Sunday, January 29, 2012

An easy way to control panic attacks

Panic attack is an episode of sudden feeling of intense fear reaching the peak within 10 minutes and lasting for a period of a few hours. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition-Text Revised (DSM-IV-TR) published by the American Psychiatric Association lists the following thirteen mental and physical symptoms of panic attacks:
  1. Feeling heartbeats in accelerated rate (palpitation)
  2.      Sweating
  3.      Trembling or shaking 
  4.      Sensations of  smothering or shortness of breath
  5.      Feeling of choking
  6.      Pain or discomfort in the chest
  7.      Nausea or abdominal distress
  8.      Feeling dizzy, unsteady, lightheaded, or faint
  9.      Strange feelings of unreality (de-realization) or curious feeling of  being  detached from one’s self (depersonalization)
  10.              Fear of losing control or going insane
  11.               Fear of impending death
  12.                Sensations of numbness or tingling (Paresthesias)
  13. A Woman in panic
  14.                Sensations of chills or hot flushes (also known as hot flashes)

Panic attack on seeing a spider
Even though the DSM-IV-TR lists only 13 symptoms I have seen cases of panic attacks with the history of sudden feelings of neck soreness, hearing whistles in the ear (tinnitus), headache, and uncontrollable screaming or crying
Triggers of panic attacks
Many situations can trigger episodes of abrupt fear. A healthy normal person might experience a panic attack when confronted with sudden extreme danger. When an individual with phobia of spiders sees a spider in the room he/she might experience panic attack. Many, who experience a panic attack, mostly for the first time, fear they are having a heart attack or a nervous breakdown.
Panic disorder
Experiencing a panic attack has been said to be one of the most intensely frightening, upsetting and uncomfortable experiences of a person's life and may take days to recover from. If an individual experiences panic attacks spontaneously, at frequent intervals without any trigger or when not confronted with sudden extreme danger, the condition is called panic disorder.
Sufferers of panic disorder often report a fear or sense of dying, "going crazy," or experiencing a heart attack or "flashing vision," feeling faint or nauseated, a numb sensation throughout the body, heavy breathing, or losing control of themselves. These feelings may provoke a strong urge to escape or flee the place where the attack began. This feeling is caused by the “flight response”. The natural instinct of every animal dictates to flee from the scene of danger and this response is triggered by the stress hormones produced by the adrenal glands.
Often, the onset of shortness of breath and chest pain is the predominant symptoms; the sufferer incorrectly appraises this as a sign or symptom of a heart attack. This can result in the person’s experiencing a panic attack seeking treatment in an emergency room.
Difference between panic attack and generalized anxiety 
Panic attacks are distinguished from other forms of anxiety by their intensity and their sudden, episodic nature. They are often experienced in conjunction with anxiety disorders and other psychological conditions, although panic attacks are not usually indicative of a mental disorder.
Predisposing factors, causes, and triggers
Panic disorder has been found to run in families, and this may mean that inheritance plays a strong role in determining who will get it. However, many people who have no family history of the disorder develop it. The onset of panic disorder usually occurs in early adulthood, although it may appear at any age. It occurs more frequently in women and often in people with above average intelligence. Various twin studies where one identical twin has an anxiety disorder have reported an incidence ranging from 31 to 88 percent of the other twin also having an anxiety disorder diagnosis. Environmental factors such as an “overly cautious view of the world expressed by parents and cumulative stress over time have been found to be correlated with panic attacks”. (The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook   4th edition by Edmund J. Bourne) 
A common physiological cause of panic attack is lowering of blood glucose level, a condition known as hypoglycemia. This may occur frequently in patients suffering from diabetes mellitus due to excess medication or medication without ample food intake. A condition called hyperthyroidism also causes frequent panic attacks. Consumption of some stimulant drugs such as Ritalin (methylphenidate) may cause panic like symptoms. Some antidepressant drugs also cause panic attacks as side effect. I have seen many alcohol addicts who experience panic attacks on dry days.  
Some psychological disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorderpost traumatic  stress disorder, and phobias frequently cause panic attacks. Many physical illnesses such as Wilson’s disease,  prolapse of the mitral valve of the heart,  pheochromacytoma  and inner ear disturbance known as labyrinthitis   are associated with panic attacks. 
Significant personal loss, including an emotional attachment to a romantic partner, life transitions, significant life change, and stimulants like caffeine or nicotine can act as triggers for a panic attack.
According to American self-help author and psychologist Edmund J.Bourne  lack of assertiveness  is a contributing factor in the continuance of the panic disorder. A growing body of evidence supports the idea that those that suffer from panic attacks engage in a passive style of communication or interactions with others. This communication style, while polite and respectful, is also characteristically un-assertive. This un-assertive way of communicating seems to contribute to panic attacks.
How to get rid of panic attacks?
The American Psychological Association says: “most specialists agree that a combination of cognitive and behavioral therapies is the best treatment for panic disorder. Medication might also be appropriate in some cases". The first part of therapy is largely informational; many people are greatly helped by simply understanding exactly what panic disorder is, and how many others suffer from it. Many people who suffer from panic disorder are worried that their panic attacks mean they are 'going crazy' or that the panic might induce a heart attack. Cognitive restructuring helps people replace those thoughts with more realistic, positive ways of viewing the attacks.
An easy way to control panic attacks
Force yourself to breathe slowly while counting to 20. Try to breathe in and out with every two seconds while counting to twenty. These slow, even and deep breaths will most likely distract us while making the panic attack run its course and totally bringing the stress down in those vital first 20 seconds. Concentrating on breathing slowly, making sure that you don’t rush yourself with the counting, taking all the time to concentrate, will most definitely work in slowing our heartbeat down thus alleviating the stress caused by all the adrenaline forcing us to react. This works mostly because you are able to create a distraction that will force your body not to react too rapidly to the attack, your brain will force itself to concentrate on other things other than the anxiety that forces you to react to the stress the panic is creating. When you count and breathe slowly, you concentrate on regaining control to your reactions, rather than letting the panic attack have control over you.
This technique can be most helpful in our everyday lives, once mastered, as it can greatly help you control your reactions in panic inducing situations, thus making it a tool to control your physical reactions in preventing the stress to overwhelm you.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How to enhance your creativity?

