Monthly Archives: April 2014

Kids Say the Darndest Things: Verbal Behavior Therapy

In 1957, famed behaviorist B.F. Skinner published a book titled Verbal Behavior. In this book he proposed reinforcement as the basis for which language is learned. Noam Chomsky, “father of modern linguistics”, publicly criticized Skinner for his views. He scoffed at the idea of children learning language purely through the reinforcing behaviors of those around them. He asked how children could create new sentences that they had never heard before if language was learned through behavior (Goldstein, 2011). I would be inclined to agree with him. It is a well-known fact: kids say the darndest things. Things that they probably haven’t heard from their parents and most certainly were not reinforced. Behaviorism is not the sole answer when it comes to language acquisition amongst the majority of the population. And yet, for the handful of children who come into this world destined to struggle with language their entire lives, it may be.

I’ve written before about my experiences with behaviorism and autism. I couldn’t do my jobvb2 without the skills I’ve learned through Applied Behavior Analysis. One of those skills is Verbal Behavior Therapy. All of my students struggle with communication in some way or other, but a few are incapable of even the most basic language skills. What is your name? Where do you live? Are you sick? These children don’t know what these questions mean, let alone how to answer them. Verbal Behavior Therapy helps us to teach our students how to connect words with their meanings so they can make requests or communicate ideas.

Skinner broke up language into four operants: mand, tact, intraverbal, and echoic. A mand is a simple request. If a child asks for a pencil, we give them a pencil. Tact is a comment made to draw attention to something. A child may say “book” to show you where they placed their book. Intraverbal is used to respond to a question. You ask a child his name and he responds with “Steve”. Echoic is a repeated word or phrase used to acknowledge understanding. You ask a child if they need a pencil and if they repeat the word pencil, then you give it to them (Verbal Behavior Therapy, 2014).

All of these techniques are used to teach students with language difficulties how to communicate. Constant prompting and reinforcement are necessary to teach these children how to communicate their wants and needs. So, behaviorism may not be the source of all language, but for the few that need it, it is invaluable.



Goldstein, E.B. (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience. Wadsworth: Cengage Learning.

Verbal Behavior Therapy. (2014). Autism Speaks. Retrieved from

Bottom-up and Top-down Processing: A Collaborative Duality

Throughout the course, I struggled to clearly understand the difference between bottom-up and top-down processing as it relates to perception. Bottom-up processing is any processing that originates with the incitement of the sensory receptors. (Goldstein, 2011) Top-down processing always begins with a person’s previous knowledge, and forecasts due to this already acquired knowledge. (Goldstein, 2011) While I was driving home from my place of work on this unassuming Thursday evening, I had quite the realization while immobile at a stop sign. The interplay between bottom-up and top-down processing had actually caused me to stop at the stop sign. It became quite obvious how the two processes work in harmony in order to make this world negotiable for a human being. It seems that the two operate together more often than not, which, at times, makes them difficult to distinguish between.

It seems that driving an automobile is a great example of the teamwork between bottom-up and top-down processing. According to “In the case of avoiding an on-coming car, it’s good that we don’t have to stop and think about what is going on before acting.” ( This assumption seems to be true. Some of our seemingly automatic reactions when we are driving a car are due to bottom-up processing. If a deer runs out in front of our car, we will most likely attempt to avoid a collision reflexively. We have perceived the deer through our visual receptors, and come to a stop. This has occurred without much conscious consideration and prior knowledge needed. The processing of this event appears to have happened by dominantly bottom-up means.

What about the stop sign? Is this bottom-up or top-down? I believe the correct answer is: both. In order for me to consider this stop sign, I must first visually perceive the octagonal red sign we all know so well. This initial perception comes from the environment and appears to be bottom-up. But, how do I even know what a stop sign is? I know the action I must take when this stop sign is perceived due to top-down processing. Psychologist Richard Gregory believes that when something is viewed, we develop a “perceptual hypothesis,” which is rooted in our knowledge and information about previous experiences. ( Previously, in my life, I learned about the concept of a stop sign, and what to do when encountering one while driving. I cannot perceive the stop sign in the environment without bottom-up processing, and would also have no idea what to do with this visual information without my previous experience with the theory (top-down processing). What side of the road to drive on, driving on green, and essentially all of the rules of the road, seem to rely on both bottom-up and top-down processes in discussing perception.

