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2019

There’s bad news and good news about Americans’ race relations and attitudes.

 

The bad news:

  • People perceive race relations as worsening. In a 2019 Pew survey of 6637 Americans, 58 percent said that U.S. race relations are now “generally bad,” and 69 percent of those folks saw race relations as “getting worse.”
  • The Trump effect? In the same survey, most (65 percent) said it has become more common for people to express racist or racially insensitive views since Donald Trump’s election.
  • Hate groups are proliferating. The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified 1,020 hate groups—up 30 percent in four years. Such groups feed off dehumanizing views of other races (see here, here, and here).
  • Hate crimes are rising. Although some criticize the SPLC’s hate-group definition, their report coincides with the FBI’s reported 17 percent increase in hate crimes just in 2017. Widely publicized hate crimes, such as the burning of three Louisiana Black churches in March and April of 2019, not to mention the recent synagogue attacks, will surely sustain the perception that Trump-era race relations are worsening.

 

But there is also good news: You likely already know that since the mid-twentieth  century, support for school desegregation, equal employment opportunity, and interracial dating and marriage has soared to near-consensus—enabling a 2008 presidential election that Abraham Lincoln probably never imagined. Although most metropolitan areas remain substantially segregated, neighborhood integration has modestly increased since the century’s turn. But the even better news is that both explicit and implicit race prejudice have continued to decline.

 

This good news is reflected in Tessa Charlesworth and Mahzarin Banaji’s new report of nearly 2 million U.S. adults’ explicit and implicit racial attitudes. Since 2007, people’s explicit race attitudes—the extent to which they acknowledged preferring White to Black people—“moved toward neutrality by approximately 37 percent.” Implicit race attitudes—people’s faster speed when pairing negative words with Black faces (and positive words with White faces)—also moved toward neutrality, but with a slower 17 percent shift. (Charlesworth and Banaji also reported changed attitudes toward other social groups: Attitudes toward gay people made the swiftest progress toward neutrality, while negative implicit attitudes toward overweight people have actually increased.)

 

 

Are these hate-up, prejudice-down findings paradoxical—or even contradictory? Not necessarily. Much as extremes of income—both crushing poverty and excessive wealth—can rise even while average income is stable, so also can extremist racial attitudes increase while overall prejudice does not. Even within healthy communities, a viral disease can spread.

 

Charles Dickens, in A Tale of Two Cities, was prescient: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

 

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

Sue Frantz

Teaching Synesthesia

Posted by Sue Frantz Apr 24, 2019

I read The Man Who Tasted Shapes by the neurologist Richard Cytowic in the mid-1990s. Whenever the man ate something, he felt sensations on his skin. For example, eating chicken caused him to feel like his skin was being poked by pointy things. If the chicken was a little underdone, the points were more rounded. The sensation was so strong for him that he decided what to eat based not on the taste, but based on what he wanted his skin to feel like. Synesthesia has been a topic in my Intro Psych course ever since. I usually first cover it when we talk about how the cerebral cortex processes sensation, but it often comes up again in the sensation and perception chapter. Synesthesia is a powerful reminder that our experience of the world is entirely subjective.

 

Several years ago in class, after covering synesthesia, a student raised her hand. She said, “I have that, but I just learned that a few months ago.” A friend of hers who was taking my Intro Psych course was talking with his friends about synesthesia. This young woman was in that group conversation, and she said, “Doesn’t everyone experience that?” Silence—and they all turned to face her. That’s when she learned that the colors she sees when she hears sounds is not experienced by everyone else.

 

Synesthesia historians mark 1812 as the year synesthesia came to light. (For a complete history of synesthesia research, see Jörg Jewanski’s chapter, “Synesthesia in the Nineteenth Century: Scientific Origins” in the Oxford Handbook of Synesthesia. Yes, I, too, was surprised to learn that there is an Oxford Handbook of Synesthesia.) Despite this 200-year start on the research, modern research didn’t really take off until Cytowic met the man who tasted shapes in the 1990s. “Sir Francis Galton, the cousin of Charles Darwin, described some synesthetes in his work Colour associations. The interest and attention on this field raised and some publications followed. The US-scientist Mary Calkins introduced the term synesthesia or synaesthesia at the end of 19ths [sic] century” (Mächler, n.d.).

