The Trick Behind the Curveball Illusion: How to Hit a Curveball

By Kristel Tiburcio

I’ve been watching a Japanese anime about baseball called “Ace of Diamond”. I have never seen a baseball game in real life or on television; however, watching the show, even though it’s just anime, gets me really pumped up about the sport. I know the tricks are exaggerated and some are not even humanly possible, but it does not stop me from being amazed at all the different types of pitches that can be thrown. Maybe some of us who are not knowledgeable about baseball think that the pitcher just has to throw the ball in the strike zone (to avoid a ball call) and fast enough to overcome the batter; however, there is more to it than that. The way the ball is thrown, the timing and angle of releasing the ball, the grip, the movement of the fingers, shoulders, and waist, and the strength used to throw the ball all influence the ball’s movement.

Here is a short list with descriptions about some of the types of pitches used by baseball players written by a former professional pitcher, Steven Ellis (2015):

  1. Four-seam fastball – Maximum velocity and should have best command. This is the most important pitch because everything else works off of it.
  2. Two-seam fastball (a.k.a. sinker) – This fastball does just that, it sinks. A very good pitch for inducing ground balls.
  3. Cut-fastball – Holding the ball slightly off center, it will run away from the arm side. Usually a few miles per hour slower than a four-seam fastball. Good for jamming hitters.
  4. Split-finger fastball – Strictly an out pitch. Dives down hard at home plate, many times getting missed swings.
  5. Change-up – Slower than a fastball, but thrown with the same arm action. The arm speed is very important in getting the maximum effectiveness. This pitch helps control bat speed.
  6. Curveball – Most often a strikeout pitch. Dives down as it gets to home plate. Many times the velocity is as effective as the movement, because it’s usually much slower than a fastball.
  7. Slider – In between a fastball and a curveball. It’s harder than a curveball with less downward action. The slider has a smaller break with a tighter spin. Many times you can see a small dot in the baseball as it’s coming toward you.
  8. Knuckleball – A pitch that has very little or no spin. It’s very difficult to control and catch. No one knows what it will do usually, which makes it also hard to hit. A very hard pitch to throw.
  9. Forkball – Thrown hard while held between the index and middle fingers at varying depths. Usually tumbles and drops violently, often diagonally. Known as an out pitch, but also can be hard on the arm.

diff types of pitches

In professional games, the baseballs are thrown by the pitchers at a very high speed. According to the Guinness World Records, the fastest baseball pitch by a male was thrown by Aroldis Chapman last September 2010. The speed of the ball was 105.1 mph or 169.14 km/hr. I cannot even begin to imagine how the player on the batting plate felt like while watching a 105.1 mph baseball coming towards him.

Even though in most games, the speed of the pitch does not reach 105.1 mph, they are still fast nonetheless. Coupled with the different possibilities of trajectories and movement of the ball, how are batters able to hit the ball? How are some of them even able to hit a home run?

real curveball

To be able to hit a baseball pitch, players should first be able to pinpoint the position of the ball. There have been numerous studies on position perception. Most studies focus on which parts of the brain are responsible for perceiving position and the process and mechanism under which it works. According to Fischer, Spotswood, and Whitney (2011), these studies on position perception have shown evidence that not only retinotopy or the use of retinotopic maps are important in perceiving an object’s position; other factors, such as attention, eye movements, object and scene motion, and frames of reference, are important as well.

Retinotopic maps are organized spatial maps used to represent how images represented in our retina correspond to neurons that can be activated. For many years, researchers have used retinotopic maps to understand and explain cortical organization; however, there are instances that perception does not depend or follow the position of the image in our retinas (Fischer et al., 2011). One such situation is position perception.

Past research looked into specific areas in the brain that may have a role in perceiving position, such as the Fusiform Face Area (FFA), Parahippocampal Place Area (PPA), Lateral Occipital (LO) Cortex, and Middle Temporal (MT) Region. These studies also tackled if position perception in these particular areas is based on retinotopic (physical) or perceived object position. The study by Fischer et al. (2011), aimed to see if there is a perception-based position coding in higher level visual areas. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging and eye tracking techniques, the researchers observed that perception-based representation of object position dominates higher level visual areas. Although retinotopic position of the object is also a represented in these areas, it carries little information compared to perception-based representation. What this means is that the properties of the stimulus is not the only important source of information in determining the object’s position, but the perceptual experience of the observer as well (Fischer et al., 2011). Their study, however, was not able to pinpoint the exact mechanism that is responsible for this perception-based representation of an object’s position.

