Monthly Archives: September 2015

Coffee cup force

Recently while I hurried to cleaning up the kitchen before leaving for work I moved to pick up a covered cup that I believed was full of coffee to move it out of my way, much to my surprise it was actually an identical cup that was empty. Since I believed the that cup was full I grasped and lifted it with the amount of force that would have been required to lift a full cup, however, since the cup was empty I instead lifted the cup with too much force and tossed it into the air instead. While I was quite grateful that the cup was actually empty and I did not make a huge mess this made me think of the interaction between perception and action.
This incidence is an example of perception which our text defines as a conscious experience that is the result of the stimulation of the senses. (Goldstien, 2011) I first perceived the cup sitting on the counter and then recognized it as my coffee cup. This perception would have come from the information I would have gained from the energy carried through my environment. The receptors in my eyes detected the amount of light coming from the cup, counter and surrounding objects which would have been changed into action potentials and carried to the occipital lobe of my brain. This process allowed me to perceive the cup sitting on my counter and is an example of bottom-up processing.
After recognizing the cup I had to take an action to lift it from the counter; this shows how perception and action have to interact. The movement required me to identify the cup from the other objects on the counter, such as my lunch bag and water bottle. After I had identified the cup I needed to recognize its location on the counter, next to the sink. I then had to reach out to the right spot, grasp the cup and lift it with the correct amount of force or what I believed to be the correct amount of force. The error in my force could be attributed to top-down processing being incorrect.
Top-down or knowledge based processing as defined by the text as the processing that involves a person’s knowledge or expectation of the environment. (Goldstien, 2011) My knowledge of context would have been the fact I was in the kitchen, I had filled a cup of coffee earlier in a cup that looked like the one I was looking at and expected it to be heavier than a cup that was empty. I also had prior knowledge of how heavy a full coffee cup should be and how I should adjust my force accordingly.
In conclusion my perception of the coffee cup sitting on the counter involved both bottom- up and top-down processing. Those processing working together let me know that there was a cup on my counter where to reach in order to grasp it and how much force I should apply in order to lift it. Unfortunately, my top-down processing was incorrect leading me to lift the cup with too much force causing me to toss it into the air.
Works Cited
Goldstien, B. E. (2011). Cognitive Psychology. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Shadow man in the woods

My family and I are avid Polaris Rzr riders. I case you are not familiar with the Rzr, it is a side by side supped up ATV. This one particular occasion, my husband and seven year old son were riding in their Rzr and my eight year old daughter and I were riding in mine along the trails at The Cove in Gore, VA. It was a perfect day for riding, the sun was out and the grounds were fairly dry. I was following my husband up and down the trails when; at the same time, we both saw what appeared to be a man standing in the woods about a foot away from the trail. Through our headsets; which are connected inside our helmets, we both shouted “Look out for the guy on the left!” My first thought was that was extremely strange because we are out in the middle of nowhere and secondly we both saw him at the same time. Our children did not see anything. It took me a few seconds to process what I had just seen before coming to the conclusion that we had just seen a ghost/spirit.

As I was passing the spot where the man was just standing, I realized there was no one there. After reading chapter 3 in our book (Goldstein, Bruce E. 2011, 2008), I realize that we were experiencing the Gestalt Law/heuristics; the law of familiarity, in addition to the bottom-up and top-down processing. The broken tree branches that were sticking up out of the ground and shadows off the higher trees and braches created a shadow pattern that seemed familiar. Our bottom-up processing; the principle of componential recovery, associated the familiar shadow patterns and the geons helped identified the shadow with the structure of a male figure. Our top-down processing helped with our ability to recognize the shadowy male by our prior knowledge of what a male’s body shape looks like.

While we have had many other speculations about why we clearly saw a man in the woods, I have come to the conclusion that the heuristics and bottom-up and top-down processing best explain our reasoning for assuming that we had simultaneously seen a male figure. After much research about our experience, I can also positively state that we did not experience a simultaneous state of schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, psychosis or drug related delusions.

