Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The girl who feels no pain: 3 fascinating neurological disorders

This post is the first in a short series on “What I learned in my undergrad neuroscience classes.” Today, I describe a few fascinating neurological disorders.

Have you watched episodes of medical shows like Grey’s Anatomy or House and wondered where they come up with some of their disorders? Are there really people out there who feel no pain, or who only have half a brain? There are. In undergrad I took a few neuroscience classes and learned fascinating details about neurological disorders. It seems that if you want to understand how the brain works, one of the best approaches is look at what happens when parts of the brain malfunction. Although I’ve forgotten 85% of what I learned, some of the more unbelievable details have stuck with me, and I thought I’d share a few of them with you today. So without further ado, here are some of the neurological disorders that I can’t get out of my head:

Monday, March 26, 2012

The NFL Needs a Lesson in Bounded Ethicality

Over the last week we learned that the New Orleans Saints defense was delivering bonus money to players who were able to injure opposing offensive players. When the NFL discovered this bounty system, they conducted a swift investigation and handed out a stiff punishment: Gregg Williams, the defensive coordinator, was suspended indefinitely, Sean Payton, the head coach, was suspended for one year, and several fines were levied on the Saints organization itself. The result of these punishments is that we likely won't see the Saints making a run at the Super Bowl any time soon.

I'm sure the NFL thinks of this sort of punishment as sending a clear message to its teams: Don't promote or engage in unethical or unsportsmanlike acts that put the health and safety of other players at risk... or else the punishment will be severe. Will this severe punishment really deter future bounty systems? Or ensure greater health and safety of NFL players? Based on my understanding of psychology principles, I'm not convinced this penalty will do anything more than torpedo the 2012 season of one NFL franchise.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Friday Fun: The Ryan Gosling Obsession

When Bradley Cooper was named People Magazine's Sexist Man Alive this year, angry protesters swarmed People's headquarters (okay, there were only about 15 protesters, but still). According to oneRyan's "left arm alone makes him the Sexiest Man Alive. Hello, look at his abs!" Ryan is also the subject of the "Hey Girl" meme, which started with a single tumblr that inspired multiple off-shoots, like feminist Ryan Gosling, typographer Ryan Gosling, and biostatistics Ryan Gosling (featured at left). What can explain this singular obsession? What is it that sets Ryan apart?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Neighborly Love: The Psychology of Mr. Rogers

Mr. Rogers is undoubtedly one of the most beloved cultural icons in American history. His TV show, Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, ran for more than thirty years and inspired many generations of young viewers. Admittedly, I remember sometimes finding the show a little cheesy and slow-paced (I wanted to be watching Saved By The Bell or Full House instead). But there was also something comforting about Mr. Rogers' kind, gentle demeanor. When he looked at me and said, I like you just the way you are, I felt like he really meant it, even though he didn't actually know me. Mr. Rogers' message of unconditional acceptance is a simple one, but from a social psychological perspective it's more complicated than it might seem. As much as we extoll Mr. Rogers, most of us do little more than pay lip service to his ideals, despite our best intentions. So what's getting in the way?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Two ways to right: The perils of naive realism

In honor of PYM's 1-year anniversary last week, I'm re-posting my very first post for PYM today. I also wanted to re-post it because, almost one year later, I found myself in a situation very similar to the one that prompted this post! Last week, after a few bad nights of sleep, I got into a stupid fight with my husband. Just as the last time, I was baffled at how a pleasant evening could suddenly end with us barely speaking to each other. In the midst of things, I returned to this post and decided that I should try taking my own advice. The good news - the advice still works!

Last weekend my husband and I got into a fight over a pillowcase. It was one of those times where it was clearly his fault, and I was sure he would apologize the next day. He didn't. Instead he seemed surprised that I wasn't apologizing to him. How could we have such different views of the same conflict? Which one of us was right?

It turns out that we were both right, in our own way. Misunderstandings like the one that led to a fight over a pillowcase occur because people tend to be naïve realists. That is, we believe that we see social interactions as they truly are, and that other people see them the same way that we do. However, one of the most enduring contributions of social psychology is the understanding that two people can interpret the same social interaction in very different ways based on their own personal knowledge and experiences (Asch, 1952). What does this mean for me? I thought my husband had taken my pillowcase as a joke. He knew he had done it on accident. These different pieces of knowledge led us to interpret the same conversation in very different ways.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Friday Fun: An Insider's Guide To Psychology Prose

I have been writing empirical articles for a little while now, and one of things I have come to notice is that there is a very specific style that social psychologists develop in their articles. It's not a style that is reflected in other disciplines of science or even in other realms of psychology. Nor is this style represented in popular guides to academic writing (e.g., Gullickson, 1997) or in the official publication manual of the American Psychological Association.

 In today's Friday Fun post I thought that it might be fun to examine these stylistic techniques to (1) give you, as a consumer of science research, a better understanding of the articles you read, and (2) illustrate that sometimes journal article writing actually can have a second meaning. This is not meant to be an exhaustive list, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on other patterns in science writing covered here or not. I've also included example quotes from my own writing!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Birthday, Psych Your Mind!

