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2019
David Myers

Out of Many, One

Posted by David Myers Expert Mar 28, 2019

Perhaps you, too, feel it like never before—intense contempt for your political opposites. National Election Surveys reveal that U.S. Republicans and Democrats who hate the other party each soared from 20% in 2000 to near 50% in 2016. Small wonder, given that 42 percent in both parties agree that those in the other party “are downright evil.”

 

Should the government “do more to help the needy”? Is racial discrimination a main reason “why many Black people can’t get ahead these days”? Do immigrants “strengthen the country with their hard work and talents”? The partisan divergence in response to such questions has never been greater, reports the Pew Research Center. The overlap between conservative Democrats and progressive Republicans has never been less. And fewer folks than ever hold a mix of conservative and liberal views.

 

Americans are polarized. There seems no bridge between Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow, between MAGA red-hatters and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez admirers. We are a nation of opposing hidden tribes. “Some people’s situations are so challenging that no amount of work will allow them to find success,” agree 95 percent of “progressive activists.” But no, say “devoted conservatives,” who are 92 percent agreed that “people who work hard can find success no matter what situation they were born into.”

Do we exaggerate?

But I overstate. Although the political extremes are inverses, studies (here and here) show that most liberals and conservatives exaggerate their differences. On issues such as immigration, trade, and taxes, they overestimate the extremity of a “typical” member of the other party. And for some ideas—higher taxes on the ultra-wealthy, Medicare negotiation of lower drug prices, background checks on gun sales—there is bipartisan supermajority support.

 

Differences, we notice; similarities, we neglect
It’s a universal truth: Differences draw our attention. As individuals, we’re keenly aware of how we differ from others. Asked to describe themselves, redheads are more likely to mention their hair color; the foreign-born, their birthplace; and the left-handed, their handedness. Living in Scotland, I become conscious of my American identity and accent. Visiting my daughter in South Africa, I am mindful of my race. As the sole male on a professional committee of females, I was aware of my gender. One is “conscious of oneself insofar as, and in the ways that, one is different,” observed the late social psychologist William McGuire.

 

Likewise, when the people of two cultures are similar, they nevertheless will attend to their differences—even if those differences are small. Rivalries often are most intense with another group that most resembles one’s own. My college has what is widely acclaimed (by ESPN and others) as the greatest small college sports rivalry with a nearby college that shares its Protestant Dutch history…rather like (in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels) the war between the Little-Endians who preferred to break their eggs on the small end, and the Big-Endians who did so on the big end.

 

Our similarities exceed our differences

As members of one human family, we share not only our biology—cut us and we bleed—but our behaviors. We all wake and sleep, prefer sweet tastes to sour, fear snakes more than snails, and know how to read smiles and frowns. An alien anthropologist could land anywhere on Earth and find people laughing and crying, singing and worshiping, and fearing strangers while favoring their own family and neighbors. Although differences hijack our attention, we are all kin beneath the skin.

 

Nearly two decades ago, the communitarian sociologist Amitai Etzioni identified “core values” that are “embraced by most Americans of all races and ethnic groups.” Eight in ten Americans—with agreement across races—desired “fair treatment for all, without prejudice or discrimination.” More than 8 in 10 in every demographic group agreed that freedom must be tempered by personal responsibility, and that it was “extremely important” to spend tax dollars on “reducing crime” and “reducing illegal drug use” among youth. A more recent study of nearly 90,000 people across world cultures and of varying gender, age, education, income, and religiosity confirmed that “similarities between groups of people are large and important.” 

 

Believing that there is common ground, the nonprofit Better Angels movement aims “to unite red and blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America.” They do this in several ways:

  • “We try to understand the other side’s point of view, even if we don’t agree with it.”
  • “We engage those we disagree with, looking for common ground and ways to work together.”
  • “We support principles that bring us together rather than divide us.” 

