this germ-ridden life

31 08 2011

Photo: Adrian J Hunter

(Germ-phobes should stop reading now and click over to the positive psychology stuff in the menu on the right. You’ve been warned.)

Next time you see an advert promoting “kills 99% of all bacteria”, remember the following facts…..

1. Every square inch (6.5 sq. cm) of your skin hosts about 6 million bacteria. (National Geographic)

2. About 1000 different microbes live in your gut. And that is a healthy gut. (source)

3. Door handles are the most likely way that cold viruses are spread (beyond airborne transmission – coughing and sneezing without covering your mouth). One touch by a contaminated person can spread to the next 14 people. (source)

4. 72% of shopping trolleys returned positive tests for faecal bacteria, 50% returned positive for E.coli. That’s more than you’d find in the supermarket public toilets. Reuseable shopping bags are similarly inhabited, unless they are regularly washed.

5. Cloth seats on public transport are a haven for bacteria and mould, according to San Francisco University and University of California researchers. The cloth seats are difficult to clean and even wiping then down with alcohol swipes only kills a portion.

6. What doesn’t kill them makes them stronger…..antibacterial cleaners and antibiotic over-use has been linked to the development of superbugs – the bugs that are resistant to all manner of antibiotic. So just remember that when you sterilise your kitchen bench.

7. the average ATM has more germs than public toilets.

8. Picnic tables have more germs than porta-potties. Presumably this is beause we tend to wash and sterilise the porta-potties because we think they are dirty.

9. At home, the kitchen sink is the area with the highest number of germs, followed by other damp places – dishcloth, toilet bowl, garbage can, refrigerator, and bathroom doorknob.

10. In the office, phone receivers, desktops, keyboards and elevator buttons are a hive of germy activity – moreso than toilets.

11. playground equipment (don’t even get me started on sandpits!) and escalator handrails are other germy spots.

12. When you flush your toilet, E. Coli is sent up into the air and settles on whatever is nearby. Facewasher, toothbrush, towels – what do you have in the same room as your toilet?

Th world is a giant petri dish….which is why I subscribe to the hygiene theory, which is as follows: Exposing your immune system to a reasonable amount of dirt and hazards leads to a healthy functioning immune system. (The corollary of this is that if your immune system is never exposed to these challenges, it over-reacts when it does). And really – is surrounding yourself with toxins designed to kill living cells (bacteria) really a good idea for our health?

(NB: I have used the word “germ” where it was used in the source documents, and the more specific bacteria or virus where that has been identified)

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Where are they now?

31 08 2011

What ever happened to the survivors of psychology’s more notorious experiments? Were they damaged for life? Did they learn from their participation? Did they have any specific insights from their unique position in these famous and infamous experiments?

Of course, Google has the answer.

1. The marshmallow experiment: A 2009 article in the New Yorker tracked down Carolyn Weisz and her brother Craig who, as perschoolers, took part in the famous Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, run by Walter Mischel. Although she can’t remember, Carolyn is quoted as saying she thinks she would have delayed gratification to get the second marshmallow. She is now an associate psychology professor at the University of Puget Sound, having gained a PhD in social psychology. A classic example of the success delayed gratification can bring.

Her brother Craig however remembers that he took the marshmallow straight away. They also tested him with plastic toys and when he couldn’t get more, he broke into the desk. The article says Craig has had a variety of career experiences in the entertainment industry and is currently helping to write and produce a film.

While it is easy to do the link between delayed gratification and higher education, perhaps Craig’s alternate solution to access additional toys demonstrates a level of creativity, of non-acceptance of the rules.

2. The prison experiment: Zimbardo’s infamous 1971 experiment divided student volunteers into “prison guards” and “prisoners”. The experiment was cancelled after six days because of the disturbing and cruel actions of the guards and the despair evident in the prisoners.

Stanford magazine features interviews with Zimbardo, his wife (who stopped the experiment) a “guard” and a “prisoner”.

Zimbardo remembers inhabiting the role of the prison superintendent, unable to see the results of the harsh treatment on the prisoners even when it was pointed out to him.

