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Fri, 25 Jul 2014   Brain tumor causes, risk factors elude scientists

Today, nearly 700,000 people in the U.S. are living with a brain tumor, and yet, when it comes to pinpointing causes or risk factors, scientists are still searching for answers. "Unlike the strong correlation between smoking and lung cancer, we just haven't found a specific risk factor like that for brain tumors," said a researcher. "We have determined that ionizing radiation to the head is a risk factor when received in therapeutic doses, but even in those cases, the risk of developing a brain tumor is low."

Thu, 24 Jul 2014   Books, videos and other 'experiential products' provide same happiness boost as life experiences

'Experiential products,' items such as books or musical instruments that are designed to create or enhance an experience, can make shoppers just as happy as life experiences, according to a new study. While life experiences help consumers feel closer to others, experiential products fulfill their users' need for 'competence' by utilizing their skills and knowledge. Both effects provide the same happiness boost, researchers found.

Thu, 24 Jul 2014   Protein couple controls flow of information into brain's memory center

Neuroscientists have succeeded in providing new insights into how the brain works by analyzing tissue samples from mice to identify how two specific proteins, 'CKAMP44' and 'TARP Gamma-8', act upon the brain's memory center. Brain function depends on the active communication between nerve cells, known as neurons. For this purpose, neurons are woven together into a dense network where they constantly relay signals to one another.

Thu, 24 Jul 2014   A reward is valued more if you choose it yourself: New quirky byproduct of learning from reward

Many people value rewards they choose themselves more than rewards they merely receive, even when the rewards are actually equivalent. A new study provides evidence that this long-observed quirk of behavior is a byproduct of how the brain reinforces learning from reward.

Thu, 24 Jul 2014   Metastatic brain tumor treatment could be on the horizon with use of SapC-DOPS

A new study has provided hope that previously studied SapC-DOPS could be used for treatment of brain cancer that has spread. "These results support the potential of SapC-DOPS for the diagnosis and therapy of primary and metastatic brain tumors which is critically needed to increase survival rates of patients with this illness,” one researcher said.

BPS Research Digest Blog

   How our judgments about criminals are swayed by disgust, biological explanations and animalistic descriptions

We expect of our jurors and judges calm, reasoned evaluation of the evidence. Of course we know the reality is rather different - prejudice and emotional reactions will always play their part. Now two new studies add insight into the ways people's legal judgements depart from cool objectivity.

Beatrice Capestany and Lasana Harris focused on two main factors - the disgust level of a crime, and whether or not the perpetrators' personality was described in biological terms. Seventeen participants were presented with pairs of crime vignettes, with each crime in a pair matched for severity in terms of US Federal sentencing guidelines, but one crime high in disgust value, the other low. For example, one vignette described a man pulling a gun on a love rival, taking aim and missing. The matching vignette described a man who stabbed his boss with scissors, once in the neck and once in the back, causing serious blood loss.

Each vignette concluded with a personality description that was either trait-based (e.g. Gerald has an impulsive personality) or biological (e.g. Terry has a gene mutation that makes him impulsive). These contrasting personality descriptions were always irrelevant to the crime - so, in the aforementioned impulsivity examples, the crime in question was pre-meditated.

Capestany and Harris found that participants recommended more serious punishments for crimes that were more disgusting. This sounds like emotion clouding judgment. But in a sense, greater disgust made participants more reliable decision makers because when disgust levels were high, the participants' recommendations more closely matched Federal sentencing guidelines. Perhaps, the researchers surmised, this is because the US legal system is rooted in historical moral judgments that were guided by disgust reactions.

Capestany and Harris also scanned the brains of their participants. This revealed greater engagement of brain regions involved in logical reasoning when participants were presented with crimes higher in disgust. In other words, a stronger emotional reaction to the crime actually led to greater activation of neural areas involved in logic.

When it came to the influence of the personality descriptions, participants judged criminals to be less culpable when they'd been described in biological terms, presumably because biological factors are perceived as deterministic and reduce the sense that the criminal has control over their behaviour. The brain scans showed greater recruitment of logical reasoning centres when vignettes included trait (non-biological) descriptions of the criminal's personality, so perhaps participants jumped to conclusions when given biological information.

"Biological personality descriptions dehumanise the person, reducing them to a mechanistic, biological organism and not a human being whose mental states are highly unique and salient during responsibility judgments," the researchers said.

Another way that a suspect can be dehumanised is by describing their actions in animalistic terms. This is what happened in the the UK with the real life case of Raoul Moat in 2010, after he shot three people in England. He was described in the media as a "brute" and like "an animal in the wild" when he went on the run.

