1. Artists and architects think differently compared to other people

    July 18, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University College London press release:

    Architects, painters and sculptors conceive of spaces in different ways from other people and from each other, finds a new study by UCL and Bangor University researchers.

    When asked to talk about images of places, painters are more likely to describe the depicted space as a two-dimensional image, while architects are more likely to focus on paths and the boundaries of the space.

    “We found that painters, sculptors and architects consistently showed signs of their profession when talking about the spaces we showed them, and all three groups had more elaborate, detailed descriptions than people in unrelated professions,” said senior author Dr Hugo Spiers (UCL Psychology & Language Sciences).

    For the study, published in Cognitive Science, the researchers brought in 16 people from each of the three professions — they all had at least eight years of experience and included Sir Anthony Gormley — alongside 16 participants without any relevant background, who acted as controls. The participants were presented with a Google Street View image, a painting of St. Peter’s Basilica, and a computer-generated surreal scene. They had to describe the environment, explain how they would explore the space, and suggest changes to the environment in the image.

    The researchers categorised elements of the responses for both qualitative and quantitative analyses using a novel technique called Cognitive Discourse Analysis, developed by one of the co-authors, Dr Thora Tenbrink (Bangor University), designed to highlight aspects of thought that underlie linguistic choices, beyond what speakers are consciously aware of.

    “By looking at language systematically we found some consistent patterns, which turned out to be quite revealing,” Dr Tenbrink said.

    The painters tended to shift between describing the scene as a 3D space or as a 2D image. Architects were more likely to describe barriers and boundaries of the space, and used more dynamic terms, while sculptors’ responses were between the two. Painters and architects also differed in how they described the furthest point of the space, as painters called it the ‘back’ and architects called it the ‘end.’ The control participants gave less elaborate responses, which the authors say went beyond just a lack of expert terminology.

    “Our study has provided evidence that your career may well change the way you think. There’s already extensive research into how culture changes cognition, but here we’ve found that even within the same culture, people of different professions differ in how they appreciate the world,” said Dr Spiers.

    “Our findings also raise the possibility that people who are already inclined to see the world as a 2D image, or who focus on the borders of a space, may be more inclined to pursue painting or architecture,” he said.

    “In their day-to-day work, artists and architects have a heightened awareness of their surroundings, which seems to have a deep influence on the way they conceive of space,” said the study’s first author, Claudia Cialone (now based at the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language, Australian National University). “We hope our research will lead to further studies into the spatial cognition of other professionals, which could help devise new ways of understanding, representing and communicating space for ourselves.”


  2. Study examines the secret connection between anxiety, sleep

    July 17, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Tsukuba press release:

    You may have experienced sleepless nights when you were anxious, stressed or too excited. Such emotions are well-known to affect wakefulness and can even cause insomnia, though the underlying mechanisms in our brain have still been unclear. Scientists in the Sleep Institute in Japan spotted neurons that play crucial roles in connecting emotions and sleep, shedding light on the future discovery of drug targets for anxiety disorder and/or sleep disorders.

    Encountering predators, adapting to a novel environment or expecting a reward ? these stressful or emotionally-salient situations require animals to shift their behavior to a vigilant state, altering their physiological conditions through modulation of autonomic and endocrine functions.

    The bed nucleus of the stria terminalis (BNST) is a part of the extended amygdala, which is generally considered as a key player in stress response, fear and anxiety. Through projections to various brain regions including relay nuclei of the autonomic nervous system, hypothalamic regions and the central nucleus of the amygdala, the BNST controls endocrine and autonomic reactions in response to emotionally-salient stimuli, along with behavioral expression of anxiety and fear.

    A group of researchers led by Takeshi Sakurai, Vice Director of the International Institute for Integrative Sleep Medicine (WPI-IIIS), University of Tsukuba, found that acute optogenetic excitation of GABAergic neurons in BNST during non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep in mice resulted in immediate transition to a wakefulness state without the function of orexins, highly important neuropeptides for maintaining wakefulness. Notably, stimulation of the same neurons during REM sleep did not show any effects on sleep/wakefulness states.

