Can psychology help combat pseudoscience?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schizophrenia (Nature).

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This list has been updated here. Psychologists (and a few stray neuroscientists) on Twitter, listed in order of number of followers. It's a work in progress - please use comments to alert me to others. Follower counts are subject to change but were correct on 12 Nov, 2010. Shortcut URL to this list is

Laura Kauffman. Child psychologist. Followers: 59,845
Richard Wiseman. Parapsychologist, magician, author. Followers: 53,363
George Huba. Psychologist. Followers: 16,468
Aleks Krotoski. Psychologist, tech journalist. Followers: 13,798
Marsha Lucas. Neuropsychologist. Followers: 11,170
Jonah Lehrer. Blogger, author. Followers: 8283
Jo Hemmings. Celebrity psychologist. Followers: 7880
Dan Ariely. Behavioural Economist, author. Followers: 6476
Graham Jones. Internet (cyber) psychologist. Followers: 6147
Steven Pinker. Psycholinguist, evolutionary psychologist, author. Followers: 6225
David Ballard. Psychologist, Head of APA marketing. Followers: 5918
Christian Jarrett. That's me! Followers: 4000
Ciarán O'Keeffe. Parapsychologist. Followers: 3965
Petra Boynton. Psychologist, sex educator. Followers: 3598
Mo Costandi. Writer, blogger. Followers: 3485
Vaughan Bell. Clinical neuropsychologist, blogger. Followers: 3114
John Grohol. Founder of Psychcentral. Followers: 2875
Jeremy Dean. Blogger. Followers: 2431
Brian MacDonald. Clinical psychologist. Followers: 2338
Bruce Hood. Cognitive scientist. Followers: 2231
Rita Handrich. Psychologist, editor. Followers: 2174
Daniel Levitin. Psychologist, author. Followers: 2072
Sandeep Gautam. Blogger. Followers: 1810
David Webb. Psychology tutor, blogger. Followers: 1764
David Eagleman. Neuroscientist, author. Followers: 1687
Ana Loback. Psychologist. Followers: 1249
Maria Panagiotidi. Grad student. Followers: 1223
G. Tendayi Viki. Social psychologist. Followers: 1220
Wendy Cousins. Skeptic. Followers: 1219
Alex Linley. Positive psychologist. Followers: 1162
Rolfe Lindgren. Psychologist, personality expert. Followers: 1053
Chris Atherton. Cognitive psychologist. Followers: 968
Mark Changizi. Cognitive psychologist, author. Followers: 955
Jay Watts. Clinical psychologist, Lacanian. Followers: 901
Jesse Bering. Psychologist, blogger. Followers: 895
Anthony Risser. Neuropsychologist, blogger. Followers: 819
Joseph LeDoux. Neuroscientist, rocker. Followers: 804
Chris French. Anomalistic psychologist. Followers: 745
Jason Goldman. Grad student, blogger. Followers: 693
CoertVisser. Psychologist. Followers: 690
The Neurocritic. Blogger. Followers: 674
Ben Hawkes. Psychologist, comedian. Followers: 638
Sophie Scott. Neuroscientist. Followers: 637
Karen Pine. Psychologist, author. Followers: 629
Dorothy Bishop. Developmental neuropsychologist. Followers: 574
Mark Batey. Creativity expert. Followers: 566
Charles Fernyhough. Developmental psychologist, author. Followers: 529
Cary Cooper. Occupational psychologist. Followers: 526
John Cacioppo. Psychologist, social neuroscientist. Followers: 516
Melanie Greenberg. Clinical health psychologist. Followers: 508
Monica Whitty. Cyberpsychologist. Followers: 492
James Neill. Psychology lecturer. Followers: 489
Olivia Wallis. Positive psychologist. Followers: 474
Eran Katz. Grad student (tweets in Hebrew). Followers: 467
Rob Archer. Organisational psychologist. Followers: 442
Jon Sutton. Editor of The Psychologist. Followers: 438
Christopher H. Ramey. Psychologist. Followers: 408
Hilary Bruffell. Social psychologist. Followers: 383
Manon Eileen. Clinical psychologist & criminologist. Followers: 369
Tom Stafford. Psychologist, author. Followers: 368
Nick Hartley. Trainee clinical psychologist. Followers: 359
Marco Iacoboni. Neuroscientist, mirror neuron expert. Followers: 353
Rory O'Connor. Health psychologist, suicide researcher. Followers: 358
Mike Garth. Sports psychologist. Followers: 349
Rachel Robinson. Child psychologist. Followers: 325
Atle Dyregrov. Psychologist, expert in crisis psychology. Followers: 323
Claudia Hammond. Radio presenter. Followers: 288
