“Animal hoarding” may provide comfort to people who struggle to form relationships

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Consistent with the cultural archetype of a “cat lady”, two thirds of the animal hoarders were women

By Alex Fradera

The latest version of psychiatry’s principal diagnostic manual (the DSM-V) defines Hoarding Disorder as a psychopathology where the collection of items significantly impacts the person’s functioning, as they find it difficult and indeed painful to discard the items, creating congestion within the home and encouraging poor hygiene and accidents. However not only objects, but also living things can be collected pathologically, popularly enshrined in the notion of a “cat lady”. According to the psychiatric manual, this is just a special case of hoarding. But a team of psychologists from the Brazilian state of Rio Grande has investigated people who hoard animals, and in their new paper in Psychiatry Research they make the case that it ought to be considered a distinct illness.

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For people in Japan, happiness isn’t associated with better health

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In the USA but not Japan, more positive emotions correlated with a healthier cholesterol profile (low ratio of total cholesterol to “good”/HDC cholesterol); from Yoo et al 2017

By Emma Young

Feeling positive emotions is good for your physical health, right? There’s certainly evidence in support of the idea. But it’s mostly come from studies of people living in Western countries. Now a study published in Psychological Science, concludes that for people in Japan, it may not be the case.

While positive emotions, like happiness, are seen as a good thing in the US, UK, and elsewhere in Europe, the picture is different in east Asia: they aren’t seen being as necessarily desirable, and negative emotions aren’t considered to be all that bad. As the researchers, led by Jiah Yoo at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, US, write in their introduction: “No study to date has directly compared the biological correlates of positive affect across cultures.”

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Conspirators in their own memory loss – findings from 53 patients with “psychogenic amnesia”

27915675_5e0d733aae_b.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

A person diagnosed with psychogenic amnesia complains of serious memory problems, sometimes even forgetting who they are, without there being any apparent physical reason for their symptoms – in other words, their condition seems to be purely psychological.

It’s a fascinating, controversial diagnosis with roots dating back to Freud’s, Breuer’s and Charcot’s ideas about hysteria and how emotional problems sometimes manifest in dramatic physical ways. Today, some experts doubt that psychogenic amnesia is a real phenomenon, reasoning that there is either an undetected physical cause or the patient is fabricating their memory symptoms.

In a new paper in Brain, a team of British neuropsychologists has reported their findings from a study of 53 patients diagnosed with psychogenic amnesia – one of the largest ever studies of its kind. Michael Kopelman at Kings College, London, and his colleagues conclude that the prognosis (that is, the scope and speed of recovery) for psychogenic amnesia is better than previously realised and that there appear to be four main categories of the condition.

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Children of today are better at delaying gratification than previous generations

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From Protzko / OSF, 2017
By Christian Jarrett

If you believed the copious alarmist commentary in the newspapers, you’d fear for the future of our species. Today’s children, we’re told, are more hyperactive and technology addicted than ever before. They’ve lost any ability to sit still, instead craving constant stimulation from digital devices and exhausted parents.

What might this mean for their performance on the most famous psychological measure of childhood self-control, Walter Mischel’s Marshmallow Test? Surely, kids of today will struggle far more than previous generations to resist the lure of one marshmallow (or other treat) now for the promise of two in ten minutes or so, as the task requires? In a new survey, the majority of child development experts certainly believed so.

Yet based on his analysis of 50 years worth of performance data on the Marshmallow Test – released as a preprint at the Open Science Framework – John Protzko at the University of California, Santa Barbara, concludes that in fact children of today are capable of more self-restraint than previous generations, with their ability to delay gratification having increased by about a minute per decade over the last 50 years.

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Contrary to media hype, new review says learning a second language won’t protect you from dementia

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Neurons with amyloid plaques – a pathological feature of Alzheimer’s disease

By Alex Fradera

Some brains struck by pathology seem to stave off its effects thanks to a “cognitive reserve”: a superior use of mental resources that may be related to the way we use our brains over a lifetime, for instance through high levels of education or, possibly, learning a second language.

