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In the Intro Psych sensation and perception chapter, we often cover monocular cues. While it’s fine to think about how monocular cues help us perceive depth, I had never given much thought to what we would perceive if we lacked several monocular cues.


In Your Inner Fish, the author, paleontologist and anatomy professor Neil Shubin, writes


There is no field manual for Arctic paleontology. We received gear recommendations from friends and colleagues, and we read books-only to realize that nothing could prepare us for the experience itself. At no time is this more sharply felt than when the helicopter drops one off for the first time in some godforsaken part of the Arctic totally alone. The first thought is of polar bears. I can't tell you how many times I've scanned the landscape looking for white specks that move. This anxiety can make you see things. In our first week in the Arctic, one of the crew saw a moving white speck. It looked like a polar bear about a quarter mile away. We scrambled like Keystone Kops for our guns, flares, and whistles until we discovered that our bear was a white Arctic hare two hundred feet away. With no trees or houses by which to judge distance, you lose perspective in the Arctic (pg. 17). 


This photo of Arctic Alaska can help you picture what Shubin and his colleagues were seeing—or not seeing. The caption says that those dark dots are caribou.


Looking at this tundra is not unlike looking at the sky, and the sky also frequently lacks monocular cues. When I see a speck with the sky as the background, if I perceive that speck as really close, then it’s a gnat. If I perceive it a little farther away, it’s a bird. If I perceive it really far away, it’s a plane. If I perceive the speck as being someplace between the bird and the plane, it’s Superman.


In Shubin’s case, the Arctic tundra didn’t give him many monocular cues to work with. Without a solid sense of distance, it’s difficult to determine the size of the object or critter.


After covering monocular cues, share with students the Arctic Alaska photo. Drag your browser so the description of the caribou is off the screen. Ask students to identify the dots in the photo. After all of the guesses are in, tell students that the dots are caribou. Ask students which of the monocular cues you covered can be seen in the photo, such as relative height. Ask students which ones are missing, such as linear perspective. The fewer distance cues we have, the harder it is to determine distance.


To close the activity, read students Shubin’s hare/bear paragraph. That will give you a leaping off point to talk about the ways in which our expectations can affect our perceptions. Shubin and his colleagues could have perceived the critter as a hare from the very beginning, but because polar bears were very much on their minds, a polar bear is what they all perceived. That is, until further evidence proved them wrong.

Have you ever wondered if social media makes relationships harder? If so, read this! How Social Media Might Undermine Romantic Relationships | SPSP psychstudentrss

Ingroups can be pretty powerful. We tend to like people in our ingroups more than people in our outgroups (ingroup bias), and we tend to see people in our outgroups as being more like each other than people in our ingroups (outgroup homogeneity bias), for example.


There is much rhetoric about Democrats vs. Republicans, immigrants/refugees vs. native born, the wealthy vs. the middle class vs. the working poor, people with homes vs. people who are homeless. Depending on where you live, the groups may be different than these, but the groups are there.


The next time you cover ingroups/outgroups, ask your students what groups are most salient to them – on your campus or in your town/city. If you’re in a small college town, it may be the townies vs. those at the college. Write down the names of the groups where students can see them.


If time allows, ask your students to work in pairs or small groups to generate examples of how ingroup bias or outgroup homogeneity bias has affected or could affect how each group sees themselves and sees the other.


Next, show this 3-minute TV2 Denmark ad that aired in 2017.



Ask students to share their reactions to the video. If they could get their-previously-identified groups together, what questions would they ask? Who likes pizza? Who likes dogs? Who likes cats? Who likes to drive?  


Close this activity by pointing out ingroups/outgroups shift depending on context. When one context—politics, for example—is continually salient, it’s easy to forget that we have plenty in common with members of our—say, politicaloutgroup. What strategies might your students use to help them remember that they may have a lot in common with an outgroup member, and to remember that, in a different context, that person is probably a member of their ingroup?

In a long-ago experiment by Columbia University social psychologist Stanley Schachter, groups discussed how to deal with fictional juvenile delinquent “Johnny Rocco.” One “modal” group member (actually Schachter’s accomplice) concurred with the others in arguing for leniency and became well liked. A second accomplice, the “deviate,” stood alone in arguing for harsh discipline. At first, the study participants argued with the nonconforming deviate, but eventually they ignored him and then reported disliking him.