James Gibson argues that: “There is enough information in our environment to make sense of the world in a direct way.” ( He insists that information provided to our senses by the environment is all that is needed in order for us to interact with our surroundings. ( The idea of a stop sign seems to contradict this assessment. If I were to simply perceive the shape, color, etc. of a stop sign without any top-down processes occurring, I would not know the meaning of the sign. This lack of knowledge would result in myriad accidents.

Instead of struggling to delineate both processes separately, my stop sign revelation has made these concepts clearer. This duality seems to occur quite regularly in our everyday lives, and is essential to our negotiation through this often-ambiguous world.




Education Portal -. (n.d.). Education Portal. Retrieved April 24, 2014, from


Goldstein, E. B. (2011). Cognitive psychology: connecting mind, research, and everyday experience (3rd ed.). Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.


McLeod, S. (n.d.). Visual Perception Theory. Visual Perception. Retrieved April 23, 2014, from

The Key Ingredient is ‘Mental’

In lesson 10 of our text book, we are briefly introduced to the concept of mental imagery. Mental imagery, according to Goldstein, is “the ability to recreate the sensory world in the absence of physical stimuli” (Goldstein 270). It is similar to the more common idea of visual imagery, except that it takes place in the other senses, like taste and smell. As I read this, it suddenly occurs to me that it has been the key ingredient whenever I experiment with a new recipe in the kitchen!

I’ve actually included this ingredient for years and never realized what I was doing, and I do it quite a bit.  I love to cook and bake.  I’m at my happiest when I’m in the kitchen whipping up one thing or another.  I’ve created many, many wonderful recipes over the years.  And my process, which involves mental imagery, is –or was, in my thought– unique.

First, I realize the finished meal in my mind, and then I reverse-engineer it. Over Christmas, for example, I wanted tamales. However, since you simply cannot find a vegan tamale, I started constructing a meatless, cheese-less variation in my head by thinking of what makes a regular tamale and substituting different ingredients. Masa, for example, is heavier than cornbread but suitable for enveloping the filling. In my head, I imagined the taste and consistency of agave, which I could use to sweeten the cornmeal mixed with coconut oil and soy milk. Combining those ingredients in my mind, I recall their individual tastes and textures, then decide that it needs a small kick.  I make a note to add a dash of cayenne pepper when the time comes.

Satisfied with the combination of flavors, I decide on the ingredients for the filling.  I imagine the fat-free re-fried black beans will push the filling aside to make a glob, so I ponder using my own vegan chili recipe and adding dairy-free cheese. That feels right to me!

Once I figure it all out, I put it together in my head in baked form. I feel the hot bite touch my tongue, and as I press my tongue to the roof of my mouth, I break through the slightly spicy hot faux masa and the beans in my chili come to life, and the clean, cold feel and taste of my sour cream completes the experience.  I decide that’s what’s for supper, and then I start pulling ingredients from our pantry.

Cornmeal, coconut oil–no!  Olive oil!  That’s what I need since coconut oil will make it dense and crumbly. I put together the cornmeal mixture, sprinkle my vegan cheese and pour my chili on top. I think about it a moment and I can feel the baked cheese with a cold bit of no-dairy sour cream. I sprinkle more cheese as the image of that first bite tantalizes my taste buds.  As I put it in the oven, I decide that 375 degrees for 35 minutes feels right. Once it comes out of the oven, my husband and I put our plates together and another creation is in the mix of our favorite suppers.

For the record, several tamale pies later, I tried coconut oil and it was as I suspected… dense and crumbly.

Works Cited

Goldstein, E. Bruce. Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience.Belmont: Wadsworth, 2011. print

Singapore Math

Singapore Math has gained in popularity in the United States in recent years.  Numerous schools, both private and public, have adopted it with varying degrees of intensity and success. But where did Singapore Math come from, and what makes it different?

Ironically, Singapore Math has its roots in the United States. Born October 1, 1915, American psychologist Jerome Bruner has spent a lifetime dedicated to understanding how humans perceive and learn. He graduated from Duke University in 1937, and obtained a PhD in pyschology from Harvard in 1941.

A pioneer of modern psychology, his work on human perception and sensation was important in establishing the concepts of cognitive psychology. Following his work on perception and sensation, he turned his attention to learning and developmental psychology. His work there led to a framework of how learning takes place that can be applied to various situations. The framework is broken down into 3 stages, also known as the 3-step learning process.

Enactive – Sometimes called the ‘concrete’ stage, the enactive stage involves interactions with the physical world and objects — how they fit together or come apart, how they can be grouped, etc.

Iconic – The iconic or pictorial stage is when learning occurs by looking at pictures or models.

Symbolic – The symbolic or abstract stage is where learning can take place in abstract terms.

Singapore Math aims to utilize these three stages, progressing deliberately through each. In the enactive stage, students are taught by using physical objects in the classroom — paper clips, crayons, or other objects that they can pick up, pile up, and shift around.  Subtraction, then, would be taking a few crayons from a pile, and figuring out how many are left.  This isn’t described as subtraction, so much as it is a demonstration of play.

In the iconic stage, Singapore Math has students drawing pictures — usually bar models — to describe ratios and simple equations.  The emphasis is on visualizing what happens


during the mathematical exercise. At this point students still aren’t thinking in terms of algorithms, equations, or even numbers.

In the symbolic stage, students start using numbers and equations. With concrete and iconic bases, the idea is that the symbolic stage will be more easily understood.

The application of Singapore Math in the United States has mad mixed results. Unless schools utilize the curriculum completely, it can fail. Also, since most Americans learned math a different way, parents may have difficulty helping their children with Singapore Math homework, instinctively teaching algorithms (stage 3) when the children are counting paperclips (stage 1).  Still, the concrete applications like this of cognitive psychology to learning are exciting steps toward improving education.


Hu, Winnie. “Making math as easy as 1, pause, 2, pause, 3.” Sept 2010, The New York Times, retrieved from

Macleod, Saul. “Bruner.” 2008, retrieved from


Problem Solving




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When reading the lesson on problem solving, I found myself very uninterested until I stumbled upon ill-defined problems.  According to the text book, an ill-defined problem is part of everyday life, doesn’t not necessarily have a correct answer, and the solution is unclear.  Who can’t relate to the struggles of everyday life? Although I face many small problems on a daily basis, I have one recurring problem I cannot seem to find a solution too; a break-up.

After about three weeks of being upset, I figured that maybe something I learned in class could actually help me.  I decided that the best way to attempt to find a solution is through in vivo problem solving research.  This means that I will simply observe people to determine how they solve a similar problem, then repeat the process. Well, that is easier said than done.  It is nearly impossible to find someone to observe who has the exact same relationship issues that you do. I spent hours searching the internet for advice from women who have been stuck in the same rut that I find myself in, but none of it seemed helpful.

Finally I realized that what I was looking for was right in front of the all along, a distraction.  I found that once I went on this quest to find a way to cheer up, I was in-fact cheered up simply by doing research.  I didn’t need to imitate a random persons actions to solve a problem completely different than mine. I simply needed to find my own way to solve it, which happened to be by distracting myself with something else.  The moral of this story, is that in vivo problem solving doesn’t necessarily always work, sometimes you’re better off trying to find a more reasonable solution to a problem.

My Camping Episodic Memory

When I was a little girl, about ten years old my aunt took me on a camping trip. Now as I remember the story, we were deep in the woods and we also went white water rafting in a deep river with heavy rapids. When I visualize the experience I can see us in a canoe going down the white water rapids and I can feel the terror of feeling helpless as we navigated the rapids and I held on for dear life. I also remember being at the campsite and seeing a sweet little raccoon in the tree. I remember thinking how cute it was and how much it looked like my stuffed animal I had back at home that I slept with.  I can still visualize it staring at the chicken bone while I ate. I thought to myself, it must be hungry, so I leaned over and reached up to hand it my chicken bone. It reached down from the branch it was stooped on and took the bone right out of my hand. A few minutes later the adults started screaming bloody murder when they realized what I had done.

