Tag Archives: cognitive processes

Empathy: Can you put yourself in someone else’s shoes?

You’ve probably talked or heard about it, but do you really know the implications of empathy and its meaning? Empathy is much more than putting yourself in the other person’s shoes.  Find out everything you need to know about empathy: What is empathy, definition, and concept, characteristics of empathetic people, types of empathy, differences between empathy and assertiveness, its benefits, how to improve or practice it and much more. If you want to share your experience or ask us any questions please leave your comment below.

Empathy

What is empathy? Definition and Concept

The term “empathy” comes from the Greek ἐμπάθεια: empátheia. Dictionaries define it as a feeling of identification with something or someone. The Oxford dictionary defines it as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

The first description of empathy is the one we usually use and refers to the emotional aspect. The second is the cause of the first since it would be impossible for us to feel if our cognition and thoughts didn’t allow it.

Therefore, we could say that empathy is the ability to put oneself in the other’s place, both emotionally and intellectually. Thus, the verb “empathize” appeals to the action of understanding other’s reality, including cognitively and emotionally.

The art of understanding emotions is more complex than it may seem. A study done by the University of Amsterdam indicates that empathy is bidirectional. This means that empathic interaction is significant for both individuals, for the one that is empathic and the one who feels comprehended.  It is easy to see that we are not empathic to the same extent everybody in the same way.

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Empathy: Characteristics of empathic people

People who feel empathy share a number of personality traits or behavioral patterns among themselves that foster the development of empathic capacity. Take a look at the following list to know the main characteristics of empathic people:

  • They are highly sensitive. Empathetic men and women are good listeners, open-minded to new experiences, kind and selfless. They are usually attentive to the needs of others and do not hesitate to lend a hand. It is not surprising, then, that they have a fascinating ability to transmit good feelings while interacting with others. However, the negative side of being highly sensitive is that people are more susceptible to feeling more empathy, more than they can handle. Therefore, any offense or ugly gesture they may receive hurts them more.
  • They capture people’s emotionality. As if it were a sponge, someone empathic is capable of absorbing the emotions of others. The mood of the other person has a significant influence on that of a person with a high level of empathy so that their emotionality is intensely adapted to both negative and positive feelings. Thus, it is difficult for them not to feel overwhelmed if they meet someone who is going through a time of anxiety and stress, or not to catch the joy of a happy person.
  • Your kindness can affect your own well-being. Having a big heart and caring sincerely for others are indisputable virtues. The disadvantage of this is that empathic people become more dedicated to other people’s problems than to their own, which often leads to frustration, stress, and difficulties in managing their lives.
  • They are careful with their language. Communication is essential to demonstrate empathic skills. When we empathize with others, we review our words twice before we say them because we are aware of the impact language can have on the other person’s well-being, for better or for worse.
  • They avoid extremes. People with empathy prefer the middle ground. They avoid extreme thinking. Therefore, when they surround themselves with someone who is extremist, they are able to teach them that not everything is black or white, but that there are many colors from which to perceive things and the most appropriate thing is to be open to that diversity that life offers us.
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Types of empathy

There are different types of empathy among which are:

Affective empathy: also called emotional empathy, it consists of three differentiated elements. To begin with, you need to feel the same emotion as the other person. Then, a distressing component appears as a natural reaction to vividly perceiving the feelings of the other. Finally, this leads to compassion.

Cognitive empathy: refers to the intellectual potential to perceive and understand the emotions of others. It could be said that cognitive empathy is the previous step to feeling affective empathy. It is necessary to learn to recognize emotions and then to understand their repercussion on one’s state of mind.

Unconscious empathy: Unconscious empathy implies a high level of involvement. Excessive involvement can lead to confusion caused by emotional contagion. Unconsciously empathetic people become so involved in others’ emotions they end up making them theirs. Consequently, controlling, and managing one’s emotions becomes tremendously complex.

Conscious empathy: This kind of empathy involves less emotional involvement. Conscious empathy allows you to observe the other person from an objective perspective and distance, which is essential to encourage emotional self-regulation and allow for a better understanding of the other person’s needs. A person who consciously empathizes is more effective in helping others because they support others without being overwhelmed with their feelings. This is the healthiest way to empathize because in this way you don’t carry the weight of the emotions that don’t correspond to yours and you can offer your best self.

Intercultural empathy

From empathy, one learns to respect and value the decisions of others, and also to understand the concerns and aspirations of others. And this process occurs in the same way across cultures. To empathize with other cultures means to know and understand the importance that each person gives to their customs, traditions and artistic productions.

To recognize multiculturalism is to accept human diversity because not all people are equal and have not grown up in the same environment. There are many cultures, languages, religions, professions, ways of thinking, skin tones, etc. and they are all equally valid.

Intercultural Empathy

It is essential to teach this kind of empathy in school, as children educated in the diversity of ethnic groups will develop a much healthier and more open way of thinking. Moreover, learning to accept the differences and not confront them will avoid numerous social problems in the future.

Empathy and assertiveness

It is important to make the distinction between empathy and assertiveness, given the confusion that both terms can cause.

To begin with, the similarities observed indicate that both empathy and assertiveness are considered to be potentially developable social skills in all human beings, since both can be learned in different contexts intentionally, by chance or due to daily life experiences.

Both skills need respect to be put into practice: respect for others (because the last thing you want is to hurt others’ feelings or hurt them) and respect for yourself (because you are defending the rights of another human being). In addition, other qualities such as honesty, integrity, and consistency are important.

The differences are more noticeable. While assertiveness implies a more personal aspect where there is a concern for not attacking others with words while allowing others to express their thoughts and opinions. Empathy doesn’t restrict or concern itself about feelings or others opinions when it needs to be expressed. Assertiveness defends the words that are pronounced, and empathy understands the words that others pronounce.

In conclusion, when we have the capacity to say what we think without hurting someone else’s feelings, and we also have the capacity to understand others by giving them the opportunity to speak, and express what they think, an enriching dialogue is established. This allows both parties to learn from each other, and communication flows clearly towards the goal that has been established.

These are two very useful skills for learning and communicating that complement each other. Both of these skills need to be learned to develop excellent communication and listening abilities.

Benefits of empathy

Empathy has many benefits. Let’s look at some examples:

1 – Helps emotional harmony:

Empathic people connect quickly with others, making the vast majority feel comfortable and making interpersonal relationships seem easier.

2- Helps to be objective and fair:

The best way to gain the respect of others is to show it to ourselves, even if we may differ in opinions.

3- It improves self-esteem and stimulates our learning:

Feeling that we have a positive effect on others works as a powerful personal enhancer. Furthermore, the empathic exercise allows us to learn from other’s, enriching the prism of reality with different perspectives.

4- It transmits generosity:

Those who demonstrate empathy are collaborative and more successful. It helps them act as brilliant catalysts for change by influencing others to achieve common goals

5- Strengthens professional relationships and maintains them over time:

Working empathically increases the strength of the bonds. This aspect is great in negotiation as well as in those cases in which it is necessary to seal agreements based on trust.

6- It helps show our most peaceful and constructive side:

There is numerous scientific evidence to corroborate that empathy and violence are, neuropsychologically, incompatible with each other. As our understanding increases, our inclination to belligerence decreases and the way we are perceived socially improves.

Keys to practicing empathy

Like all skills, empathy can be trained. Here are some tips for practicing empathy:

  • Listen with an open mind and without prejudice. Be respectful of others.
  • Pay attention and show interest in what they are telling you because it is not enough to know what the other person feels, but we have to show them you care.
  • Do not interrupt while being talked to and avoid becoming experts at giving advice, rather than trying to feel what the other person feels.
  • Learn to discover, recognize and reward the qualities and achievements of others. This will not only contribute to building their capacities but will also reveal our concern and interest in them.
  • When we have to give our opinion on what we are being told, it is very important to do so constructively, to be honest, and not to hurt anyone.
  • Be willing to accept differences with others, be tolerant and patient with those around you and with yourself.

Mental Health: What Is It and How to Be Mentally Healthy

What is mental health? We all want to be healthy and enjoy a general well-being, but this is impossible if we are not mentally healthy. What are the main characteristics of mental health? What are mentally healthy people like? What are the causes of poor mental health and its consequences? How are mental disorders prevented? How to detect and treat them? In this article, we will dismantle the false myths about mental health and its prejudices. In addition, we will give you tips to improve your psychological well-being and that of your loved ones.

Mental Health

What is Mental Health? – Definition

According to WHO, it is a “state of complete mental, physical and social well-being, and not only the absence of disease.” This is the main definition that is often mentioned when discussing this topic. It is brief, very explanatory and reminds us that to be healthy we have to contemplate a large number of variables.

Generally, when we talk about health we think of colds, headaches or other more or less serious physical problems. However, mental health is imperative for us to find ourselves really well. Without it, it does not matter how great the results of our blood tests are.

It is impossible to separate our psychic state from our body. Both maintain a bi-directional relationship. Mental health is studied by multiple professions and different models. There is more awareness now on seeing health as a whole in order to boost our personal development. One in four people will develop at least one mental disorder throughout their life. We need not be alarmed. But if we want to live well, we must learn about health, both physical and mental. That way we can gain knowledge and basic habits to maintain it. In this article, we will give you some guidelines so that you can be mentally healthy and take care of your loved ones.

