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

 

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

 

Here are some common reasons my students give for procrastinating.

 

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

 

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

 

Here are some common anti-procrastination strategies students identify.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

David Myers

Marshmallow Study Roasted?

Posted by David Myers Expert Jun 11, 2018

While on break in St. Andrews (Scotland) last week, I enjoyed a dinner conversation with a celebrated M.I.T. developmental psychologist and a similarly brilliant University of St. Andrews researcher. Among our dinner topics was an impressive recent conceptual replication of Walter Mischel’s famous marshmallow test.

 

Mischel and his colleagues, as you may recall, gave 4-year-olds a choice between one marshmallow now or two marshmallows later. Their long-term studies showed that those with the willpower to delay gratification as preschoolers went on as adults to have higher college-completion rates and incomes and fewer addiction problems. This gem in psychology’s lore—that a preschooler’s single behavioral act could predict that child’s life trajectory—is a favorite study for thousands of psychology instructors, and has made it into popular culture—from Sesame’s Street’s Cookie Monster to the conversation of Barack Obama.

 

In their recent replication of Mischel’s study, Tyler Watts, Greg Duncan, and Hoanan Quen followed a much larger and more diverse sample: 918 children who, at age 4½, took the marshmallow test as part of a 10-site National Institute of Child Health and Human Development child study. Observing the children’s school achievement at age 15, the researchers noted a modest, statistically significant association “between early delay ability and later achievement.” But after controlling for other factors, such as the child’s intelligence, family social status, and education, the effect shriveled.

 

“Of course!” said one of my dinner companions. Family socioeconomic status (SES) matters. It influences both children’s willingness to await the second marshmallow, and also academic and economic success. As other evidence indicates—see here and here—it is reasonable for children in poverty to seize what’s available now and to not trust promises of greater future rewards.

 

But my other dinner companion and I posited another factor: Any predictive variable can have its juice drained when we control for myriad other variables. Perhaps part of a child’s ability to delay gratification is intelligence (and the ability to contemplate the future) and experience. If so, controlling for such variables and then asking what’s the residual effect of delay of gratification, per se, is like asking what’s the real effect of a hurricane, per se, after controlling for barometric pressure, wind speed, and storm surge. A hurricane is a package variable, as is delay of gratification.

 

I put that argument to Tyler Watts, who offered this response:

If the ability to delay gratification is really a symptom of other characteristics in a child's life, then interventions designed to change only delay of gratification (but not those other characteristics) will probably not have the effect that you would expect based on the correlation Mischel and Shoda reported. So, if it’s the case that in order to generate the long-term effects reported in Mischel's work, interventions would have to target some combination of SES, parenting, and general cognitive ability, then it seems important to recognize that.  

 

This major new study prompts our reassessing the presumed predictive power of the famed marshmallow test. Given what we’ve known about how hard it is to predict to or from single acts of behavior—or single items on a test or questionnaire—we should not have been surprised. And we should not exaggerate the importance of teaching delay of gratification, apart from other important predictors of life success.

 

But the new findings do not undermine a deeper lesson: Part of moral development and life success is gaining self-discipline in restraining one’s impulses. To be mature is to forego small pleasures now to earn bigger rewards later. Thus, teacher ratings of children’s self-control (across countless observations) do predict future employment. And parent ratings of young children’s self-regulation predict future social success. Self-control matters.

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

 

Emmanuel Ax performing

 

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

 

Here are some parallels I found.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

David Myers

The Malleability of Mind

Posted by David Myers Expert May 31, 2018

How many of us have felt dismay over a friend or family member’s stubborn resistance to our arguments or evidence showing (we believe) that Donald Trump is (or isn’t) making America great again, or that immigrants are (or aren’t) a threat to our way of life? Sometimes, it seems, people just stubbornly resist change.

 

Recently, however, I’ve also been struck by the pliability of the human mind. We are adaptive creatures, with malleable minds.

 

Over time, the power of social influence is remarkable. Generations change. And attitudes change. They follow our behavior, adjust to our tribal norms, or simply become informed by education.

 

The power of social influence appears in current attitudes toward free trade, as the moderate-conservative columnist David Brooks illustrates: “As late as 2015, Republican voters overwhelmingly supported free trade. Now they overwhelmingly oppose it. The shift didn’t happen because of some mass reappraisal of the evidence; it’s just that tribal orthodoxy shifted and everyone followed.”

 

Those who love history can point out many other such shifts. After Pearl Harbor, Japan and Japanese people became, in many American minds surveyed by Gallup, untrustworthy and disliked. But then after the war, they soon transformed into our “intelligent, hard-working, self-disciplined, resourceful allies.”  Likewise, Germans across two wars were hated then admired then hated again then once again admired.

 

Or consider within thin slices of recent human history the transformational changes in our thinking about race, gender, and sexual orientation:

  • Race. In 1958, only 4 percent of Americans approved of “marriage between Blacks and Whites.” In 2013, 87 percent approved.
  • Gender. In 1967, two-thirds of first-year American college students agreed that “the activities of married women are best confined to the home and family.” Today, the question, which would offend many, is no longer asked.
  • Gay marriage. In Gallup surveys, same-sex marriage—approved by only 27 percent of Americans in 1996—is now welcomed by nearly two-thirds.

 

Consider also, from within the evangelical culture that I know well, the astonishing results of two Public Religion Research Institute polls. The first, in 2011, asked voters if “an elected official who commits an immoral act in their personal life can still behave ethically and fulfill their duties in their public and professional life.” Only 30 percent of White evangelical Protestants agreed. By July of 2017, with President Trump in office, 70 percent of White evangelicals said they would be willing to separate public and personal conduct.

 

An April 22, 2018, Doonesbury satirized this “head-spinning reversal” (quoting the pollster). A cartoon pastor announces to his congregation the revised definition of sin:

“To clarify, we now condone the following conduct: lewdness, vulgarity, profanity, adultery, and sexual assault. Exemptions to Christian values also include greed, bullying, conspiring, boasting, lying, cheating, sloth, envy, wrath, gluttony, and pride. Others TBA. Lastly we’re willing to overlook biblical illiteracy, church nonattendance, and no credible sign of faith.”

 

In a recent essay, I reflected (as a person of faith) on the shift among self-described “evangelicals”: The great temptation is to invoke “God” to justify one’s politics. “Piety is the mask,” observed William James.

 

This tendency to make God in our own image was strikingly evident in a provocative study by social psychologist Nicholas Epley and his colleagues.  Most people, they reported, believe that God agrees with whatever they believe. No surprise there. But consider: When the researchers persuaded people to change their minds about affirmative action or the death penalty, the people then assumed that God now believed their new view. As I am, the thinking goes, so is God.

 

But the mind is malleable in both directions. Many one-time evangelicals—for whom evangelicalism historically has meant a “good news” message of God’s accepting grace—are now changing their identity in the age of Trump (with Trump’s support having been greatest among “evangelicals” who are religiously inactive—and for whom the term has been co-opted to mean “cultural right”). Despite my roots in evangelicalism, I now disavow the mutated label (not wanting to be associated with the right’s intolerance toward gays and Muslims). Many others, such as the moderate Republican writer Peter Wehner, are similarly repulsed by the right-wing takeover of evangelicalism and disavowing today’s tarnished evangelical brand.

 

Times change, and with it our minds.

The British, American, and Australian press—and hundreds of millions of royal wedding viewers—were unexpectedly enthralled by Bishop Michael Curry’s 13.5 minutes of fame:

  • “Stole the show” (Telegraph and Vox).
  • “Electrifying” (New York Times).
  • “Wholly un-British, amazing, and necessary” (Esquire).
  • “Will go down in history” (Guardian).
  • “His star turn is set to impact the Most Reverend Michael Curry’s life for years to come” (news.com.au)

 

His gist: “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love,” God’s love. “And when we do that, we will make of this old world, a new world.” A positive message—and an appealing synopsis of authentic Christianity—but why was it so effective? Why did it connect so well and capture media coverage? What persuasion principles did he illustrate that others—preachers, teachers, students, all speakers—might want to emulate?

