Your at-a-glance guide to psychology in 2013 – Part 2

JULY UCL cognitive neuroscientist Sophie Scott was among the scholars unhappy about the call for the introduction of pre-registered reports in psychology (see June). Walter Boot and colleagues published an important paper highlighting how many control conditions in psychology are inadequate. Another paper claimed that the real-world impact of psychological and social interventions is being squandered by poor practices in the reporting of randomised trials. Doubts were raised about Milgram’s classic studies into obedience. Matt Wall debunked neuromarketing. Bethany Brookshire worried that neuroskepticism was becoming excessive and called for neuronuance. Oliver Sacks turned 80 and felt happy about it. “Psychology’s most original thinker” Dan Wegner passed away.

AUG A study found that people’s sleep is disturbed at full moon, and not because of the light. Harvard psychologist Steve Pinker wrote a magisterial essay on why science, including psychology and neuroscience, is not the enemy of the humanities. The Guardian launched a new psychology blog “Head Quarters” featuring the dream team of Pete Etchells, Molly Crockett, Nathalia Gjersoe and Chris Chambers. UCL cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore was this year’s recipient of the prestigious Rosalind Franklin Award from the Royal Society. The RSA’s Social Brain Centre launched a new project into spirituality and the brain. New data showed that dementia rates had fallen in the UK. Prisoners’ performance on the classic prisoners’ dilemma game was measured for the first time. “Super-recognisers” were recruited to spot known criminals at the Notting Hill carnival.

SEPT Scientists created mini brains from stem cells. Hype surrounded a study that purported to show a driving game reversed age-related mental decline. New data showed that England’s Improving Access to Psychotherapies programme had failed to stall the county’s rising anti-depressant prescription rates. Obama’s administration announced plans to create its own “Nudge Unit” modelled on the British government’s Behavioural Insight Team. The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest marked its tenth anniversary with a series of research-backed self-help posts. Barbara Fredrickson, one of the world’s leading positive psychologists, admitted that a highly influential paper she co-authored in 2005 is fundamentally flawed. David Dobbs wrote a wonderfully inspiring article on the social life of your genes.

OCT Reading fiction boosts your empathy skills, but only if it’s literary fiction, a study claimed. Not everyone was impressed. The purpose of Obama’s BRAIN initiative became clearer thanks to publication of an interim report. Meanwhile the Guardian interviewed Henry Markram – head of the EU’s Human Brain Project. The Society for Personality and Social Psychology published an important remedial report (pdf) for the discipline: “Improving the Dependability of Research in Personality and Social Psychology …” The Research Digest hosted a Super Week in which we met individuals with psychological super powers. A charity in Wales was criticised for using NLP to treat traumatised soldiers. The science of using brain imaging to decode people’s thoughts, minus the hype – a welcome overview from Kerri Smith was published this month.

NOV The World Medical Association announced important changes to its Declaration of Helsinki – an influential ethics code for conducting research with human participants that is followed by many psychology departments and journals. New data suggested that after years of increase, the diagnosis rates for autism in the UK had plateaued. Concerns were raised again about the lack of educational psychologists in Scotland and there were cuts to funding for ed psych services in England, even as demand was on the increase. A new study found that eye contact does not in fact increase persuasion. BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind celebrated its 25th anniversary (the same year that The Psychologist magazine reached the same milestone). A neuroscience journal for kids was launched. A team of over 50 international researchers published an ambitious attempt to replicate 13 existing findings in psychology. Psychology mourned the loss of two stars: cognitive neuroscientist Andy Calder and social psychologist Nalini Ambady.

DEC A twin study attracted controversy after it appeared to show that genes trump schooling and parenting when it comes to children’s exam success. The Science Museum opened a new psychology-themed exhibition supported by the British Psychological Society. Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology “explores how mental health conditions have been diagnosed and treated over the past 250 years.” A brain imaging study purported to show that men’s and women’s brains are wired up differently and that this supports gender stereotypes. Not everyone was impressed. Another new study found that stimulating part of the anterior cingulate cortex triggers a kind of “Eye of the Tiger” effect. Finally, this month a US court may have been the first to see brain imaging evidence save a killer from the death penalty. Intriguingly, one of the neuroscientist witnesses for the defence – Ruben Gur – was a co-author on that sex-differences brain wiring study … it’s a small world, as they say.

(2013 Part 1: Jan to June is here. )

What will happen in psychology in 2014? Keep up-to-date with The Psychologist @psychmag and the Research Digest @researchdigest from The British Psychological Society.

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


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