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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For when you've had enough of journal articles:

Free will is not an illusion.

Pretty pictures of neural connections in mice. From the Guardian: "Using genetic tricks and fluorescent proteins researchers at Harvard have individually labeled hundreds of individual nerve cells with 90 different colour combinations. The end result they call a 'brainbow'"

A lack of sleep is having a detrimental effect on children's cognitive development.

A brief history of manic-depressive illness.

Take part in London-based research into the neuropsychology of hypnosis.

Nine propaganda techniques in Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.

Psychology A-level teachers - check out the new website of the ATP conference to be held in Lincoln in 2008.


On recent issues of the Guardian Science Podcast: Imperial College geneticist Armand Leroi dissected James Watson's controversial remarks on race and intelligence (mp3); and the ubiquitous Steve Pinker discussed the relationship between language and thought (mp3).

On ABC radio's All in the Mind, you guessed it, Steve Pinker again (mp3), and in the latest issue, does mental health really affect physical well-being? (mp3)
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Good spellers age better than poor spellers

Poor spellers get worse at spelling as they get older, whereas good spellers don't. That's according to Sara Margolin and Lise Abrams who say that being a good speller appears to afford people protection from the detrimental effect that getting older can have on spelling ability.

The spelling ability of 64 healthy younger participants (aged 17 to 24 years) and 64 healthy older participants (aged 61 to 91 years) was tested by asking participants to say whether words presented to them were spelt correctly or not, or by asking them to write out the correct spelling of words that were spoken to them.

Among the younger participants, the half who scored higher in the spelling tests were categorised as good spellers; the half with lower scores were categorised as poor (i.e. a median split). The same good/poor split was also applied among the older group members.

Margolin and Abrams found that the older good spellers were just as good at spelling as the younger good spellers, but crucially, the older poor spellers were significantly worse at spelling than the younger poor spellers.

“...these results suggest that being a poor speller is especially problematic in old age, where ageing compounds the existing problems caused by poor spelling,” the researchers said.

Margolin and Abrams went on to say that their finding raises some interesting questions for future research. “If being a poor speller compounds age declines in spelling, then the same principle may also apply to other cognitive processes,” they wrote. “i.e. Do young adults with poorer memories exhibit more pronounced memory declines as they age than young adults with good memories?”

Margolin, S.J. & Abrams, L. (2007). Individual differences in young and older adults' spelling: Do good spellers age better than poor spellers? Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 14, 529-544.
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Psychiatrists who treat themselves

A Michigan-based psychiatrist, Richard Balon, has raised concerns about how many of his colleagues are treating themselves for depression.

Compared with the average person, depression is particularly prevalent among doctors and especially among psychiatrists. When Richard Balon at Wayne State University surveyed 567 psychiatrists listed by the Michigan Psychiatric Society, he found that 15.7 per cent had already treated themselves for depression, 43 per cent said they would consider it in future for mild depression and 7 per cent would do so for severe depression or feeling suicidal. There was a tendency for these figures to be higher among biologically oriented psychiatrists, as opposed to their psychodynamically or eclectically oriented colleagues.

Balon’s findings are consistent with surveys of doctors conducted in Finland and Norway, which found the majority treated themselves for mental disorders.

In the current survey, the most common reasons the psychiatrists gave for treating themselves were to keep a clean health insurance record, followed by concerns about the stigma associated with mental illness. This latter finding echoes previous observations about the pervasive stigma associated with mental illness in the medical profession.

Given that some states in America ask specific questions about psychiatrists mental health when they apply for a licence to practise, Bolan concluded: “It is clearly time to reassess the issue of impairment due to mental illness among physicians, the ever-increasing lack of confidentiality, the stigma and self-treatment within our own profession, psychiatry.”

Balon, R. (2007). Psychiatrist attitudes toward self-treatment of their own depression. Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 76, 306-310.
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You're similar to me, so have my vote

Research into romantic attraction has shown that we're often drawn to people who are similar to ourselves. Now Gian Caprara and colleagues have shown the same principle applies to our voting habits.

Over 1,500 Italian voters rated their own personality and the personality of the then President Silvio Berlusconi or his more left-wing rival Romano Prodi, using 25 adjectives that map onto what psychologists call the 'Big Five' personality traits.

Participants who had previously voted for Berlusconi tended to rate both themselves and him as being high in energy/extraversion, whereas centre-left Prodi voters, although they too saw Berlusconi as energetic and outgoing, did not rate themselves in this way. Centre-left voters, however, saw both themselves and Prodi as being high in friendliness.

In a second study, 6,094 American voters rated their own personality and the personality of John Kerry and George W Bush. This time Kerry was unanimously viewed as scoring high in openness - a trait that Kerry voters, but not Bush voters, also saw in themselves. Bush was seen by most as loyal and sincere, attributes that his voters also saw in themselves.

So in both Italy and America there was general agreement among voters in the personality traits of the political candidates. Crucially, it appeared that if a voter considered that they shared a candidate's traits, then they tended to vote for them.

The trouble so far is that the direction of causality has not been determined. People could be voting for politicians who they see as being like themselves, or they could be voting for a given politician and only afterwards forming the perception that that person is just like themselves. To test this, 120 American voters rated their own character and that of Bush and Kerry one week prior to the November 2004 Presidential election. People who saw themselves as similar to Kerry and dissimilar to Bush tended to go on to vote for Kerry (the reverse also held, with people who saw themselves as similar to Bush going on to vote for him).

“These findings...further attest to the role that personal characteristics of both voters and candidates play in orienting political preference,” the researchers said.

Caprara, G.V, Vecchione, M., Barbaranelli, C. & Fraley, R.C. (2007). When likeness goes with liking: The case of political preference. Political Psychology, 28, 609-632.
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