Season's Greetings

Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St Nicholas soon would be there

'A visit from St Nicholas' (Dec 1823) by Clement C. Moore
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers around the world. Normal service will be resumed after the festive break.
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Better than sex! US college students value self-esteem boosts more than bodily pleasures

'Because you're worth it!' L'Oreal's catchphrase taps into the narcissistic zeitgeist. But it also begs the question: Are we at risk of becoming obsessed with feeling good about ourselves? According to new research by Brad Bushman and his co-workers, not only do US college students have higher self-esteem than previous generations, they now value self-esteem boosts more than sex, food, receiving a salary payment, seeing a friend or having an alcoholic drink.

Bushman's team made their finding by asking dozens of US college students to imagine their favourite food, sexual activity, self-esteem boosting activity (e.g. receiving a compliment, getting a good grade) etc, and in each case to say how much they wanted it and how much they liked it. The key finding was that self-esteem boosting activities came out on top.

Some validity was lent to these thought-experiments by offering the students a real chance to boost their self-esteem. For example, in the first study, as well as answering questions about food, sex and so on, the students were scored on a simple verbal intelligence test. They were then given the opportunity to wait around for an extra ten minutes to receive a score based on a different algorithm that usually produces higher scores. The students who said earlier that they wanted self-esteem more than they liked it (taken as a sign of being addicted to self-esteem) tended to be the ones who stayed behind for the chance to receive a higher intelligence score.

Other personality factors that the researchers looked at were 'entitlement', and trying to get other people to recognise how good you are, otherwise known as 'pursuing self-image goals'. Higher scores on entitlement, as measured by agreement with statements like 'If I ruled the world it would be a much better place,' tended to correlate with wanting the rewards - that's the imagined self-esteem boosts, sex, food etc - but not the liking of them. Predictably enough, pursuing self-image goals tended to correlate with placing a high value on self-esteem boosts.

What does all this mean? Bushman's team think the new results confirm that self-esteem is an essential human need, as claimed by humanistic psychology pioneer Abraham Maslow and others. 'Overall, our findings shed new and interesting light on just how important it is for people to feel worthy and valuable,' the researchers said. But their write-up is tinged with anxiety. Valuing self-esteem can encourage the pursuit of self-image goals, which they warned can lead to conflict with others. 'Of course we should enjoy the good things in life, but not so much that we want them more than we like them,' Bushman's team concluded. 'We do not want to become addicted to self-esteem or other rewards, or we will become "slaves" to them, to borrow the words of Fritz Perls [the founder of Gestalt therapy].'

ResearchBlogging.orgBushman, B., Moeller, S., and Crocker, J. (2010). Sweets, Sex, or Self-Esteem? Comparing the Value of Self-Esteem Boosts with Other Pleasant Rewards. Journal of Personality DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.2010.00712.x
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Paralysis deniers have subconscious insight into their disability

Anosognosia is an intriguing neuropsychological syndrome in which a patient with one or more paralysed limbs denies they have anything wrong with them. In a new investigation, Aikaterini Fotopoulou and her colleagues have shown that some patients fitting this description have a residual, subconscious awareness of their disability.

The researchers recruited 14 brain-damaged patients with a completely paralysed left arm, half of whom denied their paralysis (ie they had anosognosia). Next, all the patients were presented with a series of sentences for which they had to provide the final word. The twist to the task is that the word had to be completely unrelated in meaning to its adjoining sentence.

Some of the sentences were emotionally neutral (about cars), some were negatively emotional (about violence), and finally some pertained to stroke and physical disabilities. The patients with anosognosia performed no differently from the paralysed controls on the neutral and negative sentences, but they took longer to complete the sentences about stroke and disabilities. This was taken as a sign of competition between subconscious self-threatening information about disability and the task requirement to find an unrelated word. It suggests the anosognosic patients had a subconscious awareness of their own disability.

The patients were also asked to rate the same set of sentences for their self-relevance - this was an explicit test of their awareness. Again, the anosognosic patients differed from controls on precisely the sentences that pertained to stroke and disability. This time, as you might expect, they tended to say such sentences were less relevant to them than did the controls.

A final component of the study involved scanning the brains of all fourteen of the patients. This showed that the patients with anosognosia had damage in brain regions involved in motor control (including the basal ganglia) and body representation (including the anterior insula) that were unaffected in patients without anosognosia.

Fotopoulou's theory is that patients with anosognosia have a subconscious awareness of their deficits but that the brain circuits responsible for creating an up-to-date representation of self are compromised. Consistent with this, in previous research, patients with anosnognosia have shown greater insight when describing their impairments from a third-person perspective and also after viewing themselves on video. A related theory is that patients with anosognosia have intact motor planning brain circuits but that their feedback circuits are damaged. So, when asked to move, they feel that they've sent a successful motor command to their limb but are left unaware that the command wasn't enacted.

One reason anosognosia is so intriguing is that it has both neurobiological and psychological components. Some experts have interpreted it as a form of Freudian defence against the emotional trauma of paralysis. Consistent with this, when insight into their paralysis has been achieved, previously anosognosic patients have subsequently suffered from an increase in depressive symptoms.

'The combination of our behavioural and neural findings suggest that an explicit, affectively personalised sensorimotor awareness requires the re-representation of sensorimotor information in the insular cortex, with possible involvement of limbic areas and basal ganglia circuits,' the researchers said. 'The delusional features of anosognosia for hemiplegia can be explained as a failure of this re-representation.'

ResearchBlogging.orgFotopoulou, A., Pernigo, S., Maeda, R., Rudd, A., and Kopelman, M. (2010). Implicit awareness in anosognosia for hemiplegia: unconscious interference without conscious re-representation. Brain, 133 (12), 3564-3577 DOI: 10.1093/brain/awq233
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The benefits of thinking about our ancestors

Psychologists have shown previously that thinking about our own mortality - 'where we're going' - prompts us to shore up our cultural world view and engage in self-esteem boosting activities. Little researched until now, by contrast, are the psychological effects of thinking about where we came from - our ancestors.

Anecdotally, there's reason to believe that such thoughts are beneficial. Why else the public fascination with genealogy and programmes like the BBC's Who Do You Think You Are? Now Peter Fischer and his colleagues at the Universities of Graz, Berlin and Munich have shown that thinking about our ancestors boosts our performance on intelligence tests - what they've dubbed 'the ancestor effect'.

