Friday, 30 September 2011

Want to eat less? Try using your non-dominant hand

Much of our eating behaviour is habitual. Many of us eat biscuits with tea, nibbles before dinner, popcorn at the cinema and so on. A new study by David Neal and his colleagues has put these habits under the microscope and shown just how entrenched they can become and how they can be broken.

One hundred and fifty-eight participants were recruited to either watch movie trailers at a cinema or music videos in a university department meeting room. In both settings they were given popcorn to eat, which was either stale or fresh. Now, some of the participants were habitual popcorn eaters at the movies, others weren't. The notable finding was that in the cinema setting the habitual popcorn eaters ate just as much of the popcorn when it was stale as when it was fresh. This they did even though they said they liked it less (just as the non-habitual popcorn eaters did), and regardless of whether they were hungry or not. Neal's team said this highlights how habits are driven by context (the cinema) and are immune to attitudes (i.e. liking) and motivation (i.e. hunger). By contrast, when in the department meeting room (not the usual setting for eating popcorn), the habitual popcorn eaters ate less of the stale popcorn and their consumption was influenced by hunger. This shows that if you escape the context that usually drives a habit then its power weakens and motives and intentions can take over.

A second study was similar to the first except this time half the participants were told to eat the popcorn with their non-dominant hand (i.e. right-handers had to eat with their left). This manipulation, which obstructs the automatic execution of a habit, had a similar effect to changing the environmental context. Habitual popcorn eaters allowed to use their dominant hand again ate just as much stale popcorn as fresh, in spite of liking it less, and regardless of their hunger levels. But those instructed to use their non-dominant hand were freed of their usual habit - they ate less of the stale popcorn and their consumption was driven more by hunger and liking.

"Habit change may ... require impeding habit activation [by contexts] or interrupting fluid habit execution," the researchers said. "Although our findings suggest that both avenues are effective, it is not always possible for dieters to avoid or alter the environments in which they typically overeat. More feasible, perhaps, is for dieters to actively disrupt the execution of the activated eating sequence by simple manipulations such as eating with the non-dominant hand and, in so doing, bring their eating under their personal control."

ResearchBlogging.orgNeal, D., Wood, W., Wu, M., and Kurlander, D. (2011). The Pull of the Past: When Do Habits Persist Despite Conflict With Motives? Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin DOI: 10.1177/0146167211419863

Further reading: How to form a habit.
Seven ways to be good.

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Neurotics experience more immersion when watching films

Descriptions of neurotics are typically unflattering: they're fearful, tense people, prone to catastrophise and will often shy away from challenges. Well, here's some more uplifting news for folk matching this personality description. A study of film immersion has found that people who score highly in neuroticism (as measured by agreement with statements like "I worry a lot") tend to feel more absorbed in films. This is associated with their enjoying horror and sad films less, but comedies more.

David Weibel and his team had 64 participants (average age 28 years) watch three movie clips taken from The Shining (the scene where the boy is playing in the hallway); The Champ (a boy's father dies after suffering a severe beating in the ring); and When Harry Met Sally (the scene where Sally fakes an orgasm in a cafe). The participants, half of whom were students, rated how immersed they felt in the clips and how detached they felt from their real, physical environment. They also said how much they'd enjoyed the film excerpts.

The half of the participants who scored higher in neuroticism experienced more immersion during all three clips - happy, sad and scary - compared with the lower scorers in neuroticism. "A possible explanation," the researchers said, "could be that neurotics usually have a highly reactive sympathetic nervous system making them sensitive to any environmental stimulation."

The more neurotic participants also liked the scary and sad clips less, but enjoyed the funny clip more. The implication is that immersion mediates enjoyment, but unfortunately this wasn't tested.

Weibel's team said their finding has theoretical import because media experts tend to assume that engendering greater immersion in an audience will always lead to more enjoyment. "Our findings contradict this assumption," they said. "In the two negatively connotated conditions, participants scoring high on neuroticism experienced more presence than those scoring low, but at the same time reported less enjoyment than individuals with low neuroticism scores. We therefore assume that for these participants, the feeling of being there in the sad or fearful world was experienced in a negative way. This in turn resulted in decreased enjoyment."

ResearchBlogging.orgWeibel, D., Wissmath, B., & Stricker, D. (2011). The influence of neuroticism on spatial presence and enjoyment in films Personality and Individual Differences, 51 (7), 866-869 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2011.07.011

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

Monday, 26 September 2011

For Christians, Dawkins and the Qur'an leave a bad taste in the mouth, literally

Many studies have shown that moral disgust is "embodied". Contemplation of taboo deeds really does leave people physically sickened. Now Ryan Ritter and Jesse Preston have extended this literature to show that religious beliefs that contradict one's own also leave a bad taste in the mouth, literally.

The genius in this study is the cover story. Eighty-two Christian student participants were told they were taking part in two separate investigations: one a marketing survey requiring that they taste two different drinks; the other a study of handwriting and personality. The participants first tasted a lemon-based drink and rated it. Then, ostensibly to allow their palates to refresh, they completed the handwriting task, which involved them copying out either a neutral text (an intro to a dictionary); a section from Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion (in which he describes the God of the Old Testament as "arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction"); or a section from the Qur'an (from Surah 47: 1-2). A personality questionnaire helped embellish the cover story. Finally, the students tested the second drink and rated it. A handful of participants guessed the true purpose of the study and were excluded from the analysis.

In reality the two drinks were identical and the key measure was how the participants responded to the drink after exposure to religious beliefs that contradicted their own. The findings were clear: the Christian participants reported finding the drink far more disgusting after they'd written out a passage from either Richard Dawkins or from the Qur'an. In contrast, their ratings of the drink were unchanged after writing out the neutral passage.

A second study was similar to the first, but this time some of the participants had a chance to clean their hands with an antiseptic wipe after writing out a passage from the Qur'an, from Dawkins, or from the Bible. Once again, exposure to Dawkins or the Qur'an (but not the Bible) heightened participants' disgust reaction to the drink, unless, that is, they had a chance to clean their hands.

