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120 Posts authored by: Sue Frantz

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

 

****************

 

*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.

A young man, raising funds for his high school football team, knocked on the door of a Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) researcher. And not just any CTE researcher: a CTE researcher who looks specifically at teenage brains. The two sat down, and the young man learned about how concussions are not necessary to trigger CTE; repeated shots to the head will do it. The young man listened, and, in fact, chose CTE as his research project in English. When I read this NPR story, I was hoping for a better ending.

 

And what did the young man decide about playing football? He’s still going to play. “This is something I love. I dedicate myself to [this]. This makes me healthier physically, mentally. I'm doing what I love, making friends, there's a lot of great experiences that I'm having from this.” He did decide, however, to cut back on boxing, so that’s something.

 

When I read this article I was immediately struck by the power of immediate reinforcement over the potential of bad things happening at some unknown time in the distant future. [As an operant conditioning bonus, in the very first paragraph, the student gives us a great example of discriminative stimuli. “He’d look for lights on and listen for kids’ voices.” Those stimuli signaled a greater likelihood of receiving a donation.]

 

But the reinforcement aside, I wondered about the social psychology of playing an intense team sport, like football. The student said, “I’m doing what I love, making friends, there’s a lot of great experiences that I’m having from this.”

 

In Sebastian Junger’s book, War, the author writes about his experience spending 15 months with a U.S. Army platoon in Afghanistan. Once, when out on patrol, the platoon got into a firefight along a road, taking cover behind a rock wall. Afterwards, Junger asked one of the soldiers if he was scared. He said he was. Junger asked why he didn’t run. He said he stayed because the soldier on his left stayed and the soldier on his right stayed.  

 

While still considering the power of groups, my news feed produced a fascinating article on identity fusion. Research “suggest[s] that extreme self-sacrifice is motivated by 'identity fusion', a visceral sense of oneness with the group resulting from intense collective experiences (e.g. painful rituals or the horrors of frontline combat) or from perceptions of shared biology.” Once a person fuses their identity with the group, all it takes is a threat to the group to lead the person to self-sacrifice. And those groups need to be “local” groups, like a team or a platoon. “Extended fusion” to bigger groups like one’s country can happen, but it looks like it can only happen after “local fusion.” Those who have experienced identity fusion with a local group describe the others in the group as family. It’s common to hear teammates and platoon-mates describe each other as brothers (Whitehouse, 2018).

 

What sacrifices are you willing to make for your family?

 

 

References

 

Whitehouse, H. (2018). Dying for the group: Towards a general theory of extreme self-sacrifice. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X18000249

Apophenia is seeing patterns in randomness, which may be the mechanism behind conspiracy theory generation. If it feels to me like a set of random events are connected and no one is talking about the connection, then conspiracy must be afoot (Poulsen, 2012). Psychiatrist Klaus Conrad is credited with coining this term in 1958 to describe the descent into psychosis, “Borrowing from ancient Greek, the artificial term ‘apophany’ describes this process of repetitively and monotonously experiencing abnormal meanings in the entire surrounding experiential field, eg, being observed, spoken about, the object of eavesdropping, followed by strangers” (as cited in Mishara, 2010).

 

But this isn’t a post about conspiracy theories or psychosis.

 

While conspiracy theories and psychosis take our ability to see patterns to whole other level, seeing patterns in randomness is just how our brains work.

 

The visual version of apophenia is pareidolia. Have you ever seen a rabbit in a cloud formation? That’s pareidolia. Have you seen a face in a piece of toast? Also pareidolia.

 

After covering the cerebral cortex, tell students that there is an area in the temporal lobe that is especially good at detecting faces: the fusiform face area (FFA).

 

Show students these 20 objects where faces appear. Ask students to guess whether they think that seeing these objects would cause the FFA to be activated. How could that hypothesis be tested? Give students a minute to think about it, a minute to share with a partner, and then ask for volunteers for their suggestions. This would be a nice time to review independent variables and dependent variables. When you’re ready, tell students that researchers compared such face objects with everyday no-face objects, and found that face-objects activated the FFA (Hadjikhani, Kveraga, Naik, & Ahlfors, 2009).

