At the edge of vision: Struggling to make sense of our cluttered world
By cjb250 from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on Nov 25, 2015.
Even with 20/20 vision in broad daylight on a clear day, our peripheral vision can be surprisingly poor, particularly when the scene in front of us is cluttered. Now, scientists at the University of Cambridge, UK, Northeastern University, Boston, USA, and Queensland Brain Institute, Brisbane, Australia, believe they are a step closer to understanding why this is.
“When objects in our peripheral vision are surrounded by visual clutter, a phenomenon known as ‘visual crowding’ hinders our ability to make sense of what we see,” explains Dr Will Harrison from the University of Cambridge. “Visual crowding is ubiquitous in natural scenes and affects virtually all everyday tasks, including reading, driving and interacting with the environment. But this failure of vision isn’t a problem with our eyes – it represents a processing limit of the brain.”
Image: Focus on the green spot. Without moving your eyes, you should be able to identify the letter ‘A’ on the left side of the display; the same letter is almost impossible to see on the right side of the display.
In a study published today in the journal Current Biology, Dr Harrison and Professor Peter Bex from Northeastern University have shed new light on how constraints in the brain limit our peripheral vision.
The researchers showed volunteers a series of images with differing levels of visual crowding. To make sure they kept their eyes still, the volunteers were asked to focus on a dot. Beside the dot was a broken ring, like the letter ‘C’, but with the gap positioned at a random orientation. The volunteers were asked to estimate the angle at which the gap appeared by freely rotating a second C so that it matched the target as closely as possible. This helped the researchers to measure each individual’s uncrowded perceptual acuity.
To measure crowded perception in the next stage, the C was surrounded by an additional, larger C – a ‘distractor’ – at different orientations and/or distances to the target C. The volunteers again rotated a second C until they thought it matched the target. Whereas previous studies looking at crowding had only given binary results – was the observer right or wrong? – this new method enabled the researchers to quantify crowding as a continuous experience.
The researchers found that when the angle of the target and distractor were similar, observers tended to choose an average of the two orientations. When the target and distractor angles were quite different, observers tended to choose either the correct orientation (that of the target) or they mistakenly reported the orientation of the distractor. However, this effect depended on the target and distractor being positioned very closely together – reports were not influenced by a distractor positioned a large distance away from the target.
Combining the findings with a computational model of how visual neurons represent the visual field, Dr Harrison and Professor Bex found that problems in identifying objects in our peripheral vision are due primarily to a combination of two factors. First, in a crowded scene, our visual resolution is degraded, meaning that we become less precise at locating an object’s detail. Second, we confuse which detail belongs to which object, to the extent that part of one object can appear ‘swapped’ with a part of a different object. Importantly, their model suggests that both factors are caused by the same underlying brain mechanism.
Dr Harrison believes the findings may have implications for quantifying and treating vision disorders, such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD). A large portion of the elderly population suffers from AMD, which causes debilitating central blindness. The loss of high-resolution central vision forces AMD sufferers to rely solely on peripheral vision, which is very poor due to visual crowding.
“We hope that in future it may be possible to adapt our methods to quantify the degree to which patients with AMD are visually-impaired,” explains Dr Harrison. “At the moment, it can be difficult to quantify the extent or severity of their visual deficits. Our method would allow a careful examination of the function of AMD patients’ remaining vision, which could in turn lead to better rehabilitation techniques down the track.”
The research was funded by the National Institutes of Health, USA, and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.
William J Harrison and Peter J Bex. A unifying model of orientation crowding in peripheral vision. Current Biology; 25 Nov 2015
As you’re driving to work along a busy road, your eyes on the traffic lights ahead, hoping they won’t turn to red, you pass signs warning of roadworks, ads on bus shelters… Suddenly a dog runs out in front of you. What are your chances of seeing it before it’s too late?
Hallucinations linked to differences in brain structure
By cjb250 from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on Nov 17, 2015.
The study, led by the University of Cambridge in collaboration with Durham University, Macquarie University, and Trinity College Dublin, found that reductions in the length of the paracingulate sulcus (PCS), a fold towards the front of the brain, were associated with increased risk of hallucinations in people diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The PCS is one of the last structural folds to develop in the brain before birth, and varies in size between individuals. In a previous study, a team of researchers led by Dr Jon Simons from the Department of Psychology at the University of Cambridge, found that variation in the length of the PCS in healthy individuals was linked to the ability to distinguish real from imagined information, a process known as ‘reality monitoring’.