Feeding a wild animal was dangerous they said. It was also dangerous because now it knew to look for food from us. As a young girl, I was confused and ashamed. As an adult when I tell this story, my aunt who insists that we never went white water rafting corrects me. It was a shallow river and all we did was canoe gently down river with some small waves. We camped on a public campsite, not deep in the woods as I remembered and the friendly raccoon was a menace and I almost killed myself. How could I have gotten the story so wrong? I have been telling myself that story for years and my mind had agreed with its images and perception.

The image and perception I have been linking my memory with were completely false in reality, but to a ten-year-old girl, those big waves were rapids and the dangerous raccoon was a friendly childhood pet.  My brain was activating the images and representation that I had envisioned as a small child in my perception and weaved a story using the modal model of memory, it passed through the senses of a young mind, established itself in my short-term memory and as I told the story over and over again it ended up in long-term memory believing it was fact by recalling the images that I had remembered in my recall. Those recall memories from my knowledge of white water rafting and the innocence of a child befriending a wild animal became the factors that I based my story around.

The scripts and schemas I had on camping from movies and TV shows only fueled the fire for my very made up memory. This seems to be a common theme for people. We fill in the blanks when faced with situations that are hard to recall and the script and schemas of our past knowledge help us map our experiences out, sometimes to our detriment of inaccurate memory recall encoding false memories as well as real memories into our data. In a paper by Endel Tulving and Donald M. Thomson titled “Encoding Specificity and Retrieval processes in Episodic Memory” they go on to explain that “Retrieval operations complete the act of remembering that begins with encoding of information about an event into the memory store. Thus, remembering is regarded as a joint product of information stored in the past and information present in the immediate cognitive environment of the rememberer.”

I do not recall what my exact scripts and schemas were at the time, but I am sure that adding the imagination of a child along with the idea of what camping and canoeing was at the time for me led to my fantastic story of my very first camping trip. Memory reconstruction is considered an active process, which is constructive in nature and even after 20 years since the event, the only real part of the story was that I went on a camping trip with my aunt and it was a fun and scary time. This leaves me wondering how much of my childhood memories are even real or just good stories I constructed out of my vast imagination and stored up information.



Tulving,Endel. Thomson,Donald M.   “Encoding Specificity and Retrieval processes in Episodic Memory1973. Psychological review

A. Koch

Psych 256

After reading the chapter on Visual Imagery for the course, I found myself thinking about this debate often. I noticed that I could not describe objects or even previous experiences without also having a spatial representation in my mind of the objects or activities. When I would talk about what I had for breakfast I would not only picture my food, but my experice with the food. The mechanisms involved do not allow me to just have an image of a banana, say, as though on an index card. Rather an image of the bananas in my home in their correct place.

I decided I wanted to take my thoughts and see how others “remember” or describe objects that are not physically present. I work with developmentally disabled adults, and one thing I found to be very interesting was that nearly all of my clients could not describe a banana, unless they were autistic or high functioning Down’s syndrome clients. Each other client could not even bring to mind the color of the item when it was not present. The most interesting thing about this is that when presented with the item physically, they could tell me what it was, the color, and that it is meant to be eaten.

While my findings may indicate that developmentally disabled people lack the mechanisms involved in imagery it may also indicate that unless presented with the item they cannot recall knowledge about the item. Though, it appeared to me that it was the first option due to their ability to tell me that they do know what the item is, they just cannot describe it.

Then I asked my co-staff about their weekend, general questions, after describing their activities to me I asked them if, as they were telling me, they visualized their activities as they described them. Each person looked at me a little strange, then answered yes as though they had never noticed before that they visualize to recall.

