Monthly Archives: March 2011

New research suggests Facebook use by adolescents can contribute to depression

The Associated Press reports that ‘Facebook depression’ could affect some teens who frequent the social network site:

There are unique aspects of Facebook that can make it a particularly tough social landscape to navigate for kids already dealing with poor self-esteem, said Dr. Gwenn O’Keeffe, a Boston-area pediatrician and lead author of new American Academy of Pediatrics social media guidelines.

With in-your-face friends’ tallies, status updates and photos of happy-looking people having great times, Facebook pages can make some kids feel even worse if they think they don’t measure up.

It can be more painful than sitting alone in a crowded school cafeteria or other real-life encounters that can make kids feel down, O’Keeffe said, because Facebook provides a skewed view of what’s really going on. Online, there’s no way to see facial expressions or read body language that provide context.


Wray Herbert on the heuristic mind

In psychological terms, a heuristic is a sort of mental rule or guide that helps us accomplish tasks or solve problems based on prior experience rather than purely on reason. For example, if you have ever driven away from your home without a clear memory of having locked your front door, it is probably because on your way out your ‘door locking’ heuristic kicked in and so you did not have to make a conscious (and hence memorable) effort to lock your door.

Science writer Wray Herbert has written a new book on the various cognitive biases that result from heuristics. The Huffington Post recently published a short article by Herbert in which he describes his notion of the ‘heuristic mind,’ which he argues is “automatic and often irrational”:

This irrationality can be quirky and entertaining, and I offer many examples of this in the book. But all too often — as with this skiing tragedy — our quirkiness crosses the line into what can only be called perversion. We make self-destructive decisions when we should know better; we choose options that are (seemingly) designed to sabotage our hopes and end up in failure and unhappiness.
One of the powerful, deep-seated cognitive biases that doomed Carruthers is called the “familiarity heuristic.” What this means, simply, is that we all favor the familiar over the strange. Things that are unfamiliar or foreign — people, places, ideas — may carry unknown risks, so on a gut level we equate familiarity with safety and well-being. Indeed, the familiarity heuristic is one of the most potent cognitive biases at work in the mind, and much of the time this bias serves us well. But not all the time, and there’s the rub.

New study suggests college women’s same-sex romantic relationships are largely a myth

The Huffington Post reports:

A study (PDF) on sexual behavior, attraction and identity released earlier this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that women with at least a bachelor’s degree are less likely to have had a same-sex experience than less-educated women.

Between 2006 and 2008, the study’s authors asked 13,495 individuals aged 15 to 44 to answer a number of questions about their sexual habits and found that while 9.9 percent of college-educated women said they’d had a sexual experience with a female, 14 to 15 percent of women without a college degree said the same. According to the New York Times, only 1 percent of the 13 percent who reported having had same-sex encounters identified as homosexual, and only 4 percent as bisexual.

The report’s findings call into question the popular notion that college campuses are a place for young women to explore their sexuality.

Romantic heartbreak activates brain’s physical pain center

USA Today reports:

Romantic heartbreak hurts, and researchers now have a better understanding of why.

The same regions of the brain that are activated when people experience pain in their bodies also become active when people feel rejected by someone they love, new research shows.

The findings suggest that people whose feelings are crushed in an unwanted romantic breakup also may feel actual physical pain, says University of Michigan social psychologist Ethan Kross, lead author of the study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

The psychology – and philosophy – of free will

The New York Times reviews recent research by psychologists, experimental philosophers, and others into the concept of free will:

Intellectual concepts of free will can vary enormously, but there seems to be a fairly universal gut belief in the concept starting at a young age. When children age 3 to 5 see a ball rolling into a box, they say that the ball couldn’t have done anything else. But when they see an experimenter put her hand in the box, they insist that she could have done something else.

That belief seems to persist no matter where people grow up, as experimental philosophers have discovered by querying adults in different cultures, including Hong Kong, India, Colombia and the United States. Whatever their cultural differences, people tend to reject the notion that they live in a deterministic world without free will.

Turning off the brain’s ‘anxiety switch’

The Huffington Post reports:

A recent study from Stanford located a part of the brain that could function like an on/off switch.Researchers found a certain brain circuit that when stimulated in mice proved to inhibit their anxiety — the mice were emboldened to freely explore open areas they typically shunned out of fear of predator attacks.

The March 9 study was published by the online science and medical journal, Nature.

Are atheletes better at processing visual information?

The New York Times reports on a new study conducted at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Researchers had both athletes and non-athletes perform a task – crossing a busy street – while immersed in a virtual reality simulation. As with a real-life street crossing, subjects had to gauge the speed of oncoming vehicles. The study found that athletes were better able to complete the task not because they crossed the street more quickly or otherwise brought to bear their athletic prowess, but because they glanced up and down the street more than non-athletes and appeared better able to project when to cross the street relative to the positions of oncoming vehicles.