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Archive for February 2010

Nouns and Verbs Are Learned in Different Parts of the Brain

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Two Spanish psychologists and a German neurologist have recently shown that the brain that activates when a person learns a new noun is different from the part used when a verb is learned. The scientists observed this using brain images taken using functional magnetic resonance, according to an article they have published this month in the journal NeuroImage.

A direct comparison (using functional magnetic resonance) between words in Spanish (eg “house”) and new words (eg., “Mane”). The greater activation corresponds to the new words. The task in the new words was to infer its meaning (associated with a verb or a noun) from verbal context (two sentences, which was repeated two times the new word). The images show the great activation of brain areas from language (Broca’s area, temporal gyrus, middle) and others involved in other cognitive functions (eg., cognitive and attentional control) when we extract the meaning of the words. (Credit: Mestres-Misse et al.)
“Learning nouns activates the left fusiform gyrus, while learning verbs switches on other regions (the left inferior frontal gyrus and part of the left posterior medial temporal gyrus),” says Antoni Rodríguez-Fornells, co-author of the study and an ICREA researcher at the Cognition and Brain Plasticity Unit of the University of Barcelona.

The Catalan researcher, along with psychologist Anna Mestres-Missé, who is currently working at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, and neurologist Thomas F. Münte from the Otto-von-Guericke University in Magdeburg, in Germany, have just published the results of their study confirming the neural differences in the map of the brain when a person learns new nouns and verbs in the journal Neuroimage.

The team knew that many patients with brain damage exhibit dissociation in processing these kinds of words, and that children learn nouns before verbs. Adults also perform better and react faster to nouns during cognitive tests.

Based on these ideas, the researchers devised an experiment to confirm whether these differences could be seen in the brain. To do this, they set 21 people a test to learn new nouns and verbs, and recorded their neural reactions using functional magnetic resonance imaging. This technique makes it possible to observe how regions of the brain activate while a person is carrying out a specific task.

The test consisted of working out the meaning of a new term based on the context provided in two sentences. For example, in the phrase “The girl got a jat for Christmas” and “The best man was so nervous he forgot the jat,” the noun jat means “ring.” Similarly, with “The student is nising noodles for breakfast” and “The man nised a delicious meal for her” the hidden verb is “cook.”

“This task simulates, at an experimental level, how we acquire part of our vocabulary over the course of our lives, by discovering the meaning of new words in written contexts,” explains Rodríguez-Fornells. “This kind of vocabulary acquisition based on verbal contexts is one of the most important mechanisms for learning new words during childhood and later as adults, because we are constantly learning new terms.”

The participants had to learn 80 new nouns and 80 new verbs. By doing this, the brain imaging showed that new nouns primarily activate the left fusiform gyrus (the underside of the temporal lobe associated with visual and object processing), while the new verbs activated part of the left posterior medial temporal gyrus (associated with semantic and conceptual aspects) and the left inferior frontal gyrus (involved in processing grammar).

In addition, there was a positive correlation between activation of certain parts of the brain (the bilateral hippocampus and the bilateral putamen) and the efficiency of learning new nouns, but not new verbs.

“These results suggest that the same regions previously associated with the representation of the meaning of nouns and verbs are also associated with establishing correspondences between these meanings and new words, a process that is necessary for learning a second language,” says Rodríguez-Fornells.

The researcher explains that the study cannot be used in practice for learning languages, “but it does touch on one of the most important aspects, which is the degree to which we use different information in verbal contexts, as well as possibly different neural networks, in learning different kinds of words with different grammatical functions.”

NeuroImage Volume 49, Issue 3, 1 February 2010, Pages 2826-2835
Neural differences in the mapping of verb and noun concepts onto novel words
Anna Mestres-Missé a, Corresponding Author
Antoni Rodriguez-Fornells b, c and
Thomas F. Münte a, d

a Department of Neuropsychology, Otto-von-Guericke University, 39106, Magdeburg, Germany

b Department of Ciències Fisiològiques, Faculty of Medicine, Campus de Bellvitge-IDIBELL, University of Barcelona, 08907, Barcelona, Spain

