Pet Placebos And A Brain Scanner For Kids: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

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

Getting kids to sit still during brain scans is notoriously difficult — but now researchers have developed an MEG scanner that is essentially a modified bike helmet. The device could make it easier to measure brain activity in young children, as well as scan older participants as they perform activities they wouldn’t be able to do in a standard MEG scanner, writes Jennifer Walter at Discover Magazine’s “D-Brief” blog.

Some women apparently lack part of the brain that is key for processing odour, yet are still able to smell, Sofie Bates reports at Science News. Researchers estimate that around 4% of left-handed women are missing the brain’s olfactory bulbs, based on MRI scans that show no sign of the structures. The fact these people can still smell suggests that other areas of the brain may be able to compensate for the absence of olfactory bulbs.

Animal owners may believe that ineffective treatments work on their pets because of a phenomenon known as the “caregiver placebo effect”, writes Emily Anthes at The Atlantic. After giving a sick pet medication, people may be more likely to interpret ambiguous symptoms in a more positive way, for instance. Unfortunately, that can result in owners believing that their pets are responding to ineffective alternative therapies, and leave them blind to the continued suffering of their pets.

In a 1973 study, David Rosenham and seven other healthy volunteers pretended to be patients and got themselves admitted at psychiatric hospitals in the United States. The experiment revealed the poor conditions of psychiatric care and the supposed unreliability of psychiatric diagnoses, and has become a staple of psychology textbooks. But in her new book “The Great Pretender”, Susannah Cahalan is left wondering whether the study really occurred as Rosenham claimed. Cahalan recounts her investigation in an article at the New York Post, while Alison Abbott reviews the book at Nature.

Psychedelic drugs are receiving increased attention for their potential to treat depression and other mental health conditions. But is the experience of a “trip” necessary for the effects of these drugs — or do they influence well-being through some other means? At Vice, Shayla Love talks to the researchers trying to untangle the mechanisms behind the drugs’ apparent clinical effects.

Finally, we recently reported on a new study suggesting (with some caveats) that acting like an extravert can boost well-being. Now, over at The Guardian, introvert Sirin Kale performs an N = 1 replication of the study, going out of her comfort zone to spend an extraverted week attending gardening and walking groups, a dodgeball game and a Halloween party full of strangers.

Compiled by Matthew Warren (@MattbWarren), Editor of BPS Research Digest


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