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  • January 7, 2008
  • 03:00 PM

Language doesn't influence our thoughts ... except when it does

by Dave Munger in Cognitive Daily

The Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis -- stated in its strongest form -- claims that language determines thoughts: if a language doesn't have a means of expressing a particular idea, then people speaking that language can't even conceive of that idea. This strong form has long since been rejected: There are plenty of thoughts we can have without having the words to express them.

But there is also little question that the available words do have an important impact on our thoughts. If a language ........ Read more »

  • January 3, 2008
  • 01:54 PM

Does test-taking help students learn?

by Dave Munger in Cognitive Daily

During my brief tenure as a high school teacher, one common suggestion I got from supportive colleagues was to "make your tests teaching tools." "That's often the only time you've really got your students' attention," they suggested, "so don't neglect the opportunity to teach them something."

What they meant is that you shouldn't use misleading or false information in tests as a "trick" to make sure they grasp the material: your t........ Read more »

Shana Carpenter, & Edward L DeLosh. (2006) Impoverished cue support enhances subsequent retention: Support for the elaborative retrieval explanation of the testing effect. Memory , 34(2), 268-276.

  • January 2, 2008
  • 12:25 PM

How "gut feelings" influence memory

by Dave Munger in Cognitive Daily

[Originally posted on November 7, 2005]

What does it mean to have a gut feeling that you remember something? You see someone you recognize in a coffee shop. Do you remember her from high school? Or maybe you saw her on television. Could she be the manager of your local bank? Perhaps you don't know her at all ... but you've still got a feeling you do. What's that all about?

One theory of memory proposes that what we remember depends on our expectations. We're less likely to ........ Read more »

Stephen Goldinger, & Whitney A Hansen. (2005) Remembering by the Seat of Your Pants. Psychological Science, 16(7), 525-529. DOI: 10.1111/j.0956-7976.2005.01569.x  

  • January 2, 2008
  • 12:25 PM

Looking down skews distance perception

by Dave Munger in Cognitive Daily

You might think humans are equally good at estimating distances no matter which direction they're looking. After all, we use the same visual tools to make those estimates -- binocular disparity (the different views we see from each eye), occlusion (whether one object is in front of or behind another), and so on. But consider the situation depicted to the right. Nora is inching her way down a steep rock column, with near-vertical drops on either side of her. If she underestimates the distanc........ Read more »

  • December 29, 2007
  • 11:23 PM

Smells we can't detect affect judgments we make about people

by Dave Munger in Cognitive Daily

Do smells have an impact on how we judge people? Certainly if someone smells bad, we may have a negative impression of the person. But what if the smell is so subtle we don't consciously notice it? Research results have been mixed, with some studies actually reporting that we like people more when in the presence of undetectable amounts of bad-smelling stuff. How could that be?

A team led by Wen Li believes that the judges might have actually been able to detect the odor, and then accounte........ Read more »

Wen Li, Isabel Moallem, Ken Paller, & Jay Gottfried. (2007) Subliminal Smells Can Guide Social Preferences. Psychological Science, 18(12), 1044-1049. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2007.02023.x  

  • December 29, 2007
  • 11:23 PM

How babies build a picture of the world

by Dave Munger in Cognitive Daily

[Originally posted on February 20, 2006]

Here's a picture of our daughter Nora at about 3 months of age. She looks like she's fairly aware of the events going on around her (arguably more aware than she sometimes appears now, at age 12). However, as our knowledge of how infants begin to perceive the world around them has increased, we've learned that the world of a three-month-old literally looks different to them than the world we perceive as adults. That's because vision, ........ Read more »

  • December 29, 2007
  • 11:23 PM

Is it possible to be too happy?

by Dave Munger in Cognitive Daily

Happiness is associated with a lot of good things in life. People who are happier tend to get better job ratings, make more money, be more likely to get married, and be more satisfied with their marriages than people who are less happy, even years after the original happiness assessment.

People around the world rate happiness as more important than intelligence, success, and material wealth. But is it possible to be too happy? An extremely happy person might be less motivated to seek a better ........ Read more »

Shigehiro Oishi, Ed Diener, & Richard Lucas. (2007) The Optimum Level of Well-Being: Can People Be Too Happy?. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2(4), 346-360. DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-6916.2007.00048.x  

  • December 29, 2007
  • 11:23 PM

If short-term happiness isn't always best, what about long-term?

by Dave Munger in Cognitive Daily

Earlier this week we discussed the relationship between life satisfaction and other measures of well-being, finding that for measures such as relative income, the happiest people weren't always the best-off. For relationships, however, the happiest individuals also seem to do better.

But these measures were only taken at an instant in time. What about over longer periods? The College and Beyond study questioned incoming college freshmen in 1976, and included a self-rating of "cheerful........ Read more »

Shigehiro Oishi, Ed Diener, & Richard Lucas. (2007) The Optimum Level of Well-Being: Can People Be Too Happy?. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 2(4), 346-360. DOI: 10.1111/j.1745-6916.2007.00048.x  

  • December 18, 2007
  • 08:04 AM

Want someone to remember your face? Smile.

by Dave Munger in Cognitive Daily

This past weekend, I went to two different holiday parties. While many of the people at the parties were friends, I was also introduced to a couple dozen new people -- out of town guests of the hosts, friends of friends, or people from our small town that I somehow had never met. If I run into one of these people at the coffee shop tomorrow, how likely will I be to remember that I've met them before? One possibly relevant factor is that I was a designated driver at just one of the two parti........ Read more »

  • December 13, 2007
  • 03:04 PM

Memories, attention, and intention

by Dave Munger in Cognitive Daily

The human perceptual system is able to enforce a large array of illusions on our conscious experience. Most importantly, we hold the illusion of a complete and vivid picture of our surroundings, while in fact we selectively ignore nearly everything we see.

There's a good reason for this, of course: focusing on the task at hand generally consumes nearly all of the processing power our brains have to offer. If we need to shift our focus to another aspect of our surroundings, we can do it nea........ Read more »

Richard Marsh, Gabriel I Cook, J Thadeus Meeks, Arlo Clark-Foos, & Jason L Hicks. (2007) Memory for intention-related material presented in a to-be-ignored channel. Memory , 35(6), 1197-1204.

  • December 11, 2007
  • 03:05 PM

We hear different music depending on how we dance to it

by Dave Munger in Cognitive Daily

Listen to this short recording:

It's a sequence that repeats every sixth beat. But when we're listening to music, we usually prefer to divide rhythm into two- or three-beat patterns (duple or triple rhythm). In this case, the sequence doesn't make it obvious which pattern is correct. A traditional duple rhythm, like a march, would accent every other beat -- the musicians play every other note a little louder. Similarly, a traditional triple rhythm, like a waltz, accents every ........ Read more »

  • December 6, 2007
  • 03:04 PM

Understanding cocktail-party conversation: Why do we look where we do?

by Dave Munger in Cognitive Daily

When we are trying to understand what someone is saying, we rely a lot on the movement of their face. We pay attention to how their faces move, and that informs our understanding of what is said. The classic example of this is the McGurk effect, where the same sound accompanied by different facial movements gets interpreted differently.

Take a look at this short video clip (QuickTime required) of me talking, with my voice muffled by what sounds like cocktail party conversation:

Can you under........ Read more »

  • December 5, 2007
  • 12:00 PM

Marmosets are altruistic too!

by Tom Rees in Epiphenom

A study out today has shown that marmosets, like humans, can and do act truly altruistically (see refs). Altruism is a hot topic in evolution. True altruism would, on the face of it, reduce an individual's reproductive fitness, and so you might expect that natural selection would weed out any altruists.

As the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy puts it:

... by behaving altruistically an animal reduces its own fitness, so should be at a selective disadvantage vis-à-vis one which behave........ Read more »

  • December 4, 2007
  • 04:04 PM

Kids' misconceptions about numbers -- and how they fix them

by Dave Munger in Cognitive Daily

One of our readers emailed us asking if there has ever been research on whether kids' understanding of numbers -- especially large numbers -- differs from adults. Greta did a little poking around and found a fascinating study on second- and fourth-graders.

