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Journal: Consciousness and cognition


Anecdotal reports link alcohol intoxication to creativity, while cognitive research highlights the crucial role of cognitive control for creative thought. This study examined the effects of mild alcohol intoxication on creative cognition in a placebo-controlled design. Participants completed executive and creative cognition tasks before and after consuming either alcoholic beer (BAC of 0.03) or non-alcoholic beer (placebo). Alcohol impaired executive control, but improved performance in the Remote Associates Test, and did not affect divergent thinking ability. The findings indicate that certain aspects of creative cognition benefit from mild attenuations of cognitive control, and contribute to the growing evidence that higher cognitive control is not always associated with better cognitive performance.

Concepts: Psychology, Cognition, Cognitive science, Educational psychology, Mind, Thought, Executive functions, Alcohol intoxication


Humans have a highly developed visual system, yet we spend a high proportion of our time awake ignoring the visual world and attending to our own thoughts. The present study examined eye movement characteristics of goal-directed internally focused cognition. Deliberate internally focused cognition was induced by an idea generation task. A letter-by-letter reading task served as external task. Idea generation (vs. reading) was associated with more and longer blinks and fewer microsaccades indicating an attenuation of visual input. Idea generation was further associated with more and shorter fixations, more saccades and saccades with higher amplitudes as well as heightened stimulus-independent variation of eye vergence. The latter results suggest a coupling of eye behavior to internally generated information and associated cognitive processes, i.e. searching for ideas. Our results support eye behavior patterns as indicators of goal-directed internally focused cognition through mechanisms of attenuation of visual input and coupling of eye behavior to internally generated information.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Cognitive psychology, Cognition, Visual perception, Mind, Thought, Behaviorism


Recent years have seen a growing interest in the neuroscience of spontaneous cognition. One form of such cognition is involuntary musical imagery (INMI), the non-pathological and everyday experience of having music in one’s head, in the absence of an external stimulus. In this study, aspects of INMI, including frequency and affective evaluation, were measured by self-report in 44 subjects and related to variation in brain structure in these individuals. Frequency of INMI was related to cortical thickness in regions of right frontal and temporal cortices as well as the anterior cingulate and left angular gyrus. Affective aspects of INMI, namely the extent to which subjects wished to suppress INMI or considered them helpful, were related to gray matter volume in right temporopolar and parahippocampal cortices respectively. These results provide the first evidence that INMI is a common internal experience recruiting brain networks involved in perception, emotions, memory and spontaneous thoughts.

Concepts: Psychology, Neuroanatomy, Brain, Cognition, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum, Mind, Music


The Inhibitory-Spillover-Effect (ISE) on a deception task was investigated. The ISE occurs when performance in one self-control task facilitates performance in another (simultaneously conducted) self-control task. Deceiving requires increased access to inhibitory control. We hypothesized that inducing liars to control urination urgency (physical inhibition) would facilitate control during deceptive interviews (cognitive inhibition). Participants drank small (low-control) or large (high-control) amounts of water. Next, they lied or told the truth to an interviewer. Third-party observers assessed the presence of behavioral cues and made true/lie judgments. In the high-control, but not the low-control condition, liars displayed significantly fewer behavioral cues to deception, more behavioral cues signaling truth, and provided longer and more complex accounts than truth-tellers. Accuracy detecting liars in the high-control condition was significantly impaired; observers revealed bias toward perceiving liars as truth-tellers. The ISE can operate in complex behaviors. Acts of deception can be facilitated by covert manipulations of self-control.

Concepts: Psychology, Urinary bladder, Human behavior, Behaviorism, Lie, Deception, Half-truth, Secrecy


Readers often describe vivid experiences of voices and characters in a manner that has been likened to hallucination. Little is known, however, of how common such experiences are, nor the individual differences they may reflect. Here we present the results of a 2014 survey conducted in collaboration with a national UK newspaper and an international book festival. Participants (n=1566) completed measures of reading imagery, inner speech, and hallucination-proneness, including 413 participants who provided detailed free-text descriptions of their reading experiences. Hierarchical regression analysis indicated that reading imagery was related to phenomenological characteristics of inner speech and proneness to hallucination-like experiences. However, qualitative analysis of reader’s accounts suggested that vivid reading experiences were marked not just by auditory phenomenology, but also their tendency to cross over into non-reading contexts. This supports social-cognitive accounts of reading while highlighting a role for involuntary and uncontrolled personality models in the experience of fictional characters.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Fiction, Experience, Knowledge, Novel, Quantitative research, Style


