Infants are highly sensitive to statistical patterns in their auditory language input that mark word categories (e.g., noun and verb). However, it is unknown whether experience with these cues facilitates the acquisition of semantic properties of word categories. In a study testing this hypothesis, infants first listened to an artificial language in which word categories were reliably distinguished by statistical cues (experimental group) or in which these properties did not cue category membership (control group). Both groups were then trained on identical pairings between the words and pictures from two categories (animals and vehicles). Only infants in the experimental group learned the trained associations between specific words and pictures. Moreover, these infants generalized the pattern to include novel pairings. These results suggest that experience with statistical cues marking lexical categories sets the stage for learning the meanings of individual words and for generalizing meanings to new category members.
language acquisition; word learning; statistical learning
Implicit race bias has been shown to affect decisions and behaviors. It may also change perceptual experience by increasing perceived differences between social groups. We investigated how this phenomenon may be expressed at the neural level by testing whether the distributed blood-oxygenation-level-dependent (BOLD) patterns representing Black and White faces are more dissimilar in participants with higher implicit race bias. We used multivoxel pattern analysis to predict the race of faces participants were viewing. We successfully predicted the race of the faces on the basis of BOLD activation patterns in early occipital visual cortex, occipital face area, and fusiform face area (FFA). Whereas BOLD activation patterns in early visual regions, likely reflecting different perceptual features, allowed successful prediction for all participants, successful prediction on the basis of BOLD activation patterns in FFA, a high-level face-processing region, was restricted to participants with high pro-White bias. These findings suggest that stronger implicit pro-White bias decreases the similarity of neural representations of Black and White faces.
social cognition; neuroimaging; face perception; individual differences; stereotyped attitudes
The present experiments investigated how the process of statistically segmenting words from fluent speech is linked to the process of mapping meanings to words. Seventeen-month-old infants first participated in a statistical word segmentation task, which was immediately followed by an object-label-learning task. Infants presented with labels that were words in the fluent speech used in the segmentation task were able to learn the object labels. However, infants presented with labels consisting of novel syllable sequences (nonwords; Experiment 1) or familiar sequences with low internal probabilities (part-words; Experiment 2) did not learn the labels. Thus, prior segmentation opportunities, but not mere frequency of exposure, facilitated infants' learning of object labels. This work provides the first demonstration that exposure to word forms in a statistical word segmentation task facilitates subsequent word learning.
Mental simulations of future experiences are often concerned with emotionally arousing events. Although it is widely believed that mental simulations enhance future behavior, virtually nothing is known about the mnemonic fate of these simulations over time or whether emotional simulations are especially well-remembered. We used a novel paradigm, combining recently developed methods for generating future event simulations and well-established memory testing procedures, to examine the retention of positive, negative, and neutral simulations over multiple delays. We found that with increasing delay, details associated with negative simulations become more difficult to remember than details associated with positive and neutral simulations. We suggest that these delay-by-emotion interactions reflect the mnemonic influence of fading affect bias, where negative reactions fade more quickly than positive ones, resulting in a tendency to remember a rosy simulated future. We also discuss implications for affective disorders such as depression and anxiety.
A number of accounts of human and animal behavior posit the operation of parallel and competing valuation systems in the control of choice behavior. Along these lines, a flexible but computationally expensive model-based reinforcement learning system has been contrasted with a less flexible but more efficient model-free reinforcement learning system. The factors governing which system controls behavior—and under what circumstances—are still unclear. Based on the hypothesis that model-based reinforcement learning requires cognitive resources, we demonstrate that having human decision-makers perform a demanding secondary task engenders increased reliance on a model-free reinforcement learning strategy. Further, we show that across trials, people negotiate this tradeoff dynamically as a function of concurrent executive function demands and their choice latencies reflect the computational expenses of the strategy employed. These results demonstrate that competition between multiple learning systems can be controlled on a trial-by-trial basis by modulating the availability of cognitive resources.
