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How you and I feel about our lives depends greatly on our social comparisons. We feel smart when others seem dimwitted, and grateful for our health when others are unwell. But sometimes during social comparisons our self-image suffers, and we feel relative deprivation—a perception that we are worse off than others with superior achievements, looks, or income. We may be happy with a raise—until we learn that our co-workers got more. And it’s better, psychologically, to make a salary of $60,000 when friends, neighbors, and co-workers make $30,000, than to make $100,000 when our compatriots make $200,000.

 

Relative deprivation helps us understand why the spread of television—and exposure to others’ wealth—seemingly transformed people’s absolute deprivation (lacking what others have) into relative deprivation (feeling deprived). When and where TV was introduced to various American cities, larceny thefts (shoplifting, bike stealing) soon rose.

 

Relative deprivation also helps us understand the psychological toxicity of today’s growing income inequality. In communities with large inequality—where some people observe others having so much more—average happiness is lower and crime rates and other social pathologies are higher.

 

So should we assume it’s always better to be content and happy than to be frustrated by seemingly unreachable expectations? No—because relative deprivation can also be a force for positive change. People in the former East Germany had a higher standard of living than their counterparts in some other European countries, but a frustratingly lower one than their West German neighbors—and that helped spark their revolt.

 

At a recent gathering of the Templeton foundations, I heard grantee Thor Halvorssen explain how his Human Rights Foundation is working to unite the world against the tyrannies that underlie poverty, famine, war, and torture. One  “Flash Drives for Freedom” project responds to the North Korean people’s mistaken belief—enabled by strict censorship and the absence of Internet—that the rest of the world is worse off than they are.

 

This project is collecting tens of thousands of used and donated USB drives, erasing their content, and refilling them with books, videos, and an off-line Korean Wikipedia that counter Kim Jong-Un’s misinformation. (Yes, Wikipedia can fit on a flash drive—see here—and, yes, most North Koreans have access to devices that can read flash drives.) Finally, it is delivering the goods via drones and balloons with a timing device that ruptures the balloon over North Korean cities, raining down flash drives.

 

The implied psychological rationale: Lay the groundwork for a transformed and free North Korea by harnessing the positive power of relative deprivation.

 

From hrf.org

 

From FlashDrivesForFreedom.org

 

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

When I was in school, the first thing I did when I got a graded assignment or exam back was look at what I missed and why. I assumed that was what everyone did. False consensus effect, anyone?

 

In a webinar a number of years ago, Roddy Roediger pointed out that that is what the better students do—which probably describes a hefty percentage of people working in academia. Better students look at their exam/assignment mistakes, and they learn from them. Less-than-stellar students, Roediger said, generally do not do that. Because they found the exam/assignment so aversive the first time, the last thing they want to do is look at it again. The least painful thing to do is throw the exam in the trash. And ignore the instructor’s feedback on the assignment. Unfortunately, students who do not revisit the exam/assignment are doomed to repeat the same mistakes and miss the opportunity to clear up any lingering misconceptions about the course content.

 

The post-exam everything-available group exam

 

When I gave in-class multiple-choice exams, I wanted students to figure out what they missed and why as soon as possible. I did not want to give any missed multiple-choice questions an opportunity to solidify as facts in students’ memories.

 

After students had taken the exam solo and had turned in their answer sheets, students would take the exam again using a brand new answer sheet. This time, students could use their notes, their book, the Internet, phone-a-friend, and other students in the class to answer the questions. Some students worked alone. Other students worked in pairs or small groups, but would shout across the room to consult with a different group as debate raged about a particular question. I had the occasional class who chose to do the open exam as an entire class with one student taking the lead. In those cases, I would leave the room. I did not want my presence to stifle discussion. Consensus was not required. Each student had their own answer sheet.

 

The solo exam was 50 questions worth one point each. The open exam was counted as a separate exam with each question worth 1/5 of a point for a total of 10 points.

 

My face-to-face classes met in 2.5 hour blocks, so it was easy to have the solo exam in the first half of class and the open exam in the second half of class. It would, however, work to give the open exam during the next class session.

 

I no longer give in-class multiple-choice exams, but I held onto them for quite a while because the discussions students had about the exam questions was so valuable. Students could see how other students thought through the questions and the answer options, and then used the textbook, their notes, or the Internet to support or refute each answer option.

 

At the end of the class period, some students would stick around until all of the answer sheets were turned in to ask, “Okay, question 6. We had a lot of debate on this one between A and C. What is the answer?!” Then we would talk about it.

 

During the open exam, I noticed some students not engaging. Some students just bubbled in the same answers they put on their solo exam, turn it in, and leave. Other students just bubbled in the answers the group majority had. These students probably found the solo exam painfully aversive, and the open exam just prolonged their agony. It was all a reminder of how college was not for them. Well, that is most-decidedly not the message I want students to hear.

 

If I gave in-class multiple-choice exams, I would still do the open-exam, but I would add in an exam wrapper.

 

A common instructor frustration

 

“I spent hours writing comprehensive feedback on my students’ assignments, but they keep making the same mistakes. I don’t think they’re reading my comments.”

 

Some of your students may not be reading your comments. They are probably the ones who found the assignment so aversive, they are just happy it is over.  

 

One instructor self-preservation strategy is to use two-tiered grading. In the first round of grading, use a comprehensive rubric and type minimal comments. Invite your students to tell you if they would like a second round of grading with more detailed comments. Here, the instructor does not change the score but gives the student more explanation about their score. The instructor’s time goes to the students who will actually read their feedback. A solid rubric, though, can provide a lot of really good information on its own.  

 

Exam and assignment wrappers: The idea

 

Wrappers encourage students to look at the past, and then strategize for the future. Following an exam or an assignment, students are asked about how they prepared, what do they think worked well for them, and what do they think they need to do differently next time. Here are some exam wrapper examples from Carnegie Mellon University’s Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence and Educational Innovation. The idea is to help students further develop their metacognitive skills, use what they learned, and improve on the next exam or assignment.

 

The research conducted on exam wrappers to date, however tells us not to expect too much in the way of impact on exam grades or metacognitive skills (Gezer-Templeton, Mayhew, Korte, & Schmidt, 2017; Pate, Lafitte, Ramachandran, & Caldwell, 2019; Soicher & Gurung, 2017).

