Tuck into our latest round-up of the best psych and neuro links.

New brains exhibition (free entry) at London's Wellcome Collection "Brains: The Mind as Matter" has now opened. Includes samples from Albert Einstein's brain. There's a new pictorial blog to accompany the exhibition, and an online game called "Axon" based on real brain science!

Smartphones and other gadgets make it increasingly difficult to escape work, even when our minds really shouldn't be on the job, says Grahan Snowdon for The Guardian.

The winner of this year's Art of Neuroscience competition has been announced.

Boing Boing interview with Daniel Everett who studies the languages of remote tribes. In related news,  Noam Chomsky has a new book out - "The Science of Language - Interviews with James McGilvray".

Is a project to map the brain’s full communications network worth the money? Jon Bardin with a free Nature news feature.

Why do people suddenly lose it? Answers from the WSJ and Mind Hacks.

Why did ancient peoples cut holes in their heads?

Mark Changizi argues that we didn't evolve to produce language and music, they evolved to suit our needs and our brains.

Employees with "virtual" managers get less feedback, an unbalanced workload, and feel less empowered - from our sister blog The Occupational Digest.

More thoughts from social psychology professor John Bargh on the recent failure to replicate one of his classic studies.

Is neuroscience over-reaching itself? Two writers think so, "It's not always clever to use brain science as an explanation for the most complex human problems," says psychiatrist Tanveer Ahmed. "Neuroscience wants to be the answer to everything. It isn’t" says philosopher Roger Scruton.

"The illusion of being human", conference report by blogger Jason Goldman.

"What it means to be human", video of panel discussion.

Using Twitter to teach psychology.

Tom Stafford on our predilection for superstition.

Review by Sam McNerney for Scientific American Mind of Jonah Lehrer's new book "Imagine: How Creativity Works. Meanwhile the Observer newspaper had a profile of Jonah.

The latest (April) issue of The Psychologist magazine is online. There's a free digital preview for non-members. Check out the new Viewpoints feature, which focuses on the person in psychology research and practice.

The Radio 4 programme "Feathered apes", about the intelligence of crows and other corvids, is available to listen on iPlayer. In related news, there's a new book out "Bird sense: What's it like to be a bird?".

If you like Mad Men and you like psychology, this new book is worth a look.

Is free will an illusion - debate with Paul Bloom, Michael Gazzaniga and more.

Apparently the average IQ in Britain is falling - a reversal of the Flynn effect.

The latest edition of In-Mind, the online social psychology magazine is up, with articles on gossip and choice.

Radio 4's Writing Madness explores the representation of mental illness in twentieth century and Victorian fiction.

Ask Steve Pinker anything.

Jon Ronson reviews "The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking" by Susan Cain.

That's all for now. I hope you have a relaxing Easter. Feast will return in a few weeks.

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How do women and girls feel when they see sexualised or sporty images of female athletes?

The potentially harmful effect of ultra-thin models and air-brushed female celebrities on the body image and self-esteem of women is well-documented. Could the increasing participation of women in professional sport prompt the media to portray female role models in a different, more beneficial light? Anecdotal evidence suggests not. To take just one example, prior to the 2010 Winter Olympics, female Olympic skiers and snowboarders appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated in - you guessed it - bikinis. A new study of 258 US school girls and 171 female undergrads by Elizabeth Daniels has investigated how women and girls feel when they see sexualised images of female athletes.

The participants were allocated to one of three conditions - they either looked at five images of female athletes in a sporting context in their full sporting attire (the basketball player Anne Strother; the skateboarder Jen O'Brien; the tennis player Jennifer Capriati; the surfer Lisa Anderson; and the football player Mia Hamm), or they looked at five images of female athletes in a sexualised context with lots of flesh on display (the basketball player Lauren Jackson; the ice-skater Ekaterina Gordeeva; the swimmer Jenny Thompson; the softball player Jenny Finch; and the tennis player Anna Kournikova), or they looked at five images of bikini-clad magazine models given random names.

After looking at the first and last of their five allocated photographs (this was Lauren Jackson and Anna Kournikova in the sexualised athletes condition and Anne Strother and Mia Hamm in the sporty athletes condition), the participants were asked to write a paragraph "describing the woman in the photograph and discussing how this photograph makes you feel".

The key finding is that the girls and undergrads who viewed the sexualised athlete images tended to say they admired or were jealous of the athletes' bodies, they commented on the athletes' sexiness, and they evaluated their own bodies negatively. Some also said they found the images inappropriate. The participants who viewed the bikini-clad glamour models responded similarly, except they rarely commented on the inappropriateness of the images, as if they'd come to accept the portrayal of women in that way. Daniels said that sexy images of female athletes "are no more likely to prompt viewers to reflect on their own physical activity involvement or appreciation of sport than sexualised model images."

