Archive for July, 2019

Healthy Memory Overview

July 31, 2019

This blog was begun in October 2009, and all the posts are still accessible. The first post was “The Seven Sins of Memory.” So this blog is almost ten years old. Theories of memory and HM’s knowledge of memory have increased and improved since then. This is the first in a series of blogs providing advice on the best way to think about memory.

The first question to ask is “What Is Memory?” When many people think of memory they regard it as storing things they need to regurgitate on a test, or on forgetting items to pick up at a store or an important appointment. But memory is much, much more than that.

Memory is cognition. Our memory enables us to think. It influences perception. It produces and remembers emotions. It influences our physical performance.

Most importantly, it enables us to travel in time. It enables us to travel back in time so we can make use of our prior experience to address current situations.

In doing so, we use our memory to travel forward to the future. What will be the nature of the problem? What do we know that we can retrieve to help us decide how to address this future problem? Then we can imagine future actions in future scenarios to see how they’ll pan out. So we mentally travel to the past to address problems and travel to the future to see how these scenarios will likely play out.

The problems we address vary from how to most efficiently plan and execute a shopping trip, to how to plan and prepare for college, a career, investments, retirement and so forth. As an informative exercise try monitoring your mental processes to see how much time you spend in time travel.

In short, memory is critical to cognition, which makes it central to how we live our lives. How successful and fulfilled we feel is very much determined by a healthy memory.

So a healthy memory is of utmost importance. This blog addresses not only how memory works, but how best to make and maintain a healthy memory.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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Five Myths of Consciousness

July 29, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a piece by Christof Koch in the Outlook section of the 28 July 2019 issue of the Washington Post.

Myth No 1 is that Humans have a unique brain.
Brains differ among species, but there is not anything that could be considered unique. Some people say, but not Christof Koch, that only human brains have consciousness. Neuroscientists, who are the foremost experts on this topic strongly disagree. In fact they made a declaration:
It begins as follows:
“On this day of July 7, 2012, a prominent international group of cognitive neuroscientists, neuropharmacologists, neurophysiologists, neuroanatomists and computational neuroscientists gathered at the University of Cambridge to reassess the neurobiological substrates of conscious experience and related behaviors in human and non-human animals. While comparative research on this topic is naturally hampered by the inability of non-human animals, and often humans, to clearly and readily communicate about their internal states, the following observation can be stated unequivocally:”
The declaration concludes:
“The absence of neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

Myth No. 2 is Science will never understand consciousness.
The important point is that there is no need to understand consciousness. We all know consciousness and use our conscious minds. It provides the means of dealing with and effectively using an enormous amount of information stored in the brain. Consciousness is a phenomenon that is produced by complex neuronal and chemical processes in the brain. Although our understanding how consciousness is produced will grow to be more and more complex, it is highly doubtful that it will ever be entirely understood. Moreover, all science is tentative. It can change pending new data and theories.

Myth No.3 is Dreams contain hidden cues about our secret desires.
Our dreams may contain our desires, but it is doubtful that anything secret can be found. In the past ostensible secrets that were found turned out to be creations of therapeutic theories.

Myth No. 4 is We are susceptible of subliminal messages.
Apparently Koch is considering only the research on subliminal advertising. Much fruitful work has been done on implicit memory, which consists of memories of which we might not be conscious, but which influence our behavior. Moreover, there is also significant research on the reasons we think we do things are not the actual reasons that we do things. See the healthy memory blog post “Strangers to Ourselves.”

Myth No. 5 is Near-death “visions” are evidence of life after death.
This is true. And it is unlikely that there ever will be empirical data substantiating life after death. But there are reasons for believing in God and in life after death.

Pascal’s wager is one reason. Consider a belief in God
If it is true, then upon death, that belief would be conferred.
If it is false, one would never know that the belief was false, because one was dead. However, during one’s lifetime, one would have had the comfort of a life after death.

The Dunning-Krueger effect, one half of it, at least, is that people think they know much more than they know. We are woefully unaware of the depth of our ignorance. Consider some very intelligent people by human standard, physicists. At the beginning of the 20th century there was a feeling that most of what needed to be understood was understood. In 1905 Einstein published the special theory of relativity. Then in 1915 he published the general theory of relativity. And in the 20’s quantum theory emerged and stood physics on its head.

Finally, there are personal religious experiences.

The Psychology That Binds Trump Fans to His Racism

July 23, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of an article by Kathleen D. Vohs in the Outlook section of the 21 July 2019 issue of the Washington Post. Vohs is writing about Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance. This theory will be returned to later in this post, but the article reminded HM that psychological theories can account for Trump and his supporters.

There have been many posts about Kahneman’s Two System view of cognition. There was a previous post titled Kahneman and Identity Based Politics that provides a large portion of the explanation for Trump and his followers. In Nobel Lauerate Daniel Kahneman’s Two System View of Cognition, System 1, intuition, is our normal mode of processing and requires little or no attention. System 2, commonly referred to as thinking, requires our attention. One of the roles of System 2 is to monitor System 1. When we encounter something contradictory to what we believe, the brain sets off a distinct signal. It is easier to ignore this signal and to continue System 1 processing. To engage System 2 requires attentional resources to attempt to resolve the discrepancy and to seek further understanding.

