Gesturing unlocks children's maths skills

Encouraging children to gesture when they are working on maths problems helps them benefit more from subsequent maths tuition. Sara Broaders and colleagues, who made the observation, say this is because gesturing activates children's implicit maths knowledge, which they are not yet able to consciously access or talk about.

In an initial study, 106 children aged nine to ten years were asked to solve problems like 6 + 3 + 7= ? + 7 and talk through their solutions. Later on, some of the children were also told that they must use their hands when explaining their answers. All the children got the maths problems wrong, but the hand movements of the children told to gesture revealed they had insight into new, often appropriate strategies, which they hadn't previously spoken of.

For example, the researchers said a sweeping movement of a child's palm, first under the left, then under the right side of the problem revealed that they understood both sides of the equation needed to be the same.

A second study with 70 children showed that the activation of this implicit knowledge in gesture has actual practical benefits. Again the children were presented with maths problems and asked to explain their answers; again some were told they must gesture when explaining, while others were told not to gesture. As before, the children told to gesture revealed novel strategies in their hand movements, even though they continued to get the answers wrong. Next, the children received some tuition in how to solve the problems. Critically, in a final test, the children previously told to gesture solved an average of 1.5 more problems correctly than the kids told not to gesture - in other words they seemed to have benefited more from the tuition.

The researchers concluded that being told to gesture reveals "previously unexpressed implicit knowledge that, in turn, makes learning more likely".

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchBroaders, S.C., Cook, S.W., Mitchell, Z. & Goldin-Meadow, S. (2007). Making children gesture brings out implicit knowledge and leads to learning. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 136, 539-550.
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The psychology of choking under pressure

Once anxiety extends its tendrils into the sportsman or woman's mind, the results can be disastrous. But what causes this choking under pressure?

There are two rival theories - one states that anxiety is so distracting it stops performers from being able concentrate on what they're doing. The other argues that anxiety causes the sportsman or woman to become overly conscious of their movements - skilled actions that had become automatic are made excruciatingly explicit, thus causing the athlete to regress to their standard as a novice.

Now Daniel Gucciardi and James Dimmock have tested these rival theories with twenty experienced Australian golfers, who have handicaps ranging from 0 to 12. The golfers performed putts in three conditions - they either had to focus on three words that represented components of their technique (e.g. "arms", "weight", "head"); focus on three irrelevant words, for example three colours; or focus on just one word that summed up their putting action, such as "smooth".

They did all this in a low anxiety context first, and then the whole thing was repeated with the pressure cranked up by the offer of cash rewards for the best performances. Would the anxiety of the high pressure context cause the golfers' performance to deteriorate?

The added anxiety only caused the golfers' performance to deteriorate when they were focusing on three words that represented components of their putting action. By contrast, their under-pressure performance actually improved slightly when they were thinking of irrelevant words or just one word that holistically represented their action.

These findings appear to support the idea that anxiety affects performance by causing people to think too much about their actions, not because it is distracting per se. If anxiety was a problem by virtue of being distracting, then having to focus on three irrelevant words should have compounded the problem just as much as three words related to the putt.

Overall, the golfers' performance was most accurate when they focused on a single, holistic word that represented their putting action. The researchers said this finding, though preliminary, suggests expert performers should be encouraged to "adopt more global, higher-level cue words that collectively combine the mechanical process of their technique, which may act as either a schematic cue or a conscious distraction."

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchGucciardi, D.F. & Dimmock, J.A. (2008). Choking under pressure in sensorimotor skills: Conscious processing or depleted attentional resources? Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 9, 45-59.
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Merry Christmas

The BPS Research Digest wishes you a jolly old time over Christmas and a most salubriously successful 2008. Normal posting will resume after the festive break.
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Would you take a pill to boost your brain power?

Is there any difference between drinking coffee to pep yourself up and taking a drug like Modafinil, which has been shown to increase alertness, planning and memory? There could be side effects and if everyone else in your office or class was popping Modafinil then perhaps you'd feel pressure to take it too. Is there anything wrong with that? Is such a scenario inevitable?

Drugs like Ritalin are already used routinely to help children with ADHD, and cholinesterase inhibitors are used to help people with Alzheimer's disease. Now in an open-access commentary for Nature magazine published today, psychologists Barbara Sahakian and Sharon Morein-Zamir of the MRC/Wellcome Trust Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute in Cambridge, say they are aware many of their healthy colleagues are taking Modafinil to fight jet lag or enhance their productivity. There are also reports of the drug being used by ever greater numbers of healthy university students.

Sahkian and Morein-Zamir are calling on society to start discussing the implications of cognitive enhancers now and Nature is hosting a forum on the topic where experts and readers can discuss the ethical issues raised. In particular Sahkian and Morein-Zamir say regulation needs to catch up with the science: "Rather than individuals purchasing substances over the internet, we believe it would be better to ensure supervised access to safe and effective cognitive-enhancing drugs, particularly given dangerous drug-drug interactions."

This latest endeavour comes just weeks after a British Medical Association discussion paper raised many of the same issues, in some cases going further, to discuss the ethics of using transcranial magnetic stimulation, deep brain stimulation and genetic manipulation for the purposes of cognitive enhancement.

Indeed there have been several signs over the last few years of a powerful sense among the scientific and medical community that progress is racing so fast in psychology and the neurosciences that the public urgently needs to be kept up-to-date and intimately involved in the decisions that will surely shape all our futures.

Two years ago, the UK Government's Foresight programme published a report "Drug Futures 2025" that claimed "We are on the verge of a revolution in the specificity and function of the psychoactive substances available to us". We should take action now, the report said, in anticipation of the impact these advances will have on three key areas: mental health treatment; addiction and recreational drug use; and the use of a new breed of drug called cognitive enhancers.

