Hypothesis testing and how to remember the difference between a Type I and Type II error

If you are doing research in the social sciences, or even if you’re not but like a bit of geek-based Indie music then this post is for you. If neither of those apply then I will forgive you for not reading the rest of this post (though it is worth checking out the very bad but catchy song at the end!), but in an effort to maintain my love of blogging along with my Masters Degree I am going to try and post a bit more psychology related stuff. Unfortunately for all my current module is statistics and research methods, so that is today’s topic.

A quick summary for those who don’t know, when we perform research in psychology we use a method called hypothesis testing, where we set a null and alternate hypotheses. The alternative hypothesis is always our prediction that there will be an effect of what we are measuring. The null hypothesis is always that there is no effect, and basically we are testing the assumption that there is no effect or difference in what we are measuring. Let’s give an example; I think doing crochet is more relaxing than watching football. I could design an experiment where I had a group of people watch football for an hour and a group of people do crochet for an hour, and then I could give them a test that measures relaxation and see if there is a difference. Now, this is an experiment at it’s simplest level, and there are many potential problems with it, feel free to comment on what they are, think of it as a crash course in Research Methods! Anyway, for that experiment our null hypothesis is “there is no difference in the level of relaxation attained by watching football or by doing crochet”, and the alternative would be “doing crochet makes you more relaxed than watching football”.

The reason we have the null is that we can never prove anything with statistics, we can only reject the null which supports our alternative hypothesis. We calculate the probability of our observation occurring if the null hypothesis is true, that is, what are the chances of getting this effect if there is really no difference in the things we are measure. This method is actually often criticised, as in real life if we take two measures of anything there is almost never no difference between them. We still do it this way though, but it highlights the importance in understanding the mechanisms underlying statistics and not just blindly accepting numbers that a computer spits out.

So, in psychology we determine the probability of obtaining a result at least as big as the one we obtained if the null hypothesis is true and use that to decide if we have a significant effect of not. We use the figure p=.05 as our cut off. Basically, if the statistics say there is a less than 5% chance of getting our observation if there is no effect we are comfortable enough to say “yep, guys, we have a significant effect here”. So if in our experiment above our p value for the differences between our groups (as calculated by a delightful programme called SPSS) is .02 it is basically saying “Look, if there really was no difference between the two groups you’ve got 2% chance of getting this result; that’s pretty low so probably there is a significant difference – reject the null hypothesis, reject I say!”. Anything up to 5% and we are comfortable that the difference is significant (yes, that figure is pretty arbitrary, and yes, there are many things wrong with it. What is the p value was 0.056? Well, it would be classed as non-significant for most academic journals).

However, even with our 5% p value there is still obviously 5% chance we could get our observation that makes it look like crochet is more relaxing than football, when really it isn’t. Maybe we just managed to find for our study the few people in the world who find crochet really relaxing, but the majority don’t. This idea that we might falsely reject the null hypothesis is called a Type I error. Or course, we may have got results that exceed our hallowed %5 probability thus causing us to accept the null hypothesis as true, there is no difference between the relaxing properties of crochet and football, when in fact there is a difference, we just didn’t pick it up in our study (maybe we didn’t look at enough people, or we didn’t make them do enough crochet…). This failure to reject the null hypothesis is known as a Type II error.

Now, why are these things important? Well mainly because I have an exam on such notions in a couple of weeks…but really because this is the basis of all social science research. Why am I writing a blog post on this? Well, those of you who have read and understood this probably already know it anyway from a basic research methods course. If you didn’t already know it then you can’t possibly have any reason to need to know it so I am impressed you persevered this far!m(Or maybe you are a student who does need to know but hasn’t understood it from your course, nor discovered a decent stats book like Discovering Statistics Using SPSS -seriously, this is a cracking stats book). Anyway, typing this all up has been great revision for me, which is mainly why I did it, and, well it’s my blog and I can write what I like! But what I really wanted to share was an “oh so bad it’s really good” song which someone, in the crusade to remember which way round Type I and Type II errors are, has written. Trying to remember which is why is a real pain, even after all these years (I first learned this stuff at A level) and is clearly an issue that plagues students the world over. For those who can’t make out the lyrics they are as follows:

If the null is zero
And it’s really zero
But you think it’s bull
And reject the null
Type I

If the null is zero
And it’s really not
And you accept the null
That’s off the spot
Type II

Isn’t it ace? I’m going to be singing this in my exam next month!

