The eigenvalues of lightsabers and submerged golden hammers: Judging the length of an object from its rotational inertia

People are capable of inferring many attributes of an object by wielding it. Pick up a hammer and you can get a fairly good idea of its length, width, and shape (an ability that is known as exteroception). You will also acquire information about the orientation of the hammer in your hand (exproprioception), and your […]

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“It’s me”… When “it” could be anyone between Seinfeld and Philadelphia

Remember answering machines? Me neither, but this is why Seinfeld exists. When Jerry’s girlfriend, Sophie, leaves a message without stating her name (just, “it’s me!”), Jerry decides to call her back without stating his own name. Stripped of visual and contextual cues—Jerry’s face, what he’s wearing, his name—Sophie fails to identify him by just his […]

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When attention jumps the shark: The asymmetric role of the frontal hemispheres

Imagine settling into the well-deserved holiday on the Ningaloo Reef. The Indian Ocean is warm and gentle and you go for your first exploratory snorkel. The corals are beginning to recover from their latest bleach and the number and coloring of the tropical fish is as enchanting as it is astounding. And then you take […]

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Timmy’s in the well: Empathy and prosocial helping in dogs

Long ago (~ 1050 AD) in the Western Alps, a monk by the name St. Bernard de Menthon established a monastery to help travelers across the dangerous St. Bernard’s Pass. Roughly 600 years later, the monks of this monastery acquired their first St. Bernard dog; a breed that ultimately became renowned for its ability to […]

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Letting go of the vodka: Attention deployment during reaching

You reach for the life-saving glass of water handed to you from the judge’s bench, with a bit of assistance from your co-defendant. You take a sip and the rest is movie history. What happens to your attention during that sequence of events? When we plan a movement, for example to reach for a glass […]

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The drowsy blink and self-driving vehicles: Can technology detect a tired driver?

On 31 August 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales died in a car crash in Paris. The crash was ruled to be the consequence of her driver losing control over the vehicle because he was intoxicated and under the influence of prescription drugs. Her death brought home a message that has been at the center of […]

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The inner meerkat and the chocolate break: Cognitive fatigue and error processing rely on the same brain regions

We all get tired. Sometimes we get so tired that we find it almost impossible to stay awake. Especially if we are in a meeting of the parking committee, and perhaps even if we are a meerkat: Although we are all familiar with the feeling of fatigue, we may not always realize that fatigue comes […]

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The sum of attention is more than its past: When memory and vision subtract

We have talked about pop-out before. The phenomenon is nearly self-explanatory: consider the two sets of dots in the figure below. There are 18 dots on the left and 150 on the right. In each array, there is a single red dot: what is your intuition about how long it would take to detect the […]

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When experience does not lead to expertise: Almost any passport will do

About 20 years ago a conference on working memory was held in Quebec City, Canada. One of the eminent visitors from the UK had to return home early. He successfully navigated to the Quebec City airport, flew to Toronto or Montreal to catch a connecting flight to Heathrow. All went well until a customs officer […]

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