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.



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Test 3

May 24th, 2022 No comments

Yet another test.

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Can Animals Time Travel?

May 16th, 2022 No comments

Have you ever looked into your pet’s eyes and wondered what is going on inside their head? If they really love you? If they can recall your past adventures together? You’re not alone! One of the biggest questions about nonhuman animals’ minds is whether they can have complex thoughts like humans do. Unfortunately, we are not able to simply ask them yet. 

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Ever been mistaken for the other Black student in your class by a White professor?

May 16th, 2022 No comments

Ever been mistaken for the other Black student in your class by a White professor? Is it because you both look alike? Do you resemble one another? Or is it because your face is unrecognizable? Let me tell you, it’s not you, you aren’t the problem. Recognizing faces is a critical part of many social interactions as is the combination of how our ingroup and outgroup biases inform how we recognize people in other social groups.

A visual representation of what the confusion on Black students' face when they get mistake for somebody else
A visual representation of the confusion on Black students’ face when they get mistake for somebody else
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Think Carefully… But in a Different Language

May 9th, 2022 No comments

We make thousands of decisions everyday. In fact, researchers at Cornell University estimate that we make about 226.7 decisions regarding food alone. However, some decisions might hold more significance than others – you might put more thought into selecting a house to buy than choosing a pair of shoes to wear to the supermarket (or maybe not). It is likely that the consequences of these big decisions make us want to think rationally, to make careful choices.

This isn’t always easy to do because of the myriad of cognitive biases that unconsciously influence the many decisions that we make daily. Language plays an important role in determining how strongly these biases affect our cognition, and this is evident in how even the language that we think in impacts our decision-making. While we might assume that individuals would make the same decisions regardless of what language they use, research shows that thinking in a foreign language can reduce cognitive biases and encourage deliberation.

We are faced with an endless number of decisions to make. (Source.)
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Are you really going to do better on a test because you’re wearing your lucky socks? Probably, but not for the reason you think.

May 4th, 2022 No comments

Superstitions weave their way into many people’s lives, and they can look different to everyone.  For some, these superstitions might work their way into their daily routine in ways they barely notice: refusing to walk under a ladder, tossing salt over their shoulder when they accidentally spill it on the table, or shuddering when a friend accidentally shatters the mirror in their travel bag.  Even if you don’t subscribe to these common superstitions, you might have a lucky charm that you keep on you before a job interview or big test.  Superstitions are common in people all over the world, and it’s estimated that over 40% of Americans believe in superstitions (Taher et al. 2020).  Personally, one of the consistent good luck charms in my life comes in the form of the red and blue socks I wear on the day of important Patriots games.  Not only is it important that my father and I remember to wear our lucky socks, but it is crucial that the red sock ends up on the right foot, while the blue sock is worn on the left.  So, what defines a superstition, and if they truly have no effect on any given situation, why do so many people believe in them?  

Superstitions are particularly common in athletes and students, who face performance-based tasks regularly.
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How Automatic Driving Impacts Driving Performance Overall

May 2nd, 2022 No comments

Have you ever felt as though you were driving and you can’t remember it? You might have known that you were driving and thought you were paying attention to the road but you can’t actually remember seeing anything, and maybe didn’t even remember where you were going? In other words, did you feel as though you were driving on automatic, and you didn’t actually have to pay attention to what you were doing? This happens to people quite frequently, and has probably happened to you at least once or maybe many times that you can remember. In fact, Burdett, Charlton & Starkey (2016) found that drivers reported that they practice mind wandering in their day to day driving ‘at least occasionally,’ expressing just how common it is for people to attend to other things while they are driving and not actually pay attention to the road. Maybe you have never crashed before while you were ‘driving on automatic’ but doesn’t it seem unsafe and problematic that we aren’t actually paying attention when we are doing something as precarious and tedious as driving? Do you think driving on automatic affects the ability to see and recognize things in our field of vision such as pedestrians? Do you think it would affect our reaction time if we need to stop quickly for something that runs in the road that has potential danger to you? More generally, do you think that driving on automatic can make people dangerous drivers if they aren’t actually paying attention to what they are doing?

Asking questions like these are very important for understanding how driving on automatic truly impacts us and our driving ability. Recent research in the field of cognitive psychology and even more specifically research with a focus on attention while driving has been conducted to answer these very questions. Before getting into the research and what the results say about drivers who drive automatically, it’s important to look at two major processes that are at play when one is driving on automatic, or isn’t actually attending to their driving while they are doing it. First off, when saying driving on automatic, it’s important to understand what an automatic process itself is, and how it relates to driving. Automatic processes are things that we do in our everyday lives that are usually done effortlessly, fast, require little attention and are for tasks that we have had a lot of practice or experience doing such as driving. Other examples of automatic processes include reading, writing, or a pro baseball player catching a fly ball. Just like these things, driving can become an automatic process for most people and can contribute to people driving on automatic. When talking about driving, it is also important to understand what the direct opposite of automatic processes are which are controlled processes. Controlled processes are things that we do for newer tasks or things that we have not frequently practiced and require more effort and attention to complete them. We perform controlled processes in our lives everyday just like automatic processes, like when we try a new activity, learn new things, or for driving specifically, when we are first learning to drive or when we are driving in new places or in areas that are not familiar to us therefore we have not practiced driving on them.

Second, a phenomenon called inattentional blindness is important to define before looking at the research that has been conducted to answer these questions about ‘driving on automatic.’ Inattentional blindness is a phenomenon that occurs when people are actually blind to things in their field of vision because their attention is on something else. A famous study about inattentional blindness revealed that many people did not see a guerilla walk across their field of vision because they were actually paying attention to something else. When we are driving, especially when it becomes an automatic process that has become effortless for us that we don’t use a lot of attentional resources for, it is easy for us to focus our attention on something else and not on the road in front of us. For example, maybe we are listening to the radio and focusing on singing a song opposed to the road in front of us. Maybe we are thinking about what we are having for dinner and not attending to our driving. Maybe we are focusing on a conversation we are having with a passenger in the car. Whatever it is that has our attention, it can cause us to not actually attend to the road in front of us. When our attention isn’t actually focused on driving or the road in front of us, it can cause us to miss things that are in our field of vision that we might be looking at but don’t actually see or attend to. In other words, we might be looking at something while driving but have no memory of actually seeing it because we are focusing on it because our attention is actually elsewhere, like in a conversation with a passenger.


Now that those two terms are defined, it is easier to understand what researchers have found about driving on automatic, and how it affects how well or safely people drive. Much of the current research about people ‘driving on automatic’ looks at how driving on familiar roads (roads that people consistently drive on) affects how well people drive, or specific aspects of their driving performance. This means that researchers look at how driving on familiar roads, which is an automatic process because people become experienced or practiced with this action and can do it both effortlessly and with little attention, affects our performance on specific driving tasks or measures such as reaction times to slow down and many others. Let’s look at some examples of how psychologists have determined how driving on automatic affects how well people drive.

First off, let’s look at how driving on familiar roads affects how well we attend to and react to things in our field of vision while we are driving. Yanko & Spalek (2013) found that people who drove on familiar roads and therefore were more likely to drive in automatic were slower to stop at a car that pulled in front of them as well as pedestrians that walked out in front of them than people who were not on familiar roads and therefore were not driving on automatic, and therefore were performing a more controlled process where they had to pay more attention to the road in front of them and out more effort into driving because they were unfamiliar/unpracticed with driving on that road. Another group of psychologists had similar findings as they found that people who were driving on the familiar road and therefore were considered ‘experts’ had slower reaction times to stop at a construction zone and drove through the construction zone about 30 km/h faster than people who were not familiar with the road they were driving on when comparing both groups of people (Charlton & Starkey, 2011). In a similar study done by the same psychologists in 2013, people who drove on the same road for three months thought that they were driving on automatic as they were on often not thinking about their driving and considered themselves to be driving on autopilot. Additionally, these psychologists also found that people were less likely to detect changes in their field of vision such as changes in buildings on the road, or changes in pedestrian signs on that road as they became familiar with driving on the road and began driving more automatically (Charlton & Starkey, 2013). This tells us that when we drive on automatic, we will be slower to stop for things on the road that might be dangerous to ourselves or others, and we also will feel more comfortable going faster in situations where it might not be appropriate to do so just because we feel familiar and comfortable with the road we are driving on. Additionally, Young et al. 2018 found that people who drove on familiar roads spent less time looking at the road ahead of them than people who drove on unfamiliar roads, which tells us that not only do we miss things in our field of view if we are looking at them because of inattentional blindness when we are driving on familiar roads, but we also actually spend less time focusing our field of vision on the road ahead of us when we are driving on familiar roads more automatically, which either way impacts how much we see and attend to on the road in front of us when we are driving on automatic on familiar roads.


