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Fri, 29 Aug 2014   How nerve cells communicate with each other over long distances: Travelling by resonance

How nerve cells within the brain communicate with each other over long distances has puzzled scientists for decades. The way networks of neurons connect and how individual cells react to incoming pulses in principle makes communication over large distances impossible. Scientists provide now a possible answer how the brain can function nonetheless: by exploiting the powers of resonance.

Thu, 28 Aug 2014   Electric current to brain boosts memory: May help treat memory disorders from stroke, Alzheimer's, brain injury

Stimulating a region in the brain via non-invasive delivery of electrical current using magnetic pulses, called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation, improves memory. The discovery opens a new field of possibilities for treating memory impairments caused by conditions such as stroke, early-stage Alzheimer's disease, traumatic brain injury, cardiac arrest and the memory problems that occur in healthy aging.

Thu, 28 Aug 2014   Neuroscientists watch imagination happening in the brain

By showing people their own photos during MRI sessions, neuroscientists distinguished between brain activity that is specific to memory and activity that is specific to imagination.

Thu, 28 Aug 2014   Readers with dyslexia have disrupted network connections in the brain, map the circuitry of dyslexia shows

Dyslexia, the most commonly diagnosed learning disability in the United States, is a neurological reading disability that occurs when the regions of the brain that process written language don't function normally. The use of non-invasive functional neuroimaging tools has helped characterize how brain activity is disrupted in dyslexia. However, most prior work has focused on only a small number of brain regions, leaving a gap in our understanding of how multiple brain regions communicate with one another through networks, called functional connectivity, in persons with dyslexia. Scientists have now conducted a whole-brain functional connectivity analysis of dyslexia using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).

Wed, 27 Aug 2014   Inside the teenage brain: New studies explain risky behavior

It’s common knowledge that teenage boys seem predisposed to risky behaviors. Now, a series of new studies is shedding light on specific brain mechanisms that help to explain what might be going on inside juvenile male brains.

BPS Research Digest Blog

   The psychology of wearable computing - does Google Glass affect where people look?

Computing eyewear such as Google Glass can record information far more discreetly than a handheld camera. As a result, privacy concerns have been raised, whether in a bar or changing for the gym. Are users of this tech likely to use their new toys responsibly? Early research was promising, suggesting that the very act of recording our gaze may lead us to be extra considerate in where we look. Unfortunately a new study finds that while wearing gaze-monitoring devices may initially encourage more socially-acceptable looking behaviours, the effect doesn't last.

In this experiment, 82 participants (aged 18 to 51; 59 women) were secretly monitored as they waited alone after finishing the six-minute computer task they believed to be the purpose of the study. The researchers led by Eleni Nasiopoulos were interested in how much time during the wait the participants spent glancing at the racy pin-up calendar hanging on the wall.

A control set of participants who were not wearing special eye-tracking glasses spent around 80 per cent of the available minute ogling the calendar. Another group were earlier fitted with eye-tracking glasses and knew that their gaze was being tracked by the device. In line with past research, this group used their gaze in a more socially acceptable manner, glancing at the calendar less than half the time. So far, so good.

But the experiment had another preliminary task at the very beginning, in which participants spent five minutes walking the building searching for coloured squares stuck on walls. Some of the participants in the later eye-tracking condition were actually set up with eye-trackers before this initial task, so they’d been wearing the glasses for a longer amount of time than the others. Focusing on just these participants, the researchers found their eyes lingered on the calendar for as much time as those in the no-device control group. The longer passage of time and different context appeared to eliminate the social acceptability effect of gaze-monitoring equipment.

Interestingly, participants who had eye-trackers fitted at the start, but were subjected to a brief equipment recalibration once they had entered the calendar room, did show an effect of the glasses: their calendar perusal was back down to about 45 per cent. This suggests that rather than users habituating to the eye-trackers - meaning that the experience matters less and less until it becomes passé - it's more about people forgetting that they are in use.

Eye-tracking researchers have argued that users of wearable computing are actually taking along a chaperone, and although it can be a discreet one (putting aside the spectre of hacking hanging over all digital data), the appeal of resharing recorded experiences to social media renders every use as potentially public. This feeling of our gaze being recorded should make us self-conscious and influence our looking behaviour - just as we engage in more approval-seeking behaviours when filmed by a security camera, despite not knowing if the film will ever be watched, or by whom. But wearable computing isn't “Out There” - like cameras or the human beings who have evaluated our social behaviour since childhood - it's “On Us”, and this phenomenon may be too unfamiliar to trigger a sense of being observed.

Of course, this is good news for researchers keen to use eye-trackers to evaluate realistic behaviours, who now also learn the benefit of an acclimatisation period in their set-ups. Meanwhile, if we want to deter Google Glass users from recording things they shouldn’t, another lesson from this research is that socially-conscious app designers could insert reminders into recording software to keep users aware that their gaze has a witness.
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  ResearchBlogging.orgNasiopoulos, E., Risko, E., Foulsham, T., & Kingstone, A. (2014). Wearable computing: Will it make people prosocial? British Journal of Psychology DOI: 10.1111/bjop.12080

--further reading--
CCTV cameras don't reassure, they frighten

Post written by Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) for the BPS Research Digest.



2014-08-28   Managers, conservatives, Europeans and the non-religious show higher levels of psychopathic traits

Christian Bale played the archetypal
psychopath in American Psycho (2000).
Mention psychopathic personality traits and the mind turns to criminals. The archetype is a callous killer who entraps his victims with a smile and easy charm. However, recent years have seen an increasing recognition that psychopathic traits are on a continuous spectrum in all of us (akin to other personality factors like extraversion), that they don't always manifest in criminality, and that in certain contexts, they may even confer advantages.

This perspective is captured in the title of psychologist Kevin Dutton's recent book The Wisdom of Psychopaths, and in the article published earlier this year in The Psychologist magazine: "On the trail of the elusive successful psychopath".

A useful consequence of this increased popular interest in the positive side of psychopathy is that it's given researchers the chance to conduct large-scale public surveys. This summer, Scott Lilienfeld and his colleagues have published the results of an online survey they ran in collaboration with Scientific American Mind magazine in 2012 (the invitation to participate appeared alongside extracts from Dutton's book).

Over three thousand people (51 per cent were female; the sample was skewed towards the highly educated) completed a 56-item measure of psychopathic traits known as The Psychopathic Personality Inventory-Revised Short Form, together with brief questions about religion, occupation and political orientation.

The study uncovered several modest correlations. People in managerial positions scored higher on the inventory overall than non-managers, and particularly on the Fearless Dominance factor (measured with items like "When my life becomes boring I like to take some chances to make things interesting").

People in high-risk occupations, such as military or dangerous sports, also scored higher on the inventory overall than those in low-risk occupations, and on all three sub-scales: Fearless Dominance, Coldheartedness (e.g. "Seeing an animal injured or in pain doesn't bother me in the slightest") and Self-Centred Impulsivity (e.g. "I would enjoy hitch-hiking my way across the United States with no prearranged plans").

Turning to religion, politics and geography, the survey revealed that non-religious people scored higher on the inventory overall, as well as on Self-Centred Impulsivity and Coldheartedness; that self-identified political conservatives scored higher on the inventory overall, as well as on all three sub-scales; and that Western Europeans scored higher on the inventory overall than US citizens, on Self-Centred Impulsivity and Coldheartedness.

The nature of the research means these results must be interpreted with great caution, as the authors explained - this includes the fact the scores were self-report and therefore may be distorted by attempts at impression management; and that the results are purely cross-sectional, so perhaps working as a manager increases people's psychopathic personality traits, rather than people with such traits being attracted to management. It's also a shame that the requirement to keep the survey short meant that other measures of personality were not recorded. This means we can't know whether the results are specific to psychopathic traits, or whether they might be more parsimoniously explained in terms of, say, (lack of) agreeableness - one of the Big Five personality traits.

Nonetheless, this study represents one of the first attempts to measure psychopathic traits in the general population and it raises many interesting questions for future investigation. The authors said their findings are "consistent with the hypothesis [that] at least some psychopathic traits ... are linked to adaptive attributes in everyday life, including leadership positions, management positions, and high-risk occupations."

_________________________________ ResearchBlogging.org

Lilienfeld, S., Latzman, R., Watts, A., Smith, S., & Dutton, K. (2014). Correlates of psychopathic personality traits in everyday life: results from a large community survey Frontiers in Psychology, 5 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00740

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.



2014-08-27   10 Surprising Things Babies Can Do

Human infants are helpless. At first they can't even support the weight of their own heads. Crawling and walking take months to master. Compare this with the sprightly newborns of other mammals, such as kittens and foals, up and about within an hour of their birth. There are several theories as to why human development is so protracted - among them that this extra time is required for the human brain to develop. This post side-steps such debates and focuses on 10 studies hinting at the surprising abilities of babies aged up to one year. The research digested below suggests the infant mind is far more sophisticated than you might imagine:

Babies can meet a person once and remember them for years 
We begin with a study in which 3-year-olds watched two videos shown side by side, each featuring a different researcher, one of whom they'd met once, two years earlier. The children spent longer looking at the video showing the researcher they hadn't met. This is consistent with young children's usual tendency to look longer at things that are unfamiliar, and it suggests they remembered the researcher they'd met once, when they were aged just one. Of course the phenomenon of infantile amnesia means these early long-term memories will likely be lost in subsequent years.

Babies can tell a human from a zombie (or a monkey)
Six-month-old and 12-month-old babies viewed pictures of cartoon human faces. Some of the faces looked creepy because they had zombie-style goggle eyes. Just like adults, the 12-month-olds (but not the 6-month-olds) spent longer looking at the faces with normal eyes. The researchers think this shows that by age one, human infants experience the "uncanny valley" effect - an aversion to creatures that are "almost human". Another study published in 2011 found that 3-month-olds preferred looking at human faces or bodies than the bodies or faces of non-human primates, suggesting they already had some knowledge of what humans look like.

Babies can fake cry
Last year a Japanese researcher captured on video an instance of apparent feigned distress by an 11-month-old. Hiroko Nakayama filmed two babies in their homes for 60 minutes twice a month, for six months. One baby only ever cried after displaying negative emotion. However, on one occasion, the other baby ("Infant R") was caught on camera laughing and smiling, then crying suddenly and briefly, then displaying positive emotion again. "Infant R appeared to cry deliberately to get her mother's attention," said Nakayama, [then] she showed smile immediately after her mother came closer."

Babies can tell the difference between a dirge and a happy tune
For this study researchers played music to babies through speakers located either side of a face. They waited until the babies got bored and started looking away, then they changed the mood of the music - either from sad to happy, or vice versa. This mood switch made no difference to three-month-olds, but for the nine-month-olds it was enough to rekindle their interest and they started looking again in the direction of the face.

Babies have artistic tastes
After nine-month-old babies had grown bored of looking at a Monet paintings, their interest was piqued by the sight of a Picasso. However, the reverse wasn't true: after time spent looking at Picasso, the babies preferred to look at more Picasso than at a new Monet. The researchers aren't sure why Picasso holds such appeal, but it may have to do with the greater luminance of his paintings.

Babies can predict your intentions
Research published in 2006 found that 12-month-old babies, like adults, showed anticipatory eye movements when watching someone placing toys in a bucket. That is, their eyes jumped ahead to the bucket as if anticipating the person's goal. Six-month-olds didn't show this ability, they kept their eyes fixed on the toys. "We have demonstrated that when observing actions, 12-month-old infants focus on goals in the same way as adults do," the researchers said.

Babies can hear speech sounds that you can't
As babies develop they become attuned to the speech sounds relevant to their native language. Before this happens, they can detect all phonetic contrasts in human speech, including those that adults in their culture cannot. Take the example of the /r/ and /l/ sounds in English, which Japanese adults struggle to distinguish. Prior to 6-months, Japanese babies can distinguish these sounds as reliably as a baby raised in an English home.

Babies can show contempt
A study from 1980 involved adults looking at videotapes of babies (aged up to 9-months) as they pulled various facial expressions in response to real life events, including playful interactions and painful injections. The adults were able to reliably discern eight distinct emotions on the babies' faces, including: "interest, joy, surprise, sadness, anger, disgust, contempt, and fear."

Babies rehearse words long before they can speak
For a study published this year, researchers scanned 7- and 11-month-old babies' brains as the infants listened to speech sounds. The psychologists observed activity in motor-related parts of the babies' brains, suggesting that the babies were already rehearsing how to produce the sounds themselves, even though most of them wouldn't be able to speak for some months.

Babies understand basic physics
Human infants appear to arrive with prior expectations about how the world works. For example, a 2009 study found that 5-month-olds use basic cues to detect whether a material is solid or liquid, and having done so, they form expectations for how these substances will behave, such as whether they will pour or tumble, or whether they will be penetrated by a straw. "... these experiments begin to clarify the beginnings of naive physics," the researchers said.
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If you enjoyed this post, you might also like The Psychology of First Impressions, Digested.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.





Cognitive Daily

Wed, 20 Jan 2010   Cognitive Daily Closes Shop after a Fantastic Five-Year Run

Five years ago today, we made the first post that would eventually make its way onto a blog called Cognitive Daily. We thought we were keeping notes for a book, but in reality we were helping build a network that represented a new way of sharing psychology with the world. Cognitive Daily wasn’t the first…

Wed, 20 Jan 2010   Both musicians and non-musicians can perceive bitonality

Take a listen to this brief audio clip of “Unforgettable.” Aside from the fact that it’s a computer-generated MIDI performance, do you hear anything unusual? If you’re a non-musician like me, you might not have noticed anything. It sounds basically like the familiar song, even though the synthesized sax isn’t nearly as pleasing as the…

Thu, 14 Jan 2010   Synesthesia and the McGurk effect

We’ve discussed synesthesia many times before on Cognitive Daily — it’s the seemingly bizarre phenomenon when one stimulus (e.g. a sight or a sound) is experienced in multiple modalities (e.g. taste, vision, or colors). For example, a person might experience a particular smell whenever a given word or letter is seen or heard. Sometimes particular…

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