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psychologist vol 25 no 12
An explosion of the senses A special issue on smell, taste, hearing, touch, vision and beyond
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letters 862 news 870 big picture centre careers 934
‘adapt or perish’: John Radford 912 new voices: should we be more mindful of psychosis? 942 one on one: Jane Ussher 944
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psychologist vol 25 no 12
news, digest and media creativity; self-control; event reports; the latest nuggets from the Society’s Research Digest service; plus Mark Sergeant and Francine Béar in ‘Media’
‘Magic is really only the utilisation of the entire spectrum of the senses,’ says Irish author Michael Scott in his novel The Alchemyst. ‘Humans have cut themselves off from their senses. Now they see only a tiny portion of the visible spectrum, hear only the loudest of sounds, their sense of smell is shockingly poor and they can only distinguish the sweetest and sourest of tastes.’ This month, we look to put that right by reconnecting with the topic through an explosion of the senses. There are five articles on the traditional senses of vision, hearing, taste, smell and touch; plus we look at some more exotic capabilities, to echolocation and beyond; and in ‘Looking back’, we hear how philosophers and early psychologists conceptualised our sensory abilities. If you are a Society member looking to feast your eyes on an entire digital edition of The Psychologist via the web, tablet or smartphone, or a Kindle edition, then you can now do just that. Click on the ‘subscribe’ tab at www.thepsychologist.org.uk and then follow the ‘e-reader’ link to log in. It’s early days for this venture: feedback, as ever, gratefully received. Dr Jon Sutton
letters environmental psychology; the language of suicide; referendum; and more
The essence of the human condition? Lorenzo Stafford on smell Dining in the dark Charles Spence and Betina Piqueras-Fiszman on taste Hearing pitch – right place, wrong time? Chris Plack on competing theories of pitch perception Living with touch Alberto Gallace seeks to understand tactile interactions Visual attention – a fresh look John M. Findlay and Iain D. Gilchrist on vision The exotic sensory capabilities of humans Lawrence D. Rosenblum and Michael S. Gordon
Looking back: Finding the senses Michael S. Gordon on early views of sensory abilities
‘Adapt or perish – understand ourselves’ As psychology at the University of East London celebrates its 50th anniversary, Miles Thomas talks to its first Head of Department, John Radford
book reviews 914 philosophy for life; the ravenous brain; happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking; and more
934 careers and psychologist appointments we meet Robert Bor to talk about aviation psychology and more; Christina MacDonald shares her experiences as an assistant psychologist working on a pilot project supporting victims of human trafficking; plus all the latest vacancies
new voices 942 should we be more mindful of psychosis? Carly Samson with the latest in our series for budding writers (see www.bps.org.uk/newvoices for information)
President’s column; ‘PsychSource’ launches; new Society-funded POSTnote; e-learning wins award; and more
one on one …with Jane Ussher
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In search of the troubled genius The largest investigation of its kind has provided compelling new evidence about the links between creativity and mental disorder (Journal of Psychiatric Research: tinyurl.com/d37lg7a). The stereotype of the troubled creative genius remains strong in the popular imagination, based in part on biographies of prominent individuals, past and present, with known mental health problems. There have been some relevant studies too, most notably Nancy Andreasen’s seminal work based on interviews with 30 writers in the 1980s, which revealed they had higher rates of affective disorder than controls (tinyurl.com/bor8jpr). For this massive new study, Simon Kyaga at the Karolinska Institutet, Sweden and his colleagues took advantage of the comprehensive population records kept in their country. This allowed them to compare the occupation of over a million mental health patients over a 40-year period, as well as the occupational profile of their relatives, against the occupational profiles of millions of healthy controls. Overall, people in creative professions, such as musicians, artists and scientists, were no more likely to have a mental health diagnosis than people in non-creative professions, such as accountants, with one exception – bipolar disorder. Meanwhile, the first degree relatives of patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and possibly autism, were more likely than healthy controls to be in creative professions. These relatives
share 50 per cent of their genes on average with the patients and often exhibit milder, ‘subclinical’ signs of mental disorder. Kyaga told us this result
Authors, compared with controls, were more likely to be diagnosed with mental illness
was consistent with an inverted-U model, ‘where increases in psychopathology to a certain extent leads to increased creativity, while further increases reduce creativity’. In contrast with creative professions
as a whole, focusing only on authors revealed a far stronger link with mental illness. Authors, compared with controls, were more likely to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety disorders, drug abuse, and to take their own lives. Rates of suicide were also higher among authors without a mental illness. An obvious shortcoming of the research is the reliance on people’s professions as a proxy for creativity. As the researchers point out, it’s possible that some people with mental health problems turn to creative work, not because they are exceptionally creative, but perhaps as a coping mechanism. This might be especially the case for authors, who are able to work outside of the constraints associated with many more conventional roles. ‘I do not think that the disorder in itself is beneficial for creativity, but rather that something (personality traits, genes, etc.) makes some individuals predisposed to both creative behaviour and to an increased likelihood of suffering from psychiatric disorder,’ Kyaga said. ‘The disorder in itself is the destructive consequence of this predisposition.’ Kyaga added that more research was needed on the mechanisms – biological and/or psychological – that underlie any putative links between psychopathology and creativity – something he and his colleagues are planning for the future. CJ
ROUGH JUSTICE FOR BRAIN-INJURED OFFENDERS? A new psychologist-led report commissioned by the Barrow Cadbury Trust has highlighted the high prevalence of brain injury among young offenders. In Repairing Shattered Lives: Brain Injury and Its Implications for Criminal Justice (tinyurl.com/d35qqx4), chartered psychologist Professor Huw Williams, chair of the Society’s Division of Neuropsychology, cites evidence that 60 per cent of young offenders in England report having suffered a brain injury (three to six times the rate in the general population). He calls for far greater awareness throughout the criminal justice system about the implications of acquired brain injury. Other findings mentioned by Williams include the fact that children who suffer brain injuries prior to age 12 may be at particularly increased risk for offending
behaviour; and that rates of brain injury may be even higher among female prisoners than among male prisoners. Professor Williams is also co-author of a report published recently by the Children’s Commissioner in England: Nobody Made the Connection: The Prevalence of Neurodisability in Young People Who Offend (tinyurl.com/btmo9om). ‘Magistrates, judges, and prosecutors should be trained and supported to understand the ways in which neurodisability might affect capacity to engage in the legal processes in court, and the appropriateness of particular sentences and interventions,’ the report advises. Other chartered psychologists involved in both reports include Simone Fox (University of Oxford) and Susan Young (IoP). CJ
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Fair to mediums? Two mediums have failed a test of their abilities held on Halloween at the Anomalistic Psychology Research Unit at Goldsmiths, University of London. Psychic claims have been put to the test for decades, but what made this challenge unusual is that the professional mediums, Patricia Putt and Kim Whitton, agreed with researchers in advance that the conditions were fair. The mediums conducted readings in silence with five ‘sitters’, each located in a hidden position behind a screen. Afterwards, the sitters were presented with the five written readings and they had to identify which pertained to them. If four or
five of the sitters had identified their readings, this would have been scientifically meaningful, the researchers said, whereas anything less than three correct would have been no better than expected based on chance. In the event, no more than one each of the mediums’ readings was correctly identified. The challenge was organised by Society Fellow Professor Chris French (Goldsmiths, University of London), along with the Merseyside Skeptics Society. That Society’s vice-president Michael Marhall said: ‘I’d urge anyone who is thinking of visiting a medium or attending a psychic stage show to think twice.’ CJ
Marshmallow challenge One of the most famous experiments minutes vs. 3 minutes; stated differently, in child psychology is Walter Mischel’s only 1 out of 14 children in the unreliable marshmallow challenge. First conducted condition waited the full 15 minutes for in the 1960s, Mischel found that the the extra marshmallows to arrive, versus majority of young children were unable 9 out of 14 children in the reliable to resist a single marshmallow now for the promise of two later. After an average of about six minutes, most kids succumbed to temptation. The conventional interpretation is that this demonstrates the lack of self-control in young children. But now a new study has come along that claims the story is a little more complicated. Yes, it’s about self-control, but it’s also about children’s expectations regarding the reliability of the promise (Cognition: tinyurl.com/cvqlu7e). Celeste Kidd and her colleagues at the University of Rochester first had 28 children (average age four years, six Is it always better to wait for two? months) take part in an art project. Twice during this project they were confronted condition). In explaining children’s with choices – whether to use old crayons decision making in the marshmallow test, now or wait for a shiny new set promised ‘the influence of a child’s beliefs about the by the researcher, and whether to use a reliability of the world is at least as single sticker now or wait for a bigger, comparable to their capacity for selfbetter set promised by the researcher. For control,’ Kidd and her team concluded. half the kids, the researcher always kept his The new results also have implications or her promise and brought the new for how previous longitudinal research is crayons and stickers. For the other kids, in interpreted. Children who succumb to the ‘unreliable condition’, the new crayons temptation earlier in the marshmallow and stickers never materialised. task tend to have poorer outcomes later in Next came the repeat of the classic life, in terms of education and addiction marshmallow challenge and the significant problems. The researchers said their work finding is that kids in the reliable condition suggests this could be as much about the waited on average four times as long before long-term effects of having ‘an unreliable succumbing to temptation, as compared world view’ as it is about a lack of selfwith kids in the unreliable condition (12 control. CJ
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WOMEN IN SCIENCE A new Wikipedia entry for the University College London neuroscientist Eleanor Maguire was one of the outcomes of a Royal Society edit-a-thon designed to raise the profile of women in science. The event was championed by BPS Fellow, Professor Uta Frith DBE with articles in the Daily Telegraph and the Huffington Post (tinyurl.com/dysv66o).
BOOK SHORTLISTED Chartered Psychologist Peter Storr has been shortlisted in the Chartered Management Institute and British Library Management Book of the Year awards. The Psychological Manager has been shortlisted in the New Manager section, for entries that will ‘best support and develop an individual, new to the challenges of management, in their first three years in a management, team leadership or supervisory position’. Storr says: ‘The book is essentially about how an understanding of psychology theory and research can help managers have better conversation.’
EATING DISORDERS The latest data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show that hospital admissions for eating disorders have risen by 16 per cent in England during 2012, as compared with last year’s figures. Women made up 91 per cent of admissions. Meanwhile, a new analysis of NHS data by SSentif Intelligence showed that the number of people with depression in England has risen by 11.5 per cent in three years (a rise of nearly half a million people).
JOHN MADDOX PRIZE The inaugural John Maddox Prize for promoting sound science in the face of difficulty or hostility has been awarded to the psychiatrist Simon Wesseley, Professor of Psychological Medicine at the Institute of Psychiatry, for his work on ME/CFS and Gulf War Syndrome. The freelance science journalist Fang Shi-min shared the award.
SELF-HARM A report into perceptions of self-harm published by the Young Minds charity and the Cello group found that almost half of surveyed GPs said they didn’t understand self-harm, and 8 in 10 felt they didn’t have adequate training for helping self-harmers. Most teachers also said they didn’t know what to say to people who self-harm. Get the pdf: tinyurl.com/9uzcujv
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Are we wired for science? Christian Jarrett reports from a seminar on applying neuroscience to the curriculum The Learning Skills Foundation teamed probably associated with the accessing appropriateness of an analogy when they up with the Centre for Educational of prior knowledge. shouldn’t have done. Neuroscience in October, hosting a The final study Mareschal told us What use do these findings have for seminar and panel discussion on the about involved participants comparing teaching science? Mareschal reflected on question: ‘Applying neuroscience to the analogical statements. This led to the fact that the DLPFC is late maturing, mainstream curriculum: Are we wired for increased frontopolar activity, probably still not being fully functional at age 13 or science?’. involved in coordinating information. 14. We’re not ‘wired for science’ so much Denis Mareschal of Birkbeck College When the semantic distance was great as ‘wired for discovery,’ Mareschal said, began the evening by presenting the (e.g. ‘kitten is to cat’ as ‘spark is to fire’) and it’s up to science teaching to harness results from a series of brain-imaging compared with when it was closer (e.g. this. The brain research showed that studies on the neural correlates of ‘kitten is to cat’ as ‘puppy is to dog’), there different systems were activated when scientific reasoning. The main message, was that extra LPFC activity again. This evidence was consistent versus he said, is that these studies together same pattern was observed in children, inconsistent with prior knowledge, and he reveal a ‘fractionated system’ rather than but often too late, so that they rejected the emphasised that this means children need a specific locus of activity. One study looked at the patterns of activity associated with deductive reasoning. Participants were presented with a series of logical statements, such as ‘Snow doesn’t melt when it is hot. It is hot. The snow melted,’ and their task was indicate whether the conclusion followed from the premises. In this case, the conclusion was consistent with general knowledge, but inconsistent with the premises presented, resulting in greater lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) activity, compared with when the conclusion was consistent with both prior knowledge and the premises. This LPFC activity – Mareschal called it the ‘caped crusader’ – is thought to reflect the suppression of prior knowledge. A second study was on causal inference. When a causal connection presented to participants was implausible (based on their general knowledge), again there was extra activity in LPFC, reflecting the suppression of prior knowledge. There was also extra activity in the anterior cingulate, which is involved in conflict monitoring (some have dubbed it part of the ‘oh shit circuit’). On the other hand, plausible causal arguments triggered extra Will we ever bridge the gap between neuroscience and educational practices in the classroom? parahippocampal activity –
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information and concepts at the right time. Nurturing pupils’ observational and dialogue-based skills is vital, but so too is appreciating that there’s the possibility of a negative impact if scientific thinking is introduced at too early an age. In the panel discussion, Professor Shirley Simon (Institute of Education), Richard Newton Chance – (Principal, Queen Elizabeth’s School, Devon) and Peter Burton, (Headteacher, St Mark’s CE Primary School, Croydon) joined the speakers on stage. To the question of what happens next, regards neuroscience affecting classroom practice, Newton Chance said: ‘The interface between education and neuroscience doesn’t really exist. There’s interesting work, but it’s not really penetrating into practice.’ Mareschal said there’s a need for an ‘island’ in the middle (between education and neuroscience) and cognitive neuroscience is that island. ‘Cognitive psychology has already influenced classroom practice,’ he said. Another member of the audience asked about the possibility of using neuroscience research to find out why what works works, rather than coming up with new approaches. Tolmie responded that it’s important not to see neuroscience as having unique power – ‘we need behavioural data too,’ he said. Mareschal added that educational neuroscience isn’t about overthrowing what’s out there, rather it’s about explaining why some practices work, and seeing if they can be optimised. Simon highlighted the ‘Thinking Science’ teaching package and she wondered if neuroscience could help explain its positive outcomes. Burton, meanwhile, said he would like to see knowledge about the brain utilised to aid the learning and memorisation of scientific facts. Will we ever bridge the gap between neuroscience and educational practices in the classroom? The question is more urgent than ever. A new survey of teachers in the UK and Netherlands has found that the more they know about the brain, the more likely they are to endorse educational neuromyths (Frontiers in Educational Psychology; see tinyurl.com/8wsjczw). The Learning Skills Foundation are planning more of these seminars on educational neuroscience (check their website for future events www.learningskillsfoundation.com), and the chair for the evening Jerry Jarvis invited new members to join Learnus – ‘a policy think tank whose mission is to act as a conduit between academic research in educational neuroscience and other learning sciences and teachers in the classroom’ (see www.learnus.co.uk).
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prior knowledge ‘to get causal reasoning off the ground’. Mareschal also recommended encouraging pupils to reflect on whether what they are learning is consistent with their prior beliefs. These ideas chimed with the findings and arguments presented by the next speaker, Andy Tolmie who’s based at the Institute of Education. Tolmie said that we’ve made great strides in our understanding of reading and maths ability (e.g. the component skills, the predictors of outcomes, remediation and teacher awareness), but in contrast, there is ‘a curious lack of’ research on science learning. ‘But we don’t know nothing,’ he said, and a key insight has been the discovery that naive concepts (e.g. the erroneous idea that heavier things fall faster) are particularly resistant to formal instruction. By contrast, research has shown that collaborative learning – following a predict–test–explain approach – is very effective at overcoming naive concepts. Why? Tolmie said there’s evidence supporting three explanations – the group work helps pupils learn the process of scientific reasoning; it allows them to merge their understanding; and it exposes them to conflicts between evidence and prior beliefs. For the rest of his talk, Tolmie focused on the distinction between two ways of thinking – what he called tacit understanding (for example, the ability to perceive causal links that emerges in infancy) and explicit knowledge, including the ability to explain the associations that have been perceived tacitly. By 24 months, Tolmie said that children are able to weigh up statistical evidence of causal relations, and by 47 months they can deliberately manipulate causal relations (Google ‘Blicket Detector Task’ for the relevant research). And yet they continue to confuse conclusions from the effects they observe with conclusions based on prior beliefs (as do adults in fact). Where do these early, explicit understandings come from? Tolmie said a lot of it comes from conversations, and young children’s naive understanding of concepts can often be predicted by how often and how accurately things are discussed with parents and peers (for instance, concepts around heating and cooling are discussed far more often than concepts around floating and sinking). With regard to science teaching, Tolmie said a crucial issue is how tacit understanding meets with explicit, verbal description. Teachers have a crucial role to play in organising effective group work, he said, and knowing when to introduce
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Stories of psychology Christian Jarrett reports from a symposium organised by the Society’s History of Psychology Centre Held at the Wellcome Collection in prominent psychoanalysts to be trained). fascination with the female offender that London in October, this second ‘annual’ Valentine shared her discoveries about opened up the space and possibility of the symposium organised by the Society’s Murray’s social and professional lie detector,’ Bunn said, ‘a space that was History of Psychology Centre took us on connections. She lived with a female then entered into by the who-dunnits and a tour of love, lies, tears and the companion, Julia Turner, and both were pulp fiction novelists.’ stereotyping of women. It also featured active in the suffragette movement. This Next, Elizabeth Valentine (Royal the story of a nearly forgotten led to useful contacts, including the Holloway, University of London) gave us inspirational woman, and concluded novelist May Sinclair, who became a a potted biography of Jessie Murray, with a mind-bending talk clinic benefactor. Murray about extraordinary beliefs. was also a member of the Geoff Bunn (Manchester Women’s Freedom Metropolitan University) set League, the Women’s Tax the ball rolling with this Resistance League and question – ‘Is the lie detector was involved with the essentially a love detector in British Society for the disguise?’ Consider some of Study of Sex Psychology. the clues Bunn has uncovered. Murray’s aim was for her A lie detector featured on clinic to be affordable, a Valentine’s card printed in and perhaps inevitably it 1931, around a decade after ran into financial its invention. An uncanny difficulties. After Murray’s number of early photographs death in 1920, the clinic’s show the lie detector being personnel were administered to a woman by a commandeered for the man, rather than the other British Psychoanalytic way around. All three Society and the Tavistock pioneers of the lie detector – by Ernest Jones, who’d John Larson, William Marston always been a critic of and Leonarde Keeler – met Murray’s clinic (among their wives through their other complaints, he felt work with the polygraph. An the place was too issue (#44) of the Lois Lane Jungian). DC comic, published in 1963, Murray’s ashes are featured Superman being interred at Highgate administered a ‘heart meter’ cemetery. ‘Murray’s grave test to see whether he really is symbolic,’ Valentine loves Lois or her rival Lana. said. ‘There is now no ‘This machine couldn’t gravestone, only a broken possibly detect which girl I cross bearing the words prefer,’ Superman protests, “In Loving Memory,” ‘the circuits are adjusted to which may or may not detect only the emotions of belong to the grave.’ women.’ Next, Thomas Dixon Superman’s observation (Queen Mary, University echoed the origins of the lie of London) – a consultant Is the lie detector essentially a love detector in disguise? detector and the early focus for the recent BBC series on female test subjects. After Ian Hislop's Stiff Upper Lip – the failure of criminal anthropology to the woman who founded the MedicoAn Emotional History of Britain – surveyed detect reliable outward signs of inner Psychological Clinic in London in 1913 thoughts and theories about crying criminality, Bunn said the field at the start and the associated Society for the Study through the last century. To this day, he of the 20th century became fascinated by of Orthopsychics. Have you heard of this said the function of tears has not been female criminals and the hidden signs of often overlooked pioneer? She has no explained. Darwin thought the only their deception. This idea of the deceitful Wikipedia entry, but Murray was useful purpose of tears was to wash the female has deep roots (take the example significant in early 20th-century eye and that emotional crying had of Schopenhauer, who said women have psychoanalysis, for her clinic was the first somehow hijacked this function. an ‘instinctive treachery’), yet in the country to offer psychoanalytic Many have compared tears to other training and therapy to the general public paradoxically, women are also associated bodily secretions – most recently, Boris (shell-shocked soldiers were among those traditionally with mother nature and all Johnson, who spoke of the end of the treated, and Susan Isaacs was among the that is true.’ ‘It was criminologists’ Olympics as a ‘juddering tear-sodden
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climax’ – and perhaps such metaphors help explain the discomfort many people continue to feel at public displays of weeping. The American psychoanalyst Phyllis Greenacre distinguished between stream weeping and shower weeping in women. Both are exhibitionist, she believed, but whereas the shower weeper is sadly resigned to her lack of a penis, the streamer has persistent penis envy and cries in imitation of male urination. Meanwhile Thomas Szasz saw crying as a regression to the amniotic wetness of the womb. But Dixon’s main focus was on the writings of Arthur Koestler (‘he did read and think about tears more than anyone else’), in particular his theory of tears in his 1964 book The Act of Creation, in which he specifies five types of weeping – tears of raptness, mourning, relief, sympathy and self-pity. Only the first – raptness – met with Koestler’s approval. In contrast, he only ever used children and women to illustrate instances of the other types, betraying a frequent ‘casual misogyny’ in his accounts. When it came to tears of raptness, Koestler was more respectful, speaking of a transcending experience, a ‘passive acquiescence’, stemming from a craving to be part of a greater whole – be that mother, society, humanity or some kind of deity. Dixon concluded by wondering whether Koestler had wept as he wrote the suicide note in 1982 that foretold his and his wife’s taking of their own lives together the following year. Last up, Peter Lamont (by coincidence, of the Koestler Parapsychology Unit at the University of Edinburgh) provided a critique of the approach parapsychology has taken to the study of ‘extraordinary beliefs’. Lamont said parapsychology has assumed a ‘psychology of error’ whereby it attempts to understand why so many people subscribe to false beliefs. By taking a stance on people’s beliefs, and even attempting to reduce them, Lamont said psychologists risked affecting their own subject matter. That’s why it’s important to study the history of extraordinary ideas, Lamont said. As an example he focused on the Davenport Brothers’ Sprit Cabinet, which toured in the 1860s. The brothers appeared in their cabinet tied up, their musical instruments out of reach. When the cabinet was closed, the instruments could be heard, and when re-opened, the brothers were still in their tied up position. Many inferred that spirits must have played the instruments. Even when the brothers were caught cheating, many spiritualists continued to believe in an
‘extraordinary explanation’ for the music. For example, when the brothers were tied too tight and the instruments didn’t play, this was blamed on the spirits failing. When paint was daubed on the instruments and later found on the brothers’ hands, this too was blamed on bad spirits spreading the paint. ‘Any fact can be framed in line with our beliefs,’ Lamont said, whether we are believers or sceptics. For sceptics, it’s a case of framing an anomaly as ‘the product of error, chance or fraud.’ Lamont, himself a former magician, remains puzzled by, but does not seek an extraordinary explanation for, a levitation illusion performed by the 19th-century medium Daniel Dunglas Home (who was never caught cheating in 25 years). The illusion was performed in front of an audience that included known sceptics
and members of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, including the amateur psychologist Edward Cox, who was so persuaded that he invoked a new ‘natural’ psychic force to explain what he’d seen. Could anything persuade Lamont to accept an extraordinary explanation? To this question from the audience, Lamont recalled a performance of the legendary Hooker Card Rise trick that he saw at a magic convention in the States, alongside an audience of fellow magicians. The part that involved a floating teddy bear’s head being covered with a large glass bowl (thus precluding the use of wires) left Lamont baffled: ‘I have absolutely no idea how that happened, and no one in the room could figure out that trick. Nobody. But none of us thought it was paranormal.’
HUMAN ENHANCEMENT A report has called for more research into the future of human enhancement technologies and how best to regulate them, especially in the workplace. Human Enhancement and the Future of Work is based on the discussions held at a series of workshops in March this year, and is now freely available online (download the PDF via tinyurl.com/cnwodt8). There are warnings of potential problems ahead – for example, that employees might be coerced by employers to use enhancements; that people with disabilities might feel compelled to use technological aids, rather than workplaces adapting to the needs of the disabled; and that injustices could arise as access to new forms of enhancement might be limited to the affluent. It’s also possible that some enhancements may come to be viewed as compulsory for some professions, for example if they can be shown to increase safety. The report calls for more research into the
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costs and benefits of different forms of enhancement including digital and pharmaceutical, and more planning about regulation, especially since many drugs and technologies are already available online. ‘Cognitionenhancing drugs present the greatest immediate challenge for regulators and other policymakers,’ it says. One example is the drug Modafinil, shown in a 2011 study to aid cognitive flexibility in sleep-deprived doctors. Many professionals are already turning to these kinds of drugs to improve their performance – for instance, a poll by Nature found that one in five academics used drugs in this way. The report was
published jointly by the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering, and the Royal Society.
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Psychologists involved include BPS Fellow Professor Lorraine Tyler (University of Cambridge), Professor Barbara Sahakian (University of Cambridge), and Dr Pamela Gallagher (Dublin City University). CJ
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A poor boy made good Jon Sutton reports from Ian Deary’s talk on Professor Sir Godfrey Thomson and the Scottish Mental Surveys of 1932 and 1947 ‘This is just a story’, said Professor Ian parts that most spurred Thomson and this his abilities’). Thomson said: ‘Nothing can Deary, opening the joint British Academy lecture. Handwritten and typed lectures, shake my belief that every child ought to and British Psychological Society lecture, perfectly preserved in that treasure trove have an equal chance of any kind of ‘about this house’, he continued, showing Deary found, mapped out Thomson’s education in open competition with other a nondescript children, uninfluenced Edinburgh property, by the wealth or ‘and the clutter I found position of its parents.’ in it.’ But what ‘clutter’: Not that Thomson imagine becoming believed all were mildly obsessed with equal. ‘It is abundantly a psychologist from the clear’, he told Dundee past, someone who was University College in world famous but who 1930, ‘that there must faded into obscurity. be, in a world grown Then imagine getting complex and mobile, a call from his great some system of niece, to say that his labelling people in as only son’s house was harmless a manner as being sold and you possible with the should get down there. record of what they You arrive just in time have proved capable of to save hundreds of doing.’ The differential books, lecture notes birth rate was never and letters from the far from his thoughts: skip. ‘The more capable Deary was classes of the understandably cockcommunity marry a-hoop at this turn of later and have smaller events, and it allowed families than the less him to spin a yarn of capable, and this fascinating, luxurious problem is in my texture, weaving the opinion the most personal threads from important social the Godfrey Thomson problem we have with archive into a rich us today.’ But despite extension of his hero’s being a member of the empirical efforts. Eugenics Society, Thomson was a ‘lad Thomson didn’t seem o’ pairts’ – a poor boy like your average made good who never eugenicist: ‘The lost sight of the goal of educator… must give raising others out of the best education disadvantage. He they are capable of described his work, as enjoying to everyone, Professor of Education even if the at the University of consequence should Edinburgh for more be that the highest than 25 years, as falling intelligence should be into ‘three parts, (not of Professor Sir Godfrey Thomson: ‘We have, we hope, begun something slowly bred out of the race.’ which succeeding generations will carry on’ course quite separate) Thomson’s research concerned with (a) group in ‘Room 70’ in fitting psychophysical curves, (b) the mission to find and educate children from Moray House College at the University of social and geographical distribution of poor backgrounds. He saw education as Edinburgh was an IQ-test industry, intelligence and the influence of the the ‘food of the Gods’, and was a firm churning out more than nine million IQ differential birthrate, and (c) the factorial believer in comprehensive education to tests in some years, testing a large chunk analysis of ability; and these are, with the age of 16, of equal cost to all (‘the of England’s 11-year-olds. He gave one of a wide overlap, representative of three same amount should be spent on each his Moray House Tests of intelligence to successive chronological periods.’ individual during his lifetime, the Scottish Council for Research in It was perhaps the second of these disregarding entirely both his needs and Education (SCRE) for the ‘Scottish
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Mental Survey of 1932’. On Monday 1 June 1932 SCRE tested 87,498 children – about 95 per cent of Scottish children born in 1921. ‘Scotland is the only nation to have tested an entire population’s intelligence,’ Deary said, ‘and they did it all in a morning’. Fifteen years later, the UK’s Population Investigation Committee was similarly worried about the differential birth rate: was the nation breeding out its intelligence? So, with Thomson as Chairman, SCRE did it all again: they tested 70,805 1936-born children in June 1947. IQ had gone up, not down: possibly an early demonstration of the ‘Flynn effect’ of rising intelligence between cohorts, and confirmation that, as Deary said, ‘they decided it was OK for the working classes to have children’. Follow-ups of the 1947 survey were published until 1969, and then the money ran out. Which is where Deary picks up the baton. ‘We have, we hope,’ said Thomson in 1948, ‘begun something which succeeding generations will carry on’, and carry on Deary and his team have, in the most remarkable of longitudinal studies. Working with SCRE to computerise the
data in the ledgers, they have tracked down thousands of the original participants and hit them with a barrage of tests covering all manner of cognitive, biological and social measures. The result: dozens of new papers (some of the earlier ones are summarised in an article for The Psychologist in October 2005: see tinyurl.com/dearyoct05). The findings came thick and fast, each supported by a snippet from Thomson’s lectures or correspondence. Childhood IQ has a significant impact on survival up to age 76; cognitive change from childhood to old age seems to be affected by the APOE e4 allele; childhood IQ does not predict later satisfaction with life; physical fitness predicts cognitive ability at age 79 over and above IQ at 11; more intelligent, more ‘dependable’ children live longer; biomarkers such as C-reactive protein sometimes show ‘reverse causation’ in their association with cognition in old age; and brain white matter tract integrity is a neural foundation of general intelligence. Paper after paper, finding after finding, with the spectre of Professor Sir Godfrey Thomson hanging over them all. And there is no end in sight. The
really interesting thing about the 1947 survey, said Deary, was that it provided a base for subsequent studies. Especially important, he said, was a small sub-study that followed up 1208 people, every year, for another 16 years. Deary and his team have embarked on a new study, ‘6 day sample: Scotland in miniature’, which is finding those people and sending them an awful lot of kit and questionnaires. Where does the apparently tireless Deary find his energy? The answer should, by now, be obvious, and there it is in the words of Godfrey Thomson from 1954: ‘You may think – you probably do think – that my message is rather a grim one. Go on studying, I have said. Never rest on your oars, I have said. But the fact is there is no greater pleasure than comes from work. The skilful craftsman has a pleasure denied to the labourer. The master of a subject, or one who at least can understand and be understood by the masters, has a like pleasure. And with mastery, won in most cases before thirty, comes leisure which can be truly enjoyed, not leisure stolen from duty.’
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Why do children hide by covering their eyes? A cute mistake that young children make is to think that they can hide themselves by covering or closing their eyes. Why do they make this error? A research team led by James Russell at the University of Cambridge has used a process of elimination to find out. Testing children aged around three to four years, the researchers first asked them whether they could be seen if they were wearing an eye mask, and whether the researcher could see another adult, if that adult was wearing an eye mask. Nearly all the children felt that they were hidden when they were wearing the mask, and most thought the adult wearing a mask was hidden too. Next, Russell and his colleagues established whether children think it’s the fact that a person's eyes are hidden from other people’s view that renders them invisible, or if they think it’s being blinded that makes you invisible. To test this, a new group of young kids were quizzed about their ability to be seen when they were wearing goggles that were completely blacked out, meaning they couldn’t see and their eyes were hidden, versus when they were wearing a different pair that were covered in mirrored film, meaning they could see, but other people couldn’t see their eyes. This test didn’t go quite to plan because out of the 37 participating children, only seven were able to grasp the idea that they could see out, but people couldn’t see their eyes. Of these seven, all bar one thought they were invisible regardless of which goggles they were wearing. In other words, the children’s feelings of invisibility seem to come from the fact that their eyes are hidden, rather than from the fact that they can’t see. Now things get a little complicated. In both studies so far, when the children thought they were invisible by virtue of their eyes being covered, they nonetheless agreed that their head and their body were visible. They seemed to be making a distinction between their ‘self’ that was hidden, and their body, In the Journal of Cognition and Development which was still visible. Taken together with the fact that it was the concealment of the eyes that seemed to be the crucial factor for feeling hidden, the researchers wondered if their invisibility beliefs were based around the idea that there must be eye contact between two people – a meeting of gazes – for them to see each other (or at least, to see their ‘selves’). This idea received support in a further study in which more children were asked if they could be seen if a researcher looked directly at them whilst they (the child) averted their gaze; or, contrarily, if the researcher with gaze averted was visible whilst the child looked directly at him or her. Many of the children felt they were hidden so long as they didn’t meet the gaze of the researcher; and they said the researcher was hidden if his or her gaze was averted whilst the child looked on. ‘…it would seem that children apply the principle of joint attention to the self and assume that for somebody to be perceived, experience must be shared and mutually known to be shared, as it is when two pairs of eyes meet,’ the researchers said. Other explanations were ruled out with some puppet studies. For instance, the majority of a new group of children agreed it was reasonable for a puppet to hide by covering its eyes, which rules out the argument that children only hide this way because they are caught up in the heat of the moment. The revelation that most young children think people can only see each other when their eyes meet raises some interesting questions for future research. For example, children with autism are known to engage in less sharing of attention with other people (following another person’s gaze), so perhaps they will be less concerned with the role of mutual gaze in working out who is visible. Another interesting avenue could be to explore the invisibility beliefs of children born blind.
Off the rails In the Journal of Business and Psychology Derailment is when a manager with a great track record hits the skids, often spectacularly. It’s highly undesirable, for the disruption and human harm it can involve, and its costs. As a result, organisational researchers have developed measures of ‘derailment potential’ that consider key suspect behaviours such as betraying trust, deferring decisions, or avoiding change. Work to date has confirmed that managers fired from organisations are judged to be higher in these derailers, but these were post-hoc judgements that could have reflected biased hindsight rather than honest evaluations. To avoid this, a new study led by Marisa Carson utilises database information on 1796 managers from a large organisation to examine behaviours rated during employment tenure, by between eight and ten sources – from subordinates to supervisors. Drawing on staff turnover data, the study confirmed that individuals exhibiting more derailment potential behaviours were more likely to later be ejected from the organisation. In addition, they were more likely to leave early of their own volition, suggesting they jumped before they were pushed. The study also looked beyond the behaviours exhibited to the traits that might be behind them, through a personality inventory, the Hogan Development Survey (HDS), that all managers had completed.
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The researchers were exploring the philosophy that derailment isn’t caused by a deficit in positive traits such as conscientiousness, but the presence of additional, unhelpful qualities, measured in the HDS, that resemble features of clinical disorders. These traits come in three areas: ‘moving away from people’ such as a cynical, doubtful disposition, ‘moving against people’ including manipulation and a tendency to drama, and third area of ‘moving towards people’ involving an abiding eagerness to please and defer to others. Carson’s team predicted each of these areas would predict derailment behaviours, but in the analysis only one mattered: moving against people. This factor also predicted turnover of both kinds, and its effect on turnover was brokered by higher derailment behaviours. The story here, then, is that qualities that rub up badly against others, such as attentionseeking, idiosyncracy, overconfidence and rule-bending translate into red-flag behaviours that predict early exit from the organisation. The research provides some support for screening for these types of tendencies early in a manager’s career, in order to inform decisions about future role as well as identifying priority areas for training and development. These efforts are likely to pay off in the long run. I This item is taken from the Society’s Occupational Digest, written and edited by Dr Alex Fradera. For more, see www.occdigest.org.uk.
Introverts use more concrete language than extraverts In the Journal of Language and Social Psychology Your personality is revealed in the way you speak, according to new research. Introverts tend to use more concrete words and are more precise, in contrast to extraverts, whose words are more abstract and vague. Previous studies on the links between personality and language have tended to focus on the content of what different personalities choose to talk about. For example, extraverts are more likely to talk about family and friends, and to use words like ‘drinks’ and ‘dancing’, which makes sense given that people matching that personality type are expected to spend more time socialising. Camiel Beukeboom and his co-workers took a different tack, asking 40 employees at a large company in Amsterdam to describe out loud the same five photos depicting ambiguous social situations. Participants were told that ‘there are no right or wrong answers’ and given as long as they wanted to describe each photo. Their answers were recorded and transcribed for later coding. Three days later, the participants also completed a personality questionnaire. Participants who scored higher in extraversion tended to describe the photos in terms that were rated by an independent coder as more abstract. For example, they used more ‘state verbs’ (e.g. Jack loves Sue) and adjectives, and they admitted to engaging in more interpretation – describing things that were not directly visible in the pictures. On the other hand, the higher
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a person scored in introversion, the more concrete and precise their speech tended to be, including more use of articles (i.e. ‘a’, ‘the’), more mentions of numbers and specific people, and more distinctions (i.e. use of words like ‘but’ and ‘except’). The differences make sense in terms of what we know about social behaviour and the introvert–extravert personality dimension, with the introverted linguistic style being more cautious, and the extravert style being more casual and vague. The researchers said their results have far-reaching implications because we know based on past research that the contrasting speech styles are interpreted differently. For instance, they said behaviour described in abstract terms, in the style of an extravert (e.g. Camiel is unfriendly), is usually attributed to personality, as opposed to the situation, and therefore interpreted as enduring, more likely to occur
again, yet harder to verify. By contrast, behaviour described in more concrete terms, in the characteristic style of an introvert (e.g. Camiel yells at Martin), tends to be interpreted as situation-specific, and as more believable. ‘Thus an introvert’s linguistic style would induce more situational attributions and a higher perception of trustworthiness than an extravert’s style,’ the researchers said. The findings also complement past research showing how conversations between two introverts usually involve discussing one topic in more depth whereas two extraverts dance around more topics in less detail. ‘By talking at different levels of abstraction, extraverts and introverts report information differently,’ the researchers concluded, ‘and induce different recipient inferences, memories, and subsequent representations of the information exchanged.’
The material in this section is taken from the Society’s Research Digest blog at www.researchdigest.org.uk/blog, and is written by its editor Dr Christian Jarrett. Visit the blog for full coverage including references and links, additional current reports, an archive, comment and more. Subscribe by RSS or e-mail at www.researchdigest.org.uk/blog Become a fan at www.facebook.com/researchdigest Follow the Digest editor at www.twitter.com/researchdigest
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The essence of the human condition?
I normally find that the vast majority of people find sound and vision far more intense and easier to manipulate than they do the odour. We can easily see the red strawberry, imagine the pink inner flesh, and yet to recreate the smell in our mind is extremely difficult. Now we can appreciate just how unusual Suskind’s protagonist really was!
