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After covering the Big Five personality traits, ask students to get into small groups and pose these questions.

  1. Thinking about your ideal instructor, rank order the Big Five traits according to the instructor’s traits that are most important to you.
  2. For each of those traits, what behavior would you expect to see from that instructor?

Once discussion dies down, start with one of the Big Five traits, say extraversion, and ask volunteers to report where they scored their ideal instructor on that trait, why they chose that score, and what behavior did they expect to see from an instructor with that trait score.


After you have gone through all of the traits, share with students a few peer-reviewed studies.


A study reported in Inside Higher Ed (Elmes, 2017) using a British sample found that students rank ordered the traits they like to see in an instructor this way: conscientiousness, agreeableness, extroversion, openness, and neuroticism.

Chamorro-Premuzic, (2008) found students had a preference for instructors who were low in neuroticism and high in conscientiousness. Interestingly, students preferred instructors who matched themselves on openness and conscientiousness. High openness-scoring students preferred high openness-scoring instructors, for example.


A 2005 study, also by Adrian Furnham and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic found that “students tended to prefer conscientious, open, and stable lecturers, though correlations revealed that these preferences were largely a function of students' own [emphasis in original] personality traits.” Again, this was true for openness, but this time instead of conscientiousness, it was agreeableness. Students preferred an instructor who scored similarly to them on agreeableness.


Do student perceptions of instructor personality affect student evaluations of teaching? Yep. When students perceived their instructor as high on conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness, and extraversion, students rated the course and the instructor’s ability to teach as high. When students perceived their instructor as high on neuroticism, students rated the course and the instructor’s ability to teach as low. What about student personality traits? Students high in agreeableness were more likely to rate their instructor’s ability to teach as high (Patrick, 2011). No surprise; they’re agreeable!


While students may have preferences for instructor personality, is there any evidence that instructor personality affects student performance in the course? I haven’t found any, but if someone knows of some, please let me know.


To conclude your class discussion, ask students which of the Big Five traits is most strongly correlated with both high school and college GPA. The answer? Conscientiousness (Noftle and Robins, 2007).




Chamorro-Premuzic, T., Furnham, A., Christopher, A. N., Garwood, J., & Martin, G. N. (2008). Birds of a feather: Students’ preferences for lecturers’ personalities as predicted by their own personality and learning approaches. Personality and Individual Differences, 44(4), 965-976. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2007.10.032


Elmes, J. (2017, May 18). Who wants a neurotic professor? Retrieved from


Furnham, A., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2005). Individual differences in students' preferences for lecturers' personalities. Journal of Individual Differences, 26(4), 176-184. doi:10.1027/1614-0001.26.4.176


Noftle, E. E., & Robins, R. W. (n.d.). Personality predictors of academic outcomes: Big Five correlates of GPA and SAT scores. PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e514412014-495


Patrick, C. L. (2011). Student evaluations of teaching: Effects of the Big Five personality traits, grades and the validity hypothesis. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 36(2), 239-249. doi:10.1080/02602930903308258

National Geographic gives you 8 different scenarios in which you have (hypothetically) lied. Choose the most likely reason you lied. As a research methods booster have students discuss the validity of this measure – a measure that has not been used in formal research to the best of my knowledge.


The basis for this quiz was recent research on lying. Communication Studies professor Timothy Levine and colleagues (2016) asked participants from five countries to recall a recent occasion when the participants had lied and then write about what took place. Trained coders read the accounts and categorized the motivation for lying. Levine, found that the most common reason was lying to gain something (45%) – to reap financial benefits (16%), to reap non-financial benefits (15%), to make a good impression (8%), to be humorous (5%). Another 36% lied for self-protection; 22% did so because of a personal transgression and another 14% did so to dodge people they didn’t want to interact with. The least common type of lying (11%) was designed to affect others in some way – to help them (5%), to hurt them (4%), to be polite (2%). Some lying appeared to be “without apparent motive or purpose, lies out of obvious delusion, or lying with blatant disregard for reality and detection consequences” (2%). The remaining 7% of participants didn’t give enough information to code the motive (5%) or the motive didn’t fit one of these categories (2%).  


After covering operant conditioning, have students work in pairs or small group to identify if the teller of each of these kind of lies has been positively reinforced, negatively reinforced, positively punished, or negatively punished. Ask students to assume that the person has told this kind of lie before; perhaps this person has told this kind of lie many times before.