By contrast, participants who viewed the female athletes in a sporting context tended to comment on the athletes' determination, passion and commitment; they wrote about feeling motivated to perform sport; and they reflected on their own sporting participation or sports they followed. "Infusing more performance images of female athletes into the media may be helpful in promoting physical activity among girls and young women," Daniels said. "Currently, female athletes are largely absent from magazines targeted at teen girls."
_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Daniels, E. (2012). Sexy versus strong: What girls and women think of female athletes. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 33 (2), 79-90 DOI: 10.1016/j.appdev.2011.12.002

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The Special Issue Spotter

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

Mental Time Travel: Social Psychological Perspectives on a Fundamental Human Capacity (European Journal of Social Psychology).

Cyberbullying: Development, consequences, risk and protective factors (European Journal of Developmental Psychology).

College Students with ADHD Revisited (Journal of Attention Disorders).

Errorless Learning and Rehabilitation of Language and Memory Impairments (Neuropsychological Rehabilitation).

Implicit and explicit theory of mind (British Journal of Developmental Psychology).

Special section devoted to Seymour Sarason (Journal of Community Psychology).

Special section on the neural substrate of analogical reasoning and metaphor comprehension (Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition).

Recent Advances in Stroke Recovery: Implications for Understanding Developmental Changes in Brain Plasticity and Possible Treatments for Amblyopia (Developmental Psychobiology).

Special section: Mathematical and cognitive predictors of the development of mathematics (British Journal of Educational Psychology).

Virtual Special Issue on Neuroimaging Gender Differences (NeuroImage).

Brain ageing article series (Nature Reviews Neuroscience).

Three Dimensional visual space: Phenomena, Theories, and Applications (Japanese Psychological Research).

 Post compiled by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.
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Passengers litter less on carriages that smell of cleaning product

A team of Dutch social psychologists has proposed a simple solution to the litter problem on trains - infuse carriages with the citrus scent of cleaning product. Martinijn de Lange and his colleagues made their recommendation after conducting a field experiment in which they concealed seven small containers of cleaning product (spiced up with a little Capitaine perfume oil) in the luggage racks of two carriages on a train travelling between Amersfoort-Schothorst and Enkhuizen, a journey of one hour and forty-four minutes.

The amount of rubbish not in bins on these two carriages was collected at the final stop, counted and weighed and compared with the amount of rubbish left in two, scent-free control carriages. Based on measures taken over 18 journeys, the average amount of rubbish on the unscented carriages was more than three times the weight of the rubbish collected from the scented carriages (35.6 grams vs. 11.7 grams). In terms of individual rubbish items, there were an average of 5.1 in the control carriages per journey vs. 2.7 in the scented carriages.

For comparison, rubbish was also collected from these exact same carriages over several journeys a week or so earlier, prior to the use of the scent (the train company agreed to use the same train on the same route during the period of the study rather than following their usual practice of rotating train stock across different routes). In this case, there was no difference in the amount of litter left in the different carriages.

"It seems to be possible to change the littering behaviour of people in a train environment using a simple and relatively cheap intervention," the researchers said.

Why should the scent of cleaning product have had this effect on passengers' littering behaviour? de Lange and his colleagues think the effect probably occurs via the non-conscious priming of cleaning related motives and behaviours. Supporting this account, a 2005 lab study (pdf) reported that exposing participants discreetly to the smell of citrus cleaning product led them to list more cleaning-related activities in their plans for the day and to spill fewer crumbs when munching on a cookie. "The positive results of our scent manipulation in a field setting provide support for the idea that the cognitive route of scents to behaviour can be used as a tool for behavioural change," de Lange and his team said. "Merely dispersing a scent seems to trigger related goals and influence subsequent behaviour."

Alternatively, perhaps passengers grew sick of the citrus smell and simply avoided sitting in the scented carriages! That would explain a surprising finding I didn't mention earlier - that rubbish in the non-scented carriages (but not the scented ones) was higher during the intervention period than during the earlier comparison weeks. The researchers put that down to the intervention weeks being busier than the comparison weeks, leading to more rubbish in the non-scented carriages (but not in the scented carriages because of the behavioural effect of the scent).

 _________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

de Lange, M., Debets, L., Ruitenburg, K., and Holland, R. (2012). Making less of a mess: Scent exposure as a tool for behavioral change. Social Influence, 7 (2), 90-97 DOI: 10.1080/15534510.2012.659509

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What would you say to the unicycling professor?

In 2007, a retired dermatologist published an article in the BMJ in which he described his year-long observations of the way people responded to the sight of him travelling about on his unicycle. From over 400 encounters with men, women and children, Prof. Sam Shuster observed some striking differences: young children expressed curiosity, older boys were aggressive, including throwing stones and attempting to knock him off, women tended to express admiration and concern, whilst men indulged in repetitive, snide humour, usually referring to the absence of a wheel, as in "Lost your wheel?".

Shuster said that the sex and age differences were striking: 95 per cent of female comments were praising vs. 25 per cent of comments made by men. The majority - 75 per cent - of adult male comments were attempts at comedy (a tendency that was diminished in elderly men). "The consistent content of the male 'joke' and its triumphant delivery as if it was original and funny, even when it was neither, was remarkable, and it suggests a common underlying mechanism," he wrote. Shuster thinks this mechanism is humour as a form of verbal aggression, driven by male hormones.

