Category Archives: Psychology

Best Evidence in Brief: Children with ADHD more likely to have language problems

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief and while I skipped the previous one because the mentioned research was less interesting to my personal taste, this time there is a lot to choose from.

I picked this one first:

Children with Attention-Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can have trouble with hyperactivity, impulsivity, inattention, and distractibility, all of which can affect language and communication and can lead to low academic performance and antisocial behavior.

A systematic review published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry seeks to establish the types of language problems children with ADHD experience in order to inform future research into how these language problems contribute to long-term outcomes for children with ADHD.

Hannah Korrel and colleagues examined the last 35 years of ADHD research and identified 21 studies using 17 language measures, which included more than 2,000 participants (ADHD children = 1,209; non-ADHD children =1,101) for inclusion in the systematic review.
The study found that children with ADHD had poorer performance than non-ADHD children on 11 of the 12 measures of overall language (effect size=1.09). Children with ADHD also had poorer performance on measures of expressive, receptive, and pragmatic language compared with non-ADHD children.
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Is our brain too complex for simple tests?

This new paper featured this month in a special edition of Neuron states an interesting thesis: most tasks we use today to test the brain are too simple.

From the press release:

Xaq Pitkow and Dora Angelaki, both faculty members in Baylor’s Department of Neuroscience and Rice’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, said the brain’s ability to perform “approximate probabilistic inference” cannot be truly studied with simple tasks that are “ill-suited to expose the inferential computations that make the brain special.”

A new article by the researchers suggests the brain uses nonlinear message-passing between connected, redundant populations of neurons that draw upon a probabilistic model of the world. That model, coarsely passed down via evolution and refined through learning, simplifies decision-making based on general concepts and its particular biases.

The article, which lays out a broad research agenda for neuroscience, is featured this month in a special edition of Neuron, a journal published by Cell Press. The edition presents ideas that first appeared as part of a workshop at the University of Copenhagen last September titled “How Does the Brain Work?”

“Evolution has given us what we call a good model bias,” Pitkow said. “It’s been known for a couple of decades that very simple neural networks can compute any function, but those universal networks can be enormous, requiring extraordinary time and resources.

“In contrast, if you have the right kind of model — not a completely general model that could learn anything, but a more limited model that can learn specific things, especially the kind of things that often happen in the real world — then you have a model that’s biased. In this sense, bias can be a positive trait. We use it to be sensitive to the right things in the world that we inhabit. Of course, the flip side is that when our brain’s bias is not matched to reality, it can lead to severe problems.”

The researchers said simple tests of brain processes, like those in which subjects choose between two options, provide only simple results. “Before we had access to large amounts of data, neuroscience made huge strides from using simple tasks, and they’ll remain very useful,” Pitkow said. “But for computations that we think are most important about the brain, there are things you just can’t reveal with some of those tasks.” Pitkow and Angelaki wrote that tasks should incorporate more diversity — like nuisance variables and uncertainty — to better simulate real-world conditions that the brain evolved to handle.

They suggested that the brain infers solutions based on statistical crosstalk between redundant population codes. Population codes are responses by collections of neurons that are sensitive to certain inputs, like the shape or movement of an object. Pitkow and Angelaki think that to better understand the brain, it can be more useful to describe what these populations compute, rather than precisely how each individual neuron computes it. Pitkow said this means thinking “at the representational level” rather than the “mechanistic level,” as described by the influential vision scientist David Marr.

The research has implications for artificial intelligence, another interest of both researchers.

“A lot of artificial intelligence has done impressive work lately, but it still fails in some spectacular ways,” Pitkow said. “They can play the ancient game of Go and beat the best human player in the world, as done recently by DeepMind’s AlphaGo about a decade before anybody expected. But AlphaGo doesn’t know how to pick up the Go pieces. Even the best algorithms are extremely specialized. Their ability to generalize is often still pretty poor. Our brains have a much better model of the world; We can learn more from less data. Neuroscience theories suggest ways to translate experiments into smarter algorithms that could lead to a greater understanding of general intelligence.”

