Kevin Lewis

May 20, 2010

Simple reaction time: It is not what it used to be

Irwin Silverman
American Journal of Psychology, Spring 2010, Pages 39-50

This article calls attention to the large amount of evidence indicating that simple visual reaction time (RT) has increased. To show that RT has increased, the RTs obtained by young adults in 14 studies published from 1941 on were compared with the RTs obtained by young adults in a study conducted by Galton in the late 1800s. With one exception, the newer studies obtained RTs longer than those obtained by Galton. The possibility that these differences in results are due to faulty timing instruments is considered but deemed unlikely. Of several possible causes for longer RTs, two are regarded as tenable: that RT has been increased by the buildup of neurotoxins in the environment and by the increasing numbers of people in less than robust health who have survived into adulthood. The importance of standardizing tests of RT in order to enable more refined analyses of secular trends in RT is emphasized.


The Effect of Regulatory Depletion on Attitude Certainty

Echo Wen Wan, Derek Rucker, Zakary Tormala & Joshua Clarkson
Journal of Marketing Research, June 2010, Pages 531-541

This research explores how regulatory depletion affects consumers' responses to advertising. Initial forays into this area suggest that the depletion of self-regulatory resources is irrelevant when advertisement arguments are strong or consumers are highly motivated to process. In contrast to these conclusions, the authors contend that depletion has important but previously hidden effects in such contexts. That is, although attitudes are equivalent in valence and extremity, consumers are more certain of their attitudes when they form them under conditions of depletion than nondepletion. The authors propose that this effect occurs because feeling depleted induces the perception of having engaged in thorough information processing. As a consequence of greater attitude certainty, depleted consumers' attitudes exert greater influence on their purchase behavior. Three experiments, using different products and ad exposure times, confirm these hypotheses. Experiment 3 demonstrates the potential to vary consumers' naive beliefs about the relationship between depletion and thoroughness of processing, and this variation moderates the effect of depletion on attitude certainty. The authors discuss the theoretical contributions and implications for marketing.


Self-Control Depletion Leads to Increased Risk Taking

Nicholas Freeman & Mark Muraven
Social Psychological and Personality Science, April 2010, Pages 175-181

Previous research has found that individuals low in trait self-control are more likely to take excessive risks than individuals high in trait self-control. The authors expand on this by examining the causal effects of state fluctuations in self-control on subsequent risk taking. Using the self-control strength model, the authors predicted that depleted individuals would take more risks than individuals who did not exert self-control initially. This was tested in two experiments, using both self-reports and performance on the Balloon Analogue Risk Task. In both experiments, greater risk taking by depleted participants was related only to the amount of self-control previously exerted. This suggests that situational decrements in self-control strength lead to greater risk taking. Additional data suggest that the effects of depletion on taking chances are above and beyond the effects of trait self-control. This may help to explain situational effects, such as why conscientious people sometimes take unnecessary risks.


Early environment affects neuroendocrine regulation in adulthood

Shelley Taylor, Arun Karlamangla, Esther Friedman & Teresa Seeman
Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, forthcoming

Animal and human research indicates that the early environment can exert effects on hypothalamic pituitary adrenal (HPA) axis functioning across the lifespan. Using data from the National Study of Midlife Development in the United States and the National Study of Daily Experience substudy, we identified curvilinear relations between adult reports of parental affection in childhood and adult diurnal cortisol rhythms. Reports of both very affectionate and very unaffectionate parental relations in childhood were associated with flatter diurnal rhythms, suggesting potential dysregulation of the HPA axis at both extremes of family environment. Participants in the bottom tertile showed more signs of HPA axis dysregulation than those in the top tertile. We discuss processes that may underlie these effects, with reference to the theory of allostatic load.


Like a Magnet: Catharsis Beliefs Attract Angry People to Violent Video Games

Brad Bushman & Jodi Whitaker
Psychological Science, forthcoming

"Belief in catharsis, whether manipulated or measured, increases attraction to violent games in angry people. During the debriefing, one participant with strong catharsis beliefs said: 'How could I squelch the urge to set my manager on fire if I couldn't set people on fire in video games?'...Even though catharsis theory is false, belief in catharsis still influences angry people to play violent games."


Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Urinary Metabolites of Organophosphate Pesticides

Maryse Bouchard, David Bellinger, Robert Wright, Marc Weisskopf
Pediatrics, forthcoming

Objective: The goal was to examine the association between urinary concentrations of dialkyl phosphate metabolites of organophosphates and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children 8 to 15 years of age.

Methods: Cross-sectional data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (2000-2004) were available for 1139 children, who were representative of the general US population. A structured interview with a parent was used to ascertain ADHD diagnostic status, on the basis of slightly modified criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition.

