New Content From Current Directions in Psychological Science

Psychological Science Meets Wearable Cognitive Assistance
Roberta Klatzky and Mahadev Satyanarayanan 

A wearable cognitive assistant (WCA) is a computer-based application that guides a user through a task with input from wearable devices, with the aid of computational resources in nearby locations (cloudlets). Psychological science informs development of WCAs and encounters new issues for research. We discuss three relevant research areas: response time, action segmentation, and task comprehension. 

See related Teaching article: Wearable Cognitive Assistants

The Psychology of Erectile Dysfunction
Mark Allen, Alex Wood, and David Sheffield  

Erectile dysfunction is a major chronic condition affecting hundreds of millions of individuals worldwide. This review provides a concise overview of research on the psychological experience of erectile dysfunction. There is evidence that psychological factors such as personality, depression, stress, and cognitive interference (e.g., performance worry, shifts in attentional focus) contribute to erectile problems. There is also evidence that the experience of erectile dysfunction can have negative psychological effects, including feelings of emasculation and humiliation, decreases in self-confidence and feelings of self-worth, feelings of isolation and loneliness, increases in depression, and decreases in subjective well-being. Effects on the affected individuals’ sexual partner include feelings of being unattractive, feelings of rejection, feeling unloved, decreases in self-esteem, and frustration. Psychological interventions (particularly multimodal interventions) show promise for treating erectile dysfunction, but more research is needed to help establish their effectiveness. We present a brief research agenda of critical areas in need of further study. This review should be of interest to the general public and also researchers looking to develop a program of research in sexual health psychology that focuses on the psychological experience of erectile dysfunction. 

See related article: Psychological Aspects of Erectile Dysfunction Deserve More Attention, Health Experts Say

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Engagement from Parent-Child Interaction in Informal Learning Environments
David Sobel  

Children’s engagement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) is fundamental to developing scientific literacy. Informal learning environments, such as children’s museums, are a robust setting for fostering STEM engagement, particularly through parent-child interaction. Although the role of STEM learning has been frequently documented in informal learning environments, how children are engaged by STEM topics and STEM’s relation to children’s everyday lives has not been equally well studied. In this article, I suggest that there are ways that parent-child interaction during informal learning opportunities can relate to children’s engagement in STEM activities. A fundamental mechanism underlying this relation is how parents support children’s autonomy as they play together. Parent-child interaction relates to children’s STEM engagement not only in situ but also in how they generalize that behavior to their everyday activities, which opens up promising new lines of research.   

The Development of Human Cortical Scene Processing
Daniel Dilks, Yaelan Jung, and Frederik Kamps  

Decades of research have uncovered the neural basis of place (or “scene”) processing in adulthood, revealing a set of three regions that respond selectively to visual scene information, each hypothesized to support distinct functions within scene processing (e.g., recognizing a particular kind of place versus navigating through it). Despite this considerable progress, surprisingly little is known about how these cortical regions develop. Here we review the limited evidence to date, highlighting the first few studies exploring the origins of cortical scene processing in infancy and the several studies addressing when the scene regions reach full maturity, unfortunately with inconsistent findings. This inconsistency likely stems from common pitfalls in pediatric functional magnetic resonance imaging, and accordingly, we discuss how these pitfalls may be avoided. Furthermore, we point out that almost all studies to date have focused only on general scene selectivity and argue that greater insight could be gleaned by instead exploring the more distinct functions of each region as well as their connectivity. Finally, with this last point in mind, we offer a novel hypothesis that scene regions supporting navigation (including the occipital place area and retrosplenial complex) mature later than those supporting scene categorization (including the parahippocampal place area). 

Leveraging Decision Science to Characterize Depression
Dahlia Mukherjee, Camilla van Geen, and Joseph Kable  

This brief review examines the potential to use decision science to objectively characterize depression. We provide a brief overview of the existing literature examining different domains of decision-making in depression. Because this overview highlights the specific role of reinforcement learning as an important decision process affected in the disorder, we then introduce reinforcement learning modeling and explain how this approach has identified specific reinforcement learning deficits in depression. We conclude with ideas for future research at the intersection of decision science and depression, emphasizing the potential for decision science to help uncover underlying mechanisms and targets for the treatment of depression. 

Ovarian Hormones and Binge Eating in Adulthood: Summary of Findings and Implications for Individual Differences in Risk in Women
Kelly Klump, Kristen M. Culbert, Alexander Johnson, and Cheryl Sisk  

Ovarian hormone influences on general food intake have been studied in animals for 60+ years. Yet, extensions of these data to key eating disorder symptoms in humans (e.g., binge eating [BE]) have only recently occurred. In this article, we summarize findings from studies examining the effects of ovarian hormones on BE. Findings suggest ovarian hormones contribute to BE in animals and humans, although studies are few in number and effects are not present in all women or all animals exposed to high-risk hormonal milieus. Differences in susceptibility may be due to gene × hormone interactions that can explain why some, but not all, women develop BE in the presence of risky hormonal environments. 

What’s Next? Advances and Challenges in Understanding How Environmental Predictability Shapes the Development of Cognitive Control
Yuko Munakata, Diego Placido, and Winnie Zhuang  

Forming predictions about what will happen next in the world happens early in development, without instruction, and across species. Some environments support more accurate predictions. These more predictable environments also support what appear to be positive developmental trajectories, including increases in cognitive control over thoughts and actions. Such consequences of predictable environments have broad-reaching implications for society and have been explained across ecological, psychological, computational, and neural frameworks. However, many challenges remain in understanding the effects of environmental predictability, including adaptive responses to unpredictable environments and the mechanisms underlying the effects of predictable environments on developmental trajectories. Future work addressing different dimensions of predictability—across timescales, locations, actions, people, and outcomes—and their interactions will advance the ability to understand, predict, and support developmental trajectories. 

