The Special Issue Spotter

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

Sport & Exercise Psychology in Europe: Building on 40 years of FEPSAC - the European Federation of Sports Psychology (Psychology of Sport and Exercise).

Psychology in an economic world (Applied Psychology).

Shyness and language (Infant and Child Development).

Episodic Memory and the Brain (Neuropsychologia).

Genetics of High Cognitive Ability (Behavioural Genetics).
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Walking in other people's digital shoes could back-fire

They say you should walk a mile in a person's shoes before judging them. Virtual reality technology offers this possibility by allowing us to control a digital representation of another person. Unfortunately, the first ever investigation of racial perspective-taking in an immersive virtual environment has found that assuming a different racial identity leads to increased racial bias, not less.

Victoria Groom and colleagues invited 98 participants, half of whom were of White ethnicity, to view a photograph of either a Black or White person of the same gender as themselves, and to imagine they were that person. Next the participants donned a virtual reality headset which transported them to an empty room where they were interviewed for a job, still playing the role of that other person. Crucially, half the participants could see their new identity in a mirror in the virtual room, and as they answered some introductory questions they spent at least a minute observing their adopted selves in the mirror.

After this brief immersive experience, White participants who'd assumed a new identity as a Black person, and seen their new identity in the mirror, showed increased implicit racial bias, as compared with the White participants who'd embodied the identity of a White person. Black participants too, showed increased implicit bias against Black people after embodying the virtual identity of another Black person. For the participants who didn't see their new digital selves in the virtual mirror, there were no effects on racial bias.

Implicit bias was measured using the implicit association test, which records the ease with which people associate categories (such as positive words and African American names) by assigning those categories to the same or different response keys. Explicit racial bias was measured but was unaffected by the experiment.

The finding that embodying a Black person in a virtual environment can increase racial bias may seem counter-intuitive at first, but it's possible that the effect occurred due to an established phenomenon known as "stereotype activation", in which racially-relevant stimuli can activate negative stereotypes, even if those stereotypes aren't endorsed. This would explain why the Black participants also showed increased implicit bias, and why explicit bias was unaffected in participants of both ethnicities.

"Those who have championed digital technologies as a means to render race flexible and racism obsolete maybe disheartened by these results," the researchers said. However, they cautioned that their results are far from conclusive, especially given the brevity of the immersive experience studied in this experiment.

ResearchBlogging.orgGroom, V., Bailenson, J., & Nass, C. (2009). The influence of racial embodiment on racial bias in immersive virtual environments. Social Influence, 1-18 DOI: 10.1080/15534510802643750
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Our changing attitudes to time

Youngsters tend to live for the moment whilst older folks are more concerned about their futures. But when in a person's life does this change in perspective usually occur? A new study identifies a period between the ages of thirteen and sixteen as being critical. Laurence Steinberg and colleagues asked 935 people between the ages of ten and thirty years to answer questions regarding how much they think about the future, and to complete a time-discounting task. Briefly, this required them to make a number of hypothetical choices between less money now or more money at a later date. Choosing more money available later is a sign of being more oriented to the future.

A key difference emerged between participants who were aged thirteen and younger versus those aged sixteen and older, with the older group being more future oriented. There were no age-related differences among participants aged thirteen or less, or among participants aged sixteen or more, whilst fourteen and fifteen-year-olds were mixed, with a time orientation that did not differ from the younger or older groups.

Another important finding was that a tendency to favour immediate rewards was associated with the participants' self-reported tendency to not think about the consequences of their actions, but was less related to their self-reported impulsivity and disinclination to plan ahead. It's a subtle distinction, but Steinberg's team said this implies future orientation is influenced by at least two developmental trajectories: one relating to a proclivity to plan ahead, which continues to emerge well into early adulthood, and another related to a diminishing salience of immediate rewards, which as we've seen, undergoes a crucial change in mid-adolescence.

ResearchBlogging.orgSteinberg, L., Graham, S., O’Brien, L., Woolard, J., Cauffman, E., & Banich, M. (2009). Age Differences in Future Orientation and Delay Discounting. Child Development, 80 (1), 28-44 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2008.01244.x
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Do you love humanity?

