Social policies aimed at reducing prejudice and intergroup conflict would do well to take account of social psychological research in this area.

To examine the potential benefits social psychology may offer in the reduction of prejudice and intergroup conflict this essay will present an overview of the development of research, consider how this currently informs social policy, and asses the implications. This will entail moving through the personality research of the 1950’s, the foundational work of Serif’s realistic contact theory and Tajfel’s influential cognitive social theory of social identity before examining the discursive work undertaken by two of Tajfel’s students, Michael Billig and Margaret Wetherell. The contact hypothesis, the most obvious application of a social psychological approach in the field of prejudice and conflict reduction, will then be appraised before an assessment is made of how research interacts with social policy. The essay concludes with a recommendation to exercise caution in this highly emotive field and that a discursive approach appears to offer the most potential for flexible and active engagement.

Psychology originally positioned prejudice as a psychological abnormality founded upon individuals’ false generalizations (Allport, 1954 cited in Dixon, 2007). Adorno’ et al.’s (1950) ‘Authoritarian Personality’ research demonstrates this, applying a predefined authoritarian ideology to assessing individuals for signs of prejudicial beliefs before then pathologising both the authoritarian individual and the ideology they appeared to express. Whilst this demonized construction may have comforted some, Wetherell and Potter (1992) suggest this description of prejudice, abnormal ideology positioned within abnormal individuals, constrained analysis. Frosch (2002) argues that this limitation was overcome with the Cognitive Social Psychology framing of prejudice within an information-processing model. Through this model prejudice became a normalized function. An aspect of an individuals limited cognitive resources (Fiske and Taylor, 1991 citied in Dixon 2007). Seen as a negative but ‘natural’ instance of stereotyping, prejudice arose from the perceptual errors and irrational biases inherent within an individuals categorical processing system. Sherif (1966, cited in Dixon 2007) however argued this individualistic explanation could not adequately explain the wider social phenomena of shared group prejudice and conflict. Such an explanation, Sherif suggested, required an understanding of intergroup relationships. Yes – here you need to stress the individualistic and deterministic aspect of these views and how this kind of research actually has nothing to offer social policy.

Sherif’s (1966 cited in Dixon 2007) Realistic Conflict Theory (RCT) rejected the notion that prejudice was founded upon irrational biases but was rather an individual’s rational, socially structured, response to achieving group goals. Sherif demonstrated that by changing the relationships between groups, incentivising cooperation and minimizing competition, intergroup prejudice and conflict could be significantly reduced. However, whilst Sherif demonstrated intergroup competition could be sufficient to produce prejudice and social conflict Tajfel and Turner (cited in Dixon, 2007) argued that competition was not always necessary for discrimination to occur. They suggested that an individual’s identification, both with and between social groups, was the fundamental contributory factor. This was supported by the minimal group research which showed that simply membership of a group was enough.

Tajfel and Turner, motivated by a desire to understand social change and the related roles of identity, ideology and conflict, extended RCT with a Social Identify Theory (SIT) (Brown, 2007, Dixon (2007). Tajfel suggested that individuals sought to conceive of themselves in a positive light and that their social identities, intrinsic to the process of identity management, were forged through intergroup comparisons. This led Tajfel to surmise that if group members were unable to form a positive social identity they would seek to either redefine more positively the perception of their own group or join another group perceived to be more socially advantageous. Additionally, when a group perceives another world is possible and questions injustices between groups then explicit resistance and conflict becomes increasingly probable. This led Tajfel and Turner (1979) to conclude that discrimination and discord was the engine of social change. Wetherell and Potter (1992) saw this positioning of the social, prior to individual cognition, as a significant theoretical and analytical progression in the understanding of discrimination. This did not however mean that SIT did not require development.

Billig (2002a), taking a discursive approach, foregrounds Tajfel’s cultural, social and historical situation to demonstrate the constraints placed upon Tajfel’s theorizing to reveal the limitations of the cognitive approach to prejudice. Billig portrays Tajfel as taking a moral and political stance in arguing against the suggestion that social conflict and prejudice was the inevitable result of innate, irrational aggression. Tajfel’s critical argument was that instinctive explanations could not account for the ‘waxing and waning’ of prejudice (Billig, 2002b) and that prejudice was a rational response to social factors that utilised the cognitive processes of perceptual categorization to maintain a coherent self-image. However, taking this cognitive approach, arguably the most effective approach then available, constrained Tajfel’s theorizing. Questions of motivation and emotion moved to the background whilst generalizations became the order of the day. Billig notes that Tajfel, a survivor of the Shoah, does not address the Holocaust. Billig suggest this reticence came both from the social pressure of the time and a feeling that a rational explanation of this horror could create a justification for extreme bigotry. Billig argues that this highlights the failure of cognitive generalizations to account for the cultural and historical dynamics of prejudice.

