Welcome to the statsART blog!

Welcome to the statsART blog where we highlight recent research, mainly work that has been discussed in the media.
Please note that the views expressed here only represent the views of the statsART blogger.
To vist or return to our website: www.statsART.com

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The Joy of Stats...

There was a great program last night on BBC 4 on The Joy of Stats. It was a great overview of the history of statistics and how they are relevant and used in current research.

Continuing with the stats theme, the new series of More or Less starts on Radio 4 this Friday (10th), and Lady Tasting Tea is a great book on the history of statistics and the key people involved in developing this field.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Finger length is associated with EVERYTHING...

There seems to regularly be reports in the media of a new studying showing something to do with finger length and illness, psychological disorders, personality, sexuality, the list goes on... The Daily Mail have even attempted to provide a summary of what this is all about!!! And obviously the responses are full of "rubbish" and "why is our money wasted on this research"...

So what is this all about?

First, it is not actually finger length, it is the relative lengths of the index and ring fingers. If the index finger is shorter than the ring finger, this indicates a more "masculine" 2D:4D.

Second, digit ratio (as it is properly called) is certainly not going to "cause" any kind of illness, personality or any other psychological trait. Instead, digit ratio and all of these "outcomes" are associated with a third variable - prenatal testosterone exposure.

Levels of testosterone prenatally are associated with determining the relative lengths of the fingers, and potentially in a great number of different psychological and medical outcomes. So if someone has high levels of prenatal testosterone exposure, they are likely to have more masculine traits and may be at risk of some illnesses associated with higher levels of testosterone.

Before dismissing the relationship between prenatal testosterone and digit ratio, there is very strong evidence to support this relationship. One study measured levels of testosterone from amniotic fluid and found that, in later life, that children with higher levels of prenatal testosterone had more masculine digit ratios (Lutchmaya et al., 2004). Two other studies artificially manipulated prenatal hormonal levels in rats, and found that digit ratio changed accordingly (Talarovicova et al., 2009; McMechan et al., 2004).

So there is not a relationship between finger length and cancer/personality/sexuality/etc. They have the same causal factor.

It is also really important to remember that having a particular digit ratio will not 100% predict a particular illness or personality, it might just indicate an increased risk factor. Just like obesity increases the risk of various illnesses, but it does not totally determine or predict the illness, and people who are not obese might also develop the illness.

Similarly, the levels of prenatal testosterone exposure are not the only determiner of digit ratio. Many other factors are likely to be involved, but there is a clear and reliable relationship between levels of prenatal testosterone and digit ratio. Other factors under examination includes the functioning of hormone receptors (meaning some people may be more sensitive to, or absorb more, testosterone) and the relative exposure to testosterone in relation to other hormones, particularly oestrogen.

Rant over - thanks!!!

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Science journalism...

Usually I'm somewhat critical of science journalism - but this article is 100% perfection!!! A great parody from The Lay Scientist.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Gender and development...

The BBC have examined a really interesting case study of a boy who was brought up as a girl.

It is often difficult to distinguish between genetic/biological and environmental influences, but the child had a twin brother - possibly the best control participant ever!

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Statistical happiness???

With the government announcing that it will start to measure the nation's happiness and wellbeing, the latest Go Figure article by Michael Blastland looks at some of the problems with this analysis. Obviously the "correlation does not imply causation" mantra returns...

Monday, 15 November 2010

Real time world statistics...

Worldometers is a great site showing real time changes in global statistics to do with world population, society and media, food, health, energy and a lot more. Very interesting, quite mesmerising, but slightly scary in places.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Psychological Medicine...

The journal Psychological Medicine is celebrating its 40th birthday. As part of this they are making the most read paper from each year freely available until the end of this year.

There really is a wide range of papers discussing many psychological disorders. It's particularly interesting to see how views and perspectives have changed since 1970.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The psychology of rollercoaster rides...

Apparently the worlds fastest rollercoaster is about to open up in Abu Dhabi's Ferrari World.

This BBC article gives some interesting insights into the psychology of why people enjoy, and can become addicted to, rollercoasters.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

World statistics day...

Yes - the most exciting day of the year is upon us - World statistics day!!!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Visual illusions...

There is a nice piece today in the BBC magazine on visual illusions.

Tonight, this will be the topic for Horizon, on at 9pm (Mon 18th Oct 2010).

Enjoy! It really is amazing how much our perception of the world is put together by our brains...

Friday, 15 October 2010

Ig nobel prize...

Following on from the announcement of the Nobel prizes, the even more exciting Ig Nobel awards have also recently been announced...

I think the peace prize may be my favourite for overall winner :)

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Science is vital...

A campaign has been set up in protest about the cuts in science research funding. Often the output from research seems very academic and unrelated to real life, but there are many benefits to maintaining our strong scientific research community in the UK. The points are explained very clearly on the website, so I won't reiterate them here.

Please take a few minutes to look at this website: http://scienceisvital.org.uk/

Friday, 24 September 2010

The psychology of face processing...

There have been a couple of interesting pieces in the news about face processing recently.

The BBC have given a fair amount of coverage to the cabbage head e-fit and have an article about why it is difficult to create an accurate e-fit of a person.

In the Daily Mail, Prof Dave Perrett, on of the leading experts on face processing, has written a great article on facial attractiveness.

Alternatively - there is this wonderful book on face processing ;)

Friday, 13 August 2010

New website...

Sorry for the lack of recent blogging activity.

We've just uploaded our newly redesigned website. Check it out at www.statsART.com

Let us know what you think of it!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Once again, correlation does not imply causation...

An interesting piece of research has been reported on by the BBC today.

The research looked at the relationship between inactivity and obesity. Most previous research has either assumed or shown the inactivity leads to obesity.

In contrast, this new research suggests that the direction of the relationship is the other way around - obesity leads to inactivity.

This is a nice example of the "correlation does not imply causation" mantra and presents a nice chicken and egg situation.

The original study can be found here.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

How big is big?

Another great article on the BBC website by Michael Blastland in the Go Figure series.

In this feature he talk about how was assess how "big" a number is.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Do I look fat in this???

Lots of papers have reported a recent piece of research with headlines such as:Why women think they are fat: brain 'thinks body is two thirds bigger than it is'

This is a perfect example of journalists taking the findings of a good study and drawing conclusions about twenty squillion miles ahead of the what the study actually did and found.

The study asked participants to estimate the location of 10 different points on their hands and found that the participants overestimated these locations.

The key thing to notice is that the research only looked at the estimation of hands. The newspapers are reporting as if the study looked at the entire body, but this is not the case at all.

In fact, the logical conclusion of the study actually would be the exact opposite of the interpretation of the newspapers. The authors explain their results with reference to the homunculus. The parts of our brain that feel the sensations from the entire body and control our motor movements are not proportionately related to the parts of the body. You can see this clearly in a picture of the homunculus.

Large parts of our brain are dedicated to the hands, face and mouth. The torso and legs are represented by far smaller parts. This is why the authors claim that the hands are overestimated - because they are over represented in the brain. By this logic, the shoulders, trunk, hips and legs should be underestimated - certainly not overestimated!!! If anything - this research would predict that when a woman thinks about her body she would think that she's smaller than she really is.

Another error in the reporting - they got the name of the lead researcher wrong. This work was conducted by Matthew Longo, not Michael as the papers call him!!!

Monday, 28 June 2010

Vader - BPD or not?

In a recent blog I discussed a paper in which it was suggested that Darth Vader has Borderline Personality Disorder.

A new blog from Psychology Today argues quite convincingly that this diagnosis is wrong.

An interesting read!

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Recovering from brain injury...

There's a really interesting piece in the Guardian today about recovery from brain injury.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Book now out...

The book on face processing that I co-authored is now available to buy. You can get it from Amazon.


Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Diagnosing fictional characters...

A new paper considers whether Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader) has borderline personality disorder. Apparently he does.

This reminds me of a slightly older paper where they consider each character living in Hundred Acre Wood and diagnose them as and when appropriate.

The full version of the Winnie the Pooh one is available for free. Unfortunately the Star Wars paper isn't.

If you know of any other papers giving diagnoses to fictional (or non-fictional) characters, please pass them on to me - great reading!!!

Monday, 14 June 2010

Genetics and autism...

There has been a lot in the press over the past few days about an amazing study showing some strong evidence for a range of genes that may be involved in autism. The paper is published in Nature, and (unusually) they have made the paper freely available here.

Although this study has found out amazing things about the genetic basis of autism, some of the press has gone a little far talking about there being a "Blood test to diagnose autism could be ready in three years" and there being gene therapy for autism.

The idea of diagnosis and treatment is perhaps going a little beyond what the study actually shows, but there is no doubt that this work has moved forward our understanding of the role of genetics in autism.

It's unlikely that we will ever find "the cause" of autism which we can then "treat", but by examining the complex interactions between genetics, environment and hormones, we might be getting closer to understanding this complex disorder.

