"I wanted a new challenge" - Cross-cultural differences in workers' thoughts about their career changes

It's not many generations ago that workers expected to have a job for life, most probably one that followed in the footsteps of their father, and his father before that. In many of today's richer societies, it's all different. Longer education and greater individual choice mixed with mergers, take-overs and bankruptcies mean that people's careers are typically punctuated by a series of distinct transitions or chapters. But how do people perceive these transitions and do such perceptions vary between cultures? To find out, Katharina Chudzikowski and her colleagues interviewed a mix of over a hundred nurses and blue- and white-collar workers from five countries - Austria, Serbia, Spain, USA and China.

Their stand-out finding? Workers in the United States didn't ever attribute a career transition to an external cause, such as conflict with a boss. Not once. Instead they tended to mention internal factors, such as their desire for a fresh challenge. By contrast, workers in China almost exclusively stressed the role played by external factors. Meanwhile, workers in the the European nations were more of a mix, attributing their career transitions to both internal and external factors.

The researchers said a lot of the transitions reported by the participants, especially in the USA and Europe, were positive. Generally-speaking, people are known to be biased towards attributing positive events to themselves, and so it's perhaps little wonder that many workers attributed all these positive career transitions to internal causes. "In addition," the researchers said, "in many cultures 'being in charge' of one's life is positively valued. Conversely, reconstructing crucial career transitions as purely triggered by external circumstances does not convey a great amount of competence."

Where workers showed a greater tendency to attribute their career transitions to external causes, this seemed to be related to the influence of a collectivist culture and an economy in flux. "Countries with more dynamic economic change show a stronger emphasis on organisational and macro factors," the researchers said.

Apart from the value of its findings, the study also provides a useful demonstration of the difficulties involved in conducting cross-cultural research. For example, whilst interviews were conducted in the participants' native languages, the transcripts were translated into English for qualitative analysis, which raised some interesting problems. For example, some German-speaking interviewees cited "Wirtschaft" as an influencing factor - a word that can mean economy, industry, commerce or business world, but which also has mythical-religious undertones. There's no real direct equivalent in English.

ResearchBlogging.orgChudzikowski, K., Demel, B., Mayrhofer, W., Briscoe, J., Unite, J., Bogićević Milikić, B., Hall, D., Las Heras, M., Shen, Y., & Zikic, J. (2009). Career transitions and their causes: A country-comparative perspective Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 82 (4), 825-849 DOI: 10.1348/096317909X474786

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When a police line-up with six one-eyed men is better than a line-up with none

You're mugged by a man with a patch over one eye. You describe him and his distinctive appearance to the police. They locate a one-eyed suspect and present him to you in a video line-up with five innocent "foils". If this suspect is the only person in the line-up with one eye, prior research shows you're highly likely to pick him out even if, in all other respects, he actually bears little resemblance to your mugger. So the challenge is: How to make police line-ups fairer for suspects who have an unusual distinguishing feature?

Police in the USA and UK currently use two strategies - one is to conceal the suspect's distinguishing feature (and tell the witness they've done so); the other is to use make-up, theatrical props or Photoshop to adorn the other members of the line-up with the same distinctive feature. Now Theodora Zarkadi and her colleagues have compared both approaches and found the fairer method is to replicate the unusual feature.

Zarkadi's team presented 110 undergrads with 32 photos of real-life inmates taken from the Florida Department of Corrections website. Photoshop was used to apply distinctive features including tattoos and piercings. Six of these distinctive "suspect" offenders were then embedded, one each, in six picture line-ups alongside five previously unseen "innocent" offenders. The participants' task was to pick out the suspect in each line-up.

The key finding is that the students made significantly more correct identifications when the innocents had been given an identical distinguishing feature compared with when the suspects' unusual feature had been hidden (approx 58 per cent accuracy vs. about 39 per cent).

This advantage was replicated in a second experiment in which the suspect was sometimes absent from the line-ups (akin to what can happen in real life). In this case, when the suspect was present, identification was again more accurate when the innocents also appeared with the same distinguishing feature (approx 50 per cent vs. 30 per cent). When the suspect was missing from the line-up (i.e. six innocents appeared), the students made false identifications on about 60 per cent of occasions, but this figure wasn't affected by whether the suspect, when present, had his unusual feature hidden, or if instead his feature was replicated in the innocents.

