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David Myers

Freud’s Slips

Posted by David Myers Expert Aug 16, 2017

Looking for a great summer read? If you like Nate Silver’s quantitative assessments of politics and sports, you will love Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s new book on big data revelations about our human interests, traits, and behaviors. By drilling down through millions of data points, often from people’s anonymous Google searches, he offers insights into racial prejudice, sexual orientation, child abuse, and even the age at which people’s long-term sports loyalties crystallize.



With data science he can also test popular ideas. Was Freud right to suppose that phallic symbols in dreams, and innuendos in word slips, reveal our unconscious sexuality? Is the man who dreamed of eating a banana on his wedding day “secretly thinking of a penis”? Is typing “lipsdick” when you meant “lipstick” an eruption of your hidden desire?


In search of answers, Stephens-Davidowitz analyzed whether phallic-shaped foods “sneak into our dreams with unexpected frequency.” His answer: They do not. In dreams, bananas are the second most common fruit . . . and they also are the second most consumed fruit. Cucumbers are the seventh most dreamt food, and the seventh most consumed vegetable.


In search of Freudian slips, he analyzed 40,000 typing errors collected by Microsoft. A few were sexually tinged—“sexurity” instead of “security,” and “cocks” instead of “rocks.” But then there also were innocent slips such as “pindows,” “fegetables,” and “aftermoons.” After analyzing the frequency of various errors in random typos, Stephens-Davidowitz concludes that “People make lots of mistakes.” And when you make enough, you can expect an occasional and statistically predictable miscue. Searching the quarter million e-mails I’ve received since 2000, for example, I see that friends have written me about their experiences with “Wisconsin Pubic Radio,” with hearing access in “pubic venues” and with “pubic access,” and in their work as a national organization’s “Director of Pubic Policy.”


Thus, “Freud’s theory that errors reveal our subconscious wants is indeed falsifiable—and, according to my analysis of the data, false.”

One of the great joys of attending conferences – in this case, the American Psychological Association convention – is the conversations with both new and old friends. This morning I had breakfast with Linda Woolf (Webster University; an old friend). She posed an interesting question, and before my first full cup of coffee, it was a little unfair. She noted that in our professional circles we frequently talk about psychology books we think psychology majors should read. She wondered what non-psychology books I’d recommend. That’s both an easy and a difficult question. It’s easy to find book that contain psychology, but difficult in deciding of all the books out there, what books I’d recommend.


The two that came pretty quickly to mind were:


The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown.

About the University of Washington men’s crew who rowed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the book gives us a healthy does of prejudice and perseverance.


The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede.

On 9/11/2001 when the U.S. airspace closed, planes flying west across the Atlantic had to land in Canada. Thirty-eight of them landed in Gander, Newfoundland. Almost 7,000 visitors literally dropped into a town of 9,000 for five days. DeFede restores our faith in humanity with story after story of altruism. The musical Come From Away expands on those stories including coverage of prejudice, stress and coping, and ingroups/outgroups. (Honestly, the book may do the same, but it’s been years since I’ve read it.)


After having had my full dose of coffee and a few more hours to reflect – and a chance to review my Goodreads books, here are some more non-psychology books recommended for psychology majors.


Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Noah grew up in South African as “colored,” the South African term for half white/half black. His experience gets wrapped up in ingroups/outgroups, both sorting out what that means for him and being on the receiving end of other people’s assumptions about his group membership.


The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Starting with World War I, African Americans started in earnest to move out of the south to points west and north. Spotlighting three people who left different places at different times for different locales, Wilkerson helps her readers understand the prejudice and discrimination that drove African Americans from the south to the different-looking prejudice and discrimination of their new homes.


Sally Ride by Lynn Sherr

Becoming the first U.S. woman in space had its challenges. More prejudice, discrimination, and perseverance in this book. When asked at a crew press conference in 1982 “Dr. Ride, apart from the obvious differences, how do you assess the differences in men and women astronauts?” Dr. Ride replied, “Aside from the obvious differences, I don’t think there are any.”


Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery

Emma Gatewood in 1955 and at the age of 67 decided to hike the 2,050-mile Appalachian Trail. Alone. This one will make students rethink their assumptions about gender and age.


The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman

Paul Erdös (pronounced air-dish) was a mathematical genius. But his biography is less about intelligence than it is about… well, it’s tough to describe. Being comfortable in your own skin, may be a good descriptor. Erdös was unapologetically Erdös. He couch-surfed from the home of one mathematician to another. His hosts didn’t know when he was coming until he appeared on their doorsteps, and they didn’t know when he was leaving until he left. He would ask strangers to tie his shoes. He offered cash to grad students to solve mathematical problems. The more difficult the problem, the greater the cash award. And Erdös published prolifically. Mathematicians have an Erdös number. If you published a paper with Erdös, your number is one. If you published with someone who published a paper with Erdös, your number is two. And so on.


Addiction by Design by Natasha Dow Schüll [This book may not technically meet the requirements of the category given the amount of psychology in it.]

This book contains everything you wanted to know about slot machines and then some. If you’re teaching that pushing buttons on a slot machine is an example of positive reinforcement, you’re wrong for a healthy chunk of slot machine users. Negative reinforcement would be a better characterization. Regular users of slot machines play not to win but play to enter the zone where they don’t have to think about problems at work, with their spouse, or with their kids. Winning just means being able to not think even longer.


I managed to give you a list that is all nonfiction. Please share your recommendations in the comments – and I’d love to see some fiction in the list!

On rare occasion, I have reported startling findings that challenge current wisdom: Brain training games do NOT boost intelligence. Traumatic experiences are NOT often repressed. Seasonal affective disorder (wintertime blues) is NOT widespread.


The just-arrived lectures from the 2016 Bial Symposium on Placebo Effects, Healing and Meditation, offers another shocker: In an update on his meta-analyses, Irving Kirsch concludes that antidepressant drug effects are close to nil.


Here’s Kirsch’s gist: Many, many studies, including unpublished drug trials made available by the FDA, consistently show that

  1. Antidepressants work. They produce clinically significant benefits (using a standard depression scale).
  2. Placebos work, too. In two large meta-analyses, placebos produced 82 percent of the antidepressant effect. Moreover, “the difference between drug and placebo is . . . so small that clinicians cannot detect it.”
  3. Side effects can “unblind” a drug. The statistically (but not clinically) detectable drug effect may be attributable to antidepressants’ detectable side effects.
  4. The FDA only counts “successful trials.” Kirsch reports that despite meager evidence of antidepressant efficacy, the drugs gain approval because of a stunning FDA policy—which ignores trials that find no drug effect and reports only successful trials.
  5. “All antidepressant drugs seem to be equally effective.” As one would expect from a placebo effect, the benefits of various antidepressant drugs are “exactly the same regardless of type of drug.” Various serotonin-increasing drugs relieve depression, but so does a drug that decreases serotonin! “What do you call pills, the effects of which are independent of their chemical composition?,” asks Kirsch. “I call them ‘placebos.’”


Given that antidepressants work, even if they are hardly more than active placebos, what’s a clinician to recommend? Kirsch notes three considerations:

  1. Antidepressants have side effects, which can include sexual dysfunction, weight gain, insomnia, and diarrhea.
  2. Antidepressant use increases the risk of relapse after recovery.
  3. Cognitive behavioral therapy, acupuncture, and physical exercise also effectively treat depression.

Ergo, “When different treatments are equally effective, choice should be based on risk and harm, and of all of these treatments, antidepressant drugs are the riskiest and most harmful. If they are to be used at all, it should be as a last resort.”


But surely this is not the last word. Stay tuned for more findings and debate.

