Category Archives: Uncategorized

anxiety and decision-making

A new study says that higher levels of anxiety can lead to poor decision-making. Decision-making depends on proper functioning of specific neurons within sub regions of the prefrontal cortex. It plays an important role in long term planning, consequences, risk and reward, and the regulation of emotions. A study published in the journal of neuroscience found that anxiety suppresses the general spontaneity of the PFC. If the area of the brain that executes our decision making is not functioning properly we are more likely to make poor decisions. This can be bad because poor decisions can lead to bad situations, which may get you stuck in a rut of poor decision-making. 

The area responsible for decision-making is not fully developed until the age of 25. Working against us, the brain is also more prone to anxiety during adolescence and early adulthood. This may account for some of our early poor decision-making. The latest research has shown that helping to manage anxiety can lead to better decision-making. Managing anxiety can be a difficult thing to do. Many people struggle their whole lives without relief. 

This video is most relevant at 4:10 but the whole video is educational. 

People who have a general anxiety disorder tend to experience anxiety for a period longer than 6 months and have trouble pin-pointing exactly what is causing the anxiety. Everyone experiences some form of anxiety during their life but there are things you can do to avoid anxious situations and help to avoid poor decision making. 

One thing is trying to decipher what is actually causing your anxiety. If you tend to feel anxious when you put off tests or projects, start them earlier and work slowly until they are due. If it is a certain situation or place that gives you anxiety try to avoid that place or create coping methods. 

You can avoid making poor decisions by monitoring your anxiety. If you feel yourself getting stressed and you know you have important decisions to make, de-stress before making those decisions. This will allow you to address the decisions with a clear mind, likely avoiding a poor decision.

Regardless of how hard we try, we are going to make poor decisions at some point in our lives but avoiding making decisions while stressed and anxious will decrease that likelihood.

Here is a very cheesy video that gives suggestions on how to lower stress and anxiety and what those are.

This is a really good video for most of the decision making, problem solving, algorithms, heuristics, and biases.

 

 

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-athletes-way/201603/how-does-anxiety-short-circuit-the-decision-making-process

 

Why you can’t get that silly tune out of your head

Have you ever been walking down the street and begin to hum a tune that you cannot get out of your head? The worst part is that you may only remember parts of the song, therefore you repeat the same lyrics over and over again. This type of cognitive annoyance is called an earworm. These earworms tend to be involuntarily and can last between 8-10 seconds. I was recently watching videos on the Ted Talks website and a video came up discussing how earworms can come about in the human brain. The Ted Talk video is labeled, “Why do songs get stuck in our head?” Although there has not been a ton of research on this concept, there have been a couple studies in which researchers have proposed ideas in which how earworms can occur repeatedly in the brain and how difficult it is to get the song out of one’s head.

Researchers have found that if someone repeatedly listens to a certain tune, they will soon adapt a type pattern in the brain from that song. The video recounts that around a quarter of people in the world experience this type of cognitive phenomenon. Earworms usually occur for tasks that don’t tend to require much attention, such as brushing your teeth, waiting at a stoplight on your way home or even when you’re making a meal. Earworms are a type auditory imagery because they tend to be in-voluntarily. Once you get the tune stuck in your head, earworms are put on a loop to play over and over. A reason for the tendency to listen to these songs on repeat could be from modern technology like your iphone, the radio, the tv and other devices that influence your habit to hear that song on a daily basis. Some tunes are very popular and therefore others around you could also be humming that same melody. Which then can make you become hooked to listening to it as well. The late Mark Twain hypothesized that earworms have been around for centuries. The reason that music is so influential on our memory is because when we are trying to remember a melody, we have to play that song in our head in order to get to a certain note of that song. For example, in the “Happy Birthday” song, you must begin to sing the song in order to know what note that “You” lyric falls on the music spectrum.   

I also found an article on the science friday website, that goes more in depth about the cognitive phenomenon of the earworm. When people are listening to music, the motor cortex in their brain begins to light up. A professor who goes by the name James Kallaris, was interviewed in this article and he explains,”There are general patterns of characteristics for songs that frequently get stuck, such as being simple, repetitive, and having some mild incongruity,”.  So it is that repeated pattern of listening to music, that can influence people to replay songs in their head. Researcher Victoria Williamson argued in this online article that basically an earworm is our brain’s way of singing. She went on to say that anyone can experience an earworm, but it can occur more for people who are musically inclined. In addition, if the individual is stressed, nervous or tired; they might also experience this phenomenon. She suggests that one way someone can remove the earworms, is to find different music to distract you from the specific tune or keep listening to the song until you can’t listen to it anymore. Overall, this cognitive sensation is a fascinating discovery that researchers are still trying to comprehend to this day. However, you least you have some idea on why you can’t stop singing that “Let it Go” song in your shower.