Emotional processing is a System 1 process. System 1 is fast requiring minimal cognitive resources. Virtually all of Trump’s message is emotional and is processed on System 1. His MAGA message is one founded on hate and fear. Ironically, it seeks to turn the United States back to a time when it was much more racist and fearful of immigrants. There is nothing Great about what he wants to do to the United States.

Unfortunately, to rebuke these views requires System 2 processing. System 2 requires critical thinking, something which many find painful to do, and a recourse to facts and logic. Trump dislikes facts and tells his followers that he is the only source of truth. This is the hallmark of a demagogue, but his followers remain blind to his lies and contradictions.

Here is where Festinger’s Theory of Cognitive Dissonance enters. Our minds do not like to confront dissonant ideas. So the tendency is to reduce the dissonance by shunning the truth. People refuse being called a racist, because racism is bad they, their families, and friends are certainly not racists.

Understand that we individuals cannot determine whether we are racists. We need to infer this from what we are called by others. “Strangers to Ourselves:  Discovering the Adaptive Unconscious”   by psychologist Timothy D. Wilson provides sound research showing that we need to understand ourselves from the reactions we receive from our fellow human beings. Unfortunately, many people remain unaware of this truth.

Perhaps the most prominent or well known example of this is Joe Biden. He has insulted people, but fails to apologize because he didn’t intend to insult them. There might be a problem with his brain, because this is not how it is supposed to function. Should you insult someone inadvertently, and HM has done this so many times that it is painful, apologize for insulting them and learn from this experience.
Many agree that Trump is not just a racist, but one of the world’s foremost racists. Unfortunately Trump’s base consists of Nazis and white supremacists. It is likely that Trump’s followers will deny this, but while they might not be Nazis, they are white supremacists. Indeed, Fox News has succeeded not from its fraudulent fair and balanced news, but by appealing to white supremacists. True they do not use the term, but the beliefs and the hatred of Obama stem from white supremacist beliefs.

Nazism and white supremacists are bad things, but people think of themselves as good people, not bad people. Similarly for their relatives and friends, they are good people, not bad people, so they cannot be white supremacists. But many, and it can be argued whether it’s a plurality or a majority, think that they are.

Trump voters express a variety of problems that are real and not racist. But still, how could they vote for Trump? Characterizing his behavior as boorish is being charitable. Clearly he is not presidential. He is an embarrassment for us regarding foreign nations. It is doubtful that he could pass a high school civics test. He embraces Putin and other totalitarian dictators. As was mentioned in a previous post, the paramount question is where did he get the money to make so many purchases since so many were in cash. He had been bankrupt and no respectable bank would lend him money. Trump’s son said that he got the money from Russia. So why won’t Trump release his financial data? The obvious reason is that he owes Putin and that Putin effectively owns him. All this was apparent before the election. Republicans recognized his faults and denounced him. But once he was elected, and many Healthymemory posts have outlined how Russia supported him, Republicans embraced him. It is clear that what they want is power, and the capability of profiting remuneratively from that power.

Expect Republicans to keep defending Trump. The Mueller report is not needed to impeach Trump. His behavior, which has worsened since he became President, is sufficient. Plus, how can the United States afford a president who is indebted to a hostile foreign power? Nevertheless, Republicans will ignore the facts and continue with the false narrative being advanced that Trump is the victim. This 1984 scenario is the only one that will save Trump.

Trump’s false claims about being the victim are clearly motivated out of desperation and are wrong, but to realize this it takes System 2 Processing, which requires mental effort and might be painful, so clearly Trump is a victim. Some people are for Trump for religious reasons, but religions that promote Trump have a political agenda. And for true Christians, they might want to switch to a Christian sect that is more in accordance with Christ’s teachings.

There is another dimension to consider, and that dimension is truly enormous. That is the social dimension. Although psychology provides an understanding of Trump’s support, unfortunately it provides little in the way of knowledge for changing people’s minds once they are firmly set. Usually this takes significant time. Abandoning Trump would likely produce frictions within families and among friends. So a thinking person needs to proceed carefully. One option would be to remain silent, but to use the ballot box to record one’s true and well reasoned opinions.

Car Crash Deaths Eclipse Toll of World Wars

July 22, 2019

The title of this post contains most of the title of the article by Ashley Hasey III in the 22 July 2019 Washington Post. The entire title is “Car crash deaths since 2000 eclipse toll of World Wars.” Since January 2000 more than 624,000 people died in car crashes, compared to 535,000 American military personnel who died in the two world wars. Close to 78,000 people have died in crashes caused by distracted driving according to a study by the American Public Health Association and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data.

Cellphone use while driving caused 800 deaths in 2017. Most of them were talking rather than texting or dealing with emails according the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) reports this year. So so much for hands free requirements dealing with the distraction problem.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that those who talk on a cellphone while driving are four times more likely to crash. Those who text and drive are up to eight times likely to crash.

Even if you care little or nothing about yourself, think about the other people you can kill or maim.

Some Serious Defects with How Attention Works

July 22, 2019

The subtitle to Dr. Stefan Van Der Stigchel’s book is “Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction.” This book discusses visual perception ignoring all the other senses. More importantly, it ignores cognitive processes such as thinking and solving problems, where attentional processes assume even greater importance.
The book is valuable in explaining the role not only that attention pays in vision, but also the need for information selection because perception is already overwhelmed. So the first problem is that the title over promises. It discusses only vision ignoring the majority of attentional processes.

