Press coverage from other years
SIRC in the News
Press coverage from 2003
- Express – 29.12.2003
Bad habits that could be good for you. Coffee-machine natters about colleagues are frowned on but Oxford's Social Issues Research Centre says gossip is essential – like social grooming among chimpanzees. It helps us develop relationships, teaches social skills, resolves conflicts and helps us bond. It also stimulates endorphins so we feel less depressed.
- Times – 29.12.2003
A weighty worry. A less black picture is painted by the Oxford-based Social Issues Research Centre. The nation's average weight has been rising for the past 50 years but so, too, has our life expectancy (although some would counter that illnesses associated with obesity, such as type two diabetes, have also increased). The countries with the highest rates of child obesity include Egypt, Algeria and Uzbekistan, where there is little sign of any junk food culture. Indeed, the rate of childhood obesity in the USA, the fast-food capital of the world, is comparable to that in Burkina Faso, one of the poorest nations on Earth.
"Everybody is jumping on the bandwagon, but we need to be careful," says Jeya Henry, Professor of Human Nutrition at Oxford Brookes University. "Focusing on obesity in young children may be counterproductive. Childhood should be a time to enjoy and experiment with food." He is now running a study in a primary school with five and six-year-olds "and this is a six-year-old telling me that he has got fat thighs. That is sad, isn't it? Terrible." Professor Henry points out that the known facts about the health effects of children's weight are less certain than the doom-laden declarations about an obesity epidemic suggest. "Classification of obesity in children is a complicated process because they are growing in both height and weight. We use Body Mass Index to measure obesity in adults, so now we use it in children, too.
- New Statesman – 15.12.2003
God and Mammon mingle in the mall. Thus malls have become sacred temples, inseparable from the American way of life. 'They nurture the soul and the society, not just the body and economy,' writes Robin Fox of the Social Issues Research Centre at Oxford. 'In their untutored wisdom the families and the kids have made them serve the difficult end of being human places for human beings.' Meanwhile, money continues to change hands – often at a rate that is astonishing when you actually see the tills frantically at work. 'Retail therapy . . . shop till you drop' – the supposedly self-mocking cliches of better-educated Americans proliferate to justify the doomed sense of potency that excessive, money-wasting spending creates. Shopaholism is now a syndrome recognised by American psychiatrists.
- Evening Herald – 13.12.2003
Turning yourself into a festive flirting sensation. Kate Fox, of the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford, says that anthropological research has shown there is flirting of some kind in every culture in the world. The author of a flirting guide for Martini, Fox says: "Flirting is a basic instinct, part of human nature. "It's not surprising – if we didn't initiate contact and express interest in members of the opposite sex, we would not progress to reproduction, and the human species would become extinct." But if flirting is instinctive, why do we need tips? Fox says it's because flirting is governed by a complex set of unwritten laws of etiquette, dictating where, when, with whom and how we flirt.
- Birmingham Post – 10.12.2003
Flirt like a sex and the city gal. Kate Fox of the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford says that anthropological research has shown there is flirting of some kind in every culture in the world. The author of a flirting guide for Martini, Fox says: 'Flirting is a basic instinct, part of human nature.
- Guardian – 10.12.2003
Letters : The real expert at exploiting the media. George Monbiot claims that Sense About Science, the Institute of Ideas and other organisations that happen not to share his personal agenda constitute a "bizarre and cultish network", which seeks to "dominate scientific and environmental broadcasting" (Invasion of the entryists, December 9).This seemingly conspiratorial cabal must have been reading Monbiot's pamphlet, An Activists' Guide to Exploiting the Media. To get journalists hooked, he suggests, "create an atmosphere of secrecy, excitement and intrigue . . . All journalists love to imagine they're in the Famous Five." Columnists too, it seems.
- Scotsman – 04.12.2003
Time for a reality check. Burberry has "jumped the shark" … The label is just the latest designer name to be kidnapped by a troublesome element … In the opinion of Dr Peter Marsh, co-director of the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford, this is irony is action. "People are trying to identify who they are and its very ironic that they are choosing the garb of the upper middle class and turning it right around. What we are seeing is a lovely sign of irony. Early skinheads adopted the signs of the working class with braces and jeans. Mods and Rockers each had their own images, and Burberry’s clothes are undergoing the same experience, they have been borrowed by groups."
