Seven psychoanalytic psychotherapists reflect on the clients that didn’t get better, or even felt worse

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A key theme was that it felt like having just half the client in therapy

By Alex Fradera

Psychotherapists are devoted to improving people’s psychological health, but sometimes their efforts fail. A new qualitative study in Psychotherapy Research delves into what therapists take away from these unsuccessful experiences.

Andrzej Werbart led the Stockholm University research team that focused on eight therapy cases where the clients – all women under the age of 26 – had experienced no improvement, or in three cases, had deteriorated. This was based on comparing their pre- and post-therapy symptom levels following one to two sessions per week of psychoanalytically-focused therapy for about two years, to deal with symptoms such as depressed mood, anxiety, or low self-esteem.

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“Growth mindset” theory doesn’t translate directly from kids to adults – telling an adult they are a “hard worker” can backfire

GettyImages-502856475.jpgBy Emma Young

The way parents and teachers praise children is known to influence not only their future performance, but how they feel about the malleability of intelligence. If a child has done well, focusing positive comments on their efforts, actions and strategies (saying, for example, “good job” or “you must have tried really hard”) is preferable to saying “you’re so smart”, in part because process-centred praise is thought to encourage kids to interpret setbacks as opportunities to grow, rather than as threats to their self-concept. In contrast, a kid who’s led to believe she succeeds because she’s “intelligent” may not attempt a difficult challenge, in case she fails.

Now – and somewhat remarkably, given all the praise and growth mindset research conducted on children – a new study, led by Rachael Reavis at Earlham College, Indiana, US, published the Journal of Genetic Psychology, claims to be the first to test the effects of different types of praise on how adults feel after failure. 

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Strangers are more likely to come to your help in a racially diverse neighbourhood

GettyImages-875961534.jpgBy Alex Fradera

The “Big Society” initiative – launched at the turn of this decade by the incoming British government – was a call for politics to recognise the importance of community and social solidarity. It has since fizzled out, and for a while communitarianism fell out of the political conversation, but it has returned post-Brexit, sometimes with a nationalist or even nativist flavour. The US political scientist Robert Putnam’s research is sometimes recruited into these arguments, as his data suggests that racially and ethnically diverse neighbourhoods have lower levels of trust and social capital, which would seem an obstacle to community-building. But an international team led by Jared Nai at Singapore Management University has published a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that suggests that diverse neighbourhoods are in fact more likely to generate prosocial helpful behaviours.

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The results are in from the first study of what encourages and deters people from bullshitting

GettyImages-172999792.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

“Our country doesn’t do many things well, but when it comes to big occasions, no one else comes close,” so claimed an instructor I heard at the gym this week. He might be an expert in physical fitness but it’s doubtful this chap was drawing on any evidence or established knowledge about the UK’s standing on the international league table of pageantry or anything else, and what’s more, he probably didn’t care about his oversight. What he probably did feel is a social pressure to have an opinion on the royal wedding that took place last weekend. To borrow the terminology of US psychologist John Petrocelli, he was probably bullshitting.

“In essence,” Petrocelli explains in his new paper in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, “the bullshitter is a relatively careless thinker/communicator and plays fast and loose with ideas and/or information as he bypasses consideration of, or concern for, evidence and established knowledge.”

While pontificating on Britain’s prowess at pomp is pretty harmless, Petrocelli has more serious topics in mind. “Whether they be claims or expressions of opinions about the effects of vaccinations, the causes of success and failure, or political ideation, doing so with little to no concern for evidence or truth is wrong,” he writes.

There are countless psychology studies into lying (which is different from bullshitting because it involves deliberately concealing the truth) and an increasing number into fake news (again, unlike BS, deliberate manipulation is part of it). However, there are virtually none on bullshitting. Now Petrocelli has made a start, identifying several social factors that encourage or deter the practice.

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New research reveals our folk beliefs about immortality – we think the good and bad will live on, but in very different ways

GettyImages-821819658.jpgBy guest blogger Dan Jones

When, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Marc Anthony delivers his funeral oration for his fallen friend, he famously says “The evil that men do lives on; the good is oft interred with their bones.” 

Anthony was talking about how history would remember Caesar, lamenting that doing evil confers greater historical immortality than doing good. But what about literal immortality? 