Now Shuster has published the results of his online investigations into this phenomenon, based on analysis of comments on unicycling forums by 23 male unicyclists and 9 female unicyclists (aged 15-69) with experience of cycling around the world, including in the UK, USA, mainland Europe, Scandinavia, Canada, South Korea and New Zealand. All but two of the unicyclists' experiences were indicative of the exact same pattern noted by Shuster - admiration and concern in women; physical aggression in older boys, which matured into repetitive, aggressively humourous remarks from adult men. Email correspondence with five further unicyclists given access to the 2007 BMJ paper led to further supporting evidence.

"Although this method of data collection does not eliminate risks of self-selection and bias," Shuster admitted, "the equal opportunity available to unicyclists to record conflicting observations makes it likely that these findings are representative; the consistency of the data gathered from the different sources gives further confidence."

Shuster concluded that the experimental possibilities arising from his findings were considerable - for example, testing whether humour production and appreciation changes with stage and state of sexual development; investigating the persistence of aggression as a component of humour; and whether humour production, exhibition and appreciation changes as a function of men and women's sexual and social success (Shuster's own data hinted at less humourous aggression in men of more affluent means, but exaggerated comedic aggression in men driving old cars).

Shuster, S. (2012). The evolution of humor from male aggression. Psychology Research and Behavior Management DOI: 10.2147/PRBM.S29126 [Thanks to George Smith for the tip-off]

PS. This isn't the first psychology study to feature a unicycle. Previously on the Digest we reported: Talking on a mobile phone, you're less likely to notice the unicycling clown.

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Faces are considered more attractive when they're moving

Here's some comforting news for anyone who despairs at how they look in photos - research by psychologists at the Universities of California and Harvard finds that the same people are rated as more attractive in videos than in static images taken from those videos. In other words, if you think you look awful in that holiday snap - don't worry, you probably look much better in the flesh when people can see you moving.

Robert Post and his team call the relative unattractiveness of static faces, "the frozen face effect". They think it may have to do with the way we form an impression of a moving face that's averaged across the various positions and profiles of that face. This would fit earlier findings showing that more average faces are judged as more attractive. Another possibility is that we find moving faces more attractive because "they optimally drive the neural mechanisms of face recognition". After all, the camera was only invented relatively recently and our face processing brain systems evolved to process moving faces, not still ones.

Post and his colleagues made their findings by asking a handful of participants to rate how "flattering" or "attractive" 20 people looked in two-second video clips and in 1200 static frames taken from those clips. The same faces were consistently rated as more attractive and flattering in the video clips than in the stills.

Further experiments attempted to establish the mechanism underlying this effect. It was found that the same rule held with the videos and stills turned up-side down. The researchers also showed the effect is nothing to do with the videos containing more information: when the "flattering" ratings of an ensemble of multiple stills of a face was compared against ratings of those same stills in a video, once again the video received the more positive ratings. Memory didn't seem to be a factor either - more or less flattering images weren't remembered any better than average. However it was found that to be judged as more flattering, videos do need to run in sequence. Jumbled-up, out-of-sequence videos of a face didn't receive higher ratings than stills of that face.

The researchers said their findings could explain why portrait photography is so challenging. "... [The frozen face effect] may explain why photography of faces is so difficult to master and why people anecdotally believe they look worse in photographs," they said.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Post, R., Haberman, J., Iwaki, L., and Whitney, D. (2012). The Frozen Face Effect: Why Static Photographs May Not Do You Justice. Frontiers in Psychology, 3 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2012.00022

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Children as young as four express liberal views about gender

Children as young as four already show some awareness that gender roles are flexible and that individual preferences are an acceptable reason for not conforming to gender norms. That's according to a study with 72 four- to eight-year-olds in the United States, completed by Clare Conry-Murray at Pennsylvania State University and Elliot Turiel at University California, Berkeley. Their findings contrast with a bias in the existing literature towards showing how young children have fixed ideas about gender - for example, studies have shown that four- to five-year-olds believe a child raised entirely by opposite-sex parents would nonetheless display all the traits and preferences of their own biological sex.

For the new research, Conry-Murray and Turiel asked the children a number a questions about parents' and children's choices in relation to toys, classes and clothing. Children of all ages showed an awareness of gender norms. For instance, asked whether girls or boys usually babysit more, 90 per cent of the children said that girls tended to do this more often. Similarly, without any other contextual information, most of the children tended to say that parents should make gender-normed choices - for example, that they should give a toy truck to their son rather than their daughter.

The children's more flexible attitudes first became apparent with a question that asked whether it was okay for gender norms to be reversed in another country - for example, Would it be OK in another country for boys to babysit more? Overall, most children (79 per cent) said this is okay, although there was a tendency for older children to be more accepting of this idea (60-65 per cent of 4-year-olds said it was OK, but this was not high enough to show they were doing anything other than just answering the question randomly).

Another question raised the issue of individual preferences - for instance, the children were asked who should go to the babysitting class - the son or daughter - if, say, the son loves babysitting? This time the children of all ages were more likely to say that the son should do the babysitting, although those aged 6 years and upwards were more likely to give this kind of answer than the 4- and 5-year-olds.

