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Unforgettable

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There are many small and intriguing facts that I will definitely remember from Psych 1001. For example: the placebo effect. I will definitely remember the fact that placebo pills and real pills 'cure' depression to about the same extent. I will also remember that IQ tests are actually more of an indicator of job performance compared to in-person interviews. I found that amazing and interesting. However, there is one major concept that I will surely remember down the road; classical and operant conditioning. These were both things I had heard of and learned to an extent before this class, but the concepts were definitely cemented in my head thanks to this class. I think these concepts are important because I do believe that much of what we do is because of something that we learned through these interesting types of conditioning. I also find it amazing that Pavlov was able to make dogs salivate to the sound of a metronome. If one had no idea what classical conditioning is this would sound completely absurd! I also think that Skinners ability to shape the behavior of animals is insane. The story about him training pigeons to basically fly a missile is definitely one I won't forget!

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Neurocognitive Theory and NDEs

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While reading Chapter 5, I was able to resonate with a lot of the material and information presented regarding the psychology of sleep. For instance, neurocognitive theory brought up the fact that children's dreams tend to be a lot simpler than those of adults. Children dream about things like animals in the zoo, whereas adults tend to have dreams that are a little more meaningful, such as things that concern their every day life: life being single, self-consciousness about their appearance, etc.
I've noticed that as I've grown older, I've put a lot more thought into my dreams upon waking up. When I was younger, my dreams were simply pointless events that didn't hold much significance, but a lot of things I've been dreaming about recently have made me think about the way I'm living my life. It's funny how whenever I get into a fight with someone important, sooner or later I'll have a dream that reminds me of their importance in my life, which suddenly makes my problems with them less significant.
Another part of this chapter that stuck out to me was the part regarding near-death experiences. I think that the scientific evidence concerning these instances is very fascinating, but I'm left wondering how religious folk would respond to these claims? Many people have used this as evidence for the after life and might take offense to these findings, however factual and scientific they may be. Matters of science vs. religion are always intriguing to me.

I have always found paintings and different forms of art so interesting. It always seems like the artist is just waiting for you to find the hidden message they put there. They all just have little secrets, which why I think it's extremely difficult to get bored of studying art.

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When I read about vanishing points and saw this picture in the book, I literally stopped and studied it for a good 5 minutes. It took me awhile to understand the painting. Once I saw how it was put together, it really gave me a good idea of what vanishing points are. Since it was so hard to trace the lines of the building to where they meet, the many vanishing points make this an impossible figure. It was interesting to Google the painting and to see how it would have to be constructed. These are the types of things that make me want to learn more about architecture and art. I always wonder how artists are capable of painting these types of things and how architects design such intense buildings.

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Visual perception, an interesting and popular research focus of psychology, is the function of the eyes and brain working together to interpret our surroundings. Take this picture for example: some people may see a vase, while others may see two faces. Perhaps if you look at it long enough you will see both. This phenomenon relates to the theory of figure-ground organization. Figure-ground organization is one principle of Gesalt's theories of perceptual organization. This concept explains that when we look at an object we do not just look at the object; instead, we see the object in relation to its background. This explains why reversible figure-ground images, like the one above, can change in our mind as we look at it.
I find perception to be a very interesting topic because it gives a biological example of how differently everyone interprets information. Reversible images in general are a classic illustration of how every aspect of life can have more than one dimension, more than one point of view. Although figure-ground perception deals specifically with sensory information, in many ways it represents how people all have different perceptions of the world--different ideas, opinions and views--and that these can all change over time.

3d-chalk-art-river1.jpg Recently these "3D Chalk Art" pictures have been popping out all over the place. It really is amazing how lifelike these pictures look! I believe that one of the ideas used is Size Constancy. The artist of this chalk picture made the rocks that he wanted to look further away smaller, even though they would be equal in size if picked up. We may also use perceptual sets that convince us that this image is 3D. Our brain sees the shadowing and automatically perceives as a three dimensional space. However if viewed from a different angle we would easily be able to tell that it is just a drawing. Even though our mind is being tricked, I think we should all be thankful that these things can trick our brain because they are pretty cool!

Smelling the Beans in Brazil

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Are different people able to sense different stimuli? We all have the same five senses right? Even though that is true many of our senses have a natural variation and some lose their ability over time.

The sense of hearing or audition is a sense that loses its ability to perceive certain stimuli. "Teen Buzz" is a product to take advantage of this phenomena. It is basically a loud and annoying buzz that is emitted at a frequency of approximately 17.4 kHz. At this frequency the sound is only really heard by people under the age of 25. Its intended purpose is to be projected around businesses in order to stop loitering, vandalism, and drug use. I tested myself and my 19-year old friend, we both could hear the 17.4 kHz buzz. It was loud and almost hurt to listen to. It would definitely be a good deterrent.