c Institució Catalana de Recerca i Estudis Avançats (ICREA), Barcelona, Spain

d Center for Behavioral Brain Sciences, 39016, Magdeburg, Germany

Abstract A dissociation between noun and verb processing has been found in brain damaged patients leading to the proposal that different word classes are supported by different neural representations. This notion is supported by the facts that children acquire nouns faster and adults usually perform better for nouns than verbs in a range of tasks. In the present study, we simulated word learning in a variant of the human simulation paradigm that provided only linguistic context information and required young healthy adults to map noun or verb meanings to novel words. The mapping of a meaning associated with a new-noun and a new-verb recruited different brain regions as revealed by functional magnetic resonance imaging. While new-nouns showed greater activation in the left fusiform gyrus, larger activation was observed for new-verbs in the left posterior middle temporal gyrus and left inferior frontal gyrus (opercular part). Furthermore, the activation in several regions of the brain (for example the bilateral hippocampus and bilateral putamen) was positively correlated with the efficiency of new-noun but not new-verb learning. The present results suggest that the same brain regions that have previously been associated with the representation of meaning of nouns and verbs are also associated with the mapping of such meanings to novel words, a process needed in second language learning.

Written by huehueteotl

February 28, 2010 at 4:08 pm

Posted in Neuroscience

Others May Know Us Better Than We Know Ourselves

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Since at least the days of Socrates, humans have been advised to “know thyself.” And through all the years, many, including many personality and social psychologists, have believed the individual is the best judge of his or her own personality.

Now a psychologist at Washington University in St. Louis has shown that we are not the know-it-alls that we think we are.

Simine Vazire, Ph.D., Washington University assistant professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences, has found that the individual is more accurate in assessing one’s own internal, or neurotic traits, such as anxiety, while friends are better barometers of intellect-related traits, such as intelligence and creativity, and even strangers are equally adept as our friends and ourselves at spotting the extrovert in us all, a psychology domain known as “extroversion.”

“I think that it’s important to really question this knee-jerk reaction that we are our own best experts,” says Vazire. “Personality is not who you think you are, it’s who you are. Some people think by definition that we are the experts on our personality because we get to write the story, but personality is not the story — it’s the reality. So, you do get to write your own story about how you think you are, and what you tell people about yourself, but there still is reality out there, and, guess what? Other people are going to see the reality, regardless of what story you believe.”

Personality, Vazire says, is pervasive in many things that we do — clothing choice, bedroom arrangement, Web site and Facebook profiles, for example. “Everything you touch you leave a mark of your personality,” she says. “You leave traces unintentionally. You give off hints of your personality that you don’t even see yourself.”

Vazire’s study is published in the February 2010 issue of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Personality is comprised of the underlying traits that drive behavior, Vazire says. The model she developed is called the self-other knowledge asymmetry (SOKA) model. To test it she called upon 165 volunteers who were given a number of different tasks. To obtain an objective measure of behavior, they took an IQ test; they all participated in a group discussion called a leaderless group discussion to see who emerged as the take-charge individual; and they took a Trier social stress test, in which trained experimenters with faux stern demeanors filmed participants in a narrow, cramped room, as they gave a two-minute public speaking exhibition on the topic of what I like and don’t like about my body. A sweat-inducer for many. Each participant also graded group members and him or herself on a 40-trait personality rating form.

Her model correctly predicted that self ratings would be more accurate for internal things, such as thoughts and feelings, sadness and anxiety, for example, than the ratings of friends and strangers.

“You probably know pretty well your anxiety level, whereas others might not be in the position to judge that because, after all, you can mask your inner feelings,” Vazire says. “Others, though, are often better than the self in things that deal with overt behavior.”

The self has difficulty in accurately judging itself in areas that are desirable or undesirable, what she calls evaluative traits. Intelligence, attractiveness, creativity are hard for the self to judge objectively because “there is so much at stake, meaning your life is going to be so much different if you are intelligent or not intelligent, attractive or not. Everybody wants to be seen as intelligent and attractive, but these desirable traits we’re not going to judge accurately in ourselves.”

The self is better at judging friends’ intelligence than its own “because it’s not that threatening to us to admit that our friends aren’t brilliant, but it’s more threatening to admit to ourselves that we’re not brilliant.”