Two final types of question related to rules in the USA and in another country. For instance, "Joey's parents decide to send him to babysitting class but they learn the school forbids boys from doing the class - is that rule OK or not OK?",  "What about the same rule in another country?" Most of the children (76 per cent) said this rule was not OK, even in another country. However, once again there was an age effect, with older children being more likely to condemn the rule, and the youngest children providing a mix of answers suggesting they could have been guessing.

"Gender norms are not uniformly judged as inflexible even at the youngest ages represented in this study," the researchers said. Furthermore, from the older children's open-ended explanations for their answers (the younger children tended not to articulate reasons), it was also clear that most of them did not see adherence to gender norms as morally obligatory. "Insofar as the older children invoked moral obligations it was to reject the regulation of gender-related activities," the researchers said.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Conry-Murray, C., and Turiel, E. (2012). Jimmy’s Baby Doll and Jenny’s Truck: Young Children’s Reasoning About Gender Norms. Child Development, 83 (1), 146-158 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8624.2011.01696.x

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

People dream about approaching things more than they dream about running away from them.

When getting angry is smart: Emotional preferences and emotional intelligence.

Towards the “Baby Connectome”: Mapping the Structural Connectivity of the Newborn Brain.

A brief history of social scientists’ attempts to measure passionate love.

This is the first report of tool-using behaviour in a wild brown bear.

On keeping your enemies close: Powerful leaders seek proximity to ingroup power threats.

Can an anger face also be scared? Malleability of facial expressions.

Republicans prefer leaders who they think look like a stereotypical republican: "Political Facial Stereotypes Predict Candidate Electoral Success Among Right-Leaning Voters"

What do music preferences reveal about personality? - a study with young Germans.

Rethinking the Emotional Brain.

Failing the Future: Three Unsuccessful Attempts to Replicate Bem's ‘Retroactive Facilitation of Recall’ Effect.

Seeing pics of high-calorie foods heightened the pleasure derived from a neutral taste. 

"arousal is a fundamental mechanism mediating the effect of emotion on time perception ... " but it's not the whole story.
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Mild intoxication aids creative problem solving

Alcohol abuse by gifted individuals often ends in tragedy, as in the case of the late Amy Winehouse. But there's also anecdotal evidence through history that alcohol can enhance creativity. Many of our most talented musicians (e.g. Beethoven) and writers (e.g. Poe) are known to have used alcohol, sometimes along with other substances, which some have associated with their achievements. Until now, however, researchers haven't tested the creative benefits of alcohol intoxication in a lab situation.

Andrew Jarosz and his team recruited 40 male social drinkers aged 21 to 30. All were required to abstain from alcohol and drugs for 24 hours prior to the experiment and to avoid food and caffeine for 4 hours prior. Half the participants were allocated to the alcohol condition and they consumed enough vodka to achieve a blood alcohol concentration of .07 (approximately this equates to an average-sized man drinking two pints of beer). The other participants acted as controls and consumed no alcohol.

Next, all the participants completed the "Remote Associates Test", a popular test of insightful thinking in which three words are presented on each round (e.g. coin, quick, spoon) and the aim is to identify the one word that best fits these three (e.g. silver). Relevant past research has shown, paradoxically, that people with higher working memory capacity often perform worse at this task because they persist with pursuing lines of thought triggered by misleading words.

The key finding of the new research is that the intoxicated participants solved more items on the Remote Associates Test compared with the control participants (they solved 58 per cent of 15 items on average vs. 42 per cent average success achieved by controls), and they tended to solve the items more quickly (11.54 seconds per item vs. 15.24 seconds). Moreover, the intoxicated participants tended to rate their experience of problem solving as more insightful, like an Aha! moment, and less analytic. They also performed worse on a working memory test, as you might expect.

Jarosz and his team said that mild intoxication may have these benefits for tasks like the Remote Associates Test because being mildly drunk facilitates a divergent, diffuse mode of thought, which is useful for such tasks where the answer requires thinking on a tangent. The new finding complements a study covered on the Digest earlier this year that found participants performed better on a creative problem-solving task during their least favoured time of day - again, presumably because their state of grogginess encouraged a divergent thinking style.

There's even research showing superior performance on matchstick arithmetic problems (in which equations written in matchsticks must be corrected by moving a single matchstick) by participants with frontal brain damage vs. controls, again the suggestion being that having impaired attentional control can sometimes be advantageous.

Jarosz and his colleagues concluded: "Though only a first step, the current research represents the first empirical demonstration of alcohol's effects on creative problem solving, while also providing suggestions of the critical underlying mechanisms that allow for this benefit in problem solving performance."

The Digest asked co-author Jenny Wiley if there was a risk this research could encourage alcohol abuse. "We tested what happens when people are tipsy -- not when people drank to extreme," she told us. "There could be no argument from these findings that drinking excessively would have the same effects."

