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114 Posts authored by: Sue Frantz

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.

Jenn Grewe asked the 7,000 members of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology’s Facebook group to name their favorite psychology podcasts. Thank you to everyone who contributed!

 

If this is not enough podcasts for you to choose from, take a look at the list of psychology podcasts curated by PlayerFM.

 

Podcasts hosted by psychologists (and a behavior analyst and a philosopher) – they don’t walk into a bar, but a couple psychologists do share beer

 

Speaking of Psychology, produced by the American Psychological Association

This “is an audio podcast series highlighting some of the latest, most important and relevant psychological research being conducted today.”

 

The Learning Scientists Podcast, produced and hosted by cognitive psychologists Megan Sumeracki and Yana Weinstein

“A podcast for teachers, students, and parents about evidence-based practice and learning.”

 

PsychSessions, produced and hosted by psychologists Garth Neufeld and Eric Landrum

This podcast “is about the teaching of psychology. We leverage our connections with top psychology educators as well as up-and-coming superstars to have deep conversations about what it means to be a teacher of psychology. Of course we veer away from the teaching conversation from time to time to hear about origin stories and the personal perspectives of our guests.”

 

The Psych Files, produced and hosted by psychologist Michael Britt

The Psych Files “is aimed at anyone curious about human behavior, though students taking a course in psychology, those majoring in psychology, and instructors of psychology will find the podcast particularly of interest.”

 

Workr Beeing, produced and hosted by industrial/organizational psychologists Katina Sawyer-Cooney and Patricia Grabarek

“The Workr Beeing Podcast is another way for you to learn about workplace wellness! In the podcast, Patricia and Katina share research and tips on workplace wellness and interviews with other leading experts in the field.”

 

Behavioral Observations, produced and hosted by behavior analyst Matt Cicoria

“The overall concept - to interview interesting people in the behavior analysis field - formed the basis of the Behavioral Observations Podcast.”

 

The Psych Show (YouTube), produced and hosted by clinical psychologist Ali Mattu

“I make videos on how to use psychology to improve your life, understand the world around us, and explore pop culture.”

 

Naming It, produced and hosted by psychologists LaMisha Hill and Bedford Palmer

“Exploring the intersections of social justice, psychology, & blackness.”

 

Psychology and Stuff, produced by University of Wisconsin-Green Bay Psychology program

This podcast “includes interviews with faculty, students, and alumni from the UWGB psychology program on a wide range of topics (work, research, personal lives, and other stuff).”

 

The Black Goat, produced and hosted by psychologists Sanjay Srivastava, Alexa Tullett, and Simine Vazire

“Three psychologists talk about doing science.”

 

Very Bad Wizards, produced and hosted by philosopher Tamler Sommers and psychologist David Pizarro

“We first met at a conference on ethics a few years ago, and have been arguing (and occasionally agreeing) about morality ever since. At some point we realized that our conversations were entertaining (and crazy) enough that other people might enjoy eavesdropping. With that in mind we began recording a series of podcasts to give them a proper home.”

 

The Psychology Podcast, produced and hosted by psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman

“Each episode will feature a guest who will stimulate your mind, and give you a greater understanding of yourself, others, and the world we live in. Hopefully, we’ll also provide a glimpse into human possibility!”

 

The Arkham Sessions, produced and hosted by clinical psychologist Andrea Letamendi and Brian Ward

This “is a weekly podcast dedicated to the observation and clinical analysis of the characters in Batman: The Animated Series.”

 

Two Psychologists Four Beers, produced and hosted by psychologists Yoel Inbar and Michael Inzlicht

“Two psychologists drink at least four beers while discussing news and controversies in science, academia, and beyond.” (I first read this as “Two Psychologists Four Bears” – that’s a podcast that would also have some promise.)

 

Science podcasts hosted by journalists

 

Hidden Brain, produced by National Public Radio and hosted by their social science correspondent Shankar Vedantam

“Hidden Brain helps curious people understand the world – and themselves. Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships.”

 

Invisibilia, produced by National Public Radio and hosted by Alix Spiegel and Hanna Rosin

“Invisibilia has explored whether our thoughts are related to our inner wishes, our fears and how they shape our actions, and our need for belonging and how it shapes our identity and fuels our emotions over a lifetime. We investigate ways everyday objects can shape our worldviews, the effects we have on each other's well-being, and the various lenses we don.”

 

Freakonomics, produced and hosted by journalist Stephen Dubner

“Each week, Freakonomics Radio tells you things you always thought you knew (but didn’t) and things you never thought you wanted to know (but do) — from the economics of sleep to how to become great at just about anything. Dubner speaks with Nobel laureates and provocateurs, intellectuals and entrepreneurs, and various other underachievers.”

 

All in the Mind, produced by ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) Radio National and hosted by science journalist Lynne Malcolm 

“An exploration of all things mental, All in the Mind is about the brain and behaviour, and the fascinating connections between them.”

 

You Are Not So Smart, produced and hosted by journalist David McRaney

“Like lots of people, I used to forward sensational news stories without skepticism and think I was a smarty pants just because I did a little internet research. I didn’t know about confirmation bias and self-enhancing fallacies, and once I did, I felt very, very stupid. I still feel that way, but now I can make you feel that way too.”

 

RadioLab, produced by WNYC and hosted by journalists Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich

“Radiolab has won Peabody Awards, a National Academies Communication Award ‘for their investigative use of radio to make science accessible to broad audiences,’ and in 2011 Abumrad received the MacArthur Genius grant.“

 

Science Friday, produced by the Science Friday Initiative, distributed by WNYC Studios, and hosted by journalist Ira Flatow

“Covering the outer reaches of space to the tiniest microbes in our bodies, Science Friday is the source for entertaining and educational stories about science, technology, and other cool stuff.”

 

Science Vs, produced by Gimlet Media and hosted by science journalist Wendy Zukerman

“Science Vs takes on fads, trends, and the opinionated mob to find out what’s fact, what’s not, and what’s somewhere in between.”

 

Podcasts about the human experience

 

This American Life, produced by WBEZ and hosted by journalist Ira Glass

“Mostly we do journalism, but an entertaining kind of journalism that’s built around plot. In other words, stories! Our favorite sorts of stories have compelling people at the center of them, funny moments, big feelings, surprising plot twists, and interesting ideas. Like little movies for radio.”

Favorite episodes identified by educators. Tip: Search the page for “psychology”.

 

Ear Hustle, produced and hosted by Nigel Poor and Earlonne Woods

“The team works in San Quentin’s media lab to produce stories that are sometimes difficult, often funny, and always honest, offering a nuanced view of people living within the American prison system.”

 

Podcast about teaching in higher education

 

Teaching in Higher Ed, produced and hosted by organizational leadership professor Bonni Stachowiak

“The podcast focuses on topics such as excellence in teaching, instructional design, open education, diversity and inclusion, productivity, creativity in teaching, educational technology, and blended learning.”