'Normally, our ancestors managed to overcome a multitude of personal and society problems, such as severe illnesses, wars, loss of loved ones or severe economic declines,' the researchers said. 'So, when we think about them, we are reminded that humans who are genetically similar to us can successfully overcome a multitude of problems and adversities.'

An initial study involved 80 undergrads spending five minutes thinking about either their fifteenth century ancestors, their great-grandparents or a recent shopping trip. Afterwards, those students in the two ancestor conditions were more confident about their likely performance in future exams, an effect that seemed to be mediated by their feeling more in control of their lives.

Three further studies showed that thinking or writing about their recent or distant ancestors led students to actually perform better on a range of intelligence tests, including verbal and spatial tasks (in one test, students who thought about their distant ancestors scored an average of 14 out of 16, compared with an average of 10 out of 16 among controls). The ancestor benefit was mediated partly by students attempting more answers - what the researchers called having a 'promotion orientation'.

These benefits weren't displayed by students in control conditions that involved writing about themselves or about close friends. Moreover, the ancestor effect exerted its benefit even when students were asked to think about negative aspects of their ancestors.

'We showed that an easy reminder about our ancestors can significantly increase intellectual performance,' the researchers said. 'Hence, whenever people are in a situation where intellectual performance is extraordinarily important, for example in exams or job interviews, they have an easy technique to increase their success.'

Fischer and his colleagues emphasised their research is at an exploratory phase. Future work is needed to find out what other benefits thinking of ancestors might have, and also to uncover other possible mediating factors, which they speculated might have to do with 'processes of social identity, family cohesion, self-regulation or norm activation elicited by increased ancestor salience.'

ResearchBlogging.orgFischer, P., Sauer, A., Vogrincic, C., and Weisweiler, S. (2010). The ancestor effect: Thinking about our genetic origin enhances intellectual performance. European Journal of Social Psychology DOI: 10.1002/ejsp.778

Related article from The Psychologist magazine: What factors drive a person to research a family tree, or an adoptee to search for their biological parents?
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Harder-to-read fonts boost student learning

Making learning materials more difficult to read can significantly improve student performance. Yes, you read that correctly. Connor Diemand-Yauman and his colleagues think the effect occurs because fonts that are more awkward to read encourage deeper processing of the to-be-learned material.

Diemand-Yauman first tested this principal in the lab with 28 participants (aged 18 to 40) who spent 90 seconds learning the seven features associated with three alien species. Half the students learned from materials written in clear 16-point Arial font, whereas the other half learned from materials written either in 12-point Comic Sans or 12-point Bodoni. As the researchers explained, these last two fonts are obviously more difficult to read when considered side-by-side with the Arial font, but viewed on their own few people would notice anything amiss. Fifteen minutes later the participants were tested and the key finding was that those who learned from the harder-to-read fonts answered 86.5 per cent of questions correctly, compared with the 72.8 per cent success rate achieved by the participants who learned from the clearer font.

For a follow-up study the researchers collaborated with a high school in Ohio. Teachers sent in their work-sheets and power-point slides and the researchers made them more difficult to read. They did this either by switching the fonts to Comic Sans Italicised, Haettenschweiler or Monotype Corsiva, or, if the materials were hand-written, simply by shaking them about in a photo-copier to make them blurry. The history, English and science teachers used the manipulated materials for one of their classes but not the other, which acted as a control. You guessed it, of the 220 participating pupils, those who learned from the harder-to-read materials subsequently performed better in the relevant class assessments than did the pupils who learned from the unadulterated materials (for more statistically minded readers, the effect size was d=.45).

When people find something easy to read, they take that as a sign that they've mastered it. Conversely, the researchers believe harder-to-read fonts provoke a feeling of lack of mastery and encourage deeper processing. However, there's obviously a balance to be struck. If material becomes too difficult to read, some students may simply give up. Another possible mechanism is that the less legible fonts are somehow more distinctive, rendering them more memorable. Diemand-Yauman's team doubt this explanation because distinctiveness should wear off over time, and anyway they didn't use any fonts that pupils wouldn't have seen before.

The researchers think their finding could be the tip of the ice-berg as regards using cognitive findings to boost educational practice. 'If a simple change of font can significantly increase student performance, one can only imagine the number of beneficial cognitive interventions waiting to be discovered,' they said. 'Fluency demonstrates how small interventions have the potential to make big improvements in the performance of our students and education system as a whole.'

ResearchBlogging.orgDiemand-Yauman, C., Oppenheimer, D., and Vaughan, E. (2011). Fortune favors the Bold (and the Italicized): Effects of disfluency on educational outcomes. Cognition, 118 (1), 111-115 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2010.09.012
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Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

Don't tell Sarkozy: popular politicians are perceived to be taller.

Can you see OK in there? Analysis of uterine conditions suggests that at least some fetuses have enough light to see by. 'This finding could have intriguing implications for the ontogeny of early visuo-motor abilities in newborns and infants.'

People respond to threat warnings differently depending on whether they refer to natural disasters, terrorism or criminal violence. 'It appears that the mechanisms for perception, decision-making, and action in response to threats cannot be generalized in a straightforward way across these domains of threat.'

Pull the other one - overly short or long legs are perceived as less attractive, according to a poll of people across no fewer than 27 nations.

Despite what you might think, jurors weren't biased by the label 'psychopath'.

English and Mandarin speakers think about time differently.

The dark side of emotional intelligence (EI). 'We suggest that high-EI people ... are likely to benefit from several strategic behaviors in organizations including: focusing emotion detection on important others, disguising and expressing emotions for personal gain, using misattribution to stir and shape emotions, and controlling the flow of emotion-laden communication.'

Smoking affects language lateralisation in the brain, and does so differently for men and women.

Distracting the mind improves performance.

Review of when people get violent during sleep.
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How male oil rig staff learned to lose their machismo

Psychologists investigating two (non-BP) deep-water, offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico have applauded the working-practices they observed, claiming they allowed the predominantly male workforce to 'undo' gender - that is, to stop pursuing a counter-productive, masculine ideal.

Setting the scene in their new paper, Robin Ely and Debra Meyerson argue that dangerous work-places have traditionally encouraged male staff to 'do gender' by demonstrating physical prowess, taking risks, concealing technical incompetence and coming across as fearless and unflappable. Such behaviours detrimentally affect staff training, lead to accidents and poor decision making, human rights violations, and the marginalisation of female colleagues.  Oil rigs would normally be the classic example of such a work culture, but during several visits to two Gulf of Mexico rigs, the researchers and their colleagues found that a strong corporate focus on safety had led the staff to acknowledge their physical limitations, to be open about their skill shortcomings and freely express their feelings.

