Belief in brain myths and child development myths continues even among those who’ve studied psychology

GettyImages-532465705.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Despite countless myth-busting articles online, dedicated bloggers like Neuroskeptic, and the publication of a recent book described by Ben Goldacre as “a masterful catalogue of neurobollocks” (disclaimer: I wrote it), and another in the same series addressing child development myths, public surveys continue to show stubborn, widespread belief in many brain myths and psychology myths, even among people with neuroscience training. Now the latest survey of the public via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, published open-access in Psychology, suggests that little has changed. Belief in many brain and child developmental myths remains rife, even among those who’ve taken psychology courses.

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Randomised controlled studies find tea enhances divergent creativity

GettyImages-670040428.jpgBy Alex Fradera

A study in the journal Food Quality and Preference suggests that tea-drinking benefits divergent thinking, a key element of creativity that’s associated with generating ideas or identifying patterns. The researchers from Peking University greeted their initial 50 student participants with a cup of either hot water or black Lipton tea, before asking them to use children’s building blocks to make the most attractive design they could. Independent raters, blind to the study purpose and condition, rated the tea-drinkers designs as more creative, in terms of factors like aesthetic appeal, innovativeness and grandness.

In a second study, 40 more participants proposed names for a ramen noodle shop, and judges considered the names produced by tea-drinkers to be more innovative (but no more playful).

Tea drinking has already been tied to enhanced convergent thinking – coming up with the single correct answer to a problem – but the researchers claim theirs is the first study to find a relationship with more open, explorative thinking. The reasons for the effect aren’t clear: no significant improvement in arousal or positive mood was observed in the tea drinkers, nor did the participants prepare tea themselves, a ritual that some have speculated could help shift mindset. It’s possible that the effect is simply due to relaxation – so why not sit back and enjoy a brew with your next brainstorm.

Drinking tea improves the performance of divergent creativity

Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) is Staff Writer at BPS Research Digest

Male and female bosses share the same “classically masculine” personality traits

GettyImages-505412656.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

You may have seen the recent viral TV interview in which the Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson claimed that an important part of the reason there are fewer women than men in leadership positions is to do with personality differences between the sexes. Specifically, he said that women on average score lower than men on traits, such as assertiveness, that are known to be associated with reaching senior roles, and higher on others that work against promotion, especially agreeableness and emotional sensitivity.

While these observations are largely backed by evidence, what’s far less clear – because the question simply hasn’t been studied much before – is whether women who reach senior management tend to share the traits of men in these positions, or if instead female bosses have a contrasting personality profile, indicative of an alternative, “feminine” route to the top.

These are pertinent questions for any one who would like more gender diversity in leadership roles because the findings could point to clues for how to ease the promotion path for women. For a new paper in Journal of Vocational Behaviour, a team led by Bart Wille at the University of Antwerp has investigated.

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Musical universals: people can identify lullabies and dance songs from other cultures

GettyImages-149147996.jpgBy Emma Young

No matter where they live, people interpret certain kinds of vocalisations, even from animals, as conveying a particular emotion – as “angry”, for instance, or “soothing”. It’s tempting to think that there might be similar cross-cultural universals in the ways that we use music – that a song used to calm an infant in Melanesia, say, should bear striking similarities to a song created for the same purpose by a culture in the Arctic Circle.

Well, it’s tempting if you’re a cognitive scientist – though not if you’re an ethnomusicologist (who studies music from different cultures), according to a survey of the opinions of academics reported in a new paper, published in Current Biology. “Historically, the idea that there might be universals in music from many cultures has been met with considerable scepticism, especially among music scholars,” note the authors of the study, led by Samuel Mehr at Harvard University, which then goes on to explore whether they do exist.

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Can a reasoning test predict who will make a good detective?

GettyImages-118096569.jpgBy Alex Fradera

Although criminal investigation has been transformed through technological developments in DNA, phone tracking, and online data, the way a detective works through a crime has remained much the same. The first suspect is often the true perpetrator, but not always, and snowballing biases continue to lead to miscarriages of justice. Proficient detectives need the ability to generate and evaluate different explanations and keep an open mind. New research in the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology investigates whether it’s possible to use established tests of reasoning ability to identify who has the skills necessary for thinking this way.

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Smart or determined? Examining the influence of motivation on IQ test performance

GettyImages-918364616.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Intelligence tests are meant to tell you something about a person’s inherent abilities. But what if the results are distorted by the motivation to perform well? That would undermine the tests’ validity and have important implications for their use in education and recruitment.

