchers found a strong link between health and well-being.

People who said their health was very good reported an average life satisfaction rating of 8.01 out of 10, compared with people who said they were in very bad health, whose average rating was just 4.91.

UK life satisfaction map. The darker the green, the happier people are.

The over-90 age group reported by far the lowest levels of feeling their life was worthwhile, even though their reported levels of happiness and life satisfaction were comparable to those in their 20s and 30s.

Understanding how people of different ages rated their personal well-being could help policy makers target issues to improve lives, the study added.

“We know that the UK population is ageing. There were more than half a million people aged 90 and over living in the UK in 2014 – almost triple the number 30 years ago,” it said.

“This shift towards an older population will impact on important policies and services including the labour market, pension provision, and health and social care demand.

“Understanding more about how the oldest age groups rate their personal well-being will help focus on issues that are fundamental to a good later life.”

A woman smiling

Serves you right for being middle aged

The “U-shaped” pattern of happiness, which sees people’s happiness dip in middle age, has been observed globally.

  • It has been documented in more than 70 countries, in surveys of more than 500,000 people in developing and developed countries, although the age at which happiness is lowest differs between countries.
  • Previous studies found happiness hits rock bottom at 35.8 years in UK; the low point in the US comes a decade later; in Italy, happiness is lowest at 64.2 years.
  • Starkly, US citizens have become less happy with each passing decade since 1900, whereas in Europe, happiness declined until 1950 and has been increasing steadily ever since
  • Women are at their least happy at 38.6 years on average; males hit low point at 52.9 years
  • Apes, like humans, may also suffer from midlife melancholy – that’s according to a study of 508 apes in which their human care-givers assessed their well-being

In good news, Dear Reader, in just a year we can start feeling happy again.

clown

 

There is a curious and well-known phobia where otherwise sane, rational people are scared of clowns.

The phenomenon is relatively recent, as the white-faced red-nosed version of clowns that some people find so alarming is a construction of the 20th century. Before that people with anxiety found something else to fixate on.

Now it seems there’s good reason to be worried. At least in Europe and the USA.

Clowns attack passers by

Freakish aggressive clowns, some allegedly armed with knives, pistols, and bats are driving French towns crazy, chasing down and attacking people.

In the southern port town of Agde, about 15 ‘clowns’ were arrested in a high school car park for ‘laughing manically’ while chasing people. In nearby Marseillan, a clown was detained for damaging a car.

In Montpellier: a ‘clown’ beat a man 30 times with an iron bar and then stole his wallet. Three motorists in the area also complained of “scary clowns.”

The French freak-clown wave began in the north a couple of weeks ago, in suburban Douai. In Bethune, a fake clown got a six-month suspended jail term for threatening passers-by.

A French police statement blames the web. “Since mid-October, a rumor inspired by videos published on the Internet has created the presence of threatening and aggressive clowns in France. Symptomatic of the impact of the Internet, this phenomenon can lead to damaging individual acts and disturbances to public order”.

The ‘clown craze’ is thought to have been triggered by a viral YouTube video and a recent episode of American Horror Story featuring a killer named Twisty.

Clown attack cases didn’t begin in France though: London’s Metropolitan Police dealt with 117 clown-related incidents in 2013.

In Portsmouth, UK, a masked figure began stroking passers-by in the city streets with a single red-gloved finger. As we come from Southampton, we’d believe anything of people in that particular locale.

US police have also made dozens of clown-related arrests, most prevalent in California.

Fear of clowns? It’s understandable.

But why be scared of the very look of a clown?

Coulrophobia – fear of clowns – is difficult to understand. They straddle a cultural nexus between fear and entertainment, but are generally intended to be affectionate, especially towards children.

The phobia may grow from the fascinating concept of “the uncanny valley”. The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of human aesthetics which holds that when human features look and move almost, but not exactly, like natural human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among some human observers.

The “valley” refers to the dip in a graph of the comfort level of humans as something moves toward a healthy, natural human likeness but does not become entirely indistinguishable from a human. Examples of the effect can be found in the fields of robotics and 3D computer animation, among others. Unless the simalcrum is perfect, some people find it disturbing – and some find it so in the extreme.

The term was coined by the robotics professor Masahiro Mori as Bukimi no Tani Genshō (不気味の谷現象) in 1970. The hypothesis has been linked to Ernst Jentsch’s concept of the “uncanny” identified in a 1906 essay “On the Psychology of the Uncanny”. Jentsch’s conception was then elaborated by Sigmund Freud in a 1919 essay entitled “The Uncanny” (“Das Unheimliche”).

Mori’s original hypothesis states that as the appearance of a robot is made more human, some human observers’ emotional response to the robot will become increasingly positive and empathic, until a point is reached beyond which the response quickly becomes that of strong revulsion. However, as the robot’s appearance continues to become less distinguishable from that of a human being, the emotional response becomes positive once again and approaches human-to-human empathy levels.

This area of repulsive response aroused by a robot with appearance and motion between a “barely human” and “fully human” entity is called the uncanny valley. The name captures the idea that an almost human-looking robot will seem overly “strange” to some human beings, will produce a feeling of uncanniness, and will thus fail to evoke the empathic response required for productive human-robot interaction.

For robot, read clown. But why would humans react this way to something which is “almost” human, but slightly different, like a clown? The science is fascinating.

 

"What do you mean you don't want to have sex with me my pretty?"

“What do you mean you don’t want to have sex with me my pretty?”

 

A number of theories have been proposed to explain the cognitive mechanism underlying the uncanny valley phenomenon:

  • Mate selection. Automatic, stimulus-driven appraisals of uncanny stimuli elicit aversion by activating an evolved cognitive mechanism for the avoidance of selecting mates with low fertility, poor hormonal health, or ineffective immune systems based on visible features of the face and body that are predictive of those traits. Put simply, we avoid mating with weird looking people.
  • Mortality salience. Viewing an “uncanny” person elicits an innate fear of death and culturally-supported defences for coping with death’s inevitability.
  • We don’t want to get sick. Uncanny stimuli may activate a cognitive mechanism that originally evolved to motivate the avoidance of potential sources of pathogens by eliciting a disgust response. The more human someone looks, the stronger the aversion to its obvious defects, because (1) defects indicate disease, (2) more human-looking organisms are more closely related to human beings genetically, and (3) the probability of contracting disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and other parasites increases with genetic similarity. To some people, clowns look sick. We don’t want to catch whatever they’ve got.
  • They mess with our brains. Thanks to a concept called “Sorites paradoxes”, when we see a character with both human and nonhuman traits it undermines our sense of human identity by linking qualitatively different categories. That’s why quasi-human monsters like vampires are simultaneously attractive and scary. And why some Halloween costumes scare the bejeesus out of some people.
  • They just don’t measure up to our expectations. There is a concept of “violation of human norms” which says that if someone looks “almost” human, they elicit our model of a another human being and we have detailed normative expectations of how they will behave. Their non-human characteristics will be more noticeable than if they were trying to be something totally non-human, giving the human viewer a sense of strangeness. In other words, a clown stuck inside the uncanny valley is no longer being judged by the standards of a clown doing a passable job at pretending to be human, but is instead being judged by the standards of a human doing a terrible job at acting like a normal person.

So there you have it. If you’re frightened of clowns, you may have deep biological reasons to be so. Although frankly, we think having your new iPhone nicked by a hoodlum is the best reason to view with alarm someone approaching you in the street looking like a refugee from Billy Smart’s circus.