Creativity is the product of creative thinking
A general notion is that creativity is the phenomenon whereby a person creates something new that is outstanding and that has some kind of value. In my view creativity is the product of creative thinking, a mental faculty which every person is endowed with.
Two types of thinking – directed and undirected
Creative thinking is otherwise called undirected thinking. Normally one is instructed to use directed thinking which is goal oriented and rational. Such thinking requires a clear, well defined goal. One must then find a path that leads to the goal, with the aim of doing so as directly as possible. In general, directed thinking avoids wandering aimlessly, exploring odd options, and looking for creative solutions. Just such aimless wandering might be necessary to arrive at highly novel solutions. This type of meandering thought is called undirected thinking. Sigmund Freud who founded the discipline of psychoanalysis identified dreaming and day dreaming as forms of undirected thoughts that are not trammeled by the ordinary constrains of reality. Undirected thinking takes us to destinations that are sometimes murky and sometimes insightful. It plays an important role in creativity and in the solutions to problems that are poorly defined.
Creative thinking and globalization
According to the noted psychologist Mark A.Runco,Psychology Department, California State University, creativity has recently started to receive the attention it deserves by researchers in cognitive psychology because of the fast and complex changes such as globalization and technology advancements, which characterize the environment in which we live and operate.
Productive thinking and reproductive thinking
The Gestalt psychologists of Germany during the early twentieth century distinguished between reproductive and productive thinking.  Reproductive thinking entails the application of tried-and-proved true paths to the solution of a problem.  The thinker reproduces a series of steps that are known to yield a workable answer by using long term memory. Productive thinking, on the other hand, requires insight and creativity.  In view of the Gestalt psychologists, the thinker must see a new way of organizing the problem, that is, a new way of structuring the elements of thought and perception.
Trial-and-error vs. insight
Thorndike's puzzle box
Kohler's experiment
In psychological experiments on learning the animals use trial-and-error method of problem solving. Trial and error can be regarded as one form of reproductive thinking. Edward LeeThorndike was a pioneer in the experiments on leaning of animals using puzzle boxes. On being placed in the box, a cat pawed randomly about the box, obviously irritated by the confinement. Once it discovered the escape lever, the cat learns to associate the lever with a way to escape. That means the cat learns by trial and error method. Wolfgang Kohler, a Gestalt psychologist, designed a problems such as the following: a chimpanzee  is in a large cage along with several crates. Hanging from the top of the cage, out of reach, is a banana. Kohler reported that in this setting the chimpanzee would appear to be lost in thought, and then suddenly the proverbial light bulb of insight would flash. The animal would then move the crates under the bananas, stacking them to form a ladder to reach the food. In another problem a chimpanzee insightfully learned to join together two sticks in order to reach a banana lying outside the cage. The chimpanzee produces a new way to solve the problem out of productive thinking. This is the phenomenon of creativity.
Application of creativity
Writing, musical composition, architectural design, computer programming, engineering design, painting, and sculpting are just a few examples of tasks that call from creativity.
Historical versus personal creativity
Historical refers to ideas that are novel within the context of the whole of human history. The creator produces a product—some visible symbol that embodies his or her idea—that may be judged by others.  Consider the works of art or equations of physical theory. The Sistine chapel, the Mona Lisa, the laws of thermodynamics, and the general and special theories of relativity are products that plainly creative in the historical or product sense. Cognitive psychologist John R Hayes in his noted book The Complete Problem Solver argued that three criteria must be met before a product of the human mind ought to be regarded as creative.
 First, it must be novel or unique. Certainly, this is implicit in our everyday discussions of creative acts as well as in the distinction we encountered earlier between reproductive thinking, on the one hand, and productive, insightful creative thinking, on the other. 
Second a product must be judged as useful in some context. Here, many artists, inventors, scientists, and philosophers have lost in their ideas for fame. Their creation may have been novel but were utterly useless. Only when a product somehow connects with the pasts or find it niche in a cultural context does it stand a chance of being regarded as creative. This may take time—more time than the creators have. Some have been acclaimed as creative in the historical sense only after their deaths.
Third, the products must have demanded some special ability or talent on the part of their creators Hayes’s criteria of novelty, usefulness, and talent give very different answers to the question what is creative, depending on one’s cultural point of view.