Key Features that Define Mental Health

  • Mental health affects us: It enables us to interact appropriately with the people around us, to establish healthy emotional bonds, to have an adequate work performance, to be able to carry out daily activities or actions as simple as winking one eye.
  • It allows us to develop our maximum potential: Being mentally healthy is not limited to living without many mishaps. It motivates us to achieve our goals, to develop our faculties and to face our adversities with vitality.
  • It consists of being able to reach happiness: The summit of well-being is happiness as Maslow established. If we are well, we will be able to harmonize our priorities, be part of a group or value the good things in our lives.
  • It is a dynamic process: Throughout our life, we are going through several different circumstances. Our mind is adapting to them. We may be more concerned about our normal physical activity in our teens, but now we are satisfied ourselves. Society expectations, the context or our idea of “happiness” change, always looking to improve mental health.
  • What we mean by mental health is partly cultural: who defines what is “normal”? It is mainly cultural.
  • There are certain parameters to evaluate mental health: Despite the discrepancies that may arise, it is possible to set certain guidelines that allow us to estimate mental health and improve our quality of life. For example, a person who has serious work problems or job stress due to an addictive substance needs to increase their mental, physical and social well-being.

Characteristics of mentally healthy people

Mental health is not a question of all or nothing. It is a continuum with infinite possibilities.

For example, we may be going through a bad run and this does not mean that we have a depression. Mentally healthy people don’t follow the same life model, but do share certain similarities:

  • They look at themselves realistically: They know themselves, don’t belittle themselves and don’t over-worship.
  • They appreciate what they have: They enjoy the good side of things regardless of their circumstances. They accept and don’t forget to love or value themselves.
  • Their social relationships are satisfying: We don’t need to get along with everyone. But we all know or can imagine the discomfort that comes with being isolated or not feeling accepted. Mentally healthy people have effective communication skills with people. They are emotionally intelligent and maintain pleasant relationships with their relatives.
  • They know how to disconnect from work and have fun: Lack of rest not only exhausts us physically but also affects our mental state by impairing both our cognitive abilities and our perception of reality.
  • They do not boycott themselves: Sometimes the problem is not in the environment. Sometimes we get in the way without realizing it. Mentally healthy people can become self-critical and act accordingly, but they never stop their own progress.
  • They behave well with others: We have a strong impulse that pushes us to seek others company. We wish to live harmoniously in society. Mentally healthy people maintain strong bonds with others, cherish them and wish the best for them.

Causes of poor mental health

Risk factors that determine poor mental health in people are multiple and heterogeneous. In fact, the complex diversity of mental problems makes it difficult to find its roots. Each of them has its own causes and peculiarities.

Some seem mainly caused by brain damage or genetic predisposition, some are tremendously influenced by the sociocultural context or cognitive processes, in others are bad associations between stimuli that the affected person learned during child development, etc.

In this field, innovations and continuous theories are developed which allow us to progress. From the combination of different models are emerging interesting explanations that guide the prevention of mental disorders and how to intervene. Although there is some uncertainty, we can name the main risk factors, which are a mixture of environmental, social, family, economic and individual elements.

  • Family problems: If a child’s parents have suffered or are mentally ill, have been abused or the family is a hostile environment, the chances that the child’s mental well-being deteriorates will increase exponentially.
  • Isolation: Pleasant social life is a powerful defense against poor mental health. Conditions of discrimination, such as bullying, can trigger serious problems such as eating disorders, depression or anxiety symptoms.
  • Job stress: We don’t stop hearing in the media about its devastating effects. Still, there are plenty of people who can’t think of another alternative. Unemployment and job insecurity are other factors with great weight in poor mental health.
  • Low social and economic status: Adverse socioeconomic conditions make it difficult to handle or react to a mental problem. For example, malnutrition has serious effects on both the physical and emotional levels.
  • Difficulty adapting to new situations:  The feeling of being disconnected from your surroundings is unpleasant for everyone. For example, for those who are not born in the tech age, ignorance of technology can pose a serious obstacle.
  • Addiction: We have all heard about the consequences of drugs and the consequences of alcohol to the brain. Mental health is one of the first affected.
  • War: This situation increases discrimination, tension, injustice which can destroy people’s mental health.

Not all people exposed to these circumstances will develop a mental disorder. Not all people adapted to their environment are mentally healthy. Even so, it is important to avoid these risk factors and to fight so that nobody increases their vulnerability to being involved in these situations.

Consequences and Effects of Poor Mental Health

Poor mental health has consequences in all aspects of a person’s life. Not all mental problems have the same scope, only some lead to serious disorders. Some difficulties, such as low self-esteem can affect their relationships or academic performance but can be managed in a short amount of time. However, if this lack of well-being is intensified, it can transcend physical, material, family or work problems. Poor mental health has adverse psychological and economic effects for the affected person and increases their risk of physical illness. Likewise, these problems usually involve a large part of the circle of acquaintances of the injured party. We live in an interconnected society and sometimes, those close to the individual with poor psychological well-being take the worst part.

Poor mental health has adverse psychological and economic effects for the affected person and increases their risk of physical illness. Likewise, these problems can affect the person’s close family and friends, who are witnesses to the changes a mental illness can cause.

Prevention of Mental Disorders- How to Promote Good Mental Health?

There is a great lack of knowledge in society about the meaning of mental health and the habits necessary to maintain and improve it. The first thing to do is to make people aware that anyone can have a mental disorder throughout their life and that it is not the end of the world.

The media sometimes promotes detrimental stereotypes that raise the risk of discrimination. Reality is much more extensive than the predominant clichés about mental disorders. However, they have the key to help the population understand and convey the urgency of maintaining mentally healthy habits.

Politics is one of the keys to developing measures that integrate people with any type of mental problem. As citizens, permanently connected and with the freedom to express our opinion, we have the power to demand more attention to a subject as urgent as this one.

We can also act on an individual level and try to convince our acquaintances, friends, and relatives of the importance of adopting healthy habits and measures, either verbally or through social networks. If we wish to inform ourselves more, there are public organisms like the WHO that provide prevention reports and an abundant bibliography on this subject. Keep in mind that your sources should be scientific and well-based. 

How to Detect and Treat a Mental Health Problem?

Mental health problems can affect us throughout the life cycle. Lack of sleepself-control problems, phobias, developmental disorders, abrupt mood swings and other circumstances can cause us an intense discomfort.

If you are worried about yourself or observe unusual behaviors in your close friends, you notice a surprising decrease in performance, they speak about how bad they are feeling, mention crazy ideas, inconsistent or extremely negative, there may be a deterioration in mental health.

First of all, it is best that you stay calm. It is easier said than done, but remember that mental health is malleable, not all problems are serious. There are quite heterogeneous criteria to establish a diagnosis in these cases and is often complicated. However, the best people for this process are professionals. If we look for information in unreliable sites, such as some web sites, we may make hasty conclusions and make the situation worse.

As for the treatment, it depends considerably on the problem. There are various community services, specialized centers, and professionals suitable for every occasion. In some situations, you can learn useful strategies, change habits, go to therapy, etc. Other disorders require psychotropic drugs (only if the psychiatrist says so). Likewise, you can choose a combination of several solutions. Each case is unique and unrepeatable.

Mental health: Prejudices and false myths

A prejudice is an attitude (generally negative) towards a certain collective, person or object based on a generalization that occurs in a particular social context. People with mental problems have to face various social barriers generated by misinformation and lack of empathy from other people.

A stigma is formed which negatively impacts their recovery because it increases misunderstandings and shame. Likewise, they may lead to denial or aggravation of their symptoms. It is necessary to dismantle several erroneous beliefs.

  1. Mental problems are due to poor decisions: There are people who use moral causes (laziness, lack of willpower, etc.) to explain the origin of mental disorders and other forms of psychological distress. This is an absolutely false conviction.
  2. Mental problems are unchangeable: It is true that there are diseases, such as dementias, that don’t have a cure. But there are other circumstances such as eating disorders, drug addiction or generalized stress disorders that can greatly improve. There are more and more effective therapies and remedies.
  3. People with mental problems are dangerous: In fact, it is estimated that only 3% of people with a mental disorder act violently. Their situation produces more fear, despair or bewilderment than aggressiveness.
  4. Work diversity is a utopia: Psychological distress does not have to affect all dimensions of the individual. They can be as competent and efficient as anyone.

Helpful tips to improve your mental health and that of your loved ones

1. Remember that you can influence your mental health

We ourselves are capable of maintaining positive thinking, accepting ourselves and loving ourselves. Do not forget to communicate to your friends how important they are to you. With actions as simple as verbalizing your emotions and commenting on the importance of doing so, you can promote healthy actions.

2. Take care of your social relationships

The company of our loved ones is beneficial in all areas of your life. It allows us to adapt better to the environment,  provides us with more support and makes us happier.

Mental Health- Social relationships

3. Know yourself

We must be realistic and develop our intrapersonal intelligence. To delve into what goes on in our mind, knowing our limits or exploring our feelings are good ways to notice any defect or problem in us and seek a solution. In this way, we will also learn to understand others better.

4. Try not to worry so much

Total indifference is not good, but neither should we become hypochondriacs. If you lead a healthy life; eating well, not overworking, doing physical exercise, getting enough rest, connecting with nature and doing activities that make you happy, you will become healthier. Leave behind the bad habits and relax.

5. If you have any problems, go to a professional

If something is not right, do not be afraid or ashamed. Look for an experienced professional (psychologist, psychiatrist, therapist, etc.). that can help you through the process.

Even famous people have mental health problems, see the video to find out how famous stars have dealt with these issues.

Thank you very much for reading this article. Finally, it should be noted that volunteering in mental health is very beneficial for people suffering from a disorder and is also really rewarding for volunteers. Prevention and treatment are essential for mental health. Feel free to comment below.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Ainhoa Arranz Aldana, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Cognitive Psychology: Inquiring in Mental Processes

What is cognitive psychology? Who are its main authors? What are its characteristics?  In this article, we will talk about the study of cognitive processes. Discover everything you need to know about cognitive psychology.

Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive Psychology: Definition and Importance

Psychology is a heterogeneous science that explores various issues related to our mind and our behavior. This discipline examines us both socially and individually and involves an immensity of challenges.

These issues are often influenced by the subjectivity that inevitably leads people to study other people. In fact, psychology professionals often have trouble reaching an agreement. Its object of study is complex and changing. Also, their discipline is not an exact science. Psychology is still taking its first steps.

The main objective of psychologists is to make us understand ourselves better and to improve our quality of life. However, they are also influenced by their interests and their way of looking at the world. There are different currents that seek an approach to find the truth from different perspectives. However, we are all different and each person is biased from their own experiences. 

For example, there are different perspectives on what is mental illness. Some experts focus on the observable aspects of behavior, others look for biological causes and some think society is responsible. These dilemmas may confuse us.

Should we worry about this uncertainty?

We shouldn’t take these dilemmas as nonconclusive problems. In fact, it is possible to combine several perspectives and to elaborate new and more explanatory models. These discussions (in the most scientific sense of the word) drive the growth of psychology and bring us closer to the discoveries that allow us to know how cognitive processes work.

Cognitive psychology studies the mental processes related to knowledge. It is linked to artificial intelligence and analyzes psychological processes such as perception, memory, attention, cognitive distortions or learning. 

Cognitive Psychology: Features

Although heterogeneous theories coexist within cognitive psychology, we can observe its main distinctive features.

1. Emphasizes in cognitive processes

Behavior can’t be explained without naming our cognitive processes. These procedures cover a myriad of tasks that we perform in our day to day. For example, memorize the birthdays of our relatives or perceive the typical optical illusions that become viral.

2. The field of study is very complex

It is not easy to study cognitive processes since they are not tangible. In fact, this field has been rejected for years because of its complexity. Nowadays neuroscience allows us to approach cognitive processes in a more scientific and tangible way. Thanks to neuroimaging techniques such as fMRI (Functional MRI) we can see how our brain performs certain tasks such as deciding whether if you prefer coffee or tea. This field has also made it possible for company’s such as CogniFit to measure and train your cognitive skills through specific brain games. 

3. Their sources are scattered and varied

Psychologists focused on emotions, processing information, Gestalt or social psychology all dive into cognitive processes with different goals. This makes their sources very scattered and varied, however, they are enriching for psychology. 

4. Processing capacity is limited

Our ability to pay attention and process information is affected by several factors. It requires a lot of effort to select the most relevant data at any given time. For example, if we go to the supermarket, we can’t see all the boxes of cereal at a time. Therefore, our brain chooses the most visually striking and we focus on that. 

5. Mental processes are organized in a hierarchical way

We face an incredible amount of stimuli (for example the television is on, the telephone rings, the neighbors scream, smoke comes out of the kitchen, we feel like going to the bathroom, our arm itches, etc.) Our brain learns to make priorities and be as efficient as possible. Our brain organizes and controls all the activities we do consciously and much more all at the same time. In fact, we perform activities automatically (walking) and others in a controlled way (adding an event on our agenda). There are tasks that we can carry out simultaneously (detect different elements in the street) and others in serial form (to figure out a mathematical problem). This can only be achieved hierarchically.

6. People understand reality in different ways

We all carry out complex actions through our mental processes. That is, we can memorize data, organize information, have expectations about what we want in the future and countless activities that happen in our brain to adapt to the environment.

However, we are not mechanical robots. The environment and other people influence us. Nonetheless, we make our own decisions, defend our ideology and come to different conclusions while maintaining our own arguments. We make complex judgments and comparisons that are reflected in the great interindividual variability.

For example, a football fan will tend to focus more on any fact related to his team, especially if it is positive. We act based on the information that is accessible to us, our goals, feelings, prejudices and a long list of contents that pass through our mind.

Cognitive Psychology: A Little History

Early thinkers such as William James or Wilhelm Wundt, already theorized about cognitive processes such as consciousness. Nonetheless, cognitive psychology emerged in the middle of the last century.

In the 1950s, behaviorism was the main paradigm in this science. This approach is based on observable behavior, often extrapolating results obtained with animals to people and neglecting cognitive processes. Its main goal was to study human behavior in labs where scientific rigor was at its highest. However, it failed to explain human thought process. 

On the other hand, psychoanalysis was the other mainstream perspective. It focused on the subconscious and childhood development. Both perspectives set aside mental processes. 

The cognitive revolution

The cognitive revolution brought the fact that the black box, which was the gap between stimuli and behavior could now be opened and explored. Cognitive psychology began to imagine the mind as a computer that processes information through different programs and with certain capacities. This computer metaphor allows us to establish parallels that help us to better visualize the human mind.

However, they do not study all content well, beliefs or expectations are concepts more abstract than the number of elements that we are able to retain. Great strides are now being made from the cognitive perspective and it seems to remain a fundamental approach for psychology to progress.

Cognitive psychology: 10 essential authors and their contributions

Since the last century, there have been several celebrities in this field. Here are a few of the most important authors in the field. 

1. Bartlett

He studied types of memory and memory itself. He observed it in everyday situations and analyzed how we modify it ourselves.

2. Bruner

He was a great developmental psychologist. He focused on how we treat information and learning as a process rather than conceiving it as a final product.

3. Turing

He is the creator of the “Turing machine”, which is an abstract device that simulates human thinking. It serves to create representations that allow investigating cognitive processes.

4. Miller

According to this psychologist, the working memory may contain more or less seven information sequences. However, we can group the data to retain more elements. He wrote the cognitive manifesto called Plans and the Structure of Behavior (1960).

5. Festinger

He is the author of the theory of cognitive dissonance, which describes how important it is for us to maintain our beliefs, the processes we carry out to preserve them and how complex it is to change them.

6. Broadbent

This cognitive psychologist maintained that our attention processes data serially. 

7. Neisser

He coined the term “cognitive psychology”.

8. Gestalt Psychologists

“The whole is more than the sum of its parts.”

That is, our mind perceives reality through our senses and gives rise to a new interpretation through perception.

9. Shannon and Weaver

They developed a famous mathematical model that collects the main elements of the communicative process.

10. Chomsky

His main contribution to the field of cognitive psychology was through linguistics. 

Cognitive Psychology Applications

We apply cognitive psychology in almost every aspect of our lives. 

Basic research

Basic psychological processes, such as motivation and perception, are the main area cognitive psychology is applied to. Subsequently, the data obtained is integrated into programs to improve our quality of life.

Psychopathology

According to this approach, our thoughts and emotions have a significant impact on our mental health. For example, interpreting negatively every comment they make how we look could lead to an eating disorder.

Cognitive Therapy

Making our thoughts more positive or reducing our cognitive distortions or cognitive biases is the main contribution of this perspective. 

Developmental psychology

Through the study of topics such as the theory of mind, we come to better understand interpersonal relationships and our progress as we grow.

Social psychology

Cognitive psychology helps us to understand how our prejudices (however harmful they may be at times) enable us to reduce the amount of data we have to process since we take information for granted and do not analyze it.

Education

All basic psychological processes are elementary when it comes to talking about training. Cognitive psychology has given us Bandura’s theory of social learning, which contrasts with the mechanical explanations of behaviorists. Understanding how we assimilate knowledge or how we perceive external stimuli is dispensable to provide an education to society.

Artificial intelligence

Knowing how the human mind works is the key to developing the technology of the future. Amazing discoveries are being made in this field. The advance of artificial intelligence requires that its professionals work with a great responsibility, but also its technological advances have the capacity of improving our lives.

Daily life

Their contributions allow us to control better our thoughts and cognitive processes as well as infer the causes of other’s behavior. We can use cognitive psychology to simplify our day to day. For example, after learning that we retain approximately seven elements in our working memory (Miller) and that we can memorize more when grouping, we can take this data into account to draw more effective studying strategies.

Thank you very much for reading this article. What do you think about cognitive psychology? We invite you to comment below.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Ainhoa Arranz Aldana, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Human Brain Project: What is it and how it’s a research innovation

Assembly of The Human Brain Project has a goal to unravel what lies within the intricately woven network that still remains a secret. Humans are always interested in discovering the unknown, solving puzzles and riddles and unraveling century-old questions. We have gone deep underwater in search for ancient civilizations and explored time-worn ruins from top to bottom in order to find the answers we so desperately seek. To this day, however, the biggest mystery that we have found is ourselves and what makes us human. The central core of the enigma that we are facing is the brain. The brain is the most puzzling, peculiar and unexplained creation that we have come so far managed to come across. Continue reading to find out more about the human brain project. 

Human Brain Project

What Is The Human Brain Project?

The Human Brain Project is a research initiative that started in 2013 and will continue for ten years. It hopes to uncover the challenge that is understanding the brain and all its functions, pathways and networks. The Human Brain Project will do so by combining and compiling the efforts from the leading scientists from the three major disciplines. By using the three disciplines it will attempt to encompass all that is the brain. It aims for a collaboration and integration between the fields of medicine related to the brain, neuroscience, and computing. This collaboration within the variety of different specialties is set to develop new insights into various neurological disorders and diseases. The initiative plans to come up with new solutions for treatment and to manufacture novel ingenious technologies. The researchers will use these new developments to study the brain.

The Human Brain Project: Neuroscience, Medicine, and Computing

Medicine and biomedical research initiative will look into neurological diseases and research into earlier diagnosis and prevention of the diseases. They will try to create individualized treatment and therapeutic techniques. All of this will allow for a faster and more efficient manufacturing of drugs. This will potentially lead to making drug discovery more cost-efficient.

