Aidan Moran and John Toner
We are constantly bombarded by information. Therefore, during every waking moment of our lives, we face decisions about which stimuli to prioritize and which ones to ignore. To complicate matters, the information that clamors for our attention includes not only events that occur in the world around us but also experiences that originate in the subjective domain of our own thoughts and feelings. The end result is that our minds can consciously attend to only a fraction of the rich kaleidoscope of information and experiences available to us from our senses, thoughts, memories, and imagination. Attentional processes such as “concentration,” or the ability to focus on the task at hand while ignoring distractions, are crucial for success in sport and other domains of skilled performance. To illustrate, Venus Williams, one of the greatest tennis players of all time, proclaimed that “for the players it is complete and pure focus. You don’t see anything or hear anything except the ball and what’s going on in your head.” For psychological scientists, concentration resembles a mental spotlight (like the head-mounted torch that miners and divers wear in dark environments) that illuminates targets located either in the external world around us or in the internal world of our subjective experiences. A major advantage of this spotlight metaphor is that it shows us that concentration is never “lost”—although it can be diverted to targets (whether in the external world or inside our heads) that are irrelevant to the task at hand. Research on attentional processes in sport and performance has been conducted in cognitive psychology (the study of how the mind works), cognitive sport psychology (the study of mental processes in athletes), and cognitive neuroscience (the study of how brain systems give rise to mental processes). From this research, advances have been made both in measuring attentional processes and in understanding their significance in sport and performance settings. For example, pupillometry, or the study of changes in pupil diameter as a function of cognitive processing, has been used as an objective index of attentional effort among skilled performers such as musicians and equestrian athletes. Next, research suggests that a heightened state of concentration (i.e., total absorption in the task at hand) is crucial to the genesis of “flow” states (i.e., rare and elusive moments when everything seems to come together for the performer) and optimal performance in athletes. More recently, studies have shown that brief mindfulness intervention programs, where people are trained to attend non-judgmentally to their own thoughts, feelings, and sensations, offer promise in the quest to enhance attentional skills in elite athletes. By contrast, anxiety has been shown to divert skilled performers’ attention to task-irrelevant information—sometimes triggering “choking” behavior or the sudden and significant deterioration of skilled performance. Finally, concentration strategies such as “trigger words” (i.e., the use of short, vivid, and positively phrased verbal reminders such as “this ball now”) are known to improve athletes’ ability to focus on a specific target or to execute skilled actions successfully.
Anne Josephine Dutt, Hans-Werner Wahl, and Manfred Diehl
The term Awareness of Aging (AoA) incorporates all aspects of individuals’ perceptions, behavioral experiences, and subjective interpretations related to their process of growing older. In this regard, AoA goes beyond objective descriptions of the aging process, such as calendar age or biological age. Commonly used AoA constructs referring to the ongoing experience of the aging process encompass concepts such as subjective age, attitudes toward one’s own aging, self-perceptions of aging, and awareness of age-related change. AoA also incorporates elements that are more pre-conscious in nature, such as age stereotypes and culturally held notions about the aging process. Despite their theoretically broad common foundation, AoA constructs differ according to their specific frames of reference, such as whether and how they take into account the multidimensionality and multi-directionality of development. Examining the existing body of empirical work identifies several antecedents of AoA, such as sociodemographic “background” variables, physical health and physical functioning, cognition, psychological well-being and mental health, psychological variables (e.g., personality, anxiety), and life events. In general, more positive manifestations on these variables are accompanied by a more positive perception and evaluation of the aging process. Moreover, AoA is longitudinally linked to important developmental outcomes, such as health, cognition, subjective well-being, and mortality. Overall, the study of AoA has developed as a promising area of psychological aging research that has grown in its conceptual and empirical rigor during recent years.
Karen Z. H. Li, Halina Bruce, and Rachel Downey
Research on the interplay of cognition and mobility in old age is inherently multidisciplinary, informed by findings from life span developmental psychology, kinesiology, cognitive neuroscience, and rehabilitation sciences. Early observational work revealed strong connections between sensory and sensorimotor performance with measures of intellectual functioning. Subsequent work has revealed more specific links between measures of cognitive control and gait quality. Convergent evidence for the interdependence of cognition and mobility is seen in patient studies, wherein cognitive impairment is associated with increased frequency and risk of falling. Even in cross-sectional studies involving healthy young and older adults, the effects of aging on postural control and gait are commonly exacerbated when participants perform a motor task with a concurrent cognitive load. This motor-cognitive dual-task method assumes that cognitive and motor domains compete for common capacity, and that older adults recruit more cognitive capacity than young adults to support gait and posture.