Sue Frantz

LGBT experiences in prison

Posted by Sue Frantz Aug 31, 2018

Do you cover transgender and sexual orientation issues in your psychology courses? Before or after your coverage, ask students where incarcerated transgender people should be housed. Should they be housed based on the appearance of their physical body or based on their outward gendered appearance? In other words, if someone was born male, identifies and dresses as female, is convicted of a crime, and sentenced to time in prison, should the person be sent to a women’s prison or to a men’s prison?

 

States determine where an inmate should be housed based on genitalia (Routh et al., 2017). That means that transgender women who have not had sex reassignment surgery are housed in men’s prisons.

 

Have students listen to the 35-minute Episode 18 of the Ear Hustle podcast, broadcasting from San Quentin State Prison. (There is a little salty language and a lot of frank discussion; the LGBT part of the episode runs about 27 minutes.)

 

Questions for students to consider as they listen to the podcast. After listening, students can discuss their responses in an online class discussion board, in small groups during class, or as an entire class:

 

How many out gay men are there at San Quentin? What reasons do the prisoners give for that number?

 

How many transgender women are there at San Quentin?

 

Who is Lady J? Write a short biography for Lady J. What is your reaction to Lady J’s story?

 

How have attitudes toward transgender women in prison changed since the 1980s?  

 

Who is Mike? Write a short biography for Mike. What is your reaction to Mike’s story?

 

Compare attitudes toward transgender women and gay men in your community with the attitudes in San Quentin.

 

What is your reaction to this podcast episode?

 

As of 2015, nine U.S. states provided sex reassignment surgery for state prisoners, including California. Most states provide counseling, some states will start hormone treatments whereas others will only maintain hormone treatment if the inmate has started prior to incarceration (Routh et al., 2017). Investigate what policies are in place for your state or province.

 

Reference

 

Routh, D., Abess, G., Makin, D., Stohr, M. K., Hemmens, C., & Yoo, J. (2017). Transgender inmates in prisons: A review of applicable statutes and policies. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 61(6), 645–666. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306624X15603745

No, your students will not be texting or talking/listening to a phone in a crosswalk! Instead, they will be observing others who are.

 

A recent study (Alsaleh, Sayed, & Zaki, 2018)* found that people who were on their phones – either looking at their screens or talking/listening to their phone – took longer to cross the street. This is dangerous for a number of reasons. For example, distracted pedestrians are not on the lookout for distracted motorists. When distracted pedestrians and distracted motorists meet, distracted pedestrians always lose. Since distracted pedestrians spend more time in the crosswalk, they have a greater chance of being hit by a distracted motorist.

 

How much time does it take?

 

In urban areas, lanes should be 10 feet (3 meters) wide (National Association of City Transportation Officials, n.d.). That makes a four-lane road 40 feet (12 meters) wide. In the distraction study (Alsaleh et al., 2018), non-distracted pedestrians walked at a rate of 1.66 meters/second. That means it took them about 7 seconds to cross a four-lane road. In contrast, researchers found that phone-distracted pedestrians walked at a rate of about 1.5 meters/second, taking about 8 seconds to cross a four-lane road.

 

The activity

 

The researchers used observers on the ground to determine whether and how pedestrians were using their phones and used cameras to determine walking speed. For this activity, all measures will be done by observers.

Divide students into groups no smaller than three students. One student will determine if the pedestrian is distracted by their phone or not. Since the researchers found no difference in walking speed between looking at the phone and talking/listening, let’s keep this simple and not ask students to make the distinction. One student will be the timer. Using a stopwatch app on their own phone, the student will time how long it takes the pedestrian to cross the street. The third student will be the recorder – recording whether the pedestrian was distracted and recording the time it took the pedestrian to cross the street.

 

Students will need to make some decisions before heading out. If you would like to compile the data across groups, then you should have this discussion as a class. If you would like to discuss how each group’s decisions affected their results afterwards, then let each group decide these on their own.

 

Consider these as starter questions. When students return from the activity, they may have other issues that should have been considered in advance. That is a great opportunity to talk about the importance of pilot studies and their role in helping sort out these issues before investing time in a larger study.

 

  1. Where are they going to do their observations? Ideally, it will be a street with a lot of pedestrian traffic. The wider the street, the easier it will be see differences in the time it takes to cross.
  2. If there is a group of people waiting to cross the street, how will students determine who to time? The first person to cross? The right-most person?
  3. How will the students identify the person to each other to make sure that the student noting the phone behavior and the student doing the timing are looking at the same pedestrian?
  4. When will the timing start? When the target pedestrian lifts a foot to step off the curb? When the foot first hits the street?
  5. When will the timing stop? When the target pedestrian lifts a foot to stop onto the curb? When the last foot leaves the pavement?
  6. How will the recorder record the data? How many columns will be in the data sheet? To how many decimal places will the stopwatch times be recorded?
  7. How long will they collect data? Or how many pedestrians should they time? What if all of the pedestrians are on a phone?

 

When students return with their data, either that same class period or the next class period, have the recording student enter their data in a shared Google spreadsheet, for example. One column should be the first and last initials of each member of the group, one column is for non-distracted times, and one column is for distracted times.

 

Calculate means for the non-distracted and distracted pedestrians. If you’d like, conduct a t-test if you want to talk about statistical significance.

 

If some groups seem to have much slower or longer times than other groups, discuss the methodology they used.

Give each group an opportunity to share with the class what they would do differently if they were to conduct this observational research study again.

 

Conclusion

 

To conclude the activity, explain that if the class were to submit this study for publication, the authors would summarize the research related to this topic, explain in detail how the study was conducted, reveal the results, and finally explain what the findings mean, how they add to the body of research on this topic, and identify what could be done differently or better next time. Now is also a good time to explain the peer review process and the importance of replication.

 

References

 

Alsaleh, R., Sayed, T., & Zaki, M. H. (2018). Assessing the effect of pedestrians’ use of cell phones on their walking behavior. Transportation Research Record, Advance online publication. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1177/0361198118780708

 

National Association of City Transportation Officials. (n.d.). Lane width. Retrieved August 17, 2018, from https://nacto.org/publication/urban-street-design-guide/street-design-elements/lane-width/

 

*Note: The full article by Alsaleh et al. is available through ResearchGate.

In my last blog post, I wrote about one of the common street scams in Paris, the petition scam that relies on foot-in-the-door to work. Another common street scam is the friendship bracelet.

 

The scam

 

A person approaches the mark, wraps string around the mark’s finger, makes a string bracelet, ties it around the mark’s wrist, and then demands money in exchange for the bracelet that the mark cannot remove without a pocket knife.

Here it is in action. Notice how the mark tries to ignore the scammer and how the scammer ignores the mark’s protests and gets the string around his finger and starts twisting the string. It’s tight enough that the mark can’t get it off. At the end, another scammer demands the fee while the original scammer readies his string for the next mark – and scratches himself.

