Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Thought


The production of purposely made painted or engraved designs on cave walls-a means of recording and transmitting symbolic codes in a durable manner-is recognized as a major cognitive step in human evolution. Considered exclusive to modern humans, this behavior has been used to argue in favor of significant cognitive differences between our direct ancestors and contemporary archaic hominins, including the Neanderthals. Here we present the first known example of an abstract pattern engraved by Neanderthals, from Gorham’s Cave in Gibraltar. It consists of a deeply impressed cross-hatching carved into the bedrock of the cave that has remained covered by an undisturbed archaeological level containing Mousterian artifacts made by Neanderthals and is older than 39 cal kyr BP. Geochemical analysis of the epigenetic coating over the engravings and experimental replication show that the engraving was made before accumulation of the archaeological layers, and that most of the lines composing the design were made by repeatedly and carefully passing a pointed lithic tool into the grooves, excluding the possibility of an unintentional or utilitarian origin (e.g., food or fur processing). This discovery demonstrates the capacity of the Neanderthals for abstract thought and expression through the use of geometric forms.

Concepts: Human, Thought, Neanderthal, Human evolution, Archaic Homo sapiens, Gibraltar, Gorham's Cave, Engraving



There is growing concern around the effects of concussion and sub-concussive impacts in sport. Routine game-play in soccer involves intentional and repeated head impacts through ball heading. Although heading is frequently cited as a risk to brain health, little data exist regarding the consequences of this activity. This study aims to assess the immediate outcomes of routine football heading using direct and sensitive measures of brain function.

Concepts: Thought, Association football, Football, Head


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


Humans in all societies form and participate in cooperative alliances. To successfully navigate an alliance-laced world, the human mind needs to detect new coalitions and alliances as they emerge, and predict which of many potential alliance categories are currently organizing an interaction. We propose that evolution has equipped the mind with cognitive machinery that is specialized for performing these functions: an alliance detection system. In this view, racial categories do not exist because skin color is perceptually salient; they are constructed and regulated by the alliance system in environments where race predicts social alliances and divisions. Early tests using adversarial alliances showed that the mind spontaneously detects which individuals are cooperating against a common enemy, implicitly assigning people to rival alliance categories based on patterns of cooperation and competition. But is social antagonism necessary to trigger the categorization of people by alliance-that is, do we cognitively link A and B into an alliance category only because they are jointly in conflict with C and D? We report new studies demonstrating that peaceful cooperation can trigger the detection of new coalitional alliances and make race fade in relevance. Alliances did not need to be marked by team colors or other perceptually salient cues. When race did not predict the ongoing alliance structure, behavioral cues about cooperative activities up-regulated categorization by coalition and down-regulated categorization by race, sometimes eliminating it. Alliance cues that sensitively regulated categorization by coalition and race had no effect on categorization by sex, eliminating many alternative explanations for the results. The results support the hypothesis that categorizing people by their race is a reversible product of a cognitive system specialized for detecting alliance categories and regulating their use. Common enemies are not necessary to erase important social boundaries; peaceful cooperation can have the same effect.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Cognitive science, Philosophy of mind, Mind, Thought, Race, Human skin color


Tens of millions of people are currently choosing health coverage on a state or federal health insurance exchange as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. We examine how well people make these choices, how well they think they do, and what can be done to improve these choices. We conducted 6 experiments asking people to choose the most cost-effective policy using websites modeled on current exchanges. Our results suggest there is significant room for improvement. Without interventions, respondents perform at near chance levels and show a significant bias, overweighting out-of-pocket expenses and deductibles. Financial incentives do not improve performance, and decision-makers do not realize that they are performing poorly. However, performance can be improved quite markedly by providing calculation aids, and by choosing a “smart” default. Implementing these psychologically based principles could save purchasers of policies and taxpayers approximately 10 billion dollars every year.