Various neuroimaging techniques that scientists use in neuroscience are able to come with a vast pool of experimental data. Further research will use this data for future progress with the knowledge of the network. Both, invasive and non-invasive tools that differ in spatial and temporal resolutions attempt to provide a fuller picture of the brain both, anatomically and functionally. These tools include electroencephalography (EEG), intracranial EEG, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) etc.

Researchers will then process and analyze all of the neuroimaging obtained data. They will then be able to draw clear and concise conclusions that are statistically significant and relevant for further research. That’s where computing can come in with the variety of different programming languages. Programming languages will help guide the analysis of the data in a step-by-step way in an approachable fashion.

Computing also works in order to develop new ways of brain imaging and stimulation. It optimizes the ones that are already available on the market. It will also create computational and theoretical models that explain various time and spatial events in the brain. Computer specialists are also looking into possibilities of creating artificial intelligence programs. Intelligent programs could be able to mimic the functions of the brain.

The Human Brain Project – Goals and Objectives

Implementing clear and concise goals will help guarantee success. Collaboration between medicine, neuroscience, and computing will help to accomplish that. The Human Brain Project aims to create advanced information communication technologies that are able to lift the curtain to not only comprehend the human brain but to be able to stimulate it. This stimulation needs to be as painless, easy and side effect free, as possible.

Main Objectives

  1. Create and design a way to arrange, synthesize and analyze experimental brain data and learn to develop models based on this data. Comprehend both human and nonhuman brains at every level. Start from the genetic components and move on to cognitive makeup and resulting in conscious and unconscious behavior.
  2. Analyze the experimental data via the use of created technologies. Understand the mathematical and psychophysical assumptions and criteria that govern the connections amid various levels of brain organization. Try to understand the functions that these connections play in the brain’s ability to gather, express and collect information. Develop a technology that is able to visualize this data. Allow for creation of online models and reciprocate simulation.
  3. Develop information communication technologies that are useful for researchers in the field of biomedicine, computing, and neuroscience. Provide a platform for creating new technologies associated with artificial intelligence that is useful for understanding and stimulating the brain.
  4. Create new example bioinformatics tools. Immediately use them for pharmacological research and diagnostic criteria for various neurological diseases, online simulations of the disease action. Progress with understanding the newly created tools. Learn about protein on protein docking and interactions and subsequent drug effects to different brain disorders.

Models for brain research

Mice models

These objectives also contain mini-objectives for specific goals and guidelines for research projects and future collaborations. Neuroscience will look at projects in regarding with building a multi-layered model of the mouse brain structure. Various up-to-date scientific studies showed that mice models are some of the most useful models to apply to the rest of the mammal population, including humans.

Due to this, it is important to look at the structure and functional capabilities of mice in order to see how certain neurological diseases are able to develop and progress in their brain. This can help with knowing how certain drugs and protein interactions will work in combination with the disease. Drug interactions will then help to speculate and make an accurate prediction of how the disease will work in the human brain.

Creating a mice model will allow a prototype for the future study of the human brain and a guideline for further research. Using various tools can help with progress, including non-invasive and invasive neuroimaging techniques and in vitro and in vivo studies with neuronal mice cells.

Human models

Scientists also have to create a similar multi-layered model of the human brain. They will have to pool the information from the experimental data that they had gathered. Apart from that scientists will need to use the data they are working with at the moment. In the end, the researchers will be able to create a holistic model of the whole human brain. Again, they can do so by using various methods for this particular goal.

Apart from creating the model of the human brain, researchers have to look into understanding the link between the anatomical structures and the various functions that the brain displays. They need to start measuring spiking activities (action potentials) and relationships between different neurons. This will help with searching for some specific neurons with very specific functions (e.g. the grandmother cells) or networks of neurons responsible for similar functions.

Theoretical and computational tools

Researchers can then use various theoretical and computational models in order to hypothesize and speculate about the actions of these neurons. We need to be able to know exactly what happens on the neuronal level. That will allow us to understand the internal cognition and the external behavior that can happen as a result of this spiking activity.

In order to gain this insight into the brain scientists will implement these objectives. They will include the collaborative and ongoing use of all of the techniques available on-hand and feedback and forward communication between the various disciplines. Surprisingly enough, this mirrors the feedback and the feedforward way the brain sends and receives inputs and signals.

Human Brain Project Obstacles

Various different organizations have voiced questions regarding the ambitious initiative that is the Human Brain Project. These questions are valid on a scientific level, as well as a more cultural and an ethical level. Considering them is important before continuing along with the project.

Questions that were raised include ethical considerations.

  • Why do we need to know more about the brain?
  • If we do find out, what will we do with the knowledge that we have will gain?
  • Would there be any repercussions for the knowledge in regards to how we live on a daily basis?
  • Is intervening and stimulating such an important organ ethically reasonable and how would that affect our consciousness and cognition?

Obstacles like this need to be considered in every experiment and study that becomes a part of the whole Human Brain Project.

Human Brain Project Criticisms

There have been many concerns regarding the Human Brain Project. The attempt to model and build a simulation of the entire brain is quite ambitious. Sometimes, however, it is not as doable as one might hope. The amount of money spent on the project is very large and there is still no real advancement with building that holistic brain picture. A thorough experiment needs to be well thought out and planned out and the Human Brain Project seems to pursue a grand idea but with no clear steps to success.

In order for it to work, the brain simulation needs to working as soon as possible so that scientists can test it and make sure that it works, however, there is no such thing on the horizon just yet. If the researchers spend all the money now and then find out the errors, it can become quite catastrophic. Apart from that, how do you describe a brain? There are many different parts of the brain. It seems a bit too ambitious to encompass all that is the brain in one single model including the neurons and protein, DNA makes up etc. It’s impossible to know where the researchers should start.

We have a huge pool of data but it’s all so vast and different from one another, it can be virtually impossible to put it all together into one single brain simulation. Before we do that we need to formulate a theory and a hypothesis about how we think it works and builds from there, and not just throw all the data available to us in a computer and hope for the best. The thought of that, however, is mind-boggling and exciting.

The Impact of The Human Brain Project

Breakthroughs in neuroscience and medicine come as a result of the ongoing research. Different research groups look into different problems regarding the brain. Even with all of the ongoing research, there is still so much to learn and so little that we do know.

The questions are grand and they branch out in many different ways. Some scientists look at how babies are able to learn and speak their native language. Others connect language learning to bilingualism and its possible role in neurological diseases like dementia. Researchers look into reward systems and decision making. They try fully understanding object recognition, feature integration and biased competition of the visual neurons. The scope of the information that they need to study is endless and all of that encompasses The Human Brain Project.

The Human Brain Project Collaborative Initiative

With the advancements in all three of the fields, including research and advanced technology development, it will become possible to understand cognitive processes, advanced behavior, critical thinking, and reasoning. It will be easier to understand the genetic and environmental factors playing into the development and progression of various neurological diseases. Knowing about the diseases will help learn more about the cognitive consequences that show up as symptoms. After that, it will become possible to develop new treatment strategies in the form of drugs and therapy.

The Human Brain Project is, therefore, very ambitious. If it manages to succeed, it can become one of the greatest collaborative initiative in the world that can help us fully understand our species.

References

Markram, H. (2011). Introducing the Human Brain Project. SciVerse ScienceDirect (pp. 39-42). Lausanne: Procedia Computer Science.

Markram, H. (2012). The Human Brain Project – Preparatory Study. Lausanne: The HpB-PS Consortium.

Cognitive Biases That Explain Why We Make Stupid Decisions

Cognitive Biases. Do you think the decisions you make are rational? Are they the fruit of a deep reasoning exercise? The truth is that most are not. The decisions that we face day to day we make them almost automatically thanks to mechanisms called heuristics and cognitive bias. Find out more about cognitive biases, how they help us make decisions, sometimes stupid decisions and how to reduce their negative impact on our lives.

Cognitive biases

What are Cognitive Biases?

A cognitive bias can be defined as a deviation from our reasoning and cognitive process that leads us to illogical conclusions, distortions, and errors of thought. Cognitive bias distorts the way we see reality and are very common.

Cognitive biases are mental shortcuts that help us make decisions quickly. However, sometimes cognitive bias can have negative consequences by drastically distorting reality. Cognitive biases affect our daily social communications skills and interactions, even our scientific work.

Our brain tends to save energy. You will try to make things as easy and quick as possible. If we had to analyze every possible variable every time we made a minor decision our brain would overload. It is, therefore, useful to use heuristics or shortcuts that can make our decision-making processes lighter. Particularly when we can’t access as much information as possible.

However, we use these shortcuts even when we have a lot of reliable information. When these heuristics lead us to incorrect judgments, then we are faced with cognitive biases. These biases make us act irrationally and make decisions, often stupid or incorrect ones. It was Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman who first spoke about heuristics and cognitive biases, which earned Kahneman a Nobel Prize in Economics shared with Vernon L Smith. When most of our decisions take us down the wrong path it’s important to be aware why and work on them as well as on our emotional intelligence. Since cognitive biases are based on your reasoning and cognitive processes it’s important to keep our cognition in shape. Find out how you can do this through CogniFit.

Types of Cognitive Biases and how to avoid them

What types of cognitive biases do we use? How can we stop using them or minimize their use to enhance our critical thinking?There are a lot of biases that people use, here is a selection of the most used, but there are

There are a lot of cognitive biases that people use, here is a selection of the most used.

