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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  • October 5, 2015
  • 08:29 AM

How do popular kids behave in a cooperative task with a classmate?

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Popular girls showed more skilful leadership than others, popular boys showed less. In classrooms around the world, there's an unwritten hierarchy, with most of the kids knowing each other's standing in terms of popularity. Past psychology research has looked into the ways that children and teens attain this status, including the ability to influence their peers, either in skilful, sensitive ways or through coercion and manipulation. A new study published in the Journal of Experimental Chil........ Read more »

  • October 2, 2015
  • 05:12 AM

How jurors can be misled by emotional testimony and gruesome photos

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

As a juror in a criminal trial, you are meant to make a judgment of the defendant's guilt or innocence based on the evidence and arguments presented before you. In many trials, however, alongside the facts of the case, material and statements are allowed that don't in themselves speak to the culpability of the defendant. In a murder trial, for instance, a parent may take the stand and describe how their life has been destroyed by the loss of their child (the victim in the case). Similarly, the p........ Read more »

  • October 2, 2015
  • 04:41 AM

Toddlers have an instinct for fairness and generosity

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Anecdotally, anyone who's spent time around toddlers knows that they mostly don't like sharing their toys. Together with research showing that toddlers, like adults, get pretty attached to their things and are reluctant to give them up, this has led to a popular belief that toddlers are selfish by nature.But a team of developmental psychologists led by Julia Ulber has published new evidence in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology that paints a more heart-warming picture. These psychologi........ Read more »

Ulber, J., Hamann, K., & Tomasello, M. (2015) How 18- and 24-month-old peers divide resources among themselves. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 228-244. DOI: 10.1016/j.jecp.2015.07.009  

  • September 30, 2015
  • 04:11 AM

They deny it, but the middle classes have a subconscious positive bias toward the rich

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

"Eat the rich, it’s all that they’re good for" is a refrain familiar to my growing-up-in-the-90s ears. To many people today, the upper classes remain fair game for criticism, whether derided as Ivy-League elites, tax-dodging CEOs, or the undeserving gentry. But although many of us may claim to hold negative views about the wealthy, a new study published in Group Processes and Intergroup Relations says our implicit preferences tell a different story. A story we might call "Confessions of a se........ Read more »

  • September 29, 2015
  • 04:59 AM

New genetic evidence suggests face recognition is a very special human skill

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Example stimuli from Shakeshift and Plomin, 2015.A new twin study, published today in PNAS, of the genetic influences on face recognition ability, supports the idea that face recognition is a special skill that's evolved quite separately from other aspects of human cognition. In short, face recognition seems to be influenced by genes that are mostly different from the genes that influence general intelligence and other forms of visual expertise.The background to this is that, for some time, psyc........ Read more »

Nicholas G. Shakeshaft, & Robert Plomin. (2015) Genetic specificity of face recognition . PNAS . info:/

  • September 28, 2015
  • 05:07 AM

Extraverts are surprisingly good at mind-bending puzzles

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

The solitary inventor, buried away in garage or shed, is the classic depiction of introvert as born problem-solver. But new research, published recently in Psychological Studies, suggests that it’s extraverted people who perform better at classical tests of problem-solving, thanks to their tendency to be motivated in ways that are helpful for achieving.Vidya Athota at the University of Notre Dame, Australia and Richard Roberts at the Center for Innovative Assessments in New York ran compu........ Read more »

Athota, V., & Roberts, R. (2015) How Extraversion Leads to Problem-Solving Ability. Psychological Studies, 60(3), 332-338. DOI: 10.1007/s12646-015-0329-3  

  • September 25, 2015
  • 04:39 AM

Life is better for people who believe willpower is unlimited

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

While psychologists continue to debate whether or not willpower is a finite resource, a related strand of research is exploring the implications for the rest of us depending on whether we personally believe willpower is unlimited. For instance, there's research showing that people who think willpower is unlimited tend to recover better from tasks that require self-control than those who think willpower is finite, akin to the fuel in a car.Now a new study, just published in the Journal of Pe........ Read more »

Bernecker, K., Herrmann, M., Brandstätter, V., & Job, V. (2015) Implicit theories about willpower predict subjective well-being. Journal of Personality. DOI: 10.1111/jopy.12225  

  • September 24, 2015
  • 05:24 AM

Put more effort into a project and you'll become more passionate about it

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

The entrepreneur is one of the archetypes of our age, defined above all – if countless commencement speeches and hagiographies are anything to go by – by the passion they hold for their business, allowing them to devote so much to it. New research by Michael Gielnik and colleagues published in the Academy of Management Journal suggests this common belief has things backwards: in fact entrepreneurs get passionate because they get stuck in.The first study spent eight weeks surveying 54 German ........ Read more »

  • September 24, 2015
  • 05:07 AM

The comforting power of comedy is due to more than just distraction

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

By guest blogger David RobsonWhen screenwriter Nora Ephron's mother was on her deathbed, she had one instruction: "Take notes". For the family of writers and raconteurs, no event was too painful to be burned in the crucible of their wit. "Everything," Ephron Senior said, "is copy". Nora Ephron applied the philosophy religiously with the semi-autobiographical novel and film Heartburn, documenting her husband's cruel affair with "a fairly tall person with a neck as long as an arm and a nose as lon........ Read more »

  • September 22, 2015
  • 08:25 AM

Young children don't categorise mixed-race people the same way adults do

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

When it comes to race, people increasingly self-identify as belonging to several categories rather than one, reflecting our intermingled world – for example, some sources suggest one in ten British children now grow up in mixed-race households. Yet we still like putting people in neat taxonomies, and to understand this tendency, Steven Roberts and Susan Gelman at the University of Michigan looked at how adults and children approach racial categorisation. Their studies, published recently in Ch........ Read more »

  • September 22, 2015
  • 06:40 AM

Looking for the brain basis of chimp personality

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Some chimps are more outgoing than others. Some like trying out new foods and games while their friends stick to the tried and tested. In short, chimps have different personalities, just like people do. What's more, psychologists investigating chimp personality have found that their traits tend to coalescence into five main factors, again much like human personality. Three of these factors are actually named the same as their human equivalents: Extraversion, Openness and Agreeableness. The other........ Read more »

  • September 17, 2015
  • 04:00 AM

How many of these myths about smacking children do you believe?

