Best & Worst In Psychology & Psychiatry – August 2015

This month’s picks are a bit of a mixed bag. A number of interesting studies coming from two domains in psychology could lead to big changes for society, the study of sexism and of psychosis. The sexism research suggests why we should not fall prey to the idea that sexism is “old news”. Meanwhile, just a year ago understanding and thereby effectively treating schizophrenia seemed a near insurmountable task, yet this years research has tipped the balance and is successfully stepping up to the challenge.

We also bring to your attention one study that shows an exceptional side of those with high autistic traits and another, that may mark a turning point for how we conduct psychology and psychiatry research, and beyond. Although psychiatry research didn’t get too much of a look-in this time round, keep an eye out for some in-depth articles over the next few weeks on research with potential to dramatically alter psychiatric medicine!


Throat microbiomes’ potential for diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia

Our gut-brain axis article series this month highlighted that gut microbiomes—the communities of microbes living within our bodies—can affect the immune system and may be connected to mental health.

Now, researchers have identified a potential link between the throat microbiome and schizophrenia that could eventually be used in schizophrenia diagnosis. Future research will likely aim to determination whether microbiome changes are a contributing factor to schizophrenia, are a result of schizophrenia, or indeed, do not have a connection to the disorder.

Detecting psychosis by watching Alice in Wonderland

In a slightly ironic study, the brain scans of 46 first-episode psychotic patients (meaning that they had only had one psychotic event) were compared with 32 healthy controls when watching the Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. By watching a movie within an fMRI machine, significant differences could be seen in the precuneus region of the brain, which is an area associated with memory, visuospatial awareness, self-awareness, and aspects of consciousness.

Almost 80% accuracy was achieved in predicting which scans belonged to the psychosis patients by focusing on the precuneus response during the film. This marks the first study to directly associate the onset of psychosis and the precuneus, which could later allow for early detection of problems and timely interventions.

Phase III drug possible first treatment for negative schizophrenia symptoms

The so-called “negative” schizophrenia symptoms that don’t respond well to current treatments, such as social withdrawal, lack of emotion and apathy (known as emotional flatness), are considered critical predictors for patient’s recovery and reintegration.

The results of a new Phase III clinical trial indicate that these symptoms may be treatable with a new investigational drug, cariprazine, which binds to the D2 and D3 dopamine receptor with D3 preference. The drug is still also in the approval process for treatment of bipolar disorders and depression, yet its side-effect profile is similarly limiting as with currently used antipsychotic class drugs.

Predicting who will develop psychosis with automated speech analysis in high-risk youths

In a proof-of-principle study, an automated speech analysis program correctly differentiated between at-risk young people who developed psychosis over a two-and-a-half year period and those who did not. Of particular importance is that the computerized analysis provided a more accurate classification than clinical ratings. Early identification could lead to intervention and support that could delay, mitigate or even prevent the onset of schizophrenia, with the technology possibly transferable to other disorders.

High levels of autistic traits linked with more unusually creative ideas

The study involved 312 people who completed an anonymous online questionnaire to measure their autistic traits as well as taking part in a series of creativity tests. This included testing divergent thinking, i.e. generating alternative solutions to a problem, were they were asked to provide as many alternative uses as they could for a brick or a paper clip.

Results revealed that people with high autistic traits produced fewer responses when generating alternative solutions to a problem, however, the responses they did produce were more original and creative. Those people providing four or more unusual responses, like using a paper clip as a weight on a paper airplane, as opposed to common responses like, as a hook, were found to have higher levels of autistic traits.


“Less hostile” forms of workplace sexism as damaging as sexual harassment

In most workplaces with modern policies and practices, intense forms of sexism, unwanted sexual coercion and sexual objectification is considered unacceptable sexual harassment. Yet other forms of sexism, such as sexist jokes and language are often considered less intense forms of sexism and “just a bit of fun”.

A meta-analysis of 88 studies of 73,877 working women indicates that is far from the case, that making sexist wise-cracks may be just as damaging for mental and physical health as sexual coercion. The authors suggest that overt forms of sexism should not be considered less damaging, even if they appear less hostile, marking a need for worker education.

Women in mostly male workplaces exhibit psychological stress response

Presented at the 110th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA), researchers measured whether women in occupations that were made up of 85 percent or more men, also known as “token” women, show stress response dysregulation by analyzing their daily cortisol patterns, a well-known stress hormone.

The analysis was controlled for the womens’ occupational and individual-level characteristics. They found that women in male-dominated occupations have less healthy, or “dysregulated”, patterns of cortisol throughout the day. This could potentially be linked to later negative health outcomes requiring further investigation.

