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Gayle Yamazaki's Blog

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There have been quite a few articles examining the shortcomings of research across many disciplines. One of the elements that have been sited as problematic is the understanding and interpretation of the meaning of meeting the test of statistical significance. As a result, the journal for the American Statistical Association, The American Statistician, recently posted an article on the context, process, and purpose of the using the p-value test by Ronald Wasserstein and Nicole Lazar.

 

The article opens with a discussion about why the p-value is still used and the problems of using statistical analyses that are poorly understood and how the article came to be. As a result, they recently published their statement in which they clarify "several widely agreed upon principles underlying the proper use and interpretation of the p-value."

 

I strongly encourage reading the actual article/statement. It is relatively short and easy to read. It can be found at this link for a free download.

 

Here is a list of the six basic principles regarding the use and interpretation of the p-value according to the ASA.

1) P-values can indicate how incompatible the data are with a specified statistical model.

2) P-values do not measure the probability that the studied hypothesis is true, or the probability that the data were produced by random chance alone.

3) Scientific conclusion and business or policy decisions should not be based only on whether a p-value passes a specific threshold.

4) Proper inferences requires full reporting and transparency.

5) A p-value, or statistical significance, does not measure the size of the effect or the importance of a result.

6) By itself, a p-value does not provide a good measure of evidence regarding a model or hypothesis.

 

The next time you read a scientific paper, these are interesting points to consider when evaluating what they conclude about the statistical analysis performed and the author's interpretation of the findings.

 

In case you're wondering, the ASA does provide some alternative methods an investigator can use. Since journals and our peers are not likely to abandon the p-value any time soon, you may want to consider adding them as part of your analysis and interpretive processes.

It's been quite a while since my last post. Time seems to slip away much more quickly every year.

 

In the Chronicles of Higher Education, they recently published an article describing a most interesting "experiment." If you teach online or hybrid, this is an article you should read and consider.

 

Alvin Malesky was able to work with his institution, Western Carolina University, to do something all of us have wondered about. Could he catch an online cheater? Using a research grant to fund this study, Mr. Malesky and his colleague, Robert Crow, were able to create a fake online 10-week introductory psychology course and past undergraduate students and graduate students took the class for the full 10 weeks using fake identifying information. Malesky and Crow knew that at least one student was paying a company to take the entire class.

 

The article describes the process the graduate student went through to hire the company to take the class for him. It might surprise you that a full service successful completion with an A in the course cost only $917. That would be a well worth the price for many students.

 

The real question is whether a forensic psychologist who has taught for many years and his colleague could accurately identify who was cheating and how. You'll have to read the article to find out.

 

Here is the direct link to the article: In a Fake Online Class With Students Paid to Cheat, Could Professors Catch the Culprits? - The Chronicle of Higher Educa…

In addition to creepiness, our ghostly guests, or our impressions of them, have also been studied. We certainly wouldn't want them to feel left out. In order to explain those ghostly apparitions we experience, researchers have examined infrasound, electromagnetic fields, and even our brain. Once you've had your Halloween fun, check out this article to see if you're experiences might be explained by any of their findings: The Science of Paranormal Ghosts

 

In the meantime, enjoy the weekend and tell me out your paranormal thoughts and theories.

Creepiness. We know it when we see it. It's that dusty clown doll just sitting in the dark corner, going to the mortuary at night, the strange-looking guy that seems to be just a little too close to you. If you have to define why those things are creepy, it gets a bit tougher. Fear not, your friendly psychological researchers have asked that very question and decided to find out what makes something creepy.

 

In 2013, Francis T. McAndrew and Sara S Koehnke of Knox College presented a poster presentation at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology annual meeting in New Orleans, entitled On the Nature of Creepiness. The survey to which 1,341 people responded (1,029 females and 312 males) took a first look at four elements of creepiness: 1) what behaviors/characteristics makes a person creepy, 2) what are creepy occupations, 3) what are creepy hobbies, and 4) the nature of creepy people.

 

What is creepy? It seems that an ambiguous threat is the underlying factor that seems to link those things that are creepy. Things that could be associated with death or deviant sexual behavior will give people the chills.