 

 

Norm of reciprocity

 

What drives the scam is the norm of reciprocity. When someone does something for us, we feel compelled to do something in return – even when what we received is not something we wanted.

 

A new research article, reported on by the British Psychological Society Research Digest, suggests that some people experience more “reciprocity anxiety” than other people do. “The scale taps two related components of reciprocity anxiety: avoidance, both of receiving favours/help/compliments and of feeling the need to reciprocate these things (factor 1) and distress, not only about not being able to reciprocate, but also at what others will think if you don’t (factor 2).” Those who scored higher on the “reciprocity anxiety” scale were more likely to say that if they were customers in a restaurant and the server gave them a “free money-off coupon,” they would be more likely to purchase the expensive dessert the server later recommended.

 

The blog post author, Christian Jarrett, pointed out – and rightly so – that he’d have more confidence in the value of the scale if the research measured actual behavior rather than hypothetical behavior.

 

Research idea

 

Imagine if we could measure reciprocity anxiety in tourists before turning them loose on Paris’ Montmarte or Rome’s Spanish Steps. Would those tourists who scored high on the avoidance subscale work harder to avoid the friendship bracelet scammers than those who scored low? Of the tourists who get fished in, would those who scored higher on the distress subscale give more money than those who scored low? If you can’t get a research grant that would take you to Paris or Rome, you could do it on your own campus – returning the money to the marks during your debriefing, of course! Volunteer participants would take a battery of self-report measures included among those is the reciprocity anxiety scale, and then the participants are turned loose. As the participants leave the building, your confederate scammers pounce on them with string. Although, there may be a floor effect on the dependent variable. How much cash do students carry?

 

In-class discussion

 

After covering the norm of reciprocity, discuss this new study on reciprocity anxiety. Ask students to consider what behaviors the reciprocity anxiety subscales might predict, and then brainstorm some ways those predictions could be tested.

Before taking my first trip to Paris earlier this month, I was told to beware of some of the common street scams.

I was targeted for the petition scam twice. The petition scam uses foot-in-the-door and, sometimes as a bonus, diverted attention.

 

The scam

 

In the petition scam, the thief approaches a likely mark with a clipboard in hand and asks, “Do you speak English?” When the mark says, “Yes,” the thief asks something like, “Would you sign this petition to support people who are deaf and mute?” When the mark says they are indeed willing, the thief hands over the clipboard and a pen. After the mark signs, the thief asks for a donation to support the cause. The money “donated” does not go to a cause other than the thief’s own. Foot-in-the-door research shows that, for example, people are more willing after signing a petition, to put ugly signs in their yards (Freedman & Fraser, 1966) or donate more money to a cause (Schwarzwald, Bizman, & Raz, 1983).

 

Foot-in-the-door

 

The foot-in-the-door technique starts with an innocuous question: “Do you speak English?” The mark’s response of “yes” is the foot getting in the door. The response also quickly identifies the mark as a tourist. Although, frankly, tourists are not that hard to spot. They’re the ones standing on sidewalks looking at maps. With their foot in the door, the thief aims to wedge it in even farther. The thief next asks the mark to sign a petition for a good cause. After all, who doesn’t want to support people are deaf and mute? Most people have a pretty easy time signing their name to support a cause – and the door is opened even wider. And now comes the “sales pitch.” “Donate some money to the cause – you know, that cause that you just signed your name to supporting.” The thief hopes that the person wants to avoid the dissonance caused by saying one thing (“I support this cause”) but doing something else (“I’m not going to donate any money”) by actually handing over money.

 

Pickpocket bonus

 

Sometimes the petitioners work with an accomplice. While the mark holds the clipboard with one hand and signs with the other – distracted by the task and with their hands off their belongings, an accomplice rifles through the mark’s bags or pockets.

 

If the mark donates money, the thief and their accomplice see which pocket or area in a bag the money comes from and follows the mark waiting for another opportunity to pickpocket. Distraction caused by a staged commotion by other accomplices makes for easy pickings.

 

My experience

The first petitioner who approached me in the Latin Quarter, asked if I spoke English. I said, “Yes.” She asked if I’d sign her petition to support people who are deaf and mute. That’s when alarm bells went off in my head. I’m in France. Who is she petitioning that she needs English-speakers? And “supporting” a group isn’t much of a petition. It helped that I was aware of the foot-in-the-door literature, so the only endings I could see were either being asked to donate money or being asked to put an ugly sign in my yard.

 

I immediately declined her invitation to sign while simultaneously retaining a firm grip on my bag. When the second petitioner, this time on the Champs-Élysées, approached with the same “do you speak English” question, I said in my best French accent which, admittedly, is not very good, “Non.” She looked at me as if she didn’t believe me – probably because she just saw me holding a Paris guidebook written in English and because she heard me speaking English to my wife. Either way she knew I wasn’t going to fall for it and decided not to waste her time.

 

I regret not finding a shady spot and watching these women in action. I guess the only choice I have is to go back to Paris.

 

References

 

Freedman, J. L., & Fraser, S. C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0023552

 

Schwarzwald, J., Bizman, A., & Raz, M. (1983). The Foot-in-the-Door Paradigm: Effects of Second Request Size on Donation Probability and Donor Generosity. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 9(3), 443–450. https://doi.org/10.1177/0146167283093015

In my previous blog post, I wrote, “All 25,000+ entries of the American Psychological Association (APA) Dictionary of Psychology are now freely available online. You may just want to let your students know that this resource exists and may be more trustworthy than other sources of definitions for psychological terms students find through a Google search.” Then I described an activity where students would look up terms and identify the most interesting ones to share with the class.

 

The APA Dictionary of Psychology can also be used for source terms in a popular ice breaker. In the Name Game ice breaker, when introducing themselves, the student says their first name and some word in a given category that starts with the first initial of their first name. If the category is animals, I would introduce myself as Sue the Snake. If the category is adjectives, I would introduce myself as Surprising Sue. If the category is hobbies, I would introduce myself as Skydiving Sue. No, I haven’t skydived, but I bet people would remember my name, though! The idea is to attach some imagery or emotion to a person and their name that will act as a retrieval cue later. Students may not remember “Sue,” but if they remember snake, surprising, or skydiving, the “s” may be enough of a retrieval cue to recall “Sue.” (If you do the Name Game ice breaker, consider revisiting why it works when you get to the memory chapter.)

 

For the Intro Psych Name Game ice breaker, students are to look up, using their web-enabled device, APA Dictionary of Psychology terms that start with the first letter of their first name. Students are looking for something in the definition of the term that connects with themselves. When students introduce themselves to the class (or introduce themselves to a group if you have a large section), students need to explain the term and why they chose it. Use this opportunity to talk more about the concept and what chapter it will appear in if it’s covered in your course. If it’s not a term your course covers, you can talk about what chapter it would appear in or what advanced psychology course it may appear in. (If your students are introducing themselves in groups, mingle with the groups to listen for the terms that they use. After groups are done with their introductions, share some of the terms you heard with the class as a whole.)

