Fear can be found in the eyes

Neuroscientist Ralph Adolphs has been working with a woman known only by the initials SM. She has damage to the amygdala on both sides of the brain, and although she can recognise emotions such as happiness, anger, surpise, sadness and disgust on people’s faces, she can’t recognise fear.

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Adolphs investigated exactly what SM was looking at when she viewed emotional expressions and found that she rarely looked at the eyes. Most other emotional expressions can be recognised from other parts of the face, but recognising fear seems to particularly involve viewing the eyes.

When prompted to look specifically at the eyes, SM became a lot better at recognising fear, although quickly reverted back to avoiding them if not reminded.

The amygdala has been traditionally associated with emotion, particularly the negative emotions, but Adolphs suggest that maybe it has a wider function, also involving visual attention and analysis.

Why damage to the amygdala might specifically cause problems with viewing the eyes of other people remains to be investigated, as does whether SM’s ability to focus in on other parts of the face is entirely normal.

Link to story on nature.com

Face recognition might be innnate

Researchers from the Universities of Queensland and Denver have found that newborn babies preferentially look at human faces, but not human body shapes in general. This seems to suggest that face recognition might be innate in some way and might be one aspect of our genetic inheritance which promotes social interaction and allows us to develop subtle social communication skills needed for the complexity of human interaction.

A study published in 2004 suggested that this is more than just a simple preference for any face-like shape, but that newborn babies prefer attractive rather than unattractive faces. It is still unclear why this might happen, although it perhaps hints that attractive faces may seem more attractive because they more closely match a configuration passed down to us via our genes.

The excuse “Sorry honey, I was just looking to see if their face matched my genetic template of innate face shapes” is of course unlikely to get you out of trouble, regardless of your ability to describe the science behind it.

Waving, not designing

I got a wave messaging power-up cover for my Nokia 3220 phone. It’s got a line of LEDs along the back of the phone, and when you wave it, you can spell out messages in the air. Check this out:

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(That’s me, by the way. I posted more about this to my other weblog, if you’re interested, but I’m going to continue here about embodied interaction and visual affordances.)

Continue reading “Waving, not designing”

EVP: Voices from the other side or the inside ?

Electronic voice phenomena or EVP is the appearance of mysterious voices on tapes or recordings. They are usually hard to make out, ambiguous and hidden among the static, although some claim they are voices of spirits trying to communicate with the living.

Others claim this is a result of apophenia, a psychological tendency to see meaning in noise where there is none.

There’s been quite a bit of interest in this lately, probably spurred by the upcoming release of the movie White Noise, which has EVP recordings as its major plot device.

The Scotsman has an article exploring the phenomena from several angles, including quotes from a psychologist and parapsychologist on approaches to understanding these puzzling communications.

The High Street persuaders

The online version of the Telegraph has an article on how psychology is used in shops to persuade us to part with our hard earned cash and lists some common tricks and techniques.

“The most important rule as a shopper is to keep your wits about you,” Karl says. “If you enter a retailer’s property, in one sense, you lay yourself open to any tricks or techniques that they might want to spring on you. The best armoury you can have is to keep your eyes open and your ear to the ground and see what’s going on.”

Link to article (via metafilter.com).

Cultivated Perception

Lots of psychology isn’t rocket science – it’s not exactly stuff you couldn’t have figured out yourself if you’d have thought about it for long enough. Often the conclusions from some area of investigation are explained to you and you think ‘Well, hey, that’s obvious’. And of course there’s an argument that true answers often should be obvious, once you’ve been told them.

One of the the things I hoped we could do with Mind Hacks was give people framworks for looking at how our minds work, and how we interact with the environment, so that it becomes easier to spot the obvious in advance. After all, we all have minds, so we all have access to the raw data to draw the conclusions – it’s just that there are many things you don’t notice until you’ve learnt to see them. (Until someone stops me i’m going to call this ‘cultivated perception’).

So, I should be working on designed a questionnaire (a sign that I committed grevious sins in a past life?) and I noticed how I could improve it with a little lesson from Chapter 8 of the book.

Continue reading “Cultivated Perception”