 

How many people have synesthesia? We have no idea. That’s not true. We do have an idea. We know it’s more than one person. The problem lies in how to test for synesthesia in all of its forms from an appropriate population sample. For a good explanation of the challenges in determining prevalence see Watson, et.al.(2017).

 

Consider using Cytowic’s 4-minute TEDEd video to introduce synesthesia. He points out that we frequently use one sensation to describe another, such as using a skin sensation word like sharp to describe taste or sound, so we all may be, in essence, synesthetes.  

 

(Shout out to Ruth Frickle for sending me this video!)

 

If you’d like to explore the topic of synesthesia yourself—and amass some examples—check out these books among many that have been written about synesthesia. They are listed in no particular order.  

 

The Man Who Tasted Shapes (1993) by Richard Cytowic

This is the book that launched modern-day synesthesia research. The first half of the book is about the synesthetic experience. In the second half, he waxes philosophically on the meaning of it all.

 

Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens (2001) by Patricia Lynn Duffy

Written by someone with grapheme-color synesthesia—perhaps one of the most common forms of synesthesia—Duffy shares what it’s like to have sounds produce color.

 

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons (2014) by Sam Kean

Kean, in the “Wiring and Rewiring” chapter, spends a few pages discussing synesthesia. Mostly, I will take any opportunity to plug this book. If you teach Intro Psych—and especially if neuroscience is a weakness for you—you must read this book. It’s non-negotiable.

 

Synesthesia (2018) by Richard Cytowic

This is Cytowic’s newest book. I haven’t read it yet, but my local library system is routing it to me as I type. I trust that this will contain the most current research on the topic.

 

 

References (excluding the above book recommendations)

 

Mächler, M.-J. (n.d.). History of synesthesia. Retrieved April 24, 2019, from https://synesthesia.com/blog/synesthesia/science-of-synesthesia/history-synesthesia-research/

 

Watson, M. R., Chromý, J., Crawford, L., Eagleman, D. E., Enns, J. T., & Akins, K. A. (2017). The prevalence of synaesthesia depends on early language learning. Consciousness and Cognition, 48, 212–231. 

David Myers

Showerthoughts

Posted by David Myers Expert Apr 19, 2019

Part of my text-writing pleasure is interjecting playful thoughts and tongue-in-cheek one-liners that students seem to enjoy: “Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?” (If I don’t enjoy writing—assuming psychology teaching can offer both wisdom and wit—then who will enjoy reading?)

 

As part of my, um, “executive time,” I occasionally visit Reddit’s Showerthoughts—first for delight but also for inspiration. To quote the website, a showerthought is a spontaneous “miniature epiphany that makes the mundane more interesting. . . . Showerthoughts can be funny, poignant, thought-provoking, or even just silly, but they should always prompt people to say ‘Huh, I’ve never thought about it that way before!’”

 

Some Showerthought examples:

  • Your stomach thinks all potato is mashed.
  • We don’t wash our hands, our hands wash each other.
  • Someone coined the term “coin the term.”
  • If you are the best barber in town, you know you can't get the best haircut.
  • The "b" in subtle is subtle.
  • In a nutshell, an acorn is an oak tree.
  • A lot of people die in their living rooms.
  • The two worst prison sentences are life and death.
  • If you swap the W’s in Where? What? and When? with T’s, you end up with their answers.
  • Tea is just a fancy way of saying leaf soup.
  • Everything in the entire universe either is or isn't a potato.

 

For your further pleasure, here are some psychology-relevant examples, each from Showerthoughts or inspired by one-liners that I encountered there. Perhaps (after my editors trim the merely silly) some of these musings will leaven our future editions?

 

Sleep: To fall asleep, fake it till you make it.

 

Loneliness: The world is full of lonely people afraid to make the first move.

 

Relationships: All of your friends you made by talking to strangers.

 

Implicit cognition: The unconscious mind is like the wind: You don’t see it, but you can see its effects.

 

Aging: To age is to shift from a life of “no limits” to “know limits.”

 

Relationships: Marrying someone because they're attractive is like buying a watermelon because it's a really nice shade of green.

 

Memory via acronyms: The acronym of "The Only Day After Yesterday" is TODAY.

 

Eating behavior: When you're “biting down" on something, you're actually biting up.

 

Sensory adaptation: Nobody realizes how much noise their air conditioning is making until it abruptly shuts off.

 

Psychokinesis claims: More spoons have been bent by ice cream than by psychics.

 

Mind and brain: When you're thinking about your brain, your brain is just thinking about itself.

 

Death: You will be the last person to die in your lifetime.

 

 

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

A couple years ago, I wrote a blog post about how to use The Gender Unicorn to help students understand the differences between gender identity, gender expression, sex assigned at birth, physical attraction, and emotional attraction. Through this activity, students can begin to grasp the complexity of sex, gender, and attraction.

 

Matt Goldenberg, through the Society for the Teaching of Psychology Facebook group, posted this 4-minute video that provides a nice introduction to a deeper discussion and The Gender Unicorn. (The recording is audio-described for the visually impaired and captioned for the hearing impaired.)

 

Before showing the video, ask students to work in pairs or small groups to describe the ways in which people express their gender. In other words, when you see someone, how do you know what gender, if any, that person identifies with? Or, how do parents show the gender of their infants? Ask students to volunteer what they came up with; record these where students can see them.

 

 

If you have time, ask students to consider how the concept of gender differs across cultures. This article from Independent Lens includes a map of places around the world that look at gender differently than people do in the West. Click on each pin to learn more.

 

After watching the recording and discussing gender across cultures, launch The Gender Unicorn activity.  

 

A quick note about terminology. The prefix “cis” is Latin for “on the same side of;” and “trans” is Latin for “on the other side of.” For those who identify as cisgender, the gender they were assigned at birth and the gender they identify with now are in agreement—they’re on the same side. For those who identify as transgender, the gender they were assigned at birth and the gender they identify with now are in disagreement—they’re on different sides. This language is misleading because there really aren’t any sides. Those who identify as non-binary are saying that they don’t identify themselves according to a side.

“The sun looks down on nothing half so good as

a household laughing together over a meal.”

~C. S. Lewis, “Membership,” 1949

 

It’s one of life’s curiosities: Taking in food is, everywhere, a common communal activity. For families and friends, eating together is a social event. For creatures with a need to belong, group meals provide the pleasures of both food and friendship.

 

Eating eases meeting. When people share an eating pleasure, such as tasting chocolates, they find food more flavorful. When families sit down for a shared dinner, they eat not only healthier but happier—their lives pausing for connection. And when workers come together for a meal, team-building friendships grow. Such is my experience, as when my psychology text publishing team gathers over a meal (shown here from our recent book-planning meeting in New York City).

Yale psychologist Irving Janis and his colleagues observed long ago that persuasive messages associated with good feelings—such as experienced while eating snacks—are more convincing. Fund solicitors and salespeople understand that when they treat us to a meal, good feelings often generalize to the host. The bonding power of a shared meal is especially great, report Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach, when people—whether friends or strangers—eat from shared bowls. After eating chips and salsa from shared rather than separate bowls, people in their experiments became more cooperative in negotiating wages.

 

Their findings remind me of the convivial spirit I experienced when treated to group dinners with my Chinese hosts on visits to Beijing and Shanghai—with each of us sampling from shared dishes placed around a center-table Lazy Susan (or as the Chinese would say, in translation, a “dinner-table turntable”).

 

      Free image from Pixaby.

