Tag Archives: Cognitive Psychology

The Vanishing of Accents

Have you ever stopped to think about accents? I’m not talking about accents we use to create emphasis on syllables or words, but in terms of the way a specific nation pronounces a language. It’s important to note that accents aren’t the same as dialects. An accent is all about how people sound. A dialect encompasses the idea of accents, but it extends farther by touching on the particular grammar a person uses when talking. A great example is the word “y’all”, which tends to be used by Southerners in the United States. The use of the word “y’all” would be a Southern dialect, while the word “southern” is the accent.

yall_pic

 

Simple enough, right? The world has many languages so it’s only reasonable that we have many accents. But did you ever stop to wonder why a German girl singing “I Will Always Love You” doesn’t sound any different (accent wise) from an american singing “I Will Always Love You”?  In the video from the link above, Laura, a little girl from Germany, appears to have an American accent while she sings. However, this is not the case. If you had talented singers from around the world singing the same American song, and you were unable to visually see them, it would probably be quite hard, to nearly impossible to figure out which voice was from where. This is all because of phonetics, and how singing causes two main things to occur: a change in our vocal cord’s air pressure, and the pace of our delivery.

A person’s accent is lost by the slower paced delivery of the song, which causes one’s accent to turn neutral. Accents, for the most part, disappear when singing. David Crystal, a linguist from Northern Ireland, explains that our intonations and rhythm of speech are removed while singing. A song’s melody causes the rises and falls of our voice to disappear (intonations) while the beat of the music causes the systematic arrangement of speech to disappear (rhythm). Furthermore, songs have accented syllables (no pun intended) that require the singer to elongate vowel sounds. This same neutralizing effect happens with air pressure as well. A singer’s whole quality of sound is altered by the expanding of enlarged air passages.

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Despite recognizing that accents don’t usually come through in songs, some people still argue that singers are getting rid of their accent on purpose. Discourse & Communication researcher Andy Gibson, from Auckaland University of Technology in New Zealand, disagreed. He explained that neutralizing the accent simply comes more natural than anything else. In a study he conducted, singers with accents when speaking weren’t even aware that any change was occurring in their voice, but there were very few cases where vowels they sung matched the vowels they spoke.

So why is it, then, that little Laura appears to have points in the song that sound less like an American accent? We can assume this is similar to Gibson’s study. While his participants had very few moments that their vowel sounds while singing matched up with their vowel sounds while speaking, they still had instances where their accent snuck through. In fact, it’s actually harder for a singer to attempt to retain their accent while singing, though some still do this anyways.

CSC_BOY AND GIRL SINGING

Thinking about all of this makes me wonder about how kids differ from adults once again. We established in class that kids make all of the sounds in speech, regardless of their native language, which enables them to learn languages more easily than adults. Does that make it easier for kids like Laura to have their accents disappear when singing, even if they can’t actually speak the other language? In my mind, kids would be better at imitating the musical notes; therefore, able to neutralize their voices more effectively. Perhaps, though, this would only occur for those kids who were musically inclined.

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.

Amazing Memories and the Potential Future of Memory Research.

memory

Imagine being able to remember everything you have ever said or done. If you’re like me, I barely remember what I said two days ago let alone everything I’ve ever said. Though, I’m sure it would get rather annoying to our partners if that were the case. There are those rare individuals who have a gift (or curse) which is called “Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory” or HSAM for short. These individuals have the uncanny ability to remember more personal and emotional memories. Memories referred to as episodic memories.

Episodic memories are just that, memories that have personal meaning that are tied to emotion. The other type of memory is called semantic memory. Semantic memories are not tied to emotions, they’re just facts. So if I ask you, who was the first President of the United States? Or, what is the capital of the United Kingdom? There probably is not much if any emotional ties to these answer, yet you were able to remember them. This is your semantic memory. Don’t worry, there are semantic memory champions as well:

So, it seems as though you can’t have it both ways, but that you can at least practice really hard and become good at your semantic memory. But how does memory really work? There are two ways that we’ll talk about it, the first will be cognitive and the other will be more neuroscience.

