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As I finished a recent presentation, “Thinking Smart in a Post-Truth Age,” a questioner’s hand shot up: “I understand the need to think with our heads as well as our hearts, by considering the evidence. But how can I persuade people such as the climate-change-denying folks meeting in my town next week?”

 

I responded by commending a gentle conversation that searched for common values. I also noted that advocates for any cause are wise to not focus on immovable folks with extreme views, but on the uncertain middle—the folks whose votes sway elections and shape history.

 

I should also have mentioned the consistent finding of nine new studies by University of Cologne psychologists Joris Lammers and Matt Baldwin: Folks will often agree with positions that are linked to their own yearnings. For example, might conservatives who tend to yearn for yesteryear’s good old days respond to messages that appeal to nostalgia? Indeed, say Lammers and Baldwin, that was the successful assumption of Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” message.

 

But the same appeal to nostalgia can also promote progressive ideas, they report. For example, liberals were much more supportive than conservatives of a future-focused gun-control message: “I would prefer to make a change, so that in the future people may own hunting rifles and pistols, but no one will have assault rifles.” When the researchers framed the same message with a past-focus: “I would like to go back to the good old days, when people may have owned hunting rifles and pistols, but no one had assault rifles,” conservatives pretty much agreed with liberals.

 

Likewise, contemporary Germans on the left and right expressed much less disagreement about an immigration message when it focused on their country’s past history of welcoming of immigrants.

 

In earlier research, Lammers and Baldwin also found conservatives more open to nostalgia-focused environmental appeals—to, for example, donating money to a charity focused on restoring yesterday’s healthy Earth, rather than a charity focused on preventing future environmental damage. “Make Earth Great Again.”

 

Ergo, I now realize I should have encouraged my questioner to market her message to her audience. If it’s a political message pitched by conservatives at liberals, it’s fine to focus on making a better future. But if she is appealing to conservatives, then she might take a back-to-the-future approach: Frame her message as support for the way things used to be.

 

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

I’m often asked: “What is your favorite introductory psych chapter?” I reply that, when starting to write my text, I presumed that Sensation-Perception would be the dullest topic. Instead, I’ve found it to be the most fascinating. I’m awestruck by the intricate process by which we take in information, transform it into nerve impulses, distribute it to different parts of our brain, and then reassemble that information into colorful sights, rich sounds, and evocative smells. Who could have imagined? We are, as the Psalmist said, “wonderfully made.”

 

And then there are the weird and wonderful perceptual phenomena, among which is our surprising blindness to things right in front of our eyes. In various demonstrations of inattentional blindness, people who are focused on a task (such as talking on a phone or counting the number of times black-shirted people pass a ball) often fail to notice someone sauntering through the scene—a woman with an umbrella, in one experiment, or even a person in a gorilla suit or a clown on a unicycle.

 

 

As a Chinese tour guide wrote to a friend of mine (after people failed to notice something my friend had seen):

 

This looking-without-seeing phenomenon illustrates a deep truth: Our attention is powerfully selective. Conscious awareness resides in one place at a time.

 

Selective inattention restrains other senses, too. Inattentional deafness is easily demonstrated with dichotic listening tasks. For example, if people are fed novel tunes into one ear, while focused on to-be-repeated-out-loud words fed into the other ear, they will later be unable to identify what tune they have heard. (Thanks to the mere exposure effect, they will, however, later like it best.) Or, in an acoustic replication of the famed invisible gorilla study, Polly Dalton and Nick Fraenkel found that people focusing on a conversation between two women (rather than on two men also talking) usually failed to notice one of the men repeatedly saying “I am a gorilla.”

 

Now, in a new British experiment, we also have evidence of inattentional numbness. Pickpockets have long understood that bumping into people makes them unlikely to notice a hand slipping into their pocket. Dalton (working with Sandra Murphy) experimented with this tactile inattention:  Sure enough, when distracted, their participants failed to notice an otherwise easily-noticed vibration to their hand.