A team led by Eduardo Vasquez has investigated people's sentencing decisions when criminal acts are described in animalistic terms (e.g. "... the perpetrator slunk onto the victim's premises ... He roared at the victim before pounding him with his fists") versus in non-animalistic terms, but with wording matched for seriousness (e.g. "the perpetrator stole onto the victim's premises ... He shouted at the victim before punching him with his fists").

Seventy-six participants recommended more serious sentences (one to two years extra duration) for criminals whose behaviour was described in animalistic terms. A follow-up study suggested this was because criminals described in animalistic terms were predicted to be more likely to re-offend.

Vasquez and his colleagues said their results "add to a growing body of literature examining the consequences of dehumanisation". They admitted that the implications for actual trials are unclear - after all, the descriptions they used are rarely heard in court. Nonetheless, they said there could be real-life relevance: "Media reports influence legal proceedings and most people rely on the media for information about criminal justice... People exposed to these [animalistic] descriptions may vote for harsher policies to address crime."

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Capestany, B., & Harris, L. (2014). Disgust and biological descriptions bias logical reasoning during legal decision-making Social Neuroscience, 9 (3), 265-277 DOI: 10.1080/17470919.2014.892531

Vasquez, E., Loughnan, S., Gootjes-Dreesbach, E., & Weger, U. (2014). The animal in you: Animalistic descriptions of a violent crime increase punishment of perpetrator Aggressive Behavior, 40 (4), 337-344 DOI: 10.1002/ab.21525

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.



2014-07-24   Why job interviewers should focus on the candidates, not selling their organisation

It’s hard to find the best person for the job through an interview. New research uncovers part of the problem: judging a candidate’s calibre becomes trickier when we’re also trying to sell them the benefits of joining the organisation.

In an initial study, participants were asked to interview a person (another participant) who was acting as an applicant for a fictional position. Half the interviewers were told their priority was to get a good sense of the applicant, while the rest had to prioritise attracting the candidate to the vacant position. Following the interview, the interviewer participants then had to judge the applicant’s character by rating their Core Self Evaluation (CSE), a measure of their self-esteem and belief in their own competence, which is reliably predictive of job performance. Which set of interviewers ought to do a better job?

Researchers Jennifer Marr and Dan Cable tackled this topic because two fields of psychology make competing claims. Research on automatic processing suggests that when we apply explicit, rational processes to judgments that rely on quick intuition, we only muddy the water, or worse, become so self-conscious that we choke under pressure. We already know that some elements of applicant evaluation are fast - see this piece, so maybe we make our best judgments when we’re less concerned about making them? On the other hand, the theory of motivated cognition argues that when insufficiently focused we become vulnerable to biases or even blind to the obvious, as shown in the now-classic inattentional blindness experiments where focus on one task (counting basketball passes) makes it hard to spot salient events like the appearance of someone in an ape suit.

The new findings back the motivated cognition account - participants asked to entice the applicant were poorer judges of character than those explicitly asked to evaluate them. A follow-up field study found similar effects in genuine interviews within two samples: applicants to an MBA program and teachers applying for school assignments. In both samples, interviewees rated as having high CSE were more likely to go onto success - job offers for MBAs or "above and beyond" citizenship behaviours by the teachers - but only when the ratings came from interviewers who reported having a strong focus on evaluation. Those who reported giving more attention to selling the role produced CSE estimates that didn’t predict future success.

The authors note in their conclusion that “interviewers who focused only on evaluating applicants actually believed they were less able to select the best applicants than those who adopted a selling focus.” In fact the reverse was true, and the risk goes the other way: when we focus too much on soliciting applicants, we can miss the gorilla in the room: that they simply aren’t up to snuff.
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  ResearchBlogging.orgMarr, J., & Cable, D. (2013). Do Interviewers Sell Themselves Short? The Effects of Selling Orientation on Interviewers' Judgments Academy of Management Journal, 57 (3), 624-651 DOI: 10.5465/amj.2011.0504

--further reading--
Experienced job interviewers are no better than novices at spotting lying candidates
Mind where you sit - how being in the middle is associated with superior performance

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.



2014-07-23   What the textbooks don't tell you - one of psychology's most famous experiments was seriously flawed

Zimbardo speaking in '09
Conducted in 1971, the Stanford Prison Experiment (SPE) has acquired a mythical status and provided the inspiration for at least two feature-length films. You'll recall that several university students allocated to the role of jailor turned brutal and the study had to be aborted prematurely. Philip Zimbardo, the experiment's lead investigator, says the lesson from the research is that in certain situations, good people readily turn bad. "If you put good apples into a bad situation, you’ll get bad apples," he has written.