Abstract of the study:

It is widely believed that the brain performs approximate probabilistic inference to estimate causal variables in the world from ambiguous sensory data. To understand these computations, we need to analyze how information is represented and transformed by the actions of nonlinear recurrent neural networks. We propose that these probabilistic computations function by a message-passing algorithm operating at the level of redundant neural populations. To explain this framework, we review its underlying concepts, including graphical models, sufficient statistics, and message-passing, and then describe how these concepts could be implemented by recurrently connected probabilistic population codes. The relevant information flow in these networks will be most interpretable at the population level, particularly for redundant neural codes. We therefore outline a general approach to identify the essential features of a neural message-passing algorithm. Finally, we argue that to reveal the most important aspects of these neural computations, we must study large-scale activity patterns during moderately complex, naturalistic behaviors.

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Learning diversity through music

A new study states that listening to music from other cultures furthers one’s pro-diversity beliefs.

I’m not that surprised as one of my own little studies I conducted showed a similar effect (check here).

From the press release:

Jake Harwood turned his lifelong hobby as a musician into a scholarly question: Could the sharing of music help ease interpersonal relations between people from different backgrounds, such as Americans and Arabs?

To explore the issue, and building on his years of research on intergroup communication, Harwood began collaborating two to three years ago with his graduate students and other researchers on a number of studies, finding that music is not merely a universal language. It appears to produce a humanizing effect for members of groups experiencing social and political opposition.

“Music would not have developed in our civilizations if it did not do very important things to us,” said Harwood, a professor in the University of Arizona Department of Communication. “Music allows us to communicate common humanity to each other. It models the value of diversity in ways you don’t readily see in other parts of our lives.”

Harwood is presenting his team’s research during the International Communication Association’s 67th annual conference, to be held May 25-29 in San Diego.

In one study, Harwood worked with UA graduate researchers Farah Qadar and Chien-Yu Chen to record a mock news story featuring an Arab and an American actor playing music together. The researchers showed the video clip to U.S. participants who were not Arab. The team found that when viewing the two cultures collaborating on music, individuals in the study were prone to report more positive perceptions — less of a prejudiced view — of Arabs.

“The act of merging music is a metaphor for what we are trying to do: Merging two perspectives in music, you can see an emotional connection, and its effect is universal,” said Qadar, who graduated from the UA in 2016 with a master’s degree in communication.

The team published those findings in an article, “Harmonious Contact: Stories About Intergroup Musical Collaboration Improve Intergroup Attitudes.” The article appeared in a fall issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of Communication.

Another major finding: The benefits were notable, even when individuals did not play musical instruments themselves. Merely listening to music produced by outgroup members helped reduce negative feelings about outgroup members, Harwood said.

“It’s not just about playing Arab music. But if you see an Arab person playing music that merges the boundary between mainstream U.S. and Arab, then you start connecting the two groups,” Harwood said.

As part of his ongoing research in a different study, which he will present during the International Communication Association conference, Harwood and Stefania Paolini, a senior lecturer at the University of Newcastle’s School of Psychology, measured people’s appreciation for diversity, gauging how they felt about members of other groups. After doing so, the team asked people to listen to music from other cultures and then report how much they enjoyed the music and what they perceived of the people the music represented.

The team found that people who value diversity are more likely to enjoy listening to music from other cultures, and that act of listening furthers one’s pro-diversity beliefs.

“It has this sort of spiral effect. If you value diversity, you are going to listen to more music from other cultures,” Harwood said, noting that that research is continuing. “If all you are doing is listening to the same type of music all the time, there is homogeneity that is not doing a lot to help people to increase their value for diversity.”

For Harwood and his collaborators, these findings are affirming given the decades-old world music explosion and more recent examples of performers around the world who regularly sample and cross-reference outgroup musical traditions and elements.

Harwood pointed to Paul Simon’s “Graceland” album as an early and notable example. Released in 1986, the album drew influence from South African instrumentation and rhythms.

“It was the start of the world music phenomena,” Harwood said. “Suddenly, everyone wanted to listen to African music. Then Indonesian, then Algerian music. Then you see this modeling of new music with different musical cultures and different people collaborating with each other.”

Harwood also said artists such as Eminem and Rihanna are among those who are experimenting with music that crosses cultural boundaries. “This whole new type of music is emerging that would not exist if you did not have that kind of cross-collaboration.”

Harwood also said his team’s findings build on earlier research and emergent models of intergroup dialogue that encourage direct contact and conversation to help build cross-cultural understanding and cohesion.

“We must think about music as a human, social activity rather than a sort of beautiful, aesthetic hobby and appreciate how fundamental it is to us all,” he said. “We can then begin to see people from other groups as more human and begin to recategorize one another as members as the same group.”