"Police officers should be aware of this ... empirical result when constructing line-ups for suspects with distinctive features and should replicate rather than conceal these features," the researchers said.

ResearchBlogging.orgZarkadi T, Wade KA, & Stewart N (2009). Creating Fair Lineups for Suspects With Distinctive Features. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS PMID: 19883492

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Foreign subtitles can help comprehension of a second language in a regional accent

My recent efforts at speaking French whilst in the French-speaking part of Switzerland mostly provoked derisory laughter from the natives, so I know all about difficulties with accent and pronunciation. According to a new study, I could benefit from watching French films with French, but not English, subtitles.

Like the boundaries between colours, the boundaries between verbal sounds (or "phonemes") are somewhat arbitrary, and they can especially vary according to regional accent. Now the psycholinguists Holger Mitterer and James McQueen have shown that foreign-language subtitles can help us retune our perception of these phonetic boundaries thus aiding our comprehension of a foreign language spoken with an unfamiliar accent.

One hundred and twenty Dutch participants, proficient in both their native Dutch and English, watched either a 25 minute clip of the British film Trainspotting (featuring characters with strong Scottish accents) or a 25 minute clip from the Australian English sit-com Kath and Kim (featuring Australian accents). Half the participants had the benefit of Dutch subtitles whilst the others had English subtitles.

Afterwards the participants were played dozens of audio excerpts (without subtitles) from both earlier videos, plus novel excerpts not featured in the earlier videos, and their task was to repeat back the utterances as accurately as possible.

The key finding is that the participants who'd watched Trainspotting with English subtitles were subsequently much better at repeating back novel excerpts from that film than were participants who'd either watched the film with Dutch subtitles or watched Kath and Kim. In other words, just 25 minutes exposure to English spoken with a Scottish accent, plus English subtitles, allowed participants to retune their perception of the language's sounds in line with the Scottish speakers. By contrast, Dutch subtitles actually impaired performance, interfering with participants' ability to tune into the Scottish accent.

It was a similar story for participants who watched Kath and Kim - English subtitles helped them to tune into the Australian accent, whereas Dutch subtitles were a hindrance.

The researchers said their finding has important practical implications for people wishing to improve their recognition of a second language spoken with a regional accent. "It is often possible to select foreign subtitles on commercial DVDs," they said. "So if, for example, an American speaker of Mexican Spanish wants to improve her understanding of European Spanish, we suggest that she should watch some DVDs of European Spanish films with Spanish subtitles."

ResearchBlogging.orgMitterer, H., & McQueen, J. (2009). Foreign Subtitles Help but Native-Language Subtitles Harm Foreign Speech Perception PLoS ONE, 4 (11) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0007785

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You told me that already! Why we're so poor at remembering to whom we told what

It can take some bottle to share an anecdote, so it's somewhat harsh when your friend shoots you down with an impatient accusation that you've told them this story before. You'd think they'd be more understanding - most of us seem to be far better at remembering who's told us what compared with to whom we've told what. Psychologists characterise this as a distinction between "source memory" and "destination memory", and according to Nigel Gopie and Colin MacLeod, the latter form is surprisingly under-researched. They've just published a new study suggesting that we're poor at remembering to whom we said what because of the self-focus associated with disclosing information, rather than receiving it. This self-focus, they argue, disrupts the memory processes that would otherwise associate what was said and to whom. The good news is that their finding points to a remedy. Fed up with hearing "you told me that already!", then try focusing less on yourself and more on your listener the next time you share an anecdote.

Gopie and MacLeod's first experiment confirmed the vulnerability of destination memory. Sixty undergrads looked at pictures of famous faces - half of them received a single fact from each face, in written form; the other half told a fact to each face. Afterwards the students were tested on their memory for which facts were associated with which faces, and those who'd received facts performed significantly better than those who'd told facts. Memory for the facts themselves, by contrast, was no different between the two groups.

