Author Archives: nboigegrain

Savant Syndrome and Intelligence

Savant syndrome is a rare condition that gets a lot of attention in the media. Those affected have a special ability that exceeds all expectations and amazes almost everywhere with their skill. Would you like to be a savant?

Many people would and considering all the attention they get for their incredible abilities, I can understand why. For example, one of the most popular savants is Kim Peek. He was the inspiration for the character Rain Man ( For those of you who are unfamiliar with the movie Rain Man, the main character could memorize countless amounts of trivia, had amazing math skills, and autism. Kim Peek, the real Rain Man, was born with brain damage and doctors claimed he would never be able to walk. However, now, while he does have trouble with normal motor skills and a below average IQ score, he has memorized 12,000 books, can read two pages at once in just three seconds, and knows countless amounts of trivia from various subjects.

Another popular savant is Leslie Lemke ( He was born with severe birth defects that resulted in the removal of his eyes. Unwanted by his own mom, he was put up for adoption and struggled throughout his life. He did not know how to stand until he was 12 and could not walk until 15. However, at 16 years old, something changed in the middle of the night. Leslie got up and played Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1, a complicated piece of music, perfectly after hearing it once on the television and without having any classical music training beforehand. Since then, he has been able to play music from all different genres after only hearing it once. For years he put on beautiful concerts for everyone to enjoy.

One of my personal favorites is Stephen Wiltshire, who is known as the Human Camera. When he was young, he was mute and diagnosed as autistic ( He was even sent to a school for special needs children. It was at that school that he discovered his joy in drawing, which is how he communicated with others until he started speaking when he was 9 years old. Now, he is known for his amazing memory and drawing skills. He can draw very detailed and incredibly accurate landscapes of any city after seeing it only once. His most famous work is a 33-foot-long drawing of Tokyo, with his only reference being a short helicopter ride he took earlier.

These three amazing people, along with others, can be seen in the media and online. However, if you watch videos or read articles about them, you usually only learn about their special ability. However, doing some research will give you more information about their lives and who they are. And unfortunately it is not all sunshine and rainbows.

Approximately 50% of people with savant syndrome have autism disorder and the other 50% have some form of developmental disability or have experienced a disease or injury that resulted in damage to their central nervous system (CNS) ( While most savants have a disability or damage to their CNS, not everyone who fits that description are savants. 1 in 10 people with autism and 1.4 in 2,000 people with brain damage have savant characteristics.

Savants are broken up into three different categories: splinter skills, talented savants, and prodigious savants. The first is the most common and describes people who have deep passions for certain topics and therefore have more than the usual amount of knowledge on said topic. Talent savants describe cognitively impaired people who have a special ability. And prodigious savants are those whose special ability is so incredible that people have made movies about them, such as Rain Man. There are less than a hundred known living prodigious savants worldwide at this time.

The known savants generally have a below average IQ score and outside of their ability, can often struggle with daily life.

So why do these people who lack intelligence elsewhere have such extraordinary skills and knowledge in a particular topic? Scientists say it is because they have an amazing memory (

Right now one theory of why their memory is superior is that savants have either a higher level corticolimbic circuit for semantic memory or a lower level cortico-striatal circuit for implicit memory ( Basically, their brain’s chemistry allows them to retain and recall an insane amount of common knowledge and/or things that people process unconsciously. Two other hypotheses are that savant syndrome is the result of a change in a gene, or genes, or that because they have had some type of damage in their brain on the left hemisphere their brain attempts to compensate for this damage and in that attempt something gets activated in the right hemisphere (

It is believed that savants have more gray matter in their precuneus in their brains, which is associated with spatial representation of numbers and ordinal sequences (like weekdays); meaning savants have super effective spatial strategies. Evidence also shows that they have awesome working memory capacities due to having an above average amount of high putamen activity in their brains (

No matter what the cause of savant syndrome is, it is important to remember that while they have their special ability, or abilities, they face difficulties and hardships like everyone else, perhaps maybe even more. So while you might think it would be cool to be the next Rain Man, keep in mind the costs that generally come with being a savant.

One of those costs is having a lower IQ, which can be heartbreaking to find out for those who pride themselves on being smart. And I believe savants would definitely be proud of that since they are so well known for their abilities. So… the question is, do their low IQs mean that savants are not smart?

In my opinion, no. I consider them to be geniuses in their field, and many would agree with me. They are not “dumb”, they simply have a narrow skill set. In fact, I know a lot of people who I would consider intelligent but have below average IQs. This is likely because the current intelligence tests do not test every single type of intelligence, which is a major flaw and needs to be changed, as a lot of people value IQ scores.

