Teenagers’ Lack Of Insight Into Some Of Their Abilities Has Implications For Career Counselling

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By Christian Jarrett

How much insight do you have into your own mental and emotional abilities, such as verbal intelligence, spatial cognition and interpersonal skills? Might your friends have a better idea of your strengths and weaknesses than you do? In a new paper in the journal Heliyon, a team led by Aljoscha Neubauer explain that while such questions of self- vs. other-insight have already been looked at in the context of the main personality traits and general IQ, theirs is the first investigation in the context of more specific abilities. It’s an important issue for young people, they add, since choosing career paths that play to our abilities can increase the chances of later success – but it remains an open question whether and for which abilities people should rely on their own judgments or seek the advice of others.

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Young Men Who Endorse The Masculine Ideal of Success Enjoy Greater Psychological Wellbeing

GettyImages-901574552.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Recently it’s been difficult to avoid the mantra that masculinity is toxic. There’s that viral Gillette advert encouraging men to be nicer (provoking a mix of praise, scorn and outrage); and the claim from the American Psychological Association (APA), in its promotion for its new guidelines on working with men and boys, that “traditional masculinity—marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression—is, on the whole, harmful” – a message welcomed by some, but criticised by many others, including Steven Pinker who dubbed it “ludicrous” and the British clinical neuropsychologist Vaughan Bell, who described the campaign as “an amazing misfire“.

The APA report has been criticised on many grounds, including its oversight of the biological roots of masculinity, but the most frequently mentioned issue is with the overly simplistic, sweeping nature of the “masculinity is toxic” message. Traditional masculinity clearly reflects a host of values, beliefs and behaviours, some of which may indeed be harmful in certain circumstances, but some of which may also be beneficial, at least some of the time. Coincidentally, a paper in the January issue of the APA journal Psychology of Men and Masculinity captures just a little of this complexity.

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Asking Patients To Draw Their Illness Can Be Surprisingly Revealing

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“an adult’s perceptions of how the heart has been affected by damage and blockages following a heart attack” – from Broadbent et al 2018 / 2004

By Christian Jarrett

Asking patients to draw the parts of their body affected by illness (and similar drawing challenges) can provide insights into how they think about their illness, the seriousness of their condition, and how well they are likely to cope, among other things. For instance, when people who had experienced a heart attack were asked on repeated occasions to draw their heart, an increase in the size of their drawings over time correlated with more anxiety and a slower return to work.

This example and many others feature in a new paper in Health Psychology Review that’s charted the use of patient drawings in peer-reviewed research, finding that the approach has increased in popularity in recent years. From 1970 to 2002, the average number of papers involving patient drawings published per year was 0.5, whereas that increased to an average of 5.9 per year between 2003 and 2016. In all, Elizabeth Broadbent at the University of Auckland, and her colleagues found 101 relevant studies covering 27 categories of illness (most often cancer) and involving participants from 29 different countries, from Canada to Zimbabwe. “We can utilise patients’ drawings to improve our understanding of the illness experience and inform our clinical interventions,” they said.

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New Findings Could Help Explain Why ADHD Is Often Overlooked In Girls

GettyImages-903669856.jpgBy Emma Young

For every girl with ADHD, there are three boys with the same diagnosis. But among adults, the gender ratio is more like 1:1. That’s a big discrepancy. So what’s going on? 

In 2017, Aja Louise Murray and colleagues investigated possible predictors of childhood vs. later (adolescent/adult-onset) ADHD, and they found hints that girls tend to develop ADHD at a later age than boys. Now a team that includes the same researchers has investigated this explicitly and in their paper in Developmental Science, they’ve confirmed it seems to be the case, which could partially explain the discrepancy in the ADHD gender ratio between children and adults. 

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Immediately Re-Watching Lecture Videos Doesn’t Benefit Learning

GettyImages-485409944.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Given a passage of text to study, many students repeatedly re-read it in the hope the information will eventually stick. Psychology research has shown the futility of this approach. Re-reading is a poor strategy, it’s too passive and it leads the mind to wander. Much better to test yourself on what you read, or explain it to yourself or someone else. Now a paper in Experimental Psychology suggests the same is true of lecture videos – immediately re-watching them doesn’t lead to any greater learning.

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Study Identifies The Most Effective Mental Strategies That People Use To Get Through Aversive Challenges

GettyImages-820872910.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

What strategies do you use to push through a tough challenge, be it a run on a treadmill or a stressful phone call with your boss? Perhaps you remind yourself of what you have to gain from completing the task, or you use distraction, or you think about the bad things that will happen if you give in? For a paper in the European Journal of Personality, a team led by Marie Hennecke at the University of Zurich has conducted what they say is the first ever investigation of these strategies, and others, that people use spontaneously in their everyday lives to “regulate their persistence during aversive activities”.

The researchers’ main interest was to see whether people with strong self-control differ from flakier types by virtue of their use of more effective strategies. In fact, this was not the case – yes, some strategies were more effective than others (offering hope to those of us with weaker willpower that we might benefit from adopting such strategies), but greater use of effective strategies did not explain the persistence of the grittier types, thus suggesting, as the researchers put it, that “… trait self-control and self-regulatory strategies represent separate routes to good self-regulation”.

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Researchers Tried To Explore Why “Stereotype Threat” Harms Performance, But Found It Didn’t Harm Performance At All

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Is stereotype threat too context-dependent to matter all that much?

By Jesse Singal

Stereotype threat is a very evocative, disturbing idea: Imagine if simply being reminded that you are a member of a disadvantaged group, and that stereotypes hold that members of your group are bad at certain tasks, led to a self-fulfilling prophecy in which you performed worse on such tasks than you would otherwise.

That’s been the claim of stereotype threat researchers since the concept was first introduced in the mid-1990s, and it’s spread far and wide. But as seems to be the case with so many strong psychological claims of late, in recent years the picture has gotten a bit murkier. “A recent review suggested that stereotype threat has a robust but small-to-medium sized effect on performance,” wrote Alex Fradera here at the BPS Research Digest in 2017, “but a meta-analysis suggests that publication bias may be a problem in this literature, inflating the apparent size of the effect.” Adding to the confusion are some results which seem to run exactly opposite to what the theory would suspect, like the one Fradera was reporting on: In that study, female chess players were found to have performed better, not worse, against male opponents, which isn’t what the theory would have predicted.

Now, another study is poised to complicate things yet further. In a paper to be published in the European Journal of Social Psychology, and available as a preprint, a team led by Charlotte Pennington of UWE Bristol recruited female participants to test two mechanisms (reduced effort and working memory disruption) that have been offered to explain the supposed adverse performance effects of gender-related stereotype threat. They also compared different ways of inducing stereotype threat. Interesting questions, you might think, but in all cases the researchers came up empty.

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Time For A Fresh Approach To Learning Difficulties? The Cognitive Profile Of Kids Struggling At School Bore No Relation To Their Official Diagnoses

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The study used “machine learning” to organise children into clusters based on their cognitive profiles. (Figure 4 reproduced from Astle et al, 2018. See their open-access paper for description.)

By Emma Young

Around 30 per cent of British children fail to meet expected targets in reading or maths at age 11. These children face a future of continuing difficulties in education, as well as poorer mental health and employment success. Understanding why some kids struggle – and providing them with tailored support as early as possible – is clearly vital. Some will be diagnosed with a specific disorder, such as Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder or dyslexia, and get targeted help. But many will not. And even many conventional diagnostic labels may be misleading, and fail to capture the true picture of a child’s problems, according to new work by a team at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit at the University of Cambridge, which has come up with a radical, alternative approach. 

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Twitter Study Confirms The Power Of “Affect Labelling” – Emotions Are Calmed By Putting Them Into Words

GettyImages-1073605034.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

You might imagine – as prior research suggests many people do – that putting your feelings into words will only intensify them. In fact, many laboratory studies have found the opposite to be true. Stating out loud, or writing down, what you are feeling – a process that psychologists call “affect labelling” – seems to down-regulate emotions, diminishing their intensity.

Now an intriguing study has explored this phenomenon outside of the lab, analysing over a billion tweets to find examples of when people used a tweet to put their emotional state into words. From analysing the emotional language used in preceding and subsequent tweets, Rui Fan and his colleagues were able to see how the act of affect labelling influenced the course of an emotional state. “We found that, for a majority of individuals, emotional intensity decreased rapidly after their explicit expression in an ‘I feel’ statement,” the researchers write in their paper in Nature Human Behaviour.

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People With Advantageous Personality Traits Have More Nerve-Fibre Insulation (Myelination) In Key Brain Areas

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(a) A post-mortem map of average myelination intensity in the brain created over a century ago (red areas show greater myelin). (b) new estimates of average myelin distribution using brain scan technology (independent of personality, red shows greatest myelination, blue the least). From Toschi and Passamonti, 2018

By Christian Jarrett

Researchers are getting closer to understanding the neurological basis of personality. For a new paper in the Journal of Personality, Nicola Toschi and Luca Passamonti took advantage of a recent technological breakthrough that makes it possible to use scans to estimate levels of myelination in different brain areas (until fairly recently this could only be done at postmortem).

Myelin is a fatty substance that insulates nerve fibres and speeds up information processing in the brain – it tends to be thicker in parts of the cortex involved in movement and perception, while it is lighter in brain regions that evolved later and that are involved in more abstract thought and decision making.

The new findings, though preliminary, suggest that people with “healthier”, more advantageous, personality traits, such as more emotional stability and greater conscientiousness, may benefit during development from more enhanced myelination in key areas of the brain where the myelination process is particularly prolonged in humans, continuing through adolescence and into the twenties.

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