Early Birds And Bearded Dragons: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

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

A study on bearded dragons has honed in on the brain structure responsible for generating slow wave sleep patterns, writes Elizabeth Pennisi at Science. An area of the brain called the claustrum — not previously known to even exist in reptiles — was key: when the structure was damaged, the lizards could still sleep but showed no slow wave patterns. It’s been an interesting few months for bearded dragon research: as we wrote in December, the lizards apparently also succumb to optical illusions.

A mismatch between a student’s “chronotype” — whether they are an early bird or a night owl — and their school start time could negatively impact their academic performance.  Researchers studied a school in Argentina in which students take classes either in the morning, afternoon, or evening, examining the kids’ chronotype and maths scores. The results are complex, but overall early birds had better academic performance than night owls when school started early, reports John Timmer at Ars Technica. However, when school began in the afternoon or evening, there were not major differences between the groups.

Researchers have used a combination of machine learning and neuroimaging to figure out which people will respond to an antidepressant drug, reports Jason Arunn Murugesu at New Scientist. The team took EEG recordings from more than 200 people with depression, and then gave them the drug sertraline. Eight weeks later, they used a machine learning algorithm to analyse the recordings and look for signals that were more common in those who had responded to the drug. When the researchers then used the algorithm to predict whether a separate group of people would respond to sertraline based just on their brain waves, it performed pretty well but researchers say it’s still a long way from any potential clinical use.

No-one who was born blind has ever been diagnosed with schizophrenia — and scientists aren’t quite sure why, writes Shayla Love at Vice. Some researchers think it may be to do with differences in the way that blind and sighted people represent the world in their minds, with blind people having a more “stable” model of the world that isn’t prone to the same false representations seen in schizophrenia.

Using marijuana can make people more susceptible to false memories, Sarah Sloat at Inverse reports. Stoned participants were more likely to “remember” words in a memory test that they hadn’t actually previously seen, and were more susceptible to the creation of false memories for an event they had witnessed. The findings have obvious implications for eyewitness memory for crimes.

An extinct, 80kg rodent had a brain that may have weighed just 47g. Based on the volume of the cavity in a Neoepiblema acreensis skull, researchers calculated that the creature’s brain must have been absolutely tiny, according to Veronique Greenwood at The New York Times. The team suggests that the N. acreensis may have evolved a small brain because it lived in relative peace, with few aggressive predators. With little need to outsmart hungry hunters, a smaller brain would have been adaptive, as it requires fewer calories to maintain.

Finally, in 2018 we covered a study on the “STEM gender-equality paradox”: the finding that in more gender-equal countries, the proportion of women with STEM degrees is lower. Now, after concerns were raised by others who were unable to replicate the findings, that study has been given a lengthy correction to clarify the methods used, Stephanie M. Lee reports for BuzzFeed News. But some researchers are still not convinced that the results hold up.

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