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2017

When biking we hardly notice the wind at our back, until we change directions and try riding against its force. Likewise, we may hardly notice the cultural winds that carry us until we step outside our boundaries. That’s one reason I benefit from the privilege of spending time each year visiting other countries. With each visit I am reminded that cultural norms—from how we meet and greet on the street to how we eat (fork in left hand or right? chopsticks?) to how we weave the social safety net—varies from my place to other places.

 

I write from Scotland, where my wife and I have frequently returned since taking a long-ago sabbatical year here at the University of St. Andrews. The last several days provide two examples of things many Americans take for granted, without realizing how culturally American they are.

 

Example #1: American supermarkets now have “foreign” food sections, where people can buy their favorite international items. Here in St. Andrews the largest foreign food section is “American.” And what foreign foods might you expect to find here (foods that, during our long-ago sabbatical were not available)?  In this American section one can find peanut butter, pancake syrup, canned pumpkin, baking soda, popcorn, sugary cereals, Oreos, Pop Tarts, and Twinkies. American foods!

 

Example #2: The university’s library is a place of study for students from many countries, including cultures with squat toilets.  For me, the way to use a Western flush toilet seems obvious—it’s the way we do it (and I’m unbothered by what might seem gross to others—sitting on a toilet seat that has recently been sat on by others). But for some, a flush toilet needs explanation, just as I might need toileting instruction when visiting their cultures. Thus, this sign appears in the library bathrooms:   

 

Our culture’s widely accepted behaviors, ideas, attitudes, values, and traditions may seem so natural and right to us that we fail to notice them as cultural. Experiencing other cultures’ ways of acting and thinking helps us to see what’s distinctive about our own.

As Nathan DeWall and I explain in Psychology, 11th Edition, “Young infants lack object permanence—the awareness that objects continue to exist even when not perceived. By 8 months, infants begin exhibiting memory for things no longer seen.”

 

Given the early age at which infants display object permanence by looking for a hidden toy after a several second wait do developing primates also display a recall for objects no longer seen?

 

Research suggests that orangutans possess object permanence. . . . a point illustrated in this hilarious 38-second YouTube video pointed out to me by a Facebook engineer who happens to be one of my former students (and also one of my children ).

David Myers

Freud’s Slips

Posted by David Myers Expert Aug 16, 2017

Looking for a great summer read? If you like Nate Silver’s quantitative assessments of politics and sports, you will love Seth Stephens-Davidowitz’s new book on big data revelations about our human interests, traits, and behaviors. By drilling down through millions of data points, often from people’s anonymous Google searches, he offers insights into racial prejudice, sexual orientation, child abuse, and even the age at which people’s long-term sports loyalties crystallize.

 

 

With data science he can also test popular ideas. Was Freud right to suppose that phallic symbols in dreams, and innuendos in word slips, reveal our unconscious sexuality? Is the man who dreamed of eating a banana on his wedding day “secretly thinking of a penis”? Is typing “lipsdick” when you meant “lipstick” an eruption of your hidden desire?

 

In search of answers, Stephens-Davidowitz analyzed whether phallic-shaped foods “sneak into our dreams with unexpected frequency.” His answer: They do not. In dreams, bananas are the second most common fruit . . . and they also are the second most consumed fruit. Cucumbers are the seventh most dreamt vegetable, and the seventh most consumed vegetable.

 

In search of Freudian slips, he analyzed 40,000 typing errors collected by Microsoft. A few were sexually tinged—“sexurity” instead of “security,” and “cocks” instead of “rocks.” But then there also were innocent slips such as “pindows,” “fegetables,” and “aftermoons.” After analyzing the frequency of various errors in random typos, Stephens-Davidowitz concludes that “People make lots of mistakes.” And when you make enough, you can expect an occasional and statistically predictable miscue. Searching the quarter million e-mails I’ve received since 2000, for example, I see that friends have written me about their experiences with “Wisconsin Pubic Radio,” with hearing access in “pubic venues” and with “pubic access,” and in their work as a national organization’s “Director of Pubic Policy.”