Abstract of one of the studies mentioned in the press release:

Watching contact between members of one’s ingroup and members of an outgroup in the media (mediated vicarious contact) improves intergroup attitudes. We compare mediated vicarious contact with observing only members of the outgroup (parasocial contact), and examine whether the activity of the portrayed contact matters. Building on theory, we predict that watching outgroup members playing music should reduce prejudice more than watching them engaged in nonmusical activities, particularly with vicarious (vs. parasocial) contact. Results show that vicarious musical contact enhances perceptions of synchronization, liking, and honesty between ingroup and outgroup actors in a video, which in turn results in more positive attitudes toward the outgroup. Counter to predictions, parasocial musical contact results in less positive outcomes than parasocial nonmusical contact.

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Jordan Peterson puts it quite bluntly: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences Is Rubbish!

Well, maybe you’ll be surprised, but than you haven’t read this (or our book). H/t Carl Hendrick

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Interesting: how the 2 languages develop in the minds of young bilingual children

Bilingualism keeps me fascinated. This new study shows that the 2 languages of young bilingual children develop simultaneously but independently from each other. But there is more: the study also shows Spanish is vulnerable to being taken over by English, but English is not vulnerable to being taken over by Spanish.

Btw, the study has also a video-abstract:

From the press release:

A new study of Spanish-English bilingual children by researchers at Florida Atlantic University published in the journal Developmental Science finds that when children learn two languages from birth each language proceeds on its own independent course, at a rate that reflects the quality of the children’s exposure to each language.

In addition, the study finds that Spanish skills become vulnerable as children’s English skills develop, but English is not vulnerable to being taken over by Spanish. In their longitudinal data, the researchers found evidence that as the children developed stronger skills in English, their rates of Spanish growth declined. Spanish skills did not cause English growth to slow, so it’s not a matter of necessary trade-offs between two languages.

“One well established fact about monolingual development is that the size of children’s vocabularies and the grammatical complexity of their speech are strongly related. It turns out that this is true for each language in bilingual children,” said Erika Hoff, Ph.D., lead author of the study, a psychology professor in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, and director of the Language Development Lab. “But vocabulary and grammar in one language are not related to vocabulary or grammar in the other language.”

For the study, Hoff and her collaborators David Giguere, a graduate research assistant at FAU and Jamie M. Quinn, a graduate research assistant at Florida State University, used longitudinal data on children who spoke English and Spanish as first languages and who were exposed to both languages from birth. They wanted to know if the relationship between grammar and vocabulary were specific to a language or more language general. They measured the vocabulary and level of grammatical development in these children in six-month intervals between the ages of 2 and a half to 4 years.

The researchers explored a number of possibilities during the study. They thought it might be something internal to the child that causes vocabulary and grammar to develop on the same timetable or that there might be dependencies in the process of language development itself. They also considered that children might need certain vocabulary to start learning grammar and that vocabulary provides the foundation for grammar or that grammar helps children learn vocabulary. One final possibility they explored is that it may be an external factor that drives both vocabulary development and grammatical development.

“If it’s something internal that paces language development then it shouldn’t matter if it’s English or Spanish, everything should be related to everything,” said Hoff. “On the other hand, if it’s dependencies within a language of vocabulary and grammar or vice versa then the relations should be language specific and one should predict the other. That is a child’s level of grammar should predict his or her future growth in vocabulary or vice versa.”

Turns out, the data were consistent only with the final possibility — that the rate of vocabulary and grammar development are a function of something external to the child and that exerts separate influences on growth in English and Spanish. Hoff and her collaborators suggest that the most cogent explanation would be in the properties of children’s input or their language exposure.

“Children may hear very rich language use in Spanish and less rich use in English, for example, if their parents are more proficient in Spanish than in English,” said Hoff. “If language growth were just a matter of some children being better at language learning than others, then growth in English and growth in Spanish would be more related than they are.”

Detailed results of the study are described in the article, “What Explains the Correlation between Growth in Vocabulary and Grammar? New Evidence from Latent Change Score Analyses of Simultaneous Bilingual Development.”

“There is something about differences among the children and the quality of English they hear that make some children acquire vocabulary and grammar more rapidly in English and other children develop more slowly,” said Hoff. “I think the key takeaway from our study is that it’s not the quantity of what the children are hearing; it’s the quality of their language exposure that matters. They need to experience a rich environment.”

Abstract of the study:

A close relationship between children’s vocabulary size and the grammatical complexity of their speech is well attested but not well understood. The present study used latent change score modeling to examine the dynamic relationships between vocabulary and grammar growth within and across languages in longitudinal data from 90 simultaneous Spanish–English bilingual children who were assessed at 6-month intervals between 30 and 48 months. Slopes of vocabulary and grammar growth were strongly correlated within each language and showed moderate or nonsignificant relationships across languages. There was no evidence that vocabulary level predicted subsequent grammar growth or that the level of grammatical development predicted subsequent vocabulary growth. We propose that a common influence of properties of input on vocabulary and grammatical development is the source of their correlated but uncoupled growth. An unanticipated across-language finding was a negative relationship between level of English skill and subsequent Spanish growth. We propose that the cultural context of Spanish–English bilingualism in the US is the reason that strong English skills jeopardize Spanish language growth, while Spanish skills do not affect English growth.

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I forgot what I learned in class because it hurts my psyche?

UCLA-led study suggests people often don’t recall memories that threaten the way they want to see themselves. This may mean students may forget relevant information in order to protect their own psyches, even if this relevant information is something they had to learn in class.

From the press release:

UCLA-led research has found that students in a college mathematics course experienced a phenomenon similar to repression, the psychological process in which people forget emotional or traumatic events to protect themselves.

In a study published online by the Journal of Educational Psychology, the researchers found that the students who forgot the most content from the class were those who reported a high level of stress during the course. But, paradoxically, the study also found that the strong relationship between stress level and the tendency to forget course material was most prevalent among the students who are most confident in their own mathematical abilities.

The phenomenon, which the authors call “motivated forgetting,” may occur because students are subconsciously protecting their own self-image as excellent mathematicians, said Gerardo Ramirez, a UCLA assistant professor of psychology and the study’s lead author.

For the study, researchers analyzed 117 undergraduates in an advanced calculus course at UCLA. The students generally consider themselves to be strong in mathematics and plan to pursue careers that rely on high-level mathematical skills, so the logical assumption would be that they would be likely to remember most of the material from the course.

Researchers asked students a series of questions at the start of the course, including having them assess to what extent they see themselves as “math people.” Each week throughout the course, students were asked to gauge how stressful they thought the course was. Then, the study’s authors examined students’ performance on the course’s final exam and on another similar test two weeks later. On average, students’ grades were 21 percent lower on the follow-up.

Among students who strongly considered themselves to be “math people,” those who experienced a lot of stress performed measurably worse on the follow-up exam than those whose stress levels were lower.

The results were striking because, in the cases of the students whose stress levels were highest, test scores dropped by as much as a full letter grade — from an A-minus to a B-minus, for example. But, according to Ramirez, the findings make sense from a psychological perspective.

“Students who found the course very stressful and difficult might have given in to the motivation to forget as a way to protect their identity as being good at math,” he said. “We tend to forget unpleasant experiences and memories that threaten our self-image as a way to preserve our psychological well-being. And ‘math people’ whose identity is threatened by their previous stressful course experience may actively work to forget what they learned.”

The idea that people are motivated to forget unpleasant experiences — activating a sort of “psychological immune system” — goes back to Sigmund and Anna Freud, the pioneers of psychoanalysis, Ramirez said.

The students who think of themselves as excellent at math and felt high levels of stress were also more likely to report they avoided thinking about the course after it ended more than other students did.

Previous studies by other researchers seem to support the concept of motivated forgetting. For example, a 2011 Harvard University study found that when people were asked to memorize an “honor code” and then pay themselves for solving a series of problems, those who cheated and overpaid themselves remembered less of the honor code at the end of the experiment than those who did not cheat.

“Motivated forgetting, or giving in to the desire to forget what we find threatening, is a defense mechanism people use against threats to the way they like to depict themselves,” Ramirez said. “The students are highly motivated to do well and can’t escape during the course, but as soon as they take their final exam, they can give in their desire to forget and try to suppress the information.”