My one thought on how we could make intelligence tests better would be to make one big test that includes questions from all sorts of backgrounds and then break down the results into the different kinds of intelligences and averages them together to give a general intelligence score. However, that probably would not be a realistic solution seeing that the test would have to be incredibly long in order to include everything and there would still be the threat of cultural differences affecting people’s scores. Can you think of a way to make a better IQ test?





Aphasia and Blue Bananas




As someone who had difficulties speaking when I was little, I have great sympathy for those living with Aphasia. I remember being incredibly embarrassed when I couldn’t pronounce certain words, so much so that I learned to avoid them completely so I would not be teased, particularly by my siblings. I even went to speech therapy for a few years for I could get better. However, my issue was very minor and was quickly solved. Even if I had never gotten the problem fixed, I could have easily gone about my life without much difficultly and almost no one could have noticed. Unfortunately, people with Aphasia don’t have that luxury and I feel especially bad for them, knowing that their problem with language is a million times worse than mine.

Aphasia is when someone’s language capability is impaired. It can affect how a person produces and/or understands speech and written language processes, such as reading and writing. According to the National Aphasia Association website, Aphasia is always caused by injury. Normally it is the result of a stroke, but can happen because of a head trauma, brain tumor, or an infection. The severity of it can also vary greatly. It usually affects the older population, but it can happen to anyone. Currently, it affects about two million people. Unlike my quick fix to my pronunciation problems, if a person experiences the symptoms of aphasia for more than two months, a full recovery is rare. Luckily, they likely will continue to see improvement in their abilities over the following years as the person affected and their loved ones learn more about Aphasia and as they figure out how to adapt to new, adjusted communication strategies.

Ulmer, Hux, Brown, Nelms, and Reeder (PAYNET: did a study on a way to help people with Aphasia communicate. They wanted to see how the performance of people with Aphasia in a communication test varied with the aid of taking photographs. The study was a multiple case study design. It included five people diagnosed with Aphasia, who observed the researchers perform wellness activities. While observing, they took as many photographs as they wanted of the people completing the activities. After that, those with Aphasia talked with other people about the activities and were allowed to look at the photographs they had taken. Everyone varied in the number of photographs that they took, the amount of times they referenced to the pictures during the conversation, and their amount of success in communicating information to a person unfamiliar with what activities had taken placed. The researchers found that those who referenced the pictures they took were more successful in communicating more information to the other person and were more specific than those who did not reference the photographs at all or referenced it fewer times. They also talked more about the correct topic than other topics that were unrelated and made less disability-related comments. Basically, the researchers concluded that taking photographs and using them as references allows people with Aphasia to increase their ability to stay on the right topic and allows them to be more specific about the content they wish to mention. They ended their article with the note that more research is needed in order to fully understand how referencing to pictures supports communication strategies and to determine whether or not direct training about photography should be given to those with Aphasia.

Their research was really interesting to read about because it gave me a very good example of exactly what strategies people with Aphasia can use in order to help build their ability to communicate with others. Before reading this, I had a really hard time coming up with effective ways they could increase their capabilities, considering they can have difficultly speaking, understanding, reading, and writing. I was confused of why they didn’t just write and read everything, but that was more because I did not know what exactly Aphasia was and how it could affect the people who had it. But now, I understand that Aphasia is more complicated than just not being able to speak clearly and efficiently, which makes me feel even more sympathy for those who have it. I wonder how the results from the multiple case study would differ if they used photographs from a long time ago to discuss a that happened awhile ago, or if they would be the same for events that happened recently. Because that would help determine if talking about short-term memories is different from talking about long-term memories. I personally think it would depend on where the damage in the brain was at. I also wonder if having the photograph allows them to direct some attention on the photograph, rather than worrying about speaking correctly. And maybe that redirected stress allows them to feel better about speaking and therefore speak more clearly and about the right thing. It also makes me question that if feeling more prepared, and being a little less focused on what they are saying by concentrating on something else, is the reason behind understanding language better, could emotional support animals help them improve their abilities?

Because I had so many questions after reading the study done by Ulmer and his associations, as well as the National Aphasia Association website, I wanted to read something written by someone who had a more personal connection to Aphasia. In my search, I found a blog titled “Blue Banana”, written by a man named Matt, whose wife has Aphasia as the result of a brain bleed caused by a stroke. I am not 100% sure why he called his blog the Blue Banana, but I do know it is because of the following quote “Oranges are pink, bananas are blue. My memory discharged, so now 4 + 3 = 2”. What I don’t know is if his wife or someone else with Aphasia said that, or if someone trying to show what Aphasia is like to someone who did not know was the one who said it. But despite the odd title, his blog was wonderful and very insightful. He talked about the days leading up to his wife’s stroke, how it felt while his wife was having the stroke, and the healing process of it all. It was very detailed and emotional to read. For me, it made Aphasia real, and not just something you read about in a cognitive psychology textbook.