 

If time allows, describe prosopagnosia (pro-soap-ag-nose-ee-ya; face-blindness). Do students think that the FFA would be activated when people with congenital prosopagnosia look at faces? Why or why not? The FFA is activated, but it doesn’t show habituation. When people without prosopagnosia are shown faces a second time, the FFA shows decreased activation; “Not interesting; I’ve seen this before.” For those with prosopagnosia, the activation is just as great the second time around; “Hey, this is new!” (Avidan, Hasson, Malach, & Behrmann, 2005).

 

Again if time allows, do students think the FFA would be activated in people with autism. Why or why not? For the participants in the study, the severity of their autism varied. For those who had impaired face recognition (about half of their sample, 14 out of 27) , the activation of their FFA was weaker.  

 

For 30 years, researchers have debated whether the FFA is face-specific or whether it is for detecting any complex pattern we’re expert in (Kanwisher & Yovel, 2006). Some recent research has found that the FFA is active when expert chess players look at positions of chess pieces, positions taken from actual gameplay, but not a specific chess piece (Bilalic, 2016). And researchers have also compared expert radiologists with beginner medical students. When the experts looked at X-rays, their FFAs were active (Bilalic, Grottenthaler, Nagele, & Lindig, 2016).

 

While the jury is still out on whether the FFA is face-specific or not, this is a wonderful example of science in action. Researchers describe a finding. All researchers start thinking about what might be the cause of that finding, and they start devising experiments to test their hypothesized causes.

 

References

 

 Avidan, G., Hasson, U., Malach, R., & Behrmann, M. (2005). Detailed exploration of face-related processing in congenital prosopagnosia: 2. Functional neuroimaging findings. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 17(7), 1130–1149. https://doi.org/10.1162/0898929054475154

 

Bilalic, M. (2016). Revisiting the role of the fusiform face area in expertise. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 28(9), 1345–1357. https://doi.org/10.1162/jocn 

 

Bilalic, M., Grottenthaler, T., Nagele, T., & Lindig, T. (2016). The faces in radiological images: Fusiform face area supports radiological expertise. Cerebral Cortex, 26(3), 1004–1014. https://doi.org/10.1093/cercor/bhu272

 

Hadjikhani, N., Kveraga, K., Naik, P., & Ahlfors, S. P. (2009). Early (N170) activation of face-specific cortex by face-like objects. Neuroreport, 20(4), 403–407. https://doi.org/10.1097/WNR.0b013e328325a8e1

 

Kanwisher, N., & Yovel, G. (2006). The fusiform face area: a cortical region specialized for the perception of faces. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 361(1476), 2109–2128. https://doi.org/10.1098/rstb.2006.1934

 

Mishara, A. L. (2010). Klaus Conrad (1905-1961): Delusional mood, psychosis, and beginning schizophrenia. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 36(1), 9–13. https://doi.org/10.1093/schbul/sbp144

 

Poulsen, B. (2012). Being amused by apophenia. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/reality-play/201207/being-amused-apophenia

Just two days after the Parkland, Florida high school shooting, a colleague appeared at my office door on the Highline College campus and said, “I just heard 6 to 8 shots and people screaming.”

 

We waved people into our small office building, and then secured the doors. And waited. Campus Security sent out periodic computer pop-ups, texts, and emails with updates – 8 in all, from the first alert to the all-clear. The communication was welcome. A colleague locked in a classroom with her students had a live feed from a local news station playing on the classroom computer.

 

After dozens of police officers spent two and a half hours going over the college’s 80 acres with a fine-tooth comb – no fewer than 8 rifle-bearing officers looked through the shrubbery in front of our building – no victim(s) and no shooter were found. One campus rumor says that it was lunar new year firecrackers, but I haven’t seen anything that looks like an official report yet.

 

Less than an hour after my colleague came to my door, I got a text from a friend in Harrisonburg, VA asking if I was okay. Harrisonburg is 2,804 miles away; Google Maps says I can drive there in “41 hours without traffic.” I did a news search about halfway into our lockdown and found a report by a UK news outlet. While I understand that we no longer rely on the Pony Express to deliver news, I was still surprised at the speed the news traveled. Especially when there were no known victims. Just the promise of tragedy was enough to send the news around the world.

 

What happens when you barricade a bunch of social science faculty in a small space? You get an impromptu interdisciplinary panel discussion on gun violence courtesy of a political scientist, sociologist, and psychologist. I imagine this would make for a popular course.

 

In my Intro Psych class for this coming week, the topics happen to include the availability heuristic and priming. The availability heuristic tells us that hearing about every mass shooting (or non-shooting as it was on my campus) affects our estimates of violence. Our own non-shooting prompted more than one student or family member of a student to report to journalists that they are considering enrolling only in online classes. Being primed with the Parkland shooting likely influenced the perception of the pops heard on my campus as gunshots and the beginnings of a mass shooting. (The pops may have very well been gunshots and not firecrackers, although the police reported finding no shell casings.)

 

Even though, in the end, it appears that the students and employees of Highline College were never in any danger, that doesn’t erase the terror that so many felt at the time. One student emailed her professor the next day to say that she hasn’t been able to concentrate on studying because of the trauma of running for her life. About 24-hours later, I received a text from a colleague suggesting what we should do differently if we were to experience this again; she’s still processing it. Normal responses.

 

“Resources for dealing with a school shooting”

 

The Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (SCCAP; Division 53 of the American Psychological Association) has created a wiki page of resources. They’re working on putting together a Wikipedia page, but in the meantime you can find their resources for professionals, caregivers, educators, and the public on this Wikiversity page. Several of the resources are curated from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN). Here’s a direct link to the NCTSN “School Shooting Response” page. The SCCAP Wikiversity page is a work in progress; check it periodically for updates.

After covering the memory chapter, provide this excerpt from the Michigan Supreme Court case #155245, People vs. Elisah Kyle Thomas, to your students.

 

One evening, as the complainant [victim] walked to a nearby restaurant, he passed a man he did not know.  About 15 minutes later, after leaving the restaurant, the complainant was approached by the man he had passed by earlier.  The man pointed a gun at the complainant and demanded that he empty his pockets.  The complainant handed over $10 but the robber wanted more.  The complainant threw a soda can at the robber and ran. The robber followed, firing multiple shots, one of which struck the complainant in his leg. The complainant went to a nearby church and the pastor called 9-1-1. 

 

In the ambulance, the complainant gave an officer a description of the robber. Another officer canvassed the area and saw the defendant Elisah Kyle Thomas, who matched the description. The officer stopped the defendant but let him go after learning that he had no outstanding warrants. Before letting the defendant go, however, the officer took a photograph of him with her cell phone.  The officer immediately went to the hospital and asked the complainant to describe the robber.  After the complainant gave a description, the officer showed him the photo and asked “was this him?”  The complainant started to cry and said “that’s him.” 

 

And then add:

 

The victim “remembered both that the assailant’s weapon was ‘a black and gray nine millimeter handgun and that the assailant held it in his right hand,’” “the identification occurred approximately a half hour to an hour after the crime,” and “the victim identified the person in the photograph as the assailant within a few seconds of seeing the photograph.”

 

[Note, not to be read aloud to your students: these quotes are from the APA amicus brief. I’d cite it, but citing an amicus brief in APA style is not a straightforward affair. For those of you who love that sort of thing – you know who you are – feel free to figure it out and email it to me at sfrantz@highline.edu. I’ll update this blog post with any version that looks like it could be right.]

 

Now, ask students to take a couple minutes and consider how much they trust the eyewitness’ memory of the robber. If you use a classroom responses system, ask students to render a verdict based on the evidence given: guilty, not guilty, not sure. In pairs or small groups, ask students to identify why they trust/don’t trust the eyewitness’ memory. Invite volunteers to share their thoughts.

 

What happened with this case? The trial court found that the “single-suspect lineup” and asking “was this him?” was suggestive and dismissed the charges. The Michigan Court of Appeals disagreed and allowed the evidence. The Michigan Supreme Court, however, agreed with the trial court and also – and for good – dismissed the charges (Beattey & Calkins, 2018).

 

The American Psychological Association (APA) filed an amicus brief to the court (read the summary here; read the full amicus brief here) explaining why the identification was suspect: “[t]he victim observed the assailant for a very short time,” “[t]he victim had only a partial view of the defendant’s features,” “[t]he assailant was a stranger to the victim,” and “[t]he robbery was a highly stressful situation.” The reasoning the Court of Appeals gave for reinstating the charges was based on some common misunderstandings of memory. The APA amicus brief addressed these as well: “[t]he victim’s detailed memory of the assailant’s weapon makes his memory less reliable, not more,” “[m]emories degrade very quickly,” and “[t]he victim’s confidence does not indicate that his memory was accurate.”

