Tag: featured

There’s such a thing as “autism camouflaging” and it might explain why some people are diagnosed so late

By guest blogger Helge Hasselmann

While autism is usually diagnosed in childhood, some people remain “off the radar” for a long time and only receive a diagnosis much later. One possible reason is that they have learned socially appropriate behaviours, effectively camouflaging their social difficulties, including maintaining eye contact during conversations, memorising jokes or imitating facial expressions.

This pattern of behaviour could have serious consequences for the lives of some people with autism. It is easy to imagine that camouflaging demands significant cognitive effort, leading to mental exhaustion over time, and in extreme cases perhaps also contributing to anxiety and depression.

If there are gender differences in camouflaging, this could also help explain the well-known male preponderance in autism spectrum disorders. At least part of the gender imbalance may, in fact, stem from an under-diagnosis of autism in girls because they are better at “masking” symptoms.

Before now, autism camouflaging has not been studied in a systematic and standardised manner: a recent open-access study in the journal Autism, by Meng-Chuan Lai and his colleagues, is the first to offer an operationalisation of camouflaging, which they define as the discrepancy between internal and external states in social-interpersonal contexts. For instance, if an autistic person maintains eye contact during a conversation because they have learnt that this is socially appropriate, even though this clashes with how they really want to behave, this would be an example of camouflaging.

Continue reading “There’s such a thing as “autism camouflaging” and it might explain why some people are diagnosed so late”

We know what will make us happy, why do we watch TV instead?

By Christian Jarrett

The luxury microwave meal was delicious, the house is warm, work’s going OK, but you’re just not feeling very happy. Some positive psychologists believe this is because many of us in rich, Western countries spend too much of our free time on passive activities, like bingeing on Netflix and browsing Twitter, rather than on active, psychologically demanding activities, like cooking, sports or playing music, that allow the opportunity to experience “flow” – that magic juncture where your abilities only just meet the demands of the challenge. A new paper in the Journal of Positive Psychology examines this dilemma. Do we realise that pursuing more active, challenging activities will make us happier in the long-run? If so, why then do we opt to spend so much more time lazing around engaged in activities that are pleasant in the moment, but unlikely to bring any lasting fulfilment?

Continue reading “We know what will make us happy, why do we watch TV instead?”

Longest ever personality study finds no correlation between measures taken at age 14 and age 77

By Christian Jarrett

Imagine you’ve reached the fine age of 77 and you hear news of a school reunion. You’re going to have the chance to meet up with several of your former classmates who you haven’t seen since you were fourteen-years-old. They’ll look a lot different, of course, but what about their personality? Will they be broadly the same as they were back then?

Past research that’s looked at trait changes from adolescence to mid-life has shown there tends to be a moderate amount of stability, so too research that’s looked at changes from mid-life into old age. Put these two sets of data together and you might expect to see at least some personality stability across an entire lifespan. Your classmates probably won’t have changed completely.

Yet that’s not what a recent open-access study in Psychology and Aging has found: the first – to the authors’ knowledge – to measure personality in the same people in their adolescence and then again in old age. By covering a period of 63 years, this in a sense is the longest ever personality study. But contrary to what we might expect based on previous findings, Matthew Harris and his colleagues at the University of Edinburgh failed to find a significant correlation between their participants’ personality scores at age 14 and their scores on the same items at the age of 77. “Personality in older age may be quite different from personality in childhood,” they said.

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The reasons why, once we start worrying, some of us just can’t stop

By Christian Jarrett

A certain amount of worrying is a normal part of life, especially these days with barely a moment passing without a disconcerting headline landing in your news feed. But for some people, their worrying reaches pathological levels. They just can’t stop wondering “What if …?”. It becomes distressing and feels out of control. In the formal jargon, they would likely be diagnosed with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, but excessive worrying is also a part of other conditions like panic disorder. There are many factors that contribute to anxiety problems in general, but a new review in Biological Psychology homes in on the cognitive and emotional factors that specifically contribute to prolonged bouts of worry. Its take-home points make an interesting read for anyone who considers themselves a worrier, and for therapists, the review highlights some approaches to help anxious clients get a hold of their excessive worrying.

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A little discussed effect of therapy: it changes your personality

By Christian Jarrett

Imagine the arrival of some high-tech brain device for treating mental health problems. It’s effective for many, but there’s an important side-effect. It changes your personality. Alarm ensues as campaigners warn that users risk being altered fundamentally for years to come. Now replay this scenario but replace the neuro-gizmo with good old-fashioned psychotherapy, and realise this: we’re talking fact, not fiction. A new meta-analysis in Psychological Bulletin has looked at 207 psychotherapy and related studies published between 1959 and 2013, involving over 20,000 participants, with measures of personality taken repeatedly over time. The analysis has found that just a few weeks of therapy is associated with significant and long-lasting changes in clients’ personalities, especially reductions in the trait of Neuroticism and increases in Extraversion.

