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Posts published during 2010

Interesting range of online experiments involving bio-motion here

A small study of Canadian infants and toddlers found that those who slept most at night were making significantly more progress in executive functions than those who slept less at night, even if the latter group also had daytime sleep. These functions include impulse control, memory and mental flexibility. The researchers controlled for parents’ education and income and children’s general cognition, but the link between night-time sleep and development of cognitive skills remained. These finding support similar research findings on schoolchildren.

Might this also apply to older childern and adults? That would be interesting to know!
Annie Bernier, Stephanie M. Carlson, Stéphanie Bordeleau, Julie Carrier. Relations Between Physiological and Cognitive Regulatory Systems: Infant Sleep Regulation and Subsequent Executive Functioning. Child Development, 2010; 81 (6)

Guess what! Antisocial men are less likely to get married when compared to less antisocial men. Why was this hypothesis so striking, had nobody asked women whether they would prefer a more or a less antisocial partner? Anyway, this was a nicely done twin study, and it showed that antisocial behaviours are also reduced by marriage – with a positive correlation between quality of marriage and size of antisocial behaviour reduction. Interesting? Rocket science? You decide.

An Examination of Selection vs Causation via a Longitudinal Twin Design S. Alexandra Burt, PhD; M. Brent Donnellan, PhD; Mikhila N. Humbad, MA; Brian M. Hicks, PhD; Matt McGue, PhD; William G. Iacono, PhD. Does Marriage Inhibit Antisocial Behavior? Arch Gen Psychiatry, 2010;67(12):1309-1315

It’s been known for ages that information on light levels is passed from the two retinas via a special small nerve from each eye to the SCN, but the mechanism of this is now more clear. As well as rods and cones, cells which are sensitive to light and give us black-and-white and colour vision there is a third type of light-sensitive retinal cell. These are far less in number than rods and cones, and react to light by expressing the pigment melanopsin, so they are known as mRGCs (melanopsin-expressing retinal ganglion cells). Not only do these cells send information to the SCN but they also control pupil size. And now it seems they also contribute to our visual image formation as axons from the mRGCs have been traced onwards from the SCN to visual processing centres. What does this imply? It gives some idea of how seriously sight impaired people can still detect levels of brightness, plus the possibility in the future of engineering melanopsin-expressing cells to improve or restore sight.

Fred Rieke, Timothy M. Brown, Carlos Gias, Megumi Hatori, Sheena R. Keding, Ma’ayan Semo, Peter J. Coffey, John Gigg, Hugh D. Piggins, Satchidananda Panda, Robert J. Lucas. Melanopsin Contributions to Irradiance Coding in the Thalamo-Cortical Visual System. PLoS Biology, 2010; 8 (12)

It is proposed that happiness be classified as a psychiatric disorder and be included in future editions of the major diagnostic manuals under the new name: major affective disorder, pleasant type. In a review of the relevant literature it is shown that happiness is statistically abnormal, consists of a discrete cluster of symptoms, is associated with a range of cognitive abnormalities, and probably reflects the abnormal functioning of the central nervous system. One possible objection to this proposal remains–that happiness is not negatively valued. However, this objection is dismissed as scientifically irrelevant.


via null device

For a quarter-century, women have outnumbered men at Scrabble clubs and tournaments in America, but a woman has won the national championship only once, and all the world champions have been men. Among the world’s 50 top-ranked players, typically about 45 are men.

The top players, both male and female, point to a simple explanation for the disparity: more men are willing to do whatever it takes to reach the top. You need more than intelligence and a good vocabulary to become champion. You have to spend hours a day learning words like ‘khat,’ doing computerised drills and memorising long lists of letter combinations, called alphagrams, that can form high-scoring seven-letter words.

. . .

The guys who memorise these lists have a hard time explaining their passion. But the evolutionary roots of it seem clear to anthropologists like Helen Fisher of Rutgers University.

‘Evolution has selected for men with a taste for risking everything to get to the top of the hierarchy,’ she said, ‘because those males get more reproductive opportunities, not only among primates but also among human beings. Women don’t get as big a reproductive payoff by reaching the top. They’re just as competitive with themselves – they want to do a good job just as much as men do – but men want to be more competitive with others.'”

From New York Times

Images from Adverblog

This has got to be the most fantastic collection of Psychology textbook covers ever…..

The Doctor Who episode ‘Vincent and The Doctor’, which saw the Doctor team up with Vincent Van Gogh to fight an invisible turkey, has been nominated for a Mind Mental Health Media Award.

The awards ‘celebrate the best portrayal of mental distress and reporting of mental health in broadcast media’.

The full shortlist is here and it provides a wide range of potential material for classroom discussion.

“It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” seems to have a lot of truth as research is showing a strong though probably unconscious effect that a person’s accent has on the listener. In an American study an accent which is very different from the listener’s was perceived to be less trustworthy and less reliable than one which was similar.  Possibly the difficulty for native Americans in understanding the unfamiliarly accented non-native speakers’ speech was misinterpreted as the speaker having less credibility rather than the true cause being the extra processing needed to gain understanding. Bestelmeyer’s  UK study supports this, as the Scottish participants reported similar findings when listening to Scottish speakers compared to American or English speakers. MRI scans showed that words spoken with familiar  accents are processed more quickly and effortlessly than other accents even when the language is native to all speakers. It is suggested that these processing difficulties may be the basis or origin of prejudice, as in one’s own accent identifying the ingroup, and other accents identifying outgroups.

Bestelmeyer et al. (2010) Society for Neuroscience. “Listeners’ Brains Respond More to Native Accent Speakers; Imaging Study Suggests Accents Are Subtle ‘Insider’ or ‘Outsider’ Signal to the Brain.” ScienceDaily, 18 November 2010.

Lev-Ari et al. (2010) Why don’t we believe non-native speakers? The influence of accent on credibility. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 2010; DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2010.05.025

It seems that you can tell whether a person is promiscuous or monogamous just by looking at the fingers! Well, maybe it doesn’t work for individuals but researchers curious about human evolution have used finger length to make an educated guess about some of our distant ancestors’ mating habits.

According to evolutionary theory male characteristics such as aggressiveness and competitiveness are more likely in promiscuous species than monogamous ones. Looking at fossil skeletons we can therefore suggest that Australopithecus, which lived three to four million years ago was monogamous whereas an even earlier group, Ardipithecus, was highly promiscuous – all because of their finger length!

Of course it isn’t the finger length that causes sexual behaviour – it is levels of the male hormone androgen. Higher aggression and competitiveness in males is related to intrasexual selection (the more androgens the more competitive) and is also related to higher levels of androgens. An effect of higherlevels of androgens is that they cause a short forefinger and longer ring finger. This means that males high in androgens have a low forefinger to ring finger ratio whereas males low in androgens have a high ratio.

Finger length ratios have been linked to lots of other things, such as numeracy and literacy (see The A2 Complete Companion page 288).