Rethinking Attentional Habits
Tamara Giménez-Fernández, David Luque, David Shanks, and Miguel Vadillo  

Attentional habits acquired by visual statistical learning cause enduring biases toward specific locations. These habits, driven by recent search history, are thought to be independent of both goal-directed and stimulus-driven attentional mechanisms. This theoretical claim is based on three characteristics that these habits apparently exhibit, that is, they are inflexible, implicit, and efficient. We review methodological limitations in previous studies and briefly describe recent results that challenge this new framework. We conclude that it might be premature to assume that attentional habits are based on a special search history process that differs from the two traditionally recognized attentional mechanisms. 

Romania’s Abandoned Children: The Effects of Early Profound Psychosocial Deprivation on the Course of Human Development
Charles Nelson, Nathan Fox, and Charles Zeanah  

Understanding the impact that early psychosocial neglect has on the course of human development has implications for the millions of children around the world who are living in contexts of adversity. In the United States, approximately 76% of cases reported to child protective services involve neglect; worldwide, there are more than 150 million orphaned or abandoned children, including 10.5 million orphaned because of COVID-19. In much of the world, children without primary caregivers are reared in institutional settings. We review two decades of research based on the only randomized controlled trial of foster care as an alternative to institutional care. We report that children randomly assigned to continued care as usual (institutional care) suffer from persistent deficits in social, cognitive, and emotional development and show evidence of disruptions in brain development. By contrast, children randomly assigned to foster care show improvements in most domains of functioning, although the degree of recovery is in part a function of how old they were when placed into foster care and the stability of that placement. These findings have important implications for understanding critical periods in human development as well as elucidate the power of the psychosocial environment in shaping multiple domains of human development.  

See related Teaching article: Ethical Research to Help Romania’s Abandoned Children

Dehumanization: Beyond the Intergroup to the Interpersonal
Gery Karantzas, Jeffry Simpson, and Nick Haslam  

Over the past two decades, there has been a significant shift in how dehumanization is conceptualized and studied. This shift has broadened the construct from the blatant denial of humanness to groups to include more subtle dehumanization within people’s interpersonal relationships. In this article, we focus on conceptual and empirical advances in the study of dehumanization in interpersonal relationships, with a particular focus on dehumanizing behaviors. In the first section, we describe the concept of interpersonal dehumanization. In the second section, we review social cognitive and behavioral research into interpersonal dehumanization. Within this section, we place special emphasis on the conceptualization and measurement of dehumanizing behaviors. We then propose a conceptual model of interpersonal dehumanization to guide future research. While doing so, we provide a novel review and integration of cutting-edge research on interpersonal dehumanization.   

See related Teaching article: Understanding Our Inner Darkness May Shed Light into Humanity’s Common Good

Privacy Preferences and the Drive to Disclose
Erin Carbone and George Loewenstein  

The literature on privacy-related behaviors and preferences often frames disclosure as strategic—the result of a weighing of costs and benefits and a pursuit of instrumental benefits rather than as a goal in and of itself. In the present article, we summarize evidence supporting the view that disclosure can exhibit drive-like qualities and that this “drive to disclose” can, at times, overwhelm the motive to maintain privacy. We discuss implications of this perspective, highlighting ways in which recognizing the existence of a drive to disclose can inform privacy research and policy making.   

When It Pays to Be Insincere: On the Benefits of Verbal Irony
Valeria Pfeifer and Penny Pexman  

Verbal irony is pervasive in social interaction, presumably because it can be used to achieve a number of communicative goals and effects. In general, verbal irony has a reputation for having negative effects, but in this article we present evidence for the cognitive, social, and emotional benefits of verbal irony and demonstrate the potential of this form of language to provide crucial psychological insights. The power of irony lies in its ability to create meaning that is in conflict with the literal meaning—thus altering our understanding of it and by doing so enhancing cognition, mediating emotions, or shaping social relationships. 

Social Anxiety From the Perspective of Affiliation and Status Systems: Intrapersonal Representations and the Dynamics of Interpersonal Interaction
Eva Gilboa-Schechtman, Jonathan Huppert, and Rivkah Ginat-Frolich  

Social anxiety disorder (SAD) is a highly prevalent and disabling disorder characterized by intrapersonal (self-related) and interpersonal (interaction-related) difficulties. We use the biobehavioral systems of affiliation and status as linchpins connecting intrapersonal and interpersonal bodies of knowledge to frame such difficulties. We suggest that the mismatch in self- and other perceptions contributes to misalignments in interaction patterns, such as reduced alignment (similarity-based complementarity or reciprocity) in affiliative contexts and enhanced alignment (contrastive complementarity) in status-related contexts. Such misaligned interaction patterns affect, in turn, self- and other perceptions of the interacting partners. In SAD, biased intrapersonal constructs and processes contribute to misaligned interpersonal dynamics, which in turn impact intrapersonal constructs, creating a vicious cycle. Future research should seek to combine individual-level and interaction-level data in affiliative and status-based contexts to enhance the understanding and treatment of SAD.  

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