Department of Psychology

News Highlights

Apes’ abilities misunderstood by decades of poor science

Apes’ intelligence may be entirely misunderstood, because research has so far failed to measure it fairly and accurately, according to scientists, including our Professor of Comparative Developmental Psychology, Kim Bard.

Hundreds of scientific studies over two decades have told us that apes are clever – just not as clever as us.

This new analysis argues that what we think we know about apes’ social intelligence is based on wishful thinking and flawed science.

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ape intelligence

80 year olds as street-savvy as 18 year olds

Our gut instinct about whether a stranger poses a threat is as good when we’re 80 as when we’re 18, according to new research.

Older people are as good as young adults at knowing when someone is potentially aggressive, and being streetwise appears to be a skill honed in childhood but not fully reliable until adulthood.

The new research, led by the department's Dr Liam Satchell, is the third study he has led on examining our ability at various ages to gauge others’ aggression.

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stranger danger

Depression overshadows the past

Depressed people have a peculiar view of the past – rather than glorifying the ‘good old days’, they project their generally bleak outlook on to past events, according to new research.

It is known depression makes sufferers see the present and the future as sad, but this is the first time research has shown it also casts a long shadow over people’s memories of the past.

Dr Hartmut Blank is one of the authors of this study, which establishes the first clear link between depression and hindsight bias, or a distorted view of the past.

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depression past

Orgasms used as Sexual Currency

Humans have evolved to use intense sexual pleasure, especially orgasm, to control our partners, according to new research.

The research into sexual pleasure and orgasms also examines why women orgasm less consistently than men and asks if orgasms are one of nature’s ways of ensuring reproductive success.

Dr Diana Fleischman, a psychologist at the University of Portsmouth, says that orgasm and intense sexual pleasure are such strong forms of positive reinforcement and reward that they can motivate and change our behaviour. Evolution, she says, has trained us into using orgasm and high sexual arousal as currencies. 

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Diana Fleischman

One in ten burglary victims moves house

Being a victim of burglary has such a profound effect on some, that more than a million in the UK moved house as a result, according to new research.

Victims of burglary have also suffered physiological conditions including sleep deprivation (25 per cent) and illness (eight per cent). Some experienced psychological trauma, with six per cent losing confidence and needing counselling to cope with the trauma. More than one in ten (11 per cent) victims couldn’t be home alone after their home was broken into.

The survey of 2,000 victims of burglary was carried out by Churchill Home Insurance and supported by Dr Claire Nee, a Reader in forensic psychology at the University of Portsmouth.

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claire nee

Dogs may know what is ‘relevant’ to humans

Dogs may be able to understand what information is most relevant to us, according to a new study into the way they communicate with people.

Scientists found that dogs taking part in observational tests at the University of Portsmouth’s Dog Cognition Centre were able to differentiate between hidden objects based on their relevance to a human partner.

The study by Patrizia Piotti and Dr Juliane Kaminski, published today in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, looked at dogs’ interactions with a human partner who was looking for an object that she – but not the dog – had an interest in.

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Guilt subject of new research

Psychologists at the University of Portsmouth have been awarded a research grant of £106,827 to study guilt in human social interaction.

Dr Bridget Waller, Professor Aldert Vrij and PhD student Eglantine Julle-Daniere will carry out behavioural experiments in two different cultures – European and East Asian – over three years.

The funding was awarded from the Leverhulme Trust.

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New study finds link between walk and aggression

The way people walk can give clues to how aggressive they are, a new exploratory study from the University of Portsmouth has found.

The researchers from the Department of Psychology assessed the personalities of 29 participants, before using motion capture technology to record them walking on a treadmill at their natural speed.

The study found that the exaggerated movement of both the upper and lower body indicated aggression.

Lead researcher Liam Satchell said: “When walking, the body naturally rotates a little; as an individual steps forward with their left foot, the left side of the pelvis will move forward with the leg, the left shoulder will move back and the right shoulder forward to maintain balance. An aggressive walk is one where this rotation is exaggerated.”

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aggressive walking