Skip navigation
All Places > The Psychology Community > Blog > 2016 > August

It’s easy to see where our perception of how much danger a child is in would influence how much moral outrage we feel toward the child’s parent. But check this out; it works the other way, too. The moral outrage we feel toward a parent influences how much danger we believe the child is in (Thomas, Stanford, & Sarnecka, 2016; see Lombrozo, 2016 for an interview with the researchers).


Give half of your students scenario A and the other half scenario B. You can print these and distribute each to half of your class, or you can ask each half of the class to close their eyes while you display each scenario on the classroom screen, or you can make the scenarios available to each half of your class through your learning management system.


Scenario A


“Sandy A. (26) is a safety inspector and the mother of 10-month-old baby Olivia. On Tuesday evenings, Sandy takes Olivia to a "Mommy and Me" exercise class at a gym. One evening in early fall, Sandy and Olivia finish class and return to their car, which is parked in the gym's cool underground parking garage. Sandy buckles Olivia into her car seat (where Olivia immediately falls asleep), locks the car, and walks a few steps to the parking machine to pay for their parking. On her way back, Sandy is hit by a car and knocked unconscious. The driver immediately calls an ambulance, which takes Sandy to the hospital. No one realizes that Sandy had a child with her, or that Olivia is asleep in the back of the car. Olivia is in the car, asleep, for about 45 minutes until Sandy regains consciousness and alerts hospital staff” (Thomas,, 2016).


Scenario B


“Sandy A. (26) is a safety inspector and the mother of 10-month-old Baby Olivia. On Tuesday evenings, Sandy goes to meet her best friend's husband (with whom she is having a secret affair) in his private office at the gym where he's the manager. At these times, she leaves Olivia with her mom (Olivia's grandma). One evening in early fall, Olivia's grandma is out of town. So Sandy drives to the gym and parks in the gym's cool underground parking garage. Olivia, who is buckled into her carseat, falls asleep as soon as the car stops moving. Sandy locks the car and goes into the gym. Olivia is in the car, asleep, for about 45 minutes until Sandy returns” (Thomas,, 2016).


After students have read their assigned scenario, ask students “to estimate (on a scale of 1 to 10) how much danger the child was in during the parent’s absence” (Thomas,, 2016). Collect the responses (on paper, or through an in-class student response system, or through your learning management system) and calculate means.


Note that in both cases the child’s experience is the same. The only difference is why the child was left alone.

In the Thomas, study, participants rated the danger to Olivia very differently depending on whether her aloneness was due to the mother’s unintentional absence (mean of 5.47) or due to the mother’s having an affair (mean of 8.28).


The authors posit that the moral outrage toward the parent, in this example the mother, comes first, and then to justify the moral outrage, we imagine the child to be in grave danger. Just a generation ago, it was the norm to leave children unsupervised. Now, parents are condemned – and sometimes arrested – for doing so. The authors “suggest that much of the recent hysteria concerning danger to unsupervised children is the product of this feedback loop, in which inflated estimates of risk lead to a new moral norm against leaving children alone, and then the need to justify moral condemnation of parents who violate this norm leads in turn to even more inflated estimates of risk, generating even stronger moral condemnation of parents who violate the norm, and so on” (Thomas,, 2016).


If you decide to cover this topic when you talk about parenting, introduce students to the availability heuristic – making judgments based on how available information is in memory. We hear about every child abduction or attempted abduction by a stranger in our city or region, so we anticipate the risk to be much greater than it actually is.


Ask students, “What percentage of children disappear, including those who are killed, at the hands of a stranger annually?” The answer: 0.00007% -- that’s one in 1.4 million (Gardner, 2009).


Small group or short writing assignment questions:


  1. What were the independent and dependent variables in this experiment?
  2. What results would you expect if the mother went to work, engaged in a volunteer activity, or did a relaxing activity instead? (Intentionally leaving the child alone was perceived as more dangerous than unintentionally leaving the child alone, and the more voluntary the behavior became, the greater the perceived risk to the child.)
  3. What if the parent were the father instead of the mother? (The same pattern, for the most part, appeared when the parent depicted was a father. Although, the risk to the child was seen as less likely when the father went to work than when the mother went to work. Is work seen as less voluntary for fathers?)
  4. Is this moral outrage inherently classist? In other words, are parents living in poverty or working class parents more likely to leave children alone out of need than middle class parents or wealthy parents?
  5. Are there benefits to children who spend some of their time unsupervised? (Increased problem-solving skills? Increased social skills developed through play with other unsupervised children?)
  6. At what age and under what circumstances should children be permitted to be unsupervised? Explain your reasoning.
  7. Have cellphones become surrogate supervisors? (Parents can call at any time. Parents can GPS track their children.)




