Tag Archives: cognitive processing

Arc of Attentional Focus: Has Someone Picked Your Pocket While You Experienced “Inattentional Blindness”?

Apollo Robbins

Apollo Robbins

Glitches in human perception and cognition are vividly illustrated in Apollo Robbins’ interactive Las Vegas show, “The Gentleman Thief.”

He tells his “targets” in the audience that he is about to steal from them, then uses visual illusions, proximity manipulation, diversion techniques, and attention control, to complete his imperceptible heists.
Robbins returns belongings, which kept him out of trouble when he lifted possessions of former US President Jimmy Carter’s Secret Service agents.

In addition to the entertaining curiosity of Robbins’ feats, his skill is relevant to improving perceptual skills in normal and cognitively-impaired people, and in reducing traffic accidents, industrial mishaps, and security violations.

He overcame congenital motor-skill deficits by monitoring the focus of a target’s attention: “If a person is focused elsewhere, a thief can put his whole hand in [a pocket] and steal.”

Kim Silverman

Like Kim Silverman, Research Scientist at Apple, Robbins creates “false assumptions…that look like reality…

The U.S. Department of Defense accesses Robbins’ skills at its Special Operations Command research-and-training facility at Yale University, where he an adjunct professor, despite his non-collegiate education.

Barton Whaley

Barton Whaley

Defense application of these perceptual manipulation skills were identified by Barton Whaley of the Naval Postgraduate School and Susan Stratton Aykroyd in their Textbook of Political-Military Counterdeception.

Their historical survey of deception and counter-deception practices asserted that conjurors’ principles were substantially more advanced than those used by U.S. political or military intelligence analysts in the 1970s.

Stephen Macknik

Stephen Macknik

SUNY Downstate’s Stephen Macknik and Susana Martinez-Conde collaborated with Robbins on Sleights of Mind: What the Neuroscience of Magic Reveals about Our Everyday Deception.
They reported empirical results supporting Robbins’s observation that the eye will follow an object moving in an arc without looking back to its point of origin.
The curved motions may be more salient, novel, and informative than predictable linear edges, so attracts greater attention and is useful in deceptive illusions.

Susana Martinez-Conde

Susana Martinez-Conde

Cognitive errors that lead to perceptual illusions of “magic” suggest diagnostic and treatment methods for cognitive deficits from brain trauma, autism, ADHD, and Alzheimer’s disease, they argued.

Insights from magic performance can help patients focus on the most important aspects of their environment, while suppressing distractions that cause confusion, disorientation, and “inattentional blindness” (focusing so intently on a single task that one fails to notice things in plain sight).

Richard Wiseman

Psychologist and magician Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire demonstrated inattentional blindness when viewers fail to notice environmental changes when focusing on a card trick. 
Similarly, Transport of London’s Public Service Announcement reminds viewers that it’s easy to miss things you’re not expecting in “Did you see the Moonwalking Bear?

Wiseman argued that people can “recognise hidden opportunities in … life,” by reducing perceptual blindness, in his research-based book, Magic in Theory: An introduction to the theoretical and psychological elements of conjuring.

Daniel Levin

Daniel Levin

Daniel Simons

University of Illinois’s Daniel Simons and Daniel Levin of Vanderbilt University demonstrated observers “seeing without seeing” in experiments involving people passing a basketball as woman in a gorilla suit walked through the action.

With Harvard’s Christopher Chabris, Simons reported that half of observers said they did not see the gorilla when they were counting the number of ball passes by one team.

Christopher Chabris

Christopher Chabris

However, the same people easily recognized the gorilla when they were not focused on a distraction task.

Edward Vogel

This findings illustrates that most people are unable to effectively multitask because they have limited capacity to hold a visual scene in short-term memory (VSTM), according to University of Chicago’s Edward K. Vogel and Maro Machizawa of Hiroshima University and separately by Vanderbilt’s René Marois and J. Jay Todd.

Gustav Kuhn

Gustav Kuhn

Gustav Kuhn of University of London collaborated with magician Alym Amlani and Ronald Rensink of University of British Columbia to classify cognitive, perceptual, and physical contributors in Towards a Science of Magic:

  • Ronald Rensink

    Physical misdirection by a magician’s gaze or gesture in “joint attention,”

  • Psychological misdirection with a casual motion or prolonged suspense to distract from the trick’s mechanics,
  • Optical illusions that distort the true size of an object,
  • Cognitive illusions to prolong an image after the object has been removed,
  • Physical force and mental force influence “freely chosen” cards or other objects in magic tricks.

Rene Marois-J Jay Todd

Perceptual and cognitive illusions can cause people not to see things that are clearly present, which can lead to overlooking interpersonal cues and life opportunities.
Even more serious is the link among inattention, traffic accidents, and victimization by criminals.

