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Article

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.

Article

Language Acquisition  

Erica H. Wojcik, Irene de la Cruz-Pavía, and Janet F. Werker

Language is a structured form of communication that is unique to humans. Within the first few years of life, typically developing children can understand and produce full sentences in their native language or languages. For centuries, philosophers, psychologists, and linguists have debated how we acquire language with such ease and speed. Central to this debate has been whether the learning process is driven by innate capacities or information in the environment. In the field of psychology, researchers have moved beyond this dichotomy to examine how perceptual and cognitive biases may guide input-driven learning and how these biases may change with experience. There is evidence that this integration permeates the learning and development of all aspects of language—from sounds (phonology), to the meanings of words (lexical-semantics), to the forms of words and the structure of sentences (morphosyntax). For example, in the area of phonology, newborns’ bias to attend to speech over other signals facilitates early learning of the prosodic and phonemic properties of their native language(s). In the area of lexical-semantics, infants’ bias to attend to novelty aids in mapping new words to their referents. In morphosyntax, infants’ sensitivity to vowels, repetition, and phrase edges guides statistical learning. In each of these areas, too, new biases come into play throughout development, as infants gain more knowledge about their native language(s).

Article

Aging and Cognitive Skill Learning  

Jack Kuhns and Dayna R. Touron

The study of aging and cognitive skill learning is concerned with age-related changes and differences in how we gather, store, and use information and abilities. As life expectancy continues to rise, resulting in greater numbers and proportions of older individuals in the population, understanding the development and retention of skills across the lifespan is increasingly important. Older adults’ task performance in cognitive skill learning is often equal to that of young adults, albeit not as efficient, where older adults often require more time to complete training. Investigations of age differences in fundamental cognitive processes of attention, memory, or executive functioning generally reveal declines in older adults. These are related to a slowing of cognitive processing. Slowing in cognitive processing results in longer time necessary to complete tasks which can interfere with the fidelity of older adults’ cognitive processes in time-limited scenarios. Despite this, older adults maintain comparable rates of learning with young adults, albeit with some reduced efficiency in more complex tasks. The effectiveness of older adults’ learning is also impacted by a lesser tendency to recognize and adopt efficient learning strategies, as well as less flexibility in strategy use relative to younger adults. In learning tasks that involve a transition from using a complex initial strategy to relying on memory retrieval, older adults show a volitional avoidance of memory that is related to lower memory confidence and an impoverished mental model of the task. Declines in learning are not entirely problematic from a functional perspective, however, as older adults can often rely upon their extensive knowledge to compensate for certain deficiencies, particularly in everyday tasks. Indeed, domains where older adults have maintained expertise are somewhat insulated from other age-related declines.

Article

Statistical Learning  

Louisa Bogaerts, Noam Siegelman, and Ram Frost

Statistical learning refers to the ability to pick up on the statistical regularities in our sensory environment, typically without intention or conscious awareness. Since the seminal publication on statistical learning in 1996, sensitivity to regularities has become a key concept in our understanding of language acquisition as well as other cognitive functions such as perception and attention. Neuroimaging studies investigating which brain areas underpin statistical learning have mapped a network of domain-general regions in the medial temporal lobe as well as modality-specific regions in early sensory cortices. Research using electroencephalography has further demonstrated how sensitivity to structure impacts the brain’s processing of sensory input. In response to concerns about the large discrepancy between the very simplistic artificial regularities employed in laboratory experiments on statistical learning and the much noisier and more complex regularities humans face in the real world, recent studies have taken more ecological approaches.