 

The power of repetition. Experiments leave no doubt: Repetition strengthens memory and increases belief. Repeated statements—whether neutral (“The Louvre is the largest museum in Paris”), pernicious (“Crooked Hillary”), or prosocial (“I have a dream”)—tend to stick to the mind like peanut butter. They are remembered, and they are more likely to be believed (sometimes even when repeated in efforts to discount them).

 

Few will forget that Curry spoke of “love” (66 times, in fact—5 per minute). We would all benefit from emulating Curry’s example: Frame a single, simple message with a pithy phrase (“the power of love”). From this unifying trunk, the illustrative branches can grow.

 

The power of speaking from the heart. A message rings authentic when it emanates from one’s own life experience and identity—when it has enough self-disclosure to be genuine, but not so much as to be self-focused. Curry, a slave descendant, speaking in an epicenter of White privilege, began and ended with the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., and he told how his ancestors, “even in the midst of their captivity” embraced a faith that saw “a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole.”


The power of speaking to the heart. My wife—an Episcopalian who has heard Curry’s preaching—has told me that his presence lends power beyond his written words. Curry was well prepared. But rather than safely reading his polished manuscript, he made eye contact with his audience, especially Prince Harry and Ms. Markle. He spoke with passion. His words aroused emotion. They spoke to troubled hearts in a polarized world.

 

The power of vivid, concrete examples. The behavioral scientist in me wishes it weren’t true, but, alas, compelling stories and vivid metaphors have, in study after study, more persuasive power than truth-bearing statistics. No wonder each year, 7 in 10 Americans, their minds filled with images of school shootings and local murders, say there is more crime than a year ago—even while crime statistics have plummeted.

 

William Strunk and E. B. White’s classic, The Elements of Style, grasped the idea: “If those who have studied the art of writing are in accord on any one point, it is on this: the surest way to arouse and hold the attention of the reader is by being specific, definite, and concrete. The greatest writers—Homer, Dante, Shakespeare—are effective largely because they deal in particulars.”

 

And Curry, too, offered particulars, with simplicity, repetition, and rhythmic cadence:

 

When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary. When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields down by the riverside to study war no more.


When love is the way, there’s plenty good room—plenty good room—for all of God’s children. When love is the way, we actually treat each other like we are actually family. When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all. We are brothers and sisters, children of God.


Brothers and sisters: that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.

 

With such repeated, heart-filled, concrete words, perhaps all preachers and speakers could spare listeners the fate of Eutychus, who, on hearing St. Paul’s preaching, “sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead” (Acts 20:9).

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

#TeamYanny

 

References

 

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

 

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

 

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

Gratitude works. A genuinely positive and repeated observation of positive psychology is that keeping a gratitude journal (literally counting one’s blessings), or writing a gratitude letter, benefits the giver as well as the receiver. For the gratitude recipient, there is joy and a warmed heart. For the gratitude giver, the frequent result—as shown in studies by Robert Emmons, Michael McCullough, Martin Seligman, and others—is increased physical and psychological well-being and prosociality.

 

Having appreciated and reported on this lesson, I couldn’t resist sharing with my friends Emmons, McCullough, and Seligman (and with you, my readers) a little case example of how right they are.

 

A representative of the University of Iowa (my PhD alma mater) recently dropped by to share information on their campaign to fund a new psychology building. In response, Carol Myers (my wife) and I agreed that our family foundation might support this endeavor.  I initially proposed a certain amount; Carol, reminding me how much I owed them, suggested doubling that amount.

