Author: BPS Research Digest

People with no mind’s eye have less vivid and detailed memories

By Matthew Warren

When we’re asked to imagine a scene or object, most of us are able to conjure up an image in our mind’s eye. But about 2-5% of the population can’t do this: they have a condition called aphantasia, and are unable to produce mental imagery at all.

Now a study published in Cognition has found that aphantasia can affect memory abilities too. The researchers report that aphantasics have less detailed and rich memories for events in their lives: a finding that not only reveals more about the condition, but also highlights the key role of mental imagery in memory generally.

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Daily skin-to-skin contact in weeks after birth linked to less crying and better sleep

By Emma Young

Few things are as stressful as listening to your baby crying — and excessive crying is clearly not good for the baby, either. Skin-to-skin contact is widely used in the first hours after a birth, with benefits for infants and parents. But, according to a new paper in Developmental Psychology, a daily hour of skin-to-skin contact for weeks afterwards is beneficial, too: it reduces crying and improves sleep.

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Drinking coffee before shopping can lead to impulse buying

By Emily Reynolds

Those wanting to eat more healthily and save money are often advised not to go food shopping while hungry, the theory being that we make less prudent purchases when we’re more concerned with satisfying our immediate needs than thinking about long term goals. But how do other states of mind affect our purchases?

We’d probably not think anything of having a cup of coffee or a can of Coke before going shopping. But a new study, published in the Journal of Marketing, finds that caffeine may have a bigger impact than we think, with participants spending more and buying more things after a caffeinated drink.

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Working memory training won’t make you more intelligent

By Emma Young

What can you do to make yourself smarter? All kinds of interventions have been designed and tried, mostly with little success. However, some studies have suggested that training working memory is effective. This has led to it becoming the most popular form of intelligence-training intervention, write the authors of new paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition.

There have been mixed results in this area though, and, the team argues, potential problems with the methodology of some previous studies, making it hard to draw firm conclusions. (For example, some of the trials that failed to find an effect perhaps involved too little training.) So they set out to run as definitive a trial as possible. The results of their two-year longitudinal study now suggest that while working memory can indeed be improved in typically developing children, this has no impact whatsoever on intelligence.

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National narcissists are more willing to conspire against their fellow citizens

By Emma Young

Narcissists feel that they are exceptional, and don’t get the recognition they deserve. But narcissistic beliefs can apply to a group, too. Feeling that your nation, religion, organisation, or political party is superior but under-appreciated is known as “collective narcissism“. And now a team led by Mikey Biddlestone at the University of Cambridge reports that collective narcissists are more willing to conspire against other members of their own group. 

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Fans of horror movies are just as kind and compassionate as everyone else

By Matthew Warren

What kind of person wants to watch a movie where a boatload of people gets gruesomely cut in half by a wire, or where a man saws off his own foot to escape the sadistic games of a serial killer? You’d have to be pretty coldhearted and cruel to enjoy that kind of thing, right?

That’s certainly how horror fans have historically been portrayed, at least by some commentators. But a new study finds no evidence for this stereotype. Fans of horror films are just as kind and compassionate as everyone else, according to the preprint published on PsyArXiv — and in some respects may be more so.

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We don’t trust extraverts more than introverts

By Emily Reynolds

When you think of an extravert, what personality traits come to mind? Sociability? Fun? While we often make positive judgments about extraversion, the picture is more complex, with negative traits also projected onto extraverts. Some research suggests that extraverts are seen as poorer listeners, for example.

A new study, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, looks specifically at how much people trust those who are extraverted. The team finds that agreeableness, not extraversion, is the key to gaining trust in social situations.

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Merely expecting to feel stressed has a negative effect on our mood

By Emily Reynolds

Elections can be stressful. Research has looked into the distress of Americans when Trump was elected, and elections have also been linked to an increase in anxiety and stress, and poorer sleep quality. Most of this research, however, has looked at what happens after an election result, not before.

A new study takes a different look, asking how the approach of an election result can impact people’s mental health. Writing in the International Journal of Psychology, a team from North Carolina State University finds that simply anticipating election stress has a negative effect on our mood.

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Religious people are less likely to avoid reminders of human mortality

By Emma Young

Do you know how far you’d have to walk to get from the central railway station in Wuhan, China to the nearest cemeteries? I’ll tell you: an average of just over 25 kilometres. For Berlin, the figure is less than 5. “Chinese tourists are surprised by unexpectedly running into cemeteries when visiting cities in Europe,” write the authors of a new paper in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. “They are curious when seeing how close to a graveyard people live and spend their leisure time there because these are rarely encountered in China.”

In fact, when the team plotted the mean walking distance between the central railway station and the five nearest cemeteries in 10 European capital cities and 10 major cities in China, the difference was clear: the longest European distance was still less far than the shortest distance in China.

Why might this be? Xiaoyue Fan at Peking University and colleagues wondered if differences in religiosity might explain it. The majority of the Chinese population has no religious affiliation, the team notes, whereas this is not the case in Europe. Perhaps, then, people who believe in an afterlife are less troubled by seeing symbols of mortality — like graveyards — and this is why they are closer to the centres of so many European cities.

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Showing off your status and wealth makes you seem less co-operative

By Emma Young

People who can afford luxury goods tend to buy them, and to show them off.  “This is unsurprising given the myriad social benefits associated with being perceived as well-off and high status,” note the authors of a new study, led by Shalena Srna at the University of Michigan. But in some situations, there might be downsides to conspicuous consumption. After all, as the team writes: “it conveys a boastful self-interest, which is incompatible, in people’s minds, with pro-sociality”.

So what happens when — as is so often the case — it’s in our interests to work with others? Given the opportunity, do we show off, and signal high status — or do we choose to be more modest? The team’s findings, reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition, contain some important insights.

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