- Guardian – 22.11.2003
Ordinary torture . "Codes develop in groups," says Dr Peter Marsh, director of the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford, and author of several books on groups and aggression. "They're to do with showing your status, showing you're Jack the Lad. If you take classic aggressive people like football hooligans, a large part of their behaviour is pure display. Jumping up and down, making gestures – the actual amount of blows raining down on people is tiny." Marsh says that there has to be a shift for violent acts to occur, overriding the usual inhibitions – a lesser shift in groups where violence was the norm. And in groups, the diffusion of responsibility makes it easier for atrocities to take place because no one person is to blame.
- Daily Mail – 12.11.2003
Scots turn their noses up at 10m healthy diet tips. A scathing attack has been launched by parents on the multimillion-pound healthy eating initiative set up by the Scottish Executive. Ministers are pumping huge sums of public money into telling people the healthiest food to eat. But only 7 per cent of people believe any of the projects are remotely worthwhile, according to a poll…Peter Marsh, director of the Social Issues Research Centre, said: 'It is clear from this poll that the British public are far more rational and sensible about food issues than the Government believes them to be.
- Press Association – 11.11.2003
Stop telling us how to feed our children – poll. The Government should stop sticking its nose in and telling parents what to feed their children, a survey said today. It should concentrate instead on tackling more pressing issues such as poverty and immunisation. A poll of more than 2,000 people for online publication spiked found that 94% believed parents should be primarily responsible for making sure their children had a balanced diet…Peter Marsh, director of the Social Issues Research Centre, said: "It is clear from this poll that members of the British public are far more rational and sensible about food issues than the Government believes them to be."
- The Standard (Canada) – 11.11.2003
Flirting -- where do you draw the line? Where to flirt: Flirting is most socially acceptable at parties and social occasions. This is because they are governed by a special code of behaviour which anthropologists call "cultural remission" a temporary, structured relaxation of normal social controls and restrictions. Kate Fox, Social Issues, Research Centre.
- Phoenix Magazine – 10.11.2003
What you don't know about what they see. Taller men earn about $600 more per inch than the average male executive, according to a U.S. study done by the Social Issues Research Center in Oxford, United Kingdom. Apparently, in order to earn the most income for the job an executive should be tall and good-looking.
- Independent – 07.11.2003
At breakneck speed, White Van Man takes over the nation's roads. Dr Marsh said: "Silver is now the second most-popular colour, if that's what you can call it. It has many positive associations. The silver van driver – or SVM – is telling us that he is a sterling kind of guy who is reliable, trustworthy and up-to-date. He is also telling us that in a few years' time he wants to be more than a one-van band."
- Financial Times – 31.10.2003
Cold comfort from things that go bump in the night. But it was not so much the grounding of Concorde that made me fear for the future of western civilisation. Around the time the aircraft was dropping its nose for its final approach into Heathrow, I was in the office grumbling to colleagues that I felt a cold coming on. I had expected, if anything, a polite murmur of sympathy. Instead, I was assailed with recommendations for miracle remedies. "Quick! Have some echinacea! It never fails!" "Take lots of vitamin C!" "Eat broccoli – it cures everything!"
Where once science and reason seemed destined to prevail, we are experiencing an extraordinary upsurge of interest in spiritualism, mysticism, witchcraft, paganism, cults, sects and the paranormal. Shopping malls are sprinkled with New Age shops selling crystals, candles, incense, tarot cards, dream-catchers, talismans and other such paraphernalia of unconventional belief systems. And alternative approaches to health and well-being are thriving, such as acupuncture, aromatherapy, reflexology, yoga, shiatsu massage and homeopathy.
A lot of people blame the media. Superstition is a natural outgrowth of fear and anxiety and, heaven knows, the media give us enough to be frightened about. From the monthly bulletin of scare stories compiled by Britain's non-profit Social Issues Research Centre, examples include "World to run out of water in 50 years" (The Daily Telegraph), "Fish sauce blamed for sleep deaths" (The Straits Times), "Multiple sclerosis – smoked sausage link examined" (Reuters) and "British men less fertile than hamsters" (The Independent).
- Pittsburg Gazette – 22.10.2003
The lust art of flirting. According to the Social Issues Research Centre's Guide to Flirting, by Kate Fox (if that's not a pseudonym, it should be), we are supposed to flirt. Anthropologists find that all cultures flirt somehow. Some evolutionary psychologists suggest that our "large human brain -- our superior intelligence, complex language, everything that distinguishes us from animals -- is the equivalent of the peacock's tail: a courtship device evolved to attract and retain sexual partners."
