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Sue Frantz

Teaching Synesthesia

Posted by Sue Frantz Apr 24, 2019

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

The Man Who Tasted Shapes (1993) by Richard Cytowic

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Synesthesia (2018) by Richard Cytowic

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

 

 

References (excluding the above book recommendations)

 

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

 

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

David Myers

Showerthoughts

Posted by David Myers Expert Apr 19, 2019

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

 

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

 

Some Showerthought examples:

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

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

“The sun looks down on nothing half so good as

a household laughing together over a meal.”

~C. S. Lewis, “Membership,” 1949

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

      Free image from Pixaby.

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

Consider two facts:

 

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

     

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

Hypothesis: Creating concrete examples will improve recall.

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

David Myers

Out of Many, One

Posted by David Myers Expert Mar 28, 2019

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

 

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

 

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

Do we exaggerate?

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

 

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

 

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

 

Our similarities exceed our differences

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

In the aftermath of the New Zealand massacre of Muslims at worship, American pundits have wondered: While the perpetrator alone is responsible for the slaughter, do the expressed attitudes of nationalist, anti-immigrant world leaders increase White nationalism—and thus the risk of such violence?

 

Consider Donald Trump’s rhetoric against supposed rapist, drug-dealing immigrants; his retweeting of anti-Muslim rhetoric; his saying that the Charlottesville White nationalists included some “very fine people”; or his condoning violence at his rallies and against the media. Do these actions serve to normalize such attitudes and behavior? Is the Southern Poverty Law Center right to suppose that hatemongering is “emboldened [and] energized” by such rhetoric? Is the New Zealand gunman’s reportedly lauding Trump as “a symbol of White supremacy” something more than a murderer’s misguided rantings?

 

In response, many people—particularly those close to Trump—attributed responsibility to the gunman. The President’s acting chief of staff argued that the shooter was a “disturbed individual” and that it is “absurd” to link one national leader’s rhetoric to an “evil person’s” behavior. We social psychologists call this a “dispositional attribution” rather than a “situational attribution.”

 

As I noted in a 2017 essay, two recent surveys and an experiment show that dispositions are shaped by social contexts. Hate speech (surprised?) feeds hate. Those frequently exposed to hate speech become desensitized to it, and then to lower evaluations of, and greater prejudice toward, its targets. Prejudice begets prejudice.

 

To be sure, leaders’ words are not a direct cause of individuals’ dastardly actions. Yet presidents, prime ministers, and celebrities do voice and amplify social norms. To paraphrase social psychologists Chris Crandall and Mark White, people express prejudices that are socially acceptable and suppress those that are not. When prejudice toward a particular group seems socially sanctioned, acts of prejudice—from insults to vandalism to violence—increase as well. Norms matter.

 

The FBI reports a 5 percent increase in hate crimes during 2016, and a further 17 percent increase during 2017--and reportedly more than doubled in counties hosting a Trump rally. The Anti-Defamation League reports that 2018 “was a particularly active year for right-wing extremist murders: Every single extremist killing—from Pittsburgh to Parkland—had a link to right-wing extremism.” Again, we ask: Coincidence? Or is there something more at work? If so, is there a mirror-image benevolent effect of New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern’s saying of her nation’s Muslim immigrants, “They are us”?

 

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

When Seattle residents were surveyed concerning their fear of crime, many reported a fear that outpaced the actual level of crime. Two neighborhoods, for example, “are seemingly safe places to live, and rank among the 15 neighborhoods with the lowest rates of reported crime. But in terms of fear, they rank second and third, respectively — both at least 10 points higher than the city average.” There are 8 additional neighborhoods whose amount of crime is below the city average but whose fear of crime is above the city average (Balk, 2018).

 

Additionally, while Seattle crime is frequently reported in the news, suburban crime is less reported. Some residents of Bellevue (population 150,000 and located 10 miles east of Seattle) have complained that problems with crime in their city has not enjoyed the same media coverage Seattle’s has. In all fairness, Bellevue’s crime rate is not near that of Seattle’s. For example, in 2018, while Seattle had 992 burglaries per 100,000 residents, Bellevue had 268 per 100,000 residents (Balk, 2019). Why do the residents of some Seattle neighbors greatly fear crime while their neighborhoods are pretty safe?

 

Why do the residents of Bellevue think there is more crime in their city than there is?

 

One culprit may be Nextdoor.com (Balk, 2019), “The private social network for your neighborhood.”

 

The Nextdoor.com website says, “Nextdoor is the best way to stay informed about what’s going on in your neighborhood—whether it’s finding a last-minute babysitter, planning a local event, or sharing safety tips. There are so many ways our neighbors can help us, we just need an easier way to connect with them.” As a member of Nextdoor.com, I do see all of those things. But Nextdoor also provides a way for everyone to report suspicious activity and actual crime (posting security cam recordings of thieves stealing packages is a favorite), whether experienced themselves or by a neighbor. “Suspicious activity” is, of course, subjective. Whether it’s actual crime or “suspicious activity” that may have been nothing, it’s easy for readers of Nextdoor to add ticks to their mental crime column.

