Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Psychology


People often discount evidence that contradicts their firmly held beliefs. However, little is known about the neural mechanisms that govern this behavior. We used neuroimaging to investigate the neural systems involved in maintaining belief in the face of counterevidence, presenting 40 liberals with arguments that contradicted their strongly held political and non-political views. Challenges to political beliefs produced increased activity in the default mode network-a set of interconnected structures associated with self-representation and disengagement from the external world. Trials with greater belief resistance showed increased response in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and decreased activity in the orbitofrontal cortex. We also found that participants who changed their minds more showed less BOLD signal in the insula and the amygdala when evaluating counterevidence. These results highlight the role of emotion in belief-change resistance and offer insight into the neural systems involved in belief maintenance, motivated reasoning, and related phenomena.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Truth, Neuroscience, Cerebrum, Philosophy of mind, Limbic system, Frontal lobe


Adults and children are spending more time interacting with media and technology and less time participating in activities in nature. This life-style change clearly has ramifications for our physical well-being, but what impact does this change have on cognition? Higher order cognitive functions including selective attention, problem solving, inhibition, and multi-tasking are all heavily utilized in our modern technology-rich society. Attention Restoration Theory (ART) suggests that exposure to nature can restore prefrontal cortex-mediated executive processes such as these. Consistent with ART, research indicates that exposure to natural settings seems to replenish some, lower-level modules of the executive attentional system. However, the impact of nature on higher-level tasks such as creative problem solving has not been explored. Here we show that four days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multi-media and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50% in a group of naive hikers. Our results demonstrate that there is a cognitive advantage to be realized if we spend time immersed in a natural setting. We anticipate that this advantage comes from an increase in exposure to natural stimuli that are both emotionally positive and low-arousing and a corresponding decrease in exposure to attention demanding technology, which regularly requires that we attend to sudden events, switch amongst tasks, maintain task goals, and inhibit irrelevant actions or cognitions. A limitation of the current research is the inability to determine if the effects are due to an increased exposure to nature, a decreased exposure to technology, or to other factors associated with spending three days immersed in nature.

Concepts: Psychology, Attention, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Educational psychology, Problem solving, Attention restoration theory, Creative problem solving


Why do we like the music we do? Research has shown that musical preferences and personality are linked, yet little is known about other influences on preferences such as cognitive styles. To address this gap, we investigated how individual differences in musical preferences are explained by the empathizing-systemizing (E-S) theory. Study 1 examined the links between empathy and musical preferences across four samples. By reporting their preferential reactions to musical stimuli, samples 1 and 2 (Ns = 2,178 and 891) indicated their preferences for music from 26 different genres, and samples 3 and 4 (Ns = 747 and 320) indicated their preferences for music from only a single genre (rock or jazz). Results across samples showed that empathy levels are linked to preferences even within genres and account for significant proportions of variance in preferences over and above personality traits for various music-preference dimensions. Study 2 (N = 353) replicated and extended these findings by investigating how musical preferences are differentiated by E-S cognitive styles (i.e., ‘brain types’). Those who are type E (bias towards empathizing) preferred music on the Mellow dimension (R&B/soul, adult contemporary, soft rock genres) compared to type S (bias towards systemizing) who preferred music on the Intense dimension (punk, heavy metal, and hard rock). Analyses of fine-grained psychological and sonic attributes in the music revealed that type E individuals preferred music that featured low arousal (gentle, warm, and sensual attributes), negative valence (depressing and sad), and emotional depth (poetic, relaxing, and thoughtful), while type S preferred music that featured high arousal (strong, tense, and thrilling), and aspects of positive valence (animated) and cerebral depth (complexity). The application of these findings for clinicians, interventions, and those on the autism spectrum (largely type S or extreme type S) are discussed.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Revealed preference, Preference, Utility, Rock music, Genre, Rock music genres


The classical serotonergic psychedelics LSD, psilocybin, mescaline are not known to cause brain damage and are regarded as non-addictive. Clinical studies do not suggest that psychedelics cause long-term mental health problems. Psychedelics have been used in the Americas for thousands of years. Over 30 million people currently living in the US have used LSD, psilocybin, or mescaline.

Concepts: Health care, Psychology, Clinical trial, Serotonin, Mental disorder, Psychoactive drug, Controlled Substances Act, Timothy Leary


Sex, emotion, and reproduction are fundamental and tightly entwined aspects of human behavior. At a population level in humans, both the desire for sexual stimulation and the desire to bond with a partner are important precursors to reproduction. However, the relationships between these processes are incompletely understood. The limbic brain system has key roles in sexual and emotional behaviors, and is a likely candidate system for the integration of behavior with the hormonal reproductive axis. We investigated the effects of kisspeptin, a recently identified key reproductive hormone, on limbic brain activity and behavior.