Continue reading “A little discussed effect of therapy: it changes your personality”

If you like sick jokes, maybe it’s because you’re just so smart

By Christian Jarrett

Understanding jokes requires a certain amount of mental agility, psychologists tell us, because you need to recognise a sudden shift in meaning, or appreciate the blending of odd contexts that don’t normally go together. A new study in the journal Cognitive Processing has tested whether intelligence plays the same role in the appreciation of sick or black humour: the kind of jokes that make light of death, illness and the vulnerable. Consistent with past research linking intelligence with joke appreciation, the participants who most liked cartoons based on black humour also scored highest on verbal and non-verbal IQ.

Continue reading “If you like sick jokes, maybe it’s because you’re just so smart”

Revenge really is sweet: study shows the mood-enhancing effect of retaliation

By Alex Fradera

When we feel ostracised, we’re more likely to behave aggressively. Previous research suggests that vengeance on those who we think have wronged us can be driven by a sense of justice, and may activate neural reward centres. But being ostracised can also lead to generalised aggression, even lashing out at unrelated people, so there seems to be more going on. In new research in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Chester and C. Nathan DeWall tested the idea that social rejection, by making us feel wounded and unwanted, triggers a need to repair our mood by whatever means available, including through the satisfaction of causing harm to those who have made us suffer. They found that aggression can indeed be a viable method of mood repair.

Continue reading “Revenge really is sweet: study shows the mood-enhancing effect of retaliation”

Introductory psychology textbooks accused of spreading myths and liberal-leaning bias

By Christian Jarrett

Is the job of introductory psychology textbooks to present students with a favourable and neat impression of psychology or to give them a warts and all account of the field? This is a key question raised by a new analysis of the treatment of controversial theories and recognised myths by 24 best-selling US introductory psychology texts.

Writing in Current Psychology, Christopher Ferguson at Stetson University and his colleagues at Texas A&M International University conclude that intro textbooks often have difficulty covering controversial topics with care, and that whether intentionally or not, they are frequently presenting students with a liberal-leaning, over-simplified perspective, as well propagating or failing to challenge myths and urban legends.

While acknowledging the daunting task that confronts textbook authors, Ferguson and his colleagues call on them to aspire to tell the full story. “That may mean telling our students about a psychology that is a little messy, muddled, and doesn’t always have definitive answers,” they write. “But, if that’s the truth, that’s what the psychology students are paying to learn about, not the fantasy we may like to believe is true.”

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A daily cold shower seems to have some psychological benefits

By Alex Fradera

Exposing your body to cold water has been promoted as a health tonic since at least the Roman period, so it’s about time we gave this a thorough investigation. In a new paper in PLOS One Geert Buijze and his colleagues report on the health and wellbeing effects of the “cool challenge” – a 30-day event in the Netherlands that involved more than 3000 people taking daily showers that ran cold for at least the last 30 seconds each time.

The clearest finding was a 29 per cent reduction in sickness absence for those who took cold showers compared with their colleagues who weren’t involved in the challenge; the length of the cold blast, whether 30 seconds or 90, didn’t matter. However cold showers didn’t provide an immunisation against sickness as such. The challenge participants felt ill as frequently as their colleagues, it’s just that somehow they were better able to fight through it and make it to work.

Most of the psychological factors that the researchers measured were not influenced by the chilly treatment. Participants reported a small increase in quality of life after 30 days, but that disappeared when re-measured later; meanwhile work productivity and levels of anxiety were unaffected. But the participants did report some other benefits such as higher energy levels, comparable to drinking a coffee, and over two thirds chose to continue the challenge for a further two months.

On this evidence, cold showers don’t refresh all the parts we might desire, but seem to insulate against the effects of illness and provide some yet to be determined energetic effects. Why? Maybe thanks to effects on the levels of hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine, which respond in the short-term to a cold dousing. Or simply the benefit of a short daily physical activity – the power of a good shiver.

The Effect of Cold Showering on Health and Work: A Randomized Controlled Trial

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

Wardrobe malfunction – three failed attempts to replicate the finding that red increases attractiveness

By Christian Jarrett 

It’s one of the simplest, most evidence-backed pieces of advice you can give to someone who’s looking to attract a partner – wear red. Many studies, most of them involving men rating women’s appearance, have shown that wearing red clothing increases attractiveness and sex appeal. The reasons are thought to be traceable to our evolutionary past – red displays in the animal kingdom also often indicate sexual interest and availability – complemented by the cultural connotations of red with passion and sex.

But nothing, it seems, is straightforward in psychology any more. A team of Dutch and British researchers has just published three attempts to replicate the red effect in the open-access journal Evolutionary Psychology, including testing whether the effect is more pronounced in a short-term mating context, which would be consistent with the idea that red signals sexual availability. However, not only did the research not uncover an effect of mating context, all three experiments also failed to demonstrate any effect of red on attractiveness whatsoever.  Continue reading “Wardrobe malfunction – three failed attempts to replicate the finding that red increases attractiveness”