Christina Maslach who later married Zimbardo in 1972, and is now a Professor of Psychology at University of California, Berkeley, says she was shocked by the effects the experiment had on her husband, but also on the guards, citing an instance of a guard who seemed “sweet” when out of the experiment but whom she was unable to watch as he humiliated the prisoners. Zimbardo feels he has become kinder, more self-reflective as a result of the experiment.

Dave Eshelman, the most abusive “guard” said he behaved that way on purpose, considering that that was the role required to give the experimenters something to work with. He modelled his role on the role of an abusive guard in movie Cool Hand Luke. None of the other guards challenged him, and in fact they all joined in the same behaviour. He says when he saw Abu Ghraib photographs, he knew exactly how it had happened. He expresses some regret over what happened in the experiment. Today he owns a mortgage business in Saratoga.

Another guard, John Marks, now a medical coder for Kaiser Permanente, says he felt that the abusive nature of the experiment was designed by Zimbardo and not accidental. He says the sleep deprivation and other forms of sadistic behaviour were programmed. At the time he says he was smoking marijuana every day and hence was somewhat numb to the effects of the experiment – he had wanted to be a prisoner and was disappointed to be assigned as a guard – but he doesn’t feel the experiment was as bad as he headlines make it out to be.

A prisoner, Richard Yacco, is quoted as saying the prisoners engaged in passive resistance as a way of reinforcing their solidarity and exerting some power. Yacco developed depression and was “paroled” a day before the experiment ended. He is now a high school teacher and wonders if student drop-outs are related to students conforming with the roles being assigned to them, just as the prisoners and guards conformed to their expected roles.

Researcher Craig Haney noted how quickly he and others aclimatised to shocking abuses – they quickly became normal. He is now a leading researcher on the psychological effects of incarceration and a leader in prsion reform.

Professor Zimbardo’s web page on this experiment is here.

3. Jane Elliot’s Blue eyes – brown eyes experiment. Jane Elliott was a school teacher in Ohio. In 1968, the day after the murder of Martin Luther King, she divided her third-grade class into blue eyes and brown eyes. On the first day the blue eyes were the privileged class – given extra privileges, sat at the front of the classroom and told to treat the brown-eyes as a lower class. On the second day, the brown-eyes were the privileged class. On the whole they were kinder to the blue-eyes than the blue-eyes had been to them. Interestingly, reading tests conducted during the experiment showed that the “dominant” group’s test scores went up, and after the experiment it would stay up for the rest of the year.

Jane Elliott went on to become a leading teacher of diversity training. A reunion of the original group of students in 1982 – 14 years later – showed the students, now young adults, remembering how they felt on both of those days. As the non-dominant class they felt humiliated. Asked whether the pain was worth the learning, they agreed it was, and felt that the lesson had been well learned and had stayed with them.

What other experiments would you like to follow up? Nominate the details and I’ll see what I can find.

If you liked this posting you might also like The Impact of Marshmallows n the DS generation.

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Pros and Cons of Succession Planning

28 08 2011

As baby-boomers head for retirement, companies are starting to realise, sometimes belatedly, that a fair amount of corporate knowledge goes with them. Who is going to fill those shoes and effect a smooth transition? Leaving aside family-owned businesses, there are both pros and cons of succession-planning in an organisation.

• Great way to make sure there is a smooth transfer from person to person.

• The person stepping into the role has been trained on the job and knows the organisation – no lead-in time for orientation.

• Corporate knowledge is not lost

• Better the devil you know – you know what you are getting with the internal successor.

• Can be a great motivator for the person chosen as a successor – they know there is a promotion waiting for them if they do the right thing. This may be a great way to keep a specific talent with the organisation.

• The person identified for succession now may not be the best person for the job in five years’ time. Another person more suited may have joined the organisation.

• The job and its skill requirements may change between when you decide upon a successor and when they are ready to move into the job.

• There may be a negative effect on other employees not chosen for the role – if there is no possibility of promotion they may go elsewhere.

• The chosen successor may not be motivated to try hard but instead plot a “safe” course, because they know that providing they don’t make a mistake, they will get the promotion.

• You miss out on the opportunity to recruit new blood and new ideas into the organisation.

