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Subliminal Messaging and the Subconscious

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Middle school was the first time I was exposed to subliminal messaging; it was a concept that blew the underdeveloped minds of my class and me. The fact our minds could process information and create new ideas without our conscious mind is a scary thing. Could this eliminate the concept of free will altogether? A study was done to test just this.

In this study, subjects were subliminally flashed a letter. Their conscious mind had no idea that the letter had even been stimulated in their subconscious mind. Next, a set of different letters were set in front of the subject and they were asked to choose a letter at random. In this case, the letter that was flashed was almost exclusively chosen from the random set, proving the subconscious holds weight in executing simple tasks. What the experimenters found next was the interesting part. They repeated the experiment but made it more mentally taxing for the subjects. The increased level of concentration hindered the minds ability to receive subliminal messages. For example, the subjects were distracted while a colored letter was flashed subliminally on a screen in front of them. The fMRI scans revealed no neurological activity in the brain during the subliminal stimulus which led the scientists to conclude, "the brain does not pick up on subliminal stimuli if it is too busily occupied with other things... some degree of attention is needed for even the subconscious to pick up on subliminal images" (Science Daily).

This finding made me curious about subliminal messaging in the commercial media. Is brand recognition too much for the subconscious to process? Especially when our whole attention isn't focused on the commercial? It would be a scary thing if corporations could take away our free will in terms of purchasing their product. If they found a way to simplify the message enough to target our subconscious, our conscious ability to choose could be eliminated altogether. I don't know about you, but this idea scares me a lot.

Works Cited:
University College London (2007, March 9). Subliminal Advertising Leaves Its Mark On The Brain. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 9, 2011

The hearing section of Chapter 5 in Lilienfeld mentioned that as we age our ability to hear higher pitches decreases. According to an article in the New York Times, a group of British store owners used this idea to prevent teenagers from loitering by playing a screeching sound only the teens could hear.  However, the teens took this idea and turned it around to create a ringtone that students couldn't hear but parents and teachers could not. 

 

The article had an mp3 attachment of the sound for readers to test their own hearing.   After learning that I could hear what sounded like a screeching microphone or nails on a chalkboard, I decided to test this idea on the rest of my family.  I turned out my sister could hear it, but our parents could not.  My sister and I are both in our 20s and our parents in their 50s. The article mentioned a cutoff age of around 30 years.  Because 4 people is a very small sample size, I found a downloadable file of the sound and sent it out to my entire contact list for my personal email, as well as Professor Briggs, explaining that I was doing a study for my Psychology class and just to let me know if they heard this sound.  In order to prevent demand characteristics or possible lying, I asked them to also tell me what they heard.

 

Including the 4 people in my family, there were a total of 25 responses.  It turned out that everyone under 45 could hear the noise.  Additionally, my 63 year old aunt could hear the noise.  The results showed a negative correlation (r = - .7896) between age and ability to hear at that high of a frequency.  This means that as a person gets older their ability to hear higher frequencies worsens.  However, this is a correlational study, so we cannot determine a cause and effect relationship.  Furthermore, a sample size of 25 may not be large enough to prevent outliers from skewing the results. 

 

Here is a link to the article:  http://www.nytimes.com/2006/06/12/technology/12ring.html

Memory Loss in the Movies

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Hollywood has a long history of using the loss of memory in cinema. At least 80 movies since the early 1900's have contained major or minor plot lines dealing with a memory disorder. Some of the most notable include the Bourne Trilogy (2002-2007) and 50 First Dates (2000), which display amnesia in two different lights. But how accurately are these disorders being portrayed? I went back and did some research on memory disorders, primarily one used in one of my favorite movies, Memento(2000).

Memento chronicles the life of a man named Leonard Shelby. Leonard suffered a brutal attack, which now prevents him from being able to make new memories. His wife was also murdered in the attack, and while Leonard wants to seek vengeance, he wakes up every morning with no memory of what has happened in the days after the initial attack. As it turns out, Leonard was suffering from a very accurate case of anterograde amnesia. As we learned in class, memory disorders generally come from damage to the hippocampus and the surrounding tissue, more specifically in this case, the medial temporal lobe, basal forebrain, and fornix. Aside from brain injury, this type of amnesia can also be caused by shock, emotional disorders, or severe illness. Patients of this suffer from the loss of declarative memory, which is the recollection of facts, but commonly retain procedural memory, which allows us to remember how to do things, like tying our shoes or driving a car. In class, we learned about the patient H.M. who also suffered from anterograde amnesia. He was able to learn new skills, but not remember that he learned them.