She stressed the research was part of a wider line of enquiry showing how different mind-sets can affect creative problem solving - other research by her lab and elsewhere has shown that being in a positive mood is also beneficial; as is telling people to go with their gut feelings; so too having early bilingual experience, probably because it allows people to flip between different ways of looking at a problem.

"So the bottom line," Wiley said, "is that we think being too focused can blind you to novel possibilities, and a broader, more diffuse or more flexible attentional state may be needed for creative solutions to emerge. Some folks may choose a pint of ale as their muse, others can choose one of these other contexts ... ".

 _________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Jarosz, A., Colflesh, G., and Wiley, J. (2012). Uncorking the muse: Alcohol intoxication facilitates creative problem solving. Consciousness and Cognition, 21 (1), 487-493 DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2012.01.002

Previously on the Digest: Would the jazz greats have been so great without the drugs?

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Tuck into our latest round-up of the best psych and neuro links.

The dilemma of weak neuroimaging papers - Daniel Bor explains all on his new blog and then other experts comment, including Neuroskeptic, Jon Simons, Dorothy Bishop et al.

The last of the split-brain patients.

A failed replication of one of Darly Bem's dramatic psi-effect experiments from 2010 has finally found a home to be published in - Chris French explains the background. (Check out the Digest coverage of the Bem studies from 2010). The new failed replication is here, and now features a reply from Bem and a reply back from French et al.

One for the diary - Prof. Sarah-Jayne Blakemore on the "social brain in adolescence" at the Royal Institution on March 30.

"Around 20 per cent of psychologists acting as expert witnesses for the family courts are not qualified" - Channel 4 reports on an investigation by forensic psychologist Prof. Jane Ireland.

Is neuroscience the new freakonomics?

Podcast of the latest Maudsley debate: "This house believes that psychoanalysis has a valuable place in modern mental health service"

"Saying you are fond of someone might make you actually like that person"

The story of the teenage girls in a New York town afflicted with a twitching disorder

Make your own thinking cap (requires printer and scissors).

BBC Horizon episode on the unconscious mind is available on iPlayer for 5 weeks.

360 degree hi-res view of a male human brain

Fallout from the failed replication of Bargh's 1996 classic stereotype priming study. Several psychologists have posted their views online, including Matt Lieberman and Daniel Simons.

The image of the 'creative type' is a myth - excerpt from Jonah Lehrer's new book

Memory champ Joshua Foer was a guest on this week's Guardian Science podcast.

"Every time we blink, a wave of activity sweeps through our brain - and this could be a serious problem for some fMRI researchers" - Neuroskeptic blogs on a new study.

"Big changes are proposed for the way autism is diagnosed. Two leading experts argue for and against the suggested redefinition"

Newly posted TED talk - Psychologist Jonathan Haidt asks a simple, but difficult question: why do we search for self-transcendence? 

BBC reports on research suggesting that voters prefer candidates with a deeper voice. The Digest covered some related research recently: Want to feel powerful? Do a Barry White impression.

Do E-Books Make It Harder to Remember What You Just Read?

Why the world needs introverts

Attractive people are less shallow

The psychology of post-coital behaviours.

Why can smells unlock forgotten memories? (Related research covered by the Digest: Do smells really trigger particularly evocative memories?)

That's all, enjoy your weekend!

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How killing begets more killing (of bugs)

"At first killing was obligatory; afterward we got used to it. We became naturally cruel. We no longer needed encouragement or fines to kill, or even orders or advice." Jean-Baptise Murangira, a killer from Rwanda.
There's plenty of anecdotal evidence that killing escalates - that the more a person kills, the easier they find it to kill again. Andy Martens and Spee Kosloff have investigated this idea experimentally using a bug killing paradigm. Undergrad participants took part in what they thought was a study looking at the ways that exterminators deal with bugs. In fact no bugs were hurt during this research and participants were debriefed "sensitively" at the end. Three participants dropped out after reading the consent form and a further three were omitted from analysis because they suspected they weren't really killing the bugs.

The fifty remaining participants (29 women) were each left in a room alone and given 12 seconds to feed as many of the 21 available woodlice as they wanted, one at a time, into an extermination machine - an adapted coffee grinder with a funnel for inserting the bugs. The woodlice had been warmed briefly with a hair dryer so that they were moving about, thereby ensuring that participants knew they were alive. After the first 12-second phase, the researcher returned to the room briefly to tell the participants that they had a further 12 seconds to repeat the exercise anew. The key test was whether the participants would kill more bugs on the second round.

Crucially, half of the participants had been told that the whole thing was merely a simulation - no bugs would die in either round because the funnel was blocked. These participants inserted the same number of bugs on the second round as they did on the first round (approximately 5.5 bugs on average). By contrast, the other participants who'd been told that the killing was real tended to insert more bugs into the exterminator during the second round (5.4 bugs on average vs. 4.6 on average during the first round).

Martens and Kosloff said this provides evidence that killing escalates. The fact that the escalation was only observed for the participants who thought they were killing shows that the effect wasn't merely due to practice. Earlier research similarly showed that participants instructed to kill more bugs in an initial phase (vs. those told to kill fewer) tended to kill more bugs voluntarily in a second phase - but only if they believed the killing was real.

