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2018

“She [Professor Christine Blasey Ford] can’t tell us how she got home and how she got there,” scorned Senator Lindsey Graham during the lunch break of yesterday’s riveting U. S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing regarding Ford’s memory of being assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Graham’s assumption, widely voiced by fellow skeptics of Ford’s testimony, is that her inability to remember simple peripheral details discounts the authenticity of her assault memory.

 

But Graham and the other skeptics fail to understand, first, how extreme emotions signal the brain to “save this!” for future reference. (Likely you, too, have enduring “flashbulb memories” for long-ago emotional experiences?) And second, they fail to understand that peripheral details typically fall into oblivion. In Psychology, 12th Edition, Nathan DeWall and I explain:

 

Our emotions trigger stress hormones that influence memory formation. When we are excited or stressed, these hormones make more glucose energy available to fuel brain activity, signaling the brain that something important is happening. Moreover, stress hormones focus memory. Stress provokes the amygdala (two limbic system, emotion processing clusters) to initiate a memory trace that boosts activity in the brain’s memory-forming areas (Buchanan, 2007; Kensinger, 2007) (FIGURE 8.9). It’s as if the amygdala says, “Brain, encode this moment for future reference!” The result? Emotional arousal can sear certain events into the brain, while disrupting memory for irrelevant events (Brewin et al., 2007; McGaugh, 2015).

 

Significantly stressful events can form almost unforgettable memories. After a traumatic experience—a school shooting, a house fire, a rape—vivid recollections of the horrific event may intrude again and again. It is as if they were burned in: “Stronger emotional experiences make for stronger, more reliable memories,” noted James McGaugh (1994, 2003). Such experiences even strengthen recall for relevant, immediately preceding events [such as going up the stairway and into the bedroom, in Ford’s case] (Dunsmoor et al., 2015: Jobson & Cheraghi, 2016). This makes adaptive sense: Memory serves to predict the future and to alert us to potential dangers. Emotional events produce tunnel vision memory. They focus our attention and recall on high priority information, and reduce our recall of irrelevant details (Mather & Sutherland, 2012). Whatever rivets our attention gets well recalled, at the expense of the surrounding context.

 

And as I suggested in last week’s essay, Graham and others seem not to understand “state-dependent memory”—that what people experience in one state (such as when drunk) they may not remember in another state (sober). Nor are Kavanaugh’s supporters recognizing that heavy drinking disrupts memory formation, especially for an experience that would not have been traumatic for him. Thus, Kavanaugh could be sincerely honest in not recalling an assaultive behavior, but also, possibly, sincerely wrong.

 

(For David Myers’ other weekly essays on psychological science and everyday life visit www.TalkPsych.com.)

Psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford vividly recalls being sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when both were teens. Kavanaugh remembers no such event and vigorously denies Ford’s accusation. The potentially historic significance of the allegation has triggered a debate: Is she telling the truth? Or is he, in claiming no such memory?

 

Without judging either’s current character, psychological science suggests a third possibility: Perhaps both are truthfully reporting their memories.

 

On Ford’s behalf, we can acknowledge that survivors of traumatic events typically are haunted by enduring, intrusive memories. As Nathan DeWall and I write in Psychology, 12th Edition,

Significantly stressful events can form almost unforgettable memories. After a traumatic experience—a school shooting, a house fire, a rape—vivid recollections of the horrific event may intrude again and again. It is as if they were burned in: “Stronger emotional experiences make for stronger, more reliable memories,” noted James McGaugh (1994, 2003).

 

Does Ford’s inability to remember ancillary details, such as when the assault supposedly occurred, discount her veracity? Not at all, if we’re to generalize from research on the accuracy of eyewitness recollections. Those whose memory is poor for incidental details of a scene are more accurate in their recollections of the essential event (see here and here).

 

But if Kavanaugh and his friend were, indeed, “stumbling drunk,” then perhaps they, genuinely, have no recollection of their impulsive behaviors while “severely intoxicated.”  Memory blackouts do happen, as we also report:

 Ergo, if trauma sears memories into the brain, and if alcohol disrupts them, could it be that both Ford and Kavanaugh are telling the truth as best they can recall it?

 

(For David Myers’ other weekly essays on psychological science and everyday life visit www.TalkPsych.com)

Turning 76 years old in a week, and still loving what I do, I find myself inspired by two recent emails. One, from social psychologist Thomas Pettigrew, age 87, responded to my welcoming his latest work by attaching fourteen of his recent publications. The second, from Nathan DeWall, pointed me to an interesting new article co-authored by developmental psychologist, Walter Mischel, age 88 (who, sadly, died just hours before this essay was posted).

