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Reports on the latest psychology research plus psych gossip and comment. Brought to you by the British Psychological Society.
When it comes to the dictionary of the mind, size counts. I'm not talking about the printed size of a word, but rather the size of the object that the word denotes. A new study shows that we're faster at processing words that refer to big things than we are at processing words that denote small things.Sara Sereno and colleagues presented 28 participants with: 45 "big" words, such as truck and whale; 45 "small" words, such as bacteria and teaspoon; as well as 90 nonsense words, such as blimble. T........ Read more »
Each culture has its agreed-upon list of taboo words and it doesn't matter how many times these words are repeated, they still seem to retain their power to shock. Scan a human brain, swear at it, and you'll see its emotional centres jangle away.
Recent research has shown that this emotional impact can have an analgesic effect, and there's other evidence that strategically deployed swear words can make a speech more memorable. But it's not all positive. A new study suggests that swear words hav........ Read more »
Robbins, M., Focella, E., Kasle, S., López, A., Weihs, K., & Mehl, M. (2011) Naturalistically observed swearing, emotional support, and depressive symptoms in women coping with illness. Health Psychology. DOI: 10.1037/a0023431
Seeking to understand aesthetics from the perspective of brain processes is all the rage these days, and has given birth to the nascent field of neuroaesthetics. Now Valeria Drago and co-workers have shown that people who are able to more accurately bisect a line, also tend to be more emotionally sensitive to paintings.The researchers tested the ability of 17 right-handed participants to accurately bisect 100mm horizontal lines - that is, to mark the midpoint of the lines. The participants also ........ Read more »
V DRAGO, G FINNEY, P FOSTER, A AMENGUAL, Y JEONG, T MIZUNO, G CRUCIAN, & K HEILMAN. (2008) Spatial-attention and emotional evocation: Line bisection performance and visual art emotional evocation. Brain and Cognition, 66(2), 140-144. DOI: 10.1016/j.bandc.2007.06.005
Whether something is living or not is a crucial distinction, and it's one that children already understand by the age of five. What then do children make of the latest generation of robot pets - toys designed to be as "alive" as possible? It's a surprisingly little researched area, but with the shuttle rate of technological advance in toy-land, it's one that's bound to become increasingly relevant.Gail Melson and colleagues filmed 72 kids playing for 45 minutes with a Sony Aibo robot dog and f........ Read more »
Melson, G., Kahn Jr., P., Beck, A., Friedman, B., Roberts, T., Garrett, E., & Gill, B. (2009) Children's behavior toward and understanding of robotic and living dogs☆. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 30(2), 92-102. DOI: 10.1016/j.appdev.2008.10.011
Last year's annual question posed by Edge was "How is the Internet changing the way you think?" Several psychologists answered that it was becoming an extension of their minds. "The Internet is a kind of collective memory,’ wrote Stephen Kosslyn (Harvard University). "When I write with a browser open in the background, it feels like the browser is an extension of myself."
A research team led by Betsy Sparrow has now tested the idea that the Internet really has become a kind of memory prosthes........ Read more »
B Sparrow, J Liu, & M Wegner. (2011) Google effects on memory: Cognitive consequences of having information at our fingertips. Science . info:/10.1126/science.1207745
The exam season may be over, but here's a simple piece of advice for next semester. Go for a brisk walk before studying and your memory of the material is likely to benefit.
