Category: Cognition

Story-listening shows promise as an intervention for people living with dementia

GettyImages-593316024.jpgBy Emma Young

Listening to a story is known to be cognitively demanding, in part because the listener has to pay close attention to, and remember, plot and character detail in order to understand what’s going on. Attention and memory are both diminished in people living with dementia. Might regularly reading aloud to such patients help, then, to train their attention and memory, and function as a treatment? A new study of people with various kinds of dementia, published in Psychology and Neuroscience, suggests that it could. 

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“My-side bias” makes it difficult for us to see the logic in arguments we disagree with

Screenshot 2018-10-09 09.28.52By Christian Jarrett

In what feels like an increasingly polarised world, trying to convince the “other side” to see things differently often feels futile. Psychology has done a great job outlining some of the reasons why, including showing that, regardless of political leanings, most people are highly motivated to protect their existing views.

However a problem with some of this research is that it is very difficult to concoct opposing real-life arguments of equal validity, so as to make a fair comparison of people’s treatment of arguments they agree and disagree with.

To get around this problem, an elegant new paper in the Journal of Cognitive Psychology has tested people’s ability to assess the logic of formal arguments (syllogisms) structured in the exact same way, but that featured wording that either confirmed or contradicted their existing views on abortion. The results provide a striking demonstration of how our powers of reasoning are corrupted by our prior attitudes.

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A brief jog sharpens the mind, boosting attentional control and perceptual speed. Now researchers are figuring out why

giphyBy Christian Jarrett

If you wanted to ensure your mind was in top gear, which do you think would provide the better preparation – 15 minutes of calm relaxation, or a 15 minute jog?

A study involving 101 undergrad students suggests you’d be better off plumping for the latter.

Evidence had already accumulated showing that relatively brief, moderate aerobic exercise – like going for a brisk walk or a jog – has immediate benefits for mental functioning, especially speed and attentional control. A parallel literature has also documented how brief, aerobic exercise has beneficial effects on your mood, including making you feel more energetic, even when you don’t expect it to. In their new paper in Acta Psychologica, Fabian Legrand and his colleagues bridged these findings by looking to see if the emotional effects of exercise might be at least partly responsible for the cognitive benefits.

They asked their participants to rate how energetic and vigorous they were feeling and then to complete two cognitive tests (versions of the Trail Making Test, which involves drawing lines between numbers and letters as fast and as accurately as possible).

Next, they allocated half their student participants to go for a 15 minute group jog around the campus and the others to spend the same time following group relaxation exercises. Finally, two minutes after the jog/relaxation session, the students answered the same questions as before about their feelings of energy, and then they repeated the cognitive tests.

The students who went for a jog, but not the relaxation students, subsequently showed significant improvement on the version of the Trail Making Test that measures mental speed and attentional control (but not the other that taps memory and cognitive switching). Moreover, this improvement in cognition was fully mediated by their increased feelings of energy and vigour, implying – although not proving conclusively – that the jog boosted cognition through its effects on their subjective sense of having more energy (in contrast, the relaxation group actually felt dramatically less energetic).

Among the study limitations was the fact the relaxation session took place inside, while the jog was outside. Notwithstanding this issue and some others, and while recognising the need for more research, Legrand and his team said that their findings “add weight to recent suggestions that increased feelings of energy may mediate the relationship between aerobic exercise and some aspects of cognitive functioning.”

Brief aerobic exercise immediately enhances visual attentional control and perceptual speed. Testing the mediating role of feelings of energy

Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

Virtual reality research finds large sex difference in navigational efficiency

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Men took more shortcuts and reached their target location faster (via Boone et al, 2018)

By Emma Young

After spending a day exploring a new city and it’s time to return to your hotel, do you tend to rely on landmarks and routes that you’ve learned, or do you consult a “mental map” that you’ve created of the area, to try to devise a short-cut back? If you’re a man, you’re more likely to try the latter – whereas women tend to use routes they know, according to a new paper in Memory and Cognition by researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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While your deliberate “monogamy maintenance strategies” probably won’t keep you faithful, your automatic psychological biases just might

GettyImages-493656728.jpgBy Alex Fradera

Half of us have been unfaithful in our lifetime, and one in five people within their current relationship. As sexual infidelity is the primary cause of divorce and one of the hardest issues to address in couples therapy, identifying any useful defences could make a huge difference to people’s happiness. In a recent paper in Personal Relationships Brenda Lee and Lucia O’Sullivan from the University of New Brunswick investigated what strategies people in relationships use to reduce the chances they will cheat – so-called “monogomy maintainance strategies” – and looked into whether or not they are actually effective. 

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Beyond the invisible gorilla – inattention can also render us numb and anosmic (without smell)

GettyImages-598817398-2.jpgBy Emma Young

It’s well-known that we can miss apparently obvious objects in our visual field if other events are hogging our limited attention. The same has been shown for sounds: in a nod to Daniel Simons’ and Christopher Chabris’ famous gorilla/basketball study that demonstrated “inattentional blindness”, distracted participants in the first “inattentional deafness” study failed to hear a man walking through an auditory scene for 19 seconds saying repeatedly “I am a gorilla”. Now, two new studies separately show that a very similar effect occurs in relation to touch (inattentional numbness) and to smell  (inattentional anosmia). 

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New findings explain why, if you’re sensitive to alcohol, you’re probably sensitive to sleep deprivation too

GettyImages-830297466.jpgBy guest blogger Julia Gottwald

The last time you and your class-mates or co-workers pulled an all-nighter before a deadline, you may have noticed: there are always those lucky individuals who seem to do just fine after a lack of sleep, while others feel drowsy and confused – almost like they had too much to drink. 

New research conducted at the German Aerospace Center suggests this could be because alcohol intoxication and sleep deprivation are more similar than we once thought.

In their study published recently in PNAS, Eva-Maria Elmenhorst and David Elmenhorst and their colleagues show how both affect us via a shared mechanism. And what’s more, if you’re sensitive to one, you’re likely to cope poorly with the other as well.

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Pilot study finds “smart drug” Aderall has limited benefits for healthy students, and may harm working memory

GettyImages-1009056818.jpgBy Emma Young

Stimulants available on prescription such as Adderall improve cognitive functioning as well as attention in people with ADHD, but many students without this condition also take them, believing that they will act as “smart drugs” and boost their cognition, and so their academic performance. The limited research to date into whether this is actually the case has produced mixed results. A new double-blind pilot study of healthy US college students, published in Pharmacy, found that though Adderall led to minor improvements in attention, it actually impaired working memory. 

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Amsterdam coffee-shop study explores the effects of cannabis on eye-witness memory

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Cannabis intoxication strengthened the correlation between eye-witnesses’ memory confidence and accuracy

By Christian Jarrett

The fallibility of eye-witness memory has been well-documented by psychologists, including how alcohol intoxication undermines witness accuracy still further. In fact, psychological research into the foibles of human memory and the implications this has for legal proceedings is arguably one of the best examples of the discipline making a practical contribution to everyday life.

And yet, as Annelies Vredeveldt at VU University Amsterdam and her team explain in their new paper in Applied Cognitive Psychology, there is a striking gap in the literature: “despite the frequency with which people use cannabis, there is almost no research examining its effects on eye-witness memory.”

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Clever study shows how two minds interact to create the spooky sense that an Ouija board is moving by itself

GettyImages-157719078.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Psychologists have proposed an explanation for why Ouija board users feel as though a spirit is moving the planchette (an ornate pointer) and spelling out messages. It is based on the idea that two (or more) living users unwittingly take turns at controlling the planchette, cooperating implicitly to create a message that starts out random but becomes more predictable as the number of meaningful options decreases.

“It seems that meaningful responses from the Ouija board are an emergent property of interacting predictive minds that increasingly impose structure on initially random events in the sessions,” Marc Andersen at Aarhus University and his colleagues explain in their open-access paper in Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences.

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