Trying to hit a baseball also depends on how we are able to track its motion. Since we are looking at a moving object, it is possible that the object moves from our center of vision to the periphery, making it more difficult to assess its position due to low acuity. When this happens, we use the object’s motion as source of information for the object’s position (Patenaude, 2015). The mechanism that dominates our ability to track the motion of an object in our periphery, or whenever visual signals are ambiguous and lacking, was found to be an algorithm called Kalman filter (Kwon, Tadin, & Knill, 2015). It is thanks to this algorithm that we are still able to see, perceive, and take appropriate actions in situations where we cannot depend on our visual system due to presence of unreliable visual cues or signals (this is also the algorithm GPS use!). However, this algorithm is also responsible for the so-called “curveball illusion” – perceiving the ball to “break” or curve suddenly as it nears the home plate or the batter.

curveball illustrated

Going back to curveballs – with its top to bottom movement and speeds around 70-80 mph – this type of pitch makes it difficult to hit because when the ball reaches the periphery of our vision (remember, in these areas rods dominate as visual receptors, thus, lower acuity than when cones dominate), the seam pattern and rotation of the ball creates an illusion of position (Kwon et al., 2015) where the ball looks like it’s in a different position than it actually is (Patenaude, 2015).

baseball rotating

The study of Kwon et al. (2015) includes experiments testing the following relationships: 1) motion-induced position shifts and perception of speed; 2) Estimated object speed and changes in object position, and; 3) object tracking and the interaction of object motion and pattern. They conclude that this model (Kalman filter) is able to integrate an object’s position and motion (two different perceptual experiences) as sources of information for us to track an object. The model is just one of the brain’s mechanisms in integrating multiple stimuli and sources of information in our environment for us to be able to perceive a whole view of that environment.

These studies have shown that our brain looks for the best solution when visual cues in our environment become unreliable. It may not always be perfect but without it, we would not be in any better position.

For those who are trying to hit a curveball, you now know the trick behind it. It may be difficult to override the somewhat automatic mechanism of our brain to perceive an object’s motion and position as integrated perceptual experiences, and maybe you cannot avoid the ball going to your periphery because of the speed of the ball and limitations of our visual system. However, knowing that you may perceive the ball to have a speed and trajectory that is different from the actual can help you anticipate and think of other ways to overcome the illusion. Also, there’s always practice! Good luck and hit that (curve)ball!

slow motion hit

 

References:

Ellis, S. (2015). Different baseball pitches. Retrieved from The Complete Pitcher website: http://www.thecompletepitcher.com/different_baseball_pitches.htm

Fastest baseball pitch (male). (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/fastest-baseball-pitch-(male)/

Fischer, J., Spotswood, N., & Whitney, D. (2011). The emergence of perceived position in the visual system. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23(1), 119-136.

Kwon, O-S., Tadin, D., & Knill, D. C. (2015). Unifying account of visual motion and position perception. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(26), 8142-8147.

Patenaude, M. (2015). How understanding GPS can help you hit a curveball. Retrieved from the University of Rochester website: http://www.rochester.edu/newscenter/how-understanding-gps-can-help-you-hit-a-curveball/

 

 

 

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Music Moves Us

by Pam Torga

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I like to sing when I’m on the treadmill. And sometimes, when the music is super good, I cry or dance and put my hands up in the air! Now, you may be thinking “Pam, that’s really weird” (and after having put that into words, I can see why). So, in my defense, allow me to present to you the scientific evidence on why singing your heart out during a gym session is actually a great idea.

Exercise involves moving within an environment, e.g. running around the Acad Oval or swimming in a pool. It also involves taking action, particularly acting on objects such as hitting a punching bag or lifting a set of weights. When we exercise, there is always some form of motion taking place: The motion of our body (biological motion), our exercise equipment, or the hustle and bustle inside the gym. And these things in motion attract our attention (Goldstein, 2013). Perhaps this is why we become more conscious of our every move, our every step, and of every drop of sweat that trickles down our face.