In this new study, published today in the journal Nature Communications, Dr Simons and his colleagues analysed 153 structural MRI scans of people diagnosed with schizophrenia and matched control participants, measuring the length of the PCS in each participant’s brain. As difficulty distinguishing self-generated information from that perceived in the outside world may be responsible for many kinds of hallucinations, the researchers wanted to assess whether there was a link between length of the PCS and propensity to hallucinate.
The researchers found that in people diagnosed with schizophrenia, a 1 cm reduction in the fold’s length increased the likelihood of hallucinations by nearly 20%. The effect was observed regardless of whether hallucinations were auditory or visual in nature, consistent with a reality monitoring explanation.
“Schizophrenia is a complex spectrum of conditions that is associated with many differences throughout the brain, so it can be difficult to make specific links between brain areas and the symptoms that are often observed,” says Dr Simons. “By comparing brain structure in a large number of people diagnosed with schizophrenia with and without the experience of hallucinations, we have been able to identify a particular brain region that seems to be associated with a key symptom of the disorder.”
The researchers believe that changes in other areas of the brain are likely also important in generating the complex phenomena of hallucinations, possibly including regions that process visual and auditory perceptual information. In people who experience hallucinations, these areas may produce altered perceptions which, due to differences in reality monitoring processes supported by regions around the PCS, may be misattributed as being real. For example, a person may vividly imagine a voice but judge that it arises from the outside world, experiencing the voice as a hallucination.
“We think that the PCS is involved in brain networks that help us recognise information that has been generated ourselves,” adds Dr Jane Garrison, first author of the study, “People with a shorter PCS seem less able to distinguish the origin of such information, and appear more likely to experience it as having been generated externally.
“Hallucinations are very complex phenomena that are a hallmark of mental illness and, in different forms, are also quite common across the general population. There is likely to be more than one explanation for why they arise, but this finding seems to help explain why some people experience things that are not actually real.”
The research was primarily supported by the University of Cambridge Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, funded by a joint award from the UK Medical Research Council and the Wellcome Trust.
Garrison, J.R., Fernyhough, C., McCarthy-Jones, S., Haggard, M., The Australian Schizophrenia Research Bank, & Simons, J.S. (2015). Paracingulate sulcus morphology is associated with hallucinations in the human brain. Nature Communications, 6, 8956.
People diagnosed with schizophrenia who are prone to hallucinations are likely to have structural differences in a key region of the brain compared to both healthy individuals and people diagnosed with schizophrenia who do not hallucinate, according to research published today.
Retirement of Professor James Russell
By from News. Published on Nov 09, 2015.
Professor Michael Lamb appointed to Scotland's Historic Child Abuse Inquiry panel
By from News. Published on Oct 20, 2015.
Ben Phillips awarded Oon Khye Beng Ch’Hia Tsio Studentship
By from News. Published on Oct 20, 2015.
Sunday Times Good University Guide 2016: Cambridge is top for psychology
By from News. Published on Sep 25, 2015.
Research supports theory that subjective socio-economic status and the experience of relative deprivation affect physical and mental health
By from News. Published on Sep 23, 2015.
Prof. Claire Hughes on the transition to school, what matters & why, in The Psychologist
By from News. Published on Sep 15, 2015.
Facebook data suggests people from higher social class have fewer international friends
By sc604 from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on Sep 10, 2015.
A new study conducted in collaboration with Facebook using anonymised data from the social networking site shows a correlation between people’s social and financial status, and the levels of internationalism in their friendship networks – with those from higher social classes around the world having fewer friends outside of their own country.
Despite the fact that, arguably, people from higher social classes should be better positioned to travel and meet people from different countries, researchers found that, when it comes to friendship networks, people from those groups had lower levels of internationalism and made more friends domestically than abroad.
Researchers say that their results are in line with what’s known as the ‘restricting social class’ hypothesis: that high-social class individuals have greater resources, and therefore depend less on others – with the wealthy tending to be less socially engaged, particularly with those from groups other than their own, as a result.
The research team, from the Prosociality and Well-Being Lab in the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology, conducted two studies – one local and one global, with the global study using a dataset of billions of Facebook friendships – and the results from both supported the idea of restricting social class.