Other ratings of the drink, such as bitterness or sourness, were unaffected so this was a specific effect on disgust. Also, general negative affect was unable to explain the results.

"The present research provides evidence that contact with rejected beliefs elicits disgust," the researchers said. "Whereas the majority of past work on moral purity has focused on disgust in response to morally questionable objects and actions, these data suggest that contact with outgroup religious beliefs may be an equally threatening source of impurity, and can literally leave a bad taste in the mouth."

Future research is needed to see if it's necessary for people to write or say rejected religious beliefs in order to experience disgust (perhaps by provoking the feeling that they've violated their own sanctity) or if instead mere contemplation of the material suffices. Ritter and Preston also plan to test the reactions of people from other religious groups and the effect of rejected non-religious beliefs - in all cases they predict morally rejected beliefs will elicit physical disgust.

ResearchBlogging.orgRS Ritter and JL Preston (2011). Gross gods and icky atheism: disgust responses to rejected religious beliefs. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47 DOI: 10.1016.j.jesp.2011.05.006

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

We underestimate the benefits of nature

Ottawa parkway and skyline
People underestimate the psychological benefits of spending time in nature. That's according to Elizabeth Nisbet and John Zelenski who say the consequence is that people spend less time outside in green spaces than they would do otherwise: this undermines their affiliation with the natural world and reduces the likelihood that they will care about the environment.

One hundred and fifty Carleton University students participated in what they thought was a study of "personality and impressions of the campus area". Carleton is located in Ottawa, with a green corridor that runs through the city located nearby. Half the students took a 17 minute walk - either along a canal path near the campus to an arboretum, or via underground tunnels used on campus for getting around. Afterwards they completed questionnaires about how they felt. The other students predicted how they would feel, either after the outdoor, nature-filled walk or after the tunnel walk, but they didn't actually take the walk. Both routes were equally familiar to all the students. The study was conducted on dry Autumn days with temperatures ranging from 2.5 to 14.6 degrees Celsius.

The key findings are that students felt more positive emotions after the natural walk than they did after the tunnel walk, but that those in the forecasting condition underestimated the positive benefits of a natural walk and overestimated the positive benefits of the tunnel walk. The students in the natural walk condition also reported feeling more connected to nature, an association that was mediated by their more positive emotions.

A second study was similar to the first, but this time the students who took the walks were the same ones who made predictions about how they'd feel afterwards. Also, different indoor and outdoor routes were used. Exactly the same findings were observed - students felt in a better mood after outdoor, natural walks and more connected with nature, yet they failed to anticipate the magnitude of these benefits.

"Together our results are consistent with the idea that, although people are innately drawn to nature, a general disconnection prevents them from fully anticipating nature's hedonic benefits," the researchers said. "When people forgo the happiness benefits of nearby nature, they also neglect their nature relatedness, a construct strongly associated with environmentally sustainable attitudes and behaviours." A weakness of their argument, as they acknowledge, is that there's no evidence yet that time spent in nature leads to long-term changes in one's affiliation with the natural world.

The findings come as the UK government is seeking to revise the country's planning laws to make it easier to build on green land. The results show the quandary faced by a small, densely populated island. Green, open spaces are vital to our psychological health, which argues in favour of strict planning laws. Yet such laws can lead to dense development with fewer pockets of urban greenery. We shouldn't underestimate the value of these green oases in urban environments. As Nisbet and Zelenski observe: "Our findings suggest that even natural spaces in urban settings can increase happiness; the grandeur of national parks is not required."
_________________________________ Nisbet, E., and Zelenski, J. (2011). Underestimating Nearby Nature: Affective Forecasting Errors Obscure the Happy Path to Sustainability. Psychological Science, 22 (9), 1101-1106 DOI: 10.1177/0956797611418527

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Money makes mimicry backfire

It's one of the first rules of persuasion: mimic subtly your conversation partner's movements and body language (with a slight delay), and they'll perceive you to be more attractive and trustworthy. Being mimicked, so long as it's not too blatant, apparently leaves us in a better mood and more likely to be helpful to others.

It all sounds so easy, but now Jia Liu and her colleagues have thrown a spanner in the works. They've demonstrated that reminders of money reverse the benefits of mimicry - leading mimics to be liked less, and the mimicked to feel threatened. It all has to do with the selfish, egocentric mindset triggered by money. And in that context, the researchers say, being mimicked is uncomfortable because it gives people the sense that "their autonomy is being threatened."

Liu's team had 72 undergrads complete some irrelevant questions on a computer on which the screen background was either filled with shells or currency signs. Next, each participant chatted for ten minutes with a stranger who either did or didn't mimic them. Finally, the participants rated how much they liked that person and they completed an implicit measure of threat. Words were flashed subliminally on a screen and, after each one, participants had to try to guess the word from a subsequent list. Choosing more threat-related words was taken as a sign that they were feeling more threatened.

Without the initial reminder of money on the computer screen, mimicry had its usual beneficial effects - participants in this condition who were mimicked felt less threatened and liked their conversation partner more. By contrast, mimicked participants reminded of money at the outset, liked their partner less and felt more threatened (compared with participants in the money condition who were not mimicked). Feelings of threat were found to mediate the links (positive or negative, depending on the condition) between mimicry and liking.

"Being mimicked typically leaves people with positive feelings," the researchers concluded, "but this experiment showed that mimicry can diminish liking of the mimicker if people have been reminded of money.

"... The findings take the psychology of money in a new direction," they added, "by demonstrating money's ability to stimulate a longing for freedom."

ResearchBlogging.orgLiu, J., Vohs, K., and Smeesters, D. (2011). Money and Mimicry: When Being Mimicked Makes People Feel Threatened. Psychological Science DOI: 10.1177/0956797611418348

Further reading: "You remind me of me" (New York Times).
Mind Wide Open (The Psychologist).

