Mirror, Mirror
To us humans, our own existence is pretty obvious. We get up each morning, look in the mirror and instantly know that it is ourselves staring back at us. Wave an arm and the reflection waves back, confirming our consciousness. Therefore, if an animal were to recognise it’s own reflection, could that also be used as evidence for self-awareness in the animal?
This is exactly the test that cognitive psychologists employ to determine if animals are self-aware. First demonstrated in 1970 using chimpanzees, the mirror test involves surreptitiously marking an animal with coloured dye before placing them in front of a mirror. Evidence for self-awareness came when the chimps knew to wipe the mark from their own body. They were aware that the chimp in the mirror was not a separate chimp, but themselves. This information was then used to wipe away the mark. 
Only a handful of animals, including elephants, pigeons and dolphins, demonstrate this self-aware behaviour.

Mirror, Mirror

To us humans, our own existence is pretty obvious. We get up each morning, look in the mirror and instantly know that it is ourselves staring back at us. Wave an arm and the reflection waves back, confirming our consciousness. Therefore, if an animal were to recognise it’s own reflection, could that also be used as evidence for self-awareness in the animal?

This is exactly the test that cognitive psychologists employ to determine if animals are self-aware. First demonstrated in 1970 using chimpanzees, the mirror test involves surreptitiously marking an animal with coloured dye before placing them in front of a mirror. Evidence for self-awareness came when the chimps knew to wipe the mark from their own body. They were aware that the chimp in the mirror was not a separate chimp, but themselves. This information was then used to wipe away the mark. 

Only a handful of animals, including elephants, pigeons and dolphins, demonstrate this self-aware behaviour.

Feel the Rhythm 
Music, arguably more than any other art form, has a profound effect on human emotion. Research backs up the intuitive notion that listening to happy music evokes happiness in the listeners, while sad music induces sadness. But how exactly can a mere arrangement of sounds push our emotions one way or another?
Consider how emotions are communicated through speech. When delivering bad news, a speaker will speak slowly and with hushed tones. When such speech patterns are used, the listener then experiences sadness through a process of emotional contagion, even if the actual meaning of the speech is not inherently sad. In the case of music, musicians express their emotions through similar patterns as those used in speech. Sad pieces of music tend to be quiet and with a low tempo, just as sad speech involves hushed tones and slow talking. 
Image: music band by peugeot 404 on Flickr.

Feel the Rhythm 

Music, arguably more than any other art form, has a profound effect on human emotion. Research backs up the intuitive notion that listening to happy music evokes happiness in the listeners, while sad music induces sadness. But how exactly can a mere arrangement of sounds push our emotions one way or another?

Consider how emotions are communicated through speech. When delivering bad news, a speaker will speak slowly and with hushed tones. When such speech patterns are used, the listener then experiences sadness through a process of emotional contagion, even if the actual meaning of the speech is not inherently sad. In the case of music, musicians express their emotions through similar patterns as those used in speech. Sad pieces of music tend to be quiet and with a low tempo, just as sad speech involves hushed tones and slow talking. 

Image: music band by peugeot 404 on Flickr.

An Electric Shock is Preferable To Doing Nothing
In a recent study, participants were asked to sit alone for 15 minutes, in a room with absolutely no distractions - no phone, no book, nothing - except one: a button. The participants were told that this button would administer an unpleasant electric shock to the participant. Despite knowing this, 25% of women and 67% of men pressed the button during their time alone.
People clearly find it difficult to simply sit with only their wandering mind for company. Doing something is preferable to thinking, even if that something is unpleasant. The preference to do rather than to think, may have evolved from our animal instincts. As lead researcher Timothy Wilson told NPR: “We still have that mammalian brain that wants to engage”.
In the modern world, idle moments are rare. Smartphones offer a constant distraction from our own thoughts. We hold all of human knowledge and the ability to communicate with anyone in an instant in our pockets. The reason for the popularity of smartphones suddenly seems obvious, if even an unpleasant shock is preferable to a few moments alone. 
Image Credit: hpaton1 on Flickr.

