Psychologists take care to avoid bias in their investigations, for example making assumptions about differences between males and females (alpha bias) or overlooking differences between males and females (beta bias).
A study by researchers at Princeton University suggests the existence of a ‘bias blind spot’ that means people recognise that bias exists but assume they personally are not likely to be affected by it. As reported by Oliver Burkeman on his excellent blog, this meant that ‘Even when people acknowledge that what they are about to do is biased … they still are inclined to see their resulting decisions as objective.’
Does a famous name make this a better picture?
This is how the study was carried out: the researchers showed participants (a mix of Princeton students and others recruited online) a selection of 80 paintings, which they were asked to rate for artistic merit from 1 to 10. Half the group just saw the paintings, and the other half saw the paintings plus what were supposedly the names of the artists responsible.
In fact, the names were a mixture of famous artists and names chosen at random from a phone book. Those participants who saw the names exhibited a bias: they gave a higher ranking to works associated with names of famous artists. But even when the risk of bias was pointed out to them, these participants still rated their decisions as objective – while it was definitely likely that other people would be biased towards big names, no one thought it would affect them.
When we talk about interpreting correlational data, we often rightly stress that correlation does not establish cause and effect. However, it is important not to simply dismiss correlations because of this – as this video from the OU’s Joy of Stats series shows, the scientific attitude to an apparent correlation is to work as hard as you can to refute that correlation. If it survives all those attempts, then you might have an association between co-variables that is really worth exploring.
Heavy rain and storm surges have made 2014 pretty miserable for many of us (so far), and have been devastating for many of those affected by the widespread flooding in southern parts of the UK. What are the psychological impacts of flooding like this?
The Health Protection Agency (HPA) published a document in 2012 called Flooding and mental health: essential information for front-line responders. While stressing that resilience and strong social support helps the majority of victims of flooding cope with the immediate distress without developing longer-term health problems, this interesting document highlights the importance of the co-called ‘Recovery Gap’: the period after emergency service support has ended and people then have to rely on the private sector: for example, insurance companies and banking services.
The HPA notes that a number of studies point to increases in the incidence of common mental disorders (including depression, substance use and misuse, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder) following flooding. Anxiety in particular is often linked to fears of flooding events happening again. The main issues are with existing mental health problems being exacerbated by the experience of flooding, but a minority of cases are of people developing mental illness because of the stress and anxiety involved.
One neurone in your brain may recognise this celebrity
The February edition of National Geographic has an excellent article on how new technologies are revealing more about the structure of the brain, including a technique for making brains transparent which neuroscientists have described as ‘pretty badass’.
Another study, at UCLA, used electrodes implanted directly into brain tissue to study how the brain processes what people see. The research discovered a ‘Jennifer Aniston neurone’ – an individual nerve cell that fired each time the subject saw a photo of Jennifer Aniston (this was in 2005). This research suggested that the brain was incredibly efficient at storing information about faces.
The National Geographic channel has a sequence of ‘brain games’, to accompany a TV series on the brain, which are fun to do as well as prompting some thought-provoking questions about how we see the world.
In this TED talk video (from June 2013), Elizabeth Loftus talks about her work on eye witness testimony, including both her classic study with Palmer (1974) and more recent work, including a fascinating study involving false memories in highly stressful interrogation training. This video also includes Loftus discussing her response to media controversies arising from her work on satanic abuse and responses to obesity.
Ian West is the illustrator for the visual summary pages in the forthcoming Revision Companion - we asked him for a picture of himself and he sent us this wonderful image! As a visual artist (with regular commissions for publishers, advertising and corporate clients) it was interesting to get his take on the relationship between images and memory; his view is as follows:
We all remember illustrations and images far more than text, well that’s my theory anyway… They can simplify the message and omit unnecessary detail. Also by setting the scene for the text, it makes it easier to place everything in context. I tend to think in pictures, so when asked to recall something from the past, it’s always an image that I see.
