Self-Compassion Can Protect You From Feeling Like A Burden When You Mess Things Up For Your Group

By guest blogger Itamar Shatz

It feels bad to know that you’ve messed up, especially when other people have to pay a price for your actions. Unfortunately, this feeling is something that most of us end up experiencing at one point or another — when we’re placed on a team with other people at school or at a job, for instance, and make a mistake that forces our team members to do more work as a result.

However, recent research, published in Social Psychology by James Wirth at Ohio State University and his colleagues, shows that there is a trait that can reduce those negative feelings, called “self-compassion”.

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Why Do We Overestimate The Importance Of The Country We Live In?

By Matthew Warren

What proportion of world history is the United Kingdom responsible for? While it’s clearly hard to put an exact number on it, you might be surprised by the answers participants gave in a 2018 study: on average, Brits believed that the country has contributed a whopping 55% of the total history of the world. And they weren’t alone: participants from 34 other countries all rated their own nations as having outsized contributions, from 11% in Switzerland to 61% in Russia.

Other work has found that people make similar claims about the regions they live in: one study found that Americans believe their own state is responsible for 18% of the nation’s history, despite just being one of 50 in the country. Now a series of studies in Memory & Cognition has looked at exactly why people make these judgements, known as “collective overclaiming”.

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Here’s How Our Personality Changes As We Age

By Emma Young

The once popular idea that our personality becomes “set like plaster” by the age of 30 has been refuted by studies showing that we do change —  and can even purposefully change ourselves. Many studies have identified shifts in Big Five traits across the lifespan. However, the often inconsistent results have made for ongoing controversy about how personality typically changes with age.

Now a new analysis of data from 16 longitudinal studies, with a total sample of more than 60,000 people from various countries, reveals some important insights. The work, published by Eileen Graham at Northwestern University, Chicago, and her colleagues in the European Journal of Personality Research, suggests that there are indeed some clear patterns of change through middle age and into older age for at least four of those five traits.

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Psychologists Are Mining Social Media Posts For Mental Health Research — But Many Users Have Concerns

By Emily Reynolds

This article contains discussion of suicide and self-harm

In 2014, the Samaritans launched what seemed like an innovative new project: Radar. Designed to provide what the charity described as an “online safety net”, users could sign up to Radar to receive updates on the content of other people’s tweets, with emails sent out based on a list of key phrases meant to detect whether someone was feeling distressed.

In principle, this meant people could keep an eye on friends who were vulnerable: if they missed a tweet where somebody said they felt suicidal or wanted to self-harm, for example, Radar would send it on, in theory increasing the likelihood that someone might get help or support.

In practice, however, things weren’t so simple. Some pointed out that the app could be used for stalking or harassment, allowing abuse to be targeted during someone’s lowest point. There were false positives, too — “I want to kill myself”, for example, is often used as hyperbole by people who aren’t actually distressed at all. And others felt it was an invasion of privacy: their tweets might be on a public platform, they argued, but they were personal expression. They hadn’t consented to being used as part of a programme like Radar, no matter how well meaning it was.

Samaritans shut down Radar just a week after launch. But since then, the use of social media data in mental health research — including tweets, Facebook and Instagram posts, and blogs — has only increased. Researchers hope that the volume of data social media offers will bring important insights into mental health. But many users worry about how their data is being used.

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Optical Illusions And Problematic Peer-Review: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

Keyboard for ideaOur weekly round-up of the best psychology coverage from elsewhere on the web

Visual illusions occur because our brains construct stories about how things should look, based on our experiences and expectations, which don’t always match up with reality. And with a greater understanding of how we (mis)interpret the visual world, perhaps we can also come to understand the more complicated biases in our thoughts and behaviour that have led to the polarised political climate, writes Brian Resnick at Vox. Aside from being a great read, the story contains some really nice examples of visual illusions that I had never come across before. Continue reading “Optical Illusions And Problematic Peer-Review: The Week’s Best Psychology Links”

We’re Not Very Good At Identifying Illness From Sounds of Coughs and Sneezes

By Emily Reynolds

At the moment, most of us are on red alert when it comes to sounds of illness, with sniffling in the supermarket or coughing behind us in a queue the cause of significant alarm.

And while we might like to think we’re able to tell the difference between someone clearing their throat and somebody who is genuinely unwell, new research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests we’re less good at identifying threats than we think.

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School-Age Kids, But Not Preschoolers, Understand That Divulging A Friend’s Secret Could Damage The Friendship

By Emma Young

How many secrets have your friends shared with you? The answer could reveal a lot about your relationships. We not only share secrets with people we’re close to, but swap secrets to strengthen relationships. In my new novel, Here Lie the Secrets, I do use the sharing of deeply personal secrets to advance the relationship of my two main characters… However, as we also all know, discovering that a friend goes on to share your secret can seriously damage your relationship.

Secrets, then, have an important role in our social lives. But, asks Zoe Liberman at the University of California Santa Barbara, when do we become aware of this? To what extent do children understand the significance of secrets — and the consequences of spilling them? Her results, published in Developmental Psychology, suggest be that it would be unwise to trust a four-year-old with any kind of secret — but with an 8-year-old, you’re much more likely to be safe.

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People’s Desire To Reciprocate Acts Of Kindness Is Surprisingly Robust

By Emily Reynolds

Prosocial behaviour can sometimes feel pretty paradoxical: you’re doing something to benefit somebody else, but it can come at a cost to yourself. That cost could be small — getting up to make a cup of tea, for example — or could be more significant in terms of time, money, or energy.

Research has already established that there are four main forms of “reciprocity” that drive people to behave prosocially: wanting to do something nice for somebody who had been kind to you (direct reciprocity); doing good in the presence of people who might reward your generosity (reputational giving); paying it forward after experiencing kindness yourself (generalised reciprocity); or doing something for someone you’d seen be generous (rewarding reputation).

But most of these motivations have been studied individually: what happens when — as in real life — they all occur at once? In a new study published in Science Advances, David Melamed and colleagues find that people intrinsically want to help each other — even when those drivers seem like they are competing with one another.

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Heavy Coffee Drinkers Want Coffee A Lot More Than They Actually Like It

By Emma Young

If I had to choose between giving up alcohol or coffee, it would have to be alcohol. I just love coffee too much… But do I, really? Or do I just want it, which is different?

Despite being the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world, there’s ongoing debate about just how addictive caffeine is. It does share some of the criteria for dependence: regular users who skip their morning cup will often report withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches, for example. “Caffeine use disorder” is even being discussed for potential inclusion in the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. But is it really addictive in the same fundamental way as a harder drug like cocaine?

A new paper published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggests that it is. Nicolas Koranyi at the University of Jena, Germany, and colleagues found that heavy coffee drinkers want coffee a lot more than they like it. The implication is that they drink it mostly or entirely to feed their addiction, rather than for pleasure.

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Sad Tweets And Horror Games: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

Keyboard for ideaOur weekly round-up of the best psychology coverage from elsewhere on the web

Why do some people automatically see a colour for each day of the week, or associate shapes with particular tastes? At Nautilus, Sidney Perkowitz writes about recent research into the origins of synaesthesia — and how the phenomenon could help researchers understand how consciousness emerges in the brain.

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