Author Archives: mbap

Google always agrees with me!

It seems like whenever you get in an argument with someone and you can’t determine who is correct, you refer to google. After-all, googling the answer is the best way to figure out who/what is right…isn’t it? In class we talked about a confirmation bias. Google does a great job at allowing people to find evidence that supports their ideas, no matter what’s actually correct. This confirmation bias comes from the fact that people want to find others and ideas that support their own. After all, changing our underlying beliefs is very hard, and it’s much easier to just believe whatever already agrees with us. This is where google comes in, when people search for the “correct” answers, they are targeting their findings towards what they already believe to be correct.

For example, the other day a teammate and I were arguing about whether it is possible to breath and swallow at the same time. I argued that it was impossible, but he believed it was possible. I knew that I was correct because earlier that day my biology professor was lecturing about the respiratory system and specifically mentioned that it is impossible. Naturally, when in an argument that can’t be solved; I said, “fine, google it then”. To my surprise, after a short amount of time he had found a website that contradicted me. He proudly announced that he was correct, and I was confused. (He was still wrong, he was on “answers.com”) Whether it was correct or not, how was he able to find a site that confirmed with his incorrect belief so easily?

As Emma Reynolds wrote, “The internet becomes increasingly customizable and personalized, we are no longer seeing anything that challenges us. And it’s highly dangerous”. Google creates what she refers to as a “filter bubble” which is how google chooses what ‘pops-up’ when you enter a search. It is customized according to your past searches. Therefore, a liberal who searches liberal areas will later be given increasing number of liberal sources. This can clearly lead to a confirmation bias as they will later only be encountering political views that support how they feel rather than oppose their beliefs. Another way Google’s results are not reliable deal with the way we search for them. This was the case with my teammate and I. When we are using Google to find results we want them to agree with us and we often phrase our search to only bring up supporting results. For example, my teammate likely searched something along the line of “can’t people breath and swallow at the same time”. Which lead him to a post that was completely wrong but supported him.

An article written by News.com, referenced above, reviews the way Google works and confers with multiple psychologists as to how it coincides with a confirmation bias. They offer a solution. First, to seek opposing beliefs and ideas. It is the best way to ensure that your own beliefs are accurate and is the best way to bring new ways of thinking about. Secondly, they recommend that; when using search engines, to phrase your searches in a way to does not support or deny how you already feel about your topic. For example, the best way to find out about breathing and swallowing would be to search, “breathing and swallowing at the same time”. This will lead to arguments from both sides appearing in the results. Lastly, they recommend that you don’t just look at that white box that first pops up when you search a question. Although it may sometimes be correct, it is often coming from questionable sources.

Reynolds, Emma. “How Google Distorts Your View of the World.” NewsComAu, 17 July 2015, www.news.com.au/technology/online/how-google-distorts-your-view-of-the-world/news-story/d28584949dc861a75b3f08b23af40a5a.

An Adam Sandler Movie is Accurate?…and kinda funny too?

     Dr. Wind Goodfriend posted an article to Psychology Today about one of the first romantic comedies I ever saw…50 First Dates. For those of you who don’t know, it’s an Adam Sandler movie with Drew Barrymore. Barrymore, playing a character named Lucy, was involved in a car accident years ago that injured, presumably, her hippocampus and left her with a form of amnesia the movie refers to as “Goldfield’s Syndrome”. Basically, the damage from the car accident destroyed her short-term memory to the point where she is not able to move information to her long-term memory. Every day she wakes up thinking that it is the same day as the one of the accident because while sleeping her brain wipes the past day and returns the morning of the crash. Of course, Sandler’s character falls in love with her and attempts to have her reciprocate the feeling. However, since Lucy can only remember events for one day, every time they go out it is like a first date for her.

What the movie got right:

Though the premise seems absolutely ridiculous and the movie is very corny, as clearly pointed out by Dr. Goodfriend in her article, she admits that the psychology behind the condition is accurate. Lucy has what is called anterograde amnesia. The hippocampus, in part, is responsible for moving the working and short-term memory into long-term memory. However, as suspected by Dr. Goodfriend, Lucy’s was destroyed during the crash. This has actually happened in real life and there are living patients who suffer from this damage. It is similar to getting a concussion in the sense that you are not able to remember everything except from a certain point before the trauma. In Lucy’s case, this is the morning of the accident and the period of a traditional day is what her working memory is capable of holding. This is why when she goes to sleep, everything from the previous day is forgotten and she is, again, waking up on the same day (in her perception).

Dr. Goodfriend also elaborates to a scene involving a character named “10 second Tom” who also suffers from anterograde amnesia. However, his working memory is only capable of holding information for, you guessed it, 10 seconds. Though this scene is quite comical, there is a man in reality who suffers from this. However, Clive Wearing, can only remember things for 7 seconds.

