Month: August 2018

Chess grandmasters show the same longevity advantage as elite athletes


Red and blue lines show the ratio of the yearly survival rates for Olympic medallists and Chess grandmasters, respectively, relative to the general population (flat dashed line). Shaded areas show confidence intervals. Via An Tran-Duy et al, 2018

By Christian Jarrett

It’s well established that elite athletes have a longer life expectancy than the general public. A recent review of over 50 studies comprising half a million people estimated the athletic advantage to be between 4 and 8 years, on average. This comes as little surprise. One can easily imagine how the same genetic endowment and training necessary to develop physical prowess in sport might also manifest in physical health. Now for the first time, a study published in PLOS One (open access) shows that athletes of the mind – chess grandmasters – show the same longevity advantage as athletes of the body.

An Tran-Duy at the University of Melbourne and his colleagues obtained data on over 1,200 chess grandmasters, mostly men, from 28 countries in three world regions, including whether or not they survived each successive year after receiving their title, all the way up to the beginning of 2017. From this, the researchers calculated the average yearly survival rates, adjusting for region, age and sex, which allowed them to come up with estimated life expectancies for grandmasters of different ages in different years. They did the same with data for over 15,000 olympic medalists.

There was no difference in the average life expectancy of the athletes and the chess grandmasters, but both groups showed a sizeable life expectancy advantage compared to the general population. For instance, in 2010, the average life expectancy of a chess grandmaster aged 25 was 6.3 years longer than the average for a 25-year-old member of the public. For a 55-year-old chess grandmaster, life expectancy was 4.5 years longer.

The study can’t tell us anything about why chess grandmasters live longer than the public. It’s possible some of the causes are indirect, such as the grandmasters possibly having higher average IQ (which is itself associated with longevity); elite chess players are also known to take more care of their physical fitness than the general population; and the social and economic benefits of becoming a grandmaster, especially notable in Eastern Europe, may have health benefits. Chess may also have direct health benefits, including via its known effects on the brain – for instance, it reduces risk of dementia.

Tran-Duy and his team begin their paper quoting Isaac Asimov: “In life, unlike chess, the game continues after checkmate”, and they reference this quote in their conclusion. “Not only does the game of life continue after the checkmate,” they write, “but excelling in mind sports like chess means one is likely to play the game for longer.”

Longevity of outstanding sporting achievers: Mind versus muscle

Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

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Is there a crisis in local government outsourcing?

Worrying times for local public sector outsourcing contracts.

Has the third bus arrived with the latest big outsourcing company to report troubles? Following the collapse of Carillion and the losses reported by Capita along comes the announcement of a massive drop in Interserves’ share price and the inevitable ongoing discussions about the viability of the outsourcing model – especially within the public sector.

These three companies share many similarities they are – (or were, in the case of Carillion) – companies spanning the continents and offering services in an array of diverse sectors. Capita for example a multinational business operating in Europe, Africa and Asia, with  a split in its services about fifty-fiftyhalf between the public and private sectors.

Business logic suggests the wide range of skills and experience offered by this kind of international, inter-sectoral organisation, can be a big plus to local government and other parts of the public sector. And most certainly the NHS could benefit from the know-how of senior personnel in business.

Should care be outsourced?

But such size and diversity can also be a weakness when an organisation becomes too big and geographically spread, it can become difficult to coordinate its service delivery potentially leading to confusion, duplication and waste.

Nevertheless, we should not overstate the problems of giant outsourcing companies. They have become part of the local government landscape and many councils depend on them. And most, close to 90%, of all local government contracts work and deliver positive benfites in cost and the delivery of services.

But taken together the recent spate of crisis stories suggests to local authorities and other parts of the public sector that to become too dependent on huge multinationals and to become at risk to uncontrollable market forces is something to be avoided. Public perception of outsourcing is poor and any short term crisis that impacts the delivey of public services receives due attention from the public and politicians alike.

The important lessons coming from the recent crisis are well known and researched. Large scale companies often will under-bid to gain the business, and there is evidence that these organisations continually grow by acquisition, or the under-bidding of contracts to gain turnover share rather than a more organic growth approach. They have to keep running to avoid the collapse. The way it was put to me on one of the bids I was involved with was ‘we bid low to get the contract then when we are in we can get the contract changed to our advantage.’ But sometimes it does not work out like that!

For the public sector contract and procurement managers the pressure to get costs down over-rides sensible decision making and evaluation of bids. They are too tactical in their decision making and think they are doing a good job by squeezing down the price and pushing all the risk onto the suppliers. Well that gets them no-where when the contract collapses! So there are two sides to these problems: aggressive selling by suppliers to get the business and force out competition, and poor procurement and contract management prectices within the public sector.


