You can get off to a flying start by not being Kanye West. Or TFF. Or Mariah Carey. Or that woman, who was it? ‘Taxes are for little people.’ Leona Helmsley? Avoiding being any one of these will help your cause. Yes, I know Ms Helmsley is dead, but that proves my point.

The reason I raise this topic is because a couple of generally respectable newspapers in the UK have aired some somewhat spurious findings about how nice people are, and how nice they think they are. It’s a sample size of a mere 100, so treat it with caution.

Psychology researchers at Goldsmiths University in London found that 98% of people consider themselves to be among the nicest 50% of the population. That they needed research to establish this is a cause of some wonderment if not outright disbelief. It’s a bit like asking somebody if they think they’re a good driver, or a wizard in the sack. Hardly anybody with even a shred of self esteem is going to say ‘No.’ Though when questioned I always say that by definition I must be an average driver, since most people are.

The definition of niceness was a bit shifty. People defined themselves as nice if they held doors open for others. In London some woman is likely to launch into you for being sexist, but hey ho. Ditto giving up a seat on public transport. Holding doors open for others? Doesn’t everybody do that?

The methodology was as iffy as the sample size too. It consisted of a questionnaire that was filled out by the participants themselves. I’ve pointed out the flaws in this before, because you sure as eggs is eggs are going to get some observational bias in the results. I can’t see anybody admitting to being a complete shit all the time.

Now this is where it gets interesting. The results were ‘validated,’ according to the researchers, using a tool called FaceReader to see how people reacted to videos or recordings of unpleasantness. I’d certainly react to the screaming brat part of that exercise.

But here’s the odd bit. FaceReader apparently operates by looking at ‘micro-expressions.’ (Gotta love the terminology being designed specifically to hamper comprehension.) The odd thing is that it detects changes that are invisible to the naked eye. This immediately made me wonder, ‘If the expressions are invisible, how did the researchers know what to look for?’ Maybe it’s just the way my head operates.

This research came hot on the heels of some other suspect findings that nice guys don’t always come last. Apparently they adapt more readily to stress. However, this was ‘established’ by checking changes in cardiovascular parameters when the subjects had their hands plunged into icy cold water. This is hardly the same as a daily exposure to some lazy inefficient nobhead boss at your place of work, is it?

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