Monday, June 29, 2009

Psych in the news

TV ALERT! Tonight's NOVA on PBS features one of my all-time heroes Oliver Sacks taking a look at the effects of music on the mind, and in one case he focuses on a man with Tourette's syndrome who uses drumming to help.

Also, tonight's NOVA scienceNOW episode (hosted by physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson) looks at Auto-Tune, the pervasive software that modulates someone's voice to get the perfect pitch. (Available online at the link above after tonight's broadcast.)

Cold weather makes you sick, sugar makes kids hyper and nine other health myths that may surprise you.

Teens who think they'll die young live fast. Only 4% won't live to be 35 but 15% think they won't, and they're the ones more likely to be "taking drugs, attempting suicide or having unprotected sex."

How the food makers captured our brains. In “The End of Overeating,” Dr. Kessler finds some similarities in the food industry [to the cigarette industry] which has combined and created foods in a way that taps into our brain circuitry and stimulates our desire for more.

Most people, when asked, claim they would rather lose their hearing than their sight. Yet in ways that researchers are just beginning to appreciate, we humans are beholden to our ears.

The math gender gap explained. “It’s hard to see that as anything but the result of the starkly different social and other environmental forces in each country, not intrinsic biology.”

How we perceive male and female emotions. "Yet the empirical evidence for the belief that women are more emotional is skimpy. When people are asked which sex expresses emotions more, the majority choose women. But when the movement of facial muscles is measured by an electromyograph, some studies find no sex difference."

The allure of evolutionary psychology is that it organizes all behavior into one eternal theory, impervious to the serendipity of time and place. But there’s no escaping context. That’s worth remembering next time somebody tells you we are hardwired to do this or that.

A little bit overweight is better? The report, published online last week in the journal Obesity, found that overall, people who were overweight but not obese — defined as a body mass index of 25 to 29.9 — were actually less likely to die than people of normal weight, defined as a B.M.I. of 18.5 to 24.9.

Marriage -- let's call the whole thing off? So says Sandra Tsing Loh. Jonah Lehrer calls her out on the evidence she used. And two reporters in the NYTimes say, hey, marriage is doing just fine, thank you very much.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Psych in the news

Phil Zimbardo does a TED talk about time. As ScienceBlog notes: "In this video, [he] says happiness and success are rooted in a trait most of us disregard: the way we orient toward the past, present and future. He suggests we calibrate our outlook on time as a first step to improving our lives."

Word Spy's word of the day: phantom fat. "People who were formerly overweight often still carry that internal image, perception, with them," says Elayne Daniels, a psychologist in Canton, Mass., who specializes in body-image issues. "They literally feel as if they're in a large body still."

If white coats are so bad (because of the spread of infection) why do doctors still wear them? Because a white lab coat says "I am a scientific healer."

Good news skinny dudes! "Beefcakes may be able to attract women by rippling their muscles, but the downside of all that brawn is a poor immune system and an increased appetite, a new study finds." (via Freakonomics)

How the outcomes in Iran's election returns reveal possible fraud: humans are bad at making up random numbers. (via Freakonomics)

"It’s the latest in a series of studies that show that sound from both human ears is processed differently within the brain. Researchers have noted that humans tend to have a preference for listening to verbal input with their right ears."

"Once people own something - they have an established or imagined "property right" to the object - that something dramatically increases in subjective value." How does this endowment effect work?

Numerous studies have now demonstrated that REM sleep is an essential part of the learning process. Before you can know something, you have to dream about it.

And finally, which dime is the right one, and why are we so bad at noticing changes to familiar things?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Randomness AKA Stochasticity

Radiolab's most recent podcast/radio show has some great ideas for psychology teachers. First, those of us who teach statistics often need something to illustrate randomness. There is a brief interview with a Berkeley stats prof and a demo she uses. There is also an explanation of how the brain/people choose to include or exclude information when telling/sharing stories. The role of personal schemas plays heavily.

When I was driving to the coast today, I listened to the episode and reacted with great emotion--mainly laughing out loud and with visible disbelief at the stories. It was an amazing show and had wonderful stories. Even if you do not listen to the entire hour, do take time to listen to the first 20 minutes. You will not regret it. Laura Buxton didn't.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Psych in the news

Among Many Peoples, Little Genomic Variety. "But as analyses of genomes from dozens of distinct populations have rolled in -- French, Bantu, Palestinian, Yakut, Japanese -- that's not what scientists have found. Dramatic genome variation among populations turns out to be extremely rare."

Positive Is Negative. "Despite what all those self-help books say, repeating positive statements apparently does not help people with low self-esteem feel better about themselves. In fact, it tends to make them feel worse, according to new research."