 

It is probably not reasonable to expect a short reflection to improve student grades or metacognitive skills. Too many students have too many other responsibilities. Even if students know what they should do differently, it does not mean that they have the time, the energy, or the motivation to make those changes. A student who is working two jobs while taking care of two young children and an elderly family member may be happy just to pass your class.

 

I want to know, however, that students know what they need to do, even if they may not be able to.

 

Assignment wrappers: My implementation and my goals

 

In my courses, students respond to 12 to 15 essay questions each week. After students receive their graded assignments, I ask students in a separate 5-point assignment to answer five questions:

 

1. Submit a screenshot of the rubric. I want to make sure that students can find the rubric in our course management system and that they have seen it. 

 

2. Approximately how many hours did you spend working on this assignment? I expect students to put about 10 hours into this assignment. If the student did not do well on the assignment and reports spending less than 10 hours on the assignment, I can reiterate those expectations.

 

3. Estimate the number of points you lost due to:

Trouble with definitions

Missing or not enough explanation of the concepts

Missing or not enough application to the examples in the questions

Didn't answer one or more questions

Didn't leave enough time to complete the assignment

Other (give a brief explanation of what you're thinking about here)

 

This question helps students think about where they missed points, so they can pay particular attention to that area on the next assignment.

 

4. What are you planning to do differently as you work on your next assignment? Students have control over their grades. There are changes they can make. Most students have some solid ideas on what they can do differently. Being able to make those changes can be hard, though. If students report on future wrappers that they are having a hard time doing what they think they need to do, I will recommend some basic behavioral change strategies. 

 

5. What worked well that you are planning to do again? This is a reminder to students that they are indeed doing some things well. These are strengths to build on.

 

My assignment wrappers ensure that students are looking at my feedback, even if they do not really want to. The reflection helps students see that they have agency—that there are things that they are doing that work and there are changes that they can make. Finally, the wrappers give me a space to be a cheerleader and offer support.

 

“You have the right strategies. Just give yourself more time to do the assignments. Block off some time in your calendar each day, and defend that time as yours.”

 

“The changes you are planning on making are excellent.”

 

“It can be hard to study with all of those distractions at home you talked about. Can you go to the college library, the public library, or a coffee shop? Even for a little bit?”

 

“It sounds like you might be able to use some financial support. Did you know that our college has emergency funds and a food pantry?”

 

For example

 

I had one student who reported that he left the assignment until the last day. He ran out of time and his grade reflected that. He vowed to devote a couple hours every day on the course. On the next wrapper, he reported that he was much less stressed. Not only did he finish the assignment with plenty of time to spare, he also had time to review and fine-tune his assignment before submitting it. He then added that he thought having his phone next to him while he worked was too much of a distraction, and that he would leave it in a different room while working on his next assignment. On the next wrapper, he reported that without his phone, he finished his work even faster. Yes, his changes were rewarded in his much-improved assignment scores.

 

This student may have made these observations and made these changes without the wrapper. But, with the wrapper, he stated his goals to me, and I was able to encourage him in his efforts. Now I can say to students, “I had a student who had the same struggles you are having. This is what he did that worked for him. Want to give it a try?”

 

 

References

 

Gezer-Templeton, P. G., Mayhew, E. J., Korte, D. S., & Schmidt, S. J. (2017). Use of exam wrappers to enhance students’ metacognitive skills in a large introductory food science and human nutrition course. Journal of Food Science Education, 16(1), 28–36. https://doi.org/10.1111/1541-4329.12103

 

Pate, A., Lafitte, E. M., Ramachandran, S., & Caldwell, D. J. (2019). The use of exam wrappers to promote metacognition. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning, 11(5), 492–498. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cptl.2019.02.008

 

Soicher, R. N., & Gurung, R. A. R. (2017). Do exam wrappers increase metacognition and performance? A single course intervention. Psychology Learning and Teaching, 16(1).

While I am still not close to retirement, I am certainly closer to retirement than I am to my first year of teaching. This August will be the 30th anniversary of when I stepped in front of a classroom as a person of authority. I was a graduate student leading discussion sections once a week for a social psych course. The following fall, I taught my own course for the first time. This anniversary has put me in a reflective mood. 

 

Here is what I know now that I wish I had known then.

 

Develop a teaching persona

 

Teaching is a performance. When you step in front of a class, you must consider who your students are and how you can best help those students understand your course material. In doesn’t matter how far over you are on the Big Five trait of introversion. You have a role to play. 

 

Do not take cheating personally

 

Some of your students will cheat. And some of those who cheat, you will catch. It will feel like a personal affront, but student cheating is not about you. When feeling overwhelmed—sometimes brought on by procrastination, but not always—students will go to what has worked for them, or their friends, before. They put their hands into their bag of shortcuts and hope that what they pull out works. Sometimes it does. Sometimes it does not. Make sure there are consequences for cheating. However, again, do not take it personally, because it is not about you.

 

Students earn grades

 

Instructors do not give grades. Instructors document the grades students earn.

 

Someday, a student will come to you begging for a few more points because if they do not get X grade in your course, they will lose their scholarship, financial aid, or something else important to them. If a student is in that position, your course alone was not enough to do that. A string of courses that came before brought the student to this point. Your course is just the latest one in the series.

 

Stick to your policies

 

Whatever policies you have identified in your syllabus, do not make exceptions to them—unless your policy says that you will make exceptions. If you are going to make exceptions, think very carefully about how you will decide who gets an exception.

 

If you have a clear no-late-assignment-with-no-exceptions policy, a student asks you to make an exception, and you do, that is unfair to all of the students who read the policy in your syllabus, took you at your word, and did not ask for an exception.

 

Do not obsess over that one negative comment in your course evaluations

 

What is especially frustrating about course evaluations is that the course is over leaving you unable to address your students’ comments. There is no closure.

 

Early in my teaching career, I had a student who wrote, “She should write more than just the outline on the board, because when it came time to study for the test, all I had was the outline.” In a 15-week semester, this student never figured out that they could write more than what I wrote. I had no way to tell the student.

 

When reading your course evaluations, remember that these are student perceptions. Find the patterns first. What are most students saying? What should you keep doing next term? What changes should you make? In some cases, for example, you do not need to change what you do, but, instead, make the rationale for what you do clearer.

 

Now you can look at the comments that did not fit into the patterns you found. If one student, for example, reports that you did not turn graded work back in a timely manner, but everyone else reports that you did, you can safely ignore this outlier. This student may have a different definition of “timely manner.” In fact, the student may have even thought that “timely manner” means you turned work back after a lot of time had passed. The only thing you know is that this comment is the polar opposite of what everyone else in your course said. Treat it as the outlier it is.

 

In anonymous course evaluations, student biases—both implicit and explicit—can affect how students rate their instructors. If you are young, female, or a person of color, you should be particularly cautious in interpreting your evaluations. More so if you are all three.

 

Students are responsible for their own learning

Just because you say it, does not mean that students will remember it. What is teaching? Teaching is not talking. Teaching is not “covering” content. Teaching is not flipping through presentation slides. Teaching is helping students do the hard work of learning.  

You are using a good textbook. Trust the authors to deliver the content. Your job is to help students with the content they are struggling with. Find out what they are struggling with and focus on that -- you can ask via your course management system before class, use a classroom response system, or just ask them in class (pairs or small group discussions for just a few minutes, then have each group report out).

 

I tell my students that the textbook is their first source of information. I am there to help the textbook.

 

It is okay to use your textbook in class

 

If a student asks a question about core content that you are still fuzzy about yourself, like the difference between positive and negative reinforcement, it is okay to say, "Let's walk through it together." Pull out the book, open to those pages, and put it under your document camera. Modeling the process of thinking through a question is just as valuable as having an answer at the ready. 

 

It is okay to guess, as long as you say that you are guessing

 

For something that is outside the book's core content, it is okay to take a guess—as long as you tell students you are guessing. Walk students through your thought process; pull in concepts you have covered before and introduce students to new concepts. And, no, after class you do not have to look up an answer and report back what you found at the next class session. If you want to know, look it up. If you think it will be of wide enough interest, post it to your course management system. 

Even after 30 years in the classroom, students still ask questions I have never heard before. You cannot anticipate them all.

 

Grading tips

 

As it may have been hard for your students to get started doing this assignment, it may be just as hard for you to grade them. To help you get started, remove barriers between you and your grading. Get everything out that you need.

Open your course management system to the right place. You may not be ready to grade, but you have set up everything so that when you are, you do not have to do anything except start.

 

Grade in spurts. Grade five student assignments, stand up and stretch. Grade another five. The last assignment you grade deserves the same attention as the first one.

 

Use a solid rubric and consider two-tiered grading. In the first round, you grade using just the rubric with minimal comments. Invite students who would like more feedback to ask for it. For those students who do, go back into their assignments, and write more detailed comments.

 

Finally, take care of yourself

 

Teaching takes a lot of energy. Sleep. Exercise. Eat well. Have fun.

As instructors, almost all of us are public speakers. We pay a lot of attention to our content, but how much do we pay attention to how we are presenting our content?

 

Um, if we, um, had as many ums in our written work as we sometimes, um, have in our speech, our writing would, um, be difficult to read. The occasional um is not a problem. In fact, the occasional um works as an attention-getting signal telling us something important is coming. Having ums sprinkled throughout can improve memory for your content (Fraundorf & Watson, 2011). Having too many ums, though, is like highlighting every word in written text. If everything is signaled as important, then nothing is. Frequent ums can be distracting. You don’t want your listeners to start focusing on your ums and stop focusing on your message.

 

Reduce the ums through behavioral change

 

Record your next lecture, or maybe just the first 10 minutes of it. An audio recording using your phone will work. On playback, listen for your ums. How many are there? If there are just a few in that 10-minute recording, you probably don’t need to do anything differently.

 

If you’re hearing dozens, you may decide it's time to work on um-reduction.

 

When are your ums most likely to occur? At the beginning of sentences? As you switch from one topic to another? When responding to student questions? Now that you know when you are most likely to utter an um, you’ll be more likely, during your next lecture, to recognize that an um may be coming on. Your goal at this point is to pause—stop cold. Pausing will interrupt the automatic um. Savor the silence; skip the um. Then speak.

 

If you struggle with the silence, increasing the number of hand gestures you use also may help you decrease your ums (Christenfeld, Schachter, & Bilous, 1991). Don’t get too carried away though. Rapid, random, hand flapping would probably be just as distracting.

 

References

 

Christenfeld, N., Schachter, S., & Bilous, F. (1991). Filled pauses and gestures: It’s not coincidence. Journal of Psycholinguistic Research, 20(1), 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01076916

 

Fraundorf, S. H., & Watson, D. G. (2011). The disfluent discourse: Effects of filled pauses on recall. Journal of Memory and Language, 65(2), 161–175. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jml.2011.03.004

Do you teach Intro Psych? If so, I am personally inviting you to join me at the Advanced Placement (AP) Psychology Reading in Tampa next year (June 10-16, 2020; apply here). Choosing to attend the Reading was – hands down – the best move I ever made in my professional career. And I don’t say that lightly.

 

For doing the AP Reading, you are paid $1,639 (as of 2019), provided a free flight (or reimbursed miles if you’re close enough to drive), free room (with a roommate), and free meals (at the Convention Center).

 

I don’t remember when or where I first heard about the AP Reading. It was probably from Jane Halonen at NITOP. I do know that my first year was 2006. The Reading was in Daytona Beach that year. Since then, we’ve read in Louisville and Kansas City. For the last three years, the AP Psych Reading has been in Tampa.

 

What is the AP Psychology Reading?

 

A few hundred thousand high school students enroll in Advanced Placement Psychology courses each year. In May, many of those students take the AP Psych exam with the goal of scoring high enough to earn college credit at one of 1,999 colleges or universities students end up attending (see the full list here). In addition to 100 multiple-choice questions worth 2/3 of the exam grade, students also answer two essay questions – “free response questions” (FRQs) in AP parlance – worth 1/3 of the exam grade. (Read more about the exam.) Somebody has to read and score those free responses.

 

In 2019, about 600 college and high school psychology instructors met for a week to score a little more than 300,000 exams. If you’ve been reading carefully, you caught that that is about 600,000 essays.

 

No one does the Reading because they like grading

 

If there is someone who does the Reading because they like grading, I have yet to meet them. Unlike your own grading, however, at the Reading, you are given the rubric. Most questions have seven points, and for each one, you apply the rubric making a yes/no decision. If what the student has written reaches the bar for point one, score it. If not, don’t. Move on to the second point. At the end of the student’s essay, tally the number of yesses and bubble that number on a scoresheet. Move on to the next essay. Repeat for seven days.

 

Once you know the rubric – have become one with the rubric – the experience is very Zen-like. At the Reading, between 8am and 5pm – minus morning break, lunch, and afternoon break – nothing else matters. Some who do the reading talk about flow and about enjoying a break from the more complicated daily decisions they commonly need to make. At the Reading, everything is reduced to one simple decision: point/no point.

 

Why do college faculty do the Reading?

 

I asked several college faculty why they first decided to do the Reading. There were two primary reasons. First, someone they respected told them to do it – and, frankly, that’s the motivation I’m going for in this blog post. Second, most of them cited the extra money – also a legitimate motivator. Some faculty put the money into a dedicated hobby fund, others put it into a dedicated travel expense fund, and still others put it into their general household expense fund.

When I asked college faculty why they continue to do the Reading, almost everyone immediately said they come back because of the people.

 

The people

 

At the end of the workday–where every day is casual Friday–it’s time to hang out with old friends and make new ones. It’s very different than being at a conference. At conferences, everyone’s pulled in so many different directions with myriad obligations. At the Reading, we are all done at 5pm. The next four to six hours are spent just hanging out with friends.

 

I can’t imagine being where I am in my career without the people I have gotten to know at the Reading. I am a better teacher because of them. This is the largest gathering of the absolute best psychology instructors in the country, both high school and college/university.

 

I first met Charles Brewer (Furman University) at the Reading – the highest award in the teaching of psychology is named in his honor: Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching of Psychology Award.

 

Since 2000, 14 out of 21 presidents for the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP) have participated in the AP Reading. I’m not sure it would have ever occurred to me to run for STP president without the encouragement of a lengthy list of mentors – most of whom I met through the Reading.

 

I have been invited to speak at colleges/universities and at local/regional/national conferences by people I’ve met at the Reading.

 

Rubrics

 

Getting 300,000 students to interpret an essay question the same way so their written responses can all be scored reliably is no easy task. Any, yet, those who write the questions pull this off time and time again. The challenge in creating the rubric is in identifying what a reader must see in a student’s response to be certain that the student knew the concept, and then to write the rubric in such a way that every reader will score every student response the same way.

 

Since I started attending the Reading in 2006, my essay question writing and my rubric writing has gotten immeasurably better. It’s these improved skills that allowed me to move from a standard lecture-based teaching model to interteaching where my students learn through writing.

 

Join me next year!

 

The Nebraska Tourism Commission recently announced their new slogan: “Honestly, it’s not for everyone.” That’s true for the Reading, too! It’s not for everyone, but you won’t know it’s not for you unless you try it.

 

If it’s for you, who you will meet and what you will learn will take you places and provide you with opportunities you could never imagine.

 

Have questions?

 

If you’re thinking about applying to join next year’s AP Psychology Reading but you have questions, you are welcome to email me at sfrantz@highline.edu. I am not an official representative of either ETS or the College Board, but I would be happy to give you this reader’s perspective.

You surely know why you chose your town, your partner, and your vocation—all for good reasons, no doubt.

 

But might other unknown reasons—operating below the level of your conscious awareness–also have nudged your choices? Such is the implication of some clever studies of implicit egotisman automatic tendency to like things we associate with ourselves. For example, we like better a politician or stranger whose face has been morphed with some features of our own (see here and here).

 

I see you yawning: “You needed research to know that we love ourselves and things that resemble us?” The surprise—astonishment, really—comes with the subtle ways in which this phenomenon has been documented. Consider:

  • The name–letter effect. People of varied nationalities, languages, and ages prefer the letters that appear in their own name. People also tend to marry someone whose first or last name resembles our own.
  • The birthdate–number effect. People likewise prefer the numbers that appear in their birthdate. For example, people tend to be attracted to people whose laboratory participant number resembles their birth date.
  • The name–residence effect. Philadelphia, having many more people than Jacksonville, has also had (no surprise) 2.2 times more men named Jack . . . but also 10.4 times more named Philip. Ditto Virginia Beach, which has a disproportionate number of women named Virginia, and St. Louis which, compared to the national average, has 49 percent more men named Louis. Likewise, folks named Park, Hill, Beach, Rock, or Lake are disproportionately likely to live in cities (for example, Park City) that include their names.

 

If that last finding—offered by implicit egotism researchers Brett Pelham, Matthew Mirenberg, and John Jones—doesn’t surprise you, consider an even weirder phenomenon they uncovered: People seem to gravitate to careers identified with their names. In the United States, Dennis, Jerry, and Walter have been equally popular names. But dentists have twice as often been named Dennis as Jerry or Walter, and 2.5 times more often named Denise than the equally popular Beverly or Tammy. Among geoscientists (geologists, geophysicists, and geochemists) people named George and Geoffrey are similarly overrepresented.

 

The phenomenon extends to surname–occupation matching. In 1940 U.S. Census data, people named Baker, Barber, Butcher, and Butler were all 40 percent more likely than expected to work in occupations with their names.

 

Ah, but do Pelham and colleagues have cause-and-effect reversed? For example, aren’t towns often named after people whose descendants stick around? And are people in Virginia more likely to name girls with the state name? Are Georgians more likely to christen their babies Georgia or George? Wasn’t the long-ago village baker—thus so-named—likely to have descendants carrying on the ancestral work?

 

Likely so, grants Pelham. But could that, he asks, explain why states have an excess of people sharing a last-name similarity? California, for example, has an excess of people whose names begin with Cali (as in Califano). Moreover, he reports, people are more likely to move to states and cities with name resemblances—Virginia to Virginia, for example.