Ely and Meyerson highlight three specific work-place factors that they say led the workers to 'undo gender': having collectivist goals (especially putting safety first); defining competence according to task requirements rather than masculine ideals; and having a learning orientation towards work. Regarding the last factor, it was widely accepted on the rigs that people make mistakes and that the important thing is to learn from them. One rig had even established a 'Millionaire Club' to 'honour' workers whose mistakes had cost the company a million dollars (an ironic nod to the IBM sales club that recognised successful salespeople). 'To become a member was not a source of shame,' the researchers explained, 'but rather, a mark of being human.'

Ely and Meyerson think their research has implications beyond dangerous workplaces, including for 'white-collar jobs, such as manager, scientist and lawyer,' which they said can all serve as proving grounds for masculinity. 'In short,' they concluded, 'dangerous workplaces provide a window on how processes associated with masculinity unfold in organisations, and highly effective dangerous workplaces provide a window on how these processes could be different. Indeed, if men can "undo gender" on offshore oil platforms - arguably one of the most macho work environments in the modern world - then they should be able to undo it anywhere.'

ResearchBlogging.orgEly, R., and Meyerson, D. (2010). An organizational approach to undoing gender: The unlikely case of offshore oil platforms. Research in Organizational Behavior, 30, 3-34 DOI: 10.1016/j.riob.2010.09.002
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When and how psychological data is collected affects the kind of students who volunteer

Psychology has a serious problem. You may have heard about its over-dependence on WEIRD participants - that is, those from Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich Democracies. More specifically, as regular readers will be aware, countless psychology studies involve undergraduate students, particularly psych undergrads. Apart from the obvious fact that this limits the generalisability of the findings, Edward Witt and his colleagues provide evidence in a new paper for two further problems, this time involving self-selection biases.

Just over 500 Michigan State University undergrads (75 per cent were female) had the option, at a time of their choosing during the Spring 2010 semester, to volunteer either for an on-line personality study, or a face-to-face version. The data collection was always arranged for Wednesdays at 12.30pm to control for time of day/week effects. Also, the same personality survey was administered by computer in the same way in both experiment types, it's just that in the face-to-face version it was made clear that the students had to attend the research lab, and an experimenter would be present.

Just 30 per cent of the sample opted for the face-to-face version. Predictably enough, these folk tended to score more highly on extraversion. The effect size was small (d=-.26) but statistically significant. Regards more specific personality traits, the students who chose the face-to-face version were also more altruistic and less cautious.

What about choice of semester week? As you might expect, it was the more conscientious students who opted for dates earlier in the semester (r=.-.20). What's more, men were far more likely to volunteer later in the semester, even after controlling for average personality difference between the sexes. For example, 18 per cent of week one participants were male compared with 52 per cent in the final, 13th week.

In other words, the kind of people who volunteer for research will likely vary according to the time of semester and the mode of data collection. Imagine you used false negative feedback on a cognitive task to explore effects on confidence and performance. Participants tested at the start of semester, who are typically more conscientious and motivated, are likely to be affected in a different way than participants who volunteer later in the semester.

This isn't the first time that self-selection biases have been reported in psychology. A 2007 study, for example, suggested that people who volunteer for a 'prison study' are likely to score higher than average on aggressiveness and social dominance, thus challenging the generalisability of Zimbardo's seminal work. However, despite the occasional study highlighting these effects, there seems to be little enthusiasm in the social psychological community to do much about it.

So what to do? The specific issues raised in the current study could be addressed by sampling throughout a semester and replicating effects using different data collection methods. 'Many papers based on college students make reference to the real world implications of their findings for phenomena like aggression, basic cognitive processes, prejudice, and mental health,' the researchers said. 'Nonetheless, the use of convenience samples place limitations on the kinds of inferences drawn from research. In the end, we strongly endorse the idea that psychological science will be improved as researchers pay increased attention to the attributes of the participants in their studies.'

ResearchBlogging.orgWitt, E., Donnellan, M., and Orlando, M. (2011). Timing and selection effects within a psychology subject pool: Personality and sex matter. Personality and Individual Differences, 50 (3), 355-359 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.10.019

Previously on the Digest: Just how non-clinical are so-called non-clinical community samples?
Just how representative are the people who volunteer for psychology experiments?
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Do political scandals really distract us from important issues?

Barely a day goes by without some political scandal or other splashed across the papers. Critics argue this obsession with tittle-tattle distracts the electorate from more important policy issues. '...a fiercely independent media is the guarantor of democracy,' Will Hutton wrote in 2000, before warning that the British media's obsession with scandal 'paradoxically, may be beginning to endanger it [democracy]'.

A new study by Beth Miller at the University of Missouri-Kansas City challenges the assumption that scandal is a distraction. Every two days, she presented 413 undergrads with a newspaper article containing information about a policy position held by a mayoral candidate. Then, 1 to 14 days later, she tested the students' memory for the candidate's policies. The important twist was that for half the participants, the fourth of five newspaper articles, rather than being about a policy, was about a scandal involving the candidate - in particular, his confession to an extra-marital affair.

The assumption of many would be that this story would distract participants from the drier, but arguably more important, detail of the politician's policies. Similarly, in psychological terms, it might be argued that the scandalous information would displace the earlier memory traces associated with policies, especially since negative information is known to be particularly memorable and attention-grabbing.

An alternative prediction, however, is that the salience of the scandal would actually benefit all other memories associated with the politician. This is consistent with the idea that memory is an 'associative network' made up of interconnected nodes. By this account, activation of one node - the one representing scandal - will spill over and raise the activation in all related nodes, thus benefiting participants' memory for the mayoral candidate's policies.

Miller found that more policy-related information was recalled by participants who read about the scandal, consistent with the associative-memory account. Moreover, compared with participants in the scandal condition who forgot about it (the scandal), those who remembered it were also more likely to remember policy information - reinforcing the idea that the scandal memory had benefited policy memories. As you might expect, although the scandal benefited participants' memory for policies, it also negatively affected the participants' evaluation of the candidate.

'While these results do not suggest that candidates can engage in scandalous activities without consequence, they do suggest that the depiction of the public as blind to anything but scandalous information seems to be an exaggeration,' Miller said. 'The results ... suggest that exposure to scandalous information ... may have beneficial side-effects not previously explored.'