 

Thus, “Freud’s theory that errors reveal our subconscious wants is indeed falsifiable—and, according to my analysis of the data, false.”

One of the great joys of attending conferences – in this case, the American Psychological Association convention – is the conversations with both new and old friends. This morning I had breakfast with Linda Woolf (Webster University; an old friend). She posed an interesting question, and before my first full cup of coffee, it was a little unfair. She noted that in our professional circles we frequently talk about psychology books we think psychology majors should read. She wondered what non-psychology books I’d recommend. That’s both an easy and a difficult question. It’s easy to find book that contain psychology, but difficult in deciding of all the books out there, what books I’d recommend.

 

The two that came pretty quickly to mind were:

 

The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown.

About the University of Washington men’s crew who rowed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the book gives us a healthy does of prejudice and perseverance.

 

The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede.

On 9/11/2001 when the U.S. airspace closed, planes flying west across the Atlantic had to land in Canada. Thirty-eight of them landed in Gander, Newfoundland. Almost 7,000 visitors literally dropped into a town of 9,000 for five days. DeFede restores our faith in humanity with story after story of altruism. The musical Come From Away expands on those stories including coverage of prejudice, stress and coping, and ingroups/outgroups. (Honestly, the book may do the same, but it’s been years since I’ve read it.)

 

After having had my full dose of coffee and a few more hours to reflect – and a chance to review my Goodreads books, here are some more non-psychology books recommended for psychology majors.

 

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Noah grew up in South African as “colored,” the South African term for half white/half black. His experience gets wrapped up in ingroups/outgroups, both sorting out what that means for him and being on the receiving end of other people’s assumptions about his group membership.

 

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Starting with World War I, African Americans started in earnest to move out of the south to points west and north. Spotlighting three people who left different places at different times for different locales, Wilkerson helps her readers understand the prejudice and discrimination that drove African Americans from the south to the different-looking prejudice and discrimination of their new homes.

 

Sally Ride by Lynn Sherr

Becoming the first U.S. woman in space had its challenges. More prejudice, discrimination, and perseverance in this book. When asked at a crew press conference in 1982 “Dr. Ride, apart from the obvious differences, how do you assess the differences in men and women astronauts?” Dr. Ride replied, “Aside from the obvious differences, I don’t think there are any.”

 

Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery

Emma Gatewood in 1955 and at the age of 67 decided to hike the 2,050-mile Appalachian Trail. Alone. This one will make students rethink their assumptions about gender and age.

 

The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman

Paul Erdös (pronounced air-dish) was a mathematical genius. But his biography is less about intelligence than it is about… well, it’s tough to describe. Being comfortable in your own skin, may be a good descriptor. Erdös was unapologetically Erdös. He couch-surfed from the home of one mathematician to another. His hosts didn’t know when he was coming until he appeared on their doorsteps, and they didn’t know when he was leaving until he left. He would ask strangers to tie his shoes. He offered cash to grad students to solve mathematical problems. The more difficult the problem, the greater the cash award. And Erdös published prolifically. Mathematicians have an Erdös number. If you published a paper with Erdös, your number is one. If you published with someone who published a paper with Erdös, your number is two. And so on.

 

Addiction by Design by Natasha Dow Schüll [This book may not technically meet the requirements of the category given the amount of psychology in it.]

This book contains everything you wanted to know about slot machines and then some. If you’re teaching that pushing buttons on a slot machine is an example of positive reinforcement, you’re wrong for a healthy chunk of slot machine users. Negative reinforcement would be a better characterization. Regular users of slot machines play not to win but play to enter the zone where they don’t have to think about problems at work, with their spouse, or with their kids. Winning just means being able to not think even longer.

 

I managed to give you a list that is all nonfiction. Please share your recommendations in the comments – and I’d love to see some fiction in the list!