Welcome to the CogBlog

January 16th, 2013 No comments

The CogBlog is created and maintained by research assistants working in the Memory and Language Lab and students enrolled in courses in cognitive psychology and memory at Colby College. The CogBlog is a space to think about and discuss recent research findings in cognitive psychology, with an emphasis on how basic research in cognition can help us understand how we navigate through our everyday lives, how we learn and remember, how we speak and listen.

The CogBlog was recently cited as one of the top psychology blogs of 2017.  You can also read an interview with Professor Jen Coane about how the blog was developed and how the content is generated.

 

 

Categories: General Tags:

Never Doubt The Power of Patterns

November 30th, 2020 No comments

Link to meme: https://conservativememes.com/i/instagram-businessmindset101-i-dont-trust-words-butinever-doubt-patterns-never-7771417.

Patterns are recurring, holistic templates used by humans during problem solving as well as performing various activities involving reasoning. Everything in the world possesses its own pattern and until these patterns are analyzed by the human mind during recognition, they remain unanalyzed (UKEssays, 2018). Some examples of patterns include waves in the ocean, stripes, symmetries, the order of the English alphabet, the structure of the various lines that comprise specific letters in this alphabet (e.g., A, B, C, D, E, F, etc.), and the way objects are structured through the specific and unique organization of an object’s features. In other words, think of a lamp. Lamps, while they can be very unique, typically follow the organization of having some type of base underneath a light bulb which is covered by a lamp shade. While it may not immediately seem like a pattern when we don’t give it much thought, it is, and despite the obscure or ornate designs of lamps in today’s society, an object’s possession of these three basic components—i.e., a base, light bulb, and some sort of lamp shade—enables us to identify unrecognized variations of this piece of furniture as lamps.

Imagine life without patterns. Difficult, right? It may be even more difficult than initially thought. Patterns provide efficiency, clarity, and a degree of certainty. However, without patterns, we would arguably have no world at all, as we would have no perception of it. Patterns impart order, allowing us to make sense of the world and ultimately survive. Patterns are everywhere and are fundamental to our understanding of the world as we rely on the order they provide to enable us to recognize and make sense of our surroundings. The first step in recognizing pattern(s) around us is the recognition of features through sensory input from our environment (Coane, 2020). In other words, when we recognize patterns, we’re taking the distal stimuli—i.e., external information in our environment—coming in through our sensory input organs (e.g., eyes, ears, skin, nose, etc.) and entering it in our sensory register in order to ultimately produce a new mental representation or proximal stimulus, or add this incoming information to a pre-existing mental representation if this information is a repeated experience or pattern (Coane, 2020). The distal stimulus varies based on which sensory system is engaged in order to recognize a pattern. For example, the distal stimulus for our visual system would be wavelengths of light coming in through our eyes, the distal stimulus for our auditory system would be sound waves coming in through our ears, that of touch or heat would be pressure and temperature information coming in from our skin, and that of scent would be chemical properties (Coane, 2020).

Two examples of how pattern recognition plays a significant role in our everyday lives are face recognition and folding laundry. I’m going to start by talking about face recognition. Everyone has unique physical features that are organized in a distinctive manner and make each person who they are. This specific composition of features allows us, as the perceiver, to differentiate one person from another in addition to facilitating our accurate identification of someone following a first encounter through our pairing of the information we are receiving in a subsequent meeting (i.e., our sensory inputs of the perceived individual’s features) with the information we have already stored in our brains from our initial encounter with that individual. Certain patterns we may recognize through face recognition include tone of voice, height, fashion style, hair color, and unique facial features such as the distance between an individual’s eyes, the size of their nose and forehead, and the shape of their mouth. Thus, as you can imagine, it would be pretty difficult to recognize individuals in our environment without being able to utilize pattern recognition to quickly match the distal stimuli (i.e., an individual’s specific features and the unique organization of said features) with the existing representations we form during our initial encounter with that person. Now, switching to my laundry example, pattern recognition also has an important role in this ordinary task as various features of our clothing such as shape, size, material, color, and weight play a part in helping us accurately and quickly identify articles of clothing when we fold them. If I were to hand you a laundry basket of clean clothes all mixed together and appearing like a big blob of cloth, and asked you to fold and sort it into long-sleeve shirts, short-sleeve shirts, pants, shorts, underwear, socks, and sweaters, I am 99.9% confident you would be able to successfully do so given your ability to recognize patterns. Through the organization of a pair of pants’ fabric—i.e., a three-holed article of clothing with one big hole at the top followed by two cylinder-like shapes each with their own separate hole at the bottom—you would be able to recognize this item as pants given your existing mental representation of this unique composition of fabric constituting pants. When folding socks, you would be able to differentiate a sock from a shirt based on its shape as a sock appears as a pocket-like item shaped like a foot with one hole at the top. Additionally, you would be able to differentiate a sock from a shirt by looking at the different sizes of these two articles of clothing. More specifically, by relying on your mental representation of socks as being smaller in comparison to an adult-sized shirt, you would be able to tell the difference between these two items of clothing. Now, imagine you do not have the ability to recognize patterns and I asked you to do this same task of folding and sorting laundry. In taking a step back and thinking about how I would approach this task without the ability to recognize patterns, I immediately thought of what I normally do when I have to utilize a newly-learned mathematical equation in a homework problem set for school: I look at my class notes detailing the steps with which the professor solved the equation in order to apply this same sequence of steps to my homework problems by simply plugging in new numbers. However, when I thought more critically about this mechanism with which I learn, I realized its obvious foundation was pattern recognition as I am undoubtedly evaluating patterns in my notes in order to apply them to my homework. My realization revealed to me how prevalent pattern recognition really is. To be quite honest, I am not sure how I would fold laundry or even begin to differentiate between various items of clothing without having the ability to recognize patterns to any extent. In fact, how does one even begin to perceive the world around them without ever having the ability to recognize patterns in any way, shape, or form? Without pattern recognition how would we form mental representations of environmental stimuli in the first place? This realization really highlights how crucial this process is in our lives and the extremely significant role it plays in the ways in which we see and interact with the world around us.

In thinking about what would happen if we were unable to recognize patterns, I thought of people who have experienced and survived traumatic accidents that may have resulted in brain damage, a loss of vision, or damage to their memory. More specifically, I thought of how such accidents can lead to specific conditions like visual agnosia, for example, which refers to the loss of the brain’s ability—in individuals with or affected by this condition—to interpret visual sensations, store knowledge from incoming visual stimuli, and thereby recognize the world around them through incoming visual stimuli (Lawson). As a result of these impairments in the visual recognition systems of people with this condition, these individuals have a difficult time perceiving the world around them as they are unable to sense visual information to form patterns in the same way they used to be able to prior to having this condition, making it extremely difficult, almost impossible, to recognize patterns in new visual stimuli (Lawson). Consequently, given how much we rely on our visual systems to perceive our surroundings specifically through the formation of mental representations based on visual patterns in our environments, people with visual agnosia often struggle to make sense of the world around them. Thinking about how much life and our perception of our world changes when visual pattern recognition is taken away highlights the great importance of patterns and reveals how this seemingly mundane ability is something many people take for granted (Lawson). Long story short, patterns play an important role in the mechanisms with which humans sense, interpret, perceive, and understand environmental information, in addition to helping humans avoid information overload, as well as make decisions, gain new knowledge, and ultimately learn (Coane, 2020; Lawson; UKEssays, 2018).