 

We will still disagree. We do have real differences, including the social identities and values that define us. Nevertheless, our challenge now is to affirm both our diversity and our unifying ideals, and thus to renew the founding idea of America: diversity within unity. E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

 

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

Are you getting tired of your classical conditioning examples? Here are some new ones from FailBlog. You won’t be surprised to see that while the FailBlog post is called “29 people share the Pavlovian (reflex) responses they’ve developed,” not all of these are actually examples of classical conditioning. The key is that the response has to be involuntary. In several of these, the behavior is voluntary. For example, #21: “TV commercial, look at phone.” Since looking at phone is a voluntary behavior, this is operant conditioning where the TV commercial is a discriminative stimulus. There is negative reinforcement (removing the commercial) and positive reinforcement (something more interesting than a commercial on the phone). And #23 is a reference to The Office “mouth tastes bad” scene – which is still not an example of classical conditioning. (What’s the involuntary response? Now, if he salivated to the ding…)

 

After covering both classical and operant conditioning, if your students are up for the challenge, ask them to work in pairs or small groups to identify the examples that are classical conditioning and the ones that are not. Read through all 29 of these before giving them to your students. The language and content of some may not be appropriate for your student population. Make sure you are comfortable explaining the classical conditioning behind the classical conditioning examples and explaining why the other are not examples of classical conditioning. Use only the ones you want.

 

After the groups have had time to do their identifications, go through each example in turn. “Number 1: classical conditioning, which groups say yes?” You can do a show of hands, clickers, or some other polling method. Spend time discussing the ones that are not classical conditioning that students thought were.

 

If time allows, or as a take-home assignment, assign each student group one or more of the classical conditioning examples. Their task is to identify the unconditioned stimulus, conditioned stimulus, unconditioned response, conditioned response in each of their assigned examples.

In the aftermath of the New Zealand massacre of Muslims at worship, American pundits have wondered: While the perpetrator alone is responsible for the slaughter, do the expressed attitudes of nationalist, anti-immigrant world leaders increase White nationalism—and thus the risk of such violence?

 

Consider Donald Trump’s rhetoric against supposed rapist, drug-dealing immigrants; his retweeting of anti-Muslim rhetoric; his saying that the Charlottesville White nationalists included some “very fine people”; or his condoning violence at his rallies and against the media. Do these actions serve to normalize such attitudes and behavior? Is the Southern Poverty Law Center right to suppose that hatemongering is “emboldened [and] energized” by such rhetoric? Is the New Zealand gunman’s reportedly lauding Trump as “a symbol of White supremacy” something more than a murderer’s misguided rantings?

 

In response, many people—particularly those close to Trump—attributed responsibility to the gunman. The President’s acting chief of staff argued that the shooter was a “disturbed individual” and that it is “absurd” to link one national leader’s rhetoric to an “evil person’s” behavior. We social psychologists call this a “dispositional attribution” rather than a “situational attribution.”

 

As I noted in a 2017 essay, two recent surveys and an experiment show that dispositions are shaped by social contexts. Hate speech (surprised?) feeds hate. Those frequently exposed to hate speech become desensitized to it, and then to lower evaluations of, and greater prejudice toward, its targets. Prejudice begets prejudice.

 

To be sure, leaders’ words are not a direct cause of individuals’ dastardly actions. Yet presidents, prime ministers, and celebrities do voice and amplify social norms. To paraphrase social psychologists Chris Crandall and Mark White, people express prejudices that are socially acceptable and suppress those that are not. When prejudice toward a particular group seems socially sanctioned, acts of prejudice—from insults to vandalism to violence—increase as well. Norms matter.

 

The FBI reports a 5 percent increase in hate crimes during 2016, and a further 17 percent increase during 2017--and reportedly more than doubled in counties hosting a Trump rally. The Anti-Defamation League reports that 2018 “was a particularly active year for right-wing extremist murders: Every single extremist killing—from Pittsburgh to Parkland—had a link to right-wing extremism.” Again, we ask: Coincidence? Or is there something more at work? If so, is there a mirror-image benevolent effect of New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s saying of her nation’s Muslim immigrants, “They are us”?

 

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

When Seattle residents were surveyed concerning their fear of crime, many reported a fear that outpaced the actual level of crime. Two neighborhoods, for example, “are seemingly safe places to live, and rank among the 15 neighborhoods with the lowest rates of reported crime. But in terms of fear, they rank second and third, respectively — both at least 10 points higher than the city average.” There are 8 additional neighborhoods whose amount of crime is below the city average but whose fear of crime is above the city average (Balk, 2018).

