social sciences

  • Psychology

  • Politics

  • Economics

Economics:

Recommendations

  • The Economist (podcast and articles)

  • [Posts podcasts multiple times a week about varying different current affairs and economics. Highly regarded in the economics world and has different types of podcasts: some are interviews; some talk about different trends in different economies; some talk about the possibilities behind different current things, such as billionaires going to space or the US police forces being defunded.] 

  • Financial Times 

  • FRED (different graphs for US economy) 

  • Economics Explained on YouTube 

  • Books:

  • Freakonomics (if you’re a beginner)

  • Free to choose by Milton Friedman 

  • 23 things they don’t tell you about capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang

  • Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely 

Black Friday

When we think of winter, we think of Christmas and presents. Many Americans will think of Thanksgiving and with that… Black Friday.

 

What is Black Friday?

There are two theories as to where black Friday got its name from. Firstly, it is believed that Police officers in Philadelphia came up with the name to describe all the work they had to do on that day from the shoppers on that Friday. Another theory is that it is the time when stores move from red ink (losses) to profits (black ink). Black Friday is (for many) the first day of Christmas shopping and when the prices fall, demand rises. People have the perception that they should get something just because it is on sale and thus consumers are more likely to purchase items they don’t even need. In fact, some people spend money they don’t have. They will spend on their credit cards and interest may build causing them to go into debt. Winter is the time when capitalism and consumerism thrive, there is a constant demand for more goods and presents. People are enticed by increased advertising around Christmas and feel obliged to buy gifts even if that causes them to risk their own financial stability.

 

Stores benefit because:

1. You are more likely to buy other things in the store since you are there.

2. They put prices up a few days before to make the discounts appear better

3. Stores that sell high price items such as TVs and Phones often get people to buy warranties or replacement plans (complementary goods).

In 2014, $50.9billion was spent during the Black Friday weekend. Each year, more money is spent on black Friday and certain stores start advertising their black Friday sales weeks in advance. 

4. May lead to a larger consumer base – at a time when shoppers enter practically any story searching for the best deals, a store may end up gaining customers if they liked what they bought and return it at a later date.

5. A lot of the goods on sale are either clearance stock or have proven to be unpopular.

 

We may ask – if black Friday is so profitable for stores, why don’t they have these sales more often?

  1. Firstly, they want to bring hype to the day. If they were common, people wouldn’t care, and stores would just be constantly selling items at discounted prices.

  2. Furthermore, people don’t have holidays and money to spend constantly. Many people save up to buy lots of things on Black Friday.

  3. Moreover, some stores fear getting backlash from commercializing on certain holidays, so they don’t want to obtain a negative brand image.

 

We also may wonder – what problems does this pose for the economy. Some people argue that the lengths people are willing to go to for a bargain suggest that prices in the economy are too high. Moreover, many of these goods are imported goods meaning it can worsen a country's Current Account as they import more around this season.

 

Additionally, the effects on the environment are immense as a large part of Black Friday is cheap, in-style clothes... fast fashion. All you need to look at is PLT’s worryingly low prices last year during their sale - as low as £0.08 as shown in the picture below. It became clear that PLT is massively overproducing and sparked concerns over the pay of workers in the company.

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The Impact of Culture on Consumers

Much of culture is nearly a public good.  Your enjoyment of music doesn’t make mine less.  You can look at a painting and it is just as good for me.  Equally, for many people the quality of reproductions is so high they can barely tell the difference between the original and the copy. In music, you can listen to recordings, forgers deceive even the best experts.  So why then do people pay so much for the original - what makes a Beatles score or a Monet worth paying for? The way our society has developed is inextricably linked to the ability of luxury firms to price their products so high. Additionally, we see consumers paying for products that undoubtedly have countless substitutes of the same quality, the only difference being in the name you carry with you. So why are so many people just paying for just a name? 

 

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Due to the fact, such cultural assets sell at such extortionate prices we can rule out price as being the factor that makes them so competitive. Instead, the competitiveness of such brands lies in the innovation, branding and advertising behind it. With advertising, we see a threshold effect which means firms must pass a threshold in order for their advertising to have an effect. We also see companies endorsing famous faces to advertise their products such as Michael B Jordan with Nike. This, yet again, establishes a sense of exclusivity if you own a product that has a celebrity endorsement behind it.  

