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Concept: Cognitive psychology


Adults and children are spending more time interacting with media and technology and less time participating in activities in nature. This life-style change clearly has ramifications for our physical well-being, but what impact does this change have on cognition? Higher order cognitive functions including selective attention, problem solving, inhibition, and multi-tasking are all heavily utilized in our modern technology-rich society. Attention Restoration Theory (ART) suggests that exposure to nature can restore prefrontal cortex-mediated executive processes such as these. Consistent with ART, research indicates that exposure to natural settings seems to replenish some, lower-level modules of the executive attentional system. However, the impact of nature on higher-level tasks such as creative problem solving has not been explored. Here we show that four days of immersion in nature, and the corresponding disconnection from multi-media and technology, increases performance on a creativity, problem-solving task by a full 50% in a group of naive hikers. Our results demonstrate that there is a cognitive advantage to be realized if we spend time immersed in a natural setting. We anticipate that this advantage comes from an increase in exposure to natural stimuli that are both emotionally positive and low-arousing and a corresponding decrease in exposure to attention demanding technology, which regularly requires that we attend to sudden events, switch amongst tasks, maintain task goals, and inhibit irrelevant actions or cognitions. A limitation of the current research is the inability to determine if the effects are due to an increased exposure to nature, a decreased exposure to technology, or to other factors associated with spending three days immersed in nature.

Concepts: Psychology, Attention, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Educational psychology, Problem solving, Attention restoration theory, Creative problem solving


Domestic chickens are members of an order, Aves, which has been the focus of a revolution in our understanding of neuroanatomical, cognitive, and social complexity. At least some birds are now known to be on par with many mammals in terms of their level of intelligence, emotional sophistication, and social interaction. Yet, views of chickens have largely remained unrevised by this new evidence. In this paper, I examine the peer-reviewed scientific data on the leading edge of cognition, emotions, personality, and sociality in chickens, exploring such areas as self-awareness, cognitive bias, social learning and self-control, and comparing their abilities in these areas with other birds and other vertebrates, particularly mammals. My overall conclusion is that chickens are just as cognitively, emotionally and socially complex as most other birds and mammals in many areas, and that there is a need for further noninvasive comparative behavioral research with chickens as well as a re-framing of current views about their intelligence.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognitive psychology, Sociology, Bird, Cognition, Chicken, Knowledge, Emotion


The most exciting hypothesis in cognitive science right now is the theory that cognition is embodied. Like all good ideas in cognitive science, however, embodiment immediately came to mean six different things. The most common definitions involve the straight-forward claim that “states of the body modify states of the mind.” However, the implications of embodiment are actually much more radical than this. If cognition can span the brain, body, and the environment, then the “states of mind” of disembodied cognitive science won’t exist to be modified. Cognition will instead be an extended system assembled from a broad array of resources. Taking embodiment seriously therefore requires both new methods and theory. Here we outline four key steps that research programs should follow in order to fully engage with the implications of embodiment. The first step is to conduct a task analysis, which characterizes from a first person perspective the specific task that a perceiving-acting cognitive agent is faced with. The second step is to identify the task-relevant resources the agent has access to in order to solve the task. These resources can span brain, body, and environment. The third step is to identify how the agent can assemble these resources into a system capable of solving the problem at hand. The last step is to test the agent’s performance to confirm that agent is actually using the solution identified in step 3. We explore these steps in more detail with reference to two useful examples (the outfielder problem and the A-not-B error), and introduce how to apply this analysis to the thorny question of language use. Embodied cognition is more than we think it is, and we have the tools we need to realize its full potential.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Cognitive science, Mind, Thought, Embodied cognition


There is a growing trend of inactivity among children, which may not only result in poorer physical health, but also poorer cognitive health. Previous research has shown that lower fitness has been related to decreased cognitive function for tasks requiring perception, memory, and cognitive control as well as lower academic achievement.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Memory, Cognitive science, Perception, Mind, Neuropsychological assessment


The pervasive use of cell phones impacts many people-both cell phone users and bystanders exposed to conversations. This study examined the effects of overhearing a one-sided (cell phone) conversation versus a two-sided conversation on attention and memory. In our realistic design, participants were led to believe they were participating in a study examining the relationship between anagrams and reading comprehension. While the participant was completing an anagram task, the researcher left the room and participants overheard a scripted conversation, either two confederates talking with each other or one confederate talking on a cell phone. Upon the researcher’s return, the participant took a recognition memory task with words from the conversation, and completed a questionnaire measuring the distracting nature of the conversation. Participants who overheard the one-sided conversation rated the conversation as significantly higher in distractibility than those who overheard the two-sided conversation. Also, participants in the one-sided condition scored higher on the recognition task. In particular they were more confident and accurate in their responses to words from the conversation than participants in the two-sided condition. However, participants' scores on the anagram task were not significantly different between conditions. As in real world situations, individual participants could pay varying amounts of attention to the conversation since they were not explicitly instructed to ignore it. Even though the conversation was irrelevant to the anagram task and contained less words and noise, one-sided conversations still impacted participants' self-reported distractibility and memory, thus showing people are more attentive to cell phone conversations than two-sided conversations. Cell phone conversations may be a common source of distraction causing negative consequences in workplace environments and other public places.

