Video-game exercise bikes - not just a gimmick

Exercise is going techno. People are playing Wii fit sports games in their homes and gyms are full of ever more interactive exercise machines. But is this trend anything more than gimmickry? Yes, according to a new study by Ryan Rhodes at the Behavioural Medicine Lab at the University of Victoria, and his colleagues.

Rhodes' team had 29 previously inactive young men embark on an exercise regime, involving three half-hour cycling sessions a week for six weeks. Crucially, half the men trained on GameBikes wired up to a Playstation, such that their peddling speed and steering interacted with in-game events. The remaining participants trained on standard low-tech exercise bikes, although they were allowed to enjoy their own choice of music over an ipod. Exercise intensity was equalised across the two groups.

The bottom-line: the men who trained on the GameBikes were more likely to stick to the exercise regime. They attended an average of 77 per cent of the sessions compared with 42 per cent of participants in the low-tech control condition.

Rhodes' team also took some psychological measures in line with the well-established theory of planned of behaviour. Only 'affective attitudes' were found to differ between the two exercise groups. That is, men in the GameBike condition expected the exercise regime to be more enjoyable, pleasant and exciting than control participants, partly explaining their greater adherence. Attitudes in both groups had declined by the end of the six-week period, but they remained more positive in the GameBike group than the controls.

The researchers said more research was needed with other participant groups (the men in the current study all had personal experience of video games), over a longer duration, and with different control conditions - for example, how does video-game based exercise compare with low tech outdoors exercise?

'In summary, exercise videogaming appears to have potential efficacy as a physical activity intervention,' the researchers concluded.

ResearchBlogging.orgRhodes, R., Warburton, D., & Bredin, S. (2009). Predicting the effect of interactive video bikes on exercise adherence: An efficacy trial Psychology, Health & Medicine, 14 (6), 631-640 DOI: 10.1080/13548500903281088
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Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

Psychologists who study babies need to consider whether their little participants are weighed down with too much clothing or equipment.

The executive secretarial task - an ecologically valid test of executive function.

Theory of mind, or being able to think about other people's mental states, continues to improve between late adolescence and adulthood.

Children raised bilingual show superior conversational awareness and understanding.

Hypnosis as a research method.

A light touch from a doctor on the arm of a patient improves adherence to drug treatment.

Fathers, like mothers, show a bias for holding babies on their left-hand side.

People's Facebook profiles reflect their actual personality, not an idealised version of it.
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BPS Research Digest reaches awards finals

Research Blogging Awards 2010 FinalistI'm delighted to report that the BPS Research Digest has reached the finals of the Research Blogging Awards, in the categories of Best Psychology Blog and Best Research Twitterer. Thanks so much for all your nominations. Fingers crossed for March when the overall winners will be announced.

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When doubt about doubt leads to confidence

Can confidence ever be a bad thing? What if it happens to be confidence in your own self-doubt? In a pair of mind-bending experiments Aaron Wichman and colleagues show that doubt layered on doubt doesn't lead to more doubt but rather to increased confidence, as the initial self-doubt is undermined. The researchers say their findings have clinical implications - for instance, by turning a belief that one is definitely going to fail into a belief that one might fail, a therapist could help inspire a client to overcome the paralysis of hopelessness.

First off, Wichman's team measured the chronic uncertainty of 37 participants (by testing their agreement with statements like 'When bad things happen I do not know why'). Half these participants also completed a sentence unscrambling task designed to surreptitiously sow doubt. They had to organise jumbled words into sentences and many of the words, like 'uncertainty', pertained to doubt. The other participants performed an almost identical task but without any doubt-related words. After this, the participants read some imaginary scenarios, such as an employee getting a raise, and rated their confidence in the different possible causes of these scenarios. The key finding here was that the doubt-inducing sentence task led usually uncertain participants to be far more confident in their judgments about the imaginary scenarios. Participants appeared to be doubting their own doubts, leading to confidence.

A second study built on these findings, showing that one doubt-inducing task followed by another led to more confident behaviour. Participants first wrote about real-life instances of doubt and then completed a coordination task that required them to shake their head from side to side, as if saying 'no' (past research shows that this instills doubt whereas nodding increases confidence). These double-doubt participants subsequently rated an imaginary character Donald as more confident and certain - the opposite of what you'd expect if the two doubt-inducing procedures had added together to make more doubt. By contrast, participants who wrote about a real-life instance of doubt and then completed a nodding task, subsequently rated Donald as unconfident and uncertain, consistent with the idea that the secondary nodding task had reinforced the doubt sown in the writing task.

