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A Closer Look at the Face in Your Toast

Toast_facePeople seem to see faces in all sorts of strange places, whether it’s Albert Einstein in a cup of coffee, the face of Jesus on a piece of toast, or even the man in the moon. Why do people see faces, even where they don’t exist?

Although the phenomenon of seeing illusory faces — termed face pareidolia — is well documented, few studies have investigated the mechanisms underlying this experience. Those studies that have examined the brain regions associated with face pareidolia have only examined the perception of faces, meaning it is still unclear whether the brain regions identified in these studies are involved in face pareidolia specifically, or whether they are…


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Integrative Approach Strengthens Developmental Research

Traditionally, researchers in different fields have banded together, leading to ever-evolving but separate lines of work. However, there is now an increasing awareness that much can be learned by combining knowledge across a wide range of psychological and biological disciplines. This new focus on integrative work is especially evident in the growing body of research showing that our brains, biology, and environments are not independent — each influences, and is influenced by, the others.

This kind of integrative research is highlighted in a recent article published in Current Directions in Psychological Science, whose authors Annie Bernier, Célia Matte-Gagné, and Andrée-Anne Bouvette-Turcot (University of Montreal) have reached across cognitive, biological, and social-emotional fields to investigate the connections…


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Great Apes Share Our Ability to Predict Goal-Oriented Actions

This is a photo of an orangutan with its baby.Within a year after birth, human infants develop the ability to direct their attention to the anticipated goal of another person’s movement, before it has occurred. So, for example, our eyes move to where we think an object will be based on how we perceive others’ objectives and intentions. The ability to anticipate actions helps us both to cooperate and compete with others.

In light of previous research suggesting that nonhuman primates may be able to predict others’ goals and actions, psychological scientists Fumihiro Kano and Josep Call of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany investigated whether other primates make eye movements similar to those that humans make while observing another individual’s behavior.

The researchers analyzed data from 19 great apes, including chimpanzees, bonobos, and orangutans.



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OCD Linked With Broad Impairments in Executive Function

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), characterized by intrusive and persistent thoughts that are often accompanied by repetitive or ritualized acts, is a serious clinical disorder that can significantly impact a person’s ability to function and go about daily life. Neuroimaging data have hinted at a link between OCD and brain areas that contribute to executive function (EF), a group of critical cognitive abilities that regulate lower-level cognitive processes.

This is a photo of a person washing his hands.As researcher Hannah Snyder of the University of Denver and colleagues explain, EFs allow us to “break out of habits, make decisions and evaluate risks, plan for the future, prioritize and sequence actions, and cope with novel situations.” EF deficits, therefore, could contribute to an inability to shift between tasks and the repetition and perseveration so often seen in individuals with OCD.

Despite evidence linking OCD with…


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Typical Items Facilitate Fear Learning, Atypical Items Don’t

Have you ever recoiled at something because it reminds you of something else that you’re genuinely afraid of? Research indicates that people have a propensity to generalize their fear — so, for example, a person afraid of doctors might also feel uneasy at the sight of a hospital or medical equipment.

This is a photo of a woman covering her face in fear.Moreover, typical items in a category seem to lend themselves to generalization more than atypical items do. For instance, we’re more likely to generalize information about mice and apply it to bats rather than the other way around, since mice come to mind more easily when we think of mammals.

Bringing these different areas of research together, psychological scientists Joseph E. Dunsmoor and Gregory L. Murphy of New York University wanted to investigate whether we incorporate conceptual knowledge into fear…


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