Category: Student features

9 evidence-based study tips

The September issue of The Psychologist magazine is a free-to-view student special containing a feature (pdf) by the Research Digest editor on the journey from A-level to Undergrad psychology, including the following 9 evidence-based study tips:

Adopt a growth mindset. Students who believe that intelligence and academic ability are fixed tend to stumble at the first hurdle. By contrast, those with a ‘growth mindset’, who see intelligence as malleable, react to adversity by working harder and trying out new strategies. These findings come from research by Carol Dweck, a psychologist based at Stanford University. Her research also suggests lecturers and teachers should offer praise in a way that fosters in students a growth mindset – avoid comments on innate ability and emphasise instead what students did well to achieve their success.

Sleep well. A 2007 study covered on the Research Digest found that lack of sleep impairs students’ ability to learn new information. Twenty-eight participants attempted to remember a series of pictures of people, landscapes, scenes and objects. Crucially half had slept normally the previous night whereas the other half had been kept awake. When tested two days later, after everyone had had two nights of normal sleep, Matthew Walker found that the previously sleep-deprived students recognised 19 per cent fewer pictures in a recognition memory test.

Forgive yourself for procrastinating. Everyone procrastinates at some time or another – it’s part of human nature. The secret to recovering from a bout of procrastination, according to a 2010 study covered by the Digest, is to forgive yourself. Michael Wohl and colleagues followed 134 first year undergrads through their first two sessions of mid-term exams. Those who had forgiven themselves for procrastination prior to the initial mid-terms were less likely to procrastinate prior to the second lot of exams and tended to do better as a result.

Test yourself. A powerful finding in laboratory studies of learning is the ‘testing effect’ whereby time spent answering quiz questions (including feedback of correct answers) is more beneficial than the same time spent merely re-studying that same material. In a guest post for the Research Digest, Nate Kornell of UCLA explained that testing ‘creates powerful memories that are not easily forgotten’ and it allows you to diagnose your learning. Kornell also had a warning: ‘self-testing when information is still fresh in your memory, immediately after studying, doesn’t work. It does not create lasting memories, and it creates overconfidence.’

Pace your studies. The secret to remembering material long-term is to review it periodically, rather than trying to cram. In a 2007 study covered by the Digest, Doug Rohrer and Harold Pashler showed that the optimal time to leave material before reviewing it is 10 to 30 per cent of the period you want to remember it for. So, if you were to be tested eleven days after first studying some material, the ideal time to revisit it would be a day later. If it’s seven months from your initial study of the material to an exam, then reviewing the material after a month is optimal.

Vivid examples may not always work best. Common sense tells us that effective teaching involves dreaming up interesting real-life examples to help teach complicated, abstract concepts. However, in a 2008 study by Jennifer Kaminski and colleagues, students taught about mathematical relations linking three items in a group were only able to transfer the rules to a novel, real-life situation if they were originally taught the rules using abstract symbols. Those taught with the metaphorical aid of water jugs and pizza slices were unable to transfer what they’d learned.

Take naps. Numerous studies have shown that naps as short as ten minutes can reduce subsequent fatigue and help boost concentration. It’s only recently, however, that researchers have turned their attention to napping technique. Dayong Zhao and colleagues recruited 30 undergrad regular nappers and tested whether it makes any difference if you nap lying down or leaning forward with your head rested on a desk. Zhao’s team found that a post-luncheon twenty-minute nap in either position was associated with increased performance at an auditory oddball task (listening to a series of tones and spotting the odd one out), but only napping lying down was associated with an increased P300 brain wave signal during the task recorded via EEG – a sign of increased mental alertness.

Get handouts prior to the lecture. Students given Powerpoint slide handouts before a lecture made fewer notes but performed the same or better in a later test of the lecture material than students who weren’t given the handouts until the lecture was over. That’s according to a study by Elizabeth Marsh and Holli Sink, reported by the Research Digest, which involved dozens of undergrads watching video clips of real-life lectures. The researchers warned their results are only preliminary but they concluded that ‘in situations where students’ notes are likely to reiterate the content of the slides, there is no harm from releasing students from note-taking.’

