1. Group tolerance linked to perceptions of fairness and harm

    March 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Carnegie Mellon University press release:

    Look for the fault line in any modern conflict and it likely follows a familiar division between the opposing groups. Whether that divide is sectarian, ethnic or ideological, people’s devotion to the values that define their communities can make it seem as if violence along their boundaries is inevitable.

    But a new study of groups in tension or conflict found evidence that people are willing to share a society with those of differing beliefs as long as they believe that those groups share a commitment to universal moral values such as fairness and harm.

    Published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Carnegie Mellon University’s Nichole Argo and The New School for Social Research’s Nadine Obeid and Jeremy Ginges interviewed hundreds of members of sectarian groups in Lebanon, ethnic groups in Morocco and ideological factions in the United States. Their findings undermine political claims that conflicts arise because of differences in what they call “binding” values, such as beliefs about God, purity or deference to authority. Members of groups may believe in these things, but they don’t necessarily expect others to share those beliefs.

    “In essence, I can eat dinner with, date, marry or live close to you even if you don’t believe in the same God or eat the same foods. But I will distance myself from you and your group in these ways if I perceive that you don’t play fair or that you don’t care about others,” said Argo, a research scientist in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at CMU with a courtesy appointment in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences.

    In Lebanon, the authors asked 376 undergraduates from the Lebanese American University — a mix of Christian, Sunni and Shiite students from middle-class backgrounds — how comfortable they’d be living near and socializing with members of the other sectarian groups. The answer, they found, depended on how much the individual thought the other group prioritized universal “autonomy” values such as harm and fairness. The same was true in Morocco, where they hired local researchers to survey 100 Arabs and Berbers in six districts around Greater Casablanca.

    The authors then asked if a desire to change intergroup relations would motivate increased perceptions of moral difference between groups. If so, would this occur primarily on the basis of universal values of fairness and harm?

    To find out, they interviewed 362 New Yorkers about abortion and same-sex marriage. They found that for participants who espoused either the liberal or the conservative view, thinking about an issue around which they desired a change in the status quo led to a perception of greater distance between self and other in autonomy values, but not binding ones.

    In other words, on issues where participants wanted a status change in an issue that currently favored the other group, they perceived greater differences in autonomy values.

    “This study provides insights about others, but also ourselves,” Argo said. “Do we really distance ourselves from others because of the religious garb they wear, or what they eat? No. We distance ourselves when we don’t trust them to treat us well. Given this, it becomes essential to care about how others perceive our own group’s behavior.”

    She added, “Since people do not usually hate because of differences in ways of life, they may be thinking that our actions disregard them, or worse, constitute attacks against them. Sometimes those perceptions can be prevented or corrected. It’s the golden rule: how we treat others matters.”


  2. It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s – a key discovery about human memory

    by Ashley

    From the Johns Hopkins University press release:

    As Superman flies over the city, people on the ground famously suppose they see a bird, then a plane, and then finally realize it’s a superhero. But they haven’t just spotted the Man of Steel — they’ve experienced the ideal conditions to create a very strong memory of him.

    Johns Hopkins University cognitive psychologists are the first to link human’s long-term visual memory with how things move. The key, they found, lies in whether we can visually track an object. When people see Superman, they don’t think they’re seeing a bird, a plane and a superhero. They know it’s just one thing — even though the distance, lighting and angle change how he looks.

    People’s memory improves significantly with rich details about how an object’s appearance changes as it moves through space and time, the researchers concluded. The findings, which shed light on long-term memory and could advance machine learning technology, appear in this month’s Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

    “The way I look is only a small part of how you know who I am,” said co-author Jonathan Flombaum, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. “If you see me move across a room, you’re getting data about how I look from different distances and in different lighting and from different angles. Will this help you recognize me later? No one has ever asked that question. We find that the answer is yes.”

