Your at-a-glance guide to psychology in 2013 – Part 1

JAN The year began with fall-out from the final report into the fraud of social psychologist Diederik Stapel. The scale was shocking – 55 journal papers published over 15 years are tainted. The Levelt investigating committee pointed the finger at the research culture in social psychology, but the British Psychological Society’s own Social Psychology Section rejected this. So too did the European Association of Social Psychology, who argued that the discipline has actually suffered fewer frauds than other branches of science. In other news, a team of researchers in Canada attracted criticism when they spun their research to suggest that the concept of IQ is a myth. “There are many mysteries about intelligence and the general factor,” Professor Richard Haier told The Psychologist. “Now there is a new one – how did this paper get published?”

FEB The first rumours of Obama’s richly funded BRAIN initiative began to emerge. A new spin on a modern psychology classic: researchers showed that inattentional blindness can lead experienced radiographers to fail to notice a “gorilla on the lung“. A less welcome classic also made an appearance – the left/brain right/brain myth in a report from the RSA that claimed the woes of the Western world are due to our over-dependence on the left-brain hemisphere (some astute criticism here). It was also announced this month that MPs would have access to mental health treatment in Westminster for the first time. Jonah Lehrer apologised for plagiarising the Research Digest. Contradicting all established neuranatomical fact, the Daily Mail described how evil lurks in the brain’s “central lobe“!

MARCH Neuroscientists and psychologists began to react to the news of Obama’s BRAIN initiative and the similarly ambitious EU Human Brain Project. Psychologists started a campaign against the publication of US psychiatry’s re-worked diagnostic code DSM-5. Debate about and reaction to the crisis in social psychology continued – The Center for Open Science was launched by US psychologist Brian Nosek, and The Association for Psychological Science announced a new article format Registered Replication Reports for one its key journals. An important new study found that many mental disorders share the same genetic risk factors.

APRIL After all the questions raised about social psychology, it was the turn of neuroscience as an important analysis suggested that the majority of neuroscience studies are statistically underpowered, likely leading to unreliable findings. Meanwhile a provocative paper claimed that brain scans could predict those offenders likely to return to prison. The Neurocritic took a sceptical look at the results. After all the speculation, the BRAIN Initiative finally launched. Perfectly capturing the zeitgeist, Ferris Jabr for Scientific American wrote a wonderful article about the psychology of reading paper books vs. e-books.

MAY Days before the publication of the new DSM-5 psychiatric diagnostic code, the document received a barrage of criticism from opposite directions. The BPS Division of Clinical Psychology published their concerns, including that the code is too biologically based, while Thomas Insel of the NIMH argued that the code is already out of date because it’s not grounded in biological findings. In other news, the UK government’s Behavioural Insight Team went part-private; a study about the effects of fist-clenching on memory attracted severe criticism; more controversy bubbled up after the failure to replicate another social priming result; Diederik Stapel was interviewed; two psychologists were voted among the world’s top 10 thinker; and Paul Bloom explained how too much empathy can actually lead us to do the wrong thing.

JUNE Many psychologists were among more than 70 signatories to an open letter to the Guardian calling for a new approach to publishing across the life sciences – pre-registered reports in which a study is accepted for publication based on the proposed methodology, prior to the collection of any actual results. The Psychologist reported on the neuroscientist Russell Poldrack who is scanning his own brain three times a week for a year. This is what happened when students and neuroscientists were asked to draw a neuron. A study used fall out from atomic bomb testing to settle the debate over whether adult humans can grow new neurons. Scientists from Germany and Canada created the most detailed map of the brain ever. The Big Brain Atlas is part of the EU’s €1-billion Human Brain Project.  Mark Stokes argued there’s a lot more to neuroscience than media “neuromania”.

Part 2 July to Dec …. This annual review is based largely on news reports in The Psychologist, the British Psychological Society’s monthly magazine, and on Feast posts from the last year of the Research Digest.

Also check out our round-up of the Best Psychology Books of 2013, and the most popular Research Digest posts of the year. This was our annual review for 2012.


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

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