An imperfect 10

I believe there is an overwhelming scientific case for censoring adverts so that only average-looking models are permitted, though it will never happen. Hard evidence that repeated exposure to Kate Moss et al causes depression and eating disorders in women, and dissatisfaction with partners in men, has been growing for 30 years.

In a seminal Seventies study, American psychologist Douglas Kenrick barged in on male students watching Charlie's Angels and asked them to rate a picture of an averagely attractive female student. He did the same with students watching babe-free shows.

Kenrick found that the babe-watchers gave the average student a lower score, suggesting that male students' standards were raised by exposure to babe-packed programming, a conclusion borne out by further experiments. Slides were shown to three groups of male students - of Playboy centrefolds, averagely attractive women and abstract art, respectively. Sure enough, the Playboy perusers rated an average-looking woman lower than the others.

For his next trick, Kenrick repeated the study, but the men were asked afterwards to rate their partners in terms of attractiveness and how much they loved them. The Playboy-affected men rated their partners lower.

Next he turned to the effect on women. Viewing slides of female models lowered their moods, and after being shown beauties rather than neutral images, women vulnerable to eating disorders wanted to be thinner.

There can be little doubt that TV advertising and the stuff in between has been a major contributor to the three to 10 times increase in rates of depression since 1950 (with twice as many women as men depressed). What's more, in theory, this use of beauty could be stopped.

The Advertising Standards Authority could use a public panel to judge the beauty of women used, and insist on more averagely attractive ones. The cries of 'nanny state' from corporations and the many men and women addicted to seeing gorgeous actresses and models would be deafening. But change is only likely to come from making gender roles more equal.

In Denmark last year, I was staggered to find a population in which the men are more concerned with their weight than the women, who are often a bit plump, wear loose-fitting clothes, and hardly a miniskirt is to be seen - even among teenagers.

This is because being extravagantly sexy is not the main way for women to advance themselves in Denmark. It made a striking contrast to my previous destination, Russia, where the women nearly all look like Maria Sharapova and where gender inequality has mushroomed since perestroika. Reasons To Be Like Denmark, Part 1.

The mental block

From around the age of seven, children become increasingly less engaged with schoolwork. In accord with previous studies (see www.selfdeterminationtheory.org), a recent series of experiments suggests why.

Eleven-year-old children were given a text to read about the food chain. One sample were told to do it because it would help them be healthy and physically fit - an intrinsic goal with its own, inherent satisfaction. The other sample were told it could help make them more attractive or beautiful - an extrinsic goal, concerned with how others perceived them (praise and reward).

Tested as to what knowledge they had absorbed, and how, those primed to do it for intrinsic reasons grasped the material better because they became much more absorbed in the task. The extrinsically motivated sample had a more rigid, narrowly focused and superficial understanding - they were distracted from absorption by the craving for an external reward.

In subsequent experiments, instructions that encouraged a sense of autonomy ('Decide for yourself whether you follow these guidelines') resulted in better learning than authoritarian injunctions ('You have to ... '). Likewise, guilt-inducing instructions worked far less well than encouraging ones did.

Implication: Little Jimmy's exuberant love of school at age five need not become his pretence of having flu at age 10, if he is not made to feel a failure, as in the present system.

Reasons To Be Like Denmark, Part 2 - they have been educating their children through intrinsic interest for 50 years.

Thanks to guardian.co.uk who have provided this article. View the original here.