Each week I get an update with new articles in the subject areas I am subscribed to - which is all brain/mind/psychology related of course.
I don't have time anymore to post on each of the cool ones, so here are several from this week that I thought were interesting - maybe you ll too. Clicking on the title link will download the PDF of the article. The full citation follows the abstract (except the last one, which is the full article).
- 1Psychology Department, University of Northern British Columbia, Canada
- 2Psychology Department, University of Calgary, Canada
In the present research we examined the effects of bodily experience on processing of insults in a series of semantic categorization tasks we call insult detection tasks (i.e., participants decided whether presented stimuli were insults or not). Two types of insults were used: more embodied insults (e.g., asswipe, ugly), and less embodied insults (e.g., cheapskate, twit), as well as non-insults. In Experiments 1 and 2 the non-insults did not form a single, coherent category (e.g., airbase, polka), whereas in Experiment 3 all the non-insults were compliments (e.g., eyeful, honest). Regardless of type of non-insult used, we observed facilitatory embodied insult effects such that more embodied insults were responded to faster and recalled more often than less embodied insults. In Experiment 4 we used a larger set of insults as stimuli, which allowed hierarchical multiple regression analyses. These analyses revealed that bodily experience ratings accounted for a significant amount of unique response latency, response error, and recall variability for responses to insults, even with several other predictor variables (e.g., frequency, offensiveness, imageability) included in the analyses: responses were faster and more accurate, and there was greater recall for relatively more embodied insults. These results demonstrate that conceptual knowledge of insults is grounded in knowledge gained through bodily experience.
Keywords: conceptual processing, embodied cognition, insult processing, mental simulation
Citation: Wellsby M, Siakaluk PD, Pexman PM and Owen WJ (2010). Some Insults are Easier to Detect: The Embodied Insult Detection Effect. Front. Psychology doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00198
- 1Department of Psychology, Stanford University, USA
A growing body of data has been gathered in support of the view that the mind is embodied and that cognition is grounded in sensory-motor processes. Some researchers have gone so far as to claim that this paradigm poses a serious challenge to central tenets of cognitive science, including the widely held view that the mind can be analyzed in terms of abstract computational principles. On the other hand, computational approaches to the study of mind have led to the development of specific models that help researchers understand complex cognitive processes at a level of detail that theories of embodied cognition (EC) have sometimes lacked. Here we make the case that connectionist architectures in particular can illuminate many surprising results from the EC literature. These models can learn the statistical structure in their environments, providing an ideal framework for understanding how simple sensory-motor mechanisms could give rise to higher-level cognitive behavior over the course of learning. Crucially, they form overlapping, distributed representations, which have exactly the properties required by many embodied accounts of cognition. We illustrate this idea by extending an existing connectionist model of semantic cognition in order to simulate findings from the embodied conceptual metaphor literature. Specifically, we explore how the abstract domain of time may be structured by concrete experience with space (including experience with culturally-specific spatial and linguistic cues). We suggest that both EC researchers and connectionist modelers can benefit from an integrated approach to understanding these models and the empirical findings they seek to explain.
Keywords: conceptual metaphor, connectionism, embodiment, models, space, time
Citation: Flusberg SJ, Thibodeau PH, Sternberg DA and Glick JJ (2010). A connectionist approach to embodied conceptual metaphor. Front. Psychology doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00197
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- 1Division of Biology, California Institute of Technology, USA
- 2Division of Humanities and Social Sciences, California Institute of Technology, USA
- 3 Brain Science Institute, Tamagawa University, Japan
- 4Division of Engineering and Applied Science, California Institute of Technology, USA
- 5Brain and Cognitive Engineering, Korea University, Korea (South)
Recent research has slowly corroded a belief that selective attention and consciousness are so tightly entangled that they cannot be individually examined. In this review, we summarize psychophysical and neurophysiological evidence for a dissociation between top-down attention and consciousness. The evidence includes recent findings that show subjects can attend to perceptually invisible objects. More contentious is the finding that subjects can become conscious of an isolated object, or the gist of the scene in the near absence of top-down attention; we critically re-examine the possibility of ‘complete’ absence of top-down attention. We also cover the recent flurry of studies that utilized independent manipulation of attention and consciousness. These studies have shown paradoxical effects of attention, including examples where top-down attention and consciousness have opposing effects, leading us to strengthen and revise our previous views. Neuroimaging studies with EEG, MEG and fMRI are uncovering the distinct neuronal correlates of selective attention and consciousness in dissociative paradigms. These findings point to a functional dissociation: attention as analyzer and consciousness as synthesizer. Separating the effects of selective visual attention from those of visual consciousness is of paramount importance to untangle the neural substrates of consciousness from those for attention.
