Body Language And Spooky Science: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

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

If you want to get on a cat’s good side, it’s worth mastering the art of the “slow blink”. Cats “smile” by blinking slowly, and now researchers have found that they respond positively to humans who do the same. Participants who performed a slow blink were more likely to receive one from their cat, reports Sara Rigby at BBC Science Focus. Cats were also more likely to approach an experimenter who had just slow-blinked. 

The idea that people in big cities are less likely to help strangers seems to be a myth. Researchers conducted experiments across 24 UK towns and cities in which they planted “lost” letters and items, or attempted to cross the road. There was no link between population density and people’s willingness to help out by returning items or stopping to let the experimenter cross, reports Natalie Grover at The Guardian.

Scared of ghosts? Maybe science can help put you at ease. At Popular Science, Jake Bittle looks at the various psychological and physiological mechanisms that can explain why people report seeing apparitions, from basic human suggestibility to the effects of psychedelic mould.

If it feels like you are living in a political bubble, you’re not alone: a recent survey found that 40% of Americans don’t have a close friend who is voting for a presidential candidate other than the one they prefer. At The Conversation, Melanie Green argues that social media is partly to blame for this polarisation, as is the increasing tendency to tie our individual identity to our political views.

It’s probably unsurprising to learn that many of us have reported feeling deprived of touch during lockdown. At BBC Future, Claudia Hammond takes a look at the studies that have explored the importance of human touch to our wellbeing, both before and during the pandemic. And don’t forget to check out our recent podcast on staying connected in the “new normal”.

How much can we really learn about someone’s internal states based on their body language? There’s a small industry of analysts who claim to be able to understand how a person is thinking or feeling based on specific gestures. But psychologists are sceptical, writes Ramin Skibba at Undark.

Apes engage in “playful teasing” just like human toddlers, responding to requests in bizarre ways or playing silly games. At Science, Lucy Hicks talks to anthropologist Erica Cartmill about the implications of this behaviour for understanding the evolutionary history of humour

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