I See Psychology… Everywhere

Back after a long hiatus

Well, I’m trying to get back to the blog.  Let’s start with an interesting couple of cases right in the news.  Seems a couple of prominent people being recommended for termination for some offensive comments.

James Watson (as in Watson & Crick) is one of the offenders:

The Sunday Times newspaper printed an interview with Watson in which he was quoted as saying he was “inherently gloomy about the prospect of Africa” because “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours — whereas all the testing says not really.”


The newspaper also quoted Watson as saying people should not discriminate on the basis of color, because “there are many people of color who are very talented, but don’t promote them when they haven’t succeeded at the lower level.”

Then Barack Obama has recommended canning the head of voting rights for the DoJ for his comments:

“That’s a shame, you know creating problems for elderly persons just is not good under any circumstance,” Tanner said, according to video posted on YouTube. “Of course, that also ties into the racial aspect because our society is such that minorities don’t become elderly the way white people do. They die first.

“There are inequities in health care. There are a variety of inequities in this country, and so anything that disproportionately impacts the elderly has the opposite impact on minorities. Just the math is such as that,” Tanner said.


“Such comments are patently erroneous, offensive and dangerous, and they are especially troubling coming from the federal official charged with protecting voting rights in this country,” Obama wrote.

We’ve been discussing ambiguous statements in my prejudice seminar this semester, and I’ve asked my students to comment.  I find Watson’s comments more egregious, but that may be because I think someone else could say what Tanner did with less outrage.  They could be taken to be sympathetic to health disparities, IMHO.

Watson’s statements are also interesting in light of an article (my Michael Hogg) I just got today arguing that the atrophy of the frontal lobe in older people is partly responsible for their decline in self-regulatory capacity.  As a result, people may say offensive things that, under better circumstances, they would have suppressed.  I’m never sure how much to let that matter, but we’ve seen the decline in self-regulation in prominent cases resulting from alcohol (see Mel Gibson) and frustration (see Michael Richards), among other things.


19 October 2007 Posted by | Stereotyping, Prejudice, & Discrimination | 2 Comments

Critical Thinking Can Save Your Job…

… because you won’t ask a psychic on company time whether to get rid of your boss!

26 March 2007 Posted by | Critical Thinking/Parapsychology | Leave a comment

Multitasking Limits in the Popular Press

I was pleased to see this article in the NYTimes about the limits of multitasking.  Psychologists have long known that the brain can handle only so much taxation at once before performance declines.  Of course it depends on the nature of the task, but many people think certain things (e.g., driving, watching out for other people) are less effortful than they are.

Part of the problem is that we don’t see the problem until it’s too late.  If I’m making a phone call while I’m driving, and other people are able to avoid an accident with me, I don’t realize that I’ve been a hazard, so I’m reinforced with the belief that I can multitask just fine.  Wait until one of those other people is on the phone and hits me, and then I’ll blame his or her lack of ability!

25 March 2007 Posted by | Cognitive, Physiological | Leave a comment

“Fixation” Has Different Meanings to Different People

Seems marketers have been examining the eye fixations of viewers to help them with their pitches. Psychologists have long used this technology to study, for example, babies’ interest in objects and people’s responses to novel stimuli, but I wasn’t familiar with the marketing research on this line.

Particularly interesting to many of us will be the finding that men tend to look at target crotches more than women. Might not be particularly surprising, but still interesting!

Although both men and women look at the image of George Brett when directed to find out information about his sport and position, men tend to focus on private anatomy as well as the face. For the women, the face is the only place they viewed.

via BoingBoing 

14 March 2007 Posted by | Cognitive | Leave a comment

The Myth of the Down Low

Nice piece in Slate about the myth of the down low.  For the unfamiliar, “on the down low” is a term used to describe an apparently heterosexual man (typically African American) who lives a secret second life as a gay man.  He may have a family who doesn’t (or does) suspect, but, for various reasons, he does not reveal his orientation.

What I like about this article is that it exposes the often irrational ways in which people latch onto a relatively unusual event and turn it into a phenomenon.  Illusory correlations come to mind here, where we see a relationship between two factors that are really pretty rarely linked.

The articles author,

It also helps that the Down Low is the sort of threat that white commentators of all political stripes like to condemn. Conservatives get to disparage black people’s inherent amorality (a band of men is endangering their families to have sex with other deceptive men), liberals can attack our inherent homophobia (the black community is so thuggish that the men can’t even admit to being gay), and everyone gets to agree that black America is, in a nutshell, a nuthouse. In short, shaking your head over the DL is the perfect way to shake your head over how awful it is to be black.

12 March 2007 Posted by | Stereotyping, Prejudice, & Discrimination | Leave a comment

The Psychology of the NCAA Tournament Office Pool

The NCAA tournament is my favorite sporting event.  I love college basketball for a lot of reasons, and, between you and me, this Thursday and Friday will prove to be rather unproductive, as I watch the scores come across the wire and try to keep up with the chances of my Kansas Jayhawks!

Here’s a nice article in the NYTimes that reports some of the research behind the office pool picks.

“What people don’t realize is that a lot of times, if you bet on a No. 1 seed, you’re out of the pool after the first weekend,” said Andrew Metrick, a finance professor at the University of Pennsylvania who has studied pools. “Your team won, but you’re out” — because you missed a few other games that others with the same choice of national champion did not miss.

In order to be accurate in your picking, you need to pick some upsets, because they will happen.  Problem is, you don’t know when or where they’re going to happen.  This is a real example of the hindsight bias, as I often find myself saying, “Oh, I knew that would be an upset,” even though I somehow didn’t bother to predict it in my bracket!

I tend to follow my heart for Kansas and try to follow my head for the rest, but frankly, I’m pretty bad at it, and when I do well, it’s usually because of a few lucky picks.

Enjoy the tournament, and GO ‘HAWKS!

12 March 2007 Posted by | Cognitive, Sports | Leave a comment

Metacognition in Rats

Sounds intriguing!

The scientists found the rats appeared capable of judging whether they had enough information to pass the test. The more difficult the test was, the more often rodents opted to decline the test.

via Neatorama 

9 March 2007 Posted by | Cognitive | Leave a comment

Familiar Smells and Sleep Aid Memory

We’d have to read the article to get the extent of statistical reliability from the results, but this sounds interesting:

The next day, the rose-scented sleepers remembered the locations of those cards better than people who didn’t get a whiff — they answered correctly 97 percent of the time compared with 86 percent.

We know that extensive and broad associations aid with memory, so are these smells serving as an additional memory cue?

9 March 2007 Posted by | Cognitive, Sensation & Perception | Leave a comment

Face Recognition from Minimal Pixelation

The superb blog Cognitive Daily reports on a great study showing our ability to recognize faces from as few as 6 pixels across. This is pretty astounding stuff, and it demonstrates the incredible power of the mind to make sense of what may at first glance appear to be random stimuli. Yet another victory for Gestalt theorists!

via BoingBoing

6 March 2007 Posted by | Cognitive, Sensation & Perception | Leave a comment

College Students More Narcissistic

Kudos to Jean Twenge for her fine work on the increased narcissism in today’s college students.

“We need to stop endlessly repeating ‘You’re special’ and having children repeat that back,” said the study’s lead author, Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. “Kids are self-centered enough already.”

I suspect we’ll see more of this kind of assertion as the “millenial student” matriculates.

Although college seems to be a somewhat narcissistic age for many of us, the changes under way are disconcerting and warrant the kind of solid scholarship that Dr. Twenge is conducting.

27 February 2007 Posted by | Developmental, Social, Students | Leave a comment