​How many rights have we wronged? - Cog Blog by Robert Russell

            Eyewitness Lineups are the most commonly used technique to put away bad guys. But what happens when our memory fails us and the legal system ends up putting away the wrong guy. How do you apologize to an innocent person that you have locked up in jail for multiple years? It is a true possibility that being incarcerated has ruined their lives; their families could have left them, they were probably fired from their jobs, and they could have been evicted from their homes.

            In no way am I saying that we should not lock up bad guys. I am very much for the legal system and bringing justice to those who are unjust. My concern though is when we start locking up bad guys based on memory and eyewitness testimonies alone. After learning about eyewitness lineup procedures, I was speaking with a friend about it and they said in a philosophy class they had, the professor had a random person come running into their class half way through, say some words, do a little dance and then left. The professor at the end of class asked them to write down everything they remember about the event and turn it in. Then next class he started with the same question and asked the students to write down and turn in everything they remember about the event. My friend said the variation between what everyone said was huge. She was shocked that everyone that saw the same event had such a different memory of what actually happened. This is evidence that are memory is not an exact replica of the past but rather a constant constructive process.

            So back to my question. If memory is not an exact replica of the past how do we get a credible eyewitness testimony? The good news is, this is already being worked on and improved every day. I would say one of the largest ways we are making things better is technology. Every day the people who do DNA tests are improving their capabilities to detect and identify DNA at a crime scene. That plus the fact that the amount of cameras, and the quality of the images, are always improving and growing will provide the best case scenario to get the right bad guy and put him away. More and more businesses and even police officers are now wearing cameras to capture everything and have an undisputable image. Cameras can remember a lot more accurate than humans can. Now on the memory side of it, the legal system can use better methods to run eyewitness lineups. They can make it a double blind procedure so the person running the eye witness doesn’t even know if a suspect is in the lineup. They can also tell the victim that the culprit may or may not be present in the lineup. Then you can also have them do a sequential lineup instead of a simultaneous lineup. You can have the victim tell a sketch artist everything they remember about the culprit then one at a time bring in the lineup “suspects”. Each person the victim should describe why they are right or wrong, this would cause the victim to think more deeply about the culprit and hopefully increase the number of correct IDs.

            This even relates to the recent outbreaks of accusations against law enforcement officers who choose to use deadly force. Some people who were eyewitnesses say that the officer had no other choice and they were being attacked, while other witnesses say the “victim” was walking away and were shot ruthlessly in the back. Unfortunately there are only about two people who really know what happened and that is the officer and the victim. Again this is where technology comes into play, most police officers are starting to be required to wear cameras. This is to ensure everyone’s safety. This is to protect police officers who were just doing their job as well as innocent people who were a victim of police brutality. A camera does record exactly what happened whereas a person only has a reconstructive image of what happened. This is the best and most accurate solution to avoid this eyewitness lineup issue.

            All of the eyewitness lineup procedures show us that memory can fail us and it is not an identical replica of the past. Our memory can be easily influenced and is already trying to reconstruct things. We can improve the number of correct IDs by being careful with the way we run lineups, the only way to make them close to perfect however is technology. DNA testing as well as more camera that video record the event itself. They also sell some defensive pens where you stab the person who is attacking you and it collects some of their DNA right in the pen. 

Rodent recall: False but happy memories - Cog Blog by Brittany Windus

Memory is one of the many wonders of the brain. Our memories are usually formed from past experiences and can last for mere seconds in short term memory or years and years in long term memory. One thing that is really interesting about memory is the concept of false memories. False memories are events or things that we think we know and truly believe to be true, but they are actually untrue or never happened. A recent article by Hannah Devlin titled “Rodent recall: false but happy memories implanted in sleeping mice” discusses new research led by Karim Benchenane at CRNS in Paris takes the idea of false memories to a whole new place while working on mice. Benchenane and the other researchers performed a study involving memory manipulation in sleeping mice. They successfully created false, happy memories in the mice (Devlin, 2015). 