    Humans have a remarkable memory for objects, says co-author Mark Schurgin, a graduate student in Flombaum’s Visual Thinking Lab. We recognize things we haven’t seen in decades — like eight-track tapes and subway tokens. We know the faces of neighbors we’ve never even met. And very small children will often point to a toy in a store after seeing it just once on TV.

    Though people almost never encounter a single object the exact same way twice, we recognize them anyway.

    Schurgin and Flombaum wondered if people’s vast ability for recall, a skill machines and computers cannot come close to matching, had something to do with our “core knowledge” of the world, the innate understanding of basic physics that all humans, and many animals, are born with. Specifically, everyone knows something can’t be in two places at once. So if we see one thing moving from place to place, our brain has a chance to see it in varying circumstances — and a chance to form a stronger memory of it.

    Likewise, if something is behaving erratically and we can’t be sure we’re seeing just one thing, those memories won’t form.

    “With visual memory, what matters to our brain is that an object is the same,” Flombaum said. “People are more likely to recognize an object if they see it at least twice, moving in the same path.”

    The researchers tested the theory in a series of experiments where people were shown very short video clips of moving objects, then given memory tests. Sometimes the objects appeared to move across the screen as a single object would. Other times they moved in ways we wouldn’t expect a single object to move, such as popping out from one side of the screen and then the other.

    In every experiment, subjects had significantly better memories — as much as nearly 20 percent better — of trackable objects that moved according to our expectations, the researchers found.

    “Your brain has certain automatic rules for how it expects things in the world to behave,” Schurgin said. “It turns out, these rules affect your memory for what you see.”

    The researchers expect the findings to help computer scientists build smarter machines that can recognize objects. Learning more about how humans do it, Flombaum said, will help us build systems that can do it.


  3. Factors that build or break trust when patients access their mental health providers’ notes

    by Ashley

    From the Veterans Affairs Research Communications press release:

    Thanks to electronic health records and online portals, more and more patients are being given access to the notes their clinicians write about their health care visits. Research suggests this national movement, known as “OpenNotes,” can empower patients and boost communication and shared decision-making. But what about mental health visits? Experts have been unsure whether this area is equally likely to benefit.

    Now, a small study from one Veterans Affairs medical center offers insight into the potential for OpenNotes to help — or hurt — patients’ trust in their mental health clinicians.

    “We found that reading mental health notes may strengthen as well as strain patient-clinician relationships by enhancing or undermining trust,” wrote the authors in a report posted online Feb. 1, 2017, in Psychiatric Services.

    The study was led by a group from the Center to Improve Veteran Involvement in Care (CIVIC), at the VA Portland Health Care System in Oregon. VA has been studying the benefits and risks of OpenNotes and other pilot features in VA’s MyHealtheVet patient portal. VA became one of the first health systems in the nation to offer OpenNotes access, in 2013. Patients access their notes through the Blue Button feature in MyHealtheVet.

    The new study involved interviews with 28 patients. The group included male and female veterans of various ages, with diagnoses ranging from depression and PTSD to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Patients in the study were being treated by psychiatrists, psychologists, and other mental health therapists.

    Among the positive themes that emerged in the interviews:

    • Patients appreciated seeing consistency between what had occurred during their appointments and what they later viewed in the clinical notes. Such transparency was important in fostering trust. They liked it, for example, when their clinicians had openly and directly discussed a diagnosis with them before documenting it in the record.
    • They felt respected, and reported greater trust, when the notes showed evidence that their clinicians had truly listened to and understood their personal stories, and had taken note of their individual strengths. One patient said he felt he was “not just a repeat from the last PTSD person [the clinician] talked to, but an individual with PTSD.”

    In contrast, there were several elements that provoked dismay among the patients in the study:

    • They disliked incongruity between what happened in their sessions and what was stated in the notes. They objected to gaps in information, incorrect details, and outdated material that had been copied and pasted in. Some worried that such errors could negatively affect their care from other providers.
    • Many patients said they were upset to see diagnoses that hadn’t been discussed with them. This significantly eroded their trust.

