Psychologists Have Identified The Creatures We Find Most Scary And Revolting

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via Polák et al, 2019

By Christian Jarrett

You may be best advised not to read this article late at night or before you eat. Psychologists at the National Institute of Mental Health and Charles University in the Czech Republic have surveyed a large sample of non-clinical volunteers to gauge their reaction to 24 creatures that are commonly the source of specific animals phobias.

The results, published in the British Journal of Psychology, not only contribute to our understanding of animal phobias, but could prove incredibly useful to horror writers. Among the key findings is that spiders were unique in being both intensely fear- and disgust-inducing in equal measure. The researchers said this may be due to their mix of disgusting properties – including their “quirky ‘too-many-legs’ body plan” – combined with the fact they are “…omnipresent in our homes, often lurking in the hidden dark places and capable of fast unpredictable movement.” In other words, the intense fear arises in part from the prospect of coming into physical contact with a creature perceived by many to be revolting.

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A Key Brain Difference Between Voice-Hearing Patients And Voice-Hearing Healthy Controls Challenges The “Continuum Model”

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Via Garrison et al, 2019

By Christian Jarrett

Hearing voices that don’t exist in the outside world is the most common form of hallucination experienced by people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia or related conditions and it can be very distressing. However, there is a growing recognition that hearing voices is not always pathological. Many mentally well people hear voices (or “auditory verbal hallucinations”) – in fact, around 6-7 per cent of adults in the general population report having had such experiences at some point in their lives.

This has led some experts to propose a “continuum model” in which the same fundamental underlying mechanism leads to hearing voices in healthy people and in patients with a clinical diagnosis, but that for various reasons, such as a traumatic past, the experience is more troublesome and distressing for the patients. However, a new open-access paper in Schizophrenia Bulletin challenges the continuum model, finding an important brain difference between patients who hear voices and voice-hearing healthy controls.

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Decades-Long Surveys Suggest The “Deleterious Effects of Smoking May Extend to Detrimental Personality Changes”

GettyImages-157197321.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

There is increasing recognition that while our personality traits are stable enough to shape our lives profoundly, they are also partly malleable, so that our choices and experiences can feedback and influence the kind of people we become. A new study in the Journal of Research in Personality shines a light on a highly consequential behaviour that captures this dynamic – smoking cigarettes.

The results add “… to existing knowledge on the implications of smoking by showing that this behaviour is also likely to alter individuals’ characteristic ways of thinking, feeling, and behaving over time,” the researchers said.

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A Core Subgroup of Believers Don’t Just Think Learning Styles Are Real, But Also Inherited And Hard-Wired In The Brain

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Teachers were just as likely to be “essentialist” believers in learning styles as other participants

By Matthew Warren

The “learning style” myth – the idea that we each have a preferred modality for learning, usually described as visual, auditory or kinaesthetic – just won’t die. Belief in learning styles endures even though psychologists have pointed out repeatedly the many problems with the concept. Students don’t benefit from learning in their supposedly preferred style, for example, and teachers and their pupils don’t agree on the pupil’s learning style in the first place. 

But exactly how believers in learning styles conceive of the concept has until now remained unclear. It could be that people take an “essentialist” view that our learning style is something we are born with, for instance. On the other hand, they may believe that learning styles are more liable to change – a “non-essentialist” perspective. A new study in the Journal of Educational Psychology has found that, in fact, both views are common, a result that could have implications for tackling the myth. 

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Thinking About Their Multiple Identities Boosts Children’s Creativity And Problem-Solving Skills

GettyImages-478513620.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

It usually helps to “get a fresh pair of eyes” on a problem, especially from someone with a different perspective than your own. But what if you could find a variety of vantage points from within yourself? After all, each of us has multiple roles and identities in life. In a new paper in Developmental Science, a team led by Sarah Gaither at Duke University presents evidence that prompting children to think about their own multiple identities boosts their problem-solving skills and increases their flexible thinking.

“Someone can be a woman and White, a teacher and a parent, a girl and a friend,” the researchers write. “Although individuals may not automatically reflect on their multiple identities, here we propose that when they do, it may have positive consequences for their creative problem solving and flexible thinking.”

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Preliminary Evidence That Lonely People Lose The Reflex To Mimic Other People’s Smiles, Potentially Sustaining Their Isolation

GettyImages-586707418.jpgBy Emma Young

Loneliness is a “disease”, associated with an increased risk of death equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Strides have been made in understanding what form of loneliness is damaging (a lack of close relationships with other people, rather than a lack of relationships per se), but ways to tackle loneliness are badly needed. Now a new study, available as a preprint on PsyArXiv, reveals a way in which loneliness seems to be maintained and, therefore, a potential route to an intervention. 

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Psychologists Show It’s Possible To Fix Misleading Press Releases – Without Harming Their News Value

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Corrected press releases led to more accurate news, without any dip in quantity of coverage; via Adams et al, 2019

By Jesse Singal

There are many reasons why media outlets report scientifically misleading information. But one key site at which this sort of misunderstanding takes root is in the press releases that universities issue when one of their researchers has published something that has a chance of garnering some attention. A new open-access study in BMC Medicine attempts to change this by intervening in the process directly.

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Adults Who Played Pokémon Extensively In Childhood Have A Pokémon-Sensitive Region In Their Visual Cortex

GettyImages-89053808.jpgBy Emma Young

If you have healthy vision, there will be a specific region of your brain (in the visual cortex) that responds most strongly whenever you look at faces, and similar regions that are especially responsive to the sight of words or natural scenes. What’s more, in any two people, these face, word and scene regions are located in pretty much the same spot in the brain. However, there is not a specific region for every possible category of visible stimulus – there are no “car” or “shoe” regions, for example (at least, not that have been identified to date). Is that because childhood experience is critical for training the visual cortex – we spend a lot of time looking at faces, say, but not cars? And, if so, in theory, could a lot of childhood time spent looking at a different type of object generate its own dedicated, individual category region? 

The answer is “yes”, at least according to an ingenious study, published in Nature Human Behaviour, of people who played a Pokémon game for years of their childhood. 

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Most Comprehensive Review To Date Finds The Average Person’s Reading Speed Is Slower Than Previously Thought

giphyBy Matthew Warren

You should take just under two-and-a-half minutes to finish reading this blog post. That’s going by the findings of a new review, which has looked at almost 200 studies of reading rates published over the past century to come up with an overall estimate for how quickly we read. And it turns out that that rate is considerably slower than commonly thought.

Of the various estimates of average reading speed bandied around over the years, one of the most commonly cited is 300 words per minute (wpm). However, a number of findings of slower reading rates challenge that statistic, notes Marc Brysbaert from Ghent University in Belgium in his new paper released as a preprint on PsyArxiv. 

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Breakthrough Investigation Of People With A Sixth Finger Has Implications For Infant Medicine And Cyborgs

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The anatomy of the right hand of one of the polydactyl volunteers, via Mehring et al, 2019

By Christian Jarrett

Picture in your mind a futuristic, technologically enhanced human. Perhaps you imagined them with a subcutaneous device in their arm for phone calls and browsing the internet. Maybe they are wearing smart glasses for augmented reality. What I’d wager you didn’t think of is the presence of an artificial sixth digit attached to each hand. However, a breakthrough open-access study in Nature Communications – the first to study the physiology and sensorimotor mechanics of polydactyly volunteers (people born with extra fingers) – shows the feasibility and practical advantages that would be gained from such an extra appendage. The results also have implications for the medical treatment of polydactyl people, who often have their extra finger removed at birth on the presumption that it will be of no benefit to them.

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