'One might speculate that the difference between being certain of one's agonising insecurity and lack of worth and being uncertain of it may mean the difference between suicide and scheduling an appointment for psychological therapy,' the researchers said. 'Sometimes, self-doubt reduction might be achieved by instilling doubt in one's doubt.'

ResearchBlogging.orgWichman, A., Briñol, P., Petty, R., Rucker, D., Tormala, Z., & Weary, G. (2010). Doubting one’s doubt: A formula for confidence? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46 (2), 350-355 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2009.10.012
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At what age do children recognise the difference between sarcasm and irony?

People hold strong feelings about the meanings of irony and sarcasm. Just look at the reaction to Alanis Morissette's global hit 'ironic' - despite commercial success, the apparent misunderstanding of irony conveyed by the song provoked a chorus of derision (at least everyone agreed that this state of affairs was ironic). So I'd say it's with some courage that Melanie Glenwright and Penny Pexman have chosen to investigate the tricky issue of when exactly children learn the distinction between sarcasm and irony. Their finding is that nine- to ten-year-olds can tell the difference, although they can't yet explicitly explain it. Four- to five-year-olds, by contrast, understand that sarcasm and irony are non-literal forms of language, but they can't tell the difference between the two.

So that we're all on the same page, here's what Glenwright and Pexman recognise as the distinction between sarcasm and irony. In both cases the speaker says the opposite of what they mean, but whereas an ironic statement is aimed at a situation, a sarcastic remark is aimed at a person and is therefore more cutting.

Glenwright and Pexman presented five- to six-year-olds and nine- to ten-year-olds with puppet show scenarios that ended with one of the characters making a critical remark. This remark could be literal, aimed at a person or situation, or it could non-literal, again aimed either at a person (i.e. sarcastic) or situation (i.e. ironic). To illustrate: two puppets are playing on a trampoline, one falls on his face. 'Great trampoline tricks,' the other character says, sarcastically. Contrast this with two puppets playing on a saggy trampoline with little bounce. One of them says 'great trampoline', an ironic remark.

To gauge the children's depth of understanding, the researchers asked them to rate how mean the utterances were (using a sliding scale of smiley to miserable faces) and asked them which character they most identified with - the idea being that in instances of sarcasm they would, out of sympathy, identify more with the target of that sarcasm.

The children's responses showed that both age groups recognised the non-literal utterances as intending to mean the opposite of what was said. However, only the older age group showed a sensitivity to the difference between irony and sarcasm. They, but not the younger children, rated sarcastic utterances as meaner and were more likely to identify with the target of sarcasm, presumably out of sympathy. The older children's comprehension was not complete, though. In open-ended questioning they were unable to explain their differential response to sarcasm and irony.

'By nine to ten years of age, children's sensitivity to the distinction between sarcasm and verbal irony highlights their impressive understanding of how people's feelings are affected by others' speech ...' the researchers said. 'We investigated one distinction here, but there are other non-literal forms that should be examined, such as understatement and hyperbole.'

ResearchBlogging.orgGlenwright M, & Pexman PM (2010). Development of children's ability to distinguish sarcasm and verbal irony*. Journal of child language, 37 (2), 429-51 PMID: 19523264
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The Digest blog is five years old today!

It's five years to the day that the first ever post was published on the BPS Research Digest blog. Although the Research Digest began as a fortnightly email newsletter in 2003, it wasn't until February 2005 that the blog was born. The first post was on the topic of driver and car stereotypes and how these can influence people's judgements about culpability in car crashes - more on that later. Since then, the Digest has covered more than 700 peer-reviewed psychology studies (nearly 1000 if you count from 2003!).

My aim has been to trawl the world's journals, including lesser known titles, looking for the most thought-provoking, intriguing, ground-breaking and fun studies from across the whole breadth of psychology. I've attempted to provide journalistic flair to the reporting of psychological science, hopefully marrying an engaging style with a depth of detail that you won't find in the mainstream media.

Along the way the Digest blog has hosted some occasional special features, including bloggers on their favourite studies, guest contributions on the most important psychology experiment Never done, a series of posts for students, and most recently, some of the world's leading psychologists on one nagging thing they don't understand about themselves. As well as the regular study reports, I've also introduced the Special Issue Spotter, providing you with links to the latest journal special issues, and Extras - a round-up of links to eye-catching studies that I couldn't cover in full.