David Myers

My Amazing Co-Authors

Posted by David Myers Expert Jul 24, 2017

I am blessed to be collaborating with two incredibly high-achieving people. My introductory text co-author, Nathan DeWall, tells the story (here) of how he harnessed his own latent power of self-control. As research has shown and Nathan has experienced, self-control is like a muscle that can be temporarily depleted with use, but that gains strength with exercise—and with spillover benefits into other aspects of one’s life. Men’s Fitness has also just told the story of how Nathan became one of the world’s elite ultra marathoners.

Jean Twenge, my co-author for new Social Psychology editions, has also made national news for her books, Generation Me and The Narcissism Epidemic. And she’s about to do so again with the late-August release of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us. The book, which no doubt will spark debate, will be featured in the September Atlantic.

After covering the therapy chapter in Intro Psych, students should have some tools to help them find a psychologist for themselves, family members, or friends when the time arises.


The American Psychological Association (APA) has a “How to Choose a Psychologist” webpage. Ask students to read that page and then, working in pairs, small groups, or as a written assignment, answer the following questions.


  1. Under what circumstances does the APA suggest you should consider therapy?
  2. APA provides several suggestions for finding a psychologist. Which avenue would you try first and which would you try last? Why?
  3. Identify a potential issue that someone may have, such as high levels of anxiety. For each of the “Questions to ask,” what are some sample responses you would like to hear from a psychologist you are considering working with? [For the “What kinds of treatments” question, use what you learned from the therapy chapter to provide a sample response.]

Next, ask students to read this New York Times Article, “How to find the right therapist.” Ask students to match the steps the author took to find a therapist with the steps the APA recommends. Using the APA recommendations, what else should the author have done?


If doing this as part of a discussion, ask volunteers to report out.

Louis is 13 years old and gay; Percy is 78 years old and gay. They sit down for a conversation in this 11-minute video.


[Note: The recording is closed captioned, but the captions were automatically generated and have not been cleaned up.]


During your coverage of sexuality, show this recording in class or ask students to watch it outside of class. Following the viewing ask students to discuss in small groups (or in an online discussion forum, or as a written assignment) the following questions:


What was similar between Louis’ and Percy’s experiences? What was different?


What questions would you like to ask Louis? What questions would you like to ask Percy?


If discussing during class, ask volunteers to share their responses. While it may not be possible to ask Louis and Percy these questions, consider contacting your local PFLAG chapter. They may be able to put you in contact with some people who would be willing to respond.

Do you remember life before the Internet? Do you remember when you first got dial up? And then when cable internet first came along? And each time we were so excited. And then the excitement faded. Whatever change we experienced soon became the new normal. This is called adaptation-level phenomenon. 


In 2015, Louis C. K., on Conan, gave us several good examples of adaptation-level phenomenon. He said, “Everything is amazing right now, and nobody‘s happy.” He blames it on the current generation. I blame it on being human.


After playing this 4-minute clip for your students, ask your students to work in pairs or small groups to generate other examples that illustrate adaptation-level phenomenon. Ask volunteers to share their examples.



Vacuum cleaners? They were originally billed as a labor-saving device. But we adapted to them pretty quickly, and the end result? Standards of cleanliness went up. Washing machines? Same thing (Roy, 2016).


[Shout out to my sister, Carol Laughlin, for sending me the video!]



Roy, R. (2016). Consumer product innovation and sustainable design: The evolution and impacts of successful products. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Originally posted on Quartz on July 2, 2017.


I'm often asked how I was able to go from inactive academic to participating in invitation-only ultramarathons. 

While it's no small feat, the three components of self-control--standards, monitoring, and strength--fortified my self-discipline. With those factors, and the additional and necessary support from my close relationships, practicing self-control ensured my success and gave me the opportunity to grow. 


Read more about my running journey the factors of self control here

Imagine that you and a colleague (or spouse) have been at odds. You have argued and fought, each trying to persuade the other. Alas, there has been no meeting of the minds. What might you do next to create an opportunity for conflict resolution?

