Comment »Posted on Friday 3 April 2009 at 7:46 pm by Jacob Aron
In Psychology

There have certainly been some strange stories coming out of the 2009 British Psychological Society Annual Conference, which ended today. The conference, held in Brighton, has been pumping out press releases full of quirky stories which have popped up all over the mainstream media. Let’s have a look at a few.

Hot chocolate helps with maths

Cocoa flavanols, chemicals found in chocolate, have been shown to increase blood flow to the brain, and eating the cocoa plant has also lead to improved mental performance. To see if the drink could have the same effect, Crystal Haskell of Northumbria University got 30 adults to drink hot cocoa containing different levels of the chemical on different days.

Participants consumed a drink containing 520 mg of cocoa flavanols, 993 mg of cocoa flavanols or a control containing none. On the days that the drinks contained cocoa flavanols, the found it easy to complete mental tasks such as counting backwards from 999 in threes.

Dog owners really do look like their pets

This study from Charis Hunter and Dr Lance Workman at Bath Spa University asked 70 non-dog owners to match photos of 41 dog lovers to one of three breeds – labrador, poodle or Staffordshire bull terrier. According to The Telegraph (why this information isn’t in the press release, I don’t know), they were correct between 50 and 60% of the time.

Random chance would suggest a success rate of only 33%. Dr Workman attributes the matches to physical stereotypes, since when they rested the dog owners’ personalities they found no link between any particular personality traits or dog breeds.

Something about this just doesn’t sit right with me. Are people really choosing their dogs, whether consciously or unconsciously, because they look like them? Unfortunately there’s no paper for me to read yet because the announcement was made at a conference, but I’ll be on the look out for one in the future.

Growing up with a sister makes you happier

Having at least one sister in the family when growing up leads to a more balanced and happier life, according to Liz Wright of De Montfort University and Prof. Tony Cassidy of University of Ulster.

In a survey of 571 people aged 17 to 25, they found that those with at least one sister scored highest in tests for psychological well-being. Professor Cassidy said:

“Sisters appear to encourage more open communication and cohesion in families. However, brothers seemed to have the alternative effect.”

I’m also troubled by this research. It seems to be saying that I’ll be happier because I have sister who encouraged a nicer home life, and yet at the same time she will be less happy because of my presence. Given that we both grew up in the same house, how can that possibly be correct? Again, I’m hoping for a future paper to clarify.


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