Extra Knowledge: One of the most notable examples of anterograde amnesia is due to alcohol intoxication, or as it is more commonly known on a college campus, a "blackout." If alcohol is consumed too rapidly, a severe rise in blood alcohol concentration can impair or possibly even completely block the brain's ability to transfer short term memories created while intoxicated to long-term memories for retrieval and storage. And while this may lead to some confusion/embarrassment the day after, just remember that slower consumption will generally prevent any memory loss. This might actually lead to more embarrassment the next morning, but hey, at least your hippocampus will be nice and healthy!
And who could forget this famous example of anterograde amnesia??
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tESffhWs8l0
amnesia.jpg
© Copyright Dan Reynolds: Licensed Cartoon

Doogie Vanquishes Dementia

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Not long ago in Professor Gewirtz's final lecture, Psychology 1001 students learned about Doogie the "smart mouse." Intrigued, I decided to find out more. In an article published by Princeton University (http://www.princeton.edu/pr/news/99/q3/0902-smart.htm) I found plenty of interesting information.

Doogie was "created" (let the Frankenstein flashbacks ensue) by neurobiologist Joe Tsien. By adding a single gene called NR2B, he was able to increase the animal's ability to solve, reason, and learn from his environment. During lecture, we saw how Doogie had a significantly faster learning curve than his unmodified peers did. Beyond this original extraordinary learning, modified mice retained certain features of juvenile mice into adulthood that allow them to remain better learners.

doogie2.jpg


This is an extremely important finding for humanity as well as scientists. With such a simple modification, memory and learning problems could be wiped from the face of the Earth. My grandma and aunt have been diagnosed with memory loss problems and past research has shown that the difficulties they face are genetic. Someday I could be the one forgetting where I put things or not remembering my friends' names. This procedure has not been used on humans yet, but with Doogie's help it is only a matter of time before it could be. Looking to avoid gene modification, pharmaceutical companies could look into making drugs to enhance current NR2B effects in our bodies.

While these findings seem promising, there are questions left. Tsien's modified mice experienced chronic pain and had shorter life spans as a side effect of accelerated learning and retention abilities. Would these problems carry into a human application and if so how severe would they be? It is also unknown how effective NR2B treatment would be on humans and if there are other side effects that remain undetected in the mice. With such uncertainties, the NR2B discovery has much left to be discovered but offers hope to the millions who suffer from previously incurable diseases.

Is Twitter Able to Determine Your Mood?

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http://www.twincities.com/ci_19008471?IADID=Search-www.twincities.com-www.twincities.com

I was casually reading the newspaper a few days ago, and I came across a very interesting article in the Pioneer Press (posted above). The article is based on a study that tries to connect a person's mood and how it changes over the course of a day, week, or season. How they planned to do this you ask? The answer was Twitter. The study conducted by Scott Golder and Michael Macy, sociologists at Cornell University, seems to repeat what we may already think is common sense. According to the article, some previous studies have tried to measure the average person's mood on social media sites and "elsewhere on the internet, but (these studies) looked at collective moods over time, in different time zones or during holidays." However, this study was different because it went across cultures, using over 2 million tweets from people in 84 different countries. The results of the study showed that positive posts crested during the times of 6-9 a.m. and gradually fell throughout the day until 3-4 p.m. After that, it slowly went up again, with a sharper increase after dinner. This follows the previous studies in that people's moods were lowest on Monday and Tuesday, and rose as the week went on with peaks on Saturday and Sunday. What makes these results interesting is that the same trends were found on the weekends, only shifted a few hours later. This is making the researchers to believe that our mood could be biologically influenced due to the time of day.
However, there are plenty of possible confounds in this study. The first one is that the article never said if the tweets were randomly selected. That could affect the validity of these results in a negative way if random selection was not used. Also, this study doesn't have the characteristics of an experiment. Those characteristics are random assignment of participants to conditions and manipulating an independent variable. That is important because we can only draw correlations from this evidence and can't rush to assuming causation without further tests. Another possible shortcoming of this study is how they measured positive and negative moods. Sarcasm can't be easily found in text, so it is hard to truly determine if a person feels good or not through a tweet. Something that the article mentioned, which I completely agree with, is that the tweeter's motives for posting the tweet could be clouded. They could be posting the tweet expressing their true emotions at the given time, or they could post a tweet to tell their followers what they want to hear. This type of tweet could mislead the scientists from knowing what mood the tweeter was in. Overall, some confounds are present here, and the study seems to have been conducted in a very meticulous manner, but we have to make sure that we don't fall victim to mistaking correlation with causation.