Believe in yourself. Self-belief affects problem-solving abilities even when the influence of background knowledge is taken into account. Bobby Hoffman and Alexandru Spatariu showed this in 2008 in the context of 81 undergrad students solving mental multiplication problems. The students’ belief in their own ability, called ‘self-efficacy’, and their general ability both made unique contributions to their performance. ‘In learning situations,‘ the researchers concluded, ‘there is a natural tendency to build basic skills, but that is only part of the formula. Instructors that focus on building the confidence of students, providing strategic instruction, and giving relevant feedback can enhance performance outcomes.’

Other features in this month’s issue of The Psychologist include: Charles Spence on his mouth-watering research into multi-sensory perception; Janelle Ward studies the last statements from those on death row; Psychologist editor @jonmsutton poses questions for psychology’s Twitterati; Thomas L. Webb on ensuring students get more out of taking part in research; José Cuenca offers reflections as a research student in psychology, in the first of a new series aiming to unearth budding talent; and Nestar Russell explores the early evolution of Stanley Milgram’s first official obedience to authority experiment. Plus there’s the usual mix of news, views, and reviews. Digital previews of earlier issues are also available.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Statistical significance explained in plain English

Warren Davies, a positive psychology MSc student at UEL, provides the latest in our ongoing series of guest features for students. Warren has just released a Psychology Study Guide, which covers information on statistics, research methods and study skills for psychology students.

Today I’m delighted to discuss an absolutely fascinating topic in psychology – statistical significance. I know you’re as excited about this as I am!

Why is psychology a science? Why bother with complicated research methods and statistical analyses? The answer is that we want to be as sure as possible that our theories about the mind and behaviour are correct. These theories are important – many decisions in areas like psychotherapy, business and social policy depend on what psychologists say.

Despite the myriad rules and procedures of science, some research findings are pure flukes. Perhaps you’re testing a new drug, and by chance alone, a large number of people spontaneously get better. The better your study is conducted, the lower the chance that your result was a fluke – but still, there is always a certain probability that it was.

In science we’re always testing hypotheses. We never conduct a study to ‘see what happens’, because there’s always at least one way to make any useless set of data look important. We take a risk; we put our idea on the line and expose it to potential refutation. Therefore, all statistical tests in psychology test the probability of obtaining your given set of results (and all those that are even more extreme) if the hypothesis were incorrect – i.e. the null hypothesis were true.

Say I create a loaded die that I believe will always roll a six. I’ve invited you round to my house tonight for a nice cup of tea and a spot of gambling. I plan to hustle you out of lots of money (don’t worry, we’re good friends and always playing tricks like this on each other). Before you arrive I want to test my hypothesis that the die is loaded against my null hypothesis that it isn’t.

I roll the die. A six. Success! But wait… there’s actually a 1:6 chance that I would have gotten this result, even if the null hypothesis was correct. Not good enough. Better roll again. Another six! That’s more like it; there’s a 1:36 chance of getting two sixes, assuming the null hypothesis is correct.

The more sixes I roll, the lower the probability that my results came about by chance, and therefore the more confident I could be in rejecting the null hypothesis.

This is what statistical significance testing tells you – the probability that the result (and all those that are even more extreme) would have come about if the null hypothesis were true (in this case, if the die were truly random and not loaded). It’s given as a value between 0 and 1, and labelled p. So p = .01 means a 1% chance of getting the results if the null hypothesis were true; p = .5 means 50% chance, p = .99 means 99%, and so on.

In psychology we usually look for p values lower than .05, or 5%. That’s what you should look out for when reading journal papers. If there’s less than a 5% chance of getting the result if the null hypothesis were true, a psychologist will be happy with that, and the result is more likely to get published.

Significance testing is not perfect, though. Remember this: ‘Statistical significance is not psychological significance.’ You must look at other things too; the effect size, the power, the theoretical underpinnings. Combined, they tell a story about how important the results are, and with time you’ll get better and better at interpreting this story.