 

Additionally, while Seattle crime is frequently reported in the news, suburban crime is less reported. Some residents of Bellevue (population 150,000 and located 10 miles east of Seattle) have complained that problems with crime in their city has not enjoyed the same media coverage Seattle’s has. In all fairness, Bellevue’s crime rate is not near that of Seattle’s. For example, in 2018, while Seattle had 992 burglaries per 100,000 residents, Bellevue had 268 per 100,000 residents (Balk, 2019). Why do the residents of some Seattle neighbors greatly fear crime while their neighborhoods are pretty safe?

 

Why do the residents of Bellevue think there is more crime in their city than there is?

 

One culprit may be Nextdoor.com (Balk, 2019), “The private social network for your neighborhood.”

 

The Nextdoor.com website says, “Nextdoor is the best way to stay informed about what’s going on in your neighborhood—whether it’s finding a last-minute babysitter, planning a local event, or sharing safety tips. There are so many ways our neighbors can help us, we just need an easier way to connect with them.” As a member of Nextdoor.com, I do see all of those things. But Nextdoor also provides a way for everyone to report suspicious activity and actual crime (posting security cam recordings of thieves stealing packages is a favorite), whether experienced themselves or by a neighbor. “Suspicious activity” is, of course, subjective. Whether it’s actual crime or “suspicious activity” that may have been nothing, it’s easy for readers of Nextdoor to add ticks to their mental crime column.

 

For frequent Nextdoor readers, crime information is salient. The availability heuristic leads such readers to think their neighborhoods are crime-ridden when, in fact, the crime rates may be quite low. If only people would also report when they experienced no crime. (Do you think I could start that trend? “Dear neighbors, nobody harmed my family or stole my property today.”) It’s another nice reminder that the information we take in does indeed influence our perceptions. For those keeping score – System 1: 1; System 2: 0 (Stanovich & West, 2000).

 

References

 

Balk, G. (2018, June 28). ‘Mean world syndrome’: In some Seattle neighborhoods, fear of crime exceeds reality. Seattle Times. Retrieved from https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/data/mean-world-syndrome-in-some-seattle-neighborhoods-fear-of-crime-exceeds-reality

 

Balk, G. (2019, February 11). The ‘Nextdoor effect’ in Bellevue: A familiar reaction to crime. Seattle Times. Retrieved from https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/data/the-nextdoor-effect-in-bellevue-a-familiar-reaction-to-crime

 

Stanovich, K. E., & West, R. F. (2000). Individual differences in reasoning: Implications for the rationality debate? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 23, 645–726. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X00003435

With so many trillions of daily happenings, some weird and wonderful events are inevitable—random serendipities that we could never predict in foresight but can savor in hindsight. From sports to relationships to our very existence, chance rules.

 

Sports. I defy you to watch this 7-second basketball clip (of a “double doinked” basketball fan) and not smile (or cringe). Freakish events are commonplace in baseball and basketball—as in astonishing hot and cold hitting and shooting streaks. Even when such streaks approximate mere random sequences, they hardly seem random to fans. That’s because random data are streakier than folks assume. (Coin tosses, too, have more runs of heads and of tails than people expect.) And thus is born the sporting world’s preeminent myth—the “hot hand” (see here and here).

 

Chance encounters. Albert Bandura has documented the lasting significance of chance events that deflect our life course into an unanticipated relationship or career. He recalls the book editor who came to one of his lectures on the “Psychology of Chance Encounters and Life Paths”—and ended up marrying the woman he chanced to sit beside.

 

In 1978, I was invited to a five-day conference in Germany, where I came to know a more senior American colleague who chanced to have an adjacent assigned seat. Six months later, when he was invited to become a social psychology textbook author, he referred an acquisitions editor to me, which led to my writing of textbooks and eventually these TalkPsych.com essays. So, thanks to this happenstance seating assignment (and to the kindness of my distinguished colleague), I gained a meaning-filled new vocation . . . and now you are reading this.

 

Recently I was stranded on a rainy Cambridge, Massachusetts, sidewalk, waiting for a lost Lyft driver. That mix-up led to my sharing a ride with University of California at Santa Barbara professor Ann Taves. Making small talk, I asked her about the California fires, noting that I have a friend whose department at Westmont College (in Santa Barbara) was burned in wildfires some years ago.

