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As of this writing, Jeopardy! champion James Holzhauer has won 24 games for a total of $1,867,142.00. A lot of people are wondering how he has done it.

 

The next time you cover memory in Intro, ask your students to work in pairs or small groups to use what they learned in the memory chapter to guess at some strategies Holzhauer has used to remember such a vast amount of information and to be able to recall it. Did your students come up with self-testing? Spaced practice? Elaboration? Interleaving? Dual coding? Ask your students how they would use these techniques to prepare for their own Jeopardy! run.

 

The Philadelphia Inquirer wanted to know how James Holzhauer has done, so they asked Penn psychology professor Michael J. Kahana and Utah ed psych professor Michael Gardner—and James Holzhauer (Avril, 2019).

 

First, Holzhauer has learned a lot of content in different contexts. In addition to whatever knowledge he acquired through general reading or through school was learned again through his reading of children’s books—books that can cover a lot of ground in an easy-to-digest way. If Holzhauer learned about Napoleon in high school, for example, and then learned about Napoleon in a children’s book, he has that many more retrieval cues to recall what he knows about Napoleon—information that was learned at different times and different places. And, of course, since the task in playing Jeopardy! is retrieving information, it’s important to practice that retrieval through self-testing. Holzhauer confirms that he has indeed self-tested.

 

Holzhauer uses priming to his advantage, both in unexpected and expected ways. If Final Jeopardy is a finite category, he mentally flips through possible answers. As an example, he cites the category “European Capitals.” By thinking about Budapest, Rome, Warsaw, Paris, Oslo, Brussels, he is firing up the neurons in his “European Capital” neural network, making it easier to retrieve the correct answer when the question finally comes. Outside of Final Jeopardy, Holzhauer says the game moves too fast to do this. When contestants choose all the questions from the same category one right after the other, though, everyone gets to stay within the same neural network. That’s not Holzhauer’s strategy, though. He jumps from category to category selecting all of the $500 answers first—to amass a good chunk of money that he can wager on a Daily Double. While he doesn’t have time to think through a list of possible answers, but since he knows which category he is going to select before he voices it, his brain does have a few seconds lead time over his competitors in accessing the right neural network. Interestingly, younger people can more quickly retrieve content from a new category than those of us who are older. That jumping from category to category likely gives him an advantage over older contestants.

 

Then there is buzzer strategy. Is it better to wait until you know you know the answer and then buzz in? Or, is it better to buzz in and hope your brain can find the answer in those few seconds? Holzhauer uses the former strategy. Buzz in first and hope your working memory is able to quickly retrieve the answer from long-term memory.

 

End this discussion by informing your students that if any of them go on to win on Jeopardy!, your cut is 10%.

 

Reference

 

Avril, T. (2019, May 16). Can ‘Jeopardy!’ whiz James Holzhauer be beaten? The science of memory and recall, explained. The Inquirer. Retrieved from https://www.philly.com/science/jeopardy-champ-james-holzhauer-speed-psychology-20190516.html

One of the many things I love about teaching psychology is that I can learn something new about the field—about our humanness—just about anywhere. I am currently reading Skeleton Keys by Brian Switek (2019), a science writer and bone geek. Exploring the origins of our bones, this book is a fascinating history. Any history that starts a few hundred million years ago—as this one does—reminds me how improbable our existence is. It is improbable that mammals exist, that primates in particular exist, that humans exist, and, lastly, that I, specifically, exist. With an incomprehensible timeline that is measured in millions of years, I can’t help but think—in the greater scheme of things—how small I am. While that millions-of-years perspective didn’t stop me from being irritated with some of my fellow drivers on my morning commute, I did think about that dinosaur who one day felt irritated with their fellow dinosaurs when travelling to wherever dinosaurs travelled. You have my empathy, dinosaur.

 

In a brilliant example of burying the lede, I’m actually writing about where the three little bones in the middle ear come from, as I just learned from Skeleton Keys. Stick with me.

 

Protomammals—a group of animals who were precursors to mammals—had jaws comprised of a number bones. Visit the Wikipedia page for Dimetrodon, a protomammal that lived almost 300 million years ago. On that Wikipedia page, scroll down to the drawings of the skull. In the lateral view, notice the quadrate bone at the back of the upper jaw and the articular bone in the back of the lower jaw. Over time—and by “time” I mean millions of years—those bones shrunk in creatures that followed Dimetrodon, but did not disappear. The quadrate evolved into the incus (anvil), and the articular evolved into the malleus (hammer). The stapes (stirrup) had a different origin, but same idea. It was a small bone on top of the hyoid bone in the neck of protomammals (Maier & Ruf, 2016).

 

Press your fingers into the skin right in front of your ear. Open and close your jaw. This is where your upper and lower jaws meet. Those tiny bones of the middle ear are right behind that joint.

 

References

 

Maier, W., & Ruf, I. (2016). Evolution of the mammalian middle ear: A historical review. Journal of Anatomy, 228(2), 270–283. https://doi.org/10.1111/joa.12379

 

Switek, B. (2019). Skeleton Keys. New York City: Riverhead Books.

“Self-consciousness [exists] in contrast with

an ‘other,’ a something which is not the self.”

——C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 1940

 

We are, always and everywhere, self-conscious of how we differ. Search your memory for a social situation in which you were the only person of your gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or body type. Perhaps you were the only woman in a group of men, or the only straight person at an LGBTQ gathering.

 

Recalling that situation . . .

  • Were you self-conscious about your identity?
  • How did others respond to you?
  • How did your perceptions of their responses affect your behavior?

 

Differences determine our “spontaneous self-concepts." If you recalled being very aware of your differences, you are not alone. As social psychologist William McGuire long ago noted, we are conscious of ourselves “insofar as, and in the ways that” we differ. When he and his co-workers invited children to “tell us about yourself,” they mostly mentioned their distinctive attributes. Redheads volunteered their hair color, foreign-born their birthplace, minority children their ethnicity. Spontaneous self-concepts often adapt to a changing group. A Black woman among White women will think of herself as Black, McGuire observed. When moving to a group of Black men, she will become more conscious of being a woman.

 

This identity-shaping phenomenon affects us all. When serving on an American Psychological Association professional task with 10 others—all women—I immediately was aware of my gender. But it was only on the second day, when I joked to the woman next to me that the bathroom break line would be short for me, that she noticed the group’s gender make-up. In my daily life, surrounded by mostly White colleagues and neighbors, I seldom am cognizant of my race—which becomes a prominent part of my identity when visiting my daughter in South Africa, where I become part of a 9 percent minority. In the U.S., by contrast, a new Pew survey finds that 74 percent of Blacks but only 15 percent of Whites see their race as “being extremely or very important to how they think of themselves.”

 

Our differences may influence how others respond to us. Researchers have also noted a related phenomenon: Our differences, though mostly salient to ourselves, may also affect how others treat us. Being the “different” or “solo” person—a Black person in an otherwise White group, a woman in a male group, or an adult in a group of children—can make a person more visible and seem more influential. Their good and bad qualities also tend to be more noticed (see here and here).

 

If we differ from others around us, it therefore makes adaptive sense for us to be a bit wary. It makes sense for a salient person—a minority race person, a gay person, or a corpulent person—to be alert and sensitive to how they are being treated by an interviewer, a police officer, or a neighbor. Although subsiding, explicit prejudices and implicit biases are real, and stereotypes of a difference can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

Sometimes our perceived differences not only influence how others treat us, but also how we, in turn, respond to them. In one classic experiment, men students conversed by phone with women they mistakenly presumed (from having been shown a fake picture) were either unattractive or attractive. The presumed attractive women (unaware of the picture manipulation) spoke more warmly to the men than did the presumed unattractive women. The researchers’ conclusion: The men’s expectations had led them to act in a way that influenced the women to fulfill the belief that beautiful women are desirable. A stereotype of a difference can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

Our acute self-consciousness of our differences can cause us to exaggerate or misinterpret others’ reactions. At times, our acute self-consciousness of our difference may have funny consequences. Consider of my favorite social psychology experiments demonstrating the influence of personal perception of differences. In the first, which showed the “spotlight effect,” Thomas Gilovich and Kenneth Savitsky asked university students to don a Barry Manilow T-shirt before entering a room with other students. Feeling self-conscious about their difference, those wearing the dorky T-shirt guessed that nearly half of their peers would notice the shirt. Actually, only 23 percent did. The lesson: Our differences—our bad hair day, our hearing loss, our dropping the cafeteria plate—often get noticed and remembered less than we imagine.

 

In another favorite experiment—one of social psychology’s most creative and poignant studies—Robert Kleck and Angelo Strenta used theatrical makeup to place an ear-to-mouth facial scar on college women—supposedly to see how others would react. After each woman checked the real-looking scar in a hand mirror, the experimenter applied “moisturizer” to “keep the makeup from cracking”—but which actually removed the scar.

 

So the scene was set: A woman, feeling terribly self-conscious about her supposedly disfigured face, talks with another woman who knows nothing of all this. Feeling acutely sensitive to how their conversational partner was looking at them, the “disfigured” women saw the partner as more tense, patronizing, and distant than did women in a control condition. Their acute self-consciousness about their presumed difference led them to misinterpret normal mannerisms and comments.

 

The bottom line: Differences define us. We are self-conscious of how we differ. To a lesser extent, others notice how we differ and categorize us according to their own beliefs, which may include stereotypes or unrealistic expectations. And sometimes, thanks to our acute sensitivity to how we differ, we overestimate others’ noticing and reacting. But we can reassure ourselves: if we’re having a bad hair day, others are unlikely to notice and even less likely to remember.

 

 

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

This one is a challenge. I’ve taught in community colleges for almost 30 years. For the first half of my career, a lot of my students were older than me, and they were pretty stressed about taking their first college class. I decided early on that I would encourage my students to call me by my first name. Some time in the last 10 years I noticed that despite encouraging students to use my first name, many were simply calling me nothing. I chalk that up to—like my more-often-than-not aching lower back—aging. Most of my students are not younger than me. And my student population has shifted to include many students who were born into different cultures all over the world. What they think it means to be respectful to elders and people in authority differs from my views which, of course, are tied to my own cultural experiences.

 

I have since moved on to giving students a choice:

  • my first name—acknowledging that some students are not comfortable with that
  • Frantz—for everyone who prefers the formality
  • Sue—for those who want to split the difference, respect with a touch of informality

 

I am happy to use any of these. When I receive an email from a student, in my response, I use whichever form of address the student used. If the student doesn’t use a form of address, I sign with the most formal option: Prof. Frantz.

Through the Facebook group of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology, Dara Friedman-Wheeler posted a link to this wonderful decision tree designed to help students sort out what to call their professors. This infographic is tied to an account owned by “A Gálvez,” but that’s all the information I have on who created it. (If anyone knows who this is, please contact me.) At the very bottom of the infographic is a note with what is likely the final line missing. A quick Internet search generated some others, but this one is both educational and respectful with just a touch of snark.