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Attitudes towards the way we discipline children have changed dramatically over the last 60 years or so, and the use of smacking or other forms of corporal punishment – that is, using physical force to inflict deliberate pain or discomfort – is now illegal in all contexts in 46 countries.These cultural changes are in large part due to growing evidence about the harms to children and parent-child relationships that come from corporal punishment. However, despite this evidence, many countries,........ Read more »

  • September 15, 2015
  • 04:00 AM

Background positive music increases people's willingness to do others harm

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

We're all familiar with the use of music as a tool of persuasion in advertising. There's also research that's looked the social influence of lyrics – for example, there's evidence that songs with antisocial lyrics can increase hostile and aggressive feelings, whereas positive lyrics such as in Michael Jackson's Heal the World can reduce aggression. Positive music can also increase people's willingness to do good deeds. Yet studies also show that positive music can have paradoxically negat........ Read more »

  • September 11, 2015
  • 05:11 AM

Self-doubting bosses prefer to delegate to self-doubting staff

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

It’s possible to earn great success in your professional career, rise to great heights, but all the while experience the "imposter phenomenon": the sense that your position is undeserved, your unmasking possible at any time. For people like this, who doubt their own abilities, it would seem wise to rely on others who are confident they can get things done. But new research published in Personality and Individual Differences suggests the opposite: the more prone managers are to that imposter fe........ Read more »

  • September 10, 2015
  • 02:57 AM

The psychological toll of being off-duty but "on call"

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

That increasingly common end-of-day feeling: of physically leaving the office, only for it to tag along home. Thanks largely to technology, our availability – to clients, bosses and co-workers – extends into our evenings, weekends and even holidays. Getting a clear account of what this means for us isn’t easy, as jobs that intrude more into leisure time are also distinguished by higher pace and further factors known and unknown, making it hard to pinpoint what harmful effects, if any, are ........ Read more »

Dettmers, J., Vahle-Hinz, T., Bamberg, E., Friedrich, N., & Keller, M. (2015) Extended Work Availability and Its Relation With Start-of-Day Mood and Cortisol. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. DOI: 10.1037/a0039602  

  • September 9, 2015
  • 04:43 AM

Mental effort is contagious

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

If you're about to dive into a piece of work that requires intense mental focus, you might find it helps to sit next to someone else who is concentrating hard. According to an ingenious new study published in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, mental exertion is contagious: if a person near you is straining their synapses in mental effort, their mindset will automatically intensify your own concentration levels.Psychologists have known since at least the 1960s that the presence of other people aff........ Read more »

Desender, K., Beurms, S., & Van den Bussche, E. (2015) Is mental effort exertion contagious?. Psychonomic Bulletin . DOI: 10.3758/s13423-015-0923-3  

  • September 8, 2015
  • 08:47 AM

Most acts of aggression by toddlers are unprovoked

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Watching toddlers pinch, hit and bite each other doesn't fill you with confidence about human nature. But there's no need to be down about it – the little devils don't yet have the self-control to manage their anger and frustration, that's all. Right?Not according to a new study published in Developmental Science, which is the first to systematically investigate the use of force in infants from age 11 months and up. Audun Dahl at the University of California, Santa Cruz, finds that in fac........ Read more »

  • September 7, 2015
  • 06:48 AM

Images of ultra-thin models need your attention to make you feel bad

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

By guest blogger Tom StaffordWe all know that fashion models have unrealistic bodies. Even if they aren’t photoshopped, most of us could never be that thin, at least not without making ourselves ill. Previous research has suggested that viewing pictures of unrealistically thin female models makes young women feel bad – leaving them dissatisfied with their own bodies, more sad, angry and insecure.A crucial question is whether the effect of these thin-ideal images is automatic. Does the compar........ Read more »

  • September 4, 2015
  • 06:37 AM

Sexual arousal has a similar effect on men's and women's risk-taking

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

When it comes to condom use among heterosexual couples, there's evidence that women are often expected to be the sensible ones, in terms of raising and enforcing the issue. A new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour suggests this isn't just unfair, it's unwise too – both men and women show a similarly increased inclination for risk-taking when they are sexually aroused.The Canadian research team, led by Shayna Skakoon-Sparling, recruited 144 heterosexual undergrads to take part ........ Read more »

  • September 3, 2015
  • 11:28 AM

Using brain imaging to reevaluate psychology's three most famous cases

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

It's 50 years since the American neurologist Norman Geschwind published his hugely influential Disconnexion Syndromes in Animals and Man, in which he argued that many brain disorders and injuries could best be understood in terms of the damage incurred to the white-matter pathways connecting different areas of the brain.To mark this anniversary, an international team of researchers has used modern brain imaging techniques to reveal, in an open-access article for Cerebral Cortex, the likely damag........ Read more »

Thiebaut de Schotten M, Dell'Acqua F, Ratiu P, Leslie A, Howells H, Cabanis E, Iba-Zizen MT, Plaisant O, Simmons A, Dronkers NF.... (2015) From Phineas Gage and Monsieur Leborgne to H.M.: Revisiting Disconnection Syndromes. Cerebral cortex (New York, N.Y. : 1991). PMID: 26271113  

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