If you can cope with bringing up kids, anything else is easy in comparison

I’ve been working at my MSc Occupational Psychology for nearly 6 months now, and it is hard, but actually easier than I thought it was going to be. On my course I am the only student to have children, and I have received nice comments like “when I am struggling to fit it all in I think if Dilly can do it with 2 kids then I can do it” but in actual fact I really believe that being a mother of young children has helped me manage this course, for the following reasons:

I already have no life
Some of my student friends are struggling to fit studying in with all they things they usually do in their free time, and the endless weddings and hen nights that take up the weekends of those of a certain age. Maybe it’s not even age, I don’t think I’m the oldest, but I happen to be in a situation where most of my friends are already married. I think some of the students are finding it a shock that they have to sacrifice nights out and weekends away for sitting down and studying. Well, I have kids so I’ve already sacrificed those things. I have already been through the pain of feeling my freedom restricted. Iris isn’t really reliable enough for a babysitter, and even if she was we couldn’t afford it anyway. So for me, most of my evenings are a toss up between studying or watching the West Wing and crocheting on the sofa. Some things have had to go. You can see that my blog is a bit neglected, and I’m having crochet withdrawal, but I have experienced the feelings of sacrifice already and I know it isn’t forever.

Every second counts
What the hell did I do with my time before I had kids? Obviously I worked full time (but I’m not far off that now), but it’s not like I was writing War and Peace. I wasn’t even reading it. We had dinner parties with friends, did a bit of jogging, but again I still manage that now. All those child-free hours, I could have spent doing something useful but with the naivety of youth I just frittered them away. Now every hour is accounted for, and if I am lucky enough to have “free time” every minute is squeezed dry. Because of this when I sit down to do my work I’m very conscious of time. I know how many hours I need to spend on my studying, and how many hours I have available in the week, and there is little slack. If one of the kids is sick for a couple of days that writes off a few evenings of work that I can’t afford to lose so I know I have to keep on top of things.

Less pressure to be top
I did really well in my first two degrees, a First and a Distinction. Anything less in this one is going to feel like a step back. Academia is my thing. I nearly cried when I got 55 in my first assignment. But what with combining a nearly full time job, two kids and other activities with this degree, everyone is just going to be impressed if I pass. I’m nearly coming around to that view myself. Nearly.

It’s not the hardest thing I have ever done
I survived 10 months and more without a full night’s sleep. I have breastfed while suffering from an excruciating migraine, delatching the baby to go and vomit, then returning to resume a prone position while a tiny baby sucked the life force out of me. I have driven through the night to get a baby suffering from chicken pox to stay asleep. I have cared for a sick husband and toddler a week after giving birth. I have given birth. Twice. With no drugs. I have gone to work leaving my children in the care of virtual strangers for the first time. I have raised two charming and clever children. In terms of the hardest things I have done, a part time degree is not even up there.

Everyone thinks I am doing an amazing job
There is nothing quite as motivating as praise from other people, and lots of people have expressed their admiration at what I am doing. My mum and dad have both said how proud they are, as has my husband. And my step-mum went so far as to give me a significant chunk of money towards my course, because she felt I really deserved it. When really, as I have just explained, in some ways it is easier for me than everyone else, you know, what with having no life and all. Blown that myth now haven’t I?

And on top of all that it helps that I love psychology, really want a new job, and am fortunate enough to be fairly bright. My reason for writing this post is really to inspire other people out there to push their boundaries, especially other parents. I worried for ages about whether I could cope with doing this course. Yes I’m a bit grumpy sometimes, I feel like I have no time to decompress, but it will all be worth it in the end. And as with most things in life, it hasn’t been as hard as I feared. So if you are thinking of taking something on, and are wondering how you would cope when you have children, my answer is this – having kids: probably the hardest thing you will ever do. Whether you are thinking of doing a degree, starting a business, writing a book, it’ll be easy in comparison. And by virtue of the the skills you will have picked up just from having kids, you will be even better equipped for whatever you take on.

I’m bored!

Bored cat

Currently I have a window of time, about an hour, in which I can do whatever I want. An hour’s free time! Iris is napping, and her light sleeping and the size of our hour precludes us from doing much in the way of housework during this time. Betty is amusing herself with the iPad. I potentially could do anything. There are so many things I want to do, so many books I want to ready, things I want to make. My degree starts in a little over a week and I will have little in the way of free time, and I am back to work tomorrow, so I really need to make the most of free time when I have it.

So I thumbed through a couple of books; there’s a Henry James book on my shelf which looks interesting. I’ve a few things saved on Sky Plus to watch, but I don’t really fancy them right now. I got several notebooks for Christmas just waiting to be filled with scribblings and drawing. But I can’t settle down to anything. I have this feeling a lot. Occasionally, DH takes the kids to his much’s for the day leaving me with the complete freedom to do whatever I want. But instead of the relaxing day this is supposed to be I inevitably end up even more stressed. I’m not going to get all the things done that I want to do. I will feel guilty if I don’t do a bit of housework. I want to make sure I get the maximum amount out of the day as possible, and by the time I have my hour’s warning that the rest of the family are due home I feel unsatisfied and the opposite of relaxed. I just can’t settle to any one one thing.

