Psychological titbits from the Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting, Chicago, 12-16 Feb

In the absence of formal tuition, deaf children invent their own signs. ‘I have been able to follow children in Nicaragua who are not near a special education school and accordingly continue developing their homesigns independently,’ said Marie Coppola (University of Chicago). Coppola thinks the spontaneous signing she’s observed in children is what underlay the development of Nicaraguan Sign Language. This system was developed independently in the 1970s by children at a school for the deaf in the country’s capital after they were encouraged to read lips and speak rather than use sign.

Brain scans of twenty-three undergraduate students have pointed to the possibility that abnormal brain activity can contribute to feelings of loneliness. The students were shown images of people in either pleasant or unpleasant settings. Relative to non-lonely students, those students who were lonely showed reduced reward-related activation in the ventral striatum in response to the positive images, and reduced empathy-related activity in the temporal-parietal junction in response to the unpleasant images. Whilst loneliness may cause these differences, John Cacioppo (University of Chicago) and colleagues said it’s also possible that the direction of causation is the other way around.

Players of internet-based fantasy games like Everquest II can play with other gamers across the globe and yet they mostly choose to play with people who live nearby. ‘It’s not creating new networks. It’s reinforcing existing networks,’ said Noshir Contractor (Northwestern University). ‘Individuals 10 kilometres away from each other are five times more likely to be partners than those who are 100 kilometres away from each other.’ Other findings to emerge from the study, which involved 60 tetrabytes of data and 7000 participants, were that players underestimated the time they spent playing and were more likely than average to suffer from depression.

A walk in the park can improve the concentration of children with ADHD with the benefit being of the same magnitude as that reported for drug treatments. Frances Kuo (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and colleagues tested children with ADHD on a concentration task after either a walk in the park or in an urban environment. Kuo said this was just the latest in a series of studies pointing to the psychological benefits of natural environments. ‘So when people say: “As a scientist, would you say that we now know nature is essential to optimal functioning in humans?” I say: “As a scientist I can’t tell you. I’m not ready to say that”,’ Kuo admitted. ‘But as a mother who knows the scientific literature, I would say, “Yes”.’

Baboons and even pigeons are able to perform a cognitive feat that was previously considered a uniquely human ability – that is, to think about the relations between relations. This is the ability, when comparing A with A, to recognise that they are the same and that their relation to each other is therefore different from the relation shared between A and B, which are different to each other. ‘What we’re really trying to understand is the extent to which cognition is general throughout the animal kingdom,’ Ed Wasserman (University of Iowa) explained. ‘The evidence that we collect constantly surprises us, suggesting that we’re not alone in many of these cognitive abilities.’

Link to AAAS meeting website.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.