Category: Cognition

Instructions Don’t Always Help Us To Do Better At A Task

By Emma Young

You might hate following instructions on how to do something, but there’s no avoiding them. Training on everything from how to drive a car to read an X-ray starts with explicit instructions — whether verbal or written, as the authors of a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance point out. In fact, Luke Rosedahl at UC, Santa Barbara and colleagues write, “This practice is so widely accepted that scholarship primarily focuses on how to provide instructions, not whether these instructions help or not.” Now the team reports that for learning how to do well at certain tasks, they do not help at all.

Continue reading “Instructions Don’t Always Help Us To Do Better At A Task”

Here’s How Psychologists Are Using Robots To Study The “Uncanny Valley”

By Emma L. Barratt

Mentioning the uncanny valley often brings one thing to mind — creepy dolls. The phenomenon, in which near-human-looking faces produce an inexplicable uneasy reaction in those who view them, was actually first described as an issue faced by roboticists. But the faces of dolls in particular are a cultural touchstone for uncanny feelings — at least in part due to their (over)use as a spooking-device in hundreds of horror movies over the years.

As such, psychological research has been conducted on the subtleties that non-human facial structure and expression can have on producing feelings of unease in those who view them. However, the uncanny valley isn’t just confined to faces, and its effects are not confined to just a horror movie device. For example, research from Burcu Urgen of Bilkent University demonstrates that biological-like motion can also trigger uncanny feelings, which poses real issues for those pushing the frontiers of robotics.

Continue reading “Here’s How Psychologists Are Using Robots To Study The “Uncanny Valley””

If You Want To Enjoy Leisure Time, Don’t Think Of It As Wasteful

By Emily Reynolds

However you like to take time for yourself, from reading to hiking to playing video games, leisure time can be a vital way of relaxing, promoting good mental and physical health, boosting social relationships, and inducing happiness. But whether we fully experience those benefits, a new study suggests, may depend on the way we view leisure time itself.

The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, explores how the enjoyment of leisure time changes when or if we think of that time as ‘wasteful’. It not only finds that people who believe leisure time is unproductive find it less enjoyable, but also that these beliefs are associated with depression, anxiety, and stress.

Continue reading “If You Want To Enjoy Leisure Time, Don’t Think Of It As Wasteful”

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.”

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

Conspiracy Theories Are More “Entertaining” Than The Truth — And This Helps Explain Why People Believe Them

By Emma Young

Conspiracy theories stoke anxiety and uncertainty and can even threaten the health of those who espouse them. Take Covid-19 anti-vaxxers, for example, who put themselves at risk by refusing a vaccine. So given those negative consequences, it’s surprising that conspiracy theories are so prolific.

Research shows that beliefs that other groups are colluding secretly to pursue malevolent goals (the definition of a conspiracy theory) are more common during times of crisis — like a global pandemic. Heightened anxiety is thought to lead people to (erroneously) believe that there are hostile forces at play. But now a paper in the British Journal of Psychology reveals another reason for why conspiracy theories can be appealing. Jan-Willem van Prooijen at the Free University Amsterdam and colleagues found that conspiracy theories provoke a stronger emotional reaction than relatively dull-but-true reality — and this encourages belief in them, especially for people who have the personality trait of being “sensation-seeking”.

Continue reading “Conspiracy Theories Are More “Entertaining” Than The Truth — And This Helps Explain Why People Believe Them”

People Who Trust Science Are Less Likely To Fall For Misinformation — Unless It Sounds Sciencey

By Matthew Warren

“Trust in the science” is the kind of refrain commonly uttered by well-meaning individuals looking to promote positive, scientifically-backed change, such as encouraging action against climate change or improving uptake of vaccines. The hope is that if people are encouraged to trust science, they will not be duped by those who are promoting the opposite agenda — one which often flies in the face of scientific evidence. But are people actually less likely to fall for misinformation when they have trust in science?

Yes and no, according to a new a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Thomas C O’Brien and colleagues from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign find that people with greater trust in science are generally less likely to believe misinformation. But when that misinformation is presented with scientific-sounding content to back it up, they become more easily duped by it.

Continue reading “People Who Trust Science Are Less Likely To Fall For Misinformation — Unless It Sounds Sciencey”

How Should You Talk To A Loved One Who Believes In Conspiracy Theories?

By Emily Reynolds

Conspiracy theories have surged over the last few years, as we’ve frequently reported. One 2018 study, for example, found that 60% of British people believed in a conspiracy theory. Meanwhile, the rise of QAnon in America has been particularly alarming.

It’s easy to dismiss conspiracy theorists — but this is not a productive way to tackle the issue. Instead, researchers are exploring why people get sucked into such belief systems, even at the expense of personal relationships. This work can help us understand why conspiracies spread, and provide some useful guidance for talking to loved ones who may have fallen for a conspiracy theory.

Continue reading “How Should You Talk To A Loved One Who Believes In Conspiracy Theories?”

Cats Like To Sit In Squares — Even Ones That Are Really Optical Illusions

By Emma Young

The world is not exactly short of videos of cute cats up to strange antics. But one particular set of videos collected by cat owners during a COVID-19 lockdown reveals something genuinely interesting: a famous optical illusion that fools us also gets cats. The citizen science project, in which cats were experimented on in their own homes, shows that they, too, are tricked by “Kanizsa squares”, an illusion that suggests the presence of a square that doesn’t in fact exist.

Continue reading “Cats Like To Sit In Squares — Even Ones That Are Really Optical Illusions”

Mindfulness Can Make Independent-Minded People Less Likely To Help Others

By Emily Reynolds

Mindfulness — in basic terms, the practice of being “present” in the moment and paying attention to one’s own thoughts and feelings — has seen something of a boom over the last few years. In the United States, the mindfulness business is set to reach a value of $2 billion by next year, while in the United Kingdom, lockdown saw a spike in downloads for digital meditation offerings such as Headspace and Calm. 

But is mindfulness all it’s cracked up to be? While it certainly has its benefits, some argue that it encourages blind acceptance of the status quo, taking us so far into ourselves that we forget the rest of the world. In a new preprint on PsyArxiv, Michael Poulin and colleagues from New York’s University at Buffalo also find that mindfulness can decrease prosocial behaviours — at least for those who see themselves as independent from others.

Continue reading “Mindfulness Can Make Independent-Minded People Less Likely To Help Others”

We Have A Strong Urge To Find Out What Might Have Been — Even When This Leads To Feelings Of Regret

By guest blogger Anna Greenburgh

Regret seems to be a fundamental part of the human experience. As James Baldwin wrote, “Though we would like to live without regrets, and sometimes proudly insist that we have none, this is not really possible, if only because we are mortal.” Expressions of regret are easy to find throughout the history of thought, and, as indicated in the Old Testament, intrinsic to regret is a sense of emotional pain: “God regretted making humans on earth; God’s heart was saddened”.

Given the aversive experience of regret, traditional models of decision-making predict that people should to try to avoid it. But of course, the picture is more complex — we all have experienced the desire to know what might have been, even if it leads to regret. Now a study in Psychological Science, led by Lily FitzGibbon at the University of Reading, finds that the lure of finding out what might have been is surprisingly enticing.

Continue reading “We Have A Strong Urge To Find Out What Might Have Been — Even When This Leads To Feelings Of Regret”