The price of thinking "It would have been worse under Saddam"

After news broke that US soldiers had mistreated their prisoners at the Abu Ghraib jail in Iraq, a common reaction among pro-war politicians was to remind the public that: "It would have been worse under Saddam". Whatever the truth of this claim, new research suggests that comparing a current situation with an even worse atrocity comes with a price - it desensitises our judgment of future moral violations.

Forty student participants read an account of the atrocities committed by US troops at Abu Ghraib. A random subset of these students then read about the torture and executions that took place at the prison during Saddam Hussein's regime. Regardless of their own beliefs, they then had to compose an argument for how conditions at the prison would have been worse under Saddam's control. Other students, instead of reading about the prison under Saddam, read about an Iraqi prison run by Danish guards where captives were treated ethically. These students then had to compose an argument for how the standards of the Danish guards were better than the US guards. A control group of students just read about the US troop atrocities.

After all this, the students reported their own views on the US troop atrocities and they answered questions about how US troops should treat prisoners in the future - for example, by stating whether or not they agreed with the use of torture to gain enemy information.

It turned out that the students who'd been asked to compare US-controlled Abu Ghraib conditions with conditions when under Saddam Hussein's control subsequently reported more lenient views of the atrocities by US troops and, most crucially, expressed lower ethical standards regarding how US troops should treat prisoners in the future, than did the control students and the students who compared US with Danish prison standards.

Keith Markman and colleagues who conducted the research said: "Our point is to question the usefulness of drawing a comparison between Abu Ghraib under American control and Abu Ghraib under Saddam's control....[I]t appears that the contemplation of such a comparison lowers personal standards toward the very comparison standard against which one is seeking to contrast."

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchMARKMAN, K., MIZOGUCHI, N., MCMULLEN, M. (2008). "It would have been worse under Saddam": Implications of counterfactual thinking for beliefs regarding the ethical treatment of prisoners of war. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44(3), 650-654. DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2007.03.005
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"I’m so blessed, it’s almost scary"

The New York Times has published an interview with psychologist Dan Gilbert of Harvard University, author of the best-selling "Stumbling on Happiness" which won the Royal Society science book prize last year.

Gilbert's research focuses on our knack of failing to predict how future events or experiences will make us feel - what psychologists call "affective forecasting".

We tend to think bad outcomes, such as illness or broken marriages, will be emotionally devastating, while believing that positive outcomes, such as a job promotion or winning the lottery, will leave us blissfully happy. The reality is that whatever happens in life, most of us tend to return fairly quickly to our emotional baseline. Also, according to Gilbert, so far as our happiness is open to positive influence, many of us fail to realise that it is relationships and experiences that are the most gratifying, not money or material stuff.

In the interview, Gilbert explains what led to him to pursue this line of research:

"Within a short period of time, my mentor passed away, my mother died, my marriage fell apart and my teenage son developed problems in school. What I soon found was that as bad as my situation was, it wasn’t devastating. I went on."
Link to New York Times interview with Dan Gilbert.
Link to Dan Gilbert's homepage.
Link to related research covered by the Digest.
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Living with chronic fatigue syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) can sometimes lead to an identity crisis so severe it is akin to dying. That's one message derived from comments made by fourteen people with the condition who were interviewed in-depth by health psychologists in Scotland.

CFS, also known as ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis), is a poorly understood condition characterised by long-term tiredness that persists even after sleep and rest. The organic cause is unknown.

Using a qualitative technique called interpretative phenomenological analysis (pdf), Adele Dickson and colleagues identified three themes in the accounts of what it is like to live with CFS: "Identity crisis: agency and embodiment"; "Scepticism and the self"; and "Acceptance, adjustment and coping."

The people with CFS said that the condition has stripped them of their identities and left them feeling detached from their minds and bodies. "The frequent use of the language of bereavement is suggestive of processes of mourning and even perhaps the death of anticipated self," the researchers said.

