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Tue, 03 Mar 2015   Neuroscientists identify new way several brain areas communicate

Neuroscientists have identified a new pathway by which several brain areas communicate within the brain's striatum. The findings illustrate structural and functional connections that allow the brain to use reinforcement learning to make spatial decisions. Knowing how these specific pathways work together provides crucial insight into how learning occurs. It also could lead to improved treatments for Parkinson's disease.

Tue, 03 Mar 2015   ADHD plus childhood trauma heightens risk for self-harm, suicide

Young women with ADHD who have been exposed to abuse, neglect or other traumas in childhood and adolescence are at greater risk for self-injury, eating disorders and suicide than those with ADHD who were not mistreated in early youth, according to new research.

Mon, 02 Mar 2015   Researchers propose novel new treatment of stroke, other neurological diseases

Medicine should reconsider how it treats stroke and other neurological disorders, focusing on the intrinsic abilities of the brain and nervous system to heal themselves rather than the 'modest' benefits of clot-busting drugs and other neuroprotective treatments, experts suggest.

Mon, 02 Mar 2015   Low sugar uptake in brain appears to exacerbate Alzheimer's disease

A deficiency in the protein responsible for moving glucose across the brain's protective blood-brain barrier appears to intensify the neurodegenerative effects of Alzheimer's disease, according to a new mouse study. The research suggests that targeting the protein called GLUT1 could help prevent or slow the effects of Alzheimer's, especially among those at risk for the disease.

Mon, 02 Mar 2015   Scientists crack piece of neural code for learning, memory

Researchers describe how postmortem brain slices can be 'read' to determine how a rat was trained to behave in response to specific sounds, a new article suggests. The work provides one of the first examples of how specific changes in the activity of individual neurons encode particular acts of learning and memory in the brain.

BPS Research Digest Blog

   What use are flashbulb memories?

MJ Memorial at London's 02 Arena 
It could be the time you heard about the 9/11 terror attacks, or the moment you discovered that Michael Jackson had died. "Flashbulb memory" is the term psychologists use for when we remember the details of what we were doing and where we were when we heard dramatic news. What's the function of these memories, and is there any difference when the news is public or private, negative or positive?

Burcu Demiray and Alexandra Freund surveyed 565 US participants online about their memory of when they heard Michael Jackson had died and when they heard Osama Bin Laden had been killed. These were used as examples of a negative and positive flashbulb memory of a public event, respectively. For comparison, the participants were also quizzed about a time they heard that they, or a relative, had become pregnant, and a time they heard that a relative had fallen ill or passed away (a positive and negative private flashbulb memory, respectively).

In general, the flashbulb memories of receiving positive private news were "more important, consequential, emotionally intense, vivid, and frequently rehearsed" than the memories of hearing news about MJ's or Bin Laden's deaths. Moreover, participants said private flashbulb memories, positive and negative, played a more important role in supporting their stable sense of self over time, and in helping them solve current problems.

However, when it came to bonding with other people, it seems the the private /public distinction is not so important. For example, participants described memories of bad private news and memories of Michael Jackson's death serving similar social functions, in terms of building rapport with other people and getting to know them better.

Other details to emerge: positive flashbulb memories, private and public, were perceived as psychologically closer, as if they'd happened more recently; and older participants (middle-aged and up) said flashbulb memories are less important for facilitating self-identity over time and less important for social bonding.

Overall, it was those flashbulb memories that participants said were most significant to them (usually their memories of receiving private news), that were associated with more functions, such as for self-identity and bonding with other people. In contrast, the self-reported detail of memories was not associated with their having more function.

"This suggests," the researchers said, "that the functions of flashbulb memories are less about the shared societal reality and more about highly individual events shaping one's private life." This is an important finding for memory researchers because most studies on flashbulb memory have tended to focus on news of public events, such as the 9/11 attacks.

"Future research on the functions of flashbulb memories needs to focus more on individual, private memories," the researchers said. A limitation of their study, which they acknowledged, is that they uncovered people's beliefs about the function of flashbulb memories – it's possible the actual functions of these memories is different.
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ResearchBlogging.orgDemiray, B., & Freund, A. (2015). Michael Jackson, Bin Laden and I: Functions of positive and negative, public and private flashbulb memories Memory, 23 (4), 487-506 DOI: 10.1080/09658211.2014.907428

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



2015-03-03   Visual illusions foster open-mindedness

From sworn witness accounts of alien visitations, to deep-rooted trust in quack medical treatments, the human trait that psychologists call "naive realism" has a lot to answer for. This is people's instinctive feeling that they perceive the world how it is, encapsulated by the saying "seeing is believing." The truth, of course, is that our every perception is our brain's best guess, built not merely with the raw material of what's out in the world, but just as much with the bricks of expectation, hope and imagination.

