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Suggestion for a simple experiment in cognitive science that a group of people could participate in.

Bill Angel

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Here is a suggestion for a simple experiment in cognitive science that a group of people could participate in. There are programs you can download to your desktop computer, laptop, tablet, or cellphone that allow you to solve crossword puzzles. I use one on my Android tablet that provides 3 to 5 new puzzles each day to solve. The program and the puzzles it provides you to solve are free. The app provider makes his money from the banner advertising embedded into the program's display.

So here is the experiment: try to determine whether you are better at solving the puzzles with your left eye or with your right eye, but not with both eyes. The images of the puzzles as viewed with your left eye will be routed to the right side of your brain, while images of the puzzles viewed with your right eye will be routed to the left side of your brain. The two sides of your brain handle cognition differently, they don't think about a subject in the same way, or produce the same results. This issue is of particular importance for treating people who suffer a stroke on only one side of their brain. The effects of the stroke on their cognitive abilities will differ, depending on which side of their brain suffered the damage.

The puzzle app that I have been using grades each day's selection of puzzles as hard, moderate, or easy, and records the time that it took you to solve each one in its log. The program also records for each completed puzzle the total number of letter boxes that the puzzle contained, and also the percent of the words that the solver got correct on their own, without the use of any computer supplied hints. This recorded information would seem to provide a good basis for a comparison of the performance of each side of one's brain at crossword puzzle solving.

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While the idea of using crossword puzzles is my own, it was suggested to me by reading about the research of Dr. Mark Beeman at Northwestern University. See



Here is an excerpt about his research interests from his website:

Two brains are better than one

One approach I've taken is to examine differences in the way the right and left hemispheres process information, particular in regards to language and problem solving.


Studying hemispheric differences has tremendous potential to reveal critical components of higher level processing, because the two hemispheres share similar gross structure and input and output pathways, yet differ in cognitive processing. A particularly interesting area to study is language processing, for which the left hemisphere has long been thought to be "dominant." Recent empirical and theoretical work suggest that, although the Left hemisphere is better at many straightforward language tasks, both hemispheres process linguistic information, mostly in parallel, at all levels of processing, each computing the input in a unique way, and each contributing to understanding.

He then goes on to discuss how the left hemisphere looks at close semantic relations to a word, while the right hemisphere looks at the more distant semantic relations to a word. Crossword puzzles can be composed of both types of semantic relations: the easy parts look for words that have a close semantic relationship to the associated clue or hint, while the more difficult parts look for words that have a more distant or inferential semantic relationship to the associated clue or hint.
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I have found nothing on the cognitive aspect of eye-edness, but I did find something on the processing aspect and the relation of eye-edness to handedness.


Are You Right Eyed Or Left Eyed?

A person has two hands, two legs, two eyes, two cerebral hemispheres. But it is only at first sight that a human being is a symmetric creature. Firstly, we have a leading hand, the right one with the majority of people, secondly, we have a leading eye. Thirdly, the brain is functionally asymmetric: the left hemisphere (with the right-handers) is mainly connected with abstract-logical thinking and to a larger extent - with speech, the right hemisphere with image sensitivity.


Coming back to eyes, the right eye is the leading one among the two thirds of people, and the left one among one third of people. Special tests have been developed to determine this. Do these individual differences influence the visual information perception process, for example, perception of texts, on the left and on the right? Investigations carried out at the Institute of Cognitive Neurology of the Modern University for the Humanities will help to answer this question.


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An interesting article on this subject, that of using word games to probe the workings of the mind, appeared in 2008 in the NY Times, titled "Searching the Brain for the Spark of Creative Problem-Solving" See http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/07/science/07brain.html


To quote from that article:

...recent research suggests that the appeal of puzzles goes far deeper than the dopamine-reward rush of finding a solution. The very idea of doing a crossword or a Sudoku puzzle typically shifts the brain into an open, playful state that is itself a pleasing escape, captivating to people as different as Bill Clinton, a puzzle addict, and the famous amnesiac Henry Molaison, or H.M., whose damaged brain craved crosswords.

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  • 1 year later...

There is evidence that engaging in activities such as doing crossword puzzles can delay the onset of the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease.

An advantage of overlapping domains [in the brain] can be seen in the newly discovered phenomenon of cognitive reserve. Many people are found to have the neural ravages of Alzheimers disease upon autopsy but they never showed the symptoms while they were alive. How can this be? It turns out that these people continued to challenge their brains into old age by staying active in their careers, doing crossword puzzles, or carrying out any other activities that kept their neural populations well exercised. As a result of staying mentally vigorous, they built what neuropsychologists call cognitive reserve. Its not that cognitively fit people dont get Alzheimers; its that their brains have protection against the symptoms. Even while parts of their brains degrade, they have other ways of solving problems. They are not stuck in the rut of having a single solution; instead, thanks to a lifetime of seeking out and building up redundant strategies, they have alternative solutions. When parts of the neural population degraded away, they were not even missed.

Page 128 of Incognito:The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman

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Oliver Sacks, professor of neurology and psychiatry at Columbia University, wrote in his book "The Mind's Eye" in 2010:

I was reminded of a patient I had seen in the hospital some years before, who had overnight become totally paralyzed from a spinal cord infection, a fulminating myelitis. When it became evident that no recovery was forthcoming, she fell into despair, felt that her life was over not only the great things of life but the little familiar pleasures of each day, like doing the New York Times crossword, to which she was addicted. She requested that the Times be brought to her each day, so that at least she could look at the puzzle, get its configuration, run her eyes along the clues. But when she did this something extraordinary happened, for as she looked at the clues, the answers seemed to write themselves in their spaces. Her visual imagery strengthened over the next few weeks, until she found that she was able to hold the entire crossword and its clues in her mind after a single, intense inspection, and then solve it, mentally, at her leisure later in the day. This became a source of great solace to her, in her paralysis; she had had no idea, she later told me, that such powers of memory and imagery were available to her.

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maybe I'm an outlier but I closed one eye then the other and I think I see with both eyes the same so how is solving a puzzle with one eye closed any different then the other? do the puzzles have to do with depth or color, even color I don't see a difference from one eye to the other, it might be not a visible difference.

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