    Prolonged excitation of GABAergic neurons in BNST by a chemogenetic method evoked a longer-lasting, sustained wakefulness state, and it was abolished by administering a dual orexin receptor blocker (antagonist) DORA 22 in advance, meaning that orexins are involved in this phenomenon.

    “Our study revealed a role of the BNST GABAergic system in sleep/wakefulness control, especially in shifting animals’ behavioral states from NREM sleep to wakefulness. It also provides an important insight into the pathophysiology of insomnia and the role of orexin in arousal regulation, which will hopefully lead to the first step to develop remedies for sleep disorders,” Sakurai says.


  3. Brain’s fight and flight responses to social threat

    by Ashley

    From the Society for Neuroscience press release:

    A study published in eNeuro exploring the neural correlates of the ‘fight-or-flight’ response finds that people who choose to flee perceive a greater threat, which leads them to mentally and behaviorally disengage from the situation.

    Macià Buades-Rotger and colleagues designed a Lord of the Rings-themed experiment in which 36 female participants competed as Frodo against two confederates playing as Sauron and Saruman in a reaction time task. Participants could choose to avoid a limited number of encounters with their opponents by “putting the Ring on.” If they chose to stay and fight, they had to select the intensity of a sound blast (retaliation) that would be directed toward their opponent if the participant won the task by having a quicker reaction time. The task was set so that participants lost two-thirds of trials, and each opponent gave either high or low sound blasts.

    The authors found that brain regions associated with thinking about the mental state of others were engaged when deciding to flee. However, when facing the highly provoking opponent, the “flight” response was associated with reduced activity in these regions and increased activity in the amygdala, indicating increased threat detection.


  4. Adults with autism make more consistent choices

    by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    People with autism spectrum conditions (ASC) often show a reduced sensitivity to contextual information in perceptual tasks, but new research suggests that this reduced sensitivity may actually lead to more consistent choices in high-level decision-making tasks.

    The findings, published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, indicate that individuals with ASC are less susceptible to the effects of decoy options when evaluating and choosing the “best” product among several options relative to individuals without ASC.

    “People with autism are indeed more consistent in their choices than the neurotypical population. From an economic perspective, this suggests that people with autism are more rational and less likely to be influenced by the way choices are presented,” says psychology researcher George Farmer of the University of Cambridge.

    While numerous studies have compared the performance of individuals with ASC and neurotypical individuals on a variety of low-level perceptual tasks, Farmer and University of Cambridge co-authors William J. Skylark and Simon Baron-Cohen noticed that relatively little research had examined their performance in the realm of decision making.

    People with autism are thought to focus more on detail and less on the bigger picture — this is often found in more perceptual studies, for instance by showing that people with autism are less susceptible to some visual illusions,” explains Farmer. “We wanted to know if this tendency would apply to higher-level decision-making tasks.”

    The researchers recruited 90 adults with ASC and 212 neurotypical adults to participate in an online decision-making study. The researchers used 10 product pairs and the products in each pair differed on two dimensions. Importantly, the pairs were always presented as part of a trio that included a third decoy item.

    Participants saw each pair twice — in one case, the accompanying decoy was designed to target product A; in the other case, it was designed to target product B. The participants indicated the “best” option out of the three presented.

    For example, participants might be asked to choose one of three USB drives that varied according to their capacity and their lifespan. Product A has a capacity of 32 GB and a lifespan of 20 months, while Product B has less capacity (16 GB) but a longer lifespan (36 months). The decoy, with a capacity of 28 GB and lifespan of 16 months, is objectively worse than A and should therefore be ignored.

    Participants also completed measures assessing aspects of cognitive ability and a measure that assessed traits typically associated with ASC.

    With purely rational economic decision making, the decoy items would be irrelevant and participants would make the same choice both times that products A and B were shown. If the decoys were effective, however, participants would switch their selection when the decoy changed, favoring the product targeted by the decoy in each trio. In the example above, people would be more likely to choose Product A with the decoy present than they would if there were simply comparing Product A and B.

    The data revealed that, compared with neurotypical participants, participants with ASC made more consistent choices and made fewer switches in their selections.