1. Cognitive bias of the bandwagon effect

This bias relates to believing in something cause many other people do. The probability of a person believing in something increases depending on the number of people who support it. The more people believe the more the person is likely to believe. People tend to follow the crowd, without thinking about whether, really, what they are doing makes sense or not. However, not necessarily because everyone does it, does it have to be good.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Before doing something because most people around us do, think first if it is really something you want to do or is it simply to follow others. Weigh out as much information as possible, investigate whether it makes sense or not.
For example, before starting a detox diet, ask yourself, investigate and reflect. Is this diet healthy?

2. Cognitive Confirmation Bias

It is the tendency to seek and interpret the information that comes to us in a way that confirms our beliefs and, in parallel, ignore or give less importance to the information that contradicts them. For example, if I think that drinking milk is bad, I will give more importance to arguments, research, and news that say that milk is harmful and will detract importance to those who say that milk is beneficial. Even if I drink milk and then I have a stomach ache it is easier to attribute it to the milk than to the vegetables I ate at noon.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Always consider the full range of opinions, both those that are in favor and those that are against your beliefs or opinions. This way you can see the situation more objectively and you can create an opinion, based on all possible data, instead of biased and partial information. Also try to ask yourself how or why you know something, where did you get that information? Is it truthful?

3. Cognitive bias of fundamental attribution error

The fundamental attribution error consists in giving external explanations to our errors and internal to our successes. As well as, we will give internal explanations to the errors of the others and external to their successes. For example, if our favorite team wins, we will think “we are the fastest, we have the best players”. If our rival team wins, we will think “the referee was biased” “the other team cheated”.

When we make a mistake we tend to give an external explanation, for example, if we arrive late we will think: “there was a lot of traffic”, “someone held me up”. , on the contrary, our companion is late, we will think ” he is always late”, “he woke up late”.

This mistake helps us protect our self-esteem, yet it is still a misconception.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Try being open-minded when someone makes a mistake, it might not be his fault. Give praise to people for their success that it can also be because of their abilities, not just because of others. Mistakes are part of a set of circumstances that can be to ability or situation. Therefore, we should analyze it carefully to know which circumstance has more proof. Don’t be so quick to judge others or yourself. 

4. Hindsight Cognitive Bias

Surely, after something happened, you have thought, “I knew it.” and actually believed you saw it coming. This is the retrospective cognitive bias.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? When you think that you had predicted something, think about the real odds. If there were really low odds, it’s hard for you to have known it was going to happen.

5. Anchoring Cognitive Bias

It is the tendency of human beings to “anchor” them or to focus on the first piece of information we receive and then make judgments or make decisions. Different anchor points will give different results, even if these initial values are random. For example, imagine that you are going to buy a car and the first place you go you are asked 50,000 euros. You know that’s a very high sum, but to the places you go after, even if the price reduction is minimal, comparing it with the first one, you’ll see it more reasonable (even if it’s still not).

And this applies not only to the financial sphere. A doctor can anchor himself to the diagnosis of some illness by the first symptoms that he sees, and ignore other symptoms or data.

Anchoring- Cognitive Bias

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Reflect carefully on whether the offer they have made is really reasonable or we are comparing it with the initial price. Think about whether you really believe that what you’re doing is because you think it’s the right thing or you’re “anchoring” some facts and giving up other data.

6. Blind Spot Cognitive bias

It is the tendency to believe that we are less biased or less prejudiced than we are. What happens is that we often think that what we believe is true. We are convinced we have the truth in our hands making it more difficult for us to identify our prejudices.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Realize that we all have prejudices, to a greater or lesser extent, nobody is free from them. Reflect on what you think. Ask: What evidence do I have that this is so?  This will help you identify your prejudices and by being aware of them you will be able to not let yourself be guided by them.

7. Illusory Correlation Cognitive Bias

It consists in believing that two events are related when in fact we have no proof that it is so. This bias is related to superstitious behavior.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? That two events happen close together or you established they usually happen together it does not mean that they are related. For example:A woman believes that pit bulls are inherently dangerous. When she hears of a dog attack in the news, she assumes it is a pit bull that attacked. Therefore, it is best to be cautious and not assume relationships between two events or things until you have more information.

8. False Consensus Effect- Cognitive Bias

It is the tendency to believe that our beliefs and opinions are more widespread than they really are. It is the belief that our attitudes and beliefs are common and appropriate.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Everyone sees the world from their own perspective and sometimes it is difficult to get away from it. Before assuming that everyone else thinks alike, remember that everyone has their own mind, their own ideas, beliefs and opinions. We may share some, but that can only be known by talking to or getting to know others.

9. Illusion of Control- Cognitive Bias

It is the tendency to believe that we can control or influence certain situations or events, when in fact it is not so.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? Being realistic about what we can or can’t control. We will pass an exam thanks to our study and effort, not because of our lucky charm. People do not have the ability to control time, or the outcome of a football game.

10. Availability Heuristic – Cognitive Bias

We overestimate the importance of the information that we have more available and accessible. We will see a fact or situation as more frequent and probable if we have at our disposal information about that fact.

For example, we can argue that lifestyle is not so important in our health because we know someone who smokes, drinks, does not exercise and does not eat healthily and is 90 years old.

How do we avoid this cognitive bias? He thinks that the most frequent or most frequently presented information is not the most representative. What will really be reliable when determining the frequency of something is the statistical basis of the fact.

Find out more about cognitive biases behind irrational decisions in the following video.

We hoped you enjoyed this article and that you can put into practice these tips. Feel free to leave a comment below.

This article is originally in Spanish written by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Social Psychology: Interaction Between Psychology and Society

What is social psychology? What are its practical applications? Who are its main authors? What topics do social psychologists study? In this article, we will solve all these questions and we will comment on several examples. Learn valuable knowledge that will help you to scientifically explain your day to day. Welcome to the exciting world of social psychology.

Social Psychology

What is Social Psychology?- Definition

Why is it that people are so determined to fight? What drives some people to donate all their money to charitable causes? Why do we feel so identified with certain groups? If you have asked yourself these questions, you have tried to solve the concerns of social psychologists.

Social psychology is a popular branch of psychology that studies the psychological processes of individuals in society. Social psychology is the study of how social and cognitive processes affect people perceive, influence, and relate to others. Basically, it’s trying to understand people in a social context, and understanding the reasons why we behave the way we do in social situations. Social scientists and psychologists study how social influence, social perception and social interaction influence individual and group behavior in interpersonal relationships and the ways that psychology can improve those interactions. Social psychology affects every aspect of our lives, whether we depend on, are influenced by, or react to others. People act differently in different situations because the people around us affect our actions. In broad outline, we can say that it is responsible for explaining how our social relationships make us feel, what we think about them, what are our motivations for relating other people, how we act with other people, etc. This area in psychology was born at the beginning of the 20th century.

Like with any other science, there are some basic assumptions of social psychology. One is that all behavior occurs in a social context, and individuals adhere to these norms even when alone. Another is that other people and the society they create around an individual is a major influence on their behavior, thought processes, and emotions. Social psychology looks at different areas such as social influence, social cognition, social behavior, and social development. Within those areas, social psychologists look at conformity, obedience, attitudes, social identity, relationships, attachment, and discrimination. Social psychologists also look at interpersonal and group dynamics and research social interactions and their influencing factors, such as group behavior, leadership, attitudes, and public perceptions.

History of Social Psychology

People began thinking about the concept of social psychology as early as our first philosophers, Aristotle and Plato. Aristotle had a more individual centered approach and thought that humans were naturally made to be sociable, in order for us all to be able to live together. Plato instead based his theory on a socio-centered approach and felt that the environment controlled the individual, stimulating social responsibility through social context. The idea of the “group mind” evolved from Hegel, who introduced the concept that society has links to the developing social brain. This then led to a focus on the “collective mind” in the 1860s, which emphasized the view that an individual’s personality develops because of cultural and community influences, especially language. Wundt is seen as the father of psychology and Völkerpsychologie, in which he studied language, cultural myths, and social customs. He saw language as both a product of cultures, as well as individual cognitive processes.

Some of the first experiments conducted in the vein of social psychology occurred in the late 1800s and early 1900s by Triplett and Ringelmann. Triplett conducted a study on if people would perform better or worse when there were other people present. He was the first to find evidence of social facilitation, which is when people are able to perform tasks better when there are others around them observing. Ringelmann’s study looked at how much effort a person is willing to input into a task or project when working alone versus working with others. His study found the basis for social loafing, which is when an individual puts in less effort when working with other people.

Social psychology was able to branch off from other areas of psychology because of the belief that people’s behavior changes depending on the cognitive processes with which they perceive and interpret the social situation they are in.

What does Social Psychology study?

The issues addressed by social psychologists are as diverse as the immense variety of situations that are presented daily in our social life. These are the main topics studied and an example of a problem associated with each one:

  • Identity construction: How do we determine which features define us?
  • Attitudes and Social Psychology: What pushes us to be ecologists?
  • Cognition in social relations: How do we make judgments about others behaviors?
  • Communication: What drives us to spread our intimacies in social networks?
  • Interpersonal relationships: Why do some people attract us and others disgust us?
  • Culture from a psychosocial perspective: How do we collectively place images that influence our emotions?
  • Stereotypes in social psychology: Why are blondes said to be dumb?
  • Conflicts: What can lead someone to bully someone else?
  • Helping others: Why do some people spend their time volunteering?
  • The groups: What encourages us to consider ourselves unconditional fans of a certain team?

Social Psychology: Features

1. Social psychology and relations with various disciplines

Sociology is the science most closely related to social psychology. Other fields such as education, economics, philosophy, political science, history, anthropology, or other branches of psychology maintain a two-way relationship that is remarkably enriching with this area of study.