Keywords: attention, consciousness, neuroimaging, psychophysics
Citation: Van Boxtel JJ, Tsuchiya N and Koch C (2010). Consciousness and Attention: On sufficiency and necessity. Front. Psychology doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00217
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- 1Psychological Studies in Education, Temple University, USA
In an eloquent article in a recent volume of American Psychologist, Cohen (2009) evoked a contentious question: What are the boundaries of culture? To Cohen, the extant psychological literature has been too limited in its almost exclusive emphasis on independent-interdependent self-construal as the prime psychological process characterizing cultural variation, with the variation being limited itself to nationalities and an East-West division. Cohen argued that cultural processes are more complex and diverse, and cultural boundaries are more fine-grained. Cohen’s apt critique noted that many forms of culture are overlooked when psychologists are so limited in their scope. To expand the conceptual space, Cohen urged psychologists to consider other cultural identities such as religion, socioeconomic status, and regional locale, as well as their possible intersections. Signifying “cultural” identities that have nominal labels as potential markers for culture may be interpreted to suggest that group membership is synonymous with cultural processes. Cohen’s view is more sophisticated than that. However, the emphasis on nominal groupings such as religion and SES—to which we could add race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability status, etc.—does raise the question: What do these social groups have to do with culture? We argue that a focus on shared meanings of experiences, rather than nominal social groupings, is a more appropriate and productive path toward achieving Cohen’s goal of expanding and refining our understanding of cultural psychological processes. There are several issues that we believe are pertinent to the relations between social groups and culture. One is the important recognition that all nominal groupings are themselves cultural constructions: social schemas that emerged through social interaction in particular contexts to fulfill conceptual and practical functions in ritualized social life. The meanings of these nominal groupings have very fuzzy boundaries that render group inclusion criteria messy; they change continuously; and they reflect the purposes of those employing the categories more than the characteristics of the group members. Clearly this is the case with the more obviously malleable categories: low SES means quite different things and the category would include people with different economic characteristics depending on the country, the historical period, the political result of deliberations among economists, the purpose of the researchers, and the access to different kinds of data. But, even social categories that in layperson terms have essential properties, such as gender, have previously taken on different meanings and continue to have fuzzy and dynamic boundaries, as is apparent by those whose lifestyles challenge the reification of these labels (e.g., GLBT). As cultural phenomena, nominal groupings should be themselves a topic for study in cultural psychology as they are in other scholarly fields (Brubaker, 2009). Even more pertinent to the current opinion is the understanding, which not incidentally is shared by Cohen, that each grouping includes people—self-identified or otherwise—who differ in many significant cultural-psychological characteristics and dimensions. By focusing on the nominal group, psychologists are running the risk of over-looking more significant processes; and, clearly, of stereotyping. This is not to say that group membership has no significance to cultural-psychological processes. Whereas nominal groupings do not have ontological existence, they are an important element in the social-political reality. The cultural-political construction of certain groupings creates experiences that are shared by group members in ways that may, indeed, result in cultural processes. The category of “immigrant” could serve as a case in point. While far from being equalized across all immigrant groups, US immigration policy does treat similarly people who may otherwise share very little with each other (e.g., language, beliefs, values, lifestyles), except for their immigration experience. Similar treatment may result with some shared meaning about the immigration experience. Such shared experiences may manifest, perhaps, in a relieved understanding smile exchanged by two very different people after finishing the lengthy admission process at JFK’s INS offices; to borrow from Geertz (1973)—“a speck of behavior, a fleck of culture, and – voilà! – a gesture” (p. 6). Of course, as Geertz noted, “that…is just the beginning” (p. 6). The prevalent effects of social-political grouping—be they the consequence of formal policy or informal perceptions and norms—may result in collective experiences (e.g., discrimination, differential opportunities, expected behavior), which, in turn, may lead to shared meanings and hence to cultural-psychological processes: cognitive, emotional, motivational, and behavioral manifestations of those shared meanings. These processes clearly merit investigation and intervention. Yet, it would be a grave mistake to assume a-priori that each immigrant to the US—or, each attendant to a Christian church, each citizen earning under $30,000, each resident of a south-western state—shared the same experiences or made the same meaning of collective experiences. Perhaps the cultural-psychological processes most relevant for understanding these people’s actions in particular contexts are rooted in shared experiences that cut across social categories: attending the same public school; commuting during rush hour; relocating after a flood… There is a seeming tension between understanding that, on the one hand, nominal groupings are dynamic cultural constructions; group members are psychologically and culturally diverse; social group labels, or “cultural” identities, are, in fact, not synonymous with culture; and recognizing on the other hand that despite their non-essentialist nature, group memberships may involve common experiences that result in some cultural processes. What may psychologists interested in cultural-psychological processes do? One way to address this challenge is by careful reflection on the formulation of research questions. Arguably, cultural-psychological processes emerge from and manifest in shared experiences in lived contexts (Cole, Engeström, & Vasquez, 1997). Researchers might begin with those lived contexts that play important roles in people’s lives and seek the shared meanings of actions in these contexts. Indeed, many cultural psychology researchers already practice such a perspective (e.g., Lawrence, Agnes, & Valsiner, 2004; Sherry, Wood, Jackson, & Kaslow, 2006). In turn, researchers who are interested in the role of the social-political reality of social groups in culture ought to pose research questions with acute sensitivity to social-political-historical processes and should proceed with the awareness that group memberships are cultural constructions and, consequently, political realities rather than reified entities. Perhaps these conclusions are similar to those Cohen aimed at. We are in full agreement with his challenge to the currently dominant paradigm that focuses on a small number of dimensions generalized across broad nominal categories. However, following many others (e.g., Betancourt & Lopez, 1993; Bruner, 1990; Shweder & Sullivan, 1993), we caution against the emphasis on nominal group labels as the obvious and unproblematic entry point for conceptualizing and investigating cultural-psychological processes.
Keywords: collective experience, cultural psychology, culture, nominal social groups
Citation: Bergey BW and Kaplan A (2010). What Do Social Groups Have To Do With Culture? The Crucial Role of Shared Experience . Front. Psychology doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2010.00199
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- Department of Anthropology, University of California at Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA, USA
A commentary on:
The attachment paradox: how can so many of us (the insecure ones) have no adaptive advantages?
by Ein-Dor, T., Mikulincer, M., Doron, G., and Shaver, P. R. (2010). Perspect. Psychol. Sci. 5, 123–141.
In a recent article in Perspectives on Psychological Science, Ein-Dor et al. (2010) propose that insecure attachment styles harm the biological fitness of individuals, yet may have been favored by natural selection because they provide benefits for the group. This novel hypothesis proclaims that groups containing a mixture of secure and insecure attachment styles deal more effectively with hazards, such as venomous snakes or fires, because of earlier detection and escape. While I support adaptationist approaches to development, including attachment, I have concerns about this specific proposal. In particular, I question: (1) that insecure attachment styles are detrimental to individual fitness, (2) that insecure attachment styles are well-designed for dealing with danger at the group-level, (3) the underlying assumption that human attachment styles evolved in social groups comprised mostly of genetic relatives, (4) whether the empirical evidence, provided by the authors, can arbitrate between hypotheses postulating benefits to individuals versus benefits to groups.