It sounds a lot like boredom. But how can someone who always wants to do so much and has such little free time, be bored when given the opportunity to do whatever they want? Well, boredom is more than having nothing to do. Some people look down on boredom as an inability to entertain oneself. Kids complain of being bored but how can you be bored when you have hundreds of toys and hours of pure leisure time ahead of you?

A recently published paper reviewed hundreds of studies of boredom, and the authors, John Eastwood, Alexandra Frischen, Mark Fenske, and Daniel Smilek in the September, 2012 issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science, came to the conclusion that boredom is primarily a function of attention, and is also greatly influenced by our perception of the environment and our feelings about it. They cite a study by Robin Damrad-Frye and James Laird in the August, 1989 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.  In this study, participants had to listen to a tape recordomg of a person reading anarticle.  In the next room, there was a television soundtrack playing.  For some groups listening to the article, the TV was very loud and distracting, for others it was barely noticeable, and for some it was not playing at all.  After listening to the article, people rated their boredom during the study. Those who heard the barely noticeable TV soundtrack reported higher levels of boredom than the other two groups. The group who heard the loud TV show reported feeling frustrated but not bored. Those who heard the low level soundtrack had difficulty concentrating, but weren’t sure why. They attributed this feeling to boredom. In fact other studies have shown that the more you try and distract yourself to alleviate boredom, the more bored you feel as you recognise that you are trying to distract yourself and realise the situation must be boring.

This is a good explanation as to why the book of magazine you bought just to make a journey go quicker doesn’t hit the spot and you end up putting it down in frustration; a combination of trying to amuse yourself in an inevitably boring situation, and low level noise and distraction.

It seems a trivial matter, but boredom can be dangerous. Boredom and lack of attention can be fatal for military personnel, airline pilots or other people operating dangerous machinery.

Despite the survey of the literature so far, there is very little advice on how to tackle boredom. However one study found that when participants were placed in a boring situation doing a mundane task, those who had been made aware of the boredom inducing effects of mind-wandering felt less bored than those who were asked to think about things they’d rather be doing in the task. Even an awareness of the feeling of boredom helped alleviate the effects. By that measure researching and writing this post should mean I never feel bored again!

Two more things help alleviate boredom; ambient movement can help people stay engaged. When airports moved baggage claims further from arrival gates flyers’ satisfaction increased. The positive, goal-directed act of walking was better than waiting around fruitlessly. Even low level movement can help keep attention maintained, which is why the Tangle Toy was invented, and why I no longer feel guilty for doodling in boring meetings.

Arousal is an important aspect of boredom. Boredom can be a disparity between our arousal and our need for stimulation and the ability of the environment to meet that need. To this end, lowering arousal is a way of alleviating boredom, creating a relaxed rather than bored state. One of the best ways of doing this is mindfulness, being in the moment, concentrating on your surroundings and your feelings.

For me personally, I know my ‘boredom’ stems from wanting to do too much, and worrying that committing to any one thing will not be enough. I feel like everything I do should have a purpose and be working towards making myself a better person, and nothing is good enough. Consequently I feel bored and cannot focus on any one thing, aware all the time that the moments are slipping away. I am very grateful then, that my mum bought me some felt tipped pens and a colouring book for Christmas. Yes, I am a 31 year old with my own colouring book. But as a child psychotherapist my mum instinctively knows the benefits that colouring books, or other such activities, can have. Apart from the creative experience, the repetitive action and and low level of concentration required can induce a mindful state, where thoughts and feelings are not suppressed, but just flow through you. Similar effects can be achieved from the simple act of stroking pets. In fact a team of ‘Comfort Dogs’ were sent to Sandy Hook to help the victims of the massacre there. One girl spoke for the first time in a week while a dog lay in her lap.

So, now my hour has passed, Iris is calling for me, and there is no longer time to feel bored. Tired, frustrated, entertained and all the other feelings that go with having children. But not bored.

Stepping into the unknown

I’ve been a quiet on the blogging front recently, as well as doing very little crafting. I’ve been preoccupied, and there is only so much room in my head. But after posting my latest post I felt a bit of an uplift and I remembered how good blogging makes me feel. So I thought I would use my blog as a way of thinking out my preoccupation. One aspect common to people who are extroverts is that they tend to think out loud. Whereas introverts think inside their heads and carefully weigh up what they want to say, extroverts just blurt out what comes into their heads and think it through as it comes out. This is why some extroverts (myself included) can sound a bit chaotic in their speech, going off on tangents and forgetting their initial points. This is also why extroverts often dominate discussions and conversations, not because they like the sounds of their own voices as some might think, but because they just can’t help themselves, it’s their way of thinking things through.

