BPS Research Digest

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Reports on the latest psychology research plus psych gossip and comment. Brought to you by the British Psychological Society.

BPS Research Digest
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  • April 23, 2015
  • 07:28 AM
  • 35 views

Men and boys with older sisters are less competitive

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

One of the longest-debated and most studied issues in psychology is whether and how our personalities are affected by our birth order and the sex of our siblings. A problem with much previous research is that it's depended on people self-reporting their own personality, or on siblings or parents providing the personality ratings. These ratings are prone to subjectivity and skewed by people's expectations about how, say, a younger sibling ought to behave.A new study focused on one particular find........ Read more »

Okudaira, H., Kinari, Y., Mizutani, N., Ohtake, F., & Kawaguchi, A. (2015) Older sisters and younger brothers: The impact of siblings on preference for competition. Personality and Individual Differences, 81-89. DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2015.02.037  

  • April 22, 2015
  • 09:54 AM
  • 20 views

Psychologists study burglars' expertise

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Their actions are criminal and they cause untold misery, but repeat burglars are skilled at what they do and in that sense they are experts. By studying this expertise we can learn to better secure our properties against the threat of theft, and detectives can learn to spot the signature trail of an experienced robber.Most previous research in this area has relied on interviews with burglars about their strategies: a limited approach. A new study is more compelling. Claire Nee and her team recru........ Read more »

  • April 21, 2015
  • 05:12 AM
  • 12 views

Optimism and pessimism are separate systems influenced by different genes

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

"... the optimist sees the rose and not its thorns; the pessimist stares at the thorns, oblivious to the rose,” Kahlil Gibran.Optimists enjoy better health, more success, more happiness, and longer lives, than pessimists. No surprise, then, that psychologists are taking an increasing interest in our outlook on life. An unresolved issue is whether optimism and pessimism are two ends of the same spectrum, or if they're separate. If the traits are separate, then in principle, some people cou........ Read more »

  • April 20, 2015
  • 04:47 AM
  • 8 views

Autistic children's sensory experiences, in their own words

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Children diagnosed with autism often have distinctive sensory experiences, such as being ultra sensitive to noise, or finding enjoyment in repeated, unusual sensory stimulation. However, much of what we know about these experiences comes from the testimony of parents, researchers and clinicians. Now Anne Kirby and her colleagues have published the first report of autistic children's sensory experiences, based on these children's own accounts. As the authors say, "children's voices are still rare........ Read more »

  • April 17, 2015
  • 08:06 AM
  • 8 views

Psychology students are seduced by superfluous neuroscience

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

It seems as though neuroscience is particularly popular and seductive. Not only is the discipline enjoying some eye-spinningly massive new grants, there are also ever more brain-branded products (like brain games and brain drinks), there are new disciplines like neuroleadership, and there's a growing obsession about the brain among many journalists, many of whom invoke brain science in odd contexts (check out "The neuroscience of ISIS" for a recent example).This atmosphere has led to a near-cons........ Read more »

  • April 17, 2015
  • 06:08 AM
  • 96 views

Marathon runners forget how painful it was

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Image: Flickr/GregThe sense of accomplishment from running a marathon is hugely uplifting. But let's not romanticise it, there's also a lot of pain involved. Despite this, many people pull on their running shoes time and again. A new study helps make sense of their behaviour – it turns out most marathon runners forget just how painful it was the last time. Przemyslaw Bąbel recruited 62 runners (39 men) who took part in the 11th Cracovia Marathon in Cracow, Poland in 2012. Moments after they c........ Read more »

  • April 15, 2015
  • 10:01 AM
  • 40 views

Do movie super-heroines empower women?

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

The super-heroines who feature in the X-Men series and other comic-book films challenge traditional gender stereotypes in the sense that they are powerful, strong and smart. You'd think watching them in action might have an empowering influence on female viewers. But there's a catch – heroine characters like Mystique, Storm and PsyLocke (pictured) are also hypersexualised. Their clothing is tight and revealing, they are typically buxom and ultra thin-waisted, and they often use their sex appea........ Read more »