- Calgari Herald – 09.10.2003
Flirting: Where to Draw the line? As subtle as a sideways glance or as simple as a warm smile, flirting has many faces. Maybe it's innocent banter between two people that remains just that. Or perhaps it's what researchers in the flirting field have coined the "copulatory gaze" -- the stuff of night clubs, night caps and naughty behaviour.
- Australian Financial Review – 20.09.2003
Outbreak Of Play Amid The State Of Alarm. The 21st century version of prankster behaviour has just emerged in a phenomenon known as flash mobbing where groups organise via the internet to gather in public places, do something utterly inane and disband before any observers can figure out what's happening. These flashes of absurdity began in June when dozens of New Yorkers descended on a store to argue the merits of a love rug for their commune and then disbanded without explanation. Since then they've swept the globe…Eleanor Taylor of Oxford's Social Issues Research Centre points to the surrealist and Dadaist qualities of flash mobbing but she too is reluctant to overload the phenomenon with too much political baggage. "It's simply too weird a phenomenon to be hijacked by a political cause or be bracketed in with the activities of the anti-globalisation movement a sense of play rather than politics lies at the roots."
- Birmingham Evening Post – 27.08.2003
Bold words: into light charges bite: strong beer… cool lager… flat result a barman pours a glass of Foster's beer in a Sydney hotel. A study by the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford shows 13 per cent of men prefer to order wine at the bar. Just 23 per cent of men continue to favour beer -down seven per cent since1998 -because they associate beer with a culture of bloated bellies and binge drinking.
- University Wire – 21.08.2003
Students dating less, 'hooking up' more. According to the Social Issues Research Center Web site, most people are afraid to approach someone because they do not know what to say. According to the Web site, 55 percent of an initial impression is based on appearance and body language, 38 percent on the style of speech, and 7 percent on what is actually said.
- Guardian – 15.08.2003
Pass Notes. Silver Van Woman, you are too good for this world! And yet, this world is becoming her home. The Social Issues Research Centre has found that the boorish white van driver is giving way to the silver van driver, half of whom are female and who are so proud of their more expensive vans that they are also becoming more considerate on the road.
- Times – 14.08.2003
White Van Man graduates to silver. A report on the attitudes and habits of the men behind the wheels of Britain’s 2.2 million vans says that White Van Man is evolving into Silver Van Man; a driver so proud of his more upmarket vehicle, which could cost as much as £25,485 excluding VAT, that he is turning into a more considerate driver.
- Evening Standard – 14.08.2003
Silver dream for van man. White van man, scourge of the city streets, is going up in the world, according to new research.
- Scripps Howard News Service – 07.08.2003
The pressure to be perfect. According to the Social Issues Research Centre, the body type portrayed in advertising as the ideal is possessed naturally by less than 5 percent of females. The Centre adds that the average weight of a model is 23 percent lower than that of an average woman – twenty years ago, the differential was only 8 percent.
- Express – 05.08.2003
Toyota commercial 'sexist and insulting to fat ladies'. Kate Fox, co-director of the independent Social Issues Research Centre slammed the commercial for playing on women's fears of being seen as fat. She said: "This advert is simply not funny. To be told women are unattractive because they are fat is crass. "Many women are paranoid about their body image and go to drastic lengths to conform to what people think is attractive, often with serious health risks. Toyota are irresponsible for playing on those fears." [similar comments appeared in the Daily Mirror and the Sun]
- Wales on Sunday – 03.08.2003
Welsh fans travel to the home of football's most violent hooligans. The states of the former Yugoslavia have long had a problem with football hooliganism. According to experts at Oxford's Social Issues Research Centre the country was subject to some of the earliest reports of football-related violence. During the mid-50s, according to the centre, there was a wave of football disorder known as Zusism.
- Novo Magazin – August 2003
Schlechte Angewohnheiten, sie leben hoch! Die Gesundheitspolitik erhebt Gesundheit zum Selbstzweck, dem das Leben unterzuordnen ist. Peter Marsh plädiert stattdessen dafür, Gesundheit aufzubrauchen, um zu leben.