Friday, 11 June 2010

The great chocolate debate...

Straight away I will admit that it is difficult for me to give an unbiased opinion given my ultra chocoholic tendencies. So I will just present the evidence (media and published journal papers) and let you decide for yourself...

The good: CNN reported that plain chocolate is good for the heart, milk chocolate less so and white chocolate not at all - I knew white chocolate was a fraud!!! Here is the abstract for the paper. Discovery News have done an interesting piece giving a nicely balanced view of the paper.

More good, but only for some apparently: Both Reuters and the BBC talked about a study showing that, for some people, small amounts of chocolate consumption can reduce cholesterol. The benefits did not show up for healthy people and you should only eat one square of chocolate a day - more than that reverses the good done! Here's the paper. One good thing about the paper is that it combines the results across eight trials, but there are still only 215 participants included.

The bad: Eating junk food, such a chocolate, may "highjack" your brain apparently! Nice headline sensationalism. The original study does actually have some quite compelling findings, but the research was conducted on rats. That's not to say that the same neurochemical reactions to junk food addiction wouldn't be found in humans though.

I'm off to have some chocolate now...

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Daily Mail sensationalism...

Yesterday, the Daily Mail ran a scare story on its front page suggesting that children born just one week early have special needs later in life.

So what did they actually find? First, it's important to understand what they did. They looked at children born at different weeks of gestation, looked at the frequency (%) of those who were registered for special needs and then compared this to the frequency for children born at 40 weeks.

Here are some figures taken from the paper:
- Odds ratio for children born at 40 weeks: 1 (so this is our baseline)
- Odds ratio for children born at 39 weeks: 1.09
- Odds ratio for children born at 38 weeks: 1.24
- Odds ratio for children born at 37 weeks: 1.43

Now let's look at the odds ratios for children born very premature
- Odds ratio for children born at 28-32 weeks: 3.21
- Odds ratio for children born at 24-27 weeks: 9.14

I hope it's clear that, while the paper did find an increased risk of special needs in children born one week early, this is actually quite a small increase. Yes, it is significant, but the increased risk is still very small.

This is a real example of journalists taking science and using it to scare women so that they can increase their sales, web hits and comments on their forums. There is nothing wrong with the science has been done, but the risks have really been blown out of all proportion.

So if you have your child a week early, you really shouldn't worry yourself too much. The increased risk of special needs is very small and what is included within the category of "special needs" is very broad and includes many things, not just autism, ADHD, dyslexia and deafness - the special needs that the Daily Mail chooses to emphasise.

The full scientific paper can be found here.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Brain scans as lie detectors...

Not really a piece of research, but the BBC have and interesting piece discussing the possible misuse of brain scanning for lie detection by courts, insurance companies, etc.

I wonder if the Jeremy Kyle show will be investing in an fMRI scanner?!

Children raised by lesbians...

The Telegraph have reported on a study that looks at psychological adjustment of children who have been raised by lesbian parents.

What is totally amazing about this study is that it began in 1986 and the researchers have been working with the families since they were pregnant. When testing the children aged either 10 or 17 years old, they found that the children performed better than children with heterosexual parents on a wide range of social, emotional and academic measures.

Unusually, the full academic paper is available for free and can be found here.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

The psychology of penalty taking...

In the run up to the World Cup, how about some football related research?

A study published last year looked at the eye movements of experienced footballers whilst taking penalties. Interestingly they also look at how anxious the players were feeling and found that those who are more anxious are more likely to look at the goalie rather than where they're kicking the ball.

Keep calm boys!

Friday, 4 June 2010

Research, media and hysteria...

This is a fantastic cartoon which tells the story of the highly publicised MMR research conducted by Dr Andrew Wakefield.

Not only does it clearly explain why the research was so flawed, but it also really nicely documents the reaction to the research in the media and public.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Coffee addicts...

New research appears to suggest that the pick-me-up that we get from a cup of coffee isn't real. This has been reported in lots of places including the BBC, Times and Daily Mail.

The research is presented by most as showing that coffee does nothing to wake you up, but that is not quite what the actual study found. The paper can be found here.

What is really interesting about the study is that they tested two groups of participants: a no or low consumption group and a medium to high consumption group. After being without coffee for 16 hours, they were then either given a shot of espresso or a shot without caffeine (a placebo).

They found totally different results for each group. For the medium to high consumption group, tiredness and headaches were reported after the placebo coffee and no change after the real coffee. What was really interesting was that after the real coffee, the alertness levels in the medium to high group were similar to the no/low group who had the placebo.

