I See Psychology… Everywhere

Finger Length Ratios & Athletic Ability

Here‘s an interesting correlational conclusion. It appears that the length of the ring finger is a solid predictor of women’s athletic ability. Perhaps men’s too, but it is somewhat tied to testosterone levels in the womb. Athletic ability is better when the ring finger is longer than the index finger, which is more likely in men than in women. Interestingly, the research seems to be based very little on finger-relevant sports (such as baseball) but running, suggesting that the testosterone link makes sense.

Note that the authors of the article say that finger length is largely inherited, thus effectively explaining why athletic parents have athletic kids. They don’t, however, point out that the socialization of sports is not necessarily inherited, so we could genetically produce particular finger lengths, but not an interest in sports.

Here‘s a more descriptive article on the study, although you can’t access the primary source without a username and password.


28 September 2006 Posted by | Evolutionary Psychology, Physiological, Social | 1 Comment

Paul Allen’s New 3-D Brain Map

This is pretty impressive. Paul Allen (the almost-richest-man-in-the-world Gates collaborator) has launched an amazing new 3-D brain map that can give you information about the brain based on a specific gene that you enter. It’s based on scans of a mouse brain, but the researchers are confident that we’ll enhance our understanding of the human brain through their work.

via BoingBoing

27 September 2006 Posted by | Comparative, Evolutionary Psychology, Physiological | Leave a comment

Statz 4 Life

I’ve just discovered the phenomenon that is Statz 4 Life.  This is some of the worst rap (and it appears to be lip-synced) I’ve ever heard.  But the information in it is actually right!

27 September 2006 Posted by | Quantitative | Leave a comment

Brain Stimulation Creates Creepy Sensation

Interesting report on specific brain stimulation producing the sensation of being watched or followed.  Here’s an excerpt from the news release of the finding, reported in Nature:

When they electrically stimulated the left temporoparietal junction in her brain, which is linked to self-other distinction and self-processing, she thought someone was standing behind her.

If they repeated the stimulus while she leaned forward and grabbed her knees she had an unpleasant sensation that the shadowy figure was embracing her.

I wasn’t really familiar with the temporoparietal junction being associated with self-other distinctions, but there you go.  I’m curious to know what purpose this might serve evolutionarily, and why we may sometimes be accurate in those perceptions.  As they say, you’re not really paranoid if they really ARE out to get you.

21 September 2006 Posted by | Physiological, Sensation & Perception | 1 Comment

MindHacks Book & Wiki

This book is on my next to-buy list. But for now, its author, Ron Hale-Evans has posted a wiki linked to the book. I’ve heard about the book and can’t wait to grab a copy of it to a) improve my own cognitive functioning and b) to see how it relates to my Cognitive Psychology course. Should be fun!

21 September 2006 Posted by | Cognitive | 1 Comment

Jennifer Richeson Wins MacArthur Award

richeson.jpgCongratulations to Dr. Jennifer Richeson of Dartmouth, who just won a MacArthur Award, better known as a “genius grant.”  Dr. Richeson studies the cognitively taxing effects of interracial interaction and shows that interracial interaction appears to be ego depleting, making it harder to self-regulate in subsequent situations.  Here’s what the NYTimes says about her:

Jennifer A. Richeson, 34, the social psychologist who examines prejudice and racial stereotyping, is an associate professor of psychology at Northwestern University known for her novel use of empirical methods to analyze the experiences of minorities and majority group members as they interact. She found that battling expressions of prejudice decreased effectiveness in other cognitive tasks.

Because I’ll never win an award like this, I’m going to take pride in the fact that I’ve been following her work for several years and have found it fascinating and informative.  As a fellow social psychologist, I’m happy to congratulate Dr. Richeson and to look forward to many more years of productive contributions to the field (unless she just wants to take the money and buy an island or something)…

20 September 2006 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Evolutionary Psychology and Music

survival.jpgFascinating article in the Boston Globe about the debate over why music has endured for so long as an important part of culture. I don’t know enough about the issues to have a position, but there are some compelling arguments about just why music is so central to our species.