• If the chosen successor goes elsewhere or proves not to be the right person – then what?

• An employee choosing their successor will have a subjective opinion of potential candidates – and may also have an ulterior motive or hidden agenda.

• When the change-over happens, it doesn’t look like an open merit-based, fair and equitable process for appointing the successor. This may be a negative for other staff, other candidates, shareholders and clients.

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Old dogs and new tricks

27 08 2011

Adult learning is a bit of a holy grail – so much research, so little of it put into action.

While the research often demonstrates that the type of learning that is provided in a school-like environment does not suit adult learning (and might not suit children either), none-the-less, we persist in providing school-like environments for adult learning.

My experience as a university lecturer is that adult learners are often very motivated. They know why they are there, they may have chosen to give something else up to be there (free time, course fees, income). They have often chosen what it is that they want to study so they are interested in the subjects. The mature-age students often blitzed the straight-from-school students. They didn’t stand a chance against that level of motivation.

This is supported by the literature, which characterises adult learners as:

•Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
•Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
•Adults are goal oriented
•Adults are relevancy oriented
•Adults are practical
•Adult learners like to be respected
(Knowles 1970)

So what works for adult learning?

1. Trial and error. Studies demonstrate that adults retain lessons learned the hard way – through making mistakes and understanding the context and reasons for failure. Errorless learning doesn’t “stick”.

2. And on a similar vein, <a href="; title="experiential learning ” target=”_blank”>experiential learning works best for adults, even when it isn’t about making mistakes. Adults are better at remembering things they do (what you did yesterday for instance) than things they read or hear.

3. Observation learning works if there is intention to do the same action. This is similar to the way visualisation works on the brain and on muscle-memory. If the intention to do the action is there and is translated to the motor system rather just the visual system of the brain, then the memory is more likely to embed.

4. Adult learners need to understand why. They tend to resist having ideas and thoughts impressed upon them – as collaborative learners they want to sort through the information and come to their own conclusions.

5. Adults bring their life experiences with them to training or education. They want to use this knowledge and build upon it. They have a lot to offer but also a lot to lose.

6. Generally, adults are in education or training for a specific purpose, They want what they learn to be relevant and practical. They will challenge if it doesn’t seem like it would work in real life.

7. Adult learners have different barriers facing them. They may have job demands, family responsibilities- or commonly, both. Adult education is one more thing they need to juggle in their busy lives. And it is not just about time – it is also about concentration levels and memory space. Let’s hope they are motivated to prioritise their education – but recognise that sometimes they will need to pay more attention to another area of their life.

Some excellent resources are available on the net. One I recommend is :Medscape (you will have to sign up for a free account to access the entire article)

So finally – as someone who seems to be proppin up the university system with my ongoing study and resultant fees debt – what works for me?

– flexibility

– short-term subjects. 10 weeks per subject works beautifully with my busy life

– no group work – I haven’t managed to get out of the group assignments but continually find them frustrating. It is very difficult to get a group of extremely busy adults together to do an assignment, even in the online environment. And there are always passengers – I think everyone knows that.

– really clear instructions. I don;t have time to work out ambiguous instructions, I want to be able to enterall the due dates in my diary and get down to it.

– relevance of subjects – one of the compulsory subjects aI have done for my MBA is finance – which turned out to be about calculating current and future values for bonds, shares and other investments over a series of differnt conditions. As I don’t work in the finance industry and have never had to deal with bonds,this wasn’t very relevant. Happy to do the accouting and economics subjects, still think the finance subject should not have been compulsory.

Well that’s my two cents worth as both a repeat adult learner, and a former lecturer.

What is important to you in education?

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You might also like “Thank goodness I never studied Gatsby“.

Life and death in the office

27 08 2011

I blogged recently on a study linking workplace rudeness with lowered work performance. This study demonstrated that you didn’t need to be the actual victim of the rudeness, you only had to witness it happening to someone else and it affected the ability to perform higher order tasks.

Well, hard on the heels of that one, I have been sent two more studies, and reminded of another.

The following Stress Reduction Kit has been provided in case you need it.