Stages of creativity

The early twentieth-century reformer Graham Walls got somewhat nearer the source of the creative process, which he outlines in his book, The Art of Thought. Summarizing his own and other people's work in this area, Wallas described four stages of creation.
1. Preparation. The person expecting to gain new insights must know his field of study and be well prepared. This seems to fit what we have experienced 0 people get inventive ideas mainly in their own fields - poets in poetry; scientists, in science.
2. Incubation - Wallas noticed many great ideas came only a period of time spent away from the problem. This was certainly the experience of Archimedes when he got his idea in the public bath. Many ideas come to us when we are away from the problem, usually after actively engaging with the problem.
3. Illumination. This is the "click" or "flash" of a new idea. It's a mysterious phase. Resting the mind by doing other activities was the only suggestion Wallas could offer about how creative ideas form.
4. Verification. In this final step, efforts are made to see if the "happy idea" actually solves the problem. Since "great" ideas don't always work out in actual practice, this final step is vitally important to the success of any project.
We know that invention comes only in a person's field of specialization. Wallas is right when he says there must first be a Preparation stage: people have to become knowledgeable in some field before they may expect ideas to "dawn" on them in that area.
The more we know, the more apt we are to get new ideas; novel ideas seem to come from a fortunate scrambling of information we already have. And yet, although a certain threshold level of knowledge seems necessary for creativity, creative breakthroughs are not always the product of the most expert thinkers in a discipline.
Creativity and intelligence
There has been debate in the psychological literature about whether intelligence and creativity are part of the same process (the conjoint hypothesis) or represent distinct mental processes (the disjoint hypothesis). Evidence from attempts to look at correlations between intelligence and creativity from the 1950s onwards, by researchers regularly suggested that correlations between these concepts were low enough to justify treating them as distinct faculties of mind.
How to enhance creativity?
Acquire sufficient knowledge in the subject you are interested and think flexibly.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Quantitative literacy and mathematics disorder

