Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Beauty-is-Good Stereotype in the Brain

Leo Tolstoy once said, “It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness.” And how complete is this delusion? In a recent study, Tsukiura & Cabeza (2011) provides an insight into this question by investigating the neural mechanism underlying the Beauty-is-Good stereotype. They were interested in the activity of the medial orbito frontal cortex (associated with positive stimuli, reward processing etc); the insular cortex (associated with negative stimuli, punishment processing etc) and the interaction between these two regions.

This fMRI study required participants to engage in 3 different tasks:
  1. Face attractiveness rating (beauty judgment task)
  2. Action goodness rating (moral judgment task)
  3. Brightness rating (control condition)

The 3 tasks. Click to enlarge

Conforming to their hypothesis, the authors found that activity in the mOFC increased linearly as a function of both attractiveness and goodness rating. Activity in the insular cortex also decreased linearly as a function of both types of ratings. In both regions, the strong correlation between the activations caused by both judgments also supports the idea that similar neural regions are engaged when we are processing attractiveness and moral goodness.

Furthermore, the negative correlation between right mOFC and right insular cortex provides support for the “dual process hypothesis” of the Beauty is Good stereotype in that we display both a positive bias of attractiveness as being good and a negative bias against unattractiveness as being bad.

That is to say, the stereotype is driven by two opposing mechanism whereby we tend to think that an attractive person is more moral and an unattractive person is less moral, rather than a singular bias towards attractiveness or unattractiveness.

Click to enlarge

Our delusion that beauty is goodness then appears to have been built into how our brain processes both type of judgments and the completeness of this delusion may surprise even the great Leo Tolstoy.

ResearchBlogging.orgTsukiura T, & Cabeza R (2011). Shared brain activity for aesthetic and moral judgments: implications for the Beauty-is-Good stereotype. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 6 (1), 138-48 PMID: 20231177

Thursday, January 13, 2011

When it's moving, it's hard to see it changing.

Change blindness is a phenomenon whereby people fail to detect sizable changes in a visual scene. This can occur even when they are actively trying to locate the change (Simons & Ambinder, 2005). If you are unaware of this phenomenon, you can go to UBC's psychology department where they have some interesting video examples.

In a new study, Suchow & Alvarez (2011) demonstrates a novel visual illusion whereby motion induces failure to detect change - or what they call 'silencing'. Look at the video embedded below. Initially, the dots are visibly changing in colour but once the rotation begins, the dots appear to stop changing or at least appear to change at a slower rate. Additional video demonstrations looking at brightness, size and shape can be found here.

Motion silences awareness of color changes from Jordan Suchow on Vimeo.

They found that the faster the rotation, the slower the dots appear to change (i.e. stronger silencing).
Click to enlarge

In an additional set of experiments, they further determined that motion on the retina and not motion in space is responsible for silencing. Pretty nifty visual illusion huh.

*We are glad to have our first post based on a reader article submission and welcome additional submissions. Spread the word!

ResearchBlogging.orgSuchow JW, & Alvarez GA (2011). Motion Silences Awareness of Visual Change. Current biology : CB PMID: 21215632
Simons, D., & Ambinder, M. (2005). Change Blindness. Theory and Consequences Current Directions in Psychological Science, 14 (1), 44-48 DOI: 10.1111/j.0963-7214.2005.00332.x

Friday, January 7, 2011

Birth Order Influences the Formation of Long-Term Relationships

134 years since Francis Galton opened the birth order effects debate by observing that first-born sons and only sons were over-represented among English scientists, controversy has shrouded the issue such that we haven't quite gotten past whether birth order effects exist or not, let alone properly consider what they are or how they work.

Some scholars assert that the lack of conclusive evidence is due to methodological biases that may allow the researcher to find the result that he or she is looking for. So, in that sense, a researcher who seeks to confirm that the birth order effect exists may find it just as well as a researcher who seeks to disconfirm it might.

In Birth Order Effects in the Formation of Long-Term Relationships, Hartshorne, Salem-Hartshorne and Hartshorne seek to probe the birth effect in a manner that is as methodologically neutral as possible by simply determining if there are any correlations between the sharing of birth order and the likelihood of long-term relationship formation. Their results provide new research material that weighs in favour of the presence of birth order effects, though what drives this effect is still speculative.

By drawing on a sample of 900 US undergraduate students, the researchers found that people are more likely to form and be in long-term relationships, both friendly and romantic, if they share the same birth order than would be expected by chance. For instance, if I were a first-born child, the likelihood of me being close friends with another first-born child is higher than the likelihood of me being close friends with another second- or third-born child. This tendency was also found for romantic partners.

A second and similar web-based study was conducted which gathered responses from American participants (1,911) as well as participants from other parts of the world (713). Similar results were garnered. There was no significant difference detected between American and non-American respondents, suggesting that birth order effects on long-term relationships are not culturally variant.

The researchers also controlled for socioeconomic status and size of family, which is a progressive extension from other earlier studies. This eliminates the confounds of number of siblings one has and the socioeconomic class one belongs to, which can potentially influence one's development because it is a commonly known social phenomenon that wealthier and upper class families tend to have less offspring.

The authors surmise that birth order underlies personality traits and having the same birth order results in greater compatibility between personality types, leading to the formation of closer bonds in both friendships and romantic relationships.

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for ResearchBlogging.orgJoshua K. Hartshorne, Nancy Salem-Hartshorne, and Timothy S. Hartshorne (2009). Birth Order Effects in the Formation of Long-Term Relationship Journal of Individual Psychology, 65 (2)