PsychNews: Sep. 12 – 18

1. Video Games Lead to Faster Decisions That Are No Less Accurate

    “Cognitive scientists from the University of Rochester have discovered that playing action video games trains people to make the right decisions faster. The researchers found that video game players develop a heightened sensitivity to what is going on around them, and this benefit doesn’t just make them better at playing video games, but improves a wide variety of general skills that can help with everyday activities like multitasking, driving, reading small print, keeping track of friends in a crowd, and navigating around town.”

2. Contagious yawn ’caused by empathy’

    “Researchers from the University of Connecticut observed 120 well developing children between the ages of one and six. The study showed that although babies yawn even before they leave the womb, the majority of children show no signs of succumbing to contagious yawning until they reach four years old.

    In a second study they looked at 28 children between the ages of six and 15 with some form of autism. Autism is a developmental disorder which affects children’s social interaction causing them to be unable to form normal emotional ties with people around them. Scientists discovered that autistic children were less likely than typically developing children of the same age to yawn when someone else yawns.

    The more severe a child’s autism the less likely he or she would yawn contagiously, the report published in the latest edition of the respected Child Development journal concluded.”

3. How culture can invert genetic risk

    Neuron Culture has a fantastic piece on how a long touted ‘depression gene’ turned out to reduce the risk of mood problems in people in East Asians and why we can’t always understand genetic effects on behaviour without understanding culture.

    The piece riffs on the long-established finding that the short variant of the serotonin transporter or 5-HTTLPR gene is more common in people with depression, until psychologist Joan Chiao found that East Asians are more than twice as likely to have the gene but only have half the rate of mood problems.”

4. Do You Know When You’re Wrong? Gray Matter Shows Introspective Ability

    “Introspection—or metacognition, self-awareness about one’s thinking—is a high-level mental process. ‘Accurate introspection requires discriminating correct decisions from incorrect ones, a capacity that varies substantially across individuals,’ researchers behind the new findings explained in their study.

    For the study, researchers used simple visual stimuli to test 32 healthy subjects’ perception—and how confident they felt about their assessment of a geometric image. The tests were customized to each individual’s level of perceptual skill, in order to keep each subject’s accuracy score at 71 percent, so that the test was consistently difficult for all subjects…

    Test subjects’ accuracy in assessing their own performance ‘was significantly correlated with gray-matter volume’ in the right anterior prefrontal cortex, the team wrote in their study report, published online September 16 in Science. Subjects with more accurate introspective assessments also tended to have denser connections between that area of gray matter and the axon-filled white matter that connected it.”

5. Autism’s First Child

    “As new cases of autism have exploded in recent years—some form of the condition affects about one in 110 children today—efforts have multiplied to understand and accommodate the condition in childhood. But children with autism will become adults with autism, some 500,000 of them in this decade alone. What then? Meet Donald Gray Triplett, 77, of Forest, Mississippi. He was the first person ever diagnosed with autism. And his long, happy, surprising life may hold some answers.”

6. Placebo Effect Significantly Improves Women’s Sexual Satisfaction

    “Many women with low sex drives reported greater sexual satisfaction after taking a placebo, according to new psychology research from The University of Texas at Austin and Baylor College of Medicine. The study was conducted by Cindy Meston, a clinical psychology professor at The University of Texas at Austin, and Andrea Bradford, a 2009 University of Texas at Austin graduate and postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. They found that opening a new line of communication about sex can have a positive effect in many women with low libidos.

    The researchers examined data from a previous clinical trial that followed 200 women over a 12-week period. Fifty of those women, ages 35-55, were randomly chosen to receive a placebo instead of a drug treatment for low sexual arousal. None of the participants knew which treatment they were given. To measure the effect of the treatment, women were asked to rate symptoms of sexual dysfunction such as low sexual desire, low sexual arousal and problems with orgasm.

    The findings, available online in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, show that on average, one in three of the women who took a placebo showed an overall improvement. Most of that improvement seemed to happen during the first four weeks.”

7. When Marketing Stinks

    “Olfactory marketing has been used for years, and usually the objective is to use appealing scents and create a positive branding message. Not always, though – one politician is conducting a campaign that, well, stinks. Carl Paladino, the Republican nominee for governor of New York State, has sent out a mailing that smells like garbage.

    The mailer shows pictures of seven Democratic office holders from the Empire State, six of whom have been investigated. Two of the Democrats have already resigned. The theme of the mailer is, ‘Something STINKS in Albany!'”

8. Measuring Preference for Multitasking

    “A new study led by Elizabeth Poposki, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology in the School of Science at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, may help employers identify employees who enjoy multitasking and are less inclined to quit jobs involving multitasking. The study presents a new tool developed to measure preference for multitasking, information which may be of interest to bosses who tire of repeatedly hiring and training new employees.

    A growing number of individuals must multitask at work and positions requiring a significant amount of multitasking typically have high turnover. Even positions which in the past did not require multitasking may now do so as staff reductions require remaining workers to pick up additional assignments. Technological innovations (e.g., e-mail) also create frequent interruptions. How workers feel about multitasking may influence their job satisfaction and the likelihood that they will quit, important factors in hiring and placement decisions.”

10. Dog with symptoms of unilateral neglect

For those who don’t know: unilateral neglect is a “neuropsychological condition in which, after damage to one hemisphere of the brain, a deficit in attention to and awareness of one side of space is observed.” As you can see in the video, the dog only eats half of its bowl and then walks away thinking it is finished.

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