Results: One hundred nineteen children met the diagnostic criteria for ADHD. Children with higher urinary dialkyl phosphate concentrations, especially dimethyl alkylphosphate (DMAP) concentrations, were more likely to be diagnosed as having ADHD. A 10-fold increase in DMAP concentration was associated with an odds ratio of 1.55 (95% confidence interval: 1.14-2.10), with adjustment for gender, age, race/ethnicity, poverty/income ratio, fasting duration, and urinary creatinine concentration. For the most-commonly detected DMAP metabolite, dimethyl thiophosphate, children with levels higher than the median of detectable concentrations had twice the odds of ADHD (adjusted odds ratio: 1.93 [95% confidence interval: 1.23-3.02]), compared with children with undetectable levels.

Conclusions: These findings support the hypothesis that organophosphate exposure, at levels common among US children, may contribute to ADHD prevalence. Prospective studies are needed to establish whether this association is causal.


How Does Cognitive Control Reduce Anger and Aggression? The Role of Conflict Monitoring and Forgiveness Processes

Benjamin Wilkowski, Michael Robinson & Wendy Troop-Gordon
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, May 2010, Pages 830-840

It is well-established that superior cognitive control abilities are associated with lower levels of anger and aggression. However, the precise emotion regulation operations underlying this relationship have been underspecified and underexplored in previous research. Drawing on neuropsychological models of cognitive control, the authors propose that limited capacity resources can be recruited within a hostile situation to promote a process of forgiveness. The results of 2 studies supported this proposal. Across studies, individual differences in hostility-primed cognitive control were assessed implicitly. In Study 1, hostility-primed cognitive control predicted less aggressive behavior in response to a laboratory provocation. Moreover, forgiveness mediated these effects. In Study 2, hostility-primed cognitive control predicted forgiveness of provocations in participants' daily lives and subsequent reductions in anger. In sum, the results contribute to a systematic understanding of how cognitive control leads to lower levels of anger and aggression.


Out of Mind, Out of Sight: Eye Blinking as Indicator and Embodiment of Mind Wandering

Daniel Smilek, Jonathan Carriere & Allan Cheyne
Psychological Science, forthcoming

"Subjects blinked more when mind wandering than when on task, one-tailed t(11) = 4.25, p = .001...This study provides an initial demonstration that during bouts of mind wandering, the body physically blocks sensory stimulation by reducing exposure of the sensory transducers to external energy sources. At present, the causal relation between eye blinks and mind wandering remains unclear. However, we suggest that changing rates of eye blinks serve to modulate shifts between attending to internal thoughts (i.e., mind wandering) and attending to ongoing task-relevant stimuli."


Temperament at 5 years of age predicts amygdala and orbitofrontal volume in the right hemisphere in adolescence

Shirley Hill, Kevin Tessner, Shuhui Wang, Howard Carter & Michael McDermott
Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 30 April 2010, Pages 14-21

It was of interest to determine if hemispheric differences in orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) volume would be related to behavioral inhibition observed in a peer-play setting. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was carried out in 23 individuals (19 males and 4 females) at an average age of 14.87 ± 1.14 years who were either at high or low risk for alcohol dependence. All subjects had previously been evaluated in a preschool peer play paradigm (5.03 ± 0.78 years) assessing behavioral inhibition. Region of interest measures were traced for the OFC and the amygdala, and confirmed with voxel based morphometry. Behavioral inhibition, a behavioral tendency that often occurs in a novel setting in reaction to strangers, includes the following: greater time spent next to the mother, greater time staring at another child, and longer latency to begin play with another child. A significant relationship was seen between greater right OFC volume and indicators of behavioral inhibition including greater time spent proximal to their mother and greater time staring at the other child. Also, larger amygdala volume was associated with more time spent proximal to the mother. Behavioral control, including both over- and under-control, is likely to be subserved by neural circuitry associated with emotion regulation including the right OFC and the amygdala.


Getting to the Top of Mind: How Reminders Increase Saving

Dean Karlan, Margaret McConnell, Sendhil Mullainathan & Jonathan Zinman
MIT Working Paper, April 2010

We develop and test a simple model of limited attention in intertemporal choice. The model posits that individuals fully attend to consumption in all periods but fail to attend to some future lumpy expenditure opportunities. This asymmetry generates some predictions that overlap with other models of present-bias. Our model also generates the unique predictions that reminders will increase saving, and that a reminder that makes a specific expenditure more salient will be especially effective. We find support for these predictions in three field experiments that randomly assign reminders to new savings account holders.


