Monday’s child is fair of face
Image and identity
Tuesday’s child is full of grace
Charity and volunteering
Wednesday’s child is full of woe
Poverty and inequality
Thursday’s child has far to go
Friday’s child is loving and giving
Relationships and family
Saturday’s child works hard for a living
Work and employment
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day is bonny and blithe, and good and gay
Happiness and wellbeing
The ESRC Seven Days video series showcases the great breadth of our research, illustrated with one case study for each day of the week. Featuring interviews with a wide range of ESRC-funded experts the videos are available to view on the ESRC website.
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SEVEN DAYS OF RESEARCH
The ‘Monday’s child’ nursery rhyme tells us not only that we are different, but also that we together shape the context of our lives and times.
Regardless of whether we are a Monday or Friday child with different backgrounds, experiences or ambitions, we are all part of society – a melting pot of people and communities.
With the Seven Days publication we highlight how ESRC-funded research is exploring all areas of our lives; whether it is how we relate to our family, how we interact, the impact of work, the blight of poverty, our generosity, our self-perception, our concerns or happiness. In short, the breadth of our research aims to reveal how society works and how we can improve it.
Not least in difficult times it is vital to explore how research evidence in turn can make our lives better, through improved policy and practice. In addition to studying who we are and how we work together, we also need to examine where we want to go and the best way of getting there.
Social science can provide invaluable tools – both to understand our world and to improve our lives.
Professor Paul Boyle Chief Executive Economic and Social Research Council
Seven Days of Social Science Research
MONDAY’S CHilD iS FAiR OF FACE
image and identity
How is beauty, attraction and body image perceived in our society? Research shows that good looks gives an advantage in confidence and interaction with other people, and can potentially boost career and salary. But a focus on looks and body image can also create more insecurity and negative perceptions about one’s own body, not least among teenagers, and sideline older people as irrelevant in a society for the young and good-looking.
Finding faces in the crowd
We have a natural ability to seek out faces. Recent research from the University of Glasgow sought to find out how people manage to spot particular faces in a crowd. Researchers found that people use a combination of colour, shape and feature cues to find faces quickly.
“People appear to look for skin-colour patches that are organised as face-shaped templates first, to identify possible face candidates within the visual field,” explains Dr Markus Bindemann, currently at the University of Kent. They might then use additional features, and particularly the eyes, to confirm that they are indeed looking at a face.
Research on human face-spotting skills can be useful for improving automated vision systems. As the need for better surveillance techniques and security systems increases, so too does the need for more accurate ways of finding a face in a crowded scene.
“While face perception has generally been studied widely in psychology, face detection has been remarkably under-researched in this field,” Dr Bindemann says. “However, in terms of finding faces humans often appear to perform much better than machines. Hence, a better understanding of the complex processes employed by the human brain could bring practical benefits for automated surveillance, engineering and security domains.”
“In terms of finding faces humans often appear to perform much better than machines”
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Once we have picked out faces in the crowd, we quickly form an opinion on whether the person is good-looking or not – and behave accordingly. Research shows that good-looking people tend to get preferential treatment. Whether it’s a
five-year-old in reception class or the candidate at the job interview, a person’s attractiveness is a key influence on how we treat them.
Past studies have already shown what it is about a face that adults find attractive. Now researchers at Durham University have discovered how these preferences develop during childhood.
“The important point is that physical attractiveness permeates all aspects of how we interact with others, so we need to understand how feelings of attraction develop,” says Dr Lynda Boothroyd at Durham University. “Studies indicate that adults prefer faces which are feminine (if female), symmetrical, healthy-looking, and ‘average’ in
terms of dimensions. We also prefer faces which bear a slight resemblance to our parents, perhaps due to childhood learning. What we aimed to discover was which of these preferences are present from early childhood and how other preferences develop.”
Based on a study of 346 participants aged three to 17 years, the research team now has some answers and believes that hormonal changes associated with puberty may hold the key. While very young children have very low preferences for faces, preferences begin to emerge in very early puberty, plateau at around 10-14 years and then increase again between 14 and 17 years.
“These patterns correspond roughly to the expected patterns of hormone release over the course of puberty, which may mean that it is the sex hormones released during puberty which activate our preferences for relevant facial traits,”
Dr Boothroyd explains.
Gossip magazines fuel teenage eating disorders
The increased awareness of beauty during puberty can also make teenagers insecure about their own attractiveness.
A study from the Centre for the Development and Evaluation of Complex Interventions for Public Health Improvement (DECIPHer)is the first to identify an association between media exposure and changes in eating behaviour. The study finds that teenagers who look at gossip magazines are more likely to binge eat, skip meals or make themselves sick after meals.
“It’s the type of images and accompanying messages found in gossip magazines which may be significant,” says DECIPHer Research Fellow Dr James White, Cardiff University. “What distinguishes gossip magazines is the way they ridicule celebrities who are overweight or even just don’t conform to unrealistic ideals. And at the same time they praise celebrities for losing weight. That combination of messages of ‘fat is bad’, ‘thin is good’ seems to be a particularly potent influence on vulnerable teenagers.”
“Messages of ‘fat is bad’, ‘thin is good’ seems to be a
particularly potent influence on vulnerable teenagers”
Findings showed that adolescents – both boys and girls – who had looked at gossip magazines most often during the study were also most likely to report worrying changes in eating behaviours. In contrast, exposure to TV or to other types of magazines appeared to have no effect. Recognised risk factors for eating disorders, such as age, gender, body mass index and perceived pressure from the media to lose weight, were taken into account during analysis.
The message, say researchers, is that greater awareness is required of how exposure to the kind of images of celebrities and models in gossip magazines can affect teenage eating habits.
But words will never hurt me
Negative media coverage is bad enough, but hearing people comment on your appearance can be very damaging for confidence and self-esteem. Help in dealing with hurtful comments is now at hand, thanks to findings from the collaborative research project Emotion Regulation of Others and Self.
“Our findings show that a simple-to-learn technique can dramatically reduce the harm caused by hearing derogatory comments about your looks,” says Professor Paschal Sheeran at Sheffield University. “Given how hugely hurtful we found some of the comments that people make about others to be, this simple technique could reduce a lot of people’s distress.”
Following a pilot study, the research team found that a person’s hair, skin, weight, teeth, body, legs, ear shape and even eyebrows are all considered fair game for a negative comment. And, particularly for women, frequently receiving stigmatising comments can lead to depressive symptoms, eating disorders, poor body image and low self-esteem.
In this study, researchers explored whether forming simple if/then plans (ie if x happens, then I will do y) would be successful in helping a sample of women ignore stigmatising appearance-related comments. “In other words, we wanted to know whether it is enough to form a goal intention to ignore such comments (‘I will ignore these comments and carry on with what I am doing’) or whether it is necessary also to form an if/then plan (‘As soon as I hear comments, then I will immediately ignore them’) to ensure that abusive comments do not capture attention,” Professor Sheeran explains.
Findings show that participants with a concrete if/then plan at their fingertips were less distressed by critical comments, and this effect was especially pronounced among participants with low body satisfaction. “It may seem extraordinary that this simple technique works so well, but it is a technique which has been shown to work in other situations such as reducing anxiety, and clearly can work for those distressed
by comments about their looks,” he concludes.