ResearchBlogging.orgMiller, B. (2010). The Effects of Scandalous Information on Recall of Policy-Related Information. Political Psychology, 31 (6), 887-914 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9221.2010.00786.x
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Provoking paranoid interpretations in a 'healthy' sample

Traditionally, psychiatrists saw the paranoia exhibited by patients with schizophrenia as qualitatively different from the feelings of mistrust and suspicion expressed by 'healthy' people. Today that view is changing. New research, much of it by psychologists, is demonstrating that clinical paranoia is on a continuum with the experiences of the general public (see earlier). Much of this has involved use of questionnaires or interviews to gauge rates of paranoid feeling in non-clinical samples. Better than this, though, would be observing people's actual paranoid interpretations unfolding in response to real events. Catherine Green and her team think they've found a way.

The researchers had 58 healthy participants sit in a room with a male experimenter and write about their journey to the lab that day (ostensibly as part of research into people's 'understanding of the causes of events'). Next, a male colleague knocked on the door and asked the experimenter if he could come outside for a moment. After the experimenter exited, the sound of male laughter was played for 35 seconds on speakers in the corridor.

What would you think if an experimenter left the room to talk to a colleague and then you heard laughter outside? Asked to explain these events, two of the participants thought the experimenter's departure had something to do with them; five of them thought the laughter was about them; and two participants thought both events were somehow connected to themselves. 'They laughed at something they read in my questionnaires,' one participant said. In all, 15.5 per cent of the healthy sample showed evidence of mild paranoia - what's known as 'an idea of reference' in which they misattributed self-relevance to the events. None of the participants showed more severe persecutory paranoia, and in fact 28 participants failed to notice the laughter.

'The current study illustrates that paranoid explanations for events can be elicited and assessed in a real life situation,' Green and her colleagues said. Questionnaires completed before and after the main part of the study showed that those participants who came up with more paranoid explanations also tended to score higher on 'trait' paranoia. However, they scored no higher on a measure of social avoidance and distress, which suggests their paranoid explanations were not merely a consequence of social anxiety. They did however score higher on interpersonal sensitivity and negative self-regard.

'The current data suggest that some of the processes considered central to clinical paranoia ... may also be operating at the milder end of the spectrum,' the researchers concluded, 'but the data raise questions as to what processes might be responsible for transition across the spectrum from ideas of reference to persecutory ideation.'

ResearchBlogging.orgGreen CE, Freeman D, Kuipers E, Bebbington P, Fowler D, Dunn G, and Garety PA (2011). Paranoid explanations of experience: a novel experimental study. Behavioural and cognitive psychotherapy, 39 (1), 21-34 PMID: 20846468

Further reading: Is paranoia increasing? Free Psychologist magazine article.
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The Special Issue Spotter

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

Special section on fMRI (Perspectives on Psychological Science).

The Content and Context of Early Media Exposure (Infant and Child Development).

The psychology of political leadership (Political Psychology).

Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders: Diagnosis and Intervention (Alcohol).

Space, Time and Number (Trends in Cognitive Sciences).

Clinical psychology special issue (Psychology Learning and Teaching).
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Trying to create an impression can alter your perception of others

When we’re socialising and we try to make a certain impression – to appear confident, say, or smart – doing so affects our perception of the person we’re talking to, leading us to think they have less of the same trait that we’re trying to demonstrate in ourselves. Bryan Gibson and Elizabeth Poposki showed this in five experiments involving hundreds of undergrads.

In each experiment participants watched a short film before discussing it with another student (actually a stooge working for the researchers) in two brief (15 and 8 second) exchanges over a webcam. Crucially, half the participants were given a specific ‘impression management’ goal. This was either to appear introverted, extraverted, smart, confident or happy, depending on the experiment. Afterwards the participants rated themselves and the student they’d conversed with.

The central finding was that, compared with the control participants, students given an impression management goal tended to rate their conversation partner lower on whichever trait they’d tried to demonstrate in themselves, but not on other traits.

Gibson and Poposki’s theory is that this effect occurs via two mechanisms. Striving to make a particular impression causes us to adopt a comparison mindset, they say. And by shifting our own self-construct on a given trait, our conversation partner appears as a consequence to have less of that trait in comparison with ourselves.

This explanation was borne out by the various experiments. For example, the effect still occurred even when participants were given an impression management goal, but no chance to act on it – they were tricked into thinking their webcam was broken, so they could see and hear their partner but their partner couldn't see or hear them. This suggests the mere formation of an impression management goal is enough to shift the self-concept and affect our perception of others. On the other hand, this study's central effect didn’t occur when the researchers recruited participants who reported having a particularly fixed self-construct with regards to the relevant trait. In other words, when a person’s self-construct wasn’t shifted by an impression management attempt, their perception of their conversation partner wasn’t altered.

Gibson and Poposki said their findings raise many interesting questions for future research. One of these concerns narcissists, who have an ongoing desire to come across as highly intelligent. This could cause them to chronically underestimate other people’s intelligence, which might well contribute to their social difficulties.

‘Our research highlights the notion that the impressions we form of others are not made in a social vacuum,’ the researchers concluded. ‘By selecting particular impression management goals to guide our social interactions, we may unwittingly influence how we come to view others as much as we influence how they come to view us.’

ResearchBlogging.orgGibson B and Poposki EM (2010). How the adoption of impression management goals alters impression formation. Personality and social psychology bulletin, 36 (11), 1543-54 PMID: 20921279
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Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

Is exposure therapy appropriate for use with older adults? 'The current case study details a course of prolonged exposure (PE) therapy in an 88-year-old, World War II veteran, diagnosed with PTSD'.

Do Babies Learn From Baby Media?

Psychological aspects of the integration of women into combat roles.

Investigating the subtly different facial expressions associated with the positive emotions of interest, pride, pleasure, and joy.

Fathers, like mothers, show a bias for holding babies on the left side of their bodies.

Playing Tetris, but not a pub quiz, helped reduce traumatic flash backs.

Women apologise more than men because they have a lower threshold for what constitutes an offensive act.

A systematic review of the benefits of giving babies a daily massage.

Evidence for a weak version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis - language properties affect children's number processing.

