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Between spending a lot of time thinking about what people need to know about psychology—and, thus, what we should cover in Intro Psych—and thinking about intimate partner violence (IPV), it is glaringly apparent that IPV belongs in the Intro Psych course.*

 

One place to address the topic is in the social psychology chapter, right after covering foot-in-the-door.

 

Ask students to use their web-enabled devices to visit this University of Michigan Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center website or show the website on your screen. Briefly describe each of the eight tactics that may be used by an abuser.

 

Set aside one tactic to use as an example of what you would like students to do. Divide your class into seven groups, assigning one tactic to each group. If you have a larger class (or want to use smaller groups), divide your class into, say, fourteen groups, where two groups will each be addressing the same tactic.

 

Explain that each of these tactics may start with something small and then gradually increase in severity: foot-in-the-door. In one study, "[T]he women described how the violence occurred in a more or less insidious and gradual manner, first finding expression in the form of psychological violence through control, jealousy and disparaging comments about the woman, her relatives or friends, and attempts to circumscribe her existence" (Scheffer Lindgren & Renck, 2008). 

 

Because of the gradual escalation, the tactics can be hard to see. The goal of this activity is to make that gradual escalation visible, here, in the safety of the classroom. By knowing what to look for, you may be better able to see the warning signs or red flags in your own relationships or in the relationships of a friend or family member.

 

Instructions to students:

 

For your assigned abuse tactic, identify what the most severe demonstration of that abuse may be. Next, identify what you think may be the least severe demonstration of that abuse. Finally, fill in at least two intermediary steps.

 

Using the tactic you set aside as an example, ask students for what the most severe demonstration of that abuse may be. For example, if you chose “Using Isolation,” the most severe may be the abuser not allowing their partner to communicate with anyone. Next, ask students what the initial foot in the door may look like. Perhaps the abuser doesn’t tell their partner when friends have called. Finally, ask students to fill in two intermediary steps, such as breaking their partner’s cellphone and perhaps, next, not allowing their partner to drive anywhere alone.

 

Now ask students to work in groups to identify at least four foot-in-the-door steps for their assigned tactic. Least severe, somewhat severe, more severe, and most severe. Think of these as light yellow flags, bright yellow flags, orange flags, and red flags. A light yellow flag may seem harmless, but it could indicate the potential for escalation.

 

Once discussion winds down, ask groups to share their examples.

 

Detecting relationship patterns that may be unhealthy can lead to positive outcomes (Wuest & Merritt-Gray, 2008).

 

Wrap up this activity by sharing with your students community or campus resources they can turn to for support. Be sure to include this national resource for your students’ friends and family who may not be local:

 

The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available to “talk confidentially with anyone experiencing domestic violence, seeking resources or information, or questioning unhealthy aspects of their relationship.” Call them at 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522. Or you can visit thehotline.org and click the “Chat Now” button in the top right corner of the page.

 

While these directions are for an in-class or live-video (with breakout rooms) class session, instructions may be adapted for an online class discussion board or as a stand-alone assignment.

 

*Special thank you to social psychologist and intimate partner violence researcher Kiersten Baughman for sharing her expertise with me

 

References

 

Scheffer Lindgren, M., & Renck, B. (2008). Intimate partner violence and the leaving process: Interviews with abused women. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Well-Being, 3(2), 113–124. https://doi.org/10.1080/17482620801945805

 

Wuest, J., & Merritt-Gray, M. (2008). A theoretical understanding of abusive intimate partner relationships that become non-violent: Shifting the pattern of abusive control. Journal of Family Violence, 23(4), 281–293. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10896-008-9155-x

During this please-stay-away-from-other-people time, I have been thinking a lot about people who are trapped at home with an abuser.

 

Yesterday morning we went to the grocery store for our next two-week round of supplies. No, we didn’t buy toilet paper. We had just happened to stock up before COVID-19, and we are still well-supplied.

 

We were in the snacks aisle, when I realized that I had passed the sour cream and onion potato chips. I turned around to retrieve them, when a large man substantially farther away than the recommended six feet said, “So you’re coming this way then?!” I replied, pointing behind me, “Oh, you want to go this way?” “Not anymore!!” With that, he and the woman who was with him turned around and went down another aisle.

 

Later, as I exited the frozen food aisle, he and she were about to pass that aisle. He spotted me, came up short, glared at me, huffed, and made a wide swing around me. Clearly, the grocery store was to be his and his alone that morning, and I had ruined his plan.  

 

I have been having a hard time shaking the memory of these interactions. It’s the woman who was with him that I keep seeing. She was small, both in size and demeanor. She said nothing and was expressionless. She stood at his elbow and when he moved, she moved.  

 

Now, I admittedly have no idea what the nature of their relationship is, but my he’s-abusive alarms were ringing loudly. And there was nothing I could do about it.

 

At my college, I’m part of the team that helped our faculty move their winter quarter classes online for the end of the quarter. We’ve spent the last week helping our faculty get geared up to spend all of spring quarter online. While my focus has been on our faculty working from home, I’ve had to dedicate some time to thinking about my own spring quarter class and the students who will be in it.

 

And now I can’t help but think about everyone’s living situation. How many of our college’s faculty and staff are trapped at home 24/7 with an abuser? How many of our students? How many of your faculty, staff, and students?

 

The National Domestic Violence Hotline (2020) reports

 

Here’s how COVID-19 could uniquely impact intimate partner violence survivors:

 

Abusive partners may withhold necessary items, such as hand sanitizer or disinfectants.

 

Abusive partners may share misinformation about the pandemic to control or frighten survivors, or to prevent them from seeking appropriate medical attention if they have symptoms.

 

Abusive partners may withhold insurance cards, threaten to cancel insurance, or prevent survivors from seeking medical attention if they need it.

 

Programs that serve survivors may be significantly impacted –- shelters may be full or may even stop intakes altogether. Survivors may also fear entering shelter because of being in close quarters with groups of people.

 

Survivors who are older or have chronic heart or lung conditions may be at increased risk in public places where they would typically get support, like shelters, counseling centers, or courthouses.

 

Travel restrictions may impact a survivor’s escape or safety plan – it may not be safe for them to use public transportation or to fly.

 

An abusive partner may feel more justified and escalate their isolation tactics.

 

Please consider sharing this information with faculty, staff, and students.

 

If you are living with an abuser, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522. Or you can visit thehotline.org and click the “Chat Now” button in the top right corner of the page.

 

After relating my grocery store experience to a colleague, they said they kept thinking about the LGBTQ youth who are now trapped at home with unsupportive family. And now I keep thinking about them, too.

 

Please consider sharing this information about how to get help from The Trevor Project (2020).

 

If you are an LGBTQ youth who is struggling or an ally who knows someone who is struggling, please call the TrevorLifeline at 1-866-488-7386 or text START to 678678. Or you can visit TheTrevorProject.org on your computer to chat.

 

And there are children and teens who are living with abusive parents, guardians, or others for whom school may have been their only reprieve.

 

Please consider sharing this information about how to get help from Childhelp (2020).

 

If you are a teenager or child and you are being hurt by someone, know someone who may be, or are afraid that you may hurt someone, please call or text the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-422-4453 or visit Childhelp.org for live chat.

 

References

Childhelp. (2020). https://www.childhelp.org/childhelp-hotline/

National Domestic Violence Hotline. (2020). https://www.thehotline.org/

The Trevor Project. (2020). https://www.thetrevorproject.org/

Anyone else trying to figure out the best way to structure all our days at home? Check this out: How to gain control of your free time - Laura Vanderkam | TED-Ed http://ow.ly/aZn230qsHBn psychstudentrss

Happy National Puppy Day! Ever wondered what our canine friends are thinking? How they see the world? If so, check out the resources available here: The Science of Dogs - Science Friday http://ow.ly/dBMs30qs4w1 psychstudentrss

Like many of you and your students today (March, 2020) who are working from home. I am doing the same. While I am looking forward to the slew of research that is going to come out of this ABA experiment, this talk by Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom may be a preview of the kind of finds we're going to see. 

 

Bloom starts talking about his research here at about the 6:30 mark.

 

 

After watching this video, ask your students to identify the independent variable and dependent variables. How were participants randomly assigned to conditions? Why was it necessary to use random assignment and not just let participants decide if they wanted to work for home or the office? According to Bloom, what are the “three great enemies of working from home?” Bloom adds that having choice of whether to work from the office or work from home is key. During COVID-19, almost all of us in education in the US and other parts of the world—faculty, staff, and students—have no choice but to work from home. How may this impact our productivity?

