Yuk! Unfairness really does leave a bad taste in the mouth

Most of us probably like to think that our moral sense of right and wrong is clear-headed and rational, but the evidence is mounting that our moral thinking is in fact grounded in the more emotional parts of the brain. Now a study by Hanah Chapman and colleagues has added to this picture by showing that people's reaction to the unfair division of money provokes the same kind of nose-wrinkling, disgusted facial expression as the taste of bad food.

Chapman and her team recorded the facial muscles of participants when they tasted unpleasant liquids, when they looked at gory pictures, and when they were conned in a financial game. Throughout, the same muscles controlling the wrinkling of the nose and raising of the upper lip were activated.

What's more, when they were conned in the game, the participants tended to report that a picture of a disgusted facial expression, as opposed to other emotional expressions, best captured how they were feeling (anger and sadness were also sometimes reported, but to a lesser degree).

Finally, the participants' experience of disgust appeared to influence their behaviour. The more the participants' wrinkled their noses and curled their lips, and the more they said the picture of a disgusted face reflected their feelings, the more likely they were to reject an unfair offer in the financial game. By contrast, levels of self-reported anger and sadness were not linked with rejection decisions or nose wrinkling.

Taken together these findings support the idea that our moral sense has co-opted an evolutionarily older brain system - the Yuk! response - that serves to protect us from unpleasant, potentially toxic foods and substances. This implies that unfairness leaving a bad taste in the mouth is more than a mere metaphor, and is consistent with previous, related research showing, for example, that washing can assuage guilt.

"That a system with the ancient and critical adaptive function of rejecting toxic foods should be brought to bear in the moral sphere speaks to the vital importance of regulating social behavior for human beings," the researchers concluded.

Writing a commentary on this research in the same journal issue, Paul Rozin and colleagues cautioned that the detail is rather more complicated than the Chapman study implies. "Until studies examine the effects of a variety of elicitors on a variety of dependent measures (e.g., contamination, appraisals, and feelings)," they argued, "it is unclear whether [fairness and toxins provoke] 'the same' disgust, or just some common elements in the output system."

Link to related Digest items.
Image copyright: Science/AAAS

ResearchBlogging.orgH. A. Chapman, D. A. Kim, J. M. Susskind, A. K. Anderson (2009). In Bad Taste: Evidence for the Oral Origins of Moral Disgust. Science. In Press.
You have read this article Emotion / Morality with the title February 2009. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2009/02/yuk-unfairness-really-does-leave-bad.html. Thanks!

We judge our leaders on how they look, not on how they perform

Imagine if the leaders of the free world were chosen not based on their actual competence but on how competent they look. Such a scenario could be worryingly close to the truth.

John Antonakis and Olaf Dalgas presented photos of pairs of competing candidates in the 2002 French parliamentary elections to hundreds of Swiss undergrads, who had no idea who the politicians were. The students were asked to indicate which candidate in each pair was the most competent, and for about 70 per cent of the pairs, the candidate rated as looking most competent was the candidate who had actually won the election. The startling implication is that the real-life voters must also have based their choice of candidate on looks, at least in part.

Moreover, a second experiment asked children aged 5 to 13 years to make the same choice, but in the context of a game in which they needed to select who they would like to captain their ship sailing from Troy to Ithaca. They tended to select for captain those candidates rated earlier as most competent by the undergrads, and again the children's choices tended to retrospectively predict which candidates went on to be victorious in the real election.

For the pair of candidates shown above, 77 per cent children who rated this pair, and 67 per cent of adults, chose Laurent Henart, on the right (the real-life winning candidate), rather than Jean-Jacques Denis on the left.

"These findings suggest that voters are not appropriately weighting performance-based information on political candidates when undertaking one of democracy's most important civic duties," the researchers said.

One possibility is that people's looks do actually correlate with their competence and it's that association that the participants in this study were tapping into. However, Antonakis and Dalgas note that past research shows there is no link between competence and appearance, at least not in terms of IQ.

Link to related Digest posts, and see here.
Link to Science podcast with study author.
Image copyright: Science/AAAS

ResearchBlogging.orgJ. Antonakis, O. Dalgas (2009). Predicting Elections: Child's Play. Science, 323. In Press.
You have read this article Cognition / Political with the title February 2009. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2009/02/we-judge-our-leaders-on-how-they-look.html. Thanks!


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

Dogs recognise unfairness.

People are influenced by the dreams they have.

We reveal our socio-economic background in the way we interact with others - participants from more affluent backgrounds showed more signs of disengagement, such as doodling, and fewer signs of engagement, such as head-nodding, than did participants from more modest backgrounds.

Psychopaths get released earlier than other offenders with similar records, perhaps because of their ability to manipulate parole boards.

Eating less could help boost the memory powers of older people.

A sniff and a whiff: 50 years of pheromone research.