A 'values affirmation' task helped boost female college students' performance in a physics class, especially those who endorsed the stereotype that men are typically better at physics than women.
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Shy students who use Facebook have better quality friendships

A lot of nonsense is written about the psychological effects of technology, and the Internet in particular. All that time staring at screens must reduce good ol' fashioned face-to-face contact, the scare-mongers say. A new study takes a different view. Levi Baker and Debra Oswald at Marquette University argue that "computer-mediated communication" could be just what shy people need.

Through sites like Facebook, shy people have more control over how they present themselves, the psychologists argue, and shared interests for discussion are immediately obvious - something shy people can struggle to identify in the flesh. There are also no non-verbal cues to be misinterpreted (past research shows that shy people tend to interpret such cues in an overly negative way). To test whether shy people really do benefit from Internet use, Baker and Oswald surveyed 207 undergrads (138 girls) about their shyness, Facebook usage and the quality of their friendships.

The encouraging finding was that among the more shy students, greater use of Facebook was associated with feeling closer to and more satisfied with friends (although this didn't apply to face-to-face friends who weren't on Facebook). Shy students who used Facebook more also had a greater sense of social support. In contrast, for non-shy students, Facebook usage wasn't associated with perceptions of friendship quality.

'Our findings refute warnings that computer-mediated communication use might cause shy individuals to become even more socially withdrawn and isolated,' the researchers said. 'The current data clearly demonstrate that shy individuals' use of Facebook is associated with better quality friendships.'

There are two related caveats. Regrettably, as with so much psychology research, this was a cross-sectional study, so it's unable to make any claims about whether Facebook usage actually causes friendship benefits for shy students. Also, shy students who were heavier users of Facebook reported the same levels of loneliness as their shy peers who didn't use the service so much. There are many possible reasons for this - for example, despite their superior online-supported friendships, perhaps they still struggled with purely face-to-face relationships. Baker and Oswald are more optimistic. They think that if their data had been collected over time, it would likely have shown that greater Facebook use led to reduced loneliness. 'Clearly future work needs to identify how, and under what conditions, online communication facilitates off-line communication among shy individuals,' they said.

ResearchBlogging.orgBaker, L., and Oswald, D. (2010). Shyness and online social networking services. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 27 (7), 873-889 DOI: 10.1177/0265407510375261
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Which is worse: your partner having a heterosexual or homosexual affair?

Assuming you're in a heterosexual relationship, which is worse: for your partner to be unfaithful with a person of the opposite or the same sex? According to a pair of US psychologists, the answer depends on whether you're a man or woman. Men, they've found, are less likely to continue a relationship with an unfaithful partner who's had a heterosexual affair, as opposed to a homosexual affair. For women, it's the other way around - they're more troubled by their male partner going off with another man.

Jaime Confer and Mark Cloud made their finding after asking 718 undergrads (324 men) to imagine their partners had been unfaithful and to predict whether, having received an apology, they'd continue the relationship. The participants were not recruited explicitly on the basis of being heterosexual, but were told the study would involve imagining themselves in a heterosexual relationship.

The difference between the men and women was robust - it remained in place regardless of how many instances of infidelity they were asked to imagine their partner had had, and regardless of the number of infidelity partners involved. The participants' own real life experiences of infidelity, as either the betrayer or betrayed, also made no difference to the main finding that men are less likely to persevere with a relationship after a female partner has a heterosexual affair, whereas women are less likely to continue a relationship after a male partner has a homosexual affair.

The new finding builds on another key sex difference that's emerged in jealousy research: that is, men tend to be more troubled by sexual infidelity whereas women tend to be more troubled by emotional infidelity. That difference, and the one uncovered in this new research, both make sense in terms of evolutionary theory whereby men are more concerned by the risk of sexual infidelity because they can never know for sure if a child is theirs. Women, by contrast, have no doubt that a child they give birth to is their own. Instead their anxiety is focused more on the the father's commitment.

In this evolutionary context, men are more troubled by a female partner going off with a man because of the risk that he may impregnate her. Women are more troubled by a male partner going off with a man because, in the researchers' words: 'homosexual affairs are more reflective of ensuing abandonment as they evince a more complete absence of emotional intimacy and satisfaction with one's partner.'

ResearchBlogging.orgConfer, J., and Cloud, M. (2011). Sex differences in response to imagining a partner’s heterosexual or homosexual affair. Personality and Individual Differences, 50 (2), 129-134 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2010.09.007
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Can psychology help combat pseudoscience?

From homeopathy to dodgy nutritional supplements, support for pseudoscience and quackery thrives on people believing falsely that one thing causes another, when in fact it doesn't. Meanwhile, psychologists study belief formation, and specifically illusions of control (see earlier), whereby people wrongly believe that they're controlling something when they're not. In a new paper, three psychologists at Deusto University in Bilbao argue that the psychological literature can be mined for ways to help combat pseudoscience, and they've performed a small study to test the principle.

One of the psychological findings that Helena Matute and her colleagues focus on is that people are particularly likely to form an illusion of control when: (1) a desired outcome occurs frequently and (2) they, or someone else, perform some ineffectual action lots of times. In the context of health, this would be akin to having a condition from which recovery occurs frequently without intervention (e.g. back pain), whilst at the same time receiving a frequent, but ineffectual, treatment. This leads to the inevitable pairing of the desired outcome with the ineffectual intervention, thus giving rise to the false belief that the intervention is causing the positive outcome.

Matute's team tested this in a fictional scenario. One hundred and eight participants (recruited online) read about a fictional medicine 'Batarim' that could potentially cure the pain caused by a fictitious disease 'Lindsay Syndrome'. They were told about 100 patients, one at a time, in each case learning whether the patient had been given Batarim and whether their pain had subsided.

Crucially, half the participants heard about 80 patients who'd taken the drug and 20 who hadn't, whilst the other participants heard about 20 patients who'd taken the drug and 80 who hadn't. For both groups, the rates of recovery, at 80 per cent, were the same regardless of whether patients had taken Batarim or not - in other words, on this evidence, the drug doesn't make any difference to recovery rates.

Next, the participants were asked to rate the drug's effectiveness. All of them believed the drug had had some effect, thus showing how easily confused people are about issues of cause and effect. The key finding, however, is that those participants in the group who'd heard about just 20 patients who'd taken Batarim were far more accurate in their appraisals. Presumably this is because they'd had the opportunity to see that recovery often occurred without the drug, whereas participants in the other group were blinded by the more frequent pairing of drug with recovery (even though they too witnessed recovery occurring at just the same rate without the drug).

