Author Archives: mcao

It’s Groovy, Baby.

You ever have a song stuck in your head or found yourself bobbing your head to music playing in the background? How about get so moved by music you spontaneously break out into dance because you can’t stop your body from feeling the groove?  According to the study I read, this is due to the brain’s attention system in conjunction with an individual interaction with the music.  This cognitive processes is called sensorimotor coupling, the attentional engagement of an individual due to their mental arousal of music.  You synchronize your body readily to music due to sensorimotor coupling.  This works best when the music has good attentional capture, the unintentional change of attention by a change in stimulus, this could interrupt other processing.  Spontaneous sensorimotor coupling with a music related study showed to have positive affects (the internal feeling state when a goal has been reached, a threat has been avoided, or a feeling of content with present state of affairs.)

I was interested in this article because I love to dance and I often do get lost in this so called “groove.” I find myself bobbing my head, tapping my foot, or (given the right environment) spontaneously interpretive dancing to whatever jam is playing. This is all due to the attentional capture of the song. For example, the beat or the swell of the chorus that catches our attention and (whether we are “paying attention” to it or not) we get carried by the music.  This happens more easily in individuals whose response selector more readily recognises it as music to groove to.  Automaticity plays into this too by becoming an unconscious, spontaneous reaction to hearing the music.  This is more prominent in musically trained individuals and those who dance (trained/untrained dancers) this is referred to as muscle memory (automaticity of spontaneous rehearsed movements).

So what causes this groove?  Why do we get so much enjoyment out of moving our bodies freely to music?  It’s obvious that music has it’s own individual formula for what’s “good music?”  We already know that music and sensorimotor coupling combined have positive affects and we like that it makes us feel good.  According to the study, we enjoy a good, steady beat just as much as the next aspiring club DJ, but we enjoy asymmetry in music as well.  The more complex the music (while still sounding like music of course) increases the stimulus intensity, which arouses our mind more.  Giving way to more spontaneous sensorimotor movement and more readily engages listeners to move (aka feel the groove).

This study concluded that the relationship between complex musical scenes and attentional engagement was shown in spontaneous sensorimotor coupling and emotion (positive and happy emotions).  The more complex and emotional the song, the more easily it would grab our attention, invoking the spontaneous and emotional groove where the music could “carry the body”.  This ability to feel the groove was rated, on average, the same for musically trained and non-musically trained individuals.  For those individuals who had a hard time finding the groove, they became a phenomenon referred to as “beat deafness.”  These individuals moved slower and rated to feel the groove lower than average.  They also had a difficult time synchronizing with the beats. This was shown to be a task-specific sensorimotor deficit.  To conclude myself, I found this study so interesting.  The fact that they would put this much effort into learning the connections of the mind with music.  Music has long been used to tell stories and relay emotions and memories for a long time, dance as well.  To know the cognitive processes behind the expressions of music and how it is expressed and connected to dance, that’s groovy.


How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days

Don’t you just hate it when your significant other tells you no? This step by step how to will teach you how to get your live-in lover to do anything you want them to using a cognitive psychology.  We learned four ways in class to manipulate the simple minds of our significant others (SO) to get them to do anything and everything we want.  We do this using availability, anchoring and adjustment, representativeness, and competence.  The culmination of these cognitive mind games are called heuristics of judgement and decision making. Using these cognitive mind games will spoil you in that, you will always have your way.

Availability can be used by substituting an old memory for a new event.  Let’s say you wanna go to that pirate themed circus ballet coming into town and you need to convince your SO.  You can tell them that it was kinda like that super cool break dance competition you went to last spring or another event that will help them retrieve those previous events.  It’s hard to imagine an abstract event, so giving them a familiar event would increase your chances of getting them to do whatever you want to do!

Anchoring and adjustment can be used by creating an initial judgement (anchoring) but keeping in mind that the individual making the judgement will change that value to how they see fit (adjustment).  While buying tickets for that pirate themed circus ballet coming into town, of course you want good seats.  You could ask your SO, ‘how willing are you to pay $1,000 a seat?’ And according to anchoring and adjustment, aiming for a higher price range will allow for them to make adjustments and say, ‘……maybe $150’ when in reality, the seat you wanted only costed $100, win.  This heuristic works for both anteing up and down.

Representativeness can be used by betting on the fact that your SO isn’t very smart and has poor intuition and judgement.  It’s ok it happens to the best of us, but this time, it works in your favor!  Representativeness is when we judge based upon how much an example resembles (physically) to the category but the possibilities of it being an incorrect representation are under weighed.  For example, getting your SO to get to that pirate themed circus ballet coming into town, you could show them pictures of the performers doing breakdance tricks.  It seems as if those pictures would be a good representation of the show so your SO underweights the possibility that it could be a crazy pirate themed circus ballet while still having the slight possibility that you could possibly be going to a breakdance show.  

Last but not least of these cognitive manipulation heuristics is competency.  Competency is when you allow the individual to feel as if they have control of the situation, when it’s just an illusion because the events are actually random.  Similar to gamblers fallacy.  Get your SO to go to that pirate themed circus ballet coming into town by letting them win a couple fake fights nearing the show date.  Your SO just overestimated their chance of winning by going to this show (in your eyes they would be, duh, pirate themed circus ballet). This heuristic works for losing as well, that the individual thinks they have a higher chance of winning if they have lost so many times.

*These heuristics of judgement and decision making aren’t proven to be 100% effective.


