Category Archives: Psychology

Best Evidence in Brief: Does personality matter for effective teaching and burnout?

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief with among others, this study (with bold by me):

Lisa Kim and colleagues recently conducted a meta-analysis to try to identify whether personality characteristics are associated with effective teaching.

The study, which was published in Educational Psychology Review, looked at 25 studies (total number of participants = 6,294) that reported on relationships between five teacher personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability) and two teacher job-related outcomes (teacher effectiveness and burnout).

Overall, the results showed that teacher personality may be associated with teacher effectiveness and job burnout. For teacher effectiveness, extraversion was found to have the largest effect size (+0.17), and agreeableness the lowest (+0.03). The characteristic most associated with less teacher burnout was emotional stability (effect size =+0.21), and openness had the smallest effect size (+0.04). However, as the effect sizes for burnout were very small, the authors suggest that the results should be approached with caution.

The researchers also looked at whether the source of the teacher personality report (i.e., self-report vs. other-report) and educational level had any moderating effects on the relationship between personality and job-related outcomes. The findings indicated that other-reports of teacher personality were more strongly associated with effectiveness and burnout than self-reports. There were no differences in the strength of the associations between the educational levels.

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Casper Hulshof talking about “Voodoo, rats and… growth mindset”

I don’t think it’s a secret anymore, but Paul, Casper and myself have been working on a new Myth book. The Dutch version due to be published in February, meanwhile we are working on the English version to be published later this year. Casper did this talk on one of the chapters at ResearchED Netherlands:

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Drawing better than writing for memory retention (for older people for sure)

This study doesn’t surprise me that much. Everybody who read about dual coding knows how drawing can help retention. This study adds to this knowledge by showing that older adults who take up drawing could enhance their memory. Do note while the 3 experiments are interesting and relevant, they only used 3 times 2 groups of 24 participants (24 students, 24 older people).

From the press release:

Researchers from the University of Waterloo found that even if people weren’t good at it, drawing, as a method to help retain new information, was better than re-writing notes, visualization exercises or passively looking at images.

“We found that drawing enhanced memory in older adults more than other known study techniques,” said Melissa Meade, PhD candidate in cognitive neuroscience at Waterloo. “We’re really encouraged by these results and are looking into ways that it can be used to help people with dementia, who experience rapid declines in memory and language function.”

As part of a series of studies, the researchers asked both young people and older adults to do a variety of memory-encoding techniques and then tested their recall. Meade conducted this study with Myra Fernandes a Psychology professor in cognitive neuroscience at Waterloo and recent UW PhD graduate Jeffrey Wammes.

The researchers believe that drawing led to better memory when compared with other study techniques because it incorporated multiple ways of representing the information–visual, spatial, verbal, semantic and motoric.

“Drawing improves memory across a variety of tasks and populations, and the simplicity of the strategy means that it can be used in many settings,” said Myra Fernandes.

As part of the studies, the researchers compared different types of memory techniques in aiding retention of a set of words, in a group of undergraduate students and a group of senior citizens. Participants would either encode each word by writing it out, by drawing it, or by listing physical attributes related to each item. Later on after performing each task, memory was assessed. Both groups showed better retention when they used drawing rather than writing to encode the new information, and this effect was especially large in older adults.

Retention of new information typically declines as people age, due to deterioration of critical brain structures involved in memory such as the hippocampus and frontal lobes. In contrast, we know that visuospatial processing regions of the brain, involved in representing images and pictures, are mostly intact in normal aging, and in dementia. “We think that drawing is particularly relevant for people with dementia because it makes better use of brain regions that are still preserved, and could help people experiencing cognitive impairment with memory function,” said Meade. “Our findings have exciting implications for therapeutic interventions to help dementia patients hold on to valuable episodic memories throughout the progression of their disease”

Abstract of the study:

Background/Study Context. In a recent study, drawing pictures relative to writing words at encoding has been shown to benefit later memory performance in young adults. In the current study, we sought to test whether older adults’ memory might also benefit from drawing as an encoding strategy. Our prediction was that drawing would serve as a particularly effective form of environmental support at encoding as it encourages a more detailed perceptual representation.

