March 30, 2015

8:54 AM | Could you tell the difference between a person's memory and their imagination?
If I gave you a written description of an object – let's say a boat – would you be able to judge whether the author had written about the boat from their memory of it, as opposed to having written about a boat they'd imagined?It's a question with real-world importance because, in court, we often rely on eyewitness memories and it's up to a jury to determine their source and veracity. But memory, like the imagination, is a creative process. Sometimes the two even become blurred […]

March 28, 2015

7:42 AM | Link Feast
Our pick of this week's 10 best psychology and neuroscience links:The Exciting Side of BoredomElla Rhodes at The Psychologist meets psychologists who think boredom has had a bad press.How are Pilots Psychologically Screened?Tom de Castella investigates for BBC News Magazine.What Spending a Year in Space Does to Your Mind"It's stressful, but transcendental too," says Francie Diep at Pacific Standard.Brain Balance Centers: An Insider’s PerspectiveWorrying revelations about a programme […]

March 27, 2015

10:10 AM | Why it's important that employers let staff personalise their workspaces
The sparring mitt, yellow stitches spelling "SLUGGER" casually lying on the desk. The Mathlete trophy on a high shelf. A Ganesha statue, slightly chipped. Why do people bring these kinds of personal objects into the workplace?Researchers Kris Byron and Gregory Laurence found answers by consulting 28 people in a range of jobs and workplaces. They used the "grounded theory" approach, starting with a clutch of more open-ended interviews and then pursuing the lines of inquiry that emerged, in every […]

March 26, 2015

9:14 AM | 10 tortuous psychology studies you'll be glad you didn't participate in
Many psychology studies involve nothing more challenging for participants than sitting down with a short paper questionnaire and ticking off agreement or not with a series of anodyne statements. This post is not about that kind of research. Here, we take a tour of some rather more arduous and quirky experiments from the psychology archives. Participants in these studies were prodded, embarrassed, disgusted, scared, teased, bored and more (though not at once). It was all in the name of science, […]

March 25, 2015

9:55 AM | Textbook coverage of this classic social psychology study has become increasingly biased
One of the pairs of cards used in Asch's1950s research. Image from Wikipedia. Like Zimbardo's prison study and Milgram's so-called "obedience experiments", the research that Solomon Asch conducted at Swarthmore College in the 1950s has acquired an almost mythical quality, being distorted and exaggerated in frequent retellings over time. Asch's studies arguably showed the power of people's independence in the face of an apparently misguided majority, and yet paradoxically they've come to be […]

March 24, 2015

10:05 AM | Working at a treadmill desk boosts your memory and concentration, researchers claim
Image from Labonté-LeMoyne et al.We're told sitting is the new smoking and that we should consider working at standing desks, or perhaps better still, treadmill desks. Indeed, the health benefits of treadmill desks are indisputable, say neuroscientists in Canada, led by Élise Labonté-LeMoyne. More contentious, these researchers explain, is the evidence for the psychological effect of such set-ups on our work performance.For instance, one study found impaired maths […]

March 23, 2015

9:24 AM | Team effectiveness is disproportionately influenced by your group's best performer or "extra miler"
The quality of a team's best performer (the "extra miler") is diagnostic of the group's overall effectiveness.In The Hobbit, fifteen companions come together on a quest for a dragon’s treasure. Traditional team analysis would judge "Thorin and Company" on the sum of its parts: Ori is stalwart, and Dori strongly stalwart, and, ok, Bifur seems stalwart enough … a fairly stalwart team, then. But we’re beginning to understand that single individuals can have a […]

March 21, 2015

9:00 AM | Link feast
Our pick of this week's best psychology and neuroscience links:The Revolution That Could Change the Way Your Child is TaughtLittle is more important for your child's education than the effectiveness of their teacher, writes Ian Leslie in The Guardian.The Psychology of the ExecutionerA look inside the minds of those who have participated in firing squads and lethal injections.A Point of View: The Upside of Losing One's MemoryTom Shakespeare worries about his mental decline, but ends his […]

