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Reports on the latest psychology research plus psych gossip and comment. Brought to you by the British Psychological Society.
You may have heard of weekend workshops in creative writing or first aid but what about a weekend course to reduce your fear of blushing? Could such a brief, intensive intervention help people for whom a dread of turning red ruins their social lives and undermines their success at work? According to a new, preliminary study - the answer is a tentative Yes.Samia Chaker and colleagues recruited through adverts in a German pharmacy magazine 27 people with social phobia, and in particular a fear of blushing. The weekend course began on a Friday at 2pm and ran until 9pm the following evening.The focus was on 'task concentration training'. Research has shown that a fear of blushing develops through and is worsened by excess focus on the self. A person feels self-conscious, they redden, they feel the warmth in their cheeks and the cycle of self-focus is perpetuated. Through reading stories, role-playing and watching themselves on video, the participants practiced turning their focus away from themselves and to the task at hand - be that the words of a conversational partner or the reading of a story. The participants were also given advice on how to practice re-directing their attention over the coming six weeks, first in non-threatening situations and then in more difficult social contexts. At the end of the weekend compared with at baseline, 37 per cent of participants showed clinically significant improvement in their fear of blushing. By six month follow-up this had risen to 56 per cent of the sample. Improvements were greater in those who said they had practiced re-focusing their attention in difficult situations in the weeks following the weekend workshop.The results are only preliminary: the lack of a control group is a major limitation as is the inability to tease out the most important parts of the intervention. However, feedback from the participants showed the course to have been well-received and worthwhile of future investigation. 'The time-efficient nature of such an intensive treatment could hold great appeal and practicality for working professionals who are short on time, those who prefer a less "therapy-like" experience, or individuals with geographic restrictions,' the researchers said. _________________________________Chaker S, Hofmann SG, & Hoyer J (2010). Can a one-weekend group therapy reduce fear of blushing? Results of an open trial. Anxiety, stress, and coping, 23 (3), 303-18 PMID: 19557558Earlier on the Digest: Thinking that you're blushing makes you blush even more. The puzzle of blushing (open access article in The Psychologist).
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Chaker S, Hofmann SG, & Hoyer J. (2010) Can a one-weekend group therapy reduce fear of blushing? Results of an open trial. Anxiety, stress, and coping, 23(3), 303-18. PMID: 19557558
Last year, the psychologists Lawrence Williams and John Bargh gave participants a cup of coffee to hold and showed that the temperature of the coffee affected the way those participants rated a stranger's character. A hot coffee led them to rate him as more good natured and generous, whilst holding an iced coffee had the opposite effect. The finding was touted as an example of embodied cognition - the idea that the way we think about the world is grounded in, and affected by, physical metaphors. Now Hans Ijzerman and Gun Semin have built on this work, showing not only that the ambient temperature of a room affects how socially close people feel to another, but also the type of language they use and the way they see relations between shapes.Fifty-two participants were shown an animated film featuring chess pieces. Crucially, half the participants were seated in a cool room (15 to 18 degrees Celsius) whereas the others sat in a warm room (22 to 24 degrees Celsius). Afterwards participants in the warm room used more concrete, physical language to describe the film and reported feeling socially closer to the experimenter than did the participants in a cold room.Another experiment looked at the effect of room temperature on the way participants perceived similarities between arrays of shapes - particularly whether they would focus on the way the shapes were arranged in relation to each other, as opposed to focusing on their actual shape. This time, participants in a warm room were more likely to recognise the "relational similarity" between objects. For example, when presented with three triangles arranged in a triangular formation, participants in a warm room were more likely to say this arrangement was similar to an array of squares arranged in a triangular formation, rather than to a square formation of triangles.Taken altogether the findings support the idea that the way we think about relations, whether between people or shapes, is grounded in, and therefore affected by, temperature. It suggests that if you want to encourage a team of people to bond, you should make sure everyone is feeling warm. These ideas about the embodiment of our thoughts and language have been most powerfully advocated by George Lakoff, the author of Metaphors We Live By. However, before we swallow these ideas hook, line and sinker, so to speak, it's worth mentioning some reservations spelt out by Steve Pinker in The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature.Pinker points out that whilst metaphors clearly play an important role in language and thought, they are based ultimately on a separate conceptual foundation. This is revealed graphically by our ability to "see through" metaphors (the source of wit as in Steven Wright's "If the world's a stage, where is the audience sitting") and, in the case of the "time-as-space" metaphor, by the existence of brain damaged patients who no longer understand prepositions for space (as in "she's at her desk") but do still understand prepositions for time (as in "he daydreamed through the meeting"). _________________________________Ijzerman H, & Semin GR (2009). The Thermometer of Social Relations: Mapping Social Proximity on Temperature. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS PMID: 19732385
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Ijzerman H, & Semin GR. (2009) The Thermometer of Social Relations: Mapping Social Proximity on Temperature. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS. PMID: 19732385
Assuming you're in a heterosexual relationship, which is worse: for your partner to be unfaithful with a person of the opposite or the same sex? According to a pair of US psychologists, the answer depends on whether you're a man or woman. Men, they've found, are less likely to continue a relationship with an unfaithful partner who's had a heterosexual affair, as opposed to a homosexual affair. For women, it's the other way around - they're more troubled by their male partner going off with another man.
Jaime Confer and Mark Cloud made their finding after asking 718 undergrads (324 men) to imagine their partners had been unfaithful and to predict whether, having received an apology, they'd continue the relationship. The participants were not recruited explicitly on the basis of being heterosexual, but were told the study would involve imagining themselves in a heterosexual relationship.
The difference between the men and women was robust - it remained in place regardless of how many instances of infidelity they were asked to imagine their partner had had, and regardless of the number of infidelity partners involved. The participants' own real life experiences of infidelity, as either the betrayer or betrayed, also made no difference to the main finding that men are less likely to persevere with a relationship after a female partner has a heterosexual affair, whereas women are less likely to continue a relationship after a male partner has a homosexual affair.
The new finding builds on another key sex difference that's emerged in jealousy research: that is, men tend to be more troubled by sexual infidelity whereas women tend to be more troubled by emotional infidelity. That difference, and the one uncovered in this new research, both make sense in terms of evolutionary theory whereby men are more concerned by the risk of sexual infidelity because they can never know for sure if a child is theirs. Women, by contrast, have no doubt that a child they give birth to is their own. Instead their anxiety is focused more on the the father's commitment.
