Posts Tagged ‘cognitive psychology’

What makes things funny?

I’m planning to write a blog post about comedy in the near future. For now, you can enjoy this interesting TED talk by Peter McGraw, one of the researchers that developed the Benign Violation Theory. You can read more about it here.

Do older adults benefit from videogames?

Brain training games claim to boost your mental skills. But while practicing a game might make you better at it, research in young people has shown it doesn’t improve how well you perform other cognitive tasks in everyday life. Now a new study suggests the case may be different for adults above the age of 60. Researchers at the University of California have designed a driving game called NeuroRacer. In this Nature Video, we see how the game can improve an older player’s short-term memory and attention, skills which decline with age.

Read the original research paper here: (from Nature)

Eye Movements and Lie Detection – Another Myth?

19/07/2012 1 comment

This is not a proper post. It is more like a long tweet. Having done a similar study last year and finding no significant results I felt I had to share this with you.

You have probably heard that right-handed people look up to their right when they are telling a lie, while they look up to their left when they are telling the truth. Surprisingly, even though many people believe this is to be scientifically established, a quick google search comes up with no relevant peer-reviewed papers. Richard Wiseman and colleagues investigated this notion with three different studies. All three studies provided no evidence to support the notion. So it seems that the patterns of eye-movements do not aid lie detection.

Why did this myth survive for such a long time? Probably thanks to psychologists’ reluctance to publish negative results…

Here is the abstract:

Proponents of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) claim that certain eye-movements are reliable indicators of lying. According to this notion, a person looking up to their right suggests a lie whereas looking up to their left is indicative of truth telling. Despite widespread belief in this claim, no previous research has examined its validity. In Study 1 the eye movements of participants who were lying or telling the truth were coded, but did not match the NLP patterning. In Study 2 one group of participants were told about the NLP eye-movement hypothesis whilst a second control group were not. Both groups then undertook a lie detection test. No significant differences emerged between the two groups. Study 3 involved coding the eye movements of both liars and truth tellers taking part in high profile press conferences. Once again, no significant differences were discovered. Taken together the results of the three studies fail to support the claims of NLP. The theoretical and practical implications of these findings are discussed.

The rest of the article can be found on PLoS ONE.

Eye Movements as an Objective Measurement of Mind Wandering

26/03/2012 3 comments

We spent a lot of time mind wandering. Cognitive neuroscience has recently started investigating this phenomenon. However, the subjective nature of mind wandering makes capturing and measuring it exceptionally difficult. As a result, there is still no way to objectively measure mind wandering. In the majority of published studies researchers ask participants at random intervals how focused they are on a given task. Uzzaman and Joordens in a recently published paper explored the use of eye movements as an objective measure of mind wandering while participants performed a reading task.

Eye movements are thought to reflect (to some degree) cognitive processes (for a brief overview of eye movement research, see the Scholarpedia entry). Uzzaman et al. study was based on an earlier paper by Reichle, Reineberg, and Schooler (2010) who suggested that eye movements may provide an objective measure of mind wandering. Reichle et al. investigated this hypothesis by comparing the fixation-duration during mind wandering and normal reading episodes. The results were very encouraging and suggested that the participants’ eye movements became progressively decoupled from the ongoing task (i.e., text processing) during mind wandering episodes.

Uzzaman et al. used a reading task coupled with a self-classified probe-caught mind wandering paradigm to obtain a subjective account of mind wandering episodes. They recruited 30 participants who were explicitly informed of the definition of mind wandering episodes prior to the start of the experiment and were instructed that they would be asked to report their mind state at random intervals. The authors defined explicitly mind wandering “as reading without text comprehension, or thinking about anything other than the text on hand”. They also provided several examples to make sure the participants fully understood the concept.

The participants read sixteen pages of “War and Peace” by Tolstoy on a computer screen while their eye movements were tracked and recorded. Randomly every 2–3 min, a probe would appear on top of the text asking what was the mind state of the participants at this specific point. Participants would have to answer to continue the experiment. On average participants received 10 probes in total, in which mind wandering was reported on 49% of them.

The eye movement behaviours of the participants were categorised into mind wandering or reading conditions, based on their self-reports. This analysis was conducted for the 5 s time interval preceding the probe for reading and wandering conditions within each participant. Nine pairs of eye movement variables were analysed (e.g., count of blinks, fixations, saccades, fixation duration, within-word regression count), which displayed different degrees of sensitivity to mind wandering.

Statistical differences were found in two of the eye movement variables, run count and  within-word regression count. Run count was defined as the “the total number of runs, where a run is two consecutive fixations within the same interest-area” and  within-word regression count as “the sum of all fixation durations from when the word was first fixated upon, till the last fixation”.  