Recent experiments with children and adults confirm the lesson: Groups respond harshly to members who deviate from group norms and threaten their group identity. Other studies show how agonizingly difficult it can be to publicly state truths after hearing consensus falsehoods from one’s peers, and how “groupthink” suppresses dissent. After President John F. Kennedy’s ill-fated Bay of Pigs invasion, his adviser Arthur Schlesinger, having self-censored his misgivings, reproached himself “for having kept so silent during those crucial discussions.”


To dissent from one’s group—one’s fraternity, one’s religion, one’s friends—can be painful, especially when a minority of one.


Mitt Romney understands. For being a minority of one in voting for President Trump’s removal, he anticipated being “vehemently denounced. I’m sure to hear abuse from the President and his supporters.”


And so he has. “I don't like people who use their faith as justification for doing what they know is wrong,” vented the President, before ridiculing Romney for “one of the worst campaigns in the history of the presidency.” Donald Trump, Jr. went further, calling for Romney to “be expelled” from the GOP. Romney, some Congressional colleagues derided, was a “sore loser” who acted “to appease the left” and was “not very collegial.”


The rewards of conformity, and the rejection of dissenters, are no secret. As President Kennedy recalled in Profiles in Courage (1955), “‘The way to get along,’ I was told when I entered Congress, ‘is to go along.’” It is a temptation we all face.  When feeling alone, we may silence our voice. We may join a standing ovation for something we do not inwardly applaud. We may succumb to the power of our herd and its leader.


And then, feeling some dissonance over conforming, we rationalize. Observing our own silence and our false witness, our mind mutates, and we begin to believe what we reluctantly stood up for. Our attitudes follow our actions, which grow their own self-justifying legs. As C. S. Lewis noted in Mere Christianity, “Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before.”


For those who endure the distress of dissent, there are compensations.


First, minorities of one can matter. “All history,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “is a record of the power of minorities, and of minorities of one.” Think of Copernicus and Galileo, of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Susan B. Anthony, of Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela. In the short term, these heroes, and the conformity-resisting former senators whom Kennedy later celebrated in Profiles in Courage, were scorned for flouting team play and resisting expectations. It was only later that historians and filmmakers honored their heroism. Mitt Romney can take the long view.


Second, experiments on “minority influence” show how a minority of one can matter; When such individuals, despite ridicule, persist with consistency, they can sway their laboratory group, or even change history. Being a persistent dissenting voice may get you disliked and even ignored, but it can also, eventually, stimulate rethinking. It punctures the illusion of unanimity and can enable others to express their doubts. That voice is especially potent when it represents a defection from the ingroup rather than a voice from the opposition. A Republican Mitt Romney is harder for Republicans to dismiss than a Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.


Ergo, those who dissent—who deviate from group norms and threaten a group’s identity—are often scorned. Yet a persistent, consistent, cogent voice sometimes moves the needle. “If the single man plant himself indomitably on his instincts, and there abide,” said Emerson, “the huge world will come round to him.”


(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit

Feeling the Valentine's Day love? People Who Think Their Partners Are a Perfect Fit Stay Happier—Even if They’re Wrong – Association for Psychological Science – APS psychstudentrss

Has your university seen changes in the curriculum or in classroom behavior in the last few years? Read about one school in Texas that is facing widespread problems: When the Culture War Comes to the Classroom via @chronicle psychstudentrss

A recent Templeton World Charity Foundation conference, Character, Social Connections and Flourishing in the 21st Century, expanded my mind, thanks to a lecture by famed evolutionary biologist David Sloan Wilson. This much about him I had known: His multilevel selection theory argues that evolution favors survival-enhancing group as well as individual behaviors. Within groups, selfishness beats altruism. Yet altruistic groups triumph over selfish groups.


What I learned from his lecture and our ensuing dinner conversation was that his passion has shifted to understanding and enabling effective real-world groups—from nonprofit organizations to schools to faith communities to businesses. How might people in such groups more effectively work together to accomplish goals?


