Tout à l’heure, Mel

Yesterday’s post by one of our Digital Associate Editors, Melissa Vo, will be her last one for quite a while. Mel is now on maternity leave in the beautiful Trentino and has stepped aside—but not down!—from her duties as Digital Associate Editor.

I think I speak for the entire team when I say that our best wishes are with her, and we are confident that the joys of parenthood will outweigh the effects of sleepless nights and the difficulties of Italian-speaking hospitals. Being the daughter of two immigrants who came to Germany from the U.S. and Vietnam has obviously enabled Mel to add another culture and language into the mix with little difficulty.

We look forward to Mel coming back after her leave, because her contributions to our digital content have been invaluable. I went through the archives and I found the following posts by Mel to be particularly worthy of another read:

  • Processing Gefühle in your second language: Oscar Wilde famously said “I don’t want to be at the mercy of my emotions. I want to use them, to enjoy them, and to dominate them.” But that requires a nuanced grasp of one’s language—there is an old saying that you have only really mastered speaking another language once you are able to be funny (on purpose!) in that language and understand its humor. Mel’s post reports on a study showing that semantic access to words with a negative valence presented in the second language of bilinguals may be incomplete and suppressed at an early stage of processing.
  • On being a black rain cloud: Looking and thinking outside the box: Did you ever wonder why Winnie-the-Pooh tends to close his eyes when he tries to come up with yet another genius idea (like turning himself into a little black rain cloud to trick some bees)? Is he just trying to think really hard despite all the fluff in his head or turning away from the distracting world while waiting for a sudden insight to solve his problem? Mel’s post reports on a study showing that creative problem solving involves an internal focus of attention, as seen in the increased blinking, decreased frequency of eye movements, and “literally moving the eyes away from a problem stimulus just before the solution bursts into consciousness”.
  • Need to find a needle? Make the haystack disappear by perceptual adaptation: Next time you stumble upon a waterfall, stare at it without moving your eyes for about a minute. When you then look at some stationary rocks nearby, these rocks appear to be moving upwards slightly. The illusory upward movement is your experience of the motion aftereffect, which results from adaptation to the invariant aspects of the environment (in this case the moving waterfall). Mel’s post reported on a study that applied the adaptation idea to a search task, following the logic that you could make your search for the needle in the haystack easier by adapting to the hay in the hope it vanishes from your perception and leaves only the needle.
  • Wide awake and seeing nothing: Men In Black or Multiple Inattentional Blindness? If it weren’t for the “Men in Black” (M.I.B.), your life might be at constant risk from extraterrestrial activity on Earth. The M.I.B. are best known for using “neuralizers” to erase witnesses’ memories of alien sightings. Some of Mel’s own research has shown that not even expert radiologists, who do little else but searching for signs of cancer day in and day out, are immune to M.I.B.-like “blindness”: When an image of a gorilla — 48 times the size of an average nodule — was inserted into a set of chest CTs, more than 80% of the radiologists failed to see it. In this post, Mel reported on a paper that showed “blindness” to unexpected events in participants even after an unexpected event had already occurred which participants had been queried about multiple times.

All the best, Mel!

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