 

That got me thinking about other long-lived people who have found their enduring calling in psychological science. My late friend, Charles Brewer, the long-time editor of Teaching of Psychology (who once told me he took two days a year off: Christmas and Easter), taught at Furman University until nearly 82, occupied his office until age 83, and was still authoring into his 80s.

 

But Charles’ longevity was exceeded by that of

  • B.F. Skinner, whom I heard address the American Psychological Association convention in 1990 at age 86, just eight days before he died of leukemia.
  • Carroll Izard, who co-authored three articles in 2017, the year of his death at age 93.
  • Jerome Bruner, who, the year before he died in 2016 at age 100, authored an essay on “The Uneasy Relation of Culture and Mind.”

 

And in earlier times, my historian-of-psychology friend Ludy Benjamin tells me, Wilhelm Wundt taught until 85 and supervised his last doctoral student at 87, and Robert Woodworth, lectured at Columbia until 89 and published his last work at 90.*

 

So, I then wondered, who of today’s living psychologists, in addition to Pettigrew and Mischel, are still publishing at age 85 and beyond? Daniel Kahneman and Paul Ekman almost qualify, but at 84 are youngsters compared to those below.  Here’s my preliminary short list—other nominees welcome!—with their most recent PsycINFO publication. (Given the era in which members of their age received PhDs, most are—no surprise—men.)

 

  • Philip Zimbardo: Age 85 (born March 23, 1933)

Unger, A., Lyu, H., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2018). How compulsive buying is influenced by perspective—Cross-cultural evidence from Germany, Ukraine, and China. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 16, 522–544.

 

  • Gordon Bower: Age 85 (born December 30, 1932)

Bower, G. H. (2016). Emotionally colored cognition. In R. J. Sternberg, S. T. Fiske, & F. J. Foss (Eds.), Scientists making a difference: One hundred eminent behavioral and brain scientists talk about their most important contributions. Chapter xxvii, pp. 123–127. NY: Cambridge University Press.

 

  • James McGaugh: Age 86 (born December 17, 1931)

McGaugh, J. L. (2018). Emotional arousal regulation of memory consolidation. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 19, 5560.

 

  • Lila Gleitman: Age 88 (born December 10, 1931)

Gleitman, L. R., & Trueswell, J. C. (2018). Easy words: Reference resolution in a malevolent referent world. Topics in Cognitive Science.

 

  • Roger Shepard: Age 89 (born January 30, 1929)

Shepard, R. N. (2016). Just turn it over in your mind. In R. J. Sternberg, S. T. Fiske, & F. J. Foss (Eds.), Scientists making a difference: One hundred eminent behavioral and brain scientists talk about their most important contributions. Chapter xxvii, pp. 99–103. New York: Cambridge University Press.

 

  • Jerome Kagan: Age 89 (born February 25, 1929)

Kagan, J. (2018, May). Three unresolved issues on human morality. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13, 346–358.

 

  • Albert Bandura: Age 92 (born December 4, 1925)

Bandura, A. (2016). Moral disengagement: How people do harm and live with themselves. New York: Worth Publishers.

 

  • Aaron Beck: Age 97 (born July 18, 1921)

Kochanski, K. M., Lee-Tauler, S. Y., Brown, G. K., Beck, A., Perera, K. U., et al. (2018, Aug.) Single versus multiple suicide attempts: A prospective examination of psychiatric factors and wish to die/wish to live index among military and civilian psychiatrically admitted patients. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 206, 657–661.

 

  • Eleanor Maccoby: Age 101 (born May 15, 1917)

Maccoby, E. (2007). Historical overview of socialization research and theory. In J. E. Grusec, & P. D. Hastings (Eds.), Handbook of socialization: Theory and research. New York: Guilford Press.

 

  • And a drum roll for Brenda Milner: At age 100 (born July 15, 1918), she still, I’m told, comes in a couple times a week to the Montreal Neurological Institute, which last week celebrated her centennial (with thanks to Melvin Goodale for the photo below).

             Milner, B., & Klein, D. (2016, March). Loss of recent memory after bilateral hippocampal lesions: Memory and              memories—looking back and looking forward. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 87, 230.

 

 

Life is a gift that ends unpredictably. Having already exceeded my at-birth life expectancy, I am grateful for the life I have had. But as one who still loves learning and writing (and can think of nothing else I’d rather do), why not emulate these esteemed colleagues while I continue to be blessed with health, energy, and this enduring sense of calling?

 

(For David Myers’ other weekly essays on psychological science and everyday life visit TalkPsych.com)

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* The “major early women psychologists”—Calkins, Washburn, Ladd-Franklin, Woolley, Hollingworth—all died before age 85, reported Benjamin, who added that some other psychologists have stayed too long in the profession without knowing “when to hang up their spikes” and make way for fresh faces in the classroom and laboratory.

