Posts Tagged ‘Psychological Science’

Making Working Memory Work for Older Adults

October 25, 2014

This blog post is taken from the article in Psychological Science (8 October 2014 DOI: 10.1177/095679761458725) by Julia Karbach and Paul Verhaeghen titled “Making Working Memory Work: A Meta-Analysis of Executive-Control and Working Memory Training in Older Adults.” It examined the effects of process-based executive-function and working memory training in older adults (>60 years). This analysis included 49 articles and 61 independent samples. This is an extremely important article for a couple of reasons. Weaknesses in the cognitive performance of older adults have been localized to fluid intelligence, the activities that involve executive control and working memory. As we know from the healthymemory blog post “The Myth of Cognitive Decline” the crystalized intelligence of older adults holds steady and even grows. The sometimes apparent slowness in recall and the difficulty in recalling certain items is due to the enormous amount of information that has accumulated in memory. Most, if not all, of those memories are available if not accessible and will pop into memory at some later time.

The second reason that this article is so important is that it is a meta-analysis of the relevant literature. A meta-analysis is a review and synthesis of the research. And it is the most impressive meta-analysis I have every read. It uses a sophisticated quantitative methodology, one that circumvents the problems noted in the healthymemory blog post, “Most Published Research Findings are False.” This meta-analysis can be regarded as a Gold Standard for meta-analyses.

So the conclusion is clear that these interventions do improve cognitive functions in the aging brain. Moreover, older people benefit just as much as younger people. Previously found age differentials do not maintain.

As an item for future research the authors argue that follow-up research should address the question as to whether the benefits of these interventions will hold over time. Frankly I find this question to be naive and unnecessary. The answer depends on whether these individuals continue to exercise their capabilities after the formal training ends. If someone takes golfing lessons and then does not play golf, would it be surprising if golfing skill declined? If someone learns to play a musical instrument and then no longer plays once the lessons have stopped, would it not be expected that performance on the instrument would decline. So the answer to the questions depends on whether the individual continues to be cognitively engaged and continues to engage in effortful learning (see the healthymemory blog post “The Adult Brain Makes New Neurons and Effortful Learning Keeps Them Alive.”

This is the constant theme of the healthymemory blog. Stay both cognitively and socially engaged and continue to learn till the very end.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2014. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


Attendance at 2014 Convention of the American Psychological Association

August 13, 2014

Before posting about the substantive information from the convention, I shall first review some human factors technology issues. The convention was held in the Convention Center of Washington DC. The informational signs were not satisfactory. Even though I had been there before, navigation was a problem. In all fairness I must admit that the DC Convention Center is not unique in having this problem. I cannot remember any place I have been that did not suffer from this deficiency. The same problem applied to highway signs. The signs are useful to people who know the area. They are not useful for those unfamiliar with the area. In all fairness to the APA, at least, there were human guides strategically placed throughout the convention center to provide directions and information.

Road signs present an interesting case. There are standards for road sign legibility, although I do not think they are well enforced, nor that there needs to be a requirement about the illumination of these signs. Now what is the point of being able to read a sign if you don’t know what it means?

The fundamental problem is that the people who design the signs know the area quite well for which they are designing. The utility of these signs need to be tested with people who do not know the area. Were this to be done effectively, the problem would largely disappear.

I also took my iPad to the convention. I am a new iPad user. I recently purchased a MacPro rather than undergo the frustration of Windows 8. I had been avoiding Apple for many years for a couple of reasons. The first being their contention that the MacIntosh was intuitive. All one needed to do was to be able to point and click. Personal experience supplemented with volumes of empirical data provide ample proof that this claim was unsubstantiated. Secondly, I could not believe the gaul of Apple to sue Microsoft for Windows. The windows graphical user interface was developed at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and implemented the their Star computer. Xerox is to be faulted for not commercializing and supporting the Star computer. They could have captured both the commercial and the academic markets. Regardless, Apple had no claim on the Windows concept.

And as far as being intuitively obvious, I found there to be nothing intuitive about the iPad. Although it does have Siri, I have not found Siri to have the information I needed when I needed it. However, she did provide a means of venting and cursing that I found to be cathartic. She never is offended and proffers, “You are entitled to your opinion.” But Apple does have Apple Geniuses. One can schedule appointments without difficulty and have a real human being, who is quite knowledgeable and easy to worth with. I hope that Apple keeps these geniuses and that other companies follow their lead.

The APA had a downloadable APP for the meeting in addition to the large, bulky conventional program of 592 pages. I found them both to be useful. Unfortunately the convention APP could not stand alone to my satisfaction. Although it might have contained all the information that the paper program had, I still found that it was easier to find certain things in the paper program.

