A New Study Has Investigated Who Watched The ISIS Beheading Videos, Why, And What Effect It Had On Them

GettyImages-458984485.jpgBy Emma Young

In the summer of 2014, two videos were released that shocked the world. They showed the beheadings, by ISIS, of two American journalists – first, James Foley and then Steven Sotloff. Though the videos were widely discussed on TV, print and online news, most outlets did not show the full footage. However, it was not difficult to find links to the videos online. At the time, Sarah Redmond at the University of California, Irvine and her colleagues were already a year into a longitudinal study to assess psychological responses to the Boston Marathon Bombing, which happened in April 2013. They realised that they could use the same nationally representative sample of US adults to investigate what kind of person chooses to watch an ISIS beheading – and why. Their findings now appear in a paper published in American Psychologist. 

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Here’s A Simple Trick For Anyone Who Finds Eye Contact Too Intense

GettyImages-157522456.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

We’re taught from an early age that it is polite and assertive to look people in the eyes when we’re talking to them. Psychology research backs this up – people who make plenty of eye contact – as long as it’s not excessive – are usually perceived as more competent, trustworthy and intelligent. If you want to make a good impression, then, it’s probably a good idea to meet the gaze of the person you’re talking to. However, following this advice is not necessarily straight-forward for everyone. It’s well-documented that mutual gaze can be emotionally intense and distracting, even uncomfortably so for some.

If this is your experience, you may welcome a study published recently in the journal Perception that documents a phenomenon known as the “eye contact illusion” – put simply, we are not that good at telling whether an interlocutor is looking us in the eye or not. In fact, we tend to think they are, even when they’re not (a bias that is magnified after we’ve been rejected). Thanks to this illusion, you can give the impression of making eye contact simply by ensuring you are looking in the general direction of your conversant’s face.

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These Violent Delights Don’t Have Violent Ends: Study Finds No link Between Violent Video Games And Teen Aggression

GettyImages-180968005.jpgBy Matthew Warren

Claims that violent video games lead to aggression have been around since the days of Space Invaders. When young people are exposed to violent media, the theory goes, their aggressive thoughts become more prominent, leading them to commit acts of violence. But while several studies have found results that seem to back up this idea, the evidence is far from unequivocal.

Now a study published in Royal Society Open Science has failed to find any association between the time spent playing violent video games and aggressive behaviour, adding to a growing body of literature that suggests that such a link has been overstated – or may not exist at all.

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Suppressed Thoughts Rebound, Which Could Explain Why Ultra-religious Teens Have More Compulsive Sexual Thoughts – And Are Less Happy – Than Their Secular Peers

GettyImages-481381140.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

A well-known effect in psychology is that if you try to suppress a thought, ironically this can make the thought all the more salient – known as the “rebound effect“. What are the implications of this effect for highly religious teenagers who have been taught to believe that sexual thoughts are taboo? Before now there has been little research on the rebound effect in this context, but in a recent paper in The Journal of Sex Research, Yaniv Efrati at Beit Berl College, Kfar-Saba, Israel, presents evidence that the rebound effect could explain why orthodox Jewish teens have more compulsive sexual thoughts and fantasies than their secular peers. What’s more, his results suggest this mental dynamic might be responsible for the religious teens’ lower scores on self-reported wellbeing.

Continue reading “Suppressed Thoughts Rebound, Which Could Explain Why Ultra-religious Teens Have More Compulsive Sexual Thoughts – And Are Less Happy – Than Their Secular Peers”

Your Romantic Partner Is Probably Less Intelligent Than You Think, Suggests New Study

GettyImages-1092632424.jpgBy guest blogger David Robson

It’s now well known that many of us over-estimate our own brainpower. In one study, more than 90 per cent of US college professors famously claimed to be better than average at teaching, for instance – which would be highly unlikely. Our egos blind us to our own flaws.

But do we have an even more inflated view of our nearest and dearest? It seems we do – that’s the conclusion of a new paper published in Intelligence journal, which has shown that we consistently view our romantic partners as being much smarter than they really are. 

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This Diary Study Just Happened To Be Taking Place When Disaster Struck, Providing A Rare Insight Into Vicarious Experience Of Traumatic Events

GettyImages-452721474.jpgBy Matthew Warren

Major disasters clearly take a toll on the survivors who had the misfortune to go through them. But there is another group of people who can suffer mental and physical distress from disasters: those who experience them second-hand, through media coverage and conversation. After 9/11, for example, researchers found an increase in symptoms of depression and stress among Americans who hadn’t directly experienced the terrorist attacks. 

But there have always been doubts about studies purporting to show evidence of vicarious distress. Because disasters occur randomly researchers are usually unable to gather data until weeks after the event, and they often have no record of people’s baseline mood before the disaster.

By chance a new study was able to overcome these limitations. When tragedy struck the Netherlands in 2014, there was a ready-made group of participants who were already recording their daily experiences. In May of that year, Bertus Jeronimus and colleagues at the University of Groningen had begun a crowd-sourced diary study called “HowNutsAreTheDutch” to examine mental health in the Netherlands. Three times per day for 30 days, participants completed questionnaires on their phones that measured their mood and recent activities. 

Two months into the project, on 17 July 2014, Malaysian Airlines flight MH17, en route from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur, was shot down over Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists, killing all 298 on board. One hundred and ninety-six of the victims were Dutch and the disaster received widespread attention in the Dutch media.

