Author Archives: ewooten

Study Hack: Sleep on it!!!

My fellow college students, I have great news for those of you, who, like me, love getting good grades but love sleeping too. This new hack into getting better grades is literally going to sleep! Maybe that sounds farfetched, or too good to be true, but it really works! Now I know that when you’re really studying for something, sleeping doesn’t really seem like the right thing to do to improve your test scores. But as long as you study for a bit before you go to sleep, getting a full night of sleep will definitely help you do better on that final next week.

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The secret behind this hack is cueing memories. Memory cues allow us to more easily retrieve memories. They are the question to be answered, to be filled in by our memories. For example, in recognition memory tests in which multiple options are presented, the options act as a memory cue to help you decide which answer is the correct one. This is why multiple choice exams always feel easier than short answer or essay-based exams, because your memory is being stimulated by cues in the test itself.

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So where does sleep come into play? Sleep allows us to consolidate memories, making them more understandable, and, in the following case, solvable ( For example, let’s imagine that you have an exam tomorrow. Picture your brain as a filing cabinet that you’ve been jamming files and files of information into. You’ve been putting in so much information that the files are jumbled and in a disarray. The next day during your exam, you look at a question and reach into your filing cabinet for the answer, but the cue from the question can’t generate the information properly because it’s lost in the mess you made the day before. Sleep is the solution. Sleep gives your brain the time to properly sort through the files of information you shoved in there, and organize them more neatly. So now when the question comes on the exam, the words are able to cue the right information you filed away the day before.

A recent study examined how sleep can influence problem solving. In this study, the researchers had 57 participants look over several puzzles and brain teasers, but not solve them. Each of the puzzles were accompanied their own unique sound. That night, as the participants slept, the researchers played half of the unique sounds for the participants as a noise level high enough that the participants would hear them, but not so loud as to wake them. The following morning, the participants were asked to solve the puzzles, and it turned out that the participants were able to solve 31.7% of the cued puzzles, as opposed to only 20.5% of the un-cued puzzles. ( That’s a 55% improvement! To put this in more understandable terms, if, proportionally, 31.7% was equivalent to a grade of a 100, then 20.5% would be the equivalent to a 65. Yikes.

This study is a prime example of how cueing memories in sleep can improve problem solving abilities in waking. I think that this study did an excellent job of beginning the connection between memory cues during sleep and improved test performance, and paves a great path toward fully exploring this kind of study and memory aid. I would definitely like to see further studies in this area, as I, and many other students, could greatly benefit from some similar study practices.

I hope that this study tip can help some of you out! Remember to study up and get some sleep!


Cognitive Inflexibility and Political Ideologies

Just about everyone these days has That Relative. You know the one, the one with the extreme, radical political viewpoints that are always the exact opposite of your own political beliefs, and they just won’t shut up about them in the middle of Thanksgiving? This relative is also of course very, very loud, and is incredibly rigid and extreme in everything that comes up, every action and decision and topic, not just politics. You know the one.

Well, it turns out that there is a reason for your relative’s inflexibility! A recent study has found that people with extreme partisanship and radical political views are more cognitively rigid. Cognitive rigidity is defined as “difficulty changing mental sets,” and cognitively rigid people have trouble “switching from thinking about things one way to thinking about them a different way” (

James Coplan, MD

There are two facets to political ideology: direction and extremity. Direction refers to whether your political views are more right-leaning or more left-leaning, while extremity refers to how strongly you uphold some of these viewpoints, and how far they stray from the center viewpoint.

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A recent study conducted by Zmigrod, Rentfrow, and Robbins compared how political direction and political extremity affects cognition. They had two theories to test: the ideological extremity hypothesis and the rigidity-of-the-right hypothesis. The ideological extremity hypothesis states that political extremists, no matter the direction of their beliefs, are more cognitively rigid than political moderates. The rigidity-of-the-right hypothesis states that conservatives are more cognitively rigid than liberals due to their categorical view of the world (

As many previous studies on this material relied on self-reporting, Zmigrod, Rentfrow, and Robbins took a different approach. They decided to use objective cognitive assessments and then analyze the result so as to prevent personal bias coming into play. Participants were first asked to report their political affiliations and take quizzes, including the Dynamic Identity Fusion Index and Social and Economic Conservatism Scale. They were then asked to complete several cognitive flexibility tests, including the Remote Associations Test, Wisconsin Card Sorting Test, and Alternative Uses Test, to objectively assess their cognitive flexibility and rigidity (

The study did not find any difference between Democrats and Republicans on the cognitive flexibility tests, and thus the experimenters ruled out any relationship between political direction and cognitive rigidity. However, the study did find significant difference in the test results between those with high levels of partisanship, regardless of direction, and those with low levels of partisanship. The test results showed that the participants with higher levels of political extremity had much less cognitive rigidity than more moderate participants. These results are in support of the ideological extremity hypothesis, but not in support of the rigidity-of-the-right hypothesis (

I think that this study is very interesting, particularly due to its relevance to today’s political climate and current events. I certainly appreciate that the researchers were thorough and tested participants about both their political ideologies and their cognitive flexibility, rather than simply having them self-report, as I think that testing them adds more accountability and relativity. I think that this study very neatly covered the concept of cognitive flexibility, and the tying of the concept to politics could maybe even change how people of different political viewpoints see themselves and each other.



Spidey Sense? Or Tricks of the Mind?

