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Temporal Aspects of Visual Perception and Cognition  

Bruno Breitmeyer and Haluk Ogmen

A highly dynamic process, visual perception of the world around us proceeds by sequentially scanning the environment. This is accomplished by rapid eye movements (saccades) that direct the eyes’ foveal center of vision from one fixated location in the visual field to the next. Abstracted from the visual environment into the confines of the laboratory, the dynamics of the entire process can be parsed into subprocesses by studying several temporal properties of visual perception. Most prominent among these are the timing of perisaccadic processes (pre-saccadic and saccadic suppression of vision, post-saccadic enhancement of vision, and perisaccadic time compression), visual latency, temporal integration, visible persistence, temporal resolution, and temporal aspects of the storage and transfer of perceptual information in and through various stages of sensory and cognitive processing. Research has shown that these properties of visual perception interact with the spatial properties of perceptual processing. Among these spatio-temporal interactions, the most frequently researched are those occurring in different types of visual search, visual masking, and visual motion. That said, vision researchers have investigated the temporal properties (interacting with their spatial counterparts) either (a) by presenting static stimuli, in isolation or in temporal sequence, to an observer’s visual field while the eyes are stationary; or (b) by presenting stimuli that move through an observer’s visual field. The results of these research strategies reveal underlying visual mechanisms that define the dynamic range of, and the limits imposed on the temporal efficiency of, visual perceptual processing.


Temporal Dynamics of Prospective Memory (Event-Related Potentials)  

Robert West

Life is filled with goals or intentions that people hope to realize. Some of these are rather mundane (e.g., remembering to purchase a key ingredient for a recipe when stopping at the market), while others are more significant (e.g., remembering to pick up one’s child from school at the end of the day). Prospective memory represents the ability to form and then realize intentions at an appropriate time. A fundamental aspect of prospective memory is that one is engaged in one or more tasks (i.e., ongoing activities) between the formation of an intention and the opportunity to realize the goal. For instance, in the shopping example, one might form the intention at home and then travel to the market and collect several other items before walking past the desired ingredient. Considerable research has demonstrated that the efficiency of prospective memory declines with age, although age-related differences are not universal. The neurocognitive processes underpinning age-related differences in the formation and realization of delayed intentions have been investigated in studies using event-related brain potentials. This research reveals that age-related differences in prospective memory arise from the disruption of neural systems supporting the successful encoding of intentions, the detection of prospective memory cues, and possibly processes supporting the retrieval of intentions from memory when a cue is encountered or efficiently shifting from the ongoing activity to the prospective element of the task. Therefore, strategies designed to ameliorate age-related declines in prospective memory should target a variety of processes engaged during the encoding, retrieval, and enactment of delayed intentions.


Test-Enhanced Learning  

David R. Shanks, Hilary J. Don, Shaun Boustani, and Chunliang Yang

Tests following learning serve several important functions, including enabling students to monitor their progress and identify knowledge gaps, but they are also learning events in their own right. Testing is a powerful strategy to consolidate retention of studied information, by comparison with restudying and other elaborative strategies, and facilitates subsequent learning of new information. Moreover, the testing effect generalizes to different test formats, study-test intervals, and material types, and has been robustly demonstrated not only in the laboratory but also in classroom settings. Pretesting can promote subsequent learning of tested information, but its effect on non-pre-questioned information remains unclear. Although the beneficial effects of testing on learning and memory are substantial, learners tend to underappreciate the merits of practice tests, leading to their underemployment. Lack of motivation or insufficient knowledge about how best to exploit testing may be factors that suppress its use. However, some promising interventions have been developed to promote learners’ employment of self-testing. Whether these interventions can be effective in high-stakes classroom or online learning is an important issue for future research. Importantly, research suggests that frequent low-stakes testing may be an effective method of reducing test anxiety. Although the testing effect is very general, testing can also have negative consequences, such as when choosing an incorrect answer in a multiple-choice test stamps that incorrect answer into memory and increases its likelihood of being recalled later. Understanding the conditions in which positive or negative consequences of testing are observed bears considerable importance regarding the theoretical understanding of test-enhanced learning. Characterizing, understanding, and exploiting the multifaceted effects of tests on long-term learning has provided a rich and deep challenge to researchers in psychology, education, cognitive science, neuroscience, and related fields.