Maybe Scrooge had a point: apparently giving money to others is associated with the onset of major depression!
You have read this article Extras with the title February 2009. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2009/02/extras.html. Thanks!

How quickly can we tell whether one person has the hots for another?

People can recognise, from just ten seconds of video footage, whether one person has the hots for another.

Skyler Place and colleagues made their finding using footage of couples on speed-dates. Fifty-four students observed dozens of 10-, 20- or 30-second clips of real speed dating interactions and attempted to say in each case whether each person was romantically interested in the other.

The researchers had access to the daters' real decisions about whether they were interested in any of their speed dates, and were able to compare these with the students' judgements.

The students performed more accurately than would be expected had they simply been guessing. They judged the interest of the male daters with 61 per cent accuracy and the female daters with 58 per cent accuracy. Their accuracy was unaffected by the length of each clip, but was higher when the clip was taken from the middle or the end of a dating interaction. Students currently in a romantic relationship outperformed those who weren't.

The fact the students were less accurate when judging the romantic interest of females compared with males was just as the researchers had predicted. Place's team said it made sense for women to "behave more covertly and ambiguously" because there is more at stake for them in making a potential mating choice. By hiding their romantic interest, the researchers argued, women are able to give themselves more time to evaluate a potential partner before revealing their feelings.

This is just the latest in a spate of recent studies to show how quickly and efficiently people are able to obtain information, or form judgements, about others. Last year, for example, Nick Rule and Nalini Ambady showed that observers were able to accurately judge men's sexual orientation within 50ms, and in 2006 Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov found that people judged the trustworthiness of others within 100ms.

ResearchBlogging.orgSkyler S. Place, Peter M. Todd, Lars Penke, Jens B. Asendorpf (2009). The Ability to Judge the Romantic Interest of Others. Psychological Science, 20 (1), 22-26 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02248.x
You have read this article Sex / Social with the title February 2009. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2009/02/how-quickly-can-we-tell-whether-one.html. Thanks!

Psychological titbits from the Association for the Advancement of Science Annual Meeting, Chicago, 12-16 Feb

In the absence of formal tuition, deaf children invent their own signs. 'I have been able to follow children in Nicaragua who are not near a special education school and accordingly continue developing their homesigns independently,' said Marie Coppola (University of Chicago). Coppola thinks the spontaneous signing she's observed in children is what underlay the development of Nicaraguan Sign Language. This system was developed independently in the 1970s by children at a school for the deaf in the country's capital after they were encouraged to read lips and speak rather than use sign.

Brain scans of twenty-three undergraduate students have pointed to the possibility that abnormal brain activity can contribute to feelings of loneliness. The students were shown images of people in either pleasant or unpleasant settings. Relative to non-lonely students, those students who were lonely showed reduced reward-related activation in the ventral striatum in response to the positive images, and reduced empathy-related activity in the temporal-parietal junction in response to the unpleasant images. Whilst loneliness may cause these differences, John Cacioppo (University of Chicago) and colleagues said it's also possible that the direction of causation is the other way around.

Players of internet-based fantasy games like Everquest II can play with other gamers across the globe and yet they mostly choose to play with people who live nearby. 'It's not creating new networks. It's reinforcing existing networks,' said Noshir Contractor (Northwestern University). 'Individuals 10 kilometres away from each other are five times more likely to be partners than those who are 100 kilometres away from each other.' Other findings to emerge from the study, which involved 60 tetrabytes of data and 7000 participants, were that players underestimated the time they spent playing and were more likely than average to suffer from depression.

A walk in the park can improve the concentration of children with ADHD with the benefit being of the same magnitude as that reported for drug treatments. Frances Kuo (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and colleagues tested children with ADHD on a concentration task after either a walk in the park or in an urban environment. Kuo said this was just the latest in a series of studies pointing to the psychological benefits of natural environments. 'So when people say: “As a scientist, would you say that we now know nature is essential to optimal functioning in humans?” I say: “As a scientist I can’t tell you. I’m not ready to say that”,' Kuo admitted. ‘But as a mother who knows the scientific literature, I would say, “Yes”.’

Baboons and even pigeons are able to perform a cognitive feat that was previously considered a uniquely human ability – that is, to think about the relations between relations. This is the ability, when comparing A with A, to recognise that they are the same and that their relation to each other is therefore different from the relation shared between A and B, which are different to each other. 'What we're really trying to understand is the extent to which cognition is general throughout the animal kingdom,' Ed Wasserman (University of Iowa) explained. 'The evidence that we collect constantly surprises us, suggesting that we're not alone in many of these cognitive abilities.'

Link to AAAS meeting website. 
You have read this article Elsewhere with the title February 2009. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2009/02/psychological-titbits-from-association.html. Thanks!

How common is synaesthesia among children?