The second and third experiments tested the idea that destination memory is weak thanks to the self-focus associated with disclosing rather than receiving information. Students who told facts to famous faces using personal pronouns ("I" and "my") were even worse than usual at remembering to whom they'd told what. By contrast, destination memory was improved when students were trained to focus more on the famous face before sharing a fact with it. This attentional shift was achieved by instructing the participants to say each famous person's name before disclosing a fact to them.

"It is remarkable that source memory has received intense research attention, whereas destination memory has been almost entirely overlooked," the researchers said.

ResearchBlogging.orgGopie N, & Macleod CM (2009). Destination Memory: Stop Me if I've Told You This Before. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS PMID: 19891750

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An unwanted kiss from a moral man. Still feeling dirty?

We know that physical sullying, immorality and shame can all be associated with feelings of bodily and mental dirtiness, but it's not entirely clear how all these things interact. For example, for a heterosexual woman, which is worse: having a kiss forced on you by an otherwise moral man, or having a consensual kiss with an immoral man? Corinna Elliott and Adam Radomsky have investigated and they say their findings could prove useful to therapists treating people with obsessive compulsive disorder or victims of sexual assault.

Female undergrads, 148 of them, listened to an audio recording describing a scene at a party in which a woman is kissed by man. In all cases the man was described as physically attractive, but some of the undergrads listened to a version in which he was a friendly, helpful chap, whilst others listened to a version in which he was described as a bit of a cad - a liar, cheat and a thief. Also, half the women heard a version in which the kiss was consensual, whilst the other half heard a version in which the man forced the kiss on the woman. In all cases the participants' task was to imagine as vividly as possible that they were that woman.

Questionnaires completed afterwards showed how the different permutations of the man's integrity and the nature of the kiss interacted to affect the women's feelings of dirtiness, their urge to wash, their emotions and whether or not they really did go and wash their hands or rinse out their mouths.

Unsurprisingly, a forced kiss from an immoral man was the worst-case scenario, leaving the women with strong feelings of psychological and bodily contamination; afterwards 4 out of 35 them literally either washed out their mouths or washed their hands. By contrast, none of the women who imagined a consensual kiss with a moral man washed afterwards and they also reported the lowest levels of psychological contamination.

More interesting are the findings for the women who imagined a forced kiss from an otherwise moral man. It turns out they felt just as sullied as women who imagined a forced kiss from an immoral man, and four of them also washed afterwards.

What about a consensual kiss with an immoral man? This provoked weaker feelings of dirtiness than for either of the forced kisses, but still much stronger feelings of dirtiness than a consensual kiss with a moral man. Three of the undergrads washed after imagining this scenario.

In other words, the researchers explained, there's an asymmetry. A man's prior morality doesn't prevent the sullying effect of a forced kiss, and yet a "moral" or consensual kiss is unable to eradicate the dirtying effects of a man's immoral reputation. Indeed, so-called "moral" men who imposed unwanted kisses on women were subsequently rated by the female participants as immoral.

"This phenomenon is akin to the asymmetrical relationship present between 'contaminated' substances and 'non-contaminated' substances," the researchers explained. "For example, a drop of blood could 'contaminate' a glass of purified water; however, a drop of purified water could not 'decontaminate' a glass of blood."

ResearchBlogging.orgELLIOTT, C. (2009). Analyses of mental contamination: Part I, experimental manipulations of morality. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 47 (12), 995-1003 DOI: 10.1016/j.brat.2009.03.004

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Psychology X-factor

Last time around it was a tie. You voted joint first: the study on increasing altruism in toddlers and the study showing that CCTV cameras don't reassure, they frighten.

Which was your favourite from our last seven reports:

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Want to predict a footie result? Don't even think about it

Imagine you've just paid an expert good money for their verdict and they say to you: "Can you hang on a couple of minutes whilst I don't think about this". You'd be forgiven for thinking they've gone silly. They may have. But another possibility is that you've chosen a shrewd expert who's totally up-to-speed with the latest decision-making research: Ap Dijksterhuis and his colleagues have just shown that people with expertise in football are better at predicting match outcomes when they spend time not consciously thinking about their predictions.