Ramirez said there are steps teachers can take to help students retain information. Some of them:

  • Emphasize the material’s real-world applications. This will give students incentives to remember information and review it later on. “I think we often do a poor job of showing students why the content is relevant to their lives and future job skills,” Ramirez said.
  • Cover the entire course in final exams. And not just the most recent material. “Non-cumulative exams tell students they can forget what they have already been tested on,” he said.
  • Guard against learning-by-photo. Specifically, Ramirez advises students not to try to capture course notes by taking photos with their smartphones — it might subtly create an impression that they don’t need to actually learn the information.
  • Embrace the challenges. When his students struggle, Ramirez tells them the challenge they’re facing will lead to deeper learning. “I try to change what ‘struggle’ means for them so that they don’t feel threatened when they are stressed out about the material,” he said.

Abstract of the study:

The ability to retain educationally relevant content in a readily accessible state in memory is critical for students at all stages in schooling. We hypothesized that a high degree of stress in mathematics courses can threaten students’ mathematics self-concept and lead to a motivation to forget course content. We tested the aforementioned hypothesis by recruiting students from a college course on multivariate calculus. Students were asked to report their ongoing stress in the course. The forgetting rate was assessed by comparing students’ final exam performance against their performance for a subset of the same final exam items 2 weeks later. We found that among students with a strong mathematics self-concept, a higher amount of ongoing weekly stress during the course was associated with increased forgetting of course content and a higher report of avoidant thinking about the course. Neither of these associations was found among students with a weaker mathematics self-concept. Our results provide evidence for a scientific account of the affective and motivational forces that shape why students forget educationally relevant content. We discuss the various educational practices that cue forgetting and make recommendations for reducing motivated forgetting in the classroom.

 

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Something children are better at than adults (and no, it isn’t creativity)

Often adults can do thing better than children. I know some – Romantic – people think children are genius and education kills creativity, but that has been debunked already. Still, I know a lot of stuff that children can do, which are now almost impossible to me. And a new study adds something to this list: noticing stuff that adults didn’t see. And it’s because of one of the limitations of children: it’s harder for them to focus. (btw, this recent post by Dan Willingham is also about the benefits and downsides of focus)

From the press release:

In two studies, researchers found that adults were very good at remembering information they were told to focus on, and ignoring the rest. In contrast, 4- to 5-year-olds tended to pay attention to all the information that was presented to them – even when they were told to focus on one particular item. That helped children to notice things that adults didn’t catch because of the grownups’ selective attention.

“We often think of children as deficient in many skills when compared to adults. But sometimes what seems like a deficiency can actually be an advantage,” said Vladimir Sloutsky, co-author of the study and professor of psychology at The Ohio State University.

“That’s what we found in our study. Children are extremely curious and they tend to explore everything, which means their attention is spread out, even when they’re asked to focus. That can sometimes be helpful.”

The results have important implications for understanding how education environments affect children’s learning, he said.

Sloutsky conducted the study with Daniel Plebanek, a graduate student in psychology at Ohio State. Their results were just published in the journal Psychological Science.

The first study involved 35 adults and 34 children who were 4 to 5 years old.

The participants were shown a computer screen with two shapes, with one shape overlaying the other. One of the shapes was red, the other green. The participants were told to pay attention to a shape of a particular color (say, the red shape).

The shapes then disappeared briefly, and another screen with shapes appeared. The participants had to report whether the shapes in the new screen were the same as in the previous screen.

In some cases, the shapes were exactly the same. In other cases, the target shape (the one participants were told to pay attention to) was different. But there were also instances where the non-target shape changed, even though it was not the one participants were told to notice.

Adults performed slightly better than children at noticing when the target shape changed, noticing it 94 percent of the time compared to 86 percent of the time for children.

“But the children were much better than adults at noticing when the non-target shape changed,” Sloutsky said. Children noticed that change 77 percent of the time, compared to 63 percent of the time for adults.

“What we found is that children were paying attention to the shapes that they weren’t required to,” he said. “Adults, on the other hand, tended to focus only on what they were told was needed.”

A second experiment involved the same participants. In this case, participants were shown drawings of artificial creatures with several different features. They might have an “X” on their body, or an “O”; they might have a lightning bolt on the end of their tail or a fluffy ball.

Participants were asked to find one feature, such as the “X” on the body among the “Os.” They weren’t told anything about the other features. Thus, their attention was attracted to “X” and “O”, but not to the other features. Both children and adults found the “X” well, with adults being somewhat more accurate than children.

But when those features appeared on creatures in later screens, there was a big difference in what participants remembered. For features they were asked to attend to (i.e., “X” and “O”), adults and children were identical in remembering these features. But children were substantially more accurate than adults (72 percent versus 59 percent) at remembering features that they were not asked to attend to, such as the creatures’ tails.