Also, from 2004 through to this year, a European-wide project "Meeting of Minds" consulted 126 citizens from nine countries, allowing them to discuss the implications of brain science developments with leading experts.

Neuroscientific progress may be moving at shuttle-speed but fortunately it is easier than ever to keep abreast of new developments in psychology and the neurosciences - there's the Research Digest of course, but for a list of many other psychology/neuro blogs, take a look at the blog roll in the left-hand column of the Research Digest blog homepage.

Link to Nature commentary "Professor's little helper" on the use of cognitive enhancers (open access).
Link to Nature forum on the use of cognitive enhancers.
Link to BMA discussion paper on cognitive enhancements.
Link to Government Foresight report.
Link to Meeting of Minds.
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Eye catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

The Implicit Association Test, thought to reveal people's true attitudes, can be faked. (See earlier).

How winning one prize can be better than winning two.

Can trauma lead to compulsive hoarding? (See earlier).

The media and psychiatric profession continue to promote the unproven notion that psychiatric illness is caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain; open access. (See earlier).
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The mere sight of alcohol impairs drinkers' memories

For students who like a tipple or three, the mere sight of a bottle of Jack Daniels can have a detrimental effect on their memory. Dennis Kramer and Stephen Schmidt, who made the observation, said this is probably due to the emotional salience alcohol has for those who drink a lot.

One hundred and twenty students performed a task reminiscent of the Generation Game, which involved them observing pictures of 15 everyday objects, such as a hammer or a banana, and then attempting to recall them 5 minutes later. After the memory task, the students were split into high and low drinkers based on their average number of drinks per month.

For some of the students, the eighth item in the memory test was a bottle of Jack Daniels, while others saw a bottle of Pepsi Cola in its place. It turns out that among the high drinkers only, memory performance was significantly affected by the the nature of this eighth item.

Firstly, the high drinkers, but not the low drinkers, were more likely to recall the Jack Daniels than the Pepsi Cola. Moreover, the high drinkers who saw whiskey in the eighth position, were far less likely to recall the next three items in the memory test, than were the high drinkers who were shown Cola. This memory-impairing effect of whiskey was not observed among the low drinkers.

The researchers said this is consistent with the idea that alcohol had acquired an emotional salience to the high drinkers, leading to an attention-narrowing effect that impaired their encoding of the items that followed the picture of whiskey. A similar effect was observed in an earlier study when a nude picture was inserted among a series of to-be-remembered items.

The researchers concluded that a test like the one used in this study might be helpful in measuring how effective alcohol interventions have been at changing people's feelings towards drink.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchKramer, D.A. & Schmidt, S.R. (2007). Alcohol beverage cues impair memory in high social drinkers, 21, 1535-1545. Cognition and Emotion, 21, 1535-1545.
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The effect of, er, hesitations in speech

We'd all like to speak with unobstructed lucidity, but for most of us speech hesitations and pauses are unavoidable. Now psychologists have asked what effect these oral hiatuses have on listeners.

Martin Corley and colleagues played recordings of English sentences, which either did, or did not, include a hesitation before the final word, to 12 participants. The listeners had electrodes placed on their heads, so that the researchers could look out for a negative change in voltage over the centro-parietal region of the scalp - the N400 - which is typically observed when people have to process a word they aren't expecting.

For example, given a spoken sentence stem like "Everyone's got bad habits and mine is biting my...", the final unexpected word "tongue" would usually be associated with the N400.

Crucially, the researchers found that a spoken hesitation "er..." before a sentence's final word had the effect of reducing the difference in N400 observed for an unexpected final word compared with an expected one. It seems that the hesitation had made the unexpected word easier to process, although an alternative, less likely explanation is that the hesitation made expected words harder to process.

Hesitation also had an effect on the listeners' memories. About 55 minutes after the listening part of the study, the same participants were presented with all 160 of the words that had come at the end of the experiment's sentences, intermingled with 160 new words, with their task to say which words were new and which were old. The listeners were slightly, but significantly, more likely to correctly recognise final words that had come after a hesitation, than final words that had come at the end of a fluently spoken sentence.

These findings suggest hesitations might serve some advantages to public speakers. Orators like President Bush are mocked for their disfluent style, but perhaps by hesitating at strategic moments in his speech, Bush is hammering home key points.

Co-author on the study Lucy MacGregor said there could be some truth in this, but she had a couple of warnings for budding speakers thinking of adopting a stop-start style. First of all, too much disfluency will likely swamp listeners' attentional systems. Also, past research has shown that speakers who hesitate are generally perceived to be less knowledgeable. "This means," MacGregor said, "that although (used carefully/sparingly), hesitations may help listeners remember what a speaker has said, listeners may be left with a less than favourable impression of a speaker's knowledge."

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchCorley, M. MacGregor, L.J. & Donaldson, D.I. (2007). It's the way that you, er, say it: Hesitations in speech affect language comprehension. Cognition, 105, 658-668.
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Psychology-related radio clips, podcasts, magazine features and more, for when you've had enough of journal articles.

Richard Wiseman and the Daily Telegraph seek your help to find out how much information we really do garner from first impressions.

The Wellcome Collection are hosting an exhibition all about sleep and dreaming.

ABC Radio's All in the Mind continued with a programme that followed up on brain surgery patient Kia, another tackling the issue of whether psychiatrists and psychologists should be involved in interrogation, and mostly recently an episode that asked 'Who speaks for the chained and incarcerated?'(Links are to MP3 audio files).

Are twins still just as special now that there are so many more of them?

Can a 'will to live' really influence a patient's survival chances?

BBC Radio 4's All in the Mind continued with programmes featuring a new 'babble test' for schizophrenia, another focusing on the role of carers and mostly recently an episode with a focus on epilepsy.

