the latest news from Psychology sites

ScienceDaily: Psychology News

Fri, 12 Feb 2016   Same gene dictates size of two sensory brain areas

The discovery has implications for understanding how the human brain evolved and how it varies between people

Fri, 12 Feb 2016   Memory replay prioritizes high-reward memories

Why do we remember some events, places and things, but not others? Our brains prioritize rewarding memories over others, and reinforce them by replaying them when we are at rest, according to new research.

Fri, 12 Feb 2016   Sleep apnea takes a toll on brain function

People with sleep apnea show significant changes in the levels of two important brain chemicals, which could be a reason that many have symptoms that impact their day-to-day lives, new research concludes.

Fri, 12 Feb 2016   Important role of nucleocytoplasmic transport in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and frontotemporal dementia

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD) are two devastating adult-onset neurodegenerative disorders. No cure exists for these diseases. Ten percent of ALS patients suffer from a familial form of the disease, while FTD is caused in 40% of patients by a genetic defect. In 2011, the most important genetic cause of ALS and FTD was discovered. The causative mutation was a repetition of a piece of non-coding DNA, a so called tandem repeat, in a gene with an unknown function, named C9orf72. A team of scientists has now discovered that proteins translated from this tandem repeat interfere with the nucleocytoplasmic transport which they found is essential for causing ALS and FTD.

Thu, 11 Feb 2016   Mommy and me: Study shows how affectionate mothering can combat the effects of maternal depression

Certain parenting strategies can combat the negative impacts of maternal depression on an infant, suggests the first study of its kind. The work sought to investigate how a depressed mother's neuroendocrine response to stress can program the infant's hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, a set of signals and relationships between the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland and the adrenals. The hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis is responsible for creating cortisol, a hormone released in response to stress.

BPS Research Digest Blog

   Link feast

Our editor's pick of this week's 10 best psychology and neuroscience links:

How the Fight Over Transgender Kids Got a Leading Sex Researcher Fired (long-form article)
An in-depth investigation by Jesse Singal at New York's Science of Us uncovers the truth about the seemingly scandalous dismissal of a gender dysphoria researcher in Canada.

What Is Reality? (radio show)
The neuroscientists David Eagleman and Sophie Scott were among the guests on a recent episode of The Infinite Monkey Cage on BBC Radio 4.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Can Change Your Brain Structure In Just a Few Weeks (news)
After nine weeks of CBT, socially anxious patients showed reductions in volume and activity in the amygdala, a brain structure involved in emotional process, reports The Spectator.

What Does a Psychologist Think of Kanye West's Twitter Feed? (gossip)
The BBC cuts through to the waffle to the most important issues of the day.

We Asked People To Tell Us Their Biggest Regrets — But What They All Had In Common Was Heartbreaking (video)
For one day a blackboard stood in the middle of New York City asking passersby to write down their biggest regrets.

People Are Animals, Too (essay)
The human brain is special. Just not that special. To understand animal minds, and our own place in the living world, we should remove ourselves from centre stage, argues Peter Aldhous at Mosaic.

New Frontiers of Family (magazine article)
At The Psychologist, Naomi Moller and Victoria Clarke explore embryo donation and voluntary childlessness, ahead of their British Psychological Society seminar series.

Feeling Sleepy? You Might Be at Risk of Falsely Confessing To a Crime You Did Not Commit (blog post)
Elizabeth Loftus and her colleagues discuss their new finding for The Conversation.

Why Contemplating Death Changes How You Think (research overview)
Reading this article could temporarily change your politics, biases and decision-making. Why? The very idea of death changes our thoughts in profound ways, writes Jonathan Jong at BBC Future.

Why You'll Never Buy the Perfect Ring, and Other Valentine's Day Stories (podcast)
The latest instalment of NPR's Hidden Brain podcast hosted by Shankar Vedanta (and check out our own Valentine's podcast from last year).

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

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2016-02-12   The personalty differences between students studying different academic subjects

Psych students tend to score highly in neuroticism and openness to experience
When I was at university it seemed fairly obvious that students studying the same academic subject often had similar personalities. The geography students were far more interested in partying than studying, the English lit undergrads always so nice and friendly, while my fellow psych students seemed quirkier and more eccentric than others. Of course these are highly subjective over-generalisations on my part, probably revealing more about my prejudices than anything else. However, in a new paper in Personality and Individual Differences, Anna Vedel at Aarhus University in Denmark has reviewed all the published evidence on how personality varies with students' choice of academic subject and she reports that there are consistent differences across subjects.

Vedel searched numerous academic databases looking for relevant studies and found 12 that involved personality tests conducted on 13,389 students. Most of the studies were conducted in North American and Europe and the average age of the participating students varied from 18 to 26 years.  All but three of the studies found that students' personalities differed according to their university subject (and one of the three that didn't find this result probably had too small a sample to detect differences). In statistical terms, the effect size of these personality differences by subject was medium (and large for the trait of openness).

