Making Online Choices and the Effect of Other Peoples Opinions.

What makes you choose to click on a link, to view an article or to share something on Facebook? Usually it’s because you think you will find the content informative or funny but with social media recommendations becoming the main way that we find things online we now have to judge how much we listen to our often misguided friends.

A new study by Huberman and Zhu, 2014 has looked as how much other people’s opinions affect our online choices.

First of all the participants were asked to make a choice out of two potential pieces of online content. Then later on in the study they were exposed to other people’s opinions about the content after which the participants were asked if they wanted to change their choice.

The results showed that other people’s opinions have a significant effect on the choices that people make online. When asked a little while after their first choice and after being exposed to other people’s opinions 22.4% of participants changed their mind about what they wanted to view. When they were asked immediately after their first choice however that figure was less at 14.1%.

It also seems as though the more time participants took making their first decision was the biggest factor as to whether people would change their minds later on rather than things such as age and gender.

Another interesting finding from this study was that people were more likely to change their mind with only a moderate amount of pressure to change rather than a large amount.

This goes some way to explaining the rise of social media over emails as the new advertising favourite. Emails are, or seem like, direct messages to you and when sent over and over again it can seem like you are under pressure personally. When you receive messages through a social media networks about products you can see more clearly that they are directed at a group which could take some pressure away from you and allow you to make decisions without feeling hassled. Something to be self-conscious about when you next see an advert or a piece of recommended content online, how much pressure do you feel?


Psychology of Numbers and Why 7 is ‘The Luckiest’

When we look at numbers they should simply represent amounts of something. But we’re humans, we end up having opinions about them. Superstitions evolve around them and feelings get evoked by seeing them.

The number 13 is considered by many to be unlucky. The phobia of the number 13 known as Triskaidekaphobia and according to the Gallup survey 1 in 10 people are superstitious about this number.

Stranger than that there is a more potent phobia connected to Friday the 13th which is Paraskevidekatriaphobia. This phobia has been known to keep people in bed for the entire day because they fear that if they go out something bad is going to happen.

For equally unique reasons 7 is considered lucky. When people are asked to pick a number between 1 and 10 the most common number that people pick is 7 because it seems ‘the most obscure’. People will stay away from 1 and 10 because they are too extreme, all the even numbers have too much of a recognisable pattern and 5 is too obvious because of its position in the middle. That only leaves 3, 7 and 9. 9 is too close to the end and 7 seems like a more obscure number than 3 and so we have our winner.

Similarly the number 7 is people’s favourite number. A survey of 44000 people online found that 7, closely followed by the number 3, is the most common favourite number. While this survey was self selecting so not strictly conforming to proper psychological testing procedures, it still gives a strong indication of what people perceive about numbers.

The luck of the number 7 is also reinforced in our culture. Slot machines in casinos will often have one of the win lines as 777. It occurs in the natural world an awful lot as well, 7 seas, 7 continents and 7 days of the week.

Often these associations can come from personal experiences. If, for example, you went into a casino, lost all night and then you won a lot of money with your last fiver on the number 7, you’re going to think that number is lucky when in fact it has the same chance of coming in as any of the other numbers.

When we have these experiences it allows us to attach feelings to certain numbers and so we develop a liking for some numbers and bad feelings about others. When we have favourite numbers it gives us a little buzz to be sitting in seat 28 at the theatre or to get the number 17 bus home.

One more reason that we could be drawn towards the number seven is that it is the only single digit number to have 2 sylables putting it into its own catagory of the most common numbers.

Do you have a lucky number? Have a think about why that is your lucky number and then share it in the comments section.


The ‘Love Hormone’ Oxytocin Makes Men More Loyal

What is the characteristic that you view as the most important in a partner? Is it sense of humor, how attractive they are, kindness?

Well a recent study showed that the top characteristic we look for is loyalty (Emond and Eduljee, 2014). So what is it that makes someone loyal?

Recently researchers have been looking at the properties of a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone which is produced both during orgasm and child birth to promote bonding between either partners or parent and child.

Now that we have developed a way to produce this hormone we can run some interesting tests in other situations and see if this will affect peoples behaviour.

One study attempted to see if men could be tempted into a potential cheating situation after having taken this hormone. The theory being that if men had taken the hormone then they would be more attracted to other people in the room.

To do this researchers first gave participants either oxytocin or a placebo via a nasal spray.

Then the most attractive female researcher from their team stood close to the participants, starting at 2 feet and moving closer or further away. The participants were asked to rate when the researcher was at an ‘ideal distance’ and when she was too close, making them feel uncomfortable.

Interestingly the results showed the opposite of what researchers had expected. Men who had been given the oxytocin and were in a monogamous relationship felt the most uncomfortable at closer distances and stayed on average 4-6 inches further back than single men who took oxytocin or the placebo group.

The same result didn’t happen when they were approached by a man and all of the participants confirmed that they thought the female researcher was attractive.

Possible implications about this hormone might suggest that because you are used to experiencing this hormone with your long term partner then you are more likely to find the situation strange if you experience it with someone else nearby.

On the other hand this result might have occurred because the participants were in an experimental situation and didn’t try to flirt.

In any case it is obvious that this hormone can have a significant affect on male behaviours and the more of the hormone they experience with their partners then the less likely it is that they will display signs of attraction to other females.


Children and Animals: How Animals Can Help your Child Develop

Animals are lovely. We keep them as pets and pay large amounts of our hard earned cash to go to zoos and stare at them through bars that keep us from getting mauled. We laugh instead of cry when monkeys jump on our cars and start tearing off the windscreen wipers with a wanton disregard.

But when you wander around the zoo more often than not you are being pulled around by a child that is so excited they are having trouble keeping it all in. They love animals even more than we do but why is this and how can interaction with animals help our children develop?

First of all why. We all have an inbuilt system where we are attracted to cute cuddly things. This helps us to care for our children and form a bond with them. A good example of how we prefer younger cuter animals comes from a recent study performed by Borgi and Cirulli (2013).

For this study young children between the ages of 3 and 6 were shown pictures of cats and kittens as well as dogs and puppies and they were asked to rate which one they preferred. The results showed that they had a strong preference for the kittens over the cats because of their infantile features but with regards to dogs they preferred the adult dogs features. Just as a control however they showed the children pictures of teddy bears and found that they overwhelmingly liked the teddy bears with infantile features.

Also how can animals help children develop? Animals can be an outlet for everyone not just children. I’m sure if you have a pet you have found yourself talking to them about your problems and it can be the same for children as well.

When you are looking after a pet you have to show it caring behaviours. You have to feed it, show it affection and make sure it is generally well cared for and these behaviours can then easily transfer onto other humans.

An interesting study that supports this was performed by O’Haire et al (2013). For this study animals, namely guinea pigs, were placed in the classroom of children aged 4 to 12 for an 8 week period.

The children were responsible for caring for and looking after the animals during that time and after the study both parents and teachers rated the children as having an increase in social skills as well as a decrease in poor behaviours in the classroom. While there was no improvement in academic performance found the social improvements make a strong case for the benefits of animals being around children.

We know as well that for children to learn they need to be engaged and animals can be very engaging in themselves. They move, they respond to you and they make make noises that are unique and different every time. According to this study animals are more engaging than toys for children.

Researchers showed the children several different animals including geckos, snakes, spiders, hamsters and fish and across all conditions of the study the children talked more about the animals, asked more questions about them and interacted with them more than they did the toys showing that animals help to bring out children’s inquisitive nature.

What seems to be the clear message for this research is that the more interaction with a living moving things the better off your children will be. You learn best by doing and if your children are interacting all the the time that means they are learning all the time.


Conspiracy Theories and How They Affect Believers Behaviour

We have all heard of one type of conspiracy theory or another. Was 9/11 planned by the U.S. government? Did aliens land on earth back in the 50’s and are now being kept at area 51? Is the government trying to control our minds using aeroplane jet streams? But how do the believers in these theories change their behaviour when they start to think that what is being reported is untrue?