 

Tactile inattention sometimes works to our benefit. I once, while driving to give a talk, experienced a painful sting in my eye (from a torn contact lens) . . . then experienced no pain while giving the talk . . . then felt the excruciating pain again on the drive home. In clinical settings, such as with patients receiving burn treatments, distraction can similarly make painful procedures tolerable. Pain is most keenly felt when attended to.

 

Another British experiment, by Charles Spence and Sophie Forster, demonstrated inattentional anosmia (your new word for the day?)—an inability to smell. When people focused on a cognitively demanding task, they became unlikely to notice a coffee scent in the room. .

So what’s next? Can we expect a demonstration of inattentional ageusia—inability to taste? (That’s my new word for the day.) Surely, given our powers of attention (and corresponding inattention), we should expect such.

 

Like a flashlight beam, our mind’s selective attention focuses at any moment on only a small slice of our experience—a phenomenon most drivers underestimate when distracted by phone texting or conversation. However, there’s good news: With our attention riveted on a task, we’re productive and even creative. Our attention is a wonderful gift, given to one thing at a time.

 

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

Nearly two-third of Americans, reports a recent PLOS One article, agree that “I am more intelligent than the average person.”

 

This self-serving bias—on which I have been reporting for four decades (starting here)—is one of psychology’s most robust and reliable phenomena. Indeed, on most subjective, socially desirable dimensions, most of us see ourselves as better-than-average . . . as smarter, more ethical, more vocationally competent, more charitable, more unprejudiced friendlier, healthier, and more likely to outlive our peers—which calls to mind Freud’s joke about the husband who told his wife, “If one of us dies, I shall move to Paris.”

 

My own long-ago interest in self-serving bias was triggered by noticing a result buried in a College Board survey of 829,000 high school seniors. In rating themselves on their “ability to get along with others,” 0 percent viewed themselves below average. But a full 85 percent saw themselves as better than average: 60 percent in the top 10 percent, and 25 percent as in the top 1 percent.

 

As Shelley Taylor wrote in Positive Illusions, “The [self-]portraits that we actually believe, when we are given freedom to voice them, are dramatically more positive than reality can sustain.” Dave Barry recognized the phenomenon: “The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background is that deep down inside, we all believe that we are above average drivers.”

 

Self-serving bias also takes a second form—our tendency to accept more responsibility for our successes than our failures, for our victories than our defeats, and for our good deeds than our bad. In experiments, people readily attribute their presumed successes to their ability and effort, their failures to bad luck or an impossible task. A Scrabble win reflects our verbal dexterity. A loss? Our bad luck in drawing a Q but no U.

 

Perceiving ourselves, our actions, and our groups favorably does much good. It protects us against depression, buffers stress, and feeds our hopes. Yet psychological science joins literature and religion in reminding us of the perils of pride. Hubris often goes before a fall. Self-serving perceptions and self-justifying explanations breed marital conflict, bargaining impasses, racism, sexism, nationalism, and war.

 

Being mindful of self-serving bias needn’t lead to false modesty—for example, smart people thinking they are dim-witted. But it can encourage a humility that recognizes our own virtues and abilities while equally acknowledging those of our neighbors. True humility leaves us free to embrace our special talents and similarly to celebrate those of others.

 

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

“She [Professor Christine Blasey Ford] can’t tell us how she got home and how she got there,” scorned Senator Lindsey Graham during the lunch break of yesterday’s riveting U. S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing regarding Ford’s memory of being assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Graham’s assumption, widely voiced by fellow skeptics of Ford’s testimony, is that her inability to remember simple peripheral details discounts the authenticity of her assault memory.

 

But Graham and the other skeptics fail to understand, first, how extreme emotions signal the brain to “save this!” for future reference. (Likely you, too, have enduring “flashbulb memories” for long-ago emotional experiences?) And second, they fail to understand that peripheral details typically fall into oblivion. In Psychology, 12th Edition, Nathan DeWall and I explain:

 

Our emotions trigger stress hormones that influence memory formation. When we are excited or stressed, these hormones make more glucose energy available to fuel brain activity, signaling the brain that something important is happening. Moreover, stress hormones focus memory. Stress provokes the amygdala (two limbic system, emotion processing clusters) to initiate a memory trace that boosts activity in the brain’s memory-forming areas (Buchanan, 2007; Kensinger, 2007) (FIGURE 8.9). It’s as if the amygdala says, “Brain, encode this moment for future reference!” The result? Emotional arousal can sear certain events into the brain, while disrupting memory for irrelevant events (Brewin et al., 2007; McGaugh, 2015).