Children and the Bilingual Brain

Children and the Bilingual Brain

Parents recently have started a trend of trying to raise their children to speak two different languages. Children that are bilingual have a large advantage and succeed throughout many different aspects of life than those who are monolingual. Bilingualism for children is an experience just like any activity one participates in that creates brain stimulation.

According to Dr. Eugene Garcia of Columbia University and author of various texts on Bilingualism, speaking two languages gives children an advantage for learning and memory. She states that Bilingualism gives children the capability of understanding from different points of views and is better at problem solving. She also says it makes the child more aware of the importance of language and communication at a young age.

In order to find out why Bilinguals are different than Monolinguals, we need to look into how the brain functions and where language plays a role in the brain. A recent study by Researchers from Northwestern University and University of Houston studied the brain activity using a fMRI to look at brain activity from bilingual and monolingual teenagers. Their results stated that the teens who were monolingual had a more difficult time doing a task than people who were bilingual. They found this result by watching how much harder the brain had to physically work. The study also showed bilingual people were able to filter out unrelated material given in the exercise and be able to complete the task at a higher speed. The more one exercises and stretches their brain, the more it will be capable of doing with faster results.

Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 4.28.06 PM

I just recently moved from Pennsylvania to Puerto Rico due to my husband’s work. My soon to be 3-year-old is taking on Spanish with ease. This has been such an amazing opportunity for her and myself to be bilingual. I look forward to watching her excel in her studies along with socially throughout life. It amazes me how quickly she remembers a word in both Spanish and English after just briefly being introduced.

In conclusion, having a bilingual brain is important for children that want to have a jump start at life skills. The skill of speaking two languages is clearly beneficial and important for children who want to succeed and a have a better understanding of life. As our world changes and becomes more diverse, being bilingual will have so many benefits for all.

Works Cited

Sifferlin, A. (2014, November 12). Speaking More Than One Language Could Sharpen Your Brain. Retrieved September 12, 2015, from

Sherwood, E. (2007, November 1). Education Update – Professor Ofelia Garcia Speaks Out In Favor of Bilingual Education. Retrieved September 12, 2015, from


Declarative Memory Consolidation and Slow Wave Sleep

Most students are familiar with the dilemma created by a deadline to take a test when there are not enough hours left in the day; should I push through the exhaustion and study until I am finished, or should I sleep? While we might be tempted to choose the former, we are also familiar with the consequences of taking an exam after a night of little to no sleep. We wonder what happened to the information we were just reading five minutes before taking the test, which now seems impossible to recall. One possible answer is that interference of some sort did not allow for memory consolidation of this newly acquired information. Memory consolidation is defined as “the process by which experiences or information that has entered the memory system becomes strengthened so it is resistant to interference caused by trauma or other events” (Goldstein, 2011). So what does this have to do with sleep? Research has repeatedly shown that sleep can alter the consolidation of memories (Gais & Born, 2004). The specific type of memory we are most concerned with while taking an exam is called declarative memory, which involves the recollection of previously experienced events or facts (Goldstein, 2011). Because the mechanisms of memory acquisition, consolidation, and retrieval are quite complex, I will choose to focus on the relationship between the hippocampus, slow wave sleep, and declarative memory in our investigation into why lack of sleep might affect our memory during exams.

Although many structures are activated during memory consolidation, the hippocampus appears to be the most pronounced and most studied brain structure with regards to sleep and declarative memory (Marshall & Born, 2007). One proposed mechanism of declarative memory consolidation is believed to involve reactivation of newly acquired information in the hippocampal networks during slow wave sleep (SWS), which stimulates the transfer of these memory representations into neo-cortical networks (Gais & Born, 2004). One study that supports this theory involves neuroimaging in humans subsequent to learning a declarative task, which showed reactivation in the hippocampus during SWS (Marshall & Born, 2007). The amount of reactivation that was shown in the hippocampus was directly correlated with the participants’ performance on a recall task the following day. The increased activation of the hippocampus during SWS is part of the reason that researchers have continued to focus on the link between these stages of sleep and declarative memory.

Research has shown that declarative memory benefits specifically from an increase of slow wave sleep (Gais & Born, 2004). Slow wave sleep, characterized by slow delta waves, is often referred to as non-REM sleep stages 3 and 4, and dominates the first few hours of sleep we get each night (Freberg, 2010). One important study that showed the effects of stages of sleep and type of memory was performed by Plihal and Born (1997). The researchers assessed recall of paired-associative lists (declarative) and mirror-tracing skills (procedural) after two different retention intervals consisting of either early nocturnal sleep or late nocturnal sleep. They found that the participants’ recall of paired-associative lists improved more during the early sleep retention interval, which coincides with the time period that contains the bulk of our SWS (Plihal & Born, 1997). Recall of mirror-tracing skills improved more during the late sleep retention interval. Another study suggests that the decline in declarative memory recall that may occur during aging can be directly correlated with the decline of early nocturnal SWS during aging (Backhaus, et al., 2007). While slow wave sleep is not the only mechanism involved in improved consolidation and recall of declarative memories, it can certainly be claimed that it is a necessary component for optimal performance during an event that requires a high amount of recall of acquired facts, such as taking an exam.

The hippocampus-SWS link is an important component of memory consolidation with regards to declarative memory. Studies such as Plihal and Born (1997) have shown a direct link between improved declarative memory and SWS that occurs during early nocturnal sleep. In addition, hippocampal reactivation during SWS has been seen in neuroimaging studies, and greater activation was correlated with higher performance on recall tasks the following day (Marshall & Born, 2007). How does this apply to our original dilemma: stay up and study or get a good night’s rest before taking an exam? Based on the information that I have just described, I would say that early nocturnal sleep appears to be crucial to declarative memory consolidation, and consequently, recall during the exam. Perhaps this would mean that going to bed early the night before and waking up early to study would be a better solution than staying up late and getting only a few hours of sleep before a test. While more research would be needed to confirm this hypothesis, I certainly am going to consider this information when faced with another late night of studying.



Backhaus, J., Born, J., Hoeckesfeld, R., Fokuhl, S., Hohagen, F., & Junghanns, K. (2007). Midlife decline in declarative memory consolidation is correlated with a decline in slow wave sleep. Learning Memory, 14, 336-341. doi:10.1101/lm.470507

Freberg, L. A. (2010). Discovering Biological Psychology (2 ed.). (J. Potter, Ed.) San Luis Obispo, CA, USA: Wadsworth.

Gais, S., & Born, J. (2004). Declarative memory consolidation: mechanisms acting during human sleep. Learning Memory, 11, 679-685. doi:10.1101/lm.80504

Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience (3rd ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Marshall, L., & Born, J. (2007, November). The contribution of sleep to hippocampus dependent memory consolidation. Trends in Cognitive Science, 11(10), 442-450. doi:

Plihal, W., & Born, J. (1997). Effects of early and late nocturnal sleep on declarative and procedural memory. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 9(4), 534-547. doi:10.1162/jocn.1997.9.4.534

Measuring of the Brain

Makeba Fitzgerald

Psychology 256

September 13, 2015

Measuring of the Brain

When measuring the brain one must find different techniques to measure the brain without causing any type of harm to the brain. The use of electroencephalography will help a doctor “measure the electrical activity across the scalp” (Unknown, 2015).

One evening a doctor was notified that a child was suffering from an irregular heart beat and was not sleeping at night. It was believed that this child was not breathing during periods of sleep at night. Therefore the doctor ordered what is known as a sleep study.

