October 21, 2014

Zeigarnik Effect

Zeigarnik recall

Bluma Zeigarnik (1901 – 1988) was a Soviet psychologist and psychiatrist who discovered the Zeigarnik [zy-gar-nikeffect, which states that people remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. She first studied the phenomenon after her professor, Gestalt psychologist Kurt Lewin, noticed that a waiter had better recollections of still unpaid orders. However, after the completion of the task – after everyone had paid – he was unable to remember any more details of the orders.

The advantage of remembrance can be explained by looking at Lewin’s field theory (a framework which examines patterns of interaction between the individual and the total field, or environment): a task that has already been started establishes a task-specific tension, which improves cognitive accessibility of the relevant contents. Task completion alleviates the tension. In case of task interruption the reduction of tension is impeded. Through continuous tension the content is easier accessible and it can be easily remembered. Continue reading

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October 20, 2014

Behavioral Immune System

rachel herz

The behavioral immune system is a phrase coined by psychologist Mark Schaller of the University of British Columbia to refer to a suite of psychological mechanisms that allow individual organisms to detect the potential presence of disease-causing parasites in their immediate environment, and to engage in behaviors that prevent contact with those objects and individuals (or remediate their effects).

These mechanisms include sensory processes through which cues connoting the presence of parasitic infections are perceived (e.g., the smell of a foul odor, the sight of pox or pustules), as well as stimulus–response systems through which these sensory cues trigger a cascade of aversive affective, cognitive, and behavioral reactions (e.g., arousal of disgust, automatic activation of cognitions that connote the threat of disease, behavioral avoidance). Continue reading

October 19, 2014

Jordan Peterson

maps of meaning

Jordan B. Peterson is a tenured research and clinical PhD psychologist at the University of Toronto. He frequently appears on TVO (an Ontario television network) to speak about his research interests including, self-deception, mythology, religion, narrative, neuroscience, personality, deception, creativity, intelligence and motivation. In student surveys his courses are regularly described as ‘life-changing.’

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October 16, 2014

Foil

the odd couple

In fiction, a foil is a character who contrasts with another character (usually the protagonist) in order to highlight particular qualities in their counterpart (the term derives from the practice of backing gems with foil to increase their brilliance). In some cases, a subplot can be used as a foil to the main plot, particularly in metafiction (‘breaking the fourth wall’) and the ‘story within a story’ motif. A foil often differs drastically from the lead character, but can also be extremely similar, with only a key difference setting them apart. Foils generally serve one or more of three broad functions: contrast (‘this is different than X’), exclusion (‘this is not X’), or blame (‘X did this’).

In ‘Frankenstein,’ by Mary Shelley, the two main characters of Dr. Frankenstein and his ‘Adam of your Labors,’ his ‘creature,’ his ‘wretch,’ are both together literary foils. Both are hungry for knowledge, but whereas the doctor is selfish and arrogant, the monster is compassionate and gentle. In ‘Pride and Prejudice,’ Mary’s absorption in her studies places her as a foil to her sister Lydia Bennet’s lively and distracted nature. Similarly, in Shakespeare’s ‘Julius Caesar,’ the naive Brutus has foils in Cassius and Mark Antony, who are ambitious and experienced politicians.

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October 6, 2014

Sidekick

Sancho Panza by Antonio Saura

A sidekick is a close companion who is generally regarded as subordinate to the one he accompanies. Some well-known fictional sidekicks include Don Quixote’s Sancho Panza, Sherlock Holmes’ Doctor Watson, The Lone Ranger’s Tonto, and Batman’s Robin.

The origin of the term is unknown. It was originally ‘side kicker’ (as seen in the short stories of American writer O Henry), having grown from the 1850s term ‘side partner.’ Contrary to popular folk etymology, it is unrelated to the early-20th century British pickpocket slang ‘kick,’ referring to a trouser pocket. One of the earliest recorded sidekicks may be Enkidu, who adopted a sidekick role to Gilgamesh after they became allies in the ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ (an epic poem from Mesopotamia). Other early examples include Achilles’ Patroclus from the ‘Iliad,’ and Moses’ Aaron from the Bible. Continue reading

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October 3, 2014

Comic Relief

Faustus

Comic relief is the inclusion of a humorous character, scene, or witty dialogue in an otherwise serious work, often to relieve tension. It is a narrative technique that momentarily alleviates the stressful emotions and angst building up in a dramatic story. Comic relief often takes the form of a bumbling, wisecracking sidekick of the hero or villain in a work of fiction. The secondary character will often remark on the absurdity of the hero’s situation and make comments that would be inappropriate for a character who is to be taken seriously. Other characters may use comic relief as a means to irritate others or keep themselves confident.

