Category: guest blogger

A New Take On The Marshmallow Test: Children Wait Longer For A Treat When Their Reputation Is At Stake

 By guest blogger Sofia Deleniv

Most people — even the non-psychologists among us — have at some point heard of the legendary marshmallow test, which measures the ability of preschool children to wait for a sweet treat. Researchers have found that the amount of time children are willing to wait for their marshmallow is surprisingly predictive of various life outcomes, such as educational attainment during adolescence, as well as social competence and resilience to stress throughout development. A recent fMRI brain scan study even found that people’s performance as kids is related to their ability to suppress their impulses, and is reflected in neurological signatures of cognitive control, 40 years later.

The test is clearly tapping into something crucial that shapes children’s futures to a considerable degree. But what exactly is it? Does the test  capture an ability that is akin to intelligence or intrinsic cognitive control, or might performance be a marker of some other underlying factor — such as the privilege of living in a supportive home where children can develop the trust capacity that enables them to wait for a reward?

The list of potential explanations is long — and now it has received a surprising new addition from a study recently published in Psychological Science. Fengling Ma from Zhejiang Sci-Tech University and colleagues have discovered that children can radically improve their performance on the marshmallow test if they believe their social reputation might be at stake — an effect that begins to emerge as early as three years of age.

Continue reading “A New Take On The Marshmallow Test: Children Wait Longer For A Treat When Their Reputation Is At Stake”

Vets Show “Weight Bias” Against Obese Dogs And Their Owners

By guest blogger Ananya Ak

The concept of weight bias or “fatphobia”, the social stigma around obesity, has been around for quite a while. Studies have shown that such stigma is present even among medical professionals, which negatively impacts quality of care for patients with obesity. Over the years, there have been several instances of doctors attributing medical symptoms to obesity when the symptoms were actually caused by something more serious, like a tumour.

But what about social stigma towards obese pets? Over 50% of cats and dogs in the USA are obese and, like humans, pets with obesity have a higher risk of metabolic, respiratory and other diseases. A new paper in the International Journal of Obesity examines whether the same weight bias that affects the delivery of healthcare in humans is prevalent among pet doctors as well.

Continue reading “Vets Show “Weight Bias” Against Obese Dogs And Their Owners”

Self-Compassion Can Protect You From Feeling Like A Burden When You Mess Things Up For Your Group

By guest blogger Itamar Shatz

It feels bad to know that you’ve messed up, especially when other people have to pay a price for your actions. Unfortunately, this feeling is something that most of us end up experiencing at one point or another — when we’re placed on a team with other people at school or at a job, for instance, and make a mistake that forces our team members to do more work as a result.

However, recent research, published in Social Psychology by James Wirth at Ohio State University and his colleagues, shows that there is a trait that can reduce those negative feelings, called “self-compassion”.

Continue reading “Self-Compassion Can Protect You From Feeling Like A Burden When You Mess Things Up For Your Group”

“Visual-Verbal Prompting” Could Make Interviews More Manageable For Autistic People

By guest blogger Dan Carney

A key feature of interviews is open-ended questioning inviting the recall of past experiences and memories — what psychologists call “autobiographical” memory. Having to provide this information accurately and coherently, combined with the stress of the situation, can often make being interviewed a demanding and uncomfortable experience.

That is especially true of autistic people, who may have difficulties with both autobiographical memory and open-ended questioning. Many autistic people report job interviews as a major barrier to employment, and it’s possible that interview difficulties may also be compounding, or partially causing, problems in legal and healthcare contexts where open-ended interviews requiring autobiographical recall are a common feature. Autistic people are more likely to be involved in criminal investigations, for instance, and to experience physical and mental health difficulties.

Now, in a paper published in Autism, a team led by Jade Norris from the University of Bath has examined techniques that may help autistic people in these situations. Continue reading ““Visual-Verbal Prompting” Could Make Interviews More Manageable For Autistic People”

Researchers Once Found That People Believe In “Climate Change” More Than “Global Warming” — But Word Choice No Longer Seems To Matter

By guest blogger Jesse Singal

One of the biggest political challenges of this era is getting powerful people to take the threat of climate change seriously. The most straightforward way to do that would be with bottom-up pressure: if the people who vote demand that their leaders take assertive action against climate change, then politicians will have no choice but to do so (at least if they want to get into office, or to stay there). The major challenge to this, in turn, has been the lingering influence of climate denialism: disbelief in the reality that humans are the cause of climate change, or in the seriousness of the problem.

What can be done to combat climate denialism? Back in 2011, the researchers Jonathon P. Schuldt, Sara H. Konrath, and Norbert Schwarz published an article in Public Opinion Quarterly which suggested one possible partial remedy: framing the issue a bit differently. They found that 75.0% of Americans expressed belief in “climate change,” but only 67.7% in “global warming.” It was Republicans driving this effect: among this more politically conservative subset of Americans, the difference was 60.2% versus 44.0%.