2. Social psychology’s focus on psychological processes

Despite the need to combine different perspectives to reveal the insights that this discipline explores, not all sciences related to society are the same. Social psychology is distinguished from other subjects by its particular emphasis on what happens within the minds of individuals and their influence on behavior.

3. Social psychology: scientific approach

The object of study of social psychologists is less tangible than that of other scientists such as chemists or biologists. Even so, there are methods, such as experiments or correlational methods (which consist in observing how certain variables are affected), which enable social psychology experts to develop solid and applicable theories.

4. Social psychology and confusion with common sense

We all have a theory about the aspects that social psychologists study. At times, when the general public reads about social psychology, it thinks that it only deals with cliché and/or subjective opinions. However, these professionals are rigorously demonstrating issues that people are accustomed to discussing based on their personal experiences.

Applications of social psychology

In addition to theory and research, social psychology has many uses that directly affect our daily lives. Applied social psychology tries to improve the quality of life of people in an endless number of dimensions.

  • Health: It seeks to improve the individual’s well-being through tasks such as promoting healthy habits or neutralizing stressful social situations.
  • Social Problems: Unemployment, immigration or gender violence are issues analyzed by social psychologists, who also design intervention plan in order to resolve conflicts.
  • Education and social psychology: It focuses on issues such as the perception that people have about the education system or how to improve coexistence among students.
  • Environment: Social psychology is concerned with the interaction between the environment and people.
  • Legal area: It addresses issues that connect the world of law with that of psychology, such as prevention of criminal activity.
  • Organizations: Explore leadership, productivity, relationships among corporate workers, etc.
  • Politics and social psychology: It questions issues such as the effectiveness of political discourses or the attitudes of citizens towards politicians.
  • Communication and consumption: Advertising influence, our communicative skills, the union between individuals and brands or behavior in social networks are examples of topics addressed in this field.

In short, the performance of applied social psychology is indispensable in many and varied areas that require progress. Also, social psychologists are concerned with empirically demonstrating the validity of the solutions they propose and implement.

Psicología social: Aplicaciones

Social Psychology: Experiments

In this section, we will tell you two of the most renowned experiments in social psychology to show you how social psychologists work and their shocking discoveries.

During World War II

Unfortunately, a large impetus for the study of social psychology was World War II and the workings of the Nazi party and Holocaust. Researchers sought to understand the effects of the leaders’ influence, and how conformity and obedience played a role in why they were willing to participate in such evil, terrible actions. Researchers were interested in how these attitudes formed and were changed by the social contexts set by the leadership.

Experiment on social facilitation

Norman Triplett is the creator, according to several authors, of the first experiment of social psychology in 1898. He was curious about the speed increase observed in cyclists as they moved in a group. Its objective was to find out how the influence of a subject’s performance influenced the presence of other people performing the same activity.

His hypothesis was that our performance increases when we think we are competing with others (in motor tasks). Therefore, Triplett tried to verify the veracity of this affirmation in a laboratory. He asked some children to roll up reels of fishing thread. Some of the participants did it alone and the others accompanied by others who performed the same task. The result was that subjects in the second group were significantly faster.

Standford Jail Experiment

Philip Zimbardo, an acclaimed social psychologist, devised an experiment that went down in history for its bewildering results. He chose twenty-four students who appeared mentally healthy after an evaluation. Subsequently, he divided the group and randomly performed two groups. One was composed of policemen and the other by prisoners. In addition, he turned the basement of Standford University into a prison and made sure that the costumes and standards were as realistic as possible.

The participants were randomly assigned to be “prisoners” or “guards,” and were supposed to play out those roles throughout the experiment. Many of the guards grew to be increasingly sadistic towards the prisoners, unsettlingly more so at night when they believed the cameras to be turned off. The experiment had to be shut down after only 6 days, short of the planned 2 weeks, after a riot in the prison, for fear of someone getting seriously hurt. The experiment has been used as a prime example of people accepting and obeying an ideology, especially if they have institutional and societal support for their actions. Unfortunately, we can also see similar effects in the United States after the previous presidential election. There has been a rise in hate crimes, racism, and xenophobia since the election because the perpetrators feel that they have the support of the leaders in government.

The social explanation is that any person can act badly given a particular context. Watch the trailer to a movie based on this experiment.

Social psychology case studies: How can I apply social psychology to my daily life?

Who has never wanted to better understand and predict others behavior? Have you ever considered the motive that drives you to pretend that you feel like doing something for your group? Fortunately, social psychology gives us scientific answers to our daily questions.

Given that we live in society and need to adapt as best we can, a little bit of social psychology in our lives can help us explain teamwork discussions, job stress, the madness of Black-Friday sales or prejudices against people.

Discover these tips and recommendations that will help you apply the principles of social psychology to your routine:

Beware of your cognitive bias

Cognitive biases are deviations from reality that arise when we process information. We do not have enough resources to devote attention to everything around us and our brains tend to think at an amazing speed. For example, in order not to waste time, we tend to confirm our beliefs and to elude data that deny them.

This predisposition is natural and happens frequently. However, sometimes it can lead us to make mistakes, to contemplate our world through inappropriate stereotypes or to have unjustified prejudices. We need to reflect on our opinions and try to be objective.

Learn to influence others

We all need to occasionally influence others to get something. This does not involve manipulating or having evil intentions. Simply, we may want our sister to lend us a dress, make a good impression at a job interview or prevent a friend from making a lousy decision.

Actions like being polite with our interlocutor, doing favors or complimenting are remarkably effective tactics to achieve our purposes. Robert Cialdini is one of the greatest experts in social influence in the world and describes how effective in his book Influence.

Connect with today

The media are inexhaustible sources of knowledge about social psychology. The social network scandals, different leaders opinions and its power or comments from our acquaintances provide us with a multitude of data that we must process.

By the way, we must not be satisfied with knowing the reality through a single channel. Taking a holistic approach helps us to better anticipate others behavior and improve our problem-solving ability. Our knowledge will be enriched if we listen to the different versions of the stories and try to interpret different points of view.

Discover the exciting books on social psychology

Some social psychologists, such as Robert Cialdini, Elliot Aronson, or Philip Zimbardo, have written very interesting books for both professionals and non-specialists. Their works give you a practical, enjoyable and affordable approach to unravel the mysteries of our behavior in society.

Social psychology looks at how individuals interact in groups such as this.

 

Social psychology: Theorists and main authors

The list of fundamental social psychologists who made astonishing and still influential discoveries today is quite extensive. Here we present five essential authors and their most relevant contributions.

Social psychology and Kurt Lewin (1890-1947)

This father of social psychology proclaimed the interaction between each individual and all components of his environment. In fact, he was related to Gestalt psychology. He was especially interested in putting his ideas into practice and one of his maxims was “to understand a system you have to try to change it”.

Lewin created the theory of field, which emphasizes the importance of contemplating people’s vital space. This dimension is formed by the totality of the situation of each individual at a certain moment. Insists on not isolating the different factors that influence us and focusing on the dynamics that happen between them.

Solomon Asch (1907-1996) and social psychology

His main area of study was conformism, which is elemental for life in society. He is the celebrated creator of the “Asch paradigm”, which was demonstrated by a revolutionary experiment. In 1951, this psychologist brought together groups of between five and seven people. One of them was the subject studied and the rest were collaborators of the researcher.

Asch presented two images, in one there was a line and in the other three lines of different lengths. Subsequently, he wondered which line of the second card had the same length as the first. The experiment had been designed so that the individual analyzed was one of the last to respond. The collaborators gave an erroneous answer and it was verified if the participant also would do it.

The answer was tremendously obvious and simple. However, Asch discovered with surprise that after several trials, 50% of individuals were “mistaken” at least half the time. Asch also showed that conservative ratings vary from one culture to another, collectivists are more prone to this phenomenon.

Social Psychology and Stanley Milgram (1933-1984)

Milgram held one of the most terrifying experiments in history. Inspired by the atrocities committed in World War II, he studied obedience to authority and decided to explore the limits of individuals to their superiors.

He selected subjects with normal behavior. He asked the participants in his controversial experiment to administer electric shocks that progressively increased (although in reality they only reached 45 volts) to another person when he was wrong to answer a question.

The victim was an accomplice of the psychologist and had to fake progressive pain as the power of punishment rose. Despite his desperate cries and entreaties, the scientist who played the role of authority insisted that the subjects continue. Unexpectedly, 65% reached the maximum level, which involved delivering 450 volts to the other “participant”.

The explanations proposed for this grisly fact are that Yale provided credibility for the scientific experiment. Meaning that if Yale backed the experiment the discharges were not harmful or maybe the insistence since children on obeying our superiors (parents, teachers, etc.). How would you react to this situation?

Serge Moscovici (1925-2014) and social psychology

Moscovici set out to investigate how we understand the world around us. It started from that we know the reality from social representations that guide us and allow us to develop next to the others. Communication between people is essential to transmit valuable knowledge and ideas and guide us.

We construct concepts collectively and create common sense shared by all of us. Our ideas are interrelated allowing us to enrich our thoughts and give meaning to the different events that take place in the day to day. What are we without others?

Robert Zajonc (1923-2008)

This social psychologist revealed the “mere exposure effect,” which manifests our tendency to appreciate more of a stimulus after being frequently exposed to it. For example, the first time we hear a song on the radio, it may seem bland. However, if you put it on every time we go out, in the car, on television and also becomes a summer hit, it is likely we end up loving it.

Likewise, Zajonc states that our preferences are not completely rational. Emotions always escort thoughts. This influences us when choosing friends or partners since we like the people we see more often. Advertisers have taken advantage of this phenomenon to create deeper links with brands.

 

Is it possible to bring individuality to situations with so many rules? Social psychology wants to find out.