Matute and her colleagues said this suggests a simple way for pseudoscience claims to be challenged on TV and in news reports: '...simply showing participants the actual proportion of patients that felt better without following the target treatment helps them detect the absence of contingency for themselves. This should counteract the effect of all those miracle-products advertisements that focus their strategies on presenting confirmatory cases.'

Another finding from the psychological literature that Matute's team focused on relates to the wording used in questions about cause and effect. They predicted that people are more likely to endorse pseudoscientific beliefs when asked how effective a given treatment is, compared with when asked whether it caused the desired outcome. The latter should focus people's minds on the probabilities involved. That's exactly what was found in the current study - participants gave the fictional drug more realistic ratings when asked whether it had been 'the cause of the healings' compared with when asked how 'effective' it had been.

The main point of this study was to demonstrate, in principle, that findings in psychology can be exploited to help combat the ubiquity of pseudoscientific belief, and Matute's team feel they've done that. 'Our research proves that developing evidence-based educational programmes should be effective in helping people detect and reduce their own illusions,' they said.

ResearchBlogging.orgMatute, H., Yarritu, I., and Vadillo, M. (2010). Illusions of causality at the heart of pseudoscience. British Journal of Psychology DOI: 10.1348/000712610X532210
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Using beauty as an advertising tool - does it always work?

Announcing that neuroscience writer Jonah Lehrer had been listed as one of Salon's sexiest men of 2010, psychologist and uber-blogger Vaughan Bell joked that an aftershave would soon follow. Vaughan was referring, of course, to the widespread tendency for marketeers to use beautiful people to promote products. The rationale of the tactic is obvious. By pairing a product with an attractive model, hopefully people will come to find the product attractive too. A new study by Debra Trampe and colleagues tests the limits of this assumption, finding that attractive models do usually increase a product's appeal, except when consumers think hard about the advert and physical beauty is irrelevant to the product.

One hundred and fifty-nine female participants looked at one of four versions of an advertising poster and then rated the product being advertised. The ad was either for a diet product or a deodorant and it either featured a standard female model or that same model but with a digitally enhanced body made to look extra lean and attractive. Another twist was that half the participants were encouraged to think hard about the ad, by telling them they'd have to write a review of the product, and that they were one of a only small number of people involved in judging the ad. By contrast, the other half of the participants were encouraged not to think too hard about the ad, but to judge it on first impressions.

For the participants who didn't think much, the presence of a more attractive model led them to rate both products more positively. However, for those participants who thought harder about the ad, the more attractive model only led to higher ratings for the diet product, not the deodorant. This was taken as evidence that when people think about adverts, an attractive model is only beneficial when beauty is relevant to the product being advertised.

A second study backed up this finding using two products that more clearly differed in their relevance to beauty - a shampoo brand and a home computer. Similar to the first study, for participants who judged on first impressions, the presence of an attractive model (versus no model) led to higher ratings for both products. By contrast, for participants who reflected more deeply on the ad, the presence of an attractive model was only effective for the beauty-relevant product. In fact, for these more engaged participants, the attractive model led to marginally lower ratings for the home computer.

'An attractiveness-relevant product is best paired with an attractive model, rather than an average-looking model or no model,' the researchers said. 'For products less relevant for attractiveness, however, an attractive model appears to be as effective as an average-looking model, or no model.'

Trampe's team also acknowledged that the presence of a beautiful (or unrealistically thin) model can affect the way customers feel about themselves (often adversely), not just how they feel about the product - future research is needed to find out how these responses interact, they said.

ResearchBlogging.orgTrampe, D., Stapel, D., Siero, F., and Mulder, H. (2010). Beauty as a tool: The effect of model attractiveness, product relevance, and elaboration likelihood on advertising effectiveness. Psychology and Marketing, 27 (12), 1101-1121 DOI: 10.1002/mar.20375
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The Special Issue Spotter

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

Schizophrenia (Nature).

Mechanisms of Physical Activity Behavior Change (Psychology of Sport and Exercise).

Issues in the American Presidential Campaign 2008 (American Behavioral Scientist).

Translational Science: Utilizing Research on Hormones to Inform Education (Mind, Brain, and Education).

Experimental and Theoretical Advances in Prosody (Language and Cognitive Processes).

The Relational in Psychotherapy and Counselling (European Journal of Psychotherapy and Counselling).

Personality and politics (Journal of Personality).
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The 'smell' of other people's anxiety makes us take more risks

When people are anxious they release a chemical signal that's detectable on a subconscious level by those close to them. That's the implication of a new study that collected sweat from people as they completed a high-rope obstacle course, and then tested the effect of that sweat on study participants as they played a gambling game.

Katrin Haegler's team placed the sweat samples inside odourless tea bags which were attached with an elastic band to the underside of the gambling participants' noses. For comparison, the participants were also exposed to sweat collected from non-anxious riders of an exercise bike.

When exposed to the anxious sweat, the participants took longer to decide over, but were more likely to bet on, the highest risk scenarios - wagering that the next playing card in a pair would be higher than a 9 (where 10 was as high as the cards went) or lower than a 2 (where 1 was the lowest). In other words, the detection of another person's anxiety made them more willing to take risks. Quite why this should be remains unclear. However, the idea that humans can detect the anxiety of others via chemical signals is not new. For example, a 2009 study showed that sweat collected from an anxious person, compared with from an exerciser, triggered extra activity in a range of emotion-related brain areas.

The participants in the present study rated the anxiety-laced sweat and anxiety-free sweat as equally unpleasant and intense, suggesting, consistent with past research, that they couldn't consciously tell the difference between the two. So the effect of anxiety-laced sweat on risk-taking seems to have been a non-conscious influence.

'Although it is not fully understood if perception of emotional chemical signals in humans may have the ability to alert conspecifics about possible danger [as happens with some animals],' the researchers said, 'our findings suggest that anxiety in humans can be communicated through chemical senses.'

ResearchBlogging.orgHaegler K, Zernecke R, Kleemann AM, Albrecht J, Pollatos O, Brückmann H, and Wiesmann M (2010). No fear no risk! Human risk behavior is affected by chemosensory anxiety signals. Neuropsychologia, 48 (13), 3901-8 PMID: 20875438
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Shock result! Asking children and teenagers to promise to tell the truth actually works

When teenagers are asked to provide testimonies for use in court, how do you increase the likelihood that they'll tell the truth? It may sound twee, but a North American study claims that merely asking them to promise to tell the truth can be surprisingly effective.

