Image Credits: Darrell Hargett
Archive for the ‘Memory’ Tag
The term cognitive psychology came into use with the publication of the book Cognitive Psychology by Ulric Neisser in 1967. Cognitive Psychology revolves around the notion that if we want to know what makes people tick then we need to understand the internal processes of their mind. Cognition literally means “knowing”. In other words, psychologists from this approach study cognition which is ‘the mental act or process by which knowledge is acquired.’
Cognitive psychology focuses on the way humans process information, looking at how we treat information that comes in to the person; what behaviorists would call stimuli, and how this treatment leads to responses. In other words, they are interested in the variables that mediate between stimulus/input and response/output. Cognitive psychologists study internal processes including perception, attention, language, memory and thinking.
v Several factors were important in this:
v Dissatisfaction with the behaviorist approach in its simple emphasis on external behavior rather than internal processes
v The development of better experimental methods
v Comparison between human and computer processing of information
The cognitive approach began to revolutionize psychology in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s, to become the dominant approach that is to say perspective in psychology by the late 1970s. Interest in mental processes had been gradually restored through the work of Piaget and Tolman. Other factors were important in the early development of the cognitive approach. For example, dissatisfaction with the behaviorist approaches in its simple emphasis on behavior rather than internal processes and the development of better experimental methods. But it was the arrival of the computer that gave cognitive psychology the terminology and metaphor it needed to investigate the human mind. The start of the use of computers allowed psychologists to try to understand the complexities of human cognition by comparing it with something simpler and better understood that is to say an artificial system such as a computer.
Cognitive Approach Summary
· Mediational Processes
· Computer Analogy
· Introspection (Wundt)
· Nomothetic (studies the group)
· Machine Reductionism
· Lab Experiments
· Introspection (Wundt)
· Interviews (Kohlberg, Piaget)
· Case Studies (KF, HM )
· Observations (Piaget)
· Computer Modeling
Areas of Application
· Cognitive psychology is a pure science, based mainly on laboratory experiments.
· Behavior can be largely explained in terms of how the mind operates, i.e. the information processing approach.
· The mind works in a way similar to a computer: inputting, storing and retrieving data.
· Mediational processes occur between stimulus and response.
· Moral Development (Kohlberg)
· Child Development (Piaget)
· Learning Styles (Kolb)
· Face Recognition (Bruce and Young)
· Highly applicable (e.g. therapy, EWT)
· Combines easily with approaches: behaviorism + Cog = Social Learning Biology + Cog = Evolutionary Psy
· Many empirical studies to support theories
· Ignores biology (e.g. testosterone)
· Experiments – low ecological validity
· Humanism – rejects scientific method
· Behaviorism – can’t objectively study unobservable behavior
· Introspection is subjective
· Machine reductionism
Evaluation of the Cognitive Approach
Skinner criticizes the cognitive approach as he believes that only external stimulus – response behavior should be studied as this can be scientifically measured. Therefore, mediation processes (between stimulus and response) do not exist as they cannot be seen and measured. Skinner continues to find problems with cognitive research methods, namely introspection (as used by Wundt) due to its subjective and unscientific nature.
Carl Rogers believes that the use of laboratory experiments by cognitive psychology have low ecological validity and create an artificial environment due to the control over variables. Rogers emphasizes a more holistic approach to understanding behavior.
The information processing paradigm of cognitive psychology views that minds in terms of a computer when processing information. However, there are important difference between humans and computers. The mind does not process information like a computer as computers don’t have emotions or get tired like humans. Behaviorism assumes that people are born a blank slate (tabula rasa) and are not born with cognitive functions like schemas, memory or perception. The cognitive approach does not always recognize physical (re: biological psychology) and environmental (re: behaviorism) factors in determining behavior.
I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste. Don’t think you understand It. On the other hand, don’t think you don’t understand It. It? What is It, a pronoun capitalized this way? What is It, pronounced with the kind of emphasis that communicates great significance? Alternatively, it is called the Great Matter, Enlightenment, Emptiness, Suchness. These are ways we refer to different aspects of It. When I write these words, what do you think to yourself? You probably think to yourself either that you don’t understand these things, “Wow, I wish I understood those things, maybe I will someday.” Or, perhaps, “I will probably never understand,” or when you hear these words you have a sense that you do understand these things, at least to some degree; the words conjure up for you a memory of an experience, a mind-state, an insight, or you think of images or sensations that you find comforting or inspiring. It is difficult to say which of these – a sense that we don’t understand, or a sense that we do understand – is more detrimental to spiritual practice.
Buddhist understanding – prajna paramita, the perfection of wisdom – is completely different from ordinary understanding. It is so different that even though it is here under our noses all the time, we miss It. Even though this Understanding is free and available, we revere Shakyamuni Buddha as a once-in-a-universe amazing person because he came to It without even having a teacher who pointed it out to him. This is the central teaching of Buddhism – that there is a kind of wisdom, a kind of insight, “which removes all suffering, and is true, not false.” The Buddha studied suffering – old age, disease, death, loss, dissatisfactions – and asked whether there was any way out of it. He was not the first to ask this question by any means. Almost every religion and social movement has tried to offer people a remedy, a way out, at least a mitigation of this human experience of suffering.
What the Buddha realized was, in a sense, its all how you relate to it. It’s all how you see it and understand your place in it. However, this is not about adopting some arbitrary positive outlook! Well, you could look at things that way and suffer, but if you adopt this philosophy or view things don’t look so bad…This is about seeing the true nature of reality. What is it that we see? A textbook answer would be something like, “we see that we, and all beings and things, are empty of inherent, enduring self-nature.” But this description is so inadequate to convey what we end up understanding. We could also say “we see that things-just-as-they-are, without the filter of our self-concern, are precious.” Or we could say “we see that there is only this moment, and this moment is free from suffering.”
Intellectual understanding of these descriptions or faithful belief in these descriptions, do not convey the release from suffering that the Buddha found. They must be personally and directly experienced for that to occur and once they are personally and directly experienced we are forever changed, but no experience in the past conveys lasting release from suffering either. Perhaps when you hear It – the Great Matter, Prajna Paramita (Transcendental Wisdom), Enlightenment, Emptiness, Suchness – you recall the spacious, unself-conscious feeling you experience in the wilderness. That’s not It. Perhaps you think of the “zone” you get into while doing a body practice or artistic activity. That’s not It. Perhaps you think of how vast space is, or how we are made up mostly of space, between our tiny atomic particles. That’s not It. Perhaps you think of how everything changes, so you can’t really draw a boundary around who you are. That’s not It. Perhaps you think of how it is impossible to trace all the causes and conditions and beings that brought you the meal you eat, and how dependent you are on all these different aspects of the universe. That’s not It.
Now, it would be good for all of us, myself included, if I left you with that message and shut up. But in the West, especially in Soto Zen, they explain things. It is the gentle way. It is so easy to be satisfied with just an intellectual understanding. It is so easy to fool ourselves that ours is not just an intellectual understanding – after all, if it is associated with emotions, it’s not just intellectual, right? It is so easy to allow what was once a real experience to devolve into a mere memory, a mere view. Most of us walk around with a largely intellectual understanding of It. As Dogen would say, we are “playing in the entrance way.” This is why Zen Masters through the ages have pulled out all the stops and done all kinds of strange things to try and wake their students up from their dreams. They yanked their students’ noses, offered riddles, put slippers on their heads. What is that about? Some kind of ridiculous code? A contest to see who was least inhibited? No. It says Right Here, Right Now, Do You See? In a sense it doesn’t matter what is said or done to express it; if both people can experience It, the arrows have met in mid-air. This is extremely important. There is no god in Buddhism that is going to condemn us or even be disappointed in us because we just play in the entrance way. But what a shame.
But thinking you do not understand is just as bad. When I think like that, I am here, and understanding is over there – in that [other person’s] head, or in the past, or in the future. This can be one of the most painful beliefs. It can also be one of the biggest obstacles. We are intimate with It every moment of every day. It is never anywhere else. We experience the perfection of wisdom when we stop looking anywhere else. When the Zen Master comes and challenges us, we answer her in kind. Perhaps we say, “Yes! Buddha caught the pillow!” Perhaps we throw the pillow back. Perhaps we laugh. But the challenge does not send us off in our minds to abstractions or memories, concepts, images, metaphors or teachings. We know the Buddha is nowhere else, and have dropped the self-concern that wonders how “I” relate to Buddha.
Being at home with oneself like that is an immense relief from suffering. We must struggle to understand, unfortunately there are no shortcuts. But what we do in that struggle is exhaust all of our dreams until finally there is no place left to go. Then we see It is something we have understood all along. We just didn’t know what kind of understanding to look for. And a final note – having answered the Zen master’s challenge one day does not mean we will be able to do so the next. This is not an understanding that is of any use to us in the past.
