1. Positive father-child relationship can moderate negative effects of maternal depression

    May 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Bar-Ilan University press release:

    Maternal depression negatively impacts children’s emotional and cognitive development and family life. Studies have shown that a home in which the mother suffers from depression exhibits lower cohesion, warmth, and expressiveness and higher conflict, rigidity, and affectionless control. Since 15-18% of women in industrial societies and up to 30% in developing countries suffer from maternal depression, it is of clinical and public health concern to understand the effects of maternal depression on children’s development.

    A family affair

    A new study, published in Development and Psychopathology, by Prof. Ruth Feldman and colleagues at the Department of Psychology and Leslie and Susan Gonda (Goldschmied) Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center at Bar-Ilan University has, for the first time, examined whether fathering can moderate the negative effects of maternal depression on family-level functioning. The results of this study are the first to describe the family process by using direct observations of mothering, fathering, and family patterns in homes where mothers suffer clinical depression during the child’s first years of life.

    Feldman conducted a longitudinal study of a carefully selected sample of married or cohabiting chronically depressed women with no comorbid contextual risk, who were repeatedly assessed for maternal depression across the first year after childbirth and when the child reached age six. The families were home-visited when the child reached preschool age in order to observe and videotape mother-child, father-child, and both-parent-child interactions.

    Sense and sensitivity

    During the first years of life, sensitivity marks the most critical component of the parental style that affects the child’s emotional and social development. Sensitive parents are attuned to their child’s needs and attend to them in a responsive and nonintrusive manner. Parents who act intrusively tend to take over tasks that children are, or could be, performing independently, imposing their own agenda without regard for the child.

    In Feldman’s study depressed mothers exhibited low sensitivity and high intrusiveness, and children displayed lower social engagement during interactions with them. Partners of depressed mothers also showed low sensitivity, high intrusiveness, and provided little opportunities for child social engagement, so that the family unit was less cohesive, harmonious, warm, and collaborative. However, when fathers were sensitive, nonintrusive, and engaged children socially, maternal depression no longer predicted low family cohesion.

    Feldman: “When fathers rise to the challenge of co-parenting with a chronically depressed mother, become invested in the father-child relationship despite little modeling from their wives, and form a sensitive, nonintrusive, and reciprocal relationship with the child that fosters his/her social involvement and participation, fathering can buffer the spillover from maternal depression to the family atmosphere.”

    According to Feldman, because rates of maternal depression appear to increase each decade, and paternal involvement in child care is constantly increasing in industrial societies, it is critical to address the fathers’ potential contribution to family welfare by providing interventions for the development of a sensitive parenting style and other compensatory mechanisms, in order to enhance their role as buffers of the negative effects of maternal depression.

    This study was supported by the Israel Science Foundation, the Simms-Mann Foundation, and the Irving B. Harris Foundation.


  2. Study reassesses Learning Styles

    by Ashley

    From the Frontiers press release:

    What is the best way for teachers to teach so students will really learn? That’s an age-old question.

    Since the 1970s, one theory that has been popular among schoolteachers and pervasive in education research literature in the United Kingdom and the United States is the idea of “Learning Styles,” the notion that people can be categorized into one or more ‘styles’ of learning (e.g., Visual, Auditory, Converger) and that teachers can and should tailor their curriculum to suit individual students. The idea is that students will learn more if they are exposed to material through approaches that specifically match their Learning Style.

    But in recent years, many academicians have criticized Learning Styles saying there is no evidence it improves student understanding.

    Now comes a newly published study of 114 academics in higher education in the United Kingdom, led by education researchers Philip M. Newton, Ph.D., and Mahallad Miah, both of the Swansea University Medical School in Swansea, UK. Their study “Evidence-Based Higher Education — Is the Learning Styles ‘Myth’ Important?” was published March 27, 2017, in Frontiers in Psychology.

    Their findings are very interesting. Newton and Miah found while 58% of the academics surveyed believe Learning Styles to be beneficial — only 33% actually used the pedagogical tool.

    In other words, there is something about the idea of individualized education that appeals, but actually administering a Learning Styles questionnaire to students and then tailoring the class curriculum to suit individual students’ personal learning styles is only done by a handful of faculty.