Although Dr. Van Der Stigchel clearly is quite knowledgeable regarding attention and vision, he is woefully ignorant of important research in other areas. If only if he read the healthymemory blog post he would know of the research documenting the demands new technology is placing on our limited attentional process, and how that demand is degrading cognitive performance.

He makes the statement that he thinks that these concerns are ill-founded and even offers the suggestion, that he clearly pulled out of his keister, that he thinks the demands being placed on visual processing might actually improve performance in other areas of cognition.

There are two problems here. One is that he appears to be woefully ignorant of the relevant research in the area. The second is that it is professionally irresponsible to make statements in which one is ignorant regarding the relevant research.

There is also another problem that HM and his spouse regard as a shortcoming. They are disturbed about the number of people who cross the street failing to look to see if any cars are coming. The problem is not that drivers are homicidal, but there are limitations which should have been explained in this book. The driver’s attention can be distracted or the driver can be suffering information overload. This problem has significantly increased since the introduction of the smartphone. It is almost certain that pedestrian injuries and fatalities have increased, but HM has no data or anecdotes other than personal to report. But there have been accidents where passengers exiting a bus, crossing in front of the bus, but failing to note oncoming traffic. Deaths have resulted and drivers have suffered severe guilt from the accidents, even though the drivers are not at fault. This is the reason that drivers have to stop and not pass school busses when they have stopped for passengers. The assumption that all adults are too experienced to make this childhood mistake is wrong.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original conte

The Effects of Brain Damage

July 21, 2019

This post is based on a book by Stefan Van Der Stigchel titled “How Attention Works: Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction.” Visual neglect is a condition in which patients experience problems moving attention to the left or the right side of the visual world. Neglect usually results from damage to the right hemisphere of the brain. The attention regions in that part of the brain are responsible for moving attention to the left visual field. This condition has different levels of severity, and patients with the most severe form are completely unaware of what goes on in the neglected half of their world. When someone with this condition eats they eat only the food on the right-hand side of the plate. When they finish eating they believe that they have eaten everything because they have no access to the information on the other side of the plate. Only when his plate is turned around does the other half of his meal appear in the “intact” part of his visa world and does he realize that he hasn’’t finished his food after all. Neglect patients are actually able to move their attention, but only after receiving clear instructions and only for a short period of time.

Dr. Van Der Stigchel writes, “Around 25% of all patients with brain damage suffer from some form of neglect. Fortunately, it is usually a short-term problem. This is because there are all kinds of processes in the brain that are disrupted in the acute phase, but that are eventually able to return to normal. After a stroke, for example, excess blood has to be drained off from the brain. When that is done, many brain brain functions return to normal and the problem of neglect just vanishes. Even within only a few days of suffering brain damage, a patient may show no more signs of neglect. However, for some patients neglect remains a chronic condition, meaning that the problems they have with moving their attention are permanent.”

Cortical blindness is different from visual neglect and much more serious. Unlike neglect, cortical blindness is not an attentional deficit. There is no visual information in the blind field to which patients can move their attention. People suffering from cortical blindness cannot see any colors, shapes, or other visual building blocks in the affected field.

The Influence of the Past on Our Attention in the Present

July 20, 2019

This post is based on a book by Stefan Van Der Stigchel titled “How Attention Works: Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction.” We have excellent memory for the context in which objects are located. It appears that we are good at remembering visual context because the information involved is of the unconscious kind, something for which we have an apparently unlimited memory. But repeating a certain visual context is of no benefit to people who have trouble picking up unconscious information, like learning a new motor skill. This includes patients with Parkinson’s disease who are unable to learn new unconscious motor skills as a result of problem with the basal ganglia. But, when unconscious memory is still intact, as it is in the case of patients with Korsakoff’s syndrome, experiments show that contextual cueing continues to function normally. As it is conscious memory that is affected in these patients, they will probably be unable to remember what they ate for breakfast, but will still be able to react more quickly to a repeated search from the day before.

Regardless of their lack of conscious memory, the fact that Korsakoff’s patients still possess a well-functioning unconscious memory for visual context means that it can be used to learn new tasks. However, it is important that the information is acquired in a completely errorless manner. Otherwise, the patients will also take the errors on board unconsciously resulting in the inability to distinguish between correct and an erroneous one. It is unfortunate when it is assumed that patients who have no conscious memory or are unable to learn new skills.

Recently it has been found that it is possible for these people to acquire new skills when they use “errorless learning.” A team of scientists led by Erik Oudman studied the errorless learning of a specific skill—how to operate a washing machine. This requires the ability to interact successfully with the external visual world by pushing the right button at the right time. Korsakoff patients who had never operated a washing machine before were able to do so after a few errorless learning sessions. They were not able to explain how they did it, because the required actions were not stored in their conscious memory.

Memories influence our choice of where to move our attention. Magicians take advantage of this. Magicians look away from the spot where a change is about to take place, click their fingers to distract our attention, and toward our expectation by allowing changes to occur where we least expect them. The fact that we know they are making fools of us makes it all the more impressive and in no way diminishes the effectiveness of their tricks. A trick only fails to work when we know exactly what to look out for. In that case we focus our attention on the right spot, which allows us to see the change (HM has never been able to do this). It is a myth that magicians’ tricks are all about speed and that objects disappear too fast for us to be able to notice. Although speed is important, we humans are unable to make something disappear so fast that other humans will not notice, provided they are paying attention. The trick lies in distracting our attention.