Methods. Participants were presented 30 nouns, one at a time, and asked to either draw a picture or repeatedly write out the word, which was followed by a free recall test for all words (Experiment 1). In Experiment 2, we added an elaborative processing task in which we asked participants to list physical characteristics of the objects. In Experiment 3, we probed recognition memory for the words.

Results. Of the words recalled in Experiment 1, a larger proportion had been drawn than written at encoding, and this effect was larger in older relative to younger adults. In Experiment 2, we demonstrated that drawing improves memory in both younger and older adults more than does an elaborative encoding task consisting of listing descriptive characteristics of the target nouns. In Experiment 3, older and younger adults drew or wrote out words at encoding, and subsequently provided Remember-Know-New recognition memory decisions. We showed that drawing reduced age-related differences in Remember responses.

Conclusions. We suggest that incorporating visuo-perceptual information into the memory trace, by drawing pictures at study, increases reliance of the memory trace on visual sensory regions, which are relatively intact in normal aging, relative to simply writing out or elaborately encoding words. Overall, results indicate that drawing is a highly valuable form of environmental support that can significantly enhance memory performance in older adults.

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About nature versus nurture: the four laws of behavioural genetics

This tweet by Steve Stewart-Williams is so relevant I wanted to share it here on this blog as I know a lot of people who follow my posts aren’t on Twitter.

If you feel angry after reading the first two laws, do read on. Both articles mentioned in the tweet are also must reads.


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What if a failed replication… somehow fails to replicate?

Have I told you already that science can be messy? If not, welcome to this blog! 2 years ago I posted this replication of the infamous pencil in the mouth study. It has become one of the more well known examples of the replication crisis. But it also spurred a lot of debate. Was the replication really a true replication of the original research?

A new study adds fuel to this debate as it failed to replicate the failed replication. Ok, just kidding, the study is actually showing the original study might have been correct! But we can’t be really sure, as it’s actually even more complicated:

The paradigm diverged from the original facial feedback experiment in several respects. They include the classroom setting in which testing was conducted; the fact that each participant rated two cartoons rather than four; the fact that it featured a within-subjects rather than between- subjects design; the absence of a cover story about piloting a study for future research regarding populations with disabilities to explain the manipulation; the use of a 7-point scale rather than a 10-point scale; the fact that the experiment was part of a classroom lecture about learning (specifically, about the acquisition of conditioned associations) rather than following a line- drawing task; the fact that correct positioning of pens could be monitored only within the limits of a group setting; the fact that participants selected but did not write down their ratings with their pens in their mouths; and the lack of individualized follow-up with participants regarding their beliefs about the experiment, precluding exclusion of participants for suspicions regarding the study goals. (It is notable, however, that when the instructor presented students with their results in the ensuing class, the most commonly verbalized reaction was surprise or disbelief that the manipulation could have possibly affected their ratings.)

It seems the only thing that we seem to know for sure is that more research is needed…

Abstract of this new study:

The facial feedback effect refers to the influence of unobtrusive manipulations of facial behavior on emotional outcomes. That manipulations inducing or inhibiting smiling can shape positive affect and evaluations is a staple of undergraduate psychology curricula and supports theories of embodied emotion. Thus, the results of a Registered Replication Report indicating minimal evidence to support the facial feedback effect were widely viewed as cause for concern regarding the reliability of this effect. However, it has been suggested that features of the design of the replication studies may have influenced the study results. Relevant to these concerns are experimental facial feedback data collected from over 400 undergraduates over the course of 9 semesters. Circumstances of data collection met several criteria broadly recommended for testing the effect, including limited prior exposure to the facial feedback hypothesis, conditions minimally likely to induce self-focused attention, and the use of moderately funny contemporary cartoons as stimuli. Results yielded robust evidence in favor of the facial feedback hypothesis. Cartoons that participants evaluated while holding a pen or pencil in their teeth (smiling induction) were rated as funnier than cartoons they evaluated while holding a pen or pencil in their lips (smiling inhibition). The magnitude of the effect overlapped with original reports. Findings demonstrate that the facial feedback effect can be successfully replicated in a classroom setting and are in line with theories of emotional embodiment, according to which internal emotional states and relevant external emotional behaviors exert mutual influence on one another. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved).