References

  1. Margulis, E. H. (2016). Why do songs get stuck in our head. from http://tedtalkspsychology.com/songs-get-stuck-head-elizabeth-hellmuth/
  2. Tu, C. (2014, May 28). Why Do Songs Get Stuck in Our Heads? From http://www.sciencefriday.com/articles/why-do-songs-get-stuck-in-our-heads/

Rationalizing My Life

You'll come to the conclusion that pizza is a healthy snack. It has protein, carbs, and dairy. Is that basil I spy? Vegetables too, then.

Are humans rational? This is a question that is still being debated. We started learning about rationalization in class and the concept as well as its applications were very interesting to me, but also slightly confusing, so I decided to look into it. I found an article on Buzzfeed titled “17 Rationalizations All Lazy People Make About Health and Dieting”. This article was hilarious but very far from any kind of psychological explanation of what rationalization is. As I read through it had plenty of hilarious examples about eating healthy and all the junk you “rationalize” to be healthy because in some weird round-about way, it meets a health rule. One example would be a diet with a lot of color is better for you and the picture would be a bowl of jelly beans with many colors. I know in college I find myself rationalizing my food and exercise all the time. But how does this actually relate to the psychology of rationalization?

An article on PsychologyToday.com about self-deception and rationalization really caught my attention. Immediately I was caught off guard by this article, considering the author called human beings “rationalizing animals”. The author goes through explaining different types of rationalization and the types of situations they would be used in. One type of rationalization the author talks about is what he calls “sour grapes”, which is justifying something difficult to accept. One example of a sour grapes rationalization would be when a couple breaks up and each tell themselves its for the best and they will find someone who is better for them. The idea behind sour grapes is making yourself feel better in an emotionally upsetting situation. The author also discusses the idea of sour lemons which is the thing you use to rationalize a situation and essentially make yourself feel better. In the above example, the idea that you’ll find someone better is the sour lemons aspect of the rationalization. According to the author, we as humans are not rational, but rationalizing animals. We use rationalization techniques to keep things balanced or soften the blow of an abrupt change. It’s a type of self-defense and self-deception.

After reading the article about rationalization on PsychologyToday, the Buzzfeed article made a lot more sense. We use rationalization to make ourselves feel okay about potentially bad decisions, especially when it comes to dieting and eating healthy. We know what is healthy to eat and we know what probably isn’t as good for our bodies, but we eat the bad stuff anyways and rationalize it by telling ourselves we’re half meeting a rule or we’ll go exercise later to balance it out. Rationalization is how we balance out our mental thinking.

 

http://www.buzzfeed.com/leonoraepstein/rationalizations-all-lazy-people-make-about-their-health#.lxD57P3mR

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/hide-and-seek/201203/self-deception-i-rationalization

Prosopagnosia- A New Way to Test for this Cognitive Disorder

Telling People Apart: New Test Reveals Wide Variation In How Well We Recognise Faces

http://www.iflscience.com/brain/telling-people-apart-new-test-reveals-wide-variation-how-well-we-recognise-faces

faceblindness

This cognitive psychology article on the brain from the IFL Science website is all about how we recognize, or fail to recognize other people’s faces. They explain how truly amazing it is that the average person can detect differences between faces, due to the fact all faces are composed of the same features in generally the same position. Over the course of evolution, the visual system has become highly sensitive to detect changes between faces. However face blindness, known as prosopagnosia is a rare disease that inhibits any recognizing of faces.

It may not seem like a big deal, but prosopagnosia can be detrimental to mental health. Because someone cannot recognize faces, they fail to be able to judge others emotions and expressions. They are also at a very high risk of social embarrassment, isolation, anxiety and depression. Although the disease is not curable, there have been some advancements in treatment and coping skills on how to manage with the disease such as learning how to use voice, body structure and other features to detect people.

Prosopagnosia is a cognitive phenomenon that deals with the broad concept of object recognition. However, in this instance, the only object they fail to be able to recognize is faces. Also, perception and memory play a role in the diagnosing and treatment of prosopagnosia. As these individuals begin to rely on the features of others such as voice and body structure, their memory needs to be strong in order to rely on it. Also, perception of these features is important.