In an initial experiment, 352 Dutch undergrads were divided into football experts and non-experts, based on their self-ratings, and they were all asked to make predictions (home or away win, or draw) about four forthcoming football matches in the top Dutch league - the Eredivisie. The students were shown the four pairs of competing teams for twenty seconds, and then one third of them were asked to make immediate predictions; one third were asked to think consciously for two minutes before making their predictions; and a final third engaged in a distracting, numerical memory task for two minutes before making their predictions.

For the non-experts, it didn't make any difference to their success whether or not they were able to spend time considering their predictions - they were correct between forty and fifty per cent of the time regardless. By contrast, the experts' predictions were significantly more accurate when they were distracted for two minutes, compared with when they made an instant or a considered prediction (approx 60 vs. 50 per cent accuracy). In other words, the experts were most accurate when they spent time not consciously thinking about the problem at hand.

This may seem bizarre but it's entirely consistent with Dijksterhuis's Unconscious Thought Theory and with the folk wisdom that says it's a good idea to sleep on a problem. According to Dijksterhuis's theory, the subconscious is sometimes less prone to the biases that afflict the conscious mind, thus ensuring that an expert gives due weight to the most important factors.

This was borne out in a second experiment, much like the first, in which students predicted the outcomes of World Cup football matches. Again, distracted experts made the most accurate predictions. This time, however, the researchers also asked participants to estimate the teams' world rankings - apparently this is the most reliable predictor for the outcomes of World Cup matches. For experts who spent time consciously considering their match predictions, there was no correlation between their knowledge of team rankings and their prediction accuracy. By contrast, for the experts who spent time not thinking about their predictions, there was a correlation between their ranking knowledge and predictive accuracy. Not consciously thinking about the problem at hand seemed to ensure that experts paid due attention to the most important factor affecting match outcomes.

The researchers warned that subconscious thought is not always superior to conscious thought. But they concluded: "Our results mean that unconscious thought may well be helpful in more situations than some people currently think."

ResearchBlogging.orgDijksterhuis A, Bos MW, van der Leij A, & van Baaren RB (2009). Predicting Soccer Matches After Unconscious and Conscious Thought as a Function of Expertise. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS PMID: 19818044

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How infants affect how much their carers engage with them

Young children benefit socially and intellectually the more their carers engage and respond to them. Recognising this, we can train nursery staff to be as responsive to the children in their care as possible. But a new study by Claire Vallotton raises an interesting and under-examined issue - what if there's something about some infants that leads their carers to engage with them more, thus giving them an advantage over their peers?

Vallotton filmed interactions between 18 student caregivers and 10 infants (aged between 4 and 19 months) at the Infant and Toddler programme at the UC Davis child development lab. Carers working here were taught "baby signing" - this is a gesture-based system for pre-verbal infants and adults to communicate with each other. For example, pointing the hands inwards, towards the mid-line, with fingers touching, is the sign for "more".

The student carers interacted with their designated child one-on-one, and importantly for this research, they occasionally switched which child was under their care, thus allowing Vallotton to see if some children consistently provoked more engagement from different carers.

There were some general effects: boys and older children provoked more attentiveness from their carers. But Vallotton's more novel finding was that infants who responded more to their carers' signs, either with signs of their own or with conventional gestures such as pointing or waving, tended to provoke more engagement and responsiveness from their carers.

This carer responsiveness was measured with a scale containing items such as "follows child's gaze" and "is at the child's physical level". Crucially, it was not an infant's total amount, or variety, of signing or gesturing that was related to more carer attentiveness. It was specifically an infant's amount of gestural response to the carer's own attempts at communication. In other words, the carers engaged a lot more with babies and toddlers who responded to them. This may sound obvious but it suggests the carers were biased, probably subconsciously. They were effectively making more effort with the infants who interacted with them more.

Obviously a major factor limiting the generalisability of this research is the use of baby-signing in this care group. However, Vallotton thinks her findings probably do apply more generally. "Caregivers [were] more responsive to infants who use more gestures, regardless of whether those gestures were conventional pointing or infant signs," she said. And the take-home message, she concluded, is that "infants' communicative behaviours affect caregiver responsiveness ... Increasing infants' use of gestures and signs may be a means to enhance responsiveness in caregiver-child interaction, a possibility that should be tested experimentally."