 

As for using this infographic, I’m adding it to my “how do we contact our professor” page in my course management system. Even though I am clear about how I would like to be addressed, I don’t know that all of my colleagues are as explicit. This will help students avoid awkward interactions. Not all awkward interactions. Just the ones involving proper forms of address for their professors.

It’s a core lesson of introductory psychology: Intergroup contact reduces prejudice (especially friendly, equal-status contact). As hundreds of studies show, attitudes—of White folks toward Black folks, of straight folks toward gay folks, and of natives toward immigrants—are influenced not just by what we know but also by whom we know. Prejudice lessens when straight people have gay friends or family, and native-born citizens know immigrants.

 

As I write these words from the place of my childhood—Bainbridge Island, Washington—I am moved to offer a family example of the power of social contact. First, consider a large social experiment—the World War II internment and return of Japanese Americans from (a) California, and (b) Bainbridge, a Manhattan-sized island across Puget Sound from Seattle.

 

In minimal-contact California, Japanese-Americans lived mostly in separate enclaves—meaning few Caucasians had Japanese-descent friends. When the California internment ensued, the Hearst newspapers, having long warned of “the yellow peril” celebrated, and few bid the internees goodbye. On their return, resistance and “No Japs Here” signs greeted them. Minimal contact enabled maximal prejudice.

 

Bainbridge was a contrasting high-contact condition—and was also the place where (at its ferry dock on March 30, 1942) the internment began. As an island community, all islanders intermingled as school classmates. Their strawberry farms and stores were dispersed throughout the island. The local paper (whose owners later won awards for journalistic courage) editorialized against the internment and then published internee news from the camps for their friends back home. The internees’ fellow islanders watched over their property. And when more than half the internees returned after the war, they were greeted with food and assistance. A history of cooperative contact enabled minimal prejudice.

 

I can personalize this. One of those saying a tearful goodbye on the dock that 1942 day was my father, the insurance agent and friend of many of them. After maintaining their property insurance during the internment, and then writing “the first auto policy on a Japanese American after the war,” his support was remembered decades later—with a tribute at his death by the island’s Japanese American Community president (a former internee):

 

 

My father provides a case example of the contact effect. His support did not stem from his being socially progressive. (He was a conservative Republican businessperson who chaired the Washington State Nixon for President campaign.) His opposition to the internment of his fellow islanders was simply because he knew them. He therefore believed it was colossally unjust to deem them—his friends and neighbors—a threat. As he later wrote, “We became good friends … and it was heartbreaking for us when the war started and the Japanese people on Bainbridge Island were ordered into concentration camps.”

 

This great and sad experiment on the outcomes of racial separation versus integration is being replicated in our own time. People in states with the least contact with immigrants express most hostility toward them. Meanwhile, those who know and benefit from immigrants—as co-workers, employees, businesspeople, health-care workers, students—know to appreciate them.

 

It’s a lesson worth remembering: Cordial and cooperative contact advances acceptance.

 

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

There’s bad news and good news about Americans’ race relations and attitudes.

 

The bad news:

  • People perceive race relations as worsening. In a 2019 Pew survey of 6637 Americans, 58 percent said that U.S. race relations are now “generally bad,” and 69 percent of those folks saw race relations as “getting worse.”
  • The Trump effect? In the same survey, most (65 percent) said it has become more common for people to express racist or racially insensitive views since Donald Trump’s election.
  • Hate groups are proliferating. The Southern Poverty Law Center has identified 1,020 hate groups—up 30 percent in four years. Such groups feed off dehumanizing views of other races (see here, here, and here).
  • Hate crimes are rising. Although some criticize the SPLC’s hate-group definition, their report coincides with the FBI’s reported 17 percent increase in hate crimes just in 2017. Widely publicized hate crimes, such as the burning of three Louisiana Black churches in March and April of 2019, not to mention the recent synagogue attacks, will surely sustain the perception that Trump-era race relations are worsening.

 

But there is also good news: You likely already know that since the mid-twentieth  century, support for school desegregation, equal employment opportunity, and interracial dating and marriage has soared to near-consensus—enabling a 2008 presidential election that Abraham Lincoln probably never imagined. Although most metropolitan areas remain substantially segregated, neighborhood integration has modestly increased since the century’s turn. But the even better news is that both explicit and implicit race prejudice have continued to decline.

 

This good news is reflected in Tessa Charlesworth and Mahzarin Banaji’s new report of nearly 2 million U.S. adults’ explicit and implicit racial attitudes. Since 2007, people’s explicit race attitudes—the extent to which they acknowledged preferring White to Black people—“moved toward neutrality by approximately 37 percent.” Implicit race attitudes—people’s faster speed when pairing negative words with Black faces (and positive words with White faces)—also moved toward neutrality, but with a slower 17 percent shift. (Charlesworth and Banaji also reported changed attitudes toward other social groups: Attitudes toward gay people made the swiftest progress toward neutrality, while negative implicit attitudes toward overweight people have actually increased.)

 

 

Are these hate-up, prejudice-down findings paradoxical—or even contradictory? Not necessarily. Much as extremes of income—both crushing poverty and excessive wealth—can rise even while average income is stable, so also can extremist racial attitudes increase while overall prejudice does not. Even within healthy communities, a viral disease can spread.