This is a timely opportunity for me to thank the journals publishers who give me access to their articles; Dr Jon Sutton for his advice; other bloggers who link to and promote the Digest; everyone who has contributed to the guest features; and finally, thanks to you, the readers, who continue to visit these pages in ever increasing numbers. Please do tell your friends and colleagues about the Digest and maybe together we can raise the profile of psychological science still higher. Don't forget that the Digest now has its own Facebook fan page and I also Tweet about psychology-related articles, public lectures, TV shows etc (these Tweets also get piped through to the Facebook page). Of course, we've got to pay the bills somehow ... if you'd like to find out more about advertising here on the blog or in the Digest email, please do get in touch.

To mark the Digest blog's fifth birthday, I contacted the author of the study that was the focus of the first ever Digest post - Prof Graham Davies at the University of Leicester. I asked him to look back at the research of his that I covered, and to reflect on his field more widely. Here's what he had to say:

"Introductory texts tell you to start research by reading the literature and only then design your experiment... There is another way: look around you, see an interesting phenomenon and ask ‘Has anyone done research on this?’ Not so much bottom-up, as top-down thinking. This was the approach advocated by the great British psychologist, Sir Frederic Bartlett, and one which I followed in exploring car and driver stereotypes.

In my academic career, I had reached a mid-life crisis which only a BMW might resolve. On the test-run, we nosed out of a side road into traffic and an obliging driver let us out. The salesman commented that this would be the last time this would happen if I drove a BMW! Rather surprisingly perhaps, I went ahead, bought the car and began to wonder whether other cars might hold equally strong stereotypes. I had kept a perfunctory interest in stereotype research through the career of Neil Macrae, an old student from my Aberdeen days and was struck by his finding that stereotypes could have a positive function in making quick decisions, which form the essence of driving: ‘Will this young guy in the red Mini-Cooper stay in his lane or pull out in front of me?’

My initial study demonstrated that undergraduates could consistently rate the potential aggressiveness of different makes and models of car and this extended to car colours and drivers. To see if these stereotypes could influence judgements, I mocked up a vehicle insurance claim form supposedly filled in by two drivers involved in an accident who were driving contrastingly rated cars. I reasoned that in the absence of detailed information, stereotypes might colour readers' judgements. Sure enough, there were powerful effects in a student sample and Darsharna Patel confirmed these findings with a more representative community sample.

The reaction to the published paper was initially disappointing. The stereotype people yawned and said ‘we know this’ and went back to their esoteric ways. Among the more applied researchers, only Dan Wright picked up the ignition keys and won three years of ESRC support for his research (damn!). I did some further studies on estimating the speed of contrasting stereotypical vehicles, also reported in the Digest. Cars are so central to modern living, yet research on their significance remains limited - a great opportunity for the next generation of researchers!"

I'm considering asking the authors of other studies covered by the Digest to look back and reflect on their research. Please let me know via comments if you think this would be a good idea. Here's to the next five years!

-The Research Digest is brought to you by the British Psychological Society, the representative body for British psychology and psychologists since 1901. Join here.
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Your left brain has a bigger ego than your right brain

Psychologists have used an inventive combination of techniques to show that the left half of the brain has more self-esteem than the right half. The finding is consistent with earlier research showing that the left hemisphere is associated more with positive, approach-related emotions, whereas the right hemisphere is associated more with negative emotions.

Ryan McKay and colleagues used a version of the self-esteem 'implicit association test' (IAT). This compares how readily participants associate themselves or other people with positive words like 'capable' and negative words like 'boring'. Forty-six participants used keyboard keys to categorise words as self-related (e.g. 'me', 'myself'), other-related ('they', 'themselves'), positive or negative. To take one example, people with high self-esteem should be relatively quicker when the same response key is used to categorise self-words and positive words, than when the same key is used to categorise other-related and positive words.

A key twist to this study is that McKay's team used an auditory version of the IAT - the first time this has ever been done. Specifically, they used so-called 'dichotic presentation' such that when a word was presented via headphones to one ear, the same word was played backwards to the other ear. This has the effect of ensuring that the word is only processed by the hemisphere opposite the presenting ear, thus allowing the participants to perform the IAT test with just one hemisphere at a time.

As you'd expect, a participant's self-esteem as measured via one hemisphere tended to correlate with their self-esteem as measured via the other hemisphere. More intriguingly, however, a consistent finding was that participants clocked up higher self-esteem scores when hearing words via their right ear (processed by the left hemisphere) compared with via their left ear (processed by the right hemisphere).

Critics may point to the language dominance of the left hemisphere as a major confound, but actually this is not relevant - even if the left hemisphere were faster overall, there's no reason it should have shown a specific advantage for associating the self with positive words.