 

Creepy Behaviors/characteristics: Their findings suggest that men are more creepy than women. This was equally endorsed by men (95.5% vs. 4.5%) and women (95.2% vs. 4.8%). Women find a preoccupation with sex or more generally an  ambiguous sexual threat as very creepy. Too much touching by others or other non-normative nonverbal behaviors that make us uncomfortable increase the creepy meter too.

 

Creepy Occupations: The most creepy occupations are Clowns (no surprise), Taxidermists, Sex Shop Owners, and Funeral Directors. I had to wonder if psychologists would have been ranked as creepy. Unfortunately, it was not included on the list of occupations.

 

Creepy Hobbies: Collecting stuff (dolls, insects, reptiles, etc. ) was considered creepy. A very creepy collectible was body parts (teeth, bones, or fingernails). The second most creepy hobby was voyeurism (watching, following, or taking pictures of other people). Also listed, but not a top-two finisher was a fascination with pornography or exotic sexual activity and taxidermy.

 

The nature of creepy people: People, generally men, who do things or look like they are outside of the normal social spectrum of behavior will most likely be perceived as creepy. It isn't that we believe that the creepy person will hurt us, we just don't know/understand what they are about and that leaves us in an ambiguous place as to how to classify the potential threat of the person. Most people believe that creepy people will always be creepy, and the worst part is that if you're creepy, you probably don't know it.

 

One thing that this study didn't address was why clowns have become creepy. That's a topic for another day, but if you are curious, read this.

 

If you're looking for the creepiest Halloween costume, be a male who is too preoccupied with sex and death. Touch the people around you a little too much and appear disheveled and a bit unclean. If you want to add a little spit and polish to the costume, hand out business cards stating that you're a clown who collects body parts. One word of caution, this costume could stick and you won't even know.

 

Enjoy the creepy season!

If you're reading this, I'm guessing you put a lot of time, thought, and effort into the assignments you create for each of your courses. We know why we've asked our students to do the assignments, but do they? In the Chronicles of Higher Education article, The Unwritten Rules of College Success, Mary-Ann Winkelmes suggests that our students will learn more and do better if they can answer three questions about the assignments we ask our students to do. She refers this deliberate approach as academic transparency for our students.

1) What specifically is the assignment asking the student to do (TASK)?

2) Why is the assignment relevant for the student within the context of this course (PURPOSE)?

3) How will the student know they are doing well on the assignment (Criteria)?

 

The article describes how being very deliberate about answering these three questions has helped several professors rethink and shape their courses, as well as how it has been instrumental in helping first-generation college students be more successful. As with any idea, there are two-sides to consider and the article also discusses other areas that need to be considered in a more holistic view when preparing and delivering a course.

 

Does research have anything to say about the use of academic transparency and student learning and performance? In the Spring 2013 edition of Liberal Education, a publication of the Association of American Colleges & Universities, Mary-Ann Winkelmes reported on a large study (students N=25,000, courses N=160, institutions N=27, and countries N=7) conducted to examine the effects of promoting students' understanding of how they learn and help faculty gather and share data about student learning. In the article, Transparency in Teaching, she describes the project and shares the outcomes as they relate to class size, type of courses (STEM, Humanities, etc.), and types of students (traditional/non-traditional), as well as references for further reading and clarification.

 

In the article, the specific elements that were found to be helpful for specific groups (class size, course, student type) is discussed, there are a few items that were found to be helpful across many of the groups. Please see the article for specific recommendations.

Elements that were helpful for many groups:

  • Discuss assignments' learning goals and design rationale before students begin each assignment.
  • Gauge students' understanding during class via peer work on questions that require students to apply concepts you've taught.
  • Debrief graded tests and assignments in class.

 

Although many of us do these thing already, I found it interesting to revisit my assignments and consider if I was clear enough on describing the task, purpose, and criteria. Did I spend enough time discussing assignments in class, using formative assessment to gauge students' ability to apply concepts, and discuss graded material and how meeting criteria was demonstrated? The next time I teach, I'm going to use part of my time with students to discuss the assignments and let the students tell me if they understand what they are supposed to do, why they are doing it, and how they will know they are doing a good job, and then make more adjustments based on their feedback. I look forward to doing this.

