Conspiracy Theories And Winter Wellbeing: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

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

Displaying empathy towards others seems like an obvious virtue — but it can have a dark side, writes Richard Fisher at BBC Future. Empathising with a single, identifiable individual can divert time and money away from causes that could benefit many more people, for instance. And bad actors can harness our tendency to empathise with those who are similar to us in order to get us to act aggressively towards the out-group.

We often think of punishment as a tool to exact revenge on those who have wronged us. But this can’t be the whole story, because we also punish those who haven’t directly caused harm, but who have not distributed resources fairly, write researchers Paul Deutchman and Katherine McAuliffe at The Conversation. The pair suggests that punishment was used by our ancestors not only to deter bad behaviour, but also to level the playing field .

When there is stigma surrounding a disease, it can make it harder to bring it under control — and Covid-19 is no different. At Science, Vaishnavi Chandrashekhar examines the history of health-related stigma and its relationship with racism and prejudice, and looks at how stigma has hampered public health efforts during the current pandemic.

A recent Pew survey of 20 countries around the world has found that, in general, people are pretty trusting of scientists. But the survey also revealed some interesting trends: in English-speaking countries, for instance, conservatives were far less trusting of scientists than liberals. John Timmer has the details at Ars Technica.

What kind of person is prone to believing conspiracy theories? Benedict Carey takes a look at The New York Times.

And while we’re on the subject, Neuroskeptic covers a particularly strange conspiracy theory at Discover Magazine. It involves the pineal gland, a region of the brain which has somehow become the subject of all kinds of bizarre beliefs over recent decades.  

Finally, as it gets colder and the days draw in, we could perhaps learn something from a study of Norwegians living in the Arctic Circle. Residents of Tromsø who viewed winter as a season to enjoy had better wellbeing than those who saw it as a boring or limiting time of the year. This suggests that developing a positive “winter mindset” could help you get through the coming dark months, writes David Robson at The Guardian.

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