Theoretical Perspectives on Age Differences in Brain Activation: HAROLD, PASA, CRUNCH—How Do They STAC Up?  

Sara B. Festini, Laura Zahodne, and Patricia A. Reuter-Lorenz

Cognitive neuroimaging studies often report that older adults display more activation of neural networks relative to younger adults, referred to as overactivation. Greater or more widespread activity frequently involves bilateral recruitment of both cerebral hemispheres, especially the frontal cortex. In many reports, overactivation has been associated with superior cognitive performance, suggesting that this activity may reflect compensatory processes that offset age-related decline and maintain behavior. Several theories have been proposed to account for age differences in brain activation, including the Hemispheric Asymmetry Reduction in Older Adults (HAROLD) model, the Posterior-Anterior Shift in Aging (PASA) theory, the Compensation-Related Utilization of Neural Circuits Hypothesis (CRUNCH), and the Scaffolding Theory of Aging and Cognition (STAC and STAC-r). Each model has a different explanatory scope with regard to compensatory processes, and each has been highly influential in the field. HAROLD contrasts the general pattern of bilateral prefrontal activation in older adults with that of more unilateral activation in younger adults. PASA describes both anterior (e.g., frontal) overactivation and posterior (e.g., occipital) underactivation in older adults relative to younger adults. CRUNCH emphasizes that the level or extent of brain activity can change in response to the level of task demand at any age. Finally, STAC and STAC-r take the broadest perspective to incorporate individual differences in brain structure, the capacity to implement functional scaffolding, and life-course neural enrichment and depletion factors to predict cognition and cognitive change across the lifespan. Extant empirical work has documented that compensatory overactivation can be observed in regions beyond the prefrontal cortex, that variations in task difficulty influence the degree of brain activation, and that younger adults can show compensatory overactivation under high mental demands. Additional research utilizing experimental designs (e.g., transcranial magnetic stimulation), longitudinal assessments, greater regional precision, both verbal and nonverbal material, and measures of individual difference factors will continue to refine our understanding of age-related activation differences and adjudicate among these various accounts of neurocognitive aging.


The Social Brain  

Halie Olson and Anila D'Mello

Humans are fundamentally social animals, and a large portion of the human brain is dedicated to social cognition—the set of mental functions and processes that scaffold our ability to observe, understand, and interact with others. While early philosophers and scientists relied on observation or isolated cases of brain damage to gain insight into social cognition, the advent of new technologies, including noninvasive neuroimaging, has opened a new window into the brain regions that support social cognition in humans, referred to as the social brain. These technologies have elucidated with new precision that individual brain regions are specialized for a variety of social functions including comprehending language, processing faces and emotions, anticipating what a social partner might do next, and even thinking about others’ thoughts. While the building blocks for the social brain are present from birth, individual regions continue to develop into adulthood and are shaped by experience.



Neil E. Rowland

Thirst is a specific and compelling sensation, often arising from internal signals of dehydration but modulated by many environmental variables. There are several historical landmarks in the study of thirst and drinking behavior. The basic physiology of body fluid balance is important, in particular the mechanisms that conserve fluid loss. The transduction of fluid deficits can be discussed in relation to osmotic pressure (osmoreceptors) and volume (baroreceptors). Other relevant issues include the neurobiological mechanisms by which these signals are transformed to intracellular and extracellular dehydration thirsts, respectively, including the prominent role of structures along the lamina terminalis. Other considerations are the integration of signals from natural dehydration conditions, including water deprivation, thermoregulatory fluid loss, and thirst associated with eating dry food. These mechanisms should also be considered within a broader theoretical framework of organization of motivated behavior based on incentive salience.


Time Perception in Development  

Yarden Kedar

Time is an abstract, unobservable, multifaceted, and elusive concept, whose nature has long posited a major challenge in philosophical and scientific thought. Nonetheless, despite the fact that time is not directly perceived by our senses, a universal human experience of time does exist. People are aware of time passing by; seek ways to measure it; arrange their lives around different timelines; and constantly use verbal expressions referring to time. A key question in developmental science is when and how children develop a sense and a concept of time. Infants are equipped from birth with perceptual time-tracking mechanisms for detecting patterns and changes in the physical environment, and their biological clocks reach an adult-like level already at 3 months of age. Infants have been shown to accurately register the recency, duration, frequency, and rhythmic aspects of events. Infants also gradually become more attuned to inter-sensory (visual/auditory/tactile) temporal relations based on co-occurrences of synchrony, duration, rate, and rhythm. These early abilities establish the foundation for the emergence of a metacognitive awareness and conceptualization of time in later stages of development. Several cognitive components such as attention, memory, and language are crucial in producing and maintaining our subjective perception of time. Additional factors include the social and cultural practices of time, which determine our time perspective and time perception. Verbal interactions relating to time between parents and their children aid the child in grasping distinctions between the past, present, and future, and between proximate and remote past and future times.