William Hart and his colleagues at the University of Alabama propose that naive realism not only inspires false confidence in what we see, but also more generally in our beliefs and assumptions. Based on this logic, the researchers tested whether explaining to people about naive realism, and showing them the unconscious, fallible mental work that leads to their unstable perceptions, might have knock-on effects, making them more open-minded and more doubtful of their assumptions about a person's character.

Nearly 200 students took part and were split into four groups. One group read about naive realism (e.g. "visual illusions provide a glimpse of how our brain twists reality without our intent or awareness") and then they experienced several well-known, powerful visual illusions (e.g. the Spinning Wheels, shown above, the Checker Shadow, and the Spinning Dancer), with the effects explained to them. The other groups either: just had the explanation but no experience of the illusions; or completed a difficult verbal intelligence test; or read about chimpanzees.

Afterwards, whatever their group, all the participants read four vignettes about four different people. These were written to be deliberately ambiguous about the protagonist's personality, which could be interpreted, depending on the vignette, as either assertive or hostile; risky or adventurous; agreeable or a push over; introverted or snobbish. There was also a quiz on the concept of naive realism.

The key finding is that after reading about naive realism and experiencing visual illusions, the participants were less certain of their personality judgments and more open to the alternative interpretation, as compared with the participants in the other groups. The participants who only read about naive realism, but didn't experience the illusions, showed just as much knowledge about naive realism, but their certainty in their understanding of the vignettes wasn't dented, and they remained as closed to alternative interpretations as the participants in the other comparison conditions.

"In sum," the researchers said, "exposing naive realism in an experiential way seems necessary to fuel greater doubt and openness."

At the time of writing, the internet is abuzz with talk of a dress that looks different colours to different people, with numerous scientific explanations on offer. It's a bit like the main intervention condition in this study writ large – experience of an illusion, combined with explanation that shows the hidden work of unconscious processing. Might this internet meme foster greater openness in society?

Before we get carried away, more is research is needed to test the longevity of these effects, and how far they generalise. It's possible, for example, that people's core beliefs would not be affected in the same way. Nonetheless, the researchers are hopeful: "... the present effects may have implications for fostering a more tolerant, open-minded society," they concluded.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Hart, W., Tullett, A., Shreves, W., & Fetterman, Z. (2015). Fueling doubt and openness: Experiencing the unconscious, constructed nature of perception induces uncertainty and openness to change Cognition, 137, 1-8 DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2014.12.003

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



2015-03-02   "I did it for the team" – How outsiders cheat in pursuit of popularity


If you would do anything to stay popular with your team-mates, what might follow? Bending the rules? Cheating? Sabotage of rivals? An international team led by Stefan Thau of INSEAD investigated “pro-group” unethical behaviours, and they suggest the people most likely to connive to boost the team are those at its margins, fearful of exclusion.

The experiment gave participants an easy opportunity to cheat at an anagram task, as the setup meant they themselves reported how many they solved, with no way to be checked. (Conveniently, the experimenters had an easy way to verify whether success had been over-reported: the ten anagrams were entirely unsolvable.)

In the key condition, participants were told that if they scored better than their “Red Team” competitor sitting in another room, then the other members of their own (Blue) team would all get a cash reward. The Blue Team had met and chatted at the start of the experiment, and just before the anagram task, they voted provisionally on which member should be excluded from a final group task, with a final vote to follow once the anagram contest results were made public.

The provisional vote was rigged so half of the participants had the impression that they were likely to be excluded. These at-risk individuals reported solving more of the impossible anagrams than their safe peers. They broke the rules to do a good turn for their group, in the hope that it wouldn’t go unrewarded. And the cheating was even higher for those participants who, in a questionnaire, described having a high “need to belong”.

In another condition, anagram victory generated a personal reward, not one shared with team-mates. Neither risk of exclusion nor the need to belong had any effect on cheating in this condition. This suggests that being under threat doesn’t simply increase unethical behaviour but encourages targeted actions aimed at raising standing.

Thau’s team showed that the effect generalised to other behaviours using a survey of 228 working adults. People who felt excluded – sharing heartbreaking beliefs such as  “I feel like it is likely that my workgroup members will not invite me for lunch” – were more likely to withhold information from non-team members or discredit another workgroup, all to make their own group look better.

Supporting your in-group in this way can only hurt the organisation in the longer-term, and can have profoundly damaging effects, such as the example the article gives, of a detective who framed people to get higher rates of arrest for his colleagues. There is no more chilling excuse for the inexcusable than “but I did it all for you!”

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Thau, S., Derfler-Rozin, R., Pitesa, M., Mitchell, M., & Pillutla, M. (2015). Unethical for the sake of the group: Risk of social exclusion and pro-group unethical behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100 (1), 98-113 DOI: 10.1037/a0036708

--further reading--
Are children from collectivist cultures more likely to say it's okay to lie for the group?

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) 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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