Tag Archives: Association for Psychological Science

Micronutrients and insomnia

22 Jul

The most recent issue of Clinical Psychological Science includes a paper titled “Effect of Micronutrients on Insomnia in Adults.” Here is the abstract:

Insomnia is a debilitating condition causing psychological distress and frequently comorbid with other mental health conditions. This study examined the effect of 8 weeks of treatment by broad spectrum micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) on insomnia using a multiple-baseline-across-participants open-label trial design. Seventeen adults were randomized to 1-, 2-, or 3-week baseline periods (14 completed). Self-report measures were the Consensus Sleep Diary–Morning (CSD-M), the Pittsburgh Insomnia Rating Scale (PIRS), and the Depression, Anxiety, Stress Scale (DASS). Baselines were generally stable. Treatment completers reported reliable and clinically significant change in insomnia severity (PIRS), in depression, stress, and anxiety (DASS), and on at least two aspects of sleep measured by the CDS-M. All completers were treatment-compliant, and side effects were minimal. Nutritional supplementation is shown to be a novel, beneficial treatment for insomnia in adults. Follow-up research using placebo-controlled designs as well as comparisons to cognitive-behavioral and other treatments is recommended.

I think the paper is quite interesting and it is consistent with some other research. I do, however, have some concerns. The researchers use a commercial brand name supplement, DSD (Daily Self Defense). Here is their description:

DSD contains all the B vitamins identified as being important for stress reduction (Table S1 in the Supplemental Material available online provides a full list of ingredients).

As a subscriber, I have access to the supplementary material, yet when I checked s1 it did not contain that information. I found a list of ingredients on line and I think the researchers should be clearer about why they thought this formulation would be more effective than other commercially available products. The main ingredients are very similar to what you would find in many commercially available multiple vitamin pills, plus 460 milligrams of a proprietary herbal blend.



Bayesian reasoning and the South Park Hypothesis

3 Jun

There were many good presentations at APS this year, but by far the best was the three hour workshop I attended on JASP and Bayesian analysis run by Eric-Jan Wagenmakers. This led me to look up some of his writings including this great paper: “Bayesian Benefits for the Pragmatic Researcher.”

As way of illustration, the paper test the South Park Hypothesis: the contention that there is no correlation between the box office success and the quality of Adam Sandler movies. Quality is operationalized as freshness rating at Rottentomatoes.com.


It is called the South Park hypothesis from this bit of dialog:

“Producer: Watch this. A.W.E.S.O.M-O, given the current trends of the movie going public, can you come up with an idea for a movie that will break $100 million box office?
Cartman: [as A.W.E.S.O.M.-O] Um… Okay, how about this: Adam Sandler is like in love with some girl. But it turns out that the girl is actually a golden retriever or something.
Mitch: Oh! Perfect!
Executive: We’ll call it “Puppy Love”.
Mitch: Give us another movie idea, A.W.E.S.O.M.-O.
Cartman: Um… How about this: Adam Sandler inherits like, a billion dollars, but first he has to become a boxer or something.
Mitch: “Punch Drunk Billionaire”.”

Does Tylenol reduce empathy

16 May

Over the past few years, I’ve seen a number of papers reporting psychological effects of the drug acetaminophen (the generic name of Tylenol). Here is an interesting recent example, a paper in the journal l Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, titled “From Painkiller to Empathy Killer: Acetaminophen (Paracetamol) Reduces Empathy for Pain.” From the abstract:

“As hypothesized, acetaminophen reduced empathy in response to others’ pain. Acetaminophen also reduced the unpleasantness of noise blasts delivered to the participant, which mediated acetaminophen’s effects on empathy. Together, these findings suggest that the physical painkiller acetaminophen reduces empathy for pain and provide a new perspective on the neurochemical bases of empathy. Because empathy regulates prosocial and antisocial behavior, these drug-induced reductions in empathy raise concerns about the broader social side effects of acetaminophen, which is taken by almost a quarter of US adults each week.”

Why would Tylenol make us less empathetic?

“Simulation theories of empathy hypothesize that empathizing with others’ pain shares some overlapping psychological computations with the processing of one’s own pain.”


Memory Champion Nelson Dellis Memorizes a Deck of Cards Underwater

19 Oct

I saw Nelson Dellis demonstrate his skills at last year’s Association for Psychological Science meeting. Here he memorizes a deck of cards underwater while holding his breath:



Nelson raises money to fight at Alzheimer’s disease at his web site.

