Author Archives: haeason

Video Games and Cognitive Abilities

 

(Image retrieved from Mass Effect 1 on PS3 – Gameplay samples by CalicoJill on YouTube)

Nearly 70% of Americans and Billions of people all over the world play video games, but should we?(Crecente) With all of headlines constantly claiming that video games are addictive and can make us violent, so besides the fact that those headlines are questionable and generalizing and, albeit objectively, video games are fun, why should we play video games?

Though many people assume that video games have a negative effect on the brain, it has been found that quite the opposite is true. Studies have found that there are many cognitive benefits that come with playing video games, in some cases playing video games has cured amblyopia, or “lazy eye” (Gray).

One study found that after playing 50 hours of an action game people were were better able to keep track of multiple things simultaneously and another showed the increased ability to successfully switch between tasks rapidly.

Additionally, Video Games also improve decision making skills, in a different study the university of rochester found that on average gamers were both faster and more accurate. After a group of non-gamers played 50 hours of fast paced action games, they were asked to make quick decisions, answering simple questions about visual and auditory stimuli. They found that compared to the group that played slow-paced strategy games like Sims 2, the action game group performed up to 25% faster without sacrificing accuracy (University of Rochester). 

 I don’t have much recent experience with action games, though I used to play many in high school, the most recent would be the Mass Effect series, which is a favorite of mine. From that experience these results make sense. There are many things going on on the screen that you need to keep track of in order to not die in the game and have to start over. You need to keep track of your resources, your health bar, where the people on your team are at and their health levels, create a plan of how to best get where you need to be, if you would be able to sneak past an enemy or not, the list goes on. This experience exercises working memory and spatial attention skills.

Video games also have been shown to decrease the decline that comes with aging. Many Games claim to enhance cognitive abilities and fend off the cognitive decline but there is little evidence to back up the claims of those games. However there are games like Project: Evo, which taxes multiple cognitive abilities at the same time, selective attention, visuo-spatial processing, object recognition, working memory, etc. at the same time and has been accepted by even the harshest critics according to New York Times, and shown to make progress (Thompson).  Though, not older gamers are not limited to brain games, there are also ones like Shirley Curry, known as “Skyrim Grandma” on Youtube is a well known example of an older woman who is gaming to keep her mind active, though she has been playing video games since the 90s, she is now in her 80s and maintains her own youtube gaming channel(Messner).

Of course this is all dependent on the kind of game you are playing, the participants that played the war and shooter games in a study increased their cognitive abilities more than the controls that played Sims and Tetris. Puzzle solving and strategy games like Portal 2 increase processing speeds and problem solving skills(Stanmore).

 

Crecente, B. (2018, September 11). Nearly 70% of Americans Play Video Games, Mostly on Smartphones (Study). Retrieved from https://variety.com/2018/gaming/news/how-many-people-play-games-in-the-u-s-1202936332/.

Gray, P. (2015, February 20). Cognitive Benefits of Playing Video Games. Retrieved November 12, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/freedom-learn/201502/cognitive-benefits-playing-video-games.

Messner, S. (2016, November 30). What it’s like to become a YouTube gaming celebrity at 80 years old. Retrieved from https://www.pcgamer.com/shirley-curry-gamer-grandma-interview/.

Nuyens, F. M., Kuss, D. J., Lopez-Fernandez, O., & Griffiths, M. D. (2018, June 20). The Empirical Analysis of Non-problematic Video Gaming and Cognitive Skills: A Systematic Review. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11469-018-9946-0.

University of Rochester. (2010, September 13). Video games lead to faster decisions that are no less accurate. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 4, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/09/100913121656.htm

Stanmore, E., Stubbs, B., Vancampfort, D., Bruin, E. D. D., & Firth, J. (2017). The effect of active video games on cognitive functioning in clinical and non-clinical populations: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 78, 34–43. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.04.011

Thompson, C. (2014, October 23). Can Video Games Fend Off Mental Decline? Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/26/magazine/can-video-games-fend-off-mental-decline.html.

Sensation and Perception but with cats

I sit here in my apartment looking at my cat who is just staring at me from atop of my refrigerator/freezer in the kitchen thinking “what the hell is going on in this girls head?” I also wonder if she has ever thought the same about me. If she is able to think in that way, it is almost certain she has questioned my actions many times.

To begin, we must acknowledge that our perception of the world is unique to us and nearly completely different from the cat’s perception of the world. The only thing different between the fluffball that freaks out everytime I go down to the laundry room for too long and her Near Eastern Wild Cat grandma is around 10,000 years of cultural evolution and socialization, giving her the ability to form social bonds and attachments to humans, her brain and the hunter senses are still the same. Xena can sense things I cannot and vice versa. Her hearing is far better than mine and my sight in bright daylight is much better than hers. 