 

Before turning students loose to do this activity, use yourself as an example. Here are some examples I could use for me. I’ve specifically chosen these terms because I cover them in my course.

 

  • Somatosensory Area Sue. Soma means body. The somatosensory area of the brain is responsible for things like the sense of touch and kinesthesia (knowing where my limbs are positioned). It allows me to feel this marker and know that my arm is raised. We’ll cover the somatosensory area in the neuroscience chapter.

  • Sleep Hygiene Sue. Sleep hygiene is doing what you need to do in order to get good sleep. I chose it because getting good sleep is incredibly important. We’ll cover sleep in the neuroscience chapter.

  • Social Learning Sue. Social learning is the learning that “is facilitated through social interactions with other individuals.” I chose it because in this course, you’re going to be working a lot in groups and learning with and through your peers. We’ll cover social learning in the learning chapter.

  • Social Psychology Sue. Social psychology is about how we influence others and how others influence us. I chose it because my degree is in social psychology. That means that I’m not a psychotherapist. We’ll cover social psychology in the… wait for it… social psychology chapter.

As I wrote in the previous blog post on using the , “With over 25,000 terms in this dictionary, it’s likely that students will come up with something you’ve never heard of. Now is a good time to practice the humility that’s necessary when teaching Intro Psych. Students generate a lot of questions in this course. The chances that they will ask something you don’t know about is very likely. It’s okay to say, ‘I don’t know.’ If it’s in the area of something that you do know, add what you do know.”

 

The conclusion is the same as the previous post.

 

“Through this activity, students will get a sense of how broad of a field psychology is and how much area the Intro Psych course is going to cover, and you will learn a bunch of new concepts. What’s not to love about that?”

All 25,000+ entries of the American Psychological Association (APA) Dictionary of Psychology are now freely available online.

 

You may just want to let your students know that this resource exists and may be more trustworthy than other sources of definitions for psychological terms students find through a Google search.

 

If you’re looking for a different way to start your Intro Psych course, you can ask students to hop on their web-enabled device and browse this dictionary looking at words that begin with the first initial of their first name and the first initial of their last name. (If they have more than one first or last name, they can choose which initials they use.)

 

Students will then choose one word from each section. If their first and last initials are the same, they will choose two words from that section and read the definitions. Students will share what they found with one or two other students. As a group, students are to identify the most interesting term the  members of their group found, and then, looking at the table of contents for your textbook or the list of topics in the syllabus, guess where that concept could be covered in the course. Walk around to each group, answering any questions students may have.

 

Finally, ask each group to report out to the class. What term did they choose? What is the APA dictionary definition (display it via instructor’s computer)? Why did they choose it? And where in the course do they think it best fits? If this will be a concept covered in the course, you can talk more about it and whether the group was right in guessing where it will be covered. If it’s not a concept that will be covered, you can say in what kind of course it would be covered, e.g., a graduate course on statistics.

 

Examples

 

A student has my initials, S and F.

 

Skimming the S section, the student picks schadenfreude, “the gaining of pleasure or satisfaction from the misfortune of others.”

 

The student shares these with their group, and the group selects schadenfreude as the term they found most interesting. A volunteer from the group would define the term, explain why the group chose it, and guesses that the concept would be covered in the disorders chapter. A response from the instructor could be:

 

Doing this is not a sign of a psychological disorder, but is a very common experience. There is an ingroup/outgroup component to this – concepts we’ll talk about in the social psychology chapter. Have a favorite sports team? Your team and the fans of your team are one of your many ingroups. That makes other teams and their fans one of your many outgroups. Have you ever felt joy when your team’s rival did poorly? That’s schadenfreude.

 

Skimming the F section, the student picks face recognition, “the identification of a specific face. A specialized face-recognition region in the temporal lobe has been demonstrated by brain imaging; injury to this region results in such deficits as prosopagnosia, a failure to recognize previously familiar faces.”

 

If the group selected face recognition as the term they found most interesting, again, a volunteer from the group would define the term, explain why they chose it, and, this time, the group guesses that face recognition would be covered in the neuroscience chapter. A response from the instructor could be:

 

Indeed, we will be talking about this in the neuroscience chapter. Not only do some people have prosopagnosia – face blindness – but some people are the exact opposite: super recognizers. Super recognizers can remember faces extremely well, so well that they can look at faces in poor-quality video, remember those faces, and spot those faces in a crowd. You’ll be reading an article on that, and you’ll have the opportunity to take a test to see if you are a super recognizer (short test embedded in this article; longer test). (Note: this might not be a bad time to introduce students to the concept of the normal curve where those with prosopagnosia are in one tail, super recognizers are in the other, and most of us somewhere in between.)

 

Concepts you’ve never heard of?

 

With over 25,000 terms in this dictionary, it’s likely that students will come up with something you’ve never heard of. Now is a good time to practice the humility that’s necessary when teaching Intro Psych. Students generate a lot of questions in this course. The chances that they will ask something you don’t know about is very likely. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know.” If it’s in the area of something that you do know, add what you do know.  

 

If students chose from the S section, for example, sangue dormido, “a culture-bound syndrome found among inhabitants (indigenous and immigrant) of Cape Verde. Symptoms include pain, numbness, tremor, paralysis, convulsions, stroke, blindness, heart attack, infection, and miscarriage.” Since this is a concept I’ve not heard of, I would say something like

 

I’ve never heard of that, but if we covered it, it’d probably be in either the social psychology chapter or the psychological disorders chapter. “Culture-bound” means that this is something that is only seen in this or similar cultures, but not anywhere else. (In the displayed definition, since “culture-bound” is a link, I’d click through on that, and then probably click through on some of the other culture-bound syndromes listed within that definition.)

 

Conclusion

 

Through this activity, students will get a sense of how broad of a field psychology is and how much area the Intro Psych course is going to cover, and you will learn a bunch of new concepts. What’s not to love about that?

For my Intro Psych course, I spend a lot of time thinking about what the future medical professionals, engineers, business leaders, and politicians taking my classes need to know about psychology. In the disorders chapter, I ask students to raise their hands if they, a friend, or a family member has been diagnosed with a psychological disorder. About 2/3 of the hands go up. My students or someone they know could benefit from seeing a psychotherapist. Intro Psych textbooks include information about what psychotherapy is, but how often do they cover how to find a psychotherapist?

 

The American Psychological Association (APA) provides a “how to choose a psychologist” page, a page that “may be reproduced and distributed for noncommercial purposes with credit given to the American Psychological Association.”  At minimum, provide a link to this page in your course management system. If you have the resources, print and distribute to your students.

 

If time allows, this topic lends itself to a jigsaw classroom. Divide your students into 6 groups. If that would make your group size too large (say, over 5 per group), divide your students into 12 or 18 groups. Each group gets one of the “questions to ask” a psychologist bullets from the “how to choose a psychologist” page with the following instructions.

 

Group A:

 

“Are you a licensed psychologist? How many years have you been practicing psychology?”