On this day last year, Psych Your Mind (PYM) was born.

The first post was a brief summary of our expectations for the future of this blog, and I must admit that we have exceeded those expectations. How you ask? Well, let me put the blog into perspective for you:

Monday, March 12, 2012

Why we sometimes make bad decisions: The anchoring and adjustment heuristic

How much to pay for the house of your dreams
Imagine you are interested in buying a house and you've been out looking on the weekends. You find a 3 bedroom, 2 bath bungalow on a quiet street that already feels like home. The asking price is $475,000 (for those of us living in pricier areas, play along by imagining it's 1995). You want the house, but you don't want to pay too much. You've noticed other comparable homes in the area seem to go for anything from $350,000 to $600,000. So how much do you offer? Have a number in mind? Now, read through the scenario again, but this time imagine that the asking price is $439,999. How much would you offer then? Do you come up with a different number?

Let's try a different example: First, what are the last two digits of your telephone number? Got that number in mind? Now, I'd like you to think about what percentage of African countries are in the United Nations. Do you think there are more or less than the telephone number? How many more or less? Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman did a similar study in their seminal 1974 paper on biases in judgment and they found that people who had a lower number (after spinning a wheel of fortune) estimated fewer countries than people who had a higher number. For example, the median answer for people who spun a '10' was 25%, whereas the median answer for people who spun a '65' was 45%. So why does a random number influence our judgment about something unrelated?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Friday Fun: Four factors that keep your relationship fun

For years, psychologists tried to understand why relationships fail. They targeted dysfunction, focusing on factors like negative emotions and bad communication. But it turns out that not failing is not the same as succeeding when it comes to relationships. Couples who experience a lot of negative interactions are more likely to divorce in the first few years of marriage, but couples who don't experience a lot of positive affect are likely to divorce farther down the road. So how can we make sure our relationships thrive? Today, I'm going to tell you about four factors that may help.

You're never too old to have fun
1. Laugh and play together. Play isn't just for kids. Playfully teasing your partner can bring you closer together (remember, the key is to tease "playfully"!). Couples who laugh more are more satisfied in their relationships. Humor and laughter also seem to have a buffering effect - using humor during conflict can help you resolve the issue. So pick a comedy the next time you're choosing a movie for date night, come up with playful nicknames, and the next time that your partner says something that bothers you, try responding with a joke instead of getting defensive.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

In Just 1 Hour: Reducing the Achievement Gap

Today we bring you a post by another amazing guest blogger, Michelle Rheinschmidt. Michelle is a graduate student at Berkeley and her guest post highlights some of the astounding effects that 1 hour and a few posters can have on academic and career outcomes! 
We can probably think of a time when concerns about “fitting in” affected our behavior in adolescence, but what about in adulthood?  

New environments, such as starting college or a new job, make people worry about whether they will be accepted by others. These concerns can be amplified when people belong to underrepresented, stereotyped, or devalued social groups (e.g., women in STEM fields, ethnic minority students). Research suggests that underrepresented students worry about whether they belong in college settings, and these concerns interfere with achievement. In fact, experimental research aimed at reducing belonging concerns has been shown to reduce race-based achievement gaps by over 50%.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Can Mitt Romney connect with the working-class voter?

Mitt Romney (source)

During a US Presidential campaign it is common practice for a candidate to engage in some form of impression management. For instance, in 2008 many media outlets thought John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as a Vice Presidential candidate was a move to boost McCain's image as a "Maverick" candidate. For similar reasons, Bill Clinton played saxophone live on the Arsenio Hall Show during the 1992 campaign. In these examples, candidates tend to create public personas that convey their similarity to average Americans (who tended to be younger, less wealthy/educated, and hipper than the candidates themselves).

This practice is still true in the 2012 US Presidential election: Candidates attempt to manage their public persona, to appear similar to the younger, working/middle class Americans that make up a majority of the voters in the election. Importantly, given that the country is just starting to recover from an economic recession, it is critical for candidates to appear that they understand and empathize with the average working-class American. The Republican Presidential hopefuls have varied widely in their ability to convey their understanding for working-class Americans. Perhaps the most successful candidate has been Ron Paul: One of the pillars of Paul's campaign has been putting an end to government practices that favor the elite. The least successful in my view has been Mitt Romney. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Friday Fun: Birth Order and Romantic Compatibility

Research suggests that the order in which you were born, relative to your siblings, plays a role in shaping your personality -- older siblings tend to be more traditional and dominant, middle-borns more sociable and attention-seeking, and younger siblings more rebellious and unconventional. These differences are theorized to stem from sibling competition and the need to occupy different "niches" in order to shine and gain parental favor (e.g., the overachiever, the entertainer, the party animal, the artist, etc). Less is known about how these differences impact romantic relationships -- there is plenty of pop psychology on this topic, but not much empirical research. However, in the spirit of Friday Fun, here are some suggestive findings on this topic (and my perhaps overzealous interpretations of them) to help you figure out whether you and your partner are a match made in birth-order heaven: