Graduate Theses & Dissertations

Talking it out
The literature to date that investigates the development of social perspective taking in children primarily focuses on preschool aged children. These studies provide evidence that implicates language as being crucial for social perspective taking in young children but less is known about the importance of language to social perspective taking during middle childhood and early adolescence. The current study uses Selman's theory of socio-cognitive development to investigate the maturation of social perspective taking and the importance of language to social problem solving in 8 year olds (n = 111) and 12 year olds (n = 112). Analysis of variance and scalogram analysis shows a developmental progression of social perspective taking across the social problem solving process. Children may be able to demonstrate reciprocal perspective taking when generating strategies before they are able to demonstrate reciprocal perspective taking for other steps of social problem solving. Flexibility in interpersonal orientation is shown to be a predictor of social problem solving ability. Correlations and multiple regression analysis demonstrate that language is important to overall social problem solving but that the role of semantic and syntactic language may differ at age 8 compared to age 12. Author Keywords: interpersonal orientation, language, Selman, social cognition, social perspective taking, social problem solving
Near-Hand Effects and Recruitment of Visual-Tactile Bimodal Cells
Near-hand benefits are seen when individuals are able to process targets more quickly, accurately, and with greater precision when a hand is placed near, rather than far from a target. One possibility is that near-hand stimuli recruit visual-tactile bimodal cells. Research reports that placing a hand near a target delayed immediate saccade onset and speeded delayed saccade onset. Study 1 examined saccade onset to targets appearing near a real hand, a realistic fake hand, or a non-hand visual cue. Immediate saccades were facilitated and delayed saccades were slowed with a real hand in the display, in comparison to a fake hand and no-hand. To establish the link between near-hand effects and bimodal cells, Study 2 used repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) to depress cortical activity in PMd. RTMS did not induce a reversal of interference induced by near-hand, congruent targets. However, a reversal of the hand effect was found in the stimulation group; a real hand in the display may delay immediate saccades and improve delayed saccades post-stimulation. This finding may double dissociate the effect of the real hand from the fake hand and may be inconsistent with the hypothesis that the hand is attracting attention. Author Keywords: multisensory integration, near-hand effects, PMd, premotor cortex, rTMS, visual-tactile bimodal neurons
Comparing Two Tablet-Based Visuomotor Tasks to Standard Laboratory Versions
The assessment of visuomotor function can provide important information about neurological status. Several visuomotor tasks exist for testing in the laboratory, although attempts to make these tests portable to allow quick and reliable assessment have been limited. We developed an assessment tool using two laboratory visuomotor tests as a tablet application: the double-step task, and an interception task. Performance was assessed by measuring the participants’ ability to reach toward unpredictably moving targets in each task. Response patterns were compared across equipment types to determine if participants were responding similarly to the moving targets in the standard laboratory and the tablet version of the tasks. On the double-step task, participants adjusted to the displaced target adequately in both the lab and tablet versions. On the interception task, participants intercepted non-accelerating targets, and performed worse on accelerating targets in both versions of the task. These findings suggest that the tablet version of these tasks assesses similar visuomotor processing as the respective laboratory version. Author Keywords: concussion assessment, double-step task, interception task, visuomotor processing, visuomotor system
Tool-use and near-tool effects
After active tool-use visual stimuli near a tool are processed more quickly and accurately than those farther away from a tool. Can these near-tool effects be modulated by training demands? To investigate this we asked the participants to complete a tool training task followed by a cross-modal interference task. During the training task the participants performed quick and accurate pointing movements to reach a strict or moderate criterion. The results indicated that the strict group made faster movements than the moderate group. During the cross-modal interference task visual distractors were presented along handheld tools in conjunction with vibrotactile stimuli on the hand. No significant compatibility effects were found for visual distractors near the hand or tool tip, and no consistent group differences were found. Our findings demonstrate the importance of using a novel tool during training, and that virtual stimuli may not be effective to elicit near-tool effects. Author Keywords: bimodal neurons, cross-modal interference, near-tool effects, tool training, training demands
Assessing the Clinical Usefulness of Three Tablet-Based Visuomotor Tasks to Evaluate Closed Head Injury
Evidence suggests that visuomotor system behaviour may be more sensitive to the prolonged effects of mild brain injuries than neuropsychological tests. We evaluated whether participants with a mild closed head injury (CHI) would show lingering visuomotor deficits, but not cognitive deficits, up to three years post-injury compared to participants with an orthopaedic injury and healthy controls. All three groups completed a tablet-based visuomotor assessment tool and a brief neuropsychological test battery. The CHI participants scored comparable to the control groups on the neuropsychological tests, but when assessed for visuomotor function requiring adjustment to a changing stimulus, CHI participants showed poorer performance than the control groups. Combined, these findings add to the evidence that CHI can lead to persistent visuomotor deficits that extend beyond those of neuropsychological tests. Therefore, visuomotor assessment should be included in brain injury and recovery evaluation, and this can be accomplished easily using tablet-based tasks. Author Keywords: closed head injury, neuropsychological assessment, recovery, tablet, traumatic brain injury, visuomotor
Is semantics activated automatically? Evidence from the PRP paradigm
Three experiments examined whether semantics is activated automatically by testing whether Arabic digits (e.g., 4), number words (e.g., four), and non-number words (e.g., rat) activate semantics in the absence of central attention within the Psychological Refractory Period (PRP) paradigm. In all three experiments, subjects performed colour discriminations as Task 1. In Task 2, subjects performed magnitude comparisons on digits (Experiment 1) and number words (Experiment 2) and size comparisons on animal words (Experiment 3). Task overlap was controlled by varying stimulus onset asynchrony (SOA). A distance effect arose in Task 2 and yielded underadditive effects with decreasing SOA for both digits and number words, consistent with these notations activating semantics in the absence of central attention, or automatically. A distance effect also arose for animal words, but it was additive with SOA, inconsistent with non-number words activating semantics automatically. Author Keywords: Automaticity, Central attention, Dual-task, Numerical cognition, Semantics, Word recognition
Effect of Aging and Movement Variability on Motor Adaptation
Aging is associated with a multitude of changes, including changes in the motor system. One such change that has been documented is increased levels of inherent movement variability (the inability to consistently replicate movements over time) with increasing age. Previous research has had controversial findings regarding the effect that movement variability has on motor learning and motor adaptation. Some research suggests that movement variability is beneficial to motor learning, while other research indicates that movement variability is the by-product of a noisy motor system and is a detriment to learning new skills. How do changes in movement variability associated with aging affect the ability to adapt to a mass perturbation? We tested younger and older individuals on a mass adaptation task (applying mass to the lateral side of the arm to perturb inertial forces of the limb during reaches). We analyzed baseline levels of movement variability, learning during the adaptation block and how baseline levels of movement variability explained differences in learning. We focused on measures of accuracy, speed and precision. We found that younger individuals displayed greater levels of movement variability throughout the experiment and that they also learned to adapt to the mass perturbation more successfully than their older counterparts. Multi-joint movements displayed greater degrees of learning in comparison to single-joint movements, likely due to the difference in difficulty when completing the two movements. Taken together, our results suggest that purposeful movement variability may be beneficial to motor adaptation. Author Keywords: aging, mass adaptation, motor adaptation, motor learning, movement variability
Problem-Solving and Cognitive Flexibility in Older Adolescents and Young Adults
Ill-structured problems have changing components that solvers need to adapt their solutions to. Well-structured problems have strict, well-defined procedures, and solvers must know which procedures to apply and when. Research has suggested that these two types of problems utilize different problem-solving skills. The current study focused on the relation between ill-structured interpersonal problem solving, novel well-structured problem-solving, and cognitive flexibility in young adults and older adolescents. It was predicted that because of the changing components of ill-structured problems, cognitive flexibility would more strongly predict these compared to well-structured problems. The current study sample consisted of 73 undergraduates with an average age of 20.43 years. The results showed that cognitive flexibility is equally associated with ill-structured problem-solving and well-structured problem-solving. This suggests that cognitive flexibility may support the perspective coordination involved in solving ill-structured problems and that cognitive flexibility may support switching between search strategies when solving a novel well-structured problem. Author Keywords: adolescent, adult, cognitive flexibility, ill-structured problem-solving, novel problems, well-structured problem-solving
Cognitive Inefficiencies in Adolescents with Eating Disorders
Eating Disorders (ED) are notoriously difficult to treat due, in part, to commonly observed inefficiencies in cognitive flexibility and central coherence, which are believed to maintain disordered cognitions and behaviours and negatively impact prognosis. Cognitive remediation therapy (CRT) has recently been used effectively with adults with ED; however, evidence among adolescents is limited. The present study explored change in flexibility and central coherence in a group of 23 adolescent ED inpatients (M = 16 years, SD = 0.95). All participants received a comparable dose of ED treatment. Participants were split into two groups for comparison: the CRT group (n = 15) received CRT in addition to TAU; and a TAU group for control (TAU; n = 8). Improvements in flexibility and central coherence were superior in the CRT group, suggesting that CRT is a potentially useful treatment for adolescents with AN as part of an overall psychosocial rehabilitation program. Author Keywords: anorexia nervosa, central coherence, cognitive flexibility, cognitive remediation, eating disorders, set shifting

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