July 28, 2014

8:51 AM | The mistakes that lead therapists to infer psychotherapy was effective, when it wasn't
How well can psychotherapists and their clients judge from personal experience whether therapy has been effective? Not well at all, according to a paper by Scott Lilienfeld and his colleagues. The fear is that this can lead to the continued practice of ineffective, or even harmful, treatments.The authors point out that, like the rest of us, clinicians are subject to four main biases that skew their ability to infer the effectiveness of their psychotherapeutic treatments. This includes the […]

July 26, 2014

7:30 AM | Link feast
Our pick of the best psychology and neuroscience links from the past week:Getting Over ProcrastinationMaria Konnikova with an overview of some fascinating genetic research.The End of ‘Genius’"[T]he lone genius is a myth that has outlived its usefulness" writes Joshua Shenk.Do You Need a Mental Health First Aider in The Office?Mental health "first aider" Charlotte Walker explains her role.Won’t They Help?Dwyer Gunn for Aeon magazine looks at new programmes that are using […]

July 25, 2014

10:12 AM | How our judgments about criminals are swayed by disgust, biological explanations and animalistic descriptions
We expect of our jurors and judges calm, reasoned evaluation of the evidence. Of course we know the reality is rather different - prejudice and emotional reactions will always play their part. Now two new studies add insight into the ways people's legal judgements depart from cool objectivity.Beatrice Capestany and Lasana Harris focused on two main factors - the disgust level of a crime, and whether or not the perpetrators' personality was described in biological terms. Seventeen participants […]

Capestany, B. & Harris, L. (2014). Disgust and biological descriptions bias logical reasoning during legal decision-making, Social Neuroscience, 9 (3) 265-277. DOI: 10.1080/17470919.2014.892531

Vasquez, E., Loughnan, S., Gootjes-Dreesbach, E. & Weger, U. (2014). The animal in you: Animalistic descriptions of a violent crime increase punishment of perpetrator, Aggressive Behavior, 40 (4) 337-344. DOI: 10.1002/ab.21525


July 24, 2014

9:02 AM | When interviewers try to sell the job, they become bad interviewers
It’s hard to find the best person for the job through an interview. New research uncovers part of the problem: judging a candidate’s calibre becomes trickier when we’re also trying to sell them the benefits of joining the organisation.In an initial study, participants were asked to interview a person (another participant) who was acting as an applicant for a fictional position. Half the interviewers were told their priority was to get a good sense of the applicant, while the […]

Marr, J. & Cable, D. (2013). Do Interviewers Sell Themselves Short? The Effects of Selling Orientation on Interviewers' Judgments, Academy of Management Journal, 57 (3) 624-651. DOI: 10.5465/amj.2011.0504


July 23, 2014

8:55 AM | What the textbooks don't tell you - one of psychology's most famous experiments was seriously flawed
Zimbardo speaking in '09Conducted in 1971, the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) has acquired a mythical status and provided the inspiration for at least two feature-length films. You'll recall that several university students allocated to the role of jailor turned brutal and the study had to be aborted prematurely. Philip Zimbardo, the experiment's lead investigator, says the lesson from the research is that in certain situations, good people readily turn bad. "If you put good apples into a bad […]

Griggs, R. (2014). Coverage of the Stanford Prison Experiment in Introductory Psychology Textbooks, Teaching of Psychology, 41 (3) 195-203. DOI: 10.1177/0098628314537968


July 22, 2014

3:07 PM | The psychology of first impressions - digested
Piercings convey low intelligence and greater creativity, according to researchYou’ll have had this experience - you meet a new person and within moments you feel good or bad vibes about them. This is you performing “thin slicing” - deducing information about a person based on “tells”, some more obvious than others.Psychologists have studied this process in detail. For example, they’ve shown that we form a sense of whether a stranger is trustworthy in less […]
8:39 AM | Study of dynamic facial expressions suggests there are four basic emotions, not six
New research suggests that humans recognise facial emotional expressions in a dynamic way. We search for urgent signals first, before seeking out more nuanced information. The University of Glasgow researchers also argue their data show there are four basic facial expressions of emotion rather than the widely accepted six.Rachael Jack and her colleagues developed computerised 3-D faces that began neutral and relaxed before transforming over one second into a random expression, created through a […]

July 21, 2014

8:29 AM | It's time for Western psychology to recognise that many individuals, and even entire cultures, fear happiness
It's become a mantra of the modern Western world that the ultimate aim of life is to achieve happiness. Self-help blog posts on how to be happy are almost guaranteed popularity (the Digest has its own!). Pro-happiness organisations have appeared, such as Action for Happiness, which aims to "create a happier society for everyone." Topping it all, an increasing number of governments, including in the UK, have started measuring national well-being (seen as a proxy for "happiness") - the argument […]

Joshanloo, M. & Weijers, D. (2013). Aversion to Happiness Across Cultures: A Review of Where and Why People are Averse to Happiness, Journal of Happiness Studies, 15 (3) 717-735. DOI: 10.1007/s10902-013-9489-9


