Ten Famous Psychology Findings That It’s Been Difficult To Replicate

via giphy

By Christian Jarrett

Every now and again a psychology finding is published that immediately grabs the world’s attention and refuses to let go – often it’s a result with immediate implications for how we can live more happily and peacefully, or it says something profound about human nature. Said finding then enters the public consciousness, endlessly recycled in pop psychology books and magazine articles.

Unfortunately, sometimes when other researchers have attempted to obtain these same influential findings, they’ve struggled. This replication problem doesn’t just apply to famous findings, nor does it only affect psychological science. And there can be relatively mundane reasons behind failed replications, such as methodological differences from the original or cultural changes since the original was conducted.

But given the public fascination with psychology, and the powerful influence of certain results, it is arguably in the public interest to summarise in one place a collection of some of the most famous findings that have proven tricky to repeat. This is not a list of disproven or dodgy results. It’s a snapshot of the difficult, messy process of behavioural science. Continue reading “Ten Famous Psychology Findings That It’s Been Difficult To Replicate”

The causes and consequences of thinking there’s an office conspiracy

Businessman eavesdropping on businesswomanBy Alex Fradera

We’re all familiar with gossip in the workplace, both the benign variety – did you know Tom is applying for X-Factor? – as well as more serious talk concerned with perceived injustices, such as the real reason for that recent promotion. When such speculations insinuate a group working together to achieve secret ends, we’re into the realm of conspiracy theory. New research in the British Journal of Psychology suggests that conspiracy theories about the workplace are a thermometer for an employee’s broader feelings about the organisation … including his or her ultimate commitment to it. Continue reading “The causes and consequences of thinking there’s an office conspiracy”

What’s it like to be a child and your sibling is diagnosed with cancer?

serious teenager sitting on the roof of the houseBy Christian Jarrett

When the dreadful news arrives that a child has cancer, understandably the focus of parents and health professionals turns to supporting the sick child as best they can. But also caught up in the nightmare are the child’s siblings. Not only will they likely be consumed by shock and fear, but they must adapt to the cancer journey the whole family has to embark on.

Official health guidance here in the UK and in the USA states that it’s important to provide support to the siblings of children with cancer. Yet the reality is we know relatively little about their experience. A new study in Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry helps address this research gap, based on interviews with two brothers and four sisters – now aged 12 to 18 – of children and teenagers with cancer. The results reveal the shock and fear the siblings experienced, and the challenges they’ve faced, but also uncover a silver lining in the form of “post traumatic growth”. Continue reading “What’s it like to be a child and your sibling is diagnosed with cancer?”

New clues about the way memory works in infancy

Neurons in the beautiful background. 3d illustration of a highBy Alex Fradera 

Can we form memories when we are very young? Humans and non-humans alike show an “infantile amnesic period” – we have no memory of anything that happens during this time (usually up to age three or four in humans) which might suggest we can’t form very early memories. But of course it might be that we can form memories in these early years, it’s just that they are later forgotten. The idea that at least something is retained from infancy is consistent with the fact that disorders present in adult life can be associated with very early life events.

Now Nature Neuroscience has published a paper confirming that in rats some kind of memories are created during the amnesic period, but that these operate differently and are produced by different brain chemistry from adult memories. What’s more, such events may have a role in kickstarting memory system maturation. Continue reading “New clues about the way memory works in infancy”

It’s now possible, in theory, to predict life success from a genetic test at birth

one week old newborn girl on daddy's hand.By guest blogger Stuart Ritchie

For decades, we’ve known from twin studies that psychological traits like intelligence and personality are influenced by genes. That’s why identical twins (who share all their genes) are not just more physically similar to each other than non-identical twins (who share half their genes), but also more similar in terms of their psychological traits. But what twin studies can’t tell us is which particular genes are involved. Frustratingly, this has always left an ‘in’ for the incorrigible critics of twin studies: they’ve been able to say “you’re telling me these traits are genetic, but you can’t tell me any of the specific genes!” But not any more. Continue reading “It’s now possible, in theory, to predict life success from a genetic test at birth”

Link feast

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-18-20-33Our editor’s pick of this week’s 10 best psychology and neuroscience links:

How Curiosity Can Protect The Mind From Bias
Neither intelligence nor education can stop you from forming prejudiced opinions – but an inquisitive attitude may help you make wiser judgements

There’s a Lot of Junk fMRI Research Out There. Here’s What Top Neuroscientists Want You to Know
It’s easy to misrepresent the findings from brain scan studies. Just ask a dead salmon.