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Friday, 16 September 2011

Exploring people's beliefs about their memory problems

We think of memory complaints as being more common among older people. A recent colloquialism has even emerged for older folk to refer good humouredly to their "senior moments". Performance on lab-based memory tests also tends to deteriorate with age. So how come researchers have found that subjective complaints about memory don't correlate reliably with lab-based memory performance? And why are the links between age and subjective memory complaints not as robust as we'd expect?

Part of the answer may have to do with the complicating influence of factors like personality and depression. But to probe deeper, Peter Vestergren and Lars-goran Nilsson have surveyed hundreds of people of various ages about their memory concerns and their perceived reasons for their memory problems.

Three hundred and sixty-one participants (aged 39 to 99) answered a simple question about their memory: "Do you experience problems with your memory?", by choosing between "no problems at all", "small problems", "moderate problems", "big problems", and "very big problems". Anyone answering "moderate problems" or above was categorised as feeling that they had a memory problem, and they were further asked to say what they felt the causes were for their memory problems.

Thirty per cent of the sample said they had memory problems, and the proportion increased with rising age (although age only accounted for 4% of the variance in subjective memory problems). Cited reasons for memory problems fell into three main categories: ageing (26.6%), stress (20.2%), and multi-tasking (12.8%), with the reasons given varying with age. Older participants (aged 69-99) tended to say that ageing was the cause of their problems more often than did middle-aged participants (aged 39-64) - the proportions being 61 vs. 18 %. By contrast, stress and multi-tasking were more often given as reasons by the middle-aged group than the older group (50% vs. 8.3%).

Vestergren and Nilsson think these results could help explain past inconsistencies in the literature. Perhaps, they reasoned, subjective memory complaints are more frequent in middle age, versus older age, than we might expect, because of the stress and work demands experienced by people in mid life. The results "may also to some extent explain a lack of relations between subjective and objective measures of memory," the researchers said. "Assuming that many subjective measures of memory are sensitive to transient effects of varying degrees of stress and cognitive load on memory performance, events influenced by these variables will not be replicated by laboratory tests under constant conditions." Based on this, the researchers called on their fellow memory researchers to gauge subjective and objective stress levels and multi-tasking demands alongside their tests of objective memory - to do so will help illuminate instances when subjective memory scores diverge from objective memory.

The current study complements an earlier Digest item that covered diary research into people's memory lapses or "d'oh moments". Healthy participants were found to experience an average of 6.4 such lapses per week - with younger participants actually reporting more than older participants.

ResearchBlogging.orgVestergren, P., and Nilsson, L. (2011). Perceived causes of everyday memory problems in a population-based sample aged 39-99. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25 (4), 641-646 DOI: 10.1002/acp.1734

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

Thursday, 15 September 2011


Our round-up of the latest juicy tit-bits from the world of psychology:

The Ignobel Awards (psychologists are frequent winners) are coming and will be webcast live on Sept 29th.

"Positive pollyannas more frustrated by unmet expectations": Having too much of a sunny outlook can have its dark side, says Alex Fradera for the BPS Occupational Digest blog.

See what happened when two chatbots had a chat.

"Hey, don't turn me off!" Debate on robot rights - BBC R4 philosophy programme available to listen on iPlayer.

Love House MD? Love psychology? This forthcoming book's for you.

Trainee clinical psychologist Nick Hartley reviews Project Nim for the BPS website. (more info on the film).

Kids in day-care could be at risk of stress, says psychologist Aric Sigman (BBC R4 interview). Not so fast, says psychology professor Dorothy Bishop (more from her here).

Gail Porter on her experience of being sectioned (BBC Vid).

The Wellcome Trust image of the month was inspired by HM - the world's most studied amnesiac.

Bet you can't resist reading this: Steve Pinker reviews Willpower by Baumeister and Tierney (New York Times).

Feast is taking a break and will return in about three weeks. Catch you then! 


Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

Just in time for the latest series of X-factor: "A frog in your throat or in your ear? Searching for the causes of poor singing."

Drinking decaffeinated coffee boosts mood, vigour, attention, psychomotor speed and reward responsivity, so long as you think it's got caffeine in it.

A statistical error that's widespread in neuroscience (pdf via author website).

Memory in women is sensitive to male voice pitch.

Nostalgia provides us with existential meaning.

Does sexism motivate some of the advice offered to pregnant women?

When Prisoners Take Over the Prison: A Social Psychology of Resistance.

Obstacles, literal and metaphorical, trigger a global processing "big picture" style of thought.

Understanding workplace boredom among white collar employees.

Bisexual men really are aroused physically and subjectively by both sexes (for years past research has failed to demonstrate this).

Spoiler false alarm! People enjoy stories more when they know what's going to happen.

There's too much emphasis on individual face-to-face therapy.

Hearty, social laughter increases pain tolerance.

Male dance moves that catch a woman's eye.

Health and psychological well-being benefits of pets have yet to be proven.

At what stage do unborn babies start to perceive pain? "The results suggest that specific neural circuits necessary for discrimination between touch and nociception emerge from 35–37 weeks gestation in the human brain."

Bereaved parents more likely to die in ensuing years after loss than are non-bereaved parents.

Post compiled by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

How not to spot personality test fakers

Personality tests are an effective recruitment tool: higher scorers on conscientiousness and lower scorers on neuroticism tend to perform better in the job. But a major weakness of such tests is people's tendency to answer dishonestly. A study now shows that a popular approach to spotting cheaters is likely to be ineffective.

This approach, which has gained momentum in the research literature, is to focus on applicants' response times. Honest test-takers show an inverted U-shaped response profile, being fast when they strongly agree or disagree with test items (these come in the form of statements about the self, such as "I pay attention to details"), and slower when they answer more equivocally. This is thought to reflect a process whereby test takers refer to their self-schema and find it easier to answer when statements clearly conform or contradict this schema.

