For worriers, expressive writing cools brain on stressful tasks
EAST LANSING, MI -- Chronic worriers, take note: Simply writing about your feelings may help you perform an upcoming stressful task more efficiently, finds a Michigan State University study that measured participants’ brain activity.
The research, funded by the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, provides the first neural evidence for the benefits of expressive writing, said lead author Hans Schroder, an MSU doctoral student in psychology and a clinical intern at Harvard Medical School’s McLean Hospital.
“Worrying takes up cognitive resources; it’s kind of like people who struggle with worry are constantly multitasking – they are doing one task and trying to monitor and suppress their worries at the same time,” Schroder said. “Our findings show that if you get these worries out of your head through expressive writing, those cognitive resources are freed up to work toward the task you’re completing and you become more efficient.”
Schroder conducted the study at Michigan State with Jason Moser, associate professor of psychology and director of MSU’s Clinical Psychophysiology Lab, and Tim Moran, a Spartan graduate who’s now a research scientist at Emory University. The findings are published online in the journal Psychophysiology.
For the study, college students identified as chronically anxious through a validated screening measure completed a computer-based “flanker task” that measured their response accuracy and reaction times. Before the task, about half of the participants wrote about their deepest thoughts and feelings about the upcoming task for eight minutes; the other half, in the control condition, wrote about what they did the day before.
While the two groups performed at about the same level for speed and accuracy, the expressive-writing group performed the flanker task more efficiently, meaning they used fewer brain resources, measured with electroencephalography, or EEG, in the process.
Moser uses a car analogy to describe the effect. “Here, worried college students who wrote about their worries were able to offload these worries and run more like a brand new Prius,” he said, “whereas the worried students who didn’t offload their worries ran more like a ’74 Impala – guzzling more brain gas to achieve the same outcomes on the task.”
While much previous research has shown that expressive writing can help individuals process past traumas or stressful events, the current study suggests the same technique can help people – especially worriers – prepare for stressful tasks in the future.
“Expressive writing makes the mind work less hard on upcoming stressful tasks, which is what worriers often get “burned out” over, their worried minds working harder and hotter,” Moser said. “This technique takes the edge off their brains so they can perform the task with a ‘cooler head.’”
Real or Fake? Creating fingers to protect identities
Do you know how safe it is to use your finger as a security login? And have you wondered how your cell phone knows if your finger is real or a fake?
Michigan State University biometric expert Anil Jain and his team are working to answer these questions and solve the biggest problems facing fingerprint recognition systems today: how secure they are and how to determine whether the finger being used is actually a human finger.
In an effort to test and help solve this problem, Jain, a University Distinguished Professor, and doctoral student Joshua Engelsma have for the first time designed and created a fake finger containing multiple key properties of human skin. Commonly called a spoof, this fake finger has been used to test two of the predominant types of fingerprint readers to help determine their resilience to spoof attacks. Watch the finger being made in this video at http://bit.ly/2ytbo1a.
The fake fingers developed at MSU were created using a combination of carefully chosen materials, including conductive silicone, silicone thinner and pigments. In addition to determining the materials, the entire fabrication process, using a molding and casting technique, was designed and implemented by the team.
“What makes our design unique is that it mimics a real finger by incorporating basic properties of human skin,” said Jain. “This new spoof has the proper mechanical, optical and electrical properties of a human finger. Compared to current fake fingers that only contain one or two of these properties, our new version could prove much more challenging to detect. It will help motivate designers to build better fingerprint readers and develop robust spoof-detection algorithms.”
Developing more resilient fingerprint readers is important because they are now abundantly used for authentication in cell phones, computers, amusement parks, banks, airports, law enforcement, border security and more.
One specific way the synthetic fingers will be used is for testing the recognition accuracy between different types of fingerprint readers. The readers differ based on the type of sensors used to record the digital fingerprints, such as optical (using light rays to capture an image) or capacitive (using electrical current to create an image).
Currently, recognition accuracy declines when the same fingerprint taken using two different types of fingerprint readers is compared. For example, if a capacitive reader was used to capture a fingerprint, but an optical fingerprint reader was used later to authenticate that same fingerprint, it’s less likely the print will be accurately identified. By using MSU’s new spoof, companies could develop methods to improve the accuracy.
“Given their unique characteristics, we believe our fake fingers will be valuable to the fingerprint recognition community,” said Jain. “Consumers need to know their fingerprints and identity are secure, and vendors and designers need to demonstrate to the consumers the technology is not only accurate but also resilient to spoof attacks.”
Jain and his team have begun work on the next phase of this research: designing and building a fingerprint reader to test spoof-detection capabilities. Once ready, this low-cost reader could be easily built in a couple of hours by others in the fingerprint recognition community to test for real versus fake fingerprints. Jain’s lab is additionally working on algorithms that will make this fingerprint reader more resilient to spoof presentation attacks.
A technical report detailing the spoof creation has been submitted to arXiv. The paper will appear later this year in the IEEE Transactions on Information Forensics and Security journal. The study was conducted in collaboration with the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
Source: Michigan State University
This was printed in the October 15 - October 28, 2017 edition.