Author Archives: tmagarit

Cognitive Difference in the Male Brain

Competition in class is often a way for teachers to check children’s learning in a way that makes their students excited. For any competitive game, I remember many of my elementary school teachers would be forced to divide the class in half, which most often led to a “girl” team and a “boy” team. Although I didn’t notice it at the time, after reading this book chapter describing some of the early learning differences between boys and girls, I’ve had to reflect on why the results of those competitions always seemed so similar. 

I have always heard that girls mature much quicker than boys, which I felt was an adequate enough explanation for most of the delinquents at my schools being male. In her research regarding how to teach both girls and boys, however, the author reveals some of the causes for boys’ seeming lack of interest in school at an early age, the most interesting of which, to me, is how female-oriented teaching can exacerbate the problem. Many curriculums for young students focus on reading and writing, as well as speaking, all of which appeal to young females’ verbal superiority. Girls also develop a good verbal working memory before boys, and have much better episodic memory. Being that language is the first focus of learning for children, it is easy for young boys to be left behind at a very early age. Boys’ strengths lie much more in fact recall and spatial memory, while they often struggle verbally when compared to girls. When it comes to general memory in class, the author claims that “males connect action and perception, whereas females connect analysis and intuition (Ingalhalikar et al., 2014). What this means is that the teacher is using words as cues for memory, and females in the class can use the words to analyze and find appropriate memory. The males in the class need more concrete information or references to something they did in class. It is not necessarily that boys are not paying attention, but that the teacher used the wrong cues to help them remember”. When boys are not given cues which appeal to their cognitive strengths, they may lose interest or feel as though they cannot succeed academically, even though research shows that they will develop these skills naturally over time. In her conclusion, the author also points out that those boys whose brains do develop well verbally at an early age should not be discouraged socially, as they are often looked down upon for having interests in reading and writing. Rather, it is important to consider those cognitive differences as a result of both brain development and social conditioning, in order to identify where a student’s strengths lie, and how education for each type of brain can be improved. 


James, A. (2015). Cognitive differences. In Teaching the male brain (pp. 61-81). Thousand Oaks,, CA: Corwin doi: 10.4135/9781483393407.n6



Multitasking and Efficiency

While trying to adjust to this new world we have found ourselves in, I think most people have begun to add a lot to our to-do lists. When thinking about what is relevant to psychology now, I couldn’t help but start researching what might make us more efficient in this time. One of the things I found most interesting was the psychology of multitasking, as I have never been able to keep my attention on two things at once. Although I initially thought increasing my ability to multitask would be helpful with a larger workload, I quickly learned that the opposite might be the case.


It’s important to first define multitasking, as I always thought of it as the ability to divide focus. 

This article instead defines it as either:

  1. Performing two or more tasks simultaneously
  2. Switching back and forth from one thing to another
  3. Performing a number of tasks in rapid succession.

I liked these criteria in particular as they described the multiple ways in which one phenomenon can be expressed. Each definition essentially describes a state in which our brain is quickly changing what we are thinking about, without enough time to focus our full attention on any one thing. Because we are at our best when only taking in one form of stimulus at a time, we can be more efficient if our full attention is on a single task, rather than constantly having to be readjusted. 

The research described in the article was able to show that trying to change our focus in quick succession can actually diminish our ability to complete tasks as efficiently as we could. Our brain tries to sort incoming information with what the researchers termed “mental executive functions”, which organize our mental to-do list by how, when, and in what order we should try to accomplish our tasks. They described our process of switching between two tasks (the “executive control process) as having two stages:

  1. Goal shifting, in which we pick which task we want to accomplish, and 
  2. Role activation, in which we try to understand the rules and goals for our new task. 

These two stages may be triggered by small distractions that we may not even consider to be an additional task, such as listening to music or checking a text message. This is part of the reason texting or changing the music while driving can be so dangerous. While it may seem like a quick and simple task, changing our cognitive state can create a mental block with the capacity to reduce our productivity and focus by as much as 40%. 

The part of the article I found to be the most important was the description of the effects of multitasking on brain health. Although it is often assumed that frequent multitaskers are better at sorting out important information, researchers discovered that the opposite is the case. They also found that chronic multitasking has been shown to have a negative impact on our mental organization, whether multitasking or not. When given a single task, multitaskers were still found to be less effective and efficient, indicating that their cognitive processes were completely impaired. 

Although most may believe that teens and young adults may have an advantage over older generations, due to their heavier media multitasking, research shows that they are the most vulnerable to damage in their cognitive organization. This is due to the fact that younger minds are still developing their neural connections, which may be slowed by frequent distractions. 



A Conversation With Yourself

The idea of one’s own internal monologue is something most people are familiar with, the inner voice that streams our verbal thoughts while they are conscious, and is tied to our very own sense of self. When we discuss an internal monologue, even though not everyone’s thoughts run on this sort of system, it is something that is typically normal and isn’t seen as any cause for concern. It is even seen as healthy and good for our mental health, it helps us organize our thoughts, plan our actions, regulating emotions, etc. So, why is it that when our internal monologue becomes external, and we engage in speaking to ourselves, it is seen as negative and is often associated with mental illness? Most people who talk to themselves are even too embarrassed to admit they do so, because in most circumstances, self-talk remains internal. For some people who have schizophrenia, they may be observed carrying on conversations with the multiple voices that are in their head, out loud. However, this form of self-speech occurs with ownership of inner-speech being attributed to other people or forces outside the individual, unlike what occurs within typical self-speech.