For the first time, psychologists have documented the prevalence of a form of synaesthesia - the condition that leads to a mixing of the senses - in a large sample of children. Over a twelve month period, Julia Simner and colleagues tested 615 children aged six to seven years at 21 UK schools and conservatively estimated that 1.3 per cent of them had grapheme-colour synaesthesia, in which letters and numbers involuntarily trigger the sensation of different colours.

"[This] implicates over 170,000 children age 0–17 in the UK alone, and over 930,000 in the USA," the researchers said, "and suggests that the average primary school in England and Scotland (n = 168 pupils) contains 2.2 grapheme-colour synaesthetes at any time, while the average-sized US primary school (n = 396 pupils) contains 5.1." Inevitably, the prevalence for synaesthesia as a whole, considering all the sub-types, would be even higher.

A hall-mark of grapheme-colour synaesthesia is that the colour triggered by a given letter or number is always the same - a fact the researchers exploited to identify the condition in school children.

Indeed, when asked to associate letters with colours, the children identified as synaesthetes showed more consistency over a 12-month-period than the other children did over a ten second period!

The study also showed how synaesthetic associations develop over time. The children with synaesthesia had an average of 10.5 reliable grapheme-colour associations when first tested aged six to seven, compared with 16.9 when tested a year later.

"It is not known whether the developmental pattern shown by our synaesthetes (i.e. 6.4 new coloured graphemes per year) represents a linear acquisition, or whether greater gains are made in later years," the researchers said, "...our lab is currently tracking the development of this group to follow their transition into adult-like consistency."

Link to earlier Digest items on synaesthesia.

ResearchBlogging.orgJ. Simner, J. Harrold, H. Creed, L. Monro, L. Foulkes (2008). Early detection of markers for synaesthesia in childhood populations. Brain, 132 (1), 57-64 DOI: 10.1093/brain/awn292
You have read this article Cognition / Developmental with the title February 2009. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2009/02/how-common-is-synaesthesia-among.html. Thanks!

March's Psychologist magazine - free for all!

The forthcoming March issue of The Psychologist magazine has been made publicly available in its entirety via the digital platform Issuu (click mini version below to see full mag).


The service allows you to flick through the pages online as if you had the magazine in your hands, to zoom in at will, print, share and more.

March's issue features another psychological cornucopia, including articles on the use of humour in stats teaching, Alfred Binet, exercise and dementia, stigma, and the psychology behind the Story of O. There's also the usual mix of news, views and reviews.

If you like what you see, why not take out a print subscription, or perhaps you'd like to contribute to the magazine yourself?

The editor Dr Jon Sutton would love to hear your views on the magazine, including what you think of this new digital format. Use comments, below, or email him direct on jon.sutton[at]bps.org.uk.
You have read this article Announcements with the title February 2009. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2009/02/march-psychologist-magazine-free-for-all.html. Thanks!

Mice and humans like the same smells

We share more in common with mice than a penchant for cheese, we also like the same kinds of smells. This suggests that our nasal preferences, even for biologically insignificant smells, are somewhat hard-wired or predetermined, and not entirely learned.

Nathalie Mandairon and colleagues asked thirty participants to rate their preference for a range of odours including geraniol, which has a floral smell, and guaiacol, which has a smoky whiff about it. The odours that the participants said they favoured, such as geraniol, tended to be the same ones that thirty mice spent the most amount of time sniffing, whereas the odours the humans liked least, such as guaiacol, tended to be the ones the mice were least interested in.

Importantly, the smells used in the study were varied and had no apparent biological significance. For example, it wasn't just the case that humans and mice both disliked smells that signalled rotten food or that signalled danger.

"Even if pleasantness is the result of culture, life experience and learning," the researchers said, "the present interspecies comparison shows that there is an initial part of the percept which is innate and engraved in the odourant structure."

Just what it is about the chemical structure of some substances that makes them smell pleasant to mice and humans remains to be discovered. "Taken as a whole, these results substantially affect our view of olfactory [smell-based] hedonic perception and open up new avenues for the understanding of its neural mechanisms," the researchers concluded. "They also suggest that odour exploration behaviour in mice may be used to predict human olfactory preferences."

ResearchBlogging.orgNathalie Mandairon, Johan Poncelet, Moustafa Bensafi, Anne Didier (2009). Humans and Mice Express Similar Olfactory Preferences PLoS ONE, 4 (1) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0004209
You have read this article Cognition / Perception with the title February 2009. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2009/02/mice-and-humans-like-same-smells.html. Thanks!

Five minutes with the authors of two recent influential studies in psychology

In this post we've asked the authors of two recent studies a number of questions about their influential work, including what inspired them in the first place. The studies are covered in detail in the new GCSE (an exam taken by 13-16 year-olds in parts of the UK) syllabus run by the OCR exam board in the UK. The researchers' answers provide a revealing insight into the creativity and meticulousness underlying the design of psychology experiments.

