Author Archives: alliebranum

Women Got It All

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http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/292019.php

There is an old stereotype that women’s decisions are driven by emotion, whereas men engage in more cognitive reasoning.  A new study conducted by Rebecca Friesdorf found that women engage in the same rational thinking of harmful outcomes as men; however, women feel more empathy for other people than man do, but the cognitive abilities remain nonexistent or very small from male to female. There are different aspects that influence how a decision is made.  One is “deontological judgements” these are based on a decision being consistent with social norms.  Another aspect is called utilitarianism which the morality of an action “depends on its consequences”.  Utilitarian judgements are more greatly influenced by cognitive processes and deontological judgements are based on affective processes. Women were assumed to think based on deontology while men with utilitarian.

A major part of the study was found through brain imagining that the brain could not empathize and analyze at the same time, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/252241.php. The basis of Friesdorf’s study is that even though women are more emotional, and will have a more negative reaction to causing harm, they are not less rational than men.  Women are more empathetic to the feelings of others than men are, but when presented with a moral decision such as “Should a police officer torture an alleged bomber to find hidden explosives that cold kill many people at a local cafe”, women used the same rationality as men.  Because the brain stops us from thinking empathically and analytically at the same time it demonstrates that women and men have the same cognitive processes as one another.

The ultimatum game discussed in class links well to the social and rational aspects of brain functioning.  When partnered with a real person players would tend to reject an offer of money that seemed unfair demonstrating that when presented with a social situation people do not tend to think rationally; however, when playing with a computer people accepted the offers every time demonstrating rationality in thought processes. The ultimatum game demonstrates the concept that when placed in a social situation people will use their emotions rather than rationality when making a decision, but this applies to both men and women.  And, when playing against a computer people thought rationally. 

The studies done by Friesdorf, the researchers at Case Western Reserve University, and the ultimatum game all debunk the myth that women think less rationally than men.  Friesdorf’s study shows that women are more empathetic, but the Case Western Reserve University study demonstrates that the brain can’t empathize and analyze at the same time, so if someone says that a woman can’t be president because they do not think as rationally as men there is no evidence to show that that statement is true.

 

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Alcohol is present in almost every aspect of a college student’s life. Everyone knows the negative health side effects of drinking too much, but an article I found, by Rick Nauert http://psychcentral.com/news/2007/05/25/binge-drinking-leads-to-cognitive-deficits/855.html, decided to test college student’s cognitive abilities that heavily binge drank and were not considered alcoholics. The study, performed by Anna E. Goudriaan, formed four groups: low-binge drinkers, stable moderate-binge drinkers, increasing binge drinkers, and stable high-binge drinkers. The study found that stable high-binge drinkers had diminished decision-making abilities. They tended to choose short-term rewards over long-term losses much like how an alcoholic would make a decision. Cognitive functions that are affected by binge drinking involves planning for the future, abstract reasoning, inhibiting behavior, doing two things at once, and being able to shift between two activities easily.
The original study posted here http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2667377/ further describes that heavy social drinkers (21 or more drinks per week) have displayed cognitive issues with attention, memory and visuospatial abilities. The original study also discusses that decision-making skills that rely on the prefrontal lobe are especially vulnerable to the effects of alcohol. This relates to our decision making ZAP from the past week. The ZAP discusses that people are persuaded by factors that do not involve calculating the probability of outcomes that was shown by the utility model. The way a question is worded can heavily influence a person’s decision. The task the study used to see about college students decision making ability was a card game, and they lost or gained a certain amount of imaginary money depending what stack of cards they chose from. Heavy-binge drinkers made disadvantageous decisions and picked the bad stacks more often than others. This reminds me of the gamblers fallacy that we learned about in class. That even after picking a number of losing cards heavy-binge drinks continued to chose from the bad stack possibly because they thought they were due to win money after losing for a while.

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While alcohol is one of the most prevalent parts of social life during college the excessive amount of drinking, even just on the weekends, can have numerous negative effects on the brain. Decision making is one of the most fundamental parts of our lives and alcohol can have a major impact on it.

Watch What You Eat

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Being on a diet is always hard considering the amount of temptations that you are surrounded with on a daily basis. Its difficult to choose a food that you know is going to be more healthy for you if you see a piece of cake right next to it because you know the cake tastes better. There is other reasoning for this besides just that the cake would taste better.

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In this article it talks about a study conducted by Nicolette Sullivan, Cendri Hutcherson, Alison Harris, and Antionia Rangel. It was found that across 28 students that fasted for four hours were presented with 300 random pairings of fruits, candies, chips, and granola bars. It was shown that taste influenced the decision of what food they picked to eat almost 200 milliseconds faster than other influences such as health and calories. This is because the brain can process more concrete ideas better than abstract ones, so you are able to pick which food tastes better before you are able to recognize which one is more healthy. It was also shown that subjects that demonstrated higher self-control picked the healthy item 323 milliseconds faster than those with low self-control. It is suggested from the study that if people start to consider a food’s health factors before; however, that is shown to be more difficult because the brain processes taste for the idea of health. Sullivan states that the “findings of the study suggest if you add a waiting period before choosing what food you are going to eat then it allows the health information to ‘catch up’ in the comparison process.” Or, if a restaurant posts the calorie count visibly on the menu it would help encourage people to think more about what they are ordering. They are looking to expand the study to include other decision-making aspects such as saving vs spending money and deciding between doing a nice act vs a selfish one.

In another study done by Cepeda, Blackwell, and Munakata they find that different processing speeds affect the relationship between executive control and decision making. This could be crucial in children making quick decisions. They could be more likely to make a bad decision because it seems like more fun and their brain does not process the repercussions as quickly. As people get older their ability to make decisions should improve which could be due to slower processing times. It would be interesting to see whether adults choose better foods and have a slower processing time of taste compared younger people.

Chewing Gum During Tests

 

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You can always hear someone asking if anyone has gum or if they can have a piece, but gum can improve much more than just your breath. An article from NBC News written by Serge Onyper http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/education-nation/commentary-chewing-gum-may-improve-test-scores-n21731 cites a study from St. Lawerence University states that people that chewed gum for five minutes before some cognitive tests did much better than those that did not. The study alludes to the fact that chewing gum can help improve someone’s working memory by elevating your blood pressure and essentially “waking you up”, this also goes hand in hand with the “Mozart Effect” that someone could be aroused by listening to and enjoying music. However, if someone chews gum throughout the test then the benefits of memory are almost non existent because chewing gum for extending periods of time takes away from some brain power that is necessary for maintaining performance on particularly demanding tasks.

I thought this study was interesting because I have heard about a lot of tricks that are said to help improve your memory for tests such as writing in blue ink or taking the exam in the same place that you studied. This one seemed to be more concrete because it says that chewing gum can help, but that it only last for about 15 to 20 minutes and that you should stop chewing the gum before the test, and they had data to back up their study. This study could lead to different ways that students take exams or even study.

The idea that chewing gum can help improve mental cognition is interesting in itself because in an article (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/30/memory-hacks_n_3949644.html) written by Carolyn Gregoire on the Huffington Post states that playing games like crossword puzzles or doing Sudoku could help improve someone’s memory by 97 percent by doing it for ten hours; however, you only have to chew gum for about five minutes for it to help your working memory. Crossword puzzles and Sudoku could be used to help improve a person’s overall cognition whereas chewing gum could be used to help remember things for a test last minute that they are cramming for.

This gum chewing study could lead to other possible studies that would further people’s cognitive abilities. Gum could potentially be used as a key to help students on tests or maybe even help someone remember daily things such as where they put their keys. There have been numerous cognitive studies to see what improves thinking. I have always suffered from forgetting where I put my things and not being able to memorize facts for tests well, so the concept that there are tests being performed to help with memory cognition provides a sense of hope that I, and people that also suffer from memory problems, will not have to wander through life forgetting where they parked their car or left their notebook for class.