palo0055: October 2011 Archives

Eidetic Memory...is it real?

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We learned in the Memory chapter about persons with exceptional memories, like those with eidetic memories or echoic memories.

One of my favorite shows, Psych, features a main character with an eidetic memory who uses this characteristic to his advantage in solving crimes. He claims to be a psychic and uses his memory to solve the crimes with his "psychic abilities". It's a very funny and clever show, if you haven't seen it, go watch it.

Another show that I love, Criminal Minds, also has a character with an eidetic memory. Fictional Dr. Spencer Reid uses his memory of things he's read or seen to help solve the crimes.

I'm really curious about the whole concept of eidetic memory. From Wikipedia and our textbook, it's defined as "the ability to recall images, sounds, or objects in memory with extreme precision and in abundant volume." With such an extraordinary claim, it really should be backed up.

I'm just baffled on how this is even possible. I think I have a pretty good memory, and I know that during tests I can recall whole pages in my notebook or textbook about the information being tested--it's not super precise, but does that mean that I can have a semi-eidetic memory? Or is my memory just really good? How is a person classified as having an eidetic memory?

I looked it up and found some interesting information. Wikipedia says, "there are distinct differences in the manner in which information is processed. People who have a generally capable memory often use mnemonic devices to retain information while those with eidetic memory remember very specific details, such as where a person was standing, what the person was wearing, etc. They may recall an event with greater detail while those with a different memory remember daily routines rather than specific details that may have interrupted a routine..." Interesting.

I read on and found that this topic is still a subject of skepticism. Many psychologists have conducted studies testing eidetic memory and have found different results. I don't know what to believe. Could good memories just be a result of rehearsal or repeated exposure? Strong attention to detail? There are many claims, and with every extraordinary claims there has to be sufficient evidence to back it up.

From what I've read, as of 2008, no one has been able to claim long-term eidetic memory in a scientific setting.

So until then, I'll just enjoy the antics of Shawn Spencer on Psych and the drama on Criminal Minds.

Source: Lilienfield textbook, Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eidetic_memory

Harvard, Massachusetts General Hospital, and P&G recently unveiled the results of a study they conducted about perceived trustworthiness, competence, and likability.

In the study, 149 adults were shown images of 25 women wearing various "stages" of makeup. A professional makeup artist applied makeup to the women, with "natural" and no makeup, "professional", and "glamorous".

The images were flashed for 250 milliseconds to one group subjects and asked about first impressions, and another group was shown the images for a longer length of time and asked whether they would hire the woman and whether she would be competent.

In both groups, the subjects rated the women wearing makeup higher approval compared to the bare-faced women.

Apparently, this was the first study ever done to explore the long-standing belief that attractive people are more successful in their careers and are more successful in getting jobs.

"For the first time, we have found that applying makeup has an effect beyond increasing attractiveness - it impacts first impressions and overall judgments of perceived likeability, trustworthiness, and competence," said Nancy Etcoff PhD.

While I think that part of the study was to research better ways to effectively market cosmetics, it definitely touches into perception. From what I read, the study only explored the surface of the issue--they did find that people find makeup-wearers more attractive, but I want to know why.

Since this is the first study ever done, there could be many other explanations. Such as why does someone who is makeup free appear to be incompetent? The study didn't seem to answer that. It has been said that humans are wired to be drawn to more attractive people because of evolution and such--but how does this factor into job search? That wasn't explored either. Ruling out rival hypotheses is really important when considering this study.

People have different tastes and preferences when it comes to makeup on women, too. Does every employer share the same tastes? Speaking of which, maybe they should've gotten their sample from a group of hiring managers if that's part of the reason why they conducted the study. Hmm...

So like with any study, people shouldn't just jump to conclusions--women shouldn't just go out and buy lots of P&G makeup because of the results.


Source: http://www.multivu.com/mnr/52087-p-g-harvard-study-reveals-cosmetics-alter-instinctual-perception

I came upon this article on ScienceDaily.com, about how people who are easily embarrassed are more likely to be trusted.
Really? Personally, I don't believe this because I think that if you're easily embarrassed, you may not have that much confidence...and if you're not too confident about yourself and/or what you believe in, how am I going to trust you? I do think that if you get embarrassed easily, it just goes to show that you're human and I can relate to you easily.
But my question is, what did the researchers mean by "trust"? I don't think that they shared embarrassing stories and did "trust falls". The study, which as conducted at UC-Berkeley involved "a series of experiments that used video testimonials, economic trust games, and surveys to gauge the relationship between embarrassment and pro-sociality" that involved college students and Craigslist users.
In the survey portion, Craigslist users were the subjects, which is good because it was random selection. Like the college students, they were asked about times they felt embarrassed and they played some games. One of the games involved participants giving each other tickets or keeping them for themselves--the researchers found, with both the Craigslist group and the college kids, that the people whose stories were more embarrassing ended up giving away more of their raffle tickets.
The article states that the researchers concluded that the more embarrassed people were more generous, hence more trustworthy. But what about other factors? Could they have just given tickets for the heck of it? Maybe they're just more generous people, regardless of being easily embarrassed. The same applies to the college kids' group. I'm sure the researchers thought about this, but it wasn't mentioned in the article. There could be lurking variables that weren't addressed in the design of the experiment, and it's things like that that really affect the outcome of an experiment.
Also, I want to question the reliability of the experiment. They only performed that portion twice, and I don't think that their results could be consistent enough after 2 trials. Plus, were they comparing the two? Or just using them as trials? That is unclear.
Another part of the experiment was that a trained actor received news and had to respond with either embarrassment or pride. The trust the participants had in that person was "measured" through games. I don't really know how that worked, but the results from this portion don't seem very trustworthy to me.
I think that this experiment overall relied too much on anecdotal evidence, one of the warning signs of pseudoscience. I also think that there are still too many unanswered questions that the study did not address. For example, why are the easily embarrassed more trustworthy? Their experiment just found this occurrence but did not answer why.
I believe that if replicated, the study would yield different results. They only did it with 2 groups and I don't trust the results. That principle is especially significant in evaluating this study, as well as exploring rival hypotheses. No other studies have been done, as far as I've searched, on this issue and the researchers of this study have yet to investigate the opposite--are overconfident people are less-trustworthy?


University of California - Berkeley. "Easily embarrassed? Study finds people will trust you more." ScienceDaily, 29 Sep. 2011. Web. 1 Oct. 2011.

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