Cognitive psychologist use the Modal Model of Memory, which follows a path from sensory input, to sensory memory, to working memory, and then into long-term memory (LTM). Working memory is sometimes referred to as “short-term memory” though that term is not used as much anymore. From working memory, it has three places to go, the memory can decay, it can move into long-term, or the individual has to keep the memory active through rehearsal. Working memory has a capacity though, it can hold 7 items (plus or minus 2) within. It also has a time limit which is roughly 30 seconds, though if you believe old Hollywood movies, it’s more like 5 minutes. Once the memory goes into LTM, cognitive psychology doesn’t go into how it is stored, just mainly into how it is retrieved. For this, we turn to a more neuroscience approach:

According to Neuroscientists, forming a LTM starts this chain of neurons connecting that otherwise don’t normally connect. The example used above is building a bridge between two areas that weren’t previously connected. So, let’s take the example of the rats, when the tone is played, they receive a shock. After the first time, neurons are being connected to tell the rat, this tone equals a shock. After it is done a few more times, the connection between the neurons is stronger (long-term potentiation) and the signal is able to travel quicker when recalled.

This is only at the cellular level and does not fully explain the entire purposes, but it goes far enough for our purposes in this post because there has been a study done recently that challenges this school of thought. Neuroscientists have recently found that memories may actually exists within the neurons themselves. The implications of this, if supported, has not only the potential of changing the way in which we think about memory, but it could mean hope for those suffering from illnesses like PTSD and Alzheimer’s.

For PTSD sufferers, this could potentially mean that we could do a “Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and zap the neurons and get rid of the memories in which the individuals are having the problems with. For Alzheimer’s, this could mean that their memories are truly lost and that they could, with further research, regain some of the previously thought lost memories. The research is really still new and definitely needs further testing to gain any sort of support and I remain skeptical as one critic suggested that the “results were observed in the first 48 hours after treatment, a time when consolidation is still sensitive.” Consolidation refers to the process in which working short-term memory becomes long-term memories.

As this is the last post that I’ll probably be making on this blog, I leave you with this scene of Eternal Sunshine of the spotless Mind:

Study Tip: Spatial/Relational Studying

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always had a problem with flashcards. Teachers would tell me to make flashcards for vocabulary words, for example. I found that once I’d written the words on the card, and added their definitions, I could already remember which definitions matched which words. Since I could match the words and definitions accurately, studying the flashcards no longer felt necessary. The whole process felt redundant and unhelpful to me. But the problem was that just because I knew which word went with which definition, that didn’t mean I understood the term.

In class, we discussed maintenance rehearsal versus elaborative rehearsal. Maintenance rehearsal is rehearsing a piece of information enough to keep it active. In this rehearsal, it doesn’t ver really move into long-term memory. Elaborative rehearsal, however, is rehearsal that involves processing. It helps us move information into long-term memory. Learning isn’t just about repeated exposure (think of the penny or the Apple logo). Learning needs deeper levels of processing. This might involve imagery, meaning, or personal tie-ins. Learning that involves surface details or sound patterns just doesn’t stick as well. Research supports the textbook and the discussion we had in class. In a study by Craik and Tulving (1975), participants were asked to answer questions about words. Sometimes, the participants answered about the meaning of the word (deep). Other times, they answered about the sound/structure of the word (shallow). They were then asked to pick the original words out of a longer list. While the deep processing took longer, the subjects who semantically processed the words showed greater performance on the recall task.

My original study tip is developed from several sources: my personal study habits, our class discussion, the research, and a technique mentioned in class by a fellow student. In a discussion about the problems of flashcard usage and maintenance rehearsal, this student mentioned how one could create flashcards using class notes etc., but then instead of engaging in repetitive and rote memorization with those cards, attempt to categorize them instead. I felt that this would be a much more meaningful way to interact with the material. As I thought about this suggestion, and pondered my own study habits, I came up with my suggested study tip: Flowcharts

You’ll need a whiteboard (a gallon plastic bag around a white sheet of paper works, but the bigger the board the better. In the ITCC, there are tons of big white boards free for our use!), dry erase markers, and small cards/sticky notes. First, write out important pieces of information on the cards. These bits of info can be definitions, theories, categories, relationships, tasks, people, ideas, studies, aspects of studies, etc. For example, if you have notes on a scientist who did two studies, each of which had two main findings, write out a card for the scientist, each study’s basic details, and details on each of the findings. When you’re done with the information for the chapter, shuffle your cards. Next is the fun part.

diagram-empty-2Now, you want to take your cards and start sorting them into a flow chart! You can stick them up on the board, and use the markers to draw connecting lines and arrows. The most important part here is to emphasize relationships. Thinking about how your concepts interact is important for making them stick in your long-term memory. It’s much more effective than just memorizing!

flowchartPractice putting your cards in a linear/chronological flow and drawing arrows between steps. Show what came first conceptually, and influenced later steps. Then try a hierarchical structure. What are the overarching themes and categories, and the subcategories and details? How do they relate to each other? Don’t be afraid to draw tons of arrows! The more times you engage with the pieces of information in different ways, the more comfortable you’ll be with them.

