Author Archives: tdiffley

“Cognitive Training: The Final Frontier for Athletes”

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When people are asked the question, “What quality is most needed to play a sport?” most will agree that one of the first, if not the first, quality that comes to mind is physical ability. It’s easy for people to assume that athleticism and strength are the most important skills to become successful. Looking at professional athletes, it’s clear that the top players are in killer shape (for the most part). But people have the tendency to believe it’s only what’s on the outside that makes the player phenomenal. On the contrary, what makes a true champion often comes from within.

Training methods often incorporate techniques to improve agility, speed, hand-eye coordination, balance, strength, etc. Yet one of the newest and possibly most important training techniques elite athletes should use is often overlooked: perceptual-cognitive ability. Perceptual-cognitive ability is the level at which an athlete can see movement while on the court/field/rink. This ability is common amongst sports where the ball/puck is moving rapidly.

Dr. Faubert, a clinical sports psychologist, wanted to look further into the relationship between athletic success and cognition. He believed that “elite” athletes and average athletes differed in their levels of perceptual-cognitive ability. Despite this difference, Faubert also believed that all athletes can increase and improve their perceptual-cognitive ability during competition through certain training methods. His paper discusses the heightened importance for athletes to focus on their mental game equally as much as they do for their physical game. If an athlete chooses to work on their perceptual-cognitive ability, it’s likely they will be one step closer to becoming an elite athlete and reaching their goals.

Physical strength is all well and good, but sports are much more mental than people like to believe. “More research is needed, but Faubert suggests that what sets an elite athlete apart from sub-elite might be “the ability to process relevant perceptual cues and enhance search strategies”” (Sport Techie, 2013). Faubert further discusses the importance of repetition of motor skills. The saying “practice makes perfect” is very relevant for cognition in athletes. Yes, doing the same drill over and over again will help with technique, but it also eases the mind mentally. It allows for the player to feel comfortable with said shot/play/pass when they entire a competitive. Knowing they’ve practiced it 100 times has a calming affect, which lowers the likelihood of making too many errors.

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Cognitive training will have its best results when players train in short sessions. With little research conducted on the topic, it seems that elite athletes benefit the most from such cognitive training; although average athletes have also seemed to benefit more quickly than expected. The mental game is a huge part of an athletes success, so researchers are intrigued to see if success can be developed/increased on different types of athletes (under various circumstances) with the help of perceptual-cognitive ability training.

As a tennis player, I completely agree with this article and Faubert’s research paper. The mental side of sports is often overlooked, yet it can make or break an athlete’s success. I know that there are sports psychologists who can help with mental/clinical issues, but I was extremely interested to find out that there is an actual term and training method. Consciousness is a portion of cognition that we are currently aware of, creating a unique aspect of personhood. A huge part of consciousness relies on working memory and attention, which in athletics is enormously important. Having great depth perception, anticipation, and an even greater court sense (of the competitive environment) are what give elite athletes an edge.

Lastly, most athletes use (or could benefit from) mental models. Mental models are when a person tries to represent concrete examples in their head, rather than use abstract rules. Using tennis as an example, a mental model can be beneficial when I’m trying to visualize where to hit the ball. The mental model allows me to simplify the point so that I don’t begin to over-think how deep, short, angled, high, or low I should hit the ball. If my mental model fails during my match, I can then use an analogy to improve and prepare myself for the next competitive in order to avoid making the same mistakes.

http://www.sporttechie.com/2013/10/30/cognitive-training-the-final-frontier-for-athletes/

Selective Visual Attention in Anorexia and Bulimia

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Eating disorders (EDs) have become increasingly apparent in todays day and age, especially for females during emerging adulthood. The media plays a huge role in the way people view themselves. There are a few different types of eating disorders, but two of the main EDs are anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN). People who suffer from eating disorders develop extreme emotions, attitudes, and behaviors surrounding weight and food issues. Cognitive psychologists have begun to discover that those diagnosed with EDs tend to have various visual and perceptual problems that are commonly created from disturbed mental processes in the brain. Eating disorders are serious emotional and physical problems that can have life-threatening consequences. While various methods have been used to test the relationship between attentional processes and eating disorders, this particular study focuses on the eye movements of women while looking in a mirror.

Tuschen-Caffier, Bender, Caffier, Klenner, Braks, and Svaldi conducted a study regarding the effect of distorted attentional processes on people suffering from eating disorders. Tuschen-Caffier and her team hypothesized that patients with anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa, who had to gaze at themselves in a mirror for several minutes, would have increased visual attention. This research team believed that while patients looked at their “most dissatisfying” and “most ugly” body, the level of visual attention would increase. On the other hand, patients who looked at their “most satisfying” and “most beautiful” part would see much less visual attention. A control group was also added to the study. In regards to the control, researchers hypothesized that the control group would view all of their body parts in a more balanced manner.

Sixteen female inpatients with AN, sixteen female inpatients with BN, and sixteen females with no history of an eating disorder participated in the study. The AN and BN participants were patients at an inpatient clinic that specialized in eating disorders. To keep the study accurate and ethical, Tuschen-Caffier and her team made sure none of the AN or BN patients had received treatment prior to the experiment, while also making sure each patient and participant passed the required guidelines.

As part of the experiment, participants were required to fill out the following questionnaires: The Eating Disorder Examination- Questionnaire, The Body Shape Questionnaire, The Symptom Checklist—revised, and the German version of the Beck Depression Inventory. The final questionnaire was The Self-Assessment Manikin (SAM), which was administered when the actual eye-tracking experiment was taking place. After filling out countless questionnaires, patients and participants were finally able to partake in the actual experiment portion of the study.

Participants first had to rest in a cozy chair. Upon resting, they were also asked to relax and focus only on what was going through their mind in the present moment. Researchers took this technique a step further by having participants simultaneously look at pictures and say everything that came to mind out loud. Participants then had to take off all of their clothing and trade it in for a cream pair of underwear and a cream bra; it was also mandatory to take off any and all makeup. During the physical experiment, participants were told to stand in front of a mirror and gaze at themselves with intent. While holding an intense gaze, participants had to think out loud once again for three minutes; but this time their eye movements were recorded through an eye-tracking device. This device allowed researchers to take a multitude of pictures, which focused on specific parts of the body. A “cursor” in the eye-tracking device tracked each participant’s fixation direction of their eyes. Once the three minutes was up, the eye-tracking device was removed and participants had to fill out the SAM for a third time. After getting dressed, participants had to fill out the SAM again.

In order to keep up with ethical and moral standards, researchers conducted a post-experimental interview in order debrief participants of the true objectives of the study. To finish off the study, participants were offered one of two options: a guided relaxation routine or to read a book for 25 minutes. After finishing Option 1 or Option 2, participants completed the SAM one last time. For each picture, the experimenters identified the body part on which the cursor was set, representing the fixation direction of the eye.

        Despite what I thought would occur, researchers found that AN, BN, and the control group didn’t differ in the categories of most beautiful, most ugly, most satisfying, and most dissatisfying body parts. AN, BN, and control group participants all agreed similarly in their choices of most ugly and most dissatisfying body parts. On the other hand, there was decent variation in the most beautiful and most satisfying body parts. The conduction of a MANOVA discovered significant effects of Body Part and Group x Body Part. Both the BN and AN patients looked more frequently at their most dissatisfying parts compared to their most satisfying part (Tuschen-Caffier 2015) and at their ugliest part than their most beautiful part. 

Selective attention is the ability to focus on a single stimulus to the exclusion of other stimuli. For the most part, selective attention helps people concentrate and function in every day life. But it can also have various limits on capacity, where the “wrong” expectation interferes with activating the correct detectors. People who suffer from eating disorders have high levels of body dissatisfaction, which is believed to derive from the activation of maladaptive appearance schemata, which guide mental processes like selective attention to shape and weight-related information (Tuschen-Caffier 2015). Instead of using selective attention to function in every day life, those with eating disorders use their selective attention to focus on the problems they see with their body.

It’s not uncommon to view selective attention as a similar to inattentional blindness. This phenomenon occurs when a distracted person cannot find something what they are looking for, even if it is right in front of their eyes. Many people with eating disorders such as AN and BN have a distorted image of their body. They may be 5’6″, weigh 110 lbs., and look extremely thin to everyone else, but all they see in the mirror is every extra inch of fat on their body and every part they wish they could change. Selective attention and a maladaptive mindset make it impossible for the sufferer to see the true size of their body, even when staring into a mirror.

Tuschen-Caffier B, Bender C, Caffier D, Klenner K, Braks K, et al. (2015) Selective Visual Attention during Mirror Exposure in Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa. PLoS ONE 10(12): e0145886. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0145886

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0145886

 

Lime-Yellow Fire Trucks Better Than Red?

Today, red is the primary and most popular color for fire trucks and various other emergency vehicles. Red is typically viewed as a very “loud” color because it’s extremely bold and easy to spot. Despite red being the most prevalent color, it’s not uncommon for current fire trucks to be yellow, blue, white, orange, or green. Many people question the decision to make a fire truck any color other than red because they believe red is most recognizable; but is it really?

