Archive for the ‘Psychology’ category

Going Under

September 3, 2007


This post arrives quite late in the day. There are a number of reasons for this, none of which I’ll go into now. Why don’t I just get on with it?

You’ll remember me talking a bit about going to see a stage hypnotist? You’ll also remember (possibly) that I never actually described the show, much to your undoubted frustration. Perhaps I’ll do that bit as a preface to the main meat of this post.

I thought this was a really interesting show. The guy started out with nine volunteers, who were duly hypnotised, and persuaded to do sundry wacky things. As things progressed, a couple of folk were asked to sit down again, presumably because they weren’t ‘getting into it’.

At one point, it was suggested that the volunteers try to hug as many of the audience as possible. A nice idea, I thought, which could superimpose a lovely little ‘feelgood’ layer onto the general bufoonery. I barely expected that, mid-hug with Your Humble Author, one volunteer would perceive herself to be stuck fast.

It was another one of those ‘competing social pressure’ moments. You see, when the hug was initiated, I did the appropriate thing and returned the gesture. But now it appeared that this poor girl was sprawled over yours truly against her better judgement, and I wondered what I should do. Should I just keep on a-hugging? Or just drop my hands back to my sides? A huggee (me) doesn’t want to appear like they are enjoying themselves long after the hugger (them) has ceased to do so, for risk  of appearing like some variety of pervert. Then again, neither does one wish to betray the sense that they are repulsed by physical human contact in general. It’s a poser.

Once the show was over, and gamely clutching my newly-won hypnotherapy weight-loss CD, we ventured outside, exchanged our respective opinions, and parted. But, at that moment, I vowed to return to The Old Scots Club and undergo The Process for myself.

And so, a few days later, and accompanied by my trusty documentarian Colin Eye, I once again took up my seat. This time, I sat in an aisle seat near the front, so that I could hop up onto the stage at a moment’s notice, without the indignity of actually running in public. I noticed a greater-than-average number of unspeakably posh people in the audience, the type for whom I would assume public indignity to be their bread and butter.

When the cry for volunteers went up, I was instantly in a seat centre-stage. It would almost qualify as teleportation, so swift was my transference from one chair to the other. I signed the little slip of paper which absolved the hypnotist of any responsibility in the event of my death (yes, it actually said it) and we were underway. And all the while, the Great Eye was ever watchful.

(Since drafting this post, it has come to my attention that Eye’s got a blog. Check it out here).

He did the normal relaxation procedures, introduced a bit of suggestion, and then came and tapped each person on the head, upon which they were encouraged to ‘go to sleep’, slumped convincingly on the person next to them. My right ear ended up on the (now horizontal) back of my neighbour. I remember thinking that her pulse was going like the clappers.

Before waking us up, we were given a post-hypnotic suggestion to become stuck in our respective positions. Eyes open, wide awake, and it was so. Except it wasn’t really. At least one volunteer pointed this out to the hypnotist, who quickly ejected them from the stage. As for me, I knew I wasn’t really stuck, but didn’t see any point in proving otherwise, so didn’t try to move. I looked at my arm lying on the chair, and felt pretty sure I could move it if I wanted to, but chose not to.

It wasn’t long before the pool of volunteers was whittled down. Soon, there were but four of on the stage. The other three were all girls, each of whom I remember vividly. At some point in the proceedings, it dawned on me that to stand up and say ‘actually, this isn’t really working for me’ would be far more embarrassing than whatever the hypnotist had in mind for me to do. And therein lies the active ingredient, I think. A context is provided in which you can behave more outrageously than normal, but in which people will not think you are an idiot. What people will object to, though, is people not getting ‘stuck in’. They’ve paid for their tickets after, and wish to be entertained.

Prior to the show, I was formulating a strategy with Eye. We said that I should have a secret signal to communicate that I was just playing along. Then we started talking about other things and forgot about it. It was only after I was stood next to him during the show, my right arm inconveniently stuck in the air, that it occurred to me to tip him a wink. But then, I thought, I’d spoil the show for anyone who happened to catch me. So I didn’t.

When the inevitable ‘show-stopper’ came around, it was with a feeling of tired resignation that I munched the onion, pretending it was an apple. Actually, I quite like onions. So much so that, when the true identity of the vegetable was revealed and I was invited to spit it out, I could only confess (a tad sheepishly) that I’d swallowed it. I gave a little pat of the tummy and an ‘mmm’ noise, which was the best I could think of in the circumstances.

And so, when all was said and done, I considered the fact-finding mission an interesting success. I suspect that I was not as ‘into it’ as some of the others, although the hypnotist (if he realised) never let on. I obligingly (and quite literally) danced to his tune for a little while, and then went home. I am left with a feeling that social pressure, rather than some bizarrely altered state of concsiousness is probably at the root of it.

