BPS Research Digest

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Reports on the latest psychology research plus psych gossip and comment. Brought to you by the British Psychological Society.

BPS Research Digest
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  • March 6, 2015
  • 08:55 AM
  • 16 views

By age three, girls already show a preference for thin people

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

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 betwe........ Read more »

  • March 5, 2015
  • 07:52 AM
  • 13 views

The psychology of female serial killers

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

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 in den........ Read more »

Harrison, M., Murphy, E., Ho, L., Bowers, T., & Flaherty, C. (2015) Female serial killers in the United States: means, motives, and makings. The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry , 1-24. DOI: 10.1080/14789949.2015.1007516  

  • March 4, 2015
  • 09:54 AM
  • 4 views

What use are flashbulb memories?

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

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 o........ Read more »

  • March 3, 2015
  • 12:02 PM
  • 41 views

Visual illusions foster open-mindedness

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

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 expectation........ Read more »

  • March 2, 2015
  • 05:43 AM
  • 20 views

"I did it for the team" – How outsiders cheat in pursuit of popularity

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

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 many they s........ Read more »

  • February 27, 2015
  • 05:13 AM
  • 14 views

What do clients think of psychotherapy that doesn't work?

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Psychotherapy works for most people, but there's a sizeable group for whom it's ineffective, or worse still, harmful. A new study claims to be the first to systematically investigate what the experience of therapy is like for clients who show no improvement after therapy, or who actually deteriorate.Andrzej Werbart and his colleagues conducted in-depth interviews with 20 non-improved clients (out of a larger client group of 134) who were enrolled in individual or group psychoanalytic psychothera........ Read more »

  • February 26, 2015
  • 11:02 AM
  • 88 views

Some student-professor pairings lead to "unusually effective teaching" (and it's possible to predict which ones)

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Video trailers can be used to predict whichlecturers are the best teachers, and whichstudents they are especially suited to.In the near future, students could be presented with a series of video trailers of different professors at their university. Based on their ratings of these videos, the students will be paired with the professors who provide the best fit. The outcome will be superior learning, and greater student satisfaction.That's the promise of a new study that asked 145 psychology under........ Read more »

Gross, J., Lakey, B., Lucas, J., LaCross, R., R. Plotkowski, A., & Winegard, B. (2015) Forecasting the student-professor matches that result in unusually effective teaching. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(1), 19-32. DOI: 10.1111/bjep.12049  

  • February 25, 2015
  • 06:01 AM
  • 51 views

The six forms of resistance shown by participants in Milgram's notorious "obedience studies"

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

When discussing Milgram's notorious experiments, in which participants were instructed to give increasingly dangerous electric shocks to another person, most commentators take a black or white approach.Participants are categorised as obedient or defiant, and the headline result is taken as the surprising number of people – the majority – who obeyed by going all the way and administering the highest, lethal voltage.A new study takes a different stance by looking at the different acts of resis........ Read more »

  • February 24, 2015
  • 10:31 AM
  • 40 views

Recruiters think they can tell your personality from your resume. They can't

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Recruiters are poor at inferring an applicant’s personality from their resume, but that doesn’t stop them from jumping to conclusions on the back of their flawed assumptions. That’s according to a new study that involved over a hundred professional recruiters evaluating pairs of resumes.The US-based recruiters estimated applicant personality from the limited information in short two-page resumes. Their estimates were poorly correlated with the self-ratings made by the MBA students who’d ........ Read more »

Burns, G., Christiansen, N., Morris, M., Periard, D., & Coaster, J. (2014) Effects of Applicant Personality on Resume Evaluations. Journal of Business and Psychology, 29(4), 573-591. DOI: 10.1007/s10869-014-9349-6  

  • February 23, 2015
  • 10:34 AM
  • 69 views

The “Backfire Effect”: Correcting false beliefs about vaccines can be surprisingly counterproductive

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Nearly half of the US population wrongly believes the flu vaccine can give you flu,but correcting this error has the opposite of the desired effectBy guest blogger Simon OxenhamAccording to a new study, 43 per cent of the US population wrongly believes that the flu vaccine can give you flu. In actual fact this is not the case – any adverse reaction, besides a temperature and aching muscles for a short time, is rare. It stands to reason that correcting this misconception would be a good move fo........ Read more »

  • February 20, 2015
  • 04:40 AM
  • 44 views

Is self-disgust the emotional trigger that leads to self-harm?