Take attractiveness and your mirror. “We look in the mirror all the time, yet that’s not the same as looking at a photo of someone else,” Vazire says. “If we spent as much time looking at photos of others as we do ourselves we’d form a much more confident and clear impression of the other’s attractiveness than we would have of our own. Yet after looking in the mirror for five minutes we’re still left wondering, ‘Am I attractive or not?’ And still have no clue. And it’s not the case that we all assume that we’re beautiful, right?”

For some personality traits, she says we miss the point if we look at thoughts and feelings and ignore the behavior. Bullies, for instance, fit the SOKA model, because their thoughts and feelings tell them they’re insecure and want to be liked and admired, which is not a horrible, nasty notion. They cannot see their behavior as nasty and horrible, though, because their thoughts obscure their actions.

Similarly, if you think that you are warm and friendly, and your friends and family say even if you think along those lines, you don’t come across that way, you might pay more attention to your behaviors.

“I believe I’ve presented evidence that should make people think twice,” Vazire says. “On average, the people who know you best know you as well as you know yourself, no better, no worse than you. More importantly, there are things that both you know that they don’t know, and things that they know that you don’t know, and those lead to very interesting experiences and disagreements.”

Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 2010 Volume 98, Issue 2 (Feb) Pages 281-300
Who knows what about a person? The self–other knowledge asymmetry (SOKA) model.
Vazire, Simine

This article tests a new model for predicting which aspects of personality are best judged by the self and which are best judged by others. Previous research suggests an asymmetry in the accuracy of personality judgments: Some aspects of personality are known better to the self than others and vice versa. According to the self–other knowledge asymmetry (SOKA) model presented here, the self should be more accurate than others for traits low in observability (e.g., neuroticism), whereas others should be more accurate than the self for traits high in evaluativeness (e.g., intellect). In the present study, 165 participants provided self-ratings and were rated by 4 friends and up to 4 strangers in a round-robin design. Participants then completed a battery of behavioral tests from which criterion measures were derived. Consistent with SOKA model predictions, the self was the best judge of neuroticism-related traits, friends were the best judges of intellect-related traits, and people of all perspectives were equally good at judging extraversion-related traits. The theoretical and practical value of articulating this asymmetry is discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2009 APA, all rights reserved)

Written by huehueteotl

February 28, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Psychology

General Intelligence – What Is It?

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A collaborative team of neuroscientists at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the University of Iowa, the University of Southern California (USC), and the Autonomous University of Madrid have mapped the brain structures that affect general intelligence.

The brain regions important for general intelligence are found in several specific places (orange regions shown on the brain on the left). Looking inside the brain reveals the connections between these regions, which are particularly important to general intelligence. In the image on the right, the brain has been made partly transparent. The big orange regions in the right image are connections (like cables) that connect the specific brain regions in the image on the left. (Credit: PNAS)

The study, to be published the week of February 22 in the early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, adds new insight to a highly controversial question: What is intelligence, and how can we measure it?

The research team included Jan Gläscher, first author on the paper and a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech, and Ralph Adolphs, the Bren Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience and professor of biology. The Caltech scientists teamed up with researchers at the University of Iowa and USC to examine a uniquely large data set of 241 brain-lesion patients who all had taken IQ tests. The researchers mapped the location of each patient’s lesion in their brains, and correlated that with each patient’s IQ score to produce a map of the brain regions that influence intelligence.

“General intelligence, often referred to as Spearman’s g-factor, has been a highly contentious concept,” says Adolphs. “But the basic idea underlying it is undisputed: on average, people’s scores across many different kinds of tests are correlated. Some people just get generally high scores, whereas others get generally low scores. So it is an obvious next question to ask whether such a general ability might depend on specific brain regions.”

The researchers found that, rather than residing in a single structure, general intelligence is determined by a network of regions across both sides of the brain.

“One of the main findings that really struck us was that there was a distributed system here. Several brain regions, and the connections between them, were what was most important to general intelligence,” explains Gläscher.

“It might have turned out that general intelligence doesn’t depend on specific brain areas at all, and just has to do with how the whole brain functions,” adds Adolphs. “But that’s not what we found. In fact, the particular regions and connections we found are quite in line with an existing theory about intelligence called the ‘parieto-frontal integration theory.’ It says that general intelligence depends on the brain’s ability to integrate — to pull together — several different kinds of processing, such as working memory.”