Anyway, I think this blog post might be a way for me to think out loud. It may not be of interest to you; I have tried to protect my readers from the boring minutiae of my life until now. But as well as helping me thinks things through, it may be that some of you have just the advice I need. So here goes:

I have not really enjoyed my job for a while now. I don’t want to go into details, suffice to say its a respectable job, requiring degree level education, medium well paid, but it just hasn’t been the job I thought I was signing up for. When on the odd occasion I did some sort of personal effectiveness course, like the MBTI type thing, I really enjoyed it. I would read the course material and think “I get this. I feel at home with this” and it wasn’t that I knew the stuff already, but I had the foundations with which to assimilate this information. It was so refreshing to be in a course and actually understand what was being said.

What this made me realise was how much I missed psychology. Now, I left University with a Masters degree swearing that I was never going to be a psychologist or work in a University again. I was fed up with the low priority that teaching and education had compared to the research side, which was, as far as I could see, a bunch of emotionally deficient academics fannying around in labs spending a lot of money doing research that appeared to have very little practical application. Whether or not that was the reality, I stopped all links with academia and psychology when I started my new job.

Now I have conceded that perhaps I might actually like to be psychologist. But what sort? Well, definitely not a Clinical Psychologist, I don’t want to work with clinical groups, it’s not my bag. In the same vein I don’t really want to be an Educational or Child Psychologist, given that I’m not a massive fan of OPC (other people’s children). I’m not sure I’d make a very good counsellor or psychotherapist, I’m not great at listening and not talking (see above).I’ve tried to think about what I like to do and what I like about psychology. I like problem solving; I like trying to come up with ideas; I like trying to help people, but not people with really serious problems; I like the psychology of what motivates people and what makes them happy. So, I have been toying with the idea of Occupational Psychology. There are two main roadblocks in this idea however. The first is I’m not really sure about the reality of Occ Psych as a career. I’ve tried to explore this by sending my CV to a couple of Occ Psych companies offering some admin services in return for some shadowing but had no reply. The second problem, and this is the big one, the training. I’d have to do an MSc in Occupational Psychology, which I’m not adverse to in theory.

I can do the course part-time and distance learning. But there are risks, and I’m not good at risk taking. The risks are:
– money, it will cost between 5 and 10k to do the course. I’d have to get a Career Development Loan, assuming I’d be able to get one and not laughed out of the bank
– time, it is going to take up all my spare time. They estimate around 10-12 hours a week which doesn’t sound much, except I have a job, a house, two young children, a blog and various other hobbies. The hobbies would take a hit. Very little blogging and crochet. There will be an impact on my family life too, DH would have to do more, I would have to sleep less!
– what if I don’t like it? I’ve been dipping into a few books on the subject and they are a little bit dry. Is that a sign that I won’t like it, or is it simply that text books read out of the academic context and without a clear goal just are a little dry?
– what if there is no job at the end of it? The main idea is to move on in my career. Sure a degree is a nice thing to do for fun, but it is costly fun.

So there is my dilemma. I’ve tried thinking of alternatives. One alternative is do nothing, stay in my job and crawl the slippery slope of middle management. Except the thought of doing that for the next 35 years makes me want to shoot myself a little bit. Doing this course would feel like an exit plan, and it might help me enjoy my job more without the crashing feeling that This Is It. I’ve tried thinking of other viable careers. I thought maybe FE teaching in Psychology, but again, it’s more training and I think the jobs and hard to come by. I thought about coaching. Now that really does interest me, but the course and training levy would be similar and then I’d have to try and set up my own business. That’s too scary for me right now, as the main breadwinner with 2 little ones. I’m not sure I could actually do it at this stage in life. The one thing I need is security, which is the main thing that keeps me in my current role.

I’m this close *holds up a finger and thumb* to making a decision. But I want answers, answers that I am realistically never going to get, will I like it, will it overwhelm me, will I be able to afford it, will I get a job at the end, will it be worth the money? You might remember a post I wrote on decision making. The book I was reading said that change is hard and is is normal to feel ambivalent about it. It said you only need to be 51% sure about your decision, i.e. it is just a little bit more right than wrong. I’d say I’m at about 49%. But I’m working on the last 2%.

Stay tuned for part two of the dilemma which is “which course should I take?” I bet you’re eagerly awaiting that one!

The race that isn’t worth winning

This post was inspired by a letter that I read in the Observer a couple of weeks ago (just so you I managed to track down the author of the letter and obtained his permission to publish it. I’m sure you don’t care but I wanted to impress you with my cyber stalking abilities!).