Lorenzo Stafford on our ancient and under-appreciated sense of smell
Schaal, B. (Ed.) (2002). Olfaction, taste, and cognition. West Nyack, NY: Cambridge University Press. Stevenson, R.J. (2010). An initial evaluation of the functions of human olfaction. Chemical Senses, 35(1), 3–20.
Why are the chemical senses so important to the ‘gatekeeper’ emotion… disgust?
‘I see what you mean.’ ‘I hear what you are saying.’ ‘I smell what you... smell?’. The first two sentences involve the sense of vision and audition and contain as the subject something typical of higher-order functioning: meaning and language. The fact these sentences do not work with smell is significant in showing the low regard of the chemical senses. And yet, after reviewing the possible reasons for this position, this article will demonstrate the importance of smell to memory, eating behaviour, and changes across the lifespan; and finally its uneasy relation to art. Paradoxically, by reflection, there is reason to believe in the very humanising properties of this sense.
Albrecht, J., Schreder, T., Kleemann, A.M. et al. (2009). Olfactory detection thresholds and pleasantness of a food-related and a non-food odour in hunger and satiety. Rhinology, 47(2), 160–165. Chu, S. & Downes, J.J. (2000). Long live Proust: the odour-cued autobiographical memory bump. Cognition, 75(2), B41–B50. Getchell, T.V., Kwong, K., Saunders, C.P.
lfaction, our sense of smell, is among our oldest, having its origins in the rudimentary senses for chemicals in air and water. Yet it is sometimes seen as something slightly comical, a poor relation to its younger sensory neighbours. From the ancient Greeks to the present day, this humble sense has been derided as vague, bastard, ambiguous. Although Nietzsche praised the animalistic nature of smell for its ability to further understanding without the need for language, others, including Freud, thought it relatively unimportant and mainly a reminder of our animal origins (Le Guerer, 2002). One reason for this view is our inability to ‘abstract’ odours. You cannot reflect on an odour linguistically; you cannot move it into some mental workspace and manipulate it to the same extent as you can for sound and vision. Connected to this are differences in our ability to recreate or re-experience odours. In Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (Suskind, 1985), the author describes an individual who not only has the ability to recollect thousands of different odours when he smelled them again, but to actually smell them upon recollection. Sounds easy? Then try this: Close your eyes and visualise any famous painting (e.g. Mona Lisa, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers); move around the image in your mind, taking in different features. Now do the same for a piece of music/song (e.g. ‘Yesterday’ by The Beatles), moving around the sound in your mind. Now do the same thing for the odour of say, a fresh ripe strawberry. When doing this exercise in a group,
et al. (2006). Leptin regulates olfactory-mediated behavior in ob/ob mice. Physiology & Behavior, 87(5), 848–856. Haehner, A., Hummel, T., Hummel, C. et al. (2007). Olfactory loss may be a first sign of idiopathic Parkinson's disease. Movement Disorders, 22(6), 839–842. Haller, R., Rummel, C., Henneberg, S. et al. (1999). The influence of early
It seems a paradox, then, that calling an odour to mind is so difficult yet if we smell a certain odour it can trigger intense emotions and associated memories that can literally overwhelm us; far more than other senses. How many of us have experienced the situation where, years after an affair, we are randomly presented with the same odour of the
Tom yam kai – the majority of flavours experienced in the mouth are due to the olfactory, retronasal system
experience with vanillin on food preference later in life. Chemical Senses, 24(4), 465–467. Hellstrom, P.M., Geliebter, A., Naslund, E. et al. (2004). Peripheral and central signals in the control of eating in normal, obese and bingeeating human subjects. British Journal of Nutrition, 92, S47-S57. Herz, R.S. (1997). Are odors the best cues to memory? A cross-modal
comparison of associative memory stimuli. Paper presented at the International Symposium on Olfaction and Taste XII, San Diego, California. Herz, R.S. & Engen, T. (1996). Odor memory: Review and analysis. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 3(3), 300–313. Hummel, T., Kobal, G., Gudziol, H. & Mackay-Sim, A. (2007). Normative
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lover’s perfume/aftershave, which precipitate intense memories? Or perhaps been to our children’s school and the odour there triggered memories of our own school past. It seems highly probable that odours have such effects due to the fact that of all the senses, the olfactory cortex is proximal to the main memory centre of the brain (hippocampus), and also the closest to the emotional centre of the brain (amygdala). One example of the emotional intensity of odours comes from a preliminary study we completed, where we had participants simply smell a variety of essential oils (including rosemary, lavender, cedar wood), rate them on various dimensions and detail what sort of memories/emotions they associate with each odour (Stafford et al., 2009). Even in the confines of a relatively contrived lab setting, we found some odours induced quite vivid memories, where for instance rosemary (a eucalyptus-based odourant) evoked memories of vapour rub and ‘being cared for’. Jasmine reminded some of ‘Nana’s house’, whilst cedar wood of ‘church at Easter’; the latter is a damp woody smell, but to connect this not only to ‘church’ (assume wooden pews), but in a possibly damp time of the year (spring), seems very apt. Further experimental work has also supported this by demonstrating that the emotional intensity of odourassociated memories is greater than those memories cued by sound/vision, though there are no differences in the amount remembered (Herz, 1997). So, it is not that odour-associated memories are remembered any better than those memories related to other senses; in fact the rate of forgetting is initially steeper for odour-associated memories. However, following this, the rate of forgetting is relatively flat (Herz & Engen, 1996). Other differences in olfactory memory include differences in the ‘reminiscence bump’: memories from our past are more accurately recalled from around adolescence, but odourassociated memories are strongest from
data for the ‘Sniffin' Sticks’ including tests of odor identification, odor discrimination, and olfactory thresholds: an upgrade based on a group of more than 3,000 subjects. European Archives of Oto-RhinoLaryngology, 264(3), 237–243. Jones, D. (2009). The Whiff of the Real. Retrieved 13th May, 2011, from http://olfactionexhibition.blogspot.co m/
can be reliably detected. (The two other main measures of olfactory ability are ‘discrimination’, where a person is presented with three odourants, two of which are the same, and the task is to state which one is different; and ‘identification’, where a person smells a range of common Smell and taste odourants and has to identify each one One aspect of olfaction that is frequently from a list of alternatives.) In the threshold overlooked by people is its central role in test, participants are blindfolded and given our enjoyment of food. Back in the late a sample of the target odourant at the 1980s, whilst backpacking around strongest concentration, to familiarise Thailand I ‘tasted’ my first hot and sour themselves with the odour. In one version soup (tom yam kai), which even to this of the test, they are then presented with day was a turning point in my own three odourants, two of which are blanks, sensory history. I say ‘tasted’ but in fact and the task is to state which one is the majority of flavours different. A correct experienced in the mouth response results in reare due to the olfactory, presentation of the “this humble sense has retronasal system – same triplet (in a been derided as vague, odours detected in the different order) and mouth. Think about it: we is repeated until a bastard, ambiguous” perceive only five tastants mistake is made, which (sweet, bitter, sour, salty, then results in the next umami), but around 1000 olfactory (stronger) concentration step being receptors, each having its own specific presented. Using this threshold method molecular receptive range, allow us to researchers (Albrecht et al., 2009) found perceive a virtually infinite number of that olfactory sensitivity to a non-food odourant mixtures. When you consider odour did not vary between low and high the kinds of ingredients in this fine soup hunger states. However, for a food-related (including lemon grass, coriander), there odour, olfactory sensitivity was highest – is no way it could be fully appreciated by participants were able to detect lower taste alone. With our ability to perceive concentrations of the odourant – following so many different flavours, and the a satiating meal rather than before; that is, opportunity to learn to associate these in a ‘low’ rather than ‘high’ hunger state. to unique foods, it is small wonder the This was surprising, as we might flavour industry is so lucrative. intuitively think that detecting foodThe connection between our sense associated odours would be better when of smell and feeding behaviour has been we are more hungry. Since pleasantness known for some time, with neural ratings for the food odour decreased projections from the olfactory cortex to the following a satiating meal, it could be hypothalamic feeding centres of the brain. that a better sense of smell plays a role in Less clear, particularly in humans, is the regulating food intake by rejecting foods full extent to which the olfactory cortex is we no longer need. involved in eating behaviour. One way of In an era of increased worldwide examining this question is to see whether obesity, one obvious application of the differences in hunger state predict above research is to understand if olfaction contrasts in olfactory sensitivity to foodplays any sizeable part in the condition. and non-food-related odours. This interest has been peaked by two Olfactory ‘sensitivity’ is a term usually pieces of evidence. First, that a number of applied to the measurement of ‘threshold’, hormones including leptin play a central the lowest concentration of an odour that role in controlling food intake (Hellstrom
earlier in our lives, typically between 6 and 10 years of age (Chu & Downes, 2000). Differences such as these have made researchers wonder whether a separate memory store exists for odours.
Le Guerer, A. (2002). Olfaction and cognition: A philosophical and psychoanalytic view. In B. Schaal (ed.) Olfaction, Taste, and Cognition. West Nyack NY: Cambridge University Press. Poncelet, J., Rinck, F., Bourgeat, F. et al. (2010). The effect of early experience on odor perception in humans: Psychological and physiological correlates. Behavioural Brain
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Research, 208(2), 458–465. Schaal, B., Soussignan, R. & Marlier, L. (2002). Olfactory cognition at the start of life: the perinatal shaping of selective odor responsiveness. In B. Schaal (ed.) Olfaction, Taste, and Cognition. West Nyack NY: Cambridge University Press. Stafford, L.D., Salehi, S. & Waller, B.M. (2009). Odors Cue Memory for OdorAssociated Words. Chemosensory
Perception, 2(2), 59–69. Stafford, L.D. & Welbeck, K. (2011). High Hunger state increases olfactory sensitivity to neutral but not food odors. Chemical Senses, 36, 189–198. Suskind, P. (1985). Perfume: The story of a murderer. London: Penguin Books. Wilson, R.S., Yu, L. & Bennett, D.A. (2011). Odor Identification and Mortality in Old Age. Chemical Senses, 36(1), 63–67.
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differences in the EF group (Poncelet et al., 2010). The researchers also investigated chemosensory event-related potentials (CSERPs). ‘P2 amplitude’ is theorised to be involved in the emotional tone of an odour, whilst ‘P2 latency’ is thought to
‘Smelling’ across the lifespan Are we born with innate likes/dislikes for certain odours, or are these acquired (learned) behaviour? Fascinating research suggests it is a mixture of the two. One study presented three-day-old infants with pleasant (vanillin) and unpleasant odours (butyric acid, which smells of rancid butter) and measured typical facial responses (Schaal et al., 2002). Although these odourants produce clearly distinct facial responses in adults, in these infants the pattern was rather mixed, with no clear facial differences in smiling/disgust to the pleasant odour, though there were a higher number of disgust versus smiling responses to the unpleasant odour. This strongly suggests that avoidance of odours associated with disgust might be innate, whereas odours connoting something positive (encouraging approach behaviour) need to be learned. This also links to a study which found that compared to those adults who were breast-fed as infants, those bottle-fed with vanilla-flavoured milk, preferred the taste of vanilla-flavoured ketchup (Haller et al., 1999). This indicates both that positive tastes/odours are learned behaviour, and that early taste/olfactory experiences play a role in influencing later food preferences. More recent work examined the influence of culture on this subject, testing young French residents (mean age: 23 years) of Algerian French (AF) and European French (EF) origin. They found that the AF group preferred the odour of mint to that of rose, with no corresponding
However, age-related falls in olfactory function are certainly not experienced by everyone, with many elderly people having similar scores to much younger individuals; which suggests that it may not be age per se that causes decreases in our sense of smell but some other factor associated with the ageing process, such as neurodegenerative disease. This links well with research highlighting that chronically low olfactory function can be an early marker for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. One study found that from an initial cohort of individuals with loss of olfactory function, after four years, 7 per cent were diagnosed with idiopathic Parkinson’s disease (IPD) and 13 per cent had more general IPD associated abnormalities (Haehner et al., 2007). Although at first glance, these percentages do not seem particularly high, when they are compared against a prevalence of IPD in the general population of 1.6 per cent and 1.8 to 2.6 per cent in the elderly, they suggest that olfactory loss can be an important early indicator of such conditions. More astonishingly, one recent study completed olfactory identification tests in a large group of elderly individuals and monitored them over a period of time. Those with impaired olfactory function were 36 per cent more likely to die than those with better olfactory function (Wilson et al., 2011). Surprisingly, this figure remained even after controlling for a range of other health-related factors (including cardiovascular, physical activity and depression). The authors theorise that the link between olfactory function and higher mortality is connected to a higher likelihood of neurodegenerative disease. ANNA HEATH
et al., 2004). Second, the evidence from animal work establishing a link between pre-ingestive feeding behaviour and leptin receptors in the olfactory cortex (Getchell et al., 2006). By extension, these studies suggest that olfaction is more involved in food consumption than previously thought. Given this, it is perhaps surprising that few studies have examined the relation between obesity and olfactory function in humans. In our own study (Stafford & Welbeck, 2011) we found that compared with individuals low in body mass index (BMI), those with high BMI were better at detecting the food odour, with larger differences in the satiated state. This suggests that for individuals with a propensity to gain weight, having a heightened sense of smell following a meal may not in fact aid in the control but instead help sustain food intake. Nevertheless further work is required in this area using clinical samples before stronger claims can be made.
Culture can influence olfactory preferences
reflect differences in experience, development and age. In the study, the researchers found longer P2 latencies to the odour of mint for the AF versus EF group. Since mint is frequently consumed in tea in North African cultures, these findings suggest the plasticity of the brain in response to the early experience of particular foods, moulding later olfactory preferences. Generally speaking, our sense of smell begins to decline in our mid-thirties, with a sharper fall from around 55 years onwards (Hummel et al., 2007). Interestingly, the age-related differences are more marked in threshold measures of olfaction compared with discrimination or identification. So, perceiving very small concentrations of odours is particularly difficult as we age, whereas the ability to differentiate and identify odours at stronger (supra-threshold) concentrations declines less rapidly.
Olfaction and art Setting up experiments in the area of
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olfaction certainly present some very young children laugh and joke challenges, and given the closeness of art around the subject of smell without strong and science it is unsurprising that trying embarrassment, which changes with age to create olfactory art is just as and culture. One interesting prediction problematic. Some years ago, on a visit to from this is that young children might well Tate Liverpool, I came across a rather appreciate art emitting odours more than unusual exhibit. A whole adults! Nevertheless, level had been given over artists have found to an audio installation some ingenious ways “artists have found with head-high speakers to explore olfaction. some ingenious ways to arranged in a circle, each One individual whose apparently representing a full-time job is explore olfaction” male chorister. Though actually researching initially sceptical on what olfaction in moths the work might add to the music itself, (Manduca Sexta) recorded the brain I found myself captivated by an incredibly activity of one of his subjects; 32 neurons rich and moving journey through the in one part of the brain responding to music. Yet I find it difficult to conceive of a range of related odourants. He then a comparatively moving art piece directly converted these electrical signals into connected to our sense of smell. Perhaps, music with specialist software, allowing like many of us, I find the idea of being different instrument assignment. The result confronted with odours in a gallery space (see www.as.wvu.edu/daly/music.html) is vaguely unpleasant and incongruent with a surprisingly melodic experience! art appreciation, which is precisely the Apart from art installations, literature restriction lamented by artists trying to has long been intimate with our sense of work in this medium (Jones, 2009). smell, which is likely due to the change of This is entirely consistent with what medium to the printed word and the I have said about the marginalisation of greater focus on linguistic association. The olfaction. The roots of this can also be most commonly referenced author to our traced on a developmental level, where sense of smell is Marcel Proust and his
classic work Remembrance of Things Past, with a spine tingling extract given below: When nothing else subsists from the past… after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered... the smell and taste of things remain poised a long time, like souls... bearing resiliently, on tiny and almost impalpable drops of their essence, the immense edifice of memory.
Final thoughts I started this article with our sense of smell being a somewhat poor relation to vision and audition. Hopefully, I have demonstrated that the study of olfaction is an interesting and worthwhile pursuit, leading to real insights about human and animal behaviour and, dare I say it, the human condition. Lorenzo Stafford is at the Centre for Comparative & Evolutionary Psychology, University of Portsmouth firstname.lastname@example.org
Practitioner Doctorate (PsychD) in Psychotherapeutic & Counselling Psychology The ﬁrst of its kind to be accredited by the British Psychological Society, this professional doctorate offers full-time training over three years. Completion of the Doctorate also confers eligibilitty to apply for Chartered Psychologist status with the BPS and registration as a Counselling Psychologist with the Health and Care Professions Council. Trainees are exposed to the main theoretical traditions with a focus on psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioural theories, and will apply them under supervision in 3 one-year-long practice placements. These can be within NHS, student counselling, voluntary and other settings identiﬁed and monitored by the course team. We have a strong research tradition and an outstanding trainee publication record. Only 15-16 trainees are accepted to ensure a high staff/trainee ratio. Entry requirements: Graduate Basis for Conditional Membership from the BPS; normally at least an upper 2nd class degree in psychology; sufficient personal maturitty and robustness to cope with the course demands. Closing date for September entry: 8 February 2013.
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Dining in the dark Does food taste better in the dark? Charles Spence and Betina Piqueras-Fiszman investigate this and other questions behind a novel dining experience
How does dining in the dark change our perception of food and drink?
www.flavourjournal.com Korsmeyer, C. (Ed.). (2005).The taste culture reader: Experiencing food and drink. Oxford: Berg. Spence, C., Levitan, C., Shankar, M.U. & Zampini, M. (2010). Does food color influence taste and flavor perception in humans? Chemosensory Perception, 3, 68–84.
The last decade or so has seen the steady rise of the ‘Dine-in-thedark’ or ‘Dans le noir’ restaurant, where diners pay to eat and drink in complete darkness. Why are these restaurants popular? Addressing this question requires consideration of several others, such as: Does food really taste better in the dark? And, does dining in the dark provide any meaningful insight into how the blind experience food and drink? This article argues that it is the constant feeling of surprise, based on the delivery of unusual sensory experiences, that may really make such dark dining experiences so unusual and intriguing for the customers.
Cuevas, I., Plaza, P., Rombaux, P. et al. (2009). Odour discrimination and identification are improved in early blindness. Neuropsychologia, 47, 3079–3083. Deliza, R. & MacFie, H.J.H. (1996). The generation of sensory expectation by external cues and its effect on sensory perception and hedonic ratings: A review. Journal of Sensory Studies, 11, 103–128.
