Joint Physical Custody Better For Children’s Psychological Health Interview with:

Malin Bergström PhD Center for Health Equity Studies  Karolinska Institutet  

Dr. Bergstrom

Malin Bergström PhD
Center for Health Equity Studies
Karolinska Institutet What is the background for this study?

Response: The increase in children who move between their parent’s homes after a divorce is one of the major changes in children’s life circumstances during the last decade. Spending equal amounts of time in both parents’ homes means that these children move fifty times a year. Child experts have claimed this to be stressful and potentially harmful to children’s attachment relations to their mothers. Especially for children this young the practice of joint physical custody has been questioned.

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Positive Emotions Predict Health Lipid Profiles In Western, But Not Eastern Cultures Interview with:

Jiah Yoo Ph.D. Student in Social Psychology University of Wisconsin-Madison Madison, WI 53706 

Jiah Yoo

Jiah Yoo
Ph.D. Student in Social Psychology
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, WI 53706 What is the background for this study?

Response: A growing number of studies have shown that positive emotions predict better physical health. However, a caveat of these findings is that most studies have been conducted with Western samples. As cultural psychologists, we have learned that European American cultural contexts are particular in that positive emotions are highly valued and emphasized. For example, in East Asian cultures, it is a commonly shared view that positive emotions have some dark sides such as that they are fleeting, may attract unnecessary attention from others, and can be a distraction from focusing on important tasks. Given the cultural differences in emotions, we thought it would be important to test whether the established link between positive emotion and enhanced physical health are relevant to other cultural contexts, such as those in East Asia.

We focused on blood lipids profiles, one of the major risk factors for heart diseases, as objective measures of health. Because of the global prevalence of coronary artery diseases, blood lipids are considered important indices of biological health in many Western and East Asian countries. In addition, blood lipids are largely influenced by lifestyles and behavioral factors so we further tested the role of various health behaviors (i.e., dietary habits, body mass index, smoking, alcohol consumption) in the lipids-emotion link in different cultures.

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Apologies May Not Help Hurt Feelings Interview with:

Gili Freedman, PhD Postdoctoral Researcher Dartmouth College

Dr. Freedman

Gili Freedman, PhD
Postdoctoral Researcher
Dartmouth College What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Social rejection is a common, everyday interpersonal interaction, and most people have been on both ends: being rejected and doing the rejection. There has been a lot of research on how rejection impacts targets (the people being rejected), but we know less about the point of view of the rejector. In this set of studies, we wanted to understand how frequently rejectors include apologies in rejections and what effect apologies have on targets of rejection.

Using both college and community samples, we found that approximately 40% of people spontaneously included an apology when trying to reject in a good way. However, rejections with apologies were associated with more hurt feelings and higher levels of aggression than rejections without apologies. In response to viewing rejections with apologies, participants felt obligated to express forgiveness but did not actually feel forgiveness. Taken together, our results indicate that apologies may not be helpful in softening the blow of a social rejection.

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Exploration During Adolescence Critical To Obtaining Wisdom Needed To Navigate Adulthood Interview with:

Dan Romer PhD Research director, Annenberg Public Policy Center Director of its Adolescent Communication Institute University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Dan Romer

Dan Romer PhD
Research director, Annenberg Public Policy Center
Director of its Adolescent Communication Institute
University of Pennsylvania What is the background for this study?

Response: In recent years, findings from research in developmental neuroscience indicate that the myelination of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) extends into the third decade of life, proceeding more slowly than in other brain regions. Because subcortical and sensory brain regions appear to mature earlier, this and other findings have been taken as evidence that adolescents may have less ability to control their behavior than children do. These findings spawned theories of “imbalanced” adolescent brain development that were proposed to explain heightened vulnerability to risky behavior and adverse health outcomes during adolescence.

Although there is little doubt that as adolescents enter adulthood, they are at risk for many health outcomes that can accompany the initiation of such behaviors as driving, having sex, using drugs, and playing sports. But most adolescents make it through this period of development without serious health consequences. Thus, the argument that a brain deficit is responsible for such adverse health outcomes seemed to overgeneralize effects that only occur for a minority of adolescents. Furthermore, when my colleagues and I examined the evidence in support of imbalance theories, we found it unconvincing. Indeed, it seemed that findings from neuroscience were interpreted through the lens of stereotypes about adolescents that conflate exploration with impulsivity. That is, many of the risky behaviors that attract adolescents are novel activities that reflect lack of experience rather than lack of control over behavior.  Continue reading

People Accept Lies From Politicians They Like Interview with:
Allison Mueller, A.B.D.

