May 02, 2015

7:00 AM | Link feast
Our pick of this week's 10 best psychology and neuroscience links:The Ultimate Psychology Reading ListFor more than seven years, The Psychologist has been asking eminent psychologists to recommend books and journal articles.The Vice Guide To Mental HealthThe Canada-based magazine launches a new vertical devoted to mental health.The People Who Are Lost in TimeAt BBC Future, I reported on some of the strange causes and consequences of amnesia.The Psychologist Annual Conference Special EditionAn […]

May 01, 2015

8:47 AM | Children use time words like "seconds" and "hours" long before they know what they mean
For adults, let alone children, time is a tricky concept to comprehend. In our culture, we carve it up into somewhat arbitrary chunks and attribute words to those durations: 60 seconds in a minute, and 60 of those in an hour and so on. We also have a sense of what these durations feel like. Children start using these time-related words at around the age of two or three years, even though they won't master clocks until eight or nine. This raises the question – what do young children really […]

April 30, 2015

10:33 AM | Why the message – that we're all prone to stereotyping others – is so dangerous
Telling people they are biased in their treatment of others – that they are racist or ageist, for example – can make them defensive and result in backlash. For this reason, change-makers nowadays often spread a different message: that stereotyping others isn’t a personal sin, but near-universal and something we must all aim to resist. However a new paper from researchers Michelle Duguid and Melissa Thomas-Hunt argues that this "Everyone Stereotypes" message, far from reducing […]

April 29, 2015

8:51 AM | People are overly optimistic about the benefits of optimism
"It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome." The sentiment articulated here by psychology pioneer William James is currently in vogue, if its preponderance in self-help books, motivational posters, and memes is anything to go by. But are we pinning too much on positive thinking?A research team led by Elizabeth Tenney asked participants to guess how much a given task is affected by optimism, then compared this to […]

Tenney, E., Logg, J. & Moore, D. (2015). (Too) optimistic about optimism: The belief that optimism improves performance., Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 108 (3) 377-399. DOI: 10.1037/pspa0000018


April 28, 2015

11:56 AM | Can feeling lonely make you hungry?
Loneliness is bad for you. Some experts have even likened it to a kind of disease. What's unclear is how being being lonely leads to these adverse effects on our health. A new study looks at one possibility – that loneliness makes people feel hungrier than normal, thus increasing their food intake and putting them at risk of obesity with all its associated health problems.Lisa Jaremka and her colleagues asked 42 women (average age 53) to fast for 12 hours before visiting the psych lab. On […]

Jaremka, L., Fagundes, C., Peng, J., Belury, M., Andridge, R., Malarkey, W. & Kiecolt-Glaser, J. (2015). Loneliness predicts postprandial ghrelin and hunger in women, Hormones and Behavior, 70 57-63. DOI: 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2015.01.011


April 27, 2015

11:56 AM | You can change your personality at will
Surveys show that most of us wish our personalities were different. Change is certainly possible: people's personalities evolve as they get older (for example, most of us become more friendly but less open-minded), and there's research showing more immediate influences on personality, such as our current mood (we're less extravert when we're sad). And yet, before now, no one has studied whether people can simply choose to change their personality at will.Nathan Hudson and Chris Fraley asked 135 […]

April 25, 2015

7:00 AM | Link Feast
Our pick of this week's 10 best psychology and neuroscience links:The Man Who Couldn't Stop GivingWhat a Brazilian man's pathological generosity says about the biological roots of philanthropy
What Can We Learn From Reading Online Reviews?An analysis of millions of Amazon reviews reveals an intriguing relationship between the star ratings people give and the emotionality words that they writeThe Psychology (and Philosophy) of ‘No Regrets’A clinical psychologist argues that […]

April 24, 2015

8:00 AM | References to alcohol in UK pop music are on the increase
"My wine is good to me, it helps me pass the time. And my good old buddy whiskey keeps me warmer than the sunshine," Aloe Blacc – I need a dollar, 2011.Psychologists have documented a striking increase in references to alcohol and heavy drinking in the lyrics of UK chart music. They warn this could mean that attempts to control the direct advertising of alcohol to young people will be in vein, as pop music is effectively spreading a positive message on the drinks companies […]

Hardcastle, K., Hughes, K., Sharples, O. & Bellis, M. (2013). Trends in alcohol portrayal in popular music: A longitudinal analysis of the UK charts, Psychology of Music, 43 (3) 321-332. DOI: 10.1177/0305735613500701


April 23, 2015

9:01 AM | Men and boys with older sisters are less competitive
One of the longest-debated and most studied issues in psychology is whether and how our personalities are affected by our birth order and the sex of our siblings. A problem with much previous research is that it's depended on people self-reporting their own personality, or on siblings or parents providing the personality ratings. These ratings are prone to subjectivity and skewed by people's expectations about how, say, a younger sibling ought to behave.A new study focused on one particular […]

Okudaira, H., Kinari, Y., Mizutani, N., Ohtake, F. & Kawaguchi, A. (2015). Older sisters and younger brothers: The impact of siblings on preference for competition, Personality and Individual Differences, 82 81-89. DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2015.02.037


