It’s all the cuddling – psychologists explore why people who have more sex are happier

Overhead young romantic couple hugging.By Christian Jarrett

An impressive amount of research has linked frequency of sex with greater happiness. One study even put a monetary estimate on it. They said that the happiness spurt from having sex once a week compared with monthly is similar to the boost you’d get from earning an extra $50,000 a year (though for anything more frequent than weekly sex, the benefits seemed to tail off).

Asking if and why more sex makes us happier may sound like asking the blindingly obvious, but of course a lot of pleasurable activities don’t have long-term emotional benefits; it’s also tricky to rule out the simple alternative possibility that we’re more likely to have sex if we’re happy.

In a series of studies in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, psychologists in Switzerland and Canada have looked beyond the immediate bliss that sex can bring, and they say that the main reason that more sex seems to contribute to greater long-term happiness is because of all the cuddling (and other expressions of affection) that’s involved, both at the time, and for hours afterwards.

In Talking It Over, Julian Barnes writes that “Love is just a system for getting someone to call you darling after sex”; this new research suggests that sex is a system for getting someone you love to call you darling, and to give you a big cuddle.

Continue reading “It’s all the cuddling – psychologists explore why people who have more sex are happier”

The Case for Shyness +9 more of the week’s best psychology links

screen-shot-2016-09-09-at-18-20-33Our editor’s pick of the 10 best psychology and neuroscience links from the last week or so:

The Case For Shyness
“Joe Moran’s book Shrinking Violets is a sweeping history that doubles as a (quiet) defense of timidity,” says Megan Garber at The Atlantic.

Andrew Marr: My Brain and Me (BBC TV Documentary)
After suffering a life-threatening stroke four years ago, the broadcaster and political journalist Andrew Marr quickly regained his ability to speak and was able to resume work. But he is still frustrated by lack of movement in his left arm, hand and leg. In this very intimate story, Andrew is on a mission to understand the mysteries of the human brain and to achieve further recovery.

Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds
New discoveries about the human mind show the limitations of reason.

Continue reading “The Case for Shyness +9 more of the week’s best psychology links”

There’s such a thing as “autism camouflaging” and it might explain why some people are diagnosed so late

A man looking into the cloudsBy guest blogger Helge Hasselmann

While autism is usually diagnosed in childhood, some people remain “off the radar” for a long time and only receive a diagnosis much later. One possible reason is that they have learned socially appropriate behaviours, effectively camouflaging their social difficulties, including maintaining eye contact during conversations, memorising jokes or imitating facial expressions.

This pattern of behaviour could have serious consequences for the lives of some people with autism. It is easy to imagine that camouflaging demands significant cognitive effort, leading to mental exhaustion over time, and in extreme cases perhaps also contributing to anxiety and depression.

If there are gender differences in camouflaging, this could also help explain the well-known male preponderance in autism spectrum disorders. At least part of the gender imbalance may, in fact, stem from an under-diagnosis of autism in girls because they are better at “masking” symptoms.

Before now, autism camouflaging has not been studied in a systematic and standardised manner: a recent open-access study in the journal Autism, by Meng-Chuan Lai and his colleagues, is the first to offer an operationalisation of camouflaging, which they define as the discrepancy between internal and external states in social-interpersonal contexts. For instance, if an autistic person maintains eye contact during a conversation because they have learnt that this is socially appropriate, even though this clashes with how they really want to behave, this would be an example of camouflaging.

Continue reading “There’s such a thing as “autism camouflaging” and it might explain why some people are diagnosed so late”

Could the way we talk to children help them remember their science lessons?

Little scientistBy Christian Jarrett

When a parent asks their child plenty of “who?”, “what?”, “when?”, “where?”, “why?” questions, encourages them to go into detail and includes open-ended questions, psychologists call this an elaborative style. Past research has shown that children with parents like this tend to remember more experiences from their lives (the opposite parental style is to ask fewer questions in general, and to ask questions that only need a short, basic response). More specific studies have found that parents’ elaborative chat can also help their children remember museum visits.

A new study in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology is the first to apply this line of research to young children’s memories of a recent science lesson. The findings provide tentative evidence that conversing with a child in an elaborative way could help them remember more about their lesson.

Continue reading “Could the way we talk to children help them remember their science lessons?”