As we are aware of the fact that we’re exerting effort during physical activity, we will understandably be well aware of our fatigue as it builds up. Since our sense of our bodily motion is heightened during exercise, we’ll easily pick up our body’s signals telling us that it’s already tired. When we feel tired, we want to stop exercising. And since we don’t want that to happen, music comes in handy: Listening to music, according to athletes, takes their mind off their “bodily awareness” (read as “pain“) (Reynolds, 2010). Indeed, for some athletes and for many people who run, jog, cycle, and lift weights, music is not superfluous—it is essential to peak performance and a satisfying workout (Jabr, 2013).

giphy (9)

Exercise is hard, boring, and arduous.

To this fitness-fanatic, gym-junkie, headbanging, music-loving generation, a link between music and exercise almost comes as no surprise. In fact, almost everyone knows that listening to music can improve their workouts. But understanding how our favorite tunes enhance exercising is a little less obvious.

Music is apparently the “good” kind of distraction. Working out with music was found to make participants less aware of their exertion (Karageorghis et al., 2010). Professor Costas Karageorghis from Brunel University says “in some instances we have seen performance benefits of up to 15%. As well as enhancing performance, music lowers the perception of effort. It dulls or masks some of the pain associated with training.”

Another great thing about listening to your favorite work-out song is that it boosts your effort! One study found that cyclists actually worked harder when listening to faster music as compared to music at a slower tempo (Karageorghis et al., 2010). Upbeat tunes have more information for our brains to process, distracting us even more. Be warned though: Too fast is no good, either. Songs between 120 and 140 beats per minute (bpm) have the maximum effect on moderate exercisers (Abree, 2014). Furthermore, studies have also shown that people can automatically “feel the beat” of the music they listen to and instinctively adjust their pace and heart rate to its tempo.

In a study done by the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences, subjects were asked to ride a stationary bicycle at a pace that they could sustain for 30 minutes while listening to a song of the subject’s choice. In successive trials, they rode the bikes again, with the tempo of the music variously increased or decreased by 10%, without the subject’s knowledge. The researchers found that the riders heart rate and mileage decreased when the tempo was slowed, while they rode a greater distance, increased their heart rate and enjoyed the music more at the faster tempo. Though the participants thought their workout was harder at the more upbeat tempo, the researchers found that when the faster-paced music was heard while exercising “the participants chose to accept, and even prefer, a greater degree of effort” (Waterhouse, Hudson, & Edwards, 2010).

Arriving at similar conclusions, scientists at the University of Wisconsin–La Crosse found that participants who chose to listen to faster-paced music generated a higher heart rate, pedaled harder and generated more power, increasing their level of work by diverting their focus to the music. The study had individuals listen to an MP3 player loaded with a mix of 13 songs that they selected and then rode an exercise bike for an hour at a pace and gear of their choice. The study found that heart rates rose from 133 to 146 beats per minute and power output increased accordingly, when listening to the tempo-less sound of crashing waves versus music with a medium to fast tempo (Smith & Widmer, 2004; Hutchinson & Sherman, 2014).

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Dance to the beat of the music!

Everyone has that go-to song that gets you “in the zone,” and there’s science to why it works. Listening to music while exercising has been found in numerous studies to create an increased sense of motivation. Faster tempo music has been found by researchers to motivate exercisers to work harder when performing at a moderate pace (Reynolds, 2010). Aside from that, we associate certain songs with memories, often relating to the context in which we originally heard them, e.g. the first time you watched Rocky. Channeling that memory—or even just the emotion of the singer—boosts the motivational power of the song, and has consistently been shown to improve physical performance (Karageorghis et al., 2010).

Just when you thought music couldn’t get any better, get this: A good beat can help you keep pace. The rhythm of your workout music stimulates the motor area of the brain as to when to move, thereby aiding self-paced exercises such as running or weight-lifting (Karageorghis & Priest, 2012). Syncing to these time signals helps us use our energy more efficiently, since keeping a steady pace is easier on our bodies than fluctuating throughout a sweat session.

giphy (2)

Keep a steady pace.

As we’ve all experienced, music can elevate one’s mood. One study found that people often listen to music in order to change their mood and to achieve self-awareness (Schäfer, Sedlmeier, Städtler, & Huron, 2013). Participants reported that listening to music allowed them to think about themselves, who they wanted to be, and gave them an escape from the present. So, no matter what happened an hour ago—be it a traffic jam, a surprise quiz, or an embarrassing crushie encounter—you can use your tunes to help you escape negativity and power you through your workout.

All on its own, music makes you want to move! Researchers found that when music possesses“high-groove” qualities, the brain gets excited and induces movement in the listener (Stupacher, Hove, Novembre, Schütz-Bosbach, & Keller, 2013). Basically, your playlist has the ability to make you move, no matter how much you’re dreading that workout.