Terry, W.S. (2005). Serial position Effects in Recall of Television Commercials. Journal of General Psychology, 132, 151-63.

Scott Terry: "Although I am a fairly traditional experimental psychologist, I look for research that bridges the laboratory-applied divide. I found some surveys that asked people to recall commercials they had recently seen on television, but I realized that the internal validity of such designs was limited. I believe the strongest scientific conclusions require the combination of both realistic field research and controlled experiments. So I decided to use commercials as the stimulus materials, but otherwise follow the standard laboratory format for a free recall experiment: stimulus duration, retention interval, recall and recognition testing. (Okay, I also thought that a study of serial position in memory for commercials was a cute idea.)

The main challenge faced in these studies was in assembling the lists. We (student John Bello and I) videotaped commercials. Then, using two videotape recorders, we had to copy and paste from tape-to-tape to construct the lists. Multiple lists, multiple sequences, and multiple experiments. If we had waited a few years the Apple software for video files would make the process simpler.

The resulting publication seems to be of some general interest. Textbook writers want to know more, and university students use the idea for projects. However, it seems the memory psychologists note the research is atheoretical (not addressed to any particular theory of serial position). Advertising researchers say it is not realistic enough. So there is still no common ground between the two camps.

I continue to research everyday memory phenomena, such as the difficulty in learning names, and why people forget the locations of objects placed in special locations. As for commercials, I’ve seen enough for now."

Yuki, M. Maddux, W. W., and Masuda,T. (2007). Are the windows to the soul the same in the East and West? Cultural differences in using their eyes and mouth as cues to recognize emotions in Japan and in the United States. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 43, 303-311 . (link is to full-text pdf).

Masaki Yuki (Hokkaido University): "The inspiration for this study was my personal experience. Since my childhood, I have been amazed by how different American smiles were compared to my standard. Their facial expressions were much more intense, while opening their mouths widely, and raising the corners of their mouths up high. Later, when I communicated with my American colleagues by email, I realized that the happy ‘emoticons’ that they used, or :), was different from that of Japanese (^_^). And one day, it dawned on me that these faces actually looked exactly like typical American and Japanese smiles. It was the moment when I came up with the hypothesis that, if that is really the case, Americans and Japanese would look at different parts of the face when they try to infer others’ feelings: the mouth for Americans, the eyes for Japanese.

I started looking for scientific evidence which might support my impression based on these anecdotes. The range of studies that provide us with relevant ideas varies. First, cultural psychologists had pointed out that East Asians generally emphasized interpersonal harmony more than North Americans. Second, emotion researchers maintain that, East Asians are more likely than their Western counterparts to control/suppress their facial expression. Third, much neurophysiological evidence indicates that control of muscle around the mouth is easy, but it is hard to do it with the muscle around the eyes. Thus, if you try to interpret genuine emotion of others who are trying to suppress their facial expression, you had better look at their eyes. We attempted to synthesize these findings by examining cultural differences in interpretation of facial expressions.

To assess the independent effects of shapes of eyes and mouth on emotion perception, we used artificially morphed images in which the eyes and mouth were taken from different emoticons and facial expressions. However, we acknowledge that we could include images of full happy and sad faces (with both the eyes and mouth smiling or crying) in the experimental design, which may allow us to broaden our findings to images of natural facial expressions.

Our findings caught broad attention, both in academics and general public. The paper has been cited by psychological and neuroscientific articles, and the story has been mentioned by major newspapers and radio shows. It is really exciting for me to share the findings with people in a variety of fields.

Our team, Takahiko Masuda at University of Alberta, William W. Maddux at INSEAD, and myself, are now conducting a more sophisticated study so as to replicate the findings. I am hoping that this will provide us with much clearer evidence which further proves our hypothesis. Besides, I am also hoping that the other lines of research of mine, such as cross-cultural differences in group processes, and socio-ecological foundations of cross-cultural differences, will attract more attention, like this paper did :) "

Link to resources post for OCR A-level.
You have read this article Student features with the title February 2009. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2009/02/five-minutes-with-authors-of-two-recent.html. Thanks!

The Special Issue Spotter

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

Young people and the media (British Journal of Developmental Psychology).

Where youth development meets mental health and education: The RALLY approach (New Directions for Youth Development).

Speech accompanying gesture (Language and Cognitive Processes).

Psychology in medicine (Journal of Clinical Psychology).
You have read this article Special Issue Spotter with the title February 2009. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2009/02/the-special-issue-spotter.html. Thanks!

The brain's fatty food radar

The human brain recognises the difference between low and high-fat food with the same automatic efficiency as it exhibits when discriminating happy and sad faces, and living and non-living entities. Ulrike Toepel and colleagues who made the finding, hope it will contribute to our understanding of over-eating.

The researchers presented 24 normal-weight participants with photos of hundreds of different types of food, as well as pictures of kitchen utensils, all the while recording their brain activity using electroencephalography (EEG).

