Magazine morality

Not every page of a scientific journal is turgid and potentially profound. At the end of every year for instance the British Medical Journal throws open its pages to some less weighty and more fanciful pieces of real research. One such study looked at what happens to magazines in doctor’s waiting rooms and why it is that all such magazines seem to predate rock and roll. This might seem like a fairly trivial enquiry in the broad scheme of things but just as you can find the universe in a grain of sand, so is there a kernel of truth that extends beyond the study findings.

The study was a small one conducted in the waiting room of a practice in Auckland, New Zealand. The researchers placed magazines in three mixed piles in the waiting room. The piles contained a mix of non-gossip magazines such as the Time, National Geographic, and The Economist as well as gossip magazines that were defined as “having more than five phoptographs of celebrities on the cover”. At the start of the study more than half of the magazines were less than two months old while the rest were 3-12 months old.

After a month the researchers found that 47 per cent of the magazines had disappeared. It also emerged that 59 per cent of current magazines disappeared while only 27 per cent old older magazines disappeared. Most significantly, gossipy magazines were 14 times more likely to be taken than non-gossip magazines. In fact, no copies of Time or The Economist were taken. The magazines that disappeared were also much cheaper than the ones that were left.

It is not hard to conclude here that people have less of an issue taking things that have little perceived value. Apparently, not only the cover price but also the contents of gossip magazines have such little worth that a person’s conscience is not too troubled at taking them with them. It is after all, hard to conceive that anybody would be disturbed by, or even notice, the loss of such a flimsy (in every way) publication. The bigger question is whether such a value-dependent mechanism governs your morality? Gaze into your navel and answer with candour. It might also help you understand the actions of others a bit more easily.

The other burning question of course is why WellBeing magazine was not part of the study? Maybe some losses are just too great to risk.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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