    “There is a mismatch between the empirical evidence and the belief in Learning Styles,” said Newton. “Among those who participated in our study far more reported using a number of techniques that are demonstrably evidence-based.”

    These techniques include: assigning formative assessments (i.e., practice tests), peer teaching (i.e., having students teach each other), working problems and examples aloud, and microteaching (i.e., taking video footage of teachers in training so they can reflect on and adjust how they explain material and interact with students).

    Furthermore, 90% of the faculty surveyed said that Learning Styles as an approach is fundamentally flawed.

    “Learning Styles does not account for the complexity of ‘understanding,'” said Newton. “It is not possible to teach complex concepts such as mathematics or languages by presenting these subjects in only one style. This would be like trying to teach medical students to recognize different heart sounds using visual methods, or teaching them how to recognize different skin rashes using auditory methods.”

    Newton and Miah say those faculty who use Learning Styles may in fact represent certain disciplines or subject areas and that to truly evaluate the usefulness of this teaching method would require demographic studies of faculty. But that may not be worth the investment, they say.

    Part of the issue seems to lie in the fact that many respondents embrace a “looser definition” of Learning Styles, preferring to think of it as an overarching theme or general trend rather than a pedagogical tool. In other words: they operate from the standpoint that individual students have different ‘styles of learning’ — lowercase — but don’t formally change their teaching techniques. This philosophical leaning may also explain why some dedicated faculty continue to ‘believe in’ Learning Styles even when presented with the evidence that it doesn’t work.

    It appears Learning Styles has become more a point of awareness or point of view rather than a teaching tool. Thus, say Newton and Miah, rather than debunking Learning Styles — capital letters — a far better focus for education research would be to promote those evidence-based techniques that survey participants indicated they actually use and that are demonstrably effective.


  3. We buy what we grasp: How our hands lead us to choose certain products

    May 23, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Bocconi University press release:

    The things we touch while shopping can affect what we buy, according to studies by Bocconi Department of Marketing’s Zachary Estes and University of Innsbruck’s Mathias Streicher.

    In “Touch and Go: Merely Grasping a Product Facilitates Brand Perception and Choice,” published in Applied Cognitive Psychology, they conduct a series of experiments and show that blindfolded people induced to grasp familiar products (a bottle of Coke, for example) under the guise of a weight judgement task are then quicker in recognizing the brand name of the product when it slowly appears on a screen, include more frequently the product in a list of brands of the same category, and choose more often that product among others as a reward for having participated in the experiment.

    The authors suggest that tactile exposure to the object “activated the conceptual representation of that object, which then facilitated subsequent processing of the given object.

    In “Multisensory Interaction in Product Choice: Grasping a Product Affects Choice of Other Seen Products,” published in Journal of Consumer Psychology, via another series of experiments, Estes and Streicher demonstrate that grasping an object can facilitate visual processing and choice of other seen products of the same shape and size. “For instance,” explains Estes, “when you’re holding your mobile phone in your hand, you may be more likely to choose a KitKat than a Snickers, because the KitKat is shaped more like your phone. What we find is that consumers are significantly more likely to choose the product that is similar to the shape of whatever is in their hand. For instance, when confronted with a choice between a bottle of Coke and a can of Red Bull, participants who held a bottle of Fanta were more likely to choose a bottle of Coke, but those who held a can of Fanta more often chose the can of Red Bull. These studies show that our hands can lead us to choose certain products.”

    However, there are two caveats to this effect, one situational and one personal. The situational constraint has to do with visual density. That is, some product arrays are very sparse, with plenty of space between the products, whereas others are very dense, with many products placed right next to one another. It turns out that when the visual array is overcrowded the hands have an even larger influence on product choice. “As visual perception becomes less reliable,” the authors write, “tactile perception assumes a greater role in the recognition of object shape.”

    The second constraint is more personal: it depends on one’s “need for touch,” or how much people like to touch products while shopping. Some people really like to pick products up and feel them, and others don’t. As expected, the scholars find that the hands have much more influence on product choice among those consumers who really like to handle products.