Looking at these findings and answering these questions about automatic driving can make us more aware of how common driving on automatic is, as well as the implications on driving performance that this action has. These findings can teach us the importance of being more aware and attentive when driving on familiar roads or in situations when we might drive on automatic or on autopilot because of the potential threat or impact that it has on our driving ability. The impact that driving automatically has on many aspects of our driving performance such as reaction times to stop, inability to detect important changes in our field of vision, or our overconfidence with speed can be very dangerous for both the driver or others, which is why it is important to know how common automatic driving is as well as the consequences of it so that we can more effectively falling into this trap.


Burdett, B. R., Charlton, S. G., & Starkey, N. J. (2016). Not all minds wander equally: The influence of traits, states and road environment factors on self-reported mind wandering during everyday driving. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 95, 1-7.

Charlton, S. G., & Starkey, N. J. (2011). Driving without awareness: The effects of practice and automaticity on attention and driving. Transportation research part F: traffic psychology and behaviour, 14(6), 456-471.

Charlton, S. G., & Starkey, N. J. (2013). Driving on familiar roads: Automaticity and inattention blindness. Transportation research part F: traffic psychology and behaviour, 19, 121-133.  

Yanko, M. R., & Spalek, T. M. (2013). Route familiarity breeds inattention: A driving simulator study. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 57, 80-86.

Young, A. H., Mackenzie, A. K., Davies, R. L., & Crundall, D. (2018). Familiarity breeds contempt for the road ahead: The real-world effects of route repetition on visual attention in an expert driver. Transportation research part F: traffic psychology and behaviour, 57, 4-9.

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Maybe I do like this song: How repeated exposure can change your opinions

May 1st, 2022 No comments

If you’ve ever worked a retail job or simply listened to the radio, you’ve probably had the experience of listening to whatever pop song is most popular at the time about a hundred times a day. You might hate the song with a passion at first, but over time you may admit to finding it catchy and even enjoying it. On TV or the radio, the same advertisements are often broadcast over and over again, until you could recite them from memory. Maybe you find the ad annoying at first, but after a while you may find yourself humming along to the jingle. Have you ever noticed that someone has a similar commute to work or school as you, so you see them every day on public transportation? You may consequently find yourself happy to see them or worrying when they’re not there, although you’ve never spoken to them.

Just seeing someone more often makes them more familiar to you, which will probably make you like them more.
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Can you trust your childhood memories?

April 29th, 2022 No comments

Do you remember anything when you were a baby? How many details can you remember about those memories? Do you remember your emotions, what you wore, and who was there with you back then? Well, I remember the infant me crawling on the floor to get a favorite toy when my dad walked across and “accidentally” kicked it farther away from me. I also remember being dragged around on the beach by my “loving” older cousin because she walked too fast, ignoring that I just learned how to walk. And, I remember entertaining myself by kicking around my pink with yellow heart pillow after waking up alone one morning. Perhaps you are like me who can recall several interesting episodes with some details. However, how confident can you be regarding those childhood memories? How can you be sure that they are accurate and actual memories?

Always be suspicious. This is the way we should examine our childhood memories. Meme retrieved from https://imgflip.com/i/qv74.
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Why Cognition Makes Funny and Weird Ads so Great

April 29th, 2022 No comments

Let’s be honest, most of us don’t like commercials or advertisements interrupting our entertainment, but for many Americans super bowl Sunday is the one night of the year where we actually look forward to the commercials. In fact, many even relate to the meme below. We often even discuss them afterward with our friends. Unsurprisingly, the boring commercials rarely get brought up, but the bizarre ones that made us laugh will certainly start some conversation. In fact, we probably don’t remember the boring commercials we saw the day before. This is due to the humor and von Restroff effects which are cognitive biases that result in remembering information better when humor or something bizarre is involved.

Super Bowl Commercial Ad

Britney Spears and Inverted Faces

April 29th, 2022 No comments


Hey, look! There’s Britney Spears. Hopefully you recognize her because who doesn’t love a good Britney moment? Even if you have never seen this face before, it looks normal right? Sure, it’s upside down, but flip it around and you’ve got yourself Britney Spears. Or not…

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