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2018

At the end of each term, I ask my Intro Psych students for their top ten list of important concepts they learned in the course. Last fall, interestingly, none of my students put parenting styles in their top ten lists. This term, a quarter of my students did. The only difference between those classes is that this term I asked my students to read an Atlantic article on distracted parenting (Christakis, 2018).

 

In our coverage of development I asked students, after they had read the article, whether they thought this is a new “parenting style” or if it fits one of the existing four: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive, or neglectful. (Most students called it neglectful, but many weren’t quite ready to go all the way there and called it a “new branch” or a “type” of neglectful parenting.)

 

The article makes for an excellent discussion starter for small groups after you’ve covered parenting styles in class. The discussion of the impact distracted parenting has on children will be meaningful to students since you would have just covered child development.

 

Later when you cover operant conditioning – if you haven’t already done so – you can refer back to this section of the article.

 

Young children will do a lot to get a distracted adult’s attention, and if we don’t change our behavior, they will attempt to do it for us; we can expect to see a lot more tantrums as today’s toddlers age into school. But eventually, children may give up (Christakis, 2018)

 

If the adult drops the phone and attends to the child’s tantrum, the child’s tantrum behavior has been positively reinforced by getting attention, and the adult’s dropping-the-phone behavior has been negatively reinforced by stopping the tantrum. If the adult’s phone is more attention-grabbing than the child’s tantrum, then the adult will ignore the child. The result? Extinction. The child will no longer throw tantrums – or, perhaps, any other behavior that is a plea for adult attention.

 

The author of the article cites two research studies. If you’d like to challenge your students’ research skills, ask them to find those studies. The study that took place in Philadelphia is a pretty easy find because the article’s author gives us the names of the researchers. The Boston research article is a little more challenging because we don’t have clues to the citation. I don’t want to give the reference here because it would make it too easy for your Googling students to find. I can give you a hint, however: it was published in 2014 in a highly-respected peer-reviewed journal. And, if you email me (sfrantz@highline.edu), I would be happy to send you either or both references – as long as I don’t think you’re a student.

 

If you’d like to extend this activity, ask students to assess how well the article’s author did at describing those studies. Did the author hit the important high points? Was there other information in the research articles that would be important for a reader of The Atlantic to know?

 

Reference

 

Christakis, E. (2018). The dangers of distracted parenting. Retrieved August 29, 2018, from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/07/the-dangers-of-distracted-parenting/561752/

There are a lot of social psychological concepts that can help explain road rage. This Seattle Times article (Doughton, 2018) beautifully identifies a number of these concepts. Students will see how social psychology tells us something about our everyday lives. And, hopefully, students will remember this the next time they find themselves overly angry at the behavior of strangers.

 

You can use the article in any number of ways.

  • Pull out the examples to frame your social psychology lecture
  • After students read the chapter, but before you cover the concepts in class, ask students, as a homework assignment, to identify the social psychological concepts
  • Before you cover these concepts, ask students to read the article, then, in small groups, identify the social psychological concepts
  • After your social psychology lecture, ask students to read the article, and then in small groups, identify the social psychological concepts

 

If your students are reading the article and identifying the concepts, ask students to define the concepts they find in their own words, quote sections of the article that illustrate each of those concepts, and, finally, explain how the quotes they found illustrate each of the concepts students have identified.

 

To make it easier, give students these concepts to find in the article:

  • Deindividuation
  • Fundamental attribution error
  • Self-serving bias
  • Outgroup homogeneity bias

 

If you’d like students to reflect on previous content they’ve learned about in their Intro Psych course, ask them to identify examples of these concepts in the article:

  • Sympathetic nervous system arousal
  • Observational learning
  • Long-term effects of stress

 

References Doughton, S. (2018, November 2). How to keep your head from exploding in Seattle traffic. Seattle Times. Retrieved from https://www.seattletimes.com/pacific-nw-magazine/how-to-keep-your-head-from-exploding-in-seattle-traffic

Do you cover survey research in your Intro Psych course? Given the prevalence of bad surveys, I’m starting to think I should spend more time on it.

 

For a seemingly unlimited supply of bad survey questions, check out the @BadSurveyQ Twitter account. (Thank you to Rachel Soicher at Oregon State University for directing me to this.)

 

Point out to students that not all surveys are written by researchers who have been trained to conduct surveys. In fact, some survey questions are designed to persuade, not to actually gather data. Other survey questions are written by people with good intentions who may not have thought them all the way through. Can you students spot the difference? More importantly, can your students fix the problems?

 

@KenFernandezPHD shared this slanted poll question. In small groups, ask students to take a crack at rewriting this question in neutral language.

 

Do you believe the corrupt leadership of the FBI and DOJ [Department of Justice] now realize President Trump means to end their efforts to subvert his presidency?

