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Fri, 19 Dec 2014   Early exposure to antidepressants affects adult anxiety, serotonin transmission

Early developmental exposure to two different antidepressants, Prozac and Lexapro, has been studied by researchers in a mouse model that mimics human third trimester medication exposure. They found that, although these serotonin-selective reuptake inhibiting antidepressants were thought to work the same way, they did not produce the same long-term changes in anxiety behavior in the adult mice. About 15 percent of women in the United States suffer from anxiety disorders and depression during their pregnancies, and many are prescribed antidepressants.

Fri, 19 Dec 2014   Gene critical for proper brain development discovered

A genetic pathway has been found that accounts for the extraordinary size of the human brain. The research team has identified a gene, KATNB1, as an essential component in a genetic pathway responsible for central nervous system development in humans and other animals.

Fri, 19 Dec 2014   Neuroscientists identify brain mechanisms that predict generosity in children

Developmental neuroscientists have found specific brain markers that predict generosity in children. Those neural markers appear to be linked to both social and moral evaluation processes. Although young children are natural helpers, their perspective on sharing resources tends to be selfish.

Fri, 19 Dec 2014   OCD patients' brains light up to reveal how compulsive habits develop

Misfiring of the brain's control system might underpin compulsions in obsessive-compulsive disorder, according to researchers.

Thu, 18 Dec 2014   Ability to balance on one leg may reflect brain health, stroke risk

Struggling to stand on one leg for less than 20 seconds was linked to an increased risk for stroke, small blood vessel damage in the brain, and reduced cognitive function in otherwise healthy people, a study has shown. One-legged standing time may be a simple test used to measure early signs of abnormalities in the brain associated with cognitive decline, cerebral small vessel disease and stroke.

BPS Research Digest Blog

   Our most popular posts of 2014

1. Jailed criminals think they are kinder, more trustworthy and honest than the average member of the public

2The ten most controversial psychology studies ever published

3Happy people think they're good at empathising with the pain of others. They're wrong

4What the textbooks don't tell you - one of psychology's most famous experiments was seriously flawed

5A man's fighting ability is written in his face

6Ten of the most counterintuitive psychology findings ever published

7Childhood amnesia kicks in around age seven

8Students learn better when they think they're going to have to teach the material

9Why are extraverts happier?

10Systematic evidence of fake crying by a baby


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

2014-12-18   A child's popularity is related to where the teacher seats them in the classroom

Teacher training doesn't usually include a module on how to arrange the seating of pupils. Perhaps it should - a new study by psychologists finds that where children are placed in the classroom is associated with how well-liked they are by their classmates.

Yvonne van den Berg and Antonius Cillessen studied 34 classrooms at 27 elementary schools in The Netherlands. The 336 participating pupils had an average age of 11, and 47 per cent of them were boys. In all classrooms, it was the school policy that the teachers dictated who sat where; seating arrangements were in groups or rows, or a mixture. Every pupil was asked to say how much they liked each of their classmates, and to rate their classmates' popularity. They gave these ratings twice: four to six weeks into the first semester (August/September time), and then again at the beginning of the school's second semester during the following Spring.

A key finding was that children who were seated in the first semester near the boundaries of their classroom tended to be less liked by their peers at that time, and also six months later, as compared with children sat nearer the centre of the class. Another related result was that children tended to rate those located nearer to them as more likeable and more popular (this helps explain the first result - children sat centrally tend to have more classmates closer to them). Meanwhile, children who were only (re)positioned at the boundaries of the class in the second semester did not receive lower likeability ratings at that time, presumably because their reputation had already been established by then.

Why should seating position have these associations with children's perceptions of their peers? The researchers think two psychological mechanisms are pertinent. Social psychology research on race relations and prejudice finds that the more we interact with other people, the more positive our views of them tend to be. School pupils naturally interact and socialise more with the children located near to them, and so this interaction could encourage more positive perceptions. There is also a psychological phenomenon known as the "mere exposure effect", which describes how familiarity with something or someone breeds more positive feelings towards them.

