Psychological Activity

Sorry French language, Halloween is coming up and to celebrate, I decided to watch Paranormal Activity 3 in theaters last night.

BAD IDEA. (I’m even too scared to Google search images to post!)

I hid behind my hands 75% of the time and screamed at anything that suddenly popped up. It even continued after the movie was finished: I turned on all the lights at home, ran up the stairs, and made sure that I was safe underneath my blanket. It sounds like I had a horrible time, but truth is, I loved it. Why?

Why would I love something that makes me feel paranoid and uneasy? I don’t know the answer either, which is why I decided to do some research!

“No doubt, there’s something really powerful that brings people to watch these things, because it’s not logical,” Joanne Cantor, PhD, director of the Center for Communication Research at University of Wisconsin, Madison, tells WebMD. “Most people like to experience pleasant emotions.” What Dr. Cantor has to say is indeed very true and after reading several articles, there are a number of logical reasons for people’s love of horror films.

From an evolutionary stand-point, we pay attention to what signals danger (blood, guts, gore) in order to maximize our chances of survival. Which, aside from curiosity, can explain why we rubberneck on the freeway to view an accident. However, the horror movies themselves don’t exactly teach us survival skills for the real world. The difference between the accident in front of us and the movie screen is that there is no need to respond to the danger presented in the film. We are able to satisfy our curiosity of watching what happens to the characters and not have to worry about being responsible for calling 911 or actually running for our lives from the blood thirsty zombies that just ate all your friends.

My television screen is the ultimate protection against “The Walking Dead.”

Glenn Sparks, Professor of communications at Purdue University and author of Media Effects Research (2009), mentions that our brain is not adapted to the technology of the silver screen. This explains why our body responds with a faster heart beat, sweaty palms, and rise in blood pressure–because our brain is sending our body signals of danger. Sparks studies the psychological effects of violent movies on young men and finds that the scarier the film presented was, the more satisfied the young man felt. This could be connected to our ancestors’ way of bringing boys into adulthood by making them endure pain–it would seem that movies are the new stand in for such rituals. In a nutshell, it would seem those who watch horror films do it for the thrill, the adrenaline rush and the satisfying feeling of know you’ll be ok by the end of it all.

I can easily relate to that, my friends often ask me why I enjoy these films if by the end of I cower at every corner of my house. My answer is always that it’s fun for me to watch these films, it’s almost like being on a roller coaster. Of course, it’s evident that watching these films have taken a psychological toll on me–I’m a little paranoid at 3:00am and hate thinking about any images that stayed in my memory. Regardless of this new knowledge of how may brain reacts, I will still continue to watch as many scary movies as possible.

Are you into scary movies? Or do you find that they are a waste of time and adrenaline? Are they psychologically bad for people?

Let me know and i’ll be sure to explore it in my next post!

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Encode This

Midterms are coming up and my brain feels like it’s about to explode! Let’s take a break from my journey to French fluency and focus on something more recent—my journey to good grades! After all, my blog’s tagline is: “how to learn another language and other tricks your brain can do,” right? Right. So, in honor of the three midterms I must face, today’s topic will be memory!

Why is it so much easier to memorize all the lyrics to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”  as opposed to all the information from four chapters of Cognitive Psychology?

First, we must know how our brain takes in information and stores it. Of course there are several theories and models, but I’d like to focus on Atkinson and Shiffrin’s (1971) Information Processing Model (IP model):


It’s not as confusing as it looks; McClelland and Rumelhart’s Conectionist Model  (1981) is a lot more complicated! Anyway, what the IP basically states is that our memory is processed in a serial manner, a lot like how the neuron processes information.

See the resemblance?

Information from our environment is taken in by our senses and, if we give attention to it, it gets stored in to our short-term memory store. If we rehearse the information enough, such as singing a song over and over again, then it gets stored in our long-term memory store for us to be able to retrieve it whenever we want! So, now that we have a basic understanding of  how our brain stores memory, what is the best way to study? We must get the information into our long term memory by going through the 3 stages of forming memory:

1) ENCODE: assign meaning to the information you want to memorize to help you retrieve it. A good example of this is Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally to remember the order of operations for mathematical problems.

2) STORAGE: the active process of consolidating memories in order to remember them better. When trying to place information into long-term memory store, continually reviewing and rehearsing aids in making memories less vulnerable to be forgotten.

3) RETRIEVAL: The more a memory has been encoded and consolidated, the easier it will be to bring the memory out of long-term into your working memory. This is why poor encoding and rehearsal can make it difficult to recall any information we have tried to memorize.

By following these stages you should be able to remember anything you want! I know it’s worked for me, this blog post is just my way of practicing consolidation and making sure my retrieval process is working–and of course teaching others what I’ve learned! I hope this has helped any of you studying hard for midterms.

Good Luck!

Immerse Yourself

Sure, practicing your conjugations and grammar are a vital part in learning a foreign language however, one of most important things that students tend to forget is to expose themselves to the culture. From music, film, plays, and food–foreign culture is an array of possibilities to learn. After all, what good is it when you speak so properly but not know the history or famous plays written in that country? I  believe that one of the best ways to learn a language completely is by exposing oneself to all the different forms of media that is available–it will teach you new vocabulary as well as make you well rounded in the culture of your choice. That being said, here is a list of French media that I have listened to, read, watched and loved:

1) Children’s Novel: Le Petit Prince by Antione de Saint-Éxupery.

Although a children’s novel, it goes into an almost philosophical exploration of human nature. It has also been translated into over 190 languages, which is great for those of you wanting to learn something other than French! This is a great book to read for beginners and will hopefully enlighten your heart the way it did for me.

2) French Films: Trois Hommes et un Couffin 

I recently watched this film in my French film class and thoroughly enjoyed it! This humorous film, which was actually remade into an American film (Three Men and a Baby), not only entertains, but actually subtly explores other cultural issues. I actually hope to explore this film in a later blog compared to it’s remake to show how films are adapted to suit the audience’s cultural values and wants. So, as a head start, be sure to check this out!

Other French films that I have enjoyed are:

  • Les Choristes
  • Paris Je t’aime (especially the last clip)
  • A Bout de Souffle  

3) Play: Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand

Even though the first time I read this was in English as opposed to French, it still made me love the French culture even more. The play is about a man, Cyrano who, although talented and gifted with words, doubts himself and believes himself unworthy of receiving the love of a women. The story is so beautiful, romantic, and deep I never get tired of it.

4) Music:  Sympathique by Pink Martini

This song was introduced to me by my high school French teacher and she always made us sing it! She said that even though we were just at a level one comprehension, we would be able to understand the chorus which goes:

Je ne veux pas travailler, je ne veux pas déjeuner, je veux seulement oublier et puis, je fume.” ( I don’t want to work, I dont want to eat, I just want to forget and then I smoke.) 

Not the best song message, but we were learning French weren’t we?

Some other artist to check out are:

  • Carla Bruni 
  • Benjamin Biolay
  • Coeur de Pirate

There really are so many possibilities to put in this post, but these are the ones that have really left an imprint on me. I hope you enjoy these suggestions  and share it with other people as well! Remember that immersing yourself in a culture is just as important as practicing grammer and conjugations everyday. Take time to listen, read, and watch anything in another language and you will not only seem more knowledgable, but closer to your goal of fluency too!

Bonne Chance!  And if you have any other foreign films, music, and plays to share feel free to let me know!

Parlez! (Speak!)

When learning another language,  what better way to practice than to speak out loud? I’m sure a number of foreign language lessons begin with the basics of meet-and-greet phrases, numbers and letters. I don’t remember it word for word but my basic French introduction probably went something like this:

<<Bonjour, comment allez vous? Je m’appelle Jen. J’ai dix-neuf ans et j’aime danser.>>

(Hello, how are you? My name is Jen. I’m 19 and I like to dance)

Of course, back then <<j’avais quatorze ans>> (I was 14) and my accent was absolutely horrible. This being my second learned language at such a later age, my brain was having a bit of difficulty processing everything–even now, it takes me quite some time to write out analytical French papers on film remakes.

But what makes language learning so difficult past childhood? As you may or may not know, the areas in the brain associated with language are called Broca and Wernicke’s area. Located in the left hemisphere (which is also responsible for more logical and analytical thinking), these areas help us produce  language (Broca’s area) and process language (Wernicke’s area). According to several studies using fMRI, such as one done by Hirsch and her colleagues at Cornell University, there was a separation between first and second language activity in Broca’s area but very little separation of the two in Wernicke’s area. This suggests that people who learn a language later in life may not have difficulty in comprehending words but may struggle with forming words and phrases.

It all makes sense now doesn’t it? I often find myself having no problem listening and understanding my French professors but when it comes to answering questions, I often stumble and find it difficult to say what I want. It is no wonder why you start off learning a language by practicing simple phrases. The more verbal practice you get, the better a speaker you become!

So for those you taking intro to French, Spanish, German, or Japanese who really want to become fluent one day, practice out loud! Talk, think, text even blog in your language of choice and don’t be afraid to add the accent either!

Just make sure you don’t end up like Joey from Friends:

à la prochaine!

Les Rêves.

My high school French teacher used to always say “Once you dream in French, you have finally arrived.” We always shared a petit conversation before class and every other week or so, one of my seven classmates would share the story of how they dreamt in French the night before. I was somewhat jealous; why hadn’t I started to dream in French? Perhaps they’re just lying! Well, four years went by and I graduated high school without so much as a oui in my dreams! However, I didn’t want to give up French just because of that.
After graduation, I tried immersing myself in all things French–films, music, tv shows, more music, everything! I reviewed my French and practiced, but when freshmen year of college started, I was to0 scared to register for any French classes. It wasn’t until second semester that I finally decided to take French 201.

It turned out to be one of the best classes I have ever taken! No offense to my high school teacher, but having a professor actually born and raised in France gives you a totally new experience! Along with the usual grammatical lessons (it was the G.E. level after all) I was also learning “modern French” and learning about French culture. I was so elated and maybe even obsessed with the language and culture that I guess my brain finally decided to let me dream in French! FINALLY! It’s a shame I couldn’t share this with my high school classmates during petit conversation.

But why did my brain finally  let me dream in French? This is where it gets interesting.

In this study by Jeong, Hyeonjeong, et al (2009) at Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, there is evidence that suggests the brain “processes second language words differently depending upon how they were learned.” In the experiment, they took 44 native Japanese speakers and taught them a few Korean words (verbs, adjectives,and greetings) through either situation based videos or text based videos. The situation videos showed actors in commonplace environments (a school, park, office, etc.)  expressing words like Dowajo–Korean for help me, accompanied by actions such trying to move a heavy bag. As for the text based videos a person would speak the Korean word and then hold up a white board with the translated meaning.
The results revealed that the right supramarginal gyrus ,which normally proccesses auditory and visual input, was highly involved in  the situation-based learning whereas the text based words activated areas in the left middle frontal regions of the brain, mostly associated verbal association learning.

So perhaps, it is the way my brain was taught that finally allowed my “arrival” into the French language. Being exposed to someone of French culture as opposed to learning through just a textbook method, as I did in high school, probably influenced the way my brain learned and stored everything. Or perhaps it was because I had initially learned French through textbook and then was exposed to a more “situational” based type of learning that my brain was able to be enriched in both areas!

What do you think? Is it easier to learn something through a textbook or through contextual exposure?

Let me know! I’ll be right here dreaming in French.

Bonne Chance.

Bonjour tout le monde! (Did I say that right?)

Salut! My name is Jen and I have an immense love for the French language and Psychology. My love for French, as juvenile as it may sound, stemmed from Meg Cabot’s The Princess Diaries series. The heroine Mia Thermopolis, would sometimes end her “diary entries” with her homework for that week which always included French. I admired her character (an extremely relatable young woman, who was naive and worried a lot) and how she ended up becoming a sophisticated and intelligent young lady able to rule the land of Genovia. So, in my quest to become more like Mia Thermopolis, I decided to take French class in high school and fell in love with it almost immediately.

As for psychology, I was born and raised by two psychiatric nurses. My parents would often tell stories of the strange personalities they encountered at work over the dinner table–it was inevitable that I would become highly interested in the subject! I also really enjoy Ken Kesey’s novel One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest which takes place in a mental ward full of characters with different disorders. It is one of the best novels I have ever read (and a great movie too)! I used to want to grow up to work in an institute surrounded by patients with extreme cases of disorders but just recently, I changed my mind to working with children with developmental diseases such as autism or down syndrome.

Now, what is this blog about anyway?

I want to share with you my journey to French fluency; I’ve been taking it for six years now and it’s only really beginning to sink in. I’m also going to Paris for four weeks this coming January for a class and hope to be able to speak with ease instead of the usual <<je pense que…uhh..je pense que c’est très..>>. In addition I want to explore how my brain is even learning and processing this foreign language, among other things. I plan on sharing what I’ve learned  about the brain and what we can do to fully utilize our mind’s potential (say, for that test you have next class!)!

Interested so far? I hope so!

Let me know what your passions are and where their roots lie!

à bientôt!