Malcolm Gladwell dissects the IQ - race controversy (hat tip: Mind Hacks).

Professor James Flynn, discoverer of the eponymous Flynn Effect - the tendency for average IQ scores to rise over time - was a guest on BBC Radio 4's Start the Week.
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How thoughts of death turn to joy

Most of us don't want to die, we want to live long and prosper. And yet, we're not paralysed by the terrifying thought that it's only a matter of time - one day our number will be up. Why is this?

According to Nathan DeWall and Roy Baumeister, it's because we have an inbuilt psychological immune system that works tirelessly beneath our conscious awareness, tuning our mind to a more positive channel whenever we think about death.

In one study, dozens of students were asked to complete word stems like "jo_", which can either be completed to become a positive word "joy" or a neutral word like "jog". Students who had previously been asked to contemplate their own death were far more likely to form positive words than were other the students who'd been asked to contemplate a painful visit to the dentist. It seems thinking about death had somehow turned the students minds to positive words, a finding consistent with what psychologists call 'terror management theory' - our denial of morbid reality.

And yet this appeared to be a subconscious process - both the death and dentist contemplation students scored the same on a self-report mood questionnaire given to them between the contemplation task and the word completion task.

The finding was replicated in a second study using a word similarity task. Students were presented with a target word (e.g. joke) and had to say whether it was more similar to an emotionally related comparison word (e.g. sunbeam) or a semantically related alternative (e.g. speech). When it came to happy target words, but not fearful or sad ones, students who had thought about dying were far more likely to choose the emotionally related comparison word rather than the semantically related one, but no such effect was observed among the students who thought about the dentist - they were just as likely to pick the emotionally or semantically related words.

A final experiment demonstrated how counter-intuitive these findings are, and helped explain why we are so poor at predicting how events will affect us emotionally. Contrary to the actual results observed in the first two experiments, students asked to imagine the effects of contemplating death failed to predict that they would be more tuned to positive words, and they overestimated how badly their mood would be affected.

"Death is a psychologically threatening fact, but when people contemplate it, apparently the automatic system begins to search for happy thoughts," the researchers said. "Moreover, this occurs immediately and outside of awareness".

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchDeWall, C.N. & Baumeister, R.F. (2007). From terror to joy. Automatic tuning to positive affective information following mortality salience. Psychological Science, 18, 984-990.
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The Special Issue Spotter

We look out for the latest journal special issues so you don't have to:

Subjectivity and the body (Consciousness and Cognition).

Mediated communities: Considerations for applied social psychology (Journal of Community and Applied Society Psychology).

The development of self-regulation: Toward the integration of cognition and emotion (Cognitive Development).

Work and mental health (International Journal of Law and Psychiatry).
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Why gym design is all wrong

Walk into any gym these days and you're confronted by a bank of exercise machines facing a wall of floor-to-ceiling mirrors. Yet new research suggests this could be the worse possible set-up for sedentary women braving the gym for the first time.

Kathleen Martin Ginis and colleagues invited 92 women to exercise at their lab where they allocated them to one of four conditions: to cycle for 20 minutes on an exercise bike alone with no mirror; to cycle alone in front of a mirror; to cycle with two to four other women with no mirror; or to cycle with two to four other women in front of a mirror.

None of the women usually completed more than 15 minutes of exercise a week and they were asked to dress with baggy shorts and a t-shirt to avoid any effect clothing might have on the results.

Compared with the women in the other groups, the women who exercised with others in front of a mirror appeared to suffer - they felt less revitalised afterwards, more exhausted, and more self-conscious. The researcher said it's probable the presence of mirrors and other exercisers encouraged comparison of oneself against others or against some physical ideal.

The researchers cautioned that their study was not conducted in a real gym environment, but they advised women new to exercising to sample a range of environments to see what suits them best. "An exercise initiate may feel better working out in a private, unmirrored environment, or outdoors, instead of partaking in a group exercise class in a mirrored aerobics studio," they said.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed Research Martin Ginis, K.A., Burke, S.M. & Gauvin, L. (2007). Exercising with others exacerbates the negative effects of mirrored environments on sedentary women's feeling states. Psychology and Health, 22, 945-962.
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Our need to know ourselves can sour unexpected success

Our need to feel as though we know ourselves is so strong that unexpected success can leave us feeling anxious and undermine our future performance. That's according to Jason Plaks and Kristin Stecher who looked specifically at the issue of whether people believe intelligence is fixed or subject to change.

About 100 students performed a verbal intelligence test before being given a fixed result and lessons on how to improve their performance. They then repeated the test and once again were given false feedback.

Those students who previously endorsed the idea that intelligence is fixed, reported feeling more anxious after they were given feedback showing they had improved or deteriorated, compared with others holding a fixed view of intelligence who were told their performance had stayed the same.

By contrast, students who previously endorsed the idea that our intelligence is malleable, suffered more anxiety when their final test performance appeared to show no change, relative to deterioration or improvement.

The students whose 'performance' didn't match their view of intelligence also showed signs of wanting to reassert their ability to predict future outcomes. When asked to work out whether it was their pressing of a keyboard button that was controlling a changing screen display, the students whose view of intelligence had previously been contradicted, spent significantly more time testing out whether they were controlling the screen or not.

Another experiment showed that similar effects were observed when students views on intelligence were manipulated using an article, ostensibly from a psychology magazine, to make them think that intelligence is fixed or malleable. These students showed increased anxiety when their subsequent test performance contradicted the account they'd read.

A final study showed that students who received intelligence test feedback that contradicted their views on intelligence didn't just experience increased anxiety afterwards, their subsequent intelligence test performance also suffered compared with the students whose earlier feedback had matched their views.

