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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)