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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  • July 27, 2015
  • 06:35 AM

How rudeness spreads like a contagion

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

University of Florida researchers have finally put a long-standing hypothesis about rudeness to the test. The history to this is a study published in 1999 [pdf] that showed rudeness can create a vicious circle between individuals – if you’re rude to someone, they’re more likely to be rude back at you. What the authors of that paper also speculated though, and the new research investigates, is that an initial act of rudeness creates a "secondary spiral" where offended parties end up dumping........ Read more »

  • July 24, 2015
  • 03:25 AM

Psychologists reveal our "blatant dehumanisation" of minority groups

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Participants used a sliding scale under an image like this to indicate "how evolved" they believed an average member of various racial and ethnic groups to beGhanaian footballer Emmanuel Frimpong’s match in Russia last Friday ended nastily: "When the match was stopped,” he said, “the fans started shouting 'monkey' at me.” Redefining human beings as animals in this way, or as vermin, or insects, is no small thing; time and again it’s augured the worst that our species has........ Read more »

  • July 23, 2015
  • 04:36 AM

Why fathers might want to thank their handsome sons

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Women rated men's faces as more attractive when they were shown alongside a good-looking sonIf you're the father to a good-looking boy, you might want to give him your thanks – his handsome looks apparently mean women will tend to find you more attractive. That's according to a new study by Pavol Prokop at Trnava University in Slovakia, who says the result is consistent with the established idea from evolutionary psychology that women instinctively pick up on cues to the quality of a man's gen........ Read more »

  • July 22, 2015
  • 07:52 AM

What kind of mass murderer is likely to die in the act, and why should we care?

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

There's a striking fact about mass murderers – an extremely high percentage (around 30 per cent) of them die in the act, either by suicide or because of deadly police force. Of course, only a saint would likely be moved to feel sympathy by this statistic, but a new paper digs into the reasons behind it, in the hope that doing so could help prevent future killings.The formal definition for a mass murderer, as opposed to a serial killer, is someone who kills four or more people in the same act, ........ Read more »

  • July 21, 2015
  • 04:58 AM

Your personality can invite loneliness, and loneliness can shape your personality

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

It's often assumed that personality is largely fixed, like your height or shoe size. But a better analogy might be between personality and body weight. After all, like an expanding waist span, there's evidence that personality changes as we get older. And just as we can strive to lose weight, there's evidence we can intentionally change our personalities.Now Marcus Mund and Franz Neyer at the Institute of Psychology at Friedrich Schiller University, Jena in Germany have explored two fa........ Read more »

  • July 20, 2015
  • 04:00 AM

Older people are more willing to trust someone who has cheated others

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

There’s a stereotype that older people are more friendly and trusting, possibly leaving them vulnerable to con-artists. A new study using an economic trading game provides clear evidence that older people really are more trusting, at least in the sense that they are more likely to give the benefit of the doubt to people with a dodgy track record.Phoebe Bailey’s research paradigm invited 72 Australian participants to complete a series of 30 trading game trials alone via a computer, in the kno........ Read more »

Bailey, P., Szczap, P., McLennan, S., Slessor, G., Ruffman, T., & Rendell, P. (2015) Age-related similarities and differences in first impressions of trustworthiness. Cognition and Emotion, 1-10. DOI: 10.1080/02699931.2015.1039493  

  • July 17, 2015
  • 11:40 AM

Can this innovative intervention reduce sexism among male undergraduates?

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Sexist behaviour is a way some men use to signal they are "one of the lads", mistakenly assuming that the lads are more sexist than they really are. Encouraging men to take a visible stand against sexism might help break this cycle, and a new study road-tests an intervention that uses this approach to change sexist attitudes in male undergrad students. The data show the intervention met some goals – specifically a decrease in overall sexist attitudes – but fell short of others, illustrating ........ Read more »

Kilmartin, C., Semelsberger, R., Dye, S., Boggs, E., & Kolar, D. (2014) A Behavior Intervention to Reduce Sexism in College Men. Gender Issues, 32(2), 97-110. DOI: 10.1007/s12147-014-9130-1  

  • July 16, 2015
  • 06:07 AM

Psychologists asked these skin cancer patients to draw their melanomas

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Early diagnosis of cancer can save lives, yet so many people wait before reporting important symptoms. This is an issue where psychology can make a major contribution by helping to explain why some patients delay reporting their symptoms to a clinician. A pilot study published recently in Psychology and Health uses an unusual approach for this purpose, specifically in the context of skin cancer, by asking patients to draw their melanomas.Suzanne Scott at Kings College, London and her collea........ Read more »

  • July 15, 2015
  • 08:09 AM

Older people frequently underestimate their own memory skills

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

By guest blogger David RobsonAristotle once compared the human mind to a wax tablet. When we are young, the wax is warm and soft; it is easy to make an impression and record our thoughts and feelings. With age, the wax hardens – the older impressions fade, and it is harder to carve out new images in their place.This view of memory, at least among the general public, has changed little in the 2300 years since. Many of us still believe that the brain’s “plasticity” – its ability to adapt........ Read more »

  • July 14, 2015
  • 07:37 AM

What is the correct way to talk about autism? There isn't one

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Image: National Autistic Society. The language we use reflects our attitudes but perhaps more important, it can shape those attitudes. A new study considers this power in the context of autism. Lorcan Kenny and his colleagues have conducted a UK survey of hundreds of autistic people; parents, relatives and carers of autistic adults and children; and professionals in the field, about their preferences for the language used to discuss autism. The research was conducted online with the help of........ Read more »

  • July 13, 2015
  • 06:38 AM

There are four kinds of drunken personality (among students, at least)

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

New, preliminary evidence suggests that undergrad drinkers fall into four different, colourful types, each with a particular shift in personality when under the influence. The findings could increase our understanding of why some students behave in harmful ways when drunk while others usually don’t.Rachel Winograd and colleagues at the University of Missouri-Columbia asked 374 student participants to complete a personality test twice, once considering themselves as they normally are, the other........ Read more »

  • July 10, 2015
  • 02:08 PM

Is sexism the reason why so many heterosexual men are prejudiced towards gay men?

