Author Archives: slistenb

Hmmm This Looks Familar

“Study hard, that’s the only way to become smarter!” So many of us have heard these words from our parents in hopes that we become the smartest people we can be. But is what they’ve been saying all along really true? Why it’s Smart to be Dumb an article by Eric Haseltine Ph.D, has concluded that maybe ignorance has some merit when it comes to making correct decisions. Recognmultiple choiceition heuristic is the main reason for this conclusion. When picking between two answers you’re more likely to choose the answer you’re most familiar with, and in most instances that’s the correct answer. This heuristic saves us time and energy that can be better spent doing other things.

To some, this idea can seem like just a lucky guess due to not knowing the right answer but the research shows that recognition heuristics can “achieve an equal or even higher inferential accuracy than more complex ones” (Pachur 2009). A study was done with older and younger adults to see if recognition heuristics could help them with decision making. The study was done by having both groups answer two questions: “Which American cities have the most inhabitants” and “Which two infectious diseases has a higher annual rate in Germany”. Afterwards they were asked which of the cities and diseases had they heard of before the experiment and tested on cognitive capacities. After gathering the data they concluded that recognition heuristics helped both groups give the correct answers when the individuals had no clue what the correct answer was to the question.

The article by Mr. Haseltine directly correlates with the study because they both point towards recognition heuristic being one of the best short cuts to seeming smarter than you actually may be. Your mind’s ability to choose quickly and accurately could be one of the reasons why mankind is still alive to this day. “If your ancestors had dawdled over recognition decisions such as “is that thing in the forest something I can eat, or something that can eat me?” they would never have actually gotten to be your ancestors because they wouldn’t have lived long enough to reproduce” (Haseltine 2010). This heuristic is not only a short cut but your brain evolving to keep you alive longer.

When discussing ignorance and recognition heuristics I think they go hand in hand. Knowing everything would cause our heuristics and our intelligence to battle against each other  causing us to second guess ourselves. In order for our naturally evolved heuristic to work we have to be a little ignorant and allow our mind to work. Therefore, Haseltine’s article directly hits the importance of recognition heuristics and how it’s supposed to be used.

I personally find this topic interesting because I realize that when taking multiple choice tests and quizzes, most people say stick with your gut decision. And when you don’t know too much about the topic you mainly do stick with your gut feeling. But when you have studied hard and feel confident that you know the subject you start to find yourself second guessing and looking at the next best answer rather than your gut answer.  This usually never works out for me and I end up getting the question wrong because I go with the second best guess rather than my gut feeling. My gut feeling is my natural recognition heuristic telling me that my mind recognizes the answer and although I’m unsure, I should listen to it. So the next time you’re taking a test and your get a gut feeling, remember it’s just your recognition heuristic telling you it recognizes an answer, and if you want to be correct studies show that you should go along with it.

– Haseltine, Eric. “Why It’s Smart to Be Dumb.” Psychology Today. Eric Haseltine, 10 Oct. 2010. Web. 13 Apr. 2015. <>.

– Pachur, T., Mata, R., & Schooler, L. J. (2009). Cognitive aging and the adaptive use of recognition in decision making. Psychology and Aging, 24(4), 901-915. doi:10.1037/a0017211

Life Hacks 101: How To Get Whatever You Want Using Heuristics

As young adults, many of us can look back into our past teenage years and rememberlife hacks a time when we asked for something knowing our parents would probably say no. Taking that risk was always hard because you knew the moment the idea came from your lips it would be shot down in a heartbeat, but you wouldn’t be able to live with yourself if you didn’t at least try. Well, after many studies have been done on heuristics and its effect on peoples’ responses, it’s been proven that anchoring and adjustment heuristics may have been the solution to you getting that belly button ring that you always wanted but mommy and daddy never allowed you to have.

Anchoring and adjusting heuristics are mental shortcuts used to ease difficult situations. Basically, some decisions are made by selecting a starting point and adjusting our estimates from there. Most of our estimates are rather conservative so we tend to adjust accordingly to what our anchor is. This is important because by using this heuristic wisely we can set ourselves up to gain an advantage over the peoples’ (in this case our parents) decisions we are trying to sway.

A two studies were done by Daniel Cervone of Stanford University and Phillip K. Peake of Smith College. One was with junior high school students, and the other with undergraduate students, both focusing on anchoring biases and judging of self-efficiency. The students were given tasks to perform and then put into three separate groups: high anchor, low anchor or no anchor at all. At the end of the task they were told to rate their self-efficacy. The results from the experiment show that anchoring biases had influenced the judgments on self-efficacy. “Those who were given a higher anchor judged themselves more efficacious than those who made this self-appraisal in relation to a low anchor”.

This study shows that anchoring and adjustment heuristics have an effect on the way people make judgments and how they decide different things. We tend to estimate/make decisions closer to whatever anchor we are given, and then adjust our thoughts from that point.  Nowparents you may be wondering “how is this going to help me convince my parents to get me the newest Jordan’s?” Well you’re in luck! That is where the adjustment piece fits in. By giving your parents a high anchor that you know for sure will be shot down, then offering the solution of what you really want  (which in comparison to the high anchor will seem minor) you may be able to influence their decision. For example, if I want to get a small minor tattoo on my shoulder I won’t just ask for that knowing it’ll probably be turned down. I’ll offer a high anchor like “Mom, hey I was thinking, I really like back tattoos, can I get a huge lower back tattoo?” (Which in my mom’s case is heavily frowned upon) and after that gets rejected I’ll adjust the offer and bring up the idea of “Well since I can’t get that can I get a one small music note on my shoulder instead?” This adjusted offer will get more consideration after following the high anchor.