Visual Attention With Cognitive Aging  

David J. Madden and Zachary A. Monge

Age-related decline occurs in several aspects of fluid, speed-dependent cognition, particularly those related to attention. Empirical research on visual attention has determined that attention-related effects occur across a range of information processing components, including the sensory registration of features, selection of information from working memory, controlling motor responses, and coordinating multiple perceptual and cognitive tasks. Thus, attention is a multifaceted construct that is relevant at virtually all stages of object identification. A fundamental theme of attentional functioning is the interaction between the bottom-up salience of visual features and top-down allocation of processing based on the observer’s goals. An underlying age-related slowing is prominent throughout visual processing stages, which in turn contributes to age-related decline in some aspects of attention, such as the inhibition of irrelevant information and the coordination of multiple tasks. However, some age-related preservation of attentional functioning is also evident, particularly the top-down allocation of attention. Neuroimaging research has identified networks of frontal and parietal brain regions relevant for top-down and bottom-up attentional processing. Disconnection among these networks contributes to an age-related decline in attention, but preservation and perhaps even increased patterns of functional brain activation and connectivity also contribute to preserved attentional functioning.


Visual Development  

Janette Atkinson

Human visual development is a complex dynamic psychological/neurobiological process, being part of the developing systems for cognition, action, and attention. This article reviews current knowledge and methods of study of human visual development in infancy and childhood, in relation to typical early visual brain development, and how it can change in developmental disorders, both acquired (e.g., related to at-risk births) and genetic disorders. The newborn infant starts life with a functioning subcortical visual system which controls newborn orienting to nearby high contrast objects and faces. Although visual cortex may be active from birth, its characteristic stimulus selectivity and control of visual responses is generally seen to emerge around six to twelve weeks after birth. By age six months the infant has adequate acuity and contrast sensitivity in nearby space, and operating cortical mechanisms for discriminating colors, shapes, faces, movement, stereo depth, and distance of objects, as well as the ability to focus and shift attention between objects of interest. This may include both feedforward and feedback pathways between cortical areas and between cortical and subcortical areas. Two cortical streams start to develop and become interlinked, the dorsal stream underpinning motion, spatial perception and actions, and the ventral stream for recognition of objects and faces. The neural systems developing control and planning of actions include those for directed eye movements, reaching and grasping, and the beginnings of locomotion, with these action systems being integrated into the other developing subcortical and cortical visual networks by one year of age. Analysis of global static form (pattern) and global motion processing allows the development of dorsal and ventral streams to be monitored from infancy through childhood. The development of attention, visuomotor control and spatial cognition in the first years show aspects of function related to the developing dorsal stream, and their integration with the ventral stream. The milestones of typical visual development can be used to characterize visual and visuo-cognitive disorders early in life, such as in infants with perinatal brain injuries and those born very prematurely. The concept of “dorsal stream vulnerability” is outlined. It was initially based on deficits in global motion sensitivity relative to static form sensitivity, but can be extended to the planning and execution of visuomotor actions and problems of attention, together with visuospatial and numerical cognition. These problems are found in the phenotype of children with both genetic developmental disorders (e.g., Williams syndrome, autism, fragile-X, and dyslexia), and in acquired developmental disorders related to very preterm birth, or in children with abnormal visual input such as congenital cataract, refractive errors, or amblyopia. However, there are subtle differences in the manifestation of these disorders which may also vary considerably across individuals. Development in these clinical conditions illustrates the early, but limited, plasticity of visual brain mechanisms, and provides a challenge for the future in designing successful intervention and treatment.


