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Fri, 30 Jan 2015   Key discovery to preventing blindness, stroke devastation

Gene interactions that determine whether cells live or die in such conditions as age-related macular degeneration and ischemic stroke have been discovered by researchers. These common molecular mechanisms in vision and brain integrity can prevent blindness and also promote recovery from a stroke.

Fri, 30 Jan 2015   Treating Cerebral Malaria: New Molecular Target Identified

A drug already approved for treating other diseases may be useful as a treatment for cerebral malaria, according to researchers who discovered a novel link between food intake during the early stages of infection and the outcome of the disease, identifying two molecular pathways that could serve as new targets for treatment.

Thu, 29 Jan 2015   Walking on ice takes more than brains: 'Mini-brain' in spinal cord aids in balance

Scientists have discovered how a "mini-brain" in the spinal cord aids in balance. Much of the balancing act that our bodies perform when faced with a task such as walking on an icy surface happens unconsciously, thanks to a cluster of neurons in our spinal cord that function as a "mini-brain" to integrate sensory information and make the necessary adjustments to our muscles so that we don't slip and fall, researchers report.

Thu, 29 Jan 2015   Infants create new knowledge while sleeping

There is no rest for a baby's brain -- not even in sleep. While infants sleep they are reprocessing what they have learned. Researchers have discovered that babies of the age from nine to 16 months remember the names of objects better if they had a short nap.

Thu, 29 Jan 2015   New deep-brain imaging reveals separate functions for nearly identical neurons

New deep-brain imaging shows activity of individual, genetically similar neurons to particular behaviors of mice. Scientists watched as one neuron was activated when a mouse searched for food while a nearly identical neuron next to it remained inactive until the mouse began eating.

BPS Research Digest Blog

   There are two types of envy; only one is associated with schadenfreude

You watch with envy as your long-time colleague gets yet another performance bonus - something you've strived for but never obtained. Not long after, you see him trip over in the office in front of everyone. Do you find this situation pleasingly amusing? In other words, do you experience schadenfreude?

According to an international team of research psychologists, your answer will likely depend on the specific kind of envy you feel toward your colleague. Niels van de Ven and his co-workers say there are in fact two types - malicious envy and benign envy. Both involve comparing yourself to someone who is better off in a way that matters to you, but with malicious envy your focus is on the person and wishing they didn't have the advantage you covet, whereas benign envy involves greater focus on the object of your envy and how you might achieve it for yourself. In some languages, such as Dutch and German, they actually have separate words for these two types of envy.

Malicious envy leads to schadenfreude, the researchers say, but benign envy does not. They demonstrated this in a series of three studies involving hundreds of people, one conducted in Dutch, the other two in English. The general format was the same throughout - participants recalled a situation in which they'd envied another person's achievement, and then they answered questions about the specific type of envy they'd experienced. Next they were asked to imagine the person they envied had suffered a minor misfortune and whether they would find this amusing. Finally the participants answered questions about their other feelings for the envied person, such as whether they resented them and whether their achievements were seen as deserved. The consistent finding throughout was that malicious envy, but not benign envy, was associated with stronger feelings of schadenfreude, even after factoring out the influence of other feelings such as liking and deservingness of success.

As the researchers explained, this pattern of results makes sense because:
"the motivational goal of malicious envy is to hurt the position of the other to prevent the other from being better off. If a misfortune befalls the superior other this motivational goal is satisfied, triggering positive feelings (i.e. schadenfreude)".
Past research on the links between envy and schadenfreude have been inconsistent. Also, scholars have disagreed about whether the essence of envy is simply coveting what another has, or whether it necessarily also involves some malicious intent towards the envied. van de Ven and his colleagues say these inconsistent results and debates over definitions are resolved by recognising the key difference between benign and malicious envy - or what in Brazil and Russia they call "white envy" and "black envy".


van de Ven, N., Hoogland, C., Smith, R., van Dijk, W., Breugelmans, S., & Zeelenberg, M. (2014). When envy leads to schadenfreude Cognition and Emotion, 1-19 DOI: 10.1080/02699931.2014.961903

--further reading--
Envy is a stronger motivator than admiration
Alex Haslam & Steve Reicher - our Envy
Kids experience schadenfreude by age four, maybe earlier

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

2015-01-29   Why you might want to beware the introvert on your team

Introverts have received a lot of positive press in recent years thanks to the run-away success of Susan Cain's book Quiet: The Power of Introverts. Cain tells us these are people who like their own space, but also happen to be empathic and sensitive and deep-thinkers. A new paper on peer appraisals by team-members bucks this hug-an-introvert trend.

Amir Erez and his co-authors report that introverts tend to give especially low performance ratings to their team-mates who are extravert and over-bearing, even though these people's actual performance for the team might be the same as other team-mates with different personality types.

"We suggest that introverted peers are more sensitive to extraversion because they recognize that highly assertive (i.e., extraverted) actors often compromise relational outcomes in the interest of instrumental ones, and because extraverts are often afforded initial high status in the absence of relevant performance information," the researchers said.

