The gender psychology of fair pay and haggling

The Washington Post has an article on a recent study suggesting that the pay disparity between men and women might be explained by the fact that women don’t ask for pay rises as much as men, and it may be because they’re worried about being seen as pushy and difficult.

Crucially, the research also indicates that women’s worries are accurate, especially where men are concerned.

The study, available online as a pdf file, was led by management researcher Prof Hannah Bowles.

It asked several groups of participants to evaluate candidates who were applying for a job, either from a transcript of their interview or from video tape.

Women marked down all candidates who tried to negotiate for a higher salary in their interview. So did men, but the effect was almost twice as strong for women who asked for more money than for men who did the same.

In a second experiment, participants were asked to go through a fake interview situation themselves.

Women were much less likely than men to ask for a higher salary if they thought a man was going to make the decision. When a woman was supposedly making the decision to employ, there was no difference between the sexes.

Although it may well be true that women often hurt themselves by not trying to negotiate, this study found that women’s reluctance was based on an entirely reasonable and accurate view of how they were likely to be treated if they did. Both men and women were more likely to subtly penalize women who asked for more — the perception was that women who asked for more were “less nice”.

“What we found across all the studies is men were always less willing to work with a woman who had attempted to negotiate than with a woman who did not,” Bowles said. “They always preferred to work with a woman who stayed mum. But it made no difference to the men whether a guy had chosen to negotiate or not.”

Link to WashPost article ‘Salary, Gender and the Social Cost of Haggling’.
pdf of research paper.

I also adore having several dishes on the table

Ben Goldacre has found a so-awful-lets-hope-it’s-a-hoax article that suggests that people with Down Syndrome and people from Asia might be genetically similar, because, well, they do similar things.

Strictly speaking, of course, they’re quite right. In fact, apart from an extra 21st chromosome, most people, no matter where they come from, are genetically similar to people with Down’s.

So why are Asian people singled out in particular? Ah, because apparently, they like similar sorts of arts and crafts:

The tendencies of Down subjects to carry out recreative-reabilitative activities, such as embroidery, wicker-working ceramics, book-binding, etc., that is renowned, remind the Chinese hand-crafts, which need a notable ability, such as Chinese vases or the use of chop-sticks employed for eating by Asiatic populations.

The original grammar is left intact so you can fully appreciate the theory in all its glory.

Still not convinced? Well, there’s also the fact that both Asian people and people with Down Syndrome “adore having several dishes displayed on the table and have a propensity for food which is rich in monosodium glutamate”. Uncanny isn’t it?

The article is published in the journal Medical Hypotheses which was founded by the late Dr David Horrobin. Horrobin had a theory that schizophrenia might be linked to the metabolism of Omega-3 fatty acids, and these could be used to treat the disorder.

Initially, the idea was laughed at, although now, some limited evidence exists for its role in mental illness.

Reflecting on his experiences, Horrobin founded Medical Hypotheses, a journal where researchers could publish any ideas, no matter how far-out, to encourage creative thinking in medicine.

You could tell that Horrobin got up people’s noses, because when he died, a famously bitchy obituary was published in the British Medical Journal. So bitchy, in fact, that for the first time, an apology was printed the week after.

True to its mission, Medical Hypotheses remains the eccentric uncle of academic medicine.

The trouble with eccentric uncles though, is that sometimes they get pissed at family gatherings and embarrass themselves.

This is exactly what seems to have happened on this occasion as the article incoherently rambles about something we can’t quite make out, but we know is likely to offend if it keeps going on about it.

Luckily, one of the comments from the Bad Science post links to a much more entertaining Medical Hypotheses article:

Is there an association between the use of heeled footwear and schizophrenia?

See what you’re missing?

Link to Bad Science on embarrassing MedHyp article (with full-text).
Link to abstract of footwear / schizophrenia article.

The philosophy of love

ABC Radio National’s The Philosopher’s Zone just had an edition on how philosophers through the ages have made sense of that most intense of human emotions, love.