All senses also follow a natural variation when it comes to ability. Just like height or weight a person's ability to sense stimuli will be different compared to almost anyone else. Just as there are super tall people, there are also people who have a heightened ability to sense things. Olfaction, or the sense of smell, follows this and a person with a heightened sense of smell could "smell the beans in Brazil", as the proverbial phrase goes.

As with the other senses certain animals have a sense of smell that is many times better than even the best human's. The silvertip Grizzly Bear (pictured below) has the best sense of smell of all animals. Their sense of smell is 7 times stronger than a Bloodhound's which are renowned for their ability to detect and follow scents.

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I was very confused after watching the BBC video, The Secret You. Towards the end of this movie, an experiment was done to test the human decision making process. An Oxford professor was placed in an fMRI machine where he was asked a series of questions. He would answer the questions by pressing a button in either his right or left hand. By monitoring his brain activity, the researcher was able to determine which button he would press six seconds before he would press it.

This amazed me and really made me think. What really controls our decisions? I would like to think that I am in control of every decision I make, but am I? Is it me or my brain deciding? And if my brain is a part of my body, is there really a difference? If our brain made the decision for us, then technically we made the decision ourselves. However, we were not aware that we made this decision, so did we really? It is a confusing subject to think about. I still do not entirely understand it, and I don't think many people do.

My belief going into the video was that I was in complete control of my decisions. I felt that I was presented a set of options, and from those options I chose the best one. After watching the video, I have a slightly different understanding. I feel that when making decisions our brain uses our past experiences to decide what is best for us, thus creating the set of options we choose from. This is something that we don't consciously recognize. After this happens, then our brain chooses the best option.

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You just Became Aware

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At what age do you believe you recognized yourself? The moment when you looked in a mirror and thought- that is me, or when someone pointed to a picture to you as a baby and you were able to make the connection that, that was you at a younger age. One man, Marcus de Sautoy, makes a documentary in search for that.
Sautoy visits a unit in which they have pinned down the age at which we discover ourselves. This happens between the ages of 18-24 months. They were able to pin point this down by conducting a study. In the study you place a child/ infant in front of a mirror, when he/she makes eye contact with themselves in said mirror you place a mark on the child's face. Once this mark has been placed on the face you allow the child to look at the themselves again- if the child reaches for the mark on his/her face it is a clear indicator that they have realized that it is a reflection of themselves- thus meaning the have become aware of what they look like.
Sautoy brings up an amazing point, you can live up to a year in your life with no knowledge of yourself. You could look at yourself and not even know that you are seeing yourself. This self-awareness allows you to engage in yourself and see your past through pictures and memories with images of yourself. The only three things that are able to do this are humans, orangutan, and gorillas. This is an amazing feature for us to have.
I love being able to see this as I babysit many children. When you're with a young baby they are fascinated by mirrors but when you ask them if they see themselves they become very puzzled. It is also like when you show a young child a portrait of themselves as a newborn- it is hard for them to imagine their body that young. Our life is forever changed because we can recognize ourselves. Just think: What do you think humans would look/ dress like without the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror? Do you think looks would be as important? Do you think our ability to recognize ourselves if for the better- or not?
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Consciousness is at the very core of what makes our waking perception of reality. We are able to process all that sensational data given and make it a coherent image of our world. That consciousness is what gives us the ability to be the highly successful albeit complex species we are.

But what does all this mean. What is our brain doing while we busily process all this data that makes our perception....well conscious. Other animals don't have the level of perception that we have. The ability to not just recognize what we see as food or threat, but see a situation and understand our hand in it and how that situation came to be without necessarily observing the cause. To get an idea of what that process is we need to compare the waking mind to that of a state of unconsciousness. While we sleep our brains are still active. this has been shown in many previous studies. The mind however active is definitely not conscious. This sleeping "condition" present researchers with a comparable state to make their observations. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin and Milan have devised a way to look at the activity of the brain to direct stimulus under the two different conditions.
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By wearing a set of electrodes the researchers are able to apply a shock to the brain by a process called Trans Cranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). As the shocks are applied the electrodes are able to sense the activity of the brain. IN the conscious mind the responses are wide spread stimulating areas all over with complex patterns associated with each individual area stimulated. In contrast the unconscious mind, or sleeping, has only localized responses. This suggests that the mind has a great deal more connections while it is conscious and that those connections are very wide spread and diverse based on the stimulus. To be clear that a more interconnected and communicative mind is a more conscious one.