The researchers said further investigations are needed to build on this initial discovery, including lesion studies and brain imaging techniques, which 'would be useful in providing a more fine-grained assessment of the relative activation of the left versus the right hemisphere in the representation and processing of self-esteem and in providing detail concerning anterior/posterior and cortical/subcortical involvement.'

ResearchBlogging.orgMcKay, R., Arciuli, J., Atkinson, A., Bennett, E., & Pheils, E. (2010). Lateralisation of self-esteem: An investigation using a dichotically presented auditory adaptation of the Implicit Association Test. Cortex, 46 (3), 367-373 DOI: 10.1016/j.cortex.2009.05.004
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Obsessive driving fanatics are prone to drive aggressively

Here's one for the boys at Top Gear to think about - apparently having an obsessive passion for driving can predispose people towards aggression behind the wheel. The idea is that for these people, driving has become an overpowering compulsion, such that an obstacle - for example, a slow driver in front - provokes great frustration, which leads to anger, which explains why they sometimes drive right up your bumper and flash their headlights.

Frederick Philippe and his colleagues make their claims based on three studies. The first was a survey of 133 undergrad drivers. Those who scored highly on obsessive passion for driving (e.g. agreeing with statements like 'I have difficulty controlling my urge to drive') also tended to score highly on driving aggression (e.g. 'I speed up to frustrate another driver'). By contrast, 'harmonious passion', as indicated by agreement with statements like 'driving is in harmony with other activities in my life' was not linked with increased driving aggression.

A second study replicated these findings but with a sample of 458 middle-aged drivers, and with the addition of a question about a recent driving incident. Obsessive passion was again linked with aggression.

Most convincing is the third study involving a driving stimulator. Forty-four male car fanatics were tricked into thinking they were completing the task with another participant in another car. In reality the behaviour of the other driver was fixed such that he got in the participant's way on more than one occasion. Honking from the car behind helped crank up the pressure. Independent judges scored the participants' driving for aggressiveness. Once again, participants who rated highly on obsessive, but not harmonious, passion for driving tended to drive more aggressively. Participants also completed a questionnaire about their anger during the simulated drive. Results from this suggested that obsessive driving passion led to aggressive behaviour purely because obsessive participants got more angry.

'When obsessively passionate, the person wants to pursue activity engagement because of an internal compulsion that comes to control him or her,' the researchers explained. 'Within such a state, being prevented from engaging in the activity by an external agent is conducive to anger toward this agent.'

ResearchBlogging.orgFL Philippe, RJ Vallerand, I Richer, E Vallieres, & J Bergeron (2009). Passion for Driving and Aggressive Driving Behavior: A Look at Their Relationship. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 39, 3020-3043
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The Special Issue Spotter

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

What works in investigative psychology? (Legal and Criminological Psychology). Topics covered include interviewing child witnesses; confessions and interrogations; suspect line-ups; deception detection; offender profiling; and jury decision making.

Group processes and aggression (Aggression and Violent Behaviour).

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence Guidelines for the Treatment of Antisocial Personality Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder (Personality and Mental Health).

The sense of body (Neuropsychologia).

Developmental disorders of language and literacy (British Journal of Developmental Psychology).

Contemporary perspectives on sex offending, its assessment, and treatment (Psychology, Crime and Law).
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Repression debunked

Psychologists in Denmark have hammered another nail into the coffin containing 'repression' - the idea, made popular by psychoanalysis, that negative, emotional memories are particularly prone to be being locked up out of conscious reach.

Simon Nørby and his colleagues at the University of Copenhagen presented dozens of undergrad participants with word pairs, each made up of a cue word and an unrelated target word. Past research has suggested that people are able to deliberately forget some target words while remembering others. But this has been over very short time periods. Nørby's team wanted to test the effects of deliberate forgetting over a longer time period - a week - and they also wanted to revisit the question of whether emotional words can be deliberately forgotten as easily, or more easily, than neutral words. Past research has suggested they can, but these studies have tended to block emotional word pairs altogether in series of themed trials, thus raising the possibility that their impact may have been diminished by habituation. Nørby's team avoided this problem by jumbling up neutral and emotional words altogether.

The participants spent time learning 70 word pairs, then they were informed which target words were to be deliberately forgotten and which to be retained. An ensuing training process helped them with this. Participants repeatedly gave the target words when presented with cues for to-be-remembered pairs (if they couldn't remember it, they were told the target word), whereas they repeatedly withheld and attempted to suppress target words when presented with the cues for to-be-forgotten pairs. After all this, the participants were tested once again on all the word pairs, with their task to recall even those they had deliberately forgotten.