Why should killing escalate in this way? Martens and Kosloff's theory is that it probably has to do with the justification of earlier actions and with desensitisation. Killing may particularly provoke these reactions in killers because unlike other unethical acts, it isn't possible to undo an earlier killing and amends can't be made to the killed. Other possible factors that lead to escalation could include increased arousal and feelings of power and excitement.

"The impetus of this work was not to develop an understanding of bug-killing per se, but to aid an understanding of situations in which people kill other people," the researchers said. "Perhaps [results like these] can inform the generation of questions necessary for developing a well-rounded understanding of real-world consequences of killing and violence."

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Martens, A., and Kosloff, S. (2012). Evidence that Killing Escalates Within-Subjects in a Bug-Killing Paradigm. Aggressive Behavior DOI: 10.1002/ab.21412

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Thinking about our hourly wage stops us from smelling the roses

Thinking about the monetary value of our time prevents us from being able to enjoy those moments when we're not working. That's the implication of new research by Sanford DeVoe and Julian House. Once we think about our time in monetary terms, they say, any time not working becomes lost revenue. This makes us impatient to get back to work and stops us from savouring the moment.

In an initial study, fifty-three students at a Canadian University answered questions about how much they expected to work and earn in their first year after graduating. Crucially, half of them answered a further question about how that would translate into an hourly wage. Next, the students were given ten minutes free time to browse the web. The key finding is that the students who hadn't thought about their hourly wage were happier after the web browsing than they were before - they'd obviously made the most of the chance to surf the internet. By contrast, the students who'd thought about their post-graduation hourly wage were no happier after the web browsing than they were before. "Their experience of this leisure period lost some of its hedonic value and failed to bring about any improvement in their happiness," the researchers said.

A second study tested if thinking about the monetary value of time has this adverse effect because it makes us impatient. This time hundreds of participants were recruited via Amazon's Mechanical Turk (a site for recruiting people to work on problems at their computers). The participants listened to 86 seconds of "the Flower Duet" from the opera Lakmé after answering some work-related questions, which either did or didn't involve thinking about their hourly pay. After the music, the participants who'd previously worked out their hourly rate for the past year were less happy than other participants. What's more, this difference in happiness was entirely mediated by their impatience. The participants who'd worked out their hourly rate tended to agree with statements like "I was impatient for the music to end" and to disagree with statements like "I felt the music was a relaxing break".

If thinking about the monetary value of our time prevents us from savouring the moment, what if we're compensated for that time? A final study tested this idea. Again, some participants worked out their hourly wage before listening to a short piece of music. However, this time some of them were given a small additional participation fee for the time spent listening to the music. With this payment, the participants who'd thought about their hourly wage were able to appreciate the music just as much as the other participants who hadn't thought about their hourly pay.

The researchers said these new results show how modern working practices could affect the way we choose to spend our free time and how much we're able to enjoy it. In particular, with more people in part-time, flexi-time and freelance roles, time more than ever is likely to be perceived as having a monetary value. "Thinking about time in terms of money is poised to affect our ability to smell the proverbial roses," the researchers concluded.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

DeVoe, S., and House, J. (2012). Time, money, and happiness: How does putting a price on time affect our ability to smell the roses? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 48 (2), 466-474 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2011.11.012

Further reading: Being paid by the hour changes the way we think about time.

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.
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The woman who grew phantom fingers that she'd never physically had

Inside the human brain there is a map of the body drawn in neural tissue. When a person loses a limb, the neural representation of that body part still exists in the map, and more often than not, it continues to give rise to "phantom" sensations. Sometimes neurons in adjacent areas of the body map invade the tissue that represents the missing limb. This can lead to the curious situation where stimulation of a person's face (or other areas) provokes feelings in their phantom limb, as documented by the great neuroscientist V.S. Ramachandran. Cases like this are often cited as evidence for the brain's plasticity.

Now Ramachandran and his colleague Paul McGeoch have reported a phantom limb case that illustrates how aspects of the body map are apparently hard-wired. The case is a 57-year-old woman (known as R.N.) who was born with a deformed right hand consisting of only three fingers and a rudimentary thumb. After a car crash at age 18, R.N.'s deformed hand was amputated, which gave rise to feelings of a phantom hand. Curiously, R.N. experienced her phantom hand as having a full complement of five fingers, albeit that some of the digits were foreshortened. In other words, she was experiencing the sensation of having fingers that she'd never physically possessed.

R.N. was referred to the researchers more than 35 years after her accident, after her phantom hand had become unbearably painful and uncomfortable, including two of the fingers feeling as if they'd become twisted and bent until their tips touched. McGeoch and Ramachandran trained R.N. in using "mirror visual feedback", in which the reflection of her healthy left-hand was seen as superimposed onto where she felt her phantom right hand to be. After two weeks of 30-minutes daily feedback, R.N. was able to move her phantom fingers and was relieved of pain. Crucially, she also experienced that all five of her phantom fingers were now normal length.