Those of us who are North Americans have our own family-style-dinner counterparts —shared fondue pots, tapas dinners, and communal hors d'oeuvres. As Woolley and Fishbach conclude, shared plates → shared minds. Such is the social power of shared meals.

 

Food matters. Perhaps the rapport-building power of breaking bread together can nudge us to prioritize time for sharing more family meals, for offering hospitality to our friends and colleagues, and for welcoming new acquaintances.

 

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

Last week, I gave five examples of experiments you can use to give students practice at identifying independent and dependent variables. Here are five more.

 

After covering these concepts, ask students to work in pairs or small groups to identify both the independent variable(s) and the dependent variable(s) in each example.

Hypothesis: If people use third person pronouns to describe an event that caused anxiety, they will be more likely to report visualizing the scene as a distant observer would.

Researchers asked study participants to recall a time when they were “worried about something happening to” them. Participants were then randomly assigned to either the first person condition or the third person condition. In the first person condition, participants reflected on their experience through answering questions with an I/my focus, like “Why did I feel this way?” and “What were the underlying causes and reasons for my feelings?” In third person condition, participants reflected on their experience through answering questions with an outsider’s focus by using their own name in their reflection, like “Why did Jane feel this way?” and “What were the underlying causes and reasons for Jane’s feelings?” When asked, participants in the third-person group reported seeing the imagined event unfold further away from them than reported by participants in the first-person group.

In this experiment, identify the independent variable and the dependent variable. 

Kross, E., Bruehlman-Senecal, E., Park, J., Burson, A., Dougherty, A., Shablack, H., … Ayduk, O. (2014). Self-talk as a regulatory mechanism: How you do it matters. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106(2), 304–324. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0035173

 

Hypothesis: If people hear how many others who stayed in their hotel room chose to reuse their hotel room towels, they will be more likely to reuse their towels, too.

 The hotel room attendant supervisor placed one of five signs in the bathrooms of randomly-assigned hotel rooms. Each sign carried a different message: (1) a general “save the environment” message, (2) a “join your fellow guests” message explaining that 75% of guests who stayed at the hotel reused their towels, (3) another “join your fellow guests” message but this one explained that 75% of people who stayed in that very hotel room reused their towels, (4) a “join your fellow citizens” message that shifted the in-group from hotel guests to the broader citizens, and (5) a “join the men and women” message that shifted the in-group to one’s own gender group. Hotel guests who received message 3 about others who stayed in their hotel room were much more likely to reuse their towels (49.3%) as compared to all of the other groups (average re-use 42.8%).

In this experiment, identify the independent variable and the dependent variable. 

Goldstein, N. J., Cialdini, R. B., & Griskevicius, V. (2008). A room with a viewpoint: Using social norms to motivate environmental conservation in hotels. Journal of Consumer Research, 35(3), 472–482. https://doi.org/10.1086/586910

 

Hypothesis: If people are given unwrapped pieces of chocolate, they will consume them more quickly than those given wrapped pieces of chocolate.

Participants received six pieces of chocolate. Random assignment determined which participants received separately wrapped pieces and which received unwrapped pieces. Participants were asked to record when they ate the chocolate. Those who received the unwrapped pieces ate most of them within two days. Those with wrapped pieces took longer.

In this experiment, identify the independent variable and the dependent variable. 

Cheema, A., & Soman, D. (2008). The effect of partitions on controlling consumption. Journal of Marketing Research, 45(6), 665–675. https://doi.org/10.1509/jmkr.45.6.665Use the "Insert Citation" button to add citations to this document.

 

Hypothesis: If people receive information about available health services, they will use those services more.

Researchers sampled several communities in India on their use of available health services. They randomly assigned half of the communities to receive pamphlets and community meetings that informed them of services. A year later, these residents had more prenatal examinations, more tetanus vaccinations, more prenatal supplements, and more infant vaccinations than people in the communities that did not receive the pamphlets or hold the community meetings.

In this experiment, identify the independent variable and the dependent variables.