An Electric Shock is Preferable To Doing Nothing

In a recent study, participants were asked to sit alone for 15 minutes, in a room with absolutely no distractions - no phone, no book, nothing - except one: a button. The participants were told that this button would administer an unpleasant electric shock to the participant. Despite knowing this, 25% of women and 67% of men pressed the button during their time alone.

People clearly find it difficult to simply sit with only their wandering mind for company. Doing something is preferable to thinking, even if that something is unpleasant. The preference to do rather than to think, may have evolved from our animal instincts. As lead researcher Timothy Wilson told NPR: “We still have that mammalian brain that wants to engage”.

In the modern world, idle moments are rare. Smartphones offer a constant distraction from our own thoughts. We hold all of human knowledge and the ability to communicate with anyone in an instant in our pockets. The reason for the popularity of smartphones suddenly seems obvious, if even an unpleasant shock is preferable to a few moments alone. 

Image Credit: hpaton1 on Flickr.

Facebook altered News Feeds of 689,000 users for psychological experiment
In an example of how not to conduct a psychological experiment, in 2012, Facebook altered the news feeds of 689,000 users. The social media website manipulated content to make the news feed either positively or negatively emotionally charged. The study found that users posted more positive content when shown a more positive feed, and more negative content with a more negative feed. The terms of service of Facebook includes a clause stating that user’s data may be used ”for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement”. However,  there is something distinctly off putting about a social media website manipulating the emotions of it’s users by restricting certain social content.

Facebook altered News Feeds of 689,000 users for psychological experiment

In an example of how not to conduct a psychological experiment, in 2012, Facebook altered the news feeds of 689,000 users. The social media website manipulated content to make the news feed either positively or negatively emotionally charged. The study found that users posted more positive content when shown a more positive feed, and more negative content with a more negative feed. The terms of service of Facebook includes a clause stating that user’s data may be used for internal operations, including troubleshooting, data analysis, testing, research and service improvement”. However,  there is something distinctly off putting about a social media website manipulating the emotions of it’s users by restricting certain social content.

People will pay twice as much for a salad in the shape of a famous Kandinksy painting.
Good enough to eat? Participants in this study thought so. People were willing to pay twice as much for a salad rearranged to resemble Kandinsky’s Painting No. 201, compared to one arranged in a random heap. Both salads contained identical ingredients, and the preference stood before and after eating. It’s difficult to say why the art-inspired salad was preferred, though the researchers suggest that the diners unconsciously attributed artistic value to it, making it seem more valuable.

People will pay twice as much for a salad in the shape of a famous Kandinksy painting.

Good enough to eat? Participants in this study thought so. People were willing to pay twice as much for a salad rearranged to resemble Kandinsky’s Painting No. 201, compared to one arranged in a random heap. Both salads contained identical ingredients, and the preference stood before and after eating. It’s difficult to say why the art-inspired salad was preferred, though the researchers suggest that the diners unconsciously attributed artistic value to it, making it seem more valuable.

Why do adults speak strangely to infants?
Infant directed speech or “Mother-ese” as it’s sometimes known, describes the spontaneous change in the speech of adults when communicating with children. Voices rise in pitch and slow down, while words become linguistically simpler, exaggerated and repetitive. “Mother-ese” is quite clearly distinct from normal speech, but why do adults feel the need to change so abruptly when confronted with an infant? 
Infants show a clear predisposition for “Mother-ese”, and the modified language is beneficial to development. When given a choice, infants prefer listening to infant directed speech and are more likely to respond to similar sounds (with high pitch and a slow tempo). Infants also show improved learning when taught using infant directed speech, as opposed to adult appropriate speech. In conclusion, “Mother-ese” is a useful tool for parents to gain their child’s attention and facilitate their learning. 

Why do adults speak strangely to infants?

