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Wed, 25 Nov 2015   How cocaine changes the brain

The burst of energy and hyperactivity that comes with a cocaine high is a rather accurate reflection of what's going on in the brain of its users, finds a study. Through experiments conducted in rats exposed to cocaine, the researchers mapped out the network of circuits that cause wild firing of neurons that produce dopamine. The findings also help explain how cocaine use eventually leads to desensitization.

Tue, 24 Nov 2015   Immune-disorder treatment in mice holds potential for multiple sclerosis patients

A simple, rapid way to treat an immune-related disorder in mice has been identified by researchers, an approach that could eventually help multiple sclerosis patients after further research.

Tue, 24 Nov 2015   'Connector hubs' are the champions of brain coordination

Swinging a bat at a 90-mph fastball requires keen visual, cognitive and motor skills. But how do diverse brain networks coordinate well enough to hit the ball? A new study suggests the human brain's aptitude and versatility can be credited in large part to 'connector hubs,' which filter and route information.

Tue, 24 Nov 2015   Mental health risk for new dads

Anxiety around the arrival of a new baby is just as common as postnatal depression, and the risks for men are nearly as high as for women, researchers have found. A mental health researcher reviewed 43 separate studies and found anxiety before and after a child arrives is just as prevalent as depression, affecting around 1 in 10 men, around half the rate for women.

Tue, 24 Nov 2015   Lactate for brain energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate, scientists confirm. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

BPS Research Digest Blog

   Are extraverts or introverts more cooperative? It depends on the situation

Our achievements as a species owe a debt to our willingness to cooperate. But we all vary in how we solve the social dilemma – whether in any given situation we choose to favour self-interest or cooperation. This issue has long fascinated researchers, who delight in testing people’s choices in hypothetical setups involving prisoners’ loyalty to each other or the sharing of community resources. But these setups have struggled to give us a clear picture of how personality tips people one way or another: for example, are extraverts more cooperative by instinct than introverts?

A new paper published in Philosophical Transactions B suggests that we need to use the right frame: the context surrounding a dilemma affects how it’s tackled by different personality types. Extraverts act more exploitatively in social dilemmas than introverts, the research shows, but only when they think they can get away with it.

The 177 undergraduate participants tackled a setup called the Public Goods Game, where they had to decide whether to hang onto their tokens or put them into a public pot, where they would swell in value before being shared between the game’s four players, collaborating over a computer network. If everyone invests, each player is better off, but such collaboration is not guaranteed so a token in the hand is still arguably worth more to a player than his or her share of the future public pot. Extra realism came from the fact that each player’s end-of-game tally of tokens was converted into real money once the study was over.

Kari Britt Schroeder and her colleagues found that over ten rounds of this game, extraverts were more likely to hold back tokens for themselves. But then the researchers shifted the rules so that now following each of the next ten rounds participants got to see how everyone else had invested during that round, and they also had the chance to assign other players negative tokens, which cost the giver one token but taxed the recipient three. In this punishment stage, extraverts were more generous than introverts, tending to put more of their tokens into the public pot.

The researchers expected to find these effects of personality on cooperation. Extraversion is known to make gaining rewards more appealing, creating a temptation to free-ride even though it may not be morally "right". But when the possibility of punishments kicks in, free-riding loses its appeal, and extraverts see more reward in banding together. Or perhaps the disincentive is the loss of social standing implied by being fined by others, as extraverts are particularly keen on positive attention. Regardless of the cause, the experiment shows that the larger context totally reconfigures the effect personality has on cooperation.

Clearly the same goes for real life. Most social dilemmas don’t take place in a vacuum; they require a context, often an institution armed with more or less power to discipline anti-social behaviour. You can’t be punished for selfish behaviour in the park, but you can be at work – unless, maybe, your father is the boss. So researching social dilemmas with more consideration of this institutional weight will hopefully be the key to a better understanding of who in a given context is likely to be more prone to selfish temptation ... and perhaps help us figure out a way forward through the social dilemmas that the 21st century poses to us.