However, now that we’ve gone over a few of the many benefits of patterns and what could potentially happen in a world without pattern recognition, it is important to understand how we actually identify these repetitions in our environments. Pattern recognition is a broad topic referring to the cognitive process by which we recognize events or objects in the world and then label and identify these objects (Coane, 2020). A good pattern recognition system is fast, ignores variability that is irrelevant to the discrimination task at hand, differentiates among similar items, and is accurate (Coane, 2020). Pattern recognition requires the repetition of experience in order to function and recruits many specific cognitive processes in order to work properly, efficiently, and be successful. Unconscious inference is an example of one of these more pinpointed processes that is a component of pattern recognition. Through helping us connect the dots between prior knowledge and environmental stimuli in addition to filling in gaps of missing information from external stimuli, unconscious inference helps us make sense of and understand the world around us. The theory of unconscious inferences suggests that the human brain unconsciously utilizes top-down processes through the employment of our stored prior knowledge in order to interpret, perceive, and ultimately understand the world (McBride & Cutting). For example, if we were to look at an image of two people sitting down at a dinner table in which we can see only the top half of their bodies because the table is covering up their legs, unconscious inference would guide our conclusion that both individuals do in fact have legs. This inference is driven by our prior experiences during which we’ve observed countless people sitting down at a dinner table that have legs. Of course, it’s possible that these individuals don’t have legs although it’s statistically much less likely. Therefore, we assume that the people in this photograph have legs that are simply blocked from our view by the table. Now, think about what would happen if we didn’t have unconscious inference in this scenario. We would probably be pretty confused as to where the rest of these individual’s bodies are and question if these people even have the rest of their bodies that aren’t visible to us in the picture. This confusion would most likely take up significant mental energy and space in our brains while we during our attempt to make sense of what we are seeing which is incredibly inefficient.

In discussing the importance of both pattern recognition and unconscious inference through contemplating what would happen and what it would mean for human perception as we know it without these two cognitive processes, the critical importance both pattern recognition and unconscious inference is very obvious. In other words, without our cognitive processes of pattern recognition and unconscious inference, we would lack the ability to make reasonable, timely and most likely accurate assessments of the world around us which is ultimately vital to human survival.

 

References

Coane, J. (2020). Lecture on Perception and Pattern Recognition. Colby College.

Lawson, H. A World Without Patterns, Faces Without Meaning. Theory of Knowledge. https://www.coralgablescavaliers.org/ourpages/users/099346/IB%20Theory%20of%20Knowledge/Bastian%20Chapter%2004/Lawson%20A%20World%20Without%20Faces.pdf

McBride, D. M, & Cutting, J. C. (2019). Cognitive Psychology: Theory, Process, and Methodology. Chapter 3.

UKEssays. (2018, November). Pattern Recognition Psychology. Retrieved November 30, 2020, from https://www.ukessays.com/essays/psychology/the-pattern-recognition-definition-psychology-essay.php

When you read this, you will only look out for what confirms your prior beliefs

November 28th, 2020 No comments

Or not. But probably not. Science has demonstrated that we have a natural tendency to search for and interpret information in a way that only confirms our prior beliefs or values. Ever been doing research for a paper in a class and only searched for information and evidence that supports your argument? Now answer this. While doing that, have you ever just let yourself skip by that evidence and those examples that went against your paper thesis? I know I have. What you probably didn’t realize, though, is that what you’re doing is exhibiting what is known as confirmation bias. And you might think big deal, right? Well, it kind of is. When you ignored those counterarguments and that contradictory evidence, you were arguing through a lens that only took into account one side of the story and one version of the truth. In order to make a complete and impartial argument we must consider all of the evidence and all of the facts. Confirmation bias hinders our ability to do this. And unfortunately, we have no defense to confirmation bias–it’s an automatic process that occurs without us even being aware of it happening. Understanding the nature of confirmation bias and its effects, however, can help reduce the detrimental effects it is known to have on us and society. 

This is what confirmation bias turns our research process into without us even realizing it!

Read more…

Categories: Cognitive Bias, Education Tags:

I don’t want to think about it—Oh wait.

November 27th, 2020 No comments

Do you ever find yourself driving somewhere or walking to a place without even thinking about it? Take this for example: Your friend invited you over to their house to hang out. So you get ready to leave, jump in your car, and make your way there. As you begin to drive, you take all the normal turns you would to regularly get there until you realize you are five minutes away from their old address. They recently moved to a different house about 20 minutes from their old one, and what was going to be a 10 minute trip has turned into a 30 minute one. You’ve been to their new house before but for some reason you unconsciously still drove to their old address. Overtime, you continuously begin to remember that your friend does not, in fact, live at their old address until the association with them and their new address remains in the forefront of your mind while the old address is locked away in your archives of “things that are a distant memory”.

Inhibition is used to help block out things that we don’t necessarily want to remember.

This happens to people all the time in different scenarios during our daily lives, but why does this happen even when we know the correct route to take or decision to make? One of my favorite singer-songwriters, Olivia O’brien, made me wonder, briefly, this same thing after listening to her song “Inhibition” as it came on my playlist. I never really knew what inhibition actually meant but it really didn’t matter to me, the song was catchy and I figured it probably made sense in the context of the lyrics. Next thing I knew, we were discussing O’brien’s song title in my Cognitive Psychology class! Normally, I would be able to listen to music and go about my daily life without psychoanalyzing everything about it, but studying a subject such as cognitive psychology tends to make you question a lot of really normal processes that occur during everyday life. Taking this even further, to what extent can our inhibitory processes work sufficiently before we can’t keep unwanted memories from entering our present thinking state?

We use inhibition very often in many different situations, whether it’s something like the described scenario above, or something as simple as focusing our attention in any given moment. In many ways, inhibition is a fancy way of describing our control of memory retrieval when different cues remind us of things that we don’t necessarily want or need to remember in that moment (Levy & Anderson, 2002). This can be caused by different learned actions or traumatic experiences that link certain things in our environment to specific memories. Our inhibitory mechanisms take control of different conspicuous behaviors and they also target memories that are directly related to a cue to manage retrieval of them (Levy & Anderson, 2002). In this way, we can look at our inhibitory processes as a way for us to suppress unwanted accessibility to particular memories (Bjork, 2011). Things as simple as reading can cause us to use our inhibition to correctly read a word and find the right memory to pull into our working memory.

The Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex, Anterior Cingulate Cortex, and the Orbitofrontal Cortex all work together in the inhibition process.

