Psychological Science

The Thoughtful Animal

Category archives for Psychological Science

“Nearly 50 percent of Americans have been mentally ill at some point in their lives, and more than a quarter have suffered from mental illness in the past twelve months. Madness, it seems, is rampant in America.” This is how Richard J. McNally opens his new book, What Is Mental Illness? Earlier this year, David…

Human infants have one important job during the first years of life, and that is to learn about the world and their culture from their parents and other caregivers. But what is learning? I’ve previously written that Hungarian developmental psychologists Gergely and Csibra have defined learning as the acquisition of new, generalizable knowledge that can…

My latest piece for LAist just went up: Retail therapy: It’s the answer for almost any problem. Girlfriend broke up with you? Didn’t get that promotion? Buy yourself something pretty. People like to shop, especially for high-status items, when they’re feeling down. Decades of research has indicated that when a key feature of one’s identity…

What is learning? Most psychologists (indeed, most people in general) would agree that learning is the acquisition of new knowledge, or new behaviors, or new skills. Hungarian psychologists Gergely and Csibra offer a deceptively simple description: “Learning involves acquiring new information and using it later when necessary.” What this means is that learning requires the…

There’s a very well-known experiment in developmental psychology called the “A-not-B task.” The experiment goes something like this: you, the experimenter, are seated opposite a human infant. Within the reach of both you and the child are two boxes: box “A,” and box “B.” You hide a toy in “A,” in full view of the…

You know that old phrase, “monkey see, monkey do”? Well, there might be something to it, except that chimpanzees aren’t monkeys. (Sadly, “ape see, ape do” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.) A new paper published today in PLoS ONE has found evidence that chimpanzees have contagious yawning – that is, they can…

Welcome to Territoriality Week! Every day this week, I’ll have a post about some aspect of animal or human territoriality. How do animals mark and control their territories? What determines the size or shape of an animal’s territory? What can an animal’s territory tell us about neuroanatomy? Today, I begin by asking two questions: first,…

Dogs Can Hear How Big You Are

Lots of animals are well aware that bigger means scarier. In stressful or aggressive situations, for example, the hair or fur of chimpanzees, rats, cats, and even humans stands up on end (in humans, given our lack of fur, this results in goose bumps) in an effort to dissuade a potential attack. Elephant seals use…

PsychBytes is an experiment: three recent findings in psychology, each explained in three paragraphs or less. Generally, these are papers that I wouldn’t have otherwise covered in this blog. Please share your thoughts on this model in the comments. What works, and what doesn’t? Would you like more PsychBytes in the future? What’s In A…

“At home, a young man should be dutiful towards his parents; going outside, he should be respectful towards his elders.” -Confucius (Chinese philosopher, 551-479 BCE) “Your real boss is the one who walks under your hat.” -Napoleon Hill (American author, 1883-1970) Those two quotations reflect a cultural difference in how people construct their own conceptions…