Category: Perception

We Find Some Word Sounds More Emotionally Arousing Than Others

By Emma Young

Of all “cross-modal” findings, the most famous is surely the bouba-kiki effect — that we tend to pair round, blobby shapes with the sound bouba and spiky shapes with kiki. However, research has not yet revealed why this effect is common among adults who speak very different languages — and even in infants as young as four.

Various theories have been put forward. One holds that levels of emotional arousal may be key — that both kiki and a spiky shape trigger relatively high levels of arousal, compared with bouba and a blob. Now a new study, reported in Psychological Science, provides compelling evidence for this idea. The researchers also take their findings further, arguing that they could have important implications for understanding the early evolution of languages.

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The Shape Of A Glass Can Influence How Much We Drink

By Matthew Warren

Recent years have seen the government take measures to try and limit people’s consumption of sugary drinks and other unhealthy foods. Take the so-called “sugar tax” placed on soft drinks, for instance, or the proposal to ban adverts for junk food before the 9pm watershed.

Some psychologists hope that small changes in design can also help “nudge” people into healthier behaviours. For example, a study from last year found that the order in which drinks are presented on the McDonald’s menu could encourage people to choose the sugar-free options more often.

Now a new paper in Scientific Reports suggests that the shape of a glass could also subtly influence people’s drinking behaviours.

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Cat People, Beware — Posing With Your Pet Could Make You Appear Less Dateable

By Emily Reynolds

If you’re looking to find love on a dating app, there’s plenty you need to think about: what to include in your bio, the interests you list, and what you say you’re looking for. And in an age of rapid swiping, you’re probably going to need a knock-out profile picture too.

But don’t be too quick to assume that a picture with your pet might boost your chances — at least if you’re a male cat owner, that is. According to Lori Kogan and Shelly Volsche, writing in Animals, men holding cats in photographs are seen as less masculine, more neurotic and ultimately less dateable.

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We’re Not Very Good At Identifying Illness From Sounds of Coughs and Sneezes

By Emily Reynolds

At the moment, most of us are on red alert when it comes to sounds of illness, with sniffling in the supermarket or coughing behind us in a queue the cause of significant alarm.

And while we might like to think we’re able to tell the difference between someone clearing their throat and somebody who is genuinely unwell, new research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests we’re less good at identifying threats than we think.

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Gradual Hearing Loss “Reorganises” Brain’s Sensory Areas And Impairs Memory (In Mice)

By Emma Young

In 2011, a US-based study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people with hearing loss were more likely to develop dementia. This alarming result prompted a number of follow-up studies, which have substantiated the link and further explored the risk. But the mechanism of how hearing loss raises this risk has not been clear.

Now a new study, by a team at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany, offers an explanation. The researchers found that gradual hearing loss (the sort commonly experienced into older age) “profoundly” alters normal processes in the brain’s cortex and hippocampus, and that this impairs memory. This work was conducted on mice, not humans. But it provides useful new insights into what might happen in people.

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Dreams Aren’t Just Visual: We Often Hear Voices And Other Sounds Too

By Emma Young

“At least since the philosophers of ancient Greece, scholars have pointed out the analogy between madness (psychosis) and dreaming…” So begins a new paper, published in PLoS One, that seems to shore up that analogy.

Dreams and psychotic hallucinations do have things in common. They both feature perceptual sensations that seem real, but which are conjured up by our brains.

However, there are also differences. While dreams are known to be highly visual, psychotic hallucinations are primarily auditory. They generally involve hearing things that aren’t real rather than seeing things that don’t exist. And this difference is an important reason why “the idea of dreaming as a model for psychosis has remained speculative and controversial,” write Roar Fosse of the Vestre Viken Hospital Trust, Norway, and Frank Larøi of the Norwegian Centre of Excellence for Mental Disorders Research at the University of Oslo.

However, to date, there’s been very little investigation into perceptions of sounds in dreams, the pair reports. And now they have data suggesting that, in fact, auditory perceptions are common. If this is the case, the links between psychotic experiences and dreams may be stronger than has been recently supposed.

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This Weird, Sound-Induced Illusion Makes You Feel That Your Finger Has Grown Longer

By Emma Young

Adults are vulnerable to all kinds of body illusions. We can be made to feel that a fake hand, or even a fake body, is our own; that we’ve left our body; even that we’re the size of a doll. These illusions work because our brains use information from various senses to create mental representations of our bodies. Mess with some of these sensory signals, and you can alter those representations, sometimes drastically.

Work to date suggests that young children don’t show the same susceptibilities to body illusions, presumably because the systems that underpin them are still developing. Now a new study, published in Scientific Reports, has found that a bizarre auditory-induced illusion that affects adults doesn’t work in quite the same way in young kids, either.

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Here’s How We Perceive The Political Leanings Of Different Fonts

Photo: The serif font Jubilat was used on signs for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid — though a new study suggests that sans serifs are generally seen as more liberal. Credit: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images.

By Emily Reynolds

Fonts can be very distinctive indeed. Even if robbed of their original context, it can be easy to identify the fonts used on the front of a Harry Potter book, adorning a Star Wars poster, or on the side of a Coca-Cola can, to name a few examples.

But particular fonts can also leave us with other impressions: the font used to brand a beloved book, for example, has different emotional connotations to the one you use to type emails. And according to new research in Communication Studies from Katherine Haenschen and Daniel Tamul at Virginia Tech, particular fonts may also carry some political connotations, too.

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Cold Days Can Make Us Long For Social Contact — But Warming Up Our Bodies Eliminates This Desire

Woman drinking hot tea, heating feet at home.

By Emma Young

From our earliest moments, our awareness of being physically close to someone else is tied up with perceptions of actual warmth. It’s been suggested that this relationship becomes deeply ingrained, with temperature in turn affecting our social perceptions on into adulthood. However, some of the most-publicised results in this field have failed to replicate, leading critics to query whether the relationship really exists.

Now a new paper, published in Social Psychology, provides an apparently compelling explanation for at least some inconsistencies in the results, and supports the idea that our temperature does indeed affect our social judgements.

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