So inhibition is clearly important for us in order to go about our day without being entirely conflicted with ourselves and what we are seeing and trying to interpret. But what happens when we fail to use it? It feels like it would lead to a catastrophic level explosion of information trying to be interpreted by our working memory, ending what I imagine would be a mental breakdown. Thankfully, our inhibitory neurons do a really good job at making sure this doesn’t happen. Angie McCalla, a speech and language Pathologist at Rainbow Rehabilitation Centers outlines the three parts of the brain involved in making sure our inhibition abilities are set and ready to go. Altogether, the Dorsolateral Prefrontal Cortex (DLPFC), the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC), and the Orbitofrontal Cortex (OFC) work with each other to ensure that certain unwanted responses to things we are seeing and doing don’t end up occurring. The DLPFC is used to handle different thought processes and behaviors in the moment, which includes working recall and response inhibition. The ACC helps find competing responses to a cue and works to push back the incorrect response. Lastly, the OFC manages things such as impulse control and socially appropriate behaviors. This seems like a lot and is a little confusing. It took me a second to figure this out too, but luckily Benjamin J. Levy and Michael C. Anderson thread it together nicely in their article in the 2002 issue of Trends In Cognitive Sciences. They explained that since the ACC can help identify when two responses are trying to respond to one cue, it sends a signal to the DLPFC to put more restraints on our working recall and to put our inhibitory processes into action. This then signals the OFC to make a decision as to which response is the correct one to use based on the cue we are interacting with, and in turn, signals to inhibit the other unwanted response from our working memory. 

Still with me? Okay. Now that we know way more about how inhibition works than we did before, let’s look at how Kefi Mohamed Zeid found out that people who can fluently speak more than one language generally will have a more efficient ability to inhibit information using the Stroop Task.

The Stroop Task forces us to slow down and pull apart our automatic processes and inhibit our learned behaviors to correctly complete the task.

Using a total of 180 participants (90 younger and 90 older) who spoke both Arabic and French, Zeid tested them all on the Stroop Task with a slight twist. On top of reading the words, naming the colors, and the color-word condition, the participants also had a fourth condition in which they were shown the color-word condition but in the two languages (Arabic and French). Reid and his team found that participants who were more dominant in either language performed better on that test that was in their dominant language, but participants who were balanced in both languages performed equally as well on both the French and Arabic Stroop tests. Furthermore, they saw that the un-dominant language in participants who were more dominant in one than the other, is harder to retrieve information for as the older a participant was (Zeid, 2004). You may be wondering what the point of including this was, so let me explain: Since the older participants with a bias towards one language or the other had a progressively harder time on the Stroop Task in their non-dominant language, we can understand that over time, things that are not used as often can slowly became harder to access and are suppressed more heavily by our inhibition.

Let’s circle back to our hypothetical selves driving to our friend’s house. If we think of the two addresses, old and new, as the two languages present in Zeid’s study, we can see how the old address may have once been the dominant language to us, which is why it isn’t as easy to inhibit at first. As we slowly begin to learn the new address, however, we strengthen what was initially our non-dominant language. The more we practice it and don’t practice the other language, we almost switch which one is our dominant and non-dominant source of information. Once this switch is made, the newly dominant language, or our friends new address, has easier access to our working memory, leaving the non-dominant language, or our friends old address, under a heavier influence from our inhibitory processes.

After this deep, deep dive into inhibition, what it is, and how it works, I can officially say that Olivia O’brien’s song makes a lot more sense to me now, and that she is very lyrically gifted. Maybe someone else who reads this and listen’s to the song will be able to appreciate it as much as I do right now.

 

References

Anderson, M. C., & Levy, B. J. (2016). On The Relationship Between Interference And Inhibition In Cognition. In 1084770490 823458394 A. S. Benjamin & 1084770491 823458394 R. A. Bjork (Authors), Successful remembering and successful forgetting: A festschrift in honor of Robert A. Bjork (pp. 107-132). London ; New York: Routledge, Taylor et Francis Group.

Levy, B. (2002). Inhibitory processes and the control of memory retrieval. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 6(7), 299-305. doi:10.1016/s1364-6613(02)01923-x 

McCalla, A. (2017, July 26). Executive Functioning – Where is it Controlled and How Does it Develop? / Remediation Techniques for Deficits and Dysfunction. https://www.rainbowrehab.com/executive-functioning/ 

Zied, K. M., Phillipe, A., Karine, P., Valerie, H., Ghislaine, A., Arnaud, R., & Didier, L. G. (2004). Bilingualism and adult differences in inhibitory mechanisms: Evidence from a bilingual stroop task. Brain and Cognition, 54(3), 254-256. doi:10.1016/j.bandc.2004.02.036

A Stereotypical Blog Post

November 27th, 2020 No comments

During my sophomore year of high school, my once favorite teacher—Mrs. Kahler—shamelessly looked at me, smiled, and exclaimed, “You’re lucky! God taught you Jews how to handle money well! It’s in your blood.” At the time, I actually didn’t mind. I had heard my fair share of jokes about Jews and, perhaps naturally, something about me—be it my nose, financial status, or diet—always seemed to be the punchline. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but inform her that those “Jews are great with money” jokes aren’t funny—nor are they particularly accurate. Unfortunately, this experience is common. In fact, even Vice President-elect Kamala Harris has to deal with harmful, pejorative stereotypes. Most recently, Harris experienced these stereotypes from President Donald Trump himself, as he appeared to weaponize the classic trope of the ‘angry Black woman,’ labeling her “nasty,” “mad,” and “angry” after an impressive cross-examination of then-Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Most recently, Harris faced public criticism following her debate against Vice President Mike Pence, after she faced repeated interruptions and simply attempted to keep the discussion fair by saying, “I’m speaking.”  Read more…

Be happy. Be productive

November 26th, 2020 No comments

The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened fear, social isolation, and economic anxiety across many communities around the country.  In a recent survey of roughly 300 American workers, about 40% said they feel less productive than usual during the pandemic (Ducharme, 2020). College students, including those at Colby College, are not immune to similar feelings such as a lack of productivity, inability to pay attention, and an overall decrease in work performance. When talking to students at Colby College there is a general consensus that one’s ability to focus on one’s work has decreased in addition to overall cognitive performance. This general belief of decreased productivity and ability got me thinking about possible reasons for this widespread feeling. I began to wonder, “have students become lazier?”, “have Colby College students become less intelligent?”, or “have classes become harder?”. Logically thinking through these questions, I conclude a reasonable answer to these questions is “no” to all. But what could be driving these changes in cognitive performance across the Colby campus and beyond? Thinking back to my own peaks in academic performance, I think about the times in which I have seen the greatest success. Overall, I have found that my academic performance seems to be positively correlated with my level of happiness. These observations from the world of the pandemic, my own life, and the general trends on the Colby campus this year has led me to wonder, how do emotions affect one’s cognitive performance? Due to the magnitude of studies varying by different moods and cognitive processes, this blog will primarily focus on positive mood’s effects on learning and memory.