Wait For It! A Twin Study of Inhibitory Control in Early Childhood

Jeffrey Gagne & Kimberly Saudino
Behavior Genetics, May 2010, Pages 327-337

Inhibitory control (IC) is a dimension of child temperament that emerges in toddlerhood and involves the ability to regulate behavior in response to instructions or expectations. In general, children with low levels of IC have more cognitive and social difficulties, and higher levels of problem behaviors. Unfortunately, there is a paucity of research on the heritability of this important behavioral dimension. The present study used a twin design to examine the extent to which genetic and environmental factors contribute to individual differences in IC. Laboratory and parent assessments of IC were conducted on 294 same-sex twin pairs (133 MZ, 161 DZ) at 24 months of age. Model-fitting analyses showed that genetic factors accounted for 38 and 58% of the variance in laboratory- and parent-rated IC, respectively. Multivariate genetic analyses also revealed that the covariance between observed and parent-assessed IC could be predominantly explained by common genetic influences.


Taking credit for success: The phenomenology of control in a goal-directed task

John Dewey, Adriane Seiffert & Thomas Carr
Consciousness and Cognition, March 2010, Pages 48-62

We studied how people determine when they are in control of objects. In a computer task, participants moved a virtual boat towards a goal using a joystick to investigate how subjective control is shaped by (1) correspondence between motor actions and the visual consequences of those actions, and (2) attainment of higher-level goals. In Experiment 1, random discrepancies from joystick input (noise) decreased judgments of control (JoCs), but discrepancies that brought the boat closer to the goal and increased success (the autopilot) increased JoCs. In Experiment 2, participants raced to the goal against a computer-controlled rival boat while varying levels of noise interfered with each boat. Participants reached the goal more often and rated their own control higher when the computer rival had good control. Subjective control over moving objects depends partly on consistency between motor actions and their effects, but is also modulated by perceived success and competition.


Cooling the heat of temptation: Mental self-control and the automatic evaluation of tempting stimuli

Wilhelm Hofmann, Roland Deutsch, Katie Lancaster & Mahzarin Banaji
European Journal of Social Psychology, February 2010, Pages 17-25

The present research investigated whether mental self-control strategies can reduce the automatic positivity elicited by tempting stimuli. In two studies employing chocolate as the temptation of interest, we found that participants instructed to imagine a chocolate product in a nonconsummatory manner exhibited significantly less automatic positivity with regard to the product as compared to participants instructed to imagine the hedonic, consummatory aspects of the product and control participants engaged in a neutral task. These findings were replicated in a second study. Additionally, in Study 2 we found that automatic evaluations of chocolate were lowest for participants instructed to form implementation intentions to refrain from consumption. Taken together, these findings demonstrate that mental self-control strategies such as nonconsummatory transformation and implementation intentions extend to the level of automatic processing by reducing the positivity of automatically activated affective responses.


The Intergenerational Transmission of Low Self-control

Brian Boutwell & Kevin Beaver
Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, May 2010, Pages 174-209

There is a vast line of literature showing that antisocial behaviors and personality traits are transmitted across generational lines. Given the ascendancy of Gottfredson and Hirschi's general theory of crime, it is somewhat surprising that no research has examined whether levels of self-control are passed from parent to child. The authors examine this possibility by analyzing data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. The results of the analysis revealed that maternal levels of self-control and paternal levels of self-control were predictive of the child's levels of self-control. Supplemental analysis revealed that these effects were not mediated by key criminogenic risk factors. Moreover, there was also evidence indicating that people mate assortatively on a range of antisocial characteristics, including low self-control. Implications of the study are noted and discussed.


Neural correlates of focused attention and cognitive monitoring in meditation

Antonietta Manna, Antonino Raffone, Mauro Gianni Perrucci, Davide Nardo, Antonio Ferretti, Armando Tartaro, Alessandro Londei, Cosimo Del Gratta, Marta Olivetti Belardinelli & Gian Luca Romani
Brain Research Bulletin, 29 April 2010, Pages 46-56

Meditation refers to a family of complex emotional and attentional regulatory practices, which can be classified into two main styles - focused attention (FA) and open monitoring (OM) - involving different attentional, cognitive monitoring and awareness processes. In a functional magnetic resonance study we originally characterized and contrasted FA and OM meditation forms within the same experiment, by an integrated FA-OM design. Theravada Buddhist monks, expert in both FA and OM meditation forms, and lay novices with 10 days of meditation practice, participated in the experiment. Our evidence suggests that expert meditators control cognitive engagement in conscious processing of sensory-related, thought and emotion contents, by massive self-regulation of fronto-parietal and insular areas in the left hemisphere, in a meditation state-dependent fashion. We also found that anterior cingulate and dorsolateral prefrontal cortices play antagonist roles in the executive control of the attention setting in meditation tasks. Our findings resolve the controversy between the hypothesis that meditative states are associated to transient hypofrontality or deactivation of executive brain areas, and evidence about the activation of executive brain areas in meditation. Finally, our study suggests that a functional reorganization of brain activity patterns for focused attention and cognitive monitoring takes place with mental practice, and that meditation-related neuroplasticity is crucially associated to a functional reorganization of activity patterns in prefrontal cortex and in the insula.


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