The article was in The Personality and Social Psychology Journal, therefore it was copy written by the APA. It was written in research format with an introduction, procedure/materials section, results section, discussion section and others. It even included some graphs of the results that were found. I believe it is a very reliable study with information that can be very useful.

Overall, heuristics are used every day whether it be with your family, or outside sources trying to change your mind on things. Using them to your advantage is one of the smartest things you can do especially when you’re a teenager who rarely gets what you truly want. Heuristics are here to help, and as long as you use them wisely, the sky is the limit!


Cervone, Daniel; Peake, Philip K., Anchoring, efficacy, and action: The influence of judgmental heuristics on self-efficacy judgments and behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 50(3), Mar 1986, 492-501.

Am I Dreaming or Did That Just Happen??

Dreams have forever been a way for us to escape from reality into a perfect subconscious world created by ourselves. There have been plenty of times where I’ve woken up from the most pleasant dreams and tried to fall asleep again to complete them. Sometimes you’re able to hold on to them and remember every detail and sometimes the memory disappears as quickly as the morning comes. But what is it that makes our dreams possible you may ask? The simple answer is the cognitive function of memory.dream

According to Dreams and Memory, an article written by Patrick McNamara PhD. in 2013, dreams are nothing but fragments of memory being pieced together in your subconscious mind. Dreaming occurs when a person reaches rapid eye movement sleep or REM sleep. It is theorized that while you’re in this stage your mind enters your memories and creates a dream narrative based off of your wishes, goals, subconscious feelings etc.  No real studies have been done on the memory process and dreaming, only because your conscious mind uses memory as well. Therefore it’s hard to say memory is the sole cause of dreaming.

Dr. McNamara also went into detail about a fellow psychologist named Professor Sue Llewellyn, who proposed that the cognitive system in REM dreaming used the same ancient art of memory techniques which helped to improve memory. Basically, because REM dreaming uses episodic memory networks, semantic networks, dreams are retained in the hippocampus (the main center for memory), and not to mention, they allow for encoding during REM-NREM sleep cycles, they over all can improve and sharpen our memory. This theory has not been tested and proves to be quite difficult to test, but has opened the doors for a lot of discussion and new theories to come out of the psychology world. In fact there has already been debates about whether there is clear evidence to say loss of dreaming results in memory deficits. There have been studies on people who claim to have never had dreams and when tested have shown that their memories are intact. One of the difficult things about doing an experiment on this matter is the fact that it will be very hard to try and find someone who truly does not have the ability to dream.

Overall, I found this article to be very interesting and relevant because memories and dreams in my book go hand in hand. I’m always dreaming and recognizing either people I have seen or places that I’ve been in the past. I’ve always found it quite interesting that when you’re watching a movie or something before bed, even reading a book, something that is actively engaging your mind, your memory somehow holds on to it and is able to incorporate it into your dreams. Another thing that interests me about dreams is that fact that sometimes you can remember the entire thing vividly with no mistakes, but sometimes you can only remember small fragments of it and as the day goes on you lose those fragments as well. Because this article was not a research experiment, there were not many facts to report, it was mostly theories that different psychologist had on the matter. I thought it was a well informed and written article which was able to break down the theories so that the audience could clearly understand what was happening. But it did bring up a lot of good points and ideas to the table that we can think about in class when we talk more about memory and how it works. Dreams and interpretations of dreams will always be a mysterious topic for psychologist and scientist alike, but it’s because of that mysteriousness that makes the subject of dreams and memory even more exciting.

Better Vocabulary Leads To Less Cognitive Impairment


After searching all over the web, I finally found this interesting article which linked together having a bad vocabulary and cognitive impairment. I found this interesting because where I’m from, having the best vocab isn’t the “coolest” thing. By choosing to live without a good vocabulary you not only hurt your chances to be a productive member of society, but you also put yourself at risk for cognitive impairments later on down the line.

The article talked about a study that was done at the University of Santiago de Compostela, headed by Cristina Lojo Seoane. The study focused on the idea of cognitive reserve, which is the brain’s ability to compensate for its loss of functions. It was theorized that by increasing the capacity of the cognitive reserve you will be able to compensate more when certain functions are loss. With this case, increasing capacity will be judged by the participant’s intelligence. With the help of many intelligence tests and determining the participant’s vocabulary level they hope to determine their intelligence.

The study was done on a total of 326 subjects over the age of 50. Of that population 222 were healthy and 104 were with mild cognitive impairment. The researchers not only took into account their vocab strength but years in school, their jobs and the complexity of their reading habits. They used specific tests such as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test as other tools to indicate their intelligence levels. At the end of the study, their conclusion stated that “a higher level of vocabulary, as a measure of cognitive reserve, can protect against cognitive impairment”.

This study/topic is very important because cognitive impairment can lead to serious diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, and others. Although it can sometimes just be a part of the normal aging process, we do a lot in this day and age to try to stay sharp into our older ages. By looking into and researching what can be done to slow, if even prevent cognitive impairment from an earlier age I’m sure people of all ages would begin to value not only education more, but put more value into having a better vocabulary as well.

As for the source, it came from Science Daily, which is a highly recommended and trusted website. They didn’t really go into detail about the tests and whether there were any issues within the study. If the article could’ve been written better I would’ve asked for it to be longer so it could incorporate more details so I could have a better understanding of what the researchers were trying to accomplish. In my opinion, they were trying to test intelligence and I feel as though there are many other ways to do that. So although having a better vocabulary may be the start to helping the problem, I feel like there are so many other ways to add on and help as well. I feel as though this topic will definitely become a big research topic because people are afraid of the complications that come with aging. If they can avoid some of these complications I’m sure they’ll do whatever has to be done, even if it means taking more time to read the dictionary to add more words to their vocab.