The researchers say the findings will open the door to further investigations about how the brain, intelligence, and environment all interact.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, February 22, 2010 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0910397107
Distributed neural system for general intelligence revealed by lesion mapping.
J. Gläscher, D. Rudrauf, R. Colom, L. K. Paul, D. Tranel, H. Damasio, and R. Adolphs

Abstract General intelligence (g) captures the performance variance shared across cognitive tasks and correlates with real-world success. Yet it remains debated whether g reflects the combined performance of brain systems involved in these tasks or draws on specialized systems mediating their interactions. Here we investigated the neural substrates of g in 241 patients with focal brain damage using voxel-based lesion–symptom mapping. A hierarchical factor analysis across multiple cognitive tasks was used to derive a robust measure of g. Statistically significant associations were found between g and damage to a remarkably circumscribed albeit distributed network in frontal and parietal cortex, critically including white matter association tracts and frontopolar cortex. We suggest that general intelligence draws on connections between regions that integrate verbal, visuospatial, working memory, and executive processes.

Written by huehueteotl

February 23, 2010 at 8:40 am

Posted in Neuroscience

Marijuana Has ‘Therapeutic Value’; Research Reported to California Legislature

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Researchers from the University of California’s Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research (CMCR) have found “reasonable evidence that cannabis is a promising treatment” for some specific, pain-related medical conditions. Their findings, presented February 17 to the California legislature and public, are included in a report available on the CMCR web site.

“We focused on illnesses where current medical treatment does not provide adequate relief or coverage of symptoms,” explained CMCR director, Igor Grant, MD, Executive Vice-Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at the UCSD School of Medicine. “These findings provide a strong, science-based context in which policy makers and the public can begin discussing the place of cannabis in medical care.”

Researchers have completed five scientific clinical trials, with more in progress. These studies showed that cannabis can be helpful in easing pain in selected syndromes caused by injury or diseases of the nervous system and possibly for painful muscle spasms due to multiple sclerosis.

“These scientists created an unparalleled program of systematic research, focused on science-based answers rather than political or social beliefs,” said Senator John Vasconcellos, original author of The Medical Marijuana Research Act of 1999 (SB847) which led to the creation of the CMCR.

Study results have been published in high-impact medical journals, garnering national and international attention which prompted leading experts to come together and foster scientific dialog on the possible uses of cannabis as a therapeutic agent. More study will be necessary to figure out the mechanisms of action and the full therapeutic potential of cannabinoid compounds, according to the UC researchers.

Written by huehueteotl

February 22, 2010 at 8:48 am

Posted in Science

Facebook Narcissism

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A 2008 University of Georgia study suggests that online social networking sites such as Facebook might be useful tools for detecting whether someone is a narcissist.

“We found that people who are narcissistic use Facebook in a self-promoting way that can be identified by others,” said lead author Laura Buffardi, a by then doctoral student in psychology who co-authored the study with associate professor W. Keith Campbell.

The researchers gave personality questionnaires to nearly 130 Facebook users, analyzed the content of the pages and had untrained strangers view the pages and rate their impression of the owner’s narcissism.

The researchers found that the number of Facebook friends and wallposts that individuals have on their profile pages correlates with narcissism. Buffardi said this is consistent with how narcissists behave in the real-world, with numerous yet shallow relationships. Narcissists are also more likely to choose glamorous, self-promoting pictures for their main profile photos, she said, while others are more likely to use snapshots.

Untrained observers were able to detect narcissism, too. The researchers found that the observers used three characteristics – quantity of social interaction, attractiveness of the individual and the degree of self promotion in the main photo – to form an impression of the individual’s personality. “People aren’t perfect in their assessments,” Buffardi said, “but our results show they’re somewhat accurate in their judgments.”

Narcissism is a trait of particular interest, Campbell said, because it hampers the ability form healthy, long-term relationships. “Narcissists might initially be seen as charming, but they end up using people for their own advantage,” Campbell said. “They hurt the people around them and they hurt themselves in the long run.”

The tremendous growth of social networking sites – Facebook now has 100 million users, for example – has led psychologists to explore how personality traits are expressed online. Buffardi and Campbell chose Facebook because it’s the most popular networking site among college students and because it has a fixed format that makes it easier for researchers to compare user pages.

Some researchers in the past have found that personal Web pages are more popular among narcissists, but Campbell said there’s no evidence that Facebook users are more narcissistic than others.

