Category: Cognition

Can you mind wander if you have damaged hippocampi?

GettyImages-915101166.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

The hippocampus is a structure found on both sides of the brain in the temporal lobes, near the ears. It plays an important role in memory and thinking about the past and future. This led a team of researchers, led by Cornelia McCormick at the Wellcome Centre for Human Neuroimaging, to wonder if people with damage to both hippocampi are still capable of mind-wandering – after all, when we mind wander or day-dream, a lot of the time it is about things we’ve done or plan to do. And if these patients can mind wander, will the content of their mind-wandering thoughts be different from healthy controls?

For their new paper in the Journal of Neuroscience, the researchers shadowed 6 male patients with bilateral hippocampus damage for two days during daylight hours, occasionally prompting them to report what they were thinking about, and compared their descriptions with those obtained from 12 age-matched healthy controls over the same period. The patients with hippocampus damage mind-wandered just as much as the controls, but the form and content of their mind-wandering was very different.

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Sorry, but imagining you’re a professor won’t make you smarter (an unsuccessful mass replication of the Professor Prime effect)

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It’s another blow for “social priming” but a success for non-adversarial science

By Alex Fradera

A pre-registered mass replication attempt published in Perspectives on Psychological Science has raised doubts about another celebrated psychology finding. The collaboration between 40 laboratories found scant evidence for the so-called “Professor Prime”, undermining the famous finding that when people imagined themselves as a professor rather than a football hooligan it led them to perform better on a trivia quiz.

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Why do we think of the future as being in front? New clues from study of people born blind

GettyImages-811434286.jpgBy Alex Fradera

Where is the future? The tendency in our culture – and most, but not all, others – is to compare the body’s movement through space with its passage through time: ahead are the things we are on our way to encounter. We intuit that the past is linked to the space behind and the future to that in front. But research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General has found that some Western people buck this tendency: those born blind.

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Children with higher working memory are more inclined to finger count (and less able kids should be encouraged to do the same)

GettyImages-833912150.jpgBy Christian Jarrett

Finger counting by young kids has traditionally been frowned upon because it’s seen as babyish and a deterrent to using mental calculations. However, a new Swiss study in the Journal of Cognitive Psychology has found that six-year-olds who finger counted performed better at simple addition, especially if they used an efficient finger counting strategy. What’s more, it was the children with higher working memory ability – who you would expect to have less need for using their fingers – who were more inclined to finger count, and to do so in an efficient way. “Our study advocates for the promotion of finger use in arithmetic tasks during the first years of schooling,” said the researchers Justine Dupont-Boime and Catherine Thevenot at the Universities of Geneva and Lausanne.

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Thinking in a second language drains the imagination of vividness

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It is fascinating to wonder how these effects might play out in the real world, particularly in international politics (Image via Getty/Thierry Monasse)

By Christian Jarrett

Mental imagery helps us anticipate the future, and vivid mental pictures inject emotion into our thought processes. If operating in a foreign language diminishes our imagination – as reported by a pair of psychologists at the University of Chicago in the journal Cognition – this could affect the emotionality of our thoughts, and our ability to visualise future scenarios, thus helping to explain previous findings showing that bilinguals using their second language make more utilitarian moral judgments, are less prone to cognitive bias and superstition, and are less concerned by risks.

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Cognitive approach to lie detection rendered useless by made-up alibi

GettyImages-531979628.jpgBy Alex Fradera

The desire to catch people in a lie has led to the development of techniques that are meant to detect the physical markers of dishonesty – from the polygraph to brain scans. However, these methods are often found wanting. The insights of cognitive psychologists have arguably fared better, based on the idea that lying is more mentally demanding than telling the truth – real knowledge is automatically called to mind when we are questioned, and this needs to be inhibited  before we answer, leading to slower responses. Unfortunately new research in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied seems to pour cold water on the idea of using these subtle reaction-time differences to develop objective (and cheap) measures to get at the truth. The findings suggest that all it takes to render this cognitive approach ineffective is a prepared false alibi.

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Different psychiatric symptom dimensions have opposite associations with confidence and metacognition

 

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Decision accuracy was unrelated to symptom dimensions, but confidence and metacognition were. Figure via Rouault et al

By Christian Jarrett

Some researchers hope that focusing on the cognitive, neural, genetic and social processes that contribute to symptom dimensions – like anxiety-depression or social withdrawal – may be more fruitful than trying to understand the causes of different diagnostic categories, like “schizophrenia” or “major depression”. It’s in this vein that a new paper in Biological Psychiatry has used a simple perceptual task to investigate how judgment confidence, judgment accuracy and metacognition (judgment insight) are related to various trans-diagnostic symptom dimensions in the general public.

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Another blow for ego-depletion theory – practice counteracts the effects of diminished willpower

Screenshot 2018-01-29 09.38.31.pngBy Alex Fradera

Ego depletion is the notion that willpower is a fuel that gets burned away by effort, and once it burns low we lose our focus and bow to our immediate desires. However, this once dominant theory has recently come into question, thanks in part to a large-scale replication that failed to find an ego-depletion effect and a meta-analysis that argued that the size of the effect is minimal. Complicating the picture, other recent findings have provided a strong demonstration of the effect. But now researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz have released a pre-print at PsyArxiv in which they suggest the debates over the size of the ego-depletion effect are missing the point because when you look over the long-term, ego depletion becomes meaningless.

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Self-control and cognitive control are not the same thing

By Christian Jarrett

It’s common for psychologists to use the terms “self-control” and “cognitive control” interchangeably. Consider the introduction to a review paper published recently in Trends in Cognitive Sciences on whether our self-control is limited or not (I’ve added the emphases): “Whereas cognitive control relies on at least three separate (yet related) executive functions – task switching, working-memory, and inhibition – at its heart, self-control is most clearly related to inhibitory cognitive control …”

When scholars do make a distinction, they mostly use self-control to refer to the ability to delay immediate gratification in the service of a longer-term goal, whereas they use the term cognitive control to refer to the related ability to ignore distracting information or stimuli. Defined this way, do self-control and cognitive control essentially involve the same mental processes? According to a new study by Stefan Scherbaum at Technische Universität Dresden and his colleagues in Acta Psychologica, they do not.

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Brain differences in avid players of violent video games suggest they are “callous, cool and in control”

GettyImages-642627610.jpgBy guest blogger Helge Hasselmann

Video games do not enjoy the best of reputations. Violent games in particular have been linked with aggression, antisocial behaviour and alienation among teens. For example, one study found that playing a mere 10 minutes of a violent video game was enough to reduce helping behaviour in participants.

However, some experts are sceptical about whether games really cause aggression and, even if the games are to blame, it remains unclear what drives their harmful effects. Earlier studies identified empathy as a key trait that may be affected by violent gameplay. Now a study by Laura Stockdale at Loyola University Chicago and her colleagues in Social Affective and Cognitive Neuroscience has taken a closer look at how gamers and non-gamers differ at a neural level, uncovering evidence that suggests chronic violent gameplay may affect emotional brain processing, although more research is needed to confirm this.

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