Creativity and Music at APA 2014

Last week I attended the 122nd annual conference of the American Psychological Association for the first time. I was glad I did and here are the reasons why:

1) There were so many sessions focusing on creativity! Creativity is such a fringe topic in Cognitive Psychology. It was exhilarating to be in an environment that values the study of creativity.

2) My poster was well attended and I had many interesting discussions about the research (because of point #1)

The title of the poster was “The Songs Stuck in your Head: Conceptual Representation and Use of Thematic Music in Creative Tasks”. Here is a link to the APA 2014 Poster in pdf format.  Here is a link to the pdf describing the research discussed in the poster: “APA14_Thematic Music Handout

The research is a follow up of the research I conducted and reported at the 2012 Cognitive Science conference (Link to the Abstract – CogSci2012_PubAbstract) in which I demonstrated that listening to thematic music (war-themed, and child-themed) activated associated concepts in semantic memory which are then incorporated into a story generation task.  The research discussed in the APA poster extends that research by demonstrating that the music theme and the story theme simultaneously influence which activated concepts are chosen to be incorporated into the stories.

3) I met a lot of interesting, friendly people from APA Division 10 (Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts).  I plan on attending APA next year in Toronto to maintain these new relationships.

4) I talked one of my Ras into borrowing Google Glass from OU for the trip so I could play with it while I was there and that was a blast too.  I want to explore the possibilities of the technology for higher education and this was a perfect opportunity to play with it and see the problems and benefits of this new technology.

4) D.C. has so many museums that are free and (in August at least) are open until 7 so it was possible to visit them after the conference sessions ended at 5.

We visited the Natural History museum (I got to see mummies and dinosaurs) and the top floor of the American History museum (so many wars!) the day before the conference.  After the conference the next day, we went to the International Spy museum.  All the museums were good but that one was my favorite.  I wanted to see the Air and Space museum but was too busy networking, going to sessions and catching up with my advisor (Tom Ward) to do so.

If you are a Cognitive Psychologist/Scientist, I recommend looking through the APA divisions to see if there is a division that taps into your research interests.  If so, I think you should try to attend APA at least once in your academic lifetime.

Ingress: The War Between Frogs and Smurfs in Your Own Backyard


Yesterday I was catching up on my web comic feed and read about Ingress in Real Life Comics. It is an Augmented Reality game put out by Google that is playable on Android and iPhones. It is a little bit MMO, a little bit Geocaching and a little bit of FourSquare. These are three things I enjoy so (predictably) I was immediately drawn into the game.

The first thing you do is choose from one of two factions to join. You can join the Resistance, who are fighting against allowing the “Shapers” to modify humanity in order to save our humanity. The other option is joining the Enlightenment and fighting to help the “Shapers” to modify and improve humanity.

Normally, I would choose the Resistance because rebelling is what I do. This time I chose the Enlightenment because it seems it might get humanity a step closer to the Singularity and I think that is an interesting idea.

I couldn’t wait until morning to try out the app so I went on a midnight jaunt to the nearest portal to hack it. I didn’t know what I was doing (having failed to go all the way through the tutorial) so I didn’t really know what to do when I got there other than randomly pushing every button on the app console until it did something. It was still fun.

First thing the next morning, I completed all the tutorials and went for a walk collecting XM on the way to attacking a Resistance-held portal at the library down the street. Hooked, I found time later on in the day to hack a couple more portals, and attack the library again. When I did that, I saw a new Enlightenment portal across the street and used my new-found skills adding resonators and linking to it.

I know all this sounds like silly, pretend goofing around covered in a layer of jargon and it is. However, it is fun and got me out of the house and walking around my neighborhood. Speaking of which, as I walked home from my mission while checking my stats and accomplishments in the app viewfinder, I looked at the Fitbit on my other arm to see how many steps I had accumulated during the day . It was then that I realized that I was already walking blithely towards the Singularity and that I was okay with that.

Successful presentations at the 22nd Annual Meeting of Minds Undergraduate Research Conference

This year every research assistant in the Cognitive Lab presented at Meeting of Minds (MoM)! Four presented posters and one gave a talk. They all did a great job!

Ventline_MoM_14.jpgBrittany Ventline examined the data set we were working on this year to examine whether or not gender differences existed in attention to and use of the embodied and referential meaning of music in a generation task. What she found was partial support for Meyers-Levy and Zhu’s (2010) hypothesis that males attend to embodied meaning whereas females attend to both embodied and referential meaning. In our data set, only males attended to embodied meaning, creating more negatively valences stories after listening to war-themed music that when they wrote the stories before listening to music. Females were much more likely to write stores with war-like themes after listening to war-themed music than when they didn’t listen to music before writing the story.

This was Brittany’s first poster presentation and represents a unique look at our existing data.  She had read the Meyers-Levy & Zhu (2010) study and wondered if their hypothesis would still apply to music listened to in the absence of other stimuli such as ads.  It did!

Molina_Fuss_MoM_14Darci Molina and William Fuss examined the data set we were working with this year to determine whether there were gender differences in participants’ tendency to include thematic elements into their stories after listening to thematic music and whether this tendency was affected by the familiarity of the music. They were also interested whether there were gender differences in the tendency to include concepts associated with the specific music used (e.g., “running” and “military” after listening to “Ride of the Valkyries”). They found that males, overall, were much more likely to include war-themed elements in their stories, independent of whether or not they had listened to war-themed music before writing their stories. When listening to unfamiliar war-themed music before writing stories, females were less likely than males to include war-themed elements associated with that music but more likely to include them than if they hadn’t listened to the music before writing the story. However, listening to the war-themed music before writing the story actually decreased males’ tendency to incorporate war-themed elements into their stories. When listening to familiar war-themed music, female were much more likely to include war-themed components into their stories than if they had listened to unfamiliar music. The opposite was true for males.

Not only was this Darci’s first poster presentation, it was her first conference presentation ever! She was thrilled (and surprised at how much work it was)! Billy has made several posters and presented at several conferences and was a big help to Darci as she learned how to organize information in a poster format.

Lekander_Mom_14.jpgAlex Lekander was using a data set examining the effects of listening to foreign music (Arabia-themed and Chinese-themed) on the creativity of the resultant product. The hypothesis was that listening to foreign themed music prior to engaging in a story writing task would increase the use of themed elements in the story. Because of this, those stories should be more creative than stories that were written before listening to any music. He did not find any effect of listening to music on rater’s ratings of the creativity of the stories or participants’ ratings of their own creativity. However, he did find that participants who listened to foreign music before writing a story rated their stories as more creative than participants who did not listen to music before writing the story.
This was Alex’s first poster presentation.
saulter_MoM-14.jpgJonathan Saulter was presenting his honors thesis research which was conducted in Lisa Welling’s lab. His research examined how competition outcomes affected facial preference in men and women. He had males and females play a video game in which they either won or lost the game. He then examined they preference in feminized or lawful aniseed faces of people of the opposite gender. He found evidence that males preferred feminized female faces more after winning a game than after losing a game. However, he did not find that facial preference differences in women were affected by winning or losing a video game.

Jonathan is a veteran at presenting his research at conferences having presented posters and talks at regional conferences and undergraduate conferences.

They all worked very hard on their projects and did a great job!!!


Reflections on the Creativity of Cartoon Accompaniment

I am enjoying the synchronicity across the various textsI have been consuming for a paper I am writing on thematic music (e.g., comedy music, Chinese music). I am currently reading Daniel Goldmark’s “Tunes for Toons: Music and the HollyTunes for Toons Coverwood Cartoon.