“Nearly all of our students use Facebook, and it seems to be a normal part of people’s social interactions,” Campbell said. “It just turns out that narcissists are using Facebook the same way they use their other relationships – for self promotion with an emphasis on quantity of over quality.”

Still, he points out that because narcissists tend to have more contacts on Facebook, any given Facebook user is likely to have an online friend population with a higher proportion of narcissists than in the real world. Right now it’s too early to predict if or how the norms of online self-promotion will change, Campbell said, since the study of social networking sites is still in its infancy.

“We’ve undergone a social change in the last four or five years and now almost every student manages their relationships through Facebook – something that few older people do,” Campbell said. “It’s a completely new social world that we’re just beginning to understand.”

Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Oct 2008; vol. 34: pp. 1303 – 1314.
Narcissism and Social Networking Web Sites.
Laura E. Buffardi and W. Keith Campbell

The present research examined how narcissism is manifested on a social networking Web site (i.e., Narcissistic personality self-reports were collected from social networking Web page owners. Then their Web pages were coded for both objective and subjective content features. Finally, strangers viewed the Web pages and rated their impression of the owner on agentic traits, communal traits, and narcissism. Narcissism predicted (a) higher levels of social activity in the online community and (b) more self-promoting content in several aspects of the social networking Web pages. Strangers who viewed the Web pages judged more narcissistic Web page owners to be more narcissistic. Finally, mediational analyses revealed several Web page content features that were influential in raters’ narcissistic impressions of the owners, including quantity of social interaction, main photo self-promotion, and main photo attractiveness. Implications of the expression of narcissism in social networking communities are discussed.

Written by huehueteotl

February 18, 2010 at 10:05 pm

Posted in Psychology

Be Convincing Be Abstract?

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When consumers talk to each other about products, they generally respond more favorably to abstract language than concrete descriptions, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research.

“In a series of experiments, we explored when and why consumers use abstract language in word-of-mouth messages, and how these differences in language use affect the receiver,” write authors Gaby A. C. Schellekens, Peeter W. J. Verlegh, and Ale Smidts (Erasmus University, The Netherlands).

In the course of their studies, the authors found that consumers who described a positive experience with a product (like a smooth shave with a new razor) used more abstract language when they had a positive opinion about the brand before they tried the product. “When consumers were told that the product was a brand they did not like, they used more concrete language to describe a positive experience. Thus, consumers use different ways of describing the exact same experience, depending on whether they use a liked or disliked brand,” the authors write.

For a disliked brand, favorable experiences are seen as exceptions, and concrete language helps consumers to frame the experience as a one-time event, the authors explain.

On the receiver end, the studies showed that consumers responded differently to abstract and concrete language. “In our study of receivers, we gave consumers a description of a positive product experience, and asked them to estimate the sender’s opinion about the products,” the authors write. “We found that perceived opinion of the sender was more positive when the description was cast in more abstract terms.” For descriptions of negative experiences, the perceived opinion of the sender was more negative when the description used abstract language.

“Our finding that abstract messages have a stronger impact on buying intentions can be translated straightforwardly into the recommendation to use abstract language if you try to convince someone of the (positive or negative) consequences of buying a product, or of following your advice,” the authors conclude.

Journal of Consumer Research, August 2010
Language Abstraction in Word of Mouth
Gaby A. C. Schellekens
Peeter W. J. Verlegh
Ale SmidtsJohn Deighton served as editor and Gavan Fitzsimons served as associate editor for this article.

This research examines the language that consumers use in word of mouth. For both positive and negative product experiences, we demonstrate that consumers use more abstract terms when they describe experiences that are in line with the valence of their product attitude. This effect cannot be explained by differences in valence between abstract and concrete language. On the receiver side, abstract language in positive word of mouth leads to (1) the inference that the sender has a more favorable product attitude and (2) a higher buying intention for the product under consideration. The reverse is found for negative word of mouth.

Written by huehueteotl

February 14, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Posted in Psychology

I Have Felt

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i have felt pain so dark
that it turned black bright sunlight

i have felt sorrow so strong
that it made my chest crush

i have felt sadness so bottomless
that it drowned me like a sea

i have not
not once in all these years
felt happiness

Written by huehueteotl

February 4, 2010 at 7:14 pm