  • April 13, 2015
  • 05:09 AM
  • 45 views

Psychologists can influence people's moral choices by tracking their gaze

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Where we look betrays what we're thinking. For instance, given a choice between two snacks, people spend longer looking at the alternative that they ultimately choose. A new study digs deeper into this process and asks: is gaze direction also related to moral choices, and does it actually influence those choices?Twenty students donned an eye tracker and made a series of moral judgments. On each trial, the students heard a statement over headphones (e.g. "murder is sometimes justifiable") and the........ Read more »

Pärnamets, P., Johansson, P., Hall, L., Balkenius, C., Spivey, M., & Richardson, D. (2015) Biasing moral decisions by exploiting the dynamics of eye gaze. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 201415250. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1415250112  

  • April 9, 2015
  • 08:00 AM
  • 33 views

Think you need a lucky mascot? It could be a sign you're looking at a challenge the wrong way

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Cross your fingers, touch wood, and don’t forget the rabbit’s foot. What leads people to put faith in such habits? Research from Boston and Tulane universities suggests our goals have a big influence. Luck is the last thing on our minds when we’re concerned with learning. But when we’re focused on external goals such as scoring a high exam grade, superstitious thinking intrudes.Being superstitious is about invoking some force beyond ourselves to make the other horse stumble, help our gue........ Read more »

  • April 7, 2015
  • 03:55 AM
  • 32 views

After laughing, people are more willing to share personal details about themselves

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

As a theatrical improviser, I’ve experienced workshops and shows where, after initial horseplay, people who hardly know each other share intimate autobiographical details, sometimes on a brightly lit stage. Where does this striking willingness to be vulnerable arrive from? New research suggests that part of the answer may be that the act of laughter encourages personal disclosure: we chuckle out our secrets.At the start of Alan Gray’s study, groups of four participants watched a video to inf........ Read more »

  • April 2, 2015
  • 10:56 AM
  • 25 views

Just how plastic is the brain?

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

By guest blogger David RobsonA patient researchers call “M.M.” had lived for 40 years as if he was viewing the world through frosted-glass on a moonlit night. The reason? When he was just 3 years old, a chemical explosion destroyed one eye and left the other damaged beyond repair. Without a cornea to focus clear images on his retina, he could see no more than a vague perception of dark and bright.Then, in the early 2000s, the seemingly unthinkable happened. Thanks to advances in stem cell re........ Read more »

Huber, E., Webster, J., Brewer, A., MacLeod, D., Wandell, B., Boynton, G., Wade, A., & Fine, I. (2015) A Lack of Experience-Dependent Plasticity After More Than a Decade of Recovered Sight. Psychological Science. DOI: 10.1177/0956797614563957  

  • March 31, 2015
  • 05:27 AM
  • 106 views

How time pressure improves decision making in emergency situations

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

A new simulation of a complex, realistic disaster event suggests that time pressure facilitates better decision-making among emergency responders. The two-day training exercise, overseen by Liverpool’s Centre for Critical and Major Incident Psychology, looked at the impact of a hypothetical aeroplane crash over a city. Nearly two hundred professionals were split into different rooms based on the agency they belonged to (14 agencies in all, including police, transport, health and science adviso........ Read more »

Alison, L., Power, N., van den Heuvel, C., Humann, M., Palasinksi, M., & Crego, J. (2015) Decision inertia: Deciding between least worst outcomes in emergency responses to disasters. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. DOI: 10.1111/joop.12108  

  • March 30, 2015
  • 04:58 AM
  • 82 views

Could you tell the difference between a person's memory and their imagination?

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

If I gave you a written description of an object – let's say a boat – would you be able to judge whether the author had written about the boat from their memory of it, as opposed to having written about a boat they'd imagined?It's a question with real-world importance because, in court, we often rely on eyewitness memories and it's up to a jury to determine their source and veracity. But memory, like the imagination, is a creative process. Sometimes the two even become blurred – it's quite........ Read more »

  • March 27, 2015
  • 03:18 PM
  • 70 views

Why it's important that employers let staff personalise their workspaces

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

The sparring mitt, yellow stitches spelling "SLUGGER" casually lying on the desk. The Mathlete trophy on a high shelf. A Ganesha statue, slightly chipped. Why do people bring these kinds of personal objects into the workplace?Researchers Kris Byron and Gregory Laurence found answers by consulting 28 people in a range of jobs and workplaces. They used the "grounded theory" approach, starting with a clutch of more open-ended interviews and then pursuing the lines of inquiry that emerged, in every ........ Read more »

