1. Study shows how brain combines subtle sensory signals to take notice

    March 28, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Brown University press release:

    A new study describes a key mechanism in the brain that allows animals to recognize and react when subtle sensory signals that might not seem important on their own occur simultaneously. Such “multisensory integration” (MSI) is a vital skill for young brains to develop, said the authors of the paper in eLife, because it shapes how effectively animals can make sense of their surroundings.

    For a mouse, that ability can make the difference between life and death. Neither a faint screech nor a tiny black speck in the sky might trigger any worry, but the two together strongly suggest a hawk is in the air. It matters in daily human life, too. An incoming call on a cell phone can be more noticeable when it is signaled visually and with sound, for example.

    “It’s really important to understand how all of our senses interact to give us a whole picture of the world,” said study lead author Torrey Truszkowski, a neuroscience doctoral student at Brown University. “If something is super salient in the visual system — a bright flash of light — you don’t need the multisensory mechanism. If there is only a small change in light levels, you might ignore it — but if in the same area of visual space you also have a piece of auditory information coming in, then you are more likely to notice that and decide if you need to do something about that.”

    To understand how that happens, Truszkowski and her team performed the new study in tadpoles. The juvenile frogs turn out to be a very convenient model of a developing MSI architecture that has a direct analog in the brains of mammals including humans.

    Neuroscientists call the key property the tadpoles modeled in this study, the ability of brain cells and circuits to sometimes respond strongly to faint signals, “inverse effectiveness.” Study senior author Carlos Aizenman, associate professor of neuroscience and member of the Brown Institute for Brain Science, said the new paper represents, “the first cellular-level explanation of inverse effectiveness, a property of MSI that allows the brain to selectively amplify weak sensory inputs from single sources and that represent multiple sensory modalities.”

    Tadpole trials

    To achieve that explanation at the level of cells and proteins, the researchers started with behavior. Tadpoles swimming in a laboratory dish will speed up — as if startled — when they detect a strong and sudden sensory stimulus, such as a pattern of stripes projected from beneath or a loud clicking sound. In their first experiment, the researchers measured changes in swimming speed when they provided strong stimuli, then weaker stimuli, and finally weaker stimuli in combination.

    What they found is that more subtle versions of the stimuli — for example, stripes with only 25 percent of maximum contrast — barely affected swim speed when presented alone. But when such subtle stripes were presented simultaneously with subtle clicks, they produced a startle response as great as when full-contrast stripes were projected on the dish.

    To understand how that works in the brain, the researchers conducted further experiments where they made measurements in a region called the optic tectum where tadpoles process sensory information. In mammals such as humans, the same function is performed by cells in the superior colliculus. The tadpole optic tectum sits right at the top of the brain. Given that fortuitous position and the animals’ transparent skin, scientists can easily observe the activity of cells and networks in living, behaving tadpoles using biochemistry to make different cells light up when they are active.

    In many individual cells and across networks in the optic tectum, the researchers found that neural activity barely budged when tadpoles saw, heard or felt a subtle stimulus individually, but it jumped tremendously when subtle stimuli were simultaneous. The “inverse effectiveness” apparent in the swim speed behavior had a clear correlate in the response of brain cells and networks that process the senses.

    The key question was how that inverse effectiveness works. The team had two molecular suspects in mind: a receptor for the neurotransmitter GABA or a specific type of glutamate receptor called NMDA. In experiments, they used chemicals to block receptors for either. They found the blocking GABA didn’t affect inverse effectiveness but that blocking NMDA made a significant difference.

    NMDA’s role makes sense because it is already known to matter in detecting coincidence, for instance when the spiny dendrites of a neuron receive simultaneous signals from other neurons. Truszkowski said the study shows that NMDA is crucial for inverse effectiveness in MSI, though it might not be the only receptor at work.

    Developing the senses

    The research is part of a larger study of multisensory integration in Aizenman’s lab. Last year, as part of the same investigation, the researchers found that developing tadpole brains refine their judgment of whether stimuli are truly simultaneous as they progressively change the balance of excitation and inhibition among neurons in the optic tectum.

    Aizenman’s lab seeks to understand how perception develops early in life, not only as a matter of basic science but also because it could provide insights into human disorders in which sensory processing develops abnormally, as in some forms of autism.

    The lab has an autism model in tadpoles. Truszkowski said an interesting next step could be to conduct these experiments with those tadpoles.


