March 21, 2007

Emotion & Cognition

Interesting article in last month's Wall Street Journal about emotions & cognitive performance.

The free abstract sums it up:
"After years of studying situations such as choking under pressure or succumbing to 'stereotype threat' (in which you perform worse if you're reminded that your sex, race or age group tends to muff the test you're about to take), scientists are learning how emotion combines in the brain with memory, attention and other cognitive skills to make your spear miss the mammoth."

Begley cites a study reported at last month's American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting which found a surprising effect of emotion on memory & cognition:

Jeremy Gray of Yale University studies the interrelationship between emotion & cognition.

"In one study, Prof. Gray and colleagues had volunteers watch a comedy video. Then the volunteers tried to keep three words in mind ... Feeling amused improved verbal working memory; the volunteers got more answers right. But it made spatial memory -- tested with faces -- worse.

"Horror videos had an opposite effect. The mild anxiety they induced improved spatial memory but hurt verbal memory..."


Towards the end of the article Begley referes to two recent studies about the "stereotype threat", wherein women do worse on math tests when they are somehow made aware of their gender (either by filling in a box indicating their sex or explicitly being reminded that "girls are spatially challenged".

Studies Take Measure Of How Stereotyping Alters Performance (abstract only from the WSJ site)
Sharon Begley. Wall Street Journal: Feb 23, 2007. p. B.1 full-text at ProQuest, if you have it.

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