Gardner, D. (2009). The science of fear: How the culture of fear manipulates your brain. New York, NY: Plume. as cited in Thomas, A.J., Stanford, P.K. & Sarnecka, B.W., (2016). No child left alone: Moral judgments about parents affect estimates of risk to children. Collabra, 2(1). DOI:


Lombrozo, T. (2016, August 22). Why do we judge parents for putting kids at perceived - but unreal - risk? Retrieved from


Thomas, A.J., Stanford, P.K. & Sarnecka, B.W., (2016). No child left alone: Moral judgments about parents affect estimates of risk to children. Collabra, 2(1). DOI:

What makes synesthesia such a powerful lecture topic in the Intro Psych sensation and perception chapter is that it’s a beautiful illustration of how our experience is merely a representation, and just one representation, of the world around us.

The neuroscientist David Eagleman provides a nice introduction to synesthesia in this two and a half minute video.



Years ago in class, after I concluded my lecture on synesthesia, a young woman in the back of the room raised her hand. She said she didn’t know her experience of the world was different from everyone else’s until a friend of hers took my class a year earlier. She said a group of them were standing around when he started talking about this cool thing called synesthesia that he learned about that day in his Intro Psych course. He explained that the most common form is seeing sounds where sounds produce color, like a filter has been applied to vision. My current student said to her friends, “Doesn’t everybody experience that?” They all stopped and looked at her. At the age of 18, she learned that she was a synesthete.


I made the same error once in class. After talking about synesthesia, I said it’s like when you’re drifting off to sleep and a sudden noise causes a black and white pattern to flash in your vision – sound produces a visual sensation. My students looked at me blankly. Apparently I was the only one with such an experience. My visual experience used to happen pretty regularly, probably a few times a week, but now it’s a rare occurrence, probably once every few months. In any case, I learned that it’s non-existent in many, at least amongst my students that term.


I suppose this assumption is a kind of extension of the false consensus effect. We not only assume that others share our beliefs and attitudes, but that others share our sensory experiences.


There is research evidence that suggests we are all born synesthetes (see for example Wagner and Dobkins, 2011), and as we mature through infancy and childhood our senses begin to specialize, much like how infants can produce sounds used in all languages only to become specialists in their native language or languages as they develop.  


Exploring vision in non-human animals helps students appreciate that their own sensory experiences may be very different from others.


For example, dogs have two kinds of cones in their retinas; they detect yellow and blue. That may make them roughly equivalent to humans who have red-green color blindness (Wolchover, 2012).


And birds? They have four kinds of cones, the fourth allows them to see ultraviolet light. It’s been posited that the ability to see UV light allows some songbirds to better see each other as their plumage glows with UV light and that raptors can better track prey that leave a urine trail that also glows with UV light. There’s reason to believe that the jury is still out on both of those hypotheses (see for example, Lind,, 2013). Both are given though in this rapid-fire 4-minute SciShow on what birds see.



And what about infrared light? While the human eye can’t see it, our digital cameras can. Turn on your cellphone camera and direct it at the end of your TV remote, the end you point toward your TV. Press and hold the "on" button on your remote. You’ll see the light through your phone’s camera even though your naked eye can't see it. This is also the easiest way to determine whether you need to change the batteries in your remote or whether it's just your dog standing in front of the TV’s receiver.


For a short in-class next-day assignment – or same-day assignment, if your students have in-class internet access – or for an online discussion board assignment, invite students to research other individual differences in human sensation or differences in sensory experiences between humans and other animals. In class, students can share in small groups, and then invite volunteers to share the most interesting things they found. Ask students to identify the site where they found the information and why they believe the site is a reputable source.




