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2016

I’m fortunate to have small classes (max 38), and so my students and I get to know each other very well. With in-class exams it’s been years since I’ve caught anyone cheating. Of course it’s possible that some students are cheating, and I’m just not seeing it. Without doubt some have gotten away with it. But I prefer to believe that the mutual respect that I foster over the course of an 11-week quarter reduces cheating.

 

But I also have my students sign their names at the top of their exams.

 

A fascinating set of experiments (Shu, et.al., 2012) found that when participants were given an opportunity to cheat while reporting their own results on a task or, in a naturalistic setting, reporting their car’s mileage at a used car dealership, they were less likely to overstate their numbers if they signed their names at the beginning of the reporting event rather than at the end or not at all. The proposed mechanism behind this is self-awareness. Being aware of ourselves – as a signature does – reminds us of what moral beings we are. The more moral we’re feeling, the less likely we are to cheat – or so the thinking goes.

 

Does a signature at the top of an exam reduce cheating in a classroom setting? I don’t know. I didn’t have the foresight to look at average exam scores before and after I started asking for signatures, and now I don’t even remember when I started doing it. But I do know it’s a simple enough thing to implement.

 

If you decide to add a signature line to your exams, consider testing its effectiveness. I’d love to see your results!

 

Shu, L. L., Mazar, N., Gino, F., Ariely, D., & Bazerman, M. H. (2012). Signing at the beginning makes ethics salient and decreases dishonest self-reports in comparison to signing at the end. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 109(38), 15197-15200. doi:10.1073/pnas.1209746109

Sue Frantz

Epigenetics

Posted by Sue Frantz Mar 18, 2016

The coverage of epigenetics in Intro Psych textbooks appears to be slowly on the rise. And with good reason. If you're not familiar with epigenetics, this 9-minute student-friendly video is a nice introduction

 

 

For a more scholarly introduction to epigenetics, this 2016 article from Child Development will get you up to speed.

 

In Intro Psych, your textbook may give an overview of the topic wherever it covers genetics and revisit epigenetics again during coverage of psychology disorders. Research is stacking up. Our experiences influence the turning on and off of genes that are linked to psychological disorders. For example, "Exposure to stressful or traumatic life events, especially early in life (early life stress (ELS)), is one of the strongest risk factors for a number of psychiatric disorders, ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) over depression to bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Over the past decade, an ever growing body of evidence indicates that exposure to stressful life events can lead to long lasting changes in a number of systems including the endocrine system, the immune system and brain structure and function" (Provencal & Binder, 2015).

 

If a cause of psychological disorders is related to epigenetics, the effectiveness of treatments may also reside in epigenetics. Electroconvulsive therapy, for example, may alter epigenetic tags (Jong, et.al., 2014). Psychiatric drugs may also work this way (Boks, et.al., 2012).

 

For Intro Psych, the specifics of epigenetics is probably not that important, but a broad overview and the implications of the research are certainly worth the time.

 

References

 

Boks, M. P., de Jong, N. M., Kas, M. J. H., Vinkers, C. H., Fernandes, C., Kahn, R. S., … Ophoff, R. A. (2012). Current status and future prospects for epigenetic psychopharmacology. Epigenetics, 7(1), 20–28. http://doi.org/10.4161/epi.7.1.18688

 

Jong, J. O., Arts, B., Boks, M. P., Sienaert, P., Hove, D. L., Kenis, G., . . . Rutten, B. P. (2014). Epigenetic effects of electroconvulsive seizures. The Journal of ECT, 30(2), 152-159. doi:10.1097/yct.0000000000000141 

 

Lester, B. M., Conradt, E. and Marsit, C. (2016), Introduction to the Special Section on Epigenetics. Child Development, 87: 29–37. doi: 10.1111/cdev.12489

 

Provencal, N., & Binder, E. B. (2015). The neurobiological effects of stress as contributors to psychiatric disorders: Focus on epigenetics. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 30, 31-37. doi:10.1016/j.conb.2014.08.007 

