January PsychNotes

Someone once said the problem with the future is that it usually arrives before we’re ready for it. Ready or not, happy new year! Here are a few items that caught my attention as 2017 wound down.

1) Brains Decide on Faces Without Our Knowledge
I’ve long been intrigued by the processes by which our brains decide what deserves conscious attention, and what can be ignored. Sorting through minute-by-minute stimuli is a big job. This study examined which faces catch our attention, and why. “The mental algorithm we discovered deeply prioritizes dominance and potential threat,” said one of the authors. Our brains are a bit paranoid. (Of course, sometimes paranoid thoughts are correct.)

2) Lower Class Equals Higher Wisdom?
The University of Waterloo recently reported that lower class populations are “wiser” than the middle class in their ability to resolve conflict. The researchers arrived at this conclusion in large part by carefully defining the word “wisdom,” which shows that a study can demonstrate anything as long as you control the premise. Nevertheless, there are some interesting notions here, including the possibility that members of the lower class are more attentive to the effect their decisions may have on others in their community.

3) Can’t Stop Movin’
Have you ever initiated a body movement, changed your mind halfway through, and noticed how difficult it is to stop the action midway? For example, imagine walking down the street and noticing ice on the ground as you’re just about plant your foot. Stopping is a complex process. It appears there are three brain regions that must communicate efficiently to halt an action after we’ve sent our bodies the “go” signal.

4) How Electroconvulsive Therapy Works
ECT has come a long way since the days of One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest. (Here’s Jack Nicholson’s ECT scene. Not for the squeamish.) ECT has been used in recent decades with good success against intractable depression, but no one has really understood how it works. Now a group of researchers at Johns Hopkins have narrowed the effect to a protein that helps create new synapses in the hippocampus. That’s useful information because it means “there may be multiple ways to treat depression, including unknown pathways that use ECT’s mechanism.”

5) Entitlement Predicts Failure to Follow Instructions
According to the authors of this study (abstract; working paper) entitlement “is the feeling that one is more deserving of positive outcomes than other people are.” They report that entitled people are more likely to view instructions as an “unfair demand” on themselves, and they’re more likely to disregard instructions even when the instructions are given deferentially and come at a low cost. Entitled people are even more likely to disregard instructions when they’re likely to be punished for it because they think they’re likely to escape punishment.

That seems a dark note to end on, so I’ll leave you with this interesting little nugget: Freud’s theories are widely taught in universities, but not in psychology departments.

I hope your 2018 is everything you want it to be! See you next time.