Another reason lies in the fact that originals tend to increase in value over time. More and more of the wealthiest see these products as an investment. At a time with such low-interest rates, more and more people are looking for alternate ways to invest their money. The resale market for luxury products is usurious because these goods are seen as such hot commodities. We’ve seen this with people purchasing Nike Jordan shoes and supreme products then reselling at more than double the price. A 2017 study reveals the value of Hermès Burkin bags has increased 500% in the last 35 years which is an increase of 14% a year. 

 

Another reason is the fact that many of these products are in limited supply. There are numerous examples of brands purposefully creating scarcity in order to establish higher value. For example, Nike’s Jordans will drop once and sell out within hours and there are some cases in which it has been just mere seconds. This limited supply reinforces the exclusivity of the brand and makes it more appealing for the consumer.  

 

However, there are some products such as Apple’s iPhones that are priced extremely high yet don’t increase in value as time goes on, instead, the opposite occurs. This can be explained because once something comes into fashion and is seen as ‘trendy’ it gives firms the ability to price products higher due to increased demand. This is reinforced by the herding effect, often touched upon in economics, which states that consumers tend to follow the crowd when making decisions about their purchases. Touching on the behavioural side of economics, consumers tend to get a feeling when purchasing certain kinds of products. For example, someone purchases a Volvo they get a sense of security and safety. Brands can exploit such associations around their products which gives them even more power to increase their prices. 

 

Furthermore, many of us tend to make the mistake of equating cost to quality. When you pay a high price for a product, one assumes that they’re buying something made by specialists from the best materials even though this very rarely tends to be the case. Instead, over the last few decades brands have increasingly exploited this assumption, which has led to prices rising and the quality actually decreasing.  

 

To finish on a quote, Chris Morency stated that ‘it’s not the intrinsic value it’s the cultural value created around it. But that only exists for a few products at a time.’ It’s interesting to think about how large the effect can be from something as simple as buying a new pair of trainers from a famous brand. The effect culture has on consumers’ purchases is something that should never be underestimated.   

Written by Athene, Pheobe, Harriete & Rhianna (Economics subject reps.)

Psychology:

Recommendations

 

Books:

  • The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry (by Jon Ronson)

·Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (by Malcolm Gladwell)

·Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ  (by Daniel Goleman)

·The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales (by Oliver Sacks)

  • Trainspotting (by Irvine Welsh)

  • Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression (by Sally Brampton)

 

Podcasts:

  • The Psychology Podcast with Dr Scott Barry Kaufman

  • Baltimore-Annapolis Psychotherapy Podcast with Laura Reagan, LCSW-C

  • Shrink Rap Radio with David Van Nuys, PhD.

  • Hidden Brain

  • All In The Mind

  • The Psych Files

  • The Three Questions

  • Happier with Gretchen Ruben

  • Speaking of Psychology

  • The Psychology of Attractiveness

 

TV shows:

Criminal Minds

The show is about a group of FBI profilers in the Behavioural Analysis Unit, the group investigates cases involving serial killers. Each of the killers who are profiled is diagnosed with a specific mental disorder, not only do you learn about a wide variety of disorders through the show but it gives a semi-realistic view of how forensic psychology can be applied in real life.

 

Mindhunter:

This show is based on a true story about how the Behavioural Science Unit began studying psychopaths and serial killers in the late 1970s. Instead of studying the crimes, the show focuses more on how forensic and criminal psychology came into society. The show displays a very unique look at how psychologists developed an understanding of criminal behaviour and psychopathology.

Psychology of Christmas

The Christian celebration of Christmas is the most celebrated holiday in the world, mainly due to Christianity being extremely embedded into western society. Even though religion may start to be playing a less prominent role in the western world, why has it remained immensely popular? Here are a few guesses…

Humans are creatures of habit- it is easy to hold onto things that are familiar. We are also wired with cognitive bias which are mistakes in the cognitive process like evaluating, reasoning and remembering. These are mainly based on personal beliefs and happen in the subconscious mind, all humans have very different biases, as we go through different experiences with different perceptions. 

