Face Stimuli In Psychology Are Often All White. That Needs To Change

By Emma L. Barratt

Research into first impressions is a well-established area. Hundreds of studies have been published with the goal of understanding how the subtleties of facial features cue assumptions about those we meet. Often, the stimuli used are tightly controlled, with some sets using faces whose features are digitally manipulated to be larger or smaller by tiny degrees; the effect of miniscule alterations to the wideness of eyes, for example, can be isolated and analysed without changing any other aspect of the face. By eliminating as many extraneous variables as possible, research teams hope to get a reading of exactly what specific features contribute to the first impressions we form.

While on the surface this sounds like a reasonable and solid scientific approach, it does tend to create one pressing problem in particular. If you’ve ever participated in or run a study using face stimuli, it’s likely that the faces used were exclusively White.

Authors typically give no explicit reasoning for this choice within their published work. Richard Cook of Birkbeck, University of London and Harriet Over of the University of York believe that there are four broad reasons for this common decision. In their recent paper in Royal Society Open Science, the two deconstruct the assumptions behind possible reasonings, and examine the limitations imposed on the field by avoiding non-White face stimuli.

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Supportive Male Allies Can Make Male-Dominated Workplaces Less Hostile For Women

By Emily Reynolds

Despite much work to counter unequal workforces in science, technology, engineering and maths, stereotypes about who will succeed in science still abound — and some research suggests that these biases can actively put people off certain careers or fields. Other papers find that the competitive nature of STEM courses and roles can be particularly damaging, leading to low feelings of belonging and subsequent low retention rates for minority groups.

A new paper looks at the role of men in countering hostile environments — in particular, how men can signal their support and respect for women colleagues. Over three studies, the University of Kansas team found that supportive male allies helped reduce feelings of isolation and hostility for their women colleagues, potentially offering a new way to combat inequality in STEM.

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“Drinking To Cope” Doesn’t Work, Even When We Believe That It Does

By Emma Young

Have you ever felt a little anxious or low, and decided that a beer or a glass of wine would help? If so, you’re hardly alone. This exact thought process must play across the country every night of the week. There’s been surprisingly little solid research, though, into whether alcohol does actually relieve these negative feelings. Now new work led by Andrea M Wycoff at the University of Missouri-Columbia, US, concludes that in fact, it does not — and that people who “drink to cope” can even make their symptoms worse.

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If You Want To Enjoy Leisure Time, Don’t Think Of It As Wasteful

By Emily Reynolds

However you like to take time for yourself, from reading to hiking to playing video games, leisure time can be a vital way of relaxing, promoting good mental and physical health, boosting social relationships, and inducing happiness. But whether we fully experience those benefits, a new study suggests, may depend on the way we view leisure time itself.

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, explores how the enjoyment of leisure time changes when or if we think of that time as ‘wasteful’. It not only finds that people who believe leisure time is unproductive find it less enjoyable, but also that these beliefs are associated with depression, anxiety, and stress.

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The “Maybe Favour”: We More Readily Commit To Helping A Stranger If We Might Not Have To Follow Through

By Emma Young

Imagine that a neighbour asks for a favour — to help move some garden furniture at the weekend, say. Now imagine that, instead, they explain that they’d lined up a friend to help, but that friend has become ill, and you’ll only be required if they’re not better in time.

Rather than a firm favour, this second scenario involves what the authors of a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied dub a “maybe favour”. And, Michael K. Zurn at the University of Cologne and colleagues report, we are more likely to agree to grant these favours than ones that we know for sure we’ll have to come good on. This might not be surprising in itself — but the team goes on to show that exploiting the “maybe favour” effect could have big implications for society.

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Episode 28: Why Songs Get Stuck In Our Heads

This is Episode 28 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.

Why do some songs get stuck in our heads? In this episode, our presenter Ginny Smith explores the psychology of earworms. Ginny hears about the possible evolutionary reasons for why we experience the phenomenon, learns what earworms can teach us about memory — and finds out how to get rid of them.

Our guests, in order of appearance, are Kelly Jakubowski, assistant professor of music psychology at Durham University; Petr Janata, professor of psychology at the University of California, Davis; and Michael K. Scullin, associate professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University.

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Scared Of Spiders? There’s An App For That

By Emma L. Barratt

Specific phobias are incredibly common. According to estimates, around 3‒15% of people will develop one in their lifetime, the majority of whom won’t seek treatment. Phobias can manifest around a huge number of stimuli, such as lightning, dentists, and — most commonly — animals such as spiders.

Although exposure therapy is well established and is very effective at reducing fear and anxiety in those with specific phobias, not many end up accessing treatment. Unsurprisingly, the certainty of being exposed to terrifying things doesn’t entice many people. Even those who do make it into a therapeutic setting are also quite likely to drop out due to the extreme fear caused by these controlled exposures.

However, modern technology may help us to sidestep these issues entirely. Anja Zimmer and team at the University of Basel and Saarland University believe that the solution may lie in augmented reality.

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A Jekyll And Hyde Emotion? Research On Anger, Digested

By Emma Young

At times, it feels that the world is awash with anger.  From the streets of Taliban-controlled Afghanistan to any form of social media you’d care to mention, anger and outrage are seemingly everywhere. New research helps to reveal why this is. It also reveals anger to be itself a Jekyll and Hyde emotion — if we can rid ourselves of the dark, destructive side, what is left can act as a force for good. 

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We’re More Likely To Steal From Large Groups Than From Individuals

By Emma L. Barratt

We’re all aware of the financial disparity that plagues our economic systems. Many of those at the top of large corporations seem content to exploit large groups of people for their own significant financial gain.

Strangely, this is somewhat at odds with previous research in behavioural economics, which tends to find that people are generally quite prosocial, honest, and overall unwilling to steal considerable amounts from others. From results like these, it’s difficult to piece together exactly how we’ve arrived at such levels of financial inequality.

Psychologists have floated a number of potential explanations for this phenomenon. Perhaps those who end up rich have innately higher levels of psychopathy, for example. Or perhaps it’s the case that the cultural norms within certain businesses change the way people make economic decisions. However, new research in Nature Human Behaviour from Carlos Alós-Ferrer and colleagues suggests an alternative explanation: when it comes to acting selfishly, we are much more likely to do it at a grand scale than a small one.

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Only Children Are No More Selfish Than Those With Siblings

By Emma Young

Do you think that an only child behaves differently to a kid with siblings? If you do, you’re hardly alone. Stereotypes about only children being spoiled, self-centred “little emperors” abound. In 2019, though, research in Germany concluded that while the idea that only children are more narcissistic is widespread, it’s wrong. Now a team in China has failed to find any evidence for another of the clichés: that only children are more selfish.

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