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Some of Our Current and Completed Research Projects

Adaptive memory: Mechanisms of the animacy effect

Among of the most fascinating effects in recent memory research is the observation that animate words are better remembered than inanimate words. The memory advantage of animate over inanimate objects has become known as the animacy effect in the memory literature. The available research already shows that the animacy effect is extremely robust. It is found with different types of to-be-remembered materials and can be observed with different encoding instructions and in a variety of memory tests. The effect of animacy on memory is strong and usually even more pronounced than the influence of well-established determinants of memory such as imagery. The animacy effect is of great interest at a theoretical level because, as yet, it is unknown which mechanisms underlie the animacy effect which contrasts with its strong influence on memory. In the present research project, the two most promising accounts of the animacy effect will be put to an empirical test. The attentional account states that animate items receive more attention at encoding than inanimate items. The richness-of-encoding account is built around the assumption that animate items are encoded in a richer way than inanimate items because animate items elicit more associations. The associations that are elicited at encoding, in turn, can be used as retrieval cues when they are reactivated at retrieval. Both accounts are promising, but the available evidence does not yet allow to draw clear conclusions so that they are in need of further empirical validation. Rigorous methods and large sample sizes within the proposed research program should allow to identify the mechanisms underlying the animacy effect and will provide a solid empirical ground for theoretical accounts of the animacy effect. By using different paradigms and memory measures, the research program will also provide further evidence on the robustness and generalizability of the animacy effect on memory.

2020 to 2022

, , Axel Buchner

DigiWerk: Designing the Digital Future in the Craft Sector

More information about this project can be found here:  digiwerk-projekt.de.

2019 to 2022

, Raoul Bell, Axel Buchner

Social interactions in the Prisoner’s Dilemma Game: Implementation of a multinomial model for the analysis of cooperation and punishment behavior

Cooperation is a central aspect of human societies. People use punishment to promote cooperative behaviour and establish or sustain a cooperative norm. Punishment is usually costly for the punished individual but also bears costs for the punisher. A classic experimental paradigm for investigating cooperative behaviour is the Prisoner’s Dilemma Game which can be combined with a punishment option. From an economic point of view costly punishment does not seem directly profitable. However, people even in one-trial interactions invest to costly punish other individuals. The multinomial Cooperation-Punishment-Model makes it possible to analyse and to interpret cooperation and punishment separately. Conditional on a parameter for cooperation four different types of punishment are parameterized. Moralistic, hypocritical, irrational and antisocial punishment are differentiated depending on the participants’ own behaviour and the partners’ behaviour (each can cooperate or defect) in the Prisoner’s Dilemma Game. The goal of the current project is to further extend the empirical basis and the theoretical range of the Cooperation-Punishment-Model and investigate research questions on cooperation and punishment from the point of view of the punishing individual.

2019 to 2021

, Axel Buchner, Raoul Bell

A dynamic system measuring and presenting work-related mental stress in small and medium-sized enterprises in Industry 4.0

The aim of the project is to develop a dynamic system with which rapidly changing psychosocial stress situations in the 4th industrial revolution can be flexibly evaluated and optimized in order to promote the health of employees now and in the future. New instruments for measuring specific psychological stress will be provided and interventions for optimizing the stress situation using the system will be developed and tested. In addition, requirements for implementing and continuing successful health management are defined.

More information about the project can be found at dynamik40.de.

2016 to 2019

Distraction by deviant and changing auditory distractors: A test of competing working-memory models

Two main accounts compete for the best explanations for the effects of auditory distraction on working memory. According to the duplex account, the disruption of working memory by changing distractors is due to the preattentive processing of the auditory distractors which automatically interferes with the processing of the target stimuli. The effect of auditory deviants is attributed to the capture of focal attention. The attentional account attributes both phenomena to attentional distraction. On the one hand, the second explanation seems more attractive because it is more parsimonious. On the other hand, empirical findings suggest that the two phenomena can be dissociated, which supports the former account. However, a closer examination of the literature suggests that at least some of the dissociations could be due to methodological confounds. The main aim of the present research project is to provide a larger data base to test the differing predictions of the two competing accounts.

2016 to 2018

, Jan Philipp Röer, Axel Buchner

The influence of regularity violations and personal relevance of to-be ignored auditory information on serial recall

Serial recall of visually presented events is impaired when irrelevant auditory distractors are presented either during the presentation of the target items or during a short retention interval. Working memory models that attempt to explain this effect fall into two classes—a first class that attributes the irrelevant sound effect to attentional capture and a second class that implies the assumption that attention is not involved in short-term maintenance. The first class of models leads to the prediction that two types of distractors should cause a particularly pronounced interference effect. First, to-be ignored stimuli that violate a regularity in the auditory environment should elicit a strong orienting reaction and should therefore draw attention away from the memory task. Second, stimuli with relevance for the individual should capture attention. In the present research project, we will examine the effect of regulation violations and relevance of to-be ignored auditory information on serial recall of visual sequences. This research will help to specify the role of attention in short-term memory, and will help to evaluate models of human working memory.