"Participants exhibited a motivation to confirm their working lay theory [of intelligence] and even reacted in potentially self-defeating ways after experiencing an outcome that violated that theory," the researchers concluded.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchPlaks, J.E. & Stecher, K. (2007). Unexpected improvement, decline, and stasis: A prediction confidence perspective on achievement success and failure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 667-684.
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Robert the Bruce's skull size shows he had high IQ

Fig. 2. (a) The cast of Robert Bruce's skull used for manual measurement of width and length (b) The cast of Robert Bruce's skull used for magnetic resonance imaging measurement In a paper featuring an irresistible mix of history and psychology, researchers have estimated Robert the Bruce's IQ from his skull size and concluded that he was a highly intelligent man.

Ian Deary and colleagues first established the relationship between IQ and skull size among 48 men (aged 71-76) living in Edinburgh. The researchers scanned the men's brains using MRI and had them complete the National Adult Reading Test, known to be strongly related to full IQ test performance and designed especially for use with older participants.

Consistent with past research showing that head size and brain volume correlate with IQ, the new analysis revealed that skull size was significantly related to the men's IQ.

Next, the researchers scanned and measured a plaster cast of Robert the Bruce's skull, as well as measuring its size with callipers (see image above). Extrapolating from the statistical relationship between skull size and IQ found among the Edinburgh participants, the researchers estimated that Robert the Bruce, with his larger than average skull, had an impressive IQ of about 128, and possibly higher.

This would make Robert Bruce of similar intelligence to other military leaders as estimated by Catharine Cox in 1926, including Cromwell with an estimated IQ of 135, Napoleon at 145 and Washington at 140.

Robert Bruce is famed for his defeat of a full English army led by Edward II at Bannockburn in 1314, as well as his later efforts to consolidate Scotland's international position, culminating with the declaration of Arbroath in 1320.

"The IQ estimate for Robert Bruce accords with his military, political and intellectual achievements, especially given the highly personal nature of kingship in the Mediaeval period," the researchers concluded.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchDeary, I.J., Ferguson, K.J. Bastin, M.E., Barrow, G.W.S., Reid, L.M., Seckl, J.R., Wardlaw, J.M. & MacLullich. (2007). Skull size and intelligence, and King Robert Bruce's IQ. Intelligence, 35, 519-525.

Image credit and copyright: Ian Deary.
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The Special Issue Spotter

We look out for the latest journal special issues so you don't have to:

Current directions (Behavioural Sciences and the Law).

Language-vision interaction (Journal of Memory and Language).

Attachment in Adolescence: Reflections and New Angles (New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development).

Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience: Developmental and Clinical Perspectives (Brain and Cognition).
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Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

Without knowledge of the position they play, women consistently rate the faces of goalkeepers and strikers as more attractive than their teammates.

Cognitive scientists need to polish up on their brain anatomy and establish a consensus for how to report the localisation of brain function.

Women with anorexia have a preoccupation with detail, which partly contributes to their poor abstract thinking performance.

Cataloging children's nighttime fears.
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Behind the news

Connecting you with the psychological science behind the news:

Hips do lie, women's sway can't be trusted (Daily Telegraph).
Sexy walks keep men off scent (BBC News Online).

Link to the journal source.
Link to the lead author.

Men motivated by superior wage (BBC News online).
Relative wealth 'makes you happier' (Daily Telegraph).

Link to the journal source.
Link to key author.

The science of love: look into the eyes (The Independent).
Love at first sight just sex and ego, study says (The Guardian).

Link to the journal source.
Link to the lead author.

Brain wiring link to paedophilia (BBC News online).
'Wiring fault' in child sex abusers (Daily Telegraph).

Link to the journal source.
Link to the lead author.
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Maybe more satisfied employees don't perform better after all

Contented employees perform well, unhappy ones don't. It seems simple enough. In fact, the association between "job satisfaction" and "job performance" has even been dubbed the "Holy Grail" of organisational psychology. But now Nathan Bowling at Wright State University, Ohio, has upset the party. His new analysis suggests the relationship between satisfaction and performance at work is largely spurious, with both factors having more to do with an employee's personality and self-esteem than they have to do with each other.

Bowling re-examined five previous meta-analyses (papers that combine data from multiple studies) that controlled for the "Big Five" personality traits while examining the relationship between job satisfaction and performance. He also conducted a meta-analysis of his own, focusing on studies that controlled for organisation-based self-esteem and work locus of control. In all, these analyses involved data from thousands of staff at numerous different organisations.

Organisation-based self-esteem refers to how valued workers believe themselves to be as an organisational member and is measured by agreement with statements like "I count around here". Meanwhile, work locus of control refers to the extent that staff believe they can control rewards in relation to their work, and is measured by agreement with statements like "People who perform their jobs well generally get rewarded".

Bowling found that taking account of general personality traits and/or work locus of control both slightly reduced the relationship between job satisfaction and performance. Crucially, however, controlling for organisation-based self-esteem reduced the relationship between job satisfaction and performance to a level that, though statistically significant, was so small as to be practically meaningless.

"Organisational efforts to improve employee performance by exclusively targeting job satisfaction are unlikely to be effective," Bowling concluded.

But Bowling warns this doesn't mean companies should ignore the job satisfaction of their staff. "Satisfied employees may still directly benefit the organisation through other means," he said.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchBowling, N.A. (2007). Is the job satisfaction-job performance relationship spurious? A meta-analytic examination. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 71, 167-185.
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Drivers are territorial about their cars

Psychologists have examined the way people see their cars as part of their territory. Graham Fraine and colleagues conducted focus groups with a cross-section of 89 participants, from young, novice drivers to more experienced people who drive vehicles for a living.
The researchers drew on Irwin Altman's classic work on human territoriality conducted in the 70s and 80s, which posited that territory can be seen as either primary, secondary or public according to factors like how much time is spent in the space, how central it is to someone's life and how much they mark the space out as their own using barriers or signs of ownership.