The results of this immediate test suggested that the participants had succeeded, to some extent, in deliberately forgetting those neutral words that they were supposed to forget. Recall for to-be-forgotten neutral words dropped from a baseline of about 80 per cent to about 70 per cent, whereas accurate recall for to-be-remembered words had increased to 95 per cent (unsurprisingly, the final training phase had acted as memory aid for these words). By contrast, suppressed, to-be-forgotten negative emotional words like 'massacre' and 'incest' remained unforgotten and were recalled just as accurately as to-be-remembered emotional words.

On retesting a week later, to-be-forgotten emotional and neutral words were recalled just as often as to-be-remembered words. In fact, over the course of a week, there was evidence that memory for to-be-forgotten words had deteriorated less than memory for to-be-remembered words. This could be another manifestation of the ironic 'suppression rebound effect' which is the finding that deliberately suppressing certain thoughts can make them come back stronger.

Taken altogether, the results suggest that neutral material can be deliberately suppressed over short time periods, but not for as long as a week. Negatively emotional material, by contrast, appears to be stubbornly resistant to deliberate suppression. This flies in the face of the psychoanalytic idea of repression, but is consistent with trauma research suggesting that emotionally salient memories are more persistent than normal, not less.

ResearchBlogging.orgNørby S, Lange M, & Larsen A (2010). Forgetting to forget: on the duration of voluntary suppression of neutral and emotional memories. Acta psychologica, 133 (1), 73-80 PMID: 19906363

Image credit: fancy

Previously on the Digest:

Can we deliberately forget specific parts of what we've read?
How remembering can lead to forgetting.
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Social flow - how doing it together beats doing it alone

Ever had that wonderful, timeless feeling that arises when you're absorbed in a challenging task, one that stretches your abilities but doesn't exceed them? Pioneering psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called this state 'flow'. Countless studies have shown that flow is highly rewarding and usually provokes feelings of joy afterwards. Little researched until now, however, is the idea of 'social flow', which can arise when a group of people are absorbed together in a challenging task. In a new study, Charles Walker finds that social flow is associated with more joy than solitary flow - 'that doing it together is better than doing it alone'.

An initial survey asked 95 student participants to describe experiences they'd had of solitary and social flow and to rate how joyful these occasions were. On average, social flow activities, including singing in a choir and hiking up a mountain with an outdoor club, were associated with more joy than solitary flow activities including painting with watercolours and cycling alone over rolling hills.

Two further studies delved deeper. Thirty students played a ten-minute bat and ball game with a partner, and on their own against a wall. The main task was to keep the ball off the ground. The rules were modified according to results from pilot work to ensure that the solitary game was as challenging as the version in pairs. Despite the two game versions being equally challenging, the dyad version was rated by participants as being more joyful and provoked more emotions usually associated with flow, including feeling alive, focused and cheerful.

In a final study, 48 participants played another bat and ball game. This time everyone was in pairs but some participants played a 'high interdependent' version in which they had to pass the ball to their own partner before their partner hit it over the net to the other team. The challenge for the two pairs was to cooperate in keeping the ball off the ground. By contrast, participants in a 'low interdependent' version had to hit the ball back and forth with their partner, again with the task of keeping the ball of the ground as long as possible.

The key finding is that the participants in the high interdependent condition were rated as more joyful than participants in the low interdependence condition, based on self-report and on scores given by trained observers who watched their facial expressions and body language.

Crucially, the high interdependent participants were still rated as more joyful even when the analysis was restricted to just those participants from each condition who'd found their respective tasks equally challenging and requiring of skill. In other words, with 'flow' kept as constant as possible across the two conditions, the more interdependent version of the game still appeared to provoke more joy.

Charles Walker said more research is needed to uncover why more social tasks lead to a form of flow that provokes more joy. However, he surmised that the contagious nature of emotion could be one reason. Another factor could be that people working together actually raise the challenge of a task - this would certainly tally with previous research showing that groups take more risks than individuals. In the context of this study, high interdependent participants were seen raising the challenge by passing the ball behind their backs or under their legs.

Walker said future research should find a way to directly measure flow and that the ultimate purpose of social flow needs to be explored. 'Much work remains to be done at all levels to further describe and explain the interesting and intriguing phenomenon of social flow,' he said.

ResearchBlogging.orgWalker, C. (2010). Experiencing flow: Is doing it together better than doing it alone? The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5 (1), 3-11 DOI: 10.1080/17439760903271116
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Evidence-based tips for Valentine's

Need to woo a partner in time for Valentine's? Follow these simple, evidence-based instructions for boosting your irresistibility ... (Feb 2012 update: see what happens if you take these tips too literally). 