Good luck studying!

Note taking by using computer makes you better recall

When you get into the college, have you ever agonized about your note-taking skills? For me, studying in high school and studying in college was drastically different. Professors talk about a variety of fields and I have to remember all of the main points and examples at the same time. Thus, my freshman grade was pretty bad and I had to take advice from my parents and professors to improve my study skills. There are many ways to review what you’ve learned, but this journal gave me a new perspective of recalling memory. You might’ve had to take notes by using a computer instead of hand writing them. If you have a lecture where your professor talks really fast or talks a lot, you might have used or thought to use a computer to take notes.

The study I want to share is about improving memory recollection by using the alternative note-taking skill I’ve previously mentioned; transcribing by using a computer. This experiment was conducted by Dung C. Bui, Joel Myerson, and Sandra Hale of Washington University. They hypothesized three things, but here, I want to focus on the first experiment. The researchers wanted to compare taking notes by hand with taking notes using a computer in terms of their effects on test performance. The researchers gathered eighty undergraduate students and tested free recall and short answer after showing them a lecture. There were four conditions: Hand_organized, Hand_transcribed, Computer_organized, Computer_transcribed. As a result, there was more recall when using a computer than when using your hand to take notes when transcribing a lecture. This study explained the limitations of writing by hand due to the speed of writing and the length of time. Also, considering the aspect of the quantity of the notes, working memory had a relationship with recall ability. In another blog, I found a study where students who took notes using a computer wrote an average of 310 words per lecture while students who took notes by hand wrote an average of 173 words. This number supports the finding that using the computer is much faster in inputting words.

Summarizing shortly about the second and third experiment, organized notes were better in recalling delayed test performance than transcribed notes, but not for immediate test performance. Also, in terms of note-quantity, if the note was transcribed, the quantity could be greater. Next, the researcher hypothesized that working memory is related to recalling. In addition, working memory is essential for effective note-taking. If there is an individual difference, it is due to the variance of working memory abilities that have an effect on organized notes, not on transcribed notes. So the second and third experiments were vital to support the first experiment and explain the exempted situations.

Myself, I like taking transcribed notes by hand or paraphrasing what the professor is saying in my notes. This type of skill is good for weekly quizzes but not for the mid-term or final exam. According to this research, I should have taken notes based on transcribed notes for the final. Especially if I am going to write transcribed notes during the lecture, I think I’d better use my laptop than my hand so that I don’t have to always ask the professor about points I missed. If you were worrying about your own note-taking style, this research might help you develop the proper studying-skills for each situation. Again, this is based on the result of test performance. The strong point of this research is it defines the situations well so that you don’t doubt any exceptions or questions in your mind. The conclusion is shortly after using your computer, you can write a lot during class especially if it is typed. Yet, there are a lot of situations that need another style of note-taking skill. I hope that you, the reader, will use this post to switch between note taking skills. If you haven’t tried to do so, I think that this is a good method to study.

Art of Ventriloquism

Jeff Dunham, do you know him? Doesn’t sound familiar? He sells out pretty much every arena he’s ever performed in; racked in $38,000,000 dollars on ticket sales alone in one year. No, he’s not a musician…He’s a ventriloquist; a person who is able to “throw his voice” so that it sounds like it’s coming from somewhere else, specifically from a dummy. Sounds simple enough, right? At least, in terms of what he does. But what’s really happening during a ventriloquist act is not just the normal ways of communication in every day life. One could say that, for people like Dunham, there’s a whole different type of speech generation involved with the language of a ventriloquist.

In a broad sense, there are three important components of speech that every human uses, no matter what their profession: respiration, phonation, and articulation. Respiration comes from our lungs by increasing their capacity. This decreases the air pressure, which causes us to breathe in. Phonation is when the energy produced from the air flow becomes audible. This is due to the different forms of cartilage in the larynx that rotate to cause vocal folds. Lastly, articulation occurs when vocal tracts near the larynx change in shape by making movement of the lips, tongue, or jaw.

chp_vocal_tract

Different Structures of the Vocal Tract 

So what’s unique to a ventriloquist? In class we discussed how we (as americans) tend to think that people speaking another language are talking really fast, despite English being one of the fastest languages spoken. This is because we don’t perceive there to be any gaps between their words. Although there aren’t any gaps in English either, we still feel like we hear the gaps due to knowing the speech segmentation of the English language, which allows us to decide where words and sounds begin and end. When watching a ventriloquist perform, a similar thing happens.

