Category: Cognition

Here’s How Long-Distance Runners Are Different From The Rest Of Us

By Emily Reynolds

For many, running a marathon is seen as the ultimate amateur athletic achievement; for others, it’s just the start. Ultramarathon runners often take on courses of incredibly impressive length, running 50 or 100 kilometres at one time or over several days.

Clearly this is physically demanding, and only those in seriously good shape will be able to take on such challenges — ultramarathon running involves stress on muscles and bones, blisters, dehydration, sleep deprivation and mental and physical fatigue, so it’s really not for the faint of heart.

But what about the psychological traits that make someone suitable for long-distance running? What kind of person can withstand this kind of physical stress, and how? A new study in the Australian Journal of Psychology takes a look. Continue reading “Here’s How Long-Distance Runners Are Different From The Rest Of Us”

Hard Workers Are More Inspiring Than Geniuses

By Emily Reynolds

Albert Einstein is often used as the ultimate inspirational figure in science: an untamed genius with an abundance of innate brilliance. The proliferation of memes and inspirational quotes about his allegedly underwhelming school performance only serves to highlight exactly how naturally brilliant he really was, succeeding against the odds.

But, it turns out, he might not be quite as inspiring as you think: according to a study published in Basic and Applied Social Psychology, it may in fact be hard work, not innate genius, that really inspires people to get into STEM. Continue reading “Hard Workers Are More Inspiring Than Geniuses”

Looking At Your Phone At Work Might Make You Even More Bored

By Emily Reynolds

There are plenty of things you can do in a five minute break at work — talk to a colleague, make a cup of tea or coffee, or even go outside for some fresh air. But with the advent of digital technology, many of us now spend the short lulls in our day doing something else: looking at our phones.

Previous research has already suggested (fairly unsurprisingly) that smartphone use increases as we get more bored or fatigued. It makes sense: if you’re doing a particularly tedious task at work, you’re much more likely to want to spend a few minutes scrolling on your phone than if you’re doing something deeply engaging.

But does looking at your phone actually relieve boredom? A new study from Jonas Dora and colleagues at Radboud University, available as a preprint at PsyArXiv, seems to suggest not.

Continue reading “Looking At Your Phone At Work Might Make You Even More Bored”

Knowing When A Task Is Going To End Makes Us Better At It

By Emily Reynolds

Deadlines, though stressful, can be a pretty good motivator. Knowing you have to submit some work by a particular date can make it easier to get things done; you simply have to get on with it. This also goes for non-professional deadlines — trying to get in shape by the time you run a specific race, for example, can be a lot more motivating than a more vague and nebulous desire to get fit.

But why is this the case? Maayan Katzir and colleagues at Tel Aviv University have investigated the phenomenon in a new paper, recently published in Cognition — and they suggest it may be down to how we conserve and use effort. Continue reading “Knowing When A Task Is Going To End Makes Us Better At It”

Why Some People Find It Harder To Drag Themselves To Bed At Night

By Emily Reynolds

You’re exhausted. You’ve had a long day at work before coming home to make dinner, do some chores and relax, and now it’s time for bed. But for some reason — despite the fact you’ve been struggling to stay awake all day — you can’t quite bring yourself to stop what you’re doing and go to sleep.

If this sounds familiar, you’ll be pleased to hear that you’re not the only one who lacks willpower when it’s time to go to bed. It’s so widespread, in fact, that Katharina Bernecker from the Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien and Veronika Job at the Technical University of Dresden have investigated what could be driving the phenomenon in a new paper published in the British Journal of Psychology.

Continue reading “Why Some People Find It Harder To Drag Themselves To Bed At Night”

We Consistently Overestimate How Much Other People Will Enjoy Or Pay For Stuff

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By Emma Young

Imagine taking a two-week holiday to the Bahamas. Sand, sea, and reef — who wouldn’t love it? I mean, personally, though I would love aspects of it, I’m quickly bored on a beach, I’m too nervous of deep water to dive and excessive sun brings me out in a rash. But that’s just me. Anyone else would just adore it….right?

