Category: Uncategorized

Parents who think failure is harmful to learning have children who think ability is fixed

Children respond better to learning setbacks when they believe that ability and intelligence are malleable – that is, when they have what psychologists call a “growth mindset” rather than a “fixed mindset”. This immediately raises the question of how to cultivate a growth mindset in children.

So far, there’s been a lot of attention on how to praise children (it’s better to focus on their effort and strategies rather than their ability), but not much else. Surprisingly, parents’ mindsets (growth or fixed) do not seem to be related to their children’s mindsets. A new study in Psychological Science suggests this is because children can’t tell what kind of mindset their parents have. Rather, children’s beliefs about ability are associated with how their parents’ view failure.

The Stanford University psychologists Kyla Haimovitz and Carol Dweck began by surveying 73 parent-child pairs. Parents’ and children’s attitudes to ability were not related. But parents who saw failure as a chance to learn tended to have children who had a growth mindset, whereas parents who saw failure as more negative and bad for learning tended to have children with a fixed mindset.

Why is parental attitude toward failure seemingly more important than their attitude toward ability? It’s to do with what’s visible to children. Further surveys of more children and their parents suggested that children don’t know whether their parents have a growth or fixed mindset, but they are aware of their parents’ attitudes toward failure. Moreover, children who think their parents have a negative attitude to failure tend themselves to believe that ability and intelligence are fixed.

This seems to be because parents with a negative attitude toward failure respond to their children’s setbacks in characteristic ways, such as comforting them and telling them that it doesn’t matter that they lack ability, that are likely to foster in children the belief that their ability is fixed. Parents with a more positive attitude to failure, by contrast, tend to encourage their children to use failures as a chance to learn or get extra help – approaches that encourage a growth mindset.

A final study tested whether parents’ attitudes toward failure really do cause changes in the way they respond to their children’s failures. Over one hundred parents completed an online questionnaire that was either filled with items designed to provoke in them a negative attitude to failure or items designed to promote a positive attitude to failure. Next, the parents imagined their children had come home with a fail grade and to say how they would think, feel and respond. Parents primed to see failure as harmful to learning were more likely to say that they would respond to their children’s failure in ways likely to cultivate in them a belief that ability is fixed – such as worrying about their child’s ability, or comforting their child for their lack of ability.

“Our findings show that parents who believe failure is a debilitating experience have children who believe they cannot develop their intelligence,” the researchers said. “By establishing these links, we have taken a step toward understanding how children’s motivation is socialised. It may not be sufficient to teach parents a growth mindset and expect that they will naturally transmit it to their children. Instead, an intervention targeting parents’ failure mindsets could teach parents how failure can be beneficial, and how to react to their children’s setbacks so as to maintain their children’s motivation and learning.”

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Haimovitz K, & Dweck CS (2016). What Predicts Children’s Fixed and Growth Intelligence Mind-Sets? Not Their Parents’ Views of Intelligence but Their Parents’ Views of Failure. Psychological science PMID: 27113733

further reading
How to praise children
Seven-year-olds’ beliefs about ability are associated with the way they were praised as toddlers
Be careful when comforting struggling students

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

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Are certain groups of people more likely to leave suicide notes?

It is a sad fact that we can never ask of the hundreds of thousands of people around the world who take their own lives each year – why did you do it? Instead, psychologists talk to people who have survived suicide attempts, and they also look into the minds’ of suicide victims through the notes that they leave. But in fact only a minority of suicide victims leave notes, and the validity of studying these notes depends in part of the assumption that victims who leave notes are the same as those who don’t. A new analysis, published in Archives of Suicide Research, of all the suicides that occurred in Queensland Australia during 2004, questions this very assumption.

Belinda Carpenter and her colleagues were given access to the coronial files of the 533 suicides that took place that year, and the associated police reports, autopsy reports, and coroner’s findings gave them unusual insight into the background to the victims. This detail also allowed the researchers to look beyond traditional, written suicide notes (left by 39 per cent of the victims) and to also identify instances where victims had made verbal or electronic warnings of their intent (a further 22 per cent had done this).

Matching trends around the world, the majority of the suicide victims in this study were male (83.1 per cent) and the average age at death was 43.8 years. The most common method of suicide was by hanging; just over half of the victims had known mental health issues; and a little over 5 per cent were from Indigenous Aboriginal communities.

Turning to the main question, the researchers found, contrary to the limited prior research on this topic, that women were less likely to have left a note (or made a verbal warning) than men, as were victims from indigenous communities and victims who killed themselves through gassing (by contrast, those who took their lives under a train or in a car were less likely to have left a note).

Among those victims who did leave a note or warning of some kind, women were more likely to leave a written note, as were victims from more affluent areas, while those with known mental health problems were more likely to have made verbal warnings.

The researchers advised that their results be interpreted with caution since some of the subcategories they looked at ended up consisting of very few cases. That said, they concluded that the findings suggest that “there are some significant differences” between suicide victims who leave notes and those who don’t, and that this needs to be taken into account by future research. “This is particularly important for research that uses suicide notes to gain insight into the motivation for suicide more generally,” they said.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Carpenter, B., Bond, C., Tait, G., Wilson, M., & White, K. (2016). Who Leaves Suicide Notes? An Exploration of Victim Characteristics and Suicide Method of Completed Suicides in Queensland Archives of Suicide Research, 20 (2), 176-190 DOI: 10.1080/13811118.2015.1004496

further reading
A study of suicide notes left by children and young teens
What’s different about those who attempt suicide rather than just thinking about it?

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

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Episode 4: The Psychology of Gift Giving

This is Episode Four of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest. In this festive episode we explore whether psychology can help us with gift giving.

Our presenter Christian Jarrett and his guests discuss the benefits of giving “giver-centric” gifts; how recipients like to receive gifts on their wish lists; why ethical or pro-social gifts are sometimes not so warmly received; and the two words that can salvage that awkward situation when a gift doesn’t go down too well.

Our guests in order of appearance are Lisa Cavanaugh USC Marshall School of Business, Lara Aknin of Simon Fraser University, and Alex Fradera, contributing writer to the BPS Research Digest blog.

 

The studies discussed in this episode, in order of appearance, are:


Episode credits: Presenter/editor/producer Dr Christian Jarrett. Vox pops Ella Rhodes. Music and mixing Dr Catherine Loveday and Jeff Knowler. Jingle Bells vocals Joe Loveday. Art work Tim Grimshaw.

Subscribe and download via iTunes.
Subscribe and download via Stitcher.

Previous episodes:
Episode one: Dating and Attraction.
Episode two: Breaking Bad Habits.
Episode three: How to Win an Argument


PsychCrunch is sponsored by Routledge Psychology

PsychCrunch Banner April 16

Episode Three: How To Win An Argument

This is Episode Three of PsychCrunch, the new podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest. In this episode we explore whether psychology can help you to win an argument.

After our presenter Christian Jarrett tries his luck with an argument about Michael Jackson’s legacy, we find out why convincing people of your point of view is so difficult, and we hear about a paradoxical technique that’s encouraging people to change their own minds about one of the most serious arguments in the world – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. We also touch on why neurobabble appears to be so convincing.

Our guests are Dr Jon Sutton (Editor, The Psychologist); Dr Tom Stafford (University of Sheffield); Boaz Hameiri (Tel Aviv University); and Dr Sara Hodges (University of Oregon).

Some of the research discussed by our guests has been covered previously on the Research Digest blog, including how superfluous neuroscience can be so persuasive, and other relevant research is in our archive. Boaz Hameiri’s research on the paradoxical thinking intervention was published last year in PNAS. Tom Stafford’s ebook is available on AmazonFor argument’s sake: evidence that reason can change minds. Further reading from The Psychologist magazine: The truth is out there–a look at belief in conspiracy theories; Are conspiracy theories just harmless fun?; Looking back: Every believer is also a disbeliever; Falling on deaf ears–when people believe psychology is not science.