 

If your students were ready to convict based on the eyewitness testimony, review what the research tells us about memory as it applies to this court case before leaving the chapter.

 

References

 

Beattey, R. A., & Calkins, C. (2018, February). The legal system follows the empirical evidence on eyewitness identification. Monitor on Psychology, 29. Retrieved from http://www.apamonitor-digital.org/apamonitor/201802/MobilePagedReplica.action?pm=2&folio=28#pg31  

One of my goals in teaching the abnormal psychology chapter in the General Psychology course is to focus less on symptoms and etiology and more on what it is like to live with a psychological disorder. In 2016 I wrote about an assignment tied to the Stigma Fighters website.

 

In the February 2018 Monitor on Psychology I learned about the Schizophrenia Oral History Project.

 

This website “is an archive of life stories of persons with schizophrenia.  Our narrators are women and men with schizophrenia who are sharing their lives in an effort to increase understanding and reduce stigma related to mental illness.  Their stories reveal not only their struggles, but their remarkable courage and resilience, their hopes, dreams and talents, and their concern for others.  In addition to documenting their histories, we are sharing their stories in presentations for professionals and the general public.”

 

At the time of this writing, 38 people have shared their stories.

 

As an assignment, ask students to read three stories and identify the similarities they find amongst the stories and the biggest differences. At the end of the assignment, ask students to reflect on what they learned from reading the stories. In class, give students an opportunity to speak with each other in small groups to share what they learned. Invite groups to report out to the class.

 

Pro-tip from my Highline College colleague Ruth Frickle: for the first time out with this assignment, go through the stories yourself to identify ten or so your students can choose from. That will make the number you need to be familiar with manageable. As you use this assignment from term to term, expand the number of stories as you feel comfortable.

In the FAQ section of my syllabus, I write:

 

The general rule is for every hour you spend in class, you need to spend two hours outside of class. In a face-to-face class, you're in class about 5 hours per week*, so you should spend 10 hours outside of class working on this course. That's also why three 5-credit classes is considered full-time. If you are taking three 5-credit classes, you'd be spending about 45 hours a week, both in and out of class, working on those courses.**

 

As I was writing this post I wondered about the origin of this general rule. It turns out that it is U.S. federal law that applies to any institution that doles out federal financial aid. I have no idea how I’ve managed to make it this long in higher education without knowing that this “general rule” is federal law. In any case, I know now and have changed my syllabus. “The general rule (and the federal law minimum) says for every hour you spend in class…”

 

This is the federal government’s definition of a Carnegie unit, the credits that our courses are worth. Quoting “34 CFR 600.2 of the final regulations,” a Carnegie unit is:

 

An amount of work represented in intended learning outcomes and verified by evidence of student achievement that is an institutionally established equivalency that reasonably approximates not less than:

 

  1. One hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out-of-class student work each week for approximately fifteen weeks for one semester or trimester hour of credit, or ten to twelve weeks for one quarter hour of credit, or the equivalent amount of work over a different amount of time; or
  2. At least an equivalent amount of work as required in paragraph (1) of this definition for other academic activities as established by the institution, including laboratory work, internships, practica, studio work, and other academic work leading to the award of credit hours.

 

These 15 pages from the U.S. Department of Higher Education (published in 2011), will tell you all you could possibly want to know about Carnegie units. You’ll find the above definition on page 5.

 

That document also makes clear that each institution of higher learning can divide up those hours per week as they see fit. My 5-credit online class, for example, has 15 hours of work per week that is all outside of class time since the concept of “class time” does not exist in asynchronous courses.

 

Additionally, the 2 hours out for every hour in is the minimum standard. If colleges and universities so desire, they can set a higher standard, say, 3 hours outside for every hour in. Some colleges and universities make their expectations clear on their websites, such as Stanford, Northwestern, and Cal Poly -- all of whom, incidentally, go with the minimum 2 to 1 ratio.