Article

Neuropsychological Rehabilitation for People with Non-Progressive Brain Damage  

Barbara A. Wilson

Neuropsychological rehabilitation (NR) is concerned with the amelioration of deficits caused by insult to the brain. It adopts a goal-planning approach and addresses real-life difficulties. Neuropsychology studies how the brain affects behavior, emotion, and cognition. Rehabilitation is a process whereby people who are disabled work together with professional staff, relatives, and others to achieve optimum physical, psychological, and vocational well-being. Rehabilitation is not synonymous with recovery, nor is it treatment. It is a two-way interactive process with professional staff and others who aim to remediate or alleviate difficulties, adopting a holistic approach in which cognition, emotion, and psychosocial problems are treated together, aided by an increasing use of technological aids. NR enables people with disabilities to achieve their optimum level of well-being, reduce problems in everyday life, and help them return to the most appropriate environments. There may also be some partial or limited recovery of function and certainly some substitution of function. Accepting that return of normal functioning is highly unlikely, rehabilitation finds ways to help people learn more efficiently, compensate for their difficulties, and, when necessary, modify the environment. While theoretical models have proved helpful, indeed essential, in identifying cognitive strengths and weaknesses, in explaining phenomena, and in making predictions about behavior, they are insufficient, on their own, to seriously influence rehabilitation aimed at making lives more adaptable to problems encountered in everyday living. NR should focus on goals relevant to a person’s individual everyday life, it should be implemented in the environment where the person lives, and have personally meaningful themes, activities, settings, and interactions. We know from numerous studies that NR can be clinically effective. Although rehabilitation can be expensive in the short term, there is evidence that it is cost-effective in the long term.

Article

Perceptual Learning: Perception and Experience  

Barbara Anne Dosher and Zhong-Lin Lu

Perceptual learning is the training-induced improvement in the accuracy or speed of relevant perceptual decisions about what is seen, heard, or felt. It occurs in all sensory modalities and in most tasks. The magnitude and generalizability of this learning may, however, depend on the stimulus modality, the level of sensory representation most aligned to the task, and the methods of training, including attention, feedback, reward, and the training protocol. What is known about perceptual learning in multiple modalities has been advanced based on behavioral studies and consideration of physiology and brain imaging, and the theoretical and computational models that systematize and promote understanding of the complex patterns of perceptual learning. Perceptual training might be used in translational applications, such as education, remediation of perceptual deficits, or maintenance of performance.

Article

Pavlovian and Instrumental Conditioning  

Federico Sanabria

Conditioning is the change in the response to a stimulus either because of the relation of that stimulus to other stimuli (Pavlovian conditioning), or because of the relation between the response and other stimuli (instrumental conditioning). These relations are formulated in terms of differences in conditional probability known as contingencies. Pavlovian contingencies refer to the difference in the conditional probability of one stimulus (the outcome, or O) given the presence vs. the absence of another stimulus (the conditioned stimulus, or CS). A conditioned response (CR) may be strengthened by a positive Pavlovian contingency (excitatory conditioning) or it may be weakened by a negative Pavlovian contingency (inhibitory conditioning). CRs are anticipatory or modified responses to the O, so their topography depends on the nature of the O (appetitive vs. aversive); the proximity between and congruency of O and CS; prior experience with the CS, O, and their contingency; the magnitude of their contingency; and the characteristics of other stimuli in the environment. Instrumental contingencies refer to the relation between one stimulus (the discriminative stimulus, or SD), a response (or operant, R), and the outcome of that response (O). The nature of the O and of its contingency with the R determines whether the O strengthens or weakens the R: Os that introduce an appetitive stimulus (positive reinforcement) or remove an aversive stimulus (negative reinforcement) strengthen the R. Positive reinforcement is typically arranged on a subset of one or more Rs following a set of rules known as a schedule of reinforcement. The probability that an R is reinforced may depend on the number of Rs (ratio schedules) or the amount of time (interval schedules) since the last reinforcer. The topography and strength of instrumental Rs depend on variables that are analogous to those that affect Pavlovian CRs: the amount and nature of prior experience with the O; the proximity, congruency, and contingency of R and O; and characteristics of other stimuli in past and present environments. Contemporary quantitative models of Pavlovian and instrumental conditioning recognize the importance of contextual stimuli that compete for cognitive and behavioral resources, constraining and shaping the expression of target responses. These models have guided the bulk of recent empirical research and conceptual developments, leading to a progressively unified view of learning and motivation processes. Along the way, Pavlovian and instrumental research have demonstrated their utility in addressing a broad range of consequential societal problems.