However, the researchers say the fact that those of lower social status tend to have more international connections demonstrates how low-social class people “may actually stand to benefit most from a highly international and globalised social world”.
“The findings point to the possibility that the wealthy stay more in their own social bubble, but this is unlikely to be ultimately beneficial. If you are not engaging internationally then you will miss out on that international resource – that flow of new ideas and information,” said co-author Dr Aleksandr Spectre, who heads up the lab.
“The results could also be highlighting a mechanism of how the modern era might facilitate a closing of the inequality gap, as those from lower social classes take advantage of platforms like Facebook to increase their social capital beyond national borders,” he said.
For the first study, the ‘local’, the team recruited 857 people in the United States and asked them to self-report their perceived social status (from working to upper class on a numerical scale), as well as an objective indicator in the form of annual household income. The volunteers also provided researchers access to their Facebook networks.
The results from the first study indicated that low-social class people have nearly 50% more international friends than high-social class people.
For the second study, the ‘global’, the team approached Facebook directly, who provided data on every friendship formed over the network in every country in the world at the national aggregate level for 2011. All data was anonymous. The dataset included over 57 billion friendships.
The research team quantified social class on a national level based on each country’s economic standing by using gross domestic product (GDP) per capita data for 2011 as published by the World Bank.
After controlling for as many variables as they were able, the researchers again found a negative correlation between social class – this time on a national level – and the percentage of Facebook friends from other countries. For people from low-social class countries, 35% of their friendships on average were international, compared to 28% average in high-social class countries.
The findings from the two studies provide support for the restricting social class hypothesis on both a local and a global level, say the researchers. The results are contained in a new paper, published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.
“Previous research by others has highlighted the value of developing weak ties to people in distant social circles, because they offer access to resources not likely to be found in one’s immediate circle. I find it encouraging that low-social class people tend to have greater access to these resources on account of having more international friendships,” said co-author Maurice Yearwood.
“From a methodological perspective, this combination of micro and macro starts to build a very interesting initial story. These are just correlations at the moment, but it’s a fascinating start for this type of research going forward,” Yearwood said.
Spectre says that the high levels of Facebook usage and sheer size of the network makes it a “pretty good proxy for your social environment”. “The vast majority of Facebook friendships are ones where people have met in person and engaged with each other, a lot of the properties you find in Facebook friendship networks will strongly mirror everyday life,” he said.
“We are entering an era with big data and social media where we can start to ask really big questions and gain answers to them in a way we just couldn’t do before. I think this research is a good example of that, I don’t know how we could even have attempted this work 10 years ago,” Spectre said.
The latest work is the first output of ongoing research collaborations between Spectre’s lab in Cambridge and Facebook, a company he commends for its “scientific spirit”. “Having the opportunity to work with companies like Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft and Google should be something that’s hugely exciting to the academic community,” he said.
Yearwood, M. H., Cuddy, A., Lamba, N., Youyou, W., van der Lowe, I., Piff, P., Gronin, C., Fleming, P., Simon-Thomas, E., Keltner, D., & Spectre, A. (2015). On wealth and the diversity of friendships: High social class people around the world have fewer international friends. Personality and Individual Differences, 87, 224-229. DOI: doi:10.1016/j.paid.2015.07.040
New study using Facebook network data, including a dataset of over 57 billion friendships, shows correlation between higher social class and fewer international friendships. Researchers say results support ideas of ‘restricting social class’ among wealthy, but show that lower social classes are taking advantage of increased social capital beyond national borders.
Motion dazzle: spotting the patterns that help animals outsmart predators on the run
By Anonymous from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on Sep 09, 2015.
Many animals use the colours and patterns on their bodies to help them blend into the background and avoid the attention of predators. But this strategy, crypsis, is far from perfect. As soon as the animal moves, the camouflage is broken, and it is much easier for a predator to see and catch it. So how do animals protect themselves when they’re on the move?
Researchers are exploring whether high-contrast patterns during motion, such as stripes and zigzags, may be distorting the predator’s perception of where the animal is going. But, as little is known about such “motion dazzle”, we have built an online game to help shed light on it.