 

Does your class, each week, have 2 hours of work outside of class for every hour in? How do you know?

 

Elizabeth Barre and Justin Esarey at the Center for Teaching Excellence at Rice University created a pretty cool tool, the Course Workload Estimator. Put in what and how much your students should be reading, what and how much your students should be writing, how much time your students should be studying for exams, and how much time students should be spending on any other assignments, then look at the estimated workload – how much time students should be working on your course each week.

 

The website makes it clear that this is an estimator. You would be hard-pressed to find two students who have identical reading rates, identical writing rates, and identical ideas on how they should study. This is a good place for you to plug the study techniques from the LearningScientists.org website. "The course is designed with the expectation that you will spend <x number> of hours studying for each exam. The more efficient and effective your study techniques, the more you will learn in that finite number of hours. Also, put away your phone while you are studying. You lose a lot of precious study time when you are frequently switching between tasks, between your studying and your phone." [This blog post describes a classroom demonstration that illustrates how much time is lost when we switch back and forth between tasks if you'd like to hammer this point home.]

 

On the Course Workload Estimator website, scroll down for the rationale and research that went into creating this tool. Their research points out some gaping holes in our knowledge. If you're looking to start a new research program in the scholarship of teaching and learning arena, their lit review is worth checking out. 

 

Using the Course Workload Estimator, this is how my Intro Psych course breaks down.

 

I added up the total number of pages I’ve assigned students to read and divided that number by 11 for the number of weeks in the term. My students are reading a textbook with many new concepts. I want my students to not just survey or understand the material; I want them to engage with the material, “[r]eading while also working problems, drawing inferences, questioning, and evaluating.”

 

For writing assignments, I sampled what some of my better-performing students submitted last term, and on average, they wrote 27 pages of single-spaced text over the course of the term. I give my students application essay questions to answer, and that sounds the most like writing an “argument,” “[e]ssays that require critical engagement with content and detailed planning, but no outside research.” Students can revise whichever responses they would like, but it is not required ("minimal drafting"). Since students’ engagement while reading the text is part of their writing assignments, I manually adjusted the “hours per written page” to 2 hours. That’s about 30 minutes per essay question. Of course that’s an average. Questions that students find easier will require much less time than questions students find more difficult.  

 

I have a couple other assignments that should take about 2 hours total between them, so I entered 1 hour per assignment.

 

The estimated workload per the Course Workload Estimator? For my class that meets about 5 hours in class each week, students should dedicate about 10.69 hours to this course outside of class each week.

 

To be clearer with my students about my expectations, I just added the image below to my course FAQ along with this text:

About half of your out-of-class time will be spent reading the textbook and thinking about what you are reading (estimated at 5 pages per hour, that's about 5.5 hours per week). The other half of your out-of-class time will be spent responding to the write-to-learn assignment questions (estimated at about 30 minutes per question, that's about 5 hours per week) where each completed assignment, minus the text of the questions themselves, will average out to be approximately 3 single-spaced pages. 

 

Course workload estimate from the Rice University Center for Teaching Excellence

Sue Frantz

The right to fail

Posted by Sue Frantz Dec 20, 2017

I was a squeaky-clean new professor at my very first tenure-track job when one of the counselors (academic and otherwise; it was a small college) gave a presentation to the faculty. She said, "Students have a right to fail." That got my attention. I thought, oh wet-behind-the-ears professor that I was, that whether students passed or failed – whether students learned – was all on me.

 

She went on to say that she’d have students come into her counseling office to say that they needed help because they weren’t passing a class. Her first question: “Are you reading the textbook?” If the answer was no, she told the student that there was nothing else to talk about. “Come back after you’ve done the assigned reading.”

 

To the faculty, she said that she knew that we all had kind hearts, that we wanted to give students a second (third, fourth, nth) chance. But – and this she emphasized – students have to meet you halfway. If students aren’t doing their part to learn, you cannot make them learn.

 

Put that way, it sounded like a relationship I didn’t want to be in. I’m doing everything to help my hypothetical spouse* succeed while my hypothetical spouse does nothing. “Honey, I filled out all of these job applications. You got three interviews all scheduled for Friday. Here is where you need to be and when.” Friday evening after I get home from work, “How did those job interviews go? What?! What do you mean you didn’t go? You spent the day playing Call of Duty?!  Okay, okay, here, let me call those places, and I’ll tell them something, like your grandmother died. I’m sure they’ll let me reschedule the interviews for you.”

 

At the root of “students have the right to fail” is that learning is the responsibility of students. I tell my students that. I say that I’d love to open up their skulls and dump the knowledge in. Or plug them into the Matrix** so they can download it all to their brains. But that’s not how learning works.

 

Faculty can help students learn, but it's the students who need to do the work, who need to do the learning. Sometimes, for a whole host of reasons, students choose not to do the work. And that's okay. It's the student's grade. They know what the assignments are and how much each is worth. Sometimes they're willing to spend the points on something else, including Call of Duty***.

 

My senior year of college, my friend and I skipped the final presentation we were supposed to do for a course. I did the math. Not doing the presentation would drop me from an A to a B. I was already accepted to grad school; it didn't matter if I had an A or a B next to that course on my transcript. I consciously chose not to do the presentation. It was a beautiful spring day; spending the afternoon at the lake was worth the points. None of that had anything to do with the professor; that was all on me.


And sometimes students just aren't ready to be in college, again, for a whole host of reasons. I’ve spent my entire career at community colleges. I have students who come up to me on the first day of class and say something like "I took your class 10 years ago (or “I went to <big state university>,” or “I went to <small liberal arts college>”), and I failed. I wasn't ready to be in college. Now I am." And they are; they are frequently some of my best students.

 

And not all students are striving for an A. Some are shooting for a 2.0 GPA, enough to keep them in college. It may be that they are good with “good enough.” It may be that they have family and job responsibilities that leave them little time for classes. They figure out what they need to do and what they don’t need to do in a course to get the grade that’s going to allow them to keep that 2.0 average. A colleague (an economist) and I were talking about this one day. We now think of that 2.0 as the academic poverty line. Like people living on the economic poverty line, as long as things are good, living paycheck to paycheck is fine. But when the car breaks down or a child gets sick, they find themselves in a financial freefall. The same for students who are aiming for a C in a course. They don’t do some of the work early in the course for whatever reason with a plan to do the later work, enough work to get that C. But then later in the course when the car breaks down or a child gets sick, they don’t have the time to do the later work, and they find themselves in an academic freefall. Now they’re asking for deadline extensions and extra credit; they are asking the professor to bail them out. ("How is it you have the time to do the assignment now or the time to do extra work now when you didn't have time to do the assignment for the last 5 weeks?")

 

My counselor colleague pointed out in her presentation that when students come to you begging you for that deadline extension or extra credit so they don’t lose their scholarship, or so they don't lose their financial aid, or so they don’t get kicked out of college, remember that yours is not the only course that brought the student to this point. Yours is just the last one. The student made a series of decisions that got them here. The result of those decisions, she said, is not your – the professor’s – responsibility. 


As a professor, I take my job very seriously. I have, with much thought and consideration, chosen the content of my courses, the structure of those courses, and the assignments I ask my students to do. The best any professor can do is present content worth knowing in a course structure that will help students who do the work to learn that content.

 

The one thing we cannot control is what the student brings to the table or even if the student comes to the table.

 

Students have a number of rights and responsibilities. Among those rights and responsibilities is the right to fail.

 

************

 

*The hypothetical relationship depicted bears no resemblance to my current or past relationships.

 

**The Matrix was released in 1999. It’s older than a lot of my students. Referencing it probably makes me seem as old as I am. If you can stick with references to the Star Wars universe, you’ll be on less-dated ground.

 

***I didn’t intend it, but Call of Duty is pretty ironic in this blog post.

I was recently at a conference where a symposium speaker had not prepared for her presentation. After introducing herself, she said, “I’m very sorry. I wasn’t able to prepare slides or a speech, so I’m just going to talk for a couple of minutes on <topic> and just leave it open to questions…” In this case, “a couple of minutes” was 40 seconds. I know, because the session was recorded and is available on YouTube. There were no questions. What was supposed to be a 15-minute talk was 30 seconds of introduction, 40 seconds of content, and 20 seconds of awkwardly waiting for questions. The kicker? This was a conference where speakers know they will be presenting 8 months ahead of time.