Schroeder, K., Nettle, D., & McElreath, R. (2015). Interactions between personality and institutions in cooperative behaviour in humans Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 370 (1683) DOI: 10.1098/rstb.2015.0011

--further reading--
How can we increase altruism towards future generations?
In search of the super-humane (those who identify with all of humanity)
How the threat of violence can make us nice to each other

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

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2015-11-24   Embrace your bad moods and they may not take such a toll on you

"Being upset is a warmer, close-up feeling, not a chilly distant feeling like laughing at people" from Margaret Atwood's The Heart Goes Last
Generally speaking, being in a bad mood isn't just no fun, it also isn't good for you – people who feel negative emotions like anger, anxiety and sadness a lot of the time tend to have poorer social lives and suffer worse physical health in the long run, suggesting that dark moods take a toll. But a new study published in Emotion shows how this isn't a uniform truth. Bad moods don't have an adverse effect on everyone to the same degree. The crucial difference seems to be how much people see that there can be value, meaning and even satisfaction in bad moods – those who appreciate this tend to suffer fewer ill effects from the supposedly darker sides of their psyche.

Gloria Luong and her colleagues interviewed 365 German participants (aged 14 to 88) about their attitudes to negative and positive emotions, and about their mental and physical health (physical health was measured subjectively by self-report and also objectively by a grip strength test). The researchers also monitored the participants' mood states over a three-week period using smart phones. Six times a day during nine days in a 3-week period, the participants were prompted by the phones to indicate how good or bad they were feeling at that time (the participants gave ratings of how much they were feeling various positive and negative mood states, such as their joy and enthusiasm and their anger and disappointment, among others, and the researchers took averages of these to calculate their overall amount of positive or negative mood).

Just as the researchers predicted, the links between people's frequency of bad moods and negative outcomes (in terms of mental and physical health) varied depending on the attitudes they held toward negative emotion. Those participants who had negative attitudes toward bad moods tended to pay a price: the more negative moods they experienced, the poorer their mental and physical health, both in the moment and longer term (for example, based on their number of health complaints). However, among the participants who had a more positive attitude toward bad moods, these links were mostly reduced, or in some cases even absent completely.

There are different ways to interpret these results: for example, perhaps not suffering from the ill effects of bad moods helps people not to have such a negative view of bad moods. But Luong and her team favour a different account. They think recognising the value and meaning of negative moods and emotions probably helps prevent those dark mood states from taking such an adverse toll, possibly by "dampening the magnitude and/or duration of the concomitant physiological arousal and psychological distress associated with negative affect [affect is another word for emotion]." Future research will need to test this and other explanations.

It's worth noting, there were some exceptions to the protective effect of valuing negative moods. For example, even among participants who held negative moods in a positive light, the more negative moods they felt, the lower their life satisfaction tended to be. The researchers speculate this may be because when making such a sweeping judgment about their lives, people use an internal gauge of their mood levels as one way to reach an answer, even if, on reflection, they recognise the value and meaning of those negative moods.

Another caveat is that this research was conducted exclusively in Germany. Past research has already revealed cultural differences that are relevant to this topic – for example, German people are less motivated to avoid negative emotions than Americans, and some cultures are actually fearful of too much happiness – so we need more research to see if the current findings apply in other cultural contexts.

These notes of caution aside, the research raises the empowering possibility that negative feelings needn't always take such a toll, not if we can learn to see the value and meaning they may have (for example, recognising that anger can sometimes be empowering, that sadness can be poignant and bring us closer to one another, and so on). If this effect can be replicated in future research, it may pave the way for mental health interventions based on this principle of seeing the positive side of bad moods.


Luong, G., Wrzus, C., Wagner, G., & Riediger, M. (2015). When Bad Moods May Not Be So Bad: Valuing Negative Affect Is Associated With Weakened Affect–Health Links. Emotion DOI: 10.1037/emo0000132

--further reading--
Other people may experience more misery than you realise
What's the difference between a happy life and a meaningful one?
How happiness campaigns could end up making us sadder
Why do people like listening to sad music when they're feeling down?
Why do we sometimes like getting sad together?
The unexpected benefits of anxiety

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

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2015-11-23   On some issues, liberals are more dogmatic than conservatives

In the liberal worldview, conservatives are notoriously narrow-minded – and for years we’ve had the science to prove it. Meta-analyses published in 2003 and 2010 of dozens of studies using different measures revealed a consensus on "the rigidity of the right" – that is, people who hold more right-wing views tend to be more close-minded. Case closed? Or should we be open to other perspectives, such as the one offered in a new article published recently in Political Psychology. Produced by a research team lead by Lucian Conway of the University of Montana, it shows how classic measures of close-mindedness may be bedevilled by topic bias. When the subject matter is switched out, it’s the left who’re locked-in.