The American Psychological Association posts brief write-ups under “Research in Action,” which contains highlighted studies found to have statistically significant effects and be applicable in every day life. One of the highlighted studies in the research area is “Why Lime-Yellow Fire Trucks Are Safer Than Red.” Although red is the traditional color of fire trucks, recent findings are beginning to argue against such a tradition. When it comes to safety, ergonomics research helps people understand why red may not be the best color for fire trucks and other emergency vehicles. Ergonomics relies heavily on the use of human auditory and visual perception, which is commonly brought to our attention through the conduction of psychological studies. One extremely key study conducted on this idea of “safer colors” is Stephen Solomon and James King’s 1995 study, “Influence of Color on Fire Vehicle Accidents.”

The study Solomon and King conducted looked to discover whether or not the color of fire trucks would increase or decrease the number of accidents in one city. Prior to conducting the study, both men were aware that the color-transmitting cones in our eyes don’t work well in the dark, hence some colors are easier for us to see at night. Yellow and greens are the easiest for humans to see during darkness; not red. This perceptual discovery helped pave the idea that yellow (and other bright colored) fire trucks may help prevent against or decrease the number of avoidable and unnecessary accidents. Following-up on this idea, Solomon and King analyzed accident data from the Dallas Fire Department (DFD). In the early 1970s and 1980s, the Dallas Fire Department began trading in their traditionally red fire trucks for lime-yellow trucks with white upper caps. With the pass of the early 1980s, the DFD decided to go back to “tradition” and buy red vehicles with white upper caps.

Over the course of their four-year study, “Solomon and King found that the risk of a visibility-related, multiple-vehicle accidents may be as much as three times greater for red or red/white fire trucks compared to lime-yellow/white trucks” (Solomon & King 1995). Results also showed that the likelihood of injury or towaway damage was much less for yellow/white fire emergency trucks involved in accidents than red or red/white trucks. Interestingly enough, Solomon conducted an earlier study that looked at 750,000 fire vehicle trips within nine different cities. Data collected from his research showed that yellow/greenish trucks were half as likely to get involved in intersection accidents as red/white trucks.

Despite such strong results, “the 2009 USFA study confirmed that even though fluorescent yellow-green and orange may increase vehicle visibility, the report also concluded that recognizing the vehicle was more important than paint color” (Federal Emergency Management Agency 2009). People who saw yellow/green trucks were much less likely to realize it was a fire truck, whereas those who saw a red truck instantly knew it was a fire truck. I thought this was extremely interesting because I’ve seen both white and yellow fire vehicles in the past and instantly knew they were related to the fire department. I decided to ask the girls on my team to see their thoughts on the recognition vs. color debate. Out of 14 members, 9 have seen a fire vehicle other than red in the past. Out of the 9 girls, 7 reported immediately recognizing the vehicle as a fire truck despite the color not being red. One of my teammates further commented how much she preferred the white/yellow trucks because she noticed it immediately during the nighttime.

“The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) estimated that in 2011 there were 3,870 injuries sustained while fire department vehicles were responding to or returning from incidents” (Federal Emergency Management Agency 2009). Alongside this dramatically high number of injuries, the U.S. Fire Administration reported that the cause of more than 10% of fire fighter deaths in 2012 were due to motor vehicle accidents. Although both articles primarily focus on the recognition vs. color debate, color isn’t the only factor that should be considered when it comes to designing emergency vehicles; retroreflective striping significantly increases a vehicle’s nighttime visibility. Further research must be conducted to undercover the most conspicuous methods when it comes to fire trucks.

Object recognition may begin with the input pattern’s features, focusing on the small and most noticeable elements first. For example, the first thing people may notice about a motor vehicle is its’ color. This idea supports the argument against red fire trucks being replaced with yellow/white/lime fire trucks. Although data from Solomon’s study showed significance in the decrease of accidents with lime-yellow fire trucks, the USFA data showed that the decrease in accidents wasn’t truly that significant if people had dramatically increased visual-recognition issues. Objects are recognized by combining features called geons, which proposes that the visual input we take in is matched against structural representations of objects in the brain. Our eyes are most sensitive to brighter colors, especially in dark or dim lighting, so visibility would be best with yellow/white/green vehicles in this case.