Taking a selfie could dent your self-esteem, unless you share it

dog selfie in bedBy Alex Fradera

Taking selfies makes us feel self-conscious and sends tremors through our self-esteem, according to new research published in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences. One group of undergraduates at Yonsei University in Seoul used their phone’s camera to take a selfie, while a control group photographed a cup on a desk. Afterwards selfie takers showed signs of increased social sensitivity, at least according to a test that involved detecting the direction of arrows on a computer screen. The arrows appeared in locations previously occupied by the features of a face and the idea was that participants would be more focused on these facial features, and thus quicker to detect the arrows, if they were in a socially vigilant state.

The fact that selfie takers showed enhanced social sensitivity (they were quicker to detect the arrows) is consistent with the way that our social sensitivity goes up when we are in front of a mirror or when someone else points a video camera at us, making us acutely aware of the imperfections we have on show.

The researchers, graduate students at the university, used this indirect measure to assess social sensitivity because they thought people might not respond honestly if they were simply asked how they were feeling.

In a similar vein, the researchers used an indirect measure to test if taking a selfie affected participants’ self-esteem, specifically whether it shrunk their written signature compared to its size at the start of the study (past research has linked bigger signatures with greater self-esteem). It did, but only for selfies not posted to social media, but simply saved to the phone. The authors speculated that the act of taking a selfie hurts self-esteem by bringing feelings about personal imperfections to the fore, but this wound can be salved through the self-promotional aspect of sharing your image to the wider world. On this reading, selfie-taking is a self-esteem rollercoaster, one that might put you back more or less where you started.

Selfie and self: The effect of selfies on self-esteem and social sensitivity

Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) is Contributing Writer at BPS Research Digest

Resist or avoid? Sad study suggests bullying victims are on their own either way

Office workers gossiping behind a worker who looks downcastBy Alex Fradera

Workplace bullying can corrode organisations and wreck individual lives. Research has revealed more and more about effects on victims and the motives of the perpetrators. But bullying is often a performance that demands an audience: you can’t ostracise someone from an empty room, or gossip about them to the wind. So it’s worth looking at the third ingredient in the bullying mix: the bystander. New research in the Journal of Social Psychology takes on this task, looking at the factors that dispose a bystander against bullying victims, and what might encourage them to step in and help.

Continue reading “Resist or avoid? Sad study suggests bullying victims are on their own either way”

Episode 9: How To Get The Best From Your Team

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Image via Julianne/Flickr

This is Episode 9 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.


Can psychology help us work together better in teams? Our presenter Christian Jarrett hears about the benefits of appointing a “meta-knowledge champion” for the team, making sure everyone has contact with the team’s “extra miler”, and why you should think carefully about the physical space that you do your teamwork in.

Our guests in order of appearance: Dr Julija Mell (Essec Business School), Dr Alex Fradera (Research Digest writer), and Dr Katherine Greenaway (University of Queensland).

Studies discussed in the episode:

Episode credits: Presented and produced by Dr Christian Jarrett. Mixing and editing Jeff Knowler. Vox pops Ella Rhodes. PsychCrunch theme music Catherine Loveday and Jeff Knowler. Additional music Zander Sehkri/Zeroday Productions (via Pond5). Art work Tim Grimshaw.

Check out this episode!

Subscribe and download via iTunes.
Subscribe and download via Stitcher.
Subscribe and listen on Spotify.

Past episodes:

Episode one: Dating and Attraction.
Episode two: Breaking Bad Habits.
Episode three: How to Win an Argument.
Episode four: The Psychology of Gift Giving.
Episode five: How To Learn a New Language.
Episode six: How To Be Sarcastic 😉
Episode seven: Use Psychology To Compete Like an Olympian.
Episode eight: Can We Trust Psychological Studies?

PsychCrunch is sponsored by Routledge Psychology.

PsychCrunch Banner April 16

Routledge interviewed PsychCrunch presenter Christian Jarrett about the aims of the podcast and engaging with the public about psychology research.

Textbook fail: Rosenhan’s classic “On Being Sane In Insane Places” covered without criticism

16373344899_be8f8a89e1_bBy Christian Jarrett

Back in the 1970s, eight mentally well people, including psychologist David Rosenhan, presented themselves at psychiatric hospitals, where they showed signs of mild anxiety and complained of auditory hallucinations, specifically words like “empty” and “hollow”. All were admitted and either diagnosed with schizophrenia or, in one case, manic depression, and, despite acting “normal” after arrival, they were kept in hospital for an average of 19 days. On discharge all were described as having schizophrenia (or depression) “in remission”.