    In a second experiment, the researchers recruited participants from the general population, administering the same task with only those who scored in the bottom and top deciles of a validated measure of traits typically associated with autism. Their results showed an attenuated pattern similar to that seen in the first experiment: Participants who scored high on autistic traits were more likely to make consistent choices compared with low-scoring participants.

    Together, the findings indicate that individuals with ASC are less likely to show a cognitive bias that often affects their neurotypical peers.

    “[C]hoice consistency is regarded as normative in conventional economic theory, so reduced context sensitivity would provide a new demonstration that autism is not in all respects a ‘disability’,” the researchers write in their paper.

    “These findings suggest that people with autism might be less susceptible to having their choices biased by the way information is presented to them — for instance, via marketing tricks when choosing between consumer products,” Farmer adds.

    The results also indicate that the reduced sensitivity to context that is associated with ASC may extend well beyond low-level cognitive processes, shedding new light on the nature of “autistic cognition,” the researchers argue:

    “Altered preferences in a choice task involving verbally described consumer products would suggest the need for a broader characterization and integrated theorizing across levels and domains of processing,” they conclude.


  5. Slow motion makes soccer referees more likely to give a red card

    by Ashley

    From the KU Leuven press release:

    Video assistant refereeing in soccer has to be used with caution. Researchers at KU Leuven (University of Leuven), Belgium, have shown that refs are more likely to give red when they see a foul committed in slow motion, even when a yellow card is more justifiable. This is because fouls viewed in slow motion appear to be more serious.

    Soccer referees and the decisions they make are the subject of very heated debates in the canteen, at the kitchen table, and in the TV studio. soccer fans keep a vigilant eye on their every move and decision. These high demands have led to professionalization: more and more elite referees are full-time professionals and follow specific training programmes. Another consequence are the experiments with video assistant refereeing, whereby video assistant referees (VARs) support the referees and check the accuracy of decisions by replaying game situations in real time and in slow motion.

    Under the supervision of Professor Wim Helsen, sport scientist at KU Leuven and referee training expert, Jochim Spitz wrote a PhD on the impact of slow motion videos on soccer referees’ perception and decision-making process. He found that the effect of slow motion greatly depends on the type of decision that the referee has to make, as well as on the situation.

    For technical decisions on whether or not a foul was committed, watching slow motion videos only improved the accuracy in corner kick situations. “Corner kicks always involve many players, so slow motion may help spot the right fouls in the commotion,” Spitz explains.

    But for disciplinary sanctions on whether or not to give a card — and if so, which one — slow motion had a significant impact on the decision-making process. “We asked 88 European referees to take a disciplinary sanction for 60 game situations — yellow, red, or no card at all. They had to assess half of the situations after watching a video in real time and the other half based on slow motion videos. For each of these situations, a panel of UEFA experts had given us a benchmark decision. We found that referees judge more harshly when they are exposed to fouls in slow motion. In situations for which the benchmark decision was a yellow card, 20% percent of the referees gave red after watching the video in slow motion. In real time this was only 10%.”

    “The reason is that fouls viewed in slow motion appear to be more serious” Professor Werner Helsen explains. “This has major implications for the adequate use of video technology in soccer. Based on the results of this study, the International soccer Association Board (IFAB) has already issued guidelines for the use of slow motion videos: they can only be used to determine whether a foul was committed inside or outside the penalty area, or to locate the impact of a tackle on the opponent’s body.”


  6. Study examines effects of digital dating abuse on teens

    by Ashley

    From the University of Michigan press release:

    Teens expect to experience some digital forms of abuse in dating, but girls may be suffering more severe emotional consequences than boys, according to a new study.

    Researchers at the University of Michigan and University of California-Santa Barbara examined the impact of gender on high schoolers’ experience of digital dating abuse behaviors, which include use of cell phones or internet to harass, control, pressure or threaten a dating partner.

    Overall, teens experience this digital dating abuse at similar rates, but girls reported that they were more upset by these behaviors and reported more negative emotional responses.

    “Although digital dating abuse is potentially harmful for all youth, gender matters,” said Lauren Reed, the study’s lead author and an assistant project scientist at University of California-Santa Barbara.

