News & Views


  • News & Views |

    Electrical stimulation of the human cortex, undertaken for brain surgery, triggers percepts and feelings. A new study documents an ordering principle to these effects: the farther removed from sensory input or motor output structures, the less likely it is that a region contributes to consciousness.

    • Christof Koch
  • News & Views |

    Stroke can lead to debilitating consequences, including loss of language. An important goal of stroke research is to use machine learning to predict outcomes and response to therapy. A new study compares different approaches to predicting post-stroke outcomes and highlights the need for systematic optimization and validation to ultimately translate scientific insights to clinical settings.

    • Monica D. Rosenberg
    •  & Hayoung Song
  • News & Views |

    Human culture is unique. Or is it? A new study reveals unexpected cultural diversity in the fine-grained details of chimpanzee termite fishing behaviour. These novel findings shed light on the richness of chimpanzee cultural diversity and reveal a narrower gap between the cultures of humans and other apes.

    • Kathelijne Koops
  • News & Views |

    How do we effectively process the information arriving to our senses to make adaptive decisions and behave appropriately, and which brain areas are responsible? A new study combines multimodal noninvasive neuroimaging in humans to reveal the anatomical locus of efficient sensory evidence accumulation.

    • Megan A. K. Peters
  • News & Views |

    Regular physical exercise has been proposed as a cost-effective strategy for keeping our brains sharp, but it remains unclear how we can optimise the cognitive benefits of long-term exercise. New findings inform us how exercise intensity, progression and type can increase expected cognitive gains and how this differs by sex.

    • Chun-Hao Wang
  • News & Views |

    Although disease dynamics of prey are influenced by predator behaviour, little is known about the potential effects of wide-ranging post-industrial hunters. Mysterud et al. describe the movement behaviour of Norwegian hunters using more than 165,000 hunting records from 2001–2017, showing that hunters migrate to and from areas of high prey density, potentially moving pathogens into previously unaffected areas.

    • Chris T. Darimont
    •  & Heather M. Bryan
  • News & Views |

    When making economic decisions, our choices are often influenced by irrelevant information. One prominent explanation appeals to normalisation in neural circuits. A new paper by Gluth and colleagues suggests that instead, attentional processes may be responsible.

    • Christopher Summerfield
    •  & Tsvetomira Dumbalska
  • News & Views |

    Motivated control processes help us optimize our behaviour to deal with competing task demands: seeking rewards while minimizing the associated effort. A new study in Nature Human Behaviour argues that the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, a key contributor to motivated control, tracks a computational quantity akin to surprise that is generated when events differ from our expectations.

    • Matthew D. Bachman
    •  & Scott A. Huettel
  • News & Views |

    What is the connection between the curated narrative of a society and the representations of memories in the individual brains of its members? In a new study, Gagnepain and colleagues show that the organization of memories in the brain reflects the structure of a culture’s shared discourse.

    • Matthew Siegelman
    •  & Christopher Baldassano
  • News & Views |

    With diversity rising in the United States, do people believe that progress for black Americans means increased discrimination against white Americans? Despite prior evidence of such ‘zero-sum’ beliefs, a provocative new study by Earle and Hodson challenges this narrative with large, nationally representative samples.

    • Sylvia P. Perry
    •  & James E. Wages
  • News & Views |

    Conveying an impression of competence is important for jobseekers and politicians alike. New work from Oh, Shafir and Todorov suggests that subtle differences in clothing shape our impressions of how competent people are. In particular, subtly richer-looking clothes elicit greater perceived competence.

    • Bradley D. Mattan
    •  & Jennifer T. Kubota
  • News & Views |

    Interventions to reverse harmful traditions, such as female genital cutting, have had mixed success, sometimes backfiring. Policymakers’ intentions collide with cultural traditions and the ethics of tolerance collide with universal human rights. New research introduces a cultural evolutionary modelling framework to explain previous results and guide future campaigns for endogenous change.

    • Michael Muthukrishna
  • News & Views |

    There is a longstanding debate about whether culture shapes regimes or regimes shape culture. New research by Ruck et al. resolves the debate in favor of culture’s causal primacy.

    • Christian Welzel
  • News & Views |

    There is a consensus that obesity and addiction are similar, showing overlap in cognition, neural activity and personality traits. A new study using a more nuanced approach for analysing traits reveals how obesity and addiction are less similar than previously thought, while the construct of uncontrolled eating is closely related to addiction.

    • Elliot C. Brown
    •  & Soyoung Q. Park
  • News & Views |

    We have known for a while that different doctors can produce different effects using the same substance, or even placebo, such that otherwise effective treatments might become ineffective or placebo becomes effective. Chang and colleagues now clarify that such differential effects are likely transmitted by subtle facial cues, using a placebo–pain model.

    • Harald Walach
  • News & Views |

    When angry, we are often advised to ‘hold your breath and count to ten’ to prevent a rash response. Could a similar time conflict underlie the expression of unwanted habits? A new study in Nature Human Behaviour shows that habits can be provoked with greater time pressure, but are overridden if an individual is given sufficient time to prepare.

