Swear Words And Psychedelics: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

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

Psycholinguists have taken a scientific approach to the creation of new swear words, reports Neuroskeptic at Discover Magazine. Researchers identified the ideal words to pair with profanities in order to come up with colourful new insults. Sticking -pig or -mouth to the end of your favoured swear word will probably have the desired effect, according to the work, while adding -newspaper or -fireplace could leave your insult falling flat.

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Psychopathic Prisoners With Higher Levels Of Emotional Impairment Make Less Eye Contact

By Emma Young

Imagine going to sit in a room with a violent, imprisoned psychopath and having a chat about what you both like to eat. (It’s impossible not to think of liver, fava beans and Chianti, isn’t it….?)

This is exactly what one researcher did recently in Germany. But the purpose of the study, reported in Personality Disorders: Theory, Research, and Treatment wasn’t to gather data on criminal psychopaths’ dining preferences, but rather on how they make — or don’t make — eye contact during a conversation.

This was the first study to explore psychopaths’ eye movements in a naturalistic setting. And it reveals that prisoners who scored highly on one aspect of psychopathy, in particular, were much less likely to look at the interviewer’s eyes. This finding not only helps with understanding how psychopathy develops, but also suggests that finding ways to encourage at-risk children to make more eye contact might be a useful intervention, argue Nina Gehrer at the University of Tübingen and her colleagues.

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When Deciding How To Improve Our Personalities, Moral Character Is Not A Priority

By Emily Reynolds

No matter how high your self-confidence, it’s likely that you have certain traits you’d change given the opportunity: maybe you’d turn down your anxiety, feel more outgoing in company, or be a bit less lazy. One 2016 study found that 78% of people wanted to better embody at least one of the Big Five personality traits (extraversion, emotional stability, conscientiousness, agreeableness, or openness to experience), so the desire to change who you are is not uncommon.

But are we so keen to change how moral we are? That is, how concerned are we really about being a good or bad person? A new study published in Psychological Science suggests that we’d rather spend time improving those parts of us that aren’t morally relevant, with traits like honesty, compassion and fairness taking a back seat.

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Dreams Aren’t Just Visual: We Often Hear Voices And Other Sounds Too

By Emma Young

“At least since the philosophers of ancient Greece, scholars have pointed out the analogy between madness (psychosis) and dreaming…” So begins a new paper, published in PLoS One, that seems to shore up that analogy.

Dreams and psychotic hallucinations do have things in common. They both feature perceptual sensations that seem real, but which are conjured up by our brains.

However, there are also differences. While dreams are known to be highly visual, psychotic hallucinations are primarily auditory. They generally involve hearing things that aren’t real rather than seeing things that don’t exist. And this difference is an important reason why “the idea of dreaming as a model for psychosis has remained speculative and controversial,” write Roar Fosse of the Vestre Viken Hospital Trust, Norway, and Frank Larøi of the Norwegian Centre of Excellence for Mental Disorders Research at the University of Oslo.

However, to date, there’s been very little investigation into perceptions of sounds in dreams, the pair reports. And now they have data suggesting that, in fact, auditory perceptions are common. If this is the case, the links between psychotic experiences and dreams may be stronger than has been recently supposed.

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Can’t Get Over Your Ex? Blame The Algorithm

By Emily Reynolds

Breaking up is never easy, particularly when you’re confronted with memories of happier times. A smell, an old photograph, a note somebody left you — weeks or even months after a break-up and you can still be reminded of your ex-partner, whether you like it or not.

On social media, this can be even worse. If you’re still friends with your ex, you’re likely to still see their posts on your feed; if you’re not, you can still rub salt into the wound by checking their profile anyway. ‘On this Day’ features are also notoriously bad for bringing up unhappy memories at the worst possible time.

According to a new study published in Proceedings of the ACM on Human-Computer Interaction, we also see our exes so much because of the so-called “social periphery” — the networks of people we know tangentially through our ex-partners. So why not design an algorithm that causes us less pain? The new work suggests that this could be the answer to our online break-up woes.

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How Psychology Researchers Are Responding To The COVID-19 Pandemic

By Matthew Warren

The world is currently in an unprecedented state of upheaval and uncertainty. As countries fight to minimise the spread of COVID-19, everyone is adjusting to the “new normal”, remaining at home and practising social distancing. And the same is true of the psychologists whose work we report on every day at Research Digest: labs have been shut and experiments have suddenly been put on hold in the wake of the pandemic.

But many psychologists have also begun launching new research to understand how the present crisis is affecting us, and to inform our response to it. So this week, I’ve been talking to some of these researchers to find out more about their work. Continue reading “How Psychology Researchers Are Responding To The COVID-19 Pandemic”

Behavioural “Nudges” Are Ineffective At Encouraging Commuters To Carpool Or Take The Bus

By Emma Young

You’ll probably be familiar with the idea of behavioural “nudges” — interventions that encourage people to make better choices, without changing the actual options available. As a concept, nudging has become hugely popular, with at least 200 “nudge units” in governments and institutions around the world. We’ve certainly reported on a few studies finding that simple nudges encourage people to give more to charity, and help people to make healthier soft drink choices from fast food menus, for example. You might be forgiven for thinking, then, that there are no limits to what nudging can do….

Well, a recent set of studies designed to “nudge” commuters’ behaviour, published in Nature Human Behaviour and involving a total of almost 69,000 people, has found that there definitely are limits. “The failure of these well-powered experiments … highlights both the difficulty of changing commuter behaviour and the importance of publishing null results to build cumulative knowledge about how to encourage sustainable travel,” write Ariella S. Kristal and Ashley V. Whillans, of Harvard Business School.

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The Quality Of The Relationship Between Parents Can Shape Their Children’s Life Paths

By Emily Reynolds

Our relationship with our parents can have a big impact on our life trajectory. Research has found that those of us lied to by caregivers often end up less well-adjusted, that hard workers are more likely to produce children with good work ethics, that cognitive skills can be improved by having talkative parents, and that positive parenting can impact cortisol levels even years later.

But though we might pay less attention to it, how parents relate to one another is also important for children’s long-term development. A new study, published in Demography, has taken a look at affection within parental relationships, finding that loving spousal relationships can have a positive long-term impact on children’s life paths.

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Musicians And Their Audiences Show Synchronised Patterns Of Brain Activity

By Emma Young

When a musician is playing a piece, and the audience is enjoying it, they can develop physical synchronies. Both might tap their feet, sway their bodies, or clap their hands. “Through music, the producer and the perceiver connect emotionally and behaviourally,” note the authors of a new paper, published in NeuroImage. And now this team, led by Yingying Hou at East China Normal University, has uncovered a connection right down at the neural level. The team has observed “inter-brain coherence” (IBC) — a synchronisation in brain activity — between a musician and the audience. What’s more, the strength of this coherence could be used to predict how much the audience enjoyed a piece.

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World Happiness And Psychedelic Placebos: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

Keyboard for ideaOur weekly round-up of the best psychology coverage from elsewhere on the web

The 2020 World Happiness Report has been published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, with Finland ranking as the world’s happiest country. “Happiness” in the report doesn’t refer to the expression of emotion per se, writes Maria Cramer at the New York Times, but is rather about a sense of satisfaction in life and belief that members of one’s community care for each other — a particularly poignant definition given present circumstances. Continue reading “World Happiness And Psychedelic Placebos: The Week’s Best Psychology Links”