Dr. Stefan Van Der Stigchel writes, “It is fascinating to see tricks that have been around for hundreds of years still being used in modern scientific experimental studies. One such experiment involved studying the eye movements of an audience watching a magician perform a trick in which he makes a cigarette “disappear” by letting it fall under a table while concentrating his gaze on and clicking his fingers. The results were very similar to the results of attention blindness experiments. The test subjects who failed to see the cigarette disappearing had seen the change with their own eyes but had not paid any attention to it.”

Another good example is the trick with the disappearing ball. The magician throws a ball into the air a couple of times and it just seems to vanish suddenly in midthrow. On the final throw the magician makes it appear as if he has thrown the ball when in actual fact he still as it in his hand. He follows the expected path of the ball with his head and eyes. The audience thinks he has thrown the ball and that it just vanishes into thin air. It is obvious that the audiences’ eyes are looking at the right spot, but that their attention has moved to the expected location of the ball on the basis of the direction of the throw and where the magician is looking.

Searching

July 19, 2019

This post is based on a book by Stefan Van Der Stigchel titled “How Attention Works: Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction.” In searching for something we try to take advantage of what is available in the environment. Something that is unique about the target that we are searching for can make that target pop-out. For example, if we are looking for something that is red and the environment is full of red objects that target will not pop-out. However, if it is the only red target, or if the majority of the objects in the environment are not red, then its redness will make that target pop-out.
Pop-out searching is also called parallel searching. Reaction time is not affected by the number of distractors (non-red targets) in the scene.

Say you are looking for a particular letter in a scene containing many letters. This is termed serial searching. In contrast to pop-out searching, which is an automatic process, serial searching is a conscious process. The reaction time for a serial search will be a function of the number of non-target objects in the scene. These non-target objects are distractors and search time is an increasing function of the number of distractors.

To determine whether a pop-out draws our attention automatically or not, we need to know what happens when the unique object is a distractor and not a target. Test participants were asked to find the anomalous shape among a group of other shapes. All of the shapes in the experiments are white. Half of the searches contain one unique distractor, which in this case is a gray circle. This distractor has the same shape as the other distractors, but it also has a unique color that distinguished it from all the other shapes on the screen, including that of the target object. We process information related to color faster than information related to shape because color is a stronger builder block than shape. In this case the distractor with the anomalous color is stronger that the object with the unique shape. If the unique distractor is not present, the unique shape of the target object results in a pop-out effect, meaning that the shape is able to grab attention quite easily. But it will take much longer to complete the search when the unique color is also present, even though there is no need to look for it. But we cannot escape its presence, not even when we know in advance which color will be doing the distracting. In fact, we will not be able to ignore the distracting color even if the search is repeated for hours on end. Unique color information is so strong that it will always draw our attention.

Making something suddenly appear is the best way to capture a person’s attention. Nothing activates our attention more strongly than a new object. It makes sense that we have evolved in this way. Objects that appear abruptly can represent possible danger. And the sudden disappearance of an object can also be a good reason for focusing attention on it.

How Your Eyes Betray Your Thoughts

July 18, 2019

This post is based on a book by Stefan Van Der Stigchel titled “How Attention Works: Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction.” Although we have two eyes, we are only able to fixate our gaze on one point in space at a time. The continuous movement of the eyes presents our visual system with interesting problems. If we were to see the actual images that fall on our retina, they would appear fuzzy and shaky because of the movements that the eyes make. Each individual eye movement is responsible for a separate part of the visual world falling on the retina. Yet we do not experience our visual world as a series of continuously shifting images, but rather as constant and fluid. We never become disoriented as a result of moving our eyes.

There is a difference between a retinal representation (the image that falls on the retina) and a spatiotopic representation (where the object is located in relation to our body). When we move our eyes to a different spot in space, the image that falls on our retina changes, but the world around us remains stable.

A similar updating process occurs in the case of memory. In order to know where we have already searched when we are looking for something, we need to remember those locations. When searching multiple locations the memory task become onerous. So it is useful to add some structure to our searching. If we always search our bookcase in the same manner there is no memory task and a strategy that guarantees search coverage. Searching in a haphazard is both inefficient and error prone as we are never able to recall all the individual locations that we have already searched.

There is an important difference between attention and eye movements. People are capable of shifting their attention without making any eye movements. This is useful when we find ourself talking to someone at a party but are actually more interested in someone else across the room. We are capable of looking our conversation partner in the eye while at the same time focusing our attention on the other person. The regions in our brain that are responsible for attention and eye movements overlap to a significant degree, and shifts in attention and eye movements co-occur in many situations. But we cannot make an eye movement without our attention first going to the end point of that movement. Attention precedes eye movements.

It is very important that our eye movements are made in the right direction to perform a task efficiently. Experts are good at developing strategies for their work, but they are often unaware of how they do what they do. This is similar to riding a bicycle: it is almost impossible to explain to a child how to ride a bike, because it doesn’t involve conscious competencies. But one can study how experts in different areas do their scanning.

It is very effective to show students what an expert looks at when he or she is scrutinizing a scan. This is true not only for radiologists, but also for all kinds of people who perform complicated tasks where looking at the right places is requires. Consider inspecting an airplane for mechanical faults before it departs on the next flight. Part of this job involves a visual check of the exterior of the airplane. When students are shown a view in which the most effective eye movements are projected on the screen, they learn faster and more effectively how to perform this kind of inspection. Eye-trackers are used to capture the performance of experts.

Change Blindness

July 17, 2019

This post is based on a book by Stefan Van Der Stigchel titled “How Attention Works: Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction.” Change blindness is the failure to spot a major change because something draws one’s attention away from the spot where the change is taking place. Inaccurate eyewitness accounts are often at the root of wrongful convictions, and these are sometimes caused by change blindness. Experiments have shown that test subjects often wrongly identify a person as a thief after seeing a video of a burglary simply because that person happened to appear in the clip. Consider this scenario: you see person 1 walk into a store and disappear behind a stack of boxes. When person 2 appears from behind the books and steals something the shop, Person 1 is identified as a thief.

There is an experiment regarding change blindness that has been recorded and you might already have seen it. In this experiment test subjects are asked to go to a counter and pick up a form. The person behind the counter bends down to get the form and disappears from view for a moment. Then a different person stands up in their place and hands the form to the test subject. Seventy-five% of the test subjects failed to notice the switch. Dr. Van Der Stigchel writes, “So don’t feel too bad the next time your sweetheart walks into the room and says to you, ‘Well, What do you think?’ and you have absolutely no idea which change in his or her appearance is being referred to.” HM’s advance is to respond, “You look great!” in these situations.

Dr. Van Der Stigchel writes that other change blindness rules appear to apply to moviemaking. Changes are less noticeable when they occur simultaneously with a major visual event, such as an explosion, just like a white screen that when shown very briefly can prevent test participants from noticing differences between two seemingly identical images.

Another trick of moviemakers is to use the actor’s direction of view. So when an actor is looking at a relevant object that is located off camera, most viewers will be so busy trying to figure out why the actor is looking at that they will fail to notice when a change occurs in the scene, such as a car driving into the shot. This also makes it easy to switch between two actors who are looking at and talking to each other. Viewers like to follow the direction of view of the person who is the focus of attention, because they assume that theirs is the most interesting point of view.

So we, in addition to radiologists, security scanners and movie directors, have to deal with the fact that we only ever have access to that small part of the world upon which we focus our attention.

Screening Performance

July 16, 2019

This post is based on a book by Stefan Van Der Stigchel titled “How Attention Works: Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction.” Radiologists have a difficult task when screening for breast cancer. Studies in the Netherlands have shown that the initial screening procedure has a detection probability of about 70%. So radiologists fail to detect incidences of cancer in over one quarter of all women who do in fact have breast cancer. These radiologists are not incompetent; they have a very difficult cancer to detect.

There is also the problem of falsely detecting a cancerous tumor. Additional examinations are very painful, and reacting to every minimal sign would lead to a lot of unnecessary discomfort. The chances of detecting a tumor on the basis of a minimal sign are known to be very low. But when scans in which a tumor was missed are checked again, the tumor usually turns out to be visible. The radiologist now knows that the scan does in fact contain a tumor and there is a maximum probability of actually finding it.

Scans are also done at airports for checking hand luggage. Security scanner operators spend hours every day searching the contents of bags and suitcases. Of course, the education and training of these airport security scanners is much less than that of radiologists. And the chance of finding dangerous content in these bags is much lower than the chance of correctly detecting dangerous objects in luggage. So fake explosives are placed in luggage for purposes of training and assessment. There are reports that operators fail to spot up to 75% of the fake explosives that are hidden in bags for test purposes.

An Americans study in to the performance of airport security personnel revealed that having to scrutinize scans on a daily basis helps them to be more precise when carrying out other unrelated search work. Out of a group of test subjects who were asked to find a well-hidden object on a computer screen, 82% were successful. A group of professional security scanner operators scored 88% for the same test although they did take longer to complete the task compared to nonprofessionals.

If you would like to check your prowess as a security scanner operator you can down load Airport Scanner, a free app (airportscannergame.com) that allows people to play
the task of finding dangerous items in luggage scans. This app has been a huge success worldwide and has millions of users. This app is partly funded by the American government, which is pleased with the amazing amount of information they are able to glean from the game. Researchers are also involved in the development of the game, and the first scientific articles were recently published containing the data retrieved from one billion searches. Some players have become so addicted that they have already competed thousands of searches. And this has provided developers with the opportunity to insert certain objects, only at sporadic intervals (in less than 0.15% of the searches). Dr. Van Der Stigchel notes that this research could not be done in a laboratory because the research subjects would end up running screaming from the lab after being subjected to hours and hours of tests. Based on a probability of 0.1%, an object will appear once every 1,000 searches, and in order to reach any firm conclusions about a player’s performance when attempting to find an extremely are object, 20,000 searches would need to be conducted. These data are now available thanks to the Airport Scanner app, and it has proven beyond doubt that players/professionals frequently fail to spot these rare, hidden objects.

Infobesity

July 15, 2019

This post is based on a book by Stefan Van Der Stigchel titled “How Attention Works: Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction.” This term, “infobesity,” as been coined by the popular media, but it is increasingly being referred to as a clinical disease. The term is the brainchild of a “trend team” employed by a company specializing in identifying trends among young people. Although there is very little scientific literature on the subject, the fact is that doctors are treating more and more teenagers these days for problems associated with a lack of sleep.

