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A couple months ago I wrote a suggestion on how to incorporate coverage of the opioid epidemic into Intro Psych (Frantz, 2017). There I put it in the context of the availability heuristic. Here I will suggest covering the opioid epidemic in the context of neurons and neurotransmitters.


The opiates work in a complex way to produce feelings of euphoria. Under non-opiate conditions, neurons release the neurotransmitter GABA that, in turn, inhibits the release of dopamine. When endorphins are released during sympathetic nervous system arousal or you take an opiate – legally or illegally, the body doesn’t care – the endorphins or opiates (endorphin agonists – drugs that look and act like endorphins) block GABA from being released. Without GABA’s inhibition, dopamine is free to flood synapses and attach to dopamine-receiving neurons resulting in warm, fuzzy feelings (Genetic Science Learning Center, 2013; Vaughan,, 1997).


That explains why people choose to use opiates. But how do people overdose on opiates?


Part of the cause is that fentanyl, an opioid "that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent" (NIDA, 2016). "In 2014, 35 percent of [Rhode Island's] fatal overdoses occurred because of fentanyl, but it was involved in 56 percent of drug deaths by 2016" (Brown University, 2017). There is no question that fentanyl has entered the illegal drug supply and is contributing to the number of overdoses.


Here's another factor that contributes to opiate overdoses. Opiates, in addition to producing euphoria, also act on the brainstem to reduce breathing. Take too much and you stop breathing. Like many drugs, the more you use, the greater your tolerance, meaning you need more opiates to get the euphoria. But here's a problem. Unfortunately, your brain’s ability to tolerate more opiates does not extend at the same rate to breathing. In other words, while you need more for the high, your brainstem isn’t keeping up. With continued opiate use, the window is closing. The amount of opiate it takes to feel the high is getting closer and closer to the amount that stops breathing (Boyer, 2012).


Enter naloxone, brand name Narcan. Naloxone is an opiod antagonist. It blocks the receptor sites, but doesn’t activate the neurons. With the opioid receptors blocked, the opiates cannot have their effects – and breathing returns to normal (NHPR Staff, 2016). Because naloxone binds more strongly to the receptor sites than the opiates do, naloxone actually bumps them out and takes their place. That’s why naloxone acts so quickly, showing effects within five minutes (College of Pharmacists of British Columbia, 2016).


Prevention Point Philadelphia provides naloxone and the training of its use to the librarians at McPherson Square Library, a library located in a high drug use area of the city. “While other libraries practice fire drills, McPherson began overdose drills.” It’s needed. Philadelphia is looking at a 30% increase in overdose deaths in 2017 as compared to 2016. That’s 1,200 expected ODs. When people started overdosing on heroin in the library and in the nearby park, the librarians decided it was time to get training on using the naloxone kits – and they’ve used them to save lives (Newall, 2017; Wootson, 2017).


The opioid epidemic is not bypassing colleges and universities. “Last fall, three Washington State University students overdosed and died in Pullman, Wash.; a 25-year-old died from an overdose on the potent opioid fentanyl and heroin in a bathroom at Columbus State Community College in Ohio; and a student died from a suspected overdose at State University of New York at Geneseo. Fatalities in recent years have also hit campuses in New Mexico, Louisiana and beyond.” Institutions of higher learning are starting to step up to the plate by “distributing the anti-overdose drug naloxone to campus police and even students. Drug company Adapt Pharma Ltd. announced last month that it would offer 40,000 free doses of its branded version, called Narcan, to colleges nationwide. So far roughly 60 schools have reached out, according to company officials... The University of Texas at Austin now stocks naloxone at the front desk of its residence halls” (Korn & Kamp, 2017).


Ask students to investigate who at your institution, if anyone, has been trained to administer naloxone. Do students feel like the number of people trained is sufficient? If not, what can students do to make a difference?




