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Most people are familiar with the siren call of the virtual world and the desire to check emails one more time, have a quick glance at Facebook or send a pithy tweet.

But now a study of individuals’ desires through the course of a day has revealed that the lure of work and entertainment is for many harder to resist than cigarettes and alcohol.

In a study of more than 200 adults, researchers have discovered that although the desires for sleep and sex were stronger, the lure of the virtual world, either for work or for entertainment and relaxation proved harder to resist.

“Modern life is a welter of assorted desires marked by frequent conflict and resistance, the latter with uneven success,” says lead author of the study, assistant professor of behavioural science Wilhelm Hofmann of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Prof Hofmann speculates that one reason why individuals may succumb to social media is because there is no “immediate downside” although he warns that frequent use of social media can be a drain on an individual’s time.

The paper, Desires and cravings: food, money, status, sex” is co-authored by Roy Baumeister of Florida State University and Kathleen Vohs of the University of Minnesota and will be published shortly in the journal Psychological Science.

● It is an established fact that children and young people from poorer families do worse in school than their peers who come from a wealthier background. To counter this governments have introduced programmes in an attempt to redress the balance.

But according to research by Sean Reardon, an associate professor of education at Stanford, despite the best efforts of administrations in the US, the achievement gap between rich and poor students has been growing steadily for the past fifty years.

Prof Reardon looked at standardised test scores beginning in 1960 and ending in 2007. His sample compared children from families in the top earning bracket and families in the lower brackets. He discovered that the gap in test scores between children from high income and low income families had grown by about 40 per cent.

Prof Reardon suggests that there are a variety of reasons for the growing gap such as cuts to social programmes, increased segregation between the rich and the poor, and if you are wealthy access to better child care, elementary schools and the opportunity to spend more money on extra classes and activities for your children.

The study was published as a chapter in a research book, Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances.

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