R. Brown (2002), appearing to take a realist position that suggests that independent groups can be objectively defined and partially exemplifying what Hepburn (2011, p.229) describes as the ‘individual subject psychologies big mistake’, criticizes Billig as closed to the possibility of inevitable intergroup discrimination and challenges the lack of a practical universal discursive explanation of racism. Countering Brown’s universalist argument, Billig (2002b) cites Tajfel’s ‘waxing and waning’ argument to make the point that bigotry’s ‘ultimate’ inhumanity cannot be adequately understood through mere generalizations but requires a deeper and more specific analysis precisely because it is not a general occurrence. Brown attempts to position mainstream psychology as having the potential to satisfy some of Billig’s critique but Billig (2002b) counters suggesting that without a precise analysis of what bigots say any understanding of bigotry will be tentative and narrow. A limitation that non-discursive theories will continuously fail to transcend.

Brown and Lunt (2002) bemoan that contemporary SIT, rather than developing Tajfel’s concern for the relationship between individuals and social situations, has retreated into a cognitive study of perceptual categorization.Brown (2007) argues, that this regression neglects the dynamic, interactional, motivational and emotional aspects of categorization whilst Billig (2002, p.180) feels the move betrays the political spirit of Tajfel’s ‘theory of liberation’ and social change. Continuing this challenge to the individualistic limitations of the cognitive approach, Wetherell (1996) seen by Brown (2007) as radically recasting Tajfel’s intergroup work, asserts that as language is a precondition for categorization, categorization is a social, discursive practice. Dixon (2007) notes that from a discursive psychological perspective, as social reality is constructed and given meaning through talk, social categorization self evidently has social and political consequences. A point Billig (2002, p.179) explicitly asserts stating ‘words [can be] pure hatred’.

Wetherell and Potter (1992), taking a Foucauldian perspective, note that, whilst intergroup research often begins by defining/identifying groups before studying the relationships between them, these relationships themselves, constructed through discursive practices, have their own dynamic•. Akin to Brown and Lunt’s (2002) contention that intergroup differentiation is a symptom rather than the cause of discursive practices, Wetherell and Potter, citing Foucault’s (1980) perspective that it is power and knowledge flowing through society that forms the discursive field, make the case for discriminatory discourse to become the target of research and action•. From this position, Wetherell and Potter (1992) call for an expansion of SIT centering on the discursive production of social categories that they see constituting prejudice. An abductory approach that, as Stanton-Rogers (2003) remarks, can flexibly engage and tackle social and cultural dynamics whenever they present themselves. However, whilst discursive psychology arguably falls most decisively on the side of social change, it is the contact hypothesis, shaped by contemporary SIT that currently influences social policy (Brown, 1998 and Dovidio et al., 2003 cited in Dixon 2007).

The contact hypothesis proposes institutionally supported, regular contact between people of equal status, including those who confound stereotypes, and promotes cooperation over competition reduces prejudice. Dixon (2007) notes Brewer and Miller (1984) also suggest de-emphasising group difference whilst Hewstone and Brown (1986) contend this contradicts a central tenant of SIT and that group members must see themselves as valued representatives of their own group. However, differentiation fuels prejudice (Dixon, 2007). Dixon observes that Gaertner and Dovidio’s (2000), supported by the research of Gaertner (1990), attempt to reconcile this argument, suggesting that if groups recategorise themselves as a single group, prejudice decreases. This enables groups’ differences to be de-emphasised whilst simultaneously allowing a new, wider group identity to form. The global Occupy movement’s use of the 99% grouping is an active example of such a strategy•. However, Dixon (2007) warns against seeing the contact hypothesis as a panacea for prejudice and conflict with Frosch (2002) asserting that contact has not proved particularly effective in the past.

