Author Archives: Alyssa

Monty Hall Problem

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If you are like me, you watch a lot of Mythbusters in your free time. Mythbusters takes common misconceptions or “myths” and tests them for accuracy. During one particular episode, Jamie and Adam explore the infamous “Monty Hall Problem”. I was insatiably curious after watching this episode and I wanted to find out more.

So what is the Monty Hall problem and where does it come from? The Monty Hall problem stems from the popular “Let’s Make A Deal” game show and is actually named after the game show’s host, Monty Hall. It presents the issue that people are illogical when making certain probabilistic decisions. In “Let’s Make A Deal”, Monty Hall would present three doors to the guest, two of which would have a less than desirable prize, such as goat, and one would have an expensive prize, such as a car. The host would then open one of the doors to reveal a goat, and explain to you that there is still a car and a goat behind the remaining doors. He asks you to choose between the two doors. You, as the guest, choose a random door. Monty Hall then gives you the opportunity to switch doors. You decide to stick to the door you chose because there is a 50% chance either way you would win. This would be incorrect though, for the math tells us a different story.

This video briefly explains the math behind the Monty Hall problem. In essence, if you decide to switch, you have a two thirds chance of winning, against the a one thirds chance winning by sticking. This is because of the three options to this game.

The first choice is to switch from door 1 to door 2, which reveals a goat. You lose. The second choice is to switch from door 3 to door 2, which reveals the car. You win. And finally, you switch from door 1 to door 3, which reveals the car. You win. Adding up the probabilities, proves that you have a two thirds chance to win the car by switching doors.

If the probabilities are so simple, then why do people still fail to switch doors? In an study by Wim De Neys and Niki Verschueren, they tested to see if they could find a connection between people’s working memory capacity and their success in solving the Monty Hall problem. While they did find that people with larger working memories did do better overall in solving this dilemma, the percentage of people in any condition that solved this problem did not go over 20%. Proving that even people with large working memories fall victim to the Monty Hall problem.

This study proved that there is something else going on with this problem. In a different study by Ana M. Franco-Watkins, Peter L. Derks, and Michael R.P. Dougherty, they discovered that after repeated trials, people do eventually learn from their mistakes and chose to switch doors, but they have a hard time explaining the math behind it. One explanation given by the researchers is that there is a dual-process model between people’s judgment and people’s choice. In other words, there is a dissonance between people’s “gut” and the incorrect probabilities they come up with (such as the incorrect 50% chance of winning by sticking). With these conflicting judgments, errors in tasks such as Monty Hall problem are likely to arise.

The Monty Hall problem is an important dilemma to study for a variety of reasons. It proves that humans can be extremely irrational in both their thoughts and their behaviors and that people eventually can learn from our mistakes.

P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney

Dory, the lovable regal blue tang fish, has a tendency to forget things almost instantly after becoming distracted. In turn, this makes Marlin the clown fish’s journey to find his son more problematic, being that the Dory is the sole witness to his son’s abduction. At first, Marlin tolerates Dory’s unreliability, but soon he finds it unbearable. Relaying his frustrations to her, he demands and explanation. Dory, realizing the situation, confesses that her odd behavior is due to ‘short-term memory loss’, but is that truly the case?

Short-term memory is what you are consciously processing. It is limited both in capacity (about 7 items, plus or minus 2) and in duration (about 15-30 seconds). To put it in perspective, you are using short-term memory this very instant to read this blog post. If you did not have short-term memory, you would be unable to process and understand what these letters mean. Not only would you be unable to read, but you also would be unable to hold a conversation or work out math problems.

Now, relating this back to Dory, it is with evident that Dory is perfectly capable of holding a conversation and reading (as seen when she reads “P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney” off of scuba goggles). This means that Dory does have short-term memory and is not impaired in those processes in any way. Though this begs the question that if it is not short-term memory loss that Dory has, then what is it?

This answer can be found when you look more into Dory’s symptoms. Dory is seen on many occasions having a conversation with someone, then abruptly gets distracted and soon cannot remember what they were discussing. Though she forgets some things almost instantly, she can remember long-term events such as her family and her name. Dory can also perform implicit memory tasks that require “unconscious memory” such as swimming in the sea without having to think about it. After researching these symptoms, it is clear that Dory has anterograde amnesia.

Anterograde amnesia “is the loss of the ability to create new memories”. Mainly, it is thought to be due to damage to the hippocampus and the medial temporal lobe. The hippocampus and the medial temporal lobe are both known to be linked with explicit memory (or declarative memory) which are the things we consciously remember. Though long-term memory is by far more complex of a process that it cannot be related to only two brain structures, evidence has been found to prove that these structures are extremely important for this process. The hippocampus and the medial temporal lobe specifically relate to consolidation, or the process of strengthening a memory so you can consciously recall or retrieve when required, this helps turn short-term memories into long-term memories. Thus, when Dory cannot recall events that occurred just moments earlier, it is because her memories never made it to long-term storage, therefore once her memory leaves short term storage, it is immediately forgotten.

At a first glance, Dory’s diagnosis may seem counter intuitive. That Dory, who can only remember a short duration of experiences and thoughts, does not have short term memory loss. I too had fallen into confusion when I first read up on the topic of short term memory loss and realized that Dory’s disorder diagnosis was untrue. Though after further research, the results are clear. Dory does not suffer from short-term memory loss, but she does suffer from of anterograde amnesia.