"I love humanity but I hate people"
Edna St. Vincent Millay (American poet and playwright).

Psychology hasn't paid enough attention to the regard people have towards humanity - their "humanity-esteem". That's according to Michelle Luke and Gregory Maio whose new research suggests a person's view of humanity can have important social implications, for example affecting their proclivity for racism. If we think highly of humankind, it follows that we're less likely to have a negative attitude to other ethnic groups - after all, they're human too.

In an initial study, the researchers devised a new 10-item psychology questionnaire (featuring items like "On the whole I am satisfied with the evolution of humanity") and a single-item, 9-point scale version ("Overall, how favourable are you toward human beings in general?"). The researchers confirmed, with the help of hundreds of student participants, that humanity-esteem is a unidimensional construct and that it is related to, but not completely explained by, a person's feelings towards and beliefs about people, such as whether they tend to be trustworthy or not.

In further investigations, the researchers showed that people's humanity-esteem can be influenced by presenting them with images casting humankind in a positive light (e.g. a child kissing an older relative, with a strap-line celebrating the benefit of families) or in a negative light (e.g. a Palestinian man carrying a dying boy, with a strap-line blaming unrest for innocent deaths).

Moreover, increasing people's humanity-esteem with positive images was found to reduce their subsequent tendency to differentiate between groups, whilst negative images had the opposite effect. This has real-world implications, the researchers warned. "Because the media often emphasises the negative side of human nature, it may have a negative influence on humanity-esteem and increase problems of discrimination. Awareness of this potential effect should enter discussions of the ways in which events are covered." Luke and Maio end their paper with a call for more research on this topic. "Evaluations of humanity merit far more attention than they have received," they said.

ResearchBlogging.orgLUKE, M.L., & MAIO, G.R. (2009). Oh the humanity! Humanity-esteem and its social importance. Journal of Research in Personality, 43 (4), 586-601 DOI: 10.1016/j.jrp.2009.03.001
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Unleash the crowd within

You can boost your quiz performance by unleashing the crowd within, a new study shows. The next time you're asked to estimate a historical date, for example, try doing the following: make your first estimate; then pause and assume your first guess was off the mark. Consider why, then use this new perspective to make a second estimate. Average your two estimates and, chances are, this newly calculated date will be more accurate than your original answer. The new approach is called "dialectical boot-strapping" and according to Stefan Herzog and Ralph Hertwig, it really works.

We've known since at least the time of Francis Galton that the averaged judgement of a group of independent individuals will nearly always outperform the judgement of a lone individual, no matter how expert he or she is. Galton, who was Darwin's cousin, showed this by averaging the guesses of 787 people as to the weight of an ox on show at a cattle exhibition in Plymouth in 1906. Remarkably, the crowd's averaged estimate was off by just one pound.

The wisdom of a crowd of independent-minded individuals emerges because the error in contrasting judgements is cancelled out. Imagine a jar of 100 beans. I estimate that there are 110 beans in the jar and you estimate their are 90. The errors in our judgements cancel out and together we are more accurate. Of course, real life isn't that neat, but the general principle holds, so long as our judgements are independent. If a group of individuals are not independently minded, perhaps because they're relying on the same faulty information, then collective wisdom will not emerge, because everyone's errors will all fall in the same direction.

Back to dialectical boot-strapping: Herzog and Hertwig asked 101 participants to estimate historical dates, such as the discovery of electricity. Crucially, half the participants used the dialectical boot-strapping technique. They made their first estimate, considered how it might be wrong, and then used this new perspective to make a new estimate. The other control participants simply made two best estimates.

The average of each dialectical boot-strapper's two guesses was, on average, 4.1 per cent more accurate than their initial estimate (72 per cent of them benefited by using this technique). By contrast, the average of each control participant's two estimates was, on average, just 0.3 per cent more accurate than their initial estimate.

"Part of the wisdom of the many resides in an individual mind," the researchers said. "Dialectical bootstrapping is a simple mental tool that fosters accuracy by leveraging people's capacity to construct conflicting realities."

