Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy
Showing posts with label Memory. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Memory. Show all posts

Monday, May 22, 2023

New evaluation guidelines for dementia

The Monitor on Psychology
Vol. 54, No. 3
Print Version: Page 40

Updated APA guidelines are now available to help psychologists evaluate patients with dementia and their caregivers with accuracy and sensitivity and learn about the latest developments in dementia science and practice.

APA Guidelines for the Evaluation of Dementia and Age-Related Cognitive Change (PDF, 992KB) was released in 2021 and reflects updates in the field since the last set of guidelines, released in 2011, said geropsychologist and University of Louisville professor Benjamin T. Mast, PhD, ABPP, who chaired the task force that produced the guidelines.

“These guidelines aspire to help psychologists gain not only a high level of technical expertise in understanding the latest science and procedures for evaluating dementia,” he said, “but also have a high level of sensitivity and empathy for those undergoing a life change that can be quite challenging.”

Major updates since 2011 include:

Discussion of new DSM terminology. The new guidelines discuss changes in dementia diagnosis and diagnostic criteria reflected in the most recent version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (Fifth Edition). In particular, the DSM-5 changed the term “dementia” to “major neurocognitive disorder,” and “mild cognitive impairment” to “minor neurocognitive disorder.” As was true with earlier nomenclature, providers and others amend these terms depending on the cause or causes of the disorder, for example, “major neurocognitive disorder due to traumatic brain injury.” That said, the terms “dementia” and “mild cognitive impairment” are still widely used in medicine and mental health care.

Discussion of new research guidelines. The new guidelines also discuss research advances in the field, in particular the use of biomarkers to detect various forms of dementia. Examples are the use of amyloid imaging—PET scans with a radio tracer that selectively binds to amyloid plaques—and analysis of amyloid and tau in cerebrospinal fluid. While these techniques are still mainly used in major academic medical centers, it is important for clinicians to know about them because they may eventually be used in clinical practice, said Bonnie Sachs, PhD, ABPP, an associate professor and neuropsychologist at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. “These developments change the way we think about things like Alzheimer’s disease, because they show there is a long preclinical asymptomatic phase before people start to show memory problems,” she said.

Friday, April 28, 2023

Filling in the Gaps: False Memories and Partisan Bias

Armaly, M.T. & Enders, A.
Political Psychology, Vol. 0, No. 0, 2022
doi: 10.1111/pops.12841


While cognitive psychologists have learned a great deal about people's propensity for constructing and acting on false memories, the connection between false memories and politics remains understudied. If partisan bias guides the adoption of beliefs and colors one's interpretation of new events and information, so too might it prove powerful enough to fabricate memories of political circumstances. Across two studies, we first distinguish false memories from false beliefs and expressive responses; false political memories appear to be genuine and subject to partisan bias. We also examine the political and psychological correlates of false memories. Nearly a third of respondents reported remembering a fabricated or factually altered political event, with many going so far as to convey the circumstances under which they “heard about” the event. False-memory recall is correlated with the strength of partisan attachments, interest in politics, and participation, as well as narcissism, conspiratorial thinking, and cognitive ability.


While cognitive psychologists have learned a great deal about people’s propensity for constructing and acting on false memories, the role of false memories in political attitudes has received scant attention. In this study, we built on previous work by investigating the partisan foundations and political and psychological correlates of false memories. We found that nearly a third of respondents reported remembering a fabricated or factually altered political event. These false memories are not mere beliefs or expressive responses; indeed, most respondents conveyed where they “heard about” at least one event in question, with some providing vivid details of their circumstances. We also found that false memory is associated with the strength of one’s partisan attachments, conspiracism, and interest in politics, among other factors.

Altogether, false memories seem to behave like a form of partisan bias: The more in touch one is with politics, especially the political parties, the more susceptible they are to false- memory construction. While we cannot ascribe causality, uncovering this (likely) mechanism has several implications. First, the more polarized we become, the more likely individuals may be to con-struct false memories about in-  and outgroups. In turn, the falser memories one constructs about the greatness of one’s ingroup and the evil doings of the outgroup, the higher the temperature of polarization rises. Second, false- memory construction may be one mechanism by which mis-information takes hold psychologically. By exposing people to information they are motivated to believe, skilled traffickers of misinformation may be able to not only convince one to be-lieve something but convince them that something which never transpired actually did so. The conviction that accompanies memory— people’s natural tendency to believe their memories are trustworthy— makes false memories a particularly pernicious route by which to manipulate those subject to this bias. Indeed, this is precisely the concern presented by “deepfakes”— images and videos that have been expertly altered or fabricated for the purpose of exploiting targeted viewers. Finally, and relatedly, politicians may be able to induce false memories, strategically molding a past reality to suit their political will.

