Author Archives: njohns

Auditory Processing Disorder: A Personal Account

For my last blog post, I decided to get a bit more personal about myself. I was diagnosed with Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) as an infant after my parents we’re concerned when I haven’t yet spoke even being over 2 years old.

APD is defined as the difficulty for the central nervous system to process auditory information according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. However, this is not a result of any other cognitive disorder such as autism. The cause is currently unknown. Some of the symptoms include difficulty reading, being distracted easily in loud environments, difficulty in following oral directions if given in a series instead of one by one and taking longer to process auditory information. All of these symptoms were listed by The Learning Disabilities Association of America.

The reason I discuss my personal learning disability was because of our recent lecture on language and I thought I could compare our lecture on language to APD.  There are 4 main subgroups that are often (but not always) affected by APD, according to Understand.Org. Auditory discrimination involves the ability to compare and distinguish between different sounds, auditory figure-ground discrimination involves the ability to focus on a specific sound in a nosy environment that includes multiple sounds, auditory memory involves the ability to recall what you heard, and finally auditory sequencing involves the ability to understand and recall the order of sounds and/or words. Specifically, I will discuss auditory discrimination.

The effect of APD on auditory discrimination could be on speech segmentation. Speech segmentation is used to aid in phoneme identification by “cutting” the stream of sound into segments we can understand, which are separated by pauses. These pauses however are just our perception and don’t actually occur when we speak. The information of these pauses may be so delayed with those of APD that it may not actually be heard, so all that is heard is a long stream of different sounds. Or, its possible that due to the delay in processing the information, the pauses are placed in the wrong places in what’s heard. Either way, this would cause difficulty understanding what was said.

The effect on auditory discrimination by APD could also be on coarticulation. Coarticulation is that when we speak, we already begin to articulate the next phoneme before finishing the last phoneme. With APD delaying the processing of auditory information, its possible that someone with APD struggles to distinguish that although these phonemes overlap, they are separate phonemes that create the morphemes of words. The effect on coarticulation could be further explained with categorical perception. Categorical perception is when people are better at hearing the differences between categories of sounds than hearing the variations within a category of sounds. A personal example of the effect on categorical perception is that if my parents told me “please go grab the box”, I would bring back a sock or they would say “clean your room” and I would think they said “bring a broom”. As you can guess, this can be incredibly frustrating for both parties involved.

Even today, I still struggle with this disorder. I have a hard time listening to people in loud rooms, I’m almost exclusively a visual and “hands-on” learner, and I struggle with a made-up term I created called “wordisms”. I define wordisms as when I confuse two different but similar defining words. For example, sometimes I’ll refer a cabinet as a drawer. I conceptually understand the difference between a cabinet and a drawer but in a conversation I’ll confuse the two very easily.

How would you relate our current knowledge of cognitive psychology to these three other subgroups of APD? Explain in comments below!

Sources:

https://www.asha.org/policy/TR2005-00043/

https://ldaamerica.org/types-of-learning-disabilities/auditory-processing-disorder/

https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/auditory-processing-disorder/understanding-auditory-processing-disorder#item2

The Secret to Improving Working Memory

So, if you decided to read this article, you want to improve your working memory, right? We all use working memory in our daily lives. Working memory, previously (and inaccurately) used to be called short-term memory. This type of memory is the storage system for information you’re actively working on, which means it’s easily accessible when needed. An example of working memory is reading a paragraph and remembering what the last sentence said as you’re reading the next sentence. Another example is when you’re playing Simon, a game where you have to remember the sequence of the colors presented and then press the colored buttons in the correct sequence. See how important working memory is? Well if you want to improve your working memory-look no further! All you have to do is stimulate your brain with electricity! It’s that easy!

As reported by PsyPost, researchers at Imperial College London studied the effects of applying an electrical current to someone’s brain, which affected a person’s oscillatory activity (a fancy term for brain waves) to where the electrical current and a person’s brain waves synchronized. Previous research mentioned in the research article, Externally induced frontoparietal synchronization modulates network dynamics and enhances working memory performance, (yikes that’s a mouthful), that the frontal and parietal brain regions control working memory. A person’s brain activity operates between 4-8Hz in these regions. This research hypothesized that if you apply an electrical current of this ideal range, it would result in a better functioning and therefore improved working memory.

The researchers tested their hypothesis on 10 participants to study the before and after effects of applying an electrical current when performing cognitive tasks, one of which was a verbal N-back task. This task is when participants are presented with a sequence of stimuli one at a time. Then, participants must say if the current stimulus is the same as a stimulus presented N trials ago. This task is basically what we use to remember what we just saw or heard (you can think of it as the “not as fun” version of Simon). When researchers applied the ideal electrical current so that the current had the same rhythm and timing as the participant’s brain waves, they found a significant improvement in reaction times on these cognitive tasks. If they applied an electrical current that was out of sync of the participant’s brain waves, then performance significantly decreased.