And that, in a nutshell, is what statistical significance is. Enthralling, isn’t it?

Editor’s note (07/09/2010): This post has been edited to correct for the fact that statistical significance pertains to the likelihood of a given set of results (and those even more extreme) being obtained if the null hypothesis were true, not to the probability that the hypothesis is correct, as was erroneously stated before. Sincere apologies for any confusion caused.

Why psychologists study synaesthesia

Finn Toner provides the latest in our ongoing series of guest features for students. Finn is currently reading an MSc in Mental Health Studies at the Institute of Psychiatry; he blogs at Musings.

Synaesthesia is a condition in which the stimulation of one sense consistently gives rise to an automatic experience in a different sensory modality. These ‘sensory blendings’ are experienced by only a minority of the population, but there have been many famous synaesthetes, especially within the art and music world; for example, Thom Yorke from the band Radiohead apparently ‘sees’ certain musical sounds as colours. The condition is not only interesting in its own right, but several recent findings demonstrate that the study of synaesthesia has the potential to inform our ideas about normal cognition.

It has recently been demonstrated that synaesthetes have unusual neuronal wiring. Using an imaging technique called diffusion tensor imaging, Romke Rouw and Steven Scholte demonstrated that grapheme-colour synaesthetes (graphemes are letters or numbers) have more neuronal connections between a variety of brain areas traditionally associated with visual perception, such as the temporal cortex and fusiform gyrus. This suggests that synaesthesia might result from this abnormal cross-wiring.

However, it has also recently been demonstrated that a transient grapheme-colour synaesthetic experience can be induced in non-synaesthetes, who presumably lack such additional neural connections [pdf]. Using a hypnotic suggestion technique, which is thought to influence the level of neural inhibition, Roi Cohen Kadosh and colleagues reported that the perceptual experience of control participants matched those of congenital synaesthetes. This suggests that synaesthesia might result from the disinhibition of a normal perceptual process; a likely candidate mechanism in this case is disinhibition of feedback, whereby grapheme-induced activation of a polysensory neuron could result in sensory ‘leakage’ back along the colour perception pathway, and result in the sensation of coloured graphemes. Indeed, such a process could foreseeably happen in a brain area such as the superior temporal sulcus, which is considered an important multi-sensory nexus.

These apparently contradictory findings provide support for the respective traditional theories of synaesthesia – wiring vs. disinhibition – the debate between which has yet to be resolved. However, findings like these also act to emphasise both that we should consider the brain as a functionally interactive and parallel network, and that the resulting neural processes can act in both a bottom-up and top-down fashion. This interactionist perspective on cognition is in stark contrast to the initial Input–Process–Output models proposed at the start of the cognitive revolution.

Specific unusual cases of synaesthesia can also provide interesting insight into normal cognition. In 2007, Daniel Smilek and colleagues reported the case of participant TE, for whom graphemes are experienced as having individual personalities. In an attentional task, they demonstrated that TE fixates significantly longer on graphemes with a negative personality; this implies that she may have difficulty in disengaging her attention from negative graphemes. This example of how synaesthesia can influence overt attention demonstrates that the boundary between the cognitive processes of perception and attention is blurry, again contradicting traditionalist views of cognition.

A final issue is the degree to which synaesthesia is ‘normal’. Consider the correspondence between smell and taste: most of us experience a blending of these senses to create the experience of flavour. It is currently debatable as to when such perceptual integration is ‘normal’ or when it is ‘synaesthetic’ – perhaps we are all synaesthetes to a certain extent!

Five minutes with the authors of two recent influential studies in psychology

In this post we’ve asked the authors of two recent studies a number of questions about their influential work, including what inspired them in the first place. The studies are covered in detail in the new GCSE (an exam taken by 13-16 year-olds in parts of the UK) syllabus run by the OCR exam board in the UK. The researchers’ answers provide a revealing insight into the creativity and meticulousness underlying the design of psychology experiments.

Terry, W.S. (2005). Serial position Effects in Recall of Television Commercials. Journal of General Psychology, 132, 151-63.