 

I concurred, and the next day, while writing our letter of response, I spontaneously explained our gratitude to the Iowa psychology department for

  • inviting me (an undergraduate chemistry major with little psychology background) to enter its PhD program,
  • supporting my graduate work (including nominating me for an NSF fellowship, which supported me after the first year),
  • introducing me to a research program that—quite to my surprise—turned me into a researcher (enabling NSF grants for my work here at Hope College, and which ultimately led to invitations to communicate psychological science through textbooks and other media).

 

Writing those words had an unexpected effect—it caused me to feel my gratitude more deeply, with a flush of positive emotion—whereupon I suggested to Carol (and she immediately agreed) that we redouble the doubled gift amount. (Only later did I realize how my writing a “gratitude letter” had affected me.)

 

I can hear my gratitude-intervention scholar-friends say, “Of course, gratitude expressions boost good feelings and prosociality.” Gratitude, “the queen of the virtues,” says Emmons, “heals, energizes, and transforms lives in a myriad of ways consistent with the notion that virtue is both its own reward and produces other rewards.” Gratitude works.

David Myers

Implicit Bias at Starbucks

Posted by David Myers Expert May 10, 2018

On April 12, 2018, a Philadelphia Starbucks manager called police on two African American men for doing nothing (not buying coffee while awaiting a friend). Was this but “an isolated incident”—as 48 percent of White and 10 percent of Black Americans presume? Or did the arrests reflect “a broader pattern” of bias? Starbucks’ CEO later apologized for the incident, said the manager was no longer with the company, and announced that on May 29, the company would close 8000 domestic stores to enable employee racial bias training.

 

The Starbucks fiasco drew national attention to implicit bias. It also illustrates what we social psychologists agree on, what we disagree about, and what can be usefully done:

 

Agreement: Bias exists. When one study sent out 5000 resumes in response to job ads, applicants with names such as Lakisha and Jamal received one callback for every 15 sent, while names such as Emily and Greg received one callback for every 10 sent. Similar racial disparities have been found in Airbnb inquiry responses, Uber and Lyft pickup requests, and descriptions of driver treatment during police traffic stops.

 

Agreement: Unconscious (implicit) biases underlie many racial disparities. Such biases are modestly revealed by the famed Implicit Association Test (IAT).  Likely the Starbucks manager never consciously thought “those two men are Black rather than White, so I’ll call the police.”

 

Disagreement: How effective is the IAT at predicting everyday behavior? Its creators remind us it enables study of a real phenomenon, but was never intended to assess and compare individuals and predict their discrete behaviors.

 

Disagreement: How effective is implicit bias training? Skeptics argue that “blame and shame” diversity training can backfire, triggering anger and resistance.  Or it may seem to normalize bias (“Everybody is biased”). Or it may lead to a temporary improvement in questionnaire responses, but without any lasting benefits. Even Anthony Greenwald and Brian Nosek, social psychologists and two of the IAT co-creators, echo some of these concerns. Greenwald notes that “implicit bias training . . . has not been shown to be effective, and it can even be counterproductive.” And Nosek warns that “diversity trainings are filled with good intentions and poor evidence.” 

 

Greenwald and Nosek doubt the likely effectiveness of Starbucks’ planned training day. Nosek believes the company would be better advised to pilot and assess their intervention in a few stores and then scale it up.

 

But some research offers more hopeful results. As part of their research on automatic prejudice, Patricia Devine and her colleagues trained willing volunteers to replace biased with unbiased knee-jerk responses. Throughout the two-year study follow-up period, participants in their experimental intervention condition displayed reduced implicit prejudice. Another team of 24 researchers held a “research contest” that compared 17 interventions for reducing unintended prejudice among more than 17,000 individuals. Eight of the interventions proved effective. Some gave people experiences with vivid, positive examples of Black people who countered stereotypes.

 

Recently, Nosek and Devine have collaborated with Patrick Forscher and others on a meta-analysis (statistical summary) of 494 efforts to change implicit bias. Their conclusion meets in the middle: “Implicit bias can be changed, but the effects are often weak” and may not carry over to behavior.