    • Robert J. Courter
    •  & Alaa A. Ahmed
  • News & Views |

    Memory slowly falters as we age. A new study by Dahl and colleagues tests the involvement of a tiny region hidden in the brainstem, the locus coeruleus, which enables cellular processes of learning. Better initial learning in older individuals was related to greater integrity of this region, particularly for the part that is connected to other memory regions in the brain.

    • Heidi I. L. Jacobs
  • News & Views |

    How does the relationship between political leaders and their followers affect attitudes and behaviours? Kunst and colleagues show that the psychological closeness followers experience with Donald Trump is associated with more willingness to endorse and engage in political violence.

    • Rose McDermott
  • News & Views |

    Many theories have been put forward to explain how different sound systems evolved. Whether differences in vocal tract shape play a role has so far remained unclear. Dediu et al. document subtle differences among four broad ethnolinguistic groups. Using computer simulations, they demonstrate how differences can be amplified over time, leading to diverse vowel systems.

    • Susanne Fuchs
  • News & Views |

    Classic avoidance learning leads to a dilemma: if an animal always avoids a cue that lead to a negative outcome, it will never learn anything new about the cue and outcome. A new study suggests that a protected childhood period helps resolve that dilemma: children actually prefer to explore aversive cues but only do so if a parent is present.

    • Alison Gopnik
  • News & Views |

    People are often told they ‘view the world through rose-coloured glasses’. But do desires in fact change perceptual representations? A new study suggests people not only report observing what they wish was true, but they are also more likely to see what they wish was true.

    • Tali Sharot
  • News & Views |

    As the spectre of ‘post-truth’ looms over society, an important question remains: how to effectively respond to the growing climate of science denial? New research shows that leaving denial unanswered can have negative consequences. Fortunately, countering science deniers can reduce their influence, even among those most likely to hold anti-scientific beliefs.

    • Sander van der Linden
  • News & Views |

    How do we recognize the individual faces of our family members, friends and acquaintances across the variation that is common in daily life? Zhan and colleagues demonstrate the importance of three-dimensional structure in the representations of known individuals and argue that texture—the surface properties of faces—plays little role in representation.

    • Nicholas Blauch
    •  & Marlene Behrmann
  • News & Views |

    Understanding how misconduct spreads among people in positions of public trust is an essential first step for tackling the problem. A new study of London’s Metropolitan Police finds that transferring police officers with a history of misconduct into a new work group increases the likelihood that the new peers will also engage in misconduct.

    • Ojmarrh Mitchell
  • News & Views |

    Researchers debate whether the adoption of agriculture was done at the expense of leisure time. A new study in ten camps of contemporary Agta hunter-gatherers actually finds that individuals who engage more in non-foraging activities have less leisure time. Results highlight the need to consider the evolutionary costs of the transition to agriculture.

    • Victoria Reyes-García
  • News & Views |

    While simple contagions spread efficiently from highly connected ‘influencers’, new research has revealed another kind of spreading process, that of complex contagions, which follows surprisingly different pathways to disperse through social networks.

    • Damon Centola
  • News & Views |

    Anxiety, ‘the disease of the 21st century’, is a clinical enigma. Using virtual predators to create real-world threat scenarios, two new studies build on prior rodent-based anxiety theory to map effects of personality and decision complexity in human prefrontal cortex. We may soon have coherent neural maps of these disabling and costly psychiatric disorders.

    • Neil McNaughton
  • News & Views |

    Every person develops brain regions to recognize people, places and things; these regions end up in similar locations across brains. However, people who played Pokémon extensively as children also have a region that responds more to Pokémon than anything else, and its location is likely determined by the size of the Pokémon on the video game player’s screen.

    • Daniel Janini
    •  & Talia Konkle
  • News & Views |

    We know that curiosity is a strong driver of behaviour, but we know relatively little about its underlying motives. A new study shows that human curiosity may be driven by diverse motives. While some individuals are primarily motivated to form accurate beliefs, others rather seek information that makes them feel good.

    • Lieke L. F. van Lieshout
    • , Floris P. de Lange
    •  & Roshan Cools
  • News & Views |

    How can we improve citizenship rates among low-income immigrants? While reducing costs helps, a new study suggests that an information nudge about eligibility for such fee waivers can result in a significant increase in naturalization applications among low-income individuals in the US.

    • Manuel Pastor
  • News & Views |

    Undoubtedly our technology surpasses anything seen in nonhumans, but is this the result of individual genius or collective learning?

    • Rachel L. Kendal
  • News & Views |

    Which side of the brain does what in speech and language processing is a debate that has engaged and divided the neuroscientific community for more than a century. A new study by Flinker et al. provides a more nuanced interpretation of how the left and right hemispheres of the brain process acoustic information important for speech processing.