“The point is that children don’t focus their attention as well as adults, even if you ask them to,” Sloutsky said. “They end up noticing and remembering more.”

Sloutsky said that adults would do well at noticing and remembering the ignored information in the studies, if they were told to pay attention to everything. But their ability to focus attention has a cost – they miss what they are not focused on.

The ability of adults to focus their attention – and children’s tendency to distribute their attention more widely – both have positives and negatives.

“The ability to focus attention is what allows adults to sit in two-hour meetings and maintain long conversations, while ignoring distractions,” Sloutsky said.

“But young children’s use of distributed attention allows them to learn more in new and unfamiliar settings by taking in a lot of information.”

The fact that children don’t always do as well at focusing attention also shows the importance of designing the right learning environment in classrooms, Sloutsky said.

“Children can’t handle a lot of distractions. They are always taking in information, even if it is not what you’re trying to teach them. We need to make sure that we are aware of that and design our classrooms, textbooks and educational materials to help students succeed.

“Perhaps a boring classroom or a simple black and white worksheet means less distraction and more successful learning,” Sloutsky added.

Abstract of the study:

One of the lawlike regularities of psychological science is that of developmental progression—an increase in sensorimotor, cognitive, and social functioning from childhood to adulthood. Here, we report a rare violation of this law, a developmental reversal in attention. In Experiment 1, 4- to 5-year-olds (n = 34) and adults (n = 35) performed a change-detection task that included externally cued and uncued shapes. Whereas the adults outperformed the children on the cued shapes, the children outperformed the adults on the uncued shapes. In Experiment 2, the same participants completed a visual search task, and their memory for search-relevant and search-irrelevant information was tested. The young children outperformed the adults with respect to search-irrelevant features. This demonstration of a paradoxical property of early attention deepens current understanding of the development of attention. It also has implications for understanding early learning and cognitive development more broadly.

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Interesting: famous Milgram-experiment has been successfully replicated

It has been a topic that has been fascinating me for quite a while now: are the insights from the famous Milgram-experiment valid or not. Why I have been questioning this, is because there has been criticism lately:

…several scholars raised new criticisms of the research based on their analysis of the transcripts and audio from the original experiments, or on new simulations or partial replications of the experiments. These contemporary criticisms add to past critiques, profoundly undermining the credibility of the original research and the way it is usually interpreted. That Milgram’s studies had a mighty cultural and scholarly impact is not in dispute; the meaning of what he found most certainly is.

BPS Digest sums up the most important modern criticisms:

  • When a participant hesitated in applying electric shocks, the actor playing the role of experimenter was meant to stick to a script of four escalating verbal “prods”. In fact, he frequently improvised, inventing his own terms and means of persuasion. Gina Perry (author of Behind The Shock Machine) has said the experiment was more akin to an investigation of “bullying and coercion” than obedience.
  • A partial replication of the studies found that no participants actually gave in to the fourth and final prod, the only one that actually constituted a command. Analysis of Milgram’s transcripts similarly suggested that the experimenter prompts that were most like a command were rarely obeyed. A modern analogue of Milgram’s paradigm found that order-like prompts were ineffective compared with appeals to science, supporting the idea that people are not blindly obedient to authority but believe they are contributing to a worthy cause.
  • Milgram failed to fully debrief his participants immediately after they’d participated.
  • In an unpublished version of his paradigm, Milgram recruited pairs of people who knew each other to play the role of teacher and learner. In this case, disobedience rose to 85 per cent.
  • Many participants were sceptical about the reality of the supposed set-up. Restricting analysis to only those who truly believed the situation was real, disobedience rose to around 66 per cent.

But now there is a new – successful but again partial- replication of the famous experiment, the research appears in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. Still, one could ask again if some of the criticisms aren’t still valid also for the new replication – they do imho.

From the press release:

“Our objective was to examine how high a level of obedience we would encounter among residents of Poland,” write the authors. “It should be emphasized that tests in the Milgram paradigm have never been conducted in Central Europe. The unique history of the countries in the region made the issue of obedience towards authority seem exceptionally interesting to us.”

For those unfamiliar with the Milgram experiment, it tested people’s willingness to deliverer electric shocks to another person when encouraged by an experimenter. While no shocks were actually delivered in any of the experiments, the participants believed them to be real. The Milgram experiments demonstrated that under certain conditions of pressure from authority, people are willing to carry out commands even when it may harm someone else.