April 22, 2015

8:59 AM | Psychologists study burglars' expertise
Their actions are criminal and they cause untold misery, but repeat burglars are skilled at what they do and in that sense they are experts. By studying this expertise we can learn to better secure our properties against the threat of theft, and detectives can learn to spot the signature trail of an experienced robber.Most previous research in this area has relied on interviews with burglars about their strategies: a limited approach. A new study is more compelling. Claire Nee and her team […]

April 21, 2015

9:07 AM | Optimism and pessimism are separate systems influenced by different genes
"... the optimist sees the rose and not its thorns; the pessimist stares at the thorns, oblivious to the rose,” Kahlil Gibran.Optimists enjoy better health, more success, more happiness, and longer lives, than pessimists. No surprise, then, that psychologists are taking an increasing interest in our outlook on life. An unresolved issue is whether optimism and pessimism are two ends of the same spectrum, or if they're separate. If the traits are separate, then in principle, some […]

April 20, 2015

8:28 AM | Autistic children's sensory experiences, in their own words
Children diagnosed with autism often have distinctive sensory experiences, such as being ultra sensitive to noise, or finding enjoyment in repeated, unusual sensory stimulation. However, much of what we know about these experiences comes from the testimony of parents, researchers and clinicians. Now Anne Kirby and her colleagues have published the first report of autistic children's sensory experiences, based on these children's own accounts. As the authors say, "children's voices are still […]

April 18, 2015

7:00 AM | Link Feast
Our pick of this week's 10 best psychology and neuroscience links:Autistic Traits Aren’t Linked To Brain Anatomy?Neuroskeptic (a previous Digest guest blogger) looks at a new study that failed to find correlations in healthy people between brain structure and their self-reported autistic-like traits.Do Anger-Prone Communities Suffer More Heart Disease? A Striking Big Data FindingDavid Myers reports on a new study of emotional words used by Twitter users.The Neuroanatomy […]

April 17, 2015

11:30 AM | Psychology students are seduced by superfluous neuroscience
It seems as though neuroscience is particularly popular and seductive. Not only is the discipline enjoying some eye-spinningly massive new grants, there are also ever more brain-branded products (like brain games and brain drinks), there are new disciplines like neuroleadership, and there's a growing obsession about the brain among many journalists, many of whom invoke brain science in odd contexts (check out "The neuroscience of ISIS" for a recent example).This atmosphere has led to a […]

April 16, 2015

10:00 AM | Marathon runners forget how painful it was
Image: Flickr/GregThe sense of accomplishment from running a marathon is hugely uplifting. But let's not romanticise it, there's also a lot of pain involved. Despite this, many people pull on their running shoes time and again. A new study helps make sense of their behaviour – it turns out most marathon runners forget just how painful it was the last time. Przemyslaw Bąbel recruited 62 runners (39 men) who took part in the 11th Cracovia Marathon in Cracow, Poland in 2012. Moments […]

Bąbel, P. (2015). Memory of pain induced by physical exercise, Memory, 1-12. DOI: 10.1080/09658211.2015.1023809


April 15, 2015

1:57 PM | Do movie super-heroines empower women?
The super-heroines who feature in the X-Men series and other comic-book films challenge traditional gender stereotypes in the sense that they are powerful, strong and smart. You'd think watching them in action might have an empowering influence on female viewers. But there's a catch – heroine characters like Mystique, Storm and PsyLocke (pictured) are also hypersexualised. Their clothing is tight and revealing, they are typically buxom and ultra thin-waisted, and they often use their sex […]

April 14, 2015

4:11 PM | The psychology of voting, digested
The UK General Election is weeks away and the political parties are doing all they can to attract our votes. Psychology tells us that not only are the parties competing with each other, they also have to contend with the foibles of human nature. Many of us like to think that we vote according to sound reason, perhaps for the good of the country, our own family's best interests, or by selecting the most fair and competent candidate. In fact, there's evidence that our votes are frequently […]

April 13, 2015

9:08 AM | Psychologists can influence people's moral choices by tracking their gaze
Where we look betrays what we're thinking. For instance, given a choice between two snacks, people spend longer looking at the alternative that they ultimately choose. A new study digs deeper into this process and asks: is gaze direction also related to moral choices, and does it actually influence those choices?Twenty students donned an eye tracker and made a series of moral judgments. On each trial, the students heard a statement over headphones (e.g. "murder is sometimes justifiable") and […]

April 09, 2015

11:56 AM | Think you need a lucky mascot? It could be a sign you're looking at a challenge the wrong way
Cross your fingers, touch wood, and don’t forget the rabbit’s foot. What leads people to put faith in such habits? Research from Boston and Tulane universities suggests our goals have a big influence. Luck is the last thing on our minds when we’re concerned with learning. But when we’re focused on external goals such as scoring a high exam grade, superstitious thinking intrudes.Being superstitious is about invoking some force beyond ourselves to make the other horse […]

April 07, 2015

7:55 AM | After laughing, people are more willing to share personal details about themselves
As a theatrical improviser, I’ve experienced workshops and shows where, after initial horseplay, people who hardly know each other share intimate autobiographical details, sometimes on a brightly lit stage. Where does this striking willingness to be vulnerable arrive from? New research suggests that part of the answer may be that the act of laughter encourages personal disclosure: we chuckle out our secrets.At the start of Alan Gray’s study, groups of four participants watched a […]
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