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There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about Abraham Maslow and self-actualisation – a new paper puts the record straight

Abraham_Maslow.jpgBy Alex Fradera

Abraham Maslow was one of the great psychological presences of the twentieth century, and his concept of self-actualisation has entered our vernacular and is addressed in most psychology textbooks. A core concept of humanistic psychology, self-actualisation theory has inspired a range of psychological therapies as well as approaches taken in social work. But a number of myths have crept into our understanding of the theory and the man himself. In a new paper in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, William Compton of Middle Tennessee State University aims to put the record straight.

Maslow’s most penetrating idea is that we have a hierarchy of needs, proceeding from physiological needs like water or warmth, through safety, love, esteem and then self-actualisation. He argued that lower needs occupy our attention when they are unmet and make it more difficult to fulfil the higher ones – including self-actualisation, which is about becoming the self you always had the potential to be.

Screenshot 2018-05-16 16.13.26Compton first deals with the charge that this work is ascientific. He finds there is a lack of strong evidence showing that individuals transition from one level of the hierarchy to the next, as Maslow claimed. However, research on this point is complicated by the widely mistaken belief that Maslow considered needs must be fully satisfied at each level before progressing. In fact, Maslow stated that everyone has unsatisfied needs at every level – who feels safe 100 per cent of the time? 

On the other hand, in favour of the idea of progression through the hierarchy is evidence from comparisons of national populations. Cross-cultural research shows that when more people in a population have their basic needs met, a greater proportion also tend to reach self-actualisation, as compared with populations that are preoccupied with scarcities. 

Maslow also claimed that people are more likely to flourish when they hold self-actualising values like spontaneity, positive self-regard, and acceptance of paradoxes. There is supportive data associating these qualities with positive outcomes – including creativity, lower anxiety or a personal locus of control, and also – and perhaps more surprisingly – higher instances of peak experiences, higher sexual satisfaction, and less fear of death.

The hierarchy is sometimes presented with another element slotted in: cognition needs, placed just below self-actualisation (as seen in these examples). In fact Maslow opposed this, as he saw cognition as a tool that can serve every need at every level, whether in knowing self-defense techniques to help you feel safe, or knowing ourselves. For him, it lay outside the hierarchy. Another point often forgotten is that self-actualisation isn’t Maslow’s pinnacle. He broke out another stage for “peakers” – self actualised individuals who also experience peak or mystical experiences.

Compton moves on to address allegations about who and what the theory is for. He disputes the idea that it encourages self-centredness: many of the self-actualisation qualities Maslow emphasised are actually centred on others, like fairness, service, and adherence to a universal framework of values. Moreover, two of Maslow’s favoured reference points when talking about self-actualisation were Alfred Adler’s gemeinschaftsgefühl (the psychological health that follows from caring about others) and the bodhisattva (the Buddhist notion of one who strives for compassion towards others). 

What about the related charge that self-actualisation is elitist, a preoccupation reserved for the privileged? This criticism needs some thinking through. There is a case that Maslow didn’t pay enough attention to how sexism or racism could impede self-actualisation, although his writings did show a more vague sensitivity to life throwing you a trickier hand. It’s true many of his self-actualised examples are white men, but he also cited figures such as Jane Addams, Frederick Douglass, and Harriet Tubman. And while it may seem like self-actualisation requires plenty of disposable income and leisure time, what Maslow meant by self-actualisation is bringing your full self to the moment, which includes dedicating yourself to work, how you treat others in daily interactions, and holding yourself to the highest standards. You can do all that from wherever you are standing.

Finally, Compton deals with the references in Maslow’s copious writing to the self-actualised as “more fully human” versus the “less evolved persons” who are lower down the hierarchy – at the very least, this is a case of bad optics. In his defense, Maslow repeatedly emphasised that he did not believe anyone was innately superior, just that some people made more of their potential. Compton argues that some of the criticism around this is motivated by defensiveness: that some people are apparently stung by the claim that someone can work on their personality and thus make it excellent, just as they can become an excellent gymnast or painter. I disagree – I think there is a case that Maslow’s language unhelpfully conjures a sense of individualistic exceptionalism that would probably feel right at home in a TED summit or posthumanist away-day. Not, I think, what he would have wanted.

Clearly, Maslow’s work is not without flaws. But his reframing of psychology to look at upwards possibilities rather than constantly into pathology sparked a shift that anticipated the positive psychology movement by decades. So his ideas deserve to be better understood, so we can use them more effectively to better ourselves, and so they can be developed and built upon for professionals who are seeking a ladder to help humanity reach greatness.

Self-Actualization Myths: What Did Maslow Really Say?

Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) is Staff Writer at BPS Research Digest 

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