Charles Bonnet Syndrome

How would you like to wake up one morning and find cartoons dancing on your bed?  Or a unicorn sitting on your uncle’s lap? At first glance you may think that these people are “crazy” or that they must be under the influence of an illegal substance, but this is far from the truth. These false perceptions play out in the everyday lives of those suffering from Charles Bonnet syndrome.

Charles Bonnet syndrome is “is a common condition among people who have lost their sight. It causes people who have lost a lot of vision to see things that aren’t really there, known as visual hallucinations.”

Critics may argue that these hallucinations are due to a mental disorder, such as schizophrenia, but in reality Charles Bonnet syndrome is a visual perceptual disorder. The major separation from mental disorders such as schizophrenia and Charles Bonnet syndrome is that Charles Bonnet syndrome deals with hallucinations without the presence of delusions. To help further this point, delusions are unrealistic beliefs, while hallucinations are simply seeing things that are not there.

These hallucinations in Charles Bonnet syndrome can be simple or complex (ranging from a simple circle or a line to people or animals) and patients with this condition, as the video above suggest, argue that these false perceptions feel as real to them as reality itself. While patients themselves feel confident in their hallucinations, scientists are not as sure about the cause. This is because this disorder necessitates researchers to see inside someone’s “qualia”, or someone’s subjective experience, which is nearly impossible for scientists to do in the present.

Though there are some difficulties in finding the cause, there is one explanation that has gained a lot of attention. This explanation argues that since our visual system both receives and processes information, the reason people suffering from Charles Bonnet Syndrome get these hallucinations is because their brain is not receiving visual information as much as it is used to due to their visual impairment (such as glaucoma or macular degeneration). This lack of information leads to “gaps” in people’s vision and as many people who study psychology will tell you, the brain does not like to have blind spots in their visual field. So instead of leaving those blind spots as they are, the brain instead fills the gaps with these simple or complex images.

Arguably, there is no one more renown for discussing this disorder than the famed neuroscientist, Oliver Sacks. In his TED talk, he discusses in detail about his experiences with his Charles Bonnet patients. These experiences include patient testimonies of seeing things such as a man with huge teeth on one side of his face or people in eastern clothing walking around. Now, because they do not have delusions or any mental disorders, patients usually know what they are seeing is not reality and up until their gaps in their vision, they have not had these fake perceptions before.

Charles Bonnet syndrome is important for many reasons. Firstly, it creates yet another enigma of the mind, challenging what we actually know. Next, it pushes researchers to look beyond preconceived notions that all people with hallucinations have some type of mental disorder and lastly, that Charles Bonnet syndrome aids scientist to explore new possibilities and causes of disorders.

Are You Right-Brained or Left-Brained?

While scrolling through Facebook or other social media websites, you might see an invitation to take a quiz to find out if you are “right or left-brained”. This quiz creates the idea that people tend to have a more “dominate” side to their brain. That somehow because of a domination of a hemisphere that you in turn have specific personality traits. Creating what, I believe to be, a cultural phenomenon. As the Buzzfeed’s video above suggests, those that are “left-brained” are considered more “logical, verbal, [and] structured…” while those who are “right-brained” are considered more “visual, artistic, [and] intuitive…”. Now, this can create the stigma that because someone excels in math is because they are “left-brained”.

I was too a believer in this idea. I was positive that somehow I was more a right-brained than a left-brained because of my artistic tendencies and aversion towards anything mathematical. As I now look upon this topic as a psychology major I am reminded of this article. In this article, Steven Novella discusses that the brain is certainly divided, being that the left and right hemispheres are connected via white matter such as the corpus callosum, and that they in turn have lateralized brain functions. It has been scientifically proven that the right hemisphere deals mainly with spatial activities such as drawing and recognizing faces and the left brain deals with more with analytic such as language and communication. Though using this to believe one is used more depending on the person is a huge overgeneralization of the brain and its processes.

While this idea may seem credible from reading over some of the brain’s functions, in reality it is far from the truth. It is true that the right and left brain have different modalities, but current research such as this article indicates that there is no favorability of one side of the brain than to the other.  The brain is much more complex that this theory would give it credit. The majority of the brain’s parts, such as the frontal lobe and the temporal lobe, are bilateral in which that they are present in both the left and right hemisphere. This requires the brain to work together. This does not mean that every single lobe in the brain is activated all of the time, but from remembering something to walking, this requires both of the brain’s hemispheres to process and execute that information or activity in an efficient manner.

Personally, I think that reinforcing the belief that people are either left and right brained is harmful to those who wish to further their education about the brain. While the point of the Buzzfeed quiz in its essence is not to find out which hemisphere of your brain is dominate, but it is rather to find out what your qualities and strengths are.

In conclusion, finding out what hemisphere is more “dominant” and the personality attributes that are a result is distancing oneself from the truth. I will admit that the article that debunks this myth is still fairly new, with it being released in 2013, and therefore there is still a good chunk of the population that are unaware of the truth. This may be true, but I still think it is worth to clear up this misconception whenever possible.