Does dining in the dark make food and drink taste better or worse? Why?
any of us like to dine by romantic candlelight, but how about tucking in when it’s impossible even to see your hand in front of your face? Since the opening of the Blindekuh (Blind Cow) restaurant in Zurich in 1999 and the Unsicht (which means invisible) Bar in Cologne, Germany, in 2001, the trend toward dining in the dark has become popular in the UK too, primarily in London, where several restaurants have been established since 2006. The trend has flourished too across Europe, North America and parts of Asia. Pioneered by the likes of Axel Rudolph, psychologist, and owner of the Unsicht-Bar, the concept was developed with the idea of ‘shedding some light’ on the sensory world of the blind. This empathic approach is meant – or better said, was originally meant – to place the blind at something of an advantage relative to their normally sighted counterparts. Nowadays, however, the dining experience at this kind of restaurant is actually very different from that of a blind person eating and drinking at a conventionally lighted establishment. The central question that we would like to address in this piece is what, exactly, makes a visit to one of these restaurants so appealing. First off, it is worth noting that the food in such restaurants is normally served in bite-sized pieces and without bones. Thus, you are far more likely to find yourself with cubes of meat than with a T-bone steak, and with a side-serving of mashed potatoes, say, than with a helping of garden peas. It is, however, not only the presentational aspects of the food that
Gill, A.A. (2007). Table talk: Sweet and sour, salt and bitter. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. Goldstein, D. (2005). The play’s the thing: Dining out in the new Russia. In C. Korsmeyer (Ed.) The taste culture reader: Experiencing food and drink (pp.359–371). Oxford: Berg. Hughson, A.L. & Boakes, R.A. (2001). Perceptual and cognitive aspects of wine expertise. Australian Journal of
differ when compared to a normal restaurant. Complex combinations of flavours are also notable by their absence. It turns out that diners can find it difficult to distinguish between flavours in the absence of visual cues. Nor is one offered a full menu: normally, the only decision to be made is between meat, fish, or the vegetarian option (though sometimes there may be a ‘surprise’ option). Furthermore, the names of the dishes often don’t describe the food, or the way in which it will be (or has been) prepared. In fact, in many cases, the food descriptions are, quite simply, mystifying. Take, for example, the main course from the beef menu at Unsicht-Bar: ‘Upper nobility embraces the French underworld in a deep dark red river of sensuality’. Here, it could be argued that the intention is to deliver a novel and surprising multisensory experience, especially since most of us are unlikely to have eaten in the dark before.
The social aspects of dark dining It’s often claimed that darkness alters the way in which we relate to others, even those sitting next to us. It’s certainly true that the selective sensory deprivation served up by the dine-in-the-dark experience challenges our everyday notion of intimacy and enjoyment when it comes to the social consumption of food. The utter darkness affects how we interact with those around us. Indeed, diners are sometimes intentionally placed at long benches, and hence into close proximity with strangers. Consequently, there is often no place for intimate conversation, and the talk is more likely to revolve around issues such as one’s inability to find the tableware. Speaking also becomes fraught with uncertainty: How do you know whether those sitting at your table are really paying attention to your witty repartee if you can’t see them? And how can you be sure that prying ears aren’t listening in? One finds oneself making audible grunts at the appropriate points in the conversation in order to indicate that one is tuned in to whoever
Psychology, 53, 103–108. Hurling, R. & Shepherd, R. (2003). Eating with your eyes: Effect of appearance on expectations of liking. Appetite, 41, 167–174. Kotler, P. (1974). Atmospherics as a marketing tool. Journal of Retailing, 49 (Winter), 48–64. Lane, L. (2010). Eating blind. Retrieved 20 September 2012 from www.huffingtonpost.com/
lea-lane/eating-blind_b_701736.html Linné, Y., Barkeling, B., Rossner, S. & Rooth, P. (2002). Vision and eating behavior. Obesity Research, 10, 92–95. Luttinger, N. & Dicum, G. (2006). The coffee book: Anatomy of an industry from crop to the last drop. New York: The New Press. Marx, E., Stephan, T., Nolte, A. et al. (2003). Eye closure in darkness animates sensory systems.
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happens to be speaking at the time. This may be part of the reason why diners don’t generally choose to repeat the dark dining experience at home, no matter how memorable it may have been when experienced at the restaurant.
The ‘experience economy’
NeuroImage, 19, 924–934. Pine, B.J., II & Gilmore, J.H. (1998). Welcome to the experience economy. Harvard Business Review, 76(4), 97–105. Pine, B.J., II & Gilmore, J.H. (1999). The experience economy: Work is theatre and every business is a stage. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press. Piqueras-Fiszman, B. & Spence, C. (2011). Crossmodal correspondences
‘The mist at the Rainforest Café appeals serially to all five senses. It is first apparent as a sound: Sss-ssszzz. Then you see the mist rising from the rocks and feel it soft and cool against your skin. Finally, you smell its tropical essence, and you taste (or imagine that you do) its freshness. What you can’t be is unaffected by the mist.’ (Pine & Gilmore, 1998, p.104)
in product packaging: Assessing color–flavor correspondences for potato chips (crisps). Appetite, 57, 753–757. Piqueras-Fiszman, B. & Spence, C. (2012). Sensory incongruity in the food and beverage sector: Art, science, and commercialization. Petit Propos Culinaires, 95, 74–118. Read, S., Sarasvathy, S., Dew, N. et al. (2011). Effectual entrepreneurship.
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What happens to our senses?
One key driver behind the growth of dining-in-the-dark restaurants may be the influential idea of ‘the experience economy’: The powerful notion here, one that has been around at least since Philip Kotler’s classic paper on store atmospherics was published back in 1974, but which was repopularised by Pine and Gilmore (1998, 1999), is that consumers are increasingly paying for ‘experiences’ and not simply for products and services. Indeed, many of the most successful companies in recent years have managed to differentiate themselves in the marketplace by selling engaging multisensory experiences, while at the very same time offering products that aren’t necessarily ‘la crème de la crème’. Think only of Starbucks coffee (Luttinger & Dicum, 2006, p.159). Perhaps unsurprisingly, Pine and Gilmore’s more radical suggestion that companies should start charging customers for the pleasurable experiences that their stores offer shows little sign of catching on. That said, the underlying notion that success in the marketplace is all about ‘the consumer experience’ seems truer than ever. Think Samsung, Apple, and M&M’s experience stores, or Abercrombie & Fitch clothing. These companies have all managed to differentiate themselves and, more importantly, their products successfully
With dining in the dark, rather than delivering a more stimulating multisensory atmosphere or experience than the competition, the counterintuitive idea here is that less (intervening sensory input) can sometimes deliver more in terms of the overall customer experience. It could perhaps be argued that the dark dining concept also plays to the growing concern among some diners that delivering the ‘experience’ has actually become more important than the food itself in certain eating establishments (e.g. Gill, 2007; Goldstein, 2005). Taken together, then, there is certainly a sound business case for offering the dinein-the-dark experience. But what is in it for the customer? Below, we critically evaluate the various arguments that have been put forward over the years in support of the concept.
on the basis of the ‘experience’ that they offer, or at the very least, claim to offer at the point-of-purchase. Indeed, surely one of the only reasons that many of us still frequent bookshops, rather than simply making our purchases online, is the experience that such shops offer – the chance to fondle the covers and sniff that ‘new book’ smell, while perhaps savouring a freshly made latte. The dark dining concept fits right in here: what many of these contemporary restaurants are selling is very much ‘the experience’, and one that is impossible to escape:
If, as gourmands often claim: ‘Eye appeal is half the meal’, what happens if you cannot see the food you are eating? According to folk intuition, the result is a heightening of the other senses: ‘You smell better, you are more receptive to differences in texture, consistency and temperature…it’s a holistic experience’ (Rudolph, cited in Read et al., 2011, p.16). But is it really true? The key question here concerns how the absence of one sense (in particular, vision, what many consider to be our most important sense) affects the perception of food via the other senses, and how our overall eating experiences are impacted as a consequence. There are at least two competing influences on people’s perception of food and drink when the lights go out. On the one hand, visual cues influence our sensory expectations regarding the taste and flavour of foods (e.g. Deliza & MacFie, 1996; Simmons et al., 2005; Spence, 2010a, 2010b). This is referred to by some as ‘visual flavour’ (Spence et al., 2010). Our hedonic expectations
New York: Routledge. Rosenblum, L.D. (2010). See what I am saying: The extraordinary powers of our five senses. New York: Norton. Rosenbluth, R., Grossman, E.S. & Kaitz, M. (2000). Performance of early-blind and sighted children on olfactory tasks. Perception, 29, 101–110. Scheibehenne, B., Todd, P.M. & Wansink, B. (2010). Dining in the dark: The importance of visual cues for food
consumption and satiety. Appetite, 55, 710–713. Simmons, W.K., Martin, A. & Barsalou, L.W. (2005). Pictures of appetizing foods activate gustatory cortices for taste and reward. Cerebral Cortex, 15, 1602–1608. Spence, C. (2010a). The color of wine – Part 1. The World of Fine Wine, 28, 122–129. Spence, C. (2010b). The multisensory
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(Hurling & Shepherd, 2003), our taste evaluations (Spence, 2011; Wilson & Gregson, 1967), and even our total food intake are determined, at least in part, by whatever it is that we happen to see (Linné et al., 2002; Wansink et al., 2005). In addition, a food’s colour often provides a reliable indicator as to its quality, to the ripeness of fruit, say, and the likely offtaint in meat and fish. Hence, removing all such visual cues, which are normally available to us both prior to and during consumption is, we would argue, likely to diminish the overall dining experience (Spence, 2010b). No matter whether we realise it or not, sensory expectation and anticipation constitute a good part of the pleasure of a meal. On the other hand, though, removing vision allows us to concentrate more on the taste and aroma of food and drink (Marx et al., 2003; Wiesmann et al., 2006). We humans have only limited attentional capacity, and vision tends to capitalise on the available neural resources. As a result, we often don’t pay as much attention to the other senses as perhaps we should. Indeed, more often than not, what we see ultimately determines what we perceive, even when the other senses may be sending our brains a different message. Colouring certain white wines red can, for example, fool both experts and novices alike into thinking that they are actually drinking a red wine (Spence, 2010a, 2010b). The key question here then is whether the tastes, aromas and flavours associated with the consumption of food and drink really do become more intense in the absence of vision. Thus far, the limited scientific evidence argues against this intuitive claim. For example, the participants in a study by Scheibehenne et al. (2010) gave similar liking ratings to food no matter whether they ate in darkness or not. This despite the fact that the participants claimed to have paid more attention to the taste of the food in the former case. Unfortunately, though, no assessment was made in this study of whether participants’ ratings of flavour
perception of flavour. The Psychologist, 23, 720–723. Spence, C. (2011). Mouth-watering: The influence of environmental and cognitive factors on salivation and gustatory/flavour perception. Journal of Texture Studies, 42, 157–171. Spence, C. & Deroy, O. (in press). Crossmodal mental imagery. In S. Lacey & R. Lawson (Eds.) Multisensory imagery: Theory and
Does having the lights out in the cinema explain why so much popcorn is eaten?
intensity were affected when the lights were turned off. That said, the participants reported that it was significantly more difficult to eat, and that they paid significantly less attention to how much they ate, under cover of darkness. This could be the reason why, when served a supersized portion, those who found themselves in darkness ate almost 20 per cent more than those who could see the supersized portion in front of them. What is more, in the dark, participants tended to underestimate the amount of food that they had eaten, while the reverse was true for those who ate under normal illumination conditions. The latter results might, then, tie-in with the surprise that many of us have experienced at the cinema when, after purchasing a tub of (usually oversized) popcorn, we suddenly realise,
applications. New York: Springer. Spence, C., Levitan, C., Shankar, M.U. & Zampini, M. (2010). Does food color influence taste and flavor perception in humans? Chemosensory Perception, 3, 68–84. Wansink, B., Painter, J. & North, J. (2005). Bottomless bowls: Why visual cues of portion size may influence intake. Obesity Research, 13, 93–100. Wansink, B., Shimizu, M., Cardello, A.V.
once the final credits start to roll, that we have only a few kernels left! Another factor that makes the experience of dining in the dark unique and, for some, rather unpleasant is the uncertainty associated with not recognising what it is that we happen to be taking into our mouths and, ultimately, swallowing. This uncertainty may lead to decreased food acceptability ratings, and a decrease in people’s willingness to try the food again subsequently (Yeomans et al., 2008). In the absence of visual cues, ‘ambiguous foods’ (such as beef enchilada) are judged as less acceptable, and what is more, are less likely to be consumed again than when consumed under normal lighting conditions (Wansink et al., 2012). However, for those foods where the initial uncertainty is low, such as, for example,
& Wright, A.O. (2012). Dining in the dark: How uncertainty influences food acceptance in the absence of light. Food Quality and Preference, 24, 209–212. Wiesmann, M., Kopietz, R., Albrecht, J. et al. (2006). Eye closure in darkness animates olfactory and gustatory cortical areas. NeuroImage, 32, 293–300. Wilson, G.D. & Gregson, R.A.M. (1967).
Effects of illumination on perceived intensity of acid tastes. Australian Journal of Psychology, 19, 69–73. Wolpin, M. & Weinstein, C. (1983). Visual imagery and olfactory stimulation. Journal of Mental Imagery, 7, 63–73. Yeomans, M., Chambers, L., Blumenthal, H. & Blake, A. (2008). The role of expectancy in sensory and hedonic evaluation. Food Quality and Preference, 19, 565–573.
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crackers, no such reduction in food acceptance, or intent to consume, was observed. Could that be part of the reason, then, why popcorn has become such a staple for those wishing to snack at the cinema? Returning to our earlier discussion, this might also be one of the main reasons why chefs working at dining-in-the-dark restaurants tend to deliver flavours and dishes that are easy for diners to recognise. One can only wonder what diners choosing the ‘surprise menu’ have to say on this topic, given that they don’t even know whether they will be getting fish or meat. A lack of sensory expectations can even lead to confusion and to the illusory identification of flavours that are actually not present (PiquerasFiszman & Spence, 2011). Here, one might also want to know what happens if we discover that what we have eaten wasn’t what we originally thought it was? Whenever we consume a food that we can’t recognise, we nevertheless still tend to create post-consumption beliefs about what the food actually was. If those beliefs don’t match the reality of the situation, should we eventually find out what the food really was, what are the likely consequences? The experience of eating in a dinein-the-dark restaurant may also differ depending on whether a diner’s eyes are open or not. The reason for this being that closing one’s eyes has been shown to lead to a more interoceptive state of awareness (Marx et al., 2003; Wiesmann et al., 2006). By contrast, even in complete darkness, with the eyes open, the brain’s attentional and oculomotor systems are more active (what Marx and colleagues describe as a more exteroceptive state of awareness). Thus, it could be argued that, if anything, any beneficial effects on flavour perception of dining in the dark are more likely to be felt by those diners who choose to keep their eyes closed while eating and drinking.
argue that it is unlikely to be true. Why? First, because normally sighted individuals typically have a great deal of stored knowledge concerning the appearance properties of foods and beverages. This means that once they have recognised it via their other senses, they often can’t help but create in their minds a potentially vivid mental image of what the food or beverage actually looks like. They may even retrieve information concerning how it has been cooked, and how much they like it (Simmons et al., 2005). This multisensory mental image might well then serve as an input and in some sense feed the cognitive eating process (see Spence, 2011; Spence & Deroy, in press; Wolpin & Weinstein, 1983). One other important question here is whether the blind taste and/or smell better than the sighted? Despite the fact that a number of researchers have addressed this question over the years, the available evidence is still rather mixed: While some researchers have documented superior olfactory and/or gustatory abilities in the blind (Cuevas et al., 2009), others have failed to observe any such difference (e.g. Rosenbluth et al., 2000). That said, a consensus now appears to be forming amongst researchers that the blind (and this includes the congenitally blind) don’t perceive tastes, smells, and/or flavours that the normally sighted cannot. That is, their detection thresholds are no different from those of age-matched sighted control subjects. Where the blind do sometimes excel though is in their ability to put a name to a smell, to label it, something that the rest of us find very hard. In this regard, then, the blind are much like other sensory experts in the food and beverage sector (e.g. wine tasters: Hughson & Boakes, 2001).
Conclusions Soup, roasted potatoes and meat. Veal? Chicken? Bread, and butter, which we spread messily. Some pudding for dessert. Vanilla? I can’t remember. It tasted like vanilla but it might have been chocolate. Maybe it wasn’t pudding but it seemed that way. None of the food tasted very good. Bland, bad texture.
Does dining in the dark capture how the blind experience food? Another reason that has been put forward for people trying the dine-in-the-dark experience relates to the suggestion that it gives the diner a feeling for how the blind experience food. This is the empathic claim. However, we would
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Charles Spence is at the Crossmodal Research Laboratory, Oxford University email@example.com
Indiscernible tastes and textures. (Lane, 2010, in a review of the Blindekuh)
Although it’s undoubtedly true that dining in the dark can make for a memorable multisensory experience, the available evidence suggests that you shouldn’t go to such a restaurant if you are hoping that the absence of vision will necessarily make the food and drink taste any better. For humans, as for many other species, visual cues play a crucial role in our perception of flavour and in the control of our appetitive behaviours. It turns out that our sensory expectations regarding food or drink play a surprisingly large part in how we actually experience them. Hence, the removal of this important source of sensory information is likely to cause a detrimental effect in terms of the correct identification, and hence enjoyment, of whatever it is that we happen to be consuming. It may also make the diner a little apprehensive. Nor, we would argue, does the dine-in-the-dark experience really give you an impression of what it’s like for the blind to eat either. In fact, that food and drink have seemingly lost their taste and flavour is one of the first things that individuals who have lost their sight first complain about (see Rosenblum, 2010). So, returning to the question with which we started this piece, what exactly makes it appealing to visit one of these restaurants? Rather than making the food and drink taste better, a claim that has yet to be substantiated empirically, or even giving one the sense of how the blind experience food, we would like to suggest that it’s the feeling of constant unexpectedness that makes the experience so interesting for diners. In this regard, and this regard alone, dining-in-the-dark shares something with the experience of diners at a typical molecular gastronomy restaurant (see Piqueras-Fiszman & Spence, 2012). Finally, it is perhaps worth noting that although statistics regarding repeat custom at such restaurants are hard to come by, a straw poll of our friends and colleagues suggests that while many enjoyed the unusual sensory experience offered by dining in the dark, few expressed any desire to repeat it. Betina Piqueras-Fiszman is at the Crossmodal Research Laboratory, Oxford University firstname.lastname@example.org
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Hearing pitch – right place, wrong time? Chris Plack on competing theories of pitch perception Pitch perception has been a focus of auditory research for over a hundred years. Yet despite this, we still do not have a clear explanation for how pitch is represented by neurons in the auditory system. Two rival theories have slugged it out over the years: ‘place theory’, in which pitch is determined by which neurons are active, and ‘temporal theory’, in which pitch is determined by how the neurons are active, specifically in terms of their temporal firing patterns. Although temporal theory has had the ascendency for a number of years, recent findings suggest that place theory may be ready for comeback.
itch is one of the primary auditory sensations. It is arguably the most important perceptual dimension of music, allowing us to appreciate melody and harmony. In non-tonal languages such as English, pitch variations are part of prosody, and we can stress parts of an utterance by giving particular words a higher pitch. Pitch is even more crucial in tonal languages such as Mandarin Chinese, as it is used to determine word identity. Finally, and perhaps less obviously, pitch is one of the main cues that allow us to separate out sounds that occur together, such as a man and a woman speaking at the same time.
How is the pitch of sounds represented by the brain?
www.newmusicbox.org/articles/TheMusical-Ear/ Plack, C.J. (2005). The sense of hearing. Hove: Psychology Press.
What is pitch?
Attneave, F. & Olson, R.K. (1971). Pitch as a medium: A new approach to psychophysical scaling. American Journal of Psychology, 84, 147–166. Gockel, H.E., Carlyon, R.P. & Plack, C.J. (2011). Combination of spectral and binaurally created harmonics in a common central pitch processor. Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology, 12, 253–260. Meddis, R. & O’Mard, L. (1997). A unitary model of pitch perception. Journal of the
Sound in general is composed of pressure variations in the air, but sounds that evoke a pitch share a more specific property: they repeat over time. Indeed, pitch can be defined as the sensation that is related to the repetition rate of sound waveforms. When the string on a guitar vibrates, it produces a repeating pattern of peaks and dips in pressure. When the string vibrates slowly (e.g. the low string on a guitar) we hear this as a low pitch. When the string vibrates quickly (e.g. the high string on a guitar) we hear this as a high pitch. The tones made by musical instruments, and by the human vocal apparatus, are complex sound waveforms that are made up of several simpler ‘pure tones’ of different frequencies. The frequencies of these harmonics are whole number multiples of the overall repetition
Acoustical Society of America, 102, 1811–1820. Moore, B.C.J. (1973). Frequency difference limens for short-duration tones. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 54, 610–619. Oxenham, A.J., Micheyl, C., Keebler, M.V. et al. (2011). Pitch perception beyond the traditional existence region of pitch. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108, 7629–7634.
rate. For example, if the A string on a guitar is vibrating 110 times a second (110 Hz), harmonics with frequencies of 110, 220, 330, 440 Hz, etc. will be present in the sound wave. The way the magnitudes of the harmonics vary relative to each other determines the timbre or quality of the tone. Timbre allows us to distinguish between different instruments (guitar and trumpet) playing the same note, or between different vowel sounds in speech.