To “put behind” where you have been stuck, to “move on” from your standstill, to “get beyond” your impasse, one simple, practical strategy is literally to take steps forward—to go for a walk. In a new American Psychologist article, Christine Webb, Maya Rossignac-Milon, and E. Tory Higgins argue “that walking together can facilitate both the intra- and interpersonal pathways to conflict resolution.”


At the individual level, they report, walking supports creativity. It boosts mood. It embodies notions of forward progress.

At the interpersonal level, walking does more. Walkers’ synchronous movements, as they jointly attend to their environment and coordinate their steps, increases mutual rapport and empathy. It softens the boundary between self and other. And it engenders cooperation beyond the shared walking cadence.


If, indeed, synchronous walking increases rapport and prosociality, might there be a similar effect of synchronized singing? Does group singing help unify a diverse audience?


The question crossed my mind as folk singer Peter Yarrow (of “Peter, Paul and Mary”) rose near the beginning of a recent small group retreat of diverse people and invited us to join him in singing “Music Speaks Louder Than Words.” Yarrow, now age 79, has spent his career—from the civil rights and anti-war movements of the ´60s to today—in engaging audiences in synchronized singing of prosocial poetry.


Photo courtesy Byron Buck


What do you think? Does music speak louder than words alone? Do synchronized walking and group singing have overlapping psychological effects? Can both lift us beyond where words, in isolation, can take us?

Social psychologist Robert Cialdini has identified six principles of persuasion: scarcity, authority, consistency, reciprocity, consensus, and liking.

[Read the transcript]

Here are some examples for your next social psychology lecture.


In 2015, Leslie, an employee at Food52, gave us a beautiful example of scarcity at work. “My mom brainwashed me as a kid. She put all of the candy out in the open and told me I could eat it whenever I wanted, but she'd hide the vegetables and tell me I could only eat them as a special treat at dinner. It worked. When I was six, I asked if I could have a bowl of brussels sprouts for my birthday instead of a cake” (Petertil, 2015).


Authority isn’t that hard to pull off if you’re a grandmother trolling your grandchildren. Reddit user pillowcurtain wrote in 2014 “My grandma told us that smelling each others [sic] farts would make us stronger. Worst Christmas ever for us, funniest Christmas for her.”


Consistency is the principle that makes the foot-in-the-door technique work. A month ago I wrote a blog post explaining how airlines use foot-in-the-door to get us to pay more money to fly.


Speaking of flying, reciprocity works with flight attendants, because, well, they’re human. Treats for flight attendants often result in reciprocated kindnesses (Strutner, 2016). I truly appreciate the work that flight attendants do, and I know that some of my fellow passengers can be challenging. I often bring baked goods to show a little love. But I don’t mind the reciprocity. On one flight, we were in the very last row. We brought Starbucks chocolate chunk muffins for the flight attendants. Not only did we get served food and adult beverages first (instead of last), we got them for free. And the flight attendants were very happy! Goodness all around.


A couple days ago I bought a new computer monitor for my home office. Do you have any idea how many different models of monitors are out there? Me neither, but the number has to be in the hundreds if not thousands. How in the world can I possibly get the best one for my price range? I started by reading reviews on sites like PCMagazine and CNET to narrow the field. And then I relied on consensus. The monitor I chose had 71% of the 232 customer reviews giving it 5 stars; another 15% gave it 4 stars. With 86% of the reviewers being pretty pleased with this particular monitor, well, that’s good enough for me. I’m looking at it now as I type.


