My drunkenness means you did it deliberately

With our brains gently soaked in alcohol we're generally more sociable and relaxed - it's a sedative after all. So why do drunk people seem so prone to aggravation and argument? One reason, say Laurent Bègue and colleagues, is that alcohol exacerbates the 'intentionality bias', our natural tendency to assume that other people intended their actions. So when that guy jolts you at the bar and you're drunk, you're more likely to think he did it on purpose.

Bègue's team recruited 92 men (aged 20 to 46) to take part in what they were told was a taste-testing study. They were given three glasses to taste, each containing a cocktail of grapefruit and grenadine cordial, mint and lemon concentrate. For half the participants, the drinks also contained alcohol - approximately the same amount found in five to six shots of vodka. To control for expectancy effects, half the participants with the alcoholic drinks and half the non-alcohol participants were told the drinks were alcoholic. Next, the participants spent 20 to 30 minutes on filler tasks, in keeping with the cover story that this was a taste-test study, and to allow the alcohol to kick-in. Finally and most importantly, the participants read 50 sentences about various actions (e.g. 'He deleted the email') and gave their verdict on whether the actions were intentional or not.

The intoxicated and sober men alike said that obviously intentionally actions (e.g. 'she looked for her keys') were intentional, and that blatantly unintentional actions (e.g. 'she caught a cold') were unintentional. But crucially, when it came to more ambiguous actions, like the email deletion example, the intoxicated men were significantly more likely (43 per cent) than the sober men (36 per cent) to say the action was intentional. Whether participants were told they'd had alcohol or not made no difference.

Why should alcohol have this effect? Bègue's team think that it takes cognitive effort and control to overcome the intentionality bias, especially so as to take in all the information necessary to consider alternative explanations. Alcohol's well-known disinhibitory and myopic (the 'narrowing of attention') effects would clearly undermine these faculties.

'In summary,' the researchers concluded, 'alcohol magnifies the intentionality bias. Napoleon said, "There is no such thing as accident." Our findings suggest that drunk people are more likely to believe Napoleon's statement than are sober people.'

ResearchBlogging.orgBegue, L., Bushman, B., Giancola, P., Subra, B., and Rosset, E. (2010). "There Is No Such Thing as an Accident," Especially When People Are Drunk. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 36 (10), 1301-1304 DOI: 10.1177/0146167210383044
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The Special Issue Spotter

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

William James memorial issue (Journal of Humanistic Psychology).

Imaging genetics (NeuroImage). From the editorial: 'Imaging genetics can be defined as research strategy that applies anatomical or functional imaging technologies as phenotypic assays to evaluate genetic variation with the potential to understand their impact on behavior ... Imaging genetics has become tremendously popular over the past years and many hundreds of studies have utilized genetics and neuroimaging techniques so far in order to investigate the subtle relationship between genes and their neural correlates.'

Implicit measures of consumer response (Psychology and Marketing).

Mental health courts and diversion programs (International Journal of Law and Psychiatry).

Collaboration, coordination, and adaptation in complex sociotechnical systems (Human Factors). From the preface: 'Sociotechnical systems comprise integrated human and machine entities that, when functioning as an integrated, coordinated unit, can address a wide range of problems that are too complex to be addressed by individuals or machines working alone. However, the design and implementation of modern work systems tends to place primary emphasis on technological innovation without equal consideration for the social component—the teams and groups of humans—that uses that technology.'

Self, other and memory, memory and self-understanding: Self-concept – self-image – self-deception (Consciousness and Cognition).
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Power leads us to dehumanise others

'How can you not feel sorry about people who have died? I mean you would be inhuman if you didn't think that,' former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair speaking to Andrew Marr on the BBC.
Think how terrible you'd feel if a decision you made led to the death of another person. How then does a political leader cope with the burden of making decisions which lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands? According to a new journal article, they cope through dehumanising those over whom they have power. By this account, dehumanising - seeing others as less than human - isn't always a bad thing. It serves a function, allowing leaders and certain professionals, such as doctors, to cope with the decisions they have to make.

Joris Lammers and Diederik Stapel had 102 student participants complete a measure of their sense of power (including items like 'to what degree does your opinion typically affect other people's opinions?'). Afterwards they were asked to read about a fictional, poor, South-American-sounding country called Aurelia and rate its inhabitants. Those who scored more highly on the power scale subsequently showed more evidence of dehumanising the inhabitants of Aurelia - for example, rating them as less civilised and more childish.