Scott Terry: “Although I am a fairly traditional experimental psychologist, I look for research that bridges the laboratory-applied divide. I found some surveys that asked people to recall commercials they had recently seen on television, but I realized that the internal validity of such designs was limited. I believe the strongest scientific conclusions require the combination of both realistic field research and controlled experiments. So I decided to use commercials as the stimulus materials, but otherwise follow the standard laboratory format for a free recall experiment: stimulus duration, retention interval, recall and recognition testing. (Okay, I also thought that a study of serial position in memory for commercials was a cute idea.)

The main challenge faced in these studies was in assembling the lists. We (student John Bello and I) videotaped commercials. Then, using two videotape recorders, we had to copy and paste from tape-to-tape to construct the lists. Multiple lists, multiple sequences, and multiple experiments. If we had waited a few years the Apple software for video files would make the process simpler.

The resulting publication seems to be of some general interest. Textbook writers want to know more, and university students use the idea for projects. However, it seems the memory psychologists note the research is atheoretical (not addressed to any particular theory of serial position). Advertising researchers say it is not realistic enough. So there is still no common ground between the two camps.

I continue to research everyday memory phenomena, such as the difficulty in learning names, and why people forget the locations of objects placed in special locations. As for commercials, I’ve seen enough for now.”

Yuki, M. Maddux, W. W., and Masuda,T. (2007). Are the windows to the soul the same in the East and West? Cultural differences in using their eyes and mouth as cues to recognize emotions in Japan and in the United States. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43, 303-311 . (link is to full-text pdf).

Masaki Yuki (Hokkaido University): “The inspiration for this study was my personal experience. Since my childhood, I have been amazed by how different American smiles were compared to my standard. Their facial expressions were much more intense, while opening their mouths widely, and raising the corners of their mouths up high. Later, when I communicated with my American colleagues by email, I realized that the happy ‘emoticons’ that they used, or :), was different from that of Japanese (^_^). And one day, it dawned on me that these faces actually looked exactly like typical American and Japanese smiles. It was the moment when I came up with the hypothesis that, if that is really the case, Americans and Japanese would look at different parts of the face when they try to infer others’ feelings: the mouth for Americans, the eyes for Japanese.

I started looking for scientific evidence which might support my impression based on these anecdotes. The range of studies that provide us with relevant ideas varies. First, cultural psychologists had pointed out that East Asians generally emphasized interpersonal harmony more than North Americans. Second, emotion researchers maintain that, East Asians are more likely than their Western counterparts to control/suppress their facial expression. Third, much neurophysiological evidence indicates that control of muscle around the mouth is easy, but it is hard to do it with the muscle around the eyes. Thus, if you try to interpret genuine emotion of others who are trying to suppress their facial expression, you had better look at their eyes. We attempted to synthesize these findings by examining cultural differences in interpretation of facial expressions.

To assess the independent effects of shapes of eyes and mouth on emotion perception, we used artificially morphed images in which the eyes and mouth were taken from different emoticons and facial expressions. However, we acknowledge that we could include images of full happy and sad faces (with both the eyes and mouth smiling or crying) in the experimental design, which may allow us to broaden our findings to images of natural facial expressions.

Our findings caught broad attention, both in academics and general public. The paper has been cited by psychological and neuroscientific articles, and the story has been mentioned by major newspapers and radio shows. It is really exciting for me to share the findings with people in a variety of fields.

Our team, Takahiko Masuda at University of Alberta, William W. Maddux at INSEAD, and myself, are now conducting a more sophisticated study so as to replicate the findings. I am hoping that this will provide us with much clearer evidence which further proves our hypothesis. Besides, I am also hoping that the other lines of research of mine, such as cross-cultural differences in group processes, and socio-ecological foundations of cross-cultural differences, will attract more attention, like this paper did 🙂 “

Link to resources post for OCR A-level.

How do psychologists study what we know about ourselves?

Dr. Virginia Kwan of Princeton University, with the latest in our ongoing series of guest features for students.