    “These results have direct implications for product and package designers and marketing managers,” Estes concludes. “For one thing, distinctive product shapes like Coca-Cola’s iconic bottle design can provide a powerful source of brand identity and recognition. Second, consumers tend to choose products that are shaped like the things they often hold, like a mobile phone, a wallet, or a computer mouse when shopping online. Product designers could create packages that mimic those commonly held forms, and marketing managers can accentuate this effect of product touch by placing several products near one another, and by encouraging consumers to touch the products on display.”


  4. Study suggests helping co-workers in the morning can be mentally fatiguing

    by Ashley

    From the Michigan State University press release:

    If you show up at work tired, you may want to focus strictly on your own tasks. New research suggests helping coworkers in the morning can lead to mental exhaustion and self-serving behavior in the afternoon that ultimately can create a toxic work environment.

    The study builds on the previous work of Michigan State University’s Russell Johnson and colleagues that found helping others at work can be mentally fatiguing for employees.

    Turns out, that helping behavior can be particularly harmful when it’s done in the morning hours.

    “The increase in mental fatigue from helping coworkers in the morning led employees to reduce their helping behaviors in the afternoon and, perhaps more interestingly, they engaged in more self-serving political behaviors in the afternoon as well,” said Johnson, associate professor of management in MSU’s Broad College of Business. “They switched from being other-oriented in the morning to being selfish in the afternoon.”

    Johnson and colleagues studied 91 full-time employees over 10 consecutive workdays (participants completed two surveys a day — morning and afternoon — on their workplace experiences). While previous research has noted the “dark side” of helping others on an individual’s well-being and performance implications, Johnson said, this study is the first to explore the downstream effect on political behavior.

    Helping others may not only harm the well-being of the individual, but through the subsequent increase in political behavior may harm others in the office as well, the study says.

    “Although we did not identify the consequences of these political behaviors, research has established that political acts from employees can culminate into a toxic work environment with negative well-being and performance consequences.”

    The authors aren’t suggesting workers never help their colleagues in the morning, of course, but that they show discretion, particularly when they start the day already tired or mentally fatigued. When they do help coworkers in such circumstances, employers can make sure they get work breaks and lunch periods to help them recover.

    If breaks aren’t possible, managers should make sure they encourage proper separation from work once employees return home.


  5. Exposure to psychological domestic abuse most damaging to children’s wellbeing

    by Ashley

    From the University of Limerick press release:

    Exposure to psychological abuse between parents is more damaging to children’s wellbeing as they grow older than physical domestic violence, according to new research carried out at University of Limerick (UL), Ireland.

    A scientific paper by UL’s Catherine Naughton, Aisling O’Donnell and Orla Muldoon was recently published in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence. It illustrates that growing up in a home with psychological abuse has longer-term effects on the wellbeing of young people than domestic violence.

    Ms Naughton’s research investigated how children’s exposure to domestic violence and abuse between their parents affects them as young people.

    Psychological abuse can include, name-calling, intimidation, isolation, manipulation and control.

    According to Ms Naughton, “What this research highlights is that growing up in a home with domestic abuse, in particular the psychological dimension of it, has long-term consequences for the wellbeing of young people.”

    “Our research found that young people (aged 17 to 25 years) reported experiencing two distinct yet interrelated types of domestic abuse in their families of origin: physical which includes hitting, punching, kicking and use of a weapon; and, psychological abuse including arguing, name-calling or behaviour that is intimidating, isolating, manipulating or controlling. Importantly, our findings show that it was young people’s exposure to the psychological dimension of domestic abuse, which had a detrimental impact on their psychological wellbeing. Exposure to the physical dimension did not have any additional negative effect on wellbeing,” Ms Naughton stated.

    “We know that social support is important for recovery from traumatic childhood events. However, our findings evidence that exposure to high levels of psychological domestic abuse was associated with a decrease in young people’s satisfaction with their social support. On the other hand, we also found that exposure to high levels of physical domestic violence has a protective effect in terms of satisfaction with social support for those also exposed to high levels of intra-parental psychological abuse. When children were exposed to physical violence in the home as well as psychological domestic abuse, they were more likely to be happier with the social support they were able to access. Psychological domestic abuse when it occurred alone seems to be the most damaging, perhaps because people are unable to recognise and speak out about it,” she continued.

