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Don’t put on the kettle just yet…

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On my Twitter feed, I noticed some scientists complaining about the lack of citation in a recent Guardian column, “The psychology behind a nice cup of tea“, reporting that research finds “hot drinks warm our personalities as well as our bellies”. So I put on my detective cap, fired up Google, and found the original study in about 30 seconds with the search term “holding warm drinks study” (it was number 3 on the list). But because I’m a psychologist and am interested in the recent efforts to increase the replicability of psychological science, I also Googled “holding warm drinks replication”. There I found a pre-registered replication plan, which is a document that details exactly how a team of scientists plan to replicate an existing research finding and how they plan to analyse the results. That way, there can be little leeway to engage in what scientists call researcher degrees of freedom, or changing small things about the analysis until a proposed effect “works”. So how does the original study hold up?

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Sex and spirituality, a new entry to oxytocin magic properties

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I have noticed that my last few posts have praised media reporting either in relation to not reacting to articles that had the potential to generate catchy headlines or in working closely with scientists to write accurately about their work.

So I decided to have a look and see if, maybe, the time has come for our blog to be no longer needed. Unfortunately, I did not have to look for too long. All I had to do was to try the always-reliable strategy to type “oxytocin” into Google News and see in which new context or with which miraculous effect this hormone has been involved in the latest research. Oxytocin is a neuropeptide (i.e. a small protein required to transmit information across neurons; see the picture for its formula, also a popular tattoo idea) described to be involved in social bonding, sexual reproduction and childbirth. Because of these functions, it is referred to as the “cuddle hormone” or the “love hormone”. These are types of love, happiness and intelligence that you can buy, as oxytocin is available on Amazon.  You can check out the reviews to see how effective it is.

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Diet Coke WON’T stop you getting diabetes

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An article published in Daily Mail on 3rd Nov 2016, reported on the study conducted at Karolinska Institute in Sweden that studied 2,874 adults who had completed a year-long diary about their intake of drinks. They reported that the Karolinska team found that drinking just two glasses of diet drinks a day more than doubles the risk of developing diabetes. Those who had two or more sweetened drinks a day were 2.4 times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. They went on to say that these drinks included sugary beverages and artificially sweetened ones, such as Diet Coke or sugar free cordials.

Considering that we have been told for years that to cut down calories and lower our risk of diabetes and heart disease we must cut down on sugary drinks, this obviously came as a shock to most of us. So what did the study find?

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Delving into the Living Planet Index: a single metric for a complex problem

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Simple, summary statistics are a great way to get people’s attention and demonstrate the seriousness of an issue. However, simple metrics can also mask different trends, be based on biased data and can be misleading if not reported correctly, as we have previously reported in Research the Headlines.

WWF, in collaboration with the Zoological Society for London, recently released their Living Planet Index (LPI): this shows the change in abundance of animal populations over time. The 2016 LPI was based on trend data from 14,152 populations from 3,706 vertebrate species. This is a large dataset and the overall trend is clear and compelling: multiple threats, including habitat loss and degradation, climate change, and direct hunting, contributed to a decline of 58% in animal populations over the last forty years.

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Evidence for brain training effectiveness found lacking

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Is it possible to maintain or even improve your thinking skills by completing relatively simple, repetitive games and tasks? That question provides the foundation for research on cognitive training, often referred to as brain training. Not only is this a very active research area it also represents a multi-million dollar industry. Those marketing brain training games or apps often refer to their own product being designed according to the latest research findings. However, the most comprehensive review of the evidence for the effect of brain training has just been published. And it doesn’t make a compelling case for the potential benefits often reported. Read more…

Children with Tourette syndrome show speech strengths

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This week there has been an example of excellent reporting in the media about a study that looked at speech development in children with Tourette syndrome. The study compared children with Tourette syndrome and typically developing children on a word test where they had to sound out non-words (e.g. naichobave) and found that children with Tourette syndrome were faster at the task and no less accurate. What does this mean for understanding Tourette syndrome? Read more…

Meditation and holidays are good for you; so what?

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It’s not uncommon for us to critique the media for inflating research stories, but this time I’d like to give credit for the non-reporting of a story that had all the ingredients for creative headlines. I am referring to a recent study published in the journal Translation Psychiatry, led by a research team at the University of California and Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. Read more…

Is Katla Volcano likely to erupt?

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Katla volcano in the southern Iceland is one of the countries most active volcanoes. The volcano is located beneath the Mýrdalsjökull ice cap, thus eruptions have the potential to produce large amount of ash and glacial outburst floods (jökulhlaups), potentially repeating the problems experienced in 2010. Read more…

Talking Headlines with Akira O’Connor: how déjà vu research came to dominate the media

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Dr Akira O’Connor is a lecturer at the School of Psychology & Neuroscience at the University of St Andrews. Akira uses different approaches, including functional imaging, to understand the neuronal basis of forming memories. In one particular project he studied how the brain perceives déjà vu and his work in this area has recently been the focus of media attention (e.g Medical Daily, News.com.au and Digital Trends). An interesting aspect of the story is that his scientific results were presented at a research conference rather than following the usual route of a press release associated with a publication.

We asked Akira how his work made the headlines. Read more…

Growing out of ADHD?

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Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), characterised by pervasive inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, is one of the most common childhood psychological disorders affecting around 3-5% of all children. Over the last week there have been headlines suggesting that ‘kids may outgrow ADHD‘ and ‘by age 18, most kids ADHD is gone‘ based on a UK research study. Let’s look at the evidence for this and examine this claim in the context of the broader literature. Read more…