Sue Frantz

Kitty Genovese Revisited

Posted by Sue Frantz Mar 11, 2016

Earlier this week in my Intro Psych course, we were knee-deep in the social psych chapter when a student asked about Kitty Genovese. The standard story reported in most Intro Psych textbooks turns out to be not quite the whole story. While we know that the bystander effect exists and we know what factors increase the likelihood of the bystander effect occurring, there's much more to Genovese's murder than 38 uncaring people. I took a deep breath and gave some context to the tale that has become a part of our cultural consciousness.

 

To expand your own background I recommend starting with the Manning, Levine, and Collins September, 2007 American Psychologist article, The Kitty Genovese murder and the social psychology of helping: The parable of the 38 witnesses.

 

For a deeper exploration of what happened that night in 1964, check out Kevin Cook's 2014 book Kitty Genovese: The murder, the bystanders, the crime that changed America. If the social psych chapter is coming up faster than you can read, take an hour and watch his 2014 book talk at the Kansas City Public Library.

 

Contributed by Mark Gluck, author of Learning and Memory.

 

Featuring Dr. Andrew Peter Mallon, CEO and Director of Research, Calista Therapeutics, and contributed by innovative teachers.

 

Currently, my primary interest in connection with Learning and Memory is the discovery and development of new treatments that cure the diseases of learning and memory, either by protecting or regenerating damaged CNS cells, in diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, or by enhancing the capacity of the CNS to learn, in diseases like autism. Previously, I taught Learning and Memory for many years, whilst an Assistant Professor (Adj) at Brown University.

 

In my view, the best lessons that can be taught are those that fundamentally inform students about the nature of their own psychology and how it works for and against them without their awareness. My two favorite classroom exercises explore two critical aspects of learning: conditioning and learned helplessness.

 

In my classroom exercise on conditioning, I paired the ingestion of a very sweet, sugary substance (US) that elicits salivation (UR) with a distinctive sound (CS). I have used various sounds as the CS, including a dog-training clicker or saying ”test time” in my inimitable Scottish accent. The pairing can be performed during a normal lecture, and conditioning can quickly be established. Then, after the sugar is removed, the retention and extinction rate of the salivation response (CR) can be assessed in individuals. The association can be extinguished by pairing wasabi with the CS, but in the absence of intentional extinction, I have found that the CS–CR association can last weeks. For me, the real-life lesson from this observation is that it is equally possible to establish an association between a pleasant stimulus and a person: If you (CS) want to be liked by another person, you can pair your presence or your interaction with them with an agreeable US, such as a nice smile, eye contact, humor, friendliness, a compliment, or a bunch of flowers, chocolate, or other small gift. It is a reliable way to enhance one’s interactions with other people and can be remarkably effective.

 

I used the standard impossible anagram experiment to induce learned helplessness in half of my class as a rapid way of demonstrating the power of that pathological psychological effect; however, I follow it up with a discussion that helps students differentiate pathological learned helplessness from the necessary realization that in some cases failure is inevitable. Learned helplessness is widely considered to be an important element of depression, and it is critical for students to understand it and to learn techniques to halt the downward cycles into learned helplessness that can stymie the treatment of depression. It is also important to distinguish between pathological learned helplessness, in which the person submits to failure in an achievable endeavor, and the reasonable recognition that some goals truly are unachievable. In the example I cite to demonstrate learned helplessness, a male student asks a young lady to the prom, is refused, asks another and is again refused, and becomes despondent and never asks another. I contrast that with the example of jumping off tall buildings while flapping one’s arms in the hope of flying, an endeavor in which one should submit to failure. The key to truly understanding learned helplessness lies in distinguishing what is really possible from what is impossible.

Written and contributed by Mark Gluck, author of Learning and Memory.

 

Addicted to Love?