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Music makes you move!

Generally, studies suggest that athletes use music in purposeful ways in order to facilitate their training and performance. In one study, 70 elite athletes were given a questionnaire relating the empirical motives for listening to music. The results showed that athletes most often listened to music during pre-event, pre-training sessions, and warm-ups. The reasons why athletes reportedly listened to music were because they felt that it increased activation, positive affect, motivation, performance levels, and flow (Laukka & Quick, 2011).

What gives music this exercise-boosting magic you ask? Jabr (2013) identified the two most important qualities of workout music as being tempo—or speed—and what psychologists call rhythm response, which is more or less how much a song makes you want to dance. Most people have an instinct to synchronize their movements and expressions with music—to nod their heads, tap their toes or break out in dance—even if they repress that instinct in many situations. What type of music excites this instinct varies from culture to culture and from person to person. To make some broad generalizations, fast songs with strong beats are particularly stimulating, so they fill most people’s workout playlists (Jabr, 2013).

Here’s another health tip: Make music as you work out! According to Fritz et al. (2013), it isn’t just listening to music that drowns out our pain and exhaustion. The process of creating and controlling music in time to one’s exercise improves the experience even more as it has a more profound effect on perceived effort during a workout.(Fritz et al., 2013). One study had participants exercise on machines designed to alter the music they were listening to based on their movements, essentially allowing them to create their own soundtrack. Compared to exercisers who had no control over the music, those with “musical agency” reported feeling like they hadn’t worked as hard (Sievers, Polansky, Casey, & Wheatley, 2012).

We can’t all work out on equipment that coordinates our movements with musical sounds, but we can harness the power of creating music when we exercise. According to Fritz, this may provide “a previously unacknowledged driving force for the development of music in humans: making music makes strenuous physical activities less exhausting.” Truly, the relationship between music and physical exertion is more complicated than we initially thought.

giphy (7).gif

Every time you listen to music, you’re actually giving yourself a deep, full-brain workout. Arbib (2013) explains that it all starts in the auditory cortex, which is mainly responsible for taking the music you hear and parsing the most rudimentary features, such as pitch and volume. Kalat (2014) adds that this works with the cerebellum to break down a stream of musical information into its component parts: pitch, timbre, spatial location and duration. It’s then processed by the mesolimbic system where the qualities of music are further analyzed and made sense of.

One of the most important findings that research has proven is that the brain processes music and some types of motion using the same basic circuitry (Sievers, Polansky, Casey, & Wheatley, 2012). In other words, music and movement are processed by the brain in similar ways. Perhaps the human brain evolved with the expectation that, wherever there is music, there is movement. However, this idea emerges more from the imaginative minds of speculating evolutionary psychologists than from experimental evidence (Jabr, 2013). Nonetheless, ang cool, ‘di ba?

After learning about my little secret and also about the wonderful benefits of music, I hope you’ve come to the conclusion that “Hey, Pam isn’t that weird.” Above all, I hope you’ve come to realize that underlying the observed effect of music on biological motion is a far greater truth on how the human brain functions and evolves—a truth just waiting to be discovered.

References:

Speak With Me Now

By Janine See

I had a friend in high school who talked really fast. She spoke with so much energy and speed that she would not even need to pause in between her sentences to catch her breath. When we first spoke, I had a hard time keeping up with her because I could not process so quickly, but eventually, I adjusted to her pace and learned to understand what she was saying. One time, I challenged her to memorize and rap Look At Me Now by Chris Brown, thinking that there was no way that she could rap that fast. A week later, she proved me wrong. If you think that it wasn’t much of a challenge, here’s the music video. Up until now, I still cannot believe that people can rap so quickly and still be understood!

 

We are able to discriminate and understand individual words in a conversation because of a concept called Speech Segmentation. Though it may be automatic to us, especially when speaking a language we are familiar with, it actually is quite difficult. We only find it easy because we have learned to do it from when we were young. The difficulty becomes evident when we listen to foreign languages. When we are unfamiliar with a language, the sentences seem to tumble out continuously without pause, and we cannot discriminate individual words. It also becomes difficult because of a phenomenon called Coarticulation. Coarticulation happens when sounds overlap during speech. (Kooijman, 2007)

9

Different languages have different pronunciations for certain words, but we are still able to understand them despite their differences. Even if we combine sounds or slur, we can still understand each word. This is brought about by the amazing processing of our brains, helping us perceive individual words through Speech Segmentation.

