Smiling could protect you from being stereotyped by gender or ethnicity

smilesBy Christian Jarrett

When strangers meet, they jump to a lot of conclusions about each other extremely quickly – a process that psychologists call “thin slicing” in reference to the thinness of the evidence upon which such sweeping inferences are made. For instance, being a woman means you’re more likely to be perceived as warm, but less likely to be seen as dominant. If you’re Asian in ethnicity, chances are people will assume you’re less warm but more competent than average. Facial expressions also make an impact – for example, when we smile, we’re seen as more extravert. But what happens when these different influences on first impressions contradict each other? Which comes out on top? A new study in Motivation and Emotion provides tentative evidence that smiles trump cues related to gender and ethnicity. In short, if you smile, you’re probably less likely to be judged by your social identity. Continue reading “Smiling could protect you from being stereotyped by gender or ethnicity”

We assume distant negative events remembered in detail must have been extreme

Boring seminar

By Alex Fradera

If I insisted on telling you about a recent meeting I’d endured at work, and I went into vivid detail about every misunderstanding and awkward moment, you’d probably infer that I’d had a fairly bad experience. Now imagine I told you about the same events with the same level of detail, but I was talking about a meeting that happened more than a year ago. Now you’d probably get the impression that I’d had a truly awful time. The reason, as reported recently in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, is that we tend to interpret negative events recounted in detail as being more serious, the longer ago that they happened. Continue reading “We assume distant negative events remembered in detail must have been extreme”

It is possible to find happiness again after major depression

golden rays of the sun through the black clouds

By Christian Jarrett

Living through depression can feel like being in an emotional prison, but there is a way out, at least for some. Writing in Psychiatry Research, Esme Fuller-Thomson and her colleagues describe their analysis of survey data from 20,000 Canadians, which showed that 2528 individuals had previously been diagnosed with major depression, and that two fifths of this group were now fully recovered, meaning that they’d been completely free of mental health problems for over one year and felt happy or satisfied with life on an almost daily basis in the preceding month. “Our findings provide a hopeful message for both clients and clinicians: it is within the grasp of many individuals who have previously succumbed to depression to fully flourish and achieve complete mental health,” they said. Continue reading “It is possible to find happiness again after major depression”

Students may learn better from attractive lecturers

Female teacher posing in classroomBy Christian Jarrett

Alongside metrics like “uses a textbook”, the popular Rate My Professors website gives students the option to score their lecturers’ “hotness”. This might not be as frivolous as it seems, at least according to a new paper in The Journal of General Psychology, which claims that students learn more effectively from more attractive lecturers.

Richard Westfall and his colleagues at University of Nevada asked over 100 students to listen to an audio recording of a 20 minute physics lecture, delivered by a man or woman. As the students listened, they were presented with a photograph of either a highly attractive man or woman, or an unattractive man or woman, and they were told that this was the lecturer they were listening to. No note taking was allowed. The students thought the study was about the influence of different lecture styles. Continue reading “Students may learn better from attractive lecturers”

You’re not bored, you’re meditating – on finding value in a maligned emotion

Man working at office desk

By Christian Jarrett

We usually think of boredom as a state to be avoided. The existentialist philosopher Søren Kierkegaard even went so far as to say that “boredom is the root of all evil”. But in a new paper in Qualitative Research in Psychology, Tim Lomas at the University of East London says there is under-recognised value in this much maligned emotional state. To prove his point, Lomas deliberately subjected himself to an intense period of boredom, and then introspected on each minute of the experience. He claims his findings show that “boredom is not necessarily the dull, valueless state that it is commonly taken to be but rather can facilitate a fascinating array of experiences and insights.” Continue reading “You’re not bored, you’re meditating – on finding value in a maligned emotion”

More evidence that literary, but not pop, fiction boosts readers’ emotional skills

