It’s All in the Mind

pink brainThis is another one of those cornerstone pieces I should have written a long time ago. It is about addressing all the misconceptions that will come about reading my posts. Well, maybe not all of them but at least put things in perspective. [There are other things I should be doing now rather than writing this, but life is a crazy place.]

Much is made of the gender difference, and the “war of the sexes”. Sadly, this middle class “Western” obsession is killing society. We are obsessed by appearance. I don’t just mean fashion, clothes, hairstyle or any other the other parts of the extended phenotype; we are fixated by the phenotype itself. Simply put’ we’re bothered if you are male or female.

We base huge assumptions on a facet of people. Feminists decry that they are treated badly based on this poor generalisation. However, they are in danger of perpetuating the root of this problem by their very behaviour. I perceive you treat me based on my phenotype therefore I shall filter all your actions on the assumption that they are motived by my phenotype.

Its easy to berate people for this behaviour on the grounds that there is an ethical imperative not to be sexist. There is an appeal to our sense of fairness that people should be treated ‘equally’ without bias based on their gender. However, to achieve that we need to understand the reasons why we seem to get caught in this stereotyping trap, personally and as a society.

Our first stumbling block is our brains need to generalise data. When we’re being kind we call it learning. Put another way, to handle everything we meet in the world we make assumptions that something that seems like X will behave like X. We do this for everything from cups to balls to walls to people. Until we have reason to create a unique mental space for an object, and that includes people, we generalise behaviour to save on the effort it takes to work out how it will behave. And we are inherently lazy; especially for mental processes.

The advantages of generalisation are enormous and we wouldn’t want to get rid of it. So, why do we have this male-female divide? Simply we are highly impacted by visual input. Thus, someone’s phenotype; gender, hair colour, skin colour, height, etc.; influences our initial generalised opinion of them. That opinion might be further adjusted by their extended phenotype; clothes, hairstyle, car, friends, etc.

If we come back to just the impression we based solely on their gender we will undoubtedly be wrong more often than we are right in a modern world. Largely this is because men and women are both perfectly capable of activities that are mentally based. However, what about behaviour rather than just capability?

Sadly, we make the behaviour assessment based on gender phenotype when we should be doing it based on brain structure. Barbara & Allan Pease in Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’ Read Maps examined brain activity of people during different mental exercises. What they found was there is two broad categories of brains; male and female. The quirk is that the brain type does not match the gender/phenotype as often as our generalised (phenotype) model would like.

Thus, our behaviours and abilities; listening and map reading, for example; are not matched by the visual phenotype as often as we like. It does mean that the exceptions to the rule; men with female brains or vice versa; often feel an intense sense of persecution as their mental skills and behaviour patterns are contradicted by their expected behaviour.

Our ability to generalise saves us a huge amount of mental effort. What we do need to learn is to use it as guide and know when to walk away when its not working. We also need to recognise when the gender generalisation is being used to avoid writing reams of words to list every exception rather than find the unintended sexism that is inherent in generalisations. Practise not being offended; try a touch of tolerance and listen to the message not any unintended subtext.

Our personal and cultural gender stereotypes are there as guides and are not rules. True feminism needs to teach men, and women, not to be lazy with their thinking and remember that. It also needs to be borne in mind when reading this blog that in relationships the male and female (phenotype) role maybe reverse compared to what is written here. I am a man and tend to think in the first person, so I will undoubtedly show a male gender bias in my writing. Before you shoot me, ask; am I any different?

This post could have been called “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. That would have been lazy and you need to think when you read this (and anything else) and realise it is a guide written from my view of the world. You need to read things not as black and white nor to believe that I see the world in a simple black and white way. Remember; only the Sith deal in absolutes.


PS: I’ve not read it (yet); but the book about gender stereotypes should be of interest, too. Pink Brain, Blue Brain


The 7 Year Itch – 2 Sides of the Same Coin

coin_toss_Love has two sides to its coin. I’ve struggled to find a ‘cute’ way of define what each of those sides say, so I’ve settled for something more mundane; romance and companionship. I could try and spend some time trying to explain the differences, but I’m going to let you figure it out.

If anyone doubts that these two things are sides of the same coin then they have never experienced the drunken, usually male, friend telling another friend that they “love them, no really love them”. They really do love there friend, but social conventions confuse romance with Love, such as Maslow’s reference to love and group membership.

So, what has that got to do with the 7 year itch? I have an idea that the 7 year itch happens in a “love dip” in a relationship and it involves both types of love.