One of the most direct ways in which psychologists learn about how people think about themselves is by simply asking people about themselves (e.g. “How smart do you think you are?”). There are many advantages to self-reports in studying self-perception. They are simple, inexpensive – there are no fancy machines or complicated experimental setups – and revealing; after all, who knows you better than you?

Nevertheless, self-reports have their flaws. One problem is that self-reports are subject to social desirability concerns, making them vulnerable to misreporting. When people know that someone else is going to hear their response to a question, they may change their answer, even unknowingly. Another issue concerning self-reports is whether people are consciously aware of their self-perception and whether they are able to report it accurately.

No single measure is perfect, which is why psychologists often use both self-reports and implicit measures. Implicit measures are designed to be free of social desirability concern by tapping into unconscious aspects of self-perception. For example, during the Rorschach inkblot test, people are presented with ambiguous inkblot images and are asked to interpret them. The interpretation of ambiguous stimuli is thought to reflect personality characteristics and emotional states (see also prior Digest item on implicit test of attitudes).

Why should we care about self-perception? Psychologists have studied self-perception extensively because many believe it is essential for human functioning. One question that has endured, however, is whether we are better off seeing ourselves accurately or through a rose-coloured glass (see Block & Colvin, 1994; Sedikides et al pdf; Taylor & Brown, 1988 pdf). Recent research suggests that overly positive self-perception, known as self-enhancement, may be a mixed blessing for mental health (Bonanno et al; Kwan et al pdf; Paulhus, 1998 pdf).

But overly positive compared to what? Self-perception is an inherently social phenomenon. The way we see ourselves and the ways we are seen by others are closely intertwined. To examine self-enhancement, my colleagues and I (pdf) asked study participants to rate themselves and each other on personality attributes following a group interaction. Comparing all of these ratings allowed us to study the effects of self-enhancement by taking into account the ways people perceive others as well as how they are perceived by them. Our findings suggest that seeing oneself in an overly positive light compared to the social reality leads to maladjustment, but on the other hand, seeing oneself more positively than we see others leads to higher self-esteem and other intrapsychic benefits.

How to study

Dr. Nate Kornell of UCLA, with the fifth article in our ongoing series of guest features.

Although as students we have all spent countless hours studying, we receive little guidance in how to study effectively. There are no shortcuts to effective studying, but in general, being actively involved in learning makes studying effective. Some specific points are obvious: pay attention in class, do the reading, don’t procrastinate, while others should be obvious but aren’t: study in a quiet place without distractions, don’t send text messages during class, ask questions if you are confused.

Here are three unintuitive but very effective ways of studying based on findings from psychological research:

Space your study. We humans, and other animals as well, learn more by spacing study sessions out in time (pdf) than we do by massing them together (e.g. by cramming). For example, read a chapter at one time, and review it at another time; if you are studying a set of flashcards, study it every day, instead of intensely all at once. My own research has shown the benefits of spacing in learning about artists’ styles, learning vocabulary words using flashcards, and learning physics concepts, among other topics. If you don’t think spacing will work for you, think again—spacing is virtually always effective, even when it feels counterproductive.

Ask yourself questions. Testing oneself while studying has two advantages: First, it requires retrieving knowledge from memory. Doing so creates powerful memories (pdf) that are not easily forgotten. Second, self-testing allows you to diagnose your learning. If you test yourself before your exams, you can identify and rectify your weaknesses beforehand, instead of regretting them afterwards. A warning though: Self-testing when the information is still fresh in your memory, immediately after studying, doesn’t work. It does not create lasting memories, and it creates overconfidence.

Summarize and integrate. After going to class or reading a chapter, try to summarize the main points, and think about how they relate to the topic at large and to your own experience. This process, known as knowledge integration, creates lasting memories, and has the added benefit of requiring you to recall the information. One way to do so is to “learn by teaching”—that is, tell others about what you have learned, including fellow students or, if you don’t mind being boring, friends and family. Explaining requires integration and summarization, and it is an excellent way to expose the gaps in your own knowledge.

The steps above might seem burdensome, but the long-term benefits far outweigh the costs. A student looking to minimize effort would do well to follow them.