 

Fray, B. (2020). ‘I’m sick and tired of your mood swings, Frank!’. Cartoon Stock, https://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/m/mood_swings.asp

 

Feelings consume daily lives, yet we fail to fully recognize their impact on our cognitive functions. Mood can be described as a dispositional state that lasts for several minutes or hours (Mitchell & Phillips, 2007). While research on emotional science did not emerge as an organized specialty until the introduction of the International Society for Research and Emotions (ISRE) in the mid-1980s, many studies following this period have revealed the diverse and prolific ways positive emotions can affect human’s ability to learn. A leader in research on positive emotions, Barbara Fredrickson states, “positive emotions are brief, multisystem responses to changes in the way people interpret their current situation. When this response registers good prospects or functions, a positive mood is produced (Fredrickson, 2013). Researchers have found that negative and positive emotions alike evolved from selective pressures related to survival. While negative emotions are important for flight and fleeing responses, positive emotions allow for strategic and long term actions. According to a 2013 study, positive emotions play a great role in humans’ past and present ability to make discoveries, acquire new knowledge, form new alliances, and gain new skills. (Fredrickson, 2013). According to these ideas, positive emotions as a whole can help with new skills and knowledge, positive emotions should be able to help with academic performance. The Broaden-and-build theory proposes that positive emotions broaden people’s thoughts and actions. Research has found that positive moods can be linked to broadened cognition in a variety of characteristics increase creativity (Isen, 1987), visual attentional expansion(Rowe et al, 2007), and beyond.

 

 Alice Isen has been a leader in mood effects on cognitive performance. Throughout her research, she has found that positive affect as a whole gives rise to enlarged cognitive context (Isen, 1987). One of her studies conducted in 1978 found that positive mood has been shown to facilitate a broader focus of attention and memory ability. For example, she found that individuals in a positive mood state can recall more words than those in a negative mood state (Isen et al., 1978). This ability to recall more words could be due to positive effects, the tendency to see more relatedness and interconnections among various thoughts and further process material in a more integrated and flexible fashion. In one of her research experiments, she found that relative to individuals in a neutral control condition, individuals in a positive mood were able to name more unusual associations to neutral words. Going off of this research, Isen also found that those in a positive mood used more inclusive categories as a whole (Isen & Duabman, 1984). In this study, those in a positive mood sorted a set of 14 colored chips into fewer categories than those in a neutral mood. Increasing the amount of information placed into a smaller subset of categories is referred to as chunking. Miller pointed out that limits in our working memory capacity for processing information led to the necessity of organizing items into chunks. Due to the limited capacity of short-term memory, when placed into chunks of information based on prior knowledge, this allows the new information to become easier to retain and recall. Isen’s finding that positive moods increase inclusion in categories demonstrates that the chunking process can be aided and therefore memory recall. This idea of enhanced ability to chunk information due to positive mood is further supported by a study that found that consumers are more likely to encode a brand’s category membership when they are examining a brand named in a positive mood (Anderson & Bower, 1973). This result is proposed to be caused by an increased number of brands to be linked during encoding by an associated network. This allows an increased number of brands to be used as an effective cue for retrieval of a target brand. The enhanced chunking can thus free resources to encode more brands and categories. Due to positive emotions’ ability to increase chunking capacity, people are able to obtain more information which can aid in learning and performance. This increased ability to chunk could be explained by additional Isen findings that people in positive moods are better at creative thinking. This research conducted in 1987 found that subjects in positive affect conditions were able to break the normal route and see additional features of items used in the task that aided their full potential for solving the problem (Isen et al., 1987). Creative problem solving is crucial for academic and lifelong success. 

 

Further research supported Isen’s proposition that positive emotions can increase attention as a whole. In a study conducted by Wadlngr and Isaacowitz (2006), they found that when participants were asked to look at one central image and two peripheral images in various locations, those that were induced to be in a good mood changed the focus of their gaze more frequently, and looked more at the peripherally located images. This data further suggests that not only do people in positive moods broaden their scope of general attention but this extends to people’s visual attention and semantic attention Rowe et al., (2007). In order to understand, memorize, and recall this before us, we must first pay attention to it. Attention allows you to “tune out” information, sensations, and perceptions that are not relevant at the moment and instead focus your energy on the information that’s important. The ability to tune out irrelevant information is crucial in a place where someone needs to learn and thus aids in performance as a whole. In summary, Isen’s research along with supportive research is able to show that people in positive moods in comparison to those in a neutral state are able to offer more unusual cognitive associations, create and use more inclusive categories, recall larger numbers of words, and freeform better on standard tests on creative thinking. These enhancements would suggest that positive moods broaden a person’s scope of cognition, and therefore can positively influence a person’s academic and work performance. 

 

Fran (2020). “People aren’t happy enough…I want a 15% increase in happiness by the 1st of the month or heads will roll!”. Cartoonstock. https://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/p/personal_contentment.asp

 

So how exactly are positive emotions able to help with our problem-solving abilities, recall, and overall performance? One prominent theory of mood proposed by Ashby, looks at these benefits through a biological lens, stating that the benefits of consolidation of long-term episodic memory, working memory, and the ability to problem-solve are due to the release of dopamine in the anterior cingulate (Ashby et al., 1999). While some studies have concluded that positive emotions produce many benefits, other studies demonstrate that there are limitations to positive emotion’s perceived benefits. One of the earliest theories of mood and cognitive function, the mood-congruency framework, tends to maintain that the effects of positive and negative mood states are thought to bias information in favor of mood-congruent stimuli (Bower, 1981). This proposed theory elicits that while positive moods can enhance memory, it does so primarily when the information is in itself positive or was learned in a positive state of mind. Additionally, research has found that while positive moods can broaden a person’s attention, this broadened perspective can come at a cost of higher distractibility (Dreisbach & Gischke) and harder time ignoring task irrelevant tasks (Rowe et al., 2007). While there remains to be some controversy on the extent to the benefits of positive mood, its significant effects on creative problem solving, chunking ability, and attention demonstrates that positive emotions have the ability to improve academic performance. While it is incredibly hard to keep a good mood during this time on campus and at home, you should know that the effort to be in a good mood can go a long way for your academic long term performance. 

 

Freepik (2018). Group of happy business people in a meeting at office. FeePik. https://www.freepik.com/premium-photo/group-happy-business-people-meeting-office_2549456.htm

 

 

Reference

Anderson, J. R., & Bower, G. H. (1972). Recognition and retrieval processes in free recall. Psychological Review, 79(2), 97–123. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0033773

Ashby, F. G., Isen, A. M., & Turken, A. U. (1999). A neuropsychological theory of positive affect and its influence on cognition. Psychological Review, 106(3), 529-550. doi:10.1037/0033-295X.106.3.529

Bower, G. H. (1981). Mood and memory. American Psychologist, 36(2), 129–148. https://doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.36.2.129

Ducharme, J. (2020). How to Concentrate and Focus During the COVID-19 Pandemic. https://time.com/5878780/how-to-focus-covid-19-pandemic/. 

Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. the broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. The American Psychologist, 56(3), 218-226. doi:10.1037//0003-066X.56.3.218

Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). Positive emotions broaden and build. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 47, 1-53. doi:10.1016/B978-0-12-407236-7.00001-2

Isen, A. M., & Daubman, K. A. (1984). The influence of affect on categorization. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 47(6), 1206–1217. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.47.6.1206

Isen, A. M., Daubman, K. A., & Nowicki, G. P. (1987). Positive affect facilitates creative problem solving. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 52(6), 1122-1131. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.52.6.1122

Isen, A. M., Johnson, M. M. S., Mertz, E., & Robinson, G. F. (1985). The influence of positive affect on the unusualness of word associations. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48(6), 1413-1426. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.48.6.1413

Isen, A. M., Shalker, T. E., Clark, M., & Karp, L. (1978). Affect, accessibility of material in memory, and behavior: A cognitive loop? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 36(1), 1-12. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.36.1.1

Mitchell RLC, Phillips LH. The psychological, neurochemical and functional neuroanatomical mediators of the effects of positive and negative mood on executive functions. Neuropsychologia. 2007;45:617–629.

Rowe, G., Hirsh, J. B., & Anderson, A. K. (2006;2007;). Positive affect increases the breadth of attentional selection. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences – PNAS, 104(1), 383-388. doi:10.1073/pnas.0605198104

Wadlinger, H. A., & Isaacowitz, D. M. (2006). Positive mood broadens visual attention to positive stimuli. Motivation and Emotion, 30(1), 87-99. doi:10.1007/s11031-006-9021-1

Are You Sure You Remember?

November 25th, 2020 No comments

When I was four years old, I accidentally set myself on fire. I vividly remember going up close to a candle and the next thing I knew, the front of my shirt was engulfed in a flame. I then remember screaming for my parents, who emerged from opposite sides of our apartment and managed to put out the fire. However, my mum remembers this story quite differently. Her narration goes, “You were trying to put out the flame of a candle, so you used your shirt to help you. It then caught on fire, and you screamed so your father, and I together ran out and put the fire out.”

So now the question is, which version is right? While they both contain the same big picture, the smaller details are quite different. Now I’m sure I’m not the first person to argue with my mum over whose version of the story is correct, but you would think that with a reasonably traumatic moment like that, both of us would remember it better.

When you truly belive in what your saying but there is a high chance you are wrong

This is where confabulation comes in. Confabulation is one of many memory errors that we humans tend to encounter. It mainly happens when someone has a gap in their memory, so it gets filled with misconstrued, distorted or even made-up information. There are two different types of confabulation, spontaneous and provoked. Spontaneous confabulations occur when recalling information or memories, like our scenario above. However, provoked confabulations are quite different. These occur when someone is asked a direct question that then provokes a false memory. In fact, these two types of confabulations have two different mechanisms, meaning that they are completely separate from one another.

There are two different types of confabulation, spontaneous and provoked. Spontaneous confabulations occur when recalling information or memories, like our scenario above. However, provoked confabulations are quite different. These happen when someone is asked a direct question that then provokes a false memory. These two types of confabulations have two different mechanisms, meaning that they are entirely separate from one another.

Example of a police interview

So why should you care? It may be clear by now that spontaneous are quite difficult to avoid. One the other hand, provoked confabulations can be quite dangerous. Questioning someone is a crucial step in solving crimes, but what if confabulation impacted a witnesses claims. Research has shown that something as simple as confirmatory feedback during an interview can increase one’s confabulations. Confirmatory feedback can be saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ but can even be a nod or a head shake, all things that are vital communication tools for humans. In one such study titled Interviewing Witnesses: Forced Confabulation and Confirmatory Feedback Increase False Memories researchers asked a couple of adult participants to watch a video and then asked them questions on this video. These questions were asked in a face to face manner where participants were forced to confabulate the details of the video they just watched. The researchers used confirmatory statements such as, ‘Yes ___ is the correct answer” for select answers and reposed with neutral statements such as “Okay ___” for the rest. The results of this study are quite fascinating if I can say so myself. Not only was there a direct impact of confabulation on the creation of false memories a week later, but they also found the participants increased confidence in those false memories increased the chances that they would still be recalling the confabulated events one to two months later! This particular study shows just how easily people can be manipulated without realizing it and how long the impacts of provoked confabulation can last.

Now you may be thinking; clearly, these people are lying! But this here is the power of confabulation. The person who’s the mind has confabulated truly believes that what they remember is accurate. Confabulation has even been dubbed “honest lying” due to this. Unfortunately, this also makes it hard to identify whether someone’s memories are accurate or not.

 

You may not remember exactly what happened

Due to this, it can also have some serious effects that could impact other peoples lives. For example, let’s say Michelle witnesses a robbery from a store in her town. Since she was an eyewitness, she is then interviewed by the police so that they may find the suspect. The police may ask her what detail’s she remembers, and may even ask her to create a timeline of her day. However, let’s say that the police have an idea of who it could be, but there is no hard evidence against this person, they may try and influence Michelle’s answers through provoked confabulation. Or even if there is no malicious intent in the questions the police ask, it still may impact what she remembers. In one study, they found that when something appears likely to have happened, we are more willing to reduce our criteria to make a judgement of how accurate this information is. So, as a result, a witness will appear more confident if the scenario was likely to happen. Social psychologist Elizabeth Brimacombe explains in her ted talk that confidence can play a massive role in eyewitness testimony. However, despite this, accuracy does not necessarily increase. (There some other great blog posts to learn more about the complications of eyewitness testimony like this one!)

The consequences of provoked confabulation in such circumstances could be severe. If an eyewitness remembers a couple of details different to what happened, the wrong person may get convicted. Other situation could be that the case never gets solved since the recalled details do not match with the reality of the event. Unfortunately, confabulation has impacted real-life crimes, where some have even been completely fabricated! In one such case, criminal psychologist Julia Shaw heard of a case where two sisters reported that a female family friend sexually assaulted them both. However, after a lot of interviews and questions, Shaw concluded that the stories the sister were telling are not 100% true and that they were false memories. However, had no one been there to analyze their answers, then an innocent person could have gone to jail.

I hope it has become clear that confabulations are no joke. So the next time you are arguing with someone over who recalls a memory more accurate, remember that there is a very high chance that both you have confabulated.