2012 to 2014

Axel Buchner, ,

Memory for cooperators and cheaters: A test of the emotional incongruence hypothesis

Social contract theorie implies the assumption that social exchange is facilitated by a highly specialized cheater detection module. To enable the individual to avoid cheaters in social exchange, this reasoning mechanism has to be complemented by memory mechanisms that help the individual to learn from previous negative experiences with cheaters. More specifically, it has been proposed that people are especially efficient at recognizing the faces of cheaters (Mealey, Daood, & Krage, 1996) or have enhanced source memory for faces of cheaters (Buchner, Bell, Mehl, & Musch, 2009). However, more recent studies suggest that memory for social interaction partners is much more flexible. Three studies (Barclay, 2008; Bell, Buchner & Musch, 2010; Volstorf, Rieskamp & Stevens, 2011) showed that memory for cooperators and cheaters is modulated by the relative frequencies of the interaction partners. People tend to remember the behavior that is rare and therefore unexpected in a given environment. To tests whether memory for information that violates positive or negative expectations is generally enhanced, we elicit positive or negative expectations about the outcomes of social interactions. Behavioral data and electrophysiological correlates are assessed.

2011 to 2013

, Axel Buchner, Laura Mieth

Habituation of the irrelevant sound effect

Models of human working memory fall into one of two categorie depending on whether they specify a role of attention in the short-term maintenance of verbal information in working memory or not. The irrelevant sound effect can be used to test whether attention is involved in short-term memory. Habituation of the irrelevant sound effect would provide evidence for the class of working memory models that specify a role for attention in short-term memory. Thus, examining whether the irrelevant sound effect habituates is highly relevant for the evaluation of working memory models. Unfortunately, the empirical evidence for or against habituation of the irrelevant sound effect is rather mixed. The present research projects aims at clarifying the role of habituation in the irrelevant sound effect while avoiding the methodological problems of previous studies addressing this issue.

2010 to 2013

Axel Buchner, ,

Display legibility and ergonomic display design

Studies from the 80s show significant performance differences between on-screen reading and reading on paper in favour of the latter. Since then, screen technology has advanced considerably. State-of-the-art displays—such as the retina display of the iPad—become more and more similar to paper with respect to their handling as well as their optical properties. The question arises whether differences in reading performance—such as reading speed and reading comprehension—remain when using the latest display technologies.

In addition to comparing legibility between modern electronic displays and paper, this project focusses on specific variables that affect the legibility of state-of-the-art displays, such as the choice of colours and of display polarity. We are usually better in reading dark text on a light background (positive polarity) than we are in reading light text on a dark background (negative polarity). In our studies, we examine the determinants of this “polarity effect”. The results are of ergonomic and theoretical relevance. In addition to measures of performance and of subjective well-being, future studies will also include indicators of gaze behaviour (such as blinking rate, pupil size, and eye movements).


Distractor processing and mechanisms of selection in audition

Located at the intersection between attention, memory and action selection research, this project focusses on the processing of irrelevant auditory information and its impact on subsequent task performance. To this end, we rely amongst others on the phenomenon of negative priming, that is the slowed-down responding to a previously ignored object.An established explanation of this intensively studied phenomenon is the episodic retrieval model. According to this account, the repeated presentation of the former distractor stimulus cues retrieval of the previous processing episode. Part of the retrieved episode is a “do not respond” tag attached to the representation of the former distractor stimulus. Responding to a previously ignored stimulus is slowed down due to the conflict between the present task requirement (“respond”) and retrieved information from memory (“do not respond”). In our previous work, we showed that the retrieval of response information from the previous prime episode is a further cause for a negative priming inducing conflict.

Currently, the main focus of our project is on stimulus processing in spatial auditory displays. We are interested in whether and, if so, how location information of ignored sounds is processed and remembered. In addition, we would like to know whether responses to spatially presented distractor sounds are activated and subsequently inhibited to prevent false responding. So far, our findings show that in clear contrast to the visual modality, there seems to be no general impairment in responding to sounds that appear at previously ignored locations. Instead, location and identity information of ignored sounds seems to be integrated into what has been called “ object files” in related areas of research. Subsequent reactions are slowed down if one of these object features —either identity or location information—changes between successive presentations. These findings are consistent with the so-called feature mismatch theory. In our current studies, we transfer the established findings to situations of increased ecological validity. For example, sounds played in three-dimensional space have to be focussed via natural responses such as head movements (instead of responding by pressing buttons). Possibly, response activation and inhibition processes associated with ignored sounds depend on the naturalness of the response.

2010 to 2013

Axel Buchner, , Malte Möller

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