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Mon, 25 May 2015   Patterns of brain activity reorganize visual perception during eye movements

Oscillations of activity observed in the brain could have a role in resetting the sensitivity of neurons after eye movements. Further results suggest these waves could also have a role in supporting the brain's representation of space.

Mon, 25 May 2015   Special fats proven essential for brain growth

Certain special fats found in blood are essential for human brain growth and function, new research suggests. New published studies show that mutations in the protein Mfsd2a causes impaired brain development in humans. Mfsd2a is the transporter in the brain for a special type of fat called lysophosphatidylcholines (LPCs) -- composed of essential fatty acids like omega-3.

Mon, 25 May 2015   Can you see what I hear? Blind human echolocators use visual areas of the brain

Certain blind individuals have the ability to use echoes from tongue or finger clicks to recognize objects in the distance, and use echolocation as a replacement for vision. Research shows echolocation in blind individuals is a full form of sensory substitution, and that blind echolocation experts recruit regions of the brain normally associated with visual perception when making echo-based assessments of objects.

Mon, 25 May 2015   Earthquakes prove to be an unexpected help in interpreting brain activity of very premature babies

Researchers have created a "brainstorm barometer" that allows computers to calculate the brain functions of very premature babies during their first hours of life. The new research method is based on the hypothesis that the brainstorms generated by the billions of neurons inside a baby's head are governed by the same rules as other massive natural phenomena, such as earthquakes, forest fires or snow avalanches.

Fri, 22 May 2015   Scientists create mice with a major genetic cause of ALS, frontotemporal dementia

A novel mouse has been developed that exhibits the symptoms and neurodegeneration associated with the most common genetic forms of frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, Lou Gehrig's disease), both of which are caused by a mutation in the a gene called C9ORF72.

BPS Research Digest Blog

   Link feast

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

The Last Day of Her Life
When psychology professor Sandy Bem found out she had Alzheimer’s, she resolved that before the disease stole her mind, she would kill herself. The question was, when?

Girls With Toys
This is what real scientists look like.

A Really Important Political Science Study About Gay Marriage Used Faked Data
New York Mag's Science of Us site reports on the retraction of a high-profile study that suggested a short chat with a gay person increased people's support for gay marriage.

What Can “Lived Experience” Teach Neuroscientists?
Neuroskeptic reports on a paper that says neuroscientists who research mental health problems ought to listen to the views of people who have experienced those conditions.

The Philosopher Who Studies The Experience of Coffee
David Robson at BBC Future meets philosopher David Berman who claims that coffee and tea drinkers are fundamentally different people.

Hacking the Brain
How we might make ourselves smarter in the future.

The Male Suicides: How Social Perfectionism Kills
In every country in the world, male suicides outnumber female. Will Storr asks why.

Theorising the Drone
What does the rise of the drone mean for justice, for the ethics of heroism, for psychology? Most important of all, who is dying and why?

Against Wunderkinds
How late bloomers are leading the revolt against the cult of literary prodigy

Do Babies Express Emotions In The Same Way Adults Do?
Short answer: Eventually, yes.
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Post compiled by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.



2015-05-22   You can now test whether someone is a "Maven"

Malcolm Gladwell’s influential book The Tipping Point popularised the notion that ideas, products and movements owe popular success to opinion leaders: people who are highly connected via weak ties to others, persuasive in character, and an expert or "Maven" in the field in question. The Maven is the friend you go to when you want to buy a new laptop, but don’t know where to start, or consult when you’ve been feeling sluggish and wondering if your diet has something to do with it.

Identifying Mavens is a holy grail for people interested in influence, leading researchers Franklin Boster and Michael Kotowski to develop a "Maven scale". They’ve now published a paper that presents validation studies suggesting people can accurately self-identify as Mavens, and that the scale operates over different fields of expertise.

The first study used a political version of the scale, asking questions such as “When I know something about political issues, I feel it is important to share that information with others” (see footnote* for more examples).

One hundred and thirty-one students completed the scale, together with a measure of their political activities such as voting, volunteering and donating, and a test of political knowledge. High scorers on the Mavens scale were more politically active and more knowledgeable about politics: they walked the walk, as well as talking the talk.