McGeoch and Ramachandran said this case provides evidence that the brain has an innate template of a fully-formed hand. Freed from the visual, proprioceptive and tactile sensations of her deformed hand, and aided by the mirror training, R.N.s brain re-instated its innate map of a normal hand. "There appears to be a 'hard-wired' innately specified scaffold for body image," the researchers said. This account also helps explain the occurrence of phantom limbs in people born with missing limbs.

The researchers conceded that they were taking R.N.s account of her feelings on trust. It's possible she was confabulating - although they think this unlikely. If she were, McGeoch and Ramachandran think it more likely that R.N. would have claimed to have had normal length fingers prior to the mirror training.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

McGeoch, P., and Ramachandran, V. (2012). The appearance of new phantom fingers post-amputation in a phocomelus. Neurocase, 18 (2), 95-97 DOI: 10.1080/13554794.2011.556128

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.
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Why you should watch a horror film before going to the art gallery

A proun by El Lissitsky
If you're looking to enhance your experience of abstract art, you may want to consider spending some pre-gallery time watching a horror film. Kendall Eskine and his colleagues Natalie Kacinik and Jesse Prinz have investigated how different emotions, as well as physiological arousal, influence people's sublime experiences whilst viewing abstract art. Their finding is that fear, but not happiness or general arousal, makes art seem more sublime.

Eighty-five participants were allocated to one of five conditions prior to looking at the art work. Some of them watched a 14-second scary video clip; others watched a 14-second happy video clip; some did 30 jumping jack exercises (designed to induce high physiological arousal); some did 15 jumping jacks (low arousal); whilst the remainder acted as controls and simply looked at the art without any preceding activity or intervention. The participants were questioned later and the different conditions had the desired effect - for example, the scary film left the participants in that condition feeling scared, and the happy film left others feeling equally happy.

The art work was four paintings by the Russian abstract artist El Lissitsky, each made up of simple geometric shapes and lines. Each painting was shown for thirty seconds and participants rated their experience of the art in terms of how inspiring it was, stimulating, dull, exciting, moving, boring, uninteresting, rousing/stirring, imposing, and forgetful. These factors were intended to tap into Edmund Burke's conception of the sublime: "that state of the soul in which all its motions are suspended ... so entirely filled with its object."

The main result is that participants who'd watched the scary video clip tended to rate the art as more sublime than did participants in all the other conditions. By contrast, ratings given by participants in the other conditions didn't differ from each other. This suggests fear plays a special role in the sublime experience of art. Arousal may have played a lesser part - across conditions, participants' arousal scores correlated with their sublime ratings of the art.

Why should feeling afraid enhance the sublime power of art? "The capacity for a work of art to grab our interest and attention, to remove us from daily life, may stem from its ability to trigger our evolved mechanisms for coping with danger," the researchers said. "Art is not typically described as scary, but it can be surprising, elicit goose bumps, and inspire awe. Like discovering a grand vista in nature, artwork presents new horizons that pose challenges as well as opportunities." They added that future research is needed to explore the aesthetic effects of other emotions and to test emotional effects on different types of art.

Eskine, K., Kacinik, N., and Prinz, J. (2012). Stirring images: Fear, not happiness or arousal, makes art more sublime. Emotion DOI: 10.1037/a0027200

Post written by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.
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Tuck into our round-up of the latest and best psych and neuro links:

" up to one-third of patients who consult with neurologists typically have symptoms that are not fully explained by neurological damage" Vaughan Bell with a fascinating overview of what we do and don't know about hysteria or "conversion disorder".

Newly posted TED talk - Susan Cain on the power of introverts.

Why do we sometimes get songs (earworms) stuck in our heads? Check here for our earlier coverage of earworm research.

After a replication failure in another lab, John Bargh defends his 1996 study that showed non-conscious exposure to the concept of ageing led participants to walk more slowly.

Sleep less and waste more time online: the temptations of cyberloafing - from our sister blog, The Occupational Digest.

James Flynn previews his forthcoming book "Are We Getting Smarter? Rising IQ and the Twenty-First Century.”

" ... the neural basis of metacognitive behaviour: what happens in the brain when we think about our thoughts and decisions or assess how well we know something?"

Why we have cumulative culture but chimps and monkeys don't. Ed Yong reports on a study that compared how groups of children, chimps and capuchins attempted to complete the same puzzle-based task (it's the first time researchers have compared the performance of three species on the same task).

Free sample chapter from new edition of BPS-approved social psych textbook.

Jonah Lehrer and Charles Fernyhough discuss what novelists can learn from neuroscience.

Why The Future of Neuroscience Will Be Emotionless - interesting blog post by Sam McNerney on the neuroscience of emotions.

Wiley-Blackwell have brought out a psychology app for iPhones and iPads - keep up to date with psychology blogs, new articles, special issues, conferences etc.

How Much of the Neuroimaging Literature Should We Discard?

"On average, autistic brains had many more neurons in some regions than normal brains. In the prefrontal cortex, autistic children had 67 percent more neurons than average." Carl Zimmer on the The Troublesome Bloom of Autism.

