Category Archives: Tips and Advice

These posts take wisdom gained from cognitive research and apply it to life.

Virtual Communication Perceptions

Most of the world has moved to virtual communication during these times of social distancing. Whether you’re working from home, visiting the doctor via telehealth, engaging in distance learning, or keeping in touch with family and friends, you’re most likely using some sort of virtual communication.

Luckily, we live in an age where we have various virtual platforms. Much communication can be done over the phone where we can hear what other people are saying. Another portion of communication can be done via video calls such as FaceTime, Duo, Zoom, Houseparty, etc. where you can not only hear what other people are saying, but you can also see their facial expressions and sometimes body language. The last way we are virtually communicating, and probably the way we most frequently communicate, is via text. Whether you are texting, emailing, posting on social media, typing into a chat with a doctor/counselor or on a forum, you are using text communication.

Virtual communication is extremely convenient; however, it has its disadvantages. Sometimes there’s background noise that makes it difficult to hear the person talking, or the reception is bad, or we ourselves are having a hard time hearing what someone is saying. Video calls have an advantage in that you can see the person(s) to interpret their facial expressions and occasional body language. Text communication is drastically different though. You aren’t hearing what the person is saying with your own ears and you aren’t seeing the person’s facial expressions and body language with your own eyes.

Think about reading. When you read you hear a voice that you’ve made up. You can’t see what’s happening, but you can visualize what’s going on through imagery. We are able to construct all of this based on our understanding of language, sentence structure, syntax, semantics, grammar, and our prior experiences.

Now think about SMS Text language. The language we all used in middle school because we had phones where you had to press the buttons a million times in order to say what you wanted to. It was easier to tell mom “OMW” rather than “On my way” when leaving a friend’s house. Maybe a friend asked if you wanted to hang out “L8R” rather than “later.” Text with people we know is interpreted differently than text with people we aren’t as familiar with. We tend to send more emojis when we’re trying to place emphasis.

In a study by Neuforn and Drinck, students in virtual learning environments were assessed for learning motivation based on the participants’ individual perceptions of written communication. They found that there were four important categories of a message: the appearance, the syntax, the vocabulary, and the empathetic communication.

Misunderstood Messages Between Hilariously Confused People | Funny ...      Communication Talking Transferring Information Listening Receiving ...

It’s important to remember, as we continue to virtually communicate, that the way we write something might not be interpreted the way we intended for it to be. There are times when things we say that people hear with their ears is misinterpreted. No matter how old the person(s) you are communicating with are, if they don’t know you super well, they might not take your sarcastic comment with four question marks very sarcastically. They may in fact, think you are being rather rude. Think about the audience you are talking to or aiming to talk to in addition to what you’re trying to say, and never respond when you’re angry.

Top 10 Funniest Text Messages from Parents – TechEBlog

Is it Time to Ditch the Music While Studying?

Many students in the library, HCC, and around campus can be found with headphones in while they study, but this music might not be helping these students study as effectively as they could. Chapter 4 of the textbook goes into how this is related to the irrelevant speech effect and how any speech can disrupt the encoding of information. After reading this I went to find out more, worried that I would have to start studying in silence all the time. In the article “Does Listening to music while studying make you a better student?”(Segren,2019) it discussed how listening to music that is calm and has no lyrics is better than listening to lyrical music. It’s better to ditch listening to music though according to the textbook as well as this article The reason for this is because memory recall is better when information is encoded in a similar environment to the one a student will be in when they need to recall the information, which is usually a silent classroom. Therefore here at UMW, I think the best places to study would be like the silent floor in the library, or an empty classroom, without headphones in. The next article I looked at called “ The Impact of Music in Memory” was a study that also had significant findings that not listening to music was the best way to study. Unlike the first article, this study did not find that listening to calm music had an effect on the participant’s cognitive ability compared to the group who studied in silence. This article found that type of music had more of an effect on peoples abilities in activities such as sports, but not IQ 

For those who still want to listen to music while studying and can’t fathom not listening to music, there is still hope according to the Segren article. There are some benefits to listening to music. If a student feels they need music/music with lyrics to study, it is beneficial for the student to listen to the same songs every time that they study. This is because the brain will learn that the music is unimportant and almost tune it out while the student studies because the music has become generalized. 