So every time you listen to a rap song or a friend talking really fast, take some time to stop and think about how you are able to understand all the words they are saying. The ease with which we interpret words, make meanings, and identify distinctions even when there are no pauses in between is brought about by the spectacular processing of our brains, helping us perceive words and engage in meaningful conversations everyday.

References:

C. (2011). Chris Brown – Look At Me Now ft. Lil Wayne, Busta Rhymes. Retrieved April 15, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8gyLR4NfMiI

Goldstein, E. B. (2013). Sensation and perception (9th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Kooijman, V. (n.d.). Continuous-speech segmentation at the beginning of language acquisition: Electrophysiological evidence – Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics. Retrieved April 15, 2016, from http://www.mpi.nl/publications/escidoc-57483/@@popup

 

Pitch Perfect

by Bella Tan

 

Let me start by saying that I would love to have perfect pitch.

For as long as I can remember, music has been a significant part of my life. I started singing at around 3 years old, and haven’t stopped since. I took voice lessons, joined glee club, entered musical theatre, and participated in choir.

One thing that would make my life infinitely better is having perfect pitch. I first encountered this concept a few years ago, while preparing for CSSP Karolfest. We were all looking forward to the visit of a guest mentor, who is a member of Baihana (you can check them out here; props to you if you can guess which one of them was our mentor). While waiting for her to arrive, someone mentioned that she supposedly had perfect pitch. At that time, I did not know what this meant, but when our choir master explained it, I realized what a great advantage it would be to possess that characteristic.

What is perfect pitch?

Perfect pitch, or absolute pitch, is “the ability to identify the pitch of a musical tone or to produce a musical tone at a given pitch without the use of an external reference pitch” (Takeuchi & Hulse, 1993). In other words, if a person has absolute pitch, he or she can identify what note he or she just heard, or produce a given note without first needing to hear that note (or any other note) for reference. I would say that it is comparable to having an internal tuning fork system.

How is this different from relative pitch? With absolute pitch, there is no need for a musician to determine pitch relations. In essence, one note is enough for people with absolute pitch to work with when identifying pitch errors, or when composing (Crutchfield, 1990 & Abraham, 1901; as cited in Takeuchi & Hulse, 1993). I think it’s pretty obvious why someone who is involved in music would want to have it!

What are studies currently saying about absolute pitch?

Well, a lot. Type in “absolute pitch” in Google Scholar, and a whole bunch of articles will pop up. Just to name a few:

  • Brain-wise, people with absolute pitch have greater functional activation when listening to music (Loui, Zamm, & Schlaug, 2012).
  • Brain activity for verbal and brain activity for tonal perception are similar to each other only in musicians with absolute pitch (Schulze, Mueller, Koelsch, 2013).
  • Visually impaired individuals perform better in pitch memory tasks than non-visually impaired counterparts (Dimatati, Heaton, Pring, Downing, & Ockelford, 2012).

These are among the many things that researchers have found about absolute pitch. Now, let me tell you about a study that tackled functional brain differences between absolute pitch possessors and those without the characteristic.

Absolute vs Relative Pitch Musicians: A study by Schulze, Gaab, and Schlaug

Schulze, Gaab, and Schlaug (2009) compared 10 musicians possessing absolute pitch with 10 musicians who did not possess the characteristic (they confirmed the presence of absolute pitch using a test). They presented a series of 6 or 7 tones and the participants were asked whether the 1st note was the same or different from the last note. They then took fMRI scansof the participants’ brains (in case you are not familiar with fMRI scans, you can view more information here).

The results? Behaviorally, there was no significant difference. In terms of identifying whether the tones were the same or different, musicians with absolute pitch performed at the same level as musicians without absolute pitch. However, looking at the scans, there were differences found between the groups. Musicians with absolute pitch had different brain activity at various brain structures compared to musicians without absolute pitch.

I’ll give a brief breakdown of a few structures of interest.

  • Inferior parietal lobule
    • Implicated in the short-term storage of pitch
    • Activity in this structure did not differ between groups.
  • Left superior temporal sulcus
    • Associated with identification and categorization of sounds
    • Activity in this structure was greater in musicians with absolute pitch.
  • Superior parietal lobule/intraparietal sulcus
    • Involved in tonal working memory
    • Involved in multimodal sensory integration or encoding
      • Ex: visual-spatial mapping (such as imagining notes on a staff)
    • Activity in this structure was greater in musicians who did not have absolute pitch.