While there’s no room for such a notion in the scientific worldview, belief in an immortal afterlife was common throughout history and continues to this day across many cultures. Formal, codified belief systems like Christianity have a lot to say about the afterlife, including how earthly behaviour determines our eternal fate: the virtuous among us will apparently spend the rest of our spiritual days in paradise, while the wicked are condemned to suffer until the end of time. Yet, according to Christianity and many other formal religions, there’s no suggestion that anyone – good, bad or indifferent – gets more or less immortality, which is taken to be an all-or-nothing affair.

This is not how ordinary people think intuitively about immortality, though. In a series of seven studies published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Kurt Gray at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and colleagues, have found that, whether religious or not, people tend to think that those who do good or evil in their earthly lives achieve greater immortality than those who lead more morally neutral lives. What’s more, the virtuous and the wicked are seen to achieve different kinds of immortality.

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Chess grandmasters show the same longevity advantage as elite athletes

 

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Red and blue lines show the ratio of the yearly survival rates for Olympic medallists and Chess grandmasters, respectively, relative to the general population (flat dashed line). Shaded areas show confidence intervals. Via An Tran-Duy et al, 2018

By Christian Jarrett

It’s well established that elite athletes have a longer life expectancy than the general public. A recent review of over 50 studies comprising half a million people estimated the athletic advantage to be between 4 and 8 years, on average. This comes as little surprise. One can easily imagine how the same genetic endowment and training necessary to develop physical prowess in sport might also manifest in physical health. Now for the first time, a study published in PLOS One (open access) shows that athletes of the mind – chess grandmasters – show the same longevity advantage as athletes of the body.

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There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about Abraham Maslow and self-actualisation – a new paper puts the record straight

Abraham_Maslow.jpgBy Alex Fradera

Abraham Maslow was one of the great psychological presences of the twentieth century, and his concept of self-actualisation has entered our vernacular and is addressed in most psychology textbooks. A core concept of humanistic psychology, self-actualisation theory has inspired a range of psychological therapies as well as approaches taken in social work. But a number of myths have crept into our understanding of the theory and the man himself. In a new paper in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, William Compton of Middle Tennessee State University aims to put the record straight.

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Three years of research into #thedress, digested – a lesson in humility for perceptual science

The_Dress_(viral_phenomenon).pngBy Christian Jarrett

Three years ago, in a time before Trump and Brexit and Yanny and Laurel, someone posted an overexposed photograph of a black and blue striped dress on Tumblr. Soon millions of people had seen it and started arguing about it. The reason? It quickly became apparent that about half of us – more often women and older people – perceive the dress, not as black and blue, but white and gold.

In a neat example of real life echoing a classic psychology experiment (I’m referring to Asch), #thedress was enough to make you think your friends were gas lighting you – how could it be that you and they were looking at the exact same picture and yet seeing entirely different things?

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The squares marked A and B are actually the same shade of grey, via Wikipedia

Of course there are many optical illusions, including others that involve colour (see, for example, the “checker shadow” illusion, pictured right). What was special about #thedress was that it triggered a bimodal split in perceptual experience among the population. Also, many illusions trigger a fluctuating percept, but once someone perceives the dress one way, they usually keep seeing it that way.

Viral hits happen overnight. Science is slow, but it’s catching up. With the passing of the years, numerous studies into #thedress have now been published – 23 according to a new review. Here we present you with a fascinating digest of what’s been discovered so far about the famous frock – researchers have made progress, certainly, yet much remains mysterious, making this a humbling experience for perceptual science.

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Class is still written into our psychology – working class folk are more empathic, selfless, vigilant and fatalistic

GettyImages-481183250.jpgBy Alex Fradera

Social class may seem different today than in the early 20th Century. Former British Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott’s comment in 1997 that “we are all middle class now” had a ring of truth, given that most people in the West have access to what once were luxuries, such as running water, in-house entertainment, and eye-catching brands. But this is something of an illusion, according to Cardiff University’s Antony Manstead, who shows in the British Journal of Social Psychology (open access) how class is still written into our psychology, and the implications this has for how we behave and our wellbeing.

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Study suggests your adulthood self-esteem has its roots in the way you were raised as a child

GettyImages-912100954.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Studies of identical and non-identical twins indicate that our self-esteem is influenced by the genes we inherited from our parents, but also, and perhaps slightly more so, by environmental factors. And according to a new study in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, these environmental influences started playing a lasting role very early in life.

Ulrich Orth at the University of Bern has reported evidence that, on average, the higher the quality of a person’s home environment when they were aged between 0 and 6 years – based on warm and responsive parenting; cognitive stimulation; and a safe, organised physical environment – the higher their self-esteem many years later in adulthood.

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