    • Liberty S. Hamilton
  • News & Views |

    Migration is a central feature of human behaviour, yet there is little consensus about its long-term impact on people and populations. A new study examines the records of Finnish Karelians evacuated to western Finland during World War II and suggests that integration into a host population entails a trade-off between social status and fertility.

    • Mary C. Towner
  • News & Views |

    Can the eye movements we make when there is nothing to look at shed light on our cognitive processes? A new study shows that tiny gaze shifts reveal people’s attended locations in memorized—rather than visual—space. The discovery indicates that the oculomotor system is engaged in the focusing of attention within the internal space of memory.

    • Susana Martinez-Conde
    •  & Robert G. Alexander
  • News & Views |

    Behavioural neuroscience and reinforcement learning theory distinguish between ‘model-free’ and ‘model-based’ computations that can guide behaviour. A recent study demonstrates that Pavlovian learning can give rise to behavioural responses that are not well accounted for by this existing dichotomy, suggesting that there may be greater complexity to the computations that underlie Pavlovian prediction.

    • Hillary A. Raab
    •  & Catherine A. Hartley
  • News & Views |

    The causes of early marriage often remain unclear. A new study tests whether parental interests and coercion explain high rates of marriage for girls aged 15–18 in rural Tanzania. It finds that most brides choose their own partners and do not suffer harm to their physical or mental wellbeing later in life, and suggests alternative explanations.

    • Laura Stark
  • News & Views |

    A study finds that social norms have become weaker in the United States over the past 200 years. The changing strength of norms is linked to fluctuations in societal levels of innovation and risky behaviour.

    • Michael E. W. Varnum
  • News & Views |

    Privacy regulations for online platforms allow users to control their personal data. But what happens when our private attributes or behaviour can be inferred without our personal data? Researchers reveal that the behaviour of individuals is predictable using only the information provided by their friends in an online social network.

    • David Garcia
  • News & Views |

    A study shows that knowledge about an object’s size — how large it is in the real world — changes how people allocate attention towards the space occupied by a drawing of the object.

    • Soojin Park
  • News & Views |

    Does tweeting your feelings change how you feel? A study of over a billion tweets shows that we tend to tweet about our feelings after they have escalated. However, such ‘affect labeling’ tweets — even though they are constrained to 140 characters — lead to rapid reductions in the intensity of our emotions.

    • Matthew D. Lieberman
  • News & Views |

    There is wide interest in the social norms construct across psychology, economics, law and social marketing. Now a study investigates an important missing piece in the social norms’ puzzle: what is the underlying process that explains how norms impact behaviour? The answer: self–other similarity (self-categorization) and internalization.

    • Katherine J. Reynolds
  • News & Views |

    Cultural products have a life of their own: academic papers get cited and songs get downloaded. Surprisingly, public attention to these products shows a consistent pattern over time: a constant decline characterized by an inflexion point. This pattern might be due to how cultural products are discussed in the community and archived as cultural memories.

    • Alin Coman
  • News & Views |

    A new study shows that undergoing electroencephalography-based neurofeedback training of amygdala activity leads to an improved ability to regulate emotion in soldiers during combat training, a skill that may prevent future psychiatric disorders.

    • Kymberly D. Young
  • News & Views |

    Understanding what enables teams to flourish has been the focus of considerable interest across domains of human behaviour. A study finds that, in addition to recruiting and retaining highly skilled members, shared prior success significantly contributes to enhanced team performance.

    • Mark R. Beauchamp
  • News & Views |

    Sequence learning — how we learn that one event or item follows another — has been studied mostly focusing on the effects of relatively simple relationships between elements. Using network science, a new study shows that in complex probabilistic sequences, some relationships are more easily learned than others.

    • Theresa M. Desrochers
  • News & Views |

    It is a general principle that we learn from experience, building expectations about the future that then affect perception. A new study focuses on how expectations influence learning about pain and shows that we prioritize information that confirms our prior expectations, leading to a self-perpetuating bias in judging the intensity of pain.

    • Katja Wiech
  • News & Views |

    A new study demonstrates a novel research strategy for studying juries, moving inquiry forward more rapidly and efficiently.

    • Michael J. Saks
  • News & Views |

    Influenza is a significant cause of morbidity and mortality around the world. Nudges are small changes to the environment or choice architecture that can be designed to significantly increase influenza vaccination rates.

    • Mitesh S. Patel
  • News & Views |

    We rapidly make inferences about the moral character of others. Observing a single immoral behaviour is often sufficient to make us think of them as morally ‘unworthy’. But our beliefs about others’ ‘badness’ (as opposed to ‘goodness’) are more uncertain. That is, we allow ourselves more space to re-assess and, if needed, rectify these beliefs.

    • Alexander Todorov
  • News & Views |

    How the brain processes parallel streams of information has been widely researched, yet remains unsolved. A new study shows that the brain processes informative cues in serial even when they are presented simultaneously, and that patterns of cortical activity shift under the constraints of rapid decisions to optimize processing.

    • John Pearson