When objects collide, human observers perceive not only motion but also causal relations, such as which object caused the other to move. In the present experiments, we investigated whether such causal interpretations can actually influence the perceived path of apparent motion. Displays contained two alternately flashing motion targets positioned at either end of a semicircular occluder. Two additional “context objects” moved in such a way that the motion targets appeared to collide with and launch them. The collision was manipulated so that it was consistent with apparent motion either along the straight path between the targets or along a curved path passing behind the occluder. Subjects almost exclusively perceived motion consistent with the implied launch, which suggests that causally coherent interpretations can influence basic perceptual processes.
motion perception; causality; visual perception; cognition
Intergroup competition makes social identity salient, which affects how people respond to competitors’ hardships. The failures of a fellow group member are painful, while those of a rival group member may give pleasure—a feeling that may motivate harming rivals. The present study examines whether valuation-related neural responses to rival groups’ failures correlate with likelihood of harming individuals associated with those rivals. Avid fans of the Red Sox and Yankees teams viewed baseball plays while undergoing fMRI. Subjectively negative outcomes (favored-failure, rival-success) activated anterior cingulate cortex and insula, while positive outcomes (favored-success, rival-failure—even against a third team) activated ventral striatum. The ventral striatum effect, associated with subjective pleasure, also correlated with self-reported likelihood of aggressing against a fan of the rival team (controlling for general aggression). Outcomes of social group competition can directly affect primary reward-processing neural systems, with implications for intergroup harm.
When people revisit previous experiences they often engage in episodic counterfactual thinking: mental simulations of alternative ways in which personal past events could have occurred. The present study employs a novel experimental paradigm to examine the influence of repeated simulation on the perceived plausibility of upward, downward and neutral episodic counterfactual thoughts. Participants were asked to remember negative, positive, and neutral autobiographical memories. One week later, they re-simulated self-generated upward, downward, and neutral counterfactual alternatives to those memories either once or four times. The results indicate that repeated simulation of upward, downward and neutral episodic counterfactual events decreases their perceived plausibility while increasing ratings of ease, detail, and valence. This finding suggests differences between episodic counterfactual thoughts and other kinds of self-referential simulations. Possible implications of this finding for pathological and non-pathological anxiety are discussed.
Memory can be modified when reactivated, but little is known about how the properties and extent of reactivation can selectively affect subsequent memory. We developed a novel museum paradigm to directly investigate reactivation-induced plasticity for personal memories. Participants reactivated memories triggered by photos taken from a camera they wore during a museum tour and made relatedness judgments on novel photos taken from a different tour of the same museum. Subsequent recognition memory for events at the museum was better for memories that were highly reactivated (i.e., the retrieval cues during reactivation matched the encoding experience) than for memories that were reactivated at a lower level (i.e., the retrieval cues during reactivation mismatched the encoding experience), but reactivation also increased false recognition of photographs depicting stops that were not experienced during the museum tour. Reactivation thus enables memories to be selectively enhanced and distorted via updating, thereby supporting the dynamic and flexible nature of memory.
memory; false memory; autobiographical memory; episodic memory; long-term memory
The idea that decisions alter preferences has had a considerable influence on the field of psychology and underpins cognitive dissonance theory. Yet it is unknown whether choice-induced changes in preferences are long lasting or are transient manifestations seen in the immediate aftermath of decisions. In the research reported here, we investigated whether these changes in preferences are fleeting or stable. Participants rated vacation destinations immediately after making hypothetical choices between destinations and 2.5 to 3 years later. We found that choices altered preferences both immediately and after the delay. These changes could not be accounted for by participants’ preexisting preferences, and they occurred only when participants made the choices themselves. Our findings provide evidence that making a decision can lead to enduring change in preferences.
decision making; cognitive dissonance; preferences; social cognition
A century of research has described the development of walking based on periodic gait over a straight, uniform path. The current study provides the first corpus of natural infant locomotion based on spontaneous activity during free play. Locomotor experience was immense: 12- to 19-month-olds averaged 2368 steps and fell 17 times/hour. Novice walkers traveled farther faster than expert crawlers, but fall rates were comparable, suggesting that increased efficiency without increased cost motivates expert crawlers to transition to walking. After walking onset, natural locomotion dramatically improved: Infants took more steps, traveled farther distances, and fell less. Walking was distributed in short bouts with variable paths—frequently too short or irregular to qualify as periodic gait. Nonetheless, measures of periodic gait and natural locomotion were correlated, indicating that better walkers spontaneously walk more and fall less. Immense amounts of time-distributed, variable practice constitute the natural practice regimen for learning to walk.
The current study investigated whether 18-months-olds attribute opaque mental states when they solve false belief tests, or simply rely on behavioural cues available in the stimuli. Infants experienced either a trick blindfold that looked opaque but could be seen through, or an opaque blindfold. Then both groups of infants observed an actor wearing the same blindfold that they had themselves experienced, whilst a puppet removed an object from its location. Anticipatory eye movements revealed that infants who experienced the opaque blindfold expected the actor’s action in accord with her having a false belief about the object’s location, but infants who experienced the trick blindfold did not. The results suggest that 18-months-olds used self-experience with the blindfold to assess the actor’s visual access, and updated her knowledge/belief state accordingly. These data constitute compelling evidence that 18-months-olds infer perceptual access and appreciate its causal role in altering epistemic states of others.