Autism Matters free podcast series.

Beautiful - a hand-painted phrenology bike helmet.

What is emotional intelligence and can you improve it?

Do dating algorithms for finding the perfect partner really work?

Welcome to Stanford University's Love Competition: The contestant who generates the greatest level of love-related brain activity wins.

With adolescence getting longer and middle age becoming elastic, is it time to redefine the stages of life?

Just what is "middle age"? - BBC magazine feature. BBC Radio 4's Start the Week explored this question and featured psychologist Claudia Hammond among the guests (her new book is called Time Warped: Unlocking the Mysteries of Time Perception).

What drives some fathers to kill their children and partners before committing suicide. BBC Radio 4's File on Four  investigated (now on iPlayer).

That's it, y'all have yourselves a lovely weekend!
Post compiled by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.
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Eye-catching studies that didn't make the final cut:

The last chocolate tastes the best.

Men with beards are judged to be higher status, more aggressive, but less attractive.

Taking the beta-blocker propranolol associated with reduced implicit racism.

People who are kind to themselves are more caring and supportive of their romantic partners.

Violence among female stalkers.

Mental fatigue makes us more sensitive to serious transgressions but actually less sensitive to minor ones.

The map in your head faces north

You look as good as you feel. Exercise benefits people's body image even when their weight/shape hasn't changed.

How impulsive tendencies and attitudes interact with self-control to predict time spent watching porn

If you're slow at the traffic lights, you're likely to get honked earlier if you're in a red car.

Suffering childhood maltreatment is associated with having reduced volume in parts of the hippocampus.

Food deprivation sensitizes pain perception. The finding has implications for emotional disturbances associated with eating disorders.

Surely snack companies will resist this: occasional differently coloured crisps in a tube of crisps was found to reduce consumption - presumably because they provide a marker of how much you've eaten.

Public skepticism of psychology: Why many people perceive the study of human behavior as unscientific.

We forage through our semantic memories like animals forage for food.


 Post compiled by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.
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We "cyberloaf" more when we're tired

This post originally appeared on the BPS Occupational Digest and was written by Alex Fradera.

Cyberloafing is when work time is frittered away on an unrelated online activity, whether it be web comics, perusing news sites or watching the 1982 snooker championship final. A new article suggests that we may be more prone to it when we haven't had enough sleep. Its authors, led by David Wagner, began sifting through Google's publicly available data for rates of Entertainment-related searches, judged to be a reasonable proxy of cyberloafing. But how can anonymous data shed light on an issue involving sleeping habits?

The investigators recognised an event that affects everyone's sleep: when the clocks go forward for Daylight Saving Time. Prior evidence suggests we lose on average 40 minutes of sleep per night following the switch, as our body rhythms struggle to adjust. (Exploiting a fixed phenomena is an example of a quasi-experiment; another would be the hurricane that occurred within this study on emotional hangovers.) The researchers used data from 203 metropolitan areas in the USA, weighted by area size, across 2004-2009. They found that Entertainment-related searches on the Monday after DST were 3.1% more prevalent than the previous Monday, and 6.4% than the subsequent Monday . It's worth noting that the data isn't segmented by work and leisure hours, so the effect includes extra surfing that might occur later at night, when people are still feeling awake; however, the bulk of online activity occurs during working hours.

A second study took this to controlled lab conditions. 96 undergraduate students wore a sleep monitoring bracelet overnight before attending a lab session to complete a computer task - assessing a potential new professor for the university by watching a 42 minute video lecture. What the researchers were really interested in was the amount of time they would spend surfing the internet instead. Cyberloafing was higher for participants who experienced more instances of sleep interruption or less sleep overall, as recorded by their monitoring bracelet.

This is another piece of research advancing the ego depletion theory of why we fail to effectively regulate behaviour. This states that willpower is a resource that is used up through effortful acts, leaving us susceptible to temptation or laziness. Researchers have previously argued that sleep is a means of recharging our regulatory resources, and these studies confirm that less sleep does indeed make us prey to counterproductive activities like cyberloafing. However, those who naturally exercise self-discipline may be somewhat resistant: in study two, the effect of sleep interruption on cyberloafing was weaker for participants who scored high on a measure of conscientiousness administered beforehand. (The effect of less overall sleep still remained.) This is consistent with ego depletion, as highly conscientious types are more likely to actively use methods to regulate their effort to overcome counterproductive behaviours, rather than taking the path of least resistance.

The costs of cyberloafing have been estimated at around £300m a year, so it's worth understanding when we're more vulnerable to its temptations; UK employers should remember this when our clocks go forward on the 25th of this month. Aware of its power, I've included only one extraneous, non-work related link in the above text, and it's a niche one at that. But if you're a classic snooker fan with a tricky deadline, I'm so sorry. Just think about all the time I wasted considering the alternatives.

Wagner, D., Barnes, C., Lim, V., and Ferris, D. (2012). Lost Sleep and Cyberloafing: Evidence From the Laboratory and a Daylight Saving Time Quasi-Experiment. Journal of Applied Psychology DOI: 10.1037/a0027557
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