Uta Frith. Developmental neuropsychologist, autism expert. Followers: 268
Daryl O’Connor. Health psychologist. Followers: 258
Sarah-Jayne Blakemore. Cognitive neuroscientist. Followers: 253
Sam Edwards. Health psychologist. Followers: 247
Wray Herbert. Writer for APS, author. Followers: 238
Caroline Watt. Parapsychologist. Followers: 236
David Matsumoto. Psychologist and judoka. Followers: 224
Tim Byron. Music psychologist. Followers: 213
Kevin McGrew. Intelligence expert. Followers: 206
Erika Salomon. Grad student. Followers: 206
Andy Fugard. Cognitive scientist. Followers: 187
Karen Franklin. Forensic psychologist. Followers: 176
Sean Nethercott. Psychologist. Followers: 171
Ciarán Mc Mahon. Psychologist. Followers: 155
Patrick Macartney. Psychologist and sociologist. Followers: 149
Daniel Simons. Cognitive psychologist, author. Followers: 145
Janet Civitelli. Counselling psychologist. Followers: 139
Adrian Wale. Cognitive scientist, writer. Followers: 137
Lorna Quandt. Grad student. Followers: 137
Talya Grumberg. Mental health counsellor. Followers: 131
Lila Chrysikou. Psychologist. Followers: 128
Steven Brownlow. Clinical and forensic psychologist. Followers: 124
Rebecca Symes. Sports psychologist. Followers: 115
Craig Bertram. Grad student. Followers: 114
Matteo Cantamesse. Social psychologist. Followers: 108
Mark Hoelterhoff. Experimental existential psychologist. Followers: 105
Johnrev Guilaran. Clinical psychologist trainee. Followers: 104
Gareth Morris. Grad student. Followers: 105
Sanja Dutina. Psychologist. Followers: 101
Valeschka Guerra. Psychology lecturer. Followers: 101
Jenna Condie. Environmental psychologist. Followers: 97
Emma Dunlop. Grad student. Followers: 92
Deb Halasz. Research psychologist. Followers: 90
Jon Simons. Cognitive scientist. Followers: 87
Suzanne Conboy-Hill. Clinical psychologist. Followers: 85
Victoria Galbraith. Counselling psychologist. Followers: 84
Romeo Vitelli. Psychologist in private practice. Followers: 81
Astrid Kitti. Grad student. Followers: 79
John Houser. School psychologist. Followers: 79
Ruthanna Gordon. Psychologist, sustainability expert. Followers: 78
Marc Scully. Social psychologist. Followers: 76
Ken Gilhooly. Cognitive psychologist. Followers: 72
Catriona Morrison. Experimental psychologist. Followers: 69
Jen Lewis. Grad student. Followers: 65
Daniela O'Neill. Developmental psychologist. Followers: 65
Kevin Friery. Psychologist, psychotherapist. Followers: 60
Simon Dymond. Behavioural neuroscientist. Followers: 58
Arvid Kappas. Emotion researcher. Followers: 58
Sue Hartley. Psychologist. Followers: 56
Bex Hewett. PhD student in occupational psychology. Followers: 56
Jui Bhagwat. Child psychologist. Followers: 54
Simon Knight. Psychologist. Followers: 44
Dylan Lopich. Clinical psychologist. Followers: 42
Tom Walton. Grad student. Followers: 40
John Hyland. Experimental psychologist. Followers: 37
Odette Beris. Psychologist and coach. Followers: 35
Gerald Guild. Psychologist, autism specialist. Followers: 33
Gillian Smith. Alcohol and drug researcher. Followers: 32
Nancy Hoffman. Neuropsychologist. Followers: 28
Chris Brand. Cognitive psychologist in training. Followers: 28
Alex Birch. Business psychologist. Followers: 26
Barry McGuinness. Psychologist, writer. Followers: 24
David Yates. Grad student. Followers: 24
David Hughes. Psychologist. Followers: 22
Kathryn Newns. Clinical psychologist. Followers: 21
Philip Collier. Sport & positive psychologist. Followers: 22
Paul Hanges. Organisational psychologist. Followers: 20
Andrew and Sabrina. Psychological scientists. Followers: 18
Bruce Hutchison. Clinical psychologist. Followers 18.
Caitlin Allison. Trainee counselling psychologist. Followers: 17
Margarita Holmes. Psychologist and sex therapist. Followers: 17
John Taylor. Cognitive psychologist. Followers: 16
Alison Price. Occupational psychologist. Followers: 16
Sian Jones. Grad student. Followers: 13
Scott Kaufman. Cognitive psychologist. Followers: 11
Victoria Mason. Psychology lecturer. Followers: 7
Helen Jones. Clinical psychologist. Followers: 7
Chelsea Walsh. Family & marriage therapist. Followers: 4
Lorraine Hope. Cognitive psychologist. Followers: 1