Concepts: Cognitive psychology, Mobile phone, Reading comprehension, Cellular network, Push-button telephone, Distraction, Attention span, Anagram


Eye gaze is a window onto cognitive processing in tasks such as spatial memory, linguistic processing, and decision making. We present evidence that information derived from eye gaze can be used to change the course of individuals' decisions, even when they are reasoning about high-level, moral issues. Previous studies have shown that when an experimenter actively controls what an individual sees the experimenter can affect simple decisions with alternatives of almost equal valence. Here we show that if an experimenter passively knows when individuals move their eyes the experimenter can change complex moral decisions. This causal effect is achieved by simply adjusting the timing of the decisions. We monitored participants' eye movements during a two-alternative forced-choice task with moral questions. One option was randomly predetermined as a target. At the moment participants had fixated the target option for a set amount of time we terminated their deliberation and prompted them to choose between the two alternatives. Although participants were unaware of this gaze-contingent manipulation, their choices were systematically biased toward the target option. We conclude that even abstract moral cognition is partly constituted by interactions with the immediate environment and is likely supported by gaze-dependent decision processes. By tracking the interplay between individuals, their sensorimotor systems, and the environment, we can influence the outcome of a decision without directly manipulating the content of the information available to them.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Decision making, Critical thinking, Causality, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Morality


Ayahuasca is an Amazonian psychoactive plant beverage containing the serotonergic 5-HT(2A) agonist N,N-dimethyltryptamine (DMT) and monoamine oxidase-inhibiting alkaloids (harmine, harmaline and tetrahydroharmine) that render it orally active. Ayahuasca ingestion is a central feature in several Brazilian syncretic churches that have expanded their activities to urban Brazil, Europe and North America. Members of these groups typically ingest ayahuasca at least twice per month. Prior research has shown that acute ayahuasca increases blood flow in prefrontal and temporal brain regions and that it elicits intense modifications in thought processes, perception and emotion. However, regular ayahuasca use does not seem to induce the pattern of addiction-related problems that characterize drugs of abuse. To study the impact of repeated ayahuasca use on general psychological well-being, mental health and cognition, here we assessed personality, psychopathology, life attitudes and neuropsychological performance in regular ayahuasca users (nā€Š=ā€Š127) and controls (nā€Š=ā€Š115) at baseline and 1 year later. Controls were actively participating in non-ayahuasca religions. Users showed higher Reward Dependence and Self-Transcendence and lower Harm Avoidance and Self-Directedness. They scored significantly lower on all psychopathology measures, showed better performance on the Stroop test, the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test and the Letter-Number Sequencing task from the WAIS-III, and better scores on the Frontal Systems Behavior Scale. Analysis of life attitudes showed higher scores on the Spiritual Orientation Inventory, the Purpose in Life Test and the Psychosocial Well-Being test. Despite the lower number of participants available at follow-up, overall differences with controls were maintained one year later. In conclusion, we found no evidence of psychological maladjustment, mental health deterioration or cognitive impairment in the ayahuasca-using group.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Snake scales, Perception, Mind, Psychiatry, Neuropsychological test


Observational studies have generated conflicting evidence on the effects of moderate maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy on offspring cognition mainly reflecting problems of confounding. Among mothers who drink during pregnancy fetal alcohol exposure is influenced not only by mother’s intake but also by genetic variants carried by both the mother and the fetus. Associations between children’s cognitive function and both maternal and child genotype at these loci can shed light on the effects of maternal alcohol consumption on offspring cognitive development.

Concepts: Psychology, Pregnancy, Infant, Embryo, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Mother, Fetal alcohol syndrome


Observational studies in humans have found associations between overstimulation in infancy via excessive television viewing and subsequent deficits in cognition and attention. We developed and tested a mouse model of overstimulation whereby p10 mice were subjected to audio (70 db) and visual stimulation (flashing lights) for six hours per day for a total of 42 days. 10 days later cognition and behavior were tested using the following tests: Light Dark Latency, Elevated Plus Maze, Novel Object Recognition, and Barnes Maze. In all tests, overstimulated mice performed significantly worse compared to controls suggesting increased activity and risk taking, diminished short term memory, and decreased cognitive function. These findings suggest that excessive non-normative stimulation during critical periods of brain development can have demonstrable untoward effects on subsequent neurocognitive function.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Neurocognitive, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Memory, Cognitive neuroscience, Behaviorism


Although research addresses the effects of a meal’s context on food preference, the psychological consequences of meal situations are largely unexplored. We compared the cognitive and emotional effects of a restaurant meal eaten in the company of others to a solitary meal consumed in a plain office using pre- and post-tests analysis and controlling for the kind and amount of food consumed. Three tasks were conducted, measuring: (1) semantic memory (2) cognitive control and error monitoring, and (3) processing of emotional facial expressions. Covert processes in these tasks were assessed with event-related brain potentials. A mood rating questionnaire indicated a relaxation effect of the restaurant as compared to the plain meal situation. The restaurant meal increased sensitivity to threatening facial expressions and diminished cognitive control and error monitoring. No effects were observed for semantic memory. These findings provide the first experimental evidence that a restaurant meal with a social component may be more relaxing than a meal eaten alone in a plain setting and may reduce cognitive control.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognitive psychology, Food, Cognition, Memory, Emotion, Event-related potential, Lunch