The role of birth order in shaping who we are has been a matter of some debate in psychology. Recent research has cast doubt on the idea that an individual’s position in relation to their siblings influences their personality, for instance. But there may be other domains where birth order is still important: in particular, researchers have found that children with a greater number of older siblings seem to have worse verbal skills.
However, a new study published in Psychological Science has found that the situation is a bit more complicated than that. Young children with an older sibling do indeed perform worse on language measures, the authors find — but only if that sibling is a brother.
Is it possible to spot the signs of future psychopathy in a child? Some researchers have argued that it is — by looking at the child’s level of “interpersonal callousness” (IC), or the extent to which they are manipulative, dishonest, and show a lack of guilt, remorse or distress at being punished. Indeed, previous studies have found that children who rank high for IC are more likely to develop psychopathic features, as well as to commit violent offences in adolescence and adulthood. So, case closed?
Not according to a new study, published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. This work, led by Meagan Docherty and Jordan Beardslee at Arizona State University, suggests that other important risk factors for these negative outcomes in adolescence and adulthood haven’t been properly taken into account — and that when they are, the apparent link between childhood callousness and psychopathy in adulthood disappears.
In a world made for right-handed people, life can sometimes be frustrating if you are among the 10% or so who are “adextral” — that is, left-handed or ambidextrous. Now a new grievance can be added to the list. Brain imaging researchers are systematically excluding adextrals from participating in their studies, according to an analysis of recent research papers published in top neuroimaging journals. Yet there’s no good reason to exclude this population, say the authors — and in fact, the practice could be detrimental to research.
Throughout our lives, we set ourselves goals — to pass an exam, run a marathon, lose 10 kilograms of excess weight or gain a promotion. Given the importance of such goals to our physical and psychological wellbeing, it’s not surprising that there’s has been a wealth of research into how best to set, work towards, and achieve them.
But let’s say you succeed — what then? Psychologists have paid less attention to people’s behaviour after they’ve achieved their goals. And although it’s generally good for us to continue to study, exercise, eat healthily, work hard, and so on, this doesn’t always transpire. For example, one follow-up of contestants who’d won the weight-loss TV show The Biggest Loser found that six years on, most weighed even more than they had at the start of the show.
However, a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition offers a solution. People are more likely to maintain good behaviours, the researchers find, if instead of thinking about achieving a goal as “arriving at a destination,” they view it as “completing a journey.”
At 8:07am on a Saturday morning in early 2018, phones throughout Hawaii buzzed with a distressing message. “Ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii. Seek immediate shelter,” it read. “This is not a drill.” Similar warnings interrupted television and radio transmissions. And until a follow-up message 38 minutes later clarified that it had been a false alarm, many residents were left expecting the worst.
But according to a new study published in American Psychologist, the toll on Hawaii residents lasted much longer than those terrifying minutes. Researchers analysing the kinds of words tweeted before and after the false alarm have found that anxiety seemed to be heightened for days — particularly among those who appeared the least anxious to begin with.
“Microdosing” psychedelic drugs involves regularly taking amounts so tiny that they don’t impair a person’s normal functioning, but — it’s claimed — subtly enhance wellbeing, concentration and creativity. In May, for example, the Digest reported on a study that found hints of reduced stress and increased emotional intensity among people who microdosed LSD and psilocybin, from ‘magic’ mushrooms.
However, we also stressed that there has been little research into the technique — and now a review of the field published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology concludes that while the popularity of microdosing has exploded over the past eight years, knowledge about what it actually does remains patchy and anecdotal. In fact, there are still far more questions about the technique than answers, write Kim Kuypers at Maastricht University, and her colleagues.
The first step to dealing with a negative emotion is to identify it. If you’re feeling irritated, restless or guilty, the most effective way to start feeling better will be different in each case. The trouble is, if your sense of your own emotions is not that fine-grained – if you feel just “bad” or “upset” – you may struggle to identify the cause of your distress, making it tricky to self-regulate your emotions.
Plenty of studies have linked a poor ability to differentiate between negative emotions (known as “low Negative Emotion Differentiation” or “low NED” for short) to depression. But this work has mostly been conducted at a single point in time (i.e. having a “cross-sectional” design), making it impossible to tell whether difficulties with emotional differentiation cause depression or vice versa. The research has also overwhelmingly involved adults, and yet it is adolescence that is most marked by low NED (even more than in early childhood) and depression. This mismatch in the literature motivated Lisa Starr at the University of Rochester and her colleagues to conduct a longitudinal study on adolescents, published recently in Emotion. They looked not only at teenagers’ NED and depressive symptoms over time, but also their experience of minor daily hassles and more serious stressful life events.
This is Episode 17 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.
Can psychology help make running more enjoyable? Our presenter Christian Jarrett speaks to several experts about various strategies including “cognitive reappraisal” and the benefits of taking part in organised runs. He also hears how some of us are genetically disposed to find running less enjoyable than others, and why that isn’t an excuse for giving up.
Our guests, in order of appearance, are: Dr Grace Giles (US Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Soldier Center, Natick), Dr John Nezlek (SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Faculty in Poznan and College of William & Mary, Williamsburg VA), Dr Marzena Cypryańska (SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Warsaw), and Professor Eco de Geus (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam).
Episode credits: Presented and produced by Christian Jarrett. Mixing and editing Jeff Knowler. PsychCrunch theme music Catherine Loveday and Jeff Knowler. Art work Tim Grimshaw.
Minds run free (Psychologists, like much of the population, have been bitten by the running bug. What do they get out of it, and does their experience chime with the science? Christian Jarrett and Ella Rhodes investigate.)
The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, which keeps hundreds of thousands of people abreast of the latest exciting findings in psychology, is seeking an additional writer.
Part Time: 14 hours per week
Grade 6: £33,996.00 (pro-rata)
Although based remotely (with right to work in the UK: see below), you’ll work closely with the Research Digest editor to produce engaging reports on new psychology studies each month, in a style that entertains and educates. You will show readers how the findings are relevant to their lives, but without resorting to hype. Where appropriate, you should have the confidence and competence to criticise studies.
Poor sleepers may be hoping that with the gradual liberalisation of marijuana laws around the world, a new drug to help them sleep will soon become legally available. Bad news, then, from a new diary study, published in Health Psychology, of people who take cannabis as a sleep aid. While the drug seemed to improve some aspects of sleep, it also led people to feel more tired the next day.