 

Significantly stressful events can form almost unforgettable memories. After a traumatic experience—a school shooting, a house fire, a rape—vivid recollections of the horrific event may intrude again and again. It is as if they were burned in: “Stronger emotional experiences make for stronger, more reliable memories,” noted James McGaugh (1994, 2003). Such experiences even strengthen recall for relevant, immediately preceding events [such as going up the stairway and into the bedroom, in Ford’s case] (Dunsmoor et al., 2015: Jobson & Cheraghi, 2016). This makes adaptive sense: Memory serves to predict the future and to alert us to potential dangers. Emotional events produce tunnel vision memory. They focus our attention and recall on high priority information, and reduce our recall of irrelevant details (Mather & Sutherland, 2012). Whatever rivets our attention gets well recalled, at the expense of the surrounding context.

 

And as I suggested in last week’s essay, Graham and others seem not to understand “state-dependent memory”—that what people experience in one state (such as when drunk) they may not remember in another state (sober). Nor are Kavanaugh’s supporters recognizing that heavy drinking disrupts memory formation, especially for an experience that would not have been traumatic for him. Thus, Kavanaugh could be sincerely honest in not recalling an assaultive behavior, but also, possibly, sincerely wrong.

 

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

Psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford vividly recalls being sexually assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh when both were teens. Kavanaugh remembers no such event and vigorously denies Ford’s accusation. The potentially historic significance of the allegation has triggered a debate: Is she telling the truth? Or is he, in claiming no such memory?

 

Without judging either’s current character, psychological science suggests a third possibility: Perhaps both are truthfully reporting their memories.

 

On Ford’s behalf, we can acknowledge that survivors of traumatic events typically are haunted by enduring, intrusive memories. As Nathan DeWall and I write in Psychology, 12th Edition,

Significantly stressful events can form almost unforgettable memories. After a traumatic experience—a school shooting, a house fire, a rape—vivid recollections of the horrific event may intrude again and again. It is as if they were burned in: “Stronger emotional experiences make for stronger, more reliable memories,” noted James McGaugh (1994, 2003).

 

Does Ford’s inability to remember ancillary details, such as when the assault supposedly occurred, discount her veracity? Not at all, if we’re to generalize from research on the accuracy of eyewitness recollections. Those whose memory is poor for incidental details of a scene are more accurate in their recollections of the essential event (see here and here).

 

But if Kavanaugh and his friend were, indeed, “stumbling drunk,” then perhaps they, genuinely, have no recollection of their impulsive behaviors while “severely intoxicated.”  Memory blackouts do happen, as we also report:

 Ergo, if trauma sears memories into the brain, and if alcohol disrupts them, could it be that both Ford and Kavanaugh are telling the truth as best they can recall it?

 

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

Turning 76 years old in a week, and still loving what I do, I find myself inspired by two recent emails. One, from social psychologist Thomas Pettigrew, age 87, responded to my welcoming his latest work by attaching fourteen of his recent publications. The second, from Nathan DeWall, pointed me to an interesting new article co-authored by developmental psychologist, Walter Mischel, age 88 (who, sadly, died just hours before this essay was posted).

 

That got me thinking about other long-lived people who have found their enduring calling in psychological science. My late friend, Charles Brewer, the long-time editor of Teaching of Psychology (who once told me he took two days a year off: Christmas and Easter), taught at Furman University until nearly 82, occupied his office until age 83, and was still authoring into his 80s.

 

But Charles’ longevity was exceeded by that of

  • B.F. Skinner, whom I heard address the American Psychological Association convention in 1990 at age 86, just eight days before he died of leukemia.
  • Carroll Izard, who co-authored three articles in 2017, the year of his death at age 93.
  • Jerome Bruner, who, the year before he died in 2016 at age 100, authored an essay on “The Uneasy Relation of Culture and Mind.”