First, cats’ eyes are huge in proportion to their heads, their eyes are around the same size as our own. Their eyes are adapted from the need to maximize the time spent hunting and be able to see in the dark with the tapetum- what makes their eyes shine in the dark. 

The receptor cells on their retina are organized differently from our own. The two basic types: rods for black and white vision in low light and the cones for color vision in bright light and Cats have 3 times the number of rods as humans but fewer cones. Cats mainly have rods where we mainly have cones. Their rods are first connected in bundles which then connect to nerves, leading to ten times fewer nerves traveling between the eyes and the brain than ours. This comes with the disadvantage of not being able to make out finer details in bright light and their brains only being told the general area to which the light is falling. The advantage, however, is that they are able to see far better in dim and near-dark light were our eyes struggle to make out details.  The lack of cones compared to humans leads to their lack of interest in color.

No other mammal is as obsessed with color as humans, well maybe primates but we definitely win in the color obsession category. Cats actually have the same two types of cones as dogs- blue and yellow. Basically they have red-green color blindness, to them red and green are probably grayish. But even the colors they can see don’t really matter much, they are irrelevant compared to the other details like patterns, shapes and sizes. 

The cat’s visual cortex analyzes what has changed between one picture to the next, it can do this 60 times per second, far more than ours does which means it sees the older tv screens as flickery. They have dedicated brain cells that analyze the directions of the movements and can even locally brighten and dim aspects of what they are seeing. The parts that are changing rapidly- like mice running or a fly zipping around the room, are quickly singled out in their attention. 

What they lack in sensing and perceiving color and seeing details in bright daylight they more than make up for in their other senses. Cats can hear all that we can plus two octaves higher than our own. They can hear the ultrasonic pulses of bats and the squeaks of mice and other rodents we aren’t able to hear and are able to instantly process them and tell them apart just by their squeaks.The most surprising aspect of this to scientists is their ability to hear the same low frequencies we can, no other mammal has this ability to hear such a wide range of frequencies, and because of the size of their heads their hearing should be shifted to the higher range. Additionally. they are able to process the location of a sound in the same way we do- based on the differences in the sound in the left and right ears but they also have the added bonus of being able to swivel their ears to confirm the location. Their upright ears also help analyze where the sound is coming from in a vertical sense, their brain is able to decode the changes in how low or high up a sound is coming. And yet Xena conveniently can’t hear me when I call for her…

While they are great at hearing, they are bad at processing the more intricate aspects of sound that we are able to. Likely due to the majority of our ability to communicate relying upon sound, while cats rely upon body language and smell, we are able to analyze the the differences in things like in pitch and intensity. we can better distinguish similar sounds, and also process the emotions behind people’s voices.  Cats can detect our emotions usually based upon our facial features and body language. Oh, and just a fun fact that you probably have latently learned if you have talked to cats, cats respond more to higher pitched voices, basically if you call them in your baby talking voice they are more likely to pay attention to you.

When it comes to smell, not much research has been done on the cats olfactory system as has been done for dogs but we still know they far outperform humans in the smelling department. Cats have around three times the olfactory receptor types as humans, and considering we can generate a million or more colors just from three types of cones, the hundreds of olfactory receptors cats have must be able to distinguish an incredible number of different smells. The number and how cats make sense of these smells, we still don’t know. Though, it would probably be difficult to train a cat to hunt and track specific scents like we do with dogs, as they would very much prefer to do it whenever they felt like it and may choose to take a nap in the middle of search and rescue.

Additionally, Cats are extremely sensitive to touch, where our cells adapt to being touched- we aren’t constantly aware of our back touching the back of the chair or our clothing, cat’s skin cells constantly fire. The longer they are being touched the more sensitive they get. Kind of like putting air into a balloon. This is why, sometimes, you may be petting a cat and they “randomly” attack, they get oversensitive. You can tell if a cat is getting over sensitive if you touch them and the hair along their spine twitches or ripples along their spine kind of like a wave. The best indicator, over all, if a cat is excited (by play or a bird out the window) or irritated is if their tail is wagging, the faster its going the more stimulated they are. When a cat is like this, just give them space to let them cool down or bring out a wand toy to get that energy out. Also, their paws and teeth are especially sensitive to easily hold onto and kill prey. There is a lot more I could go into about tactile senses but this post is already getting long enough. 

They perceive the world in ways we are unable to really grasp because of how differently their brains are wired and the emphasis on different senses. If a cat were to recall a memory of a certain event it would be far more based upon smell as it is just as important to cats as vision, if not more, as well as sound. However, cats are likely not capable of the mental “time travel” that we are. Their world is less based off of appearance than our own, they would recall the smell of something and the sound but the visual appearance would be less important to them. It is assumed that we similar processes of perceiving these sensations, though, there’s not much information I could find on it. The main point, overall, is that just as we cannot assume that we perceive the world around us the same way as the person sitting next to us, we especially cannot assume that we perceive the world the same way as our pets. They definitely see things we cannot see, and vice versa, and they hear things we cannot hear, but they also feel emotions differently. 