- Sun Herald – 20.07.2003
Let's Get Physical. Human behaviourists agree. Just like other animals, they say, we're hard-wired to woo with body language, not chatter. Peacocks or lions never spoil a good mating display with discussions about globalisation. I suspect Tom should work on his non-verbal skills. Too right, says a study on flirting by the UK's Social Issues Research Centre. "When you meet new people," it reports on its website, "their initial impression of you will be based 55 per cent on your appearance and body language, 38 per cent on your style of speaking and only 7 per cent on what you actually say." So much for intellectual thrust and parry. We might as well recite Wiggles lyrics.
- Telegraph – 12.07.2003
It's a jungle out there. If you want to avoid road rage, you must know your place in the pecking order … Peter Marsh, a psychologist and founder of the Social Issues Research Centre, said: "The car is less to do with being a means of transport, more a statement of identity. It provides an opportunity for dominance and mastery. Like the small kid in the playground, some cars almost invite the wrong sort of behaviour.
- Nuclear News – 01.07.2003
Relative risk. The new virus has killed around 260 people since last November. "In that period of time, tens of thousands could be expected to have died from flu and pneumonia," said Dr. Peter Marsh, a social psychologist and director of the social issues research centre at Oxford.
- Sunday Mail (Queensland) – 22.06.2003
Hunger pains. New Scientist magazine recently reported on trials conducted on rats by Dr John Hoebel and colleagues at New Jersey's Princeton University, published under the racy cover headline, "Can Fast Food Alter Your Brain in the Same Way as Tobacco and Heroin?" It went on to say: "New and potentially explosive findings on the biological effects of fast food suggest that eating yourself into obesity isn't simply down to a lack of self-control."
…The UK's Social Issues Research Centre (SIRC) in Oxford, England, is sceptical of such claims, describing the New Scientist cover as "sensational". "Why is New Scientist taking us down this ridiculous cul de sac of speculation?" SIRC asks. "It should be helping us evaluate the merits or otherwise of a single study on sugar-fed rodents." And Washington lobby group the Center for Science in the Public Interest was cautious in its response, citing a "paucity of evidence" from the trial results. [the same article also appeared in the Herald Sun (Aus), the Sunday Telegraph (Aus) and the Sunday Mail (SA)]
- Western Mail – 24.05.2003
Stag And Hen Nights Soak Up Pounds 300m Year And Upset The Locals. It's a concept that is almost unique to Britain, according to psychologist Dr Peter Marsh, of the social issues research centre at Oxford. "Elsewhere in the world they don't go in for binge drinking or this institutionalised pre-nuptial stuff, but here it's part of our historical traditions about drinking and consuming large amounts of alcohol. "These weekends or weeks away are about male bonding away from the normal controls."
- Health Newswire Consumer – 29.04.2003
Chocolate promotion sparks row. Dr Peter Marsh, director of the Social Issues Research Centre, an independent, non-profit organisation founded to conduct research on social and lifestyle issues, described the general reaction against the promotion as irrational. He said, "First, the National Diet and Nutrition Survey of Young People shows that obese children eat relatively less chocolate and sweets, as a proportion of their calorie intake, than do children of normal weight. Second, anything that encourages children to engage in exercise and sporting activities, however cynical it may appear, is to be welcomed. Third, crude attempts to demonise specific foods only serve to perpetuate neurotic approaches to food and eating, that underlie not only obesity, but a range of other eating disorders as well."
- BMJ News– 28.04.2003
Don't panic about Sars virus: flu, malaria and falling down stairs are bigger killers. Dr Peter Marsh, a social psychologist, is quoted in the Guardian today. He has attempted to quell the panic about the Sars virus by saying that a person is more likely to die from malaria, influenza or in fact a household accident than the virus. Meanwhile, the Independent, as well as several other papers, warns that there will be more cases of Sars in the UK, according to Professor Sir Liam Donaldson, the Government's chief medical officer.
- Copley News Service – 28.04.2003
Knowing details of others' lives is fundamental urge. Vegetarian or carnivore, everyone's favorite dish is "dirt." People love to gossip, no matter if it's across the backyard fence, at the office water cooler or on the computer. In fact, 65 percent of all conversations involve gossip, says the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford, England.
- Guardian – 28.04.2003
Don't panic: flu, malaria and falling down stairs are bigger killers. You are more likely to die from influenza, malaria or even by falling down the stairs at home. But that hasn't stopped the fear of Sars escalating out of all proportion to the risks…Humans tend to worry more about the unfamiliar and the improbable. "It's foreign, it's eastern," said Dr Marsh. "The fact is that 260 people have died. But for every Chinese person who has died, 10 million have not. In an ordinary rational world, that sounds like quite good odds, but not in this context. In this country, every year, 1,500 people are killed falling down the stairs. The implication would be that people should only be allowed to build bungalows."