To enhance work team effectiveness, Wilson and his colleagues suggest implementing a group of basic principles. They point out that groups that effectively manage shared resources, such as irrigation, forests, and fisheries, follow principles that (a) integrate evolutionary principles of group selection with (b) “core design principles” identified by political scientist and economics Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom, seasoned with (c) behavior-change insights articulated by psychologist Steven Hayes. The resulting eight principles for success:

  1. Strong group identity and purpose. Groups know who they are and what sets them apart from other groups.
  2. Fair sharing of benefits and costs. Proportional sharing (without some members benefiting at the expense of others) advances group over individual advancement.
  3. Fair and inclusive decisions. Consensus decision-making, with uncensored input, enables smart decisions, and, again, safeguards against some benefiting at others’ expense.
  4. Tracking results ensures that agreements are honored.
  5. Graduated sanctions. Accountability for misbehaviors ranges from gentle reminders to expulsion.
  6. Conflict resolution mechanisms. When disagreements occur, the group implements fair and fast resolution procedures.
  7. Authority to self-govern. In larger societies and organizations, subgroups are empowered to organize and operate.
  8. Appropriate coordination with other groups. In larger social systems, operating subgroups must integrate with other subgroups.


How striking it is, notes Wilson, that the principles Ostrom identified from successful commons resource-managing groups are so similar to “the conditions that caused us to evolve into such a cooperative species.” These principles—when implemented by effective leaders—build a group’s moral foundation, protect it against self-serving behaviors, and allow its members to freely express themselves.


To assist groups in implementing the core design principles drawn from evolutionary, political, and psychological science, Wilson and colleagues have authored a book (Prosocial: Using Evolutionary Science to Build Productive, Equitable, and Collaborative Groups), developed a websitethat offers training and resources, and produced an online magazine that tells implementation stories.


Wilson’s life journey—from son of a famous author (The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit) to science theorist to social entrepreneur—is unique. Yet in other ways, his professional pilgrimage is similar to our own . . . as our lives have unfolded in unanticipated ways—sometimes with false starts leading to brick walls, sometimes with gratifying new directions. Little did I expect, when first encountering Wilson’s work, that it would later produce practical resources for helping groups “learn about and adopt design principles to improve their efficacy.”


(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit

If you are about to cover or have recently covered the availability heuristic in Intro Psych, ask your students this question.


Which are you more concerned about: the coronavirus or the flu virus?



How concerned are you about the coronavirus? (1 not at all concerned to 7 very concerned)

How concerned are you about the flu virus? (1 not at all concerned to 7 very concerned)


Here are the statistics.



As of Monday, February 3, 2020, CBS News reports that “there were more than 20,000 confirmed cases [of coronavirus infection] in more than two dozen countries, the vast majority of them in China, according to the World Health Organization. There have been at least 425 deaths in China, and one in the Philippines.”


Flu virus

In contrast, in the United States alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports as of January 25, 2020 that 19 million to 26 million people have contracted the flu resulting in 180,000 to 310,000 hospitalizations and 10,000 to 25,000 deaths.

This year isn’t so bad. The CDC estimates that the flu virus killed 61,000 people during the 2017-2018 flu season, again, just in the United States.


If your students are using the availability heuristic here, they are much more likely to be concerned about the coronavirus than the flu virus. The coverage of the coronavirus in mass media and social media is, well, substantial. The coverage of the flu virus is almost nil.


This is an excellent opportunity to talk with students about how the information we take in can influence how we see the world, a perception that can cause us to put our fears in the wrong place.


Ask students to take a few minutes to generate some strategies for increasing their own awareness of when they may be under the influence of the availability heuristic as well as some strategies for countering it. It may be as simple as realizing that we’re feeling frightened and saying, “Wait. Do I have reason to be frightened? Let me do some research into this.”


Of course, this does not mean that your students should be freaked out by the flu instead. Encourage your students to do some research on who is most at risk for dying from the flu. For those who aren’t at risk from dying from the flu, getting the flu vaccine can help prevent them from passing the flu on to someone else who is at risk from dying from it.

“Nature doesn’t kill people with avalanches. People kill people with avalanches” (Julavits, 2020, p. 26).


