Category Archives: Social Media

These posts describe and review mentions of cognitive research in the media.

Memorization is as Easy as Pi

Akira Haraguchi, a man residing in Japan, was able to memorize 111,700 digits of pi. I am not sure about everyone else, but I have been able to memorize 3.14159, and this number was looped around more of my classroom walls than I would like to admit. My six memorized digits match the 7 +/- 2 digit span task that we have learned about. Of course, we now know that people can hold 7 +/- 2 chunks, so the only question is, how did Haraguchi manage to put 111,700 digits into five to nine chunks? Has he increased his working memory? This is where it gets complicated.

Haraguchi assigned each digit several syllables. In his interview, he reveals that the number zero is assigned the syllables o, ra, ri, ru, re, ro, wo, on, or oh. This puts his chunking at the maximum of nine, and he continues this for the rest of the numbers. Of course, there are ten number (0-9) in which he must memorize, so it might be assumed that his chunking capabilities are slightly higher than the average person’s. Now we know that each number is assigned various syllables, but how does that help him remember the order of pi? Haraguchi reveals that he has created over 800 stories by combining the syllables into words, the words into sentences, and so on.

This is utilizing deep processing, since he is giving meaning to numbers, which will lead to better recall later. Additionally, he sees pi as equal to saying the Buddhist mantra, which indicates that he has made it personal. This also helps with recall. His working memory has not (and could not) increased, but he has found a way around the five to nine digit “limit.” This is a lot more exciting than the 110 digits memorized by Steve using race times. The next question is: how could Haraguchi possibly remember the exact wording of all these stories, and in the right order?

One way Haraguchi might be ensuring that this does not occur is by rehearsing. He recites 25,000 digits a day, dedicating three hours of his life to saying numbers by telling stories. As Reisberg discussed in chapter eight of Cognition, along with nearly every teacher I have had since high school, you are more likely to be able to recall something if it was learned well originally, and if you revisit the material later by practicing it. Haraguchi is essentially quizzing himself on part of pi every day, helping him to remember the order of the story, and thus the number.

I know The Guardian is not the best place to find “real” psychological news, but I was disappointed that there were not more details about how he memorizes pi. The chunking and meaning all make sense, but even by practicing 25,000 digits a day, how does he memorize 111,700 digits without mixing up the order of the stories or using a synonym for a word (I know that I never end up using the exact wording of a story twice). This is briefly explained when Haraguchi states that the first hundred digits are all about humans, but if there are over 100,000 digits and the first story chunk is only one-hundred, the rest must be much larger chunks in order to meet the 7 +/- 2, or he has much more than nine chunks.

My guess is that he splits his chunks into chunks, but did not mention it during the interview. Perhaps the first 15,000 digits are stories about living things, which break up into humans, cats, dogs, trees, etc. The next 15,000 may be household items, and include stories about couches, silverware, etc. Perhaps even these categories are split into smaller parts. I initially thought it would be impossible to memorize over 100,000 digits (the 110 discussed in class seemed incredible!), but I now believe that with many years of dedication and practice, it is possible. This does, however, leave me with the question: is there a limit to how many chunks within chunks a person can have? My best guess is yes, since the 7 +/- 2 chunks seems to hold true.

One possibility

Here is a diagram I created to explain my best guess of how Haraguchi memorizes so many digits. He stated that he uses the ones I labeled “humans,” “words,” “syllables,” and “numbers,” and I inferred the “living things” and “staying positive” in order to explain how 800 stories can be placed in 7 +/- 2. Notice that there are six steps that I created for my possible explanation, which still goes along with the chunking theory.

Although this article was mostly informal (such as asking Haraguchi how he plans on spending March 14), the questions and information about how he is able to remember so many digits fascinated me. I was disappointed that there were a few gaps I had to do my best to fill in so that the cognitive psychology would make sense (there is no way 800 stories are only split into humans, animals, and plants because that would be many more than nine stories per genre), but I would be interested in future interviews with Haraguchi explaining his process of memorization in more detail. Is my theory correct? Do you think you could memorize over 100,000 digits? This kind of memorization would require a lot of attention and effort; probably more than I have.


Attention Blink and ADHD



People who have ADHD are more likely to experience difficulties with the attention blink test.  Due to their difficulty to stare at a fixed space and attention deficit they miss more letter sequences. 



To put this into perspective, this can be applied to the real world for any given person in circumstances such as if a driver in front of you is swerving off the road, you will briefly become focused on that catastrophe (attention blink) in the making and lose sight of the specific details of the traffic around you in that moment.  I can only imagine how difficult it may be for a student in a classroom that is not on ADHD medication and is trying to pay attention to a lecture but sees phones lighting up with notifications or hears students talking outside in the hallway.

As someone who has ADHD (not on medication) this makes sense to me.  When doing the attention blink test on the Zaps program used in my Cognitive Psychology class there was a continuous stream of 80 different tests.  I found myself fidgeting in my seat and having to take breaks.  It made me feel irritable and impatient and I had a hard time finding the first letter in the sequence for the first few trials.  Eventually I sort of picked it up but I struggled finding a second letter in the sequence.



Cognitive Look at Whyy Some People Prefer Trump Over Clinton or Vice Versa

With the end of Obama’s term to serve as president is gradually coming to a close, people wonder who will be the next president of the United States.  This requires some reasoning and decision making from voters throughout the country.  How do people choose which candidate would make best president among a pool of candidates running?  It all revolves some cognitive thinking.  Perception is one of the biggest factors in helping people to decide who they deem worthy of the executive position.  Before voting, voters will often figure out which running candidate is most competent, or who is the most capable and how qualified the person is for the title in government.   It is common sense to know that most people vote on a candidate based on their style of leading.  The question is, do people choose candidates based off of physical traits or based on intuitive traits. From the beginning of human evolution, judging people and animals based on their physical traits has been a natural process that used to differentiate harmless animals or people from predators or enemies.  This perception of their physical traits then affects what we think of all internal traits of candidates such as their political abilities.  This is unfair to some candidates because people think they are making rational decisions, when really, the majority of people are voting on the person whose face is most appealing and looks like a face that could be seen as a possible coined leader.

Researchers have conducted an experiment to see if judging a person’s face typically leads to thoughts about that person as a whole.  They had participants rate the level of competence of each candidate for Senate between years 200-2004 and found that the more often and longer the participants were exposed to seeing the faces of particular candidates, the more often the exposed candidates were chosen as more competent.  This explains why some people may choose candidates in our current election more than other candidates such as Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.  There are people who ask each other why in the world anyone would vote for Hillary Clinton? Or why would anyone vote for Donald Trump? These two candidates are in the lead and they most likely received most votes out of all candidates thanks to their facial features and their externally-appealing political leadership style.  So why do people choose some candidates over others? People judge books by their covers, which colors the internal pages of the character and competence levels of candidates.   

It has also been shown that physical differences in the brain can predetermine which candidate a person would vote for.  The thought process of conservative voters is more amygdala and fear-based, while liberal minds focus more on the gray between black and white situations and their opinions are colored by new information.  This however is not the only reason people prefer a candidate from others.  People also like different leadership styles. For example, Donald Trump voters like a leader who is good at articulating his vision directly and concisely.  Cruz voters prefer a leader who is good at articulating his faith and at the same time his vision.  People prefer different candidates due to a variety of physical differences in their brains, liking a certain type of leadership style and because of perception judgments.  





Have you ever walked into your bedroom and noticed a slight difference but could not pin-point exactly what had changed since the last time you were in the room? What about if you were finding the 12 significant differences between two photos in the second glance section of the Washington Post magazine? Both these examples are of change blindness. The visual processing that occurs in change blindness is when someone is unable to detect the precise changes in settings that they’re looking at directly. The reason behind this phenomen is because our brain fills in the slight differences to make us not process these changes until we actually focus on the image.

For example, if we were looking at two images that pretty much looked exactly the same but instead of someone wearing a green colored shirt in one photograph, they are wearing a blue colored shirt in the other photograph. However, our brain skips over this difference and we don’t even realize we are making this mistake. This concept can commonly happen because our brain processes visual stimuli so quickly that we don’t visually pick up on these changes between these two pictures. In the picture above, we see two scenes that pretty much show the same stimuli but there are a few differences between both the photos. Until further examination, do you begin to notice the little differences between the two pictures. For example, in the first photo the man in the white tank top is wearing a gold watch but in the second photo, there is no gold watch on his wrist.  Some of my research about change blindness tries to understand why this concept even happens on a regular basis. Researchers ask questions like what sorts of changes did they miss? Under what conditions? What are the limits of their ability to remember these scenes? With what attention do we hold onto to these visual details? These are all valid questions when it comes to trying to piece together how change blindness evolves in the visual cortex of the brain.

