Author: BPS Research Digest

Immature Jokes: What Kids’ Humour Can Tell Us About Their Ability To Empathise

By Emma L. Barratt

There’s nothing less funny than explaining a joke. But analysing humour can actually tell us a lot about the development of sympathy and empathy in children.

Having a joke land is a complex task which requires an in-depth understanding of both the situation and mental state of the person on the receiving end. One audience, for example, might find a joke hilarious, whereas another might find that same joke wildly offensive.

Zeroing in on the appropriate joke, therefore, is likely to require a good amount of empathy. This ability to imagine the thoughts and feelings of your audience is pivotal to humour being well-received, but the relationship between humour and empathy has only been addressed in a handful of studies so far. However, new research from Caitlin Halfpenny and Lucy James at Keele University gives us a window into how empathy shapes humour by taking a look at junior schoolchildren’s use of jokes, and the different humour styles that emerge with different levels of empathy and sympathy.

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The Pandemic Has Left Us Wanting More Personal Space — Even In Virtual Reality

By Emma L. Barratt

The boundaries of personal space aren’t set in stone. They even vary widely from person to person, between cultures, and between environments (for example, we might give strangers a wide berth on the pavement, yet end up shoulder to shoulder on trains). And though it may not feel like it on public transport, personal space is a consideration in everything from the design of buildings to logistics for large events.

In 2020, Covid brought a whole new element to the table in terms of our comfort levels around other people. Maintaining a physical distance was one of the few things we could do for many months to limit the risk of infection, so for many of us, the personal space boundaries we were used to suddenly became no-gos.

This change is fantastically illustrated by a new preprint from Daphne Halt and team based in Boston, Massachusetts. The researchers believe that our personal space preferences not only tell us about the psychological effects of the pandemic, but may be of use as an indicator of progress towards regaining normality.

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We Think We’ve Changed More In The Past Than We Will Change In The Future — And Americans Seem Particularly Susceptible To This Illusion

By Emma Young

Think about what you were like 10 years ago. How have you changed, in terms of values, life satisfaction and personality? Now picture yourself 10 years in the future. Do you think you’ll be just as different then as you were a decade in the past?

When asked about past vs future change, most people — no matter what their age — report more change over a period of time in the past than they predict for the same period into the future. This “End of History Illusion” has been well-documented, at least, among WEIRD populations. Now Brian W. Haas at the University of Georgia, US, and Kazufumi Omura at Yamagata University, Japan, report some cultural differences in susceptibility to it. Their paper, in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, also provides some intriguing hints as to why those differences exist.

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Domestic Violence Increased During Lockdown In The United States

By Emily Reynolds

From the very beginning of the pandemic, activists and charities raised concerns that lockdown could be having an impact on domestic violence. Women’s Aid noted that home is often an unsafe environment for those experiencing abuse, while earlier this year Refuge stated that they’d seen a 60% increase in monthly calls to their National Domestic Abuse helpline.

A new study, published in Psychology of Violence, looks at rates of intimate partner violence during the pandemic in the United States. Like data from the UK, it suggests that domestic violence increased during lockdown — and that this was particularly linked to stress.

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We’ve Neglected The Role Of “Psychological Richness” When Considering What Makes A Good Life, Study Argues

By Emma Young

What is it that makes someone feel that theirs is a “good life”? Of all the ideas put forward over the past few millennia, two are most often extolled and researched today. The first is hedonistic wellbeing, often called simply “happiness”, which is characterised by plenty of positive emotions and general life satisfaction. The other is “eudaimonia” — feeling that your life has meaning and that you are realising your potential. Now in a new paper in Psychological Review, Shigehiro Oishi at the University of Virginia and Erin Westgate at the University of Florida suggest that we’ve been missing something: “psychological richness”.

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Young Australians Who Couchsurf Experience High Levels Of Psychological Distress

By Emma L. Barratt

When thinking about homelessness, we don’t often consider where to draw the line between housed and homeless. Couchsurfers — homeless individuals who put a roof over their head by staying with friends, relatives, or strangers found on couchsurfing sites — may not spring to mind when considering homelessness.

However, it’s far from a rare arrangement. Though exact numbers are lacking, studies from the last five years found that a shocking 22% of young people in the UK had slept rough at some point, and that 35% had couchsurfed in the absence of having a stable home.

The lack of stability, security, and sense of belonging that comes with having a home are all recognised factors in adverse psychological outcomes in those who are homeless. But, with couchsurfing being such a prevalent living situation, yet so different from sleeping rough, the psychological effects of this specific type of homelessness are well worth investigating. Now a new study from researchers led by Katie Hail-Jares at Griffith University, Australia has uncovered a strong relationship between couchsurfing and psychological distress.

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The Medusa Effect: We Ascribe Less “Mind” To People We See In Pictures

By Emma Young

Much has been written about the downsides of home-working. “Zoom fatigue”, in particular, is now a term, and an experience, that many of us are familiar with. But the tiring effect of video chat could represent only one of its dangers, according to new work in PNAS. It finds that we ascribe less “mind” to people we see in image form, vs in the flesh, and even less again to images of images of people. There could be serious implications, write Paris Will at the University of British Columbia and colleagues: “Given that mind perception underpins moral judgement, our findings suggest that depicted persons will receive greater or lesser ethical consideration, depending on the level of abstraction.”

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First-Hand Reports Of “Brain Fog” Highlight Struggles Of Those Living With Long Covid  

By Emma L. Barratt

Around one in five of those who have recovered from Covid-19 report ongoing symptoms, also known as long Covid. Experiences with this new condition are varied, and several symptoms are neuropsychological in nature.

One such symptom is brain fog. Though not a medical diagnosis in itself, this term is recognised by many health professionals, and refers to a fluctuating and varied set of symptoms which severely affect the sufferer’s ability to think clearly, or conduct their lives as they previously have.

Brain fog is often thought of as a benign, non-specific symptom, and in some circles is even dismissed as malingering. But in fact, it’s a symptom widely associated with chemotherapy, an issue for 40% of those with HIV, and source of frustration for many during pregnancy, amongst other medical conditions. Several neurological mechanisms have been proposed, but as of yet scientists don’t agree on the exact physical cause. As such, research looking into this after-effect of Covid is likely to garner a wide array of responses.

At this stage, understanding the experience of brain fog in long Covid is important — in order to tackle a new condition, researchers must first obtain a thorough description of the problem. This is the starting point from which further research can truly begin. To this end, researchers based at Oxford University recruited 50 participants from previous long Covid studies and online long Covid support groups to participate in remotely-held focus groups.

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Negative Media Coverage Of Immigration Leads To Hostility Towards Immigrants And In-Group Favouritism

By Emily Reynolds

The media plays a huge part in shaping our understanding of the world, including how we respond to other people. Coverage of immigration is no different, and previous research has suggested that even subtle changes in language and framing can change the way people think about immigrants.

A new study, published in Scientific Reports, looks at the real life impact of negative media portrayals of immigrants. It finds that negative coverage can increase hostility towards immigrants and favouritism towards members of the non-immigrant in-group — which can have serious financial, emotional and social consequences for communities.

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Hand Gestures Help Students Mentally Organise New Information

By Emma L. Barratt

Retaining new information can be tricky, especially with topics far outside of what we’re familiar with. A good teacher can make a huge difference, but effective teaching techniques can add new dimensions to our ability to really take on what we’re being told.

A new study by academics from the University of California and University of Georgia identifies one such technique, and it turns out to be incredibly simple: hand gestures.

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