Place and time The human ear has the remarkable ability to separate out the different harmonic components of tones. The spiral cochlea in the inner ear contains a long thin membrane called the basilar membrane. Each place on the basilar membrane is tuned to a different frequency, so that when a sound enters the cochlea, the different frequency components cause different places on the basilar membrane to vibrate (with the base of the spiral responding to high frequencies and the apex responding to low frequencies). Hence for a tonal sound, each place on the membrane vibrates at the frequency of the harmonic to which it is tuned. The sensory hair cells that convert the vibration of the basilar membrane into electrical activity in the auditory nerve are arranged in a single row along the length of the membrane. Since each hair cell is innervated by a separate set of auditory nerve fibres, the frequencies of the harmonics are coded in terms of which nerve fibres are active. This is called ‘place theory’ as it is the place of activity on the basilar membrane, or the place of activity in the nerve array, that represents the frequencies that are present in the sounds. The ‘tonotopic’ representation (different frequencies mapped to different places in the auditory system) continues throughout the auditory regions of the brainstem, and is also present in the auditory cortex in the temporal lobe. However, there is another coding strategy used by the ear. This is based on the timing of neural impulses. When the basilar membrane vibrates up and down in response to a sound wave, the tiny ‘hairs’ or stereocilia on the hair cells sway from side to side. Since the hair cells are only activated when the stereocilia are bent in one direction, the nerve impulses tend to occur at a particular time or phase in each cycle of the sound wave. This process, known as phase locking, means that neural firing in the auditory nerve is synchronised to the frequency of vibration of each place on the basilar membrane. Imagine that the ear is played a tone with a repetition rate of 100 Hz. Let’s take
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the example of a neuron that is connected to the place on the basilar membrane tuned to a frequency of 100 Hz. This will respond to the first harmonic of the tone and will tend to produce nerve impulses that are synchronised to 100 Hz (i.e. the time between impulses will be 10 ms, or integer multiples of this since sometimes neurons do not fire on every cycle). Now let’s take the example of a neuron that is connected to the place on the basilar membrane tuned to a frequency of 200 Hz. This will respond to the second harmonic of the tone and will tend to produce nerve impulses that are synchronised to 200 Hz (i.e. the time between impulses will be about 5 ms, or integer multiples of this). Hence, the frequencies present in a sound wave are coded, not just by which neurons are active, but also by how they are active; specifically, by the temporal regularity in the pattern of firing. This is known as ‘temporal theory’. In mammals, phase locking works for frequencies below about 5000 Hz (although we don’t know for sure
and its perceived pitch, is unaffected by removing the first harmonic, or ‘fundamental’ component, that has a frequency equal to the repetition rate of the tone. For example, a tone with harmonics of 200, 300, and 400 Hz (the second, third and fourth harmonic of a 100 Hz repetition rate) is heard as having a pitch corresponding to 100 Hz, even though there is no harmonic present at 100 Hz. Similarly, if harmonics of 600, 800, and 1000 Hz (the third, fourth, and fifth harmonic of a 200 Hz repetition rate) are present, a pitch corresponding to 200 Hz is heard. These observations suggest that pitch is determined by the spacing or patterning of the harmonics rather than by the lowest harmonic frequency present. It follows that the ear must have a mechanism for combining the information from neurons responding to the different harmonics. However, does the ear use information about which neurons are active to derive the frequencies of the harmonics, or does it use the phase-locked temporal firing patterns? In other words, is the correct explanation for pitch perception the place theory or the temporal theory? Over the last few decades the temporal explanation for pitch has held sway. This view has been based on several converging lines of evidence, three examples of which are provided here. First, it is argued that our ability to discriminate between two different pitches is much better than would be predicted based on The tones made by musical instruments, and by the place theory. In optimal human vocal apparatus, are complex sound waveforms conditions, we can tell two tones apart if their repetition that this limit applies to humans). Above rates differ by just 0.2 per cent (one this frequency, neurons lose the ability to thirtieth of a semitone) (Moore, 1973). synchronise their firing to the vibration of However, the sharpness of tuning of each the basilar membrane. place on the basilar membrane (the range To summarise, musical tones are of frequencies each place responds to) is composed of a series of harmonic about 15 per cent of the tuned frequency. frequency components and these Hence, the membrane may not be tuned frequency components are separated out sharply enough to distinguish frequencies by the basilar membrane in the ear. The that are so close together. We may need frequency of each harmonic is represented the precise pattern of synchronised firing in two ways in the auditory nervous in the temporal code to provide the system: first, by which neurons are most sensitivity for these acute discriminations. active and second, by their temporal Above the upper frequency limit of phase patterns of firing. locking (thought to be about 5000 Hz), performance is much worse, suggesting that fine pitch discrimination may be Choosing between the theories reliant on the temporal code. An intriguing aspect of pitch perception Second, our ability to perceive musical is that the overall repetition rate of a tone, melodies seems to be severely degraded for
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repetition rates above about 5000 Hz (Attneave & Olson, 1971). It is perhaps no coincidence that the highest note on an orchestral instrument (the piccolo) has a frequency of about 4500 Hz. Tunes played with repetition rates above 5000 Hz sound a little strange. You can hear something changing but it doesn’t sound particularly musical. So the limit of phase locking seems to coincide with the limit of musical pitch, suggesting that phase locking may be necessary for musical pitch perception. Finally, computer models of pitch processing based on the temporal code have been able to explain a wide range of pitch phenomena (Meddis & O’Mard, 1997), adding credence to the idea that temporal theory may provide a general account of pitch processing. The story seems quite convincing, and many auditory physiologists and psychologists have turned their attention to where and how the temporal neural code from the different harmonics is converted into a single representation of pitch. However, recent discoveries have cast doubt on the temporal story, and reignited the debate.
Place invaders Perhaps most dramatic is the recent discovery by Andrew Oxenham and colleagues at the University of Minnesota that it is possible to generate a clear pitch using tones with harmonic frequencies well above the supposed neural limit of phase locking (Oxenham et al., 2011). These authors confirmed that a repetition rate less than 5000 Hz is necessary for a clear musical pitch. However, they also showed that as long as the overall repetition rate is within this range, the harmonic frequency components need not be. For example, they were able to produce a clear pitch corresponding to 1200 Hz with harmonics of 7200 Hz and above (i.e., harmonics of 7200, 8400, 9600, etc. Hz). The pitches produced by these high harmonics supported melody recognition, hence satisfying the criterion for musical pitch. Oxenham and colleagues were careful to control for potential confounds produced by interactions between the harmonics on the basilar membrane. So why is this bad news for the temporal theory? Well, if the harmonics are above the frequency limit of phase locking, then their frequencies cannot be represented by a temporal code in the auditory nerve. Hence, there is no temporal information related to pitch that could be used by a central pitch extraction process. The results seem to imply that temporal information is not necessary for
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pitch. The alternative is that, for these the two ears probably occurs at the high frequencies at least, harmonics are superior olivary complex, but it is thought represented by the place of activation on that the outputs of the neurons that extract the basilar membrane and in the neural the decorrelated frequency band project to array. the inferior colliculus. Gockel and A second recent discovery concerns the colleagues showed that not only is it location in the auditory pathway at which possible to produce a pitch with two the harmonics are combined to form a Huggins pitch ‘harmonics’ (for example, pitch. Unlike the visual system, a great decorrelated bands centred on 600 and deal of processing occurs in the auditory 800 Hz to produce a pitch corresponding brainstem before the signal is passed to the to 200 Hz), but that it is possible to auditory cortex in the temporal lobe. From combine a Huggins harmonic and a the auditory nerve the signal passes conventional harmonic to produce a pitch. through a number of neural nuclei: the This suggests that the combination of cochlear nucleus, the superior olivary harmonics in normal pitch perception complex, the nuclei of the lateral probably occurs in the inferior colliculus lemniscus, the inferior colliculus, and or higher. However, we know that the limit finally the medial geniculate body of the of phase locking is much reduced at this thalamus. The precision of the temporal level in the auditory system, so highcode deteriorates as the signal is passed frequency harmonics such as 2000, 2400, from neuron to neuron, so that by the level of the inferior colliculus, the maximum frequency of phase locking is several hundred hertz, rather than several thousand hertz. It has been known for some time that it is possible to hear a pitch produced by just two harmonics that are presented to opposite ears. For example, if a pure tone of 400 Hz is presented to the left ear, and a pure tone of 600 Hz is presented to the right ear, a pitch corresponding to 200 Hz is heard. This implies that harmonics are combined at the level of the superior olivary complex or higher, as this is the earliest stage at which the neural inputs from the two ears are combined. Hedwig Gockel and colleagues at the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit in Cambridge We do not know for sure what are the investigated this further using an characteristics of phase locking in human listeners even more esoteric stimulus called ‘Huggins pitch’ (Gockel et al., 2011). Huggins pitch is produced by 2800 Hz, etc. cannot be represented by presenting the same noise signal (which a temporal code at this level. A possible contains a broad range of frequencies) to implication of the experiment of Gockel both ears except for a narrow frequency and colleagues is that harmonics are band in which the noise is different encoded using a place mechanism at the (decorrelated) between the two ears. A stage in auditory processing at which they pitch is heard corresponding to the centre are combined. This contradicts most frequency of the band. However, the sound temporal models of pitch, although it is in each ear is just a random noise, and it is important to emphasise that the individual only when the input from the two ears is harmonics could be encoded temporally at combined that a pitch is heard. (I enjoy an earlier stage, and converted to a place demonstrating this effect to students using code by the level of the inferior colliculus. a Huggins pitch melody, as it doesn’t seem A big caveat here is that we do not possible that the tuneless noise heard when know for sure what are the characteristics the sound is played to each ear separately of phase locking in human listeners. For can be used to produce a recognisable tune obvious reasons, it is hard to convince an when the ears are combined. My aim is to ethics panel that there is scientific have the first hit single composed entirely justification for opening up the skull and of Huggins pitch!) sticking electrodes into the auditory nerve Again, this combination of inputs from and brainstem of a living human being
(although there are now experiments being planned on auditory nerve measures in patients under surgery for tumours on the auditory nerve). It is at least possible that the frequency limits of phase locking are much higher in humans, both in the auditory nerve and inferior colliculus. If so, then the new results may be accommodated within the temporal account. However, humans would have to be very different from other mammals if this were the case, and it is not clear that phase locking to very high frequencies is even possible physiologically.
Towards a unified theory The new results cast doubt on the temporal account, and suggest that place theory may well make a dramatic comeback. But will temporal theory now suffer a slow death as we embrace the re-energised place explanation? I think not. There is quite good evidence that temporal information on its own is sufficient for a musical pitch. For example, tones with high-numbered harmonics that are too close together in frequency to be separated by the basilar membrane can still evoke a musical pitch based on the temporal fluctuations in the waveform. More likely is that the auditory brain uses a combination of place and temporal information. After all, there is no reason why the brain should be nice to researchers by using just one type of pitch representation. If both place and temporal information are available, then why not use both? Determining exactly how (and where) these separate types of information are combined may be the next challenge for researchers. Vision scientists may laugh at the seeming inability of auditory researchers to provide a definitive physiological explanation of one of the main auditory sensations, despite well over a hundred years of research. However, this is one reason why I find pitch perception such a fascinating field of inquiry. There are still big questions that need to be answered, and this presents opportunities for more groundbreaking experiments in the years to come. Chris Plack is Ellis Llwyd Jones Chair in Audiology at the University of Manchester Chris.Plack@manchester.ac .uk
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Living with touch Alberto Gallace seeks to understand tactile interactions
Despite being a relatively little investigated sensory modality, touch is involved in the large majority of our daily activities, from eating and walking to kissing and cuddling. The ‘hidden’ power of touch in terms of its ability to drive our behaviour and emotions has now been proven in a number of scientific studies. Touch also contributes to differentiate ourselves from the external world, and it is likely the sense that has the biggest impact on our pleasure and well-being.
No other sense can arouse you like touch. (Field, 2001, p.57)
Why touch is so important in our social life? Are we always aware of what occurs on our skin?
Gallace, A. & Spence, C. (in press). The future of touch: From cognitive neurosciences to virtual reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Field, T. (2001). Touch. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Ackerman, J.M., Nocera, C.C. & Bargh, J.A. (2010). Incidental haptic sensations influence social judgments. Science, 328, 1712–1715. Anstey, M.L., Rogers, S.M., Ott, S.R. et al. (2009). Serotonin mediates behavioral gregarization underlying swarm formation in desert locusts. Science, 323, 627–630. Auvray, M., Gallace, A., Tan, H.Z. & Spence, C. (2008). Tactile and visual
ust before the eighth week of gestation, an embryo may develop sensitivity to tactile stimulation (e.g. Bernhardt, 1987; Gottlieb, 1971) – it begins to touch. Whereas the visual system requires prolonged development in order to become fully effective, the sense of touch is perhaps the primordial matrix upon which the awareness of ourselves as individuals, separated from the external world, starts to form. The skin, and the receptors therein, also constitutes the largest of our sense organs. By the time he reaches adulthood, the average male will have around 18,000 square centimeters of skin, constituting about 16–18 per cent of his total body weight (see Montagu, 1971). Our skin differentiates ourselves from the external environment physically, maintaining the integrity of our organs and protecting them from external menaces (both biological and physical). At the same time the tactile receptors embedded in our body surface help to differentiate ourselves from the outside world from a psychological point of view too. In fact, whenever we touch an object we can feel both the incoming perception from the object itself and the presence of our body differentiated from it. One might say that where our touch begins, we are! The sense of touch protects our body by signalling potential danger and requiring us to make a prompt response. Richard Gregory, one of the most influential researchers in the world of
distractors induce change blindness for tactile stimuli presented on the fingertips. Brain Research, 1213, 111–119. Auvray, M., Myin, E. & Spence, C. (2010). The sensory-discriminative and affective-motivational processing of pain. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 34, 214–223. Bellieni, C.V., Cordelli, D.M., Marchi, S. et al. (2007). Sensorial saturation for
visual perception, once wrote that ‘one cannot be attacked and eaten by an image […], and neither can one feed on images’ (Gregory, 1967, p.370). That is, while vision (and audition) inform us about ‘distal’ stimuli, our sense of touch informs us about those things that are occurring at the very last frontier between ourselves and the outside world. However, touch is not only our last system of defence, it also provides our main connection with the external world, both socially and physically. The sense of touch cannot be considered to be a unitary modality. In fact, what we commonly define as ‘touch’ is the product of the integration among different neural signals occurring at different stages of information processing in the brain. More specifically, our sensory experience of touch results from the activity of systems responsible for the processing of pressure, temperature, joint position, muscle sense, and movement (see Berkley & Hubscher, 1995; Iggo, 1977; McGlone & Spence, 2010). Pain also offers an important contribution to this complex network of sensory signals, even if there is still little agreement among researchers and philosophers as to whether it should be considered as a separate sensory modality or rather as a submodality of touch (e.g. Auvray et al., 2010). Very often we are not aware of the importance of touch in our everyday life. Yet even the simplest of activities, such as walking or feeding, require a great deal of tactile processing. The importance of touch for survival is amply documented by the fact that the complete lack of tactile sensations in humans is a very rarely reported phenomenon. That is, evolution seems to have protected this sense from serious damage or alteration. People who lack tactile sensations (but critically not motor control), due to a damage to their peripheral or central nervous system, experience incredible difficulties in controlling their movement; even holding a fork and self-feeding may become quite a challenge for them (e.g. Cole, 1991; Cole & Paillard, 1995). However, even in these
neonatal analgesia. Clinical Journal of Pain, 23, 219–221. Berkley, K.J. & Hubscher, C.H. (1995). Are there separate central nervous system pathways for touch and pain? Nature Medicine, 1, 766–773. Bernhardt, J. (1987). Sensory capabilities of the fetus. MCN American Journal of Maternal Child Nursing, 12, 44–46. Carter, C.S. (1998). Neuroendocrine perspectives on social attachment
and love. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 23, 779–818. Cole, J. (1991) Pride and the daily marathon. London: Duckworth. Cole, J. & Paillard, J. (1995). Living without touch and peripheral information about body position and movement. In J. Bermúdez, A. Marcel & N. Eilan (Eds.) The body and the self (pp.245–266). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
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cases, certain signals coming from the you suddenly realise that your wallet is skin surface (by means of undamaged gone. You have been pickpocketed! How unmylinated neural conductive fibres), could that have happened? How could such as pain and thermal sensations, are something as significant as your wallet still preserved. slipping out from your pocket ever have Touch affects all domains of our life, gone undetected? from feeding to walking, from sexual We often think about our perception in behaviour to social relationships. terms of a tape recorder or a video-camera, Surprisingly, however, this sensory something that passively registers all the modality has received far less research facts occurring in the external world, and interest from scientists, as then we compared with other senses become very such as vision and audition. In surprised when the last few decades the trend our awareness seems somehow to have of such facts changed and more researchers fails. However, than ever before are now most of the starting to engage with the external stimuli study of touch. falling onto our This new wave of interest receptor would seem to reflect new surfaces (be discoveries about our they visual, awareness of touch (e.g. tactile, auditory, Gallace & Spence, 2008, gustatory, or 2010a), and its role in making olfactory) do our experiences real not have access The skin, and the receptors (comprehending the feeling of to our awareness. therein, constitutes the largest owning our body: see Moseley It would be useless of our sense organs et al., 2012), and more to process all that emotionally engaging (see information when Gallace & Spence, 2010b). it is not strictly Considering that technological advances relevant to our current, or even future, now allow us to virtually reproduce even behaviour. Our perceptual and cognitive complex environments, the possibility of systems are structured with the express increasing the realism of these simulations purpose of consciously selecting and (and/or the sense of owning the avatar processing only relatively little information within them) by means of the tactile sense from the large amount of stimulation is something that certainly contributes to typically available at any one time. driving research interest in the study of From an ecological point of view, one of the most relevant sorts of information is this sensory modality nowadays (see a change in the status of our environment, Gallace et al., 2011; Gallace et al., 2007b). likely to signal the presence of something Compared with other senses, touch that is potentially relevant (or perhaps certainly has a number of limitations, as dangerous), and that might need an well as some important peculiarities, that adaptation or modulation of our current contribute to make it a particularly and future behaviour. Our wallet lying in interesting sense to study. our pocket is, from the point of view of the sense of touch, a constant signal, and as Pickpocketing explained such it need not be constantly monitored. A crowded underground on Monday Like the chair under our bottom, In fact, morning, someone bumps into your side. our tactile sensory system has You barely notice it. A few stops afterward progressively reduced its neural response
Crusco, A.H. & Wetzel, C.G. (1984). The Midas touch: The effects of interpersonal touch on restaurant tipping. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 10, 512–517. Desimone, R. & Duncan, J. (1995). Neural mechanisms of selective visual attention. Annual Review of Neurosciences, 18, 193–222. Ernst, M.O. & Banks, M.S. (2002). Humans integrate visual and haptic
information in a statistically optimal fashion. Nature, 415, 429–433. Field, T. (2001). Touch. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Gallace, A., Ngo, M.K., Sulaitis, J. & Spence, C. (2011). Multisensory presence in virtual reality. In G. Ghinea, F. Andres & S. Gulliver (Eds.) Multiple sensorial media advances and applications: New developments in MulSeMedia (pp.1–38). IGI Global.
