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

Concept: Understanding


High levels of acute and chronic stress are known to impair problem-solving and creativity on a broad range of tasks. Despite this evidence, we know little about protective factors for mitigating the deleterious effects of stress on problem-solving. Building on previous research showing that self-affirmation can buffer stress, we tested whether an experimental manipulation of self-affirmation improves problem-solving performance in chronically stressed participants. Eighty undergraduates indicated their perceived chronic stress over the previous month and were randomly assigned to either a self-affirmation or control condition. They then completed 30 difficult remote associate problem-solving items under time pressure in front of an evaluator. Results showed that self-affirmation improved problem-solving performance in underperforming chronically stressed individuals. This research suggests a novel means for boosting problem-solving under stress and may have important implications for understanding how self-affirmation boosts academic achievement in school settings.

Concepts: Improve, Understanding, Stress


Married women often undertake a larger share of housework in many countries and yet they do not always perceive the inequitable division of household labor to be “unfair.” Several theories have been proposed to explain the pervasive perception of fairness that is incongruent with the observed inequity in household tasks. These theories include 1) economic resource theory, 2) time constraint theory, 3) gender value theory, and 4) relative deprivation theory. This paper re-examines these theories with newly available data collected on Japanese married women in 2014 in order to achieve a new understanding of the gendered nature of housework. It finds that social comparison with others is a key mechanism that explains women’s perception of fairness. The finding is compatible with relative deprivation theory. In addition to confirming the validity of the theory of relative deprivation, it further uncovers that a woman’s reference groups tend to be people with similar life circumstances rather than non-specific others. The perceived fairness is also found to contribute to the sense of overall happiness. The significant contribution of this paper is to explicate how this seeming contradiction of inequity in the division of housework and the perception of fairness endures.

Concepts: Scientific method, Understanding, Perception, Sense, Explanation, Woman, Relative deprivation, Keeping up with the Joneses


Reproduction is a risky affair; a lifespan cost of maintaining reproductive capability, and of reproduction itself, has been demonstrated in a wide range of animal species. However, little is understood about the mechanisms underlying this relationship. Most cost-of-reproduction studies simply ask how reproduction influences age at death, but are blind to the subjects' actual causes of death. Lifespan is a composite variable of myriad causes of death and it has not been clear whether the consequences of reproduction or of reproductive capability influence all causes of death equally. To address this gap in understanding, we compared causes of death among over 40,000 sterilized and reproductively intact domestic dogs, Canis lupus familiaris. We found that sterilization was strongly associated with an increase in lifespan, and while it decreased risk of death from some causes, such as infectious disease, it actually increased risk of death from others, such as cancer. These findings suggest that to understand how reproduction affects lifespan, a shift in research focus is needed. Beyond the impact of reproduction on when individuals die, we must investigate its impact on why individuals die, and subsequently must identify the mechanisms by which these causes of death are influenced by the physiology associated with reproductive capability. Such an approach may also clarify the effects of reproduction on lifespan in people.

Concepts: Infectious disease, Life, Understanding, Dog, Canidae, Gray Wolf, Coyote, Canis


There are a number of psychological phenomena in which dramatic emotional responses are evoked by seemingly innocuous perceptual stimuli. A well known example is the ‘uncanny valley’ effect whereby a near human-looking artifact can trigger feelings of eeriness and repulsion. Although such phenomena are reasonably well documented, there is no quantitative explanation for the findings and no mathematical model that is capable of predicting such behavior. Here I show (using a Bayesian model of categorical perception) that differential perceptual distortion arising from stimuli containing conflicting cues can give rise to a perceptual tension at category boundaries that could account for these phenomena. The model is not only the first quantitative explanation of the uncanny valley effect, but it may also provide a mathematical explanation for a range of social situations in which conflicting cues give rise to negative, fearful or even violent reactions.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Mathematics, Understanding, Cognition, Perception, Emotion, Uncanny valley


In most species, males do not abandon offspring or reduce paternal care when they are cuckolded by other males. This apparent lack of adjustment of paternal investment with the likelihood of paternity presents a potential challenge to our understanding of what drives selection for paternal care. In a comparative analysis across birds, fish, mammals, and insects we identify key factors that explain why cuckolded males in many species do not reduce paternal care. Specifically, we show that cuckolded males only reduce paternal investment if both the costs of caring are relatively high and there is a high risk of cuckoldry. Under these circumstances, selection is expected to favour males that reduce paternal effort in response to cuckoldry. In many species, however, these conditions are not satisfied and tolerant males have outcompeted males that abandon young.