Further reading: @jonmsutton conducts world's first (probably) psychology-themed Twinterview.
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Queen Bees are the consequence not the cause of sexist work-places

Queen Bee is a term used in business psychology to refer to women in senior positions who boast about their own masculine attributes, whilst derogating their female subordinates and endorsing sexist stereotypes. According to articles in the popular press, the presence of Queen Bees is as much a cause of gender inequality at work as is the sexism shown by men. A new article by Belle Derks and her colleagues challenges this claim, arguing instead that sexist work-places are a breeding ground for Queen Bees - that the latter are a consequence, not a cause, of sexism at work.

Derks team surveyed 94 women holding senior positions in several Dutch organisations (in the Netherlands, women make up only 7 per cent of the boards of the largest 100 companies and on average earn 6.5 per cent lower pay than men). The central finding was that those women who showed all the hall-marks of a Queen Bee tended to recall having suffered more sexism and prejudice in their own careers and, moreover, tended to report feeling less identification with other women when they started their careers.

According to Derks and her colleagues, when women join a sexist work-place, they have two options - they can either bolster their ties to other women or they can distance themselves from their feminine identity. The new findings are consistent with the idea that women who have a weaker feminine identity in the first place are more likely to go for the second option. Derks' central point is that it's the sexist culture that forces women to make this choice and start on the path to becoming a Queen Bee.

As with so much psychological research, this study suffers from the serious weakness of being cross-sectional in design. This means that rather than a sexist culture causing women to reject their feminine identity and become a Queen Bee, the effect could work backwards such that being a Queen Bee somehow makes you more likely to recall being the victim of sexism. However, the researchers argue this is unlikely - if anything they think established Queen Bees would be likely to downplay the presence of gender discrimination.