ResearchBlogging.orgVallotton, C. (2009). Do infants influence their quality of care? Infants’ communicative gestures predict caregivers’ responsiveness Infant Behavior and Development, 32 (4), 351-365 DOI: 10.1016/j.infbeh.2009.06.001

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The Special Issue Spotter

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

The biological basis of business (Organisational Behaviour and Human Decision Processes).

The neural basis of timing and anticipatory behaviours (European Journal of Neuroscience).

Psychological functioning of international missionaries (Mental Health, Religion and Culture).

Reinforcement learning and higher cognition (Cognition).

New methodologies for intervention and outcome measurement (Neuropsychological Rehabilitation).

Dissemination and implementation of cognitive behavioural therapy (Behavioural Research and Therapy).

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Testosterone-status mismatch in a group is linked with reduced collective confidence

Men and women with more testosterone like to be in charge. Indeed, they can find it stressful and uncomfortable when denied the status that they crave. Similarly, people low in testosterone find it uncomfortable to be placed in positions of authority. An intriguing new study has built on these earlier findings, showing a mismatch between testosterone-level and status is associated with group functioning. Groups made up of people whose status in the group doesn't match their testosterone level tend to have less collective confidence (or "collective efficacy" in the psychological jargon). This could be important given that prior investigations have shown that groups with higher collective efficacy perform better.

Michael Zyphur and colleagues assigned 92 groups of between 4 and 7 undergrads to an on-going task that involved meeting twice a week for 12 weeks, and included creating a professional management-training video. Six weeks into the project the researchers measured the participants' testosterone levels via saliva samples. They also asked all members in each group to vote on each others' status. Then six weeks after that, at the end of the project, the researchers measured each group's collective efficacy by summing members' confidence in their group's ability to succeed.

The key finding was that groups made up of members whose status was out of synch with their testosterone level tended to have the lowest collective efficacy. The researchers think that testosterone-status mismatch within a group probably has a detrimental effect on that group's collective confidence. However, another possibility, which they acknowledge, is that a lack of group confidence leads to a mismatch between testosterone levels and status among group members.

Co-author Jayanth Narayanan told the Digest that his team need to replicate their finding in a work setting. "Perhaps workplace settings might enhance these effects. Perhaps some types of work environments might attenuate these effects. These are open questions at this stage," he said.

ResearchBlogging.orgZyphur, M., Narayanan, J., Koh, G., & Koh, D. (2009). Testosterone–status mismatch lowers collective efficacy in groups: Evidence from a slope-as-predictor multilevel structural equation model. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 110 (2), 70-79 DOI: 10.1016/j.obhdp.2009.05.004

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Patients with empathic, attentive doctors recover more quickly from the common cold

The amount of empathy and attentiveness shown by doctors to their patients really does matter. David Rakel and colleagues have found that patients who rate their doctor as highly empathic recover more quickly from a cold. Their illness is shortened by about a day - the same effect shown by the most promising anti-viral drugs. But a doctor's empathy, unlike the anti-viral, doesn't trigger nausea and diarrhoea.

Three hundred and fifty participants were asked to contact the researchers as soon as they noticed the first sign of a cold, at which point they were invited in for a consultation with a doctor. The doctors had received special training from actors in how to come across as sympathetic and understanding and for half the participants they turned on the charm, whereas they gave others a less warm, standard consultation.

The research programme is ongoing and which participants received which kind of consultation is still under-wraps so as not to bias future results (to keep the trial "blind" in the official jargon). However, all the participants rated their doctors empathy and attentiveness and it's from these scores that the key finding emerged.

The 84 participants who gave their doctors a perfect score for empathy and attentiveness recovered from their colds about a day earlier on average; showed a trend towards less severe symptoms; and exhibited double the rise in a marker for immune system activity (biomarker IL-8), as sampled from their noses.

Rather curiously, there was no gradual, "dose-response" effect of doctors' empathy on the participants' recovery. It was only those participants who gave their doctors a perfect empathy score who showed improved recovery. "This may suggest that the perception of empathy by patients may be more of an 'on or off' phenomenon than a graduated response," the researchers said. "We either feel empathy or we don't."

Of course, one possible explanation for the results is that there is something distinct about people who give their doctors perfect empathy ratings, and it's this key trait that's the true cause of their speedier recovery. However, the researchers checked, and the link between a perfect empathy score and recovery still held even after controlling for the effects of participants' age, race, education, stress, optimism, self-reported poorliness and quality of life.

