New Research in Psychological Science

Statistical Learning Within Objects 
Dirk van Moorselaar and Jan Theeuwes
What helps us identify objects? Our prior visual experiences may lead us to pay attention to their specific key parts, this research suggests. Moorselaar and Theeuwes developed a paradigm to track how participants prioritized looking at specific object parts. They found that participants learned to give attentional priority to relevant object parts (e.g., the head of a hammer) and that their learned priorities generalized to physical perspectives from which they hadn’t previously viewed or learned the objects. These findings indicate that the visual system can develop preferential biases for specific parts of an object independently of the viewpoint of that object, as a function of statistical learning given previous experiences. 

Effects of Acute Stress on Rigid Learning, Flexible Learning, and Value-Based Decision-Making in Spatial Navigation
Qiliang He, Elizabeth H. Beveridge, Vanesa Vargas, Ashley Salen, and Thackery I. Brown

Stress can impact different memory systems as well as communication between memory and decision-making, this research suggests. Participants learned to find objects in a virtual environment, starting from locations that were either fixed (rigid learning) or unpredictable (flexible learning). They then decided whether to reach goal objects from the fixed or unpredictable starting location. Results indicated that stress (in this experiment, the threat of shock) impaired rigid learning in female participants but improved their flexible learning. The research team also used computational models to examine how earlier learning influenced subsequent decision-making. They found that stress made participants more likely to focus on recent memory and less likely to integrate information from other sources. 

Homeostatic Regulation of Energetic Arousal During Acute Social Isolation: Evidence From the Lab and the Field
Ana Stijovic et al.

Lowered energy might be a response to lack of social contact, this research suggests. Stijovic and colleagues investigated the mechanisms underlying the effects of social isolation on physical and mental health. In a lab study, participants went through 8 hours of either social isolation or food deprivation. Results indicated that social-isolation participants more often reported lowered energetic arousal and heightened fatigue than food-deprivation participants. A field study during the COVID-19 lockdown yielded similar results: Participants who lived alone or reported high sociability by nature experienced lowered energy and heightened fatigue more often than those who had social contact or reported lower sociability. 

No Appreciable Effect of Education on Aging-Associated Declines in Cognition: A 20-Year Follow-Up Study
Giovanni Sala et al.

Aging does not appear to be kinder to the more educated, this study reports. Sala and colleagues followed the cognitive trajectories of 1,892 Japanese participants (aged 40–79 at the first assessment) over 20 years. They found that higher levels of education, despite being associated with higher scores on crystallized and fluid cognitive abilities, did not affect the rate of change in these abilities throughout the years. Nor did higher baseline scores on crystallized and fluid cognitive abilities slow down their later rate of decline. Thus, higher education levels did not appear to protect against aging-related changes in cognition. 

Food Is All Around: How Contexts Create Misbeliefs About the Health–Taste Relationship
Sonja Kunz, Simona Haasova, Niklas Pivecka, Justus Schmidt, and Arnd Florack

Many people eat too much unhealthy food because they think it tastes better than healthy food. Kunz and colleagues propose that altering the frequencies of healthy foods and tasty foods in contrasting contexts may change this perception. In three studies, they found that when people saw two contrasting food environments, one featuring much more food that was unhealthy and tasty, they thought unhealthy and tasty go together. This finding suggests that changing perceptions that unhealthy food tastes better will require food environments to bring more healthy food to people’s attention (e.g., offering more healthy foods on menus, depicting more healthy foods in media). 

Lonely Individuals Process the World in Idiosyncratic Ways
Elisa C. Baek et al.

Why do lonely people often feel that others don’t understand them? Baek and colleagues used functional MRI to measure the brain activity of participants processing natural stimuli presented in videos. The researchers found that lonelier participants (as measured by their social networks and self-reports) showed neural responses dissimilar to those of less lonely participants, particularly in regions of the default-mode network usually associated with shared perspectives and subjective understanding. Such idiosyncratic neural processing may contribute to lonely individuals feeling disconnected due to a lack of shared understanding. 

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Cross-Modal Facilitation of Episodic Memory by Sequential Action Execution
Camille Gasser and Lila Davachi

Engaging in familiar motor behaviors during novel learning might enhance temporal memory, this research suggests. Participants learned novel items while following a sequence of actions (key presses) that was predictable or random. Across three experiments, their temporal order memory, but not item memory, improved significantly for the novel items they encoded while executing predictable (compared with random) action sequences. Thus, engaging in a familiar sequence of actions might influence memory for unrelated, nonmotor information that coincides with those actions. These findings illustrate how everyday motor actions might impact concurrent cognitive processing and shed light on cross-modal interactions between motor and episodic memory systems. 

No(cebo) Vax: COVID-19 Vaccine Beliefs Are Important Determinants of Both Occurrence and Perceived Severity of Common Vaccines’ Adverse Effects
Katia Mattarozzi et al.
People’s beliefs and attitudes about the COVID-19 vaccine are changeable factors that appear to influence how they might experience the vaccine’s real and perceived adverse effects (i.e., nocebo effects). After 315 people received a vaccination dose in July 2021, Mattarozzi and colleagues measured recipients’ fear, beliefs, and expectations about the COVID-19 vaccine; trust in health and scientific institutions; and stable personality traits. One day later, they assessed the occurrence and severity of 10 potential adverse effects in this population. Nonpharmacological variables (i.e., fear, beliefs, and expectations) predicted nearly 30% of the severity of the vaccine’s adverse effects. Results indicated that whether and to what degree participants experienced adverse effects reflected their expectations related to their vaccine beliefs. 

Just Dead, Not Alive: Reconsidering Belief in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories
Jan-Willem van Prooijen, Iris Wahring, Laura Mausolf, Nicole Mulas, and Shayda Shwan

Previous research has indicated that conspiracy theorists can simultaneously believe in contradictory conspiracy theories (e.g., Princess Diana was murdered vs. faked her death). However, van Prooijen and colleagues propose that this positive correlation shows up in the data because people who disbelieve one conspiracy theory are also more likely to disbelieve contradictory theories. In four preregistered studies, online participants evaluated 28 sets of contradictory conspiracy theories. Although results indicated a positive correlation between believing in contradictory conspiracy theories, this was mostly due to participants who believed the official version of these events (e.g., Princess Diana died in a car accident). Participants who disbelieved the official versions did not tend to believe contradictory conspiracies at the same time, especially if one implied a person was dead and the other implied the same person was alive.

See related news release here.  

Toward Antifragility: Social Defeat Stress Enhances Learning and Memory in Young Mice Via Hippocampal Synaptosome Associated Protein 25
Liu Yang et al.
Yang and colleagues used a mouse social defeat stress (SDS) model to investigate whether and how social adversity affects learning and memory in mice. Mice were placed in experimental groups of six to 23. In young, but not middle-aged mice, SDS enhanced spatial, novelty, and fear memory. Young mice needed hippocampal CA1 excitatory neurons and their expressed synaptosome associated protein 25 (SNAP-25) and GluNB2 for SDS-induced enhancement of learning and memory. These findings suggest that social adversity may promote learning and memory ability in young mice and provide a neurobiological foundation for biopsychological antifragility. 

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