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120 Posts authored by: Sue Frantz

I recently finished Sam Kean’s (2012),  The Violinist’s Thumb the history, the present, and the future of DNA research. Kean writes, “Genes don’t deal in certainties; they deal in probabilities.” I love that – and I’m using it the first day of Intro Psych next term: “Psychology doesn’t deal in certainties; it deals in probabilities.”


I already talk about correlations as probabilities. The stronger the correlation, the higher the probability that if you know one variable, you can predict the other variable.


In the learning chapter, it’s not unusual for a student to say, “I was spanked, and I turned out okay.” Now I can repeat, “psychology doesn’t deal in certainties; it deals in probabilities.” When children are spanked, it increases the probability of future behavioral problems (Gershoff, Sattler, & Ansari, 2017). It is not a certainty.


Whenever aggression comes up as a topic, a student will say, “I play first-person-shooter games, and I’ve never killed anybody.” Again, “psychology doesn’t deal in certainties; it deals in probabilities.” Playing violent video games increases the chances of being aggressive. Watching violent movies increases the chances of being aggressive. Listening to violent-themed music increases the chances of being aggressive. (List is not exhaustive.) The more of those factors that are present, the greater the probability of behaving aggressively (Anderson, C, Berkowitz, L, Donnerstein, E, Huesmann, L, Johnson, J, Linz, D, Malamuth, N, & Wartella, 2003). It is not a certainty.


A student says, “I was deprived of oxygen when I was being born, and I haven’t developed schizophrenia” (McNeil, Cantor-Graae, & Ismail, 2000). (Okay, I have never had a student say this, but I wanted one more example.) Being deprived of oxygen at birth increases the probability of developing schizophrenia. It is not a certainty.


Any time a student reports an experience that does not match what most in a research study experienced, I can say “Like genetics, psychology doesn’t deal in certainties; it deals in probabilities.”




Anderson, C, Berkowitz, L, Donnerstein, E, Huesmann, L, Johnson, J, Linz, D, Malamuth, N, & Wartella, E. (2003). The influence of media violence on youth: . Psychological Science In The Public Interest (Wiley-Blackwell), 4(3), 81–110.


Gershoff, E. T., Sattler, K. M. P., & Ansari, A. (2017). Strengthening Causal Estimates for Links Between Spanking and Children’s Externalizing Behavior Problems. Psychological Science, 95679761772981.


Kean, S. (2012). The Violinist’s Thumb. New York City: Little, Brown, and Company.


McNeil, T. F., Cantor-Graae, E., & Ismail, B. (2000). Obstetric complications and congenital malformation in schizophrenia. In Brain Research Reviews (Vol. 31, pp. 166–178).

It’s official: Dog owners live longer, healthier lives” reads the headline on Time’s website. The refreshing change is that the headline – and the article – carefully explain that the data are correlational, not causal (MacMillan, 2017). When this article appeared in my local paper, The Seattle Times, it came with a sub-headline: “It may be correlation, not causation, but the risk of death was about 33 percent lower for dog-owners than non-owners, a study found.” You won’t be surprised to hear that the journalist, Amanda MacMillan, has a BA in journalism/science writing with minors in “science, technology, and society” and physics [shout out to Lehigh University, her alma mater.]


Researchers looked at national records for 3.4 million people in Sweden over a 12-year span. Those records included whether the people registered a dog and their health reports. “Dog ownership registries are mandatory in Sweden, and every visit to a hospital is recorded in a national database.”


Researchers learned that “[p]eople who lived alone with a dog had a 33% reduced risk of death [over that 12-year span], and an 11% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, than people who lived alone without a dog.” The findings were less pronounced for people who lived with other people,


I’m going to put this study into my correlation lecture. After sharing these results, I’ll ask students to work in pairs to generate possible reasons for these relationships and then share their ideas with the class. This is a nice opportunity to show that while correlations do not tell us about cause and effect, they provide a goldmine of hypotheses for future research.


One possibility, the article points out, is that owning a dog causes better health in the owner: owning a dog causes people to be more active (“gotta walk the dog”). Or dogs may share their microbiome with their owners, giving their human immune systems a boost – as I reflect on how I woke this morning with my dachshund standing on my head and licking my face. Or by walking our dogs, we meet people, extending our social network; social networks are also correlated with better health.


Another possibility, the article also points out, is that more active (read “healthy) people are more likely to get a dog.

And then there are the third variables. For example, “[o]ther studies have suggested that growing up with a dog in the house can decrease allergies and asthma in children.” It may be that having a dog growing up made people more likely to get a dog as an adult and that the exposure to dogs as children gave us a stronger adult immune system.


As instructors of psychological science, let’s continue to help our students understand what research does and does not tell us, so that when they get jobs as journalists, they can accurately interpret research findings for the general public as this journalist has done.




MacMillan, A. (2017, November). It’s official: Dog owners live longer, healthier lives. Retrieved from

Here are some survey data your students may find interesting. This will be most compelling for your psychology majors.

The American Psychological Association (APA) mined the data from the 2015 National Survey of College Graduates (NSCG) and learned some interesting things about psychology’s bachelor’s degree recipients (American Psychological Association, 2017). The NSCG estimates that there are about 58 million people in the United States with a bachelor’s degree; that probably includes you. The NSCG sampled 135,000 of them in 2015 (National Science Foundation, 2017).   

After covering survey research in, say, Research Methods, ask students to work in groups to take a few minutes and think of what variables they would include in such a survey and why. Ask each group, in turn, for one variable that no other group has yet mentioned. Write the variables on the board (or computer screen) as groups report out. Keep rotating through the groups until all variables have been reported or as time allows. Next, share with students this list of key variables (scroll to 2.h.) included in the NSCG survey.