Okay, what does that all mean? The authors conclude that people with absolute pitch differ from people without absolute pitch in 1) the perceptual encoding of sound, and 2) the cognitive strategies used. Basically, people with absolute pitch are thought to categorize sounds using pitch. On the other hand, people without absolute pitch rely on different processes in tonal working memory or multimodal coding. In other words, musicians from the 2 groups engage in different mental processes but arrive at the same result: equivalent performance in a pitch memory task.

What now?

Even though this study shows that non-absolute pitch musicians’ brains compensate for their lack by engaging in different working memory and multimodal processes, I still am very envious of people with absolute pitch. No matter what studies say, having absolute pitch still seems pretty cool to me!

Sources

Dimatati, M., Heaton, P., Pring, L., Downing, J., & Ockelford, A. (2012). Exploring the impact of congenital visual impairment on the development of absolute pitch using a new online assessment tool: A preliminary study. Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, 22(2), 129-133. DOI: 10.1037/a0030857

Loui, P., Zamm, A., & Schlaug, G. (2012). Enhanced functional networks in absolute pitch [Abstract]. NeuroImage, 63(2), 632-640. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.07.030

Schulze, K., Gaab, N., & Schlaug, G. (2009). Perceiving pitch absolutely: Comparing absolute and relative pitch possessors in a pitch memory task. BMC Neuroscience, 10(106). DOI: 10.1186/1471-2202-10-106

Schulze, K., Mueller, K., & Koelsch, S. (2013). Auditory stroop and absolute pitch: An fMRI study [Abstract]. Human Brain Mapping, 34(7), 1579-1590. DOI: 10.1002/hbm.22010

Takeuchi, A., & Hulse, S. H. (1993). Absolute pitch. Psychological Bulletin, 113(2), 345-361.

 

Take One Step at a Time

By Daniella Dimaunahan

Do you usually watch television or listen to music while cooking a meal? Have you ever used your cell phone or changed radio stations while driving? Were there days when you would answer your math homework and research for your term paper while sipping a cup of coffee? I admit that I have engaged in such activities at some point in time. Multitasking is entrenched in our everyday lives. In fact, we don’t usually notice that we are already multitasking because it has become a habit or part of our daily routine. A person who multitasks directs his or her attention to several things at once, a situation called divided attention (Goldstein, 2010). Divided attention results to fragmented and inadequately processed, encoded, and stored information (Naveh-Benjamin, Craik, Perretta, & Tonev, 2000).

A more pertinent topic for this generation is media multitasking. Media multitasking involves the simultaneous use of various media forms (Kanai & Loh, 2014). The use of cellphones, laptops, tablets, and television has become ubiquitous, especially in the youth, due to innumerable technological advancements and rapid urbanization. Technology is now more sophisticated, mobile, readily available. This results to a rise in media use and an increase in media multitasking. It has come to the point wherein textbooks are now slowly being replaced with e-books and the act of writing down lecture notes on paper is starting to diminish.

It is customary to see university students using their laptops in classrooms, supposedly for taking down notes. There have been numerous studies that examined in-class media multitasking (specifically laptop and cell phone use). Results of such studies show that media use does affect academic performance and the way students learn and process information (Prensky, 2001, as cited in Alzahabi & Becker, 2013). Students tend to neglect the fact that no matter how often we multitask and how good we think we are at it, there are still limits in our ability to divide our attention.

Media multitaskers can be grouped into two categories: heavy media multitaskers (people who frequently multitask with media) and light media multitaskers. A group of Stanford researchers conducted a study intended to determine any systematic differences in information processing styles between the two types of media multitaskers (Ophira, Nass, & Wagner, 2009). In their study, they first grouped their participants in two categories using a trait media multitasking index and were compared using laboratory-based investigations. About 100 participants went through a series of three tests. In the first test which involved ignoring irrelevant images, light media multitaskers did great while heavy media multitaskers were constantly distracted and could not ignore irrelevant images. In the second test (memory test), high multitaskers performed poorly and could not remember repeating letters in a sequence of alphabetical letters. In the third test (task-switching test), heavy multitaskers did worse than light multitaskers. They were engrossed with all the information in front of them, could not keep themselves focused on the task at hand, and had everything jumbled up in their minds. In sum, light multitaskers significantly outperformed heavy media multitaskers and were able to filter information relevant to their goal.