Similar to how we feel listening to someone speak in a different language!

Similar to how we feel listening to someone speak in a different language!

Since the ventriloquists’ illusion depends on their audience being fully drawn to the “voice” of the puppet, they must make sure to keep their mouths as still as possible. As we know, though, there are just certain letters that require the use of our lips. The trick is, ventriloquists create substitutions for letters “b”, “f”, “m”, “p”, “q”, “v”, and “w”. For instance, the letter “b” is substituted with the sound “geh”. This sound substitution is done quickly, which causes our brain and ears to automatically fill in the missing letter; the same way our brain and ears create gaps between words and sounds. A better example that was also discussed in class, is when someone coughs while the teacher is lecturing. The cough blocks out the sound of a particular letter in a word, but our brains are able to fill that letter in so that we think we heard it being pronounced.

We find people like Jeff Dunham to have entertaining talents, but now we know there’s a lot more to it than them keeping their mouths still. Knowing this now, it’d be interesting to watch a performance and focus on the ventriloquist to see if the substitutions can be recognized. I wonder if it would be harder to tell they aren’t saying the actual letters if the ventriloquist had a normal conversation where he/she used the substitutions, but allowed their mouths to move? Even if we can establish the substitutions, I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard at all to make our minds switch back to the illusion that continues to entertain us.

How Powerful are Placebo Effects?

 

Let’s say that you were diagnosed with social anxiety. Your psychiatrist prescribes you some pills that you can take right before or during social situations in order to reduce the negative effects that anxiety brings to you. It’s your go-to magic pill that does wonders in those dreadful situations where you have to be around numerous people. Every single time you have to meet up with extended family, or work in a group project, and god forbid- speak in front of the whole class for a presentation—your pills never fail to make you feel a little bit better.

What if those pills were nothing more than sugar pills? Sugar pills that have no chemical and active ingredients that are supposedly there to decrease your social anxiety symptoms. It’s simply an “empty” pill to get you to believe that by taking it, it would make you feel better. However, in reality, it does absolutely nothing to you physically. You realize it’s all in your head. Would you react positively or be completely furious? No matter your reaction, one thing could not be denied- the fact that placebo effects are powerful.

In an article I came across on the Psychology Today website, it highlights a study done by researchers Baba Shiv, Ziv Carmon, and Dan Ariely to see how placebo effects are manipulated depending on people’s knowledge about it. In their study, which was done in 2005, they used an energy drink that they either told people enhances mental ability largely or enhances it just slightly. The participants were then asked to unscramble a number of words given to them by the researchers. After the task, the participants were then asked to rate the effectiveness of the drink on their completion of the given cognitive task. The results? They found that the more people believed in the effectiveness of the drink, the more likely they were to unscramble more words.

This study supports the idea that placebo effects are extremely influential and affects us more than we think. This article leads me to think of a crazy yet logical theory– What if doctors alongside with pharmaceutical companies are merely prescribing and distributing sugar pills to make more profit? Maybe it’s actually just us, the consumers, who believe that taking those pills will make us feel better when it’s really all in our heads. Mind blowing? I sure believe so.

Although, sure enough, this is not true with every pill that people all over the world take. Majority, if not all, of the pills that are prescribed to the human population really do have a chemical effect on our bodies. But with this phenomenon of the placebo effect- I sure can’t help but wonder- what if?

 

The Forgotten Childhood: Why Early Memories Fade

marchblogpostchildhoodamnesia

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2014/04/08/299189442/the-forgotten-childhood-why-early-memories-fade

As adults, we all try to remember certain memories from when we were young but somehow can’t manage to remember what happened.  As we discussed in class a few weeks ago, we call this phenomenon childhood amnesia.  After discussing childhood amnesia and false memories in class, I couldn’t help but feel intrigued to find out more information on childhood amnesia.  I came across this article, which is a year old, but I thought it was still appropriate because it discusses childhood amnesia, and answered some questions I had regarding childhood amnesia.  As we have discussed in class, we know that we have little memory before the age of 4 years old and that on average, the first memory we have is around 3 and a half years old.  This article discusses when childhood amnesia starts, which memories from our childhood persist, and how the power of the memory can determine whether we remember or forget that childhood memory. 