Heidi Julavits tells us that in avalanche school she learned about six psychological concepts* that can cause back-country winter enthusiasts to make poor decisions—and then she went on to discuss how these very same factors led her, her classmates, and her avalanche instructors to make some poor decisions when they went out to the slopes (Julavits, 2020).


Julavits makes it clear that knowing how psychological concepts can have a negative impact on our decisions doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll make different decisions in the moment. This article reminds me—once again—that knowledge is necessary but not sufficient to change behavior. For example, I know what healthy eating and healthy exercise look like, and I know their benefits. That doesn’t mean that I always make the best decisions regarding healthy eating and healthy exercise. Knowledge is good. It’s just not enough.


The Intro Psych thinking chapter or social psych chapter are good places to discuss these psychological concepts—and then help students think through ways of countering them so they don’t get sucked in when needing to make decisions that may indeed be life and death decisions. While the context here happens to be avalanches—and the avoidance thereof—these psychological concepts can be applied to almost any context where a decision needs to be made.


Ian McCammon, a mechanical engineer, started thinking a lot about avalanches following the death of a friend. While his focus has been on the mechanics of avalanches, after researching 715 such accidents, he wrote about six psychological concepts that people may use out on the slopes that can lead to disaster (McCammon, 2004). These are the psychological concepts Julavits introduced to us in her avalanche school article (Julavits, 2020). McCammon (2004) begins with this premise:


As sad as this accident was [the one that led to the death of his friend], the real tragedy is that similar stories unfold in accident after accident, year after year. An experienced party, often with avalanche training, makes a crucial decision to descend, cross, or highmark a slope they believe is safe. And then they trigger an avalanche that buries one or more of them. In hindsight, the danger was often obvious before these accidents happened, and so people struggle to explain how intelligent people with avalanche training could have seen the hazard, looked straight at it, and behaved as if it wasn’t there. (p.1)

The Psychological Concepts


When we are in familiar surroundings, we are more likely to act just as we have acted in the past. That’s fine as long as the conditions are exactly the same. If they have changed, behaving the same way may not be the best course of action. In McCammon’s archival research, he found that people did indeed take more risks when they were in an area familiar to them.


Once we’ve made a decision, it’s easiest to keep making decisions that are consistent with that first decision. Again, this is fine as long as the conditions stay the same. As conditions change, staying consistent with our first decision may lead to trouble. McCammon found that the groups most committed to being out on the slope took the most risks.


We want to be accepted by others, so we do things that we believe will lead to their acceptance. Straight men may make poor decisions in order to increase their chances of being accepted by women. McCammon found that groups that included both men and women made riskier decisions, and this seemed to be driven primarily by men making poor decisions, not the women.

Expert halo

An “informal leader” may spontaneously emerge in the group. This person may have experience or skill, may be older, or may just be more assertive. The group may give this person an “expert halo” and assume the person has expertise they don’t actually possess. McCammon found that groups that had someone that could be identified as a leader took greater risks.

Social facilitation

When people are confident in their abilities, the more people that are present, the more confident people become. McCammon found that groups that had avalanche training took greater risks if their group had met up with another group prior to the avalanche. Those who had not had avalanche training were less affected by the presence of another group.  


We value more that which is scarce. New, unblemished snow is scarce and, thus, is highly valued. Indeed, McCammon found that skiers heading to untracked snow took greater risks than those headed to previously-skied snow.

Other examples

If you live where your students ski or snowboard, this avalanche safety example may resonate with your students. In any case, ask your students to consider other situations where a group has to make a decision about whether or not it is safe to proceed. Boating on a body of water with choppy waves? Rafting on a river with unusually high water? Driving in an area where there is a tornado watch or warning? Weighing whether to stay or move inland with an approaching hurricane. Whatever situation is most likely for your student population, ask your students to identify how each of the factors discussed above may lead to a decision that may result in disaster.

Overcoming these factors

Now the hard part. Ask students what they could do to recognize these factors at play in the moment and, just importantly, how they could counteract them. As a take-home assignment, ask students to investigate strategies that help keep people from falling into these traps. During the next class session, ask students to share what they learned.


