I See Psychology… Everywhere

Multitasking Limits in the Popular Press

I was pleased to see this article in the NYTimes about the limits of multitasking.  Psychologists have long known that the brain can handle only so much taxation at once before performance declines.  Of course it depends on the nature of the task, but many people think certain things (e.g., driving, watching out for other people) are less effortful than they are.

Part of the problem is that we don’t see the problem until it’s too late.  If I’m making a phone call while I’m driving, and other people are able to avoid an accident with me, I don’t realize that I’ve been a hazard, so I’m reinforced with the belief that I can multitask just fine.  Wait until one of those other people is on the phone and hits me, and then I’ll blame his or her lack of ability!


25 March 2007 Posted by | Cognitive, Physiological | Leave a comment

“Fixation” Has Different Meanings to Different People

Seems marketers have been examining the eye fixations of viewers to help them with their pitches. Psychologists have long used this technology to study, for example, babies’ interest in objects and people’s responses to novel stimuli, but I wasn’t familiar with the marketing research on this line.

Particularly interesting to many of us will be the finding that men tend to look at target crotches more than women. Might not be particularly surprising, but still interesting!

Although both men and women look at the image of George Brett when directed to find out information about his sport and position, men tend to focus on private anatomy as well as the face. For the women, the face is the only place they viewed.

via BoingBoing 

14 March 2007 Posted by | Cognitive | Leave a comment

The Psychology of the NCAA Tournament Office Pool

The NCAA tournament is my favorite sporting event.  I love college basketball for a lot of reasons, and, between you and me, this Thursday and Friday will prove to be rather unproductive, as I watch the scores come across the wire and try to keep up with the chances of my Kansas Jayhawks!

Here’s a nice article in the NYTimes that reports some of the research behind the office pool picks.

“What people don’t realize is that a lot of times, if you bet on a No. 1 seed, you’re out of the pool after the first weekend,” said Andrew Metrick, a finance professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied pools. “Your team won, but you’re out” — because you missed a few other games that others with the same choice of national champion did not miss.

In order to be accurate in your picking, you need to pick some upsets, because they will happen.  Problem is, you don’t know when or where they’re going to happen.  This is a real example of the hindsight bias, as I often find myself saying, “Oh, I knew that would be an upset,” even though I somehow didn’t bother to predict it in my bracket!

I tend to follow my heart for Kansas and try to follow my head for the rest, but frankly, I’m pretty bad at it, and when I do well, it’s usually because of a few lucky picks.

Enjoy the tournament, and GO ‘HAWKS!

12 March 2007 Posted by | Cognitive, Sports | Leave a comment

Metacognition in Rats

Sounds intriguing!

The scientists found the rats appeared capable of judging whether they had enough information to pass the test. The more difficult the test was, the more often rodents opted to decline the test.

via Neatorama 

9 March 2007 Posted by | Cognitive | Leave a comment

Familiar Smells and Sleep Aid Memory

We’d have to read the article to get the extent of statistical reliability from the results, but this sounds interesting:

The next day, the rose-scented sleepers remembered the locations of those cards better than people who didn’t get a whiff — they answered correctly 97 percent of the time compared with 86 percent.

We know that extensive and broad associations aid with memory, so are these smells serving as an additional memory cue?

9 March 2007 Posted by | Cognitive, Sensation & Perception | Leave a comment

Face Recognition from Minimal Pixelation

The superb blog Cognitive Daily reports on a great study showing our ability to recognize faces from as few as 6 pixels across. This is pretty astounding stuff, and it demonstrates the incredible power of the mind to make sense of what may at first glance appear to be random stimuli. Yet another victory for Gestalt theorists!

via BoingBoing

6 March 2007 Posted by | Cognitive, Sensation & Perception | Leave a comment

The Neuroscience of the Gestalt–More Face Science

face1902.jpgThe Times has a nice piece on the science of face recognition. They do a nice job discussing the neuroscience behind the tendency to see faces in things. (if you’re interested, see my earlier post on a similar topic.)

Researchers know that we’re predisposed to recognize facial patterns for some obvious reasons, but those faces can become so convincing that many of us interpret them as a miracle. We often see what we want to see, but more often, we see what our brain thinks we should see–it’s working overtime to make sense of meaningless patterns.

It’s a good read, and I think articles like this can go a long way to help people think critically. It’s not that it means people have to abandon their religious beliefs or faith, but they also need to know what the science says might explain such phenomena. Might even be liberating!

13 February 2007 Posted by | Cognitive, Evolutionary Psychology, Physiological, Sensation & Perception | Leave a comment

Terrific New Yorker Piece on Medical Cognition

Here‘s a very nice discussion of the cognitive processes involved in making medical decisions.  When I started reading it, I was prepared to write a letter to the NYer about all the stuff they missed on biases and so on, but I found the article to be very thorough, not to mention well written and clear.

I’ve been interested in communications issues in medical care and related disparities, but the heuristics coverage is more accessible than what I’ve seen in a lot of arenas.  Some good discussion of the work of Kahneman & Tversky and others.

5 February 2007 Posted by | Cognitive, Social | Leave a comment

…and 4 months later…

I’ve been eager to get back to it.  So let’s start with a nice article in the NYTimes about Joe Biden’s lovely comments on Obama:

the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy

Now, I’m not interested in the obvious “gee, this guy is inappropriate” approach to this quote.  Instead, let’s think about what this says about Biden’s schema (Obama is closely associated with “articulate”) which I would say shows what we might call “thinking points.”  Rather than just saying what comes to his mind, Biden watches it, knowing that whatever he says on the campaign trail will be magnified.

Did he know that “articulate” is damning someone by faint praise?  Did he know that it’s probably not the most flattering thing for an African American person to hear?  Does he know that Obama is far more articulate than Biden in the first place?  Probably so on all 3 counts, but I would argue that he doesn’t feel it.  As a result, Biden connects the “African American” and “complement” nodes in his mind and comes out with this quote.

Many people don’t even bother to watch what they say, and we could argue over which is worse.  Do Mel Gibson’s and Michael Richards’ verbal diarrhea indicate higher prejudice than what Biden said.  Probably so, but under stress, they let it all out and took off the filter.  Biden probably did the same thing, after the stress and exhaustion of lots of interviews and briefings.

To Biden, I say, don’t you worry your little head about this.  You just sit there and look pretty.

Is that a complement, Joe?

5 February 2007 Posted by | Cognitive, Social, Stereotyping, Prejudice, & Discrimination | Leave a comment

Ok, So Does Weight Cause Cognitive Deficits?

Here‘s another article about predictors of cognitive deficits. Seems more weight is linked to poorer mental acumen. The headline is better than most, in that it doesn’t plead causality, but it still doesn’t clarify theory underlying the phenomenon, although some suggestions come up, and the author mentions a couple covariates that didn’t seem to explain what’s going on. Interesting stuff!

In general, the researchers found, people with a high body mass index (BMI) garnered lower test scores than those with a lower BMI. They also tended to show greater cognitive decline between the two test periods.

Factors such as age, education and general health did not seem to explain the link.

10 October 2006 Posted by | Cognitive, Research, Students | Leave a comment