A very interesting series of studies recently released in the British Journal of psychology looked at conspiracy believers to find out just that.

Conspiracy theories have been growing in popularity in recent years and a study by Carson (2001) found that conspiracy theories actually become more believable the more time that passes since the event.

Often conspiracy theorists have been discredited as ‘crazy’ and having exceptionally angry and distrustful minds but seeing as they have grown in popularity to a widespread audience this rather simplistic explanation would seem to be inaccurate. There are a host of other reasons that lead people to believe in conspiracy theories such as “anomie (a condition in which society provides little moral guidance to individuals), distrust in authority, political cynicism, powerlessness (Abalakina-Paap et al, 1999; Goertzel, 1994; Swami et al, 2010), and Machiavellianism (Douglas & Sutton, 2011).”

Another interesting finding from studies surrounding conspiracy theories shows that even people who don’t generally believe in these theories can be more open to them after being exposed to them, Douglas and Sutton (2008). This just shows that with the invention of the internet and more exposure to alternative theories that people are going to start believing more even if they think that their beliefs haven’t changed.

When people start to believe in conspiracy theories it can on a grand scale be a good thing. People are encouraged to question the official explanation and this can encourage political and social debate.

For the individual however it generally leads to high levels of mistrust in government and lead to voter apathy. Why bother voting for someone who is corrupt and not going to listen to public opinion?

Also it can add fuel to negative movements such as far right groups who use these theories as evidence of corrupt governments and encourage anti Semitic/racist beliefs.

The more that people are exposed to conspiracy theories the more they are going to start believing in them and the more they are going to withdraw from the political process. Perhaps when it comes to this type of thing ignorance is bliss.

What do you think about conspiracy theories? Are they useful to encourage debate or do they put people off from using their rights to vote? Please let us know in the comments section.


How to Relax in Stressful Situations

All of us have situations that we find stressful, waiting in line, exams, talking to someone you are attracted to or going for an interview are just a few examples. Wouldn’t it be nice to control that nervousness at a moments notice? Then try some of these techniques when you find it is all too much.

Withdrawing From The Situation

When you are in the wrong environment it can be nothing but a stress inducer. Say for example you are outside the room waiting for your interview and the stress is building being in that unfamiliar environment can just make you feel even more uncomfortable.

One way to ‘get away’ from that place is to direct your mind and your senses to do other things. If your senses are fully occupied you’ll have no time to be stressed.

First things first you should close your eyes. You get a lot of information coming in visually and to be able to control it better you should stop that sensory overload.

The next thing that you should do is start focusing on very specific things to do with each sense all at the same time so that you don’t have time to focus on anything else.

With your eyes try and focus on a point in the darkness, with your ears listen to the ringing of your blood, with your touch focus on the air coming in through your nose, down your throat, filling up your lungs and out.

This should take your mind away from the situation because your mind is overloaded with trying to do these three things similtaniously and the breathing should slowly relax you.

Self Meditation

This one is generally reserved for a time when you are completely alone, have time and a bit of peace. It will take slightly longer but should be more effective and work for deeper rooted stresses.

To start off find a comfortable position and close your eyes and then follow the sensory overload technique from the first section.

Once your mind is clear and you feel like you are ready, keep up the deep breathing and actively relax individual muscles in your body. Start with the top of your head, wait until that is totally relaxed and then move down to your forehead, then your face and so on. Make sure you relax only one at a time and make sure that area is completely relaxed before you move on to the next and work your way down all the way to your toes.

If you are still feeling some tension at the end of this exercise then continuing with the heavy breathing start to focus your tension into your chest and then feel it escape from your body a little more with every deep breath.

At this point your body should be totally relaxed and your mind off your problems so you could just stop there but if you want to gain a positive from the experience then you could pre plan an objective to achieve during your meditation.

At this stage you should start to tell yourself positive things about the way you would like to behave or feel in a certain situation. One very important thing is not to even hint at the negative so for example a bad thing to say would be ‘I’m not going to walk in there and fall on my face!’. The thing that you are going to remember about that is the falling over on your face part.

Try instead to stick to positive statements so instead a good statement would be ‘I am going to walk in there and they are going to see I am right for the job straight from that first moment‘. These are all positive things that you ARE going to do not what you aren’t going to do.

One more tip as well, avoid ambiguous statements and try and tell yourself things decisively. So for example a bad thing to say would be ‘I am going to try my very best to give up smoking’. The word try implies that you might not succeed. ‘I will give up smoking’ tells your unconcious that there is no choice in this matter and you are going to succeed.

Once you bring yourself slowly out of your meditation then you will feel more positive about yourself and more relaxed in general.

Try this in the next stressful situation you are in and then let us know if it works for you in the comments section.


10 Amazing Pioneers in Forensic Psychology

Most people when they think of forensic psychology think about violent murderers who are being poked and prodded to find out which nerve will turn off the murderer gene but in fact it is a lot more complicated than that.

Most forensic psychologists are actually trying to find characteristics about all humans that could lead to these behaviours and are trying to find ways to detect and prevent criminals from committing crime in the first place.

Here are 10 really fascinating psychologists and their studies that should whet your appetite for one of the most lively areas of psychology.

1. William Stern – Eye Witness Testimony
In the very early years of psychology some of the most ground breaking and interesting discoveries were made. While this is due largely to the lack of any ethical requirements for studies it sure did throw out some interesting results and psychologists.

One of these ‘fathers’ of psychology, William Stern, who was the inventor of the I.Q test, came up with an interesting theory and decided to test it.

In 1901 during one of his lectures at the University of Breslau he decided to conduct an experiment of his own by staging a fight half way through.

The fight went on until one of the combatants decided to pull out a revolver at which point the professor stopped the fight.

After this, William asked all of the students that had observed the fight to write down what they had seen and all of them came up with anywhere between 4 and 12 errors on their reports.

This study and his genius eventually lead the way into the study of eye witness testimony and helped us to start finding out that leading questions, the events that have happened since the incident and the age of the witness can have a massive impact on the accuracy of a testimony.

2. Hugo Munsterberg – On the Witness Stand

Munsterberg was a noted scholar from the early 20th century who is remembered in forensic psychology for his work in the field of witnesses.

Now that the field of psychology has developed we know that perception can drastically alter our memory of a certain event. Massive stress levels or heightened emotions can change what we remember as ‘the truth’ but before Munsterberg all witnesses were thought to simply remember the facts and deliver them perfectly.

He brought forward the idea that a persons schemata, (memory associations of certain things i.e knife has associations with kitchen, stabbing and food) judgements and suggestions can alter memory even if that person has no desire to lie or change their testimony.

One of the experiments he liked to perform regularly on his students was to ask them to write down a description of what they were about to see as carefully as they could.

He would then show them a piece of white cardboard with a certain number of black dots on it for 5 seconds and ask them to write down how many dots were on the card.

Even when they were paying attention, knew that something was coming that they had to remember and had time to contemplate their answers the students would sometimes give a number that was up to 7 or 8 times that of other students in the room!

This added fuel to his argument that witness testimony should not be taken at face value and that their prejudices and personalities should be taken into account.

3. Stanley Milgram – Obedience
Milgram is the man who came up with the idea for the obedience experiment which has become one of the most famous psychological studies of all time.

The study, which has been successfully replicated several times since, involves a participant being asked by an experimenter to ask another participant questions and if they get the questions wrong then they get an electric shock.

What they don’t know is that the participant that they are asking questions to is actually just a voice recording that they play to all participants and is the same for everyone.

As the experiment goes on the voice recording starts to get more and more questions wrong forcing the actual participant to keep upping the level of electric shock they think they are delivering to a real person.

Eventually the recorded voice starts to scream at the electric shocks, says he has a problem with his heart and finally stops making any sound what so ever.

