Category: Memory

What leads people to believe they have been abducted by aliens?

By guest blogger Emma L. Barratt

Alien abduction stories are, at least in the West, relatively common. From as far back as the early 60s, there have been reports of people being stolen away by aliens — typically at night — often for various physics-defying experiments, before being returned home in one piece.

And while stories like these might strike some as delusions that would typically arise from certain mental health issues, studies have found that abductees are no more likely than anyone else to have conditions affecting their perception of reality.

Thanks to psychological research over the past few decades, however, we can probably conclude that these alien mis-adventures arise due to two entirely more mundane phenomena: sleep paralysis, and false memories.

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We Mistake Information We’ve Googled For Our Own Knowledge

By Emily Reynolds

In many ways, the internet has democratised knowledge, allowing people to access more information than they could possibly dream of reading. No matter where your interests lie, there is almost certainly something new to learn online.

But is this immediately accessible trove of information making us confused about what knowledge is ours and what is the internet’s? According to a new paper, it might be. Authored by Adrian F. Ward of University of Texas at Austin and published in PNAS, the series of eight studies finds that those searching online are sometimes unable to distinguish what knowledge belongs to them and what belongs to the internet — and that it could even cause unwarranted overconfidence in our future attempts to remember things.

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We’re Worse At Recognising Faces From Races Other Than Our Own — And That Can Be A Major Barrier To Socialising

By Emma Young

Elinor McKone admits that as a junior postdoctoral student, she was unable to recognise her other-race senior professor “by anything other than his coat”. McKone was, then, a perpetrator of the “other-race effect” (ORE) — the (well-documented) fact that we are generally poorer at recognising the faces of people of races other than our own. Now at the Australian National University, McKone has led the first formal investigation into how this phenomenon affects everyday social interactions. The study of students of mostly Chinese heritage, who had recently moved to study in Australia, reveals that both being a victim and a perpetrator makes social interactions more difficult. In fact, the students found it to be as big of a hurdle to successful socialising as the language barrier.

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It’s Surprisingly Common To Misremember Where You Were On A Specific Time And Date

By Emma Young

Where were you at 8am two Tuesdays ago? If it’s a little tricky to recall, what if I presented you with a map with four location flags to choose from, each about 3-4 km apart, with one marking your actual location on that time and date?  Are you confident that you’d pick the right one?

If you are confident, the good news from a new paper in Psychological Science is that you’re more likely to be right than if you’re not too sure. The bad news is that when a group of students in Melbourne, Australia was tested in this way, they picked the wrong location 36% of the time. The study shows that this type of memory is pretty fallible — and yet it’s the type, of course, that’s needed for a criminal alibi. Failures in recalling where you were have no doubt contributed to serious miscarriages of justice, write Elizabeth Laliberte at the University of Melbourne and her colleagues.

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Here’s The Best Way To Forgive And Forget

By Emma Young

If somebody else has treated you badly, what are the best strategies for overcoming this, and moving on?

There has been, of course, an enormous amount of research in this field, in relation to everything from getting over a romantic break-up to coping with the after-effects of civil war. Now a new study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition, led by Saima Noreen at De Montfort University, specifically investigates how different types of forgiveness towards an offender can help people who are intentionally trying to forget an unpleasant incident.  

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We’re Worse At Remembering Exactly What We’ve Given To Friends Than What We’ve Given To Strangers

By Emma Young

Let’s say a friend asks you to help them to move house. When deciding how much time you can offer, you might consider how much you’ve helped that particular friend lately (and perhaps how much they’ve helped you). But a new paper in Social Psychology suggests that if that friend is particularly close, you’re likely to have a poorer memory of just how much time you’ve dedicated to helping them. You might offer more help than you would to an acquaintance not just because this friend is closer, but because your brain’s distinction between a close friend and yourself is blurrier.

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Taking Lecture Notes On A Laptop Might Not Be That Bad After All

By Emma Young

“The pen is mightier than the keyboard”… in other words, it’s better to take lecture notes with a pen and paper rather than a laptop. That was the hugely influential conclusion of a paper published in 2014, by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer. The work was picked up by media around the world, and has received extensive academic attention; it’s been cited more than 1,100 times and, the authors of a new paper, also in Psychological Science, point out, it often features in discussions among educators about whether or not to ban laptops from classrooms. However, when Heather Urry at Tufts University, US, and her colleagues ran a direct replication of that original study, their findings told a different story. And it’s one that the team’s additional mini meta-analysis of other directly comparable replications supported: when later quizzed on the contents of a talk, participants who’d taken notes with a pen and paper did no better than those who’d used a laptop.

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School Kids’ Memory Is Better For Material Delivered With Enthusiasm, Because It Grabs Their Attention

By Emma Young

Like countless other parents across the UK, I’m finding it pretty hard to maintain enthusiasm for my kids’ home-schooling lessons. Or muster it, for that matter. Yet we all know that when an instructor is enthusiastic, those sessions are more enjoyable — and we remember more. While this might be common knowledge, however, “the underlying mechanisms for the favourable effects of teacher enthusiasm are still largely unknown,” write Angelica Moè at the University of Padova, Italy, and her colleagues, in their new paper in the British Journal of Educational Psychology. The team therefore set out to better understand its power. And in a series of studies, they explored the idea that attention is key — that a more enthusiastic delivery grabs pupils’ attention more, which improves their memory for the material.

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Revisiting The “Brain Drain” Effect: Having A Phone On The Desk Doesn’t Always Impair Our Memory

By Emma Young

We all know that using a smartphone interferes with our ability to focus on other things — like driving. But in 2017, a surprising result made international headlines: the mere presence of a switched off smartphone on the desk can impair working memory. Now a new study in Consciousness and Cognition, which has partially replicated and extended this investigation, has not found evidence to support the “brain drain” effect. However, the researchers, led by Matthias Hartmann at University of Bern, Switzerland, say that we shouldn’t start putting our phones back on our desks just yet.

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Why Are We Better At Remembering Vocal Melodies Than Instrumental Tunes?

By Matthew Warren

When it comes to memory for music, humans show an interesting quirk: we’re better at remembering melodies that are sung by voice, compared to those played on an instrument. Even a melody sung without any lyrics — just a series of la la las, for instance — becomes lodged in our memory in a way that a tune played on the piano, say, does not.

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