When less attention improves behavior
Parents of children with intellectual disabilities have long been frustrated by IQ testing that tells them little to nothing about their children’s long-term learning potential. That’s because the tests are scored according to the mean performance of children without disabilities, so the raw scores of many intellectually disabled children are converted to the lowest normalized
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A new study conducted at the Centre for Studies and Research in Cognitive Neuroscience of the University of Bologna, and published by Elsevier in the February 2009 issue of Cortex shows that, in confabulating patients, memory accuracy improves when attentional resources are reduced.
Most cognitive processes supporting adaptive behavior need attentional resources for their operation. Consider memory. If memory was a car, attention would be its fuel: New information is not stored into memory if not attended to, and distraction often leads to misremembering past events. What if the car’s brakes are broken? Will adding fuel still be a good thing? Confabulation is a devastating memory disorder consisting in the uncontrolled production of “false memories”. Patients often act upon their false memories, with dramatic consequences. The research published in Cortex shows that if memory in confabulation is like a car with broken brakes, then it is best not to add fuel.
The study involved patients with lesions in the prefrontal lobe, including patients with and without confabulation, and healthy individuals. In two experiments, participants retrieved their memories either with full attention or divided attention (i.e., while doing another task). Non-confabulating patients and healthy individuals performed better when their full attention was devoted to the memory task. Not so for confabulating patients: Under full attention, confabulating patients exhibited high false-memory levels, which were strongly reduced when their attention was divided between two tasks.
The results of this study are important both theoretically and practically. First, they indicate that lack of attention during memory retrieval is not the reason for confabulation. Rather, confabulating patients might over-process irrelevant information during mnemonic decisions, and therefore reducing attentional resources available for such a dysfunctional processing enhances memory. Moreover, the results are crucial for developing rehabilitative interventions tailored to confabulating patients. Training them to double-check the accuracy of their memories may not be useful. In fact, these patients should be trained not to attend, and act upon, their mnemonic impressions.
If you spend the majority of your time among stores, restaurants and skyscrapers, it may be time to trade in your stilettos for some hiking boots. A new study in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, reveals that spending time in nature may be more beneficial for mental processes than being
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Canadian researchers have found more evidence that older adults aren’t able to filter out distracting information as well as younger adults. In an interesting twist, this latest discovery was made because of - rather than in spite of -the noisy environment that research participants must tolerate when having their brains scanned inside a donut-shaped magnet
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A new study from the psychology department at Tufts University shows that when dieters eliminate carbohydrates from their meals, they performed more poorly on memory-based tasks than when they reduce calories, but maintain carbohydrates. When carbohydrates were reintroduced, cognition skills returned to normal. “This study demonstrates that the food you eat can have an immediate
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A collaborative study led by investigators from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) is giving what may be the first look at how interactions between genes underlie a key symptom of schizophrenia, impaired working memory. Functional imaging studies reveal how a combination of common variants in two genes is associated with reduced activity of important brain structures
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Schizophrenia may blur the boundary between internal and external realities by overactivating a brain system that is involved in self-reflection, and thus causing an exaggerated focus on self, a new MIT and Harvard brain imaging study has found. The traditional view of schizophrenia is that the disturbed thoughts, perceptions and emotions that characterize the disease
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