How East and West think in profoundly different ways

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-18-20-33Our editor’s pick of this week’s 10 best psychology and neuroscience links:

How East And West Think In Profoundly Different Ways
Psychologists are uncovering the surprising influence of geography on our reasoning, behaviour, and sense of self, writes David Robson at BBC Future.

Mind Maps: The Beauty of Brain Cells in Pictures
The 19th-century Spanish scientist Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the father of modern neuroscience, was one of the first people to unravel the mysteries of the structure of the brain – and he made stunning drawings to describe and explain his discoveries, as shown in this feature from The Guardian.

How To Overcome Unconscious Bias
We all have prejudices we’re not even aware of—but they don’t have to govern our behaviour, by Jordan Axt for Scientific American.

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Detectives on the toll of investigating child deaths: it only gets harder

Abandoned Teddy-bear lying headless on concrete groundBy Alex Fradera

There has been little research into what it’s like for police detectives to investigate the death of a child. As bluntly stated in official police guidance documents “children are not meant to die”, and coping with these circumstances, especially as a detective and parent, could involve emotional and psychological demands beyond those experienced when investigating adult murders.

For a new explorative study in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, Jason Roach and his colleagues surveyed 99 police detectives from 23 forces across England and Wales: most of them were white and male, and they had conducted investigations into an average of 30 adult murders and 7 unexplained child deaths. Compared to dealing with adult homicides, the detectives said they felt more pressure to solve cases involving children, found them harder to deal with emotionally, and thought more about them after the cases had ended.

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A little discussed effect of therapy: it changes your personality

Summer girl and flowersBy Christian Jarrett

Imagine the arrival of some high-tech brain device for treating mental health problems. It’s effective for many, but there’s an important side-effect. It changes your personality. Alarm ensues as campaigners warn that users risk being altered fundamentally for years to come. Now replay this scenario but replace the neuro-gizmo with good old-fashioned psychotherapy, and realise this: we’re talking fact, not fiction. A new meta-analysis in Psychological Bulletin has looked at 207 psychotherapy and related studies published between 1959 and 2013, involving over 20,000 participants, with measures of personality taken repeatedly over time. The analysis has found that just a few weeks of therapy is associated with significant and long-lasting changes in clients’ personalities, especially reductions in the trait of Neuroticism and increases in Extraversion.

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If you like sick jokes, maybe it’s because you’re just so smart

handsome young bearded man laughing, enjoying humor and wellbeingBy Christian Jarrett

Understanding jokes requires a certain amount of mental agility, psychologists tell us, because you need to recognise a sudden shift in meaning, or appreciate the blending of odd contexts that don’t normally go together. A new study in the journal Cognitive Processing has tested whether intelligence plays the same role in the appreciation of sick or black humour: the kind of jokes that make light of death, illness and the vulnerable. Consistent with past research linking intelligence with joke appreciation, the participants who most liked cartoons based on black humour also scored highest on verbal and non-verbal IQ.

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Work stress could be making your commute dangerous

11723980056_c0d5d0b70b_kBy Alex Fradera

British workers spend on average one hour commuting each day, and 57 per cent of commuters make their daily journeys by car. But this is a part of our lives we don’t talk much about, beyond the odd epithet about the traffic; maybe because it’s a strange time, betwixt home and work but not fully either. Potentially, the drive to work is a haven: I recall my mother’s glove compartment crammed with audio books, so she could enjoy those stretches of solo time. But it’s more liable to be caught in a crossfire of worries, fretting about Daniel’s pensive moods at the breakfast table, or anticipating criticisms about the last sales pitch. New research from the University of Haifa suggests these psychological stressors can make our time on the road not just unpleasant, but dangerous as well.

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How did Darwin decide which book to read next?

charles_darwin_seated_crop
A new study published in Cognition blends information theory, cognitive science and personal history

By Christian Jarrett

Between 1837 and 1860 Charles Darwin kept a diary of every book he read, including An Essay on the Principle of Population, Principles of Geology and Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation. There were many others: 687 English non-fiction titles alone, meaning that he averaged one book every ten days. After Darwin finished each one, how did he decide what to read next? In this decision, a scientist like Darwin was confronted with a problem similar to that afflicting the squirrel in search of nuts. Is it better to thoroughly search one area (or topic), or to continually jump to new areas (topics)? Foraging, whether for nuts or information, comes down to a choice between exploitation and exploration. In a new paper in Cognition, a team led by Jaimie Murdock has analysed the contents of the English non-fiction books Darwin read, and the order he read them in, to find out his favoured information-gathering approach and how it changed over time.

