Friday, December 28, 2012

Top Brain, Psychology, and Neuroscience Stories from 2012, Part Three

These stories come from three sources - Forbes, BPS Psychology, and PsyBlog. Many of these stories appeared here or in my Facebook feed, and several more are pieces I had missed.

This is the third and final part of the series, a collection of the best stories from 2012 that appeared on the British Psychological Society (BPS) Research Digest site. As an added bonus, they also published a timeline of top stories from each month.

Our ten most popular posts of 2012

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

1. Why do children hide by covering their eyes?

"Together with the fact that it was the concealment of the eyes that seemed to be the crucial factor for feeling hidden, the researchers wondered if the children's invisibility beliefs were based around the idea that there must be eye contact between two people - a meeting of gazes - for them to see each other (or at least, to see their "selves")."

2. Why do humans walk in circles?

"Bestaven's team said this suggests that our propensity to walk in circles is related in some way to slight irregularities in the vestibular system. Located in inner ear, the vestibular system guides our balance and minor disturbances here could skew our sense of the direction of "straight ahead" just enough to make us go around in circles."

3. Pop music is getting sadder and more emotionally ambiguous

"Schellenberg and von Scheve found that the proportion of songs recorded in minor-mode has increased, doubling over the last fifty years. The proportion of slow tempo hits has also increased linearly, reaching a peak in the 90s."

4. You're most creative when you're at your groggiest

"Here's the headline result: the students were much more successful at solving the insight problems when the time of testing coincided with their least optimal time of functioning."

5. Introducing "enclothed cognition" - how what we wear affects how we think

"Participants who donned a lab coat performed significantly better than others who merely saw a lab coat on the desk (thus suggesting the enclothed effect is more powerful than mere priming) or others who wore the same kind of coat but were told it belonged to a painter."

6. Made it! An uncanny number of psychology findings manage to scrape into statistical significance

"The pattern of results could be indicative of dubious research practices, in which researchers nudge their results towards significance, for example by excluding troublesome outliers or adding new participants. Or it could reflect a selective publication bias in the discipline - an obsession with reporting results that have the magic stamp of statistical significance. Most likely it reflects a combination of both these influences."

7. Why you should watch a horror film before going to the art gallery

Feeling afraid enhances the sublime power of art. "The capacity for a work of art to grab our interest and attention, to remove us from daily life, may stem from its ability to trigger our evolved mechanisms for coping with danger," the researchers said.

8. What your Facebook picture says about your cultural background

"Regardless of their current location, there was a significant association between cultural background and style of Facebook picture. Facebook users originally hailing from Taiwan were more likely to have a zoomed-out picture in which they were seen against a background context. Users from the USA, by contrast, were more likely to have a close-up picture in which their face filled up more of the frame."

9. Total recall: The man who can remember every day of his life in detail

"For most of us, it's tricky enough to remember what we were doing this time last week, let alone on some random day years ago. But for a blind 20-year-old man referred to by researchers as HK, every day of his life since the age of about eleven is recorded in his memory in detail."

10. Facebook or Twitter: What does your choice of social networking site say about you?

"The researchers interpreted these patterns as suggesting that Facebook users seek and share information as a way of avoiding more cognitively demanding sources such as journal articles and newspaper reports. Twitter users, by contrast, use the site for its cognitive stimulation - as a way of uncovering useful information and material without socialising (this was particularly true for older participants)."

* * * * *

And here is the "at-a-glance" timeline for BPS Research Digest stories from 2012:

Your at-a-glance guide to psychology in 2012

Milgram, Freud, Scandal and Sport, here's the Psychological Year in Review.

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

Jan - <>Hertfordshire police said they'd completed a successful trial using the polygraph with convicted sex offenders. The test, which measures physiological arousal, has a poor reputation among psychological scientists. Aldert Vrij at the University of Portsmouth said it is "atheoretical and inaccurate". <>Figures from December showing a dramatic rise in anti-depressant medications continued to attract controversy. The mainstream media said it was a sign of the recession affecting our mental health. Ben Goldacre and others disagreed.

Feb - <>New data suggested Little Albert was brain damaged. <>There was huge interest in a new study showing that brain activity could be decoded to reveal the words a person had heard. <>The film A Dangerous Method was released, about the relationship between Freud and Jung. <>Numerous psychologists joined other thinkers in answering the annual Edge question: "What is your favourite deep, elegant, or beautiful explanation?". <>Twitter activity was found to predict the impact of science journals. <>The NYT noticed the rising wave of psychotherapy apps. <>Ulric Neisser passed away.

March - <>A row erupted over replications in psychology after a US professor reacted angrily to a failed replication of one of his seminal papers. <>The Maudsley/IoP debated whether psychoanalysis has a place in the modern NHS. <>The UK Government's Behavioural Insight Team said millions of pounds could be saved by using psychological insights to combat fraud and error. <>The Office for National Statistics (ONS) released its first data on the nation's wellbeing. <>An article was published on the last of the split-brain patients.

April - <>The Levelt committee at the University of Tilburg published thepreliminary results from its investigation into the fraud by Diederik Stapel. <>The Psychologist published an opinion special issue on the importance of replication. <>The UK's first ever "happiness weekend" took place at Wellington college. <>The British Psychological Society launched its Origins project - charting the history of the discipline. <>Neuroscience writer Jonah Lehrer published his eagerly awaited book on creativity - Imagine. <>Channel 4 began a new show about people's hidden psychological talents.

May - <>Oxford University opened a new lab, "the Oxford Centre for Neural Circuits and Behaviour". <>A paper was published based on a replication of Milgram on a French TV quiz show. <>A survey of the media's treatment of neuroscience found that findings are often misrepresented for ideological ends. <>The British Psychological Society launched a sports psychology portal in anticipation of the Olympic Games. <>Researchers in the USA attempted to simulate the brain damage suffered by Phineas Gage. <>The "disappearing hand trick" won the year's prize for best illusion.

June - <>A trial of parenting classes began in England. <>A report by a cross-party group of MPs claimed half the UK population has a negative body image. <>The British Psychological Society published its concerns about the planned changes to psychiatry's diagnostic code (DSM-5). <>A meta-analysis claimed that working memory training fails to bring broader benefits. <>Crowdsourcing was said to be transforming the science of psychology. <>A close-up photo of the surface of a living human brain won the Wellcome Trust image awards. <>The Psychologist published a feature article on the psychology of competition in anticipation of the London Olympic games in July.

July - <>The Erasmus University of Rotterdam found one of their top social psychologists, Dirk Smeesters, guilty of "data selection" and failing to keep suitable data records. <>Chartered Psychologist Lih-Mei Liao, was part of a team behind a new animated documentary about labiaplasty. <>Pioneering occupational psychologist Harry Levinson passed away. <>An LA-Times op-ed urged people to stop bullying the social sciences. Another said psychology isn't a science (oh yes it is). <>Social psychologist Lawrence Sanna resigned his post under the cloud of scandal. <>Newsweek said the Internet is making us crazy. <>Plans were announced for the polygraph test to be rolled out nationally in England and Wales. <>George Miller passed away. <>Jonah Lehrer resigned his position at the New Yorker after admitting he'd fabricated some Bob Dylan quotes in his book Imagine.

August - <>More data were published showing anti-depressant prescriptions on the rise. <>A murder trial judge in the US ruled that fMRI-based lie-detection evidence was inadmissible. <>Cambridge University merged its two psychology departments into one - "Experimental Psychology" and "Social and Developmental Psychology". <>The first annual results from the ONS well-being survey found that three quarters of people aged over 16 rated their overall life satisfaction as 7 or more (out of 10).

September - <>The winners of the latest annual Ig Nobel Awards were announced, including a study that brain scanned a dead salmon and another that showed leaning to the left makes the Eiffel Tower appear smaller. <>Nature published an editorial lamenting the lack of investment in research into ways to improve the effectiveness of psychological therapy. <>The Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP) published an open letter to its members urging them to "make discussions of ethical behavior part of the everyday discussion in your lab." <>The Commission on Media Violence concluded that "research clearly shows that media violence consumption increases the relative risk of aggression."

October - <>The UK Home Office announced that it’s widening the cross-government definition of domestic violence, to take into account psychological factors. <>Thomas Szasz passed away. <>Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman wrote an open letter to social psychologists. <>The board of directors at the Great Ape Trust in Iowa placed the celebrated primatologist Sue Savage-Rumbaugh on "administrative leave". <>A neurosurgeon claimed that he died and went to heaven (and back) while suffering from a brain infection. <>British psychiatrist David Healy told the American Psychiatric Association that the profession is committing "professional suicide" by failing to deal with its close relationship with the pharmaceutical industry. <>Positive psychology mourned the passing of Christopher Petersen. A study into why children hide by covering their eyes becomes the most popular item on the Digest blog since records started.

November - <>Labour leader Ed Miliband gave a speech to the Royal College of Psychiatrists about mental illness, which he described as the "biggest unaddressed health challenge of our age". <>Nate Silver predicted the outcome of the US presidential election using number-crunching techniques. <>The Schizophrenia Commission published the results of its year-long investigation into the state of care for patients in England with schizophrenia, finding them to be "badly let down". <>The Effect, a play about depression and the inadequacy of neuropharmacological explanations, opened at the Cottesloe Theatre, London, to rave reviews.

December - <>An American Psychiatric Association working party approved the proposed changes to its diagnostic code (DSM-5), due for publication next May. <>A law change was proposed to reflect the psychological harm caused by sexual offences. <>The Commons home affairs select committee calls for a fundamental review of UK drugs policy. <>The British Psychological Society's Research Digest published its first handy guide to the psychological year in review.

January - ?
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