Tag Archives: Working memory

An End to “Death by PowerPoint”: Neuroimaging Studies Improve Visual Display Design

Stephen Kosslyn

Stephen Kosslyn

Harvard’s Stephen Kosslyn‘s fMRI studies of perceptual processes and mental imagery point to  best practices in improving visual display design, such as PowerPoint presentations, so they can be rapidly comprehended.

Alexandra Russell

Alexandra Russell

His imaging studies determined that the left half of the brain excels at encoding categories and generating mental images based on categories.
In contrast he reported that the right half of the brain skillfully encodes specific examples and generating associated images.

While at Stanford, he identified eight psychological principles often violated in PowerPoint® slideshows, in collaboration with Alexandra G. Russell, Harvard colleague Jennifer M. Shephard and Rogier A. Kievit of University of Amsterdam.

Once the viewer has seen a PowerPoint slide, the information must be converted into a storable and retrievable construct for later use.

Rogier Kievit

Rogier Kievit

They noted that perception and comprehension of visual displays require:

  • Encoding based on Discriminability, Perceptual Organization, Salience
  • Working Memory, influenced by Limited Capacity and Informative Changes
  • Accessing Long-Term Memory, enhanced by Appropriate Knowledge, Compatibility, Relevance

 Encodable content must be distinguishable from the background and context.
This requires a “Just Noticeable Difference” (JND) between size, shape, color and other attributes to enable discrimination.

Russell De Valois

Russell De Valois

PowerPoint elements achieve Discriminability with:

  • Sufficiently large typeface with differentiated text (mix of upper case, lower case, bold, italics)
  • Text and graphic color contrast with background color
  • Spatial frequency channel” ratio variance, such as points that are twice as thick as the lines that connect them
    Karen De Valois

    Karen De Valois

    Texture patterns elements, like stripes, should vary by at ratio of least 2:1 to avoid “visual beats,” according to University of California’s Russell DeValois and Karen De Valois

  • Varied line orientation (by at least 30°), to enable processing by different “orientation channels
  • Text or other fine lines in colors other than deep blues, and boundaries in colors other than red.

After encoding, figure/ground segregation processes perceptually organize adjacent (“Law of Proximity”) and similar (“Law of Similarity”) elements into groups of objects, words, and graphics.
Grouping also can be imposed by lines, such as in complex data tables, and this grouping typically increases readability and comprehension.

Additional practices to enhance visual “consumability” by Perceptual Organization include:

  • Applying labels to refer to the nearest graphic element
  • Using a common color to organize parts of a display into a group, even separated
  • Adopting consistent ordering conventions across different parts of displays, such as bar chart legends and pie chart legends
  • Explicitly grouping separated-but-related elements, such as by using inner grid lines to group the tops of bars in a bar graph with locations along the Y axis at the left of the graph
  • Eliminating inadvertently-formed groupings, such as when a banner at the top of a slide groups with nearby, similar but unrelated objects

 Attention is drawn to large perceptible differences, and these elements are processed in detail.  The brain’s superior colliculus draws visual attention to large differences among stimuli.
Salience can be enhanced with:

  • Animation because movement captures and directs attention
  • Text with a distinct format, such as color, size, or typeface
  • Visual incongruities, such as a wedge “exploding” from a pie chart
  • Summary elements like title, keywords, topic sentence, infographic
  • Warm” colors (with longer wavelengths, such as red) for emphasis or in the foreground in contrast to “cool” colors (with short wavelengths, like blue), which recede.
    Avoid using warmer colors for lines that pass beneath other lines to avoid the illusion of background oscillation

After visual patterns are encoded, they must be integrated in Working Memory for later retrieval and application, and are influenced by Limited Capacity and Informative Changes.
People have limited capacity to process and retain information, and presentations can mitigate these constraints by:

  • Limiting perceptual groups to about four units with up to four sub-units for easier processing and retrieval
  • Labeling items in a display rather than using a key or legend to reduce processing load
  • Allowing the audience time to process and assimilate information during a slide presentation
  • Avoiding slow fade-in or fade-out slides, which may lead to incorrect information processing and losing track of the organizational hierarchy.Audience members expect Informative Changes in words and graphics to convey information.
    Similarly, they also expect that each expect unit of information is associated with a perceptible change.
    Capitalize on these expectations by:
  • Avoiding random or arbitrary changes in appearance, transitions, or terminology
  • Clearly indicating section beginnings and ends to enable audience to track progress through the presentation

Retrieving information from Long-Term Memory enables viewers to compare with previously stored information to determine the new information’s relevance and applicability.

Effective presenters ensure that viewers have a common knowledge base of novel concepts, jargon, conventions, formats, terminology or symbols so they understand the presentation’s context.
Presenters ensure Appropriate Knowledge by including an explicit introduction, and explanation and review of these terms and ideas before building reasoning and conclusions.