In this evolutionary context, men are more troubled by a female partner going off with a man because of the risk that he may impregnate her. Women are more troubled by a male partner going off with a man because, in the researchers' words: 'homosexual affairs are more reflective of ensuing abandonment as they evince a more complete absence of emotional intimacy and satisfaction with one's partner.'
Confer, J., and Cloud, M. (2011). Sex differences in response to imagining a partner’s heterosexual or homosexual affair. Personality and Individual Differences, 50 (2), 129-134 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.09.007
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Confer, J., & Cloud, M. (2011) Sex differences in response to imagining a partner’s heterosexual or homosexual affair. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(2), 129-134. DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.09.007
Deception was a fundamental part of some of the most famous experiments in psychology - just think of Milgram's obedience studies, in which participants thought they were administering an electric shock, or Asch's conformity research, during which participants were tricked into believing everyone else in the room thought a line was a different length than it was. Although ethical standards have been tightened, deception is still used widely in psychology. It's not uncommon for even the most sedate studies to involve giving participants false test feedback or misleading them about the true aims of the research. A vital element of psychological science, therefore, is to debrief participants after experimenting on them - telling them the truth about what happened and why, and listening to their feedback.Even studies that don't deploy trickery have the potential to leave a lasting impression - just think of all the tests of new interventions aimed at outcomes from improving memory to ameliorating depression. We know from past research that simply asking someone about a behaviour, such as drug taking, increases their likelihood of indulging in that behaviour. Of course, telling participants too much up front can be detrimental to the results, and fully informed consent is therefore far rarer than most researchers would care to admit. That's why it's so important to debrief them fully afterwards. And yet, having said all this, an alarming new survey of researchers by Donald Sharpe and Cathy Faye suggests that debriefing is a neglected practice in contemporary psychology. Ironically for a science that's supposed to be about people and behaviour, there's also scant research on what kinds of debriefing are even effective - for example is it enough to tell participants they were given false feedback or should they have the chance to complete a real test?Sharpe and Faye surveyed over two hundred researchers who'd published during a twelve month period from 2006 to 2007, either in the American Psychological Association's flagship social psychology journal 'The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology' or in the Journal of Traumatic Stress. Just one third of articles in the social psychology journal had mentioned debriefing and fewer than on in ten of the trauma journal articles had done so. Those mentionings that were found were usually cursory, such as 'Participants in this and all following experiments were debriefed prior to dismissal.' If the purpose of a particular study was obvious, the survey suggested most researchers considered debriefing to be unnecessary, with nearly all their focus placed instead on informed consent prior to the study.Set against this worrying picture, Sharpe and Faye make a strong case for just how vital debriefing ought to be to good quality research. Taking their lead from a provocative article published on this topic thirty years ago by Frederick Tesch, the pair say that effective debriefing is vital not only for ethical reasons outlined above, but also for educational and methodological functions too.Explaining to participants why and how a study was performed ought to be given far higher priority, they argue, especially when one considers how many studies are performed on psychology students. Even with non-psychology students, the exercise of carefully explaining the rationale, methodology, and perhaps even results, of a study, could help to promote the scientific cause. 'Participants would learn about doing research, the joys and frustrations, and the excitement of discovery,' Sharpe and Faye said.Regarding the methodological benefits of debriefing, the authors said that the process ought to be two-way, and that information garnered from participants can illuminate study findings and help improve future procedures. 'Researchers would learn about how participants view the experimental task, what makes sense and what does not, and what the participants think it was all about,' Sharpe and Faye said.Their paper ends with seven recommendations for how to improve the situation, including greater discussion of debriefing in the research literature; more thorough reporting of debriefing practices in journals' methods sections; use of online overflow pages for discussing debriefing; and formalising the debriefing procedure. 'Progress will be made when researchers recognise the importance of debriefing or when some unfortunate circumstance forces such recognition,' the authors said. _________________________________Sharpe, D., & Faye, C. (2009). A Second Look at Debriefing Practices: Madness in Our Method? Ethics & Behavior, 19 (5), 432-447 DOI: 10.1080/10508420903035455
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Sharpe, D., & Faye, C. (2009) A Second Look at Debriefing Practices: Madness in Our Method?. Ethics , 19(5), 432-447. DOI: 10.1080/10508420903035455
Psychologists have used an inventive combination of techniques to show that the left half of the brain has more self-esteem than the right half. The finding is consistent with earlier research showing that the left hemisphere is associated more with positive, approach-related emotions, whereas the right hemisphere is associated more with negative emotions. Ryan McKay and colleagues used a version of the self-esteem 'implicit association test' (IAT). This compares how readily participants associate themselves or other people with positive words like 'capable' and negative words like 'boring'. Forty-six participants use keyboard keys to categorise words as self-related (e.g. 'me', 'myself'), other-related ('they', 'themselves'), positive or negative. To take one example, people with high self-esteem should be relatively quicker when the same response key is used to categorise self-words and positive words, than when the same key is used to categorise other-related and positive words. A key twist to this study is that McKay's team used an auditory version of the IAT - the first time this has ever been done. Specifically, they used so-called 'dichotic presentation' such that when a word was presented via headphones to one ear, the same word was played backwards to the other ear. This has the effect of ensuring that the word is only processed by the hemisphere opposite the presenting ear, thus allowing the participants to perform the IAT test with just one hemisphere at a time. As you'd expect, a participant's self-esteem as measured via one hemisphere tended to correlate with their self-esteem as measured via the other hemisphere. More intriguingly, however, a consistent finding was that participants clocked up higher self-esteem scores when hearing words via their right ear (processed by the left hemisphere) compared with via their left ear (processed by the right hemisphere). Critics may point to the language dominance of the left hemisphere as a major confound, but actually this is not relevant - even if the left hemisphere were faster overall, there's no reason it should have shown a specific advantage for associating the self with positive words.The researchers said further investigations are needed to build on this initial discovery, including lesion studies and brain imaging techniques, which 'would be useful in providing a more fine-grained assessment of the relative activation of the left versus the right hemisphere in the representation and processing of self-esteem and in providing detail concerning anterior/posterior and cortical/subcortical involvement.'_________________________________McKay, R., Arciuli, J., Atkinson, A., Bennett, E., & Pheils, E. (2010). Lateralisation of self-esteem: An investigation using a dichotically presented auditory adaptation of the Implicit Association Test. Cortex, 46 (3), 367-373 DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2009.05.004