This article discusses multiple research done related to childhood amnesia.  Specifically, the article discusses research in relation to when childhood amnesia starts, which childhood memories persist, and the power of memory.  In terms of research done on when childhood amnesia starts, the article discussed research done to see what happened to memories of children over time.  They recorded 3-year olds talking to their parents about a specific event that happened.  A few years later, researched checked back with the children to see if they remembered the events.  Children who were 7 recalled more than 60% of the events while children who were 8 or 9 only recalled less than 40% of the events.  In terms of which childhood memories persist, the article discussed research done by Carole Peterson who studied children who were hospitalized in emergency rooms as young as 2 years old for injuries.  Because these memories were emotional and significant events, Peterson concluded that children had good memory of those events, even up to 10 years later.  Lastly, in terms of the power of the memory, the article discussed how researchers found that parents play a big role in what children remember.  Specifically, they found that, parents who help shape, structure, and context to a memory, the memory is less likely to fade.

With the many different research done on childhood amnesia, we can figure out specific ways to make memories from our childhood stronger.  The article discusses the findings from research which relates to how we can make our childhood memory stronger.  The researchers discussed reasons as to why our childhood memories from such a young age aren’t always remembered.  Specifically, they concluded that because our brain systems are so immature at such a young age, they may not be working as efficiently as they could, especially in our older, adult years.  The article discussed how childhood memories are more likely to survive if those memories involve a lot of emotion.  For example, we’re more likely to remember events that involved us breaking a bone rather than a memory on what we did for our 4th birthday.  Lastly, our childhood memory is likely to survive if our parents help us make the power of that memory stronger.  For example, if parents help us shape and structure and add context to the memory, we’re more likely to remember it when we’re adults.  All this information and research are all helpful information in trying to understand childhood amnesia.

When I came across this article, I had a lot of questions in which I hope the article would answer.  After I had read the article, I did learn more information about childhood amnesia, on top of what we’ve learned in class.  I think that the article did a wonderful job in explaining childhood amnesia, when it starts, which childhood memories persist, and how to make our childhood memories more powerful.  This article gave me a deeper understanding of childhood amnesia in which we didn’t discuss in class.  I think that the research done was very helpful in giving me a better understanding of what childhood amnesia is.  I liked how they had examples of instances when childhood amnesia occurs and ways to enhance childhood memories. 

After reading the article and relating it to what we’ve discussed in class about childhood amnesia in the last couple weeks, I have gained better knowledge on childhood amnesia.  I think that childhood amnesia is such an interesting topic to talk about and learn about.  As an adult, I often don’t remember certain events from my childhood, except for maybe a small handful.  Not being able to remember these memories at such a young age is a little bit frustrating, especially when family members all know of that one embarrassing memory they have of you, which you have no recall of.  I think that research being done on childhood amnesia is great because the more we’re able to enhance childhood memories, the better.  Being an adult now, that research may not be beneficial to me, but at least they’ll be beneficial to children today.  Unlike us, maybe when they’re adults, they’ll recall of that oh-so embarrassing memory of themselves that everyone else remembers. 

Link

Can Virtual Realities Help Eliminate Racism?

 

Has there ever been a time when you looked at someone differently because of their race? It is probably something we are all guilty of. Even though a large portion of us mean no harm, there are people that judge other purely based on race, and are very judgmental and hurtful when doing so. What if all of that could be eliminated? This world may be a much better place to live in.

In an article from Pacific Standard researchers decided to use virtual realities to try and reduce racial bias in people. This was all done by a research team led by Mel Slater and Tabitha Peck. They recruited 60 female college students, all light-skinned. The participants were asked to take the Implicit Association Test. This was done to bring to light any unconscious racial prejudice. The participants were then asked to leave the lab. Upon their return to the lab they entered their virtual realities. They did this by wearing a suit with sensors. In the virtual realities the participants would look into a mirror, and the reflection would show the participant as dark skinned, light skinned, or purple skinned. The research found that only participants made dark-skinned had a significant decrease in implicit racial bias. This particular study was also published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition.

A similar study was done, and the findings were very similar as well. This study was titled Experiencing ownership over a dark-skinned body reduces implicit racial bias. It can be found in Science Direct. This study argues that a certain areas of the brain activate when we see someone else’s bodily state, like their skin color. When we have the same body state as someone else the regions in the brain tend not to activate. The study calls these multiple reacting regions in the brain “mirror neuron systems”. The study also explains a recent EEG study on the subject. The EEG study found that participants observing action of someone not in their racial group would have low activation in the motor cortex. When the participant observed someone in their racial group performing some sort of action the same participants have activation in the motor cortex. These variations are also true not only when a participants just sees a person of a different race, but there are also differences if they see the other person in pain. Another study has been done showing that when a person sees someone of the same race in pain they have brain reactions as if they were experiencing pain themselves. If the person sees someone of a different race they tend to have no brain reaction.

