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

[Read the transcript]

Here are some examples for your next social psychology lecture.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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




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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


Classical conditioning in the experimental condition


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


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


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


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


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




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


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


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


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


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

We psychology teachers take bemused pleasure in noting one-time psych students who later become famous—people such as Jon Stewart, Gloria Estefan, Natalie Portman, Mark Zuckerberg, and (to balance the ledger) serial killer Ted Bundy.


To such lists I can add two more.


In 2014 the New Yorker cartoonist and cartoon editor Bob Mankoff wrote me out of the blue to say thank you for our textbook use of their cartoons. He also explained that “My own background, before I became a cartoonist, was in psychology of the behaviorist stripe, back in the early 70's.  I left when I realized those pigeons and rats were never going to get my jokes.” Our correspondence led to Mankoff’s visiting Hope College and speaking on the psychology of humor. And as this familiar cartoon illustrates, there is psychology in Mankoff’s humor.


During a recent retreat with two dozen folks working at depolarizing America, musician Peter Yarrow—of “Peter, Paul, and Mary” fame—shared with me his background . . . as a Cornell University psych major, where one of his mentors was the famed developmental psychologist (and Head Start co-founder), Urie Bronfenbrenner.


During an evening concert, Peter invited the young of heart on stage to join him for “Puff the Magic Dragon,” which he wrote 56 years ago. After getting down on his haunches to sing the chorus with individual children, he turned finally to the pregnant woman shown below. Seemingly aware of psychological research on fetal learning of familiar voices, he sang to her child in the womb. As he finished, tears were streaming down her face . . . and not hers alone.

 Photo courtesy Byron Buck

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


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


We are more likely to help when:


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


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


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


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


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


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


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





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


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

In Improving How Universities Teach Science: Lessons from the Science Education Initiative, Carl Wieman—a Stanford physicist, Nobel laureate, and Carnegie U.S. University Professor of the Year (but let’s not feel intimidated)—advocates active learning, which in a recent NPR interview, he describes as

teaching the thinking that you really want students to learn. How does a physicist think about a problem, or a chemist, and so on, and what decisions do they make, and then you break that problem down into student, bite-sized pieces. You give them to the students to work on. They usually work in small groups. The instructor is monitoring how the students are thinking. What's right, what's wrong. And then will periodically pull them back together every five or 10 minutes to discuss how they are coming along. Give them feedback on what thinking is right or wrong.


Mark Zuckerberg has a similar vision for public schools—for engaging students in self-directed learning, with guiding teachers at their sides.


The benefits of active learning are well-known to teaching psychologists. As Nathan DeWall and I note in our forthcoming Psychology, 12th Edition,

To master information you must actively process it. Your mind is not like your stomach, something to be filled passively; it is more like a muscle that grows stronger with exercise. Countless experiments reveal that people learn and remember best when they put material in their own words, rehearse it, and then retrieve and review it again.


For Psychology, 12th Edition, and all of our texts, active learning—via “Concept Practice,” “Immersive Learning,” and “Assess Your Strengths” exercises, and also via simulations and adaptive quizzing—forms the heart of our online resources.


So take it from a Nobel laureate/professor of the year . . . or Mark Zuckerberg . . . or just from Dave and Nathan: To learn deeply and remember enduringly, learn actively.

Each year when returning home to Bainbridge Island, a 30-minute ferry ride from Seattle, I skip the Space Needle and revisit the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial—the precise place where, on March 30, 1942, the internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans began. (The island’s south end overlooks a security-sensitive narrow passage into a massive naval shipyard.) The memorial site has poignancy for me because my father was present that day, saying tearful goodbyes to his neighbors, whose property he insured and protected during their absence. And it has extra poignancy in 2017—the internment’s 75th anniversary, and a time when similar fears are feeding targeted travel bans and increasing hate crimes.


At the heart of the Memorial, a 276-foot-long wall represents the 276 interned islanders—most of whom were given six days’ notice to appear at the dock with one suitcase.



