Live Long and Prosper
The psychology of Star Trek’s relentless optimism about the future.

Why Are Babies So Dumb If Humans Are So Smart?
Human intelligence comes with a curious caveat: our babies are among the dumbest—or, rather, the most helpless—that exist.

The 8 New Books To Read This Autumn/Winter
Occupational psychologist and best-selling author Adam Grant spent his summer reading advance copies of the top-releases on the way later this year. Here are his favourite 8.

How to Raise a Genius: Lessons From a 45-Year Study of Super-smart Children
A long-running investigation of exceptional children reveals what it takes to produce the scientists who will lead the twenty-first century.

Clues To Your Personality Appeared Before You Could Talk
Long before you could express yourself with words, you were giving away the signs of your adult temperament. I explain how over at my BBC column.

Brain drain? Lumosity Reels After Federal Crackdown on Online ‘Brain Training’
The brain-training giant Lumosity is recalibrating its strategy and facing new challenges as it reels from a federal crackdown on bold health claims about its digital games.

The Language Rules We Know – But Don’t Know We Know
Mark Forsyth tasted internet fame this week when a passage from a book he wrote went viral. He explains more language secrets that native speakers know without knowing.

Discover the Science of School Yard Illusions
Childhood tricks can reveal a surprising amount about early cognition and the nervous system.

–Compiled by Christian Jarrett, Editor of BPS Research Digest

Awe-inspiring documentaries could turn people away from science

An angel came down that night
Image via KayYen/Flickr

By Christian Jarrett

Science documentaries often go heavy on awe. In his immensely popular TV shows, the pop star turned physicist Brian Cox is frequently depicted in awesome landscapes, staring into the distance, moody music in the background, reflecting on awe-inspiring facts about nature, such as that we are all essentially made of star dust. It seems like a powerful way to engage people in science. Just one problem. A new study in Emotion suggests that when people who hold religious beliefs experience feelings of awe, this makes them even less likely to believe in science as a valid way to understand the world. Moreover, feelings of awe could encourage the non-religious to endorse less credible scientific theories that emphasise order over randomness in the universe.  Continue reading “Awe-inspiring documentaries could turn people away from science”

It’s possible to learn to be more optimistic

Man standing on rock formationBy Christian Jarrett

Optimists have good reason to be optimistic – research tells us that their sunny outlook means that they are likely to live longer, healthier, happier lives compared with others who have a habit of seeing a darker future ahead. This has led positive psychologists to attempt to teach optimism, so that more people might get to benefit from its apparent positive effects. But can you really learn to see the future more brightly? By combining findings from all the relevant existing optimism intervention trials, published and unpublished, a new meta-analysis in The Journal of Positive Psychology provides us with the best answer available today. There’s reason for hope – it seems we can learn to be more optimistic. But don’t get too carried away. Many interventions only increase optimism a little bit, and probably only for a little while. Continue reading “It’s possible to learn to be more optimistic”

Psychologists said it’s disgusting to be reminded that you are an animal. It seems they were wrong

Woman with dog swimming underwater
By Christian Jarrett

Disgust has become a hot topic in psychology research over the last decade or so, not least because findings have shown that the way we respond to physically disgusting threats, like disease-infested blood and puss, is closely related to the way we think about moral violations and moral concepts like purity (hence people’s reluctance to don a shirt purportedly worn by Adolf Hitler).

One repeated claim in this area is that we have evolved to be disgusted by any reminder that we are animals. For instance, the leading disgust and morality researchers Jonathan Haidt, Paul Rozin and Clark McCauley have stated that disgust is “a defensive emotion that guards against the recognition of our animality” and that “anything that reminds us that we are animals elicits disgust”. It’s a compelling idea that feeds into other areas of psychology, for example related to how we react to and cope with reminders of our mortality, and the way we often instinctively dehumanise criminals, pariahs and outsiders. The trouble is, nobody has actually put the claim to a robust test. Until now.  Continue reading “Psychologists said it’s disgusting to be reminded that you are an animal. It seems they were wrong”