Kids’ letters to Santa as advertising psychology study

A completely charming study looking at how television advertising influences children by examining the toys they request in their letters to Santa Claus.

The study was led by Prof Karen Pine and has just been published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

The Relationship Between Television Advertising, Children’s Viewing and Their Requests to Father Christmas.

J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2007 Dec;28(6):456-61.

OBJECTIVE:: Children’s letters to Father Christmas provide an opportunity to use naturalistic methods to investigate the influence of television advertising.

METHODS:: This study investigates the number of toy requests in the letters of children aged between 6 and 8 (n = 98) in relation to their television viewing and the frequency of product advertisements prior to Christmas. Seventy-six hours of children’s television were sampled, containing over 2,500 advertisements for toys.

RESULTS:: Children’s viewing frequency, and a preference for viewing commercial channels, were both related to their requests for advertised goods. Gender effects were also found, with girls requesting more advertised products than boys.

CONCLUSION:: Exploring the children’s explicit understanding of advertising showed that children in this age group are not wholly aware of the advertisers’ intent and that, together with their good recall of advertising, this may account for their vulnerability to its persuasive messages.

Link to abstract on PubMed.

Not just a pretty face

The Economist has a fascinating article on the link between beauty, intelligence and success. It reviews research showing that beautiful people are actually, on average, slightly more intelligent and it’s probably a result of genetics.

The first half of the article looks at the psychological research that has found that beauty, and particularly symmetry, is linked to health and intelligence.

Interestingly, visual beauty is only a clue to intelligence at certain stages in life:

They found that the faces of children and adults of middling years did seem to give away intelligence, while those of teenagers and the elderly did not. That is surprising because face-reading of this sort must surely be important in mate selection, and the teenage years are the time when such selection is likely to be at its most intense—though, conversely, they are also the time when evolution will be working hardest to cover up any deficiencies, and the hormone-driven changes taking place during puberty might provide the material needed to do that.

Nevertheless, the accumulating evidence suggests that physical characteristics do give clues about intelligence, that such clues are picked up by other people, and that these clues are also associated with beauty.

The second half of the article reviews an innovative approach to the effect of beauty by economist Daniel Hamermesh.

He’s found a robust link between financial success and beauty (interestingly which differs across cultures), but has also looked at the cost-effectiveness of using cosmetics and clothing to boost attractiveness.

It turns out, it’s a poor investment. His research study [pdf] found that the financial boost generate by using clothes and beauty treatments only covers 15% of their cost.

Link to Economist article on beauty and success.
pdf of Hamermesh’s paper ‘Dress for Success: Does Primping Pay?’.

2007-12-24 Spike activity

Quick links from (roughly) the past week in mind and brain news:

BBC Radio 4’s Thinking Allowed has discussions on myths about sex trafficking and the history of hunger.

Science and Consciousness Review has a feature on whether Theory of Mind is dependent on episodic memory?

Omni Brain finds a spoof video on installing a DIY brain-computer interface.

There’s a great review of new book ‘Freud: Inventor of the Modern Mind’ on Metapsychology that looks at some of the skeletons in the psychoanalytic closet.

An article for the Washington Post describes one of Stanley Milgram’s lesser known but enormously endearing experiments.

Oliver Sacks describes the case of Mrs O’C and her musical hallucinations for NPR Radio. He first described her in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and updated her story in Musicophilia. He presents the complete version in this short programme.

On the same theme, Scientific American had a good ‘music and the brain‘ article in November’s issue that I missed earlier.

Bad headline but interesting sleep study. A better headline would be ‘quality of sleep influences how the brain stores memories’ – a subtle but important difference.

The New York Times reports that adverts aiming to ‘promote awareness’ about childhood psychiatric disorders are cancelled after complaints about scaremongering and insensitivity.

A genetic test for genes that may alter response to antidepressant drugs becomes commercially available, and Corpus Callosum has a great analysis of its limitation and significance.

Is it possible to be too happy? Cognitive Daily discusses a study which investigated whether there is an optimal happiness level.

Philosophical feud reignites

The Guardian has an article on a feud between philosophers Colin McGinn and Ted Honderich which has recently been reignited after McGinn wrote a review of Honderich’s new book on consciousness which the newspaper describes as “probably the most negative book review ever written”.

The review was published in the July edition of academic journal Philosophical Review, and the article has some of the highlights:

“This book runs the full gamut from the mediocre to the ludicrous to the merely bad,” begins Colin McGinn’s review of On Consciousness by Ted Honderich. “It is painful to read, poorly thought out, and uninformed. It is also radically inconsistent.”

The ending isn’t much better: “Is there anything of merit in On Consciousness? Honderich does occasionally show glimmers of understanding that the problem of consciousness is difficult and that most of our ideas about it fall short of the mark. His instincts, at least, are not always wrong. It is a pity that his own efforts here are so shoddy, inept, and disastrous (to use a term he is fond of applying to the views of others).”

And in the middle, there is nothing to cheer the book’s author. Honderich’s book is, according to McGinn, sly, woefully uninformed, preposterous, easily refuted, unsophisticated, uncomprehending, banal, pointless, excruciating.

What does the man on the receiving end think of this review? “It is a cold, calculated attempt to murder a philosopher’s reputation,” says Honderich.

Both philosophers can be adequately described as larger than life and both hold positions on consciousness that can be thought of as fairly radical when compared to the mainstream of philosophical thought.

Apparently, the feud goes back many years and includes everything from philosophical mudslinging to backhanded remarks about girlfriends.

Connoisseurs of academic mudslinging may wish to revisit a couple of classics to accompany this recent fine display.

Link to Guardian article ‘Enemies of thought’ (via 3Q).

Christmas update

This is just a brief note to wish all our readers a very happy Christmas, Solstice, Diwali, Hanukkah, Eid ul-Adha, Yalda or non-theist winter holiday, and to say that updates might be a bit irregular over the next week as we take time off to travel and spread good cheer.

Many thanks for your all your comments, contributions and, most of all, continued interest in Mind Hacks. We enjoy writing it and it’s always great to hear that other people enjoy reading it.

Wishing you all life, love and mental health!

What a difference a friend makes

It’s a big glossy website with lots of smiling people promoting an intervention for mental illness. Surely, drug company marketing you think? Actually, it turns out to be a US Government initiative promoting the importance of friendship in mental health and recovery from mental illness.

In the medical literature, friends and family are described as ‘social support’ and we know that social support is one of the biggest protectors against mental illness and one of the best predictors of recovery.

It’s probably one of the best studied aspects of mental health, and we know it has a significant impact on physical health as well. For example, it’s clear from the depression research that social support has a positive effect in a wide range of people and situations.

The website has resources on different types of mental illness, tips for helping people you know and information on getting further advice and support, all very well presented with video and audio as well.

Largely because you can’t make a profit from love and friendship, you don’t see it promoted much, despite it being one of the most effective ways of combating psychiatric disorder.

Hopefully, this website is part of a larger campaign to get the word out. Bravo!

Link to What a Difference a Friend Makes.