Tag: featured

Coping With Remote Working During Covid-19: The Latest Research, Digested

By Emma Young

Covid-19 has changed our working lives, perhaps for good. Home-working is now common, and many of us have been doing it for months. With changing rules and guidelines, some of us have even gone from home-working to socially distanced office-working, to working back at home again. So what do we know about how these changes are affecting our mental health — and what can we do to make our new working lives better?

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Our Brains Have Two Distinct “Beauty Centres”: One For Art And One For Faces

By Emma Young

Audrey Hepburn’s face and Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. Darcy Bussell dancing the role of Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty and The Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh. All of these things, and more, are widely regarded as looking beautiful. Do we have, then, a “beauty centre” in the brain that responds to something that we find visually beautiful, no matter what it is? For almost two decades, psychologists and neuroscientists have been exploring this question, without reaching a consensus. Now a new meta-analysis of existing fMRI studies on almost 1,000 people concludes that no, our brains don’t have one “beauty centre” — but two.

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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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The Shape Of A Glass Can Influence How Much We Drink

By Matthew Warren

Recent years have seen the government take measures to try and limit people’s consumption of sugary drinks and other unhealthy foods. Take the so-called “sugar tax” placed on soft drinks, for instance, or the proposal to ban adverts for junk food before the 9pm watershed.

Some psychologists hope that small changes in design can also help “nudge” people into healthier behaviours. For example, a study from last year found that the order in which drinks are presented on the McDonald’s menu could encourage people to choose the sugar-free options more often.

Now a new paper in Scientific Reports suggests that the shape of a glass could also subtly influence people’s drinking behaviours.

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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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