Author Archives: psychicdro34

The Glitch In The Matrix

Ever gone to a place that you swear you have never been before but seems so familiar to you as if you’ve seen it on your dreams or seen a vision of it? This weird phenomenon that makes us feel like we could see visions of the future is called Deja Vu. I remember struggling with making sense of this phenomenon as a kid, and I believe that either some of us could see into the future or we live our lives over and over again. I remember talking to my uncle one afternoon about my a Déjà vu experience, and he explained that in the Bible says that God has given us gifts and that maybe my gift is to “see” the future. Later that night I was thinking about the possibility of living in a simulation after and that somehow I changed something that was supposed to occur in the simulation and that’s why I experience Déjà vu. Either way, I noticed that my people had a hard time understanding this phenomenon and why it occurred.

Deja vu, which is a French phrase that means “ already seen,” is a memory phenomenon where you are in a scenario similar to an actual memory but failed actually to retrieve it. The Déjà vu phenomenon is very similar to the “ tip of the tongue” phenomenon. As professor Cleary from Colorado State University stated, “We cannot consciously remember the prior scene, but our brains recognize the similarity. The information comes through as the unsettling feeling that we’ve been there before, but we can’t pin down when or why.” Cleary and her colleagues were able to support their claim by making participants experience Déjà vu by exposing them to a scene that is spatially familiar to a prior one.

But how come some of us feel like we can predict what is going to happen next during a Déjà vu experience? Cleary and Claxon were both interested in studying the supposed relationship between déjà vu and feelings of premonition. Investigating the relationship, Cleary and Claxon made subjects participate in an active video scene where the individual was moved through several turns. After the video, the subjects were shown to another similar dynamic video that was spatially mapped to the previous one to create a Déjà vu feeling. Before the video ended though, participants were asked if they were experiencing Déjà vu, and whether they feel like they knew the direction of the next turn. According to the results, half of the participants reported having a strong prediction during Déjà vu, but they were no more likely to give the right prediction than a random prediction.

It turns out that we don’t have superpowers and can predict the future just because we have Déjà vu. Cleary and Claxon’s experiment also reminds us that the feeling of familiarity doesn’t always mean that you are correct. The feeling of familiarity can fool us into feeling confident that we can predict the future. So next time you experience a Déjà vu experience, choose the red pill and remind yourself that we are not living inside a simulation and its just a failure in retrieving a source memory.

Bilingual Babies and Effect on Attention

 

I was born in a bilingual household although my family in Puerto Rico spoke predominantly Spanish. I was also taught in school how to speak and write English, which I found useful after I moved to the United States. Being bilingual has given me the advantage in communication with people from different countries without difficulties in transitioning languages and has made it easier for me to adapt to different cultures and make new friends. Currently, my girlfriend and I have been thinking about our possible future. Like most people that fall in love, we talked about marriage and possibly having kids. We came to an interesting question that most bilingual couples have asked before… should we raise our kids speaking English or both Spanish and English? Would it negatively affect the child if we teach him or her two languages at the same time? Would they even benefit from learning Spanish knowing that the United States people mostly speak English? All of these intriguing questions have been asked before, and interestingly a new finding has shown that raising babies bilingually can be beneficial.

Kyle J. Comishen, Ellen Bialystok, and Scott A. Adler published a paper in Developmental Science about how bilingualism affects selective attention and strategy among babies by measuring eye movements. A sample of infants was divided into two groups, infants that were exposed to a monolingual environment (only one language) and infants that were exposed to a bilingual environment (two languages). Two studies were done in which the babies were put in a crib with a camera that recorded eye movement and a screen which displayed images. In the first study both the bilingual and monolingual exposed babies were shown pictures in the center of the screen showing different colors that predicted if another image was going to pop out on the left or right of the screen. The second study both groups were exposed to the same pattern, but the pattern should change halfway through the session.

The results show that there wasn’t any difference between the babies that were exposed to one language and babies that were exposed two languages in the first study, but bilingually expose infants on the second study performed better than monolingually exposed infants. The researchers explain that the experience of paying attention to a complex environment where babies have to process and contrast two languages at the same time could be responsible why babies exposed to a bilingual environment have greater attention control than babies in the non-bilingual environment. Bialystok, the co-senior author of the study, explains why these results are so exciting and important, “This study tells us that from the very earliest stage of development, the networks that are the basis for developing attention are forming differently in infants who are being raised in a bilingual environment. Why is that important? It’s because attention is the basis for all cognition.”

I am now even more confident raising my future child speaking both Spanish and English based on these findings and other related research. It has been shown that raising a kid in a bilingual environment does not negatively affect the child and can be beneficial. Another interesting question relating to child-development is how would a baby be affected in an environment with two different religious beliefs? How about babies that are exposed to more than two languages or different cultures? Either way, I hope you all find it helpful that exposing your child to two different languages would not put your baby in a disadvantage.

Attention on The Road: Is Talking on the Phone Always Dangerous While Driving?

 

Ok, so we can all agree that we know at least one person who texts and drives or just loves talking on the phone with people while driving. I do not know about you, but I get really nervous when I am the passenger, especially when I see the driver texting and watching videos on their cellphone. If being on your cellphone is distracting, then obviously it should be turned off while you are driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, distractions are the leading cause of most fatal car accidents (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2015). This is pretty scary, but I know that some people such as business owners cannot simply turn off their phone while driving because they are regularly called. Some may argue that people can talk on the phone while driving without any issues but texting, on the other hand, is too distracting. So, is talking on the phone less dangerous than texting on the phone? How does this affect our attention while driving?

There was a recent study done by Thomas A. Dingus and his colleagues that expands the research on how engagements in primarily cognitive secondary tasks that do not interfere with visual-manual demands correlate with car accidents (Thomas et al.,2019). According to the research, “primarily cognitive secondary task generally refers to occasions during which the driver’s attention is directed away from the primary tasks associated with safely controlling a vehicle by a task that does not place apparent visual-manual demands on the driver” (Thomas et al.,2019). Thomas and his colleagues used previous data from 3,454 drivers that volunteered to be monitored using in-vehicle cameras as part of the Second Strategic Highway Research Program Naturalistic Driving Study (SHRP 2). Their results indicate that although secondary tasks that do not require the use of hands and/or eyes can affect performance, the effect on crash risk is less severe than the secondary task that did. Surprisingly, conversations using handsfree cellphones may have no associated increase in crash risk and in some cases, it could even be associated with a lower risk! Thomas and his colleagues explain that there are several reasons why a decrease in driver performance during cognitive engagement may not result in a corresponding increase in crash risk. One of the reasons might be that engagement in cognitive secondary task might keep us alert.

The findings are shocking to me, but let’s keep in mind the limitations. First, primary cognitive distraction is very difficult to measure using the data given by the SHRP 2 because it is challenging to know what is going on inside the driver’s mind without any invasive instrumentation. For instance, how could the researchers measure distractions such as mind-wandering with just by observing the videos? Also, this study did not include the degree to which off-road glances could affect a drivers’ risk in a crash when performing primarily cognitive secondary tasks.

So, should we be ok with driving and speaking on the phone? Well, I say be smart and play it safe. If you are going to drive for a relatively short distance, then you should turn off your phone to prevent any distractions or temptations of texting and driving. If you are a very busy person, such as do people that run a business, and are driving at long distance, remember to use hands-free and keep your eyes on the road and your hands on the wheel. Remember that you are not just endangering yourself, but your loves ones that in the passenger’s seat when you are being distracted and driving.

 

Reference 

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 2015National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2015). 2015 Motor Vehicle Crashes: Overview. Traffic Safety Facts Research Note (Report No. DOT HS 812 318). Washington, DC: NHTSA’s National Center for Statistics and Analysis. Retrieved from <https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/812318>.

 

Thomas A. Dingus, Justin M. Owens, Feng Guo, Youjia Fang, Miguel Perez, Julie McClafferty, Mindy Buchanan-King, Gregory M. Fitch. The prevalence of and crash risk associated with primarily cognitive secondary tasksSafety Science, 2019; DOI: 10.1016/j.ssci.2019.01.005

Don’t Stress On Failing: Keep on Winning!

 

If you are like me, you probably have “choked” before during a difficult final exam, even when you have studied well before. Even the thought of doing a 20-minute project presentation gives you anxiety because you are afraid that you’ll mess up and not get that grade that you wanted. Luckily, there has been new research published in the Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience journal about a new technique that decreases the chances of choking during a high-stakes task. Simon Dunne and his colleagues figured out that by changing the way we think about what is at stake, it could influence the possibility of choking under high pressure (Simon, Vikram, Joseph & John, 2019). During the study, researchers would first identify the participants that were more “loss averse,” people that are more worried about not losing than winning, through a gambling game. After the gambling activity, participants were guided to complete a computer-based task that required fine motor skills and coordination. As researchers increased the monetary stakes, the participants would fall into higher pressure and had a higher chance to choke, especially the participants that were more loss averse.

 

The scientist also found a difference between the participants that cared more about not losing money and the participants that cared more about winning money when they observed the participants through an MRI.  As the monetary stake increased, the activity level on the ventral striatum area intensely decreased and was not communicating to the motor control regions of the brain as well when compared to the less loss averse participants. Simon Dune and his colleagues predicted that if participants would pretend that they were performing to prevent losing their money instead of winning, then they would perform better at their task and would be less likely to choke. Surprisingly, participants that were identified to have a higher loss averse did significantly better when they had a “perform to keep the money” mindset than when they had a “preform to win money” mindset. This was also true to the participants that were less loss averse.

It is impressive how just by consciously changing the way you perceive what is at stake, it can make a difference in how well you might perform under pressure. It is also notable how Simon Dune and his colleagues were able to predict an observable behavior (task performance) by something intangible (reappraisal). We should even notice how neuroimaging techniques; such as the MRI that was used in the experiment, has helped cognitive psychologist identify where specific cognitive functions occur in the brain. Hopefully with further research involving students could give us a more precise answer if the “reappraisal technique” can apply to students like us.

These findings are all interesting, and although further research is needed to find out if it applies to students, it is understandable how the technique of reappraisal can be beneficial to a student. We can all agree that most of us would feel under pressure when a difficult final exam is responsible for a large portion of your grade. This means that your GPA is at stake and if you are like some of the people that are more worried about not failing, such as the participants that were more focused on not losing money, it could put you in a higher risk of choking. So, pretended that you already have the “A” on the exam and that you are just “performing to keep the “A.”  Just remember that you came this far, and you are a winner. Keep in mind that you are only performing to keep that “A” and that you will do just fine.

References

 

Simon Dunne, Vikram S Chib, Joseph Berleant, John P O’Doherty; Reappraisal of incentives ameliorates choking under pressure and is correlated with changes in the neural representations of incentives, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Volume 14, Issue 1, 4 January 2019, Pages 13–22, https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsy108