JAN The year began with fall-out from the final report into the fraud of social psychologist Diederik Stapel. The scale was shocking - 55 journal papers published over 15 years are tainted. The Levelt investigating committee pointed the finger at the research culture in social psychology, but the British Psychological Society's own Social Psychology Section rejected this. So too did the European Association of Social Psychology, who argued that the discipline has actually suffered fewer frauds than other branches of science. In other news, a team of researchers in Canada attracted criticism when they spun their research to suggest that the concept of IQ is a myth. "There are many mysteries about intelligence and the general factor," Professor Richard Haier told The Psychologist. "Now there is a new one – how did this paper get published?"
FEB The first rumours of Obama's richly funded BRAIN initiative began to emerge. A new spin on a modern psychology classic: researchers showed that inattentional blindness can lead experienced radiographers to fail to notice a "gorilla on the lung". A less welcome classic also made an appearance - the left/brain right/brain myth in a report from the RSA that claimed the woes of the Western world are due to our over-dependence on the left-brain hemisphere (some astute criticism here). It was also announced this month that MPs would have access to mental health treatment in Westminster for the first time. Jonah Lehrer apologised for plagiarising the Research Digest. Contradicting all established neuranatomical fact, the Daily Mail described how evil lurks in the brain's "central lobe"!
MARCH Neuroscientists and psychologists began to react to the news of Obama's BRAIN initiative and the similarly ambitious EU Human Brain Project. Psychologists started a campaign against the publication of US psychiatry's re-worked diagnostic code DSM-5. Debate about and reaction to the crisis in social psychology continued - The Center for Open Science was launched by US psychologist Brian Nosek, and The Association for Psychological Science announced a new article format Registered Replication Reports for one its key journals. An important new study found that many mental disorders share the same genetic risk factors.
APRIL After all the questions raised about social psychology, it was the turn of neuroscience as an important analysis suggested that the majority of neuroscience studies are statistically underpowered, likely leading to unreliable findings. Meanwhile a provocative paper claimed that brain scans could predict those offenders likely to return to prison. The Neurocritic took a sceptical look at the results. After all the speculation, the BRAIN Initiative finally launched. Perfectly capturing the zeitgeist, Ferris Jabr for Scientific American wrote a wonderful article about the psychology of reading paper books vs. e-books.
MAY Days before the publication of the new DSM-5 psychiatric diagnostic code, the document received a barrage of criticism from opposite directions. The BPS Division of Clinical Psychology published their concerns, including that the code is too biologically based, while Thomas Insel of the NIMH argued that the code is already out of date because it's not grounded in biological findings. In other news, the UK government's Behavioural Insight Team went part-private; a study about the effects of fist-clenching on memory attracted severe criticism; more controversy bubbled up after the failure to replicate another social priming result; Diederik Stapel was interviewed; two psychologists were voted among the world's top 10 thinker; and Paul Bloom explained how too much empathy can actually lead us to do the wrong thing.
JUNE Many psychologists were among more than 70 signatories to an open letter to the Guardian calling for a new approach to publishing across the life sciences - pre-registered reports in which a study is accepted for publication based on the proposed methodology, prior to the collection of any actual results. The Psychologist reported on the neuroscientist Russell Poldrack who is scanning his own brain three times a week for a year. This is what happened when students and neuroscientists were asked to draw a neuron. A study used fall out from atomic bomb testing to settle the debate over whether adult humans can grow new neurons. Scientists from Germany and Canada created the most detailed map of the brain ever. The Big Brain Atlas is part of the EU's €1-billion Human Brain Project. Mark Stokes argued there's a lot more to neuroscience than media "neuromania".
Part 1 Jan to June is here.
JULY UCL cognitive neuroscientist Sophie Scott was among the scholars unhappy about the call for the introduction of pre-registered reports in psychology (see June). Walter Boot and colleagues published an important paper highlighting how many control conditions in psychology are inadequate. Another paper claimed that the real-world impact of psychological and social interventions is being squandered by poor practices in the reporting of randomised trials. Doubts were raised about Milgram's classic studies into obedience. Matt Wall debunked neuromarketing. Bethany Brookshire worried that neuroskepticism was becoming excessive and called for neuronuance. Oliver Sacks turned 80 and felt happy about it. "Psychology's most original thinker" Dan Wegner passed away.