All mammals have the capability of producing the same emotions as humans but they probably experience them in a different way than we do, likely more moment-to-moment as suggested by Dr. John Bradshaw. We are more aware of our emotions in a way that cats are likely not. We have a habit of projecting our thought processes and understanding of emotions onto animals and we talk to them as if they can understand us. This isn’t necessarily bad, however it can be when it comes to situations where an owner believes their cat is doing something because the cat hates them- cats are not capable of the process of enacting revenge or doing things based upon hate, it is a misunderstanding of cat instinct and usually fear and anxiety based behaviors, also generally a misunderstanding of how cats view the world. 

So, if you have a cat, be aware of how you are perceiving their perception. 

Source:

Bradshaw, J. (2013). Cat Sense: How the new feline science can make you a better friend to your pet. New York, NY: Basic Books.

My brain wants me to go back to hunter-gatherer times

Post image

Finally, I figured out my random desire to make a spear out of a stick and a rock and attack every Hyundai Veloster I come across! (only that specific model, I guess it vaguely resembles a wild boar or something)

In the inattentional Blindness task done by a university in Israel, fourteen adults aged 22-26 with ADHD, off their medication for 24 hours (I hope they were provided transportation to the study and also were given food because we know some of them lost track of time and missed a meal). These adults participated in the high perceptual load version of the Inattentional Blindness task- the basketball video, told to count the number of aerial and bounce passes from the white team. The adults with ADHD detected the stimuli in the unattended channel remarkably better than the control group Thirteen of the fourteen adults with ADHD noticed the gorilla, compared to four of the eighteen in the control group. Ten out of the fourteen noticed the exiting player, compared to one of eighteen in the control group. There must have been an attentional trade off to notice that amount of stimuli from the other channel right? Actually, they did better than the control at counting the passes- they all got the number of bounce passes right, controls provided a much lower count, there was no difference than the controls at counting the aerial passes. 

They were also tested with the MOXO-CPT test that has a low perceptual load where they were to respond as quickly as possible to a certain target stimuli by pressing the spacebar once. This task had three types of distractor stimuli: auditory, visual and a combination of the two, all in the form of an animated barking dog on the screen. The ADHD group did much worse at this than the non-ADHD group. Unsurprisingly, they scored the highest in the “hyperactivity” category, which means they presses the spacebar more than once or any other key on the keyboard. 

The main differences between the MOXO test and the IB test were: the IB test was based on following motion and the passing and bouncing of the ball, which required constant updating to the working memory, it’s more “ecological” meaning its a video of actual people moving around. the MOXO test was tracking a single stationary target, requiring no updating to working memory, its not “ecological” just graphics on a screen. the MOXO task measures how well an irrelevant stimuli is ignored, tasks like the IB one measure how many people notice potentially relevant information.

 

So what does this all mean?

Adults with ADHD (when not taking their medication) may be able to process attended and unattended stimuli at the same time with no apparent attentional trade-off. Though the perceptual load of the IB test was more taxing, they became aware of stimuli not in the attended channel. These results are compatible with Hartmann’s sociological-anthropological Hunter vs. Farmer Theory- Individuals with ADHD are expert hunters who can track complex and moving targets while taking in the whole environment and are prepared for action. The qualities that make good hunters aren’t entirely transferable to the farmer world we live in today, and they turn into ADHD, more or less. 

Individuals with ADHD have advantages in attention to those without ADHD and our brains are wired differently possibly due to inheriting that wiring from hunter-gatherer times. within the context of natural selection this makes sense. So, I guess, if the zombie apocalypse ever comes, team up with your ADHD friends!

Grossman, E. S., Hoffman, Y. S. G., Berger, I., & Zivotofsky, A. Z. (2015). Beating their chests: University students with ADHD demonstrate greater attentional abilities on an inattentional blindness paradigm. Neuropsychology, 29(6), 882–887. doi: 10.1037/neu0000189

(clicking on the meme takes you to its source: https://www.reddit.com/r/HistoryMemes/duplicates/amhbuz/press_f_for_agricultural_revolution/)

Oh, here I am!

Hi, I’m Haleigh, I’m 21 years old, a junior, and I’m about to be a psych major, probably minoring in museum studies. I just transferred from Tidewater Community College and moved here from Chesapeake along with my weird little fluffy daughter Xena

I have a wide assortment of interests, ADHD does that sometimes. I have done a lot of research and know a lot on the history of domestic cats and their behavior. I also enjoy ghost stories and spooky stuff.  Sometimes I’m funny depending on who you ask.

So that’s gonna do it for me folks, have a nice day.