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Read about the latest research published in Psychological Science.

Features of Planned Hand Actions Influence Identification of Graspable Objects

Daniel N. Bub, Michael E. J. Masson, and Terry Lin

Research has shown that motor cortical brain regions are activated when people attend to graspable objects. Participants viewed pictures of a left or right hand in a vertical or horizontal grasping position before being asked to identify an object with its handle facing to the left or right. Participants were slower at naming the object when either the hand (right or left) or the grasping position (vertical or horizontal) was incompatible with the motion needed to grasp the handle, indicating that motor representations play a crucial role in object identification.

Gist Memory in the Unconscious-Thought Effect

Marlène Abadie, Laurent Waroquier, and Patrice Terrier

Studies have shown that people are better able to make decisions after a period of distraction than after a period of deliberation. To study this unconscious-thought effect (UTE), researchers showed participants a presentation about apartments that were for rent and then asked them to make a decision about which apartment was best for a hypothetical client. Some participants made the decision immediately after the presentation, and others performed a simple distracting task first. Participants who performed the distracting task were more likely to choose the optimal apartment. The researchers found that the distracting task enhanced gist memory for task-relevant attributes, which led people to make better decisions.

Influence of Branding on Preference-Based Decision Making

Marios G. Philiastides and Roger Ratcliff

What is the mechanism through which branding — association of an item with a brand name — affects our decisions? Participants rated their preference for 150 items of clothing that were presented without brand labels. They were then shown two items of clothing and asked to choose their favorite one. In some cases, the brand of the clothing items was shown (labels present) and in others it was not (labels absent). The researchers found that participants chose items from their preferred brand more often in the labels-present condition and that this bias was driven by differences in the rate of information and preference integration during the decision-making process.

Communicating Shared Knowledge in Infancy

Katalin Egyed, Ildikó Király, and György Gergely

Can infants differentiate between person-centered and object-centered emotion as revealed in facial expressions? Participating 18-month-olds watched a researcher make a positive facial expression while looking at one toy and a negative facial expression while looking at a second toy. The researcher either made eye contact with the child (communicative context) or did not (noncommunicative context). That researcher or a colleague then asked the child to give him or her one of the toys. Infants generalized the first researcher’s emotion to the other researcher in the communicative context, but not in the noncommunicative context. This indicates that infants can assign different interpretations to other people’s emotional displays based on the communication context.

The Truth About Chickens and Bats: Ambiguity Avoidance Distinguishes Types of Polysemy

Hugh Rabagliati and Jesse Snedeker

Sometimes a word can mean two different things depending on the context — a phenomenon called polysemy. Participants were asked to name four objects shown on a screen. Two of the objects could be given the same name. The researchers observed whether participants modified the names they gave the objects in order to avoid being ambiguous. The pattern of participants’ responses supported the idea that polysemous senses can be generated from contextually driven modifications of core meanings or can be memorized separately.