The SPE was criticised back in the 70s, but that criticism has noticeably escalated and widened in recent years. New details to emerge show that Zimbardo played a key role in encouraging his "guards" to behave in tyrannical fashion. Critics have pointed out that only one third of guards behaved sadistically (this argues against the overwhelming power of the situation). Question marks have also been raised about the self-selection of particular personality types into the study. Moreover, in 2002, the social psychologists Steve Reicher and Alex Haslam conducted the BBC Prison Study to test the conventional interpretation of the SPE. The researchers deliberately avoided directing their participants as Zimbardo had his, and this time it was the prisoners who initially formed a strong group identity and overthrew the guards.

Given that the SPE has been used to explain modern-day atrocities, such as at Abu Ghraib, and given that nearly two million students are enrolled in introductory psychology courses in the US, Richard Griggs, professor emeritus at the University of Florida, says "it is especially important that coverage of it in our texts be accurate."

So, have the important criticisms and reinterpretations of the SPE been documented by key introductory psychology textbooks? Griggs analysed the content of 13 leading US introductory psychology textbooks, all of which have been revised in recent years, including:  Discovering Psychology (Cacioppo and Freberg, 2012); Psychological Science (Gazzaniga et al, 2012); and Psychology (Schacter et al, 2011).

Of the 13 analysed texts, 11 dealt with the Stanford Prison Experiment, providing between one to seven paragraphs of coverage. Nine included photographic support for the coverage. Five provided no criticism of the SPE at all. The other six provided only cursory criticism, mostly focused on the questionable ethics of the study. Only two texts mentioned the BBC Prison Study. Only one text provided a formal scholarly reference to a critique of the SPE.

Why do the principal psychology introductory textbooks, at least in the US, largely ignore the wide range of important criticisms of the SPE? Griggs didn't approach the authors of the texts so he can't know for sure. He thinks it unlikely that ignorance is the answer. Perhaps the authors are persuaded by Zimbardo's answers to his critics, says Griggs, but even so, surely the criticisms should be mentioned and referenced. Another possibility is that textbook authors are under pressure to shorten their texts, but surely they are also under pressure to keep them up-to-date.

It would be interesting to compare coverage of the SPE in European introductory texts. Certainly there are contemporary books by British psychologists that do provide more in-depth critical coverage of the SPE.

Griggs' advice for textbook authors is to position coverage of the SPE in the research methods chapter (instead of under social psychology), and to use the experiment's flaws as a way to introduce students to key issues such as ecological validity, ethics, demand characteristics and subsequent conflicting results. "In sum," he writes, "the SPE and its criticisms comprise a solid thread to weave numerous research concepts together into a good 'story' that would not only enhance student learning but also lead students to engage in critical thinking about the research process and all of the possible pitfalls along the way."

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Griggs, R. (2014). Coverage of the Stanford Prison Experiment in Introductory Psychology Textbooks Teaching of Psychology, 41 (3), 195-203 DOI: 10.1177/0098628314537968

--further reading--
Foundations of sand? The lure of academic myths and their place in classic psychology
Tyranny and The Tyrant,  From Stanford to Abu Ghraib (pdf; Phil Banyard reviews Zimbardo's book The Lucifer Effect).

Image credit: Jdec/Wikipedia
Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.





Cognitive Daily

Wed, 20 Jan 2010   Cognitive Daily Closes Shop after a Fantastic Five-Year Run

Five years ago today, we made the first post that would eventually make its way onto a blog called Cognitive Daily. We thought we were keeping notes for a book, but in reality we were helping build a network that represented a new way of sharing psychology with the world. Cognitive Daily wasn’t the first…

Wed, 20 Jan 2010   Both musicians and non-musicians can perceive bitonality

Take a listen to this brief audio clip of “Unforgettable.” Aside from the fact that it’s a computer-generated MIDI performance, do you hear anything unusual? If you’re a non-musician like me, you might not have noticed anything. It sounds basically like the familiar song, even though the synthesized sax isn’t nearly as pleasing as the…

Thu, 14 Jan 2010   Synesthesia and the McGurk effect

We’ve discussed synesthesia many times before on Cognitive Daily — it’s the seemingly bizarre phenomenon when one stimulus (e.g. a sight or a sound) is experienced in multiple modalities (e.g. taste, vision, or colors). For example, a person might experience a particular smell whenever a given word or letter is seen or heard. Sometimes particular…

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