 Why can’t you notice direct changes that are directly in front of you at first glance? New York Times writer Natalie Anger writes in Blind to Change, Even as It Stares Us in the Face how visual stimuli is processed during change blindness. Anger argues that the two key processes that occur during in change blindness is top-down processing and bottom-up processing. During bottom-up processing a person is more likely to see a stimuli popping up in view like their friend was waving at them from across the room. Although, the top-down processing is harder to detect. Top-down processing requires someone to really focus on the stimuli in front of them. Angier references what Dr. Jeremy Wolfe of Harvard Medical School had to say about this concept. Wolfe says, “The basic problem is that far more information lands on your eyes than you can possibly analyze and still end up with a reasonable sized brain”(Angier). What Wolfe is saying here is that our brain can only handle so much information at once. Which is why sometimes people can skip over stimuli that is right in front of them.

Let’s dig deeper into more change blindness examples. In several magic tricks, the magician performs a task that makes the participant think they are perceiving one action take place but they’re not paying enough attention to process the actual trick the magician is executing. Our brain tricks into this misconception. In addition, sometimes the magician might be distracting the participant by talking to them or make them focus their attention on something else during the magic trick. Once the trick is over, we think the answer is obvious but it is not until that we really focus that we realize we were compliantly “blind” during the whole trick. This is exactly how magicians decieve people into their tactics of change blindness.

I think change blindness can be applied in most every day situations. Overall, the human brain can only retain so much rapid information at a constant period. Which is why you’re more likely to not see every single difference that you encounter. Even if when you think you feel like you have all your attention on certain type of stimuli in front of you, you can still miss a small detail that passes by faster for you even to process and retain it later. The important thing to remember about change blindness is that its okay to miss some stimuli that appears in front of you, as long as it doesn’t become a habit in which it takes you longer for you to process every single type of stimuli.


Young, J. (2016, February 21). Second Glance. Washington Post Magazine. from

Angier, N. (2008, April 1). Blind to Change, Even as It Stares Us in the Face. New York Times. from

Simons, D. J. (2000). Current Approaches to Change Blindness. Visual Cognition, 7(1-3), 1-15. Doi:10.1080/135062800394658

Do Tattoos Make Us Feel Better About Ourselves?

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For my last blog post I wanted to write about something I was really interested in. I thought about our current generation and our love for body art, mainly tattoos. It is very rare to meet someone that does not have at least one tattoo these days. It has become pretty normal, but still taboo if excessive. I have a tattoo myself and plan to get more the future. It was something I enjoyed getting, and I like the look it has given my body. I decided to research and see if this want for tattooing had something to do with the brain. If only some of us had this trigger in the brain that made us want to continue modifying our bodies.

I found and article in Psychology Today titled If Tattoos Could Talk. This article discussed how this is something humans have been doing since the beginning of time. This article said tattoos may have been done in the past to ease pain, and could also be done to conform to society or to show when someone is an adult. Tattoos make you look like a more interesting person. People also get tattoos to show certain religious or magical symbols which help strengthen that person. This is article also talked about tattoos and self-esteem, and that stood out to me. When people get a new tattoo they tend to feel better about themselves, maybe even more attractive. Could this be a real self-esteem issue?

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I could not find any articles that talked about tattoos and self-esteem and the cognitive level, but I still wanted to explain the brain and self- esteem. An article in the Huffington Post titled, This is Where Self-Esteem Lives in the Brain, gives a little information about the topic. A recent study has shown the self-esteem is in the frontostriatal pathway of the brain. This pathway connects the medial prefrontal cortex, and the ventral striatum. These have to do with self-knowledge and our feelings of reward. This makes sense for some people that gets tattoos to boost self-esteem. If someone has self-knowledge that is low, which can mean a low mental health state or a low thoughts of one self, that same person may get the tattoo as a reward.