I found this book in one of my literature searches for papers on the referential meaning of music. The book title and summary intrigued me. The title of one of the chapters (Chapter 2 – “You Really Do Beat The Shit Out of That Cat: Scott Bradley’s Violent Music For MGM”) got me curious enough to check the book out from our library and I’m glad I did. This book is well-written and clear. It is also one of the more interesting scholarly books I have read. Even though it is only marginally related to what I am writing and the research I am conducting, it is fascinating to learn how music accompanists at the beginning of the film industry chose which music to use to accompany the action in the film (for silent films) or how the early film soundtracks were chosen and/or created. This was especially true for the cartoons of the time. Since cartoons weren’t really taken seriously as art, the music accompaniment could be very creative. I enjoy reading how this creativity was manifested in the early days of film.
For example, popular tunes were more likely to be chosen to accompany the action in a cartoon than a serious movie. By doing so, the accompanist could enhance the on-screen humor through the choice of songs. One way they could do this was to select a song that heightened or emphasized the on-screen humor, essentially cuing the audience that something funny was occurring. Another method of enhancing the humor of a film was to choose songs to accompany the film that intentionally went against the intended mood of the on-screen action. This particular use of music by the accompanist was sometimes engaged in even if the current scene was not intended to be humorous just to get a laugh out of the audience. Another article I recently read (“American Valkyries: Richard Wagner, D.W. Griffith, and the birth of classical cinema” by Smith, S.M. (2008)) made the point that many film critics decried this particular practice. They argued that the use of such devices pandered to a “theater of attractions” in which the purpose of film was simply for entertainment. This was a problem for those critical of the practice because there was a movement at that time (early 1900’s) towards film becoming a “theater of narrative integration” in which storyline, character development and immersion in the narrative was the goal of the film. The reformers were hoping that moving film from a theater of attractions to a theater of narrative integration would similarly move film’s reputation from “just” being entertainment to being an art form.

Continue reading “Reflections on the Creativity of Cartoon Accompaniment”

Reflections on linear and angular martial arts

I just read this interesting post ( on martial arts techniques that reflects on linear (karate, shin e) and circular (aikido, ba qua) styles of martial arts.
I believe that there are general principles of combat based on the way the human body is built and moves. Ultimately, all martial arts are going to discover these principles and incorporate them into the art. Yes, there will be stylistic differences between arts just as there are differences between bodies and personalities. They all seem to share many principles though. Maybe it is the Tao of martial arts.
As far as being linear and circular is concerned, it is like the Tao too. Something hard is countered by something soft. Something circular is countered or morphs into something linear. The world is made of contrasts but these contrasts interact and compliment each other.

Familiarity of Thematic Music Affects Story Generation Performance MPA13

Just finished my presentation for the MPA 2013 conference.  I will be giving a talk tomorrow morning (5/2/2013) at 12:00 PM in Salon A.

The talk will be about the research I have been conducting examining the ability of thematic music to activate associated concepts and how that activation affects performance in a generation task.  This is the first actual talk I have given on the topic (I have presented several posters) and I am looking forward to sharing this research with a wider audience.  Unfortunately, I was scheduled to speak in a session about emotion.  My research has nothing to do with emotion.  That said, I included some information about music influencing moods.  Hopefully that will keep the existing audience in their seats.  I’m not to sure what the turn out for my talk will be given that it isn’t placed somewhere my normal audience would expect to see it.

In any case, they can find the talk here.  I have uploaded pdf notes of the presentation and will record the talk as I give it and post it here when I am done.


The overjustification effect: A potential peril of gamification

I just read an interesting post on the GCO website describing “how to provide more meaningful rewards in your parenting.”  This article touched on a phenomenon that I believe needs to be examined more closely in gamification – the overjustification effect. The overjustification effect occurs when a person is given a reward of some sort (external motivation) for doing something they would have done anyway just because they enjoy doing it (internal motivation).  This reward can be money, praise, bonus points. Essentially, an external incentive/reward is any type of reward that comes from outside the person.