 

If the Pelham team is right to think that implicit egotism, though modest, is nonetheless a real unconscious influence on our preferences, might that explain why, with long-ago job offers from three states, I felt drawn to Michigan? And why it was Suzie who sold seashells by the seashore?

 

(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, including a 2016 essay on much of this implicit egotism research, visit TalkPsych.com.)

After covering experiments and correlations in Intro Psych or as a research methods booster in the Stress & Health chapter, ask your students if they have heard that you should walk 10,000 steps a day. Do they know where that recommendation comes from? Did anyone guess that it seems to come from a 1964 Japanese marketing campaign for a pedometer (“Do you really need to take 10,000 steps a day to keep fit?,” 2015)?

 

Recent correlational research with almost 17,000 women aged 62-101 (average age 72) found that those who took about 4,400 steps per day were 41% less likely to die during the study (mean study length: 4.3 years) than those who took 2,700 per day. The more steps walked per day, the lower the mortality. Benefits maxed out at 7,500 steps; walking more than that did not reduce mortality rates. Annually, researchers asked participants for “sociodemographic characteristics, health habits, and personal and family medical history,” as well as at the start of the study, “a 131-item food frequency questionnaire.” All things being equal, those who walked more (up to 7,500 steps per day), lived longer (Lee et al., 2019). When you have this many participants who are in that age range, you can use mortality as your primary dependent measure.

 

Experimental research using other dependent measures such as blood pressure (Moreau et al., 2001) and cholesterol (Dasgupta et al., 2017; Sugiura et al., 2002) have found benefits to increasing number of steps walked per day.

 

With students working in small groups, ask students to design an experiment to test the effects of walking on a dependent measure of their choosing. How many levels of the independent variable would they use? How would they ensure the number of steps walked by their participants? What dependent measures would they choose? How long would they run the study? What population would they choose as participants?

 

Visit the groups answering any questions they may have. After the groups have finished their discussion, ask each group to report their independent variable and dependent variables. Complete this activity by explaining to students the importance of understanding the theory behind the research (on what dependent measures can we expect a benefit of exercise?), the importance of reading research articles on what has already been done (what have others found and how may that inform our study?), and the importance of doing research in many different ways (such as using different operational definitions).

 

 

References

 

Dasgupta, K., Rosenberg, E., Joseph, L., Cooke, A. B., Trudeau, L., Bacon, S., … Smarter Trial Group. (2017). Physician step prescription and monitoring to improve ARTERial health (SMARTER): A randomized controlled trial in patients with type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism, 19(5), 685–704. https://doi.org/10.1111/dom.12874

 

Do you really need to take 10,000 steps a day to keep fit? (2015, June 17). BBC News. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33154510

 

Lee, I.-M., Shiroma, E. J., Kamada, M., Bassett, D. R., Matthews, C. E., & Buring, J. E. (2019). Association of step volume and intensity with all-cause mortality in older women. JAMA Internal Medicine. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamainternmed.2019.0899

 

Moreau, K. L., Degamo, R., Langley, J., McMahon, C., Howley, E. T., Bassett Jr, D. R., & Thompson, D. L. (2001). Increasing daily walking lowers blood pressure in postmenopausal women. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 33(11), 1825–1831.

 

Sugiura, H., Suguira, H., Kajima, K., Mirbod, S. M., Iwata, H., & Matsuoka, T. (2002). Effects of long-term moderate exercise and increase in number of daily steps on serum lipids in women: Randomised controlled trial. BMC Women’s Health, 2(1).

One of the perennial challenges in teaching Intro Psych is helping students understand that knowing that two variables are, say, positively correlated does not tell us anything about what causes that relationship. Discussion of this study would work during your coverage of correlations or during your coverage of circadian rhythms as an opportunity to revisit correlations.

 

The 6.5-year study of 433,268 British adults (Knutson & von Schantz, 2018) provides us with an illustrative example. The researchers asked each person “Do you consider yourself to be definitely a morning person [27%], more a morning than evening person [35%], more an evening than morning person [28%], definitely an evening person [9%].” “Increased eveningness, particularly definite evening type, was associated with increased prevalence of a wide variety of diseases or disorders, including dia- betes, psychological, neurological, respiratory and gastrointestinal/abdominal disorders.”

If your Intro Psych students are like most people, they want to jump to the conclusion that being a night owl will cause a number of health problems that will eventually lead to an early death.

 

The lead author of this study, Kristen Knutson, thinks the root of the problem is really that of a mismatch. Many of our societies are geared toward the morning chronotype. If you have an evening chronotype but are trying to work, say, 9am to 5pm, you’re fighting against your own internal clock (Khan, 2018).  

 

Ask students to work in pairs or small groups to generate a list of factors that are associated with good health. Perhaps their list includes things like exercising, getting good sleep, eating well, and developing and maintaining strong social ties. Now ask students to consider why these things may be more difficult for night owls than morning larks. For example, how many recreational sports teams compete at 11pm? How many spin or yoga classes are offered at midnight? How easy is it to find a restaurant with healthy fare at 10:30pm? How hard is it to get enough sleep when you don’t get sleepy until 2am but have to be up at 7am to be a work by 9am? Maintaining social ties is difficult for night owls who want to hang out at 10pm when most of their friends are headed to bed (Clark, 2019).

 

The cause of the correlation between chronotype and health may be due to this whole host of third factors. What if night owls were allowed to be night owls? Would a night owl yoga instructor, for example, teaching at 11pm have night owl students? Would night owls get more sleep if they worked, say, 2pm to 10pm?

 

If time allows, ask volunteers to share their chronotypes and how they’ve adjusted their schedules to fit that chronotype. Or, if their schedules don’t fit, to share why that’s a struggle.

 

In closing this activity, reiterate that knowing that there is a relationship between two variables tells us nothing about why two variables are related. 

 

 

References

 

Clark, B. (2019, May 23). No, night owls aren’t doomed to die early. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/23/smarter-living/no-night-owls-arent-doomed-to-die-early.html

 

Khan, A. (2018, April 11). Bad news for night owls. Their risk of early death is 10% higher than for early risers, study finds. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from https://www.latimes.com/science/sciencenow/la-sci-sn-night-owl-death-20180412-story.html

 

Knutson, K. L., & von Schantz, M. (2018). Associations between chronotype, morbidity and mortality in the UK Biobank cohort. Chronobiology International, 35(8), 1045–1053. https://doi.org/10.1080/07420528.2018.1454458

 

 

 

David Myers

The Joy of Being Wrong

Posted by David Myers Expert May 28, 2019

What virtue is more needed in today’s contentious and polarized world than humility? We need deep-rooted convictions to fuel our passions, but also humility to restrain bull-headed fanaticism.

