Category Archives: Psychology

Women may be able to see more colours than men, say researchers

Humans have the ability to recognise and perceive more than one million different colours. Our eyes are organs that capture light bouncing off objects and project an (upside-down) image onto the retina. These images are then sent to the brain, which is then able to interpret objects, shapes, and colours.

The brain does all the hard work when it comes to seeing things, but the eyes themselves determine colours for us. The fact we can see any colour at all is due to cells in our retinas called cone cells. There are three different types of “cone” at the back of our eyeballs, each able to distinguish 100 shades. All we need to do is open our eyes, and the three types of cone automatically work together to form combinations of shades, deliver these messages to the brain via the optic nerve, and we see colours.

One million is an incredible amount of colours that the eyes can distinguish, purely by shade-detecting cells converting scattered light into electromagnetic impulses. However, neuroscientists at Newcastle University believe that there may be women living amonst us who naturally have “super-human” vision, able to see a hundred times more colours than men.

Why should this be? Well, colour blindness is a consequence of mutations in genes that determine cone cells. Since many of these genes occur in the X chromosome, it means that colour blindness is much more common among males than females. However, a side-effect of this could be that a small percentage of women may actually be born with four colour cones instead of three. This would give their eyes the potential to see one hundred million colours instead of just one millon.

Full story: IO9 Science


Videogames have positive effects upon brain, say US researchers

If you are someone who spends hours on end sat in front of the PS3 or xbox 360 and always felt it was slowly frying your brain, fear not.

Scientists in the US say that computer games actually have the opposite effect, with research suggesting that gaming improves creativity, decision-making and perception. Computer games can in fact improve a number of skills ranging from hand-eye coordination to night-time driving ability.

Statistics from the research show that people who play action-based videogames are able to make accurate decisions 25% faster than others. It also found that female gamers were more able to mentally manipulate 3D objects.

Obviously, computer games are dangerous if played in excess: sitting around in front of the screen all day will gradually contribute to obesity, laziness, and sqaure eyes. Perhaps one of the biggest criticisms of computer games in recent years has been the view that violent games are a bad influence, especially to children, as it makes us all far more aggressive and bloodthirsty. However, the researchers do not share that view. “There has been a lot of attention wasted in figuring out whether these things turn us into killing machines. Not enough attention has been paid to the unique and interesting features that videogames have outside of the violence,” said computational analyst Joshua Lewis at the University of California in San Diego, who studied 2,000 computer game players.

Full story: Wall Street Journal

Music linked with helping depression

Music is non-verbal communication, and allows people to express emotions in ways that words cannot. It therefore has the power to help people physically, mentally, and spiritually. That’s the basic premise of music therapy. It has its critics and its skeptics, but music therapy is used by the NHS to help children who struggle to communicate.  

Now, latest research in Finland suggests that the very same therapy can help adults improve their levels of depression and anxiety. In a study of 79 people, all patients with depression received the standard practice of counselling and appropriate medication, while 33 patients received twenty additional sessions with a trained music therapist.

After three months, patients receiving music therapy showed a greater improvement in scores of anxiety and depression than the other set of patients. Although there was no statistical improvement after six months, it still supports the short-term effectiveness of music therapy to treat depression, when combined with conventional therapy.

The University of Jyväskylä’s Professor Christian Gold said: “Our trial has shown that music therapy, when added to standard care, helps people to improve their levels of depression and anxiety.”

Full story: BBC News

The internet is affecting the nature of our memory, research suggests

The way the internet affects human memory has been quantified in a new study – and the findings suggest that it is changing the way our brains remember information.

The scientists behind this research say the internet has become a “transactive memory” for us. In other words, we treat the internet like an external memory – a storage place or a memory bank that exists outside of our heads.

In experiments carried out at Columbia University, participants’ ability to recall answers to quiz questions was poor when told the answers would later be available on a computer. 

A stream of facts was presented to a group of participants – half were told the facts would be stored in computer files, while the other half were told the facts would be erased completely. When tested on their ability to recall the facts, those who knew the information would be erased had a far better recall than those who filed the information away.

However, the group who had the information stored away on a computer were remarkably good at remembering the folders in which they had stored the information.

Columbia University’s Dr Betsy Sparrow concluded: “This suggests that for the things we can find online, we tend keep it online as far as memory is concerned – we keep it externally stored.”

We are a generation that is becoming increasingly reliant on computers to think for us, find facts for us, and remember information for us. Will this over-reliance on the internet eventually make us lazy and stupid? Dr. Sparrow reassures us: “I don’t think [the internet] is making us stupid – we’re just changing the way that we’re remembering things.”

Full story: BBC News

Research shows that pigeons have learned to discriminate against unkind people

If you are an urban pigeon, the idea of hovering near a person for food is a bit of a gamble. For every person sitting on a park bench who will happily flick the crumbs of their lunch towards you, there will always be others who will angrily stamp their feet and scare you away.

Well, latest research suggests that it is not a gamble at all. According to researchers in France, pigeons have the ability to tell the difference between generous humans and unkind ones.  

The team carried out two tests in an urban park. One person would feed the pigeons, while another would chase the birds away. “In both experiments”, the researchers noted, “the pigeons learned quickly to discriminate between the feeders.”

“The pigeons avoided the hostile feeder even when the two feeders exchanged their coats, suggesting that [the birds] used stable individual characteristics to differentiate between the experimenter feeders. Thus, pigeons are able to learn quickly from their interactions from human feeders and use knowledge to maximise the profitability of the urban environment,” they said.

Conclusion: Be nice to pigeons. They will remember who you are and forever hold a grudge against you otherwise.

Full story: BBC Nature News

Psychologists prove that our brains can only cope with 150 friends

Have you have ever thought “I can’t be bothered to keep in touch with all these random people any more”, decided to have a “Facebook cull”, and proceeded to delete a vast majority of people from your list of friends? It’s something that many of us do without much thought, but there is in fact a scientific principle that explains why we do it.

Research in the 1990s by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar showed that 150 friendships appears to be the highest number that humans can want, can need, or can bear.

It’s an evolutionary thing. Social primates build communities to form bonds and protect one another. Yet a number limit must exist in a community, because groups that are too large compromise their sense of intimacy, their cohesion, and their chances of survival.

After studying many primate species, Dunbar realised that the size of a social group increases with brain size. He came to the conclusion that 150 is the limit when it comes to humans. It is certainly a figure that has recurred throughout history: Neolithic farming communities tended to split up if they exceeded 150 members; the Romans made 150 soldiers the basic unit of an army; the size of a nomadic tribe is around 150. And many subsequent studies have supported Dunbar’s simple finding that you can’t realistically maintain regular contact with more than about 150 people.

But modern online social networks (i.e. Twitter and Facebook) allow us to have lists of hundreds – or even thousands – of friends. So doesn’t that disprove Dunbar’s findings? It would seem not. Latest research from Bruno Goncalves at Indiana University reveals – even if we do have enormous lists of friends and followers – around 150 is still the maximum that our brains can truly withstand.

After studying social networks of three million Twitter users over the last four years – studying 380 million tweets in the process – Goncalves discovered a common habit amongst Twitter users. People start using the service, collect a huge number of friends, and then get overwhelmed. And, incredibly, this limit occurs … somewhere between 100 and 200 people.

Full story: IO9 Science