For when you've had enough of journal articles:

A look at the social forces causing obesity.

Would you opt for a brain chip that could boost your mental powers, even if there was a chance it could backfire and leave you impaired?

Is anorexia the female Asperger's? Professor Janet Treasure writes: "Traits that may appear present in childhood, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or overperfectionism, can often indicate a vulnerability to developing an eating disorder later in adolescence."

Do animals worry? One reader answers:"Having been a squirrel in a previous life, I can affirm that animals do indeed worry."

Do parents love their adopted children differently from their biological children?

Food for thought: What some of Britain's top scientists eat.

There is no such thing as internet addiction, argues Mind Hacks' Dr Vaughan Bell.

Where does the Self go when it is battered and bruised beyond recognition? (ABC Radio podcast).

The science of out-of-body experiences (featured in the latest Guardian Science podcast). But Slate magazine questions whether the research tells us anything about why the experience occurs in everyday life.
You have read this article Elsewhere with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/elsewhere.html. Thanks!

Inside the brains of men and women controlling their emotions

Women do seem to cry more readily than men, but is that because they are less able to control their emotions? According to Ute Habel and colleagues, research does suggest women are more 'emotional'. They cite the fact that women are more vulnerable to emotional disorders, and a study showing men are better able than women to control their negative emotions.

So if this gender difference is true, what is happening in men's brains when they exert control over their emotions, and how does it differ from female brain activity in similar circumstances?

Habel and colleagues scanned the brains of 19 women and 21 men while they performed a simple verbal memory task. On some trials the participants were also exposed to the smell of rotting yeast, thus triggering the negative emotion of disgust.

The smell impaired the participants' performance, but to the researchers' surprise, the women were no more affected by the horrible smell than the men, ostensibly contradicting the notion that women are less able to control negative emotion. However, the researchers pointed out this didn't mean their brain imaging findings wouldn't reveal differences in the way the male and female participants processed emotions and exerted cognitive control during the memory task.

Indeed, key gender differences were found. Women showed greater brain activation to the smell on its own, and to the memory task on its own. And, crucially, when they performed the memory task while exposed to the smell, they didn't show any activation indicative of an interaction – it was as if the smell and memory task were processed in parallel.

In contrast, when the men performed the task while exposed to the smell, there was evidence of interaction between cognitive and emotional areas in the brain, with cognitive activation seemingly outweighing emotion-associated activation.

“These results provide initial evidence for the assumption that the interaction between emotion and cognition relies on differential processing mechanisms in men and women,” the researchers said.

Kock, K., Pauly, K., Kellermann, T., Seiferth, N.Y., Reske, M., Backes, V., Stocker, T., Shah, N.J., Amunts, K., Kircher, T., Schneider, F. & Habel, U. (2007). Gender differences in the cognitive control of emotion: An fMRI study. Neuropsychologia, 45, 2744-2754.

Image credit: Wellcome Library, London. BELL, Sir Charles (1774-1842) Sir Charles Bell, The anatomy of the brain explained in a series of plates, 1823. Plate 1, watercolour drawing of the brain.
You have read this article Brain / Cognition / Emotion / Gender with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/inside-brains-of-men-and-women.html. Thanks!

Mothers' reading style affects children's later understanding of other people's minds

The use of cognitive verbs like 'think', 'know', 'remember' and 'believe' by mothers when reading picture books to their children has a beneficial effect on their children's later ability to understand other people's mental states – what psychologists call their 'theory of mind'.

This has been demonstrated before with young children aged between three and four years old. But now Juan Adrian and colleagues have found it also holds true with children up to seven years old, even as maternal influence might be expected to diminish.

The researchers observed the way 41 mothers read picture books to their children who were aged between three and six years. The children's understanding of other people's mental states was also tested, for example by showing them that a Smarties tube contained counters, not Smarties, and then asking them to predict what another child would think was inside the tube.

A year later, the mothers were again observed reading to their children, and again the children's understanding of other people's mental states was tested, this time using some more difficult tasks.

The longitudinal nature of the experiment allowed the researchers to check that mothers' language style really had a causal role. They found that mothers' use of more cognitive verbs at baseline predicted their child's understanding of mental states a year later, even after controlling for children's baseline understanding of mental states and mothers' educational background. But the reverse wasn't true – children's understanding of mental states at baseline didn't predict mothers' later use of cognitive verbs.

A more detailed breakdown of the mothers' reading style showed that it was particularly references to story characters' mental states and explaining their thoughts and actions using 'think' terms (e.g. Mother says: “...this boy sees so many people and thinks, 'I'll pretend I don't know what's going on and I'll push to the front of the queue'”) that was predictive of their children having a more advanced understanding of mental states a year later.

Adrian, J.E., Clemente, A. & Villanueva, L. (2007). Mothers' use of cognitive state verbs in picture-book reading and the development of children's understanding of mind: A longitudinal study. Child Development, 78, 1052-1067.
You have read this article Developmental / Educational / Language with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/mothers-reading-style-affects-children.html. Thanks!

People sensitive to disgust are more likely to hold right-wing views

People who are sensitive to interpersonal disgust – for example, they dislike sitting on a bus seat left warm by a stranger – are more likely to hold right-wing attitudes and to be racist.

That's according to Gordon Hodson and Kimberly Costello, who say that in the same way that core disgust guards the bodily boundary, interpersonal disgust may serve to guard cultural boundaries, by averting us from people who are not members of our group, and drawing us to those who are.

Hodson and Costello asked 103 English Canadian students questions about their disgust sensitivity, their political orientations, their fear of disease and their attitudes to immigrants and other marginalised groups like foreigners, homosexuals, drug addicts and the poor.

High sensitivity to interpersonal disgust was associated with right-wing authoritarian beliefs, a less-than-human perception of immigrants and negative attitudes to marginalised groups such as the poor. It was also associated with more positive attitudes towards other English Canadians.

Other types of disgust sensitivity, such as aversion to eating monkey meat (core disgust) to touching dead bodies (death-related disgust) and to people watching pornography involving animals (sex-related disgust) were correlated with interpersonal disgust, but did not themselves predict racist or prejudice attitudes once levels of interpersonal disgust were taken into account.

Interpersonal disgust sensitivity – not wanting to wear clean second hand clothes is another example - continued to predict racist attitudes even after fear of disease was taken into account. Hodson and Costello said such sensitivity may “reflect powerful symbolic cultural forces that socialise withdrawal strategies to protect the self from potentially offensive objects, including social groups.”

Hodson told the Digest his lab are testing desensitisation procedures in the hope of reducing prejudice: “If disgust sensitive people are more prejudiced then efforts to reduce disgust sensitivity through systematic desensitisation and related procedures (i.e. presenting participants with basic disgusting stimuli and intergroup disgust stimuli under controlled settings paired with relaxation) should help to reduce prejudice.”

Hodson, G. & Costello, K. (2007). Interpersonal disgust, ideological orientations, and dehumanisation as predictors of intergroup attitudes. Psychological Science, 18, 691-698.

Link to related Nature feature article. (Subscription required).
Link to related article in The Psychologist magazine. (Open Access).

Image credit: Credit: Wellcome Library, London. An expression of disgust. 1872 From: The expression of the emotions in man and animals / By: Charles Darwin Published: J. Murray,London : 1872.
You have read this article Emotion / Political with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/people-sensitive-to-disgust-are-more.html. Thanks!

We're useless at predicting how what happens will affect us emotionally

When making decisions, a key factor we weigh up is how we think the outcome of our decisions will make us feel emotionally – what psychologists call postdecisional affect. The trouble is, we're useless at predicting how we'll feel.

Nick Sevdalis and Nigel Harvey gave 47 participants £10 each to split as they chose with an unseen stranger in another room. If the stranger rejected the amount they were offered as too mean, then both the participant and stranger would go away empty handed. The participants were asked how much regret and disappointment they expected to experience if their offer was rejected.

In fact, the task was fixed - there were no strangers, and every participant was told that their offer had been rejected. Immediately after receiving the rejection, the participants were asked to report how much regret and disappointment they actually felt. Participants who had made reasonably high offers experienced significantly less regret than they thought they would, and on average, all participants experienced less disappointment than they expected.

In a second experiment, 27 students were asked to predict the grade they would receive for a real piece of coursework and to say how much regret and rejoicing they would experience if their actual mark was higher or lower than they expected. After receiving their grade, they reported how the news actually made them feel.

Overall, the students underestimated the mark they received, but they overestimated how delighted this better-than-expected result made them feel. Together with the first experiment, the findings suggest we overestimate how despondent bad outcomes will make us feel, and we overestimate how pleased good outcomes will make us feel.

The researchers suggested that to improve our decision-making, we should discount how we think different outcomes will make us feel. “Anticipated regret is certainly a powerful decision cue,” they said. “Whether it is an effective one remains to be empirically demonstrated.”

Sevdalis, N. & Harvey, N. (2007). Biased forecasting of postdecisional affect. Psychological Science, 18, 678-681.

Link to related research by Dan Gilbert of Stumbling on Happiness fame (free, full-text pdf).
You have read this article Decision making with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/we-useless-at-predicting-how-what.html. Thanks!

The personality of early risers

Morning people, early risers. You know the type; you might even be one. They've already done the housework and gone for a jog while the rest of us are still blissfully cocooned in our beds.

According to Juan Francisco Diaz-Morales, such people tend to be of a certain personality: they favour the tangible and concrete, they trust their experience and the observable over intuition and feelings; they have an attention to detail and a preference for logic. They are respectful of authority, care about social conventions and are rarely politically radical.

Diaz-Morales came to this conclusion after gauging the 'morningness' vs. 'eveningness' of 360 undergrads (275 were female) using the Composite Scale of Morningness. It's a 13 item scale that asks participants things like what time they typically get up and go to bed; how alert they feel in the morning; and when they are at the peak of their mental performance. He then measured the students' personality using the Millon Index of Personality Styles, a 180 item test with scales on what motivates people, their thinking style and how they relate to others.

Seventeen per cent of the women were classified as morning types, 61.8 per cent as intermediates, and 18.8 per cent as evening types. Among the men, 30.6 per cent were morning types, 50.6 per cent were intermediates and 18.8 per cent were evening folk.

In contrast to morning types, Diaz-Morales found that evening people preferred the symbolic over the concrete, were creative and risk-taking, and tended to be non-conformist and independent.

Diaz-Morales said these findings are “a further step towards a more complete and integrated understanding of personality characteristics related to morningness and eveningness dimensions.”

Diaz-Morales, J.F. (2007). Morning and evening types: Exploring their personality styles. Personality and Individual Differences, 43, 769-778.
You have read this article Personality with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/the-personality-of-early-risers.html. Thanks!

What do criminal barristers think of psychologists and psychiatrists?

Most criminal barristers think psychiatrists make more useful expert witnesses than clinical psychologists, with the latter considered to be most appropriate when it comes to determining confession reliability. That's according to a survey of 62 British barristers by Tim Valentine and colleagues.

In case any readers are unsure of the difference – psychiatrists are medical doctors who have gone on to specialise in mental health. Clinical psychologists are psychology graduates who have gone on to practise in mental health following their post-graduate training, which these days takes the form of a doctorate with taught and research-based components.

It always used to be psychiatrists who were called on to act as mental health expert witnesses in criminal cases, but over the last twenty years or so, psychologists have been increasingly called on too.

Forty-six per cent of the current sample of barristers said they thought the main difference between psychologists and psychiatrists as expert witnesses, was that psychiatrists are for mental illness whereas psychologists are for issues of personality. Dishearteningly for psychologists, 22 per cent of the barristers said the main difference was that psychiatrists are more useful.

Consistent with this, most barristers said they would call on a psychiatrist, rather than a psychologist, for issues relating to witness reliability and mitigation. However, for issues of fitness to plead, most (85 per cent) said they would also call on a psychologist to back up a psychiatrist's testimony. Only 22 per cent said they would do the same for diminished responsibility. For confession reliability the majority (72 per cent) said they would actually call on a psychologist rather than a psychiatrist.

The authors said it might help the standing of psychologists in court if legal professionals were given information about the underlying scientific basis of psychology and its potential contribution to the criminal justice system. They also called on psychologists and psychiatrists acting as witnesses to be provided with accredited training, a suggestion supported by the majority of the sampled barristers.

Leslie, O., Young, S., Valentine, T. & Gudjonsson, G. (2007). Criminal barristers' opinions and perceptions of mental health expert witnesses. The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology, 18, 394-410.

Editor's note: The role of psychiatrists and psychologists in court has not been without controversy, as highlighted by this classic paper.
You have read this article Forensic with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/what-do-criminal-barristers-think-of.html. Thanks!

Watching new memories form

Biologically-speaking, new memories are based on changes to synapses – the gaps across which neurons communicate with each other. Now scientists in America say they have found a way to witness these synaptic changes right after they've happened, using rats and a fluorescent staining technique.

Gary Lynch, professor of psychiatry and human behaviour at the University of California, Irvine, and colleagues injected rats with fluorescent antibodies that are known to attach themselves to synapses undergoing long term potentiation (LTP) – a key physical substrate of memory formation.

The researchers placed the injected rats in a maze-like environment for 30 minutes on two successive days. The rats' behaviour on the second day indicated they had remembered their way around from the first day. Crucially, other rats given an injection that blocks LTP didn't show this learning. After the second day in the maze, some of the rats were killed and a tiny part of their brains from within the hippocampus was viewed under a microscope.

Thanks to the fluorescent staining, and by comparing the brain tissue from the rats who had learned their way around, with tissue from the rats who'd hadn't, the scientists were able to see the dramatic synaptic changes associated with memory formation. "This is the first time anyone has seen the physical substrate, the 'face' of newly encoded memory. We have cleared a hurdle that once seemed insurmountable," Professor Lynch said.

The researchers believe their technique may pave the way for mapping 'engrams' – physical memory traces – across the brain.

The findings are published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

This is a news item from The Psychologist magazine, another serving from the table of the British Psychological Society.
You have read this article Brain / Memory with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/watching-new-memories-form.html. Thanks!

Behind the news

Linking you with the science behind the news.

1. Iraq veterans suffer stress and alcoholism (The Guardian)
Stress risk for British Troops (BBC News online)

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

2. Electrodes revive brain-damaged man (Channel 4 News)
Deep brain stimulation treatment gives man voice again (Scotsman)

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

3. Move over Vin, women prefer feminine men (The Guardian)
Women prefer a 'feminine' appearance in partners (The Independent)

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

4. Depression is over-diagnosed (BBC News online)
Thousands wrongly being treated for depression (The Scotsman)

Here is the journal source. Here is the author.
You have read this article Behind the news with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/behind-news.html. Thanks!

The Special Issue Spotter

Meaningful activities for people with dementia (Aging and Mental Health). An intervention to help people with dementia engage in meaningful activities is evaluated and discussed.

Youth and democracy: Participation for personal, relational, and collective well-being. (Journal of Community Psychology). From the introduction: "The argument can be made that without more youth power, many of the interventions designed to help youth are merely cosmetic."

Psychotherapy around the globe (Journal of Clinical Psychology). The editorial states: "Psychology and psychotherapy have become global in scope, but the forms they take in different countries are not well known." This special issue is something of an antidote. "...Invited articles by psychologists, from a wide sample of countries, who describe the nature of psychotherapy practice in their respective countries and its application to the hypothetical case of Mrs. A."

Music and IQ: Controversy and Evidence (Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice). Does music really enhance IQ?
You have read this article Special Issue Spotter with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/the-special-issue-spotter.html. Thanks!


New, free psychology stuff on the global interweb:

Why too much choice can be a bad thing.

Wiring the nervous system.

The neuroscience of decision making.

How to make time slow down.

Did the Diana moment make Britain a more emotionally healthy country ? (Prospect debate).

The last interview given by Albert Ellis, the 'father of cognitive therapy'.

Animation of deep brain stimulation.

It's ungifted children who need the help (Opinion piece).

The AAICS Award from Mind Hacks (Win a prize for spotting the most Awkward Acronyms in Cognitive Science).

Why people vote the way they do.

In defence of parapsychology research.

Do IQ tests really work? Dr Colin Cooper provides the case for the defence on BBC Radio 4's Today programme (audio file).
You have read this article Elsewhere with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/elsewhere_17.html. Thanks!

The even more Open University

Open University, the pioneering British-based higher-education institution that specialises in distance learning, has launched a website "OpenLearn", allowing free access to many of its course materials. The University's vision is for free online education to be available to all.

Psychology-related courses currently available include:

Link to OpenLearn.
You have read this article with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/the-even-more-open-university.html. Thanks!


Other new studies that caught my eye:

Who do we gossip about and who do we gossip with?

Psychological effects of polar expeditions.

Biological basis of memory repression.

The advantage of combining MEG and EEG.

Playfulness in young adults. Ah sweet.

Family members share manipulation tactics. Not so nice.
You have read this article Extras with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/extras.html. Thanks!

Conservatives are less creative than liberals

People who hold conservative views tend to lack creativity relative to more liberal-minded people, according to a new psychology study.

Stephen Dollinger established the conservatism of 422 university students by asking them whether they favoured such things as legalised abortion, gay rights and the immigration of foreigners.

The students demonstrated their creativity by completing a half-finished drawing in any way they liked, and by taking 20 photos on the theme “who are you?” - their efforts were then rated by judges. The students also indicated how often they engaged in various creative activities, such as writing poetry.

The students with more conservative views tended to be judged less creative based on their performance on the drawing and photography task, and their record of creative activities. This remained true even when their scores on a vocab test and a personality measure of openness to experience were taken into account.

The content of the students' photos gave some insight into their differing creativity. The 15 most conservative students depicted religious and family values, for example with photos of the bible. The 9 least conservative students, by contrast, tended to use unconventional ways to illustrate their lives. One student photographed a car parking over the line, to portray his disdain for rules.

The findings build on earlier work showing that people with conservative attitudes tend to favour simple representational paintings over more abstract art.

Professor Dollinger surmised: “Conservatives could be less creative than liberals because of greater threat-induced anxiety (e.g. finding the ambiguity of creative tasks threatening), their greater inclination to follow convention, and/or their devaluing of imagination.”

Dollinger, S.J. (2007). Creativity and conservatism. Personality and Individual Differences, 43, 1025-1035.

Link to New Scientist special issue on creativity
Link to Scientific American Mind special on creativity.
Link to free article from The Psychologist archive on creativity and innovation at work.

Image Credit: Wellcome Library, London. The Duke of Wellington conducts an orchestra comprising of conservative government ministers. Coloured lithograph by H.B. (John Doyle), 1838.
You have read this article Art / Creativity / Political with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/conservatives-are-less-creative-than.html. Thanks!

To grasp physics, students need to know about knowledge

The beliefs students hold about scientific knowledge can affect their ability to understand physics - a finding that researchers say has implications for the way students are taught.

Greek psychologists Christina Stathopoulou and Stella Vosniadou tested the epistemological beliefs of 394 students aged about 15 years, all of whom had taken courses in physics.

For example, the researchers measured the students' belief in the stability and structure of scientific knowledge by gauging their agreement with statements like: “Physics textbooks present theories that have been confirmed by scientists and are not going to change.”

Next, the ten per cent of the students with the most sophisticated beliefs about knowledge, and the ten per cent with the least sophisticated beliefs, answered questions on Newton's three laws of motion.

Those students with sophisticated beliefs about scientific knowledge, who recognised that knowledge is changing and constantly reorganised, were significantly more likely to show an understanding of Newton's laws of motion, than were the students whose epistemological beliefs were less sophisticated. By contrast, the students' past school grades in physics did not predict whether they would understand Newton's laws.

Not all students with more sophisticated epistemological beliefs showed a deep understanding of Newton's laws, but none of the students with less sophisticated beliefs did. That is, in this study, sophisticated epistemological beliefs were necessary but not sufficient for a deep understanding of Newton's laws.

“If we are interested in designing effective learning environments it is important to pay more attention to students' epistemological beliefs and to develop curricula and instruction explicitly designed to promote epistemological sophistication,” the researchers said.

Stathopoulou, C. & Vosniadou, S. (2007). Exploring the relationship between physics-related epistemological beliefs and physics understanding. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 32, 255-281.

Link to related Digest article.
Link to recent news item: Concerns not enough students are taking physics.
You have read this article Educational with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/to-grasp-physics-students-need-to-know.html. Thanks!

Fresh doubt cast on memories of abuse recovered in therapy

Memories of child abuse, long buried, but suddenly recovered in therapy, have been a source of controversy for some time now. The fear is that such memories are false; that they are the product of suggestion, hypnosis, visualisation or other therapeutic technique.

Now Elke Geraerts and colleagues have cast fresh doubt on the reliability of these therapy-recovered memories. They found that such memories are dramatically less likely to be corroborated by third parties or other evidence, than are lost memories of child abuse recovered outside of therapy, or abuse memories that were never forgotten.

Seventy-one participants with never-forgotten memories of child abuse, and 57 participants with recovered memories responded to a newspaper advert posted by the researchers. They were interviewed in detail about possible corroborating evidence for their abuse, such as a third party who learned about the abuse soon after it happened, or another person who reported having been abused by the same alleged perpetrator.

Significant corroborating evidence was found for 45 per cent of the 71 participants who had never forgotten their memory of having been abused, and 37 per cent of the 41 participants who, at some point outside of therapy, had recovered a lost memory of being abused. But in dramatic contrast, corroborating evidence wasn't found for any of the 16 participants who recovered their memories of abuse in therapy.

And yet the groups didn't differ on many variables that might explain this difference in evidence, such as age when abused, severity of abuse, or how much they talked about the abuse with others. In fact, the only difference between the recovered-memory groups, aside from the amount of corroborating evidence, was that the participants who recovered their memories in therapy were less surprised by their newly discovered memories.

The researchers said their findings offered support for both sides of the recovered memory debate. While memories recovered in therapy appeared to be false, the corroborating evidence for memories recovered outside of therapy suggested that some discontinuous memories can be genuine.

Geraerts, E., Schooler, J.W., Merckelbach, H., Jelicic, M., Hauer, B.J.A. & Ambadar, Z. (2007). The reality of recovered memories. Corroborating continuous and discontinuous memories of childhood sexual abuse. Psychological Science, 18, 564-568. (link is to full text pdf).

Photo credit: Stacy Braswell
You have read this article Forensic / Memory / Mental health with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/fresh-doubt-cast-on-memories-of-abuse.html. Thanks!

Reading is a team effort

Psychologists Denis Pelli and Katharine Tillman have shown that reading is a team effort in the sense that the three reading processes of letter decoding, whole world recognition, and using sentence context, each make a unique, additive contribution to reading speed.

Eleven participants read passages from the mystery novel Loves Music, Loves to Dance by Mary Higgins Clark. The researchers knocked out the contribution of the three reading processes, one at a time, or in combination, by manipulating the text, and observed the effect this had on reading speed. This is the first time all three processes have been studied at once in this way.

To knock out sentence context, they changed word order (e.g. “Contribute others. The of Reading measured”). To knock out whole word recognition, they alternated capital and lower case (e.g. “ThIs tExT AlTeRnAtEs iN CaSe”). And to knock out letter-by-letter decoding, they substituted letters in such a way that word shape was maintained (e.g. “Reading” becomes “Pcedirg”).

Letter decoding was found to account for 62 per cent of reading speed; whole word recognition 16 per cent; and sentence context 22 per cent. Crucially, while the influence of the different processes was additive, there was no redundancy. So when letter decoding was knocked out, the contribution of the other processes to reading rate didn't increase. That is, the three processes don't work on the same words. Speed reading proponents will be interested to note that among the faster readers, predicting words from sentence context made a bigger contribution to reading speed than among the slower readers.

“That letters, words and sentences are all involved in reading is nothing new, but finding that their contributions to reading rate is additive is startling” the researchers said.

Pelli, D.G. & Tillman, K.A. (2007). Parts, wholes, and context in reading: A triple dissociation. PloS one, 8, e680. (Open access).

Link to speed reading discussion in Slate.
You have read this article Cognition / Educational with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/reading-is-team-effort.html. Thanks!

Walking cane reveals dramatic sensory re-mapping by the brain

There is a force-field like zone around our bodies, known as peripersonal space, in which our brains integrate information across the senses. For example, we have individual neurons that respond when we sense touch and sound occurring in the same place, such as at or near our hand, at the same time. If you could record the activity of all the relevant individual neurons, you could plot an imaginary border around our bodies within which this sound-touch integration occurs.

Now Andrea Serino and colleagues have shown there is dramatic flexibility in where this sensory integration zone begins and ends. Recording single neurons in healthy participants would be a little intrusive, so the researchers instead took advantage of the fact that where tactile and auditory information is integrated, participants will be quicker to respond to a tactile stimulus when it is accompanied by a sound.

Sixteen sighted participants were blindfolded and held a cane. At first, as expected, they were quicker to respond to a mild electric shock on their hand when that shock was accompanied by a sound located at their hand rather than by a sound at the end of the cane (or no sound at all).

But then they trained for ten minutes with the cane, practising locating objects blindfolded. After the training, the participants were just as quick to respond to a shock on their hand whether it was accompanied by a sound located at their hand, or at the end of the cane - in both cases the accompanying sound speeded their reaction compared with when there was no sound.

This shows there had a been a dramatic remapping of the sound-integration boundary – participants were now integrating sound information at the end of the cane with touch information at their hand. However, by the next day, without any further practice, the boundary had returned to near space and the reaction time advantage was once again only conferred by sounds near their hand.

More extreme, longer-term re-mapping can also occur. The researchers also tested eight blind participants who routinely used a cane. Remarkably, among these participants, touch stimulation at the hand was actually integrated more with sound at the end of the cane than with sound located near the hand.

Serino, A., Bassolino, M., Farne, A. & Ladavas, E. (2007). Extended multisensory space in blind cane users. Psychological Science, 18, 642-648.
You have read this article Brain / Cognition / Perception with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/walking-cane-reveals-dramatic-sensory.html. Thanks!

How the misreporting of a student dissertation wrecked bereavement counselling's reputation

It has become the received wisdom in psychological circles that bereavement counselling is at best ineffective and at worst harmful, especially when offered to people experiencing 'normal' grief (see here for a recent example; p61).

Why the dire reputation? According to counselling psychologists Dale Larson and William Hoyt, it's thanks largely to inappropriate reporting of an unpublished student dissertation by Barry Fortner, in which it was claimed 38 per cent of bereaved clients would have fared better if, instead of receiving counselling, they had been in the no-treatment control group.

The trouble, Larson and Hoyt argue, is that Fortner's 1999 dissertation has only been cited once, by his colleague Robert Neimeyer in 2000. Since then, over 14 studies have reported the 38 per cent figure, but each time they have cited Neimeyer's published paper (a summary of past research), not Fortner, thus giving the misleading impression that the result came from a piece of quality, peer-reviewed empirical research.

Worse still, like a game of Chinese Whispers (or Telephone if you're American), recent papers discussing the 38 per cent figure have cited not only Neimeyer, but also subsequent papers citing Neimeyer, thus giving the impression that the 38 per cent figure has been corroborated by later investigations!

But now Larson and Hoyt have hit back. In a journal article and technical analysis (the latter freely available on-line), they claim Fortner's methodology that led to the 38 per cent figure is flawed. Moreover, they asked the APA Publisher Gary VandenBos to submit Fortner's dissertation to a post hoc peer review. And according to Larson and Hoyt, “The experts conclusively agreed that [Fortner's methodology] is seriously flawed and that there is no valid basis for the claim that 38 per cent of grief counselling clients suffered deterioration.”

Apart from Fortner's 38 per cent statistic, the reputation of bereavement counselling has also suffered from the reported outcomes of three key meta-analyses (where the outcome data from lots of studies is lumped together), one of which is in Fortner's dissertation.

For example, the most extensive of the meta-analyses, published by Allumbaugh and Hoyt in 1999, is often reported as having found poor efficacy for bereavement counselling. But according to Larson and Hoyt, the efficacy rates in the 35 assessed studies varied hugely, due mainly to differences in whether clients had referred themselves and how long they had been bereaved. If the analysis was confined to the recently bereaved, and to those who had chosen to receive counselling, then compared to no-treatment control, counselling showed the kind of benefits typically found for other types of psychological therapy for other conditions.

Larson and Hoyt acknowledge the need for more research and conclude: “...findings to date indicate that cautious optimism, rather than the recently fashionable dire pessimism, is the attitude most congruent with empirical findings on grief counselling outcomes.”

Larson, D.G. & Hoyt, W.T. (2007). What has become of grief counselling? An evaluation of the empirical foundations of the new pessimism. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 38, 347-355.

Image credit: Wellcome Library, London. A woman whose face expresses sadness. Etching in the crayon manner by W. Hebert, c. 1770, after C. Le Brun.
You have read this article Mental health with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/how-misreporting-of-student.html. Thanks!

The Special Issue Spotter

Linking Parents and Family to Adolescent Peer Relations: Ethnic and Cultural Considerations. (New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development). The editorial says: "This work heralds a new era in research on connections between adolescents’ peer and family worlds."

Activation in functional imaging. (Brain and Language; click link then see left-hand menu to locate special issue). Does a big blob of colour on a brain scan signify functional significance? The editorial says: "In this special issue on activation, a number of problems with this concept will be discussed as they relate to the problem of establishing brain–behavior relationships."

Refining our Understanding of Traumatic Growth in the Face of Terrorism: Moving from Meaning Cognitions to Doing what is Meaningful. (Applied Psychology). Can experiencing trauma actually have beneficial consequences? If so, under what circumstances? A lead paper followed by commentary.

Personal networks (Social Networks). Who do we know and how well do we know them?
You have read this article Special Issue Spotter with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/the-special-issue-spotter_7.html. Thanks!


Conversations on consciousness: Sue Blackmore interviews Dan Dennett (MP3), VS Ramachandran (MP3), and Francis Crick (MP3).

The spinning silhouette optical illusion - worth checking out. Brief discussion at Mind Hacks about how it might work.

July 24 edition of BBC Radio 4's All in the Mind featuring BPS President Pam Maras discussing the statutory regulation of psychologists, plus the intoxication of power, and more.

Who's in charge? When the unity of self breaks down. Hilarious.
You have read this article Elsewhere with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/elsewhere_6.html. Thanks!


(Apologies, the final link in this list was given incorrectly in the latest Digest email. The correct link is given below.)

Why can't doctors do anything about a simple back problem? The views of service users.

Why does average IQ keep going up and what are the implications for neuropsychological testing?

Perhaps children should be taught to touch-type.

The timed antagonistic response alethiometer - a cunning new way to detect liars (this is different from the recent study in the media about getting liars to tell their story backwards).
You have read this article Extras with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/extras_3.html. Thanks!

Jurors may be biased against fathers in child sex abuse trials

Accused fathers in child sex abuse trials have the odds stacked against them, a new study suggests. Monica McCoy of Converse College and Jennifer Gray of the University of Wyoming found that with all other circumstances and evidence held equal, people are more likely to judge a father guilty than a mother. However the same gender bias wasn't found to apply when the suspect was a stranger to the alleged victim.

A community sample of 256 adults in South Carolina read a 6-page fictional account of a court case involving the alleged serious sexual assault of a ten-year-old girl. The report described the cross-examinations of the alleged victim, the suspect, a witness for the defence and a witness for the prosecution. All participants read an identical account but for one exception – the suspect was described as either the alleged victim's father, mother, a female stranger or a male stranger. After reading the account, the participants had to say whether they believed the suspect was guilty or not.

Both male and female participants were significantly more likely to find a father guilty than a mother (47 per cent of fathers vs. 24 per cent of mothers were judged guilty), but this gender bias didn't extend to suspects who were unrelated to the victim. Overall, the female participants were no more likely to return a guilty verdict than the male participants, but they did tend to rate the victim as more believable and the defendant as less believable.

This is the latest of many studies to investigate juror biases, with earlier research suggesting, for example, that jurors are more inclined to believe confident witnesses (unless they make an error), and are less likely to hand down the death penalty to suspects who appear remorseful.

McCoy, M.L. & Gray, J.M. (2007). The impact of defendant gender and relationship to victim on juror decisions in a child sexual abuse case. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 37, 1578-1593.
You have read this article Forensic with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/jurors-may-be-biased-against-fathers-in.html. Thanks!

Violent video games slow our processing of happy faces

Just 15 minutes playing a violent video game can lend a negative bias to the way we interpret people's facial expressions.

Steven Kirsh and Jeffrey Mounts at SUNY-Guneseo in New York asked 197 students to play either 15 minutes of the violent House of the Dead 2, or 15 minutes of the game your Nan would approve of far more, Kayak Extreme.

After playing the video game, the students looked at 60 faces that gradually morphed over 2.4 seconds from a neutral expression into either a happy or an angry expression. The students' task was indicate as quickly as possible whether the face was turning angry or happy. Typically on this kind of task, people are far quicker at recognising a happy face – a phenomenon that has been dubbed the 'happy face advantage'.

The students who played the kayaking game showed the expected happy face advantage – they were 95ms faster on average at recognising when a face was morphing into a happy expression compared with an angry expression. By contrast, the students who had played House of the Dead 2, only showed a 2.5 ms advantage for happy expressions. This difference between the groups held even after the researchers controlled for the effects of the games on emotional factors like frustration and enjoyment.

The researchers said the violent game may have predisposed the students towards recognising threatening emotions. “This attentional bias may then increase the likelihood of acting aggressively by priming aggressive scripts or by limiting the processing of information which could reduce the likelihood of aggression,” they warned.

Kirsch, S.J. & Mounts, J.R.W. (2007). Violent video game play impacts facial emotion recognition. Aggressive Behaviour, 33, 353-358.

Link to recent Guardian opinion piece on psychological effects of violent video games.
You have read this article Cognition with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/violent-video-games-slow-our-processing.html. Thanks!

Free full-text access to Sage psychology journals

Any Digest readers who don't enjoy the benefit of institutional access to full-text journal articles might be interested to know that, from today until the end of Sept. this year, the publishers Sage are offering free online full-text access to all 36 of their psychology journals (registration required).

You have read this article Announcements with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/free-full-text-access-to-sage.html. Thanks!

Teenagers' delinquency is associated with their attitudes to authority, not their moral development

Teenagers' propensity for antisocial behaviour is not related to their ability to think about the right and wrongs of a situation – their powers of moral reasoning. That's according to Hammond Tarry and Nicholas Emler who say their results have implications for interventions intended to reform young offenders.

The researchers tested the ability of 789 boys aged between 12 and 15 years to think about the rights and wrongs of different situations (based on Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development). They also asked the boys about their moral values, their attitudes to authority and their record of antisocial behaviour over the last twelve months.

Teenagers with a negative attitude towards authority, including their teachers and the police, tended to report committing more antisocial behaviours such as stealing or fighting. Their moral values, such as promise keeping and truth, were also related to their levels of delinquent behaviour, but crucially, their powers of moral reasoning were not.

“This puts in doubt the likely efficacy of interventions intended to reform young offenders by raising their moral reasoning level,” the researchers said. Targeting youths' attitudes to authority might be more effective, but the researchers cautioned that such attitudes “appear to possess considerable stability over time, indicating they are strongly held, deeply embedded in the individual's identity and resistant to change.”

Tarry, H. & Emler, N. (2007). Attitudes, values and moral reasoning. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 25, 169-183.
You have read this article Morality with the title August 2007. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2007/08/teenagers-delinquency-is-associated.html. Thanks!