July 19, 2014

7:45 AM | Link feast
Our pick of the best psychology and neuroscience links from the past week:The Trouble With Brain ScienceThe problem, argues Gary Marcus, is that we've yet to achieve a breakthrough that bridges psychology and neuroscience.Head of White House “Nudge Unit” Maya Shankar Speaks about Newly Formed US Social and Behavioral Sciences TeamNews broke last summer that the US was planning to follow the UK by setting up its own "Nudge Unit". Here the PsychReport brings us fresh details of the […]

July 18, 2014

8:42 AM | Students say men are more attractive when they take risks, but only risks relevant to our hunter-gatherer ancestors
A willingness to take risks enhances men's sex appeal. This much we know from past research. What's not clear, is whether this is because of cultural beliefs about traditional gender roles, or if it's an evolutionary hang-over (or perhaps both). John Petraitis and his colleagues have put these two explanations to the test by drawing a distinction between risk-taking behaviours that reflect the challenges faced by our ancestors, and contemporary risks based around modern technology.Over […]

July 17, 2014

7:56 AM | How your mood changes your personality
Participants scored higher on neuroticism & lower on extraversion when they were sadExcept in extreme cases of illness or trauma, we usually expect each other's personalities to remain stable through life. Indeed, central to the definition of personality is that it describes pervasive tendencies in a person's behaviour and ways of relating to the world. However, a new study highlights the reality - your personality is swayed by your current mood, especially when you're feeling down.Jan […]

July 16, 2014

8:06 AM | What does it feel like to be depressed?
We're used to reading about depression as a checklist of symptoms. These lists have their uses, but arguably they miss the human story of what depression truly feels like. Now the psychologists Jonathan Smith and John Rhodes have published their analysis of the first-hand accounts of seven therapy clients, (three women and four men) about what it's like to be depressed for the first time. The participants had an average age of 44, and all had been referred for therapy in London.The first theme […]

July 15, 2014

7:45 AM | It's possible to "forget" unwanted habits
New research shows that we can weaken and even undo practised habits by deliberately deciding to forget them.Gesine Dreisbach and Karl-Heinz Bäuml from Regensburg University first instilled new habits in their participants by presenting them with German words and training them over many trials to make the same response to each word - a left-handed key-press for half of them, a right-hand response for the remainder.Later, participants had to categorise the same words by gender, with […]

Dreisbach, G. & Bauml, K. (2014). Don't Do It Again! Directed Forgetting of Habits, Psychological Science, 25 (6) 1242-1248. DOI: 10.1177/0956797614526063


July 14, 2014

8:29 AM | Young men and women have very different attitudes towards touch in cross-sex friendships
Friendships between heterosexual men and women can be tricky to navigate, especially when it comes to tactile contact. Is that touch on the arm a gesture of platonic care and affection? Or an unwanted signal of sexual interest? A new survey by US researchers shows the situation is complicated by the contrasting attitudes of young men and women towards touch in cross-sex friendships.Michael Miller and his team quizzed 276 undergrads at an Eastern US University, including 128 women*. The […]

MILLER, M., DENES, A., DIAZ, B. & RANJIT, Y. (2014). Touch attitudes in cross-sex friendships: We're just friends, Personal Relationships, 21 (2) 309-323. DOI: 10.1111/pere.12033


July 12, 2014

8:00 AM | Link feast
Our pick of the best psychology and neuroscience links from the past week:Why sports psychologists couldn't save Brazil's World Cup hopesAngela Patmore argues that the Brazilian team were given flawed advice - they were encouraged to relax, rather than trained to increase their mental resilience.Open message to the European Commission concerning the Human Brain ProjectNearly 600 neuroscientists have signed an open letter criticising the European Commission's ambitious €1 Billion Human […]

July 11, 2014

8:20 AM | Adults, like children, have a tendency to think vision is more informative than it is
Among the cute mistakes that children make, one is to overestimate how much information they can garner through vision. For instance, asked to judge whether they can tell apart two identical-looking, but differently weighted (or different sounding) objects, simply by looking at them, five-year-olds tend to say Yes. Now an intriguing new paper suggests this is an error that we adults fail to completely outgrow.In the second and more persuasive of their experiments, Jessica Wang and her […]

Wang JJ, Diana Miletich D, Ramsey R & Samson D (2014). Adults see vision to be more informative than it is., Quarterly journal of experimental psychology (2006), 1-14. PMID:


July 10, 2014

8:59 AM | By treating depression, do we also treat suicidality? The answer is far from straightforward
By guest blogger James Coyne.Edgar Allan Poe’s fictional detective C. Auguste Dupin warns against tackling questions that are too complicated to test, but too fascinating to give up. Whether psychotherapy or medication can reduce suicidality is probably such a question. Particularly if we are really interested in whether treatments can reduce attempted suicides, not whether they change patients’ answers in an interview or on a questionnaire.There is no doubt about the clinical […]

July 09, 2014

8:46 AM | You can do it! Self-talk is more effective when you refer to yourself as You, rather than I
We know self-talk can help people's self-control (e.g. "Don't do it!"), and boost their morale (e.g. "Hang in there!") in sporting situations. However, before now, no-one has investigated whether self-talk is more effective depending on whether you refer to yourself in the grammatical first person (i.e. "I can do it!") or the second person (i.e. "You can do it?").Sanda Dolcos and her team first asked 95 psychology undergrads to imagine they were a character in a short story. The […]