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McKay, R., Arciuli, J., Atkinson, A., Bennett, E., & Pheils, E. (2010) Lateralisation of self-esteem: An investigation using a dichotically presented auditory adaptation of the Implicit Association Test. Cortex, 46(3), 367-373. DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2009.05.004
People are slower at responding to tactile stimuli than to input from the other senses. It's not immediately obvious why this should be. It's unlikely to be for mechanical reasons: the retina in the eye is slower at converting input into a neural signal than is the skin. Psychologists think the answer may have to with attention. Perhaps we're not so good at keeping our attention focused on the tactile modality compared with the others. Now Louise Connell and Dermot Lynott have added to the picture by showing that the tactile disadvantage extends to the conceptual domain. That is, we seem to be slower at recognising when a word is tactile in nature than we are at recognising whether words are visual, to do with taste, sound, or smell.The researchers had dozens of participants look at words on a screen, presented one at a time, and press a button to say if they were related to the tactile modality (e.g. 'itchy') or not. Some words were tactile-related whilst others were fillers and related to the other senses.The same task was then repeated but with participants judging whether the words were visual-related, auditory and so on, with each sense dealt with by a new block of trials. The key finding is that participants were much slower at this task in the tactile condition than for the other senses. This was the case even when words were presented for just 17ms, which is too fast for conscious detection but long enough for accurate responding. To make sure the slower performance in the tactile condition wasn't to do with the response requiring a button press (which inevitably causes tactile stimulation), the researchers repeated the experiment with vocal responding via a microphone. The results were pretty much the same. Ensuring they left no stone unturned, Connell and Lynott also conducted a final experiment to check that there isn't something about tactile words, besides their touchiness, that makes them slower to process. To do this they used words that have both visual and tactile qualities - examples include shaggy and spiky - and they mixed these in among filler words that related to the other senses. The same words were used in the tactile condition (in which participants had to say whether each word was tactile-related or not) and a visual condition. Once again, participants were significantly slower in the tactile condition.Connell and Lynott say their findings provide further evidence for the tactile sense having a processing disadvantage relative to the other senses. They think this is because there's little evolutionary advantage to sustaining attention to the tactile modality whereas there are obvious survival advantages with the other senses, for example: '...in hunting, where efficacious looking, listening and even smelling for traces of prey could afford an advantage.' You may think of pain and damage detection as reasons for paying sustained attention to the tactile domain, but remember these are served by spinal reflexes. 'We do not wait for the burning or stinging sensation to register with the attentional system before responding,' the researchers said._________________________________Connell L, & Lynott D (2010). Look but don't touch: Tactile disadvantage in processing modality-specific words. Cognition, 115 (1), 1-9 PMID: 19903564
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Connell L, & Lynott D. (2010) Look but don't touch: Tactile disadvantage in processing modality-specific words. Cognition, 115(1), 1-9. PMID: 19903564
It's widely known that in the majority of people the left hemisphere is dominant for language. But how early does this lateralisation of function emerge? An obvious way to find out is to put babies in a brain scanner and see if their brains show the same left-sided preference for language, compared with other auditory stimuli, as is observed in adults. Of course, from a practical perspective, that's easier said than done.
Ghislaine Dehaene-Lambertz and her colleagues scanned the brains of 24 infants, aged approximately two and a half, using fMRI. The researchers didn't cheat - no sedatives were used - although an experimenter did show the babies toys, visible via a mirror, to help keep them calm. Data from just seven of the babies was usable. As Dehaene-Lambertz and her colleagues explained: 'This high attrition rate underscores the fact that fMRI remains a challenge at this age.'
The basic paradigm involved playing the babies sentences spoken by their mother and by a stranger and comparing the activity this triggered against the activity triggered by music composed by Mozart.
Speech, but not music, triggered more activity in the left versus the right hemisphere of the babies' brains. Obviously babies can't yet understand speech. A possibility is that the left-hemisphere starts out with a bias for rapidly changing stimuli - 'a bias', the researchers explained, 'that would be rapidly extended through learning to other properties of the speech signal...'.
Another finding was that a mother's voice triggered significantly greater activity in language regions than did a stranger's voice. Dehaene-Lambertz and her co-workers said this shows the mother's voice 'plays a special role in the early shaping of posterior language areas.' A further differential effect of the mother's voice is that it led to reduced activity in emotion-related regions. Perhaps, the researchers surmised, this was the neural basis of a 'soothing effect'.
Also notable was that, as in adults, the ventral (lower) portion of the left temporal lobe, but not dorsal (upper) half, showed what's known as a 'repetition effect' when the same four-second snippets of speech were replayed several times in succession. The 'repetition effect' is a reduction in activity with repetition, betraying a kind of memory for the repeated stimulus. The fact that one region of the temporal lobe showed this effect and another region didn't suggests that by two months of age the left temporal lobe is already made up of different functional sub-regions.
'A small but growing infant neuroimaging literature points to the existence, in the first few months of life, of a well-structured cortical organisation,' the researchers concluded. However, they also cautioned that 'acknowledging the existence of strong genetic constraints' on the early organisation of language-related brain regions 'does not preclude environmental influences'. Indeed, they added that: 'The present results show clearly that learning also plays a major role in structuring the infant's brain networks, inasmuch as the mother's voice has a strong impact on several brain regions involved in emotion and communication ...'.
Dehaene-Lambertz, G., Montavont, A., Jobert, A., Allirol, L., Dubois, J., Hertz-Pannier, L., & Dehaene, S. (2010). Language or music, mother or Mozart? Structural and environmental influences on infants’ language networks. Brain and Language, 114 (2), 53-65 DOI: 10.1016/j.bandl.2009.09.003
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Dehaene-Lambertz, G., Montavont, A., Jobert, A., Allirol, L., Dubois, J., Hertz-Pannier, L., & Dehaene, S. (2010) Language or music, mother or Mozart? Structural and environmental influences on infants’ language networks. Brain and Language, 114(2), 53-65. DOI: 10.1016/j.bandl.2009.09.003
Psychology has a serious problem. You may have heard about its over-dependence on WEIRD participants - that is, those from Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich Democracies. More specifically, as regular readers will be aware, countless psychology studies (especially those with a social bent) involve undergraduate students, often those studying psychology. Apart from the obvious fact that this limits the generalisability of the findings, Edward Witt and his colleagues provide evidence in a new paper for two further problems, this time involving self-selection biases.
Just over 500 Michigan State University undergrads (75 per cent were female) had the option, at a time of their choosing during the Spring 2010 semester, to volunteer either for an on-line personality study, or a face-to-face version. The data collection was always arranged for Wednesdays at 12.30pm to control for time of day/week effects. Also, the same personality survey was administered by computer in the same way in both experiment types, it's just that in the face-to-face version it was made clear that the students had to attend the research lab, and an experimenter would be present.
