This is Episode 30 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.
From carefully avoiding cracks in the pavement to saluting every magpie that you meet, superstitious behaviour is really common. But why do we have superstitions? Where do they come from? And are they helpful or harmful?
To find out, our presenter Ginny Smith talks to Stuart Vyse, former professor of psychology at Connecticut College and author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition. Ginny also chats to Laramie Taylor, professor of communication at the University of California Davis, who explains how superstition and magical thinking is linked to being a fan of both fiction and sports.
We’re all prone to a bit of magical thinking now and then. Maybe you try not to step on cracks in case it brings bad luck, or avoid talking about a good situation in case you “jinx” it — even though in reality there’s no way your actions would have any effect on the world.
When it comes to decisions about finances and risk, though, you’d probably claim to be a much more rational thinker. However, a new study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin finds that we’re even susceptible to magical thinking when taking out insurance. The team finds that insuring against the loss or damage of a valued possession has what they call a “talisman effect”, making us feel that the misfortune is actually less likely to occur in the first place.
Word puzzles are all the rage right now. But if you’ve already done today’s Wordle, here are some anagrams to keep you going until tomorrow:
Reality is only a matter of….. tvesrecipep
Free will is a powerful….. oinliusl
If you managed to solve the anagrams at the end of these statements, you may have experienced a “Eureka” or “Aha!” moment, in which the solution suddenly seemed to appear, perhaps accompanied by a sense of happiness or relief. And if you did, according to a new study in Scientific Reports, you’d be more likely to believe that the statement itself is true.
A song, a place, a smell… it doesn’t take much to be transported back in time. Just as with Proust and his madeleines, we all have specific memories that not only provoke nostalgia but trigger intense emotions.
And while nostalgia is often framed as a positive thing — a fond wistfulness — this isn’t always the case, as the University of Akron’s Jennifer R. Turner and Jennifer Tehan Stanley explore in a recent paper published in Emotion. They find that nostalgia is more common the older we get — and it can also set off both positive and negative feelings.
Rumination is a key feature of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. According to the charity OCD UK, rumination is a “train of prolonged thinking about a question or theme that is undirected and unproductive” — worrying incessantly about a particular issue or question, in other words. Those with OCD may also ruminate on their symptoms themselves: rather than just dwelling on their fears of harming someone or on existential worries, for example, they will also worry about having these thoughts in the first place.
It’s this rumination about symptoms that a team of researchers explore in a new study in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. They find that this kind of rumination can prolong depression in those with OCD, suggesting interventions focusing on ruminative patterns could be one way of addressing the distress of such experiences.
Over the last few years, conspiracy thinking seems to have mushroomed — most visibly perhaps in the US, where QAnon supporters stormed the Capitol. Elsewhere, across the world, coronavirus-related conspiracies have abounded; one large-scale survey conducted last year found that as many as one in five Britons believed the COVID-19 fatality rate may have been exaggerated.
We already know that certain factors make individuals particularly prone to conspiratorial thinking — their level of education, for example, or a desire to feel special. And a new study, published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, has identified another facet of cognition linked to conspiratorial beliefs: critical thinking. Anthony Lantian from Université Paris Nanterre and colleagues find that the higher the level of critical thinking, the lower the belief in conspiracy theories, potentially offering a path out of conspiratorial thinking for those particularly susceptible.
Are you an evening person — an owl? Or a morning person — a lark? No end of studies have reported variations in the functioning of people who like to wake and go to bed late, versus those who are early to bed and early to rise. And now a new study, published in PLoS One, has found links between our “chronotype” and the way we handle emotions, reflect on our thoughts and feelings, and assert ourselves. Overall, owls do worse. And this, argues Juan Manuel Antúnez at the University of Malaga, Spain, could help to explain links between being an owl and poorer psychological well-being.
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.
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.
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.