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Posts Tagged ‘Top Down Processing’

Remember that wild dream you had? Here’s why.

April 27th, 2022 No comments

Do you ever wake up and think, “oh my gosh, I just had the most bizarre dream”? Do you ever try to remember your dream and it just will not come to you? Or, do you think about the dream and start to tell someone what happened and suddenly it makes no sense? Me too. Our dreams piece together so many parts of our memory that we cannot even recognize how unusual they are until we say them out loud. Sometimes we know we had an eventful dream, but we just can’t remember it no matter how hard we try. Do not worry though, you are not alone. Everyone goes through these experiences with dreams and it is normal when you consider all the facts about how dreams relate to our memory.

Our memories drive the creation of dreams as we actively retrieve stored information throughout the night while we sleep. What we remember from our dreams tells us a lot about what we pay attention to and what we care about. Information from the environment is what we call distal stimulus or sensory input, which is anything that activates our senses and helps us recognize what that thing is. For example, the computer you are reading this on may be a distal stimulus, because you can feel the keys and hear the sounds it makes. This type of input helps us create images in our heads that we dream about later on. So many aspects of memory like these play into our dreams. We learn things, store the information, retrieve it in our sleep, and then sometimes we retrieve it all again once we wake up, which refers to those times when we do remember our dreams. Even though our dreams may seem like a different dimension of ideas completely separate from the waking mind, it really is all based on the same ideas. If you are as baffled by these phenomena as me, then you should read along to find out why. 

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Dogs Are My Favorite Kind of People. Anthropomorphism as a Tool for Animal Activism

April 25th, 2022 No comments

 

Have you ever noticed that some people treat their dogs like their children? In my house, we treat our dogs like family members. They have human names, they sleep in bed with me, and we even all wear matching Christmas pajamas. When I talk about my dog Henry, I explain his anxiety, his grumpiness, and his great need for snuggles. When I talk about my dog Georgia, I explain her clinginess, her obsession with my dad, and her toddler-like antics. I talk about them as if they are other humans living in the home. Even while writing this blog post, I am dog-sitting for my friend’s parents. The parents left us pages of specific instructions talking through the dogs’ physical and emotional needs, just like a parent would for their children’s babysitter. 

Henry in his Christmas Pajamas

I don’t often think about why we do these things, because treating dogs like family seems so normal. But when we were learning about cognitive biases in my Cognitive Psychology course, I started to see the relationship between cognitive processes and this concept of dogs as family. The way that many people treat dogs is an example of anthropomorphism. Anthropomorphism, by definition, is the attribution of human characteristics to nonhuman entities like dogs. Many people view animals such as dogs and cats as companions, similar to human friends. When we see animals as similar to ourselves, we are more likely to treat them better. I am going to walk you through the benefits of anthropomorphizing animals, specifically how it can help to reduce animal cruelty and increase the ethical treatment of animals.

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Are Celebrities Really THAT Perfect? How the Halo Effect Impacts the Way We View and Treat Others

November 20th, 2020 No comments

Have you ever seen a celebrity that you loved and idolized do something wrong? For example, a few years ago the actress Reese Witherspoon’s husband got a DUI while she was driving with him. Reese was quite rude to the police that pulled them over, which caused her to also get arrested for disorderly conduct. She asked the police if they knew who she was, and then when they responded no she warned that they were “about to find out”. She also ignored instructions from the police officer to stay in the car, and resisted arrest.

Chances are, if you were a fan of the actress like I am, you were pretty shocked to hear this story. Despite never having met Reese Witherspoon personally, you assumed she was a kind, respectful person who would never do or say these kinds of things. You may have even been shocked by Reese’s appearance in her mugshot, where she appears disheveled and not like her usual, made-up and presentable self. Why are we so shocked by this, when Reese Witherspoon is literally a stranger to us??