  2. Rethinking the use of warnings with transcript and video evidence in trials

    March 24, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Liverpool press release:

    New research from the University of Liverpool examining the impact multiple forms of evidence has on juror perceptions during criminal trials has found the use of video material could be detrimental without the use of a judicial warning.

    Currently during criminal trials transcripts of audio recordings played during a trial may be provided to the jury to help them understand what is said in the recording.

    The decision to furnish jurors with copies of a transcript to assist them in listening to the audio recording is subject to the sound discretion of the trial judge.

    Judicial warnings

    In one case, according to the Court of Appeal in England and Wales, there had been no exceptional circumstances that justified a jury retiring with a transcript of the complainant’s interview.

    Research, led by Dr Jacqueline Wheatcroft from the University’s Institute of Psychology, Health and Society, examined the impact multiple evidence forms and use of a judicial warning has on juror evaluations of a witness.

    Judicial warnings focus juror attention on placing disproportionate weight on the evidence as opposed to their general impression of it.

    Perceptions of witness

    As part of the study sixty jury eligible adult participants were recruited from the general population, and across a range of occupations. The overall sample consisted of 20 males and 40 females aged between 18 and 55 years.

    They were presented with witness evidence in transcript, video, or transcript plus video format. Half the participants in each condition received the warning.

    All mock jurors completed a questionnaire which assessed perceptions of witness and task.

    Outcomes showed that transcript plus video evidence, when accompanied by a warning, did impact on mock jurors’ global assessments of the witness. The warning reduced ratings of witness reliability and how satisfactory the witness was deemed to be. The warning also made the task less clear for jurors and, in the video condition alone, led to higher ratings of how satisfactory and reliable the witness was.

    Findings support the provision of a judicial warning to jurors when video material is used and show some initial support for judiciary opposition to the provision of an additional transcript only when jurors are asked to make the more usual global witness assessments.

    The study has been published in The Journal of Psychology.

    Warnings needed in some circumstances

    Dr Jacqueline Wheatcroft, said: “The study showed mock jurors’ global assessments of a witness were significantly affected by the presentation of transcript + video evidence in conjunction with a judicial warning.

    “The findings also emphasize the importance of providing jurors with a warning should video evidence be presented alone.”

    “Finally, the judiciary might develop warnings to encourage jurors to consider how satisfactory and/or reliable they find witnesses.”


  3. Group tolerance linked to perceptions of fairness and harm

    March 22, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Carnegie Mellon University press release:

    Look for the fault line in any modern conflict and it likely follows a familiar division between the opposing groups. Whether that divide is sectarian, ethnic or ideological, people’s devotion to the values that define their communities can make it seem as if violence along their boundaries is inevitable.

    But a new study of groups in tension or conflict found evidence that people are willing to share a society with those of differing beliefs as long as they believe that those groups share a commitment to universal moral values such as fairness and harm.

    Published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Carnegie Mellon University’s Nichole Argo and The New School for Social Research’s Nadine Obeid and Jeremy Ginges interviewed hundreds of members of sectarian groups in Lebanon, ethnic groups in Morocco and ideological factions in the United States. Their findings undermine political claims that conflicts arise because of differences in what they call “binding” values, such as beliefs about God, purity or deference to authority. Members of groups may believe in these things, but they don’t necessarily expect others to share those beliefs.

    “In essence, I can eat dinner with, date, marry or live close to you even if you don’t believe in the same God or eat the same foods. But I will distance myself from you and your group in these ways if I perceive that you don’t play fair or that you don’t care about others,” said Argo, a research scientist in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy at CMU with a courtesy appointment in the Department of Social and Decision Sciences.

    In Lebanon, the authors asked 376 undergraduates from the Lebanese American University — a mix of Christian, Sunni and Shiite students from middle-class backgrounds — how comfortable they’d be living near and socializing with members of the other sectarian groups. The answer, they found, depended on how much the individual thought the other group prioritized universal “autonomy” values such as harm and fairness. The same was true in Morocco, where they hired local researchers to survey 100 Arabs and Berbers in six districts around Greater Casablanca.

    The authors then asked if a desire to change intergroup relations would motivate increased perceptions of moral difference between groups. If so, would this occur primarily on the basis of universal values of fairness and harm?

    To find out, they interviewed 362 New Yorkers about abortion and same-sex marriage. They found that for participants who espoused either the liberal or the conservative view, thinking about an issue around which they desired a change in the status quo led to a perception of greater distance between self and other in autonomy values, but not binding ones.