The more likeable you are, the more likely you are to get what you want. Or even avoid something you don’t want. Malpractice attorney Alice Burkin said, “People just don't sue doctors they like. In all the years I've been in this business, I've never had a potential client walk in and say, ‘I really like this doctor, and I feel terrible about doing it, but I want to sue him.’ We've had people come in saying they want to sue some specialist, and we'll say ‘We don't think that doctor was negligent. We think it's your primary care doctor who was at fault:' And the client will say ‘I don't care what she did. I love her, and I'm not suing her’" (Rice, 2000). And I’m willing to bet it’s not just true for physicians. I recently heard from a department chair who had a student come by to vent about a policy her professor had that the student didn’t like. The chair asked the student if he would like to file a formal complaint against the professor. The student replied, “No! I like him!”


There you have it, six roads to persuasion. After covering these in class, ask students to work in pairs or small groups to generate their own examples. You can either assign a particular principle or two to each group or you can ask each group to generate at least one example for each principle. Afterwards, ask volunteers to share their examples. 




Petertil, H. (2015, May 1). Remembering mom's best weird foods. Retrieved June 24, 2017, from


Rice, B. (2000). How plaintiff’s lawyers pick their targets. Medical Economics, 77(8), 94-110.


Strutner, S. (2016, October 28). Flight attendants agree this is the easiest way to get on their good side. Retrieved from

A couple months ago I wrote a suggestion on how to incorporate coverage of the opioid epidemic into Intro Psych (Frantz, 2017). There I put it in the context of the availability heuristic. Here I will suggest covering the opioid epidemic in the context of neurons and neurotransmitters.


The opiates work in a complex way to produce feelings of euphoria. Under non-opiate conditions, neurons release the neurotransmitter GABA that, in turn, inhibits the release of dopamine. When endorphins are released during sympathetic nervous system arousal or you take an opiate – legally or illegally, the body doesn’t care – the endorphins or opiates (endorphin agonists – drugs that look and act like endorphins) block GABA from being released. Without GABA’s inhibition, dopamine is free to flood synapses and attach to dopamine-receiving neurons resulting in warm, fuzzy feelings (Genetic Science Learning Center, 2013; Vaughan,, 1997).


That explains why people choose to use opiates. But how do people overdose on opiates?


Part of the cause is that fentanyl, an opioid "that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent" (NIDA, 2016). "In 2014, 35 percent of [Rhode Island's] fatal overdoses occurred because of fentanyl, but it was involved in 56 percent of drug deaths by 2016" (Brown University, 2017). There is no question that fentanyl has entered the illegal drug supply and is contributing to the number of overdoses.


Here's another factor that contributes to opiate overdoses. Opiates, in addition to producing euphoria, also act on the brainstem to reduce breathing. Take too much and you stop breathing. Like many drugs, the more you use, the greater your tolerance, meaning you need more opiates to get the euphoria. But here's a problem. Unfortunately, your brain’s ability to tolerate more opiates does not extend at the same rate to breathing. In other words, while you need more for the high, your brainstem isn’t keeping up. With continued opiate use, the window is closing. The amount of opiate it takes to feel the high is getting closer and closer to the amount that stops breathing (Boyer, 2012).


Enter naloxone, brand name Narcan. Naloxone is an opiod antagonist. It blocks the receptor sites, but doesn’t activate the neurons. With the opioid receptors blocked, the opiates cannot have their effects – and breathing returns to normal (NHPR Staff, 2016). Because naloxone binds more strongly to the receptor sites than the opiates do, naloxone actually bumps them out and takes their place. That’s why naloxone acts so quickly, showing effects within five minutes (College of Pharmacists of British Columbia, 2016).


Prevention Point Philadelphia provides naloxone and the training of its use to the librarians at McPherson Square Library, a library located in a high drug use area of the city. “While other libraries practice fire drills, McPherson began overdose drills.” It’s needed. Philadelphia is looking at a 30% increase in overdose deaths in 2017 as compared to 2016. That’s 1,200 expected ODs. When people started overdosing on heroin in the library and in the nearby park, the librarians decided it was time to get training on using the naloxone kits – and they’ve used them to save lives (Newall, 2017; Wootson, 2017).


The opioid epidemic is not bypassing colleges and universities. “Last fall, three Washington State University students overdosed and died in Pullman, Wash.; a 25-year-old died from an overdose on the potent opioid fentanyl and heroin in a bathroom at Columbus State Community College in Ohio; and a student died from a suspected overdose at State University of New York at Geneseo. Fatalities in recent years have also hit campuses in New Mexico, Louisiana and beyond.” Institutions of higher learning are starting to step up to the plate by “distributing the anti-overdose drug naloxone to campus police and even students. Drug company Adapt Pharma Ltd. announced last month that it would offer 40,000 free doses of its branded version, called Narcan, to colleges nationwide. So far roughly 60 schools have reached out, according to company officials... The University of Texas at Austin now stocks naloxone at the front desk of its residence halls” (Korn & Kamp, 2017).


Ask students to investigate who at your institution, if anyone, has been trained to administer naloxone. Do students feel like the number of people trained is sufficient? If not, what can students do to make a difference?




Boyer, E. W. (2012). Management of opioid analgesic overdose. New England Journal of Medicine, 367(14), 1370-1373. doi:10.1056/nejmc1209707


Brown University. (2017, June 7). Feared by drug users but hard to avoid, fentanyl takes a mounting toll. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 28, 2017 from 


College of Pharmacists of British Columbia. (2016, April 4). Naloxone: Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from


Frantz, S. (2017, April 16). Do you cover drug abuse in Intro Psych? If not, it might be time to. Retrieved from


Genetic Science Learning Center. (2013, August 30) Mouse Party. Retrieved June 22, 2017, from


Korn, M., & Kamp, J. (2017, May 07). Fatal student opioid overdoses prompt colleges to action. Retrieved from


NHPR Staff. (2016, June 6). Primer: How does Narcan work? Retrieved from


Newall, M. (2017, May 21). For these Philly librarians, drug tourists and overdose drills are part of the job. Retrieved from


National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). (2016, June 06). Fentanyl. Retrieved June 28, 2017, from 


Vaughan, C. W., Ingram, S. L., Connor, M. A., & Christie, M. J. (1997). How opioids inhibit GABA-mediated neurotransmission [Abstract]. Nature, 390, 611-614. Retrieved from


Wootson, C. R., Jr. (2017, June 02). ‘Drug tourists’ keep overdosing at this library. Here’s how employees are saving their lives. Retrieved from

Here’s an interesting example of classical conditioning being applied to help solve a serious problem.


The Military Suicide Research Consortium at Florida State University received a Department of Defense grant to find ways to prevent suicides by military members (Joiner, 2017). One avenue of research looked at ways of strengthening marriages, reasoning that those with stronger relationships are less likely to take their own lives (Improving marriages…, n.d.).


Military marriages face a number of challenges, including lengthy deployments. While many factors influence decisions to divorce, spending months away from one’s partner is a likely contributing culprit. “[S]erving lengthy deployments increases the risk of divorce and that the longer the deployment, the greater the risk of divorce” (Improving marriages…, n.d.). Female military service members are almost three times as likely to divorce as their male counterparts. In 2016, for example, 7.7% of female Marines divorced compared to 2.8% of male Marines. Overall, 3.1% of military personnel divorced in 2016 (Bushatz, 2017).   


Let’s make a quick digression to talk about divorce rates. “The military divorce rate is calculated by comparing the number of troops listed as married in the Pentagon's personnel system at the beginning of the fiscal year with the number who report divorces over the year” (Bushatz, 2017). These numbers cannot be compared to national data since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calculates divorce differently. Forty-five state health departments send the number of divorces in their states to the CDC. Because researchers at the CDC don’t know how many marriages were in each of those states to begin with, they can’t calculate a percentage of divorces like the military can. Instead, because the CDC researchers know the population of those 45 states, they can calculate a divorce rate per 1,000 people. In 2015, for example, those 45 reporting states had a combined population of 258,518,265. The number of divorces that year in those 45 states? 800,909. That works out to a divorce rate of 3.1 per 1,000 people (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017).