Concepts: Psychology, Human, Male, Reproduction, Limbic system, Motivation, Puberty, Emotion


The sleep-wake cycle and circadian rhythmicity both contribute to brain function, but whether this contribution differs between men and women and how it varies across cognitive domains and subjective dimensions has not been established. We examined the circadian and sleep-wake-dependent regulation of cognition in 16 men and 18 women in a forced desynchrony protocol and quantified the separate contributions of circadian phase, prior sleep, and elapsed time awake on cognition and sleep. The largest circadian effects were observed for reported sleepiness, mood, and reported effort; the effects on working memory and temporal processing were smaller. Although these effects were seen in both men and women, there were quantitative differences. The amplitude of the circadian modulation was larger in women in 11 of 39 performance measures so that their performance was more impaired in the early morning hours. Principal components analysis of the performance measures yielded three factors, accuracy, effort, and speed, which reflect core performance characteristics in a range of cognitive tasks and therefore are likely to be important for everyday performance. The largest circadian modulation was observed for effort, whereas accuracy exhibited the largest sex difference in circadian modulation. The sex differences in the circadian modulation of cognition could not be explained by sex differences in the circadian amplitude of plasma melatonin and electroencephalographic slow-wave activity. These data establish the impact of circadian rhythmicity and sex on waking cognition and have implications for understanding the regulation of brain function, cognition, and affect in shift-work, jetlag, and aging.

Concepts: Psychology, Male, Gender, Sleep, Cognition, Circadian rhythm, Jet lag, Melatonin


Society’s techno-social systems are becoming ever faster and more computer-orientated. However, far from simply generating faster versions of existing behaviour, we show that this speed-up can generate a new behavioural regime as humans lose the ability to intervene in real time. Analyzing millisecond-scale data for the world’s largest and most powerful techno-social system, the global financial market, we uncover an abrupt transition to a new all-machine phase characterized by large numbers of subsecond extreme events. The proliferation of these subsecond events shows an intriguing correlation with the onset of the system-wide financial collapse in 2008. Our findings are consistent with an emerging ecology of competitive machines featuring ‘crowds’ of predatory algorithms, and highlight the need for a new scientific theory of subsecond financial phenomena.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Human, Ecology, Greek loanwords, Science, Theory, Behavior


Although sex and relationship education (SRE) represents a key strand in policies to safeguard young people and improve their sexual health, it currently lacks statutory status, government guidance is outdated and a third of UK schools has poor-quality SRE. We aimed to investigate whether current provision meets young people’s needs.

Concepts: Psychology, Brad Pitt


Evidence of interpersonal violence has been documented previously in Pleistocene members of the genus Homo, but only very rarely has this been posited as the possible manner of death. Here we report the earliest evidence of lethal interpersonal violence in the hominin fossil record. Cranium 17 recovered from the Sima de los Huesos Middle Pleistocene site shows two clear perimortem depression fractures on the frontal bone, interpreted as being produced by two episodes of localized blunt force trauma. The type of injuries, their location, the strong similarity of the fractures in shape and size, and the different orientations and implied trajectories of the two fractures suggest they were produced with the same object in face-to-face interpersonal conflict. Given that either of the two traumatic events was likely lethal, the presence of multiple blows implies an intention to kill. This finding shows that the lethal interpersonal violence is an ancient human behavior and has important implications for the accumulation of bodies at the site, supporting an anthropic origin.

Concepts: Psychology, Bone, Human, Skull, Human behavior, Terrorism, Human evolution, Hominina


Personal social network size exhibits considerable variation in the human population and is associated with both physical and mental health status. Much of this inter-individual variation in human sociality remains unexplained from a biological perspective. According to the brain opioid theory of social attachment, binding of the neuropeptide β-endorphin to μ-opioid receptors in the central nervous system (CNS) is a key neurochemical mechanism involved in social bonding, particularly amongst primates. We hypothesise that a positive association exists between activity of the μ-opioid system and the number of social relationships that an individual maintains. Given the powerful analgesic properties of β-endorphin, we tested this hypothesis using pain tolerance as an assay for activation of the endogenous μ-opioid system. We show that a simple measure of pain tolerance correlates with social network size in humans. Our results are in line with previous studies suggesting that μ-opioid receptor signalling has been elaborated beyond its basic function of pain modulation to play an important role in managing our social encounters. The neuroplasticity of the μ-opioid system is of future research interest, especially with respect to psychiatric disorders associated with symptoms of social withdrawal and anhedonia, both of which are strongly modulated by endogenous opioids.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Psychology, Brain, Sociology, Opioid, Pain, Analgesic