Image via Flickr/VisitBritain

By Christian Jarrett

Three years ago, a pair of psychologists at the New School for Social Research in New York attracted worldwide interest and controversy when they reported in the prestigious journal Science that reading just a few pages of literary fiction boosted research participants’ recognition of other people’s emotions, but that reading pop fiction (also known as genre fiction) did not. Now the same researchers have returned with a new paper in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts that’s used a different approach to arrive at the same conclusion – again, reading literary fiction, but not genre fiction, appears to be associated with superior emotion recognition skills. Continue reading “More evidence that literary, but not pop, fiction boosts readers’ emotional skills”

Watching someone suffer extreme pain has a lasting effect on the brain

Image via Los Alamos National Laboratory/Flickr

New research suggests that witnessing extreme pain – such as the injury or death of a comrade on the battlefield – has a lasting effect on how the brain processes potentially painful situations. The research team, chiefly from Bar-Ilan University and headed up by Moranne Eidelman-Rothman, investigated the brain using magnetoencephalography (MEG). Like more widely used fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), MEG localises which parts of the brain are more active during a particular mental activity, but it offers more fine-grained information about when this activity is occurring. This sensitivity helped the researchers detect subtle anomalies in how pain is perceived.
Continue reading “Watching someone suffer extreme pain has a lasting effect on the brain”

People with high self-control have a cunning approach to healthy eating

Close up of fruit
It’s to do with focusing on healthy foods that they actually like

If challenged to think of ways to eat more healthily, something like this would probably go through my mind: “Could try to eat more blueberries (but yuk, I don’t like those much), and I suppose I should give up chocolate biscuits (but, erm, never going to happen, they are an essential part of my morning coffee routine)”. According to a new paper in Psychology and Marketing I am showing the typical approach to healthy eating of a person with low self-control and what’s more, my way of thinking is likely to lead me to failure. Continue reading “People with high self-control have a cunning approach to healthy eating”

When you’re sleeping, how much does your brain pay attention to the outside world?

Brain Sleep

By guest blogger Daniel Bor

When I was 13, I once dreamt that a beautiful woman was sensuously stroking the palm of my hand, as a family of fridges hummed in the background. In reality, a huge, buzzing wasp had landed on my right hand. It idly walked around for a bit, then stung me. After the shock had worn off, I was puzzled why my dreaming brain had stopped me from waking up to this potential danger. Contrast this with 6 years ago, when even my deepest sleep would be broken by the first sounds of my newborn baby daughter’s cries. How do our brains decide whether or not to wake us up, based on what’s going on in the world? And why does this policy change depending on whether we’re dreaming or in some other sleep state?

In a recent paper in the Journal of Neuroscience, Thomas Andrillon and his colleagues have discovered intriguing clues that start to answer these questions. Continue reading “When you’re sleeping, how much does your brain pay attention to the outside world?”

The secret to strong friendships? Interconnected memories

exchanging thoughts with each otherNo man is an island: we act together, think together and even remember together. Elderly couples have interconnected memory systems, working together to deftly remember their shared past. New research in the Journal of Personal and Social Relationships shows that platonic friends see themselves similarly. In a sample of 216 students and online recruits, Nicole Iannone and colleagues found high agreement with items such as “my best friend and I can remind each other of things we know,” part of a scale measuring “transactive memory systems” – shared systems of recording, storing and recalling information. Ratings were even higher when participants were referring to friendships that were longer, more trusting or of a higher quality overall.

Gender had no effect on degree of interconnection, but seemed to shape the kind of interconnection. In a second study with 340 participants, same-sex friendships were more likely to have overlap in similar memory areas, such as both knowing a lot about movies, whereas mixed-sex friends had distinctive areas of expertise – suggesting a good team-up for a trivia night. The authors note that in their sample, memory interdependence was the single best predictor of friendship quality, more even than relationship length or a general measure of trust, raising the idea that putting faith in someone else to preserve your past is an important facet of long-term intimacy.

With a little help from your friend. Transactive memory in best friendships

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest