Current Directions in Psychological Science

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Online ISSN: 1467-8721


Print ISSN: 0963-7214


The Importance of Sound for Cognitive Sequencing Abilities: The Auditory Scaffolding Hypothesis
  • Article

October 2009


573 Reads



Sound is inherently a temporal and sequential signal. Experience with sound therefore may help bootstrap - i.e., provide a kind of "scaffolding" for - the development of general cognitive abilities related to representing temporal or sequential patterns. Accordingly, the absence of sound early in development may result in disturbances to these sequencing skills. In support of this hypothesis we present two types of findings. First, normal-hearing adults do best on sequencing tasks when the sense of hearing, rather than vision, can be used. Second, recent findings suggest that deaf children have disturbances on exactly these same kinds of tasks that involve learning and manipulation of serial order information. We suggest that sound provides an "auditory scaffolding" for time and serial order behavior, possibly mediated through neural connections between the temporal and frontal lobes of the brain. Under conditions of auditory deprivation, auditory scaffolding is absent, resulting in neural reorganization and a disturbance to cognitive sequencing abilities.

Correlated factors model for individual differences on traits X and Y in one individual from a twin pair. Though not illustrated here, there are genetic and shared environmental correlations between the two members of a pair for both X and Y scores. Using the twin method that compares monozygotic (MZ, identical) and dizygotic (DZ, fraternal) twin resemblance, variance in each trait is divided into that due to latent additive genetic influences (A), shared environmental influences (C), and nonshared environmental influences (E), with the subscripts x and y to denote scores on traits X and Y, respectively. Paths, represented by lower case (a, c, and e), are standardized regression coefficients and are squared to estimate the proportion of variance accounted for. The gist of the multivariate genetic method lies in cross-trait twin correlations. Just as univariate genetic analysis compares MZ and DZ correlations for a single trait, multivariate genetic analysis compares MZ and DZ correlations across traits. If MZ cross-trait cross-twin (CTCT) correlations are greater than DZ CTCT correlations, this suggests that genetic differences account for some of the phenotypic correlation between the traits. Correlations between the latent genetic, shared environmental, and nonshared environmental influences are denoted by rA, rC and rE. The genetic correlation represents the extent to which genetic influences on trait X are correlated with genetic influences on trait Y regardless of the heritabilities of traits X and Y. Bivariate heritability, which represents the genetic contribution to the phenotypic correlation between traits X and Y, is the product of the paths axraay, which weights the genetic correlation by the heritabilities of the traits.
Learning Abilities and Disabilities: Generalist Genes, Specialist Environments
  • Article
  • Full-text available

October 2007


1,022 Reads

Twin studies comparing identical and fraternal twins consistently show substantial genetic influence on individual differences in learning abilities such as reading and mathematics, as well as in other cognitive abilities such as spatial ability and memory. Multivariate genetic research has shown that the same set of genes is largely responsible for genetic influence on these diverse cognitive areas. We call these "generalist genes." What differentiates these abilities is largely the environment, especially nonshared environments that make children growing up in the same family different from one another. These multivariate genetic findings of generalist genes and specialist environments have far-reaching implications for diagnosis and treatment of learning disabilities and for understanding the brain mechanisms that mediate these effects.

Fig. 2. Schematic drawing of the events shown in the hidden-object, short-screen, and tall-object conditions of Luo and Johnson (2009). In the familiarization trials of all three conditions, a female agent sat between a box and a football and consistently reached for the football. In the hiddenobject condition, a tall screen hid the box from the agent; in the short-screen condition, the screen was shorter so that the box protruded above it; in the tall-object condition, the box was taller and protruded above the tall screen. In the test trials, the screen was removed, the positions of the box and football were reversed, and the agent reached for either the box (new-object event) or the football (old-object event). 
Toward a Mentalistic Account of Early Psychological Reasoning

October 2010


158 Reads

Recent investigations of early psychological understanding have revealed three key findings. First, young infants attribute goals and dispositions to any entity they perceive as an agent, whether human or non-human. Second, when interpreting an agent's actions in a scene, young infants take into account the agent's representation of the scene, even if this representation is less complete than their own. Third, at least by the second year of life, infants recognize that agents can hold false beliefs about a scene. Together, these findings support a system-based, mentalistic account of early psychological reasoning.

Statistical Learning: From Acquiring Specific Items to Forming General Rules

June 2012


180 Reads

Statistical learning is a rapid and robust mechanism that enables adults and infants to extract patterns of stimulation embedded in both language and visual domains. Importantly, statistical learning operates implicitly, without instruction, through mere exposure to a set of input stimuli. However, much of what learners must acquire about a structured domain consists of principles or rules that can be applied to novel inputs. Although it has been claimed that statistical learning and rule learning are separate mechanisms, here we review evidence and provide a unifying perspective that argues for a single mechanism of statistical learning that accounts for both the learning of the input stimuli and the generalization to novel instances. The balance between instance-learning and generalization is based on two factors: the strength of perceptual biases that highlight structural regularities, and the consistency of unique versus overlapping contexts in the input.

Increasing Speed of Processing With Action Video Games

December 2009


2,118 Reads

In many everyday situations, speed is of the essence. However, fast decisions typically mean more mistakes. To this day, it remains unknown whether reaction times can be reduced with appropriate training, within one individual, across a range of tasks, and without compromising accuracy. Here we review evidence that the very act of playing action video games significantly reduces reaction times without sacrificing accuracy. Critically, this increase in speed is observed across various tasks beyond game situations. Video gaming may therefore provide an efficient training regimen to induce a general speeding of perceptual reaction times without decreases in accuracy of performance.

The Representation of Action Insights From Bimanual Coordination

February 2008


57 Reads

The motor-program concept, emphasizing how actions are represented in the brain, helped bring the study of motor control into the realm of cognitive psychology. However, interest in representational issues was in limbo for much of the past 30 years, during which time the focus was on biomechanical and abstract accounts of the constraints underlying coordinated movement. We review recent behavioral and neuroscientific evidence that highlights multiple levels of constraints in bimanual coordination, with an emphasis on work demonstrating that a primary source of constraint arises from the manner in which action goals are represented.

General Action and Inaction Goals

April 2011


226 Reads

Since the 1970s, researchers on motivation and behavior have taken the stance that important human behaviors are determined by specific attitudes, intentions, and goals. In the present article, we review evidence suggesting that, in addition to specific motivational constructs, general goals of action and inaction are also vital determinants of many important human behaviors. This research examines the effects of these goals on motor behavior, cognitive performance, and political participation. Furthermore, we connect these general action and inaction goals with other important areas in psychology, including affect, approach/avoidance, energization, material resources, mindsets, and power. Finally, we conclude with a discussion of individual and regional/cultural differences in action and inaction. Overall, general goals for action and inaction are shown to influence a vast array of important behaviors, suggesting that in addition to considering specific attitudes, intentions, and goals, researchers may gain important insight into human behavior by considering general motivations.

Brain Mechanisms for Interpreting the Actions of Others From Biological-Motion Cues

July 2006


72 Reads

Humans are an intensely social species. Our social abilities depend upon specialized brain systems for rapidly recognizing the faces of others, for interpreting the actions of others through an analysis of biological-motion cues, and for determining the emotional states of others via inspection of facial expression. Recent work has implicated the superior temporal sulcus (STS) region as an important component of the social brain. Functional neuroimaging studies have provided clues about how this region is involved in the visual analysis and interpretation of other people's actions. STS activity is modulated by the context within which the actions of biological entities are observed. Such a contextual influence is consistent with a broader tradition within social psychology emphasizing the powerful influences of situational and contextual factors on behavior and perception. The STS region also shows promise as a region of importance in the investigation of both typical and impaired social-cognitive development. Future work should aim to inform us better of the development of interrelationships between the STS region and other regions of the social brain, including the amygdala and the fusiform gyrus.

The Impact of Early Interpersonal Experience on Adult Romantic Relationship Functioning: Recent Findings From the Minnesota Longitudinal Study of Risk and Adaptation

December 2011


270 Reads

Adopting an organizational view on social development, we have investigated how interpersonal experiences early in life prospectively predict how well individuals resolve relationship conflicts, recover from conflicts, and have stable, satisfying relationships with their romantic partners in early adulthood. We have also identified specific intervening interpersonal experiences during middle childhood and adolescence that mediate the connection between how individuals regulated their emotions with their parents very early in life and as young adults in their romantic relationships. We discuss the many advantages of adopting an organizational view on social development.

Adolescent Depression Stressful Interpersonal Contexts and Risk for Recurrence

August 2009


238 Reads

High rates of diagnosable depression in adolescence, especially among young women, present challenging clinical and research issues. Depression not only portends current maladjustment but may also signal risk for recurrent or chronic depression and its associated impairment. Because depression is most often a response to stressful events and circumstances, it is important to understand the stress context itself. Individuals with depression histories are known to contribute to the occurrence of interpersonal and other stressors at a high rate, and for young women particularly, the occurrence of interpersonal stressors and conditions in turn predicts recurrences of depression, in a vicious cycle. Interpersonal dysfunction in early adolescence predicts the likelihood of continuing maladaptive functioning in peer, family, romantic, and parenting roles. The transmission of depression from one generation to the next involves not only heritable factors but also the likelihood that depressed youth become caught in life contexts of marital and parenting discord that portend dysfunction for their offspring and continuing depression for themselves.


April 2013


23 Reads

The high levels of alcohol consumption characteristic of adolescence may be in part biologically based, given that elevated consumption levels are also evident during this developmental transition in other mammalian species as well. Studies conducted using a simple animal model of adolescence in the rat has shown adolescents to be more sensitive than adults to social facilitatory and rewarding effects of alcohol, but less sensitive to numerous alcohol effects that may serve as cues to limit intake. These age-specific alcohol sensitivities appear related to differential rates of development of neural systems underlying different alcohol effects as well as to an ontogenetic decline in rapid brain compensations to alcohol, termed "acute tolerance". In contrast, these adolescent-typical sensitivities to alcohol do not appear to be notably influenced by pubertally-related increases in gonadal hormones. Although data are sparse, there are hints that similar alcohol sensitivities may also be seen in human adolescents, with this developmentally decreased sensitivity to alcohol's intoxicating effects possibly exacerbated by genetic vulnerabilities also characterized by an insensitivity to alcohol intoxication, thereby perhaps permitting especially high levels of alcohol consumption among vulnerable youth.

Mechanisms by Which Childhood Personality Traits Influence Adult Well-Being

August 2008


158 Reads

Children's personality traits have enduring effects that shape adult well-being. In particular, childhood conscientiousness influences core aspects of adult well-being: health, friendships, and mastery. Research is now examining the mechanisms by which early personality traits initiate and sustain particular life paths. These include mediating and moderating mechanisms that may operate during critical developmental periods or may build cumulatively over time. Future research would benefit from testing theoretically derived mechanisms for different traits, and examining variables as they change over time, using both short- and long-term longitudinal designs over different life stages.

Fig. 1. Cross-sectional regression lines for judgment-of-learning (JOL) resolution (gamma) as a function of age for all paired-associate items, related items, and unrelated items (from Hertzog, Sinclair, & Dunlosky, 2010). 
Fig. 2. Resolution of feelings of knowing (FOKs) with recognition accuracy (RECOG; gamma correlations) for unrecalled items (from Hertzog, Dunlosky, & Sinclair, 2010).
Metacognition in Later Adulthood Spared Monitoring Can Benefit Older Adults' Self-Regulation

June 2011


708 Reads

Metacognition includes two key concepts: monitoring of internal states, and adaptive use of control strategies based on that monitoring. We review studies that indicate that aging does not materially affect the accuracy of elementary forms of monitoring encoding and retrieval states in episodic memory tasks, even though it does influence episodic memory itself. Spared monitoring accuracy can therefore serve as a basis for older adults' use of compensatory strategies to achieve learning goals, despite the influence of aging on mechanisms of learning. Metacognitive intervention studies based on this premise show greater effects on learning than traditional strategy-training approaches. Use of strategies for self-regulation, informed by monitoring, may be an important tool for older adults' effective cognitive functioning in everyday life.

Personality Trait Change in Adulthood

February 2008


9,476 Reads

Recent longitudinal and cross-sectional aging research has shown that personality traits continue to change in adulthood. In this article, we review the evidence for mean-level change in personality traits, as well as for individual differences in change across the life span. In terms of mean-level change, people show increased selfconfidence, warmth, self-control, and emotional stability with age. These changes predominate in young adulthood (age 20-40). Moreover, mean-level change in personality traits occurs in middle and old age, showing that personality traits can change at any age. In terms of individual differences in personality change, people demonstrate unique patterns of development at all stages of the life course, and these patterns appear to be the result of specific life experiences that pertain to a person's stage of life.

Categories and Dimensions Advancing Psychological Science Through the Study of Latent Structure

July 2008


85 Reads

The distinction between categories and dimensions has important consequences for basic and applied science in many areas of psychological research. Decisions as to whether individuals should be assigned to groups or located along one or more continua often are based on personal preferences or discipline-specific measurement traditions, which can lead to the creation, use, or reification of spurious categories or dimensions. Methods for evaluating the latent structure of psychological constructs, using powerful and informative tests between competing models, are available. Rather than choosing on a priori grounds, investigators can perform structural research to evaluate the strength and consistency with which results tease apart categorical and dimensional models. Here, we review why researchers should make this distinction empirically, briefly discuss methods available for doing so, and describe the breadth of areas ripe for exploiting the largely untapped potential of structural research.

Children of the Affluent Challenges to Well-Being

March 2005


10,609 Reads

Growing up in the culture of affluence can connote various psychosocial risks. Studies have shown that upper-class children can manifest elevated disturbance in several areas-such as substance use, anxiety, and depression-and that two sets of factors seem to be implicated, that is, excessive pressures to achieve and isolation from parents (both literal and emotional). Whereas stereotypically, affluent youth and poor youth are respectively thought of as being at "low risk" and "high risk," comparative studies have revealed more similarities than differences in their adjustment patterns and socialization processes. In the years ahead, psychologists must correct the long-standing neglect of a group of youngsters treated, thus far, as not needing their attention. Family wealth does not automatically confer either wisdom in parenting or equanimity of spirit; whereas children rendered atypical by virtue of their parents' wealth are undoubtedly privileged in many respects, there is also, clearly, the potential for some nontrivial threats to their psychological well-being.

Aging and Visual Attention

May 2007


145 Reads

Older adults are often slower and less accurate than are younger adults in performing visual-search tasks, suggesting an age-related decline in attentional functioning. Age-related decline in attention, however, is not entirely pervasive. Visual search that is based on the observer's expectations (i.e., top-down attention) is relatively preserved as a function of adult age. Neuroimaging research suggests that age-related decline occurs in the structure and function of brain regions mediating the visual sensory input, whereas activation of regions in the frontal and parietal lobes is often greater for older adults than for younger adults. This increased activation may represent an age-related increase in the role of top-down attention during visual tasks. To obtain a more complete account of age-related decline and preservation of visual attention, current research is beginning to explore the relation of neuroimaging measures of brain structure and function to behavioral measures of visual attention.

Aging and Language Production

February 2004


1,682 Reads

Experimental research and older adults' reports of their own experience suggest that the ability to produce the spoken forms of familiar words declines with aging. Older adults experience more word-finding failures, such as tip-of-the-tongue states, than young adults do, and this and other speech production failures appear to stem from difficulties in retrieving the sounds of words. Recent evidence has identified a parallel age-related decline in retrieving the spelling of familiar words. Models of cognitive aging must explain why these aspects of language production decline with aging whereas semantic processes are well maintained. We describe a model wherein aging weakens connections among linguistic representations, thereby reducing the transmission of excitation from one representation to another. The structure of the representational systems for word phonology and orthography makes them vulnerable to transmission deficits, impairing retrieval.

Fig. 2. Influence of subliminally primed age stereotypes on (A) systolic blood pressure, (B) diastolic blood pressure, and (C) skin conductance. Positive and negative age stereotypes generated decreased and increased cardiovascular response to stress, respectively. Reproduced from "Reducing Cardiovascular Stress With Positive Self-Stereotypes of Aging," by B.R. Levy, J.M. Hausdorff, R. Hencke, & J.W. Wei, 2000, Journals of Gerontology, Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 55, p. P211. Copyright 2000, Gerontological Society of America. Reproduced with permission.
Stereotype Embodiment A Psychosocial Approach to Aging

December 2009


4,065 Reads

Researchers have increasingly turned their attention from younger individuals who hold age stereotypes to older individuals who are targeted by these stereotypes. The refocused research has shown that positive and negative age stereotypes held by older individuals can have beneficial and detrimental effects, respectively, on a variety of cognitive and physical outcomes. Drawing on these experimental and longitudinal studies, a theory of stereotype embodiment is presented here. It proposes that stereotypes are embodied when their assimilation from the surrounding culture leads to self-definitions that, in turn, influence functioning and health. The theory has four components: The stereotypes (a) become internalized across the life span, (b) can operate unconsciously, (c) gain salience from self-relevance, and (d) utilize multiple pathways. The central message of the theory, and the research supporting it, is that the aging process is, in part, a social construct.

Forensic Interviewing Aids: Do Props Help Children Answer Questions About Touching?