It is good to hear that it is illustrating for education that gives Ian a run for his money:
Of all the illustrations that I produce I think it fair to say that educational is the most challenging and diverse. It can vary from, say, drawing a boy wearing a red hat in a market place for a French language book to an elephant riding a bike for a science theme. In educational work it’s nice to think that you’ve helped turn what could be visually boring pages of text into something that pupils may actually enjoy looking at.
We think Ian has has done a brilliant job on his visual summary illustrations for The Revision Companion; many thanks to him for all his hard work from everyone involved in the project.
You can find out more about The Revision Companion at this link.
We’re very excited about the imminent publication (February) of The Revision Companion, with its super-effective approach to helping all students get the most from their AS revision (AQA A). The includes visual summaries for each topic, which we hope will help to make all that AS Psychology even easier to remember! Here are three examples of images from the visual summaries – but without their accompanying text. Can you tell which topics they are connected to?
This first picture is attached to attachment:
The second is stress-related:
And the third is therapeutic:
You can find out more about The Revision Companion, which is packed with excellent revision features (including ready-to-use mock papers), at this link.
And don’t forget our competition to win a revision session with Cara by getting visual yourself.
The dawn of a new year is often accompanied by a determination to turn over a new page in our lives – perhaps to work harder, study more, get fit or just sort our lives out. It all seems so easy on January 1, but why is it so hard to actually succeed in our plans? Is it because we are weak-willed and lazy or is there some other, more ‘psychological’ reason for our failure?
Psychologist Timothy Psychl describes New Year resolutions as ‘cultural procrastination, a way of motivating ourselves that is doomed to fail. They fail, he suggests, because people are not actually ready to change their habits, particularly the bad ones. People may also hold a mistaken belief in a cause and effect relationship between the behaviour to be changed and the overall quality of their life. Unfortunately, as we all know, this is frequently not the case, as losing weight does not necessarily make us happier and working hard does not always bring the much craved for instant success. As a result, we get discouraged and revert back to our old behaviours.
Ultimately, making resolutions work involves changing our behaviour, and in order to do that, we need to change the way we think. This is not as easy as it sounds, as habitual behaviour is created by neural pathways and memories within the brain that become the default option whenever we are faced with a particular choice or decision. Change requires the formation of new neural pathways and new ways of thinking and that takes time and considerable effort.
So, don’t be disheartened this New Year’s Eve, but make sure your resolutions follow a few simple rules:
Focus on something achievable and specific. Instead of resolving to ‘work harder’ try ‘one hour’s psychology reading every day’. Instead of ‘getting fit’, try ‘half an hour’s strenuous activity every day’.
Take small steps in what you want to achieve. Resolutions often fail because they are too big, too overpowering to accomplish all in one go.
Focus on the present – what can you do now in order to bring you closer to your desired goal?
Have an ‘accountability buddy’ – someone close to you that you can report your progress to and who can encourage you.
Focus your mind on the new behaviours and thought processes – remember you need to create new neural pathways in order to change habits.
And above all, have a good New Year – and remember, this year will be YOUR year!
To celebrate the publication of AS Psychology: The Revision Companion (which is out in February), we’re asking students to reflect on the best ways to make revision memorable, for the chance to win a revision session with Cara Flanagan.
Best-selling co-author of The Complete Companions, Cara Flanagan, will come into the school or college of the winning student and run a half-day revision session to help all the AS students reflect and focus ahead of May’s AS exams. Each student will leave with loads of tips and advice, plus their own copy of Psychology AS: The Revision Companion by Cara Flanagan and Mike Cardwell. The winning student will also receive a £50 Amazon voucher for him or herself.
How to enter:
We’re asking students to visit our website and access the chapter on memory from The Revision Companion. They then need to choose a section of information and decide how best to present it visually and memorably.
P.S. To request your inspection copy of The Revision Companion or if you’d like to receive the Oxford Psychology enewsletter, please email email@example.com.