 

To expand the discussion, ask students to explore the pros and cons of teleworking and working onsite. If your students were psychological scientists, how could they go about researching the relative impact of each of those pros/cons. In other words, if students thought that “too many distractions at home” was a reason to work onsite, how could students find out how many workers would identify that as a factor and how big of a factor it was in their decision.

“Memory is insubstantial. Things keep replacing it.”

~Annie Dillard, “To Fashion a Text,” 1988

 

Often in life we do not expect something to happen until it does, whereupon—seeing the forces that produced the event—we feel unsurprised. We call this phenomenon the hindsight bias (aka the I-knew-it-all-along phenomenon).

 

Hindsight bias is fed by our after-the-fact misremembering of our before-the-fact views. We don’t just retrieve our memories, we reweave them. Like those who continuously revise Wikipedia pages, our brain often replaces a retrieved memory with a modified one. Memory researchers call this process reconsolidation.

 

Reconsolidation explains some unnerving observations. In several studies, people whose beliefs or attitudes have changed have nevertheless insisted that they always felt much as they now feel. In one study, Carnegie Mellon University students answered a survey that included a question about student control over the curriculum. A week later, after being induced to write an essay opposing student control, their attitudes shifted toward what they’d written—greater opposition to student control. Yet when recalling their earlier opinion, the students “remembered” holding the opinion that they now held.

 

After observing other students similarly denying their former attitudes, researchers D. R. Wixon and James Laird noted that “The speed, magnitude, and certainty” with which the students revised their own histories “was striking.”

 

And so it has been even for President Trump and his self-proclaimed “world’s greatest memory,” as reflected in his evolving views of the coronavirus (documented here and elsewhere):

  • January 22: “We have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China. It’s going to be just fine.”
  • February 2: “We pretty much shut it down coming in from China.”
  • February 24: “The Coronavirus is very much under control in the USA… Stock Market starting to look very good to me!”
  • February 26: “We’re going to be pretty soon at only five people. And we could be at just one or two people over the next short period of time. So we’ve had very good luck.”
  • February 27: “It’s going to disappear. One day—it’s like a miracle—it will disappear.”
  • March 6: “I think we’re doing a really good job in this country at keeping it down … a tremendous job at keeping it down.”
  • March 7: “I’m not concerned at all. No, I’m not. No, we’ve done a great job.”
  • March 13: “National emergency. Two big words.”
  • March 17: “I’ve always viewed it as very serious. … This is a pandemic. I felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

 

Our explanation of these contradictory statements depends partly on the lens through which we view them. Democrats may see them as evidence of dishonesty, Republicans as normal memory flaws. Or perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between.

 

After following a group of adults from the 1930s through the 1990s, George Vaillant observed,  “It is all too common for caterpillars to become butterflies and then to maintain that in their youth they had been little butterflies. Maturation makes liars of us all.” Decades later, his observation holds true—not only for the President but for us all. How easy it is to be wise after events.

 

(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit TalkPsych.com.)

For psychology teachers everywhere—many with students displaced to their homes—the COVID-19 pandemic’s dark clouds offer a potential silver lining: some teachable moments. In so many ways, we are experiencing social psychology writ large, with so much to study.

 

Here’s my initial list of opportunities for online and in-class discussion of social dynamics in action.

 

Concept: The need to belong. We humans are social animals. We live and find safety in groups. We flourish and find happiness when connected in close, supportive relationships. Separation (or, worse, ostracism) triggers pain.

Discussion questions:

  1. Are there ways in which the pandemic thwarts our need to belong?

Possible answers: by social distancing, cancelled communal gatherings (sports, parties, worship), the isolation of off-site learning and work, diminished travel to be with loved ones or for shared experiences.

   2. If so, might the isolation increase risk of physical or mental health problems?

Possible answers: Isolation may exacerbate loneliness and depression, both of which can make people vulnerable to ill-health and, ironically, compromised immune functioning. [P.S. My colleague Jean Twenge offers more on this here.]

   3. Are there ways we can nevertheless satisfy our need to belong?

Possible answers: online meetings through video conferencing; connecting through social media (Facebook’s mission: “to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together”); Facetime conversations; acts of caring to those in need or at-risk; love-bombing friends and family with messages and emails. Perhaps physical distancing needn't correspond with social distancing?

