Author Archives: rguenthe

Is Baby Talk Really Necessary?

Everyone is familiar with the term ‘baby talk’ and I am sure everyone has been guilty of baby talk at least once or twice in their life. I know I use baby talk every time I talk to my nieces and nephews, I even use baby talk when talking to my dogs! We speak more slowly, speak in almost a sing-a-long, and use more “cutesy” words (like tummy) because we believe that talking like this will get babies to understand us better. But is that really the case? According to research from the Psychological Science, a journal located in the Association of Psychological Science, mothers who think they are speaking more clearly to their children by using ‘baby talk’ may actually be speaking less clearly than they do with adults.

This article on mother’s baby talk relates back to phonology and how children learn language even if their communication with adults is entirely non-linguistic (Reisburg, 352). They create an inventive language that has many of the formal structures routinely seen in the world’s existing language. The pattern of the emergence of this inventive language follows the same sequence that is observed in ordinary language learning. It is suggested that children are born with brain structures that somehow define the broad structure of human language. This is why language learning is so fast and why learning can advance with truly minimal input.

We usually try to pronounce sounds more distinctly when there is a chance that the listener will not understand us. Take talking on a noisy telephone for example. This is the same thing parents do when addressing children, it is an unconscious attempt to help their children learn the sounds of the language. Parents will open their mouth more when saying “ah” to a child thinking it makes it easier for the child to distinguish this sound from others. There has not been that much evidence for this but two research teams decided to put this hypothesis to test.

The researchers recorded 22 Japanese mothers talking to their children who were of the age of 18 to 24 months and to an experimenter. They spent 5 years interpreting 14 hours of speech and marking specific aspects of the speech including the beginnings and ends of consonants, vowels, and phrases. Next, the researchers applied techniques they had developed to measure acoustic similarity between any two syllables, like ‘pa’ and ‘ba’, ‘po’ and ‘bo.’ The results showed that mothers spoke slightly LESS clearly when talking to their child than to the experimenter. Which to me is very surprising!


However, just because the mothers speak less clearly does not mean that it effects their child’s learning acquisition. It actually sheds light on to why babies seem to be so much better at learning the distinctive sounds of their language than adults are. These results suggest that the secret to infant’s language learning might be the infant themselves. It is truly remarkable that babies can pick up sounds from people who are speaking less clearly to them than with adults.

This article is very interesting because all this time we think we are helping children understand what we are saying by speaking slower. I think a big part of “baby talk” we have to put into consideration though is that a lot of the reasons we speak in such a tone to infants is to gain their attention. I definitely think a baby is more likely to pay attention to someone talking in a more loving way than in a more monotone way like they do with adults. This research helps a lot in gaining a larger perspective on the nature of how children acquire their native language.

9/11…Do you remember where you were?

When asked where you were on the day of 9/11, are you able to give an accurate answer? I know when I think of that day I think I can remember it perfectly…I was in the classroom of my elementary school sitting at my desk when an announcement came on saying we were all getting picked up early by our parents, my mom then came and picked me up and we went to my dad’s work and that is when I saw the Twin Towers on the television. I think I remember exactly where I was on that day but researchers can prove otherwise.

Research suggest we do forget. We don’t forget the dead or the importance of the moment, we forget the details surrounding that day. The emotional and vivid memory people hold on to from that day is what is known as a flashbulb memory. Flashbulb memories were first studied by Roger Brown and James Kulik in 1977 after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963.  In this study they interviewed 80 Americans and asked them to answer questions about 10 events (9 of them were assassinations and the last event was a personal event they selected that caused self-shock). They also were asked how much they rehearsed these events with other people and with themselves in their head. The results of this study showed that flashbulb memories are formed in situations that cause us to become surprised or highly emotional, they are maintained through rehearsal with others and privately, they differ from other memories because they last longer and are more vivid, and are made through a specialized neural mechanism which stores information permanently in a unique memory system.

The problem with flashbulb memories are that they wear away over time even though we still think they are crystal clear. I may not rehearse where I was at the time of 9/11 over and over again to people but I know that every year on 9/11 I watch the documentaries on television and rehearse to myself where I was that day. Some of my family also lives in New York which could have something to do with how vivid my memory of that day is because it has another important meaning to it.

Days after the 9/11 attacks, psychologists started interviewing and surveying people. The day right after the attack, September 12, researchers from Duke asked 54 Duke Undergraduates questions about where they were when they heard about the attacks. They also asked them to provide memories for a few everyday events. After one week, six weeks, or 32 weeks, the students came back to answer the same set of questions. Researchers saw that the number of consistent details about the event dropped from 12 details the day after it happened to 8 details 32 weeks after it happened. Yet people felt extremely confident in their recall.

This is what makes flashbulb memories so different from regular memories. We are so much more confident about our flashbulb memories. People even claimed to have seen live footage of the first plane hitting one of the towers even though that video was not broadcasted until days after the attack. Which makes me think my memory of seeing the towers on the television may not be accurate, maybe I have just remembered seeing the same picture on the TV for so many years I see it as though it happened that very day.