Well, how convenient for neoclassical economics: upward mobility and socioeconomic status are not “good for you” (“Why being stuck in the same job is bad for you”, News , last week)? Promotion, higher income and status are already feted as the essential motivators to economic growth, hence justifying vast and increasing income and wealth differentials in the UK. Now those who fail this race also stand accused of being the hapless architects of their own ill health…

…If we perceive ourselves in a race, or feel compelled to join one, then, while winning might save us, we might also die in the process. A society that aspires to promote emotional wellbeing and less ill health needs to off subtle solutions, such as flatter income and status hierarchies, and cultures that genuinely value the contributions of all.

Adrian Barritt

Lancing, West Sussex


Mr Barritt also mentions his father, who died at 46 after moving his family for idyllic Cornwall chasing promotion. This post is a difficult one for me to write actually. I am the type of person who constantly wants more, who regularly feels like there is a better life to be had, and who measures my value in terms of success, not necessarily material success, but certainly career and status. It is a constant source of stress to me that I am the only one of my friends who does not own their own house. And therein lies the rub: would homeownership, or my lack of it, be such a source of stress to me if none of my peers owned their own homes. Highly unlikely. It’s an often quoted fact that despite the trappings of 21st Century life, iPods, laptops, mobile phones etc. we are no happier now than we were 60 years old. I think that the impact of these gadgets, designed to improve our lives, is lessened further by their ubiquity.


It is hard to escape the reality that we measure ourselves and our success against those around us. Things like massive HD TVs, fancy clothes, flashy jewellery make us feel happy and special until everyone around us has the same thing. Even those who think they aren’t affected by what others think, or how they compare against others still do to some extent. Did you have a shower this morning? Put on some make up or shave? Do you think you would still do that if you were on a deserted island with no one else around? We do these things because that’s what society dictates, and not following those norms leaves us feeling like outsiders. I’ve been party to discussions on Mumsnet about things like whether one should shower every day. There are some people who are content to bath or shower every few days, and some who think it is nothing less than disgusting if you don’t shower each day. And others for whom a twice daily shower is regulation. But 100 years ago no-one would have been arguing about this. Even 50 years ago, weekly baths and a quick wipe with a flannel every day satisfied most people’s hygiene desires. Yet as we and technology evolve so do our collective standards. What was acceptable 50 years ago will make you a social pariah today.


Trying to keep up with society’s norms is hard work. Trying to keep up with society’s extremes is even harder. Yet people still want to have the looks and lives of celebrities and other successful people. When we focus on what we haven’t got that someone else has we are always going to be unhappy, there will always be something we don’t have, unless of course Bill Gates is reading my blog. I heard he does you know.


It’s not just about material possessions, that is just a symptom of the wider malaise. Another such symptom, which the letter above references, is the constant aspiration for better jobs, more successful positions. Books like Screw Work Let’s Play, and other motivational tomes are all about shaking off the shackles of banality and living the life we deserve. But for some people run of the mill jobs are all they can or want to aspire to. We should applaud that, revere it. Why is it that rock stars, Hollywood actors, or footballers get to make millions by doing something they love, surely the fact that they get to spend life doing what they enjoy is reward enough. It’s not like they work harder than nurses, or factory workers. It’s not like they are necessarily more intelligent than a supermarket cashier; you only have to listen to what comes out of the mouths of certain footballers or pop stars to realise that. And they are not necessarily morally superior either. Yet they have money, status, and power. They are glorified and celebrated.


What about the checkout person who is still smiling and polite after 8 hours of bleeping groceries through the checkout? What about the family who live in an overcrowded council house on minimum wage yet manage to bring up happy well rounded kids? What about the person going into their minimum wage job each day, their whole lives, working so as not to be a burden on anyone else? These people, who are satisfied and happy with their lives, should be celebrated, and their jobs should be valued and not demonised. I’d like to see a book released called “Stop wasting your time trying to be another entrepreneur and get a real job helping someone”.


Chiumento, a “talent management agency”, recently conducted some research into what motivated staff. Using their results they grouped workers into 5 categories  based on what motivated them in their work, with factors ranging from organisational culture to company reputation. The full paper can be found here but there are some pertinent facts relating to this post. 41.3% of staff surveyed were categorised as Socialisers. For them the important factors in their jobs are a warm friendly environment, stability and a good work-life balance. Pay was is one of the least motivating factors for this group, as long as they feel they are being treated fairly. 19% are classed as Protectionists; they crave security and certainty, and while they want to be rewarded, they are willing to make sacrifices to get the security they need. Their career path and development are relatively low in importance. For the last three groups, Achievers, Materialists and True Believers, motivation is more likely to be drawn from the status of the company, the rewards and the need for personal development and advancement. It is both telling and gratifying to see that for about 60% of people just having a job that treats them well is enough. All these books trying to encourage people to chase riches are unnecessary for this 60%, they are happy already, thank you very much.


But despite these interesting figures, I feel we still need to change our society to value more than wealth and the trappings that come with it. Why should we feel a constant need to strive for more, a better job, more money, more stuff. We should be striving for more happiness, more creativity, more compassion. But not more than our neighbour, I’m not talking about swapping one race for another. I’m talking about getting out of the race and using all the free time we have when we aren’t stressing over our position in society.


I blame the Olympics. And Euro 2012, the Oscars and all these other competitions that glamorise winning, with no consolation prize for the runners up and the also rans. It may be that winning the race is a positive experience, and the sense of achievement good for your health, but what are the prospects for the majority of ‘losers’? I don’t doubt that being in a rubbish job is soul destroying and bad for your health, but maybe some of that is just a response to the way society views such jobs. We need to measure success in different ways, both in ourselves and in others.


I mentioned that this post is hard for me to write. I am a naturally ambitious and aspirational person, and put a great store in my own personal success. Unfortunately my dilettante ways and difficulty in seeing projects through to the end means that I rarely meet my own goals. In one of the books that I read on personality it said that people of my personality type often go through life never feeling completely satisfied. Before I would have thought that was a good thing, that it showed ambition and drive. Increasingly I’m finding the feeling rather sad and exhausting. With the finish line nowhere in sight I think it is time for me to think about getting out of the race.

A little more love to have, a little more love to give

Be kind to yourself – a print from mylittlebuffalo’s etsy shop

“Self-love seems so often unrequited.”
– Anthony Powell

You have to love yourself before someone can love you, so the saying goes. Or maybe it’s you can’t love someone else until you love yourself. Something like that. Anyway, it seems the saying might not be far off. A recent study demonstrates that self compassion is associated with a healthier relationship. Neff and Beretvas (in press) questioned 104 participants and their partners on their self compassion, their partner’s perception of their self compassion, and various aspects of their relationship, such as control, relational well-being and verbal aggression.

The study found that people who had higher levels of self compassion were in healthier relationships and less controlling of their partners.

The authors noted that self compassion is different from self esteem. Self esteem can be unstable and conditional; often relying on others; involving feelings of superiority; selfish and egotistical. The authors define self compassion as having three components:

Self-kindness versus self-self judgement being kind to oneself when suffering, comforting oneself instead of judging and blaming oneself

Common humanity versus isolation the recognition of the shared human experience and that everyone makes mistakes. Rather than feeling isolated one feels connected with others

Mindfulness versus over-identification a mindful response to suffering means neither suppressing nor ruminating on feelings of suffering. Rather than dramatically running away with ones feelings, mindfulness involves maintaining a balanced awareness and acceptance of the feelings as the fabric of life

The more self compassion that you have, as defined above, the more accepting you can be of other people’s flaws and feelings. The results of the study also showed that people with higher self compassion were less controlling over their partners. It’s possible that people who are kinder to themselves and happier are more content to give their partners to freedom to make themselves happy.

Of course the study is correlational so we can’t say that being self compassionate causes a healthier relationship, but it seems logical that if you can’t forgive yourself for your mistakes or flaws, you will struggle to forgive others. If you believe that you are the cause of your suffering, then you are likely to blame others for their own problems, and be reluctant to expend your own resources helping, them.

But how how do you know if you are self compassionate and how can you have more self compassion? There is a test here, which is very similar to the one the authors of the study used. And in order to increase your self compassion, clinical psychologist, Dr Christopher Germer, has developed a form of therapy called Mindful Self Compassion (MSC), which aims to help people be in the moment with their negative feelings, to accept them and to hold these emotions in”loving awareness”. Sound like a load of old cobblers? Well, it may be, but Dr Germer has kindly provided free downloads of his meditations for anyone to try.

I really recommend you give it a go. Hopefully when life gets tough you can follow the tenets of self compassion: self kindness, humanity and mindfulness. Being kinder to yourself when things are tough is not simply a selfish act. As this study has shown, self compassion is associated with healthier relationships. Being kinder to yourself also gives you the tools and the emotional freedom to be more compassionate to others around you. It’s not just a case of “do unto to others as you would have done to you” but do unto yourself what you would do to others.

Psychocraft. Or something.

Recently I have been having somewhat of a career crisis. My job is fairly respectable, but I just don’t love it. I like the idea of it more than I like doing it. It is actually the job I wanted to do before I left university, but the reality wasn’t quite all it is cracked up to be. I was always very career oriented and felt like I was destined for big things. Having children tempered that somewhat, but the biggest factor has been a loss of confidence in my abilities. I did really well at school and university. I’ve got a Masters degree you know, and I got a distinction. I don’t get to say that very often, much though I often want to when at work I am having to grapple with a task like trying to get 10 people in a meeting together.