Results of this study could indicate that media multitasking, specifically heavy media multitasking, does not necessarily equate to efficiency and productivity. Although multitasking can be considered as an art or skill at times, one should remember that our ability to divide our attention has a limit. It is in this situation where more can be achieved by doing less. Instead of doing a number of tasks at once, one will be able to concentrate and ensure completion by doing things one after the other. Moreover, in order to avoid any distractions brought about by laptop use, it would be better if students take down notes the traditional way, using paper and pen.

References:

Alzahabi, R., & Becker, M. W. (2013). The association between media multitasking, task-switching, and dual-task performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance, 39(5), 1485-1495. doi:10.1037/a0031208

Goldstein, E. B. (2010). Sensation and perception (8th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.

Loh, K. K., & Kanai, R. (2014). Higher Media Multi-Tasking Activity Is Associated with Smaller Gray-Matter Density in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex [Abstract]. PLoS ONE, 9(9). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0106698

Naveh-Benjamin, M., Craik, F. I., Perretta, J. G., & Tonev, S. T. (2000). The effects of divided attention on encoding and retrieval processes: The resiliency of retrieval processes [Abstract]. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A, 53(3). doi:10.1080/713755914

Ophir, E., Nass, C., & Wagner, A. D. (2009). Cognitive control in media multitaskers. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(37). doi:10.1073/pnas.0903620106

Think Before You Click ‘Share’

By Kristel Tiburcio

As I was looking for studies on attention online, I came across a website with the headline “You Now Have a Shorter Attention Span Than A Goldfish…” As I continue scrolling down, I saw more websites with similar headlines. Apparently, the human attention span has dwindled to just 8 seconds in 2013 from 12 seconds in 2000. This attention span is shorter than a goldfish’s attention span, which is 9 seconds (as claimed by the study).

The information came from a study made by Microsoft Canada using quantitative survey and neurological research. It’s a 52-page study that tries to determine how Canadians’ attention span has changed and how the company should alter their advertising techniques in order to still capture the attention of their target market. Again, it’s a 52-page study, yet most websites who reported on it only used the information about the supposedly dwindling attention span of humans and that it’s lower than a goldfish.

Fortunately, other websites and writers posted articles criticizing the websites propagating this information and even the study itself. I tried to look for studies about the attention span of humans, and it turns out that the term “attention” in attention span can refer to various kinds of attention. Furthermore, according to Jonathan Schwabish, a researcher and economist, the study does not even include measuring the human attention span. How is it, then, that all these websites – even those whom we may have thought credible – were quick to spread this particular piece of information about attention which is a widely-researched yet complex topic?

“… one of the pioneers of modern attention research, the late Donald Broadbent (1982), emphasized the dangers in the uncritical use of “attention” (Pashler, 1999, p. 4). Especially in this digital age, we should be careful with the words we use and the posts we put online; however, it doesn’t end there. We should also be critical with all the information we see on the internet.

The digital advancement of this generation has certainly influenced the behaviors of users online. I think one probable reason for misinformation due to uncritical evaluation of information we see on the web may be related to attention. Personally, there are times I am guilty of doing this – since articles are so long, I rely on the headlines or title of the articles and the brief summary that comes with it. It is as if we became accustomed to only paying attention to headlines and ignoring the rest of the information provided in the article. We find a particular headline as interesting, relevant, cool-sounding, so we click “share” on Facebook immediately. We might have to train ourselves to stop this habit and reset the defaults of our attentional control capacity.

The mechanism to which we are able to selectively attend to certain information is called attentional control. This develops in humans to help us direct our attention to cues that contains more information for us to be able to learn, instead of just reacting to whichever environmental cues are present (Wass, Scerif, & Johnson, 2012).

For those who feel like they are choosing the wrong information to attend to; and for those who are struggling in the middle of the night, cramming, because they keep on focusing on the wrong things; it is not too late! It is possible to train attentional control and investing in this type of training may also help in training your working memory (Duncan & Owen, 2000; & McNab, et al., 2009; as mentioned in Wass, et al., 2012) – it would be like getting 2 classes for the price of one!

Using the method of mixed training battery to train attentional control, it was found that young adults improved in tasks involving working memory (Schmiedek et. al, as mentioned in Wass, et al., 2012). The mixed training battery includes various tasks that specifically target one or more aspects of our cognition, such as sustained attention, selective attention, task switching, and inhibition (Wass, et al., 2012).