 

And in earlier times, my historian-of-psychology friend Ludy Benjamin tells me, Wilhelm Wundt taught until 85 and supervised his last doctoral student at 87, and Robert Woodworth, lectured at Columbia until 89 and published his last work at 90.*

 

So, I then wondered, who of today’s living psychologists, in addition to Pettigrew and Mischel, are still publishing at age 85 and beyond? Daniel Kahneman and Paul Ekman almost qualify, but at 84 are youngsters compared to those below.  Here’s my preliminary short list—other nominees welcome!—with their most recent PsycINFO publication. (Given the era in which members of their age received PhDs, most are—no surprise—men.)

 

  • Philip Zimbardo: Age 85 (born March 23, 1933)

Unger, A., Lyu, H., & Zimbardo, P. G. (2018). How compulsive buying is influenced by perspective—Cross-cultural evidence from Germany, Ukraine, and China. International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, 16, 522–544.

 

  • Gordon Bower: Age 85 (born December 30, 1932)

Bower, G. H. (2016). Emotionally colored cognition. In R. J. Sternberg, S. T. Fiske, & F. J. Foss (Eds.), Scientists making a difference: One hundred eminent behavioral and brain scientists talk about their most important contributions. Chapter xxvii, pp. 123–127. NY: Cambridge University Press.

 

  • James McGaugh: Age 86 (born December 17, 1931)

McGaugh, J. L. (2018). Emotional arousal regulation of memory consolidation. Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, 19, 5560.

 

  • Lila Gleitman: Age 88 (born December 10, 1931)

Gleitman, L. R., & Trueswell, J. C. (2018). Easy words: Reference resolution in a malevolent referent world. Topics in Cognitive Science.

 

  • Roger Shepard: Age 89 (born January 30, 1929)

Shepard, R. N. (2016). Just turn it over in your mind. In R. J. Sternberg, S. T. Fiske, & F. J. Foss (Eds.), Scientists making a difference: One hundred eminent behavioral and brain scientists talk about their most important contributions. Chapter xxvii, pp. 99–103. New York: Cambridge University Press.

 

  • Jerome Kagan: Age 89 (born February 25, 1929)

Kagan, J. (2018, May). Three unresolved issues on human morality. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13, 346–358.

 

  • Albert Bandura: Age 92 (born December 4, 1925)

Bandura, A. (2016). Moral disengagement: How people do harm and live with themselves. New York: Worth Publishers.

 

  • Aaron Beck: Age 97 (born July 18, 1921)

Kochanski, K. M., Lee-Tauler, S. Y., Brown, G. K., Beck, A., Perera, K. U., et al. (2018, Aug.) Single versus multiple suicide attempts: A prospective examination of psychiatric factors and wish to die/wish to live index among military and civilian psychiatrically admitted patients. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 206, 657–661.

 

  • Eleanor Maccoby: Age 101 (born May 15, 1917)

Maccoby, E. (2007). Historical overview of socialization research and theory. In J. E. Grusec, & P. D. Hastings (Eds.), Handbook of socialization: Theory and research. New York: Guilford Press.

 

  • And a drum roll for Brenda Milner: At age 100 (born July 15, 1918), she still, I’m told, comes in a couple times a week to the Montreal Neurological Institute, which last week celebrated her centennial (with thanks to Melvin Goodale for the photo below).

             Milner, B., & Klein, D. (2016, March). Loss of recent memory after bilateral hippocampal lesions: Memory and              memories—looking back and looking forward. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 87, 230.

 

 

Life is a gift that ends unpredictably. Having already exceeded my at-birth life expectancy, I am grateful for the life I have had. But as one who still loves learning and writing (and can think of nothing else I’d rather do), why not emulate these esteemed colleagues while I continue to be blessed with health, energy, and this enduring sense of calling?

 

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

 ----

* The “major early women psychologists”—Calkins, Washburn, Ladd-Franklin, Woolley, Hollingworth—all died before age 85, reported Benjamin, who added that some other psychologists have stayed too long in the profession without knowing “when to hang up their spikes” and make way for fresh faces in the classroom and laboratory.