  • March 25, 2015
  • 09:10 AM
  • 43 views

Textbook coverage of this classic social psychology study has become increasingly biased

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

One of the pairs of cards used in Asch's1950s research. Image from Wikipedia. Like Zimbardo's prison study and Milgram's so-called "obedience experiments", the research that Solomon Asch conducted at Swarthmore College in the 1950s has acquired an almost mythical quality, being distorted and exaggerated in frequent retellings over time. Asch's studies arguably showed the power of people's independence in the face of an apparently misguided majority, and yet paradoxically they've come to be ........ Read more »

  • March 24, 2015
  • 05:29 PM
  • 41 views

Writing about your emotional pain could make you feel worse, unless you do it with “self-compassion”

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

By guest blogger Temma EhrenfeldSome of us tend to brood over painful experiences. Others distract themselves, taking on more work, for example, or watching videos. In my experience, brooders think distractors are uninsightful people avoiding their problems (read “more troubled than I am”) and distractors think brooders are wallowing, tiresome, and way more troubled. Still worse, brooding is thought to be a female failing and distraction male (some research backs this up). The judgments fly......... Read more »

Nolen-Hoeksema, S., Wisco, B., & Lyubomirsky, S. (2008) Rethinking Rumination. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 3(5), 400-424. DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-6924.2008.00088.x  

  • March 24, 2015
  • 06:28 AM
  • 40 views

Working at a treadmill desk boosts your memory and concentration, researchers claim

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Image from Labonté-LeMoyne et al.We're told sitting is the new smoking and that we should consider working at standing desks, or perhaps better still, treadmill desks. Indeed, the health benefits of treadmill desks are indisputable, say neuroscientists in Canada, led by Élise Labonté-LeMoyne. More contentious, these researchers explain, is the evidence for the psychological effect of such set-ups on our work performance.For instance, one study found impaired maths problem solving while w........ Read more »

Labonté-LeMoyne, �., Santhanam, R., Léger, P., Courtemanche, F., Fredette, M., & Sénécal, S. (2015) The delayed effect of treadmill desk usage on recall and attention. Computers in Human Behavior, 1-5. DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2014.12.054  

  • March 23, 2015
  • 06:13 AM
  • 39 views

Team effectiveness is disproportionately influenced by your group's best performer or "extra-miler"

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

The quality of a team's best performer (the "extra miler") is diagnostic of the group's overall effectiveness.In The Hobbit, fifteen companions come together on a quest for a dragon’s treasure. Traditional team analysis would judge "Thorin and Company" on the sum of its parts: Ori is stalwart, and Dori strongly stalwart, and, ok, Bifur seems stalwart enough … a fairly stalwart team, then. But we’re beginning to understand that single individuals can have a disproportionate impact on g........ Read more »

  • March 19, 2015
  • 10:16 AM
  • 37 views

Psychologists use magic to study the illusory feeling of free choice

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Most of the time, when a magician asks you to "pick a card" she makes it feel as though you have a free choice, but you don't really. The authors of a new paper say this is a microcosm for many real-life situations in which we feel free to choose, but in fact our choices are heavily influenced and constrained. Jay Olson, a magician and psychologist, and his colleagues, have put a classic card trick technique under the spotlight as a way to study the psychology behind this experience of illusory ........ Read more »

Olson, J., Amlani, A., Raz, A., & Rensink, R. (2015) Influencing choice without awareness. Consciousness and Cognition. DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2015.01.004  

  • March 18, 2015
  • 06:05 AM
  • 138 views

"Look at me!": When we feel powerful, we find ourselves inspirational

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Matthew McConaughey may have surprised some during the 2014 Oscars ceremony when he listed his heroes: each one was a past, present or future version of himself. But it turns out that being your own inspiration isn’t unusual, especially for people who feel socially powerful and influential.A new study, led by Gerben van Kleef from the University of Amsterdam, asked 140 undergraduates to spend a few minutes writing about a personally inspiring event that took place in the prior five years. Part........ Read more »

Van Kleef, G., Oveis, C., Homan, A., van der Lowe, I., & Keltner, D. (2015) Power Gets You High: The Powerful Are More Inspired by Themselves Than by Others. Social Psychological and Personality Science. DOI: 10.1177/1948550614566857  

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