 

Using the Internet, find out what it takes to become a licensed psychologist (in our state, province, country – use whatever geographic dimension applies to your location). If licensure includes a doctoral degree or internship accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA), find out what a university or internship needs to do to receive that accreditation.

 

Group B:

 

“I have been feeling (anxious, tense, depressed, etc.) and I'm having problems (with my job, my marriage, eating, sleeping, etc.). What experience do you have helping people with these types of problems?”

 

Refer to the examples at the end of this page. How would each of the people in these examples ask this question. Identify five problems that are commonly experienced by students. For each problem, write out how a student could phrase the issue to a practicing psychologist.

 

Group C:

 

“What are your areas of expertise — for example, working with children and families?”

 

Referring to this chapter of your textbook, what areas of expertise might a practicing psychologist identify? (Hint: think populations of people who may benefit from psychotherapy and the types of issues people may have.)

 

For each of the examples given at the end of the page, what areas of expertise should the practicing psychologist have?

 

Group D:

 

“What kinds of treatments do you use, and have they been proven effective for dealing with my kind of problem or issue?”

 

Using the information in this chapter, identify at least five different treatments that a practicing psychologist might use.

 

For each of the examples given at the end of this page, identify the treatment or treatments that may be appropriate.

 

Group E:

 

“What are your fees? (Fees are usually based on a 45-minute to 50-minute session.) Do you have a sliding-scale fee policy?”

 

Using the Internet, identify the typical fees charged by practicing psychologists in our area. What is a sliding-scale fee and how does it work? How often can one expect to attend therapy sessions? How many sessions can one expect to attend?

 

Group F:

 

“What types of insurance do you accept? Will you accept direct billing to or payment from my insurance company? Are you affiliated with any managed care organizations? Do you accept Medicare or Medicaid insurance?”

 

This document provides more information about insurance and psychotherapy: http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/parity-guide.pdf. Summarize the major issues to consider. What questions should you ask your insurance carrier before contacting a practicing psychologist?

 

Mingle amongst the groups, answering any questions that arise.

 

After the groups have finished answering their questions, students are to make sure that everyone in their group knows the answers. Reconfigure the groups so that one person from each A to F group is in a new group together. One relatively quick way to do this is to give the members of each group a different colored index card or half sheet of paper. Group A, for example, gets aqua, Group B get dark blue, Group C gets cherry red. When the groups get split up and reassembled, members of the new group will hold up their colors. There should be at least one person for each of the six colors in the new group. Any group who is missing a color can yell for that color: “We need an aqua!”

 

In their new groups, each student reports what they learned about their bullet point. Again, mingle amongst the groups, answering questions.

 

After students have finished sharing within their groups, bring the class back together, and ask students if they feel more informed about choosing a psychotherapist than they did before class started. Answer any remaining questions.

 

Now that students know the questions to ask a psychotherapist, they still need to find a psychotherapist to ask. For people who live in the US or Canada, APA offers a helpful locator service: https://locator.apa.org/. At the time of this writing (June 2018), the website reports that it is “currently undergoing renovations.” Use the drop-down menu to select a US state, a US territory, or a Canadian province. Visitors are redirected to the websites of those state, territorial, or provincial psychological organizations that have their own searchable provider databases.

 

Remind students that one way they may be able to help a loved one is by, with the loved one’s permission, doing the legwork to find a practicing psychologist for them. When you’re struggling and everything feels impossible, finding a practicing psychologist could feel like an impossible task (Murphy, 2018).

 

Crisis Text Line

 

For immediate help, for themselves or a loved one, students can contact the Crisis Text Line.

 

In the US, text HOME to 741741.

In Canada, text HOME to 686868.

 

The Crisis Text Line is coming to the UK in 2018.

 

For students who are looking for volunteer opportunities in the US, Canada, or the UK, the Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteer counselors. Each volunteer receives a “30-hour web-based training” and is asked to commit to four hours of service each week with an overall 200-hour commitment.  

 

Also consider sharing local crisis hotline numbers with your students. A valuable service-learning-type project for your students would be advertising on your campus the Crisis Text Line as well as local hotlines or other national hotlines. 

Change is hard. Once you’ve learned to do something one way, it can be very difficult to do it a different way, even when you know that that different way would be better. Heck, we all know we should exercise more, eat better, and sleep – both more and better. Physicians used to think that all they had to do was educate their patients, and their patients would make those changes. People, of course, are not that simple. That’s one reason that integrated healthcare is becoming popular. Having a psychologist on the team – someone who understands behavior – can make a big difference in someone’s health outcomes.

 

We know what good study strategies look like (Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan, & Willingham, 2013). We share these with our students, our students think they are all good ideas, but how many students actually make the change? It’s a risky move to give up a less-than-ideal study strategy that will probably get a C for a never-tried study strategy.

 

We’re psychologists. We know that an effective route to behavioral change is through baby steps, foot-in-the-door, if you will.

 

Toshiya Miyatsu and colleagues (2018) have identified some of the most popular study strategies that students are already using and have made recommendations of how students can tweak them to use them more effectively. Below is a summary of their recommendations.

 

Rereading, used by 78% of students in the studies identified by Miyatsu, et al. (2018).

 

Because rereading is usually passive, we expect poorer learning outcomes. If students are going to reread, they should space out their rereading (spacing effect), and before rereading they should try to recall all that they remember from their last reading session (retrieval practice).

 

Underlining and highlighting, used by 53% of students in the studies identified by Miyatsu, et al. (2018).

 

This strategy can also be passive. Lesser-skilled readers have a hard time identifying what is important in a text resulting in too much or too little underlined or highlighted. Teaching students how to identify the important information in a text makes a difference. Students should wait until their second reading to underline/highlight. After reading a chapter or a section of a chapter, it’s easier to identify the important content (elaborative processing). Also, teach students how to see the structure of the text (see outlining next).

 

Outlining, used by 23% of students in the studies identified by Miyatsu, et al. (2018).

 

If instructors give the outline or give a partial outline, students do better. If the students create the outline, they don’t do better as compared to other study techniques, unless they received training in how to outline. Seeing the structure of the text helps readers find the key points. After having the outline, students can use it for it retrieval practice, e.g., “What were the supporting ideas for point B in this section?” Remind students to look at the outline at the beginning of the chapters of their textbooks. Taking 30 seconds to read through it will give the students a framework that will help them structure what they will be reading.

 

Note-taking, used by 30% of students in the studies identified by Miyatsu, et al. (2018).

 

The big questions about note-taking are how students take notes and whether they are permitted to review their notes before recall. If notes are hand-written, students tend to condense what they are learning and convert it into their own words – fewer notes, but more elaborative processing. If notes are typed on a computer, students tend to transcribe – more notes, but less elaborative processing. On recall tests where the notes are not reviewed, the hand-written note-takers out-perform the typists. If the note-takers are permitted to review their notes prior to recall, the typists may or may not out-perform the hand-writers. Because the research in this area is still pretty scant, the best recommendation to students is, “Review your notes.”