Mindful awareness helps people attend to the present moment, to more attentively experience opportunities and relationships while mitigating potential perceptual misinformation.

-*How to you maintain focus to reduce “inattentional blindness”?

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Thinking in a Second Languages Reduces Decision Bias 

Boaz Keysar

Boaz Keysar

People who can think in a foreign language are more able to rationally analyze risk compared with evaluating risk in their native language, found University of Chicago’s Boaz Keysar, Sayuri L. Hayakawa, and Sun Gyu An.

Sayuri Hayakawa

Sayuri Hayakawa

When volunteers analyzed risks presented in their native language, they were risk-averse when considering potential gains and more risk- tolerant when considering possible losses.
However, they were did not show this risk assessment bias when they considered the same risks vs rewards in a foreign language.
Using a foreign language reduced loss aversion and increased acceptance of hypothetical and real bets with positive expected values.

Micheline Favreau

Micheline Favreau

This effect could occur because foreign languages are typically processed more slowly than in a native tongue, leading to more deliberate cognitive processing, argued Concordia University’s Micheline Favreau and Norman Segalowitz.

Norman Segalowitz

Norman Segalowitz

Foreign language processing generally requires greater cognition-intensive systematic, analytical effort, leading to increased emotional and cognitive distance than in a native tongue, suggested Princeton’s Daniel Kahneman in his distinction between Thinking Fast and Slow.

Stefano Puntoni

Stefano Puntoni

Even when people fully understand language nuances including colloquialisms, impolite words, terms of endearment and reproach, they react less emotionally in a foreign language, according to self-report and electrodermal measurements, found Erasmus University’s Stefano Puntoni, Bart de Langhe of University of Colorado, and Cornell’s Stijn M.J. van Osselaer.
As a result, more than half the participants preferred the riskier option presented in a foreign language instead of the native tongue.

Richard Thaler

Richard Thaler

This finding confirmed participants’ tendency toward myopic risk aversion, or greater sensitivity to losses when thinking and acting in their native languagedescribed by University of Chicago’s Richard Thaler, Amos Tversky of Stanford, Princeton’s Kahneman, and Alan Schwartz of University of Illinois.

Amos Tversky

Amos Tversky

Among more than 140 native Korean speakers and more than 100 English speakers in Paris, Keysar’s team confirmed the same pattern of enhanced deliberation and reduced framing effects in a foreign language in hypothetical low-loss, high-gain bets.
Just 57 percent of Korean-speaking participants accepted bets offered in Korean, contrasted with 67 percent when offered in English, suggesting heightened deliberation in a second language.

Daniel Kahneman

Daniel Kahneman

Likewise, more than 50 English-speaking volunteers who spoke Spanish as a second language received $15 in $1 bills, which could be kept or bet on a coin toss.
For every lost toss, participants lost $1.
However, if they won, they kept the $1 and earned another $1.50, a significant return on the chance bet.
When conducted in participants’ native English language, 54% accepted bets, whereas when presented in Spanish, 71% agreed to bet.

Alan Schwartz

Alan Schwartz

“They take more bets in a foreign language because they…are less affected by the typically exaggerated aversion to losses … People who routinely make decisions in a foreign language rather than their native tongue might be less biased in their savings, investment, and retirement decisions, as a result of reduced myopic loss aversion” wrote Keysar and colleagues.

-*How do you reduce “myopic risk aversion” in your native language?

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Recognizing, Coping with Long-Lasting Emotions

Philippe Verduyn

Philippe Verduyn

Most people feel sad longer than they feel ashamed, surprised, irritated or bored because sadness is most often triggered by important events that require time for emotional and cognitive processing, according to University of Leuven’s Philippe Verduyn and Saskia Lavrijsen.

Saskia Lavrijssen

Saskia Lavrijssen

This finding that emotions triggered by personally-important events are longer-lasting may seen intuitively obvious, but Verduyn and Lavrjsen empirically validated earlier hypotheses suggested by University of Amsterdam’s Joep Sonnemans and Nico Frijda as well as University of Leuven’s Verduyn, Iven Van Mechelen, and Francis Tuerlinckx.

Joep Sonnemans

Joep Sonnemans

They asked more than 230 volunteers to remember recent emotional episodes and report their duration.

Klaus R. Scherer

Klaus R. Scherer

Participants also described their strategies to evaluate and deal with emotions categorized by Swiss Center for Affective Sciences’ s Klaus R. Scherer, including admiration, anger, anxiety, being touched, boredom, compassion, contentment, desperation, disappointment, disgust, enthusiasm, fear, gratitude, guilt, hatred, hope, humiliation, irritation, jealousy, joy, pride, relaxation, relief, sadness, shame, stress, and surprise.

James Gross

James Gross

Volunteers rated coping strategies according to a model of emotional regulation developed by Stanford’s James Gross and Ross A. Thompson of University of California Davis:

  • Situation selection – Entering the situation that elicited emotion
  • Situation modification – Trying to change the event that elicited the emotion
  • Distraction – Attempting to distract attention from the emotional situation
  • Rumination – Continued thinking about feelings and consequences of the event
  • Reflecting – Considering the emotion-eliciting event, but not repetitively ruminating
  • Reappraisal – Trying to differently view the emotion-eliciting event
  • Emotional suppression – Attempting to stop experiencing the emotion
  • Expressive suppression – Trying not expressing the emotion.
Iven Van Mechelen

Iven Van Mechelen

Participants also rated their appraisal of the situation that triggered emotion based on Scherer’s Geneva Appraisal Questionnaire:

  • Event importance – Extent the event that elicited the emotion was important to them
  • Event impact – Advantages and disadvantages of the event that elicited the emotion
  • Other responsibility – Degree that someone else was responsible for the emotion-eliciting event
  • Self responsibility – Degree that they were responsible for the emotion-eliciting event
  • Problem-focused coping – Extent that they could change something about the emotion- eliciting event
  • Emotion-focused coping – Extent that they could change something about the emotion elicited by the event
  • Expectedness – Degree to which they anticipated the emotion-eliciting event
  • Negative impact on self-image – Extent to which they judged the emotion-evoking event as reducing self-esteem
  • Injustice – Degree to which they judged the emotion-eliciting event as unjust
  • Immorality – Extent to which they judged the emotion-eliciting event as immoral.

Verduyn and Lavrijsen differentiated emotions from moods by telling volunteers that an emotion is always elicited by an external or internal event with a specific onset point.

Karen Brans

Karen Brans

The team also provided two differing definitions of an emotion’s end point:
Half the participants were told than an emotion ends as soon as the emotion is no longer felt for the first time (except for sleep) whereas the remaining volunteers were told than an emotion ends as soon as one has fully recovered from the event.

Emotion duration differed for similar emotions, such as persistent guilt compared with transient shame, and longer-lasting anxiety contrasted with intense but fleeting fear.

Susan Nolen-Hoeksema

Susan Nolen-Hoeksema

Two regulation strategiesrumination and reflection – and one appraisal dimensionevent importance – were associated with increased emotion duration, supporting theories by KU Leuven’s Iven Van Mechelen, Verduyn, and Karen Brans, and empirical research by Yale’s Susan Nolen-Hoeksema.

Of these 27 emotions, sadness lasted the longest.
Other positive and negative emotions, including shame, surprise, fear, disgust, boredom, being touched, irritated or feeling relief, rapidly dissipated, supporting other findings by Verduyn and Brans.

Though boredom, shame, and fear seem to endure endlessly, this research indicates that they are more transient than most people expect.
These unpleasant experiences pass, as do significant incidents that require time to “process.”

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  • What coping and appraisal strategies are most helpful in shortening the duration of unpleasant emotions?

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Bilingual Competence Strengthens Brain’s “Executive Control,” “Adaptive Modulation”

Andrea Stocco

Andrea Stocco

Learning a second language in childhood or later in life provides numerous benefits, including:

  • Increased cultural awareness,
  • Enhanced creativity,
  • Possibly delaying cognitive deterioration associated with dementia.

Bilingual individuals excel on several cognitive measures, including “executive control”, measured by speed in applying new rules and switching tasks on a Rapid Instructed Task Learning (RITL) paradigm, according to University of Washington’s Andrea Stocco and Chantel S. Prat.

Chantel Prat

Chantel Prat

In addition, bilingual volunteers showed greater “adaptive modulation” of the brain’s the basal ganglia striatal activity, suggesting that competence in multiple languages changes brain activation patterns and structures.

Bilingual people’s performance advantages in executive functioning may develop as they adaptively select and apply different rules when speaking multiple languages, surmised Stocco and Prat.
They suggested that this behavioral flexibility may strengthen the brain’s fronto-striatal loops that connect to the prefrontal cortex.

The team evaluated 17 bilingual and 14 monolingual volunteers on their language proficiency and arithmetic problems defined by a set of operations and two uniquely-specified inputs.
Participants completed practice problems using just two operation sets, then tackled another set combining new items and some from the practice set.
For the final round, volunteers completed new and practice items while in an fMRI brain scanner.

Bilinguals completed the new problems significantly more quickly than monolinguals, although both groups performed similarly on familiar items, suggesting that people with multiple language competence may have an advantage in rapidly processing new information and unfamiliar challenges.

The physiological basis for this performance difference was revealed by the fMRI scan:  There was increased activity during work on novel problems in the bilingual volunteers’ basal ganglia.
This brain area is associated with learning linked to rewards and motor functions, and to prioritizing information before directing it to the prefrontal cortex for further processing. 

Ellen Bialystok

Ellen Bialystok

This research suggests that learning multiple languages trains the basal ganglia to switch more efficiently between the rules and vocabulary of different languages, a skill which can generalize to other tasks such as arithmetic.

Michelle Martin-Rhee

Michelle Martin-Rhee

The roots of this cognitive advantage is based on childhood bilingualism, which can also train inhibition of attention for perceptual information, found York University’s Ellen Bialystok and Michelle M. Martin-Rhee.

They noted that this effect was not due to differences in representational abilities because monolinguals ands bilinguals performed similarly on these tasks.
Bilingual preschoolers also showed greater creativity in non-mathematical and mathematical problem solving, reported University of Haifa’s Mark Leikin.

Mark Leikin

Mark Leikin

He compared bilingual children from a Hebrew–Russian kindergarten and a Hebrew monolingual kindergarten was well as monolingual children from a monolingual school on the Picture Multiple Solution task’s measure of general creativity and the Creating Equal Number task for mathematical creativity.
Bilingual children from the bilingual kindergarten showed significantly greater creativity on general and mathematical tasks than monolingual children.

Fergus I.M. Craik

Fergus I.M. Craik

Besides the benefit of enhanced creativity, bilingualism seems to be associated with later onset of dementia by four years, and less cognitive decline among more than 180 volunteers evaluated by York University’s Bialystok with Fergus I.M. Craik and Morris Freedman of University of Toronto.

Morris Freedman

Morris Freedman

They analyzed repeated Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) scores and also found that elderly bilinguals performed better on switching attention between objects, as demonstrated in Stocco and Prat’s work.

Though learning a second language in adulthood is “an order of magnitude more difficult” than learning in childhood, according to Stocco and Prat, the cognitive benefits can make it worth the challenge and effort.

-*What benefits have you experienced associated with learning a second language or life-long fluency in another language?

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Laptop Note-Taking leads to “Shallower Cognitive Processing” than Manual Notes

Pam Mueller

Pam Mueller

Taking notes on a laptop computer may not enhance understanding and recall as much as using the old-fashioned method of taking notes by hand:
People who hand-wrote notes to retain information performed better on factual and conceptual questions about the content than those who took notes on a laptop computer, according to Princeton’s Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer of UCLA.

They distinguished between two types of note-taking:

Virpi Slotte

Virpi Slotte

More “superficial” (shallower) information processing is linked to less accurate text comprehension, found  University of Helsinki’s Virpi Slotte and Kirsti Lonka, and to lower performance on questions to assesses integrative and conceptual understanding, in findings by Clemson University’s Brent Igo, Roger Bruning of University of Nebraska, and Victoria University’s Matthew McCrudden.

Kirsti Lonka

Kirsti Lonka

To determine which note-taking techniques are associated with more robust information processing, Muller and Oppenheimer asked participants to view 15-minute TED Talks or recorded lectures while recording handwritten or laptop notes.
Next, these volunteers completed two 5-minute distractor tasks and a reading span task to test working memory.

Roger Bruning

Roger Bruning

By this time, 30 minutes had elapsed since the end of the lecture, and participants answered questions about the content focusing on:

  • Factual-recall, such as “Approximately how many years ago did the Indus civilization exist?”
  • Conceptual-application, like “How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?”

Mueller-Oppenheim Question TypesVolunteers who took notes on a laptop were more likely to record nongenerative, or verbatim notes, and like previous findings, showed poorer performance on both factual-recall questions and conceptual-application questions.

Even when participants were explicitly instructed to “take notes in your own words and don’t just write down word-for-word what the speaker is saying,” people taking notes on laptops still recorded more verbatim notes than manual note-takers – and their comprehension performance still did not improve.

Matthew McCrudden

Matthew McCrudden

In another variation that included a week delay between the lecture and note-taking and the comprehension test, half the participants reviewed their handwritten or laptop notes for 10 minutes before the test and the other volunteers answered test questions without reviewing material.

Daniel Oppenheimer

Daniel Oppenheimer

Previous results were replicated under these conditions, suggesting that people who paraphrase content instead of recording verbatim tend to demonstrate greater content comprehension – and this advantage is enabled by the slower approach to manual note-taking.

Taking notes on a laptop computer enables users to transcribe information at higher speeds than manual note-taking, according to C. Marlin “Lin” Brown, then of Xerox, yet drawbacks include:

  • Shallower information processing
  • Decreased conceptual understanding
  • Reduced factual recall
  • Distraction in multi-tasking on email or social media

-*How do you maintain increase comprehension and retention when taking notes using a laptop computer?

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