The child arrived to the hospital for an overnight stay to have an electroencephalography completed. The nurse came into the room and explained to the child that he would be positioning several leads onto his head and then hooking wired to these leads which would record to a computer about his patterns of sleep and wake periods as well as his breathing.

The nurse then informed the child that he would be turning the lights and television off at 9pm. Once the lights and television were turned off the nurse turned on the machine so that it could record the time that the child went to sleep and any periods that the child may have awaken during the night. The child was monitored for about eight hours or so. Once the test was concluded the doctor went over the results and then reported his finding to the parents.

In conclusion the doctor reported that the child had been awake about nine or ten times throughout an eight hour period and had stopped breathing in his sleep about two to three times. There were no real concerns about the child health as the results just showed how the electrical waves in the child brain were seen through the recording throughout the night. The child was released from the hospital and told to follow up with his pulmonary doctor.



Unknown. (2015, September 13). Retrieved September 13, 2015, from Angel:


Why is this line taking so long?

I remember my son being born like it was yesterday. That was 5 years ago. Those years have been short. What? How could that be short? That’s 1825 days (1826 if you count the one leap year in there). Now, we are little past his 5th birthday so it has been more than that. The nine months waiting to meet him dragged on and felt never ending. But how does time seem to go differently? It works in short increments too. How can a work day drag on, but a vacation go so fast?

There have different studies that talk about our perception of time and the ways our brains can trick ourselves. According to an article written in 2009, our emotions can cause time to slow down or go fast. There was a study by Vons and Schmeichel in 2003 that showed suppressing emotions can make time go longer than if you let yourself feel it.

Go back to my example, I had so much anxiety and fear over meeting my son that 9 months felt like 9 years. There are days now that can feel that way (like when he acts up and decides that his little self is the boss). For the most part I think that the days are pretty fast and everywhere I find myself unprepared for holidays and big events. My son just started school and it was all so fast. Now we are only 12 short years from the college days.

I feel awful when I work all day because I feel as though I am missing so much. I am home with him at night and I get him ready for school in the morning, but that time seems small compared to 40 hours a week at work. This is a form of top-down processing, our brain uses “your abstract impressions(Cherry)” and from there we perceive on a sensory level.

There are many ways that we perceive. Using a big picture to help figure out the small is one way our brain does it. It can make time slow down and speed up, just based on what we are feeling and how we apply those feelings to what we are doing at a given time. We all have the same amount of time in a day. 24 hours, 1440 minutes, whatever you want to call it. We just all perceive it differently depending on what we have going on in our lives and how we feel about our situations. And, to quote my favorite show “people assume that time is a strict progression from cause to effect but actually, from a non-linear non subejective viewpoint, its more of a big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff” (Doctor Who)

Perception Applied

Perception: One might argue that perception rather than fact is what rule our lives, our decisions, our responses. Strictly speaking of perception using the definition from lesson three – taking information from our environment and converting it to action potentials in order to use these potentials to build a representation of our environment – Our personal world through which we decipher reality. The combination of bottom-up and top-down processing and how this combination works together to influence our actions is an amazing event. Our perception changes and we then see the truth to what was beforehand magical illusion. The Gestalt Grouping Laws provide great rule-of-thumb scenarios when this concept can be easily seen.

The Gestalt Grouping Laws are: Proximity, Similarity, Good Continuation, Connectedness, Common fate (movement), Pragnanz. Proximity states that we tend to group things close together. Similarity states that we will group things that appear the same. Good Continuation means that we’ll group things that continue with synchronicity. Connectedness will group objects that seem linked. Common fate group objects that move together as one. Pragnanz – think pragmatic- subsumes that we’ll perceive our environment in the simplest way possible.

A thorough understanding of these laws allows us to explain how we can perceive things incorrectly but we still have difficulty controlling the event as it is happening. In the “Hollow Mask” illusion I knew the mask was hollow. I told my brain it was hollow and the first couple times I watched it revolve around all I saw was a concaved face. Then I stopped thinking about the hollowness and like “magic” a contoured, tan face appeared to change direction and revolve in front of me.