I could write a lot of words and to save my fingers I’m going to use pictures! Below are 2 graphs. The curves are generalised, not to any particular scale and intended to convey a concept, NOT to give some absolute mathematical values. Sorry, for the rant; I had a distracting debate with someone over how you represent the value of love!

The first graph shows (with the blue line) how the intensity of romance falls in a (good) relationship from the high at the start to some lower steady level. This assumes there are no major upsets in life, which makes a mess of things; more on that below. This is, also, more a measure of expectation such that as you get older the relative value is constant rather than the absolute value.

love curves1

The green curve shows how a sense of companionship grows, through shared experiences and understanding. This is just the same as with friends and that is why people in happy relationships often refer to their partner as their best friend.

The second graph and the red curve on the first show the total “love” in the relationship. I’ll emphasise again at this point there is a little mathematical slight of hand to exaggerate the red curve. But then again the other two curves are made up anyway, so cut me some slack!

As the red curve and the second graph show the total love in a relationship hits a low at around the 3 year mark. This is a common time, apparently, for relationships to break or affairs to occur. The low continues until around year seven.


3 to 7 year lowThe second graph shows that the net level of love around year 7 reaches that at the early parts of the relationship. Note how I’ve ignored the very early “honeymoon period” because that is just like taking drugs! Perhaps it is this point where questions are raised about how the nature “love” in the relationship is being redefined and if we accept this new dynamic then content generally follows.

As I haven’t completely made up the shape of the romance and companionship curves, but can’t find a good original reference, I’m curious to see if some more serious psychologist is prepared to take a closer look at this. At the very least it could form the basis of advice for long term relationships; because if we know what is coming then we can act a little less surprised.


PS: Life tends to very unpredictable and no-one’s life follows these curves. Births, deaths, job changes, menopause and a thousand other things can upset the curves; so no life saving promises can be taken from this post!!!


You say yes, I say No

yes noThe words in the picture are what inspired this post, but maybe not in the direction you were thinking.  A little like my search for the song that sprang to mind when I thought of the title.  I was thinking of a track by Judas Priest and the search engines thought of the Beatles.  That has a weird segue into this post…


I have a saying on my wall that says:

“There are people who prefer to say ‘Yes’ and there are people who prefer to say ‘No’. Those who say ‘Yes’ are rewarded by the adventures they have and those that say ‘No’ are rewarded by the safety they attain.”

I have always felt I am very much the ‘Yes’ type person, make things happen, even when there are constraints like lack of money. Those that said ‘No’ frustrated me, in every walk of life. That “no” seemed to embody pessimism and an acceptance of a decaying world.

My perception changed recently when I went to a talk, which can be summarised as follows. When you yes to something, you say no to something else; or when you say no to something you say yes to something else. There was a truth staring me in the face. But how do I reconcile it with the saying above?

My take is that yes is about stepping outside your “comfort zone”, and acceptance to take a risk to find pleasure. The no is more about wanting to avoid the risk of pain. This plays an interesting twist on a human bias to rank perceived losses (pain) 50% higher than the equivalent gain and also under play any gains. Look up “loss aversion“.

We all say yes and we all say no. Perhaps when we hear a no from the other person (husband/wife/partner/colleague) we should look to see what they believe they are loosing and gaining. The hard part is remembering their gains and losses are not ours. Other biases can come into play, not least of which is the reverse of loss aversion, where we over state (to ourselves) that gains to be made are higher than they are because we have made them; in a way we have already committed to the perceived gain and we over value it because we see it as a loss.

So we should all take forward into our next argument that the difference we think we see with the other person’s position might be just our perceptions of gains and losses. We can move towards an understanding if we reduce what we think we’ll gain by a third and increase what they think they would gain by 50% and then reverse it; increase our losses by 50% and reduce their losses by a third.

When the gap doesn’t seem so big maybe we can apologise for the misunderstanding and move forward to a new agreement.

Minority Rules – the statistics

minority-reportI read an newspaper article this week (sorry, a bit old school there, I know) that stated with a smug air that 25% of over 50’s were not having sex and they couldn’t be happier.  Now this just left me perplexed at so many levels.

Firstly, when did 25% become the majority?  That was certainly the feel of it.  There was a feel that this 25% were the defining group and everyone else should follow in their footsteps.

It conveyed the impression that if you’re over 50 then you should be happy (or be happier) not having sex.  When did any age become a pre-defining element of whether or not you’re sexually active?  Have we become so youth obsessed that 50 seems really old?  [NOTE: You should check the demographics; the old ‘uns are an increasing percentage of the population.]