Let us consider first the distinctions and relations between mathematics, arithmetic, and numeracy.
Mathematics and arithmetic
The related sciences that collectively fall under the term mathematics are concerned with the study of number, quantity, shape and space, and their interrelationships. Mathematics includes algebra, calculus, arithmetic geometry, analytical geometry, chaos theory, number theory and set theory. Arithmetic is based on numerical calculations and quantitative number theory. Arithmetic requires an understanding of basic numerical law and the rules that govern the four basic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Arithmetic also does decoding and manipulating symbols. The basic skills of arithmetic are an essential foundation to the learning of more complex mathematics.
Numeracy or quantitative literacy is the ability to reason with numbers and other mathematical concepts. A numerically literate person can apply different aspects of mathematics to understand, predict, and control routine events in daily life. Aspects of numeracy include number sense, operation sense, computation, measurement, geometry, probability and statistics. The Combination of words “numeracy literacy” was coined in 1959 by the UK committee on Education, presided over by British economist Sir Geoffrey Crowther. Innumeracy is a lack of numeracy.
Number sense
In simple terms the number sense is an intuitive understanding of numbers.  A person with number sense would understand the magnitude, relationships of numbers. He/she would know how the numbers are affected by operations like addition, subtraction and multiplication. Development of number sense helps a child learn to solve problems conceptually rather than procedurally. Specific skills and topics related to number sense include place value, mental arithmetic, and estimation.
Number sense is a biologically based nonverbal system. It is genetically determined and biologically conserved across species. Many animal species as well as human infants are able to discriminate smaller from larger quantity, order a series of relative quantities (e.g. 3, 1, 4, 2 à 1, 2, 3, 4), and manifest a rudimentary nonverbal system for counting. There is a language-based secondary system capable of representing numbers exactly. This system is developed later just like the development of language.
Place value: In our decimal number system, the value of a digit depends on its place, or position, in the number. Each place has a value of 10 times the place to its right. A number in standard form is separated into groups of three digits using commas. Each of these groups is called a period.
Mental arithmetic or mental calculation comprises arithmetical calculations using only the human brain, with no help from calculators, computers, or pen and paper. People use mental calculation when computing tools are not available, when it is faster than other means of calculation (for example, conventional methods as taught in educational institutions), or in a competition context. Mental calculation often involves the use of specific techniques devised for specific types of problems.

Estimation: When checking the mental calculation, it is useful to think of it in terms of scaling. For example, when dealing with large numbers, say 1531 × 19625, estimation instructs you to be aware of the number of digits expected for the final value. A useful way of checking is to estimate. 1531 is around 1500, and 19625 is around 20000, so a result of around 20000 × 1500 (30000000) would be a good estimate for the actual answer (30045875). So if the answer has too many digits, you know you've made a mistake.