Concepts: Human, Reproduction, Species, Understanding, Mammal, Offspring, Parental investment, Cuckold


Older adults frequently complain that while they can hear a person talking, they cannot understand what is being said; this difficulty is exacerbated by background noise. Peripheral hearing loss cannot fully account for this age-related decline in speech-in-noise ability, as declines in central processing also contribute to this problem. Given that musicians have enhanced speech-in-noise perception, we aimed to define the effects of musical experience on subcortical responses to speech and speech-in-noise perception in middle-aged adults. Results reveal that musicians have enhanced neural encoding of speech in quiet and noisy settings. Enhancements include faster neural response timing, higher neural response consistency, more robust encoding of speech harmonics, and greater neural precision. Taken together, we suggest that musical experience provides perceptual benefits in an aging population by strengthening the underlying neural pathways necessary for the accurate representation of important temporal and spectral features of sound.

Concepts: Understanding, Middle age, Sense, Acoustics, Aging, Sound, Hearing, Music


Self-harm and suicide increase in times of economic recession, but little is known about why people self-harm when in financial difficulty, and in what circumstances self-harm occurs. This study aimed to understand events and experiences leading to the episode of self-harm and to identify opportunities for prevention or mitigation of distress.

Concepts: Scientific method, Understanding, Qualitative research, Knowledge, Suicide, Unemployment, Recession, Seven gifts of the Holy Spirit


Due to capacity limits on perception, conditions of high perceptual load lead to reduced processing of unattended stimuli (Lavie et al., 2014). Accumulating work demonstrates the effects of visual perceptual load on visual cortex responses, but the effects on auditory processing remain poorly understood. Here we establish the neural mechanisms underlying “inattentional deafness”-the failure to perceive auditory stimuli under high visual perceptual load. Participants performed a visual search task of low (target dissimilar to nontarget items) or high (target similar to nontarget items) load. On a random subset (50%) of trials, irrelevant tones were presented concurrently with the visual stimuli. Brain activity was recorded with magnetoencephalography, and time-locked responses to the visual search array and to the incidental presence of unattended tones were assessed. High, compared to low, perceptual load led to increased early visual evoked responses (within 100 ms from onset). This was accompanied by reduced early (∼100 ms from tone onset) auditory evoked activity in superior temporal sulcus and posterior middle temporal gyrus. A later suppression of the P3 “awareness” response to the tones was also observed under high load. A behavioral experiment revealed reduced tone detection sensitivity under high visual load, indicating that the reduction in neural responses was indeed associated with reduced awareness of the sounds. These findings support a neural account of shared audiovisual resources, which, when depleted under load, leads to failures of sensory perception and awareness.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Understanding, Cognition, Perception, Sense, Mind, Evoked potential


Being able to comprehend another person’s intentions and emotions is essential for successful social interaction. However, it is currently unknown whether the human brain possesses a neural mechanism that attracts people to others whose mental states they can easily understand. Here we show that the degree to which a person feels attracted to another person can change while they observe the other’s affective behavior, and that these changes depend on the observer’s confidence in having correctly understood the other’s affective state. At the neural level, changes in interpersonal attraction were predicted by activity in the reward system of the observer’s brain. Importantly, these effects were specific to individual observer-target pairs and could not be explained by a target’s general attractiveness or expressivity. Furthermore, using multivoxel pattern analysis (MVPA), we found that neural activity in the reward system of the observer’s brain varied as a function of how well the target’s affective behavior matched the observer’s neural representation of the underlying affective state: The greater the match, the larger the brain’s intrinsic reward signal. Taken together, these findings provide evidence that reward-related neural activity during social encounters signals how well an individual’s “neural vocabulary” is suited to infer another person’s affective state, and that this intrinsic reward might be a source of changes in interpersonal attraction.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Nervous system, Psychology, Neuron, Brain, Understanding, Human brain, Motivation


The present paper provides an overview of research concerning both acute and chronic effects of exposure to noise on children’s cognitive performance. Experimental studies addressing the impact of acute exposure showed negative effects on speech perception and listening comprehension. These effects are more pronounced in children as compared to adults. Children with language or attention disorders and second-language learners are still more impaired than age-matched controls. Noise-induced disruption was also found for non-auditory tasks, i.e., serial recall of visually presented lists and reading. The impact of chronic exposure to noise was examined in quasi-experimental studies. Indoor noise and reverberation in classroom settings were found to be associated with poorer performance of the children in verbal tasks. Regarding chronic exposure to aircraft noise, studies consistently found that high exposure is associated with lower reading performance. Even though the reported effects are usually small in magnitude, and confounding variables were not always sufficiently controlled, policy makers responsible for noise abatement should be aware of the potential impact of environmental noise on children’s development.

Concepts: Present, Psychology, Understanding, Cognition, Toxicology, Perception, Confounding, Noise pollution