Next, the researchers primed some student participants to feel more powerful by having them write about an occasion when they had had power over an another person or persons. Those primed this way were subsequently more likely than controls (who wrote about a supermarket visit) to say they would back a plan to move Aurelians living in slums to an undeveloped part of their country, against their will if necessary. What's more, the participants primed to feel powerful were more likely to show evidence of dehumanising the Aurelians when asked to rate them on factors like civility and childishness - an association largely mediated by their decision about the planned eviction.

In a final study, Lammers and Stapel had 50 student participants role-play the position of senior surgeon, junior surgeon or nurse before making a treatment decision about their fictional patient - a 56-year-old man with an abdominal growth. Those participants role-playing a more powerful position were more likely to opt for the painful but more effective of two treatment options. Moreover, the participants role-playing the senior surgeon role were more likely to show evidence of dehumanising the patient in a 'mechanistic' fashion - that is, rating him as more passive and less sensitive. The association between seniority of role and dehumanising was largely mediated by the decision to opt for the more painful treatment.

'By treating other people as objects or tools, the emotional consequences of the powerful people's actions are downplayed and become irrelevant,' the researchers said. 'Although this can lead people to abuse others, it may also facilitate the powerful in making tough decisions. ... Without dehumanising they would be overcome by the pain and suffering that result from their decisions.'

Lammeres and Stapel acknowledge, however, that the link between power and dehumanising wasn't entirely mediated by the making of tough decisions. 'We interpret this as evidence that power can also increase dehumanisation for reasons other than to justify decisions,' they said, before adding that more research is needed to explore what these other factors are.

ResearchBlogging.orgLammers, J., and Stapel, D. (2010). Power increases dehumanization. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations DOI: 10.1177/1368430210370042
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By what age do children recognise that plagiarism is wrong?

To view plagiarism as an adult does, a child must combine several pieces of a puzzle: they need to understand that not everyone has access to all ideas; that people can create their own ideas; and that stealing an idea, like stealing physical property, is wrong.

There's been plenty of research on children's understanding of physical property ownership, which has shown that a rudimentary understanding is already in place by age two. Now in the first ever systematic study of its kind, Kristina Olson and Alex Shaw at Yale have investigated children's understanding of the ownership of ideas.

Across three studies, Olson and Shaw presented children aged between three and eleven with vignettes and puppet videos in which two characters either both came up with their own idea for what to draw in art class, or one character copied what the other one had drawn. By age five to six, children showed less liking for characters who copied and rated them as 'more bad'. Crucially, they gave copying as their justification for these negative appraisals. 'These results demonstrate a relatively sophisticated understanding of ideas as early as age five years,' the researchers said.

By contrast, three- to four-year-olds did not rate characters who copied as any less likeable or any more bad than characters who came up with their own ideas. In a control condition, children of this age gave negative ratings to characters who stole physical property, thus showing that the the null result for stealing ideas wasn't because the children didn't understand the rating scale or weren't paying attention.

Future research is needed to find out if children younger than four don't understand the idea of original ideas or if they don't yet recognise that to steal ideas is wrong (or both). It's also not yet clear what drives the development of understanding in this area - is it a reflection of cognitive development or does it perhaps have to do with exposure to formal rules about copying at school. 'Our hope is that our idea about ideas is unique and will motivate future research,' the researchers concluded.

ResearchBlogging.orgOlson, K., and Shaw, A. (2010). ‘No fair, copycat!’: what children’s response to plagiarism tells us about their understanding of ideas. Developmental Science DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-7687.2010.00993.x
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What do I want? Don't ask me: Choice blindness at the market stall

Imagine you sampled two jams, chose your favourite, and were then offered another taste of it before being asked to explain your preference. Would you notice that you'd been offered the wrong one, that you were actually tasting the jam you'd turned down? A new study conducted at a market stall by Lars Hall and colleagues found that even for tastes as dramatically different as spicy Cinnamon-Apple and bitter Grapefruit, fewer than 20 per cent of participants realised that they'd just tasted the jam they'd moments earlier turned down. Even after being told the truth, fewer than half said they'd suspected they'd been offered the wrong jam.

This striking lack of insight has been dubbed choice blindness. Before now, it had only been demonstrated for visual preferences, in relation to women's faces, in a lab environment. This new study finds the effect in the real world, and in the context of taste and smell (as well as choosing between pairs of jams, participants also used smell to choose between pairs of specialist teas including Pernod vs. Mango).

To test the choice blindness effect, researchers used sleight of hand and double-ended jam jars or tea jars with a divide in the middle. Each jar contained a different jam/tea option at each end. Participants were presented with a pair of jars and tasted/smelt a sample from each. Then, by surreptitiously inverting the jars, the researchers were able to offer participants a second taste/smell from what appeared to be the same jar they'd just selected as their favourite, but actually now contained the jam/tea choice that they'd turned down.