The study reports on two measures of close-mindedness, the first being dogmatism: taking simplistic, inflexible viewpoints. Researchers usually measure dogmatism using a well-established scale developed by social psychologist Milton Rokeach in 1960, but Conway’s team scrutinised this scale and noted that the wording of its items is coloured by opinion and ideologically charged topics. They suspected that this makes the scale prone to being distorted by people’s attitudes on particular matters, rather providing a fair measure of their dogmatism on a more abstract level.

To get round this, the researchers asked 475 undergraduates to complete either the original Rokeach scale, or one of two amended versions with items that repeatedly and explicitly referenced religion or the environment. To take one example, an item from the Rokeach scale asks people to say whether they agree that “a group which tolerates too much difference of opinion among its own members cannot exist for long” (agreeing would be taken as a sign of dogmatism) whereas in the amended versions the reference to a group became specifically a “religious group” or “environmental group” (and this kind of religious or environmental context was applied consistently through the two alternative versions of the dogmatism scale).

Higher scorers on dogmatism on the original Rokeach tended to have more conservative worldviews, replicating the well-known effect that right-wingers tend to be more fixed in their views. The same was true with the religious version, with very similar correlations. But crucially, for the environmental version, the correlation actually went in the reverse direction: liberals were more dogmatic than conservatives. In other words, it’s not necessarily the case that conservatives are uniformly more stubborn minded than liberals, rather it depends on the topic at hand.

The researchers also investigated people’s tendency to put forward complex arguments, specifically their willingness to give legitimacy to opposing viewpoints. While we may think liberals are the ones more likely to weigh up many points of view, perhaps to a woolly-thinking fault, this data showed the same pattern: whether we favour nuance depends on the topic we’re looking at. Two large studies (involving over 2000 students) asked people to write a short essay on one of a variety of topics, with the essays then rated by trained coders. The researchers found that while conservative students were more one-sided than their more liberal peers on some issues – censorship or the question of whether "people should find out if they are sexually suited before marriage" – they were actually more nuanced than them on others, such as smoking, or whether the death penalty should be abolished.

The researchers also turned their eye to a face-off that would seem to epitomise "qualification vs. Manichean" thinking styles: the US Presidential Candidates Debates between John Kerry and George W Bush that took place in 2004. Yet analysis of paragraphs sampled from the three debates suggested the speakers were similarly complex in their arguments. By digging into the topics discussed, the same pattern arises again: on certain topics – Iraq, abortion, education – Kerry was more nuanced. But on others, such as stem cells or affirmative action, Bush was.

Liberals reading this may well feel that Kerry, or the liberal students above, were correct to be absolute on the topics they were, because there is no room for debate on these issues. But that’s the point: conservatives feel the same about their domains. The question is whether we can therefore make claims about generalised narrow-mindedness. Now, we ought to recognise that there are measures unaddressed by this study that contribute to the evidence for rigidity of the right, such as their reportedly higher need for closure and dislike of highly complex or ambiguous art. But regardless of whether such arguments are also prone to the current content critique, or immune to it, we should pause before making unilateral, simplistic claims about the unilateral simplicity of conservatives.


Conway, L., Gornick, L., Houck, S., Anderson, C., Stockert, J., Sessoms, D., & McCue, K. (2015). Are Conservatives Really More Simple-Minded than Liberals? The Domain Specificity of Complex Thinking Political Psychology DOI: 10.1111/pops.12304

--further reading--
Think less and become more conservative
Why conservatives are happier than liberals
Comparing Obama's and Romney's speech styles and the way their audiences react
Feeling like you're an expert can make you closed-minded

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

Our free fortnightly email will keep you up-to-date with all the psychology research we digest: Sign up!

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