These studies believe they can give us a very uncommon first-person account of others experiences, and how we truly see others that have different outside appearances. This is something that is not usually done. If we can somehow see what others see and why they react a certain way, we can maybe change that person negative reaction or make them aware they are even reacting in such a way.

http://www.psmag.com/books-and-culture/experiencing-yourself-as-a-black-avatar-decreases-bias-59399

http://dj4uu9gr5z.search.serialssolutions.com.ezproxy.umw.edu/?sid=EBSCO:MEDLINE&genre=article&title=Consciousness%20And%20Cognition&atitle=Putting%20yourself%20in%20the%20skin%20of%20a%20black%20avatar%20reduces%20implicit%20racial%20bias.&author=Peck%20TC&authors=Peck%20TC%3BSeinfeld%20S%3BAglioti%20SM%3BSlater%20M&date=20130901&volume=22&issue=3&spage=779&issn=10902376

Those Who Never Forget

If you had the ability to remember everything you’ve ever done, heard, or seen, would you want it? Do the advantages outweigh the potential risks to having such an ability? When thinking academically, would it be a wonderfully resourceful tool to have in order to guarantee yourself good grades? However, everyone has moments they wish to forget, wish to put behind them without ever contemplating it again. It seems normal for one to believe that having a perfectly intact memory isn’t possible, but a condition known as hyperthymesia goes against this idea.

Hyperthymesia is a neurological condition (first described by researchers from the University of California) where a person is able to remember pinpoint specific details, such as, where they were on August 12th, 2002, along with what they were wearing and what they did, what current events were happening on the given date, and the specific day of the week it was (which, in my mind, appears to be what makes the condition believable). This condition also goes by the names of the Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory and Hyperthymesia Syndrome due to the fact that the handful of people capable of this ability are only able to remember things pertaining to their own life. So far there are only 20 known people who have been diagnosed with hyperthymesia, and it is assumed that 23 year old Aurelien Hayman is the only person in Great Britain to have been born with the extraordinary condition.

“It’s like being able to access something in a filing cabinet very quickly.”

Hayman had told interviewers that there’s no special technique to recalling his past with such specificity; it’s all done subconsciously. Unlike the average human who uses retrieval from the long-term memory, which is in the right frontal lobe of the brain, it has been said that Hayman uses the right frontal lobe along with the left frontal lobe (the part of the brain in charge of language) and the occipital lobe in the back of the brain (the part of the brain in charge of storing pictures). Because of this, he is able to have an increased capacity for stored information. According to Hayman, “it’s a very visual process, there’s a sequence of images” that just seem assigned to certain dates. However, Hayman did acknowledge the fact that it is an autobiographical memory, and that it doesn’t seem to give him any advantages in schooling.

So what separates people with what appears to be exceptional memory from those with hyperthymesia? The latter do not use any tactical approaches to recalling certain details, which can be seen through Hayman. Whereas, people with just exceptional memory use tools like mnemonics to recall past events. Mnemonics are devices such as patterns of ideas, letters, or associations that aid in memory recall. It has been said that the amygdala (part in the brain that experiences emotions) is a crucial role to those with HSAM due to the fact that these individuals are evoking incidents from their past rather than using mnemonics. The Californian neurologists from the University of California explained that they believed “hyperthymestic individuals” to be able to involuntarily make associations with any date through visualizing dramatic effects of events.  However, there is speculation over whether or not this is true.

 

So would being able to have a Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory be intriguing to you? If so, maybe it’s worth noting that another individual with the condition, by the name of AJ, explained that it’s like having a bunch of memories constantly filling up your head. AJ struggles with her condition so much that she claimed that it’s hard for her to focus on the present and the future since her mind is so conscious of her past. After considering this thought, it made me realize that I would hate the possibility of my brain fighting against me being involved in the present on a daily basis. There’s also the fact that I would be able to remember events that I would possibly want to forget. This being said, I’m intrigued to know if people who are capable of blocking traumatic events could ever be diagnosed with Hyperthymesia, or if hyperthymestic individuals  (unlike AJ) are at all capable of blocking events from their mind.