Ein-Dor et al. (2010) set out to explain an “evolutionary paradox”: insecure attachment styles appear harmful to individual fitness, yet they are prevalent in human societies. Studies show that 33–50% of all humans may be insecurely attached (i.e., anxious, avoidant), across age groups, with higher percentages occurring in populations living in conditions of poverty and instability (Cassidy and Shaver, 1999, 2008; Mikulincer and Shaver, 2007). The solution to the “paradoxical” persistence of insecure attachment styles, according to Ein-Dor et al., is that across evolutionary time, the costs of insecure attachment styles to individuals were exceeded by benefits at the group-level. These group-level benefits are considered a driving selective force, not accidental byproducts of strategies that are individually advantageous – hence the paradox. The central idea is that insecure attachment styles are suboptimal to the individual, yet prevalent: this “evolutionary paradox” is resolved by positing group-level benefits. On this view, insecurely attached individuals are evolutionary altruists: they incur a fitness cost to enhance the fitness of other individuals in the group.
Here, I first question the existence of the “attachment paradox” and then the solution proposed by Ein-Dor et al. (2010). For attachment research to benefit from evolutionary biology, it is important that ideas about evolutionary processes, as well as assumptions about our human evolutionary history, are correct and, whenever possible, complete. Thus, an integration of evolutionary and developmental science requires, in addition to empirical studies, conceptual analyses and discussion of key premises.
The hypothesis of Ein-Dor et al. (2010) assumes that insecure attachment styles are maladaptive to the individual: however, the authors do not provide sources to support this claim. To my knowledge, the fitness effects of attachment strategies have never been measured in humans. It would be most informative if studies compared the number of viable offspring (or a different proxy for fitness) of individuals with insecure versus other attachment styles, in conditions in which insecure attachment styles tend to develop. Ideally, such studies would be conducted cross-culturally, in order to ensure results generalize across socio-ecological conditions, or to document and understand variation (Henrich et al., 2010). However, at present, the fitness costs and benefits of different attachment styles are unknown. Therefore, “the attachment paradox” itself is a hypothesis, not a fact requiring explanation. Moreover, some theories suggest that insecure attachment styles can be advantageous to individuals, given particular conditions (e.g., Belsky et al., 1991; Chisholm, 1996; Nettle, 2006; Del Giudice, 2009; Del Giudice and Belsky, 2010). Insecure attachment styles may be adaptive, for instance, if one grows up in a world where people generally provide little support (Belsky et al., 1991; Belsky et al., 2010). Ein-Dor et al. (2010) view their proposal as complementary to this perspective. However, the existing work assumes insecure attachment styles are advantageous to individuals, while Ein-Dor et al. (2010) depart from the exact opposite assumption – the “evolutionary paradox” – making integration difficult. Still, I will argue that even if we grant that insecure attachment styles may harm individual fitness, explaining their evolution in terms of adaptive, group-level benefits, has several problems.
In biology, adaptations are identified when a trait accommodates a presumed function “with sufficient precision, economy, [and] efficiency” (Williams, 1966, p. 10). The proposal of Ein-Dor et al. (2010), in my view, does not meet these criteria. Ein-Dor et al. argue that two major insecure attachment styles – avoidant and anxious – evolved for their group-level benefits: “The avoidant pattern may be associated with quick, independent responses to threat, which may at times increase the survival chances of group members by solving the survival problem or demonstrating ways to escape it. The anxious pattern may be associated with sensitivity and quick detection of dangers and threats, which alert other group members to danger and the need for protection or escape” (p. 129). Both these functions address some features of insecure attachment styles, such as social withdrawal and high levels of stress. However, they do not address other features that may be fitness-relevant, such as: low self-esteem, greater risk of depression, mixed feelings about relationships, indiscriminate self-disclosure, ineffective coping strategies, and over-dependence on others. While it may be possible to advance group-level benefits for these features as well, Ein-Dor et al. do not discuss them in depth. In biology, adaptationist accounts are considered most convincing when a close correspondence is revealed between the structure of an adaptive problem and the features of its solution: it is not sufficient to select some features, and hypothesize about their adaptive value, while leaving out other, equally significant ones.