Specifically, there were fewer within-word regressions for periods before mind wandering episodes compared to periods before reading reports (z = −2.305, p = 0.021). Also, the total run count was also lower during mind wandering episodes (z = −1.997, p = 0.046). In addition, fixation count, saccade count and total number of saccades within the interest-area were lower during mind wandering reports, although these variables fell slightly short of the conventional significance criterion (all z < −1.755,p > 0.079).

During comprehensive reading all the words were being cognitively processed deeply and effort was put forth. On the contrary, a different pattern was observed during mind wandering episodes, as it was suggested by the lower number and duration of within-word regressions that shows that the  text was not being processed deeply, and as a result limited lexical information was being extracted. As a result, reading became less effortful and more automatic.

The current study revealed a correlation between subjective reports of mind wandering, and objective ocular behaviour. These findings could be further exploited in future studies and lead to the development of algorithms that would mathematically predict the likelihood of mind wandering based on eye movements. Such a development might provide valuable insights into the neural correlates of mind wandering.
ResearchBlogging.orgUzzaman, S., & Joordens, S. (2011). The eyes know what you are thinking: Eye movements as an objective measure of mind wandering Consciousness and Cognition, 20 (4), 1882-1886 DOI: 10.1016/j.concog.2011.09.010

Reichle ED, Reineberg AE, & Schooler JW (2010). Eye movements during mindless reading. Psychological science, 21 (9), 1300-10 PMID: 20679524

The Psychology of Christmas

19/12/2011 4 comments

It’s that time of the year again. Christmas carols, mince pies, endless queues at the local post office, Starbucks red cups, Doctor Who..  Thankfully, psychologists are curious creatures that study almost every aspect of human behaviour including… Christmas. So here are a few Christmas related studies/links:

1) Most people like decorating their house for Christmas. Some of them go too far, as you can see in this video. One possible reason for this behaviour could be the desire to communicate friendliness and cohesiveness with neighbours. Werner et al. examined whether strangers can accurately identify the more friendly residents, and what aspects of the homes’ exteriors contribute to their impressions. They also examine the possibility that residents who decorate for Christmas but who have few friends on the block may be using the decorations and other cues as a way of communicating their accessibility to neighbours.

Participants rated residents based only on photographs of their home and front yard. Stimulus homes had been preselected to represent the four cells of a two by two factorial design crossing the presence/absence of Christmas decorations with the resident’s self-rated social contact with neighbors (low/high). As expected, a main effect for the decorated factor indicated that raters used Christmas decorations as a cue that the residents were friendly and cohesive. Decoration interacted with sociability in a complex but interpretable way. In the absence of Christmas decorations, raters accurately distinguished between the homes of sociable and nonsociable residents; in open ended comments, they attributed their impressions to the relatively more ‘open’ and ‘lived in’ look of the sociable residents’ homes. When Christmas decorations were present, raters actually attributed greater sociability to the nonsociable residents, citing a more open appearance as the basis for their judgments. The results support the idea that residents can use their home’s exterior to communicate attachment and possibly to integrate themselves into a neighborhood’s social activities.

I have a feeling that extreme Christmas decorations probably fail to achieve this purpose and result in (further) alienation.

2)  What makes for a Merry Christmas? Not consumerism according to a study by Kasser et al. More specifically:

More happiness was reported when family and religious experiences were especially salient, and lower well-being occurred when spending money and receiving gifts predominated. Engaging in environmentally conscious consumption practices also predicted a happier holiday, as did being older and male. In sum, the materialistic aspects of modern Christmas celebrations may undermine well-being, while family and spiritual activities may help people to feel more satisfied.

You can read the full study here.

3) Christmassy stuff make you feel better if you’re a Christian or if you celebrate Christmas. Schmitt et al. examined the differential psychological consequences of being in the presence of a Christmas display on participants who did or did not celebrate Christmas, or who identified as Christian, Buddhist, or Sikh. Participants completed measures of psychological well-being while they were in a cubicle that was either decorated or not with a Christmas display. The Christmas decorations harmed non-celebrators and non-Christians well-being scores. The opposite effect was found on Christians. I’m wondering what’s the effect on atheists that were raised in Christian families/societies..

4) If you still believe in Santa Claus you might have to skip this one. Still here? You’re probably over 8. According to a (locked) study by Blair et al. this is the mean age at which disbelief in Santa Claus occurs  for both boys and girls. Another study (Anderson et al., 1994) examined the children’s reactions on discovering the Santa Claus myth.

Children reported predominantly positive reactions on learning the truth. Parents, however, described themselves as predominantly sad in reaction to their child’s discovery.

5) And finally, Christmas phobias, or the 12 neuroses of Christmas. Not very scientific but funny (unless you’re suffering from Ho-Ho-Phobia).