 

So, what should we do? And what can we—and Starbucks and other well-intentioned organizations—do to counteract implicit bias?

 

First, let’s not despair. Reacting with knee-jerk presumptions or feelings is  not unusual—it’s what we do with that awareness that matters. Do we let those feelings hijack our behavior? Or do we learn to monitor and correct our behavior in future situations? Neuroscience evidence shows that, for people who intend no prejudice, the brain can inhibit a momentary flash of unconscious bias in but half a second.

 

Second, we can aim toward an all-inclusive multiculturalism. As race-expert Charles Green explains, “Working for racial justice in your organization is not about ‘going after’ those in the majority. It’s about addressing unequal power distribution and creating opportunity for all. It is structural, not personal.”

 

Third, we can articulate clear policies—behavior norms—for how people (all people) should be treated in specific situations. Organizations can train employees to enact expected behaviors in various scenarios—dealing with customers in a coffee shop, with drivers  at a traffic stop, with reservation inquiries at a rental unit. Happily, as people act without discrimination they come to think with less prejudice. Attitudes follow behavior.

David Myers

The Power of Habit

Posted by David Myers Expert May 3, 2018

On the same day last week, two kind colleagues sent unsolicited photos. In one, taken 21 years ago at Furman University, I am with my esteemed friend/encourager/adviser, Charles Brewer (who sadly died recently).  The others were from a talk just given at Moraine Valley Community College.

 

I was a little embarrassed to see that in both I’m wearing, 21 years apart, the same Scottish green plaid tie and blue blazer with brass buttons (well, not the exact same blazer—I wore the first one out, but its replacement is identical).

How boring is that? And how boring is the life of this professor who, when not traveling, arises at 7:00 each morning, dresses (often with the same sweater from the day before) while watching the first ten minutes of the Today Show; bikes to work the same 3 blocks every day of the year (no matter the weather); begins the office day with prayer, email, and downloading political news for reading over breakfast in the campus dining hall; works till noontime exercise in the campus gym and . . .  (enough of this). I know: very boring.

 

But consider the wisdom of mathematician/philosopher Alfred North Whitehead in his 1911 An Introduction to Mathematics

Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them. . . . By relieving the brain of all unnecessary work, a good notation sets it free to concentrate on more advanced problems, and in effect increases the mental power of the race.

 

Mark Zuckerberg follows Whitehead’s wisdom (and that of Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit)—by not wasting time deciding what shirt to wear each day. As I concluded a previous essay on the same theme, “Amid today’s applause for ‘mindfulness,’ let’s put in a word for mindlessness. Mindless, habitual living frees our minds to work on more important things than which pants to wear or what breakfast to order.” Or so I’d like to believe.

 

[Note to positive psych geeks: The 2018 version of my “Scientific Pursuit of Happiness” talk (given more than 200 times over the past 28 years) is available, courtesy of Moraine Valley, at tinyurl.com/MyersHappiness.]

Elliot AronsonMacmillan Learning author, Elliot Aronson was interviewed by Newsweek on the 20th anniversary of Columbine. In this article Elliot Aronson, well-respected psychologist and professor emeritus from UC Santa Cruz, discusses his research and work on the jigsaw classroom. Regarding schools and school shootings, he favors an approach that makes people not hate each other. That’s the central solution. He first started jigsaw because of school desegregation in Austin, Texas. The main thing is: How do we bridge the gap between people? If they don’t hate each other, they're not going to shoot each other up.

 

Read the full article here:

http://www.newsweek.com/columbine-anniversary-psychologist-prevent-school-shooting-parkland-nra-arming-889146

The Syrian slaughter. North Korea nuclear warheads. ISIS attacks. School shootings. Social media-fed teen depression. Thugs victimizing people of color and women. Inequality increasing. Online privacy invaded. Climate change accelerating. Democracy flagging as autocrats control Turkey, Hungary, China, and Russia, and as big money, voter suppression, and Russian influence undermine American elections. U.S. violent crime and illegal immigration soaring.