The participants thought their task was to indicate as fast as possible whether each photo, presented for just half a second, showed food or a kitchen utensil. In fact, the researchers were interested in whether the brain activity of the participants differed according to whether a high or low fat food had been presented.

The advantage of EEG over brain imaging techniques like fMRI, is in the level of time-related detail it can provide. In this case, Toepel's team were able to show that high-fat food led to distinct patterns of brain activity relative to low-fat food, during two discrete time periods: 160-220ms and 330-370ms after presentation of the food.

The speed with which the fat content of food was discriminated by the brain is similar to that shown for other fundamental categories such as for living vs. non-living things. Because the participants were distracted by the task involving kitchen utensils, the results further show that this discrimination between high and low-fat foods occurs automatically.

Areas of the brain that showed sensitivity to food fattiness were temporo-parietal regions during the first time period and the pre-frontal cortex during the second time period. The first time period probably relates to rudimentary analysis of the fattiness category, and the second probably relates to decision making.

"Enhanced activation in prefrontal cortices has also been related to syndromes of eating disorders," the researchers explained. "Thus, the network identified during this second stage points to the role of this categorization phase in the decision-making process on food choices based on their energetic value."

ResearchBlogging.orgU TOEPEL, J KNEBEL, J HUDRY, J LECOUTRE, M MURRAY (2009). The brain tracks the energetic value in food images. NeuroImage, 44 (3), 967-974 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2008.10.005
You have read this article biological / Brain with the title February 2009. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2009/02/the-brain-fatty-food-radar.html. Thanks!

Support for the aberrant salience account of schizophrenia

According to the aberrant salience account of schizophrenia, the positive symptoms of the condition - the hallucinations and delusions - come about because patients see meaning where there is none. The neurotransmitter dopamine, associated with learning and reward, is found in excess in patients with schizophrenia, and it is this chemical anomaly that is thought to underlie their tendency to misinterpret the meaning of things.

The aberrant salience account was proposed by psychiatrist Shitij Kapur and while it has provoked a lot of interest, few studies have attempted to directly test its predictions. Now Jonathan Roiser and colleagues have shown that patients experiencing delusions show more aberrant salience in a learning task than do patients whose symptoms are in remission - a finding entirely consistent with Kapur's account.

On each trial, 20 patients on medication for schizophrenia and 17 healthy controls had to press a button as fast as possible in response to a black square appearing on a computer monitor. Sometimes participants were rewarded for responding quickly to this square and sometimes they weren't. Crucially, the reward schedule wasn't completely random, and the likelihood of a trial being rewarded could sometimes be predicted by an image (e.g. a household item) flashed on-screen before the black square. However not all images were predictive in this way. Some were irrelevant, and a key feature of the task was whether or not participants would learn which images were predictive and which weren't.

If participants responded more quickly after predictive images than irrelevant ones, then this would indicate they had learned correctly - a sign of so-called "adaptive salience". By contrast, speedier responding after irrelevant images would indicate that they'd read predictive meaning where there was none - a sign of "aberrant salience". After the testing, the participants were also asked to report which images they thought were predictive and which weren't, thus providing another, more explicit, measure of adaptive and aberrant salience. 

Overall, the medicated patients with schizophrenia showed no more aberrant salience than the controls. That is, they were no more likely to believe an irrelevant image signalled a forthcoming reward. Crucially, however, among the patients, those who were still experiencing delusions showed more evidence of aberrant salience than those whose symptoms were in remission.

Moreover, the patients showed reduced adaptive salience relative to the controls. This is also consistent with Kapur's account, which predicts that patients treated with anti-psychotic medication will show impaired learning as a side-effect of their medication. A final supportive finding was that control participants who scored higher on a test of schizophrenia-like experiences also demonstrated increased aberrant salience.

A finding not predicted by Kapur's account was that patients with more negative symptoms of schizophrenia - lethargy and lack of emotion - also tended to display more aberrant salience.

"...these data are consistent with the hypothesis that schizophrenia patients with delusions exhibit aberrant salience," Roiser's group concluded. "The aberrant salience hypothesis warrants further investigation in unmedicated patients with schizophrenia."

ResearchBlogging.orgJ. P. Roiser, K. E. Stephan, H. E. M. den Ouden, T. R. E. Barnes, K. J. Friston, E. M. Joyce (2008). Do patients with schizophrenia exhibit aberrant salience? Psychological Medicine, 39 (02) DOI: 10.1017/S0033291708003863

Link to related feature article in The Psychologist magazine (open access).
Link to related post on Mind Hacks blog.
You have read this article Mental health with the title February 2009. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2009/02/support-for-aberrant-salience-account.html. Thanks!


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

Women in the fertile phase of their menstrual cycle prefer bigger pupils - the kind found in eyes, not schools.