The comments made by many participants showed they viewed their cars as a form of primary territory akin to the way we view our homes. For example, people talked of their car as a safe haven ("Sometimes if I'm not going for a drive, I'll just go and sit in it and put on the radio") and as a repository of memories ("I don't want to get rid of it because of the sentimental value"), both of which are signs of primary territory.

The drivers also described ways they marked their cars, either for self-expression ("My car's dedicated to Mark Bolan") or communication ("I suppose a sticker is a sort of way of communicating the things that you disagree with"). The behaviour of other drivers on the road, in terms of tailgating or cutting in, was also discussed in terms of an invasion of space.

The Digest asked lead author Graham Fraine to reflect on whether his research could be relevant to attempts to reduce people's car use: "Buses, trains and ferries, by virtue of being ‘public’ transport, are likely to be perceived as providing much lower levels of autonomy, privacy and identity," he said. "Some of the focus group participants in my research have claimed that public transport doesn’t travel where and when they want, it can’t give them the music they want to listen to, and they have to sit next to people they don’t know. In turn, convenience and control (including control over music and travelling companions) were important features of the car."

"This may in part also account for the popularity of MP3 players with public transport users, as they try to create their own personal space within the public mode of transport they inhabit. As such, providing initiatives to reduce car use may require more than provision of adequate infrastructure and timetabling for alternative modes, and ultimately begs the question of whether transport systems should be designed to cater for non-instrumental aspects of travel."

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchFraine, G., Smith, S.G., Zinkiewicz, L., Chapman, R. & Sheehan, M. (2007). At home on the road? Can drivers' relationships with their cars be associated with territoriality? Journal of Environmental Psychology, 27, 204-214.
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Is eating more slowly the key to eating less?

Barely a day goes by that we aren't reminded of the pending obesity crisis that is set to befall the Western World.

Some experts have suggested that learning to eat more slowly might help us to eat less. Doing so leads to the subjective feeling that we've eaten more, and allows more time for our body's satiety mechanisms to kick in.
But now new research suggests while this simple approach could work for men, it doesn't work with women.

Corby Martin and colleagues at the Pennington BioMedical Research Centre in America, invited 48 participants with a body mass index "similar to those who seek behavioural weight control interventions" to their lab, to eat three meals at lunchtime on different days.

The participants were asked to avoid eating or exercise for 12 hours beforehand, and were to eat the meal of 'Banquet Popcorn Chicken', cut up into bite sizes, either at their own rate, at half their normal rate (as paced out by a beeping noise), or at a mixture of their own rate and then the slower rate. They could stop eating whenever they wanted.

For some reason, eating at a slower rate caused the men but not the women to eat less. The gender difference may be related to the fact the men's baseline eating rate was faster. The women were already eating relatively slowly at baseline, so maybe they didn't gain any benefit from the slower eating condition. Also, as dieting is more common among women, perhaps they had already restricted how much they ate in the baseline condition, not leaving any room for improvement in the slower condition.

The researchers also looked at the effect of eating speed on the participants' appetite, as reported before and after the meal, while controlling for the amount actually eaten. A surprising finding here was that the combination of beginning the meal eating at one's own eating rate, and then dropping to the slower eating rate, had the biggest reductive effect on appetite for both men and women, even more than eating slowly all the way through.

So it seems the secret to feeling satisfied after a light meal, is to really tuck in at first, but then slow right down and savour every mouthful.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchMartin, C.K., Anton, S.D., Walden, H., Arnett, C. Greenway, F.L. & Williamson, D.A. (2007). Slower eating rate reduces the food intake of men, but not women: Implications for behavioural weight control. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, 2349-2359.
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Don't jump! Advice for goalkeepers from economic psychology

You have to feel sorry for goalkeepers. While strikers take all the glory for scoring goals, keepers only tend to get noticed when they make mistakes. Well now a little bit of goalkeeping help is at hand from an unlikely source: economic psychology.

Ofer Azar and colleagues in Israel watched hours of archival footage and noticed that goalkeepers save substantially more penalty kicks when they stay in the centre of goal than when they jump to the left or right. Yet paradoxically, in 93.7 per cent of penalty situations, keepers chose to jump rather than stay in the centre.

In fact, analysis of 286 penalty kicks taken in elite matches around the world showed that keepers saved 33.3 per cent of penalties when they stayed in the centre, compared with just 12.6 per cent of kicks when they jumped right and 14.2 per cent when they jumped left.

The researchers believe the anomaly may be a reversed manifestation of what is known in economic psychology as the inaction effect or the omission bias. That is, people tend to suffer more regret after a negative outcome follows something they've done, compared with something they haven't done. In the case of keepers, the researchers surmised, they feel greater regret at letting a goal in after standing still in the centre, compared with jumping. If the ball ends up in the back of the net after they've jumped, at least it will have felt as though they had made a decent attempt to save it.

This account appeared to be supported by a survey of 32 top Israeli keepers. Of the 15 who said their goal position would make any difference to how bad they felt about letting in a penalty, 11 said they would feel worse if they just stayed in the centre.

Of course, if goalkeepers around the world heed the lessons from this study and start staying in the centre of goal more often, presumably there will only be a brief period before penalty takers notice and start aiming more for the sides of the goal, thus balancing things out again. So give keepers a headstart - forward them this study, but don't tell any strikers about it!

Bar-Eli, M., Azar, O.H., Ritov, I. & Keidar-Levin, Y. (2007). Action bias among elite soccer goalkeepers: The case of penalty kicks. Journal of Economic Psychology, 28, 606-621.
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Do children acquire racism from their mothers?

childhood friendsYoung children sometimes give the impression of being racially prejudiced - for example, by preferring to play with other children who have the same colour skin as them. To find out where these attitudes come from, Luigi Castelli and colleagues at the University of Padova in Italy, looked to parents and found that it is mothers' perceived attitudes which are more influential than fathers'.