Confabulations are unavoidable

 

References

Afrederick2001. (2020). I’ve attended a police station for a voluntary interview… but been arrested! Is this lawful? Retrieved from https://andrewfrederickblog.wordpress.com/2019/10/15/ive-attended-a-police-station-for-a-voluntary-interview-but-been-arrested-is-this-lawful/

Bryce, E. (2017, October 31). False memories and false confessions: The psychology of imagined crimes. Wired. https://www.wired.co.uk/article/false-memory-syndrome-false-confessions-memories

I know I’m right But I don’t know how to prove it or what to say – Mean Girls Meme. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://makeameme.org/meme/i-know-im-5cc1bd

TedxTalks (2014). Social influence and eyewitness testimony. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rzpgyIKBS40

Wade, K. A., Green, S. L., & Nash, R. A. (2009). Can fabricated evidence induce false eyewitness testimony? Applied Cognitive Psychology, 24(7), 899-908. doi:10.1002/acp.1607

What if my false memory is a false memory of a false memory?: Tumblr. (2018). Retrieved from https://knowyourmeme.com/photos/1026134-tumblr

Wiggins, A. (2020). Confabulation. NCBI. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK536961/

X, X Everywhere – Confabulations Confabulations … (n.d.). Retrieved from https://memegenerator.net/instance/64934951/x-x-everywhere-confabulations-confabulations-everywhere

Zaragoza, M. S., Payment, K. E., Ackil, J. K., Drivdahl, S. B., & Beck, M. (2001). Interviewing Witnesses: Forced Confabulation and Confirmatory Feedback Increase False Memories. Psychological Science, 12(6), 473-477. doi:10.1111/1467-9280.00388

Categories: Memory Tags: ,

Lower that cynical finger…and consider pointing it at yourself!

November 25th, 2020 No comments

Yep, we are talking about you!

I’m sure we are all accustomed to that tingling power-trip feeling of blaming all of our personal and world problems on others. Heck no, global warming is not your fault.
Heck no, you aren’t the reason why that last relationship didn’t work out. Of course your lab partner is going to take more credit for that assignment than he or she actually deserves… Right? Now I know this might be a little distressing to hear, but this whole cynical worldview you’ve got going on… It’s not a great look. Not only is it inaccurate, but it’s making you look a little bit like a Debby Downer. Now hear me out, prove to me you aren’t a hopeless cynic by fighting the assumption that this post is a jumble of nonsense written by a college student. I can give you a second to decide if you want to give this a shot…

Drop that attitude!

Oh great, so you do! Let’s try and shake this cynical shroud, shall we, and rip off that biased blindfold, because I think it’s about time you hear about the ways in which all of this cynicism can really throw you off your game. I hate to tell you, but oftentimes this ‘tude is hurting you more than helping you.
 Just try to sit back and relax while we walk through this together. I’m sure keeping your guard up all the time has been exhausting. Maybe we can change that and provide you with a little more clarity about others and yourself.

You, my friend, are suffering from the cognitive bias that psychologists Kruger and Gilovich (1999) like to call naïve cynicism. This rests on the three basic principles that a) people believe they are unbiased; b) people believe all others are biased; and c) people believe the intentions and actions of others reflect these egocentric biases and therefore are innately motivated by self-interest. This bias branches off of a similar bias known as naïve realism, where each and every individual believes that their world-view is objective (pffft, yeah right) meaning that anyone who opposes them has either misaligned morals or cognition.

This tendency for cynicism means that when doling out credit and blame, we tend to assume that people will overestimate deserved credit for activities that reflect positively on them, and underestimate deserved blame for activities that might reflect negatively on them. For example, couples were more likely to expect that their spouse would claim more than their realistic share for desirable activities such as resolving relationship conflicts or tailoring their appearance to please one another. The couples also expected their spouse to claim less than their share in undesirable activities such as causing arguments or forgetting tasks such as paying the bills. This might leave you wondering why a couple would choose to stay in a relationship when they think so poorly of each other. Before you go comparing these expectations to those you hold for your little special someone, further observation showed that people are much more accountable than we may think, jumping to take more blame for negative outcomes than credit for positive outcomes (Kruger & Gilovich, 1999). Rest assured, more people are likely to own up to mistakes than you might have anticipated.

People generally believe that others are motivationally biased to serve their own interests, where studies actually show that this is not always the case, and that when it is, it is to a much lesser degree than what is assumed (Kruger & Gilovich, 1999). For example, a study used a video game where pairs were pitted against a common foe. In order to win the game, each player needed to be other-serving, as failure on their part would also hurt their teammate. Unfortunately, teammates inaccurately assumed that their partner would take more than their fair share of the credit for desirable game outcomes and less of their share of the blame for undesirable outcomes. In reality, individuals actually took on more blame than credit. Maybe next time you should consider that your lab partner wants to help make your share of the workload easier instead of harder.

As I mentioned earlier, one of the key principles of naïve cynicism is the tendency of an individual to neglect bias in their own behaviors/opinions. As humans, we suffer from this little handicap known as the “bias blind spot,”which causes individuals to vehemently declare their judgements as being less susceptible to bias than those of their corrupted counterparts. We tend to crown ourselves with perfect objectivity.

The Bias Nametag

On a certain level, this makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s not like anyone wants to slap the label of bias on their foreheads. The disparaging connotations of the word “bias” drives individuals to try and downplay its presence in their lives, and if possible, to dissociate with it altogether. This can inhibit individuals from accurately perceiving bias in their own actions and judgements (Pronin et al., 2004). Still think this doesn’t apply to you? Well, you aren’t alone. Even Stanford students reported that they were supposedly less susceptible than the average American to a whole slew of cognitive biases (Pronin et al., 2004).

What’s worse you might ask? We are so blinded from our own bias that when looking inward to our own identities and past experiences, we tend to assume that out judgments and perceptions are not only unbiased but are enlightened. (Ehrlinger et al. 2005). You naïve cynic you… You think you have acted not because of your preferences but in spite of them! But is our introspection all it’s cracked up to be? Sadly, no. Turning to introspection doesn’t eliminate bias in our own judgements, it only exacerbates them. Although we analyze our own thoughts, we do not fully understand the unconscious processes that led us to them. It appears as though it’s time to wake up and smell the roses darling; we aren’t all enlightened experts.

On the rare chance that an individual does own up to bias, they still rate themselves as being less influenced by bias than others (Ehrlinger et al. 2005). This is the classic case of “yeah I messed up, but not as much as the next guy.” To avoid the persecution of bias, naïve cynics often precede opinion statements with declarative warnings such as “I may be biased but…” This gives the false illusion that the individual is openly displaying their bias, when in fact, they are only making such assertions for the eyes of the public. People hope that by raising awareness that they have considered bias in their statement, they can suggest that their judgement is actually unbiased (Pronin et al., 2004).

So now I’m sure you are wondering, why does this even matter? “Leave me perched upon my high horse in a cesspool of cynicism… it’s my own right!” This is a huge, and I mean HUGE red flag that our systems of metacognition aren’t as sharp as we had thought. One’s awareness of their own cognitive processes oftentimes isn’t as accurate as he or she would believe. If it isn’t already evident, this should be a massive wake-up call that our perception of reality is not always a realistic representation. These errors in metacognition can be observed by examining the impact of technology on driving. For example, people think they are experts at talking on a cellphone while driving, when in fact they operate with a significantly reduced awareness and narrower field of vision (Strayer et al., 2011) Not only does our metacognition cause us to miss aspects of our reality, it also morphs and creates illusions within our realities. According to educational psychologist Peter Doolittle, as humans, we are meaning making machines, and therefore, when we see behavior that misaligns with ours, we seek to find explanations. Unfortunately, this explanation, as we see with naïve cynicism, is the assumption that these actions are being driven by self-serving biases.