Visual Guidance of Natural Behavior  

Mary M. Hayhoe and Rachel A. Lerch

The essentially active nature of vision is revealed in the complex interplay of head, body, and eye movements as humans gather information to guide their actions in the natural visual world. This dynamic perception–action cycle has long been appreciated but has been difficult to investigate due to limitations in the available instrumentation both to measure eye and body movements and to present realistic stimuli in the context of active behavior. Technological developments have opened up a wider range of natural contexts where some degree of experimental control is possible, and the last two decades have ushered in a variety of insights that would otherwise be difficult to achieve in more constrained environments. Within the context of natural vision, humans make continuous sequences of sensorimotor decisions to satisfy behavioral goals, and vision provides the relevant information for making good decisions in order to achieve those goals. The components of a good decision include the task demands, the rewards and costs associated with the task, uncertainty about the state of the world, and information stored in memory. Natural behavior offers a rich domain for investigation, because it is remarkably stable and leads to novel questions, and the behavioral context helps specify the momentary visual computations and their temporal progression.


Visual Search  

Jeremy Wolfe

Visual search is the process of finding things that you are looking for in a world full of things that you are not looking for. Search tasks are ubiquitous. Many are so routine that we do not think of them as search tasks (e.g., Where is the space bar on the keyboard?). Others are more taxing (Where is the cat hiding?) and/or more important (Is there a tumor in this x-ray?). The need for search arises out of limits on the amount of visual input that can be fully processed at one time. Research in this area seeks to understand how observers find the object or objects of search as well as how, when, and why clearly visible targets can be missed by those observers. To understand how visual searches proceed, it is important to describe the forces that guide attention to different objects and locations in the field and to know what is being seen at locations away from the current focus of attention.


Voice Production and Perception  

Roza G. Kamiloğlu and Disa A. Sauter

The voice is a prime channel of communication in humans and other animals. Voices convey many kinds of information, including physical characteristics like body size and sex, as well as providing cues to the vocalizing individual’s identity and emotional state. Vocalizations are produced by dynamic modifications of the physiological vocal production system. The source-filter theory explains how vocalizations are produced in two stages: (a) the production of a sound source in the larynx, and (b) the filtering of that sound by the vocal tract. This two-stage process largely applies to all primate vocalizations. However, there are some differences between the vocal production apparatus of humans as compared to nonhuman primates, such as the lower position of the larynx and lack of air sacs in humans. Thanks to our flexible vocal apparatus, humans can produce a range of different types of vocalizations, including spoken language, nonverbal vocalizations, whispering, and singing. A comprehensive understanding of vocal communication takes both production and perception of vocalizations into account. Internal processes are expressed in the form of specific acoustic patterns in the producer’s voice. In order to communicate information in vocalizations, those acoustic patterns must be acoustically registered by listeners via auditory perception mechanisms. Both production and perception of vocalizations are affected by psychobiological mechanisms as well as sociocultural factors. Furthermore, vocal production and perception can be impaired by a range of different disorders. Vocal production and hearing disorders, as well as mental disorders including autism spectrum disorder, depression, and schizophrenia, affect vocal communication.


Vygotsky and the Cultural-Historical Approach to Human Development  

Ekaterina Zavershneva and René van der Veer

Lev Semyonovich Vygotsky (real name Lev Simkhovich Vygodsky; Orsha 1896–Moscow 1934) was a Russian psychologist who created cultural-historical theory, which proved influential in developmental psychology and other psychological disciplines. Vygotsky characterized his approach as “height psychology” (as opposed to “depth psychology”) and posited that the higher forms of mind should be the starting point for the study of human development. In his view it was essential to study psychological processes in their historical dynamics; these dynamics could be unraveled with the causal-genetic approach he developed, which involved the guided formation of mind in the course of its study or the experimental unfolding of ontogeny. Vygotsky claimed that the mechanisms of human development are not genetically determined and that we must find its source in culture and the social environment. Human development is mediated by cultural artifacts and sign systems, which are mastered in a dialogue with other people in spontaneous or guided interaction, which stimulates development by creating a zone of proximal development. The major means of the transformation of innate mind into higher mind is language, which enables us to preserve and transmit the experience of generations. In this process of cultural development the person develops a system of higher psychological functions that are social in origin, voluntary and mediated in nature, and form part of a systemic whole. The process of ontogeny goes through a series of stable periods and crises that correspond with specific conditions of the social situation of development and the developmental tasks. Age periods are completed with the development of neoformations, which do not just form results but are also prerequisites for further development. With the development of verbal thinking and the mastery of cultural means of behavior the person masters her/his innate mind and becomes a personality, whose main characteristic is freedom of behavior.