Episode credits: Presenter/editor Dr Christian Jarrett. Producer Dr Lorna Stewart. Music and mixing Dr Catherine Loveday and Jeff Knowler. Art work Tim Grimshaw.

Subscribe and download via iTunes.
Subscribe and download via Stitcher.

Bonus material:
Listen to the entire Michael Jackson argument between Christian Jarrett and Jon Sutton!

Previous episodes:
Episode one: Dating and Attraction.
Episode two: Breaking Bad Habits.


PsychCrunch is sponsored by Taylor and Francis

Link feast

Our pick of this week’s 10 best psychology and neuroscience links:

The Ultimate Psychology Reading List
For more than seven years, The Psychologist has been asking eminent psychologists to recommend books and journal articles.

The Vice Guide To Mental Health
The Canada-based magazine launches a new vertical devoted to mental health.

The People Who Are Lost in Time
At BBC Future, I reported on some of the strange causes and consequences of amnesia.

The Psychologist Annual Conference Special Edition
An exclusive digital edition produced to mark the British Psychological Society’s flagship event, held in Liverpool 5-7 May. It comprises archive material from speakers at this year’s conference.

Cutting The Body to Cure the Mind
The Lancet looks back on the rise and fall of treatments like leucotomy and ovariotomy.

Science Shows Humblebragging Doesn’t Even Work
Better to just brag than “humblebrag”, says new study.

Is Happiness Worth Measuring?
The Guardian hosts a debate on whether the government should be worried about the state of the nation’s wellbeing or should concentrate instead on what makes people feel unhappy.

Madness and Meaning
Depictions of mental illness through history, from the Paris Review

Living With Being Dead
Erika Hayasaki at Medium explores the cotard delusion.

First Results From Psychology’s Largest Reproducibility Test
Nature reports on an attempt to reproduce the findings from 100 psychology studies.
_________________________________
   
Post compiled by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

Walking backwards boosts creativity

The established routines and habits of everyday life can stifle our ability to think creatively. That’s according to a new study that’s based on the “embodied cognition” idea that performing bodily movements in a conventional manner encourages the mind to follow suit, and vice versa. The researchers say that by breaking out of physical conformity – such as by walking backwards instead of forwards – we can foster a more creative mindset.

The study began by asking 30 students to spend the morning as they normally would, but with one exception – wherever they went, they had to always walk backwards. A control group of 30 students spent a normal morning walking forwards. At lunch time, all the students were tested on two standard tests of creativity: thinking up novel uses for a brick and drawing pictures of aliens.

Five of the students from the walking backwards group were unable to participate in the lunch-time tests due to minor injury or getting lost, including one man who tripped over his cat in the morning, and a woman who walked into a water feature in the university grounds. However, the remaining walking backwards students outperformed the controls on the creativity tasks, coming up with more original uses for bricks and more outlandish aliens.

To gain real-life support for their ideas, in a follow-up experiment the researchers collaborated with a tech start-up company in London. On one floor of the company offices, all staff were instructed to spend a week walking backwards. In light of the student accidents, lead researcher Eve Errs commissioned the production of a special helmet for these staff to wear, providing head protection, but also featuring rear-view mirrors to help the wearer see obstacles behind them, and a beeping noise that sounds during backward locomotion.

At the week’s end, based on line manager ratings, the work of the backward walking staff was more creative than the work of staff on the other floors. On the negative side, ratings show the backward walking staff had achieved far less. Observational data suggested this was due to the increased time taken for movement around the building, frequent drink spillages, and several instances of uncontrollable laughing fits among the staff.

In the final strand of the research, Errs and her colleagues analysed the creative output of pop star Michael Jackson before and after he started performing his famous backwards Moonwalk. “Jackson’s oeuvre provides a rare historical record of an artist’s creativity both before and after the onset of increased time walking backwards,” the researchers explained. “On tour, he would [moon]walk backwards several times a night, each night, and that’s not to mention all the time he would have spent walking backwards in rehearsals.” The researchers claim their analysis showed that Jackson’s lyrics and musical style showed increased variation and divergent creativity in the 10 years after he first Moonwalked as compared with the 10 years prior.

Errs and her team conclude that the three studies provide converging evidence for the creative benefits of walking backwards. In an email to the Digest, Errs told us this is just the tip of the iceberg and that she is now expanding her research programme into a full “backwards living” movement. “Take any mundane activity, do it in reverse,” she said, “and you encourage your mind to think differently, to shake off the constraints of habit and conformity. Have dinner at breakfast, or have a shower before you exercise, the possibilities are endless.” She says she is already working with film studios to produce movie releases that can be viewed backwards, and she hopes her backwards walking helmet will be available commercially very soon.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Errs, E., Wards, B., & Walk, M. (2015). Thinking in new directions through reverse locomotion. Journal of Creative Studies, 23 (3), 427-436

Update: this post is a fiction written for April Fools’ Day. Eve Errs is an anagram of “reverse”. Michael Jackson’s moonwalk was one product of his creative genius (with a little help from the street dancers he observed), not the cause.

Please note: Joking aside, backwards walking itself is an established exercise with apparent physiological benefits. Many thanks to Gina Jones-Spengler for passing on further information.

–further reading–
Mild intoxication aids creative problem solving
Is group brainstorming more effective if you do it standing up?

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

What recycled sewage water reveals about human psychology

The technology now exists to recycle sewage water safely, but would you drink it?

By guest blogger Sam McNerney

Each year around one million people die from water-related diseases. In most cases, the causes are painfully obvious. Without access to a modern sewage system, people dump their bodily waste into the nearest river or street, which funnels their filthy excrement and urine back into the water supply. It’s a catastrophic problem without a cheap solution.

Until now. A few years ago Bill Gates teamed up with an engineer named Peter Janicki to create an ingenious machine that uses the same ingredient that taints water supplies—human waste—to clean them. The “Janicki Omniprocessor”, which looks something like a miniature power plant, can turn waste from 100,000 people into 86,000 liters of clean water a day while generating enough electricity to power itself. “The water tasted as good as any I’ve had out of a bottle,” Gates wrote on his blog.

The Janicki Omniprocessor is a major technological breakthrough, but a psychological barrier remains. We know recycled water is clean, we trust the science, and it’s exciting to think about how many lives it will save. And yet, that nasty “Yuk!” feeling persists.

Part of our deeply rooted aversion for tainted water has clear evolutionary origins. Like many animals, we instinctually avoid food and liquid that has touched nasty substances for health reasons. Think of this instinct as Paleolithic germ theory. It wasn’t exactly modern epidemiology, but for the most part, it worked.

Unfortunately, our instincts occasionally play tricks on our judgment. In a somewhat grotesque but captivating area of study, researchers have shown that people refuse to drink orange juice from unused urine collection bottles, eat soup served in a brand-new bedpan, or touch delicious fudge baked in the shape of dog feces. It’s as if there’s some sort of immaterial essence that tarnishes these perfectly edible items.

This brings me to a new survey of over 2,600 Americans conducted by disgust guru Paul Rozin and his colleagues. Participants first read a short passage explaining how recycled water is certified safe and indicated their willingness to drink it. Next, they scored how comfortable they were drinking different types of water, from commercial bottled water, to tap water, to sewage water that had been boiled, evaporated, and condensed into pure water. Finally, they rated how comfortable they felt drinking recycled water if it had spent a certain amount of time in a reservoir or aquifer before it was fed back into the water supply. The purpose of this question was to see if the contagion heuristic—“Once in contact, always in contact”—wears off over time.

Although 13 percent of the sample indicated that they would never drink recycled water, almost half said that they would, while 38 percent remained uncertain. Disgust sensitivity, as measured by a short disgust test, correlated inversely with a willingness to drink recycled water. The more easily someone is grossed out, the less likely he or she will sip water from the Janicki Omniprocessor.

