Author Archives: Akela Jayontra Johnny

Netflix and false memories

The late nights, the skipped meals, the dry eyes, and the ever increasing stack of dishes building up in your room… if you know of these symptoms then you have likely succumbed to the effects of binge watching. For those of you who don`t know “binge watching is the practice of watching multiple episodes of a television program in rapid succession, typically by means of DVDs or digital streaming”- Google definitions.

I noticed a strange phenomena that occurs when I binge watch a show, I’m not sure if any of my fellow binge watchers also experience this, but ill explain what happens to me. I was talking to a coworker about Supernatural which is a show about two brothers dealing with paranormal situations and saving people’s lives in each episode. I, being the uber fan that I am, have finished all 9 seasons and have caught up with most of season 10. My coworker began to explain one of her favorite episodes to me and even though it sounded familiar certain things that she was saying didn’t ring a bell. Even though I didn’t remember everything 100% the familiarity of the plot and the fact that I truly believed that I saw every episode made me not only agree to loving the episode but also comment on scenes and things that happened. it was only until I got home and logged on to Netflix in search of that episode that I realized that I never even seen the episode!! I had fallen asleep and woke up to the episode after it never realizing. To be honest that wasn’t even the first time something of that nature happened, binge watching episodes tend to clamor in your head to the point where episode 4 and episode 7 seems like the same episode! I’m telling you there has to be research done on the adverse effects of binge watching.

So back to how Psychology plays into this, what happened to me is an example of a a memory error. Going in a different direction then eyewitness testimonies, I encountered an error due to familiarity because the events that take place in the show are so similar and familiar to me that my memory reconstructed itself, convincing me that i saw an episode that I never did. Our memory can be modified or created by suggestion, because of this we encounter source monitoring errors- misidentifying the source of a memory. False recall and recognition is common because of factors like schemas -a person`s knowledge about some aspect of the environment (in my case my knowledge about a typical episode in Supernatural) and also from scripts- our conception of the sequence of actions that usually occur during a particular experience. Supernatural has a storyline, but most episodes are pretty redundant, in the beginning someone dies from an unexplainable event, in the middle the brothers pretend to be some kind of cop or agent, hunt the monsters and get a  couple bruises, and in the end  some woman or child is forever grateful and the brothers are content at another job well done. Using my knowledge of a typical episode allowed me to create a false memory without discrediting my knowledge of the show. As trivial a matter as that may seem it shows how susceptible our minds are and how easy it is to trick ourselves into believing something that never happened.


What you see is what you get

Change Blindness is a topic many find amusing, we believe it is crazy that something as drastic as someone`s shirt color can go from a subtle blue to a shocking pink and not even notice it. For those of you who are unaware, change blindness is a perceptual phenomenon that occurs when a change in a visual stimulus is introduced and the observer does not notice it. I am going to tell you about 2 experiments dealing with selective attention and change blindness, believe it or not one of these experiments were accidental with a subject pool of about 800 people.

The first “experiment” that I conducted was an example of change blindness. A coworker and I decided to switch desks for the day because of a special assignment that she was working on. While at her desk, I found using her computer to be extremely annoying because of her huge monitor screen protector. Now when I say huge I mean it, it is big, bulky, and used to protect others from seeing important or confidential information. I took it upon myself to remove the unsightly object from her screen, slightly nervous that she would take offense or find it as an invasion of space. I awaited her to come to the desk to see that I removed it, when she finally did come I was about ready to tell her my reasoning for removing her screen protector but then I realized that she didn’t even notice. Some background for you guys, my coworker has had this position since 2007 and used the same screen protector for over 3, she came to her desk and had full on 20 minute conversations with me and still did not notice the missing screen protector. I am sure there are many different theories that may explain why she hasn’t noticed something that she literally stares at 7 hours a day 5 days a week.