The issue of recognition vs. color can be related to both bottom-up and top-down processing. Bottom-up processing would occur for when a person sees a yellow/white/green fire truck, while top-down processing would occur when a person sees a traditional red fire truck. The issue with bottom-up processing in this situation is that it may take too much complex processing before the person is finally able to realize that the vehicle they see is actually a fire truck. When it comes to top-down processing, people rely on what they know from past knowledge and experience. If people see a red emergency vehicle, they’ll most likely use top-down to immediately realize it’s a fire truck; but if the vehicle is any color besides red, top-down won’t typically work.         

http://www.apa.org/action/resources/research-in-action/lime.aspx

Solomon, S.S., & King, J.G. (1995). Influence of color on fire vehicle accidents. Journal of Safety Research, 26, 41-48

Solomon, S. S. (1990). Lime-yellow color as related to reduction of serious fire apparatus accidents: The case for visibility in emergency vehicle accident avoidance. Journal of the American Optometric Association, 61, 827-831

Federal Emergency Management Agency (2009). Emergency Vehicle Visibility and Conspicuity Study (FEMA Publication No. FA-323). Emmitsburg, Maryland

“Itchy Trigger Finger? How About Itchy Brain?”

 

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Over the past few years there has been a dramatic increase in police shootings throughout the United States; the media has specifically honed in on these types of shootings, exemplifying the problem. Although the media likes to target the potential racial biases behind these shootings, they rarely discuss the potential cognitive reasoning.

Wray Herbert, author of, “On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits,” talks about the dilemma police officers face while in the line of duty when dealing with a suspect who is (or is thought to be) armed and ready to shoot. The Huffington Post published an article about two opposing actions a police officer must decide between in a matter of seconds; they must be fully prepared to shoot in case they confront the suspect, but they also must have self-restraint to avoid shooting an innocent bystander by mistake. Herbert discusses how the need to act in a matter of mille-seconds/seconds poses great cognitive challenges. “Shooting a gun involves a complex cascade of actions, each linked to a specific cognitive ability” (Herbert 2015). When forced to deal with suspects who are armed, a police officer must make a cognitively sound decision in an extremely short period of time. Every human in a situation like this would be extremely frightened and instinctually be more inclined to be ready to pull the trigger in order to protect himself or herself. With this in mind, it takes a strong cognitive mind to be able to take a step back in a high-risk situation and not be too hasty to shoot at any movement.

Herbert links his ideology to the studies conducted by psychological scientist Adams Biggs of Duke University. Biggs has been extremely interested in the relationship between shooting performance and cognition. In one of his experiments, Biggs and his colleagues attempted to link civilian casualties to failures of response inhibition. To further his experiment, he also looked to see if improving the participants’ cognitive inhibition abilities might reduce civilian casualties. The experiment included young men and women who were told to play a video game called Reload: Target Down. To make the game more realistic, Biggs and his colleagues created the game for Nintendo Wii so that participants could use a mock firearm and be forced to squeeze a real trigger. The goal of the game was to kill any and all bad guys without accidentally killing innocent people; killing a bad guy resulted in +100 points, whereas killing an innocent civilian or hostage resulted in -1,000 points. After playing the game, participants were asked to assess attention and response inhibition, along with self-reports dealing with impulsivity, ADHD, and autism symptoms.

After comparing each participant’s response inhibition ability with his or her total civilian causalities, Biggs was able to conclude that there is in fact specific cognitive skill linked to innocent death. Results showed that those with poor inhibitory control and high attentional impulsivity were more likely to shoot innocent civilians in the game. Potentially the greatest finding was the significant link between attention deficits (opposed to motor impulsivity deficits) to innocent deaths. The previous linkage answers the title “Itchy Trigger Finger? How About Itchy Brain;” it seems to be more a problem of itchy brain.

As we learned in Chapter 1, Kant’s use of the transcendental method allowed Biggs to further his findings. He began with the observable facts that he saw from the first part of his experiment; then from the results he was able to work backwards to see how such observations and results came about and what lead to the linkage between cognitive skills to innocent death. The second part to Biggs’s experiment involved seeing if cognitive training may actually improve a person’s shooting accuracy and decrease civilian causalities. Only a few participants were given the cognitive training while others were not (the control). The results were dramatic, displaying that those who received the cognitive training killed significantly fewer innocent civilians this time around, while the control group remained the same.

The amygdala, which seems to serve as an emotional evaluator, allows people to detect threat/danger or indicators of safety/reward. Specifically, the prefrontal cortex becomes extremely active when a person is dealing with engaging tasks like careful analysis, such as when police officers are dealing with an armed suspect. My father has been in the police force for over 30 years now, and although he’s never had to shoot anyone while on the job, there have been several instances were he had to deal with armed suspects. I completely agree with what the article argued and the results it supported, and believe that response-inhibition training could really benefit police officers, and even the military, as an influential training method to prevent/reduce the death toll of innocent causalities.

 

Herbert, W. (2015, April 12). Itchy Trigger Finger? How About Itchy Brain? Retrieved January 30, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wray-herbert/itchy-trigger-finger-how_b_6654354.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/wray-herbert/itchy-trigger-finger-how_b_6654354.html