Boyer, E. W. (2012). Management of opioid analgesic overdose. New England Journal of Medicine, 367(14), 1370-1373. doi:10.1056/nejmc1209707


Brown University. (2017, June 7). Feared by drug users but hard to avoid, fentanyl takes a mounting toll. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 28, 2017 from 


College of Pharmacists of British Columbia. (2016, April 4). Naloxone: Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from


Frantz, S. (2017, April 16). Do you cover drug abuse in Intro Psych? If not, it might be time to. Retrieved from


Genetic Science Learning Center. (2013, August 30) Mouse Party. Retrieved June 22, 2017, from


Korn, M., & Kamp, J. (2017, May 07). Fatal student opioid overdoses prompt colleges to action. Retrieved from


NHPR Staff. (2016, June 6). Primer: How does Narcan work? Retrieved from


Newall, M. (2017, May 21). For these Philly librarians, drug tourists and overdose drills are part of the job. Retrieved from


National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). (2016, June 06). Fentanyl. Retrieved June 28, 2017, from 


Vaughan, C. W., Ingram, S. L., Connor, M. A., & Christie, M. J. (1997). How opioids inhibit GABA-mediated neurotransmission [Abstract]. Nature, 390, 611-614. Retrieved from


Wootson, C. R., Jr. (2017, June 02). ‘Drug tourists’ keep overdosing at this library. Here’s how employees are saving their lives. Retrieved from

Here’s an interesting example of classical conditioning being applied to help solve a serious problem.


The Military Suicide Research Consortium at Florida State University received a Department of Defense grant to find ways to prevent suicides by military members (Joiner, 2017). One avenue of research looked at ways of strengthening marriages, reasoning that those with stronger relationships are less likely to take their own lives (Improving marriages…, n.d.).


Military marriages face a number of challenges, including lengthy deployments. While many factors influence decisions to divorce, spending months away from one’s partner is a likely contributing culprit. “[S]erving lengthy deployments increases the risk of divorce and that the longer the deployment, the greater the risk of divorce” (Improving marriages…, n.d.). Female military service members are almost three times as likely to divorce as their male counterparts. In 2016, for example, 7.7% of female Marines divorced compared to 2.8% of male Marines. Overall, 3.1% of military personnel divorced in 2016 (Bushatz, 2017).   


Let’s make a quick digression to talk about divorce rates. “The military divorce rate is calculated by comparing the number of troops listed as married in the Pentagon's personnel system at the beginning of the fiscal year with the number who report divorces over the year” (Bushatz, 2017). These numbers cannot be compared to national data since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calculates divorce differently. Forty-five state health departments send the number of divorces in their states to the CDC. Because researchers at the CDC don’t know how many marriages were in each of those states to begin with, they can’t calculate a percentage of divorces like the military can. Instead, because the CDC researchers know the population of those 45 states, they can calculate a divorce rate per 1,000 people. In 2015, for example, those 45 reporting states had a combined population of 258,518,265. The number of divorces that year in those 45 states? 800,909. That works out to a divorce rate of 3.1 per 1,000 people (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017).


Now, back to helping marriages succeed. Is there a low-cost way to strengthen relationships even when the marriage partners are separated by thousands of miles for months at a time? James McNulty, Michael Olson, and colleagues (2017) thought that classical conditioning could work. Couples, 144 of them, were randomly divided into an experimental group and a control group. Every three days for a total of 13 sessions, participants experienced 225 trials where images or words flashed on a computer screen either singly or paired. Participants were to hit the spacebar when something related to relationships appeared, such as a wedding cake. Embedded within those 225 trials were 25 trials where the participant’s partner’s photo was paired with another photo. Those in the experimental condition always saw the partner’s photo paired with positive stimuli, such as photos of puppies. Those in the control condition always saw the partner’s photo paired with neutral stimuli, such as photos of buttons.  


Every two weeks from the start of the conditioning trials to two weeks post conditioning, participants completed a series of dependent measures. A priming task timed how quickly participants associated positive words with their partners. And researchers, well, just asked participants how they felt about their marriages. On the priming task, those in the experimental condition reacted faster when positive words were associated with their partner than those in the control condition. And the faster those reaction times, the more likely the participant was to say they were happy in their marriages.


Classical conditioning in the experimental condition


                                positive photos (UCS) --> positive feelings (UCR)


partner photos --> positive photos (UCS) --> positive feelings (UCR)


partner photos (CS) -----------------------------> positive feelings (CR)


The researchers are careful to note that while looking at photos of puppies, sunsets, and other positive imagery paired with images of our partners boosts positive feelings toward our partners, this classical conditioning will not make us have positive feelings towards someone we really dislike. In other words, classical conditioning is not a panacea for fixing badly damaged relationships. 


Consider using this experiment as another example in your classical conditioning lecture. Or provide students a summary of the research and ask them to work in pairs or small groups to identify the UCS, UCR, CS, and CR.  




