By Emma Young
The general public has a pretty poor understanding of how memory works — and lawyers and clinical psychologists can be just as bad. At least, this is what many researchers have asserted, notes a team at University College London in a new paper, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. However, their research reveals that the idea that most people ignorantly subscribe to “memory myths” is itself a myth.
The wording of earlier studies, and also discrepancies in how memory experts and the general public tend to interpret the meaning of statements about memory, have painted a bleaker picture of public understanding than is actually the case, according to a series of studies led by Chris Brewin. This has important implications for cases in which ideas about memory are highly relevant — among jurors in a court room, for example.
Continue reading “Public Belief In “Memory Myths” Not Actually That Widespread, Study Argues”
By Emma Young
A witness to a crime has to describe the offender’s face in as much detail as they can before they work with a police expert to create a visual likeness — a “facial composite”, sometimes called a photo-fit, or e-fit. But the way this is typically handled in police stations could be reducing the accuracy of these images, according to a new paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied.
There have been concerns that the process of describing facial features might create a so-called “verbal overshadowing” that interferes with the visual memories of the offender. Recent work had suggested that waiting half an hour before starting on the composite should allow this predicted over-shadowing to fade away, and so make for a better composite. However, the new research, led by Charity Brown at the University of Leeds, has found that in more real-world situations, a delay actually makes things worse.
Continue reading “Timing Is Crucial For Creating Accurate Police Sketches From Eyewitness Descriptions”
By Emily Reynolds
Having a bit of a fuzzy memory is not an uncommon side effect of having had too much to drink the night before — and the details we do remember are often somewhat limited. The same can also be true for our attention when drunk: we’re only able to concentrate on what’s going on in front of us and not what’s happening elsewhere.
This phenomenon has been termed “alcohol myopia”: attentional shortsightedness related to alcohol consumption. A new paper in the Journal of Psychopharmacology suggests this shortsightedness may apply to human faces, too — and that it could have an impact on how well people can identify perpetrators of crimes they witness while drunk.
Continue reading “Drinking Alcohol Focuses Our Attention On The External Features Of Faces, With Implications For Eyewitness Memory”
By Emily Reynolds
Though fidget spinners have been around since the early 1990s, it was 2017 when they really started to make a stir, becoming a seemingly overnight sensation and starting to appear in offices, classrooms, public transport and pretty much anywhere else they were permitted. The actual provenance of the design has been debated, but many companies market the toys as a tool for concentration, particularly for those who have anxiety, ADHD or autism.
Calming — and fun — they may be, but do they actually work when it comes to keeping attention? Julia S. Soares & Benjamin C. Storm from the University of California, Santa Cruz think not. In a new paper, they look at the marketing of fidget spinners as attentional aides — and come to the conclusion that they may be actively distracting.
Continue reading “Using Fidget Spinners May Actually Impede Learning”
By Emma Young
“The sense of self is a hallmark of human experience. Each of us maintains a constellation of personal memories and personality traits that collectively define ‘who we really are'”.
So begins a new paper, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, which reveals that who you “are” can easily be manipulated. Just imagining somebody else can alter all kinds of aspects of how you see yourself, even including your personality and memories.
Continue reading “Simply Imagining Other People Can Change Our Own Sense Of Self”
By Emma Young
The last time I tried to learn a foreign language, I was living in an Italian suburb of Sydney. My hour a week at a local Italian class was inevitably followed by a bowl of pasta and a few glasses of wine. As an approach to language-learning goes, it was certainly more pleasurable than my German lessons at school. Despite the wine, it was also surprisingly effective. In fact, getting better at a new language doesn’t have to mean hard hours on lists of vocab and the rules of grammar. It turns out that what you don’t focus on matters, too. And a glass of wine may even help …
Continue reading “Five Unusual, Evidence-Based Ways To Get Better At A New Language”
By Matthew Warren
Stress has complicated effects on our memories. Whereas some studies have found that we are better at remembering events that occurred during stressful situations, such as while watching disturbing videos, others have shown that stress impairs memory. Now a study published in Brain and Cognition suggests that stress doesn’t influence the strength of our emotional memories at all. Instead, the researchers claim, it is the fidelity of those memories – how distinct and precise they are – that changes when we go through stressful experiences.
Continue reading “Preliminary Evidence That Stress Makes Negative Memories Less Distinctive, With Implications For Witness Testimony “
By Christian Jarrett
The question is an old favourite – if you could travel back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self? Yet despite the popularity of this thought experiment, no one has, until now, actually studied what people would tell themselves.
Reporting their findings in The Journal of Social Psychology Robin Kowalski and Annie McCord at Clemson University have done just that in two surveys of hundreds of participants on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk website. Their findings show that people’s advice to their younger selves is overwhelmingly focused on prior relationships, educational opportunities and personal worth, echoing similar results derived from research into people’s most common regrets in life. Moreover, participants who said they had followed the advice they would give to their younger selves were more likely to say that they had become the kind of person that their younger self would admire. “…[W]e should consult ourselves for advice we would offer to our younger selves,” the researchers said. “The data indicate that there is much to be learned that can facilitate wellbeing and bring us more in line with the person that we would like to be should we follow that advice.”
Continue reading “First Systematic Study Of The Advice People Would Give To Their Younger Selves”
By Christian Jarrett
Write down the unfinished statement “I am …” twenty times. Now think to yourself “Who am I?” and complete as many of the “I am …” statements as you can in the next five minutes or less.
This is the Twenty Statements Test and it’s designed to assess how we see ourselves – our “self-concept”. For their new paper in the journal Memory, a team at the University of Reading, led by Emily Hards, gave this test to 822 teenagers (aged 13-18) from three schools in England, with the additional instruction “not to think too much about the responses and not to worry about the order/importance of the statements”.
While it’s widely recognised that adolescence is a crucial period for the establishment of our sense of self, little is actually known about how teenagers’ generally see themselves. Indeed, this is the first time that teenagers’ own self-generated descriptions of themselves (what the researchers call their “self-images”) have been gathered in a systematic way.
Continue reading “Teenagers Define Themselves Mostly In Terms Of Their Positive Traits; Adults More In Terms Of Their Social Roles”
By Emma Young
How do we acquire our native language? Are the basics of language and grammar innate, as nativists argue? Or, as empiricists propose, is language something we must learn entirely from scratch?
This debate has a long history. To get at an answer, it’s worth setting the theories aside and instead looking at just how much information must be learned in order to speak a language with adult proficiency, argue Francis Mollica at the University of Rochester, US, and Steven Piantadosi at the University of California, Berkeley. If the amount is vast, for instance, this could indicate that it’s impracticable for it all to be learned without sophisticated innate language mechanisms. In their new paper, published in Royal Society Open Science, Mollica and Piantadosi present results suggesting that some language-specific knowledge could be innate – but probably not the kind of syntactic knowledge (the grammatical rules underlying correct word order) that nativists have tended to argue in favour of. Indeed, their work suggests that the long-running focus on whether syntax is learned or innate has been misplaced.
Continue reading “Researchers Calculate Acquiring A Language Requires Learning 1.5 Megabytes Of Data, With Implications For Psychological Theory”