I studied psychology at university, but by the end decided I didn’t want to be a psychologist. After 5 years I didn’t to want to spend any longer at university or in training, I wanted to be getting on with my career. Hmmm. That worked well didn’t it? It turns out actually maybe I do want to be a psychologist. Or a writer. Or a professional crafter. Therein lies my problem. I want to do so many things, I’m afraid to commit.

A few years ago I found a fantastic book in a charity shop. It was pure fate that I found this book, someone had obviously given it away because they didn’t rate it but for me it was like a window into my soul. One man’s trash and all that. The book was What Do I Do When I Want to Do Everything? The basic premise of the book is that some people just flit from one activity to another, never sticking long enough to go deep; never really feeling like they have achieved anything. The author, Barbara Sher, calls these people ‘scanners’, and lists several different reasons why these people behave like this such as fear of commitment, looking for their niche, or simply just a need for novelty. Scanners are sometimes derided as dilettantes (hello, have you seen the name of my blog?) but often they are their own harshest critics, feeling like they are failing or not achieving anything. To read this was amazing, the book described me to a tee and Barbara goes to great lengths to reassure scanners that they way they are is perfectly normal, and can be harnessed. One of the suggestions is to try and combine your passions which is what I have attempted to do.


I mentioned that I might actually want to be a psychologist. Well I am considering doing another MSc, this time in Occupational Psychology. I could do it part time and through distance learning, but even so, with two young children and a job I couldn’t do it for at least another year. I also want to give myself time to figure out whether it is what I really want to do.


In the meantime I am spending my time crafting (God, that is such a wanky word, I cringe every time I use it!). But much as I love making stuff, I don’t find it intellectually stimulating. Now before all you other crafters lynch me, I’m not saying its not difficult, there are some amazingly talented people out there. Crafting can be technically and physically challenging, but trying to understand a pattern isn’t the same as trying to understand why someone behaves in a certain way. So I’ve tried to put some psychology into my crafting, I’m combining my passions to create Psychraftology. Craftology. Psychcraftisvism. Psychocraft. I can work on the name.


I have three items to showcase for you as part of my new genre. The first is based on the Myers-Briggs Trait Inventory, or the MBTI. You may have heard or it and even taken it. The results come in the format of 4 letters, E or I, N or S, T or F, and J or P. If want more info about what these letters mean check out this website. The MBTI is a licensed test which can only be administered by licensed practitioners, but this website has an example if you want to find out you personality type. For the even keener reader I recommend the book Please Understand Me II, which is slightly different from the MBTI but maps directly onto it. For the record I am an ENFP, which incidentally is quite commons for scanners.

What's your type?

These are going to be badges, but for now they are just buttons. They are cross stitched MBTI types so you can wear your type with pride! The are cross stitched on 22 count aida which is used to cover self-cover buttons. You can remove the button bit, which I have done, and super glue a badge backing onto the button, which I haven’t done yet.


Exhibit number two my cross stitched interpretation of a Rorschach ink blot. “Why?” you might ask. Well, why the hell not.

Tell me what you see...

The Rorschach ink blot is traditional projection test used to assess personality characteristics and emotional function. Tell me what you see in mine and I will tell you if you are crazy or not.


The piece de resistance in my show and tell today is an embroidered diagram of the brain, showing labelled lobes and some well known areas of the brain. Broca’s area is involved in the production of speech, and Wenicke’s area in the understanding of it. The visual cortex is where we start to process the images that come from our retinas. They travel along the optic nerves to the back of our brain, the parietal lobe. The brain is a marvellous thing, and we should nurture it, look after it, and not take it for granted. There is an excellent documentary on BBC iPlayer about the brain. It’s available for about another week so watch it while you can.

My brain is pretty and full of flowers and lace.

For me, this embroidery is about using a craft that is more often used to depict twee little birds and flowers and fluffy things, and creating something with a little more depth. If you like this you might also like a brain colouring book. It certainly helped while away those hours studying neuropsychology at university.


So, these are the projects that I have been working on for the past couple of months. I’d really appreciate any comments you have. You are probably going to see more and more psychology related stuff, not just crafting, on here. Does that put you off? The main thrust of this blog has been crafting, and it is certainly easier to market a niche blog. I’m debating whether I should branch out into a new blog, but as someone pointed out, the USP for my blog has always been about doing lots of different things. Any comments will be welcomed.