In this article, the researchers explain how there is no good way to test for prosopagnosia. They refer to this as the “testing problem.” Some researchers use photographs, but in those pictures are usually other context cues that would allow someone to recognize a specific person. Other tests have participants simply memorize a bunch of faces and later recall them. However, this type of testing may have no correlation with prosopagnosia at all- instead, errors could be due to issues with memory and recall. The researchers in this study believe they have discovered a new, fool proof way to test for prosopagnosia and to also see a spectrum of face recognition skills. Instead of using typical photographs, they use synthesized images from photographs where each face is only slightly modified.

Here is an example of the faces they use:

image-20160414-2617-l0ovbn

In each of the boxes, only one face is barely modified from all the rest. The task is to determine which face is different. Can you spot the difference? Or do you have prosopagnosia? (Just kidding). But in the left box, the bottom face is different and in the right box, the face on the left is different.

The researchers explain their success with their testing method. It has successfully detected prosopagnosia in participants and also “super recognizers” which has been helpful to the police while investigating crimes. While this method does require specific usage of facial recognition with minimal usage of memory or perception, I have a few criticisms of the testing method. Simply detecting slight changes in faces doesn’t fully connect to me as a true way to test for prosopagnosia. A dent in the synthesized face’s chin or an elongated nose could be detected by someone with prosopagnosia simply by measuring out the sizes. Their results were also not significant for the researchers to deem their test worthy of the police, optometrists, general practitioners and neurologists. Among the 52 participants with no previous face recognition issues, they found mixed results. Therefore, I find the conclusion of the study a little too forward for a test that has had mixed results. While the introduction and back ground information was extremely interesting, the researchers should have concluded their test as a good compliment to be administered with other known prosopagnosia tests. If individuals with excellent face recognition skills fail to find the differences, how sensitive is this measure?

Indecisiveness

indecisive

This semester we spent a significant amount of class talking about the way people make decisions. With so many theories and strategies explaining decision making, it seems like people should have no trouble choosing the best option. However, I often find myself changing my mind and frequently going back and forth between two options before making a choice, if I ever come to one. According to buzzfeed, I am not the only one who struggles with indecisiveness. The article shows how people can be indecisive over the most trivial choices such as what to watch on Netflix, what to order at a restaurant, or what route to take on a road trip. What happens in our brain when the prospect and utility theories don’t provide us with an outcome that provides a clear choice?

http://www.buzzfeed.com/kristinchirico/i-just-dont-know-what-to-do-with-myself#.nyO9vZroRP

According to a dissertation by Potworowski in 2010, indecisiveness is affected by seven mechanisms: worry, low self-confidence, dependence, high standards, escapist impulsivity, careless impulsivity, and concern for others. It is clear that the psychology of the personality can overlap with our cognition.  While some of these traits seem negative, Potworowski argues that being indecisive is not always a bad thing and it can even be a rational reaction when there are no preferences. It makes sense to not prematurely commit to a choice if the benefit of waiting for, gathering more, or carefully processing information about a decision outweighs the costs of the time spent doing so. By spending time gathering more information, one may be able to come to a better choice when they finally do make a decision. However, people should be cautious of how much time they spend considering their options and making sure that the cost of this time does not outweigh the benefits.

Potworowski, G. A. (2010). Varieties of Indecisive Experience: Explaining the Tendency to Not Make Timely and Stable Decisions. The University of Michigan.

Tips to survive Finals Week according to Cognitive Psychology

Stress

               Stress is something that we all face as college students, especially now as we lead into our last few weeks before finals. I always thought stress was something that just happened as we became overwhelmed with school or from procrastinating too long on assignments. However, according to article written by Dewey (2016), stress can make thought processes extremely difficult making it hard to remember information or think straight due to a phenomena known as “freezing” in the nervous system. Therefore, procrastinating is one of the worse things you can do because not only does this induce stress but also it sets you up for failure because stress can make it so that you do not perform as well when tested.

According to this article, overlearned material is one type of performance and cognitive activity that can be performed well under stress. Overlearned actistress brainvities are activates that have used a significant amount of repetition in daily routine, such as brushing your teeth. Therefore, if you overlearn your material for school, there is a possibility that you are still able to perform well under stress. Unfortunately, most school material is not overlearned because odds are you are repeating this material in your head until days before you are tested, something that we all know as cramming. According to cognition, cramming goes against any form of proper strategies as far as being able to recall information. As we learned in class, there are several other better alternative ways that we can encode and retrieve information such as the memory palace. Memory Palace is a tool that can be used for a presentation or a way of remembering a significant amount of information based on the way you store it in your memory. The memory palace helps with a smooth transaction in retrieval of previously stored information.