Van den Berg and Cillessen also conducted a second study with 158 more school children, in which they asked them to rate each others' popularity, and also to say where they would position themselves and their classmates if they could choose. Perhaps unsurprisingly, children said they'd like to sit nearer to their peers who were more liked and more popular. The researchers said this provided an insight into what's known as the "cycle of popularity" - well-liked and popular children typically attract more social interactions with others, this then reinforces the popular perception that others have of them via the mechanisms mentioned earlier.

There are plenty of unknowns in this research. For example, we don't know the reasoning behind the teachers' decisions of where they chose to locate their pupils in their class. Perhaps they placed more popular pupils more centrally? In fact, there are reasons to think this unlikely - past research has found teacher and pupil ratings of pupils' social relationships are only weakly related.

Despite the unknowns, the van den Berg and Cillessen said their results provided evidence for what's been termed the "invisible hand of the teacher" - the understudied ways that teacher decisions influence the ecology of the classroom. "Classroom seating arrangements may be hugely influential in children's exposure to and interactions with other peers and, thus, in determining children's social relationships with one another," the researchers concluded. They also highlighted that this new research builds on another recent study they conducted, which found that placing children closer to each other in the classroom improved pupils' liking of each other and reduced problem behaviours in class.


van den Berg, Y., & Cillessen, A. (2015). Peer status and classroom seating arrangements: A social relations analysis Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 130, 19-34 DOI: 10.1016/j.jecp.2014.09.007

--further reading--
Mind where you sit - how being in the middle is associated with superior performance

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

2014-12-17   Is being a worrier a sign of intelligence?

We usually see worry as a bad thing. It feels unpleasant, like a snake coiling in the pit of your stomach. And worriers are often considered weak links in a team - negative influences who lack confidence. But of course, anxiety has a useful function. It's about anticipating and preparing for threats, and learning from past mistakes.

Increasingly psychologists are recognising the strengths of anxious people. For example, there's research showing that people more prone to anxiety are quicker to detect threats and better at lie detection. Now Alexander Penney and his colleagues have conducted a survey of over 100 students and they report that a tendency to worry goes hand in hand with higher intelligence.

The researchers asked the students to complete measures of worry, anxiety, depression, rumination, social phobia, dwelling on past social events, mood, verbal intelligence, non-verbal intelligence, and test anxiety. This last measure was important because the researchers wanted to distinguish trait anxiety from in-the-moment state anxiety and how each relates to intelligence.

The key finding was that after controlling for the influence of test anxiety and current mood, the students who reported a general habit of worrying more (e.g. they agreed with survey statements like "I am always worrying about something") and/or ruminating more (e.g. they said they tended to think about their sadness, or think "what am doing to deserve this?") also tended to score higher on the test of verbal intelligence, which was taken from the well-known Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale.

To take one specific statistical example, verbal intelligence correlated positively with worry proneness with a statistically significant value of 0.19 (after controlling for test anxiety and mood). Together with the measures of rumination, mood and test anxiety, verbal intelligence explained an estimated 46 per cent of the variance in worry.

Another result from the survey, not so promising for worriers, was that a tendency to dwell on past social events was negatively correlated with non-verbal intelligence (that is, those students who dwelt more on past events scored lower on non-verbal IQ).

Seeking to explain these two different and seemingly contradictory correlations, the researchers surmised that: "more verbally intelligent individuals are able to consider past and future events in greater detail, leading to more intense rumination and worry. Individuals with high non-verbal intelligence may be stronger at processing the non-verbal signals they interact with in the moment, leading to a decreased need to re-process past social encounters."

Of course we must be careful not to over-interpret these preliminary results - it was a small, non-clinical sample after all, so it's not clear how the findings would generalise to people with more extreme anxiety. However it's notable that a small 2012 study found a correlation between worry and intelligence in a sample diagnosed with generalised anxiety disorder. Penney and his colleagues concluded that: "a worrying and ruminating mind is a more verbally intelligent mind; a socially ruminative mind, however, might be less able to process non-verbal information."


Penney, A., Miedema, V., & Mazmanian, D. (2015). Intelligence and emotional disorders: Is the worrying and ruminating mind a more intelligent mind? Personality and Individual Differences, 74, 90-93 DOI: 10.1016/j.paid.2014.10.005

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…