The cost of politics: or why if you haven’t got anything nice to say you shouldn’t say anything at all

Speak no evil, lest you be thought evil yourself

A person stands in the middle of a crowd of on lookers pointing at a someone opposite him, loudly says something derogatory and cutting about them, while all his friends guffaw from behind him, slapping their legs in delight and joining in with the jeering. You could be forgiven for thinking that Prime Minister’s Question Time was actually a bunch of boys in a prep school playground. Insulting not only the opposition, but also their colleagues, by calling them “a mug”, “frustrated” (the implication being ‘sexually’), or telling them to “Calm down dear”  will no doubt soon be followed by such gems as “Yeah, well so’s yer mum” and “I know you are but what I am I”.


As I was listening to Ed Miliband on Radio 4’s Today show yesterday, it struck me how exhausting it must be to constantly have to battle with the opposition, as well as actually doing the job of, you know, governing the country, or whatever it is that opposition parties do, tending to constituencies and stuff. I wonder how much more governments would get done if they weren’t constantly nitpicking at their opponents, and having to fire fight problems arising from slips of the tongue, or throw away comments.


That’s not to mention the financial cost of all this fighting. The US election this November is estimated to cost upwards of $6 billion, and that is without the expense of a Democratic primary. $6 billion! I can’t even begin to conceive of how much money that is, let alone what that money could be better spent towards. I’m no statistician but I am guessing a few hospitals, doctors, nurses, ensuring that millions of poor and uninsured Americans receive medical support… Instead, around half of that money is spent on advertising. While in the UK we have to watch dull Party Political Broadcasts while we are waiting for Eastenders, the US are subjected to creative nefarious attack ads accusing the candidates of all kinds of conspiracies and evil deeds. These adverts cost hundreds of thousands to produce and air on prime time TV slots.


But while politicians of all nations and parties continue to trade snide insults via adverts, the Today Show, or on Twitter they would do well to consider the findings of psychologists in the US who in 1998 published a study which demonstrated that ‘communicators are perceived as possessing the very traits they describe in others’. They call this ‘spontaneous trait transference’. So when Cameron is calling Miliband “a mug”, Mitt Romney calls Obama “a failed president”, or Labour MP Simon Danczuk calling Cameron a liar over rises in train fares, they risk themselves being seen as possessing the very trait that they are accusing their opponent of.


So can they just accept that this hectoring and one-upmanship is pointless, distracting, and sometimes even derogatory to their own cause, and just get on with running the country? I’d call them a bunch of brainless and juvenile bags of hot air, but then you’d just think that I was actually describing myself…


Be a little bit happier

I’m using my short crafting break to catch up on some reading. I find it hard to combine the two things I enjoy most, crochet and reading, so as I focus on one the other falls by the wayside. I’ve had to return the last few library books I borrowed unread, knowing that in the Christmas craft frenzy I would never have to time to read them.

You’ll see that my blog is noticeably lacking in New Years resolutions. I haven’t made any, which is unusual for me. I have given myself a short term goal for January though. A goal is different to a resolution. A resolution is something you resolve to keep regularly. A goal is something you aim to achieve, that eventually comes to an end.

My tentative goal for this month is to read 5 books. I’m not sure how realistic that actually is, but that is what I am aiming to do. The first book I started on Monday and finished today. It was The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. It wasn’t an instructional book as I expected to be, more a personal memoir of the author’s year-long project to try and make herself happier by making small changes in her life.

I really identified with the author and her personality (in fact I spent the time not reading the book stalking her on Twitter!). She maintains that she is not a fundamentally unhappy person, but has a habit towards short-temper, grouchiness, and a sense that things should be better.

Rubin managed to do a lot of research on the subject. I imagine the project was a lot easier given that she is a full-time writer and the project turned into a best-selling book. I’m not sure how easy it would be with a out of the home full on job, less financial stability, and little on hand childcare.

She breaks the task of being happy into 12 themes, one for each month, and then sets concrete resolutions for each month, marking her progress off against a resolutions chart. She is very honest about the things that did and didn’t work for her, and the sceptical reactions she encountered, not least from her husband.

The activities, and the conclusion, are fairly predictable, and there is little that isn’t really common sense. But somehow the methodical way Rubin tackled the project transformed a meaningless resolution into a real exercise in self-development.

I’m totally inspired by the book and am forcing DH to read enough extracts to make him hooked too! I intend to start my own happiness project. While Rubin maintains that every project is unique, I think that because of our similarities mine will follow a similar path. One of the books she references is even on my to-read list this month. My mum bought me a old copy of Jung’s Memories, Dreams and Reflections to read. And Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness is one I picked up from the library recently which has reawakened my interest in psychology.

Finally, if you love this book like I do, you will also love ‘Help! How to become a little bit happier and get slightly more done’ by Oliver Burkeman. It’s an appraisal of the self-help movement focusing on actual things that have been proven to work to improve your life, just a little. January is a time to make changes, but big changes are unrealistic and unsustainable. It’s the little things that altogether add up to make a difference.

HELP!: How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done