 

Charles Dickens, in A Tale of Two Cities, was prescient: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

 

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

Sue Frantz

Teaching Synesthesia

Posted by Sue Frantz Apr 24, 2019

I read The Man Who Tasted Shapes by the neurologist Richard Cytowic in the mid-1990s. Whenever the man ate something, he felt sensations on his skin. For example, eating chicken caused him to feel like his skin was being poked by pointy things. If the chicken was a little underdone, the points were more rounded. The sensation was so strong for him that he decided what to eat based not on the taste, but based on what he wanted his skin to feel like. Synesthesia has been a topic in my Intro Psych course ever since. I usually first cover it when we talk about how the cerebral cortex processes sensation, but it often comes up again in the sensation and perception chapter. Synesthesia is a powerful reminder that our experience of the world is entirely subjective.

 

Several years ago in class, after covering synesthesia, a student raised her hand. She said, “I have that, but I just learned that a few months ago.” A friend of hers who was taking my Intro Psych course was talking with his friends about synesthesia. This young woman was in that group conversation, and she said, “Doesn’t everyone experience that?” Silence—and they all turned to face her. That’s when she learned that the colors she sees when she hears sounds is not experienced by everyone else.

 

Synesthesia historians mark 1812 as the year synesthesia came to light. (For a complete history of synesthesia research, see Jörg Jewanski’s chapter, “Synesthesia in the Nineteenth Century: Scientific Origins” in the Oxford Handbook of Synesthesia. Yes, I, too, was surprised to learn that there is an Oxford Handbook of Synesthesia.) Despite this 200-year start on the research, modern research didn’t really take off until Cytowic met the man who tasted shapes in the 1990s. “Sir Francis Galton, the cousin of Charles Darwin, described some synesthetes in his work Colour associations. The interest and attention on this field raised and some publications followed. The US-scientist Mary Calkins introduced the term synesthesia or synaesthesia at the end of 19ths [sic] century” (Mächler, n.d.).

 

How many people have synesthesia? We have no idea. That’s not true. We do have an idea. We know it’s more than one person. The problem lies in how to test for synesthesia in all of its forms from an appropriate population sample. For a good explanation of the challenges in determining prevalence see Watson, et.al.(2017).

 

Consider using Cytowic’s 4-minute TEDEd video to introduce synesthesia. He points out that we frequently use one sensation to describe another, such as using a skin sensation word like sharp to describe taste or sound, so we all may be, in essence, synesthetes.  

 

(Shout out to Ruth Frickle for sending me this video!)

 

If you’d like to explore the topic of synesthesia yourself—and amass some examples—check out these books among many that have been written about synesthesia. They are listed in no particular order.  

 

The Man Who Tasted Shapes (1993) by Richard Cytowic

This is the book that launched modern-day synesthesia research. The first half of the book is about the synesthetic experience. In the second half, he waxes philosophically on the meaning of it all.

 

Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens (2001) by Patricia Lynn Duffy

Written by someone with grapheme-color synesthesia—perhaps one of the most common forms of synesthesia—Duffy shares what it’s like to have sounds produce color.

 

The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons (2014) by Sam Kean

Kean, in the “Wiring and Rewiring” chapter, spends a few pages discussing synesthesia. Mostly, I will take any opportunity to plug this book. If you teach Intro Psych—and especially if neuroscience is a weakness for you—you must read this book. It’s non-negotiable.

 

Synesthesia (2018) by Richard Cytowic

This is Cytowic’s newest book. I haven’t read it yet, but my local library system is routing it to me as I type. I trust that this will contain the most current research on the topic.

 

 

References (excluding the above book recommendations)

 

Mächler, M.-J. (n.d.). History of synesthesia. Retrieved April 24, 2019, from https://synesthesia.com/blog/synesthesia/science-of-synesthesia/history-synesthesia-research/

 

Watson, M. R., Chromý, J., Crawford, L., Eagleman, D. E., Enns, J. T., & Akins, K. A. (2017). The prevalence of synaesthesia depends on early language learning. Consciousness and Cognition, 48, 212–231. 

David Myers

Showerthoughts

Posted by David Myers Expert Apr 19, 2019

Part of my text-writing pleasure is interjecting playful thoughts and tongue-in-cheek one-liners that students seem to enjoy: “Does the name Pavlov ring a bell?” (If I don’t enjoy writing—assuming psychology teaching can offer both wisdom and wit—then who will enjoy reading?)

 

As part of my, um, “executive time,” I occasionally visit Reddit’s Showerthoughts—first for delight but also for inspiration. To quote the website, a showerthought is a spontaneous “miniature epiphany that makes the mundane more interesting. . . . Showerthoughts can be funny, poignant, thought-provoking, or even just silly, but they should always prompt people to say ‘Huh, I’ve never thought about it that way before!’”

 

Some Showerthought examples:

  • Your stomach thinks all potato is mashed.
  • We don’t wash our hands, our hands wash each other.
  • Someone coined the term “coin the term.”
  • If you are the best barber in town, you know you can't get the best haircut.
  • The "b" in subtle is subtle.
  • In a nutshell, an acorn is an oak tree.
  • A lot of people die in their living rooms.
  • The two worst prison sentences are life and death.
  • If you swap the W’s in Where? What? and When? with T’s, you end up with their answers.
  • Tea is just a fancy way of saying leaf soup.
  • Everything in the entire universe either is or isn't a potato.