 According to the Segren article as well as the “should you listen to music while studying” (US Today, 2019), studies found when people are in a good mood, they tend to be more productive and better problem solvers. Therefore, if music helps a student get in the mood to study and feel happy it can help them study more effectively. The dopamine release from the music can help a student continue to feel energized and engaged in studying especially for longer study sessions. As mentioned above not all music is the same when it comes to studying. It’s best to stay away from angry music because it can increase cortisol levels and stress which will lead to worse performance in cognition. Unless angry music makes the student happy. For students looking for music to listen to while studying, I would recommend the music from animal crossing, Lindsay sterling, or listening to music scores from movies or plays. The mood boost that music gives a student could possibly be used to help a student prepared to get in the right mindset to take a test. People are more likely to remember information when they are in the same mood that they were in when they encoded it. This is known as memory bias. Therefore, a student could make a studying playlist that puts them in a good, positive and productive mood that they listen to while studying. They could then before going take the test they studied for listening to that playlist to get into the same mindset they were in when they studied it. Listening to music while studying can be good or bad it really depends on the person, what type of music, and how the student can use listening to music to their advantage  




Useful Study Tips From Youtube and How to Apply Them to Learning a Language

College classes tend to be a step up from any type of class that students have taken before. Therefore,students tend to need to create new study habits once they are in college . The video “five best ways to study effectively, scientifically proven”on YouTube brings up study habits backed by principles from cognitive psychology.It Highlights ways that students can ditch ineffective study habits and use more effective ones to improve their academic career. For all classes these tips could apply, but  they could definitely be highly effective for students trying to learn a second language. The first technique the video gives is putting the desired learning on an object in the student’s environment. A way this could be done for trying to learn a language is by putting the vocabulary on the objects in the environment that they are linked to . This was done in a Spanish class that I took,for class room vocabulary by putting labels on things such as the door that had the Spanish word for door. This first technique uses the encoding ability of your brain to move concepts and learning objectives from working memory and short term memory to long term memory. The next technique the video talks about was teaching others the material that a student is trying to learn. By doing the student gains a better understanding of what they are  trying to learn and theyalso realize whatthey still need to encode if they are struggling to teach any of the material that theyare trying to learn. This technique uses and test or retrieval abilities, being able to take information from long term memory and bring it back into working memory. This technique in the setting of studying for a language class could be done by teach friends or fellow classmates the grammar concepts that a student just learned in class. The third technique is using practice tests which also uses the student’s ability to retrieve information from long term memory. Practice tests are a highly effective way of studying because theytest whether or nota student has encoded the information thatthey wanted to learnand is also a way of rehearsing the information so thattheysolidify the connections they have already encoded intotheir long termmemory on the topic. In a langue class practice tests could be using flash cards, or an online study tool that teststhe studenton the information. The fourth technique that the video discusses is have long periods of intense focused studying with short breaks. In a language class or studying for any classa student could take five minute breaks to take a walk , look at social media, or doanything other than what they werestudying and then aftertheirbreak going back to the material.The fifth technique that the video discussed is spaced repetition.  This technique allows the student to encoded information better than cramming the night before a test. For a language classa studentcould apply this by studying after class each day leading up totheirtest instead of the day before. This allows your long term memory to build stronger connections.  

The cognitive principles that were applied in this video were the way that the various parts of memory works. It focuses on how the brain encodes information and moves it to long term memory for retrieval. The video references studies that talked about the best ways to encoded information.

This video appeared to have a very good understanding as how memory works. It present a lot of peer-reviewed research to back the claims that it was making about how to study more effectively.

Link to video and references from the video

Can Color Coding My Notes Really Get Me Better Grades?

Do you hate studying? Do you hate taking notes and never knowing which piece of information is where? Well, this commonly known study tip is actually useful, not just to make your notebook look pretty. 