Now, back to helping marriages succeed. Is there a low-cost way to strengthen relationships even when the marriage partners are separated by thousands of miles for months at a time? James McNulty, Michael Olson, and colleagues (2017) thought that classical conditioning could work. Couples, 144 of them, were randomly divided into an experimental group and a control group. Every three days for a total of 13 sessions, participants experienced 225 trials where images or words flashed on a computer screen either singly or paired. Participants were to hit the spacebar when something related to relationships appeared, such as a wedding cake. Embedded within those 225 trials were 25 trials where the participant’s partner’s photo was paired with another photo. Those in the experimental condition always saw the partner’s photo paired with positive stimuli, such as photos of puppies. Those in the control condition always saw the partner’s photo paired with neutral stimuli, such as photos of buttons.  


Every two weeks from the start of the conditioning trials to two weeks post conditioning, participants completed a series of dependent measures. A priming task timed how quickly participants associated positive words with their partners. And researchers, well, just asked participants how they felt about their marriages. On the priming task, those in the experimental condition reacted faster when positive words were associated with their partner than those in the control condition. And the faster those reaction times, the more likely the participant was to say they were happy in their marriages.


Classical conditioning in the experimental condition


                                positive photos (UCS) --> positive feelings (UCR)


partner photos --> positive photos (UCS) --> positive feelings (UCR)


partner photos (CS) -----------------------------> positive feelings (CR)


The researchers are careful to note that while looking at photos of puppies, sunsets, and other positive imagery paired with images of our partners boosts positive feelings toward our partners, this classical conditioning will not make us have positive feelings towards someone we really dislike. In other words, classical conditioning is not a panacea for fixing badly damaged relationships. 


Consider using this experiment as another example in your classical conditioning lecture. Or provide students a summary of the research and ask them to work in pairs or small groups to identify the UCS, UCR, CS, and CR.  




Bushatz, A. (2017, April 28). Female troop divorce up slightly, male rate largely unchanged. Retrieved from


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, January 13). Marriages and Divorces. Retrieved June 23, 2017, from


Improving marriages to decrease suicide risk. (n.d.). Retrieved June 23, 2017, from


Joiner, T. (2015, October). Military Suicide Research Consortium (Rep. No. W81XWH-10-2-0181). Retrieved


McNulty, J. K., Olson, M. A., Jones, R. E., & Acosta, L. M. (2017). Automatic associations between one’s partner and one’s affect as the proximal mechanism of change in relationship satisfaction: Evidence from evaluative conditioning. Psychological Science. doi:10.1177/0956797617702014

We psychology teachers take bemused pleasure in noting one-time psych students who later become famous—people such as Jon Stewart, Gloria Estefan, Natalie Portman, Mark Zuckerberg, and (to balance the ledger) serial killer Ted Bundy.


To such lists I can add two more.


In 2014 the New Yorker cartoonist and cartoon editor Bob Mankoff wrote me out of the blue to say thank you for our textbook use of their cartoons. He also explained that “My own background, before I became a cartoonist, was in psychology of the behaviorist stripe, back in the early 70's.  I left when I realized those pigeons and rats were never going to get my jokes.” Our correspondence led to Mankoff’s visiting Hope College and speaking on the psychology of humor. And as this familiar cartoon illustrates, there is psychology in Mankoff’s humor.


During a recent retreat with two dozen folks working at depolarizing America, musician Peter Yarrow—of “Peter, Paul, and Mary” fame—shared with me his background . . . as a Cornell University psych major, where one of his mentors was the famed developmental psychologist (and Head Start co-founder), Urie Bronfenbrenner.


During an evening concert, Peter invited the young of heart on stage to join him for “Puff the Magic Dragon,” which he wrote 56 years ago. After getting down on his haunches to sing the chorus with individual children, he turned finally to the pregnant woman shown below. Seemingly aware of psychological research on fetal learning of familiar voices, he sang to her child in the womb. As he finished, tears were streaming down her face . . . and not hers alone.