This study while relatively simple gives a pretty clear indication of what a conscious mind looks like; lots of communication and signal responses all over the mind and variable based on stimulus. The intriguing bit about this is that we know have a clearer picture of what consciousness looks like and may be able to perceive the level of consciousness in other creatures.

bwy1254405966k.jpgWe all know that our large brains were critical for us to become the dominant species on Earth, allowing us to form language, solve problems, and understand the world around us. But do we truly know what our minds do for us? The complexity of our brains is only starting to be uncovered, as new theories about our dreams come into play.
After waking up from a nightmare this morning, I decided to write my blog on dreams - how important they are to survival, and what they could mean to our daily lives. Many people wake up from especially odd or frightening dreams wondering if the imagined occurrences have anything to do with the issues faced in their current lives. This is why radio shows and newspaper articles with "the dream doctor" can become so popular and why it is easy to search for explanations on typical dreams and nightmares over the internet such as in this website.
Our dreams have always been a mystery to the individual as well as in science. Some think of dreams as being a connection to a mystical world, while others believe there is no rhyme or reason to them at all.
This article interested me specifically as I researched more about dream interpretations, with psychologist Antti Revonsuo arguing that dreams help us to stay sharp, because dreams safely stimulate extremely stressful situations and train the mind to take the appropriate steps necessary for survival. The article brings up reports of people who had just survived a life-or-death situation, saying they entered "a mode of calm, rapid response, reacting automatically, almost without thinking. Afterward, they often say the episode felt unreal, as if it were all a dream. Threat simulation, Revonsuo believes, is why." The psychologist even claims that 2/3 of all dreams are threatening, supporting the theory that threat simulation indeed plays an extremely important role while we sleep. This is especially true when we look to the past, where many of these simulations actually happened, such as being chased by an animal or getting lost in the forest. This certainly shows how our brain is always working to protect us from our worst fears, by coming up with solutions should they ever happen in real life. In our dreams, the brain simulates what we fear most, going over and over again what might happen and what we can do to get out of the situation safely. While it may be a little traumatizing to dream about our worst fears so often, we can be assured that if it ever were to happen, we could use our dreams to get out of the mess in the most efficient way possible - which can be a relief when you really think about it.sonhos3.jpg
This article is very interesting and I encourage anyone to read it for themselves. Of course, we still cannot confidently say we know exactly why we dream, as the mystery of the brain becomes ever more complex with further studies. However, this theory offers quite an interesting argument.

Impossible Figures!

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An interesting thing that I recently came across was something called an impossible figure. An impossible figure is an illusion created by a two dimensional figure that the visual system subconsciously interprets as a three dimensional figure. At first, the brain processes the figure to be three dimensional but after staring at the figure for a few seconds you begin to realize that it is impossible and that figure is really two dimensional.One person who mastered this illusion was M.C. Escher. In his famous drawing Waterfall (shown below), the path that the stream of water takes appears to recede farther away rather than go to the top of the waterfall. He uses cues to enhance the height in field effect which makes the water appear to flow downhill and still end up higher than it started.
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Another famous impossible figure is the Penrose triangle(above), which appears to lie in a plane and one side seems to project out at an angle from the other two sides. Both of these images appear this way because of Gestalts laws of closure, which state that we will see objects as wholes and fill in what is missing. Here are a few more pictures below, can you see how they are impossible?

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Do You Hear What I Hear?

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Do you hear what I hear is a relatively famous song that is played at Christmas time. But one day during my Senior year in High School one of my teachers put us to the test. He played the different teen buzz sounds, or "mosquito" sounds to see if our class could hear them. Each noise had a certain age that should be able to hear it.

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The first tone, the 8000 kHz, everyone should be able to hear no matter how old you are. As expected, all of us in the class could hear the tone. Then he played the 10,000 kHz which everybody under 60 should be able to hear. Once again, everybody in the class could hear the noise. Then he played he 12,000, 14,000, and 15,000 kHz tones, which correlates to everybody under the ages of 50, 49, and 39 respectively. As predicted, the class of 18 year-old's could hear the noise, but many commentated on how faint the last tone had been. Finally my professor played the 16,000 kHz tone which people under the age of 30 should be able to hear. Much to my surprise, I couldn't hear it, and not one of my classmates could either. The entire class was 18 years old or younger, and no one could hear the tone. I was floored by the fact that nobody could hear the noise we are suppose to hear at our age. So while many people think that the new wave of ringtones could be these "mosquito" ringtones, the small sample of my class shows that even those who are suppose to benefit might not be able to.

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