Dr. Van Der Stigchel writes, “One of the factors contributing to this lack of sleep is our insatiable appetite for information that is presented to us on-screen.” Obviously this leads to problems with concentration. From the scientific studies that have been done, young people are extremely frequent multimedia users. On average 18-year-olds spend a total of 20 hours a day on various media. Obviously this can only be because different media are used simultaneously, which further exacerbates the damage. The vast majority of this multimedia use is of the visual kind. Functions that rely on the spoken word have been replaced by visual ones. Unfortunately voice mail is becoming a thing of the past because it takes too much time, and people prefer to send their messages screen-to-screen instead. Dr. Van Der Stigchel notes that we are using the telephone less and choosing more often to interact with others on-screen and not only through hearing their voice. If e-mail and WhatsApp relied on the spoken word, they would be less popular.

Dr. Van Der Stigchel writes, “Screens are so efficient at communicating information that we see them everywhere nowadays. The result is a titanic battle for our attention, We have already established that it only takes a quick glance at a limited amount of visual information to know what that information is. In a single moment, we choose the one piece of visual information that is most relevant to us from all the information swirling around us. We then process this one piece of information deeply enough to be able to establish its identity. All of the other information continues to blink away furiously, but it can only become relevant when we decide to look again.”

How does one deal with infobesity? We need to deal with infobesity the same manner in which we deal with obesity. We deal with obesity by selectively controlling and reducing our food input. We deal with infobesity by selectively controlling and reducing
our information input. Unless one is a professional on-call, a physician for instance, there is no reason for staying continually connected. This FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) is irrational. Most, if not practically all, messages can wait until we have time to pay attention to them. When we interrupt what we are doing to process a message, there are two sources of attentional loss. There is additional information to deal with at the same time, and there are also time and attentional costs involved in switching between sources of information and processing them

An examination of different sources of information can lead to deletions of certain sources. Some information is of little value, so these sources of information should be eliminated. Our attentional resources are extremely limited, so we need to spend them carefully.

In conclusion, deal with infobesity by going on an information diet, and processing only those sources of information that have substantial value.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

So Then, How Good is the Human Visual System?

July 14, 2019

The simplest way to answer this question is to ask how frequently is the human visual system relied upon. Stefan Van Der Stigchel writes in his book “How Attention Works: Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction,” “When it comes to the transfer of information, the visual system is our single most important sensory tool. It takes a lot longer to convey the same information orally through speech than visually with the aid of symbols. This is because the visual system is able to process information in the blink of an eye. If you show someone a very detailed photo for just a second or two, they will still be able to describe the image to you fairly accurately afterward.”

In the 1970s Mary Potter conducted a series of experiments that clearly demonstrated this ability to rapidly process visual information. Research participants were given a written description of a scene (for example, “traffic on a street”) and then asked to find that scene among a series of images presented to them in quick succession. They were instructed to press a button as soon as they had identified the scene that identified the written description. No visual information regarding the scene was provided, neither the color of the cars nor the layout of the street. When the presentation rate was eight scenes per second, there was a success rate of 60% when it came to finding the scene that had been described in writing. This means that each image was visible for just 125 milliseconds, and the participants had to process all of the visual information in each scene within this extremely short space of time. A second study in which the participants only had to describe which scenes they had seen after the event only 11% of them were able to describe the scenes in any detail. Although they could say which scenes they had been shown, they were unable to provide any specific information about the content.

The difference in the results of these studies reveals distinct stages of information processing. All of the visual information that falls on the retina is registered in the brain. This information includes the colors and shapes of the world around us, and is processed in the primary visual cortex. At this stage we are still unable to identify individual objects. “Seeing” describes everything that falls as light on the retina. Although we “see” a lot of stuff, we only process a small amount of information deeply enough to know what that stuff actually is. Identification, knowing whether something is a tree or a green building, requires more in-depth processing and access to the identity of the object.

If we want to communicate a visual message, such as the information in a traffic sign, it is important to know what kind of information we can communicate in an instant. Although visual information can be communicated very quickly, there are limits. We are unable to process full sentences in a blink of an eye. Symbols, assuming the meaning of the symbol is known, are much more effective in this respect. Of course, it is impossible to devise a symbol for every piece of information, but when a road has multiple complicated signs, it can be to the detriment of both the message being communicated, and the intended recipients of the information, that is, the road users.

The communication of information is regarded as being successful when the relevant information reaches the intended user. Regardless of how impressed we might be by a particular advertisement, if we do not remember the intended message after being the advert (the name of the product), then the advertisement will not have worked and the attention architect will have failed in his or her task. HM remembers many advertisements, yet being unable to remember the name of the product. Perhaps HM has suffered brain damage, and is an atypical subject. Yet he is able to write a blog, so readers can reserve judgment. There are other advertisements, which he remembers but dislikes and is not prone to purchase the product. HM would very much like to review research on advertisements and how their effectiveness is evaluated.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Is the Human Visual System Inefficient and Flawed?

July 13, 2019

This post is based on a book by Stefan Van Der Stigchel titled “How Attention Works: Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction.” The immediately preceding post might have you thinking that the human visual system is both inefficient and flawed. The fact that we cannot register what we see in our visual world suggests that the human visual system is a flawed one. Indeed, it will fail to detect a gorilla walking into a scene!