Link to more information.
Link to Nate Kornell’s website.
Link to article from this month’s Psychologist magazine on how to think like a psychologist (open access).

Psychological research in virtual worlds

Nick Yee of Stanford University, with the fourth article in our series of guest features.

Virtual worlds (such as World of Warcraft and Second Life) have received a great deal of media and academic attention recently. While these virtual communities provide us with a new and fascinating area of study, it is also important to understand how these virtual environments provide us with new research tools.

Several lines of research in this area have emphasized the methodological possibilities of this emerging technology. One research paradigm known as Transformed Social Interaction purposefully breaks and alters the rules of social interaction in order to gain insight into communication and interaction processes. In the physical world, two people interacting in the same space necessarily share the same reality. On the other hand, in a virtual environment where users view the shared environment from their own computer terminals or virtual reality goggles, their realities need not be congruent. Thus, for example, I may perceive my avatar (a digital representation of myself) to be short while you perceive my avatar to be tall. These non-congruent reality scenarios open up a range of research questions in stereotype threat, behavioral confirmation, and self-perception theory among other psychological theories.

Virtual environments also allow us to endlessly recreate and customize how we appear. While it is difficult to alter a participant’s height (let alone race or gender) in a lab experiment, virtual environments make it easy to explore what it means to be in a different body. For example, a line of research known as the Proteus Effect has shown that users conform to stereotypes based on their avatar’s appearance. Thus, participants given attractive avatars provided more information about themselves to a confederate stranger than participants given unattractive avatars. In addition to putting participants in someone else’s body, virtual environments also allow participants to watch their avatar (i.e. themselves) do something they never did. The fluidity of our virtual bodies allows us to ask provocative questions related to identity, false memories, and cognitive dissonance.

And finally, virtual environments keep track of a great deal of behavioral data. Everything a user does in an online game can potentially be tracked and accumulated over time with a precision not possible in the physical world. While a great deal of psychology research focuses on individual, dyadic, or small group effects, virtual environments provide the opportunity to study social interaction and communication processes at a community level. For example, could altruism be engineered into a virtual community via non-congruent realities? Furthermore, these virtual environments could also allow experimental manipulations on a scale not previously possible in traditional lab settings.

Further Reading:

Bailenson, J.N., Beall, A.C., Loomis, J., Blascovich, J. & Turk, M. (2004). Transformed Social Interaction: Decoupling Representation from Behavior and Form in Collaborative Virtual Environments. PRESENCE: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 13(4), 428-441.

Yee, N. & Bailenson, J.N. (2007, in press). The Proteus Effect: Self Transformations in Virtual Reality. Human Communication Research.

Ducheneaut, N., Yee, N., Nickell, E. & Moore, R.J. (2006). “Alone Together? Exploring the Social Dynamics of Massively Multiplayer Games.” In conference proceedings on human factors in computing systems CHI 2006, pp.407-416. April 22-27, Montreal, PQ, Canada.

The Digest needs you. If you’d like to write about your area of psychology research, please get in touch on: christian at

An introduction to psychophysics

In the third of our ongoing series of guest features for students, Dr. Tom Stafford of the University of Sheffield introduces psychophysics.

How far away can you see a candle at night? Why can’t you see it at the same distance during the day? How much do I have to turn up the volume before something seems twice as loud?

All these questions are about measuring the relation between physical qualities and the psychological impressions they cause. Psychophysics is the part of psychology which involves the systematic and precise investigation of these relationships.

Founded in the laboratory of German Gustav Fechner, psychophysics is one of the parents of modern experimental psychology. It demonstrated that mathematical analysis could be applied to subjective reports, and that principled relationships could be discovered between physical quantities and subjective impressions.

Let’s take a close look at a famous example: Weber’s Law, named after Ernst Weber, a colleague of Fechner’s. This formula describes how changes in the subjective perception of stimulus intensity (e.g. how heavy a weight feels) are related to the actual change in stimulus magnitude (how much something actually weighs). You can look up the mathematics of this if you’re interested, but a plain-language interpretation is that to increase the perceived intensity of a stimulus you need to increase its physical magnitude by a constant proportion, not a constant absolute amount.