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to constant stimuli, so that they tend to fade from our awareness. But what of the wallet slipping from our pocket? That is a change, and should therefore be given priority in our neural processing. However, information from different sensorial sources compete in the brain for access to awareness (Desimone & Duncan, 1995). The neural signal generated by a bump on your shoulder competes with the signal generated by your wallet being gently slipped from your pocket. In this case the bump, being more salient and/or strong, might win the competition. You then experience a failure of your tactile awareness, or more what is known as ‘tactile change blindness’ or ‘change numbness’ (e.g. Gallace et al., 2006, 2007a). Interestingly, awareness of touch also deteriorates when we are distracted visually. I know of a Swedish psychologist who was surprised to see a woman exposing herself at him on the street in Stockholm, only to realise a moment or two later that he had been pickpocketed! Subsequent research has now confirmed that visual, but critically not auditory, stimuli are effective in reducing our ability to report the presence of tactile changes on the body surface (e.g. Auvray et al., 2008). This result is often taken to support the idea that vision is ‘the dominant’ sense, the one that often wins the competition for access to processing and attentional resources in our brain. Note, however, that more recent research suggests that there may not be ‘a’ dominant sense, as such, but that the sensory modality that dominates over the others in a given situation is the one that carries the more accurate information (e.g. Ernst & Banks, 2002). One might then wonder where and under which conditions touch becomes the most relevant sense and the information that it provides the most salient or accurate signal available. Perhaps the presence of tactile stimuli results in a failure of visual awareness when the more social and interpersonal aspects of touch are considered. Consider possibly the cheesiest line in movie history, as Carrie and Charles
Gallace, A. & Spence, C. (2008). The cognitive and neural correlates of ‘tactile consciousness’. Consciousness and Cognition, 17, 370–407. Gallace, A. & Spence, C. (2010a). The role of the somatosensory cortex in the awareness of tactile information. Psyche, 16, 30–67. Gallace, A. & Spence, C. (2010b). The science of interpersonal touch: An
overview. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 34, 246–259. Gallace, A., Tan, H.Z. & Spence, C. (2006). The failure to detect tactile change. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 13, 300–303. Gallace, A., Tan, H.Z. & Spence, C. (2007a). Do ‘mudsplashes’ induce tactile change blindness? Perception & Psychophysics, 69, 477–486. Gallace, A., Tan, H.Z. & Spence, C.
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kiss in Four Weddings and a Funeral: ‘Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed.’
The ‘golden touch’ The sense of touch is not only relevant to our interactions with external objects but also, and even more importantly, to our interactions with other human beings (see Gallace & Spence, 2010b; Hertenstein et al., 2006). A strong handshake, an encouraging pat on the back, a sensual caress, a nudge for attention, a tender kiss, or a gentle brush of the shoulder are all very familiar and important tactile social interactions. We can only try to image the sadness of a life without them. Such a life is effectively described in the science fiction movie Demolition Man, where the director, Marco Brambilla, envisioned a futuristic society where every tactile contact is prevented and heavily sanctioned. Some might argue that our society is already moving in that direction, resulting in what Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute in Florida, has memorably described as ‘touch hunger’ (see Field, 2001), the unsatisfied desire of people for more social touch. So why are tactile social interactions important to our well-being, and what can psychology and cognitive neurosciences tell us about them? Animal studies have shown that touch is an important form of communication in many different species (see Hertenstein et al., 2006). Mother tigers and rats lick and nuzzle their babies, chimpanzees groom each other, and bear cubs wrestle with each other. Even amongst insects, touch plays an highly important role. Desert locusts have been shown to transform their behaviour from a little-seen solitarious phase to a swarming gregarious phase as a function of reciprocal tactile contact of the hind legs (Anstey et al., 2009). In the animal kingdom, touch is used to comfort, to determine dominance, and to establish bonds. Not surprisingly therefore, touch seems to be even more important in those species that can be defined as ‘social animals’. For example, for many primate
(2007b). The body surface as a communication system. Presence: Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 16, 655–676. Gottlieb, G. (1971). Ontogenesis of sensory function in birds and mammals. In E. Tobach, L.R., Aronson & E.F. Shaw (Eds.) The biopsychology of development (pp.67–128). New York: Academic Press.
species living in large groups, interbeen demonstrated that people who are individual touch has been shown to incidentally touched are more likely to contribute to form bonds and to keep the increase their compliance or civic relationships within the group peaceful behaviour, such as returning a coin left (e.g. Weber, 2005). in a phone booth by the preceding caller. As far as humans are concerned, a This effect, now known as the ‘Midas number of studies have investigated the touch effect’, occurs whether the person role of tactile social contact in touched remembers it or not. neurocognitive development. In particular, What are the neurocognitive Weiss et al. (2004) have demonstrated that mechanisms underlying the surprisingly those infants whose mothers used more powerful effects of social touch? Research stimulating touch has only recently during caregiving had started to better visual-motor skills investigate this at one-year of age. In important question. addition, the infants of In particular, a mothers who touched number of studies them frequently had have addressed the more advanced gross role of touch in motor development. mediating the Similarly, evidence has release of certain been reported hormones, such as suggesting that the oxytocin, implicated distress caused by in a variety of certain medical mammalian bonding Familiar and important tactile procedures can be behaviours (e.g. Carter, social interactions substantially reduced by 1998, Insel, 2000). In providing the baby with fact, research on humans sucrose, followed by a would seem to suggest cuddle plus either breastfeeding or that the release of oxytocin helps couples a pacifier given during the procedure to form lasting relationship bonds. Note (Bellieni et al., 2007). also that the level of oxytocin increases In adults, many studies have shown greatly during parturition, perhaps also that social touch exerts a powerful effect helping to create an early bond between on people’s behaviour, and even on their mothers and their babies. opinions. In a now-famous experiment, A number of studies have shown Crusco and Wetzel (1984) studied the that sexual contact, as well as non-sexual effects of accidental social touch in a physical affection, involving tactile contact restaurant setting. The waitresses in their (such as back-rubbing and hugs) is study were instructed to briefly touch effective in inducing the release of customers either on the hand, on the oxytocin (e.g. Uvanas-Moberg et al., 2005; shoulder, or not to touch them when see also Shermer, 2004). These studies returning the change at the end of the have also shown that women who report meal. Crusco and Wetzel found that the having received more hugs from their ‘tipping rate’ of the customers was partners in the past have higher levels of significantly higher in the touching oxytocin and significantly lower blood conditions than in the no-touch condition. pressure than those who do not have A number of similar experiments have much of a history of being hugged by their now demonstrated that social touch is also partners (Light et al., 2005). That is, the effective in positively influencing people’s mediating role of touch in the release of opinions about a given service or person oxytocin might play an important role in (Gallace & Spence, 2010b). It has also affecting our social interactions.
Gregory, R.L. (1967). Origin of eyes and brains. Nature, 213, 369–372. Hertenstein, M.J., Verkamp, J.M., Kerestes, A.M. & Holmes, R.M. (2006). The communicative functions of touch in humans, nonhuman primates, and rats. Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs, 132, 5–94. Iggo, A. (1977). Cutaneous and subcutaneous sense organs. British
Medical Bulletin, 33, 97–102. Insel, T.R. (2000). Toward a neurobiology of attachment. Review of General Psychology, 4, 176–185. Light, K., Grewen, K. & Amico, J. (2005). More frequent partner hugs and higher oxytocin levels are linked to lower blood pressure and heart rate in premenopausal women. Biological Psychology, 69, 5–21. McCabe, D.B. & Nowlis, S.M. (2003). The
effect of examining actual products or product descriptions on consumer preference. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 13, 431–439. McGlone, F., Olausson, H., Boyle, J.A. et al. (2012). Touching and feeling. European Journal of Neurosciences, 35, 1782–1788. McGlone, F.P. & Spence, C. (2010). Editorial: The cutaneous senses: Touch, temperature, pain/itch, and
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Interestingly, recent research has convincingly demonstrated that certain neural fibres and receptors in the human skin appear to specifically code for pleasant touch (see McGlone et al., 2007, 2012 for reviews). It is important to note here that these fibres respond more vigorously to the slow stroking of the skin, a stimulation that resembles a caress. Moreover, pleasant touch mediated by the activation of these fibres would seem to require the involvement of relatively older (from an evolutionary point of view) brain areas, such as the orbitofrontal cortex. That is, the more social aspect of touch might be very effective in terms of eliciting certain behaviours and certain emotions by the mediation of the most primordial parts of our brain.
When touch drives behaviour Nearly every day we buy something, be it our lunch, a new watch, a hat, a newspaper or a train ticket. In the large majority of cases we do not buy images or sounds, but physical objects that can be touched and explored with our hands. Even when a product can be purchased in a ‘virtual’ or not tangible form, such as music downloaded from the internet, we still miss the pleasure of holding the physical CD in our hands. A number of studies have clearly shown that touch plays a very important role when it comes to buying something. For example, McCabe and Nowlis (2003) reported that consumers preferred to select those products from retailers who allowed their products to be touched, especially products for which tactile input is important for evaluation (e.g. clothing, or portable electronics). In fact, when the UK supermarket group Asda removed the wrapping from several brands of toilet tissue in its stores so that shoppers could feel and compare the textures, the sale of the in-store brand increased significantly. A trip to the supermarket nowadays will easily confirm that many products have openings on their packages, or pieces of its content stuck on the packaging itself
pleasure. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 34, 145–147. McGlone, F., Vallbo, A.B., Loken, L. & Wessberg, J. (2007). Discriminative touch and emotional touch. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 61, 173–183. Montagu, A. (1971). Touching: The human significance of the skin. New York: Columbia University Press. Moseley, G. L., Gallace, A. & Spence, C.
in order for the potential customer to touch them. A recent study confirmed the value of the available tactile information to our buying behaviour, even when this information is not strictly relevant to the object to be purchased. The participants in a study by Ackerman and colleagues (2010) were asked to sit on either a hard wooden chair or a soft-cushioned chair, and were required to imagine shopping for a new car priced $16,500 and to negotiate a lower price. In this bargaining task, they were allowed to make two offers for the car (the second offer had to be made on the assumption that the dealer had rejected the participant’s first offer). The participants who sat in the hard chair were those who deviated least from their first rejected offer. The tactile context of a given situation affects our behaviour even when it is not directly relevant to the action to be performed. So, the next time that someone ask you to sit on a comfortable sofa perhaps you should think twice before making your decisions from there, rather than from a sturdy office chair! The same research also demonstrated that touch is even of importance in domains where we wouldn’t expect it to be relevant, such as hiring a new collaborator on the basis of his CV. The authors asked a number of passers-by to evaluate a job candidate on the basis of a CV attached to either a light (0.34 kg) or a heavy (2 kg) clipboard. Surprisingly, even if the CVs used were exactly the same, the participants that were given the CV on the heavier clipboard on average rated the candidate as being better and having a more serious interest in the position than those given the lighter clipboard. That is the concepts of seriousness and capability were transmitted by means of the tactile qualities of the material where the CV was presented rather than by the content of the CV itself. There is even research (PiquerasFiszman et al., 2011; Piqueras-Fiszman & Spence, 2012) showing that the perception of food can be affected by the weight of the plate or container where it is presented).
(2012). Bodily illusion in health and disease. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, 36, 34–46. Piqueras-Fiszman, B., Harrar, V., Alcaide, J. & Spence, C. (2011). Does the weight of the dish influence our perception of food? Food Quality and Preference, 22, 753–756. Piqueras-Fiszman, B. & Spence, C. (2012). The weight of the container influences expected satiety, perceived
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In summary, the results of the studies presented here clearly suggest that certain tactile qualities of objects, such as their weight, texture and hardness have a strong effect on the neural processes that immediately follow the contact. In particular, the neural activity generated by these tactile attributes might trigger in the participant’s brain the associated concepts (e.g. strength or weight) and therefore affect their behaviour and choices.
Conclusions A growing body of recent research in the fields of psychology and cognitive neuroscience have highlighted that touch is a very powerful sensory modality, involved in every aspects of our life, one that certainly deserves more attention from the scientific community in the years to come. Despite its limitations, touch can affect our decisions, opinions and behaviour, even when we are not fully aware of it. It contributes to our well-being and to the maintenance of our social relationships. It also protects our body at both the physical and psychological level. The sense of touch truly contributes to making the external world ‘real’ to us. In the last few years, manufacturers and advertisers are increasingly coming to consider the importance of tactile interactions, and the knowledge arising from scientific research into our sense of touch is progressively becoming an important basis for the design of products that are more appealing to the user or consumer. Understanding the mechanisms of tactile processing will certainly help us to appreciate the complexity of this sense and its incredible value in our life.
density, and subsequent expected fullness. Appetite, 58, 559–562. Shermer, M. (2004). A bounty of science. Scientific American, 290(2), 33. Uvanas-Moberg, A., Arn, I. & Magnusson, D. (2005). The psychobiology of emotion. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 12, 59–65. Weber, T. (2005). Tactile communication among free-ranging langurs. American Journal of Physical
Alberto Gallace is in the Department of Psychology, University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy email@example.com
Anthropology, 38, 481–486. Weiss, W.J., Wilson, P.W. & Morrison, D. (2004). Maternal tactile stimulation and the neurodevelopment of low birth weight infants. Infancy, 5, 85–107.
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Visual attention – a fresh look John M. Findlay and Iain D. Gilchrist describe their efforts to ensure eye movements play a central role in our understanding of ‘active vision’
For the last 25 years visual attention has been a highly popular research area within experimental psychology. Yet frequently visual attention is conceived of simply as a mental process occurring within the visual brain. This excludes a fundamental characteristic of vision: our eyes are continually mobile, making several discrete shifts of gaze every second, millions every month, although we are largely unaware that we are doing so. In this article we discuss why the mainstream study of visual attention has so often ignored eye movements and present an alternative – active vision – in which eye movements are assigned a central role.
ur understanding of vision has a firm biological grounding: adding in attention seeks to extend this understanding to include higher cognitive processes. But thinking of visual attention as solely brain-based neglects our roving eyes. Eye movements are arguably our most common behavioural act and for each gaze shift the brain selects a new location to direct the eyes. Here, we attempt to put eye movements back at the centre of a theory of sensorial attention.
Sensorial attention Many text books introduce the topic of attention with the quote from William James (1890):
How do the processes of visual attention contribute to perception and action?
Findlay, J.M. & Gilchrist, I.D. (2003). Active vision: The psychology of looking and seeing. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Liversedge, S.P., Gilchrist, I.D. & Everling, S. (Eds.) (2011). The Oxford handbook of eye movements. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Everyone knows what attention is. It is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. (pp.403–404)
Desimone, R. & Duncan, J. (1995). Neural mechanisms of selective attention. Annual Review of Neuroscience, 18, 193–222. Deubel, H. & Schneider, W.X. (1996). Saccade target selection and object recognition. Vision Research, 36, 1827–1837. Farrell, S., Ludwig, C.J.H., Ellis, L.A. & Gilchrist, I.D. (2010). The influence of environmental statistics on inhibition
Rather fewer explore further James’s ideas on attention, such as the distinction he makes between intellectual attention and sensorial attention. Intellectual attention, as the quotation shows, allows you to think about why William James’s brother was famous and then what you might choose for lunch today, but prevents these thoughts occurring at the same time and interfering. Sensorial attention explains why the ‘millions of items of the outward order are present to my senses which never properly enter into my experience’ (p.402). For visual attention, the focus of this article, the problem is well known to us
of saccadic return. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107, 929–934. Findlay, J.M. & Brown, V. (2006). Eye scanning of multi-element displays. I. Scanpath planning. Vision Research, 46, 179–195. Findlay, J.M. & Gilchrist, I.D. (2003). Active vision: The psychology of looking and seeing. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
all: for example, when faced with a crowd of people at an airport arrival gate, how do we select the friend we are meeting? In the mid-1990s, the two of us began collaborating and the realisation gradually crystallised that existing work on visual attention, whilst impressive, was also limited and in some respects misguided. Visual attention was conceived of as a mental process which operated on the retinal image. Michael Posner conceptualised a process sometimes termed a mental spotlight, which could pick out part of the retinal information (e.g. Posner, 1980), and Anne Treisman suggested a role that such a spotlight could play in visual search (e.g. Treisman, 1988). Almost no reference was made to the fact that the eye itself is mobile and indeed under many normal circumstances of viewing, is jumping around three or four times a second. The oculomotor system is an exquisite example of neuro-engineering that enables the eyes to move almost instantaneously from one location to another in a jump-like way, known as a saccade, and then remain stable for a fraction of a second at the new location in a fixation. Normal vision consists of a continuous rapid sequence of fixation– saccade–fixation, etc. The retinal fovea is the location of highest visual resolution and visual ability drops off dramatically away from the fovea. The mobility of the eye allows the fovea to be continually redirected to sample new locations in the environment. We felt that this process of pointing the fovea at regions of interest was the primary mechanism by which James’s millions of items presented to the visual sense never properly enter into experience. Why were eye movements ignored in the then dominant traditions? In part this can be attributed to the seductive but slippery apparent correspondence between the camera-like retinal image and the perceptual experience of having a picture in the head. However, more specific factors were associated with the dominant work on attention. Posner’s paradigm required the eyes to be kept still, to demonstrate
Fletcher-Watson, S., Findlay, J.M., Leekam, S.R. & Benson, V. (2008). Rapid detection of person information in a naturalistic scene. Perception, 37, 571–583. Fletcher-Watson, S., Leekam, S.R., Benson, V. et al. (2009). Eye movements reveal attention to social information in autistic spectrum disorder. Neuropsychologia, 47, 248–257.
Gilchrist, I.D. & Harvey, M. (2000). Refixation frequency and memory mechanisms in visual search. Current Biology, 10(19), 1209–1212. Husain, M., Mannan, S., Hodgson, T. et al. (2001). Impaired spatial working memory across saccades contributes to abnormal search in parietal neglect. Brain, 124, 941–952. Körner, C. & Gilchrist, I.D. (2007). Finding a new target in an old display.