My second example is an interesting one. I currently work at Columbia University where part of my job is to process federal I-9`s and Work Study.  There is a form that I give to the work study students, somewhere between 800-1000 since the semester has begun. The interesting thing about this form is that out of the 800+ people who I asked to complete it, only a staggering 5 so far has noticed the section that says name and date. Every single day I purposely keep quiet to see if anyone will notice that there are lines that say name and date but so far only 5 people (I have been keeping tally) have noticed it before I told them about it. This is a bit of an office joke because we have already established that majority of the people we deal with have selective reading, meaning that they skim through e-mails and paperwork and only see what they want to see. I’ve had people sign new hire contracts clearly stating the pay of their position and go on to ask me when they’re done with the paperwork “so how much am I getting paid”, talk about signing your soul away, mind you many of these people are law students…..

Work Study letter

Just a note that this is a template of the letter but instead of “To”  in that spot we changed it to say “name”, but still no one notices. This is a great example of selective attention, just not in the way you would normally think. Most people think of selective attention as listening to the right convo or paying attention to a movie instead of the ongoing environment, but you would never really think that it would also go as far as how you read an email or a story. Broadbent`s ,Treisman’s and Deutsch`s bottleneck theories would explain that not all sensory material gets processed,  and it seems to me that this can at times be true because when I tell the students that they forgot to add their name and date they still look all over the paper trying to find a section to put it.  So even though it is possible to engage in dichotic listening such as in the Dear Aunt Jane experiment, where participants were able to process familiar information from the unintended message, There needs to be further investigation when it comes to selective attention in reading.

Every cloud has a top down lining

Alaska movie

The above link is to a short video clip I took during my stay in Alaska. To me this is the perfect example of bottom up and top down processing. Why you ask? I will begin with the story of the event that took place.

Over the summer I went on a beautiful cruise to Alaska where I was able to see magnificent sights. Some of these sights were specifically amazing because I had only ever seen them on tv or in the movies. One evening during dinner with my friend, we noticed a strange white mist approaching the ship. We stopped in our tracks because for a minute it looked like a large white form was penetrating a mountain. We knew that what we thought we were seeing was impossible so we left the dining hall and took to the top of the ship for a closer look. To our amazement the approaching white mass began to take several different shapes and even seemed to be floating and changing color. We began to go crazy because we thought we were witnessing some kind of extraordinary phenomena. We then took turns exchanging different ideas of what we thought the strange mass could be, but all of our conclusions were illogical or just plain crazy. About an hour later we were INSIDE of the strange white floating material, it was until then that we realized it was just a very thick layer of fog floating over a landmass. Even upon figuring out the puzzle we still were amazed by the sight and the works of mother nature.

Bottom up processing starts with information received by the receptors, but what if the information you see is new and hence unidentifiable? Thats when top down processing can come into play since it relies on knowledge or the expectations of the individual. In our case our knowledge of floating white masses was very limited, of course fog and mist came into play but it was like no fog we have ever seen. Maybe someone who studied in meteorology or hydrology would of had a much easier time deciphering the approaching mass but that just goes to show that perception is different for everyone. Imagine how different that white mass would look to 100 different people who carried their own array of knowledge and expectations. Each individual would probably witness something entirely different.

Thats the beauty of perception, I suppose that Helmholtz  had the same idea as I, when he introduced his theory of unconscious inference. Our ability to create perceptions from stimulus information that can be seen in more then one way is a wonder but it makes sense. Take for example the infamous blue/black dress that was floating around the internet, how is it possible that something as constant as color is perceived differently by people around the world? The best thing I believe we can do is refer to the Gestalt laws of organization. Though they are heuristics, they help explain why our perception changes and varies depending on our culture, knowledge, and background. A study that shows how the Gestalt laws influence our perception was “the hollow face experiment” done by Gregory (2007). The participants reconstructed a face on the hollow back of a mask. The subjects perceived that there was a protruding nose even though there was not, because of our assumptions. That is just one of the many studies done throughout history that supports just how much our perception is based on more than what meets the eye.



Gregory (2007)

Gregory R L, 1997 “Knowledge in perception and illusion” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Series B 352 1121 ^ 1128

“Cognitive Psychology” Goldstein (2011)