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Gay rights have improved hugely in recent years, but prejudice remains a significant problem. Hate crime data from the US show that gay men in particular are victimised more than other sexual minorities and that their attackers are usually heterosexual men. Moreover, survey data repeatedly find that heterosexual men, on average, are especially prejudiced towards gay men: that is, they typically show more prejudice towards gay men than they do towards lesbians, and they show more prejudice toward........ Read more »

  • July 10, 2015
  • 12:14 PM

The experiences of adults with "selective mutism", in their own words

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Some people have a condition that means in most situations, they can't speak. There's nothing wrong with their tongue or vocal chords , and they don't have "aphasia" which is when brain damage affects speech. Yet most of them time, they feel completely unable to speak.In 1934, the term "elective mutism" was coined to describe this condition based on the idea that people fitting the diagnosis were choosing to remain silent. But the favoured term, at least in the UK, has since changed to "selectiv........ Read more »

Aaron S. Walker, & Jane Tobbell. (2015) Lost Voices and Unlived Lives: Exploring Adults’ Experiences of Selective Mutism using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Qualitative Research in Psychology. info:/

  • July 9, 2015
  • 04:00 AM

Shining a light on why sensory metaphors are so popular

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

A warm welcome to the latest Digest post, dear reader. You won’t find it hard work – my editor made some small changes, eliminating any sour notes to ensure a light read.Did you notice how the metaphor phrases scattered through my previous sentences each relate to a sense – touch, sight, taste? This is common to many popular phrases, and to understand why, a new article draws on a combination of the Google Books dataset and a series of lab experiments. The research reveals that sensory met........ Read more »

Akpinar, E., & Berger, J. (2015) Drivers of cultural success: The case of sensory metaphors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 109(1), 20-34. DOI: 10.1037/pspa0000025  

  • July 7, 2015
  • 08:04 AM

Just two questions predict how well a pilot will handle an emergency

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Human error is now the leading cause of plane crashes, and one of the principal factors that provokes pilots to make mistakes is stress. Some pilots cope heroically in the face of stress, such as Chesley Sullenberger who steered his plane and passengers to safety, landing on the Hudson river after a double engine failure. Others fare less well, with sometimes fatal results. Knowing in advance how pilots will respond to stressful situations is therefore of paramount of importance to flight safety........ Read more »

Vine, S., Uiga, L., Lavric, A., Moore, L., Tsaneva-Atanasova, K., & Wilson, M. (2014) Individual reactions to stress predict performance during a critical aviation incident. Anxiety, Stress, , 28(4), 467-477. DOI: 10.1080/10615806.2014.986722  

  • July 6, 2015
  • 04:45 AM

How Do Horror Video Games Work, and Why Do People Play Them?

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Horror video games target evolved defence mechanismsby confronting the player with fright-inducing stimulisuch as darkness and hostile entities. By guest blogger Mathias ClasenThe video game industry outpaced the movie industry several years ago, and video games remain a rapidly growing market. In 2014, US consumers spent more than $22 billion on game content, hardware, and accessories. While researchers in media psychology have been busy investigating and discussing the effects of violent ........ Read more »

  • July 3, 2015
  • 11:47 AM

Smile at a party and people are more likely to remember seeing your face there

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

When you smile at a party, your facial expression is emotionally consistent with the happy context and as a consequence other guests will in future be more likely to remember that they've seen your face before, and where you were when they saw you. That's according to a team of Italian researchers led by Stefania Righi who have explored how memory for a face is affected by the emotion shown on that face and the congruence between that emotional expression and its surrounding context.The research........ Read more »

  • July 2, 2015
  • 05:36 AM

How social anxiety manifests on Facebook

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

For many shy people, online social networking sites have an obvious appeal – a way to socialise without the unpredictable immediacy of a face-to-face encounter. However, a new study finds that people who are socially anxious betray their awkwardness on Facebook, much as they do in the offline world. The researchers Aaron Weidman and Cheri Levinson said their findings could hint at ways for socially anxious people to conceal their nervousness and attract more online friends.Seventy-seven studen........ Read more »

  • July 1, 2015
  • 04:45 AM

What kind of a person volunteers for a free brain scan?

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

When psychologists scan the brains of a group of people, they usually do so in the hope that the findings will generalise more widely. For example, if they find that there are correlations between localised brain shrinkage and mental performance in a group of healthy older participants, they will usually infer that such correlations apply in healthy older people more generally. But there's an important problem with this logic (one that applies to other fields of psychology): what if the people w........ Read more »

  • June 30, 2015
  • 10:43 AM

What the textbooks don't tell you about psychology's most famous case study

by BPS Research Digest in BPS Research Digest

Image: Photograph by Jack Wilgus ofa daguerreotype of Phineas Gagein the collection of Jack and Beverly Wilgus.It's a remarkable, mythical tale with lashings of gore – no wonder it's a favourite of psychology students the world over. I'm talking about Phineas Gage, the nineteenth century railway worker who somehow survived the passing of a three-foot long tamping iron through the front of his brain and out the top of his head. What happened to him next?If you turn to many of the leading introd........ Read more »

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