For their study published recently in the British Journal of Psychology, Jeronimus and colleagues took advantage of this tragic twist of fate and examined the data gathered from 141 participants who were taking part around the time of the MH17 crash, to see how they were affected by their vicarious experience of the disaster.

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These Are The Pre-match Emotional Control Strategies That Higher-ranked Table Tennis Players Use More Than Lower-ranked Players

GettyImages-691190188.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

In contact sports like boxing and rugby you can use your pre-match nerves to fuel your determination, speed and aggression. In contrast, in a sport like table tennis that involves fine motor control, nerves can also stifle your performance, making you stiff and clumsy. It seems obvious that learning to control your emotions prior to games should therefore be important to table tennis players (and competitors in other sports that require precision). Yet, surprisingly, as the authors of a new paper in the Journal of Personality point out, “to date, only a few studies have investigated the relation between emotional regulation and … sport performance”.

To find out more, Jeanette Kubiak and her colleagues, at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, surveyed hundreds of league table tennis players in Germany about the ways they controlled their emotions prior to matches, and then compared these results against objective measures of the participants’ league performance. The research uncovered several emotional control strategies used more often by better and improving players. “Taken together, the findings provide evidence for the importance of emotion regulation regarding sport performance,” the researchers said.

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The Language You Speak Predicts Your Ability To Remember The Different Parts Of Lists

GettyImages-925066994.jpgBy Matthew Warren

For decades, linguists have debated the extent to which language influences the way we think. While the more extreme theories that language determines what we can and can’t think about have fallen out of favour, there is still considerable evidence that the languages we speak shape the way we see the world in more subtle ways. 

For instance, people are better at perceiving the difference between light and dark blue if they have dedicated words for those colours (like in Russian) than if they don’t (like in English). But it turns out it’s not just the words that we use: the way in which a language is structured – its syntax – is also important. In a recent study in Scientific Reports, Federica Amici and colleagues show that the word order of a language predicts how good its speakers are at remembering the first or last parts of a list.

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How Competitiveness Leads Us To Sabotage Other People’s Personal Goals At The Expense Of Our Own

GettyImages-656568732.jpgBy Emma Young

Say you’re planning to run a marathon, and you have a target time in mind. Or you’re on a weight- loss diet, and your aim is to lose six kilos in six weeks. Or, there’s an exam coming up, and you want to score above 75 per cent. These are all individual goal pursuits. In theory, you’re not in direct competition with anybody else, though of course if you’re part of a running club, or a weight loss group, or an undergraduate class, you will be aware that others around you are striving to achieve their own goals. 

There’s plenty of evidence that sharing your own goals and hearing about other people’s can be helpful – in providing mutual encouragement, emotional support and motivation. However, a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows how, in certain circumstances, we can’t help ourselves from competing with others – an effect that can be surprisingly counterproductive. The findings suggest that when we’re paired with an individual striving for a similar goal and who is similarly able, we begin to view this other person as an opponent – leading us to sabotage their efforts, ultimately to the detriment of our own performance. 

“Pursuing individual goals together with others can at times lead to counter-productive behaviours that not only harm others but also harm oneself,” report Szu-chi Huang at Stanford University, and her colleagues. 

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Norwegian Clinical Psychologists Reveal The Complexities Involved In Working With Children And Teens Experiencing Gender Dysphoria

GettyImages-170046907.jpgBy Jesse Singal

With the number of referrals to the UK’s only gender identity development service (GIDS, at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust) increasing sharply in recent years – a pattern seemingly mirrored in other European countries and the US (anecdotally, at least — many countries don’t keep comprehensive data the way the UK does) – debate has inevitably intensified over how best to help transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) youth. As some expert clinicians have pointed out, there has been a tendency for commentators, campaigners and the general public to adopt an oversimplified view in which therapists are seen as fitting one of two categories: those who don’t believe their clients when they say they are trans (and who are therefore condemned by trans advocacy groups for practicing conversion therapy), and others who simply accept their clients’ statements about their gender, and who are therefore affirming or affirmative.

The clinical reality is more complicated: these days, there is a welcome consensus against actual conversion therapy — forcing a young person to “go back” to being cisgender — but at the same time responsible clinicians do not simply nod along to what a young person with gender dysphoria says. There are complexities inherent to childhood and adolescent development, and many experts warn it’s important not to accidentally medicalise perfectly normal qualms about growing up, hitting puberty, and being exposed to powerful and often frustratingly restrictive gender roles. Young people present at gender clinics with a wide variety of issues ranging from comorbid mental-health issues to unexamined trauma, and the process of helping them determine the best path forward, particularly with regard to medical interventions like puberty blockers or cross-sex hormones, is a lot more complicated than making a rapid decision to deny or approve such interventions.

Indeed, in an open-access practice review published in the BMJ last year, clinicians at UCL, GIDS and Great Ormond Street Hospital explained that the thorough psychosexual assessment period for such clients “usually takes 6 months or more over a minimum of four to six sessions” and involves a range of psychometric measures and interviews, covering the client’s expectations and understanding of social and physical transition, their mood and emotional functioning. The review adds that, “With the adolescents, there is an in-depth consideration of their sexuality and fertility, and possible preservation approaches are discussed. The attitude of important people in the child’s life towards gender dysphoria needs to be explored and understood.”

Now a study published in Psychology & Sexuality by a pair of Norwegian researchers, Reidar Schel Jessen and Katrina Roen, has explored these complexities from clinical psychologists’ perspective, including what it means to help a young person work through the issues they are facing and to make important decisions about medical treatment.

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