Comparative psychology is the study of animal behaviour, and its psychological underpinnings. But the term wasn’t always this restrictive. Until about 1935, plant behaviour also featured in texts in the field. Now Umberto Castiello at the University of Padua argues that it’s high time that plants regained their rightful place in the study of the psychology of non-human organisms.
In a paper published in the Journal of Comparative Psychology, Castiello gathers together a selection of recent evidence that plants can communicate, remember, recognise kin, decide and even count — “all abilities that one would normally call cognitive if they were observed in animals”. Far from being hard-wired, inflexible respondents to a changing world, they can adapt to change, benefit from classical conditioning, and even come to make predictions about the future.
There’s more than an improved understanding of plants at stake, writes Castiello: “As plants should be considered cognitive agents, as such, they offer us a unique opportunity for a comparative approach, which can potentially lead us to the ‘roots’ of cognition.”
What proportion of world history is the United Kingdom responsible for? While it’s clearly hard to put an exact number on it, you might be surprised by the answers participants gave in a 2018 study: on average, Brits believed that the country has contributed a whopping 55% of the total history of the world. And they weren’t alone: participants from 34 other countries all rated their own nations as having outsized contributions, from 11% in Switzerland to 61% in Russia.
Other work has found that people make similar claims about the regions they live in: one study found that Americans believe their own state is responsible for 18% of the nation’s history, despite just being one of 50 in the country. Now a series of studies in Memory & Cognition has looked at exactly why people make these judgements, known as “collective overclaiming”.
Memory complaints are fairly common among elderly people. Together with low participation in cognitively demanding activities, such as reading or doing crosswords, they can predict future declines — including the risk of developing dementia.
Some attempted online scams are pretty obvious: those of us who are internet savvy, for example, are unlikely to reply to emails promising us millions of pounds worth of Bitcoin, no matter how often they land in our inbox.
Others, however, are harder to detect — and we may be overestimating our ability to do so, according to a new study in Comprehensive Results in Social Psychology from E. Blair Cox and colleagues at New York University. It finds that people tend to believe they are less likely to fall for such scams than others, and that this assumption can actually put them at more risk.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.