 

For your further pleasure, here are some psychology-relevant examples, each from Showerthoughts or inspired by one-liners that I encountered there. Perhaps (after my editors trim the merely silly) some of these musings will leaven our future editions?

 

Sleep: To fall asleep, fake it till you make it.

 

Loneliness: The world is full of lonely people afraid to make the first move.

 

Relationships: All of your friends you made by talking to strangers.

 

Implicit cognition: The unconscious mind is like the wind: You don’t see it, but you can see its effects.

 

Aging: To age is to shift from a life of “no limits” to “know limits.”

 

Relationships: Marrying someone because they're attractive is like buying a watermelon because it's a really nice shade of green.

 

Memory via acronyms: The acronym of "The Only Day After Yesterday" is TODAY.

 

Eating behavior: When you're “biting down" on something, you're actually biting up.

 

Sensory adaptation: Nobody realizes how much noise their air conditioning is making until it abruptly shuts off.

 

Psychokinesis claims: More spoons have been bent by ice cream than by psychics.

 

Mind and brain: When you're thinking about your brain, your brain is just thinking about itself.

 

Death: You will be the last person to die in your lifetime.

 

 

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

A couple years ago, I wrote a blog post about how to use The Gender Unicorn to help students understand the differences between gender identity, gender expression, sex assigned at birth, physical attraction, and emotional attraction. Through this activity, students can begin to grasp the complexity of sex, gender, and attraction.

 

Matt Goldenberg, through the Society for the Teaching of Psychology Facebook group, posted this 4-minute video that provides a nice introduction to a deeper discussion and The Gender Unicorn. (The recording is audio-described for the visually impaired and captioned for the hearing impaired.)

 

Before showing the video, ask students to work in pairs or small groups to describe the ways in which people express their gender. In other words, when you see someone, how do you know what gender, if any, that person identifies with? Or, how do parents show the gender of their infants? Ask students to volunteer what they came up with; record these where students can see them.

 

 

If you have time, ask students to consider how the concept of gender differs across cultures. This article from Independent Lens includes a map of places around the world that look at gender differently than people do in the West. Click on each pin to learn more.

 

After watching the recording and discussing gender across cultures, launch The Gender Unicorn activity.  

 

A quick note about terminology. The prefix “cis” is Latin for “on the same side of;” and “trans” is Latin for “on the other side of.” For those who identify as cisgender, the gender they were assigned at birth and the gender they identify with now are in agreement—they’re on the same side. For those who identify as transgender, the gender they were assigned at birth and the gender they identify with now are in disagreement—they’re on different sides. This language is misleading because there really aren’t any sides. Those who identify as non-binary are saying that they don’t identify themselves according to a side.

“The sun looks down on nothing half so good as

a household laughing together over a meal.”

~C. S. Lewis, “Membership,” 1949

 

It’s one of life’s curiosities: Taking in food is, everywhere, a common communal activity. For families and friends, eating together is a social event. For creatures with a need to belong, group meals provide the pleasures of both food and friendship.

 

Eating eases meeting. When people share an eating pleasure, such as tasting chocolates, they find food more flavorful. When families sit down for a shared dinner, they eat not only healthier but happier—their lives pausing for connection. And when workers come together for a meal, team-building friendships grow. Such is my experience, as when my psychology text publishing team gathers over a meal (shown here from our recent book-planning meeting in New York City).

Yale psychologist Irving Janis and his colleagues observed long ago that persuasive messages associated with good feelings—such as experienced while eating snacks—are more convincing. Fund solicitors and salespeople understand that when they treat us to a meal, good feelings often generalize to the host. The bonding power of a shared meal is especially great, report Kaitlin Woolley and Ayelet Fishbach, when people—whether friends or strangers—eat from shared bowls. After eating chips and salsa from shared rather than separate bowls, people in their experiments became more cooperative in negotiating wages.

 

Their findings remind me of the convivial spirit I experienced when treated to group dinners with my Chinese hosts on visits to Beijing and Shanghai—with each of us sampling from shared dishes placed around a center-table Lazy Susan (or as the Chinese would say, in translation, a “dinner-table turntable”).

 

      Free image from Pixaby.

Those of us who are North Americans have our own family-style-dinner counterparts —shared fondue pots, tapas dinners, and communal hors d'oeuvres. As Woolley and Fishbach conclude, shared plates → shared minds. Such is the social power of shared meals.

 

Food matters. Perhaps the rapport-building power of breaking bread together can nudge us to prioritize time for sharing more family meals, for offering hospitality to our friends and colleagues, and for welcoming new acquaintances.

 

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

Last week, I gave five examples of experiments you can use to give students practice at identifying independent and dependent variables. Here are five more.

 

After covering these concepts, ask students to work in pairs or small groups to identify both the independent variable(s) and the dependent variable(s) in each example.

Hypothesis: If people use third person pronouns to describe an event that caused anxiety, they will be more likely to report visualizing the scene as a distant observer would.

Researchers asked study participants to recall a time when they were “worried about something happening to” them. Participants were then randomly assigned to either the first person condition or the third person condition. In the first person condition, participants reflected on their experience through answering questions with an I/my focus, like “Why did I feel this way?” and “What were the underlying causes and reasons for my feelings?” In third person condition, participants reflected on their experience through answering questions with an outsider’s focus by using their own name in their reflection, like “Why did Jane feel this way?” and “What were the underlying causes and reasons for Jane’s feelings?” When asked, participants in the third-person group reported seeing the imagined event unfold further away from them than reported by participants in the first-person group.

