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Research Findings
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Culled by Kathleen McCarthy, 
The Advocate

Prisoners Believe They Are as Law-Abiding as Non-Prisoners

The belief that we consider ourselves better than our peers is true even of convicted criminals, according to a study that looked specifically at the “better than average effect,” which refers to how people consistently evaluate themselves more favorably than the average peer on most traits.

During the study, 79 prisoners from a prison in the south of England filled out a questionnaire that asked them to rate themselves compared to the average prisoner and to the average member of the community on nine pro-social traits: moral, kind to others, trustworthy, honest, dependable, compassionate, generous, self-controlled, and law-abiding.

The researchers found that the study participants rated themselves as superior to the average prisoner on all traits. Surprisingly, they rated themselves superior to the average community member on all traits as well, with one exception. Though prisoners did not rate themselves as more law-abiding than non-prisoners, but they did rate themselves as equal.

“These findings are some of the most compelling demonstrations of self-enhancement. If the prisoners self-enhanced by considering themselves superior to fellow inmates or community members on “macho” traits, such as toughness, I would not be surprised,” said Constantine Sedikides, professor of Social and Personality Psychology and director of the Centre for Research on Self and Identity at the University of Southampton.

However, she observed, “They ignored, to a large degree, reality. Virtually by definition, people who are incarcerated have shown a lack of respect for their peers and have violated a legal pact: to adhere to the laws of the community.”

SOURCE: AlphaGalileo. The study was published in the British Journal of Social Psychology.


How Popular Movies (Briefly) Influence Our Political Views

New research has found that movies watched purely for entertainment can influence our political views for up to two weeks.

Researchers assigned 252 university students to watch a movie with no political message, a movie with a subtle political message, or a movie with a strong and explicit political message. 

The movies selected were “The Rainmaker,” where healthcare is a central part of the storyline, and “As Good as It Gets,” where healthcare is less prominent, but still plays a role in the story. The control group watched, “That Thing You Do!” which has nothing to do with healthcare.

Since the passing of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (ACA), healthcare reform remains a dividing political issue in the United States, with Democrats tending to support it and Republicans tending to oppose it. 

Though 54 percent of the students in the study identified themselves as conservatives or supporters of the Republican Party, the research showed that not only did viewers of both “As Good as It Gets” and “The Rainmaker” become more liberal on healthcare, this change persisted for two weeks after viewing the films.

SOURCE: Wiley The study appeared online Nov. 18 in Social Science Quarterly.

Brief Mental Training Sessions  Have Long-Lasting Benefits  for Seniors’ Cognition

Older adults who received as few as 10 sessions of mental (cognitive) training showed improvements in reasoning ability and speed-of-processing when compared with untrained controls participants as long as 10 years after the intervention. These gains were even greater for those who got additional “booster” sessions over the next three years. Older adults who received brief cognitive training also reported that they had less difficulty in performing important everyday tasks. 

To determine the potential benefits of cognitive training on cognition and daily functioning in older adults, researchers conducted the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly (ACTIVE) study. The 10-year follow-up results of 2,832 participants (with an average age of 73.6 years at the start of the study) were randomized to three intervention groups and an untrained control group:

  • Those in the memory training group were taught strategies for remembering word lists and sequences of items, text material, and the main ideas and details of stories.
  • Participants in the reasoning group received instruction on how to solve problems that follow patterns, which is useful for tasks such as reading bus schedules or completing order forms.
  • Individuals who received speed-of-processing training participated in a computer-based program, which focused on the ability to identify and locate visual information quickly, which is useful when looking up phone numbers or reacting to changes in traffic when driving. Training was conducted in small groups in 10 sessions, each lasting 60 to 75 minutes, over five to six weeks.

Ten years later, participants in each intervention group reported having less difficulty with fundamental activities of daily living. About 60 percent of trained participants (compared with 50 percent of controls) were at or above their starting level of function regarding daily tasks such as using medications, cooking, and managing their finances.
Memory performance improved up to five years following the intervention, but there was no longer a significant difference between trained participants and controls at 10 years.

Importantly, participants trained in reasoning and speed-of-processing still showed significant improvements relative to controls in the trained skills even at 10 years.

SOURCE: American Geriatrics Society press release. Full article: Wiley. Citation: “Ten-Year Effects of the ACTIVE Cognitive Training Trial on Cognition and Everyday Functioning in Older Adults. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, Jan. 2014; Vol. 62, Issue 1, pp. 16–24.”