I find that I use the six Gestalt laws most concentrated whenever I play paintball. Without previous knowledge of their terms; Proximity, Similarity, Good Continuation, Connectedness, Common Fate (most definitely) and Pragnanz are what I’ve been using to hunt and eliminate my opponent in the woods for years. In the past I would hear the same argument over and over. It was that I had an unfair advantage over other players because my wardrobe more closely blended in with my surroundings – camouflage. I was tired of hearing the complaints and through a wager, I stripped off my outer layering and played the rest of the day in a white tee shirt.

My little experiment enforces what I recently learned about perception, at least as a visual stimulus. I discovered that by breaking up my outline, moving very slowly, and staying close to large objects I was almost as effective as with my camo. The greatest difference being only the distance my opponent would get before I eliminated them. Before, with the camo, they could almost step on me before I marked them whereas with the white shirt they would see me at about 25 feet. Still, this distance was well within my striking range. Inversely, by focusing on movement through the brush, finding outlines among the trees, and a bit of Pragnanz, I’d find opponents long before they knew I was there.

Just for fun take a look at these pictures taken of actual snipers. Try to use some of Gestalt’s laws to find them. It is an interesting exercise.

Gestalt Laws in action




What Do your Eyes See that Mine Don’t?

New research is suggesting that it could be possible that humans might perceive variations in color based on change of the season in the environment. Can this be possible? That it can depend on the season of the year and that we can perceive the colors of that particular season in a different way. According to Lauren Welbourne, psychology doctoral candidate studying at the University of England, in an article from Live Science published on Yahoo news, there is a suggestion that this could be so.

This idea of how we see and perceive colors during the seasons can’t be that different from how we adjust the color of when we are watching a program on the television to fit the way we feel it should, makes a lot of sense. As the researchers of this color study (as cited in the article by Tia Ghose) explained, “The team said it suspects this type of color shifting — essentially like tuning the color balance on a television — may be a way for the human visual system to compensate for differences in the environment. (1)”

In my understanding of the definition of perception as defined by our course textbook, perception is “experiences resulting from stimulation of the senses. (2)” So, if I have been depressed for the past three months and I take a look outside during the summer, this research is suggesting that my perception of the color of the day would be based on several things going on, one of which would be that my senses would be affected by my depression of how I perceive the color of the day and in turn would make my perception of the color as being more gray. This research coincides with other studies from researchers at the University of Freiburg in Germany (as cited in the article) that “people with depression have difficulty detecting black-and-white contrast differences. (3)” There are also physiological differences going on at the same time, when we are making that detection of the color of the day during summer. These differences could be that there is a problem in a person’s retina, the eye could have suffered from damage or the eye could be that of an elderly person with Alzheimer’s. One informational website dedicated to providing elderly care states, “They appear to have the greatest difficulty differentiating colors in the blue-violet spectrum. Red appears to be the easiest color for people with Alzheimer’s disease to perceive. (4)”

So the next time you ask someone ‘how does it look outside’, during a bright sunny day in June, and they answer ‘looks gray’, you might want to take into consideration that person could be depressed, suffering from possible Alzheimer’s disease, or even suffered from eye damage. Not everyone sees the world from your point of view. In other words, not everyone has the same perception of color and their view of the world could be completely different than how you may shape your view of the world because there is much more going on psychologically and physiologically in others senses than that of yours.