The guest on the show is philosopher Dr Linnell Secomb who’s the author of the new book Philosophy and Love from Plato to Popular Culture (ISBN 0748623671).

Secomb talks about how love has been understood by thinkers through the ages, from Socrates to Bartes, but also looks at how it has been represented in pop culture, arts and literature.

I particularly liked the discussion about the significance of love in the Frankenstein books and films:

I think what you’re raising there is this really interesting issue of how difference and sameness affects the love relation as well, and in the book I reflect on that quite a bit in different ways. But it’s the creature’s difference, his monstrosity that frightens people and undermines the possibility of love.

But I wonder also whether this sense that love works better between people who have a lot in common also undermines the possibility of the sort of adventure of discovering otherness, or discovering difference, and this is something that Nietzsche talks about and I bring Nietzsche together with the Frankenstein story because Nietzsche has really interesting little reflections on both love and friendship.

But what he seems to be indicating is that for him, a more genuine or authentic love would involve a search for the beyond, you know, beyond our own experience, so that we’d be challenged by the difference of the other. So this is something that I wanted to point out in that chapter as well.

Link to audio and transcript of TPZ on love.

An illustrated history of lobotomy

My last place of work blocked huge swathes of the web, meaning I’m discovering I’ve missed some blog posts recently, including this wonderful Neurophilosophy article on the rise and fall of prefrontal lobotomy.

It’s a fantastic tour through the history of how the procedure was developed, popularised and abandoned.

It aptly illustrates that medical history has been driven as much by personalities as by evidence, something which has only seriously been addressed in the last half-century by systematic trials and evidence reviews, largely due to the work of Archie Cochrane.

The article does have one quirk, where it equates early antipsychotic drug chlorpromazine with ‘psychosurgery gone wrong’.

Despite some serious and unpleasant side-effects (including movement disorders, sedation, weight-gain and dizziness), there is a large amount of evidence for its effectiveness in schizophrenia, and, in fact, was the first effective treatment for psychosis.

Even ignoring the brutal nature of the procedure, lobotomy was not even proven to be a useful ‘treatment’ by anything that would be accepted as reliable evidence today.

It is, however, an important chapter in the history of neuroscience, not least for what it tells us about how individuals can have such an influence on mainstream practice.

Link to article ‘The rise & fall of the prefrontal lobotomy’.

The controversial state of ‘hands on’ sex therapy

Dr Petra Boynton has written a fascinating article on sex surrogacy, the controversial practice of using ‘hands on’ tutoring as part of therapy for sexual disorders.

‘Sex therapy’ is an umbrella term for a number of established psychological and behavioural treatments for sexual difficulties.

Most commonly, it involves a therapist working with a couple to discuss the problem, work out what might be going wrong, and then asking the couple to try a number of approaches to improve their relationship, communication and lovemaking.

These three approaches are key as, despite what the drug adverts might imply, many sexual problems arise from anxiety, mismatched expectations, and unhelpful learnt responses, rather than simply physical problems with the sexual organs.

This can be true for a wide range of problems, including erectile dysfunction (not being able to get or keep it up), vaginismus (where the muscles of the vagina involuntarily tighten to prevent penetration), early or absent orgasm, or loss or lack of sexual interest.

A common approach is to initially ask the couple not to have sex and simply focus on touching and intimacy (an approach known as sensate focus).

This takes the pressure off, reduces anxiety, and once the couple start feeling more connected, therapy focuses on introducing sexual activities or exercises for the couple to try at home to help deal with the remaining difficulties.

Similarly, the therapist might ask the couple to try new ways of communication, and consider how they understand their partner, both sexually and in everyday life.

You’ll notice this is very couples focussed, as is most sex therapy, potentially limiting the options for someone whose sexual problems are preventing them from getting a partner.

One option is to use a ‘sex surrogate’, someone who is employed by the sex therapist to practice sexual exercises with the patient.