Though I keep and open mind in this debate, a debate I find fascinating, I certianly believe that there are direct mechanisms between imagery and perception. I do not believe that it is an epiphenomenon due to the science that leads me to believe the two are directly connected.


Also, I am not making claims about all developmentally disabled adults and their abilities. I am only trying to describe my experience in this situation.

The Benefits of Green Tea

As a busy woman with her hands full, green tea used to be the drink that I would constantly consume. I knew of its benefits when it comes to metabolism and fighting cancer growth cells. However, after many drastic changes in my life, I stopped drinking green tea without much thought to it. I retreated to coffee and tea since then until I found the article, “New Study Shows That Green Tea Boosts Working Memory” written by David DiSalvo.
In the article, it states, “Its active ingredients have been linked to an array of health benefits, including weight loss, decreasing anxiety, and stopping the growth of cancer cells. And now new research adds ‘memory enhancer’ to the list.” According to our textbook, the working memory is defined as a limited-capacity for temporary storage and manipulation of information for complex tasks such as comprehension, learning, and reasoning (pp. 131 to 132). The working memory works very closely with your short-term memory. It is responsible for helping you solve problems, including schoolwork, and enables you to use your reasoning by using your memories. As it also stated in the textbook, “working memory is concerned not just with how information is stored, but with how information is manipulated in the service of various forms of cognition” (p. 132). Without our working memory, we would not be able to remember what to do in certain situations or figure out how to do math problems or such things that requires you to use your comprehension and reasoning. It is a very complex, yet valuable, system in your brain which your everyday life relies on.
According to the website under “”, the green tea is very popular in China and Japan. It is somewhat of a coincidence that the stereotypes regarding the people of the Asia countries are exceptional in solving math problems and are considered to be some of the most intelligent people there are. Perhaps there is a tie between the two? That’s up to the researchers. The green tea is originally made from the leaves from “Camellia sinensis” that have undergone minimal oxidation during processing. The green tea, as stated by the website, “is a type of tea that is harvested and quickly preserved.” It’s more popular in China and Japan than it is here in America but there is a great growth in the popularity of the green tea among the Americans due to the health benefits associated with it. They have different flavors of green tea in the popular grocery stores like Wal-Mart, Price Chopper, Stop and Shop, and so on. However, the website recommends that you purchase the green tea from high-end grocery places like Whole Foods and Dean & Deluca or specialty grocery stores like Japanese or Chinese grocers.
Back to the article written by David DaSalvo, this article emphasizes that the green tea helps with your working memory as well as all the other benefits. The article explained how the research was done where they had some participants drink the actual green tea and others drink whey protein that tastes and looks like green tea. Then the researchers examined their brain with fMRI machine and the participants had to complete a task that tested their working memory. The results were as stated on the article, “participants who drank the beverage containing green tea extract performed better on the memory tasks, and their brains showed a distinctly different activation pattern between their frontal and parietal lobes. The frontal lobe, home of our most advanced thinking abilities, sits (as the name suggests) at the front of the brain, while the parietal lobe sits just behind it toward the back of the brain. The parietal lobe plays a large role in how our brains process sensory information and language.” It further explained the green tea actually intensifies the interplay between these areas of the brain which I find very interesting. Although, it does admit that in order to consume the same amount of green tea, we would have to drink several cups of green tea a day to match their green tea extract that they used in these drinks. Nonetheless, it proves to me that there are benefits in this drink and that includes improving our working memory. The researchers hope to experiment with a larger group of people but are confident in the evidence they’ve collected thus far.
Overall, this article motivates me to get back into my old habit of drinking more green tea and I’d like to recommend that you’d do the same. As long as we find the brand that we like and let it replace unhealthier drinks like soda and such, it likely will benefit us in the long run. Lucky for me, there is a Whole Foods store conveniently close to my new job and I definitely plan to give them a visit soon. Green tea, welcome back!

Work Sources

Goldstein, B. (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research and Everyday Experience, 3rd Edition. Wadsworth, Inc.