At least two theories predict that fakers won't show this inverted U-shape, and that response times therefore offer a way to expose those who are cheating. One theory has it that fakers refer to their self-schema and then exaggerate the truth on key statements. This has the effect of extending answer times for unequivocal answers, flattening out the inverted U-shape response time profile shown by honest answerers. Another theory says that fakers don't refer to a self-schema at all - they simply assess the social desirability of each item and exaggerate answers where necessary. This is a cognitively simpler task than referral to a self-schema, and again the inverted U-shaped response profile is predicted to flatten.

To test these predictions, Mindy Shoss and Michael Strube had 60 undergrads (38 women) complete a personality test (the Revised NEO Personality inventory) three times: once honestly, once to create a general good impression, and lastly, either to create a good impression specifically for a public relations role, or specifically for an accountant role.

The key finding is that participants showed the inverted U-shaped response time profile regardless of whether they were answering honestly or not. Response times were faster overall for the fakery conditions, and the inverted U-shape was actually accentuated in the specific public relations fakery condition. Shoss and Strube said these results are consistent with the idea that fakers form, and refer to, an idealised personality schema in their mind when completing a personality test, and so their answers show a similar response time profile to an honest test-taker. The accentuated inverted U-shape for the PR-role condition comes from the fact that the schema for such a role is like a caricature, making unequivocal answers for certain items even easier to provide than usual.

Digging deeper, the researchers found that when striving to make a good impression, participants scored higher on extraversion, agreeableness, openness and conscientiousness and lower on neuroticism.  The inverted U-shape in response times was greater for agreeableness and conscientiousness in the fake conditions than when answering honestly.

"This study casts doubt on the validity of response times for detecting faking in general," the researchers said. "... it seems that researchers and practitioners interested in detecting and reducing faking would do well to focus on other strategies."

An alternative approach to reducing test fakery is to force applicants to choose between pairs of equally appealing statements about themselves, as reported previously on the Digest. Other recent research has shown that many recruitment measures might actually be testing applicants' ability to discern what's required of them, rather than anything more specific, as reported recently by the BPS Occupational Digest.

ResearchBlogging.orgShoss, M., and Strube, M. (2011). How do you fake a personality test? An investigation of cognitive models of impression-managed responding. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 116 (1), 163-171 DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2011.05.003

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Hey: Three chances to win a BPS Blackwell psychology book

Good news. Sign up to the BPS Research Digest twitter feed this week (Monday to Friday) and you'll be entered into a raffle to win your choice of one of the BPS Blackwell books shown below. We'll pick three winners from all new Digest followers who sign up this week.

Brain training for babies actually works (short term, at least)

Products designed to give babies and young children an educational headstart are hugely popular but they're mostly backed up by weak science. In some cases, for example with educational DVDs, there's even evidence of potential harm to language development, albeit that this evidence has been challenged by the creators of the DVDs.

Meanwhile, research with adults suggests that so-called brain training exercises (puzzles and memory and attention tasks on a computer) rarely lead to general intellectual benefits. Instead people just get better on the specific training tasks they complete.

Given this background, the prospects for brain training for babies look decidedly shaky. And yet in a new study, a team led by Sam Wass has shown brain training exercises for babies (focused on attention) led to widespread cognitive benefits over a two-week period. "To our knowledge, this is the first report of distal transfer of training effects following cognitive training in participants younger than 4 years old," they write.

Wass and his colleagues invited 42 healthy, 11-month-old babies to their lab five times over two weeks. Whilst there, half the babies undertook an average of 77 mins of training in screen-based tasks that varied in difficulty according to each baby's performance. The other babies spent the same time watching TV clips and animations.

The four attentional training tasks all required the babies to use their direction of gaze to create various effects. For example, in the butterfly task, so long as the baby fixated on it, a butterfly "flew" across the screen as distractors (e.g. house) scrolled in the other direction. As soon as the baby stopped fixating the butterfly, the distractors disappeared and the butterfly remained stationary. In another "elephant" task, the babies were rewarded with animations when they succeeded in fixating an elephant rather than a similarly sized distractor.

Compared with the control group, the babies who undertook the training showed improvements in basic lab measures of cognitive performance, completed at the beginning and end of the two-week training period, including: task-switching ability (a sign of cognitive control), in sustained attention, faster eye movement reaction times and quicker attention disengagement. The effect sizes ranged from .54 up to 1.06 (generally considered medium to large). The researchers argued this was unlikely to be simply due to greater motivation in the trained babies - for example, the improvements to sustained attention were larger towards "interesting stimuli", indicating a selectivity in the effects. The researchers were surprised that there were no working memory benefits, but said this could be because working memory "is weak at this early age".

In free play in front of a puppet theatre, somewhat paradoxically (given their increased ability at sustained attention), the trained babies showed a trend toward more, shorter glances. The researchers reasoned this could be because the training had given the babies' greater flexible control of their attention, depending on context. This is an important result because past research has linked this gaze style at 9 months with superior language development at 31 months. In general, Wass and his team said attentional control could be a "tool for learning" that aids the later acquisition of other skills.

" ... It is striking that we found changes following briefer training periods than those used by other studies [with older children]," the researchers said. " ... Further work is required to assess whether this is because infant brains are more plastic and more readily amenable to training or because eye-gaze contingent training is more immersive in comparison with the point-and-click computer interface [using a mouse] used by other groups."

Wass and his colleagues conceded that more research was needed to assess whether the observed training effects would last into the medium and long term. A possibility is that training effects in babies are incredibly fast, but also quick to dissipate. Regardless, for the time being, this is a study that's bound to excite competitive parents and educational entrepreneurs alike.

