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Cognitive dissonance theory—one of social psychology’s gifts to human self-understanding—offers several intriguing predictions, including this: When we act in ways inconsistent with our attitudes or beliefs, we often resolve that dissonance by changing our thinking. Attitudes follow behavior.

 

That simple principle explains why smokers often dismiss health warnings, why racial attitudes improved following school desegregation and civil rights laws, and why we tend to dislike those whom we’ve harmed and to love those to whom we have been kind. Although we sometimes do persuade ourselves to act, we also can act ourselves into new ways of thinking. Our deeds forge our understandings.

 

The principle reaches into our political attitudes. Consider how U.S. attitudes followed U.S. behavior as events unfolded during the 2003 war with Iraq, which was premised primarily on the need to rid Iraq of its Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). Four in five Americans told Gallup they believed WMDs would be found, leading 4 in 5 also to support the war. Was the war justified even if Iraq did not have WMDs? Only 38 percent of Americans believed it would be; if there were no WMDs, there should be no war.

 

When no such weapons were found—and the war’s human, financial, and terrorism-enhancing costs became known—how did Americans resolve their dissonance? They changed their primary rationale for the war from eliminating WMDs to ridding the world of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Thus, three months after the war’s launch, the 38 percent who supported the war if there were no WMDs now had mushroomed to 58 percent. Despite the war’s discounted initial rationale, support for a war that didn’t eliminate WMDs had increased.

 

Will such self-persuasion ride again in the 2020 American conflict with Iran? Prior to the January 3, 2020, killing of Major General Qasem Soleimani, Americans overwhelmingly disapproved of war with Iran:

  • In June 2019, about 4 in 5 Americans (78 percent) approved of President Trump’s calling off a retaliatory strike after Iran downed a U.S. drone. Few believed that retaliation against Iran was a good idea.
  • In July 2019, only 18 percent told Gallup they favored “military action against Iran.”
  • In September 2019, only 21 percent responding to a University of Maryland survey said that, to achieve its goal with Iran, “the U.S. should be prepared to go to war.”

I wrote the above words on January 8, 2020, and now await follow-up surveys—with the expectation that cognitive dissonance will ride again, as some Americans wrestle with the dissonance between their support for the president and their prior opposition to such military action—a tension that can be resolved by now thinking the retaliatory strike was warranted.

 

* * * *

P.S. Initial post-strike surveys:

  • A January 4-5, 2020, POLITICO/Morning Consult survey reported that “47% of voters approve of President Donald Trump's decision to kill top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani while 40% disapprove.”
  • A January 6–7, 2020, post-assassination Reuters/Ipsos survey found that “a growing minority of Americans say they are now in favor of a ‘preemptive attack’ on Iran’s military.’ The poll found that 27 percent said ‘the United States should strike first.’”
  • A January 7–8, 2020. USA Today/Reuters survey found Americans concerned about increased threats to U.S. safety, yet 42 percent supported the Soleimani assassination—far more than the 1 in 5 who favored such action in the summer of 2019.

 

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

After covering operant conditioning, ask your students to consider how government agencies could encourage more public transit use by using reinforcement. Give students a couple minutes to think about this on their own, then ask students to share their ideas in small groups. Next, ask each group to develop a plan where operant conditioning could be used to encourage the use of public transit.

 

What is the operant (the behavior being targeted)?

 

What will be used as the reinforcement? Will it be positive reinforcement or negative reinforcement?

 

What schedule of reinforcement would you recommend? Variable ratio, variable interval, fixed ratio, or fixed interval?

 

Once the group discussion has died down, ask each group to share their plan, ensuring that they have correctly identified the type and schedule of reinforcement.

 

Wrap up the discussion by sharing that Miami has implemented such a program. Using an app called Velocia, Miami residents can track how they get around: walking, biking, carpooling, riding the bus/train (“Miami launches app that rewards citizens for ditching their cars at home,” 2019). The more you don’t drive solo, the more “Velos” points you earn. Each method is worth a different number of Velos points. For example, walking 5 miles in a week earns you 300 Velos. Those points can be redeemed for public transportation discounts. For example, for 450 Velos you can rent a CitiBike for 30 minutes.

 

Even if you are not in Miami, you can download the Velocia app from Google Play or the App Store to see how it works.

 

An article on the Mass Transit Magazine website provides a nice summary of some transit rewards programs that have been implemented around the world (Comfort, 2019).

 

 

References

 

Comfort, P. (2019). Loyalty programs and gamification in public transit. Retrieved January 8, 2020, from http://masstransitmag.com/technology/passenger-info/article/13000010/loyalty-programs-and-gamification-in-public-transit

 

Miami launches app that rewards citizens for ditching their cars at home. (2019). Retrieved January 8, 2020, from https://www.optimistdaily.com/2019/12/miami-launches-app-that-rewards-citizens-for-ditching-their-cars-at-home

Jenel Cavazos

Fake News!

Posted by Jenel Cavazos Jan 7, 2020

Fake news is everywhere - are you good at telling what's real and what's not? Research shows you're probably not as good at it as you think you are. Students Are Really, Really Bad at Spotting Fake News, Misleading Websites - Teaching Now - Education Week Teacher http://ow.ly/5ewd30q7y76 psychstudentrss

Jenel Cavazos

How and Why To Forgive

Posted by Jenel Cavazos Jan 2, 2020

Forgiveness is GOOD for you, so why not try to be more forgiving in the new year? How To Forgive Someone Who Has Hurt You - and Why You Should https://www.popsci.com/story/health/forgive-psychology-trauma/?utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter psychstudentrss

Getting away from research done on "traditional" populations can show us a lot about what influences us. Personality is not only about who but also where you are | Aeon Ideas http://ow.ly/iCJb30q5Zca psychstudentrss

How much genetic testing should be required for newborns? What kinds of genetic tests would you want your baby to have? 23 and Baby: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/23-and-baby/ psychstudentrss

It’s the new year transition, the line between our last year’s self and our hoped-for healthier, happier, and more productive 2020 self. To become that new self, we know what to do. We know that a full night’s sleep boosts our alertness, energy, and mood. We know that exercise lessens depression and anxiety, sculpts our bodies, and strengthens our hearts and minds. We know that what we put into our bodies—junk food or balanced nutrition, addictive substances or clean air—affects our health and longevity.

 

Alas, as T. S. Eliot foresaw, “Between the idea and the reality . . . Falls the Shadow.” So how, this year, can we move from knowing the needed behaviors to doing them?

 

Rocky89/iStock/Getty Images

 

First, do make that New Year’s resolution. Research by Gary Latham, Edwin Locke, and others confirms that challenging goals motivate achievement. Specific, measurable, realistic goals—such as “finish the business plan by the month’s end”—direct attention, promote effort, motivate persistence, and stimulate creativity.

 

Second, announce the goal to friends or family. We’re more likely to follow through after making a public commitment.

 

Third, develop an implementation plan—an action strategy that specifies when, where, and how you will march toward achieving your goal. Research shows that people who flesh out goals with detailed plans become more focused in their work, and more likely to complete it on time.

 

Through the ups and downs of goal-striving, we best sustain our motivation when we focus on immediate subgoals. Better to have our nose to the grindstone than our eye on the ultimate prize. Better to attend to daily study than the course grade. Better to center on small steps—the day’s running target—than to fantasize the marathon.

 

Fourth, monitor and record progress, perhaps aided by a tracker such as a Fitbit. It’s all the better when that progress is displayed publicly rather than kept secret.

 

Fifth, create a supportive environment. When trying to eat healthy, keep junk food out of the cupboards. Use small plates and bowls. When focusing on a project, hole up in the library. When sleeping, stash the smartphone. Choose the right friends. Such “situational self-control strategies” prevent tempting impulses, Angela Duckworth and her colleagues have found.

 

Sixth, transform the hard-to-do behavior into a must-do habit. Habits form when we repeat behaviors in a given context—sleeping in the same comfy position, walking the same route to work, eating the same breakfast oatmeal. As our behavior becomes linked with the context, our next experience of that context evokes our habitual response. Studies find that when our willpower is depleted, as when we’re mentally fatigued, we fall back on our habits—good or bad. To increase our self-control, to connect our resolutions with positive outcomes, the key is forming “beneficial habits.”

 

“If you would make anything a habit, do it,” said the stoic philosopher Epictetus. But how long does it take to form a beneficial habit? A University College London research team led by Phillippa Lally asked 96 university students to choose some healthy behavior, such as eating fruit with lunch or running before dinner, and to perform it daily for 84 days. The students also logged whether the behavior felt automatic (something they did without thinking and would find it hard not to do). When did the behaviors turn into habits? On average, after about 66 days.

 

Gwyneth Paltrow recalls that when she first started working with a personal trainer, “finding motivation was hard. She advised me to think of exercise as an automatic routine, no different from brushing your teeth, to avoid getting distracted. Now it is part of my life—I exercise Monday to Friday at 10 a.m. and always stick with it.”

 

Friskie.Cin Then do it every day for two months, or a bit longer for exercise. You likely will find yourself with a new habit, and perhaps a healthier, happier, and more productive life.

 

(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit TalkPsych.com, where this essay originally appeared—here.)

 

How much genetic testing should be required for newborns? What kinds of genetic tests would you want your baby to have? 23 and Baby: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/23-and-baby/ psychstudentrss

Do these new findings challenge the view that men and women are more similar than different? Taking Sex Differences in Personality Seriously https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/beautiful-minds/taking-sex-differences-in-personality-seriously/ psychstudentrss

The title of this article implies a causal link. Is this accurate? Eating A Low Carb Breakfast May Make You A More Tolerant Personpsychstudentrss

If you have watched a 2019 Democratic Party debate, you perhaps have taken note: While Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker glide smoothly through their spoken words, Joe Biden sometimes hesitates, stammers, and stumbles. Is he just less mentally agile than his more lucid counterparts?

 

Perhaps we should cut him some slack, suggests John Hendrickson in an upcoming Atlantic essay. Biden experiences the lingering effects of childhood stuttering that made him a subject of mockery. An empathic Hendrickson, himself a stutterer, illustrates from Biden’s July debate:

 

“My plan makes a limit of co-pay to be One. Thousand. Dollars. Because we—”

He stopped. He pinched his eyes closed. He lifted his hands and thrust them forward, as if trying to pull the missing sound from his mouth. “We f-f-f-f-further support—” He opened his eyes. “The uh-uh-uh-uh—”

 

Hendrickson is not the only one who empathizes. As a childhood stutterer who received speech therapy in my Seattle public elementary school, and for whom such dysfluency has occasionally resurfaced in adulthood, I know the dismay of coming up to a word that gets stuck in the roof of the mouth, to everyone’s embarrassment, especially my own. For me, K has been a difficult consonant, and sometimes there seems no other way to call on “K-k-k-kathy.”

 

But often, those who stutter have learned that they can fake normal fluency by backing up and detouring around the verbal roadblock, rendering the impediment invisible. As with Joe Biden’s debate responses, listeners may notice the pauses and mid-sentence changes of direction. They just don’t attribute the dysfluency to stuttering (which Biden also does not blame).

 

And so it happens with the great invisible disability, hearing loss. “Can everyone hear me?” asks the person on stage. Given the inevitable answer from those hearing the question, the nodding heads lead the speaker to think, “I don’t need a mic.” And most in the audience likewise presume all’s well—oblivious to the unseen exclusion of so many of us (and hence my advocacy for user-friendly hearing accessibility technology in such settings—see here).

 

Like stutterers, those of us with hearing loss also finesse awkward situations. At a noisy party or in a restaurant, we fake hearing. As our conversational partner makes unheard social chatter, we smile and nod—not wanting to be a pain by asking people to repeat and repeat. Sometimes our response is inappropriate—smiling at someone’s sadness, or being unresponsive to a question. But mostly, after straining and failing to carve meaning out of sound, our pretending to hear hides our disability.

 

There’s practical wisdom to socially finessing one’s speech or hearing challenges. But some go further to hide their hearing disability. They respond to ads for “invisible hearing aids” that can keep people from knowing that—shame, shame—you have hearing loss. (Shame instead on the hearing professionals whose ads imply that hearing loss is something to be deeply ashamed of, and to hide.) Actually, the more public I am about my hearing loss, the more comfortable I become at seeking people’s help in coping with it—by finding quieter tables in quieter restaurants, facing the wall, sitting with my good ear toward the person, having them speak into that ear, and using a wireless mic that transmits to my hearing aids.

 

We can extend the list of hidden disabilities to include some forms of vision loss, brain injury, chronic fatigue, pain, phobias, dyslexia, depression, dementia, and a host of others. Given the invisibility of such disabilities, we often don’t see the challenges that lie behind everything from a child’s misspellings to a Joe Biden stammer. If only we knew—and if only those of us with the invisible challenges would let others know—we all could be less judgmental, more understanding, and more genuinely helpful.

 

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

Bill Gates wants people he hires to read two of his favorite books: The Better Angels of Our Nature, by psychologist Steven Pinker, and Factfulness by the late Hans Rosling.

 

I, too, have loved these books, which form a complementary pair. Pinker argues—our current malaise notwithstanding—that the world is getting better. World hunger is abating, child labor is disappearing. Murder and wars are less common. Literacy is increasing. Given a choice between living a half-century or century ago or today, any sane person would choose today.

 

Rosling mined world data to document these trends and many more. And now the Rosling family’s Swedish foundation is offering stunning dynamic graphic displays of world data.

 

For example, see here and click on the animation for a jaw-dropping depiction of the life-expectancy increase (in but an eye-blink of our total human history).

 

Today’s average human lives much longer, thanks partly to the dramatic decline in child mortality from a time when nearly half of children died by age 5 (and when there was biological wisdom to having more than two children).

 

Other show-the-class goodies include:

 

These facts should whet your informational appetite. For more, explore www.gapminder.com/data. “Gapminder makes global data easy to use and understand.”

 

And then explore www.OurWorldInData.org, founded by Max Roser. This is an Oxford-based source of world data on all sorts of topics. “Our World in Data is about research and data to make progress against the world’s largest problems.” An example, presenting World Bank/United Nations data on the “missing women” phenomenon in certain countries since the advent of prenatal sex determination:

 

 

On the commercial side, www.statista.com has a wealth of information—such as, from my recent searching, data on anti-Semitic crime trends, social media use, and dating app usage.

 

For us data geeks, so many numbers, so little time.

 

Not everything is “better angels” rosy. In addition to sex-selective abortions, we are menaced by climate change, nationalism, hate speech, and rampant misinformation. Even so, the Pinker/Rosling message—that in many important ways life is getting better—is further typified by these very websites, which provide easy access to incredible amounts of information that our ancestors could never know.

 

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

 

“Death is reversible.” So began NYU medical center’s director of Critical Care and Resuscitation Research Science, Sam Parnia, at a recent research consultation on people’s death experiences during and after cardiac resuscitation.

 

Biologically speaking, he explained, death and cardiac arrest are synonymous. When the heart stops, a person will stop breathing and, within 2 to 20 seconds, the brain will stop functioning. These are the criteria for declaring someone dead. When there’s no heartbeat, no breathing, and no discernible brain activity, the attending physician records the time of death.