The tip? Color coordinate certain things!! You can such as definitions, dates, and headings of topics. This way you can easily block out other notes when looking for a specific piece of information. If we highlight all definitions in yellow, we can skim our notes, only having to look for things in yellow to quickly find our definition, which also gives you a memory tool during test time. Certain color usage may make certain tidbits of information stick out amongst all of the other facts you have to know. 

This idea uses Broadbent’s filter theory, which he uses to explain selective attention. Kendra Cherry writes an article, reviewed by Dr. Steven Gans MD, and defines selective attention as “the process of focusing on a particular object in the environment for a certain period of time”(Cherry, 2019). Color coding allows selective attention to happen easier, as our brain has a color to hone in on. Not only that, but NCBI notes that color “functions as a powerful information channel to the human cognitive system and has been found to play a significant role in enhancing memory performance”(Dzulkifli and Mustafar, 2013). Using color in your notes can help you on your test, it literally helps the brain remember more information. It is even used to help patients with dyslexia (Dzulkifli and Mustafar, 2013). If something as simple as highlighting your notes can significantly help memorization and retention, why not do it? The two authors, Dzulkilfi and Mustafar, outline numerous studies in which color aids in memory and retention. They note that “The more attention focused on certain stimuli, the more chances of the stimuli to be transferred to a more permanent memory storage” and color is what brings attention to the stimuli (Dzulkifli and Mustafar, 2013). They write about a doctor who performed a study where they participants were tested on their recall of shapes and their color. It resulted in higher retention of the color than the shape (Dzulkifli and Mustafar, 2013). So maybe instead of circling and underlining notes, writing them in color pen or highlighting will result in better test grades. 

What do I think? I think that anything is worth trying. As I read on in the article, there is so much proven that color is extremely useful when it comes to retention, and highlighting doesn’t take long, so why not. We can focus in on it, use our selective attention to find it easier amongst all the notes, and it helps us remember. We can use the color association during the test and remember “Oh yeah, that was a date in pink” and that may give you visual clues. In college, any study tip is helpful and if it is as simple as coloring my notes, I will try it out. After all, it makes sense, when we are in a clothing store, we are gravitated towards colors we like, so, why not do the same with our notes, it is psychologically proven.

Memory sucks with Depression… but it doesn’t have to!

Depression is a terrible psychological disorder. It comes in many forms, but they all have an impact on daily life. As a sufferer of depression, I can say that depression effects performance in so many areas. But it especially affects memory. Short term and explicit memory are highly affected adversely due to this psychological problem. Short term memory is memory retrieved only for short term. It can be encoded and stored for long term, but that would no longer be short term memory. Explicit memory is memory that is retrieved through awareness. You are explicitly looking for this memory to retrieve. When these forms of memory are affected, you cannot function the way you normally would. I personally have seen my grades go from dean’s list almost every semester to nearly failing quite a few classes. It’s sneaky, painful, and can take so many opportunities away from you. But it doesn’t have to.

There is hope. There are things that you can do to improve your memory, perception, and overall performance in school and life. While seeing a therapist, surrounding yourself with good people that you enjoy, getting medical help from a Doctor, and distracting yourself can be good strategies; there is also another strategy that can help reverse some of the damaging effects of depression.

Image result for flow theory

A theorist named Mihály Csíkszentmihályi developed the theory of flow. A good example of flow is the experience of being completely (and enjoyably) lost in something that you do. It can be a hobby like playing the piano, performing needle work, coloring, drawing, whatever it may be that puts you in that mindless, emotionless, enjoyable state. Sometimes it’s just better to have no emotion at all and have a break from all of those intrusive thoughts. So I challenge you to take time out of your busy day cramming for school and trying to memorize for that test. Instead, do at least one hour of an activity of your choice that induces flow. The research supports it, so give it a try!

Image result for playing piano


Flow theory:

Depression and memory: Burt, D. B., Zembar, M. J., & Niederehe, G. (1995). Depression and memory impairment: A meta-analysis of the association, its pattern, and specificity. Psychological Bulletin, 117(2), 285-305. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.117.2.285

Flow picture:

Piano picture:

Research Shows That This is the Most Effective Studying Method!