“Upon learning about Milgram’s experiments, a vast majority of people claim that ‘I would never behave in such a manner,’ says Tomasz Grzyb, a social psychologist involved in the research. “Our study has, yet again, illustrated the tremendous power of the situation the subjects are confronted with and how easily they can agree to things which they find unpleasant.”

While ethical considerations prevented a full replication of the experiments, researchers created a similar set-up with lower “shock” levels to test the level of obedience of participants.

The researchers recruited 80 participants (40 men and 40 women), with an age range from 18 to 69, for the study. Participants had up to 10 buttons to press, each a higher “shock” level. The results show that the level of participants’ obedience towards instructions is similarly high to that of the original Milgram studies.

They found that 90% of the people were willing to go to the highest level in the experiment. In terms of differences between peoples willingness to deliver shock to a man versus a woman, “It is worth remarking,” write the authors, “that although the number of people refusing to carry out the commands of the experimenter was three times greater when the student [the person receiving the “shock”] was a woman, the small sample size does not allow us to draw strong conclusions.”

In terms of how society has changed, Grzyb notes, “half a century after Milgram’s original research into obedience to authority, a striking majority of subjects are still willing to electrocute a helpless individual.”

Abstract of the study:

In spite of the over 50 years which have passed since the original experiments conducted by Stanley Milgram on obedience, these experiments are still considered a turning point in our thinking about the role of the situation in human behavior. While ethical considerations prevent a full replication of the experiments from being prepared, a certain picture of the level of obedience of participants can be drawn using the procedure proposed by Burger. In our experiment, we have expanded it by controlling for the sex of participants and of the learner. The results achieved show a level of participants’ obedience toward instructions similarly high to that of the original Milgram studies. Results regarding the influence of the sex of participants and of the “learner,” as well as of personality characteristics, do not allow us to unequivocally accept or reject the hypotheses offered.

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New study confirms: cyberbullying rarely occurs in isolation

It’s something I’ve known from other studies, but this new research from the University of Warwick, published in European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, confirms it: cyberbullying is mostly an extension of playground bullying — and doesn’t create large numbers of new victims.

In short:

  • Cyberbullying doesn’t create large numbers of new victims
  • Most bullying is face-to-face – with cyberbullying used as a modern tool to supplement traditional forms
  • 29% of UK teenagers reported being bullied – only 1% were victims of cyberbullying alone
  • Bullying intervention strategies should focus on traditional bullying as well as cyberbullying

From the press release:

Professor Dieter Wolke in the Department of Psychology finds that although cyberbullying is prevalent and harmful, it is a modern tool used to harm victims already bullied by traditional, face-to-face means.

In a study of almost 3000 pupils aged 11-16 from UK secondary schools, twenty-nine percent reported being bullied, but one percent of adolescents were victims of cyberbullying alone.

During the survey, pupils completed the Bullying and Friendship Interview, which has been used in numerous studies to assess bullying and victimization.

They were asked about direct victimisation (e.g., “been hit/beaten up” or “called bad/nasty names”); relational victimization (e.g., “had nasty lies/rumours spread about you”); and cyber-victimization (e.g., “had rumours spread about you online”, “had embarrassing pictures posted online without permission”, or “got threatening or aggressive emails, instant messages, text messages or tweets”).

All the teenagers who reported being bullied in any form had lower self-esteem, and more behavioural difficulties than non-victims.

However, those who were bullied by multiple means – direct victimisation, relational victimisation and cyber-victimisation combined – demonstrated the lowest self-esteem and the most emotional and behavioural problems.

The study finds that cyberbullying is “another tool in the toolbox” for traditional bullying, but doesn’t create many unique online victims.

As a result, Professor Wolke argues that public health strategies to prevent bullying overall should still mainly focus on combatting traditional, face-to-face bullying – as that is the root cause of the vast majority of cyberbullying.

Professor Wolke comments:

“Bullying is a way to gain power and peer acceptance, being the ‘cool’ kid in class. Thus, cyber bullying is another tool that is directed towards peers that the bully knows, and bullies, at school.

“Any bullying prevention and intervention still needs to be primarily directed at combatting traditional bullying while considering cyberbullying as an extension that reaches victims outside the school gate and 24/7.”