What the movie got wrong:

The movie refers to Lucy’s condition as “Goldfield’s syndrome”, which Dr. Goodfriend calls, “Hollywood hogwash”. This was a completely made up name by the producers/writers. Though, as Dr. Goodfriend points out, it doesn’t make much sense for them to make up a name when the condition has an actual name (maybe the made-up name sounded cooler).

Dr. Goodfriend also points out that the movie does a very poor job of depicting what life with anterograde amnesia is actually like. Patients with this condition are in need of constant care and support. It is unheard of for a patient of this to be self-sustaining or even living outside of a hospital. The movie also leaves out some of the bigger picture problems with continuing to live without realizing how much time is passing. As a person with this condition simply ages, they are bewildered by their reflection. In their mind, no significant amount of time as past, but yet they see a much older version of themselves in the mirror. This among other unavoidable complications would make every-day life incredibly challenging for Lucy.

The Ending: (spoiler alert)

Near the end of the movie, Adam Sandler’s character gives up on Lucy because he realizes that a relationship could never work if she never knows who he is the next day. However, after not seeing him, Lucy is still able to paint Sandler’s character. This is assumed to be because Sandler made such an impact everyday that he was part of her long-term memory. Of course, she still didn’t know him or even recognize him, but she was familiar to him. We talked about this in class with HM who displayed a similar phenomenon.

Overall, the movie accurately portrayed what anterograde amnesia is, but left out the less amusing and romantic characteristics. The article by Dr. Goodfriend does a very good job going over these characteristics and sites them back to other, real, cases very well.

 

Goodfriend, Wind. “Amnesia in ’50 First Dates’.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 2012, www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/psychologist-the-movies/201212/amnesia-in-50-first-dates.

Those ads are annoying on purpose?

Commercials are annoying and very few of them are even interesting. However, despite what you may think, they are very effective. With an understanding of how the brain and memory works, commercials are able to make you remember their products, services, and ideologies without you even doing much conscious work. For example, how familiar are the slogans “I’m lovin’ it, taste the rainbow, the quicker picker upper, like a good neighbor State Farm is there, or got milk?” It’s no coincidence that you remember catchy slogans and it’s also not hard to think back and remember, very specifically, the contents of commercials you’ve seen in the past. This is done to, whether you realize or not, evoke a desired behavior or opinion of you.

Companies who design these ads are using a bit of cognitive psychology to force the viewers to pay attention and remember parts of the advertisement. One strategy that used to be very common was the repeating of the company’s phone number at the end of an advertisement. It probably is not hard to think back to a commercial when a company repeated their number 3, 4, or even 5 times at the end of their commercial. As surprising as it seems, this isn’t done to annoy you. The working memory of the brain is much better at remembering numbers through repetition. According to the digit-span task, most people can remember 7, + or – 2, numbers after being told them. For comparison, a phone number is made of 10 numbers. Simply repeating those numbers over and over forces the brain to keep the phone number in the working memory. This is also why companies will coordinate their phone number to spell out a word. It is much easier to remember to call Marks & Harrison at 1-800-win-win1 (which I remember off the top of my head) than 1-800-247-8629.

Along with repeating how to contact the advertiser, it is very common to see the same commercial over and over and over and over and over again until you can say every single word in sync with it. This is also keeps the company in your working memory, but over time it will work the companies message into your long-term memory to the point where when you get hungry you think of McDonalds, and on your way there, you are thinking about how you’re going to be “lovin’ it”. The re-playing of these ads forces you to keep thinking about them and eventually make them a part of your life. This is especially true if you are unaware with the product or unsure if you want to partake in it (psychologyformarketers). The repetition of “I’m lovin’ it” just may make you believe that you’re lovin’ it. “There was a study from Microsoft investigating the optimal number of exposures required for audio messages. They concluded between 6 and 20 was best” (thefinancialbrand). This means that when you’re watching tv and the same commercial keeps coming on, it could be shaping the way you see the product and what you end up buying later. After all, the more something is repeated, the more truth seems to hold (even if it is not true at all).

Companies also know how to grab people’s attention to make them focus on their advertisement. There is a reason why it is so easy to remember all of the funny Doritos commercials or those really sad commercials of the puppies for the SPCA. It is much easier to grab someone’s attention by playing to their emotions than it is to provide facts to be interpreted (thepsychologyofdecisionmaking). Quite frankly, people are lazy, and it takes a lot of work to logically interpret in order to form opinions. However, it’s easy to see that those guys in that Dorito commercial were having a great time and to assume that if I buy Doritos then ill be as cool as them.

One of the main reason’s these strategies work so well is because nobody thinks they will work on them (thepsychologyofdecisionmaking). Everyone thinks “no those may work on other people, but not me”. Being unaware of how these advertisements are affecting you only blinds you to the signs. Collectively, these strategies, accompanied by many more are what make advertisements so effective. Though they may be annoying people, they are also shaping them.