The life of college students never seems to get any less stressful. From the early classes, to the midnight cram sessions, and the gargantuan group projects– college seems to keep everyone busy. Cognitive Psychologists work on research every day to find out how memory and attention works. When asked about their favorite study habits that work best for them, students come up with mixed answers. Some say concept mapping helps them, some just simply read the text book, and others prefer to test themselves. Some students test themselves using flash cards, and others test themselves by making up mock tests on the subject to test their memory.

In a study done in 2011, Cognitive Psychologists devised research to find out what the most effective studying strategy was for students. Early on, they asked them what they thought the answer would be. The majority of students stated that they thought it would be concept mapping, but the results were surprising for the students! The results concluded that students did significantly better on tests and had better retention if they enacted a strategy called “memory retrieval” versus other strategies like concept mapping.

Memory retrieval is a process of studying in which the student tests their memory as they read and does smaller increments rather than cramming. Memory retrieval showed significantly better test scores in the research cited below.

Here is how you can practice memory retrieval and see how it works for you!

First, distribute your study time. Practice the concepts as you go in smaller increments. This will ensure that you understand the concepts at hand before you go on to the next topic.

Second, test yourself after reading each topic. This will aid you in awareness of your understanding of the topic and what you need to work on before moving on.

Third, connect the next topics to the previous topics that you studied and continuously test yourself on those topics. This way, you are retrieving memory as you go, so that it remains relevant and is related to the material you are currently learning.

Of course, not every college student has the luxury of time, or has hit a bump in the road of the semester, so this studying strategy is best done when there is more time to do this. The best advice that I can offer to alleviate this predicament is in the beginning of the semester, try to get as ahead as possible. Be diligent about your work from the beginning, so that if something happens to make you fall behind, you are able to spare at least one day. College students’ stress can be alleviated significantly if they are not always pressed for time, and studying in smaller amounts more often can be just the recipe we have been asking for. So as fellow college students, I urge you to practice this studying strategy and let me know how well this has worked for you!


Karpicke, J. D., & Blunt, J. R. (2011). Retrieval practice produces more learning than
elaborative studying with concept mapping. Science, 331, 772–775. doi:

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.



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,


Over the past month, my daughter, Harper, has become increasingly vocal. Her speech has increased dramatically and she’s amazed her dad and I with how much she is able to remember. Lately, we tell her something just once, or just a couple of times, and she is able to repeat that word and remember it hours and even days later. She’s able to recall her animals and their sounds (cow, chicken, dog, cat, duck, sheep) after being told just once or twice. We even thought her “more” in sign language and some words in Spanish and she was able to recall either after once or twice of just telling her. It’s amazing to think that she’s already a-year-and-a-half and saying phrases such as, “bye, mama” and “hi, doggie.” Until you become a parent, you never truly understand how incredible it is to watch your little baby, now toddler, learn and discover things about the world.

Based on what we have learned during lecture, I started wondering how much of what Harper remembers are implicit memories and how much are explicit memories. As we learned, implicit memories are memories that are recalled without necessarily thinking about them. They are influenced and triggered by previous experiences no matter how long ago they occurred. One way to define implicit memories is by saying that we learn things without awareness—we have that memory stored, but we are not aware that it is a memory. On the other hand, explicit memories involve explicitly retrieving that memory from storage. These types of memories involve actively searching for that memory from the past and recalling it. It shocked me to learn that toddlers do not have explicit memories until they are about three to four years old. In Harper’s case, when we teach her a new word and recalls it weeks after or she sees her sippy cup and remembers that it is usually filled with her, “agua”, she is using her implicit memory.

Remarkably, an article from Today’s Parent mentions that children are actually able to retrieve explicit memories from toddlerhood, however most children forget these memories because they experience something called infantile amnesia. The article mentions that infants are able to experience explicit memories, but are unable to recall them later on in their lives because those explicit memories happened before that child had any language. As children get older, they begin to forget more and more memories from their childhood because of infantile amnesia.