Is social psychology for you?

Social psychologists are able to work on challenges that affect everyone socially, such as prejudice, implicit bias, bullying, criminal activity and substance abuse. They are able to do so in roles such as researchers, consultants, professors, strategists, or designers. If you are interested in working in social psychology, a masters’ or Ph.D. is usually necessary. But the hard work can definitely be worth it if you feel like you are making an impactful difference in people’s lives.

Thank you very much for reading this article. We hope that social psychology has been inspiring. We invite you to comment if you want to ask us something about this subject or if you feel like making a contribution.

References:

Allport, G. W. (1985). The historical background of social psychology. In G. Lindzey, and E. Aronson, (Eds.), Handbook of Social Psychology, 1, (3), 1-46.

American Psychology Association. Pursuing a Career in Social Psychology. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/action/science/social/education-training.aspx

Carnahan, T.; McFarland, S. (2007). “Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: Could participant self-selection have led to the cruelty?”. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. 33 (5): 603–614. doi:10.1177/0146167206292689

McLeod, S. A. (2007). Social Psychology. Retrieved from www.simplypsychology.org/social-psychology.html

Smith ER, Mackie DM. Claypool HM. Social Psychology: Fourth Edition. Psychology Press:2015.

Wilhelm Wundt. (2013, August 1). New World Encyclopedia,. Retrieved March 10, 2017, from http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/p/index.php?title=Wilhelm_Wundt&oldid=971872.

This article is originally written in Spanish by Aihnoa Arranz, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Hippocampus: the orchestra director in the deepest part of our brain

Hippocampus. Have you ever gone blank and forgotten what you were going to say? Our brain is full of important data and information that we have stored over the years. Sometimes we have so much information that we force our brain to get rid and ignore some data. The part of the brain in charge of such important functions as memory and learning is the hippocampus. Without this brain structure, we would lose the ability to remember and feel the emotions associated with memories. You want to know more? Keep reading!

Hippocampus

What is the Hippocampus?

The hippocampus is named after the anatomist Giulio Cesare Aranzio who in the 16th century observed that this brain structure bears a great resemblance to a seahorse.

The word hippocampus comes from the Greek Hippos (horse) and Kampe (crooked). In his discovery, this part of the brain was related to the sense of smell and he advocated the explanation that the hippocampus’ main function was to process the olfactory stimuli.

This explanation was defended until in 1890 when Vladimir Béjterev demonstrated the actual function of the hippocampus in relation to memory and cognitive processes. It is one of the most important parts of the human brain because it is closely related to memory functioning and emotions. It is a small organ located within the temporal lobe (approximately behind each temple), which communicates with different areas of the cerebral cortex in what is known as the “hippocampus system.” It is a small organ with an elongated and curved shape. Inside our brain, we have two hippocampi, one in each hemisphere (left and right).

The hippocampus is known as the main structure in memory processing.

Where is the Hippocampus?

It is very well located, connected to different regions of the brain. It is located in the middle temporal lobe.

The hippocampus along with other brain structures such as the amygdala and hypothalamus form the limbic system and are responsible for managing the most primitive physiological responses. They belong to the most “ancient, deep and primitive” part of the brain, in a part of the brain known as “archicortex” (the oldest region of the human brain) that appeared millions of years ago in our ancestors to meet their most basic needs.

The blue part is the hippocampus

What does the Hippocampus do?

Among its main functions are the mental processes related to memory consolidation and the learning process. As well as, processes associated with the regulation and production of emotional states and spatial perception. How does the brain learn?

Some research has also linked it to behavioral inhibition, but this information is still in the research phase as it is fairly recent.

Hippocampus and Memory

The hippocampus is primarily related to emotional memory and declarative memory. It allows us to identify faces, to describe different things and to associate the positive or negative feelings that we feel with the memories of the lived events.

It intervenes in forming both episodic and autobiographical memories from the experiences we are living. The brain needs to “make room” to be able to store all the information over the years and for this, it transfers the temporal memories to other areas of the brain where memory storage takes place in the long term.

In this way, older memories take longer to disappear. If the hippocampus were damaged, we would lose the ability to learn and the ability to retain information in memory. In addition to allowing the information to pass into long-term memory, it links the contents of the memory with positive or negative emotions that correspond depending on whether the memories are associated with good or bad experiences.

There are many types of memory: semantic memory, visual memory, working memory, implicit memory, etc. In the case of the hippocampus, it intervenes specifically in declarative memory (it covers our personal experiences and the knowledge we have about the world), managing the contents that can be expressed verbally. The different types of memory are not governed solely by the hippocampus but are formed by other brain regions. It does not take care of all the processes related to memory loss but it covers a good part of them.

Hippocampus and Learning

It allows learning and retention of information since it is one of the few areas of the brain that have neurogenesis throughout life.

That is, it has the ability to generate new neurons and new connections between neurons throughout the life cycle. Learning is acquired gradually after many efforts and this is directly related to it. For new information to be consolidated in our brains, it is vitally important that new connections are formed between neurons. That is why the hippocampus has a fundamental role in learning.

Curiosity: Is it true that the hippocampus of London taxi drivers is bigger or more developed? Why? London taxi drivers must pass a hard memory test where they must memorize a myriad of streets and places to get the license. In the year 2000, Maguire studied London taxi drivers and observed that the posterior hippocampus was greater. He also noted that the size was directly proportional to the time the taxi drivers were working. This is because of the effect of training, learning and experience changes and shapes the brain.

Spatial perception and its relationship with the hippocampus

Another important function in which the hippocampus stands out is the spatial orientation, where it plays a very important role.

Spatial perception helps us to keep our mind and body in a three-dimensional space. It allows us to move and helps us interact with the world around us.

There have been different studies with mice where it is stated that it is an area of vital importance for orientation capacity and spatial memory.

Thanks to its correct functioning, we are capable of performing acts such as guiding us through cities we do not know, etc. However, the data concerning people are much more limited and more research is needed.

What happens when the hippocampus is disturbed?

An injury to the hippocampus can mean problems generating new memories. An brain injury can cause anterograde amnesia, affecting specific memories but leaving intact learning skills or abilities.

Lesions can cause anterograde or retrograde amnesia. Non-declarative memory would remain intact and uninjured. For example, a person with a hippocampal injury may learn to ride a bicycle after the injury, but he would not remember ever seeing a bicycle. That is, a person with the damaged hippocampus can continue to learn skills but not remember the process.

Anterograde amnesia is memory loss that affects events occurring after the injury. Retrograde amnesia, on the other hand, affects the forgetfulness generated before the injury.

At this point, you will wonder why the hippocampus is damaged when there are cases of amnesia. It is simple, this part of the brain acts as a gateway to brain patterns that sporadically retain events until they pass to the frontal lobe. One could say that the hippocampus is key to memory consolidation, transforming short-term memory into long-term memory. If this access door is damaged and you can’t save the information, it won’t be possible to produce longer-term memories. In addition to losing the ability to remember, when injuries or damage to the hippocampus occurs, you may lose the ability to feel the emotions associated with such memories, since you would not be able to relate the memories to the emotions that evoke it.

Why can the Hippocampus be damaged?

Most of the alterations that may occur in the hippocampus are produced as a result of aging and neurodegenerative diseases, stress, stroke, epilepsy, aneurysms, encephalitis, schizophrenia.

Aging and dementias

In aging in general and dementias such as Alzheimer’s disease in particular, the hippocampus is one of the areas that has previously been damaged, impairing the ability to form new memories or the ability to recall more or less recent autobiographical information. Memory problems, in this case, are associated with the death of hippocampal neurons.

Most of us know of someone who has suffered or suffers from some kind of dementia and has experienced memory loss. It is curious how the memories that remain are childhood memories or the oldest memories. You may wonder why this happens if the hippocampus is supposed to be damaged.

Well, although it is severely damaged (whether by dementia or any other type of illness), the most common memories are the oldest and they are also the most relevant to the life of the person. This is because over time these memories have been “becoming independent” of the hippocampus to be part of other structures related to long-term memory.

Hippocampus and stress

This region of the brain is very vulnerable to periods of stress because it inhibits and atrophies the neurons of this structure.

Have you noticed that when we are very stressed and we have a billion things to do sometimes we feel forgetful?

Stress and specifically cortisol (a type of hormone that is released in response to stressful moments) damage our brain structures sometimes causing neuronal death. That is why it is fundamental that we learn to remain calm and manage our emotions to get our hippocampus to remain strong and continue to exercise their functions optimally.

To know more watch the following video.

If you like this super interesting subject about memory, I recommend you watch the movie “Memento”. I’ll leave the trailer here so you can see what it’s about.

If you liked this post, leave your comment below. I will be happy to read it and answer your questions :).

This article is originally in Spanish written by Mairena Vázquez, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Willpower: The complete guide to good habits

It’s common to think that obese people, smokers, and drinkers have little to no willpower. Is this true? How does willpower affect people? What is the difference between people with “little willpower” to those with “more willpower”? We will answer all these questions and even give tips on how to establish good habits. Continue reading!

Willpower

What is willpower?- Definition

Willpower refers to an internal and innate ability to achieve what we set out to do, despite the inconveniences or obstacles in the way. It is about being able to postpone the immediate reward (of a sweet, for example) in favor of long-term goals (like having better health).

It is related to self-discipline and self-control. This definition sounds great, very motivating and optimistic. However, it also makes you believe that some people have that capacity and others don’t, meaning either you are born with it, or you are doomed to failure. Is this really so?