    The study involved 703 Midwest high school students who reported the frequency of digital dating abuse, if they were upset by the “most recent” incidents, and how they responded. Students completed the surveys between December 2013 and March 2014.

    Participants reported sending and receiving at least 51 text messages per day, and spending an average of 22 hours per week using social media. Most participants reported that they text/texted their current or most recent dating partner frequently.

    The survey asked teens to indicate the frequency of experiencing several problematic digital behaviors with a dating partner, including “pressured me to sext” (sending a sexual or naked photo), sent a threatening message, looked at private information to check up on me without permission, and monitored whereabouts and activities.

    Girls indicated more frequent digital sexual coercion victimization, and girls and boys reported equal rates of digital monitoring and control, and digital direct aggression. When confronted with direct aggression, such as threats and rumor spreading, girls responded by blocking communication with their partner. Boys responded in similar fashion when they experienced digital monitoring and control behaviors, the study showed.

    Boys often treat girls as sexual objects, which contributes to the higher rates of digital sexual coercion, as boys may feel entitled to have sexual power over girls, said study co-author Richard Tolman, U-M professor of social work.

    Girls, on the other hand, are expected to prioritize relationships, which can lead to more jealousy and possessiveness, he said. Thus, they may be more likely to monitor boys’ activities.


  7. Now or later: How taste and sound affect when you buy

    July 16, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Brigham Young University press release:

    There’s a reason marketers make appeals to our senses; the “snap, crackle and pop” of Rice Krispies makes us want to buy the cereal and eat it. But as savvy as marketers are, they may be missing a key ingredient in their campaigns.

    New research finds the type of sensory experience an advertisement conjures up in our mind — taste and touch vs. sight and sound — has a fascinating effect on when we make purchases.

    The study led by marketing professors at Brigham Young University and the University of Washington finds that advertisements highlighting more distal sensory experiences (sight/sound) lead people to delay purchasing, while highlighting more proximal sensory experiences (touch/taste) lead to earlier purchases.

    “Advertisers are increasingly aware of the influence sensory cues can play,” said lead author Ryan Elder, associate professor of marketing at BYU. “Our research dives into which specific sensory experiences will be most effective in an advertisement, and why.”

    Elder, with fellow lead author Ann Schlosser, a professor of marketing at the University of Washington, Morgan Poor, assistant professor of marketing at San Diego State University, and Lidan Xu, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, carried out four lab studies and a pilot study involving more than 1,100 study subjects for the research, published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

    Time and time again, their experiments found that people caught up in the taste or touch of a product or event were more likely to be interested at an earlier time.

    In one experiment, subjects read one of two reviews for a fictional restaurant: One focused on taste/touch, the other emphasized sound/vision. Participants were then asked to make a reservation to the restaurant on a six-month interactive calendar. Those who read the review focusing on the more proximal senses (taste and touch) were significantly more likely to make a reservation closer to the present date.

    In another experiment, study subjects read ad copy for a summer festival taking place either this weekend or next year. Two versions of the ad copy existed: one emphasizing taste (“You will taste the amazing flavors…”) and one emphasizing sound (“You will listen to the amazing sounds…”).

    When subjects were asked when they would like to attend, those who read the ad copy about taste had a higher interest in attending a festival this weekend. Those who read ads emphasizing sounds were more likely to have interest in attending the festival next year.

    If an advertised event is coming up soon, it would be better to highlight the more proximal senses of taste or touch — such as the food served at the event — than the more distal senses of sound and sight,” Schlosser said. “This finding has important implications for marketers, especially those of products that are multi-sensory.”

    As part of the study, researchers also learned an interesting insight into making restaurant reviews more helpful. In their field study, the authors analyzed 31,889 Yelp reviews to see if they could find connections between the sensory elements of a reviewer’s experience and the usefulness of a review.

    They found reviews from people who emphasized a more distal sense (such as sight) were rated more useful when the review used the past tense (“We ate here last week and…”), while people emphasizing a proximal sense (touch) had more useful reviews when they used the present tense (“I’m eating this right now and it is so good!”).

    “Sensory marketing is increasingly important in today’s competitive landscape. Our research suggests new ways for marketers to differentiate their products and service, and ultimately influence consumer behavior,” Elder said. “Marketers need to pay closer attention to which sensory experiences, both imagined and actual, are being used.”