From a social policy perspective, the questions of how or who to direct attention towards is not always clear. Cuhadar and Dayton (2011) cautions against assuming participants in intergroup contact encounters identify with the group definitions assumed by researchers pointing to the example of Palestinian’s who identify more closely with Israeli friends than fellow Palestinians.• Even with a supposed identifiable target group Gergen (1973) notes how intervention intended to change behaviour is often resisted. Indeed, Gergen suggests that the more explicitly powerful the campaign, the greater probability and potential strength of resistance. However, the challenges run potentially deeper. Both Frosch (2002) and Adams et al. (2008) note that whist the social psychological study of prejudice has been extensive, group based discrimination and inequality persists. Additionally, Paluck and Green (2009) assert that both research and education remains partial with it remaining unclear why, when or even if intervention reduces prejudice. A situation that leads Frosch (2002, p.89) to lament “I would give up any number of articles on interpersonal attraction for one decent account of racism and what to do about it.” Gergen takes the criticism further, noting how the psychological profession has abused their privileged position of knowledge creation to spread propaganda. Brown (1965) provides one such an example citing the similar construction between authoritarian personality and the “J-type personality” (Jaensch, 1938 cited in Brown 1965), which Germans held in high esteem. Self and Acheson-Brown (2008) in turn point to Hendrik Verwoerd, a professor of psychology who, upon becoming a minister in the South African government, deployed scientific rhetoric to falsely present apartheid as enabling black people to maintain their true cultural identities. Despite these limitations and cautionary tales, Adams observes that social psychology is uniquely positioned (Markus, 2005; Ross and Nisbett, 1991 cited in Adams et al., 2008) to provide a science of systemic oppression. Gergen asserts that the field can and should provide the concepts and methods which can inform “the inquirer of a number of possible occurrences, thus expanding his sensitivities and readying him for more rapid accommodation to environmental change” (Gergen, 1973 p.317). Whilst Wetherell and Potter (1992) argue that the construction of truth presents the opportunity for a less prejudiced reality to be created and intensifies the requirement for ethical and political commitments from social scientists, with Hepburn (2011) concluding that social psychologists have a responsibility to act.

For social policy makers SIT suggests that to reduce prejudice and conflict the focus of research and action could break free from the restricted view that situates discrimination within individuals. In doing so, a wider social psychological consideration could productively focus upon the construction and consistent reproduction of a stable, secure and inclusive society that supports cooperation and the formation of positive social identities whilst minimizing competition for resources. However, the risk of developing psychological technologies that could be used to mitigate discrimination and reduce conflict that focuses upon groups of individuals and does not tackle the social mechanisms through which power/knowledge flows is problematic. Essentially, if a tool can mitigate discrimination then it can be used to mitigate anti-discrimination. Prejudice works both ways. Currently the prevailing overt culture in western-societies is to discriminate against racists, sexists, homophobes and to uphold human rights but if Foucault is correct then this tendency will be resisted and it would be prudent to acknowledge the possibility that the social environment is in a constant state of transformation. Wetherell and Potter (1992) suggest a Foucauldian approach that traces the generation and reproduction of ‘truth’ as a more productive route to explore how claims become so empowered. This genealogical analysis not only offers a more encompassing but precise and effective methodology that simultaneously demonstrates prejudice in action but also creates new potentials within the discursive field to resist prejudicial discourse.

Whether institutions are inclined, or structurally able, to respond effectively to these insights is another matter entirely. Social policy that enables a more reflexive approach that facilitates a critical interrogation of institutional structures to examine how discursive practices reproduces inequality could prove fruitful. However, framing prejudice as an educational issue with governmental institutions paternalistically intervening upon a population seems to offer limited success. Prejudice is not the prerogative of one or more exclusive (potentially illusionary) groups but embedded within the discursive field in which we all participate therefore the opportunity for social change exists between us all and whilst the power of prejudice may wax and wane, reconfigure and continuously threaten, resistance and creative conflict will continue in response.


Adams, G., Biernat, M., Branscombe, N. R., Crandall, C. S., & Wrightsman, L. S. (2008). Beyond prejudice: Toward a sociocultural psychology of racism and oppression. In G. Adams, M. Biernat, N. R. Branscombe, C. S. Crandall, & L. S. Wrightsman (Eds.), Commemorating Brown: The social psychology of racism and discrimination (pp. 215-246). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association Books.