ResearchBlogging.orgHerzog, S., & Hertwig, R. (2009). The Wisdom of Many in One Mind: Improving Individual Judgments With Dialectical Bootstrapping. Psychological Science, 20 (2), 231-237 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02271.x

Useful related links grabbed from the wisdom of the comments section (thanks people):

*Condorcet's jury theorem
*Two averaged guesses, without deliberate dialectical boot-strapping, can also be beneficial
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Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

How much should recycling signs acknowledge the inconvenience of recycling?

Amount of attendance at religious ceremonies, but not regular prayer, is associated with people expressing greater support for suicide attacks.

Researchers create rat casino to study problem gambling.

Agreement with the statement "I felt depressed" predicts the likelihood of an older adult dying over the next five years. (hat tip: mind hacks).

Introducing the wonderfully named Jackson-5 scales.

Differences in the perceived route to happiness across 27 nations fell into three distinct categories.
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Are shooting club members more aggressive than most?

After the horror of a shooting spree, it sometimes emerges in the media that the killer was a member of a shooting club. Unsurprisingly, calls often then ensue for shooting club membership to be discouraged or even banned. Two assumptions underlie such calls: first, that shooting clubs attract aggressive people to their membership, and second, that contact with guns increases aggression. Now Maria Hagtegaal and colleagues have tested whether this is true, by comparing the self-reported aggression levels and personality profiles of 59 members of Dutch shooting associations and 67 non-member, age-matched controls. Their key finding was that shooting club members are less aggressive and impulsive than controls, not more, and that most of them became a member for relaxation, or to socialise, whereas only a small minority (6 per cent) joined the club to let off steam or vent their frustration.

Obviously a major weakness of this study is its reliance on self-report. But the researchers recognised this and included a measure of "social desirability" - the tendency for participants to answer in a way that casts them in the best possible light. The social desirability measure included impossibly good items like, "Are all your habits good and desirable ones?". Strong agreement with such statements indicates dishonest answering. The shooting club members displayed more social desirability than the controls, but crucially, their lower aggression and impulsivity remained even after adjustment for their higher social desirability.

ResearchBlogging.orgNagtegaal, M., Rassin, E., & Muris, P. (2009). Do members of shooting associations display higher levels of aggression? Psychology, Crime & Law, 15 (4), 313-325 DOI: 10.1080/10683160802241682

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The Trolley dilemma revisited

Most of us agree that murder, rape and plunder are wrong. Moral psychology gets more tricky when the interests of the many are pitted against the few, as in the classic "trolley dilemma", in which a person must divert a hurtling trolley towards a lone victim, so as to save the lives of five others. In a new analysis, using multiple variants of this classic moral brain-teaser, Joshua Greene and colleagues show that when it comes to judging the moral acceptability of a person's actions, there seems to be something special about whether or not they used their own muscular force, and whether or not they intended any subsequent harm caused.

In an initial experiment, over 600 students judged the moral acceptability of four versions of the trolley dilemma. In the first, "Joe" must save the five by pushing a victim into the trolley's path. The second involves Joe dropping the victim through a trap-door into the trolley's path, using a switch in a remote location. The third was identical the second, but the switch is adjacent to the victim. The final fourth variation involves Joe pushing the victim into the trolley's path with a pole.

Spatial proximity appeared to be an irrelevant factor - the location of the trap-door switch made no difference to the students' moral judgements. Actual physical contact, too, seemed to be irrelevant - Joe pushing the victim with a pole was judged as immoral as with his hands. Crucially, however, using one's own bodily strength made an action less morally acceptable, as evinced by Joe's pole pushing being rated as morally worse than his use of the trap-door switch.

A second experiment developed this idea and showed further that an action is most morally condemnable when personal force and intention co-occur. Students judged as most morally unacceptable a situation in which Joe deliberately pushed a victim off a bridge so that he could reach a switch to save five others. By contrast, if the victim was knocked off the bridge accidentally so Joe could reach the switch, or if Joe killed him by diverting a trolley with a switch, then the students' moral judgements were not so harsh.