Comic relief can also occur during dramatic moments in comedies. Greek tragedy does not allow any comic relief. Even the Elizabethan critic Sidney following Horace’s ‘Ars Poetic’ pleaded for the exclusion of comic elements from a tragic drama. But in Renaissance England, Marlowe among the University Wits (a group of late-16th-century English playwrights and pamphleteers who were educated at Oxford or Cambridge) introduced comic relief through the presentation of crude scenes in ‘Doctor Faustus’ following the native tradition of Interlude which was usually introduced between two tragic plays. In fact, in the classical tradition the mingling of the tragic and the comic was not allowed.

October 2, 2014

Jar Jar Binks

The People vs George Lucas

Jar Jar Binks is a fictional character from the Star Wars saga created by George Lucas for his prequel trilogy. He was the first lead computer generated character of the franchise, he was portrayed by Ahmed Best in most of his appearances. Jar Jar’s primary role in ‘Episode I’ was to provide comic relief for the audience, and was generally met with extremely negative comments from both critics and viewers. He is often acknowledged as one of the worst and most hated characters of all time.

Joe Morgenstern of ‘The Wall Street Journal’ described him as a ‘Rastafarian Stepin Fetchit on platform hoofs, crossed annoyingly with Butterfly McQueen.’ Race theorist Patricia J. Williams suggested that many aspects of Jar Jar’s character are reminiscent of blackface minstrelsy, while others have suggested the character is a ‘laid-back clown character’ representing a black Caribbean stereotype. George Lucas has denied any racist implications. Ahmed Best also rejected the allegations, saying that ‘Jar Jar has nothing to do with the Caribbean.’ Continue reading

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October 1, 2014

Fan Edit

The Phantom Edit

A fan edit is a version of a film modified by a viewer, that removes, reorders, or adds material in order to create a new interpretation of the source material. This includes the removal of scenes or dialogue, replacement of audio and/or visual elements, and adding material from sources such as deleted scenes or even other films. The field was popularized by an individual calling himself the ‘Phantom Editor’ (later revealed as professional editor Mike J. Nichols). He removed elements from George Lucas’ ‘The Phantom Menace’ that he felt detracted from the film, and made minor changes in dialogue, languages, and subtitles to give the film’s villains a more menacing tone.

There were a total of 18 minutes cut from the original film, reducing the run time from 136 minutes to 118 minutes. The end result became known as ‘The Phantom Edit,’ which circulated Hollywood studios on VHS in 2000. It was the first unauthorized re-edit of a major film to receive publicity and acclaim and inspired dozens of other edits to surface on the internet. Lucasfilm, the production company of series creator George Lucas, condoned the edit, and did not pursue legal action against its distributors. Continue reading

September 30, 2014

Bayesian Probability

bayes by Shannon May

Bayesian [bey-zee-uhnprobability is the likelihood that something will happen based on all available evidence. The more commonly understood concept of frequency probability is the chance that something will happen based only on past occurrences. Rather than interpreting probability as merely the propensity of some phenomenon, Bayesian probability is a quantity assigned for the purpose of representing a state of knowledge, or a state of belief. This allows the application of probability to all sorts of propositions rather than just ones that come with a reference class (historical data).

‘Prior probability’ is information about a hypothesis known before the experiment is undertaken (e.g. a flipped coin has a 50% chance of landing on heads), information learned afterwards is called ‘Posterior probability’ (e.g. if a coin lands on heads many times in a row it is probably improperly weighted). The term ‘Bayesian’ refers to 18th century mathematician and theologian Thomas Bayes, who summarized the theory thusly: ‘The probability of any event is the ratio between the value at which an expectation depending on the happening of the event ought to be computed, and the value of the thing expected upon its happening.’ (i.e. Likelihood equals Prior probability over Posterior probability.) Continue reading

September 29, 2014

Under the Banner of Heaven

blood brothers

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith’ is a 2003 investigative nonfiction book by Jon Krakauer. It is a juxtaposition of two stories: the origin and evolution of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), and a modern double murder committed in the name of God by brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who subscribed to a fundamentalist version of Mormonism.