 

Yet recent advances in science reveal that it may take many hours for individual brain cells to die. In a 2019 Nature report, slaughtered pigs’ brains, given a substitute blood infusion 4 hours after death, had brain function gradually restored over a 6-10 hour period. For many years now, brain cells from human cadaver biopsies have been used to grow brain cells up to 20 hours after death, explained Parnia. His underappreciated conclusion: “Brain cells die very, very slowly,” especially for those whose brains have been chilled, either medically or by drowning in cold water.

 

But what is death? A Newsweek cover showing a resuscitated heart attack victim proclaimed, “This man was dead. He isn’t any more.” Parnia thinks Newsweek got it right. The man didn’t have a “near death experience” (NDE). He had a death experience (DE).

 

Ah, but Merriam-Webster defines death as “a permanent cessation of all vital functions.” So, I asked Parnia, has a resuscitated person actually died? Yes, replied Parnia. Imagine two sisters simultaneously undergoing cardiac arrest, one while hiking in the Sahara Desert, the other in a hospital ER, where she was resuscitated. Because the second could be resuscitated, would we assume that the first, in the same minutes following the cessation of heart and brain function, was not dead?

 

Of 2.8 million CDC-reported deaths in the United States annually, Parnia cites estimates of possibly 1.1 million attempted U.S. cardiac resuscitations a year. How many benefit from such attempts? And of those who survive, how many have some memory of their death experiences (cognitive activity during cardiac arrest)?

 

For answers, Parnia offers his multi-site study of 2060 people who suffered cardiac arrests. In that group, 1730 (84 percent) died and 330 survived. Among the survivors, 60 percent later reported no recall of their death experience. The remaining 40 percent had some recollection, including 10 percent who had a meaningful “transformative” recall. If these estimates are roughly accurate, then some 18,000 Americans a year recall a death experience.

 

NDEs (or DEs) are reportedly recalled as a peaceful and pleasant sense of being pulled toward a light, often accompanied by an out-of-body experience with a time-compressed life review. After returning to life, patients report a diminished fear of death, a kinder spirit, and more benevolent values—a “transformational” experience that Parnia is planning to study with the support of 17 major university hospitals. In this study, cardiac-arrest survivors who do and don’t recall cognitive experiences will complete positive psychology measures of human flourishing.

 

One wonders (and Parnia does, too), when did the recalled death experiences occur? During the cardiac-arrest period of brain inactivity? During the moments before and at cardiac arrest? When the resuscitated patient was gradually re-emerging from a coma? Or even as a later constructed false memory?

 

Answers may come from a future Parnia study, focusing on aortic repair patients, some of whom experience a controlled condition that biologically approximates death, with no heartbeat and flat-lined brain activity. This version of aortic repair surgery puts a person under anesthesia, cools the body to 70 degrees, stops the heart, and drains the blood, creating a death-like state, during which the cardiac surgeon has 40 minutes to repair the aorta before warming the body and restarting the heart. Functionally, for that 40 or so minutes, the patient is dead . . . but then lives again. So, will some of these people whose brains have stopped functioning experience DEs? One study suggests that at least a few aortic repair patients, despite also being under anesthesia, do report a cognitive experience during their cardiac arrest.

 

Parnia hopes to take this research a step further, by exposing these “deep hypothermia” patients to stimuli during their clinical death. Afterwards he will ascertain whether any of them can report accurately on events occurring while they lacked a functioning brain. (Such has been claimed by people having transformative DEs.)

 

Given that a positive result would be truly mind blowing—it would challenge our understanding of the embodied person and the mind-brain connection—my colleagues and I encouraged Parnia to

  •      preregister his hypotheses and methods with the Open Science Framework.
  •      conduct the experiment as an “adversarial collaboration” with a neuroscientist who would expect a null result.
  •      have credible, independent researchers gather the data, as happens with clinical safety trials.

 

If this experiment happens, what do you predict: Will there be someone (anyone) who will accurately report on events occurring while their brain is dormant?

