Monday, October 31, 2011

Innattentional Blindness and Ghosts - Happy Halloween!

I was happy to find a Halloween-themed article by Daniel Simons in my RSS feed this morning: In his latest post, "Ghost busters, parapsychology, and the first study of inattentional blindness", Simons writes about discovering a very early study about innattentional blindness in a book by Mary Roach (Roach's books are all great, by the way. I think "Stiff" is my favorite). In 1959, a psychologist (at Cambridge decided to test how people would react to seeing a ghost on campus:

"Each night, Cornell or his assistants dressed in a white sheet and strolled down a path, making various hand gestures before shedding the sheet 4.5 minutes later. Other assistants observed how many people were “in a position to observe the apparition.”

Simons points out that "Although Cornell’s finding is consistent with later studies of inattentional blindness, his conclusion isn’t." Hardly anyone on campus admitted to seeing the "apparition", which Cornell attributed to an unconscious desire to NOT see a ghost. This finding is actually very consistent with Simons' and others' findings about innattentional blindness (and the invisible gorilla!).

Happy Halloween everyone! I hope all your costumes and fun Halloween surprises are noticed by all the bystanders :)

image credit: - some rights reserved via CreativeCommons

posted by Rob McEntarffer

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Old facilitated communication controversy and new iPad "research"

This recent 60 minutes clip about autistic folks using iPads to communicate reminded me of a Frontline clip I used to show about facilitated communication (that link takes you to google video, which makes me a bit nervous b/c I thought google video was going away?).

The Frontline clip presents a dramatic and compelling story about how a "revolutionary technique" can take hold of a group of professionals, and then goes on to show how careful experimentation reveals that what appeared to be "revolutionary" was actually just confirmation bias. I used to show the clip up to the point of the experimental design and then have groups of students design tests to gather evidence about the validity of the facilitated communication technique. Word of warning: the clip involves accusations of sexual abuse and some of the language gets graphic.

The more recent 60 minutes clip is a great feel good story, and it might be interesting to show after the Frontline video. Is there any chance some of the folks working with iPads are falling into the same cognitive "facilitated communication" traps? What are the similarities and differences?

image credit:

posted by Rob McEntarffer

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Research invitation from David Eagleman

We've posted about David Eagleman before(and here). He's a skilled neuroscience writer/researcher who has a knack for finding fascinating consciousness issues and writing/talking about them in compelling and understandable ways.

He posted an invitation on Twitter this morning: "Do you hate the sound of certain words? This may be a form of synesthesia. Pls participate in our 5 min survey:"

I haven't followed the link through to the research yet (I'll have to do it at home) but if any of you out there have time to take the test, please comment about your experiences here! Might be an opportunity to get students involved in research in an easy and engaging way?

posted by Rob McEntarffer

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Psychological First Aid

NPR had a recent post that led me to some basic research about a topic called "Psychological First Aid" or "Mental Health First Aid."  I found the following resources for something that, as psychology teachers, we all do to varying degrees--helping students deal with stress and other challenging situations.  I would hope that we all know when to refer--that as teachers of psychology, we know more than the average person, but we let the professionals do their jobs.  We do the first aid and let the counselors and therapists do the heavy lifting.

Here are the article and links:

Sunday, October 9, 2011

TV alert: Brain Games on NatGeo TV tonight

National Geographic TV (aka NatGeo) has three back-to-back features on the brain tonight under the title Brain Games:

Episode 1 (8pm ET) - Watch This! "Hack into the ultimate supercomputer — the human brain — as Hollywood filmmakers create mind-bending sensory illusions."
Episode 2 (9pm ET) - Pay Attention! "When it comes to mastering — and manipulating — attention, some of the world's leading experts aren't scientists; they're magicians."
Episode 3 (10 pm ET) - Remember This! "Our experts are on a mission — to find out where memories reside in the brain — and they're examining every millimeter for clues."

If you miss the series, be sure to check your TV listings as it's sure to be re-run many times. There are also many interesting looking clips on the Brain Games online site that I've yet to check out. Be sure to comment below if you watch the series or have checked out the online videos. (Also, did anyone else notice that exclamation points are! very! important! in this series?)

--posted by Steve

Guest post: Teaching Classical Conditioning to High School Students

Note from Steve: today's guest post is from teacher Mark Molloy.

I have been teaching a high school introduction to Psychology class for over 15 years. When I first started teaching the course, students had a very difficult time understanding the concepts of classical conditioning. It might be safer to say, I had a difficult time presenting the material in a clear, understandable way.

Since those first years, I have added two mnemonic devices, an additional helpful step to the equation, and two video clips of classical conditioning to my learning unit.

Mnemonic devices

VOICE - For the learning unit, students are introduced to two mnemonic devices. The first one is the word VOICE. VOICE points out the major difference between operant conditioning and classical conditioning. This word reinforces the role of the subject in the learning process.

V voluntary
O operant
I involuntary
C classical
E extra (no purpose. The E only completes the word)

“S starts it off and R is ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL right.” Before introducing the 3 steps of classical conditioning, I share this sentence with the students. I stress the word ALLLLLLL because I have found it helps the students remember the sentence better. I also really like saying it this way.

