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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Department of Psychology

UC San Diego

Recent Work

Cover page of Target templates in low target-distractor discriminability visual search have higher resolution, but the advantage they provide is short-lived.

Target templates in low target-distractor discriminability visual search have higher resolution, but the advantage they provide is short-lived.


When you search repeatedly for a set of items among very similar distractors, does that make you more efficient in locating the targets? To address this, we had observers search for two categories of targets among the same set of distractors across trials. Visual and conceptual similarity of the stimuli were validated with a multidimensional scaling analysis, and separately using a deep neural network model. After a few blocks of visual search trials, the distractor set was replaced. In three experiments, we manipulated the level of discriminability between the targets and distractors before and after the distractors were replaced. Our results suggest that in the presence of repeated distractors, observers generally become more efficient. However, the difficulty of the search task does impact how efficient people are when the distractor set is replaced. Specifically, when the training is easy, people are more impaired in a difficult transfer test. We attribute this effect to the precision of the target template generated during training. In particular, a coarse target template is created when the target and distractors are easy to discriminate. These coarse target templates do not transfer well in a context with new distractors. This suggests that learning with more distinct targets and distractors can result in lower performance when context changes, but observers recover from this effect quickly (within a block of search trials).

Cover page of Different Effects of Alcohol Exposure on Action and Outcome-Related Orbitofrontal Cortex Activity.

Different Effects of Alcohol Exposure on Action and Outcome-Related Orbitofrontal Cortex Activity.


Alcohol dependence can result in long-lasting deficits to decision-making and action control. Neurobiological investigations have identified orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) as important for outcome-related contributions to goal-directed actions during decision-making. Prior work has shown that alcohol dependence induces long-lasting changes to OFC function that persist into protracted withdrawal and disrupts goal-directed control over actions. However, it is unclear whether these changes in function alter representation of action and outcome-related neural activity in OFC. Here, we used the well-validated chronic intermittent ethanol (CIE) exposure and withdrawal procedure to model alcohol dependence in mice and performed in vivo extracellular recordings during an instrumental task in which lever-press actions made for a food outcome. We found alcohol dependence disrupted goal-directed action control and increased OFC activity associated with lever-pressing but decreased OFC activity during outcome-related epochs. The ability to decode outcome-related information, but not action information, from OFC activity following CIE exposure was reduced. Hence, chronic alcohol exposure induced a long-lasting disruption to OFC function such that activity associated with actions was enhanced, but OFC activity contributions to outcome-related information was diminished. This has important implications for hypotheses regarding compulsive and habitual phenotypes observed in addiction.

Real-world objects are not stored in holistic representations in visual working memory.


When storing multiple objects in visual working memory, observers sometimes misattribute perceived features to incorrect locations or objects. These misattributions are called binding errors (or swaps) and have been previously demonstrated mostly in simple objects whose features are easy to encode independently and arbitrarily chosen, like colors and orientations. Here, we tested whether similar swaps can occur with real-world objects, where the connection between features is meaningful rather than arbitrary. In Experiments 1 and 2, observers were simultaneously shown four items from two object categories. Within a category, the two exemplars could be presented in either the same or different states (e.g., open/closed; full/empty). After a delay, both exemplars from one of the categories were probed, and participants had to recognize which exemplar went with which state. We found good memory for state information and exemplar information on their own, but a significant memory decrement for exemplar-state combinations, suggesting that binding was difficult for observers and swap errors occurred even for meaningful real-world objects. In Experiment 3, we used the same task, but in one-half of the trials, the locations of the exemplars were swapped at test. We found that there are more errors in general when the locations of exemplars were swapped. We concluded that the internal features of real-world objects are not perfectly bound in working memory, and location updates impair object and feature representations. Overall, we provide evidence that even real-world objects are not stored in an entirely unitized format in working memory.

Dissociable effects of averted "gaze" on the priming of bodily representations and motor actions.