In other words, the researchers think introverts use peer appraisals strategically. Extraverts often throw their weight around and get undue credit, and so given the chance, introverts exert a corrective influence by giving extraverts relatively negative ratings. Extraverts, by contrast, were not found to modify their ratings for team-members based on their personality. The researchers think this is because they aren't so aware of other people's traits, and aren't threatened by dominant characters.

The results came initially from a field study involving 178 business students who'd been working together in four- or five-person teams for half a semester. The students rated their own extraversion, agreeableness, and the performance of their team-mates.

Further evidence came from an experiment in which business students thought they were taking part in a virtual team creativity task, in which they interacted with team-mates by text and headsets. In fact, their team-mates were computer controlled and the experience was manipulated so that some of them appeared extravert and others introvert, some unfriendly, others friendly. Afterwards the participants had to rate the performance of one of their team-mates. On objective terms, the researchers made it so the performance of the fictional team-mates rated by the participants was equal; all that differed between them was their personality.

The introverted participants gave poorer performance ratings to team-mates who were extravert, and were nearly six times less likely to recommend them for a bonus reward. Introverts also gave especially negative ratings to unfriendly team-mates. By contrast, extravert participants did not take the personality of their team-mates into account when making their peer ratings. The difference between the introvert and extravert participants was explained in part by the fact the introverts were more aware of the traits of their team-mates, and they formed more negative impressions of the extraverts and unfriendly people.

As peer appraisals are becoming increasingly popular in many organisations, the researchers said their findings have obvious practical implications. ".... [I]ndividuals high in extraversion and disagreeableness should be made aware that their trait-relevant behaviors may have a profoundly negative impact on how introverted individuals experience their dyadic encounters," they warned, "and may lead to reduced performance evaluation or reward giving for collective accomplishments."

A weakness of the study is that the experimental section involved creating team-mates who were caricatures of particular personality types. In reality, few people display such extremes of personality. As the researchers also acknowledged, there is a sense too in which the introverts' peer ratings could be seen as more accurate - it all depends on whether your focus is purely on task performance (which was matched for the imaginary team-mates who were rated), or if you take a longer-term picture and consider the wider team culture. "The sensitivity of introverted peers may actually represent detection of behaviours which are anticipated to hurt collective (but not individual) performance," the researchers said.


Erez, A., Schilpzand, P., Leavitt, K., Woolum, A., & Judge, T. (2014). Inherently Relational: Interactions Between Peers' and Individuals' Personalities Impact Reward Giving and Appraisal of Individual Performance. Academy of Management Journal DOI: 10.5465/amj.2011.0214

--further reading--
Introverts use more concrete language than extraverts

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

2015-01-28   A face that could get away with anything

First impressions lead to a multitude of assumptions, and trustworthiness is one of them: faces with v-shaped eyebrows and frowning mouths are consistently judged as less trustworthy than others with ^-shaped brows and mouths with upturned corners (this may be related to the former betraying a hidden anger and the latter having positive undertones). Now a study by Brian Holtz suggests that a person's looks can colour perceptions, not only of how trustworthy their character might be, but of whether their actual deeds are fair and well-intentioned.

In an ideal world, we’d trust people based upon what they say and do, and use that track record to evaluate whether their subsequent actions were in good faith. These new results suggest that often isn't so -  instead, our superficial impressions influence how we evaluate their behaviour.

The first study presented data on an imaginary company to 609 people recruited through an online portal, all of whom had experience of being in work. They were asked to evaluate a decision made by the CEO to cut pay by 15 per cent for all staff (including the CEO himself) in order to avoid cut-backs in tough economic times. Participants felt more trust towards the CEO and judged the decision as fairer when the CEO’s biography included a facial photo previously rated as highly trustworthy, rather than an untrustworthy one.

In the lead-up to this evaluation, participants were asked if there were other solutions to the financial crisis, and if so, if they could have been fairer. When they thought the CEO had a trustworthy face, they were less likely to believe there were fairer alternatives he could have taken. In both this and a subsequent replication, this doubt in viable alternative options mediated how strongly the photo drove trust in the CEO’s behaviour. This is fascinating and surprising to me - it suggests that a gut feeling, based on physical appearance, could have consequences for how we intellectually review a situation. I should note a third study with a smaller sample, conducted in the context of fairness in university marking, didn’t find this mediating route, but the main effect of facial appearance on trust in a person’s behaviour was replicated.

When we assume that certain facial characteristics can mark someone out as special - more electable, fit for higher rank, or a better captain of industry - these assumptions often become self-fulfilling. But whereas it’s easy to be accepting about the inevitability of some of these effects - people who look imposing will obviously be more imposing - most of us like to believe that perceptions of trust go deeper and are truly shaped by a person’s ethics and actions. Yet the sad truth is, some faces seem to mark one out as an easy scapegoat, while others are able to get away with murder.



--further reading--
Your trustworthiness is judged in a tenth of a second, or less
Want people to trust you? Try apologising for the rain

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…