PS: I’m a bit surprised by the lack of neuroimaging studies on Christmas! I was hoping for something catchy and pointless like “Your brain on Santa Claus” or “The neuroscience of Christmas Carols”.

ResearchBlogging.orgWERNER, C., PETERSONLEWIS, S., & BROWN, B. (1989). Inferences about homeowners’ sociability: Impact of christmas decorations and other cues Journal of Environmental Psychology, 9 (4), 279-296 DOI: 10.1016/S0272-4944(89)80010-6

Kasser, T., & Sheldon, K. (2002). What Makes for a Merry Christmas? Journal of Happiness Studies, 3 (4), 313-329 DOI: 10.1023/A:1021516410457

BLAIR, J., MC KEE, J., & JERNIGAN, L. (1980). CHILDREN’S BELIEF IN SANTA CLAUS, EASTER BUNNY AND TOOTH FAIRY Psychological Reports, 46 (3), 691-694 DOI: 10.2466/pr0.1980.46.3.691

Schmitt, M., Davies, K., Hung, M., & Wright, S. (2010). Identity moderates the effects of Christmas displays on mood, self-esteem, and inclusion Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 46 (6), 1017-1022 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2010.05.026

Anderson, C., & Prentice, N. (1994). Encounter with reality: Children’s reactions on discovering the Santa Claus myth Child Psychiatry and Human Development, 25 (2), 67-84 DOI: 10.1007/BF02253287

“Owls” more likely to have ADHD?

07/12/2011 6 comments
Is there any relationship between chronotype and Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms? Are evening oriented individuals more likely to have ADHD? This was the main question posed in a (relatively) recent article by Caci and colleagues.

ADHD is the most common neurodevelopmental disorder (Faraone et al., 2003) and affects about 3–6% of children (Tannock 1998). ADHD is defined by either an attentional dysfunction, hyperactive/impulsive behaviour or both (DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994). Therefore, the diagnosis of ADHD has three subtypes: the Inattentive subtype (ADHD/IA), which is characterised by significant levels of inattention but subthreshold levels of hyperactive/ impulsive symptoms, the Hyperactive/Impulsive subtype (ADHD/HI), which is defined by hyperactivity/ impulsivity but not of inattention symptoms, and the Combined Inattentive-Hyperactive/Impulsive subtype (ADHD/C), which is characterised by maladaptive levels of both symptom clusters.

Morningness is a stable characteristic which reflects the phase of circadian system. It is a continuum with evening types at one end and morning types on the other. Previous studies have found that the evening orientation might be a risk factor for various disorders including depression and personality disorders. Morningness is also a heritable trait (Vink, Groot, Kerkhof, & Boomsma, 2001) and determined by genetic factors (Mishima, Tozawa, Satoh, Saitoh, & Mishima, 2005). Impulsivity and novelty seeking, two characteristics associated with particular ADHD subtypes are negatively related to morningness. Specifically, evening oriented individuals often score higher on tests assessing those traits. In addition to that, there is evidence that morningness is implicated in the variation of performance (Natale, Alzani, & Cicogna, 2003). Variability in various cognitive tasks is a common finding in many studies examining individuals with ADHD. Individuals with ADHD have also been found to experience a number of sleep related disorders such as sleep-onset difficulties, agitated sleep, and a higher number of nocturnal awakings.

Caci et al. examined the relationship between morningness and ADHD. Their hypothesis was that adults suspected of having ADHD are more evening oriented than are adults without ADHD. They recruited 354 participants and assessed their scores in the Composite Scale of Morningness (CSM), a measure of morningness, and the Adult Self-Report Scale v1.1 (ASRS), a self-reported questionnaire used for screening of ADHD in adults. ASRS includes two subscales for inattention and hyperactivity symptoms. This allowed Caci et al to examine the relationship between possible ADHD subtypes and morningness.

The results of the study confirmed the hypothesis; participants with higher scores on the ASRS reported having an evening orientation. The effect was stronger in participants with higher scores on the subscale of inattention. No correlation was found between hyperactivity and morningness. This provides evidence for the existence of different endophenotypes in ADHD. Since the sample used in this study consisted of healthy volunteers, it would be interesting to try to replicate this finding in diagnosed individuals with ADHD.

PS: After writing this post, I realised there’s a new study published in Nature by Baird et al. (2011) that examines endocrine and molecular levels of circadian rhythms in ADHD and seems to confirm the morningness hypothesis proposed by Caci et al. According to this paper, adult ADHD is accompanied by significant changes in the circadian system. I might write a post about it in the near future.


ResearchBlogging.orgCaci H, Bouchez J, & Baylé FJ (2009). Inattentive symptoms of ADHD are related to evening orientation. Journal of attention disorders, 13 (1), 36-41 PMID: 19387003

domestic diva, M.D.

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