Video Games And Computer-Like Brains: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

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Our weekly round-up of the best psychology coverage from elsewhere on the web

The idea that the brain operates like a computer is the latest in a long line of metaphors that scientists have used to try and understand how the organ works. But could that comparison actually be hindering our understanding? In a longread in The Guardian, Matthew Cobb explores the limits of the brain-as-computer metaphor.

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Liberals And Conservatives Feel Moral Outrage In Different Parts Of The Body — But There’s Also A Lot Of Overlap

By Emily Reynolds

There are lots of differences between those who express opposing political affiliations — and they may not just be ideological. Liberals and conservatives have different shopping habits, for instance, with one series of studies finding that liberals preferred products that made them feel unique, whilst conservatives picked brands that made them feel better than others. They even view health risks differently when they’re choosing what to eat.

But could there also be physiological differences between liberals and conservatives? Some evidence seems to suggest this might be the case, though as we reported earlier this month past findings, such as differences in physiological responses to fear, may not be as solid as previously thought. However, new research in Psychological Science has found that people of different political affiliations may differ in another way: where in the body they feel emotions relating to moral concerns. Continue reading “Liberals And Conservatives Feel Moral Outrage In Different Parts Of The Body — But There’s Also A Lot Of Overlap”

Bullies And Their Victims Show Different Patterns Of Brain Activity To Emotional Faces

By Emma Young

An estimated one quarter to one half of adolescents will at some point either be a victim of bullying, or engage in it — or both. Whether you’re on the receiving end, or dealing it out, there are all kinds of associated negative implications for mental health and well-being, including distress, depression and anxiety.  “This highlights an important need to understand the predictors of bullying and victimisation, in order to identify ways to reduce these experiences in adolescents,” write the researchers behind a new study, published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. And this research has revealed one such factor: both bullies and victims show differences in the brain’s response to angry and fearful faces.

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People Who Watch More TV Find Thinner Women More Attractive, Even In Remote Nicaraguan Communities

By Emma Young

What makes for an attractive female body? Whatever your views on this, across cultures, and socioeconomic groups in particular, there are some differences in opinion.

Western media, with its promotion of “thin ideals”, has been cited as an influence on attitudes. But the only way to really explore this is to study groups of people who are very similar, except that some have been exposed to Western media, while others have not. Needless to say, this isn’t easy. However, a team led by Lynda Boothroyd at the University of Durham has now published just such a set of studies in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Their data suggests that TV exposure does indeed drive both men and women towards finding thinner female bodies more attractive.

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Knowing When A Task Is Going To End Makes Us Better At It

By Emily Reynolds

Deadlines, though stressful, can be a pretty good motivator. Knowing you have to submit some work by a particular date can make it easier to get things done; you simply have to get on with it. This also goes for non-professional deadlines — trying to get in shape by the time you run a specific race, for example, can be a lot more motivating than a more vague and nebulous desire to get fit.

But why is this the case? Maayan Katzir and colleagues at Tel Aviv University have investigated the phenomenon in a new paper, recently published in Cognition — and they suggest it may be down to how we conserve and use effort. Continue reading “Knowing When A Task Is Going To End Makes Us Better At It”

Brainy Bumblebees And The Uncanny Valley: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

Our weekly round-up of the best psychology coverage from elsewhere on the web

When creating cute creatures for movies, designers and animators must walk a fine line to avoid falling into the uncanny valley. Baby-like features — big eyes, large heads, round faces — can be appealing, writes Allyssia Alleyne at Wired. But make your character too human and it can look horrific, because we start to see it as one of our own kind, flaws and all.

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Speaking “Parentese” With Young Children Can Boost Their Language Development

By Emily Reynolds

Language learning can be a matter of much concern for new parents, who often worry about what their baby is saying, how they’re saying it, and when. With previous research suggesting that frequent verbal engagement with babies can boost vocabulary and reading comprehension, this preoccupation is not without merit. But even those parents who aren’t too fixated on baby’s first word may in fact be improving their offspring’s language, even if they’re not aware of it.

A form of speech dubbed “parentese” may be a key factor in improving language learning in infants, a new study in PNAS has suggested. Naja Ferjan Ramírez and colleagues from the University of Washington examined the distinctive form of sing-song speech often aimed at babies, finding that it improved conversation between parents and their children and even boosted language development.

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Siblings Who Believe Their Family Has A Lower Social Standing Are More Likely To Experience Mental Health Difficulties

By guest blogger Sofia Deleniv

Most of us are not surprised to hear that a child’s chances of achieving success, physical health, and mental well-being depend heavily on the socioeconomic status of the family into which they are born. A large-scale global study commissioned by the World Health Organisation found that the lower the income of a family, the more likely their child is to suffer physical and mental health issues later in life, run into problems with the legal system, and die early.

But a physical lack of resources may not be the only factor driving poor outcomes. Last month, a study published in PNAS revealed that children’s perceptions of their family’s socioeconomic standing might matter more than how well their families are actually doing — at least when it comes to their mental health.

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Why Some People Find It Harder To Drag Themselves To Bed At Night

By Emily Reynolds

You’re exhausted. You’ve had a long day at work before coming home to make dinner, do some chores and relax, and now it’s time for bed. But for some reason — despite the fact you’ve been struggling to stay awake all day — you can’t quite bring yourself to stop what you’re doing and go to sleep.

If this sounds familiar, you’ll be pleased to hear that you’re not the only one who lacks willpower when it’s time to go to bed. It’s so widespread, in fact, that Katharina Bernecker from the Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien and Veronika Job at the Technical University of Dresden have investigated what could be driving the phenomenon in a new paper published in the British Journal of Psychology.

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Sexist Ideologies May Help Cultivate The “Dark Triad” Of Personality Traits

By Emma Young

The “dark triad” of personality traits — narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism — do not make for the nicest individuals. People who score highly on the dark triad are vain, callous and manipulative. They adopt a so-called “fast-life” strategy, characterised by impulsivity, opportunism and selfishness. Such individuals can succeed in the workplace, while failing to get on with others. They’re also more likely to cheat on their partners, and are deemed more alluring in speed-dating sessions.

Though these traits can bring advantages to the individual, they are clearly detrimental to those around them. So it’s important to understand what fosters them. Could particular attitudes in society, for example, help to encourage these dark traits?

A new study, published in Personality and Individual Differences, concludes that this may in fact be the case. Melissa Gluck at the University of Florida and her colleagues gathered evidence suggesting that sexism — “and the socially-supported, unearned male power and privilege that sexism reflects” — is linked to higher scores on measures of the dark triad. “If scholars can demonstrate that these malevolent traits are partly learned by growing up in sexist cultures, agents of personal and social change can help people recognise, understand, alter and replace these malevolent aspects of humanity,” the researchers write.

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