Angela Evans and Kang Lee had just over one hundred 8- to 16-year-olds complete a 10-item trivia test, which unbeknown to the youngsters featured two impossible questions ('Who invented the hair brush?' and 'Who discovered Tunisia?'). A little entrapment never hurt anyone: the participants were promised a $10 reward if they got all 10 answers right and told to refrain from peeking at the answers located on the inside of the testing booklet. For 54 per cent of the sample, the temptation proved too great and hidden cameras caught them peeking.

Next, the youths were interviewed. 'While I was out of the room, did you peek at any of the answers?' an experimenter asked. Eighty-four per cent of the peekers lied and said they hadn't peeked. Next they answered some questions about their understanding of truth and lying and the morality of dishonesty. Finally, all the participants were asked to promise to tell the truth in answer to the next question. This was a repeat of the question about whether they'd peeked at the answers. This time just 65 per cent lied - a statistically significant improvement.

Of course this first study doesn't show that the promise to tell the truth was the active ingredient in reducing lying - perhaps it was the discussion about morality or merely the act of being asked the same question twice. A second experiment with another forty-one 8- to 16-year-olds was identical to the first except the bit about promising to tell the truth was omitted. They still had the morality discussion and they were again asked twice whether they had peeked at the answers. Eighty-two per cent of peekers lied when first asked if they'd peeked. When asked again after the morality questions, 79 per cent still lied - no change in terms of statistical significance.

The lying youngsters in the first experiment who were asked to promise to tell the truth were eight times as likely to switch from lying to truth-telling than were the liars in the second experiment. 'When conducting forensic interviews with child and adolescent witnesses, police officers, social workers, and lawyers could use the honesty-promoting technique of promising to tell the truth,' the researchers said. 'In turn, the likelihood of obtaining truthful statements may increase.'

ResearchBlogging.orgEvans AD, and Lee K (2010). Promising to tell the truth makes 8- to 16-year-olds more honest. Behavioral sciences and the law PMID: 20878877
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Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

'...background music disturbs the reading process, has some small detrimental effects on memory, but has a positive impact on emotional reactions and improves achievements in sports.' A meta-analysis of the effect of background music on adult listeners.

'Embarrassed participants' fixated proportionally more on the eyes than controls and also fixated proportionally less on other less emotionally informative areas of the face ...' A study of where we look when we're embarrassed.

The reach and effectiveness of an outreach programme intended to help those traumatised by the terrorist bombings in London in 2005.

What parents want in a son-in-law and a daughter-in-law across 67 pre-industrial societies.

One Woman’s Near Destruction and Reemergence From Psychiatric Assault: The Inspiring Story of Evelyn Scogin.

'Intriguingly, images of “built” environments containing water were generally rated just as positively as natural “green” space ...' How the presence of water affects our judgment of built and natural scenes.

A multi-faceted study of the development of relational reasoning (the ability to compare objects simultaneously across multiple dimensions) during adolescence, incorporating behavioural data with functional and structural brain imaging [pdf].

Differences in resting brain activity between men and women.
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Moving the eyes but not looking - why do we do it?

You've probably noticed how people move their eyes about when in the midst of conversation, often in ways that have absolutely nothing to do with looking at the scene around them. In fact these 'non-visual gaze patterns' also occur when we're on our own, in the complete dark, and even when our eyes are closed. The implication is these eye movements are a result of mental processes that have nothing to do with vision or social factors.

To investigate, Dragana Micic and colleagues recorded the eye movements of 17 female and 12 male participants while they performed two tasks designed to be as similar as possible except for the fact that one required delving into long-term memory and the other didn't. The testing took place in a bare room with the walls draped in white sheets to reduce visual stimulation.

The first task involved the participants sitting on their own in the room, listening to three words then repeating them back after a delay (drawing on short-term or working memory). The second task was the 'remote associates test', which involves delving into long-term memory to identify the one word that matches the meaning of three others (e.g. envy, golf, beans; answer: green). All words were presented out loud, so there was no reading. The participants made far more jerky 'saccadic' eye movements during the latter task, thus suggesting that non-visual eye movements are triggered by long-term memory retrieval.

Two further studies tested whether these eye movements occur more when digging for a less accessible memory and secondly, whether they actually serve a useful function. This was achieved by varying how well the participants learned a word list (thus varying the accessibility of the memories) and, in another experiment, by instructing participants to fixate during a long-term memory retrieval task. These tests revealed that eye movements don't increase when attempting to locate a particularly inaccessible memory, and neither do they play a functional role - participants' memory performance was not impaired when they were instructed to fixate. In the jargon, this suggests that non-visual eye-movements are an epiphenomenon - triggered by long-term memory retrieval but playing no useful part in that activity.

So, why should accessing long-term memory trigger eye movements? Micic's team think the phenomenon is caused by an evolutionary hang-over. By this account, some of the same (evolutionarily older) processes involved in searching a visual scene are co-opted for use when consciously exploring the mind's archives. 'The possibility that spontaneous saccadic eye movements occur despite being non-functional may simply indicate how the addition of higher brain functions does not necessitate the "redesign of the whole brain",' they said.

At first, these new findings seem to contradict another line of research that's previously shown the beneficial role of gaze aversion (looking away from a questioner) when children and adults are working out a solution to maths and memory problems [pdf]. And to contradict the literature showing that wiggling the eyes from side to side can aid memory. Micic thinks the difference here is probably between involuntary non-visual eye movements triggered by memory processes (the focus of the current study) and voluntary eye movements, as in the eye wiggling and looking away.

ResearchBlogging.orgMicic D, Ehrlichman H, and Chen R (2010). Why do we move our eyes while trying to remember? The relationship between non-visual gaze patterns and memory. Brain and cognition, 74 (3), 210-24 PMID: 20864240
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How skilled are London taxi drivers at learning routes through unfamiliar towns?

London taxi drivers have to undertake years of intense training known as 'the knowledge' to gain their operating licence, including learning the layout of over 25,000 of the city's streets. A new study by Katherine Woollett and Eleanor Maguire asks whether their expertise will generalise to skilled way-finding in new situations. The answer is far from obvious given that previous research using 'table-top' tests of visuospatial memory have actually found taxi drivers to perform worse than controls, almost as if their London expertise comes at a cost. Incidentally, Maguire is the psychologist who brought us the famous 'cab drivers have enlarged hippocampi' study (pdf).