Article

Bilingualism: A Cognitive and Neural View of Dual Language Experience  

Judith F. Kroll and Guadalupe A. Mendoza

There has been an upsurge of research on the bilingual mind and brain. In an increasingly multilingual world, cognitive and language scientists have come to see that the use of two or more languages provides a unique lens to examine the neural plasticity engaged by language experience. But how? It is now uncontroversial to claim that the bilingual’s two languages are continually active, creating a dynamic interplay across the two languages. But there continues to be controversy about the consequences of that cross-language exchange for how cognitive and neural resources are recruited when a second language is learned and used actively and whether native speakers of a language retain privilege in their first acquired language. In the earliest months of life, minds and brains are tuned differently when exposed to more than one language from birth. That tuning has been hypothesized to open the speech system to new learning. But when initial exposure is to a home language that is not the majority language of the community—the experience common to heritage speakers—the value of bilingualism has been challenged, in part because there is not an adequate account of the variation in language experience. Research on the minds and brains of bilinguals reveals inherently complex and social accommodations to the use of multiple languages. The variation in the contexts in which the two languages are learned and used come to shape the dynamics of cross-language exchange across the lifespan.

Article

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.

Article

Cognitive Rehabilitation in Mild and Moderate Dementia  

Aleksandra Kudlicka and Linda Clare

The number of people living with dementia is growing, and with limited pharmacological treatment options the importance of psychosocial interventions is increasingly recognized. Cognitive rehabilitation is particularly well placed to address the needs of people living with mild and moderate dementia and their family supporters, as it offers a range of tools to tackle the complexity of the condition. It utilizes powerful approaches of problem solving and goal setting combined with evidence-based rehabilitative techniques for managing cognitive impairments. It also incorporates strategies to address emotional and motivational aspects of dementia that may affect a person’s well-being. It is provided on an individual basis, usually in people’s homes, making it directly applicable to everyday life. It is also genuinely person-centered and flexible as the therapy goals are agreed in a collaborative process between the therapist, person with dementia, and family members. Cognitive rehabilitation does not claim to address underlying pathology, but instead focuses on a person’s functional ability and enjoyment of life. Evidence for effectiveness of cognitive rehabilitation in the context of mild and moderate dementia, mostly Alzheimer’s disease (AD), is gradually accumulating with a number of randomized control trials demonstrating that people with mild and moderate dementia can significantly improve their functioning in targeted areas. For example, the GREAT trial with 475 people with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s, vascular, and mixed dementia completed in 2017 in the United Kingdom demonstrated that cognitive rehabilitation improves everyday functioning in relation to individual therapy goals. There is a growing interest in cognitive rehabilitation and the focus shifts to extending evidence to less-common forms of dementia, particularly in people with non-amnestic presentation. Future efforts need to concentrate on promoting the approach and optimizing application in real-life settings with the aim of maximizing benefits for people living with dementia and their families.

Article

Animal Cognition  

Sarah Krichbaum, Adam Davila, Lucia Lazarowski, and Jeffrey S. Katz

The contemporary field of animal cognition began over 150 years ago when Charles Darwin posed questions regarding the abilities of the animal mind. Animal cognition is a science dedicated to understanding the processes and mechanisms that allow nonhumans to think and behave. The techniques that are used and the species that are studied are diverse. The historical questions originally proposed by ethologist Nikolas Tinbergen as a framework for studying animal behavior remain at the core of the field. These questions are reviewed along with the domains and methods of animal cognition with a focus on concept learning, memory, and canine cognition. Finally, ideas on how a field rich in tradition and methodological strength should proceed in the future are presented.

Article

Dyslexia  

Linda Siegel

Dyslexia, or a reading disability, occurs when an individual has great difficulty at the level of word reading and decoding. Comprehension of text, writing, and spelling are also affected. The diagnosis of dyslexia involves the use of reading tests, but the continuum of reading performance means that any cutoff point is arbitrary. The IQ score does not play a role in the diagnosis of dyslexia. Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. The cognitive difficulties of dyslexics include problems with recognizing and manipulating the basic sounds in a language, language memory, and learning the sounds of letters. Dyslexia is a neurological condition with a genetic basis. There are abnormalities in the brains of dyslexic individuals. There are also differences in the electrophysiological and structural characteristics of the brains of dyslexics. Hope for dyslexia involves early detection and intervention and evidence-based instruction.

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.