In the U.S. (and I suspect around the world), kids this age are usually taught about numbers using a number line. In first grade, they might be introduced to a line from 0 or 1 to 10. In second grade, this is typically expanded up to 100........ Read more »

  • November 28, 2007
  • 04:04 PM

"Just smile, you'll feel better!" Will you? Really?

by Dave Munger in Cognitive Daily

Do people ever tell you to "just smile, you'll feel better"? If you're like our daughter Nora, you hear it a lot, and you get annoyed every time you hear it. Telling a teenager to smile is probably one of the best ways to ensure she won't smile for the next several hours. But the notion that "smiling will make you feel better" has actually been confirmed by research. There are several studies demonstrating that people are happier when they smile, at least in ce........ Read more »

  • November 26, 2007
  • 06:04 PM

What's the best way to help kids become good adults? Some possible answers

by Dave Munger in Cognitive Daily

What do most parents want for their kids as they grow into adults? Successful careers? Happy family lives? Or do they simply want their children to be good people? They probably want all of these things -- and a little wealth and fame wouldn't hurt either. The bigger question parents have is about the right way to inspire, motivate, cajole, or prod their kids in the direction they believe is most likely to yield the desired results.

There's been a lot of research about good parenting,........ Read more »

Gustavo Carlo, Meredith McGinley, Rachel Hayes, Candice Batenhorst, & Jamie Wilkinson. (2007) Parenting styles or practices? Parenting, sympathy, and prosocial behaviors among adolescents. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 168(2), 147-176.

  • November 23, 2007
  • 11:38 AM

Does the color red really impair performance on tests?

by Dave Munger in Cognitive Daily

One of the things I was taught in English graduate school was never to grade papers using red ink. Students don't respond well to the color red, I was told -- it's intimidating. I always thought this was a little far-fetched, and my instructors couldn't offer a peer-reviewed journal article that definitively answered the question of whether red ink was harmful.

There is some research on the question of whether red is harmful in an academic setting -- but it's inconclusive, w........ Read more »

Andrew Elliot, Markus A Maier, Arlen C Moller, Ron Friedman, & Jrg Meinhardt. (2007) Color and psychological functioning: The effect of red on performance attainment. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 136(1), 154-168. DOI: 10.1037/0096-3445.136.1.154  

  • November 23, 2007
  • 11:38 AM

Wine and taste: Wine labels also affect our opinions of the food we eat

by Dave Munger in Cognitive Daily

Both Greta and I are big wine fans. Despite Jonah's recent extremely popular post, I, at least, believe that I can tell the difference between good and bad wines. I'm still convinced that a good wine is more than just an attractive label (though I'm a sucker for labels with Zinfandel puns like "Zen of Zin" or "Amazin"). That said, the research suggesting that labeling has a lot to do with wine preference is also quite convincing.

Several studies suggest that ........ Read more »

  • November 23, 2007
  • 11:38 AM

Why does seeing red make test-takers choke?

by Dave Munger in Cognitive Daily

Yesterday we discussed several experiments offering converging evidence that exposure to the color red, even for brief periods before taking a test, can result in lower achievement. It's startling research, but as my daughter suggested at breakfast this morning, maybe people are just intimidated by the color red because that's the color that's always used for grading.

Aren't we just conditioned to see red as threatening? That might be part of it, but in nature red also frequ........ Read more »

Andrew Elliot, Markus A Maier, Arlen C Moller, Ron Friedman, & Jrg Meinhardt. (2007) Color and psychological functioning: The effect of red on performance attainment. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 136(1), 154-168. DOI: 10.1037/0096-3445.136.1.154  

  • November 23, 2007
  • 11:38 AM

Selfishness or competition: Which is the stronger influence on behavior?

by Dave Munger in Cognitive Daily

Suppose you're playing a game where the goal is to accumulate as many points as possible. Now suppose your decisions -- and only your decisions -- control not only how many points you get, but also how many points the other player gets. Suppose further that at the end of the game, you'll be able to cash in your points at a rate of 10 cents per point.

Now consider this scenario, one of a series of similar scenarios throughout the game: If you take 7 points, then the other player gets 9........ Read more »

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