Category: Feature

Which Human Experiences Are Universal?

By Emma Young

As everyone knows, American undergrads are not representative of all humanity — and the perils of drawing conclusions about people in general from WEIRD studies have been well-publicised. To really understand which human experiences are universal, and which are a product of our individual cultures, we need big, well-conducted studies of people from many different cultures. Fortunately, there are studies like this. Here are some of their most fascinating insights…

Continue reading “Which Human Experiences Are Universal?”

Musings On Music: Seven Insights From Psychology

By Emma Young

Music and humans go back a very long way. The earliest accepted instruments, made from bones, appear on the European scene about 40,000 years ago. But for perhaps at least a million years before that, our ancestors had the throat architecture that in theory would have allowed them to sing.

All kinds of ideas have been put forward for why and how music came to matter so much to us. But what’s abundantly clear is that it does matter; there isn’t a society out there that doesn’t make and listen to music. And new research is now revealing all manner of psychological and neurological effects… Continue reading “Musings On Music: Seven Insights From Psychology”

How To Get The Most Out Of Virtual Learning

By Emily Reynolds 

When the coronavirus hit, many of us had to quickly adapt to remote working — and even post-pandemic, many of us are likely to continue at least some of these tasks online.

Demands for more flexible working practices continue to grow, and for good reason — it can make life easier for employees with parenting or caring responsibilities, health problems or disabilities, and some argue it can also increase productivity. Online webinars and conferences also allow continued professional development without workers ever having to leave their home office.

Things are no different in the world of education: many undergraduate courses now provide lecture recordings for students to watch in their own time, and online masters programmes are offered by some of the UK’s top universities. Freshers’ Week this year is also likely to be very different, with many students experiencing a wholly virtual first year of university.

But learning online is not always easy. How do you concentrate when staring at a screen for hours at a time? How do you manage your workload? And what is the best strategy for note-taking? Here’s our digest of the findings that could help to make online learning stick.

Continue reading “How To Get The Most Out Of Virtual Learning”

Psychology Research In The Coronavirus Era: A “High Stakes Version Of Groundhog Day”?

By Matthew Warren

As the reality of the coronavirus pandemic set in in March, we looked at the work of psychologists attempting to understand how the crisis is affecting us, and to inform our response to it. A few months later, and hundreds of studies have been conducted or are in progress, examining everything from the spread of conspiracy theories to the characteristics that make people more likely to obey lockdown measures.

However, some researchers have raised alarm. They’re worried that many of these rapid new studies are falling prey to methodological issues which could lead to false results and misleading advice. Of course, these aren’t new problems: the pandemic comes at the end of a decade in which the field’s methodological crises have really been thrust under the spotlight. But is the coronavirus pandemic causing researchers to fall back on bad habits — or could it lead to positive change for the field? Continue reading “Psychology Research In The Coronavirus Era: A “High Stakes Version Of Groundhog Day”?”

Psychologists Are Mining Social Media Posts For Mental Health Research — But Many Users Have Concerns

By Emily Reynolds

This article contains discussion of suicide and self-harm

In 2014, the Samaritans launched what seemed like an innovative new project: Radar. Designed to provide what the charity described as an “online safety net”, users could sign up to Radar to receive updates on the content of other people’s tweets, with emails sent out based on a list of key phrases meant to detect whether someone was feeling distressed.

In principle, this meant people could keep an eye on friends who were vulnerable: if they missed a tweet where somebody said they felt suicidal or wanted to self-harm, for example, Radar would send it on, in theory increasing the likelihood that someone might get help or support.

In practice, however, things weren’t so simple. Some pointed out that the app could be used for stalking or harassment, allowing abuse to be targeted during someone’s lowest point. There were false positives, too — “I want to kill myself”, for example, is often used as hyperbole by people who aren’t actually distressed at all. And others felt it was an invasion of privacy: their tweets might be on a public platform, they argued, but they were personal expression. They hadn’t consented to being used as part of a programme like Radar, no matter how well meaning it was.

Samaritans shut down Radar just a week after launch. But since then, the use of social media data in mental health research — including tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts, and blogs — has only increased. Researchers hope that the volume of data social media offers will bring important insights into mental health. But many users worry about how their data is being used.

Continue reading “Psychologists Are Mining Social Media Posts For Mental Health Research — But Many Users Have Concerns”

Feeling Sleepy? Six Findings That Reveal The Nuanced Effects Of Poor Sleep

By Emma Young

We all know that too little sleep is bad for us. Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley sleep scientist and author of the best-selling Why We Sleep, has gone so far as to declare: “The shorter you sleep, the shorter your life.” However, some researchers fear that our concerns about not getting enough sleep are becoming overblown — and that, ironically, they could be making the problem worse. In this feature, we take a look at evidence that “too little” sleep isn’t always the disaster that it’s held up to be. Continue reading “Feeling Sleepy? Six Findings That Reveal The Nuanced Effects Of Poor Sleep”

How Psychology Researchers Are Responding To The COVID-19 Pandemic

By Matthew Warren

The world is currently in an unprecedented state of upheaval and uncertainty. As countries fight to minimise the spread of COVID-19, everyone is adjusting to the “new normal”, remaining at home and practising social distancing. And the same is true of the psychologists whose work we report on every day at Research Digest: labs have been shut and experiments have suddenly been put on hold in the wake of the pandemic.

But many psychologists have also begun launching new research to understand how the present crisis is affecting us, and to inform our response to it. So this week, I’ve been talking to some of these researchers to find out more about their work. Continue reading “How Psychology Researchers Are Responding To The COVID-19 Pandemic”

Character – “Caught” Or “Taught”?

Multi-ethnic preschool teacher and students in classroomBy Emma Young

How do you measure the success of a child’s education? Test results are one thing, and according to a recent global survey, British children have risen in the league tables for both maths and reading. However, these same teens reported among the lowest levels of life satisfaction. They may be performing well academically, but they’re not thriving.

This isn’t a problem only in the UK, of course. At a recent conference that I attended, organised by the Templeton World Charity Foundation, research psychologists, education specialists, economists and philosophers from around the world met to discuss how to help individuals and societies flourish in the 21st century. One word hung in the air as key: “character”.

Continue reading “Character – “Caught” Or “Taught”?”

How To Be An Effective Climate Activist, According To Psychology

Activists In Edinburgh Join The Global Climate Strike
Young activists take part in a climate strike in Edinburgh. Credit: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

By Emma Young

Watching climate activist Greta Thunberg’s passionate speech to world leaders at the UN in New York last September, it was impossible not to be struck by her depth of feeling. For me, it was deeply moving. For a guest speaking on Fox News, this was “climate hysteria” from a “mentally ill Swedish child”.

It’s hardly news to point out that Thunberg is polarising. For everyone who feels shocked and shamed into doing whatever they can — no matter how small — to mitigate climate change, there seems to be someone else who finds her outrage unbearable. But would Thunberg really be more broadly appealing if she did things any differently? Are there, in other words, any lessons from psychological research that she and other activists might bear in mind?

Continue reading “How To Be An Effective Climate Activist, According To Psychology”