- Herald – 23.04.2003
Flight of the bachelor boys. The average stag do is no longer a quick pint down the local with a few mates. It's plane tickets to a foreign city and a weekend-long bender … So, what does the rest of Europe make of this very British endeavour? Dr Peter Marsh, a psychologist with the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford, says: "It is very much an Anglo-Saxon tradition. You don't generally get the Italians or the French going in for this. Excessive drinking and getting up to the kind of mischief that groups of both sexes do is not their style. They will view them with a mixture of amusement and disgust. The French and Italians don't have the same concept as we do with regard to going out drinking. In Italy there is no word for a good drinker – machismo is expressed in other ways. Getting drunk is to be an object of ridicule and pity."
- Australian Magazine – 12.04.2003
Barometer. Female sexual self-confidence, according to Britain's Social Issues Research Centre, is continuing to grow. Women are now more than three times more likely to initiate a flirtatious encounter than men, according to the Centre. But they continue to use the traditional signals – strong eye contact, smiles, coy looks and head-tossing – as a way of determining whether a man is worth pursuing. Because men are not good at reading subtle cues, they can mistake this female friendliness – or "sounding out" stage – for a sexual invitation, and thus may resort to clumsy chat-up lines.
- Birmingham Post – 12.04.2003
Personal finance: diy satisfies creative urge but may not add any value. During the Easter fortnight last year, DIY chain B&Q sold 2.4 million pots of paint, 175,000 yards of roofing felt and 895 milles of decorative wallpaper borders. Dr Peter Marsh, director of the Social Issue Research Centre in Oxford, explains our pre-occupation with home ownership. He says: 'It's psychological meanings include feelings of safety, status and love. Home is not just a product, but also a process – an interest and a pleasure.' Dr Marsh has divided the reasons why people do it themselves into six categories: necessity; territorial marking; selfexpression; leisure activity; perfection-seeking; and therapy. Better pay and feminism have created a deluge at the DIY check-out.
- New Woman – 20.03.2003
Women are the biggest flirts. It's official, women are bigger flirts than men and what's more (don't gasp with surprise here), blokes are useless at reading our signals … Kate Fox, researcher on the project at the Social Issues Research Centre, said: "Men find it particularly difficult to interpret the more subtle cues in women's body language and tend to mistake friendliness for sexual interest." Body language and appearance account for about fifty per cent of a first impression making it tricky for men to work out in the initial stages if a woman is truly attracted to them or just assessing their potential.
- Metro – 17.03.2003
There's more to her flirt. A coy smile and a little hairstroking would make any red-blooded man think a woman was interested. But she is probably just sizing him up, according to a new study which reveals female flirting is more complicated than previously thought. It shows women send out subtle and deceptive signals, known as proteans, when they first meet a prospective partner, to test whether he is worth pursuing. Men often wrongly interpret the signs and make a clumsy pass. Proteans are one of a number of courting rituals analysed by the Social Issues Research Centre, based in Oxford.
- Evening Standard – 17.03.2003
The Social Issues Research Centre at Oxford has come up with useful new research into the science of flirting. It has discovered that two-thirds of flirtatious encounters are conducted by females in the case of chimpanzees, and possibly in human life, also. " Chimpanzee females actively solicit sex with males, going so far as to pull a resting male to his feet and insist on copulation," says the learned report. It adds, no doubt to the relief of some male readers, that "among humans, female proceptivity is much more subtle".
- Daily Mail – 17.03.2003
Why girls are flirty; It doesn't just mean they want romance. 'When you first meet new people their initial impression of you will be based 55 per cent on your appearance and body language and only 7 per cent on what you actually say,' said Kate Fox, of the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford, which carried out the research. 'Men find it particularly difficult to interpret the more subtle cues in women's body language and tend to mistake friendliness for sexual interest. 'This is not because they are stupid or deluded but they tend to see the world in more sexual terms than women. By sending erratic and ambiguous signals in the early stages of an encounter, women manipulate men into showing their hand.
- The Sun – 17.03.2003
Flirt Alert. Scientists have identified five stages of flirting used by a woman to snare a man. The steps are a girl's instinctive way to tell a guy she is interested and wants to take things further. The courting ritual moves from glancing to grooming and has been called the Proteus Effect -after a Greek god who kept changing his form to escape enemies. It was found by experts who surveyed more than 1,000 people at Oxford's Social Issue Research Centre.
- Sunday Times – 16.03.2003
Solved: flirting code that baffles the boys. The puzzle of why men so often mistake the slightest sign of friendliness from a woman as amorous intent has been solved by social scientists … The proteus effect - named after the Greek river god who constantly changed his form to evade his enemies - is one of a number of courting rituals analysed in a study of flirting to be published by the Social Issues Research Centre (Sirc), an Oxford-based research organisation backed by the anthropologist Desmond Morris. Others include the "copulatory gaze" and the phenomena of "courtesy flirting" - a practice which works well among Europeans but one which can go badly awry if tried in America. Kate Fox, the report’s author and the co-director of Sirc, said women tended to blitz men with protean signals in the first minute or so of meeting them.
"By sending erratic and ambiguous signals in the early stages of an encounter, women manipulate men into showing their hand," said Fox. "It is not entirely surprising, given the levels of ambiguity and deception to which they are subjected, that males tend to become confused." See also:
- Irish News – 08.03.2003
The mind games of motoring. Peter Marsh is an Oxford-based academic and director of The Social Issues Research Centre. His published books includes Driving Passion: The Psychology of the Car, cowritten with Peter Collett. "You have to stand back and think about what your car is all about. It is more than a means of transportation. That is the trivial function of a car. It is more about self expression, emotional behaviour and aggression," Marsh says.
- Korea Times – 07.03.2003
Gossip and You. Social anthropologist Kate Fox of England's Social Issues Research Centre writes, "We all have to learn the `unwritten’ rules of our society or social group," and that "critical gossip helps us to discover, negotiate, transmit and reinforce those rules." So, we gossip when people go astray as a way of delineating what's right and wrong. Experts distinguish between rumor as "often unfounded and malicious" and gossip as "mostly factual news." Obviously, not all stories we share with people are benign. While gossip may be true, it isn't always nice.
- Express – 23.01.2003
Northern Boozers See Off The South A study reveals that men in Scotland and the North of England drink on average more than 11 pints a week, while 40 per cent manage more than 13 pints. Those in the South-east get by on six or seven pints a week. Women in the North west, Yorkshire and Scotland are keen tipplers too. Their average of four pints a week is twice the amount drunk by their southern sisters. "The choice of drink can reflect membership of a particular group, generation or class, " said psychologist Dwight Heath, of the Oxford-based independent Social Issues Research Centre.
- Glasgow Herald – 01.03.2003
Sisters are DIY-ing it for themselves; Traditionally the preserve of boys and their toys, home improvement is under siege from a band of women armed with their very own tools … Our reasons range from obvious to obscure. Creativity and self-expression play a large part, as does sheer economic necessity. First-time home owners can't usually afford to splash out wildly on paying someone else to do their DIY. According to the Social Issues Research Centre, many more people do DIY because they don't trust builders and decorators. This might be through bad word of mouth, from real or imaginary cowboy stories. Territorial marking, or putting a personal stamp on a living space is another reason.
- Missourian – 05.02.2003
Learning the lingo of love. But what is there to know about flirting? It is a more respected art than some people think. According to the Social Issues Research Center, psychologists have argued that it is the human version of a courtship dance and that even career achievements are based on the ability to charm.
- Independent – 01.01.2003
The Angry Brigade; Would you go to prison for your beliefs? Why do they do it? Social psychologist Dr Peter Marsh, co-director of the Social Issues Research Centre in Oxford, believes that by taking certain kinds of stands, people often feel better about themselves. Those who actively join a common cause become part of a distinct collective, giving them a sense of social identity, as well as individual worth. "You get to a stage where the belief is so much part of your own self- perception that, in a sense, you cannot do much about it and are forced to pursue it even to what we might think to be cranky extremes," he says. "The fact that people are prepared to go to prison for their causes reinforces their own sense of self-worth, self-belief and self-esteem. In a sense it is almost essential to them believing well of themselves." Often, he believes, these people have fairly low self-esteem, low status or low sense of achievement, despite their obvious tokens of success. "The dividing line between people going to extremes to stand up for their principles and them being declared insane is very fine in some cases, in the sense that we define sanity and normality in terms of very arbitrary norms," he adds.