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Learning for Survival? Venom Overrides Other Snake Categories

We deal with the world around us by putting it into categories. We are constantly trying to understand the things we encounter by classifying them: Is this a food I really like, one that I would eat only if I were starving, or something I won’t go near? Is this creepy-crawly thing an insect, a spider, or some other form of arthropod?

“Virtually every item can fall into a number of broader or more specific categories, and some levels may be more important to know than others,” write researchers Sharon Noh and colleagues in an article published in Psychological Science.

This is a photo of a pit viper.Noh and colleagues decided to design an experiment to better understand how we learn and form categories, especially categories of different levels and varying importance.

For example, if we focus on learning a…


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Sleep May Help the Brain Integrate New Language Skills

This is a silhouette profile of a person sleeping. Scientists have understood for decades that the brain is “plastic,” meaning that our neural connections change and adapt in response to new experiences. One factor that seems to play a particular role in language plasticity, according to new research, is sleep.

Previous studies have laid the groundwork in associating sleep with memory consolidation and language learning, particularly in learning new words and grammar. Psychological scientist Gareth Gaskell of the University of York in the United Kingdom and colleagues wanted to explore these links further to establish a more complete framework for understanding the connection between language plasticity and memory consolidation.

In a study of 38 adults, participants read aloud 48 tongue-twister sequences of 4 syllables each. These syllables had “constraints,” meaning that certain consonant sounds appeared only in the beginning or the end…


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Taking an Integrative Approach to Understanding Emotions and Clinical Disorders

This is a photo of a person sitting on the floor.Many clinical psychological disorders, including anxiety and depression, are characterized by unhealthy, turbulent, or otherwise maladaptive emotions. Yet the link between emotion and mental illness has typically been investigated separately from basic research on emotion and emotional experience.

A Special Series on Emotions and Psychopathology in the new issue of Clinical Psychological Science aims to link these two areas of investigation, bringing the most recent research from affective science to bear on the ways that clinicians and researchers think about, diagnose, and treat clinical disorders.

“[C]linical researchers are now beginning to draw on the full range of concepts and methods from affective science to better understand the emotional processes that lie at the heart of a wide range of psychopathologies and to develop emotion-targeted interventions,” write psychological scientist Jessica Tracy…


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Priming Gender Norms and Levels of Heterosexism as Predictors of Adoption Choices

In this study, my colleagues and I were interested in how priming gender norms and one’s level of heterosexism can affect decisions about which couple can adopt a child.

We tested this by priming people with either gender normative or gender non-normative pictures. We primed a control group with nature scenes. After priming, we presented each participant with an adoption scenario in which they were asked to choose one of three couples to adopt a child. The three couples were a heterosexual couple, a same-sex male couple, and a same-sex female couple. After the participants made their first choice, it was removed as an option, and the participants were asked to choose from the remaining two couples. They were also asked to rate their confidence levels and provide explanations for their decisions.

To measure heterosexism levels, we used Herek’s Attitudes Towards Lesbians and Gay Men scale. We used logistic regression…


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Two APS Fellows Elected to National Academy of Sciences

This is a photo of a stack of books.Two APS fellows are among the 84 newly chosen members and 21 foreign associates recognized by the National Academy of Science for their outstanding contributions to scientific research.

The April 29 announcement featured newly elected member Marcia Johnson, professor of psychology at Yale University, and foreign associate Helen Neville, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Oregon, who holds Canadian citizenship.

Both Johnson and Neville are APS William James fellows.

Johnson is known for her research in memory and cognitive processes. Her lab is currently investigating the component processes that underlie memory; how the brain binds different features, such as color, shape, and location, together to form complex memories; how we distinguish between real and imagined events, also known as reality monitoring; and how memory changes as we age. Johnson has…


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