Terranea Cliffs


  1. People’s Color Perceptions by Tia Ghose, Live Science, published in Yahoo news;_ylt=A0SO8zFgqPVVzeUAv.lXNyoA;_ylu=X3oDMTEyMWhwOTEzBGNvbG8DZ3ExBHBvcwMxBHZ0aWQDQTAxMDVfMQRzZWMDc2M-
  1. Goldstein, B. (2011). Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research and everyday experience (3rd ed.). Wadsworth, Inc. Pg.49
  2. Live Science website article:
  3. Elder Care Team website:


Top down and bottom up processing: How it helps and hinders children’s homework

I have two daughters, one is 8 years old and the other is 5 years old. Ever since my 8-year-old started school, I have had a really hard time helping her with her homework. There are two reasons I have difficulty helping her. The first reason is top down processing and the second reason is bottom up processing. She has homework everyday, and everyday we struggle with the concepts I know, and the concepts I don’t.

Top down processing is processing that involves a person’s knowledge or expectations. I rely on my knowledge to assist my daughter in doing her homework, I know how to do it because I have done it, and learned it. It’s top down processing that allows me to help her. My daughter doesn’t know it yet, and I struggle with having patience in our differences. I find myself thinking, “come on you should know this”, when in reality, she doesn’t because she hasn’t learned it yet. I don’t remember learning it; I just know that I know how to do it. My daughter is still learning, and learning new stuff everyday. She doesn’t have the knowledge of the concepts yet.

Then there are the times when we are both experiencing bottom up processing. North Carolina is a state that teaches common core in the classroom. Until two years ago, I had no idea what common core was. Now I struggle with helping her with her math homework because I have no knowledge of common core math, we are learning it together. I have to “Google” how to do third grade homework. I have to email teachers for assistance, or attach notes to the homework as I send it back in. I even asked her teacher to hold classes for us parents, because common core is a whole new way of learning. Together she and I are both learning, and this is bottom up processing.

Example of Common Core math:



Learning about top down and bottom up processing has really helped me understand what is going on when I help my daughter. I can look at it from a different point of view. I can work to find solutions that make it easier for both of us. Once you know better, you do better. This lesson will assist me in being more patient with my daughter when helping her with the stuff she doesn’t know yet. It will also help me seek out fun ways for us both to learn the new stuff together. She won’t be little forever, and soon she won’t need my help.

Perception and a work day

As I sat out on my 45 minute drive to work I thought about all the things ahead of me for the evening. The calendar read Thursday however it was my Monday, my first day back after two days off. Thursdays at work are a pack up day for transfers going out meaning that the already busy day would be even busier. Driving through traffic trying to avoid slow drivers it begins to rain. As the windshield wipers go back and forth I try to focus on the road. Up ahead I see cars trying to avoid something in the middle of the road. I immediately assume that it is either a skunk or a raccoon being as though they are the common roadkill found on the route. As I got closer I was able to see that the roadkill was neither a skunk nor a raccoon but instead a branch that must have broken off a tree during the storm. Thank God. I continue on to work.

I arrive at work to be told that I would not report to my normal post but instead would head to the gun range to qualify for the year. As I sit in class I listen to the instructor go over the basic instructions and things needed to qualify today. My mind wanders to previous times I sat in this class and how things went in the end. Sight alignment, got it. Sight picture, got it. Lean forward with the shotgun, rock with the recoil… Got it, got it. When I get out on the range and instantly am drenched from the rain. I try to avoid the wind and the wetness of my body. I square up with my target, using the refresher given today and my previous shooting techniques, I qualify for the year.

This example fits the concept of perception. Goldstein (2011) defines perception as a conscious experience that results from stimulation of the senses. The first example of perception explained above was driving pass what I believed would have been roadkill and seeing that it was only a branch. Perception begins with bottom-up processing. Bottom up processing begins with stimulation of receptors from things in the environment turning them into action potentials and sending them to the brain (Goldstein, 2011).  I made an assumption of what the other drivers were avoiding but once adding in more information and getting a better look my perception changed. Top down processing is processing that begins with a person’s prior knowledge or experiences (Goldstein, 2011). During my qualification I took all the previous knowledge I had plus the small class just given in order to correctly land my bullets.


Goldstein, E. Bruce. (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. 3rd ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.