This, it turns out, is a classic example of a bias, dubbed the overestimation bias, revealed in a new paper, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. In a series of studies involving thousands of participants, Minah Jung at New York University and colleagues found that we over-estimate how much other people will enjoy, pay for or wait for a desirable experience or object. The team thinks this is because while we can appreciate that a predominantly positive experience may have some downsides for us personally, we tend to assume that for somebody else, it will be more purely perfect.

Continue reading “We Consistently Overestimate How Much Other People Will Enjoy Or Pay For Stuff”

Eureka Moments Have A “Dark Side”: They Can Make False Facts Seem True

GettyImages-493584274.jpgBy Matthew Warren

We love a puzzle here at Research Digest — so here’s a couple from a recent paper in Cognition. See whether you can unscramble the anagrams in the following sentences (read on for the answers!):

The Cocos Islands are part of idnionsea

eeebyoshn kill more people worldwide each year than all poisonous snakes combined

If you successfully solved the anagrams, you may have experienced an “Aha!” or “Eureka” moment: a flash of insight where the solution suddenly becomes clear, perhaps after you have spent a while completely stumped. Usually when we experience these moments we have indeed arrived at the correct answer — they don’t tend to occur as much when we’ve stumbled upon an incorrect solution. And in fact, researchers have suggested that we even use Aha! moments as a quick way to judge the veracity of a solution or idea — they provide a kind of gut feeling which tells us that what has just popped into our mind is probably correct.

But relying on these experiences to gauge the truth of an idea can sometimes backfire, according to the authors of the new paper. The team found that experiencing sudden moments of insight when deciphering a statement can make people more likely to believe that it is true — even when it isn’t.

Continue reading “Eureka Moments Have A “Dark Side”: They Can Make False Facts Seem True”

Simply Imagining Other People Can Change Our Own Sense Of Self

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By Emma Young

“The sense of self is a hallmark of human experience. Each of us maintains a constellation of personal memories and personality traits that collectively define ‘who we really are'”.

So begins a new paper, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, which reveals that who you “are” can easily be manipulated. Just imagining somebody else can alter all kinds of aspects of how you see yourself, even including your personality and memories.

Continue reading “Simply Imagining Other People Can Change Our Own Sense Of Self”

Why We Continue to Believe False Information Even After We’ve Learned It’s Not True

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By guest blogger Rhi Willmot

Is your mental library a haven of accurate and well-informed facts, or are there mistruths hiding on the shelves? It’s natural to assume that we update our beliefs in line with the most recent and well-established evidence. But what really happens to our views when a celebrity endorses a product that becomes discredited by science, or when a newspaper publishes a story which is later retracted?

A recent paper from the Journal of Consumer Psychology presents a novel take on this topic, by investigating the continued influence effect. Anne Hamby and colleagues suggest that our likelihood of continuing to believe retracted information depends on whether or not it helps us to understand the cause-and-effect structure of an event. Crucially, the team proposes, we would rather have a complete understanding of why things happen than a perspective which is more accurate, but less complete.

Continue reading “Why We Continue to Believe False Information Even After We’ve Learned It’s Not True”

We’re Not Great At Thinking About The Long-Term Consequences Of Catastrophes That Threaten Our Existence

GettyImages-187023310.jpgBy Matthew Warren

Imagine that tomorrow a catastrophe wipes out 99% of the world’s population. That’s clearly not a desirable scenario — we would all agree that a peaceful, continued existence is preferable. Now imagine that the disaster kills everyone, wiping out the human race. Most of us would rate that as an even worse occurrence.

But how do we see the relative severity of these different possibilities?  Is there a bigger difference between nothing happening and 99% of people dying, or between 99% and 100% of people being wiped out?

This thought-experiment was first posed by the philosopher Derek Parfit, who thought most people would believe the first difference is greater — after all, going from business-as-usual to almost total annihilation is a big step. He, on the other hand, felt the second difference was greater by far: even if just a tiny fraction of humans survive, civilisation could continue for millions of years, but if humanity is wiped from the face of the Earth, then it’s all over.

Now a new study in Scientific Reports has found that, like Parfit predicted, most people don’t seem to share his view of human extinction as a “uniquely bad” catastrophe — until they are forced to go beyond their gut feeling and reflect on what extinction really means in the long term.

Continue reading “We’re Not Great At Thinking About The Long-Term Consequences Of Catastrophes That Threaten Our Existence”