Remarkably, on trials in which the tea or jam had been swapped, participants were just as confident about their choice as they were on control trials. However, as you'd expect, participants more often detected that the jams/teas had been swapped when choosing between pairs that pilot work had established were more different from each other. Another twist was that some participants were told they could actually take away their favoured jam or tea as a reward. However, this made no difference to the rates at which they detected their choice had been swapped, thus undermining the idea that the choice blindness effect may have to do with a lack of motivation.

People's apparent lack of awareness about choices they themselves have just made not only raises awkward questions about the limits of conscious awareness, but surely also has real-world implications. The researchers put it this way: 'The fact that participants often fail to notice mismatches between a taste of Cinnamon-Apple and Grapefruit, or a smell of Mango and Pernod is a result that might cause more than a hiccup in the food industry, which is critically dependent on product discrimination and preference studies to further the trade.'

ResearchBlogging.orgHall L, Johansson P, Tärning B, Sikström S, & Deutgen T (2010). Magic at the marketplace: Choice blindness for the taste of jam and the smell of tea. Cognition, 117 (1), 54-61 PMID: 20637455
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Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

A little self-doubt can benefit sporting performance (for skipping, at least).

Meta-analysis shows job satisfaction and pay are only weakly related.

Brain-damaged patient who displays disproportionate difficulty producing verbs compared with nouns.

Photograph-induced memory errors.

Camaraderie protects fire-fighters from effects of stress.

The emergence of collective memories.

The parental behaviours that affect junior tennis player performance.

Questions raised about the idea that creativity resides in the right-side of the brain. Via MindHacks.

The fear and pain associated with committing suicide prevent many people from fulfilling their suicidal thoughts - these barriers may be weakened in people with combat experience, placing them at increased risk.

A new technique for inducing false memories.

Mental time travel in animals.
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Religion causes a chronic biasing of visual attention

As the Pope arrives in the UK, a provocative new study claims that religious practice changes people's attentional mindset (how much they're focused on detail vs. the big picture), not just while they're still a believer but even for years after becoming an atheist. What's more, it's shown that different religions can tune the mind in contrasting ways, potentially hindering communication and understanding between different religious groups.

Lorenza Colzato at the Leiden Institute for Brain and Cognition, and her colleagues, tested the bias of 72 Dutch participants towards either global or local processing - that's the big picture vs. the detail. The participants were from four groups: Conservative Calvinists (a form of Protestantism), Liberal Calvinists (who aren't so strict), Conservative Calvinists turned atheist and life-long atheists.

The task was straightforward. Participants were presented with squares made up of little rectangles, or vice versa. Depending on the condition - global vs. local processing - they had to indicate as fast as possible with a key press what the big shape was or what the little shapes were. Someone with a bias towards local processing would be expected to perform more quickly when identifying the little shapes, whereas someone with a mind tuned to the big picture should be faster when identifying the big shapes.

Clear differences emerged between the groups: the life-long atheists showed the strongest bias for the big picture, followed by the Liberal Calvinists, and then the Conservative Calvinists and the former Conservative Calvinists turned atheist. The latter two groups performed similarly suggesting that more than seven years without religious practice wasn't enough to remove the effects of the religion on a person's attentional mindset.

Why should Calvinism encourage a mindset focused on details? Colzato's team said it could be because Calvinism places an emphasis on following rules and on individual responsibility and control. They further speculated that religions that place more emphasis on communal solidarity and an external locus of control (with destiny seen as being in God's hands) could have the opposite effect. To test this, they recruited Orthodox Jews and Roman Catholics in Israel and Italy, respectively, and compared their big picture/small details bias with secular citizens from the same countries. Consistent with their predictions, this time the researchers found it was the religious folk who showed a bias for the big picture when compared with the performance of their secular compatriots. As in the first study, these differences were observed even though the participants had been matched for educational background, IQ and age.

Although this research can't prove that different religions cause these different mindsets, the researchers think it's unlikely that the causal direction runs in the other direction (with people having a certain mindset seeking out a religion that suits) - not least because many people are born into their religion rather than choosing it.

Colzato's team said their findings have real-world implications. 'Even a rather abstract bias such as towards local vs. global attributes of a perceived event is likely to cause diverging perceptions, interpretations and, eventually, conclusions,' they said. 'Very likely, this divergence stands in the way of effective communication between people with different religious backgrounds, especially if we consider that religion may impact many more ... parameters than investigated here.'

ResearchBlogging.orgColzato LS, van Beest I, van den Wildenberg WP, Scorolli C, Dorchin S, Meiran N, Borghi AM, and Hommel B (2010). God: Do I have your attention? Cognition, 117 (1), 87-94 PMID: 20674890
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Why are women chosen to lead organisations in a crisis?