Just 30 per cent of the sample opted for the face-to-face version. Predictably enough, these folk tended to score more highly on extraversion. The effect size was small (d=-.26) but statistically significant. Regards more specific personality traits, the students who chose the face-to-face version were also more altruistic and less cautious.
What about choice of semester week? As you might expect, it was the more conscientious students who opted for dates earlier in the semester (r=.-.20). What's more, men were far more likely to volunteer later in the semester, even after controlling for average personality difference between the sexes. For example, 18 per cent of week one participants were male compared with 52 per cent in the final, 13th week.
In other words, the kind of people who volunteer for research will likely vary according to the time of semester and the mode of data collection. Imagine you used false negative feedback on a cognitive task to explore effects on confidence and performance. Participants tested at the start of semester, who are typically more conscientious and motivated, are likely to be affected in a different way than participants who volunteer later in the semester.
This isn't the first time that self-selection biases have been reported in psychology. A 2007 study, for example, suggested that people who volunteer for a 'prison study' are likely to score higher than average on aggressiveness and social dominance, thus challenging the generalisability of Zimbardo's seminal work. However, despite the occasional study highlighting these effects, there seems to be little enthusiasm in the social psychological community to do much about it.
So what to do? The specific issues raised in the current study could be addressed by sampling throughout a semester and replicating effects using different data collection methods. 'Many papers based on college students make reference to the real world implications of their findings for phenomena like aggression, basic cognitive processes, prejudice, and mental health,' the researchers said. 'Nonetheless, the use of convenience samples place limitations on the kinds of inferences drawn from research. In the end, we strongly endorse the idea that psychological science will be improved as researchers pay increased attention to the attributes of the participants in their studies.'
Witt, E., Donnellan, M., and Orlando, M. (2011). Timing and selection effects within a psychology subject pool: Personality and sex matter. Personality and Individual Differences, 50 (3), 355-359 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.10.019
Previously on the Digest: Just how non-clinical are so-called non-clinical community samples?
Just how representative are the people who volunteer for psychology experiments?
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Witt, E., Donnellan, M., & Orlando, M. (2011) Timing and selection effects within a psychology subject pool: Personality and sex matter. Personality and Individual Differences, 50(3), 355-359. DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.10.019
Here's one for the boys at Top Gear to think about - apparently having an obsessive passion for driving can predispose people towards aggression behind the wheel. The idea is that for these people, driving has become an overpowering compulsion, such that an obstacle - for example, a slow driver in front - provokes great frustration, which leads to anger, which explains why they sometimes drive right up your bumper and flash their headlights.Frederick Philippe and his colleagues make their claims based on three studies. The first was a survey of 133 undergrad drivers. Those who scored highly on obsessive passion for driving (e.g. agreeing with statements like 'I have difficulty controlling my urge to drive') also tended to score highly on driving aggression (e.g. 'I speed up to frustrate another driver'). By contrast, 'harmonious passion', as indicated by agreement with statements like 'driving is in harmony with other activities in my life' was not linked with increased driving aggression. A second study replicated these findings but with a sample of 458 middle-aged drivers, and with the addition of a question about a recent driving incident. Obsessive passion was again found to be linked with aggression.Most convincing is the third study involving a driving stimulator. Forty-four male car fanatics were tricked into thinking they were completing the task with another participant in another car. In reality the behaviour of the other driver was fixed such that he got in the participant's way on more than one occasion. Honking from the car behind helped crank up the pressure. Independent judges scored the participants' driving for aggressiveness. Once again, participants who rated highly on obsessive, but not harmonious, passion for driving tended to drive more aggressively. Participants also completed a questionnaire about their anger during the simulated drive. Results from this suggested that obsessive driving passion led to aggressive behaviour purely because obsessive participants got more angry.'When obsessively passionate, the person wants to pursue activity engagement because of an internal compulsion that comes to control him or her,' the researchers explained. 'Within such a state, being prevented from engaging in the activity by an external agent is conducive to anger toward this agent.'_________________________________FL Philippe, RJ Vallerand, I Richer, E Vallieres, & J Bergeron (2009). Passion for Driving and Aggressive Driving Behavior: A Look at Their Relationship. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39, 3020-3043
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FL Philippe, RJ Vallerand, I Richer, E Vallieres, & J Bergeron. (2009) Passion for Driving and Aggressive Driving Behavior: A Look at Their Relationship. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 3020-3043. info:/
When female chimps are nearing ovulation they display red on their bodies. Male chimps respond by masturbating and attempting to mount them. A new study claims we humans have moved on from this, but not a lot. Daniela Kayser's team found that when a lady wears red it prompts men to ask her more intimate questions and to sit closer to her. Surprisingly, this is the first time that the effect of colour on human sexual attraction behaviour has been studied. Past research has relied on asking participants to report their attraction rather than measuring their actual behaviour.
Twenty-three heterosexual or bisexual male undergrads were shown a photo of a blonde-haired, blue-eyed female rated in pilot work by men as moderately attractive. Half the participants saw a version in which she wore a red shirt, the other half saw an identical version bar for the fact that the shirt was green. Next the participants were asked to select 5 questions from a choice of 24 to ask the woman (these ranged from 'Where are you from?' to 'How could a guy get your attention at a bar?'). The key finding was that men who'd viewed the woman wearing red opted to ask more intimate questions.
In a second study another 22 male undergrads were shown a photo of a moderately attractive brown-haired, brown-eyed woman wearing either a red shirt or a blue shirt. The men were tricked into thinking they were about to have a conversation with the woman in an adjacent room. They were shown to the room, which contained two chairs - one at a table and one at the side. The men were told the woman would sit at the chair by the table and instructed to grab the other chair so as to sit across from her. The men who'd seen the photo in which the woman wore red placed their chair nearer to where they thought she was about to sit. This difference wasn't caused by effects on mood.
Kayser and her colleagues said their findings are consistent with evolutionary accounts of human attraction and have obvious practical implications. 'It appears that women would do well to wear a red shirt or dress when preparing for a date with a desirable man, and women may be particularly successful in online dating when they post a picture of themselves in red apparel. More generally, our findings should be of considerable interest to fashion consultants and product designers, as well as marketers and advertisers.'
Were these recommendations to be heeded widely, it raises the comical prospect of city bars and night-clubs being filled entirely with red-clad women and men, like rival sports teams arriving for a match only to discover they're both wearing the same strip. Yes, the men in red too, because another recent study by the same research team found that men wearing red were rated as more attractive and high-status by women.
Niesta Kayser, D., Elliot, A., and Feltman, R. (2010). Red and romantic behavior in men viewing women. European Journal of Social Psychology DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.757
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As psychology students past and present will be only too aware, statistics are a key part of every psychology undergrad course and they also appear in nearly every published journal article. And yet have we ever stopped to recognise the statisticians who have brought us these wonderful mathematical tools? As psychologist Daniel Wright puts it: "Statistical techniques are often taught as if they were brought down from some statistical mount only to magically appear in [the software package] SPSS."To help address this oversight, Wright has compiled a list of ten statisticians he thinks every psychologist should know about. The list is strict in the sense that it only includes statisticians, whilst omitting psychologists, such as Jacob Cohen and Lee Cronbach, who have made significant contributions to statistical science in psychology.Wright divides his list in three, beginning with three founding fathers of modern statistics. First up is Karl Pearson (pictured), best known to psychologists for the Pearson Correlation and Pearson's chi-square test. He was a socialist who turned down a knighthood in 1935. His first momentous achievement was his 1932 book The Grammar of Science and he also founded the world's first university statistics department at UCL in 1911.Ronald Fisher was the author of Statistical Methods for Research Workers, which Wright describes as "one of the most important books of science." Fisher was also instrumental in the development of p values in null hypothesis significance testing.Together with Pearson's son, Egon, Jerzy Neyman produced the framework of null and alternative hypothesis testing that dominates stats to this day. He also created the notion of confidence intervals. Neyman and Fisher were big critics of each other's theories. After a brief spell at UCL with Fisher, Neyman moved later to Berkeley where he set up the stats department - now one of the top such departments in the world.Wright also lists three of his statistical heroes: John Tukey of post-hoc test fame, who made major contributions in robust methods and graphing (and who coined the terms ANOVA, software and bit); Donald Rubin who has conducted influential work on effect sizes and meta-analyses; and Brad Efron who developed the computer-intensive bootstrap resampling technique.Wright devotes the last section of his list to four statisticians who have gifted psychology particular statistical techniques: David Cox and the Box-Cox transformation; Leo Goodman and categorical data analysis; John Nelder and the Generalised Linear Model; and Robert Tibshirani and the lasso data reduction technique."The list is meant to introduce some of the main statistical pioneers and their important achievements in psychology," Wright concludes. "It is hoped learning about the people behind the statistical procedures will make the procedures seem more humane than many psychologists perceive them to be."What do you think of Wright's list? Is there anyone he's overlooked?_________________________________Daniel B Wright (2009). Ten Statisticians and Their Impacts for Psychologists. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4 (6), 587-597
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Daniel B Wright. (2009) Ten Statisticians and Their Impacts for Psychologists. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4(6), 587-597. info:/
Ever had that wonderful, timeless feeling that arises when you're absorbed in a challenging task, one that stretches your abilities but doesn't exceed them? Pioneering psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called this state 'flow'. Countless studies have shown that flow is highly rewarding and usually provokes feelings of joy afterwards. Little researched until now, however, is the idea of 'social flow', which can arise when a group of people are absorbed together in a challenging task. In a new study, Charles Walker finds that social flow is associated with more joy than solitary flow - 'that doing it together is better than doing it alone'.An initial survey asked 95 student participants to describe experiences they'd had of solitary and social flow and to rate how joyful these occasions were. On average, social flow activities, including singing in a choir and hiking up a mountain with an outdoor club, were associated with more joy than solitary flow activities including painting with watercolours and cycling alone over rolling hills. Two further studies delved deeper. Thirty students played a ten-minute bat and ball game with a partner, and on their own against a wall. The main task was to keep the ball off the ground. The rules were modified according to results from pilot work to ensure that the solitary game was as challenging as the version in pairs. Despite the two game versions being equally challenging, the dyad version was rated by participants as being more joyful and provoked more emotions usually associated with flow, including feeling alive, focused and cheerful. In a final study, 48 participants played another bat and ball game. This time everyone was in pairs but some participants played a 'high interdependent' version in which they had to pass the ball to their own partner before their partner hit it over the net to the other team. The challenge for the two pairs was to cooperate in keeping the ball off the ground. By contrast, participants in a 'low interdependent' version had to hit the ball back and forth with their partner, again with the task of keeping the ball of the ground as long as possible.The key finding is that the participants in the high interdependent condition were rated as more joyful than participants in the low interdependence condition, based on self-report and on scores given by trained observers who watched their facial expressions and body language.Crucially, the high interdependent participants were still rated as more joyful even when the analysis was restricted to just those participants from each condition who'd found their respective tasks equally challenging and requiring of skill. In other words, with 'flow' kept as constant as possible across the two conditions, the more interdependent version of the game still appeared to provoke more joy.Charles Walker said more research is needed to uncover why more social tasks lead to a form of flow that provokes more joy. However, he surmised that the contagious nature of emotion could be one reason. Another factor could be that people working together actually raise the challenge of a task - this would certainly tally with previous research showing that groups take more risks than individuals. In the context of this study, high interdependent participants were seen raising the challenge by passing the ball behind their backs or under their legs.Walker said future research should find a way to directly measure flow and that the ultimate purpose of social flow needs to be explored. 'Much work remains to be done at all levels to further describe and explain the interesting and intriguing phenomenon of social flow,' he said._________________________________Walker, C. (2010). Experiencing flow: Is doing it together better than doing it alone? The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5 (1), 3-11 DOI: 10.1080/17439760903271116
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Walker, C. (2010) Experiencing flow: Is doing it together better than doing it alone?. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5(1), 3-11. DOI: 10.1080/17439760903271116
Psychologists in Denmark may have hammered the final nail into the coffin containing 'repression' - the idea, made popular by psychoanalysis, that negative, emotional memories are particularly prone to be being locked up out of conscious reach.Simon Nørby and his colleagues at the University of Copenhagen presented dozens of undergrad participants with word pairs, each made up of a cue word and an unrelated target word. Past research has suggested that people are able to deliberately forget some target words while remembering others. But this has been over very short time periods. Nørby's team wanted to test the effects of deliberate forgetting over a longer time period - a week - and they also wanted to revisit the question of whether emotional words can be deliberately forgotten as easily, or more easily, than neutral words. Past research has suggested they can, but these studies have tended to block emotional word pairs altogether in series of themed trials, thus raising the possibility that their impact may have been diminished by habituation. Norby's team avoided this problem by jumbling up neutral and emotional words altogether. The participants spent time learning 70 word pairs, then they were informed which target words were to be deliberately forgotten and which to be retained. An ensuing training process helped them with this. Participants repeatedly gave the target words when presented with cues for to-be-remembered pairs (if they couldn't remember it, they were told the target word), whereas they repeatedly withheld and attempted to suppress target words when presented with the cues for to-be-forgotten pairs. After all this, the participants were tested once again on all the word pairs, with their task to recall even those they had deliberately forgotten.The results of this immediate test suggested that the participants had succeeded, to some extent, in deliberately forgetting those neutral words that they were supposed to forget. Recall for to-be-forgotten neutral words dropped from a baseline of about 80 per cent to about 70 per cent, whereas accurate recall for to-be-remembered words had increased to 95 per cent (unsurprisingly, the final training phase had acted as memory aid for these words). By contrast, suppressed, to-be-forgotten negative emotional words like 'massacre' and 'incest' remained unforgotten and were recalled just as accurately as to-be-remembered emotional words.On retesting a week later, to-be-forgotten emotional and neutral words were recalled just as often as to-be-remembered words. In fact, over the course of a week, there was evidence that memory for to-be-forgotten words had deteriorated less than memory for to-be-remembered words. This could be another manifestation of the ironic 'suppression rebound effect' which is the finding that deliberately suppressing certain thoughts can make them come back stronger. Taken altogether, the results suggest that neutral material can be deliberately suppressed over short time periods, but not for as long as a week. Negatively emotional material, by contrast, appears to be stubbornly resistant to deliberate suppression. This flies in the face of the psychoanalytic idea of repression, but is consistent with trauma research suggesting that emotionally salient memories are more persistent than normal, not less._________________________________Nørby S, Lange M, & Larsen A (2010). Forgetting to forget: on the duration of voluntary suppression of neutral and emotional memories. Acta psychologica, 133 (1), 73-80 PMID: 19906363Image credit: fancyPreviously on the Digest:Can we deliberately forget specific parts of what we've read?How remembering can lead to forgetting.
