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Article

Mirror Neurons, Empathy, and the Other  

Marco Iacoboni

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of other people. It extends also to the ability to understand and share the feelings of animals and fictional characters. Empathy is essential to properly function in social interactions. It is also typically higher for people who belong to one’s own social group and lower for people who belong to a different social group. Lack of empathy is associated with severe mental health conditions including psychopathy, narcissism, and antisocial personality disorder. Empathy is a complex, flexible, adaptive, and nuanced function for navigating social settings that involves the interplay of multiple neural systems. A crucial neural system for empathy is the mirror neuron system, formed by cells with a variety of properties and the shared feature of being activated during the actions of the self and the perception of actions of other people. The mirroring of the actions of other people in one’s brain allows an understanding from within of the other’s intentions, motivation, and feelings.

Article

Music Perception  

Marcus T. Pearce

Music perception covers all aspects of psychological and neural processing invoked while listening to music. In order to make sense of a musical stimulus, the perceptual system must infer an internal representation of the structure present in a piece of music, including the attributes of individual events (including pitch, timbre, loudness, and timing), groups of events (such as chords, voices, and phrases), and structural relationships between such groups, so that larger-scale aspects of musical form and thematic structure can be perceived. Such representations are stored in memory at timescales ranging from seconds for echoic memory to decades in the case of long-term memory for music, which consists of schematic knowledge of musical styles, veridical memory for particular familiar pieces of music, and episodic memory for music heard at a particular place and time. Stored representations of music allow the generation of top-down expectations for the attributes of forthcoming events while listening to music, which play a role in the perception of music as it unfolds dynamically in time and also the emotional and aesthetic experience of music. Music is a communicative medium conveying affective meaning from the composer and performer to the listener, via several psychological mechanisms and using a range of cues in the music, some of which are universal, others culture-specific. Individuals show behavioral and physiological effects of listening to music from birth onward and learn the syntactic structure of the musical styles to which they are exposed within their culture, shaping their music perception. Some individuals undertake explicit musical training, which can additionally shape their perception of music, sometimes in fundamental ways. Listening to music can impair performance on concurrent tasks involving working memory due to competing access for resources but can improve performance when listening takes place prior to the task due to its positive effect on affective state. Music is a universal human cultural phenomenon whose complexity requires the activation of a diverse range of perceptual and cognitive mechanisms, making it an interesting target for psychological and neuroscientific investigation.

Article

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.

Article

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.