Dr. David Vernon, Senior Lecturer at CCCU describes his latest experiments, with intriguing results that defy explanation.
When learning new material, we all know that rehearsing or practising with the material can generally help if we have to recall it at a later date. This is reasonably straightforward and research tells us that such rehearsal can help strengthen the memory trace. No surprise there.
However, what do you think would happen if you were asked to rehearse the material after you had to recall it? Unsurprisingly, most people would say that rehearsing something after it had been recalled wouldn’t be any help. What is surprising however, is that they might be wrong.
I have now completed four experiments testing the idea that practise in the future can influence performance in the present. Of these experiments, two showed statistically significant effects, where practise in the future led to better recall in the present. Now this may sound odd, and, in fact, if it doesn’t, it probably means you haven’t understood what’s happening, because it is odd. But what does it mean? How can practising something in the future influence performance now? That would be similar to revising after an exam and the revision helping your exam performance!
The short answer is I that don’t know. Some researchers group this type of finding under the more general heading of precognition, which refers to the notion that you can obtain information about future events. However, others think this could simply be a statistical anomaly, or a blip in the data.
What do I think? Well, I think a good scientist remains sceptical yet open minded. After all, the history of science is full of people telling us that something is impossible only for later research to show that such unusual ideas are compatible with newly developed theories or findings.
For now, it remains a mystery, and there is nothing a good scientist likes more than a mystery. . . . .
Vernon, D. (in press). Exploring precognition using arousing images and utilising a memory recall practise task on-line. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research.
Vernon, D. (2015). Exploring precognition using a repetition priming paradigm. Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 79(2), 65-79.
Lena Negal, recent CCCU BSc Psychology Graduate, used her final year project to look into the effectiveness of new technological advances over traditional paper based methods in supporting communication with young individuals with ASD. Here, Lena shares the results of her study. The participant is referred to here as ‘Felix’.
Is Tablet Technology the future in Supporting Communication?
The final year BSc Psychology students at Canterbury Christ Church University have worked hard this year and showed that their research interests cover a wide spectrum of fields. One of these final year projects was my case study investigating the use of tablet technology to support communication within a low-functioning adolescent with autism.
As technology is advancing so are our means to communicate as a society. This does not exclude people with Autism spectrum disorder (ASD). ASD effects a rising number of people in the United Kingdom and internationally. Currently there are about 700,000 people in England diagnosed with ASD according to the National Autistic Society (2015). As a results of this rising number of children diagnosed with ASD; parents, teachers and governments are desperately looking to find helpful support systems to ensure that this growing population of people with ASD can develop and live to the best of their abilities. To achieve this, psychologists are looking at traditional methods already employed and attempting to give these methods a technological rebirth.
When diagnosing children with ASD the areas mainly assessed are behaviour, communication and social skills. Speech, which can be argued to be the basis of these three areas, is limited or non-functional in 50% of the ASD population (described as low-functioning) (Boesch, Wendt, Subramanian, & Hsu, 2013). To support communication, alternative and augmentative communication (AAC) systems are often utilised. AACs include sign language, modified or simplified versions of sign language, speech generating devices and communication systems based on pictures or other visuals. One of the most commonly used AAC systems is the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) (Frost, 2002).
Image 1:Photo of Felix’s PECS book (original name and photo of Felix are covered). The newest app created by the PECS team is called PECS® IV+. It was created to be a digital version of a full PECS book; however, the creators of the PECS underline that the PECS app is a next step in widening communication after a person has mastered the PECS book and is not intended to replace the PECS book (PECS IV+ App: Interview with Dr. Bondy & Frost ,2014).
Image 2. Photo of Felix’s PECS app (original name of Felix was covered) To examine the PECS creators’ prediction, I introduced fifteen-year-old Felix, who had previously used the PECS book as his AAC, to the PECS app. To ensure that communication outcomes were representative of Felix’s use of the PECS devices, the research was conducted with three communication partners in their natural environments. This case study used a 2×3 analysis, reviewing the relationship between the PECS device (PECS book & PECS app) and the communication partners (mother, therapist & teacher). The video observation of the six sessions was coded with INTERACT 14 and analysed on SPSS using a chi-square.
The results showed that the sessions with the PECS book made Felix use significantly more words while the PECS app increased Felix’s use of sounds (which he also uses to communicate). This might indicate that he tried to communicate more with the PECS app by using sounds for meanings he does not have words for. The three communication partners had significant differences in results and therefore the differences between communication partners should be included in future research to ensure real life relevance of outcomes of introducing a new AAC device.
Looking ahead future studies should increase training of communication partners and code their data to get a deeper understanding of the interaction differences. Felix’s family using the PECS app at home and the school’s interest in purchasing tablets to introduce the PECS app to several children with similar needs to Felix, shows that they have seen positive outcomes for Felix. The use of tablets as communication devices for people with ASD could have benefits such as increased vocabulary, increased employability and increased social skills. These outcomes should be reviewed on a bigger scale research and include longitudinal effects.
References Boesch, M. C., Wendt, O., Subramanian, A., & Hsu, N. (2013). Comparative efficacy of the Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS) versus a speech-generating device: Effects on requesting skills. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 7(3), 480-493. Frost, L. (2002). The picture exchange communication system. SIG 1 Perspectives on Language Learning and Education, 9(2), 13-16. National Autistic Society (2015). How does autism affect children, adults and their families? Retrieved April 18, 2016, from http://www.autism.org.uk/About/What-is/Myths-facts-stats. PECS IV+ App: Interview with Dr. Andy Bondy & Lori Frost (2014) Retrieved April 18, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1v0kmDMwpVI.
Last week’s evolutionary psychology seminar was on the topic of emotions, and why we have them. There are six basic human emotions (and some of them are shown in many animals as well). They are happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear, and disgust. Across the globe, people of all cultures and backgrounds produce the same facial expressions for each of these, and they are universally understood. In our seminar, there were very few happy faces (it was Friday afternoon in January…), but not too many sad, angry or scared people. One of the papers we discussed was on the reasons disgust would be useful for our survival. To demonstrate the feeling and to evoke the facial expressions, students were offered a dish with dried mealworms and crickets (produced for human consumption…).
I am making a disgusted face as I am typing this. But why would a nutritious, free snack be so off-putting? Insects are high in protein and minerals and, therefore, a valuable treat. In many countries, insects are a staple food (the eating of insects is called entomophagy). Interestingly, these insects are all vegetarian. Insects that feed on contaminated matter, such as excrement, dead meat or blood, are not used as human foods.
For a person with a European upbringing, the eating of insects is unusual (I am not talking about the flies swallowed by cyclists, or aphids eaten with a salad). But why, when we can easily overcome unfamiliarity with new foods from different parts of the world (sushi, anyone?), do we have so much trouble with eating insects?
We all show disgust. It helps our survival by making us avoid from things that might make us sick. We are disgusted by body excretions and parts, slimy, damp and stinky items, and rotten food. And if you dare to think about what might be an indicator that food has gone off, or what wiggles in excrements, you will come up with worms. They are also slimy and damp. They trigger our ‘do not eat!’ alarm. And therefore we show disgust on our faces, just by thinking about the kind offer of a dried mealworm with our tea. Humans from insect-eating cultures will be equally disgusted by our European habit of eating meat stuffed into the colon of animals (sausages), or sheep intestines encased in the animal’s stomach (haggis). But, overall, the emotion of disgust serves an evolutionary purpose, to enhance our survival. Basically, hygiene is in our genes.
(Mealworms don’t taste of much, but leave a lingering, rather unpleasant aftertaste. And no, I didn’t try the crickets.)