Before reaching this conclusion remind yourself that our species has managed to survive and prosper in a hostile environment. It is usually the case that the world around us is a stable and consistent one, and our brains work on this assumption. What is important is gathering information that is relevant to us. That’s what we need to focus on. We can ignore all the stuff that is of no value to us. A system that tried to process every scrap of visual information would be cumbersome and inefficient, and there is no need to process all the information available to us.

Dr. Van Der Stigchel writes “the system that uses less energy has an advantage in the evolutionary scheme of things. An efficient system makes the energy it does not use available to the system, and that is what our visual system also does. Although the retina catches the light from everywhere around us, only that information which is relevant to us is processed.”

Suppose when we went shopping in a supermarket we processed all the information we saw. Although we would know the brand and price of every product, that would cost us far too much energy.

Our visual system possesses a unique feature that allows it to present information very selectively: our continuous access to the visual world. All of the visual information that is available to us at any given moment is 100% accessible. All we need to do is to open our eyes and the information floods in. We can use the visual world as a kind of external hard drive. We do not need to store every single detail related to the external world in our internal world because all of the visual information is continuously available to us externally.

We only need to be able to recall internally to interact effectively with the external visual world where the relevant information is located in relation to our own location at any given moment.

Dr. Van Stigchel asks us to imagine the following: “we and a friend are walking down a busy street in town on our way to a coffee bar at the end of the street. There are people everywhere and neon signs flashing all around, At that moment, only certain aspects of the visual world are relevant to us: the coffee shop in the distance and our friends walking beside us. We are moving, so all of the information is moving too relative to our position. We use our eyes to access the visual world around us and note only the location of the information that is relevant to us. We would notice if the coffee bar suddenly disappears, our friend runs off, or if a screaming gorilla approaches because this information is relevant to us. We can afford to ignore everything else.”

How Attention Works

July 10, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a book by Stefan Van Der Stigchel. The subtitle is “Finding Your Way in a World Full of Distraction.” The book begins with the following quote by the father of American Psychology, William James”

“Every one knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatterbrained state.”

Van Der Stichel begins by writing about how a walk in the woods seems. We enjoy the sight of all the trees around us and the myriad shades of green. We just allow our visual environment to work its magic. Our eyes are our window to the world. All we need do is to open them. It happens automatically. Spotting a squirrel in a tree or following the tracks of a horse are reflex actions. We believe that what we see is the whole picture: stable, rich and vastly superior to any virtual environment.

But Van Der Stichel follows with this paragraph. “However, we actually take less information on board from our surroundings than we might think. For example, movies are full of continuity errors that viewers fail to spot. Very few of us ever take any notice when a jacket that was hanging on a coatrack is suddenly not there anymore in the next scene. The legendary “Star Wars” movies are famous for these kinds of mistakes. Objects move from one position to another, and a background full of plants and trees suddenly changes into a barren desert. You only even notice these discrepancies when someone takes the trouble to point them out to you, with the result that it is almost impossible not to see them the next time. Of course, movie directors do their best to keep such mistakes to a minimum, but the fact that neither they nor the people who edit their movies manage to spot these errors in the first place demonstrates just how easy it is to miss them.”

Sunday magazines like to present two versions of a photograph. These versions look like they are identical, but they are not. The objective of this puzzle is to spot the discrepancies. This is a very difficult, time-consuming task to accomplish successfully. But these differences are quite subtle.

However, there is a film clip where something dramatic happens that most viewers fail to notice. This is the infamous “gorilla clip” that many people have seen. The clip shows two groups of students throwing a basketball back and forth. The viewer’s task is to count the number of time the group with the white T-shirts throws the ball. At a certain, a gorilla walks into the frame. He beats his chest with his fists and then walks out of the shot again. The majority of those seeing the clip for the first time fail to notice this gorilla.

After Van Der Stichel had shown this clip to his students he told them he was going to show them a clip again. He writes that they paid special attention to the gorilla with the aim of showing their lazy professor that he should know better than to try to fool them with the same old trick again. But this time he showed them a new version of the clip, one in which the curtains hanging behind the basketball-playing students gradually change color and one of the players walks abruptly out of the frame. The effect was even greater than the first clip. Almost none of his students noticed either of these two major changes, primarily because they were too busy waiting for the gorilla to appear.

Late Night Cramming is Harmful

July 9, 2019

This post is motivated by programs showing students cramming for tests. The scenario is that such demands are being placed on these students for success that they are working extremely hard. Should these stories be true, then not only are these students risking their health, but there is a limit on how much study can been done effectively. Beyond this, they are spinning their wheels, not enhancing their knowledge, and risking their health.

Consider placement tests like the ACT and the SAT. There has been some research showing some benefits of preparing for these tests. What is needed is further research in which the students log not only the time studying was done, but also the time of day the studying was done. HM would predict that there is some benefit, but this benefit would max out and additional time might even be harmful (scores would decline). The time at which the studying was done should also be studied. HM predicts that little would be gained for studying at late hours and that there even might be some decrement. After all, presumably these tests are supposed to measure aptitude. If this is true, there should be limits on the amount of benefit.

These programs also portray students at prestigious universities cramming and putting in late hours preparing for tests. HM attended state universities and saw this same phenomena. The reason these students were cramming and pulling late or all-nighters was that they did not keep up with the work. They were cramming in an attempt to catch up.