 

She – a graduate student – missed her deadline. Ten percent was not taken off her grade for being late. She was not allowed to present the following week for half points. She got a zero for her assignment – and her presentation is publicly available for all to see. In perpetuity. Whether you are presenting at a conference, presenting for a new client, or preparing a grant application, there are fixed deadlines. Those deadlines are not going to move no matter what is happening in your life.

 

What were the top 6 reasons the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University found for why new hires got fired (Gardner, 2007)?

  1. “Unethical behavior”
  2. “Lack of motivation/work ethic”
  3. “Inappropriate use of technology”
  4. “Failure to follow instructions”
  5. “Late for work”
  6. “Missing assignment deadlines”

 

A colleague was telling me that he’s struck by how some of his students have no resiliency. When one thing goes wrong, everything else in their lives must come to a stop until the crisis, however small, is resolved.

 

Crisis management is a skill. Powering through adversity is a skill. Project management is a skill. Priority-setting is a skill.

 

The American Psychological Association Guidelines for the Major 2.0  (American Psychological Association, 2016) lists a number of outcomes for goal 5: professional development. These outcomes include at the foundational level:

5.3a. “Follow instructions, including timely delivery, in response to project criteria”

5.3b. “Identify appropriate resources and constraints that may influence project completion”

5.3c. “Anticipate where potential problems can hinder successful project completion”

 

And at the baccalaureate level:

5.3B. “Effectively challenge constraints and expand resources to improve project completion”

5.3C. “Actively develop alternative strategies, including conflict management, to contend with potential problems”

 

If you are going to complete an assignment by the deadline, you need to line up your ducks. Aligning ducks is a skill. When we allow students to turn in late work, we are actively helping students NOT learn these skills.

 

If a student is unable to complete the work in the time allotted, then this is a valuable lesson for a student to learn. Could they have done things differently? For the next project, what will the student do that they didn’t do this time? If the student has just bitten off more than they can chew, this is also important for a student to learn. In the fall I have plenty of students with families who are working full time and trying to go to school full time. They struggle because there are not enough hours in the day to do what they need to do, and what they learn is that taking a few credits per term is plenty.

 

One final note about recently-deceased grandparents. Some grandparents really are recently-deceased. But some are not. Students learned early on that some excuses are more likely to lead to extensions and grace periods than other excuses. Who wants to be the professor that tells a grieving student to suck it up and finish the paper? This puts professors in the awkward position of asking for proof, because who wants to be the professor who doesn’t believe the grieving student? I gave up on all of that a long time ago. I have nothing in my courses that is worth more than 10% of the overall grade, so missing one assignment will not completely tank a grade. And I drop the lowest score in each category of assignment. If a student has submitted all assignments to date, this one missing assignment will be the one that is dropped. No questions asked and no excuses needed. If a student has a whole string of crises during the course, their best option may be to withdraw and try it all again next term after things have settled down.

 

Regardless of whether you accept late work or not, be conscious about what you are trying to accomplish with your late assignment policy.

 

In the end, the question shouldn’t be whether we accept late work or not. The question should be how can we best help our students learn the project management skills they need to complete work on time so they don’t graduate and get hired only to get fired for reason #6. 

 

References

 

American Psychological Association. (2016). Guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major: Version 2.0. American Psychologist, 71(2), 102–111. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037562

 

Gardner, P. (2007). Moving Up or Moving Out of the Company? Factors that Influence the Promoting or Firing of New College Hires. CERI Research Brief 1, 1–7. Retrieved from http://ceri.msu.edu/publications/pdf/brief1-07.pdf 

Ever since I decided to pare down the personality section of my Intro Psych course to modern day theories of personality and their accompanying research, I have been on the lookout for interesting content to add.

 

The journal Psychological Science recently published a fascinating – to me anyway – article on the relationship between one’s own personality and the ideal personality characteristics of particular jobs and the impact that relationship has on income (Denissen et al., 2017).

 

Jaap Denissen and his colleagues used Big Five trait data from 8,458 individuals who all had full-time work for the previous year. For each job held by the participants, occupation experts identified the ideal Big Five traits a person in that job should have. Take a look at the ratings for each job, available through the Open Science Framework (OSF).

