Ohio State Researchers Study Self Control

In a new study researchers observed people’s hands, in real time, struggle over the choice between a long-term goal and short-term temptation. This work represents a new way to study self-control.

In an experiment, participants viewed pictures of a healthy and an unhealthy food choice on opposite sides of the top of a computer screen and moved a cursor from the center bottom to select one of the foods.

People who moved the cursor closer to the unhealthy treat (even when they ultimately made the healthy choice) later showed less self-control than did those who made a more direct path to the healthy snack.

The results may shed light on a scholarly debate about what’s happening in the brain when humans harness willpower. But for those with higher levels of self-control, the path to the healthy food was more direct, indicating that they experienced less conflict. The findings also offer new evidence in a debate about how decision-making in self-control situations unfolds, researchers said.

The Science of Stuff (And Getting Rid of It)

Researchers at the Ohio State University may have a solution for those of us who have trouble hoarding stuff we are emotionally attached to. They found that people were more willing to get rid of unneeded items that still had sentimental value if they first took a photo of the items, thus giving them a different way to preserve the memory.

Such techniques could help parents eliminate baby items once their children have grown or a young person moving out for the first time sort through the their childhood knick-knacks.

The researchers conducted a field study involving 797 students who lived in six residence halls on campus. At the end of a fall semester, the researchers advertised a donation drive before the students left for the holidays. But there was a catch: There were actually two different advertising campaigns that varied by residence halls.

In the memory preservation campaign, signs in the residence hall bathrooms stated, “Don’t Pack up Your Sentimental Clutter…Just Keep a Photo of It, Then Donate.” In the control campaign, fliers told students, “Don’t Pack Up Your Sentimental Clutter, Just Collect the Items, Then Donate.” Similar numbers of students were exposed to both campaigns.

After finals week, research associates who were unaware of what the study was about emptied donation bins in each residence hall, counting the items donated.

The researchers found 613 items were donated in the halls that hosted the “memory preservation” campaign, versus only 533 in the control campaign.

In other related experiments, the researchers found that it wasn’t just the memories associated with these possessions that were keeping people from donating – it was the identities linked to those memories.

For example, older parents may still feel connected to their identity as new mothers and fathers and not want to part with their infant clothes.

In one study, some people who were donating goods at a local thrift shop in State College, Pennsylvania, were given instant photos of the items they were donating, while others were not. They were then asked about whether they would feel a sense of identity loss from giving away the item.

Results showed that those who received the photos reported less identity loss than those who did not.
Researchers said that the bottom line is this technique can help anyone who is emotionally attached to items that could be donated or thrown away, helping declutter their lives.

OSU Researcher Finds That Lasting Memories Are a Little “Weird”

Per Sederberg, professor of psychology at The Ohio State University, has developed a theory of “peculiarity” when it comes to what we remember most. Life-long memories simultaneously have elements of both the familiar and the peculiar.

Sederberg states that the process of building life-long memories has to start with a “scaffolding” of things we already know or are familiar with, but something about the scenario has to “violate expectations.” In other words, “It has to be a little bit weird.”

The way to create a long-lasting memory is to form an association with other memories. For the mind to retrieve the memory it needs to connect to other memories in multiple ways. These associations create a map for the mind to find memories. The more connections or roads between them, the easier they are to find.

Sederberg says that there must be a balance between the strange and the familiar. The strange helps know what is important to remember, familiarity helps us know what to ignore. Something too out of place will find no home on the “cognitive map” and will be lost, similarly the too-familiar gets lost as well.

Sederberg’s co-presenters, all based in London, are Dominique Bonnafoux, a senior strategist at FITCH; Mike Reed, founder and creative director of Reed Words; and Jason Bruges, a multidisciplinary artist and designer.

OSU Researchers Uncover Positive News About Brain Tissue and Concussions

New research at the Ohio State University reveals details about sub-cellular change in the brain in a post-concussive state that might one day be used to provide better treatment to concussion sufferers and other patients with brain damage.

Researchers examined the changes in rodent brains when affected by laboratory induced mild traumatic brain injury. They found rapid microscopic swelling along the axons. The axons are the long, slender part of the nerve cell that sends vital messages to other parts of the brain. This same kind of swelling is also seen in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s patients.

There is some guarded good news, though—the swollen axons are reversible. It remains, however, unclear how exactly all this plays out in a human brain and the degree to which people may respond differently to brain trauma and other neurological problems.

When Stars Go Gently Into That Sweet Night

For the first time in history, astronomers have been able to watch as a dying star was reborn as a black hole. The star, which was 25 times as massive as our sun, should have exploded in a very bright supernova. Instead it un-spectacularly became a black hole.

Quietly dying stars like this one in a nearby galaxy could explain why astronomers rarely see supernovae from the most massive stars, said Christopher Kochanek, professor of astronomy at The Ohio State University and the Ohio Eminent Scholar in Observational Cosmology.

As many as 30 percent of such stars, it seems, may quietly collapse into black holes with going super nova.

He leads a team of astronomers who have been using the Large Binocular Telescope (LBT) to look for failed supernovae in other galaxies. They published their latest results in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

The astronomers aimed the Hubble Space Telescope at the star’s location to see if it was still there but merely dimmed. They also used the Spitzer Space Telescope to search for any infrared radiation emanating from the spot. That would have been a sign that the star was still present, but perhaps just hidden behind a dust cloud.

All the tests came up negative. The star was no longer there. By a careful process of elimination, the researchers eventually concluded that the star must have become a black hole.