A lot of what we cover in the Intro Psych course has the potential to change a student’s life. This topic has the potential to save a student’s life.





Julavits, H. (2020, January). Calamity lesson. New York Times Magazine, 24–31, 48.


McCammon, I. (2004). Heuristic traps in recreational avalanche accidents: Evidence and implications. Avalanche Review, 22(68). Retrieved from



*Julavits and McCammon refer to these concepts as heuristics. In Intro Psych, some of these are considered simply principles or concepts, so I’ve replaced the term heuristics with “psychological concepts.”  

Jenel Cavazos

Mummy Voices?

Posted by Jenel Cavazos Jan 28, 2020

Ever wonder what a mummy would sound like? No? Well here's your chance to find out anyway! 3-D Printing Gives Voice to a 3,000-Year-Old Mummy - Scientific American psychstudentrss

More new research on the questionable link between electronic use and social problems in children. What do you think? Panicking About Your Kids’ Phones? New Research Says Don’t - The New York Times psychstudentrss

I read with interest a recent journal article on the benefits of having students share some good news from their lives. This study was done in a face-to-face class, but I’m wondering about the implications for online students.


Courtney Gosnell at Pace University randomly assigned her students to share good news with their classmates eight to ten times over the course of a term. Those who felt like they got the most support from their classmates reported “a greater sense of class belonging,” a “stronger belief that their classmates wanted them to succeed,” “greater college identification,” and “greater satisfaction with college life.” And, interestingly, they “also approached the class with more of a challenge mindset” (Gosnell, 2019).


Given that the students who got the most benefit from sharing their good news were the ones who felt the most supported, the question is how to help students feel more supported. Gosnell (2019) suggested giving students a little training on what an “active constructive response” is, such as that described by this Woods and colleagues article (2015). These researchers presented pairs of people who shared a close relationship—romantic or platonic—with a 20-minute training on how better to give and respond to, well, good news, “including verbal (e.g., energetic voice, positive feedback, and ask specific questions) and nonverbal (e.g., smile, raise eyebrows, nod, and face body toward partner) examples of active–constructive responding.”  


This term I am asking my face-to-face students to share some good news with their groups during our first class session of the week. But these aren’t the students I’m concerned about.


It’s my online students that I would like to feel more connected to each other, to me, and to the college.


Since my online students have a weekly discussion board (one initial post and two responses) that is pretty prescriptive in its requirements, it wasn’t hard for me to wedge in a good news requirement. Here are the instructions for the first part of their initial post.


Part A: Good news from the last week

What's the most positive experience you’ve had in the last week. Only share if you feel comfortable, otherwise tell us about your second most positive experience. It could be big (“I got an A on an assignment!”, “I got a car!”) or it could be small (“I have a new favorite dessert,” "My grocery bag broke, and someone helped me pick everything up."). Tell as much as you want about your event.

For the response, everything in the nonverbal section that Woods and colleagues (2015) identified I could safely exclude from this online forum. For the verbal, I went with a reaction (presumably positive since the person is sharing good news) and a question. Here are the response instructions for this section of the discussion.


Part A: Good news from the last week

Share your reaction to their good news, e.g., "I am so happy for you!", "It sounds like you had a lot of fun!", then ask at least one follow up question, "What kind of car did you get?", "What was in your new favorite dessert?". 

We’re only a few weeks into the term, so my sample is small, but I’ve been having a lot of fun reading their good news and their responses to the good news of other students. Through sharing good news, we’re getting to know each other better. I already know who likes football, who plays soccer, who enjoys shopping for dresses, who has struggles with transportation, who likes cheesecake, and who has a new job. Whatever someone shares, the responses to their good news feel genuine. While the questions are required, (most of) the questions come across as legitimate interest. Many students provide a follow-up in response to the questions asked, which I’m grateful for, because I often have the same questions.

While I don’t participate in the group discussion, I do score the discussions. In my comments, I offer my own reaction to their good news, ask a question, and then give my good news for the week.


Near the end of the course I’ll ask my students about how connected they felt to the others in their groups and to me. I’m especially interested in seeing if more students persist in the course than has been true in my previous online courses.