The new results have important implications for organisations seeking to reduce sexism. Simply appointing a few token female senior managers in a sexist culture is likely to backfire as this will dispose them to becoming Queen Bees, thus worsening the situation for their female subordinates. Instead greater emphasis should be placed on reducing sexist beliefs and practices in the organisation. 'In companies that ensure that women can achieve career success without having to forgo their gender identification,' the researchers said, 'women in senior positions are more likely to become inspiring role models who have positive attitudes about the potential of their female subordinates.'
Derks B, Ellemers N, van Laar C, and de Groot K (2010). Do sexist organizational cultures create the Queen Bee? The British journal of social psychology / the British Psychological Society PMID: 20964948
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If-then plans help protect us from the 'to hell with it' effect

You're probably familiar with what could be called the 'to hell with it' effect. It's when (as demonstrated by lots of research) a bad mood causes us to take risky decisions or engage in risky behaviour. Like when you're feeling down and you drive home dangerously fast or go out and get drunk. Now a team led by Thomas Webb at the University of Sheffield says that we can protect ourselves from this effect by forming 'if-then' implementation decisions in advance. These are self-made plans which state that if a certain situation occurs, then I will respond in a pre-specified way.

A first study used a trick anagram task to put some students in a bad mood. They were told the task was easy and should only take them five minutes when in fact three of the anagrams were insoluble (pilot work had shown that this puts students in a grump). Other students were told the truth, so the task wasn't expected to put them in a bad mood. Next, all the students said how they would behave in three imaginary scenarios - whether to drive an old car with brake problems, whether to disclose a secret to a room-mate, and whether to return deliberately damaged shoes to a shop for a refund.

Would being provoked into a bad mood encourage riskier behaviour? It depended whether the students had formed if-then plans in advance. During the previous week, ostensibly as part of a separate study, the students had been asked to keep a mood diary and to try to stay in as positive a mood as possible. Half the students (the control group) followed the simple instruction 'I will try to stay in a positive mood', which they were asked to repeat to themselves three times during the week. The others followed the if-then plan: 'If I am in a negative mood, then I will ... breathe deeply / think only positive thoughts / think how I've dealt successfully with previous situations' (they could choose which ending to use). Again they had to repeat this three times during the week. The key finding was the being provoked into a bad mood by the impossible anagrams led the control students to make riskier decisions (the 'to hell with it effect' in action) but not the students who'd made the if-then implementation plans during the prior week. They seemed to have been inoculated.

This pattern of results was replicated in second study in the context of arousal and a gambling task. Like being in a bad mood, being more aroused is also associated with taking more risks. In this case, Bach's Brandenberg concerto no. 3 was used to increase greater arousal in half the participants (the others listened to Beethoven's moonlight sonata). The gambling task involved betting points on whether a token was hidden inside blue or red boxes on a computer screen. After the arousal induction but before the task, half the students formed the if-then plan 'If I am asked to make a bet, then I will pay close attention to the number of red versus blue boxes'. The control students were simply told to end the game with as many points as they could. Consonant with the first study, increased arousal led the control students to play more riskily, but not the students who'd formed a protective if-then plan.

'Taken together,' the researchers said, 'the findings of the two experiments suggest that people can strategically avoid the detrimental effect of unpleasant mood and arousal on risk taking by forming implementation intentions directed at controlling either the experience of mood or risky behaviour.'

How do if-then plans exert their protective effects? Webb and his colleagues can't be sure, but they think they help form strong links between specific circumstances (e.g. when in a bad mood) and responses (e.g. breathe deeply) thereby making those responses easier to enact. 'Future studies will need to confirm that these processes ... explain how implementation intentions shield behaviour from the deleterious effects of mood,' they said.

ResearchBlogging.orgWebb TL, Sheeran P, Totterdell P, Miles E, Mansell W, and Baker S (2010). Using implementation intentions to overcome the effect of mood on risky behaviour. The British journal of social psychology / the British Psychological Society PMID: 21050527
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The Special Issue Spotter

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

Autobiographical Memory: Context and Consequences (Cognitive Development).

Developmental dyslexia and dysgraphia (Cortex).

'This issue ... addresses ethical, legal, clinical and practical aspects of adjudicative competences [the mental fitness to stand trial and complete other judicial procedures]'. (Behavioral Science and the Law).

