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posted on 7th December 2021 by Annelise Maynard

From the Insulate Britain campaigners blocking the M25 to the protesters chanting No more bla bla bla’ from the perimeters of COP26 and the arrests of XR protesters spraying paint at officers in Glasgow, stories of activism seemed to dominate the press more than the outcomes agreed at the recent global environment summit itself. But just how effective is direct action? And why is it so unpopular?

Despite the fact that almost all of us accept man-made climate change, and our latest report shows that over 78% of people report some degree of ‘eco-anxiety’, direct action remains devastatingly unpopular, with over half of people(52%)believing that action such as blocking major roads actually has a negative impact on provoking climate action. Even members of the government are outwardly critical of direct action. Boris Johnson has previously labelled Extinction Rebellion ‘uncooperative crusties’ despite his recent attempts at appearing environmentally motivated.

What’s interesting however, is that direct action may be more effective than we think. As ever in psychology, we don’t have to be conscious of the impact of something for it to have an effect. There are three possible reasons for this.

First, direct action cuts through and grabs public attention. Even if all we feel towards climate activism is irritation, we have at least had an emotional response to it, when many other more ‘sensible’ news reports about the environment pass us by.

This cut through is essential, because unlike other current and historical social issues, humanity’s response to the climate emergency is uniquely time sensitive.

Mankind finds it difficult to comprehend long-term risks. We are neurologically wired to prioritise more immediate and tangible problems, and therefore the language surrounding climate change, proposing distant dates like 2050, does not suggest a sense of immediacy to the human brain.

For this reason, direct action is necessary; if we want to break cognitive cycles and bring meaningful change, we need disruption that causes people to question entrenched habits and lifestyle choices.

Second, direct action can help shift the ‘Overton Window’ – the scale of action that is considered acceptable by the mainstream. Activists like those in XR or Insulate Britain are pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable, but in doing so they often make more mainstream groups like the Green Party look more reasonable in comparison.

By acting as ‘outriders’ in the debate, green campaigners who work through more mainstream channels can seem more moderate and acceptable to the general public.

This is a pattern of social change that has happened throughout history. Ideas that were radical in their time, like granting women the right to work or vote or ending racial segregation, are now accepted. The Suffragettes were considered nuisances by many during the early 20th century; in the modern day they are hailed as heroes and freedom fighters as the Overton Window has shifted. Climate change protests seem to be heading in a similar direction.

Finally, direct action may be more effective than we think because of ‘The Availability Heuristic’. Simply put, this describes the mental short cuts we make based on emotional triggers or familiar facts that are easily accessible to us. So, for example, you may sneer at environmental activists on the news, but once you switch the TV off, you might be slightly more likely to remember that it’s time for you to take the recycling out or order that new lower energy lightbulb before you go to bed.

Whilst direct action is unpopular amongst the general public, it catapults climate issues into the collective, national and global consciousness. The government may not be making significant progress on the climate crisis, but there is reason for some positivity in recognising that our psychological behaviours are advancing further than we may think.

So next time you’re getting annoyed reading about direct action in the news on your early morning commute to work, remember that it could be having more of an impact than you think…even on you.


Annelise Maynard is a Global Future Intern currently on her gap year before studying Liberal Arts at The University of Leeds. She studied English Literature, Fine Art and RS at A-level and enjoyed how the humanities connected to provide broader global perspectives. She views The Arts as a means of reflecting histories, shifts in social perceptions and miscarriages of justice. Taking an interdisciplinary outlook on society, literature and art, Annelise hopes to share her passion for social justice and encourage others to stand up for what they believe in too.

 

Photo credit: Insulate Britain photo by JamieLowe68 (cc)

posted on 5th August 2021 by Ria Menon

When we’re lingering at the open fridge door wondering what to eat, are we acting on our own free will? The majority of us believe we make independent choices at our own discretion. But in terms of eating, are our food choices consciously made, or do they operate through our unconscious or subconscious minds?

This is at the centre of the obesity debate: many blame those that are overweight for not having the ‘mental strength’ to control their appetites. However, humans are frequently unaware of the allure of certain environmental variables, such as food priming or portions, that are captivating us into consuming more. Our own obliviousness to these stimuli means that many of us refuse to accept we might have less control than we think.

The recent BBC documentary ‘What are we feeding our kids? exposed that the availability of vast quantities of industrialised food has led to a massive increase in obesity in the UK. One kid described their fridge as a ‘black hole’ sucking him in illustrated the power of ultra-processed foods. The programme underlines that the boom in obesity has not been driven so much by a change in human nature but rather in our food environment.

Whilst presenting the documentary, doctor Chris Van Tulleken shifted his 20% ultra-processed diet to 80% and found himself unable to stop eating. Tullenken’s brain changes, after his diet, ‘lit up like an addict’s’. He reported having a 30% increase in his Ghrelin hormone, stimulating appetite, and a big decrease in his leptin hormone, which makes us feel full.