The researchers tested the attitudes of 58 white children aged between four and seven years. Presented with a drawing of a white child and a black child, 86 per cent of the children said they would prefer to play with the white child. They were also more likely to allocate a choice of positive attributes to the white child than to the black child, while showing the opposite pattern when allocating a list of negative attributes.

So where does this bias come from? Rather than asking the parents about their attitudes, as past research has done, this study looked at the children's perception of their parents' attitudes. This approach has the benefit of avoiding parents' tendency to give socially appropriate answers.

Around 80 per cent of the children said they thought their parents would prefer them to play with the white child, giving similar percentages for their mothers and fathers. Similarly, around three quarters of the children said they thought their mother and father would prefer to meet a white adult rather than a black adult, and that their parents would allocate more positive traits to a white adult than to a black adult.

Next, the researchers carried out some statistics (a linear regression) to see whether it was the children's perception of their mothers' or their fathers' attitudes that best predicted the children's own attitudes. Crucially, the mothers' perceived attitudes predicted both the children's choice of playmate and their allocation of attributes, whereas the fathers' perceived attitudes predicted neither.

"In sum, mothers seem to play a more relevant role in comparison with fathers in shaping children's responses towards Blacks," the researchers concluded.

Castelli, L., Carraro, L., Tomelleri, S. & Amari, A. (2007). White children's alignment to the perceived racial attitudes of the parents: Closer to the mother than father. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 25, 353-357.
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Mind Changers

I've just heard that a new series of BBC Radio 4's Mind Changers programme is starting on Wednesday 28 Nov, with the first episode focusing on The Stanford Prison Experiment, and the second on The Heinz Dilemma. The topic for the third and final episode isn't public yet.

From the BBC website: "Claudia Hammond presents a series looking at the development of the science of psychology during the 20th century."
Claudia Hammond is a writer and broadcaster who specialises in psychology. She's the author of Emotional Rollercoaster: A journey through the science of feelings, and she writes regularly for Psychologies magazine.

From a trawl around the BBC website it appears the Mind Changers series began with three episodes in 2003 (Asch, Piaget and Bartlett), and then returned with three more episodes in 2005 (Watson, Ainsworth, Eysenck) and 2006. If you click the links you'll be able to listen to past episodes again, but unfortunately, the 2006 shows don't seem to be available.

Link to Mind Changers.
Link to Mind Changers shows from 2005.
Link to Mind Changers shows from 2003.
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The woman who mistook her daughters for her sisters

Researchers have reported the strange case of a woman who confused her daughters for her sisters and her husband for her deceased father. It appears to be an unusual form of 'delusional misidentification syndrome', of which Capgras syndrome, in which the patient believes their loved ones have been replaced by imposters, is a better known example.

The 74-year-old woman had Alzheimer's disease and excess cerebrospinal fluid in the ventricles of her brain. On top of the memory difficulties typically associated with her illness, she exhibited specific difficulties correctly identifying her relationship with her daughters, sisters and husband.

To investigate just how selective this deficit was, Nobuhito Abe and colleagues tested whether the patient was able to recall the names of her sisters and daughters from photographs, whether she could point to the correct photograph given their names, and if she could recall person-specific information for her sisters and daughters when prompted by their names or photos. She could do all this.

She only tripped up in testing when asked to identify her relationship to her daughters from their name or photo, or if asked to identify the correct names or photos of her relatives according to their relationship to her. For example, asked to recall the names of her sisters, she would list the names of her sisters and daughters.

It wasn't that the woman had lost her conceptual understanding of familial relationships. She was able to verbally define words like 'sister' and 'daughter' and she was able to say how celebrities were related to each other.

The researchers said the case suggests recognising how we are related to others may require a distinct cognitive process that is dissociated from the processing of faces, names and other general information about people.

"The present findings shed further light on the cognitive and neural mechanisms involved in person identification and help refine existing theories related to this issue," the researchers concluded.

The isn't the first case of its kind. In 2003, researchers reported the case of a patient with Alzheimer's disease who mistook his wife for his deceased mother, and later for his living sister.

Abe, N., Ishii, H., Fujii, T., Ueno, A., Lee, E., Ishioka, T & Mori, E. (2007). Selective impairment in the retrieval of family relationships in person identification: A case study of delusional misidentification. Neuropsychologia, 45, 2902-2909.
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The Special Issue Spotter

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

Homelessness and health (Journal of Health Psychology).

Decision making (Science).

Spirituality and psychotherapy (Journal of Clinical Psychology).

Non-suicidal self-injury (Journal of Clinical Psychology).
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Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

Inhalation of carbon dioxide triggers panic attacks in healthy participants who don't suffer from panic disorder.

GPs are reluctant to discuss the issue of their patients being overweight.

How attention to topics rises and fades on the social-networking site Digg.

Associations between first-year students' experience of homesickness and the parenting style of their parents.
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A misogynistic workplace is bad for male employees too

business womanWitnessing the harassment or uncivil treatment of women at work is bad not only for female employees, but for the productivity of the whole organisation.

That’s according to Kathi Miner-Rubino and Lilia Cortina in America, who surveyed 871 female and 831 male university employees, including academic and support staff.

Male and female employees who said they had witnessed either the sexual harassment of female staff, or uncivil, rude or condescending behaviour towards them, tended to report lower psychological well-being and job satisfaction. In turn, lower psychological well-being was associated with greater burn out and increased thoughts about quitting.

Moreover, employees of both sexes who perceived the university to be unresponsive to sexual harassment complaints, tended to report more burnout and less commitment to the university.

