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Kevin Lewis

October 01, 2017

Connecting the Dots: Illusory Pattern Perception Predicts Belief in Conspiracies and the Supernatural
Jan-Willem van Prooijen, Karen Douglas & Clara De Inocencio
European Journal of Social Psychology, forthcoming

A common assumption is that belief in conspiracy theories and supernatural phenomena are grounded in illusory pattern perception. In the present research we systematically tested this assumption. Study 1 revealed that such irrational beliefs are related to perceiving patterns in randomly generated coin toss outcomes. In Study 2, pattern search instructions exerted an indirect effect on irrational beliefs through pattern perception. Study 3 revealed that perceiving patterns in chaotic but not in structured paintings predicted irrational beliefs. In Study 4, we found that agreement with texts supporting paranormal phenomena or conspiracy theories predicted pattern perception. In Study 5, we manipulated belief in a specific conspiracy theory. This manipulation influenced the extent to which people perceive patterns in world events, which in turn predicted unrelated irrational beliefs. We conclude that illusory pattern perception is a central cognitive mechanism accounting for conspiracy theories and supernatural beliefs.

Changing beliefs about past public events with believable and unbelievable doctored photographs
Robert Nash
Memory, forthcoming

Doctored photographs can shape what people believe and remember about prominent public events, perhaps due to their apparent credibility. In three studies, subjects completed surveys about the 2012 London Olympic torch relay (Experiment 1) or the 2011 Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (Experiments 2-3). Some were shown a genuine photo of the event; others saw a doctored photo that depicted protesters and unrest. A third group of subjects saw a doctored photo whose inauthenticity had been made explicit, either by adding a written disclaimer (Experiment 1) or by making the digital manipulation deliberately poor (Experiments 2-3). In all three studies, doctored photos had small effects on a subset of subjects' beliefs about the events. Of central interest though, comparable effects also emerged when the photos were overtly inauthentic. These findings suggest that cognitive mechanisms other than credibility - such as familiarity misattribution and mental imagery - can rapidly influence beliefs about past events even when the low credibility of a source is overt.

Time grows on trees: The effect of nature settings on time perception
Mariya Davydenko & Johanna Peetz
Journal of Environmental Psychology, December 2017, Pages 20-26

We examined whether nature exposure may be related to time perception. When estimating the length of time spent in nature vs. an urban environment, does the subjective estimate of experience duration change depending on the setting? We present evidence that an experience in nature can feel longer than the same experience in a man-made environment, independent of actual duration. Participants overestimated the duration of a walk if this walk took them through a nature setting but perceived an equally long walk through an urban setting accurately. The nature walk also resulted in a marked improvement in mood and reduction in stress compared to the urban walk. In sum, our studies suggest that nature exposure can slow down time perception.

Acute exposure to blue wavelength light during memory consolidation improves verbal memory performance
Anna Alkozei et al.
PLoS ONE, September 2017

Acute exposure to light within the blue wavelengths has been shown to enhance alertness and vigilance, and lead to improved speed on reaction time tasks, possibly due to activation of the noradrenergic system. It remains unclear, however, whether the effects of blue light extend beyond simple alertness processes to also enhance other aspects of cognition, such as memory performance. The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of a thirty minute pulse of blue light versus placebo (amber light) exposure in healthy normally rested individuals in the morning during verbal memory consolidation (i.e., 1.5 hours after memory acquisition) using an abbreviated version of the California Verbal Learning Test (CVLT-II). At delayed recall, individuals who received blue light (n = 12) during the consolidation period showed significantly better long-delay verbal recall than individuals who received amber light exposure (n = 18), while controlling for the effects of general intelligence, depressive symptoms and habitual wake time. These findings extend previous work demonstrating the effect of blue light on brain activation and alertness to further demonstrate its effectiveness at facilitating better memory consolidation and subsequent retention of verbal material. Although preliminary, these findings point to a potential application of blue wavelength light to optimize memory performance in healthy populations. It remains to be determined whether blue light exposure may also enhance performance in clinical populations with memory deficits.

The Role of Conscious Attention in How Weight Serves as an Embodiment of Importance
Colin Zestcott, Jeff Stone & Mark Landau
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming

Inconsistency among findings in the embodied cognition literature suggests a need for theoretical boundary conditions. The current research proposes that conscious attention of a bodily state can moderate its influence on social judgment. Three studies tested this possibility in the case of the demonstrated effect of weight sensations on judgments of an abstract idea's importance. Studies 1 and 2 showed that participants rated a topic as more important when holding a moderately heavy, compared with light, clipboard. However, when the clipboard was very heavy, participants rated the survey topic as less important compared with when the clipboard was moderately heavy. The differences in importance ratings were not caused by derogation of the topic or the activation of a different metaphor. In Study 3, the importance rating difference between light and moderately heavy clipboards was eliminated by explicitly drawing perceiver's attention to the clipboard's weight. Implications and future directions are discussed.