When asking a lady for a dance or for her number, your chances will be improved by lightly touching her on the arm. Try not to do it in a creepy way.

Use mimicry, bodily and verbal. Use mimicry, bodily and verbal (see what I did there?)

If you're male, try to make yourself look taller and vice versa for women.

Hire a sports car, if you're a man, but don't bother if you're a woman. Both sexes should avoid Toyotas - that's a joke, please don't sue, they're lovely cars.

When flirting with a man, use direct, no-nonsense chat up lines rather than the subtle or witty approach. Men are very easily confused you know.

When wooing a woman, use chat-up lines that demonstrate your helpfulness, generosity, athleticism, ‘culture’ and wealth. Don't bother with jokes, empty compliments and sexual references. This ought to do it - 'Hey gorgeous, sorry I'm late: the opera over-ran, then I had to race to my neighbour's to help carry her piano upstairs - the one I bought her as a moving-in present'.

Try not to come across as too desperate. Don't, whatever you do, admit to reading this blog post.

If you're a really handsome man, don't show off your wealth too much - women might just conclude that you're likely to be unfaithful in the future. And anyway Mr Clooney, I'm sure you don't need these tips.

You hunky smile magnet! Here's a good one for heterosexual men: get friends of the opposite sex to smile at you. Women apparently find a man's face more attractive after it's been smiled at by a woman.

If you're a larger woman, keep your chosen man hungry and he's more likely to find you attractive.

Don't flirt and drive! Remember gentleman, interacting with a lady can impair your cognitive faculties.

Wear red. If nothing else, your little scarlet number will match your blushing cheeks as you smile with bashful pride at the compliment your date (hopefully) just paid you.

Desperate situations require desperate measures. If, despite all your romantic efforts, your date remains decidedly unfrisky, you could try reminding them of death. Warning: This could backfire.

Finally, here's a Time magazine article on flirting, just to get you in the mood.

Happy Valentine's day for Monday! (Apologies for male, heterosexual bias.)

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

Democrats and Republicans can be distinguished from photographs of their faces. Observers base discrimination judgements on power and warmth - people who look more powerful are identified as Republican, those who look warm as Democrat.

Child witnesses make more false identifications when suspects are in uniform.

Wished-for objects are perceived as being closer. 'We suggest that seeing desirable objects as closer than less desirable objects serves the self-regulatory function of energizing the perceiver to approach objects that fulfill needs and goals.'

Testing the efficacy of a three-hour deception detection training programme.

Connectivity in the default mode network as a marker for level of consciousness in brain damaged patients. What's the default mode network? See 'the Resting Brain' article in the Psychologist magazine.

Our ongoing behaviour is more influenced by autobiographical memories that are low in 'psychological closure'.

Hallucinating patients are more likely to obey heard voices that they perceive to be more powerful and of higher rank than themselves.

Analysing how text-books from 1984 to 2005 illustrate AIDS. 'Images of AIDS continue to invoke concepts of "the Other," death, victimization, and culpability. It is difficult to discuss AIDS without accessing its stereotypes.'

When selecting from the new ideas they've generated, people show a bias for feasible and desirable ideas at the cost of originality.

The psychological impact of floods.

The feeding goals mothers have for their young children. 'Mothers spontaneously classified their child as a `good' or a `bad' eater.'

Praying for a person leads us to be more forgiving of them.

A few highlights from the Digest editor's Twitter feed:

Much anticipated and hugely controversial draft revisions to psychiatry's 'diagnostic bible', the DSM, are now online.

How to manage behaviour in the classroom. 10 tips from the Guardian.

Lord Layard of 'improving access to psych therapies' fame meets 'world's happiest man', Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard.

What is nostalgia good for? (BBC article).

Football referees 'more likely to penalise taller players', say researchers (Observer article).
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Intrusive images and intrusive verbal thoughts are different phenomena

The vivid, intrusive visual images that are a hallmark of post-traumatic disorder (PTSD) are based on a separate memory system from intrusive verbal thoughts. That's according to a new study that claims to provide empirical support for psychologist Chris Brewin's dual-representation theory of PTSD.

Brewin's theory posits two memory systems, one that's largely sensation-based, inflexible and automatically accessed and another that's more deliberately accessible, containing material that is contextualised and can be easily put into words. By this account, a traumatic event can end up lodged in the sensation-based memory system, leading to sensory intrusions - 'flashbacks' - of the event being easily triggered by sights, sounds and smells that are reminiscent of the original experience.