 

Yes
No

 

@magnatom found another slanted poll question. How would your students fix this one?

Do you think the Government will ever seriously look into proven, practical and effective methods to lower vehicle emissions instead of resorting to raising yet more cash from drivers?

 

Yes
No
No idea

 

@t_mabon found this limited option question. Can students identify the problem? And then fix it?

 

How do you read your books?

 

Papers
e-reader/tablet
I don’t read
Audio books

 

@sachinsomaiya found a question that left the interpretation of the rating scale up to the reader. How do your students interpret this? How would they make it better?

 

What priority would you assign to the candidate for this program? Choose a number between 1 to 10 for the person.

 

@BadSurveyQ wonders about the “other” option in this question. Other what? What would your students do with this “other” option to fix the question?

 

Which of the following have you done in the last 2 years?

 

Rented a house
Rented an apartment
Rented a car
Bought a house
Bought an apartment
Bought a car
Other
None of the above

 

@t_mabon shared a poll question that had responses only a company could love. What additional options would your students add?

 

Which of the following statements do you agree with? SELECT ALL THAT APPLY

 

Uber is a company I’m proud to say I use

Uber is a brand/service for me

Uber sends me relevant communications

 

And one last question from @BadSurveyQ, another question that only a company could love.

 

Please select three other statements that according to you also apply to a Tassimo machine [coffee maker].

 

Freedom
Togetherness
Power
Entertaining
Liberating
Fun
Open-minded

 

Now, with this blog post completed, I’m going to have a long over-due chat with my coffee maker. If it’s not entertaining and open-minded, it’s out of here.

“I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me,” explained President Trump in stating why he believed Federal Reserve interest rate hikes were a mistake. “My gut has always been right,” he declared again in saying why he needn’t prepare for the recent trade negotiation with China’s president.

 

In trusting his gut intuition, Trump has much company. “Buried deep within each and every one of us, there is an instinctive, heart-felt awareness that provides—if we allow it to—the most reliable guide,” offered Prince Charles. “I’m a gut player. I rely on my instincts,” said President George W. Bush, explaining his decision to launch the Iraq War.

 

Although there is, as I noted in another of these TalkPsych essays, a gut-brain connection, are we right to trust our gut? Does the gut know best about interest rates, trade policy, and climate change? Or, mindful of smart people often doing dumb things, do we instead need more humility, more checking of gut hunches against hard reality, more critical thinking?

 

Drawing from today’s psychological science, one could write a book on both the powers and perils of intuition. (Indeed, I have—see here.) Here, shortened to an elevator speech, is the gist.

 

Intuition’s powers. Cognitive science reveals an unconscious mind—another mind backstage—that Freud never told us about. Much thinking occurs not “on screen” but off screen, out of sight, where reason does not know. Countless studies—of priming, implicit memory, empathic accuracy, thin slice social judgments, creativity, and right hemisphere processing—illustrate our nonrational, intuitive powers. We know more than we know we know. Thanks to our “overlearning” of automatic behaviors, those of us who learned to ride bikes as children can intuitively pedal away on one decades later. And a skilled violinist knows, without thinking, just where to place the bow, at what angle, with what pressure. “In apprehension, how like a god!,” exclaimed Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

 

Intuition’s perils. Other studiesof perceptual illusions, self-serving bias, illusory optimism, illusory correlation, confirmation bias, belief perseverance, the fundamental attribution error, misplaced fears, and the overconfidence phenomenon—confirm what literature and religion have long presumed: the powers and perils of pride. Moreover, these phenomena feed mistaken gut intuitions that produce deficient decisions by clinicians, interviewers, coaches, investors, gamblers, and would-be psychics. “Headpiece filled with straw,” opined T. S. Eliot.

 

Intuition’s failures often are akin to perceptual illusions—rooted in mechanisms that usually serve us well but sometimes lead us astray. Like doctors focused on detecting and treating disease, psychological scientists are skilled at detecting and calling attention to our mind’s predictable errors. They concur with the novelist Madeline L’Engle’s observation: “The naked intellect is an extraordinarily inaccurate instrument.”

 

The bottom line: our gut intuitions are terrific at some things, such as instantly reading emotions in others’ faces, but fail at others, such as guessing stocks, assessing risks, and predicting climate change. And so psychologists teach about intuition’s perils as well as its powers. We encourage critical thinking. We urge people, before trusting others’ gut intuitions, to ask: “What do you mean?” “How do you know?”

 

As physicist Richard Feynman famously said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.”

 

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

The next term is on the horizon. Looking for a different way to introduce your students to the course?

 

Today in the History of Psychology database, created by Warren Street (Central Washington University, Emeritus), has been over 40 years in the making. Hosted on his faculty website for many years, Street donated the database to the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP). Under its second editor ever, Chris Koch (George Fox University), the database made its STP debut in October.