 

Along with curiosity and skepticism, humility forms the foundation of all science. Humility enables critical thinking, which holds one’s untested beliefs tentatively while assessing others’ ideas with a skeptical but open mind. To accept everything is to be gullible; to deny everything is to be a cynic.

 

In religion and literature, hubris (pride) is first and foundational among the seven deadly sins. When rooted in theism—the assumption that “There is a God, but it’s not me”—humility reminds us of our surest conviction: Some of our beliefs err. We are finite and fallible. We have dignity but not deity. So there’s no great threat when one of our beliefs is overturned or refined—it’s to be expected.  In this spirit, we can, as St. Paul advised, “test everything, hold fast to what is good.”

 

Humility also underlies healthy human relations. In one of his eighteenth-century Sermons, Samuel Johnson recognized the corrosive perils of pride and narcissism: “He that overvalues himself will undervalue others, and he that undervalues others will oppress them.” Even Dale Carnegie, the positive thinking apostle, foresaw the danger: “Each nation feels superior to other nations. That breeds patriotism—and wars.”

 

Unlike pride and narcissism, humility contributes to human flourishing. It opens us to others. Show social psychologists a situation where humility abounds—with accurate self-awareness + modest self-presentation + a focus on others—and they will show you civil discourse, happy marriages, effective leadership, and mental health. And that is the gist of this new 3.5 minute animated Freethink video, “The Joy of Being Wrong.”

 

Note: The video was supported by the Templeton Foundation (which I serve as a trustee) as an expression of its founder’s science-friendly motto: “How little we know, how eager to learn.” The Foundation is also supporting a University of Connecticut initiative on “Humility and Conviction in Public Life,” including blog essays, a monthly newsletter, podcast interviews, and videos of forums and lectures.

 

 

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

As of this writing, Jeopardy! champion James Holzhauer has won 24 games for a total of $1,867,142.00. A lot of people are wondering how he has done it.

 

The next time you cover memory in Intro, ask your students to work in pairs or small groups to use what they learned in the memory chapter to guess at some strategies Holzhauer has used to remember such a vast amount of information and to be able to recall it. Did your students come up with self-testing? Spaced practice? Elaboration? Interleaving? Dual coding? Ask your students how they would use these techniques to prepare for their own Jeopardy! run.

 

The Philadelphia Inquirer wanted to know how James Holzhauer has done, so they asked Penn psychology professor Michael J. Kahana and Utah ed psych professor Michael Gardner—and James Holzhauer (Avril, 2019).

 

First, Holzhauer has learned a lot of content in different contexts. In addition to whatever knowledge he acquired through general reading or through school was learned again through his reading of children’s books—books that can cover a lot of ground in an easy-to-digest way. If Holzhauer learned about Napoleon in high school, for example, and then learned about Napoleon in a children’s book, he has that many more retrieval cues to recall what he knows about Napoleon—information that was learned at different times and different places. And, of course, since the task in playing Jeopardy! is retrieving information, it’s important to practice that retrieval through self-testing. Holzhauer confirms that he has indeed self-tested.

 

Holzhauer uses priming to his advantage, both in unexpected and expected ways. If Final Jeopardy is a finite category, he mentally flips through possible answers. As an example, he cites the category “European Capitals.” By thinking about Budapest, Rome, Warsaw, Paris, Oslo, Brussels, he is firing up the neurons in his “European Capital” neural network, making it easier to retrieve the correct answer when the question finally comes. Outside of Final Jeopardy, Holzhauer says the game moves too fast to do this. When contestants choose all the questions from the same category one right after the other, though, everyone gets to stay within the same neural network. That’s not Holzhauer’s strategy, though. He jumps from category to category selecting all of the $500 answers first—to amass a good chunk of money that he can wager on a Daily Double. While he doesn’t have time to think through a list of possible answers, but since he knows which category he is going to select before he voices it, his brain does have a few seconds lead time over his competitors in accessing the right neural network. Interestingly, younger people can more quickly retrieve content from a new category than those of us who are older. That jumping from category to category likely gives him an advantage over older contestants.

 

Then there is buzzer strategy. Is it better to wait until you know you know the answer and then buzz in? Or, is it better to buzz in and hope your brain can find the answer in those few seconds? Holzhauer uses the former strategy. Buzz in first and hope your working memory is able to quickly retrieve the answer from long-term memory.

 

End this discussion by informing your students that if any of them go on to win on Jeopardy!, your cut is 10%.

 

Reference

 

Avril, T. (2019, May 16). Can ‘Jeopardy!’ whiz James Holzhauer be beaten? The science of memory and recall, explained. The Inquirer. Retrieved from https://www.philly.com/science/jeopardy-champ-james-holzhauer-speed-psychology-20190516.html

One of the many things I love about teaching psychology is that I can learn something new about the field—about our humanness—just about anywhere. I am currently reading Skeleton Keys by Brian Switek (2019), a science writer and bone geek. Exploring the origins of our bones, this book is a fascinating history. Any history that starts a few hundred million years ago—as this one does—reminds me how improbable our existence is. It is improbable that mammals exist, that primates in particular exist, that humans exist, and, lastly, that I, specifically, exist. With an incomprehensible timeline that is measured in millions of years, I can’t help but think—in the greater scheme of things—how small I am. While that millions-of-years perspective didn’t stop me from being irritated with some of my fellow drivers on my morning commute, I did think about that dinosaur who one day felt irritated with their fellow dinosaurs when travelling to wherever dinosaurs travelled. You have my empathy, dinosaur.

 

In a brilliant example of burying the lede, I’m actually writing about where the three little bones in the middle ear come from, as I just learned from Skeleton Keys. Stick with me.