Brown, R. (2002). ‘Commentary: Henri Tajfel’s “Cognitive aspects of prejudice” and the psychology of bigotry’, British Journal of Social Psychology, vol.41, pp. 195-198

Brown, S.D. & Lunt, P. (2002). A genealogy of the social identity tradition: Deleuze and Guattari and social psychology, British Journal of Social Psychology, 41, pp. 1–23

Brown, S. (2007). Intergroup processes: social identity theory. In D. Langdridge & S. Taylor, (Eds.) (2007) Critical Readings in Social Psychology (pp. 133-162). Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Billig, M. (2002a). ‘Henri Tajfel’s “Cognitive aspects of prejudice” and the psychology of bigotry’, British Journal of Social Psychology, vol.41, pp. 171–88.

Billig, M. (2002b). ‘A response to Brown and Frosh’, British Journal of Social Psychology, vol.41, pp. 199–202.

Cuhadar, E. and Dayton, B. (2011). The Social Psychology of Identity and Inter-group Conflict: From Theory to Practice. International Studies Perspectives, 12: 273–293.

Dixon, J. (2007). ‘Prejudice, conflict and conflict reduction’. In W. Hollway, H. Lucey & A. Phoenix, (Eds.), (2007) Social Psychology Matters (pp. 145-172). Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Frosch, S. (2002). Enjoyment, bigotry, discourse and cognition, British Journal of Social Psychology, 41, pp. 189–193

Gergen, K. J. (1973). Social Psychology as History, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 26, No. 2, 309-320

Hepburn, A. (2011). An Introduction to Critical Social Psychology. London, Sage.

Paluck E.L. & Green D.P. (2009). Prejudice reduction: what works? A review and assessment of research and practice. Annual Review Psychology, vol.60 pp. 339-67.

Self, E. A. & Acheson-Brown, D. G. (2008). Desegregating the self: Transcending identity politics in South Africa. In G. Adams, M. Biernat, N. R. Branscombe, C. S. Crandall, & L. S. Wrightsman (Eds.), Commemorating Brown: The social psychology of racism and discrimination (pp. 195-214). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association Books.

Stainton-Rogers, W. (2003). Social Psychology: Experimental and Critical Approaches. Maidenhead, Berkshire/Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Tajfel, H. and Turner, J.C. (1979). ‘An integrative theory of intergroup conflict’ In D. Langdridge & S. Taylor, (Eds.) (2007) Critical Readings in Social Psychology (pp. 136-144). Milton Keynes: Open University Press

Wetherell, M. and Potter, J. (1992). Mapping the Language of Racism: Discourse and the Legitimation of Exploitation, Hemel Hempstead, Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Connected learning

Connected Learning

What can be learned about normal cognitive function by using haemodynamic imaging techniques such as fMRI and PET on healthy volunteers?

Haemodynamic imaging uses noninvasive techniques to construct images of the brain’s metabolic activity and blood flow thus enabling inferences to be drawn in support of specific theoretical models of cognition. However, whilst this methodology has generated a large amount of interest, the extent to which such techniques can contribute to the understanding of cognitive function is debatable. This essay will present some haemodynamic imaging studies, the conclusions researchers have drawn and some alternative views of the evidence. Additionally a discussion of the underlying methodological and theoretical assumptions will examine the extent to which haemodynamic imaging may be useful in understanding cognitive function. Firstly, however it will be useful to briefly outline two types of haemodynamic imaging, the processes that enable them and the form of data these techniques provide.
The brain requires oxygen and glucose to function and, as neural activity increases, blood flow to these areas of activation increases; delivering the additional oxygen and glucose that is required. FMRI measures changing oxygen levels, detecting what is known as the BOLD response, whilst PET, using radioactive tracers, detects both neurotransmitters, the chemicals that transmit signals between neurons across the synaptic cleft, and glucose. Using both fMRI and PET scans, inferences are drawn regarding the location of specific brain functions and, more importantly to cognitive psychologists, provide an insight, although indirect, into the implementation of cognitive process within the brain.

