Israeli University scientifically validates ‘cool headed’ phrases

Researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev found scientific validity behind metaphorical phrases like "coldly calculating" and "heated response," based on cognitive control.

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September 3, 2017 03:05
4 minute read.
Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.. (photo credit: ISRAEL'S FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTRY)

 
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Cold temperatures, even in a photo, give people increased cognitive control, according to researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Lead researcher Dr. Idit Shalev of the education department showed in her article, published in Psychological Research, that just the perception of cold temperatures elicits greater cognitive control.

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“Metaphorical phrases like ‘coldly calculating,’ ‘heated response’ and ‘cool-headed’ actually have some scientific validity, as we demonstrate in our study,” Shalev said.

“Previous research has focused on the actual effect of temperature on the psychological phenomenon known as ‘cognitive control,’ but this is the first time we were able to measure the effects of perceived temperature.”

Cognitive control is the process by which goals or plans influence behavior and involves the ability to deliberately inhibit responses to maximize the long-term best interests of the individual.

Along with Dr. Shalev, the other researchers were Prof. Nachshon Meiran of BGU’s Department of Psychology and their student Eliran Halali, now a faculty member at Bar-Ilan University’s psychology department.

The researchers conducted two experiments. In the first, 87 students performed an “anti-saccade task” (involving a rapid movement of the eye between fixation points), which requires looking in the opposite direction of a moving object and measures cognitive control. In the second experiment, 28 female students were asked to perform the same anti-saccade task, but this time were asked to physically imagine themselves in a picture of winter scenery, a temperature neutral concrete street or a sunny landscape depicted as the background image in the test.



“The results indicated that those viewing the cold landscape did better and that even without a physical trigger, cognitive control can be activated through conceptual processes alone,” wrote Shalev.

The researchers also examine the possibility that there is a common explanation for the relation of temperature and cognitive control with social proximity.

“While warmth signaling promotes a relaxed attitude, cool signals alertness and possible need for greater cognitive control,” the study concludes.

DRAGONFLY BRAINS PREDICT THE PATH OF PREY

New research from Australia and Sweden has shown how a dragonfly’s brain anticipates the movement of its prey, enabling it to hunt successfully. This knowledge could lead to innovations in fields such as robot vision and autonomous vehicles.

An article recently published in the journal eLife by researchers at the University of Adelaide and Lund University has offered more insights into the complexity of brain processing in dragonflies than has previously been understood.

“Until now, the international research community has primarily considered the capabilities of mammals, such as humans, for investigating how animals can predict where a moving object will be in the near future,” said project partner Dr. Steven Wiederman from the Adelaide Medical School.

“Understandably, mammals in many ways are more complex organisms than insects, but with each discovery we’re finding that dragonflies have keen visual and neural processes that could be ideal for translating into technological advances,” he added.

The collaboration resulted in the discovery of neurons in the dragonfly Hemicordulia that enables them to predictively pursue and catch their flying prey. These brain cells make it possible to focus on a small object that moves over a complex background, similarly to how humans can track and catch a ball, even when that ball is moving against the backdrop of a cheering crowd.

Lund biology Prof. David O’Carroll said: “Dragonfly neurons can make a selection of a single target from the mass of visual information that the brain receives, such as the motion of another insect, and then predict its direction and future location. The dragonfly, like humans, makes this assessment based on the path along which the object moves.

In other words, the dragonfly does something very similar to what we do when we track a ball in motion. Despite major differences in the complexity of the brain, evolution has led to the insect using its brain for advanced visual processes that are usually only considered in mammals.”

The team members were able to record target-detecting neurons in the dragonfly brain that increased their responses in a small “focus area” just in front of the location of a moving object being tracked. If the object then disappeared from the field of vision, the focus spread forward over time, allowing the brain to predict where the target was most likely to reappear. The neuronal prediction was based on the previous path along which the prey had flown.

“This is an exciting discovery, and it aids our understanding of how single neurons make advanced predictions based on past history,” Wiederman said.

“We are convinced that these results will have practical applications – especially in the development of artificial control and vision systems, such as self-steering vehicles and bionic vision.”

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