Novel Perspectives on Drug Addiction and Reward (Neuroscience and BioBehavioural Reviews).

Cognitive aging, safety, and quality of life (Japanese Psychological Research).

Capturing the Peer Context (Journal of Adolescence).
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For group creativity, two narcissists are better than one

"God is really an artist, like me ... I am God, I am God, I am God." Pablo Picasso
Some experts have suggested there's a link between narcissism and creativity - that the self-obsession and self-belief create the necessary time and space for originality to flourish. On the contrary, Jack Goncalo at Cornell University has just published results from three experiments which show that narcissists on their own aren't any more creative than usual, even though they think they are. The narcissist's braggadocio also leads others to overestimate the originality of their ideas. On the other hand, Goncalo's team show that when it comes to group creativity, the competitiveness of multiple narcissists really is beneficial, so long as you don't have too many of them.

Two hundred and forty-four undergrads completed a standardised measure of narcissism (sample items included 'I really like to be the centre of attention')  followed by two classic tests of creativity. One of these involved thinking up new uses for a brick, the other required them to draw a new kind of alien. Students who were more narcissistic didn't excel any more than usual on the creativity tests, but they thought they had.

For the second study, 76 students were formed into pairs and allocated the role of movie pitcher or evaluator. The former had 10 minutes to plan an idea for a new Hollywood movie before pitching it to the latter.

Ideas pitched by students who scored higher in narcissism tended to be rated as more creative and feasible - an association that was mediated by the fact that narcissistic pitchers were perceived as more energetic and enthusiastic. However, when the transcripts of the pitches were coded carefully by independent judges unaware of who had delivered which pitches, the more narcissistic participants no longer scored higher on creativity and feasibility.

The implication seems to be that the braggadocio of the narcissists, rather than the true quality of their ideas, led evaluators to rate their pitches more highly. The researchers said that this finding should be alarming for people who work in fields that lack objective measures of the quality of ideas. 'In such fields, creative output may gradually decline as true creative talent is continuously traded for charisma and enthusiasm,' they warned.

So far the research has challenged the idea that narcissists on their own really are more creative. But what about in groups? The final study involved 292 undergrads completing a measure of narcissism before forming 73 four-person groups. Their task was to suggest ways for a real company to improve its performance. The key finding here was that groups with approximately two narcissists on board tended to outperform those with more or fewer narcissists. Why should this be? Goncalo's team think that the presence of two narcissists generates a healthy dose of in-group competition, thus helping idea generation. However too many narcissists in the proverbial kitchen and the excessive internal competition spoils the creative broth.

'The same needs for recognition and power that cast a dark shadow on narcissists may position them as catalysts for creative colloquy,' the researchers said. 'The results suggest that to capitalise on the narcissists in our midst, we should collaborate with them and encourage them to collaborate with each other. In so doing, groups could turn what is often considered a decidedly negative trait into a valuable source of creative tension.'

ResearchBlogging.orgGoncalo JA, Flynn FJ, and Kim SH (2010). Are Two Narcissists Better Than One? The Link Between Narcissism, Perceived Creativity, and Creative Performance. Personality and social psychology bulletin PMID: 20947771
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What is mental illness?

Illness is like the street you've driven down your whole life. So familiar you've never bothered to look around. We've all experienced illness, either first-hand or via someone we know, but rarely do we stop to wonder what it really is.

You might say it's when something mental or physical isn't working as it should be. But then who is to say how things should be working? This is easier to answer in relation to physical health, but still tricky. Pain, a loss of ability, a shortening of life expectancy, perhaps? These criteria seem far from satisfactory. Pain is highly subjective and can be triggered by mundane ailments like toothaches or stubbed toes - are they really illnesses? Loss of ability seems more objective, but is surely only a necessary rather than sufficient criterion. After all, temporary fatigue and age both cause a loss of ability. Similarly, driving cars fast and other dangerous hobbies will likely shorten your life. These philosophical conundrums are magnified when it comes to mental illness. When does a hobbyist collector become a compulsive hoarder? How tightly do the shackles of shyness have to constrain a person before he or she is considered ill? What if the solitude of the social phobic allows them to pen great poetry or novels - is that adaptive or maladaptive?