Ask students if there are any groups they would exclude from the survey. The NCSG excludes people who are institutionalized, who live outside the U.S., and who are 76 years old or older (scroll to 3.b).

Ask students what kind of sampling design they would use. The NCSG used stratified sampling on “demographic group” (with “an oversample of young graduates), “highest degree type,” and “occupation/bachelor’s degree field” (scroll to 3.c.).


Researchers started with a web survey. For those who didn’t respond to that, researchers sent them a survey in the mail. And for those who didn’t respond to that, they got a phone call for “computer-assisted telephone interviewing” (scroll to 4.a.).


What did APA find in that 2015 survey data about those of us with bachelor’s degrees in psychology (American Psychological Association, 2017)?

  • 4 million people in the U.S. have at least a bachelor’s degree in psychology
  • 2% got a master’s degree in psychology
  • 8% got a master’s degree in psychology first and then went on to complete a doctorate/professional degree in psychology
  • 3% got a master’s degree in something else and then a doctorate/professional degree in psychology
  • 7% directly earned a doctorate/professional degree in psychology, bypassing the master’s degree


Adding up those numbers, that’s 13%. What about the other 87% of psychology bachelor’s degrees holders?

  • 30% earned a masters or doctorate/professional degree in something other than psychology
  • 57% did not earn a graduate degree


Those 30% who earned a graduate degree in something else is nice evidence that a psychology degree is a good all-purpose sort of degree. The father of one my students took his bachelor’s in psychology to law school. He is now a judge. I wish all judges had degrees in psychology!


Those 57% who did not earn a graduate degree are undoubtedly putting their psychology degrees to good use, no matter what they are doing. Although some of them aren’t fully cognizant of what their education is doing for them now. Give students a copy of the American Psychological Association Guidelines for the Major. Divide students into groups, and give each group two possible jobs a person might have. Drew Appleby’s list is a nice one to choose from. Ask each group to put a checkmark for each job on their Guidelines for the Major the knowledge and skills (outcomes) that would be useful to have in their assigned jobs. For each outcome have one person in each group raise their hand if the group thought the outcome was important for one of their jobs. Have two persons in each group raise their hands if they the outcome was important for both of their jobs. Tally the number of hands for each outcome. Give students an opportunity to share why they thought particular knowledge and skills (outcomes) is important and how the psychology major is helping them achieve that knowledge and skills. For any holes in your students' observations, let them know where in the curriculum students are gaining that knowledge and those skills.

I didn’t start covering hearing in my Intro Psych course until the earbud-style headphones became popular. When I heard music emanating from a student’s earbuds from the back of the room, I knew it was time for us to have a conversation.


In the cochlea, the stereocilia closest to the oval window are the ones responsible for hearing high-pitched sounds. Exposure to loud sounds causes a tsunami to rush over those stereocilia, causing them to bend over farther than they are supposed to resulting in permanent damage (Oghalai, 1997).


The Center for Hearing Loss Help has a nice image of a bundle of pristine stereocilia and a bundle of damaged cilia. In fact, this is an interesting article on diplacusis, where one ear hears a pitch that is just above or just below the pitch heard by the other ear (Center for Hearing Loss Help, 2015).


In class, after walking students through the structure and workings of the ear, I go to this webpage (Noise Addicts, n.d.) that has 3-second sound files of pitches ranging from 22 kHz down to 8 kHz. I start with the 22 kHz, which none of my students can hear, and then move to lower pitches one by one. I cannot hear them until I get down to about 14 kHz. Fifty years of being exposed to sound, with the last 16 years spent in a noisy urban environment – and more than one rock concert – has likely taken its toll. I have friends in their 70s who have spent their lives in a quiet town who have no problem hearing 17 kHz. Of course exposure to loud sounds is not the only factor that can affect hearing loss for high-pitched sounds, but it is a common factor.


Some time ago, I had a student who knew that he had some hearing loss, but he had no idea of the extent of it. When I played the sounds in class, he was stunned to see students reacting to the high-pitched sounds that he couldn’t hear. The first frequency he heard was a mere 8 kHz. He immediately made an appointment with an audiologist. He was (just barely) young enough that he qualified for a special program that got him hearing aids for free. The first time he was in class after getting them, he told me that he was floored by how much he could hear – and how much he hadn’t been hearing.


Another student who spent a couple years working as a bouncer at a (very loud) club was 23 years old, and the first frequency he heard was 12 kHz.


In Mary Roach’s book Grunt, she writes that the problem with most hearing protection is that not only does it protect against loud sounds, but it also makes it hard to hear softer sounds. This is especially problematic for combat soldiers. They need to protect their hearing in case of a sudden explosion or gunfire, but they need to be able to hear what their fellow soldiers are saying. There are now ear cuffs that protect against loud noises but also amplify quieter sounds. In this 3-minute YouTube video, Roach describes the hearing problem and how these new ear cuffs work. A student of mine, who is in the army, said he got to try out the ear cuffs – although not in combat, and he was very impressed with how well they worked.


Knowing how their ears work can help students make informed decisions about how they would like to treat their ears. With that knowledge, students may make better decisions that will affect them for their rest of their lives.




