Testing children with iPad games

RED logo draft.

Testing children is less easy than testing adults, primarily because they lack the social inhibition to tell psychological researchers to go away with their super boring tests. This presents a problem in developmental research: How do you reach these kids?! We developed a bunch of iPad games to test the cognition of an entire classroom in one go. And it works!

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Computer vision: Taylor Swift saliency mapping


In cognitive neuroscience, we’re interested in what guides human attention. We distinguish between influences from high-level cognition (e.g. current goals), and low-level visual features. There are highly sophisticated models of how visual features such as intensity, colour, and movement guide human attention. Computerised implementations of these models allow computers to mimic human eye movements. Turns out Taylor Swift’s amazing videos are an excellent example!

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When do you ‘see’ what you see?

tiny and fat puppy

That is one confusing title! The point is this: When light reaches your eyes, you’re not immediately aware of that. It takes some time for your visual system to process the light, and to translate it into something the rest of your brain can work with. When that’s done, you consciously ‘see’. In a new paper, we show that the process of becoming aware of what you see, is affected by how large an object is. With an oversimplified example: If light bounces of a puppy, into your eyes, it takes a fraction of a second for you to become aware of the puppy. And it takes a fraction of a second longer if it’s a fat puppy.

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The downsides of open science that nobody talks about

Open Science (#openscience) is great! It entails sharing data and code between scientists, so that we can all benefit from each other’s efforts. However, there is a downside to sharing your stuff: You become a helpdesk for people who would like to use it, and sharing distracts from a core part of the job: publishing papers! Because research positions are offered to those who publish a lot, distracting yourself from doing so might put you out of a job in the long run. To solve this problem, publishing open data and software should be valued as much as publishing papers.

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Is skating really unfair? Yes, even at 100m times.


Two weeks ago, we published a Perspective article on how the starting procedure in racing sports could bias competitions. Some speed skating enthusiasts suggested we analyse the 100-meter times from the races we reported on. So we did! The results are very similar to our earlier results: Longer ready-start intervals lead to slower 100-meter times in Olympic speed skating.

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Distracted by danger!


Threatening elements (think spiders) in your surroundings tend to grasp your attention more strongly than non-threatening things (think puppies). Some scientists believe that your brain is wired to notice threatening stimuli quicker, via a special sub-cortical route. In a new experiment, we show that task-irrelevant threatening stimuli are prioritised over non-threatening stimuli, but that they are not processed any quicker.

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Is skating really unfair? Yes, even in extra stringent analysis.

Yesterday, we reported that random variability in the starting procedure of racing sports can bias competitions, even at Olympic events. Not everyone agreed. In this post we address all questions and criticisms, and provide an extra analysis that looks at within-athlete effects of changes in the ready-start interval on changes in race times. This analysis is robust to differences between skaters’ individual qualities, and has causal power. Our results indicate that there still is evidence that random differences in ready-start intervals might bias competitions. At the very least, this calls for future research into the starting procedure of racing sports. Which is exactly what we intended to provoke with yesterday’s publication.

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Life is unfair, and so are racing sports

At Olympic racing sports, the gold goes to whoever is the most talented and has trained the hardest. Or does it? Our new research shows that subtle random differences in starting procedures can bias athletes’ alertness. This makes them slower to respond to the starting shot, resulting in a higher finishing time. This small bias can the difference between winning gold, and not even being on the podium!

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