Theory of mind; infants; eye-tracking; social cognition
Humans share with nonhuman animals an approximate number system (ANS) that permits estimation and rough calculation of number without symbols. Recent studies show a correlation between the acuity of the ANS and symbolic math performance throughout development and into adulthood, suggesting that the ANS may serve as a cognitive foundation for the uniquely human capacity for symbolic mathematics. Such a proposition leads to the untested prediction that training aimed at improving ANS performance will transfer to improvement in symbolic mathematics. Here, in two experiments, we show that ANS training on approximate addition and subtraction of arrays of dots, selectively improves symbolic addition and subtraction. This finding strongly supports the hypothesis that complex math skills are fundamentally linked to rudimentary preverbal quantitative abilities, provides the first direct evidence that ANS and symbolic math may be causally related, and raises the possibility that interventions aimed at the ANS could benefit children and adults who struggle with math.
Number comprehension; mathematical ability
Reciprocal relations between weight and psychological factors suggest deep connections between mind and body. Personality traits are linked to weight gain; weight gain may likewise be associated with personality change. Using data from two diverse longitudinal samples (total N=1,919; 10 years average follow-up), we show that significant weight gain is associated with increases in both impulsiveness and deliberation: In both samples, middle-aged adults who gained ≥10% of their baseline body weight by follow-up increased in their tendency to give in to temptation, yet were more thoughtful about the consequences of their actions. The present research moves beyond life events to implicate health status in adult personality development. The findings also suggest that interventions that focus on the emotional component of impulse control may be more effective because even those who become more thoughtful about the consequences of their actions may have limited success at inhibiting their behavior.
Compassion is a key motivator of altruistic behavior, but little is known about individuals’ capacity to cultivate compassion through training. We examined whether compassion may be systematically trained by testing whether (i) short-term compassion training increases altruistic behavior, and (ii) individual differences in altruism are associated with training-induced changes in neural responses to suffering. In healthy young adults, we found that compassion training increased altruistic redistribution of funds to a victim encountered outside of the training context. Furthermore, greater altruistic behavior after compassion training was associated with altered activation in regions implicated in social cognition and emotion regulation, including the inferior parietal cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC), and DLPFC connectivity with the nucleus accumbens. These results suggest that compassion can be cultivated with training, where greater altruistic behavior may emerge from increased engagement in neural systems implicated in understanding the suffering of others, executive and emotional control, and reward processing.
compassion; meditation; altruism; emotion regulation; fMRI
Psychological scientists use statistical information to determine the workings of fellow humans. We argue so do young children. In a few years, children progress from viewing human actions as intentional and goal-directed to reasoning about the psychological causes underlying such actions. Here we show that preschoolers and 20-month-old infants can use statistical information – namely, a violation of random sampling – to infer that an agent is expressing a preference for one object over another. Children saw a person remove 5 items of one type from a container of objects. Preschoolers and infants only inferred a preference for that type of object when there was a mismatch between the sample and population. Mere outcome consistency, time spent with and positive attention toward the objects did not lead children to infer a preference. The findings provide an important demonstration of how statistical learning could underpin the rapid acquisition of early psychological knowledge.
Early sexual debut is associated with risky sexual behavior and an increased risk of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections later in life. The relations among early movie sexual exposure (MSE), sexual debut, and risky sexual behavior in adulthood (i.e., multiple sexual partners and inconsistent condom use) were examined in a longitudinal study of U.S. adolescents. MSE was measured using the Beach method, a comprehensive procedure for media content coding. Controlling for characteristics of adolescents and their families, analyses showed that MSE predicted age of sexual debut, both directly and indirectly through changes in sensation seeking. MSE also predicted engagement in risky sexual behaviors both directly and indirectly via early sexual debut. These results suggest that MSE may promote sexual risk taking both by modifying sexual behavior and by accelerating the normal rise in sensation seeking during adolescence.
mass media; sex
In this research, we varied the composition of 4-member groups. One third of the groups consisted exclusively of “locomotors,” individuals predominantly oriented toward action. Another third of the groups consisted exclusively of “assessors,” individuals predominantly oriented toward evaluation. The final third of the groups consisted of a mix of locomotors and assessors. We found that the groups containing only locomotors were faster than the groups containing only assessors, and the groups containing only assessors were more accurate than the groups containing only locomotors. The groups containing a mix of assessors and locomotors were as fast as the groups containing only locomotors and as accurate as the groups containing only assessors. These results echo findings at the individual level of analysis, and suggest that the testing and action components of operating systems independently contribute to performance both intra- and interpersonally.