However, another key aspect of mavenhood is that others see them as knowledgeable, and seek their advice. Is this true? A second study using a health expertise version of the scale surveyed the professional staff of a high school. In addition, each participant had to evaluate the other 33 participants on two items: a Yes or No to “this person comes to me for information on health and healthy lifestyle issues” and a rating of the degree to which “This person is a good source of information on health and healthy lifestyle issues.”

If self-identified health Mavens are what they claim, they should have more petitioners and those petitioners should have faith in them. Again, the data confirmed this: health Mavens provide trusted advice to their network.

A well-developed scale of mavenhood will benefit corporations looking to get their new, superior product in front of the right people to create a runaway success. But identifying and targeting Mavens is equally relevant for institutions looking to get bold new political ideas the attention they deserve, or to disseminate new and important health behaviours amongst the population. In their conclusion, the authors say that people “wishing to promote behavior change…may find these scales effective” so if that describes you, get in touch with them.

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Boster, F., Carpenter, C., & Kotowksi, M. (2015). Validation studies of the maven scale Social Influence, 10 (2), 85-96 DOI: 10.1080/15534510.2014.939224

*The scale is presented in full – in the political variant – in the Appendix of the paper. It includes "connector" items, "persuader items", and subject specific items. If you're a Maven you'd be expected to strongly agree with the following example items as well as other items not shown here:

  • The people I know often know each other because of me (connector item)
  • More often than not, I am able to convince others of my position during an argument (persuader item)
  • If someone asked me about a political issue that I was unsure of, I would know how to help them find the answer (political maven item)
  • People often seek me out for answers when they have questions about a political issue (political maven item)

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



2015-05-21   Women are better than men at remembering to remember

Prospective memory is the term psychologists use for when we have to remember to do something in the future – like stopping for milk on the way home from work. It requires not just remembering what to do, but remembering to remember at the right time.

There's actually some past research that suggested women, on average, are more prone to forgetting future tasks than men. But crucially, this research was subjective. Women admitted more memory failures of this kind than men did, but of course that doesn't mean they really do forget more often.

Now a team led by Liana Palermo has conducted a carefully controlled objective test of prospective memory under laboratory conditions. Fifty men and fifty women (average age 25) were given various tasks to remember to complete, mostly over either two-minute or fifteen-minute time scales, although there was one task after 24 hours.

Averaged across all tasks and conditions, there were no gender differences in performance. But focusing on specific types of tasks, differences emerged. Women were better than men at remembering to perform future tasks that were tied to events rather than a specific delay (e.g. perform task x when I give you a card, as opposed to perform task x in two minutes). The women also tended to outperform men on future tasks that were physical in nature (e.g. writing their address on a post card), as opposed to verbal (e.g. remembering to ask a specific question).

It's possible the female advantage for some aspects of prospective memory is merely a side-effect of women's other cognitive advantages. For example, women tend to have superior verbal skills than men, and the instructions in this study were delivered verbally. However, the researchers don't think this is likely because in that case you'd expect women to outperform men on all forms of prospective memory, and especially on future verbal tasks.

This was a small sample and, being lab-based, the study lacked realism, so more research is certainly needed. But the finding does tie in with other research conducted on the internet that also found a female advantage for prospective memory, and with existing evidence that women have an advantage for episodic memory (that is, remembering things that have happened to them in the past). Regarding the prior research that found women admit to more prospective memory failures, this new study raises the possibility that women are simply better at detecting their own forgetfulness.

Assuming this female advantage is replicated in further studies, why should women be better than men at remembering to remember? Here Palermo and her team are left to speculate: they suggest there could be a biological explanation, such as the known sex-linked differences in the hippocampus (a brain area involved in memory). They also propose a possible socio-cultural explanation, which may well resonate with some of our readers:
"...[T]he fact that in addition to work responsibilities, women also have more responsibilities at home. ... As a consequence of this social role, in daily life women might perform tasks involving prospective memory/planning skills more than men, thus enhancing their performance in remembering to remember."
_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Palermo, L., Cinelli, M., Piccardi, L., Ciurli, P., Incoccia, C., Zompanti, L., & Guariglia, C. (2015). Women outperform men in remembering to remember The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 1-10 DOI: 10.1080/17470218.2015.1023734

--further reading--
Women really are better than men at processing faces
Women have a superior memory for faces
Women's true maths skills unlocked by pretending to be someone else

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…

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