Twenty male London taxi drivers and 18 IQ-matched male controls (London residents) watched four repeats of a five minute video of two unfamiliar routes through a town in Ireland. Afterwards all the participants completed several tests of their knowledge of the new routes, including looking at photos of buildings and other scenes and saying which route, if any, the photo came from; making judgments about the relative proximity between landmarks; and sketching out a map of the routes. The important finding here was that the two groups performed equally on their categorisation of the street scenes and their proximity judgments, but that the taxi drivers were substantially better at navigating new routes within and across the two areas, and were superior at sketching out the routes with a pencil and paper.

'Taxi drivers undergo years of training ... Similarly in their job, day in day out, they are required to plan and execute routes,' the researchers said. 'Clearly these general attentional, learning and memory mechanisms are finely-tuned and readily called upon when they are required to learn a new town.'

However, it wasn't all good news for the cab drivers. A second investigation tested their ability to learn unfamiliar routes (taken from Bath and featuring similar architecture) that were integrated into familiar areas of London. At this task, the taxi drivers struggled compared with their performance when learning entirely new routes. Woollett and Maguire speculated that in this case the drivers' expertise was getting in the way of learning the new routes: 'When presented with new information to learn that is similar to their existing knowledge, their poorer performance may reflect expert inflexibility and an inability to inhibit access to existing (and now competing) memory representations.'

This finding tallies with the real-life experiences of taxi drivers. For example, several of them reported struggling a few years ago to incorporate new layouts around the Canary Wharf district into their existing knowledge.

The issue of why taxi drivers struggle at 'table-top' tests of visuospatial memory (as shown in earlier research), such as reproducing a complex drawing from memory, remains unexplained.

ResearchBlogging.orgWoollett, K., and Maguire, E. (2010). The effect of navigational expertise on wayfinding in new environments. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 30 (4), 565-573 DOI: 10.1016/j.jenvp.2010.03.003

Previously on the Digest: How to give directions.
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Dramatic study shows participants are affected by psychological phenomena from the future

Perhaps there's something in the drinking water at Cornell University. A new study involving hundreds of Cornell undergrads has provided a dramatic demonstration of numerous 'retroactive' psi effects - that is, phenomena that are inexplicable according to current scientific knowledge (pdf).

Rather than having the students read each others' minds or wear sliced ping-pong balls over their eyes, Daryl Bem has taken the unusual, yet elegantly simple, approach of testing a raft of classic psychological phenomena, backwards.

Take priming - the effect whereby a subliminal (i.e. too fast for conscious detection) presentation of a word or concept speeds subsequent reaction times for recognition of a related stimulus. Bem turned this around by having participants categorise pictures as negative or positive and then presenting them subliminally with a negative or positive word. That is, the primes came afterwards. Students were quicker, by an average of 16.5ms, to categorise negative pictures as negative when they were followed by a negative subliminal word (e.g. 'threatening'), almost as if that word were acting as a prime working backwards in time.

If psi abilities have really evolved, it makes sense that they should confer survival advantages by helping us find mates and avoid danger. In another experiment Bem had dozens of undergrads guess which set of curtains in a pair on a computer screen was concealing an erotic picture. Participants were accurate on 53.1 per cent of trials, compared with the 50 per cent accuracy you'd expect if they were simply guessing. This accuracy was increased to 57 per cent among students who scored higher on a measure of thrill-seeking. By contrast, no such psi effects were observed for neutral stimuli.

In another experiment participants looked at successive pairs of neutral mirror images and chose their favourite - the left or right. After each pair, an unpleasant picture was flashed subliminally on one side or the other. You guessed it, participants tended to favour the mirror image on the side of the screen opposite to where an unpleasant picture was about to appear.

The examples keep coming. The mere exposure effect is when subliminal presentation of a particular object, word or symbol causes us to favour that target afterwards. Bem turned this backwards so that participants chose between pairs of negative pictures, and then just one of them was flashed subliminally several times. Female participants tended to favour the negative images that went on to be flashed subliminally, as if the mere exposure effect were working backwards through time.

This backward mere exposure effect didn't work for male undergrads, perhaps because the images weren't arousing enough, so Bem replicated the experiment using more extreme negative images and erotic images. This time a 'backwards' mere exposure effect was found with men for unpleasant images. For positive imagery, mere exposure traditionally has a negative effect, as the stimuli are made to become more boring. Bem showed this effect could also happen from the future. Presented with pairs of erotic images, male undergrads showed less favour for the images that went on to be flashed subliminally multiple times. It's as if the participants knew which images were going to become boring before they had.

Finally, we all know that practice improves learning. Bem tested students' memory for word lists and then had them engage in extensive practice (e.g. typing out) for some of the words but not others. His finding? That memory performance was superior for words that the students went on to practice afterwards - a kind of reverse learning effect whereby your memory is improved now based on study you do later.

These reverse effects seem bizarre but they are backed up by some rigorous methodology. For example, Bem used two types of randomisation for the stimuli - one that's based on computer algorithms, which produce a kind of pseudo-randomisation in the sense that a given distribution of stimuli is decided in advance. And another form of randomisation based on hardware that produces true randomisation that unfolds over time as an experiment plays out. Also throughout his paper, Bem uses multiple forms of simple statistical test and he reports results for each, thus demonstrating that he hasn't simply cherry picked the approach that produces the right result. Across all nine experiments the mean effect size for the psi effects was 0.22 - this is small, but noteworthy given the nature of the results.

So what's going on? Bem doesn't proffer too many answers although he argues that his psi phenomena vary with subject variables, just like mainstream psychological effects do. For example, the phenomena were nearly always exaggerated in the more extravert, thrill-seeking participants. From a physics perspective, he believes the explanations may lie in quantum effects. 'Those who follow contemporary developments in modern physics ... will be aware that several features of quantum phenomena are themselves incompatible with our everyday conception of physical reality,' Bem argues. 'Many psi researchers see sufficiently compelling parallels between these phenomena and characteristics of psi to warrant considering them as potential candidates for theories of psi.'

ResearchBlogging.orgDaryl Bem (2010). Feeling the future: Experimental evidence for anomalous retroactive influences on cognition and affect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In Press PDF.

UPDATE, plucked from the comments:
Failures to replicate this study: 1, 2, 3
A successful replication.
A criticism of the stats methods used.
A flaw in the methodology.
A registry of replication attempts.
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