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Why We Can't Remember Colors Accurately

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Our eyes can distinguish between millions of colors. The trouble is, we’re not very good at recalling them. So while you might be an ace at picking out the odd-colored square in Kuku Kube, you probably can’t choose the right paint swatch at the hardware store to match your walls. 

As a team of psychologists explains in a new study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, that’s because our memories simplify colors we see into their overall hue. The study required participants to study a 180-hue color wheel and find a specific color on the wheel when it popped up again on a computer screen. 

Image Credit: Royce Faddis/JHU

Colors drawn from memory are biased toward general categories of color rather than specific shades, the researchers found. While in the moment, we can distinguish between navy, cobalt, and turquoise. But when the hue is filed away into memory, it becomes merely “blue.” The researchers found that people were better at remembering colors if they fit more neatly into the standard definition of a “blue” or a “green” or whatever the base color was—if they appeared to be the “best” representation of that color. 

“We have very precise perception of color in the brain, but when we have to pick that color out in the world," study author Jonathan Flombaum of John Hopkins University explained in a statement, “there's a voice that says, ‘It’s blue,’ and that affects what we end up thinking we saw."

[h/t: Eurekalert]

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Your First Memory from Infancy Is Probably a Lie
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Multiple studies have shown us that our memories aren't entirely trustworthy. It can be difficult to distinguish a genuine recollection from a false one, but there is one class of memories you can pretty much assume is all fake: anything "remembered" before age 2. According to a new study published in Psychological Science, nearly 40 percent of people claim to remember events before this age, but their brains are almost certainly lying to them, Popular Science reports.

There's a reason you don't remember anything from when you were a baby: Your brain just wasn't wired to record information that way. Infants use their memories when they first start to walk, talk, eat, and learn in general, but that all falls into the non-declarative memory category. Declarative memory, on the other hand, describes what happens when you consciously recall things that happened to you, and it's specific to the hippocampus region of the brain.

In the first couple years of a child's life, the hippocampus is in overdrive. It's constantly growing neurons to make room for all the new information the young brain is absorbing. This is what allows babies to learn so much at such a fast rate, but it also means they have to sacrifice their long-term declarative memory. As new neurons form, old ones are pushed out, and the autobiographical memories they stored along with them.

It isn't until age 2 that this growth starts to slow down and the brain becomes capable of saving declarative memories for a longer period. But adults can still feel convinced they remember events from much earlier. When researchers asked 6641 study participants to describe their first memories and say how old they were when they happened, 2487 people reported memories from before age 2, with 893 claiming to have memories from age 1 or younger.

As these numbers suggest, it's surprisingly easy to assume the stories you tell yourself or that were told to you are accurate, first-hand recollections. Let's say you vividly remember dropping your ice cream cone at the zoo when you were 1.5 years old: What's likely happening is that you're remembering the picture that played in your head when your parents shared their own memories of the event when you were a few years older, or maybe you saw pictures taken from that day and you constructed false memories around them.

Memory doesn't become any less complicated as we enter adulthood. Even people with highly superior autobiographical memory (a real condition) are susceptible to false memories.

[h/t Popular Science]

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Bad Moods Might Make You More Productive
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Being in a bad mood at work might not be such a bad thing. New research shows that foul moods can lead to better executive function—the mental processing that handles skills like focus, self-control, creative thinking, mental flexibility, and working memory. But the benefit might hinge on how you go through emotions.

As part of the study, published in Personality and Individual Differences, a pair of psychologists at the University of Waterloo in Canada subjected more than 90 undergraduate students to a battery of tests designed to measure their working memory and inhibition control, two areas of executive function. They also gave the students several questionnaires designed to measure their emotional reactivity and mood over the previous week.

They found that some people who were in slightly bad moods performed significantly better on the working memory and inhibition tasks, but the benefit depended on how the person experienced emotion. Specifically, being in a bit of a bad mood seemed to boost the performance of participants with high emotional reactivity, meaning that they’re sensitive, have intense reactions to situations, and hold on to their feelings for a long time. People with low emotional reactivity performed worse on the tasks when in a bad mood, though.

“Our results show that there are some people for whom a bad mood may actually hone the kind of thinking skills that are important for everyday life,” one of the study’s co-authors, psychology professor Tara McAuley, said in a press statement. Why people with bigger emotional responses experience this boost but people with less-intense emotions don’t is an open question. One hypothesis is that people who have high emotional reactivity are already used to experiencing intense emotions, so they aren’t as fazed by their bad moods. However, more research is necessary to tease out those factors.

[h/t Big Think]

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