Viewing Images Of Injuries Can Enhance People’s Sadistic Tendencies

By Emily Reynolds

Psychologists have long discussed the idea that there exists a set of “dark” personality traits alongside the more benign Big Five — so much so, in fact, that one team of researchers argued that too much time had been spent pondering the darker side of human nature and that a “Light Triad” was needed to counteract it.

There is also debate around whether such traits — psychopathy, narcissism, Machiavellianism and sadism — are stable, or whether they can be induced. The most famous exploration of the question is almost certainly Zimbardo’s Prison Experiment, which claimed that being in a powerful position over others — in this case, acting as a prison guard — could induce sadistic behaviour in apparently non-sadistic people. The experiment’s influence is undeniable; it’s even been made into a film. But it has also been subject to criticism, casting some doubt over the extent of its findings.

Now a new paper in Personality and Individual Differences has joined the conversation, examining whether sadistic tendencies can be induced. The study finds that they can — particularly in people who already have some level of sadistic interest — but leaves a question mark over what that might mean for real world behaviour.

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People From Japan May Be Less Prone Than Americans To Some Of The Harmful Health-Related Effects Of Negative Emotions

By Emma Young

What’s your view on feelings of sadness, nervousness or hopelessness? Are they harmful emotions that we should strive to avoid feeling — an opinion that is widely held in the West? Or is natural, even helpful, to feel them from time to time — a perspective commonly found in Japan?

Previous studies have found that cultural attitudes to our emotions affect our health. In Japan, for example, greater reported happiness isn’t associated with better health, in contrast to findings from the US. Also, regular experience of high-energy, high-arousal states is associated with better health in the US, but not Japan, where calm, quiet states are highly valued. 

Now a study published in the journal Emotion reveals that our attitudes to negative emotions, such as sadness and hopelessness, matter, too. Previous studies have linked experience of these emotions to increased inflammation and a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and even death among Americans, but not Japanese people. So Jiyoung Park at the University of Texas at Dallas and her colleagues set out to explore whether differences in stress might explain this. If, in contrast to Japanese people, Americans view the experience of negative emotions as a failure of self-control, and feel stress as a result, this could explain the links between these kinds of emotions and poorer health. 

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After Cheating On A Test, People Claim To Have Known The Answers Anyway

By Emily Reynolds

Cheating is common, ranging from benign instances like looking up an answer on your phone during a pub quiz, to the fairly major, such as using a series of coughs to fraudulently bag yourself a million pounds on a popular TV game show. But wherever we fall on that scale, research suggests, we’re still likely to think of ourselves as honest and trustworthy.

There’s something of a tension here — we’re seemingly both prone to cheating and convinced of our own integrity. Matthew L. Stanley and colleagues from Duke University have one explanation for this apparent contradiction in their latest paper in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review: when we cheat, we claim we knew the answers all along.

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“Awe Walks” Can Boost Positive Emotions Among Older Adults

By Emma Young

After the age of about 75, people tend to feel more anxiety, sadness and loneliness, and less in the way of positive emotion. Strategies to prevent or at least counteract these deteriorations are badly needed, and new research by a team in the US, published in the journal Emotion, has now identified one apparently promising strategy: so-called “awe walks”.

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Thirsty Mice And Virtual Reality: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

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

For the first time, researchers have looked at what happens in the brain when people take the psychedelic drug salvinorin A, from the plant salvia divinorum. The team found that the drug disrupts the default mode network, a set of areas that are normally synchronised when we’re not engaged in any particular task, similar to the effects found for the “classical” psychedelic drugs like psilocybin. But the subjective effects of salvinorin A are quite different to the effects of those other drugs, leaving some researchers questioning how important the default mode network really is to the psychedelic experience. Daniel Oberhaus, who participated in the trial, has the story at Wired.

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A New Take On The Marshmallow Test: Children Wait Longer For A Treat When Their Reputation Is At Stake

 By guest blogger Sofia Deleniv

Most people — even the non-psychologists among us — have at some point heard of the legendary marshmallow test, which measures the ability of preschool children to wait for a sweet treat. Researchers have found that the amount of time children are willing to wait for their marshmallow is surprisingly predictive of various life outcomes, such as educational attainment during adolescence, as well as social competence and resilience to stress throughout development. A recent fMRI brain scan study even found that people’s performance as kids is related to their ability to suppress their impulses, and is reflected in neurological signatures of cognitive control, 40 years later.

The test is clearly tapping into something crucial that shapes children’s futures to a considerable degree. But what exactly is it? Does the test  capture an ability that is akin to intelligence or intrinsic cognitive control, or might performance be a marker of some other underlying factor — such as the privilege of living in a supportive home where children can develop the trust capacity that enables them to wait for a reward?

The list of potential explanations is long — and now it has received a surprising new addition from a study recently published in Psychological Science. Fengling Ma from Zhejiang Sci-Tech University and colleagues have discovered that children can radically improve their performance on the marshmallow test if they believe their social reputation might be at stake — an effect that begins to emerge as early as three years of age.

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Visible Reminders Of Inequality Can Raise Support For Taxing The Wealthy

By Emily Reynolds

Most of us are aware of the vast inequality that exists in the world — and even if we’re not, exposure to that information can change how we behave. Research has found that we’re more likely to take risks when exposed to inequality and that it can make high-income individuals less likely to be generous.

It can also change the way people feel about public policy, as Melissa L. Sands and Daniel de Kadt from the University of California, Merced find in a new study in Nature. They explored real-world inequality in low-income neighbourhoods in South Africa — and found that visible reminders of unequal socioeconomic status can  raise support for taxation of the wealthy.

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How Well Do You Know Yourself? Research On Self-Insight, Digested

By Emma Young

“There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one’s self.” – Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanac, 1750.

Franklin was writing over 250 years ago. Surely we humans have learned strategies since then to aid self-insight — and avoid well-known pitfalls. Most of us are familiar, for example, with the better-than-average effect, the finding that most of us rank ourselves above average at everything from driving ability to desirable personality traits (even though of course we can’t all be right). So armed with this kind of knowledge, are we better placed now to view ourselves accurately? And if not, how can we get better at this — and what benefits can we expect?  The following studies provide some illuminating answers…

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Leaders Can Feel Licensed To Behave Badly When They Have Morally Upstanding Followers

By Emma Young

Countless studies have investigated how a leader’s behaviour influences their followers. There’s been very little work, though, on the reverse: how followers might influence their leaders. Now a new paper, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, helps to plug that gap with an alarming finding: good, morally upstanding followers can create less ethical leaders.

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Body Language And Spooky Science: The Week’s Best Psychology Links

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

If you want to get on a cat’s good side, it’s worth mastering the art of the “slow blink”. Cats “smile” by blinking slowly, and now researchers have found that they respond positively to humans who do the same. Participants who performed a slow blink were more likely to receive one from their cat, reports Sara Rigby at BBC Science Focus. Cats were also more likely to approach an experimenter who had just slow-blinked. 

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