• Posted Nope, I don't remember exactly... to Psych 1001 Section 010 and 011 Fall 2011
    The one concept that has been etched into my psyche after having been in this class is the one about false memories. Until this Psychology course, I had always assumed that memory, once encoded, would stay true for all time. In fact, it seems completely an odd and wasteful thing for our brains to do - to take what it saw and experienced and to change it. But it does. Most of us will look at the pictures of the pennies above and be fairly certain that the one we pick is how the real penny looks. Chances are extremely high that a good proportion of us will be wrong. Such demonstrations and reading about the pioneering experiments done by Elizabeth Loftus and subsequent ones by Barbara Tversky, Polly Dalton, and Elizabeth Phelps has changed my notions about memory. The ease with which people can be led to have false memories has such far-reaching implications in everyday life. Feuds are started, grudges are nursed, and enemies are made, as we resolutely hold on to our versions of events in our inter-personal relationships. In a larger context, our criminal justice system makes use of witnesses to help establish the guilt (or lack there-of) of the accused. Whereas scientists have known about false memories for decades, they have regrettably not been too forceful in broadcasting the facts and in changing the practice of using eyewitnesses. It turns out that 75% of DNA-based exonerations have come in cases where the witnesses were mistaken about what they saw and/or heard. I believe that I will take into account false memories for the rest of my life both for things that I remember as well as for other people's remembrances. In addition, whenever I hear about witnesses to a crime, I will know better than to mistake their confidence for their rightness. Sources cited: Beil, Laura. "The Certainty of Memory Has Its Day." New York Times 29 Nov. 2011: D1+. Print....
  • Posted Have a piece of cake, sweetie. to Psych 1001 Section 010 and 011 Fall 2011
    What a hot head! She is a sour, vengeful crone. Thanks, honey! Her salty language caused a huge scandal! He was a bitter, old man... Have you ever wondered why we use 'tasty' adjectives to describe people? It is not as if a person who has a bitter disposition actually tastes bitter! Perhaps we use them because we all tend to agree that a bitter taste is not a pleasant one. On the flip side we use words like 'honey', 'sweetie', 'sweetie pie', and 'sugar' to describe pleasant, agreeable people. But, is there a relationship between people's liking for sweet foods and their agreeableness? Believe it or not, researchers have recently conducted a robust study examining if taste preferences predict pro-social personalities and behaviors and they conclude that indeed, there is a significant correlation. Study 1 showed that ratings of strangers are higher in agreeableness if one is told that the stranger likes caramel, candy, ice cream and the like versus another food with a different (not sweet) taste. Amazing, but true! The skeptical part of me wondered if the study was sponsored by the sugar-related industry but no, the study was well-run with a large sample of university students using various controls to rule out biases and confounds. Studies 2 and 3 showed that agreeable people like sweet-tasting foods more than their less agreeable counterparts and that people who like sweet-tasting foods are more pro-social in their personalities, intentions and behaviors. Pro-social tendencies are those voluntary actions and behaviors that benefit others and do not foreshadow much gain for the doer. In essence, they found that people who liked sweets were more likely to do some extra work for no compensation. Studies 4 and 5 were experiments that demonstrated that momentarily savoring a sweet food (vs. a non-sweet food or no food) increased participants' spontaneous helping behavior as well as their self-reports of agreeableness. Figure 1 shows the average number of minutes each group volunteered AFTER the purported reason for their presence in the study was completed. In that sense, it truly measures the spontaneity of their pro-social tendencies. I think that I WILL have that chocolate cake then! Source: Meier, B. P., Moeller, S. K., Riemer-Peltz, M., & Robinson, M. D. (2011, August 29). Sweet Taste Preferences and Experiences Predict Prosocial Inferences, Personalities, and Behaviors. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0025253...