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Is creativity something you inherit from your parents?

6930271257_36904725a1_bBy Alex Fradera

Jeb Bush’s failure to secure a Presidential triple-play is memorable perhaps because it’s an exception to a familiar routine: the family dynasty. It’s a routine especially common in the arts, where a writer’s family tree is apt to contain a couple of actors, a director, and maybe a flower arranger to boot. This might simply reflect upbringing – or maybe the powers of nepotism – but creative success also owes to temperament and talents, some of which may have their origins in our genetic makeup. The journal Behavioural Genetics has recently published a heritability study that explores how deeply a creative vocation sits in our DNA.

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Psychology’s Favorite Tool for Measuring Racism Isn’t Up to the Job

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-18-20-33Our editor’s pick of this week’s 10 best psychology and neuroscience links:

Psychology’s Favorite Tool for Measuring Racism Isn’t Up to the Job
Almost two decades after its introduction, the implicit association test has failed to deliver on its lofty promises. By Jesse Singal for New York’s Science of Us.

BPS Response to Theresa May’s Speech on Mental Health
Professor Peter Kinderman, the President of the British Psychological Society, has welcomed Theresa May’s pledge to introduce new measures to improve mental health care.

Do 1 In 4 People Really Have A Mental Illness Right Now?
Theresa May says a quarter of Britons suffer from mental health problems at any given time. But it’s really not clear where that number comes from. By Tom Chivers for Buzz Feed.

The Voices in Our Heads: Why Do People Talk To Themselves And When Does It Become a Problem?
By Jerome Groopman for the New Yorker.

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Replication success correlates with researcher expertise (but not for the reasons you might think)

Old businessman holding his glassesBy Christian Jarrett

During the ongoing “replication crisis” in psychology, in which new attempts to reproduce previously published results have frequently failed, a common claim by the authors of the original work has been that those attempting a replication have lacked sufficient experimental expertise. Part of their argument, as explained recently by Shane Bench and his colleagues in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, is that “just as master chess players and seasoned firefighters develop intuitive expertise that aids their decision making, seasoned experimenters may develop intuitive expertise that influences the ‘micro decisions’ they make about study selection … and data collection.”

To see if there really is any link between researcher expertise and the chances of replication success, Bench and his colleagues have analysed the results of the recent “Reproducibility Project” in which 270 psychologists attempted to replicate 100 previous studies, managing a success rate of less than 40 per cent. Bench’s team found that replication researcher team expertise, as measured by first and senior author’s number of prior publications, was indeed correlated with the size of effect obtained in the replication attempt, but there’s more to the story.

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Why conservatives like to use nouns more than liberals do

Noun conceptBy Christian Jarrett

Our political leanings to the right or left reveal a fundamental aspect of our psyche: how much we’re drawn to stability and security versus change and uncertainty. This manifests in our attitudes and personality traits. For instance, on average, conservatives tend to prefer established hierarchy and are more conscientious. Liberals favour equality and are more open to new experiences. Now in the journal Political Psychology a group led by Aleksandra Cichocka at the University of Kent has extended this line of work by showing the link between political orientation and desire for certainty is reflected at even the most basic of levels: how much we like to use nouns.

Across two initial studies, featuring Polish-speaking survey participants in Poland and Arabic-speaking participants in the Lebanon, the research showed that people with more socially conservative leanings tended to favour nouns over adjectives. For instance, participants with a conservative orientation were more likely to say they’d choose to end the sentence “Magda had no doubts about the success of her business. Magda …” with the noun phrase “is an optimist” than with the adjective phrase “is optimistic”.

This fits with the established link between having a conservative orientation and desiring stability because using a noun to describe someone implies more certainty and permanence about their state of being (past research has shown that even five-year-olds infer more permanence from noun descriptions than adjectival descriptions). Indeed, in the new surveys, the link between conservatism and noun preference seemed to be explained by participants’ relative “need for structure” with high scorers on this measure expressing a dislike of ambiguity.

Cichocka and her colleagues, including John Jost at New York University who is responsible for much of the research in this field, also analysed 101 key speeches delivered by 13 US Presidents, from Roosevelt’s Inaugural Address through to Obama’s State of the Union Address in 2014. They found speeches by Republican presidents featured a greater proportion of nouns compared with their Democrat counterparts.

Overall, the researchers said their results “are compatible with previous work suggesting that language reflects, among other things, the individual’s goals and motives, including his or her political goals.”

On the Grammar of Politics—or Why Conservatives Prefer Nouns

Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest