You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Cognitive Science’ tag.

leftright       Lateral awareness, or the ability to discriminate left from right is an acquired skill.  Most people have it by age 10 and most people start to lose in after age 50 (good times).  Lateral awareness, of course, falls on a spectrum and here are the results so far:

“A recent survey of 800 people found that 9 percent of men and 18 percent of women report a problem with left-right discrimination. And when 290 undergraduate medical students from Ireland were tested on laterality using a series of stick-figure images, more than half of them had trouble, scoring less than 77 percent (the test had 144 questions). Both of these studies found that women struggled more than men; one of the world’s leading researchers on this subject, Dr. Gerard Gormley of Queen’s University Belfast, became interested in the subject because his wife often mixed up her left and right. (She’s a righty who also mimes writing to set herself straight.) The studies also found that lateral awareness did not affect intellect—although in practice, spatial reasoning troubles can make you feel like a doofus, in fact they do not indicate inferior intellect. (Phew!)”

Truth time gentle readers!  I’m pretty good with left and right, but the cardinal directions always send me for a loop – especially when travelling South.  Everything just feels wrong as I’m navigating through the directions.  I keep hoping that my sense of unease will diminish, but as of yet, no luck.  Successfully navigating to a school across town is the first victory of the day, getting attendance is the second.  Once those hurdles have been overcome, the easy part of the day, teaching ambivalent children can begin.

My google map experiences are one thing, but getting mixed up as health care professional can have obvious deleterious consequences.

“However, the field under the most pressure to avoid lateral confusion is medicine. In the dentist’s chair, there’s money wasted when hygienists x-ray the wrong tooth. It’s even worse when a left-right-disoriented dentist pulls one or more teeth from the incorrect side of the mouth. It’s even more serious in general surgery: A 2011 report estimates that there are 40 wrong-site surgeries done weekly in the U.S., and many of those involve mixing up a patient’s left and right. This is a devastating problem: If a doctor removes the healthy kidney and not the cancerous one, the results can be fatal. Wrong eye? Now we have a fully blind patient.

Healthcare professionals work in tricky circumstances that make laterality harder. For them, distinguishing left from right almost always requires rotation. During a consultation, a patient is often sitting up, but that same patient is likely lying down during the subsequent procedure. The doctor or nurse’s perspective in the operating room could then change if he or she moves around the room while the patient stays stationary.

In addition, in medical situations—and in the transportation and aviation industries—there’s often time pressure and a bustle of other things going on. A 2015 study of medical students found that distracting people with sounds impacted their ability to tell left from right, and interrupting them with cognitive tasks made matters even worse. This is why the second item on the WHO’s Surgical Safety Checklist asks if the surgical site is marked—ideally by someone not distracted, and well in advance of the pressures of the operating suite.”

So, when at a hospital and if conscious make sure you talk to your surgeon and have them mark the procedure beforehand.  Just to be safe.

“That leaves us with our mnemonic devices. Some wear a wristwatch. Others make a capital “L” with their fingers. But it’s been shown that people who use mnemonic devices, particularly in a medical setting, are those the most likely to make mistakes. Our tricks fail, in other words, and practice doesn’t necessarily make perfect.”

Yeah, so mnemonic devices are out.  Pretty bleak picture eh? :/  While I was reading this, I thought of the common practice of turning down the radio while looking for parking or following directions.  We often see on the internet people making fun of the practice, but as this study indicates loud noises/distractions hinder our ability to make left/right distinctions.  So perhaps the radio-muters might just be on to something. :)

[Source:JSTOR Daily]





kluge I’d like to recommend reading this particular book as it offers a laypersons guide to how our minds evolved and the inelegant solutions and workarounds that are now standard in the homo sapiens brain. Consider this summary of why sometime we become angry and that anger dominates our rational capacities.

“What occasionally allows normal people to spiral out of control is a witch’s brew of cognitive kludges: (1) the clumsy apparatus of self-control (which in the heat of the moment all too often gives the upper hand to our reflexive system); (2) the lunacy of confirmation bias (which convinces us that we are always right, or nearly so); (3) its evil twin, motivated reasoning (which leads us to protect our beliefs, even if those beliefs are dubious); (4) the contextually driven nature of memory (such that when we’re angry at someone, we tend to remember other things about them that have made us angry in the past). In short, this leaves “hot” systems dominating cool reason; carnage often ensues.