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Biden Team Gets It Right on Inadmissibility of Torture Evidence

Tess Bridgeman
Originally posted 1 FEB 22

The Biden administration just took an important step to restore the rule of law in the Al-Nashiri case at the Guantanamo military commissions: it categorically rejected the use of statements obtained through torture at any stage in the proceedings and promised that the government will not seek to admit any statements the petitioner made while in CIA custody. This should be unremarkable, as it clearly reflects U.S. domestic and international legal obligations and Biden administration policy, but the position the Department of Justice (DOJ) took in its brief filed in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday is actually an about-face from the position prosecutors took before the military commission judge. The Al-Nashiri case has a long history, but this most recent controversy stems from prosecutors’ decision to seek to admit statements obtained through torture in pre-trial proceedings in the capital case of Abd Al-Rahim Hussein Al-Nashiri, the “alleged mastermind” of the U.S.S. Cole bombing. Although the prosecution eventually withdrew the particular statements at issue, it had essentially reserved the right to rely on torture-obtained evidence in future proceedings. 

In October of last year, Al-Nashiri filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that sought “to enjoin the government from offering, and the military commission judge from considering, torture-derived evidence.” The much-awaited U.S. government response — called a “moment of truth” for the Biden administration on torture — came yesterday. 


The government is taking the issue seriously in this case; but what about the other cases? 

The government brief states that it has “conducted a search of this case’s voluminous record, including the prosecution’s ex parte submissions” to determine whether there have been any “past orders predicated on evidence admitted in violation of” the Military Commissions Act’s prohibition of the admission of statements obtained through torture or CIDT. It found one, and has committed to “move promptly to correct” the error. This shows the administration is taking the issue seriously. 

But given al-Nashiri isn’t the only petitioner who was in the CIA’s black sites, and that the prosecution regularly makes ex parte submissions in commission proceedings, there may be instances in other cases pending before the military commissions where the same problem is lurking and could compromise the prosecution. If it isn’t doing so already, the government would be wise to undertake a thorough review of all commissions cases and withdraw any submissions it might find that contain information obtained from torture or CIDT.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Memory and decision making interact to shape the value of unchosen options

Biderman, N., Shohamy, D.
Nat Commun 12, 4648 (2021). 


The goal of deliberation is to separate between options so that we can commit to one and leave the other behind. However, deliberation can, paradoxically, also form an association in memory between the chosen and unchosen options. Here, we consider this possibility and examine its consequences for how outcomes affect not only the value of the options we chose, but also, by association, the value of options we did not choose. In five experiments (total n = 612), including a preregistered experiment (n = 235), we found that the value assigned to unchosen options is inversely related to their chosen counterparts. Moreover, this inverse relationship was associated with participants’ memory of the pairs they chose between. Our findings suggest that deciding between options does not end the competition between them. Deliberation binds choice options together in memory such that the learned value of one can affect the inferred value of the other.

From the Discussion

We found that stronger memory for the deliberated options is related to a stronger discrepancy between the value assigned to the chosen and unchosen options. This result suggests that choosing between options leaves a memory trace. By definition, deliberation is meant to tease apart the value of competing options in the service of making the decision; our findings suggest that deliberation and choice also bind pairs of choice options in memory. Consequently, unchosen options do not vanish from memory after a decision is made, but rather they continue to linger through their link to the chosen options.

We show that participants use the association between choice options to infer the value of unchosen options. This finding complements and extends previous studies reporting transfer of value between associated items in the same direction, which allows agents to generalize reward value across associated exemplars. For example, in the sensory preconditioning task, pairs of neutral items are associated by virtue of appearing in temporal proximity. Subsequently, just one item gains feedback—it is either rewarded or not. When probed to choose between items that did not receive feedback, participants tend to select those previously paired with rewarded items. In contrast, our participants tended to avoid the items whose counterpart was previously rewarded. Put in learning terms, when the chosen option proved to be successful, participants’ choices in our task reflected avoidance of, rather than approach to, the unchosen option. One important difference between our task and the sensory preconditioning task is the manner in which the association is formed. In both tasks a pair of items appears in close temporal proximity, yet in our task participants are also asked to decide between these items and the act of deliberation seems to result in an inverse association between the deliberated options.

Friday, July 2, 2021

Retrieval-constrained valuation: Toward prediction of open-ended decisions

Zhihao Z., Shichun Wang, et al.
PNAS May 2021, 118 (20) e2022685118
DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2022685118


Real-world decisions are often open ended, with goals, choice options, or evaluation criteria conceived by decision-makers themselves. Critically, the quality of decisions may heavily rely on the generation of options, as failure to generate promising options limits, or even eliminates, the opportunity for choosing them. This core aspect of problem structuring, however, is largely absent from classical models of decision-making, thereby restricting their predictive scope. Here, we take a step toward addressing this issue by developing a neurally inspired cognitive model of a class of ill-structured decisions in which choice options must be self-generated. Specifically, using a model in which semantic memory retrieval is assumed to constrain the set of options available during valuation, we generate highly accurate out-of-sample predictions of choices across multiple categories of goods. Our model significantly and substantially outperforms models that only account for valuation or retrieval in isolation or those that make alternative mechanistic assumptions regarding their interaction. Furthermore, using neuroimaging, we confirm our core assumption regarding the engagement of, and interaction between, semantic memory retrieval and valuation processes. Together, these results provide a neurally grounded and mechanistic account of decisions with self-generated options, representing a step toward unraveling cognitive mechanisms underlying adaptive decision-making in the real world.


Life is not a multiple-choice test: Many real-world decisions leave goals, choice options, or evaluation criteria to be determined by decision-makers themselves. However, a mechanistic understanding of how such problem structuring processes influence choice has largely eluded standard models of decision-making. By developing a neurally grounded cognitive model that integrates semantic knowledge retrieval and valuation processes, we offer a computational framework providing strikingly accurate out-of-sample predictions of choices with self-generated options. This framework generates psychological insights into the nature and force of memory retrieval’s substantial influence on choice behavior. Together, these findings represent a step toward predicting complex, ill-structured decisions in the real world, opening up new approaches that may broaden the scope of formal models of decision-making.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Making moral principles suit yourself

Stanley, M.L., Henne, P., Niemi, L. et al. 
Psychon Bull Rev (2021). 


Normative ethical theories and religious traditions offer general moral principles for people to follow. These moral principles are typically meant to be fixed and rigid, offering reliable guides for moral judgment and decision-making. In two preregistered studies, we found consistent evidence that agreement with general moral principles shifted depending upon events recently accessed in memory. After recalling their own personal violations of moral principles, participants agreed less strongly with those very principles—relative to participants who recalled events in which other people violated the principles. This shift in agreement was explained, in part, by people’s willingness to excuse their own moral transgressions, but not the transgressions of others. These results have important implications for understanding the roles memory and personal identity in moral judgment. People’s commitment to moral principles may be maintained when they recall others’ past violations, but their commitment may wane when they recall their own violations.

From the General Discussion

 Moral disengagement mechanisms (e.g., distorting the consequences of actions, dehumanizing victims)
help people to convince themselves that their actions are permissible and that their ethical standards need not apply in certain contexts (Bandura, 1999; Bandura et al., 1996; Detert et al., 2008). These disengagement mechanisms are thought to help people to protect their favorable views of themselves.
Note that convincing oneself that a particular action is morally acceptable in a particular context via moral disengagement entails maintaining the same level of agreement with the overarching moral principles; the principle just does not apply in some particular context. In contrast, our findings suggest that by reflecting on their own morally objectionable actions, people’s agreement with the overarching, guiding principles
changes. It is not that the principle does not apply; it is that the principle is held with less conviction.


Normative ethical theories and religious traditions that offer general moral principles are meant to help us to understand aspects of ourselves and our world in ways that offer insights and guidance for living a moral life (Albertzart, 2013; Väyrynen, 2008). Our findings introduce some cause for doubt about the stability of moral principles over time, and therefore, their reliability as accurate indicators of moral judgments and actions in the real world.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

The Dynamics of Motivated Beliefs

Zimmermann, Florian. 2020.
American Economic Review, 110 (2): 337-61.

A key question in the literature on motivated reasoning and self-deception is how motivated beliefs are sustained in the presence of feedback. In this paper, we explore dynamic motivated belief patterns after feedback. We establish that positive feedback has a persistent effect on beliefs. Negative feedback, instead, influences beliefs in the short run, but this effect fades over time. We investigate the mechanisms of this dynamic pattern, and provide evidence for an asymmetry in the recall of feedback. Finally, we establish that, in line with theoretical accounts, incentives for belief accuracy mitigate the role of motivated reasoning.

From the Discussion

In light of the finding that negative feedback has only limited effects on beliefs in the long run, the question arises as to whether people should become entirely delusional about themselves over time. Note that results from the incentive treatments highlight that incentives for recall accuracy bound the degree of self-deception and thereby possibly prevent motivated agents from becoming entirely delusional. Further note that there exists another rather mechanical counterforce, which is that the perception of feedback likely changes as people become more confident. In terms of the experiment, if a subject believes that the chances of ranking in the upper half are mediocre, then that subject will likely perceive two comparisons out of three as positive feedback. If, instead, the same subject is almost certain they rank in the upper half, then that subject will likely perceive the same feedback as rather negative. Note that this “perception effect” is reflected in the Bayesian definition of feedback that we report as a robustness check in the Appendix of the paper. An immediate consequence of this change in perception is that the more confident an agent becomes, the more likely it is that they will obtain negative feedback. Unless an agent does not incorporate negative feedback at all, this should act as a force that bounds people’s delusions.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Anger Increases Susceptibility to Misinformation

Greenstein M, Franklin N. 
Exp Psychol. 2020 May;67(3):202-209. 


The effect of anger on acceptance of false details was examined using a three-phase misinformation paradigm. Participants viewed an event, were presented with schema-consistent and schema-irrelevant misinformation about it, and were given a surprise source monitoring test to examine the acceptance of the suggested material. Between each phase of the experiment, they performed a task that either induced anger or maintained a neutral mood. Participants showed greater susceptibility to schema-consistent than schema-irrelevant misinformation. Anger did not affect either recognition or source accuracy for true details about the initial event, but suggestibility for false details increased with anger. In spite of this increase in source errors (i.e., misinformation acceptance), both confidence in the accuracy of source attributions and decision speed for incorrect judgments also increased with anger. Implications are discussed with respect to both the general effects of anger and real-world applications such as eyewitness memory.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Unethical amnesia responds more to instrumental than to hedonic motives

Galeotti, F, Saucet, C., & Villeval, M. C.
PNAS, October 13, 2020 117 (41) 25423-25428; 
first published September 28, 2020; 


Humans care about morality. Yet, they often engage in actions that contradict their moral self. Unethical amnesia is observed when people do not remember or remember less vividly these actions. This paper explores two reasons why individuals may experience unethical amnesia. Forgetting past unethical behavior may be motivated by purely hedonic or affective reasons, such as the willingness to maintain one’s moral self-image, but also by instrumental or strategic motives, in anticipation of future misbehavior. In a large-scale incentivized online experiment (n = 1,322) using a variant of a mind game, we find that hedonic considerations are not sufficient to motivate the forgetting of past cheating behavior. This is confirmed in a follow-up experiment (n = 1,005) in which recalls are elicited the same day instead of 3 wk apart. However, when unethical amnesia can serve as a justification for a future action, such as deciding on whether to keep undeserved money, motivated forgetting is more likely. Thereby, we show that motivated forgetting occurs as a self-excuse to justify future immoral decisions.


Using large-scale incentivized online experiments, we tested two possible origins of individuals’ forgetting about their past cheating behavior in a mind game. We found that purely hedonic considerations, such as the maintenance of a positive self-image, are not sufficient to motivate unethical amnesia, but the addition of an instrumental value to forgetting triggers such amnesia. Individuals forget their past lies more when amnesia can serve as an excuse not to engage in future morally responsible behavior. These findings shed light on the interplay between dishonesty and memory and suggest further investigations of the cost function of unethical amnesia. A policy implication is that improving ethics requires making unethical amnesia more difficult for individuals.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Harvey Weinstein’s ‘false memory’ defense is not backed by science

Anne DePrince & Joan Cook
The Conversation
Originally posted 10 Feb 20

Here is an excerpt:

In 1996, pioneering psychologist Jennifer Freyd introduced the concept of betrayal trauma. She made plain how forgetting, not thinking about and even mis-remembering an assault may be necessary and adaptive for some survivors. She argued that the way in which traumatic events, like sexual violence, are processed and remembered depends on how much betrayal there is. Betrayal happens when the victim depends on the abuser, such as a parent, spouse or boss. The victim has to adapt day-to-day because they are (or feel) stuck in that relationship. One way that victims can survive is by thinking or remembering less about the abuse or telling themselves it wasn’t abuse.

Since 1996, compelling scientific evidence has shown a strong relationship between amnesia and victims’ dependence on abusers. Psychologists and other scientists have also learned much about the nature of memory, including memory for traumas like sexual assault. What gets into memory and later remembered is affected by a host of factors, including characteristics of the person and the situation. For example, some individuals dissociate during or after traumatic events. Dissociation offers a way to escape the inescapable, such that people feel as if they have detached from their bodies or the environment. It is not surprising to us that dissociation is linked with incomplete memories.

Memory can also be affected by what other people do and say. For example, researchers recently looked at what happened when they told participants not to think about some words that they had just studied. Following that instruction, those who had histories of trauma suppressed more memories than their peers did.

The info is here.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

A Successful Artificial Memory Has Been Created

Robert Martone
A Successful Artificial Memory Has Been CreatedScientific American
Originally posted August27, 2019

Here is the conclusion:

There are legitimate motives underlying these efforts. Memory has been called “the scribe of the soul,” and it is the source of one’s personal history. Some people may seek to recover lost or partially lost memories. Others, such as those afflicted with post-traumatic stress disorder or chronic pain, might seek relief from traumatic memories by trying to erase them.

The methods used here to create artificial memories will not be employed in humans anytime soon: none of us are transgenic like the animals used in the experiment, nor are we likely to accept multiple implanted fiber-optic cables and viral injections. Nevertheless, as technologies and strategies evolve, the possibility of manipulating human memories becomes all the more real. And the involvement of military agencies such as DARPA invariably renders the motivations behind these efforts suspect. Are there things we all need to be afraid of or that we must or must not do? The dystopian possibilities are obvious.

Creating artificial memories brings us closer to learning how memories form and could ultimately help us understand and treat dreadful diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Memories, however, cut to the core of our humanity, and we need to be vigilant that any manipulations are approached ethically.

The info is here.

Friday, June 21, 2019

It's not biology bro: Torture and the Misuse of Science

Shane O'Mara and John Schiemann
PsyArXiv Preprints
Last edited on December 24, 2018


Contrary to the (in)famous line in the film Zero Dark Thirty, the CIA's torture program was not based on biology or any other science. Instead, the Bush administration and the CIA decided to use coercion immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and then veneered the program's justification with a patina of pseudoscience, ignoring the actual biology of torturing human brains. We reconstruct the Bush administration’s decision-making process from released government documents, independent investigations, journalistic accounts, and memoirs to establish that the policy decision to use torture took place in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks without any investigation into its efficacy. We then present the pseudo-scientific model of torture sold to the CIA based on a loose amalgamation of methods from the old KUBARK manual, reverse-engineering of SERE training techniques, and learned helplessness theory, show why this ad hoc model amounted to pseudoscience, and then catalog what the actual science of torturing human brains – available in 2001 – reveals about the practice. We conclude with a discussion of how process of policy-making might incorporate countervailing evidence to ensure that policy problems are forestalled, via the concept of an evidence-based policy brake, which is deliberately instituted to prevent a policy going forward that is contrary to law, ethics and evidence.

The info is here.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Lost-in-the-mall: False memory or false defense?

Ruth A. Blizard & Morgan Shaw (2019)
Journal of Child Custody
DOI: 10.1080/15379418.2019.1590285


False Memory Syndrome (FMS) and Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) were developed as defenses for parents accused of child abuse as part of a larger movement to undermine prosecution of child abuse. The lost-in-the-mall study by Dr. Elizabeth Loftus concludes that an entire false memory can be implanted by suggestion. It has since been used to discredit abuse survivors’ testimony by inferring that false memories for childhood abuse can be implanted by psychotherapists. Examination of the research methods and findings of the study shows that no full false memories were actually formed. Similarly, PAS, coined by Richard Gardner, is frequently used in custody cases to discredit children’s testimony by alleging that the protective parent coached them to have false memories of abuse. There is no scientific research demonstrating the existence of PAS, and, in fact, studies on the suggestibility of children show that they cannot easily be persuaded to provide detailed disclosures of abuse.

The info is here.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Motivated misremembering: Selfish decisions are more generous in hindsight

Ryan Carlson, Michel Marechal, Bastiaan Oud, Ernst Fehr, and Molly Crockett
Created on: July 22, 2018 | Last edited: July 22, 2018


People often prioritize their own interests, but also like to see themselves as moral. How do individuals resolve this tension? One way to both maximize self-interest and maintain a moral self-image is to misremember the extent of one’s selfishness. Here, we tested this possibility. Across three experiments, participants decided how to split money with anonymous partners, and were later asked to recall their decisions. Participants systematically recalled being more generous in the past than they actually were, even when they were incentivized to recall accurately. Crucially, this effect was driven by individuals who gave less than what they personally believed was fair, independent of how objectively selfish they were. Our findings suggest that when people’s actions fall short of their own personal standards, they may misremember the extent of their selfishness, thereby warding off negative emotions and threats to their moral self-image.

The research is here.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

10 Ways to Avoid False Memories

Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons
Originally posted February 10, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

No one has, to our knowledge, tried to implant a false memory of being shot down in a helicopter. But researchers have repeatedly created other kinds of entirely false memory in the laboratory. Most famously, Elizabeth Loftus and Jacqueline Pickrell successfully convinced people that, as children, they had once been lost in a shopping mall. In another study, researchers Kimberly Wade, Maryanne Garry, Don Read, and Stephen Lindsay showed people a Photoshopped image of themselves as children, standing in the basket of a hot air balloon. Half of the participants later had either complete or partial false memories, sometimes “remembering” additional details from this event—an event that they never experienced. In a newly published study, Julia Shaw and Stephen Porter used structured interviews to convince 70 percent of their college student participants that they had committed a crime as an adolescent (theft, assault, or assault with a weapon) and that the crime had resulted in police contact. And outside the laboratory, people have fabricated rich and detailed memories of things that we can be almost 100 percent certain did not happen, such as having been abducted and impregnated by aliens.

Even memories for highly emotional events—like the Challenger explosion or the 9/11 attacks—can mutate substantially. As time passes, we can lose the link between things we’ve experienced and the details surrounding them; we remember the gist of a story, but we might not recall whether we experienced the events or just heard about them from someone else. We all experience this failure of “source memory” in small ways: Maybe you tell a friend a great joke that you heard recently, only to learn that he’s the one who told it to you. Or you recall having slammed your hand in a car door as a child, only to get into an argument over whether it happened instead to your sister. People sometimes even tell false stories directly to the people who actually experienced the original events, something that is hard to explain as intentional lying. (Just last month, Brian Williams let his exaggerated war story be told at a public event honoring one of the soldiers who had been there.)

The information is here.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Mind-Expanding Ideas of Andy Clark

Larissa MacFarquhar
The New Yorker
Originally published April 2, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

Cognitive science addresses philosophical questions—What is a mind? What is the mind’s relationship to the body? How do we perceive and make sense of the outside world?—but through empirical research rather than through reasoning alone. Clark was drawn to it because he’s not the sort of philosopher who just stays in his office and contemplates; he likes to visit labs and think about experiments. He doesn’t conduct experiments himself; he sees his role as gathering ideas from different places and coming up with a larger theoretical framework in which they all fit together. In physics, there are both experimental and theoretical physicists, but there are fewer theoretical neuroscientists or psychologists—you have to do experiments, for the most part, or you can’t get a job. So in cognitive science this is a role that philosophers can play.

Most people, he realizes, tend to identify their selves with their conscious minds. That’s reasonable enough; after all, that is the self they know about. But there is so much more to cognition than that: the vast, silent cavern of underground mental machinery, with its tubes and synapses and electric impulses, so many unconscious systems and connections and tricks and deeply grooved pathways that form the pulsing substrate of the self. It is those primal mechanisms, the wiring and plumbing of cognition, that he has spent most of his career investigating. When you think about all that fundamental stuff—some ancient and shared with other mammals and distant ancestors, some idiosyncratic and new—consciousness can seem like a merely surface phenomenon, a user interface that obscures the real works below.

