Tag Archives: cognitive

Understanding Illusions

Are these images different?


Optical illusions have always fascinated me. The way our eyes and brain work together and often trick us into seeing things that aren’t really there or that are different than they really are is hard to understand, or is it?

In April of 2018 Buzzfeed employee, Crystal Ro, wrote an article about this image that she found on Reddit. She wanted to try and see if the rest of the world was experiencing the same headache-inducing confusion that she was when staring at this image. After using photoshop to copy the image at 50% opacity, she laid the right image directly on top of the left. This is when she realized that these images were in fact perfectly identical, pixel by pixel. With knowing this, why is it still so difficult to look at them as if they are the same image? Why does the image on the right look like it is taken at a different angle than the one on the left?


The article mentions that one Reddit user, All-Cal, says this illusion is, “because the two streets come together at the bottom of the pictures. Your brain tries to perceive this as one image with a fork in the road and therefore the street in the picture on the left must be at a different angle than the picture on the right.” So, is this Reddit user making a correct assumption?

According to an article from Science Daily about how our brains see the world, this illusion could be due to the interaction of the visual system, through parallel processing, with the brain. This article mostly discusses a study about our perception of motion; however, it also mentions key information about how the visual system works. For example, the key finding from this research explains parallel processing as, “[how] the brain’s two visual pathways interact with each other instead of being separate.” This means that we resolve the vagueness that we see by making inferences through the application of our visual system and our brain.

It also turns out that our brains like to interpret things in the simplest ways possible. Sometimes this simplicity leads to errors in our perceptions of visual stimuli. In an article about unconscious inference, this phenomenon is discussed to explain how the perception of our vision is often problematic or even incorrect. For instance, we look at this image and try to understand it in a simple way based on the spacial cues. The depth of this image, perceived by the distance of the van in the background, the lighting and shadows, and the angle of the street that seems to meet at a point in the bottom left corner, cause us to perceive the image as one street. These features of the image that indicate position are called binocular cues. Our eyes are seeing it correctly, but because we are trying to make inferences based on these binocular cues, we interpret it in a way that makes the most sense to us. Therefore, we perceive the image as a simple fork in the road, just as All-Cal said. In short, this illusion can be described as a misinterpretation of visual stimuli.

When I first saw this image, I was skeptical that it was the same picture. Even so, using research articles, I was able to further understand the way our brain interprets the things that we see. I find it very interesting that we can look at an image like this and our eyes take in the correct view of it, but our brains change it slightly based on unconscious inferences and binocular cues. Just as the Reddit user All-Cal pointed out, we see roads that come together at a point almost daily, so using the shadow and movement of the picture, we interpret a simple fork in the road even when that isn’t the case. This makes me wonder, how much can we really rely on our brain when it comes to inferring our visual intake?

YOLO Generation and Regret

Some would call us the YOLO generation- and anyone with even the slightest knowledge of American pop culture might readily agree. Live hard live good have fun live like it’s your last night! Just do it, Nike tells us! You only live once, twitter hashtags reply! And Ke$ha plays in the background, telling us we need to “make the most of the night like we’re gonna die young!”

Our culture encourages us to live life without regrets, and adores a lifestyle that emphasizes hedonistic pleasures and living in the moment. Regret is negative, we tell ourselves. Why bother with it? After all, regret is just a wasted emotion- we can’t change the past. What’s the point?

An article in Psychology Today seeks to answer that question.

We have all experienced regret. It is a painful cognitive/emotional state that involves feelings of loss and/or sorrow over choices and past decisions that we wish we could undo. However, while regret is a negative emotion, it can also be a helpful one.

Regret can play in important role in several behavioral functions. Chief among them, regret can be very important in making corrective action and avoiding future negative behaviors. By regretting a past choice, we can more easily resolve not to repeat the same action (or series of actions) in the future. In this sense, regret can be extremely valuable in redirecting one’s life path, such as an addict seeking help due to regret over his or her previous actions.

Especially for young people with the rest of their lives ahead of them, regret can also be helpful in other regards, in addition to motivating positive actions. Researcher Neal Roese found that young people ranked regret as the most helpful of all negative emotions in five functions: making sense of the world, avoiding future negative behaviors, gaining insight, achieving social harmony, and improving ability to approach desired opportunities. Essentially, regret can help motivate us to pursue our dreams and ambitions, get a more realistic sense of the world, and avoid repeating previous (unhealthy) mistakes.

Obviously however, regret is not all positive. Excessive fixation and rumination on the past can lead to chronic stress that negatively impacts both mind and body. Self-blame and fruitless regret can be extraordinarily unhealthy, and can be correlated with depression. Additionally, the easier it is to envision a different outcome- and the easier it is to image what you could have done differently to advert it- the more regret we are likely to have. This is a result of the cognitive process of counterfactual thinking. Hindsight is always 20/20.

However, even the negative feelings associated with regret can be mitigated with the help of cognitive techniques. There are several ways to cope with regret, including trying to learn from it, make sure you are not blaming yourself excessively, and reframing the situation in a more positive light.

However ultimately, if there is nothing you can do to change the situation, let it go. Perhaps YOLO did get something right.

How Do You Read The Mind Of A Mind Reader?

You’ve read the title of this post and now you’re probably wondering “how CAN you read the mind of a mind reader?” Perhaps we just know the mind reader well enough to know what they’re thinking or is there actually a cognitive science behind this? You have questions. I have answers.

While scrolling through my twitter, I stumbled upon this tweet by Stephen Pinker, a cognitive scientist at Harvard University, and I wanted to learn more.

This article, which is located within the tweet, talks about understanding common knowledge. Understanding common knowledge helps us understand others, which also makes it easier for us to know what others might, or are, thinking. “Steven Pinker examines how people use ‘common knowledge’ — the shared understanding in which two or more people know something, know that the other one knows, know the other one knows that they know, and so on — to coordinate their actions, and how people’s efforts to cooperate may fail without this infinite level of shared beliefs.”

Another article I found states that there are two different accounts of mind-reading. “According to `theory theory’, mental states are represented as inferred posits of a naive theory. According to `simulation theory’, other people’s mental states are represented by adopting their perspective: by tracking or matching their states with resonant states of one’s own.” The fact that observers take part in motor facilitation in the same groups of muscles as those used by target agents, and the activity of mirror neurons, are both findings that go with the “simulation theory.” However, these same findings would NOT be predicted by “theory theory.”

As stated in the first article, people use common knowledge to “coordinate their actions, and how people’s efforts to cooperate may fail without this infinite level or shared beliefs.” Different levels of common knowledge affect coordination.

In this study, cooperation levels were higher under different conditions. For instance, there was about 50 percent cooperation with shared knowledge and about 85 percept cooperation with common knowledge. Take note though that “the effects of common knowledge, however, are hardly limited to the type of economic games described in the study.”

There is evidence seen in these coordination problems everywhere. This study also states that emotions such as guilt or pride, are more sensitive to common knowledge and that other emotions such as blushing or crying are built around the idea. So, really, all of these factors play a role in our ability to read the mind of anyone, including the mind of a mind reader.