Flags And Phrenology: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

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

“Grumpy” dogs may be better learners than their more agreeable counterparts, reports James Gorman at The New York Times. Researchers found that grumpier canines were better at learning how to reach an object placed behind a fence by observing a stranger. But other scientists suggest that something more specific than “grumpiness” is responsible for the animals’ superior performance, such as increased aggression, reduced inhibition, or hyperactivity.

Adults are more compassionate when children are around. That’s according to a series of studies whose results include the finding that people are more likely to donate to charity when more kids are nearby, and even that adults are more prosocial after merely thinking about children. Lukas Wolf and colleagues explain the work at The Conversation.

Psychologists are working on various strategies to help people deal with the “infodemic” of fake news and social media manipulation. At Undark, Teresa Carr explores some of these attempts, ranging from online games to lessons on how to behave like fact-checkers.

The country’s recent obsession with the Union flag could end up damaging social cohesion, warns Amit Katwala at Wired. While flags can act as a symbol of unity, research has found that they can also make outsiders feel less welcome. Other work has shown that, in some cases, the presence of a flag can increase feelings of nationalism and prejudice towards immigrants. 

In the not-too-distant future, our lives may return to something resembling the pre-2020 days. But after more than a year of living under lockdowns and social distancing rules, many of us are likely to find it hard to resume “normal” life. At Scientific American, Melba Newsome examines what some people are calling “cave syndrome”.

Two hundred years ago, Franz Joseph Gall popularised phrenology, the idea that patterns of bumps on our skulls predict our character. In a BBC video hosted at Aeon, Claudia Hammond explores the history of an idea that was clearly pseudoscience, but which nevertheless contributed in some ways to modern psychology and neuroscience.

Patients can experience positive effects from taking a placebo, even when they know they’re being given an inert pill. That’s the case for conditions ranging from depression and anxiety to arthritis and irritable-bowel syndrome. So how exactly do these “open-label” placebos work? Brian Resnick takes a look at Vox.

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