A big pattern in these memories is emotion. I was only in the first grade when this happened so when you think it about I really had no idea what was going on. But because it was such a huge and traumatic event in history, I think the reason why my memory has become so vivid is because I have become older and learned more about the details about that event and have become more emotionally involved in what happened that day. There is even proof that the amygdala, the area in the brain involved in emotion, is more active when retrieving memories than the posterior parahippocampus, the brain region involved with contextual details. Researchers have even mentioned when something is emotional, people tend to focus on just the emotional stimulus, failing to store broader details in memory. This is so hard to believe when it feels like we are literally replaying these important events and memories in our heads. They seem to exist, but do they actually?




Misattribution effect is when a memory is distorted because of the source, context, or our imagination. We may not recall the proper source of the memory but we can recall the memory, so a false memory is created to explain the source.  If the misattribution effect is due to context we may overlap memories or conjoin them because the memories separately are incomplete. Our imagination can also cause misattributions, because by simply imagining ourselves doing something we become more convinced that it actually happened. Misattribution occurs when a true aspect of a memory is altered and becomes false.

An article by William James discusses how our memories can get distorted and invented. In the article it talks about the story of a psychologist, named Donald M. Thomson, who was convicted of being a rapist when in reality at the time of the rape he was on a television show to discuss the psychology of eyewitness testimony. What had happened was the victim had been watching Thomson’s television broadcast just before being attacked so his face was confused with the attackers.

Donald Thomson’s charges were dropped but some have not been so lucky. 40 different United States miscarriages of justice have relied on eye-witness testimony and many of these falsely convicted people serve many years in prison or even face the death penalty.  When a memory is “misattributed” some original true aspect of a memory becomes distorted through time, space or circumstances.

When misattributions are not so disastrous they occur in our everyday lives. An example would be someone saying that they read something in the newspaper, when in reality a friend told them about it. Memories sometimes blend together so faces and circumstances get merged.

Another form of misattribution is unintentional plagiarism which is when we attribute an idea or memory to ourselves that really belongs to someone else. Memories often have some basis in reality, whether we’ve mixed up some details or even the memory’s source but sometimes they are just completely false and we make them up.

Misattributions can be disturbing to us because the sense of who we are comes from our experiences and what we remember. Misattributions can be sometimes useful to us though. The ability to extract, abstract and generalize our experiences enables us to apply lessons we’ve learnt in one domain to another.

Some studies have been created to show proof of misattribution. For example, in the classic study conducted by James Deese at Johns Hopkins University, participants are given lists of semantically related words like red, green, brown and blue. Later they have to try and recall them, at which point they often recall related words that were not actually presented, like purple or black. This is an example of False Memory misattribution. Another example is a study where participants were asked either to imagine performing an action or actually asked to perform it, like breaking a toothpick. Sometime later they went through the same process again. Then, later still they were asked whether they had performed that action or just imagined it. Those who imagined the actions more frequently the second time were more likely to think they’d actually performed the actions the first time.

Misattribution is usually harmless but in the case that something like what happened to Donald Thomson; that is scary. The fact that some people can get the death sentence for being accused of something that someone accidently misremembered or imagined is really serious. I think in instances like this when police ask victims to identify their suspects in a lineup they should present them individually instead of all together because that just increases the chances of misattribution happening.


Brain Apps- Put your mind to the test

10 Best Apps to Train Your Brain

This particular article caught my eye because it was dealing with apps that can improve cognitive functioning. I think this is very essential because society today is all about technology. All around people are constantly on their computers, phones, and many other devices and I think it is important that something is being done to put this to our advantage and make a positive outcome from it. In class and in our readings we are discussing the different parts of the brain and their functions. One important structure of the brain is the limbic system and located in the limbic system is the amygdala and the hippocampus.  Both of these structures are essential for learning and memory. The amygdala plays a key role in emotional processing and the hippocampus is involved in the creation of long-term memory and spatial memory.

This article states that apps can help promote mental health through participation in activities designed to reduce symptoms and improve psychological functioning. An example of an app that aims to increase cognitive functioning is Lumosity. Lumosity is said to improve memory, problem solving skills, and processing speed which helps people stay fit mentally. People who are working on improving memory and other functions will likely help reduce their risks of getting Alzheimer’s disease.  People who play video games for hours in a day or who text constantly will not help improve their mental health, however, people who play computer games for a few minutes a day can literally change your mind. In class, we have also discussed how when you see an object once you recognize it better the second time. This is a phenomenon called repetition priming that deals with word processing and many other things. The same phenomenon applies for these cognitive apps, the more you do something the more available that pathway is. The goal of these apps is to train your brain! Not to just play video games. These brain apps cannot make you smarter or happier but can help perform certain tasks better or have more control over your emotional state and I think that is very important. There may not be a drastic transformation but it is good for you and still very fun.

I think this article is very reliable because it has trustworthy sources and is also coming from a trustworthy site, CNN. One of the sources who gave good feedback about brain apps was Nadine Kaslow who is the professor and vice chair at Emory University’s Department of Psychiatry and also the president of the American Psychological Association. Also, many of these apps were designed by neuroscientists. People today are all about technology and constantly being on social media, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I think it is important to emphasize that just because these apps have positive outcomes does not mean that this gives people an excuse to be on their phones constantly. Technology should be used in moderation. People who are on their electronics always have the answers right in front of them on the internet which makes them lack deep-thinking skills. So how do you expect to develop cognitively without challenging yourself? Brain apps are a good way to fool people into exercising their brain in a fun and easy way. It also nice to know that apps like these could help avoid mental disorders in the future.