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

To help people who perform non-lethal self-harm, such as cutting and burning themselves, we need a better understanding of the thoughts and feelings that contribute to them resorting to this behaviour. Risk factors are already known, including depression and a history of sexual abuse. However, Noelle Smith and her colleagues wondered if these factors increase the risk of self-harm because they lead people to experience self-disgust. Viewed this way, the researchers believe "self-disgust may serv........ Read more »

Smith, N., Steele, A., Weitzman, M., Trueba, A., & Meuret, A. (2014) Investigating the Role of Self-Disgust in Nonsuicidal Self-Injury. Archives of Suicide Research, 19(1), 60-74. DOI: 10.1080/13811118.2013.850135  

  • February 19, 2015
  • 11:12 AM
  • 102 views

Threat of punishment makes us better judges of our own knowledge

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

People show better understanding oftheir own knowledge when threatenedwith large penalties for wrong answers. There are some walks of life where trying to be right as often as possible is not enough. Just as important is having insight into the likely accuracy of your own knowledge.Think of doctors and surgeons making diagnostic decisions. They can't be right all the time, and neither can they be completely certain over their judgments. What becomes important then, is that they have an accu........ Read more »

  • February 17, 2015
  • 05:15 AM
  • 60 views

Jokey team meetings are more productive, as long as people laugh along

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Science suggests a funnier workplace should be a more effective one, encouraging positive mood and a playful, open approach. But much of the evidence to date rests on theoretical argument or lab experiments. Now a new study of genuine team meetings shows that laughter begets laughter and that bouts of humour really can clear the ground for new approaches and better performance.Using videos taken as part of an improvement process run across two German companies, the study was able to determine th........ Read more »

  • February 16, 2015
  • 11:08 AM
  • 56 views

Saving information to computer frees your mind to learn new material

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Forgetting information that we save tocomputer could have its advantagesA few years ago, researchers demonstrated that people had poorer memory for information that they were told had been saved to a computer. Technophobes jumped on the finding. "Imagine that in the future people become so used to external access for any form of reference that they have not internalized any facts at all," wrote Susan Greenfield.Of course there are many flaws to this logic, not least that the old fashioned act of........ Read more »

  • February 12, 2015
  • 06:28 AM
  • 40 views

How to improve collaboration in virtual teams? Members' avatar style could be key

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

When a team rarely gets to be in a room together, it misses out on many of the in-person subtle cues that help members make sense of their relationships. The signals that are available become more important: subtext in email messages, tone of voice on a conference call, or seemingly minor visual features. That’s why researchers have become interested in the humble avatar – the image that’s used to represent each person in a virtual interaction.Sarah van der Land and her colleagues asked 80........ Read more »

  • February 11, 2015
  • 06:01 AM
  • 31 views

How women become "super-mothers" after giving birth through IVF

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Millions of women around the world have given birth to children with the help of IVF and related medical procedures. Many of them will have lived through difficult times, first as they struggled to conceive without help, and then as they rode the journey of hope and uncertainty brought by medical intervention.Psychologists have begun to explore how these experiences influence women's feelings about becoming a mother, and the way they relate to their children. In the latest contribution to the fi........ Read more »

Mohammadi, N., Shamshiri, M., Mohammadpour, A., Vehviläinen-Julkunen, K., Abbasi, M., & Sadeghi, T. (2014) ‘Super-mothers’: the meaning of mothering after assisted reproductive technology. Journal of Reproductive and Infant Psychology, 33(1), 42-53. DOI: 10.1080/02646838.2014.970152  

  • February 10, 2015
  • 11:17 AM
  • 103 views

By helping other people, you'll find it easier to accept the help you need

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Receiving help can sting. Admitting that others can do what you can’t and feeling indebted to them can lead to a sense of dependence and incompetence, and even resentment towards the very person who helped you. Luckily, Katherina Alvarez and Esther van Leeuwen have published some helpful research on one way to take the sting away.Their study asked student participants to complete a series of tricky maths puzzles. If a puzzle was stumping them, assistance was available in the form of help cards........ Read more »

  • February 9, 2015
  • 05:06 AM
  • 81 views

Want to learn a new skill more effectively? Stop thinking about yourself!

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

The human mind can be its own worst enemy. When we want to do well in sports, we often intensify attentional focus on bodily movements that are best off left on automatic pilot. The result, even for elite athletes, can be a dire instance of choking. The muscles stiffen or shake. Fluid, expert movement is lost, and the learning of new skills is impaired.A common assumption is that an internal focus is harmful to performance because it directs unhelpful conscious attention to bodily control. But w........ Read more »

McKay, B., Wulf, G., Lewthwaite, R., & Nordin, A. (2015) The self: Your own worst enemy? A test of the self-invoking trigger hypothesis. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1-10. DOI: 10.1080/17470218.2014.997765  

  • February 6, 2015
  • 04:58 AM
  • 49 views

Our brains respond to corporations as if they are people

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Do corporations, like people, have moral rights and responsibilities?The US Supreme Court has recently made a number of rulings that suggest it sees corporations as having similar rights and responsibilities to individual human beings, such as that they have the right to free speech, and can be exempt from laws that contradict their owner’s religious beliefs. Can a new neuroimaging study help us determine whether the Court’s approach is justified?Forty participants viewed written vignettes w........ Read more »

  • February 5, 2015
  • 12:04 PM
  • 96 views

Art affects you more powerfully when you view it in a museum

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

These days there's no need to take the trouble of visiting art museums. You can usually view all the exhibits on your computer, in the comfort of your own home. And yet, attendance at art museums has been rising over recent years. A new study helps explain why: people enjoy art more at the museum, they find it more stimulating and understandable, and they remember it better.David Brieber and his colleagues invited 137 psychology students to view 25 artworks from Vienna's Museum Startgalerie Beau........ Read more »

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