PET scans can locate the position of neural activity to within 10mm whilst fMRI has a resolution of up to 1mm. However, whilst measuring location with relative accuracy, these techniques have a poor temporal resolution. In the case of fMRI it can take up to five seconds after neurons have fired for a BOLD response to be detected whilst PET scans can take anywhere from 10 seconds to 20 minutes to produce an image (Biomedical Imaging Research Lab, University of Southern California, 2009). These temporal limitations can be minimised by combining heamodynamic approaches with EEG, as demonstrated by Opitz et al. (1999), or MEG techniques that measure near instantaneously the electrical or magnetic properties of neurons as they fire. However, although EEG and MEG are useful for identifying when activity is occurring, on their own they could not identify where the activity is happening but although all neuroimaging methodologies have their limitations, many studies have employed haemodynamic techniques to investigate cognitive functions.

Paulescu et al. (1993) used PET scans to investigate the changing activity patterns within the brain that occurred during phonological processing. Experimental participants performed matched tasks that differed in phonological content. Then, using a procees of subtraction, where data from one experimental condition is removed from a second experimental condition to leave the data of specific interest, Paulescu et al. concluded that activation associated with phonological storage occurred in the supramarginal gyrus whilst sub vocal rehearsal was associated with the Broca’s area. Paulescu et al. presented these findings as support for the Baddelley et al (1984) model of the phonological loop. Koepp et al. (1998) also used PET scans, this time to study the release, and subsequent binding, of the neurotransmitter dopamine within the ventral striatum, an area of the brain believed to be involved in the appreciation of reward. Upon finding a correlation between performance level when playing a video game and dopamine activity Koepp et al. suggested a potential link between performance and reward. Klein and colleagues (1995), using fMRI, studied the brain activity of bilinguals whose native language was English and their second language was French. The participants in this study repeated or generated synonyms of stimulus words in both languages. For word repetition, an area associated with skilled motor action, in the left basal ganglia, was more active when repeating French words, possibly due to an increased cognitive requirement when pronouncing these words. When generating synonyms in both languages the prefrontal cortex showed activation. Klein, using subtraction methodology, concluded that this demonstrated that the prefrontal cortex is associated with semantic processing and the selection of responses. Also using fMRI, Devlin et al. (2000) investigated whether the brain showed different areas of activation when categorizing living things and inanimate objects. Devlin et al. found there to be no significant differences suggesting there is no functional difference between these forms of categorization. However, despite the many studies using PET scans and fMRI, Harley (2004) suggests that whilst exploring the architecture of the brain may be useful, he raises doubts that neuroimaging, such as that provided by haemodynamic techniques, can, on their own, be used to develop theories of cognitive function.

A number of methodological issues and theoretical concerns lend support to Harley’s (2004) opinion. Whilst haemodynamic techniques offer persuasive images of the brain, these images are constructed from data, gathered from indirect, low resolution, partial measurements of neural activity. This data has undergone multiple transformations, using concepts such as subtraction, standardised space and statistical thresholding, embedding and masking assumptions that may, or may not, be valid when drawing conclusions regarding cognitive functioning.

The indirect nature fMRI and PET scans, where inferring neural activity from changes in oxygen levels, is likened by Hardcastle & Stewart (2002) to trying to ascertain, by merely measuring the overall oxygen consumption in a room of 1000 people, who is sleeping and who is exercising. Hardcastle & Stewart also suggests that these indirect observations are partial, missing aspects of cognition, such as changes in the synaptic membrane that impact the flow of information. Hardcastle and Stewart (2002) also argue that the comparatively low resolution of fMRI and PET scanners has led to a misplaced support for modularization. As the resolution of scanners increases, the number of processing sites being identified also increases, leading Hardcastle and Stewart to see cognition as a distributed process. Page (2006) seems to support this view, pointing out that any brain region supporting separate cognitive functions can contain neurons that have either no direct neural connections, or, have some overlapping connections, or indeed, could use all the same neurons, but in a multiple configurations. Hardcastle and Stewart underline this opinion, pointing to studies that identify the premotor cortex as being active during numerous cognitive functions. They also note that premotor cortex activity data, subtracted from some studies, further simplifies the complex nature of the region, thereby seemingly providing mistaken support for modularization.

Page (2006) also suggests that spatial separation is often assumed to imply functional separation, an assumption that is undermined to an extent by Hardcastle & Stewart’s (2002) assertion that all neurons are probably linked to each other by fewer than six connections. Hardcastle & Stewart also suggests that there is a tendency within neuroscience towards separation and modularisation, contending that not only is there no evidence to support this view and that current methodologies cannot provide the evidence but also that the tension between a modularised model of cognition and a multi-tasking, distributed processing perspective is holding progress back.