The lack of a medical explanation for CFS means the condition is often met with scepticism. The people with CFS said social interactions, rather than being supportive, often became a source of anxiety because of people's scepticism and the pressure to behave as if one did not have CFS. The interviewees said they even began to doubt themselves. One woman said she had asked herself: "Who am I and am I turning into a malingerer?"

Fortunately, most of the people with CFS had started to accept the reality of their new lives and small, achievable tasks were said to boost morale.

Adele Dickson and her co-workers concluded that there was an urgent need for health psychology to respond to the increasing prevalence of chronic health conditions such as CFS in Western Society. Health psychology needs to truly embrace a biopsychosocial model of illness, they said, and to conduct longitudinal qualitative research "to fully understand the processes underlying adaptation to illness."

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchDickson, A., Knussen, C., Flowers, P. (2008). 'That was my old life; it's almost like a past-life now': Identity crisis, loss and adjustment amongst people living with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Psychology & Health, 23(4), 459-476. DOI: 10.1080/08870440701757393
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The Special Issue Spotter

We trawl the web for the latest psychology journal special issues so you don't have to:

Learning, memory and psychopathology (Acta Psychologica).

Current directions. (Behavioural sciences and the Law).

Mentoring (Journal of Vocational Behaviour).

Positive organising. (The Journal of Positive Psychology).
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"It's beneath me": How dominant personalities are biased towards the vertical

People who are more dominant are quicker at processing information that appears in the vertical dimension of space, psychologists have found. The result comes from an expanding field of psychology looking at the ways that personality and culture can affect how we interact with the world.

Sara Moeller and colleagues asked dozens of students to identify as fast and as accurately as possible whether a letter on a computer screen was a "p" or a "q". On each trial, the letter always appeared randomly in one of four locations: to the left, right, above or below the screen mid-point. The test was repeated hundreds of times, with the students' attention always brought back to the centre of the screen after each letter presentation.

Students with more dominant personalities (judged by their agreement with statements like "I impose my will on others") were far quicker at identifying letters that appeared above or below the midpoint than would be expected based on their speed at identifying letters appearing to the left or right. By contrast, speed of response to the horizontal letters was not associated with personality dominance.

A second experiment replicated the finding with more students, a different measure of personality dominance and with the letters' positioning following a predictable rather than a random pattern.

Our language is littered with dominance metaphors that refer to the vertical dimension: we speak of "upper" classes and of people "high" in authority. Past research has shown that priming participants to think of verticality speeds their response to stimuli that are related to dominance in some way. According to Moeller and her co-workers, the new finding goes a step further by showing that having a dominant personality can actually bias people towards the vertical dimension.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchMoeller, S.K., Robinson, M.D., Zabelina, D.L. (2008). Personality Dominance and Preferential Use of the Vertical Dimension of Space: Evidence From Spatial Attention Paradigms. Psychological Science, 19(4), 355-361. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02093.x
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Measuring psychopathy in children and teenagers

Questionnaire measures of childhood and teenage psychopathy should not be used in clinical or forensic settings because their legitimacy has yet to be established.

That's the message from Carla Sharp and Sarah Kine who assessed four youth psychopathy questionnaires: The Antisocial Process Screening Device, The Child Psychopathy Scale, The Psychopathy Content Scale and The Youth Psychopathic Traits Inventory.

The closest thing to a gold standard in this field is the youth version of Hare's Psychopathy Checklist, but this requires lengthy interviews with children and their parents, hence the appeal of self-report questionnaires.

Sharp and Kine found the current batch of questionnaires had many strengths - for example, different items that are meant to gauge the same thing tended to correlate with each other, and high scores on the questionnaires tended to correlate with arrests or other measures of antisocial behaviour, as you'd expect.

However, there was a severe lack of longitudinal research with the measures, which is particularly important for distinguishing between typical teenage characteristics and genuine psychopathy. There was also a lack of consensus over whether child psychopathy is made up of two factors (callous plus antisocial) or three (arrogant/deceitful interpersonal style; irresponsible behaviour; plus emotional deficiencies).

The idea that psychopathy can be identified in childhood is a controversial and sensitive issue. In theory it could allow treatment to be targeted early on when it is most likely to be effective, but on the other hand, children labelled as psychopathic could see their liberties curtailed based on a clinical diagnosis. Given these concerns, and in the context of the current state of knowledge, Sharp and Kine advised that, right now, using youth psychopathy questionnaires in clinical and forensic settings may be "considered unethical".

Instead, they recommend the questionnaires may best be suited "for screening purposes that may lead to more comprehensive clinical interview, file review and the gathering of collateral information."

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchSharp, C., Kine, S. (2008). The Assessment of Juvenile Psychopathy: Strengths and Weaknesses of Currently Used Questionnaire Measures. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 13(2), 85-95. DOI: 10.1111/j.1475-3588.2008.00483.x
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Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

What might happen if psychologists revealed their religious faith to clients.

Cephalopod molluscs are conscious, don't you know. (See earlier).

How terror increases the appeal of controversial, charismatic leaders. (See earlier).

Pro-anorexia websites: professional and patient perspectives. (See earlier).
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Libet Redux: Free will takes another hammering

The scientist Benjamin Libet shocked the world in 1985 when he published research showing that preparatory brain activity occurs several hundred milliseconds prior to when people consciously choose to move.

His experiment suggested free will is an illusion. But there were problems with this interpretation. For example, the apparent lead time of the preparatory brain activity was so short that some critics suggested it could be accounted for by the inaccuracy of people's reports of when they'd made their conscious decisions to move.

Now, using modern brain imaging methods, Chun Siong Soon and colleagues have replicated and extended Libet's famous study - once again reinforcing the notion that our sense of free will is an illusion.

Participants had their brains scanned while they decided to press a button with their right or left index fingers. Participants referred to a constant stream of changing letters, visible on a screen, to indicate when they'd made their decision. Around ten seconds before participants reported making their conscious decision, patterns of brain activity in two areas correlated with the decision they would go on to make. These regions were in the frontopolar cortex and the parietal cortex.

Unlike Libet's study, which reported non-specific preparatory activity, the current experiment showed it was possible to use brain activity to discern which of two options a person was going to choose from, well before they consciously knew which choice they'd made.

Meanwhile, activity in the same movement-related brain area reported by Libet - the supplementary motor area - predicted when the participants would move, up to five seconds before they consciously decided to.

"Thus a network of high-level control areas can begin to shape an upcoming decision long before it enters awareness," the researchers concluded.

Link to earlier related Digest item.
Link to another related Digest item.
Link to essay arguing free will is not an illusion.
Link to recent journal special issue on free will.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchSoon, C.S., Brass, M., Heinze, H., Haynes, J. (2008). Unconscious determinants of free decisions in the human brain. Nature Neuroscience DOI: 10.1038/nn.2112

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For when you've had enough of journal articles:

Dan Jones, writing for Prospect Magazine, uncovers the psychological foundations of our moral beliefs.

ABC Radio's All in the Mind series continues with a programme about four-year-old Tara who lacks a corpus callosum, the bundle of nerve fibres that usually connect the two hemispheres. (MP3 audio).

The Freakonomics blog of the New York Times asks "How much progress have psychology and psychiatry really made?"

"The kindness of strangers": Zoe Lewis in the Guardian writes about her experience of group therapy for depression.

An article in the New York Times says we don't know enough about the effects of long term antidepressant treatment that starts in adolescence.

Listen to the latest Maudsley debate: Is happiness overrated? (MP3 audio).
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American football star diagnosed with what used to be known as multiple personality disorder

The former American football star Herschel Walker has dissociative identity disorder (DID; previously known as multiple personality disorder), according to a report on CNN.

The idea that people can fragment into multiple personalities (Herschel apparently has 12) has always generated feverish fascination among the public and experts alike. Unfortunately, an authoritative review published in 2005 reveals that our scientific understanding of the condition remains severely lacking (abstract here).

The prevalence of DID/multiple personality has tended to rise and fall dramatically depending on its profile at any given time - always a bad sign from a scientific perspective. The best known case is probably Sybil, with 16 personalities, whose condition was documented by the journalist Flora Schreiber in the 1970s.

Today DID is recognised by psychiatrists as one of a cluster of conditions including depersonalisation disorder (feeling unreal), dissociative fugue (forgetting yourself) and dissociative amnesia (forgetting specific autobiographical episodes).

The name change from multiple personality to DID reflected the fact that experts shifted their focus from the splitting of personalities to the presence of disorders in memory and consciousness. The diagnosis is only made in the absence of any identifiable organic cause.

A popular perspective is that DID emerges as a response to trauma experienced in childhood (Herschel says he was bullied at school). This view of DID makes intuitive sense but has been hard to verify scientifically as accounts are always based on patients' retrospective report.

Link to CNN report on Herschel Walker.
Link to authoritative review of DID (abstract here).
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Parents' socioeconomic status is associated with the way their children's brains respond to rhyme

The type of household a young child grows up in appears to be associated with the way their brain responds to rhyming sounds.

We already know from past research that the processing of sounds is vital to reading ability and that children from less advantageous backgrounds are at increased risk of developing reading problems. This new finding adds the brain jigsaw piece to the reading development puzzle.

Fourteen 5-year-olds had their brains scanned while they judged whether or not words, real and made-up, rhymed with each other. Among the children with wealthier, better educated parents, the difference in amount of activity between the left and right hemispheres tended to be larger while performing this task, than among the children with poorer and/or less educated parents. In other words, among the children whose parents were of higher socioeconomic status, language processing appeared to be more localised to the left hemisphere, as is seen in most adults.

The specific region of the brain showing this difference included an area famously associated with language, known as Broca's area, after its discoverer Paul Broca.

Moreover, the pattern of findings held even after taking into account the children's scores on tests on vocabulary and their awareness of the sounds in words. This means the brain scanning was highlighting links between socioeconomic background and language processing that the behavioural tests were not sensitive to. As well as revealing functional associations, the brain scans also showed that the children's socioeconomic background predicted the amount of brain cell volume in the Broca's area of their brains.

So, why is a child's home environment associated with the way their brain responds to rhyming sounds in particular and, presumably, language processing in general? Rajeev Raizada and colleagues who conducted the research said: "One candidate mechanism that we are currently investigating is the richness of the vocabulary and syntax to which a child is exposed."

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchRAIZADA, R., RICHARDS, T., MELTZOFF, A., KUHL, P. (2008). Socioeconomic status predicts hemispheric specialisation of the left inferior frontal gyrus in young children. NeuroImage, 40(3), 1392-1401. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.01.021
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Fold your arms to boost your performance

Faced with a challenging task, try folding your arms - new research shows people persevere for longer when their arms are crossed.

Ron Friedman and Andrew Elliot gave dozens of students an impossible anagram to solve. Half the students were instructed to attempt the puzzle with their hands on their thighs, while the other students were told to sit with their arms folded. The thigh group only persevered for about 30 seconds on average, while the students with their arms folded struggled on for nearly 55 seconds.

A second experiment involved testing more students with anagrams that had multiple solutions. This time, the students with their arms folded came up with more solutions than the students sat with their hands on their thighs.

The students had been told the research was part of an investigation into whether arm movements aid problem solving, and none of them guessed the true purpose of the study.

Further analysis showed that the benefits of arm folding were not related to mood or comfort. Rather the researchers believe that over many years, the act of crossing our arms comes to be implicitly associated with perseverance, so that adopting that position activates a nonconscious desire to succeed. However, they cautioned that it was important to consider context when using arm folding to influence your behaviour. In social contexts, arm folding may carry different meanings in different cultures, and can lead people to feel more distant from others.

The new findings follow a wealth of previous research showing how the positions of our bodies and the expressions on our faces don't just reflect how we are feeling, they can also influence our mood and behaviour. For example, smiling can cheer you up (pdf) and slouching can make you feel more helpless.

Link to earlier related Digest item.
Link to another related Digest item.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchFriedman, R., Elliot, A.J. (2008). The effect of arm crossing on persistence and performance. European Journal of Social Psychology, 38(3), 449-461. DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.444
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The Special Issue Spotter

We trawl the web for the latest psychology journal special issues so you don't have to:

Violence and mental illness (Psychiatric Services).

Current directions in risk and decision-making (Developmental Review).

International perspectives on brain imaging and the law (Behavioural Sciences and the Law).

Advances in Text Comprehension: Model, Process and Development (Applied Cognitive Psychology).
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Corporate integrity and retaliation by laid off staff

Employees made redundant often fight back - either bad mouthing their former employer, or taking legal action if they feel their dismissal was unfair. According to Daniel Skarlicki at the University of British Columbia and colleagues, companies wishing to avoid this kind of retaliation need to provide as much information as possible to the staff they're laying off, but more than that, they need to realise that this openness will only be effective if their staff perceive them to be of high integrity.

An initial experiment surveyed 730 people working across a range of industries who'd been laid off by their employers during the previous six months.

Among the 173 participants who responded, those who felt their former employer had low integrity and who received more information about why they had been made redundant were actually more likely to say they planned retaliation. The researchers speculated this was because, given the context of their employers' past behaviour, these employees viewed their companies' explanations as "cheap talk", which they found "distasteful".

A second experiment asked 57 middle managers to imagine scenarios in which they'd been laid off, either with or without transparent explanations as to why, and either in the context of perceiving their employer to be of low or high integrity. This time, the managers given plenty of explanation for their redundancy were far less likely to say they planned to retaliate, so long as their former employer was of high integrity, thus leading the explanations to be judged sincere.

Skarlicki and his colleagues advised that if companies want to ensure that future staff redundancies aren't met with animosity from laid off employees, they need to plan ahead by ensuring that any explanations they give in the future are judged to be sincere. "While the leaders' treatment of the layoff victims during the layoff is indeed important," the researchers said, "the antecedents to retaliation do not begin there, but in the history of previous actions related to integrity."

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchSkarlicki, D.P., Barclay, L.J., Douglas Pugh, S. (2008). When explanations for layoffs are not enough: Employer's integrity as a moderator of the relationship between informational justice and retaliation. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 81(1), 123-146. DOI: 10.1348/096317907X206848
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Behind the news

Connecting you to the psychological science behind the news:

1. Marital strife 'linked to rise in blood pressure' (The Scotsman).
A happy marriage is good for your blood pressure ... but a stressful one is worse than being single (Daily Mail).

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

2. Snakes and ladders can help a child's maths (Daily Telegraph).
Board games "boost early maths skills" (The Guardian).

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

3. 'Stop smoking in pregnancy for more relaxed babies' (The Independent).
Pregnant mothers who quit smoking ‘likeliest to have easy-going child’(The Times).

Link to journal source.
Link to lead author.

4. Face values applied to love game (BBC News online).
Face gives away sexual intentions, new study says (The Times).

Link to journal source.
Link to lead author.
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Magic trick reveals gaze direction and attention are not always linked

When magicians trick people using sleight of hand, you'd think it was all about misdirecting where the audience - specifically their eyes - are looking, hence the aphorism: "the hand is quicker than the eye."

But now psychologists in Durham and Dundee have shown that it's not so much where the audience's gaze is directed that is important, but rather where they are focusing their attention. That's right, the two things are not necessarily the same.

Most of the time we pay attention to where we're looking, but we don't have to. For example, we can, if we want, stare straight ahead while focusing our attention to the side.

Gustav Kuhn and colleagues played university students a clip of a short magic trick in which the magician appears to make a cigarette and lighter disappear. The cigarette "disappears" when the magician drops it into his lap while directing the audience's attention to his other hand.

Surprisingly, recordings of the students' eye movements showed that whether or not they spotted the cigarette drop (and hence realised how the trick was done) had nothing to do with their eye position at the moment of the drop. Blinks or eye movements during the drop were also irrelevant.

By contrast, the students' eye position after the cigarette drop was associated with whether they saw it. Specifically, those students who, after the drop, moved their eyes more quickly to the (now empty) cigarette hand, were more likely to report having seen the cigarette fall.

The likely explanation is that those students who, post drop, made the faster glance to the cigarette hand had already shifted their attentional spotlight (but not yet their eyes) to the cigarette, in time to see it drop. This would be consistent with previous research showing that our eye movements to a given location are preceded by an attentional shift to that same spot. This means that for the trick to work, the magician needs to misdirect the audience's covert attentional spotlight, not necessarily their overt eye position.

There's a final complication. Several of the students who spotted the dropped cigarette actually moved their eyes to the magician's face before his cigarette hand. They still glanced, post drop, to the cigarette hand faster than the students who didn't see the drop, but they looked at the face first. However, this is still consistent with our explanation. It merely suggests, in line with previous research, that the attentional spotlight can be two or more locations ahead of where the eyes have yet to move.

Link to magic trick.
Link to earlier related Digest item.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchKuhn, G., Tatler, B., Findlay, J., Cole, G. (2008). Misdirection in magic: Implications for the relationship between eye gaze and attention. Visual Cognition, 16(2), 391-405. DOI: 10.1080/13506280701479750
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Lads' mags and feelings of physical inadequacy - single men most at risk

We hear a lot about how the Western cultural ideal of an unrealistically skinny female figure can harm women's self-esteem and leave them feeling dissatisfied with their bodies. Now David Giles and Jessica Close have drawn attention to the fact that, with the media's increasing objectification of the male form, men too can be prone to feelings of physical inadequacy.

Specifically, Giles and Close have shown that greater exposure to lads' mags, like Zoo and FHM is associated with men wishing to be more muscular, and with their tending to accept cultural ideals regarding how the male body should be. These magazines tend to make fun of men who fall short of having a well-toned body and they place great emphasis on the importance of being successful with girls.

One hundred and sixty-one men (average age 22 years) answered questions about how often they read lads' magazines. They also completed a questionnaire about sociocultural attitudes towards appearance - for example, they rated their agreement with statements like "In our culture, someone with a well-built body has a better chance of obtaining success". Finally, they completed a questionnaire about their desire and attempts to be more muscular - for example, by rating their agreement with statements like "I think that my weight-training schedule interferes with other aspects of my life".

The researchers found that the degree to which lads' mag exposure was associated with men striving to be more muscular, depended largely on how much the men had come to accept and internalise cultural ideals regarding the male form. A further finding was that this association between the magazines and striving to be more muscular was stronger among single men than among men who were in a relationship.

A weakness of the study is its cross-sectional design: rather than the mags affecting the men, it's perfectly feasible that men who are more concerned with physical appearance tend to read lads' magazines more.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchGILES, D., CLOSE, J. (2008). Exposure to lad magazines and drive for muscularity in dating and non-dating young men. Personality and Individual Differences, 44(7), 1610-1616. DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2008.01.023
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Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

Cross-cultural differences in the way people in USA, UK and Malaysia view intelligence.

When people of Christian faith think about themselves, a different pattern of activity is observed in their brains compared with when non-religious people think about themselves.

Why do so many parachutists fail to pull the handle of their reserve chute? Is it because parachuting affects working memory?

A round up of all we currently know about synaesthesia.
You have read this article Extras with the title April 2008. You can bookmark this page URL Thanks!

Do babies understand that things exist when they're out of sight, or don't they?

When babies younger than nine months watch as an object is placed under a cloth, most will subsequently act as though it no longer exists - that is, they don't go looking for it. The pioneering developmental psychologist Jean Piaget thought this reflected the fact that babies of a certain age are unable to grasp the idea that objects continue to exist even when they are out of sight - what psychologists call "object permanence".

However, more recently, developmental psychologists have shown that young babies spend longer looking at a situation that appears to contradict object permanence (e.g. the object is no longer visible once the cloth is lifted), almost as though they're surprised that the rules of physics have been broken. These "looking time" experiments have led some experts to suggest that babies do have an understanding of object permanence, it's just that they lack the bodily coordination to look for hidden objects, or they lack the memory capabilities required to remember that the hidden object is still there.

Now Keith Moore and Andrew Meltzoff have cast some fresh illumination on these controversies. They found that the majority of the thirty-two 8.75-month-old babies they tested were able to lift a cloth to reveal a partially hidden toy, but failed to lift a cloth to reveal a completely hidden toy. This shows that it's not a lack of coordination that prevents young babies from passing tests of object permanence.

A second experiment showed that some 10-month-olds but none of the 8.75-month-olds benefited when a completely hidden toy emitted a noise. This suggests that it's not a memory issue causing the younger babies to fail to look for the hidden toys because presumably the noise would serve as a reminder.

Moore and Meltzoff think that the discrepancy between the looking time experiments and reaching experiments can be explained by the fact that they place different demands on the babies. In the looking time experiments, the babies have to compare what actually happened (i.e. no object) with the prior state of affairs (i.e. an object was there) whereas the reaching experiments are more difficult in that the babies have to make a prediction about what the future situation will be if they lift the cloth.

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchMOORE, M., MELTZOFF, A. (2008). Factors affecting infants manual search for occluded objects and the genesis of object permanence. Infant Behavior and Development, 31(2), 168-180. DOI: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2007.10.006
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For when you've had enough of journal articles:

Is anger a mental illness? Four experts debate in a Guardian podcast.

An interview with Lorna Martin, author of the book "Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown".

Watch Newsnight's report on the Brain Gym nonsense being taught in thousands of British schools, including critical comments from Colin Blakemore.

Bipolar Nation - Prospect Magazine asks whether bipolar disorder is about to take over from depression as the next diagnostic fad?

ABC Radio's All in the Mind continues with episodes on chimpanzee psychology and another on our irrationality (MP3 files).
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Can grammar be sexist?

There's a tendency in English to use the pronoun "he" when talking about a generic person. Sexist or merely convenient? Now Pascal Gygax and colleagues have asked a similar question of a grammatical convention in French and German, which is to use the masculine plural form when referring to several people by their role (e.g. footballers, hairdressers), and the gender of that group is either not known, irrelevant or mixed.

Used in this way, the masculine form is not meant to carry any meaning about gender - it's meant to be generic, but Gygax and colleagues have shown that when confronted with the male plural of a noun, people can't help but form a representation of men in their mind. The researchers argue this makes the grammatical convention sexist.

The convention has come about because, unlike in English, nouns in French and German have a grammatical gender. So when a group of people - let's say "spectators" - are being referred to, and they are of unknown gender, or mixed gender, there is a problem over whether to give the masculine (e.g. "spectateurs" in French) or feminine (e.g. "spectatrices") form of the noun. As we've seen, the convention is to use the masculine plural form to indicate that the gender of the group is mixed or not known.

To test whether people really do interpret the masculine plural form of nouns in this way, the researchers tested dozens of participants with many pairs of sentences that took the following form. The first sentence in each pair referred to a group using the masculine plural form of the noun (e.g. "The social workers were walking through the station"), while the second sentence followed up with a reference to some of the men or women in the group (e.g. "Since sunny weather was forecast, several of the women weren't wearing a coat").

If the masculine plural form of the noun "social workers" ("assistants sociaux" in French) is correctly interpreted as generic regarding gender, then the second sentence should make perfect sense, and be judged as so just as quickly, whether it refers to men or women. Crucially, however, the French and German participants took longer to say that the second sentence made sense if it referred to women. This was true even if the type of group referred to was stereotypically feminine, such as dress makers or beauticians.

Pointing to the fact that many job adverts still use the masculine plural form of nouns, the researchers concluded: "We believe that our results show that the so-called generic use of the masculine biases gender representations in a way that is discriminatory to women."

Blogging on Peer-Reviewed ResearchGygax, P., Gabriel, U., Sarrasin, O., Oakhill, J., Garnham, A. (2008). Generically intended, but specifically interpreted: When beauticians, musicians, and mechanics are all men. Language and Cognitive Processes, 23(3), 464-485. DOI: 10.1080/01690960701702035
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