Crucially, while these negative effects were not large, they were associated purely with observing the mistreatment of others, not with being a victim of mistreatment oneself – the researchers took account of that (for participants of both sexes) in their statistical analysis.

However, longitudinal research is needed to confirm the direction of causality in the observed associations. It's possible, for example, that misogynistic treatment is more likely to occur when staff have poor psychological well-being and less job satisfaction.

The researchers surmised the negative effects of witnessing misogyny at work could be caused by the feeling that one is working for an unjust organisation, and by feelings of empathy or fear. “This underscores the need for broad, proactive organisational interventions to manage workplace misogyny,” they concluded.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchMiner-Rubino, K. & Cortina, L.M. (2007). Beyond targets: Consequences of vicarious exposure to misogyny at work. Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 1254-1269.

Image credit: Michael R
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Feigning mental retardation

When Daryl Atkins was convicted of abduction and murder, the jury sentenced him to death. But Atkins was mentally retarded, with an IQ of 59, and following several appeals, in the case Atkins vs. Virginia, the US Supreme Court ruled that the execution of mentally retarded defendants was precluded by the Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual treatments, so sparing Atkins' life.

A consequence of the ruling is that convicted criminals may find themselves tempted to feign mental retardation. In the words of psychologist David Berry and colleagues, " cases of conviction for capital offences, [the diagnosis of mental retardation] may literally allow a defendant to escape death."

The trouble, according to Berry and colleagues, is that the literature on the ability to detect feigned mental retardation is sparse. Now these researchers have administered the WAIS-III intelligence test, two tests of psychiatric malingering, and three tests of cognitive malingering to 26 mentally retarded people and 26 non-retarded participants who had no more than 11 years of education.

Half the non-retarded participants were given information about mental retardation and asked to fake being retarded, with a reward of $20 if they managed to do so successfully.

Faking mental retardation wasn't difficult. According to the WAIS-III, even using special indices designed to detect deliberate poor performance, the scores of the non-retarded fakers were indistinguishable from the genuinely mentally retarded. The same was true for the tests of psychiatric malingering.

However, the three tests of cognitive malingering were moderately successful at distinguishing the fakers from the genuinely mentally retarded (although some of the genuinely retarded were also classified as fakers, showing the tests lacked specificity).

An example of a test of cognitive malingering is the 'Test of Memory Malingering'. This requires participants to view 50 pictures and then say which picture in a series of pairs was among those originally viewed. Performance is known to be relatively unaffected by a broad range of neuropsychological impairments which is what makes it a useful measure of malingering.

The researchers concluded: "At present there are almost no other published data on the characteristics of individuals attempting to feign MR, making it difficult to judge how 'realistic' the present malingerers were."

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchGraue, L.O., Berry, D.T.R., Clark, J.A., Sollman, M.J., Cardi, M., Hopkins, J. & Werline, D. (2007). Identification of feigned mental retardation using the new generation of malingering detection instruments: Preliminary findings. The Clinical Neuropsychologist, 21, 929-942.

Link to further information on the detection of malingering.
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Philosophy for kids

Teaching children the art of collaborative philosophical inquiry brings them persistent, long-term cognitive benefits, according to psychologists in Scotland.

Keith Topping and Steve Trickey first reported the short-term benefits of using "Thinking through Philosophy" with children in an earlier study.

One hundred and five children in the penultimate year of primary school (aged approximately ten years) were given one hour per week of philosophical-inquiry based lessons for 16 months. Compared with 72 control children, the philosophy children showed significant improvements on tests of their verbal, numerical and spatial abilities at the end of the 16-month period relative to their baseline performance before the study.

Now Topping and Trickey have tested the cognitive abilities of the children two years after that earlier study finished, by which time the children were nearly at the end of their second year of secondary school. The children hadn't had any further philosophy-based lessons but the benefits of their early experience of philosophy persisted. The 71 philosophy-taught children who the researchers were able to track down showed the same cognitive test scores as they had done two years earlier. By contrast, 44 control children actually showed a trend towards a deterioration in their inferior scores from two years earlier.

The philosophy-based lessons encouraged a community approach to 'inquiry' in the classroom, with children sharing their views on Socratic questions posed by the teacher. The children's cognitive abilities were tested using the 'Cognitive Abilities Test', a measure which has been found to predict children's performance on external school examinations.

"Follow-up studies of thinking skills interventions are very rare in the literature, so this finding is an important contribution," the researchers said.

Topping, K.J. & Trickey, S. (2007). Collaborative philosophical inquiry for school-children: Cognitive gains at 2-year follow-up. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 77, 787-796.
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How ignorance can lead to the right answer

Students were presented with two, three or four names, at a time, from the Sunday Times Rich List and asked to indicate in each case who was the richest or poorest person in each grouping. Now Caren Frosch and colleagues have shown that, in these circumstances, knowing who fewer of the people are can actually lead to superior performance - a kind of ignorance-based wisdom.

How can this be? The answer comes from Gerd Gigerenzer's work on "fast and frugal" heuristics, which are like decision-making short-cuts.

In this case, the students used the recognisability of the names presented to them as an indicator of their wealth. They did this intuitively and it turns out to be an effective cue to use. Recognisability does indeed correlate well with wealth - the researchers know this because after the study, they found out which names from the list the students recognised and cross-checked this with the wealth of the people on the Rich List.

But imagine those cases when a student recognises all the names in a given grouping - now their tactic of using recognisability as a cue for wealth is impossible to apply and that's why less knowledge can sometimes be more when it comes to finding the right answer.

Frosch and colleagues' analysis of the students' performance confirmed this. For example, when choosing the richest of four people, students performed better when they knew just one or two of the names compared with when they knew all four. There were similar findings for the poorest question, with students performing better when they recognised two out of three names compared with recognising all three.