The new study involved 79 participants watching traumatic video footage of car crash scenes, including commentary on the accidents and people involved. Crucially, some of the participants were told to keep still while they watched the footage and others were hypnotised so that they couldn't move. Past research has shown that keeping still cranks up the trauma simulation, perhaps because it is reminiscent of being frozen in terror or trapped. A final group were free to move. For a week after watching the car-crash videos the participants kept a diary of intrusive verbal thoughts and visual images associated with the videos. The key finding was that participants who had to keep still while watching the videos had significantly more intrusive visual images than the participants who were allowed to move. By contrast, the number of intrusive verbal thoughts did not differ between the groups.

A second study largely replicated the first, except rather than some participants being allowed to move while others kept still, this time some participants watched a neutral film while others watched the traumatic car-crash film. The traumatic film led to more intrusive visual images, but not more intrusive verbal thoughts, than the neutral film.

In both studies, participants who reported feeling more anxious and horrified after the traumatic videos tended to also experience more intrusive visual imagery. In contrast, intrusive verbal thoughts were not connected to mood effects in this way.

Taken altogether Hagenaars and her team said their findings suggest that intrusive visual imagery is a separate phenomenon from intrusive verbal thoughts and can be manipulated independently. 'Understanding these basic processes is likely to be valuable in developing more effective treatments for PTSD that focus on maximising change in verbal thoughts and intrusive images separately,' they concluded.

ResearchBlogging.orgHagenaars, M.A., Brewin, C.R., van Minnen, A., Holmes, E.A., & Hoogduin, K.A.L. (2010). Intrusive images and intrusive thoughts as different phenomena: Two experimental studies. Memory, 18 (1), 76-84 DOI: 10.1080/09658210903476522

Image credit: Symphonie
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How framing affects our thought processes

A take-away restaurant near my house offers customers free home delivery or a ten per cent discount if you pick up. It sounds much better than saying you get no discount for picking up and suffer a ten per cent fee for delivery – this is the power of ‘framing’. Now David Hardisty and colleagues have dug a little deeper into framing, to show first, that these kinds of effects can interact with people's political persuasion, and second, that they can act by altering the order of people's thoughts.

Hundreds of online participants chose between various flights, computers and so on. In each case they could plump for a cheaper option or a more expensive, greener option, the latter including either a 'tax' to help reduce carbon emissions, or an 'offset' to do the same – depending on how the choice was framed. Whether the expensive option was framed as a tax or offset made no difference to Democrat (left-wing) participants. By contrast, Republicans (right-wing) and Independents were much less likely to choose the more expensive option when it was labelled as a tax.

In a second study the researchers added a technique known as 'concurrent thought listing', which involved the participants sharing their thoughts as they made their product choices.

This process revealed that when the expensive option was labelled as a tax, the Republicans and Independents, but not Democrats, had a consistent tendency to weigh-up the advantages of the cheaper option first before they considered the benefits of the greener choice. This is significant because past research shows that when we appraise options in sequence, the first item we consider tends to be favoured. Consistent with this, the tax frame led Republican participants to not only consider the cheaper option first but also to generate more supporting evidence for it. By contrast, when the expensive, greener option was labelled as an offset, political affiliation was no longer associated with the order in which options were considered, nor the weight of evidence generated for each option.

A final study tested whether the order in which we consider options really does have a causal role in our decision making. Participants of all political persuasions were instructed to consider the benefits of the greener, more expensive option first, whether it was labelled as a tax or offset. Despite this instruction, 54 per cent of Republicans failed to comply (showing just how averse they were to the 'tax' label). However, among those participants who did comply, this instruction had the effect of eliminating the interaction between framing and political affiliation – that is, the Republicans were no longer repelled by the greener, expensive option even when it was labelled as a tax.

‘Policy makers would be wise to note the differential impact that policy labels may have on different groups,’ the researchers concluded. ‘What might seem like a trivial semantic difference to one person can have a large impact on someone else.’

ResearchBlogging.orgHardisty, D., Johnson, E., & Weber, E. (2009). A Dirty Word or a Dirty World?: Attribute Framing, Political Affiliation, and Query Theory. Psychological Science, 21 (1), 86-92 DOI: 10.1177/0956797609355572
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CBT-based self-help books can do more harm than good

Self-help books based on the traditional principles of CBT, including popular titles like 'CBT for Dummies', can do more harm than good, according to a new study. The risks were highest for readers described as 'high ruminators' - those who spend time mulling over the likely causes and consequence of their negative moods.