The present research examines the effect of age, cohort, and time of measurement on well-being across adulthood. Cross-sectional and longitudinal analyses of two independent samples – one with >10,000 repeated assessments across 30 years (Assessments per participant: M =4.44, SD=3.47) and one with nationally representative data – suggested that well-being declines with age. This decline, however, reversed when we controlled for birth cohort. That is, once we accounted for the fact that older cohorts had lower levels of well-being, all cohorts increased in well-being with age relative to their own baseline. Participants tested more recently had higher well-being, but this time of measurement effect did not change the shape of the trajectory as did cohort. Although well-being increased with age for everyone, cohorts that lived through the economic challenges of the early 20th century had lower well-being than those born during more prosperous times.
Human aging is associated with decline in cognitive and physical functioning. Although pulmonary function predicts long-term performance (up to 10 years) on measures of cognitive function, recent data suggest the opposite relationship: Cognitive decline predicts self-reported physical limitations. In the study reported here, we utilized dual-change-score models to determine the directional relationship between pulmonary and cognitive function. Our sample consisted of 832 participants (ages 50–85 years at baseline), who were assessed in up to seven waves of testing across 19 years as part of the longitudinal Swedish Adoption/Twin Study of Aging. Changes in pulmonary function led to subsequent changes in fluid cognitive function, specifically, in tasks reflecting psychomotor speed and spatial abilities. There was no evidence that declines in cognitive function led to subsequent declines in pulmonary function. Thus, these data indicate a directional relationship from decreased pulmonary function to decreased cognitive function, a finding that underscores the importance of maintaining pulmonary function to ensure cognitive performance.
pulmonary function; cognitive function; dual-change-score model; longitudinal model; cognitive ability; statistical analysis; aging; health
Knowledge about regularities in the environment can be used to facilitate perception, memory, and language acquisition. Given this usefulness, we hypothesized that statistically structured sources of information receive attentional priority over noisier sources, independent of their intrinsic salience or goal relevance. We report three experiments that support this hypothesis. Experiment 1 shows that regularities bias spatial attention: Visual search was facilitated at a location containing temporal regularities, even though these regularities did not predict target location, timing, or identity. Experiments 2 and 3 show that regularities bias feature attention: Attentional capture doubled in magnitude when singletons appeared, respectively, in a color or dimension with temporal regularities among task-irrelevant stimuli. Prioritization of the locations and features of regularities is not easily accounted for in the conventional dichotomy between stimulus-driven and goal-directed attention. This prioritization may in turn promote further statistical learning, helping the mind to acquire knowledge about stable aspects of the environment.
statistical learning; attentional capture; cognitive control; feature-based attention; spatial attention; visual search
Low-spatial-frequency (LSF) visual information is processed in an elemental fashion before a finer analysis of high-spatial-frequency information. Further, the amygdala is particularly responsive to LSF information contained within negative (e.g., fearful) facial expressions. In a separate line of research, it has been shown that surprised facial expressions are ambiguous in that they can be interpreted as either negatively or positively valenced. More negative interpretations of surprise are associated with increased ventral amygdala activity. In this report, we show that LSF presentations of surprised expressions bias the interpretation of surprised expressions in a negative direction, a finding suggesting that negative interpretations are first and fast during the resolution of ambiguous valence. We also examined the influence of subjects’ positivity-negativity bias on this effect.
low spatial frequencies; ambiguity; facial expressions; amygdala
Working memory representations play a key role in controlling attention, making it possible to shift attention to task relevant objects. Visual working memory has a capacity of 3–4 objects, but recent studies suggest that only one representation can guide attention at a given moment. We directly tested this proposal by monitoring eye movements while observers searched for one or two different colors in arrays containing two or four different colors. First, we identified behavioral signatures of template use: When observers implemented a single color template, they sequentially searched many consecutive items of a color (long run lengths), and they exhibited a delay prior to switching gaze from one color to another (switch cost). In contrast, when searching two colors simultaneously, observers exhibited short run lengths and no switch costs, consistent with the simultaneous guidance of attention by the two cued colors. Thus, multiple working memory representations can guide attention concurrently.