"Put simply, something special happens when intention and personal force co-occur," the researchers said. This prompts many further questions, such as what counts as personal force. "Must it be continuous (as in pushing), or may it be ballistic (as in throwing)?" the researchers asked. "Is pulling the same as pushing?"

ResearchBlogging.orgGreene, J., Cushman, F., Stewart, L., Lowenberg, K., Nystrom, L., & Cohen, J. (2009). Pushing moral buttons: The interaction between personal force and intention in moral judgment. Cognition, 111 (3), 364-371 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2009.02.001
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Thinking that you're blushing makes you blush even more

In what sounds like a rather unpleasant experience, participants who were given false feedback that they were blushing, subsequently blushed more and anticipated being negatively judged by the people they were conversing with. The finding could help explain why some shy people fall into a vicious circle of fearing blushing, feeling that they are blushing more than they are, and ultimately fearing social situations because of it.

Corine Dijk and colleagues recruited one hundred undergrads who'd been selected from a larger pool based on their scores on a blushing questionnaire: 50 of them were highly fearful of blushing whereas the other 50 had little or no fear of blushing.

The participants' task was to make conversation for five minutes with two strangers. Throughout, the participants were wired up to physiological measures of their facial skin temperature and colour. Crucially, half of them were given feedback, via a vibrating device on their finger, about how much they were blushing. They thought the feedback was accurate, but really it was fixed in advance. The research assistants didn't know which students were in which condition.

The main findings were that giving the participants false feedback that they were blushing actually caused them to blush more, and led them to think they'd be more negatively rated by the students they had to make conversation with. This was true for both groups of participants - those scared of blushing and those not fearful of blushing.

However, there was an important distinction between the two participant groups: the blushing-phobic participants overestimated how much they were blushing far more than the non-phobic participants. This could help explain why blushing phobics are more likely to find themselves caught in an uncomfortable cycle of self-consciousness and negative social expectations.

A surprise finding was that participants given false blushing feedback were rated by the research assistants as less likeable than the control participants, although these negative ratings were not as bad as the participants thought they would be.

The researchers said their findings had a number of clinical implications. First of all, it might help to educate people that blushing doesn't lead to evaluations that are as bad as they think they will be. Secondly, the finding that the phobic and non-phobic participants given false blush feedback were rated poorly by the research assistants suggests that (blush phobic or not) the awareness that we're blushing can lead us to behave awkwardly, perhaps because we become overly self-conscious. 'Accordingly, blushing-fearfuls may be helped with training that aims to continue normal behaviour while blushing,' the researchers said.

ResearchBlogging.orgDijk, C., Voncken, M., & de Jong, P. (2009). I blush, therefore I will be judged negatively: influence of false blush feedback on anticipated others’ judgments and facial coloration in high and low blushing-fearfuls. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 47 (7), 541-547 DOI: 10.1016/j.brat.2009.03.005
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The Special Issue Spotter

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

Ambulatory assessment (European Psychologist). Ambulatory assessment involves investigation of self-report, physiology, or behavior in real-time, in everyday life.

Typical development of numerical cognition (Journal of Experimental Child Psychology).

The use of support devices in electronic learning environments (Computers in Human Behaviour).

Contemporary methodology in psychology (Review of General Psychology).
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Beauty: symmetry versus averageness

It's a far cry from the almond eyes and radiant smiles of poetry, but according to psychology research, beauty lies, with some sterility, in the averageness and symmetry of a face. That much we know.

The trouble is, studies on this topic have tended to create highly average faces by morphing lots of real faces altogether, and in the process they've created faces that are also highly symmetrical. It's a similar tale for investigations of symmetry, where the creation of artificially symmetrical faces has tended to also lead to highly average faces.

In other words, it's been difficult to tease apart these two factors. Research that asks people to rate the attractiveness of real faces can get around this problem, but these studies are also prone to error because they've tended to only use a few anchoring points when measuring symmetry.

Now Masashi Komori and colleagues think they've found the answer. They've borrowed an innovative mathematical technique from the world of paleontology called "geometric morphometrics" and used it to measure the averageness and symmetry of 96 undergrad faces based on 72 facial feature points.

Comparing their facial measurements with the attractiveness ratings given to these faces by 114 participants, the researchers concluded that for women, it is only averageness that predicts perceived attractiveness - that is, the closer a woman's face to the average female face, the more highly attractive she was rated by participants. For male faces, by contrast, attractiveness was linked to both averageness and greater symmetry.

Why should symmetry be linked with perceived attractiveness for male faces, but not for female faces? Kormori's team aren't sure, but one clue could come from the fact that symmetry correlated with the perceived masculinity of a face (whereas its inverse correlation with the femininity of female faces was only weak). This suggests that a symmetric male face is perhaps seen as highly masculine, and a good prospect as a reproductive partner.

"In the future it is necessary to investigate which facial areas contribute to facial averageness and symmetry, and which facial areas have a greater impact on facial attractiveness," the researchers said.

ResearchBlogging.orgKomori, M., Kawamura, S., & Ishihara, S. (2009). Averageness or symmetry: Which is more important for facial attractiveness? Acta Psychologica, 131 (2), 136-142 DOI: 10.1016/j.actpsy.2009.03.008
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Driver stereotypes affect our memory of how fast a car was travelling

When I see a car fast approaching in the rear-view mirror, I find I can't help but make assumptions about the personality of the driver based on the model of car they're driving. Now a new study suggests these kinds of stereotypes can affect our memory for how fast a car was travelling - a finding that could have important implications for the trustworthiness of eye witness statements.

In an initial experiment, Graham Davies played ten-second video clips of a BMW and a (smaller, less powerful) Volkswagen Polo to 42 undergrads and asked them to estimate how fast the cars were going. Based on past research showing that participants expect BMWs to be driven faster than Volkswagen Polos, Davies thought that the students would overestimate the speed of the BMW. In fact, he found the opposite. Participants tended to overestimate the speed of the Polo, perhaps because it was a noisier car, and smaller vehicles are generally perceived as going faster than larger cars.

A second experiment pulled out all the stops in an attempt to provoke participants to rely on their driver stereotypes. Participants were told that the BMW was driven by a young male, and the Polo by a 62-year-old; they were shown photos of the drivers; and they were asked to speculate about the drivers' personalities. But even after all this, the participants' judgements of the cars' speeds were still accurate and there was no tendency to overestimate the speed of the BMW. This was true even though participants had earlier made the kind of assumptions about the two drivers that you might expect - for example, that the BMW driver was more aggressive and reckless.

The key finding emerged in the third experiment. This was similar to the first two, but this time participants were asked, unexpectedly, to estimate the speed of the cars a day after seeing the video clips. In this case, the BMW's speed was estimated to be significantly faster (56 mph) than the Polo's (50 mph), even though both cars were actually travelling at the same speed (60 mph). Davies was surprised that both estimates were below the cars' actual speeds, but nonetheless the retrospective judgements appeared to have been influenced by the stereotypes held by participants' about the cars and their drivers. Moreover, the real-world relevance of this finding is clear, given that it is this kind of retrospective judgement that eye witnesses are asked to make following a crime.

ResearchBlogging.orgDavies, G. (2009). Estimating the speed of vehicles: the influence of stereotypes. Psychology, Crime & Law, 15 (4), 293-312 DOI: 10.1080/10683160802203971
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Simulating anarchic hand syndrome in the lab

Imagine one of your hands having a life of its own, reaching, grabbing and clutching whatever it likes. Such a condition exists, is known as anarchic hand syndrome, and usually develops after brain damage to the front of the brain. One famous sufferer is Dr Strangelove in the eponymous Stanley Kubrick film. Now Al Cheyne and colleagues think they've found a way to simulate this bizarre condition in the lab.

Cheyne's team had 16 participants perform a test of sustained attention. Whenever a number between "1" and "9" appeared on the computer screen, participants had to press the "M" key on the keyboard with their right hand, with one exception. On the rare occasions that the digit "3" appeared, they had to suppress their usual response and instead press the "Z" key with their left hand.

Whenever they made an error on one of these rare switch trials, the participants were asked to say how much they felt in control of the action, and how much they felt their hand was in control.

Errors on switch trials occurred on average about 35 per cent of the time, and led to the odd sensation of knowing that one should be pressing the "Z" key with the left hand, but instead seeing one's right hand go on ahead and press the "M" key.

Crucially, the participants' reports showed that these errors were associated with the sense that their hand was in control more than they were - a phenomenon the researchers dubbed "attention-lapse induced alienation".

Everyday we perform apparently automatic actions, from brushing our teeth to driving to work, and yet they don't lead to this feeling of alien control. Cheyne's team said the key factor leading to the sense of lost control (both in the lab, and in anarchic hand syndrome) is that the errant action(s) continues in direct conflict with a different consciously intended goal. "For alienation to occur, the automatic action must, as it were, be caught in flagrante delicto and continue even as we intend otherwise for us to imbue it with an alien source," they said.

Link to related Digest post: Simulating déjà vu in the lab.

ResearchBlogging.orgCheyne, J., Carriere, J., & Smilek, D. (2009). Absent minds and absent agents: Attention-lapse induced alienation of agency Consciousness and Cognition, 18 (2), 481-493 DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2009.01.005
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Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

More clues as to how meditation affects the brain.

Amusics can hear pitch changes, they just don't know they can.

The psychology of comforting.

Are today's youngsters more narcissistic than previous generations?

Sense of touch is enhanced in blind people on some tasks, but not others.

A participant's familiarity with computers can affect their performance on some computerised neuropsychological tests.

People with schizophrenia can feel embarrassment.

We underestimate the rapid consequences of economic growth.

Subitizing is our ability to recognise small quantities at a glance, without counting. We can do this with our sense of touch too.

A major drawback to prosthetic limbs is the lack of sensory feedback they provide. "Targeted reinnervation" could provide the answer. This involves taking the nerves that once innervated the severed limb and re-routing them to nearby skin or muscle where they form new connections. "This creates a sensory expression of the missing limb in the amputee's reinnervated skin. When these individuals are touched on this reinnervated skin they feel as though they are being touched on their missing limb."
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We're faster at processing words that relate to bigger things

When it comes to the dictionary of the mind, size counts. I'm not talking about the printed size of a word, but rather the size of the object that the word denotes. A new study shows that we're faster at processing words that refer to big things than we are at processing words that denote small things.

Sara Sereno and colleagues presented 28 participants with: 45 "big" words, such as truck and whale; 45 "small" words, such as bacteria and teaspoon; as well as 90 nonsense words, such as blimble. The participants' task was to press one of two keys as quickly and accurately as possible to indicate whether the presented word was a real word or a nonsense word.

Even though the "big" and "small" words were matched carefully across a range of characteristics - such as how easy they were to imagine, their frequency and length - the researchers found that participants were significantly quicker, by a fraction of a second, at identifying "big" words compared with "small" words. Even after taking into account other possible confounds, such as the time it takes to utter the words, the result still held.

Sereno's team said their findings are consistent with past research showing that bigger things get prioritised in the brain. A classic study even showed that this works in reverse, such that we tend to perceive things we value more as being bigger.

"We suggest that a reason why bigger items might generate faster responses is related to imageability," the researchers wrote. "While both bigger and smaller items can be equally highly imageable (and were in our experiment), it may be that the relative speed of accessing a stored visual representation is faster when the object is bigger."

ResearchBlogging.orgSereno, S., O'Donnell, P., & Sereno, M. (2009). Size matters: Bigger is faster. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 62 (6), 1115-1122 DOI: 10.1080/17470210802618900
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We're unable to read our own body language

A fascinating study has shown that we're unable to read insights into ourselves from watching a video of our own body language. It's as if we have an egocentric blind spot. Outside observers, by contrast, can watch the same video and make revealing insights into our personality.

The premise of the new study is the tip-of-the-iceberg idea that what we know consciously about ourselves is fairly limited, with much of our self-knowledge lying beyond conscious access. The researchers wondered whether people would be able to form a truer picture of themselves when presented with a video of their own body language.

In an initial study, Wilhelm Hofmann and colleagues first had dozens of undergrad students rate how much of an extrovert they are, using both explicit and implicit measures. The explicit measure simply required the students to say whether they agreed that they were talkative, shy and so on. The implicit measure used was the Implicit Association Test, and was intended to tap into subconscious self-knowledge. Briefly, this test reveals how much people associate ideas in their mind (such as 'self' and 'shy'), by seeing whether they are quicker or slower to respond when two ideas are allocated the same response key on a keyboard.

Next, the participants recorded a one minute television commercial for a beauty product (they'd been told the study was about personality and advertising). The participants then watched back the video of themselves, having been given guidance on non-verbal cues that can reveal how extraverted or introverted a person is. Based on their observation of the video, they were then asked to rate their own personality again, using the explicit measure.

The key question was whether seeing their non-verbal behaviour on video would allow the participants to rate their personality in a way that was consistent with their earlier scores on the implicit test.

Long story short - they weren't able to. The participants' extraversion scores on the implicit test showed no association with their subsequent explicit ratings of themselves, and there was no evidence either that they'd used their non-verbal behaviours (such as amount of eye contact with the camera) to inform their self-ratings.

In striking contrast, outside observers who watched the videos made ratings of the participants' personalities that did correlate with those same participants' implicit personality scores, and it was clear that it was the participants' non-verbal behaviours that mediated this correlation (that is, the observers had used the participants' non-verbal behaviours to inform their judgements about the participants' personalities).

Two further experiments showed that this general pattern of findings held even when participants were given a financial incentive to rate their own personality accurately, as if from an outside observer's perspective, and also when the task involved anxiety personality ratings following the delivery of a short speech.

What was going on? Why can't we use a video of ourselves to improve the accuracy of our self-perception? One answer could lie in cognitive dissonance - the need for us to hold consistent beliefs about ourselves. People may well be extremely reluctant to revise their self-perceptions, even in the face of powerful objective evidence. A detail in the final experiment supports this idea. Participants seemed able to use the videos to inform their ratings of their "state" anxiety (their anxiety "in the moment") even while leaving their scores for their "trait" anxiety unchanged.

"When applied to the question of how people may gain knowledge about their unconscious self, the present set of studies demonstrates that self-perceivers do not appear to pay as much attention to and make as much use of available behavioural information as neutral observers," the researchers said.

ResearchBlogging.orgHofmann, W., Gschwendner, T., & Schmitt, M. (2009). The road to the unconscious self not taken: Discrepancies between self- and observer-inferences about implicit dispositions from nonverbal behavioural cues. European Journal of Personality, 23 (4), 343-366 DOI: 10.1002/per.722
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Using a little imagination to help beat racism

Prejudice and animosity between groups derives largely from the idea that the "they" are somehow different from "us". Hundreds of studies have shown that this animosity can dissolve when members of different groups make contact with each other - becoming friends, colleagues and neighbours. Unfortunately, contact between members of different groups isn't always possible. Just think of the racial segregation in many British cities.

Promisingly, however, research has shown that so-called "extended contact" can also help break down prejudices - that is, simply having a friend who is friends with a member of the out-group can improve a person's attitudes towards that group. Now an exciting new study has taken this line of research even further, showing that merely imagining positive contact with members of an out-group can help improve attitudes towards that group.

In an initial experiment, Rhiannon Turner and Richard Crisp had half of 25 students aged between 18 and 23 spend two minutes imagining a positive encounter with an elderly person, whilst the remaining students imagined an outdoor scene. These were the specific instructions for the imagined contact group: "imagine yourself meeting an elderly stranger for the first time. Imagine that during the encounter, you find out some interesting and unexpected things about the person."

Afterwards, the students who'd imagined meeting an elderly person subsequently showed more positive attitudes towards elderly people than did the control group. This was true whether their attitudes were tapped using an explicit questionnaire, or using a test of implicit, subconsciously held, attitudes - the IAT. Briefly, this measures how easily people associate pairs of categories, such as old people and negative words, or young people and positive words, by allocating the categories to the same or different response keys.

A second experiment replicated this finding but in the context of non-Muslim participants' attitudes towards Muslims. In this case, the control condition required the participants to merely "think about Muslims" in contrast to the intervention which required participants to imagine a positive encounter with a Muslim person. Again, the participants who imagined a positive encounter subsequently showed more positive attitudes, explicit and implicit, compared with the control group. This shows that it is specifically imagining a positive encounter with an out-group member that is beneficial, not just thinking generally about that out-group.

"Given that direct intergroup contact is a highly effective means of reducing prejudice, these findings suggest that imagined contact is an exciting alternative to direct contact that can be used in contexts where face-to-face contact is not possible," the researchers said.

ResearchBlogging.orgTurner, R., & Crisp, R. (2009). Imagining intergroup contact reduces implicit prejudice. British Journal of Social Psychology DOI: 10.1348/014466609X419901
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The Special Issue Spotter

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

Bilingualism: Acquisition of Linguistic and non-Linguistic Skills in Bilinguals (Brain and Language).

Letter Recognition: From Perception to Representation (Cognitive Neuropsychology).

Symposium on suicide terrorism (Political Psychology).

Researching the Practice, Practicing the Research, and Promoting Responsible Policy: Usable Knowledge in Mind, Brain, and Education (Mind, Brain and Education).

Special Issue on Social Support (Journal of Social and Personal Relationships).

Puzzlingly High Correlations in fMRI Studies of Emotion, Personality, and Social Cognition - The Voodoo Study! - plus responses (Perspectives on Psychological Science).
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Women seeking men should use direct chat-up lines

In 2006, evolutionary psychologists published research on the effectiveness of different types of chat-up lines used by men when flirting with women. Male and female participants agreed that lines demonstrating the men's helpfulness, generosity, athleticism, ‘culture’ and wealth were likely to be effective, whereas jokes, empty compliments and sexual references were given the thumbs down.

Now a separate team of psychologists led by Joel Wade have performed a similar investigation, this time focused on chat-up lines used by women. They said such an investigation was timely given that (in their North American) culture women are now increasingly assertive and proactive in seeking sexual relations. The new findings suggest that chat-up lines used by women are perceived as most effective when they are direct (e.g. "Want to meet up later tonight?") rather than more subtle (e.g. "Hello, how is it going?") or sexual/humorous (e.g. "Your shirt matches my bed spread, basically you belong in my bed").

Wade's team began their investigation by asking 40 female undergrads to provide five examples of chat-up lines they would use, and to say how likely it is that they would approach a man in this way. The participants' answers showed many of them would indeed be willing to initiate contact with a man they were interested in.

The participants' chat-up lines were then compiled into ten categories before being rated for effectiveness by 38 women and 32 men. Men and women alike considered direct lines to be the most effective.

The researchers said their findings were consistent with past research showing that, during the first minute of interaction, women with a professed interest in a man send no more non-verbal signals than do non-interested women. "In other words," they explained, "it is hard for a man to determine whether or not a woman is interested in the first few minutes of an interaction. With this in mind, since men are not aware of how well they are doing in terms of getting a date, both sexes may feel a direct approach would be most effective."

ResearchBlogging.orgJoel Wade, T., Butrie, L., & Hoffman, K. (2009). Women’s direct opening lines are perceived as most effective. Personality and Individual Differences, 47 (2), 145-149 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2009.02.016
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June issue of The Psychologist magazine available FREE online

The digital format allows you to flick through the pages as if you had the publication in your hands. Inside you'll find articles on: World famous psychologist Albert Bandura's efforts to tackle global problems with the help of psychosocial theory; The benefits and dangers of virtual worlds for psychology research, teaching and therapy; The psychology of siblings; Giftedness and the brain; plus masses more.

The Psychologist magazine is the Society's flagship publication, see the homepage for this month's issue, our latest news, a readers' forum and access to the online archive.

The Psychologist is free to members of the British Psychological Society
(join here), or just £60 per year (£70 overseas) for non-members (e-mail sarah.stainton [@]
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