I had planned to try taking notes on my iPad. I could do this either by typing or by writing. I found my writing to be both illegible and uneconomical. One of the benefits of typing is that it is legible. Moreover, I had read an article that disabused me of this idea. According to a piece in theMonitor on Psychology (page 21 July/August, 2014) this question was addressed by researchers from the University of California and Princeton University. In a study reported in Psychological Science. The researchers asked 65 college students to watch a TED talk with the option of taking notes via the laptop or by hand. A half hour after the talk the students answered factual recall questions and conceptual application questions about the lecture. Both types of note takers performed equally well on fact recall questions, but the laptop note takers performed significantly worse on the conceptual questions. Moreover, one week later when the students were given a chance to review their notes before taking the test, the longhand note takers still performed better.

It is interesting to speculate why this result was obtained. As the students were not randomly assigned to one group or the other, it is possible that the longhand note takers were better students. But if the students had been randomly assigned to the groups, then some of the students would be performing a different way of taking notes that might have been awkward. This was one of those situations where random assignment would have been ill advised. Perhaps the requirements of typing used up attention that could have ben spent processing the lecture. Or perhaps there was more freedom taking notes longhand as diagrams and links could have been used. This might have especially aided conceptual understanding.

Another reason for taking conventional handwritten notes, is that I feared losing information with the undesirable consequence that my posts about the Convention would have been rather thin.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2014. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Law and Psychological Science

January 6, 2013

Should I ever be charged with a crime, I shall not be one of those people who say that they will be proven innocence because they have faith in the legal system. Rather I’ll be saying that although I am innocent, I have no faith that I shall be exonerated. In my view there is little in common between the concept of justice and the legal system. At least in the United States, each individual gets the amount of justice that individual can afford. Say I am charged with a crime, and I am innocent. Going with a public defender would most likely increase the probability of either a conviction or some plea bargain to a lesser sentence. If I want to reduce my chances of being wrongfully convicted, I will pay for the best judicial defense I can afford. If I am exonerated, there is a good chance that I have gone into bankruptcy. So, even in that case, can we say that justice has prevailed?

I am annoyed by the instructions the judge provides to the jurors in criminal cases. In a criminal case it is usually to be convinced beyond a reasonable doubt, or some variant thereof. Now what does that mean? There needs to be some trade-off here. How many innocent people would we be willing to convict to prevent a guilty person from going free? Is it one in one hundred? One in twenty? One in ten? One in five? The instructions need to be more specific.

Here are some statistics from an article in Scientific American Mind.1 412 is the number of people exonerated in the U.S. After being implicated by mistaken witness testimony as of September 2012. 137 is the number of people exonerated in the U.S. after being implicated by false confessions as of September 2012. All too frequently we read about prisoners being released from prison on the basis of DNA evidence. Often this occurs after they have spent many years in prison.

What is infuriating is that even when there is compelling evidence, such as DNA evidence, that someone has been wrongfully imprisoned, the so-called justice system is reluctant to release the individual. This supports the idea that lawyers, both defenders and prosecutors, are not interested in justice; they are interested winning.

So what does psychological science have to offer the legal system if it does want to pursue justice? Psychological science studies how we perceive, think, solve problems, make decisions, how we process information and how our memories work. I think the relevance should be obvious here. We know that we have two systems for processing information: System One which is fast and does the initial processing of information. System Two is slow and deliberative, and has the responsibility for checking the accuracy of System One output. Our default when we encounter new information, absent cues to the contrary is to believe it. If it is wrong, the hope is that it will eventually be corrected by System Two. So when judges inform jurors that they are to disregard something said or introduced in court, research has shown that it is unlikely to be disregarded just because the judge said so. Research has indicated that a short and to the point explanation as to why the information should be ignored is effective (See the healthymemory blog post, “Solutions and Good Practices for Misinformation”).

Extensive research has been done showing that eyewitness testimony is highly unreliable, yet courts and jurors have historically weighted it highly. Although it is true that recognition is worse for people of differing ethnic or racial groups, it remains unreliable even within the same group. The Innocence Project, a national organization focused on correcting wrongful convictions through DNA testing and judicial reform, has freed 301 individuals on the basis of DNA testing. In about 75% of these cases, a principal cause of the erroneous guilty verdict was faulty eyewitness testimony. In about 35% of these cases the testimony stemmed from two or more incorrect observers. This demonstrates that consistency should not be confused with correctness. That is, reliability is not necessarily validity. The method for doing facial recognition is extremely important. Rather than present pictures together in groups, they should be presented individually. Moreover, there should be no guarantee or suggestion that the guilty party is one of the photographs shown. And the officers, themselves, should be blind regarding the identity of the suspect. The same procedure applies to line-ups, that they should be done individually with no guarantee or suggestion that the suspect is there.

