Author Archives: Lojie Martin

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.

References

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 https://courses.worldcampus.psu.edu/sp14/psych256/002/content/11_lesson/05_page.html

Rich, M. (2014, March 25). Trying to Close a Knowledge Gap, Word by Word. The New York Times. Retrieved April 18, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/26/us/trying-to-close-a-knowledge-gap-word-by-word.html?_r=0

The Elusive Dream

“Beep! Beep! Beep!”  That’s the all too familiar sound of your alarm clock yanking you from a night’s sleep.  On this particular morning you remember bits and pieces of a strange dream you were having just before the alarm went off.  You remember it as if it happened in reality.  But why is it that we do not remember every dream?  That is the question currently being studied by researchers in France.  The researchers believe that those who can recall their dreams are waking in the night just long enough for the dream to store (Kim, 2014).  Perhaps, the answer lies in how long-term memory is structured.

According to Goldstein (2011), long-term memory is “both an archive that we can refer to when we want to remember events from the past, and a wealth of background information that we are constantly consulting as we use working memory to make contact with what is happening at a particular moment” (p. 151).  It can be said then, that while we are dreaming, our long-term memory is using our collective knowledge to place meaning behind any words being spoken, any visual we “see”, familiar faces, etc.  This idea is further supported in that “the sleeping brain cannot store new information into long-term memory — for instance, if presented with new vocabulary words to learn while asleep, you will wake up completely unaware of what you heard” (Kim, 2014).

So, why is long-term memory responsible for remember dreams and not short-term memory?  Firstly, we understand that short-term memory lasts mere seconds, so this would only apply for those who wake right after the dream, within the short-term memory time-frame.  Even so, the memory of the dream would fade quickly after wake (if not before).  But for those who can recall their dreams in great detail days or even months later, let’s think about primacy effect.  Primacy effect allows enough time to pass for stimuli to be better remembered (Goldstein, 2011).

At the same time, the French believe that dreamers are waking several times in a night, for long enough to store their dreams into long-term memory.  If we all do this process, why can’t we all remember our dreams?  “A study by Jacqueline Sachs (1967) demonstrated the importance of meaning in LTM” (Goldstein, 2011, p. 154).  According to the French theory, research showed correlation between higher activity in the “temporoparietal junction — an area responsible for collecting and processing information from the external world. “ (Kim, 2014).  This finding coincides with the fact that the temporal lobe plays such an important role in the senses.  It can be inferred that when this area of the brain is activated it is because of the large amount of meaning found in the dream which in turn creates a long-term memory that we recall upon waking.

I have always found dreams a fascinating mystery.  I always believed that my dreams were simply fictional stories my mind created while I was in an “auto-pilot” state.  Now, I believe that while my dreams are still only painting stories, there is underlying meaning in them.  Each face, each scene, each conversation and scenario has stemmed from my current collective understanding of these things.  Perhaps this is why some people remember their dreams in great detail and others do not.  If the stimuli the dreams are putting forth carry no meaning for the dreamer, the brain is unable to create a long-term memory for it and the dream is lost just as quickly as it is created.

 

References

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

Kim, M. (2012, February 22). Study: The key to remembering your dreams might be the blood flow in your brain. The Washington Post. Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/2014/02/22/486125e2-9a56-11e3-b88d-f36c07223d88_story.html?wprss=rss_national.

The Perception of Beauty

Beauty is all around us.  It graces the cover of magazines, influences the shape of just about everything from your shirt to your car to the chair you’re probably sitting in right now.  Most of us have heard or used the cliché, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” –which on a philosophical level infers that each person defines beauty in their own way.  However, there is a general understanding and agreement of beauty.  Therefore, I feel that quite literally, beauty is defined by the eye –through our perception.  According to Goldstein (2011), perception is comprised of both bottom-up processing (physiological and behavioral experiences) and top-down processing (prior beliefs).

To experience beauty physiologically, refers to the process in which we are externally stimulated, then that stimuli is received by our internal receptors, creates an electrical impulse that is sent to the brain for us to process (Goldstein, p. 50).  If we apply this theory to how beauty is physiologically understood, our eyes are stimulated by, say, the face on a cover of a magazine as we’re standing in line to checkout in our local grocery store (this has happened to me several times).  The face sparks an electrical message that is sent to our brain and that our brain interprets as “beautiful”.

Behaviorally, recognition-by-components theory (Goldstein, p.51) suggests that we are not interpreting the face as a whole (the entire face equals beauty) but rather that we recognize the parts of the face as examples of beauty (beautifully shaped eye, nose, mouth, cheekbones, etc.) and therefore interpret the entire face as beauty.  For example, perhaps a triangle shaped nose is considered a form of beauty opposed to a rectangle shaped nose; or an almond shaped eye versus a round one.

But when our brain receives the message of the face, why does it interpret, “beauty” rather than, “ugly”.  This can be explained by top-down processing, or as Goldstein (2011) states, “processing that begins with a person’s prior knowledge or expectations (p. 52).  Even if we intake all the stimuli from the various parts of the face, that doesn’t necessarily equal beauty –it would simply equal a face.  However, if we already have an idea of what beauty is in our brain, then the brain simply tags the understanding of beauty whenever it encounters it.  We are able to do this because we are taught from in our environment what is considered beauty and what is not.

What this all tells us is that beauty is a combination of internal and external processes that influences perception of the idea.  Otherwise a face is nothing more than a compilation of its parts, just as a car or an art piece would be.  We rely on our physiological processes to receive the stimuli and send it off to our brain to determine what it is we are seeing.  At the same time, we have biases imbedded in our brains as to how to relate to the stimuli.  Perhaps we have freckles and grow up understanding from family that freckles are not a form of beauty and this is supported by our environment which depicts beautiful people as lacking freckles, then we will not associate freckles with beauty.  When someone with freckles is seen, the brain does not recognize this face as an example of beauty.  Understanding these processes of perception can help to explain how beauty is not a universal idea, but rather dependent on the perception of the individual.

References

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