ResearchBlogging.orgWass, S., Porayska-Pomsta, K., and Johnson, M. (2011). Training Attentional Control in Infancy. Current Biology DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2011.08.004

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

Friday, 9 September 2011

9/11 links round-up

One World Trade Center rises from the ashes
As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 draws near, here we bring you a round-up of psychology-related links to comment and resources (please do flag up further articles and resources via comments - thank you):

Pregnant 9/11 survivors transmitted trauma to their children. Mo Costandi for the Guardian's Neurophilosophy blog explains the likely epigenetic mechanism.

American Psychologist has a special issue on 9/11 with twelve wide-ranging articles exploring everything from lessons learned about post-trauma intervention to the social psychological impact of the attacks (summary of the articles).

An overview of that special issue from the New York Times.

The APA Monitor has a cover feature on our memories of 9/11.

Ingrid Wickelgren for Scientific American's Stream of Consciousness Blog offers a personal reflection on 9/11 and how social processes can affect our memories.

A Psychologist magazine article from 2007 about interviews conducted with survivors from the World Trade Center.

Students not directly affected by 9/11, but who were feeling anxious, showed altered brain responses to negative and neutral visual images one week after the attacks.

Psychology research into terrorism and how 9/11 has changed the field. A Psychologist magazine article from 2004.

Oliver Burkeman for The Guardian meets a young Manhattan clinical psychologist (with a specialism in traumawho qualified not long before 9/11. "It sounds strange to say of anyone in New York on 9/11 that they were in exactly the right place at the right time, but in Paula Madrid's case, that conclusion is hard to avoid."

Manhattan memory project: How 9/11 changed our brains, from the New Scientist.

The boy who thought 9/11 was his fault - a case study covered by the Digest in 2008. The case was subsequently discussed on BBC Radio 4's All in the Mind.

Wiley-Blackwell have provided free access to a variety of psychology journal articles and book chapters on the subject of 9/11.

Routledge have provided free access to a range of social psychology journal articles focused on 9/11.

Thanks to Jon Sutton for help compiling these links.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

How psychology helped locate HMAS Sydney II, lost for over 60 years

The next time an ignoramus asks you what psychology has ever achieved, here's a new answer for you: it only helped in the 2008 discovery of the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney II, lost in deep water off the west coast of Australia since its sinking in November 1941.

John Dunn and Kim Kirsner have documented in a new paper how they used insights from research into memory transmission to analyse the testimony from the German survivors of the ship, HSK Kormoran, that battled with Sydney not long before both vessels were lost. Whereas, tragically, all the crew of Sydney perished, 317 of the German crew survived and many were interrogated by Australian authorities about what happened. Finding Kormoran was the key that would unlock the location of Sydney, as the ships were proximate at the time of their sinking.

Dunn and Kirsner applied many principles from cognitive psychology to the testimony provided by the German survivors, which included 72 references to the last known location of Kormoran, many of them contradictory. One of these principles is that as memory becomes degraded, either over time in an individual, or through transmission from one person to another - it becomes progressively influenced by a person's top-down expectations and expertise. Consider a study in which participants were asked to recall pictures of fruit and veg, some portrayed larger, some smaller, than their real-life sizes. People's memories for the pictures were distorted in the direction of prior knowledge, so that large vegetables were recalled as having been portrayed as larger.

Based on this idea, and with reference to the status and opportunity of the various witnesses, Dunn and Kirsner identified seven "source statements" about the location of Kormoran which had informed the testimony of the other witnesses and been (further) distorted by them. For example, one of the statements, now known to be inaccurate, was from the Kormoran captain Theodor Detmers.

To confirm this assessment of the available data, the researchers exploited techniques used in the analysis of species evolution, to identify clusters of statements, with each cluster containing statements of various levels of degradation or "mutation" from the key source statements. Once the source statements were confirmed, the researchers tested candidate locations for Kormoran and worked out the potential of each one in relation to its distance from the seven source statements.

A key facet of Dunn and Kirsner's approach was to use all the available testimony to arrive at a prediction of where Kormoran would be found. By contrast, other non-psychological experts involved in the search had tended to rely on just one or two key witnesses, such as Detmers.

By combining the best fit approach from the seven source statements with two further physical landmarks - drift objects lost from Kormoran and an emergency signal sent by Kormoran just prior to battle - Dunn and Kirsner identified a recommended search area. On 16 March 2008, the Finding Sydney Foundation located Kormoran just 5km from Dunn and Kirsner's best prediction of where she lay. Five days later, Sydney was found 21km away. The discovery helped heal a scar in Australia's history.

"The method we developed in response to the problem that was placed before us was necessarily tailored to the specific details of that problem," the researchers said. "Nevertheless, it may provide a blueprint for potential solutions to other similar problems. Such problems may include, but would not necessarily be restricted to, search problems for missing objects. In our view, the critical feature of a problem that would make it suitable for our methodology would be a set of statements or similar data that can be regarded as a set of constraints on a state of affairs that can be evaluated quantitatively. For example, and to move away from the present spatial domain, a relevant problem may involve the evaluation of eyewitness descriptions of a particular person, e.g. a criminal."

ResearchBlogging.orgDunn, J., and Kirsner, K. (2011). The search for HMAS Sydney II: Analysis and integration of survivor reports. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 25 (4), 513-527 DOI: 10.1002/acp.1735

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

The neural correlates of aesthetic appreciation: "We present here the most comprehensive analysis to date of neuroaesthetic processing ..."

Why do we take such a lenient view of white-collar criminals?

A forum on mirror neuron research.

The effect of neuroimaging and other evidence on jurors' decision making. "Overall, neuroscience-based evidence was found to be more persuasive than psychological and anecdotal family history evidence."

Littering in Context: Personal and Environmental Predictors of Littering Behavior.

Psychology at the gym: Treadmill Experience Alters Treadmill Effects on Perceived Visual Motion.

The Enigma of Number: Why Children Find the Meanings of Even Small Number Words Hard to Learn and How We Can Help Them Do Better.

Power Increases Infidelity Among Men and Women.

Synaesthetic Associations Decrease During Infancy.

Personality and gang embeddedness.