This blog post is not to say that everyone that gets a tattoo has low self-esteem. I think people have many reasons for getting inked and low self-esteem is one of many. The self-esteem option was just the one I was most interested in. Since tattoos are gaining popularity I hope more research will be done to see why people decided on this particular option. I someone is getting a tattoo for self-esteem reasons will they ever have enough?

Image result for Full body tattoo

Regardless or your reasoning for any body modification. If it’s not harmful to yourself or anyone else I say tattoo on!

Is Your Brain Weird?

It is, according to this Buzzfeed article. The article is entitled “11 Memory Facts That Prove Your Brain Is Weird.” The article talks about weird memory phenomena, like false memories and context-dependent memories. Along with each fact is a description and a nifty GIF of a fuzzy animal or a movie quote. So that’s pretty cool. But even cooler, unlike many social media mentions of cognition, this article actually backs its assertions up with real cognitive research! I’ll take you through a few of the mentioned memory facts, summarizing their points, and then I’ll analyze their respective research articles.

open-door-day-samo-za-vjesti-1First, the Buzzed article talks about that familiar sensation of walking into a room and totally forgetting why you had to go to that room. In this study by Gabriel Radvansky, participants were given tasks to complete in a virtual reality comprised of many rooms. Each room had two tables with an object on one table. They had to carry the object to the other table or into another room, but once holding it, they couldn’t see it any longer. They would be tested frequently on which object they were holding and which they had just put down. Participants performed much more poorly on memory tasks when they had just crossed through a door than when they had traveled the same distance but remained in the same room.

This study made me think of memory tasks where participants forget details of a story (the bus driver example) because their brain automatically makes the call about what information is important and what isn’t, without the person actually deciding, and doesn’t encode the irrelevant info into long term memory. Similarly, in this study, participants’ brains recognize the doorway as a marker of the end of an episode. The door serves as an event boundary, so the brain decides which information is no longer likely going to be relevant, and it is dropped from the working memory in preparation for new, more relevant information in the new room. This is an example of our brain jumping the gun and automating a process to save us time, attention, and effort. When it works to our advantage, it’s great, and we don’t notice it. When it doesn’t, however, we forget why we came into a room and get really frustrated!

RV-AB577_WEEKIN_DV_20110208191537Another weird memory fact mentioned in the Buzzfeed article is that closing your eyes can help you remember more effectively. In a recall study, participants were shown a video and then reported on it (free or cued recall). They were tested a few minutes later and again a week later. Some participants had their eyes open during recall tests, and others had their eyes closed. The study found that eye-closure had no effect on recall in the first test, but increased accuracy on the second test by 37%. It even helped participants recall things they hadn’t reported the first time.

What is causing this phenomenon? My first inclination is to think it has something to do with attention. We learned in class that attention is a resource (why else do we say “pay” attention?). This resource is limited, and our brains can only consciously focus on so many things at once. Perhaps something about closing our eyes helps limit which stimuli are demanding our attention, and allows us to focus inwardly and more effectively recall previously encoded information. The study mentions also that eye-closure only helps us with “fine-grain visual details,” not overall big picture, or even auditory details. This indicates that the effectiveness of eye closing has to do with how we encode information. When the information we encode is very visual (the example in the study is “she elbowed him in the face”), closing our eyes allows us to relive the moment and re-visualize what occurred. This improves recall.

I found this article to be very interesting. Memory is complicated and messy, and that makes it always worth studying. I especially appreciated the references to how our brain automates complicated processes in order to make our experience more simple and streamlined. We’ve learned a lot about this trend in class, and seeing it at work in memory was interesting. In some ways, it departed from the usual social media science article, which tends to throw out crazy facts with vague research backing it up. The article provided direct links to cognitive research that supported its assertions. My only issue with the article was the way it approached some of the research findings. It seemed that the author was more focused on the “wow” factor of its studies than in actually imparting the main points of the research studies. In the eye-closing study, for example, many interesting findings were left out of the Buzzfeed summary in favor of the more simple, attractive finding. Overall, however, I liked this article.

Can doodling improve memory and attention?