 

Concept: The social responsibility norm. Norms are social expectations for desirable behavior. The social responsibility norm is the expectation that we help those in need.

Discussion question: Have you observed or read examples of the social responsibility norm in operation during the current crisis?

Possible answers: People doing grocery runs for neighbors at risk; friends reminding peers “even if you aren’t at risk for serious illness, you need to protect yourself so older and at-risk folks you meet aren’t imperiled and hospitals overwhelmed.”

 

Concept: The availability heuristic’s influence on our fears. Heuristics are thinking shortcuts. The availability heuristic is our automatic tendency to estimate the likelihood of an event by how readily it comes to mind (how available it is in memory). Vivid media images of disasters can therefore lead us to fear things that kill people in bunches (such as plane crashes, when auto travel is vastly more dangerous).

Discussion question: Although it’s too early to know the coronavirus’ lethality (because we don’t yet know how many people have undiagnosed infections), have you witnessed examples of some panicked people fearing it too much? And of others, by failing to appreciate its exponential future spread, fearing it too little?

Discussion question: Do you agree with statistician-writer Nate Silver’s speculation that these two tendencies (fearing too much and fearing too little) might balance each other?

 Concept: Unrealistic optimism. We are natural positive thinkers. In study after study, students have believed themselves far more likely than their classmates to be destined for a good job and salary and as less likely to develop a drinking problem get fired, or have a heart attack by age 40. Likewise, smokers think themselves less vulnerable to cancer or better able to quit. Newlyweds believe themselves invulnerable to divorce.

Discussion question: If cognitively available COVID-19 horror stories inflate too much fear in some, does unrealistic optimism create too little in others? If so, what are (or were) examples of such? (People, despite initial warnings, flocking to bars and beaches?)

 

Concept: Selective exposure to information. Selective exposure is the human tendency to prefer and seek information and news feeds that affirm rather than challenge our preexisting views.

Discussion question: A recent survey (replicated by NPR/Marist) found that 58 percent of Republicans and 29 percent of Democrats believed “the threat of coronavirus has been exaggerated.” Might selective information exposure explain this difference? If so, how?

Discussion question: Are you selectively exposing yourself solely to news and social media sources that affirm rather than challenge your views?

 

Concept: Group polarization. In experiments, discussion among like-minded people tends to enhance their preexisting views.

Discussion question: In times of crisis, does the internet enable the segregation of like-minded people clustered in echo chambers, progressives with progressives, and conservatives with conservatives—each group sharing links to sites that affirm their own views?

Discussion question: Does this polarization describe you and your friends?

Discussion question: Are there other ways in which you engage views other than your own?

 

Concept: Individualism vs. collectivism. Cultures vary in the extent to which they prioritize “me” or “we”—personal (my) goals and identity or group (our) goals and identity.

Discussion question: Have you observed examples of individualism or collectivism in response to health or government guidelines for controlling the spread of the virus?  

Possible answers: Individualism—objecting to limits on one’s activities—“I’m fine and not at risk, so why shouldn’t I be able to party with my friends?” Collectivism: “We’re responsible for each other and could pass the virus on to an older person or someone with an underlying condition.”

Discussion question: Does China’s collectivism help explain its plummeting rate of new COVID-19 cases—from several thousand per day during February to just 27 on March 15?

Possible answer: Students may note that China is more collectivist—more “we” focused—but also more autocratic.

 

Concept: The motivating power of social perceptions. Stock market drops and bank runs occur when people perceive that others will be selling their holdings or withdrawing their money, causing collapse. People who may not think conditions are terrible may create a downturn by fearing that others think so.

Discussion question: Has your community experienced a similar run on goods—by people who may not fear a lack of goods, but worry that others do, and will empty shelves?

 

Concept: Terror-Management. Some 300 studies explore the effects of reminding people of their mortality. “Death anxiety” provokes varied defenses, which range from aggression toward rivals to shoring up self-esteem to prioritizing close relationships to embracing worldviews and faith that remind us of life’s meaning.

Discussion question: Have you observed any examples of people’s heightened death anxiety and their adaptive responses to such?  