    “This research examines the impact of psychological abuse in the home on Irish children as they grow older, but it also shows there is a need for more research in the area to assess the impacts of exposure to all types of domestic violence and abuse on younger children,” Ms Naughton concluded.


  6. Study suggests experience of beauty requires one to think

    May 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Cell Press press release:

    Does the experience of beauty require a person to think? And can sensuous pleasures, like eating or sex, be beautiful? Such questions have long preoccupied philosophers, with Immanuel Kant making the famous claim that beauty requires thought, unlike sensuous pleasure, which, he said, can never be beautiful. Now, researchers reporting in Current Biology on May 11 who have put these philosophical notions to the test in a series of psychological experiments say that Kant was right on one count and wrong on the other.

    Their findings show that distractions do indeed detract from the experience of beauty. In other words, it takes thought to experience beauty when looking at a beautiful image. On the other hand, their evidence shows that sensuous pleasures also can be beautiful.

    “We find that beauty, when it happens, is strongly pleasurable, and that strong pleasure is always beautiful,” says Denis Pelli at New York University. “Strong pleasure and beauty both require thought.”

    To explore these philosophical theories in the new study, Pelli and Aenne Brielmann asked 62 people to indicate how much pleasure and beauty they felt while they saw an image, tasted a candy, or touched a soft teddy bear. The researchers showed each person many different images, some beautiful, some merely nice, and others neutral, like a chair in a furniture catalog. Participants then rated their experience of each object on a four-point beauty scale.

    In another round of the same experiment, participants were asked to repeat what they’d done earlier, this time while they were distracted with a secondary task. In that task, participants heard a series of letters and were asked to press a button any time they heard the same letter they’d heard two letters before.

    The researchers found that the experience of non-beautiful objects wasn’t changed by the distraction. But, distraction took away from the experience of beauty when a person was shown an image earlier deemed beautiful. In other words, Kant was right. Beauty does require thought.

    However, contrary to Kant’s proposal that sensual pleasures can never be beautiful, about 30 percent of participants said they’d definitely experienced beauty after sucking on a candy or touching a soft teddy bear.

    Surprised by that, the researchers decided to follow up. They asked some participants who had responded “definitely yes” for beauty on candy trials what they’d meant. As Brielmann and Pelli report, “most of them remarked that sucking candy had personal meaning for them, like a fond childhood memory. One participant replied, ‘Of course, anything can be beautiful.'”

    “Our findings show that many other things besides art can be beautiful — even candy,” Brielmann says. “But for maximum pleasure, nothing beats undistracted beauty.”

    The findings highlight the fact that beauty, subjective and ephemeral as it is, can still be measured and mathematically modelled, the researchers say. Such scientific explorations of beauty have practical application as well.

    “These are important insights for people who want to create beauty, such as artists or museum curators,” Brielmann adds. “You should, for example, not distract people in museums if you want them to find beauty in the art.”

    The researchers plan to continue this line of investigation in hopes to answer questions about the role of beauty in our lives. For instance, they ask, “Are there people who cannot experience beauty? What role does beauty play in decision making? Is a sense of beauty necessary for creativity? And, is ugliness the opposite of beauty or is it a separate dimension?”


  7. Dad’s involvement with baby early on associated with boost in mental development

    by Ashley

    From the Imperial College London press release:

    Fathers who interact more with their children in their first few months of life could have a positive impact on their baby’s cognitive development.

    In a study, published in the Infant Mental Health Journal, researchers from Imperial College London, King’s College London and Oxford University looked at how fathers interacted with their babies at three months of age and measured the infants’ cognitive development more than a year later.

    They found that babies whose fathers were more engaged and active when playing with them in their initial months performed better in cognitive tests at two years of age. The researchers say that while a number of factors are critical in a child’s development, the relatively unexplored link between quality father-infant interactions at a young age may be an important one.

    Professor Paul Ramchandani, from the Department of Medicine at Imperial and who led the research, said: “Even as early as three months, these father-child interactions can positively predict cognitive development almost two years later, so there’s something probably quite meaningful for later development, and that really hasn’t been shown much before.”

    In the study, researchers recorded video of parents interacting with their children, with mothers and fathers playing with their babies without toys, at three months, and then during a book-reading session at two years of age. The videos were then observed independently by trained researchers, with different researchers at three months and 24 months grading the fathers on their interactions.