    In other words, on issues where participants wanted a status change in an issue that currently favored the other group, they perceived greater differences in autonomy values.

    “This study provides insights about others, but also ourselves,” Argo said. “Do we really distance ourselves from others because of the religious garb they wear, or what they eat? No. We distance ourselves when we don’t trust them to treat us well. Given this, it becomes essential to care about how others perceive our own group’s behavior.”

    She added, “Since people do not usually hate because of differences in ways of life, they may be thinking that our actions disregard them, or worse, constitute attacks against them. Sometimes those perceptions can be prevented or corrected. It’s the golden rule: how we treat others matters.”


  4. Virtual characters that touch you are seen as being warmer and friendlier

    March 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Twente press release:

    Touch is a basic need. A University of Twente study has shown that virtual characters that can touch you are seen as being warmer and friendlier. Previous research had already shown that this applies to human interaction. This new University of Twente study has demonstrated that the same principle applies to interactions with virtual characters. Gijs Huisman, who carried out his PhD research at the University of Twente, investigated this phenomenon using a special sleeve that
    fits around your arm. His research is part of a major research programme into the effects of being touched by a computer. Huisman was awarded a PhD for this study on 24 February. In addition, he launched a Kickstarter campaign to market the HEY bracelet. The HEY bracelet is the first bracelet capable of simulating human touch.

    Gijs Huisman’s PhD research at the University of Twente involved a special sleeve that fits around your arm. Vibration motors in the sleeve give you the feeling that you are being caressed. Test subjects played a game featuring an avatar. Whenever the avatar touched them, they experienced its caress through the sleeve. Avatars that caressed test subjects in this way were seen as being nicer than those that did not.

    Various studies have shown that touch is a basic biological need. Individuals who are touched are more inclined to exhibit pro-social behaviour towards the person touching them. A touch can be soothing, and can relieve stress. Children who have had too little physical contact tend to have weaker immune systems and are more likely to have learning difficulties. Huisman’s research focuses on how technology can be applied to affective communication. He is exploring ways in which people can touch one another at a distance, and how virtual characters and social robots can enrich contact by means of touch: ‘Social Touch Technology’.

    Computers of the future will be able to touch you

    Huisman predicts that “Computers of the future will involve more physical interaction. Actually, it’s a bit odd that this hasn’t happened already, given the importance of touch in human contact.” According to Huisman, personal assistant applications for smartphones, such as Siri, will tend to become even more human as time goes on. Not only will these assistants be able to understand what you are saying, they will also register the underlying emotions and respond accordingly. Huisman thinks that “In future, Siri will give you a pat on the back, to encourage you to go for a run. Or it will try to comfort you, by squeezing your hand. Touch makes the experience more intense and strengthens the sense of ‘presence’. It all seems much more real. This could be very useful in the context of online coaching or online therapy, for example. But it could also be used in horror video games, to simulate something grabbing hold of you. Remote touch can also help you to strengthen ties with people who live far away, such as lonely elderly people. The possibilities are endless.”

    HEY Bracelet

    Huisman and his team designed the HEY bracelet, which makes remote touch possible. This is the first bracelet that is capable of simulating a real human touch. It uses a gentle ‘pinch’, rather than a mechanical vibration. Huisman points out that “People can use the HEY bracelet to touch one another at a distance. When you squeeze your bracelet, your loved one’s bracelet squeezes them.” HEY uses advanced technology that communicates with your smartphone via Bluetooth. On 13 February, HEY launched a campaign on Kickstarter. Its funding target is €125,000, which will enable it to take the next step towards production. The amount on the counter is currently €95,000. A set of HEY bracelets will cost €62. The company’s founder, Mark van Rossem, recruited Huisman due to his expertise in this area. Huisman adds that “I have been struck by the enormous enthusiasm shown by those who have used the bracelet.” It feels as if someone is gently squeezing your wrist. We want to make it possible for people all over the world to experience a sense of physical intimacy, even at a distance. As a scientist, I am very curious about the potential impact of this technology.”


  5. Sensory links between autism and synesthesia pinpointed

    March 20, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Sussex press release:

    Concrete links between the symptoms of autism and synaesthesia have been discovered and clarified for the first time, according to new research by psychologists at the University of Sussex.

    The study, conducted by world-leading experts in both conditions at Sussex and the University of Cambridge and published in the journal Scientific Reports, found that both groups experience remarkably similar heightened sensory sensitivity, despite clear differences in communicative ability and social skills.

    Two previous studies had found an increased prevalence of synaesthesia in autistic subjects, suggesting that although they are not always found in conjunction, the two conditions occur together more often than would be expected by chance alone. However, this is the first study that has attempted to draw a definitive symptomatic link between the two.

    Synaesthesia and autism seem on the surface to be rather different things, with synaesthesia defined as a ‘joining of the senses’ in which music may trigger colours or words may trigger tastes, and autism defined by impaired social understanding and communication.

    The new research shows that both groups report heightened sensory sensitivity, such as an aversion to certain sounds and lights, as well as reporting differences in their tendency to attend to detail. However, the synaesthetes tended not to report difficulties on the traditional communicative symptoms that usually define autism. While the research shows that there are certainly links between the two conditions, these appear to be sensory rather than social.

    The study was led by Professor Jamie Ward, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience and Co-Director Sussex Neuroscience group, alongside Sussex Psychology colleague, Professor Julia Simner; and Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology at the University of Cambridge and Director of the Autism Research Centre.

    Commenting on the research, Prof Ward said: “Synaesthesia has traditionally been considered more of a gift than an impairment, whereas the opposite could often be said of autism. Our research suggests that the two have much more in common than was previously thought, and that many of the sensory traits that autistic people possess are also found in those who experience synaesthesia.

    “Though further research is required, our understanding of autism in the context of synaesthetic abilities may help us unlock the secrets of some of the more positive aspects of autism, such as savantism, while also uncovering further neurological links between the two conditions.”

    Another research paper by the group of researchers, looking more closely at the question of savantism in people with autism, is also due to be published soon.

    Reinforcing their initial research, it shows that synaesthesia tends to be particularly prevalent in people with autism who also have unexpected ‘savant’ abilities, such as superior abilities in arithmetic, memory and art.

    Prof Ward added: “Though some theories propose a causal link between increased sensory sensitivity and impaired social functioning in people with autism, our research so far demonstrates the value of considering synaesthesia on the same spectrum as autism from a sensory point of view.

    We hope in future to be able to continue to explore the relationship between perceptual, cognitive and social symptoms and abilities in autistic and synaesthetic people.”


  6. Couples may miss cues that partner is hiding emotions, study suggests

    by Ashley

    From the Washington University in St. Louis press release:

    Even the most blissful of couples in long-running, exclusive relationships may be fairly clueless when it comes to spotting the ploys their partner uses to avoid dealing with emotional issues, suggests new research from psychologists at Washington University in St. Louis.

    Happier couples see their partners in a more positive light than do less happy couples,” said Lameese Eldesouky, lead author of the study and a doctoral student in Psychological and Brain Sciences at Washington University. “They tend to underestimate how often a partner is suppressing emotions and to overestimate a partner’s ability to see the bright side of an issue that might otherwise spark negative emotions.”

    Titled “Love is Blind, but Not Completely: Emotion Regulation Trait Judgments in Romantic Relationships,” Eldesouky’s presentation of the study was offered Jan. 20 at the 2017 meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

    Published in the Journal of Personality, the study examines how accurate and biased dating couples are in judging personality characteristics that reflect ways of managing one’s emotions.

    It focuses on two coping mechanisms that can be difficult to spot due to the lack of related visual cues: expressive suppression (stoically hiding one’s emotions behind a calm and quiet poker face) and cognitive reappraisal (changing one’s perspective to see the silver lining behind a bad situation).

    Other findings include:

    • Couples generally are able to judge their partners’ emotion regulation patterns with some degree of accuracy, but are somewhat less accurate in judging reappraisal than suppression.
    • Women see their partners in a more positive light than do men, overestimating their partners’ ability to look on the bright side.
    • If someone is generally more emotional, their romantic partner thinks they are less likely to hide emotions.
    • If someone frequently expresses positive emotions, such as happiness, their romantic partner thinks they use reappraisal more than they actually do.

    Co-authored by Tammy English, assistant professor of psychology at Washington University, and James Gross, professor of psychology at Stanford University, the study is based on completed questionnaires and interviews with 120 heterosexual couples attending colleges in Northern California.

    Participants, ranging in age from 18 to 25 years, were recruited as part of a larger study on emotion in close relationships. Each couple had been dating on an exclusive basis for more than six months, with some together as long as four years.

