Survey of US science classrooms suggests role models are vital for encouraging girls into engineering and computer science

TechCrunch 10th Annual Crunches Awards
Sarah Buhr, TechCrunch Writer and Marissa Mayer, Yahoo President & CEO attend the TechCrunch 10th Annual Crunchies Awards on February 6, 2017 in San Francisco

By guest blogger Elizabeth Kirkham

Have you heard the riddle about the doctor? A father and his son are involved in a car accident and taken to different hospitals, the boy to a children’s hospital and the father to the general hospital. When the boy arrives at hospital, the doctor on call is shocked, saying “I can’t treat this boy, he’s my son!” The question is: who’s the doctor? The answer, as with many riddles, is obvious once you know it: the doctor is the boy’s mother. Years ago when I first heard this riddle, I was stumped, even though the only doctor I had contact with in my own life happened to be a woman. The very fact that this question works as a riddle is testament to the strength of negative stereotypes surrounding women’s scientific abilities.

Women who take degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects do just as well as their male colleagues, even though they are far outnumbered by them: in the UK, only 14 per cent of engineering and technology students, and 17 per cent of computer science students are women. The picture is similar in the USA, where Catherine Riegle-Crumb and Karisma Morton carried out a study, published recently in Frontiers in Psychology, to investigate why the numbers are so low.

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Music teachers and students fall for music-related neuromyths – German study

The left and right hemispheres of the brain.By Christian Jarrett

One day neuroscience might revolutionise education, but for now the scientific findings most relevant to teaching and learning come from psychology. In fact, many popular claims about the brain and learning are neuromyths – unsubstantiated or plain wrong ideas, such as that we only use ten per cent of our brains, that some of us are left-brained, others right-brained, or that we learn best when taught via our preferred “learning style”.

Unfortunately and often with the best of intentions, surveys have shown that a lot of teachers believe these myths (for instance, one survey published in 2012 found that British and Dutch teachers believed around half of the 15 neuromyths they were tested on). Now a study in Frontiers in Psychology has focused on German music teachers and students to see how vulnerable they are to brain myths pertaining specifically to music. Although the participants showed some ability to distinguish between true facts and myths, they still endorsed around 40 per cent of the myths, especially those that contained neuroscientific jargon.

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Do women really show their emotions more than men?

The collage of young man and woman face expressionsBy Emma Young

It’s a stereotype that has improved a little over the years but still persists: women are more emotionally expressive than men. Like Bridget Jones, we constantly reveal exactly how we’re feeling, while men, Mark Darcy-like, look on impassively.

Although prior evidence suggests that women really do smile more often, a new study, published in PLOS One, has considered a greater variety of facial expressions, and it finds that the gender pattern is more complex, with some emotions displayed more by men than women. Arguably, this work helps to reveal not only differences in the emotional signals men and women send to others, but also differences in the emotions that we feel.

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Mindfulness training does not foster empathy, and can even make narcissists worse

Ladybird Books For Grown-Ups
Researchers tested the effects of a five-minute mindfulness intervention

By Emma Young

Sharing with others, helping people in need, consoling those who are distressed. All these behaviours can be encouraged by empathy – by understanding what other people are thinking and feeling, and sharing their emotions. Enhance empathy, especially in those who tend to have problems with it – like narcissists – and society as a whole might benefit. So how can it be done?

In fact, the cultivation of empathy is a “presumed benefit” of mindfulness training, note the authors of a new study, published in Self and Identity, designed to investigate this experimentally. People who are “mindfully aware” focus on the present moment, without judgement. So, it’s been argued, they should be better able to resist getting caught up in their own thoughts, freeing them to think more about the mental states of other people. As mindfulness courses are increasingly being offered in schools and workplaces, as well as in mental health settings, it’s important to know what such training can and can’t achieve. The new results suggest it won’t foster empathy – and, worse, it could even backfire.