Bushatz, A. (2017, April 28). Female troop divorce up slightly, male rate largely unchanged. Retrieved from


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, January 13). Marriages and Divorces. Retrieved June 23, 2017, from


Improving marriages to decrease suicide risk. (n.d.). Retrieved June 23, 2017, from


Joiner, T. (2015, October). Military Suicide Research Consortium (Rep. No. W81XWH-10-2-0181). Retrieved


McNulty, J. K., Olson, M. A., Jones, R. E., & Acosta, L. M. (2017). Automatic associations between one’s partner and one’s affect as the proximal mechanism of change in relationship satisfaction: Evidence from evaluative conditioning. Psychological Science. doi:10.1177/0956797617702014

We psychology teachers take bemused pleasure in noting one-time psych students who later become famous—people such as Jon Stewart, Gloria Estefan, Natalie Portman, Mark Zuckerberg, and (to balance the ledger) serial killer Ted Bundy.


To such lists I can add two more.


In 2014 the New Yorker cartoonist and cartoon editor Bob Mankoff wrote me out of the blue to say thank you for our textbook use of their cartoons. He also explained that “My own background, before I became a cartoonist, was in psychology of the behaviorist stripe, back in the early 70's.  I left when I realized those pigeons and rats were never going to get my jokes.” Our correspondence led to Mankoff’s visiting Hope College and speaking on the psychology of humor. And as this familiar cartoon illustrates, there is psychology in Mankoff’s humor.


During a recent retreat with two dozen folks working at depolarizing America, musician Peter Yarrow—of “Peter, Paul, and Mary” fame—shared with me his background . . . as a Cornell University psych major, where one of his mentors was the famed developmental psychologist (and Head Start co-founder), Urie Bronfenbrenner.


During an evening concert, Peter invited the young of heart on stage to join him for “Puff the Magic Dragon,” which he wrote 56 years ago. After getting down on his haunches to sing the chorus with individual children, he turned finally to the pregnant woman shown below. Seemingly aware of psychological research on fetal learning of familiar voices, he sang to her child in the womb. As he finished, tears were streaming down her face . . . and not hers alone.

 Photo courtesy Byron Buck

On June 3, 2017, late at night, an unnamed 58-year-old homeless man was shoved onto the tracks in a Manhattan subway station. Gray Davis, a 31-year-old ballet dancer, leapt down onto the tracks and lifted the unconscious man to safety. And then lifted himself up before the next train arrived (Cooper & Southall, 2017).


Thanks to research on the bystander effect, we know the conditions under which we are less likely to help and under which we are more likely to help (Myers, 2015). Let’s see how these play out with Gray Davis on that night.


We are more likely to help when:


We are feeling good. He was with his wife and mother after having watched his wife, also a ballet dancer, perform. While they certainly could have been arguing for the last 6 hours, I’m going to choose to believe they had an enjoyable day.


We are not in a rush. Their evening out had just come to a close, and they were making their way home.


The victim needs help. An unconscious man on train tracks clearly needs help.


We know that there were a number of bystanders present. Davis reports that “People were screaming to get help,” and, well, it’s a Saturday night in Manhattan so there must have been others present. Why did the number of bystanders seem to have little impact on Davis? At the time of the incident, Davis was already committed to helping. When his wife, Cassandra Trenary, saw the man and a woman arguing, she sent Davis to get help. He ran up to the token booth, but it was unoccupied. He had returned to the platform to learn that the man had been shoved onto the tracks. And, as a dancer, Gray Davis also knew he had the physical skill to help.


Factors that were not present? The victim did not appear to be similar to his rescuer and the incident did not take place in a small town.


Other factors that could have been present that we don’t know about? We don’t know if Davis was feeling guilty about something, if he is a religious man, or if he had recently seen someone else being helpful.


I have an assignment where I ask students to take the conditions that are more likely to lead to helping and create a scenario in which someone is more likely to help. And then I ask students to reverse them to create a scenario in which someone is less likely to help. If you decide to offer a similar writing assignment, ask students to identify how each condition related to helping behavior is illustrated in their scenario. It will make scoring them much easier. 





Cooper, M., & Southall, A. (2017, June 04). Ballet dancer leaps onto subway tracks and lifts man to safety. Retrieved from


Myers, D. G. (2015). Exploring social psychology (7th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.

In Improving How Universities Teach Science: Lessons from the Science Education Initiative, Carl Wieman—a Stanford physicist, Nobel laureate, and Carnegie U.S. University Professor of the Year (but let’s not feel intimidated)—advocates active learning, which in a recent NPR interview, he describes as

teaching the thinking that you really want students to learn. How does a physicist think about a problem, or a chemist, and so on, and what decisions do they make, and then you break that problem down into student, bite-sized pieces. You give them to the students to work on. They usually work in small groups. The instructor is monitoring how the students are thinking. What's right, what's wrong. And then will periodically pull them back together every five or 10 minutes to discuss how they are coming along. Give them feedback on what thinking is right or wrong.


Mark Zuckerberg has a similar vision for public schools—for engaging students in self-directed learning, with guiding teachers at their sides.


The benefits of active learning are well-known to teaching psychologists. As Nathan DeWall and I note in our forthcoming Psychology, 12th Edition,

To master information you must actively process it. Your mind is not like your stomach, something to be filled passively; it is more like a muscle that grows stronger with exercise. Countless experiments reveal that people learn and remember best when they put material in their own words, rehearse it, and then retrieve and review it again.


For Psychology, 12th Edition, and all of our texts, active learning—via “Concept Practice,” “Immersive Learning,” and “Assess Your Strengths” exercises, and also via simulations and adaptive quizzing—forms the heart of our online resources.


So take it from a Nobel laureate/professor of the year . . . or Mark Zuckerberg . . . or just from Dave and Nathan: To learn deeply and remember enduringly, learn actively.

Each year when returning home to Bainbridge Island, a 30-minute ferry ride from Seattle, I skip the Space Needle and revisit the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial—the precise place where, on March 30, 1942, the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans began. (The island’s south end overlooks a security-sensitive narrow passage into a massive naval shipyard.) The memorial site has poignancy for me because my father was present that day, saying tearful goodbyes to his neighbors, whose property he insured and protected during their absence. And it has extra poignancy in 2017—the internment’s 75th anniversary, and a time when similar fears are feeding targeted travel bans and increasing hate crimes.


At the heart of the Memorial, a 276-foot-long wall represents the 276 interned islanders—most of whom were given six days’ notice to appear at the dock with one suitcase.



















Wood sculptures depict various individuals and families and highlight their stories—such as of the six soon-to-depart high school baseball players being thrust by their coach into the starting lineup of a game . . . only to lose 15 to 2. But no matter, the message was heard: These were valued teammates.


The same spirit of inclusion was recounted by Nobuko Sakai Omoto, as she sat on her camp bunk and cried, knowing that “Back home at graduation they had thirteen empty chairs on the stage.”

The islanders’ mostly supportive attitudes were rooted, first, in knowing their neighbors, but were also reinforced by local newspaper owners Walt and Millie Woodward. They editorialized: “Where, in the face of their fine record since December 7 [Pearl Harbor Day], in the face of their rights of citizenship, in the face of their own relatives being drafted and enlisting in our Army, in the face of American decency, is there any excuse for this high-handed, much-too-short evacuation order?” Throughout the war, the Woodwards, alone among West Coast newspaper editors, voiced sustained opposition to the internment, and published news stories of internees from the camps.


After enduring some vitriol, the Woodwards were later honored for their journalistic courage and immortalized in the 1990s book and movie, Snow Falling on Cedars. At the memorial’s March 30, 2004 groundbreaking, former internee and Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community president Frank Kitamoto declared that “this memorial is also for Walt and Millie Woodward, for Ken Myers, for Genevieve Williams . . .and the many others who supported us.”


At this Spring’s March 30, 2017 commemoration of that fateful day, the theme, once again, was the memorial’s “timeless and timely message . . . Nidoto Nai Yoni—Let It Not Happen Again.”

The Lancet reports that 15.3 percent of all humans are daily smokers. Yet smoking varies enormously, from:

  • 25 percent among men to 5 percent among women, and from
  • 43 percent among Greenlanders to 1 percent among Sudanese.

Even the gender difference varies dramatically, from:

  • nonexistent among Icelanders, where 14.4 percent of women and 14.5 percent of men smoke, to
  • huge among Armenians, where nearly half (43.5 percent) of men and virtually no women (1.5 percent) are smokers.

A question: What else do we know about all humanity (apart from our shared physiology)? Here is my short list. Do you know of more? If so I’d love to hear from you.

 Human life expectancy: 71 years

  • but with huge variation—from 39 years in Sierra Leone to 84 years in Japan.