 

Pandey, P., Sehgal, A. R., Riboud, M., Levine, D., & Goyal, M. (2007). Informing resource-poor populations and the delivery of entitled health and social services in rural India: A cluster randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 298(16), 1867–1875. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.298.16.1867

 

Hypothesis: If we invite girls to “do science” as compared to “be a scientist,” they will persist longer in playing a science game.

 

Researchers randomly assigned young girls to hear that “Today we’re going to do science” or hear that “Today we’re going to be scientists” before playing a science game where the children had to make guesses based on observation. After failing at their guesses, the experimenter the child if she wanted to keep playing or do something else. The girls in the “do science” condition were more likely to persist in playing the game than those in the “be a scientist” condition.

In this experiment, identify the independent variable and the dependent variable.

 

Rhodes, M., Leslie, S. J., Yee, K. M., & Saunders, K. (2019). Subtle linguistic cues increase girls’ engagement in science. Psychological Science. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797618823670

Consider two facts:

 

  1. Worldwide, smartphones and easier social media access exploded starting in 2010. Consider U.S. smartphone-use (and its projected future):
  2. Simultaneously—and coincidentally?—teen girls’ rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide have mushroomed (for Canadian, American, and British sample data see here, here, and here).

     

So, is there a causal connection? If so, is it big enough to matter?

 

Should parents give (or deny) their middle schoolers smartphones with Instagram or Snapchat accounts? And does amount of daily screen time matter?

 

In quest of answers, my esteemed social psychologist colleague Jonathan Haidt is assembling the available evidence using (and illustrating) three psychological methods. His tentative conclusions:

 

  • Correlational studies ask: Is social media use associated with teen mental health? Study outcomes vary, but overall, there is at least a small correlation between adolescents’ social media hours and their risk of depression, anxiety, and self-harm. The screen time–disorder association is stronger for social media use than for TV and gaming time, and the link is greater for females who are heavy social media users.
  • Longitudinal studies ask: Does today’s social media use predict future mental health? In six of eight studies, the answer is yes.
  • Experiments ask: Do volunteers randomly assigned to restricted social media use fare better than those not assigned on outcomes such as loneliness and depression? On balance, yes, says Haidt, but the few such studies have produced mixed results.

 

Haidt’s provisional conclusion can be seen in his tweet:

 

In a Time essay, researcher Jean Twenge (my Social Psychology co-author) offers kindred advice for parents concerned about their children’s social media use:

  • “No phone or tablets in the bedroom at night.”
  • “No using devices within an hour of bedtime.”
  • “Limit device time to less than two hours of leisure time a day.”

 

Haidt also provides us a much-needed model of intellectual humility. In his continuing search for answers, he posts his tentative conclusions and accumulating evidence online, and he welcomes other researchers’ evidence and criticism. He writes,

I am not unbiased. I came to the conclusion that there is a link, and I said so in my book (The Coddling of the American Mind, with Greg Lukianoff). . . . Like all people, I suffer from confirmation bias. [Thus] I need help from critics to improve my thinking and get closer to the truth. If you are a researcher and would like to notify me about other studies, or add comments or counterpoints to this document, please request edit access to the Google Doc, or contact me directly.

 

In our college and AP psychology texts, Nathan DeWall and I commend “a scientific attitude that combines curiosity, skepticism, and humility.” We note that, when combined with the scientific method, the result is a self-correcting road toward truth. By embracing this spirit, Haidt exemplifies psychological science at its best—exploring an important question by all available methods . . . drawing initial conclusions . . . yet holding them tentatively, while welcoming skeptical scrutiny and further evidence. As he mused (when I shared a draft of this essay), “It is amazing how much I have learned, and refined my views, just by asking people to make me smarter.”

 

How true for us all. The pack is greater than the wolf.

 

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

Psychology students often struggle with the difference between the independent and dependent variables. After covering these concepts, ask students to work in pairs or small groups to identify both the independent variable(s) and the dependent variable(s) in each example.

Hypothesis: Creating concrete examples will improve recall.