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A very interesting debate on knowledge and 21st Century Learners

I was reminded of this debate today and is still very relevant:

With endless amounts of information available at the touch of a button or click of a cursor, too many of today’s students are operating with what E.D. Hirsch calls a knowledge deficit. Watch the Debate Chamber at GESF 2017 as the House argues that facts are the building blocks upon which critical thinking and personal development skills are established and the mastery of facts will ensure students are prepared to thrive in the 21st Century. @GESForum #GESF

Mr Nick Ferrari, Broadcaster & Journalist, Global Radio | Mr Nick Gibb, Minister of School Standards, Department for Education | Ms Daisy Christodoulou, Head of Assessment , Ark Schools | Mr Andreas Schleicher, Director for the Directorate of Education and Skills, OECD | Mr Gabriel Sanchez Zinny, Executive Director, Instituto Nacional de Educación Tecnológica Argentina


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What do you need to succeed in life?

The answer is of course sheer luck, besides talent and intelligence. This new systematically review doesn’t say intelligence and talent aren’t needed, but suggests that non-cognitive skills can also be important, although there are also some serious warning lights surrounding the existing body of evidence.

From the press release:

The study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour is the first to systematically review the entire literature on effects of non-cognitive skills in children aged 12 or under, on later outcomes in their lives such as academic achievement, and cognitive and language ability.

“Traits such as attention, self-regulation, and perseverance in childhood have been investigated by psychologists, economists, and epidemiologists, and some have been shown to influence later life outcomes,” says Professor John Lynch, School of Public Health, University of Adelaide and senior author of the study.

“There is a wide range of existing evidence under-pinning the role of non-cognitive skills and how they affect success in later life but it’s far from consistent,” he says.

One of the study’s co-authors, Associate Professor Lisa Smithers, School of Public Health, University of Adelaide says: “There is tentative evidence from published studies that non-cognitive skills are associated with academic achievement, psychosocial, and cognitive and language outcomes, but cognitive skills are still important.”

One of the strongest findings of their systematic review was that the quality of evidence in this field is lower than desirable. Of over 550 eligible studies, only about 40% were judged to be of sufficient quality.

“So, while interventions to build non-cognitive skills may be important, particularly for disadvantaged children, the existing evidence base underpinning this field has the potential for publication bias and needs to have larger studies that are more rigorously designed. That has important implications for researchers and funding agencies who wish to study effects of non-cognitive skills,” says Professor Lynch.

Abstract of the study:

Success in school and the labour market relies on more than high intelligence. Associations between ‘non-cognitive’ skills in childhood, such as attention, self-regulation and perseverance, and later outcomes have been widely investigated. In a systematic review of this literature, we screened 9,553 publications, reviewed 554 eligible publications and interpreted results from 222 better-quality publications. Better-quality publications comprised randomized experimental and quasi-experimental intervention studies (EQIs) and observational studies that made reasonable attempts to control confounding. For academic achievement outcomes, there were 26 EQI publications but only 14 were available for meta-analysis, with effects ranging from 0.16 to 0.37 s.d. However, within subdomains, effects were heterogeneous. The 95% prediction interval for literacy was consistent with negative, null and positive effects (−0.13 to 0.79). Similarly, heterogeneous findings were observed for psychosocial, cognitive and language, and health outcomes. Funnel plots of EQIs and observational studies showed asymmetric distributions and potential for small study bias. There is some evidence that non-cognitive skills associate with improved outcomes. However, there is potential for small study and publication bias that may overestimate true effects, and the heterogeneity of effect estimates spanned negative, null and positive effects. The quality of evidence from EQIs underpinning this field is lower than optimal and more than one-third of observational studies made little or no attempt to control confounding. Interventions designed to develop children’s non-cognitive skills could potentially improve outcomes. The interdisciplinary researchers interested in these skills should take a more strategic and rigorous approach to determine which interventions are most effective.