Carlos Salas and his colleagues had dozens of students study 30 nouns, each displayed for 6 seconds. Some of the students went for a ten-minute walk before being presented with the words. They were told to adopt "the walking speed one would use when late to an appointment, but without the anxiety caused by such a scenario"......... Read more »
Salas, C., Minakata, K., & Kelemen, W. (2011) Walking before study enhances free recall but not judgement-of-learning magnitude. Journal of Cognitive Psychology, 23(4), 507-513. DOI: 10.1080/20445911.2011.532207
Forget counting sheep or popping pills, a team of Dutch researchers have reported the profound sleep-inducing effect of a warming body-suit.Eight young adults and sixteen older adults, half of whom suffer from insomnia, spent two nights in a body-suit at a sleep laboratory (see image), with a night at home in between.Water-filled micro-pipes in the suit maintained the skin temperature of the participants at either 35 degrees celsius in the cool condition or 35.4 degrees in the warm condition, fl........ Read more »
R Raymann, D F Swaab, & E J Van Someren. (2008) Skin deep: enhanced sleep depth by cutaneous temperature manipulation. Brain, 131(2), 500-513. DOI: 10.1093/brain/awm315
Employees made redundant often fight back - either bad mouthing their former employer, or taking legal action if they feel their dismissal was unfair. According to Daniel Skarlicki at the University of British Columbia and colleagues, companies wishing to avoid this kind of retaliation need to provide as much information as possible to the staff they're laying off, but more than that, they need to realise that this openness will only be effective if their staff perceive them to be of high i........ Read more »
Daniel Skarlicki, Laurie J Barclay, & S Douglas Pugh. (2008) When explanations for layoffs are not enough: Employer's integrity as a moderator of the relationship between informational justice and retaliation. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 81(1), 123-146. DOI: 10.1348/096317907X206848
Distancing ourselves from a problem can help us reach the solution
The next time you're struggling to solve a creative problem, try solving it for someone else. According to Evan Polman and Kyle Emich, we're more capable of mental novelty when thinking on behalf of strangers than for ourselves. This is just the latest extension of research into construal level theory, an intriguing concept that suggests various aspects of psychological distance can affect our thinking style.
It's been shown, ........ Read more »
Polman E, & Emich KJ. (2011) Decisions for Others Are More Creative Than Decisions for the Self. Personality . PMID: 21317316
Psychologists have provided a dramatic demonstration of how a person's childhood levels of self-control are linked with outcomes later on in their life. This is important because unlike other traits that are associated with life outcomes - including cleverness, tallness, and beauty - lots of research suggests that self-control is readily amenable to improvement through training.
Terrie Moffitt and her team assessed the self-control of 1000 New Zealand children at the ages of 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 a........ Read more »
Moffitt, T., Arseneault, L., Belsky, D., Dickson, N., Hancox, R., Harrington, H., Houts, R., Poulton, R., Roberts, B., Ross, S.... (2011) From the Cover: A gradient of childhood self-control predicts health, wealth, and public safety. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(7), 2693-2698. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1010076108
Young children benefit socially and intellectually the more their carers engage and respond to them. Recognising this, we can train nursery staff to be as responsive to the children in their care as possible. But a new study by Claire Vallotton raises an interesting and under-examined issue - what if there's something about some infants that leads their carers to engage with them more, thus giving them an advantage over their peers.Vallotton filmed interactions between 18 student caregivers and ........ Read more »
Vallotton, C. (2009) Do infants influence their quality of care? Infants’ communicative gestures predict caregivers’ responsiveness. Infant Behavior and Development, 32(4), 351-365. DOI: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2009.06.001
We humans can recognise things from different angles and orientations. As Jon Duñabeitia and his colleagues observe in their new paper, a tiger is still a tiger whether you see it facing rightwards or leftwards. When it comes to words, though, this skill largely vanishes - mirror-reversed words are especially tricky to read. It makes sense that the brain becomes sensitive to orientation in this way because, unlike the tiger, a 'd' isn't a 'd' when it faces the other way: 'b' (and the same is tr........ Read more »
Six weeks of computer brain training has little benefit beyond boosting performance on the specific tasks included in the training. That's according to an online study involving more than 11,000 participants conducted as part of the BBC's Bang Goes The Theory science programme.Adrian Owen of the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit and his colleagues first measured participants' baseline performance on a battery of freely available 'benchmark' tests. Included were measures of reasoning, verbal ........ Read more »
A.M. Owen, A. Hampshire, J.A. Grahn, R. Stenton, S. Dajani, A.S. Burns, R.J. Howard, & C.G. Gallard. (2010) Putting brain training to the test. Nature. info:/
No wonder those introductory chemistry kits sell so well. By four years of age there's already a little scientist inside us, just bursting to get out and into the laboratory of life. That's according to Claire Cook and her colleagues, who have provided further evidence for the precocious scientific skills of young children.
