Category: Perception

Our Ability To Perceive Musical Beat Becomes More Refined Through Childhood

By Emma Young

If you were to play your favourite song right now, I imagine you’d have little difficulty clapping along with the beat. Our appreciation of beat allows us to clap, dance, march and sway in time with a piece of music — or just with each other. As the authors of a new paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General point out, these behaviours occur spontaneously across human cultures. But while moving to a beat seems effortless, it involves all kinds of perceptual processes.

The team, led by Jessica E. Nave-Blodgett at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, now report that our ability to perceive beat becomes ever more refined and also nuanced through childhood and adolescence. It may seem like an instinctive ability, but it is learned — and training does make it better.

Continue reading “Our Ability To Perceive Musical Beat Becomes More Refined Through Childhood”

When We Follow Orders To Hurt Someone, We Feel Their Pain Less Than If We Hurt Them Freely

By Emma Young

It’s one of the best-known and also controversial experiments in psychology: in 1963, Stanley Milgram reported that, when instructed, many people are surprisingly willing to deliver apparently dangerous electrical shocks to others. For some researchers, this — along with follow-up studies by the team — reveals how acting “under orders” can undermine our moral compass.

Milgram’s interpretation of his findings, and the methods, too, have been criticised. However, the results have largely been replicated in experiments run in the US, Poland, and elsewhere. And in 2016, a brain-scanning study revealed that when we perform an act under coercion vs freely, our brain processes it more like a passive action rather than a voluntary one.

Now a new study, from a group that specialises in the neuroscience of empathy, takes this further: Emilie Caspar at the Social Brain Lab at the Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience and colleagues report in NeuroImage that when we follow orders to hurt someone, there is reduced activity in brain networks involved in our ability to feel another’s pain. What’s more, this leads us to perceive pain that we inflict as being less severe. This process could, then, help to explain the dark side of obedience.

Continue reading “When We Follow Orders To Hurt Someone, We Feel Their Pain Less Than If We Hurt Them Freely”

We Find Some Word Sounds More Emotionally Arousing Than Others

By Emma Young

Of all “cross-modal” findings, the most famous is surely the bouba-kiki effect — that we tend to pair round, blobby shapes with the sound bouba and spiky shapes with kiki. However, research has not yet revealed why this effect is common among adults who speak very different languages — and even in infants as young as four.

Various theories have been put forward. One holds that levels of emotional arousal may be key — that both kiki and a spiky shape trigger relatively high levels of arousal, compared with bouba and a blob. Now a new study, reported in Psychological Science, provides compelling evidence for this idea. The researchers also take their findings further, arguing that they could have important implications for understanding the early evolution of languages.

Continue reading “We Find Some Word Sounds More Emotionally Arousing Than Others”

The Shape Of A Glass Can Influence How Much We Drink

By Matthew Warren

Recent years have seen the government take measures to try and limit people’s consumption of sugary drinks and other unhealthy foods. Take the so-called “sugar tax” placed on soft drinks, for instance, or the proposal to ban adverts for junk food before the 9pm watershed.

Some psychologists hope that small changes in design can also help “nudge” people into healthier behaviours. For example, a study from last year found that the order in which drinks are presented on the McDonald’s menu could encourage people to choose the sugar-free options more often.

Now a new paper in Scientific Reports suggests that the shape of a glass could also subtly influence people’s drinking behaviours.

Continue reading “The Shape Of A Glass Can Influence How Much We Drink”

Cat People, Beware — Posing With Your Pet Could Make You Appear Less Dateable

By Emily Reynolds

If you’re looking to find love on a dating app, there’s plenty you need to think about: what to include in your bio, the interests you list, and what you say you’re looking for. And in an age of rapid swiping, you’re probably going to need a knock-out profile picture too.

But don’t be too quick to assume that a picture with your pet might boost your chances — at least if you’re a male cat owner, that is. According to Lori Kogan and Shelly Volsche, writing in Animals, men holding cats in photographs are seen as less masculine, more neurotic and ultimately less dateable.

Continue reading “Cat People, Beware — Posing With Your Pet Could Make You Appear Less Dateable”

We’re Not Very Good At Identifying Illness From Sounds of Coughs and Sneezes

By Emily Reynolds

At the moment, most of us are on red alert when it comes to sounds of illness, with sniffling in the supermarket or coughing behind us in a queue the cause of significant alarm.

And while we might like to think we’re able to tell the difference between someone clearing their throat and somebody who is genuinely unwell, new research published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B suggests we’re less good at identifying threats than we think.

Continue reading “We’re Not Very Good At Identifying Illness From Sounds of Coughs and Sneezes”

Gradual Hearing Loss “Reorganises” Brain’s Sensory Areas And Impairs Memory (In Mice)

By Emma Young

In 2011, a US-based study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that people with hearing loss were more likely to develop dementia. This alarming result prompted a number of follow-up studies, which have substantiated the link and further explored the risk. But the mechanism of how hearing loss raises this risk has not been clear.

Now a new study, by a team at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany, offers an explanation. The researchers found that gradual hearing loss (the sort commonly experienced into older age) “profoundly” alters normal processes in the brain’s cortex and hippocampus, and that this impairs memory. This work was conducted on mice, not humans. But it provides useful new insights into what might happen in people.

Continue reading “Gradual Hearing Loss “Reorganises” Brain’s Sensory Areas And Impairs Memory (In Mice)”

Dreams Aren’t Just Visual: We Often Hear Voices And Other Sounds Too

By Emma Young

“At least since the philosophers of ancient Greece, scholars have pointed out the analogy between madness (psychosis) and dreaming…” So begins a new paper, published in PLoS One, that seems to shore up that analogy.

Dreams and psychotic hallucinations do have things in common. They both feature perceptual sensations that seem real, but which are conjured up by our brains.

However, there are also differences. While dreams are known to be highly visual, psychotic hallucinations are primarily auditory. They generally involve hearing things that aren’t real rather than seeing things that don’t exist. And this difference is an important reason why “the idea of dreaming as a model for psychosis has remained speculative and controversial,” write Roar Fosse of the Vestre Viken Hospital Trust, Norway, and Frank Larøi of the Norwegian Centre of Excellence for Mental Disorders Research at the University of Oslo.

However, to date, there’s been very little investigation into perceptions of sounds in dreams, the pair reports. And now they have data suggesting that, in fact, auditory perceptions are common. If this is the case, the links between psychotic experiences and dreams may be stronger than has been recently supposed.

Continue reading “Dreams Aren’t Just Visual: We Often Hear Voices And Other Sounds Too”

This Weird, Sound-Induced Illusion Makes You Feel That Your Finger Has Grown Longer

By Emma Young

Adults are vulnerable to all kinds of body illusions. We can be made to feel that a fake hand, or even a fake body, is our own; that we’ve left our body; even that we’re the size of a doll. These illusions work because our brains use information from various senses to create mental representations of our bodies. Mess with some of these sensory signals, and you can alter those representations, sometimes drastically.

Work to date suggests that young children don’t show the same susceptibilities to body illusions, presumably because the systems that underpin them are still developing. Now a new study, published in Scientific Reports, has found that a bizarre auditory-induced illusion that affects adults doesn’t work in quite the same way in young kids, either.

Continue reading “This Weird, Sound-Induced Illusion Makes You Feel That Your Finger Has Grown Longer”