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Youngest or Eldest, Your Birth Order Doesn’t Affect Your Personality

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Since the time of Freud, psychologists have been devoted to nailing down how exactly our birth order affects our lives, arguing that youngest children are more rebellious or more agreeable or that oldest children are more conscientious or smarter. But there are a lot of confounding factors when it comes to studies of sibling dynamics, including family income and parental education, whether you’re the youngest of two or five siblings, or whether you have an older brother versus an older sister. 

According to a new, unusually large study of sibling relationships by psychologists from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, whether you are an older or youngest sibling has almost no effect on your personality or intelligence. The study, published in the Journal of Research in Personality, analyzed a nationally representative sample of 377,000 high school students using data from a longitudinal study that began in 1960. The researchers report that personality differences between firstborn and laterborn siblings may exist, but they are almost infinitesimal. 

There was some evidence for associations between oldest children being slightly more extroverted and conscientious, but the differences were slim. There was only a minuscule advantage—“almost imperceptible”—in terms of IQ for first born children. However, in comparison to other factors related to personality and intelligence traits, such as family income, the effects were barely noticeable. The researchers write that “the attention given to the role of birth order on personality is, at best, disproportionate to its importance to the development of personality differences among siblings across families.”

The study had several limitations, including that it was based on self-reported personality traits, rather than observed ones, and that it didn’t control for large age gaps between siblings (growing up with an older sibling who’s already out of the house is a different environment than a sibling only a few years older). However, given that this is one of the largest studies of its kind, it’s likely to be slightly more reliable than past research that found significant personality differences among only a few hundred or a thousand subjects.

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Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)
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Can You Figure Out This Newly Discovered Optical Illusion?
Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)
Kohske Takahashi, i-Perception (2017)

Ready to have your mind boggled? Take a look at the image above. What shape are the lines? Do they look like curves, or zigzags?

The image, spotted by Digg, is a new type of optical illusion published in the aptly named journal i-Perception. Discovered by Japanese psychologist Kohske Takahashi, it’s called the “curvature blindness illusion,” because—spoiler—the contrast of the lines against the gray background makes our eye see some of the lines as zigzags when, in fact, they’re all smooth curves.

The illusion relies on a few different factors, according to the three experiments Takahashi conducted. For it to work, the lines have to change contrast just at or after the peak of the curve, reversing the contrast against the background. You’ll notice that the zigzags only appear against the gray section of the background, and even against that gray background, not every line looks angled. The lines that look curvy change contrast midway between the peaks and the valleys of the line, whereas the lines that look like they contain sharp angles change contrast right at the peak and valley. The curve has to be relatively gentle, too.

Go ahead, stare at it for a while.

[h/t Digg]

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Vivid Imagery Makes Poetry More Pleasurable, According to Psychologists
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Contrary to what English teachers led us to believe, most readers don’t judge poetry based on factors like alliteration and rhyme. In fact, a new study published in the journal Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts suggests that vivid imagery (i.e. sense-evoking description) is what makes a poem compelling, according to Smithsonian.

To determine why some poetic works are aesthetically pleasing while others are less so, researchers from New York University and the Max Planck Institute for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt, Germany, had more than 400 online volunteers read and rate 111 haikus and 16 sonnets. Participants answered questions about each one, including how vivid its imagery was, whether it was relaxing or stimulating, how aesthetically pleasing they found it, and whether its content was positive or negative.

Not surprisingly, taste varied among subjects. But researchers did find, overall, that poems containing colorful imagery were typically perceived as more pleasurable. (For example, one favorite work among subjects described flowers as blooming and spreading like fire.) Emotional valence—a poem's emotional impact—also played a smaller role, with readers ranking positive poems as more appealing than negative ones. Poems that received low rankings were typically negative, and lacked vivid imagery.

Researchers think that vivid poems might also be more interesting ones, which could explain their popularity in this particular study. In the future, they hope to use similar methodology to investigate factors that might influence our enjoyment of music, literature, and movies.

[h/t Smithsonian]

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