 

In small groups, have your students use their web-enabled devices to find the month and day of their births in the database. (If students don’t want to share their birthday, they can, of course, choose any month and day.) Ask students to pick one event from each birthday. Next, ask students to look at the table of contents from their textbooks to figure out in which chapters those events fall.

 

Circulate among the groups, answering any questions they may have.

 

Ask each group to identify the most interesting event they identified, the month/day/year it happened, why they chose that event, and in which chapter they think it falls.

 

As groups report out, add whatever other information you think would be interesting. Let students know they’ll be hearing more about these events as the course progresses.

 

Keep a list of the dates and events. When you get to those chapters, refer back to these events – or post an announcement in your course management system with additional information.

 

Examples:

 

October 30, 1938: “The Orson Welles radio broadcast of H. G. Wells's War of the Worlds ‘was aired, on Halloween night. This realistic radio drama caused panic in many parts of the United States. The phenomenon was described in Hadley Cantril, Hazel Gaudet, and Herta Hertzog's book The Invasion From Mars (1940).’" 

 

The social psychology chapter will tell us about some of the factors that contributed to this panic. The podcast Radiolab did a story on this event to commemorate the 80th anniversary of its airing. It’s an interesting piece! It's noteworthy that War of the Worlds aired at different times in different parts of the world, all to similar effect. 

 

July 18, 1892: “Lightner Witmer passed his doctoral oral examination at the University of Leipzig under Wilhelm Wundt, receiving the grade of magna cum laude.  The degree was formally awarded on March 29, 1893.  Witmer was a founder of the APA and an originator of modern clinical psychology.”

 

Wundt’s founding of his lab marks the start of the field of psychology. When most people think about psychology, they probably think about psychotherapy. As you’ll see in this course, psychology is much bigger than that. In the therapy chapter, we’ll learn about the psychotherapeutic techniques used by today’s clinical psychologists.

 

December 9, 1930: “Walter Cannon delivered an address to the Harvard Medical Society on heart rate and emotion.  Cannon's research explored the physiology of emotional states.”

 

Walter Cannon’s and Philip Bard’s theory of emotion is covered in the motivation and emotion chapter. Let’s say that you are in a car accident. Your dominant emotion is probably fear. Where does that fear come from? Cannon and Bard found evidence that our physiological response (increased heart rate, for example – more on this in the biopsych chapter!) happens simultaneously with the emotion of fear.

If you, dear reader, can indulge some slightly geeky calculations, I hope to show you that with daily exercise you can live a substantially longer and happier life. Indeed, per the time invested, exercise will benefit you more than smoking will harm you. Consider:

  • An analysis of mortality data offers this memorable result: For the average person, life is lengthened by about 7 hours for every hour exercised. So (here comes the geek), the World Health Organization recommends exercising 150 minutes = 2.5 hours per week. Multiplied times 7, that equals 17.5 hours longer life for each week of exercise. Over 52 weeks, that sums to 910 hours = 38 days = 1/10th of a year longer life for each year of faithful exercise . . . which, continued over 40 years would yield ~4 years longer life. (Though, more typically, say the researchers, runners live 3.2 years longer.)
  • In another epidemiological study of over 650,000 American adults, those walking 150 minutes per week lived (voila!) 4 years longer than nonexercisers (Moore et al., 2012).

 

How satisfying to have two independent estimates in the same ballpark!

 

This potential life-extending benefit brings to mind the mirror-image life-shortening costs of smoking, which the Centers for Disease Control reports diminishes life for the average smoker “by at least 10 years.” Thus (geek time again):

  • A person  who takes up smoking at age 15, smokes 15 cigarettes per day for  50 years, and dies at 65 instead of 75, will lose roughly 1/5th of a year (equals 73 days = 1752 hours = 105,000 minutes) for each year of smoking. If each cigarette  takes 10 minutes to smoke, the minutes spent smoking (54,750 each year) will account for half of those 105,000 lost minutes.
  • Ergo, nature charges ~2 minutes of shorter life for each minute spent smoking. . . but generously gives a 7-to-1 return for each hour spent exercising. How benevolent!

 

Massive new epidemiological studies and meta-analyses (statistical digests of all available research) confirm both physical and mental health benefits of exercise (see here, here, and here). A good double goal for those wishing for a long life is: more fitness, less fatness. But evidence suggests that if forced to pick one, go for fitness.

 

As an earlier blog essay documented, exercise entails not only better health but a less depressed and anxious mood, more energy, and stronger relationships. Moreover, clinical trial experiments—with people assigned to exercise or to control conditions—confirm cause and effect: Exercise both treats and protects against depression and anxiety.

 

The evidence is as compelling as evidence gets: Go for a daily jog or swim and you can expect to live longer and live happier. Mens sana in corpore sano: A healthy mind in a healthy body.

 

 K.C. Alfred/Moment/Getty Images

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