Some interesting psychology research from the BPS Research Digest


The BPS Research Digest is a blog that is definitely worth following.

They write daily easily digestible articles on the latest psychology research and what it says about how to live your life.

They’ve been doing it for 17 years now!

I was browsing their latest email newsletter today and there was a trio of articles (different topics) that I thought nicely illustrated the variety of content they produce, as well as the relevance of their content to students.

I’ve provided brief summaries of the articles below. I encourage you to make the BPS Research Digest a regular part of your wellbeing information diet.


Achieving your New Year’s Resolutions

Let’s face it, we all make them. Whether in the quiet recesses of our own minds or blazoned across social media.

Achieving them is another matter altogether.

Psychological research says there are a few things that can help us achieve our New Year’s Resolutions

  • plan for moments of temptation – assume those donuts you are trying to give up will find their way back into your life. Plan for what you will do when they show up in all their round sugary goodness.
  • find a sense of purpose – connect the changes you want to make to a higher sense of purpose. Yes you might want to exercise more, but why? What is the bigger purpose you are working towards?
  • don’t get too confident – assume that your confidence will wane. You might start out confident you can carry out your resolutions, but that initial high can give way to uncertainty. The shift in confidence won’t necessarily stop you achieving your goal, just be mindful that confidence levels will change.
  • find an accountability partner – team up with someone to both make the same change. That way you have someone to whom you are accountable.
  • use the right metaphors – embed the change into a broader metaphor. For example, I am ‘on a journey of self-improvement’ (yeah I realise it sounds corny). One that works for me is ‘my life is a laboratory to experiment with different ways of living’.
  • let yourself lapse – allow yourself lapses and ‘cheat days’. They will happen anyway so why not build them in.
  • distract yourself – if that donut or bottle of wine is tempting you, try good ol’ fashioned distraction. Distraction gets a bad rap as not being very sophisticated, but we use it to great effect with kids and frankly we’re all just larger children.
  • practise acts of self-control – engaging in tiny acts of self-control (e.g. avoiding chocolate for 2 weeks) can help us prepare for larger acts of self-control (avoiding all sugar for 2 weeks) and give us the confidence that we can successfully make these changes.
  • develop further passion – make your New Year’s Resolution to find a new passion, not just some healthy change you feel you ‘should’ do. People with 2+ passions have greater happiness.
  • give yourself a break – we commonly neglect rest when we look at making improvements in our life. Yet, if we were to start training at the gym with a personal trainer, they would encourage us to rest appropriately between workouts. It gives our bodies time to repair and strengthen. The same is the case when exerting willpower to make lifestyle changes. Don’t try improving all the time. Give yourself ample space to just be you.

Dig in a little further in the original BPS article.


First generation university students at greater risk of experiencing imposter syndrome

Imposter syndrome is the feeling that we don’t belong, that we don’t have the talent or intelligence to do the things we are doing. There is a fear that we’ll be ‘found out’ and humiliated in the process.

Imposter syndrome occurs across all levels of ability and success. There are lots of incredibly successful people who fear that one day everyone will discover that they don’t have any talent and aren’t deserving of the things they’ve achieved.

Imposter syndrome is pretty common in the university environment. We are surrounded by smart and capable people, whom we compare ourselves to. It is inevitable that many of us will feel (at some point) like we don’t belong here.

Turns out the syndrome is exacerbated in first generation students (what we sometimes call ‘first in family’ students) especially in classes and situations in which there is a competitive vibe.

Our brains can get so wrapped up in thinking that we don’t belong, or don’t compare favourably to others, that it impacts our performance, leading to a frustrating and demoralising self-fulfilling cycle.

There are a couple of mental antidotes to help with this:

  • Remind yourself that ‘imposter syndrome’ is a mental trap that most of us fall into at some point in time
  • Use your own performance (rather than that of others) to set benchmarks for yourself. For example, if you are consistently getting ‘passes’ for assignments, set yourself the goal of getting some credits for upcoming assignments and working out what needs to change to make that happen. Don’t compare yourself to those students getting distinctions.
  • Remember that the presence of imposter syndrome is an indication that you are doing something important to you. If you didn’t care about what you were doing, you wouldn’t be comparing yourself to others. Ironically imposter syndrome, which tells you you don’t belong in an area might actually be an indication you completely belong in that area.
  • If you do need to improve your performance, focus in on the specific steps needed to do that, rather than invest more time worrying about how you compare to others.

Read more about how imposter syndrome occurs in competitive environments in the original BPS article.


Should you listen to music while doing intellectual work?

I find when I am doing very simple work, I get a motivation and energy boost from listening to heavy music (thanks Meshuggah)

But if I am trying to do complex work, I find it too difficult to think when listening to music.

I am only a sample of 1 person though. Psychology has explored the relationship between listening to music and doing work. Turns out it is a bit complex and depends on the music, the work task and your personality. Also the results might surprise you a little.

For simple tasks:

If you are boredom prone (you like plenty of external stimulation) – go with no music or only simple music.

If you aren’t boredom prone – try complex music rather than simple or no music when doing simple tasks.

As for when doing complex tasks:

If you are boredom prone, skip the music (it doesn’t seem like music works too well for the boredom prone!)

If you aren’t boredom prone, try the music (any kind)

Psychology research findings are commonly based on the differences between groups, so treat with some caution in terms of interpreting this for your individual situation. The takeaway message from the research suggests that music is not necessarily good or bad when it comes to assisting you when working. It will depend on your preferences for external simulation.

Get the full breakdown with the BPS article.


Final thoughts

I am naturally biased towards being interested in psychology research because it is my profession.

But sites like the BPS Research Digest make psychology research more accessible to those who haven’t studied it. Their particular focus is on reviewing research from which you can extract useful and meaningful rules for life.

That is why I recommend you make their articles a regular part of your week.



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