Mathematics disorder or dyscalculia
Mathematics disorder refers to impairment in the development of arithmetic skills, including computational procedures used to solve arithmetic problems. It involves retrieval of basic arithmetic facts from long-term memory. Mathematics difficulties, mathematics disorder, specific disorder of arithmetic skill, math anxiety, and developmental dyscalculia are different terms used to denote mathematics disorder. These terms are not synonyms; but they are similar terms with subtle differences in their meanings. The difficulty is classed as disorder only when the individual’s performance in arithmetic is substantially below that expected for age, measured intellectual abilities, and education. Also, the impairment must be sufficiently serious to interfere with academic achievement or daily living.
Math learning difficulties occur in children with low IQ. But dyscalculia occurs in people across the whole IQ range.  Sufferers often, but not always, also have difficulties with time, measurement, and spatial reasoning.
When compared to the reading disability mathematics disorder is less prevalent. Studies in developed countries have established prevalence ranging from 3 to 11 percent of the school children.
Causes: Psychological factors causing mathematics disorder
The causes of mathematics disorder are unknown, but multiple causative factors have been proposed including psychological, neurological, genetic, and social factors. The social factors include poor teaching and math anxiety. Cognitive psychologist Mark H. Ashcraft, Ph.D. defines math anxiety as a feeling of tension, apprehension, or fear that interferes with math performance.
Math anxiety
According to Ashcraft, because math anxiety can cause math avoidance, a dilemma arises. For instance, when a highly math-anxious student performs disappointingly on a math question, it could be due to math anxiety, or the lack of competency in math because of math avoidance. In order to distinguish between real math anxiety and lack of competency specially devised psychological tests have to be applied. (Ashcraft, M. H., & Kirk, E. “The relationships among working memory, math anxiety, and performance.” Journalof Experimental Psychology: General  2001, Vol. 130, No. 2, 224-237) 
Defects in development
Number sense discussed earlier is primary factor. Basic quantitative capacities develop further through formal education and require additional cognitive capacities, including short-term working memory and symbolization of number in the language. The child also develops a mental number line.
The mental number line
Mental number line
Close your eyes and imagine the numbers 1 through 9 on a line. What does the image that appears in your mind look like? Most people will say that they imagine a horizontal line, with 1 on the left, and an orderly progression to 9 on the right. Naturally, this finding could be an effect of cultural convention in societies that use Arabic numerals, but research indicates that there may be more to it than that. As children in Western cultures grow, they learn to place numbers on a mental number line, with smaller numbers to the left and spaced further apart than the larger numbers on the right.
E.g. 1     2     3     4   5   6  7  8 9 10 11 12 13.  
Then the number line changes to become more linear, with small and large numbers the same distance apart.
E.g. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16.  
The mental number line is a product of schooling and experience. If the number sense is not inherited the child may lean numbers and acquire a mental number line but the numbers will remain void of the meaning of numerical magnitude. They will have gross mathematics disorder.
Neurological causes of dyscalculia 
Brain area playing major role in number processing 

Neuro-imaging studies have established that lower part of the parietal lobe of the brain plays a dominant role in numerical processing. Developmental lag of or injury to this part of the brain may cause gross dyscalculia.
How to identify dyscalculia?
The commonest feature of mathematics disorder is deficit in calculation fluency. In kindergarten and early elementary school the children shows deficit in counting skill. They fail to understand concepts such as more, less, and equivalence. They fail to recognize numerical values of numerals. They are unable to determine which of a pair of numerals is greater or smaller. They cannot copy numbers or write numbers to dictation. They usually count object more than once or out of order.
In older children i.e. third grade and above, major impairments are evident in rapid retrieval of number facts (e. g. 6 x 7 = 42), and in completing procedures necessary to solve more complex arithmetic problems in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
Psycho education about the disorder and its longer-term implecation is an essential first step. Treatment of mathematics disorder is typically conducted within educational settings, by professionals trained in special education or educational psychology. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cognitive psychology and architecture of mind

Cognitive psychology perceives human mind as a biological information processing system developed by evolution, whereas computer is man-made information processor.  Aaron Slomanphilosopher and researcher on artificial intelligence and cognitive science wrote in the article titled, TheArchitecture of Brain and Mind “Biological information processing systems produced by evolution still far outstrip both our understanding and our practical achievements: there are deep gaps in our theories and in our engineering capabilities.”