The belief that there really is willpower helps us to simplify things. For example, if you want to lose weight, you should eat less and exercise. Sounds easy but then when you don’t lose any weight, the connotations of failure appear, you become lazy, useless, lacking self-control … However, unhealthy habits, or laziness, are not only influenced by willpower, whether we want to or not. In this process, multiple factors intervene like genetic, environmental, etc.

In the 60’s at Standford University, a classic experiment showed us, how willpower works. It was called “The marshmallow test” or “the chocolate test”. In this test, the researcher put treats in front of children and tells them that if they don’t eat it when he returns he will give them another treat. In the following video, we can see how many children are unable to resist the temptation, even though they knew that they could have twice as many treats if only they waited for a little. Nonetheless, some of these children had enough “willpower” and did not eat it.

What differentiates people with “little willpower” and “strong willpower”?

 Lack of willpower has a psychological explanation

Why do some people lack willpower? According to this study, people who try to lead healthy habits from “obligation” (extrinsic or external motivation) or from the “I have to” point of view will try to put a lot of effort but will also feel exhausted. The exhaustion comes from having to maintain that self-control because they will perceive more temptations and will not achieve their goals.

One factor that can influence the loss of willpower is suppression and restriction. What happens when they tell you not to think of a pink elephant? Well, you immediately start thinking about the pink elephant. This happens with all kinds of thoughts and emotions. When you repress or deny your sadness, it is very likely that it will later be expressed as anger attack, health problems, etc. When you try not to think about something, the opposite of what you want to achieve happens.  If your purpose is not to eat sweets and junk food, you will immediately think more about them and in addition, that restriction will make you want them more.

People with strong willpower

This study followed 205 people for a week investigating about their desires, temptations, and self-control. They found that people who claimed to be able to resist temptations actually had fewer temptations throughout the day. Therefore, people who say they have self-control or willpower do not mean that they actually have it, but there are few things that really tickle or tempt them.

A person with strong willpower is likely to enjoy healthy activities, such as physical exercise, healthy food, not liking alcohol. That is, they will have an intrinsic motivation, that turns out to be a view of “I want to” instead of “I have to”. 

What happens if you think you have to go jogging but it is an activity you hate? Well, you’re going to jog the first day but no more. Discover here our the benefits of exercise. People with strong willpower also have learned better habits. Perhaps in childhood, they have been taught the importance of good sleep, study habits, healthy activities. These habits have become routines that have settled down in their way of life and for that reason, they are difficult to break.

These people also have particular personality traits. According to this study, the responsibility personality factor influences health behaviors. This would imply control of impulsive behavior, the planning, the organization, the careful accomplishment of the tasks, punctuality, etc. It is possible that it was this personality trait that influenced the differences between the children who ate the candy and the ones who didn’t in the “Marshmallow Test”. This personality trait has a strong genetic component, which does not mean that we cannot change certain aspects of our personality.

How to increase our willpower?

According to one study, our goal achievement is influenced by our experiences with temptations rather than by resisting or controlling them. So that we can create healthy habits is not so much in our willpower but in our ability to modify or control our environment so as not to expose ourselves to those temptations.

How can we train willpower? Although, as we have seen, the existence of willpower is rather a myth than anything else, we can all learn to resist temptation or be less in touch with stimuli that might tempt us. Here are some tips for increasing “willpower”:

  • Control your environment. You will have more willpower if you do not expose yourself to temptations. If you do not want to eat unhealthily, do not buy cookies, chocolates, pre-cooked food, etc. If you want to quit smoking remove all ashtrays.
  • Surround yourself with people with good habits. The social environment is also very important. When you don’t have the habit you want, it is very frustrating when you are trying to modify it and your friends propose doing just the opposite. For example, you are trying to eat healthier and your friends want to go every weekend to fast food places. So if you try to expand your circle of friends a little more and surround yourself more often with those who will not tempt you, it will be easier to increase your willpower and achieve your goals.
  • Share your goals with other people. Telling someone what your goals might be, might make it easier to achieve them since they can join you or motivate you.
  • Take it slowly so you don’t saturate your willpower. A habit is not something that can be established at once. It takes a few intermediate steps to reach it. For example, when dieting, I will bring fruit to work so I can eat it as dessert. When that small step has become a habit you can move on to the next one.
  • Find out what makes you fall into bad habits.  To do this, you can think of what you were doing or how you felt before “losing your willpower”. By identifying the situations that make you more prone to unhealthy habits you can foresee and remedy them.

Hope you enjoyed this article and feel free to comment below!

This article is originally in Spanish written by Andrea García Cerdán, translated by Alejandra Salazar.

Motor Memory: Why You Never Forget How to Ride a Bike

Motor memory is the result of motor learning, which involves developing new muscular coordination. This allows us to recall motor coordination we have learned in order for us to interact with the environment. Playing the piano, catching a ball, and riding a bike are all examples of motor memory. These activities are also examples of things that are rather hard to forget how to do. How is this true? What makes our muscles able to remember so well?

Motor memory- Like riding a bike

Motor Memory: Types of Memory

Motor memory, like any form of memory, has a short and a long-term component. Short-term motor memory is very similar to that of verbal short-term memory in general concept but different in where it is stored in the brain and other aspects.

Short-term memory only encompasses the temporary stage of memory storage. In order to store memories for longer periods of time, repetition of the task must be done to move the memory from short-term to long-term memory. In long-term memory, especially when looking at the typical or “non-motor” memory, the information stored does not include specifics as time goes on. The information is rather stored with the big ideas of the memory and small details ultimately fall away.

Motor Memory: The Muscles (almost) Never Forget

The examples given earlier of playing piano, catching a ball, and riding a bike are all great ways to look at how durable long-term motor memory is. This is due to where in the brain motor memory is stored. Let’s look at the difference between short-term motor memory first and long-term first.

If you need to brush up on brain anatomy, take a look at this other CogniFit article!

Areas of the Brain Related to Motor Memory

Traditional information or episodic memory ultimately ends up in the cerebral cortex, but its journey begins in the hippocampus. This is not the same for motor memory. In fact, it begins its journey in the cerebral cortex. Purkinje neurons located in the cerebral cortex are the source of short-term motor memory. The type of neuron is important to understand because they transmit signals to the cerebellum, the area of the brain that governs movement.

These specialized Purkinje neurons are also important in converting short-term memory into long-term memory. This is because actions rehearsed in short-term memory eventually consolidate and are “moved” into long-term memory. Long-term memory is a bit harder to pin down to one specific area of the brain. A lot of research is currently being done in order to understand how the signals flowing out of the cerebellum to impact rehearsed coordinated movement. Most of the research is leaning towards the work of many interneurons working together. Interneurons are neurons that just transport signals to other neurons, most commonly observed in a reflex response. It is hypothesized that the interneurons lay out a ground map for movement signals to follow when an individual is introduced to a familiar external stimulus.

Motor memory

Motor memory: Remembering to Ride a Bike

All that time spent on as a kid on sidewalks, driveways, and cul-de-sacs with training wheels on your bike allowed for your brain to begin building and assigning interneuron pathways for your cerebellum to outflow muscle information to your legs. The general gross motor movements were different than walking, and your body needed to acclimate to the new challenge.

The first day you sat on your bike it was hard and awkward, and the second day was probably not much better. However, by the end of the week, you were most likely zooming all around your neighborhood. This is because the rate at which short-term motor memory transfers to long-term motor memory is extremely fast. A few days is the longest amount of time that this transfer usually occurs. This is far faster than typical memory being consolidated within at least a week.

However, if you were to hang up your bicycle for a few years and then take it down for a quick spin you would not forget how to ride it. You may feel wobbly, and a bit uneasy, but your brain and body quickly make corrections associated with balance, also governed by the cerebellum, in order to keep you upright and moving. Those slight adjustments are the work of your short-term motor memory impacting your long term memory.

Motor memory: Memory of Playing the Piano

Remembering to play the piano, or any musical instrument that requires dexterity is also similar to remembering how to ride a bike. Although, with music, there is a non-motor memory component: how the piece sounds.

Sitting down at a piano might not conjure up that specific Bach concerto you spend months working through, but allowing your hands to run up and down the familiar keys will allow you to remember the piece or the composer. Music and sound has a very distinct impact on our memory and hearing how something sounds often works in a cyclical fashion to make the hands move more smoothly across the keys. However, just the like the bike example, it will take time in order to gain speed when playing.

Motor memory: Remembering to Catch a Ball

Unlike the other two examples, catching a ball is a better example of short-term motor memory. The overall outline of how to catch a ball remains the same, thanks to your long-term motor memory. However, your short-term motor memory is what allows you to process how the other person is throwing you the ball. This is equally true with how you are throwing the ball back. Perhaps you misjudged how far away you were from one another. Within a few throws, you will be able to throw consistently to each other, as well as understand how to catch a “trickier” or unexpected throw. The speed at which you are able to do this is evidence of how well your brain and muscles communicate.

Motor memory

Motor Memory and Age

In many neurodegenerative diseases, memory is greatly impacted. Many early symptoms of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease include loss of motor memory. In these cases, motor decline is coupled with cognitive processes decline, which suggests that the two are related.

New emerging therapies and treatments for Alzheimer’s patients include a physical exercises component. Exercise releases a handful of neurotransmitters (types of neurotransmitters) in relatively high doses, and this increase in neurotransmitter activity in the brain could be what makes this treatment beneficial. Dopamine has a high number of receptors in the cerebellum, which governs motor control. The increase in dopamine in that area of the brain during exercise could reinforce the motor memory map laid out by interneurons extending from the cerebellum. This alternative to pharmaceutical intervention may even help us further understand why long-term and short-term motor memory differ from our typical memory schematic.

Have any questions? Leave me a comment below!