The next finding revealed something important about how the human mind perceives purity. Even though sewage water that is boiled, evaporated, and condensed is purer than tap water, participants overwhelmingly preferred tap water. Furthermore, compared to tap water, participants were more willing to drink bottled water that was filtered from tap water, even though the two are equally pure. It’s like running your clothes through the wash twice—the second wash doesn’t make anything cleaner; it just makes you feel a little bit better.

The scientists also found that participants were more likely to drink recycled water the longer it remained in a reservoir or aquifer, even though feeding recycled water back into a natural system actually decreases its purity. Rozin attributes this quirk in perception to the idea of “spiritual purification.” Just like we’re more willing to wear Hitler’s sweater if it supposedly came in contact with Mother Theresa, we’re more likely to drink recycled water if it was reintroduced into “natural systems.” (Distance also mattered. The further the water travelled, the cleaner it was perceived by the subjects.)

Rozin and his team didn’t stop there. To tease out some of these initial findings, they created a second survey for about 400 undergraduates at the University of Pennsylvania. This time, participants read about four contaminants—a harmless amount of sodium cyanide, a drop containing active HIV (AIDS) virus, a heat sterilised cockroach, and a convicted murderer—then imagined drinking water that had recently come in contact with each contaminant. Not surprisingly, the undergrads vehemently rejected the idea of drinking any of this water. The cyanide provoked the least discomfort, while the HIV virus provoked the most.

So far, so obvious: when deciding to drink water or not, the most important variable to consider is its perceived purity. The most intriguing part of the paper came when Rozin asked the undergrads if they would drink clean water from the same glass, if the contaminated water was poured out and the glass thoroughly sterilised. It’s worth pausing to think about how you would answer this question. Would you drink from a glass if its previous user were a convicted murderer—even if the glass was completely clean?

Rozin found that the undergrads’ behaviour depended on a few key variables. Similar to the first study, those who were more willing to drink recycled water, and who scored low on the disgust scale, were more likely to drink from a recently contaminated glass. On the other hand, the undergrads who tended to distrust standard purification techniques to clean contaminated water were more likely to refuse. “This is particularly striking,” Rozin writes, “because these same people readily consume tap or bottled spring water, which usually have the very same contamination history as the water they reject as contaminated. We can describe these individuals as responding to what we call spiritual contamination.” For these people, even the most thorough sterilisation processes cannot remove the perceived impurities.

And that’s why I find this topic so interesting. Humans pay special attention to the history of objects—where they have been, what they have touched, and who has touched them—because we subscribe to the notion that objects have an underlying reality, an essence. Normally, this piece of mental software is helpful, but sometimes it can lead us astray.  The Janicki Omniprocessor represents a major breakthrough for producing clean water and improving health in the developing world at a low cost. But before we can put it to use, we will have to overcome a bigger obstacle: ourselves.

_________________________________

Paul Rozin, Brent Haddad, Carol Nemeroff, & Paul Slovic (2015). Psychological aspects of the rejection of recycled water: Contamination, purification and disgust Judgment and Decision Making

further reading
Yuk! Unfairness really does leave a bad taste in the mouth

Post written by Sam McNerney (@sammcnerney) for the BPS Research Digest. McNerney is a US writer with a focus on cognitive psychology, philosophy and business. He’s written for Scientific American, Scientific American Mind, Fortune, Fast Company, TechCrunch and BBC Focus and maintained a blog on BigThink.com called Moments of Genius. He currently blogs at his website: sammcnerney.com.

Who are the most eminent psychologists of the modern era?

A new paper identifies Albert Bandura as the
most eminent psychologist of the modern era.

Twelve years ago the behaviourist B.F. Skinner topped a list of the 100 most eminent psychologists of the twentieth century, followed by Jean Piaget and Sigmund Freud. Now a team led by Ed Diener has used their own criteria to compile a list of the 200 most eminent psychologists of the modern era (i.e. people whose careers occurred primarily after 1956).