So what should you do when you want to remember the answers to a test you quickly crammed for or all the items on the grocery list you forgot at home? Just electrically stimulate your brain! If you do it at the correct Hz range, I see absolutely no downsides to this fool-proof technique!

Warning: The writer of this article is not liable for any injuries as a result of someone who tries to DIY brain electrodes to achieve an improved working memory

(Also, if you don’t know what Simon is, here’s a YouTube video of it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4YhVyt4q5HI)

Link to News Article: http://www.psypost.org/2017/03/buzzing-brain-electricity-can-boost-working-memory-48291

Link to Research Article: https://elifesciences.org/articles/22001

“It be ya own memory storage” How accurate is this viral tweet?

As I was scrolling on Twitter taking a mental break from school work, I came across a tweet originally posted by @brjxv­_ on February 13th and I immediately went “Holy crap this is perfect for my next blog post!” The tweet said “so you’re telling me my brain can save the exact features of a stranger I saw once on the subway in 2010 so they can appear in my dreams but I can’t recall the answers to a test worth 25% of my final grade? It be ya own memory storage smh”. However, how accurate is her tweet?

Dreaming has always been a complex topic and although we see lots of studies on dreaming, there is still so much psychologist don’t know yet. According to Mark Solms in his article “The Interpretation of Dreams & The Neurosciences” (1999), dreaming seems to be concentrated in “the frontal and limbic parts of the brain concerned with arousal, emotion, memory and motivation, on the one hand, and the parts (at the back of the brain) concerned with abstract thinking and visual perception, on the other”. If this is the case, it’s very possible for memories to be involved in dreams if the same brain processes/areas are used. It’s also possible that the man’s face that she claimed she only saw once appearing in her dreams is due to implicit memory, which are memories often guided by previous experiences (such as priming), however the individual has no conscious realization of this, according to Cognition: Exploring The Science of The Mind (6th Edition) written by Daniel Reisberg (our cognitive textbook). I believe that it’s likely that the man she claims she saw once on the subway was actually someone she saw often but was unaware of actually seeing them (for example it could’ve been someone who has the same commute as her) or the man looked similar enough to other people she saw often enough for her brain to dream about this man. Of course, this is all speculation but I think it’s still interesting to think about. There are people who claim that with dreams, the brain cannot create new faces and the people you dream about are actually all people you’ve seen before, however I found no evidence to support this. There is still much to learn about dreaming

Now onto her struggling to recall (although retrieval is the more accurate term to use, which is “locating information in memory and bringing it into active use”- according to Reisberg) the answers to her test, its most likely her using the wrong type of strategies for studying the material. The main issue with people forgetting the information needed for a test is that they often use maintenance rehearsal, which is when the “person simply focus[es] on the to-be-remembered items themselves with little thought about what [the] item means or how they relate to each other”. For example, creating notecards with the definition of words and you simply memorize the definition on the back of the card is a type of maintenance rehearsal. You are rehearsing the definition, yes, but you are not thinking about it on a deeper level such as “how does X relate to Y?” or “what is the significance of knowing the definition to this word?” Thinking about materials on a deeper level is known as elaborative rehearsal. Creating multiple connections (retrieval paths) to memory storage will help you do better on tests because if you create only a singular retrieval path, that path may not be strong enough to use when you come across the question. If the question is not strong enough to illicit an activation of that one and only retrieval path to memory storage, you will not be able to retrieve the correct answer. Just like in life, it’s always a good idea to have back up plans, including retrieval paths.

Overall, @brjxv_ tweet has some evidence to back up her claim. However, the usual goal of tweets is to make you laugh and this tweet definitely achieved that goal (well at least for me but I hope you found it funny too).

Link to article: http://psychoanalysis.org.uk/articles/the-interpretation-of-dreams-and-the-neurosciences-mark-solms

Can the use of brain scans in criminal courts determine level of guilt?

An individual being charged with voluntary manslaughter (which is killing a person without malice premeditation) and murder (killing a person with malice premeditation) can be the difference between 1 to 10 years or 20 to life. However, sometimes you can’t prove if the person committed the crime knowingly or not. According to new research, now you can.

In an article posted on PsyPost.org (link included below), neuroscientists are able to detect “differences between mental states of knowledge and recklessness” due to detectable neurological states. The article even goes as far stating that “those mental states can be predicted based on brain imagine data alone”.