Although, I’d be happy to have another go, just to be sure…


Look Into My Eyes… (2)

August 18, 2007

I hope that all you Edinburgh folk are enjoying the festival. And for you non-Edinburgh folk who have made the trip, but felt the urge to check the ‘Logues from a convenient internet cafe, welcome. And for those who don’t know what I’m talking about, my commiserations.

The Edinburgh festival is simply splendid. Although, having said that, it doesn’t really feel like a festival. It’s really just a three-week period when there is a more-than-average amount on at the theatre. But we love it, and so does everyone else, so there.

I availed myself of some particular delights last night. The first of which was the Robin Ince show Robin Ince Knew This Would Happen. A characteristically bizarre title for a comedy show, I thought. Of course, Robin Ince will be a familiar name to you, after his star turn in the first series of The Office. He played the (some would say pivotal) role of an unsuccessful job applicant. Last night, I thought he was regrettably so-so, but on the up-side, while standing in the queue to get in, I think I spotted Nicholas Parsons.

After the show, we stumbled across the road to the half-price ticket tent at the Princes Mall, and scooped a couple of tickets for Stef’s Sidesplitting Hypnosis.


 I should explain that I’ve never been to a live hypnosis show before, and that some of the circles in which I move would frown on this sort of thing. In fact, when I was a student at St Andrews university, there was an act at the student union which involved the world’s only dog hypnotist. Which is to say that the dog did the hypnotising, not that some bloke thought it would be fun to hypnotise dogs rather than people. I’m not even sure that a dog could be hypnotised. It wouldn’t make for a good show, in my opinion. I doubt, for example, that a hypnotised canine could be persuaded to speak Chinese or do Michael Jackson moves, although I would pay good money to see it.

Incidently, I came across the Hypnodog again recently, as he was somehow implicated in Danny Wallace‘s rather enjoyable Yes Man

Where was I? Oh yes. This hypnotic dog show came to the student union, and I was interested in attending, but there was a little old lady outside wearing a sandwich board emblazoned with some message to the effect that hypnotism was the work of the devil, and should therefore be avoided at all costs. As it turned out, the same little old lady was possessed of dozens of similar sandwich boards (one for every conceivable occasion) and would always display herself prominently in each and every situation where people looked to be in danger of enjoying themselves. Still, she had our eternal destiny at heart, bless her.

In fear of being branded a minion of dark forces, I gave it a miss. But since then, I’ve realised that there is nothing sinister about hypnosis per se, and was keen to go and see it in action.

A moment’s hesitation denied me the chance of being hynotised personally, as the stage was quickly stormed by eager volunteers. However, the chap in charge held a little impromptu competition amongst audience members, where he gave away a copy of his hypnosis CD for weight loss to the person who could name his website address. In retrospect, it was pretty shameless of him, and I’m embarrassed to have won it. Not to say I won’t try it out though. I’ve got a bit of a paunch on the go at the moment.

I haven’t even got to the show itself yet, so do forgive me. There is more to say, but it will have to be said another day.

It’s Vanished!

July 27, 2007

Wednesday was a momentous day for me. ‘Twas the day, against all odds, that I submitted my thesis. So, those of you who have always wondered ‘just what is the role of self-efficacy, locus of control and intellectual ability in guided self-help for depression, anxiety and stress’ need only make your way to this 96-page tome.

The final print took place on Tuesday. Inevitably, having printed the required three copies, I found a mistake on page 6 which, when rectified, threw the entire document out of kilter. But we got there in the end, at the sad expense of a few good-sized trees.

Wednesday took me, stumbling and deranged, into the bindery of the Edinburgh University library. The route to the bindery takes one through the basement, where every piece of electrical equipment that has ever been under the auspices of the university is discarded at the end of its tenure. There are mountains of monitors, computers, and all sorts of gubbins lying about. There are probably one or two moldering academics in there as well, somewhere. When you get a few layers down.

Those who have been following my hapless course into the world of magic would be most impressed, in that I managed to pull off an impressive trick without being aware of it. Let me tell you about it in the style of a instructional magic book:

The effect: the performer prints three copies of a 96 page thesis, and places each in an A4 envelope. These he places in his bag and takes home. The following day, he selects a spectator from the university bindery. The envelopes are then removed from the bag, and the three copies of the thesis placed on a flat surface in full view of the spectator. The front page of one of the copies is seen to be missing. The bag is shown to be empty. The performer should direct the spectator to make an extra photocopy of the missing page through the use of some finely judged-patter. The performer then leaves to submit two copies of the thesis, which are chosen at random by a further spectator in the clinical psychology administration office. The performer later discovers the missing front page at the back of the copy he has retained in his possession.
The method: I have absolutely no idea.