Center for Hearing Loss Help. (2015). Diplacusis -- the strange world of people with double hearing. Retrieved from 


Noise Addicts. (n.d.). Hearing test -- can you hear this? Retrieved from 


Oghalai, J. S. (1997). Hearing and hair cells. Retrieved November 4, 2017, from 

As if cell phone use in cars isn’t bad enough, car manufacturers are building distractions into our automobiles, which I affectionately call Built-in Automotive Driving Distraction SystemsTM.


Automakers now include more options to allow drivers to use social media, email and text. The technology is also becoming more complicated to use. Cars used to have a few buttons and knobs. Some vehicles now have as many as 50 buttons on the steering wheel and dashboard that are multi-functional. There are touch screens, voice commands, writing pads, heads-up displays on windshields and mirrors and 3-D computer-generated images (Lowy, 2017).


In an attempt to save lives, I have been hammering pretty hard on our inability to multi-task in my Intro Psych course. While this topic comes up in greater detail when I cover consciousness, I also embed examples of attention research in my coverage of research methods.


Correlation example

After I introduce the concept of correlations, I give my students 5 correlations, and ask them to identify the correlation as positive, negative, or no correlation. One of those correlations comes from a 2009 Stanford study reported by NBC News: people who multitask the most are the worst at it (“memory, ability to switch from one task to another, and being able to focus on a task”) (“Multitaskers, pay attention -- if you can,” 2009).


Experiment example

In talking about experimental design, I discuss David Strayer’s driving simulation research at the University of Utah. His lab’s research is easy for students to understand and the results carry a punch. I give this description to my students and ask them to identify the independent variable and the dependent variables.

In an experiment, "[p]articipants drove in a simulator while either talking or not talking on a hands-free cell phone." Those who were talking on a cell phone made more driving errors, such as swerving off the road or into the wrong lane, running a stoplight or stop sign, not stopping for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, than those who were not talking on a cell phone. Even more interestingly, those who were talking on a cellphone rated their driving in the simulator as safer as compared to those who weren't talking on a cellphone. In other words, those talking on the cellphone were less likely to be aware of the driving errors they were making (Sanbonmatsu, Strayer, Biondi, Behrends, & Moore, 2016).  


Class demo

When Yana Weinstein of posted a link to a blog she wrote on a task switching demo (Weinstein, 2017) to the Society for the Teaching of Psychology Facebook page, I thought, “Now this is what my research methods lecture was missing!” I encourage you to read Weinstein’s original demo once you’re done reading mine.  

I randomly divided my class into two groups. To do that I used a random team generator for Excel, but use whatever system you’d like. Weinstein does this demo with a within subjects design which, frankly, makes more sense than my between subjects design, but in my defense I’m also using this demo to help students understand the value of random assignment.  


One group of students recited numbers and letters sequentially (1 to 10 and then A to J). The other group recited them interleaved (1 A 2 B 3 C, etc.). In your instructions, be clear that students cannot write down the numbers/letters and just read them. That’s a different task!


Students worked in small groups. While one student recited, another student timed them with a cellphone stopwatch app. (You don’t have to know anything about cellphone stopwatch apps. Your students can handle it.) I didn’t bother dividing students into groups by task. In one group, there might have been three students who recited sequentially and a fourth student who recited interleaved.


I asked students to write down their times, and then I came around to each group and asked for those times. I just wrote the times on a piece of paper, and displayed the results using a doc camera. Almost everyone in the sequential condition recited the numbers/letters in under 6 seconds. Almost everyone in the interleaved condition took over 13 seconds.


In addition to talking about the independent variable (and experimental and control conditions) and the dependent variable, we talked about the value of random assignment. I had no idea who could do these tasks quickly or slowly. If 20% of them could do these tasks quickly, then random assignment would likely create two groups where the percentage of fast-task participants would be the same in each group. Is it possible that all of the fast-task participants ended up in the sequential task condition? Yep. And that’s one reason replication is important.


Oh. And when you’re studying or writing a paper, students, this is why you should keep your phone on silent and out of sight. If you keep looking at your phone for social media or text notifications, it’s going to take you a lot longer to finish your studying or finish writing your paper. Perhaps even twice as long.


And driving? As you switch back and forth from driving to phone (or from driving to Built-in Automotive Driving Distraction SystemsTM), it’s not going to take you twice as long to get to your destination. You’re traveling at the same speed, but you’re working with half the attention. That increases the chances that you will not get to your destination at all.  


A lot of what we cover in Intro Psych is important to the quality of students’ lives. Helping students see our inability to multitask is important in helping our students – and the people they are near them when they drive – stay alive.




Lowy, J. (2017, October 5). Technology crammed into cars worsens driver distraction. The Seattle Times. Seattle. Retrieved from 


Multitaskers, pay attention -- if you can. (2009). Retrieved from


Sanbonmatsu, D. M., Strayer, D. L., Biondi, F., Behrends, A. A., & Moore, S. M. (2016). Cell-phone use diminishes self-awareness of impaired driving. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 23(2), 617–623.


Weinstein, Y. (2017). The cost of task switching: A simple yet very powerful demonstration. Retrieved from 

One of the great joys of attending conferences – in this case, the American Psychological Association convention – is the conversations with both new and old friends. This morning I had breakfast with Linda Woolf (Webster University; an old friend). She posed an interesting question, and before my first full cup of coffee, it was a little unfair. She noted that in our professional circles we frequently talk about psychology books we think psychology majors should read. She wondered what non-psychology books I’d recommend. That’s both an easy and a difficult question. It’s easy to find book that contain psychology, but difficult in deciding of all the books out there, what books I’d recommend.


The two that came pretty quickly to mind were:


The Boys in the Boat by Daniel Brown.