 

Flash cards, used by 55% of students in the studies identified by Miyatsu, et al. (2018).

 

Flash cards are all about retrieval practice. Students should continue to practice recalling items they’ve already learned. Flash card sessions should be spaced out (spacing effect).

 

Message to students: You’ve been using “My Study Strategies v. 1.0.” You don’t have to throw those out if you’re not ready to, but it is time to use your study strategies more effectively. Up your game to “My Study Strategies v. 2.0” by heeding these recommendations.

 

References

 

Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, Supplement, 14(1), 4–58. https://doi.org/10.1177/1529100612453266

 

Miyatsu, T., Nguyen, K., & McDaniel, M. A. (2018). Five popular study strategies: Their pitfalls and optimal implementations. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(3), 390–407. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691617710510

For the second Intro Psych class session of the term, I wear this shirt to class: “Procrastinate today! Future you won’t mind the extra work.” I use that as a launch point for a discussion on why students procrastinate doing course work and strategies for how to avoid procrastination.

 

In small groups, have students start by sharing the reasons they – or people they know – procrastinate. After discussion dies down, ask each group to name one reason they identified; they cannot repeat a reason previously given by another group. Write the reasons on the board as you go. Talk a bit about the psychology behind each reason to provide a little taste of what students will be learning in the course.

 

Here are some common reasons my students give for procrastinating.

 

  •  “I have plenty of time to do it.” The planning fallacy tells us that projects frequently take longer to do than we think they will.
  • “Going out with my friends is more fun than reading my textbook.” There’s no better time to talk about the power of immediate, positive reinforcement.
  • “My friends and family don’t understand how much work college is. They pressure me to spend time with them that I really should be using to study.” This is commonly mentioned by first generation college students whose friends and family often have no experience with college.  I talk about the concept of negative reinforcement – it’s easier to give in to them just to get them off your back – but the first week of class is not the best time to introduce the term “negative reinforcement.” Or if you’d rather talk about social pressure here, that’s a perfectly fine angle, too.
  • “I don’t really understand the assignment, so I play a game on my phone instead.” Emotion-focused coping addresses how we feel. Another round of negative reinforcement – playing the game temporarily takes away the anxiety of not understanding.
  • “I keep waiting until I feel like doing it.” If you’re not excited about doing it, you may never “feel like” it.

 

Return students to their groups to discuss strategies for overcoming procrastination. Again, groups report out.

 

Here are some common anti-procrastination strategies students identify.

 

  • “I use a calendar to schedule when I’m going to study.” Setting aside time in a calendar can reduce stress. Instead of periodically panicking throughout the week about having to study, you know exactly when you are going to do it. [Bonus tip 1: put away the electronics. Since task-switching eats up a lot of time, don’t let text messages and social media take away your dedicated study time.] [Bonus tip 2: it’s okay to commit to small chunks of time, like 20 minutes. Think Pomodoro technique.]
  • “I use going out with friends as a reward for doing the studying I promised myself I was going to do.” Back to positive reinforcement.
  • When I don’t understand an assignment, I email the professor.” Problem-focused coping addresses the problem head-on. It goes a long way toward making progress on an assignment.

 

A strategy that few groups identify, but I always mention is eliminating barriers.

 

If you want to reduce a behavior, put up more barriers between you and the behavior. Want to eat less candy, get the candy off your table. You can eat as much candy as you want, but it you have to walk down to the corner store to get it, you’re going to eat less of it.

 

If you want to increase a behavior, remove the barriers between you and the behavior. If you’re going to get to the gym tomorrow morning, pack your bag the night before. It’s easier to go if all you have to do is grab your bag and walk out the door. In the case of writing a paper, if you’re not ready to commit to doing it just yet, at least do the prep work. Wherever you’re going to write, open your book to the chapter you’re going to reference. Print the articles you’re going to use, and set them out. Open a blank document, and type the topic (if you don’t have the title yet), your name, the course it’s for, and the date. If you have ideas for the sections of the paper, type those out. And now you get to leave.  Go for a walk. Watch a TV show. When you come back, it will be easier to get started writing since all you have to do is sit down and start typing.

 

My students really take the eliminating barriers tip to heart. At the end of the term, it’s not unusual for students to say that they started using it, and it made a real difference in how much they were procrastinating. In a recent class, one student said he had just used this that morning. He needed to practice his instrument, but he didn’t feel like it. He got his instrument out, set up his music stand, pulled out the music he was going to practice and put it on the stand. And then he left to take a walk with friends. When he came back, he just picked up his instrument and practiced.

 

The biggest benefit of having this discussion about procrastination and how to avoid it may be normalizing the experience. Students get to see that they are not alone in this struggle. If other students who are just like themselves have found successful coping strategies, so can they.

At the end of each term, I ask my students to reflect on what they’ve learned in the course. Officially, this is in the form of a top 10 list. Each student is asked to generate a rank-ordered list of the 10 most important things they learned in the course with a description of each and an explanation of why each thing made their list. I leave it that wide open on purpose. Most students choose to write about specific concepts. Some choose more broad theories. Others take an entire category, like “tips for a leading a happier life.” How they want to define “important” is just as wide open. It could be important to them personally, important for people in general to know, or important for all of humanity to know about. All term I ask my students to demonstrate the knowledge that I think is important. For this final assignment, I give them an opportunity to tell me what they learned.

 

During our last class session, I ask each student to tell the class what they chose for the top of their list and why. Next, I ask the other students if anyone else had that in their list. For those who do, I ask why they found it important. I make sure that we hear everyone’s number one choice.

 

This is also, frankly, a fun way for everyone to review what they learned in the course. Not only do they reflect when they work on the assignment, but they also reflect as other students share their list items in class. It’s not unusual to hear a student say, “Ooo…, I wish I would have put THAT one on my list.”

 

I also get one more opportunity to share other examples, connect concepts to current events, or talk about concepts we didn’t cover in the course.

 

Here is a partial list of what my Intro Psych students this term found important and a paraphrase as to why.