I have always been a doodler. For as long as I can remember my notebook pages have been covered in them. I honestly have no idea when or why I started doodling, it’s not like I sketch out masterpieces or anything and teachers are never happy to see you “distracted” during their lesson. However, i’ve found that doodling helps me stay engaged and focused, especially on days when I am seriously fighting to stay awake. Nevertheless, doodles have a bad rap in our culture and they are viewed as meaningless and distracting scribbles. Because of this, I have tried hard not to doodle as much, especially in college, I would never want my professors to feel disrespected!!

However, freshman year my digital storytelling professor showed us this TED talk by Sunni Brown. She argues that doodling shouldn’t be ousted from learning situations, in fact, she encourages it and thinks it helps us process the complex information we might be taking in. Not only did I feel like less of a delinquent after watching this, but it encouraged me to start doodling again, and I have definitely noticed a difference in the amount of information I retain from an in-class lecture.

Brown talks a little bit about a study in which people who were doodling while taking in information recalled at least 29% than those who did not. Of course I became more interested in the effects doodling might have on memory and after some further research, I found the infamous “Doodle Study.” The researchers contribute the beneficial effect of doodling to its ability to retain an individuals attention and therefore promote deep processing of information. As we have learned this semester, stimuli that are processed deeply are more likely to enter long-term memory.

Cell Phone Apocalypse?

Imagine yourself bench sitting on a beautiful day out and you look up and you see student after student mindlessly walking on campus walk with their heads bowed down- bumping into poles, falling down stairs, and even running into other people. BUT the weird thing is that after they run into things whether it be a pole, a tree, or other people, they go right back to putting their heads down and walking mindlessly.

Are you in the middle of a zombie apocalypse? No you’re witnessing a different kind- the 21st century cell phone apocalypse. 

If you are like the majority of the people today, you are constantly on your phone. This is extremely distracting and most especially with finals week coming up, it is much harder to resist the temptation to waste countless hours on twitter, instagram, facebook, etc.

According to a study done by researchers Przybylski and Weinstein, the mere presence of a cell phone during a social interaction in which individuals are having a casual conversation led people to have lower trust and an overall lower quality of relationship. So, due to this, cell phones have been found to impede human social interaction.

But despite this, according to the Student Science website, the average college student still uses their cell phone fore about NINE hours each day. This article also puts into perspective that If you think about it, the average college student spends more time on their cell phones than they do sleeping!

James Roberts, a marketing professor at Baylor University associates cell phone use with addiction. Yes, a behavioral addiction! People panic when their batteries die or when there’s no service. Roberts ties this in with symptoms of withdrawal that is seen in many if not all addiction problems. A newly coined term called ringxiety has also made its way to popular culture which is when you think that your phone is ringing or vibrating when in reality is isn’t.

So, the big question is- how can we rely less on our cell phones? Again, especially with finals week coming up and us college students need to stay focused

Webmd offers three basic tips that people could follow in order to better manage their time better with their cell phone use- they can do this by being conscious, strong, and disciplined. 

1.) Being conscious– of all situations and emotions that you feel whenever you feel as if you have to check your phone, such as boredom, loneliness, or procrastination, you can find something else that would fill your time that is much more productive.
2.) Being strong- whenever your phone beeps or rings. This allows you to manage your time better and not losing track of time when you do check it. Try turning of the sound and the vibration so you aren’t tempted to check your phone every single time it goes off.
3.) Being disciplined- in certain situations where you should not be using your cell phone such as in class, when you are driving, and especially right before you go to bed.

Yes, it seems to be easier said than done. However, although it’s hard- trust me I have tried to follow these 3 steps. You can always start small. I started putting my phone away for 5, then 10, then 15 minutes when I’m studying and I have personally seen the increase in my productivity with my work. So next time you’re itching to grab that phone, try silencing it for a couple minutes and resisting the urge to go on social media. According to the article, you will not only be able to concentrate better but you will also feel less stressed and more relaxed.

*Even if it’s only for 5 minutes a day 🙂

Can you draw the Apple Logo from memory?

In class, we discussed a study conducted in 1979 that examined whether or not people would be able to correctly identify the most accurate version of a penny when shown a series of similar but slightly different pennies. In this particular study, it was found that people were unable to correctly pick out the real penny despite it being an object they saw frequently in their day to day life. These findings were important in establishing the importance of active encoding in successful memory retrieval, suggesting that work must be done in order for something to be stored in your memory, even if that object is in frequently in front of you.