The debate regarding single and dual-mechanism models of recollection illustrates this point. Henson (2005) assumes that imaging can be used to falsify one of these models, indeed Henson concludes “the imaging data support dual-process models over single-process models”. (Henson (2005) p. 201) However, Coltheart, (2002) (cited in Page, 2006) a supporter of the dual-route model within the context of reading, will not entertain imaging as support for his position because he does not believe that any imaging data could be used to falsify his position. The dual route model has both routes engaged during processing, but these routes could be in the same region and even if one route was not engaged, the suppression of this route may still generate a BOLD response. Additionally, if two spatially separate regions are active this does not necessarily mean two distinct processes are in play.

Another concern is the use of subtraction. As outlined earlier subtraction is a process by which to compare neural activity between two or more experimental conditions. The baseline activity pattern in one condition is subtracted from the activity pattern associated with a second condition, leaving, it is assumed, a neural activity pattern specifically associated with the second experimental condition. There are some issues with this assumption however. Hardcastle & Stewart (2002, p.78) suggest it is not possible to differentiate between any ‘concurrent, coincidental activity and the cognitive process under scrutiny’ and Page (2006) reinforces this view raising concerns that functional relevance may mistakenly be attributed to epiphenomenal activity.

Logothetis et al. (2001) (as cited in Page, 2006), a pioneer and proponent of haemodynamic imaging, also highlights that ‘statistical analyses and thresholding methods applied to the haemodynamic responses probably underestimate a great deal of actual neural activity’ again outlining the simplifying nature of imaging methodologies. A lack of standardisation between studies complicates and compounds this simplification. As Hardcastle & Stewart (2002) point out, researchers use different baseline conditions and different statistical methods for analyzing data. With different studies simplifying the data in different ways, not only are comparisons between studies difficult, but this also introduces an additional layer of subjective interpretation into images presented as objective representations of neural activity.

Yet Poldrack (2006), has raised more concerns, calling into question logical inferences made when interpreting haemodynamic images, identifying in particular the method of ‘reverse inference’, by which the engagement of a particular cognitive process is inferred from the activation of a particular brain region. When a region of the brain activates during a task then, if other studies appear to show an association between the same region and a specific cognitive process, Poldrack suggests, an inference is sometimes incorrectly drawn that this task must engage that cognitive process associated with that region. This type of claim is false and potentially calls into question the claims made in the studies by Koepp et al (1998) and Klein and colleagues (1995) mentioned earlier. Page (2006) provides another specific example of flawed reasoning when he suggests that Henson (2005) may assume that memory strength correlates with the strength of related neural activity, an unsubstantiated assumption that not supported by evidence.

Loosemore and Harley (2010) suggest that ‘we are being flooded with accurate answers to questions about the brain location of mechanisms that we do not believe in and inaccurate answers to questions about the brain location of mechanisms that are currently not terribly interesting.’ Page (2006) goes further asserting that there are too many assumptions underlying imaging techniques to enable them to effectively differentiate between theories of cognitive function whilst Uttal (2001) dismisses imaging techniques as a modern day form of phrenology.

Haemodynamic images of the brain activity are becoming more detailed and complex and whilst these images are visually compelling, their meaning is not clear. Even if fMRI or PET could identify where cognitive processes are performed, and it is currently uncertain that this could be the case, they cannot answer how, why, or even if, these patterns of neural activity cause cognition or give rise to observable behaviour. This question of how cognition occurs is important, where it occurs, is less important to cognitive psychology, after all most will agree that cognition takes place somewhere in the brain. In addition, the framing of cognitive models, with the necessarily limited and transformed data of haemodynamic imaging, may restrict the types of explanation possible and whilst such an approach may assist in falsifying erroneous hypothesis, the use of haemodynamic imaging could also lead to misleading oversimplifications. It is possible to construe this perspective as undermining a potentially useful tool in the endeavour of understanding cognitive function. The argument may also be framed as akin to saying ‘that being able to see chromosomes and genes using a very powerful microscope does not improve the theory of genetic inheritance’ (Kaye, 2010 p.20). Whilst this defence of haemodynamic imaging may have some merit, it also remains true that whilst we can see synapses firing using a very powerful microscope, or in this case infer that they are firing using fMRI or PET scans, we are yet to see a meaningful thought.