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A dissection of Howard Gardner’s Frames

This Twitter-rant is too good not to share here (H/T Tim van der Zee):



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Are the youngest in class more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD? (Best Evidence in Brief)

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief with among others, this study:

Findings from a study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry suggest that children who are the youngest in their classroom are more likely to be diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) than their older classmates.
Martin Whitely and colleagues conducted a systematic review of 22 studies that examined the relationship between a child’s age relative to their classmates and their chances of being diagnosed with, or medicated for, ADHD. Seventeen studies (with a total of more than 14 million children) found that it was more common for the youngest children in a school year to be diagnosed as ADHD than their older classmates. This effect was found for both countries that have a high diagnosis rate, like the USA, Canada and Iceland, and countries where diagnosis is less common, like Finland and Sweden.
The researchers suggest that some teachers may be mistaking normal age-related immaturity of the youngest children in their class for ADHD, and that these findings highlight the importance of being aware of the impact of relative age and give the youngest children in class the extra time they may need to mature.

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Some skills needed for literacy may be developed in infancy: complex babble linked with better reading

A study published in PLOSOne is again something rather nice to know than showing us something new to do, infants capable of complex babble may grow into stronger readers, except it may help us in a future to identify reading disabilities at an early age.

From the press release:

Infants’ early speech production may predict their later literacy, according to a study published October 10, 2018 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Kelly Farquharson from Florida State University and colleagues.

Children with difficulties in identifying letters are more likely to develop reading impairments, but such difficulties cannot be uncovered until the child is 3 to 5 years old. The authors of the present study investigated whether assessing language ability even earlier, by measuring speech complexity in infancy, might predict later difficulties.

The authors tracked nine infants from English-speaking US families between the ages of 9 and 30 months. They recorded each infant’s babble as the child interacted with their primary caregiver, looking specifically at the consonant-vowel (CV) ratio, a demonstrated measure of speech complexity. The authors then met each child again when they were six years old to examine their ability to identify letters, a known predictor of later reading impairment.

They found that those children with more complex babble as infants performed better when identifying specific letters in their later reading test. Though the sample size was relatively small and all 9 children participating in this study all developed normally (meaning the range of variability was restricted), these results may indicate a link between early speech production and literacy skill.

The authors suggest that in the future, the complexity of infant babble may be useful as an earlier predictor of reading impairments in children than letter identification tests, enabling parents and professionals to earlier identify and treat children at risk of reading difficulties.

Farquharson adds: “This paper provides exciting data to support an early and robust connection between speech production and later literacy skills. There is clinical utility in this work – we are moving closer to establishing behavioral measures that may help us identify reading disabilities sooner.”

Abstract of the study:

Letter identification is an early metric of reading ability that can be reliability tested before a child can decode words. We test the hypothesis that early speech production will be associated with children’s later letter identification. We examined longitudinal growth in early speech production in 9 typically developing children across eight occasions, every 3 months from 9 months to 30 months. At each occasion, participants and their caregivers engaged in a speech sample in a research lab. This speech sample was transcribed for a variety of vocalizations, which were then transformed to calculate consonant-vowel ratio. Consonant-vowel ratio is a measure of phonetic complexity in speech production. At the age of 72 months, children’s letter knowledge was measured. A multilevel model including fixed quadratic age change and a random intercept was estimated using letter identification as a predictor of the growth in early speech production from 9–30 months, measured by the outcome of consonant-vowel ratio. Results revealed that the relation between early speech production and letter identification differed over time. For each additional letter that a child identified, their consonant-vowel ratio at the age of 9 months increased. As such, these results confirmed our hypothesis: more robust early speech production is associated with more accurate letter identification.

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