March 20, 2015

9:47 AM | Writing about your emotional pain could make you feel worse, unless you do it with “self-compassion”
By guest blogger Temma EhrenfeldSome of us tend to brood over painful experiences. Others distract themselves, taking on more work, for example, or watching videos. In my experience, brooders think distractors are uninsightful people avoiding their problems (read “more troubled than I am”) and distractors think brooders are wallowing, tiresome, and way more troubled. Still worse, brooding is thought to be a female failing and distraction male (some research backs this up). The […]

March 19, 2015

9:44 AM | Psychologists use magic to study the illusory feeling of free choice
Most of the time, when a magician asks you to "pick a card" she makes it feel as though you have a free choice, but you don't really. The authors of a new paper say this is a microcosm for many real-life situations in which we feel free to choose, but in fact our choices are heavily influenced and constrained. Jay Olson, a magician and psychologist, and his colleagues, have put a classic card trick technique under the spotlight as a way to study the psychology behind this experience of illusory […]

March 18, 2015

9:12 AM | "Look at me!": People who feel powerful find themselves inspirational
Matthew McConaughey may have surprised some during the 2014 Oscars ceremony when he listed his heroes: each one was a past, present or future version of himself. But it turns out that being your own inspiration isn’t unusual, especially for people who feel socially powerful and influential.A new study, led by Gerben van Kleef from the University of Amsterdam, asked 140 undergraduates to spend a few minutes writing about a personally inspiring event that took place in the prior five years. […]

Van Kleef, G., Oveis, C., Homan, A., van der Lowe, I. & Keltner, D. (2015). Power Gets You High: The Powerful Are More Inspired by Themselves Than by Others, Social Psychological and Personality Science, DOI: 10.1177/1948550614566857


March 17, 2015

9:20 AM | Different mental abilities peak at different times of life, from 18 to 70+
Look at the age at which athletes reach their top performance levels in different sports and it seems there isn't a single time in life at which physical capability peaks. For example, footballers are said to peak at around age 27 while for golfers the peak is likely at least five years later, and for ultra-marathon runners, the peak is later still, in the forties. Put simply, you reach your optimum age for different sporting skills at different ages. According to a new analysis, so it is with […]

March 16, 2015

9:37 AM | Morning people ("larks") are more punctual than "owls"
You've probably heard that sleep psychologists like to divide people up into those who function optimally in the morning, and those who come alive at night (but see also). The former, "larks", tend to get up and go to bed earlier than "owls". A new study asks whether larks also tend to be more punctual people than owls – surprisingly, this is the first time anyone has examined this link.Laura Werner and her team waited as nearly 300 students arrived for their 8.15am morning lectures on 14 […]

March 14, 2015

9:00 AM | Link feast
Our pick of this week's best psychology and neuroscience links:"it’s a story that involves psychology, psychologists, and even the British Psychological Society"Jon Sutton, editor of The Psychologist, reviews Jon Ronson's new book So You've Been Publicly Shamed.Mediators call for change to science of Human Brain ProjectNature reports on calls for the project to rethink its omission of cognitive and systems neuroscience.Let’s get this straight: bipolar is not a useful tool for […]

March 13, 2015

9:21 AM | Associations uncovered between scientists' personalities and their research style
To solve the biggest challenges in science and medicine, many commentators argue what's needed is more inter-disciplinary research. The idea is that the cross-pollination of thought and techniques from different fields helps to break new ground. A new study finds that some scientists are more disposed to this kind of boundary-defying research than others, by virtue of their personality.Thomas Bateman and Andrew Hess focused on the field of diabetes research, which they chose because it's a […]

March 11, 2015

9:00 AM | What recycled sewage water reveals about human psychology
The technology now exists to recycle sewage water safely, but would you drink it?By guest blogger Sam McNerneyEach year around one million people die from water-related diseases. In most cases, the causes are painfully obvious. Without access to a modern sewage system, people dump their bodily waste into the nearest river or street, which funnels their filthy excrement and urine back into the water supply. It’s a catastrophic problem without a cheap solution.Until now. A few years ago […]

March 10, 2015

10:26 AM | Professional footballers have unusually high self-control
There are reasons for doubting the self-control of professional footballers. Most week's – most days, in fact – there are tabloid stories about the latest indiscretions of premiere league players, at least in the UK. But perhaps this is an unfair test. What often goes unreported is their years of dedication to practice, dieting, fitness and more practice.Tynke Toering and Geir Jordet surveyed 314 premiere league players and 305 second league players (all male). The country where […]