 

For news junkies, it’s depressing. We know that bad news predominates: If it bleeds, it leads. But we can nevertheless take heart from underreported encouraging trends. Consider, for example, the supposed increases in crime and illegal immigration.

 

Is it true, as President Trump has said, that “crime is rising” and in inner cities “is at levels that nobody has seen”? Seven in 10 Americans appeared to agree, when reporting to Gallup in each recent year that violent crime was higher than in the previous year. Actually, crime data aggregated by the FBI (shown below) reveals that violent (and property) crime have dramatically fallen since the early 1990s.

 

And is the U.S. being flooded with immigrants across its Mexican border—“evil, illegal immigrants who commit violent crimes,” as a 2018 DonaldJTrump.com campaign ad declared? In reality, the influx has subsided to a point where, Politifact confirms, “more illegal Mexican immigrants are leaving the United States than entering it.” (Should we build a wall to keep them in?)

 

But what about immigrant crime—fact or fiction? “Americans are five times more likely to say immigrants make the [crime] situation worse rather than better (45% to 9%, respectively),” reports Gallup. Not so. Multiple studies find that, as the National Academy of Sciences reports, “immigrants are less likely than the native-born to commit crimes” and are underrepresented in American prisons.

 

For more good news, consider other heartening long-term trends:

  • World hunger is retreating.
  • Child labor is less common.
  • Literacy is increasing.
  • Wars are becoming less frequent.
  • Explicit racial prejudice (as in opposition to interracial marriage) has plummeted.
  • Gay, lesbian, and transgender folks are becoming more accepted.
  • Infant mortality is rarer and life expectancy is increasing.

 

Such trends are amply documented in Steven Pinker’s recent books, The Better Angels of Our Nature and Enlightenment Now, and in Johan Norber’s Progress, and Gregg Easterbrooks, It’s Better Than It Looks. As President Obama observed, if you had to choose when to live, “you’d choose now.”

 

Yes, in some ways, these are dark times. But these are also the times of committed Parkland teens. Mobilized citizens. Machine learning. Immune therapies. #MeToo. #BlackLivesMatter. Low inflation. Near full employment. Digital streaming. Smart cars. Wearable technologies. Year-round fresh fruit. And Post-It notes.

 

To paraphrase Charles Dickens, it is the worst of times, it is the best of times. It is an age of foolishness, it is an age of wisdom. It is a season of darkness, it is a season of light. It is the winter of despair, it is the spring of hope.

The teen years are, for many, a time of rewarding friendships, noble idealism (think Parkland), and an expanding vision for life’s possibilities. But for others, especially those who vary from teen norms, life can be a challenge. Nonheterosexual teens, for example, sometimes face contempt, harassment, or family rejection. And that may explain their having scored higher than other teens on measures of anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts and attempts (see here, here, here, and here).

 

But many of these findings are based on older data and don’t reflect the increasing support of gay partnerships among North Americans and Western Europeans. In U.S. Gallup polls, for example, support for “marriages between same-sex couples” soared from 27 percent in 1996 to 64 percent in 2017. So, have the emotional challenges of being teen and gay persisted? If so, to what extent?

 

I’ve wondered, and recently discovered, an answer in the 2015 data from the annual UCLA/Higher Education Research Institute American Freshman survey (of 141,189 entering full-time students at a cross-section of U.S. colleges and universities). The news is mixed:

  • Most gay/lesbian/bisexual frosh report not having struggled with depression.
  • Being gay or lesbian in a predominantly heterosexual world remains, for a significant minority of older teens, an emotional challenge.

 

Can we hope that, if attitudes continue to change, this depression gap will shrink? In the meantime, the American Psychological Association offers youth, parents, and educators these helpful resources for understanding sexual orientation and gender identity, including suggestions for how “to be supportive” of youth whose sexual orientation or gender identity differs from most others.

