Toilet Psychology — Why Do Men Wash Their Hands Less Than Women?

To help slow the spread of coronavirus, health authorities say we should be washing our hands regularly, for 20 seconds. Of course, we all should have already been washing our hands after toilet visits, at least — but that wasn’t the case, as this 2016 study makes clear.

The spread of super-resistant bacteria means the science of hand-washing behaviour has become a serious business. Psychologists have stepped up to the plate. Bowl, I should say. By hiding in toilet cubicles for a new study, they’ve observed how long people spend using the loo, and how long they wash their hands for afterwards. That men usually wash their hands less conscientiously than women is a well-established finding. Thomas Berry and his colleagues wanted to find out more about the reasons for this gender difference. Continue reading →

Emotions Are Represented In The Brain In A Surprisingly Similar Way To Visual Information, Study Argues

Love it or loathe it, Forrest Gump has now gone way beyond introducing “Life is like a box of chocolates” and “Run, Forrest! Run!” into our vernacular. It’s been used to do something truly remarkable: to reveal the location of a map of emotions in the human brain.

This new work, published in Nature Communications, shows that a spherical bit of cortex, about three centimetres in diameter, represents not only the kind of emotion we’re feeling in any given moment, but how strongly we’re feeling it. In revealing objective brain-based correlates of our feelings, the work potentially has all kinds of implications for psychiatry. Continue reading →

When We Think Our Online Friends Eat Healthy Foods, We Also Eat Better

Scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, it can be easy to feel drawn in by the people you follow. Whether it’s the brands they’re buying, the things they’re doing or what they’re wearing, it’s not uncommon to want to follow suit — they’re called “influencers” for a reason, after all.

This isn’t only true of those who are paid to influence, however: those we know in “real life” and follow on social media can also impact the decisions we make. A new study has found that what we think our online friends are eating can influence how healthy (or not) our own diets are. Continue reading →

Gender Prejudice Is More Common In Languages With Grammatical Genders

Does the language that you speak influence what you think? And do languages that assign a gender to most nouns — such as French and Spanish — lead speakers to feel differently about women versus men, compared with languages that don’t — such as Chinese? Both questions have been hotly debated. But now a major new study, involving an analysis of millions of pages of text in 45 different languages from all over the world, concludes that gendered languages shape prejudice against women. Continue reading →

These Two Revision Strategies Can Prepare You For An Exam Much Better Than Just Restudying Your Notes

When studying for exams, it can be tempting to just re-read textbooks or attempt to memorise your notes. But psychologists know that there are actually much more effective ways of learning — they just require a bit of extra effort.

A recent paper in Applied Cognitive Psychology has highlighted two of these superior strategies. The team finds that university students whose revision involves testing themselves or making up questions about course material perform better in a later exam than those who simply restudy their notes. Continue reading →

Knowing When A Task Is Going To End Makes Us Better At It

Deadlines, though stressful, can be a pretty good motivator. Knowing you have to submit some work by a particular date can make it easier to get things done; you simply have to get on with it. This also goes for non-professional deadlines — trying to get in shape by the time you run a specific race, for example, can be a lot more motivating than a more vague and nebulous desire to get fit.

A new study suggests that knowing when a task will be over may also help us perform better. The researchers found that people who knew how much of a complex, tedious task they had left were better at it than those left in the dark. Continue reading →

Siblings Who Believe Their Family Has A Lower Social Standing Are More Likely To Experience Mental Health Difficulties

Most of us are not surprised to hear that a child’s chances of achieving success, physical health, and mental well-being depend heavily on the socioeconomic status of the family into which they are born. A large-scale global study commissioned by the World Health Organization found that the lower the income of a family, the more likely their child is to suffer physical and mental health issues later in life, run into problems with the legal system, and die early.

But a physical lack of resources may not be the only factor driving poor outcomes. Last month, a study published in PNAS revealed that children’s perceptions of their family’s socioeconomic standing might matter more than how well their families are actually doing — at least when it comes to their mental health. Continue reading →