 

  • Correlations. “You hear news stories that report that one variable causes another, but it looks like they’re talking about a correlation, and you think, 'but does it, though?’”
  • Independent and dependent variables. “Without experiments, there would be no science to give us everything we learned in this course.”
  • Hindsight bias. “I’m now more patient when I’m teaching someone something that I already know. Because it’s obvious now to me doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy or obvious to them.”
  • Epigenetics. “If knowledge of epigenetics can help us purposefully turn on and off genes, who know what we can cure.”
  • Sympathetic nervous system. “I was taking a test, and I was starting to feel nervous. I felt my pulse, and it was definitely up. I thought, ‘Yep, that’s my sympathetic nervous system at work, but that doesn’t mean I’m anxious.’”
  • Excessive optimism. “I’m tired of the excessive optimists in my life who can’t see the realistic threats.”
  • Scapegoat theory. “It’s all over the news.”
  • Split-brain, cognitive dissonance, perception, color processing, implicit bias. “There is so much that our brains are doing without our conscious awareness.”
  • Operant conditioning. “It’s made me more aware of how I can reinforce my own behavior and how I’m unintentionally reinforcing bad behavior in others.”
  • Parenting styles. “I have a child, and I want to do what’s best for her.”
  • Stress. “Now I understand how stress can cause my chronic health condition to flare up.” “I’m using some of the coping strategies we learned about, and it’s made a difference in how much stress I’m feeling.”
  • Happiness. “When I feel down, I go to the 10 tips our textbook lists that can help boost happiness. I pick one and do it. And I do feel better.”
  • Effects of sleep loss. “I had no idea how much my lack of sleep was affecting me. I started sleeping more, and I feel so much better.”
  • Schemas. “I’m now aware of how much I rely on these every day. And I think about how my schemas can differ from someone else’s.”
  • Fundamental attribution error. “First impressions really are powerful. I’m trying to be more aware of the first impressions I give people so they think better of me from the start, and I’m trying to not let first impressions of other people affect my view of them so much.
  • Stereotypes.“I’m more aware of my own stereotypes and how my friends and family show their stereotypes through what they say and what they do.”
  • Psychological disorders. “I have more empathy for my friends and family who have a disorder.” “I have a deeper understanding of my own disorder.”

 

I tell my students at the beginning of the course that this will not be a course where they will just learn stuff for a test and then forget about it all two weeks after this course is over. Instead, I tell them, this will be a course where they will learn stuff they will use for the rest of their lives.

 

As we go through the course, students have opportunities to discuss and share their own experiences with the material. What I like about this end-of-term assignment, though, is that students have often had a few weeks or more to reflect on what they’ve learned. This may be the content that will really stick with them long after the course is over.

 

Hearing what students have to say on this last day of class always makes it easier for me to start Intro Psych the next term. What will these students put in their top 10 lists?

Emmanuel Ax, professional pianist, was recently interviewed about “ways to make practicing an instrument more fun and productive.” Ax devotes four hours each day to practice. As you might expect, he reports that sometimes “it’s kind of a slog.” I love that this article normalizes hard work. Even people at the top of their game have to continue to work – even when they’d rather be doing something else.

 

Emmanuel Ax performing

 

As I read the interview, I found a lot of parallels with studying. If you talk about studying in your courses, consider asking your students to read the article, jot down a few notes on how his advice could apply to studying, and then get into small groups to share ideas. Finally, go through each section of the article and ask volunteers to share what parallels with studying students drew.

 

Here are some parallels I found.

 

“Listen to great performances” – listen to professors and read material that make the concepts clear.

 

“Get a partner” – study buddies can help you make connections that you weren’t seeing yourself.

 

“Try another instrument” – mix up your studying. Study psychology for a while and then switch to chemistry. Think interleaving.

 

“Experiment” – try different study techniques. If you haven’t tried creating your own concrete examples or elaborating on concepts, or drawing a diagram that shows how concepts relate, try those techniques.

 

“Come back to old pieces” – practice retrieving content you learned from earlier in the course. Not only does it refresh your memory, but you may see it differently this time, especially now that you’ve learned new stuff that may relate.

 

“Use an app” – put your notes in a form, like Google Drive or OneNote, that allow you to have access to your notes wherever you are.

 

“Play Bach” – challenge yourself. Don’t settle for studying the easy stuff. Studying difficult material will stretch you, and isn’t that what education is about?

Earlier this week, the Internet blew up when an ambiguous audio clip from Roland Szabo of Lawrenceville, GA was posted to Reddit (Salam & Victor, 2018).

 

 

Some people hear yanny, others hear laurel, and others hear something a little in between, like geary. And a lot of people sometimes hear one and sometimes hear the other.

 

If it feels like The Dress all over again, you are on the mark. (Side note. I have an image of the The Dress in my course materials that students can access before class. A student who had never seen the image scrolled through these materials and saw a gold/white dress. A few hours later when he came back into those materials he saw it as blue/black. He said, “It completely freaked me out!”)

 

Just as the colors in The Dress are ambiguous – the blue/white band is neither blue nor white, but in between – the pitches in the Yanny/Laurel clip are ambiguous; more accurately, both high and low pitches are present. The colors you see in the dress depend on the assumptions your brain is making about the color. The word you hear in the Yanny/Laurel clip depends on what your brain does with those pitches.

 

If you’re more tuned into the higher pitch, you hear yanny. If you’re more tuned into the lower pitch, you hear laurel. The New York Times has created a tool that will let you hear both (Katz, Corum, & Huang, 2018). If you find the sweet spot, the words may alternate for you.

 

When your students ask about this next term, that’s the simple answer.

 

But your more astute students will ask, “But what makes one more tuned into a higher or a lower pitch?” That’s a harder question to answer. 

 

While we’re not entirely sure what those factors are just yet, here are some possibilities (Morris, 2018).

  • Degree and type of hearing loss – if you’ve lost hearing for high-pitched sounds, you’ll be more likely to hear laurel.
  • Perceptual set – what word you’re expecting can influence what word you hear. Using the New York Times tool, start in the middle, and slide in the direction of the word you are not hearing. (I hear yanny at the middle, so I slide toward laurel.) Note where the word changes. Now start the slider on the far end for that word (the laurel end) and slide back toward the middle and note where the word changes. You’ll probably need to go beyond where the word changed for you the first time to get it to change back again.
  • Speaker quality – if your speakers or headphones emit more treble than bass, you are more likely to hear yanny.

 

I know that the sensation and perception researchers are on this and will have some more information for us before fall term starts.

 

#TeamYanny

 

References

 

Katz, J., Corum, J., & Huang, J. (2018). We made a tool so you can hear both yanny and laurel. Retrieved May 17, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/05/16/upshot/audio-clip-yanny-laurel-debate.html 

 

Morris, A. (2018). Hearing both yanny and laurel? Retrieved May 17, 2018, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/andreamorris/2018/05/16/hearing-both-yanny-and-laurel/#4d3c524d1635 

 

Salam, M., & Victor, D. (2018). Laurel or yanny? What we heard from the experts. Retrieved May 17, 2018, from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/15/science/yanny-laurel.html 

While it had been common for astronauts to spend six months at the ISS, NASA wanted to know what happens when humans spend even longer in space. Depending on the orbit trajectory chosen – which depends on how much fuel you want to take with you – a trip to Mars could take 7 to 9 months (Carter, n.d.). And then once you get there, you probably want to spend some time there. Heck, I spend more than a few days in Australia when I travel there, and that’s just 7,744 miles/12,462 km. And then you have to travel home from Australia – I mean, Mars.

 

If you’re NASA and you have identical twin astronauts, there’s only one reasonable thing to do. You put together a team of researchers who are experts in human physiology, behavioral health, microbiology, and epigenetics to find out everything you can about the twins today. Next, you send one of them into space for twelve months. When the astronaut comes back to earth, repeat the measurements for both astronauts. This is NASA’s Twin Study. Mark Kelly* was the twin who stayed on earth; Scott Kelly was the twin who spent a year aboard the International Space Station (ISS)**.