So - rather than suggesting that coffee does nothing, it seems that coffee very much does something for frequent coffee drinkers. It keeps you at "baseline" and you slip below this and suffer tiredness and headaches without it.

Maybe coffee doesn't really perk us up? Maybe it is more that with regular use, coffee is needed just to reach "normal" levels of alertness and attention.

This would fit well with anecdotal evidence that people really suffer when giving up coffee, but once the cold turkey is finished they have high levels of energy again without coffee assistance.

OK - now I fancy a coffee...

Funding mental health research...

Very scary statistics reported today about the funding of mental health research.

As the article points out: "Only 5% of medical research in the UK is into mental health, despite 15% of disability resulting from disease being due to mental illness."

Monday, 31 May 2010

Statistics in the media...

Generally there are two problems with the way that science is portrayed in the media. First, it is over simplified and this can lead to serious misinterpretation of the research done and the "real world" implications it has. Second, the presentation of the statistics often is wildly inaccurate and leads to scare stories.

Occasionally the BBC publishes fantastic articles about how to interpret statistics and science in the media. This is a great article about the recent scare story about the relationship between eating sausages and increased risk of heart disease.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Autism and migration...

A very interesting piece of research has suggested that the risk of a child developing autism if the mother has immigrated into the UK.

This was one of those studies that I initially was quite sceptical about - but toward the end of the report, they say the following...

"One theory is that the stress of migrating could act as a "trigger" for the disability, a factor discovered in similar studies looking at the causes of schizophrenia."

This is a really interesting idea, and it could explain the relationship that the researchers report. Going even further than they do - stress is associated with hormonal fluctuations, and there is research showing that there is a higher risk of autism if the child is exposed to higher levels of testosterone prenatally.

So, the news article reports the relationship between autism and migration as a relatively direct one. However, there may actually be four, or even more, stages...

Migration > Higer levels of stress > Changes in hormonal levels > Increased risk of autism.

A lovely example of the "correlation does not imply causation" mantra!!!

Wednesday, 19 May 2010


Apparently men lie more than women.

It's probably best for me not to comment on that...

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

But can you study that???

This newly published research examined how people judge research that opposes their own views.

Interestingly they found that people are likely to entirely dismiss the research and claim that "the topic could not be studied scientifically"!!!

Nice - if I like it we can study it scientifically, if I don't then you just need to trust me...

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

TV junkies...

A study has apparently shown that young children who watch too much TV are likely to suffer from a whole load of negative consequences later in life.

Interesting, and I don't doubt the studies findings, but I do think this could be an interesting example of "correlation does not cause causation". Just because there is a relationship, it doesn't mean that toddlers watching lots of TV causes them to have higher BMI's, poorer performance at school, etc.

It could be that watching lots of television may also be one of the outcomes of some other causal factor. What might cause a child to watch lots of TV, be overweight and do poorly at school? Now that would be an interesting study...

Friday, 30 April 2010

Politicians or chimpanzees?

This is a really interesting analysis of the final political debate from an evolutionary psychologist.

The comparison between the three part leaders and chimp behaviour is scarily accurate, and quite funny :o)

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Foreign Accent Syndrome...

I find Foreign Accent Syndrome fascinating. Essentially, typically after a head injury or stroke, the patient loses their accent and acquires a new accent - often from a different country and one they may have never even visited!

Although rare, this syndrome must be able to tell us lots about language and accent acquisition.

What I find most interesting is that accents are acquired very early in life and it is very difficult to learn how to pronounce words in different languages after the "critical age" (around puberty). This is why it is so difficult to learn a foreign language as an adult and even more to to acquire a convincing accent. So instantly acquiring a perfect foreign accent due to an injury to a specific part of the brain is just fascinating!!!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Big numbers...

This is a really interesting article which uses "Tesco" as a unit of measurement for big numbers...

It uses UK yearly sales (£40bn) to look government spending.

The fact that both the bank bailouts and the UK defense budget = 1 Tesco is slightly scary!

I wonder how many Tesco's are spent on higher education in the UK each year...

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

First ever blog...

Very exciting!!!

I'm a research psychologist and stats geek who is particularly into SPSS. My research looks into the neuropsychology of face processing. So - how does the brain process faces, such as the identity of a person or their emotional expression? But what I'm really interested in is how this differs between people. Do males and females process faces differently in the brain? Does handedness influence how the brain processes faces? How do hormones effect the way our brains process facial emotion?

With this blog I'm planning on sharing interesting tidbits of new research and probably various rants about how research is badly portrayed in the media.