HM strongly suspects that this is also the case at prestigious universities. If these universities do require excessive workloads, then prestigious university or not, students should withdraw from the school and their parents should encourage them to withdraw, because the instruction is harming, not benefiting, the students.

Learning requires cognitive effort, which can be exhausted. When this cognitive effort is exhausted little learning takes place. Sleep is also essential. Memories are consolidated during sleep. So studies pulling all nighters are cheating themselves of their memories consolidating. In other words, the all-nighter is harmful, not beneficial.

In the military sometimes military personnel must push themselves to operate long hours with little or no sleep. Unfortunately, this is a reality of military operations and requires training to be prepared for these operations. However, for normal instruction to be effective, students need their sleep. There have been studies on trainees that have shown when trainees are allowed to get their necessary sleep, their learning and performance on tests improve. So for regular training, planning should include regular sleep, but there will need to be training for prolonged operations that should be done separately. Actually, what is being learned during training for these prolonged operations is how to compensate for degraded performance when the body is fatigued and crying for sleep.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Alzheimer’s Researchers Shift Focus After Failures

July 7, 2019

The title of this post is identical to the title of a front page article by Christopher Rowland in the 4 July 2019 issue of the Washington Post. These researchers are shifting their focus to new drug treatments that deal with other factors than the defining features for an Alzheimer’s diagnose, which are amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles. The conclusion that this research is fruitless was made by a former researcher in this area. The Myth of Alzheimer’s is a book by Peter J. Whitehouse, M.D. and Ph.D and Daniel George, M.Sc. Whitehouse is the former researcher who came to the conclusion that this research would never yield results. There was a healthy memory post on this book in 2011. HM believes Dr. Whitehouse is working on non drug treatments for Alzheimer’s. The Alzheimer’s association provides little, if any, support in this area. The Alzheimer’s association provides financial support for drug research. HM wonders in the unlikely event that a useful drug was produced, whether the Alzheimer’s Association had some agreement to limit costs or would this company be allowed to prey on the public. Before giving any money to the Alzheimer’s association, potential donors should demand an answer to this question.

There have been many posts on this topic including one titled “The Myth of Alzheimer’s.” Perhaps the most significant finding is one that is rarely, if ever, mentioned. And that is that people die with the defining characteristics for an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, the amyloid plaque and neurofibrillary tangles, but who never knew that they had the disease because they never had any behavioral or cognitive symptoms of the disease. The explanation offered is that these people had developed a cognitive reserve as a result of being cognitively active during their lifetimes.

The reappearing theme in this blog is that people should live cognitively fulfilling lives with growth mindsets in which they are continuing to learn. This involves System 2 processing, more commonly referred to as thinking. Our normal processing mode is System 1, which is quite fast and efficient. Here we are in cruise control where the conscious content just keeps flowing. As one proceeds through life this becomes easier and easier. Much has been learned, there is little interest in learning anything new, so the mind effectively is on cruise control. Cognitive neuroscience has termed this the default mode network, which is quite similar, if not identical, to Kahneman’s System 2 processing which is from cognitive psychology.

HM knows people who have been cognitively active throughout their lives, yet still succumbed to Alzheimer’s or dementia. But there are other causes. One of HM’s friends trained himself to get by on 4 hours of sleep per night. Research shows us that 7 to 8 hours of sleep are required. Other ambitious people burn the candle and both ends, which also leads to sleep deprivation.

HM wishes the researchers well in their research. But everyone should know that by engaging in a cognitively challenging life with growth mindsets they should greatly decrease, if not eliminate, the prospect of dementia or Alzheimer’s. Of course, a healthy lifestyle is also assumed.

Please use the search block of the blog (healthymemory.wordpress.com) to learn more about any of the terms in this post.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Happy Fourth of July!

July 3, 2019

It is a day to be praised and enjoyed, but also a day to ponder the state of our country. A statement that is made over and over again on this holiday is “I am proud to be an American!” Unfortunately, anyone making this statement has forgotten that pride is one of the seven deadly sins (the others being greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth). And there is a good reason for pride being one of the seven deadly sins. Pride tempts one to rest on one’s laurels. And there is a statement that pride precedes a fall, which is a paraphrase from a warning in the book of Proverbs in the King James Version of the Bible.

So while it is acceptable to take some comfort in previous accomplishments, pride can blind one from actions that need to be taken. And nowhere is this blindness more obvious than in the actions being taken against immigrants. With the exception of Native Americans we are all immigrants. So it is the height of hypocrisy (perhaps “depth” might be a better term) to commit the crimes against immigrants that are being done today. Moreover, a large number of victims are children.

Too many people forget that immigration is central to the growth of our country. Bringing in more people of different backgrounds provides the strength of diversification. Of course, much of this negative reaction is against this diversification comes from blatant racists. Immigrants provide needed labor at both ends of the employment spectrum. It provides much of the cheap labor that many residents do not want to perform. And at the high end are people with the smarts to grow science, engineering, medicine, mathematics, and commerce. And these people come from all races and backgrounds. White supremacists should confront the reality that without these people, the United States would fall behind many countries that include this diversification.

Perhaps the most hypocritical of all, are religious groups fighting immigration. These religious groups are definitely not following the teachings of Christ and leaders of other prominent religions.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.