This was Rosenhan’s classic study “On Being Sane in Insane Places” which he claimed showed the stigmatising power of psychiatric labels and the inability of psychiatric staff to distinguish normality from supposed abnormality, as have many others since.

But from a methodological perspective, the study was problematic for a number of reasons and Rosenhan’s interpretation has been hotly disputed. In their highly regarded book on psychology myths, Scott Lilienfeld and his co-authors discuss the problem with Rosenhan’s study at length, such as the fact that in the 70s “in remission” was a very rare discharge diagnosis that actually showed psychiatric staff had realised the “pseudo patients” were mentally well.

Ultimately, Lilienfeld et al argue that it is a myth that “psychiatric labels cause harm by stigmatising people” and that the overly gullible interpretation of the Rosenhan study has helped propagate this myth. Others may disagree, but it’s at least fair to say that Rosenhan’s study had serious issues and that not all psychologists agree that psychiatric labels are in themselves harmful (consider too research that’s found that while clients say psychiatric labels can be difficult to deal with, they can also be beneficial in some ways, in terms of helping them understand their experiences and helping them to access appropriate treatments).

So, how is this classic study covered in textbooks relating to clinical psychology and mental health (the sub-discipline usually referred to on university courses as “abnormal psychology”)? In a new survey of 12 contemporary abnormal psych textbooks in the journal Teaching of Psychology, Jared Bartels and Daniel Peters found that half of them still give space to Rosenhan’s flawed study, but only two include any criticism or alternative interpretation of it at all.

This is a small survey and we’re not told the titles of the books, but the findings suggest that the problem of uncritical textbook coverage of social psychology’s classic, myth-like studies, such as the Stanford Prison Experiment and Milgram’s “obedience research”, may also extend to the realm of classic mental health-related research. Is it that textbook authors are unaware of the criticisms of the Rosenhan study? Possibly, although Bartels and Peters surmise that perhaps authors know of the issues and alternative interpretations, but that these “shortcomings … are considered less important than the edifying message of the stigmatising effect of labels”.

Coverage of Rosenhan’s “On Being Sane in Insane Places” in Abnormal Psychology Textbooks

Image via Flickr/Freaktography

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

 

Concerning study says psychotherapy research has a problem with undeclared researcher bias

sharp riseBy Alex Fradera

When a good doctor encounters research comparing the effectiveness of drugs A and B, she knows to beware the fact that B was created by the people paying the researchers’ salaries. Pharmaceutical industry funding can be complex, but the general principle of declaring financial conflicts of interest is now embedded in medical research culture. Unfortunately, research into psychological therapies doesn’t yet seem to have got its house in order in an equivalent way. That’s according to a new open access article in the journal BMJ Open which suggests that, while there is less risk in this field of financially-based conflicts, researchers may be particularly vulnerable to non-financial biases, a problem that hasn’t been adequately acknowledged until now.

Continue reading “Concerning study says psychotherapy research has a problem with undeclared researcher bias”

We’re seeking a writer to join our team!

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-14-45-40Psychology blogger sought

The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog, which keeps hundreds of thousands of people abreast of the latest exciting findings in psychology, is seeking an additional writer. This is a paid staff position, initially on a six-month contract, for seven hours per week. Salary is £32,612 pro-rata, and benefits include paid holiday and access to the Society’s pension scheme.

Although based remotely, you’ll work closely with the Research Digest editor to produce six engaging reports on new psychology studies each month, in a style that entertains and educates. You will show readers how the findings are relevant to their lives, but without resorting to hype. Where appropriate, you should have the confidence and competence to criticise studies.  As one of our writers, you’ll have the satisfaction of seeing your work reach our large international audience and get picked up by the world’s biggest publications, from The Guardian to New York Magazine.

Ideally you will already have experience writing about psychology or related fields for the public. And we’ll also need to see documentation that demonstrates your right to work in the UK; further information can be found on the Job Vacancies page on the Society website.

To apply, please send a short email to christianjarrett@gmail.com with the subject line “Psychology Blogger”, explaining why you are the right person for this role. Include links or attachments representing three examples of your work.

The deadline is noon (GMT) 10 March.