Throughout this the participants usually get very stressed and think about stopping the experiment but the authority figure standing nearby in a white lab coat delivers 4 set instructions to continue before they will actually stop the experiment.

The instructions were:

Prod 1: Please continue.

Prod 2: The experiment requires you to continue.

Prod 3: It is absolutely essential that you continue.

Prod 4: You have no other choice but to continue.

All of the participants reached a level of 300 volts and nearly two thirds of all participants made it to 450 volts which quite worryingly just had XXX on the label.

This experiment shed a bright light on the area of obeying authority figures and has close parallels to the attitude in Germany during the second world war. How different is it really from flipping the switch in a gas chamber?

4. Thomas Bond – Jack The Ripper Offender Profiling
jack the ripper
Thomas Bond is considered by many to be the first person to use offender profiling in an official capacity to try and actively locate a criminal and has revolutionized the way in which we track and capture serial killers.

Because of their very nature serial killers are hard to catch, often choosing to be very secretive and ordered in the way they commit a murder to both stop from getting captured and to fulfill their desires.

Offender profiling is the process of looking at all of the clues from the various murder scenes and seeing if there are any commonalities between them. Searching for patterns in behaviour that might link the murders together and give a clue to the murderers personality.

Because of his work in the metropolitan police Thomas Bond was asked to share his opinion on the Jack the Ripper murders and what the murderer would be like. The difference this time around was that he gave information on what he thought the murderers habits and personality were giving examples like:

The murderer must have been a man of physical strength and of great coolness and daring. There is no evidence that he had an accomplice. He must in my opinion be a man subject to periodical attacks of Homicidal and erotic mania. The character of the mutilations indicate that the man may be in a condition sexually, that may be called satyriasis. It is of course possible that the Homicidal impulse may have developed from a revengeful or brooding condition of the mind, or that Religious Mania may have been the original disease, but I do not think either hypothesis is likely. The murderer in external appearance is quite likely to be a quiet inoffensive looking man probably middle aged and neatly and respectably dressed. I think he must be in the habit of wearing a cloak or overcoat or he could hardly have escaped notice in the streets if the blood on his hands or clothes were visible.

Today when serial killers are uncovered, building an offender profile of them to narrow down the suspects is one of the first avenues explored to capture the killer.

5. David Canter – Investigative Psychology and the Railway Rapist
Canter is the founder of investigative psychology as well as a pioneer in the use of offender profiling in the UK having generated a profile for the railway killers of the 1980’s.

While working on this case police were stumped and horrified at how fast the rapes and murders were being committed and so saw that they had to try something new to catch the killers. To do this they invited David Canter to come and generate a profile of the killers, the first time this had ever been used in the UK.

The profile that he created was remarkably detailed for the amount of information that Canter had to go on and put one of the perpetrators to the very top of the suspects list.

Canter came up with 17 characteristics of the potential murders and out of those 13 of them turned out to be accurate. To give an example here are some of the profile characteristics that he got right:

• male in his mid-late twenties
• poor relationship with women but has probably been married
• considerable sexual experience, potentially with bondage
• a couple of close male friends
• experience with police or knowledge of procedures (he combed the victim’s pubic hair to remove evidence of his own)
• probably not physically strong (he used restraints but only enough control to rape)
• potentially semi-skilled work
• knowledge of the railway
• worked/lived nearby crime scene

While working on this case Canter also combined his skills of having worked in the area of environmental psychology (how people react around buildings on an ordinary day and when fires occur) with his offender profiling skills to develop a new area of psychology known as investigative psychology.

Investigative psychology looks at the actions of offenders and the reasons behind why people would commit crimes. Also it stresses that through the use of scientific psychology we can analyze the reasons behind other crimes such as arson and burglary rather than just murders which have an obvious psychopathic component to them.

6. William Marston – Lie Detector
lie detector
William Marston was a student of Munsterburgs and was an inventor as well as a psychologist. One of his most famous inventions he came up with was the blood pressure test. Strangely enough he got the idea from his wife saying that when she got mad her blood pressure seemed to rise.