Concepts: Health insurance, Improve, Decision theory, Thought, Performance, Choice, Finance, Choice architecture


Making new breakthroughs in understanding the processes underlying human cognition may depend on the availability of very large datasets that have not historically existed in psychology and neuroscience. Lumosity is a web-based cognitive training platform that has grown to include over 600 million cognitive training task results from over 35 million individuals, comprising the largest existing dataset of human cognitive performance. As part of the Human Cognition Project, Lumosity’s collaborative research program to understand the human mind, Lumos Labs researchers and external research collaborators have begun to explore this dataset in order uncover novel insights about the correlates of cognitive performance. This paper presents two preliminary demonstrations of some of the kinds of questions that can be examined with the dataset. The first example focuses on replicating known findings relating lifestyle factors to baseline cognitive performance in a demographically diverse, healthy population at a much larger scale than has previously been available. The second example examines a question that would likely be very difficult to study in laboratory-based and existing online experimental research approaches at a large scale: specifically, how learning ability for different types of cognitive tasks changes with age. We hope that these examples will provoke the imagination of researchers who are interested in collaborating to answer fundamental questions about human cognitive performance.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Cognitive science, Perception, Mind, Thought, Cognitive neuroscience, Collaboration


Creativity is a vast construct, seemingly intractable to scientific inquiry-perhaps due to the vague concepts applied to the field of research. One attempt to limit the purview of creative cognition formulates the construct in terms of evolutionary constraints, namely that of blind variation and selective retention (BVSR). Behaviorally, one can limit the “blind variation” component to idea generation tests as manifested by measures of divergent thinking. The “selective retention” component can be represented by measures of convergent thinking, as represented by measures of remote associates. We summarize results from measures of creative cognition, correlated with structural neuroimaging measures including structural magnetic resonance imaging (sMRI), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS). We also review lesion studies, considered to be the “gold standard” of brain-behavioral studies. What emerges is a picture consistent with theories of disinhibitory brain features subserving creative cognition, as described previously (Martindale, 1981). We provide a perspective, involving aspects of the default mode network (DMN), which might provide a “first approximation” regarding how creative cognition might map on to the human brain.

Concepts: Brain, Medical imaging, Neuroimaging, Nuclear magnetic resonance, Magnetic resonance imaging, Thought, Diffusion MRI, In vivo magnetic resonance spectroscopy


Dogs are particularly skilful during communicative interactions with humans. Dogs' abilities to use human communicative cues in cooperative contexts outcompete those of other species, and might be the result of selection pressures during domestication. Dogs also produce signals to direct the attention of humans towards outside entities, a behaviour often referred to as showing behaviour. This showing behaviour in dogs is thought to be something dogs use intentionally and referentially. However, there is currently no evidence that dogs communicate helpfully, i.e. to inform an ignorant human about a target that is of interest to the human but not to the dog. Communicating with a helpful motive is particularly interesting because it might suggest that dogs understand the human’s goals and need for information. In study 1, we assessed whether dogs would abandon an object that they find interesting in favour of an object useful for their human partner, a random novel distractor, or an empty container. Results showed that it was mainly self-interest that was driving the dogs' behaviour. The dogs mainly directed their behaviour towards the object they had an interest in, but dogs were more persistent when showing the object relevant to the human, suggesting that to some extent they took the humans interest into account. Another possibility is that dogs' behaviour was driven by an egocentric motivation to interact with novel targets and that the dogs' neophila might have masked their helpful tendencies. Therefore, in study 2 the dogs had initial access to both objects, and were expected to indicate only one (relevant or distractor). The human partner interacted with the dog using vocal communication in half of the trials, and remaining silent in the other half. Dogs from both experimental groups, i.e. indicating the relevant object or indicating the distractor, established joint attention with the human. However, the human’s vocal communication and the presence of the object relevant to the human increased the persistency of showing, supporting the hypothesis that the dogs understood the objects' relevance to the human. We propose two non-exclusive explanations. These results might suggest that informative motives could possibly underlie dogs' showing. It is also possible that dogs might have indicated the location of the hidden object because they recognised it as the target of the human’s search. This would be consistent with taking into account the objects' relevance, without necessarily implying that the dogs understood the human’s state of knowledge.

Concepts: Psychology, Human, Natural selection, Thought, Motivation, Object, Communication, Apex predator


The majority of individuals evaluate themselves as superior to average. This is a cognitive bias known as the “superiority illusion.” This illusion helps us to have hope for the future and is deep-rooted in the process of human evolution. In this study, we examined the default states of neural and molecular systems that generate this illusion, using resting-state functional MRI and PET. Resting-state functional connectivity between the frontal cortex and striatum regulated by inhibitory dopaminergic neurotransmission determines individual levels of the superiority illusion. Our findings help elucidate how this key aspect of the human mind is biologically determined, and identify potential molecular and neural targets for treatment for depressive realism.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Human brain, Cognition, Cognitive science, Thought, Schizophrenia, Dopamine