Does The Cocktail Party Phenomenon Work The Same Way For Everyone?



Whenever you have gone to a party, a bar, or really any crowded place, you might have realized that you are able to pay attention to one person’s speech among competing conversations while still hearing and recognizing certain key words from other conversations, such as your name. This experience has been labeled the “Cocktail Party Phenomenon”, which was originally researched in the 1950s. Since then, it has been looked into by several different researchers who have researched different aspects of the phenomenon.

Conway, Cowan, and Bunting (PAYNET: replicated one of the original studies of the cocktail party phenomenon and extended their investigation to include the importance of working memory capacity.

For their experiment, they used a sample size of forty undergraduate students from the University of Illinois at Chicago. All of these participants had normal hearing and were native English speakers. From there these students were categorized as having either a high or low working-memory span. This classification was done on the basis of scores previously determined by a larger sample of participants who partook in an operation span task, which was previously used in a study done by Turner and Engle in 1989. All subjects were then introduced to a selective listening procedure, where they put on stereo headphones and listened to a relevant and an irrelevant message, both lasting five and a half minutes. They were told to listen to the relevant message, while ignoring the irrelevant message, and to repeat each word as soon as they heard it. After about four or five minutes, the participant’s name was included in the irrelevant message. After the messages ended, the participants were then told to answer a questionnaire about the irrelevant message.

Their results were significant. Only twenty percent of subjects who had high working memory span reported hearing their name in the irrelevant message while sixty-five percent of those with low working memory span reported hearing their name. However, subjects with low-span working memory had twice as much errors in their task of shadowing as those with high-span working memory. The researchers did check to see if there were any group differences in shadowing errors one or two words before the participant’s name was said in order to determine if low-span subjects detected their name more simply because they were paying attention to the irrelevant message at an opportune time, but there was no significant difference. They did find a difference in shadowing errors during the presentation of the name, which suggests that hearing one’s name distracted those of low-span subjects more.

The researchers determined that their results either show that working memory capacity drives inhibitory ability, or vice versa. They state that their finds are important because it demonstrates how critical working memory is for selective attention activities, such as dichotic listening.

Barbara Moran from Boston University ( was also interested in what made some people better than others at tuning out other conversations. But instead of looking at the effects of working memory, she turned to people’s musical background.

In order to research this, Moran read about a study done by Kidd and Swaminathan that looked into whether or not musicians can better discriminate between conversations and listen to only one than normal people. In order to test this, the scientists had twelve musicians, who had a minimum of ten years of training and were actively practicing music, and twelve non-musicians. All of them wore a pair of headphones and were directed to pick out the target voice that sounded like it was coming from straight ahead of them, out of several different voices coming from all different directions.

As Moran and the researchers suspected, the musicians performed better at the task than the non-musicians did. However, the study did not stop there. Swaminathan wanted to see if this difference was due to the signal musicians have been trained to pick up. In order to test this, he played the voices backwards, so the words were unrecognizable. This time, all the participants performed about the same. To the researchers, this meant that the musician’s enhanced ability is not because they can hear better, but rather because they are able to focus a lot more on one stream of sound among others, meaning their enhanced ability is because of how their brains process the signal.

While study had significant results, it did not answer whether musicians have this enhanced ability when they are born or if they gain it throughout training.

Before reading these two articles, I did not think of the cocktail party phenomenon as an experience that varied amongst people. Truthfully, it was simply a scientific term that I learned about in almost every psychology class that I have ever taken. So, because I did not give it much thought, I simply believed it was a thing that everyone experienced in the same way in order to allow us to hear what we need to hear and not be overstimulated. However, that is most certainly not the case, as we do not experience really anything the same way as everybody else. I personally believe that perception is very interesting to think about since not two people see, hear, feel, or taste exactly the same thing. Our differences certainly explains a lot to why everyone is so different from one another and why we all respond to things differently.

As far as the cocktail party phenomenon goes, I believe that there are many factors that come into play when talking why people experience it differently. If my sensation and perception class taught me anything, there is never just one right explanation. I think the two articles I read are just the tip of the iceberg, one that I feel is really cool (see what I did there?). Personally, the theory that working memory plans a role into it is very interesting. Originally, I would have thought that have a higher span would allow someone to pay attention to more of everything that is being said. But, once relating it to one’s level and direction of attention, it makes sense that those with low-span would be worse at inhibiting other speech. Because if someone is good at repeating what they hear back, they likely will be more encouraged to stay focused solely on the task, because they are good at it, and therefore would have a higher inhibitory ability. But the musicians being better at it also makes sense because they have to be able to connect with multiple voices while still focusing on one in order to be good at their job. However, to me it seems that musicians would be more likely to have a higher working memory span because they often have to remember a lot of last-minute changes to their performance when things do not go according to plan.

All this leads me to believe that there is not one variable at play here, and that one’s ability to tune out other conversations while focusing only on one depends on a wide range of factors, which we have yet to discover.

To Sleep Or Not To Sleep?




From an early age, people in America are taught that being busy is good. The more you do in a day, the better; in fact, it even means you are a more interesting person because you are busy. While this means people are participating more in academics, extracurriculars, and their jobs, it also means that people have less free time. This decrease in spare time results in people scrabbling to find the time to hang out with friends, relax, exercise, and sometimes even eat. So, in order to juggle everything that society demands of them, people are finding activities in their lives to limit or eliminate in order to fit everything else into a mere twenty-four hours. Unfortunately, most people choose to get less sleep.

A decrease in the amount of sleep one gets can have very negative impacts on the person’s life. For example, plenty of articles have stated that a lack of sleep can cause relationship stress, an increase in the chance of getting sick or developing cancer, a lack of alertness, an increase in depression and/or anxiety, and a decrease in quality of life. It can even cause people to gain more weight. Two articles in particular mention how a lack of sleep can influence people’s ability to think, which results in them making mistakes, some of which are minor, and others are life-changing.

An article on WebMD ( states that sleep improves memory and learning capabilities. In order to defend their statement, they mentioned the fact that when people are sleep deprived, they feel foggy. They say this is because of the following three main reasons:

  1. Being tired causes you to process your thoughts slower. This is because sleep deprivation makes it harder to stay alert and concentrate, making you more easily confused and therefore hindering your ability to do certain tasks. Being tired also impairs judgment and makes it hard to make decisions.
  2. Lacking excessive sleep hurts your memory. Research suggests that the nerve connections which help make our memories are reinforced during sleep. On top of that, it being hard to stay focused further weakens your capabilities of remembering things.
  3. Bad or little sleep can make learning difficult. Because you cannot focus as well when you are tired than when you are awake, it is harder to pay attention and therefore harder to learn. And because being tired affects your memory, it makes remembering what you do manage to learn harder.

The WebMD finishes the main section of its article with what they seem to believe to be the most significant effect that being sleep deprived has on a person: a slowed reaction time. They state the fact that at least 100,000 car crashes every year are because of drivers falling asleep at the wheel or simply being tired and having a slower reaction time. This, they note, makes up 20% of all car accidents.

For the last few paragraphs, the article mentions one last negative effect that being tired can have on someone and they gave a tip on how to tell if sleepiness is a problem or not for their readers. At first glance, this article seemed very well done. It was nicely written, well organized, and had several quotes from reputable sources. However, the WebMD did not mention how they knew that being sleep deprived was the cause of all these negative things people were going through in their lives, and therefore does not seem to be backed up by research.

In order to try to find some actual science supporting WebMD article’s claim, I turned to peer-reviewed journal articles. There was one (Paynet: that I found that studied the effects of sleep deprivation on item and associative recognition memory. This article described a study that had 26 participants, ages 22-37 years old, all of whom were physically and psychologically healthy, and free of drugs. For a week before the experiment, subjects had to sleep between 6 and 10 hours a night, log their sleep schedule, avoid taking naps, not drink, or use drugs or caffeine. From there, the subject spent six consecutive nights at the lab. All subjects were randomized into a total sleep deprivation condition or a control condition. Starting on day 3 at the lab, the experimental condition group stayed awake for 62 hours. At 9 hours awake, they took a baseline test and at 57 hours awake they took their second test. After two recovery nights with ten hours of sleep each night, they took their recovery test. Those in the control group took tests at the same times but had ten hours of sleep every night.

The results were significant. For the baseline and recovery test, both item recognition and associative recognition accuracy levels were about the same for the two groups. However, the sleep deprived group showed a huge drop in accuracy, relative to the control subjects, on the second test. There was no significant difference between the two groups on the second test for reaction time.

The results found in this study support most of the facts brought forth in the WebMD article. It does raise a concern about whether or not having slower reaction times because you’re tired is the reason why people get in more accidents when they are sleep deprived, but the rest of the data does seem to line up.

Overall, this study was very well done. The journal article was well-organized and appropriately reported the experiment that was done. That being said, it was very disappointing to see how small their subject size was.

I believe this topic is really important to further research and discuss; because as our society is involving, people are getting less and less sleep. Unfortunately, not only are the effects of sleep deprivation interesting, they could potentially be detrimental to our society, as many of the effects are seeming to affect people in bad ways, and according to some articles, have been the cause of some deadly car accidents.

So, everyone, please get some sleep!