Abstract of the study:

Cyberbullying has been portrayed as a rising ‘epidemic’ amongst children and adolescents. But does it create many new victims beyond those already bullied with traditional means (physical, relational)? Our aim was to determine whether cyberbullying creates uniquely new victims, and whether it has similar impact upon psychological and behavioral outcomes for adolescents, beyond those experienced by traditional victims. This study assessed 2745 pupils, aged 11–16, from UK secondary schools. Pupils completed an electronic survey that measured bullying involvement, self-esteem and behavioral problems. Twenty-nine percent reported being bullied but only 1% of adolescents were pure cyber-victims (i.e., not also bullied traditionally). Compared to direct or relational victims, cyber-victimization had similar negative effects on behavior (z = −0.41) and self-esteem (z = −0.22) compared to those not involved in bullying. However, those bullied by multiple means (poly-victims) had the most difficulties with behavior (z = −0.94) and lowest self-esteem (z = −0.78). Cyberbullying creates few new victims, but is mainly a new tool to harm victims already bullied by traditional means. Cyberbullying extends the reach of bullying beyond the school gate. Intervention strategies against cyberbullying may need to include approaches against traditional bullying and its root causes to be successful.

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You’re not like your brother: disruptive children do not inspire similar behavior in their siblings

I’m coming from a big family with a lot of brothers and sisters. Luckily they are all great, but what does it mean to have a rather disruptive brother or sister? A new longitudinal study on +900 children tries to answer this question.

From the press release:

A new Tel Aviv University study published in Child Development finds that the disruptive behavior of an individual child does not encourage similar behavior in their brothers and sisters.

On the contrary, Dr. Ella Daniel of TAU’s Jaime and Joan Constantiner School of Education finds that siblings, predominantly older siblings, of disruptive children tend to exhibit less disorderly behavior over time. The research, conducted in collaboration with Dr. Jennifer Jenkins and colleagues at the University of Toronto and funded by the Canadian Institute for Health Research, examines the role of sibling training on disruptive behavior during early childhood and concludes that disruptive behavior produces greater disparity — rather than resemblance — among siblings.

“The development of disruptive behavior in early childhood is extremely important, as disruptive behavior starts early in life and behavioral patterns may become stable and resistant to influence later on,” Dr. Daniel says. “We found that in early childhood, children do not learn from each other how to be disruptive, violent or disobedient.

“In fact, they are more likely to learn what not to do, or how not to behave. The older siblings of young children who are disruptive tend to become less disruptive themselves over time, creating a polarizing effect on their behaviors.”

Focusing on younger children

Existing research on disruptive behavior is largely focused on adolescents. The new study harnessed data assessing the rate of disruptions as witnessed by both parents to track 916 toddlers and their preschool- and school-aged siblings in some 400 families in and around Toronto.

The families examined had given birth to an infant between 2006 and 2008, and had at least one other child (younger than four years of age) at home. The researchers conducted observations and interviews with the family, including all the siblings in the family, every 18 months.

The scientists collected information when the youngest child in the family was 18, 36 and 54 months old. On these three occasions, both parents reported the disruptive behaviors of each of their children. Using advanced statistical models, the researchers were able to identify the role of siblings in the development of each child’s disruptive behavior over time, taking into account heredity, parenting, social environment and shared history.

“The study teaches us that we have little to worry about one sibling being ‘a bad influence’ on their brothers or sisters,” says Dr. Daniel. “Instead, we should be more worried of pigeon holing: that one child will be labeled as a ‘black sheep,’ and that all children in the family will develop based on pre-assigned roles. We should let each child develop his or her individuality, which naturally changes over time.”

The researchers are currently examining the role of siblings in the development of childhood depression and anxiety.

Abstract of the study:

ibling training for disruptive behavior (one sibling teaching another disruptive behavior) is examined during early childhood. We used a conservative, recently developed, statistical model to identify sibling training. Sibling training was operationalized as the cross-lagged association between earlier child behavior and later sibling behavior, and differentiated from other reasons that contribute to sibling similarity. A three-wave longitudinal study tracked 916 children (Mage = 3.46, SD = 2.23) in 397 families using multi-informant data. Evidence for sibling training was found. Earlier younger siblings’ disruptive behavior predicted later lower levels of older siblings’ disruptive behavior. Thus, the sibling training found in early childhood was producing greater dissimilarity, rather than similarity, on disruptive behavior.

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