Some fun emails stimulated by last week’s essay on loss aversion in sports and everyday life pointed me to statistician David Spiegelhalter's Cambridge Coincidence Collection, which contains people’s 4500+ reports of weird coincidences.

 

That took my mind back to some personally experienced coincidences . . . like the time my daughter, Laura Myers, bought two pairs of shoes. Back home, we were astounded to discover that the two brand names on the boxes were “Laura” and “Myers.” Or the time I confused our college library desk clerk when checking out after using a photocopy machine. My six-digit charge number was identical to the one-in-a-million six-digit number of copies on which the last user had stopped. Or the day my wife, Carol, called seeking my help in sourcing Mark Twain’s quote, “The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them.” After this first-ever encounter with that quote, my second encounter was 90 minutes later, in a Washington Post article.

 

In Intuition: Its Powers and Perils, I report more amusing coincidences. Among my favorites:

  • Twins Levinia and Lorraine Christmas, driving to deliver Christmas presents to each other near Flitcham, England, collided.
  • Three of the first five U.S. Presidents—Adams, Jefferson, and Monroe—died on the same date–which was none other than the 4th of July.
  • And my favorite . . . in Psalm 46 of the King James Bible, published in the year that Shakespeare turned 46, the 46th word is “shake” and the 46th word from the end is “spear.” (An even greater marvel: How did anyone notice this?)

 

What should we make of weird coincidences? Were they, as James Redfield suggested in The Celestine Prophecy, seemingly “meant to happen . . . synchronistic events, and [that] following them will start you on your path to spiritual truth”? Is it a wink from God that your birthdate is buried among the random digits of pi? Beginning 50,841,600 places after the decimal, my 9/20/1942 birthdate appears . . . and you can likewise find yours here.

 

Without wanting to drain our delight in these serendipities, statisticians have a simpler explanation. Given the countless billions of daily events, some weird juxtapositions are inevitable—and then likely to get noticed and remembered (while all the premonitions not followed by an envisioned phone call or accident are unnoticed and fall into oblivion). “With a large enough sample, any outrageous thing is likely to happen,” observed statisticians Persi Diaconis and Frederick Mosteller. Indeed, added mathematician John Allen Paulos, “the most astonishingly incredible coincidence imaginable would be the complete absence of all coincidences.”

 

Finally, consider: That any specified coincidence will occur is very unlikely. That some astonishing unspecified event will occur is certain. That is why remarkable coincidences are noted in hindsight, not predicted with foresight. And that is also why we don’t need paranormal explanations to expect improbable happenings, even while delighting in them.

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

 

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

 

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

 

Speaking of Psychology, produced by the American Psychological Association

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

The Psych Files, produced and hosted by psychologist Michael Britt

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

 

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

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

 

Behavioral Observations, produced and hosted by behavior analyst Matt Cicoria

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

“Three psychologists talk about doing science.”

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Science podcasts hosted by journalists

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Freakonomics, produced and hosted by journalist Stephen Dubner

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Podcasts about the human experience

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Podcast about teaching in higher education

 

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

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

Sue Frantz

LGBT experiences in prison

Posted by Sue Frantz Aug 31, 2018

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

How many transgender women are there at San Quentin?

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

What is your reaction to this podcast episode?

 

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

 

Reference

 

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

Imagine that you’re about to buy a $5000 used car. To pay for it, you’ll need to sell some of your stocks. Which of the following would you rather sell?

  • $5000 of Stock X shares, which you originally purchased for $2500.
  • $5000 of Stock Y shares, which you originally purchased for $10,000.

 

If you’d rather sell Stock X and reap your $2500 profit now, you’re not alone. One analysis of 10,000 investor accounts revealed that most people strongly prefer to lock in a profit rather than absorb a loss. Investors’ loss aversion is curious: What matters is each stock’s future value, not whether it has made or lost money in the past. (If anything, tax considerations favor selling the loser for a tax loss and avoiding the capital gains tax on the winner.)