Gaze direction is an important stimulus that signals key details about social (dis)engagement and objects in our physical environment. Here, we explore how gaze direction influences the perceiver's processing of bodily information. Specifically, we examined how averted versus direct gaze modifies the operation of effector-centered representations (i.e., specific fingers) versus movement-centered representations (i.e., finger actions). Study 1 used a stimulus-response compatibility paradigm that tested the priming of a relevant effector or relevant movement, after observing videos of direct or averted gaze. We found a selective priming of relevant effectors, but only after averted gaze videos. Study 2 found similar priming effects with symbolic direction cues (averted arrows). Study 3 found that averted gaze cues do not influence generic spatial compatibility effects, and thus, are specific to body representations. In sum, this research suggests that both human and symbolic averted cues selectively prime relevant body-part representations, highlighting the dynamic interplay between our bodies, minds, and environments.

From likely to likable: The role of statistical typicality in human social assessment of faces.


Humans readily form social impressions, such as attractiveness and trustworthiness, from a stranger's facial features. Understanding the provenance of these impressions has clear scientific importance and societal implications. Motivated by the efficient coding hypothesis of brain representation, as well as Claude Shannon's theoretical result that maximally efficient representational systems assign shorter codes to statistically more typical data (quantified as log likelihood), we suggest that social "liking" of faces increases with statistical typicality. Combining human behavioral data and computational modeling, we show that perceived attractiveness, trustworthiness, dominance, and valence of a face image linearly increase with its statistical typicality (log likelihood). We also show that statistical typicality can at least partially explain the role of symmetry in attractiveness perception. Additionally, by assuming that the brain focuses on a task-relevant subset of facial features and assessing log likelihood of a face using those features, our model can explain the "ugliness-in-averageness" effect found in social psychology, whereby otherwise attractive, intercategory faces diminish in attractiveness during a categorization task.

Cover page of Forgiveness takes place on an attitudinal continuum from hostility to friendliness: Toward a closer union of forgiveness theory and measurement.

Forgiveness takes place on an attitudinal continuum from hostility to friendliness: Toward a closer union of forgiveness theory and measurement.


Researchers commonly conceptualize forgiveness as a rich complex of psychological changes involving attitudes, emotions, and behaviors. Psychometric work with the measures developed to capture this conceptual richness, however, often points to a simpler picture of the psychological dimensions in which forgiveness takes place. In an effort to better unite forgiveness theory and measurement, we evaluate several psychometric models for common measures of forgiveness. In doing so, we study people from the United States and Japan to understand forgiveness in both nonclose and close relationships. In addition, we assess the predictive utility of these models for several behavioral outcomes that traditionally have been linked to forgiveness motives. Finally, we use the methods of item response theory, which place person abilities and item responses on the same metric and, thus, help us draw psychological inferences from the ordering of item difficulties. Our results highlight models based on correlated factors models and bifactor (S-1) models. The bifactor (S-1) model evinced particular utility: Its general factor consistently predicts variation in relevant criterion measures, including 4 different experimental economic games (when played with a transgressor), and also suffuses a second self-report measure of forgiveness. Moreover, the general factor of the bifactor (S-1) model identifies a single psychological dimension that runs from hostility to friendliness while also pointing to other sources of variance that may be conceived of as method factors. Taken together, these results suggest that forgiveness can be usefully conceptualized as prosocial change along a single attitudinal continuum that ranges from hostility to friendliness. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).

Cover page of Searching for Prosociality in Qualitative Data: Comparing Manual, Closed-Vocabulary, and Open-Vocabulary Methods

Searching for Prosociality in Qualitative Data: Comparing Manual, Closed-Vocabulary, and Open-Vocabulary Methods


Although most people present themselves as possessing prosocial traits, people differ in the extent to which they actually act prosocially in everyday life. Qualitative data that were not ostensibly collected to measure prosociality might contain information about prosocial dispositions that is not distorted by self–presentation concerns. This paper seeks to characterise charitable donors from qualitative data. We compared a manual approach of extracting predictors from participants’ self–described personal strivings to two automated approaches: A summation of words predefined as prosocial and a support vector machine classifier. Although variables extracted by the support vector machine predicted donation behaviour well in the training sample ( N = 984), virtually, no variables from any method significantly predicted donations in a holdout sample ( N = 496). Raters’ attempts to predict donations to charity based on reading participants’ personal strivings were also unsuccessful. However, raters’ predictions were associated with past charitable involvement. In sum, predictors derived from personal strivings did not robustly explain variation in charitable behaviour, but personal strivings may nevertheless contain some information about trait prosociality. The sparseness of personal strivings data, rather than the irrelevance of open–ended text or individual differences in goal pursuit, likely explains their limited value in predicting prosocial behaviour. © 2020 European Association of Personality Psychology

Music as a coevolved system for social bonding.