We all have memories that we would prefer to not remember or have memories of moments that had been forgotten happened until something triggered that memory to be conscious.  But what causes this to happen?  We could take PTSD for example, a fine case where memories that are so vivid and sensory driven, just as easily manifested, be so actively forgotten? Like we learned in class, the brain takes in sensory information that we don’t always pay attention to.  We may engage in experiences that encourage the retention of the memory but just as actively as the mind can take in information, it can also ignore information.  Giving rise to the theory that the brain has multiple processes that go into memory, both long term and short term. I wanted to know (a) if these cues that we use in our everyday lives to help us recollect memories, have the same function in a suppressed memory, (b) what happens in the brain when memories are repressed, and (c) what happens to these memories when they surface after being repressed?


(a) One study done on children and adults to show that the brain has the ability to actively suppress information/memories to limit unwanted material in their consciousness.  This is caused by the part of the brain increasing in activation (lateral PFC, in charge of short term and working memory) and had reduced activity of memory-related structures (Medial TL) including the hippocampus, the part of the brain that runs much of the translation for long term memory.  This results in less declarative memories, one type of long term memory that contains facts and events that help recall (or “declare”) memories.   This also shows that the brain has active control over memory processes, specifically declarative long term memory along with filtering and a number of processes.

(b) Another experiment was done where they had participants who were asked to memorize a list of word-picture pairs and were asked recall each pair and their brain function was recorded.  After, they were told to do a similar process except this time they were to not think of the picture that corresponded with the word.  A fMRI scan was done on each subject to monitor brain activity.  They found that the brain had an especially hard time suppressing the older pictures learned versus the newer set of pictures they were shown.  This showed psychologist that visual memory in long term memory was harder to repress than working/ short term memory.  They also found that over time, it was easier and easier for the subject to repress the visual memory of the word, i.e. higher subliminal priming.

The cognitive approach that was in the articles I read were what parts of the brain were used and what memory processes were inhibited in the active suppression period.  So far, the studies have shown that long term memory is still intact with the memories but is stored differently, hinting to maybe a different encoding system or connections as discussed in class.  We know that the brain has different stages of memory and different types of memory.  We also learned that certain memories have connections that help with quicker, better long term processing after being presented with a cue.

memory-block-628x300(c) But what happens to these old repressed memories that surface after years of repression? Studies have shown that a number of things can happen to these memories.  In the case of trauma, like PTSD and abuse victims, even more variations were seen.  Memories that are being repressed, especially those that follow trauma are extremely malleable.  They had been seen to increase in intensity to the complete “termination” of the memory (seen mainly in children of a young age).

Psychoanalysis and cognitive psychologist have been working hand in hand on more studies that ask questions like where did the memory go?  What mental processes keep the memories suppressed and are these processes that allow these memories to seep through when memories surface if they ever do?  I was interested in these articles because we talked about memory in class and I wondered how Brian Williams could just “make up” a memory and I found these articles that talked about the opposite, not making up memories but forgetting them.  I hope to find more articles in this topic to further my understanding on memory suppression and its cognitive processes.

Music and Enhanced Function in Adolescence

I spend every second of my day listening to music.  It’s constantly in my head wether or not I have my headphones on or the radio is playing.  I was interested in finding out if my exposure to music as a child had any influence on my behaviors that I exhibit in my life everyday.  More specifically the brain functions and what enhances it in adolescence.  The articles I choose were studies done to show how music is beneficial to brain function in adolescence and even adults.

Research done on this was a study to explore whether musically inclined children and adolescents had a higher executive function than non-musical children.  There were already many studies that showed that cognitive function is highly correlated with more musically inclined subjects.  Results showed that more musically inclined individuals had the ability to process information more quickly and retain it, more healthy regulation of behaviors, better decision making and problem solving and, planning and adjusting to changes to emotional or mental demands.  Musically trained adolescents exhibited multiple higher functions that translated to other life skills. This study looked more specifically to how it effected executive function, which looks more in depth at achievements/goals and higher IQ’s.

The experiment summary is as follows; They had a set of musically trained adolescents and a control group of non-trained adolescents.  Each group was given a number of tasks to do and were asked to switch back and forth between assigned tasks while psychologist monitored their brain functions (fMRI used).  Study showed more enhanced brain activity in the musically trained students in the prefrontal cortex, one of the parts of the brain that correlate directly to executive function.

This relates to cognitive psychology because in class we talk about the brain processes and how it uses these processes to take in information from our daily environment.  During child development, the brain and what information is retained and how it is developed is key.

My sources I found were from the article examples Dr. R had posted and I found them useful.  They seemed like reliable sources and were in lay terms, understandable.  It was a bit difficult  to come by this information because so many studies had been done on this subject and I wanted to research something that was a bit more in depth than the usual cognitive function with music correlation.

My thoughts on this, is that that music does play a big part in cognitive development especially in children and adolescents.  We give children toys that crinkle, jingle, and blink to enhance sensory perception and improve that functions in the brain.  I think music does much similar things.  The study said that those who study music already do have an enhanced function that gravitates them towards music and gives them the discipline to stay in lessons and continue to strive in learning.  I think that that is important because no one can lack a certain function unless you have a disability and even still, those with disabilities, like ADHD in adults and adolescents, use music training as a sort of therapy, to enhance their mental functions.  This is more important in adolescents because their brains are constantly developing and enhanced executive function could be beneficial for their educational future as well as their ability to conquer certain tasks later on in life.