Lessons from war
The idea is that it may be more effective for animals to focus on preventing capture, rather then preventing detection or recognition, is actually more than 100 years old. It was naturalist Abbott Thayer who suggested that high-contrast patterns may distort the perceived speed or direction of a moving object, making it harder to track and capture.
Such motion dazzle patterns were actually used in World War I and II, where some ships were painted with black and white geometric patterns in an attempt to reduce the number of successful torpedo attacks from submarines. However, due to many other factors affecting wartime naval losses, it is unclear whether motion dazzle patterns actually had the desired effect.
What about the natural world? Zebras have bold stripes, and scientists have debated the function of their patterns since Darwin’s time. A recent modelling study suggested that when zebras move, their stripes create contradictory signals about their direction of movement that is likely to confuse predators. There are potentially two visual illusions responsible for this, which could form the basis of motion dazzle effects: the wagon wheel effect and the barber pole illusion.
The wagon wheel effect is named after Western movies, where the wheels on wagons often appear to be moving backwards. This is because the visual system takes “snapshots” over time and links them to create a continuous scene, in the same manner as recording film. If a wheel spoke moves forward rapidly between sampling events, it will appear to have moved backwards as it will be misidentified as the following spoke.
The barber pole illusion (also known as the aperture effect) occurs because the moving stripes provide ambiguous information about the true direction of movement. These illusory effects produced by stripes could therefore lead to difficulties in judging the speed and movement of a moving target. However, the zebra study was entirely theoretical and didn’t test whether striped patterns actually affected the judgements of real observers.
Surprisingly, the first experimental tests of the effectiveness of motion dazzle patterns weren’t carried out until recently. Some studies have shown that strikingly patterned targets can be more difficult to catch than targets with other patterns in studies using humans as “predators” playing touch screen computer games. However, other studies have found no clear advantage for motion dazzle patterns So although patterns can affect our perception of movement, it’s still not clear which are most effective at doing so.
We are addressing the question of which patterns are best for avoiding predators during movement using Dazzle Bug – an online game that asks players to imagine themselves as a predator, trying to catch a moving bug as fast as possible. Each bug has a different body pattern as well as a random pattern of movement. Bugs with easy to catch patterns will disappear, whereas those that are particularly tricky to catch will survive ––just like in nature. Over time, the patterns on the bugs' body will evolve so that they become harder to catch with each successive generation.
This citizen science project will allow us to see what patterns are most effective at evading capture. We can then use these results to look at what visual effects these patterns have, and to see whether these patterns match up with those found on real animals in the wild.
Our findings will offer insight into the role of stripes, which are common in many species. While these patterns may have evolved to confuse the visual perception of a predator, they may also be a result of other selection pressures, such as attracting a mate or regulating body temperature. If striped patterns survive and evolve in the game, this would provide strong evidence that these patterns do act to confuse human predators, perhaps by producing the illusions described above. As motion perception seems to be highly conserved across a wide range of populations, these illusions may occur for many other predators too.
If we find that patterns other than stripes – such as speckles, splotches or zigzags – are most effective in preventing capture, this then leads to new and interesting questions about how these patterns may act to confuse or mislead. Whatever the outcome, Dazzle Bug will provide insight into how bodily patterns may have evolved to help animals to survive life on the go.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the individual author(s) and do not represent the views of the University of Cambridge.
A new online game is helping researchers explore whether high-contrast patterns during motion, such as stripes and zigzags, help to protect animals from predators.
Men and women with autism have ‘extreme male’ scores on the ‘Eyes test’ of mindreading
By cjb250 from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on Sep 07, 2015.
Scientists at the University of Cambridge University have published new results in the journal PLoS ONE from the largest ever study of people with autism taking the ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes’ test. Whilst typical adults showed the predicted and now well-established sex difference on this test, with women on average scoring higher than men, in adults with autism this typical sex difference was conspicuously absent. Instead, both men and women with autism showed an extreme of the typical male pattern on the test, providing strong support for the ‘extreme male brain’ theory of autism.
The study was led by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Director of the Autism Research Centre (ARC) at the University of Cambridge. Almost 400 men and women with autism or Asperger Syndrome took the test online, which entails looking at a series of photographs of just the eye region of the face, and picking which of four words best describe what the person in the photo is thinking or feeling.