It was pioneered in the UK by the now retired therapist Dr Martin Cole, who became a controversial figure in the 60s and 70s media for advocating, even at the time, quiet radical views on sexual freedom and treatment.

His clinic provided, amongst a range of other treatment and advice services, sex therapy using surrogates and even managed to get public money for his clinical work.

Surrogate therapy is rarely used in mainstream clinics these days, largely because of the difficulty of getting competent and responsible surrogates, getting suitable referrals, and dealing with the ethical dilemmas and media interest.

However, surrogate therapy is still being researched and has been found to be effective in limited trials.

For example, a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found surrogate therapy was significantly more effective than couples therapy alone in treating vaginismus.

Nevertheless, the use of surrogates in sex therapy has received very little attention from researchers, and is poorly regulated, meaning its not clear how effective involving a surrogate in therapy might be.

Petra Boynton discusses the state of modern surrogate therapy, what’s involved, and gives some advice if you’ve considered it as an option.

It’s probably worth remembering that many sexual problems can be successfully treated on the NHS where you’ll get therapy from qualified and experienced psychologists and psychotherapists who don’t use surrogates, so it’s always worth enquiring with your local services.

For private therapy, it’s always worth checking that the person is fully qualified and accredited by recognised national associations.

Link to Dr Petra Boynton ‘ Spotlight on Sex Surrogacy’.

Night Falls Fast: Jamison on understanding suicide

I’ve just finished reading Kay Redfield Jamison’s book Night Falls Fast (ISBN 0375701478), a remarkably sensitive exploration of the difficult subject of suicide.

Unlike Jamison’s better known books, An Unquiet Mind and Touched with Fire, you rarely see it in bookshops.

It’s probably her least successful book, not least, I suspect, because of the subject matter. Nevertheless, I think it’s her best and most important.

Jamison is one of the world’s leading researchers into manic depression and has the condition herself. As a result, she’s experienced periods of intense psychosis and made a near-fatal suicide attempt.

Originally, the term ‘manic depression’ was coined to describe the whole spectrum of mood disorders, but is often used these days to refer to bipolar disorder, where mood cycles between crushing depression and exuberant, or even psychotic, highs.

The name ‘bipolar’ is a bit misleading, as it suggests that mood is either high or low, when in fact it is possible to feel wired and depressed at the same time – a so-called ‘mixed state’.

These ‘mixed states’ are particularly dangerous and are perhaps one of the reasons that bipolar disorder is one of the leading causes of suicide.

It’s by no means the only cause, however, and there are a range of factors that make suicide among the top 10 causes of death in every country, and one of the three leading worldwide causes of death in the 15 to 35-year age group.

Jamison’s book is not only a comprehensive exploration of the psychology and neuroscience of suicide, but also weaves in insights from the arts and literature, as well as personal stories of suicides and their impact.

The book is emotionally difficult at times, and I often found myself having to pause and reflect mid-paragraph, but it does an admirable job of demystifying and discussing a subject that is woefully ignored in public life.

The New York Times has a brief excerpt and Jamison was interviewed about the book on the Charlie Rose show, the video of which is available online.

Link to book details.
Link to factsheet on suicide from mental health charity Mind.
Link to video of Kay Redfield Jamison interview.
Link to excerpt of Night Falls Fast.

Goodbye Fair City

I leave Dublin today after working in the Fair City since spring.

Many thanks to the psychologists I’ve worked with and learnt so much from, and the people of Dublin for their kind hospitality.

The picture is taken from Sandycove Harbour, looking out across Dun Laoghaire and Dublin Bay.

Only a few hundred yards from where this photo was taken is a tower where James Joyce stayed for several nights until his medical student housemate, Oliver Gogarty, shot at him with a gun.

The tower sets the scene for beginning of Joyce’s novel Ulysses, known for its ‘stream of consciousness’ narrative – a technique first borrowed from psychology by writer May Sinclair.