Author Archives: elliebenning

What does Alabama football, UVA basketball and Silly Bandz have in common?

Many of you have probably heard of the bandwagon effect. I am very familiar on this effect because of one of my favorite college sports teams, UVA. I am a huge UVA fan because I grew up ten minutes away from the campus. This effect was shown in this year’s UVA basketball teams “fans”.  The UVA basketball team had a huge regular season this past year. They ended up ACC regular season champs, and eventually going on to win the ACC tournament. At the end of regular season they were even the top seeded team going into March Madness. This eventually changed when they chocked against UMBC in the first round (and they really chocked). There were many people that were rooting for them, while some were for real reasons (myself included). Most were just fans because of the success the team was having. When looking at really good consistent sports teams you will see this. For example, Alabama football and the Patriots program. We as humans are competitive and want to win. We don’t want to be rooting for a team that sucks.This brings in more money for these programs as well, so gives them an even bigger advantage. This is why these great programs get these fans, doesn’t have to do with the players on the team, has to do with the win to loss ratio and the amount of championships won. These are the fans that demonstrate the bandwagon effect. So once UVA lost in the first round, these fans went to become fans for the team they felt was the next best.

The bandwagon effect is described as a psychological phenomenon in which people do something primarily because other people are doing it, regardless of their own beliefs, which they may ignore or override. This has to do a lot with social psychology, but this is an error we have as humans. We want to conform to the norm because don’t want to be unique. For example, let’s say you go to a liberal school, you as a conservative may jump and take the views from the opposing side to fit in with the crowd. This may even make you think that your view is “wrong”. This effect is very big in politics. This was shown by a study in which they gave random people an article on an election from a made-up German town. After they read the article they were asked who they would vote for; there was a one group that received a made up poll where they had one candidate up by a big amount and the other group was told that same candidate was losing. The 765 participants always seemed to want the candidate that was winning. This shows that everyone follows the crowd. This is crucial for US politics because there are many bandwagon voters. This is why it is important that news sites show fair polls and not biased ones. This is because they can swing voters, bandwagon voters, to vote for the candidate that has the biggest support. This is hurtful for the country because these voters aren’t voting for candidates morals and plans, but on popularity. The popularity contests that you had in elementary school are sadly still relevant as you get older. There are some positive things that are associated with the bandwagon effect. For example when supporting a good cause, the amount of people that are supporting for example cancer research may have you join in and donate. The bandwagon effect is also relevant for business because this is how trends get started, you want your product to be popular because will bandwagon other to purchase it. I am sure a lot of you remember this from certain trends like silly bands, UGG boots, and so much more. So the next time your teacher asks you to raise your hand on something you believe in, in class, raise your hand based on what you actually believe. Don’t raise your hand based on how many kids are raising their hands. Not “following the crowd” is extremely hard to do, but this could slowly not only change your life but also lives to come.

Moses Illusion

Humans are bad at picking out errors around them in the world. The article “Why You Stink at Fact-Checking” states that “Even when people know the correct information, they often fail to notice errors and will even go on to use that incorrect information in other situations”. This is a scary concept because ultimately you know the right answer but can’t recognize when there is an error in the statement. Take for example the following sentences.

In the biblical story, what was Jonah swallowed by?

How many animals of each kind did Moses take on the Ark?

These are two common biblical questions and something that for the most part are easy to answer. Most people would respond to the first question with ‘whale’ and the second would be ‘two’.  The issue isn’t with the answers, it is with the failure to recognize that Noah was the one to build the Ark, not Moses, and to continue to answer the question. People know that Noah is the one to the build the Ark but they failed to recognize the error in the above sentences. Psychologists call this the “Moses Illusion”.

In the first study done in the 1980’s, after seeing the false sentence about Moses people were asked who built the Ark. 80% of people answered that Moses in fact was the one to build the Ark during the Great Flood. Even though they were warned there would be errors in the sentences they still got the question wrong. This shows that misinformation can change your knowledge.

The reason for why this happens is because of something called “Knowledge Neglect”. This means that people have a ton knowledge but they fail to use it.  This is done by studies in which psychologists give a story in which there are obvious mistakes in it but after the participants read a story they are given a simple trivia test in which they fail the questions that related to the false facts in the story. For example, in the article it gives this story about working in a planetarium, “Some information in the story is correct: “Lucky me, I had to wear some huge old space suit. I don’t know if I was supposed to be anyone in particular – maybe I was supposed to be Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon.” Other information is incorrect: “First I had to go through all the regular astronomical facts, starting with how our solar system works, that Saturn is the largest planet”. In the trivia test they get the question wrong on what the largest planet in the universe is.

Reading false information affects you in many ways. This is why journalism and social media can be dangerous because if it gives us the wrong facts, we will take it as truth.

The scariest part of this all is that YOU won’t be able to become better at fact-checking, there are still no techniques to help with this. Even if you highlight and try to find the factual errors your later recall will remember these things as true.

Why does not noticing errors and misinformation happen?
There are two reasons for why this is the case.

  1. People generally believe things are true.
  2. People accept information as long as it is close to the true information. So for example if you were to say “how many animals of each kind did Trump take on the Ark?”, you would catch the error

Another interesting piece of information is that the Moses Illusion is tied into not remembering names. This is because names are “meaningless labels that usually do not reveal any telling information about the person to whom they refer.” This is saying that the story behind Moses is important, not his name. This is also the case with trying to remember actor and actresses names from movies. “Errors in both name retrieval and comprehension are more likely when the correct name and distractor name sound similar, share biographical characteristics, or have some visual resemblance.”

I feel like this is something many people should learn and be conscious about because not all the information we are getting from the world is correct so we need to make sure we don’t take everything for fact. This is because we can easily make fiction into fact by the Moses Illusion and the Misinformation Effect. If everyone was aware of this study they would understand how imperfect we as humans are. This study and the cognitive psych class in general have made me understand that there are many unconscious errors we make in our everyday life, and that is something few people realize. If people were aware of these mistakes it could benefit them because it would be the first step in preventing them.



Flashbulb Memories

I have grown up in Charlottesville Virginia my whole life and it is a place that many people would call peaceful and beautiful. It is a very historic place and I loved being raised there. Downtown Charlottesville was a favorite hangout spot for many college and high school kids because of the abundant places to eat and the awesome things to do. The image of Charlottesville and more specifically Downtown Charlottesville was tainted on August 12th 2017. My hometown was changed that day because of the “Unite the Right” rally related to the tearing down of the Robert E. Lee statue. This ended horrifically when 32-year-old Heather Hoyer died from a car ramming through protesters.  This was someone that lived in my neighborhood, someone that was well respected and also someone that died fighting for what they believed in. At the moment the car drove through the street I didn’t know who was killed and injured or even how many were killed or injured in that instant. All I knew was that my family and friends were downtown that day. This is my “Flashbulb Memory”.

I am sure that every single person reading this blog post can think of a “flashbulb memory”. Our textbook defines this as “a memory of extraordinary clarity, typically for some highly emotional event, that us retained despite the passage of many years”.  These events are connected and remembered because of the emotion tied to them. We talked about in class with memory that if you have a connection to the material and can relate it to something in your life it is more easily put into long term memory. For example, the track and field man that chunked numbers into times for races. This is why “flashbulb memories” seem so vivid, they have a huge emotion tie to us. Psychology Today states that “there may not be time in the moment to analyze exactly what happened”.  This is why they are remembered so long after.

A very common example of a flashbulb moment is 9/11. This was a tragic event that shaped the country. Since we are too young to remember 9/11 it is not considered a “flashbulb memory” for us. But for those that are old enough to remember, how many times have you heard the phrase “I know exactly where I was and what I was doing when it happened”. This is an event that happened over 16 years ago and something that even today people swear they can still vividly remember. People are very confident in their perception of the event and that they have all the details right. What if I told you that these vivid memories and details you remember are actually a lie and altered.

The experiment by The Journal of Experimental Psychology, proves to us that we don’t remember all the details as accurately as we think we do. The experiment was focused on the events of 9/11. The researchers gave people a survey recalling specific events of 9/11 right after the event, a year after and then ten years after. Those that took the survey were pretty certain they got all the details correct but based on their first responses there were many inconsistencies. People after ten years had about a 60 percent accuracy. This accuracy is still better than other events from ten years ago but there were details that people missed. Another interesting thing that researchers found was that those who were surveyed remembered only core details of the event, like number of planes. They had little to no recollection about peripheral facts, like where George Bush was during the attacks.

One reason for why these events may be altered from the real version is because of false memories. This is when you almost create whole new details that didn’t actually happen but they are believable to you. An example of this is with an experiment by Elizabeth Loftus. She made a man believe a story that he got lost in a shopping mall when he was kid. Not only did he believe it but he added details to the story. We can adopt these false facts because of how accurate they can sound to us. This relates to the 9/11 scenario because the facts that they got wrong may be from stories other people have told or also from things that been on the news since it was something shown nationwide and is talked about each year. These are facts about 9/11 that are relatable and believable.