Wood sculptures depict various individuals and families and highlight their stories—such as of the six soon-to-depart high school baseball players being thrust by their coach into the starting lineup of a game . . . only to lose 15 to 2. But no matter, the message was heard: These were valued teammates.


The same spirit of inclusion was recounted by Nobuko Sakai Omoto, as she sat on her camp bunk and cried, knowing that “Back home at graduation they had thirteen empty chairs on the stage.”

The islanders’ mostly supportive attitudes were rooted, first, in knowing their neighbors, but were also reinforced by local newspaper owners Walt and Millie Woodward. They editorialized: “Where, in the face of their fine record since December 7 [Pearl Harbor Day], in the face of their rights of citizenship, in the face of their own relatives being drafted and enlisting in our Army, in the face of American decency, is there any excuse for this high-handed, much-too-short evacuation order?” Throughout the war, the Woodwards, alone among West Coast newspaper editors, voiced sustained opposition to the internment, and published news stories of internees from the camps.


After enduring some vitriol, the Woodwards were later honored for their journalistic courage and immortalized in the 1990s book and movie, Snow Falling on Cedars. At the memorial’s March 30, 2004 groundbreaking, former internee and Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community president Frank Kitamoto declared that “this memorial is also for Walt and Millie Woodward, for Ken Myers, for Genevieve Williams . . .and the many others who supported us.”


At this Spring’s March 30, 2017 commemoration of that fateful day, the theme, once again, was the memorial’s “timeless and timely message . . . Nidoto Nai Yoni—Let It Not Happen Again.”

The Lancet reports that 15.3 percent of all humans are daily smokers. Yet smoking varies enormously, from:

  • 25 percent among men to 5 percent among women, and from
  • 43 percent among Greenlanders to 1 percent among Sudanese.

Even the gender difference varies dramatically, from:

  • nonexistent among Icelanders, where 14.4 percent of women and 14.5 percent of men smoke, to
  • huge among Armenians, where nearly half (43.5 percent) of men and virtually no women (1.5 percent) are smokers.

A question: What else do we know about all humanity (apart from our shared physiology)? Here is my short list. Do you know of more? If so I’d love to hear from you.

 Human life expectancy: 71 years

  • but with huge variation—from 39 years in Sierra Leone to 84 years in Japan.

Humans overweight: 37 percent of men and 38 percent of women

  • but with huge variation—from 3 percent in Timor-Leste to 85 percent in Tonga.

Human religiosity: 68 percent say “Religion is important in my daily life”

  • but with huge variation—from 16 percent in Estonia to 100 percent in Niger.

Humans employed full time by an employer: 26 percent 

  • but with huge variation—from 19 percent of women to 33 percent of men, and with child-free women varying from 11 percent employed in North Africa to 67 percent in Russia.

The bottom line: We humans are kin. But how we differ!


Caiaimage/Robert Daly/OJO+/Getty Images

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


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


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

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


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

American Airlines screenshot: Basic Economy fare restrictions


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

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

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

American Airlines screenshot:Trip summary screen

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

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

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




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


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

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

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

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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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




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


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


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


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


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

National Geographic gives you 8 different scenarios in which you have (hypothetically) lied. Choose the most likely reason you lied. As a research methods booster have students discuss the validity of this measure – a measure that has not been used in formal research to the best of my knowledge.


The basis for this quiz was recent research on lying. Communication Studies professor Timothy Levine and colleagues (2016) asked participants from five countries to recall a recent occasion when the participants had lied and then write about what took place. Trained coders read the accounts and categorized the motivation for lying. Levine, found that the most common reason was lying to gain something (45%) – to reap financial benefits (16%), to reap non-financial benefits (15%), to make a good impression (8%), to be humorous (5%). Another 36% lied for self-protection; 22% did so because of a personal transgression and another 14% did so to dodge people they didn’t want to interact with. The least common type of lying (11%) was designed to affect others in some way – to help them (5%), to hurt them (4%), to be polite (2%). Some lying appeared to be “without apparent motive or purpose, lies out of obvious delusion, or lying with blatant disregard for reality and detection consequences” (2%). The remaining 7% of participants didn’t give enough information to code the motive (5%) or the motive didn’t fit one of these categories (2%).  