  • Posted What's in a smile?....and can you spot a fake one? to Psych 1001 Section 010 and 011 Fall 2011
    Smiling is universally associated with expressions of pleasure, joy, happiness, and amusement. As Americans, we smile at friends, loved ones, at acquaintances, at the check-out lady at the grocery store, at cameras, at good tidings, and in new surroundings, to name a few. Much of the rest of the world thinks that we smile way too much and sometimes in an inappropriate context. Excessive smiling is viewed as a sign of dishonesty or shallowness in some cultures. In Asia, smiling is a more reserved action suited to express love as well as embarrassment, anger, or confusion. Try as we might, we could never get our grandparents (Indians) to smile for the camera although they would readily smile at us. What makes us smile? In the anatomical sense, it is the contraction of the zygomatic muscles in the cheeks that pulls the corners of the mouth outwards and upwards. That is enough to pull off a conscious, fake smile but a genuine Duchenne smile (the pictures at the ends above) requires the co-ordination of these zygomatic muscles as well as the orbicularis oculi muscle. The result is the raising of the cheeks, the corners of the mouth pulled upwards and outward, crow's feet around the eyes, bagging under the eyes and a gleam in the eyes. It is very difficult to make a Duchenne smile voluntarily and for that reason, it is seen as reflection of genuine happiness. Now that you have the tools to spot a genuine smile, look at the pictures below and test yourself. There have been a number of studies in the area of smiles and the results are fascinating. Paul Ekman (of Facial Action Coding (FACS) fame) has conducted studies that show that ONLY Duchenne smiles cause increased activity of the front region of the left hemisphere, the area associated with positive emotions. This finding has been replicated by Harker and Keltner who conducted a longitudinal analysis of the relationship between positive emotional expression (how the students smiled in their yearbook) with outcomes in marriage and personal well-being. The Duchenne smilers were the winners! To test yourself further, check out this link: Sources: Expressions of Positive Emotion in Women's College Yearbook Pictures and Their Relationship to Personality and Life Outcomes Across Adulthood LeeAnne Harker and Dacher Keltner University of California, Berkeley Joumal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2001, Vol. 80, No. 1, 112-124 Ekman, P. (2003). Darwin, Deception, and Facial Expression. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1000: 205-221. Retrieved November 5, 2011, from Wikipedia Contributors. (2011, November 5). Smile. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 5, 2011, from BBC. (n.d.). Spot the Fake Smile. Retrieved November 5, 2011, from
  • Posted Your moment of Zen to Psych 1001 Section 010 and 011 Fall 2011
    Call it Zen or Transcendental meditation (TM) or Mindfulness meditation (MM), or Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)...they all relate to different forms of contemplation as a means to calm the body and mind. Meditation is an ancient practice with origins in India and China that has, in the past few decades, experienced an explosion of popularity. Claims regarding its benefits include improvements in concentration, perceptual sensitivity, memory, reaction times, and relaxation. Since we have been studying the process of memory, I was curious to find out more about the links between meditation and memory. There is a positive correlation between the practice of meditation and memory. In recent years, mindfulness-meditation (MM) and Mindfulness-Based-Stress-Reduction (MBSR) have been studied by neuroscientists and the results show that MM results in an increase in the cerebral cortex thickness which is in turn achieved by an increase in the blood flow to the region. Remember the London taxi drivers' phenomenal memory and the increased activity in their hippocampuses? Meditation increases the volume of the hippocampus, according to studies done at UCLA. There is one study that caught my eye that compares Magnetic Resonance (MR) images of participants before and after they underwent an 8-week program of MBSR. Results included increased gray matter concentration within the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal junction and the cerebellum. These areas are associated with learning, memory processes, emotion regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective taking. There were NO downsides mentioned in ANY study. In fact, since major depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder subjects have associated with them lower volumes of the hippocampuses, researchers are seriously considering the use of meditation in such situations. The scientists acknowledge that there may be an element of selection bias since the participants were people who had voluntarily (or at the instruction of a medical practitioner) signed up for the MBSR program and the control group consisted of people on the said waiting list. Confounds of the study are that MBSR includes group social interaction, stress-reduction education as well as gentle stretching any of which might be the real reason for the highly favorable results. Don't let that confound you however. Go ahead....take your moment(s) of Zen. Sources: Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density Britta K. Hölzel, James Carmody, Mark Vangel, Christina Congleton, Sita M. Yerramsetti, Tim Gard, Sara W. Lazar Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging - 30 January 2011 (Vol. 191, Issue 1, Pages 36-43, DOI: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006) Mindfulness training affects attention--or is it attentional effort? Jensen, Christian Gaden; Vangkilde, Signe; Frokjaer, Vibe; Hasselbalch, Steen G. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Sep 12, 2011, No Pagination Attending to the present: mindfulness meditation reveals distinct neural modes of self-reference Norman A. S. Farb, Zindel V. Segal, Helen Mayberg, Jim Bean, Deborah McKeon, Zainab Fatima, and Adam K. Anderson Soc Cogn Affect Neurosci. 2007 December; 2(4): 313-322. Prepublished online 2007 August 13....