Neuroimaging techniques such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have revealed associations between measures of mobility (e.g., gait velocity and postural control) and measures of brain health (e.g., gray matter volumes, cortical thickness, white matter integrity, and functional connectivity). The brain regions most often associated with aging and mobility also appear to subserve high-level cognitive functions such as executive control, attention, and working memory (e.g., dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate). Portable functional neuroimaging has allowed for the examination of neural functioning during real-time walking, often in conjunction with detailed spatiotemporal measures of gait. A more recent strategy that addresses the interdependence of cognitive and motor processes in old age is cognitive remediation. Cognitive training has yielded promising improvements in balance, walking, and overall mobility status in healthy older adults, and those with age-related neurodegenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease.
Skylar M. Brannon and Bertram Gawronski
The desire to maintain consistency between cognitions has been recognized by many psychologists as an important human motive. Research on this topic has been highly influential in a variety of areas of social cognition, including attitudes, person perception, prejudice and stereotyping, and self-evaluation. In his seminal work on cognitive dissonance, Leon Festinger noted that inconsistencies between cognitions result in negative affect. Further, he argued that the motivation to maintain consistency is a basic motive that is intrinsically important. Subsequent theorists posed revisions to Festinger’s original theory, suggesting that consistency is only important to the extent that it allows one to maintain a desired self-view or to communicate traits to others. According to these theorists, the motivation to maintain consistency serves as a means toward a superordinate motive, not as an end in itself. Building on this argument, more recent perspectives suggest that consistency is important for the execution of context-appropriate action and the acquisition and validation of knowledge.
Several important lines of research grew out of the idea that cognitive consistency plays a central role in social information processing. One dominant line of research has aimed toward understanding how people deal with inconsistencies between their attitudes and their behaviors. Other research has investigated how individuals maintain their beliefs either by (1) avoiding exposure to contradictory information or (2) engaging in cognitive processes aimed toward reconciling an inconsistency after being exposed to contradictory information. Cognitive consistency perspectives have also been leveraged to understand (1) the conditions under which explicit and implicit evaluations correlate with one another, (2) when change in one type of evaluation corresponds with change in the other, and (3) the roles of distinct types of consistency principles underlying explicit and implicit evaluations.
Expanding on these works, newer lines of research have provided important revisions and extensions to early research on cognitive consistency, focusing on (1) the identification of inconsistency, (2) the elicitation of negative affect in response to inconsistency, and (3) behavioral responses aimed to restore inconsistency or mitigate the negative feelings arising from inconsistency. For example, some research has suggested that, instead of following the rules of formal logic, perceptions of (in)consistency are driven by “psycho-logic” in that individuals may perceive inconsistency when there is logical consistency, and vice versa. Further, reconciling conflicting research on the affective responses to inconsistency, recent work suggests that all inconsistencies first elicit negative affect, but immediate affective reactions may change in line with the hedonic experience of the event when an individual has time to make sense of the inconsistency. Finally, new frameworks have been proposed to unite a broad range of phenomena under one unifying umbrella, using the concept of cognitive consistency as a common denominator.
Alison Chasteen, Maria Iankilevitch, Jordana Schiralli, and Veronica Bergstrom
In 2016, Statistics Canada released the results of the most recent census. For the first time ever, the proportion of Canadians aged 65-plus years surpassed the proportion aged 15 and under. The increase in the proportion of older adults was viewed as further evidence of the faster rate of aging of Canada’s population. Such demographic shifts are not unique to Canada; many industrialized nations around the world are experiencing similar changes in their populations. Increases in the older adult population in many countries might produce beneficial outcomes by increasing the potential for intergenerational contact and exposure to exemplars of successful aging. Such positive intergenerational contact could counter prevailing age stereotypes and improve intergenerational relations. On the other hand, such increases in the number of older adults could be viewed as a strain and potential threat to resources shared with younger age groups. The possibility of increased intergenerational conflict makes it more important than ever before to understand how older adults are stereotyped, how those stereotypes can produce different kinds of biased behavior toward them, and what the impact of those stereotypes are on older adults themselves.
Social-cognitive age representations are complex and multifaceted. A common stereotype applied to older people is one of warmth but incompetence, often resulting in paternalistic prejudice toward them. However, such benevolent prejudice, characterized by warm overtones, can change to hostile bias if older adults are perceived to violate prescriptive norms about age-appropriate behavior. In addition to coping with age prejudice, older adults also have to deal with the deleterious effects of negative age stereotypes on their day-to-day function. Exposure to negative aging stereotypes can worsen older adults’ cognitive performance in a number of contexts. As well, age stereotypes can be incorporated into older adults’ own views of aging, also leading to poorer outcomes for them in a variety of domains. A number of interventions to counteract the effects of negative aging stereotypes appear promising, but more work remains to be done to reduce the impact of negative aging stereotypes on daily function in later life.
Michael Cole and Martin Packer
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology. Please check back later for the full article.