What’s your good news?





Gosnell, C. L. (2019). Receiving quality positive event support from peers may enhance student connection and the learning environment. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology.


Woods, S., Lambert, N., Brown, P., Fincham, F., & May, R. (2015). “I’m so excited for you!” How an enthusiastic responding intervention enhances close relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32(1), 24–40.

Excellent (and timely!) review of note-taking strategies at the start of a new semester: Note Taking: A Research Roundup  psychstudentrss

Caring parents understandably want to protect their children from physical harm and emotional hurt. We do this, we presume, for their sakes. And, if the truth be told, we do it for our own as well. Many of us knowingly nodded when Michelle Obama shared the common parental experience: “You are as happy as your least happy child.”


But as my friend and fellow social psychologist, Jonathan Haidt, recently explained to a large West Michigan audience, sometimes parental good intentions prepare kids for failure.


Haidt began by documenting what I’ve previously described—the stunning recent increase in teens’ (especially teen girls’) depression, anxiety, suicidal thinking, and self-harm (as documented in ER visits). This tsunami of mental health problems has now also reached college campuses, as evident in collegians’ increased depression rates and visits to campus mental health services.


What gives? What accounts for this greater fragility of today’s youth? Teen biology hasn’t changed. They’re not drinking more (indeed, they’re drinking less). They’re not working more (they’re less often employed).


What has changed, Haidt observed, is, first, technology—the spread of smart phones, the explosion of social media, and the addition of social comparison-promoting social media features, such as visible likes and retweets of one’s posts. Haidt offered correlational studies that associate teens’ social media use with their mental health, and experiments that reveal the emotional benefits of a restrained social media diet. (For more, see this prior blog essay, and Haidt’s recent Atlantic essay, with Tobias Rose-Stockwell: “The Dark Psychology of Social Networks.” See also this new response by his collaborator, Jean Twenge, to skeptics of the social media explanation.)


As an antidote to social media’s emotional toxicity (and diminished sleep and face-to-face relationships), Haidt offered three practical family guidelines for healthy media use:


He also attributes the increase youth mental health issues to a second cultural change: Today’s parents often fail to appreciate the “antifragility” principle—that children’s emotions, like their bones and immune systems, gain strength from being challenged. Bones and muscles gain strength from exercise. Immune systems develop protective antibodies from challenges (soaring peanut allergies are a sorry result of routinely protecting infants from peanut exposure). And children’s emotional health and resilience likewise builds through their unpleasant experiences. There is truth to Nietzsche’s aphorism, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”


Alas, as Haidt demonstrated by surveying his audience, members of Generation Z (people born since 1996) have grown up more protected—with parents restraining their roaming free until later childhood. Their grandparents, by contrast, and to some extent their parents, were experienced a less restricted “free range childhood.” (And no, today’s world is not more dangerous—it’s actually much safer than the 1970s.)


Moreover, he argued (also in The Coddling of the American Mind with Greg Lukianoff, and in a new essay with Pamela Paresky), schools are ill-serving students by protecting them from uncomfortable speech. Colleges ill-prepare students for life outside the campus when they suppress unpopular perspectives and offer “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings” that insulate students from “micro-aggressions.”


As an alternative approach, Haidt welcomes viewpoint diversity—the thrust of the Heterodox Academy. He and his colleagues also offer resources for open-minded engagement at the new


Haidt’s case for viewpoint diversity and open dialogue remind me of the long-ago wisdom of social psychologist William McGuire, whose experiments taught us an important lesson:  Unchallenged beliefs existing in “germ-free ideological environments” are the most vulnerable to later being overturned. To form one’s beliefs amid diverse views is to become more discerning, and ultimately more deeply grounded in less fragile convictions.


Ergo, concludes Haidt, to support teen mental health be intentional about screen time and social media, and remember: character—like bones, muscles, and immunity—grows from challenge.


(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit

Jenel Cavazos

The Placebo Effect

Posted by Jenel Cavazos Jan 16, 2020

Some people are more susceptible to the placebo effect than others; it turns out your DNA might be responsible! Your DNA Could Determine How Easily You're Fooled by Placebos psychstudentrss