Thirsty Mice And Virtual Reality: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

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

For the first time, researchers have looked at what happens in the brain when people take the psychedelic drug salvinorin A, from the plant salvia divinorum. The team found that the drug disrupts the default mode network, a set of areas that are normally synchronised when we’re not engaged in any particular task, similar to the effects found for the “classical” psychedelic drugs like psilocybin. But the subjective effects of salvinorin A are quite different to the effects of those other drugs, leaving some researchers questioning how important the default mode network really is to the psychedelic experience. Daniel Oberhaus, who participated in the trial, has the story at Wired.

A study in the 1980s claimed that married couples begin to look more alike over time — but now a larger replication has failed to find any evidence that that is true. Instead the new study suggests that people tend to partner up with those who already look similar to them, reports Ian Sample at The Guardian.

It’s been more than a decade since the replication crisis became a well-known issue in psychology, and in science more generally. So has anything changed? Not a lot, writes Kelsey Piper at Vox, although there have been some small victories along the way.

How people behave in virtual reality scenarios can provide insight into their personality, writes researcher Stephen Fairclough at The Conversation. His team created a VR environment in which participants had to navigate across ice blocks suspended high above the ground. People who took a more risk-averse approach to the task tended to be higher in neuroticism. The study highlights privacy issues around VR, Fairclough writes, as it suggests companies could profile users’ personality.

Many New Yorkers fail to show up to court for low-level offenses so researchers have helped the city redesign its court summons to “nudge” people into attending. The tweaks to the form included displaying the key information such as date and court location more prominently, as well as highlighting the consequences of not showing up, and resulted in 13% fewer missed court dates, reports Catherine Matacic at Science.

Scientists have identified how different types of thirst are encoded in the brain (in mice, at least). Different combinations of neurons in a region called the circumventricular organ were active when mice needed pure water, compared to when they needed water and salt (as you might after a sweaty workout). And depending on which set of neurons the researchers later stimulated, mice chose to drink either just water or a mouse “sports drink”, reports Jon Hamilton at NPR.

Finally, there’s more this week on how researchers are analysing the words used on social media to make inferences about the emotional state of the population. According to some psychologists, these methods show that our collective mood is pretty low, writes Casey Schwartz at the New York Times. But others say that the language used on Twitter is far from representative of how the general population is feeling.

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