While obviously compelling, these findings left me with some questions after lecture. Sure, the penny is something people see quite frequently, but it’s also a pretty detailed piece of currency. It wasn’t designed to be easily memorized, only to be distinct from other coins and currency, so is it all that surprising that we aren’t able to recall exactly which way Lincoln is facing? What about things we see everyday that are meant to be remembered? Are things that are simple and designed specifically to be recognizable and memorable any easier to recall without active encoding?

... pres/White_Collaborators_Judy/Collaborators logos/Industry/Apple logo

Thanks to a study published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, which was recently reported on by Buzzfeed, those questions and some have now been answered. Researchers at Ghent University in Belgium asked 85 participants to draw the apple logo from memory. They then had those participants identify the true Apple logo from a series of similar, but slightly different, versions of the famous logo. Like the penny study, majority of the participants were unable to accurately identify the correct logo from the options given, supporting the idea that active encoding is necessary for successful retrieval later on.

More than half of the 85 students who took this test as part of research conducted by a team from University of California, Los Angeles, got it wrong.

What was interesting about this study were the additional conclusions drawn by the researchers. While the Buzzfeed article stated that the experimenters believed their results stemmed from the fact that people might not bother to remember the logo because it’s so prevelant that we have no need to do so, the original study discusses it’s findings in slightly different terms. As we learned in class, people often use schemas to fill in missing information. Researcher’s in this particular case believe, based on the drawings done by participants, that people used their schema of what an ideal apple logo should look like (e.g. apple shape, stem) instead on relying of their actual memory of the logo, resulting in recall errors.  Even in cases where the logo is simple, in your face almost daily, and designed to be remembered, it is still possible to have an inaccurate idea of what something looks like.


Impacts of Technology: Digital Amnesia

Everyone uses technology in one form or another, from sending an email to a professor to posting on this blog. Although we enjoy the benefits and many uses of technology daily, we often don’t realize how technology can negatively impact the brain, memory, or our thought processes. I found this study particularly interesting in light of all the recent controversy surrounding “false” memories.

An article from the TechTimes, entitled, “Don’t Lie on Facebook, Other Social Networks. It causes ‘Digital Amnesia’” describes a phenomenon where an individual lies about personal details of their lives on social media sites such as Facebook or Twitter but then end up essentially rewriting their own memories. This phenomenon which psychologists are calling “digital amnesia” is a result of anxiety, shame, or paranoia that some people feel about keeping up their social media image. This can cause memories that are stored to be less accurate and more conforming to a certain image. Alarmingly, the article notes that 68% of people said they “regularly lie, exaggerate, or embellish” when posting on social media with 1 in 10 people saying that the original memory of the event has known become skewed when trying to retrieve it. Unsurprisingly, the 18-24 age bracket is the group most affected by this phenomenon with 16% reporting “completely compromised memories.”

There has been only one study, “The effect of Twitter exposure on false memory information” that specifically looked at the effects of Twitter on autobiographical memory published in the Psychonomic Bulletin and Review in May 2014. However, this study was focused on whether or not Twitter could alter a person’s perception about real news events they saw while scrolling on their feed. The experiment was carried out where they showed “participants pictures that depicted a news story. Then they were shown false information about the images in a feed that either highly resembled a Twitter feed or one that did not at all. The confidence for correct information was similar across groups but confidence for suggested information was significantly lower when false information was presented in a Twitter format.” The results depicted that it is likely people will have trouble determining whether or not information is accurate on social media and incorrectly remembering what was accurate and what was not. They repeated this experiment using Facebook as well as information read from a book. Twitter prompted higher false memory rates than Facebook and information from a book.

I personally found this fascinating as this is something I see a lot on social media. Some people definitely have a tendency to recall or talk about things they’ve seen on social media without being sure the information is accurate and I find that scary. I personally take things I see on social media sites like Facebook at face-value until I can check another source. In an age where people enjoy sharing every little detail of their lives on social media, it may be a good idea to hold back and share only essential details to prevent “digital” amnesia.