    With the understanding that the OpenNotes initiative is likely to continue to grow, both in VA and other settings, the study team, including lead author Dr. Risa Cromer and senior author and CIVIC Director Dr. Steven Dobscha, offer several recommendations for mental health clinicians. Summing up, they write:

    “Proactive clinician communication with patients about the content of notes and the note-writing process, as well as documenting strengths and highlighting the individuality of patients, may improve the likelihood of maintaining or developing stronger therapeutic alliances between patients and clinicians in the context of OpenNotes.”

    Dobscha noted in an interview that his team has also developed, and is now evaluating, “web-based courses for both clinicians and Veterans to help them optimize use of OpenNotes in mental health care and minimize any unintended consequences.”


  4. Giving up cigarettes linked with recovery from illicit substance use disorders

    by Ashley

    From the Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health press release:

    Smokers in recovery from illicit drug use disorders are at greater risk of relapsing three years later compared with those who do not smoke cigarettes. Results of the study by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health and the City University of New York appear online in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

    Most adults who have illicit drug use disorders also smoke cigarettes. Yet while treatments for substance use disorders traditionally include and require concurrent treatment for addiction to all substances — including treatment for and required abstinence from alcohol and any other illicit substance use — treatment for nicotine dependence has not routinely been part of treatment for illicit substance use problems.

    “The thinking in clinical settings has been that asking patients to quit cigarette smoking while they try to stop using drugs is “too difficult,” or that smoking may be helpful in remaining abstinent from alcohol and drugs, but it is not related whether or not one remains abstinent from illicit drug use over the long term,” said Renee Goodwin, PhD, of the Department of Epidemiology, Mailman School of Public Health, who led the research.

    The researchers studied data from 34,653 adults enrolled in the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) who were assessed at two time points, three years apart, on substance use, substance use disorders, and related physical and mental disorders. Only those with a history of illicit substance use disorders according to DSM-IV criteria were included in the final sample. Daily smokers and nondaily smokers had approximately twice the odds of relapsing to drug use at the end of the three-year period compared with nonsmokers. The relationships held even after controlling for demographics and other factors including mood, anxiety, alcohol use disorders, and nicotine dependence.

    Specifically, among those with remitted substance use disorders who were smokers at the beginning of the study, more than one in ten (11 percent) who continued smoking three years later relapsed to illicit substance use three years later, while only 8 percent of those who had quit smoking and 6.5 percent of never smokers relapsed to substance use three years later. Among those who were non-smokers, smoking three years later was associated with significantly greater odds of substance use disorders relapse compared to those who remained non-smokers.

    “Quitting smoking will improve anyone’s health,” says lead author Andrea Weinberger, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “But our study shows that giving up cigarettes may be even more important for adults in recovery from illicit substance use disorders since it may help them stay sober.”

    “If research continues to show a relationship between smoking and relapse to substance use among those in recovery, making tobacco treatment a standard part of treatment for illicit substance use disorders may be a critical service to provide to adults toward improving substance treatment outcomes over the long term,” suggested Dr. Goodwin.


  5. In learning, every moment counts

    March 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Friedrich Schiller University Jena press release:

    Psychologist at University of Jena uncovers strong variability in motivation in learning situations: In the current issue of the journal Learning & Instruction Dr Julia Dietrich of Friedrich Schiller University (FSU) published her findings together with Jaana Viljaranta (University of Eastern Finland), Julia Moeller (Yale University) and Bärbel Kracke (FSU) on students’ expectations and efforts.

    Motivation can be a fickle thing — if we are motivated, we can achieve a great deal, but if motivation is lacking, we are easily overwhelmed. And we all know people who give the impression of being highly motivated all the time, while others seem to be chronically lacking in drive.

    Just how variable individual motivation can be is the subject of research by Dr Julia Dietrich of Friedrich Schiller University in Jena (FSU), and she has published her findings in the current issue of the journal ‘Learning & Instruction’. Together with Jaana Viljaranta (University of Eastern Finland), Julia Moeller (Yale University) and Bärbel Kracke (FSU), she investigated students’ expectations and efforts.

    “It is known that motivation is an important factor for learning and performance, but research has so far been relatively general,” explains psychologist Dr Dietrich. To date, studies have primarily recorded how motivated people are in general and what drives them. “However, until now no one has studied the state of an individual’s motivation in a specific, time-limited situation, such as during a lecture or lesson at school,” she adds.

    Three snapshots in a lecture

    In order to determine this, during one semester 155 student teachers recorded their motivation three times within 90-minute lectures. “To do this they had to answer questions, which were always the same, during 10 lectures on Educational Psychology, either using their smartphone or on paper. Among other things, we wanted to know how competent they felt at that particular moment, whether they understood the material or found it a strain to follow the lecture. They were also asked whether they enjoyed the content of the lecture and whether they found it useful,” explains Dietrich.

    Even the researchers were astounded by the results of the non-representative study, because motivation fluctuated much more strongly during the 90 minutes than had previously been assumed. During a lecture, every single participant experienced phases of high motivation and of strong demotivation — completely independently of the other students in relation to the timing of those phases. “Interests are of course specific to individuals. So far, at any rate, we have been unable to detect any systematic trends such as particular materials or topics that caused motivation to rise or fall in all participants,” reports Dietrich. “The causes for the fluctuations need to be considered more carefully in future, in order to make learning contexts as a whole more motivating.”

    The study was also able to show how closely intertwined motivation and effort are. The more effort one makes, the more motivated one feels. The reverse is also true: “A person who is motivated also makes more effort,” the 33-year-old psychologist explains.

    Deriving recommendations for teachers

    According to Dietrich, the crucial thing is to recognise that every learning situation and every moment counts: lecturers can ‘lose’ students at any time as they address them in the lecture theatre, but they can also win them back again. In spite of differences between individuals, the task is now to develop initial practical recommendations for teacher training as regards, for example, content, teaching methods or the use of materials. In addition, the investigation demonstrates how teaching staff can obtain immediate evaluations of changes to course content or new methods, instead of having to wait until the end of a semester for an evaluation using a questionnaire.

    Julia Dietrich studied Psychology in her home town of Erfurt, Germany, and obtained a PhD in Developmental Psychology from the University of Erfurt in 2010. She subsequently spent two years at the University of Helsinki. Since 2013 she has been a member of Prof. Bärbel Kracke’s team at the University of Jena’s Department of Educational Psychology. Here, Dietrich will be doing further research on the ‘dark side’ of motivation. Giving an insight into the team’s future work, she says: “There are people who are very motivated and perform very well, but find it a great effort. Investigating what it ‘costs’ them to study, so that they are not at risk of burn-out at some time, will be the aim of our future studies.”


  6. How to get kids to use salad bars at school

    by Ashley

    From the BYU press release:

    Thanks to a national initiative, salad bars are showing up in public schools across the country. Now a Brigham Young University researcher is trying to nail down how to get kids to eat from them.

    BYU health sciences professor Lori Spruance studies the impact of salad bars in public schools and has found one helpful tip: teens are more likely to use salad bars if they’re exposed to good, old-fashioned marketing. Students at schools with higher salad bar marketing are nearly three times as likely to use them.

    “Children and adolescents in the United States do not consume the nationally recommended levels of fruits and vegetables,” Spruance said. “Evidence suggests that salad bars in schools can make a big difference. Our goal is to get kids to use them.”

    Some 4,800 salad bars have popped up in public schools around the country according to the Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools initiative. About 50 percent of high school students have access to salad bars at schools, 39 percent of middle school kids and 31 percent of elementary school children.

    Spruance’s study, published in Health Education and Behavior, followed the salad bar usage of students in 12 public schools in New Orleans. Spruance and coauthors from Tulane University administered surveys to the students and tracked the school environment through personal visits.

    Not only did they find better marketing improved salad bar usage among secondary school students, but they also found female students use salad bars more often than male students, and children who prefer healthy foods use them more frequently.