Computational theory of mind and cognitive architecture
The computational theory of mind is the view that the human mind is an information processing system and that thinking is a form of computing. This view is common in modern cognitive psychology and is presumed by theorists of evolutionary psychology. The design on mind’s information processing components and systems is called cognitive architecture. According to this concept the distinction between short-term memory system and long-term memory system is architectural distinction just like the distinction between a house and a church.   
Some theorists argue that mind is built from independent processing modules. Each module is specialized for a particular function such as recognizing human faces or speech. An alternative point of view is that the building blocks of the mind are flexible, general-purpose mechanisms that perform many diverse functions.  Long-term memory system is one such general purpose mechanism in that it stores mental representations of both faces and speech sounds from the past to enable recognition in the present and future.
Symbolic models of mind
Symbolic model of mind
There are two models for the architecture of mind, symbolic and connectionist. The symbolic models assume that the mind is built like a digital computer. Pioneering works on computers by von Neumann in the late 1950s provided the foundation for such models. The data in a computer are processed according the rules of a program. The symbolic models of cognitive processes assume that mental representations are symbols that are serially processed by a set of rules, just as the computers do. Herbert A Simon, father of artificial intelligence and Nobel Prize winner wrote: “ The Physical  Symbol System Hypothesis states  that  a system will  be capable of  intelligent  behaviour if  and only if  it  is a physical symbol system. A physical symbol system is a system capable of inputting, outputting, storing, and modifying symbol structures, and of carrying out some of these actions in response to the symbols themselves.” (Page 3 Invariants of Human BehaviourThis class of architecture posits a centralized control system over the information process of the mind. The sensory input is received in the sensory memory store and immediately transferred to the short-term working memory store. The short-term working memory store is the central controlling system of the information processing. From the short-term working memory store some are selected for output as behaviour and others are transferred to long-term memory store. From the long-term memory store some are retrieved to the short-term working memory system for processing.
Connectionist model of mind
Connectionist model of mind
Instead of looking to the digital computer, connectionist models try to use the structure of the brain itself as a model of the mind’s structure. Connectionist models are based on associations among the numerous simple units of brain cells called neurons. The central nervous system comprising of brain and spinal cord is composed of one trillion (1012) neurons. Every neurons is connected to other neurons through dendrites and axons which are the connecting organs extending from the cell body. The dendrites of a single neuron may receive as many as 10,000 connections from other neurons. The connection junctions are called synapses.
Neural networks and connectionism
Through synaptic connections the neurons in the brain form neural networks. A neural network is composed of a group or groups of functionally associated neurons. The knowledge of neural networks in the brain has inspired the cognitive scientists to evolve the theory of connectionism.
Connectionism is a set of approaches in the field of artificial intelligence, cognitive psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience and philosophy of mind, which models mental or behavioural phenomena as the emergent processes of interconnected networks of simple units. There are many forms of connectionism, but the most common forms use neural network models.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Cognitive aspects of language: Disorder of written expression

Disorder of written expression is a learning disability in which a person's ability to communicate in writing is substantially below the level normally expected based on the individual's age, intelligence, life experiences and educational background. This disability affects both the physical reproduction of letters and words and the organization of thoughts and ideas in written compositions.
Steven Pinker
People are not born to read or write. These skills have to be acquired by learning. Taking the computer analogy, Canadian cognitive-neuroscientist Steven Arthur Pinker said: “Children are wired for sound, but print is an optional accessory that must be painstakingly bolted on.”
 The Graphomotor skills are combination of complex mental and physical skills which enable a person to write. A child with Graphomotor problems will find writing difficult because there is detachment between their thoughts and their ability to express them through writing.  Reading and writing are intricately linked with oral language skills, and with each other. Writing is also strongly linked to skeleton-muscular motor system. In child development reading and writing represent the last and most complex language-related skills to develop, and are the most vulnerable to insult, injury, and adverse genetic influences.  In human evolution the history of reading and writing proceed in parallel.
How to identify disorder of written expression?
Following are the signs that suggest disorder of written expression:
  1. Poor or illegible handwriting
  2. Poorly formed letters or numbers
  3. Excessive spelling errors
  4. Excessive punctuation errors
  5. Excessive grammar errors
  6. Sentences that lack logical cohesion
  7. Paragraphs and stories that are missing elements and that do not make sense or lack logical transitions
  8. Deficient writing skills that significantly impact academic achievement or daily life.
These symptoms must be evaluated in light of the person's age, intelligence, educational experience, and cultural or life experience. Written expression must be substantially below the level of samples produced by others of the same age, intelligence, and background. Normally, several of the symptoms are present simultaneously.
There are no specific tests to diagnose disorder of written expression. This disorder is not normally diagnosed before age eight because of the variability with which children acquire writing skills. It is most commonly diagnosed in the fourth or fifth grade. Requests for testing usually originate with a teacher or parent who notes multiple symptoms of the disorder in a child's writing.
Several standardized tests accurately reflect spelling abilities, but do not assess other writing skills with the same reliability. Tests that might be helpful in diagnosing disorder of written expression include the Diagnostic Evaluation of Writing Skills (DEWS), the Test of Early Written Language (TEWL) and the Test of Adolescent Language. However, assessment using standardized tests is not enough to make a diagnosis of disorder of written expression. In addition, a qualified evaluator should compare multiple samples of the student's written work with the written work normally expected from students of comparable backgrounds. The person being evaluated may also be asked to perform tasks such as writing from dictation or copying written material as part of diagnostic testing.
Students with Graphomotor problems are frequently called "lazy", "unmotivated" and/or "oppositional" because they are reluctant to produce written work. Many times, these are the children who dislike school the most. Because they are sometimes able to write legibly if they write slowly enough, they are accused of writing neatly "when they want to". This statement has moral implications and is untrue; for children with Graphomotor problems, neat handwriting at a reasonable pace is often not a choice.
There is no medicine for this disorder. Emerging evidence indicates that a preventive approach of providing instruction in handwriting, spelling, and composition in kindergarten and primary grades, for children already at risk of reading delay is effective in improving these children’s subsequent spelling and reading abilities. This is because handwriting is not just a motor process or penmanship. Rather, handwriting draws on letter knowledge and in turn may reinforce orthographic representations of letters and spellings, so that practicing a word’s spelling appears to reinforce phonetic awareness and facilitate word reading. Also, since transcription skills (spelling, handwriting) uniquely predict compositional fluency throughout elementary grades, it is not surprising that writing instruction in kindergarten facilitates the development of both content and fluency of written expression in later grades. Both the parents and the teachers can participate in instructional exercises. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mental representations and information processing

