Philip Zimbardo has a theory

“Boys risk becoming addicted to porn, video games and Ritalin” says psychologist Philip Zimbardo, which simply isn’t true, because some weekends I read.

Yes, Zimbardo has a theory which says that masculinity is being damaged by computer games, the internet, and pornography without an adequate plot line. A key solution: dancing. He’s done a cracking interview in The Guardian which I thoroughly recommend if you are still waiting for your Ritalin to kick in.

“Boys have never been self-reflective. Boys are focused on doing and acting, girls are more focused on being and feeling. The new video-game world encourages doing and acting and not really thinking. Video games are not so attractive to girls.”

Not really thinking? There’s a man who’s never played Bubble Bobble. And finally some sense in the video game debate. Hang up your coat Anita Sarkeesian.

And pornography? “The relative proportions are hard to come by. But for girls, it’s just boring. In general, sex has always been linked with romance for girls – much more than for boys. For boys it’s always been much more visual and physical…”

“With the old pornography there were typically stories. There was a movie, like Deep Throat, and in the course of some interesting theme people were having sex. Now it’s only about physical sexual contact.”

Oh my God! The washing machine has broken in the cheerleaders’ apartment. Now they’ll never get to the game. [Ding Dong] Wait, who could this be?

“It’s always been difficult for boys to talk to girls because you are never sure what they want or what their agenda is. And now without trying or practice it becomes more and more difficult. So it’s a reason to retreat into this virtual world.”

Phil, I know their agenda. They want quality plumbing without having to pay in cash.

“In online porn, the men are incredibly well-endowed – they are paid precisely because they have those attributes. In addition, some of the men take penile injections so they can perform for half an hour non-stop. When you’re a 10 or 15-year-old kid, you say to yourself, ‘I will never, ever look like that or perform like that’.”

I never thought that when I was 15. It’s been adult life that has made the 30 minute mark seem like an impossible dream.

Indeed, he argues that schools are increasingly ill-suited to boys’ needs – another reason for their retreat into cyberspace. In the US, he says, 90% of elementary school teachers are women, while in the UK one in five teachers is a man. “Female teachers can be wonderful but they model skills that girls are good at – fine motor tuning rather than big physical activity. They don’t like boys running around. And, with funding shortages, they’re eliminating gym classes so boys don’t have the time to do physical activity.” He cites schoolchildren being assigned to write diaries as a compositional task. “Boys don’t write diaries! The worst thing I can imagine giving a boy as a present is a diary.”

Fair point, just look at what happened to Adrian Mole.

What can be done to reconnect boys with the real world? Zimbardo has lots of suggestions: more male teachers, more incentives for men to establish boys’ and men’s groups so that the former can get the masculine mentoring they otherwise lack, welfare reform to encourage fathers to remain in the family loop, crowdsourcing initiatives to fund video games that are less violent and require more co-operation, parents to talk to their sons about sex and relationships so they don’t take porn to represent real life.

All genuinely helpful suggestions and then..

My favourite suggestion is that boys learn to dance. “It’s the easiest thing in the world,”

We’re British Phil. WE ARE BRITISH MALES. We look like two legged donkeys drunk on alcopops when we dance. And that’s *after* the dance lessons.

If you actually want to see someone take on Zimbardo’s claims with evidence, I could do no better than Andrew Przybylski from the The Oxford Internet Institute debating him on the BBC.

And amazingly, the full Guardian interview is full of even more clangers. Can’t wait for the book.

Link to Guardian interview with Philip Zimbardo.

The scan says we add fries and call it a special

Photo from Flickr user Daniel Go. Click for source.Marketing magazine has an interview with the marketing director of KFC who explains why he thinks neuroscience holds the key to selling deep-fried junk food.

“Marketing as a whole is undergoing transformation,” he says. “We now know through neuroscience how people’s brains work and what affects their decision-making. So what we’re trying to do is take the new knowledge and say – this is how we put it together, this is how a brain actually works – and this is how we should be marketing.”

Somebody, please, find me a pizza.

Link to Marketing interview.

Indie reports on surprising structure of artists’ brains

Artists brains are ‘structurally different’ according to The Independent, who report on a small, thought-provoking but as yet quite preliminary study.

The image used to illustrate the article (the one on the right) is described as showing “more grey and white matter in artists’ brains connected to visual imagination and fine motor control”.

This could be a bit alarming, especially if you are an artist, because that’s actually a map of a mouse brain.

Whether artists have ‘different brains’ or not, in any meaningful sense, is perhaps slightly beside the point, but you can be rest assured that they’re not so different that they will give you a sudden desire to scamper around looking for cheese.

Put your hands up and move away from the therapy

An editorial in Molecular Psychiatry has been titled “Launching the War on Mental Illness” – which, considering the effects of war on mental health, must surely win a prize for the most inappropriate metaphor in psychiatry.

But it also contains a curious Freudian slip. Five times in the article, the project is described as the ‘War on Mental Health’, which is another thing entirely.

…how can we then proceed to successfully launch a ‘War on Mental Health’? Our vision for that is summarized in Figure 3 and Table 1.

Sadly, Figure 3 and Table 1 don’t contain a description of a world with continuous traffic jams, rude waiters and teenagers constantly playing R&B through their mobile phone speakers.

Link to Launching the ‘War on Mental Illness’ (thanks @1boringyoungman)

Scraping the bottom of the biscuit barrel

As a wonderful demonstration how media outlets will report the ridiculous as long as ‘neuroscience’ is mentioned, I present the ‘Oreos May Be As Addictive As Cocaine’ nonsense.

According to Google News, it has so far been reported by 209 media outlets, including some of the world’s biggest publications.

That’s not bad for some non-peer reviewed, non-published research described entirely in a single press release from a Connecticut college and done in rats.

The experiment, described in five lines of the press release, is this:

On one side of a maze, they would give hungry rats Oreos and on the other, they would give them a control – in this case, rice cakes. (“Just like humans, rats don’t seem to get much pleasure out of eating them,” Schroeder said.) Then, they would give the rats the option of spending time on either side of the maze and measure how long they would spend on the side where they were typically fed Oreos…

They compared the results of the Oreo and rice cake test with results from rats that were given an injection of cocaine or morphine, known addictive substances, on one side of the maze and a shot of saline on the other. Professor Schroeder is licensed by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to purchase and use controlled substances for research.

The research showed the rats conditioned with Oreos spent as much time on the “drug” side of the maze as the rats conditioned with cocaine or morphine.

Needless to say, South American drug lords are probably not shutting up shop just yet.

But this is how you make headlines around the world and get your press release reported as a ‘health story’ in the international media.

As we’ve noted before, the ‘as addictive as cocaine’ cliché gets wheeled out on a regular basis even for the most unlikely of activities but this really takes the biscuit (“Bad jokes addictive as cocaine” say British scientist’s readers).

However, the alternative conclusion that ‘Cocaine is no more addictive than Oreos’ seems not to have been as popular. Only Reason magazine opted for this one.

The reason that this sort of press release makes headlines is simply because it agrees with the already established tropes that obesity is a form of ‘addiction’ and is ‘explained’ by some vague mention of the brain and dopamine.

The more easily we agree with something, the less critical thinking we apply.

Link to a more sensible take from Reason magazine.