Before sharing these data with your students now would be a good time to remind them that “psychology doesn’t deal in certainties; it deals in probabilities.” Your students’ personality traits will not definitively determine their future income, but if we know their personality traits and the job that they may have, we can figure the probability of them having a certain level of income.

 

After covering the Big Five, can your students assign the same traits to jobs as this study's experts? 

 

Which job goes with which level of the trait, one is high and the other is low? Answers at the bottom of the post.

 

Extraversion:

  1. Actor
  2. Bookkeeper

Agreeableness:

  1. Prison guard
  2. Religious professional

 

Conscientiousness:

  1. Financial manager
  2. Decorator

Emotional stability

  1. Firefighter
  2. Embroiderer

Openness

  1. Farm hand
  2. Actor


Curious to know the ratings the experts assigned for professors in higher education? All ratings are on a 7-point scale; higher numbers mean more of the trait is expected by the job.

Extraversion: 5.7

Agreeableness: 4.5

Conscientiousness: 5.7

Emotional stability: 5.8

Openness: 4.7

 

Now, that’s all really interesting, right? But here’s where it gets downright fascinating.

 

Looking just at the extraversion response surface analysis (RSA) below, people who were high in extraversion (“actual personality”) and were in a high extraversion job (“demanded personality”) had the highest income (vertical axis; green is higher income and orange is lower). Those who were in mismatched jobs (low extraversion person in a high extraversion job or vice versa) had lower income. And those low in extraversion in a low extraversion job also had lower incomes. In other words, those who are lowest in extraversion will have the lowest incomes as compared to their fellow moderate and high extraverts, regardless of the amount of extraversion demanded by the job. (For more on this topic, see Susan Cain’s book Quiet.)

 

[Figure reprinted with permission of the author. For this and the RSA figures for emotional stability, conscientiousness, and agreeableness, see the supplemental materials in OSF. For the RSA figure for openness, please see the original article, also available in OSF.]

 

Emotional stability shows essentially the same pattern. High emotional stability people earned the most money in high emotional stability jobs, e.g., firefighter. Low emotional stability people earned less money in high emotional stability jobs. Ask students to consider why this might be; invite students to share their thinking.

 

For conscientiousness, same thing, except that jobs that require high conscientiousness generally provide higher incomes. High conscientiousness people in high conscientiousness jobs made the most money. Low conscientiousness people in high conscientiousness jobs still made money, just not as much as their high conscientiousness counterparts. Who made the least money in the conscientiousness arena? High conscientiousness people in low conscientiousness jobs. Again, give your students a couple minutes to think about why that may be. For those high conscientiousness employees, perhaps “perfection is the enemy of the good.” In all fairness, though, there are no low conscientiousness jobs, just lower conscientiousness jobs. The lowest jobs came in at 5.17 (again, max score is 7).  

 

High openness people in high openness jobs, e.g., actor, had higher incomes than low openness people in high openness jobs. Again, ask students to consider why this may be.

 

That leaves agreeableness. Who made the least money in this trait? High agreeableness people in low agreeableness jobs, e.g., prison guard. Who made the most money in this trait? Low agreeableness people in moderately low agreeableness jobs, e.g., taxi driver. One last time, ask students to consider why this may be.

 

Alternatively, if you want to give students some practice in reading graphs, divide the class into small groups of 3 to 4 students each. Give each group a different trait RSA. Ask each group to briefly describe the graph, perhaps prompt with something like, “What is the relationship between a person’s personality trait and the trait demanded by the job in terms of the impact that relationship has on income?” Walk through the RSA for one trait first, and then distribute the other four traits to the groups.

 

References

 

Denissen, J. J. A., Bleidorn, W., Hennecke, M., Luhmann, M., Orth, U., Specht, J., & Zimmermann, J. (2017). Uncovering the Power of Personality to Shape Income. Psychological Science, 95679761772443. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797617724435

 

Extraversion:

  1. Actor (high)
  2. Bookkeeper (low)

Agreeableness:

  1. Prison guard (low)
  2. Religious professional (high)

 

Conscientiousness:

  1. Financial manager (high)
  2. Decorator (low)

 

Emotional stability

  1. Firefighter (high)
  2. Embroiderer (low)

 

Openness

  1. Farm hand (low)
  2. Actor (high)