During the study, researchers wrote false positive memories about a particular place in the animal’s memory, which caused the animal to try to find this place after waking up to receive a positive reward. This is the first evidence showing that false positive emotional memory can be manipulated. This could lead to treatments for depression and painful memories. Benchenane and the other researchers hope to use these findings in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder (Devlin, 2015).

To perform this experiment, the researchers implanted an electrode in the hippocampus, which is the memory center of the brain and another in the brain’s reward center. In the brains of mice and humans, place cells map out our surrounding environment. These place cells light up as we move, so the scientists were able to pick a specific place cell neuron and figure out which location it related to in reality as the mouse walked around. Mice replay this place cell activity while sleeping, reenacting where they were when awake. The researchers cleverly set up the electrodes to deliver a reward simulation in the second electrode whenever the first electrode, located at the target place cell, became activated. The memory of this place was originally known to the mice as neutral, but during sleep they learned to relate it to something positive occurring, a false memory (Devlin, 2015).

This study gives evidence that the factual and emotional content of our memories are stored in different parts of the brain, but can be changed independently. The results could lead to memory manipulation in humans in the future (Devlin, 2015).

This article by Hannah Devlin is extremely interesting. The research she discussed led by Karim Benchenane is groundbreaking and important and could lead to many important clinical applications. Although I enjoyed the article, I did find some faults with it. Devlin should have added more specific details about the research itself. She did not include any specific statistics or any participant numbers about the mice. She could have also added information about the area where the experiment occurred. I wanted to know what the locations looked like that the mice were going to. I have a few suggestions for the research itself as well. First and most obvious I would recommend replication. Replication is the best way to support the information discovered in the original study. Another suggestion I have for this study would be to do an additional study to further the possible clinical applications. In this new study I would place an electrode on a location spot in the brain that the mice already have negative feelings for (like a person would already have negative feelings in depression). Next, I would generate the false positive memories with the second electrode like in the original study. I would do this second experiment to see if the false positive memories can replace the negative ones instead of just implanting false positive memories where neutral memories once were. This would give stronger evidence for clinical applications in people with negative feelings. Overall, the article and the study were novel and interesting.

Calling all "Brain Nerds"!

While listening to NPR yesterday, I heard about a fascinating line of research into the cerebellum.  Now, when I was learning about the cerebellum, we thought it was primarily for balance and coordination of movement.  The cerebellum isn't responsible for you actually moving your muscles (that's the motor cortex of the frontal lobe with 'directions' coming from the prefrontal lobe and other areas of the brain) but it IS responsible for allowing you to move them in a smooth, coordinated way - not in a clumsy way.  (hmmm.... maybe I have a cerebellar problem)  The cerebellum is also one of the first parts of the brain to be affected by alcohol which is why sobriety tests involve balance and coordination tasks.  Anyway, this was what neuroscientists have thought was the primary function of the cerebellum for years.

New research is finding that the cerebellum has OTHER functions as well.  Functions that are related to thinking and emotions.  In fact, it appears that the cerebellum helps to smooth and coordinate thoughts, reasoning, and emotions as well!  Reaction time (cognitive function), emotional complexity, understanding social cues...  all are related to cerebellar function.  Some researchers even suggest that some of the symptoms seen in autism and schizophrenia are directly tied to cerebellar dysfunction.  Very, very cool.  But I'm a geek. :)

If you're interested in the NPR report, here are the links.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2015/03/16/392789753/a-man-s-incomplete-brain-reveals-cerebellum-s-role-in-thought-and-emotion

http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2015/03/16/393351760/clues-to-autism-schizophrenia-emerge-from-cerebellum-research

Ummm...tell me...is that food? Dietary restriction affects social learning...in some strange ways.

One of the cool things about being a member of an omnivorous species is that we eat lots of different stuff...oranges, porkchops, squash, strawberries, beef, apples, asparagus, salmon, portobella mushrooms, chocolate, coffee, mangoes...all those yummy flavors! On the down side, how do you know what will nourish you and what will kill you (death cap mushroom...'nuff said).