    In a previous study, English and Gross found that men are more likely than women to use suppression with their partners, and that the ongoing use of emotional suppression can be damaging to the long-term quality of a relationship.

    “Suppression is often considered a negative trait while reappraisal is considered a positive trait because of the differential impact these strategies have on emotional well-being and social relationships,” English said.

    “How well you are able to judge someone else’s personality depends on your personal skills, your relationship with the person you are judging and the particular trait you are trying to judge,” English added. “This study suggests that suppression might be easier to judge than reappraisal because suppression provides more external cues, such as appearing stoic.”


  7. Musical scales may have developed to accommodate vocal limitations

    March 19, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University at Buffalo press release:

    For singers and their audiences, being “in tune” might not be as important as we think. The fact that singers fail to consistently hit the right notes may have implications for the development of musical scales as well.

    At issue is not whether singers hit the right or wrong note, but how close are they to any note. It’s what researchers call microtuning, according to Peter Pfordresher, a UB psychologist and the paper’s lead author of a new paper with Steven Brown of McMaster University published in the Journal of Cognitive Psychology.

    The findings not only suggest a different approach to the aesthetics of singing but could have a role in understanding the evolutionary development of the scales, as well as applications to childhood singing development and speech production for tone languages.

    There is a long-standing belief that musical scales arose from simple harmonic ratios. The Greek mathematician Pythagoras found that plucking a string at certain points produced pleasing steps similar to the progression heard in musical scales — Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do. Scales came about as a way of getting as close as possible to Pythagoras’ pure tuning.

    Or maybe not.

    Pfordresher says there are at least three problems with trying to match Pythagoras’ pure tuning. First, scales are not purely tuned, which has been known for a long time. It’s also not clear to what extent all of the world’s musical scales tie into the kinds of principles Pythagoras pioneered. Pfordresher cites Indonesian musical scales as an example that does not align itself with Pythagorean pure tones.

    The third problems rests with Pythagoras basing his theory on instruments, first strings and later pipes.

    “This is where Steve and I came up with our evolutionary idea,” says Pfordresher. “Probably the best starting point to think about what we call music is to look at singing, not instruments.”

    The researchers studied three groups of singers of varying abilities: professionals, untrained singers who tend sing in tune and the untrained who tend not to sing in tune. They weren’t listening for whether the singers were hitting the right notes, but rather how close they were to any note.

    Pfordresher and Brown found that the groups did not differ in terms of microtuning, although they were very different aesthetically.

    “Our proposal is, maybe scales were designed as a way to accommodate how out of tune, how variable singers are,” says Pfordresher. “We suggest that the starting point for scales and tuning for scales was probably not the tuning of musical instruments, but the mistuning of the human voice.”

    To set up a kind of musical grammar requires rules that allow for songs to be understood, remembered and reproduced. To accomplish these goals, that system needs pitches spaced widely enough to accommodate inconsistencies from person to person.

    The space between Do and Re, for instance, is heard by playing two adjacent white keys on a piano keyboard and provides that kind of liberal spacing.

    “When you look around the world, you find there are a couple of properties for scales,” says Pfordresher. “There’s a tendency to have notes that are spaced somewhat broadly, much more broadly than the fine gradations in pitch that our ears can pick up.”

    This broad spacing helps all kinds of singers, including the nightingale wren, a bird whose virtuosity has been the province of poets since antiquity. Pfordresher says earlier research by Marcelo Araya-Salas found that flexibly tuned instruments like violins and trombones were more in tune that the wren’s song.

    And though not part of the published study, Pfordresher also analyzed an excerpt of a studio version of Frank Sinatra singing “The Best is Yet to Come.”

    “It’s a wonderful recording and a challenging song to sing, but when acoustically analyzed using several measurements, the pitches are not purely tuned,” says Pfordresher. “Although he’s close enough for our ears.”


  8. People can match names to faces of strangers with surprising accuracy

    March 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the American Psychological Association press release:

    IF

    If your name is Fred, do you look like a Fred? You might — and others might think so, too. New research published by the American Psychological Association has found that people appear to be better than chance at correctly matching people’s names to their faces, and it may have something to do with cultural stereotypes we attach to names.