Hat tip: Edward Pollack

20 September 2006 Posted by | Comparative, Evolutionary Psychology, Social | Leave a comment

Social Psychology in Bacteria

I recently heard a fascinating story on NPR of what one might call the social psychology of bacteria.  As Dr. Bonnie Bassler has demonstrated, bacteria seem to wait until they exist in a critical mass to do what they do.  Whether it’s to emit color, damage host cells, or whatever, they seem to recognize (on some level anyway) that they are pretty impotent individually, but in groups, they can have a pretty major impact on their world.

As lagniappe, Dr. Bassler’s comments about her life and lab illustrate a number of other principles, such as the impostor phenomenon, similarity and attraction, and a pessimistic explanatory style.  For example, she says that her students are similar to her in that when they find an exciting result, their immediate response is to wonder what they’ve done wrong.  Such impressive work; have a listen!

19 September 2006 Posted by | Comparative, Research, Social | Leave a comment

Justice and Profiling in the Real World

New Orleans is one of the few places in the country where one can walk around with an open container of alcohol. To me, it actually makes sense, and the ban almost everywhere else seems kind of weird. Nevertheless, until recently your booze couldn’t be in glass, but that rule fell under accusations that it was racist or classist or both. I’m not really certain of the logic here, but it was an interesting move. I’ve always been intrigued by ambiguity in the world like this. Read on…

I was very pleased to read that Harvard has decided to eliminate its early admissions policy. That’s not to say I’ve long been lobbying for this move (I’d never thought of it before), but as soon as I heard about it it struck me as a move for a more level playing field. I have had a number of students who could have done very well as scholars, but because they were strapped with financial or time concerns, or they simply didn’t know the ropes, they would not have been granted early admissions anywhere, even if they did know enough to apply. Here’s hoping that more schools (especially the elite) will follow suit.

Still, some strange disadvantages and preferences remain in our world, and I’ve encountered several in New Orleans recently, all of which are ambiguous.

Last semester, one of my students told me that a bar near Tulane changed its admittance sign over time, first saying that you had to be of a certain age, then saying you had to have a college ID, and then saying the ID had to be from Tulane or Loyola. Were Xavier students banned, or was the position that they couldn’t authenticate XU students’ IDs?

Earlier this year, St. Tammany Parish’s Sheriff Jack Strain said that people walking around with certain hairstyles were not welcome. As representatives of New Orleans that he dubbed “thugs” and “trash,” Strain said:

I don’t want to get into calling people names, but if you’re going to walk the streets of St. Tammany Parish with dreadlocks and chee wee hairstyles, then you can expect to be getting a visit from a sheriff’s deputy.

Well, at least he didn’t want to call anyone names! I actually had a letter to the paper published above the fold saying that my students had never heard that term, so maybe it refers to white collar criminals, in which case I’m all for the profiling! A colleague wrote a great post expressing his concern over getting in trouble, just in case he has one of the hairstyles in question.

But then I read about some potential profiling among some more like-minded people in the NOLA blogosphere. Does Jack Strain own the Half Moon? At what point is banning clothing associated with unwanted people inappropriate, immoral, or illegal? Ah, the ambiguity!

236435823_0aa8aac90f.jpgFinally, there’s the issue of the African American transvestite gang of thiefs on Magazine Street. My favorite costume shop has taken to closing until the crime gets solved. The article says that the merchants close up shop when one of them sees the group coming. Maybe that profiling is a little different, but is that only because it’s such a specific (and perhaps more fringe) subgroup? If I’m a law-abiding African American transvestite with my similar friends, should I be barred from the store? No one really favors profiling, but we often do it, whether we realize it or not.

I don’t know the answers to these quandaries, and I sympathize with crime victims, but I also think it’s important to think critically about our responses. Just as getting rid of the skycaps didn’t make any sense after 9/11, some of our responses here may cast an unfairly wide net and may create a society we don’t really want. Even if the immediate response is desirable to some of the people who make the decisions.

12 September 2006 Posted by | Stereotyping, Prejudice, & Discrimination, Students | 1 Comment

Can a Sedative End PVS?

Wow! It appears, anecdotally, at least, that sedatives such as Ambien may be able to reverse a persistent vegetative state. I’m eager to hear more about this kind of discovery, but the timing of the “awakenings” appears uncanny. This could be huge medical news!

via BoingBoing

12 September 2006 Posted by | Physiological, Psychopharmacology | 3 Comments