I developed this sentence 2 years ago. The purpose of the sentence is to help the students remember where the terms are placed in the classical conditioning equation. The CS and UCS will always be to the on the LEFT side of the equation, starting it off, and the CR and UCR will always be on the RIGHT.

The equation

Below are the notes I present to my students in a PowerPoint. (Teachers can email me at and I will gladly share the presentation):

The helpful step – The traditional classical conditioning equation consists of three steps. Students seem to gain a better understanding of the concepts when I include the “helpful step.” When reviewing the notes I say “The neutral stimulus DOES NOT PRODUCE the unconditioned response.” (The arrow with the X through it was the best way for me to created a visual with my limited computer abilities. I am sure other teachers could find a better visual.)

The helpful step reinforces the term “neutral stimulus” which is not included in the traditional steps of classical conditioning. It is also helpful to show that anything can be a neutral stimulus / conditioned stimulus. Additionally, I circle the conditioned stimulus and the neutral stimulus, drawing an arrow connecting them. The arrows illustrate that the word that is placed in the equation for NS and CS will be the same, similar to the UCR and CR being the same.

The Xs – I place an X in the spot of the term that is not used in step #1 and #3. This visual enhances student understanding of the material. It helps students remember that CS always comes before the UCS. During quizzes and tests, I leave the spaces for the Xs and deduct points if incorrect.

The BIG crossed out U – To reinforce the fact that the final response of classical conditioning is conditioned (learned), the students write a very large U and then place a line or an X through it.

The Videos

Seabiscuit: There is an excellent 2-minute clip from the movie Seabiscuit that illustrates how the trainer conditions Seabiscuit to start quickly at the sound of the bell. I have a tape of the movie (A DVD would be so much better.) I simply fast forward to the scene which takes place just prior to the match race with War Admiral, towards the end of the movie.

A teacher can extend the clip to provide the background information about the movie, which by the way is great.

Little Albert Experiment: The Little Albert experiment is an early example of classical conditioning. This clip (4:14) includes commentary. (Turn the volume down, it is set very high on this website!) The comments are a little comical, however, if you do not like the comments, you can mute them. The presentation does include some useful slides at the end that are very educational, identifying the different terms.

Another Little Albert clip (3:20) has excellent footage of the experiment without the added commentary.

Hopefully these tools are helpful in teaching classical conditioning to high school students. I would be glad to share other lessons ideas with any teacher who was interested. Email me at

The strange powers of the placebo

Great video above (or here, if you can't see the embed). I'm not sure that every one of these claims is accurate as there are no specific pointers to each individual statement, but most of them ring true with what I have read previously. And a mild heads up: "Professor Funk" uses the term "shiny and shit" in the narration at one point.

-- posted by Steve

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World

After having watched the Zimbardo Discovering Psychology series multiple times every year since about 1990, I have wanted more from social psychology in terms of examples and current and relevant research to support concepts within the topic.  The author, Sam Sommers does so with humor, both pointed and self-deprecating.

I also have a colleague who is very much in the "free will" camp philosophically and I have a difficult time convincing him about the social forces that shape our behavior.  If you are like me then you will love this new book I had the opportunity to review recently.  It is called, Situations Matter: Understanding How Context Transforms Your World.  It will be released at the end of the year.  Short review: if you like social psychology you will like this book and it's a worthwhile read.

For years I have struggled with coming up with great examples and additional research that had not been dealt with by the introductory texts.  Now I have that book I've been looking for.  Some highlights and observations from my dog-eared copy:
  1. judging people's expertise by our own narrowly ranged knowledge base
  2. being seduced by character is something we do when attributing explanations of behavior
  3. using famous people in advertising testimonials--do they really use the products they are hawking?
  4. realizing that situations are often invisible to us--we need to learn how to see them and their influence (the tools in this book can help me do this with my students)
  5. Numerous explanations of situations and the influence of context on people's behavior ("what's wrong with these people?"
  6. The wisdom of crowds--how real is it?  when should we use/avoid it?
  7. Asch's study, conformity and mimicry of nonverbal behavior
  8. Who are you?  An examination of self-definition that is flexible by situation and context
  9. What we think we will do and what we do are often very different things--some research
  10. A breakdown of the Singer-Schacter experiment--some details that are missing in the textbooks
  11. An overview of what is commonly called "The Lake Wobegon Effect"--where everyone is above average
  12. how we are skilled at self-deception
  13. achievement based on what we are told about intelligence
  14. gender differences--how much is biology and how much is society
  15. proximity and love--how location influences who we are attracted to
  16. how making yourself visible makes you more attractive 
  17. Much, much more
There are more examples and much more research referred to in the book.  Bottom line is that it is an extremely helpful book to have for support for your social psychology unit. 

If you have questions for the author, please comment below and we will do our best to get them answered.
You can find more of the author and this book at these links:

Author's website

posted by Chuck Schallhorn