Category Archives: Psychology

Men perceive themselves as smarter

This is a study that can fuel some discussions: in the college biology classroom, men perceive themselves as smarter, even when compared to women whose grades prove they are just as smart. But there is more in this study as the press release explains:

Katelyn Cooper, a doctoral student in the Arizona State University School of Life Sciences and lead author of the study, has talked with hundreds of students as an academic advisor and those conversations led to this project.

“I would ask students about how their classes were going and I noticed a trend,” shared Cooper. “Over and over again, women would tell me that they were afraid that other students thought that they were ‘stupid.’ I never heard this from the men in those same biology classes, so I wanted to study it.”

The ASU research team asked college students enrolled in a 250-person biology course about their intelligence. Specifically, the students were asked to estimate their own intelligence compared to everyone in the class and to the student they worked most closely with in class.

The researchers were surprised to find that women were far more likely to underestimate their own intelligence than men. And, when comparing a female and a male student, both with a GPA of 3.3, the male student is likely to say he is smarter than 66 percent of the class, and the female student is likely to say she is smarter than only 54 percent of the class.

In addition, when asked whether they are smarter than the person they worked most with in class, the pattern continued. Male students are 3.2 times more likely than females to say they are smarter than the person they are working with, regardless of whether their class partners are men or women.

A previous ASU study has shown that male students in undergraduate biology classes perceive men to be smarter than women about course material, but this is the first study to examine undergraduate student perceptions about their own intelligence compared to other people in the class.

Is this a problem?

“As we transition more of our courses into active learning classes where students interact more closely with each other, we need to consider that this might influence how students feel about themselves and their academic abilities,” shared Sara Brownell, senior author of the study and assistant professor in the school. “When students are working together, they are going to be comparing themselves more to each other. This study shows that women are disproportionately thinking that they are not as good as other students, so this a worrisome result of increased interactions among students.”

Brownell added that in a world where perceptions are important, female students may choose not to continue in science because they may not believe they are smart enough. These false perceptions of self-intelligence could be a negative factor in the retention of women in science.

Cooper said: “This is not an easy problem to fix. It’s a mindset that has likely been engrained in female students since they began their academic journeys. However, we can start by structuring group work in a way that ensures everyone’s voices are heard. One of our previous studies showed us that telling students it’s important to hear from everyone in the group could be enough to help them take a more equitable approach to group work.”

Abstract of the study:

Academic self-concept is one’s perception of his or her ability in an academic domain and is formed by comparing oneself to other students. As college biology classrooms transition from lecturing to active learning, students interact more with each other and are likely comparing themselves more to other students in the class. Student characteristics can impact students’ academic self-concept; however, this has been unexplored in the context of undergraduate biology. In this study, we explored whether student characteristics can affect academic self-concept in the context of an active learning college physiology course. Using a survey, students self-reported how smart they perceived themselves to be in the context of physiology relative to the whole class and relative to their groupmate, the student with whom they worked most closely in class. Using linear regression, we found that men and native English speakers had significantly higher academic self-concept relative to the whole class compared with women and nonnative English speakers. Using logistic regression, we found that men had significantly higher academic self-concept relative to their groupmate compared with women. Using constant comparison methods, we identified nine factors that students reported influenced how they determined whether they were more or less smart than their groupmate. Finally, we found that students were more likely to report participating more than their groupmate if they had a higher academic self-concept. These findings suggest that student characteristics can influence students’ academic self-concept, which in turn may influence their participation in small-group discussion and their academic achievement in active learning classes.

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Is there really a system 1 and a system 2 in our mind?

A lot of people have read the book by Kahneman Thinking fast and slow, which actually refers to the two thought-systems we as people would have one that is thinking slow, more rationally and one thinking faster, more emotionally driven.

But is this true. A new paper by Melnikoff and Bargh that I found via a tweet by Neuroskeptic collected arguments to say no. Or wait, it’s not really saying it isn’t so, the authors rather try to explain that it ain’t that simple.

I’ll share with you this part of their conclusion which makes it more clear:

We suspect that the response of many researchers when they hear ‘there are not two types of processes’ will be to dismiss the claim out of hand. ‘Of course there are two types of processes. There are unconscious automatic ones, and there are conscious deliberate ones.’ However, we are asking the reader to check their work before accepting the intuitive answer.