Humans overweight: 37 percent of men and 38 percent of women

  • but with huge variation—from 3 percent in Timor-Leste to 85 percent in Tonga.

Human religiosity: 68 percent say “Religion is important in my daily life”

  • but with huge variation—from 16 percent in Estonia to 100 percent in Niger.

Humans employed full time by an employer: 26 percent 

  • but with huge variation—from 19 percent of women to 33 percent of men, and with child-free women varying from 11 percent employed in North Africa to 67 percent in Russia.

The bottom line: We humans are kin. But how we differ!


Caiaimage/Robert Daly/OJO+/Getty Images

“American and United are rolling out a stripped-down new [fare] class called Basic Economy” (Schwartz, 2017). And it’s providing foot-in-the-door examples for psychology instructors who are ready to talk about something other than safe-driving signs (Freedman & Fraser, 1966).  


With American Airlines’ Basic Economy ticket class, I’m not allowed to use the overhead bins, I can’t choose a seat until I check-in (guaranteeing I’ll be in middle-seat-landia and probably not sitting with my travel companions), I have no possibility of a free upgrade, I can’t change my flight, and I board in the last group (big deal; I can’t put a bag in the overhead bin anyway).


“’That’s the experience on a ultra-low-cost carrier,’ said Rajeev Lalwani, an airline industry analyst with

Morgan Stanley. As the legacy airlines introduce similar no-frills offerings to hold off upstarts like Spirit, he said, ‘part of the idea is to get folks to upgrade to premium economy and collect fees’” (Schwartz, 2017). That’s the foot-in-the-door: get customers to commit to the lower fare first, and then dangle the next highest fare as a better alternative.


I went to the American Airlines website to see how this played out in real time. I chose a Dallas to Tampa roundtrip scheduled for three weeks from now. American gave me my ticket class options. Clicking on the “Basic Economy” link generated a helpful pop-up. I love the red Xs on the blah-grey background. I don’t think American really wants me to choose this fare.

American Airlines screenshot: Basic Economy fare restrictions


Once I select the $317 “basic economy” fare – and getting pretty close to being mentally committed to flying American for this trip – I get another helpful pop-up. I can keep my red-fonted “Lowest fare.” Or For just an extra $20, I can have the green-fonted “Good value with benefits” fare and all of these green-checkmarked perks! I need to either “accept restrictions” for that lowest fare (and be treated like a teenager on “restriction”?) or “move to main cabin” (where I can be treated like an adult?).

American Airlines screenshot:Basic Economy fare vs. main cabin fare

After I “Accept restrictions,” it’s still not too late for me to move to the main cabin! I can keep my red Xs or I can upgrade to bullet points. It’s just another $20… I might not have been willing to pay $337 to fly roundtrip Dallas to Tampa, but once I’ve said okay to that $317 foot in the door, it’s not that hard to say okay to an extra $20.

American Airlines screenshot:Trip summary screen

The “ultra-low-cost” carriers have structured their fees to take advantage of foot-in-the-door, too. Where do you think American and United got the idea? That same trip from Dallas to Tampa would cost $177.18 on Spirit Airlines. That means no overhead bin use, no seat assignment until I get to the airport, and Spirit puts me in whatever seat they’d like, and I can’t print a boarding pass at the airport without paying a fee – pretty much the same deal I got with red-X Basic Economy fare on American, minus the boarding pass print fee. After my next click toward purchasing a ticket, Spirit, in a pop-up, says it is willing to give me all of those perks for $152. If I accept it, my total cost for this trip is now $329.18. For those who have not been paying attention, that’s just $7.22 less than American’s “good value with benefits” fare. If I don’t accept it, I can still go “à la carte” on the fees. I have already decided to buy the ticket. I’m ready to purchase it. All I have to do is click the huge red “ADD TO CART” button to get all of those things that make air travel a little more humane. Or I can click the small print link and choose my options later.

Spirit Airline pop-up: Add on extras for one fee

Once I’ve mentally committed to purchasing a ticket and the airline has their foot in my door, the door is cracked to let in the for-a-fee add-ons. And as a psychologist there isn’t much I can do but say, “I see what you did there.” 




Freedman, J. L., & Fraser, S. C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4(2), 195-202. doi:10.1037/h0023552


Schwartz, N. D. (2017, May 28). Route to air travel discomfort starts on Wall Street. Retrieved from