The psychiatrist Dan Stein at the University of Cape Town and five others have tackled these issues and more in an editorial for the journal Psychological Medicine. Their approach has been to consider the definition of mental disorder stated in the fourth edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), and to recommend modifications to it to be used in the forthcoming fifth edition, for which they are Work Group members.

Stein's team propose that a mental disorder has five features. First, it is a behavioural or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in the individual. This emphasis on the individual rules out dysfunctions that exist at the relationship or group level. Interestingly, they acknowledge that this causes problems for the DSM IV diagnosis of Shared Psychotic Disorder (or Folie à deux) in which delusions are passed from one person to another.

Second, the symptoms of a mental disorder are clinically significant distress (e.g. a painful symptom) or disability (i.e. impairment in one more important areas of functioning). Here they explain that 'clinically significant' is meant to distinguish from 'milder distress or difficulty in functioning that may not warrant clinical attention'. They acknowledge that clinical significance is tricky to 'operationalise', but argue that it 'remains useful in differentiating disorder from normality'. Readers will notice that this point doesn't really help us distinguish between personality traits like shyness and disorders like social phobia - it merely acknowledges that somewhere a line of severity is crossed.

Third, the behaviour or symptoms must not merely be an expectable response to common stressors and losses (e.g. the loss of a loved one) or a culturally sanctioned response to a particular event (e.g. trance states in religious rituals). Similar to the last, this point is also intended to help prevent the medicalisation of psychological reactions that are an expected part of life. However, Stein's team acknowledge this is murky territory - for example, they point to the contentious boundaries between 'normal and pathological bereavement.' Also, so-called 'normal' reactions to distress are often associated with increased risk of more serious problems later on - in other words, from a clinical point of view they shouldn't be ignored.

Fourth, a mental disorder must reflect an underlying psychobiological dysfunction. This is an acknowledgement that all illnesses of the mind have an underlying neural correlate. Meanwhile, the 'dysfunction' described here can be interpreted either in evolutionary terms whereby some faculty is not working as it evolved to, or in terms of statistical deviance from what's normal according to the client's own background and future goals. Neither is without problems. Evolutionary interpretations tend to be speculative, and what counts as dysfunctional is subjective and influenced by context. Stein's team give the example of living in a dangerous urban area 'where it may be adaptive to join a gang, but where this requires participating in behaviours listed in the diagnostic criteria for conduct disorder.'

Fifth, to be a mental disorder, Stein and his colleagues say a person's behaviour or symptoms should not primarily be a result of social deviance or conflicts with society. This is yet another safeguard against over-pathologising behaviour. The criterion is required, Stein's team say, 'because psychiatric diagnoses have been used for political purposes in the past and potential future misuse cannot be ruled out'. Indeed, one need only consider the fact that homosexuality was included in the DSM until as recently as 1973 to see the inappropriate influence of social mores on psychiatry.

Finally, Stein and his co-authors outline several further points for DSM 5 to bear in mind when considering what constitutes a mental disorder, including: that the potential benefits of adding a condition to the new DSM should outweigh the potential harms, and that any new diagnostic category should be clinically useful - that is: 'facilitate the process of patient evaluation and treatment rather than hinder it.'

As you can see from these highlights, there are many grey areas when it comes to defining what constitutes a mental illness, especially in relation to judging what counts as abnormal distress or dysfunction. As the authors conclude, the basic position (acknowledged in DSM IV) that mental disorder cannot be 'precisely operationally defined seems ... to be basically correct.' However, on a more optimistic note, Stein's team further argue that the classification system can improve over time as the scientific knowledge base progresses. 'Disorders are more than mere "labels",' they conclude, 'and progress towards a more scientifically valid and more clinically useful nomenclature is possible.'