Heaven It's My Wife! Male Canaries Conceal Extra-Pair Courtships but Increase Aggressions When Their Mate Watches.

Do children really recover better? Neurobehavioural plasticity after early brain insult.

Post compiled by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

Psychologists who Tweet - second major update

Update July 2013 - unfortunately the list grew too unwieldy for a full revision. However, we've published a new list of the 100 most-followed psychologists and neuroscientists on Twitter

This is the second major update of our list of psychologists (plus a few stray neuroscientists, therapists, students and psych-bloggers) who Tweet. Follower counts were correct as of late August / early Sept 2011. Compare with the first and second versions of the list compiled in November 2010 and March 2011. The Digest feeds and editorial team are in purple highlight.

Laura Kauffman. Child psychologist. Followers: 102073
Richard Wiseman. Parapsychologist. Followers: 89871
Leah Klungness. Author and psychologist. Followers: 35204
George Huba. Psychologist. Followers: 32779
Dolors Reig. Social psychologist (tweets in Spanish). Followers: 22204
Marsha Lucas. Neuropsychologist. Followers: 19962
Aleks Krotoski. Psychologist, tech journalist. Followers: 18074
Jonah Lehrer. Writer, blogger. Followers: 17421
Dan Ariely. Behavioural Economist, author. Followers: 15045
Steven Pinker. Psycholinguist, evolutionary psychologist, author. Followers: 13012
Jo Hemmings. Celebrity psychologist. Followers: 12455
BPS Research Digest. The BPS Research Digest! Followers: 10119
Melissa McCreery. Clinical Psychologist. Followers: 9259
Melanie Greenberg. Clinical health psychologist. Followers: 9248
David Ballard. Psychologist, Head of APA marketing. Followers: 8093
Graham Jones. Internet (cyber) psychologist. Followers: 6677
Petra Boynton. Psychologist, sex educator. Followers: 6001
Ciaran O'Keeffe. Parapsychologist. Followers: 5936
Mo Costandi. Writer, blogger. Followers: 5927
Vaughan Bell. Clinical neuropsychologist, blogger. Followers: 5791
Jeremy Dean. Blogger. Followers: 5706
David Eagleman. Neuroscientist, author. Followers: 5165
David Webb. Psychology tutor, blogger. Followers: 4368
John Grohol. Founder of Psychcentral. Followers: 3562
Susan Weinschenk. Psychologist and author. Followers: 3299
Bruce Hood. Cognitive scientist. Followers: 3293
Pam Dodd. Organisational psychologist. Followers: 3218
Rita Handrich. Psychologist, editor. Followers: 3004
Todd Finnerty. Psychologist. Followers: 2997
Daniel Levitin. Psychologist, author. Followers: 2968
Brian MacDonald. Clinical psychologist. Followers: 2544
Anthony Risser. Neuropsychologist, blogger. Followers: 2500
Sandeep Gautam. Blogger. Followers: 2459
Jay Watts. Clinical psychologist, Lacanian. Followers: 2444
The Psychologist magazine. Followers: 2243
Cary Cooper. Occupational psychologist. Followers: 2278
Wendy Cousins. Psychologist and skeptic. Followers: 2189
Maria Panagiotidi. Grad student. Followers: 2108
Dorothy Bishop. Developmental neuropsychologist. Followers: 1964
Ana Loback. Psychologist. Followers: 1914
Jon Sutton. Editor of The Psychologist. Followers: 1893
Manon Eileen. Clinical psychologist and criminologist. Followers: 1821
Sarah-Jayne Blakemore. Cognitive neuroscientist. Followers: 1808
Jason Goldman. Grad student, blogger. Followers: 1794
Uta Frith. Developmental neuropsychologist, autism expert. Followers: 1785
Jesse Bering. Psychologist, blogger. Followers: 1778
Mark Changizi. Cognitive psychologist, author. Followers: 1775
Honey Langcaster-James. Psychologist and coach. Followers: 1741
Sophie Scott. Neuroscientist. Followers: 1721
Chris Atherton. Cognitive psychologist. Followers: 1670
Claudia Hammond. Radio presenter. Followers: 1630
Bradley Voytek. Neuroscientist and self-professed geek. Followers: 1469
Joseph LeDoux. Neuroscientist, rocker. Followers: 1433
Chris French. Anomalistic psychologist. Followers: 1405
Lyle Becourtney. Specialist in anger management. Followers: 1379
Alex Linley. Positive psychologist. Followers: 1332
G. Tendayi Viki. Social psychologist. Followers: 1326
Rolfe Lindgren. Psychologist, personality expert. Followers: 1283
Richard Thaler. Behavioural economist. Followers: 1253.
Margarita Holmes. Psychologist and sex therapist. Followers: 1246
Marco Iacoboni. Neuroscientist, mirror neuron expert. Followers: 1215
Steven Brownlow. Clinical and forensic psychologist. Followers: 1161
Fretes Torruella. Educational psychologist (tweets in Spanish and English). Followers: 1145
The Neurocritic. Blogger. Followers: 1144
Voula Grand. Psychologist and writer. Followers: 1084
Rob Archer. Organisational psychologist. Followers: 1042
Dave Brodbeck. Comparative cognition and evolutionary psychologist. Followers: 1029
John Cacioppo. Psychologist, social neuroscientist. Followers: 1026
Atle Dyregrov. Psychologist, expert in crisis psychology. Followers: 1015
Jonathan Firth. Psychology teacher and author. Followers: 991
Rebecca Symes. Sports psychologist. Followers: 976
Simon Baron-Cohen. Developmental psychologist. Followers: 963
Charles Fernyhough. Developmental psychologist, author. Followers: 952
Karen Pine. Psychologist, author. Followers: 943
Monica Whitty. Cyberpsychologist. Followers: 913
Christian Jarrett. Psychologist and writer/editor. Followers: 909
Daniel Simons. Cognitive psychologist, author. Followers: 889
Rory O'Connor. Health psychologist, suicide researcher. Followers: 877
Mark Batey. Creativity expert. Followers: 835
Ben Hawkes. Psychologist, comedian. Followers: 819
Tom Stafford. Psychologist, author. Followers: 814
Wray Herbert. Writer for APS, author. Followers: 792
Miriam Law-Smith. Clinical evolutionary psychologist. Followers: 789
Victoria Galbraith. Counselling psychologist. Followers: 782
Caspar Addyman. Developmental psychologist. Followers: 718
Fleur-Michelle Coiffait. Clinical psychologist in training. PsyPAG chair. Followers: 701
BPS Occupational Digest. The BPS Occupational Digest. Followers: 694
Bruce Hutchison. Clinical psychologist. Followers: 694
Scott Kaufman. Cognitive psychologist. Followers: 684
Eran Katz. Grad student (tweets in Hebrew). Followers: 671
Neuro Bonkers. Blogger. Followers: 657
James Neill. Psychology lecturer. Followers: 653
Christine Allen. Clinical psychologist and executive coach. Followers: 651