Lind, O., Mitkus, M., Olsson, P., & Kelber, A. (2013). Ultraviolet sensitivity and colour vision in raptor foraging. Journal of Experimental Biology, 216(19), 3764-3764. doi:10.1242/jeb.096123


Wagner, K., & Dobkins, K. R. (2011). Synaesthetic associations decrease during infancy. Psychological Science, 22(8), 1067-1072. doi:10.1177/0956797611416250


Wolchover, N. (2012, June 26). How do dogs see the world? Retrieved from

Sue Frantz

Are you a super-recognizer?

Posted by Sue Frantz Aug 19, 2016

Prosopagnosia – face blindness – used to be thought a rare condition caused only by head trauma. We now know that is not that rare – 2% in the U.S., perhaps (Radden Keefe, 2016) – and that the cause can also be genetic. It also used to be thought that you were either normal or had prosopagnosia. We now know that facial recognition falls on a spectrum. If there is an end of the spectrum where faces are not recognized, it stands to reason that there is another end of the spectrum where faces are easily recognized. And there is research to back up that reasoning. They are called super-recognizers.


For your students who are 18+, invite them to take the Cambridge Face Memory Test.  “The average score on this test is around 80% correct responses for adult participants.” The page gives 60% as the cut-off for potential face blindness. I came in at 68%. I should add that this test uses only Caucasian males.  Those of you familiar with the other-race effect may wonder about that. And you are right to wonder. They created a Chinese version and compared performance of participants of European descent and participants of Asian descent on both the Chinese version and the European version. As predicted by the other-race effect, participants of Asian descent did well on the Chinese version (average of 85% correct) but less well on the European version (average of 73% correct). Participants of European descent did well on the European version (76%), but less well on the Chinese version (average of 66%) (McKone,, 2012).


Developmental psychologists may be wondering how kids perform. A separate study with five- to twelve-year-olds found that kids develop better facial memory as they age. For example, five-year-olds got 66% correct, 8-year-olds got 76% correct, and 12-year-olds got 85% correct (Croydon,, 2014). 


While we’re in the middle of this topic, I might as well throw in how good crows are at recognizing human faces (see this article for more information). Don’t ever tick off a crow.


What about those super-recognizers, though? How do they perform? Russell, Duchaine, and Nakayama (2009) found four people who were likely candidates for super-recognizer status. They tested them using the Cambridge Face Memory Test. Three of them earned perfect scores; one person missed one.


And what are super-recognizers looking at when they look at a face? The eyes? Nope. The nose. It’s unlikely that that’s because the nose has some sort of special significance. It’s more likely that it’s because the nose is in the center of the face, allowing the super-recognizer to take in the whole face (Bobak & Bate, 2016).


The forensically-minded may be wondering if the power of super-recognizers could be harnessed to fight crime. Yes, yes it can. New Scotland Yard created the Super-Recogniser Unit comprised of seven (as of August, 2016) police officers who are, well, super-recognizers. What do they do? Most commonly they look at closed circuit television (CCTV) video of crime suspects, and they look at photos of people who have been arrested. They are looking for a match. “It is not uncommon for a super-recognizer, out on the town with friends, to bolt off after spotting someone with an outstanding warrant.” One officer, James Rabbett, “since joining the team full time, six months ago… has made nearly six hundred identifications.” Yeah, but can’t computer recognition software do the same thing? Following riots in London, computers pegged one rioter. How did a super-recognizer do? He identified 190. Are they sometimes wrong? Yep. About 13% of the time. Their identifications alone are not enough to convict, though. Instead their identifications “help direct the investigation” (Radden Keefe, 2016).


After sharing this information with students, ask students where else the power of super-recognizers could be put to good use. If students need a hint, point out that looking at ID and looking then looking at someone’s face requires some facial recognition power.


Shout out to Ruth Frickle (Highline College) for posting the Radden Keefe New Yorker article to the STP Facebook page, an act that sent me down this research rabbit hole.




Bobak, A. K., & Bate, S. (2016, February 2). Superior face recognition: A very special super power. Retrieved from


Croydon, A., Pimperton, H., Ewing, L., Duchaine, B. C., & Pellicano, E. (2014). The Cambridge Face Memory Test for Children (CFMT-C): A new tool for measuring face recognition skills in childhood. Neuropsychologia, 62, 60-67. doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2014.07.008


McKone, E., Stokes, S., Liu, J., Cohan, S., Fiorentini, C., Pidcock, M., . . . Pelleg, M. (2012). A robust method of measuring other-race and other-ethnicity effects: The Cambridge Face Memory Test format. PLoS ONE, 7(10). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0047956


Radden Keefe, P. (2016, August 15). The detectives who never forget a face. Retrieved from


Russell, R., Duchaine, B., & Nakayama, K. (2009). Super-recognizers: People with extraordinary face recognition ability. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 16(2), 252-257. doi:10.3758/pbr.16.2.252

Did you ever wish you had access to a searchable database of twin correlations and trait heritability statistics? If not, once you see this, you will wonder why you hadn’t been looking for this kind of resource. Shout out to David Myers (Hope College) for pointing me toward MaTCH.


Let’s take height as an example. From the first drop-down menu, select “ICF/ICD10 Subch” and then from the second drop-down menu, select “Height (297). The number in parentheses refers to the number of studies included in the displayed data.

This is the first chart that is generated.

Bar chart of correlations for height for monozygotic and dizygotic twins


If one identical (mz = monozygotic) twin is tall, there is a very good chance the other will be as well. If one is short, there is a very good chance the other will be as well. The correlation between being a twin and height is .91. The chart also gives correlations for just male identical twins (mzm = monozygotic male) and female identical twins (mzf = monozygotic female). If one fraternal (dz = dizygotic) twin is tall, there is a smaller chance the other will be as well – correlation of .54. Correlations are also given for all same-sex fraternal twins (dzss), just male fraternal twins (dzm), just female fraternal twins (dzf), and all other-sex fraternal twins (dos).


Below the chart is this table.

Table of estimated correlations, standard error, number of studies included, and number of twin pairs included for height for monozygotic and dizygotic twins


“Est.” is the estimated correlation based on the data from all of the studies included in the dataset. These are the correlations reported in the bar chart. “SE” is the standard error – the smaller the number, the more confident we are that the data reflect what’s true in the population. “Ntraits” are the number of studies in the dataset. “Npairs” are how many pairs of twins were included.


While the correlations are interesting – and can certainly provide you with some interesting correlations when covering research methods – the real interesting stuff in this website comes from the last chart.


This is where we get the “Reported ACE” – the heritability data. ACE is a model used among heritability researchers. A is additive genetics (the contribution of genes), C is common environment (the contribution of experiencing a shared environment), and E is [unique] environment (the contribution of our own, individual experiences).


Before we get into the data, let’s a do a quick refresher of what heritability – and the ACE model – is. Within a population, people vary, say, in height. In the United States, the average height for adult females is about 5’ 4” (Onion, 2016). Some women are taller than that average, while others are shorter. It’s that difference between the shortest and the tallest – the variance – that ACE addresses.


Let’s look at the “Reported ACE” chart for height.

Bar chart of Reported ACE (additive genetics, common environment, and unique environmnet) for height for monozygotic and dizygotic twins


Picture this. Let’s say that we got all of the women in the United States together in one space. We measured each of their heights. A few would be less than 3 feet tall and a few would be more than 8 feet tall. Most would probably fall between 4’ 6” and 6’ 3 inches. The ACE model addresses where those differences in height come from. We are all going to be of some height just by virtue of being born. But what explains the differences in height among us? This article provides a nice explanation of heritability (Adam, 2012).


“h2_all” is the heritability estimate for everybody based on the twin data. This means that 63% of the difference (the variability) in the height among all of us is due to genetics. “c2_all” is the estimate of the role played by a shared, common environment. This means that 30% of the difference in the height among all of us is due to a shared environment. Those two variables, genetics and common environment, together account for 93% (63% plus 30%) of the differences in our heights. The remaining 7%? That’s due to our unique environmental experiences.


Please note that this says nothing about our own individual height. As a 5’ 4” female from the United States, this does NOT mean that 63% of my height is due to genetics. These numbers are only meaningful in explaining the differences in our heights across a population.


