Should You Listen To Music While Doing Intellectual Work? It Depends On The Music, The Task, And Your Personality



Given how many of us listen to music while studying or doing other cerebral work, you’d think psychology would have a set of clear answers as to whether the practice is likely to help or hinder performance. In fact, the research literature is rather a mess (not that that has deterred some enterprising individuals from making bold claims).

Now, in the hope of injecting more clarity and realism into the literature, researchers have tested the common-sense idea that the effects of background music on mental task performance will depend on three things: the nature of the music, the nature of the task, and the personality of the person. Continue reading →

First-Generation University Students Are At Greater Risk Of Experiencing Imposter Syndrome


Increasing efforts have been made in recent years to encourage students to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects. There’s been a particularly positive emphasis on getting a more diverse group of people onto such courses: women, black and ethnic minority groups and working class people have all been the focus of drives and campaigns designed to help them enter STEM careers.

But, a new study suggests, the competitive nature of STEM courses may be having a knock-on effect on the confidence of certain students, in this case first-generation college attendees (those who are the first in their family to go to university). Such students, the paper argues, are more likely to experience “imposter syndrome” — the feeling that they don’t belong or don’t have the skills or intelligence to continue on their studies — precisely because of this atmosphere of competition. Continue reading →

We Consistently Overestimate How Much Other People Will Enjoy Or Pay For Stuff


Imagine taking a two-week holiday to the Bahamas. Sand, sea, and reef — who wouldn’t love it? I mean, personally, though I would love aspects of it, I’m quickly bored on a beach, I’m too nervous of deep water to dive and excessive sun brings me out in a rash. But that’s just me. Anyone else would just adore it….right?

This, it turns out, is a classic example of a bias, dubbed the overestimation bias. In a series of studies involving thousands of participants, researchers found that we over-estimate how much other people will enjoy, pay for or wait for a desirable experience or object. The team thinks this is because while we can appreciate that a predominantly positive experience may have some downsides for us personally, we tend to assume that for somebody else, it will be more purely perfect. Continue reading →

When A Word Is On The Tip Of Our Tongue, We Are More Likely To Take Risks


“What’s the name of that actor again? The one who was on that show? Oh, it’s right on the tip of my tongue..!”

That “tip-of-the-tongue” state — where we feel that we’re just on the verge of recalling a word or name — is probably familiar to us all. And it’s been the subject of much research by psycholinguists, who think it happens when we’re able to retrieve a concept or meaning, but not translate that into the letters and sounds of a word.

Now a new study has found that when people experience tip-of-the-tongue states, they also become more likely to take risks — suggesting that the phenomenon can exert a surprising influence on completely unrelated behaviour. Continue reading →

How To Achieve Your New Year’s Resolutions, According To Psychology


The excesses of Christmas have been and gone, and we’ve been met once again by January’s familiar call for resolution and goal-setting.

For most of us, New Year’s resolutions are a mixed bag: whether we’re looking to get fit, become more environmentally-friendly, or just keep up a new hobby, there sometimes seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why some habits stick and others fall by the wayside almost immediately.

But there are a few things you can do to make your new routines work, based on research into motivation, temptation and achievement. Here’s our digest of the ten findings that could help make that New Year’s resolution stay around until next December. Continue reading →

When Thinking About Your Personality, Your Friends’ Brain Activity Is Surprisingly Similar To Your Own


How well do you know your best friend? New research led by Robert Chavez at the University of Oregon suggests that scans of both your brains might provide the answer. The study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: Attitudes and Social Cognition, reveals that the brain activity patterns of people asked to think about what a mutual friend is like can be remarkably similar to those observed in that friend when they think about themselves. Continue reading →

Thinking About Past Generations Could Help Us Tackle Climate Change


Rhetoric around climate change often calls on us to think of future generations: if we don’t suffer the effects, then our children and our children’s children will. For some, this sense of obligation could be motivating. But for others, the distant time frame may be a barrier to truly grappling with the issue.

Now, a new study in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletinsuggests one method to get people thinking about their duty to future generations is to think about the past. Continue reading →