Belief in an essentialist ("ethnic") definition of nationality is linked with negative attitudes towards immigrants.

CBT for psychosis failed to show any advantage over treatment-as-usual when tested in actual routine practice.

The legacy of patient HM for neuroscience.

Tests for babies that predict their IQ in childhood.

A meta-analysis of studies into the effectiveness of psychological treatments for social anxiety.

The Lost Email technique: a way to uncover people's hidden discriminatory attitudes.

Abused children show an enhanced ability to recognise the facial expression of anger.

Gratitude linked with superior wellbeing, even after factoring in the influence of personality.

Suicide is more common in countries with lower average self-esteem.
You have read this article Extras with the title February 2009. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2009/02/extras_10.html. Thanks!

Forget brainstorming - try brainwriting!

Brainstorming sessions are popular but surprisingly ineffective. Research shows that people actually come up with more ideas working on their own than they do brainstorming together. According to business psychologist Peter Heslin, an alternative way for groups to generate ideas is called "Brainwriting", and early evidence suggests that it, unlike brainstorming, helps groups to spawn more ideas than the same number of people working alone.

There are several reasons brainstorming is thought to be ineffective. To give two examples: it's easy for members of a group to remain creatively passive while others bandy ideas around - a phenomenon dubbed social loafing. Or group members can worry that their ideas will attract negative comment - this is called evaluation apprehension - thus leading them to keep quiet.

Brainwriting aims to avoid some of these issues and is designed to encourage all group members to engage with each others' ideas. Briefly, it involves four group members writing ideas on slips of paper in silence. Group members pass the slips of paper between each other, reading others' ideas and inserting their own. Ink colour indicates who owns which ideas and when a paper slip has four ideas on it, it is placed in the centre of the table for all to see. This is repeated up to 25 times. The second stage involves group members withdrawing to the corners of the room and recalling as many of the ideas generated so far as possible - the rationale being that this encourages attention to the ideas generated. The final stage involves group members working alone for 15 minutes in an attempt to generate yet more ideas.

A study published in 2000 with student participants found that they invented more novel uses for a paper clip using the brainwriting technique than did an equivalent number of students working alone.

Peter Heslin is calling on more research to be conducted to find out whether brainwriting really is as effective as this preliminary study suggests, and to pin down under exactly which circumstances it is likely to be useful. For example, perhaps this technique would be more useful in some company cultures than others. Or maybe it would suit some personality types more than others. It's possible, for example, that extravert employees used to brainstorming would find the silent nature of brainwriting uncomfortable.

"A prime purpose of this paper is to raise awareness among scholars, practitioners, and managers of brainwriting as an alternative to the well-known brainstorming technique," Heslin said. "It also highlights the imperative for rigorous field research to investigate – and thus either confirm or refute – the validity of the contextual-based research ideas offered in this paper, so as to shed light on how and when organizations should consider using brainstorming instead of brainwriting."

ResearchBlogging.orgPeter A. Heslin (2009). Better than brainstorming? Potential contextual boundary conditions to brainwriting for idea generation in organizations. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 82 (1), 129-145 DOI: 10.1348/096317908X285642
You have read this article Occupational with the title February 2009. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2009/02/forget-brainstorming-try-brainwriting.html. Thanks!

Babies understand we can't always get what we want

Babies as young as ten-months are able to recognise the intent behind a failed action, thus revealing a surprisingly sophisticated understanding of other people's minds.

Amanda Brandone and Henry Wellman, who made the finding, used a methodological approach that regular readers of the Digest will be familiar with. This is the preferential looking time procedure, which exploits the fact that babies tend to look longer at something novel that grabs their interest.

One hundred and thirty-four babies in three age groups - eight, ten and twelve-months - were habituated to one of two versions of a video showing someone reaching for a ball. To say the babies were habituated to the video means they were shown it enough times that they grew bored.

One version showed a person reaching, with an arc-like movement, over a mini wall to pick up a ball. The key thing about this video was that it showed someone intending to make a direct reach for the ball. The other version showed the same movement but the person failed to quite reach the ball - so the intent was the same, but they had failed.

Next the babies watched two further alternating videos: both were similar to the first they'd seen, but this time the wall wasn't there. In one, a person is seen reaching directly for the ball, with a straight, horizontal arm movement. In other words, his intent was to make a direct reach for the ball, just as in the earlier video. In the other, the person makes an arc-like reaching movement (similar to that seen earlier), even though no wall is in the way. So this person intended to make an indirect reach. 

The key question was - which of the later videos would most grab the babies' interest: the first one, which matched the intent in the earlier video (a direct reach for the ball), but was perceptually different, or the second video which was perceptually similar because of the arc-like movement, but which reflected a different intent (i.e. an indirect reach for the ball)?

The answer depended on which version of the first video the babies had seen.