"Students read a short text that introduced eight concepts. Some students were then prompted to generate concrete examples of each concept followed by definition restudy, whereas others only restudied definitions for the same amount of time. Two days later, students completed final tests involving example generation and definition cued recall." (In the definition cued recall test, the cues were the names of each of the concepts; the "recall" was the student writing down the definition.) Those who created their own examples of each of the concepts did better on the test than students who just restudied the concepts. 

In this experiment, identify the independent variable and the dependent variable. 

Rawson, K. A., & Dunlosky, J. (2016). How effective is example generation for learning declarative concepts? Educational Psychology Review28(3), 649–672. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-016-9377-z

 

Hypothesis: Attending to a phone will decrease the likelihood of seeing a unicycling clown.

People, after walking across a college square, were asked if they saw a clown unicycling around a central sculpture. Only 25% of cell phone users reported seeing the clown as compared to 60% of people who were listening to music, 51% of people who were walking alone with no technological distractions, and 71% of people who were walking with another person.

This type of study is called a quasi-experiment because participants weren't randomly assigned to conditions.

In this experiment, identify the independent variable and the dependent variable. 

Hyman, I. E., Boss, S. M., Wise, B. M., McKenzie, K. E., & Caggiano, J. M. (2010). Did you see the unicycling clown? Inattentional blindness while walking and talking on a cell phone. Applied Cognitive Psychology24, 597–607. https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.1638

 

Hypothesis: Being sleep-deprived will increase the desire for high-calorie foods.

After either get a full night’s sleep or staying awake all night, participants were asked how desirable each of 80 different foods were.  When participants were sleep-deprived, they found high-calorie foods more desirable than when they had a full night’s sleep.

This type study is called a within-subjects design because the same participants got both the full night’s sleep and, on another night, stayed awake all night.

In this experiment, identify the independent variable and the dependent variable. 

Greer, S. M., Goldstein, A. N., & Walker, M. P. (2013). The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nature Communications, 4, 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms3259

 

Hypothesis: “Inflated praise [will] decrease challenge-seeking in children with low self-esteem but [will] increase challenge-seeking in children with high self-esteem.”

Children (ages 8 to 12), after having their self-esteem measured, “drew a famous painting… and were told that that a professional painter, who in reality did not exist, would examine their drawing.”  Each child then received a handwritten note that they were told was written by the painter. The note said either, “You made an incredibly beautiful drawing!,” “You made a beautiful drawing!,” or did not address the drawing. Children then could choose to replicate two easy drawings (“If you choose to draw these easy pictures, you won’t make many mistakes, but you won’t learn much either.”) or two difficult drawings (“If you choose to draw thsese difficult pictures, you might make many mistakes, but you’ll definitely learn a lot, too.”). Children with low self-esteem who received the incredibly beautiful praise were more likely to choose the easy drawings. Children with low self-esteem who received the beautiful praise were likely to choose the difficult drawings. Those results were reversed for children with low self-esteem.

 

In this experiment, identify the two independent variables and the dependent variable.

 

Brummelman, E., Thomaes, S., Orobio de Castro, B., Overbeek, G., & Bushman, B. J. (2014). “That’s not just beautiful-that’s incredibly beautiful!”: The adverse impact of inflated praise on children with low self-esteem. Psychological Science, 25(3), 728–735. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797613514251

 

Hypothesis: Tasters will rate vinegar-laced beer as better than regular beer if they are not first told that vinegar has been added to the beer.

Participants were invited to taste two different beers and express their preference for one over the other. Participants were told that the beer was laced with vinegar either before or after tasting or were told nothing. Participants who weren’t told that the beer was laced with vinegar or were told after they tasted it preferred it over the regular beer. Those who were told it was laced with vinegar before tasting it preferred the regular beer.

 

In this experiment, identify the independent variable and the dependent variable.

 

Lee, L., Frederick, S., & Ariely, D. (2006). Try it, you’ll like it: The influence of expectation, consumption, and revelation on preferences for beer. Psychological Science, 17(12), 1054–1058. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01829.x