Gary Marcus. Kluge – The Haphazard Evolution of the Human Mind, p. 156.

Meaningful discourse requires a mutually accepted set of shared definitions to start.  Otherwise the parties involved will unerringly talk past each other and misconstrue what the other is saying.  George Lakoff, a cognitive scientist, has mapped this procedure brilliantly in several books ( The Political Mind being the most concise).

I digress.

The excerpt that I’m sharing with you today is from an article entitled “The Political Awakening of a Republican: ‘I Had Viewed Whole Swaths of the Country and the World as Second-Class People’.”  When you go there and read the rest watch carefully as the author of the piece first has to question his cognitive framework, struggle with it and eventually reject it for being at odds with reality.  His epiphany reminds me of the saying, “reality has a liberal bias,” more than a saying because it is a factual statement and one that resonates with me.  You can go with god if you’d like, enjoy the trip;  I’ll be here in reality waiting once you get back.

We’ll pick up the article as the author has his first breakthrough in discovering that his reality is not everyone’s reality.

“Then something tiny happened that pried open my eyes to the less obvious forms of racism and the hurdles the poor face when they try to climb the economic ladder.  It happened on an official visit to a school in a suburb of New Orleans that served kids who had gotten kicked out of every other school around.  I was investigating what types of services were available to the young people who were showing up in juvenile hall and seemed to be headed toward the proverbial life of crime.

My tour guide mentioned that parents were required to participate in some school programs.  One of these was a field trip to a sit-down restaurant.

This stopped me in my tracks.  I thought: What kind of a lame field trip is that?

It turned out that none of the families had ever been to a sit-down restaurant before.  The teachers had to instruct parents and students alike how to order off a menu, how to calculate the tip.

I was stunned.

Starting To See

That night, I told my roommates about the crazy thing I had heard that day.  Apparently there were people out there who had never been to something as basic as a real restaurant.  Who knew?

One of my roommates wasn’t surprised.  He worked at a local bank branch that required two forms of ID to open an account.  Lots of people came in who had only one or none at all.

I was flooded with questions: There are adults who have no ID?  And no bank accounts?  Who are these people?  How do they vote?  How do they live?  Is there an entire off-the-grid alternate universe out there?

From then on, I started to notice a lot more reality.  I noticed that the criminal justice system treats minorities differently in subtle as well as not-so-subtle ways, and that many of the people who were getting swept up by the system came from this underclass that I knew so little about.  Lingering for months in lock-up for misdemeanors, getting pressed against the hood and frisked during routine traffic stops, being pulled over in white neighborhoods for “driving while black”: these are things that never happen to people in my world.  Not having experienced it, I had always assumed that government force was only used against guilty people.  (Maybe that’s why we middle-class white people collectively freak out at TSA airport pat-downs.)

I dove into the research literature to try to figure out what was going on.  It turned out that everything I was “discovering” had been hiding in plain sight and had been named: aversive racism, institutional racism, disparate impact and disparate treatment, structural poverty, neighborhood redlining, the “trial tax,” the “poverty tax,” and on and on.  Having grown up obsessed with race (welfare and affirmative action were our bêtes noirs), I wondered why I had never heard of any of these concepts.

Was it to protect our Republican version of “individual responsibility”?  That notion is fundamental to the liberal Republican worldview. “Bootstrapping” and “equality of opportunity, not outcomes” make perfect sense if you assume, as I did, that people who hadn’t risen into my world simply hadn’t worked hard enough, or wanted it badly enough, or had simply failed.  But I had assumed that bootstrapping required about as much as it took to get yourself promoted from junior varsity to varsity.  It turns out that it’s more like pulling yourself up from tee-ball to the World Series.  Sure, some people do it, but they’re the exceptions, the outliers, the Olympians.

The enormity of the advantages I had always enjoyed started to truly sink in.  Everyone begins life thinking that his or her normal is the normal.  For the first time, I found myself paying attention to broken eggs rather than making omelets.  Up until then, I hadn’t really seen most Americans as living, breathing, thinking, feeling, hoping, loving, dreaming, hurting people.  My values shifted — from an individualistic celebration of success (that involved dividing the world into the morally deserving and the undeserving) to an interest in people as people.”







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