Author Archives: npalacio

Humanitarian Work and Heuristics

Over the course of the semester, we have often discussed heuristics and how they can affect our decision making in the real world. One person who has also been interested in the topics of heuristics and decision making is Paulo Goncalves, a professor at the University of Lugano in Switzerland and the academic Director Master of Advanced Studies in Humanitarian Logistics at MIT. In this essay, Goncalves describes how heuristics can impact decisions that are made in the very important area of humanitarian relief work. For instance, he conducted a study with his MBA students where half were told that 25% of a city’s structures were destroyed in an earthquake and the other half were told that 75% of the structures had been destroyed. After receiving this information, they were asked how many people needed assistance, how confident are you in your estimate (percentage), and generate a range for your estimate (minimum and maximum). Interestingly, Professor Goncalves found that the students who had previously been told that 25% of the cities structure had been destroyed gave far lower numbers to answer all three of the questions than students who had been told 75% of the cities structures had been destroyed. Mr. Goncalves describes this result as the anchoring and adjustment heuristic coming in to play. The students use the percentage of the city’s structures destroyed as an anchor for their answer, even though it is irrelevant to the questions of how many people will need assistance, their confidence in their estimate, and the range for their estimate. I think this study is interesting because it shows how important it is to understand when heuristics are having a negative impact on our decision-making, and to learn how to overcome them in those situations.

How do you know if a child has good language skills before they even understand language?

Language is arguably one of the most important cognitive abilities humans have. It is what allows us to communicate with one and other, convey emotions, and express emotions. That is why for cognitive psychology finding out what can impair a child’s ability to perform language skills is very important. The University of Chicago did a study to see if there are any indicators of future problems with learning language skills. First they looked at children from different economic statuses. In general, they found that economic status did not have an impact on future language capabilities. Although, they did find that how children learned language was different depending on their economic status. Then, they looked to see if they could predict language learning skills in infants based on the gestures they make. They videotaped children with their primary caregivers and were able to see that early gestures can be used to identify children with brain injuries that could lead to delay in language. The researchers also used what they saw to develop four hypotheses on language and learning development: early gestures can be a diagnostic for language delay, encouraging gestures can lead to children having a larger vocabulary when they start school, Diversified vocabulary use by caregivers can help children gain vocabulary and syntax, Specific word use can increase children’s understanding of numerical and special thinking. I think this article is interesting because it shows the importance of cognitive psychological study in the real world. It would make a huge difference in a child’s life if they can be identified as at risk of slow language learning before they can talk, this would allow them to get the help need immediately and not fall behind. Also, it would benefit any child if their parents understand the way to help them gain additional, more complex, language skills

The Need for Cognition in Cognitive Psychology

I have always been fascinated by how all the disciplines of psychology are related. As a result, I was interested when the need for cognition was brought up in class one day. The need for cognition is “the tendency for people to vary in the extent to which they engage in and enjoy effortful cognitive activities”. The need for cognition is a personality trait discussed in my social psychology class, so I wanted to explore more the effect it has on the cognitive processes we learn about in cognitive psychology.

In The need for cognition, the authors discuss how the need for cognition can lead to the creation of false memories, a topic we have discussed often in class. The reason for this is that people with a high need for cognition can make strong connections, connections that are so strong that they can believe they have seen or experienced something if it similar to something in there memory, even if they have not.

However, high need for cognition doesn’t always lead to inaccuracy according to the authors. High need for cognition can reduce the occurrence of another process that we have talked about often in class, priming. Individuals with a high need for cognition are less easily primed to believe something because they are more likely to think deeply about a topic.

Additionally, a cognitive study done on the effect of cognitive training (“brain training”) found that cognitive training was much more successful for people with a high need for cognition. This means that those who were more motivated to improve their cognitive skills (with a high need for cognition), where more successful at doing so. These included working-memory skills, which is a very important topic in cognitive psychology.

I think this shows greatly how important all aspects of psychology are important to each other. The studying of the same trait, the need for cognition, has led to many advancements in both social and cognitive psychology.


Artificial Intelligence and the Turing Test

In cognitive psychology, the human brain and how it functions is a constant source of fascination. One thing that has always interested researchers of the brain is how it sets us apart from other living organism and machines (such as computers). It is still not known whether computers, who have artificial intelligence, are capable of mimicking human intelligence. Artificial intelligence is defined as the intelligence exhibited by machines and software. One person who was interested in  the comparison between artificial and human intelligence was British mathematician Alan Turing. Turing is best known for his contributions to modern-day computer science and for inventing the machine that was able to break the Nazi enigma code during WWII. However, he is also extremely important in the study of artificial intelligence. In 1950, he proposed a question, can machines think? , which is considered the basis for studies in artificial intelligence. This question inspired what is known as the Turing Test for Machines.

The Turing test involves a computer talking with a human and trying to make the human believe they are talking with another human. The rule is that if the computer tricks 30% of the human judges into believing it is a human, it is considered to have passed the Turing Test. This summer there was a very exciting milestone in artificial intelligence and the Turing Test. It is believed that for the first time a computer passed the Turing test.

As this Washington Post article by Terrance McCoy describes, a computer developed by Russian scientists passed the Turing test at the 2014 Turing Test, held by the Royal Society in London. Fittingly, the event was held in honor of the 60th anniversary of Alan Turing’s death by suicide. The computer, named Eugene, managed to convince 33% of the judges at the event that they were talking to a 13-year-old from Odessa, Ukraine. However, there is some controversy because some have complained that the fact judges believed they were talking to someone speaking in their second language may have skewed the result. Despite this, Eugene’s success at the Turing test has gotten people talking about the possible repercussions of having machines with human intelligence. For instance, human intelligence in computers would be a worrying development in cybercrime and could change the relationships we have in the future, like in the movie Her, according to McCoy.

I think that as we learn about human cognitive processes in class this semester, it will be interesting to think about how these processes do or don’t separate from machines with artificial intelligence.