All of these incorrect assumptions can lead to social conflict, blame, and distrust among partners, peers, and coworkers (Ehrlinger et al. 2005). Sounds messy, right? You might be quick to think that when your mom “forgot” to pick up your favorite ice-cream at Hannaford, that it was actually her plan all along; a strategy to pursue her self-serving motivation to be a “better mom” and force you to eat healthier. Perhaps, in actuality, she became stressed about starting dinner on time and so sped home after work, the only thought in her head about how long the oven would take to preheat. In the discussed studies above, Kruger and Golovich (1999) show that couples tend to see each other in a cynical light, assuming they think more about themselves than their significant other. This constant misinterpretation can manifest in gross miscommunications and subsequent relationship strain. Your sweetheart could be at risk!  In fact, naïve cynicism can deter us from even entering into relationshipsassuming people are only invested in serving themselves in a relationship than serving another.

Naïve cynicism is not limited to intimate relationships, however, and can affect peer relations by exacerbating intergroup conflict. People tend to see personal connections as being a source of bias among those who share an opposing view and as a source of enlightenment for those who share a similar connection. This demonstrates the ingroup and out-group effects that results from racial stereotyping. For example, a study by Ehrlinger and colleagues (2015) found that Caucasian students were more likely to report that ethnicity would be more of a biased influence for an ethnic/racial minority individual than for a Caucasian individual. In contrast, minority individuals believed ethnicity would be a more biased influence for a Caucasian individual then a minority individual. Each group demonstrated naïve cynicism, believing that ethnicity would serve as a source of enlightenment for members of their in-group and as a source of bias for members of their out-group (Ehrlinger et al. 2005).

Are you contributing to clique culture?

These same assumptions of bias are found between varsity and intramural athletes, which are very pronounced social groups on college campuses like Colby. Non-athletic cliques waste no time in assuming a student-athlete’s only motivations revolve around success in their sport. The next thing you know, a missing athlete in your psychology class may be assumed to be ditching her academic responsibilities for a game. Seems likely right? Well did you consider that she may have been sick, or even attending a funeral? Yeah, I thought not. Here, naïve cynicism widens social chasms, directing individual behavior toward exclusive groups. Your cynical judgements could be causing you to miss out on a quality friendship. It’s like we have taken a page straight from the book of Regina George.

Don’t even get me started on how naïve cynicism fuels politics. According to Robinson and colleagues (1995) this bias amplifies political polarization, causing individuals to perceive a greater gap between oppositional political views than is accurate (Pronin et al., 2004). Naïve cynicism would have you believe that political identities are limited to either flaming conservatives or radical liberals, a hyperpolarization of the political spectrum which eliminates tolerance for moderate views. Since when was taking middle ground on an issue a sin? Suddenly, all we are left with is a self-perpetuating cycle of conflict and aggression; either our opponents are trying to “pull a fast one” over on us, or they are simply stubborn and “irrational” in their beliefs. This hyperpolarization makes the prospect of reconciliation and productive conversation seemingly unattainable, pitting the nation against each other. How could we expect to work with someone who only cares about their own interests and will fail to take responsibility for negative outcomes?  

Democrats vs Republicans: The endless cycle of political blame.

In order to help combat these political consequences of naïve cynicism, authors Benforado and Hanson (2008) suggest that individuals attempt to understand behavior through a situationist rather than a dispositional perspective. Observers will typically attribute characteristic rather than situational explanations for the responses of others, more so than they would for themselves. This makes sense, for when one is an actor in an event, they tend to be focused more on the situation, whereas an observer of an event tends to be more focused of the behavior of the actors (Pronin et al., 2004). These cynical attributions affect policy landscape, causing laws and legal theories to be shaped by unsupported institutions and outward assertions of bias, ignorance, and misinformation.

We make the same cynical attributions of bias not only onto opposing political actors, but also onto third-party actors such as media outlets that attempt to report reality in shades of grey rather than in black and white. Although the job of these sources is to supposedly offer neutral/unbiased views on subjects, when we encounter such attempts to view world issues in shades of grey, we believe they are automatically in support of the other side and thus biased (Pronin et al., 2004).

Are we mistaking greedy fictional characters for individuals in real life?

Why not give the situationist position a try? This outlook will allow us to entertain the idea that unequal policy outcomes are a result of unequal situations and justices rather than the sole blame of greedy individuals. This allows us to see events in the world through shades of grey rather than the hyper-polarized black-white, right-wrong dichotomy (Benforado & Hanson, 2008). Let’s save that old school black-and-white vision for the 1960s, shall we?

Some have speculated whether the effects of naïve cynicism are being exacerbated by literary genres, where dark, egocentric, self-motivating characters are being mistaken for the
dispositions of real-life individuals. Not everyone is trying to kill us with a poison apple or ambush us at our wedding (come on, you GoT fans, I know the Red Wedding episode got your head spinning) (Inglis-Akell, 2014).

Now, now, try and stay calm. I know it’s upsetting to realize that this naïve cynicism has been affecting not only the way you view your personal relationships, but also your relationships in the world at large, and perhaps most importantly, your relationship with yourself. That’s okay, you aren’t alone. TRUST ME. You aren’t special. Everyone suffers from this bias, as it is a natural automatic process. The next step here is not to run around telling everyone to cool it with their judgement. We all have to accept that this cognitive bias, much like many other biases, are a normal psychological process, and are not an “essential characteristic” of any specific out-group (Ehrlinger et al. 2005).

Woohoo! You’ve now become aware of this cognitive bias! This is one important step in helping to overcome these processes and shift the way we operate and interact with others. Now that we can see how the opinions and motivations of others are often more sincere then self-serving, we can hopefully better empathize with one another. There is just one more teensy thing… remember that bias blind spot we were talking about earlier? … Yeah… Ahem… you still have that! Being aware of naïve cynicism does not make you immune! To think that this blog entry was going to absolve you of your biases is a whole other ball game, and by ball game I mean bias. Keep your eyes and hearts open. Listen, communicate, and don’t be so cynical. Next time you lift a finger to judge someone, consider looking at yourself instead.

 

 

 

References

Bauer, K. (2018, October 2). [Mean Girls]. Retrieved November 16, 2020, from https://blockclubchicago.org/2018/10/02/mean-girls-fans-oct-3-means-trivia-wearing-pink-and-more-at-hq-beercade/

Benforado, A., & Hanson, J. (2007). Naïve Cynicism: Maintaining False Perceptions in Policy                 Debates. Emory LJ57, 499.

Brookline Nine-Nine GIF [GIF]. (n.d.). NBC Brooline Nine-Nine.

[Cynical Cartoon of Cinderella and Prince Charming]. (n.d.). Retrieved November 16, 2020, from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/152840981076949007/

Ehrlinger, J., Gilovich, T., & Ross, L. (2005). Peering Into the Bias Blind Spot: People’s Assessments of Bias in Themselves and Others. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin,31(5), 680-692. doi:10.1177/0146167204271570

Government shutdown: Political Cartoons [Republicans and Democrats blaming each other]. (2018, January 21). Retrieved November 16, 2020, from https://www.dailynews.com/2018/01/21/government-shutdown-political-cartoons/

Inglis-Arkell, E. (2015, December 16). Has Naive Cynicism Become A Literary Problem? Retrieved November 16, 2020, from https://io9.gizmodo.com/has-naive-cynicism-become-a-literary-problem-1546158847

Kipe, D. (2015). [Image of Oscar the Grouch]. Retrieved November 16, 2020, from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/cynicism-enemy-progress-creativity-dave-kipe/

Kruger, J., & Gilovich, T. (1999). “Naive cynicism” in everyday theories of responsibility assessment: On biased assumptions of bias. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology,76(5), 743-753. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.76.5.743

Pronin, E., Gilovich, T., & Ross, L. (2004). Objectivity in the eye of the beholder: divergent perceptions of bias in self versus others. Psychological review111(3), 781.

Three Hours Later (Can you move it along? I’m all out of time cards.) [From the SpongeBob Episode Wet Painters]. (2002). Retrieved November 16, 2020, from https://spongebob.fandom.com/wiki/List_of_time_cards

Toodystark, & Guerin, K. (n.d.). [Hello, I’m Biased and I won’t admit it Nametag]. Retrieved November 16, 2020, from https://www.redbubble.com/i/sticker/Hello-I-m-Your-Name-Here-by-toodystark/20793412.EJUG5

Are you sure about that? How different lineup presentations affect eyewitness testimony

November 24th, 2020 No comments

Imagine that you find yourself being a stand-in for a police lineup, they called you in because you roughly match the profile of the suspect. Yet you know in your heart that you never committed the crime, you were sitting on your couch at the time that the crime occurred, but nobody could verify your whereabouts. You glance around at the other people in the lineup with you, and you notice that they bear a strange resemblance to you, like a bad photocopy. But you know that there is a possibility that the real suspect, the actual person who committed the crime is somewhere in the lineup. Behind the two way mirror stands a victim, pointing to your face and telling the detectives with earnest that it was you who they saw. Next thing you know, you are locked up in a prison cell in a scratchy uniform with dangerous criminals eyeing you up. For 15 years you maintain innocence and for 15 years you sit and wait for justice to be served. But it never does. You serve your full sentence for the murder of someone that you didn’t even know. 15 years of your life that you will never get back. Your reputation is ruined and there is no going back to the way things were before. False eyewitness identifications are the leading cause of wrongful convictions, most for major crimes such as murder and rape. And while you may be moping about that the entire criminal justice system failed YOU (and it most certainly did), the actual perpetrator is still walking free! This situation is exactly what Sir William Blackstone warned against in his famous statement that it is “It is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer” – meaning that it is better to focus on finding those who are guilty but not at the expense that an innocent person should go to jail. 

A peep in a simultaneous line-up

The devastating consequences of arresting innocent people and locking them in jail for several years can be exemplified in the case of the Exonerated Five, in which five youth individuals who were African American and Hispanic were imprisoned for aggravated assault and rape of a jogger in Central Park (read more about them here). They served out their sentences before being exonerated when the true perpetrator confessed. Instead of going to high school and being a carefree teen like the rest of individuals in their age group (14-16), the Exonerated Five were sitting in prison for a crime they did not commit. Eyewitness identification did not play a role in this case, but the Exonerated Five exemplifies how harmful wrongful imprisonment is. As it relates to eyewitness identification, when the people in the lineup are a different race than the eyewitness, they are already at a disadvantage. The Own-Race Effect is the phenomenon that occurs when we can recognize people that are of our own race better than people of different races (read more here). This puts BIPOC (black/indigenous/people/of/color) at a higher risk of being misidentified, especially when the rates of black people getting arrested is disproportionately larger than any other raceHundreds of innocent people (a majority of them BIPOC) have been sent to jail for major crimes such as rape and murder on the basis of eyewitness testimony. The Innocence Project works at exonerating people stuck in this situation on the basis of DNA evidence.

Read more…

Moving From Autopilot Towards Mindfulness

November 24th, 2020 No comments

https://memebase.cheezburger.com/tag/zoning-outHave you ever been carrying on a conversation with a friend when you realize you have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about–let alone how you’re still talking? Or, maybe you’ve been driving when you blink and an entire hour goes by leaving you wondering where your mind went… and how your car is still intact? I could just be a bad friend, or a slacker driver, but I suspect I’m not alone. It’s likely that you’re zoned out a lot more often than you realize, and this isn’t without negative repercussions. In 2010, Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert used a phone app to randomly record what 2,250 subjects’ minds were focused on in a specific moment in relation to what they were doing and how they were feeling. They discovered that the average person spends about 47% of their day on “autopilot,” following automated behaviors while their thoughts wander from the task at hand. Equally intriguing, when the participants reported their mind wandering, they also reported being significantly less happy in that moment. It may be unsettling to realize that you aren’t consciously aware of your behavior for half of your day, and that generally the more time we spend directed by automated behaviors, the less happy we’re likely to feel. (Killingsworth, 2010)
Read more…

The Rise of Opinionated News Sources: How Confirmation Bias is Affecting How We Vote

November 24th, 2020 No comments

As Donald Trump’s four year term is coming to a close, people all over the United States–and the world– were more anxious than ever to see who would win the election. Would Trump be rewarded with a second term, or would former Vice-President Joe Biden get enough votes to make Trump the first one-term President since Clinton beat Bush in 1992? Regardless of the fact that Biden won, one thing is clear: our country seems to be more politically divided than ever before. The rise of biased news sources combined with the power of confirmation bias have contributed to much of our current, incredibly-divided, political climate.

Walter Cronkite, a retired CBS news anchor who was widely trusted by Middle America.

Before cable and internet news, the three television networks in the United States were ABC, CBS, and NBC. Because they had to appeal to very broad and diverse audiences, these networks relayed the news of the day fairly objectively, and it was challenging to decipher whether news anchors, such as Walter Cronkite, were liberal or conservative based on their reporting (Poniewozik). Over the last 30 years, with the rise of cable and internet news, news sources have become increasingly more biased and focused on niche audiences. These networks are supplying the public with opinionated accounts of what’s going on instead of seeking to simply report objective facts (Pearson). Those who follow the news know that many networks and sites like CNN, the Atlantic, the Daily Beast, and MSNBC are left-leaning news sources, and thus share the news from a more liberal point of view. The opposite is true for networks like Fox News, Breitbart and the National Review, which are right leaning and promote more conservative opinions, as expressed through the data found by AllSides–a Media Bias chart that collects information from people across the political spectrum through blind bias surveys, editorial reviews, independent reviews, and third party data.
Read more…