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that a purely mental process could operate. Treisman’s analysis of search functions suggested that during visual search the spotlight moved at a rate that was much more rapid than that at which the eyes could move. Their experimental studies were interesting and important, but had segued to a viewpoint where all that went on in vision depended on subsequent mental processing of a fixed retinal image. We gradually became convinced that we could offer a better framework. One fruit of our collaboration was the book Active Vision: The Psychology of Looking and Seeing (Findlay & Gilchrist, 2003). In this article, we revisit the themes and comment briefly on developments over the past 10 years.
but before the actual movement starts. We became convinced of the correctness of the pre-motor view. The mental spotlight process of attention, covert attention, should be regarded not as something that operates independently of eye movements. (Outside the laboratory, situations where covert attention is used without moving the eyes would seem to be predominantly social ones, for example deception where actually moving the eyes would provide a cue that the individual wishes to conceal.) Instead, we argued that the study of covert visual attention should be seen as just one, albeit an important, component of the process of active vision, seeing through looking around. What about the apparent very rapid movements of the mental spotlight in Active vision Treisman’s serial search? Jeremy Wolfe is The above sketch is oversimplified, since one of the leading theorists in the area. a number of workers had already argued His theory of guided visual search (Wolfe, that the mobile eye must have some 1994) was an important development of connection with the mental spotlight. Anne Treisman’s work in recognising that Notably, Giacomo Rizzolatti, now better some process – perhaps degree of known for his similarity to the discovery of mirror target – must guide neurons, had linked the serial the perceptual and deployment of motor sides of vision attention. He by proposing a presupported the ‘very motor theory of rapid movement’ visual attention view, although he whereby the noted that the spotlight reflected movement rate the preparatory seemed to be process of generating variable rather than an eye movement, fixed. However, prior to its execution attempts to (Rizzolatti et al., demonstrate such 1987). His theory very rapid was given strong attentional support by a finding movements more Vision consists of a continuous rapid of Heiner Deubel directly have failed, and Werner Schneider sequence of fixation–saccade–fixation including one by (1996). Visual Wolfe himself discrimination of (Wolfe et al., 2000), material in peripheral who devised an vision is selectively enhanced at the target ingenious experiment requiring location of a saccade after the decision participants to move attention as rapidly has been made to make the movement, as possible around a clock face. They could
Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 14, 846–851. Land, M.F., Mennie, N. & Rusted, J. (1999). The roles of vision and eye movements in the control of activities of everyday living. Perception, 28, 1311–1328. Posner, M.I. (1980). Orienting of attention. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 32, 3–25. Rizzolatti, G., Riggio, L., Dascola, I. &
Umiltà, C. (1987). Reorienting attention across the horizontal and vertical meridians: evidence in favor of a premotor theory of attention. Neuropsychologia, 25, 31–40. Schall, J.D. & Hanes, D.P. (1993). Neural basis of target selection in frontal eye field during visual search. Nature, 366, 467–469. Treisman, A. (1988). Features and objects: The 14th Bartlett Memorial
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not make very rapid movements voluntarily, although Wolfe was not ready to abandon the idea of involuntary very fast movements. In the 1990s several laboratories started measuring patterns of eye movements during visual search and showed a high correlation between the number of saccades made in search and the search time (e.g. Williams et al., 1997). Moreover, careful analysis of the data from this work failed to find a result that would be predicted if a separate, very rapid, scanning by covert attention was taking place. If that occurred, it might be expected that the duration of the fixation preceding the eye movement to the target would be reduced in comparison with other scanning fixations, since once the covert attentional scan had reached the target, the eyes would be drawn to it. Pretarget fixation durations proved to be no shorter than those made elsewhere in the scanning. We felt ready to criticise the ‘standard model’ of visual search. It was sometimes an uphill task, with one referee in a high-quality visual science journal telling us that eye movements were of minimal importance in visual search. In formulating our views, we were greatly aided by the fact that one area of perceptual research had already developed through taking account of the mobility of the eyes. When reading text, the eyes make a series of saccades progressing along each line (with occasional reverse movements). In the early days of computer technology, two US workers, Keith Rayner and George McConkie, devised the highly productive gaze-contingency paradigm. This methodology involved presenting the text on a screen and manipulating it in a way that depended on the gaze direction. In this way they were able to demonstrate that information was taken in from a limited area, the perceptual span, extending (in left-to-right reading) to the right of the current fixation position. The span was a compound with detailed letter information only coming from about eight letters ahead, although some information (word boundaries, initial letters) was available
Lecture. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 40A, 201–237. Williams, D.E., Reingold, E.M., Moscovitch, M. & Behrmann, M. (1997). Patterns of eye movements during parallel and serial visual search tasks. Canadian Journal of Experimental Psychology, 51, 151–164. Wilson, M. (2002). Six views of embodied cognition, Psychonomic Bulletin &
Review, 9, 625–636. Wolfe, J.M. (1994). Guided Search 2.0: A revised model of visual search. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 1, 202–238. Wolfe, J.M., Alvarez, G.A. & Horowitz, T.S. (2000). Attention is fast but volition is slow. Nature, 406, 691. Yarbus, A.L. (1967). Eye movements and vision. (English translation, L.A. Riggs, Ed.). New York: Plenum Press.
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from further out to the right. The other processes must also influence information taken in from the span, as saccade generation and intrinsic salience well as being used to comprehend the will certainly be among them. text, is also used to plan the next saccade. A striking finding is the tendency (not Asking the right questions strong, but reliable) for the eyes to jump We feel that three broad questions should over a predictable short word. However, be at the heart of studies of visual in general, the location where the eyes are attention: directed is mainly determined by low-level I What visual information determines physical features of the text such as word the target of the next eye movement? boundaries. In contrast, the process that I What visual information determines determines when the eyes move is much when the eyes move? more sensitive to high-level cognitive I What information is combined across factors such as word frequency. eye movements to form a stable Reading progresses, broadly speaking, representation of the environment? in a one-dimensional way along the line of Returning to visual search, it is also text. We believed that our understanding important to consider how a sequence would be enhanced if we could extend the ideas to a two-dimensional case and develop a theory of how saccades and fixations were controlled in the visual search process. We used a framework termed biased competition (Desimone & Duncan, 1995), not unrelated to the work of Jeremy Wolfe, in which visual selection is the result of an array of interconnected neural networks, each having a retinotopic representation of the visual field, in which the interconnections are biased to promote features of the target being searched for. Such an interconnected set of networks is of course inspired by the known neuroanatomy of the The looking pattern of the eyes will reflect the visual system. The set of visual interests, expectations and biases of each individual networks (V1, V2, etc.), retaining retinotopic mapping in each one, of saccades is generated that scans the extends eventually through to the brain’s array efficiently, avoiding locations that superior colliculus, a key centre in saccade have been already viewed and finding generation only two synapses away from the target in the minimum possible time. the eye muscles. We argued that the biased It has been shown that such efficient competition allowed the neural activity in scanning is lost in certain the superior colliculus to be considered as neuropsychological conditions such as a salience map, a two-dimensional neural visual neglect (Husain et al., 2001). We representation in which the level of activity have attacked this problem in several at any point (i.e. any potential location for ways. Our work, and the work of others, direction of an eye movement) is related to suggests that a number of processes are the similarity at that location of the visual involved in delivering efficient search information to the search target. behaviour, including: short term memory Neurophysiological work had already (Gilchrist & Harvey, 2000; Körner & demonstrated support for this approach Gilchrist, 2007), inhibitory control (Schall & Hanes, 1993). (Farrell et al., 2010), and systematic or It is worth clarifying what we mean heuristic planning (Findlay & Brown, by salience in this context. Salience can 2006). Visual search appears then to tap be used to describe the fact that in some into a much wider pool of core cognitive situations a visual item will contrast processes than we previously thought. strongly in a perceptual manner from the Moreover, our approach also offers local background. Such items, to use Anne a way to link to higher-level perceptual Treisman’s serendipitously chosen term, and cognitive processes. What is visually pop out from their surroundings. We hadn’t interesting (or salient) may vary from in fact intended such intrinsic salience, as moment to moment and from individual we termed it, to be at the heart of our to individual. In this way the looking theory. We envisaged the salience map as pattern of the eyes will reflect the interests, simply the way in which similarity to the expectations and biases of each individual. target was encoded. In practice, many
A study showing this, which has become well-known, was made by the Russian scientist Alfred Yarbus. He measured eye scanning of a genre picture painted by Ilya Repin when observers scanned the picture following different questions about it. Very different eye scans were produced (Yarbus, 1967). From the very elegant pioneering studies of Michael Land (e.g. Land et al., 1999) much work is now concerned with how eye movements are used in everyday life. Other recent developments have begun to relate active vision to social perception. It has long been known that when the eyes scan a scene containing human figures, these figures are very likely to be fixated. Recently it has been possible to show that even the very first eye movement when such a scene is presented is often directed to the human figure, indicating a rapid high-level selective process (Fletcher-Watson et al., 2008), a tendency also shown to exist in autistic individuals (FletcherWatson et al., 2009). Our work has put movements of the eye at the heart of a model of sensorial attention. But what of James’s other kind of attention: intellectual attention? This is still a somewhat mysterious process although an essential human characteristic. Recent work within the area of embodied cognition (e.g. Wilson, 2002) suggests that there is often no clear distinction between sensory processes and those of higher-level cognition. Whilst intellectual attention seems far removed from movements of the eyes, we are nevertheless fascinated by the possibility that the neural architecture that has evolved to achieve active vision may prove to be similar in some ways to that used to control thought processes. This is clearly an exciting and potentially fruitful area for further inquiry. John M. Findlay is Professor Emeritus, University of Durham firstname.lastname@example.org
Iain D. Gilchrist is Professor of Neuropsychology, University of Bristol email@example.com
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The exotic sensory capabilities of humans Lawrence D. Rosenblum and Michael S. Gordon look beyond the traditional five senses, to echolocation and more
Do exotic perceptual skills have a direct evolutionary purpose?
*Vignettes are told from the perspective of the author and have been adapted from his book: Rosenblum, L.D. (2011). See what I’m saying: The extraordinary power of our five senses. New York: Norton. www.worldaccessfortheblind.org
Some aspects of human perception are unusual and sometimes surprising – including our ability to echolocate like bats; to scent-track like dogs; and to improve our brain’s touch skills to compensate for temporary visual deprivation. Each of these exotic skills is used in support of spatial apperception. By recruiting these senses to function spatially, humans are able to take advantage of an array of potentially redundant and widereaching sources to support successful behaviours. Thus, while seemingly exotic, these sensory skills have the very adaptive use to acclimate to changes in context and availability of perceptual information for a common function.
Anderson, M.L. (2010) Neural reuse: A fundamental organizational principle of the brain. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33, 245–313. Ashmead, D.H., Wall, R.S., Ebinger, K.A. et al. (1998). Spatial hearing in children with disabilities. Perception, 27(1), 105–122. Cheung, S-H., Fang, F., He, S. & Legge, G.E. (2009). Retinotopically specific reorganization of visual cortex for
Might they be operating at an unconscious level for all of us, all the time? Or are they largely vestigial holdovers, only relevant in the face of sensory loss?
expect some stares as we walk into the bike shop, and we get them.* My companions are both blind, leading with white canes, and one is rolling in his ailing mountain bike. I’m also not surprised when the salesman approaches me to ask what we need. But then one of my companions, Daniel Kish, answers that he’s looking for a new tube ‘24 inches, latex, with a Presta valve’. The salesman quickly realises that despite appearances, Daniel is the experienced rider. In fact, Daniel has been leading his group of blind mountain bikers and hikers – Team Bat – for over 15 years. Today’s group is small: Daniel, his coleader Brian Bushway, Daniel’s intern Megan O’Rourke and myself, the only sighted rider. I’m along to document the experience for my book (Rosenblum, 2010). We fix Daniel’s bike, and meet Brian at his home in Mission Viejo, California. Once equipped, we leave the safety of Brian’s driveway and turn onto the residential street leading to the mountain trail. That’s when the tongue-clicking begins. Daniel, Brian and Megan are making, loud, sharp clicking sounds with their tongues so that they can hear what I can see. Clicking in this way allows them to produce a sound that can be reflected from parked cars, trash cans, and other objects along the street. These reflected sounds can tell Daniel and his friends the location of these silent obstacles, so that they can avoid them on their ride. The technique Daniel and his friends are using is known as echolocation. Using
tactile pattern recognition. Current Biology, 19, 596–601. Dresslar, F.B. (1893). On the pressure sense of the drum of the ear and ‘Facial-Vision’. American Journal of Psychology, 5(3), 344–350. Frasnelli, J., Hummel, T., Berg, J. et al. (2011). Intranasal localizability of odorants: Influence of stimulus volume. Chemical Senses, 36, 405–410.
the same basic methods as bats, dolphins and other echolocating species, many blind individuals are known to navigate in this way (Griffin, 1944; Rice, 1967). However, human echolocation is not something restricted to the blind. Research in our lab and others has shown that with just 10 minutes of practice, inexperienced subjects who have sight (and while wearing a blindfold) can use echolocation to walk towards a wall and stop just before making contact (Rosenblum et al., 2000). This fact suggests that echolocation may indicate a general sensitivity to reflected sound that gives us all an auditory sense of the space we occupy at any given moment. Consider, for example, the audible difference between a stairwell and walk-in closet, a difference based on how the two settings reflect sound. In fact, our sensitivity to the way sound reflects through different kinds of acoustic environments has forced the movie and television industry to exert considerable effort acoustically modifying soundstage sets so that they sound like they look on screen. But our ability to echolocate may also typify a more general strategy of the brain to maintain a set of exotic skills – skills typically at work at an unconscious, implicit level. While we are mostly unaware of these hidden skills, it seems that they can be refined and made more prominent for a variety of purposes, including to compensate for sensory loss, as in Daniel Kish’s case. There is also evidence that our brains are designed to incorporate input via these exotic channels, using the same mechanisms used for our more mundane perceptual skills.
You hear like a bat Reports of the ability of the blind to remotely sense objects appeared throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, along with explanations ranging from the their presumed sensitivity to magnetism, to their clairvoyance. The most prevalent early theory held that the blind could sense
Gordon, M.S. & Rosenblum, L.D. (2005). Effects of intra-stimulus modality change on audiovisual time-toarrival judgments. Perception & Psychophysics, 67, 580–594. Griffin, D.R. (1944). Echolocation by blind men, bats, and radar. Science, 100(2609), 589–590. Kellogg, W.N. (1962). Sonar system of the blind. Science, 137, 399–404. Matteau, I., Kupers, R., Ricciardi, E. et al.
(2010). Beyond visual, aural, and haptic movement perception: hMT+ is activated by electrotactile motion stimulation of the tongue in sighted and in congenitally blind individuals. Brain Research Bulletin, 82, 264–270. McGurk, H. & MacDonald, J.W. (1976). Hearing lips and seeing voices. Nature, 264, 746–748. Milne, J.L., Goodale, M.A., Arnott, S.R. et al. (2012). Parahippocampal cortex is
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involved in material processing through echolocation in blind echolocation experts. Journal of Vision, 12, 581. Morrongiello, B.A. & Fenwick, K.D. (1991). Infants’ coordination of auditory and visual depth information. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 52, 277–296. Peelen, M.V. & Kastner, S. (2009). A nonvisual look at the functional
organization of visual cortex. Neuron, 63, 284–286. Pascual-Leone, A. & Hamilton, R. (2001). The metamodal organization of the brain. In C. Casanova & M. Ptito (Eds.) Vision: From Neurons to Cognition. Progress in brain research (Vol. 134, pp.1–19). Elsevier. Porter, J., Craven, B., Khan, R.M. et al. (2007). Mechanisms of scenttracking in humans. Nature
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subtle changes in air pressure on their laboratories have shown that humans can faces (and other exposed skin) that result use echolocation to hear more detailed from the presence of objects. This ‘facial properties of objects: these include an vision’ theory was based largely on the object’s horizontal position, relative introspective reports of the blind distance and relative size (Ashmead et al., themselves (Dresslar, 1893; Supa et al., 1998; Kellogg, 1962; Rice, 1967; Teng & 1944). Whitney, 2011). Astonishingly, humans Despite these introspections, it is now also have the ability to identify the general known that the remote sense is based on shape of an object (square, triangle, disk), reflected sound. A definitive test was and even an object’s material composition conducted in the 1940s in one of Cornell (wood, metal, cloth) using echolocation University’s old stone and wood buildings. Karl Dallenbach’s lab was on the top floor, and consisted of a large room with a vaulted wood-beam ceiling. Two blind and two sighted men were each was asked to walk blindfolded toward a large masonite board and stop just before making contact. They repeated this task multiple times and were asked to remain quiet as they walked. All four could perform the task with some accuracy, rarely colliding with the board. When asked how they performed the task, three of them reported feeling changes in air pressure – facial vision – and none thought that they were using sound (Supa et al., 1944). But Dallenbach noticed that, though they tried to remain quiet as Spatial precision for sound-reflecting objects they walked, they were inadvertently can rival that of bats making a great deal of noise. As was fashionable in the 1940s, the participants all wore hard-soled shoes that produced a noticeable sound with (Rice, 1967; Schwitzgebel & Gordon, each step on the path of the hardwood 2011; Thaler et al., 2010). Blind people floor. To control this sound, the hardwood are generally better at echolocating, but was covered with plush carpeting and the untrained sighted people are also able to four were asked to take off their shoes and perform all of these tasks with some walk in stocking feet. They also wore success and to improve their accuracy headphones that emitted a loud tone to with practice. effectively mask environmental sounds. In fact, recent research testing Now, when they walked toward the wall, echolocation experts including Daniel they collided with it on every trial. FollowKish, has revealed that the experts’ spatial up experiments using methods to precision for sound-reflecting objects can neutralise air pressure changes on the skin rival that of bats, and the precision most confirmed that hearing external sound was of us display in determining the location both necessary and sufficient to perform of sound-emitting objects. This acquired the task. precision may be partially a consequence Since Dallenbach’s work, other of experts recruiting the visual cortex for
their skill. Multiple studies have shown that when echolocating, blind experts’ visual cortexes are active. Moreover, this activation seems to occur in ways that closely parallel cortical reactions in typical visual perception (e.g. Milne et al., 2012; Thaler et al., 2012; Teng & Whitney, 2011). For example, when asked to listen to echoes from moving objects, Kish and other experts showed activity in cortical regions typically associated with visual motion detection (medial temporal area, Layer 5). In another recent imaging study, experts were scanned while listening to echoes and judging the object characteristics of either the location, shape or surface material of objects. Depending on the task, the experts showed cortical activity in the neural areas typically used for visual apprehension of each of the same three characteristics. The fact that the same specific brain regions may be used to determine an object’s properties, via either vision or expert echolocation, supports an emerging idea about the brain. The perceptual brain may be organised more around perceptual function than specific sensory systems as such. An organisation emphasising function over sensory modality might more easily take advantage of the information redundancy available across hearing and seeing. This architecture might also pose the brain to more effectively deal with the compensatory plasticity often observed after sensory loss. Thus, the perceptual brain may be organised so that the implicit skills it harbours, including echolocation, are ready to take on a more prominent role when necessary. But exotic perceptual skills are not limited to sight and sound. It turns out that many of our implicit perceptual skills are nose related.