Consider this analogy: we say that there are two types of cars, convertibles and hard-tops. No debate there. But now we say: there are two types of cars, automatic and manual transmission. Yes, those are certainly two different types of cars. And still further: there are two types of cars, gasoline and electric motors. Or: foreign and domestic. The point is that all of these are different types of cars. But we all know that there are not just two types of cars overall: convertibles that all have manual transmission, gasoline engines, and are manufactured overseas; and hard-tops that all have automatic transmission, electric engines, and are made in our own country. All around us we see counterexamples, automobiles that are some other combination of these basic features.

So, the issue is not whether mental processes differ on various dimensions – they certainly do. The issue, we argue, is that the degree of alignment between the various dimensions has not been tested. Furthermore, as outlined above, entire swaths of psychological phenomena are characterized by misalignments of these dimensions. Perhaps more troubling, the underlying dimensions themselves lack internal consistency – a problem that, if irremediable, is absolutely fatal to the dual-process typology.

It is time that we as a field come to terms with these issues. With institutions like the World Bank and Institute of Medicine now endorsing our highly speculative and frequently misleading typology, we cannot afford to wait. Luckily, the solution is straightforward: researchers should rigorously explore each feature of a given process one by one, without making assumptions or drawing conclusions about other features that are not being studied. For too long the dual-process typology has obscured the rich diversity of the human mind. Let us embrace that diversity instead.

Abstract of the paper:

It is often said that there are two types of psychological processes: one that is intentional, controllable, conscious, and inefficient, and another that is unintentional, uncontrollable, unconscious, and efficient. Yet, there have been persistent and increasing objections to this widely influential dual-process typology. Critics point out that the ‘two types’ framework lacks empirical support, contradicts well-established findings, and is internally incoherent. Moreover, the untested and untenable assumption that psychological phenomena can be partitioned into two types, we argue, has the consequence of systematically thwarting scientific progress. It is time that we as a field come to terms with these issues. In short, the dual-process typology is a convenient and seductive myth, and we think cognitive science can do better.


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No big surprise:? Kids from wealthier families feel more control over their lives

How do you experience socio-economic status? This new study – although based on rather old but very complete data from the eighties and beginning of the nineties – examined which measures of socioeconomic status — parents’ education, family income, race and parents’ occupation — have the greatest influence over a child’s locus of control and more importantly: why.

From the press release:

Building on previous research that has shown that kids who feel more control experience better academic, health and even occupational outcomes, the findings underscore how the kids who most need this psychological resource may be the least likely to experience it.

The study by Dara Shifrer, a sociology professor in PSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, was published online this month in the journal Society and Mental Health. It’s titled, “The Contributions of Parental, Academic, School, and Peer Factors to Differences by Socioeconomic Status in Adolescents’ Locus of Control.”

Using data from 16,450 U.S. eighth graders surveyed for the National Education Longitudinal Study in 1988 and 1990, Shifrer examined which measures of socioeconomic status — parents’ education, family income, race and parents’ occupation — have the greatest influence over a child’s locus of control and why.

Locus of control describes the degree to which people feel control over their lives. People at one end of the scale, with external control, believe they are powerless and credit their successes and failures to other people, luck or fate. On the other end, people with internal control see their destiny as largely in their own hands.

Shifrer concluded that kids with higher socioeconomic status were more likely to have an internal locus of control, in large part because their parents discuss school more often with them, their homes have more books and other resources, they receive higher grades, they are more likely to attend a private school, their friends are more academically oriented, and they feel safer at school.

“We know income shapes the way people parent, shapes the peers that kids have, shapes the schools they attend,” she said. “It’s not just kids’ perception — their lives are a little bit more out of control when they’re poor.”

Shifrer said the study gives social scientists a better understanding by which family income influences child development.

Shifrer does acknowledge that there are some limitations to her study, which uses data from the early 1990s.

However, the data is one of the few large national datasets that measures adolescents’ locus of control, according to Shifrer. She said it is unlikely that its measure of locus of control is outdated, but suggests that the disparities in internal control could be even more stark today with increasing inequality and shifts in parenting norms and social media use.

Abstract of the study:

An internal locus of control may be particularly valuable for youth with low socioeconomic status (SES), yet the mechanisms that externalize their control remain unclear. This study uses data on 16,450 U.S. eighth graders surveyed for the National Education Longitudinal Study in 1988 and 1990. Results indicate family income is more closely associated with adolescents’ locus of control than parents’ occupations and educational attainment and that race does not independently affect adolescents’ locus of control net of these other components of SES. Findings also indicate higher SES adolescents feel more internal locus of control in largest part because their parents discuss school more often with them, their homes have more books and other cognitive resources, they receive higher grades in middle school science and social studies, they are more likely to attend a private rather than public school, their friends are more academically oriented, and they feel safer at school.

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New study in Nature: playing a lof of violent games doesn’t make players more violent

It’s a very popular idea, dating back to the theories and studies by Bandura: seeing violence teaches people to act violently. And more recently there was an American president linking computer games to school shootings. This new study shows that this maybe unwarranted.

In this study by Kühn et al published in Nature the researchers did a randomized controlled trial with 3 groups

  • 1 group who played Grand Theft Auto intensively during 2 months
  • 1 group who played The Sims 3 intensively during 2 months
  • 1 group who didn’t play games at all.

And what did the researchers find?

Within the scope of the present study we tested the potential effects of playing the violent video game GTA V for 2 months against an active control group that played the non-violent, rather pro-social life simulation game The Sims 3 and a passive control group. Participants were tested before and after the long-term intervention and at a follow-up appointment 2 months later. Although we used a comprehensive test battery consisting of questionnaires and computerised behavioural tests assessing aggression, impulsivity-related constructs, mood, anxiety, empathy, interpersonal competencies and executive control functions, we did not find relevant negative effects in response to violent video game playing. In fact, only three tests of the 208 statistical tests performed showed a significant interaction pattern that would be in line with this hypothesis. Since at least ten significant effects would be expected purely by chance, we conclude that there were no detrimental effects of violent video gameplay.

Will this study end all discussions? No, I’m sure this won’t be the case even if this study is very relevant. It’s worth noticing that the average age of the participants was 28, on which I would suggest that a replication with younger participants would be a very good idea.

Abstract of the study:

It is a widespread concern that violent video games promote aggression, reduce pro-social behaviour, increase impulsivity and interfere with cognition as well as mood in its players. Previous experimental studies have focussed on short-term effects of violent video gameplay on aggression, yet there are reasons to believe that these effects are mostly the result of priming. In contrast, the present study is the first to investigate the effects of long-term violent video gameplay using a large battery of tests spanning questionnaires, behavioural measures of aggression, sexist attitudes, empathy and interpersonal competencies, impulsivity-related constructs (such as sensation seeking, boredom proneness, risk taking, delay discounting), mental health (depressivity, anxiety) as well as executive control functions, before and after 2 months of gameplay. Our participants played the violent video game Grand Theft Auto V, the non-violent video game The Sims 3 or no game at all for 2 months on a daily basis. No significant changes were observed, neither when comparing the group playing a violent video game to a group playing a non-violent game, nor to a passive control group. Also, no effects were observed between baseline and posttest directly after the intervention, nor between baseline and a follow-up assessment 2 months after the intervention period had ended. The present results thus provide strong evidence against the frequently debated negative effects of playing violent video games in adults and will therefore help to communicate a more realistic scientific perspective on the effects of violent video gaming.


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The benefits from an university education: students more agreeable, conscientiousness

Earlier this week I read something by an author who claimed that there weren’t any benefits to schools and education. This new recent study published in Oxford Economic Papers shows that author wrong, very wrong as it shows a robust positive relationship between university education and extraversion, and agreeableness, in addition to the expected intellectual benefits. Even better, the study also shows that the impact of education on these skills is even much more for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

From the press release:

University education coincides with the transition from adolescence into young adulthood. The nature of this maturation process is toward increasing levels of agreeableness, conscientiousness, and emotional stability and decreasing levels of openness to experience and extraversion. University training may alter this maturation process: Theoretically, it could boost, weaken, or even reverse population trends in personality trait maturation.

University education may impact character skills development by providing students with exposure to new peer groups and extracurricular activities including sport, politics, and art. Because students from disadvantaged backgrounds are likely to be more affected by a change in peer groups through day-to-day interaction with academically inclined peers and academic groups, there may be a greater effect of university education on students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

To measure character skills researchers used five personality traits–openness to experience, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism–which are widely accepted as a meaningful construct for describing differences in character skills by psychologists. Some of these character skills- extraversion or openness to new experiences – are important for employers. Other character skills- like agreeableness – are related to preferences such as reciprocity and altruism, which are significant for personal health and wellbeing.

To identify the effect of university education, researchers followed the education and character skills trajectories of 575 adolescents over eight years using nationally-representative, longitudinal data from the Household, Income, and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey. The data provide measures of character skills before potential university entry, and follow up measures four and eight years later.

The results indicate that every additional year spent at university is associated with increases in extraversion and agreeableness for youth from low socioeconomic backgrounds.

The results show that university education has positive effects on extraversion, reversing a downward sloping population trend in outward orientation as people age. It also accelerates an upward-sloping population trend in agreeableness for students from low socioeconomic status, boosting agreeableness scores from the lowest levels observed at baseline to the highest levels at the eight-year follow up. This finding suggests that the causal mechanism is likely to operate through actual exposure to university life, rather than through academic course content. Such interpretation is strengthened by the observation that length of exposure to university life is positively associated with character development.

As yet, no empirical evidence has existed on the matter. This study provides a robust empirical look at the role that university education plays in skills development in adolescents. Australian universities contribute to building sociability (extraversion) and the tendency to cooperate (agreeableness).

In addition, university education is associated with higher levels of agreeableness for both male and female students from low socioeconomic backgrounds, who started from the lowest baseline scores in adolescence and experienced the steepest growth curve as they entered university. This implies that students from disadvantaged backgrounds catch up with their peers from more privileged backgrounds, thus reducing initial levels of inequality in agreeableness.

“We see quite clearly that students’ personalities change when they go to university, said the paper’s lead researcher,” Sonja Kassenboehmer. “Universities provide an intensive new learning and social environment for adolescents, so it is not surprising that this experience could impact on students’ personality. It is good news that universities not only seem to teach subject-specific skills, but also seem to succeed in shaping skills valued by employers and society.”

Abstract of the study:

We examine the effect of university education on students’ non-cognitive skills (NCS) using high-quality Australian longitudinal data. To isolate the skill-building effects of tertiary education, we follow the education decisions and NCS—proxied by the Big Five personality traits—of 575 adolescents over eight years. Estimating a standard skill production function, we demonstrate a robust positive relationship between university education and extraversion, and agreeableness for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The effects are likely to operate through exposure to university life rather than through degree-specific curricula or university-specific teaching quality. As extraversion and agreeableness are associated with socially beneficial behaviours, we propose that university education may have important non-market returns.


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There is something strange with most studies on the effects of meditation

Yesterday I found out about this new review study and meta-analysis on meditation via a tweet by Neuroskeptic. What did the researchers find? Well, read on…

First the good news:

Despite these high hopes, our analysis suggests that meditating is likely to have a positive, but still relatively limited effect in making individuals feel or act in a substantially more socially connected, or less aggressive and prejudiced way. Compared to doing no new emotionally engaging activity, it might make one feel moderately more compassionate or empathic…

Well, that’s not that bad, there is an effect but it’s moderate.

But there is more:

…but our findings suggest that these effects may be, at least in part, the result of methodological frailties, such as biases introduced by the meditation teacher, the type of control group used and the beliefs and expectations of participants about the power of meditation.

To make it more concrete:

…compassion levels only increased under two conditions: when the teacher in the meditation intervention was a co-author in the published study; and when the study employed a passive (waiting list) control group but not an active one.

The researchers aren’t saying there isn’t an effect, what they are saying is:

…the adaptation of spiritual practices into the lab suffers from methodological weaknesses and is partly immersed in theoretical mist. Before good research can be conducted on the prosocial effects of meditation, these problems need to be addressed.

Abstract of the report:

Many individuals believe that meditation has the capacity to not only alleviate mental-illness but to improve prosociality. This article systematically reviewed and meta-analysed the effects of meditation interventions on prosociality in randomized controlled trials of healthy adults. Five types of social behaviours were identified: compassion, empathy, aggression, connectedness and prejudice. Although we found a moderate increase in prosociality following meditation, further analysis indicated that this effect was qualified by two factors: type of prosociality and methodological quality. Meditation interventions had an effect on compassion and empathy, but not on aggression, connectedness or prejudice. We further found that compassion levels only increased under two conditions: when the teacher in the meditation intervention was a co-author in the published study; and when the study employed a passive (waiting list) control group but not an active one. Contrary to popular beliefs that meditation will lead to prosocial changes, the results of this meta-analysis showed that the effects of meditation on prosociality were qualified by the type of prosociality and methodological quality of the study. We conclude by highlighting a number of biases and theoretical problems that need addressing to improve quality of research in this area.

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Don’t try this at home or in school just yet: anxiety can help your memory (but it has several downsides)

Ok, the title was maybe a bit of clickbait, still I’ve seen worse conclusions made in the past based on research:  a study from the University of Waterloo has found that anxiety can help people to remember things. Still, I know that math-anxiety does the opposite to a math-exam, so the key word is probably can.

An extra reason why I wrote the title is because this experiment actually was meant for educators, but that another key concept is manageable levels of optimal anxiety . Manage that…

From the press release (bold are some warning signs made bold by me):

Anxiety can help people to remember things, a study from the University of Waterloo has found.

The study of 80 undergraduate students found that manageable levels of anxiety actually aided people in being able to recall the details of events.

It also found that when anxiety levels got too high or descended into fear, it could lead to the colouring of memories where people begin to associate otherwise neutral elements of an experience to the negative context.

“People with high anxiety have to be careful,” said co-author Myra Fernandes, professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Waterloo.

“To some degree, there is an optimal level of anxiety that is going to benefit your memory, but we know from other research that high levels of anxiety can cause people to reach a tipping point, which impacts their memories and performance.”

The study saw 80 undergraduate students from the University of Waterloo (64 females) complete the experiment. Half of the participants were randomly assigned to a deep encoding instruction group while the other half were randomly assigned to a shallow encoding group. All participants completed the Depression Anxiety Stress Scales.

It was discovered that individuals high in anxiety showed a heightened sensitivity to the influences of emotional context on their memory, with neutral information becoming tainted, or coloured by the emotion with which it was associated during encoding

“By thinking about emotional events or by thinking about negative events this might put you in a negative mindset that can bias you or change the way you perceive your current environment,” said Christopher Lee, a psychology Ph. D. candidate at Waterloo. “So, I think for the general public it is important to be aware of what biases you might bring to the table or what particular mindset you might be viewing the world in and how that might ultimately shape what we walk away seeing.”

Fernandes also said that for educators, it is important to be mindful that there could be individual factors that influence the retention of the material they are teaching and that lightening the mood when teaching could be beneficial.

Abstract of the study:

We investigated whether anxious individuals, who adopt an inherently negative mindset, demonstrate a particularly salient memory bias for words tainted by negative contexts. To this end, sequentially presented target words, overlayed onto negative or neutral pictures, were studied in separate blocks (within-subjects) using a deep or shallow encoding instruction (between-subjects). Following study, in Test 1, participants completed separate recognition test blocks for the words overlayed onto the negative and the neutral contexts. Following this, in Test 2, participants completed a recognition test for the foils from each Test 1 block. We found a significant three-way interaction on Test 2, such that individuals with high anxiety who initially studied target words using a shallow encoding instruction, demonstrated significantly elevated memory for foils that were contained within the negative Test 1 block. Results show that during retrieval (Test 1), participants re-entered the mode of processing (negative or neutral) engaged at encoding, tainting the encoding of foils with that same mode of processing. The findings suggest that individuals with high relative to low anxiety, adopt a particularly salient negative retrieval mode, and this creates a downstream bias in encoding and subsequent retrieval of otherwise neutral information.

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Another textbook study: how correct are introductory psychology textbooks?

This is becoming a real trend in research, and I for one am supporting this trend. So this time Russell et al have checked 29 textbooks for introductory psychology courses and they focused on what is being taught about intelligence. The good news, a lot is correct, the bad news concerns Howard Gardner MI theory that is outdated and not well-researched and other non-mainstream theories such as Sternberg’s practical intelligence.

What is being taught in those 29 textbooks?

The 10 most common topics in textbooks were IQ (27 books, 93.1%), Spearman’s g (27 books, 93.1%), Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (27 books, 93.1%), Sternberg’s triarchic theory of intelligence (26 books, 89.7%), the measurement of intelligence (24 books, 82.8%), psychometric validity and reliability (23 books, 79.3%), Alfred Binet and his work (22 books, 75.9%), the Stanford-Binet intelligence test (21 books, 72.4%), environmental influences on intelligence (20 books, 69.0%), and intellectual disabilities (20 books, 69.0%).

Abstract of the study:

Human intelligence is an important concept in psychology because it provides insights into many areas, including neurology, sociology, and health. Additionally, IQ scores can predict life outcomes in health, education, work, and socioeconomic status. Yet, most students of psychology do not have an opportunity to take a class on intelligence. To learn what psychology students typically learn about intelligence, we analyzed 29 textbooks for introductory psychology courses. We found that over 3/4 of textbooks contained inaccurate statements. The five most commonly taught topics were IQ (93.1% of books), Gardner’s multiple intelligences (93.1%), Spearman’s g (93.1%), Sternberg’s triarchic theory (89.7%), and how intelligence is measured (82.8%). We learned that most introductory psychology students are exposed to some inaccurate information about intelligence and may have the mistaken impression that nonmainstream theories (e.g., Sternberg’s or Gardner’s theories) are as empirically supported mainstream theories (such as Spearman’s g). (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)

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Very interesting paper: Are the smartest people losing their intelligence?

This is a fascinating new paper by James Flynn (who’s name delivered The Flynn Effect) and Michael Shayer. The paper doesn’t present a smoking gun, but tries to see trends in countries who see a decline in average IQ and countries who don’t see the same decline. But they look deeper than averages on parts of the test, by also looking on which groups in the population are doing worse.

I can share with you the summarizing bullet points:

  • Important national differences, particularly the contrast between Scandinavia and elsewhere.
  • Dutch trends show that IQ gains vary by age which is indicative of the strength of various causal factors.
  • Piagetian trends provide information conventional tests do not: that the largest losses may be at the top of the curve.

Or even the abstract:

The IQ gains of the 20th century have faltered. Losses in Nordic nations after 1995 average at 6.85 IQ points when projected over thirty years. On Piagetian tests, Britain shows decimation among high scorers on three tests and overall losses on one. The US sustained its historic gain (0.3 points per year) through 2014. The Netherlands shows no change in preschoolers, mild losses at high school, and possible gains by adults. Australia and France offer weak evidence of losses at school and by adults respectively. German speakers show verbal gains and spatial losses among adults. South Korea, a latecomer to industrialization, is gaining at twice the historic US rate.

When a later cohort is compared to an earlier cohort, IQ trends vary dramatically by age. Piagetian trends indicate that a decimation of top scores may be accompanied by gains in cognitive ability below the median. They also reveal the existence of factors that have an atypical impact at high levels of cognitive competence. Scandinavian data from conventional tests confirm the decimation of top scorers but not factors of atypical impact. Piagetian tests may be more sensitive to detecting this phenomenon.

But honestly, there are so many nuances in the article that both these summaries don’t do justice. I think this 2 parts of the conclusion are the most important elements of the paper.

Excerpt 1:

Nations that are candidates for IQ decline give evidence that ranges from beyond dispute to fragmentary. The strongest comes from Scandinavia as a whole, Britain (Volume and Heaviness), and Germany (spatial). Nordic data cover vocabulary, similarities, analogies, shapes, metal folding, number series, geometrical figures, and letter matrices. The pivotal year for all of these nations seems to be about 1995. Data from France and Australia await further studies but cannot be dis- missed. The US is strange. All ages plow on unaffected as yet. Black gains are larger than white but white gains are still robust (Flynn, 2012a). The quick developing world (Korea) and the slow developing world will of course continue to gain for some time.

These trends come as no surprise. Flynn has argued that industrialization may eventually pay diminishing returns in developed nations. Until very recently, we have enjoyed a more favorable ratio of adults to children in the home, more and better schooling, more cognitively demanding jobs, and better health and conditions of the aged. These caused large IQ gains for several generations. However, the same factors can turn from positive to mixed or even negative. The number of children in the home has reached a minimum (and indeed there are more solo-parent homes), middle class parents have used up the tricks that make the pre-school environment cognitively enriching, we appear to have reached a limit in terms of enhanced schooling and the number we keep in school into adulthood, the economy may be producing fewer cognitively demanding jobs in favor of more service work; however, we may continue to improve the health of the aged.