 

Ajzen, I.  (1996).  The social psychology of decision making.  In E. T. Higgins & A. W. Kruglanski (Eds.), Social psychology: Handbook of basic principles (ch. 7). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

 

Pilcher, Jeffery. “Say It Again: Messages Are More Effective When Repeated.” The Financial Brand, 13 Nov. 2014, thefinancialbrand.com/42323/advertising-marketing-messages-effective-frequency/.

 

Kay, Magda. “How to Use Cognitive Biases for Effective Marketing.” Psychology for Marketers, 30 May 2017, psychologyformarketers.com/use-cognitive-biases-effective-marketing/.

How the brain functions while freestyling

The best freestyle artists of all time, such as Eminem, Jay-Z, BIG, Logic, Proof, and countless more are having a look into how they are able to take the words in their head to make rhyming lyrical works. Researchers have found that freestyling changes the way your brain functions to increase integration and motivation and decrease the functions of self-monitoring and control (livescience.com). In hindsight, this makes sense; rappers need to be able to take words, that would otherwise be unconnected, and make stories, meaning, or a flow while being able to incorporate rhyming. With this being the brains goal, things like control and filtering get in the way. They slow down the brains processing when the main purpose is to keep the flow of rhymes going. Though this helps rappers create better formed rhymes, thinking more on what you’re saying and not how your saying it causes a lot of rhymes that violate social norms and often offend people.

Most of the changes that allow the brain to rap happen in the frontal cortex. Which of course, is known for it’s influential role in judgement. However, in a study by eight researchers, it was found that these judgement sections are quieted to make room for the creative thought expressed as raps. In this experiment, the researchers recruited twelve male rappers who agreed to “spit bars” while in a fMRI. They were given an eight-measure (bar) to memorized before the experiment to be rapped in the fMRI and act as a control. After the individual recited the given rhymes to a beat, they were told they could freestyle about whatever they chose to the same beat. The researchers found, partially what they expected. The medial prefrontal cortex, influential in creative thought, memorial retrieval, strategy, and attention shifting was requiring much more blood than it usually would. All of these functions are crucial in creating a plan to be converted into words that are rhymed to a beat. As a result, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex quieted to the demands of the medial. The dorsolateral being the influential section for judging and monitoring/censoring thoughts…which doesn’t happen if it is submissive to the need for rhymes (An fMRI Study on Freestyle Rapping). The researchers also found that the amygdala was often “lit up” during the creation of raps. This is why many great rappers often get emotional and bring up their past in their rhymes. This emotion also contributes to the lack of judgment by pairing creativity with intense feelings. Therefore, though great freestyle rappers are able to think quickly on their feet, they often say things that offend many people or don’t represent the ideals the rapper actually believes in.

This study was very careful to make sure that the changes in the brains behavior were due to the introduction of freestyling. They used the memorized rap as a control to make sure that the brain does not “light up” this way for any kind of rapping. They also made sure that they found the same kind of results in different people. They concluded that the results were accurate because across the participants, the introduction of freestyling caused the brain to change its function to best produce rhyming. However, I would like to see a follow-up experiment that has more participants to understand if their results can truly be generalized to all freestyle rappers.

I would also like to see a study that specifically focuses on rappers who have been doing the art for most of their life. A neuroscientist named Heather Berlin spoke at the 92nd Street Y’s Seven Days of Genius event about rapper Eminem. “He probably has more advanced connections in terms of his language areas. Over time, when you practice something, a cognitive skill or a motor skill, you’re developing connections in the brain. So I’m sure his brain would look slightly different” (TheCut). Seeing how his brain specifically works while he’s freestyle would be fascinating. Overall, the basic concepts behind rapping are being understood, but the long-term affects they have on the brain are still unknown.

 

Landsbaum, C. (2015). What a Neuroscientist Said About Eminem’s Brain. TheCut.

Retrieved from: https://www.thecut.com/2015/03/what-a-neuroscientist-said-about                       eminems-brain.html

Pappas, S. (2012). How Eminem Invents Freestyle Rhymes on the Spot. LiveScience. Retrieved

from: https://www.livescience.com/24817-freestyle-rapping-brain-activity.html

Liu, S., Chow H. M., Xu, Y., Erkkinen, M., Swett, K., Eagle, M., Rizik-Baer, D., & Braun, A.

(2012). Neural Correlates of Lyrical Improvisation: An fMRI Study of Freestyle Rap.

     Scientific Reports, 834. Retrieved from: https://www.nature.com/articles/srep00834

Hey everyone, I haven’t used this formal of a blog before and I’m not even sure if I set it up correctly, but I’m excited to be in cognitive psych and to try this out! My name is Matthew and I’m looking forward to the posts and discussions here!