I wonder if Harper will experience this childhood amnesia? Implicit memories are easily recalled because they are automatic, but how will her explicit memories be affected by childhood amnesia? A study done by the Psychology Department at the University of Otago in New Zealand sought to find out more about the childhood amnesia phenomenon. They observed that most children and adults have no recollection of their early childhood. Something that was very puzzling to them was the fact that although learning happens from birth on, yet the memories that are created from this early learning are somehow lost. Here is an excerpt from their findings:

“If forgetting occurs within days or weeks during early infancy, it is hardly surprising that those memories are unavailable when we try to access them after retention intervals of years (or decades)! Over the course of development, however, the forgetting function gradually flattens, increasing the accessibility of a given memory even after very long delays. Furthermore, even after forgetting has occurred, data collected using re- minder procedures has shown that the accessibility of the representation varies dramatically as a function of age. Older infants retrieve their memories more quickly, over longer delays, and once retrieved, maintain them for longer periods of time.”


A closer look into road rage: How and why it happens

As we were discussing driving the other day, I noticed that almost everyone raised their hand when Dr. Rettinger asked whether we had been driving for more than five years. This leads me to assume that at some point within those five years we have all, at least once, been the victim of road rage or have been the source of someone else’s road rage. In simple terms, rage road is angry or aggressive behavior displayed by a driver as a result of something that negatively impacted their driving experience. Road rage can simply be an unkind hand gesture, insult, or even physical violence.

In an attempt to better understand why road rage exists, Dr. Reidbord looked our perception. Perception, another important topic with have discussed in class, essentially describes our mental interpretation and representation of the stimuli we perceive.  What Dr. Reidbord found is that the cause of road rage is almost never the actual offensive that the victim experiences. In other words, road rage is rarely the result of being cut off, slow drivers, or almost crashing. Instead, it is the interpretation of our perception of the offensive that causes road rage. To exemplify this, when you get passed on I-95 and the driver almost hits your car as he passes, you immediately view that driver as having no respect for you. One assumes that the other driver just views his or her own time as being more valuable and that they do not care about anyone else’s wellbeing. It turns out this mindset is very commonly the cause of road rage.

One factor that furthers our road rage is that there is no easy way to communicate with the aggressive driver. There is no easy way to tell whether the driver that just cut us off did so because they are a terrible human being or because they are trying to rush to the hospital. Since we tent to paint the actions of other drivers as being intentional and malicious, it’s rather easy to see how most road rage is a self-product of our own mind.  This knowledge of our tendency to assume the worst of other drivers can help us control our road rage. It is research like that of Dr. Reidbord and many others that are actually influencing how driver’s education courses are being taught.

A couple summers ago, I had to take a driver’s improvement course for a speeding ticket I received. One of the things I vividly remember the instructor discussing in the course was the different methods for reducing road rage. The first tip was to change how we perceive the actions of others. This program urged drivers to shift from an accusatory mindset to one that gives other drivers the benefit of the doubt. This goes back to the idea of being able to find positive reasoning for the actions of other drivers.

I think the influence of perception is very interesting. Much like Dr. Reidbord states, further examining our perception can also help us understand why we get angry when someone brings more than 15 items into the 15 items or less lane at Walmart. Overall, I believe that by devoting more time to studying perception we can advance our understanding with regards to why human beings respond to the world around them in the way that they do.


Attention Blink and ADHD



People who have ADHD are more likely to experience difficulties with the attention blink test.  Due to their difficulty to stare at a fixed space and attention deficit they miss more letter sequences. 



To put this into perspective, this can be applied to the real world for any given person in circumstances such as if a driver in front of you is swerving off the road, you will briefly become focused on that catastrophe (attention blink) in the making and lose sight of the specific details of the traffic around you in that moment.  I can only imagine how difficult it may be for a student in a classroom that is not on ADHD medication and is trying to pay attention to a lecture but sees phones lighting up with notifications or hears students talking outside in the hallway.

As someone who has ADHD (not on medication) this makes sense to me.  When doing the attention blink test on the Zaps program used in my Cognitive Psychology class there was a continuous stream of 80 different tests.  I found myself fidgeting in my seat and having to take breaks.  It made me feel irritable and impatient and I had a hard time finding the first letter in the sequence for the first few trials.  Eventually I sort of picked it up but I struggled finding a second letter in the sequence.