    “The value of a salad bar program depends on whether students actually use the salad bar,” Spruance said. “But few studies have examined how to make that happen more effectively.”

    Some examples of successful salad bar marketing efforts included signage throughout the school promoting the salad bar, information in school publications and newsletters, and plugs for the salad bar on a school’s digital presence.

    Spruance suggests that schools engage parents in their efforts to improve the school food environment–such as reaching out to parents through newsletters or parent teacher conferences. Of course, she says, offering healthy options at home makes the biggest difference.

    “It takes a lot of effort and time, but most children and adolescents require repeated exposures to food before they will eat them on their own,” Spruance said. “If a child is being exposed to foods at home that are served at school, the child may be more likely to eat those fruits or vegetables at school.”

    Spruance’s research builds off of previous studies that show students are more likely to use salad bars if they are included in the normal serving line.

    There have now been 2,401,500 kids served from salad bars in public schools nationwide. However, only two Utah public schools currently have salad bars funded by the Let’s Move initiative.


  7. Virtual characters that touch you are seen as being warmer and friendlier

    by Ashley

    From the University of Twente press release:

    Touch is a basic need. A University of Twente study has shown that virtual characters that can touch you are seen as being warmer and friendlier. Previous research had already shown that this applies to human interaction. This new University of Twente study has demonstrated that the same principle applies to interactions with virtual characters. Gijs Huisman, who carried out his PhD research at the University of Twente, investigated this phenomenon using a special sleeve that
    fits around your arm. His research is part of a major research programme into the effects of being touched by a computer. Huisman was awarded a PhD for this study on 24 February. In addition, he launched a Kickstarter campaign to market the HEY bracelet. The HEY bracelet is the first bracelet capable of simulating human touch.

    Gijs Huisman’s PhD research at the University of Twente involved a special sleeve that fits around your arm. Vibration motors in the sleeve give you the feeling that you are being caressed. Test subjects played a game featuring an avatar. Whenever the avatar touched them, they experienced its caress through the sleeve. Avatars that caressed test subjects in this way were seen as being nicer than those that did not.

    Various studies have shown that touch is a basic biological need. Individuals who are touched are more inclined to exhibit pro-social behaviour towards the person touching them. A touch can be soothing, and can relieve stress. Children who have had too little physical contact tend to have weaker immune systems and are more likely to have learning difficulties. Huisman’s research focuses on how technology can be applied to affective communication. He is exploring ways in which people can touch one another at a distance, and how virtual characters and social robots can enrich contact by means of touch: ‘Social Touch Technology’.

    Computers of the future will be able to touch you

    Huisman predicts that “Computers of the future will involve more physical interaction. Actually, it’s a bit odd that this hasn’t happened already, given the importance of touch in human contact.” According to Huisman, personal assistant applications for smartphones, such as Siri, will tend to become even more human as time goes on. Not only will these assistants be able to understand what you are saying, they will also register the underlying emotions and respond accordingly. Huisman thinks that “In future, Siri will give you a pat on the back, to encourage you to go for a run. Or it will try to comfort you, by squeezing your hand. Touch makes the experience more intense and strengthens the sense of ‘presence’. It all seems much more real. This could be very useful in the context of online coaching or online therapy, for example. But it could also be used in horror video games, to simulate something grabbing hold of you. Remote touch can also help you to strengthen ties with people who live far away, such as lonely elderly people. The possibilities are endless.”