"This finding is in need of replication," the researchers concluded. "Until then, including empathy in the clinical encounter has little potential for harm and has positive influences that extend beyond the medical consultation."

ResearchBlogging.orgRakel DP, Hoeft TJ, Barrett BP, Chewning BA, Craig BM, & Niu M (2009). Practitioner empathy and the duration of the common cold. Family medicine, 41 (7), 494-501 PMID: 19582635

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Brands leave their mark on children's brains

The idea may be "unpalatable", but companies seeking an edge over their rivals should ensure that children are exposed to their brands as early in life as possible. That's according to Andrew Ellis and colleagues, whose new research shows that the classic "age-of-acquisition" effect in psychology applies to brand names as much as it does to everyday words.

Ellis's team found that student participants were quicker to recognise brand names they had encountered from birth. This was demonstrated by presenting students with a range of real and fictional brand names and asking them to indicate as quickly as possible whether a brand was real. If a brand had been experienced from birth, the students were quicker to recognise it as real than if it had been encountered from age five and up. A second experiment showed that students were also quicker at accessing information about early encountered brands compared with late-encountered brands, as indicated by the speed with which they said a product was or was not made by a given brand.

These findings resemble classic "age-of-acquisition" effects, in which people are more proficient at processing words they encountered earlier in life. Research has shown that this effect is not explainable purely in terms of greater cumulative exposure to early encountered words. One alternative proposal is that words (and presumably brands too) encountered early in life shape the maturing brain in such a way that a life-long advantage is maintained for processing those early words.

Ellis's team's final experiment was perhaps the most striking. In this case, participants aged between 50 and 83 years were quicker to recognise early brands over newer, current brands, even if the early brands were long since defunct.

Combined with prior research showing that people generally feel more favourable towards words and pictures that they find easier to process - a phenomenon called the "fluency effect" - Ellis and his colleagues said their findings have serious implications for brand success. "The evidence suggests that mere exposure to brands in childhood will make for more fluent recognition of those brand names in adulthood that will persist through to old age," they said.

ResearchBlogging.orgEllis, A., Holmes, S., & Wright, R. (2009). Age of acquisition and the recognition of brand names: On the importance of being early. Journal of Consumer Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.jcps.2009.08.001

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Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

The bright side of being blue: "The analytical rumination hypothesis proposes that depression is an evolved response to complex problems, whose function is to minimize disruption and sustain analysis of those problems by (a) giving the triggering problem prioritized access to processing resources, (b) reducing the desire to engage in distracting activities (anhedonia), and (c) producing psychomotor changes that reduce exposure to distracting stimuli."

Foreign accent syndrome with a psychological cause?

Nature special on technological advances in neuroscience.

Placebo reduced sadness just as much as alcohol.

Exploring the extent of the deficits associated with congenital amusia (a life-long disorder of music processing).

Vicarious sunk-cost fallacy - or why I keep investing in your failed project.

Female sexual orientation discerned from just 40ms glimpse of the face.

Pregnancy massage reduces prematurity, low birthweight and postpartum depression.

Alternatives to randomised experiments.

Are referees more lenient towards female handball players?

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Ten statisticians every psychologist should know about

As psychology students past and present will be only too aware, statistics are a key part of every psychology undergrad course and they also appear in nearly every published journal article. And yet have we ever stopped to recognise the statisticians who have brought us these wonderful mathematical tools? As psychologist Daniel Wright puts it: "Statistical techniques are often taught as if they were brought down from some statistical mount only to magically appear in [the software package] SPSS."

To help address this oversight, Wright has compiled a list of ten statisticians he thinks every psychologist should know about. The list is strict in the sense that it only includes statisticians, whilst omitting psychologists, such as Jacob Cohen and Lee Cronbach, who have made significant contributions to statistical science in psychology.

Wright divides his list in three, beginning with three founding fathers of modern statistics. First up is Karl Pearson (pictured), best known to psychologists for the Pearson Correlation and Pearson's chi-square test. He was a socialist who turned down a knighthood in 1935. His first momentous achievement was his 1932 book The Grammar of Science and he also founded the world's first university statistics department at UCL in 1911.