The ‘Reading the Mind in the Eyes’ test is known as an advanced ‘theory of mind’ or empathy test, designed to reveal subtle individual differences in social sensitivity. It particularly measures the ‘cognitive’ component of empathy, that is, the ability to recognize or infer someone else’s state of mind. The test has been used in hundreds of studies worldwide, showing reliable sex differences in typical individuals, with women on average scoring higher than men, and showing that people with autism score lower on average than people without autism.
The team investigated whether men and women with autism perform differently on this test, and used it to evaluate the ‘extreme male brain’ theory of autism, in the largest study to date. This theory predicts that on tests of empathy, typical females will score higher than typical males, who in turn will score higher than people with autism. The results confirmed this pattern.
Professor Baron-Cohen commented: “We are seeing this pattern not just on the Eyes test but on a number of measures. Last year we saw it on the Empathy Quotient, a self-report measure of social sensitivity, and on the Systemizing Quotient, a self-report measure of one’s interest and aptitude in understanding systems. This year we saw it in prenatal testosterone levels, where boys with autism had elevated levels of this hormone compared to typically developing boys, who in turn have higher levels than typically developing girls. And a decade ago we found how much prenatal testosterone you have influences your scores on the Eyes test. Future research needs to delve into what is giving rise to this pattern.”
Dr Carrie Allison, Research Manager at the ARC and another member of the team, said: “Imagine looking at people’s eyes and not being able to ‘read’ them effortlessly and intuitively for what the other person may be thinking or feeling. This research has the potential to explain why children with autism, from the earliest point in development, avoid looking at people’s eyes, and become confused in rapidly changing social situations, where people are exchanging glances without words all the time. This disability may be both a marker of the early-onset empathy difficulties in autism, and contribute to exacerbating them. Teaching children with autism how to read emotional expressions non-verbally should become an important clinical focus for future research and practice. ”
Dr Meng-Chuan Lai, the William Binks Autism Neuroscience Fellow at the ARC and senior author of the study, added: “There are substantial individual differences in terms of how well a person with autism performs on the Eyes test, but the social difficulties of both men and women are reflected on their test scores. In addition, women with autism differ more from typical women than men with autism differ from typical men. The relationship between autism and sex and gender is becoming an important topic for autism research.”
New results published by researchers at the Autism Research Centre (ARC) show both men and women with autism show an extreme of the typical male pattern on the 'Reading the Mind in the Eyes' test.
Tributes to Professor Nicholas J. Mackintosh, FRS
By from News. Published on Sep 02, 2015.
Dr Gonzalo Urcelay to take up Lectureship at the University of Leicester
By from News. Published on Sep 02, 2015.
Professor Trevor Robbins reveals his Ten (?) Secrets of Success in Science
By from News. Published on Aug 28, 2015.
Dr Gabrielle Davidson talks about her jackdaw research on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
By from News. Published on Aug 21, 2015.
Young minds think alike – and older people are more distractible
By cjb250 from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on Aug 14, 2015.
The study, published today in the journal Neurobiology of Aging, also found that older people tended to be more easily distracted than younger adults.
Age is believed to change the way our brains respond and how its networks interact, but studies looking at these changes tend to use very artificial experiments, with basic stimuli. To try to understand how we respond to complex, life-like stimuli, researchers at the Cambridge Centre for Ageing and Neuroscience (Cam-CAN) showed 218 subjects aged 18-88 an edited version of an episode from the Hitchcock TV series while using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure their brain activity.
The researchers found a surprising degree of similarity in the thought patterns amongst the younger subjects – their brains tended to ‘light up’ in similar ways and at similar points in the programme. However, in older subjects, this similarity tended to disappear and their thought processes became more idiosyncratic, suggesting that they were responding differently to what they were watching and were possibly more distracted.
The greatest differences were seen in the ‘higher order’ regions at the front of the brain, which are responsible for controlling attention (the superior frontal lobe and the intraparietal sulcus) and language processing (the bilateral middle temporal gyrus and left inferior frontal gyrus).
The findings suggest that our ability to respond to everyday events in the environment differs with age, possibly due to altered patterns of attention.
Dr Karen Campbell from the Department of Psychology, first author on the study, says: “As we age, our ability to control the focus of attention tends to decline, and we end up attending to more ‘distracting’ information than younger adults. As a result, older adults end up attending to a more diverse range of stimuli and so are more likely to understand and interpret everyday events in different ways than younger people.”