You smell like a dog I allow my students to blindfold and disorient me, occlude my ears with plugs and industrial ear protectors, and place
Neuroscience, 10, 27–29. Ptito, M., Schneider, F.C.G., Paulson, O.B. & Kupers, R. (2008). Alterations of the visual pathways in congenital blindness. Experimental Brain Research, 187, 41–49. Rajan, R., Clement, J.P. & Bhalla, U.S. (2006). Rats smell in stereo. Science, 311, 666–670. Reich, L., Maidenbaum, S. & Amedi, A. (2012). The brain as a flexible task
machine: Implications for visual rehabilitation using invasive vs. noninvasive approaches. Current Opinions in Neurology, 25, 86–95. Rice, C.E. (1967). Human echo perception. Science, 155, 656–664. Rosenblum, L.D. (2008). Speech perception as a multimodal phenomenon. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 405–409. Rosenblum, L.D. (2010). See what I’m
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thick gardening gloves on my hands. After this preparation, they place me about two metres away from a 12-metre rope they’ve laid across the ground and secured with garden stakes. This rope has been soaked in peppermint oil for a few days. It is my task to crawl to the rope and then follow its angular path using only my sense of smell. As I slowly crawl with my nose about 10 cm from the ground, I get a very strong odour of grass and earth. It’s very familiar and comforting scent, reminiscent of childhood summers. But no peppermint. I lift my head and stick my nose in the air as I’ve seen dogs do, but it doesn’t help. I place my nose back down and continue crawling forward. Then I get a brief whiff of peppermint. It seems far off and ephemeral, but noticeably spicy, and very different from the earth and grass I’ve been smelling. I continue forward and then I realise that I’ve arrived: I am over the rope. I move my head just beyond the point of strongest smell and detect the odour weaken a bit. I move my head back, turn my body parallel with what I believe is the rope, and start crawling along the line of strongest peppermint odour. As I crawl forward, I have an almost tangible experience of being inside a shallow trench, or gutter, whose shape is defined by the strength of smell. If my nose moves too far to the side of the trench, it’s as if the gradient of smell draws my nose back down the side slope, toward the path of strongest scent – the rope. Perhaps this is what it’s truly like to smell like a dog. Sniffing like a dog puts me in good company not only with dogs, but with some of California’s brightest young minds. This human scent-tracking experiment is borrowed from work conducted at UC Berkeley in 2007 (i.e. Porter et al., 2007). The undergrads who performed the tracking task found it relatively easy, if embarrassing. With practice, they were able to substantially improve their scent-tracking skills, often doubling their speed at following the trail.
saying: The extraordinary power of our five senses. New York: Norton. Rosenblum, L.D., Gordon, M.S. & Jarquin, L. (2000). Echolocation by moving and stationary listeners. Ecological Psychology, 12(3), 181–206. Rossini, P.M. & Rossi, S. (2007). Transcranial magnetic stimulation. Neurology, 68(7), 484–488. Samson, S.N. & Livesay, F.J. (2009). Gradients in the brain: The control of
But perhaps the most interesting finding from the scent-tracking study revealed something astonishing about our noses: we compare smells across our two nostrils to determine an odor’s location. In fact, comparative studies have shown that organisms ranging from mice and rats to ants and drosophila smell in stereo, and compare those bilateral sensory signals for scent tracking (Rajan et al., 2006; Steck et al., 2010; Wallace et al., 2002). In this sense, our noses join our eyes and ears in making use of two inputs to help you locate where things are (at least for odourants providing some trigeminal nerve stimulation, e.g. Frasnelli et al., 2011). Consider that our auditory system attends to the What is it truly like to smell like a dog? small differences in when, and how much, sound reaches each of your ears to perceive a source’s location: The ear space and accomplish certain spatially closer to the source receives the sound relevant tasks (like finding food) is too slightly sooner and louder than the farther important to be left to a single sensory ear. A similar process is conducted using system or type of sensory information. We the similarities and differences between the have developed a perceptual brain that has two eyes. And it’s likely that your brain a way to confirm or find alternate ways to does something similar with your nose – be successful in the things that we do. Our comparing the amount of odour across brains share resources between all of the your nostrils to determine from where sensory interactions available to us to an odour originates. create our experience of the world. And to We find that our noses can provide maintain this spatial sensitivity, the brain spatial navigation information that provides a degree of functional plasticity to functions in parallel with what we gain allow for sensory inputs to compensate for visually and auditorily. Our sensory one another. capacities allow us to behave successfully within our spatial environments by Your plastic brain tracking visual objects and motion; by Imagine yourself in this experiment. You using echolocation and sound reflections; don a specialised blindfold that prevents and by picking up and tracking the paths your eyes from receiving any light. You of odorants using the partially redundant then check into a hospital room where information from our olfactory systems. you’ll live, blindfolded, for the next five Each of the sensory interactions with the days. You are supervised by nurses and world provides a somewhat unique researchers, but being in a new method of gaining the critical information environment without the benefit of sight to locate and successfully move towards does take some getting used to – as do objects. the multiple tests you will be subjected The human scent-tracking study helps to during the five days. Early on the first underscore a larger point: perception has day, you are placed into a large brain developed a rich and redundant means of scanner, and asked to touch a series of extracting critical information about the raised dot arrays with your fingers. Your world. Our ability to navigate through
the development of form and function in the cerebral cortex. Cold Spring Harbor Perspectives in Biology, 1, 1–16. Schwitzgebel, E. & Gordon, M.S. (2011). Human echolocation. In E. Schwitzgebel, Perplexities of consciousness (pp.57–70), Boston, MA: MIT Press. Steck, K., Knaden, M. & Hansson, B.S. (2010). Do desert ants smell the
scenery in stereo? Animal Behaviour, 79, 939–945. Supa, M., Cotzin, M. & Dallenbach, K.M. (1944). Facial vision: The perception of obstacles by the blind. American Journal of Psychology, 57(2), 133–183. Sur, M., Garraghty, P.E., & Roe, A.W. (1988). Experimentally induced visual projections into auditory thalamus and cortex. Science, 242, 1437–1441. Teng, S. & Whitney, D. (2011). The acuity
of echolocation: Spatial resolution in sighted persons compared to the performance of an expert who is blind. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 105, 20–32. Thaler, L., Arnott, S.R. & Goodale, M.A. (2010). Human echolocation I. Journal of Vision, 10(7), 1050. Thaler, L., Milne, J., Arnott, S.R. & Goodale, M.A. (2012). Brain areas involved in echolocation motion
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task is to determine whether these dot patterns, presented sequentially in pairs, are the same or different. After this initial test, you begin your first six-hour Braille lesson, a lesson that will be repeated over the next four days. Incidentally, by the second day you would start experiencing a number of side-effects from continuous blindfolding. You would have visual hallucinations of both amorphous and recognisable images, as well as an initial dullness of flavour, and over-sensitivity to temperature and sound. By the final day of this test (day five), you would no doubt notice that Braille recognition is much easier than it had been on day one. But before you get cocky about your improvement, you are subjected to one last manipulation that immediately renders you incompetent with the task. For this last test, a device is held over the back of your head that makes periodic clicks as you try to match the dot patterns. Strangely, you find the task nearly impossible, and have trouble determining the patterns altogether. The phenomena described are based on the research of Pascual-Leone and colleagues (PascualLeone et al., 2001). Five days of blindfolding would change you and your brain in fascinating ways. Most obvious would be your substantial improvement in discriminating the dot characters: the intensive Braille training would seem to have helped. But you may be disappointed to learn that you would have improved these touch skills even without the Braille training. Five days of blindfolding alone can enhance basic touch skills. In addition, the last brain scan would reveal that when you now touch complex patterns, your visual brain is
processing in blind echolocation experts. Seeing and Perceiving, 25, 140. Wallace, D.G., Gorny, B. & Whishaw, I.Q. (2002). Rats can track odors, other rats and themselves: Implications for the study of spatial behavior. Behavioural Brain Research, 131, 185–192.
activated in a way similar to that of an individual who is truly blind. But for participants who were not blindfolded, these brain changes would not occur, even if they did have the intensive Braille training. Five days of visual deprivation is enough to establish much more recruitment of the visual processing areas of the brain in somatosensory tasks, as well as the task performance advantages such involvement provides. As extra support for this conclusion, recall the (imagined) manipulation that caused you to be unable to perform the task. The one where a clicking device held to the back of your head completely disrupted your touch skills? That device induced a ‘virtual lesion’ using transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) in the visual cortical regions. TMS is a technology that uses localised magnetic pulses to totally disrupt neural processing in a small section of the cortex (see Rossini & Rossi, 2007, for review). In this case, somatosensory neural areas (more traditionally recognised as the part of the brain for processing touch-based information) were unaffected by the TMS, while the manipulation was directly applied to visual cortex. It was these disruptions to visual cortex that were critical to upsetting the newfound touch skills after the blindfolding period. While it is somewhat striking how quickly our brains are able to adapt in response to new stimulation, perhaps the underlying mechanisms supporting these changes should not be all that surprising. Sensory receptors have been found to be sensitive to some variety of media. Moreover, there is some evidence to suggest that for all of the diversity of energy and stimulation in the environment, once that energy is transduced into a biological signal, it may function as part of a common language within our bodies, e.g. for speech (McGurk & MacDonald, 1976; Rosenblum, 2008), for detection of approaching objects (Gordon & Rosenblum, 2005; Morrongiello & Fenwick, 1991), and in cross-modal neural studies (Matteau et al., 2010; Sur et al., 1988). In the example with Braille, evidence supports the notion that the somatosensory information that bears on object detection creates a pattern of activation in the brain that has some functional equivalence to visual information for spatial patterns (Cheung et al., 2009; Ptito et al., 2008). One might conclude that the brain seeks out functionally similar and redundant patterns to more effectively process that information (Anderson, 2010; Peelen & Kastner, 2009; Reich et al., 2012; Rosenblum, 2008; Samson & Livesay, 2009). The sensory origin of that
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information becomes pragmatically irrelevant if it is useful in solving a specific perceptual problem.
Our perceptual world The human perceptual world is rich with information and the perceptual abilities to explore that information. Humans are visually dominant creatures; vision is principal in our phenomenology and the appropriation of the neural cortex associated with vision is greater than for any other function – other sensory modalities notwithstanding. Nonetheless, our perceptual interactions with the world are populated with whatever variety of signals we can detect. Echolocation as a supplement or primary source supports spatial navigation, as does olfaction, if we seek to encounter the world in that manner. Moreover with each of these spatial senses we use similar methods of detection, comparing the gradations of stimulation from symmetrical and bilateral receptive areas – such as our two eyes, two ears, and two nostrils. With respect to somatosensory and visual detection of objects, one might also argue that we use similar sensory methods to explore the contours and edges of an object’s surfaces. It seems that by invoking these common methods of detection we are able to organise the sensory signals in our brain by some common functions. This is not a subtle point: Perception may have the capacity to organise by functions rather than by the sensory categories derived from the sensory organs. As suggested, whatever the stimulating source of our senses (e.g. lights, sounds), it is possible that once that energy is transduced by the receptors it becomes part of a common biochemical communication system. Our introspective experience may be of sound, smell or touch, but our perceptual interactions, and the brain’s organisational principle, is of spaces, objects and events. Lawrence D. Rosenblum is in the Department of Psychology, University of California, Riverside lawrence.rosenblum@ ucr.edu Michael S. Gordon is Assistant Professor at William Paterson University, New Jersey, USA GORDONM10@wpunj.edu
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that the onset of psychology as a scientific discipline in the 19th century is firmly rooted in sensory and perceptual studies. By the mid-1850s Gustav Fechner and Hermann von Helmholtz were independently conducting research on the relationship between physical stimuli and sensory reactions. Both contributed Michael S. Gordon on how philosophers and early psychologists conceptualised research findings that remain valid, and our sensory abilities they were able to establish the rigorous methods that continue to form the basis of psychophysical studies (e.g. Fechner, 1860/1966; Helmholtz, 1863). The categorisation of the senses that ost people, at least when queried, emerges from these early psychophysical number five and the five conceptions of will tend to identify humans as studies is one that relates to the energetic external sensory properties have provided possessing five senses: seeing, media detected. Hearing is measured as a context for the senses that continues to hearing, tasting, smelling and touching. a function of the intensity and physical guide our culturally accepted standard. The more bold among us might also add quality of tones; vision functions to But there is a historical precedence for a sixth sense – perhaps a sense of time, or interpret and measure quantities of cultures to include both greater and fewer even ESP. These conceptions of how we electromagnetic energy in the visible numbers of senses. Philo of Alexandria sense our environment have been the range. The number and categories of (circa 20 CE), described seven senses, adding speech and sexual interaction as topic of a couple of thousand years of specific senses is not explicitly defined: a distinct sensory categories (Claussen, philosophical scrutiny and more recent the theoretical emphasis is to determine 1993). The scientific inquiry. Yet it is notable that the media first, then how significance of speech both the scientific evidence on the topic, the body responds. for humans has and numerous theories in the history of Consider the classes of “numerous theories in psychology, seem to have rejected the idea earned its energy in the categorisation as of the five senses. environment – kinetic the history of psychology a separate sense in More than 2000 years ago, Aristotle energy such as supports the seem to have rejected the philosophy (e.g. described a set of five sensory objects sensitivity to temperatures, idea of five senses” Ramon Llull, early (Everson, 1999; Sorabji, 1971). Visual vibrations/sounds, and 14th century) and in sensory properties were theorised that pressures, electromagnetic some other cultures. put us in contact with the distance and radiation including visible light, The independent conception of speech brightness of objects; acoustic sensory and chemical gradients. If we use these is supported with modern evidence of properties related to us the distance and to determine the divisions of the senses, partially distinct neural processing areas loudness of objects; odours/smells linked there are not five senses; there are likely for speech and functional differences the distance-oriented senses with the fewer (or possibly many more) between hearing speech and other sounds direct-contact senses; touch (including depending on whether the definitions (Liberman & Mattingly, 1985). And the a subcategory for taste) informed a are constrained to specific ranges within West African Hausa have a tradition of perceiver about objects in direct contact a spectrum. distinguishing only two senses: vision with the body; and a common sense With the onset of experimental and everything else. Given the very strong served to combine and coordinate the psychology as a recognised scientific behavioural influence of vision relative to externally derived sensory properties. discipline, many of the earliest studies other senses in humans, and the fact that Aristotle determined these sensory qualia investigated sensory apprehension, vision maintains the largest cortical space using his own rigorous approach to processing and phenomenology. Wilhelm in the brain of any function, this introspection and with respect to Wundt (e.g. 1862, 1894) defined a set of distinction may have as much scientific maintaining a number consistent with experimental methods for the new validity as the concept that there are five the five classical elements: fire, water, air, discipline, including structured senses. earth, quintessence/aether. While these introspection and other psycho-empirical How has psychology set about ‘finding five senses (and the five elements) are no methods. Using a variant of Wundt’s longer accepted scientific descriptions, the the senses’? Here, we need to appreciate approach, Edward Titchener established
Finding the senses
Benjamin, L.T. (2007). A brief history of modern psychology. Malden, MA: Blackwell. Buonomano, D.V. & Merzenich, M.M. (1998). Cortical plasticity. Annual Reviews of Neuroscience, 21, 149–186. Claussen, C. (1993). Worlds of sense. London: Routledge. Everson, S. (1999). Aristotle on perception. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Fain, G. (2003). Sensory transduction.
Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates. Fechner, G.T. (1966). Elements of psychophysics: Vol. 1 (E.G. Boring & D.H. Howes. Eds.; H.E. Adler, Trans.). New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. (Original work published 1860) Helmholtz, H. (1863). Handbook of physiological optics. Leipzig: Voss. James, W. (1890). The principles of psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Liberman, A.M. & Mattingly, I.G. (1985). The motor theory of speech perception revised. Cognition, 21, 1–36. Massaro, D. (1998). Perceiving talking faces. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Mercado, E., III (2008). Neural and cognitive plasticity: From maps to minds. Psychological Bulletin, 134, 109–137. Müller, J. (1826). Zur vergleichenden
Physiologie des Gesichtessinnes des Menschen und der Tiere. Leipzig: Knobloch. Myers, C.S. (1909). A text-book of experimental psychology. London: Edward Arnold. Sorabji, R. (1971). Aristotle on demarcating the five senses. Philosophical Review, 80, 55–79. Titchener, E.B. (1908). Lectures on the elementary psychology of feeling and
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attention. New York: Macmillan. Uttal, W.R. (1973). The psychobiology of sensory coding. New York: Harper & Row. Wundt, W.M. (1862). Contributions to a theory of sense perception. Leipzig: University of Leipzig. Wundt, W.M. (1894). Lectures on human & animal psychology (2nd edn) (J.E. Creighton & E.B. Titchener, Trans.). London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co.
cochlea to respond (and produce an auditory sensation), supports the notion that it is the specific nerve stimulation, and its respective phenomenology, that define a given sense. As per this doctrine, Myers is able classify his eight or more types of reactions. Current evidence on the kinds of sensory receptors and segregated neural pathways is more consistent with Myers’ (1909) perspective than with the traditional five-senses system. Humans have been found to employ an extraordinary set of receptors that differ in morphology, reactivity and locations of the body. The complicated somatosensory system (involved in touch), by itself, has more than five modes of sensing and multiple neural pathways. Vibratory energy at lower frequencies may be absorbed by Meissner’s corpuscles, found subcutaneously and able to respond to frequencies from 10 to 100 Hz; at higher frequencies a different set of somatosensory receptors will become responsive. Two different sets of receptors are sensitive to pressure on the skin (Ruffini’s endings and Merkel’s discs), another receptor for pain and temperature (free nerve endings), and others. Visually, humans use two types of receptors (rods and cones), and typically three subtypes of cones (differentially sensitive to shorter, medium and longer wavelength electromagnetic energy in the visual range). While vision may seem uniform, the receptors are distributed across different parts of the retina, locally processed with different ganglia in the eye, and partially segregated along neural pathways to the brain. Similar analyses could be made for auditory, olfactory and gustatory receptors. In addition there is strong scientific support for, at least, partially distinct neural areas to process speech, faces, time, emotion, music, circadian rhythms, echolocation and space/navigation (see Fain, 2003; Uttal, 1973). Myers’ distinction of eight or more senses captures some of this emerging evidence of the complexity of the senses. Using the specific nerve energies to separate out the senses allows for a dozen or more separate modes of sensing. In 1875, the year that Wundt had rooms set aside for his laboratory at University of Leipzig, William James established his psychological laboratory in the basement at Harvard University. Like Wundt, James theorised that sensory reactions provided the foundational pieces
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the Structuralist movement and sought to create a table of elements that would form the building blocks of the sensory experience, consciousness, cognition and phenomenology (Benjamin, 2007; Titchener, 1908). Like the periodic table of elements in chemistry, Titchener and colleagues collected data on what they theorised were the atomistic elements of sensation. Their table consists of more than 44,000 distinct sensory elements including hues, durations, extents, affective dispositions, and other low-level phenomenological qualities. Perception was thought to consist of various combinations of these sensory elements. For the most part, these sensory elements were designed to fit the commonly accepted model, although the affective dispositions that were included, among other things, allowed for sensory experiences beyond the five. In the same context of the early 20th century, Charles Myers produced one of the first textbooks and courses on experimental psychology at Cambridge University (Myers, 1909). In it he explicitly described and explored eight or more distinct senses: labyrinthine sensations (balance-inner ear); motor sensations (kinesthetic reactions); auditory sensations (cochlea); visual sensations (retina); gustatory sensations (taste buds); olfactory sensations (nose); and a complex group of cutaneous and visceral reactions – with likely distinctions between sensations of temperature and pressure. The eight or more senses were distinguished with respect to their specific nerve energies (e.g. Müller, 1826), the theory being that whatever the stimulating media, a specific nerve will only respond with a very restricted, and thus classifiable, sensory reaction. From this perspective, auditory sensations are segregated by the fact that if there is sufficient stimulation to cause a reaction in the cochlea, as would occur in response to vibration, then the perceiver will experience a sound. The fact that blunt force, electrical stimulation, and/or chemical exposures can also cause the
of our conscious experience. He further emphasised the potential deceptions of our sensory system, including perceived changes in colours against varying backgrounds, and ‘that all our senseorgans influence each other’s sense organs’ (James, 1890, p.676). In this approach the senses are experienced as part objective response to stimuli within a particular context, and part of a more interpretativeassociative experience. For James, the senses provide a critical link to an external reality. Our phenomenology, and by extension the senses, are classified with respect to changes in environmental context and experiences. This viewpoint is quite consistent with current theories suggesting incredible amounts of neural plasticity (e.g. Buonomano & Merzenich, 1998; Mercado, 2008). Moreover, with the growing body of evidence that suggests frequent intermodal neural activity (multisensory, massively parallel processing systems), James’s relativistic approach to the senses may be particularly valid. The history of the senses in science and culture suggests that parsing the senses introspectively allows for both greater and fewer than five senses. The physiological models suggest incredible complexity – and many more than five systems, while the kinds of media we detect allow for much less. Given all the advances we have made towards their understanding, perhaps it is time to abandon the notion that we have five senses and seek a more scientifically valid conception. I Michael S. Gordon is Assistant Professor at William Paterson University, New Jersey, USA GORDONM10@wpunj.edu