One study indicated that 63 percent of the respondents believe that “memory works like a video camera.” Research has shown that nothing could be further from the truth. Memory is fallible and is easily influenced by suggestions and contexts. Moreover, each time we recall information, there are changes. Questioning by investigators, even if not intended, can lead to faulty recall and erroneous convictions. The cognitive interview is a procedure that has been developed by psychologists that might lead to more accurate eyewitness testimony. It relies on techniques derived from scientifically supported principles of memory. It asks open-ended rather than suggestive question. It reminds witnesses of the context of the crime and offers them reminders of the crime, and discourages them from guessing.

Confessions should not be regarded as conclusive. There were 200 people who confessed to the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh‘s baby. The Innocence Project found that up to 27% of individuals initially found guilty but later cleared by DNA evidence had confessed in spite of their clean hands.

This indicates that the videotaping of interrogations is essential. It is also important to videotape the interrogators as well as the suspect.

Psychologists are also skilled in designing experiments and research projects to minimize bias. Correct sampling procedures are essential. This is true for juries. It is not surprising that mixed -race juries are fairer to black defendants. It also appears that diversity improves the accuracy and critical thinking of jurors. Perhaps you do not need training in psychology to know realize this. It would appear to be a matter of common sense. The legal system has been slow to realize this.

In the United States, the Supreme Court sits atop the legal system. There are different approaches to interpreting the Constitution of the United States. There is a progressive view that the Constitution is to be viewed as a living document, and is to be interpreted in the view of new knowledge. The competing view is the Strict Constructionist view. According to this view the Constitution is to be viewed as the original writers intended. Remember that at the time the Constitution was written, slavery was legal and thrived in the southern states. Black people were regarded as being three-fifths of a human being. Women could not vote. At that time Benjamin Franklin was one of the most knowledgeable scientists in the world. Today a high school science student knows much more science than Benjamin Franklin ever did. Currently five of the nine justices on the Supreme Court are regarded as strict constructionists. This might account for some of their decisions and for some of the difficulties the United States currently finds itself.

1Lilienfeld, S.O., & Byron, R. (2013). Your Brain on Trial, Scientific American Mind, January/February, p.7 & pp.44-53.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2012. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Intensive Meditation Training Increases the Ability to Sustain Attention

November 11, 2010

Vigilance tasks require an observer to note when a target occurs. Much research has been done in this area due to important military and security applications. For example, an observer might need to detect enemy planes approaching on the radar scope. Or it might be security personnel monitoring baggage at an airport. Moreover, there is need to distinguish dangerous from benign targets on the scope. Although this is obviously a very important task, it would also appear to be a very simple task. The problem is that over prolonged periods of time performance drops off. In spite of all the research that has been done, techniques for sustaining attention have been found lacking. A recent article1 presented research that found that intensive meditation training can aid sustained attention. Other research2 has found that vigilance requires hard mental work and is stressful. Research using questionnaires and measurements of cerebral blood flow velocity have documented that vigilance is stressful and hard mental work. Attentional resource theory has been used to account for the vigilance decrement. The notion is that attentional resources are rapidly depleted by the demands of the vigilance task.

The meditation training used in the first article was quite intensive. It involved going to a retreat. Shamantha3 meditation training was used in at least five three day retreats. The meditation training was found to sustain vigilance for a longer time, presumably by increasing attentional resources.

You might ask, so what? My job does not involve vigilance tasks. The relevance to you is that meditation apparently does increase attentional resources. Meditation training has been found to be beneficial to temporal attention, attentional alerting, and visual discrimination. Moreover, readers of the Healthymemory Blog should be well aware of the critical role of attention in cognitive performance, and that many failures and breakdowns in cognitive processing are due to limited attentional resources.

See the Healthymemory Blog Posts, “The Relaxation Response,” “Attention Its Different Roles,” “Restoring Attentional Resources,” and “More on Restoring Attentional Resources.”

1MacLean, K. A., and many others (2010).  Intensive Meditation Training Improves Perceptual Discrimination and Sustained Attention.  Psychological Science, 21, 829-839.

2Warm, J.s., Parasururaman, R., & Matthews, G. (2008). Vigilance Requires Hard Mental Work and is Stressful. Human Factors, 50, 433-441.

3Wallace, B.A, (2006). The Attention Revolution. Boston: Wisdom 

© Douglas Griffith and, 2010. 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 with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.