 

Loss aversion is ubiquitous, and not just in big financial decisions. Participants in experiments, where rewards are small, will choose a sure gain over flipping a coin for double or nothing—but they will readily flip a coin on a double-or-nothing chance to avert a loss. As Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky reported, we feel the pain from a loss twice as keenly as we feel the pleasure from a similar-sized gain. Losing $20 feels worse than finding $20 feels good. No surprise, then, that we so vigorously avoid losing in so many situations.

 

The phenomenon extends to the endowment effect—our attachment to what we own and our aversion to losing it, as when those given a coffee mug demand more money to sell it than those not given the mug are willing to pay for it. Small wonder our homes are cluttered with things we wouldn’t today buy, yet won’t part with.

 

Loss aversion is but one example of a larger bad-is-stronger-than-good phenomenon, note Roy Baumeister and his colleagues. Bad events evoke more misery than good events evoke joy. Cruel words hurt us more than compliments please us. A bad reputation is easier to acquire—with a single lie or heartless act—than is a good reputation. “In everyday life, bad events have stronger and more lasting consequences than comparable good events.” Psychologically, loss is larger than gain. Emotionally, bad is stronger than good.  

           

Coaches and players are aware of the pain of losses, so it’s no surprise that loss aversion plays out in sports. Consider this example from basketball: Say your team is behind by 2 points, with time only for one last shot. Would you prefer a 2-point or a 3-point attempt?

 

Most coaches, wanting to avoid a loss, will seek to put the game into overtime with a 2-point shot. After all, an average 3-point shot will produce a win only one-third of the time. But if the team averages 50 percent of its 2-point attempts, and has about a 50 percent chance of overtime in this toss-up game, the loss-aversion strategy will yield but a 25 percent chance of both (a) sending the game to overtime, followed by (b) an overtime victory. Thus, by averting an immediate loss, these coaches reduce the chance of an ultimate win—rather like investors who place their money in loss-avoiding bonds and thus forego the likelihood, over extended time, of a much greater stock index win.

 

And now comes news (kindly shared by a mathematician friend) of loss aversion in baseball and softball base-running. Statistician Peter MacDonald, mathematician Dan McQuillan, and computer scientist Ian McQuillan invite us to imagine “a tie game in the bottom of the ninth inning, and there is one out—a single run will win the game. You are on first base, hoping the next batter gets a hit.”

 

As the batter hits a fly to shallow right, you hesitate between first and second to see if the sprinting outfielder will make the catch. When the outfielder traps rather than catches the ball, you zoom to second. The next batter hits a fly to center field and, alas, the last batter strikes out.

 

You probably didn’t question this cautious base-running scenario, because it’s what players do and what coaches commend. But consider an alternative strategy, say MacDonald and his colleagues. If you had risked running to third on that first fly ball, you would have scored the winning run on the ensuing fly ball. Using data from 32 years of Major League Baseball, the researchers calculate that any time the fly ball is at least 38 percent likely to fall for a hit, the runner should abandon caution and streak for third. Yet, when in doubt, that rational aggressive running strategy “is never attempted.”

 

You may object that players cannot compute probabilities. But, says the MacDonald team, “players and their third-base coaches make these sorts of calculations all the time. They gamble on sacrifice flies and stolen base attempts using probabilities of success.” Nevertheless, when it comes to running from first, their first goal is to avert loss—and to avoid, even at the cost of a possible run, the risk of looking like a fool. We implicitly think “What if I fail?” before “How can I succeed?”

 

Often in life, it seems, our excessive fear of losing subverts our opportunities to win. Caution thwarts triumph. Little ventured, little gained.

 

My late friend Gerry Haworth understood the risk-reward relationship. A shop teacher at our local high school, he began making wood products in his garage shop. Then, in 1948, he ventured the business equivalent of running to third base—quitting his job and launching a business, supported by his dad’s life savings. Today, family-owned Haworth Inc., America’s third-largest furniture manufacturer, has more than 6000 employees and nearly $2 billion in annual sales. Something ventured, something gained.

Mexican immigrants, President Trump has repeatedly told his approving base, are “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” In this week’s West Virginia rally he highlighted Mollie Tibbetts’ accused “illegal alien” killer as a vivid example. Hence the wish to “build a wall”—to keep out those who, we are told, would exploit Americans and take their jobs.