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Neural changes after taking psychedelic drugs may reflect “heightened consciousness”

Girl's Portrait With Crazy Hair - Lifestyle Concept.By Emma Young

Is there anything psychedelic drugs can’t do? A recent wave of scientific scrutiny has revealed that they can elicit “spiritual” experiences, alleviate end-of-life angst, and perhaps treat depression – and they might achieve at least some of all this by “heightening consciousness”, according to a new paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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Boredom proneness is not so much a trait – it’s more about what you do

Nothing interesting to watch.
“… the most comprehensive study of everyday boredom to date”

By Alex Fradera

“The truth is that everyone is bored,” according to Albert Camus – but a new article in the journal Emotion gets beyond sweeping statements in the most comprehensive study of everyday boredom to date. The nationally-representative sample of 4000 American adults used an iPhone app to record their mood every waking half-hour, with boredom turning up in only three per cent of entries. When boredom was present, it was often mixed with other negative emotions, like loneliness and sadness, and rarely with positive ones. Surprisingly, boredom had a strong relationship with anger, which goes against the idea that boredom, itself low-arousal, cannot mix with more intense feelings.

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New evidence shows the calming power of reminiscing about happy times

Tranquility - symbolized by a brain with relaxing calm blue ocean vision meditation. Isolated vector illustration on white background.By Emma Young

You’ve just had a fight with your partner or a confrontation with a colleague. Now your heart’s racing, and you’re struggling to think straight. What should you do?

Psychologists are not short on ideas for how to calm yourself down after a stressful experience. Seek out a friend? Yes, there’s good evidence that can help. But what if there’s no friend to hand? You could try to alter your view of what just happened from “Disaster!” to “Not really so bad”.

But it can be difficult to engage in this kind of “cognitive reappraisal” when you’re in the immediate aftermath of a stressful event – perhaps because acute stress compromises the neural circuitry that’s involved in emotion regulation.

Your brain needs help if it’s to quickly regain control. And, according to a new study published in Nature Human Behaviour, you can provide it by thinking back over good times.

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Pressuring employees to be do-gooders can backfire badly

Armed Robbery In The Office
“Being required to do good meant that they subsequently felt licensed to bend the rules”

By Alex Fradera

Most employers like their workers to think of themselves not as employees but as “citizens” of the organisation, proactively engaging in activities like helping others out or coming up with company improvements – activities that aren’t specified in a job description yet help the organisation thrive. But more and more, these supposedly discretional citizenship behaviours are being demanded by managers more overtly – outlined in ‘The Way We Work’ documents, or threatened informally as necessary to get ahead. Now an article in the Academy of Management Journal suggests being forced to be a good citizen has some perverse consequences: when you’re grudgingly good, you become blasé about doing bad.

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New review punctures the myth that now is three seconds long

Three SecondsBy Emma Young

“When you say it’s gonna happen now
When exactly do you mean?”

Ask a psychologist the answer to this question – posed in this case by Morrissey in The Smiths song, How soon is now? – and she might reply “within the next three seconds”.

The idea that “now”, also known as the “subjective present”, is constrained within this time limit has proved popular. But a new evaluation in Psychological Bulletin of dozens of research papers on everything from embraces and reading poetry to tapping along to a beat concludes that there’s no good evidence for it. Our experience of the present cannot, it seems, be so strictly defined.

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Can a good sense of humour protect you from stress?

Barbara WindsorBy Christian Jarrett

They say that if you can laugh at it, you can live with it. Is this true? Does the ability to see the funny side of things really act like a psychological shield against stress? A series of new studies in Personality and Social Psychological Bulletin provides some tentative support for the idea. But the research also illustrates why this is such a difficult topic to study – does humour really reduce stress or is it just easier to see the funny side when you are coping well? And it’s worth remembering the serious risk that if humour is shown to be protective by psychology research – and it’s a big if – that those who suffer most from stress will be put under social pressure to help themselves by cheering up, a situation only likely to intensify their distress.

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