The majority of major corporations and countries are headed by men. When women are appointed to leadership positions, it tends to be when an organisation is in crisis - a phenomenon known as the glass cliff. Recent examples include: the appointment of Lynn Elsenhans as CEO of the oil company Sunoco in 2008, just after their shares had halved in value; and the election of Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir as prime minister of Iceland, just after her country's economy had been crippled by the global recession (2012 update: or the appointment of Marissa Mayer as Yahoo CEO?).

Real life examples are supported by lab studies in which male and female participants show a bias for selecting female candidates to take charge of fictitious organisations in crisis. Further investigation has ruled out possible explanations for the glass cliff - it's not due to malicious sexism nor to women favouring such roles.

Now a brand new study suggests the phenomenon occurs firstly, because a crisis shifts people's stereotyped view of what makes for an ideal leader, and secondly, because men generally don't fit that stereotype. '...[I]t may not be so important for the glass cliff that women are stereotypically seen as possessing more of the attributes that matter in times of crisis,' the researchers wrote, 'but rather that men are seen as lacking these attributes ...'.

Susanne Bruckmüller and Nyla Branscombe first established when the glass cliff is most likely to occur. They presented 119 male and female participants with different versions of newspaper articles about an organic food company. Participants were more likely to select a fictitious female candidate to take over the company if it was described as being in crisis, and its previous three leaders had all been male. For participants who read that the previous managers had all been female, the glass cliff disappeared - they were just as likely to select a fictitious male candidate to take over the crisis stricken firm as they were to select a female.

This finding suggests the glass cliff has to do with people believing that a change from the status quo (from male leaders to a female) is what's needed in a crisis. However, this explanation breaks down because the reverse pattern wasn't found. Participants didn't show a bias for a male candidate to take over a crisis-stricken company that had had a run of three previous female leaders.

A second study explored the role of gender and leadership stereotypes and involved 122 male and female participants reading about a supermarket chain described either as thriving or in crisis. Next the participants rated their impression of two briefly described, fictitious managerial candidates, one male, one female, using attributes previously identified as being stereotypically male (e.g. competitive) or stereotypically female (e.g. strong communication skills). Finally, the participants rated the suitability of each candidate and stated which of them they'd hire.

In a successful context, the male candidate was judged to be more suitable for the role and was more likely to be selected - a replication of the bias seen in real life. More intriguing was that a crisis context led participants to attribute fewer stereotypically female attributes to the male candidate and to judge him as less suitable for the managerial role. Meanwhile, the crisis context didn't alter the qualities attributed to the the female candidate, nor the perception of her suitability. Crucially, however, she was more likely to be selected in the crisis situation - you might say almost by default, given that the male candidate was now seen as being less suitable and having fewer appropriate attributes.

'Our findings indicate that women find themselves in precarious leadership positions not because they are singled out for them, but because men no longer seem to fit,' Bruckmüller and Branscombe explained. 'There is, of course, a double irony here. When women get to enjoy the spoils of leadership (a) it is not because they are seen to deserve them, but because men no longer do, and (b) this only occurs when, and because, there are fewer spoils to enjoy.'

ResearchBlogging.orgBruckmüller, S. & Branscombe, N. (2010). The glass cliff: When and why women are selected as leaders in crisis contexts. British Journal of Social Psychology, 49 (3), 433-451 DOI: 10.1348/014466609X466594

Previously on the Digest:

Women need female role models.
Hey girls: Science helps people.
How ambitious mothers breed successful daughters.
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What are participants really up to when they complete an online questionnaire?

Internet surveys are an increasingly popular method for collecting data in psychology, for obvious reasons, but they have some serious shortcomings. How do you know if a participant read the instructions properly? What if they clicked through randomly, completed it drunk or maybe their cat walked across the keyboard? Now a possible solution has arrived in the form of a tool, called the UserActionTracer (UAT), developed by Stefan Stieger and Ulf-Dietrich Reips.

The UAT is a piece of code that tells the participant's web browser to store information, including timings, on all mouse clicks (single and double), choices in drop-down menus, radio buttons, all inserted text, key presses and the position of the mouse pointer. Stieger and Reips tested this out with a survey of 1046 participants on the subject of instant messaging. The new tool revealed that 31 participants changed their reported age; 5.9 per cent made suspicious changes to opinions they'd given; 46 per cent clicked through at least some parts of the questionnaire at a suspiciously fast rate (mainly for so-called 'semantic differential' items in which the participant must choose a position between two contrasting adjectives); 3.6 per cent of participants left the questionnaire inactive for long periods; 6.3 per cent displayed excessive clicking; and 11 per cent showed excessive mouse movements (it's that cat again).

