Tag: featured

Here’s Why Spiky Shapes Seem Angry And Round Sounds Are Calming

By Emma Young

Picture yourself sitting in a Zen garden, surrounded by low, rounded bushes and gravel raked into rippling swirls. Now imagine standing in front of a brutalist building, all straight lines and sharp edges. If you think you’d feel more relaxed in the Zen garden, there could be a low-level perceptual reason — one that could explain everything from why you’re far more likely to find a jagged script on the cover of a death metal album than on a romance novel, to why clouds and lullabies seem to go together.

The new study, published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, suggests that we automatically associate variations in one particular property of images or sounds with variations in levels of emotional arousal. This gives us an instinctive understanding, just from the tone of someone’s voice or watching their movements, of whether they are angry or sad, excited or calm. But it seems that these associations between perception and emotion are so automatic and fundamental that we apply them to inanimate objects, as well.

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Psychologists Have Identified The Creatures We Find Most Scary And Revolting

By Christian Jarrett

You may be best advised not to read this article late at night or before you eat. Psychologists at the National Institute of Mental Health and Charles University in the Czech Republic have surveyed a large sample of non-clinical volunteers to gauge their reaction to 24 creatures that are commonly the source of specific animal phobias.

The results, published in the British Journal of Psychology, not only contribute to our understanding of animal phobias, but could prove incredibly useful to horror writers. Among the key findings is that spiders were unique in being both intensely fear- and disgust-inducing in equal measure. The researchers said this may be due to their mix of disgusting properties – including their “quirky ‘too-many-legs’ body plan” – combined with the fact they are “…omnipresent in our homes, often lurking in the hidden dark places and capable of fast unpredictable movement.” In other words, the intense fear arises in part from the prospect of coming into physical contact with a creature perceived by many to be revolting.

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Adults Who Played Pokémon Extensively In Childhood Have A Pokémon-Sensitive Region In Their Visual Cortex

By Emma Young

If you have healthy vision, there will be a specific region of your brain (in the visual cortex) that responds most strongly whenever you look at faces, and similar regions that are especially responsive to the sight of words or natural scenes. What’s more, in any two people, these face, word and scene regions are located in pretty much the same spot in the brain. However, there is not a specific region for every possible category of visible stimulus – there are no “car” or “shoe” regions, for example (at least, not that have been identified to date). Is that because childhood experience is critical for training the visual cortex – we spend a lot of time looking at faces, say, but not cars? And, if so, in theory, could a lot of childhood time spent looking at a different type of object generate its own dedicated, individual category region? 

The answer is “yes”, at least according to an ingenious study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, of people who played a Pokémon game for years of their childhood. 

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First Systematic Study Of The Advice People Would Give To Their Younger Selves

By Christian Jarrett

The question is an old favourite – if you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self? Yet despite the popularity of this thought experiment, no one has, until now, actually studied what people would tell themselves.

Reporting their findings in The Journal of Social Psychology Robin Kowalski and Annie McCord at Clemson University have done just that in two surveys of hundreds of participants on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk website. Their findings show that people’s advice to their younger selves is overwhelmingly focused on prior relationships, educational opportunities and personal worth, echoing similar results derived from research into people’s most common regrets in life. Moreover, participants who said they had followed the advice they would give to their younger selves were more likely to say that they had become the kind of person that their younger self would admire. “…[W]e should consult ourselves for advice we would offer to our younger selves,” the researchers said. “The data indicate that there is much to be learned that can facilitate wellbeing and bring us more in line with the person that we would like to be should we follow that advice.”

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Researchers Have Investigated “Derailment” (Feeling Disconnected From Your Past Self) As A Cause And Consequence Of Depression

By Christian Jarrett

We move house, change jobs, begin new relationships, yet most of the time, most of us still experience a thread of inner continuity – a constant feeling of me-ness that transcends the various chapters of our lives. Indeed, there’s evidence that having a stable, constant sense of self and identity is important for psychological wellbeing. However, this thread can rupture, leading to an uncomfortable disconnect between who we feel we are today, and the person that we believe we used to be – a state that psychologists recently labelled “derailment”.

Now in a paper in Clinical Psychological Science a group led by Kaylin Ratner at Cornell University has explored the possibility that derailment both precipitates, and is a consequence of, depression. After all, people with depression often struggle with motivation, losing the will to pursue goals they previously held dear. They also frequently withdraw from their relationships and social roles. All of these changes could trigger sensations of derailment. Or perhaps derailment comes first, with the inner disorientation leaving one vulnerable to depression. Surprisingly these questions have been little studied before now. “We nominate derailment as a new feature of the depressive landscape and underscore the need for greater empirical and practical attention at the crossroads of mental health and human development,” Ratner and her team write.

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First Study To Investigate How Attachment Style Changes Through Multiple Decades Of Life

By Christian Jarrett

Attachment theory, which was first proposed in the 1950s by the British psychoanalyst John Bowlby, is one of the most influential in psychology. It argues for the importance of our earliest relationships with our caregivers, and predicts that these formative bonds will shape the nature of our connections with other people for the rest of our lives. Remarkably, however, psychologists still know relatively little about how people’s attachment style – essentially their characteristic style of relating to other people – typically varies through life. “How do attachment orientations change across the life span? Unfortunately … this critical question has eluded researchers,” write William Chopik and colleagues in their recently published paper in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Their research is the first to document how attachment style varies, on average, through decades of the lifespan, from age 13 to 72. The results suggest that, like other aspects of personality, attachment style is relatively stable through life, but that it is not entirely fixed, and in particular that it may be shaped by our relationship experiences, as well as the varied social demands of different life stages. “The current study is one of the first truly longitudinal investigations into life span changes in attachment orientation and the antecedents of these changes,” write Chopik and his team.

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“Shooting The Messenger” Is A Psychological Reality – Share Bad News And People Will Like You Less

By Matthew Warren

We all know the movie scene: a nervous aide has to deliver bad news to his villainous boss, stumbling over his words and incessantly apologising. For a second, it looks like he will be OK – until the boss turns around and summarily executes him.

But it turns out this phenomenon of “shooting the messenger” is not just restricted to fiction. A new paper in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General has demonstrated that we do tend to take a dim view of the bearers of bad news – even when these people are simply innocent messengers. 

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Researchers Say Growing Up With A Troubled Or Harsh Father Can Influence Women’s Expectations Of Men, And, In Turn, Their Sexual Behaviour

By Emma Young

The power (or powerlessness) of parents to shape their children for good or ill continues to preoccupy psychologists and the public alike. Among evolutionary-minded developmental psychologists, one specific idea is that girls’ later attitudes to relationships is influenced by their fathers’ behaviour. For instance, US research has found that girls with disengaged, harsh, and often absent fathers are known to start having sex at a younger age, and to have more sexual partners. However many questions about these findings remain. For example: might other aspects of the girls’ childhoods be involved; what about genetic effects; and which aspects of poor-quality fathering are the most consequential?  

A new study of pairs of sisters, published in Developmental Psychology, provides some specific answers, particularly that it is contact with a poor-quality father, not paternal absence, that affects their daughters’ later relationships, including their expectations of men, and, in turn, their sexual behaviour.  

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Researchers Identify Sleep As A Key Reason Why Personality Traits Predict Longevity

By Christian Jarrett

Your personality traits play an important part in how long you are likely to live, as much as, or even more than, other personal factors like your intelligence and your family’s economic background. Now a study in the Journal of Research in Personality has identified a key factor that mediates the personality-mortality link – sleep. Simply put, people with certain personality characteristics are more likely to sleep too little, or too much, or to experience greater sleepiness during the day, and in turn this raises their year-on-year risk of dying (too little or excess sleep, and poor quality sleep, have known links with various health risks, such as cardiovascular disease, depression and chronic inflammation).

“Sleep has been associated with both personality and longevity, yet [before now] no study has investigated whether sleep is a pathway linking personality to objective health outcomes,” say the researchers, led by Shantel Spears at West Virginia University.

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Could Your Immune System Be Making You Impulsive?

By Emma Young

You can have £10 today or £12 next week. Which do you go for? 

Being able to forego a reward now in favour of gaining something better later is known to be important in determining all kinds of desirable outcomes in life, including greater educational attainment, social functioning and health. 

However, choosing to delay gratification won’t always be the best option. If you’re in desperate circumstances – you badly need money to buy food, for example – taking the £10 today could be sensible. But this isn’t necessarily an entirely conscious judgment – there may be biological systems that automatically shift your decision-making priorities according to what is most likely to enhance your survival. A new open-access study published in Scientific Reports provides evidence that having raised levels of inflammation in your body, which is generally caused by the immune system’s response to infection or injury, can skew your judgment to focus more on present rewards, and on instant gratification. If further research backs this up, there could be wide-ranging implications not only for understanding why some people are more impulsive than others, but even for treating substance abuse. 

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