Excerpt 2 (bold by me):

The Piagetian results are particularly ominous. Looming over all is their message that the pool of those who reach the top level of cognitive performance is being decimated: fewer and fewer people attain the formal level at which they can think in terms of abstractions and develop their capacity for deductive logic and systematic planning. They also reveal that something is actually targeting that level with special effect, rather than simply reducing its numbers in accord with losses over the curve as a whole. We have given our reason as to why the Piagetian tests are sensitive to this phenomenon in a way that conventional tests are not.

Massive IQ gains over time were never written in the sky as something eternal like the law of gravity. They are subject to every twist and turn of social evolution. If there is a decline, should we be too upset? During the 20th century, society escalated its skill demands and IQ rose. During the 21st century, if society reduces its skill demands, IQ will fall. Nonetheless, no one would welcome decay in the body politic, or among the elite who at present represent our best thinkers. Although it might be argued that the character of the electorate will be enhanced if it contained fewer lawyers and more plumbers and service workers.

It is always possible that our schools and universities will graduate more young people who read and become more critically astute. This in itself would put a limit on IQ losses on Vocabulary, Information, and most Verbal tests, and on accepting the stereotypes that cloud moral reasoning and political prudence.



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Is there a link between working memory and physical exercise?

There have been numerous studies that make a link between physical exercise and learning, but this new study looks a bit deeper as it shows a positive relationship between the brain network associated with working memory — the ability to store and process information relevant to the task at hand — and healthy traits such as higher physical endurance and better cognitive function. (note: relationship doesn’t necessarily mean causal relation…) But it does seem mens sana in corpore sano.

From the press release:

These traits were associated with greater cohesiveness of the working memory brain network while traits indicating suboptimal cardiovascular and metabolic health, and suboptimal health habits including binge drinking and regular smoking, were associated with less cohesive working memory networks.

This is the first study to establish the link between working memory and physical health and lifestyle choices.

The results of the study will be published online in Molecular Psychiatry.

The research team took brain scans of 823 participants in the Human Connectome Project (HCP), a large brain imaging study funded by the National Institutes of Health, while they performed a task involving working memory, and extracted measures of brain activity and connectivity to create a brain map of working memory. The team then used a statistical method called sparse canonical correlation to discover the relationships between the working memory brain map and 116 measures of cognitive ability, physical and mental health, personality, and lifestyle choices. They found that cohesiveness in the working memory brain map was positively associated with higher physical endurance and better cognitive function. Physical traits such as high body mass index, and suboptimal lifestyle choices including binge alcohol drinking and regular smoking, had the opposite association.

“Working memory accounts for individual differences in personal, educational, and professional attainment,” said Sophia Frangou, MD, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Working memory is also one of the brain functions that is severely affected by physical and mental illnesses. Our study identified factors that can either support or undermine the working memory brain network. Our findings can empower people to make informed choices about how best to promote and preserve brain health.”

Abstract of the study:

Working memory (WM) is a central construct in cognitive neuroscience because it comprises mechanisms of active information maintenance and cognitive control that underpin most complex cognitive behavior. Individual variation in WM has been associated with multiple behavioral and health features including demographic characteristics, cognitive and physical traits and lifestyle choices. In this context, we used sparse canonical correlation analyses (sCCAs) to determine the covariation between brain imaging metrics of WM-network activation and connectivity and nonimaging measures relating to sensorimotor processing, affective and nonaffective cognition, mental health and personality, physical health and lifestyle choices derived from 823 healthy participants derived from the Human Connectome Project. We conducted sCCAs at two levels: a global level, testing the overall association between the entire imaging and behavioral–health data sets; and a modular level, testing associations between subsets of the two data sets. The behavioral–health and neuroimaging data sets showed significant interdependency. Variables with positive correlation to the neuroimaging variate represented higher physical endurance and fluid intelligence as well as better function in multiple higher-order cognitive domains. Negatively correlated variables represented indicators of suboptimal cardiovascular and metabolic control and lifestyle choices such as alcohol and nicotine use. These results underscore the importance of accounting for behavioral–health factors in neuroimaging studies of WM and provide a neuroscience-informed framework for personalized and public health interventions to promote and maintain the integrity of the WM network.

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