As a way of checking the usefulness of this extra behavioural data, the researchers concentrated on the fraction of participants for whom they had access to a secondary source of information that could be used to verify the questionnaire answers. This showed that participants who'd displayed more suspicious behaviour while filling out the questionnaire also tended to provide answers that didn't match up with the other information source.

'Our study shows that the UAT was successful in collecting highly detailed information about individual answering processes in online questionnaires,' Stieger and Reips said. Another application of the tool is in pre-testing of online questionnaires. Researchers could use the tool to test which items tend to prompt corrections or inappropriate click-throughs before rolling out a questionnaire to a larger sample.

ResearchBlogging.orgStieger, S., & Reips, U. (2010). What are participants doing while filling in an online questionnaire: A paradata collection tool and an empirical study. Computers in Human Behavior, 26 (6), 1488-1495 DOI: 10.1016/j.chb.2010.05.013
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The Special Issue Spotter

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

Extended mind (Cognitive Systems Research). From the editorial: 'The extended mind literature cuts across a bewildering smorgasbord of (often overlapping) and even incompatible ... research interests collectively known as “situated cognition” ... and includes distributed cognition, embodied cognition, enactive cognition, and dynamic cognition'.

Disasters and their impact on child development (Child Development).

Psychophysiological biomarkers of health (Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews).

Value of children: A concept for better understanding cross-cultural variations in fertility behavior and intergenerational relationships (Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology).

The cognitive neuroscience of consciousness (Cognitive Neuroscience).

Online interactivity: Role of technology in behavior change (Computers in Human Behaviour).

Reviews on child brain development (Neuron). Open access until October 8. Includes a review paper on the impact of technology on children.
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Freud was right: we are attracted to our relatives

Freud said there'd be no need for incest to be such a powerful cultural taboo if people weren't sexually attracted to their relatives in the first place. Given that in-breeding is associated with increased mortality, he argued that the incest taboo had emerged as way to keep our dangerous incestuous desires in check. Evolutionary psychologists take a strikingly different view. Inspired by Edward Westermarck, the Finnish sociologist and anthropologist, they argue that we've evolved automatic psychological processes that lead us to find our relatives sexually aversive, not attractive, thus decreasing the likelihood of in-breeding occurring. Who's right - Freud or Westermarck?

Chris Fraley and Michael Marks asked 74 students to rate the sexual attractiveness of 100 strangers' faces. Crucially, for half the students, each face was preceded by a subliminal presentation of a family member. For the remaining control students, the subliminal presentation was of someone else's family member, i.e. a non-relative.

Westmarckian theory predicts that the non-conscious presentation of a relative will trigger the automatic system that makes relatives seem sexually unattractive, with the knock-on effect that the strangers' faces would be rated as less attractive. Contrary to this prediction, the students who were subliminally presented with a family member actually rated the strangers' faces as more attractive than did the control students.

In a second study, 40 students rated the sexual attractiveness of faces that either had or hadn't been morphed to varying degrees to resemble their own face (a way of simulating genetic relatedness). The students presented with the morphed faces rated them as more sexually attractive than did control students who viewed unaltered faces, and the greater the morphing, the greater the perceived attractiveness. This appears to be consistent with Freud's claim that we really are attracted to our relatives, and it also chimes with past research showing that we tend to marry people who look similar to ourselves - a phenomenon known as homogamy.

For the final study, a group of students once again rated the sexual attractiveness of strangers' faces. This time half the students were told falsely that some of the faces had been morphed to resemble them, as a way to simulate genetic relatedness. The students fed this lie subsequently rated the faces as less attractive than the control students who thought they were simply rating strangers' faces. The finding appears to support Freud's contention that it is the incest taboo that causes us to find people who we think we're related to, less attractive.

Fraley and Marks say their findings are largely in keeping with Freud's writings, whilst being at odds with Westermarckian evolutionary psychology. However, whereas Freud referred to unconscious desires, Fraley and Marks think our attraction to our relatives could be triggered by a kind of human sexual imprinting, according to which our sexual preferences are shaped by our early experiences, or by mere familiarity, or both. The point about familiarity refers to a well established finding in psychology that we tend to find things that are more familiar more appealing.

The influences of imprinting and familiarity are balanced out, Fraley and Marks suggest, by the cultural deterrent of the incest taboo and also by habituation - the tendency for excessive familiarity to breed indifference or contempt. Indeed, the deterring influence of taboo and habituation could explain the finding that people are less likely to mate with a person with whom they are reared, even if that person is unrelated (this is known as the Westermarck effect).