 Photo courtesy Byron Buck

On June 3, 2017, late at night, an unnamed 58-year-old homeless man was shoved onto the tracks in a Manhattan subway station. Gray Davis, a 31-year-old ballet dancer, leapt down onto the tracks and lifted the unconscious man to safety. And then lifted himself up before the next train arrived (Cooper & Southall, 2017).


Thanks to research on the bystander effect, we know the conditions under which we are less likely to help and under which we are more likely to help (Myers, 2015). Let’s see how these play out with Gray Davis on that night.


We are more likely to help when:


We are feeling good. He was with his wife and mother after having watched his wife, also a ballet dancer, perform. While they certainly could have been arguing for the last 6 hours, I’m going to choose to believe they had an enjoyable day.


We are not in a rush. Their evening out had just come to a close, and they were making their way home.


The victim needs help. An unconscious man on train tracks clearly needs help.


We know that there were a number of bystanders present. Davis reports that “People were screaming to get help,” and, well, it’s a Saturday night in Manhattan so there must have been others present. Why did the number of bystanders seem to have little impact on Davis? At the time of the incident, Davis was already committed to helping. When his wife, Cassandra Trenary, saw the man and a woman arguing, she sent Davis to get help. He ran up to the token booth, but it was unoccupied. He had returned to the platform to learn that the man had been shoved onto the tracks. And, as a dancer, Gray Davis also knew he had the physical skill to help.


Factors that were not present? The victim did not appear to be similar to his rescuer and the incident did not take place in a small town.


Other factors that could have been present that we don’t know about? We don’t know if Davis was feeling guilty about something, if he is a religious man, or if he had recently seen someone else being helpful.


I have an assignment where I ask students to take the conditions that are more likely to lead to helping and create a scenario in which someone is more likely to help. And then I ask students to reverse them to create a scenario in which someone is less likely to help. If you decide to offer a similar writing assignment, ask students to identify how each condition related to helping behavior is illustrated in their scenario. It will make scoring them much easier. 





Cooper, M., & Southall, A. (2017, June 04). Ballet dancer leaps onto subway tracks and lifts man to safety. Retrieved from


Myers, D. G. (2015). Exploring social psychology (7th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.

In Improving How Universities Teach Science: Lessons from the Science Education Initiative, Carl Wieman—a Stanford physicist, Nobel laureate, and Carnegie U.S. University Professor of the Year (but let’s not feel intimidated)—advocates active learning, which in a recent NPR interview, he describes as

teaching the thinking that you really want students to learn. How does a physicist think about a problem, or a chemist, and so on, and what decisions do they make, and then you break that problem down into student, bite-sized pieces. You give them to the students to work on. They usually work in small groups. The instructor is monitoring how the students are thinking. What's right, what's wrong. And then will periodically pull them back together every five or 10 minutes to discuss how they are coming along. Give them feedback on what thinking is right or wrong.


Mark Zuckerberg has a similar vision for public schools—for engaging students in self-directed learning, with guiding teachers at their sides.


The benefits of active learning are well-known to teaching psychologists. As Nathan DeWall and I note in our forthcoming Psychology, 12th Edition,

To master information you must actively process it. Your mind is not like your stomach, something to be filled passively; it is more like a muscle that grows stronger with exercise. Countless experiments reveal that people learn and remember best when they put material in their own words, rehearse it, and then retrieve and review it again.


For Psychology, 12th Edition, and all of our texts, active learning—via “Concept Practice,” “Immersive Learning,” and “Assess Your Strengths” exercises, and also via simulations and adaptive quizzing—forms the heart of our online resources.


So take it from a Nobel laureate/professor of the year . . . or Mark Zuckerberg . . . or just from Dave and Nathan: To learn deeply and remember enduringly, learn actively.