Have you ever felt drawn to answer a certain way, despite knowing nothing about the information? Have you ever gone out of your way to use a certain brand of a product, despite never using that product before?

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Those unexplained actions are probably due to the mere exposure effect and implicit memory. The mere exposure effect manifests as you preferring something that you’ve seen before, even if you don’t remember seeing it before. Think about going to the grocery store for the very first time after going to college. You desperately need toilet paper, but your mom isn’t picking up the phone and you have no idea what your family uses at home. You survey the aisle and eventually decide on a brand seemingly at random, but you later find out that that is in fact the toilet paper you use at home.

Image result for the incredibles coincidence i think not

As for a more scientific example, the article “Foolish Familiarity” posted by the Association for Psychological Science talks about a study conducted in which participants were asked to play a difficult and boring game. After that, the participants were told the next round would be for a prize, and then given the choice between two more games to play. One of the games had a very similar logo to the first game, and the researchers told the participants that they would likely lose and thus not get the prize. Despite that, the participants still chose to try their hand at the harder game with the similar logo due to the subconscious familiarity of the logo (

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This is a classic example of the mere exposure effect. The participants likely did not closely examine the game logos before playing, and they had no knowledge of what the familiar logo game would be like, but they still chose to play it. They ignored the warnings from the researchers that they likely would lose the game and not receive the prize, and the mere exposure effect won out. Furthermore, the study showed that time pressure would increase this effect, highlighting the natural instinct of humans to choose what is familiar over what is better.

This study also connects to implicit memory. Implicit memory is the way that memory influences your behavior without you realizing it. So these participants most likely subconsciously remembered the logo, and even possibly tied the difficulty of the first game to the described difficulty of the second, similar game.

Implicit memory is also connected to a phenomenon called the “illusion of truth.” The illusion of truth is an effect of implicit memory in which claims that are familiar end up seeming more plausible or even true. In fact, in one study, participants were shown statements and asked if they were true or false. If the participant had been shown a false statement beforehand and even were explicitly told that it was false, they would still say it was true simply out of familiarity (

That study is a perfect example of the illusion of truth, as the participants were explicitly told a statement was false, but would still say it was true later. I think it’s amazing how strongly the human brain latches onto familiar items and information despite blatant indications that that is not correct or the right and practical choice. I am absolutely positive that many of us, myself included, have answered incorrectly on a multiple choice exam because we’ve seen the one answer option that just seems so right but turns out to be so, so painfully wrong.

These articles perfectly illustrate the concepts of the mere exposure effect and the illusion of truth. I thought that the authors’ explanations of the concepts, along with the study examples to back them up, truly encapsulated these tricks that the human brain plays on us. I personally find it a little unsettling that my brain betrays me like this, but I do understand the base instincts that allowed for the mental adaptation to occur. Hopefully with our new cognitive psychology-approved study tips from class we can escape the mere exposure effect and the illusion of truth, but I guess we’ll find out!


Humans are Bad at Fact-Checking

In the article “Why You Stink at Fact-Checking,” author and psychology assistant professor Lisa Fazio discusses why humans are unable to detect or understand “fake news” or misinformation- both purposeful and accidental. She illustrates a common example by starting her article off with the Moses Illusion, in which a question about Noah’s ark is asked, but with Noah’s name replaced by Moses. This illusion tricks most people, as many do not catch the name switch. Fazio goes on to say that things like the Moses Illusion happen all the time in current news articles, and as they seem correct enough and they are sneakily thrown in, they often go unnoticed and are accepted. Fazio and her colleagues also conducted studies in which they quizzed participants beforehand to find out what they already knew, and they found that when those people were fed misinformation, they would later answer with the wrong information when quizzed afterwards. (

The cognitive principles used in this article were mainly linked to processing. System 1 processing is a kind of processing that is automatic and unconscious. It allows humans to “know” things without really thinking about them, such as how many fingers someone is holding up without counting each finger. Additionally, a new idea has been proposed and considered generally correct that we automatically assume that information is true until we truly think about it and decide that it is false (

These principles apply to the article as when the participants read the misinformation, they were using their system one processing and thus automatically assumed that the words that they were reading were accurate. As they were unconscious of reading the words as true, participants were led into answering incorrectly as per the misinformation told them to later on, despite them previously knowing the correct answer. However, even when the participants were given alternate methods of absorbing the misinformation and extra time to think about it, they still did not notice the false information.

I think that this article did an excellent job of talking about these cognitive psychology topics and ideas. I could definitely tell that it was written by a practiced and knowledgeable psychologist. I liked that the author used both previous research and her own research to truly explain and dive into the subject matter at hand. I think it truly highlighted the knowledge that the author has in the field. The author’s writing style also made her familiarity with psychology clear, as the article was perfectly concise without leaving anything unexplained, and did not use any flowery language to appear more pompous and worldly.

I thought that the topic and information was very interesting, and also very relevant to today’s time. In this recent few years, America in particular has been wading in “fake news” and misinformation from the media and important individuals in the country. The research done in this article could very well be very helpful in reducing the amount of times people just accept what they read, and could prompt people to examine information a little more closely every time they hear something instead of just allowing system 1 to take over and decide what is true for them.


Fazio, L. (2018, March 29). Why you stink at fact-checking. Retrieved from

Gilbert, D. T., Tafarodi, R. W., & Malone, P. S. (1993). You can’t not believe everything you read. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(2), 221-233. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.65.2.221