    At two years of age, they scored the baby’s cognitive development using the standardised Bayley mental development index (MDI) — which involved tasks such as recognising colours and shapes.

    After analysing data for 128 fathers, and accounting for factors such as their income and age, they found a positive correlation between the degree to which dads engaged with their babies and how the children scored on the tests. Dads with more positive outlooks were also more likely to have babies who performed better on the MDI scales.

    What’s more, the positive link between involved dads and higher infant MDI scores were seen equally whether the child was a boy or a girl, countering the idea that play time with dad is more important for boys than girls, at an early age.

    Dr Vaheshta Sethna from the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN) at King’s College London, said: “We also found that children interacting with sensitive, calm and less anxious fathers during a book session at the age of two showed better cognitive development, including attention, problem-solving, language and social skills. This suggests that reading activities and educational references may support cognitive and learning development in these children.”

    Dr Sethna added: “Our findings highlight the importance of supporting fathers to interact more positively with their children in early infancy. Specifically, considering interventions which encourage increased father-infant engagement with shared positive emotions, and book sharing sessions supportive of cognitive development.”

    While the study provides a window into the effects of dad’s involvement with baby, there were a number of limitations. Parents recruited to the study were drawn from a relatively well educated population. In addition, the measure of interactions were taken from relatively short videos, so may not represent how they interact in other situations.

    The researchers are now working on a trial based on helping parents with their interactions with their children and then giving them positive feedback to help them deal with challenging behaviour.

    Professor Ramchandani concluded: “For those fathers who are more engaged it may be that there is a lot more positive stuff going on in their lives generally. That might be the reason for the link, but we can’t be sure of that. All we can say is that there is a signal here, and it seems to be an important one.

    “The clear message for new fathers here is to get stuck in and play with your baby. Even when they’re really young playing and interacting with them can have a positive effect.”


  8. Study suggests even negative attention is better than being ignored

    by Ashley

    From the University of Basel press release:

    After experiencing social exclusion, a minimum of attention suffices to reduce individuals’ negative emotions. Even rejection or unkind comments are better for well-being than being ignored by other people. This finding has important implications for the treatment of applicants during selection processes, report psychologists from the University of Basel and Purdue University in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

    If there is more than one applicant for a job opening, all but one candidate must inevitably be rejected. This rejection, which is comparable to social exclusion, often arouses negative emotions in the unsuccessful applicants.

    Previous research has shown that individuals are very sensitive to even the smallest sign of social exclusion, as this endangers fundamental human needs such as the needs for belonging, self-esteem and control. It also threatens a person’s own sense of being significant to others.

    As few studies have been dedicated to investigating which factors can improve negative emotions after social exclusion, psychologists from the University of Basel and Purdue University (USA) investigated factors that can make such situations more bearable.

    Any form of recognition helps

    The researchers analyzed how people feel after being socially excluded and then reintegrated, and how receiving a small amount of attention affects the excluded persons. To do this, they carried out experiments in which the participants played a virtual ball-throwing game. However, participants did not receive the ball from the other players and were thus excluded them from the game. In other experiments, participants took part in a fictitious search for an apartment. Here, the minimal attention was simulated via a neutral, pleasant or unfriendly message that participants received together with the rejection.

    All the experiments showed that even small indications of integration and attention reduced the distress of social exclusion. Although people react quickly and sensitively to exclusion, they are also influenced by signs of reintegration and attention. This is the case no matter whether the attention they receive is positive or negative.

    The bright side of rejection and negative criticism

    The research findings emphasize the importance of granting minimal attention during selection processes. “To make these as stress-free as possible, HR managers, universities and landlords should pay rejected candidates a minimum of attention via a letter or email, for example,” says Dr. Selma Rudert, the study’s author from the University of Basel.

    Even when it comes to justified criticism in the workplace, employees may be more satisfied when they receive negative feedback than if they receive no feedback at all in the long term. Consultancies that deal with workplace or school bullying should pay more attention to whether people are being ignored by others, as social rejection can have psychological consequences as negative as those of active aggression or bullying.