 

“Who’s your friend?” she asked.

 

“Ray Paloutzian,” I said.

 

Her reply: “I'm married to him!”

 

But then it got weirder. She said she’d heard that I had a Seattle connection. I told her about family there and mentioned we now own a home in the area.

 

“Where is that?” she asked. When I said Bainbridge Island, she looked a little stunned and said, “Where on Bainbridge?”

 

I explained that it was on a beach called “Yeomalt,” one point north of where the ferry docks.

 

Her mouth dropped open. “You're that David Myers?!” 

 

Wonder of wonders, her uncle was also named David Myers, and she spent time over many summers with Uncle David in our little neighborhood—meaning we surely had crossed paths multiple times. She knew all about the other Yeomalt Myers . . . and her uncle’s name doppelganger.

 

I recalled for her the many times that her uncle and I would row past each other while salmon fishing in the early morning . . . with Dave Myers exchanging a friendly wave with Dave Myers. (That always did feel slightly weird.)

 

The point is not that just the world is weird, but that with so many things happening, some weirdness in our lives is to be expected, and enjoyed, be it double doinks or chance encounters that reveal the unlikeliest of connections. Some happenings are destined not to be explained, but to be savored.

 

Our improbable lives. But surely the unlikeliest aspect of our lives is our very existence. As I explain in Psychology, 12th edition (with Nathan DeWall), conception was “your most fortunate of moments. Among 250 million sperm, the one needed to make you, in combination with that one particular egg, won the race. And so it was for innumerable generations before us. If any one of our ancestors had been conceived with a different sperm or egg, or died before conceiving, or not chanced to meet their partner or . . . The mind boggles at the improbable, unbroken chain of events that produced us.”

 

From womb to tomb, chance matters. And whether you call it chance or providence, your life’s greatest blessing is surely that, against near-infinite odds, you exist.

 

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

Adjunct faculty, unfortunately, often don’t have the kind of support full-time faculty do. As full-time faculty, many of us could do a better job supporting both our new and our long-standing adjuncts.

 

The Adjunct Faculty Resource Guide from the American Psychological Association can help. This 19-page document was originally produced by the Psychology Teachers at Community Colleges (PT@CC) committee and revised in 2017 by the Committee for Associate and Baccalaureate Education (CABE).

 

If you are an adjunct or are thinking about taking up teaching as a part-time endeavor, read this guide.

 

If you are full-time faculty who are hiring or supervising adjuncts, read this guide so you know what you should be telling your new adjuncts. Also, give this guide to your new adjuncts.

 

The guide is divided into three categories.

 

“Getting started: Learning institutional culture”

The process for getting hired varies. Class attendance policies, class cancellation policies, and grading policies vary widely from institution to institution. Know what you need to know to keep student records confidential and where students can get the institutional support they need – and where you can get the institutional support you need.

 

“Getting organized: Teaching psychology courses”

Create, manage, and assess your course. Write a syllabus that explains all of that to your students. Know how institutional areas, like the library, testing center, and tech support, can help you and your students.

 

“Getting connected: Building your psychology network”

Your departmental colleagues and the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (including its 8,000-member Facebook group) will be invaluable. Join us. If attending national psychology conferences are out of your price range, consider going to a regional conference. All of them include programming on the teaching of psychology. There are a lot of local or state teaching of psychology conferences as well. Check with your department for a list of such conferences in your area.

 

At the end of the guide are checklists for new adjuncts teaching face-to-face courses and new adjuncts teaching online courses. Print them out, and check the boxes as you prepare for your first course. As you have questions, ask.

Help shape the future of the intro psych course! The APA is looking for instructors to provide feedback to their APA Introductory Psychology Initiative Census (APA IPIC). Take a look at ow.ly/lZGu30nYCVS   

What are today’s U.S. teens feeling and doing? And how do they differ from the teens of a decade ago?

 

A new Pew Research Center survey of nearly a thousand 13- to 17-year-olds offers both troubling and encouraging insights (here and here).