Infant directed speech or “Mother-ese” as it’s sometimes known, describes the spontaneous change in the speech of adults when communicating with children. Voices rise in pitch and slow down, while words become linguistically simpler, exaggerated and repetitive. “Mother-ese” is quite clearly distinct from normal speech, but why do adults feel the need to change so abruptly when confronted with an infant? 

Infants show a clear predisposition for “Mother-ese”, and the modified language is beneficial to development. When given a choice, infants prefer listening to infant directed speech and are more likely to respond to similar sounds (with high pitch and a slow tempo). Infants also show improved learning when taught using infant directed speech, as opposed to adult appropriate speech. In conclusion, “Mother-ese” is a useful tool for parents to gain their child’s attention and facilitate their learning. 

Peppermint’s cool and refreshing taste provides a welcome relief on warm days. The pleasant, cooling sensation associated with mojitos, mint tea and mentos is not simply imagination, but an intriguing illusion which plays on the mechanics of the brain. 
Temperature is detected by nerve endings in our skin, which projects the information to specialised warmth receptors in the brain. The temperature we feel is determined by which receptors are activated. However, these receptors can be tricked. Menthol, a chemical found in mint leaves, stimulates cold receptors, creating a feeling of coolness.
As a result, the brain responds as if you’re stepping into the shade every time you take a sip of mint tea.

Peppermint’s cool and refreshing taste provides a welcome relief on warm days. The pleasant, cooling sensation associated with mojitos, mint tea and mentos is not simply imagination, but an intriguing illusion which plays on the mechanics of the brain. 

Temperature is detected by nerve endings in our skin, which projects the information to specialised warmth receptors in the brain. The temperature we feel is determined by which receptors are activated. However, these receptors can be tricked. Menthol, a chemical found in mint leaves, stimulates cold receptors, creating a feeling of coolness.

As a result, the brain responds as if you’re stepping into the shade every time you take a sip of mint tea.

Man’s Best Friend
Dogs or cats? The mere mention of this question sparks off the most enraged and volatile of arguments. Now, thanks to recent research, dog lovers can add a new weapon to their arsenal: empathy.
Eleven dogs were trained to lie in an MRI scanner while a variety of sounds were played. More activity was found in the dog’s brains when listening to human voices, rather than sounds of objects like cars or whistles. Particularly emotional sounds, like crying and laughter, produced activity in the same region of the auditory cortex of both humans and dogs.
Any dog owner will tell you of the uncanny ability to understand human emotion that our four-legged friends seem to possess.These findings, while not absolute evidence of empathy in man’s best friend, provide the first insights into the biological mechanisms underlying that mysterious connection.
Image courtesy of Borbala Ferenczy.

Man’s Best Friend

Dogs or cats? The mere mention of this question sparks off the most enraged and volatile of arguments. Now, thanks to recent research, dog lovers can add a new weapon to their arsenal: empathy.

Eleven dogs were trained to lie in an MRI scanner while a variety of sounds were played. More activity was found in the dog’s brains when listening to human voices, rather than sounds of objects like cars or whistles. Particularly emotional sounds, like crying and laughter, produced activity in the same region of the auditory cortex of both humans and dogs.

Any dog owner will tell you of the uncanny ability to understand human emotion that our four-legged friends seem to possess.These findings, while not absolute evidence of empathy in man’s best friend, provide the first insights into the biological mechanisms underlying that mysterious connection.

Image courtesy of Borbala Ferenczy.

thisistheverge
thisistheverge:

Dreamcasters: how video games alter our subconscious

A fascinating article exploring the link between the virtual imaginary worlds of video games and the biological imaginary worlds that we experience in dreams. Lucid dreaming, a state where the dreamer is aware of being in a dream, is more common in gamers, possibly because of their extensive experience of made-up worlds.

thisistheverge:

Dreamcasters: how video games alter our subconscious

A fascinating article exploring the link between the virtual imaginary worlds of video games and the biological imaginary worlds that we experience in dreams. Lucid dreaming, a state where the dreamer is aware of being in a dream, is more common in gamers, possibly because of their extensive experience of made-up worlds.