Traditions shape our actions and can remain one of the few constants in a hectic world, traditions can be a huge part of Christmas. A lot of changes occur from childhood to adulthood meaning some may feel an inability to rely and trust on others due to the fast rate of change. So because Christmas (and therefore traditions) happen every year it can bring a lot of comfort to people. Christmas traditions are usually formed during childhood and a lot of the time are kept through until adulthood, the importance of tradition may not be the tradition itself but in the association, the event has with one’s childhood. Which could be a pure child-like wonder and joy, as there is no barrier of reality that may interrupt these feelings, a time when you may have been shielded from a lot of life’s chaos. Growing out of the possible, ‘blissful ignorance of a child is extremely painful for many and traditions can be a way for people to try and access those emotions or even just reminisce on them. Researchers have said the continuation of any tradition could be to avoid the threat of punishment, once you separate punishment from the socially constructed meaning, it doesn’t sound as extreme and may make more sense. People could fear the end of traditions because they don’t know the consequence of losing consistency in our behaviour, consistency helps us to avoid certain negative emotions (loss, disappointment, embarrassment) and benefits our everyday decision making. Nostalgia is a feeling experienced by many when Christmas time comes around through all the decorations and scents. One’s reflection on past positive experiences is said by researchers to bring about more social connectedness and therefore increased self-esteem, the optimistic feeling through reflection can lead to positive evaluations for your future.

Another possible reason for Christmas’ popularity is how we learn from others, which social psychologists call, ‘a combination of social learning and punishment avoidance’. Due to herd behaviour being the prime cognitive bias under most of the processes in our life (these processes in fancy terms can be culture development, trends and innovation adoption), we often look to other people in order to devise the appropriate way to act in certain situations, so that we don’t go against the image we have built for ourselves.

The Christmas period gives people a chance to escape from reality, for example, school or work. Christmas symbolises very positive things or, ‘warm and fuzzy feelings’ like love, charity, kindness and forgiveness, which are strongly represented in all Christmas media, like films and music. The persuasive nature involved in anything Christmas themed means that these positive attributes are often reflected onto the consumers, which psychologists call transportation. As consumers immerse themselves in this media it can actually change their attitude, intentions and even behaviour, people can subconsciously re-enact these positive values in their lives.

In conclusion, Christmas (and traditions in general) can bring out different sides to people, so from a psychology standpoint, it's interesting and fun to reflect on the quirkiness of human behaviour.

Written by Florence (Psychology subject rep.)

The Research of Inez Beverly Prosser

Reflecting on the psychology A-level syllabus many of the psychologists studied by students are white men, the syllabus includes thirty-six psychologists, four of whom are women and non-white. Some psychologists had their daughters continue their research including Aaron Beck, Wilhelm Wundt and Sigmund Freud. However, there are many brilliant non-white female psychologists that have not been mentioned in the syllabus who have contributed so much to the study of psychology. In this article, I will be discussing the amazing work of Inez Beverly Prosser.

Inez Beverly Prosser was a psychologist in the early 20th century and centred her research on educational psychology and the effects of racism. She was also the first African American woman to receive a PhD in psychology in the United States. Being the oldest of eleven children Prosser started an educational fund to help her siblings’ complete high school and attend college, all of her siblings graduated high school and five received college degrees.

Despite being subject to sexism and racism on her academic journey, Prosser graduated top of her class in high school and graduated college with a teaching certificate. She then focused on receiving her master’s degree whilst she was still teaching. However, to obtain her master’s degree she had to attend the University of Colorado as the state of Texas did not award graduate degrees to African American’s at the time.

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After graduating she took a teaching position at Tillotson College in Austin, this not only allowed her to expand her teaching abilities but also helped her to immerse herself further into her greatest interest and passion, the psychological and educational development of all African-American students. She then transferred to a college in Mississippi where she took on the roles of dean, registrar and faculty member. Following that, she received a grant allowing her to carry out doctoral research in teacher education. When enrolling herself shortly after in 1930 at the University of Cincinnati she made history in 1933 being the first African-American woman to receive a PhD in psychology.

Her contribution to psychology included evaluating the impacts of racial inequality on the mental health of African-American children, believing that integration could have damaging effects on the self-esteem of African-American children. However, she believed that segregated schools provided supportive and nurturing environments. Prosser argued that the feelings of isolation and low socioeconomic status in African-American children were due to the intense inequality they suffered and that their futures were limited in terms of academia. Although, Prosser did state that certain personality types may thrive and flourish in integrated schools.

Inez Beverly Prosser’s influence rippled through many fields, as her arguments were recognised during the debate over school segregation in the 1920s. During the time period when Prosser made her impact, opportunities for women, especially African-American female academics, were rare and Prosser was a critical voice for the community. Her contribution can still be seen in many policies being used today.