Bilingual people certainly seem to use their brains differently. For example, practice at switching languages has been associated with enhanced mental control. It’s even been claimed that being bilingual can stave off dementia by up to four or five years.

If true, this would have serious implications for public policy – learning a second language would be as much a desirable health behaviour as it is an educational or cultural one. But are the brain benefits of bilingualism real? The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease has published a systematic review and meta-analysis to establish the strength of the evidence base.

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Women know better than men what other women are thinking and feeling

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Interaction effect of perceiver and target gender on mindreading performance, from Wacker et al, 2017

By Emma Young

If you want to know what a woman is really thinking, ask another woman. That’s the message of a new study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, which was designed to probe our ability to use other people’s posture, facial expressions and behaviours, as well our interpretations of ambiguous statements, to infer what’s going on in their mind – no matter what they’re actually saying.

The research team, led by Renata Wacker at the Free University of Berlin, Germany, recruited 304 women and 241 men, ranging in age from 17 to 70. The volunteers were put through possibly the most irritating – though potentially clinically useful – movie-watching experience imaginable.

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Let’s dial down the hype about grit – new paper finds no association with creative achievement

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Duckworth’s book is a best-seller

By Alex Fradera

In 2007, the University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Duckworth authored a paper on a trait she called “grit” which went on to arrest the attention of anyone interested in the secrets of success. TED talks and a 2016 book followed, wherein Duckworth explained how a combination of passion for a topic, and perseverance in the face of difficulties – the two facets of grit – were the recipe for achievement, a claim borne out by studies within schools and across the lifespan.

In recent years, however, researchers have become more critical of the scope and relevance of the concept. Now an article published in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts, suggests grit gives surprisingly little insight into the world of creative success.

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Autistic boys and girls found to have “hypermasculinised” faces – supporting the Extreme Male Brain theory

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3D image annotated with 21 facial landmarks, from Tan et al, 2017

By Christian Jarrett

According to the Extreme Male Brain theory of autism, there are certain cognitive and behavioural characteristics that manifest more often in men than women, on average, such as a bias for systematic rather than empathic thinking. Autism can be seen as as extreme version of that typical male profile, the theory proposes, possibly caused by prenatal exposure to higher than usual amounts of testosterone in the womb.

A related observation is that exposure to high concentrations of prenatal testosterone leads to the development of “hyper masculine” facial features. It follows that if the Extreme Male Brain theory of autism is accurate, then autistic people will have hypermasculine faces.

A new study in Scientific Reports put this logic to the test, and consistent with the Extreme Male Brain theory, found that autistic girls and boys had more masculine faces as compared with neurotypical control children.

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New research reveals the long-term toll of keeping secrets

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It is mind-wandering about our secrets that most seems to take a toll, rather than the job of concealing them

By Alex Fradera

Secrets burden minds. To understand how, researchers have previously focused on the act of concealment during one-off social interactions, showing that keeping a secret is draining and can increase anxiety. But what about the longer-term toll? A new paper in Attitudes and Social Cognition describes ten studies on the impact of secrecy day-on-day, showing how the burden of a secret peppers our waking life with reminders and periods of brooding.

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Mentally well voice-hearers have a heightened ability to detect real speech

 

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(A) Averaged brain activity in response to intelligible speech in control participants and (B) in non-clinical voice hearers; from Alderson-Day et al, 2017

By Emma Young

Hallucinating voices isn’t always distressing. While the experience is commonly associated with schizophrenia, some people – an estimated 5 to 15 per cent of the general population – hear voices that aren’t real without finding it upsetting or debilitating (they may even welcome it) and in the absence of any of the other symptoms of psychosis, such as delusions or confusion.

Now new open-access research published in Brain has revealed a perceptual advantage for this group of people: they can detect hard-to-comprehend speech sounds more quickly and easily than people who have never hallucinated a voice.

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