When the first video showed someone successfully picking up the ball, all age groups subsequently spent more time looking at the later video showing an arc-like, indirect ball reach. This suggests that all the babies, from eight months and upwards, understood the intent behind the successful reach of the ball, and therefore found the later video showing an indirect reach far more interesting. (Yes, maybe they should get out more, but remember they're only little).

By contrast, among the babies who saw the initial video version with an unsuccessful ball reach, only the 10- and 12-month-olds subsequently spent longer watching the later video showing the indirect, arc-like ball grab. This suggests that only the older babies understood that the person in the first video was to trying to directly reach the ball, even though he'd failed. 

Taken altogether this research suggests that the ability of babies to understand the intent behind failed actions builds on their earlier ability to understand the intent behind successful actions.

In the researchers' words: "...these data illustrate the early emergence of an intentional framework in at least one key instance of human action. Moreover, they show that this early intentional understanding of action appears later than, and potentially builds upon, a prior action- and object-based understanding."

ResearchBlogging.orgAmanda C. Brandone, Henry M. Wellman (2009). You Can't Always Get What You Want: Infants Understand Failed Goal-Directed Actions. Psychological Science, 20 (1), 85-91 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2008.02246.x
You have read this article Developmental with the title February 2009. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2009/02/babies-understand-we-can-always-get.html. Thanks!

Colours affect mental performance, with blue boosting creativity

Paint the walls blue to boost your creativity. That's the message from an intriguing new study that shows the contrasting effects of blue and red on mental performance.

Psychologists have known for some time that colours can affect cognition, but research in the area has produced contradictory results. For example, some studies have shown red to be beneficial while others have found the opposite.

Ravi Mehta and Rui (Juliet) Zhu believe the contrasting results have arisen from the fact that red is beneficial for some kinds of mental processing, while blue is beneficial for others.

In a series of six experiments, they've now demonstrated that red provokes a cautious, avoidant mode of motivation, which is beneficial for tasks that require attention to detail. By contrast, blue provokes an approach-based, exploratory motivational state, which is conducive to creativity. The effects are thought to occur via the meanings we learn to associate with different colours - for example, in many cultures red is of course associated with danger and the command to stop. This study was conducted on a Canadian sample - it's possible the effects of colour may vary between cultures.

Many of the experiments involved computer tasks, with either a red or blue background appearing on the monitor. These experiments showed that people were better at a word-recall task and a proof-reading task when the screen background was red compared with when it was blue or white. By contrast, participants came up with better quality and more creative ideas for things to do with a brick when the screen was blue, rather than red, and they also performed better at the remote associates test (involves items like: which one word relates to "shelf", "read" and "end"?).

Evidence that these differences emerged via the effect of colour on motivational state came from participants' performance in anagram tasks. Mehta and Zhu found that participants working at a monitor with a red background were quicker at unscrambling anagrams related to avoidance, while those with a blue background were quicker to unscramble jumbled words related to approach.

In yet another experiment, participants were given twenty "parts" from which to design a child's toy. Participants given red parts designed toys that independent judges rated to be more practical and appropriate, but less original and novel. By contrast, participants given blue parts came up with more creative toy designs.

Screen background colour also influenced participants' preference for two different camera adverts. Participants shown an advert against a red background tended to prefer the advert that showed a montage of product details, whereas participants shown the advert against a blue background preferred a version where the montage showed assorted travel-related images.

Mehta and Zhu said their findings have real life implications. "What wall colour do we pick for an educational facility? What colour enhances persuasion in a consumption context? What colour enhances creativity in a new product design process?" they asked. "Results from this research suggest that, depending on the nature of the task, different colours might be beneficial."

ResearchBlogging.orgRavi Mehta, Rui (Juliet) Zhu (2009). Blue or Red? Exploring the Effect of Color on Cognitive Task Performances. Science. In Press.
You have read this article Cognition / Creativity with the title February 2009. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2009/02/colours-affect-mental-performance-with.html. Thanks!

How much thought do we put into our moral judgements?

I doubt Prime Minister Gordon Brown is the first public figure to have boasted about his moral compass. Implicit in these claims is the idea that to follow a moral code is a good thing. But this may betray a certain psychological naivete, for a growing research base is showing much of our moral thinking is automatic and nonconscious - mindless even.

To take an example provided by psychologist Jonathan Haidt: most people register moral objection when told a story about a brother and sister who slept together, consensually, with no harm arising. Yet asked why they find it objectionable, such people can't explain their reasoning - a phenomenon that Haidt has dubbed moral dumbfounding.

Now Fionnuala Murphy and colleagues have provided further evidence for the automaticity of moral processing. Murphy's team asked three groups of 24 students to read different versions of short stories that either ended with a morally good or morally bad punchline.

The tales and their punchlines were constructed in such a way that pairs of stories shared a matching final sentence, which was worded identically, and yet had two different moral meanings based on the preceding context. For example, the sentence "Jessica thought about the situation and decided it would be right for her to do it" could either have good moral connotations following a story about returning a lost wallet, or immoral connotations following a story about the possibility of an affair.