    HEY Bracelet

    Huisman and his team designed the HEY bracelet, which makes remote touch possible. This is the first bracelet that is capable of simulating a real human touch. It uses a gentle ‘pinch’, rather than a mechanical vibration. Huisman points out that “People can use the HEY bracelet to touch one another at a distance. When you squeeze your bracelet, your loved one’s bracelet squeezes them.” HEY uses advanced technology that communicates with your smartphone via Bluetooth. On 13 February, HEY launched a campaign on Kickstarter. Its funding target is €125,000, which will enable it to take the next step towards production. The amount on the counter is currently €95,000. A set of HEY bracelets will cost €62. The company’s founder, Mark van Rossem, recruited Huisman due to his expertise in this area. Huisman adds that “I have been struck by the enormous enthusiasm shown by those who have used the bracelet.” It feels as if someone is gently squeezing your wrist. We want to make it possible for people all over the world to experience a sense of physical intimacy, even at a distance. As a scientist, I am very curious about the potential impact of this technology.”


  8. Maintaining an active sex life may lead to improved job satisfaction, engagement in work

    by Ashley

    From the Oregon State University press release:

    Maintaining a healthy sex life at home boosts employees’ job satisfaction and engagement at the office, underscoring the value of a strong work-life balance, an Oregon State University researcher has found.

    A study of the work and sex habits of married employees found that those who prioritized sex at home unknowingly gave themselves a next-day advantage at work, where they were more likely to immerse themselves in their tasks and enjoy their work lives, said Keith Leavitt, an associate professor in OSU’s College of Business.

    “We make jokes about people having a ‘spring in their step,’ but it turns out this is actually a real thing and we should pay attention to it,” said Leavitt, an expert in organizational behavior and management. “Maintaining a healthy relationship that includes a healthy sex life will help employees stay happy and engaged in their work, which benefits the employees and the organizations they work for.”

    The study also showed that bringing work-related stress home from the office negatively impinges on employees’ sex lives. In an era when smart phones are prevalent and after-hours responses to work emails are often expected, the findings highlight the importance of leaving work at the office, Leavitt said. When work carries so far into an employee’s personal life that they sacrifice things like sex, their engagement in work can decline.

    The researchers’ findings were published this month in the Journal of Management. Co-authors are Christopher Barnes and Trevor Watkins of the University of Washington and David Wagner of the University of Oregon.

    Sexual intercourse triggers the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with the reward centers in the brain, as well as oxytocin, a neuropeptide associated with social bonding and attachment. That makes sex a natural and relatively automatic mood elevator and the benefits extend well into the next day, Leavitt said.

    To understand the impact of sex on work, the researchers followed 159 married employees over the course of two weeks, asking them to complete two brief surveys each day. They found that employees who engaged in sex reported more positive moods the next day, and the elevated mood levels in the morning led to more sustained work engagement and job satisfaction throughout the workday.

    The effect, which appears to linger for at least 24 hours, was equally strong for both men and women and was present even after researchers took into account marital satisfaction and sleep quality, which are two common predictors of daily mood.

    “This is a reminder that sex has social, emotional and physiological benefits, and it’s important to make it a priority,” Leavitt said. “Just make time for it.”

    Twenty years ago, monitoring sleep or daily step counts or actively practicing mindful meditation might’ve seemed odd but now they are all things people practice as part of efforts to lead healthier, more productive lives. It may be time to rethink sex and its benefits as well, he said.

    “Making a more intentional effort to maintain a healthy sex life should be considered an issue of human sustainability, and as a result, a potential career advantage,” he said. U.S. employers probably won’t follow the lead of a town councilman in Sweden who recently proposed that local municipal employees be allowed to use an hour of their work week for sex. The councilman’s hope is to boost the town’s declining population as well as improve employee moods and productivity.

    But employers here can steer their employee engagement efforts more broadly toward work-life balance policies that encourage workers to disconnect from the office, Leavitt said. The French recently enacted a law that bars after-hours email and gives employees a “right to disconnect.”

    “Technology offers a temptation to stay plugged in, but it’s probably better to unplug if you can,” he said. “And employers should encourage their employees to completely disengage from work after hours.”


  9. Sensory links between autism and synesthesia pinpointed

    March 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Sussex press release:

    Concrete links between the symptoms of autism and synaesthesia have been discovered and clarified for the first time, according to new research by psychologists at the University of Sussex.