What do you think? Do you share their optimism?

ResearchBlogging.orgStein, D., Phillips, K., Bolton, D., Fulford, K., Sadler, J., and Kendler, K. (2010). What is a mental/psychiatric disorder? From DSM-IV to DSM-V. Psychological Medicine, 40 (11), 1759-1765 DOI: 10.1017/S0033291709992261

Further reading on the Digest blog:
Are mental disorders real?
New data suggests one in two of us experience mental illness in our life-times.
Psychotherapy has drug-like effect on the brain.

This post is an invited contribution to a mini blogging carnival on the topic 'What is psychopathology?' hosted by The Thoughtful Animal blog.
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Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

In a blind taste test, participants were unable to identify which of five blended meat products was actually dog food (Canned Turkey and Chicken Formula for Puppies/Active Dogs, Newman's Own® Organics, Aptos, CA), although the dog food did tend to be rated as having the least pleasant taste. The other meats were: duck liver mousse ("Mousse de Canard," Trois Petits Cochons, New York, NY), pork liver pâté ("Pâté de Campagne," Trois Petits Cochons, New York, NY), supermarket liverwurst (D’Agostino), and Spam (Hormel Foods Corporation, Austin, MN). The researchers concluded: 'that, although human beings do not enjoy eating dog food, they are also not able to distinguish its flavor profile from other meat-based products that are intended for human consumption.' [HT: Miles Thomas]

Disney movies propagate the 'beautiful people are good stereotype' but watching them doesn't make children more likely to apply the stereotype in their judgments.

A great demonstration of how cultural familiarity affects intelligence test performance - in this case, test items drew either on the Afrikaans or Tswana cultures of South Africa. For example an item might refer to football players (the most popular sport among Tswana children) or rugby players (which is the most popular sport among Afrikaans). Both test formats were taken by children from both cultures, with performance being superior when the test was culturally familiar.

Established sex differences in jealousy generalise to the online environment. That is, men are made more jealous by sexual infidelity whereas women are made more jealous by emotional infidelity.

Factors affecting people's choice of location and manner of their 'final resting place'.

Why do they do it? A US survey of people who litter.

New review paper on visual hallucinations.

'Online we are all able bodied' - an investigation of the benefits that membership of disability-specific online communities may have for people with a physical disability.

Clever animals and killjoy explanations in comparative psychology.
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Children's reasoning about when it's okay to reject their peers

The playground sight of a group friends rejecting a lone child betrays an ugly side of human nature. An intriguing new cross-cultural study has examined the development of reasoning about social rejection in young children and teenagers, revealing a surprising level of sophistication.

Yoonjung Park and Melanie Killen found that by age ten, children in the USA and South Korea already consider rejecting a peer based on their nationality or gender to be morally worse than peer rejection based on the behavioural traits of aggressiveness or shyness. The children seem to recognise that people can be expected, to a certain extent, to modify their behaviour, but are unable (and shouldn't be expected) to alter their gender or nationality.

The researchers presented 397 Korean children and 333 US children, aged 10 to 13, with fictional scenarios involving peer rejection and victimisation in different contexts (group rejection and one-on-one friendship rejection) and for different reasons (for their shy or aggressive behaviour, their nationality or their gender). The children were asked to say how acceptable each form of rejection was and to justify their answers.

The results were consistent with 'social domain theory' because the reasons the children gave depended on the context. The children tended to cite moral reasons (e.g. 'he may get hurt in his mind') when explaining their condemnation of peer rejection based on nationality and gender. By contrast, rejection based on behavioural traits (shyness or aggressiveness) was justified or condemned based on grounds of social-convention and personal choice. For example, one of the children answered that 'if he [the fictional child doing the rejecting] doesn't want to be friends with the kid, it's okay. It's his choice'; others referred to the disruption likely to be caused by an aggressive person entering the group.