According to cognitive psychology, the simple strategy to avoid failure is to try and avoid stress all together. Ways to uphold this would include an avoidance of procrastination and cramming of material. If you start studying now there is a good chance that you will succeed on your finals and have a stress free week! Good luck!

 

Dewey, R. (2016). Cognitive effects of stress Frontiers from Psychology: An Introduction by Russ Dewey. Retrieved from http://www.intropsych.com

 

 

 

“Mistakes” in everyday life

student-clip-art-picture-of-pupil-1Have you ever gotten a test back, and felt like an idiot for incorrectly answering questions you swore you knew the answer to when you took the test? We’ve all done it, beaten ourselves up over missing questions on material that we swore that we knew. Why does this happen? Are we really making careless mistakes, or did we really not know the material at the time? Studies show that we are confident that we knew information in the past when we really didn’t. This is referred to as the “knew it all along effect” which is based on meta-knowledge, and is a type of hindsight bias.
The “knew it all along effect” is very similar to hindsight bias, and is based on your meta-knowledge. Meta-knowledge is what you know about your own knowledge on a subject. Confusing, I know. To give an example, I think that I know the names of all of the people I work with, whether or not that is true is beside the point. What I “think” I know about a subject is my meta-knowledge. Sometimes your meta-knowledge is correct, for example you think you can say the whole alphabet and you actually can. Other times, your meta-knowledge does not line up with what you actually know. For example, you may think that you knew that the answer was B when you took a test and you mistakenly chose A, but in reality at the time you had no idea what the answer was.
It’s an interesting concept, but is there any evidence for it? The answer is yes; Fischhoff showed the “knew it all along effect” in a study in 1977. He gave volunteers several multiple choice questions and asked them to answer the questions as well as write a percentage of how sure they are of that answer. Later you give the participants the same test with the same instructions. In general, people give the same answer as they did the first time. However, when you give participants the correct answer and ask them to recall the percentage amount of how sure they were that their answer was correct they couldn’t do it. Participants are much more likely to give the correct answer a much higher probability than they did on the original test.
The “knew it all along effect” is an interesting concept, but what is the importance in everyday life? It very clearly explains why people are often frustrated when they get exams back and look at the correct answer. It also is important in studying as well, if you compare your answers to the correct answers on a practice quiz, you may tell yourself that you knew the correct answer all along. This can lead to overconfidence, and not studying the material as much as you should. The next time you are overlooking the answers you got wrong on a test and dismiss your incorrect answers as carelessness, think again.

Heyman, I. (n.d.). But I Knew That! Retrieved April 15, 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-mishaps/201602/i-knew

Can you solve these problems?

We all go through life solving problems. Whether they are real life problems or problems that are for fun to mess with your head. I love the brain teasers, they make me feel dumb but at the same time they really make you think.

Problem Solving refers to the mental process people go through to discover, analyze, and solve problems. There are a lot of steps that come to play when solving a problem: 1) identifying the problem, defining the problem, forming a strategy, organizing the information, evaluating the results. These are the general steps for solving any real world problem. But for brain teasers you have to dig a little deeper.

Some problem-solving strategies are: Algorithms- which is a step-by-step procedure that will always produce the correct solution, Heuristics- a mental rule-of-thumb that may or may not work in certain situations and does not guarantee a correct solution, Trail-and-error- is trying a number of different solutions and ruling out what doesn’t work and Insight- is the solution to a problem can appear as a sudden insight that can occur because we realize that the problem is actually similar to something that we have dealt with in the past, but in most cases the mental processes that lead to the insight happen outside of awareness.

11cog

Below is a link for some brain teasers that will really make you think!

http://sharpbrains.com/brainteasers/

I like these problems and it really shows the mental representation trying to see or make images to help solve these problems. Many of them are challenging and when you see the answer you say, “Ohhh, that was actually easy!” You can be so focused on what you think the question is asking but in reality it can be asking something totally different and more simple than what you are expecting.

Most of these problems are used in everyday situations we come about but when it comes to brain teasers, its a little different. These problems are very similar to the Bus Driver example from class, people often ignore information in problems that they think won’t be important. It limits working memory. Or even another, the Nine Dots where we had to try and connect all 9 dots with 4 lines. We tend to overthink and stick strictly to the rules instead of thinking of ways around what it says like starting your lines around the dots to complete the task.

All of these problems deal with mental representation and make you have to sit back and really read through the question and find others things it may be asking.