 

Thinking about the object of his desire, Sam’s heart starts to pound, his palms get sweaty, and he feels excitement and anticipation. Denied access, he becomes irritable, has trouble sleeping, and develops an overwhelming obsession that swamps all other interests.

 

Based on the above description, Sam might be a cocaine addict. Or he might just be passionately in love. Humans viewing pictures of their beloved show increased brain activity in areas including the dorsal striatum, the VTA/SNc, and the orbitofrontal cortex (Aron et al., 2005; Xu et al., 2010). These are some of the same brain areas activated by addictive drugs such as cocaine and amphetamine, and they are different from the brain areas activated by sexual arousal, indicating that romantic love is more than just a drive to obtain sex (Fisher, Aron, & Brown, 2005). Viewing pictures of a romantic partner can even produce pain relief, apparently by activating reward centers in the brain that overrule the simultaneous processing of pain (Younger, Aron, Parke, Chatterjee, & Mackey, 2010).

 

If romantic love activates the same reward circuits as cocaine, can it be just as addictive? Individuals experiencing intense romantic infatuation can display behaviors reminiscent of drug seeking: pursuit of the beloved to the exclusion of other activities, obsessive and intrusive thoughts, and even impulsiveness and poor decision making—leading, for example, to crimes of passion (Frascella, Potenza, Brown, & Childress, 2010). On the other hand, just because romantic love shares some brain circuitry with cocaine and can elicit some of the same behaviors doesn’t necessarily justify calling love an “addictive substance.” Not everything that elicits reward-seeking behavior or that provokes withdrawal symptoms qualifies for that label. (You seek out water when you’re thirsty, and you experience distress if you go too long without; yet would you consider yourself “addicted” to water?) Many experts believe that the depression and grief that accompany a breakup are a normal part of life— not evidence of an addictive disorder.

 

Nonetheless, some individuals do display excessive devotion to their beloved and experience severe withdrawal symptoms after romantic rejection, including clinical depression and (in rare cases) suicide or homicide. It is possible that, just as some individuals can try cocaine and walk away while others become pathologically addicted, so too some individuals can survive a painful breakup while others remain trapped in a state of loss. Debate continues regarding whether such individuals should be diagnosed with a pathological addiction (Reynaud, Karila, Blecha, & Benyamina, 2010).

 

As research elucidates the brain substrates of drug addiction and suggests therapies (including medication) to reduce the cravings associated with drug withdrawal, should we consider using the same medications to help reduce cravings following romantic rejection? If you’ve ever had your heart broken by a failed romance, would you have taken advantage of such a treatment if it existed?

Written and contributed by Mark Gluck, author of Learning and Memory.

 

It has long been assumed that sleep, beyond its role in rest and refreshment, also has a facilitating effect on learning and memory. After all, who doesn’t recognize the experience of working fruitlessly on a problem to the point of exhaustion, and then coming up with a sudden solution following a night of sleep? It is only over the last two decades that the effect of sleep on cognition has been studied in depth by the scientific community. This research has led to a growing understanding of how sleep affects learning and memory.

 

A typical night of sleep includes cycles of alternating sleep stages, each characterized by a different profile of brain activity. In one of these stages, rapid-eye-movement (REM), or paradoxical, sleep,  the brain seems as active as when awake. This is the stage in which most dreams appear. Another stage, slow-wave sleep (SWS), or deep sleep, is characterized by highly synchronized brain-neuron activity and is the stage in which it is most difficult to wake the sleeper up.

 

Recent research has combined sophisticated experimental designs, neuroimaging, and single-cell recordings to discover the relative impacts of the different sleep stages on various cognitive functions. It shows that SWS is mostly important for the consolidation of declarative memory, as well as for rule learning, spatial navigation, and insight. REM sleep, on the other hand, exerts its greatest effect on procedural memory. Some of the mechanisms by which sleep contributes to these functions are also becoming clear. During SWS, the hippocampus, a brain region involved in episodic and associative learning, ”replays” some of the waking experiences acquired during the previous day. The replay allows the new memories to be reorganized into a more efficient structure and also contributes to their assimilation into the general knowledge store of the individual. This reorganization is reflected as better performance the following day.

