Column: Cognitive Psychology: The Science of the Mind
Column: Cognitive Psychology: The Science of the Mind
  • Assistant Professor Jihyun Suh (HSS)
  • 승인 2023.05.19 10:02
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Assistant Professor Jihyun Suh (HSS)
Assistant Professor Jihyun Suh (HSS)

 About my Research
 My research area is cognitive psychology. It examines how we think and process information, from receiving it to interpreting it and acting upon it. My area of interest is how people can focus on important information that aligns with their goals while ignoring irrelevant ones everywhere. This ability is especially critical given the overwhelming volume of information in our daily lives. Imagine you chat with a friend in a noisy place, you might need to concentrate on your friend while disregarding the background noise. You could have a conversation with your friend if the noise is not too loud. Our cognitive system can filter out the noise automatically without our conscious awareness. It selectively processes information relevant to our goals, such as our friend's voice, while suppressing irrelevant ones like background noise. Now, imagine you are in the same noisy place but suddenly hear someone call your name. This grabs your attention immediately, even though you were previously focusing on something else. This phenomenon is known as the "cocktail party effect," which highlights that certain information such as hearing your name, can override the filtering system and become prioritized in the cognitive process.
 As illustrated in the example, human information processing is intricate and can be influenced by a range of factors. These include the presence of meaningful stimuli such as one's name, the appearance of unexpected stimuli such as a camera flash, the value of the current goal, and even the cognitive capacity of individuals. All these factors can potentially influence how we choose and process information.
 My research aims to investigate the circumstances under which people can improve their ability to selectively focus on information that aligns with their goals, as well as identify potential factors that can disrupt this process. I am also exploring whether external aids, such as visual instructions, can enhance the allocation of attention and how it changes with age and the progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's disease.

 Motivation for Pursuing Psychology
 Since I was young, I have always been fascinated by the inner workings of the brain and why people view things differently. While reading about human visual perception and fMRI measuring brain activity related to mental processes, I became interested in cognitive neuroscience. Fortunately, I was able to participate in ongoing studies during master’s program in psychology, which sparked my journey into the field. Later on, I moved to Washington University in St. Louis to pursue a Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology, where I focused on investigating how motor behavior affects visual perception using measures such as reaction time and eye movement. After the Ph.D., I worked as a postdoctoral fellow studying cognitive control in an aging population, administering studies to test the thinking skills of older individuals who had biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease.

 The Most Remarkable Experience During my Research
 When I was a postdoctoral researcher, I conducted studies with older participants, many of whom were over 60 years old and some even as old as 85. I was impressed to learn that these participants were from the local St. Louis community and had been part of the Alzheimer’s disease research program for over a decade, with some participating for more than 20 years. They underwent yearly physical check-ups including fMRI, CT, and even lumbar punctures, as well as cognitive tests. One thing that stood out to me was their positive attitudes towards life and people. They always greeted me with smiles and shared fun stories. They were also proud to be able to help with the research and enthusiastic about the cognitive tests I administered.
 I asked them why they decided to participate and was said they wanted to contribute something to the younger generation and hoped that they could benefit from the research. The strong support from the community was a valuable asset for academic research. It is my aspiration to one day contribute to building a research center and community pool in Korea for longitudinal studies on mental health.

 All Interconnected Psychology, Statistics, and Neuroscience
 I taught "Statistical Research Methods" and currently teach "The Brain and Mind". Some may question how they relate to psychology. I would say that Psychology is a scientific study of the human mind. Because the brain is the control center of the human mind, psychological research, especially cognitive or behavioral neuroscience, often focuses on the neural underpinnings of human behavior. That is also why most introductory psychology courses start with the anatomy of neural systems. Psychologists have developed various research methods to measure human behavior and the accompanying brain activities, utilizing several brain imaging techniques.
 Despite various sophisticated research methods, studying the human mind is still a challenging task. It would be great if we had a tool to read people's thoughts easily, but it is not feasible. Psychologists employ different methods such as behavioral experiments, surveys, and neuroimaging to collect data, which are quite complex and unclear due to the highly conceptual subjective matter of the study and individual differences. To analyze these complex datasets, advanced statistical techniques are essential in psychological research. Depending on the nature of the data, different statistical methods are used.
 Suppose I was interested in finding out which area of the brain is active when people think about POSTECH. To do this, I scanned the brains of 100 participants while asking them to think about POSTECH in an fMRI scanner. When the data are collected, I would need to perform statistical analysis to identify the statistically significant areas of the brain. This is the simplest analysis, but there are more sophisticated methods such as network analysis or machine learning that can be used to decode brain activities. While I only gave an example of neuroimaging data, statistical analysis is indeed essential in psychology research across different subfields.

 Studying Tips from Cognitive Psychology
 Psychology is in our everyday lives. As a cognitive psychologist, I can share one useful tip that may help in studying. It is important to be aware that our feelings about how much we understand a subject can often be misleading. For instance, highlighting text while studying may give us a false sense of learning, but research shows it is not an effective strategy for retention. Instead, repeatedly testing oneself through quizzes and practice is the most effective method. If time is limited, using flashcards to test oneself between classes or before bed can also be helpful.