And the real question was, are the ones that are “happy not having sex” also with other people that are “happy not having sex” or is there an element of peer pressure (I don’t have sex to keep them happy)?  I’ve said it before and if both people are happy not having sex, then great.  But if one of you does then you need to come to an agreement about this.  That applies no matter what your age, and don’t assume just because you’re older that the other person wants less.

In truth, I think it was just poor journalism that snatched for a sensational headline.  Well, it worked on me…

In the Eye of the Beholder

visual attractionAt the end of this post is a link to an interesting presentation by Prof. Dennis Prager. I have some sympathy for his position but I would put out one proviso: I truly believe that brain structure is NOT perfectly linked to phenotype  (e.g. what you look like). Bluntly, I believe there are women with “male brains” and men with “female brains”.

You can also read various scientific articles about the differences in brain structure that probably give us a clue as to the source of his discussion. [here and here].  Now this would be a damn odd blog if I believed in a pure “nature” argument and that there was no “nurture” element. By the way, in the more academic circles the nature versus nurture argument has long since been put to bed. Probably the most accessible approach to the resolution of the debate is the “Nurture Assumption”.

A very short summary of a very long subject: our genes give us a set point, but social conditioning can move us away from that. This is very complex because multiple genes interact and there is some evidence that either the environment can subtly influence our genes or that “evolutionary pressure” favours the genes whose set point is closest to the direction “society” is going. If you don’t follow that, don’t worry; people have written whole books and still not managed a clear explanation.

At the centre of it all is that you cannot truly feel how someone with a different brain structure (also read personality trait) FEELS but you can understand it.  So watch it and try to sympathise if you have a female brain.  And if you have a male brain you should better understand something, so that you can have more control over it.

This is not an impassioned plea for sexual discrimination; more a case of accepting vive le difference. We are all different and if we start from there you can build a more constructive dialogue. Try not to let your disowned parts get in the way of a sensible conversation.  The person you are talking to (or not) may be fighting base drives that they don’t understand and they too may have disowned.  Don’t let their flaws cast them as “pure evil” [a subject I’ll return to in a future post].

Prof. Dennis Prager’s Video

Disowning Ourselves

not-a-monster-joker-gifWe’re all perfect; okay, occasionally we might be just a little bit human and make a mistake. That’s what we’d all like to think; perfect, with a little ‘p’; I mean we’ve all got a few little flaws.

Now if you don’t think like that then your first flaw is about not being honest with yourself. No, seriously, I mean it. There are few of us that don’t hold onto “I’m almost perfect” image of ourselves. Without it we tend to drift into depression; we are not very good at holding an honest view of ourselves in our own mind.

Unless we set out with a very deliberate aim of finding our flaws we can easily find measures of whatever “ability” it is we seek that reflect us in a positive light. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself; are you a good driver? At a push I bet you ranked yourself with something that means “above average”. Shock, almost everyone thinks they’re an above average driver. Don’t worry, 94% university lecturers think they are above average teachers.

Magically we all disown the bits of ourselves that we don’t like. What messes with this is that other people can see many of those flaws, be it our temper, passive aggressive, gambling, drinking, lack of manners, the list is almost endless. We write off these actions each time we do them as justified under the circumstances.

All those disowned bits make up the 20% of those arguments that are the other persons fault. Go looking, find those little disowned parts of you and find a way to apologise for that argument; even if it wasn’t really your fault. There’s less to hide than you think; because chances are the embarrassing fault you are hiding from yourself is probably in plain sight to the person you’re apologising to.

If you want to know a little more about your disowned parts look at this blog. [ ]

Blogging is like Marriage – it needs time.

sacred timeMany of you that read this are bloggers and you know that your blog doesn’t make itself. So, how does it happen?  You have sacred time that you dedicate to your blog.  You have a passion that you put for it in front of other things; you no doubt could do more things than you have time for.

Marriage is no different.  Any life goal is no different.  If you want it, and you want it to work, it has take priority over other things.  It s time that can be moved, but never sacrificed.  Other activities wither before it.  That it might not just be marriage; that “it” is any life goal we have; writing a blog; getting a degree; climbing Mount Everest, and the list goes on.

My wife bought me a book when she was pregnant with our first child filled with wisdom for fathers.  My favorite says is, “Children spell Love T-I-M-E.”  In truth we are all children and we all value other people’s time; especially those we love.  How we want to see the value of that time varies (see this site), but we all want time.

I feel like I should write a long post and make various puns about the time it takes, but we all not that the essence of this post is true.