Can attachment theory help explain the relationship some people have with their “anorexia voice”?

GettyImages-507801456.jpgBy Alex Fradera

A new paper in Psychology and Psychotherapy: Theory, Research and Practice argues that the relationship a person has with their eating disorder is shaped by that person’s understanding of what meaningful relationships should look like – and, in turn, this can have important consequences for the severity of their disorder.

In particular, Emma Forsén Mantilla and her team from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden wanted to better understand eating disorders through “attachment theory”. This is the idea that relationships with primary caregivers become scripts that we lean on to tell us how relationships “work”. 

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UK study finds children with maths difficulties (SLDM/dyscalculia) far less likely to receive an official diagnosis than their peers with dyslexia

GettyImages-637223078.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Given how important maths skills are in everyday life, it is vital that we develop ways to reliably identify those children with particular learning difficulties related to maths (known as “specific learning disorder in mathematics”/SLDM or dyscalculia) so that they can be provided with appropriate support. Unfortunately, maths-related learning problems are far less understood and recognised compared with similar problems related to reading and language.

A recent study in the British Journal of Psychology highlights this issue, being the first to estimate the prevalence of SLDM/dyscalculia in primary school age children using contemporary criteria (as outlined by the American Psychiatric Association in the latest version of its diagnostic manual). The results provide much needed data on this topic, reveal some worrying facts and also useful insights for policy.

Continue reading “UK study finds children with maths difficulties (SLDM/dyscalculia) far less likely to receive an official diagnosis than their peers with dyslexia”

Who likes to be alone? Not introverts, according to a new paper on personality and the experience of solitude

GettyImages-910786956.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Why do some people go to great lengths to have the chance to spend time by themselves, while others find solitude painful and forever crave company? The most obvious answer would seem to be that it relates to differences in social aspects of personality, and specifically that extraverts will find solitude painful while introverts will enjoy their own company more than anyone else’s. However, a new paper, published as a pre-print at PsyArXiv (not yet peer-reviewed), and involving three diary studies with hundreds of undergrad volunteers, suggests the truth is more complicated.

In fact, there was no evidence that introverts enjoyed solitude more than extraverts. Rather, the most important trait related to liking one’s own company was having strong “dispositional autonomy”. This is a concept from self-determination theory and the researchers, led by Thuy-vy T. Nguyen at the University of Rochester, said that people strong in this trait have alignment between their behaviour, values and interests, are “resistant to pressure from others”, and “are interested in learning more about their personal experiences and emotions”. High scorers in autonomy enjoyed solitude more than others and sought it out for its own sake.

Continue reading “Who likes to be alone? Not introverts, according to a new paper on personality and the experience of solitude”

New study of trash talking in sport highlights that it is more than a physical contest

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BERLIN – JULY 06: Zinedine Zidane (L) of France exchanges words with Andrea Pirlo of Italy, after headbutting Marco Materazzi of Italy in the chest during the FIFA World Cup Final in Germany. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

By Christian Jarrett

Alongside the physical jostle, thrust and tug of sport there is a parallel contest involving words. Although this trash talking between players before, during and after games is well known, it is surprisingly unstudied by psychologists. Yet these exchanges play a major role, arguably swinging the outcome of games. Consider an infamous example: the 2006 football world cup final in which Italy’s Marco Materazzi insulted the sister or mother (depending on whose account you believe) of France’s star player Zinadine Zidane, who in turn responded by head butting Materazzi. Zidane was then sent off, with Italy going on to win the game on penalties.

Is trash talking more prevalent in some sports than others? What does trash talk tend to be about? A new exploratory paper in Human Nature is among the first systematic investigations of trash talking in sport, and certainly the first to examine the phenomenon through an evolutionary lens.

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Women who practice submissive BDSM displayed reduced empathy and an atypical neural response to other people’s pain

GettyImages-844099546.jpgBy Alex Fradera

We all differ in how much empathic brain activity we experience in response to witnessing somebody else in pain. For instance, hospital physicians, who are regularly exposed to other people’s suffering, tend to show a dampened response – perhaps a pragmatic necessity to cope in the job, and might along the way explain the blasé gallows humour seen in the profession. If these differences are found within a job, perhaps they also occur within a lifestyle choice, such as one that involves playing with and consenting to painful activities, such as bondage, discipline, dominance, submission, sadism, and masochism, typically abbreviated to BDSM.

As they report in Neuropsychologia, Siyang Luo at Sun Yat-Sen University and Xiao Zhang at Jinan University explored this issue by first running a preliminary online study on a Chinese BDSM web forum, finding that across genders and BDSM roles, female submissives showed the clearest differences from controls in terms of their having a diminished response to other people’s pain and lower scores on aspects of an empathy questionnaire. (Female doms didn’t show a reliably different response to pain, and male BDSM practitioners barely differed from controls.)