Here is the top 10: Albert Bandura in first place, Jean Piaget, Daniel Kahneman, Richard Lazarus, Martin Seligman, B.F. Skinner, Noam Chomsky, Shelley Taylor, Amos Tversky, and Ed Diener himself (links are to relevant articles in The Psychologist magazine archive).

What do the authors mean by eminent? They stress the list is intended to reflect psychologists’ recognition by their peers, and is not a barometer of the importance of their work. The metrics they used combine three elements – major awards earned from the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Association for Psychological Science; mentions and coverage in five popular US introductory psychology textbooks; and citations, including consideration of the total number of citations and an individual’s most highly cited single paper. For further validation, the authors checked Wikipedia coverage – their higher ranked psychologists tended to have bigger profiles on the site.

With these criteria, this is clearly a US-biased list, although several British psychologists feature, including John Bowlby at 18, Michael Rutter at 45, Hans Eysenck at 46, and Alan Baddeley at 51. What about the distribution of specialisms? The best represented field was social psychology (making up 16 per cent of the list), followed by biological psychology (11 per cent) and developmental psychology (10 per cent).

Diener and his colleagues said the purpose of compiling this list – which they acknowledge is bound to be imperfect and to omit some stars – is to help identify the highest impact contributions in psychology, to discover the characteristics of eminent psychologists, and to identify imbalances in the field. On this last point, the authors raise concerns about the lack of women on the list (they constitute 27 per cent of the 200), especially given that more women now complete PhDs in psychology than men. The highest ranked woman is Shelley Taylor at 8, followed by Susan Fiske at 22. There is also a notable lack of ethnic minority psychologists – just five people are listed who match this description, including Shinobu Kitayama at 159, John Garcia at 112 and Claude Steele at 63.

What other lessons can we take from this exercise? Diener and his team highlighted the fact that the list was positively skewed – that is, the top performers were way ahead of the rest of the pack. These characters had in common that they tended to work in a focused field, rather than on a mix of topics. Most of them dared to defy received wisdom and to propose ideas that were heretical at the time. These eminent high-flyers also tend to be skilled writers and oral communicators.

The authors note that eminence takes time – the youngest person in the top 100 was 58 at the time the list was drawn up; 22 people earned the top APA award in their 70s. And perseverance. Few psychologists on the list gained their place through a handful of high impact of articles. Most were prolific and continued to work late into life. “A student who is motivated by recognition or money rather than the love of research might find it difficult or impossible to keep up this level of productivity for decades,” warn Diener and his colleagues.

One last thing. Of course it’s difficult to prove the direction of causality here, but we note with humility that over the years many of the eminent psychologists listed in this paper have kindly written for the Research Digest. James Coyne, at 200 on the list, wrote for us just a few weeks ago on suicide prevention; Martin Seligman (listed 5) wrote for us about his own self-control; Paul Ekman (15) about death and forgiveness; Michael Posner (29) about his learning difficulties; Jerome Kagan (31) on his obsession with highlighting methodological flaws; Elizabeth Loftus (55) on prestige-enhancing memory distortions; Robert Sternberg (60) on using psychology to find love; Howard Gardner (74) on forming a synergistic team; Paul Rozin (122) on time management; and David Buss (143) on the way we derogate our romantic competitors.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Diener, E., Oishi, S., & Park, J. (2014). An incomplete list of eminent psychologists of the modern era. Archives of Scientific Psychology, 2 (1), 20-31 DOI: 10.1037/arc0000006

further reading
More from and about the listed psychologists over at The Psychologist mag.

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

Your angry face makes you look stronger

No matter where you travel on earth, you’ll likely have no problem recognising when someone is angry with you. From the plains of Russia to the beaches of Brazil, anger shows itself in a tell-tale facial display involving lowered brow, snarled nose, raised chin and thinned lips.