Well, part of the answer for humans and Norway rats is culture. We, rats included, can learn from other members of our species what foods are safe to eat. Aren't you much more like to try a totally new food when someone who usually eats it shares it with you rather than you trying it alone? So that's one major benefit of social life for an omnivorous species like rats and humans. Food is less likely to kill you. Now before you say anything, we have a lot in common with Norway rats! They live in groups. They eat our discarded, dropped, or still growing food. They have hitched their evolutionary wagon to ours and occupy the same parts of the planet that we do. We've inadvertently brought them with us.

But what if you are a non-social omnivore like a Syrian hamster? (They tend to live alone in the underground burrows.) How do you learn what is safe to eat? And, social or non-social, if you have a deficit in a nutrient, does that affect what you learn from others about food or affect what you do with the information that you learn? So we don't always have to rely on others. Turns out, however, that theoretical work on the evolution of social learning and use of public information lead to the same predictions to be tested: organisms should learn socially when it's the lest costly or less difficult way to learn as opposed to learning first-hand by sampling some unfamiliar food.

These predictions were tesetd in a study that I did with two students who worked in my lab, Max Wallace and Anne Young. After presenting the results at the annual conference of the Animal Behavior Society, we published a paper. To find out some answers, you can check out that paper here:

http://www.scirp.org/journal/PaperInformation.aspx?PaperID=52842

or just download it directly here:

http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/jbbs.2014.412056

 

5 Mind Blowing Facts About Cognitive Psychology: Cog Blog by Nick Taylor

Cognitive psychology: on its face, it sounds pretty interesting. Your immediate thought when asked what it is probably has something to do with the way your mind works, as anything having to do with psychology should. But this is much deeper than that; this digs deep into the way your mind works. It’s intricate and fantastic all at the same time. Cognitive psychology can be defined as the scientific study of a person’s mental processes, for example: perception, attention, memory, logic, and other things of that nature. At this point, however, many people might start to lose interest – who really wants to learn about all of that? Why wouldn’t you just want to live life, have fun, and not worry about the way your body and mind work? The answer to that question is the following five factoids, or in other words, the most interesting reasons to learn why and how your mind works the way it does. As an added bonus at the end, learn what famous cognitive psychologist literally cannot even right now!

            1. The Process of Perception

            This is one of the most basic but at the same time interesting things a psychologist can learn during a crash course in cognitive psychology. Basically, everything we see is not exactly as it appears. We as humans perceive everything we see, hear, etc. through the process of transduction. Objects in the real world, called distal stimuli, have physical energy that stimulates sensory organs in our eyes or ears, and through the process of transduction, result in the firing of neural impulses to the brain. Once at the brain, the neural impulses are interpreted and the finished product is our perception of the real world objects, known as the proximal stimuli. In plain English, what we perceive is actually a slight translation of what really exists in the world. What we think of as reality then is actually just a collection of neural impulses that our brain has interpreted. How cool is that? I would argue that a very small percent of the population knows that fact about the process of perception, so this is one neat piece of knowledge.

            2. Seeing is Believing

            Many people know the basics of how we see objects and colors; light is a form of electromagnetic energy that has different wavelengths and falls onto what is known as the visual spectrum. However, not very many people know much more than that. Not many people know that we as humans can’t even see the majority of the visual spectrum, and that is mind-blowing. There is literally so much going on right in front of our very eyes and we can only see a small portion of it, the colors of the rainbow. The spectrum of visual light falls between 400nm-700nm, with the blue wavelengths being the shortest and the red wavelengths being the longest. The final tidbit of information regarding how we see things is the actual pathway that electromagnetic light follows when entering our eye. Light enters the eye through the pupil, and the lens focuses the light onto the retina. The retina contains the receptors for the light, which then sends more neural impulses to the brain so they can be interpreted and we can figure out what we see. If this doesn’t interest you, I don’t know what will.

            3. The Blind Spot

            One more factoid on visual perception, I promise. This might be the best one of them all though – every person, no matter how great their vision actually is, has a blind spot in their eye! I bet you have never noticed it but trust me, it’s there. One of the structures located at the back of the eye is called the optic nerve, the place where all of the neural impulses go once they leave the eye and are sent to the brain for interpretation. The reason there is a blind spot is because there are no receptors for light located where the bundle of nerves leaves the eye. No one notices their blind spot while going through the motions of everyday life, however, because the other eye fills in the image that your blind spot is missing out on. Your brain is amazing – it can literally fill in an image that you can’t even see, and you have no idea that it is going on! I mean, that is some pretty incredible information. The human body is something else.