Continue reading “Women who practice submissive BDSM displayed reduced empathy and an atypical neural response to other people’s pain”

Are educational neuromyths actually harmful? Award-winning teachers believe in nearly as many of them as trainees

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The researchers said the idea that neuromyths harm teaching may itself be a neuromyth

By Christian Jarrett

Educational neuromyths include the idea that we learn more effectively when taught via our preferred “learning style”, such as auditory or visual or kinesthetic (hear more about this in our recent podcast); the claim that we use only 10 per cent of our brains; and the idea we can be categorised into left-brain and right-brain learners. Belief in such myths is rife among teachers around the world, according to several surveys published over the last ten years. But does this matter? Are the myths actually harmful to teaching? The researchers who conducted the surveys believe so. For instance, reporting their survey results in 2012, Sanne Dekker and her colleagues concluded that “This [belief in neuromyths] is troublesome, as these teachers in particular may implement wrong brain-based ideas in educational practice”. (Full disclosure: I’ve made similar arguments myself.)

But now this view has been challenged by a team at the University of Melbourne, led by Jared Horvath, who have pointed out that this is merely an assumption: “Put simply,” they write in their new paper in Frontiers in Psychology, “there is no evidence to suggest neuromyths have any impact whatsoever on teacher efficacy or practice”.

Horvath’s team tested the assumption that belief in neuromyths harms teaching by comparing belief in the neuromyths among 50 award-winning teachers from the UK, USA and Australia with the belief in these same myths shown by hundreds of trainee and non-award-winning teachers (as recorded in the earlier surveys) – the logic being that if belief in neuromyths has an adverse effect on teaching then presumably the award-winning teachers will show significantly lower rates of endorsement of the myths than their less celebrated counterparts.

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Virtual reality research finds large sex difference in navigational efficiency

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Men took more shortcuts and reached their target location faster (via Boone et al, 2018)

By Emma Young

After spending a day exploring a new city and it’s time to return to your hotel, do you tend to rely on landmarks and routes that you’ve learned, or do you consult a “mental map” that you’ve created of the area, to try to devise a short-cut back? If you’re a man, you’re more likely to try the latter – whereas women tend to use routes they know, according to a new paper in Memory and Cognition by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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The first study to explore what cisgender kids think of their transgender peers

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Cisgender kids who categorised their transgender peers by natal sex also showed less liking of them, mirroring similar findings with adults

By Christian Jarrett

With an increasing number of young children transitioning socially to the gender opposite to their birth sex, and with rates of bullying and discrimination against transgender youth known to be high, researchers say it is important that we begin to understand more about how cisgender children (those whose gender identity matches their biological sex at birth) view their transgender peers. A new paper in the Journal of Cognition and Development is the first to explore the issue.

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Can hallucinations lead to post-traumatic growth?

GettyImages-586368522.jpgBy Alex Fradera

If you contemplate how a person’s life would be changed by starting to hear or see things others can’t, can you imagine it could offer anything good? A research team from Hull university and the surrounding NHS trusts suggest that among the tumult, hallucinations can also offer opportunities for growth. Writing in the Journal of Psychology and Psychotherapy, lead author Lily Dixon and her team detail the experiences of seven people who have lived with verbal or auditory hallucinations and how, amid the struggles, their journeys have taken them to some positive places.

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Super altruists (who’ve donated a kidney to a stranger) show heightened empathic brain activity when witnessing strangers in pain

GettyImages-160194832.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

From an evolutionary perspective, altruistic behaviour is still a bit of mystery to psychologists, especially when it comes with a hefty cost to the self and is aimed at complete strangers.

One explanation is that altruism is driven by empathy – experiencing other people’s distress the same way as, or similar to, how we experience our own. However, others have criticized this account – most notably psychologist Paul Bloom, author of Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion. Their reasons are many, but among them is the fact that our empathy tends to be greatest for people who are most similar to us, which would argue against empathy driving the kind of altruism that involves the giver making personal sacrifices for strangers.

Hindering research into this topic is the challenge of measuring empathy objectively and devising a reliable laboratory measure of altruism (including one that overcomes most volunteers’ natural inclination to want to present themselves as morally good).

A new study in Psychological Science overcomes these obstacles by using a neural measure of empathy and by testing a rare group of people whose altruistic credentials are second to none: individuals who have donated one of their kidneys to a complete stranger.

Continue reading “Super altruists (who’ve donated a kidney to a stranger) show heightened empathic brain activity when witnessing strangers in pain”