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Tue, 03 May 2016   Adults with bipolar disorder at equal risk for anxiety or depression following mania

Adults with bipolar disorder are just as likely to develop anxiety as depression following an episode of mania, according to data from a national survey of more than 34,000 adults.

Mon, 02 May 2016   Origin of synaptic pruning process linked to learning, autism and schizophrenia identified

Researchers have identified a brain receptor that appears to initiate adolescent synaptic pruning, a process believed necessary for learning, but one that appears to go awry in both autism and schizophrenia.

Mon, 02 May 2016   Study underscores need for health interventions for single parent households in urban subsidized housing programs

Single parents who participate in a housing support program in an urban setting with high levels of community violence had significant symptoms of stress and depression, a new study indicates.

Mon, 02 May 2016   Neuroscientists find evidence for 'visual stereotyping'

The stereotypes we hold can influence our brain's visual system, prompting us to see others' faces in ways that conform to these stereotypes, neuroscientists have found.

Mon, 02 May 2016   Adult brain prunes branched connections of new neurons

A new study is first to closely follow development of new neurons in the adult brain, giving potential new insight into neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia.

BPS Research Digest Blog

   Following the latest psychology research just got really easy

Introducing the Research Digest App for iOS and Android

To day we've launched the free Research Digest app for Apple and Android smartphones and tablets, bringing you a new and convenient way to keep up-to-date with all our latest research reports.

The in-app help screens will show you how to customise your home screen according to your preferred subject categories. You can also share our reports quickly and easily from within the app, as well as creating a scrapbook of your favourite items.

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

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2016-05-03   A laughing crowd changes the way your brain processes insults

We usually think of laughter as a sound of joy and mirth, but in certain contexts, such as when it accompanies an insult, it takes on a negative meaning, signaling contempt and derision, especially in a group situation. Most of us probably know from experience that this makes insults sting more, now a study in Social Neuroscience has shown the neural correlates of this effect. Within a fraction of a second, the presence of a laughing crowd changes the way that the brain processes an insult.

Marte Otten and her colleagues asked 46 participants to read 60 insults and 60 compliments presented on-screen one word at a time. Half these insults (e.g. "You are antisocial and annoying") and compliments (e.g. "You are strong and independent") featured the silhouette of a crowd of people at the bottom of each screen, and the end of the insult or compliment was followed immediately by a final screen showing the phrase "and they feel the same way" together with the sound of laughter lasting two seconds. Throughout this entire process, the researchers recorded the participants' brainwaves using EEG.

Otten's team were particularly interested in the N400 – a negative spike of brain activity that tends to be larger when people hear something unexpected or incongruent with the context – and in the so-called "Late Positive Potential (LPP)" which is a positive spike of brain activity that can occur 300ms to 1 second after a stimulus and is usually taken as a sign of emotional processing.

The participants'  brains appeared to register the difference between insults and compliments incredibly quickly. Within 300 to 400ms after the onset of the first insulting or complimentary word, the participants' showed a larger LPP in response to insults, and a more widespread N400.

Moreover, when there was the sound of laughter, the size of the LPP was even greater in the insults condition, whereas the compliments condition was unchanged. In other words, insults almost immediately prompt more emotional processing in the brain than compliments, and this more intense processing is accentuated rapidly by a public context and the sound of laughter.

The researchers said their findings are "highly relevant for research that focuses on negative interpersonal interactions such as bullying, or interpersonal and intergroup conflict." They added: "While the insulted is still busy reading the unfolding insult, the extra sting of publicity is already encoded and integrated in the brain."

A problem with interpreting the specifics of the study arises from the way that it combined a visual signal of a public context (the silhouette of a crowd) and the sound of laughter, with the image of the crowd preceding the start of the laughter. This makes it tricky to untangle the effects of a public context from the specific effects of hearing laughter. Indeed, the brainwave data showed that, at a neural level, participants were already responding differently to public insults before they could have registered the sound of the laughter.

This issue aside, the researchers said their findings show that "the presence of a laughing crowd ... leads to stronger and more elongated emotional processing. In short, it seems that public insults are no laughing matter, at least not for the insulted."


Otten, M., Mann, L., van Berkum, J., & Jonas, K. (2016). No laughing matter: How the presence of laughing witnesses changes the perception of insults. Social Neuroscience, 1-12 DOI: 10.1080/17470919.2016.1162194

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

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2016-04-30   Link feast

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

Leicester's Lesson In Leadership
A leader is not "the special one", but "the one who makes us special", argue S. Alexander Haslam and Stephen D. Reicher at The Psychologist.

The Imposter's Survival Guide (BBC radio show)
Oliver Burkeman explores the imposter phenomenon. That inexplicable feeling of fraudulence that plagues the working lives of so many people.

Why You Should Never Spank a Child - Major Research Project Confirms Dangers
The Telegraph reports on a new study.

A Drawing of the Drawing Effect Study
Rob Dimeo has drawn the findings of the "drawing effect" study that we reported on recently.

Why So Many Smart People Aren’t Happy
It’s a paradox: Shouldn’t the most accomplished be well equipped to make choices that maximize life satisfaction?

Mind Fu*k Alert: Plants May Have Memories
Gizmodo reports on a surprising new study.

Is Social Media Making People Depressed?
Mark Widdowson (Lecturer in Counselling and Psychotherapy, University of Salford) gives his verdict at The Conversation.

Do Women Make Bolder Leaders Than Men?
"looking through our database of 360-degree assessments from 75,000 leaders around the world, we noticed that on average the women were bolder than the men".

New Insights Into Body And Mind
A book on psychosomatic illness by Suzanne O’Sullivan has won this year's prestigious Wellcome Trust Book Prize.

This Is How It Feels To Learn Your Memories Are Fiction
David Robson at BBC Future reports on the confabulation that can occur when brain injuries impair memory.

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

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