Wisdom Across Cultures  

Igor Grossmann and Franki Kung

The concept of wisdom is ancient and deeply embedded in the cultural history of humanity. However, only since 1980s have psychologists begun to study it scientifically. Taking a culturally and philosophically informed perspective, this article integrates insights from the quantitative science of wisdom. Analysis of epistemological traditions and research on folk theories of wisdom suggest cultural similarities in the domain of cognition (e.g., wisdom as reasoning ability and knowledge). These similarities can be contrasted with cultural differences concerning folk-theoretical affective and prosocial themes of wisdom, as well as expression of various wisdom-related themes, rooted in distinct sociocultural and ecological environments. Empirical evidence indicates that wisdom is an individually and culturally malleable construct, consistent with an emerging constructionist account of wisdom and its development. Future research can benefit from integration of ecological and cultural-historical factors for the meaning of wisdom and its expression.


Working Memory  

Tom Hartley and Graham J. Hitch

Working memory is an aspect of human memory that permits the maintenance and manipulation of temporary information in the service of goal-directed behavior. Its apparently inelastic capacity limits impose constraints on a huge range of activities from language learning to planning, problem-solving, and decision-making. A substantial body of empirical research has revealed reliable benchmark effects that extend to a wide range of different tasks and modalities. These effects support the view that working memory comprises distinct components responsible for attention-like control and for short-term storage. However, the nature of these components, their potential subdivision, and their interrelationships with long-term memory and other aspects of cognition, such as perception and action, remain controversial and are still under investigation. Although working memory has so far resisted theoretical consensus and even a clear-cut definition, research findings demonstrate its critical role in both enabling and limiting human cognition and behavior.


Working Memory and Cognitive Aging  

Paul Verhaeghen

Working memory as a temporary buffer for cognitive processing is an essential part of the cognitive system. Its capacity and select aspects of its functioning are age sensitive, more so for spatial than verbal material. Assumed causes for this decline include a decline in cognitive resources (such as speed of processing), and/or a breakdown in basic control processes (resistance to interference, task coordination, memory updating, binding, and/or top-down control as inferred from neuroimaging data). Meta-analyses suggest that a decline in cognitive resources explains much more of the age-related variance in true working memory tasks than a breakdown in basic control processes, although the latter is highly implicated in tasks of passive storage. The age-related decline in working memory capacity has downstream effects on more complex aspects of cognition (episodic memory, spatial cognition, and reasoning ability). Working memory remains plastic in old age, and training in working memory and cognitive control processes yields near transfer effects, but little evidence for strong far transfer.


Worry and Rumination  

Ed Watkins

Worry and rumination are both forms of repetitive negative thought (RNT) characterized by repetitive and often uncontrollable thinking about negative content. Rumination is typically defined as repetitive thinking about the symptoms, causes, circumstances, meanings, and consequences of negative mood, personal concerns, and upsetting experiences, often with a focus on depressive experience. Worry is typically defined as repetitive thinking about future potential threat, imagined catastrophes, uncertainties, and risks and is conceptualized as an attempt to avoid negative events, prepare for the worst, and problem-solve. Worry and rumination are implicated in the exacerbation of negative mood and negative thinking, reduced central executive resources, impaired problem- solving, and prolonged sympathetic activation and emotional responses to stress and, as such, transdiagnostically contribute to the onset and maintenance of multiple emotional disorders, including major depression, anxiety disorders, insomnia, eating disorders, substance and alcohol abuse, and psychosis. Both worry and rumination are implicated in poor response to psychological interventions—greater reduction in RNT is associated with greater symptom improvement, whereas no change in RNT is associated with no improvement or worsening of symptoms. Rumination and worry appear to be moderately genetically heritable and predicted by environmental factors such as early adversity, stressful life events, and unhelpful parental styles. RNT is a common pathway between multiple risk factors, including neglect, abuse, bullying, and chronic stress, and later psychopathology. Pathological worry and rumination share an abstract processing style, negative biases in attention and interpretation, and impaired executive control and are mental habits. Both worry and rumination have been hypothesized to serve an avoidant function. Interventions that target these mechanisms appear to be effective at tackling RNT, particularly rumination-focused cognitive-behavioral therapy and mindfulness-based interventions. More efficient interventions for anxiety and depression may result from interventions that target multiple of these proximal mechanisms.