Fraley and Marks call their approach to this topic the evolutionary psychodynamic perspective. 'From this point of view,' the researchers said, 'one reason Oedipus longed for (and eventually married) his mother in the myth of Oedipus Rex is because she was related to him. His desire was possible, however, only because he was unaware of his true relationship to her.'

ResearchBlogging.orgFraley RC, & Marks MJ (2010). Westermarck, freud, and the incest taboo: does familial resemblance activate sexual attraction? Personality and social psychology bulletin, 36 (9), 1202-12 PMID: 20647594
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From Dark to Cerebral, what kind of media consumer are you?

By analysing the preferences of over 3,000 participants across 108 genres of music, film, books and TV, a research team led by Peter Rentfrow has established there are five dimensions of media consumption: Communal, Aesthetic, Dark, Thrilling and Cerebral.

A key finding was that the trends in people's genre preferences tend to span different media formats: books, music, film, TV etc. Those who score highly on the Consumer dimension tend to enjoy media that involve people and relationships, including: daytime chat shows, romantic films, pop music, and cook books. High scorers on the Aesthetic dimension enjoy creative, abstract material, including: poetry, opera, and foreign films. The Dark dimension relates to intense, edgy, hedonistic material, including: heavy metal, horror films and erotica. The Thrilling Dimension is made up of adventure and fantasy material such as thrillers and sci fi. Finally, high scorers on the Cerebral dimension enjoy documentaries, news and current affairs.

Participants' scores on the five dimensions varied according to their demographics and personalities. So, for example, women tended to score higher on the Communal dimension whereas men and younger people tended to score higher on the Dark dimension. People with more conscientious personalities tended to score highly on the Cerebral dimension whereas those with less conscientious personalities scored more highly on the Dark dimension.

The results of the study are based on three separate participant samples: nearly two thousand undergrads at the University of Texas (average age 19); over seven hundred Oregon residents who were part of a larger community study (average age 60); and just over 500 participants recruited via the Internet (average age 34).

Rentfrow and his colleagues said theirs was one of the first ever attempts to investigate how people vary in the taste for entertainment - a surprise, they noted, given that the typical American spends approximately 55 per cent of his or her waking life consuming entertainment media.

This is a first step into a relatively new research field and so inevitably the study has shortcomings. These include a reliance on self-report, which may be biased by participants attempting to give socially desirable answers, and a US-centric, predominantly Caucasian, middle-class sample.

These limitations notwithstanding, the researchers said the notion that there are identifiable dimensions of media consumption raises interesting avenues for future research. For example, regarding the ongoing debate about media effects on people's behaviour, what difference does it make to these effects whether a person usually seeks out the genre under scrutiny, such as violent films? In relation to personal relationships, what difference does it make how much people's media consumption profiles overlap?

'Overall' the researchers concluded, 'the findings provide a solid foundation on which to develop and test hypotheses about the causes and consequences of entertainment preferences.'

ResearchBlogging.orgRentfrow PJ, Goldberg LR, & Zilca R (2010). Listening, Watching, and Reading: The Structure and Correlates of Entertainment Preferences. Journal of personality PMID: 20649744
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Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

A new look at why women opt out of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics careers.

What explains the appeal of Oscar-nominated movies? 'Younger opposite-gender leading stars, older directors, and unfamiliar temporal settings contribute to favorable evaluations' of these films,' a new study finds, '...thereby supporting the hypotheses of romantic attraction as a source of star power; reverence toward more mature directors; and an eagerness to escape from ordinary life, respectively'.

Arguments against Chomsky's Universal Grammar - 'language has been shaped to fit the brain, a process of cultural evolution,' the authors say.

Men with a stronger hand grip are more thrill-seeking.

Inter-brain synchronization during social interaction.

How women's mate preferences vary according to context.

More evidence that memory impairment can interfere with thinking about the future, this time in the case of developmental amnesia.

Clients' reasons for terminating therapy.

Advice for mental health professionals on how to make ethical treatment decisions.

You've heard of the 'extreme male brain' theory of autism, what about psychosis as the manifestation of an 'extreme female brain'?

How does the experience of space flight alter astronauts' value systems?
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Grab it, bag it, bin it - a new approach to psychological problem solving

If something's troubling you, write it down, put it in an envelope and seal it. Doing so will help bring you psychological closure. Xiuping Li at NUS Business School asked 80 students to write about a recent decision they regretted. Half of them were then told to seal their written recollection in an envelope. Afterwards, the envelope students felt less negative about the event than control students who just handed in their recollection without an envelope. The finding was replicated with forty female students who were asked to write about a strong personal desire that hadn't been satisfied.