Baddelley et al. (1984), cited in Kaye, H. (Ed.), Cognitive Psychology (2nd ed.) (p.165). Milton Keynes: The Open University, 2010

Biomedical Imaging Research Lab, University of Southern California (2009). Positron Emission Tomography » Dynamic. Retrieved July 17, 2011, from

Coltheart, (2002), cited in Page (2006) What can’t functional neuroimaging tell the cognitive psychologist?, Cortex, 42 (3), pp.428-433

Devlin et al. (2000), cited in Kaye, H. (Ed.), Cognitive Psychology (2nd ed.) (p.19). Milton Keynes: The Open University, 2010

Hardcastle, VG. and Stewart, CM. (2002), What Do Brain Data Really Show?, Philosophy of Science, 69 pp. S72-S82

Harley, TA. (2004), Promises, Promises, Cognitive Neuropsychology, 21 (1), pp. 51–56

Henson, R. (2005), What can functional neuroimaging tell the experimental psychologist?, The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A, 58:2, pp. 193-233

Kaye, H. (Ed.), Cognitive Psychology (2nd ed.). Milton Keynes: The Open University, 2010

Kaye, H. (Ed.), Cognitive Psychology Methods Companion (2nd ed.). Milton Keynes: The Open University, 2010

Klein (1995), cited in Kaye, H. (Ed.), Cognitive Psychology Methods Companion (2nd ed.) (p.39). Milton Keynes: The Open University, 2010

Koepp et al., (1998), cited in Kaye, H. (Ed.), Cognitive Psychology Methods Companion (2nd ed.) (p.44). Milton Keynes: The Open University, 2010

Logothetis et al., (2001), cited in Page (2006) What can’t functional neuroimaging tell the cognitive psychologist?, Cortex, 42 (3), pp.428-433

Loosemore, RPW & Harley, TA (2010), Brains and Minds: On the Usefulness of Localization Data to Cognitive Psychology. In M. Bunzl & S.J. Hanson (Eds.), Foundational Issues in Human Brain Mapping. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Opitz et al., (1999) cited in Kaye, H. (Ed.), Cognitive Psychology Methods Companion (2nd ed.) (p.35). Milton Keynes: The Open University, 2010

Page, M. (2006), What can’t functional neuroimaging tell the cognitive psychologist?, Cortex, 42 (3), pp.428-433

Paulescu et al. (1993), cited in Kaye, H. (Ed.), Cognitive Psychology (2nd ed.) (p.167). Milton Keynes: The Open University, 2010

Poldrack, RA. (2006), Can cognitive processes be inferred from neuroimaging data?, TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences, Feb2006, Vol. 10 Issue 2, pp. 59-63

Thompson-Schill et al. (2002), Effects of frontal lobe damage on interference effects in working memory., Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, 2 (2), 109-120

Uttal, WR., The New Phrenology: The Limits of Localizing Cognitive Processes in the Brain. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001.

Weber, MJ. and Thompson-Schill, SL. (2010), Functional Neuroimaging Can Support Causal Claims about Brain Function, Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, Vol. 22 Issue 11, pp. 2415-2416, 2

Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century

Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century (Middleton Clip) from Mobile Digital Arts on Vimeo.

“a few ideas …” (Visions of Students Today)

See all the ideas at (an HTML5 interactive video collage).

Patient problem solvers

DD303 Concepts and Language – Chapter 8: Language Processing

Well hopefully there will be a flurry of activity this coming week as it is half term and my wife and kids are off on an adventure all of there own for a few days.

The main focus of the week will be TMA03 which is a literary search and a project proposal for the summer school. I’ve chosen to investigate auditory signal detection and have a rough idea what I want to do but I’ve still got a lot of reading do so things may change a bit.

In the mean time here are some notes for the language processing chapter;

Freemind mindmap
Webarchive version of mindmap
PDF version of mindmap

Some Flashcards

The main thrust of the chapter seems to be that our language system, which comprises of independent, but highly interlinked components, when recognizing and understanding words and sentences, evaluates many possible alternatives at great speed. As ever there is much debate on how this all actually accomplished.

Notes on concepts to follow shortly…

DD303 Memory – Chapter 7: Autobiographical Memory and the Working Self

Well Chapter 7 seems to be all about how memory is the glue that sticks together our idea of ourselves with reality. Hmmm. Next up language processing :)

Oh here is the mindmap (freemind, pdf or webarchive) for the chapter and a set of flashcards.