None of us are in control of the hormones our brains release, and most of us remain uninformed about how they work. This reinforces ‘the determinist perspective’, supporting the idea that we are not fully making our own choices. The food industry profits from this play on our unconscious minds.

What makes this particularly pernicious is that our capitalist society spouts a hypocritical double standard. Whilst the food industry pushes obesity-driving foods, adverts for fashion and beauty continue to push us to remain stick thin.

Food priming through advertising is another factor working against us. ‘Priming’ is a psychological effect in which exposure to a stimulus increases desire. An experiment conducted by Psychologist Jennifer Harris on how food choices might be silently relegated to the unconscious found that children who watch food ads on TV ate a shocking 45% more snacks than those who watched non-food ads.

Anyone who has driven passed McDonalds’ golden arches and suddenly found themselves hungry will have experienced how our bodies physically react to visual stimuli. Frequently displayed food symbols, alongside the display of special bulk deals, produce a multitude of priming signals in our brains which can elicit subconscious desires and actions to eat more than we would otherwise.

Then comes the burden of money. Perhaps one of the most telling eye-opening facts from Tulleken’s documentary was that healthy foods, like fruit and veg, are double the price per 100 calories than less healthy foods. No surprise then that 57% of calories consumed by the whole UK population are ultra-processed.

So, why is this relevant now? One in every 4 adults and 1 in every 5 children struggle with obesity. We cannot blame ourselves anymore: the truth is we are not completely liable for our eating habits. The head of Leon, Henry Dimbleby, published his proposals for a National Food Strategy this summer that the government is due to respond to in the autumn. We cannot afford not to act.

One option being explored by the government is to introduce regular school weigh-ins in England. This will do more harm than good, risking the negative impact on children’s mental health, risking a rise in bullying, and potentially triggering eating disorders.

In the government’s latest proposal, they claim that ‘empowering everyone with the right information to make healthier choices’ could be a clear solution, backing the free will stance. They also claim that ‘giving everyone a fair deal’ and ‘shaping the marketing to our children’ need to be implemented. Despite these positive words, action is yet to be taken. Whether the government is prepared to stand up to powerful multinational food corporations to deliver meaningful change remains to be seen.

Our society needs less of this blaming culture and more support to help everyone through this epidemic. Too many people are struggling with food choices and are misled into believing it is 100% their fault, when in reality, it is clearly not. To truly deliver change we need education, the reduction of vast quantities of industrialised food, increased affordability of healthier food and restrictions on food priming for children. Think before you blame someone for something that is not fully in their control.

This post was by Ria Menon, a Global Futures intern studying history, politics and psychology at A-Level. She feels passionately about ending global social injustices and believes that a deeper psychological understanding can help aid this.

Title photo credit thanks to Thomas Kelley at Unsplash.

posted on 26th July 2021

 ‘A green economy can sustain growth, probably the only thing that can’ 

A cross generational talk  with our guests Valerie Brown, who was interviewed in our book @EnglandOurEngland and has just ran for London Mayor in the last election for the Burning Pink Party whose mission to implement citizens assemblies and take power back to the people is a rallying call for activism, for the public to take back agency in their lives instead of handing it to the politicians. And Celeste Bell who is third generation migrant and has recently release a film about her mother, Poly Styrene of X- Ray Spexs . Poly’s belief in true liberation is portrayed so beautifully  in the sublime film ‘I am  a cliché’ https://play.google.com/store/movies/details?id=-80a0RWIDiU.P

London 1976 ; protests strikes dole queues rubbish piling up  disaffected working class and then the black youth anger towards the previous generation’s passivism, racist graffiti . Rock against racism coming together against the Enoch Powel rivers of blood speech and the fear of mixed-race children.

Britain made great strides for female emancipation with the Suffragettes movement of the early 20th Century but radical feminist representation from people like Poly Styrene are not to be underestimated. Celeste talks about Polys influential aesthetic and art-work

 Val as a young girl loneliness and finding belonging in the fringes as she didn’t quite fit the black Caribbean stereotype. Black punks/ska mixed groups provide sanctuary for the misfits.

Polys plastics obsession and how forward thinking the Hari Krishna’s were.

Did the protest movements of today achieve anything? How Citizens assemblies can control corporate greenwashing

The importance of young people’s involvement now but social media has their attention span ’switch off social media and switch on to the very crisis we are in’

The importance of  the generational legacy laid by the pioneer migrants as told in the book England Our England’. Click link to purchase your copy.

Music notes:  Intro Lord Kitchener ‘London Is The Place For Me’ and Outro music Poly Styrene ‘Oh Bondage! Up Your’s!’