The new research focuses on the use of self-help books as a preventative intervention for people at risk of developing depression. Gerald Haeffel identified 72 undergrads at risk and allocated each of them randomly to work through one of three self-help books. A third of the students spent four weeks working through a traditional self-help CBT-based book, of the kind typically found in book stores, which involved learning the links between thoughts, behaviour and mood, as well as identifying negative thoughts and re-evaluating them. Another group of students followed a 'non-traditional' CBT-based self-help book, similar to the first but modified so that the task of identifying and challenging one's own negative thoughts was removed. The final group followed a book that taught academic skills such as time-management and memory aids.

Here's the bottom line: among students who tended to ruminate and who had suffered an increase in stress, those who followed the traditional CBT book displayed more depressive symptoms after the four-week study period than those who followed either of the other two books. At four-month follow-up, the traditional CBT study group as a whole tended to have more depression symptoms than the other groups, although high ruminating and stressed students in the traditional group remained the biggest losers.

Haeffel sounded some notes of caution - the findings may not generalise to non-student participants, the samples were fairly small, and the outcomes were based on depression symptoms, not clinically diagnosed depression. That said, the stressed, high ruminators in the traditional CBT group ended up scoring on the 'moderate' range of the depression scale at four-month follow up.

'The current results suggest that cognitive work-books as traditionally operationalised (and sold in stores) may not work for individuals who ruminate,' Haeffel said. 'For these individuals, a modified form of cognitive skills training that does not rely on identifying and disputing negative cognitions may be more effective.'

This latest warning about self-help comes after a study published in 2009 that showed use of positive mantras such as 'I'm a lovable person' can actually be harmful to people with low self-esteem.

ResearchBlogging.orgHaeffel, G. (2010). When self-help is no help: Traditional cognitive skills training does not prevent depressive symptoms in people who ruminate. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 48 (2), 152-157 DOI: 10.1016/j.brat.2009.09.016
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Shiny, swanky car boosts men's appeal to women, but not women's appeal to men

It's a widely held, if much derided, belief that ownership of a prestige sports car can increase a man's sex appeal to women. Indeed, there's a scene in the American sit-com Friends in which Joey dons a ridiculous Porsche-branded costume of peak cap, gloves, jacket and trousers, so determined is he to convince female passers-by that he owns a fast, shiny car. Now Michael Dunn and Robert Searle have tested the shiny car effect scientifically, looking at the influence of apparent car ownership on both male and female perceived attractiveness.

Hundreds of passers-by in Cardiff city centre were asked to rate the attractiveness of a young man or woman portrayed in a photograph sitting in a car. Male participants all rated the same woman, and female participants all rated the same man. Crucially, half the participants saw the man or woman sat at the wheel of a Ford Fiesta whilst the other half saw the man or woman sat at the wheel of a Bentley Continental (worth a cool £75000, approximately, at the time of testing).

Pilot research had established that, against a blank background, the photographed man and woman were perceived as equally attractive by the opposite sex (both scoring approximately mid-way on an attractiveness scale) and also that male and female participants didn't differ from each other in the aesthetic ratings they gave to the two models of car. The stand out message from the research proper, however, is that the man was rated as significantly more attractive when he was seen sat in the Bentley rather than the Fiesta, whereas the woman's perceived attractiveness was unaffected by the car she happened to be sitting in.

This finding appears to support prior research showing that in cultures all round the world, heterosexual women are attracted to men with greater status and resources, whereas heterosexual men tend to be attracted to women who appear youthful and fertile.

'It would appear that even though recent years have witnessed dramatic increases in female ownership of prestige luxury cars, such ownership does not enhance female attractiveness, as is the case with male attractiveness,' the researchers said.

'Also,' they added, 'the results contradict the "structural powerlessness" hypothesis, i.e. the belief that as economic differences diminish men and women will become more alike, as the rise in female economic fortune has not, it would appear, emancipated them from attraction to cues that are indices of wealth and status in males.'

ResearchBlogging.orgDunn, M., & Searle, R. (2010). Effect of manipulated prestige-car ownership on both sex attractiveness ratings British Journal of Psychology, 101 (1), 69-80 DOI: 10.1348/000712609X417319
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The Special Issue Spotter

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

Adolescent Brain Development: Current Themes and Future Directions (Brain and Cognition). Open Access.

Psychotherapy, Medicine and the Body: A Tribute to the work of Alexis Brook (Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy).

The interaction of online technology on the consumer shopping experience (Psychology and Marketing).

Dynamics of Social Networks (Social Networks).

Towards a Fetal Psychology (Infant and Child Development).

Physical activity research showcasing theory into practice (Psychology and Health).
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