 

Sam Parnia thinks yes. I think not.

 

Parnia is persuaded by his accumulation of credible-seeming accounts of resuscitated patients recalling actual happenings during their brain-inactive time. He cites the case of one young Britisher who, after all efforts to restart his heart had failed and his body turned blue, was declared dead. When the attending physician later returned to the room, he noticed that the patient’s normal color was returning and discovered that his heart had somehow restarted. The next week, reported Parnia, the patient astoundingly recounted events from his death period. As Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, reflected “It wasn’t what I expected. But facts are facts, and if one is proved to be wrong, one must just be humble about it and start again.”

 

My skepticism arises from three lines of research: the failure of parapsychology experiments to confirm out-of-body travel with remote viewing, the mountain of cognitive neuroscience evidence linking brain and mind, and scientific observations showing that brain oxygen deprivation and hallucinogenic drugs can cause similar mystical experiences (complete with the tunnel, beam of light, and life review).

 

Nevertheless, Parnia and I agree with Miss Marple: Sometimes reality surprises us (as mind-boggling DE reports have surprised him). So stay tuned. When the data speak, we will both listen.

 

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

 

P.S. For those wanting more information: Parnia and other death researchers will present at a November 18th New York Academy of Sciences symposium on “What Happens When We Die?” (see here and here)--with a live stream link to come.

 

For those with religious interests: My colleagues, British cognitive neuroscientist Malcolm Jeeves and American developmental psychologist Thomas Ludwig, reflect on the brain-mind relationship in their recent book, Psychological Science and Christian Faith. If you think that biblical religion assumes a death-denying dualism (thanks to Plato’s immortal soul) prepare to be surprised.

A tweet from my colleague Jean Twenge—a world-class expert at tracking youth well-being in massive data sets—alerted me to the recently released 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Among its dozens of results, which you can view here, several struck me as worthy of note by high school and college teachers, administrators, and counselors. 

First some good news: From 2002 to 2018, cigarette smoking plummeted and is now but 2.7 percent of U.S. 12- to 17-year-olds. Reaching back to 1976, high school senior smoking has plunged even more, from 28.8 percent to 3.6 percent. Although smoking has become gauche, seniors’ e-cigarette use has soared—from 1.5 percent in 2010 to 26.7 percent in 2018. (Will widely publicized news of vaping-related lung illnesses and deaths reverse this trend?)

 

The not-so-good news: From 2011 to 2018, major depressive episodes increased from 11 to 14 percent among 12- to 17-year-olds, and, similarly, from 8 to 14 percent among 18- to 25-year-olds.

 

 

 

Not surprisingly, youth and young adults’ increased rate of depression has been accompanied by an increase in suicidal thoughts (shown below), suicide attempts, and actual suicides (see new CDC data here).

 

 

As I explained in a previous TalkPsych.com essay, the increase in teens’ (especially teen girls’) vulnerability to depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide has occurred in other Western countries as well, and it corresponds neatly with the spread of smart phones and social media. That fact of life has stimulated new research that 

  • correlates teens’ social media use with their mental health.
  • follows teens longitudinally (through time) to see if their social media use predicts their future mental health.
  • experiments by asking if volunteers randomly assigned to a restrained social media diet become, compared with a control group, less depressed and lonely. 

 

Stay tuned. This scientific story is still being written, amid some conflicting results. As Twenge summarizes in a concise and readable new essay, up to two hours of daily screen time predicts no lessening of teen well-being. But as daily screen time increases to six hours—with associated diminishing of face-to-face relationships, sleep, exercise, reading, and time outdoors—the risk of depression and anxiety rise. 

 

The alarming rise in youth and young adult depression, especially over such a thin slice of history, compels our attention. Is screen time the major culprit (both for its drain on other healthy activities and for the upward social comparisons of one’s own mundane life with the lives of cooler-seeming others)? If not, what other social forces are at work? And what can be done to protect and improve youth and young adult well-being?