 

Please share your experiences with us. I'd love to hear about how it's going and what else you'd recommend.

We love talking about psychology, the brain, behavior, and what it all means to us. National Public Radio (NPR) is starting a new podcast on 22 Sept called Hidden Brain. In this series, Shankar Vedantam connects science, behavior, and our own experiences. He'll be exploring topics such as switch-tracking in conversations, stereotype threat, job satisfaction (or lack thereof), research, and other conscious and unconscious factors that influence our behaviors - even when we know they do. If you'd like to know more about the podcast and here a sneak peek, click here.

I'll listening. I hope you will be too. Let's talk about some of the episodes that intrigue you.

Not really, but they can tell you something about the person who took them. Lin Qiu and colleagues wondered just what a selfie tells us about the person who took the picture. Using the Big Five Personality trait inventory and coding selfies from a social media site for various characteristics, they found out that selfies tell us a little more about the photographer than we might like.

 

When comparing characteristics with self-reports on the personality inventory, there associations between image components and agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and openness. The researchers were also curious to know if strangers might be able to pick out these personality traits as well. Although individuals might not be so good at determining personality traits of individual people, they seemed to be better at predicting personality traits as a group. The one trait that seemed to have some element of strong agreement in predictability was openness.

 

So the next time you take the selfie and post it to your favorite social media site, ask yourself: "What am I telling the world about me?"

 

Here is the link to the study: What does your selfie say about you?

Gayle Yamazaki

The Science Police?

Posted by Gayle Yamazaki Employee Sep 3, 2015

Many years ago, I worked with a dear colleague to examine the findings of a meta-analysis on research findings. Although Lee Becker is no longer with us, I know that the recent work of the Association for Psychological Science (APS), the Registered Replication Results project, and the Center for Open Science would have been of keen interest. In fact, I think Lee would have jumped into the middle of these organizations with gusto. As a graduate student, I was surprised that in our efforts to replicate the findings of the meta-analysis died on the vine. We were not able to get the basic data or information about the 60 studies that were featured. We were not able to reproduced the findings of just this one publication. At that time, it was not a popular topic and no one had much interest in our failure. Lee, in his quiet and thoughtful way, said "One day it will matter." He was right.

 

Over the past few years, psychological research has been closely examined and even brought into question. The Association for Psychological Science asked a simple question, "How reproducible is psychological research?" As a result, the Registered Replication Results project began and the Center for Open Science (COS) began its efforts to reproduce 100 studies that had been published in highly regarded, peer-reviewed journals. Just last week the COS published their findings in the August 2015 edition of Science. The lead author, Brian Nosek, revealed disappointing findings. Of the 100 studies reproduced using as close to the original materials and procedures as possible, only 36 of the 100 studies were found to result in statistically significant results. This is far less than Nosek had originally predicted. All of the news was not bad, when original and replicated results were combined and no bias was assumed, then 68% of the studies were found to have statistically significant results.

 

Psychology is not the only science that has examined itself. Over the years many of the other scientific communities have begun to wonder about their own research and have started to look at their own studies in the much the same way. We will have to wait to see how those examinations turn out. If you're wondering if someone is watching how research is done and enforcing good research practices, there are organizations out there that are kind of like the Science Police. There are online sites like PubPeer.com that allows for open discussion about research and the integrity of research. There is the Office of Research Integrity that activity investigates and reports on research across many disciplines. Academic institutions also launch their own investigations when questions of research integrity are raised. If you're interested to read about these types of research integrity actions, you can subscribe to Retraction Watch blog (RetractionWatch.com) which briefly describes what research has been investigated and the outcome of the investigations across all disciplines. There are some authors who have had in excess of 50 articles retracted from publication.

 

The work that is featured in this study is important for Psychology and science in general. Science across our disciplines is evolving, we should not be too set in our ways and hold on too tightly to the assumptions we have. Science emphasizes the importance of replication, now maybe the science and practice of replication will finally be recognized and valued.

 

We owe the 250 researchers who set aside time to participate in the Replication Study a big thank you. Their work is vital and important for psychology and science in general.

 

Link to Pacific Standard article featuring information from an interview with Brian Nosek: Click Here

 

Link to structured Abstract about the COS article published in the August 2015 edition of Science: Click Here

Gayle Yamazaki

Farewell Oliver

Posted by Gayle Yamazaki Employee Aug 31, 2015

Last weekend Oliver Sacks passed away at the age of 82-years-old. Many of us are familiar with his book The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat or the movie Awakenings. I suppose what he is best known for is bringing a level of compassion and understanding to human behavior through the stories of people's lives who have struggled with abnormalities of the brain. Although some criticize his less than scholarly approach to describing the lives and experiences of the men and women he met and worked with along the way, he brought a level of humanity and compassion for those who suffer with abnormalities of the brain. He opened the door for those who are not scientists, physicians, or mental health professionals to better understand human behavior and be more compassionate and respectful of those who struggle when the brain's mechanisms are disrupted and disordered. He was an explorer of brain and behavior and allowed us to join him in his journeys.

 

Thank you Oliver, you are deeply missed.

 

Here are links to some articles with videos. They provide a very nice introduction to Oliver Sacks, his life, and work.

 

BBC article with video links: Click Here

 

New York Times article with a different video link: Click Here

The Glial cell is oftentimes the overlooked member of discussions about the brain. It is relegated to the pile of things that we put stuff in when we don't have enough time to talk about the brain. Although it is not best loved, it toils on to ensure our brain does what it does best - allow us to be us.

 

So what does that gelatinous goo that is glial cells do for us? More than most would guess.

 

Play Clean up. This is the role that glial cells are best known as. The microglia cells look around the brain for discarded bits and harmful junk. They are deeply responsible for ridding the brain of the various plaques and tangles that are implicated in various neurodegenerative disorders. If you don't love glial cells now, you might want to have a change of heart.

 

Help the neurons get to where they need to go. As the brain develops, some of the neurons need to migrate to where they belong. Once the neuron is formed, it follows the cable-like structure of the radial glial cell that shows it where it needs to go. Once the neurons are in place, the radial glial cells transform into other types of glial cells that will be needed in the future. Some of the lucky radial glial cells transform into neurons that reside in the upper-most region of the cerebral cortex.

 

Help get the message across. Oligodendrocytes act as a neuronal insulator which helps speed along communications and keep them from deteriorating along the way. Recent research suggests that Olie's will also break off parts of themselves at the request of neurons to help facilitate communication and the use of neurotransmitters by other nearby neurons.

 

Keep us well-balanced in the brain. The glial cells known as astrocytes help feed and care for neurons by helping to facilitate the flow of oxygen and carbon dioxide to and from neurons. When mouse astrocytes were triggered in a way to suggest an increase in CO2 in the blood, they responded by prompting surrounding neurons to encourage an increase in breathing rate to facilitate a drop in CO2 levels. Who knew glial cells coax us to breathe?

 

Making a bigger impact or does this sounds a little like science fiction to you? In recent research with mice, the mouse brains were injected with human glial cells. Yup, you guessed, when tested for intelligence later, the human glial mice performed better and faster than their pure mouse colleagues. What would Michael Creighton think? What the researchers found was that the human glial mice neurons had changed how frequently and forcefully their neurons were firing. The result? A "super-charged forebrain."

 

The next time your memory is working well, you feel smart and sassy, or you are just happy to have a good brain, don't forget to thank your glial cells, along with your neurons. They make an amazing partnership that are integral to who we are. Don't forget to mention it in class.

 

Link to the Nautilus article this blog comes from: The Neuron's Secret partner

Our students ask us what kind of jobs are out there for Psychologists. The obvious answer is in mental health work, but there are other options.

 

In a recent article in the Pacific Standard Magazine, they profiled Nneka Jones Tapia, a clinical psychologist, who is now the executive di8rector of the Chicago-area jail. She accepted the position in May 2015. Although there have been other psychologists who have worked in key positions within the corrections departments across the United States, the Pacific Standard author, Kate Wheeling, writes that she thinks it is a good trend. One of the reasons she endorses this trend is the Bureau of Justice estimates that 64 percent of jail inmates have some form of mental-health issue.

 

Ms. Wheeling holds out hope that a psychologist can help those who are now a part of the Justice system. She writes:

"Giving psychology specialists more oversight and the ability to create an environment that has the best chance of producing reformed and productive citizens may be a way to reduce the record number of incarcerated Americans, mentally ill or otherwise."

 

What do you think about this as a line of work for psychologists? What other unconventional areas of work for psychologists are there? I look forward to hearing from you.

As we are all aware, it's tough being an adjunct. Brianne Bolin, an adjunct, and two fellow adjuncts (one past and one current) have stepped up and are doing something to help their fellow adjunct colleagues. They've created a non-profit organization, PrecariCorps: Agents for Higher Ed. On the home page, it simply states "Seeking to provide temporary, welcome relief from the economic, emotional, and physiological stressors that all too often define the life of an adjunct educator.

 

Brianne was inspired to create PrecariCorps as a result of the unsolicited donations she received from people who read about her experiences and struggles in an article in Elle. Brianne has a masters in English and struggles to care for herself and son on the salary she makes being an adjunct instructor at Chicago College. She struggles to make ends meet and during the summer months when she qualifies, she pays for food using food stamps ($349 per month).

 

The PrecariCorps site was created in hopes that they could solicit donations to help fell adjuncts in various ways, from financial assistance to a place for adjuncts to share their experiences. So far, they've received 28 donations, received 10 applications for funding, and have given 2 grants. She has plans to expand the campaign and take the message to administrators and tenured colleagues.

 

Brianne and her colleagues remind us that each of us has the power to take the first steps in making a difference in the lives of others, even when we face our own struggles.

 

You can read about Brianne and what she is accomplishing in the March 2015 Article and the July 2015 PS article.

Gayle Yamazaki

Expert Failure

Posted by Gayle Yamazaki Employee Jul 24, 2015

Are you an expert in your field? Wonderful! Now be careful.

 

In a recent study, Stav Atir and colleagues reported that self-perceived expertise can lead to people overestimating what they know and may even lead some to claim they know all about stuff that is real - bogus topics. The phenomenon studied is called overclaiming, which is a situation in which a person overclaims what they know about their own area of expertise. During the studies, people who self-identified as experts in financial concepts were asked to rate their level of knowledge about real and bogus financial topics. The "experts" claimed to have knowledge about the real and the bogus topics, even when they were warned that some of the topics listed were not real.

 

So, if you're an expert, be careful of claiming what you know. Make sure you really do know what you're being asked about. It could be someone testing this claim.

 

Here is a link to the abstract and a link to the popular press report regarding this study.

When we think of psychotherapy, we think Freud. Pavi Sandhu of Scientific American reminds us that Josef Breuer (1842-1925) was there at the beginning and introduced Freud to Anna O. When Breuer worked with a patient, he spent time examining all aspects of a person's life, to include personality and emotional expression. Freud preferred to the now famous psychodynamic approach. Although Breuer and Freud were initial close professional and personal friends, their differences in how to work with patients eventually drove a deep wedge between them.

If you're curious to know more about Breuer and his influence on the talking cure, take a look at the article. In the mean time, why don't you sit down and tell me what's on your mind today.

Gayle Yamazaki

Teaching conferences

Posted by Gayle Yamazaki Employee Jul 1, 2015

There are so many great teaching conferences and it can be difficult to pick. In July, I'll be joining OLC conference for Blended Learning in Denver, 7-8 July. In addition, I will be attending the Conference on Teaching Large Classes in Virginia, 23 July. We always need great ideas for student engagement for large glass sizes, so I'm looking forward to the sessions.

 

I'll let you know how the conferences go, sessions I attend, thoughts about the sessions, and my general impressions about the conference. Let me know if you'd like some twitter comments from the conference.

 

If you're there, I'd love to say hi and chat.