 

The Grim News

 

Screen time vs. face-to-face time. Today’s teens spend about half their nearly six daily leisure hours looking at screens—gaming, web-surfing, socializing, or watching shows. Such activity displaces leisure time spent with others, which now averages only an hour and 13 minutes daily (16 minutes less than a decade ago).

 

Increased depression, self-harm, and suicide. My Social Psychology co-author, Jean Twenge, reports that teen loneliness, depression, and suicide have risen in concert with smart phones and social media use. She notes,

Teens who visit social-networking sites every day but see their friends in person less frequently are the most likely to agree with the statements “A lot of times I feel lonely,” “I often feel left out of things,” and “I often wish I had more good friends.”

Indeed, reports Pew, 3 in 10 teens says they feel tense or nervous every or almost every day, and 7 in 10 see anxiety and depression as major problems among their peers. Other studies confirm that teen happiness and self-esteem have declined, while teen depression, self-harm, and suicide have risen.

 

The Good News

 

Sleeping more. The teens’ time diaries found them sleeping just over 9 hours per night (and 11 hours on weekends). Although other studies have found teens more sleep-deprived, these teens reported sleeping 22 minutes more per night than their decade-ago counterparts.

 

Doing more homework. Teens also are spending more time—16 minutes more per day—on homework, which now averages an hour a day. The increased sleep and homework time is enabled partly by 26 fewer minutes per day in paid employment—fewer teenagers today have jobs.

 

Minimal pressure for self-destructive behaviors. Relatively few teens feel personally pressured to be sexually active (8 percent), to drink alcohol (6 percent), or to use drugs (4 percent)—far fewer than the 61 percent feeling pressure to get good grades.

 

The Gendered News

 

Time use. Do you find it surprising (or not) that girls, compared with boys,

  • average 58 fewer daily minutes of screen time,
  • spend 21 minutes more on homework,
  • average 23 minutes more on grooming and appearance, and
  • spend 14 minutes more on helping around the house?

 

Emotions. Girls (36 percent) are also more likely than boys (23 percent) to report feeling anxious or depressed every or almost every day. But they are more likely each day to feel excited about something studied in school (33 vs. 21 percent). And they are more likely to say they never get in trouble at school (48 vs. 33 percent).

 

Aspirations. Girls are more likely than boys (68 vs. 51 percent) to aspire to attending a four-year college. And they are less materialistic than boys—with 41 percent of girls and 61 percent of boys reporting that it will be very important to have a lot of money when they grow up.

  

To sum up, (1) aspects of teen time use and emotions have changed, sometimes significantly. (2) Gender differences persist, though the differences are not static. (3) In this modern media age, adolescence—the years that teens spend morphing from child to adult—come with new temptations, which increase some dangers and decrease others.

 

What endures is teens’ need to navigate turbulent waters en route to independence and identity, while sustaining the social connections that will support their flourishing.

 

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

Cartoonists have pretty good insight into the workings of the human mind. How many of them took Intro Psych?

 

These comics will jazz up your next research methods, cognition, personality, learning, and social psych lectures.

 

Dilbert's boss does not have an operational definition of "employee engagement," and, thus, no way to measure it. Also, on the ethics side, no, it's not okay to make up data.

 

Lio, having no trouble with functional fixedness, repurposes an object into a sled. Lio’s friends aren’t typical. His ingroups include monsters, aliens, and death himself. When everyone else sees those creatures as part of a threatening outgroup, to Lio, they are just his friends. Also, you don’t have to read through too many strips to see Lio’s strong internal locus of control.

 

Rat in Pearls Before Swine can be counted on for a solid outgroup homogeneity bias.

 

Jeremy’s mom in Zits provides a nice example of positive punishment. No, I don’t think he’ll forget his textbook at home again. Or, perhaps more likely, if he does forget it at home, he won’t ask his mom to bring it to school. After all, punishment makes us better at avoiding the punishment.

 

Caulfield, the boy in Frazz, wonders if Santa has fallen victim to the just-world phenomenon.

Pig in Pearls Before Swine, whose sweetness and innocence may be unparalleled in the comics universe, does not fall for the fundamental attribution error.

 

Looking for more example from the comics? Here are some previous comic-focused blog posts:

Spotlight effect

Door-in-the-Face, classical conditioning, and operant conditioning

Change blindness, priming, and positive reinforcement