 

For frequent Nextdoor readers, crime information is salient. The availability heuristic leads such readers to think their neighborhoods are crime-ridden when, in fact, the crime rates may be quite low. If only people would also report when they experienced no crime. (Do you think I could start that trend? “Dear neighbors, nobody harmed my family or stole my property today.”) It’s another nice reminder that the information we take in does indeed influence our perceptions. For those keeping score – System 1: 1; System 2: 0 (Stanovich & West, 2000).

 

References

 

Balk, G. (2018, June 28). ‘Mean world syndrome’: In some Seattle neighborhoods, fear of crime exceeds reality. Seattle Times. Retrieved from https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/data/mean-world-syndrome-in-some-seattle-neighborhoods-fear-of-crime-exceeds-reality

 

Balk, G. (2019, February 11). The ‘Nextdoor effect’ in Bellevue: A familiar reaction to crime. Seattle Times. Retrieved from https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/data/the-nextdoor-effect-in-bellevue-a-familiar-reaction-to-crime

 

Stanovich, K. E., & West, R. F. (2000). Individual differences in reasoning: Implications for the rationality debate? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 23, 645–726. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0140525X00003435

With so many trillions of daily happenings, some weird and wonderful events are inevitable—random serendipities that we could never predict in foresight but can savor in hindsight. From sports to relationships to our very existence, chance rules.

 

Sports. I defy you to watch this 7-second basketball clip (of a “double doinked” basketball fan) and not smile (or cringe). Freakish events are commonplace in baseball and basketball—as in astonishing hot and cold hitting and shooting streaks. Even when such streaks approximate mere random sequences, they hardly seem random to fans. That’s because random data are streakier than folks assume. (Coin tosses, too, have more runs of heads and of tails than people expect.) And thus is born the sporting world’s preeminent myth—the “hot hand” (see here and here).

 

Chance encounters. Albert Bandura has documented the lasting significance of chance events that deflect our life course into an unanticipated relationship or career. He recalls the book editor who came to one of his lectures on the “Psychology of Chance Encounters and Life Paths”—and ended up marrying the woman he chanced to sit beside.

 

In 1978, I was invited to a five-day conference in Germany, where I came to know a more senior American colleague who chanced to have an adjacent assigned seat. Six months later, when he was invited to become a social psychology textbook author, he referred an acquisitions editor to me, which led to my writing of textbooks and eventually these TalkPsych.com essays. So, thanks to this happenstance seating assignment (and to the kindness of my distinguished colleague), I gained a meaning-filled new vocation . . . and now you are reading this.

 

Recently I was stranded on a rainy Cambridge, Massachusetts, sidewalk, waiting for a lost Lyft driver. That mix-up led to my sharing a ride with University of California at Santa Barbara professor Ann Taves. Making small talk, I asked her about the California fires, noting that I have a friend whose department at Westmont College (in Santa Barbara) was burned in wildfires some years ago.

 

“Who’s your friend?” she asked.

 

“Ray Paloutzian,” I said.

 

Her reply: “I'm married to him!”

 

But then it got weirder. She said she’d heard that I had a Seattle connection. I told her about family there and mentioned we now own a home in the area.

 

“Where is that?” she asked. When I said Bainbridge Island, she looked a little stunned and said, “Where on Bainbridge?”

 

I explained that it was on a beach called “Yeomalt,” one point north of where the ferry docks.

 

Her mouth dropped open. “You're that David Myers?!” 

 

Wonder of wonders, her uncle was also named David Myers, and she spent time over many summers with Uncle David in our little neighborhood—meaning we surely had crossed paths multiple times. She knew all about the other Yeomalt Myers . . . and her uncle’s name doppelganger.

 

I recalled for her the many times that her uncle and I would row past each other while salmon fishing in the early morning . . . with Dave Myers exchanging a friendly wave with Dave Myers. (That always did feel slightly weird.)

 

The point is not that just the world is weird, but that with so many things happening, some weirdness in our lives is to be expected, and enjoyed, be it double doinks or chance encounters that reveal the unlikeliest of connections. Some happenings are destined not to be explained, but to be savored.

 

Our improbable lives. But surely the unlikeliest aspect of our lives is our very existence. As I explain in Psychology, 12th edition (with Nathan DeWall), conception was “your most fortunate of moments. Among 250 million sperm, the one needed to make you, in combination with that one particular egg, won the race. And so it was for innumerable generations before us. If any one of our ancestors had been conceived with a different sperm or egg, or died before conceiving, or not chanced to meet their partner or . . . The mind boggles at the improbable, unbroken chain of events that produced us.”

 

From womb to tomb, chance matters. And whether you call it chance or providence, your life’s greatest blessing is surely that, against near-infinite odds, you exist.