The real or perceived proximity to death often results in a non-ordinary state of consciousness characterized by phenomenological features such as the perception of leaving the body boundaries, feelings of peace, bliss and timelessness, life review, the sensation of traveling through a tunnel and an irreversible threshold. Near-death experiences (NDEs) are comparable among individuals of different cultures, suggesting an underlying neurobiological mechanism. Anecdotal accounts of the similarity between NDEs and certain drug-induced altered states of consciousness prompted us to perform a large-scale comparative analysis of these experiences. After assessing the semantic similarity between ≈15,000 reports linked to the use of 165 psychoactive substances and 625 NDE narratives, we determined that the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) receptor antagonist ketamine consistently resulted in reports most similar to those associated with NDEs. Ketamine was followed by Salvia divinorum (a plant containing a potent and selective κ receptor agonist) and a series of serotonergic psychedelics, including the endogenous serotonin 2A receptor agonist N,N-Dimethyltryptamine (DMT). This similarity was driven by semantic concepts related to consciousness of the self and the environment, but also by those associated with the therapeutic, ceremonial and religious aspects of drug use. Our analysis sheds light on the long-standing link between certain drugs and the experience of “dying”, suggests that ketamine could be used as a safe and reversible experimental model for NDE phenomenology, and supports the speculation that endogenous NMDA antagonists with neuroprotective properties may be released in the proximity of death.


Although it has been shown that immersive virtual reality (IVR) can be used to induce illusions of ownership over a virtual body (VB), information on whether this changes implicit interpersonal attitudes is meager. Here we demonstrate that embodiment of light-skinned participants in a dark-skinned VB significantly reduced implicit racial bias against dark-skinned people, in contrast to embodiment in light-skinned, purple-skinned or with no VB. 60 females participated in this between-groups experiment, with a VB substituting their own, with full-body visuomotor synchrony, reflected also in a virtual mirror. A racial Implicit Association Test (IAT) was administered at least three days prior to the experiment, and immediately after the IVR exposure. The change from pre- to post-experience IAT scores suggests that the dark-skinned embodied condition decreased implicit racial bias more than the other conditions. Thus, embodiment may change negative interpersonal attitudes and thus represent a powerful tool for exploring such fundamental psychological and societal phenomena.

Concepts: Psychology, Black people, Change, Race, Virtual reality, Human skin color, Miscegenation, Embodiment


Here we consider the nature of unrealistic optimism and other related positive illusions. We are interested in whether cognitive states that are unrealistically optimistic are belief states, whether they are false, and whether they are epistemically irrational. We also ask to what extent unrealistically optimistic cognitive states are fixed. Based on the classic and recent empirical literature on unrealistic optimism, we offer some preliminary answers to these questions, thereby laying the foundations for answering further questions about unrealistic optimism, such as whether it has biological, psychological, or epistemic benefits.

Concepts: Psychology, Truth, Epistemology, Cognitive psychology, Economics, Perception, Philosophy, Answer


Social relationships and interactions contribute to daily emotional well-being. The emotional benefits that come from engaging with others are known to arise from real events, but do they also come from the imagination during daydreaming activity? Using experience sampling methodology with 101 participants, we obtained 371 reports of naturally occurring daydreams with social and non-social content and self-reported feelings before and after daydreaming. Social, but not non-social, daydreams were associated with increased happiness, love and connection and this effect was not solely attributable to the emotional content of the daydreams. These effects were only present when participants were lacking in these feelings before daydreaming and when the daydream involved imagining others with whom the daydreamer had a high quality relationship. Findings are consistent with the idea that social daydreams may function to regulate emotion: imagining close others may serve the current emotional needs of daydreamers by increasing positive feelings towards themselves and others.

Concepts: Abstraction, Imagination, Daydream


Writers often report vivid experiences of hearing characters talking to them, talking back to them, and exhibiting independence and autonomy. However, systematic empirical studies of this phenomenon are almost non-existent, and as a result little is known about its cause, extent, or phenomenology. Here we present the results of a survey of professional writers (n = 181) run in collaboration with the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Participants provided detailed descriptions of their experiences of their characters in response to a phenomenological questionnaire, and also reported on imaginary companions, inner speech and hallucination-proneness. Qualitative analysis indicated that the phenomenology of the experience of agentive characters varied in terms of the characters' separateness from the writer’s self and the kinds of interaction this did or did not allow for. We argue that these variations can be understood in relation to accounts of mindreading and agency tracking which adopt intuitive as opposed to inferential models.