Why do some grumpy grey nomads look for things to complain about?

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Whingeing grey nomads
What on Earth could you find to whinge about here?

With life on the open road often being described as ‘living the dream’, why is it that grey nomads have a reputation in some circles as being ‘grumpy’ or ‘a bunch of whingers’?

While most of the criticism is unwarranted, or at the very least grossly exaggerated (just look at all the smiling faces and listen to all the cheerful chatter at Happy Hour for evidence), there is certainly an element of discontent among some travellers around certain issues.

The loss of a free camping site can spark bitter outrage, as can ‘too high’ caravan park fees, ‘too noisy’ neighbours, or rubbish left at what should have been a pristine campsite or rest area. So, are these things really as terrible as they are sometimes made out to be, or are grey nomads running the risk of spoiling their dream trip by ‘looking for trouble’?

While there is no doubt that some free camps close, some caravan parks charge too much, and some truckies tailgate, is it really as bad as all that?

Well, psychologists say the human brain can be a tricky beast, and that the way it processes information can mean that when something becomes rarer, we sometimes see it in more places than ever. In other words, if you stop at lots of clean campsites, your assessment of what constitutes a filthy campsite changes, and you see problems where before you may have seen none.

Academics at Harvard University in the US, have concluded that some problems never seem to go away because people keep changing how they define them. This is sometimes called ‘moving the goalposts’ and it makes life difficult. How can you know if you’re making progress solving a problem such as campsite litter, when you keep redefining what it means to solve it?

David Levari, a postdoctoral researcher in psychology at Harvard said his team investigated this phenomenon by asking volunteers to look at a series of computer-generated faces and decide which ones seemed ‘threatening’.

“As we showed people fewer and fewer threatening faces over time, we found that they expanded their definition of ‘threatening’ to include a wider range of faces,” he said. “In other words, when they ran out of threatening faces to find, they started calling faces threatening that they used to call harmless.”

The researcher says that research from cognitive psychology and neuroscience suggests that this happens because the way our brains process information means we are constantly comparing what is in front of us to its recent context. So, does the research mean that higher levels of grey nomad moaning may actually mean that caravan park fees are going down, litter levels are shrinking, and campsite noise levels are falling?

“What a load of old nonsense,” said grumpy traveller, Julian Kevin. “Of course everything is getting worse than it used to be.”
* Do you think some grey nomads are grumpy for no reason? Are you one of them? Email us here to share your thoughts on grumpy grey nomadding .

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