After covering operant conditioning, have students work in pairs or small group to identify if the teller of each of these kind of lies has been positively reinforced, negatively reinforced, positively punished, or negatively punished. Ask students to assume that the person has told this kind of lie before; perhaps this person has told this kind of lie many times before.


Lied to cover up a personal transgression, e.g. lied to keep an affair from becoming public

Lied to avoid someone, e.g., lied to get off the phone with someone you don’t want to talk to

Lied for financial gain, e.g., lied on a tax return to get a bigger tax refund

Lied for non-monetary benefits, e.g., lied to get people to vote for you

Lied to make a good impression, e.g., lied on an online dating profile so people will view you as very attractive

Lied to be polite, e.g., lied about liking someone’s shirt to avoid making the person feel bad


After students have completed their discussion and if you use an audience response system, ask students to click in to vote for the type of operant conditioning associated with each kind of lie. Walk students through thinking about each type of lie to identify its type of reinforcement.


This short activity will help students see that our behavior is often reinforced in unintended ways.




Levine, T. R., Ali, M. V., Dean, M., Abdulla, R. A., & Garcia-Ruano, K. (2016). Toward a Pan-cultural Typology of Deception Motives. Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 45(1), 1–12.

As I draft this on Mother’s Day I think of my mother, who blessed me with nurturing and many other gifts, including, alas, the gift of her hearing loss . . . which she, in turn, had received from her mother. I began my memoir, A Quiet World: Living with Hearing Loss, with this recollection:

On one of those treasured visits to my parents' home on Bainbridge Island, Washington, I use a magic pad to communicate with my eighty-year-old mother, who four years previously took the final step from hearing-impaired to deaf as she gave up wearing her by then useless hearing aids.

“Do you hear anything?” I write.

“No,” she answers, her voice still strong although she cannot hear it. “Last night your Dad came in and found the T.V. blasting. Someone had left the volume way up; I didn't hear a thing.” (Indeed, my father later explained that he recently tested her hearing by sneaking up while she was reading and giving a loud clap just behind her ear. Her eye never wavered from the page.)

What is it like, I wonder. “A silent world?”

“Yes,” she replies, “it's a silent world.”

As with Mother, so, I expect, with me. I have known for many years that I am on a trajectory toward the same deafness. When tested as a teenager, my hearing pattern mimicked Mother's—an unusual “reverse slope” pattern of good hearing for high-pitched sounds and poorer hearing for low-pitched sounds (making soft male voices harder to discern than higher female voices). From upstairs, I can hear the high-pitched microwave oven timer, though my wife, Carol, snuggled beside me in bed, cannot. But I cannot recall ever hearing an owl hoot. Carol touches my leg at each hoot: “There, can you hear it?” I hear nothing.


A quarter century and more later, I continue on that trajectory, unable now (with my hearing aids out) even to hear my wife’s voice from the adjacent pillow, unless she speaks directly into my ear. In daily life I mostly cope well enough, thanks to powerful digital hearing technologies that my mother never knew. Even so, I struggle to hear amid noise—at a party, in a restaurant—or when a questioner is across a room. Like all who suffer this invisible disability, I strain to hear. I move closer. Or, with a smile and a nod, I fake hearing.


On the brighter side, the hearing loss plague has also given me an added life purpose—supporting people with hearing loss by advocating for a “hearing loop” transformation in how America provides listening assistance in public places (through this website, through three dozen articles such as this one, and via nearly 20,000 e-mails). And this advocacy led me to four years representing people with hearing loss on the advisory council of NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.


There I was privileged to meet and hear from some world class hearing researchers, including the University of Iowa physician-geneticist Richard Smith, who is amassing data on the genes of many thousands of people with hearing loss. When I showed him my audiogram—my profile of hearing loss at various frequencies—he guessed that I carry a mutation on the WSF1 gene, and offered to confirm that.


So I sent in my spit tubes, and last week Smith confirmed: “You have DFNA6/14 hearing loss caused by a mutation in WFS1.”


In psychological science, we teach our students that complex traits, such as intelligence or personality, are the product of “many genes having small effects.” So this is my reminder that some important traits and medical conditions are predisposed by single genes (which my siblings and I each had a 50% chance of inheriting—with my older brother and I, among the four of us, drawing the unlucky cards).


If so, I asked: Is there not some hope that gene editing, such as with the new CRISPR technique, could prevent future hearing loss in children or young adults who carry the gene?  Yes, Smith tells me—this is, indeed, his lab’s exciting aim. Moreover, they plan to conduct the experiment by attempting the gene therapy on but one ear of each volunteer, thus enabling the other ear to serve as what we psychologists call a “within subjects control condition.”


In the meantime, I’m content to be the person Dr. Seuss described in You're Only Old Once!

           You'll be told that your hearing's so murky and muddy,

           your case calls for special intensified study.

They'll test you with noises from far and from near

and you'll get a black mark for the ones you can't hear.

Then they'll say, "My dear fellow, you're deafer than most.

But there's hope, since you're not quite as deaf as a post."

One of my favorite sources for examples of psychological concepts are comic strips. Some of them get worked into lectures, others show up on exams, and sometimes I’ll offer them for a couple points extra credit, especially for new comics that harken back to content covered earlier in the course.


Here are some May 14, 2017 comic strips that may be worth adding to your stable of examples.


The Betty comic strip gives us a wonderful example of change blindness. Junior, Betty’s son, is dinking around on his phone while explaining his generation’s amazing ability to multitask. During his explanation, Betty calls in her husband to take her place. When Junior’s attention is returned to his parent, he sees his dad and is completely unaware that he had replaced his mom.


In Frank and Ernest Frank has a young person working out on his farm. The young person, upon hearing “crop,” thinks cropping photos instead of crops that are planted. For someone who spends a lot of time in the digital world instead of a farming world, that person would be primed to interpret “crop” as photo manipulation.


Frazz gives us commentary on the positive reinforcement provided by smartphones. Pick up your smartphone to get a jolt of pleasure in some form – text messages, phone calls, games, social media updates. Caulfield, the boy in the strip, says that his dad “calls them dopamine pumps.” (If you want to dive deeper into smartphone use, I wrote a post on stress and smartphones a few months ago.)


Bonus comic strip. My favorite classical conditioning comic strip comes from Lio (November 14, 2009). A monster replaces Pavlov’s dogs, “Monsta Treats” replace meat powder, and the sound of a ripping bag replaces the tone.


Do you have any favorite comic strips that illustrate psychological concepts?


“Egocentricism,” as every psychology student has read, was Jean Piaget’s description of preschoolers’ inability to take another person’s perspective. The child standing between you and the TV just can’t see your perspective.


And it’s not just children. As Nathan DeWall and I explain in Psychology, 11th Edition,

Even we adults may overestimate the extent to which others share our opinions and perspectives, a trait known as the curse of knowledge. We assume that something will be clear to others if it is clear to us, or that email recipients will “hear” our “just kidding” intent (Epley et al., 2004; Kruger et al., 2005). Perhaps you can recall asking someone to guess a simple tune such as “Happy Birthday” as you clapped or tapped it out. With the tune in your head, it seemed so obvious! But you suffered the egocentric curse of knowledge, by assuming that what was in your head was also in someone else’s.


In the May/June Scientific American Mind (alas, its last print issue), Susana Martinez-Conde and Stephen Macknik describe a “Venus effect” (previously noted by University of Liverpool psychologist Marco Bertamini and his colleagues). In various art depictions, the grand masters have depicted their subjects looking toward a mirror.

Reubens' "Venus in Front of a Mirror"

Veláquez's "Rokeby Venus"                              

Many people presume that Venus, in the image above, is looking at (and admiring) herself in the mirror. If that was your surmise (as it was mine, when viewing “Rokeby Venus”), then you are not taking her perspective. Think: If you, from your viewing perspective, can see her face in the mirror, then she must see yours (not hers). It’s akin to being a backseat car passenger and seeing the driver’s face in the mirror—which tells you that the driver sees your face in the same mirror.