Murhpy's team found that it took participants longer to read final sentences with an immoral meaning than those with a moral meaning. As the final sentences were worded identically, this delay must have arisen because the participants had processed the contrasting moral implications of the stories.

The most important part of the experiment concerned the fact that two of the participant groups were given an easy or difficult memory task to do at the same time as they read the stories. These participants also took longer to read immoral punchlines compared with moral ones, thus suggesting they too had processed the moral content of the stories, even though they had been mentally distracted by a memory task at the time of reading.

"Researchers in the area of social cognition have shown that many social psychological phenomena — including attitudes, evaluations and impressions, emotions, and social behaviour — occur automatically and without awareness (Bargh & Chartrand, 1999; PDF). The present findings suggest that the same may be true for moral processing," the researchers said.

ResearchBlogging.orgFionnuala Murphy, Gemma Wilde, Neil Ogden, Philip Barnard, Andrew Calder (2008). Assessing the automaticity of moral processing: Efficient coding of moral information during narrative comprehension The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 62 (1), 41-49 DOI: 10.1080/17470210802254441
You have read this article Morality with the title February 2009. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2009/02/how-much-thought-do-we-put-into-our.html. Thanks!

The Special Issue Spotter

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

Issues in cross-cultural assessment (Australian Psychologist).

Special Section on Out-of-Body Experiences (Cortex).

Emerging Data Analysis (Journal of Memory and Language). New data analysis techniques in the field of memory and language. From the editorial: "We hope that this collection of articles will provide readers of the journal with an array of statistical strategies to improve the sophistication, power, and validity of the analytic methods they use in evaluating data. Authors of the papers were specifically encouraged to make the conceptual underpinnings of the techniques accessible to a wide readership and to provide clear examples of how the procedures can be applied to particular designs and data types."

Dedicated to the Memory of Arthur L. Benton (Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology). Benton was a pioneer in the field of clinical neuropsychology. From the editorial, written by his daughter: "My father would have loved the papers in this issue, as they address many of his favorite topics—test development, hemispheric asymmetries, localization, and, yes, Gerstmann syndrome. Most likely, however, he would have wanted to continue collaborating with his cherished friends and mentoring the students with whom he worked so closely. May his name be for a blessing on all their future endeavours."

New Technologies in the Prevention and Treatment of Substance Use Problems (Drug and Alcohol Review).
You have read this article Special Issue Spotter with the title February 2009. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2009/02/the-special-issue-spotter_2.html. Thanks!

Olympic athletes reveal their mental strategies

It's reassuring to learn that even the most elite athletes can suffer from mental frailties. Maurizio Bertollo and colleagues interviewed 13 members of Italy's 2004 pentathlon squad and a common theme to emerge was the curse of so-called "ironic effects". As one athlete explained: "In some circumstances my intention is not to do the best but to avoid making a bad shot. That is when I make a bad shot. When I think about avoiding the error, I make the error."

The modern pentathlon involves pistol shooting, épée fencing, 200m freestyle swimming, show jumping, and a 3km cross-country run, all conducted on the same day. Bertollo's research team transcribed the interviews they conducted with the pentathletes, generating 220 pages of text. They trawled this text, looking for common themes to emerge and then organised these according to different stages preceding, during and following a competitive event.

For example, several of the athletes said that during the days before an event they attempted to recreate the emotional stress of a real competition. They also said they prioritised relaxation time, set themselves goals and mentally rehearsed success.

During a competition, the athletes performed an opposite mental exercise to that conducted prior to the event, attempting to recreate the feelings, such as of muscle relaxation, that they achieved during training. They also revealed that they tried to avoid dwelling on mistakes; that they reassured themselves that dysfunctional emotions usually stop once a contest gets started; and that they strive to focus their attention in useful ways, such as on the sight and target during shooting.

As well as difficulties with "ironic effects", the athletes also spoke of the curse of bodily symptoms such as trembling and fatigue, and the feeling of a loss of control or choking. "There are times when I say, ‘I don’t see when this will end. Oh God, let me finish this contest! I want it to end!’ And I am in acute crisis," one athlete said.

The athletes also reported devoting considerable time to post-contest evaluation, especially so as to learn from their mistakes.

ResearchBlogging.orgM BERTOLLO, B SALTARELLI, C ROBAZZA (2009). Mental preparation strategies of elite modern pentathletes Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 10 (2), 244-254 DOI: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2008.09.003

Image is from Wikipedia and shows the conclusion of the Men's pentathlon event at the 2004 Summer Olympics.
You have read this article Sport with the title February 2009. You can bookmark this page URL http://psychiatryfun.blogspot.com/2009/02/olympic-athletes-reveal-their-mental.html. Thanks!