Mental Representations
Human minds work by representation and computation. An individual’s ability to perceive information, comprehend it and to decide and act on it depends on mental representations. A mental representation is an internal code for information which cannot be observed by others.
To know what actually a mental representation is let us consider a picture of a cuckoo.  This picture is a representation of the bird in the world outside the human mind. This picture gives much information on the bird such as it size, shape, colour of feather et cetera. But it does not give any information on its distinctive song. A photograph or an artist’s drawing is the external representation of an object.
Now, close your eyes and imagine a cuckoo. A mental picture of cuckoo appears in your mind. This is the mental representation of cuckoo. This mental representation of the cuckoo gives all the information given by the picture of the cuckoo and, in addition, it may give information about its distinctive song also, if you have heard the song in the past. Unlike the artists’ sketches or photographs the mental representations of one individual cannot be observed by another individual. They are private and are perceived only by their owners.
Not all mental representations are perceived as images. Some mental representations are unconscious and the individual is unaware of them. For example, when one drives a car many mental representations about the procedures of driving a car may come to mind and the individual operates on them unknowingly. That means the many procedures of driving a car is automatic and the individual is unaware of the steps.
Look again, in your mind’s eye, at the cuckoo. Can you hear its song? Perhaps, but you will hear the real song of a cuckoo only if you have acquired a mental representation of how a cuckoo sounds. If you confuse it with the sounds of a robin or a sparrow, that is because your mental representation is in error.
Mental representations provide the basis for all mental functioning. To perceive your environment, you must compute mental representations of the objects around you and the events that are taking place. To comprehend and learn from what you are reading now, you must mentally represent the information that is conveyed through language. All that you know about the world, and your only basis for acting on the world, is found in your mental representations.
Processing of information
Another basic concept of cognitive psychology is that human mind process information in different stages. In other words computational process of the mind takes place in stages. Let us take the example of memory task given earlier.

To remember the trigrams and the words you need to first perceive or encode them. You have to read the letter combinations first. The process of encoding of encoding becomes difficult if easy reading is not possible due to any reason such as lack of adequate light, deficit of vision etc. Next, you needed to store the encoded items in memory. The words are much easier to store than the meaningless letter combinations.  Next, the items stored needed to be retrieved from memory. This process of retrieval is called remembering. Again, words are easier to remember than the meaningless trigrams. The final stage of information processing is output. The remembered word or trigram has to be spoken or written during the output stage of information processing. So, to be able to recall WAQ , you have to compute a mental representation during encoding, store this representation as an item on the list, retrieve the representation when trying to remember and then convert the mental representation to a spoken or written word or trigram.  The steps required to form, modify and use mental representations in a mental task is called the stages of information processing.