Dolcos, S. & Albarracin, D. (2014). The inner speech of behavioral regulation: Intentions and task performance strengthen when you talk to yourself as a You, European Journal of Social Psychology, DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.2048


July 08, 2014

7:45 AM | People's happiness at work usually dips mid career - now researchers think they know why
If you're in or not far from your thirties, you're part of the age group that previous research shows is most likely to experience lower workplace wellbeing. A new study suggests the reasons for this midlife dip: a double whammy of more demands on time and less support from co-workers. Dr Hannes Zacher's team surveyed nearly 800 mostly male workers in various roles in the Australian construction industry. Participants reported wellbeing in terms of job satisfaction and emotional exhaustion. […]

July 07, 2014

8:15 AM | Neurosurgeons find small brain region that turns consciousness on and off, like the key in a car's ignition
The 54-year-old epilepsy patient - her name remains concealed to protect her privacy - was lying on the operating table while surgeons explored inside her brain with electrodes. They were looking for the source of her epileptic seizures. Suddenly, after they applied electricity to a small region, buried deep, near the front of the brain, the woman froze and her eyes went blank. She was awake, but entirely unresponsive.The precise area the surgeons had zapped included a sliver of tissue known as […]

July 05, 2014

8:00 AM | Link feast
Our pick of the best psychology and neuroscience links from the past weekIs It Time To Redraw the Map of the Brain?Neuroskeptic reports on an important paper that questions the way the localisation of neural function is inferred from from the study of brain-damaged patients.The Science of the MindThis week's edition of Start the Week on BBC Radio 4 was focused on whether neuroscience is changing our self-understanding.No logic in King’s College job cutsDorothy Bishop with a sharp […]

July 03, 2014

6:00 PM | The darkness within - many people would rather electrocute themselves than spend time with their own thoughts
Go people-watching in any Western country and it's rare to find someone sat alone in quiet contemplation. Most lone individuals can be seen playing with their mobile phone, reading, watching a movie on their tablet, or people-watching. Why this need for distraction? Is there something so aversive about spending time immersed in our own thoughts?A team of psychologists led by Timothy Wilson has investigated. Across six initial studies they invited hundreds of undergrads, one at a time, to spend […]
8:28 AM | Mirror writing: What does it reflect about how we all write?
Our story starts with a wheeze: a schoolboy punished with lines saves time by wielding two pens at once. Exploring the ease with which he can play with writing, what began as a diversion eventually becomes an artistic practice that incorporates mirrored and inverted script into paintings. What can investigation of this skill offer to science? Mirror writing in Western script flows from right to left, writing first A, then l, e, x to produce xɘlA. It's reported both in neurologically […]

July 02, 2014

11:51 AM | What happens to the cool kids when they grow up?
"Cool kids", according to a new study, are those early teens (aged 13 to 15) who want to be popular, and try to impress their peers by acting older than their years. They have precocious romantic relationships, commit relatively minor acts of bad behaviour (such as sneaking into the cinema without paying), and surround themselves with good-looking friends. These teenagers attract respect from their peers at first, but what's the story by the time they reach early adulthood?Joseph Allen and his […]

Allen JP, Schad MM, Oudekerk B & Chango J (2014). What Ever Happened to the "Cool" Kids? Long-Term Sequelae of Early Adolescent Pseudomature Behavior., Child development, PMID:


July 01, 2014

2:53 PM | Facebook mood manipulation study - the outcry and counter reaction (link feast special)
There's been an outcry after Facebook manipulated the news feeds of nearly 700,000 its users, as part of a newly published investigation into online emotional contagion. Here we bring you a handy round-up of some of the ensuing commentary and reaction.The FuroreThe Psychologist magazine brings us up to speed with the main findings and fallout from the affair.The "Apology"Lead author on the paper, in-house Facebook researcher Adam Kramer took to Facebook on June 29 to apologise. "...our […]
8:42 AM | When work conditions are tough, beware the star performers
When budgets are cut or time is short, watch out for those who excel at work. Their contribution could be admirable, but a new study suggests you may alternatively be witnessing a “Machiavellian” in action – someone exploiting the situation for their own interests.Daniel Kuyumcu and Jason Dahling assessed the Machiavellianism of 110 psychology students, all of whom worked at least 15 hours part-time. Questionnaire items included: "I am willing to sabotage the efforts of other […]

June 30, 2014

7:45 AM | Exploding the 10,000 hours myth - it's no guarantee for greatness
Swedish psychologist K. Anders Ericsson has studied elite performers in music, chess and sport for decades, and he says the main distinguishing characteristic of experts is the amount of deliberate practice they've invested - typically over 10,000 hours.This is painstaking practice performed for the sole purpose of improving one's skill level. Best-selling authors like Gladwell, Daniel Pink, Matthew Syed and others, have taken Ericsson's results and distilled them into the uplifting message […]
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