After reading the article, I thought  “Wow so all we have to do is subject the person(s) on trial to a simple neuroimaging test to prove how guilty they are? Why aren’t we doing this?!”. This could remove some of the pressure on jurors if they have to try to distinguish if the potential killer committed manslaughter or murder, and instead focus on what the main goal for a jury is; determining if the person is innocent or guilty. Of course, things aren’t always as simple as how it seems in the media.

I decided (and also because it’s a part of this assignment) to look at the original research. The article was first published by the National Academy of Sciences in 2017. The researchers believe that a basis for determining if a person knew what they were doing was wrong and is a crime versus a person recklessly doing an action they did not know for sure would result in a crime is with mental states of “perceptions of probabilities and uncertainty associated with that outcome”. Basically, a brain scan showing no uncertainty areas lighting up means they knew for sure, if the uncertainty areas of a brain lit up, they acted without malice premeditation. The brain areas they use are areas that previous research has stated is involved with probability/uncertainty (parietal cortex, medial and lateral prefrontal, thalamus, and other areas). The best way to record imaging in real time is the use of fMRI.

How the researchers tested this hypothesis is by showing 40 participants on a screen 1 to 5 suitcases (randomized in each trial) and were told “one suitcase will contain ‘valuable content'”. The participants then had to decide if they were willing to carry a suitcase that’s randomly chosen from the grouping on the screen. For example, if only one suitcase was shown, then it 100% has valuable content. If 5 suitcases were shown, one of which has valuable content, there was a 20% that suitcase would be randomly chosen. If the probability of carrying the suitcase is less than 1 (100% knowing you have the valuable content suitcase), then that is representing a reckless situation since you are unsure if you have the valuable content case . Then the participants would have to go through a “checkpoint” where a guard may or may not be present depending on randomized probability of each subject (this as known as search risk). The search risk was between 0-80%. 20 of the participants saw the probability of carrying a suitcase with valuable content (20-100%) after being shown their search risk and 20 participants saw the suitcase probability before seeing the search risk.

(Yes, I agree that this experiment is very confusing-it took me quite awhile to summarize their method and I had a hard time figuring out what the heck they were doing so I hope I actually summarized it. Heck what I wrote is only the main part of the experiment, they did added factors such as the person was rewarded money depending on how many times they were stopped by a guard, like this experiment is all over the place with so many variables.)

Then they compared the results of the experiment with the data from the fMRI that was done during the entirety of the experiment.

(Ok its a lot more complicated than that, the researchers used a EN Regression to help understand the data. It’s a scary looking equation that I don’t quite understand and I’m just going to take the researchers word on it that this model is the correct one to use.)

The researchers found that the EN model regression they used was able to successfully show that “knowing and reckless are indeed association with distinct brain states. Moreover it was possible to predict with relatively high accuracy, which mental state the person was in”. However, they clearly state that the “knowing/reckless boundary may be more of a continuum”. Basically, the boundary can be difficult to distinguish and pinpoint exactly if the person acted knowingly or not if its somewhere in the middle.

Honestly, after reading an decently confusing research article, I’m not surprised that the news article watered it down so much. I’d honestly be surprised if the writer (I’m assuming just an average joe) would have a high level of understanding on a very heavy math based article. Therefore, I think that could contribute to not only a water downed article, but an article that misrepresents the results of the article. Although the researchers found significant results, its impossible to know if the brain areas that the researchers looked at are the same when used in the context of law. Also, I saw no indication in the article of trying to isolate the brain scans when the experiment occurred, basically proving for sure that the area of the brain did light up solely due to the actions of the experiment and not from some third variable. Finally, its incredibly different when doing something in real life versus a simulation, its very possible that many other brain areas may be a significant influence to the brain areas studied when a criminal action occurs in comparison to a simulated criminal action.

Overall, I think its very cool that cognitive neuroscience is being used in the justice system, which you don’t see too often. However, I believe that although this article did show that cognitive neuroscience can soon be a valuable tool in the court system, it grossly overestimates the success of using fMRI to prove if someone knowingly committing a crime or not. So if you were excited like I was about using brain scans to prove guilt in the future, I think you would have to wait much longer when more research is conducted to see if these will ever be used in real life.

News Article: http://www.psypost.org/2017/03/scientists-can-now-use-brain-imaging-predict-crime-knowledge-states-human-mind-48250

Original Research: http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/03/07/1619385114

Test Blog-Natalie Johns

Hey everyone, so figuring out how to actually post took me longer than I care to admit (thanks to my roommate for helping out) but here’s my test blog! I think this is actually the first time I’ve visited a blog website so I’m not sure if I’ll be doing this right but I’m looking forward to reading some cool articles 🙂