Web edition: December 14, 2012
Print edition: December 29, 2012; Vol.182 #13 (p. 14)
Gestures have timely impact
People think differently about the passage of time depending on the hand gestures someone else uses, Stanford psychologist Barbara Tversky reported on November 17. In a series of experiments, Tversky’s colleague Azadeh Jamalian of Columbia University asked volunteers to diagram progressions of familiar events. While describing these tasks, Jamalian gestured in a straight horizontal line, gestured in a circle or made no gestures. Most individuals drew linear diagrams after seeing linear gestures and circular diagrams after seeing circular gestures. Linear diagrams predominated if no gestures were used, probably because people tend to conceive of time as running on a line, Tversky said. Gestures can subtly alter the notion of how time proceeds, she proposed.
Memory athletes flex mind power
Top competitors in memory competitions aren’t one-trick ponies. Four of the most accomplished memory athletes, including the top-ranked master of recall, scored much higher than groups of college students on a variety of memory and attention tests, psychologist Henry Roediger III of Washington University in St. Louis said on November 17. Memory competitors scored extraordinarily well on tests of list memory, recall of specific numbers from equations that had been mentally solved, and attention control during attempted distractions. Memory athletes use well-known recall strategies on specific challenges, such as remembering hundreds of rapidly presented numbers, but these people possess much broader mental prowess than that, Roediger suggested. It’s not known whether recall gurus start out with super memory and attention or gain those skills through practice.
Humans expect hidden treasures to be clustered in space
Adults and children hide valuables in clumps to make them easy for collaborators to find but scatter goodies widely when hiding them from competitors, psychologist Andreas Wilke of Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., reported November 16. Humans evolved to expect that food and other resources appear in patches, Wilke theorizes (SN: 2/12/11, p. 26). In one test, 5- to 8-year-olds hid 20 marbles among 100 boxes on a playground after being told to make it either hard or easy for others to find the toys. Adults did the same in a computer game in which they hid $1 tokens in a grid of 100 squares. In both games, hiders clustered objects if they wanted them easily found.