February 2011


1,150 Reads

The belief that props help children report abuse has fostered the widespread use of anatomical dolls and body diagrams in forensic interviews. Yet studies involving alleged abuse victims, children who have experienced medical examinations, and children who have participated in staged events have failed to find consistent evidence that props improve young children's ability to report key information related to bodily contact. Because props elevate the risk of erroneous touch reports, interviewers need to reconsider the belief that props are developmentally appropriate in forensic interviews, and researchers need to explore new approaches for eliciting disclosures of inappropriate touching.

The Role of Ambulatory Assessment in Psychological Science

December 2014


762 Reads

We describe the current use and future promise of an innovative methodology, ambulatory assessment (AA), that can be used to investigate psychological, emotional, behavioral, and biological processes of individuals in their daily life. The term AA encompasses a wide range of methods used to study people in their natural environment, including momentary self-report, observational, and physiological. We emphasize applications of AA that integrate two or more of these methods, discuss the smart phone as a hub or access point for AA, and discuss future applications of AA methodology to the science of psychology. We pay particular attention to the development and application of Wireless Body Area Networks (WBANs) that can be implemented with smart phones and wireless physiological monitoring devices, and we close by discussing future applications of this approach to matters relevant to psychological science.

Separation, Sickness, and Depression: A New Perspective on an Old Animal Model

August 2009


38 Reads

Studies of prolonged separation from the attachment figure that were conducted with infant monkeys during the middle of the 20th century identified a passive behavioral response, termed "despair," that appeared to model human depressive illness. Studies in guinea pigs, which exhibit filial attachment that resembles attachment in monkeys, have described a similar passive response to briefer periods of maternal separation. Recent evidence indicates that elements of the immune system mediate the passive behavioral response of guinea pigs. These findings accord well with current ideas that immune responses contribute to depressive illness, suggest new hypotheses about how maternal separation might promote depression, and give us a rodent model in which such hypotheses might be tested.

Fig. 1. Labeling and discrimination functions from an ideal listener in a categorical-perception experiment. Labeling functions show the proportion of times out of multiple presentations of each stimulus that a specified category label was assigned, assuming a binary choice was provided (i.e., the only available labels were Category A or Category B). The discrimination function shows the proportion of times that adjacent stimuli, presented in series, were correctly recognized as different. From Studdert-Kennedy, Liberman, Harris, and Cooper (1970).  
Fig. 2. Spectrogram of a natural production of Late forks hit low spoken by a man (top), and as a sine wave replica (bottom).  
New Approaches to the Study of Childhood Language Disorders

October 2010


231 Reads

Not long ago, poor language skills did not necessarily interfere with the quality of a person's life. Many occupations did not require sophisticated language or literacy. Interactions with other people could reasonably be restricted to family members and a few social or business contacts. But in the 21st century, advances in technology and burgeoning population centers have made it necessary for children to acquire high levels of proficiency with at least one language, in both spoken and written form. This situation increases the urgency for us to develop better theoretical accounts of the problems underlying disorders of language, including dyslexia. Empirical investigations of language-learning deficits largely focus on phonological representations and often ask to what extent labeling responses are "categorical." This article describes the history of this approach and presents some relevant findings regarding the perceptual organization of speech signals-findings that should prompt us to expand our investigations of language disorders.

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The Neural Bases of Infant Attention

February 2010


172 Reads

The development of attention in the infant can be characterized by changes in overall arousal (attentiveness) and by changes in attention's effect on specific cognitive processes (e.g., stimulus orienting, spatial selection, recognition memory). These attention systems can be identified using behavioral and psychophysiological methods. The development of infant attention is thought to be closely related to changes in the neural systems underlying attention control. The recent application of cortical source analysis of event-related potentials (ERP) and structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has led to the identification of some of these the neural systems.

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Identifying and Remediating Failures of Selective Attention in Older Drivers

February 2012


113 Reads

Older drivers are primarily overinvolved in crashes at intersections, and failure to attend to regions that contain relevant information about potential hazards is a major contributor to this problem. Corroborating this, we have found that older drivers in both controlled scenarios on a driving simulator and somewhat less controlled situations on the road attend to (i.e., fixate) target regions in intersections significantly less frequently than do younger experienced drivers. Moreover, we have developed a training program that substantially improves older drivers' attention to these regions. Together, these findings indicate that older drivers' less frequent scanning of regions at intersections from which hazards may emerge may be due to their developing something like an unsafe habit rather than to deteriorating physical or mental capabilities and thus that training may be effective in reducing crashes.

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