Here are a few other incredibly influential non-white female psychologists whom I would definitely recommend reading about:

  • Martha Bernal

  • Mamie Phipps Clark

  • Reiko True

  • Jennifer Eberhardt

Written by Florence (Psychology subject rep.)

Government and Politics

Recommendations

Favourite Lectures/Podcasts 

  • 'Government by decree - Covid-19 and the Constitution’ - Jonathon Sumption (lecture)

    • Sumption discusses in this lecture how Boris Johnson’s government dealt with the pandemic and focuses on the legislation they initially passed and its problematic nature. I found this lecture very interesting and I thought it clearly explained the government’s underlying motivations for passing certain pieces of legislation. These pieces of legislation were often not intended to be used in the way in which the government used them and were subjected to a minimal degree of scrutiny which worked in the governments’ favour. What this lecture also revealed to me was how easy it was for the government to encroach upon our liberties and the importance of parliamentary scrutiny which many of their actions were not subjected to during the pandemic.

  • Talking Politics (podcast) 

  • Checks and Balance, the Economist (podcast) 

 

Favourite Documentaries 

  • Blair & Brown: The New Labour Revolution

  • The Rise of the Murdoch Dynasty

  • Knock Down the House 

 

Favourite Books 

  • Law, Liberty & the Constitution

  • Why We Get the Wong Politicians 

 

Favourite Articles 

Why Statue Removal Enhances our Culture

When visiting a foreign country, you will undoubtedly encounter a frozen figure towering above you. Who this figure was, what they stood for and what they did, can instantly give you an impression of a country’s cultural values and tell you whom they think is deserving of celebration and commemoration. This concept is summed up well by the researcher, Ashley Koger, who claimed that ‘The statue is a culture’s values embodied in stone and metal.’

 

Since the historical figures countries choose to venerate explain a lot about their culture, the statues we have on display in Britain should represent our current cultural values. This is however not the case as a considerable amount of statues in Britain are of morally unacceptable figures, whose behaviour we would condemn today, for instance, slave traders. Writer Afua Hirsch supports this view by arguing that whom we are venerating today is out of sync with the idea of who we are as a country. There is a tension between the fact that we know their beliefs and actions were wrong, yet we have not taken them off their plinths where they are being honoured, arguing that by doing so, it is ‘distorting our history.'

 

There are flaws however in this argument as many statues were initially erected by those in power who wanted to present a particular narrative. They decided who was worthy of being commemorated, as opposed to who was actually deserving of it, and who best represented parts of our history. There were also often political motivations underlying the erection of certain statues, with the purpose of intimidating minorities. We now have the power to right these wrongs and give space to those who represent eras of our history and whose behaviour and actions would align with our current cultural values. For instance, a statue of an abolitionist could replace a slave trader, which would continue to educate the public about that period of our history and give the space to someone who made a positive, rather than a negative difference.

 

It is widely agreed that statues teach us a considerable amount about the past and some would then go on to argue that for this reason, they should remain in their place. Statues however tend to have a more celebratory function as opposed to an educational one and they can arguably better educate people when placed in educational settings, such as museums which have the resources to properly explain the figures. We cannot change the function of a statue, but we can change where we put them so that historical figures who do not represent our modern cultural values are not being celebrated in our public spaces. Some may claim that by doing so we are distancing ourselves from figures who make us uncomfortable to confront, whereas we are actually breaking free of the restraints that were placed on us by those who erected them, by stopping certain figures from continuing to be celebrated.

 

In the past few years, especially following the death of George Floyd, statues were once again made the centre of controversy, which has led to a series of protests in which many statues have been forcibly removed and in some instances, destroyed. If we truly care about preserving our history we should recognise the risk that certain statues are facing which have a considerable amount of people calling for their removal. We must respond to these calls before it is too late and key historical artefacts are lost forever. There is a need for preservation as admittedly their beliefs were once part of our culture and people must remember that these figures were once revered,  but that does not mean we should continue this pattern of celebration by allowing them to remain on our streets.

 

Culture is constantly evolving and it is time that statues moved with them. Many historians, such as Peter Frankopan would agree, that the job of a statue is to eventually fall, which they have done since the beginning of time, and that we should let the winds of history blow. We will make our mark on history, as opposed to re-writing it, by choosing new figures to be commemorated who represent our current cultural values, not the cultural values of, for example, the Victorian elite, who erected many of these contentious statues.

Written by Clare (Government & Politics subject rep.)