Pain is not a purely biological phenomenon: discrimination, anxiety around work, and general mental strain have all been shown to contribute to the experience of chronic pain. Many researchers therefore take a biopsychosocial approach, exploring the multifarious factors that impact on and are impacted by pain.
A new study in Stress & Health explores the long term consequences of social factors on pain. The team, from the universities of Georgia and South California, Los Angeles, specifically focus on families involved in the 1980s “farm crisis” in the US Midwest, a period where many lost their jobs, land value crashed, and businesses failed — and finds that this financial stress is related to the experience of pain nearly 30 years later.
We could all name groups of people who we know to be suffering right now; some in distant countries, some in our own. Research shows that we feel less empathy for people in other countries — and so are less likely to support them by protesting, say, or donating money. Meital Balmas and Eran Halperin at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem now report a factor that can influence this, however: our feelings about the national leader. The pair’s study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggests that a leader who is perceived as “good” and popular at home elicits more empathy, and even greater tangible help, for their struggling citizens.
In the past few years, psychologists and neuroscientists have conducted a large number of studies into the effects of psychedelic drugs. Some have sought to betterunderstand the effects of the drugs in the brain, while others are investigating the potential for substances like psilocybin and LSD to treat depression and other mental health conditions.
This work obviously require tactful communication on the part of researchers: after all, they don’t want to alienate a public who may be at best ambivalent about the use of currently illegal drugs in research or mental health settings. Now a recent paper in Public Understanding of Science highlights one thing researchers shouldn’t do: admit to using psychedelic substances themselves. The team finds that researchers who make such a disclosure may be seen by the public as having less integrity.
The world is not exactly short of videos of cute cats up to strange antics. But one particular set of videos collected by cat owners during a COVID-19 lockdown reveals something genuinely interesting: a famous optical illusion that fools us also gets cats. The citizen science project, in which cats were experimented on in their own homes, shows that they, too, are tricked by “Kanizsa squares”, an illusion that suggests the presence of a square that doesn’t in fact exist.
However, not everyone is attentive to inequality. While some are keenly focused on its causes and its solutions, others believe it’s simply not important, or at the very least that it’s exaggerated. So what determines whether we pay attention to inequality?
A new study, published in PNAS, argues that our ideological stance on equality may be key. Unsurprisingly, the team finds that social egalitarians were more likely to notice signs of inequality — but only when it affected certain groups.
Three people are walking down the street, two women and one man. One of the women trips and falls. Which of the two observers will feel more empathy for her pain? Hundreds of studies suggest that it’ll be the woman. However, these results almost overwhelmingly come from self-reports. Objective evidence that women genuinely feel more empathy than men is very thin on the ground. This has led to the idea that women report more empathy not because they actually feel it but to conform to societal expectations that they should. However, a new study in Scientific Reports claims to provide evidence that, even when they think no one else is looking or asking, girls show more empathy than boys.
This is Episode 25 of PsychCrunch, the podcast from the British Psychological Society’s Research Digest, sponsored by Routledge Psychology. Download here
Are our personalities set in stone, or can we choose to change them? In this bonus episode, Matthew Warren talks to former Research Digest editor Christian Jarrett about his new book Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change. Christian discusses the evidence-based methods you can use to alter your personality, whether you’re an introvert who wants to become the life of the party, or you simply wish you were a little more open to new experiences. He also explains how our personalities evolve over the course of our lifespans, even when we’re not consciously trying to change them, and ponders how they might be affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of Personality Change is out on May 18th in the United States and May 20th in the United Kingdom.
Smell is often considered to be a particularly evocative sense: if you haven’t yourself been transported back in time by a nostalgic scent then you’ll almost certainly be familiar with the phenomenon via reference to the famous Proustian rush. Scent is also increasingly being used in marketing, with some evidence suggesting that smell can influence consumers’ judgements and decisions.
A new study, published in the Journal for Consumer Psychology, takes a closer look at how smell interacts with other senses to influence our perceptions. The team, led by the University of South Florida’s Dipayan Biswas, finds that looking at food before smelling it may enhance our enjoyment of what we eat.
Our weekly round-up of the best psychology coverage from elsewhere on the web
A neural implant has allowed a paralysed individual to type by imagining writing letters. The implant of 200 electrodes in the premotor cortex picks up on the person’s intentions to perform the movements associated with writing a given letter, translating these into a character on a screen. The individual was able to type 90 characters per minute with minimal errors, reports John Timmer at Ars Technica.
After an incredibly stressful day of work, which are you more likely to do: walk several miles home, or get on a bus straight to your door? While the first option certainly comes with increased health benefits — including, potentially, decreased stress — many of us would choose the second anyway.
A new study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, seeks to understand why, even when we know how positive exercise can be, we often fail to be active after work. It could come down to how high-pressure your job is, according to Sascha Abdel Hadi from Justus-Liebig-University Giessen and team — and how much control you have over your work.