Author Archives: karahogue

Is He Saying “Bar” or Far?”

Earlier in the month I was scrolling through Facebook when I came across this post. At first I was baffled. Whenever I looked at the left side I heard “bar,” but when I looked at the right side I heard “far.” We had just covered language in class so I was determined to figure out why my brain was playing tricks on me.

At first I thought that this video utilized categorical perception’ that is, hearing sounds as the same as long as they’re within the same category. After further research, I realized that we are not being fooled by the sound of the word itself but by the mouth movement while we listen. If you’re interested in reading more about categorical perception, this article explains it very well with examples.

Since this theory did not make sense, I tried to dig deeper. What could be going on that would cause my brain to struggle with this? I remembered our discussion on phonology from class. We had been told that there are multiple different ways that the production of phonemes can impact the sounds we say. These include voicing, manner of production, and place of articulation.

Voicing refers to whether the vocal cords vibrate. You can examine this first hand by placing your hand on your throat and making the “z” sound, then the “s” sound. Your vocal cords vibrate when making the “z” sound, but not the “s” sound. Aside from this, the letters are extremely similar in the way we say their sounds. The reason that this video cannot utilize this technique to confuse us is because you can’t see a different in mouth shape between “z” and “s.” It would look the same to us on the screen.

Manner of production looks at whether the air is fully stopped or only restricted. Take “b” and “z” for example. When you make the “b” sound, air is fully stopped for a split second. However, when you make the “z” sound, the air is simply restricted. In the facebook video I found, “bar” and “far” differ in this way. While “bar” starts with a full stop, “far” starts with restricted air. If you closely watch the video again, you’ll notice that on the left side the man fully stops the air. This is why we hear “bar when we look at the left side. On the other hand, when we examine the right side we hear “far” because the sound is restricted but not stopped.

You probably also noticed that you can see the man’s teeth in the right video. This has to do with the last variation in production of phonemes, which is place of articulation. This term helps us understand where in the mouth the air is restricted. For the “b” in “bar,” the lips are closed. However, for the “f” in “far,” the top teeth are against the bottom lip. Rather than the air stopping behind the lips, it is restricted at the teeth.

So how does this trick work? Your brain knows how to produce the sounds you want to say. After all, Dr. Rettinger told us in class that as we listen to speech, your brain reproduces the movements you’d do to make the sound. In this way we know that our mouths makes different movements for the words “bar” and “far.” When we look at the left side our brains see the closed lips and know that this is how we make the “b” sound. When we look at the right, our brains see the teeth and restricted air and know that we make these motions to make the “f” sound. All of this is subconscious now, but if you watch small children who are learning to speak you will see them studying your face. When children say “aminals” and we say “no, animals,” they struggle to fix their mistakes. The slight adjustment to manner of production is hard for them in the beginning. If you are interested in learning more about how children learn to speak, you can read more about it here.

So what it the video actually saying? If you’re anything like me, this is driving you crazy. I wanted to know if the man was actually saying “far” or “bar.” In order to minimize the priming effects of the video you should walk away from it and do something else for a while. When you come back to it, close your eyes. Do not watch the video. Instead, just listen to the voice. When I did this I only heard “bar.” I think that I could hear the puff of air that came from the mouth opening after the closed “b” sound. Try it for yourself and let me know which one you think he is actually saying!

If you’re interested in learning more about how speech is produced, you can read a very thorough (but also very dense) article here.

The Man Who Never Forgets

Do you sometimes wish you had a better memory? Does it drive you crazy when you’re taking a test and know that you studied the material but cant recall it? Bob Patrella has never had this problem. Bob is one of four people in the United States who has a super-autobiographical memory. He remembers almost everything. If you ask him any specific date he can tell you not only what day of the week it was and what was going on in the world, but also what he was specifically doing at any given time. Autobiographical memory is defined as “our memory for specific episodes, episodic memory, and to our conceptual, generic, and schematic knowledge of our lives, autobiographical knowledge.”

In class we discussed autobiographical memory briefly. We learned that children usually grow out of it, but Bob did not. His memories have no regard for significance as we learned is common. He can tell you the date of Nixon’s impeachment just as well as the day he first met a random friend. He also says that his memories are not photographic. This aligns with what we learned in class. As we learned, there is some sort of change at encoding in people with this ability.

Research shows that people with this superior memory have “amplified white matter tract coherence” which is believed to enhance the transfer of information among connecting neural regions. However, it is hard to tell if the brain structure is different from birth or from specific experiences. Since there are so few cases of Highly Superior Autobiographical Memory (HSAM) it is hard to have a big enough sample size for studies. These studies are also kind of “cherry-picked.” They took brain scans of the entire brain and looked for spots where it lit up. Since these findings are not theory driven, they’re not as convincing. What exactly causes this phenomenon is still not clear.

Bob says that sometimes this ability is not a great thing. He can recall dates where he was extremely sad or depressed and cannot forget the events surrounding his negative feelings. What’s strange about HSAM is that Bob can still forget why he walked into a room or what he needed from the grocery store like everyone else. This hints that this may be a different function in the brain than autobiographical information processing. This phenomenon is still baffling to psychologists, but studies are being done and progress is being made. Hopefully in time we will be able to understand this ability more fully and maybe even be able to train our brains to remember better.