    In the study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, lead author Yonat Zwebner, a PhD candidate at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem at the time of the research, and colleagues conducted a series of experiments involving hundreds of participants in Israel and France. In each experiment, participants were shown a photograph and asked to select the given name that corresponded to the face from a list of four or five names. In every experiment, the participants were significantly better (25 to 40 percent accurate) at matching the name to the face than random chance (20 or 25 percent accurate depending on the experiment) even when ethnicity, age and other socioeconomic variables were controlled for.

    The researchers theorize the effect may be, in part, due to cultural stereotypes associated with names as they found the effect to be culture-specific. In one experiment conducted with students in both France and Israel, participants were given a mix of French and Israeli faces and names. The French students were better than random chance at matching only French names and faces and Israeli students were better at matching only Hebrew names and Israeli faces.

    In another experiment, the researchers trained a computer, using a learning algorithm, to match names to faces. In this experiment, which included over 94,000 facial images, the computer was also significantly more likely (54 to 64 percent accuracy) to be successful than random chance (50 percent accuracy).

    This manifestation of the name in a face might be due to people subconsciously altering their appearance to conform to cultural norms and cues associated with their names, according to Zwebner.

    “We are familiar with such a process from other stereotypes, like ethnicity and gender where sometimes the stereotypical expectations of others affect who we become,” said Zwebner. “Prior research has shown there are cultural stereotypes attached to names, including how someone should look. For instance, people are more likely to imagine a person named Bob to have a rounder face than a person named Tim. We believe these stereotypes can, over time, affect people’s facial appearance.”

    This was supported by findings of one experiment showing that areas of the face that can be controlled by the individual, such as hairstyle, were sufficient to produce the effect.

    “Together, these findings suggest that facial appearance represents social expectations of how a person with a particular name should look. In this way, a social tag may influence one’s facial appearance,” said co-author Ruth Mayo, PhD, also from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “We are subject to social structuring from the minute we are born, not only by gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, but by the simple choice others make in giving us our name.”


  9. Study reveals how eyewitness testimonies can go wrong

    March 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Florida Atlantic University press release:

    Eyewitnesses identify more than 75,000 suspects each year in the United States and their testimonies are one of the most compelling and powerful forms of evidence for a jury. But, it’s not foolproof — just ask the 242 individuals who were mistakenly identified by eyewitnesses and served years in prison for crimes they did not commit until they were exonerated thanks to the introduction of DNA testing.

    Research by psychologists at Florida Atlantic University gives new meaning to the notion of “guilt by association” and aims to test how memory in humans as well as police use of mugshots and subtle innuendo can contaminate eyewitness testimonies. Using a laboratory setting, they investigated the phenomenon of unconscious transference — when an eyewitness misidentifies a familiar but innocent person in a mugshot or lineup — and recently published their results in the journal Memory & Cognition. Police departments currently use a number of methods to identify the culprit of a crime, including individual mugshots, an array of mugshots, composite sketches and lineups. Often, eyewitnesses are exposed to one or more of these procedures coupled with feedback from law enforcement.

    “There are a number of ways that eyewitness testimony can be contaminated with misleading information and that’s why you have to treat memory like other forms of forensic evidence,” said Alan Kersten, Ph.D., co-author of the study and an associate professor of psychology in FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Science. “If you handle it right you can often get useful information from it.”

    Kersten and collaborator Julie Earles, Ph.D., co-author and a professor of psychology in FAU’s Harriet L. Wilkes Honors College, were looking for answers to a key question involving eyewitness testimonies and mugshots: “Does presenting a picture along with a question like ‘is this the person who did it?’ create an association between those two things that could then cause an eyewitness to later falsely remember seeing that person doing that action?”

    For the study, participants were broken into two age groups: a median age of around 19 years old and a median age of around 71 years old. Each participant was shown a series of snippet videos of actors doing simple actions and were then instructed to remember which person had performed each task. The researchers created 84 mugshots from these videos as well as a series of various scenarios of events. For each trial, study participants were shown two mugshots: one depicting an actor from one of the videos and the other depicting a new, random actor. Each mugshot was accompanied by a question about a particular action such as “which of these people did you see watering a plant?” After completing the mugshot trials, older adults and half of the younger adults were tested immediately for their recognition of the events they had seen, whereas the other younger adults returned about three weeks later.

    Results from the study confirm what the researchers have long suspected — viewing a mugshot along with a question like “is this the person who did it?” can lead to the creation of a specific association between the person and the queried action.