A popular view has it that, besides reliably conveying anger, this particular constellation of facial movements is arbitrary and serves no other function. A team of evolutionary psychologists led by Aaron Sell disagrees. They think the anger face also makes the angry person look stronger. This fits their “recalibration theory of anger” that sees the emotion as an aggressive threat. An angry animal or person is communicating the costs that they will inflict on others if they do not get what they want. By making an angry person look stronger, so the theory goes, the facial expression gives weight to the threat of aggression, likely influencing the target’s judgment about the seriousness of the threat.

To test this, Sell and his colleagues created pairs of faces using a computer programme. They began with a 20-year-old male face, morphed from averages of many faces, and then calibrated it so that for each of the seven distinguishing features of anger (lowered brow, raised lips, raised mouth, widened nose, enlarged chin, lips thinned, lips pushed forward), they created a pair of contrasting faces. One face in each pair displayed one angry feature, the other face showed the opposite feature. For example, one face showed lowered brows, the other face in the pair showed raised brows. In this way, the seven distinguishing features of anger were isolated.

Thirty-five student participants then looked at the facial pairs and indicated in each case which face they thought looked stronger. The key finding? Each anger-related facial feature when displayed on its own attracted higher ratings of perceived strength. This implies each element of the anger expression contributes to making a person appear stronger.

Further experiments ruled out an alternative explanation – perhaps angry faces actually serve to make a person look older, and this leads to ratings of greater strength because observers assume a slightly older man is stronger than a 20-year-old. One way the researchers tested this was to show participants pairs of morphed faces of a 60-year-old man, in which case looking older presumably wouldn’t be associated with greater strength. Three of the angry facial features actually led him to being rated as younger, with only two prompting ratings of being older. Moreover, participants rated the man as stronger when he displayed six of the seven angry facial features.

“The current study is the first systematic test of the individual components of the anger expression,” the researchers said. “And in so doing it confirms that these features are improbably well-designed to solve the adaptive problem of bargaining with threats of force.” The results are also consistent with a range of other research, including the finding that several features of an angry expression tend to be more prominent in men than women (this fits with the idea that aggression is a more important bargaining tool for men); that stronger and bigger men get angry more easily; and that men’s fighting ability can be discerned from the shape of their face. Looking at the study’s limitations, it’s a shame the researchers didn’t investigate women’s expressions of anger, and that they relied on student participants.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Sell, A., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2014). The human anger face evolved to enhance cues of strength Evolution and Human Behavior, 35 (5), 425-429 DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2014.05.008

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

Back in the saddle!

The human instinct to strive is a wonderful thing. It combats another tendency we have, which is for idleness. Wanting more, to go further and to new places is what propels people up mountains, to explore, to create and innovate. But there’s a downside to this. The familiar can lose its lustre even if we’re already on top of the world. We’re sent on needless diversions, when actually the wise choice is to open our eyes and recognise what we already have.

I had the most exciting writing job in psychology. Yet after more than ten years in post, I was experiencing that pull for the new. But what other roles allow for such joyous immersion in the science of psychology? Nothing compares. And after the recent announcement that the editorship of the Research Digest is to become a full-time position, this unique role just became even more amazing.

Soon after leaving my post as Research Digest editor I was struck hard by the realisation of what I’d given up. My dalliance with start-up America wasn’t going well, and I was desperate to rewind the clock. I’ve read research on the psychology of regret and it’s always been for me a rather abstract notion; now this uncomfortable emotion was hitting me square in the stomach.

I can’t tell you how fortunate I feel to have been given the opportunity to return as editor of the Research Digest. I am sincerely sorry to those candidates who applied for the vacant role, later to find it was no longer available. I want to thank Managing Editor Jon Sutton for keeping the Research Digest alive and well during my absence, and thank you also to all those guest editors who have done such a superb job over these last few months.

Exciting times for the Research Digest – more content, new features!

These are exciting times for the Research Digest – with a full time editor, we aim to bring you more of the carefully curated, quality psychological research content you’ve come to expect. And there will also be more material by guest contributors, more special features, and other developments. Please stay tuned, and thanks for having me back!
_________________________________

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