In January, 2018, NASA shared some preliminary research findings from their twin study.  

 

Another interesting finding concerned what some call the “space gene”, which was alluded to in 2017. Researchers now know that 93% of Scott’s genes returned to normal after landing. However, the remaining 7% point to possible longer term changes in genes related to his immune system, DNA repair, bone formation networks, hypoxia, and hypercapnia.

 

This makes it sound like Scott’s genes underwent some kind of change. Journalists grabbed hold of this and declared that Scott and Mark were no longer twins since their DNA was not the same. This was not what the researchers meant. NASA clarified:

 

Mark and Scott Kelly are still identical twins; Scott’s DNA did not fundamentally change. What researchers did observe are changes in gene expression, which is how your body reacts to your environment. This likely is within the range for humans under stress, such as mountain climbing or SCUBA diving.

 

What changed were not Scott’s genes, but rather his gene expression – in other words, his epigenetic code.

 

A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived by scientist and science writer Adam Rutherford is a nice summary of what we know, what we don’t know, and what we would like to know about genetics and, to a lesser extent, epigenetics.  Our epigenome is what turns genes on and off. Women who have two X chromosomes (that’s most of us) have all the genes on one X chromosome in each of our cells turned off. “In mammals, epigenetic modifications tend to get reset each generation, but some, very limited, rare epigenetic tags appear to be passed down from parent to child, at least for a couple of generations.”  Pregnant women who starved in the Netherlands during the winter of 1944 gave birth to low-birthweight babies (no surprise) who then grew up to give birth to babies who were high-birthweight (surprise). Other research in a rural Swedish community with variable harvests found that boys who experienced a lean year just before entering puberty were more likely to have grandsons – yes, grandsons – who lived longer. But most epigenetic changes are temporary (Rutherford, 2017).

 

In the case of reporting that astronauts Mark and Scott Kelly were no longer identical twins, the journalists were merely reporting what they understood the NASA press release to be saying, so I’m not going to fault them.

 

Earlier this month we read headlines declaring that despite years of research showing that the adult human hippocampus produces stem cells that grow into new neurons, that a new study declares that’s not the case at all. I was poised to pounce on journalists for getting this wrong. But I can’t. Once again, it’s the Public Relations department, this time at the University of California at San Francisco.

 

Now UC San Francisco scientists have shown that in the human hippocampus – a region essential for learning and memory and one of the key places where researchers have been seeking evidence that new neurons continue to be born throughout the lifespan – neurogenesis declines throughout childhood and is undetectable in adults (Weiler, 2018).

 

Rutherford (2017) reminds us that “[j]ournals are not all equal, and publication in a journal is not a mark of truth, merely that the research has passed the standard that warrants entering formal literature and further discussion with other scientists.” This is worth hammering into the heads of our students, our students who are the future writers of press releases, the future writers of news articles, and the future readers of those new articles. Our science journals are just one huge chat room. "Hey! This is what I found!" "Huh. How did find that?" "What if we looked at it this way instead?" "Anna used this other method and found something different. Anyone know why that would produce different results?"

With additional research, we may discover that, indeed, the human hippocampus does not produce new neurons. And we may discover that living in space where a person is subject to the radiation equivalent of 10 chest x-rays a day (Kelly, 2017) does indeed change one’s genes, and not just the epigenetic code. Those who turn to science for definitive answers may find the responses couched in probabilities less than satisfying. But that’s how science works.

 

Here’s a cautionary tale: Everyone knows that tongue-rolling is genetic. If you can roll your tongue, you have the dominant allele for tongue-rolling. As it turns out, everyone is wrong. The research was easy to do. Find a bunch of identical twins and see who could roll their tongues and who couldn’t. If tongue-rolling were completely genetic, each twin pair should be, well, identical in their tongue-rolling ability. Philip Matlock (1952) looked in the mouths of 33 pairs of twins. In 7 pairs, one twin could tongue-roll while the other one could not. And, yes, that date is right; he did this research in 1952. Similar studies in the 1970s found similar results (Martin, 1975; Reedy, Szczes, & Downs, 1971).

If you had asked me last week, “Hey, Sue, is tongue-rolling simply controlled by our genes?” I would have said yes. But now my response is more nuanced. “There’s likely a gene or set of genes that controls it, but there is also probably an epigenetic code that turns that gene or genes on or off for different people. Let me tell you about this interesting research done with identical twins…”

 

The more I learn, the less confidence I have in what I have always known to be true.

 

“Half of what I’m going to tell you is wrong, but I don’t know which half.” I love this quote (or paraphrase?) as it nicely captures the moving nature of science, but I can’t find the origin – and I find that very fitting. My memory says it was something Paul Meehl said to his students, but I can’t find any such reference. A Psychology Today blogger credits an uncited and unnamed surgeon. If you know the origin, please contact me.


References

 

Carter, L. (n.d.). If Mars is only about 35-60 million miles away at close approach, why does it take 6-8 months to get there? (Intermediate). Retrieved from http://curious.astro.cornell.edu/physics/64-our-solar-system/planets-and-dwarf-planets/mars/267-if-mars-is-only-about-35-60-million-miles-away-at-close-approach-why-does-it-take-6-8-months-to-get-there-intermediate

 

Kelly, S. (2017). Endurance: A year in space, a lifetime of discovery. New York City: Knopf.

 

Martin, N. G. (1975). No evidence for a genetic basis of tongue rolling or hand clasping. Journal of Heredity, 66(3), 179–180. https://doi.org/doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.jhered.a108608

 

Matlock, P. (1952). Identical twins discordant in tongue-rolling. Journal of Heredity, 43(1), 24. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.jhered.a106251

 

Reedy, J. J., Szczes, T., & Downs, T. D. (1971). Tongue rolling among twins. Journal of Heredity, 62(2), 125–127. https://doi.org/doi.org/10.1093/oxfordjournals.jhered.a108139

 

Rutherford, A. (2017). A brief history of everyone who has ever lived. New York City: The Experiment.

 

Weiler, N. (2018). Birth of new neurons in the human hippocampus ends in childhood. Retrieved March 24, 2018, from https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2018/03/409986/birth-new-neurons-human-hippocampus-ends-childhood

 

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*Mark Kelly’s wife is Gabrielle Giffords, the US Representative from Arizona who survived an assassination attempt in 2011.  

 

**”at the International Space Station” – I had a hard time deciding on the right preposition to use. Can one be on a space station if one is really floating inside it, except when Velcro-ed to a wall? In seemed to be a better choice, but felt clunky when I read it. I was ready to settle for at. NASA dodges the entire question and uses “aboard the ISS.” If aboard is good enough for NASA, it’s good enough for me. I’m confident we’ll get this figured out before we head to Mars.