Overall, the older children actually perceived peer rejection as more acceptable than the younger children, perhaps because children come to value autonomy and personal choice more as they get older. However, this increased acceptance was not true across all contexts. For example, rejection because of nationality was seen as less acceptable by older children.

There were few cultural differences. The exceptions were that the US kids were more willing to accept rejection of aggressive peers, perhaps because aggression is more rife in US society. The Korean kids, meanwhile, were more tolerant of rejection based on nationality. This might reflect the fact that the Seoul-based Korean sample were ethnically homogenous whereas the Washington DC-based US sample were more ethnically diverse.

Park and Killen called on future research to explore children's reasoning about peer rejection in other cultures and to involve different contexts and reasons for rejection. 'Drawing on findings regarding children's social understanding, evaluation, and reasoning about peer rejection to design programmes to ameliorate the negative long-term consequences of peer rejection will go a long way towards reducing the social deviance and facilitating social tolerance and inclusion in multiple contexts and across cultures,' they said.

ResearchBlogging.orgPark, Y., and Killen, M. (2010). When is peer rejection justifiable? Children's understanding across two cultures. Cognitive Development, 25 (3), 290-301 DOI: 10.1016/j.cogdev.2009.10.004
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Higher intelligence associated with "thinking like an economist"

As the world economy dusts itself down and edges towards recovery, a provocative new paper claims that people with higher intelligence are more likely to think like economists. That is, they're more likely to be optimistic about the economy; to recognise the economic advantages of markets free from government interference, and the advantages of foreign trade and foreign workers; and to appreciate the economic benefits of achieving greater productivity with less man-power. The lead author is Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at George Mason University. Past essays by him include 'The 4 Boneheaded Biases of Stupid Voters (And we're all stupid voters.)'

Prior research has established that the more time a person spends in education, the more likely their broad economic views are to match that of the typical economist (pdf). Caplan and his colleague Stephen Miller point out that these studies failed to take into account the influence of intelligence. After all, it's known that people with higher IQ tend to spend longer in education and intelligence itself may also directly influence economic beliefs.

To overcome this problem, Caplan and Miller have focused on answers to the General Social Survey, a massive US poll of national opinions performed every two years. Crucially, it includes questions about the economy and a small test of verbal IQ.

Caplan and Miller's finding is that the link between educational background and 'thinking like an economist' is weakened when IQ is taken into account because IQ is the more important factor associated with economic beliefs. It's a complicated picture because IQ and education may be mutually influential. However, if one assumes that education is unable to raise IQ, but that IQ affects time spent in education, then the researchers said 'the net effect on economic beliefs of intelligence is more than double the net effect of education.' Even if one assumes that education can also affect IQ, 'intelligence still has a larger estimated effect [on economic beliefs],' they said.

Does the link between higher intelligence and 'thinking like an economist' mean that economists are generally right and the public wrong? In answer to this question, Caplan and Miller cite Shane Frederick, a decision-making scholar at Yale's School of Management, who's previously argued that it depends on the type of question. For financial issues, he argued, it pays to emulate those 'with higher cognitive abilities'. However, Frederick noted that 'if one were deciding between an apple or an orange, Einstein's preference for apples seems irrelevant.'

Caplan and Miller say they agree with Frederick about this, before concluding boldly: 'The fact that the beliefs of economists and intelligent non-economists dovetail is another reason to accept the "economists are right, the public is wrong" interpretation of lay-expert belief gaps.'

ResearchBlogging.orgCaplan, B., and Miller, S. (2010). Intelligence makes people think like economists: Evidence from the General Social Survey. Intelligence, 38 (6), 636-647 DOI: 10.1016/j.intell.2010.09.005
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