Unlike boys, girls lose friends for having sex, gain friends for making out

Again presented at the ASA Annual Meeting, the research findings indicate that early adolescent girls lose friends for having sex and gain friends for “making out”, while their male peers lose friends for “making out” and gain friends for having sex. The longitudinal study tracked two cohorts of youth from 28 rural communities in Iowa and Pennsylvania from 2003 to 2007, when they were in sixth to ninth grade and 11 to 16-years-old.

According to researchers, on average, girls experienced a 45 percent decrease in peer acceptance and boys experienced an 88 percent increase when it came to having sex. On the other hand, where they reported “making out” without having sex, on average, girls experienced a 25 percent increase in peer acceptance, while boys experienced a 29 percent decrease.

Researchers note that girls do not look down on boys that “make out”, although boys are more likely to disapprove of girls having sex and of other boys for making out. This sexual double standard in adolescents, girls being socially punished by boys for sex that benefits boys socially, reflects studies reporting the same double standards in adults.

Benevolent sexism can undermine women’s competence while fulfilling men’s intimacy needs

“Benevolent sexism” involves evaluations that may subjectively appear positive and friendly although are actually damaging to people and gender equity more broadly, such as the idea that women are naturally more compassionate or that men are more resilient and tough.

In a behavioral observation study investigating how benevolent sexism influences support interactions in couples, video recordings of the couples discussing their partner’s most important ongoing personal goal were analyzed.

Men who endorsed benevolent sexism, i.e. that men should protect and cherish women, provided more dependency-oriented support, including directly providing plans and solutions for their partners goal pursuit and neglecting their partners own abilities. This led to their female partner to feel less competent.

In contrast, women who also similarly endorsed the same sexist ideas provided greater relationship-oriented support, characterized by affection and emphasizing the positive relationship outcomes that the recipients’ goals will have, which led their male partner to perceive greater positive regard and intimacy in their relationship. The researchers concluded that this form of benevolent sexism functions to undermine the support women receive for their own independent pursuits while encouraging the fulfillment of men’s intimacy needs.

One study finds less than half of 100 psychology findings reproducible

Surprisingly, research into the reproducibility of research is rather limited. A crowdsourced study dubbed The Reproducibility Project sought to learn more by replicating 100 findings published in three prominent psychology journals.

Unexpectedly, across multiple criteria, independent researchers could replicate less than half of the original findings. The research highlights a need for developing means of improving replication standards, such as increasing transparency of original research material and pre-registration of research designs.


Bedi, G., Carrillo, F., Cecchi, G., Slezak, D., Sigman, M., Mota, N., Ribeiro, S., Javitt, D., Copelli, M., & Corcoran, C. (2015). Automated analysis of free speech predicts psychosis onset in high-risk youths npj Schizophrenia, 1 DOI: 10.1038/npjschz.2015.30

Best C, Arora S, Porter F, & Doherty M (2015). The Relationship Between Subthreshold Autistic Traits, Ambiguous Figure Perception and Divergent Thinking. Journal of autism and developmental disorders PMID: 26272675

Castro-Nallar, E., Bendall, M., Pérez-Losada, M., Sabuncyan, S., Severance, E., Dickerson, F., Schroeder, J., Yolken, R., & Crandall, K. (2015). Composition, taxonomy and functional diversity of the oropharynx microbiome in individuals with schizophrenia and controls PeerJ, 3 DOI: 10.7717/peerj.1140

Hammond MD, & Overall NC (2015). Benevolent Sexism and Support of Romantic Partner’s Goals: Undermining Women’s Competence While Fulfilling Men’s Intimacy Needs. Personality & social psychology bulletin, 41 (9), 1180-94 PMID: 26160333

Kane JM, Zukin S, Wang Y, Lu K, Ruth A, Nagy K, Laszlovszky I, & Durgam S (2015). Efficacy and Safety of Cariprazine in Acute Exacerbation of Schizophrenia: Results From an International, Phase III Clinical Trial. Journal of clinical psychopharmacology, 35 (4), 367-73 PMID: 26075487

Kreager, D.A et al., (2015). The Double Standard at Sexual Debut: Gender, Sexual Behavior and Early Adolescent Peer Acceptance. The American Sociological Association, pre-publication.

Sojo, V., Wood, R., & Genat, A. (2015). Harmful Workplace Experiences and Women’s Occupational Well-being: A Meta-Analysis Psychology of Women Quarterly DOI: 10.1177/0361684315599346Image via Tashatuvango / Shutterstock.

Carla Clark, PhD

Carla Clark, PhD, is BrainBlogger's Lead Editor and Psychology and Psychiatry Section Editor. A scientific consultant, writer, and researcher in a variety of fields including psychology and neuropsychology, as well as biotechnology, molecular biology, and biophysical chemistry, you can follow her on Facebook or Twitter @GeekReports
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