News

The brain on alert

When focussing attention, the neurotransmitters noradrenaline and acetylcholine play an important role. This new finding made by psychologist Stephen Brown provides clues for further research on how focussed attention comes about. Dissertation defence on 16 June.


A PhD from two universities on drug abuse

Stimulating drugs, such as khat and cocaine, have a negative impact on everyday activities such as driving a car and working, as well as on social behaviour. That’s because these drugs seriously damage control centres in a user’s brain. Psychologist Manuel Ruiz’s research aims to increase understanding, and improve treatment, of drug addiction. His PhD defence at both Leiden University and the University of Granada took place on May 12.


Children with autism spectrum disorder are empathic

Children with autism spectrum disorder are able to empathise with others. However, they can be quickly overwhelmed by other people's emotions, which may make them more aggressive. These are the newest insights from research by developmental psychologist Carolien Rieffe and her colleagues.


Empathy improves with age

A unique network is activated in our brains whenever we think of other people. This network has a social function, and changes during adolescence. The change enables us to become better at understanding others and sharing in their feelings. But, as psychologist Sandy Overgaauw discovered, it doesn’t have the same effect in everyone. PhD defence 19 February.


Children already capable of self-control at an early age

Children learn how to control and slow down their own behaviour at an early age. This important skill initially requires a lot of brain activity, but becomes more and more efficient as they grow older and become adolescents, concludes PhD candidate Margot Schel.


Charitable donating through food

People’s willingness to donate money to a charity increases after eating food that contains the amino acid tryptophan, found in fish, soya, eggs and spinach. Leiden psychologists Laura Steenbergen and Lorenza Colzato published their findings in Frontiers in Psychology.


Depressed and angry: watch out!

People who are angry as well as depressed warrant additional attention and should possibly be offered more critical treatment. This particular combination may indicate a high-risk complex of symptoms, neuro-psychologist Floor Verhoeven discovered. PhD defence 6 November.


Did fruit contribute to Apple’s success?

Steve Jobs swore by a fruit diet, as he believed it improved his ideas. And he wasn’t wrong: food with high levels of tyrosine, like bananas, peaches and almonds, allow us to think harder and more creatively. Leiden cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato published an article on the subject on 26 September in Psychological Research.


An error rattles the brain temporarily

A slip-up, a speech error or a missed musical note literally knocks us out of our rhythm and makes us slow down, write Leiden psychologists in the Journal of Neuroscience. ‘Due to an “Oops, a mistake!” reaction, the brain becomes momentarily distracted,’ says Leiden scholar Rudy van den Brink, first author of the article.


The role of insults in an honour culture

People from an ‘honour culture’ often respond more aggressively to insults and provocations than those from a ‘dignity culture’. Saïd Shafa examined the underlying mechanisms and discovered how such responses can be avoided. PhD Defence 26 June.


Persuasive communication has pitfalls

Industrial organisations often use communication to convince the public of their good intentions concerning the environment, writes organisational psychologist Gerdien de Vries in her dissertation. But this strategy has some pitfalls. Dissertation defence on 18 June.


You can think too much

People can think too much about their capabilities. Once you've mastered something, it's not a good idea to spend too much time thinking about it. Leiden cognitive psychologists Bruno Bocanegra and Bernhard Hommel have published an article on the subject in Psychological Science.


Does Ehealth therapy work for physical conditions?

Can online treatment benefit patients with chronic physical disorders? Cognitive behavioural therapy via internet has been shown to be effective. Health psychologist Sylvia van Beugen writes in the 'Journal of Medical Internet Research' about the effects of Ehealth therapy for physical disorders.


Do placebos help against itching?

If a pill containing no active ingredients still helps, this positive expectation is called a placebo effect. A negative expectation is called a nocebo effect. Both can be produced by verbal suggestions and conditioning. According to Andrea Evers’ research group, combining these is the most promising approach to itching.


Better memory at ideal temperature

People’s working memory functions better if they are working in an ambient temperature where they feel most comfortable. That is what Leiden psychologists Lorenza Colzato and Roberta Sellaro conclude after having conducted research. They are publishing their findings in Psychological Research.


Difference between brain hemispheres not so strict

The difference between the rational left hemisphere and the emotional right hemisphere is by no means as strict as the popular view would have us believe. PhD candidate Jurriaan Witteman has published a study on this topic in Cognitive, Affective and Behavioural Neuroscience.


Tyrosine helps you stop faster

A child suddenly runs out into the road. Brake!! A driver who has recently eaten spinach or eggs will stop faster, thanks to the amino acid tyrosine found in these and other food products. Leiden cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato publishes her findings in the journal Neuropsychologia.