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Mon, 25 Oct 2021
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Iowa State study examines why innocent suspects may confess to a crime

© Bob Elbert, News Service
Iowa State psychologists Stephanie Madon (far right) and Max Guyll (middle right) have been overseeing experiments -- like this one by ISU students Shelby Wuebker and Lee Casavant -- on the consequences that drive a person's confession decisions.
Why would anyone falsely confess to a crime they didn't commit? It seems illogical, but according to The Innocence Project, there have been 266 post-conviction DNA exonerations since 1989 -- 25 percent of which involved a false confession.

A new Iowa State University study may shed light on one reason for those false confessions. In two experiments simulating choices suspects face in police interrogations, undergraduate subjects altered their behavior to confess to illegal activities in order to relieve short-term distress (the proximal consequence) while discounting potential long-term (distal) consequences.

"The thing about these exoneration cases is that they all pertained to heinous crimes; that's why there was DNA evidence available. And so we wanted to determine why someone may be willing to falsely confess to one of those crimes," said Stephanie Madon, an ISU associate professor of psychology and the study's lead author. "We thought it might have to do with the pay-off structure of police interrogations. Some interrogation methods -- like physical isolation and the presentation of false evidence -- have immediate consequences for suspects that encourage them to confess. Though they also face consequences that encourage them to deny guilt -- such as the possibility of conviction and incarceration -- these consequences are more distal.


How Couples Recover After an Argument Stems From Their Infant Relationships

© Unknown
When studying relationships, psychological scientists have often focused on how couples fight. But how they recover from a fight is important, too. According to a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, couples' abilities to bounce back from conflict may depend on what both partners were like as infants.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have been following a cohort of people since before they were born, in the mid-1970s. When the subjects were about 20 years old, they visited the lab with their romantic partners for testing. This included a conflict discussion, when they were asked to talk about an issue they disagreed on, followed by a "cool-down" period, when the couples spent a few minutes talking about something they saw eye to eye about.

Although the cool-down period was included just to make sure the researchers weren't sending the couples away angry, Jessica E. Salvatore, a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota, noticed some interesting things about the couples' communication styles during this recovery time. "As part of another project where we looked at how couples fight, I would often catch a few minutes of this cool-down period," she says. Salvatore noticed that some couples had intense conflicts, but made a perfectly clean transition to chatting about something they agreed on. In other couples, one or both partners seemed "stuck" on the conflict discussion and couldn't move on.


The man who can 'taste' words: 'Gordon Brown tastes revolting, while Tony Blair tastes of desiccated coconut'

© Unknown
Taste of life: James Wannerton suffers from gustatory auditory synaesthesia.
James Wannerton, 50, is one of an estimated two-and-a-half million people who suffer from gustatory auditory synaesthesia, a cross-sensory neurological condition, which means he can literally taste words. A systems analyst, he lives in Blackpool, Lancashire, with his partner, Jeanette. Here, he talks about how it has affected his life.

One of my earliest memories was when I was about four or five and chanting The Lord's Prayer in school assembly.

But it's not the words, the school hall or the teachers I remember most. It's the flavours, because The Lord's Prayer tasted unmistakably of bacon.

It was the first time I'd experienced tasting words, and most of my early memories are dominated by taste more than any other sense.

At school, I was always one of the dreamy kids - staring out of the window and tasting stuff. Blue was lovely, like a very soft Opal Fruit sweet. My family holidays in Devon tasted strongly of brick dust. Other trips tasted of chocolates and wine gums.


Lie Detection: Misconceptions, Pitfalls, and Opportunities for Improvement

© Unknown
Unlike Pinocchio, liars do not usually give telltale signs that they are being dishonest. In lieu of a growing nose, is there a way to distinguish people who are telling the truth from those who aren't? A new report in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, discusses some of the common misconceptions about those proficient in the art of deception, reviews the shortcomings of commonly used lie-detection techniques, and presents new empirically supported methods for telling liars from truth-tellers with greater accuracy.

Trapping a liar is not always easy. Lies are often embedded in truths and behavioral differences between liars and truth-tellers are usually very small. In addition, some people are just very good at lying. Lie detectors routinely make the common mistakes of overemphasizing nonverbal cues, neglecting intrapersonal variations (i.e., how a person acts when they are telling the truth versus when they are lying), and being overly confident in their lie-detection skills.


Dependency, the Dark Side of Support: A Helpful Partner Isn't Always Helpful

© Unknown
You might think that a loving partner helps keep you on track - say, when you want to stick to your jogging or concentrate on your studies. But a new study in Psychological Science, a publication of the Association of Psychological Science, reports the opposite: Thinking about the support a significant other offers in pursuing goals can undermine the motivation to work toward those goals - and can increase procrastination before getting down to work.

The study's authors, psychological scientists Gráinne M. Fitzsimons of Duke University and Eli J. Finkel of Northwestern University, call this phenomenon "self-regulatory outsourcing" - the unconscious reliance on someone else to move your goals forward, coupled by a relaxation of your own effort. It happens with friends and family, too.

Does this mean love doesn't bring out the best in us? Yes and no, says Fitzsimons. "If you look just at one goal" in isolation - as the study does - "there can be a negative effect. But relying on another person also lets you spread your energy across many goals, which can be effective if your partner is helpful."


Stress, Anxiety Both Boon and Bane to Brain


A cold dose of fear lends an edge to the here-and-now - say, when things go bump in the night.
"That edge sounds good. It sounds adaptive. It sounds like perception is enhanced and that it can keep you safe in the face of danger," says Alexander Shackman, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

But it sounds like there's also a catch, one that Shackman and his coauthors - including Richard Davidson, UW-Madison psychology and psychiatry professor - described in the Jan. 19 Journal of Neuroscience.

"It makes us more sensitive to our external surroundings as a way of learning where or what a threat may be, but interferes with our ability to do more complex thinking," Davidson says.

Faced with the possibility of receiving an unpleasant electric shock, the study's subjects showed enhanced activity in brain circuits responsible for taking in visual information, but a muted signal in circuitry responsible for evaluating that information. Remove the threat of shock (and thus the stress and anxiety) and the effect is reversed: less power for vigilance, more power for strategic decision-making.

Comment: The solution to the paradox? Pay attention to realty left and right, learning about the dangers of the world, but with periods of respite so that we are able to evaluate what we see and our decisions with a clear and fully functional mind. Reading SOTT.net is a great way to do the former, and as for the latter, Éiriú Eolas is an excellent practice for dealing with the negative effects of stress and anxiety.


Brain Regions Sleep More Deeply When Used More

Sleepy Birds
© Michael Gehrisch/John Lesku
During deep sleep the brain is highly electrically active - but only in those regions, which were heavily used previously while awake.
When we are asleep, those regions of our brain that were particularly active during wakefulness sleep more deeply. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen, Germany and colleagues have demonstrated for the first time that this is also the case in birds.

The researchers prevented pigeons from taking their afternoon nap by showing them David Attenborough's nature documentary series The Life of Birds. An eye cap temporarily covered one eye during the movie session. During the following night, the researchers observed deeper sleep in the part of the brain neurologically connected to the stimulated eye compared with the same region in the other brain hemisphere. A non-visual region did not show such an asymmetry in sleep.

Birds are the only animals outside of mammals whose sleep is also divided into a deep sleep phase, the so-called "Slow Wave Sleep" (SWS) and a dream phase, REM sleep ("Rapid Eye Movement Sleep"). During SWS sleep the brain generates strong electrical signals which are manifested as high-amplitude low-frequency waves in the electroencephalogram (EEG).

Comment: The quality of your sleep depends on the quality of your life, and vice versa. For more information on sleep, please visit our forum discussion "Are You Getting Enough Sleep? Sleeping properly?" which includes excerpts from T.S. Wiley's book Lights Out.


It's in the genes: Scientists solve the mystery of sleepwalking

© Rex
Sleepwalkers can be injured during their nighttime wandering. Scientists believe they may have discovered one genetic cause of the disorder
It's a disorder that can be embarrassing and even dangerous, but scientists now believe they have discovered one of the secrets behind sleepwalking.

Researchers studied four generations of a family where nine members out of 22 had the condition.

They found that all the sufferers had a fault on a particular chromosome and carrying just one copy of this defective DNA was enough to cause sleepwalking.

The team from Washington University, led by Dr Christina Gurnett, hope the findings will help create new treatments.

Sleepwalking affects one in 10 children and around one in 50 adults. If a person with the condition is disturbed during the night, the primitive parts of their brain can spring into life while the conscious controlling part do not.

This can cause them to sit up, walk around and complete complex tasks, all while asleep.

Those with the condition, also known as somnambulism, may perform benign activities such as pulling on a pair of socks. However, there have been cases where sleepwalkers have been killed after walking into a busy road or they have injured a family member.

Little is known about what causes sleepwalking although stress and fatigue are known triggers. Episodes usually come on early in the night and can last from seconds to hours with the sufferer unable to remember the event when they wake.


Brief diversions vastly improve focus, researchers find

© Jason Lindseay (jasonlindsey.com)
A new study suggests taking brief mental breaks improves performance on a prolonged task.
A new study in the journal Cognition overturns a decades-old theory about the nature of attention and demonstrates that even brief diversions from a task can dramatically improve one's ability to focus on that task for prolonged periods.

The study zeroes in on a phenomenon known to anyone who's ever had trouble doing the same task for a long time: After a while, you begin to lose your focus and your performance on the task declines.

Some researchers believe that this "vigilance decrement," as they describe it, is the result of a drop in one's "attentional resources," said University of Illinois psychology professor Alejandro Lleras, who led the new study. "For 40 or 50 years, most papers published on the vigilance decrement treated attention as a limited resource that would get used up over time, and I believe that to be wrong. You start performing poorly on a task because you've stopped paying attention to it," he said. "But you are always paying attention to something. Attention is not the problem."

Lleras had noticed that a similar phenomenon occurs in sensory perception: The brain gradually stops registering a sight, sound or feeling if that stimulus remains constant over time. For example, most people are not aware of the sensation of clothing touching their skin. The body becomes "habituated" to the feeling and the stimulus no longer registers in any meaningful way in the brain.


Study: Popular kids -- but not the most popular -- more likely to torment peers

© Unknown
Popularity increases aggression except for those at top of social hierarchy

While experts often view aggressive behavior as a maladjusted reaction typical of social outcasts, a new study in the February issue of the American Sociological Review finds that it's actually popular adolescents - but not the most popular ones - who are particularly likely to torment their peers.

"Our findings underscore the argument that - for the most part - attaining and maintaining a high social status likely involves some level of antagonistic behavior," said Robert Faris, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California-Davis.

The study, which Faris co-authored with sociology professor Diane Felmlee, his UC-Davis colleague, also finds that those students in the top 2% of the school social hierarchy - along with those at the bottom - are the least aggressive.

"The fact that they both have reduced levels of aggression is true, but it can be attributed to quite different things," Faris said. "The ones at the bottom don't have the social power or as much capacity to be aggressive whereas the ones at the top have all that power, but don't need to use it."

Students' popularity was determined by how central they were in their school's web of friendships, and the authors define aggression as behavior directed toward harming or causing pain to another. It can be physical (e.g., hitting, shoving, or kicking), verbal (e.g., name-calling or threats), or indirect (e.g., spreading rumors or ostracism).