In New York, Number of Killings Rises With Heat. Seven homicides in New York City. None connected in any way but this: They happened during the summer months, when the temperatures rise, people hit the streets, and New York becomes a more lethal place.

Get a Life, Holden Caulfield. "Some critics say that if Holden is less popular these days, the fault lies with our own impatience with the idea of a lifelong quest for identity and meaning that Holden represents ... Ms. Feinberg recalled one 15-year-old boy from Long Island who told her: “Oh, we all hated Holden in my class. We just wanted to tell him, ‘Shut up and take your Prozac.’”

The return of trepanation? Trepanation, the ancient practice of drilling a hole in your skull to relieve pressure on the brain, is now being studied as a possible treatment for dementia.

Keeping an Open Mind to Animal Homosexuality. 'Sure, it’s widely recognized that the animal kingdom is full of male-on-male and female-on-female action, from fruit flies on up to bottlenose dolphins and, of course, Homo sapiens. But though the origins and evolutionary consequences of homosexuality are varied, biologists tend to oversimplify such behavior.

Do you have what it takes to be a NASA pillownaut? Great story (with pictures like the one at the top) of how research is done. Imagine telling your kids that your role in helping space research was spent lying in bed!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

AP Review Book Content Online--Google Books

I am totally stealing this idea from the US Government Teachers Blog--they did a version of this on a recent blog. I changed the search terms and found all the AP Psych Review Books online via Google Books. While the content is limited by the copyright holder, a large part of the review books are made available through this service. Click here to access the AP Psych content.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Psych in the news

"Patients often have difficulty getting the help they need — partly because therapists tend to regard borderline patients as manipulative and demanding of an inordinate amount of time and attention." A nice column in the NYT by Jane Brody on borderline personality disorder. Questions can be left for a BPD expert here and she'll provide answers to some of them next week.

"I am not trying to say cats are stupid, just they are different."
A British researcher finds cats none too bright in her little tests. (No word as to whether she was clawed to death shortly after publishing her findings.)

Even the world’s best pros are so consumed with avoiding bogeys that they make putts for birdie discernibly less often than identical-length putts for par, according to research by two Wharton School professors.

Is alcohol really good for you? A nice causation v. correlation piece.

One of the most celebrated findings in modern psychiatry — that a single gene helps determine one’s risk of depression in response to a divorce, a lost job or another serious reversal — has not held up to scientific scrutiny, researchers reported Tuesday.

Really, I swear this one will work! The next big weight-loss craze involves sprinkling stuff on your food to enhance the smell and taste ... so you eat less.

But now researchers are beginning to unearth clues as to how savants' formidable brains work, and that in turn is changing our view of what it means to be a savant. Also, see this related link of art done by savants (like the one at the top of this post).

How does language shape thinking? Great essay here by a Stanford prof whose research finds evidence for the old (and new again?) Whorf hypothesis.

Finally, I just found this (thanks to the fabulous Mindhacks) and haven't had a chance to check it out -- so please, if you do, leave your thoughts in the comments! -- but here is Weird Al and Al's Brain, a 3-D Journey into the Human Brain. (P.S. I love the t-shirt below if anyone's looking for the perfect birthday present ...)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mental-new show on Fox

I watch quite a bit of television, but I try to find shows that can assist me in illustrating concepts in my psychology classes. Of course, this last spring, "Lie to Me" was my new favorite.

I have a new summer favorite, "Mental" on Fox (Tuesday nights). It is an hour-long drama that deals with the life and in-hospital exploits of an unusual therapist who changes things up and questions the status quo for treatments as the new director in a psychiatric ward (who has a schizophrenic sister). You can watch episodes at:

In the first four episodes, he deals with grief-induced catatonia, schizophrenia, fictitious pregnancy (by proxy), childhood bipolar disorder, along with a variety of treatments to assist patients-while avoiding psychopharmaceuticals. While I agree that this is modeled after House, M.D., I still like it--the main character is engaging and tries to get into the heads of his patients, rather than treating them as a diagnosis and then letting the psych techs deal with them. Very Humanistic in his treatment style. There are episodes available online at the site as well as

No, I am not getting kickbacks from Fox on this one :-D
I just really like the show.

YouTube EDU and iTunes U

Dave Waltman, one of our AP Psych colleagues in Western New York is quite the tech guru. In addition to teaching psych, he is also a techie with his own tech blog called "TechnoCoach."

In March, 2009, he told us of his experience with YouTube EDU at this post.

A few short months later, there are more than 300 entries using the search term "psychology."