Caffeine

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I believe that of the fields we covered, the one that will make the greatest strides in the coming years is that of biological psychology; I also find it the most interesting. The process that neurotransmitters undergo is specifically fascinating.
Neurotransmitters are contained in synaptic vesicles with in the axxon terminal. They stay there un till an action potential triggers the synaptic vessels to release certain neurotransmitters into the synapse. Once in the synapse each neurotransmitter either bonds with its specific receptor site on another cells dendrite or they undergo reuptake and return to the axxon terminal. When each neurotransmitter bonds with its receptor site it sends a specific message based on what type of neurotransmitter it is.
The study of neurotransmitters in important because it allows us to understand the chemicals in our brains and our process of thinking. On a more advanced level it allows us to manipulate the chemicals in our head through the use of psychoactive pharmaceuticals. This can bring us closer to cures for depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, Parkinson's, etc., than ever before.
Without even realizing it, I, currently, am exhibiting the benefits of biological psychology. I'm am drinking coffee, which contains caffeine, the most widely used psychoactive drug on the planet [3]. Right now, I've been awake for quite some time, and should be tired but I'm not, thanks to caffeine. Caffeine binds to the adenosine receptor; adenosine being an inhibiting neurotransmitter that "causes drowsiness by slowing down nerve cell activity". Since adenosine receptor sites are occupied by the caffeine, I feel wide awake. So now I have "increased neuronal firing" in my brain, my pituitary gland senses this and releases a hormone causing the release of epinephrine having a number of effects on my functioning [2], all of which make me feel alert. Finally, caffeine releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter related to reward and pleasure [4].
The caffeine leaves me alert, functioning at a higher level and feeling good [2], the perfect condition to write a psychology blog post.


[1] http://iospress.metapress.com/content/m1584043445mx427/fulltext.pdf
[2]http://science.howstuffworks.com/caffeine.htm
[3]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTVE5iPMKLg
[4]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZjH8_hHtumo

The Science of Romance: Why We Love

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http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1704672-1,00.htmlpsychpic.jpg
My boyfriend and I recently broke up, so I'm stuck in this pathetic, broken stage and wondered, "Why does this happen?" I decided to do a little research, since I'm in college now, and I needed something to write about in my blog. I googled love article and this was the first one to come up. I couldn't stop reading!

This article (a must read, by the way), answered a plethora of questions, but then again left me with a million more. The most interesting answered question however was why, first of all do we feel the need to stay with a partner when we were literally built to mate randomly and competitively, and secondly, why does it hurt so much when they are gone. Also, if you doubted the whole, "psychology is science" thing, this sets everything straight.

In this article, I learned that scientists do these things called fMRI scans of people. These scans measure the different chemical levels in the brain. This includes dopamine, serotonin and oxytocin. Oxytocin is the one to note here. It was my understanding from reading the article that oxytocin is the chemical that is more closely related to addictions. When you're in early stages of relationships with a boyfriend, girlfriend, new child, etc., large amounts of this chemical are produced, in turn creating a chemical bond.

My second question: "why does it hurt so much when they're gone?" The simplest, scientific answer: when you are with a person for a long period of time, there is activity in the caudate nucleus. This is the place that is adjacent to the part of the brain that is related to addiction. So, when you're first going through your break up and you feel like you're experiencing withdrawals, it may actually be true. This has not yet been scientifically proven, but many scientists have hypothesized and theorized about this.

All in all, I'm sure my "addiction" to my ex-boyfriend will pass, and I will find another man with opposite MHC levels. I will continue to believe that there is more than just this, though. For example, why does a man with a better personality suddenly become more attractive to me?

Plasticity, Synesthesia, and Extremes

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The Phantom Limb Syndrome fascinated me because it was an example of one sensation triggering a seemingly irrelevant perception. This was specifically caused by the brain's plasticity, which is the brain's way of efficiently allocating its resources. Regularly plasticity occurs as the brain learns and grows, but it may occur from damage too. This explains how individuals function when a genetic variation introduces a new appendage to the genome. In the case of the phantom limb, the brain saw wasted resources that were previously allocated to the lost limb, and reallocated them to the cheek. This lead to perceptional confusion as the brain was already conditioned for a "normal" human being.