1. Professor Arie Shirom at Tel Aviv University led a team of researchers tracking 820 participants over twenty years. What they found was, after controlling for a number of health risk factors such as smoking, the risk of death strongly correlated with the perceived niceness of co-workers. The nicer you felt your co-workers were to you, the lower your mortality rate. The more obnoxious they were, your risks went up. This was published in the American Psychological Association journal, but for non-members, access the information here.

2. The same source also makes reference to the rather famous (in public health circles) Whitehall Study. This was another 20 years study conducted on 28,000 public servants in the UK. It found that risk of a number of diseases and premature death was correlated with being lower down the pecking order. They hypothesized that this was related to the degree of negative stress – stress where the person had no control over effecting the solution. This was more prevalent at the bottom of the ladder than the top of the ladder, where there might be a high degree of stress but there was also power and control to do something about it.

3. And from an American Psychological Association conference – research that workplace incivility is on the rise. The paper presented stated that between 75 and 80% of people have experienced incivility at work, and that it is on the rise.

Is this your experience of the workplace?

Feel free to print and use the stress kit provided free of charge to you at the top of the blog. We are happy to be of assistance.

Alternately you might like to read about the benefits of red wine and dark chocolate.

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Chocolate and Red Wine

27 08 2011

Yes, I know it is a glass of white wine but I didn't have a photo of a glass of red wine to hand.

Yes, that got your attention, didn’t it?

It is great to know that the Australian research dollar is going to the important things in life – guilt-free chocolate, red wine and anti-ageing.

No wonder the lifestyle is so great over here! We obviously have our priorities straight.

Using anti-oxidants that are naturally occurring in red wine and dark chocolate (please note, DARK chocolate, not sugary milk chocolate), Dr Aaron Micallef of the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology and an associate investigator for the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Free Radical Chemistry and Biotechnology has designed compounds that mimic their actions. These new compounds have potential application in fighting disease.

Anti-oxidants “mop up” free radicals, which are naturally occurring and are known to cause disease. It is hoped that these new compounds will work in much the same way.

It is not adequately explained why he wanted to design a molecule that mimics the effects of two substances we already know work AND are much nicer to consumer than medicine.

Meanwhile, time for another glass of red-wine and some guilt-free chocolate!


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Social Media Statistics

27 08 2011

1. Australians are amongst the highest users of social media in the world, spending approximately 22% of their online time on social media (comScore).

2. As of August 2011, 49.27% of us had been on Facebook in the last month, ranking as the 19th highest user country in the world. (SocialBakers)

3. We are the sixth highest country for LinkedIn users – 11.39% (SocialBakers)

4. A recent KPMG survey found that only 42% of business managers reported that their company used social media. 50% said they did not and 8% were unsure.

5. 70.7% of companies reported blocking social media sites at work (Proskauer)

6. 27.4% reported that social media use was monitored at work. (Proskauer)

7. 55.1% said their workplace had policies relating to social media use, of which 44% said the policies covered social media use at work and out of work. (Proskauer)

8. The top 13 Twitter accounts are all celebrities in the entertainment industry, with the exception of Barack Obama (No.3 with 9,808,161 followers, compared to Lady Gaga at No.1 with 12,915,716, and Justin Bieber at No.2 with 12,131,876) (SocialBaker)

9. Novelty Fact. Beyonce has managed to amass a following of 1.5million on Twitter – 500,000 more than her husband Jay-Zee – but has never sent a single Tweet. (Forbes) She therefore ranks 259 In the most popular Twitter accounts, and surely has the best return on effort! (SocialBakers)

10. For those of you who are interested in Facebook Games…. Zynga Games’ Cityville is the most popular Facebook Game, ranking as the third most popular Facebook App behind Static FBML and Facebook for i-phones. Cityville has 14,632,349 daily users and 75,480,744 monthly users. Other creations of Zynga Games, Empires and Allies (No.5) and Texas Hold-em Poker (No.8) and Farmville (No.9) rounded off a highly successful symbiotic relationship between Facebook and Zynga. (SocialBakers) In fact, of Facebooks worldwide 402,322,386 monthly active users, 239,110,321 are using Zynga games and products.

Please don’t send me your Farmville or Cityville requests!

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