Concerning ancestral social organization, Ein-Dor et al. (2010) assert that all members of a group, “in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, would often have been genetically related” (p. 124). This premise, if correct, helps their proposal that insecure attachment styles are group-level adaptations, because the costs incurred by altruistic individuals may be compensated by gains in inclusive fitness (Hamilton, 1964): genetic relatives are more likely to share copies of the same alleles, and so helping kin implies furthering one’s own reproductive success. However, Ein-Dor et al. (2010) do not provide sources to support their claim that, historically, humans lived in groups composed primarily of kin. To my knowledge, no such sources exist. Unfortunately, the precise characteristics of ancestral social organizations remain largely unknown. If anything, current evidence seems to suggest that humans lived in diverse patterns of social organization, rather than a single one (Schrire, 1980; Foley, 1995; Irons, 1998; Marlowe, 2005; Richerson et al., 2009).
Still, even if we grant that humans would have lived in kin-based households, such households may have co-existed in larger groups consisting of genetically non-related individuals. To what extent the argument of Ein-Dor et al. (2010) formally depends on “kin-groups assumption” is hard to know. Analyzing it requires more detailed specification of the costs and benefits of altruistic strategies in various group compositions (including the ratio of relatives to non-relatives, and their degrees of relatedness). Biologists have made progress exploring the conditions favoring the evolution of altruism (e.g., Nowak, 2006): yet, much work remains to be done, especially in the domain of large-scale cooperation. It is a merit of Ein-Dor et al. (2010) to invite more discussion about human ancestral social organizations. A better understanding of these contexts may provide insights into the evolved structure of developmental mechanisms, including their dynamic expression across the full breadth of conditions our species experiences (Panchanathan et al., 2010).
Finally, Ein-Dor et al. (2010) present two kinds of evidence – cognitive and behavioral – to support their hypothesis that insecure attachment styles evolved for benefits at the group-level. The cognitive evidence shows that anxiously attached individuals detect potential threats relatively fast and alert others about imminent danger. It also indicates that avoidant individuals initiate self-preservation efforts relatively fast, without relying on the help of other people. Both these empirical results are interesting; however, they do not substantiate that these cognitive aspects are adaptations “for” the benefit of social groups. This is because in each example, individuals may themselves derive a net benefit from their strategy: anxious individuals because early detection of danger facilitates escape, while alerting others can induce collective efforts to ameliorate the threat: avoidant individuals because a focus on autonomous self-preservation may be adaptive, in a world where other people provide little social support (Belsky et al., 1991). Thus, the cognitive evidence cannot distinguish between individual-level and group-level benefits. The behavioral evidence provided by Ein-Dor et al. (2010) employs a smoke-in-the-room experimental setting, and shows that: “more heterogeneous groups in terms of attachment orientations were … more effective in dealing with the dangerous situation and took less time to detect and deal with the danger” (p. 135). However, it is not clear why a group-selection perspective would predict that heterogeneous groups perform better than homogeneous groups, composed exclusively of insecurely attached individuals. Is it not the case that a larger number of vigilant eyes is better in dangerous situations?
In sum, while I support adaptationist approaches to development, including attachment, I believe there are significant problems with the hypothesis advanced by Ein-Dor et al. (2010): that insecure attachment styles may be group-selected adaptations for dealing with danger. Despite these doubts, I value the novelty of the hypothesis, and I look forward to future theoretical analyses and empirical tests of the current ideas.
I thank Robert Bettinger, Ron Dotsch, Richard McElreath, Hiske Hees, Joe Henrich, Sarah Mathew, Karthik Panchanathan, Pete Richerson, and Christopher Stephan for valuable comments.
Citation: Belsky, J., Steinberg, L., and Draper, P. (1991). Childhood experience, interpersonal development, and reproductive strategy: an evolutionary theory of socialization. Child Dev. 62, 647–670.