 

Many questions are still unanswered. For example, the mechanism by which REM sleep facilitates learning and memory remains somewhat less characterized in comparison to that of SWS. However, the rapid advancements in this field hold out promise that the years to come will bring a fuller account of why the third of our lives we spend sleeping, a seemingly wasteful behavior from a learning–memory perspective,  is in fact not wasted at all.

 

 

FURTHER READING

Stickgold, R., & Walker, M. P. (2005). Memory consolidation and reconsolidation: What is the role of sleep? Trends in Neuroscience, 28, 408–415.

 

Diekelmann, S., & Born, J. (2010). The memory function of sleep. Nature Review Neuroscience, 11, 114–126.

Yesterday author Albert Bandura joined Michael Krasny of The Forum to discuss his latest book, Moral Disengagement: How People Do Harm and Live With Themselves.  In the interview, Dr. Bandura takes a look at how people rationalize committing inhumanities and why some people seem to lack moral accountability.

 

3.3.16 Al KQED.jpegIn his theory, Dr. Bandura identifies eight methods that people use to disengage morally and still feel good about themselves.  The first, and in Dr. Bandura’s opinion likely the most powerful, is moral justification – using worthwhile ends to justify inhumane means.  As an example, Dr. Bandura points to recent atrocities committed by ISIS in the name of Allah where religious ideology “justifies” the means.

 

But what about people who refuse to cross over the line and do not commit such acts?  Those people show moral courage; they have a sense of common humanity and also have empathy and compassion for the plight of others.  In his book, Dr. Bandura also emphasizes the power of humanization and highlights a story from WWI during which the Allied and German forces were in the trenches about to launch a campaign on Christmas Eve.  The soldiers decided to come together in a one-day truce. Exchanging rations and pictures of their families and children, the soldiers humanized themselves.  When the truce was over, they had a sense that their enemies were good people and were presented with a choice -- they chose to shoot over the trenches.

 

To hear more about Dr. Bandura’s theory, stream or download the full interview:

http://www.kqed.org/a/forum/R201603031000

 

Learn more about Dr. Bandura's text, Moral Disengagement: How People Do Harm and Live With Themselves:

http://www.macmillanhighered.com/Catalog/product/moraldisengagement-firstedition-bandura

Next week I’ll cover the social psych chapter in Intro Psych. I’ve been thinking of some quick and easy ways to get students to do some deeper thinking around the social psych concepts covered in the textbook.

 

In all cases, I’ll use think/pair/share – ask students to take a minute to think and jot down a response, take a minute to share their response with a neighbor, and then ask for a few volunteers to share their responses with the class. If you use a classroom response system, like Socrative, ask volunteers to type in their responses. Do these as you go or at the end of class as a recap.

 

You see a person trip and fall down steps. If you have fallen prey to the fundamental attribution error, what would you say caused the person to trip?”

 

“You want to borrow $20 from a friend. If you were to use the foot-in-the-door technique, what would you ask your friend first?

 

“You want to borrow $20 from a different friend. If you were to use the door-in-the-face technique, what would you ask your friend first?

 

“You are working on a group project. The group leader is fostering groupthink. What is the group leader saying?”

 

“You are the leader for a group project. You want to avoid groupthink. What are you saying?”

 

“You are at a local sporting event. The fans of the local team are exhibiting ingroup bias. What are they doing or saying?”

 

“You are standing on a street corner with dozens of other people as you watch two cars crash into each other. You notice that you and your fellow witnesses are in the midst of experiencing the bystander effect. What are you thinking in that moment that keeps you from helping?”

 

“You are in a car accident. A crowd has gathering on the sidewalk, but the bystander effect has them frozen. What can you do or say to increase the likelihood of someone helping?”