 

In an earlier 2018 essay, I responded to the inaccuracy of fear mongering about immigrant crime. But consider a different question: Who believes it? Is it people who live in regions with a greater number of unauthorized immigrants, and who have suffered the presumed crime, conflict, and competition?

 

At the recent Sydney Symposium on Social Psychology, Christian Unkelbach (University of Cologne) reported an intriguing finding: In Germany, anti-immigrant views are strongest in the states with fewest immigrants. Across Germany’s 16 states, intentions to vote for the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany [AfD]) was greatest in states with the fewest asylum applications. (My thanks to Dr. Unkelbach for permission to share his translated figure.)

 

I wondered: Might a similar pattern emerge  in U.S. states? To find out, I combined two data sets:

  1. A 2016 Pew report provided data on the percentage of unauthorized immigrants in each state’s population.
  2. A 2016 PRRI report provided state-by-state data on immigrant acceptance.

The result? Voila! In the United States, more immigrants predicts more state-level acceptance of immigrants. And fewer immigrants predicts more fear of immigrants. (West Virginia, with the lowest unauthorized immigrant proportion, also is the least immigrant-supportive.) Moreover, the U.S. correlations are very similar to the German:

  • Across the 16 German states, the correlation between immigrant noncitizen population and anti-immigrant attitudes was -.61.
  • Across the 50 U.S. states, the correlation between immigrant noncitizen population and immigrant-supportive attitudes was +.72.

 

 

 

The legendary prejudice researcher Thomas Pettigrew would not be surprised. In a new article at age 87 (I want to be like him when I grow up), Pettigrew reports that in 477 studies of nearly 200,000 people across 36 cultures, intergroup contact predicted lower prejudice in every culture. With cross-racial contact, especially cooperative contact, people from South Africa to the United States develop more favorable racial attitudes. In a new study by Jared Nai and colleagues, living in a racially diverse U.S. neighborhood—or even just imagining doing so—leads people to identify more with all humanity, and to help strangers more.

 

As straight folks get to know gay folks, they, too, become more gay-supportive. And, these new data suggest, as citizens interact with and benefit from their immigrant neighbors, they, too, become more open-hearted and welcoming.

 

In my own Midwestern town, where minority students (mostly Hispanic) are a slight majority of public school students, these yard signs (this one from my front yard) abound. We have known enough immigrants—as neighbors, colleagues, business owners, and workers—to know that they, like our own immigrant ancestors, can be a blessing.

 

[Afterword: In kindly commenting on this essay, Thomas Pettigrew noted that one exception to the contact-with-immigrants benefit occurs “when the infusion of newcomers is large and sudden.  Then threat takes over without the time for contact to work its magic” (quoted with permission).]

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

 

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

 

How much time does it take?

 

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

 

The activity

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

Conclusion

 

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

 

References

 

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

 

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

 

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

Some years ago an NBC Television producer invited me, while in New York City, to meet in her office to brainstorm possible psychology-related segments. But a focused conversation proved difficult, because every three minutes or so she would turn away to check an incoming email or take a call—leaving me feeling a bit demeaned.

 

In today’s smartphone age, such interruptions are pervasive. In the midst of conversation, your friend’s attention is diverted by the ding of an incoming message, the buzz of a phone call, or just the urge to check email. You’re being phubbed—an Australian-coined term meaning phone-snubbed.

 

In U.S. surveys by James Roberts and Meredith David, 46 percent reported being phubbed by their partners, and 23 percent said it was a problem in their relationship. More phubbing—as when partners place the phone where they can glance at it during conversation, or check it during conversational lulls—predicted lower relationship satisfaction.

 

EmirMemedovski/E+/Getty Images

 

Could such effects of phubbing be shown experimentally? In a forthcoming study, Ryan Dwyer and his University of British Columbia colleagues recruited people to share a restaurant meal with their phones on the table or not. “When phones were present (vs. absent), participants felt more distracted, which reduced how much they enjoyed spending time with their friends/family.”