In order to encourage audiences to respond to movies and TV programmes in the same way as everyone else, and hence have a ‘shared experience’, directors and cinematographers use a variety of techniques to draw attention to the focal item in each shot. When the stimulus is less engaging – for example, when one character is talking at length or the action is slow, people show less overlap in their neural patterns of activity, suggesting that a stimulus needs to be sufficiently captivating in order to drive attention. However, capturing attention is not sufficient when watching a film; the brain needs to maintain attention or at the very least, to limit attention to that information which is most relevant to the plot.
Dr Campbell and colleagues argue that the variety in brain patterns seen amongst older people reflects a difference in their ability to control their attention, as attentional capture by stimuli in the environment is known to be relatively preserved with age. This supports previous research which shows that older adults respond to and better remember materials with emotional content.
“We know that regions at the front of the brain are responsible for maintaining our attention, and these are the areas that see the greatest structural changes as we ages, and it is these changes that we believe are being reflected in our study,” she adds. “There may well be benefits to this distractibility. Attending to lots of different information could help with our creativity, for example.”
Cam-CAN is supported by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
Campbell, K et al. Idiosyncratic responding during movie-watching predicted by age differences in attentional control. Neurobiology of Aging; 6 Aug 2015.
‘Bang! You’re Dead’, a 1961 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents, continues to surprise – but not just with the twist in its tale. Scientists at the University of Cambridge have used the programme to show that young people respond in a similar way to events, but as we age our thought patterns diverge.
Jackdaws in the news
By from News. Published on Aug 12, 2015.
Here’s looking at you: research shows jackdaws can recognise individual human faces
By jeh98 from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on Aug 11, 2015.
Researchers Alex Thornton, now at the University of Exeter, and Gabrielle Davidson carried out the study with the wild jackdaw population in Madingley village on the outskirts of Cambridge. They found that the jackdaws were able to distinguish between two masks worn by the same researcher, and only responded defensively to the one they had previously seen accessing their nest box.
Over three consecutive days Davidson approached the nest boxes wearing one of the masks and took chicks out to weigh them. She also simply walked past the nest boxes wearing the other mask. Following this she spent four days sitting near the nest boxes wearing each of the masks to see how the jackdaws would respond.
The researchers found that the jackdaws were quicker to return to their nest when they saw the mask that they had previously seen approaching and removing chicks to be weighed, than when they saw the mask that had simply walked by.
They also tended to be quicker to go inside the nest box when Davidson, wearing the mask, was looking directly at them rather than looking down at the ground.
“The fact that they learn to recognise individual facial features or hair patterns so quickly, and to a lesser extent which direction people are looking in, provides great evidence of the flexible cognitive abilities of these birds,” says Davidson. “It also suggests that being able to recognise individual predators and the levels of threat they pose may be more important for guarding chicks than responding to the direction of the predator’s gaze.”
“Using the masks was important to make sure that the birds were not responding to my face, which they may have already seen approaching their nest boxes and weighing chicks in the past,” she adds.
Previous studies have found that crows, magpies and mockingbirds are similarly able to recognise individual people. However, most studies have involved birds in busier urban areas where they are likely to come into more frequent contact with humans.
Jackdaws are the only corvids in the UK that use nest boxes so they provide a rare opportunity for researchers to study how birds respond to humans in the wild. Researchers at Cambridge have been studying the Madingley jackdaws since 2010.
“It would be fascinating to directly compare how these birds respond to humans in urban and rural areas to see whether the amount of human contact they experience has an impact on how they respond to people,” says Davidson.
“It would also be interesting to investigate whether jackdaws are similarly able to recognise individuals of other predator species – although this would be a lot harder to test.”
The study was enabled by funding from Zoology Balfour Fund, Cambridge Philosophical Society, British Ecological Survey, and BBSRC David Philips Research Fellowship.
Inset images: Mask (Elsa Loissel).
Davidson, GL et al.,Wild jackdaws, Corvus monedula, recognize individual humans and may respond to gaze direction with defensive behaviour Animal Behaviour 108 October 2015 17-24.
When you’re prey, being able to spot and assess the threat posed by potential predators is of life-or-death importance. In a paper published today in Animal Behaviour, researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Psychology show that wild jackdaws recognise individual human faces, and may be able to tell whether or not predators are looking directly at them.