This got him thinking about the link between blood pressure and emotions and decided to try and find a link between lying and blood pressure.

He championed the polygraph test which was invented by John Larson in 1921 with the help of his blood pressure test and hailed its use in criminal cases.

Another way in which he contributed to the field of forensic psychology is that he was the first expert witness in a legal case in the US who didn’t have a medical degree. This was in 1923 in the case of Frye v United states and set the Frye standard which is a legal precedent, still used in some states, which says that all tests that are generally accepted in that scientific community are admissible.

Previously expert witnesses were only considered expert if they had a medical degree or doctorate and this move into people who were considered expert in other fields added greatly to the credibility of psychology.

Totally unrelated to psychology but none the less an interesting fact about an interesting man is that Marston was the creator of the character Wonder Woman. Some people have theorized that this is related to his work in psychology in which he personally believed that women were more reliable and could work faster and more accurately than men.

7. Wilhelm Wundt – Science of Psychology
psychology lab
Wilhelm is one of the earliest forensic psychologists in this list and also one of the most important. In 1879 he developed the scientific methodology that is still used in applied psychology today.

To add credibility to the field Wilhelm helped to standardize the way in which psychology tests were carried out in an effort to make them more scientific and take away the subjective element to the psychology of the time.

This scientific method allowed psychologists to study the effects of the media on eye witness testimony reports, identify mental and abnormal behaviour and look for damaged parts of the brain. This opened up the area of the law that deals with mental disorders and whether people who are not mentally stable can really know what they are doing.

Because of his prominent place in psychology and his pioneering of this method he was the teacher of several others in the field including Cattell and Munsterburg (both of whom are in this list!).

8. Alfred Binet – Intelligence Tests
Binet was another pioneer for the field of psychology as a science and helped to co-found the first psychological laboratory in France in 1889.

During the early part of his career he studied both medicine and law and this lead him to take particular interest in how psychology could be applied to law and the efficacy of eye witness testimony.

What he is now famously remembered for however is his work into intelligence testing as well as psychology testing in other areas. The most famous of these developments was the Simon-Binnet Scale which was designed to try and filter out which children were right for mainstream education and which had special educational needs.

The test was standardized against a large sample so that the results would be representative. So for example to get a mental age of eight the child would have to answer all of the questions that the average 8 year old would be able to answer.

One of the reasons that his work is remembered so well today is that it was taken over to the US and then translated. Americans took great interest in this form of testing and used it not only with education but with the military and business as well.

The attitude of Americans of the day with a diversifying population allowed the test to be use to “curtail the reproduction of feeble-mindedness and in the elimination of an enormous amount of crime, pauperism, and industrial inefficiency (p.7)” Terman, L., Lyman, G., Ordahl, G., Ordahl, L., Galbreath, N., & Talbert, W. (1916).

Although it wasn’t Binets original purpose this scale was used as a way of enhancing the intelligence of a nation based on the results and affected Americans education and employment prospects. It was also used in some circles as justification for preventing ‘non intelligent people’ to breed (a scary thought).

9. Walter C. Langer – The Mind of Adolf Hitler
adolf hitler
While Walters contribution to psychology hasn’t been huge he had to be included in this list because of the man he was chosen to do a profile on. The biggest tyrant of all time, Adolf Hilter.

During World War two Langer was commissioned to come up with a psychological profile of the famous dictator in an effort to try and find any weaknesses he might have, to try and predict his decisions and create counter propaganda.

Some of the conclusions drawn were very interesting and I’m sure would have been hated by the dictator himself. They include the theory that he was probably homosexual and was impotent in a heterosexual relationship. He enjoyed a masochism in his heterosexual sex life and probably liked it when women urinated or defected on him.

A hint to the accuracy of this profile is that it also predicted that if defeat for Germany was near he would commit suicide which of course he did.

10. Dr. Saul Kassin – False Confessions
The last person on this list but most definitely not the least, Dr. Saul Kassin, was the first person to look in depth at the field of false confessions and developed the three different categories that we place people who admit false confessions into. The three categories are voluntary, coerced-compliant and coerced-internalized.

