Mediation May Help Couples Resolve Conflicts Better Than One-On-One Discussion

By Emily Reynolds

No matter how much you love your partner, there are always going to be things about them that get on your nerves. These can be fairly superficial — not liking the way they fold the laundry, for example, or hating their favourite TV show. Other problems can be more serious — fundamental failures to communicate or disagreements on big decisions like having children. There’s also evidence that we continue to repeat these patterns in new relationships, even when we hope to see a change.

But while all couples argue, they don’t all do it in the same way. Techniques for managing conflict have been explored by François Bogacz and team from the University of Geneva in a new study published in Humanities and Social Sciences Communication. The study’s findings suggest that mediation — negotiation facilitated by a neutral third party such as a therapist or counsellor — may be the best way for couples to resolve serious conflict.

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Narcissism Can Have Both A Positive And Negative Impact On New Mothers’ Wellbeing, Longitudinal Study Finds

By Emma Young

What happens to a narcissistic woman when she becomes a mother? Can someone with an unmet desire for attention, love and recognition — which characterises all narcissists — adapt well to having a baby to care for? The answer, according to a new study in Personality Disorders: Theory, Research and Treatment, is that it really depends what type of narcissist the mother is. And even, then, the conclusions were based on self-reports, which should probably be received with caution.

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Lie Detection And Conspiracy Theories: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

Our weekly round-up of the best psychology coverage from elsewhere on the web

An interview technique known as “Asymmetric Information Management” provides a pretty effective way to spot liars, writes researcher Cody Porter at The Conversation. The method basically involves explaining to the interviewee that it will be easier to figure out if they are lying or telling the truth if they provide longer, more detailed statements, Porter explains. Liars will tend to withhold information to try and hide their lie, while truth-tellers will provide detailed information as requested.

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Adults Who Experienced More Positive Emotions Had Less Memory Decline Over The Next Decade

By Emily Reynolds

A huge variety of factors are related to memory, from mood to personality to what substances have been consumed. One recent study, for example, found that older adults with higher openness to experience also experienced fewer cognitive complaints each day; other work has found a relationship between self-reported memory and traits including neuroticism and extraversion.

Now, in a study published in Psychological Science, Emily F. Hittner from Northwestern University and team have looked at the relationship between memory and positive affect — the experience of pleasant emotional states like enthusiasm, pride or joy. And they found less memory decline over time in those participants with higher levels of positive affect.

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Grimacing Or Smiling Can Make An Injection Feel Less Painful

By Emma Young

If you’re preparing to receive a flu vaccine — or even a COVID-19 vaccine — this winter, you’ll be interested in the results of a new study that investigates whether it’s better to smile or grimace your way through the pain of an injection.

The idea that manipulating our facial expressions can affect our emotions has a long and storied history. There are many advocates of this “facial feedback hypothesis”, and many critics, too. Indeed, one of the classic findings in the field — that people find cartoons funnier if they hold a pen between their teeth, inducing a smile — recently failed to replicate. This mixed research background was well known to Sarah D. Pressman and Amanda M. Acevedo at the University of California, Irvine, who led the new work, published in Emotion.

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Our Feelings Towards People Expressing Empathy Depend On Who They’re Empathising With

By Emily Reynolds

We tend to think of empathy as a wholly positive thing, a trait that’s not only favourable to possess but that we should actively foster. Books and courses promise to reveal secret wells of empathy and ways to channel them; some people even charge for “empathy readings”, a service that seems to sit somewhere between a psychic reading and a therapy session.

It would be easy to assume, therefore, that people who express empathy are generally well-liked. But a new study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology finds that our feelings towards “empathisers” depends on who they are empathising with. While empathisers were considered warmer overall, participants judged people who expressed empathy for those with troubling political views more harshly — suggesting that we don’t always interpret empathy as a pure moral virtue.

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We Are Less Likely To Dehumanise Prisoners Who Are Approaching The End Of Their Sentence

By Emma Young

Criminals are often characterised in the popular press as “animals” or “cold-blooded”. Such adjectives effectively dehumanise them, and there’s no end of research finding that if we deny fully human emotional and thinking capacities to other people, we are less likely to treat them in a humane way. But how long does prisoner dehumanisation last? Is it a life sentence? Or, wondered the authors of a new paper, published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, does it depend on how long a prisoner has left to serve?

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Here’s How The Brain Responds When We Feel Our Parents’ Joy

By Emma Young

You scrape off the panels on a lottery scratch card… and you’re a winner! Brain imaging would show a burst of activity in a region called the nucleus accumbens, in the ventral striatum, a region known to code the impact of reward-related stimuli, such as getting money. But how the brain handles so-called vicarious joy — the type you might feel if you scraped winning panels from a relative’s scratch card, or even a stranger’s — is not well understood. Now a new study, published in Cognitive, Affective & Behavioural Neuroscience, shows that while there are similarities, there are also some important differences. Notably, the participants’ brains responded differently when they won money for their mother versus their father.

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People Are More Positive About Hacking When They Feel They’ve Been Treated Unfairly

By Emily Reynolds

Type the word “hacker” into any stock photo search engine and you’ll be greeted with pages and pages of images of someone sitting in the dark, typing threateningly at their laptop, and more often than not wearing a balaclava or Guy Fawkes mask. That Matrix-inspired 1990s aesthetic of green code on black is still prevalent — and still implies that hackers have inherently nefarious ends.

More recently, however, the idea of hacking as a prosocial activity has gained more attention. Earlier this year, one group of hackers made headlines for donating $10,000 in Bitcoin to two charities, the result of what they say was the extortion of millions of dollars from multinational companies.

While the charities declined the donations, social media responses were more mixed, with some praising the hackers. And in a new study, Maria S. Heering and colleagues from the University of Kent argue that our view of hacking is somewhat malleable: when people were treated unfairly and the institutions responsible did nothing to redress their grievances, they felt more positive about hackers who targeted the source of their anger.

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Study Finds People Who Played Video Games For Longer Had Greater Wellbeing (But Direction Of Causality Isn’t Yet Clear)

Photo: A user plays Animal Crossing, one of the games studied in the new research. William West/AFP via Getty Images

By Matthew Warren

Video games get blamed for a lot. There are long-standing debates about whether violence in video games leads to real-world aggression, or whether video game “addiction” is something we should worry about. And some people have broader fears that more time spent on screens negatively affects our mental health and wellbeing.

However, an increasing number of studies have failed to find much evidence to back up these kinds of concerns. But the field suffers from some pretty big limitations. In particular, studies often rely on people reporting their own time spent consuming media — and we’re notoriously unreliable at making those sorts of estimates.

Enter a new study from Niklas Johannes and colleagues at the Oxford Internet Institute, published as a preprint on PsyArxiv earlier this week. The researchers find that more time spent playing video games actually relates to greater wellbeing (though there are plenty of caveats to that finding — more on those later). But the most interesting part of the study is really its methodology: rather than relying on people reporting their own video game use, the researchers established a rare collaboration with games companies in order to get precise data.

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