 

Protomammals—a group of animals who were precursors to mammals—had jaws comprised of a number bones. Visit the Wikipedia page for Dimetrodon, a protomammal that lived almost 300 million years ago. On that Wikipedia page, scroll down to the drawings of the skull. In the lateral view, notice the quadrate bone at the back of the upper jaw and the articular bone in the back of the lower jaw. Over time—and by “time” I mean millions of years—those bones shrunk in creatures that followed Dimetrodon, but did not disappear. The quadrate evolved into the incus (anvil), and the articular evolved into the malleus (hammer). The stapes (stirrup) had a different origin, but same idea. It was a small bone on top of the hyoid bone in the neck of protomammals (Maier & Ruf, 2016).

 

Press your fingers into the skin right in front of your ear. Open and close your jaw. This is where your upper and lower jaws meet. Those tiny bones of the middle ear are right behind that joint.

 

References

 

Maier, W., & Ruf, I. (2016). Evolution of the mammalian middle ear: A historical review. Journal of Anatomy, 228(2), 270–283. https://doi.org/10.1111/joa.12379

 

Switek, B. (2019). Skeleton Keys. New York City: Riverhead Books.

“Self-consciousness [exists] in contrast with

an ‘other,’ a something which is not the self.”

——C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 1940

 

We are, always and everywhere, self-conscious of how we differ. Search your memory for a social situation in which you were the only person of your gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or body type. Perhaps you were the only woman in a group of men, or the only straight person at an LGBTQ gathering.

 

Recalling that situation . . .

  • Were you self-conscious about your identity?
  • How did others respond to you?
  • How did your perceptions of their responses affect your behavior?

 

Differences determine our “spontaneous self-concepts." If you recalled being very aware of your differences, you are not alone. As social psychologist William McGuire long ago noted, we are conscious of ourselves “insofar as, and in the ways that” we differ. When he and his co-workers invited children to “tell us about yourself,” they mostly mentioned their distinctive attributes. Redheads volunteered their hair color, foreign-born their birthplace, minority children their ethnicity. Spontaneous self-concepts often adapt to a changing group. A Black woman among White women will think of herself as Black, McGuire observed. When moving to a group of Black men, she will become more conscious of being a woman.

 

This identity-shaping phenomenon affects us all. When serving on an American Psychological Association professional task with 10 others—all women—I immediately was aware of my gender. But it was only on the second day, when I joked to the woman next to me that the bathroom break line would be short for me, that she noticed the group’s gender make-up. In my daily life, surrounded by mostly White colleagues and neighbors, I seldom am cognizant of my race—which becomes a prominent part of my identity when visiting my daughter in South Africa, where I become part of a 9 percent minority. In the U.S., by contrast, a new Pew survey finds that 74 percent of Blacks but only 15 percent of Whites see their race as “being extremely or very important to how they think of themselves.”

 

Our differences may influence how others respond to us. Researchers have also noted a related phenomenon: Our differences, though mostly salient to ourselves, may also affect how others treat us. Being the “different” or “solo” person—a Black person in an otherwise White group, a woman in a male group, or an adult in a group of children—can make a person more visible and seem more influential. Their good and bad qualities also tend to be more noticed (see here and here).

 

If we differ from others around us, it therefore makes adaptive sense for us to be a bit wary. It makes sense for a salient person—a minority race person, a gay person, or a corpulent person—to be alert and sensitive to how they are being treated by an interviewer, a police officer, or a neighbor. Although subsiding, explicit prejudices and implicit biases are real, and stereotypes of a difference can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

Sometimes our perceived differences not only influence how others treat us, but also how we, in turn, respond to them. In one classic experiment, men students conversed by phone with women they mistakenly presumed (from having been shown a fake picture) were either unattractive or attractive. The presumed attractive women (unaware of the picture manipulation) spoke more warmly to the men than did the presumed unattractive women. The researchers’ conclusion: The men’s expectations had led them to act in a way that influenced the women to fulfill the belief that beautiful women are desirable. A stereotype of a difference can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

Our acute self-consciousness of our differences can cause us to exaggerate or misinterpret others’ reactions. At times, our acute self-consciousness of our difference may have funny consequences. Consider of my favorite social psychology experiments demonstrating the influence of personal perception of differences. In the first, which showed the “spotlight effect,” Thomas Gilovich and Kenneth Savitsky asked university students to don a Barry Manilow T-shirt before entering a room with other students. Feeling self-conscious about their difference, those wearing the dorky T-shirt guessed that nearly half of their peers would notice the shirt. Actually, only 23 percent did. The lesson: Our differences—our bad hair day, our hearing loss, our dropping the cafeteria plate—often get noticed and remembered less than we imagine.

 

In another favorite experiment—one of social psychology’s most creative and poignant studies—Robert Kleck and Angelo Strenta used theatrical makeup to place an ear-to-mouth facial scar on college women—supposedly to see how others would react. After each woman checked the real-looking scar in a hand mirror, the experimenter applied “moisturizer” to “keep the makeup from cracking”—but which actually removed the scar.

 

So the scene was set: A woman, feeling terribly self-conscious about her supposedly disfigured face, talks with another woman who knows nothing of all this. Feeling acutely sensitive to how their conversational partner was looking at them, the “disfigured” women saw the partner as more tense, patronizing, and distant than did women in a control condition. Their acute self-consciousness about their presumed difference led them to misinterpret normal mannerisms and comments.

 

The bottom line: Differences define us. We are self-conscious of how we differ. To a lesser extent, others notice how we differ and categorize us according to their own beliefs, which may include stereotypes or unrealistic expectations. And sometimes, thanks to our acute sensitivity to how we differ, we overestimate others’ noticing and reacting. But we can reassure ourselves: if we’re having a bad hair day, others are unlikely to notice and even less likely to remember.

 

 

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

This one is a challenge. I’ve taught in community colleges for almost 30 years. For the first half of my career, a lot of my students were older than me, and they were pretty stressed about taking their first college class. I decided early on that I would encourage my students to call me by my first name. Some time in the last 10 years I noticed that despite encouraging students to use my first name, many were simply calling me nothing. I chalk that up to—like my more-often-than-not aching lower back—aging. Most of my students are not younger than me. And my student population has shifted to include many students who were born into different cultures all over the world. What they think it means to be respectful to elders and people in authority differs from my views which, of course, are tied to my own cultural experiences.

