Hallucinations are surprisingly common and varied experiences

By Emma Young

Many mentally well people experience hallucinations. An estimated 6 – 15% of us hear, see, feel or even smell things that aren’t real. But there has been little research into what those hallucinations are like — and how they might differ from those experienced by people with psychosis. Now Mascha M.J. Linszen at Utrecht University and her colleagues report the results of a large study of more than 10,000 people aged 14 to 88. The work, published in Schizophrenia, throws up a few surprises among a host of interesting findings.

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Parenting Instagram accounts can make mothers feel supported, but also less competent

By Emily Reynolds

Adjusting to parenting can be difficult for many new parents — particularly when it comes to judging their own competence or knowing whether or not they are doing the “right” thing. Subsequently, many new parents seek advice: from peers, family members, friends, and, increasingly, from social media.

A new study, published in Acta Psychologica, explores the impact of parenting-related Instagram accounts on mothers. It finds a mixed experience: while mothers can feel supported by a community of fellow parents, they can also feel less competent when comparing themselves to others.

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We tend to see our political opponents as stupid rather than evil

By Emily Reynolds

If we have strong political leanings, it’s likely that we’ll have similarly strong feelings about our opponents. We might think they’re misguided or stupid; we might consider them self-serving and selfish; or, worst of all, we may believe they’re actually evil.

A new study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin explores this question: do we think our opponents are evil or just stupid? While the common understanding is that liberals see conservatives as evil and conservatives see liberals as stupid, the team finds that whatever our political affiliation, we’re more likely to see each other as unintelligent than immoral.

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Top performers don’t always provide the best advice

By Emma Young

If you want to learn a new skill, who are you going to ask for advice? Someone with a track record as a top performer would seem an obvious choice. Indeed, as the authors of a new paper in Psychological Science point out, Americans alone pay hundreds of millions of dollars each year “to connect them to ‘icons, experts and industry rock stars’ who will teach them to write novels, start businesses, play chess or barbecue brisket, and they pay these premiums because they naturally believe that the best advice comes from the best performers.” However, this new work, led by David E. Levari at Harvard Business School, suggests that it does not.

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Episode 30: The psychology of superstitions

This is Episode 30 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.

From carefully avoiding cracks in the pavement to saluting every magpie that you meet, superstitious behaviour is really common. But why do we have superstitions? Where do they come from? And are they helpful or harmful? 

To find out, our presenter Ginny Smith talks to Stuart Vyse, former professor of psychology at Connecticut College and author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition. Ginny also chats to Laramie Taylor, professor of communication at the University of California Davis, who explains how superstition and magical thinking is linked to being a fan of both fiction and sports.

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A religious upbringing strengthens children’s belief in divine miracles, but not magic

By Emily Reynolds

Children are exposed to all kinds of stories, fact and fiction. Books about figures such as Rosa Parks or Jesse Owens teach young people about history, while novels are populated with colourful characters like Harry Potter or Bilbo Baggins. Religious figures often represent a middle ground, both real and fantastical. So how do children differentiate between fantasy and real life figures — and how does religious teaching affect the way they make these kinds of distinctions?

A new study, published in Memory & Cognition, finds that a religious upbringing leads kids to judge religious stories as real. But, interestingly, this doesn’t seem to make non-religious magical stories seem real.

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Here’s how actors differ in their ability to read their own bodily signals

By Emma Young

How is it that some people can slip into another character so perfectly that they win acting plaudits, while the rest of us struggle to act at all?

Good actors have to convincingly convey a range of emotions. And one way that we feel and control our own emotions is by tuning into bodily signals — such as the more rapid heartbeat that comes with excitement, joy or fear. So, reasoned Peter Sokol-Hessner at the University of Denver and colleagues, perhaps actors are better at sensing these signals — a process known as interoception.

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Women candidates are seen as less electable — which makes voters less likely to support them

By Emily Reynolds

Politics in the UK is becoming increasingly diverse. But there is still a way to go. When it comes to gender, the proportion of women in the House of Commons is at an all time high — but at 35%, is still far from representative of the population. 

A new study, published in PNAS, looks at the barriers to women being elected. And the Stanford University team finds even voters who would prefer a female candidate show a level of “pragmatic bias”: if they believe that women candidates face barriers that make them less electable, they are less likely to vote for them. 

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Here’s why phrases like “rowdy bowels” and “moose ooze” seem funny

By Emma Young

Which is funnier:

Sell bargain — or nymph piss?

Roof darkness — or gravy orgy?

Large small — or moose ooze?

If you went for the second each time, you’d be in good company. In a new study, participants gave word pairs in the second set the highest humour ratings, while those in the first languished near the bottom. One very obvious difference is that those in the second set reference sex or bodily excretions, while the others don’t. But Cynthia S. Q. Siew at the National University of Singapore, along with Tomas Engelthaler and Thomas T. Hills at the University of Warwick, also identified broader factors at play. In their paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, they argue that these factors explain why gangster pasta, for example, is funnier than insult nickname.

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We unconsciously pay more attention to someone who has dilated pupils

By Emma Young

How do you know when someone else is paying attention to you? If they’re staring at you intensely, that’s a pretty obvious giveaway. But there are also far subtler signals — such as the size of their pupils.

As Clara Colombatto and Brian Scholl at Yale University note in a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, our pupils automatically and uncontrollably dilate when we’re emotionally aroused, working something out, or just attending to something. Pupil size has been used as an objective indicator of all these things in a wealth of recent studies.

But if another person is directing their attention towards you, you need to know about it. It might be attention that you should reciprocate, to build a relationship, or it might signal a potential threat. So, Colombatto and Scholl wondered, “If the apprehension of pupil size is so helpful to scientists, might it be similarly helpful to us in everyday life?”

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