Kosslyn-Stroop EffectA message is most intelligible and memorable when its form is Compatible with its meaning.
The Stroop effect demonstrates the difficulty people have in processing information when asked to name the color of the ink used to a color name (“red”) a different color from the ink (blue).

Similarly, people are better able to comprehend when audio and visual contents coordinate with text and the overall message.

  • Indicate quantitative difference by color saturation and intensity (or brightness)
    These “prothetic” variables are arranged quantitatively.
    In contrast, hue is ineffective as a measure of quantitative differences because it is a “metathetic” variable that is arranged qualitatively
  • Ensure that animation movements align with the object’s natural movement patterns, such as an automobile entering from the side of the slide rather than the top
  • Select sounds, typefaces, and backgrounds consistent and compatible with the content. such as sans serif typeface for high tech products
  • Use icons that depict the typical examples of represented items, such as a duck to represent “fowl” or “wild bird” but not “pet bird”
  • Include line graphs (rather than bar or mixed graphs) to illustrate trends and interactions:  The continuous variation in the height of a line in a graph directly indicates the continuous variations of a measurement
  • Apply bar graphs to illustrate specific values instead of trends because the discrete heights of the bars directly indicate specific measurements
  • Add maps to illustrate complex information about geographic territories or show alternate routes to a destination
  • Consider charts to portray organizational structure, sequential steps, or processes as in “flow charts.”

Presentations must offer most applicable, meaningful content for the topic in sufficient but not excessive detail.
Enhance Relevance by:

  • Curating content
  • Enabling viewers to organize the information into a narrative by presenting a roadmap of the topic in an outline or overview
  • Providing graphic elements including photos, drawings, graphs, diagrams, and video as well as audio to illustrate concepts clearly and label ambiguous imagery.
Don McMillan

Don McMillan

If presenters adopt Kosslyn’s recommendations, to enhance Discriminability, Perceptual Organization, Salience, Limited Capacity, Informative Changes, Appropriate Knowledge, Compatibility, and Relevance, PowerPoint comedians Don MacMillan and biologist Tim Lee may need to revert to their previous occupations. 

Tim Lee

Tim Lee

-*How do you ensure that your Business Storytelling with PowerPoint keeps your audience engaged?

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Cognitive Value of Handwriting in the Digital Era

-*Is handwriting passé in the Digital Era?
-*Has keyboarding eclipsed pen and paper?

Virginia Berninger

Virginia Berninger

University of Washington’s Virginia Berninger with Robert Abbott, Amy Augsburger, and Noelia Garcia argue that handwriting provides valuable cognitive training, and advantages in expressive speed, fluency, and productivity.

Robert Abbott

Robert Abbott

Berninger’s team conducted brain scans and found that the brain’s thinking, language, and “working memory” regions are more activated when handwriting letters than when typing.

This change in brain activation occurs because handwriting letters generally requires more than one sequential stroke, rather than selecting a letter key during typing, according to Berninger.

Berninger’s studies demonstrated students in grades two, four and six wrote more words more quickly and expressed more ideas when writing essays by hand versus with a keyboard.

Karin James

Karin James

Karin Harman James’s research using an fMRI at Indiana University confirms the benefits of handwriting.

Isabel Gauthier

Isabel Gauthier

With Isabel Gauthier of Vanderbilt University, she showed alphabet letters to children before and after they received letter-learning instruction.

Participants who practiced printing by hand showed more enhanced and “adult-like” the neural activity than those who had simply looked at letters.
James suggested that adults may show similar neural activity benefits when learning a new graphically-different language, such as Mandarin, or symbol systems for mathematics, music and chemistry.

Marieke Longcamp

Marieke Longcamp

Université de la Méditerranée’s Marieke Longcamp,  Céline Boucard, Jean-Claude Gilhodes and Jean-Luc Velay  with Jean-Luc Anton, Muriel Roth, and Bruno Nazarian of Hôpital de La Timone, Marseille, France demonstrated other neural benefits of handwriting: Movements memorized when learning how to handwrite enabled adults to more effectively recognize graphic shapes and letters.

Steve Graham

Steve Graham

Steve Graham, now of Arizona State University, with Michael Hebert, now of University of Nebraska, demonstrated that handwriting is still associated with improved classroom performance, even when most classrooms and students type on computers.

Sian Beilock

Sian Beilock

Besides enhancing academic achievement, writing can be a coping tool, according to University of Chicago’s Sian Beilock.
She reported that bright students managed test anxiety by writing about their anxieties to “off-load” them.

Jill Mateo

Jill Mateo

Beilock collaborated with Andrew Mattarella-Micke, Jill Mateo, Neil Albert and Katherine Foster of University of Chicago, and Vanderbilt University’s Marci DeCaro, Robin Thomas of Miami University, and Megan Kozak of Pace University to study students as they derived solutions to challenging math problems.

