In this episode of The Highlights, show host and third-year graduate student in psychology Thiago Tarraf Varella discusses his research on pre linguistic vocal learning in marmosets, and what this can tell us about human vocal development.
This episode of The Highlights was produced under the 145th Managing Board of The Daily Princetonian in partnership with Princeton Insights. Thiago Tarraf Varella is a graduate student in Department of Psychology at Princeton and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To view the transcript for this episode, click “More Info” and then “Full Transcript” in the episode player.
Have you ever found yourself in deep thought in a public setting only to come to your senses and arrive at the uncomfortable realization that you’re making eye contact with another person? Such is the dilemma that faces us when we lose control of our awareness. Awareness—a module of behavior that allows us to be conscious of stimuli in our environment—is fundamentally distinct from but similar to attention—the process of selectively focusing the mind on certain stimuli at the expense of others. In an insightful new study led by graduate student Andrew Wilterson of the Graziano Lab at Princeton University, researchers used stimulus-prediction tasks and MRI imaging to investigate the interrelated nature of awareness and attention in the human brain.
This country has a complicated relationship with its immigrants. On the one hand, we pride ourselves on theoretically being the “land of opportunity,” a “melting pot” where people from all backgrounds can come to try their hand at socioeconomic success. On the other hand, we often vilify the actual individuals attempting to come to this country, likening them to criminals, viruses, pests, and resource thieves.
Written by Anika Maskara ‘23 & Thiago Tarraf Varella (PSY GS)
It is common in popular culture to imagine human decision making as a clash of two distinct choices. There is a “good option” and a “bad option,” an angel or a devil sitting on our shoulders. Like many dichotomies, though, that view of decision making is misleading. It is true that research suggests we have two different decision-making systems that sometimes disagree about which action to take, but neither is better or worse than the other; they simply use different algorithms to help us decide what to do.
Written by Munisa Said (PSY, 2022) & Crystal Lee (PSY, G2)
Why is it so important for parents to read to their children? Previous research has found that when parents read to their infants (also called “shared reading”), there are significant improvements in early language development (Mol & Bus, 2011). However, not all children broadly benefit from shared reading. The advantages of shared reading vary quite widely among children. A recent paper led by researchers from Princeton and Rutgers Universities endeavored to explain this variability by considering genetic factors that may impact this development of language acquisition. In previous studies, individual differences in dopaminergic and serotonergic systems (the neural pathways that deliver dopamine and serotonin throughout the brain) have been implicated in different outcomes for learning, attention, and behavior. Thus, Jiminez et al. examined the genetic characteristics of these systems of almost 2,000 children in order to see if this variable also explained the diverse effects of shared reading.
There is much consensus that negative stressful early life experiences impact the development of an individual. Numerous studies in humans have linked childhood adversity (e.g., loss of a caregiver, abuse, natural disaster, etc.) to an increased risk for depression and other psychiatric disorders in adulthood. In other words, the more an individual has experienced negative stressors in childhood, the more likely that individual is to develop depression or anxiety when they experience mild stressors in adulthood. This heightened sensitization and increased risk of mood disorders in humans has a parallel observation in rodents, specifically mice, which are used as model organisms in the discussed study. Principal Investigator Catherine Jensen Peña and colleagues at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai were interested in exploring the epigenetic effects of such early life stressors on reward circuitry in the brain. Throughout this work the authors posit, as does much of the early life stress (ELS) field, that there could be epigenetic mechanisms at work leading to the aforementioned risk of mood disorder development.
In times of financial hardship, low-income individuals can often turn to their communities for support. Unfortunately, this buffer against financial difficulties provided by community resources can erode over time. One factor that may contribute to such erosion is economic inequality (which has been on the rise in the United States). This connection was recently found by a group of international researchers, including Princeton’s own Elke U. Weber, who holds joint appointments in Psychology, the School of Public and International Affairs, and Engineering.
Have you ever wondered how information is transferred from one brain to another? This process can occur in a variety of ways, from verbal storytelling to simple hand gestures, and across different backgrounds, such as a flight attendant instructing a first time flyer, or a casual conversation with a friend. We gain information from others on a daily basis. However, to study this on a biological level requires the complicated task of recording from two brains experiencing the same stimuli and aligning their activity in time.
Humans tend to make individual choices based on a series of past experiences, decisions, and outcomes. Just think about the last time you had some terrible take out: you might decide not to eat at that particular restaurant again based on your previous experience. Maybe, you take the same route to work every day because, in the past, there is less traffic on this particular route. The effects that past experiences have on choices are often termed sequential biases. These biases are present everywhere, especially in value-based decision making. You might wonder, what are the neural mechanisms driving this phenomenon? Christine Constantinople, a former postdoc at Princeton University and now an assistant professor at NYU, began to explore this question along with colleagues in the Brody Lab at Princeton.
Review written by Crystal Lee (PSY) and Adelaide Minerva (PNI)
Recently, the term “fake news” has been solidified as a colloquial term. Indeed, it seems the world has seen an increase in the spread of misinformation. What is particularly troubling about this trend is that psychology studies show that increased exposure to information (both true and false) increases our beliefs about its truthfulness, and what we believe to be true impacts our behavior in important ways (e.g., voting). When we consider the spread of “fake news”, how do we know what is true, and how do we protect ourselves from misinformation?