J is for Jay
By amb206 from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on Aug 05, 2015.
Jays are corvids – members of the crow family. The jays we see in Britain are Eurasian jays. With their pinkish plumage, and characteristic flash of blue, they will be familiar to many people as woodland birds that are increasingly seen in gardens, even in cities.
Professor Nicky Clayton (Department of Psychology) has carried out pioneering research into the thinking power of corvids. Her observations have revealed these crows to be extremely clever. In Aesop’s Fables, the wise old crow drops pebbles into a pitcher of water to raise the level and allow her to drink. Clayton’s work has revealed that real-life crows can, if they need to, use pebbles in just this way.
Corvids, including jays, cache (hide) food so that they can retrieve it later. They know who’s watching them and they also show the ability to plan ahead. Perhaps even more remarkably, corvids share their food. Male corvids even show the ability to understand what foods females prefer and will bring their mates tasty titbits.
We don’t think of corvids as song birds but current research is just beginning to reveal that they are skilled mimics, able to reproduce familiar sounds. As the accompanying film shows, a jay called Romero enjoys mimicking Clayton when she talks to him in one of the Cambridge University aviaries where she and colleagues are transforming our understanding of bird cognition.
These are just a few of the reasons that Clayton describes jays and other members of the crow family as ‘feathered apes’ – a term that challenges the ways we think about intelligence in the animal kingdom.
Clayton has been fascinated by birds ever since, as a young girl, she watched them in her garden. Her research into bird cognition has always run in parallel with her passion for dance. “It was the movements of birds that first drew me to them,” she says. “I wanted to know what they were doing, how they move and how they think.”
Next in the Cambridge Animal Alphabet: K is for a bird that has biologists, physicists and materials scientists working together to unravel the secrets behind its spectacular colour effects.
Have you missed the series so far? Catch up on Medium here.
Inset images: Eurasian jays (Ljerka Ostojic).
The Cambridge Animal Alphabet series celebrates Cambridge's connections with animals through literature, art, science and society. Here, J is for Jay – a surprisingly clever corvid with the ability to mimic human voices and much more.
Rain did not stop play: Another fantastic Postdoc Away Day goes swimmingly
By from News. Published on Jul 29, 2015.
British Council podcast on the science-art collaboration of Prof. Nicky Clayton and Clive Wilkins
By from News. Published on Jul 28, 2015.
Prof. Zoe Kourtzi hosting Adaptive Brains and Machines event this week
By from News. Published on Jul 27, 2015.
Prof. Trevor Robbins to give talk at BAP Summer Meeting on the ten (or eleven) secrets of success in science
By from News. Published on Jul 27, 2015.
Musical tastes offer a window into how you think
By cjb250 from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on Jul 22, 2015.
In a study published today in the journal PLOS ONE, a team of psychologists show that your thinking style – whether you are an ‘empathizer’ who likes to focus on and respond to the emotions of others, or a ‘systemizer’ who likes to analyse rules and patterns in the world—is a predictor of the type of music you like.
Music is a prominent feature of everyday life and nearly everywhere we go. It’s easy for us to know what types of music we like and don’t like. When shuffling songs on an iPod, it takes us only a few seconds to decide whether to listen or skip to the next track. However, little is known about what determines our taste in music.
Researchers over the past decade have argued that musical preferences reflect explicit characteristics such as age and personality. For example, people who are open to new experiences tend to prefer music from the blues, jazz, classical, and folk genres, and people who are extraverted and ‘agreeable’ tend to prefer music from the pop, soundtrack, religious, soul, funk, electronic, and dance genres.
Now a team of scientists, led by PhD student David Greenberg, has looked at how our ‘cognitive style’ influences our musical choices. This is measured by looking at whether an individual scores highly on ‘empathy’ (our ability to recognize and react to the thoughts and feelings of others) or on ‘systemizing’ (our interest in understanding the rules underpinning systems such as the weather, music, or car engines) – or whether we have a balance of both.
“Although people’s music choices fluctuates over time, we’ve discovered a person’s empathy levels and thinking style predicts what kind of music they like,” said David Greenberg from the Department of Psychology. “In fact, their cognitive style – whether they’re strong on empathy or strong on systems – can be a better predictor of what music they like than their personality.”