Sixty 4- and 5-year-olds were shown a box-shaped toy that played music and lit up when beads were placed on it. Crucially, some of the children were shown that each of four b........ Read more »
Cook, C., Goodman, N., & Schulz, L. (2011) Where science starts: Spontaneous experiments in preschoolers’ exploratory play. Cognition, 120(3), 341-349. DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2011.03.003
Prejudice and animosity between groups derives largely from the idea that the "they" are somehow different different from "us". Hundreds of studies have shown that this animosity can dissolve when members of different groups make contact with each other - becoming friends, colleagues and neighbours. Unfortunately, contact between members of different groups isn't always possible. Just think of the racial segregation in many British cities.Promisingly, however, research has shown that so-called "........ Read more »
Turner, R., & Crisp, R. (2009) Imagining intergroup contact reduces implicit prejudice. British Journal of Social Psychology. DOI: 10.1348/014466609X419901
Déjà vu is that creepy feeling that you're living through a moment for the second time, as if retreading the path of an earlier existence. Now Alan Brown and Elizabeth Marsh believe they've found a way to simulate the déjà vu sensation in the laboratory - a finding that could help us understand why the phenomenon occurs.Twenty-four participants were presented with dozens of symbols that had been carefully chosen, with the help of a pilot study, to be either entirely novel, rarely encountered........ Read more »
Brown, A., & Marsh, E. (2009) Creating Illusions of Past Encounter Through Brief Exposure. Psychological Science, 20(5), 534-538. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02337.x
If you want people to recognise that a substance is dangerous - give it a complicated, hard-to-pronounce name. That's the implication of a new study that suggests we use a simple rule-of-thumb when judging risk. If something is easy to process and digest - for example, by virtue of being easy to pronounce - we tend to assume that it's familiar and safe. By contrast, if it seems hard to process, we assume it's novel and likely to be risky. These kinds of mental short cuts are known as heuristics ........ Read more »
This former Republican President claims to read the bible daily
Holding conservative values tends to go hand in hand with being more religious, at least in the United States. Indeed, the idea that the US is divided between liberal atheists versus religious conservatives is at the heart of the country's so-called 'Culture Wars'. This has led some psychologists to suggest that there's a deep-seated link between conservatism and religiosity, such that the same innate attitudes and motivatio........ Read more »
Ariel Malka, Yphtach Lelkes, Sanjay Srivastava, Adam Cohen, & Dale Miller. (2011) Religiosity, political engagement, and political conservatism. Political Psychology. info:/
Psychologists at the University of Chicago say one explanation for why children from poorer families have smaller vocabularies is that their parents communicate with them using a narrow range of gestures.The use of gestures, such as pointing, has been recognised as an important aspect of child development for some time. For example, the amount a child gestures at a young age predicts her later vocabulary size.In this study, Meredith Rowe and Susan Goldin-Meadow observed 50 families from a range ........ Read more »
Meredith L. Rowe, & Susan Goldin-Meadow. (2009) Differences in Early Gesture Explain SES Disparities in Child Vocabulary Size at School Entry. Science.
This time there's no explicit naming and shaming, and the title may not be as colourful, but a new study out today in prestige journal Nature Neuroscience, echoes many of the same concerns voiced earlier this year in the leaked paper "Voodoo Correlations in Social Neuroscience" (since renamed as "Puzzlingly High Correlations ..."). And the new paper's implications are surely just as profound for the cognitive neuroscience community.Nikolaus Kriegeskorte and colleagues analysed all the fMRI studi........ Read more »
Kriegeskorte, N., Simmons, W.K., Bellgowan, P.S.F., & Baker, C.I. (2009) Circular analysis in systems neuroscience: the dangers of double dipping. Nature Neuroscience. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nn.2303
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