In a recent tai chi class, I was learning a new position that I had never done before or so I thought, when I was overcome not only by the feeling of having been in that exact same contorted position before, but by a sense of knowing exactly which sequence of movements would come next. I was astonished when the sequence I thought should come next were exactly the movements that the instructor had us do next. Was this what people mean when they say that they've experienced a “precognition” a feeling of an ability to see into the future? Is there a scientific explanation for this type of experience?
For many years, I have studied déjà vu, the feeling of having been somewhere or done something before despite knowing otherwise. Researchers argue that déjà vu is often a memory phenomenon: One of its causes can be that a prior memory that we fail to call to mind is producing a sense of familiarity with the current situation. A hotels.com commercial illustrates this: A man enters his hotel room for the first time and, wide-eyed and spooked, exclaims to his partner “I’ve been in this room before!” “What?” she says. “I’ve been here before.” he says. She points out: “Uh, yeah. You took the virtual tour on hotels.com.”
Occasionally, someone will approach me insisting that I have it wrong about déjà vu. I have heard such comments as, “Déjà vu is not a mere memory for the past. It is a precognition. When I’ve had déjà vu, I have also known exactly what would happen next.” People often insist with great confidence that their experiences of déjà vu have been accompanied by a sense of what will happen next. It feels to them like a so-called precognition or an ability to see into the future.
Is it possible that the experience of déjà vu sometimes is accompanied by a sense of what will happen next?
In a recent article appearing in New Scientist, “Memory: Remembrance of Things to Come,” David Robson discusses a perspective on memory that is gaining traction in the field –that memory's adaptive purpose is not so much to allow us to consciously remember our pasts as to help us to navigate our futures. Foresight may be the flipside of episodic memory. Memory can help us to navigate our futures in many ways, ranging from our use of imagination and ability to be creative to simply allowing us to know what to do next or how to react in situations.
Being a form of memory, it is possible that déjà vu does the same. If déjà vu itself results from an unrecalled, buried memory as in the hotels.com commercial, then it is possible that an accompanying sense of what will happen next comes from that same buried memory. It is easy to imagine, for example, that the man in the hotels.com commercial might have had a sense about what was around the corner – a sense that was coming from his unrecalled memory of having taken the virtual tour.
My recent experience in tai chi class is a good example. It was probably driven by my own unrecalled memory for the past. Years ago, I practiced tai chi in a different place—a different town, a different state. Then I gave it up for many years before recently taking it up again. Though I could not recall ever having done this particular move before, chances are, I did and just don’t consciously remember. Very likely, while learning this “new” move in my current yoga class, some memory for that move from years ago was being triggered, though not consciously called to mind. It gave me not only a sense of having experienced the move before, but also an ability to sense what the next movements should be. In short, the past experience, even though I failed to recall it, allowed me to predict the future without knowing why.
- 10 Strange Phenomenas of The Mind (socyberty.com)
Living in the moment has benefits. While you’re in the middle of an enjoyable experience, you’re most likely to be tuned into the pleasures signaled by your body’s senses. On the other hand, an experience marked by pain, mishaps, and inconvenience is one you’d just as soon get out of as soon as possible. Even so, after it’s over, many of us forget how badly we felt while it was going on. When pain outweighs pleasure, living in the moment isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
As it turns out, many of us are pretty likely to form biased memories of our experiences. The biases can go in both positive and negative directions. According to Nobel-prize winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, the “peak-end rule” is just one of many errors of judgment that affects the accuracy of our cognitive apparatus. An event makes its mark in our memories more by what happens at its end than at any prior point. In his book, Thinking Fast and Slow, Kahneman points out many of the illogical features of our thought processes, including the contrast between our experiences in the moment and the way we remember them.
Studies of happiness in the moment use a method called “experience sampling” in which people provide an instantaneous reading of how they are feeling. New technologies allow researchers to “ping” participants, asking them questions about what they’re doing right now, instead of having them provide recollections at some later point. For example, German researcher Bettina Sonnenberg and her colleagues (2012) asked participants on their mobile phones to report the activities they were engaging in while pursuing their daily routines. The participants also completed standard survey questionnaires about their use of time. People’s reports through experience sampling were very consistent with surveys that they later completed regarding questions about the amount of time they spent at paid work. However, when participants were asked to estimate how much time they spent in less regular, predictable activities (such as errands or leisure), the survey reports diverged substantially from the moment-to-moment data they recorded through experience sampling.
