Author Archives: allieboe

Thinking About Killing

I have always been interested in forensic psychology. What I find most intriguing are serial killers. What makes them different from those of us that aren’t serial killers? Is the brain physically different? Is it social factors, such as bullying and abuse, that lead these people to murder? Or is it something else?

A study done by Dr. Jean Decety at the University of Chicago looked at just that. For the past 10 years, he has been studying empathy in psychopaths versus the “normal” population. He states that psychopaths do not have the same affective arousal that others do when someone is in distress. In order to see what parts of the brain causes a lack in empathy in psychopaths, Dr. Decety scanned brains of psychopaths and non-psychopaths in an MRI machine while watching a series of violent video clips. He saw a difference in empathetic reactions in the areas of the insula, amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex.

So what does this lack of empathy have to do with the cognition of murder? A common idea of what causes serial killers to kill is that the don’t feel a sense of guilt for murdering, hence why it is easy for them to kill a multitude of people.

This feeling of disconnect from the victim could be caused by cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a when a person becomes psychologically uncomfortable because they hold two contradictory beliefs. So, in the instance of a serial killer, they hold the belief that murder is wrong but also the belief that they will get pleasure out of killing (creepy, I know). So, in order to overcome this uncomfortable feeling, the person has to choose between the two beliefs and decide which one will make them feel better. When that person chooses the pleasure of killing over the knowledge that killing is wrong, they lose all sense of guilt and remorse for wanting to kill people. The result? A serial killer is born. They disconnect from their victims in order to fully bask in the pleasure they receive from their heinous acts.

Decety says that there is no way to cure those people who have chosen the path of killing, but he is hoping that his future research can help bring to light different possibilities of treating people with cognitive dissonance over killing.

Serial killersDo you all think that cognitive dissonance is a valid answer to why people become killers? Or are there other possibilities?


Love to be Afraid

Like thousands of people, I am a lover of the horror genre. Movies, tv shows, books, comics, you name it, I probably like it. I love the suspense, how it gets my heart pumping and mind racing, and the thrill of watching the story unfold. But why do so many people, like me, enjoy being scared by monsters movies, ghost stories, and slashers? An article written by Dr. Christian Jarrett explains the theories behind the love of horror.

Since human beginnings, we have been taught and morphed to be afraid of predators, things such as lions, snakes, and bears. Research shows that children as young as three recognize snakes faster than neutral stimuli, such as flowers. This is because we are innately fearful of things that seem to pose a threat. A snake is much more dangerous than a flower, at least at first sight. A theory as for why humans love the horror genre based off of this research is that we want to learn from the mistakes and situations portrayed in horror movies and stories so we can know how to avoid the ultimate demise that many characters face.

But what about all of the fictional characters that we have all come to know and love? Some well-known fictional monsters that are most popular among teens and adults are vampires, werewolves, ghosts, and zombies. But we know they are all not real, so why do they scare us anyways? One idea is that these monsters are ‘minimally counter-intuitive’. This means that  the monster fits in a category except for one factor. For example, vampires fit into the human category, except for the fact that they feed on blood. Ghosts are also human-like, they just lack a body. Because the monsters are very close to categories that are actually real, the possibility that the fictional creatures could be real sticks in our mind, causing fear. Another idea is that we tend to see things that aren’t really there. Clowns, for example, wear bright face paints to match their costumes. However, the face paint usually conceals the clowns facial expressions. Because we cannot tell what the clown is actually feeling through facial expression, we automatically assume that they are dangerous and become afraid.

Zombies have become a major part of pop culture over the past few years, with shows like The Walking Dead, and movies like World War Z, 28 Days Later, and Zombieland. What’s with the sudden fascination? A common fear among people is that of infection, disease, and death. Zombies contain all three of those fears, being undead creatures that don’t think, and can infect another human through contact or a bite. Another thing that makes zombies so terrifying is how human-like they are. I mean, the creatures were once human, making it about as close to reality as possible. Their almost human-like walk also preys on our primal fear because it implies the idea that we could become a zombie ourselves.

So who is more likely to want to be scared? Dr. Jarrett says that there are several major characteristics of those who enjoy the horror genre, those being empathy, sensation seeking, aggressiveness, gender, and age.

The more negative affect a person has while watching a horror movie, the more they say they enjoy it. But isn’t that contradictory? It actually makes sense because these people enjoy watching the characters escape danger. Another explanation is that they feel a sense of justice that the characters got what they deserved. I know from personal experience that when I see a group of teenagers in a horror movie do something completely stupid to get themselves in a horror situation, I find it gratifying that they get punished for their stupid choices. This reason is why movies such as Saw are popular.

People with lower self-reported empathy levels are also more likely to enjoy horror movies, as well as people who are more aggressive. Men are more likely to watch horror movies that women, which is explained mostly by the fact that men tend to be more aggressive than women. Age is also a big factor. Teens and young adults find horror movies to be most appealing, where as older adults choose other film genres first.

I thought that this article was super interesting. As I said before, horror movies are my favorite, and it is cool to see what goes on in our minds to make monsters terrifying. I also really liked reading about zombies, because they are my favorite monsters. The idea that there could be a biological virus that could cause us to turn into mindless flesh-eating machines is both horrifying and fascinating at the same time. The possibility of it actually happening is slim, yes, but there is still a possibility because of the things we still don’t understand about viruses, especially in third world countries and places that have not been thoroughly researched by humans.

Do any of you on this blog enjoy horror movies? If so, why? Did this article help shed some light on your love of horror? I know it did for me!


Daydreaming: Helpful or Harmful?

Do you ever find your mind wandering while doing boring tasks, like cleaning or laundry? Are there times when you are trying to study that you have to reread a paragraph because you were thinking of something else? Do you ever think about if daydreaming is detrimental to the task at hand, or could it possibly help cognition?

A new study at Bar-Ilan University wanted to know how daydreaming and “mind wandering” affected task success. In their experiment, a transcranial current was directed to the areas of the frontal lobe that have been found to be associated with mind wandering. Participants were asked to track and respond to numerals flashed on a computer screen and also to report on a scale of 1 to 4 of how much they were experiencing spontaneous thoughts that had nothing to do with the numeral task. The results were far from expected.

The experiment found that increased mind wandering behavior made by external stimulation actually helped success on the numeral task rather than hindering success like originally thought. One of the explanations for this was that both mind wandering and task functioning are controlled in the same areas of the brain, the frontal lobes. By stimulating the spots associated with daydreaming, task functioning may have also stimulated and increased. So in terms of this experiment, daydreaming actually increases cognition.

So how can the results of the experiment be used in the real world? The low levels of electrical stimulation could actually be therapeutic in nature for those who have low levels of neural activity. Regularly stimulating the frontal lobe to increase cognitive function could have positive long-term effects for those with low or abnormal neural activity.

Something that the Bar-Ilan University lab would like to study next is how external electrical stimulation would affect other behaviors, like multi-tasking. Would it be the same as this current study and positively help success rates, or would it negatively hinder them? That is something we will have to look for in the future.

I personally think this study is really interesting because I find myself daydreaming a lot and have always thought that it was bad. I’ve tried many things to get myself out of the habit of my mind wandering, but after reading this article it may not be such a bad thing after all. Although excessive daydreaming would probably be detrimental, it sounds like little to moderate daydreaming is actually beneficial to cognition and task performance.

So if you find yourself daydreaming, don’t fret. Let your mind wander to success.


There Was A Gorilla???



This meme is an accurate representation of how I felt after watching “The Invisible Gorilla” video. I just couldn’t believe that a gorilla had walked through the two teams, and that I wasn’t capable of seeing it! How did that happen? Why was it so hard to count the passes AND find the gorilla?

The original video was done for an experiment by cognitive psychologists Daniel Simons and Christopher Chabris in 1999. It shows how easily people become blind to things that are right in front of their faces. When given the task of counting the passes thrown by either team, people develop something called selective attention. Although there is no one true definition for how selective attention is caused, there are several theories that try to explain the phenomenon.

There are currently three types of theories that are currently accepted: Filter theories, Bottleneck Theories, and Attentional Resource Theory.

Filter theories state that attention filters our extraneous information so that only the relevant stuff gets through to consciousness. So in the gorilla example, if someone chooses to focus on the white team’s passes, he/she filters all the extra things they see, these being the members of the black team and the gorilla crossing the screen.

Bottleneck theories are somewhat similar to Filter theories, but instead of a filter, there is a bottleneck in the flow of information that prioritizes the importance of information coming in, and only allows what is deemed necessary. So in terms of the video, this means that people do see the gorilla, however their brain deems in unnecessary due to the importance of counting the passes.

Attentional Resource theory says that we only have a limited amount of cognitive processing available at any one time. Once the cognitive processing has been used up, performance starts to suffer. In regards to the video, this means that trying to count the amount of passes uses up most of someone’s cognitive processing, making him/her unable to process that the gorilla is present.

After doing research on these different theories, it is much easier to understand why it was easy to miss the gorilla. Had there been no task to count the passes, the gorilla wouldn’t have been hard to miss. However, because the mind is preoccupied with a task, the gorilla essentially becomes obsolete and unnecessary information that becomes tuned out before the mind even processes it.

The theory that I agree with the most is the Attentional Resource Theory. This theory would also make sense as to why some people’s performance lowers while multi-tasking. If our mind only has a limited amount of space to process things at one time, then adding multiple targets of focus makes it more difficult on the mind, and thus making performance poor.

I think this video and experiment is a humbling experience for most people. We take advantage of our mind’s capacity on a daily basis, and because of this, we tend to believe that we are incapable of missing details in our environment that seem so obvious. However, we are not limitless in what we can process.

If you find videos like “The Invisible Gorilla”, here are a few more selective attention tests that you can try.