Ronald Fisher was the author of Statistical Methods for Research Workers, which Wright describes as "one of the most important books of science." Fisher was also instrumental in the development of p values in null hypothesis significance testing.

Together with Pearson's son, Egon, Jerzy Neyman produced the framework of null and alternative hypothesis testing that dominates stats to this day. He also created the notion of confidence intervals. Neyman and Fisher were big critics of each other's theories. After a brief spell at UCL with Fisher, Neyman moved later to Berkeley where he set up the stats department - now one of the top such departments in the world.

Wright also lists three of his statistical heroes: John Tukey of post-hoc test fame, who made major contributions in robust methods and graphing (and who coined the terms ANOVA, software and bit); Donald Rubin who has conducted influential work on effect sizes and meta-analyses; and Brad Efron who developed the computer-intensive bootstrap resampling technique.

Wright devotes the last section of his list to four statisticians who have gifted psychology particular statistical techniques: David Cox and the Box-Cox transformation; Leo Goodman and categorical data analysis; John Nelder and the Generalised Linear Model; and Robert Tibshirani and the lasso data reduction technique.

"The list is meant to introduce some of the main statistical pioneers and their important achievements in psychology," Wright concludes. "It is hoped learning about the people behind the statistical procedures will make the procedures seem more humane than many psychologists perceive them to be."

What do you think of Wright's list? Is there anyone he's overlooked?

ResearchBlogging.orgDaniel B Wright (2009). Ten Statisticians and Their Impacts for Psychologists. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4 (6), 587-597. [Draft pdf via author website].

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Performing horizontal eye movement exercises can boost your creativity

There have been prior clues that creativity benefits from ample cross-talk between the brain hemispheres. For example, patients who've had a commissurotomy - the severing of the thick bundle of nerve fibres that joins the two hemispheres - show deficits on creative tasks. Now Elizabeth Shobe and colleagues have provided the first evidence that creativity is boosted by an intervention designed to increase hemispheric cross-talk.

Shobe's team tested 62 participants on a version of the "Alternative Uses Test", a divergent thinking challenge that involves dreaming up unconventional uses for everyday objects such as bricks and newspapers.

An important factor that the researchers took note of was the participants' handedness. Prior research has suggested that people who have one hand that is particularly dominant, so-called "strong-handers", have less cross-talk between their brain hemispheres compared with people who are more ambidextrous or "mixed handed".

After an initial attempt at the creativity task, half the participants spent thirty seconds shifting their eyes horizontally back and forth. This exercise is thought to help increase inter-hemispheric communication. The remaining participants acted as controls and just stared straight ahead for 30 seconds.

The key finding is that on their second creativity attempt, strong-handers who'd performed the horizontal eye movements subsequently showed a significant improvement in their creativity, in terms of being more original (i.e. suggesting ideas not proposed by others) and coming up with more categories of use. Staring straight ahead, by contrast, had no effect on creativity.

Another finding was that, overall, the mixed-handed participants performed better on the creativity task than the strong-handers, thus providing further evidence for a link between inter-hemispheric interaction, which mixed-handers have more of, and creativity. But it also turned out that mixed-handers didn't benefit from the horizontal eye movement task. It's as if they already have an optimum amount of hemispheric cross-talk so that the eye movements make no difference. This meant that after the strong-handers had performed the horizontal eye movements, their performance matched that of the mixed-handed participants.

The researchers also showed that, for strong-handers, the beneficial effects of the eye movement exercise lasted nine minutes for originality, but just three to six minutes in terms of coming up with more categories of use.

"Our findings may not apply to more unique populations who are characterised as 'highly creative'," the researchers said, "nor can we conclude ... that the thirty seconds bilateral eye movement task will turn an average individual into an artist, poet, scientist, philosopher, actor or sculptor. However, we certainly do propose that the ... eye movement task will result in a temporary increase in strong-hander's ability to think of creative uses for various house-hold objects."

These new findings complement research published in 2008 showing that horizontal eye movements aid memory performance for strongly-right handed people, but impair the performance of left-handers and mixed-handers.