Some fun emails stimulated by last week’s essay on loss aversion in sports and everyday life pointed me to statistician David Spiegelhalter's Cambridge Coincidence Collection, which contains people’s 4500+ reports of weird coincidences.

 

That took my mind back to some personally experienced coincidences . . . like the time my daughter, Laura Myers, bought two pairs of shoes. Back home, we were astounded to discover that the two brand names on the boxes were “Laura” and “Myers.” Or the time I confused our college library desk clerk when checking out after using a photocopy machine. My six-digit charge number was identical to the one-in-a-million six-digit number of copies on which the last user had stopped. Or the day my wife, Carol, called seeking my help in sourcing Mark Twain’s quote, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” After this first-ever encounter with that quote, my second encounter was 90 minutes later, in a Washington Post article.

 

In Intuition: Its Powers and Perils, I report more amusing coincidences. Among my favorites:

  • Twins Levinia and Lorraine Christmas, driving to deliver Christmas presents to each other near Flitcham, England, collided.
  • Three of the first five U.S. Presidents—Adams, Jefferson, and Monroe—died on the same date–which was none other than the 4th of July.
  • And my favorite . . . in Psalm 46 of the King James Bible, published in the year that Shakespeare turned 46, the 46th word is “shake” and the 46th word from the end is “spear.” (An even greater marvel: How did anyone notice this?)

 

What should we make of weird coincidences? Were they, as James Redfield suggested in The Celestine Prophecy, seemingly “meant to happen . . . synchronistic events, and [that] following them will start you on your path to spiritual truth”? Is it a wink from God that your birthdate is buried among the random digits of pi? Beginning 50,841,600 places after the decimal, my 9/20/1942 birthdate appears . . . and you can likewise find yours here.

 

Without wanting to drain our delight in these serendipities, statisticians have a simpler explanation. Given the countless billions of daily events, some weird juxtapositions are inevitable—and then likely to get noticed and remembered (while all the premonitions not followed by an envisioned phone call or accident are unnoticed and fall into oblivion). “With a large enough sample, any outrageous thing is likely to happen,” observed statisticians Persi Diaconis and Frederick Mosteller. Indeed, added mathematician John Allen Paulos, “the most astonishingly incredible coincidence imaginable would be the complete absence of all coincidences.”

 

Finally, consider: That any specified coincidence will occur is very unlikely. That some astonishing unspecified event will occur is certain. That is why remarkable coincidences are noted in hindsight, not predicted with foresight. And that is also why we don’t need paranormal explanations to expect improbable happenings, even while delighting in them.

Jenn Grewe asked the 7,000 members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology’s Facebook group to name their favorite psychology podcasts. Thank you to everyone who contributed!

 

If this is not enough podcasts for you to choose from, take a look at the list of psychology podcasts curated by PlayerFM.

 

Podcasts hosted by psychologists (and a behavior analyst and a philosopher) – they don’t walk into a bar, but a couple psychologists do share beer

 

Speaking of Psychology, produced by the American Psychological Association

This “is an audio podcast series highlighting some of the latest, most important and relevant psychological research being conducted today.”

 

The Learning Scientists Podcast, produced and hosted by cognitive psychologists Megan Sumeracki and Yana Weinstein

“A podcast for teachers, students, and parents about evidence-based practice and learning.”

 

PsychSessions, produced and hosted by psychologists Garth Neufeld and Eric Landrum

This podcast “is about the teaching of psychology. We leverage our connections with top psychology educators as well as up-and-coming superstars to have deep conversations about what it means to be a teacher of psychology. Of course we veer away from the teaching conversation from time to time to hear about origin stories and the personal perspectives of our guests.”

 

The Psych Files, produced and hosted by psychologist Michael Britt

The Psych Files “is aimed at anyone curious about human behavior, though students taking a course in psychology, those majoring in psychology, and instructors of psychology will find the podcast particularly of interest.”

 

Workr Beeing, produced and hosted by industrial/organizational psychologists Katina Sawyer-Cooney and Patricia Grabarek

“The Workr Beeing Podcast is another way for you to learn about workplace wellness! In the podcast, Patricia and Katina share research and tips on workplace wellness and interviews with other leading experts in the field.”

 

Behavioral Observations, produced and hosted by behavior analyst Matt Cicoria

“The overall concept - to interview interesting people in the behavior analysis field - formed the basis of the Behavioral Observations Podcast.”

 

The Psych Show (YouTube), produced and hosted by clinical psychologist Ali Mattu

“I make videos on how to use psychology to improve your life, understand the world around us, and explore pop culture.”

 

Naming It, produced and hosted by psychologists LaMisha Hill and Bedford Palmer

“Exploring the intersections of social justice, psychology, & blackness.”

 

Psychology and Stuff, produced by University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Psychology program

This podcast “includes interviews with faculty, students, and alumni from the UWGB psychology program on a wide range of topics (work, research, personal lives, and other stuff).”

 

The Black Goat, produced and hosted by psychologists Sanjay Srivastava, Alexa Tullett, and Simine Vazire

“Three psychologists talk about doing science.”

 

Very Bad Wizards, produced and hosted by philosopher Tamler Sommers and psychologist David Pizarro

“We first met at a conference on ethics a few years ago, and have been arguing (and occasionally agreeing) about morality ever since. At some point we realized that our conversations were entertaining (and crazy) enough that other people might enjoy eavesdropping. With that in mind we began recording a series of podcasts to give them a proper home.”

 

The Psychology Podcast, produced and hosted by psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman

“Each episode will feature a guest who will stimulate your mind, and give you a greater understanding of yourself, others, and the world we live in. Hopefully, we’ll also provide a glimpse into human possibility!”

 

The Arkham Sessions, produced and hosted by clinical psychologist Andrea Letamendi and Brian Ward

This “is a weekly podcast dedicated to the observation and clinical analysis of the characters in Batman: The Animated Series.”

 

Two Psychologists Four Beers, produced and hosted by psychologists Yoel Inbar and Michael Inzlicht

“Two psychologists drink at least four beers while discussing news and controversies in science, academia, and beyond.” (I first read this as “Two Psychologists Four Bears” – that’s a podcast that would also have some promise.)

 

Science podcasts hosted by journalists

 

Hidden Brain, produced by National Public Radio and hosted by their social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam

“Hidden Brain helps curious people understand the world – and themselves. Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships.”

 

Invisibilia, produced by National Public Radio and hosted by Alix Spiegel and Hanna Rosin

“Invisibilia has explored whether our thoughts are related to our inner wishes, our fears and how they shape our actions, and our need for belonging and how it shapes our identity and fuels our emotions over a lifetime. We investigate ways everyday objects can shape our worldviews, the effects we have on each other's well-being, and the various lenses we don.”

 

Freakonomics, produced and hosted by journalist Stephen Dubner

“Each week, Freakonomics Radio tells you things you always thought you knew (but didn’t) and things you never thought you wanted to know (but do) — from the economics of sleep to how to become great at just about anything. Dubner speaks with Nobel laureates and provocateurs, intellectuals and entrepreneurs, and various other underachievers.”

 

All in the Mind, produced by ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio National and hosted by science journalist Lynne Malcolm 

“An exploration of all things mental, All in the Mind is about the brain and behaviour, and the fascinating connections between them.”

 

You Are Not So Smart, produced and hosted by journalist David McRaney

“Like lots of people, I used to forward sensational news stories without skepticism and think I was a smarty pants just because I did a little internet research. I didn’t know about confirmation bias and self-enhancing fallacies, and once I did, I felt very, very stupid. I still feel that way, but now I can make you feel that way too.”

 

RadioLab, produced by WNYC and hosted by journalists Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich

“Radiolab has won Peabody Awards, a National Academies Communication Award ‘for their investigative use of radio to make science accessible to broad audiences,’ and in 2011 Abumrad received the MacArthur Genius grant.“

 

Science Friday, produced by the Science Friday Initiative, distributed by WNYC Studios, and hosted by journalist Ira Flatow

“Covering the outer reaches of space to the tiniest microbes in our bodies, Science Friday is the source for entertaining and educational stories about science, technology, and other cool stuff.”

 

Science Vs, produced by Gimlet Media and hosted by science journalist Wendy Zukerman

“Science Vs takes on fads, trends, and the opinionated mob to find out what’s fact, what’s not, and what’s somewhere in between.”

 

Podcasts about the human experience

 

This American Life, produced by WBEZ and hosted by journalist Ira Glass

“Mostly we do journalism, but an entertaining kind of journalism that’s built around plot. In other words, stories! Our favorite sorts of stories have compelling people at the center of them, funny moments, big feelings, surprising plot twists, and interesting ideas. Like little movies for radio.”

Favorite episodes identified by educators. Tip: Search the page for “psychology”.

 

Ear Hustle, produced and hosted by Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods

“The team works in San Quentin’s media lab to produce stories that are sometimes difficult, often funny, and always honest, offering a nuanced view of people living within the American prison system.”

 

Podcast about teaching in higher education

 

Teaching in Higher Ed, produced and hosted by organizational leadership professor Bonni Stachowiak

“The podcast focuses on topics such as excellence in teaching, instructional design, open education, diversity and inclusion, productivity, creativity in teaching, educational technology, and blended learning.”