Category: Thought

How Do Blind People Who’ve Never Seen Colour, Think About Colour?

GettyImages-812520774.jpgBy Emma Young

Think about the concepts of “red” and “justice” and you’ll notice a key difference. If you’re sighted, you’ll associate “red” most strongly with the sensory experience, which relates to signals from cone cells in your eyes. “Justice”, in contrast, doesn’t have any associated sensory qualities – as an abstract concept, you’ll think about its meaning, which you learnt via language, understanding it to be related to other abstract concepts like “fairness” or “accountability”, perhaps. But what about blind people – how do they think about “red”? 

 A brain-imaging study of 12 people who had been blind from birth, and 14 sighted people, published recently in Nature Communications, shows that while for sighted people, sensory and abstract concepts like “red” and “justice” are represented in different brain regions, for blind people, they’re represented in the same “abstract concept” region. 

Continue reading “How Do Blind People Who’ve Never Seen Colour, Think About Colour?”

Good News For Science, Bad News For Humanity – The “Bias Blind Spot” Just Replicated (“Everyone Else Is More Biased Than Me”)

GettyImages-1092016748.jpgBy Matthew Warren

Psychology’s replication crisis receives a lot of airtime, with plenty of examples of failed replications and methodological issues that cast doubt on past research findings. But there is also good news: several key results in cognitive psychology and personality research, for example, have been successfully replicated.

Now researchers have reproduced the results of another highly-cited study. Back in 2002, Emily Pronin and colleagues first described the “bias blind spot”, the finding that people believe they are less biased in their judgments and behaviour than the general population – that is, they are “blind” to their own cognitive biases. And while that study kick-started a whole line of related research, no one had attempted to directly replicate the original experiments.

But in a preregistered preprint published recently to ResearchGate, Prasad Chandrashekar, Siu Kit Yeung and colleagues report reproducing the original study, first in a small group of Hong Kong undergraduates, and then in two larger samples of 303 and 621 Americans who completed online surveys. 

Continue reading “Good News For Science, Bad News For Humanity – The “Bias Blind Spot” Just Replicated (“Everyone Else Is More Biased Than Me”)”

Suppressed Thoughts Rebound, Which Could Explain Why Ultra-religious Teens Have More Compulsive Sexual Thoughts – And Are Less Happy – Than Their Secular Peers

GettyImages-481381140.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

A well-known effect in psychology is that if you try to suppress a thought, ironically this can make the thought all the more salient – known as the “rebound effect“. What are the implications of this effect for highly religious teenagers who have been taught to believe that sexual thoughts are taboo? Before now there has been little research on the rebound effect in this context, but in a recent paper in The Journal of Sex Research, Yaniv Efrati at Beit Berl College, Kfar-Saba, Israel, presents evidence that the rebound effect could explain why orthodox Jewish teens have more compulsive sexual thoughts and fantasies than their secular peers. What’s more, his results suggest this mental dynamic might be responsible for the religious teens’ lower scores on self-reported wellbeing.

Continue reading “Suppressed Thoughts Rebound, Which Could Explain Why Ultra-religious Teens Have More Compulsive Sexual Thoughts – And Are Less Happy – Than Their Secular Peers”

The Language You Speak Predicts Your Ability To Remember The Different Parts Of Lists

GettyImages-925066994.jpgBy Matthew Warren

For decades, linguists have debated the extent to which language influences the way we think. While the more extreme theories that language determines what we can and can’t think about have fallen out of favour, there is still considerable evidence that the languages we speak shape the way we see the world in more subtle ways. 

For instance, people are better at perceiving the difference between light and dark blue if they have dedicated words for those colours (like in Russian) than if they don’t (like in English). But it turns out it’s not just the words that we use: the way in which a language is structured – its syntax – is also important. In a recent study in Scientific Reports, Federica Amici and colleagues show that the word order of a language predicts how good its speakers are at remembering the first or last parts of a list.

Continue reading “The Language You Speak Predicts Your Ability To Remember The Different Parts Of Lists”

Blinded By Ideology: People Find It Difficult To Think Logically About Arguments That Contradict Their Politics

By Jesse Singal

A heated political story in the United States last weekend perfectly illustrates how tribal politics can supercharge a human weakness that psychologists have been studying for some time – our deep-seated tendency to accept evidence that supports our existing beliefs, and to ignore evidence that contradicts them.

It involved a conflict near the Lincoln Memorial featuring a handful of Black Israelites (a radical black nationalist group), a large group of mostly White American high-schoolers, some in Donald Trump hats, who were in town for an anti-abortion march, and a small group of Native American protesters, one of whom found himself in the midst of the high-schoolers.

Following the initial reports of what happened, and spurred along by a short video and dramatic photos, suggesting that the teens had encircled and confronted the Native American protester in an apparent act of intimidation, there was widespread condemnation of the teenagers, calls for them to be suspended or expelled from school, doxxed, and so on. But what’s telling is that when new details emerged, most notably the emergence of a longer video showing it was the protester who had waded into the sea of teens (because, he said later, he wanted to break up the conflict between them and the Black Israelites), and which complicated other aspects of the narrative as well, still many commentators continued to interpret events in line with their own political leanings. In fact the cacophonous online argument about what happened only seemed to explode in volume when the longer video was released — more information didn’t resolve things. At all.