 

I have since moved on to giving students a choice:

  • my first name—acknowledging that some students are not comfortable with that
  • Frantz—for everyone who prefers the formality
  • Sue—for those who want to split the difference, respect with a touch of informality

 

I am happy to use any of these. When I receive an email from a student, in my response, I use whichever form of address the student used. If the student doesn’t use a form of address, I sign with the most formal option: Prof. Frantz.

Through the Facebook group of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology, Dara Friedman-Wheeler posted a link to this wonderful decision tree designed to help students sort out what to call their professors. This infographic is tied to an account owned by “A Gálvez,” but that’s all the information I have on who created it. (If anyone knows who this is, please contact me.) At the very bottom of the infographic is a note with what is likely the final line missing. A quick Internet search generated some others, but this one is both educational and respectful with just a touch of snark.

 

As for using this infographic, I’m adding it to my “how do we contact our professor” page in my course management system. Even though I am clear about how I would like to be addressed, I don’t know that all of my colleagues are as explicit. This will help students avoid awkward interactions. Not all awkward interactions. Just the ones involving proper forms of address for their professors.

It’s a core lesson of introductory psychology: Intergroup contact reduces prejudice (especially friendly, equal-status contact). As hundreds of studies show, attitudes—of White folks toward Black folks, of straight folks toward gay folks, and of natives toward immigrants—are influenced not just by what we know but also by whom we know. Prejudice lessens when straight people have gay friends or family, and native-born citizens know immigrants.

 

As I write these words from the place of my childhood—Bainbridge Island, Washington—I am moved to offer a family example of the power of social contact. First, consider a large social experiment—the World War II internment and return of Japanese Americans from (a) California, and (b) Bainbridge, a Manhattan-sized island across Puget Sound from Seattle.

 

In minimal-contact California, Japanese-Americans lived mostly in separate enclaves—meaning few Caucasians had Japanese-descent friends. When the California internment ensued, the Hearst newspapers, having long warned of “the yellow peril” celebrated, and few bid the internees goodbye. On their return, resistance and “No Japs Here” signs greeted them. Minimal contact enabled maximal prejudice.

 

Bainbridge was a contrasting high-contact condition—and was also the place where (at its ferry dock on March 30, 1942) the internment began. As an island community, all islanders intermingled as school classmates. Their strawberry farms and stores were dispersed throughout the island. The local paper (whose owners later won awards for journalistic courage) editorialized against the internment and then published internee news from the camps for their friends back home. The internees’ fellow islanders watched over their property. And when more than half the internees returned after the war, they were greeted with food and assistance. A history of cooperative contact enabled minimal prejudice.

 

I can personalize this. One of those saying a tearful goodbye on the dock that 1942 day was my father, the insurance agent and friend of many of them. After maintaining their property insurance during the internment, and then writing “the first auto policy on a Japanese American after the war,” his support was remembered decades later—with a tribute at his death by the island’s Japanese American Community president (a former internee):

 

 

My father provides a case example of the contact effect. His support did not stem from his being socially progressive. (He was a conservative Republican businessperson who chaired the Washington State Nixon for President campaign.) His opposition to the internment of his fellow islanders was simply because he knew them. He therefore believed it was colossally unjust to deem them—his friends and neighbors—a threat. As he later wrote, “We became good friends … and it was heartbreaking for us when the war started and the Japanese people on Bainbridge Island were ordered into concentration camps.”

 

This great and sad experiment on the outcomes of racial separation versus integration is being replicated in our own time. People in states with the least contact with immigrants express most hostility toward them. Meanwhile, those who know and benefit from immigrants—as co-workers, employees, businesspeople, health-care workers, students—know to appreciate them.

 

It’s a lesson worth remembering: Cordial and cooperative contact advances acceptance.

 

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

There’s bad news and good news about Americans’ race relations and attitudes.

 

The bad news:

  • People perceive race relations as worsening. In a 2019 Pew survey of 6637 Americans, 58 percent said that U.S. race relations are now “generally bad,” and 69 percent of those folks saw race relations as “getting worse.”
  • The Trump effect? In the same survey, most (65 percent) said it has become more common for people to express racist or racially insensitive views since Donald Trump’s election.
  • Hate groups are proliferating. The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified 1,020 hate groups—up 30 percent in four years. Such groups feed off dehumanizing views of other races (see here, here, and here).
  • Hate crimes are rising. Although some criticize the SPLC’s hate-group definition, their report coincides with the FBI’s reported 17 percent increase in hate crimes just in 2017. Widely publicized hate crimes, such as the burning of three Louisiana Black churches in March and April of 2019, not to mention the recent synagogue attacks, will surely sustain the perception that Trump-era race relations are worsening.

 

But there is also good news: You likely already know that since the mid-twentieth  century, support for school desegregation, equal employment opportunity, and interracial dating and marriage has soared to near-consensus—enabling a 2008 presidential election that Abraham Lincoln probably never imagined. Although most metropolitan areas remain substantially segregated, neighborhood integration has modestly increased since the century’s turn. But the even better news is that both explicit and implicit race prejudice have continued to decline.

 

This good news is reflected in Tessa Charlesworth and Mahzarin Banaji’s new report of nearly 2 million U.S. adults’ explicit and implicit racial attitudes. Since 2007, people’s explicit race attitudes—the extent to which they acknowledged preferring White to Black people—“moved toward neutrality by approximately 37 percent.” Implicit race attitudes—people’s faster speed when pairing negative words with Black faces (and positive words with White faces)—also moved toward neutrality, but with a slower 17 percent shift. (Charlesworth and Banaji also reported changed attitudes toward other social groups: Attitudes toward gay people made the swiftest progress toward neutrality, while negative implicit attitudes toward overweight people have actually increased.)

 

 

Are these hate-up, prejudice-down findings paradoxical—or even contradictory? Not necessarily. Much as extremes of income—both crushing poverty and excessive wealth—can rise even while average income is stable, so also can extremist racial attitudes increase while overall prejudice does not. Even within healthy communities, a viral disease can spread.

 

Charles Dickens, in A Tale of Two Cities, was prescient: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

 

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