Receiving a reward for a behavior that you find enjoyable anyway may not sound like a bad thing but it is.  Providing an external incentive to reward intrinsically motivated behaviors usually causes an individual to become less rather than more motivated to engage in that behavior.  This is the overjustification effect and, as you can see from reading the article, it is usually poorly understood by those without specific training in behavioral psychology.  For example, the author correctly states the following at the beginning of the article:

“Over the years, psychologists have determined that short-term rewards directed towards end results are not helpful in teaching children proper behavior and manners. In fact, bribes—whether they come in the form of money, play time, and/or candy—have a negative effect on children learning development.

Psychologist Edward Deci showed for his thesis that extrinsic rewards make people lose intrinsic interest in the activity itself. “

However, the author makes the following incorrect inference from this data:

“This should sound a little alarming because it implies that children won’t engage in activities unless there is a reward attached to it.

In the long term, this creates a “what’s in it for me” mentality, placing a stronger focus on competition than collaboration. Rewarding end results rather than the behavior itself is harmful to critical thinking development because it places an emphasis on a shortsighted win of receiving the reward instead of a holistic teaching of why the desired behavior is important anyway.”

This misunderstanding of the overjustification effect has the potential to lead to ineffective incentives and failed outcomes when used in gamification to motivate behavior.  Fortunately, a correct understanding of the misinformation effect and other behavioral phenomena can lead to extremely effective gamification strategies. Continue reading “The overjustification effect: A potential peril of gamification”

Gleik’s “The Information”: Reflections on Shannon’s contributions to Computer Science

Tape Library at CERN -

I have been reading Gleik’s new book “The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood” and have been enjoying it very much.  This particular infovore especially enjoys feeding on information about information – technology, language, computers, and so on.  Consequently, Gleik’s book hits all the sweet spots for me.

I am about halfway through the book and Gleik is discussing the contributions of Claude Shannon to information theory and computer science. He describes how Shannon was thinking about self-replicating machines, particularly computers, in the 1950’s (though this Wickipedia article claims that John Bernal’s work on the topic predated Shannon’s by about twenty years).  This type of forward-thinking wasn’t always well-received by audiences who thought that perhaps Shannon was meddling with things that should not be meddled with.  This is a common reaction to creativity in the sciences perhaps stemming from belief systems in the West. Continue reading “Gleik’s “The Information”: Reflections on Shannon’s contributions to Computer Science”

Hawthorne’s “Country of the Blind” as Commentary on Scientific Progress

Image from

I wrote the following essay for the MOOC Course “Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World.” This is a 10 week course in which we read (at least) one novel a week and submit a 270-320 word essay about that week’s readings.

This has been an interesting course for me in many ways.  I enrolled in it because I was intrigued with the logistics of teaching a MOOC course and wanted to see what it was like from the viewpoint of a student in the course.  I love reading science fiction and fantasy, so the content of the course was interesting to me. Even though I had previously read ~50% of the assigned readings for the course there were quite a few books on the reading list I had not been exposed to yet. However, I think the most educational component of the course so far has been learning how to analyze a book as a scholar from the humanities (literature, philosophy, rhetoric). Having been trained in both the hard sciences and the social sciences, it is an interesting approach to fiction for me though I do find that I still tend to write my essays from a hard/social sciences perspective.

Continue reading “Hawthorne’s “Country of the Blind” as Commentary on Scientific Progress”

Reflections on the Romantics’ Understanding of Life and Death

Clockwork Fairy
Created by Susan Beatrice (All Natural Arts)

Hawthorne’s “Artist of the Beautiful” allows interesting reflections about the nature of life and death. In this story, Owen strives to create a clockwork butterfly that is so perfect that it is a “spiritualization of matter” (p. 523).  Unlike other stories of this nature written by Hawthorne and Poe, Owen actually succeeds in this endeavor, creating the ideal butterfly.

Continue reading “Reflections on the Romantics’ Understanding of Life and Death”