 

Concept: The unifying power of a common enemy and a superordinate goal. When diverse people experience a shared threat—a common enemy, a natural disaster, a mean boss—they often feel a kinship, as many Americans did after 9/11. Moreover, working cooperatively toward a shared (“superordinate”) goal can transform distant or conflicting people into friends.

Discussion question: Have you seen instances when the shared threat of a pandemic virus helped someone appreciate our common humanity?

Discussion question:  Have you seen instances when the awareness of the virus made you or a loved one more suspicious of others—whose mere cough might make them seem like an external threat?

 

For psychological science (the most fascinating science, methinks), the world around us is a living laboratory in which we observe powerful social forces at work in others . . . and in ourselves.

 

 

(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit TalkPsych.com.)

 

 

Jenel Cavazos

Brain Craft Ideas!

Posted by Jenel Cavazos Mar 16, 2020

Looking for something fun to do while you're stuck in the house? Try one of these great brain craft ideas!  https://dana.org/article/diy-brainy-crafts-for-brain-awareness-week/ psychstudentrss

With colleges and universities moving their face-to-face classes online or into a live video format during this Spring 2020 COVID-19 outbreak, some faculty are being forced to confront an unpleasant reality: they don’t like how they sound or look when recorded.

 

The mere exposure effect

The more we see or hear something, the more—in general—we like it. That is called the mere exposure effect.

 

Our voice

Because of how the sound of our own voice travels from our throat to our ears, it sounds different in our heads than it does to the people around us. We have spent a lifetime listening to our voices produced that way, and so that is the voice we prefer.

 

Microphones record our “outside” voice. Microphones pick up the sound of our voice as the people around us hear it.

They like that voice because it’s the one they hear. We hate it because it doesn’t sound like our voice to us. It’s not the one we hear.

 

Our face

Symmetrical faces are perceived to be more attractive than asymmetrical faces. I hate to be the one to deliver this news, but your face probably is not symmetrical. And I know, speaking as one who does not have a symmetrical face.

We have, again, spent a lifetime looking at our own faces—in a mirror. We much prefer this “mirrored” view of ourselves than we do, say, a photograph of ourselves, you know, the way other people see us.

 

Try this. Take a photo of yourself. Use your phone’s or computer’s image editing tools to flip the photo to its mirror image. You will probably like the mirrored photograph more than the original—the view of yourself that you see most often. Ask your friends and family which one they prefer. Most often they’ll choose the original photo—the view of yourself that they see most often.

 

No wonder we hate recording ourselves

Recordings we make of ourselves don’t sound like us, and the view is not one we’re used to seeing. It’s a wonder that anyone ever consents to being recorded.

 

Keep in mind that any recording you make is not for you. Your recording is—in the case of faculty—for your students. How you look and how you sound matches their reality. While you may not like it, they like matching the sound and face of the real you with the sound and face of the recorded you. And after all, your students are the ones your recordings are for.

 

Check your recording software for a mirror image setting

While there’s nothing I can do about your voice, some recording/webconferencing tools—like Zoom—include the ability to switch your webcam to mirror image. This feature was designed to better help you make sense of what you’re seeing on camera. In regular webcam view, it’s a challenge to get your stray hair back in place. Your right hand is on the left side of the screen and as you move your right hand toward your left, on the screen your right hand moves to the right. Everything is backwards!

 

When you enable mirror image, it is just like you are looking in a mirror. Your right hand is on the right. When you move your right hand left, the webcam image of your hand also moves left.

 

And you know what? Since this is how you see yourself all the time in your bathroom mirror, you’ll like how you look a lot more.

 

But here’s the extra cool part. While the camera view looks like a mirror to you, it has not changed for your viewers. They will still see you as they would if they were standing in front of you. And that’s also the view that will be recorded. Not the mirror view.

 

(Shout out to my colleague Eric Baer for showing me this in Zoom!)

 

Theater vs. television/film

While we are talking about recording yourself, now is a good time to remember that if you have spent most of your career standing in front of a classroom, you are a performer. Like theater-trained actors, you have honed your craft so that your gestures and emotions carry to the back of your classroom.

 

Many theater-trained actors struggle when they go from the stage to the screen. Television and movie cameras are intimate machines—as are webcams. They are right up in your face, recording every wrinkle and every muscle twitch. Toning down your expressiveness for your webcam recording may not come easily to you.