  9. Live interactions with robots increase their perceived human likeness

    by Ashley

    From the International Communication Association press release:

    Most human interactions with robots come from behind a screen. Whether it’s fiction or a real-life interaction, rarely are we put face to face with a robot. This poses a significant barrier when we look towards a future where robots will be part of our everyday lives. How do we break down this barrier? A recent study by researchers at the University of Koblenz-Landau, University of Wurzburg, and Arts Electronica Futurelab, found that people who watched live interactions with a robot were more likely to consider the robot to have more human-like qualities.

    Constanze Schreiner (University of Koblenz-Landau), Martina Mara (Ars Electronica Futuerlab), and Markus Appel (University of Wurzburg) will present their findings at the 67th Annual Conference of the International Communication Association in San Diego, CA. Using a Roboy robot, participants observed one of three experimental human robot interactons (HRI); either in real life, in virtual reality (VR) on a 3D screen, or on a 2D screen. The scripted HRI between Roboy and the human technician was 4:25 minutes long. During that time, participants saw Roboy assisting the human in organizing appointments, conducting web searches and finding a birthday present for his mom.

    The data analyzed revealed that observing a live interaction or alternatively encountering the robot in a VR lead to more perceived realness. Furthermore, the kind of presentation influenced perceived human-likeness. Participants who observed a real HRI reported the highest perceived human-likeness. Particularly interesting is that participants who were introduced to Roboy in VR perceived the robot as less human-like than participants who watched a live HRI, whereas these two groups did not differentiate in regard of perceived realness.

    Usually, experimental studies interested in HRI and participants’ evaluations of humanoid service robots — due to limited resources — need to fall back on video stimuli. This is the first study using participants’ evaluations of a humanoid service robot when observed either on a 2D video, in 3D virtual reality, or in real life.

    “Many people will have their first encounter with a service robot over the next decade. Service robots are designed to communicate with humans in humanlike ways and assist them in various aspects of their daily routine. Potential areas of application range from hospitals and nursing homes to hotels and the users’ households,” said Schreiner. “To date, however, most people still only know such robots from the Internet or TV and are still skeptical about the idea of sharing their personal lives with robots, especially when it comes to machines of highly human-like appearance.”

    “When R2-D2 Hops off the Screen: A Service Robot Encountered in Real Life Appears More Real and Humanlike Than on Video or in VR,” by Constanze Schreiner, Martina Mara, and Markus Appel; to be presented at the 67th Annual International Communication Association Conference, San Diego, CA, 25-29 May 2017.


  10. Study suggests TV accentuates traditional women’s roles at expense of their needs

    by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    College women who frequently watch television or who believe that the content is real, tend to endorse the gender roles that are portrayed often on TV, says a University of Michigan researcher.

    Media portrayals teach women to be passive participants in their relationships and prioritize the desires of others — particularly men — instead of prioritizing their own desires, says Rita Seabrook, a U-M doctoral student in psychology and women’s studies. In addition, women learn that they are valued for their appearance and sex appeal.

    Seabrook says that endorsement of these roles — which are called gendered sexual scripts — results in some women having less confidence about using condoms and more shameful feelings about their sexual experience.

    Being confident and proud of one’s sexual experiences “conflicts with gendered expectations that women should abstain from sex except in limited circumstances,” she said.

    The study sampled 415 undergraduate women who described themselves as sexually active heterosexuals. They indicated the number of hours of TV (live or online) and reality TV watched weekly, and disclosed if they believed the programming reflected daily life.

    Questions also focused on relationships, attitudes towards women, sexual beliefs, gender roles and how participants rated their emotions.

    Overall, the women in the study watched 11 hours of mainstream TV and four hours of reality TV. They reported low to moderate levels of being sexual assertive and feeling shame sexually.

    Despite the negative association of adhering to gendered sexual scripts, why do women endorse them?

    “Women who reject traditional gender norms face backlash for failing to adhere to the culture’s expectations for them,” Seabrook said. “Thus, adhering to gendered sexual scripts may protect women from perceived and actual judgment at the expense of their sexual satisfaction and sexual well-being.”

    Not all TV portrayals of women, Seabrook says, are negative or disempowering, but the broader media landscape — TV programs, commercials, music videos — does not promote positive images. She says that women should be encouraged to challenge this negative discourse, which in turn can improve their confidence about sex and women’s roles.