 

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

Photo courtesy Virginia Welle

 

At a recent Teaching of Psychology in Secondary Schools workshop hosted by Oregon State University, I celebrated and illustrated three sets of big ideas from psychological science. Without further explanation, here is a quick synopsis.

 

Questions: Which of these would not be on your corresponding lists? And which would you add?

 

Twelve unsurprising but important findings (significant facts of life for our students to understand):

  • There is continuity to our traits, temperament, and intelligence.
    • With age, emotional stability and conscientiousness increase.
    • Yet individual differences (extraversion and IQ) persist.
  • Specific cognitive abilities are distinct yet correlated (g, general intelligence).
  • Human traits (intelligence, personality, sexual orientation, psychiatric disorders, autism spectrum) are influenced by “many genes having small effects”
  • A pessimistic explanatory style increases depression risk.
  • To a striking extent, perceptual set guides what we see.
  • Rewards shape behavior.
  • We prioritize basic needs.
  • Cultures differ in  
    • how we dress, eat, and speak.
    • values.
  • Conformity and social contagion influence our behavior.
  • Group polarization amplifies our differences.
  • Ingroup bias (us > them) is powerful and perilous.
  • Nevertheless, worldwide, we are all kin beneath the skin (we share a human nature).

 

Eleven surprising findings that may challenge our beliefs and assumptions:

  • Behavior genetics studies with twins and adoptees reveal a stunning fact: Within the normal range of environments, the “shared environment” effect on personality and intelligence (including parental nurture shared by siblings) is ~nil. As Robert Plomin says (2019), “We would essentially be the same person if we had been adopted at birth and raised in a different family.”
    • Caveats:
      • Parental extremes (neglect/abuse) matter.
      • Parents influence values/beliefs (politics, religion, etc.).
      • Parents help provide peer context (neighborhood, schools).
      • Stable co-parenting correlates with children’s flourishing.
  • Marriage (enduring partnership) matters . . . more than high school seniors assume . . . and predicts greater health, longevity, happiness, income, parental stability, and children’s flourishing. Yet most single adults and their children flourish.
  • Sexual orientation is a natural disposition (parental influence appears nil), not a moral choice.
  • Many gay men’s and women’s traits appear intermediate to those of straight women and men (for example, spatial ability).
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may not exist (judging from new CDC data and people’s Google searches for help, by month).
  • Learning styles—assuming that teaching should align with students’ varying ways of thinking and learning—have been discounted.
  • We too often fear the wrong things (air crashes, terrorism, immigrants, school shootings).
  • Brief “wise interventions” with at-risk youth sometimes succeed where big interventions have failed.
  • Random data (as in coin tosses and sports) are streakier than expected.
  • Reality is often not as we perceive it.
  • Repression rarely occurs.

 

Some surprising findings reveal things unimagined:

  • Astonishing insights—great lessons of psychological science—that are now accepted wisdom include
    • split-brain experiments: the differing functions of our two hemispheres.
    • sleep experiments: sleep stages and REM-related dreaming.
    • misinformation effect experiments: the malleability of memory.
  • We’ve been surprised to learn
    • what works as therapy (ECT, light therapy).
    • what doesn’t (Critical Incident Debriefing for trauma victims, D.A.R.E. drug abuse prevention, sexual reorientation therapies, permanent weight-loss programs).
  • We’ve been astounded at our dual-processing powers—our two-track (controlled vs. automatic) mind, as evident in phenomena such as
    • blindsight.
    • implicit memory.
    • implicit bias.
    • thinking without thinking (not-thinking => creativity).
  • We’ve been amazed at the robustness of
    • the testing effect (we retain information better after self-testing/rehearsing it)  
    • the Dunning-Krueger effect (ignorance of one’s own incompetence).   

 

The bottom line: Psychological science works! It affirms important, if unsurprising, truths. And it sometimes surprises us with findings that challenge our assumptions, and with discoveries that astonish us.

 

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