January 2017

Derek K. Tracy, Dan W. Joyce, Sukhwinder S. Shergill

Full textThe British Journal of Psychiatry Jan 2017, 210 (1) 87-88; DOI: 10.1192/bjp.210.1.87

Are you pumped-up with great New Year resolutions? Feeling guilty about too many recent Quality Street and time on the sofa? To spur you on, without trying to add to your worries, a couple of papers have evaluated novel addiction types. Work on rats has shown that a diet of fatty and high-sugar foods triggered changes in the brain that promoted further food-seeking behaviour - even before they put on any weight - and some rats were genetically much more predisposed to this. Junk food addiction? It appears to be a real thing, with some individuals particularly vulnerable. To add balance, an investigation into so-called ‘internet gaming disorder’ has found that any rates of ‘addiction’ and harm from on-line gaming are very minimal, and it does not map onto better established proposed analogous models such as problematic gambling. Of course, whether you find that comforting or not probably depends who has their hands on the games-console, and you might choose to keep that nugget of information to yourself.

We live in globally challenging times, and anxieties about the political landscape in 2017 are common public-domain conversation. To challenge you – you – and to stop you – yes, you – getting smug towards trans-Atlantic politics, new research has looked at the attitudes of 18,000 Europeans to asylum seekers, and the factors that might modify this. Interestingly, the profile of the surveyed European (their age, education level, income, political ideology) made little difference to their attitudes, but those of potential asylum seekers did. Speaking the host language proficiently and having a professional background improved their odds of being ‘accepted’, but being male, migrating for economic reasons, and being of Muslim faith decreased how Europeans viewed them. One European country in the survey had both the lowest pro-rata actual rate of asylum applications yet the most hostile views towards asylum seekers: we’ll let you guess which one.

Finally, why don’t all men sport beards and moustaches? These are very strong ‘secondary sexual characteristics’, and from an evolutionary viewpoint, they should therefore be absolutely irresistible catnip to women. Two studies have tested this further. One had a very Freudian outcome, finding that women liked men exactly as hairy as their father had been when they were a child. The other looked at the global prevalence and found beard wearing to be more common in cities worldwide and in less-developed countries. The authors’ conclusion is that such environments have greater levels of anonymity, and thus provoke men into demonstrating their masculinity. One of us lives close to Hoxton, where bearded men sell bowls of cereal in restaurants, and can vouch for it, but we'll let you make your own call on the topic.