New Milgram replication in Poland finds 90 per cent of participants willing to deliver highest shock

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By guest blogger Ginny Smith

Fifty years ago, in Connecticut, a series of infamous experiments were taking place. The volunteers believed they were involved in an investigation into learning and memory, and that they would be administering shocks to a test subject whenever he answered questions incorrectly. But despite pretences, the scientist behind the research, Stanley Milgram, wasn’t actually interested in learning. The real topic of study? Obedience.

Milgram recorded how far his participants were willing to go when told to deliver larger and larger shocks. In one version of the study, 26 out of 40 participants continued to the highest shock level – two steps beyond the button labelled “Danger: severe shock”.

But this was 50 years ago – surely the same wouldn’t happen if the experiment were conducted today? That’s what a group of researchers from SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Poland aimed to find out, in a “partial replication” of Milgram published recently in Social Psychological and Personality Science.

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As news approaches, even optimists brace for the worst

Success is defined by our choices decisionsBy Christian Jarrett

Psychologists studying how our expectations change over time have observed that our hopes tend to dip the nearer we get to receiving some feedback, be that an exam result, sports score or health test outcome. They call this “bracing” and there’s evidence we do it more in some situations than others, for example the more severe the potential outcome and the more personally relevant, the more we brace. But do some of us brace more than others, and specifically, do optimists brace as much as pessimists? According to a series of nine studies published recently in the Journal of Personality, the answer is yes.

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Looks like we’re going to have to re-write the textbooks on split-brain patients

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Figure from Pinto et al 2017, via ResearchGate

By Christian Jarrett

Back in the 1960s, Nobel-prize winning research shook our understanding of what it means to be a conscious entity. Epilepsy patients who’d had the thick bundle of nerves connecting their two brain hemispheres either severed or removed (as a drastic treatment for their epilepsy) responded in laboratory tasks as if they had two separate minds.

It’s an unsettling idea that has appeared in psychology textbooks for decades. But dig into the original studies and you’ll find the evidence for split brains leading to split minds was mostly descriptive. Now a team of researchers led by Yair Pinto at the University of Amsterdam has conducted systematic testing of two split-brain patients over several years, specifically to find out whether the division of their brains has also separated their consciousness. In fact, the results, published recently in the journal Brain, suggest their consciousness remains unified. It may be time to rewrite the textbooks.

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Psych students score substantially lower on “dark” traits than business and law students

human head thinking a new ideaBy Christian Jarrett 

There are lots of stereotypes about the kind of people in different professions. Lawyers and business people are often caricatured as ruthless and self-interested, especially when compared to the kind of folk who enter professions usually seen as caring, such as nursing or psychology. To test the truth of these stereotypes, a new study in Personality and Individual Differences surveyed the “Dark Triad” and “Big Five” traits of hundreds of Danish students enrolled to begin studying either psychology, politics, business/economics or law.

The rationale was that by testing students’ personalities after they’d chosen their subject, but before they’d begun their studies, or careers, the researchers would uncover evidence for whether people with certain kinds of personalities are drawn to particular professions, as opposed to, or as well as, those professions shaping their personalities.

Anna Vedel and her colleagues found that psychology students scored “substantially” lower on Dark Triad traits (psychopathy, narcissism and Machiavellianism) than business and law students. Business/economics students scored the highest of all on the Dark Triad. Law and politics students’ scores were very similar to each other: lower than business but higher than psychology. In terms of the Big Five personality traits, psychology students scored “much higher” than the other student groups of Agreeableness and Openness and Neuroticism (replicating a study published last year). These subject differences remained even when comparing just male students, or just female.

“The choice of academic major and career is a complex decision involving many different factors, but the present study suggests that personality traits are at least part of this decision process,” the researchers said.

The Dark Triad across academic majors

Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

Psychologists have studied what’s happening when music gives us chills or makes us cry

Portrait of young Asian girl with tear rolling down cheek
Songs that provoked tears were considered sad and calm, whereas songs triggering chills were seen as a higher energy mix of happy and sad

By guest blogger Helge Hasselmann

Emotions can be fleeting and superficial, for example imagine the split-second of anger you experience after missing the bus. But other “peak emotional states” are more powerful and they are accompanied by intense physical reactions, such as crying or “the chills”. Often these physical manifestations accompany extreme fear or sadness, but they can also occur when we admire a magnificent sunset or enjoy a beautiful piece of music.