  8. Picture overload hinders children’s word learning from storybooks

    by Ashley

    From the University of Sussex press release:

    Less is more when it comes to helping children learn new vocabulary from picture books, according to a new study.

    While publishers look to produce ever more colourful and exciting texts to entice buyers, University of Sussex psychologists have shown that having more than one illustration per page results in poorer word learning among pre-schoolers.

    The findings, published in Infant and Child Development, present a simple solution to parents and nursery teachers for some of the challenges of pre-school education and could help in the development of learning materials for young children.

    Doctoral researcher and co-author Zoe Flack said: “Luckily, children like hearing stories, and adults like reading them to children. But children who are too young to read themselves don’t know where to look because they are not following the text. This has a dramatic impact on how well they learn new words from stories.”

    The researchers read storybooks to three-year-olds with one illustration at a time (the right-hand page was illustrated, the left-hand page was blank) or with two illustrations at a time (both pages had illustrations), with illustrations introducing the child to new objects that were named on the page.

    They found that children who were read stories with only one illustration at a time learned twice as many words as children who were read stories with two or more illustrations.

    In a follow-up experiment, researchers added a simple hand swipe gesture to guide the children to look at the correct illustration before the page was read to them. They found this gesture was effective in helping children to learn words when they saw two illustrations across the page.

    Zoe, who has written a blog post about the research, said: “This suggests that simply guiding children’s attention to the correct page helps them focus on the right illustrations, and this in turn might help them concentrate on the new words.

    “Our findings fit well with Cognitive Load Theory, which suggests that learning rates are affected by how complicated a task is. In this case, by giving children less information at once, or guiding them to the correct information, we can help children learn more words.”

    Co-author Dr Jessica Horst, said: “Other studies have shown that adding ‘bells and whistles’ to storybooks like flaps to lift and anthropomorphic animals decreases learning. But this is the first study to examine how decreasing the number of illustrations increases children’s word learning from storybooks.”

    She added: “This study also has important implications for the e-Book industry. Studies on the usefulness of teaching vocabulary from e-Books are mixed, but our study suggests one explanation is that many studies with e-Books are only presenting one illustration at a time.”

    The study is one of many being carried out at Sussex in The WORD Lab, a research group that focuses on how children learn and acquire language. Previous research has shown children learn more words from hearing the same stories repeated and from hearing stories at nap time.


  9. Sport feels less strenuous if you believe it’s doing you good

    July 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of Freiburg press release:

    “Sport is too much like hard work.” For many, that is reason enough to pass when it comes to exercise. But does sport really have to make you break into a sweat? Psychologist Hendrik Mothes of the Department of Sport Science at the University of Freiburg and his team discovered that one’s own expectations have a major influence on just how strenuous one perceives a unit of sport to be. The researchers also found that how the person doing the sport felt about himself or herself played a big role in this feeling of strain. Moreover, it can sometimes be smart to enlist help from supposedly useful sports products — if you believe in them. The results of the study have been published in PLOS ONE.

    The research team invited 78 men and women between 18 and 32 into the laboratory, where these test persons rode a stationary bicycle-ergometer for 30 minutes. Beforehand, they were asked to say how athletic they thought they were. And they were asked to put on a compression shirt produced by a well-known sporting goods manufacturer. During their exercise, they were asked every five minutes what level of strenuousness they were experiencing. Right before the exercise, the participants were assigned to different groups and shown one of several short films that either stressed the positive health effects of the coming cycling activity, or dampened the expectations. And the compression shirts were mentioned: In some of the films, the shirts were praised as an additional help in cycling, while other films indicated that they would make the test persons’ sweating comparable. “What the participants did not know was that we used these film clips with the aim of influencing their expectations of the coming cycling session,” Mothes says.

    The results showed, as expected, a self-fulfilling prophecy that the training unit was less strenuous for the test persons when they started out with a positive attitude. The more athletic the participants perceived themselves to be, the stronger this effect was. However, positive expectations did not help participants who considered themselves not very athletic. They found the training unit strenuous anyway. The researchers also found that believing in the compression shirt helped. To the subjects who considered themselves athletic, it made no difference; but for those who said they weren’t much good at sports, there was quite an effect. “Merely the belief that the shirt would help, did help the ‘unsporty’ subjects to have a lower perception of strenuousness during the exercise,” Mothes explains.