A simple way to find out whether motivation affects intelligence test performance is to offer people a financial incentive for doing well and see if this helps them get a higher score. A paper in the British Journal of Psychology has done this, finding that while a financial incentive boosted people’s self-declared effort levels, it failed to lift their performance. This result is good news for the validity of intelligence testing. Or as the paper’s author, Gilles Gignac at the University of Western Australia, put it: “The position of a causal effect of test-taking motivation on intelligence test performance in adults does not, yet, appear to be clearly tenable”.

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Brainwave evidence hints at benefits from a school mindfulness programme

GettyImages-143176827.jpgBy Emma Young

Recent studies of mindfulness schools programmes for teenagers have produced mixed results, with some failing to find benefits, even when extra features were added to try to make them more effective. But given the demonstrated benefits of mindfulness training on stress and wellbeing in adults – and the urgent need to find ways to reduce stress and prevent depression in teenagers – it’s not surprising that researchers are pursuing work in the area.

Advocates of mindfulness for kids may, then, take some comfort from a new study in Developmental Science that found an 8-week training programme improved emotion processing in 16-18-year-olds. In theory, this might reduce their vulnerability to depression, write the researchers, from Bangor University, UK.

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Wisdom is a journey

GettyImages-856291670.jpgBy Alex Fradera

From the beginning of recorded time, humanity has been fascinated by the figure of the wise person, wending their path through the tribulations of life, and informing those willing to learn. What sets them apart? Maybe that’s the wrong question. In a new review in European Psychologist, Igor Grossman of the University of Waterloo argues that understanding wisdom involves taking the wise off their pedestal, and seeing wisdom as a set of processes that we can all tap into, with the right attitude, and in the right context.

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Episode 11: How to Get a Good Night’s Sleep

GettyImages-506725379.jpgThis is Episode 11 of PsychCrunch the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here.

Can psychology help us get a better night’s sleep? Our presenter Ginny Smith hears how worry about sleep is sometimes more of a problem than lack of sleep itself. She gives us some evidence-backed sleep tips and finds out about “sleep engineering” – deliberately manipulating the sleep process to aid memory and enhance its health benefits.

Our guests are Professor Kenneth Lichstein at the University of Alabama and Professor Penny Lewis at the University of Cardiff.

Background reading for this episode:

Also, find many more studies on sleep and dreaming in our archive.

Episode credits: Presented and produced by Ginny Smith. Mixing Jeff Knowler. PsychCrunch theme music Catherine Loveday and Jeff Knowler. Art work Tim Grimshaw.

Check out this episode!

Subscribe and download via iTunes.
Subscribe and download via Stitcher.
Subscribe and listen on Spotify.

Past episodes:

Episode one: Dating and Attraction.
Episode two: Breaking Bad Habits.
Episode three: How to Win an Argument.
Episode four: The Psychology of Gift Giving.
Episode five: How To Learn a New Language.
Episode six: How To Be Sarcastic 😉
Episode seven: Use Psychology To Compete Like an Olympian.
Episode eight: Can We Trust Psychological Studies?
Episode nine: How To Get The Best From Your Team
Episode ten: How To Stop Procrastinating

PsychCrunch is sponsored by Routledge Psychology.

PsychCrunch Banner April 16

Routledge interviewed PsychCrunch presenter Christian Jarrett about the aims of the podcast and engaging with the public about psychology research.

Study conducted during war finds one symptom that is especially indicative of PTSD vulnerability

GettyImages-452430810.jpgBy Emma Young

After a traumatic event, some people develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – generally within about a month – while others don’t. Identifying those most at risk could allow for targeted interventions, aimed at stopping the disorder developing. So how do you spot these people?

One way of exploring this question involves viewing PTSD as a dynamic process in which symptoms interact over time to cause the disorder, and some symptoms likely play a bigger causal role than others. So if you can identify the most problematic symptoms, and the people displaying them, at an early stage, then you can work out not only who to target but which symptoms to focus on.

In a new paper due for publication in Psychological Medicine and released as a pre-print at the Open Science Framework, a team of researchers from Israel and Amsterdam conducted just such an analysis on data collected from Israeli civilians during the 50-day Israeli-Gaza war of 2014. “It is important to note that collecting [this kind of] data regarding traumatic stress symptoms during a conflict situation is unparalleled in the literature,” the researchers write.

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