Now a study published in Scientific Reports by Kazuma Mori and Makoto Iwanaga has taken a closer look at the contrasting psychology and physiology underlying the chills and tears many of us experience when we’re profoundly moved by a song.

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Experienced meditators have enhanced control over their eye movements

Young Woman Profile Close upBy Alex Fradera

Mindfulness meditation seems to improve the control we have over our eyes, probably because of its known beneficial effects on attentional systems in the brain. That’s according to research published recently in Consciousness and Cognition.

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Study finds 4-year-olds are considerably better than adults at remembering rhyming verse

Child having smile in a studioBy Christian Jarrett

Many parents will attest to their young children’s remarkable knack for remembering rhymes, often claiming that their children’s abilities exceed their own. Can this really be true? In nearly all other contexts, adult memory is known to be superior to that of children, for obvious reasons, including the immaturity of children’s brain development and their lack of sophisticated mnemonic strategies.

A small study in Developmental Science has put pre-literate four-year-olds’ memory abilities to the test, finding that they outperformed their parents, and a comparison group of young adults, in their ability to recall a previously unfamiliar short rhyme: “The Radish-nosed King”.

“We argue that children are better than adults at recalling verse because they exercise the skill more in order to participate in the transmission of their culture through songs and stories, poems and taunts,” the researchers said.

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Heads in the sand: Most of us would prefer not to know whether bad things are going to happen

Business men hiding head in sandBy Alex Fradera

Humans are infovores, hungry to discover, and nothing holds more fascination than the future. Once we looked for answers through divination, now science can forecast significant events such as the onset of certain hereditary disease. But the fact that some people choose not to know – even when information is accessible, and has a bearing on their lives – has encouraged scientists, including Gerd Gigerenzer and Rocio Garcia-Retamero, to try to map out the limits of our appetite for knowledge. Their recent study in Psychological Review suggests that it is a fear of what we might discover – and wishing that we’d never known – that often drives us to deliberate ignorance.

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New studies suggest liberals are as blinkered and biased as conservatives

The march for science in RomeBy Christian Jarrett

Officially at least, last week’s global March for Science was politically neutral. However, there’s a massive over-representation of people with liberal, left-leaning views in science, and much of the science community is unhappy, to put it mildly, with the way politics is going, such as the Trump administration’s proposed deep cuts to science funding, and here in the UK, the impact of Brexit on British science.

Against the backdrop of these anxieties, many of the banners on display – such as “Alternative hypotheses, not alternative facts” and “Science reveals the truth” – conveyed a barely concealed message: if only right-wing conservatives could be a little more objective, less biased, more open-minded – you might say a little more “scientific” – then the world would be a better place.

Plenty of past psychology research lends some credence to this perspective: for instance conservatives tend to score lower on the trait of open-mindedness than liberals, and of course conservatives, more often than liberals, are sceptical toward the scientific consensus that human activity has had a significant impact on climate change. But it’s also easy to find psychological evidence of liberals’ bias, and liberals too are often in denial of unwelcome scientific theory, such as evolutionary accounts of sex differences in behaviour.

Now two new articles, published at the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) and in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, respectively, provide further compelling evidence that liberals, as much as conservatives, are prone to partisan bias – that is, showing rapid, easy acceptance of evidence that supports their existing beliefs – and that they are just as motivated to avoid hearing viewpoints that differ from their own. Whether we’re liberal or conservative, a first step toward combating our political prejudices, the paper in SSRN concludes, is “to recognize our collective vulnerability to perceiving the world in ways that validate our political beliefs”.

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Introducing the Invisibility Cloak Illusion: We think we’re more observant (and less observed) than everyone else

Agent icon. Spy sunglasses. Hat and glassesBy guest blogger Juliet Hodges

Most of us tend to think we’re better than average: more competent, honest, talented and compassionate. The latest example of this kind of optimistic self-perception is the “invisibility cloak illusion”. In research published recently in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Erica Boothby and her colleagues show how we have a tendency to believe that we are incredibly socially observant ourselves, while those around us are less so. These assumptions combine to create the illusion that we observe others more than they observe us.

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