The article and audio file are here.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Psychotherapy Is 'The' Biological Treatment

Robert Berezin
Originally posted March 16, 2018

Neuroscience surprisingly teaches us that not only is psychotherapy purely biological, but it is the only real biological treatment. It addresses the brain in the way it actually develops, matures, and operates. It follows the principles of evolutionary adaptation. It is consonant with genetics. And it specifically heals the problematic adaptations of the brain in precisely the ways that they evolved in the first place. Psychotherapy deactivates maladaptive brain mappings and fosters new and constructive pathways. Let me explain.

The operations of the brain are purely biological. The brain maps our experiences and memories through the linking of trillions of neuronal connections. These interconnected webs create larger circuits that map all throughout the architecture of the cortex. This generates high-level symbolic neuronal maps that take form as images in our consciousness. The play of consciousness is the highest level of symbolic form. It is a living theater of "image-ination," a representational world that consists of a cast of characters who relate together by feeling as well as scenarios, plots, set designs, and landscape.

As we adapt to our environment, the brain maps our emotional experience through cortical memory. This starts very early in life. If a baby is startled by a loud noise, his arms and legs will flail. His heart pumps adrenaline, and he cries. This "startle" maps a fight-or-flight response in his cortex, which is mapped through serotonin and cortisol. The baby is restored by his mother's holding. Her responsive repair once again re-establishes and maintains his well-being, which is mapped through oxytocin. These ongoing formative experiences of life are mapped into memory in precisely these two basic ways.

The article is here.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Living a lie: We deceive ourselves to better deceive others

Matthew Hutson
Scientific American
Originally posted April 8, 2017

People mislead themselves all day long. We tell ourselves we’re smarter and better looking than our friends, that our political party can do no wrong, that we’re too busy to help a colleague. In 1976, in the foreword to Richard Dawkins’s “The Selfish Gene,” the biologist Robert Trivers floated a novel explanation for such self-serving biases: We dupe ourselves in order to deceive others, creating social advantage. Now after four decades Trivers and his colleagues have published the first research supporting his idea.

Psychologists have identified several ways of fooling ourselves: biased information-gathering, biased reasoning and biased recollections. The new work, forthcoming in the Journal of Economic Psychology, focuses on the first — the way we seek information that supports what we want to believe and avoid that which does not.

The article is here.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The phenomenon of “unethical amnesia”

Francesca Gino and Maryam Kouchaki
Originally published December 29, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

In fact, psychological research on morality shows that we hold an overly optimistic view of our capacity to adhere to ethical standards. We believe that we are intrinsically more moral than others, that we will behave more ethically than others in the future, and that transgressions committed by others are morally worse than our own.

So, how do these beliefs of our moral selves play out in our day-to-day actions? As researchers who frequently study how people who care about morality often behave dishonestly, we decided to find out.

Unethical amnesia

One key result of our research is that people engage in unethical behavior repeatedly over time because their memory of their dishonest actions gets obfuscated over time. In fact, our research shows that people are more likely to forget the details of their own unethical acts compared with other incidents, including neutral, negative, or positive events, as well as the unethical actions of others.

The article is here.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Traces of Times Lost

Erika Hayasaki
The Atlantic
Originally posted November 29, 2016

Here is an excerpt:

According to a 2010 study in Developmental Psychology, 20 percent of children interviewed under age 10 remembered events that occurred (and were verified by parents) before they even turned a year old—in some cases even as early as one month old. These are provocative findings. Yet Katherine Nelson, a developmental psychologist at City University of New York who studied child memory for decades, tells me: “It is still an open question as to whether and when very young children have true episodic memories.” Even if they appear to, she explains, these memories are fragile and susceptible to suggestion.


Last year, researchers from Yale University and the University of Arizona published a study in Psychological Science proclaiming that morality is more central to identity than memory. The authors studied patients with frontotemporal dementia (in which damage to the brain’s prefrontal cortex can lead to dishonesty and socially unacceptable behavior), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which affects muscle control), and Alzheimer’s disease (which robs a person of memory). The research found that as long as moral capacity is not impaired, the self persists, even when memory is compromised. “These results speak to significant and longstanding questions about the nature of identity, questions that have occupied social scientists, neurologists, philosophers, and novelists alike,” the authors write.

The article is here.