Two further experiments shed some light on the process. Sealing a disturbing news story in an envelope reduced the negative emotional impact of the story and reduced participants' memory of it. By contrast, sealing an unrelated piece of paper did not have these effects, thus showing that it's the act of containing the emotional material that's important, not the mere act of putting anything in an envelope.

Finally, sealing in an envelope a written recollection of a regretted event led participants to feel less negative about the event than simply paper-clipping the pages together - so it's not just the mere act of doing something to a written recollection, it is specifically enclosing that material that is beneficial. What's more, this final experiment showed that the link between enveloping the material and participants' feelings was entirely mediated by their having a greater sense of psychological closure.

'We have shown that the metaphorical act of enclosing and sealing influences the memory, in the sense that the recollection of the emotional details of an event becomes weaker,' the researchers said. 'An effective way to relieve distress may be for the distressed person to seal an object related to his or her emotions in a package.' The researchers added that future research should test whether the effect still occurs if someone else does the sealing of the material, and if participants are told the purpose of the exercise.

ResearchBlogging.orgLi X, Wei L, & Soman D (2010). Sealing the emotions genie: the effects of physical enclosure on psychological closure. Psychological science : a journal of the American Psychological Society / APS, 21 (8), 1047-50 PMID: 20622143
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The woman whose new memories are erased each night

Psychologists have documented what they believe to be a clinical first - the case of an amnesic woman whose memory for new material is erased each night that she goes to sleep (movie fans will recognise this as a plot device in the 2004 film 50 First Dates). Referred to as case FL, the woman developed these symptoms after she hit her head in a car accident in 2005, aged 48. Brain scans and neurological exams revealed no signs of brain damage, thus suggesting the woman is exhibiting what's known as psychogenic or functional amnesia - that is, symptoms in the absence of any detectable organic cause.

FL claims that on any given day her memory for newly acquired material is fine until she has a night's sleep, during which the new memories are erased (unlike standard cases of psychogenic amnesia, she says her memories from before her accident are preserved). FL's performance on lab-based memory tests was largely in keeping with her claims, with one key exception. Christine Smith and her team deployed some trickery, intermingling test items (scenes) from earlier in the day with items from previous days. FL's memory for items that she thought were from earlier in the day, but were actually seen on earlier days, was intact and comparable to the memory performance of healthy controls.

So was FL faking it, perhaps in pursuit of a compensation claim? Smith's team don't think so. Although healthy controls who were asked to fake FL's symptoms performed similarly on the memory tests, there were also differences. For example, unlike the healthy fakers, FL showed deficits in motor learning, and her confidence for test items dropped with repeated testing whereas theirs increased.

The researchers' theory is that FL truly believes she has the memory deficit that she describes and that unconscious processes may be involved in its manifestation. FL denied having seen the film 50 First Dates, which was released a year before her accident. However, she admitted that the film's female lead, Drew Barrymore, was her favourite actress, so she may have been aware of its plot. The film 'may have influenced FL's concept of how memory could fail after a car accident', the researchers said. 'The brain uses preexisting concepts of memory and through altered brain function creates a particular constellation of symptoms.'

What about treatment? Reassuring FL that evidence had been found for the intact functioning of her overnight memory proved unsuccessful. What did work was testing the limits of FL's memory-washing system. Thirty-six hours without sleep and her memories were okay. An hour's nap during the day and they were okay. In the end, it was established that FL can sleep at night for up to four to six hours at a time without experiencing the sense that she's lost the day's memories. By setting an alarm each night to wake her after bouts of three and a half hours sleep, FL has managed to overcome her strange condition. 'At our most recent contact (March 2010), she and her husband reported that she continues to use this regimen successfully,' the researchers said.

ResearchBlogging.orgSmith, C., Frascino, J., Kripke, D., McHugh, P., Treisman, G., & Squire, L. (2010). Losing memories overnight: A unique form of human amnesia. Neuropsychologia, 48 (10), 2833-2840 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2010.05.025

Further reading: Amnesia at the movies.
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9 evidence-based study tips

The September issue of The Psychologist magazine is a free-to-view student special containing a feature (pdf) by the Research Digest editor on the journey from A-level to Undergrad psychology, including the following 9 evidence-based study tips:

Adopt a growth mindset. Students who believe that intelligence and academic ability are fixed tend to stumble at the first hurdle. By contrast, those with a ‘growth mindset’, who see intelligence as malleable, react to adversity by working harder and trying out new strategies. These findings come from research by Carol Dweck, a psychologist based at Stanford University. Her research also suggests lecturers and teachers should offer praise in a way that fosters in students a growth mindset – avoid comments on innate ability and emphasise instead what students did well to achieve their success.

