Women candidates are seen as less electable — which makes voters less likely to support them

By Emily Reynolds

Politics in the UK is becoming increasingly diverse. But there is still a way to go. When it comes to gender, the proportion of women in the House of Commons is at an all time high — but at 35%, is still far from representative of the population. 

A new study, published in PNAS, looks at the barriers to women being elected. And the Stanford University team finds even voters who would prefer a female candidate show a level of “pragmatic bias”: if they believe that women candidates face barriers that make them less electable, they are less likely to vote for them. 

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Here’s why phrases like “rowdy bowels” and “moose ooze” seem funny

By Emma Young

Which is funnier:

Sell bargain — or nymph piss?

Roof darkness — or gravy orgy?

Large small — or moose ooze?

If you went for the second each time, you’d be in good company. In a new study, participants gave word pairs in the second set the highest humour ratings, while those in the first languished near the bottom. One very obvious difference is that those in the second set reference sex or bodily excretions, while the others don’t. But Cynthia S. Q. Siew at the National University of Singapore, along with Tomas Engelthaler and Thomas T. Hills at the University of Warwick, also identified broader factors at play. In their paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, they argue that these factors explain why gangster pasta, for example, is funnier than insult nickname.

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We unconsciously pay more attention to someone who has dilated pupils

By Emma Young

How do you know when someone else is paying attention to you? If they’re staring at you intensely, that’s a pretty obvious giveaway. But there are also far subtler signals — such as the size of their pupils.

As Clara Colombatto and Brian Scholl at Yale University note in a new paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, our pupils automatically and uncontrollably dilate when we’re emotionally aroused, working something out, or just attending to something. Pupil size has been used as an objective indicator of all these things in a wealth of recent studies.

But if another person is directing their attention towards you, you need to know about it. It might be attention that you should reciprocate, to build a relationship, or it might signal a potential threat. So, Colombatto and Scholl wondered, “If the apprehension of pupil size is so helpful to scientists, might it be similarly helpful to us in everyday life?”

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Prejudice among Trump supporters increased after he became president

By Emily Reynolds

Whether or not Donald Trump’s presidency actively increased prejudice or simply emboldened those who already held bigoted views was frequently debated during his term. A new study looks more closely at prejudicial attitudes during the presidency, exploring the views of over 10,000 American citizens.

The study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, finds a complex picture. While prejudicial attitudes decreased among Trump’s opponents, his supporters showed an increase in prejudice — and this seems to be because they believed these views had become more socially acceptable.

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Extraverts are considered to be poorer listeners

By Emma Young

Extraverts are hugely sociable — they really care about their relationships, and possess outstanding social skills. Well, that’s how extraverts are generally portrayed. But, according to new work, that’s not exactly how other people see them. In a series of studies reported in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Francis J. Flynn at Stanford University, US and colleagues consistently found that more extraverted people are considered to be poorer listeners. Their research also reveals a likely reason why.

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Background music can make us less cautious

By Emma Young

Background music is a feature of most people’s everyday lives. Whether it’s while driving, at the gym, at home, or even at work, we often have music playing while we’re doing something else. Research into precisely how this affects our behaviour, emotions and cognitive processes have provided mixed findings, however. One of the reasons, argue Agustín Perez Santangelo at the University of Buenos Aires and colleagues, is there are so many variables, both in terms of the type of music used in the studies, and also the aspects of performance being measured — so it’s no wonder that results have been inconsistent.

Santangelo’s team decided, therefore, to explore changes in just one musical variable — tempo — and to look for effects on two individual aspects of decision-making: speed and accuracy. And they report in their paper in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, that background music did indeed have an effect: it made the participants less cautious.

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Seeing good people do bad things makes the world feel like a more confusing place

By Emma Young

Have you ever believed someone to be decent — but then they did something morally bad, which turned that belief on its head? It happens more often than we might think. And, according to new work in Social Psychology and Personality Science, the consequences are far-reaching.

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Students with Dark Triad traits don’t feel responsible for their own learning, making them more likely to cheat

By Emma Young

Plagiarism and cheating are persistent problems in higher education, note the authors of a new paper in Personality and Individual Differences. Better ways of combatting academic misconduct are clearly needed. And in their paper, Guy J. Curtis at the University of Western Australia and colleagues report that they’ve found one: encouraging students to take personal responsibility for their own learning.

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We tend to prefer political candidates with higher levels of education — here’s why

By Emily Reynolds

What makes us vote for particular candidates often goes beyond their politics. Research has suggested that our voting preferences can be influenced by our own self-identity, candidates’ perceived beauty, and even the depth of their voices. A new study looks at another factor that could sway our choices: education.

Writing in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Jochem van Noord and team find that people with low or high levels of education both prefer more educated politicians — but the reasons for this preference may be different for each group.

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Moon mission simulation explores how isolation affects astronauts’ wellbeing

By Matthew Warren

The next decade promises to be an exciting one for space travel. With the Artemis missions, NASA plans to send a crewed mission to the moon in a few years’ time, and will eventually establish a base camp at the lunar South Pole for longer expeditions. Meanwhile, Elon Musk claims that SpaceX will send a crew to Mars in 2029.

But any long-term space mission will face numerous challenges — not just technical, but also psychological. Astronauts will have to spend weeks or months in small confines with just a few fellow crew members, isolated from the rest of humanity. So it will be important to predict how this experience might affect astronauts’ mental health — and whether there are particular activities that could protect against any negative effects.

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