Audio Technique Makes People Feel That Their Doppelganger Is In The Room With Them

By Emma L. Barratt

Hallucinatory experiences are pretty common, despite widespread beliefs to the contrary. Researchers estimate that around 40% of the population regularly experience hallucinations to some degree, whether that be feeling your phone vibrate only to find no notifications, or a full-on out of body experience.

Though hallucinations are common, some are harder to study than others. One of the trickiest has been autoscopic hallucinations, during which people experience a doppelganger of all or part of their body in the space around them.

Though this hallucination has been reported to clinicians, its rarity has made it difficult to observe in an experimental setting — so researchers have instead attempted to induce the phenomenon in the lab. Now, Marte Roel Lesur and team at the University of Zurich have developed a way to experimentally induce it in people who have no history of hallucinations using only auditory cues.

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Here’s How Psychologists Are Using Robots To Study The “Uncanny Valley”

By Emma L. Barratt

Mentioning the uncanny valley often brings one thing to mind — creepy dolls. The phenomenon, in which near-human-looking faces produce an inexplicable uneasy reaction in those who view them, was actually first described as an issue faced by roboticists. But the faces of dolls in particular are a cultural touchstone for uncanny feelings — at least in part due to their (over)use as a spooking-device in hundreds of horror movies over the years.

As such, psychological research has been conducted on the subtleties that non-human facial structure and expression can have on producing feelings of unease in those who view them. However, the uncanny valley isn’t just confined to faces, and its effects are not confined to just a horror movie device. For example, research from Burcu Urgen of Bilkent University demonstrates that biological-like motion can also trigger uncanny feelings, which poses real issues for those pushing the frontiers of robotics.

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Early Symptoms Of Psychosis Can Identify Particularly At-Risk Individuals

By Emma Young

The number of people referred in the UK to mental health services for a suspected first ever episode of psychosis rose by nearly a third between April 2019 and April 2021. The stresses of COVID-19 have been blamed. Ideally, these people would have been identified as being at-risk before they first experienced the hallucinations and/or delusions that characterise the condition. That’s because early treatment can work to delay or even prevent a first episode from occurring.

Research has revealed a suite of symptoms that can occur in this preceding period. These include odd or eccentric behaviours and ideas, unusual perceptual experiences, and suspiciousness — as well as hallucinations and delusions, but not at the level required for a diagnosis of psychosis. Non-psychotic early symptoms have been identified, too, such as anxiety, self-harm, sleep disturbance, depression and memory problems. Now a new paper in Psychological Medicine reveals which early symptoms, exactly, are associated with a faster than average progression to a first episode of psychosis — and also more symptoms later — and which are not.

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Developments In Psychology’s Covid Research

By Emma L. Barratt

Early in the pandemic, there was a rapid shift in the pace of research. With the situation evolving quickly, lockdowns coming into effect, and the massive loss of life that followed, researchers across academia were racing against the clock to produce papers.

This haste was unusual for most scientists, more used to detailed scrutiny, further investigations, and collaboration. As a result, some were concerned about the rigour of papers that would ultimately see the light of day. Early on, psychologist Vaughan Bell tweeted with regards to Covid research, “If it’s urgent, the urgency is to do it right”. Now, almost two years into the pandemic, we can begin to assess how robust our efforts were, and see where developments are leading us.

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Expressing Outrage At Factory Farming Makes People Feel Less Guilty About Eating Meat

By Emily Reynolds

Meat consumption has decreased by 17% in the UK over the past decade, with more and more people questioning the health, environmental and moral implications of eating meat. While some will be unrepentant about their taste for meat, others may find it more morally ambiguous, with big questions about how justifiable their diets really are.

A new study, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, takes a closer look at how meat-eaters grapple with these quandaries. It finds that blaming third parties, holding them responsible for moral transgressions, can reduce the cognitive dissonance involved in eating meat.

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Massive Study Finds No Link Between Time Spent Playing Video Games And Wellbeing

By Emma L. Barratt

Video games are perhaps one of the most politicised forms of entertainment media out there. In the decades since they were first created, governments, politicians, health bodies and beyond have voiced concerns that the amount of time some players spend in these virtual worlds could be detrimental to their mental health.

Despite all this concern, there’s been a lack of high-quality research into the effect of video games on player wellbeing. To remedy this situation, Matti Vuorre and colleagues at the University of Oxford, in collaboration with several large game publishers such as Nintendo and Square Enix, conducted an ambitious longitudinal study. These fears, they conclude in their recent preprint on PsyArXiv, are unfounded.

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People Will Pay Money To Avoid Having To Exert Self-Control

By Emily Reynolds

Self-control — or lack of it — can have a serious impact on our lives. Poor self-control can lead to feelings of loneliness, while those with higher levels of self-discipline experience states like hunger and tiredness less intensely. Yet despite these obvious benefits, the vast majority of us sometimes experience failures in self-control no matter how hard we try.

A new study, published in PNAS, looks to quantify the cost of self-control. Candace M. Raio and Paul W. Glimcher from the New York University School of Medicine find that we’re willing to pay a monetary price to avoid having to exert self-control — and we’ll pay more if the temptation is particularly strong.

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“Frenemies” Both Help And Harm Each Other At Work

By Emma Young

Think about your relationships with your colleagues… I bet there are at least some who you’d call “frenemies”. Maybe there’s a co-worker whose sense of humour you love, say — but who also irritates you by failing to pull their weight. In fact, the workplace is the ideal breeding ground for relationships that are characterised by simultaneous, strong positive and negative feelings — so-called “ambivalent relationships” (or frenemies) — note the authors of a new paper in the Journal of Applied Psychology.

It’s surprising, then, how little is known about how frenemies behave with each other, write Shimul Melwani at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Naomi Rothman at Lehigh University. So the pair ran a series of studies to find out.

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Black, But Not White, Families Talked More About Race After The Murder of George Floyd

By Emily Reynolds

Conversations about race can be seriously beneficial to children. Research has highlighted multiple positive outcomes for young people of all backgrounds — enhanced ability to accept different viewpoints and perspectives, increased levels of empathy, a better understanding of their own identity, and less racial bias to name but a few. Yet some parents are still unwilling to take the time to have such conversations.

A new study, published in PNAS, finds that readiness to have such conversations has a lot to do with the racial identity of parents themselves. Looking at family conversations in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, the Stanford University team finds that even in the context of the global conversation that followed the racially charged killing, White parents were far less willing to have conversations about race than their Black peers.

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Young People Around The World Report High Levels Of Climate Anxiety

By Emma L. Barratt

In the past few years, the effects of climate change have become undeniably apparent. In the last two years alone, headlines have been full of climate disasters — from forest fire smoke turning San Francisco’s sky luminous red, to torrential flooding in Germany and China.

In the face of events like this, anxiety and fear about climate change is undoubtedly increasing. Far from being indicative of mental illness, climate anxiety (also known as eco-anxiety or climate distress) more neatly fits under the banner of “practical anxiety”: fear that motivates change to help us respond to threats. Even though this in itself is useful, the experiences of fear can be unrelenting, and have serious consequences for mental health and functioning.

Young people are more at risk than those from older generations; an uncertain and dangerous climate situation poses the most risk to their futures, after all.

It’s with this in mind that Caroline Hickman and colleagues at the University of Bath set out to investigate the extent of young people’s feelings and thoughts on climate change, and the functional impact associated with them. In their global study, posted as a preprint at SSRN, they look how the threats of climate change, as well as government response to these threats, affect the emotions and day to day functioning of young people.

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