I'm specifically curious about plasticity mid-life that deals with entire senses. While I have no doubt that a deaf person will reallocate the part of their brain that processes sound to do something else, I'm not sure that the extra resources will go to another sense. Does plasticity cause people who go deaf to hear Mozart when they taste salt? I've heard of cross-sense relationships before, but never in an educational or real-world setting. The first time, it was in a game called "The Color Tuesday" where the protagonist could "see" the colors of words. The next was in an article on Cracked that mentioned "Synesthesia". I don't consider either source to be reputable, but at the very least, synesthesia does exist on Wikipedia.

The article did not explain how synesthesia works, so I cannot be sure that it is in any way relevant to plasticity. If it is relevant, what causes people with undamaged senses to remap their brain in early development, and if it is not then what happens when an entire sense is lost? There is a world of difference between having the part of the brain that dealt with touch in the hand get taken over by touch the cheek and having the part of the brain that dealt with sight get taken over by smell. Due to the lesser degree of similarity between different senses, will plasticity work differently at such an extreme, and if so what are the likely results?

Pareidolia: Seeing Faces

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We have a tendency to find patterns out of normal and meaningless things. One example of this phenomenon is pareidolia: seeing meaningful images in meaningless visual stimuli. If you have looked at a cloud in the sky and perceived a shape of an animal or a face, you have experienced pareidolia. Pareidolia may seem like a harmless and interesting aspect of how the mind works, but it has more influence on society than one would think.

In 2004, it was revealed that a woman has preserved a grilled cheese sandwich for over 10 years, with her reason being that the burnt pattern of the toast resembled the face of Virgin Mary. Certainly, she believes that it was a sign from God, and the sandwich was sacred. Word of this sandwich spread throughout the media, and the woman eventually sold the sandwich on Ebay.com for $28000 to Golden Palace Casino. This shows how pareidolia can make an ordinary item into a valuable sensation.

As silly as the sandwich story sounds, it actually shows us the power of pareidolia. The human brain is hard-wired to recognize faces. When a person sees a face, it only takes milliseconds for the brain to recognize it as a face; when a person sees normal images or objects that look like faces, the brain recognizes it at almost the same speed. This shows that it is not so uncommon for people to perceive extraordinary images out of meaningless visual stimuli. It is important for us to keep in mind that we underestimate the probability of coincidence. So next time you see Lady Gaga's face on your pancake, think twice before you tell everyone about the manifestation of the pop icon in your living room.

maryoncheese.jpg

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/6511148/ns/us_news-weird_news/t/virgin-mary-grilled-cheese-sells/

Other pareidolia examples:http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/category/pareidolia/

Doogie Vanquishes Dementia

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Not long ago in Professor Gewirtz's final lecture, Psychology 1001 students learned about Doogie the "smart mouse." Intrigued, I decided to find out more. In an article published by Princeton University (http://www.princeton.edu/pr/news/99/q3/0902-smart.htm) I found plenty of interesting information.

doogie2.jpg

Doogie was "created" (let the Frankenstein flashbacks ensue) by neurobiologist Joe
Tsien. By adding a single gene called NR2B, he was able to increase the animal's ability
to solve, reason, and learn from his environment. During lecture, we saw how Doogie had
a significantly faster learning curve than his unmodified peers did. Beyond this original
extraordinary learning, modified mice retained certain features of juvenile mice into adulthood that allow them to remain better learners.

This is an extremely important finding for humanity as well as scientists. With such a simple modification, memory and learning problems could be wiped from the face of the Earth. My grandma and aunt have been diagnosed with memory loss problems and past research has shown that the difficulties they face are genetic. Someday I could be the one forgetting where I put things or not remembering my friends' names. This procedure has not been used on humans yet, but with Doogie's help it is only a matter of time before it could be. Looking to avoid gene modification, pharmaceutical companies could look into making drugs to enhance current NR2B effects in our bodies.

While these findings seem promising, there are questions left. Tsien's modified mice experienced chronic pain and had shorter life spans as a side effect of accelerated learning and retention abilities. Would these problems carry into a human application and if so how severe would they be? It is also unknown how effective NR2B treatment would be on humans and if there are other side effects that remain undetected in the mice. With such uncertainties, the NR2B discovery has much left to be discovered but offers hope to the millions who suffer from previously incurable diseases.

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