DD303 Memory – Chapter 6: Long Term Memory: Encoding to retrieval

Well I need my long term memory to remember back to the last time I posted anything about DD303. Since then I got a little bit behind with my reading, submitted TMA02, which was not the best assignment I’ve ever turned in, and have started to think about the project I want to do for summer school.

The notes I have put together for Chapter 6 are not as in depth as the previous chapters unfortunately. The mindmap (freemind, pdf and webarchive) is a direct replication of the chapter structure and includes the section summaries and keywords with associated definitions and/or examples but not much more. I would like to think I will come back to this and expand it further but the realities of the course timetable may mean I do not revisit them until revision time. I’ve also put together a set of flashcards which also cover the keywords.

All the links to these files can also be found on the DD303 course page with the notes for previous chapters. I will post notes for chapters 7, 8 and 9 in the next day or so…

What is a MOOC?

Well I didn’t know that and now I do.

DD303 Memory – Chapter 5: Working Memory

Well in between procrastinating with TMA01 I finally managed to grind out the notes for chapter five. It has taken far too long and the reasonable amount of momentum I managed to start the course with has been slowed to to a mere crawl by my sloppy attempts to write this essay. Anyway, enough of me bemoaning my lack of focus.

Chapter five opens the second part of the main text, moving away from the perceptual processes of attention, perception and recognition to focus upon memory, specifically working memory.

For this chapter, in addition to a mindmap (the different file formats of which can be found here), and with revision in mind, I’ve created some Working Memory Flashcards I guess these will be tweaked and added to as the exam approaches but it is a start. I have never used flashcards before but I thought I would give them a go, they might prove useful and even if not they gave me another reason not to write about face recognition.

My first level three course and all in all I beginning to feel that things have stepped up a gear. I guess this was to be expected and I’m looking forward to the challenge but I just hope I can keep up. Now back to that essay…

DD303 Perceptual Processes Chapter 4: Recognition

Well, with the course officially starting in a few days, the course web site is now open and the forums are a buzz with introductions, advice on buying Coolican from Amazon to save a few pounds, and warnings about trying to run the E-Prime programs.

On top of all this excitement I was also very happy to find that my tutorials are again being held at Bournemouth University. This is a result to say the least with the campus being all of ten minutes walk away.

As far as studying goes It has been a little bitty the last few days. My copy of Coolican turned up yesterday and I’ve started to dip into it. The first chapter has been a very readable, gentle introduction into the scientific method and how psychological research employs it. With no scary stats yet, it has almost been a pleasure. I have also finally managed to finish the chapter on recognition and have decided that the assignment to evaluate if face recognition involves processes that are different from those used in other types of recognition is the one for me. The material seems to present a clearer line of argument and I have a least half an idea on how I want approach it.

My notes on this chapter, as with the previous chapters are posted as a freemind file that includes a mind-map with accompanying notes as does the this webarchive file which only needs a browser to open it whilst this pdf is just the mind-map without additional notes. 

The course overview map has also been updated and now includes links to the offprints.

Idea Framing, Metaphors, and Your Brain – George Lakoff

Talking of metaphors, as I was briefly in the previous post, here’s George Lakoff co author of ‘Metaphors We Live By‘….

If you are interested here’s more with a link to the full presentation…

DD303 Perceptual Processes – Chapter 3: Perception

So this chapter could be the basis of the first assignment. That said, I think get the definitions of top-down and bottom-up processing, and I can see the evidence deployed to support the theories, but I am getting a little hung up on how the metaphor’s are being used.

Sensation is at the bottom, memory is at the top and conscious perception is somewhere in the middle I guess. All seems a little too hierarchical to me but then again what do I know.

For the notes on this chapter I’ve made greater use of links out to supporting material on the web. Arrow icons on the mind-maps indicate the links.

The freemind file includes a mind-map with accompanying notes as does the this webarchive file which only needs a browser to open it and this pdf is just the mind-map without additional notes. 

The course overview map has also been updated.

A chapter on recognition next and the course website opening on Thursday. Exciting times.


Here’s Youngme Moon’s Anti-Creativity Checklist. My personal favourite; “Be suspicious of the creatives in your organisation”.

Don’t trust ‘em I tell ya!