Lied to cover up a personal transgression, e.g. lied to keep an affair from becoming public

Lied to avoid someone, e.g., lied to get off the phone with someone you don’t want to talk to

Lied for financial gain, e.g., lied on a tax return to get a bigger tax refund

Lied for non-monetary benefits, e.g., lied to get people to vote for you

Lied to make a good impression, e.g., lied on an online dating profile so people will view you as very attractive

Lied to be polite, e.g., lied about liking someone’s shirt to avoid making the person feel bad


After students have completed their discussion and if you use an audience response system, ask students to click in to vote for the type of operant conditioning associated with each kind of lie. Walk students through thinking about each type of lie to identify its type of reinforcement.


This short activity will help students see that our behavior is often reinforced in unintended ways.




Levine, T. R., Ali, M. V., Dean, M., Abdulla, R. A., & Garcia-Ruano, K. (2016). Toward a Pan-cultural Typology of Deception Motives. Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 45(1), 1–12.

As I draft this on Mother’s Day I think of my mother, who blessed me with nurturing and many other gifts, including, alas, the gift of her hearing loss . . . which she, in turn, had received from her mother. I began my memoir, A Quiet World: Living with Hearing Loss, with this recollection:

On one of those treasured visits to my parents' home on Bainbridge Island, Washington, I use a magic pad to communicate with my eighty-year-old mother, who four years previously took the final step from hearing-impaired to deaf as she gave up wearing her by then useless hearing aids.

“Do you hear anything?” I write.

“No,” she answers, her voice still strong although she cannot hear it. “Last night your Dad came in and found the T.V. blasting. Someone had left the volume way up; I didn't hear a thing.” (Indeed, my father later explained that he recently tested her hearing by sneaking up while she was reading and giving a loud clap just behind her ear. Her eye never wavered from the page.)

What is it like, I wonder. “A silent world?”

“Yes,” she replies, “it's a silent world.”

As with Mother, so, I expect, with me. I have known for many years that I am on a trajectory toward the same deafness. When tested as a teenager, my hearing pattern mimicked Mother's—an unusual “reverse slope” pattern of good hearing for high-pitched sounds and poorer hearing for low-pitched sounds (making soft male voices harder to discern than higher female voices). From upstairs, I can hear the high-pitched microwave oven timer, though my wife, Carol, snuggled beside me in bed, cannot. But I cannot recall ever hearing an owl hoot. Carol touches my leg at each hoot: “There, can you hear it?” I hear nothing.


A quarter century and more later, I continue on that trajectory, unable now (with my hearing aids out) even to hear my wife’s voice from the adjacent pillow, unless she speaks directly into my ear. In daily life I mostly cope well enough, thanks to powerful digital hearing technologies that my mother never knew. Even so, I struggle to hear amid noise—at a party, in a restaurant—or when a questioner is across a room. Like all who suffer this invisible disability, I strain to hear. I move closer. Or, with a smile and a nod, I fake hearing.


On the brighter side, the hearing loss plague has also given me an added life purpose—supporting people with hearing loss by advocating for a “hearing loop” transformation in how America provides listening assistance in public places (through this website, through three dozen articles such as this one, and via nearly 20,000 e-mails). And this advocacy led me to four years representing people with hearing loss on the advisory council of NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.


There I was privileged to meet and hear from some world class hearing researchers, including the University of Iowa physician-geneticist Richard Smith, who is amassing data on the genes of many thousands of people with hearing loss. When I showed him my audiogram—my profile of hearing loss at various frequencies—he guessed that I carry a mutation on the WSF1 gene, and offered to confirm that.


So I sent in my spit tubes, and last week Smith confirmed: “You have DFNA6/14 hearing loss caused by a mutation in WFS1.”


In psychological science, we teach our students that complex traits, such as intelligence or personality, are the product of “many genes having small effects.” So this is my reminder that some important traits and medical conditions are predisposed by single genes (which my siblings and I each had a 50% chance of inheriting—with my older brother and I, among the four of us, drawing the unlucky cards).