There is a growing appreciation of the importance of understanding the role of culture in children’s psychological development (also called human ontogenesis). In particular, the texts of Lev Vygotsky contributed greatly to a “cultural psychology” in which the study of culture and development is seen as central. At the same time, cross-cultural research in psychology has paid growing attention to developmental issues. Although there continues to be much debate over how to define culture, it is generally agreed that different human social groups have distinct cultures. It is common to assume, in addition, that cultural differences lead to differences in the trajectories of children’s development. This is true, but it is also the case that culture is a universal requirement for development. The interdependence of human communities—which probably had its origins in collaborative hunting and cooperative childrearing—seems to have placed demands on children’s development, selecting for a sensitivity to norms and to other people’s goals and intentions. Every child is born into a family and community with a language, customs, and conventions, and in which people have institutional rights and responsibilities. These define universal requisites of human psychological development: These include the acquisition of language, the development of a social identity, the understanding of community obligations, and the ability to contribute to the reproduction of the community. An open question today is the character of the capacities that children bring to these developmental tasks: the apparently species-unique ability that has made possible vast “cumulative” societies.
Dyslexia, or a reading disability, occurs when an individual has great difficulty at the level of word reading and decoding. Comprehension of text, writing, and spelling are also affected. The diagnosis of dyslexia involves the use of reading tests, but the continuum of reading performance means that any cutoff point is arbitrary. The IQ score does not play a role in the diagnosis of dyslexia. Dyslexia is a language-based learning disability. The cognitive difficulties of dyslexics include problems with recognizing and manipulating the basic sounds in a language, language memory, and learning the sounds of letters. Dyslexia is a neurological condition with a genetic basis. There are abnormalities in the brains of dyslexic individuals. There are also differences in the electrophysiological and structural characteristics of the brains of dyslexics. Hope for dyslexia involves early detection and intervention and evidence-based instruction.
Emma V. Ward and David R. Shanks
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Psychology. Please check back later for the full article.
It is well documented that explicit (declarative, conscious) memory declines in normal aging. Studies have shown a progressive reduction in this form of memory with age, and healthy older adults (typically aged 65+ years) usually perform worse than younger adults (typically aged 18–30 years) on laboratory tests of explicit memory such as recall and recognition. In contrast, it is less clear whether implicit (procedural, unconscious) memory declines or remains stable in normal aging. Implicit memory is evident when previous experiences affect (e.g., facilitate) performance on tasks that do not require conscious recollection of those experiences. This can manifest in rehearsed motor skills, such as playing a musical instrument, but is typically indexed in the laboratory by the greater ease with which previously studied information is processed relative to non-studied information (e.g., repetition-priming). While a vast amount of research has accumulated to suggest that implicit memory remains relatively stable over the adult life span and is similar in samples of young and older adults, other studies have, in contrast, revealed that implicit memory is subject to age-related decline. Improving methods for determining whether implicit memory declines or remains stable with age is an important goal for future research, as the conclusion not only holds fundamental implications for an aging society, but can also inform our theoretical understating of human memory systems.
DeMond M. Grant and Evan J. White
Cognitive control is the ability to direct attention and cognitive resources toward achieving one’s goals. However, research indicates that anxiety biases multiple cognitive processes, including cognitive control. This occurs in part because anxiety leads to excessive processing of threatening stimuli at the expense of ongoing activities. This enhanced processing of threat interferes with several cognitive processes, which includes how individuals view and respond to their environment. Specifically, research indicates that anxious individuals devote their attention toward threat when considering both early, automatic processes and later, sustained attention. In addition, anxiety has negative effects on working memory, which involves the ability to hold and manipulate information in one’s consciousness. Anxiety has been found to decrease the resources necessary for effective working memory performance, as well as increase the likelihood of negative information entering working memory. Finally, anxiety is characterized by focusing excessive attention on mistakes, and there is also a reduction in the cognitive control resources necessary to correct behavior. Enhancing our knowledge of how anxiety affects cognitive control has broad implications for understanding the development of anxiety disorders, as well as emerging treatments for these conditions.
Erica H. Wojcik, Irene de la Cruz-Pavía, and Janet F. Werker
Language is a structured form of communication that is unique to humans. Within the first few years of life, typically developing children can understand and produce full sentences in their native language or languages. For centuries, philosophers, psychologists, and linguists have debated how we acquire language with such ease and speed. Central to this debate has been whether the learning process is driven by innate capacities or information in the environment. In the field of psychology, researchers have moved beyond this dichotomy to examine how perceptual and cognitive biases may guide input-driven learning and how these biases may change with experience. There is evidence that this integration permeates the learning and development of all aspects of language—from sounds (phonology), to the meanings of words (lexical-semantics), to the forms of words and the structure of sentences (morphosyntax). For example, in the area of phonology, newborns’ bias to attend to speech over other signals facilitates early learning of the prosodic and phonemic properties of their native language(s). In the area of lexical-semantics, infants’ bias to attend to novelty aids in mapping new words to their referents. In morphosyntax, infants’ sensitivity to vowels, repetition, and phrase edges guides statistical learning. In each of these areas, too, new biases come into play throughout development, as infants gain more knowledge about their native language(s).