About the University of Washington men’s crew who rowed in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, the book gives us a healthy does of prejudice and perseverance.


The Day the World Came to Town by Jim DeFede.

On 9/11/2001 when the U.S. airspace closed, planes flying west across the Atlantic had to land in Canada. Thirty-eight of them landed in Gander, Newfoundland. Almost 7,000 visitors literally dropped into a town of 9,000 for five days. DeFede restores our faith in humanity with story after story of altruism. The musical Come From Away expands on those stories including coverage of prejudice, stress and coping, and ingroups/outgroups. (Honestly, the book may do the same, but it’s been years since I’ve read it.)


After having had my full dose of coffee and a few more hours to reflect – and a chance to review my Goodreads books, here are some more non-psychology books recommended for psychology majors.


Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

Noah grew up in South African as “colored,” the South African term for half white/half black. His experience gets wrapped up in ingroups/outgroups, both sorting out what that means for him and being on the receiving end of other people’s assumptions about his group membership.


The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

Starting with World War I, African Americans started in earnest to move out of the south to points west and north. Spotlighting three people who left different places at different times for different locales, Wilkerson helps her readers understand the prejudice and discrimination that drove African Americans from the south to the different-looking prejudice and discrimination of their new homes.


Sally Ride by Lynn Sherr

Becoming the first U.S. woman in space had its challenges. More prejudice, discrimination, and perseverance in this book. When asked at a crew press conference in 1982 “Dr. Ride, apart from the obvious differences, how do you assess the differences in men and women astronauts?” Dr. Ride replied, “Aside from the obvious differences, I don’t think there are any.”


Grandma Gatewood’s Walk by Ben Montgomery

Emma Gatewood in 1955 and at the age of 67 decided to hike the 2,050-mile Appalachian Trail. Alone. This one will make students rethink their assumptions about gender and age.


The Man Who Loved Only Numbers by Paul Hoffman

Paul Erdös (pronounced air-dish) was a mathematical genius. But his biography is less about intelligence than it is about… well, it’s tough to describe. Being comfortable in your own skin, may be a good descriptor. Erdös was unapologetically Erdös. He couch-surfed from the home of one mathematician to another. His hosts didn’t know when he was coming until he appeared on their doorsteps, and they didn’t know when he was leaving until he left. He would ask strangers to tie his shoes. He offered cash to grad students to solve mathematical problems. The more difficult the problem, the greater the cash award. And Erdös published prolifically. Mathematicians have an Erdös number. If you published a paper with Erdös, your number is one. If you published with someone who published a paper with Erdös, your number is two. And so on.


Addiction by Design by Natasha Dow Schüll [This book may not technically meet the requirements of the category given the amount of psychology in it.]

This book contains everything you wanted to know about slot machines and then some. If you’re teaching that pushing buttons on a slot machine is an example of positive reinforcement, you’re wrong for a healthy chunk of slot machine users. Negative reinforcement would be a better characterization. Regular users of slot machines play not to win but play to enter the zone where they don’t have to think about problems at work, with their spouse, or with their kids. Winning just means being able to not think even longer.


I managed to give you a list that is all nonfiction. Please share your recommendations in the comments – and I’d love to see some fiction in the list!

After covering the therapy chapter in Intro Psych, students should have some tools to help them find a psychologist for themselves, family members, or friends when the time arises.


The American Psychological Association (APA) has a “How to Choose a Psychologist” webpage. Ask students to read that page and then, working in pairs, small groups, or as a written assignment, answer the following questions.


  1. Under what circumstances does the APA suggest you should consider therapy?
  2. APA provides several suggestions for finding a psychologist. Which avenue would you try first and which would you try last? Why?
  3. Identify a potential issue that someone may have, such as high levels of anxiety. For each of the “Questions to ask,” what are some sample responses you would like to hear from a psychologist you are considering working with? [For the “What kinds of treatments” question, use what you learned from the therapy chapter to provide a sample response.]

Next, ask students to read this New York Times Article, “How to find the right therapist.” Ask students to match the steps the author took to find a therapist with the steps the APA recommends. Using the APA recommendations, what else should the author have done?


If doing this as part of a discussion, ask volunteers to report out.

Louis is 13 years old and gay; Percy is 78 years old and gay. They sit down for a conversation in this 11-minute video.


[Note: The recording is closed captioned, but the captions were automatically generated and have not been cleaned up.]


During your coverage of sexuality, show this recording in class or ask students to watch it outside of class. Following the viewing ask students to discuss in small groups (or in an online discussion forum, or as a written assignment) the following questions:


What was similar between Louis’ and Percy’s experiences? What was different?


What questions would you like to ask Louis? What questions would you like to ask Percy?


If discussing during class, ask volunteers to share their responses. While it may not be possible to ask Louis and Percy these questions, consider contacting your local PFLAG chapter. They may be able to put you in contact with some people who would be willing to respond.

Do you remember life before the Internet? Do you remember when you first got dial up? And then when cable internet first came along? And each time we were so excited. And then the excitement faded. Whatever change we experienced soon became the new normal. This is called adaptation-level phenomenon. 


In 2015, Louis C. K., on Conan, gave us several good examples of adaptation-level phenomenon. He said, “Everything is amazing right now, and nobody‘s happy.” He blames it on the current generation. I blame it on being human.


After playing this 4-minute clip for your students, ask your students to work in pairs or small groups to generate other examples that illustrate adaptation-level phenomenon. Ask volunteers to share their examples.



Vacuum cleaners? They were originally billed as a labor-saving device. But we adapted to them pretty quickly, and the end result? Standards of cleanliness went up. Washing machines? Same thing (Roy, 2016).