            4. Cochlear Implants

            Put yourself in this position – you are expecting a baby with your spouse. You have been trying for a long time and finally the day has come, you’re about to have your baby. The baby is born, but all of a sudden you find out that the baby has one problem – it cannot hear anything you are saying. Not that babies can process what you’re saying at all anyways, but this baby literally cannot hear any sound that you are making. Then the doctor walks in and says that she can make your baby hear  through the placement of electrodes in your baby’s ear. Sounds like a dream come true, right? Well you better believe that it can actually happen, because it can! Cochlear implants involve placing electrodes in a person’s ear into their cochlea, which stimulates the auditory nerve. The electrodes stimulate different frequencies along the cochlea, which would then allow a previously deaf person to begin to hear things. The smaller the electrodes are, the more that can then be placed, making it easier to hear different frequencies of sound. How awesome is that? Science has advanced so far and fast that it is now possible to give deaf people the chance to hear sound! The only catch is that the cochlear implants have a higher success rate if done at an early age.

            5. Agnosia

            Imagine if you lost the ability to identify everyday household objects placed in front of you, but could still copy them and draw them from memory. Sounds pretty awful, right? Unfortunately, that is actually a problem for some people. Agnosia is defined as the damage a person takes that produces a deficit in visual object recognition, with no harm to the person’s memory. One woman, Dee Fletcher, had a problem with some carbon monoxide poisoning that left her with the severe inability to identify objects. She could not copy any object that was placed in front of her, but if someone asked her to draw on apple for him or her from memory, she was able to do so. This is mind-boggling; how is it possible for someone to not identify an object that they’ve known for years, but still be able to draw it from memory? This form of agnosia was demonstrated when Fletcher was asked to put an envelope in the mailbox. If Fletcher was given the letter and told to just put it in, she couldn’t do it. She couldn’t figure out how to turn the letter sideways in order for it to slide into the mail slot. However, if she was given the letter already turned sideways, she could just push it forward and slide it into the slot. It is almost impossible to try to imagine what this must be like. Again though, this is unfortunately a problem for some people because their cognitive processes have been impaired in some way, shape, or form.

            Now, for the final question: What famous cognitive psychologist can’t even right now?

            Your answer is... Alessandro Volta! Talking again about cochlear implants, Volta was the first person to ever make an attempt at electrical hearing. Sounds groundbreaking, but wait until you hear how he did it. He had a battery, and was able to stimulate hearing by connecting a metal rod to each end of the battery and completing the circuit with – get this – his head! What kind of a person is crazy enough to do this? Apparently, a cognitive psychologist interested in teaching himself how one might be able to make themselves hear electrically. The weird part – Volta described a sort of cackling, bubbling sound when he had completed the circuit. He actually was the first person to discover electrical hearing, and what has now developed into cochlear implants! Because of him, it is now possible to make previously deaf people hear. A round of applause for Volta; he literally cannot even right now!

            There you have it, these are five of the most interesting and potentially mind-blowing facts about cognitive psychology that you probably didn’t know before. If these five facts don't get you interested in the field, at least a little bit, then I don’t know what will. I mean come on, who knew that what we see is actually a translation of what is actually there? Who knew that we could make deaf people hear by placing electrodes on their cochlea to stimulate their auditory nerve? This is fascinating, absolutely fascinating. Finally, to top it all off, one last round of applause for Alessandro Volta! This guy literally completed a circuit with a battery, two metal rods, and his HEAD. Cognitive psychology is one of the most interesting fields a person can study, or at least attempt to understand, bar none. 

Cog Blog: First Edition

This semester students in Dr. Bauernschmidt's Cognition class will be writing posts highlighting the concepts that they are learning about in class. This first installment of student posts highlights the process of perception.

5 Mind Blowing Facts About Cognitive Psychology by Nick Taylor

Depth Perception And Visual Illusions by Alicia Broadbent