    They found that both younger and older participants were more likely to falsely recognize the test events if the actors appearing in those events also had appeared in the mugshots. However, the mechanisms underlying this effect were different for younger and older adults. With older adults, mugshot viewing led them to experience a feeling of familiarity when they saw the pictured actor performing a familiar action from one of the videos, even if it was a different action than the one that was suggested when they viewed the actor’s mugshot. This suggests that older adults recognized the familiar person but could not recall the source or reason for that familiarity. Younger adults, on the other hand, were more likely to falsely recognize a suspect if a mugshot of the actor was accompanied by a question about the action that the actor was now seen performing. This finding suggests that the young adults formed a specific association between the pictured actor and the queried action, causing them to later falsely recollect having seen that actor perform that action.

    “False recollection is really troubling from a legal perspective because this type of memory leads an eyewitness to put a face to a context of a crime scene, incorrectly linking the two together and leading to the conclusion that this person committed the crime,” said Earles. “And to complicate matters even more, since it can take years for a case to appear before a jury, memory also can be altered with the passage of time.”

    Kersten and Earles caution that this type of memory leads to a high level of confidence, especially in younger eyewitnesses, because they are convinced “beyond a reasonable doubt” that they saw the suspect committing the crime.

    “Eyewitnesses remember the crime itself and remember seeing a familiar person before but they may incorrectly visualize these two pieces of information together,” said Kersten. “Because they are able to place the familiar person in the context of the crime scene, this may lead them to confidently assert that they saw the person commit the crime.”


  10. Study suggests Mona Lisa’s smile less ambiguous than previously thought

    March 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Freiburg press release:

    It is perhaps the world’s most famous painting: Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. The ambiguous facial expression of Mona Lisa was long thought to be one of the main reasons for its great appeal: Is she happy or sad? Scientists at the Medical Center — University of Freiburg, the Institute of Psychology of the University of Freiburg and the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health (IGPP) in Freiburg have now published a study demonstrating that test subjects almost always perceive Mona Lisa as happy. They also determined that the emotional assessment of the image depends on which other versions of it are shown. The researchers presented the test participants with the original painting and eight image versions in which the corners of Mona Lisa’s mouth are slightly raised or lowered to create a sadder or happier facial expression. The study was published in the online journal Scientific Reports on 10 March 2017.

    “We were very surprised to find out that the original Mona Lisa is almost always seen as being happy. That calls the common opinion among art historians into question,” says PD Dr. Jürgen Kornmeier, a scientist at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health in Freiburg and at the Eye Center of the Medical Center — University of Freiburg.

    Happier Faces Are Identified More Quickly

    The team of scientists led by Dr. Kornmeier and his colleague Prof. Dr. Ludger Tebartz van Elst, chief senior physician at the Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy of the Medical Center — University of Freiburg, began by creating eight versions of the Mona Lisa that differed only in gradual changes to the curvature of her mouth. The researchers then presented the original, four versions with a sadder face, and four with a happier face in random order. Their participants indicated for each version whether they perceived it as happy or sad by pressing a button and then rated how certain they were of their response. The responses were added up to form a percentage on a scale from sad to happy and a rating for the certainty of the responses.

    The original and all of the more positive versions were perceived as happy in nearly 100 percent of the cases. The participants identified happy faces more quickly and with a higher degree of certainty than sad faces. “It appears as if our brain is biased to positive facial expressions,” says Emanuela Liaci, Dr. Kornmeiers PhD student and first author of the publication.

    Sadness Is Relative

    In a second experiment, the researchers kept the image with the least mouth curvature as the saddest version, took the original Mona Lisa as the happiest version, and chose seven intermediate versions, three of them from the first experiment. The researchers were astonished to find that the participants tended to perceive the various versions of the image as sadder when the range of images they had been shown had overall sadder facial expressions. “The data show that our perception, for instance of whether something is sad or happy, is not absolute but adapts to the environment with astonishing speed,” says Dr. Kornmeier.

    The study is part of a larger project on perceptual processes Dr. Kornmeier and Prof. Tebartz van Elst are conducting at the Medical Center — University of Freiburg. “Our senses have only access to a limited part of the information from our environment, for instance because an object is partially hidden or poorly illuminated,” explains Dr. Kornmeier. “The brain then needs to use this restricted and often ambiguous sensory information to construct an image of the world that comes as close to reality as possible.” The Freiburg researchers are studying how healthy people perform this perceptual construction and whether this is different in people with autism and psychotic disorder.