In addition to University of California-Berkeley, Yale, Harvard, and other universities have placed lectures and interviews onto both YouTube EDU as well as the regular YouTube site.

iTunes U also offers video and audio options. Just within psychology, there are 90 offerings with multiple resources. Open university offers substantial content. Others offer speakers corners and faculty forums. Some courses even offer transcripts of their content. There appears to be so much content on iTunes U that I could probably spend the next ten years focusing solely on learning from this site/application.

Whether we are viewing for our own learning or finding resources for our students, both these resources are fantastic sources that we did not have even five years ago.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Psych in the news

Starting this week PitN will come out on a regular-ish schedule on Mondays and Thursdays. Like what you read? Post a comment below or send me ( a note! --Steve

"The larger point is that liberals and conservatives often form judgments through flash intuitions that aren’t a result of a deliberative process." -- Great column from Nicholas Kristof that examines various issues such as group polarization, moral values, disgust and more. There are also links to (where one can take online tests in areas such as personality, war and peace, and disgust) and on moral psychology.

“Intelligence and academic achievement are very much under people’s control.” Another fascinating column by Kristof that looks at the work of Richard Nisbett (new book is Intelligence and How to Get It) on how groups such Asian-Americans, Jews and West Indian blacks "help debunk the myth of success as a simple product of intrinsic intellect."

"There is an old saying that two heads are better than one. In a fascinating new article in Psychological Science, Stefan Herzog and Ralph Hertwig turned the old aphorism on its head: One head can be nearly as good as two."(Scientific American)

From BoingBoing: "Stanford's Robert Sapolsky, one of the most interesting anthropologists I've heard lecture, gives us 90 minutes on the evolutionary basis for literal religious belief, "metamagical thinking," schizotypal personality and so on, explaining how evolutionarily, the mild schizophrenic expression we called "schizotypal personality" have enjoyed increased reproductive opportunities."

I used excerpts from the book in class this past semester with great success and now someone has typed in all 50 with brief synopses. Excellent! Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive (from Robert Cialdini et al.)

Utrecht University sociologist Gerald Mollenhorst surveyed 604 people about their friends and again seven years later, and found that only 48 percent of people’s original friends were still part of their network after that time period. (via Freakonomics)

Jonah Lehrer looks at research that shows that the brains of kids with ADHD really are different (in terms of cortical thickness) but that this difference disappears by adolescence. He also makes reference to his New Yorker article from last month on self-control which was terrific.

Finally, Lehrer also discusses the above dancing video (also here if the link ist kaput) in relation to Stanley Milgram's experiment on conformity where he had confederates in New York City stop and look up and then compared the number of people who also stopped and looked. And the video below (also here) is a modern re-creation of that experiment.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Sleep Issues and Resources

The wonderful weekly email called "The Scout Report" from the people at University of Wisconsin. The Internet Scout Report finds and share incredible web resources on a wide variety of topics.

You can visit their site at:

During the week ending on June 12, 2009, they had a section on sleep in the news. I share their discoveries below.

Scientists gather in Seattle to discuss the science of sleep
Turn off the TV; it's time for bed

Obstructive Sleep Apnea Prevalent in Nonobese Patients

American Academy of Sleep Medicine

Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep

10 tips for better sleep

Freud: The Interpretation of Dreams

This week, scientists met at the annual Associated Professional Sleep Societies meeting in Seattle, and they were working on the problem that has bedeviled many college students, long-distance truck drivers, and others for decades: too little sleep. More and more people in the United States are getting inadequate sleep, and there are a number of culprits (including television and the demands of work) to blame. A chronic lack of sleep has some troubling repercussions, including an increased risk of depression, diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease. If that wasn't enough, a lack of sleep can also impair cognitive functioning and the body's metabolic rate. Fortunately, there are some potential solutions, including a "power-down" hour which basically means cutting off email use, cell phones, and other constant companions for at least an hour before retiring to bed for the night. The National Sleep Foundation also recommends that people decrease their caffeine intake and also work to maintain a regular schedule. [KMG]

The first link will lead visitors to an article from Melinda Beck, which appeared in this Tuesday's Wall Street Journal. In the piece, Beck talks about her own experience with a sleep study at Brigham and Women's Hospital. The second link whisks users away to a piece from the LA Times health weblog "Booster Shots" that talks a bit about some other findings from the recent meeting in Seattle. The third link will take visitors to a press release from Science Daily which talks a bit about some recent research on obstructive sleep apnea. Moving on, the fourth link leads to the homepage of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Here, visitors can learn about their work and also find information about sleep centers. The fifth link leads to an excellent resource on understanding sleep from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders. The sixth link leads to some fine tips on getting better sleep from the Mayo Clinic. Finally, the last link leads to a complete version of Sigmund Freud's Interpretation of Dreams. For those of you who are getting adequate sleep, this volume may come in handy.

Copyright 2009 Internet Scout Project -

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

"Was there really a Hawthorne Effect in the original Hawthorne studies?"

This post's title is the question posted today by Steven Levitt on the NYTimes' Freakonomics blog. Ah, the Hawthorne effect, whose mere mention often sends shudders down the spine of veteran AP Psych teachers who recall this term appearing out of the blue on some mid-'90s exam. Since then some (including your correspondent) often feel the need to almost shout it out the door as the students are leaving to take the test -- "and don't forget the Hawthorne Effect was ...!"

Levitt and John List took a new look at the data which originally suggested that any change made at the Hawthorne plant, particularly in terms of lighting, led to an increase in productivity. The conventional wisdom gleaned from the study was that scientists need to be cautious about unintentionally interfering with an experiment because the mere fact that subjects know their behavior is being observed would make change their behavior, and in this case, work harder. The economists re-analyzed the old findings and found that the changes themselves did not make productivity increase but that the differences emerged because the changes in production were compared to the wrong standards. Here are two examples:
  • Changes typically took place on a Sunday and then the productivity of the workers was compared from the day before (Saturday) to the day after (Monday). But when the data from Mondays alone was dissected, in turns out that every Monday had greater output that every Saturday -- workers tended to be most productive early in the week and then slack off as the week progressed. (No wonder since they had a six day work week!)
  • Another observation found that worker productivity went down significantly after the experiments ended, leading to the conclusion that the presence of the researchers increased output and their absences led to a decline. But what Levitt and List found was that the research stopped in the summer, and every year there was a decline in production during the summer, perhaps because of the heat.
You can read more about this work in this brief Economist article. The full paper is available here but it looks like it'll cost you $5. A nice online exhibit from Harvard Business School is here.

Milgram: What Would We Do Now?

Michael Britt, on his most recent podcast "The Psych Files" goes into historical and modern detail about the original Milgram study on obedience. Given the widespread knowledge of the obedience study, despite ethical restraints, and despite changes in society, how might a 2008 study replicating the original study come out? Would we be more or less obedient or about the same? How would the new study be handled by the researchers and university? What strange coincidence occurred with Milgram's heart attack and death.

Oh, would you like some great resources including a PowerPoint to help teach the Milgram obedience study? If so, check out Dr. Britt's newest podcast and page link.

There are also links to books, videos, ABC television demonstrations of a replication, other additional resources and much more. If you are into social psychology, ethics, or just like people to be obedient, this is a great podcast to check out.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Famous Psychologists in the AP Psychology Acorn Book

The new revision (May 2010/May 2011) of the AP Psychology Course Description Book, commonly called the "Acorn Book", includes listings of important psychologists. In the past, many of the names were embedded within the content description. This time there are many more names and they are listed as part of a learning objective at the end of each topic description.

I've created a PDF document that lists all of the important names by units. The document can be downloaded at If your school's blocking system will not allow access to the 4Shared website, please look through the comments to this posting to see if anyone has uploaded the document on their website. Unfortunately, I am limited to six documents on my school's website.

For more information on the new Acorn Book go to the May 29th posting on this blog at

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Bad Psychology?

I've always wanted to start a collection of "Bad Psychology" along the same lines as Phil Plait's excellent Bad Astronomy homepage. That page gathers popularized accounts of astronomical findings that get the research wrong in key ways and explains/debunks the claims

Our students could do this, I think. Once they learn some important research concepts (e.g. the importance of control groups, operational definitions, correlation not being confused with causation, etc.) they should be able to spot some "bad psychology" out there in popular media. If they do, please post it here (or elsewhere) for the rest of us to see!

My contribution might be a little controversial, but I'll take a shot at it. As far as I can tell, the popularized concept of "learning styles" (e.g. visual, auditory, kinesthetic) don't really measure or predict anything "real" about learning, other than maybe a learning preference. I first heard about this skepticism in a graduate cognitive psych class, and then found a couple other compelling discussions of it:
- Michael Britt interviewed Daniel Willingham about the topic on the Psych files (an excerpt: “It’s worth thinking about not matching the child’s supposed learning style to how they are supposed to learn, but rather think about the content and what is it about this content that I really want students to understand and what’s the best way to convey that.” - Dr. Willingham)
- a great, comprehensive article that summarizes the research well: “Different Strokes for Different Folks?” American Educator (that link is a .pdf of the article)

When I talk about this with other teachers (and students), I get a lot of resistance. People seem darn attached to the idea that these learning styles exist and that they matter in how to most effectively learn/teach. What do you all think?