Cat Whisperers And Dog Listeners: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

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

Why do children so readily believe in someone as ridiculous as Father Christmas — a man who flies around the world climbing down millions of chimneys, all in one night? It’s not that children are simply gullible beings, argues Rohan Kapitany at The Conversation: studies have shown that they can actually be pretty sceptical. Instead, it’s the detailed and committed actions modelled by adults — putting up trees, leaving out biscuits, hanging stockings — that seem to suggest to kids that of course this jolly red gift-giver must be real.

We take for granted our ability to constantly perceive where our bodies are in space. But what happens when people lack this sense of “proprioception”? At Vox, Brian Resnick explores how a small number of patients are helping scientists to unravel the mysteries of our sixth sense.

As we move away from cash — paying for purchases with cards and, increasingly, our smartphones — how does our buying behaviour change? At BBC Future, Lu-Hai Liang examines the research into the psychology of spending.

We reported this week on a study showing that culture influences our ability to recognise dog emotions. Now researchers have examined human recognition of cat moods — and found that most of us do pretty miserably. While cats do express emotion in their faces, we’re just not that good at reading them, reports Karin Brulliard for the Washington Post unless you’re in the small minority the researchers call “cat whisperers”.

Meanwhile, another study has found that dogs seem to understand that a word is the same even when it’s spoken by different speakers with different accents. Previously, humans were the only animal known to spontaneously filter out differences in voices in order to recognise the underlying word, writes Virginia Morell at Science

Finally, a neuroimaging study has identified brain areas that are more active when we have nightmares, reports Russell Deeks at Science Focus. When sleeping participants felt fear during their dreams, they showed more activity in two areas involved in threat response, the insula and cingulate cortex. But that’s not all: in a second study, awake participants who had reported experiencing more nightmares during the week showed dampened insula and amygdala activity while viewing distressing images. This supports the theory that nightmares may act as a kind of “training” that helps us prepare for real-life threatening situations, the researchers say.

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

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