New Research From Psychological Science

A Spontaneous Self-Reference Effect in Memory: Why Some Birthdays Are Harder to Remember Than Others

Selin Kesebir and Shigehiro Oishi

People may have a better memory for birthdays that are closer to their own: Volunteers recalling their friends’ birthdays tended to remember birthdays that were closer to their own than birthdays that were farther away from their own birthday. In a separate experiment, after reading brief biographies of people they did not know, volunteers correctly remembered the birthdays of the people whose birthdays were closer to their own than birthdays that were more distant. These findings indicate that the self-reference effect in memory—a memory advantage for materials that are related to us—may occur spontaneously if the material to be learned automatically activates self-relevant information.


The Implicit “Go”: Masked Action Cues Directly Mobilize Mental Effort

Guido H.E. Gendolla and Nicolas Silvestrini

The amount of effort individuals exert on a cognitive task may be influenced by masked action or inaction cues. Volunteers were primed with action (e.g., run), inaction (e.g., slow), or control words and completed a short-term memory task. The intensity of effort volunteers exerted on the task was estimated by measuring their heart responses in the cardiac preejection period (PEP; an index of the heart’s ability to contract) as they completed the task. PEP reactivity was stronger in the action-prime condition than it was during the inaction-prime and control conditions. Reaction times were longer in the inaction-prime condition than they were in the action-primed condition, suggesting that reaction times decrease with strong PEP reactivity.


The Role of Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Genotype, Parental Depression, and Relationship Discord in Predicting Early-Emerging Negative Emotionality

Elizabeth P. Hayden, Daniel N. Klein, Lea R. Dougherty, Thomas M. Olino, Margaret W. Dyson, C. Emily Durbin, Haroon I. Sheikh, and Shiva M. Singh

The brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene is thought to influence children’s propensity to negative emotions, but this influence may depend on family environment during early childhood. Children with a specific mutation in the BDNF gene (a valine-to-methionine substitution) exhibited elevated negative emotionality, but only when a parent had a history of depressive disorder or when parents’ relationship was discordant. In contrast, children with the methionine mutation exhibited very low negative emotionality when parental depression was absent and when the parents’ relationship was not discordant. These results indicate that the BDNF mutation may increase a child’s sensitivity to both positive and negative influences in their environment.


Does Facial Processing Prioritize Change Detection? Change Blindness Illustrates Costs and Benefits of Holistic Processing

Miko M. Wilford and Gary L. Wells

When we get a haircut, our friends will often note that we look different, but they may not be able to pinpoint what has changed. This may result from our tendency to process faces as a whole—holistically—rather than as individual features. Volunteers were shown an image of a face or a house, followed by a similar image which may or may not have changed. They were better at detecting that a change had occurred in faces than in houses, but were better at identifying which feature had changed in houses than faces. These findings suggest that holistic and featural processing may be both advantageous and disadvantageous, depending on the nature of the task.


Border Bias: The Belief That State Borders Can Protect Against Disasters  

Arul Mishra and Himanshu Mishra

Perception of risk plays a large role in decisions that individuals make and there is new evidence that state borders may influence risk perception. Volunteers were ask to select among vacation homes in two different states. When they read that an earthquake had struck one of the states, they tended to choose a home in the other state. The findings of subsequent experiments suggest that people categorize locations within a state differently than locations in different states. This categorization may result in the perception of state borders as being physical barriers that can block out disasters, a finding that has important policy implications (e.g., disaster-warning procedures).


Dissociable Neural Systems Support Retrieval of How and Why Action Knowledge

Robert P. Spunt, Emily B. Falk, and Matthew D. Lieberman

Actions consist of two parts: how (e.g., physical movements) and why (e.g., beliefs and intentions of the actor). Where do these two aspects of action knowledge arise in the brain? fMRI scans were obtained as volunteers thought about how or why they would perform certain actions. How action knowledge was associated with motor systems for executing actions and the visual system for recognizing action-related objects. Why action knowledge was associated with the brain regions involved in agency and reasoning about mental states. These findings indicate that the brain may distinguish how to do something from why it is being done in the first place.

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