Reese Witherspoon as we “normally” picture her

Reese Witherspoon’s mug shot following her husband’s DUI

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Take off the rose-tinted glasses: Rosy retrospection and the fallibility of memory

April 26th, 2018 8 comments

If you’ve ever binge-watched The Office, you probably remember the moment in the series finale when Andy Bernard reflects on his days at the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. Thinking back on his past – on the friends he made and the fun times he had – he says, “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” Is he right? At the moment he said it, was Andy living in the “good old days?” Why will he be able to think back on that moment as if it were the “good old days” if he can’t see it right now? Five years from now, will we be looking back on 2018 like it was the “good old days?” Cognitive psychology has an answer: yes.

Allow me to explain: we often tend to remember and recollect past events in a more favorable light than when they actually occur. This is called rosy retrospection – have you ever heard of the idiom “to see through rose-tinted glasses?” It refers to the tendency to see something in a positive light, often better than it actually is. This memory bias applies to all of us – and it explains why we often recall the past much more fondly than the present. More generally, rosy retrospection represents one example of the way memory is not as accurate or reliable as we would like to believe. Memory is surprisingly fallible.
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That Perfect Person Isn’t Quite So Perfect: The Halo Effect

April 26th, 2018 2 comments

Have you ever been frustrated by that one classmate or coworker who always seems to have the right answer? Whenever you’re in class or a meeting together they always seem to be excelling. Even though you have never hung out with them outside of the school or work environment you also think of them as social, outgoing, and a great family member. They occasionally wear shirts with running logos on them, so they must also go for runs on the weekend, and they’re probably faster than you. People who run are usually healthy eaters as well, so the chocolate bar you saw them eat yesterday afternoon must have been a special treat.

The Halo Effect can make people seem like devils or angels after one short interaction.

Does this description remind you of anyone? Even though you only know the person from one class at school, because they do well in that class you assume all these other positive characteristics about them. This tendency to generalize qualities from one specific instance to the person’s entire personality is called the Halo Effect. When a person does well in biology, other classmates assume that they must also do well in English and calculus. If a person is energetic and outgoing, they are also assumed to be intelligent and hardworking. This also applies to negative qualities, where if someone is rude to us in a meeting we assume they are lazy and untrustworthy.

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Do You See What I See? I See Jesus in Toast!

April 25th, 2018 2 comments

Have you ever gone to hang up your coat and thought, “An angry octopus is staring right at me!” Did you wonder afterwards if this is common and if everyone was seeing what you were seeing? This is known as a phenomenon called pareidolia, where external stimuli (such as coat hangers) trigger perceptions of non-existent entities (such as faces) presenting an erroneous match between internal representations and sensory inputs (Liu et al., 2014). Face pareidolia is the most common form, which is where humans tend to see faces in non-face objects (Ichikawa et al., 2011). Some examples include seeing a face in the clouds, Jesus in toast, or the Virgin Mary in a tortilla (to see more cool examples of pareidolia, click here!) How and why does this happen?

Washing Machine Pareidolia Example

Angry Octopus Pareidolia Example

To examine these questions, we must delve into the process of pattern recognition and face recognition in cognitive psychology. Pattern recognition is the process of constructing a mental representation and assigning meaning to it. Pattern recognition relies tremendously on top-down processing, which is the idea that we use prior knowledge, context, and expectations to aid our perceptions.

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There is a monster under your bed, and I have evidence to confirm it.

April 24th, 2018 2 comments

Not all princesses need saving, it has been confirmed. (Image 1)

You are a hero, off on an adventure. Riding on horseback, glorious as you are, you see a dragon in the distance. It is wrapped around a twisting tower and a fair maiden gazes down from the window up above. This is your chance, you know she needs saving, so you ride closer to get a better look. Exactly as you thought, the maiden looks sad, almost wistful, and you know she is dreaming of escaping this terrible beast. With a flash of your sword and the pure strength of your muscles to climb the tower, you kill the beast and finally reach the princess. To your surprise, she does not look pleased. You explain that you have saved her from the terrible dragon which kept her imprisoned, as if this really requires explaining. Astonishingly, she admonishes you! She tells you with great anger that the dragon was her beloved pet and she did not need saving. You look back on the events which occurred and explain to her that she did, in fact, need saving, because she looked so sad and wistful in the tower, clearly longing for sweet escape. Yet, as she soon points out, she was not sad due to imprisonment, but because her “Do Not Feed The Dragon” sign had fell from the castle wall, which you could now clearly see was laying on the lawn in visible sight the entire time. Yet even after she points out this contradictory information, you stick to your guns and tell her she must be delusional from the time she has spent in the tower, and saving her was the only option. So, what caused you to vindicate your decision by addressing only the evidence which made you believe the princess needed rescuing while completely disregarding the clear information which demonstrated otherwise? It is the real monster that needs slaying, and its name is Confirmation Bias. Confirmation bias affects our decision making by facilitating our attentional resources towards evidence confirming what we already believe to be true. When one demonstrates prejudice towards a certain outcome or decision prior to gathering all of the information available on this topic, one is inclined to only address the information which confirms their predictions while ignoring conflicting evidence which may hold more gravity. Therefore, confirmation bias results in a disregard for contradictory evidence and reasoning (Jonas et al., 2001). Read more…

Isn’t The Weber-Fechner Law The Same As Any Other Equation? Never mind, I Just Noticed The Difference

April 24th, 2018 No comments

https://tenor.com/view/loud-too-loud-cant-hear-sorry-music-gif-5494161

Imagine that you and your best friend are sitting in the back of the classroom during a lecture on a Friday afternoon. All you can think about is the concert  you’re going to tonight that you’ve been excited about for months, so you give up on trying to listen to your professor explain nuclear chemistry. You quietly whisper back and forth with your friend, talking about what you plan on wearing and what time you need to leave. Finally, the lecture ends and before you know it you’re at the concert. The music is blasting and you’re having a great time, but after singing along to several songs you decide you need to go buy something to drink. You start to tell your friend that you’ll be right back, but she doesn’t hear you. You say her name louder a few times, but she still doesn’t notice. Finally, you lean in close and yell in her ear. She nods and says something back but you can’t hear it over the music. You could hear each other just fine a few hours ago in class, but now it’s nearly impossible. What you’re experiencing is a difference in background intensity, and Ernest Weber and Gustav Fechner have a law that will tell you all about it. Read more…

That Band is Really Cool, But I Swear It’s Everywhere

April 24th, 2018 2 comments

Have you ever scrolled through Spotify and discovered a band you like?  Have you ever started listening to all its songs and suddenly you start hearing it all the time on the radio and seeing advertisements for its new album or concert? Or maybe you just found out you’re pregnant and see parents with their kids everywhere you go? While it’s easy to think that maybe you just discover bands that magically and suddenly get really big or that maybe more people suddenly have kids these days, you’re actually probably experiencing what is called the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon or frequency illusion.

Kids are everywhere! Or so you think.

The frequency illusion occurs when a person experiences something, like finding a song he or she likes on Spotify or becoming pregnant, and then afterwards believes that the experience or phenomenon happens all the time. So why does this occur? Well, there are two cognitive processes that are involved in creating the frequency illusion: selective attention and confirmation bias (Zwicky, 2006).  Read more…

False memories in native and non-native English speakers

December 14th, 2017 1 comment

Memory – a simple word consisting of six letters. Memory – a term we frequently use to encompass a broad range of concepts. Memory – the thing that’s left after an event has long passed. But what happens when memory fails us? What happens when we fail to remember the past as accurately as we thought we would?

False memory

In cognitive research, false memories describe memories of events that did not take place or they happened quite differently from how they are remembered. The most common technique to induce false memories in a laboratory setting is a word learning paradigm called Deese-Roediger-McDermott (DRM), in which people study a list of words (such as bounce, throw, basket, bowling, and golf) that are all related to a common item (in this case, ball). When given a memory test people will often indicate that the non-presented common item (ball) was on the list with high confidence (Deese, 1959; Roediger & McDermott, 1995).

This is what researchers described as false memory: remembering something that did not happen.

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