Imagine: you can make an empty bag feel heavier by putting in a book, but a single book won’t make a bag full of bricks feel heavier, even though in both cases you are adding the same amount of weight. Weber’s Law gives you a mathematical way to calculate how much you would need to increase or decrease the physical weight to produce a subjective impression of a change in heaviness. It also allows you to compare sensitivity between the senses – showing, for example that we are more sensitive to brightness than loudness, because the proportional change needed to create a noticeable difference for lights is smaller than that needed for sounds.

As well as discovering many of the few laws that exist in psychology, psychophysics has generated methods and theories which are applied across all of experimental psychology, not just in the investigation of sensation and perception. In applying scientific measurement to subjective experience, the early psychophysicists were demonstrating a faith in empiricism, but they were also throwing themselves upon a dilemma – the attempt to relate the world of the measurable and objective to the subjective inner world of sensation. That dilemma is still just as relevant and profound today in all areas of psychology, and psychophysics is still vital as a toolkit for addressing it.

Read an excerpt of Fechner, G. (1860). Elements of psychophysics (HE Adler, Trans.). New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

Link to the psychophysics introduction by Webvision.
Check out the other articles in this ongoing series, including “Why psychologists study twins“, “A lyrical guide to using the web” and “Podcasts – a clickable list“. Forthcoming in the series: “Systematic reviews” and “Virtual reality and online games” – stay tuned!

Psychology podcasts: a clickable list

Updated Feb 2017

The podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest (that’s us!) – asks whether findings from psychology can be used in real life. Our latest episode is on whether, in light of the “replication crisis” we can trust psychological studies. Episode one was on attraction and dating, episode two was on breaking bad habits, episode three on how to win an argument,  episode four on gift giving, episode five on language learning, episode 6 on sarcasm. Sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Presented by Christian Jarrett.

Hidden Brain
The Hidden Brain project from NPR helps curious people understand the world – and themselves. Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships.  Presented by Shankar Vedanta.

A podcast about all things brain, body, mind and culture, not necessarily in that order, hosted by neuropsychologist Deborah Budding.

School of Psych
Featuring insightful interviews and stories from experts in psychology, culture, and relationships to help you know yourself, understand others, and live thoughtfully. Presented by Jared DeFife.

All in the Mind
From BBC Radio 4 and presented by Claudia Hammond. All in the Mind examines how we think and behave.

Invisibilia (Latin for all the invisible things), from NPR, is about the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.

The Methodology for Psychology Podcast
Interviews with psychology researchers.

You Are Not So Smart
Interview-based podcasts from David McRaney, author of the book You Are Not So Smart.

60-Second Mind
Minute-long commentaries on the latest news in behavior and brain research, from Scientific American.

The Psychology Podcast
From psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman. “Each episode will feature a guest who will stimulate your mind, and give you a greater understanding of your self, others, and the world we live in.”

Psycomedia [recently re-started after a hiatus]
A comedy podcast dedicated to the funny side of psychological research.

Very Bad Wizards
A philosopher and a psychologist ponder the nature of human morality.

Secret Psychology of Persuasion
Interview-based podcasts presented by Nathalie Nahai.

Psychology of attractiveness podcast
“a monthly science show that covers the most interesting and cutting edge research on the psychology of attraction and relationships.” Produced by Dr. Rob Burriss, a research fellow at Northumbria University in Newcastle, UK.

Royal College of Psychiatrists
Interview-based podcasts, presented by Raj Persaud and others.

Shrink Rap Radio
All the psychology you need to know and just enough to make you dangerous. From US clinical psychologist David Van Nuys.

All in the Mind (from ABC Radio in Australia)
An exploration of all things mental, All in the Mind is about the brain and behaviour, and the fascinating connections between them.

A neuroscience-focused podcast from the journal Nature in association with the Dana Foundation.