Ph.D. Program
Department of Psychology
University of Illinois at Chicago What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: In our study, we explored how people react to public figures who bend the truth. We predicted that people’s own moral conviction for a political issue—their strong and absolute belief that this position is right or wrong, moral or immoral—would cloud their judgments of public figures who lie for that cause. We reasoned that when a strong moral conviction is at stake, the transgressiveness of specific kinds of advocacy for the cause may be trivialized.

To test this idea, we first assessed people’s views on a political issue—in this case, whether they supported or opposed federal funding of Planned Parenthood, and the extent to which they viewed the issue as a moral imperative. They were then presented with a political monologue supporting Planned Parenthood that they believed was previously aired over public radio. After reading the monologue, they were randomly assigned to learn that the monologue was deemed true (or false) by several fact-checking organizations. We measured their reactions to hearing this news, including the extent to which they believed the speaker was justified in delivering the monologue and their judgments of the speaker’s moral character.

We found that people’s perceptions of the speaker’s transgressive advocacy were uniquely shaped by their own moral conviction for the cause. Although honesty was positively valued by all respondents, transgressive advocacy that served a shared moral (vs. nonmoral) end was more accepted, and advocacy in the service of a nonpreferred end was more condemned, regardless of its truth value.  Continue reading

Apathy Is a Risk Factor for Mortality in Nursing Home Patients Interview with:
Johanna MH Nijsten, Msc
Clinical Neuropsychologist
Archipel Landrijt, Knowledge Center for Specialized Care
Eindhoven, the Netherlands
Department of Primary and Community Care, Radboudumc Alzheimer Center
Radboud University Medical Center
Nijmegen, the Netherlands What is the background for this study?

Response: Apathy is common in nursing home (NH) patients with dementia and is repeatedly found to be the most prevalent neuropsychiatric symptom. Apathy is defined by diminished or lack of motivational, goal-directed behavior, and a lack of cognition and emotional affect. Apathy leads to reduced interest and participation in the main activities of daily living, diminished initiative, early withdrawal from initiated activities, indifference, and flattening of affect.

Over the last two decades, more scientific knowledge has become available about specific fronto-subcortical systems in the brain that may be highly involved in apathy. Disruptions in these systems are found in patients with frontal lobe damage resulting from, for instance, (early-onset) dementia, traumatic brain injury, stroke, or multiple sclerosis. Fronto-subcortical circuits also play an important role in neurological disorders involving the basal ganglia such as Parkinson’s disease and Huntington’s disease. The neurodegenerative diseases and acquired brain injuries mentioned here are highly prevalent in patients receiving long-term NH care and the widespread clinical manifestation of apathy in NH-patients is thought to be related.

Since apathy is very common in nursing home-patients and may lead to a poor prognosis, clear insight into its risk for mortality is needed and NH-staff need to understand this risk.

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“Positive Manifold” : Vocabulary and Reasoning Skills Reinforce Each Other In Adolescents Interview with:

Dr Rogier Kievit PhD Cambridge Neuroscience

Dr. Kievit

Dr Rogier Kievit PhD
Cambridge Neuroscience What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: One of the most robust findings in psychology is the so-called ‘positive manifold’ – The fact that people who are better at cognitive task A are, on average, also better at task B (and C, D etcetera). Despite over a hundred years of empirical investigations, we don’t really know why this is the case. Here, we aimed to investigate the mechanisms that underlie the positive manifold. To do so, we studied almost 800 adolescents and young adults from Cambridge and London (the NSPN study;

We measured both their abstract reasoning skills (e.g. solving a puzzle) and vocabulary knowledge (e.g. example) on two occasions, about 1.5 years apart. What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Our main finding was that abstract reasoning skills and vocabulary knowledge seem to reinforce each other during development. In other words, the adolescents who started out with higher vocabulary abilities had largest increases in reasoning skills, and those with better reasoning skills gained more vocabulary knowledge. This is exciting as we know mathematically that such a process can (at least partially) help explain the emergence of the positive manifold. What should clinicians and patients take away from your report?

Response: That cognitive abilities interact with each other during development. It is tempting (also for scientists!) to think about skills like memory, reading and as separate domains. However, in reality they are part of a larger network of cognitive, mental and emotional processes that interact throughout the lifespan. We simple can’t fully understand humans as psychological agents by taking only ‘snapshots’. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this study?

Response: The field of psychology has recently realized it needs to increase sample sizes to gain robust knowledge about human behaviour and mental processes. I think the next step is realizing the importance of studying development (i.e. testing people on multiple occasions) as a way to look at longstanding questions in new and exciting ways. Secondly, we find that that mathematical models are a very exciting way to translate theories into directly testable propositions – Although such models are always oversimplifications, they often move scientific debates forward. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: With the emergence of experience sampling methods (e.g. performing cognitive tests on smartphones), ideally combined with longitudinal brain imaging, I think the next two decades will prove an incredibly exciting time for understanding human cognition.

