Stories of immigrant achievement could combat xenophobia

Review written by Leon Mait (PSY, G2)

This country has a complicated relationship with its immigrants. On the one hand, we pride ourselves on theoretically being the “land of opportunity,” a “melting pot” where people from all backgrounds can come to try their hand at socioeconomic success. On the other hand, we often vilify the actual individuals attempting to come to this country, likening them to criminals, viruses, pests, and resource thieves. 

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The false duality of habitual versus goal-directed behavior

Written by Anika Maskara ‘23 & Thiago Tarraf Varella (PSY GS)

It is common in popular culture to imagine human decision making as a clash of two distinct choices. There is a “good option” and a “bad option,” an angel or a devil sitting on our shoulders. Like many dichotomies, though, that view of decision making is misleading. It is true that research suggests we have two different decision-making systems that sometimes disagree about which action to take, but neither is better or worse than the other; they simply use different algorithms to help us decide what to do.

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Parents are encouraged to read to their children when they're young, but is this really so important?

Written by Munisa Said (PSY, 2022) & Crystal Lee (PSY, G2)

Why is it so important for parents to read to their children? Previous research has found that when parents read to their infants (also called “shared reading”), there are significant improvements in early language development (Mol & Bus, 2011). However, not all children broadly benefit from shared reading. The advantages of shared reading vary quite widely among children. A recent paper led by researchers from Princeton and Rutgers Universities endeavored to explain this variability by considering genetic factors that may impact this development of language acquisition. In previous studies, individual differences in dopaminergic and serotonergic systems (the neural pathways that deliver dopamine and serotonin throughout the brain) have been implicated in different outcomes for learning, attention, and behavior.  Thus, Jiminez et al. examined the genetic characteristics of these systems of almost 2,000 children in order to see if this variable also explained the diverse effects of shared reading.

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Alteration of gene activity in response to early life stress

Review written by Rebekah Rashford (PNI)

There is much consensus that negative stressful early life experiences impact the development of an individual. Numerous studies in humans have linked childhood adversity (e.g., loss of a caregiver, abuse, natural disaster, etc.) to an increased risk for depression and other psychiatric disorders in adulthood. In other words, the more an individual has experienced negative stressors in childhood, the more likely that individual is to develop depression or anxiety when they experience mild stressors in adulthood. This heightened sensitization and increased risk of mood disorders in humans has a parallel observation in rodents, specifically mice, which are used as model organisms in the discussed study. Principal Investigator Catherine Jensen Peña and colleagues at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai were interested in exploring the epigenetic effects of such early life stressors on reward circuitry in the brain. Throughout this work the authors posit, as does much of the early life stress (ELS) field, that there could be epigenetic mechanisms at work leading to the aforementioned risk of mood disorder development. 

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Inequality makes financial hardship that much harder

Review written by Leon Mait (PSY)

In times of financial hardship, low-income individuals can often turn to their communities for support. Unfortunately, this buffer against financial difficulties provided by community resources can erode over time. One factor that may contribute to such erosion is economic inequality (which has been on the rise in the United States). This connection was recently found by a group of international researchers, including Princeton’s own Elke U. Weber, who holds joint appointments in Psychology, the School of Public and International Affairs, and Engineering.

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Alignment of brain activity leads to increased learning in the classroom

Alignment of brain activity leads to increased learning in the classroom

Review written by Jess Breda (PNI)

Have you ever wondered how information is transferred from one brain to another? This process can occur in a variety of ways, from verbal storytelling to simple hand gestures, and across different backgrounds, such as a flight attendant instructing a first time flyer, or a casual conversation with a friend. We gain information from others on a daily basis. However, to study this on a biological level requires the complicated task of recording from two brains experiencing the same stimuli and aligning their activity in time.

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How do our previous choices inform our future decisions?

Constantinople graphical abstract

Review written by Renee Waters (PSY) 

Humans tend to make individual choices based on a series of past experiences, decisions, and outcomes. Just think about the last time you had some terrible take out: you might decide not to eat at that particular restaurant again based on your previous experience. Maybe, you take the same route to work every day because, in the past, there is less traffic on this particular route. The effects that past experiences have on choices are often termed sequential biases. These biases are present everywhere, especially in value-based decision making. You might wonder, what are the neural mechanisms driving this phenomenon? Christine Constantinople, a former postdoc at Princeton University and now an assistant professor at NYU, began to explore this question along with colleagues in the Brody Lab at Princeton.

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How do our beliefs converge?

How beliefs converge

Review written by Crystal Lee (PSY) and Adelaide Minerva (PNI)

Recently, the term “fake news” has been solidified as a colloquial term. Indeed, it seems the world has seen an increase in the spread of misinformation. What is particularly troubling about this trend is that psychology studies show that increased exposure to information (both true and false) increases our beliefs about its truthfulness, and what we believe to be true impacts our behavior in important ways (e.g., voting). When we consider the spread of “fake news”, how do we know what is true, and how do we protect ourselves from misinformation? 

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