A Statistical Analysis of the Relationship between Harmonic Surprise and Preference in Popular Music
Scott Miles, David Rosen & Norberto Grzywacz
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, May 2017 

Studies have shown that some musical pieces may preferentially activate reward centers in the brain. Less is known, however, about the structural aspects of music that are associated with this activation. Based on the music cognition literature, we propose two hypotheses for why some musical pieces are preferred over others. The first, the Absolute-Surprise Hypothesis, states that unexpected events in music directly lead to pleasure. The second, the Contrastive-Surprise Hypothesis, proposes that the juxtaposition of unexpected events and subsequent expected events leads to an overall rewarding response. We tested these hypotheses within the framework of information theory, using the measure of "surprise." This information-theoretic variable mathematically describes how improbable an event is given a known distribution. We performed a statistical investigation of surprise in the harmonic structure of songs within a representative corpus of Western popular music, namely, the McGill Billboard Project corpus. We found that chords of songs in the top quartile of the Billboard chart showed greater average surprise than those in the bottom quartile. We also found that the different sections within top-quartile songs varied more in their average surprise than the sections within bottom-quartile songs. The results of this study are consistent with both the Absolute- and Contrastive-Surprise Hypotheses. Although these hypotheses seem contradictory to one another, we cannot yet discard the possibility that both absolute and contrastive types of surprise play roles in the enjoyment of popular music. We call this possibility the Hybrid-Surprise Hypothesis. The results of this statistical investigation have implications for both music cognition and the human neural mechanisms of esthetic judgments.

Categories and Constraints in Causal Perception
Jonathan Kominsky et al.
Psychological Science, forthcoming 

When object A moves adjacent to a stationary object, B, and in that instant A stops moving and B starts moving, people irresistibly see this as an event in which A causes B to move. Real-world causal collisions are subject to Newtonian constraints on the relative speed of B following the collision, but here we show that perceptual constraints on the relative speed of B (which align imprecisely with Newtonian principles) define two categories of causal events in perception. Using performance-based tasks, we show that triggering events, in which B moves noticeably faster than A, are treated as being categorically different from launching events, in which B does not move noticeably faster than A, and that these categories are unique to causal events (Experiments 1 and 2). Furthermore, we show that 7- to 9-month-old infants are sensitive to this distinction, which suggests that this boundary may be an early-developing component of causal perception (Experiment 3).

Smelling the Space Around Us: Odor Pleasantness Shifts Visuospatial Attention in Humans
Luca Rinaldi et al.
Emotion, forthcoming 

The prompt recognition of pleasant and unpleasant odors is a crucial regulatory and adaptive need of humans. Reactive answers to unpleasant odors ensure survival in many threatening situations. Notably, although humans typically react to certain odors by modulating their distance from the olfactory source, the effect of odor pleasantness over the orienting of visuospatial attention is still unknown. To address this issue, we first trained participants to associate visual shapes with pleasant and unpleasant odors, and then we assessed the impact of this association on a visuospatial task. Results showed that the use of trained shapes as flankers modulates performance in a line bisection task. Specifically, it was found that the estimated midpoint was shifted away from the visual shape associated with the unpleasant odor, whereas it was moved toward the shape associated with the pleasant odor. This finding demonstrates that odor pleasantness selectively shifts human attention in the surrounding space.

Emotional Mimicry Beyond the Face? Rapid Face and Body Responses to Facial Expressions
Eric Moody et al.
Social Psychological and Personality Science, forthcoming

Emotional mimicry - quick and spontaneous matching of another's expressions - is a well-documented phenomenon that is associated with numerous social outcomes. Although the mechanisms underlying mimicry are not fully understood, there is growing awareness that it is more than a one-to-one motor matching of others' expressions and may be the result of neural simulation. If true, it is possible that mimicry could extend to other parts of the body, even in the absence of visual information from that body part. Indeed, we found that passively viewing anger and fear expressions, without accompanying information from the body, voice or other channels, produced both facial mimicry and corresponding responses in arm muscles that make a fist or a defensive posture. This suggests that observers simulated observed expressions and that activity may have spilled over to other areas to create a body response.

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