Patrick Macartney. Psychologist and sociologist. Followers: 617
Michelle Dawson. Autistic researcher. Followers: 613
Christopher H. Ramey. Psychologist. Followers: 607
Ioannis Nikolaou. Organisational psychologist (tweets in Greek and English). Followers: 602
David Matsumoto. Psychologist and judoka. Followers: 601
Chris Chabris and Daniel Simons. Cognitive psychologists. Followers: 536
Ciaran Mc Mahon. Psychologist. Followers: 533
Rachel Robinson. Child psychologist. Followers: 531
CoertVisser. Psychologist. Followers: 531
Daniela O'Neill. Developmental psychologist. Followers: 517
Michael Hogan. Psychologist and neuroscientist. Followers: 506
John Gibson. Psychologist. Followers: 493
Lorna Quandt. Grad student. Followers: 490
Daryl O'Connor. Health psychologist. Followers: 483
Karen Franklin. Forensic psychologist. Followers: 472
Romeo Vitelli. Psychologist in private practice. Followers: 457
Mike Garth. Sports psychologist. Followers: 452
Hilary Bruffell. Social psychologist. Followers: 442
Jenna Condie. Environmental psychologist. Followers: 440
Ken Gilhooly. Cognitive psychologist. Followers: 440
Bex Hewett. PhD student in occupational psychology. Followers: 439
Caroline Watt. Parapsychologist. Followers: 425
Tom Hartley. Neuroscientist. Followers: 407
Jon Simons. Cognitive scientist. Followers: 403
Tim Byron. Music psychologist. Followers: 369
Kevin McGrew. Intelligence expert. Followers: 367
Sue Hartley. Psychologist. Followers: 358
Alex Fradera. Psychologist and editor. 267
Andy Fugard. Cognitive scientist. Followers: 306
Janet Civitelli. Counselling psychologist. Followers: 298
Deb Halasz. Research psychologist. Followers: 293
Jon Brock. Autism blogger, wannabe neuroscientist. Followers: 293
Astrid Christie. Grad student. Followers: 288
Els Blijd-Hoogewys. Clinical psychologist (tweets in Dutch and English). Followers: 284
Andrew and Sabrina. Psychological scientists. Followers: 283
Sarah Dale. Occupational psychologist and coach. Followers: 282
Peter Kinderman. Clinical psychologist. Followers: 281
Sven Rudloff. Business psychologist (tweets in English and German). Followers: 270
Brian Hughes. Psychologist and science blogger. Followers: 269
Ruthanna Gordon. Psychologist, sustainability expert. Followers: 252
Marc Smith. Psychologist and teacher. Followers: 252
Suzanne Conboy-Hill. Clinical psychologist. Followers: 249
Nancy Hoffman. Neuropsychologist. Followers: 248
Erika Salomon. Grad student. Followers: 240
Gareth Morris. Grad student. Followers: 233
Simon Dymond. Behavioural neuroscientist. Followers: 233
Sanja Dutina. Psychologist. Followers: 229
Johnrev Guilaran. Clinical psychologist trainee. Followers: 227
Dylan Lopich. Clinical psychologist. Followers: 220
Adrian Wale. Cognitive scientist, writer. Followers: 218
Alex Birch. Business psychologist. Followers: 218
Catherine Loveday. Neuropsychologist. Followers: 214
Carlos Rivera. Political psychologist (tweets in Spanish). Followers: 209
Alice Jones. Psychology lecturer. Followers: 206
Craig Bertram. Grad student. Followers: 205
Marc Scully. Social psychologist. Followers: 205
John Hyland. Experimental psychologist. Followers: 185
Catriona Morrison. Experimental psychologist. Followers: 184
Chris Pawluk. School psychologist. Followers: 183
Paul Hanges. Organisational psychologist. Followers: 173
Darrell Rudmann. Educational psychologist. Followers: 173
Talya Grumberg. Mental health counsellor. Followers: 170
Lila Chrysikou. Psychologist. Followers: 166
Mark Hoelterhoff. Experimental existential psychologist. Followers: 164
Jui Bhagwat. Child psychologist. Followers: 161
John Houser. School psychologist. Followers: 159
Odette Beris. Psychologist and coach. Followers: 155
Bren Rooney. Psychologist. Followers: 154
Kevin Friery. Psychologist, psychotherapist. Followers: 149
Arvid Kappas. Emotion researcher. Followers: 143
Chris Brand. Cognitive psychologist in training. Followers: 141
Ruth Schumacher. Counselling psychologist. Followers: 141
Gillian Smith. Alcohol and drug researcher. Followers: 135
Amy Hogan. Cyberpsychologist. Followers: 135
Valeschka Guerra. Psychology lecturer. Followers: 134
Matteo Cantamesse. Social psychologist. Followers: 134
Simon Knight. Psychologist. Followers: 134
Gerald Guild. Psychologist, autism specialist. Followers: 128
Matt Wall. Neuroscientist. Followers: 125
Morton Ann Gernsbacher. Cognitive neuroscientist. Followers: 120
Courtenay Norbury. Cognitive scientist. Followers: 115
Jen Lewis. Grad student. Followers: 99
Andrea Dinardo. Positive psychologist. Followers: 97
Philip Collier. Sport and positive psychologist. Followers: 96
Chelsea Walsh. Family and marriage therapist. Followers: 95
Caitlin Allison. Trainee counselling psychologist. Followers: 94
Marien Gadea. Neuroscientist. Followers: 89
Alison Price. Occupational psychologist. Followers: 83
Sarah Rose Cavanagh. Positive psychologist. Followers: 81
Peter M Forster. Psychologist and scuba instructor. Followers: 80
David Hughes. Psychologist. Followers: 75
Linda Kaye. Cyberpsychologist. Followers: 74
Laura Caulfield. Psychology lecturer. Followers: 74
Helen Jones. Clinical psychologist. Followers: 72
Susan Grey. Clinical psychologist. Followers: 71
Portia Hickey. Business psychologist. Followers: 71
Tal Yarkoni. Cognitive neuroscientist. Followers: 67
Jill Caffrey. Neuropsychologist. Followers: 64
James Hardie. Applied psychologist. Followers: 62
Nikki Botting. Developmental psychologist. Followers: 59
Barry McGuinness. Psychologist, writer. Followers: 58
Antonia Hamilton. Neuropsychologist. Followers: 56
David Yates. Grad student. Followers: 53
Victoria Mason. Psychology lecturer. Followers: 52
Paul Hutchings. Social psychologist. Followers: 50
Sian Jones. Grad student. Followers: 44
Kathryn Newns. Clinical psychologist. Followers: 38
Simon Hunter. Developmental psychologist. Followers: 37
Brigitte Minel. Psychotherapist and author (tweets in French). Followers: 34
John Taylor. Cognitive psychologist. Followers: 33
Deborah Budding. Neuropsychologist. Followers: 33
Ian Patterson. Psychologist. Followers: 28
Emily Hutchinson. Occupational psychologist. Followers: 24
Lorraine Hope. Cognitive psychologist. Followers: 22
Amanda Callen. Customer service psychologist. Followers: 20
Gina Langley. Psychologist. Followers: 8