Disclosures: The Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit is part of the University of Cambridge, funded through a strategic partnership between the MRC and the University. Thank you for your contribution to the community.


Rogier A. Kievit et al, Mutualistic Coupling Between Vocabulary and Reasoning Supports Cognitive Development During Late Adolescence and Early Adulthood, Psychological Science (2017). DOI: 10.1177/0956797617710785

Note: Content is Not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider regarding your specific medical condition and questions.

Couples With Children More Likely To Have Conflicts With In-Laws Interview with:
Mirkka Danielsbacka PhD, D.Soc.Sci

Senior researcher
University of Turku What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: Relations between family generations are widely studied in disciplines such as family sociology and demography. However, relations between in-laws are often neglected in family studies of contemporary societies. Especially conflicts have been surprisingly little investigated. We were especially interested in how parenthood is associated with relations to in-laws in a contemporary Western society.

Using nationally representative survey data from Finland with over 1,200 respondents, we studied conflicts that spouses reported having with their own parents and their in-laws. Overall, Finns more often reported having had any conflict with their own parents than with their in-laws. Compared to childless couples, couples with children were as likely to report conflicts with their own parents. However, couples with children were more likely to report conflicts with their parents-in-law. Our results took into account how frequently family members were in contact with each other and how emotionally close they felt, as well as other sociodemographic factors.

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People Prefer Their Robots To Be Less Than Perfect Interview with:

Mag. Nicole Mirnig PhD Research Fellow Center for Human-Computer Interaction University of Salzburg Salzburg, Austria

Nicole Mirnig 

Mag. Nicole Mirnig 
Research Fellow
Center for Human-Computer Interaction
University of Salzburg
Salzburg, Austria What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: From our previous research on social robots, we know that humans show observable reactions when a robot makes an error. These findings result from a video analysis we performed over a large data corpus from different human-robot interaction studies. With the study at hand, we wanted to replicate this effect in the lab in order to explore into more detail how humans react and what they think about a robot that makes a mistake.

Our main findings made us quite excited. First of all, we could show that humans respond to faulty robot behavior with social signals. Second, we found that the error-prone robot was perceived as significantly more likeable than the flawless robot.

One possible explanation for this finding would be the following. Research has shown that people form their opinions and expectations about robots to a substantial proportion on what they learn from the media. Those media entail movies in which robots are often portrayed as perfectly functioning entities (good or evil). Upon interacting with a social robot themselves, people adjust their opinions and expectations based on their interaction experience. We assume that interacting with a robot that makes mistakes, makes us feel closer and less inferior to technology.

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Religious and Non Religious Use Different Cognitive Pathways To Form Opinions Interview with:

Jared Friedman Doctoral Student, Organizational Behavior Research Assistant II, Brain Mind and Consciousness Lab Case Western Reserve University

Jared Friedman

Jared Friedman
Doctoral Student, Organizational Behavior
Research Assistant II, Brain Mind and Consciousness Lab
Case Western Reserve University What is the background for this study? What are the main findings?

Response: These studies were motivated by our prior work in neuroscience and psychology.  Neuroscience research from our lab has shown that brain areas associated with empathy seem to share a ‘see-saw’ relationship with brain areas associated with analytic reasoning.  As activity in one set of brain areas goes up, activity in the other set of brain areas tends to go down.  This suggests there is a sort of neural antagonism between warm, empathic sorts of thinking on the one hand, and cold, analytic sorts of thinking on the other.

In prior psychological work, we tested the hypothesis that these two different sorts of thinking might share opposing relationships to religious belief.  Over a series of 8 studies, we showed that although religious belief is negatively related to analytic reasoning skills (which many other labs had shown), it shares a much stronger positive relationship to measures of empathy and moral concern.  This suggests that religious belief, measured on a continuum, might emerge from the tension between empathic and analytic forms of thinking.

The current studies expanded on this prior work by examining how dogmatism – strongly holding onto one’s beliefs, even in the face of contradictory evidence – relates to measures of moral concern and analytic reasoning among individuals identifying as religious and non-religious.  The measure of dogmatism we used is neutral with respect to any particular belief system, which means that it measures dogmatism in general (rather than dogmatism towards, for instance, religious beliefs).  We found that analytic reasoning negatively relates to dogmatic tendencies in both groups.  However, the interesting part is that higher levels of dogmatism among the religious were related to higher levels of moral concern, whereas higher levels of dogmatism among the nonreligious relate to lower levels moral concern.  This is very intriguing because it suggests that religious and nonreligious individuals rely differently on these two types of cognition when forming beliefs about the world, in general.  We also found that perspective taking, which is an emotionally detached form of understanding other people’s minds, had a particularly strong negative relationship among the nonreligious.

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