BMC Psychology: Highlights of 2016

2016 has been an exciting year for BMC Psychology! We published an exciting array of papers covering a wide range of topics and launched our trial of Results-free peer review. Now that 2017 is upon us, we look back at a few of the highlights of the past 12 months in the journal.


Sex stereotypes influence adults’ perception of babies’ cries

Gender stereotypes (widely held beliefs about characteristics and behaviors based on gender) shape various aspects of human psychology and behavior; these include facets of parental behavior which contribute to the development of gender identity. A study published by David Reby and colleagues in April, investigated whether stereotypical expectations arising from sex differences in adults voices influenced how adults perceived babies’ cries.

The researchers recorded spontaneous cries from babies of both sexes (average 4 months of age) and analyzed the acoustic structure of the cries; interestingly they found no differences between the cries of both sexes, including no difference in the pitch of the cries. They then conducted playback experiments of the natural recorded cries and re-synthesized cries to investigate whether variation in the pitch of the cries affected adult listeners’ identification of the baby’s sex, and perception of the level of discomfort expressed by the cry. Interestingly adults were significantly more likely to attribute low-pitched cries to boys and high-pitched cries to girls, despite the absence of sex differences in pitch. Adult listeners also rated higher-pitched cries as expressing more discomfort than lower-pitched cries. The researchers concluded that the adult listeners generalized the sex dimorphism that characterizes the voice of adult speakers to their perception of the cries – meaning that gender stereotypes may influence how adults attribute gender traits to babies at a very early age, which may potentially translate into differential treatment.


Improving mental health and well-being via email.

Well-being is not just absence of mental disorders, it is a broad concept that includes happiness as well as other factors that make up a good life. We all want to lead happy and fulfilling lives, and email-based exercises may be one simple way of improving our psychological well-being.

In May, Minna Torniainen-Holm and colleagues published research examining the effectiveness of email-based exercises in promoting psychological well-being and healthy lifestyle. The researchers used a novel method to recruit participants, by aid of a Finnish reality TV program. The TV program followed five Finnish celebrities who were being trained to improve their well-being and cope with setbacks in their everyday life; the program advertised a website, that allowed people to fill out a questionnaire about their health, lifestyle, psychological well-being and resilience to stress. 73,000 completed the questionnaire and over 42,000 started the email-based intervention, combining exercises that increase well-being and enhance coping with stress; 16,500 people participated in at least one follow up. Despite high drop-out rates, the researchers found that people who chose email-based training for mental health showed improvements in levels of stress, confidence in the future and gratitude at both two-month and two-year follow ups; participants who completed the email exercises according to the instructions they were given, showed the most sustained improvement in psychological well-being at the two-year follow up.

Author Minna Torniainen-Holm talks more about the study’s findings in this blog.


Mid-life social participation is associated with better cognitive function at age 50

As we get older, a certain amount of decline in both cognitive and physical functioning is a normal part of aging. The extent to which an individual will experience cognitive decline (or indeed pathological cognitive impairment) is governed by a complex interplay between genetic, environmental and social factors. So what can we do to maintain cognitive function as we age?

In a study published in December, Ann Bowling and colleagues used data from the British National Child Development Study, a general population sample in England, Scotland and Wales, to investigate associations between people’s social engagement throughout their adult life and cognitive function at age 50. Baseline data was collected at birth in 1958 and study participants were followed up at several points later in life. The researchers’ analyzed data from more than 9,000 participants who had completed surveys at both age 11 and age 50, with 8,129 participants also completing cognitive tests at these ages. They found that social engagement through civic group activities, such as being a member of a political party, an environmental group, neighborhood watch, a voluntary service group or other community based groups, was associated with better cognitive function at age 50. So, what better excuse to get involved in your community!


Psychology: replication and beyond

reliabilityPsychology has been subject to criticism over claims of questionable research practices and has been historically plagued by the under-reporting of both replications and null findings. As a result the psychology literature has become distorted, skewed towards exciting results that are often not reproducible. Improving the links between reliability and believability in psychology is key to facilitate future scientific knowledge in which we can trust. At the end of May BMC Psychology published a collection of articles which highlight the need to improve reproducibility in Psychology. An overview of the collection, Psychology: replication and beyond, edited by Section Editor Keith Laws, is summarized in this editorial. One of the articles in the collection that was particularly popular with our readers was a debate article by James C. Coyne, where he discussed his viewpoint that replication initiatives do not provide a general solution to the problem of reproducibility in psychology.


Preventing the ends from justifying the means


Many of the findings in published psychological literature are unreliable; an excess of positive results, methodological limitations, and an absence of null findings has distorted the evidence base, leading to false conclusions and undermining scientific progress. In December, BMC Psychology officially launched our Results free peer review trial with the publication of an editorial.

Publication bias is a serious issue in academic publishing because it distorts the evidence available to clinicians, researchers and policymakers – potentially leading to false conclusions that could have severe consequences – Katherine Button, University of Bath

‘Results-free’ means that editors and reviewers will be blinded to the study’s results during the initial stage of peer review. Research articles will be primarily assessed based on the scientific merits of the rationale and soundness of the methods alone, in the absence of results or discussion sections, which will be included later. It is thought that this could ensure the research is judged on the validity of the study’s design, and the question it is addressing, rather than the results or outcome of the study.


If you have any research you would like considered for Results-free peer review please see our Results-free research article submission guidelines for details on how to prepare your manuscript.


BMC Psychology is grateful to our editors, authors and readers for successful year and is looking forward to bringing you more exciting research in 2017. Stay tuned!

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