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Nørby S, Lange M, & Larsen A. (2010) Forgetting to forget: on the duration of voluntary suppression of neutral and emotional memories. Acta psychologica, 133(1), 73-80. PMID: 19906363
In an exciting breakthrough for psychological science, researchers in the United States have demonstrated a drug-free way to prevent the return of a learned fear. It's hoped the discovery will lead to improved therapeutic techniques for people with phobias or intrusive traumatic memories.Elizabeth Phelps and her colleagues exploited the fact that memories are particularly vulnerable to modification just after they've been recalled. The procedure began with 65 participants learning to fear a coloured square that appeared on a computer screen. Each time the square appeared they received a mild but unpleasant electric shock to their wrist. In a real-life scenario the equivalent might be a repeatedly bad experience on each attempt at giving a class presentation.The next day, the participants were repeatedly presented with the square but without the shock. This is a well-established procedure in psychological therapy known as extinction, the idea being that the person unlearns the fear associated with the stimulus or situation. A real-life equivalent might be to repeatedly practice giving a presentation in a safe environment, perhaps to sympathetic friends and family, or to a "virtual audience".Crucially, a minority of participants undertook the extinction trials just ten minutes after they were given a reminder of the coloured square. This reminder will have rendered the memory of the square temporarily "labile" or vulnerable to modification. Other participants completed the extinction trials six hours after a reminder - too late to capitalise on the memory's vulnerable period - whilst a third group of participants had no reminder at all. A short-coming with extinction therapy is that even after people appear to have unlearned the fear associated with a stimulus or situation, that fear can creep back. In the lab, on day three, the participants were again presented with the coloured square. Even though they'd all responded without fear at the end of the previous day's extinction training, the majority of the participants - those who'd had the 6-hour reminder before extinction, and those who'd had no reminder - showed a renewed fear response (as revealed by their sweat response), just as typical happens after extinction therapy in real life.Not so for the participants who'd had the ten-minute reminder before the previous day's extinction trials. They were ice calm, unmoved by the coloured square. For this group, it's as if their memory of the square had been permanently modified. When on the previous day they'd been reminded of the unpleasant shock-square experience, the memory was briefly vulnerable to modification, and just at that critical time they'd had the innocuous, shock-free presentations. For the fictional student with a fear of class presentations, the trick would be to recall their nightmare experience in class, and then begin the safe, innocuous practice of presentations with friends. This study gets even more impressive because the result carried over when a subsample of the participants were retested a year later - those who'd had the ten-minute reminder before extinction were still unmoved by the square whereas the other participants still showed signs of fear.What's more, the intervention is highly specific. The researchers repeated the procedure but with three differently coloured squares - two associated with a shock, and one safe square. They then used the pre-extinction reminder procedure for one of the feared squares but not the other, and it was only this targeted square that remained fear free.Phelps said: "Previous attempts to disrupt fear memories have relied on pharmacological interventions. Our results suggest such invasive techniques may not be necessary. Using a more natural intervention that captures the adaptive purpose of reconsolidation allows a safe way to prevent the return of fear.”Phelps also told the Digest that any concerns that their procedure could be abused - for example to erase eye-witness memories or implant false memories - are misplaced. The types of emotional memory that were modified in the current study are represented in the amygdala, whereas the "declarative" memories involved in eye-witness testimony have a different neural representation, she explained. Indeed, all the participants in the current study were able to remember that the coloured square had previously been paired with a shock, it's just that those who undertook extinction ten minutes after a reminder no longer showed an automatic fear response to the square. "In short," Phelps told us, "eyewitness testimony depends on identifying (recollecting) what occurred before. We are not affecting that kind of memory."_________________________________D Schiller, M-H Monfils, C Raio, D Johnson, & J LeDoux (2009). Preventing the return of fear in humans using reconsolidation update mechanisms. Nature
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D Schiller, M-H Monfils, C Raio, D Johnson, & J LeDoux. (2009) Preventing the return of fear in humans using reconsolidation update mechanisms. Nature. info:/
It's the hallucinations and delusions associated with schizophrenia that typically attract discussion and research. However, patients with a diagnosis of schizophrenia also exhibit deficits in memory and perception and, importantly, the severity of these is predictive of quality of life, social functioning and autonomy. How can these cognitive deficits be helped? Researchers have found some success with computer-based training but patient motivation can be problem. Now a team of researchers led by Hiroko Mochizuki-Kawai at the delightfully named National Institute of Floricultural Science in Japan have tested out the benefits of floral arranging. 'The use of natural materials may reduce tension and anxiety' they predicted.
Ten patients (six men) with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder agreed to undertake four one-hour sessions of flower arranging, supported by staff, over two weeks. The arranging involved following simple written instructions, holding them in memory one at a time, and placing flowers and leaves into the correct slots in an absorbent sponge. Two patients failed to attend; average attendance for the remainder was 3.1 sessions.