If so, I asked: Is there not some hope that gene editing, such as with the new CRISPR technique, could prevent future hearing loss in children or young adults who carry the gene?  Yes, Smith tells me—this is, indeed, his lab’s exciting aim. Moreover, they plan to conduct the experiment by attempting the gene therapy on but one ear of each volunteer, thus enabling the other ear to serve as what we psychologists call a “within subjects control condition.”


In the meantime, I’m content to be the person Dr. Seuss described in You're Only Old Once!

           You'll be told that your hearing's so murky and muddy,

           your case calls for special intensified study.

They'll test you with noises from far and from near

and you'll get a black mark for the ones you can't hear.

Then they'll say, "My dear fellow, you're deafer than most.

But there's hope, since you're not quite as deaf as a post."

One of my favorite sources for examples of psychological concepts are comic strips. Some of them get worked into lectures, others show up on exams, and sometimes I’ll offer them for a couple points extra credit, especially for new comics that harken back to content covered earlier in the course.


Here are some May 14, 2017 comic strips that may be worth adding to your stable of examples.


The Betty comic strip gives us a wonderful example of change blindness. Junior, Betty’s son, is dinking around on his phone while explaining his generation’s amazing ability to multitask. During his explanation, Betty calls in her husband to take her place. When Junior’s attention is returned to his parent, he sees his dad and is completely unaware that he had replaced his mom.


In Frank and Ernest Frank has a young person working out on his farm. The young person, upon hearing “crop,” thinks cropping photos instead of crops that are planted. For someone who spends a lot of time in the digital world instead of a farming world, that person would be primed to interpret “crop” as photo manipulation.


Frazz gives us commentary on the positive reinforcement provided by smartphones. Pick up your smartphone to get a jolt of pleasure in some form – text messages, phone calls, games, social media updates. Caulfield, the boy in the strip, says that his dad “calls them dopamine pumps.” (If you want to dive deeper into smartphone use, I wrote a post on stress and smartphones a few months ago.)


Bonus comic strip. My favorite classical conditioning comic strip comes from Lio (November 14, 2009). A monster replaces Pavlov’s dogs, “Monsta Treats” replace meat powder, and the sound of a ripping bag replaces the tone.


Do you have any favorite comic strips that illustrate psychological concepts?


“Egocentricism,” as every psychology student has read, was Jean Piaget’s description of preschoolers’ inability to take another person’s perspective. The child standing between you and the TV just can’t see your perspective.


And it’s not just children. As Nathan DeWall and I explain in Psychology, 11th Edition,

Even we adults may overestimate the extent to which others share our opinions and perspectives, a trait known as the curse of knowledge. We assume that something will be clear to others if it is clear to us, or that email recipients will “hear” our “just kidding” intent (Epley et al., 2004; Kruger et al., 2005). Perhaps you can recall asking someone to guess a simple tune such as “Happy Birthday” as you clapped or tapped it out. With the tune in your head, it seemed so obvious! But you suffered the egocentric curse of knowledge, by assuming that what was in your head was also in someone else’s.


In the May/June Scientific American Mind (alas, its last print issue), Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen Macknik describe a “Venus effect” (previously noted by University of Liverpool psychologist Marco Bertamini and his colleagues). In various art depictions, the grand masters have depicted their subjects looking toward a mirror.

Reubens' "Venus in Front of a Mirror"

Veláquez's "Rokeby Venus"                              

Many people presume that Venus, in the image above, is looking at (and admiring) herself in the mirror. If that was your surmise (as it was mine, when viewing “Rokeby Venus”), then you are not taking her perspective. Think: If you, from your viewing perspective, can see her face in the mirror, then she must see yours (not hers). It’s akin to being a backseat car passenger and seeing the driver’s face in the mirror—which tells you that the driver sees your face in the same mirror.


As the Venus effect reminds us, egocentricism is not just for children.

After covering sensation and perception, take students back to 2015.

The Dress


In case you missed it, this was the image that blew up social media in February of that year. Viewers were divided into two camps. Some saw the dress as blue/black while others saw it as gold/white. These discussions were not about whether a color was more blue or more purple. People were talking about very different perceptions. Friends and family got into arguments because each camp thought they were being gaslighted by the other. [Side note. The term gaslight, in this context, comes to us from a 1938 play which became a 1944 movie.]


What color is the real dress? Blue/black. But before the blue/black perceivers cheer for being right, the image of The Dress that falls on our retinas is more complicated than that. It turns out that both the blue/black and gold/white perceivers are right, that is, in terms of which light waves our eyes pick up. Oh. And if you perceive it as blue/brown, you’re not alone, but there aren’t that many of you.


But first, why such different perceptions? Our sensation and perception colleagues identified an assumption that our brains had to make. Some of us assumed that The Dress was lit by artificial, yellow light, the kind of light we get indoors. Others of us assumed that The Dress was lit by natural, blue light, the kind of light we get outdoors.


When we assume yellow light, our brains subtract yellow from the light wave data our eyes send to our brains. With the yellow removed, The Dress is perceived as blue/black.


When we assume blue light, our brains subtract blue from the light wave data. With blue removed, The Dress is perceived as gold/white.


Where does blue/brown come from? Those perceivers are splitting the difference. They’re subtracting a little yellow and a little blue.


ASAP Science did a nice 2-minute video on how this – color constancy – works.

A closer look at The Dress

You can show students exactly what their eyes are seeing, before the brain subtracts a color.


On your classroom computer, right-click on the photo of this dress, and select “Copy image address.” Visit the LunaPic website. In the “Open from URL” box, paste the image address. On the far left side of the page you will see a toolbar. Click anywhere over there to enter editing mode. From that toolbar, choose the eyedropper; it’s the ninth icon from the top. Click anywhere on The Dress to see the color of that spot displayed at the top of the page. Click the eyedropper again and choose another spot. When you click on a blue/white band, the color is actually a slate gray. If our brains subtract yellow, we perceive the color as bluer than it is. If our brains subtract blue, we perceive the color as whiter than it is. Use the eyedropper to sample from the black/gold bands. They are a goldish brown. If our brains subtract yellow, we perceive the color as black. If our brains subtract blue, we perceive the color as yellow-gold.


Who is more likely to perceive it one way and not another way and why?

But none of that answers the question of why some people are more likely to assume yellow light while others are more likely to assume natural light. One hypothesis is that those who spend more of their day inside under artificial lights are more likely to subtract yellow and see a blue/black dress. Those who spend more of their day outside or inside spaces with a lot of natural light – think skylights and large windows – are more likely to subtract blue and see a gold/white dress.

Survey research has found that “[o]lder people and women were more likely to report seeing ‘The Dress’ as white and gold, while younger people were more likely to say that it was black and blue” (Cell Press, 2015). Ask your students to work in pairs or small groups to generate some hypotheses as to why this is the case. Ask volunteers to report their hypotheses. For example, is it a cohort effect for age? Did older people spend more of their childhoods outdoors than today’s youth and therefore more likely to assume blue light? Teenagers are also more likely to be “owls.”


Psychological scientist Pascal Wallisch reasoned that “owls” – people who get up late and go to bed late – would experience more yellow light and, thus, would be more likely to perceive The Dress as blue/black. Conversely, he expected “larks” – people who get up early and go to bed early – would experience more blue light and, thus, would be more likely to perceive The Dress as gold/white. He found a statistically significant difference between the owls and larks in their perceptions of The Dress, but the differences weren’t huge. In other words, it appears that this is one factor, but not the only factor, that influences our assumptions about the lighting (Wallisch, 2017).



Remind students that color does not exist outside of our brains. Outside, it’s light waves. Our eyes convert those light waves into neural signals. Our brain takes those neural signals and uses them in combination with other factors, like the surrounding colors and assumptions about the environment, to create the color that we see.  

Macmillan Learning is proud to announce that Psychology 4e and Introducing Psychology 3e author Daniel L. Schacter (Harvard University) will be receiving the William James Fellow Award at the Association for Psychological Science Annual Convention in Boston.


The William James Fellow award recognizes individuals who have used their professional careers to make profound contributions to the science of psychology. The groundbreaking work Schacter has done over the past 35 years on the triumphs and failures of memory has exhibited the very nature of memory. Schacter has aptly titled his award “Adaptive Constructive Processes in Memory and Imagination,” as he has explored how memory works as a cognitive “virtual reality simulator” by taking past events as a way of imaging the future.


Attending APS in Boston this May? Join us on Friday May 26 at 4:15pm at the Worth Publishers/Macmillan Learning booth, #410 to congratulate Schacter on his achievements. Coffee and refreshments will be served.