Brainy Bumblebees And The Uncanny Valley: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

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

When creating cute creatures for movies, designers and animators must walk a fine line to avoid falling into the uncanny valley. Baby-like features — big eyes, large heads, round faces — can be appealing, writes Allyssia Alleyne at Wired. But make your character too human and it can look horrific, because we start to see it as one of our own kind, flaws and all.

Psychologists have criticised the use of AI systems to analyse people’s facial expressions, reports Hannah Devlin for The Guardian. Organisations claim that such systems can help with everything from job recruitment to border security — but researchers point out that emotional expressions vary between cultures.

Many of the psychological assessments used in American courts are not backed up by evidence, Clare Wilson reports for New Scientist. Only two-thirds of the tools are generally accepted by experts, leaving courts often reliant on evidence from suspect tests such as Rorschach inkblots. Yet the validity of these tests is rarely challenged, researchers found.

The strategies we use to learn new skills or information are not always as effective as they could be. Learn how to learn better with these psychologically-informed tips from David Robson in The Observer.

Do you feel pain as something that happens in the mind or in the body? It turns out that people vary in whether they see pain as a “mental” or “bodily” experience  — and now researchers want to figure out whether these views can also influence the effectiveness of psychological treatments for pain, write Rich Harrison and Tim Salomons in The Conversation. If you want to learn more, the next episode of our podcast, PsychCrunch, will be all about the psychology of pain — so why not subscribe.

The two hemispheres of the human brain are not exactly identical: some bits are bigger or smaller on one side than on the other. And now researchers have found that the same is true for other great apes, reports James Urquhart at New Scientist. This suggests that our pattern of brain asymmetry evolved far earlier than scientists previously thought, challenging the assumption that these differences emerged when we developed cognitive skills like language.

Finally, the latest in bee news: scientists have discovered that bumblebees are able to recognise objects they’ve previously seen by using only their sense of touch. The researchers trained the furry insects to recognise spheres and cubes either by sight (no touching allowed), or in darkness, by feeling them. Then, the bees swapped conditions — and those that had seen the objects were able to recognise them by touch and vice versa, Alexander McNamara reports for BBC Science Focus.

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