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Archive for the 'Cognition and Perception' Category

March 11, 2006

Self-Help Resources – Anxiety

The pressures of academic deadlines, worry about grades, juggling relationships and part time jobs can keep you “on your toes”. Throw in angst about figuring out who you are and where you’re heading in life and it’s a lot to deal with. A certain amount of anxiety can be expected for most students. For this kind of situational and developmental anxiety, paying attention to self care (adequate sleep, exercise and eating from food groups other than “fast food”) and learning self help skills such as time management, diaphragmatic (belly) breathing, meditation, positive self talk and clear communication may be enough to help manage the anxiety.

But for 15% of the population, anxiety reaches the point of a disorder that may require professional help. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders as a group are the most common mental health concern in America. They affect 19 million adults each year .


February 2, 2006

Psych out: Psychology research experiments test students’ patience

Patty Canale didn’t know what to think when she signed her name to a list of participants for an upcoming psychology experiment.

“I thought maybe I was performing an experiment,” said Canale, a freshman in The College of Arts and Sciences. I didn’t know that I’d be hooked up to electrodes and have to fill out a waiver when I got there. I thought I’d be looking at pictures.”

Like Canale, many students taking PSY 205 and PSY 209 don’t know what the individual experiments they sign up for will entail and how researchers are able to take advantage of this student requirement. Students have questioned the extent to which their participation in other peoples’ experiments has educational value for them.


September 5, 2005

Men have higher IQ than women: study:

Filed under: Cognition and Perception,Western Europe — Admin @ 6:08 pm

London: Men’s IQ is on average five points higher than women’s, according to a new study conducted at Manchester University in Britain.

The study that is likely to stir a hornet’s nest is to be published in November by the British Journal of Psychology.

The British Psychological Society, which publishes the journal, would not release details, but study leader Paul Irwing, a senior lecturer at the university, told the Times Higher Educational Supplement he had found evidence to back up his conclusion.

Irwing did his work in cooperation with Richard Lynn, emeritus professor of Psychology at the University of Ulster, who has previously published controversial work on the theme.

“My politics are rather different from Richard’s and from my point of view, I would prefer it if we were wrong,” Irwing said.

But he added he felt compelled to place “scientific truth” above personal political conflicts, and potentially even his academic reputation.

The paper, to be published Nov 4, is certain to re-ignite controversy in academic circles.

In the past, Lynn has said that men have higher IQ than women, whites higher than blacks and Eastern Asians higher than Europeans.

Extrapolated across the population, the results indicated that there are three men for every woman with an IQ above 130, and 5.5 men for every woman with an IQ above 145.

“These different proportions of men and women with high IQ scores are clearly worth speaking of and may go some way to explaining the greater numbers of men achieving distinctions of various kinds for which a high IQ is required, such as chess grandmasters, Fields medallists for mathematics, Nobel prize winners and the like,” Irwing said.

The study offers some consolation to women: it says they tend to work harder.

Women with the same IQ as men achieve more “possibly because they are more conscientious and better adapted to sustained periods of hard work,” it says.

In 1999, Lynn concluded that men on average had an IQ three to four points higher than women.

August 11, 2005

How do we gauge our personal health risks?

Filed under: Cognition and Perception,Western Europe — Admin @ 1:25 pm

Psychologists have gained insight into how people judge their personal health risks. The findings suggest that people aren’t horribly off the mark as long as they do not rely on media reports and stick to what’s happened to people they know. The study appears in the current issue of JEP (Journal of Experimental Psychology): Learning, Memory and Cognition, which is published by the American Psychological Association (APA).

The findings challenge the assumption, says Ralph Hertwig, PhD, of the University of Basel in Switzerland, that people make huge blunders when inferring the likelihood of, say, dying of a heart attack or in a car accident. He says, “People can arrive at relatively accurate estimates as long as they rely on their personal experiences of the frequencies of such events … by thinking of how many of their relatives, friends and acquaintances died from these causes.”

He continues, “However, when they start sampling from the virtual world as created by the mass media, they are more likely to arrive at distorted estimates of likelihood.” For instance, if people sample from the virtual world, they might readily conclude that many more people die due to more rare but dramatic causes such as mad-cow disease or airplane crashes, than due to more typical causes such as asthma.

The authors are concerned that as “factors such as overpopulation, poverty, and global climate change pave the way for new health risks, it becomes even more important to better understand how the public perceives and judges risks.”

Hertwig and other cognitive psychologists first extended theories of how people think about event frequencies to health risks in particular. Then, at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, they tested these models by asking participants to assess health risks in various ways.

The researchers presented one group of 45 participants with pairs of causes of death and asked them to choose the cause that took more lives per year. They presented two other groups, of 30 and 35 participants, with pairs of types of cancer and pairs of infectious diseases, respectively, and asked them to choose the disease with the higher incidence rate (the number of new cases appearing in a population in a given time). The Federal Statistical Office of Germany and the Robert Koch Institute provided the disease data.

On average, participants were 71.2 % correct in the causes-of-death set; average accuracy was slightly lower for the cancer set (68.2 %) and markedly higher for the infection set (80.6 %).

The scores not only demonstrated reasonably good accuracy, but also made sense in terms of two of the four proposed models: “availability by recall” and “regressed frequency mechanisms.”

In a second study, the psychologists directly tested how well these two models predicted risk assessments for each OF 276 disease pairs and each of 80 participants, based on what a post-experimental test showed about their knowledge. Hertwig was surprised that “two quite different models, based on different underlying assumptions, explain the data equally well.”

According to the availability by recall model, people assess the odds of an event by the frequency of experienced episodes within their social network. They might, for instance, figure their odds of having a heart attack by thinking about the people they know who have had heart attacks.

The other thought process, a “regressed-frequency mechanism,” assumes that people base their health risks on automatically encoded frequency information arising from a goulash of various exposures — including obituaries and news reports, doctors’ warnings, public-awareness campaigns and so forth. Because it’s hard to reliably process all that information, however, people’s estimates shift toward the average value in a category, a statistical phenomenon called “regression toward the mean.” As a result, small frequencies (such as dying from vitamin overdose) are overestimated and large frequencies (such as dying from rectal cancer) are underestimated.

The researchers ruled out the use of a supposed “fluency mechanism,” in which media coverage shapes people’s risk perceptions (individuals would have felt at high risk of getting West Nile virus last summer), and another mechanism according to which people have only a sense of the frequencies of high-level categories of risks such as natural hazards.

The authors speculate that people switch their risk-assessment strategies depending on available information from memory, not using the same mechanism for each single inference. They write, “For instance, if a person cannot retrieve any episode within his or her social circle, he or she may attempt to rely on a sense of fluency or frequency.”

Article: “Judgments of Risk Frequencies: Tests of Possible Cognitive Mechanisms;” Ralph Hertwig, PhD, University of Basel; and Thorsten Pachur and Stephanie Kurzenhäuser, Max Planck Institute for Human Development; Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory and Cognition; Vol. 31, No. 4.

(Full text of the article is available from the APA Public Affairs Office and at

Ralph Hertwig can be reached by E-mail at or by phone at (+41) 61 2670611. The American Psychological Association (APA), in Washington, DC, is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 53 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting human welfare.

Pam Willenz
American Psychological Association

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