ResearchBlogging.orgShobe ER, Ross NM, & Fleck JI (2009). Influence of handedness and bilateral eye movements on creativity. Brain and cognition, 71 (3), 204-14 PMID: 19800726

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Psychology X-factor

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How to increase altruism in toddlers

Surely one of the most charming sights is of an adult struggling to reach an object, only for a toddler to pick up that object and hand it to the adult, as research has shown they so often will. Psychologists think such ingrained altruism has evolved as a consequence of our species' dependence on group living for survival. Supporting this account, Harriet Over and Malinda Carpenter have shown that subtle exposure to the sight of two apparently companionable dolls, stood side by side, is enough to increase the likelihood that an 18-month-old will help an adult pick up some dropped sticks.

Sixty 18-month-old infants were shown eight photos of household objects, such as teapots, books or shoes. Crucially, infants were divided into four groups, with each group shown one of four versions of these photos. One "affiliated" version featured in the background two dolls standing together side by side; another version featured a doll in the background on its own; the third version featured two dolls facing away from each other; and the final version merely had toy bricks in the background.

After they'd been shown these photos, another experimenter walked over to the infants and dropped a bundle of sticks on route. Amazingly, the infants who'd seen the photos with the companionable dolls in the background were three times as likely as the other infants to help the experimenter by spontaneously picking up one or more sticks and handing it to the experimenter.

Further analysis showed it's not that the infants who'd seen the photos with companionable dolls were caused to be in a better mood, nor that they spent longer looking at the photos, than the other infants. Rather, according to the researchers, "the connections between affiliation to the group and prosocial behaviour are ... so fundamental that, even in infancy, a mere hint of affiliation is sufficient to increase helping."

Over and Carpenter said their finding has important implications for research - paving the way for future investigations of other non-verbal social influences on infants' behaviour - and also for real life. "Our data suggest that surprisingly subtle changes to our social environment may promote prosocial behaviour in our children."

ResearchBlogging.orgOver, H., & Carpenter, M. (2009). Eighteen-Month-Old Infants Show Increased Helping Following Priming With Affiliation. Psychological Science, 20 (10), 1189-1193 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02419.x

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CCTV cameras don't reassure, they frighten

People are no more fearful of crossing a street with a young male skinhead in it than they are a street with a smartly dressed woman present, unless, that is, a CCTV camera is overhead. The new finding appears to undermine one of the key justifications for Britain's network of 4.2 million surveillance cameras: that they provide reassurance to the public. It seems that the sight of a CCTV camera can have the opposite effect, cueing the perception of a threat.

Dave Williams and Jobuda Ahmed presented 120 participants - shoppers in Hatfield - with pictures of a fictional town centre street scene. When the scene contained both a skinhead and a CCTV camera, the participants, aged between 18 to 70 years, reported raised concern about walking in the scene, compared with when the same scene was either empty, contained a woman with or without a CCTV camera, or a skinhead without a camera. In other words, it was specifically the combination of a skinhead and CCTV that provoked fear - neither had any effect on their own.

The presence of a CCTV camera seemed to cue participants' prejudices about skinheads, thus inducing fear. This supposition was supported when participants were asked to write a paragraph on a "day in the life of" either the male skinhead or the smartly dressed woman. When a CCTV camera was present in the scene, but not otherwise, participants wrote an account of the skinhead's day that betrayed their prejudices, for example one account stated that he had "outstayed his welcome in the cafe".

"Defending the modern urban landscape from a sense of undulating moral crisis and corresponding crime with visible technological crime deterrence measures may not always reduce fear of crime," the researchers said. "[CCTV] is partly designed to reduce fear of crime ... this study demonstrates that in certain contexts it can have the opposite effect."

CCTV cameras may not be the only form of crime-fighting paraphernalia that can backfire by cueing a sense of threat. In a North American study conducted in the late 90's John Schweitzer and colleagues found that a plethora of "Neighbourhood Watch" signs increased people's fear of crime.

ResearchBlogging.orgWilliams, D., & Ahmed, J. (2009). The relationship between antisocial stereotypes and public CCTV systems: exploring fear of crime in the modern surveillance society. Psychology, Crime & Law, 15 (8), 743-758 DOI: 10.1080/10683160802612882

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