Author Archives: mhowell3

Akinetopsia: Possible Treatment?

How does our brain see the world? Most people would say through our eyes. Then, they would possibly describe how the eye works. How light enters the eye through the cornea, and the cornea and lens refract the light rays to produce a sharply focused image on the retina. How the iris can open or close to control the amount of light that reaches the retina. How the retina is made up of three main layers: the rods and cones, the bipolar cells, and the ganglion cells, whose axons make up the optic nerve. But this is only a probability if they researched or studied the eye.

Our brain’s visual system consists of a dorsal pathway and a ventral pathway also known as the where and what pathway. A normally functioning brain can indicate motion from still pictures, such as the speed line in cartoons meant to show motion streaks of a still object. On the contrary, patients with lesions to the dorsal pathway know where objects are but have difficulty recognizing them, while patients with lesions to the ventral pathway have trouble recognizing objects but no problem locating them. The responsiveness of the human visual system for detecting motion cues is a critical evolutionary advantage, in this modern day and age where there is constant change, activity and progress.

Akinetopsia is a rare condition where a person has the inability to perceive motion. L.M. who developed this disorder, because of a blood clot in her brain, was diagnosed at the age of 43. She was unable to perceive motion, even though other aspects of her vision such as: her ability to recognize objects, to see color, or to discern detail in a visual pattern, seemed to function normally. Due to her Akinetopsia, she can detect an object now is in a different position from the position it was in a moment ago, but she reported not seeing anything in between these positions. For people diagnosed with Akinetopsia like L.M., it is difficult to do day to day things such as crossing the street because they can’t tell if a car is moving or how fast it is changing positions. They perceive objects as a series of stills.

Zhengang Lu, a doctoral student in Psychological and Brain Sciences at Dartmouth College, have revealed how the brain understands motion and still objects to help navigate our complex visual world. The findings have a number of potential practical applications, ranging from treatment for motion blindness to improved motion recognition algorithms used in airport and other public security systems. Lu and his colleagues studied neural activity to understand how the brain processes motion in still pictures of objects. They found that the brain may process motion differently based on whether the motion is inanimate or animate. This suggests that the brain not only categorizes objects into these two categories but that the brain knows it location as well. Lu says “Our results might not be able to provide treatment directly, but they suggest that treatment for people with motion blindness should consider the functional interaction between these two pathways.”

Zhengang Lu, Xueting Li, Ming Meng. Encodings of implied motion for animate and inanimate object categories in the two visual pathwaysNeuroImage, 2016; 125: 668 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2015.10.059


Studying the brain is a difficult task. The brain’s sensitive, dense, and complex nature means that researchers are constantly uncovering new structures within the brain, and new functions for each brain lobe. The occipital lobe is no exception to this rule. The occipital lobe is the rearmost lobe of the brain, located in the forebrain. This includes a right and left lobe that interact with one another, each controlling a range of visual functions.

Although we know that the occipital lobe is dedicated to vision, this process is highly complex, and includes a number of separate functions. Those include mapping the visual world, which helps with both spatial reasoning and visual memory. Most vision involves some type of memory, since scanning the visual field requires you to recall that which you saw just a second ago, determining color properties of the items in the visual field, assessing distance, size, and depth, identifying visual stimuli, particularly familiar faces and objects, transmitting visual information to other brain regions so that those brain lobes can encode memories, assign meaning, craft appropriate motor and linguistic responses, and continually respond to information from the surrounding world, receiving raw visual data from perceptual sensors in the eyes’ retina.

Damage to the occipital lobe can include a variety of effects to a person’s mental and physical  way of life. The most obvious effect of damage to the occipital lobe is blindness. Such as epilepsy which is where seizures occur in the occipital lobe which increases vulnerability due to the occipital lobe damage, difficulties with movement and even if you are still able to move, changes in depth perception and vision can lead to inappropriate movements and difficulty navigating the visual field, difficulties perceiving colors, shape, dimension, and size, difficulty recognizing familiar objects or faces, hallucinations, inability to recognize or read written words, inability to detect that an object is moving, difficulty reading or writing; for example, the words may appear to move on the page, difficulty locating objects within the environment, even when you are able to see those objects, difficulties with fine and gross motor skills, as well as balance.

This meme is from the perspective of a naive cognitive psychology student, who takes everything seriously and literally even when people are actually joking around. I wanted it to be from a naive cognitive psychology student’s perspective because in my mind at times I can personally be this student. In my mind of course, not out loud. What i mean is that at certain times I can be listening to a conversation or someone mentioning something they found intriguing and I will pick it apart psychologically. If I was in this situation, happening to be overhearing “Friend 2” and “Friend 1″‘s conversation, I would think about the fact that the occipital lobe is what controls a range of visual functions and then I would think about if you wanna poke your eyes out then just poke your occipital lobe and be done with it. Then I would laugh to myself about how I know that and she probably doesn’t. While to me this meme is very funny to me, it is also a connection to talk about the seriousness of occipital lobe damage and how that in it self is not funny.

Terrorism Flashbulb Memories

In Chapter 8: Remembering Complex Events, there was a section on Flashbulb Memories. Flashbulb Memories are defined as memories if extraordinary clarity, typically from some highly emotional event, that is retained despite the passage of many years. This specific section caught my interest because of a study done in 1977 by Brown and Kulik, who coined the term “flashbulbs”, where they interviewed people a decade after John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. These participants could recall the memory “as if it were yesterday”, remembering details of where they were at the time, what they were doing at the time, whom they were with at the time. Many participants could even recall the clothing worn by people around them, the exact words uttered, and more.

Many other events have produced Flashbulb Memories. Most Americans can clearly recall where they were when they first heard about the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City September 11th, 2001. Following the attacks on the World Trade Center, there was a heightened fascination in understanding how public violence and terror attacks give rise to flashbulb memories. In a recent article, called A Potential Benefit to Memories of Terrorism by Gaesser and Ford, the authors write about how the way people remember past altruistic acts in the aftermath of trauma can actually influence their willingness to act altruistically in the future. Their research suggests that memory, specifically Flashbulb Memories, can be used to enhance prosocial [behavior that is positive, helpful, and intended to promote social acceptance and friendship] decisions and behavior to help someone in future situations. The rise of prosocial responses in traumatic situations can potentially influence the increase in helping following these traumatic events.

For example, April 15th, 2013, two bombs exploded during Boston’s 2013 marathon. Hundreds of people were injured and hundreds more rallied to help. Runners, spectators, and first responders showed true altruism by selflessly putting themselves in harm’s way to help the injured victims of the bombing in the immediate aftermath. These heroic acts gave rise to vivid images, seared in people’s memory. These are Flashbulb Memories. People recalled helping in related events in the aftermath in greater detail also reported engaging in helping behaviors several months later. Individuals with more detailed memories helping in related events in the aftermath reported higher rates of blood donations and of volunteering for and donating to Boston-based charities. These findings correlate. It is also possible that people who are more naturally selfless are more likely to remember past selfless behavior, creating Flashbulb Memories.

While cognitive psychologists have made great progress in understanding how the sensory details, emotional grip, and one’s confidence in the accuracy of these highly negative memories change over time. In the aftermath of terror attacks and other disasters, however, comes a wave of altruism that memory researchers have previously overlooked: altruism born of suffering. In future years, I would hope to see more research that might prompt a group of observers to remember helping in related events in an aftermath in clear details following these events that form Flashbulb Memories and examine these observers helping behavior increase.

Link to article:

Invasion of the Body Snatchers vs Capgras Syndrome

Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978) is a movie that is based in the city of San Francisco, California where alien plant spores have fallen from space and grown into large seed pods. These large seed pods are capable of producing a twin replacement copy of each human. As each pod reaches full development, it assimilates the physical characteristics, memories, and personalities of the “sleeping” person they replaced. However, these pods lack basic human emotions. The movie follows a health inspector and his colleague as they uncover and try to stop the alien invasion that is taking over their city.

Imagine this in your reality. How would anyone be able to trust their loved ones? Personally, I would be keeping a closer look at everyone in my life trying to detect if they were a duplicate or not.

For some this is a reality, in their minds at least. Capgras syndrome is an unusual delusional disorder in which the person with the disorder believes that someone they know has been replaced by a double (Barlow & Durand 2009). They can “recognize a loved one’s face, but with no feeling of familiarity.” (Reisberg, 30) A Capgras patient experiences damage in the temporal lobe of their brain, particularly on the right side of their head. This damage is speculated to cause a disruption in the amygdala’s circuits. The amgydala is known to help detect whether a stimuli is a possible threat or danger, or if a stimuli is safe. The effects of the damage to the amgydala leaves people with Capgras syndrome without the sense of warmth or goodness when they are looking at a familiar loved one’s face. The lack of emotions is a possibility as to why these loved one’s faces don’t feel familiar to the Capgras patient and therefore leads them to believe that their loved one has been replaced by an imposter.

At this point in my post you’re probably thinking how Capgras Syndrome relates to Invasion of the Body Snatchers? While watching this Invasion of the Body Snatchers, I immediately thought of Capgras Syndrome. Matthew Bennell is the health inspector in the movie and on his journey to stopping this alien invasion he has to go to people that he trusts for help. Sometimes he had to inquiry whether the ones closest to him were taken by the aliens or if they were still themselves. To me, this reminded me of a Capgras patient and how when they look at people who before were seen as safe and with love are now seen as replacements or “aliens” like in Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Matthew Bennell would be diagnosed with Capgras Syndrome because he sees his loved ones as imposters.

I believe that the movie Invasions of the Body Snatchers was a wild idea before its time. Even though the focus of the movie wasn’t about Capgras Syndrome it provided a great example from pop culture into the scientific nature of Cognitive Psychology. The only thing that I couldn’t quite relate the movie to with Capgras was the therapies and treatments that go into making the patient see that the familiar face is their actual loved one.