Those findings suggested that environmental campaigns and policy initiatives might do better if they refer to “climate change” rather than “global warming”, write Alistair Raymond Bryce Soutter and René Mõttus in a new paper in the Journal of Environmental Psychology. But while some follow-up studies had been conducted on this issue, with fairly mixed results, no one had yet carried out a direct, pre-registered replication. So Soutter and Mõttus attempted to both replicate the original result and expand it to two other countries: the United Kingdom and Australia. (This gave them a total sample size of 5,717, about double that of the original study.)

Continue reading “Researchers Once Found That People Believe In “Climate Change” More Than “Global Warming” — But Word Choice No Longer Seems To Matter”

Pop Concert, Opera — Or Both? What Drives People To Become “Cultural Omnivores”

By guest blogger Tomasz Witkowski

While waiting for the philharmonic orchestra to begin in the concert hall, you observe the people around you and wonder, “What made them come to this place?” The love of music? Snobbery? Conformism — because other friends do this? Or, maybe there are other, deeper motives? Similar questions arise when we think about what drives people to participate in pop culture and consume its products. Do they simply enjoy it? Scientists’ answers to this question can be surprising. For example, one study suggests that we consume pop culture because we suffer psychological ill effects from feeling out of the loop.

But what drives people to become cultural omnivores, those who consume both “highbrow” and “lowbrow” culture? Hanna Shin and Nara Youn from Hongik University in Seoul recently investigated this question in a paper in Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts.

Continue reading “Pop Concert, Opera — Or Both? What Drives People To Become “Cultural Omnivores””

We Tend To See Acts We Disapprove Of As Deliberate — A Bias That Helps Explain Why Conservatives Believe In Free Will More Than Liberals

By guest blogger Jesse Singal

One of the most important and durable findings in moral and political psychology is that there is a tail-wags-the-dog aspect to human morality. Most of us like to think we have carefully thought-through, coherent moral systems that guide our behaviour and judgements. In reality our behaviour and judgements often stem from gut-level impulses, and only after the fact do we build elaborate moral rationales to justify what we believe and do.

A new paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology examines this issue through a fascinating lens: free will. Or, more specifically, via people’s judgments about how much free will others had when committing various transgressions. The team, led by Jim A. C. Everett of the University of Kent and Cory J. Clark of Durham University, ran 14 studies geared at evaluating the possibility that at least some of the time the moral tail wags the dog: first people decide whether someone is blameworthy, and then judge how much free will they have, in a way that allows them to justify blaming those they want to blame and excusing those they want to excuse.

Continue reading “We Tend To See Acts We Disapprove Of As Deliberate — A Bias That Helps Explain Why Conservatives Believe In Free Will More Than Liberals”

Siblings Who Believe Their Family Has A Lower Social Standing Are More Likely To Experience Mental Health Difficulties

By guest blogger Sofia Deleniv

Most of us are not surprised to hear that a child’s chances of achieving success, physical health, and mental well-being depend heavily on the socioeconomic status of the family into which they are born. A large-scale global study commissioned by the World Health Organisation found that the lower the income of a family, the more likely their child is to suffer physical and mental health issues later in life, run into problems with the legal system, and die early.

But a physical lack of resources may not be the only factor driving poor outcomes. Last month, a study published in PNAS revealed that children’s perceptions of their family’s socioeconomic standing might matter more than how well their families are actually doing — at least when it comes to their mental health.

Continue reading “Siblings Who Believe Their Family Has A Lower Social Standing Are More Likely To Experience Mental Health Difficulties”

Conservatives Might Not Have A More Potent Fear Response Than Liberals After All

Terrifying SceneBy guest blogger Jesse Singal

If you follow mainstream science coverage, you have likely heard by now that many scientists believe that the differences between liberals and conservatives aren’t just ideological, but biological or neurological. That is, these differences are driven by deeply-seated features of our bodies and minds which exist prior to any sort of conscious evaluation of a given issue.

Lately, though, follow-up research has been poking some holes in this general theory. In November, for example, Emma Young wrote about findings which undermined past suggestions that conservatives are more readily disgusted than liberals. More broadly, as I wrote in 2018, there’s a burgeoning movement in social and political psychology to re-evaluate some of the strongest claims about liberal-conservative personality differences, with at least some evidence to suggest that the nature and magnitude of these differences has been overblown by shoddy or biased research.

Now, a new study set to appear in the Journal of Politics and available in preprint here suggests that another key claim about liberal-conservative differences may be less sturdy than it appears.

Continue reading “Conservatives Might Not Have A More Potent Fear Response Than Liberals After All”

What People Think They Know About Autism Bears Little Relation To Their Actual Knowledge

Two Heads With Brain Looking Opposite Side

By guest blogger Dan Carney

One of the most well-known psychological biases is the Dunning-Kruger effect: the tendency for individuals less skilled or knowledgeable in a particular area to overestimate their own performance. Now, a team of researchers from Miami University, Ohio, have offered the most robust evidence yet that this may apply to knowledge about autism — that what people think they know about the condition may not be that closely related to what they actually know.
Continue reading “What People Think They Know About Autism Bears Little Relation To Their Actual Knowledge”