Sleep well. A 2007 study covered on the Research Digest found that lack of sleep impairs students’ ability to learn new information. Twenty-eight participants attempted to remember a series of pictures of people, landscapes, scenes and objects. Crucially half had slept normally the previous night whereas the other half had been kept awake. When tested two days later, after everyone had had two nights of normal sleep, Matthew Walker found that the previously sleep-deprived students recognised 19 per cent fewer pictures in a recognition memory test.

Forgive yourself for procrastinating. Everyone procrastinates at some time or another – it’s part of human nature. The secret to recovering from a bout of procrastination, according to a 2010 study covered by the Digest, is to forgive yourself. Michael Wohl and colleagues followed 134 first year undergrads through their first two sessions of mid-term exams. Those who had forgiven themselves for procrastination prior to the initial mid-terms were less likely to procrastinate prior to the second lot of exams and tended to do better as a result.

Test yourself. A powerful finding in laboratory studies of learning is the ‘testing effect’ whereby time spent answering quiz questions (including feedback of correct answers) is more beneficial than the same time spent merely re-studying that same material. In a guest post for the Research Digest, Nate Kornell of UCLA explained that testing ‘creates powerful memories that are not easily forgotten’ and it allows you to diagnose your learning. Kornell also had a warning: ‘self-testing when information is still fresh in your memory, immediately after studying, doesn’t work. It does not create lasting memories, and it creates overconfidence.’

Pace your studies. The secret to remembering material long-term is to review it periodically, rather than trying to cram. In a 2007 study covered by the Digest, Doug Rohrer and Harold Pashler showed that the optimal time to leave material before reviewing it is 10 to 30 per cent of the period you want to remember it for. So, if you were to be tested eleven days after first studying some material, the ideal time to revisit it would be a day later. If it’s seven months from your initial study of the material to an exam, then reviewing the material after a month is optimal.

Vivid examples may not always work best. Common sense tells us that effective teaching involves dreaming up interesting real-life examples to help teach complicated, abstract concepts. However, in a 2008 study by Jennifer Kaminski and colleagues, students taught about mathematical relations linking three items in a group were only able to transfer the rules to a novel, real-life situation if they were originally taught the rules using abstract symbols. Those taught with the metaphorical aid of water jugs and pizza slices were unable to transfer what they’d learned.

Take naps. Numerous studies have shown that naps as short as ten minutes can reduce subsequent fatigue and help boost concentration. It’s only recently, however, that researchers have turned their attention to napping technique. Dayong Zhao and colleagues recruited 30 undergrad regular nappers and tested whether it makes any difference if you nap lying down or leaning forward with your head rested on a desk. Zhao’s team found that a post-luncheon twenty-minute nap in either position was associated with increased performance at an auditory oddball task (listening to a series of tones and spotting the odd one out), but only napping lying down was associated with an increased P300 brain wave signal during the task recorded via EEG – a sign of increased mental alertness.

Get handouts prior to the lecture. Students given Powerpoint slide handouts before a lecture made fewer notes but performed the same or better in a later test of the lecture material than students who weren’t given the handouts until the lecture was over. That’s according to a study by Elizabeth Marsh and Holli Sink, reported by the Research Digest, which involved dozens of undergrads watching video clips of real-life lectures. The researchers warned their results are only preliminary but they concluded that ‘in situations where students’ notes are likely to reiterate the content of the slides, there is no harm from releasing students from note-taking.’

Believe in yourself. Self-belief affects problem-solving abilities even when the influence of background knowledge is taken into account. Bobby Hoffman and Alexandru Spatariu showed this in 2008 in the context of 81 undergrad students solving mental multiplication problems. The students’ belief in their own ability, called ‘self-efficacy’, and their general ability both made unique contributions to their performance. ‘In learning situations,‘ the researchers concluded, ‘there is a natural tendency to build basic skills, but that is only part of the formula. Instructors that focus on building the confidence of students, providing strategic instruction, and giving relevant feedback can enhance performance outcomes.’

Other features in this month's issue of The Psychologist include: Charles Spence on his mouth-watering research into multi-sensory perception; Janelle Ward studies the last statements from those on death row; Psychologist editor @jonmsutton poses questions for psychology’s Twitterati; Thomas L. Webb on ensuring students get more out of taking part in research; José Cuenca offers reflections as a research student in psychology, in the first of a new series aiming to unearth budding talent; and Nestar Russell explores the early evolution of Stanley Milgram’s first official obedience to authority experiment. Plus there's the usual mix of news, views, and reviews. Digital previews of earlier issues are also available.
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