Among the main findings: Psychology students, and those studying arts and humanities subjects, tended to score higher on neuroticism (emotional instability). Economics, politics and medicine students tended to score higher on extraversion than arts, humanities and sciences students. Law, business and economics scored lower on agreeableness, particularly in comparison with medicine, psych, science, arts and humanities students. Psych, humanities and arts students tended to score higher on openness to experience than others. And arts and humanities scored lower on conscientiousness than most.

There are some important flaws in the existing literature, most notably that many of the studies measured students' personalities after they had been enrolled on their courses for some time, thus making it tricky to know if people's personalities shape the subjects they choose, or if their experience studying a subject shapes their personality. However, Vedel notes that those studies that tested students soon after enrolment found results that were similar to the other studies that involved later measurements, which is consistent with the idea that personality influences the subjects that young people choose, rather than the other way around.

Vedel hopes that this line of research might one day be used to help guide students into making optimal decisions about what subject to study at university. However, she acknowledges that it remains to be seen if this will be possible because there is, as yet, little evidence on whether specific personality profiles are beneficial to students studying specific subjects. Another possibility, she writes, is that lecturers might be able to take note of the typical personality profile of students studying their subject and then adapt their teaching approach in a way that engages these kinds of students (though note, there is little evidence for students having different "learning styles").


Vedel, A. (2016). Big Five personality group differences across academic majors: A systematic review Personality and Individual Differences, 92, 1-10 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2015.12.011

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

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2016-02-11   Psychologists have looked into the importance of the pre-interview chitchat

Those first informal minutes really do matter
As a fan of fair job assessment, I’m bugged by the freeform chatter that kicks off most interviews – it allows influential first impressions to be formed in a yak about the traffic or some other trivial topic that has nothing to with the job. It’s true that interview structures have become more standardised over the years, but a new study in the Journal of Applied Psychology suggests these developments aren’t enough to counter the effect of early rapport. The research also addresses the heart of my concern: do first impressions actually provide important information, or simply introduce unfair bias?

Bryan Swider at Scheller College of Business at the Georgia Institute of Technology and his colleagues analysed the outcomes of mock interviews involving 163 accountancy students, who were rated by interviewers on their answers to 12 standardised questions. However, before the formal questioning period, the interviews began with a few minutes of rapport building, after which the interviewers noted down their first impressions. Did these preliminaries influence the overall interview scores?

They did. The overall scores given by the interviewers differed from those given by a separate set of expert reviewers, who were given video access only to the main Q&A phase, and whose ratings were therefore uncontaminated by informal first impressions. The discrepancy between this expert baseline and the interviewer scores was partly explained by taking interviewer first impression ratings into account – those students who made a good initial impression tended to receive more favourable scores from the interviewers for their answers to the formal questions, especially the first few, with the effect tailing off as the interview gathered pace.

What explains the influence of those first impressions? The expert raters also produced an "image score" for each interviewee based on their physical appearance, voice, and body language. Participants who scored higher for image were especially likely to receive inflated scores from the interviewers, suggesting that at least one of the influences of those first impressions was to do with good image management: suave candidates make better impressions.

But this wasn’t the whole story – something non-image related was also going on.
Past work by Swider and one of his co-authors, Murray Barrick, shows that positive first impressions are associated with candidate verbal skill and extraversion, two features that may be legitimately useful to the job. Consistent with this, in the current study the interviewers’ first impression scores correlated with the expert raters’ overall scores (which remember were based purely on the formal Q&A part of the interviews), suggesting that the early rapport gave a genuine preview into how the candidates would fare with the meat of the interview. All in all, the influence of interview first impressions may be partly unfair and superficial, but also communicate information that’s genuinely informative.

If we want to reduce the impact of first impressions, the authors suggest buffering the main part of the interview from the rapport phase with a few un-scored questions that soak up the effect. Explicitly rating the first impressions on criteria that can be tied back to the job (eloquence, flexibility) also makes things fairer. Beyond that, the researchers argue it is difficult to do away altogether with early chitchat – it’s expected by both parties and also a good way to ease candidates in to what is a stressful social situation. And looking at the mixed nature of first impressions – and recognising there is more to be understood – I wonder if it’s better after all to make peace with informal interview chat rather than trying to fight it.


Swider, B., Barrick, M., & Harris, T. (2016). Initial Impressions: What They Are, What They Are Not, and How They Influence Structured Interview Outcomes. Journal of Applied Psychology DOI: 10.1037/apl0000077

--further reading--
Do interviewers really make a hiring decision in the first four minutes?
The psychology of first impressions, digested.
Interview decisions are influenced by initial rapport

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

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