Although, known interventions and type of training for attentional control work better when done early in life as with young children, training in adults may also lead to improvement as shown in previous studies. So what are you waiting for? If you are not interested in sports or music lessons this summer, you better check out cognitive trainings (i.e. mixed training battery) and improve your attentional control and working memory!

 

References:

Consumer Insights, Microsoft Canada. (2015). Attention spans. Retrieved from http://advertising.microsoft.com/en/cl/31966/how-does-digital-affect-canadian-attention-spans

Pashler, H. E. (1999). The psychology of attention. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Schwabish, J. (2016). The attention span statistic fallacy. Retrieved from http://policyviz.com/the-attention-span-statistic-fallacy/

Wass, S. V., Scerif, G., & Johnson, M. H. (2012). Training attentional control and memory – Is younger better? Developmental Review, 32(4), 360-387. doi:10.1016/j.dr.2012.07.001

What Sign?

by Janine See

I was driving around Greenhills (particularly, through the streets surrounding Wilson) one morning when an MMDA officer suddenly stopped me. He told me that the street I was on was following a one-way traffic scheme, which I was not aware of. So I thought to myself, “What sign? There were no signs. This guy is clearly trying to get money from me.” I argued with the officer that there were no signs that said that this was a one-way street, because if there were, I surely wouldn’t blatantly disobey the traffic rules. He told me that there were signs on all the intersections crossing that street, and even pointed the next one out to me. I thought to myself, “How could I have missed all of those signs?”. Embarrassed, I apologized to the officer and tried to get out of getting a ticket and to my surprise and relief, he let me go and directed me towards Wilson. After that, I made sure to always be on the lookout for all the traffic signs I would pass by.

Many of us may have had similar experiences while driving. We think we are paying attention to everything there is on the road, but really, we miss many important signs or details that sometimes gets us into trouble. Psychologists call this Inattentional Blindness – the phenomenon of being unaware of obvious stimuli that we do not pay attention to. How we see things largely depends on what we focus on. Since there are so many things going on around us and in our heads, it is impossible to pay attention to everything all at once. Because of this limitation, it is inevitable that we will fail to notice some things, even if they were right in front of us.

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A study by Most, Simons, Scholl & Chabris (2000) confirms that Inattentional Blindness happens even to objects that are very distinct in color, shape or path of motion. In the experiment, participants were asked to look at black and white shapes moving against a gray background and to focus on either the black or the white shapes and ignore the others. After many trials, a red cross was presented in the display and traveled across the screen for 5 seconds. At the end of the experiment, it was found that 1/3 of the participants did not notice the red cross at all. Even if the cross was distinctly different in terms of color and shape – two characteristics we assume would help the participants notice the cross, they still missed it. From this experiment, we can also conclude that when people are engaged in tasks that require a lot of attention, it becomes more difficult to focus on other things outside of the tasks, even if these seem to be very obvious.

This experiment is very similar to our experience of driving. Most of the time, our attention is focused on the road – looking out for moving cars, motorcycles and crossing pedestrians, watching the stoplight, avoiding potholes, etc., that we do not notice other road signs, even if they were in our field of view for a few seconds. Though these road signs are distinct, usually red or yellow against a gray cityscape, they can go unnoticed to a driver whose attention is focused elsewhere.

So the next time you get pulled over by an MMDA officer for ignoring a traffic sign, tell him a thing or two about Inattentional Blindness. (Kidding! Haha.) The lesson to pick up from learning about Inattentional Blindness is that now, we are more aware of the lapses we can have in seeing and paying attention to certain details, even if they were right in front of us. Though it is important to focus our attention to driving, we should also make sure that we allot some to looking out for road signs, as this will not only save us a lot of trouble, but more importantly, this can save lives.

References:

[Calvin and Hobbes Pay Attention to Me]. (1989, October 26). Retrieved March 21, 2016, from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/173107179399257090/
Carpenter, S. (n.d.). Sights Unseen. PsycEXTRA Dataset.
Goldstein, E. B. (2013). Sensation and perception (9th ed). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Most, S. B., Simons, D. J., Scholl, B. J., & Chabris, C. F. (2000). Sustained Inattentional Blindness: The Role of Location in the Detection of Unexpected Dynamic Events. Psyche, 6(14). Retrieved March 21, 2016, from http://www.theassc.org/files/assc/2471.pdf