The title is drawn from an 1880 address by John Taylor, the third president of the LDS Church, defending the practice of plural marriage: ‘God is greater than the United States, and when the Government conflicts with heaven, we will be ranged under the banner of heaven against the Government. The United States says we cannot marry more than one wife. God says different…’ Continue reading

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September 24, 2014

Flehmen Response

cat butt

horse flehman

The flehmen [fley-muhnresponse is a common animal behavior when investigating sites of particular interest (e.g. a male smelling female urine) characterized by curling back the top lips exposing the front teeth and gums, then inhaling and holding the posture for several seconds. The behavior may be performed over particular locations, in which case the animal may also lick the site of interest, or it may be performed with the neck stretched and head held high in the air.

Flehmen (German: ‘to bare the upper teeth’) is performed by a wide range of mammals including ungulates (hoofed animals) and felids (cats). The behavior facilitates the transfer of pheromones and other scents into the vomeronasal organ (pheromone detector) located above the roof of the mouth via a duct which exits just behind the front teeth of the animal. Continue reading

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September 23, 2014

Ideomotor Phenomenon

ouija

dowsing

The ideomotor [id-ee-uh-moh-tereffect is a psychological phenomenon wherein a subject makes motions unconsciously; for example, the body produces tears in response to powerful emotions without the person consciously deciding to cry. As in involuntary responses to pain, the body sometimes reacts reflexively to ideas alone without the person consciously deciding to take action.

The effects of automatic writing (an alleged psychic ability allowing a person to produce written words without consciously writing), dowsing (a type of divination employed in attempts to locate ground water without the use of scientific tools), facilitated communication (a process by which a person supports the hand or arm of a communicatively impaired individual while using a keyboard), and Ouija boards have been attributed to the phenomenon. Mystics have often attributed these effects to paranormal or supernatural force. Many subjects are unconvinced that their actions are originating solely from within themselves. Continue reading

September 22, 2014

Embodied Cognition

Image schema

Embodied Cognition is a theory stating that the nature of the human mind is largely determined by the form of the human body. Philosophers, psychologists, cognitive scientists, and artificial intelligence researchers who study the ‘embodied mind’ argue that all aspects of cognition are shaped by the body, such as high level mental constructs (e.g. concepts, categories) and performance on various intellectual tasks (e.g. reasoning, judgment). These mental processes are limited by physical ones, such as the motor and perceptual systems, the body’s interactions with the environment (situatedness), and the ontological assumptions about the world that are built into the body and the brain.

In social psychology, embodiment is relevant to studies of social interaction and decision-making. According to embodied cognition, the motor system influences our cognition, just as the mind influences bodily actions. For example, when participants hold a pencil in their teeth engaging the muscles of a smile, they comprehend pleasant sentences faster than unpleasant ones, while holding a pencil between their nose and upper lip to engage the muscles of a frown has the reverse effect. Continue reading

September 18, 2014

Mental Rotation

Mental Rotation

Mental rotation is the ability to rotate mental representations of two-dimensional and three-dimensional objects. The ability is somewhat localized to the right cerebral hemisphere, largely in the same areas as perception, and is associated with spatial processing and general intelligence but not verbal skills.

Mental rotation is the brain moving objects in order to understand what they are and where they belong. It has been studied to try to figure out how the mind recognizes objects in the environment. Researchers call these objects stimuli. A stimulus then would be any object or image seen in the person’s environment that has been altered in some way. Mental rotation then takes place for the person to figure out what the altered object is. Continue reading

September 17, 2014

Error Management Theory

Johnny Bravo

Error Management (EM) is an extensive theory of perception and cognitive biases that was created by psychologists David Buss and Martie Haselton. They describe a set of heuristics (mental shortcuts) that have survived evolutionary history because they hold slight reproductive benefits. The premise of the theory is built around the drive to reduce or manage costly reproductive errors. According to the theory, when there are differences in the cost of errors made under conditions of uncertainty, selection favors ‘adaptive biases,’ which ensure that the less costly survival or reproductive error will be committed.

When faced with uncertainty, a subject can make two possible errors: type I (false-positive or playing it safe, e.g. a fire alarm that later turns out to be a false alarm) and type II (false-negative or siding with skepticism, e.g. ignoring an often faulty fire alarm during an actual emergency). Error Management Theory asserts that evolved ‘mind-reading’ agencies will be biased to produce more for the first type of error, which explains the ‘sexual overperception bias,’ the tendency for men to incorrectly assume a platonic gesture from a woman is a sexual signal. Continue reading

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