Mathematical Mistakes And Social Sharks: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

Keyboard for ideaOur weekly round-up of the best psychology coverage from elsewhere on the web

We really struggle to wrap our heads around the idea of exponential growth, writes David Robson at BBC Future. Instead, we tend to rely on our intuitions and think of growth as linear even when it is not — which could help to explain why many people underestimated the dangers of coronavirus spreading. Researchers say that politicians and the media should be doing more to try and highlight the exponential nature of transmission in an attempt to correct this mathematical bias.

For a lot of the country, this week has been unpleasantly hot. And aside from the physical risks, heatwaves can have a variety of effects on our mental health, writes Harriet Ingle at The Conversation.

To combat global problems like climate change, we need to alter our behaviour in ways that might come at a personal cost, even though they benefit the wider community. So how do you encourage people to adopt these prosocial attitudes? Making people feel guilty is not the answer, explains Claudia R Schnieder at Psyche. Her research has found that appealing to positive emotions, such as pride in doing the right thing, is more effective at encouraging pro-environmental and prosocial behaviours.

Neuroscientists studying animals have traditionally examined how the brain responds to sensory information, or how patterns of brain activity directly relate to an animal’s behaviour. But now they’re beginning to look at something altogether more complex: the way in which neuronal activity is related to an animal’s internal state, such as its emotions or drives. At Nature, Alison Abbott has written a fascinating feature on the challenges of probing an animal’s frame of mind.

A systematic review has found that, for a small number of people, mindfulness and meditation can have unwanted effects like a worsening of anxiety, reports Clare Wilson at New Scientist. Other researchers say that the study shouldn’t put people off doing meditation, but suggest they do it in a safe context such as guided meditation sessions. For more on mindfulness, it’s worth checking out our podcast from last year.

Grey reef sharks form surprisingly strong social ties, report Christopher Intagliata at NPR. Researchers found that the sharks form groups of up to 20 individuals, who they hang out with for years. Being part of a social group gives the sharks certain advantages, such as learning from others where to hunt for food.

Finally, I missed this piece last month from Neuroskeptic (whose posts are always worth reading). We all know that correlation does not equal causation — but a paper argues that considering causal inference “taboo” simply results in psychologists making these claims in a more subtle or implicit way. The researchers examined influential studies based on observational data and, as Neuroskeptic puts it, “find evidence of unstated causal claims and assumptions, swept under a correlational rug.”

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