The PsychFiles
The Psych Files is a Psychology podcast hosted by Michael A. Britt, Ph.D. The Psych Files is aimed at anyone curious about human behavior

The Perception and Action podcast
Explores how psychological research can be applied to improving performance, accelerating skill acquisition and designing new technologies in sports, driving and aviation. Produced and hosted by Rob Gray, Associate Professor of Human Systems Engineering at Arizona State University.

Who cares? What’s the point?
The podcast about the mind for people who think. Presented by psychologist Sarb Johal

The Human Zoo [no longer updating]
The Human Zoo from BBC Radio 4 explores the foibles, quirks and behaviour of that most fascinating of species – us.

N of Us [no longer updated]
Why we are the way we are – from why we love who we love, to when we’re at our best. Presented by Aleks Krotoski and funded by the British Psychological Society.

Group Therapy [no longer updated]
From London’s Resonance FM – Each week, a ‘confession’ was posed to a panel of three commentators (a psychologist, academic and comedian) who came together to explain the universal themes and theories around the problem, offering insights and opinions along the way.

Psychtalk [last updated in 2013]
“explores the human mind at every scale, from neurons in the brain, to individual behavior, to society and culture.”

My Three Shrinks [no longer updating]
a podcast by three psychiatrists, each with a different perspective.

Autism podcast [no longer updating]
Over 100 episodes produced by the father of a child with autism.

This Week in the History of Psychology [no longer updating]

Post compiled by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Why psychologists study twins

In the second of our on-going series of guest features for psychology students, Dr. Angelica Ronald of London’s Institute of Psychiatry describes the use of twin studies in psychology.

Psychologists are often trying to control one thing to look at its effect on something else. This results in the plethora of artificial experiments and carefully-matched control groups in psychological studies. The beauty of twin studies is that they provide psychologists with a natural experimental design – there’s no need for any additional control groups.

This natural design comes about because there are two types of twins: those who share all their genes (because they were formed from the same egg which split early on in development), called identical or monozygotic twins, and those who, just like non-twin siblings, share on average half their genes (they are formed from two separate eggs), called fraternal or dizygotic twins.

Twin designs address the nature-nurture question. Behaviour geneticists compare how alike one twin is with the other twin on whatever variable they are interested in; in my case this is autistic behaviours. If genes influence variation in autistic behaviours, identical twin pairs who share all their genes will be highly similar in their degree of autistic behaviours whereas fraternal twins will be much less similar. This is what we have found.

It’s the same for a diagnosis of autism: when one identical twin has autism, in 60 per cent of cases their co-twin also has autism. With fraternal twins there is a different pattern: most of the time when one twin has autism, the other does not have a diagnosis.

Just as much as twin studies have told us about genetics, they have been paramount in revealing the importance of the environment. For example, it is true that about 60 per cent of identical twins have the same autism diagnosis i.e. if one is autistic, the other is too. But in the other 40 per cent or so of identical twins, if one has autism, the other does not. This is sound proof that autism is not completely genetically determined – because if it were, both identical twins in a pair would always show the same degree of autistic problems. Genes play a role in risk but there must be some influence of the environment on the child’s outcome as well.

This example represents just the tip of the iceberg of how twin studies can contribute to psychology and our understanding of the causes of human behaviour. Of course no study design is perfect: like most research designs, the twin design has a number of assumptions, and even though it’s a natural experiment and we don’t have to control any variables, behavioural geneticists have to collect huge samples of twins (usually in the 1000’s) to be able to be certain about their findings.

Further reading:

Plomin, R., DeFries, J.C., McClearn, G.E. & McGuffin P. (2001). Behavioral Genetics (4th edn). New York: Worth Publishers.

Ronald, A., Happé, F., & Plomin, R. (2005). The genetic relationship between individual differences in social and nonsocial behaviours characteristic of autism. Developmental Science, 8, 444-458.

Ronald, A., Happé, F., Bolton, P., Butcher, L. M., Price, T. S., Wheelwright, S., Baron-Cohen, S., & Plomin, R. (2006). Genetic Heterogeneity Between the Three Components of the Autism Spectrum: A Twin Study. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 45, 691-99.

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