Cognitive strengths of older workers

2 May

From The Association for Psychological Science:

“Scientists have long known that our ability to analyze novel problems and reason logically, also known as fluid intelligence, peaks around age 20 and then begins a slow decline. However, two new studies confirm that skills related to crystallized intelligence—made up of a person’s acquired knowledge and experience—appear to peak later in life, often after age 40.”



“Behavioral Training to Improve Sight”

27 Mar

This is fascinating. In the past, claims about eye training to improve vision have not been substantiated. However, this paper, in Psychological Science, suggests that behavior training might improve contrast sensitivity in older adults. Here is the abstract:

“A major problem for the rapidly growing population of older adults (age 65 and over) is age-related declines in vision, which have been associated with increased risk of falls and vehicle crashes. Research suggests that this increased risk is associated with declines in contrast sensitivity and visual acuity. We examined whether a perceptual-learning task could be used to improve age-related declines in contrast sensitivity. Older and younger adults were trained over 7 days using a forced-choice orientation-discrimination task with stimuli that varied in contrast with multiple levels of additive noise. Older adults performed as well after training as did college-age younger adults prior to training. Improvements transferred to performance for an untrained stimulus orientation and were not associated with changes in retinal illuminance. Improvements in far acuity in younger adults and in near acuity in older adults were also found. These findings indicate that behavioral interventions can greatly improve visual performance for older adults.”


Cohort effects

7 Jan

Last year, I heard Tom Brokaw speak at Chautauqua about his book The Greatest Generation.  I don’t want to disparage or discount in anyway the heroism and sacrifice of so many people, but I am always a little bit uneasy about generational talk. After all there were plenty of people in that generation who did not behave bravely, indeed, there were Americans of that generation who actively supported Hitler. Before you make any generalization about a generation, think about the vast range of behaviors among your own contemporaries.

That being said, it would be surprising if there were no cohort effects. The Flynn Effect, for example, shows that cognitive change can occur over the generations. We would expect that changing technologies, educational practices, social mores, and the cumulative experience of the past would have psychological consequences.

Here is a recent article from The Observer, a publication of the Association for Psychological Science, that reviews the research on cohort effects and the related controversies:

 “We tend to view our preferences and idiosyncrasies as inherently singular — a unique cocktail of traits that emerges from mixing genetic predispositions with our familial and social experiences. But ever since Karl Mannheim proposed his theory of generations in a seminal 1923 essay, researchers have tried to elucidate the influence of the sociocultural environment — including those influences unique to each generation — on aspects of our personalities and attitudes.
This work is not without its skeptics. Many social scientists regard the evidence of birth cohort effects on the individual to be inconclusive at best. But others believe they have uncovered some clear, collective traits that distinguish one age group from another.”


Questions about the bilingual advantage

9 Dec

I have written a number of times about evidence that bilingualism may be protective against dementia. More narrowly, there has also been evidence that bilingual individuals have an advantage in executive control tasks. Now a paper in Psychological Science raises the possibility that that the latter claim may  a consequence of publication bias:

 “It is a widely held belief that bilinguals have an advantage over monolinguals in executive-control tasks, but is this what all studies actually demonstrate? The idea of a bilingual advantage may result from a publication bias favoring studies with positive results over studies with null or negative effects. To test this hypothesis, we looked at conference abstracts from 1999 to 2012 on the topic of bilingualism and executive control. We then determined which of the studies they reported were subsequently published. Studies with results fully supporting the bilingual-advantage theory were most likely to be published, followed by studies with mixed results. Studies challenging the bilingual advantage were published the least. This discrepancy was not due to differences in sample size, tests used, or statistical power. A test for funnel-plot asymmetry provided further evidence for the existence of a publication bias.”

Here is a summary of the paper.

“Ultimately, the findings suggest that the commonly accepted view that bilingualism confers a cognitive advantage may not accurately reflect the full body of existing scientific evidence.
According to de Bruin, these findings underscore how essential it is to review the published scientific literature with a critical eye, and how important it is that researchers share all of their findings on a given topic, regardless of the outcome.”



Psychology’s replication crisis

15 Jun

Chris Chambers at Psychology Today has written a good post on the replication crisis in psychology:

“For the first time in history, we are seeing a co-ordinated effort to make psychology more robust, repeatable, and transparent.”


Longhand better than laptop for note taking

30 Apr

A paper in Psychological Science reports:

“laptop note takers’ tendency to transcribe lectures verbatim rather than processing information and reframing it in their own words is detrimental to learning.”

The paper concludes:

“For that reason,  laptop use in classrooms should be viewed with a healthy dose of caution; despite their growing popularity, laptops may be doing more harm in classrooms than good.”

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