    These findings are further evidence that the placebo effect works when you do sport. And they show that is it does make a difference what you think about sport and its effects. “Not least, the findings impressively show for all those who don’t consider themselves to be great sportsmen and -women – the right product really can make sport more pleasant, if ‘only’ you believe in it.”


  10. Meaningless accelerating scores yield better performance

    by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    Seemingly any behavior can be “gamified” and awarded digital points these days, from tracking the steps you’ve walked to the online purchases you’ve made and even the chores you’ve completed. Tracking behavior in this way helps to spur further action and new research shows that even meaningless scores can serve as effective motivators, as long as those scores are accelerating.

    The findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    “We all know that people like high scores, but what is less known is how to give scores,” says researcher Luxi Shen of the Chinese University of Hong Kong Business School. “Our research shows that what matters is neither how high the score is nor how fast the score increases, but rather the way it increases: It’s most motivating if the score first increases at a relatively slow rate and then increases faster and faster.”

    “In this current digital age, it’s easy to imagine a number on the panel of a digital device to nudge people to change their actions,” adds co-author Christopher K. Hsee of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “And it can help practitioners from game designers to marketers make better use of scores and points to influence behavior.”

    Shen and Hsee became curious about the relationship between scores and behavior after noticing their own fascination with the scores provided on some exercise machines and healthy-eating websites.

    “Those changing numbers made no sense to either of us and neither did our obsession with these numbers,” explains Shen. “We started with asking ourselves: If we could design a score that changes with our performance, what would a good design look like? How can we improve our performance by designing the pattern of change?”

    Drawing on existing theory, Shen and Hsee hypothesized that people would have a hard time gauging a score’s rate of change (velocity), a number that is difficult to evaluate without another score for comparison. But people might be more sensitive to a score’s acceleration, or how quickly the rate of change increases, because they can sense that the number is going up more quickly over time. This acceleration may give the sense that they’re doing increasingly better even when they know the score isn’t tied to actual performance.

    In three related experiments, the researchers asked participants to type a target word as many times as they could within a 3-minute period. An onscreen display showed participants the number of times they had entered the word and the elapsed time. Some participants also saw a score at the center of this display — they were told the number did not reflect their performance but would increase according to a predetermined pattern.

    The results were clear: People who saw an accelerating score outperformed their peers, typing the target words more times within the 3-minute window compared with those who saw a score that increased more slowly over time (decelerating score), a score that increased at a constant rate, or no score at all.

    Additional data from an online experiment showed that participants were uniquely sensitive to acceleration: They reported that the accelerating score increased faster relative to decelerating scores and scores that increased at a constant rate. Even though the accelerating score had the same final velocity as the “fast” score that increased at a constant rate, participants reported that the accelerating score increased faster.

    To find out whether this acceleration effect would hold up in the context of real-world behavior, Shen and Hsee took their experiment to the gym. Again, they found that participants who saw an arbitrary accelerating score exerted more effort, taking more steps on a step machine compared with those who saw a decelerating score or no score. This effect that did not dissipate over four successive rounds of testing. The findings suggest that an accelerating score can help motivate people to keep going, even when completing a physically demanding task.

    The acceleration effect may even hold up over the course of a whole day. Data from an online study showed that participants completed more surveys over an 8-hour period if they saw an accelerating score compared with a decelerating score.

    The researchers say that this accelerating score — what they call the X number — could have a wide variety of useful applications.

    “Our findings can help designers to strategically structure numerical feedback in a way that costs virtually nothing but has a meaningful impact, whether they’re working on an exercise machine, a video game, a loyalty program, or a public policy,” says Shen. “Practically, we hope to see empirical validation of the X number in other real-life contexts for good deeds, such as strategic designs of an accelerating X number to motivate people to pay credit card bills on time, save energy, invest in retirement accounts, use public transportation, recycle, donate to charitable causes, and so on.”