So even though these “flashbulb memories” are so vivid, which makes you confident in them, they are inconsistent. So ten years down the road I may remember the name of the lady that was killed and what I was doing in that moment but other details surrounding the event will be lost. At the end of the day though it doesn’t matter what colored shirt I was wearing when the car went down the street, what matters is the emotion tied to the event. Even though these memories are not always accurate they at least help us remember something very important and connected to us. As stated in the textbook “memory errors can occur even in the midst of our strongest, most vivid recollection”.









What if half the world didn’t exist?

Can you imagine living in a world where you can only recognize half the world? This is a reality for many people. This is because of something we call Neglect Syndrome.  You may have heard of this also as hemispatial neglect or unilateral neglect.  Neglect syndrome is normally caused by damage to the parietal lobes. In our textbook it describes neglect syndrome as “when an individual seems to ignore half the visual world”. For most cases the damage is on the right side of the brain so it causes people to ignore the left world. This syndrome is an issue of attention, not blindness. You are “blind” to one side of the world but deals nothing with vision. Dr. Paresh Malhorta from the College of London perfectly puts it as “”It is not blindness in one eye, and it’s not damage to the primary sensory cortex, it’s a process of ignoring, for want of a better word, one side of space”.  This ignorance to the one side causes massive issues for victims of this syndrome.

There are many reasons for why someone may have neglect syndrome. The most common being stroke and accident. This syndrome is mainly seen in older patients because of the the main cause being strokes. In the article The Brain Damage that Hides Half the World, it follows an older man named Mr. X who suffered a stroke on the right side of his cerebral cortex. The author described the man as very intelligent and well put together. When you first look at Mr. X you would not know he had this syndrome. Psychologists were curious about Mr. X and did several experiments to understand the syndrome better. One test they preformed was on a piece of paper with horizontal fragments in which the experimenter asked Mr. X to connect the fragments. All the sections on the right were connected but everything on the left was blank. The experimenter asked Mr. X if he completed all the segments and he genuinely thought he successfully put a line through the whole page. When the experimenter flipped the page around to reveal the left side of the page, Mr. X just thought it was a joke or magic trick. This reveals to us another thing about neglect syndrome, those that have the syndrome do not know they do. 

There are many other examples of what victims of neglect syndrome struggle with the most. If you asked Mr. X to draw a picture of a house, clock, or face he would only draw the right side of the object. There are many simple things Mr. X can’t do in his daily life. He will only eat half of his plate of food, wash half his body, and even only read half of a word. They are not able to drive as well. This goes to the question of how people with this syndrome deal with only seeing half the world. And the answer is a simple one they never really do they just have to adjust to their new world so they can take care of themselves and do basic everyday activities. Dr. Malhorta did similar experiments on a man named Alan Burgress, who also suffered from a stroke. One they did quite often was ask Alan to put a dot in the middle of a 25 cm piece of paper. Of course at first he put the dot  2cm away from the right side. After repetition of the same task, Burgress started to improve being able to put the dot 10 cm from the right. This didn’t mean he was able to see the left side, it just meant he started to train himself to know where the middle would be to be considered “normal”. Dr. Malhorta stated that “It’s slightly abstract that they know there’s some problem on the left hand side, and they use strategies to try and overcome the problem, without really being able to appreciate it in it’s fullness.”

Another fascinating feature with the syndrome was found back with Mr. X. When shown a picture of a normal house someone with damage from a stoke would again not see the left side of the house. If the experimenter were to ask him if he wanted to live in the house he would say of course I would it is a beautiful house. If they were to show him the same picture of a house but this time with flames coming out of the left side he would not see the flames. The interesting part is when he is asked if he would want to live in house. Surprisingly he would say no to this question. He is unaware of the flames but knows something is wrong with the house he just doesn’t know why he would’t want to live in the house. This brings us to the last main point tied with neglect syndrome. Psychologist Michael Graziano puts it simple for us by saying that “He can process stuff on the left side. He just can’t attach the property of consciousness to it”. This ties back to the first point mentioned on how it is not blindness that causes neglect syndrome it is attention. The brain is such a remarkable thing and it is syndromes like this that help remind us of that and also help make us appreciate the fact that we can see the whole world with no effort.