Flashbulb memories are often the most vivid and salient individuals can recall. Surprisingly, these memories are often not as accurate as we might think. This afternoon, I discussed our recollection of 9/11/11 with my roommate who was in my 5th grade class on that date. We both felt very confident that our memories were of near perfect accuracy. Despite many similarities in our recollections, we did have a few differences in the details of the event. This simple, personal anecdote illustrates the general misperception of the accuracy of flashbulb memories.
The evidence for subliminal priming is overwhelming, drawing all the more importance to the possible implications. Although the overall effectiveness of the visual subliminal priming process is well demonstrated, the processing power and scope of the unconscious is less explored. For instance, how much visual complexity can be processed and stored per each visual primer? Visual images can come in varying levels of complexity raising questions about the processing power of the unconscious mind. Almost certainly, we will find some variability between individuals in processing power. If processing power was to be tested in a quantifiable way, we could compare each individual’s subliminal processing ability to working memory capacity which could provide an interesting way of looking at the relationship between memory forms and the correlations between them. Inability to internalize subliminal stimuli could be due to a few reasons. One reason is a problem in stimuli intake. In this case, dealing with the visual system we should look at the effectiveness of subliminal primers when they are presented in different areas of the visual field. Another problem could be an overload of the memory system occupied by subliminal primers. In an experimental setting, steadily increasing the complexity of the visual primers and testing to see if they had an effect would allow us greater insight into the subliminal processing capacity of the brain.
With this idea of how advanced and successful humans are, it is remarkable to think of how wrong we can be even in simple instances. Although they may fail us in situations that may seem elementary, the general effectiveness may be the reason for our self-appraisal of how effective we are with general functioning. Looking at things like gambling, we see that some factors moderate how we go about coming to conclusions. First off, salience plays a major role in the operation of availability heuristics. In the case of gambling, people overestimate the odds of winning because stories of winning are far more interesting, publicized and attractive. When examining life critically, we can see how much heuristics really influence our existence yet, yet we can seldom consciously alter our use of them. Even through consciousness raising exercises, effects would be minimal and short-lived. It just goes to show one aspect of our living experience that is seemingly unchangeable and truly human.
Why do we go through the trouble of constructing elaborate scenarios in our minds in the form of counterfactual thinking? In some cases, It can help us learn from our mistakes and make proper adjustments to thrive in the future. In other cases it may serve as a defensive mechanism, gaurding us against thoughts that reflect a truer (and often harsher) picture of reality. Could it be that counterfactual thought can provide us with a means of re-evauluating our social relationships? This concept may not be a far off-shoot from the others but I believe it is an interesting point to make as it highlights its relavance to social cognition. Take for example, the following thought: “What if I had said “x” to my friend?” This re-imagining of a verbal social interaction can serve to provide valuable feedback that could affect the future of a relationship. In the sense, when we have a counterfactual thought like this, we use it to re-evaluate the parameters,strength, and nature of our relationships. The infromation ascertained through these ficticious scenarios can help guide how we view and maintain our relationships. This would have been important in our evolutionary past as social interactions could more readily be linked to survival. If the species had those capabilities or not, I’m not sure as they require higher level, refined thought proccesing capability. Regradless, even in current times, these frequent evaluations are helpful and insightful tools in maintaining social order.
Over the weekend, I met someone who said to me “If you’re not weird, you’re weird”. Although it seems to be a self-violating phrase, I understood what she meant. Perhaps it could be explained by claiming that there is no “real” normal or by saying that everyone is weird in some way. What does this statement really reflect about our society? Are people these days more accepting of the vast individual differences exhibited by each unique person? How would this phrase be approached in a different time period? If we as a people are more accepting of other people currently, it may be because of an increase in the availability of communication. New technology has allowed us to reach out to more people in different circumstances, promoting a heightened familiarity with the individualities that mark the human experience. The social environment has altered and shaped how we think about people and how we interact with them.
How will the current social environment affect the path of human evolution? By definition, evolution results from the thriving of the advantageously adapted. Those better suited to the environment survive and pass on their genes, while the less advantageously adapted pass away and don’t reproduce. Has the social environment altered what is considered advantageous?
Like in the past, certain disease will decrease in likelihood as they fail to remain in the gene pool. An example of this mechanism still in action can be seen in diseases like Tay-Sachs, where those with it often don’t reach sexual maturity. Other previously devastating ailments like infections are easily treated by inexpensive medication. Even those who can’t afford the medication can utilize social programs to get the treatment. This social atmosphere levels the playing field so that those with a stronger immune system aren’t at such a significant advantage. Will this in slow the progress of human evolution? Perhaps it will, but by no means would I favor a system that denies basic healthcare to those who can’t afford it. I theorize that compassion may a product of evolution as well. In our more primitive form, cooperation/compassion was essential for survival. They may have roots in the expectation of reciprocation. It’s just an interesting thought about the evolutionary path our species will blaze and the effect that the social environment has on it.