Means-end Analysis and Weight Loss

I am approaching my 28th birthday this summer. While every birthday is a joyous event, I am concerned with some issues of vanity. Unhealthy behaviors (frequent trips to In n Out) and a slowing metabolism have caused me to gain a few more pounds than are necessary, especially considering the summer heat we enjoy here in Fresno, Ca. One method of solving this problem can be found when exploring the means-end analysis approach developed by Newell and Simon (Goldstein, 2011).


First it was important to record my current weight, check. Next, I needed to set a goal; a healthy and attainable weight that I could reach in exactly eight weeks. Means-end analyses allow an individual to consider a goal and compare it with the initial state of affairs. When I compared the two, initial and goal state, I created a firm subgoal of losing two pounds per week. This subgoal will provide a roadmap for me when I consider activities for exercise and nutrition. Other subgoals that will keep me on track are weight and cardio training four times a week. Exercise will also aid in other areas of life such as regulating anxiety and stress. A third subgoal is to use my Jack LaLane Juicer every other morning. Using this machine helps boost my intake of leafy greens and other vegetables I can’t stand to eat whole.

Other unexpected subgoals may appear throughout this eight-week journey, but tackling them will provide me with the strength to continue and maintain a healthier weight for the future. One example of an unexpected challenge will be the presentation (by family members) of unhealthy desserts or snacks. It seems like whenever I am conscious of my health; a family member has some kind of baked good to offer…cheesecake being my favorite.

Weight loss is a difficult task that many individuals attempt throughout life. However, self-determination theory suggests that behavioral changes will be much easier to maintain when the attempt is self-motivated (Williams et al., 1996).  I am confident that because I have the desire to live more healthfully, revisit some of my athletic talents in exercise,  and continue to ponder the means-end analysis approach to solving this problem, I will start year 28 looking my best.



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

Williams, G.C., Grow, V.M., Freedman, Z.R., Ryan, R.M., Deci, E. (1996). Motivational predictors of weight-loss and weight-loss maintenance. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70(1), p. 115-126

One Word at a Time

According to the New York Times’ article, Trying to Close the Knowledge Gap, Word by Word (2014), the city of Providence, Rhode Island has plans to implement a program called “Providence Talks” which plans to decrease the “knowledge gap” in wealthy and poor children.  How?  The program requires children to wear a device that records words that are spoken from “live human conversation” around them.  The intent is to use the recorder to aid parents in teaching their children words and increase their knowledge base.  Data is then analyzed to provide feedback to the parents.

As the PSU WC Lesson commentary (2014) describes, our knowledge is attained through our environment.  As we learn more and more from the things around us, we being to categorize the information and eventually build levels to it.  The research by Rosch “introduced the idea of basic level categories”: (Goldstein, 2011, p. 247) Global (Superordinate), Basic and Specific (Subordinate).  As our knowledge increases, the more detail and specific information we know.  For example, we may first learn about animals which is the Global level, then as we gain more knowledge, we learn about cats, which is the Basic level.  Eventually we may learn even more detail on cats such as Siamese, Persian, etc.  In order to build the more specific levels, we must first build information at the Global (Superordinate) level.  The Exemplar Theory states that we store knowledge based on the examples encountered in our experiences (PSU WC, 2014).

Both of these theories are being exemplified with the “Providence Talks” programs.  By having the children wear the recorder, it serves to digitally store knowledge as it is experienced in their environment (similar to how the knowledge is stored in the brain).  Parents are then aiding them in building their basic level categories by engaging in conversation.  Ultimately, the goal of the program is to encourage parents to engage in conversations with their children in order to increase their knowledge base by utilizing their environments.  While most of the programs mentioned in the article refer to lower socio-economic groups, the premise is feasible for all parents.


Goldstein, B. (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research and Everyday Experience, 3rd Edition. Wadsworth, Inc.

Pennsylvania State University World Campus (2014). PSYCH 256 Lesson 10: Knowledge. Retrieved from

Rich, M. (2014, March 25). Trying to Close a Knowledge Gap, Word by Word. The New York Times. Retrieved April 18, 2014, from