The researchers caution that this 'less-is-more' rule to knowledge only applies in certain circumstances. In this case, when the students knew all two, three or four names shown to them, their knowledge about those people tended to be superficial. "A little learning is dangerous thing, but only when learning increases breadth at the expense of depth," the researchers wrote.

Frosch, C.A., Beaman, C.P. & McCloy, R. (2007). A little learning is a dangerous thing: An experimental demonstration of ignorance-driven inference. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 60, 1329-1336.

Image credit: if you own the copyright on the image, please get in touch using comments.
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Inter-ethnic violence predicted by same rules that govern chemicals

Researchers at the New England Complex Systems Institute have shown that a mathematical model - based purely on the geographic distribution of ethnic groups - can provide a highly accurate prediction of where violent conflict will occur.

Over time, mixed ethnic groups tend to separate as people are drawn towards living around others like themselves. This reflects a universal process that is also seen in chemical and biological systems. And according to May Lim and colleagues, when this separation reaches a given threshold, violent conflict is highly likely.

The flash point is characterised by an island or peninsular of one ethnic group, of between 10 and 100km in size, being surrounded by geographical areas populated by other ethnic or cultural groups. "Violence arises when groups are of a size that they are able to impose cultural norms on public spaces, but where there are still intermittent violations of these rules due to the overlap of cultural domains," they said.

By contrast, either a sufficient ethno-cultural mix or a sufficient boundaried separation between groups appears to protect against conflict. In the former case, distinct ethno-cultural groups are not large enough to develop strong collective identities, or to identify a given space as their own. In the latter case, groups can reach a large enough size to enjoy sovereignty over a given area.

Using such information about the geographic distribution of ethnic groups in former Yugoslavia, in the early 90s, just prior to civil war, and India, using both countries' census data, the researchers were able to predict with a high degree of accuracy where real future violent conflicts took place (as determined by historical records).

The researchers said their research had not considered the social and economic factors that can trigger violent conflict, but rather it shows the ethno-cultural distribution patterns under which such violence will be more likely.

"The insight provided by this study may help inform policy debates by guiding our understanding of the consequences of policy alternatives," Lim and colleagues concluded.

Lim, M., Metzler, R. & Bar-Yam, Y. (2007). Global pattern formation and ethnic/cultural violence. Science, 317, 1540-1544.

Link to ABC News clip on this research (free registration required).
Link to Science podcast interview with co-author Yaneer Bar-Yam (MP3).
Link to further info.
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Ouch! Men have a higher pain threshold than women

tender pressure pointsIt's a question that continues to cause friction between the sexes: who has the higher pain threshold? Now one of the most detailed investigations of its kind has reported that it's men who have the higher threshold, but only at 5 of 12 of the pairs of pressure points investigated (thresholds were the same for both sexes at the other points).

Of course, a huge caveat looms over any research like this which requires participants to report subjectively when they are experiencing pain - for example, given gender expectations, men could just be holding out for longer before they admit to being in pain.

Notwithstanding that possibility, Esmeralda Garcia and colleagues used a device to apply pressure to 12 pairs of pressure points on the bodies of 12 men and 18 women. Nine of these pairs of points were the so-called 'tender points' used to diagnose fibromyalgia (see image), on each side of the body. The three remaining pairs of control points were on the palm, the lower leg and forearm.

As the pressure on these points was increased, the participants were asked to indicate when they first experienced pain, as distinct from unpleasantness or discomfort. Testing took place again after 15 minutes and then for a third time a week later.

Men showed greater pain thresholds at all three of the pairs of control points and two of the pairs of tender points. The researchers said the fact the presence of gender differences depended on pressure point location could explain why so much earlier research has produced inconsistent results, with some studies finding gender differences and others not.

There was also a gender difference in how pain sensitivity varied across the testing sessions. Both sexes showed lowered thresholds at the second testing session, but whereas this persisted to the final session among the women, the men's sensitivity had by this time returned to baseline.

"It would be interesting to see if this pattern persists when the menstrual cycle of women is controlled for, which may have been one of the sources of the differences in the final session," the researchers said.

Garcia, E., Godoy-Izquierdo, D., Godoy, J.F., Perez, M. & Lopez-Chicheri, I. (2007). Gender differences in pressure pain threshold in a repeated measures assessment. Psychology, Health and Medicine, 12, 567-579.

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The Special Issue Spotter

magnifying glassWe trawl the world's psychology journals so you don't have to:

The role of intuition in decision-making and economics (Periodicals of Implicit Cognition) - free pdf file.

Mediated communities: Considerations for applied social psychology (Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology) - exploring the links between media, politics, community identity and personal experience.

Coaching psychology (Australian Psychologist). From the editorial: "This special issue...seeks to explore the nature of contemporary coaching psychology, balancing theory with practice, inquiry with advocacy, and personal experience with research."
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Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

Expert hikers were better than novice hikers at remembering mountain scenes, but only when those scenes had meaningful features, indicating possible actions that could be taken or dangers that could be faced.

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Behind the news

Connecting you with the psychological science behind the news:

1. 'Sleepless grumps' seen in brain (BBC News Online)
Brain study: Sleepy, grumpy and ... primitive? (Reuters)

Here is the journal source. Here is one of the key authors.

2. Breastfeeding is good - if it's in the genes (Daily Telegraph)
Gene 'links breastfeeding to IQ' (BBC News Online)

Here is the journal source. Here is the lead author.

3. Chimpanzees can scream for help (Daily Record)
Chimps exaggerate calls for help (BBC News Online)

Here is the journal source. Here is the lead author.

4. Drinking while pregnant helps 'create unruly children' (Daily Mail)
Mums who drink 'have naughty children' (Daily Telegraph)

Here is the journal source. Here is the lead author.
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