Posts archived in Cognition and development
June 28, 2011 by Cara Flanagan.
Surprisingly the only non-vertebrate animal protected by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act is the octopus. Why? More and more research is pointing to the octopus as a relatively intelligent animal. They can remember mazes, use tools, solve complex problems and appear to have a rudimentary consciousness. Conducting research on their brains appears quite difficult as they can shut off blood supplies to an area of their body or brain at will. One researcher thought he had anaesthetised an octopus and placed an electrode in its brain … and then found the animal reached up and pulled the electrode out. Another octopus regularly short-circuited the light in its tank by squirting water at it (source).
Octopi brains are quite developed – they are lateralised, like mammalian brains, and also highly folded, greatly increasing the surface area. Some neurons are minaturised permitting more to be packed in.. One researcher, Jennifer Basil, plans to start looking for mirror neurons in a related species, the nautilus. If she finds them it might mean these ancient cephalopods are not as stupid as they look – they may be able to infer the emotional states of another animal, which might explain why one researcher said octopi seem to know what he is thinking. Spooky.
December 14, 2010 by Evie Bentley.
A small study of Canadian infants and toddlers found that those who slept most at night were making significantly more progress in executive functions than those who slept less at night, even if the latter group also had daytime sleep. These functions include impulse control, memory and mental flexibility. The researchers controlled for parents’ education and income and children’s general cognition, but the link between night-time sleep and development of cognitive skills remained. These finding support similar research findings on schoolchildren.
Might this also apply to older childern and adults? That would be interesting to know!
Annie Bernier, Stephanie M. Carlson, Stéphanie Bordeleau, Julie Carrier. Relations Between Physiological and Cognitive Regulatory Systems: Infant Sleep Regulation and Subsequent Executive Functioning. Child Development, 2010; 81 (6)
October 14, 2010 by Cara Flanagan.
The mirror test (sometimes also called the mark or rouge test) is used to assess self-awareness in babies. A smudge of red colouring is placed on the infant’s nose and then they are placed in front of a mirror. If the infant responds by touching the mirror they have no self-awareness whereas if they touch the red mark on their nose this indicates comprehension that what they see in the mirror is themselves. Self-recognition is an important developmental stage, usually reached by about 2 years of age. (The test is also used with different animal species to see if they have self-awareness – the picture shows Happy the Elephant. See if you think she passed the test by looking at the video here).
A recent cross-cultural study by Broesch et al. (2010) found very different rates in different countries. In the US 88% of children passed the test by age 5, in Peru it was 52% whereas in Kenya only 2 children passed and in Fiji no children passed. The researchers don’t think the results are due to lack of self-recognition nor due to unfamiliarity with mirrors (animals pass the test despite never having seen a mirror). They suggest it may be related to the fact that children in some societies are discouraged from asking questions and lack the self-focus involved in self-recognition.
The key lesson, however, is the caution that is necessary in interpreting the behaviour of people in different cultures and in using techniques developed in one culture which we assume have universal meaning (called an imposed etic).
July 30, 2010 by Evie Bentley.
University students in north-east England have been taking part in a study to see the effects of binge drinking on memory. So what counted as binge drinking? Imbibing 6 units of alcohol in a drinking session twice a week or more was the criterion, and those students with other habits such as smoking and drug taking were screened out. Anxiety, age and depression had no effect on the results of both the binge drinkers and the control non-binging group.
The experimental task was to watch a 10-minute video clip of a Scarborough Read the rest of this entry »
May 19, 2010 by Adrian Frost.
Dreams, drugs, intelligence, memory, infant brains, psychoanalysis, human evolution and many more – Loads of online broadcasts from Melvyn Bragg’s ‘In Our Time’ Radio 4 series to be found here – all free – it makes one proud to be a licence payer….
April 23, 2010 by Cara Flanagan.
Some of you may not be aware of the wonderful BPS research digest which presents short descriptions of recent research. It is published fortnightly. You can subscribe to it or just have a look here.
The most recent digest published details of research by Arne Mukamel et al. (2010) which seems to have produced the first ever direct glimpse of mirror neurons in humans. The researchers made use of investigations being conducted on patients with severe epilepsy. These patients had electrodes implanted into their brains to identify the location of their seizures – this meant the researchers could record the acivity of individual cells. Mukamel et al. arranged for 21 of the patients and his colleagues recruited 21 of these patients to look at videos of hand gestures or facial expressions on a laptop, or to perform those same gestures and expressions. Most of the 1177 cells that were recorded showed a response either to the execution of an action or the sight of that action, not both. However, 8% of the cells responded to both i.e. were ‘mirror’ neurons. The observed cells were located in the front of the brain, the region involved in planning and controlling actions, abstract thinking and memory.
Past research suggested that mirror neurons existed in the regions of the brain involved in performing actions so this new research may support the idea that mirror neurons are important for empathy. The ultimate test would be to block the activity of mirror neurons and see if a person could still understand the actions of another person.
October 24, 2009 by Evie Bentley.
Train your baby to grow up a genius? That is the idea behind a load of commercial stimulus materials such as the Disney Baby Einstein videos, books, flashcards, toys, and so on (seemingly anything marketable ). We have described these products on page 219 of the A2 Complete Companion, along with a study that showed that watching the DVDs can lead to a poorer developmental outcome. Now Disney is refunding the cost of the videos to anyone who purchased them!! The refunds are because a range of studies have shown that watching TV is potentially harmful for the under-2s, and linked early TV watching to attentional problems at around age 7. It would be interesting to know if the brain’s developing connections are affected by environmental input, something which has very tricky ethical issues but which might be abe to be done as a natural experiment. The emphasis on stimulating cognitive development is still on positive adult-child interactions.
September 12, 2009 by Adrian Frost.
“For as long as IQ tests have existed, there has been a steady, progressive and ubiquitous improvement in the average scores people achieve at a given age, mainly because of a raising of the lower scores. On average, IQ is increasing by 3 per cent per decade. The effect is so strong that it implies that half of children in 1932, if given today’s tests, would score under 80 – the threshold for mental retardation.
Known as the Flynn Effect (after James Flynn), this phenomenon was initially dismissed as a result of changes in tests, or a reflection of better schooling. But the facts do not fit. Improvement is most marked in the types of test that relate least to educational content. Moreover, the effect is weakest in the cleverest children. It is a levelling-up phenomenon that results in a happy increase in equality.
After much agonising debate among psychologists, three explanations seem to make the most sense. The first is that (despite fast food) most children now get sufficient essential nutrients, vitamins, amino acids and oils to allow their Read the rest of this entry »