Toering, T. & Jordet, G. (2015). Self-Control in Professional Football Players, Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, DOI: 10.1080/10413200.2015.1010047


March 09, 2015

7:18 AM | People are hopeless at drawing the Apple logo, and that tells us something about human memory
Apple's iconic apple, featuring a bitten-off chunk, is one of the most recognisable logos in the world. And with the company's ubiquitous products increasing in popularity, we're exposed to the famous fruit image more frequently than ever. Yet a new study finds that while all this exposure provokes confidence in our memories for the logo, it fails to translate into accurate recall. Before reading on, test your own memory.Adam Blake and his colleagues asked 85 undergrads – a mix of Apple […]

Blake, A., Nazarian, M. & Castel, A. (2015). The Apple of the mind's eye: Everyday attention, metamemory, and reconstructive memory for the Apple logo, The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1-8. DOI: 10.1080/17470218.2014.1002798

Editor's Pick

March 07, 2015

9:00 AM | Link feast
Our pick of the best psychology and neuroscience links from the past week or so:The Strange World of Felt PresencesA fascinating overview from the Guardian of the oft-reported experience of feeling someone is there, when they aren't.No Proof "Alcohol Will Make You More Gorgeous"NHS Choices takes a calm look at a study that attracted attention from the mass media.What a Neuroscientist [and psychologist] Said About Eminem’s Brain"I would predict that his dorsolateral prefrontal cortex might […]

March 06, 2015

9:56 AM | By age three, girls already show a preference for thin people
These days it's hard to avoid the message that thin is best. From advertising billboards to the Oscar red carpet, we are inundated with images of successful ultra-thin women.Past research has already shown that this ideal is filtering through to our children, even preschoolers. But before now, there has been little study of just how early pro-thin bias (and prejudice against fat people) appears, and how it develops with age.Jennifer Harriger tested 102 girls from the South Western US, aged […]

Harriger, J. (2014). Age Differences in Body Size Stereotyping in a Sample of Preschool Girls, Eating Disorders, 23 (2) 177-190. DOI: 10.1080/10640266.2014.964610


March 05, 2015

10:02 AM | The psychology of female serial killers
There is a mistaken cultural assumption, say Marissa Harrison and her colleagues, that women are, by their nature, incapable of being serial killers – defined here as murderers of three or more victims, spaced out with at least a week between killings.This misconception, the psychologists warn, is a "deadly mistake". They point out that one in six serial killers are female. Their crimes tend to go undetected for longer than their male counterparts, likely in part because "our culture is […]

March 04, 2015

9:51 AM | Why do we have flashbulb memories?
MJ Memorial at London's 02 Arena It could be the time you heard about the 9/11 terror attacks, or the moment you discovered that Michael Jackson had died. "Flashbulb memory" is the term psychologists use for when we remember the details of what we were doing and where we were when we heard dramatic news. What's the function of these memories, and is there any difference when the news is public or private, negative or positive?Burcu Demiray and Alexandra Freund surveyed 565 US participants […]

March 03, 2015

9:50 AM | Visual illusions foster open-mindedness
From sworn witness accounts of alien visitations, to deep-rooted trust in quack medical treatments, the human trait that psychologists call "naive realism" has a lot to answer for. This is people's instinctive feeling that they perceive the world how it is, encapsulated by the saying "seeing is believing." The truth, of course, is that our every perception is our brain's best guess, built not merely with the raw material of what's out in the world, but just as much with the bricks of […]

Hart, W., Tullett, A., Shreves, W. & Fetterman, Z. (2015). Fueling doubt and openness: Experiencing the unconscious, constructed nature of perception induces uncertainty and openness to change, Cognition, 137 1-8. DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2014.12.003


March 02, 2015

10:35 AM | "I did it for the team" – How outsiders cheat in pursuit of popularity
If you would do anything to stay popular with your team-mates, what might follow? Bending the rules? Cheating? Sabotage of rivals? An international team led by Stefan Thau of INSEAD investigated “pro-group” unethical behaviours, and they suggest the people most likely to connive to boost the team are those at its margins, fearful of exclusion.The experiment gave participants an easy opportunity to cheat at an anagram task, as the setup meant they themselves reported how […]
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