Robin Thomas

Robin Thomas

The team confirmed that those who performed well on the math problems said that they did not have math anxiety, whereas low performers said they were anxious about math performance.
A less expected finding was that both high performers and low performers had the stress hormone, cortisol, in their saliva.

Although both groups experienced measurable stress, the performance outcome was mediated by the calm or anxious “mindset,” suggesting that performance can be enhanced through managing anxiety and expectations.
Writing by hand helped participants boost performance by reducing anxiety and freeing  working memory to focus on the math problems.

P. Murali Doraiswamy

P. Murali Doraiswamy

Handwriting practice may be valuable for adults as well as children, according to P. Murali Doraiswamy of Duke University, who suggested that handwriting practice may be a useful treatment to stabilize cognitive losses in aging.

 -*How often do you use handwriting and printing instead of typing on a keyboard?

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Online Brain Training For Attention, Memory, Processing Speed, Interpersonal Skills

Michael Merzenich

Michael Merzenich

Michael Merzenich is Chief Scientific Officer of Posit Science and his work has been featured on four PBS specials: The Brain Fitness Program, Brain Fitness 2: Sight and Sound, The New Science of Learning, and Brain Fitness Frontiers.

He asserts that “you can change your brain at any age…You lose your memory because what you hear is not represented clearly in your brain.”
Posit’s online BrainHQ training is designed to help users develop and maintain accurate listening to better remember and speak

This 30-40 hour training uses tasks validated by scientific research to improve the accuracy of receiving information and using it.
Peer-reviewed research studies support the use of systematic brain training to combat the effects of age-related performance decrements, and to assist children with conditions that slow their progress in learning to read.

Posit’s online brain training helps users:
• Focus attention
• Increase brain speed
• Improve memory
• Enhance people skills

Like a gym membership, this series of exercises focuses on increasing strength, stamina, speed, resilience, and capacity.
Exercises include auditory processing, a foundation of accurate memory processing, and useful field of view, imperative in tasks like driving a car safely.

Merzenich discusses the development of brain plasticity from birth
and his TED Talk expands his remarks.

MyBrainSolution offers a different solution based on similar findings in brain plasticity and training studies.
Free trial .

-*What brain development practices have you seen render more benefits?

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Video Games as Cognitive Enhancers

Adam Gazzaley

Neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley of UCSF presents convincing data to suggest that video games can improve cognitive functioning in people of all ages, due to increasing performance based on training and generalization of learning in three limiting areas of:

• Processing speed
• Attention
• Working memory

Training in one skill has been shown in previous research not to generalize to other skills, so Gazzaley’s lab investigated whether training with video games can generalize to improve the brain’s three limitations (above).

His recent work has confirmed this trend, and next studies are intended to monitor generalizability to Activities of Daily Living such as shopping and finding directions.

Training may be strategic, to instruct in “tips” to manage challenging situations, as in occupational therapy or physical therapy or plasticity-based, using repetition, feedback, adaptive adjustment of difficulty based on performance.

Medal of Honor, a first person shooter game, proved more effective than Tetris or crossword puzzles in counteracting the brain’s three limitations (above).

Most effective games are:
• Fast-paced
• Unpredictable
• Engaging, immersive
• Provide feedback
• Adjust difficulty based on performance
• Provide changes to the brain’s three limitations: working memory, attention, processing speed via interference

Cliff Nass

Mastering interference is important because research in Gazzaley’s lab as well as work by Cliff Nass of Stanford, and Daphne Bavelier, University of Rochester, confirm that attention can be impaired by internal intrusions (mind-wandering), intentional multi-tasking (for fun, diversion) or external interference through distraction or interruption (semi-intentional multi-tasking).

Distraction and interruption reduce cognitive performance when people try to multi-task.
These researchers conclude that “multi-tasking is a myth” because “task-switching” occurs instead of simultaneous processing.
They note that task-switching (also important in driving skills) becomes slower with age, but can be improved through training on video games like Neuroracer.

Daphne Bavelier

Bavelier demonstrated that video gamers show improved skills in visual perception (contrast sensitivity, resolve small detail in context of clutter, resolve different levels of threat), attention (retain focus, less distractable).
In addition, these skills can generalize to improvements in other “real-world skills” like spatial cognition.

Skilled gamers’ have efficient neural firings and in different areas of the brain than in less adept individuals, similar to a trend seen among musicians vs non-musicians.
fMRI studies have demonstrated that gamers’ brain structures actually change in brain networks that control attention:

• Parietal cortex – orienting attention
• Frontal lobe – maintaining attention
• Anterior cingulate –allocate, regulate attention, resolve conflicts
Your brains on action games

Games may be recommended for people of all ages to enhance cognition as further research findings add to these trends in the next decade.

Videogames as cognitive neurotherapeutics
Brain – Memory and Multitasking
Exercising Your Brain
Memory and the Aging Brain
The Distracted Mind

-*How have you used game-based training to strengthen your brain functioning?
-*How effective is multi-tasking in your work organization?

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