 

If you are wildly expressive on camera, don’t worry too much about it. Just know that it’s part of your “stage” presentation style. With practice, you could learn to dial it back, but that’s probably not worth your energy right now. No students are going to be harmed by your exuberance.  

 

Go record yourself

Go forth. Take a deep breath. And make a recording.

Timely piece from the World Economic Forum on pandemics and the psychology of uncertainty: http://ow.ly/4YWx30qosuI psychstudentrss

Have you ever tried an online dating app? Read about some trends here: Making Sense of Online Dating in 2020 | Psychology Today http://ow.ly/EqNQ30qn0e0 psychstudentrss

Photographer Noah Kalina took a photo of himself every day for 20 years. He put them all together into an 8-minute video. When he started this project on January 11, 2000, he was 19.5 years old. When this video ends on January 11, 2020, he was 39.5 years old. That’s 240 months in 480 seconds—one month every two seconds.

 

If you play it at double speed, it will only take four minutes to show—one month every second. Once the recording starts to play, click the gear icon in the bottom right corner of the recording to change your playback speed. 

 

 

I have been thinking about this video since I first saw it. We watch people age all the time, but to watch it happen so quickly is… I’m not sure what. Jarring? Compelling? Both?

 

This video could be a nice lead-in to your coverage of adulthood. Encourage your students to jot down their reactions as they watch. Afterwards, invite students to share their reactions in pairs/small groups or with the class as a whole.

 

Kalina was born in early July, 1980. The first photo we have of him is in early January, 2000. As a rough starting point (within a few weeks), Kalina is about 19.5 years old in the first photo. In the development chapter, as you move from emerging adulthood to middle adulthood, use these video times to jump ahead in the recording.

 

Approximate Age

Video Time

19.5

0:00:02

20

0:00:14

21

0:00:38

22

0:01:02

23

0:01:26

24

0:01:50

25

0:02:14

26

0:02:38

27

0:03:02

28

0:03:26

29

0:03:50

30

0:04:14

31

0:04:38

32

0:05:02

33

0:05:26

34

0:05:50

35

0:06:14

36

0:06:38

37

0:07:02

38

0:07:26

39

0:07:50

39.5

0:08:02

 

Kalina has also compiled the photos into a collage. It’s difficult to see individual photos, but taken in its entirety, it’s just as compelling as the recording.

Paul Krugman’s Arguing with Zombies (2020) identifies “zombie ideas”—repeatedly refuted ideas that refuse to die. He offers economic zombie ideas that survive to continue eating people’s brains: “Tax cuts pay for themselves.” “The budget deficit is our biggest economic problem.” “Social Security is going broke.” “Climate change is nonexistent or trivial.”

 

That triggered my musing: Does everyday psychology have a similar army of mind-eating, refuse-to-die ideas?  Here are some candidates, and the research-based findings that tell a different story:

  1. People often repress painful experiences, which years later may later reappear as recovered memories or disguised emotions. (In reality, we remember traumas all too well, often as unwanted flashbacks.)
  2. In realms from sports to stock picking, it pays to go with the person who’s had the hot hand. (Actually, the combination of our pattern-seeking mind and the unexpected streakiness of random data guarantees that we will perceive hot hands even amid random outcomes.)
  3. Parental nurture shapes our abilities, personality, and sexual orientation. (The greatest and most oft-replicated surprise of psychological science is the minimal contribution of siblings’ “shared environment.”)
  4. Immigrants are crime-prone. (Contrary to what President Donald Trump has alleged, and contrary to people’s greater fear of immigrants in regions where few immigrants live, immigrants do not have greater-than-average arrest and incarceration rates.)
  5. Big round numbers: The brain has 100 billion neurons. 10 percent of people are gay. We use only 10 percent of our brain. 10,000 daily steps make for health. 10,000 practice hours make an expert. (Psychological science tells us to distrust such big round numbers.)
  6. Psychology’s three most misunderstood concepts are that: “Negative reinforcement” refers to punishment. “Heritability” means how much of a person’s traits are attributable to genes. “Short-term memory” refers to your inability to remember what you experienced yesterday or last week, as opposed to long ago. (These zombie ideas are all false, as I explain here.)
  7. Seasonal affective disorder causes more people to get depressed in winter, especially in cloudy places, and in northern latitudes. (This is still an open debate, but massive new data suggest to me that it just isn’t so.)
  8. To raise healthy children, protect them from stress and other risks. (Actually, children are antifragile. Much as their immune systems develop protective antibodies from being challenged, children’s emotional resilience builds from experiencing normal stresses.)
  9. Teaching should align with individual students’ “learning styles.” (Do students learn best when teaching builds on their responding to, say, auditory versus visual input? Nice-sounding idea, but researchers—here and here—continue to find little support for it.)
  10. Well-intentioned therapies change lives. (Often yes, but sometimes no—as illustrated by the repeated failures of some therapy zombies: Critical Incident Stress Debriefing, D.A.R.E. Drug Abuse Prevention, Scared Straight crime prevention, Conversion Therapy for sexual reorientation, permanent weight-loss training programs.)

 

Association for Psychological Science President Lisa Feldman Barrett, with support from colleagues, has offered additional psychology-relevant zombie ideas:

  • Vaccines cause autism (a zombie idea responsible for the spread of preventable disease).
  • A woman’s waist-to-hip ratio predicts her reproductive success. (For people who advocate this idea about women, says Barrett, “There should be a special place in hell, filled with mirrors.”)
  • A sharp distinction between nature and nurture. (Instead, biology and experience intertwine: “Nature requires nurture, and nurture has its impact via nature.”)
  • “Male” and “female” are genetically fixed, non-overlapping categories. (Neuroscience shows our human gender reality to be more complicated.)
  • People worldwide similarly read emotion in faces. (People do smile when happy, frown when sad, and scowl when angry—but there is variation across context and cultures. Moreover, a wide-eyed gasping face can convey more than one emotion, depending on the context.)

 

Westend61/Getty Images

 

Ergo, when approached by a possible zombie idea, don’t just invite it to become part of your mental family. Apply psychological science by welcoming plausible-sounding ideas, even hunches, and then putting each to the test: Ask does the idea work? Do the data support its predictions?

 

When subjected to skeptical scrutiny, crazy-sounding ideas do sometimes find support. During the 1700s, scientists ridiculed the notion that meteorites had extraterrestrial origins. Thomas Jefferson reportedly scoffed at the idea that “stones fell from heaven.”

 

But more often, as I suggest in Psychology 13th Edition (with Nathan DeWall), “science becomes society’s garbage collector, sending crazy-sounding ideas to the waste heap atop previous claims of perpetual motion machines, miracle cancer cures, and out-of-body travels. To sift reality from fantasy and fact from fiction therefore requires a scientific attitude: being skeptical but not cynical, open-minded but not gullible.”

 

(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit TalkPsych.com.)

 

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Many cartoonists are excellent observers of the human condition. One of the best is Charles Schulz of Peanuts fame. With 50 years of comic strips, that’s 17,897 individual strips—drawn by him and him alone—Schulz’s characters can be a rich source of psychology examples.

 

In this strip that ran most recently on May 5, 2019, Schulz gifts us with a beautiful example of classical conditioning. Students don’t need to be familiar with the characters to see the classical conditioning. If they are familiar with Charlie Brown and Lucy and the relationship these characters have with each other, they’ll better appreciate the humor.

 

The characters are playing baseball. From the outfield, Lucy yells, “Hey, manager!” Charlie Brown, standing on the pitcher’s mound, looks at us with a queasy expression. He explains that hearing her say “Hey, manager!” is enough to give him a stomachache because every time she yells that, she follows it up with a stupid/dumb/sarcastic remark. In this particular case, she surprises him (and long-time Peanuts readers) by saying something else. In the last panel, though, Lucy reveals that she knows exactly what’s going on.

 

I ask my students these questions about the strip:

 

  1. In this example, identify the unconditioned stimulus, unconditioned response, conditioned stimulus, and conditioned response. 
  2. Use this example to explain generalization and discrimination.
  3. What would need to happen in order to bring about extinction? What would spontaneous recovery look like?

 

While I do this as part of a larger homework assignment, it also works as an in-class discussion topic or as a lecture example.

 

Through this example, I have learned that many of my students are not familiar with the Peanuts comic strip. I know who is and who is not familiar based on what they call Charlie Brown. Students who know it call him Charlie Brown. Students who don’t know it simply call him Charlie—which is jarring to my 52-year-old, US-born ears.