As the Georgetown University professor Jonathan Ladd put it so well on Twitter: “Regarding the incident at the Lincoln Memorial,” he wrote, “it’s fascinating to see motivated reasoning play out in real time over a 24 hr period … Despite lots of video, all interpretations now match people’s partisanship.”

These politically motivated cognitive gymnastics are the subject of an important new paper lead-authored by Anup Gampa and Sean P. Wojcik that’s just been made available as a preprint (and due to be published in Social Psychological and Personality Science). Specifically, Gampa and Wojcik, working with a team that includes the open-science advocate Brian Nosek, decided to test the effects of politically motivated reasoning using logical syllogisms, a type of logical argument in which premises are assumed to be true, and arguments proceed from there.

Continue reading “Blinded By Ideology: People Find It Difficult To Think Logically About Arguments That Contradict Their Politics”

People are “consistently inconsistent” in how they reason about controversial scientific topics

GettyImages-475407733.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

There are various issues on which there is a scientific consensus but great public controversy, such as anthropogenic climate change and the safety of vaccines. One previously popular explanation for this mismatch was that an information deficit among the public is to blame. Give people all the facts and then, according to this perspective, the public will catch up with the scientists. Yet time and again, that simply hasn’t happened.

A new paper in Thinking and Reasoning explores the roots of this problem further. Emilio Lobato and Corinne Zimmerman asked 244 American university students and staff whether they agreed with the scientific consensus on climate change, vaccines, genetically modified (GMO) foods and evolution; to give their reasons; and to say what would convince them to change their position.

Past research has already done a good job of identifying the individual characteristics – such as having an analytical thinking style and being non-religious – that tend to correlate with accepting the scientific consensus, but this is the first time that researchers have systematically studied people’s open-ended reasoning about controversial scientific topics. The results show that for many people, there are certain issues for which the truth is less about facts and more about faith and identity.

Continue reading “People are “consistently inconsistent” in how they reason about controversial scientific topics”

“My-side bias” makes it difficult for us to see the logic in arguments we disagree with

By Christian Jarrett

In what feels like an increasingly polarised world, trying to convince the “other side” to see things differently often feels futile. Psychology has done a great job outlining some of the reasons why, including showing that, regardless of political leanings, most people are highly motivated to protect their existing views.

However a problem with some of this research is that it is very difficult to concoct opposing real-life arguments of equal validity, so as to make a fair comparison of people’s treatment of arguments they agree and disagree with.

To get around this problem, an elegant new paper in the Journal of Cognitive Psychology has tested people’s ability to assess the logic of formal arguments (syllogisms) structured in the exact same way, but that featured wording that either confirmed or contradicted their existing views on abortion. The results provide a striking demonstration of how our powers of reasoning are corrupted by our prior attitudes.

Continue reading ““My-side bias” makes it difficult for us to see the logic in arguments we disagree with”

Our brains rapidly and automatically process opinions we agree with as if they are facts

By Christian Jarrett

In a post-truth world of alternative facts, there is understandable interest in the psychology behind why people are generally so wedded to their opinions and why it is so difficult to change minds.

We already know a lot about the deliberate mental processes that people engage in to protect their world view, from seeking out confirmatory evidence (the “confirmation bias“) to questioning the methods used to marshal contradictory evidence (the scientific impotence excuse).

Now a team led by Anat Maril at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem report in Social Psychological and Personality Science that they have found evidence of rapid and involuntarily mental processes that kick-in whenever we encounter opinions we agree with, similar to the processes previously described for how we respond to basic facts.

The researchers write that “their demonstration of such a knee-jerk acceptance of opinions may help explain people’s remarkable ability to remain entrenched in their convictions”.

Continue reading “Our brains rapidly and automatically process opinions we agree with as if they are facts”

Having a vivid imagination seems to make things worse for people with OCD

GettyImages-503314091.jpg

By Emma Young

At the heart of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are the intrusive, often distressing, thoughts. My skin is dirty… I must have left the gas on and my house will burn down… But why do some obsessive thoughts compel the person to act on them, while others don’t? And how are some people with OCD able to control the compulsion to act – to repeatedly wash their hands, or to go home to check appliances, for example – while others can’t?

As the authors of a new study on OCD, published in Clinical Psychological Psychotherapy, point out: “A single negative intrusive thought may result in an avalanche of compulsive behaviour, whereas even hours of intrusive thought may prompt little or no compulsive behaviour in some individuals.”

Continue reading “Having a vivid imagination seems to make things worse for people with OCD”

Researchers uncover a brain process that may help explain the curse of uncontrollable thoughts

GettyImages-532378001.jpg
The study represents a breakthrough in bridging neurophysiology and psychology

By Alex Fradera

Distressing conditions including PTSD, depression and anxiety have something in common: a difficulty in suppressing unwanted thoughts. Negative self-judgments and re-experienced traumas directly impact mental health and make recovery harder by intruding into the new experiences that should provide distance and a mental fresh start. Understanding what’s involved in thought suppression may therefore be one key to helping people with these conditions. Now research in Nature Communications has uncovered an important new brain process that may help explain why some people struggle to control their thoughts.

Continue reading “Researchers uncover a brain process that may help explain the curse of uncontrollable thoughts”