The researchers conducted multiple studies with over 4,000 participants, who were recruited mainly through the myPersonality Facebook app. The app asked Facebook users to take a selection of psychology-based questionnaires, the results of which they could place on their profiles for other users to see. At a later date, they were asked to listen to and rate 50 musical pieces. The researchers used library examples of musical stimuli from 26 genres and subgenres, to minimise the chances that participants would have any personal or cultural association with the piece of music.
People who scored high on empathy tended to prefer mellow music (from R&B, soft rock, and adult contemporary genres), unpretentious music (from country, folk, and singer/songwriter genres) and contemporary music (from electronica, Latin, acid jazz, and Euro pop). They disliked intense music, such as punk and heavy metal. In contrast, people who scored high on systemizing favoured intense music, but disliked mellow and unpretentious musical styles.
The results proved consistent even within specified genres: empathizers preferred mellow, unpretentious jazz, while systemizers preferred intense, sophisticated (complex and avant-garde) jazz.
The researchers then looked more in-depth and found those who scored high on empathy preferred music that had low energy (gentle, reflective, sensual, and warm elements), or negative emotions (sad and depressing characteristics), or emotional depth (poetic, relaxing, and thoughtful features). Those who scored high on systemizing preferred music that had high energy (strong, tense, and thrilling elements), or positive emotions (animated and fun features), and which also featured a high degree of cerebral depth and complexity.
David Greenberg, a trained jazz saxophonist, says the research could have implications for the music industry. “A lot of money is put into algorithms to choose what music you may want to listen to, for example on Spotify and Apple Music. By knowing an individual’s thinking style, such services might in future be able to fine tune their music recommendations to an individual.”
Dr Jason Rentfrow, the senior author on the study says: “This line of research highlights how music is a mirror of the self. Music is an expression of who we are emotionally, socially, and cognitively.”
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, a member of the team, added; “This new study is a fascinating extension to the ‘empathizing-systemizing’ theory of psychological individual differences. It took a talented PhD student and musician to even think to pose this question. The research may help us understand those at the extremes, such as people with autism, who are strong systemizers.”
Based on their findings, the following are songs that the researchers believe are likely to fit particular styles:
High on empathy
- Hallelujah – Jeff Buckley
- Come away with me – Norah Jones
- All of me – Billie Holliday
- Crazy little thing called love – Queen
High on systemizing
- Concerto in C – Antonio Vivaldi
- Etude Opus 65 No 3 — Alexander Scriabin
- God save the Queen – The Sex Pistols
- Enter Sandman – Metallica
David Greenberg was funded by the Cambridge Commonwealth, European and International Trust and the Autism Research Trust during the period of this work.
Greenberg, DM, Baron-Cohen, S, Stillwell, DJ, Kosinski, M, & Rentfrow, PJ. Musical preferences are linked to cognitive styles. PLOS ONE; 22 July 2015
Professor Simon Baron-Cohen will be speaking at the University of Cambridge Alumni Festival on 26 September 2015.
Do you like your jazz to be Norah Jones or Ornette Coleman, your classical music to be Bach or Stravinsky, or your rock to be Coldplay or Slayer? The answer could give an insight into the way you think, say researchers from the University of Cambridge.
ERC Advanced Investigator Grant
By admin from University of Cambridge - Department of Psychology. Published on Jul 08, 2015.
Professor Lorraine K Tyler, Department of Psychology, has been awarded her second Advanced Investigator Award by the European Research Council.
The prestigious ERC Advanced Grant funds exceptional established research leaders to pursue ground-breaking, high-risk projects that open new direction in their research fields.
Professor Tyler is the only individual from the University of Cambridge to be awarded a second Advanced Grant under the 2014 call, and has the honour of being the second ever holder of two Advanced Grants within the University.
The over €2 million fund will support Professor Tyler’s LANGDYN (Language dynamics: a neurocognitive approach to incremental interpretation) research programme until October 2020. Her research aims to understand the complex processes and representations that support the transition of spoken language from auditory input to a meaningful interpretation, and the neurobiological systems in which they are instantiated.
The novel research programme will combine advanced techniques from neuroimaging with new developments in multivariate statistics and computational linguistics to determine the nature of the processes involved in the transition from early perceptual analyses through different representational states to the development of a meaningful representation of an utterance, the dynamic spatio-temporal relationship between these processes, and their evolution over time.