AUG A study found that people's sleep is disturbed at full moon, and not because of the light. Harvard psychologist Steve Pinker wrote a magisterial essay on why science, including psychology and neuroscience, is not the enemy of the humanities. The Guardian launched a new psychology blog "Head Quarters" featuring the dream team of Pete Etchells, Molly Crockett, Nathalia Gjersoe and Chris Chambers. UCL cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore was this year's recipient of the prestigious Rosalind Franklin Award from the Royal Society. The RSA's Social Brain Centre launched a new project into spirituality and the brain. New data showed that dementia rates had fallen in the UK. Prisoners' performance on the classic prisoners' dilemma game was measured for the first time. "Super-recognisers" were recruited to spot known criminals at the Notting Hill carnival.
SEPT Scientists created mini brains from stem cells. Hype surrounded a study that purported to show a driving game reversed age-related mental decline. New data showed that England's Improving Access to Psychotherapies programme had failed to stall the county's rising anti-depressant prescription rates. Obama's administration announced plans to create its own "Nudge Unit" modelled on the British government's Behavioural Insight Team. The British Psychological Society's Research Digest marked its tenth anniversary with a series of research-backed self-help posts. Barbara Fredrickson, one of the world’s leading positive psychologists, admitted that a highly influential paper she co-authored in 2005 is fundamentally flawed. David Dobbs wrote a wonderfully inspiring article on the social life of your genes.
OCT Reading fiction boosts your empathy skills, but only if it's literary fiction, a study claimed. Not everyone was impressed. The purpose of Obama's BRAIN initiative became clearer thanks to publication of an interim report. Meanwhile the Guardian interviewed Henry Markram - head of the EU's Human Brain Project. The Society for Personality and Social Psychology published an important remedial report (pdf) for the discipline: "Improving the Dependability of Research in Personality and Social Psychology ..." The Research Digest hosted a Super Week in which we met individuals with psychological super powers. A charity in Wales was criticised for using NLP to treat traumatised soldiers. The science of using brain imaging to decode people's thoughts, minus the hype - a welcome overview from Kerri Smith was published this month.
NOV The World Medical Association announced important changes to its Declaration of Helsinki - an influential ethics code for conducting research with human participants that is followed by many psychology departments and journals. New data suggested that after years of increase, the diagnosis rates for autism in the UK had plateaued. Concerns were raised again about the lack of educational psychologists in Scotland and there were cuts to funding for ed psych services in England, even as demand was on the increase. A new study found that eye contact does not in fact increase persuasion. BBC Radio 4's All in the Mind celebrated its 25th anniversary (the same year that The Psychologist magazine reached the same milestone). A neuroscience journal for kids was launched. A team of over 50 international researchers published an ambitious attempt to replicate 13 existing findings in psychology. Psychology mourned the loss of two stars: cognitive neuroscientist Andy Calder and social psychologist Nalini Ambady.
DEC A twin study attracted controversy after it appeared to show that genes trump schooling and parenting when it comes to children's exam success. The Science Museum opened a new psychology-themed exhibition supported by the British Psychological Society. Mind Maps: Stories from Psychology "explores how mental health conditions have been diagnosed and treated over the past 250 years." A brain imaging study purported to show that men's and women's brains are wired up differently and that this supports gender stereotypes. Not everyone was impressed. Another new study found that stimulating part of the anterior cingulate cortex triggers a kind of "Eye of the Tiger" effect. Finally, this month a US court may have been the first to see brain imaging evidence save a killer from the death penalty. Intriguingly, one of the neuroscientist witnesses for the defence - Ruben Gur - was a co-author on that sex-differences brain wiring study … it's a small world, as they say.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
Your At-a-Glance Guide to Psychology in 2013 - BPS Research Digest
From the British Psychological Society's Research Digest, this is their 2013 year in review for psychology - you can also check out their most popular Research Digest posts for the year, as well.