Do you think you would like to have this incredible ability or would it be more of a burden? What would the pros and cons be to you? How would this impact your life?

To see the ABC news story click here

To view current research in this area click here and here

Is Spelling Truly Important?

As I was scrolling through Facebook a couple weeks ago, I came across this post.

This has tired me out

Posted by Awesome Inventions on Tuesday, February 6, 2018

I found this post intriguing since we were learning about word recognition in class. How was my brain able to sift through this mess relatively quickly? I’m going to be honest- I’m still not completely sure. Our brains are so incredibly complicated and amazing that it’s impossible to fully understand them.

I believe that this phenomenon has lots of different mechanisms at work. Since the post said that it was created by research at Cambridge University, I started looking for the original post since we all know Facebook isn’t exactly 100% reliable. What I found was an article by Matt Davis, who works at Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge, UK. Read his research on this subject here. He was able to break down the brain processes behind this phenomenon a bit more with lots of relevant studies. The main effect that came to mind when I first saw the Facebook post was the Word Superiority Effect that we discussed in class. It is because of this effect that we recognize letters more easily when they are in words than on their own. Davis generalized this effect to this exercise, saying “Following brief presentations of written words, people are often better at guessing what word they saw, rather than guessing individual letters in that word.” If we were to spend an excess amount of time with one of these words we may second guess ourselves or see other words that could be made by these letters.

This is not the only mechanism at work here. Obviously the context comes into play. You are less likely to decipher “mtaetr” by itself than in the post where it says “it dseno’t mtaetr…” Although the word superiority effect comes in to play, it works better when paired with meaningful context. You may not have caught it while reading the post- but the function words are still in tact. Words such as “the,” “a,” and “not” cannot be jumbled while keeping the first and last letter the same. This helps us to read the passage easier since some words are still the same. Similarly, short words such as “what” are barely jumbled and quite easy to decipher.

So is the post correct? Do we only read words as a whole? Does spelling matter? According to the research, this is true to an extent. It is easier for us to read words as a whole, but we are still able to distinguish between “salt” and “slat.” According to the Facebook post, our minds would not know the difference between these words. Obviously there is more happening here than just looking at the first and last letter. Spelling matters to an extent.

I thought this was so cool to try for myself and really dig into. The research behind exercises like this is incredible and so intriguing (to me at least.) We will never truly know every aspect and mechanism of cognition, but the more we know about how we learn and read the better we can shape our learning. Since I am studying to teach elementary kids this was completely relevant to me. There is a lot of debate on spelling tests now and I was interested to see how this study would be relevant. I think I’d rather have my kids free write and correct them as they go rather than doing spelling tests. As we saw earlier- context is important! If you’d like to learn more about the word superiority effect or see it in action yourself, try out this lab!




Trump’s Cognitive Testing



Last week Trump was given a cognitive test that he specifically requested. Since some people have questioned his mental fitness, he wanted to put the questions to rest. His doctor, Dr. Ronny Jackson, used the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, also known as the MoCA. The assessment is comprised of various memory and mental tasks, including the naming of animals pictured, remembering certain words, and reciting numbers backwards. To pass the exayou must score a 26/30, but Trump got a perfect 30/30 score. His doctor said that this rules out any cognitive impairment and there is no need for any further tests.

Obviously we should take this article’s report with a grain of salt, as it is CNN. Every news channel has an angle and bias towards almost anyone in politics. I went back to the actual press conference and CNN didn’t seem to embellish anything drastically. They only reported his results without tying in any outside research, so I didn’t have to critique that. We first need to review a few principles before looking at their representation in the test.

In the first chapter of our text we discussed the digit span task, and even gave it a shot in class. This activity had us hear a series of numbers and repeat them back, If we got them correct more numbers were added. This would measure our number span. We also discussed parts of the working memory, which means information that is being processed now. When asked how we remember a seriesof numbers for the digit span task, many people say by repetition. This means that they utilized their articulatory rehearsal loop. They repeated the numbers in their inner voice, also called the “subvocalization.” but could still complete other tasks while doing it. These principles were shown in Trump’s testing.

The MoCA utilized a few span tests, using both numbers and letters separately. The words that were used in one span test were to be recalled at the end of the test. Trump was warned that he would be asked to repeat them again, and utilized his articulatory rehearsal loop to remember the words. He could continue on with other tasks while repeating those words in his inner voice. This allowed him to remember them perfectly at the end of the test.

Do you think this test is an accurate portrayal of Trump’s cognitive abilities? Could someone with cognitive impairments have easily passed this test? I felt suspicious of the test after reading sample questions and activities. This doesn’t mean that I necessarily think that Trump is cognitively impaired in any way, but the test seemed to focus mostly on working memory, which is just a small part of cognition. I think it would be interesting to see how Trump did with other activities that maybe had more critical thinking skills involved. After looking up the MoCA and reading more about it, it is to be used as a brief screening tool. I definitely believe that people can pass this test even if they are cognitively impaired. Again, I’m not saying that I think Trump is (and in fact I don’t believe he is,) but I think to say with certainty that he does not have any cognitive impairments a more thorough, diverse test would need to be done.

Read the CNN report here