Skip navigation
All Places > The Psychology Community > Blog > Author: Morgan Ratner

Macmillan Learning is proud to announce that Psychology 4e and Introducing Psychology 3e author Daniel L. Schacter (Harvard University) will be receiving the William James Fellow Award at the Association for Psychological Science Annual Convention in Boston.


The William James Fellow award recognizes individuals who have used their professional careers to make profound contributions to the science of psychology. The groundbreaking work Schacter has done over the past 35 years on the triumphs and failures of memory has exhibited the very nature of memory. Schacter has aptly titled his award “Adaptive Constructive Processes in Memory and Imagination,” as he has explored how memory works as a cognitive “virtual reality simulator” by taking past events as a way of imaging the future.


Attending APS in Boston this May? Join us on Friday May 26 at 4:15pm at the Worth Publishers/Macmillan Learning booth, #410 to congratulate Schacter on his achievements. Coffee and refreshments will be served.

Authors of Discovering the Scientist Within: Research Methods in PsychologyGary Lewandowski, Natalie Ciarocco and David Strohmetz are all active researchers and committed teachers at Monmouth University. They’re excited to engage in a conversation about the Research Methods course, why it is so important, and talk about how they solve challenges in their own classrooms. Check out their Facebook live video from 11/4! Please feel free to leave any questions below or directly on the Facebook video and the authors will respond!


Contributed by Mark Gluck, author of Learning and Memory.


Featuring Dr. Andrew Peter Mallon, CEO and Director of Research, Calista Therapeutics, and contributed by innovative teachers.


Currently, my primary interest in connection with Learning and Memory is the discovery and development of new treatments that cure the diseases of learning and memory, either by protecting or regenerating damaged CNS cells, in diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease, or by enhancing the capacity of the CNS to learn, in diseases like autism. Previously, I taught Learning and Memory for many years, whilst an Assistant Professor (Adj) at Brown University.


In my view, the best lessons that can be taught are those that fundamentally inform students about the nature of their own psychology and how it works for and against them without their awareness. My two favorite classroom exercises explore two critical aspects of learning: conditioning and learned helplessness.


In my classroom exercise on conditioning, I paired the ingestion of a very sweet, sugary substance (US) that elicits salivation (UR) with a distinctive sound (CS). I have used various sounds as the CS, including a dog-training clicker or saying ”test time” in my inimitable Scottish accent. The pairing can be performed during a normal lecture, and conditioning can quickly be established. Then, after the sugar is removed, the retention and extinction rate of the salivation response (CR) can be assessed in individuals. The association can be extinguished by pairing wasabi with the CS, but in the absence of intentional extinction, I have found that the CS–CR association can last weeks. For me, the real-life lesson from this observation is that it is equally possible to establish an association between a pleasant stimulus and a person: If you (CS) want to be liked by another person, you can pair your presence or your interaction with them with an agreeable US, such as a nice smile, eye contact, humor, friendliness, a compliment, or a bunch of flowers, chocolate, or other small gift. It is a reliable way to enhance one’s interactions with other people and can be remarkably effective.


I used the standard impossible anagram experiment to induce learned helplessness in half of my class as a rapid way of demonstrating the power of that pathological psychological effect; however, I follow it up with a discussion that helps students differentiate pathological learned helplessness from the necessary realization that in some cases failure is inevitable. Learned helplessness is widely considered to be an important element of depression, and it is critical for students to understand it and to learn techniques to halt the downward cycles into learned helplessness that can stymie the treatment of depression. It is also important to distinguish between pathological learned helplessness, in which the person submits to failure in an achievable endeavor, and the reasonable recognition that some goals truly are unachievable. In the example I cite to demonstrate learned helplessness, a male student asks a young lady to the prom, is refused, asks another and is again refused, and becomes despondent and never asks another. I contrast that with the example of jumping off tall buildings while flapping one’s arms in the hope of flying, an endeavor in which one should submit to failure. The key to truly understanding learned helplessness lies in distinguishing what is really possible from what is impossible.

Written and contributed by Mark Gluck, author of Learning and Memory.


Addicted to Love?


Thinking about the object of his desire, Sam’s heart starts to pound, his palms get sweaty, and he feels excitement and anticipation. Denied access, he becomes irritable, has trouble sleeping, and develops an overwhelming obsession that swamps all other interests.