It’s no surprise that people rate their happiness while having a previous experience higher than they did while going through the experience itself. While you’re in the moment, you are aware of more of the “objective” features of the situation. You may be having your favorite meal, trying to unwind after a stressful day, and although you love the music itself, your mind strays to some of the unpleasant things that happened to you earlier. If we “ping” you to rate your happiness, your rating may reflect not the food you’re trying to enjoy, but the recall of what caused you to feel stressed. How many times, for example, have you watched a movie or TV show, absorbed in the action, only to have that little glimmer of emotional discomfort penetrate your consciousness?
From this one brief example, let’s extrapolate to more significant experiences in your life. Perhaps it was a joyous family occasion that became marred, temporarily, by someone’s emotional outburst. You really wanted to enjoy the event, but it wasn’t going completely as planned due to this one unfortunate incident. Over time, your memory of that event, according to Kahneman, will smooth out the rough edges and you’ll be left with an overall recollection that most likely will be a happy one.
There are many advantages to remembering the past in a positive way. For example, the older adults with higher levels of self-esteem and well-being are the ones who tend to focus on those positive events from their lives. Long-term happiness often depends on your forming a favorable narrative of your life. Those who ruminate over their failures, disappointments, and mistakes are not only less happy in the moment, but also risk experiencing chronic depression.
With this background in mind, let’s take a closer look at one of the most intriguing results that Kahneman describes about the foibles of human memory. The peak-end rule states that the way an experience ends determines the happiness we ascribe to it. There are two classic experiments demonstrating the peak-end rule. Kahneman and his associates showed, in 1993 that participants exposed to 30 seconds of 14 degree ice water (very cold!) rated the experience as more painful than participants exposed to 90 seconds of exposure to 60 seconds of 14 degree ice water plus 30 additional seconds of 15 degree ice water. In other words, participants found the 90 seconds of ice water exposure less painful than those exposed to 60 seconds of nearly equally cold water because the 90 seconds ended with exposure to a “warmer” stimulus. We will rate an experience as less painful, then, if it ends on a slightly less painful way. The “peak end” in this case was a one degree difference in water temperature.
Many studies support the peak-end rule. People will prefer and even choose exposing themselves to more pain (objectively determined) if the situation ends with them feeling less pain. Think about it this way. If you are having a tooth drilled, you’d find it was less painful if the dentist ends the procedure with some lightening of the drill’s intensity, even if the procedure is longer than it would otherwise be. Counterintuitive? Yes. Common? Definitely.
We approach not only our experiences of pleasure and pain in this way, but also our acquisition of objects that we’re given as gifts. As reported in a review article by Dartmouth psychologist Amy Do and collaborators (2008), participants given free DVD’s were more pleased with the gifts if they received the more popular ones after the less popular ones, then if they received the exact same DVD’s in the opposite order. When it comes to pleasure, it’s all about the ending.
In the happiness realm, we can come up with many similar analogies from everyday life. Think about the last time you took a trip that was hopelessly botched by a series of mishaps. While traveling somewhere on vacation or for the holidays, perhaps you were delayed by bad weather, traffic, or a combination of the two. While going through the moment, you could not have been any more miserable. An experience sample would have charted your unhappiness as off the charts. However, as bad as it was for a while, by the end you got where you were going and were even reasonably on time. All those bad memories during the moment now recede and you feel that you have no real reason to complain. Contrast that experience with a trip that starts out well but ends badly. You’ll rate that experience as one worthy of your most vociferous objections to anyone and everyone who will listen.
What can you learn from the peak-end rule to help you boost your own happiness quotient, both long-term, and in the moment? Here are three take-away messages:
1. Keep your mind focused on your goals during a negative experience. If things are going badly for you, try to find some redeeming aspect of the situation that will keep you motivated to get through it. If you are going through a painful procedure, medical or otherwise, look for ways to make it end on a better note than it began.
2. Don’t let minor discomforts ruin your pleasurable experiences. Those longed-for occasions don’t always go perfectly. However, if you can keep the occasional disruptions from invading your mood, you’ll find the pleasure-to-pain ratio wins out in favor of pleasure.
3. End your experiences on a “high note.” As Jerry Seinfeld so wisely pointed out many years ago, ending on a high note will always leave them “wanting more.” If you wait till the “bitter end” (to use another metaphor), the experience will be one you remember far more pleasantly.
As Shakespeare says, “All’s Well that Ends Well.” Let’s hope that your endings are just as happy!
- Thoughts on “Thinking, fast and slow” (clubtroppo.com.au)
- This much I know: Daniel Kahneman (guardian.co.uk)
- Potential for Happiness (swiss-miss.com)
- Rethinking the Endowment Effect: How Ownership Affects Our Valuations (bigthink.com)
- The Case for Spending Too Much on Summer Vacation (theatlantic.com)