 

Another new experiment, by University of Kent psychologists Varoth Chotpitayasunondh and Karen Douglas, helps explain phubbing’s social harm. When putting themselves in the skin of one participant in an animation of a conversation, people who were phubbed felt a diminished sense of belonging, self-esteem, and control. Phubbing is micro-ostracism. It leaves someone, even while with another, suddenly alone.

 

Screenshot courtesy Karen Douglas

 

Smartphones, to be sure, are a boon to relationships as well as a bane. They connect us to people we don’t see—enlarging our sense of belonging. As one who lives thousands of miles from family members, I love Facetime and instant messaging. Yet a real touch beats being pinged. A real smile beats an emoticon. An eye-to-eye blether (as the Scots would say) beats an online chat. We are made for face-to-face relationship.

 

When I mentioned this essay to my wife, Carol, she wryly observed that I (blush) phub her “all the time.” So, what can we do, while enjoying our smartphones, to cut the phubbing? I reached out to some friends and family and got variations on these ideas:

  • “When we get together to play cards, I often put everyone's phone in the next room.”
  • “When out to dinner, I often ask friends to put their phones away. I find the presence of phones so distracting; the mere threat of interruption diminishes the conversation.” Even better: “When some of us go out to dinner, we pile up our phones; the first person to give in and reach for a phone pays for the meal.”
  • I sometimes stop talking until the person reestablishes eye-contact.” Another version: “I just wait until they stop reading.”
  • “I say, ‘I hope everything is OK.’” Or this: “I stop and ask is everything ok? Do you need a minute? I often receive an apology and the phone is put away.”
  • “I have ADHD and I am easily distracted. Thus when someone looks at their phone, and I'm distracted, I say, "I'm sorry, but I am easily distracted. Where was I?" . . . It's extremely effective, because nobody wants me to have to start over.”

 

Seeing the effects of phubbing has helped me change my own behavior. Since that unfocused conversation at NBC I have made a practice, when meeting with someone in my office, to ignore the ringing phone. Nearly always, people pause the conversation to let me take the call. But no, I explain, we are having a conversation and you have taken the time to be here with me. Whoever that is can leave a message or call back. Right now, you are who’s important.

 

Come to think of it, I should take that same attitude home.

Dog walking, according to a recent news report, is healthy for people. That little report follows three massive new research reviews that confirm earlier findings of the mental health benefits of exercise:

  • An American Journal of Psychiatry analysis of 49 studies followed 266,939 people across an average 7 years. In every part of the world, people of all ages had a lower risk of becoming depressed if physically active rather than inactive.
  • JAMA Psychiatry reports that, for teens, “regular physical activity [contributes] to positive mental health.”
  • Another JAMA Psychiatry analysis of 33 clinical trials found an additional depression-protecting effect of “resistance exercise training” (such as weight lifting and strength-building).

 

Faba-Photography/Moment/Getty Images

 

A skeptic might wonder if mentally healthy people have more energy for exercise. (Being really depressed comes with a heaviness that may entail trouble getting out of bed.) But the “prospective studies”—which follow lives through time—can discern a sequence of exercise predicting future reduced depression risk. Moreover, many clinical trial experiments—with people assigned to exercise or control conditions—confirm that exercise not only contributes to health and longevity, it also treats and protects against depression and anxiety. Mens sana in corpore sano: A healthy mind in a healthy body.

 

Indeed, given the modest benefits of antidepressant drugs, some researchers are now recommending therapeutic lifestyle change as a potentially more potent therapy for mild to moderate depression—or as a protection against such. When people modify their living to include the exercise, sunlight exposure, ample sleep, and social connections that marked our ancestors’ lives—a lifestyle for which they were bred—they tend to flourish, with greater vitality and joy. In one study, substantial depression relief was experienced by 19 percent of patients in a treatment-as-usual control group and by 68 percent undergoing therapeutic lifestyle change.

 

Finally, more good news—for dog walkers: Dog walking is said to be healthy and calming for dogs, too. But I suspect that will not surprise any dog owner or their dog.

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

 

The scam

 

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

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

 

 

Norm of reciprocity

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Research idea

 

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

 

In-class discussion

 

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