Based on the above description, Sam might be a cocaine addict. Or he might just be passionately in love. Humans viewing pictures of their beloved show increased brain activity in areas including the dorsal striatum, the VTA/SNc, and the orbitofrontal cortex (Aron et al., 2005; Xu et al., 2010). These are some of the same brain areas activated by addictive drugs such as cocaine and amphetamine, and they are different from the brain areas activated by sexual arousal, indicating that romantic love is more than just a drive to obtain sex (Fisher, Aron, & Brown, 2005). Viewing pictures of a romantic partner can even produce pain relief, apparently by activating reward centers in the brain that overrule the simultaneous processing of pain (Younger, Aron, Parke, Chatterjee, & Mackey, 2010).


If romantic love activates the same reward circuits as cocaine, can it be just as addictive? Individuals experiencing intense romantic infatuation can display behaviors reminiscent of drug seeking: pursuit of the beloved to the exclusion of other activities, obsessive and intrusive thoughts, and even impulsiveness and poor decision making—leading, for example, to crimes of passion (Frascella, Potenza, Brown, & Childress, 2010). On the other hand, just because romantic love shares some brain circuitry with cocaine and can elicit some of the same behaviors doesn’t necessarily justify calling love an “addictive substance.” Not everything that elicits reward-seeking behavior or that provokes withdrawal symptoms qualifies for that label. (You seek out water when you’re thirsty, and you experience distress if you go too long without; yet would you consider yourself “addicted” to water?) Many experts believe that the depression and grief that accompany a breakup are a normal part of life— not evidence of an addictive disorder.


Nonetheless, some individuals do display excessive devotion to their beloved and experience severe withdrawal symptoms after romantic rejection, including clinical depression and (in rare cases) suicide or homicide. It is possible that, just as some individuals can try cocaine and walk away while others become pathologically addicted, so too some individuals can survive a painful breakup while others remain trapped in a state of loss. Debate continues regarding whether such individuals should be diagnosed with a pathological addiction (Reynaud, Karila, Blecha, & Benyamina, 2010).


As research elucidates the brain substrates of drug addiction and suggests therapies (including medication) to reduce the cravings associated with drug withdrawal, should we consider using the same medications to help reduce cravings following romantic rejection? If you’ve ever had your heart broken by a failed romance, would you have taken advantage of such a treatment if it existed?

Written and contributed by Mark Gluck, author of Learning and Memory.


It has long been assumed that sleep, beyond its role in rest and refreshment, also has a facilitating effect on learning and memory. After all, who doesn’t recognize the experience of working fruitlessly on a problem to the point of exhaustion, and then coming up with a sudden solution following a night of sleep? It is only over the last two decades that the effect of sleep on cognition has been studied in depth by the scientific community. This research has led to a growing understanding of how sleep affects learning and memory.


A typical night of sleep includes cycles of alternating sleep stages, each characterized by a different profile of brain activity. In one of these stages, rapid-eye-movement (REM), or paradoxical, sleep,  the brain seems as active as when awake. This is the stage in which most dreams appear. Another stage, slow-wave sleep (SWS), or deep sleep, is characterized by highly synchronized brain-neuron activity and is the stage in which it is most difficult to wake the sleeper up.


Recent research has combined sophisticated experimental designs, neuroimaging, and single-cell recordings to discover the relative impacts of the different sleep stages on various cognitive functions. It shows that SWS is mostly important for the consolidation of declarative memory, as well as for rule learning, spatial navigation, and insight. REM sleep, on the other hand, exerts its greatest effect on procedural memory. Some of the mechanisms by which sleep contributes to these functions are also becoming clear. During SWS, the hippocampus, a brain region involved in episodic and associative learning, ”replays” some of the waking experiences acquired during the previous day. The replay allows the new memories to be reorganized into a more efficient structure and also contributes to their assimilation into the general knowledge store of the individual. This reorganization is reflected as better performance the following day.


Many questions are still unanswered. For example, the mechanism by which REM sleep facilitates learning and memory remains somewhat less characterized in comparison to that of SWS. However, the rapid advancements in this field hold out promise that the years to come will bring a fuller account of why the third of our lives we spend sleeping, a seemingly wasteful behavior from a learning–memory perspective,  is in fact not wasted at all.




Stickgold, R., & Walker, M. P. (2005). Memory consolidation and reconsolidation: What is the role of sleep? Trends in Neuroscience, 28, 408–415.


Diekelmann, S., & Born, J. (2010). The memory function of sleep. Nature Review Neuroscience, 11, 114–126.