Thanks to Ben Watson for updating the list. Feel free to add your name and twitter tag via comments. However, we are no longer planning a full revision to the list.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

The Special Issue Spotter

We trawl the world's journals so you don't have to:

Psychology, politics and public policy (History of Psychology).

Evolutionary Approaches to Explaining Violence (Aggression and Violent Behaviour).

Special Section on Music in the Brain (Cortex, from page 1068 onwards).

Neurocognitive Precursors of Difficulties in Reading and Arithmetic (Journal of Neurolinguistics).

Shock of the Old - Milgram open access special issue (The Psychologist).

Financial Capability (Journal of Economic Psychology).

The Prism of Art Crime (Crime, Law, and Social Change).

The Genetics of Cognition (Trends in Cognitive Sciences).

Sociology of Diagnosis (Social Science and Medicine).

Post compiled by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.

Monday, 5 September 2011

At what age do girls prefer pink?

Crudely speaking, the psychological field of gender development is split between those who see gender differences as learned via socially constructed ideas about gender, and those who believe many gender differences are actually “sex differences”, innate and biologically driven.

In Western cultures, girls consistently prefer pink, boys prefer blue. Which academic camp lays claim to this difference? Past research has made a case, in terms of the evolutionary advantage of finding fruit, for why females might be biologically predisposed to prefer pink and other bright colours. But a new study purports to show that girls only acquire their preference for pink, and boys their aversion to it, at around the age of two to three, just as they’re beginning to talk about and become aware of gender. Vannessa LoBue and Judy DeLoache say their finding undermines the notion of innate sex differences in colour preference. “If females have a biological predisposition to favour colours such as pink, this preference should be evident regardless of experience of the acquisition of gender concepts,” they said.

LoBue and DeLoache presented 192 boys and girls aged between seven months and five years with pairs of small objects (e.g. coasters and plastic clips) and invited them to reach for one. Each item in a pair was identical to the other except for its colour: one was always pink, the other either green, blue, yellow or orange. The key test was whether boys and girls would show a preference for choosing pink objects and at what age such a bias might arise.

At the age of two, but not before, girls chose pink objects more often than boys did, and by age two and a half they demonstrated a clear preference for pink, picking the pink-coloured object more often than you’d expect based on random choice. By the age of four, this was just under 80 per cent of the time – however there was evidence of this bias falling away at age five.

Boys showed the opposite pattern to girls. At the ages of two, four and five, they chose pink less often than you’d expect based on random choices. In fact, their selection of the pink object became progressively more rare, reaching about 20 per cent at age five.

A second experiment zoomed in on the age period of two to three years, to see how colour preferences changed during this crucial year. The same procedure as before was repeated with 64 boys and girls in this age group. Among the children aged under two and a half, both boys and girls chose pink objects around 50 per cent of the time, just as you’d expect if they were choosing randomly and had no real colour preference. Among those aged between two and a half to three years, by contrast, the boys showed a bias against choosing pink and the girls showed a bias in favour of pink.

“This research lends important information to when children develop gender-stereotyped colour preferences …” the researchers said. “Knowing exactly when children begin to demonstrate these tendencies can help lead to fuller understanding of the development of gender-stereotyped behaviour more generally and can be an important marker for future research in this domain.”

ResearchBlogging.orgLoBue, V., and DeLoache, J. (2011). Pretty in pink: The early development of gender-stereotyped colour preferences. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 29 (3), 656-667 DOI: 10.1111/j.2044-835X.2011.02027.x

If you're interested in gender development and the way it's studied and talked about, I recommend Cordelia Fine's book Delusions of Gender.

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.