In this experiment, identify the independent variable and the dependent variable. 

Kross, E., Bruehlman-Senecal, E., Park, J., Burson, A., Dougherty, A., Shablack, H., … Ayduk, O. (2014). Self-talk as a regulatory mechanism: How you do it matters. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106(2), 304–324. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0035173

 

Hypothesis: If people hear how many others who stayed in their hotel room chose to reuse their hotel room towels, they will be more likely to reuse their towels, too.

 The hotel room attendant supervisor placed one of five signs in the bathrooms of randomly-assigned hotel rooms. Each sign carried a different message: (1) a general “save the environment” message, (2) a “join your fellow guests” message explaining that 75% of guests who stayed at the hotel reused their towels, (3) another “join your fellow guests” message but this one explained that 75% of people who stayed in that very hotel room reused their towels, (4) a “join your fellow citizens” message that shifted the in-group from hotel guests to the broader citizens, and (5) a “join the men and women” message that shifted the in-group to one’s own gender group. Hotel guests who received message 3 about others who stayed in their hotel room were much more likely to reuse their towels (49.3%) as compared to all of the other groups (average re-use 42.8%).

In this experiment, identify the independent variable and the dependent variable. 

Goldstein, N. J., Cialdini, R. B., & Griskevicius, V. (2008). A room with a viewpoint: Using social norms to motivate environmental conservation in hotels. Journal of Consumer Research, 35(3), 472–482. https://doi.org/10.1086/586910

 

Hypothesis: If people are given unwrapped pieces of chocolate, they will consume them more quickly than those given wrapped pieces of chocolate.

Participants received six pieces of chocolate. Random assignment determined which participants received separately wrapped pieces and which received unwrapped pieces. Participants were asked to record when they ate the chocolate. Those who received the unwrapped pieces ate most of them within two days. Those with wrapped pieces took longer.

In this experiment, identify the independent variable and the dependent variable. 

Cheema, A., & Soman, D. (2008). The effect of partitions on controlling consumption. Journal of Marketing Research, 45(6), 665–675. https://doi.org/10.1509/jmkr.45.6.665Use the "Insert Citation" button to add citations to this document.

 

Hypothesis: If people receive information about available health services, they will use those services more.

Researchers sampled several communities in India on their use of available health services. They randomly assigned half of the communities to receive pamphlets and community meetings that informed them of services. A year later, these residents had more prenatal examinations, more tetanus vaccinations, more prenatal supplements, and more infant vaccinations than people in the communities that did not receive the pamphlets or hold the community meetings.

In this experiment, identify the independent variable and the dependent variables.

 

Pandey, P., Sehgal, A. R., Riboud, M., Levine, D., & Goyal, M. (2007). Informing resource-poor populations and the delivery of entitled health and social services in rural India: A cluster randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association, 298(16), 1867–1875. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.298.16.1867

 

Hypothesis: If we invite girls to “do science” as compared to “be a scientist,” they will persist longer in playing a science game.

 

Researchers randomly assigned young girls to hear that “Today we’re going to do science” or hear that “Today we’re going to be scientists” before playing a science game where the children had to make guesses based on observation. After failing at their guesses, the experimenter the child if she wanted to keep playing or do something else. The girls in the “do science” condition were more likely to persist in playing the game than those in the “be a scientist” condition.

In this experiment, identify the independent variable and the dependent variable.

 

Rhodes, M., Leslie, S. J., Yee, K. M., & Saunders, K. (2019). Subtle linguistic cues increase girls’ engagement in science. Psychological Science. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797618823670

Consider two facts:

 

  1. Worldwide, smartphones and easier social media access exploded starting in 2010. Consider U.S. smartphone-use (and its projected future):
  2. Simultaneously—and coincidentally?—teen girls’ rates of depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide have mushroomed (for Canadian, American, and British sample data see here, here, and here).

     

So, is there a causal connection? If so, is it big enough to matter?

 

Should parents give (or deny) their middle schoolers smartphones with Instagram or Snapchat accounts? And does amount of daily screen time matter?

 

In quest of answers, my esteemed social psychologist colleague Jonathan Haidt is assembling the available evidence using (and illustrating) three psychological methods. His tentative conclusions:

 

  • Correlational studies ask: Is social media use associated with teen mental health? Study outcomes vary, but overall, there is at least a small correlation between adolescents’ social media hours and their risk of depression, anxiety, and self-harm. The screen time–disorder association is stronger for social media use than for TV and gaming time, and the link is greater for females who are heavy social media users.
  • Longitudinal studies ask: Does today’s social media use predict future mental health? In six of eight studies, the answer is yes.
  • Experiments ask: Do volunteers randomly assigned to restricted social media use fare better than those not assigned on outcomes such as loneliness and depression? On balance, yes, says Haidt, but the few such studies have produced mixed results.

 

Haidt’s provisional conclusion can be seen in his tweet:

 

In a Time essay, researcher Jean Twenge (my Social Psychology co-author) offers kindred advice for parents concerned about their children’s social media use:

  • “No phone or tablets in the bedroom at night.”
  • “No using devices within an hour of bedtime.”
  • “Limit device time to less than two hours of leisure time a day.”