[Shout out to my sister, Carol Laughlin, for sending me the video!]



Roy, R. (2016). Consumer product innovation and sustainable design: The evolution and impacts of successful products. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Social psychologist Robert Cialdini has identified six principles of persuasion: scarcity, authority, consistency, reciprocity, consensus, and liking.

[Read the transcript]

Here are some examples for your next social psychology lecture.


In 2015, Leslie, an employee at Food52, gave us a beautiful example of scarcity at work. “My mom brainwashed me as a kid. She put all of the candy out in the open and told me I could eat it whenever I wanted, but she'd hide the vegetables and tell me I could only eat them as a special treat at dinner. It worked. When I was six, I asked if I could have a bowl of brussels sprouts for my birthday instead of a cake” (Petertil, 2015).


Authority isn’t that hard to pull off if you’re a grandmother trolling your grandchildren. Reddit user pillowcurtain wrote in 2014 “My grandma told us that smelling each others [sic] farts would make us stronger. Worst Christmas ever for us, funniest Christmas for her.”


Consistency is the principle that makes the foot-in-the-door technique work. A month ago I wrote a blog post explaining how airlines use foot-in-the-door to get us to pay more money to fly.


Speaking of flying, reciprocity works with flight attendants, because, well, they’re human. Treats for flight attendants often result in reciprocated kindnesses (Strutner, 2016). I truly appreciate the work that flight attendants do, and I know that some of my fellow passengers can be challenging. I often bring baked goods to show a little love. But I don’t mind the reciprocity. On one flight, we were in the very last row. We brought Starbucks chocolate chunk muffins for the flight attendants. Not only did we get served food and adult beverages first (instead of last), we got them for free. And the flight attendants were very happy! Goodness all around.


A couple days ago I bought a new computer monitor for my home office. Do you have any idea how many different models of monitors are out there? Me neither, but the number has to be in the hundreds if not thousands. How in the world can I possibly get the best one for my price range? I started by reading reviews on sites like PCMagazine and CNET to narrow the field. And then I relied on consensus. The monitor I chose had 71% of the 232 customer reviews giving it 5 stars; another 15% gave it 4 stars. With 86% of the reviewers being pretty pleased with this particular monitor, well, that’s good enough for me. I’m looking at it now as I type.


The more likeable you are, the more likely you are to get what you want. Or even avoid something you don’t want. Malpractice attorney Alice Burkin said, “People just don't sue doctors they like. In all the years I've been in this business, I've never had a potential client walk in and say, ‘I really like this doctor, and I feel terrible about doing it, but I want to sue him.’ We've had people come in saying they want to sue some specialist, and we'll say ‘We don't think that doctor was negligent. We think it's your primary care doctor who was at fault:' And the client will say ‘I don't care what she did. I love her, and I'm not suing her’" (Rice, 2000). And I’m willing to bet it’s not just true for physicians. I recently heard from a department chair who had a student come by to vent about a policy her professor had that the student didn’t like. The chair asked the student if he would like to file a formal complaint against the professor. The student replied, “No! I like him!”


There you have it, six roads to persuasion. After covering these in class, ask students to work in pairs or small groups to generate their own examples. You can either assign a particular principle or two to each group or you can ask each group to generate at least one example for each principle. Afterwards, ask volunteers to share their examples. 




Petertil, H. (2015, May 1). Remembering mom's best weird foods. Retrieved June 24, 2017, from


Rice, B. (2000). How plaintiff’s lawyers pick their targets. Medical Economics, 77(8), 94-110.


Strutner, S. (2016, October 28). Flight attendants agree this is the easiest way to get on their good side. Retrieved from

A couple months ago I wrote a suggestion on how to incorporate coverage of the opioid epidemic into Intro Psych (Frantz, 2017). There I put it in the context of the availability heuristic. Here I will suggest covering the opioid epidemic in the context of neurons and neurotransmitters.


The opiates work in a complex way to produce feelings of euphoria. Under non-opiate conditions, neurons release the neurotransmitter GABA that, in turn, inhibits the release of dopamine. When endorphins are released during sympathetic nervous system arousal or you take an opiate – legally or illegally, the body doesn’t care – the endorphins or opiates (endorphin agonists – drugs that look and act like endorphins) block GABA from being released. Without GABA’s inhibition, dopamine is free to flood synapses and attach to dopamine-receiving neurons resulting in warm, fuzzy feelings (Genetic Science Learning Center, 2013; Vaughan,, 1997).


That explains why people choose to use opiates. But how do people overdose on opiates?


Part of the cause is that fentanyl, an opioid "that is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent" (NIDA, 2016). "In 2014, 35 percent of [Rhode Island's] fatal overdoses occurred because of fentanyl, but it was involved in 56 percent of drug deaths by 2016" (Brown University, 2017). There is no question that fentanyl has entered the illegal drug supply and is contributing to the number of overdoses.


Here's another factor that contributes to opiate overdoses. Opiates, in addition to producing euphoria, also act on the brainstem to reduce breathing. Take too much and you stop breathing. Like many drugs, the more you use, the greater your tolerance, meaning you need more opiates to get the euphoria. But here's a problem. Unfortunately, your brain’s ability to tolerate more opiates does not extend at the same rate to breathing. In other words, while you need more for the high, your brainstem isn’t keeping up. With continued opiate use, the window is closing. The amount of opiate it takes to feel the high is getting closer and closer to the amount that stops breathing (Boyer, 2012).