Before the intervention, the flower arranging patients' performance on the 'block-tapping' measure of non-verbal working memory was the same as that displayed by ten controls. After two weeks' flower arranging, however, the flower patients' performance had improved and was now superior to the controls. The block tapping task involves observing blocks being touched one at a time and then reproducing that same order from memory. On another test, which involved copying a complex figure from memory, the flower arranging patients were again no better than controls at the study outset but were superior to controls after the two weeks of training (although this was because the controls had deteriorated at the task rather than because the flower arrangers had improved).
This was only a pilot study and it has obvious short-comings including the small sample sizes, the lack of any comparison intervention for the control group, and no way of measuring the impact of cognitive gains on quality of life. However, the researchers were upbeat in their conclusion: 'We believe that the findings of the present study may contribute to the improvement of cognitive rehabilitation in schizophrenic patients'.
Mochizuki-Kawai, H., Yamakawa, Y., Mochizuki, S., Anzai, S., & Arai, M. (2010). Structured floral arrangement programme for improving visuospatial working memory in schizophrenia. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 20 (4), 624-636 DOI: 10.1080/09602011003715141
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Mochizuki-Kawai, H., Yamakawa, Y., Mochizuki, S., Anzai, S., & Arai, M. (2010) Structured floral arrangement programme for improving visuospatial working memory in schizophrenia. Neuropsychological Rehabilitation, 20(4), 624-636. DOI: 10.1080/09602011003715141
When people are anxious they release a chemical signal that's detectable on a subconscious level by those close to them. That's the implication of a new study that collected sweat from people as they completed a high-rope obstacle course, and then tested the effect of that sweat on study participants as they played a gambling game.
Katrin Haegler's team placed the sweat samples inside odourless tea bags which were attached with an elastic band to the underside of the gambling participants' noses. For comparison, the participants were also exposed to sweat collected from non-anxious riders of an exercise bike.
When exposed to the anxious sweat, the participants took longer to decide over, but were more likely to bet on, the highest risk scenarios - wagering that the next playing card in a pair would be higher than a 9 (where 10 was as high as the cards went) or lower than a 2 (where 1 was the lowest). In other words, the detection of another person's anxiety made them more willing to take risks. Quite why this should be remains unclear. However, the idea that humans can detect the anxiety of others via chemical signals is not new. For example, a 2009 study showed that sweat collected from an anxious person, compared with from an exerciser, triggered extra activity in a range of emotion-related brain areas.
The participants in the present study rated the anxiety-laced sweat and anxiety-free sweat as equally unpleasant and intense, suggesting, consistent with past research, that they couldn't consciously tell the difference between the two. So the effect of anxiety-laced sweat on risk-taking seems to have been a non-conscious influence.
'Although it is not fully understood if perception of emotional chemical signals in humans may have the ability to alert conspecifics about possible danger [as happens with some animals],' the researchers said, 'our findings suggest that anxiety in humans can be communicated through chemical senses.'
Haegler K, Zernecke R, Kleemann AM, Albrecht J, Pollatos O, Brückmann H, and Wiesmann M (2010). No fear no risk! Human risk behavior is affected by chemosensory anxiety signals. Neuropsychologia, 48 (13), 3901-8 PMID: 20875438
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Haegler K, Zernecke R, Kleemann AM, Albrecht J, Pollatos O, Brückmann H, & Wiesmann M. (2010) No fear no risk! Human risk behavior is affected by chemosensory anxiety signals. Neuropsychologia, 48(13), 3901-8. PMID: 20875438
Earworms are those songs that get lodged in your cranium, playing over and over and over. There's been surprisingly little published research on the phenomenon, although that hasn't stopped popular science writers like Oliver Sacks from speculating about it. There's an 'expert' in the form of Professor James Kellaris at the University of Cincinnati, but his investigations all appear to be unpublished. That hasn't stopped Kellaris' university from hosting a website devoted to earworms. And there's also an online earworm exhibition at San Francisco's Exploratorium.Now two British psychologists, Philip Beaman and Tim Williams, have decided its time to fill the empirical void and serve up some actual data on earworms. They surveyed just over one hundred railway travellers, students and visitors to a public garden about their earworm experiences, and they also asked 12 other participants to keep diary records for four weeks about their earworms.Beaman and Williams found, contrary to the speculation, that earworms don't seem to be more common in people with musical expertise, although a study that actually targets musicians is needed to verify this. Instead, they found that it is people who judge music to be of more importance who are more likely to get a song stuck in their head.Previous commentators have also tended to highlight the unpleasantness of earworms and compared them to the intrusive thoughts associated with obsessive compulsive disorder. However, the new research found that only a minority of earworms (33 per cent in the diary study) were described by participants in this way. Very few earworms recurred in the same day and most were usually gone by the next day. However, earworms did seem similar to intrusive thoughts in relation to attempts to banish them. Participants reported that most strategies, such as trying to think of another song, actually made the original earworm worse. Other findings related to the typical length of earworm episodes - approximately 27 minutes was the verdict from the diary study, and several hours was the survey result. Finally, what about the idea that some specific songs are more prone to becoming earworms than others? The researchers found little evidence for this. Different participants named and shamed different earworm songs and each individual participant tended to report a range of different songs, rather than pointing to repeat offending by the same recalcitrant tune. Instead, earworm potential appeared to be determined by amount of exposure to a tune combined with that tune's relative simplicity and repetitiveness._________________________________Beaman CP, & Williams TI (2009). Earworms ('stuck song syndrome'): Towards a natural history of intrusive thoughts. British journal of psychology (London, England : 1953) PMID: 19948084
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Beaman CP, & Williams TI. (2009) Earworms ('stuck song syndrome'): Towards a natural history of intrusive thoughts. British journal of psychology (London, England : 1953). PMID: 19948084
The political parties don't agree on much but what they do all agree on is that the more people who exercise their right to vote, the better. Psychology can help. A new study shows that phone calls to encourage people to vote can be made more effective by a simple strategy - that is, by asking the would-be voter to spell out what time they plan to vote, where they will be coming from prior to voting and what they will have been doing beforehand.David Nickerson and Todd Rogers targeted 155,669 voters on the electoral roll in Pennsylvania. Frequent voters had been excluded, so these were people who'd chosen to vote only once between 2000 and the time of this study, which took place just prior to the 2008 presidential primary.Would-be voters received one of three kinds of phone call: either they were encouraged to vote and reminded of their duty; they were asked whether they intended to vote; or they were asked more detailed questions about when, where etc they planned to vote. A control group received no phone call.A classic study in the 1980s found that simply asking people if they intended to vote ended up making them more likely to vote - a phenomenon known as the 'self-prophecy effect'. However, this effect wasn't replicated here. Would-be voters in the current study, who were simply asked whether they planned to vote or not, were barely more likely to vote than the control group. Same story for the participants who received a call with encouragement to vote. By contrast, would-be voters who were asked questions about the when and where of their voting intentions were, on average, 4.1 per cent more likely to vote than controls. There's a further twist. Digging deeper the researchers realised that the detailed questions about voting intentions only exerted an influence on would-be voters who were the sole eligible voter in their household. Focusing on just these people, the detailed voting intentions phone call led to an average 9.1 per cent increase in turnout. For people living in a household with multiple eligible voters, by contrast, the same kind of phone call was completely ineffective. Nickerson and Rogers think this difference probably arose because people living in a household with other eligible voters had already had conversations about when and where they planned to vote.'This research contributes to a growing body of work using behavioural science to facilitate socially important behaviours,' the researchers concluded. 'Campaign professionals can use psychological science more widely to help citizens follow through on their intentions to vote.'_________________________________Nickerson DW, & Rogers T (2010). Do you have a voting plan?: implementation intentions, voter turnout, and organic plan making. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 21 (2), 194-9 PMID: 20424044Link to more Digest posts on the psychology of politics.
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Nickerson DW, & Rogers T. (2010) Do you have a voting plan?: implementation intentions, voter turnout, and organic plan making. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 21(2), 194-9. PMID: 20424044
A more interactive, discussion- and quiz-based style of university teaching brings dramatic benefits to science learning, according to a new study. The interactive approach takes its inspiration from psychologist Anders Ericsson's theory of "deliberate practice", a highly motivated and thorough form of learning.
Louis Deslauriers, Ellen Schelew and Carl Wieman parachuted into a physics course on week 12 and for half the year group (271 students) took over their three hours of lectures that week devoted to electromagnetic waves. A control group of 267 students were lectured by their usual, highly rated and energetic teacher following a conventional format (i.e. the students mostly sat and listened while he lectured). Both groups were set the same learning objectives.
Before the intervention, both groups had spent eleven weeks on the same course, albeit with different lecturers, and they were matched on mid-term exam performance and their engagement with, and attitudes to, class.
For the crucial week 12 lectures, the intervention students were led by Deslauriers and Schelew (both of whom have fairly limited teaching experience) and took part in a series of discussions in small groups, group tasks, quizzes on pre-class reading, clicker questions (each student answers questions using an electronic device that feeds their answers back to the teacher), and instructor feedback. There was no formal lecturing. The aim, according to the authors, was:
"...to have the students spend all their time in class engaged in deliberate practice at 'thinking scientifically' in the form of making and testing predictions and arguments about the relevant topics, solving problems, and critiquing their own reasoning and that of others."The control group students had their usual lectures, covering the same material as the intervention students and they were given the same pre-class reading.
Student engagement (measured by trained observers) and attendance in the control group was unchanged in week 12 compared with earlier weeks. In the intervention group, attendance rose by 20 per cent and engagement nearly doubled.
In the first class after week 12, both groups were tested on what they'd learned in the previous week about electromagnetic waves. Also, two days before the test, students in both classes were emailed all the materials used by the intervention group: the clicker questions, group tasks and their solutions.
The results on the test were striking. The intervention group averaged 74 per cent correct, compared with 41 per cent correct in the control group. Factoring out the performance that could be achieved purely through guessing, the researchers said this meant the intervention group had performed twice as well as controls (the effect size was 2.5 standard deviations). Student feedback on the intervention was also overwhelmingly positive: 90 per cent of students said they'd enjoyed the interactive technique.
The researchers dismissed the idea that their findings could be explained by the Hawthorne Effect (i.e. a mere effect of novelty or of being observed). "While this experiment is introducing change in the student experience in one particular course (3 total hours per week) it provides little incremental novelty to their overall daily educational experience," they said.
The researchers' conclusion was upbeat: "We show that use of deliberate practice teaching strategies can improve both learning and engagement in a large laboratory physics course as compared with what was obtained with the lecture method ... This result is likely to generalise to a variety of postsecondary courses."
Deslauriers, L., Schelew, E., and Wieman, C. (2011). Improved Learning in a Large-Enrollment Physics Class. Science, 332 (6031), 862-864 DOI: 10.1126/science.1201783
This post was written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.
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Deslauriers, L., Schelew, E., & Wieman, C. (2011) Improved Learning in a Large-Enrollment Physics Class. Science, 332(6031), 862-864. DOI: 10.1126/science.1201783
Nearly everyone seems to carry a mobile phone these days. What if social scientists could exploit this technology to spy on our social behaviour: who we speak to and who we spend time with? It turns out they already are. Nathan Eagle, named recently as a leading young innovator by Technology Review, and his colleagues, have published one of the first studies into social network analysis using spy software loaded onto Nokia smartphones.For nine months, Eagle's team recorded data from the phones of 94 students and staff at MIT. By using blue-tooth technology and phone masts, they could monitor the movements of the participants, as well as their phone calls. Their main goal with this preliminary study was to compare data collected from the phones with subjective self-report data collected through traditional survey methodology.The participants were asked to estimate their average spatial proximity to the other participants, whether they were close friends, and to indicate how satisfied they were at work.Some intriguing findings emerged. For example, the researchers could predict with around 95 per cent accuracy who was friends with whom by looking at how much time participants spent with each other during key periods, such as Saturday nights.There were also discrepancies between the two data sets. For example, participants tended to overestimate how much time they spent with friends, and underestimate how much time they spent with non-friends. Also, the accuracy of the self-report proximity data tended to peak over the previous seven days (at which point it correlated highly with the phone records), but then it's accuracy tailed off. This provides useful information about the validity of survey records over time, and an interesting insight into people's memories for their social interactions.As regards satisfaction at work, it turned out that people who were in closer proximity to their friends during work time, tended to be happier at work, whilst participants less happy at work tended to make more phone calls to friends during work hours."Data collected from mobile phones have the potential to provide insight into the underlying relational dynamics of organisations, communities and potentially societies," the researchers said._________________________________Eagle, N., Pentland, A., & Lazer, D. (2009). Inferring friendship network structure by using mobile phone data. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0900282106
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Eagle, N., Pentland, A., & Lazer, D. (2009) Inferring friendship network structure by using mobile phone data. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0900282106
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