    The study, conducted by world-leading experts in both conditions at Sussex and the University of Cambridge and published in the journal Scientific Reports, found that both groups experience remarkably similar heightened sensory sensitivity, despite clear differences in communicative ability and social skills.

    Two previous studies had found an increased prevalence of synaesthesia in autistic subjects, suggesting that although they are not always found in conjunction, the two conditions occur together more often than would be expected by chance alone. However, this is the first study that has attempted to draw a definitive symptomatic link between the two.

    Synaesthesia and autism seem on the surface to be rather different things, with synaesthesia defined as a ‘joining of the senses’ in which music may trigger colours or words may trigger tastes, and autism defined by impaired social understanding and communication.

    The new research shows that both groups report heightened sensory sensitivity, such as an aversion to certain sounds and lights, as well as reporting differences in their tendency to attend to detail. However, the synaesthetes tended not to report difficulties on the traditional communicative symptoms that usually define autism. While the research shows that there are certainly links between the two conditions, these appear to be sensory rather than social.

    The study was led by Professor Jamie Ward, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and Co-Director Sussex Neuroscience group, alongside Sussex Psychology colleague, Professor Julia Simner; and Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge and Director of the Autism Research Centre.

    Commenting on the research, Prof Ward said: “Synaesthesia has traditionally been considered more of a gift than an impairment, whereas the opposite could often be said of autism. Our research suggests that the two have much more in common than was previously thought, and that many of the sensory traits that autistic people possess are also found in those who experience synaesthesia.

    “Though further research is required, our understanding of autism in the context of synaesthetic abilities may help us unlock the secrets of some of the more positive aspects of autism, such as savantism, while also uncovering further neurological links between the two conditions.”

    Another research paper by the group of researchers, looking more closely at the question of savantism in people with autism, is also due to be published soon.

    Reinforcing their initial research, it shows that synaesthesia tends to be particularly prevalent in people with autism who also have unexpected ‘savant’ abilities, such as superior abilities in arithmetic, memory and art.

    Prof Ward added: “Though some theories propose a causal link between increased sensory sensitivity and impaired social functioning in people with autism, our research so far demonstrates the value of considering synaesthesia on the same spectrum as autism from a sensory point of view.

    We hope in future to be able to continue to explore the relationship between perceptual, cognitive and social symptoms and abilities in autistic and synaesthetic people.”


  10. Skilled workers more prone to mistakes when interrupted

    by Ashley

    From the Michigan State University press release:

    Expertise is clearly beneficial in the workplace, yet highly trained workers in some occupations could actually be at risk for making errors when interrupted, indicates a new study by two Michigan State University psychology researchers.

    The reason: Experienced workers are generally faster at performing procedural tasks, meaning their actions are more closely spaced in time and thus more confusable when they attempt to recall where to resume a task after being interrupted.

    “Suppose a nurse is interrupted while preparing to give a dose of medication and then must remember whether he or she administered the dose,” said Erik Altmann, lead investigator on the project. “The more experienced nurse will remember less accurately than a less-practiced nurse, other things being equal, if the more experienced nurse performs the steps involved in administering medication more quickly.”

    That’s not to say skilled nurses should avoid giving medication, but only that high skill levels could be a risk factor for increased errors after interruptions and that experts who perform a task quickly and accurately have probably figured out strategies for keeping their place in a task, said Altmann, who collaborated with fellow professor Zach Hambrick.

    Their study, funded by the Office of Naval Research, is published online in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

    For the experiment, 224 people performed two sessions of a computer-based procedural task on separate days. Participants were interrupted randomly by a simple typing task, after which they had to remember the last step they performed to select the correct step to perform next.

    In the second session, people became faster, and on most measures, more accurate, Altmann said. After interruptions, however, they became less accurate, making more errors by resuming the task at the wrong spot.

    “The faster things happen, the worse we remember them,” Altmann said, adding that when workers are interrupted in the middle of critical procedures, as in emergency rooms or intensive care units, they may benefit from training and equipment design that helps them remember where they left off.