Would you risk riding to the airport in a self-driving car?

 

If you said no, you aren’t alone. In a 2017 Pew survey, 56 percent of Americans said they would not risk it. That proportion likely has increased in the aftermath of the self-driving Uber car killing a pedestrian on March 19, 2018. Meanwhile, so far this year, around 1200 other pedestrians have been killed by people-driven cars, and few of us have decided not to risk driving (or walking).

 

Time will tell whether, as experts assure us, self-driving cars, without distracted or inebriated drivers, really will be much safer. Even if it’s so, it will be a hard fact to embrace. Why? Because we fear disasters that are vividly “available” in our minds and memories—shark attacks, school shootings, plane crashes—often in settings where we feel little control. “Dramatic outcomes make us gasp,” Nathan DeWall and I conclude in Psychology, 12th Edition, while “probabilities we hardly grasp.”  

 

We do a better job of grasping probabilities in realms where we have lots of experience. If a weather forecaster predicts a mere 30 percent chance of rain for tomorrow, we won’t be shocked if it does indeed rain—as it should about one-third of the time, given such a forecast. We have much less experience with presidential election predictions. Thus many people thought the pollsters and prognosticators had egg on their faces after Donald Trump’s upset win. Statistician and author Nate Silver’s final election forecast gave Trump but a 29 percent chance of victory. Although a 30 percent chance of rain and a 30 percent victory chance are the same odds, an ensuing rain comes as less of a shock.

 

With March Madness basketball games, as with weather forecasts, we fans have more experience. Tweets Silver:

Lesson learned? In domains where we have minimal direct experience, we often don’t get it because the cognitive availability of vivid, rare events may hijack our thinking: “Probabilities we hardly grasp.” But in realms where we do experience life’s uncertainties—as in daily weather variations and sports outcomes—we get it. We appreciate that probabilities calibrate uncertainties. Given enough happenings, anything, however improbable, is sure to occur.

David Myers

Our Perception of Sex

Posted by David Myers Expert Mar 29, 2018

Perceptual illusions are not only great fun, they also remind us of a basic truth: Our perceptions are more than projections of the world into our brain. As our brains assemble sensory inputs they construct our perceptions, based partly on our assumptions. When our brain uses rules that normally give us accurate impressions of the world it can, in some circumstances, fool us. And understanding how we get fooled can teach us how our perceptual system works.

 

A case in point is the famed Müller-Lyer illusion, for which the Italian visual artist Gianni Sarcone gives us two wonderful new examples.

 

Many more informative examples can be found amid the 644 pages of the new Oxford Compendium of Visual Illusions. There I discovered a fascinating phenomenon reported by Gettysburg College psychologist Richard Russell.

 

First (with Professor Russell’s kind permission from his earlier article in Perception) a question:

In the pair of Caucasian faces, below, which looks to be the male, and which the female?

Do you (as did I) perceive the left face as male, the right face as female?

 

Many people do, but in actuality, they are the same androgynous face (created by averaging Caucasian male and female faces), but with one subtle difference: the researchers slightly darkened the skin (but not the lips or the eyes) in the left face and lightened the skin in the right face. Why? Because worldwide and across ethnic groups, Russell and others report, women’s skin around the lips and eyes tends to be lighter than men’s. And that means more contrast between their skin and their lips and eyes.

 

That natural, subtle facial sex difference enabled Russell to recreate what he calls “the illusion of sex” with a second demonstration. This time, he left the skin constant but lightened the lips and eyes of the left face, making it appear male, and he darkened the lips and eyes of the right face, increasing the contrast, making it appear female.

Russell suggests that this helps explain why, in some cultures, women use facial cosmetics. Lipstick and eye shadow amplify the perceived sex difference, he notes, “by exaggerating a sexually dimorphic attribute—facial contrast.”