References:

(2016). Top Brain Teasers, Games, and Illusions-for Teens and Adults of Any Age! SharpBrains. Retrieved on April 14th, 2016 from http://sharpbrains.com/brainteasers/

 

Cognitive Processes of Stereotype Formation

In our day to day lives, many of us encounter stereotypes, either being in a good context or a bad one.  Stereotypes, by definition, are widely held but fixed and oversimplified ideas of a particular person or thing. Stereotypes are used most every day in life, and because they are so common it is important to understand the cognitive processes in which they come about.

Categorization is a key process, cognitively, in the formation of stereotypes. In order to categorize, mentally, we enhance the differences between groups on both social and physical aspects. Categories imply in themselves different moral meaning and values, putting what is being analyzed in different levels.

Once we put people or things into categories, there is then applied meaning. This stems from simply belonging to any group leading to stereotypes. These groups are then given characteristics as to why or why not said person may belong to a group.

Knowing that stereotypes are widely fixed, we then know that judgement towards groups is then going to be resistant to change. This is a block on cognition because judgement leads to biases and in the case of stereotypes, these biases are very strong. If we see our perceptions fitting into these categorized groups, it then confirms the bias. (Conformation bias) An example of this could be seeing a four year old being clumsy, if that was a previous judgement it is then grossly confirmed that all four year olds are clumsy.  This most often however applies to race, such as the current issue of “Black Lives Matter” in who police are targeting, particularly in violence.

 As well as being fixed, it is also interesting to note that stereotypes play on the self as well. A self-fulfilling prophesy of sorts and self-positivity then will affect in group views. This is why if one person in a group is somewhat of a negative, that whole group they then belong to will be negatively stereotyped. By specifying the differences between in and out groups, those differences are then magnified. This is when in group bias comes in because when differences within a group are lessened, it is then preferred.

Individuality is how we see ourselves and also will affect how we perceive others. We do see that individuals have their own characteristics however based on our own cognition we will group that person not based on characteristics but primarily on personality and physical characteristics, depending on the individual doing the grouping and their own set of cognitive biases.

Stereotype formation is a complex cognitive process; however it happens in a matter of seconds. Stereotypes affect how we see the world around us and help us to interpret meaning and simplify aspects around us in order to process functioning socially.

References:

Essay UK, Critically Evaluate The Cognitive Theory Of Stereotyping. Available from: <http://www.essay.uk.com/coursework/critically-evaluate-the-cognitive-theory-of-stereotyping.php> [14-04-16].

Mackie, D. M. (2003). Affect, Cognition, and Stereotyping: Interactive Processes in Group Perception. Elsevier Science Publishing Co.

If you take the risk will you get the reward?

Economics

Many people will make decisions about their investments, but they would not think to make a decision to play a professional basketball player. Why is this? This seems obvious looking at it that the two examples are extremely different. However, people are paid for both of these jobs, and both are based on probabilities and likelihood of events happening. Just because one is an investor and one a basketball player why do we feel so comfortable making the financial choice but not the other? The article I looked at used this comparison to show people’s blatant overconfidence in investing their money. This seems almost astounding considering how much our lives depend on our finances.

They proposed a couple different reasons behind people doing this such as overconfidence, optimism bias, hindsight bias, attribution bias and confirmation bias. However, the overconfidence bias is what most intrigued my attention, because of its implications in many daily events.

In this many people will tend to be overconfident in their predictions of the stock market even though it is highly variable. Even those people paid to do these things find themselves sometimes making the wrong decision. If these people only study this and do this in our minds we know they should be better at it then we would, yet many people welcome this risk. Something about these decisions play into our intuition and our idea that our gut feelings will be correct. It does not matter that as a fact we know very little about economics and finances we have internalized that we are above average in life thus our confidence is also above average.

Research has shown that in fact people’s overconfidence bias is highest when their accuracy is the lowest and shows a reverse correlation for when their accuracy is the highest. People will make estimates in examples like that in class about weights, heights, ages etc., all in number ranges to get to 90% confidence but still most people will not get this many correct. Even with using ranges we believe that we know more or are more accurate even if it is a pure guess with no knowledge.

This article talked about an economics study in particular that found people rated their financial knowledge as advanced, which seemed high. Thinking this the researches had people take a financial test getting the average score of just 61%, much lower than people’s own expectations of advanced financial knowledge. This kind of overconfidence one would think people would not err on, because it could lead to actual monetary deficits but yet they do. This was the most shocking part of the article since in theory most people want to keep their money and not risk it, but theory does not always seem to work out, as this overconfidence shows.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/27/your-money/why-we-think-were-better-investors-than-we-are.html?_r=1