The idea of talking to yourself out loud, I think, isn’t a concept anyone is particularly unfamiliar with. Whenever we get injured we exclaim an obscenity or say “ouch”, even at times when no one is around. When we read out a list, or we’re studying by ourselves and reading out loud, these are all things that can be seen as normal. Even research has been done to show that talking to ourselves out loud can be beneficial and improve our concentration and performance and lead us to success. Even how we refer to ourselves when using our inner monologue can affect our attitude and feeling and boost our confidence. In 2014, the University of Michigan’s Ethan Kross et al. conducted a study about the way we refer to ourselves, in first, second, or third person and its effect on our self confidence. The results showed that people who used second or third person were more confident than those who used first person when preparing for a public speech.  “Our findings are just a small part of a much larger, ongoing stream of research on self-talk, which is proving to have far-reaching implications. “Not only does non-first-person self-talk help people perform better under stress and help them get control of their emotions, it also helps them reason more wisely.”

Even when considering Piaget’s stages of development, and his observation of toddlers beginning to control their actions when they start to develop language. Associate professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin, Gary Lupyan, has studied how hearing ourselves speak can impact our memories. Using the feedback hypothesis, Lupyan wanted to test self-talk by asking participants to search for a common object among pictures of random items. They made some participants say the name of the item as they were looking for to see if saying the name aloud would help activate visual features. They found that when participants said the word out loud they were more likely to find the word faster.“My bet is that self-talk works best on problems where you’re trying to stay on task and there are possible distractions,” Lupyan said. “For tasks with a multi-step sequence, talking to yourself out loud can help you keep out distractions and remind yourself where you are.” Different types of self-talk have the effect where they improve performance overall.

While I don’t particularly have any times I can remember actively talking to myself, or catching myself having a conversation out loud with myself, I think that this research showing positive benefits and more acceptance towards people who do is really interesting. I have never seen talking to yourself as a bad thing, and I’ve always been confused by the idea that other people see it in a negative connotation, to me it just makes sense that some people are more comfortable having conversations with themselves because that’s how a lot of stories and movies are portrayed. I think in the right context and with positive topics, it’s important for everyone to have this ability so they can better understand themselves, so it only makes sense to me that it would have positive effects. As far as referring to myself in second or third person, I don’t know if I would ever be able to do that in a serious way? It would probably help whenever it came to looking at a situation in a different perspective and getting through harder concepts, but I don’t think I could ever seriously be like “you have to do this” or something. Other than that, I hope that in the future it can be more normalized for everyone to do this as long as it’s healthy and helps them.


Kross et al. study on self-talk as a regulatory mechanism:

Lupyan self-directed speech and visual search performance study:

Article “Is This Normal? ‘I talk to myself out loud'”:



Mindfulness and Cognitive ability

Mindfulness is something almost everyone has heard of at this point, and something that has been said to have numerous benefits with the ability to be fully present in the moment and tune in to ones own senses.  It can be achieved by meditation or yoga, and in this case an online course to help students and teachers in maintaining attention and student engagement. Observing the present moment as it is can be difficult for most people and often times we spend more time focusing on the past or future, and for teenagers, it can be even more difficult due to stress and other distractions. Research has previously been conducted on the effect of mindfulness training on cognitive ability. Some of these studies have worked with women with breast cancer and elite military service members, both of which had shown that cognitive ability improved and were correlated with the mindfulness training they had been performing.

25 high schools around the country have implemented the use of a course that practices mindfulness with personalized attention training to “teach students to focus their minds and manage their emotions so they can succeed academically.” It is developed at the “Center for Mindfulness & Human Potential (CMHP), part of the university’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences” at UC Santa Barbara. The online course involves 12 minute lessons and 4 minute daily exercises, most of which involve music that includes whichever genre they prefer. “We ask students to try to keep their attention focused on the sounds they hear,” explained Alissa Mrazek, who is a senior postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences. “Then when distractions arise, as they inevitably do, it’s an opportunity to practice letting go of that distraction and coming back to the music.” Each activity is designed to help students practice mindfulness in order to improve their ability to focus, and it also had an effect in improving students’ mental health.

The source I found this information from is an article featured by the University of California ( and while the research is interesting, I feel like this article in particular seemed to be slightly condescending towards teens and their inability to focus because they’re too busy on their phones. “The unhealthy use of technology” is bolded in the headline, and I don’t really understand why the author felt it was necessary to include that since it wasn’t really mentioned later on in the article, and it doesn’t really make sense since the solution is an online program itself? Something else I noticed, is they mentioned having surveyed students, but no students are quoted in the article who have used the program, it’s just their teachers and those who are researching the program. However, I did appreciate that the research didn’t only look at students ability to focus, but also how there has been such a large decline in teens’ mental health, and I think it’s important that these schools are trying to improve how they treat the matter.

Additional sources:

Edit: Sorry the video didn’t work! Not sure how to fix so I just took it out. But it is included in the article from the University of California (4th link) if you wanted to take a look.