Voluntary confessions could be committed for reasons which usually divert attention away from the real criminal. A mother protecting their children or a partner who is trying to stop their partner losing their driving license.

Coerced – compliant is when the person confesses for a reward or less of a punishment like a deal to give them less prison time or extra privileges. Police use versions of this in interviews when they are putting a lot of pressure on the suspect and then hint that as soon as the suspect confesses they will stop.

Internalized confessions happen when the the person actually comes to believe that they have committed the crime.

As well as this pioneering work Kassin also did some work recently on how police interrogations can cause some people to deliver a false confession and submitted some advice to police on how interrogation techniques should be changed to account for this.

Even after all this he still has time to testify as an expert witness in the U.S in State, Federal and Military court.


Does Chewing Gum Help You to Remember?

Working in a school I am constantly telling students to spit their gum out and a common retort is ‘but sir it makes me think better’. Even though I am all for people focusing on a problem I still tell them to put it in the bin, but should I be?

The act of chewing gum might suggest a slight improvement in mental capacity during chewing. The act of chewing increases blood flow and cerebral activity.

Also while some studies have shown an improvement in test performance and alertness does it really improve your memory?

A study performed by Rickman et al, 2012 attempted to test whether the act of chewing more pieces of gum had an effect on participants recall. The theory being the more gum you chew the more your blood is flowing and the more cerebral activity you will have.

The experimenters set two conditions in which the participants were chewing either 1 or 4 pieces of gum and then asked them to perform a series of free recall tasks to test their memory.

The results showed that there was no improvement in recall across both conditions so the amount of gum had no affect on recall.

Interestingly though the reults did show that there was some ‘context dependant memory effects’ meaning that if the participants were chewing the same amount of gum across conditions then they experienced a significant improvement in recall.

So now when I tell students to spit out their gum, I’ll still tell them to throw it away unless they were chewing in the previous lesson!


Psychology of Massage: The Effect on The Mind

So many people hail the benefits of massage and say how great they feel afterwards, people are willing to pay serious money to get it done professionally and they come out of it glad they paid for the service. So is this all a placebo effect or do we actually recieve positive physical effects from massage?

One study performed in 1999 performed by hemmings et al shows that the effects could be mostly psychological. The study was performed on amatuer boxers who were asked to have two sessions on a boxing ergonometer and in between the two sessions they were either given a massage or a rest period.

The participants in the massage condition reported much higher levels of recovery than the rest participants but the physiological effects were shown to be insignificant. The participants had no difference in heart rate, blood lactate or blood glucose levels after either performance.

The only significant difference found was that after the second performance the subjects in the massage condition had higher blood lactate levels which would suggest that if you have a massage half way through physical exercise it could actually be bad for your muscles!

Positive Physiological Effects of Massage

There are some studies however which would suggest that massage can have both a positive physiological and psychological effect. The study by Field et al (2004) asked depressed, pregnant women to have massage sessions with their significant other for 20 minutes each week.

Immediately the women reported lower levels of anxiety, depression and pain but perhaps more surprisingly by the time they had come to full term their bodies contained far more of the positive hormones dopamine and seretonin than the control group.

This could suggest that the immediate effects of massage are very minimal but the psychological benefits of having that attention paid to you and the relaxing nature of massage over the long term could help you in general to become a more positive person.

Psychological Effects of Massage

These two studies both hail the positive and relaxing attitude that massage can have on people. Most come away from a session feeling better and more positive about themselves but do these effects last into the long term and does long term massage therapy actually make you a happier person?

Another very interesting study performed by field et al, 1986 suggests that the physical contact that comes with massage could have long term benefits to pre mature babies suggesting long term benefits in older people as well.

The psychologists running the study organised massages to be given to babies that were pre mature and a control group that didn’t recieve any massage. Compared to the control group the massaged babies put on weight faster, were more ‘socially responsive’ than the control and on average went home 6 days earlier.

These results give great evidence of the benefits of massage and show that it can improve health. It also makes me think though that it could be the physical contact that helps the development of babies and not just the action of massage.

Having a pre mature baby myself I was told a lot in the hospital that children really need skin to skin contact and that you being there and touching them will help them to recover faster so why can’t this be true in adults?

We all need physical contact of some kind or another and we are driven to seek it out with a partner so perhaps massage fills that need for contact with another human being and that skin to skin contact still has benefits of making people feel loved as we move through adulthood.

When we do have skin to skin contact it releases the hormone oxytocin, sometimes known as the cuddle hormone, so what effect could that have on the body and mind if released on a regular basis?

Do you think that massage has health benefits or is it just a very expensive way to spend 20 minutes? Tell us about your experiences in the comments section.

Cans of Energy Drinks

Energy Drinks: The Physical and Psychological Effects

Over the past few years energy drinks have been growing steadily in popularity, particularly amongst the younger generation and they can have both positive and negative side effects.

I am going to be honest, I am sitting here right now with an empty can of energy drink resting next to me. I find that it allows me to focus on my writing and type just that little bit faster but is this the case or am I just another victim of the placebo effect?

A study performed by Duncan and Hankey, 2013 set out to test if people were actually able to perform better during exercise after an energy drink or if they only thought that the energy drink was giving them ‘special powers’.

The study was performed on 14 active adults, 7 male and 7 female, and after taking either an energy drink or placebo they were asked to cycle for 1 hour.

During this time various things were measured including their percieved leg pain, their heart rate, their percieved exertion and their readiness to invest in physical effort both before and after the run.

The results collected tended to back up the fact that energy drinks do help during exercise. The participants reported less leg pain, less exertion, had a higher heart rate and were more ready to engage in physical activity when they had an energy drink rather than a placebo.

Another study performed by Smit et al, 2004 looked at the mental effects of energy drinks and whether they allowed you to be more tenatious when performing cognitively demanding tasks.

They were again tested in both an energy drink and placebo condition and the results showed that people who took the energy drink were in a better mood or maintain the same mood throughout a mentally demanding task.

When do Energy Drinks Become a Problem?

There are however many downsides to energy drinks. For example looking at the ingredients on the back of my empty can two of the vitamins it provides are double my recommended daily allowance in just one can. So if you drink more than one can a day you are getting far to much of certain vitamins not to mention caffeine.

People also use energy drinks as a mood adjuster which is definitely not their intended use. For example many people now tend to mix them with alcohol to counteract the drowsy effects of the liquor. This has the effect of pulling your nervous system in two different directions.

Also because of the high caffeine content energy drinks can have a detrimental effect on your sleeping patterns. An energy drink before bed will make it difficult for you to get a good nights sleep. Yanik et al, 1987 performed a study on rats and the affects of caffeine on their sleep cycle. The results showed that all of the rats were affected by even the smallest dose of caffeine but for the rats in the high dose condition the caffeine affected all areas of their sleep as well as total duration of sleep.

How Are Energy Drinks Perceived?

With the huge branding and advertising campaigns performed by the energy drink companies the perception of these drinks is heavily geared towards active males. Adverts containing people performing extreme sports and slogans such as ‘red bull gives you wings’ have clearly shown where they want their main market to be but have their efforts worked?

A survey performed by Miller(2008) studied 795 students at universities attitudes towards and the amount of energy drink that they consume. A total of 39% of participants had consumed and energy drink in the last month and of these the results showed that men drink just over double the amount of energy drink than women.

But this survey went even deeper that just finding out how many energy drinks were consumed but also what type of people were drinking them. Many of the questions were trying to find out whether the participants were ‘jocks’ (an American term commonly associated with sports and high risk taking behaviour). They used a combination of asking questions about their self image e.g. do you perceive yourself as a jock? as well as asking them about risk taking behaviour e.g. have you engaged in sexual intercourse without a condom in the last month?.

The results to this showed that there was a very strong correlation between the ‘jock’ stereotype and consumption of both energy drinks and mixing energy drinks with alcohol.