Why do humans make music? Theories of the evolution of musicality have focused mainly on the value of music for specific adaptive contexts such as mate selection, parental care, coalition signaling, and group cohesion. Synthesizing and extending previous proposals, we argue that social bonding is an overarching function that unifies all of these theories, and that musicality enabled social bonding at larger scales than grooming and other bonding mechanisms available in ancestral primate societies. We combine cross-disciplinary evidence from archaeology, anthropology, biology, musicology, psychology, and neuroscience into a unified framework that accounts for the biological and cultural evolution of music. We argue that the evolution of musicality involves gene-culture coevolution, through which proto-musical behaviors that initially arose and spread as cultural inventions had feedback effects on biological evolution due to their impact on social bonding. We emphasize the deep links between production, perception, prediction, and social reward arising from repetition, synchronization, and harmonization of rhythms and pitches, and summarize empirical evidence for these links at the levels of brain networks, physiological mechanisms, and behaviors across cultures and across species. Finally, we address potential criticisms and make testable predictions for future research, including neurobiological bases of musicality and relationships between human music, language, animal song, and other domains. The music and social bonding (MSB) hypothesis provides the most comprehensive theory to date of the biological and cultural evolution of music.

Cover page of Informative experimentation in intuitive science: Children select and learn from their own causal interventions.

Informative experimentation in intuitive science: Children select and learn from their own causal interventions.


We investigated whether children preferentially select informative actions and make accurate inferences from the outcome of their own interventions in a causal learning task. Four- to six-year-olds were presented with a novel system composed of gears that could operate according to two possible causal structures (single or multiple cause). Given the choice between interventions (i.e., removing one of the two gears to observe the remaining gear in isolation), children demonstrated a clear preference for the action that revealed the true causal structure, and made subsequent causal judgments that were consistent with the outcome observed. Experiment 2 addressed the possibility that performance was driven by children's tendency to select an intervention that would produce a desirable effect (i.e., spinning gears), rather than to disambiguate the causal structure. These results replicate our initial findings in a context in which the informative action was less likely to produce a positive outcome than the uninformative one. Experiment 3 serves as a control demonstrating that children's success in the previous experiments is not due to their use of low-level strategies. We discuss these findings in terms of their significance for understanding the development of scientific reasoning and the role of self-directed actions in early causal learning.

Is working memory inherently more "precise" than long-term memory? Extremely high fidelity visual long-term memories for frequently encountered objects.


Long-term memory is often considered easily corruptible, imprecise, and inaccurate, especially in comparison to working memory. However, most research used to support these findings relies on weak long-term memories: those where people have had only one brief exposure to an item. Here we investigated the fidelity of visual long-term memory in more naturalistic setting, with repeated exposures, and ask how it compares to visual working memory fidelity. Using psychophysical methods designed to precisely measure the fidelity of visual memory, we demonstrate that long-term memory for the color of frequently seen objects is as accurate as working memory for the color of a single item seen 1 s ago. In particular, we show that repetition greatly improves long-term memory, including the ability to discriminate an item from a very similar item (fidelity), in both a lab setting (Experiments 1-3) and a naturalistic setting (brand logos, Experiment 4). Overall, our results demonstrate the impressive nature of visual long-term memory fidelity, which we find is even higher fidelity than previously indicated in situations involving repetitions. Furthermore, our results suggest that there is no distinction between the fidelity of visual working memory and visual long-term memory, but instead both memory systems are capable of storing similar incredibly high-fidelity memories under the right circumstances. Our results also provide further evidence that there is no fundamental distinction between the "precision" of memory and the "likelihood of retrieving a memory," instead suggesting a single continuous measure of memory strength best accounts for working and long-term memory. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).