 

Haidt also provides us a much-needed model of intellectual humility. In his continuing search for answers, he posts his tentative conclusions and accumulating evidence online, and he welcomes other researchers’ evidence and criticism. He writes,

I am not unbiased. I came to the conclusion that there is a link, and I said so in my book (The Coddling of the American Mind, with Greg Lukianoff). . . . Like all people, I suffer from confirmation bias. [Thus] I need help from critics to improve my thinking and get closer to the truth. If you are a researcher and would like to notify me about other studies, or add comments or counterpoints to this document, please request edit access to the Google Doc, or contact me directly.

 

In our college and AP psychology texts, Nathan DeWall and I commend “a scientific attitude that combines curiosity, skepticism, and humility.” We note that, when combined with the scientific method, the result is a self-correcting road toward truth. By embracing this spirit, Haidt exemplifies psychological science at its best—exploring an important question by all available methods . . . drawing initial conclusions . . . yet holding them tentatively, while welcoming skeptical scrutiny and further evidence. As he mused (when I shared a draft of this essay), “It is amazing how much I have learned, and refined my views, just by asking people to make me smarter.”

 

How true for us all. The pack is greater than the wolf.

 

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

Psychology students often struggle with the difference between the independent and dependent variables. After covering these concepts, ask students to work in pairs or small groups to identify both the independent variable(s) and the dependent variable(s) in each example.

Hypothesis: Creating concrete examples will improve recall.

"Students read a short text that introduced eight concepts. Some students were then prompted to generate concrete examples of each concept followed by definition restudy, whereas others only restudied definitions for the same amount of time. Two days later, students completed final tests involving example generation and definition cued recall." (In the definition cued recall test, the cues were the names of each of the concepts; the "recall" was the student writing down the definition.) Those who created their own examples of each of the concepts did better on the test than students who just restudied the concepts. 

In this experiment, identify the independent variable and the dependent variable. 

Rawson, K. A., & Dunlosky, J. (2016). How effective is example generation for learning declarative concepts? Educational Psychology Review28(3), 649–672. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10648-016-9377-z

 

Hypothesis: Attending to a phone will decrease the likelihood of seeing a unicycling clown.

People, after walking across a college square, were asked if they saw a clown unicycling around a central sculpture. Only 25% of cell phone users reported seeing the clown as compared to 60% of people who were listening to music, 51% of people who were walking alone with no technological distractions, and 71% of people who were walking with another person.

This type of study is called a quasi-experiment because participants weren't randomly assigned to conditions.

In this experiment, identify the independent variable and the dependent variable. 

Hyman, I. E., Boss, S. M., Wise, B. M., McKenzie, K. E., & Caggiano, J. M. (2010). Did you see the unicycling clown? Inattentional blindness while walking and talking on a cell phone. Applied Cognitive Psychology24, 597–607. https://doi.org/10.1002/acp.1638

 

Hypothesis: Being sleep-deprived will increase the desire for high-calorie foods.

After either get a full night’s sleep or staying awake all night, participants were asked how desirable each of 80 different foods were.  When participants were sleep-deprived, they found high-calorie foods more desirable than when they had a full night’s sleep.

This type study is called a within-subjects design because the same participants got both the full night’s sleep and, on another night, stayed awake all night.

In this experiment, identify the independent variable and the dependent variable. 

Greer, S. M., Goldstein, A. N., & Walker, M. P. (2013). The impact of sleep deprivation on food desire in the human brain. Nature Communications, 4, 1–7. https://doi.org/10.1038/ncomms3259

 

Hypothesis: “Inflated praise [will] decrease challenge-seeking in children with low self-esteem but [will] increase challenge-seeking in children with high self-esteem.”

Children (ages 8 to 12), after having their self-esteem measured, “drew a famous painting… and were told that that a professional painter, who in reality did not exist, would examine their drawing.”  Each child then received a handwritten note that they were told was written by the painter. The note said either, “You made an incredibly beautiful drawing!,” “You made a beautiful drawing!,” or did not address the drawing. Children then could choose to replicate two easy drawings (“If you choose to draw these easy pictures, you won’t make many mistakes, but you won’t learn much either.”) or two difficult drawings (“If you choose to draw thsese difficult pictures, you might make many mistakes, but you’ll definitely learn a lot, too.”). Children with low self-esteem who received the incredibly beautiful praise were more likely to choose the easy drawings. Children with low self-esteem who received the beautiful praise were likely to choose the difficult drawings. Those results were reversed for children with low self-esteem.

 

In this experiment, identify the two independent variables and the dependent variable.

 

Brummelman, E., Thomaes, S., Orobio de Castro, B., Overbeek, G., & Bushman, B. J. (2014). “That’s not just beautiful-that’s incredibly beautiful!”: The adverse impact of inflated praise on children with low self-esteem. Psychological Science, 25(3), 728–735. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797613514251

 

Hypothesis: Tasters will rate vinegar-laced beer as better than regular beer if they are not first told that vinegar has been added to the beer.

Participants were invited to taste two different beers and express their preference for one over the other. Participants were told that the beer was laced with vinegar either before or after tasting or were told nothing. Participants who weren’t told that the beer was laced with vinegar or were told after they tasted it preferred it over the regular beer. Those who were told it was laced with vinegar before tasting it preferred the regular beer.

 

In this experiment, identify the independent variable and the dependent variable.

 

Lee, L., Frederick, S., & Ariely, D. (2006). Try it, you’ll like it: The influence of expectation, consumption, and revelation on preferences for beer. Psychological Science, 17(12), 1054–1058. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01829.x

David Myers

Out of Many, One

Posted by David Myers Expert Mar 28, 2019

Perhaps you, too, feel it like never before—intense contempt for your political opposites. National Election Surveys reveal that U.S. Republicans and Democrats who hate the other party each soared from 20% in 2000 to near 50% in 2016. Small wonder, given that 42 percent in both parties agree that those in the other party “are downright evil.”

