Tuesday, 20 September 2011

I don't wanna talk about it...

“It’s the one topic we can’t bring ourselves to talk about” I heard Jenny say on Woman’s Hour last week. She was talking about incontinence. I won’t say more here – this isn’t weeconomics – but it reminded me of that other big taboo: money.
Did someone mention the M word?

Women aren’t as comfortable talking about their earnings as men, according to new research from the Money Advice Service. But neither sex is too fond of shouting their salary from the roof-tops. Just 5% of women and 10% of men would tell a stranger how much they earn.

We have our hush-hush places too – one in four of us feel it’s wrong to discuss money at the hairdressers (where we'll share every other intimate detail of our personal life), others wouldn’t bring it up at a party or down the pub with friends (28%).

As I've said in earlier posts, it really is time we tackled this taboo. Why? Because money secrets wreck marriages and make people downright miserable. And money problems and mental health problems seem to go hand-in-hand.  According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists:
 - One in two people with debts has a mental health problem.
 - One in four adults with mental health problems is in debt.
And being in a financial mess can make you feel:

  • As if everything is out of control and there's nothing you, or anyone else, can do about it.
  • Hopeless, especially if you have debts that are growing.
  • Embarrassed to talk to anyone about your financial situation.
  • Guilty - that the problem is your fault, even if it's due to mental or physical health problems.
  • Anxious and depressed.

Talking about money problems is the first step to sorting them out. Our friends over at the Money Advice Service are running a Money Chat campaign. They want to break down the big taboo and get people talking more about money*.

They even have this fab Money chat map so you can view the regional figures

So, if you have been keeping mum about money, maybe we can help you open up?
Check out the downloads section of our Sheconomics website for useful tip sheets.
Tip sheet no 5 is about How to Talk to Your Partner about Money and Tip sheet no 6 is How to own up to a Money Problem.
Plus in Sheconomics we devote a whole chapter (Share Financial Intimacies) to tackling the great taboo. The money taboo that is. Sorry - we can’t help with incontinence, although you may be able to catch the programme again.

*The Money Advice Service has Money Advisers available on the phone or face-to-face. To help get the conversation started, there’s a personal action plan produced by their free online health check, which identifies a list of short and long-term money priorities. Available online at moneyadviceservice.org.uk and on the phone via 0300 500 5000

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Why what you wear really matters

Looks a bit dodgy. Not my type. Seems friendly. Love at first sight. 

Just a few of the snap judgements we're prone to make about others.
On what basis?
Many people including psychologists think it's all to do with facial features (cue Roberta Flack singing The first time ever I saw your face). Symmetrical faces and wide-apart eyes are good, anger is a no-no. But my latest research has revealed that clothes makes a huge difference to these first impressions. And the upshot of it all is (you'll like this one)....clothes can be a really marvellous investment!

We carried out the research at the University of Hertfordshire in collaboration with Mathieson & Brooke TailorsOver 300 adults (men and women) looked at images of a man and a woman for just 3 seconds before making 'snap judgements' about themIn some of the pictures the man wore a made-to-measure suit. In others he wore a very similar off-the-peg suit bought on the high street. In some pictures the woman wore a skirt suit and in others a trouser suit of the same colour and fabric.

After just a 3-second exposure people judged the man more favourably in the bespoke suit.
They rated him as more confident, successful, flexible and a higher earner than when he wore a high street equivalent. Similarly the woman received more positive ratings in a skirt suit than in a trouser suit. Since both models' faces in the pictures were blanked out these impressions must have been formed after quickly eyeing what they were wearing.
The bespoke suit on the left made a far more positive first impression that the high street suit on the right

Clothes say a great deal about who we are and can signal our social status to others. It even starts in childhood - one study found that teachers made assumptions about children's academic ability based on their clothing. And research has even hinted that women should dress more like men if they want to succeed. A study by Forsythe (1990) tested this using a mock interview for a management position. The more masculine the clothing worn by female applicants the greater the perception of their management potential. Fortunately, although it used a different methodology, my findings suggest the opposite. 
After just a 3 second exposure the female in the skirt suit received more positive ratings than in the trouser suit. 
It's reassuring that women can dress in more feminine ways and still be taken seriously.  Be careful about the plunging neckline or micro-skirt though, you can take things too far and other research shows provocative clothing is viewed as indicative of low professional status.
This woman made a more positive impression in the skirt than in the trouser suit.

Sartorial laziness is an easy habit to slip into. We may think that fashion is just profligate indulgence and our sunny personality will eclipse our dull attire or detract from the soup stains on our anorak. Untrue. What we wear speaks volumes in just a few seconds. Dressing to impress really is worthwhile and could even be the key to success. 

How do you do this in the current economic climate? In an earlier blog I gave some tips for the cash-strapped fashionista along with Style Psychologist Kate Nightingale. I also asked David Brooke of M&BT whether we could justify splashing out on bespoke tailoring. He said: 

“A made-to-measure suit is undoubtedly more expensive than some high street suits, but does not need to break the bank. In fact, an M&BT made-to-measure suit is always better quality and lasts far longer than off-the-peg suits. A bespoke, or made-to-measure suit, in light of this research, must be seen as an investment in your career and an essential ingredient to your personal success.”
As a clothes lover (and in the spirit of my new position as Professor of Fashion Psychology at the University of Bilgi, Istanbul) I naturally have to agree with David. Also, in our Do Something Different philosophy, shaking up your wardrobe and projecting a new outer image is a great way to start changing behaviour.
More fashion-related blogs coming this way soon...
You can download a summary of the research from the Psychology of Fashion page of my website

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Girls, materialism and self-esteem.

If you had a 12-year old daughter how would you expect her to spend the summer holidays?

Girls today may not all be like me and pass the days pretending to be a pony (I know, don’t say it, I am a psychologist after all). But it seems that many are spending hours in front of a computer screen showing off the spoils from their latest spending spree.
The trend is called hauling and is reported in the news today. Girls record themselves showing their latest ‘haul’ from the shops and others can view them on youtube and leave comments. Unsurprisingly it’s a trend that’s come over from the U.S. where girls as young as 8 or 9 take part. 
Worryingly some girls are spending up to eight hours a day in front of the computer, having become addicted to obsessively checking for comments on their latest post. And not all the comments are positive, with one girl having been told she was too pale and her legs were ‘stumpy’.
The dangers of this activity barely need articulating but as a psychologist I worry about the self-esteem of these young girls and how fragile their sense of identify may be. In particular:
  • Research shows that materialism is strongly linked to low self-esteem in children. So kids who want more generally value themselves less.
  • Children repeat what they get attention for. It’s called positive reinforcement and underlies addictive behaviours. If you get a thousand ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from your on-line watchers every time you buy something, you’ll quickly get addicted to that attention and require more and more purchases to get the effect.
  • This sets the stage for, and increases the likelihood, of cyber-bullying. Blatant showing off of what we have can engender envy and jealousy in others. Some girls may get admiration from their friends but they may also fuel their enemies into hostility.
  • Studies show that experiences not stuff determine our levels of happiness. While these girls are shopping and showing off they are not having the experiences that will help them develop into positive and well-adjusted individuals.