  • Posted Mirror, Mirror On the Wall to Psych 1001 Section 010 and 011 Fall 2011
    Have you ever walked up to a door like this and then tried to push the door open to get to the other side? The next time that I do it, I will probably not feel as silly about it because of having read about the new research that delves into the human brain's ability to understand mirror-image words. It turns out that we actually process chiral (mirror-imaged) words, presented individually, automatically and unconsciously at least for a few instants. The visual system rotates the words reflected in the mirror and recognizes them at a very early stage of 150 - 250 milliseconds. The brain then realizes that there is something different about this scene and changes the processing steps accordingly. The research was conducted at the Basque Centre on Cognition, Brain and Languages in Spain and involved the monitoring the brain activity of 27 participants by use of encephalograms. The subjects were shown words for 50 milliseconds on a computer screen in one of two ways: - words where some of the letters or other information were rotated or - words where the entire word was rotated as in HTUOM instead of MOUTH The encephalogram results show that, at between 150 - 250 msec, the brain's response was the same in both cases as when the words are read normally. This means that the visual system sees both forms as equivalent. The researchers believe that this helps explain why a lot of children have trouble distinguishing p from q, d from b, and write their 's' in the mirror-image form. They further hypothesize that the acquisition of reading skills somehow inhibits the processing of chiral words as normal words in most of us. The scientists believe that further investigations will help us understand dyslexia and dysgrafia better. Research by other scientists is not in complete agreement with this study and there have not been many investigations in this field. More studies have been done comparing normal pictures with their mirror-image counterparts and have found similar brain activity in those cases. Studies using fMRI by Stanislas Dehaene at the French medical research agency, INSERM, does not show the same brain activity with mirror-image words as the Spanish research does but they believe that if they were to have children or illiterate adults as the subjects, the findings would be different. Again, they believe that the acquisition of reading skills changes the way we process words. Most of the time, anyway. I am sure that I will still have occasions when I will be pushing a door instead of pulling it. Sources:
  • Posted Is "Extra-ordinary" really necessary? to Psych 1001 Section 010 and 011 Fall 2011
    This is my first blog ever. you all know who I am and where I sit in the class. My name is Hema (pronounced Hey-ma as in "Hey- ma, what's for dinner?"). I am having a bit of a problem with one of the six principles of scientific thinking - the one which states that "extra-ordinary claims require extra-ordinary evidence". The adjective, extra-ordinary, is way too subjective in my opinion and does not belong in a science-oriented class. Not many years ago, people would have thought it extra-ordinary if someone had said that they could determine the gender of the fetus but to us, it is rather straight-forward. On a related matter, the claim that the child's gender is determined by the male parent would have seemed preposterous. I know that my mother was astounded when I told her that she was not to 'blame' for having four daughters and no sons. Following are a few more examples of what we once would have deemed extra-ordinary claims but now accept: - You can go from New York to LA in 7 hours, - The continents were once joined, - Sound, video, and data can be transmitted speedily over great distances. - Humans and the great apes share a common ancestor. A claim is a claim. Evidence can either support it or refute it. To say that a claim is extra-ordinary says more about the reference frame of the speaker, not of the claim. As the examples above show, our collective ignorance is what convinced us that the statements are extra-ordinary. No claim needs to be cloaked by an adjective, not by scientists. Such embellishments are more the realm of politicians, the tabloid news media, and the like. Scientists ought to be more interested in the robustness of the idea and the succinctness of their wording. Please note that I only have a problem with the word 'extra-ordinary' and none whatsoever with the principle that a claim requires evidence. I would love to hear your thoughts on this. While on the subject of 'extra-ordinary', check this out: Who would have thought it possible?!!!...
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