Enter naloxone, brand name Narcan. Naloxone is an opiod antagonist. It blocks the receptor sites, but doesn’t activate the neurons. With the opioid receptors blocked, the opiates cannot have their effects – and breathing returns to normal (NHPR Staff, 2016). Because naloxone binds more strongly to the receptor sites than the opiates do, naloxone actually bumps them out and takes their place. That’s why naloxone acts so quickly, showing effects within five minutes (College of Pharmacists of British Columbia, 2016).


Prevention Point Philadelphia provides naloxone and the training of its use to the librarians at McPherson Square Library, a library located in a high drug use area of the city. “While other libraries practice fire drills, McPherson began overdose drills.” It’s needed. Philadelphia is looking at a 30% increase in overdose deaths in 2017 as compared to 2016. That’s 1,200 expected ODs. When people started overdosing on heroin in the library and in the nearby park, the librarians decided it was time to get training on using the naloxone kits – and they’ve used them to save lives (Newall, 2017; Wootson, 2017).


The opioid epidemic is not bypassing colleges and universities. “Last fall, three Washington State University students overdosed and died in Pullman, Wash.; a 25-year-old died from an overdose on the potent opioid fentanyl and heroin in a bathroom at Columbus State Community College in Ohio; and a student died from a suspected overdose at State University of New York at Geneseo. Fatalities in recent years have also hit campuses in New Mexico, Louisiana and beyond.” Institutions of higher learning are starting to step up to the plate by “distributing the anti-overdose drug naloxone to campus police and even students. Drug company Adapt Pharma Ltd. announced last month that it would offer 40,000 free doses of its branded version, called Narcan, to colleges nationwide. So far roughly 60 schools have reached out, according to company officials... The University of Texas at Austin now stocks naloxone at the front desk of its residence halls” (Korn & Kamp, 2017).


Ask students to investigate who at your institution, if anyone, has been trained to administer naloxone. Do students feel like the number of people trained is sufficient? If not, what can students do to make a difference?




Boyer, E. W. (2012). Management of opioid analgesic overdose. New England Journal of Medicine, 367(14), 1370-1373. doi:10.1056/nejmc1209707


Brown University. (2017, June 7). Feared by drug users but hard to avoid, fentanyl takes a mounting toll. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 28, 2017 from 


College of Pharmacists of British Columbia. (2016, April 4). Naloxone: Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from


Frantz, S. (2017, April 16). Do you cover drug abuse in Intro Psych? If not, it might be time to. Retrieved from


Genetic Science Learning Center. (2013, August 30) Mouse Party. Retrieved June 22, 2017, from


Korn, M., & Kamp, J. (2017, May 07). Fatal student opioid overdoses prompt colleges to action. Retrieved from


NHPR Staff. (2016, June 6). Primer: How does Narcan work? Retrieved from


Newall, M. (2017, May 21). For these Philly librarians, drug tourists and overdose drills are part of the job. Retrieved from


National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). (2016, June 06). Fentanyl. Retrieved June 28, 2017, from 


Vaughan, C. W., Ingram, S. L., Connor, M. A., & Christie, M. J. (1997). How opioids inhibit GABA-mediated neurotransmission [Abstract]. Nature, 390, 611-614. Retrieved from


Wootson, C. R., Jr. (2017, June 02). ‘Drug tourists’ keep overdosing at this library. Here’s how employees are saving their lives. Retrieved from

Here’s an interesting example of classical conditioning being applied to help solve a serious problem.


The Military Suicide Research Consortium at Florida State University received a Department of Defense grant to find ways to prevent suicides by military members (Joiner, 2017). One avenue of research looked at ways of strengthening marriages, reasoning that those with stronger relationships are less likely to take their own lives (Improving marriages…, n.d.).


Military marriages face a number of challenges, including lengthy deployments. While many factors influence decisions to divorce, spending months away from one’s partner is a likely contributing culprit. “[S]erving lengthy deployments increases the risk of divorce and that the longer the deployment, the greater the risk of divorce” (Improving marriages…, n.d.). Female military service members are almost three times as likely to divorce as their male counterparts. In 2016, for example, 7.7% of female Marines divorced compared to 2.8% of male Marines. Overall, 3.1% of military personnel divorced in 2016 (Bushatz, 2017).   


Let’s make a quick digression to talk about divorce rates. “The military divorce rate is calculated by comparing the number of troops listed as married in the Pentagon's personnel system at the beginning of the fiscal year with the number who report divorces over the year” (Bushatz, 2017). These numbers cannot be compared to national data since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calculates divorce differently. Forty-five state health departments send the number of divorces in their states to the CDC. Because researchers at the CDC don’t know how many marriages were in each of those states to begin with, they can’t calculate a percentage of divorces like the military can. Instead, because the CDC researchers know the population of those 45 states, they can calculate a divorce rate per 1,000 people. In 2015, for example, those 45 reporting states had a combined population of 258,518,265. The number of divorces that year in those 45 states? 800,909. That works out to a divorce rate of 3.1 per 1,000 people (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017).


Now, back to helping marriages succeed. Is there a low-cost way to strengthen relationships even when the marriage partners are separated by thousands of miles for months at a time? James McNulty, Michael Olson, and colleagues (2017) thought that classical conditioning could work. Couples, 144 of them, were randomly divided into an experimental group and a control group. Every three days for a total of 13 sessions, participants experienced 225 trials where images or words flashed on a computer screen either singly or paired. Participants were to hit the spacebar when something related to relationships appeared, such as a wedding cake. Embedded within those 225 trials were 25 trials where the participant’s partner’s photo was paired with another photo. Those in the experimental condition always saw the partner’s photo paired with positive stimuli, such as photos of puppies. Those in the control condition always saw the partner’s photo paired with neutral stimuli, such as photos of buttons.  


