August 2017

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

Full text: The British Journal of Psychiatry Aug 2017, 211 (2) 124-125; DOI: 10.1192/bjp.211.2.124


We remember the London Olympics with fondness. I certainly do, and they took place near where I live. One of the arguments always trotted out in favour of hosting the Olympics is the ‘legacy’ aspect: “three weeks of incredible celebrations and afterwards we’ll also turn [insert name of local dive here] into the envy of the world!” Besides the magnificent glory that is Westfield shopping centre on a Saturday morning - as I say, I live nearby, so don’t diss me if you love Stratford – is this legacy aspect true, and in particular, might all the investment help the well-being of local youngsters? A team from East London surveyed two thousand 11 and 12 years olds in host-borough Newham before, and on a couple of occasions after, the games, and compared them to children in neighbouring boroughs. Local kids showed no benefit in wellbeing, and, perhaps counter-intuitively, showed deterioration in their mental health. How do we reconcile this? It’s hard to be certain, but the study authors put forward a few interesting points: firstly, Olympic bidders put what they think is important into glossy brochures, and don’t ask locals about what might matter to them in a regeneration programme; secondly, maybe seeing lots of shiny new expensive apartment blocks and rich people move into your area doesn’t actually really help individuals feel much better about themselves. Plus, Westfield really is a dump.

Finally, hot or not? Always seeking the best and most expert advice for you, we turn to Scarlett Johannson for guidance on relationships. As well as being a wonderful actor – I’m sure Westfield would love to have her open their new Crocs shop – she also issues sage counsel; in this instance recently stating that monogamy is unnatural for humans. We review a neuroimaging study on our old friends the prairie voles (remember them?) that challenges this, and appears to have found where love is encoded in the brain. On that theme, we found another study that looks at what’s called ‘mate copying’: people are typically rated as better looking if others think they’re in a relationship, and even hotter still if people think their partner is good looking. Lots of experiments have shown this: show a random photo and ask participants to rate that person out of ten; show the same photo and tell new participants they’re married; show the same photo and tell even newer participants they’re married to that hottie and one’s scores keeping totting up. I’m not recommending this as a dating strategy you understand – my job is simply to pass on the science, it’s up to you what you do with it.

Anyway, evolutionary scientists think this has a sensible underpinning: it’s a quick way to add to an appraisal of a potential mate, in this case by considering that someone else (“and he/she is so hot and could have anyone!”) obviously found them worth a go. What was especially interesting about the new paper we found was that the researchers also neuroimaged participants’ brains while they went through the decision making scenario above. Fascinatingly, the results showed that when making such judgements, parts of the brain involved in social behaviour such as empathy increased in activity, while activity in brain regions involved in cognition (thinking) decreased: we follow our hearts, and ignore our heads, when we make some decisions in life.