 

Should the government “do more to help the needy”? Is racial discrimination a main reason “why many Black people can’t get ahead these days”? Do immigrants “strengthen the country with their hard work and talents”? The partisan divergence in response to such questions has never been greater, reports the Pew Research Center. The overlap between conservative Democrats and progressive Republicans has never been less. And fewer folks than ever hold a mix of conservative and liberal views.

 

Americans are polarized. There seems no bridge between Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow, between MAGA red-hatters and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez admirers. We are a nation of opposing hidden tribes. “Some people’s situations are so challenging that no amount of work will allow them to find success,” agree 95 percent of “progressive activists.” But no, say “devoted conservatives,” who are 92 percent agreed that “people who work hard can find success no matter what situation they were born into.”

Do we exaggerate?

But I overstate. Although the political extremes are inverses, studies (here and here) show that most liberals and conservatives exaggerate their differences. On issues such as immigration, trade, and taxes, they overestimate the extremity of a “typical” member of the other party. And for some ideas—higher taxes on the ultra-wealthy, Medicare negotiation of lower drug prices, background checks on gun sales—there is bipartisan supermajority support.

 

Differences, we notice; similarities, we neglect
It’s a universal truth: Differences draw our attention. As individuals, we’re keenly aware of how we differ from others. Asked to describe themselves, redheads are more likely to mention their hair color; the foreign-born, their birthplace; and the left-handed, their handedness. Living in Scotland, I become conscious of my American identity and accent. Visiting my daughter in South Africa, I am mindful of my race. As the sole male on a professional committee of females, I was aware of my gender. One is “conscious of oneself insofar as, and in the ways that, one is different,” observed the late social psychologist William McGuire.

 

Likewise, when the people of two cultures are similar, they nevertheless will attend to their differences—even if those differences are small. Rivalries often are most intense with another group that most resembles one’s own. My college has what is widely acclaimed (by ESPN and others) as the greatest small college sports rivalry with a nearby college that shares its Protestant Dutch history…rather like (in Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels) the war between the Little-Endians who preferred to break their eggs on the small end, and the Big-Endians who did so on the big end.

 

Our similarities exceed our differences

As members of one human family, we share not only our biology—cut us and we bleed—but our behaviors. We all wake and sleep, prefer sweet tastes to sour, fear snakes more than snails, and know how to read smiles and frowns. An alien anthropologist could land anywhere on Earth and find people laughing and crying, singing and worshiping, and fearing strangers while favoring their own family and neighbors. Although differences hijack our attention, we are all kin beneath the skin.

 

Nearly two decades ago, the communitarian sociologist Amitai Etzioni identified “core values” that are “embraced by most Americans of all races and ethnic groups.” Eight in ten Americans—with agreement across races—desired “fair treatment for all, without prejudice or discrimination.” More than 8 in 10 in every demographic group agreed that freedom must be tempered by personal responsibility, and that it was “extremely important” to spend tax dollars on “reducing crime” and “reducing illegal drug use” among youth. A more recent study of nearly 90,000 people across world cultures and of varying gender, age, education, income, and religiosity confirmed that “similarities between groups of people are large and important.” 

 

Believing that there is common ground, the nonprofit Better Angels movement aims “to unite red and blue Americans in a working alliance to depolarize America.” They do this in several ways:

  • “We try to understand the other side’s point of view, even if we don’t agree with it.”
  • “We engage those we disagree with, looking for common ground and ways to work together.”
  • “We support principles that bring us together rather than divide us.” 

 

We will still disagree. We do have real differences, including the social identities and values that define us. Nevertheless, our challenge now is to affirm both our diversity and our unifying ideals, and thus to renew the founding idea of America: diversity within unity. E pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

 

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

Are you getting tired of your classical conditioning examples? Here are some new ones from FailBlog. You won’t be surprised to see that while the FailBlog post is called “29 people share the Pavlovian (reflex) responses they’ve developed,” not all of these are actually examples of classical conditioning. The key is that the response has to be involuntary. In several of these, the behavior is voluntary. For example, #21: “TV commercial, look at phone.” Since looking at phone is a voluntary behavior, this is operant conditioning where the TV commercial is a discriminative stimulus. There is negative reinforcement (removing the commercial) and positive reinforcement (something more interesting than a commercial on the phone). And #23 is a reference to The Office “mouth tastes bad” scene – which is still not an example of classical conditioning. (What’s the involuntary response? Now, if he salivated to the ding…)

 

After covering both classical and operant conditioning, if your students are up for the challenge, ask them to work in pairs or small groups to identify the examples that are classical conditioning and the ones that are not. Read through all 29 of these before giving them to your students. The language and content of some may not be appropriate for your student population. Make sure you are comfortable explaining the classical conditioning behind the classical conditioning examples and explaining why the other are not examples of classical conditioning. Use only the ones you want.

 

After the groups have had time to do their identifications, go through each example in turn. “Number 1: classical conditioning, which groups say yes?” You can do a show of hands, clickers, or some other polling method. Spend time discussing the ones that are not classical conditioning that students thought were.

 

If time allows, or as a take-home assignment, assign each student group one or more of the classical conditioning examples. Their task is to identify the unconditioned stimulus, conditioned stimulus, unconditioned response, conditioned response in each of their assigned examples.