Every two weeks from the start of the conditioning trials to two weeks post conditioning, participants completed a series of dependent measures. A priming task timed how quickly participants associated positive words with their partners. And researchers, well, just asked participants how they felt about their marriages. On the priming task, those in the experimental condition reacted faster when positive words were associated with their partner than those in the control condition. And the faster those reaction times, the more likely the participant was to say they were happy in their marriages.


Classical conditioning in the experimental condition


                                positive photos (UCS) --> positive feelings (UCR)


partner photos --> positive photos (UCS) --> positive feelings (UCR)


partner photos (CS) -----------------------------> positive feelings (CR)


The researchers are careful to note that while looking at photos of puppies, sunsets, and other positive imagery paired with images of our partners boosts positive feelings toward our partners, this classical conditioning will not make us have positive feelings towards someone we really dislike. In other words, classical conditioning is not a panacea for fixing badly damaged relationships. 


Consider using this experiment as another example in your classical conditioning lecture. Or provide students a summary of the research and ask them to work in pairs or small groups to identify the UCS, UCR, CS, and CR.  




Bushatz, A. (2017, April 28). Female troop divorce up slightly, male rate largely unchanged. Retrieved from


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017, January 13). Marriages and Divorces. Retrieved June 23, 2017, from


Improving marriages to decrease suicide risk. (n.d.). Retrieved June 23, 2017, from


Joiner, T. (2015, October). Military Suicide Research Consortium (Rep. No. W81XWH-10-2-0181). Retrieved


McNulty, J. K., Olson, M. A., Jones, R. E., & Acosta, L. M. (2017). Automatic associations between one’s partner and one’s affect as the proximal mechanism of change in relationship satisfaction: Evidence from evaluative conditioning. Psychological Science. doi:10.1177/0956797617702014

On June 3, 2017, late at night, an unnamed 58-year-old homeless man was shoved onto the tracks in a Manhattan subway station. Gray Davis, a 31-year-old ballet dancer, leapt down onto the tracks and lifted the unconscious man to safety. And then lifted himself up before the next train arrived (Cooper & Southall, 2017).


Thanks to research on the bystander effect, we know the conditions under which we are less likely to help and under which we are more likely to help (Myers, 2015). Let’s see how these play out with Gray Davis on that night.


We are more likely to help when:


We are feeling good. He was with his wife and mother after having watched his wife, also a ballet dancer, perform. While they certainly could have been arguing for the last 6 hours, I’m going to choose to believe they had an enjoyable day.


We are not in a rush. Their evening out had just come to a close, and they were making their way home.


The victim needs help. An unconscious man on train tracks clearly needs help.


We know that there were a number of bystanders present. Davis reports that “People were screaming to get help,” and, well, it’s a Saturday night in Manhattan so there must have been others present. Why did the number of bystanders seem to have little impact on Davis? At the time of the incident, Davis was already committed to helping. When his wife, Cassandra Trenary, saw the man and a woman arguing, she sent Davis to get help. He ran up to the token booth, but it was unoccupied. He had returned to the platform to learn that the man had been shoved onto the tracks. And, as a dancer, Gray Davis also knew he had the physical skill to help.


Factors that were not present? The victim did not appear to be similar to his rescuer and the incident did not take place in a small town.


Other factors that could have been present that we don’t know about? We don’t know if Davis was feeling guilty about something, if he is a religious man, or if he had recently seen someone else being helpful.


I have an assignment where I ask students to take the conditions that are more likely to lead to helping and create a scenario in which someone is more likely to help. And then I ask students to reverse them to create a scenario in which someone is less likely to help. If you decide to offer a similar writing assignment, ask students to identify how each condition related to helping behavior is illustrated in their scenario. It will make scoring them much easier. 





Cooper, M., & Southall, A. (2017, June 04). Ballet dancer leaps onto subway tracks and lifts man to safety. Retrieved from


Myers, D. G. (2015). Exploring social psychology (7th ed.). Boston: McGraw-Hill.

“American and United are rolling out a stripped-down new [fare] class called Basic Economy” (Schwartz, 2017). And it’s providing foot-in-the-door examples for psychology instructors who are ready to talk about something other than safe-driving signs (Freedman & Fraser, 1966).  


With American Airlines’ Basic Economy ticket class, I’m not allowed to use the overhead bins, I can’t choose a seat until I check-in (guaranteeing I’ll be in middle-seat-landia and probably not sitting with my travel companions), I have no possibility of a free upgrade, I can’t change my flight, and I board in the last group (big deal; I can’t put a bag in the overhead bin anyway).


“’That’s the experience on a ultra-low-cost carrier,’ said Rajeev Lalwani, an airline industry analyst with

Morgan Stanley. As the legacy airlines introduce similar no-frills offerings to hold off upstarts like Spirit, he said, ‘part of the idea is to get folks to upgrade to premium economy and collect fees’” (Schwartz, 2017). That’s the foot-in-the-door: get customers to commit to the lower fare first, and then dangle the next highest fare as a better alternative.


I went to the American Airlines website to see how this played out in real time. I chose a Dallas to Tampa roundtrip scheduled for three weeks from now. American gave me my ticket class options. Clicking on the “Basic Economy” link generated a helpful pop-up. I love the red Xs on the blah-grey background. I don’t think American really wants me to choose this fare.

American Airlines screenshot: Basic Economy fare restrictions


Once I select the $317 “basic economy” fare – and getting pretty close to being mentally committed to flying American for this trip – I get another helpful pop-up. I can keep my red-fonted “Lowest fare.” Or For just an extra $20, I can have the green-fonted “Good value with benefits” fare and all of these green-checkmarked perks! I need to either “accept restrictions” for that lowest fare (and be treated like a teenager on “restriction”?) or “move to main cabin” (where I can be treated like an adult?).

American Airlines screenshot:Basic Economy fare vs. main cabin fare

After I “Accept restrictions,” it’s still not too late for me to move to the main cabin! I can keep my red Xs or I can upgrade to bullet points. It’s just another $20… I might not have been willing to pay $337 to fly roundtrip Dallas to Tampa, but once I’ve said okay to that $317 foot in the door, it’s not that hard to say okay to an extra $20.

American Airlines screenshot:Trip summary screen

The “ultra-low-cost” carriers have structured their fees to take advantage of foot-in-the-door, too. Where do you think American and United got the idea? That same trip from Dallas to Tampa would cost $177.18 on Spirit Airlines. That means no overhead bin use, no seat assignment until I get to the airport, and Spirit puts me in whatever seat they’d like, and I can’t print a boarding pass at the airport without paying a fee – pretty much the same deal I got with red-X Basic Economy fare on American, minus the boarding pass print fee. After my next click toward purchasing a ticket, Spirit, in a pop-up, says it is willing to give me all of those perks for $152. If I accept it, my total cost for this trip is now $329.18. For those who have not been paying attention, that’s just $7.22 less than American’s “good value with benefits” fare. If I don’t accept it, I can still go “à la carte” on the fees. I have already decided to buy the ticket. I’m ready to purchase it. All I have to do is click the huge red “ADD TO CART” button to get all of those things that make air travel a little more humane. Or I can click the small print link and choose my options later.

Spirit Airline pop-up: Add on extras for one fee

Once I’ve mentally committed to purchasing a ticket and the airline has their foot in my door, the door is cracked to let in the for-a-fee add-ons. And as a psychologist there isn’t much I can do but say, “I see what you did there.” 




Freedman, J. L., & Fraser, S. C. (1966). Compliance without pressure: The foot-in-the-door technique. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 4(2), 195-202. doi:10.1037/h0023552


Schwartz, N. D. (2017, May 28). Route to air travel discomfort starts on Wall Street. Retrieved from

After covering the Big Five personality traits, ask students to get into small groups and pose these questions.

  1. Thinking about your ideal instructor, rank order the Big Five traits according to the instructor’s traits that are most important to you.
  2. For each of those traits, what behavior would you expect to see from that instructor?

Once discussion dies down, start with one of the Big Five traits, say extraversion, and ask volunteers to report where they scored their ideal instructor on that trait, why they chose that score, and what behavior did they expect to see from an instructor with that trait score.


After you have gone through all of the traits, share with students a few peer-reviewed studies.


A study reported in Inside Higher Ed (Elmes, 2017) using a British sample found that students rank ordered the traits they like to see in an instructor this way: conscientiousness, agreeableness, extroversion, openness, and neuroticism.

Chamorro-Premuzic, (2008) found students had a preference for instructors who were low in neuroticism and high in conscientiousness. Interestingly, students preferred instructors who matched themselves on openness and conscientiousness. High openness-scoring students preferred high openness-scoring instructors, for example.


A 2005 study, also by Adrian Furnham and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic found that “students tended to prefer conscientious, open, and stable lecturers, though correlations revealed that these preferences were largely a function of students' own [emphasis in original] personality traits.” Again, this was true for openness, but this time instead of conscientiousness, it was agreeableness. Students preferred an instructor who scored similarly to them on agreeableness.


Do student perceptions of instructor personality affect student evaluations of teaching? Yep. When students perceived their instructor as high on conscientiousness, agreeableness, openness, and extraversion, students rated the course and the instructor’s ability to teach as high. When students perceived their instructor as high on neuroticism, students rated the course and the instructor’s ability to teach as low. What about student personality traits? Students high in agreeableness were more likely to rate their instructor’s ability to teach as high (Patrick, 2011). No surprise; they’re agreeable!


While students may have preferences for instructor personality, is there any evidence that instructor personality affects student performance in the course? I haven’t found any, but if someone knows of some, please let me know.


To conclude your class discussion, ask students which of the Big Five traits is most strongly correlated with both high school and college GPA. The answer? Conscientiousness (Noftle and Robins, 2007).




Chamorro-Premuzic, T., Furnham, A., Christopher, A. N., Garwood, J., & Martin, G. N. (2008). Birds of a feather: Students’ preferences for lecturers’ personalities as predicted by their own personality and learning approaches. Personality and Individual Differences, 44(4), 965-976. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2007.10.032


Elmes, J. (2017, May 18). Who wants a neurotic professor? Retrieved from


Furnham, A., & Chamorro-Premuzic, T. (2005). Individual differences in students' preferences for lecturers' personalities. Journal of Individual Differences, 26(4), 176-184. doi:10.1027/1614-0001.26.4.176


Noftle, E. E., & Robins, R. W. (n.d.). Personality predictors of academic outcomes: Big Five correlates of GPA and SAT scores. PsycEXTRA Dataset. doi:10.1037/e514412014-495


Patrick, C. L. (2011). Student evaluations of teaching: Effects of the Big Five personality traits, grades and the validity hypothesis. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 36(2), 239-249. doi:10.1080/02602930903308258