Author: BPS Research Digest

How Cutting Down On Meat Affects Your Social Identity

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By Emily Reynolds

With increased concern about the impact of meat on our health and the environment, and an ever-expanding selection of meat-free products available to buy, popular interest in vegetarianism and veganism has steadily grown.

But for those who want to cut down but aren’t quite ready to give up their burgers, there is a third way: flexitarianism. As a 2019 study from the University of Nottingham on red meat and heart health put it, you “don’t have to go cold turkey on red meat to see health benefits”, finding that halving the amount of red and processed meat eaten can have significant health benefits.

A flexitarian tries to cut down their consumption as much as they can, but still eats the occasional meal or snack containing meat. One recent piece of market research found that 14% of the UK consider themselves flexitarian, and though more formal research would clearly be needed to paint a more critical and comprehensive picture, these figures do seem to suggest something of a cultural preoccupation with how much meat we’re eating.

Now new research, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, has taken a look at how such an approach impacts identity as well as health. The choice to be vegetarian can be a significant source of social identity — but how do flexitarians see themselves?

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Brain Training And Counting Bees: This Week’s Best Psychology Links

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

There’s not much evidence that brain training apps really improve our cognitive abilities –  so why do so many people use them? Sabrina Weiss at Wired has the answers.

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Crying Or Kneeling Can Help You Make A Public Apology — But Don’t Expect Faster Forgiveness

President of troubled Tokyo Electric Pow
Representatives from Tokyo Electric Power Co. apologise to evacuees after the Fukushima disaster in 2011. Credit: YOSHIKAZU TSUNO/AFP/Getty Images

By Emma Young

Public apologies for misdeeds can be tricky. The usual advice to companies, politicians or celebrities is to acknowledge what you’ve done wrong, express regret, and promise never to do it again. However, the public can still often be sceptical and not particularly forgiving. Matthew Hornsey at the University of Queensland and colleagues wondered if it makes a difference if remorse is also conveyed non-verbally — by dropping to the knees, perhaps, or wiping away tears, as for example when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a “tearful” apology to indigenous Canadians in 2017.

The team’s set of six studies, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Interpersonal Relations and Group Processes, shows that such “embodied remorse” can go down quite well — at least, among some groups. However, a consistent finding across the studies was that such gestures don’t actually improve levels of public forgiveness.

These results are important in part because while some public apologies are minor — of the “TV star admits drug use” type — they are also considered to be an essential part of the process of reconciliation after gross violations of human rights, and even genocide. The public response to such apologies can clearly have huge ongoing implications.

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Digital Therapy For Insomnia Shows How Technology Can Be Harnessed To Improve Sleep And Mental Health

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By guest blogger Jack Barton

Technology and screens are supposedly the enemy of health. They ruin our sleep, mental health and we’re slaves to their constant need for attention. At least that’s what seems to be the consensus in the news. However, the reality is much more two-sided. In fact, a new study demonstrates that our blue light emitting devices can be a force for good — by providing a novel way to deliver mental health interventions.

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Our Golden Years? Research Into The Ups And Downs Of Retirement, Digested

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By Emma Young

If you ever daydream about retirement, what do you picture? Lie-ins, instead of being woken by an alarm? Walks on a beach, in place of the morning commute? More time for beloved hobbies? Or perhaps endless open, solitary days, with nothing much to do…?

Retirement is what psychologists term a “major life transition”. As such, it’s regarded as a stressor that carries risks as well as potential rewards. Now that the number of retirees in many countries is soaring, so too is the number of studies into whether retirement is good for your mental and physical health — or not. This work certainly suggests that it can be, but there are a few warnings lurking in the results, too.

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People Prefer Their Jobs To Be Taken By Robots, Not Other Workers

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By Emily Reynolds

The rise of automation has already had a significant impact on the work lives of millions of people — and it shows no signs of stopping. In a study released earlier this year, the Office for National Statistics found 1.5 million workers in Britain at “high risk of losing their jobs to automation”, with women and low-paid workers bearing the brunt of the risk. And another paper published in Social Science and Medicine found that exposure to automation risk exacerbated poor health: higher risk of automation meant higher job uncertainty and subsequently a greater chance of physical and mental health problems.

All of which makes the findings of a new Nature Human Behaviour study on almost 2,000 North American and European participants even more surprising. While most people prefer it when workers are replaced by humans, not robots, the majority of those surveyed said that if their job was at risk, they would find it less upsetting for it to be handed to robots rather than other employees.

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Spending More Time On Your Hobbies Can Boost Confidence At Work — If They Are Sufficiently Different From Your Job

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By Matthew Warren

None of us enjoys having our job cut into our leisure time. So the next time your boss asks you to work late and miss your band rehearsal or board game night, point them to a new study in the Journal of Vocational Behavior. Researchers have found that spending more time on a hobby can boost people’s confidence in their ability to perform their job well. But watch out — if your hobby is too similar to your work, then increased time on leisure activities may actually have a detrimental effect.

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Joking Robots And Intelligent Apes: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

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

An MIT professor gave his students Fitbits to find out how exercise affected their academic performance — but instead stumbled upon some interesting insights into sleep, Jamie Ducharme at Time reports. Students who stuck to a consistent sleep pattern throughout the week seemed to do better in class, the team found, while differences in sleep quality between men and women could explain why female students were getting higher grades.

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Harsh Sounds Like Screams Hijack Brain Areas Involved In Pain And Aversion, Making Them Impossible To Ignore

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By Emma Young

You see a pedestrian about to step out in front of an oncoming car.  Is it better to calmly call out a warning, or to scream?

Of course, it’s better to scream — but not just because a scream is loud. Car alarms, police sirens and smoke alarms are all loud, too. But, like screams, they also feature fast but perceptible fluctuations in loudness, usually at frequencies of between 40 and 80 Hz, making them acoustically “rough”. Quite why such sounds should be so attention-grabbing, and even unbearable, hasn’t been clear. Now a team led by Luc Arnal at the University of Geneva has found that this type of sound triggers activity in brain areas related not just to hearing but also to aversion and to pain. This makes them impossible to ignore.

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Reading Between The Lines: Why Girls’ Superior Reading Skills May Be Lowering Their Future Salaries

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By guest blogger Louisa Lyon

In many countries, the proportion of girls opting to pursue careers in lucrative fields such as engineering and computer science has stagnated. Despite the best efforts of schools, universities and governments, women remain underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, the so-called “STEM” subjects. The shortage of women is particularly acute in professions with a heavy focus on maths. But why?

A recent study in PNAS suggests that the answer may lie in differences in ability between boys and girls. But surprisingly, the ability in question is not maths, but reading. In a nutshell, girls who are good at maths tend to be even better at reading, and as a result, many turn away from maths and opt instead to pursue careers that utilise their even stronger language skills. By contrast, boys who are good at maths tend not to show this same advantage in reading, making their decision to stick with STEM subjects much more straightforward.

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