Anyway, despite a few hiccups, it’s in. I have decided not to look at it again until the deadline in a week’s time. I don’t want to notice some mistake I could have changed if I’d had the time.

Let the good times commence.


Working On It

June 22, 2007

You join me as I try to drag myself out of an unprecedented hiatus in bloguing. Yes, the blogue’s been on hold for a little while, but the masses (as is their wont) have been clamouring. Truth be told, my mind has been awash with blogue-fodder recently. Yet, somehow, putting finger to key has been something of an effort.

I’ve lived my life on the computer recently. You see, I am in the final throes of a thesis, which needs to be submitted on the 1st of August. You’ll know all about this, if you’ve been keeping up. It’s not going too badly. Today I managed to address (i.e. better conceal) a few methodological concerns. Yesterday was spent trying to shoehorn some new findings into a pre-written discussion. You should try it sometime.

Anyway, all this thesis chat will be boring for the likes of you. I need something to snag your interest.

Nothing’s coming.

I’ve been spending a bit of time refurbishing the cupboard under the stairs. From here on in, this will be the place from which I will update the ‘logues. So you can picture me at it, if that’s your thing. I’ve been in here for most the past week.

the-epicentre.jpgI’ve been thinking (as I do whenever I have a lengthy break from work) what it would be like not to have a job at all. To be terminally and voluntarily unemployed. If your plodding imagination needs a hand with this, why not imagine that you’ve scooped a preposterous windfall. A lottery win perhaps. Or maybe you’ve found some treasure. Go with what works. Now, imagine that you are now possessed of a suitable amount of wealth to sustain you until the end of your days. What do you do?

People probably fall into a couple of different camps here. You get the idealistic chumps who say it wouldn’t change their life, and they’d carry on just like before. That’s because they’re not doing their job for the money, they’re doing it for the satisfaction of developing themselves or helping others, or because it’s a pleasant way to pass the time.

Then there are those who’d leave their jobs in a shot, probably taking a moment to moon their colleagues on the way out.

As a contrary sort, I tend to number myself amongst the latter group when I’m at work. There are times when I can imagine nothing better than to live a life of unfettered leisure. I’ve been reading some poems by Philip Larkin recently, courtesy of line manager, Larkin-enthusiast, and some-time ‘logues commentator Wee Gorbals. Larkin was of the view that work was like a toad squatting on his life, polluting six days a week with its sickening poison. His poem Toads perfectly encapsulates his distaste for occupational activity.

But what’s the alternative? All the time I’ve been off this week, I’ve been fairly busy with my thesis. But what would I do once it was done? I suspect that I lack the imagination and drive to lead an interesting life of unemployment. I’d probably get up most days. Read a book, maybe. Ah, lunchtime. A DVD for the afternoon, perchance, followed by a walk to Tesco’s? Maybe tidy up a bit. Of course, there’d be no one around to talk to, since they’d all be at work. There’d be no excuse for leaving the blogue to lie dormant, I suppose, but would it be the sort of life that might make for a happy death-bed reminiscence? Not that that’s the be all and end all either, I guess. No one stays on their death-bed for long, after all.

Where was all this going? Nowhere very significant, really. I was just thinking out loud. My conclusion? Work is probably a good thing for me, because the sort of life I would lead without it doesn’t bear thinking about.

Give me your arm, old toad;
Help me down Cemetery Road.

Naked Ambition

June 1, 2007

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. (Genesis 3:7)

gok.jpg I was doing a cursory channel hop the other night (how you must envy me) when I came across a programme called How to Look Good Naked. The premise (for those who have thus far forgotten to tune in) is simple: a somewhat dowdy but pleasant-enough lady is placed in the care of uber-effeminate stylist Gok Wan. His mission is to get said woman to overcome that ingrained impulse to remain clothed in public. And thus the stage is set.

I only caught the uplifting denouement of the last show, in which the fruit of Gok Wan’s latest labour was (quite literally) displayed for all to see. Being able to wear a bikini in the middle of a shopping centre is no doubt a useful skill, and I certainly don’t deny that the lady in question looked most appealing as she paraded around in the near-altogether. However, I would probably question whether this behaviour, in itself, proves that one Looks Good Naked. I doubt this would be the verdict of the majority (or indeed the police) were I to give it a go.

Compelling as these programs are, I can’t help thinking they promote a weird, confusing ideology. On the one hand, looks are seen as the most important thing in a person’s identity. So much so that a smug Sarth Efrickan might suggest that you undergo the sort of surgery that leaves you looking like the recently beaten up, in order that she can parade you up and down the beach getting the public to guess your age. Brrr.