As the Venus effect reminds us, egocentricism is not just for children.

After covering sensation and perception, take students back to 2015.

The Dress


In case you missed it, this was the image that blew up social media in February of that year. Viewers were divided into two camps. Some saw the dress as blue/black while others saw it as gold/white. These discussions were not about whether a color was more blue or more purple. People were talking about very different perceptions. Friends and family got into arguments because each camp thought they were being gaslighted by the other. [Side note. The term gaslight, in this context, comes to us from a 1938 play which became a 1944 movie.]


What color is the real dress? Blue/black. But before the blue/black perceivers cheer for being right, the image of The Dress that falls on our retinas is more complicated than that. It turns out that both the blue/black and gold/white perceivers are right, that is, in terms of which light waves our eyes pick up. Oh. And if you perceive it as blue/brown, you’re not alone, but there aren’t that many of you.


But first, why such different perceptions? Our sensation and perception colleagues identified an assumption that our brains had to make. Some of us assumed that The Dress was lit by artificial, yellow light, the kind of light we get indoors. Others of us assumed that The Dress was lit by natural, blue light, the kind of light we get outdoors.


When we assume yellow light, our brains subtract yellow from the light wave data our eyes send to our brains. With the yellow removed, The Dress is perceived as blue/black.


When we assume blue light, our brains subtract blue from the light wave data. With blue removed, The Dress is perceived as gold/white.


Where does blue/brown come from? Those perceivers are splitting the difference. They’re subtracting a little yellow and a little blue.


ASAP Science did a nice 2-minute video on how this – color constancy – works.

A closer look at The Dress

You can show students exactly what their eyes are seeing, before the brain subtracts a color.


On your classroom computer, right-click on the photo of this dress, and select “Copy image address.” Visit the LunaPic website. In the “Open from URL” box, paste the image address. On the far left side of the page you will see a toolbar. Click anywhere over there to enter editing mode. From that toolbar, choose the eyedropper; it’s the ninth icon from the top. Click anywhere on The Dress to see the color of that spot displayed at the top of the page. Click the eyedropper again and choose another spot. When you click on a blue/white band, the color is actually a slate gray. If our brains subtract yellow, we perceive the color as bluer than it is. If our brains subtract blue, we perceive the color as whiter than it is. Use the eyedropper to sample from the black/gold bands. They are a goldish brown. If our brains subtract yellow, we perceive the color as black. If our brains subtract blue, we perceive the color as yellow-gold.


Who is more likely to perceive it one way and not another way and why?

But none of that answers the question of why some people are more likely to assume yellow light while others are more likely to assume natural light. One hypothesis is that those who spend more of their day inside under artificial lights are more likely to subtract yellow and see a blue/black dress. Those who spend more of their day outside or inside spaces with a lot of natural light – think skylights and large windows – are more likely to subtract blue and see a gold/white dress.

Survey research has found that “[o]lder people and women were more likely to report seeing ‘The Dress’ as white and gold, while younger people were more likely to say that it was black and blue” (Cell Press, 2015). Ask your students to work in pairs or small groups to generate some hypotheses as to why this is the case. Ask volunteers to report their hypotheses. For example, is it a cohort effect for age? Did older people spend more of their childhoods outdoors than today’s youth and therefore more likely to assume blue light? Teenagers are also more likely to be “owls.”


Psychological scientist Pascal Wallisch reasoned that “owls” – people who get up late and go to bed late – would experience more yellow light and, thus, would be more likely to perceive The Dress as blue/black. Conversely, he expected “larks” – people who get up early and go to bed early – would experience more blue light and, thus, would be more likely to perceive The Dress as gold/white. He found a statistically significant difference between the owls and larks in their perceptions of The Dress, but the differences weren’t huge. In other words, it appears that this is one factor, but not the only factor, that influences our assumptions about the lighting (Wallisch, 2017).



Remind students that color does not exist outside of our brains. Outside, it’s light waves. Our eyes convert those light waves into neural signals. Our brain takes those neural signals and uses them in combination with other factors, like the surrounding colors and assumptions about the environment, to create the color that we see.