 

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

Adjunct faculty, unfortunately, often don’t have the kind of support full-time faculty do. As full-time faculty, many of us could do a better job supporting both our new and our long-standing adjuncts.

 

The Adjunct Faculty Resource Guide from the American Psychological Association can help. This 19-page document was originally produced by the Psychology Teachers at Community Colleges (PT@CC) committee and revised in 2017 by the Committee for Associate and Baccalaureate Education (CABE).

 

If you are an adjunct or are thinking about taking up teaching as a part-time endeavor, read this guide.

 

If you are full-time faculty who are hiring or supervising adjuncts, read this guide so you know what you should be telling your new adjuncts. Also, give this guide to your new adjuncts.

 

The guide is divided into three categories.

 

“Getting started: Learning institutional culture”

The process for getting hired varies. Class attendance policies, class cancellation policies, and grading policies vary widely from institution to institution. Know what you need to know to keep student records confidential and where students can get the institutional support they need – and where you can get the institutional support you need.

 

“Getting organized: Teaching psychology courses”

Create, manage, and assess your course. Write a syllabus that explains all of that to your students. Know how institutional areas, like the library, testing center, and tech support, can help you and your students.

 

“Getting connected: Building your psychology network”

Your departmental colleagues and the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (including its 8,000-member Facebook group) will be invaluable. Join us. If attending national psychology conferences are out of your price range, consider going to a regional conference. All of them include programming on the teaching of psychology. There are a lot of local or state teaching of psychology conferences as well. Check with your department for a list of such conferences in your area.

 

At the end of the guide are checklists for new adjuncts teaching face-to-face courses and new adjuncts teaching online courses. Print them out, and check the boxes as you prepare for your first course. As you have questions, ask.

Help shape the future of the intro psych course! The APA is looking for instructors to provide feedback to their APA Introductory Psychology Initiative Census (APA IPIC). Take a look at ow.ly/lZGu30nYCVS   

What are today’s U.S. teens feeling and doing? And how do they differ from the teens of a decade ago?

 

A new Pew Research Center survey of nearly a thousand 13- to 17-year-olds offers both troubling and encouraging insights (here and here).

 

The Grim News

 

Screen time vs. face-to-face time. Today’s teens spend about half their nearly six daily leisure hours looking at screens—gaming, web-surfing, socializing, or watching shows. Such activity displaces leisure time spent with others, which now averages only an hour and 13 minutes daily (16 minutes less than a decade ago).

 

Increased depression, self-harm, and suicide. My Social Psychology co-author, Jean Twenge, reports that teen loneliness, depression, and suicide have risen in concert with smart phones and social media use. She notes,

Teens who visit social-networking sites every day but see their friends in person less frequently are the most likely to agree with the statements “A lot of times I feel lonely,” “I often feel left out of things,” and “I often wish I had more good friends.”

Indeed, reports Pew, 3 in 10 teens says they feel tense or nervous every or almost every day, and 7 in 10 see anxiety and depression as major problems among their peers. Other studies confirm that teen happiness and self-esteem have declined, while teen depression, self-harm, and suicide have risen.

 

The Good News

 

Sleeping more. The teens’ time diaries found them sleeping just over 9 hours per night (and 11 hours on weekends). Although other studies have found teens more sleep-deprived, these teens reported sleeping 22 minutes more per night than their decade-ago counterparts.

 

Doing more homework. Teens also are spending more time—16 minutes more per day—on homework, which now averages an hour a day. The increased sleep and homework time is enabled partly by 26 fewer minutes per day in paid employment—fewer teenagers today have jobs.

 

Minimal pressure for self-destructive behaviors. Relatively few teens feel personally pressured to be sexually active (8 percent), to drink alcohol (6 percent), or to use drugs (4 percent)—far fewer than the 61 percent feeling pressure to get good grades.

 

The Gendered News

 

Time use. Do you find it surprising (or not) that girls, compared with boys,

  • average 58 fewer daily minutes of screen time,
  • spend 21 minutes more on homework,
  • average 23 minutes more on grooming and appearance, and
  • spend 14 minutes more on helping around the house?

 

Emotions. Girls (36 percent) are also more likely than boys (23 percent) to report feeling anxious or depressed every or almost every day. But they are more likely each day to feel excited about something studied in school (33 vs. 21 percent). And they are more likely to say they never get in trouble at school (48 vs. 33 percent).

 

Aspirations. Girls are more likely than boys (68 vs. 51 percent) to aspire to attending a four-year college. And they are less materialistic than boys—with 41 percent of girls and 61 percent of boys reporting that it will be very important to have a lot of money when they grow up.

  

To sum up, (1) aspects of teen time use and emotions have changed, sometimes significantly. (2) Gender differences persist, though the differences are not static. (3) In this modern media age, adolescence—the years that teens spend morphing from child to adult—come with new temptations, which increase some dangers and decrease others.

 

What endures is teens’ need to navigate turbulent waters en route to independence and identity, while sustaining the social connections that will support their flourishing.

 

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