On the other, we’re also told that what we look like doesn’t really matter, and it’s what’s inside that counts. As Trinny would say (whilst laying a patronising hand on the shoulder of her latest frumpy protégé), ‘I think that the clothes are just the surface of this problem, Suze’.

This tension is nicely embodied in the How to Look Good Naked Site. It starts off saying all the right things, like how the media sets us unrealistic standards for what we should look like, and how we should be confident with what we’ve got and learn to respect ourselves. All very sensible, I’m sure. Then it gives us a list of 8 rules (not recommendations, mind) on which to base a beauty regime, which, if carried out to the letter, would probably take the best part of a week. And since they’re rules to be followed on a ‘weekly basis’, the whole process becomes suspiciously like painting the Forth Bridge: once you’ve finished, it’s already time to start again.

Have a look at the rules if you’re worried you’re falling short of the minimum aesthetic standard. I won’t reproduce them all here, but will mention one particular maxim with which I was quite taken: ‘your muff area should always be maintained’. Only the effeminate could get away with it.

What a lot of pressure. We’ve got to be grounded, confident people, whilst also maintaining an A-list appearance. It isn’t easy. But here’s a good tip for all those (like me) who fail to find solace at the spectacle of their naked selves.

Wear clothes.

Everything’s Beachy

May 24, 2007


I’ve been meaning to dedicate a little post to Fraser’s 30th birthday party, but haven’t quite found the time. Or rather I have, but have chosen to spend it on other things.

I’ll recapitulate. You’ll remember the context of my ill-fated stumble into that Morningside barber last week: I was trying to find something suitably Hawaiian / Caribbean to wear to Fraser’s do, but wasn’t having any luck. One of my fellow party-goers had contacted the man himself in order to get the precise detail of costume requirements, and was told ‘Hawaiian…Caribbean…it’s all the same! Girls in bikini’s was my thinking’.

Anyway, we were eventually organised. Ross and Mrs H both voiced some misgivings about my wearing shorts; as a concession to Mrs H, I agreed to wear jeans on top (and thus look like I was wearing a nappy) until I got there. To quiet Ross’s concerns, I assured him that these particular shorts were possessed of an adequate internal netting to prevent any embarrassing relevations during the evening. So all was well.

Bidding fare-thee-well to Mrs H, Ross and I headed West. After a protracted detour around the outskirts of Glasgow (note: when on the M8, exits can appear on the right) we made our way down Sauchiehall Street, and parked up a dark side street. As I tried to free myself from my jeans in as subtle a manner as possible, Hugh Grant came inexpicably to mind.

We negotiated the tempestuous West Coast conditions (for which we were more-or-less as ill-dressed as it is possible to be) and found ourselves inside the venue. There was a noticeable lack of bikini wearing going on (amongst the ladies at least) but Fraser didn’t seem too disappointed. He was on especially good form having experimented with fake tan to preposterous, trans-racial excess.

A couple of photos should suffice:




Let’s Face It

April 16, 2007

When browsing on the internet, I came across something so rich in blogging material that I am at a loss to know where to start. Not a total loss, thankfully.

st-andrews.jpgI found myself drawn inexorably towards my alma mater, the University of St Andrews. Let’s have three cheers for it, while we’re on the subject.

Further investigation took me into the bowels of the psychology department, where I spent many a lazy afternoon listening to folk talk about the social, experimental, physiological, pathological, evolutionary and philosophical incarnations of psychology. Not all on the same afternoon, mind. That wouldn’t have been lazy at all.

Homing in further, one stumbles into the visual perception lab. This is where we begin our fun in earnest.

The visual perception lab, whilst having a somewhat unfortunate acronym, has some excellent little bits and pieces to play around with.

One particular nugget that caught my eye was one with which you can upload a picture of your face in order to manipulate it in various ways. I’ve just spent an amusing half-hour with this, and I thought I’d share some of the results.

Firstly, here I am as I am known and loved:


But will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64? Or if I regress to childhood? Or become a rather feisty-looking young lady?


Now let’s see how I might look as an Afro-Caribbean, West-Asian or East-Asian:


 And then it gets a little bit more alarming:


On the left, we have a representation of Your Humble Author as an apeman (50% chimp). What do you mean ‘it doesn’t look any different’?

On the right, we have Your Humble Author represented as a ‘drunk’. Quite how imbibing alcohol might affect one’s appearance in this way is left unstated, sadly, but I still think it’s an amusing spectacle. And certainly an appropriate warning, as if one were needed, to lay off the sauce.