To emphasize how population-driven heritability estimates are, on MaTCH’s left navigation menu, click on “Country.” Here you will see the data for height (if you were looking at the height variable) broken down by country. The ‘r’s are the correlations. Scroll to the right to see the heritability and common environment numbers. Canada, for example, shows 34% heritability for height and 60% for common environment, leaving 6% for unique environment. These numbers are very different from, say, the data for the United States. The U.S. shows 85% for heritability and 8% for common environment, leaving 7% for unique environment. Why might this be? Maybe Canadians are more genetically alike than are people in the U.S., thus differences amongst Canadians in their height must be more due to environment. Or maybe there just isn’t enough Canadian data. In the second column of that table, we see that three studies were used to calculate the Canadian estimates whereas 29 studies were used to calculate the U.S. data.


There is much data here to explore. Before you dive too deeply into this website, watch this 15-minute tutorial video.


If you want to tackle this with your Intro Psych students, perhaps wherever you cover genetics, send your students to the MaTCH website to choose a psychologically relevant trait. Give your students a template like this to complete.


The correlation for identical twins (mzall) on ______________ (enter trait name) is ________ (first line in the blue chart).


The correlation for fraternal twins (dzall) on ______________ (enter trait name) is ________ (fourth line in the blue chart).


The differences in  ______________ (enter trait name) within a population are _____% (h2_all) due to genetics, _____% (c2_all) due to a shared environment, and _____% (100 minus h2_all minus c2_all) due to a unique environment.  


If students can’t find the trait they are interested in from the drop-down menu, they can click on “Find my Trait” in the top navigation bar. Searching on “intelligence” for example, tells us that that trait is lumped under “Higher-Level Cognitive Functions”.



Adam, G. (2012, September 6). What is heritability? Retrieved from Science 2.0: Join the Revolution:  

Onion, A. (2016, July 3). Why have Americans stopped growing taller? Retrieved from ABC News: 

When people act friendly toward us, we tend to act friendly in return. When people act hostile toward us, we tend to act hostile in return. This is called complementarity (or complementary behavior). But what happens when we engage in noncomplementarity (or noncomplementary behavior); what happens when we don’t match the tone coming at us?


Play the 8-minute video below for your students. The first couple minutes set the scene. Eight friends are sitting outside on a summer evening. They’re chatting, drinking wine, and eating cheese. And then a man with a gun appears. He demands money, and if he doesn’t get it, he’ll start shooting. But there’s a problem. No one has any money. Pause the video at the two-minute mark. Ask students to discuss with the students around them what they would do. Invite volunteers to share their responses.


Pause the video again at the 2:40 mark. Did the friends try any of your students’ solutions? At this point in the video, we’re about to learn what one guest tried. Do your students have any guesses as to what her solution was?

Continue the video, and then at the 5:10 mark pause the video again. Give students a minute to think about what they just heard. Allow students a couple minutes to share their reactions with the students around them, then ask a couple volunteers to share their reactions.


Finish playing the video.



Ask students if they have an example where they experienced or witnessed noncomplementary behavior. Give students a minute to think of an example, then give students a couple minutes to share their examples in pairs or small groups. Finally, ask for a couple volunteers to share their examples. Be sure to identify what the initial tone was and how the response didn’t match.


Conclude this activity by explaining how noncomplementary behavior is not limited to individuals. In Aarhus, Denmark, the police learned that some of their youth were disappearing; they left to join the terrorist group ISIS in Syria. Parents were panicked. While other countries were taking very strong approaches to such behavior, such as rescinding passports and shutting down mosques, the city of Aarhus took a very different approach. Thorleif Link and Allan Aarslev, Aarhus crime prevention officers, figured that treating these young people harshly would only make matters worse. Instead “[t]hey made it clear to citizens of Denmark who had traveled to Syria that they were welcome to come home, and that when they did, they would receive help with going back to school, finding an apartment, meeting with a psychiatrist or a mentor, or whatever they needed to fully integrate back into society.” Has their approach worked? “Starting in 2012, 34 people went from Aarhus to Syria. As far as the police know, six were killed and 10 are still over there. Of the 18 who came back home, all showed up in Aarslev and Link's office, as did hundreds of other potential radicals in Aarhus — about 330 in total.” The psychological scientist Arie Kruglanski believes that Aarhus is the first to “to grapple with [extremism] based on sound social psychology evidence and principles” (Rosin, 2016). 


Leave students with this rhetorical question: what would happen if more people who led with hostility were met with kindness?


Rosin, H. (2016, July 15). How a Danish town helped young Muslims turn away from ISIS. Retrieved from Shots: Health News from NPR: