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

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

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

Risk Assessment and the NFL Draft

I don’t know if Kahneman’s a football fan, but I thought about him when I read this clip from Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column. The context is that the Browns & Bucs are flipping a coin to decide who gets to pick frist.

There was almost a mini-scandal in the coin flip for the third pick in the draft. The Bucs and Browns finished tied for the third pick, because their opponents’ won-loss records were identical. So Friday morning, Savage and Tampa Bay GM Bruce Allen met in a Westin Hotel conference room to break the tie for the third pick of the draft. Imagine the significance here.

Allen came into the room with a coin he wanted to use, one from a military base in Florida. That was fine with Savage. League officials Joel Bussert and Ken Fiore ran it. Allen called heads. And when the coin went up in the air, Allen shouted, “Wait! Wait!” The coin was plucked out of the air. And Allen said, “What are we going to do, let it fall to the floor or catch it and flip it over on your hand?” Let it fall, he was told. He called heads again. It came up tails.

Pretty big stuff. Might be the difference between the guy who can save your team for the next three or four years or the guy who might be a nice, complimentary player. “It was just nice to get a win,” said Savage, sounding like a desperate coach. “We gotta string some wins like that together.”

I’m not naive enough to think that whom you draft doesn’t matter, but I was amused by the handwringing about whether to call heads or tails. I’m sure Allan really regrets his call, but would he have changed his mind beforehand if given the chance?

27 February 2007 Posted by | Quantitative, Social, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Whither Stigma?

anklet.jpgTime was, people would be embarrassed for getting in trouble with the law, but perhaps when pop culture figures glamorize lives of crime, take pride in trips to rehab, and smile in their mug shots, we should expect that the court-ordered ankle bracelet would become a fashion statement.

Not that such things should necessary be career-enders (celebrities get both less and more sympathy than they deserve), but how does one take a stigma and make it a badge of pride?

Link.  Via Neatorama 

13 February 2007 Posted by | Social | Leave a comment

Terrific New Yorker Piece on Medical Cognition

Here‘s a very nice discussion of the cognitive processes involved in making medical decisions.  When I started reading it, I was prepared to write a letter to the NYer about all the stuff they missed on biases and so on, but I found the article to be very thorough, not to mention well written and clear.

I’ve been interested in communications issues in medical care and related disparities, but the heuristics coverage is more accessible than what I’ve seen in a lot of arenas.  Some good discussion of the work of Kahneman & Tversky and others.

5 February 2007 Posted by | Cognitive, Social | Leave a comment

…and 4 months later…

I’ve been eager to get back to it.  So let’s start with a nice article in the NYTimes about Joe Biden’s lovely comments on Obama:

the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy

Now, I’m not interested in the obvious “gee, this guy is inappropriate” approach to this quote.  Instead, let’s think about what this says about Biden’s schema (Obama is closely associated with “articulate”) which I would say shows what we might call “thinking points.”  Rather than just saying what comes to his mind, Biden watches it, knowing that whatever he says on the campaign trail will be magnified.

Did he know that “articulate” is damning someone by faint praise?  Did he know that it’s probably not the most flattering thing for an African American person to hear?  Does he know that Obama is far more articulate than Biden in the first place?  Probably so on all 3 counts, but I would argue that he doesn’t feel it.  As a result, Biden connects the “African American” and “complement” nodes in his mind and comes out with this quote.

Many people don’t even bother to watch what they say, and we could argue over which is worse.  Do Mel Gibson’s and Michael Richards’ verbal diarrhea indicate higher prejudice than what Biden said.  Probably so, but under stress, they let it all out and took off the filter.  Biden probably did the same thing, after the stress and exhaustion of lots of interviews and briefings.

To Biden, I say, don’t you worry your little head about this.  You just sit there and look pretty.

Is that a complement, Joe?

5 February 2007 Posted by | Cognitive, Social, Stereotyping, Prejudice, & Discrimination | Leave a comment

Mark Foley Party Errors–Intentional or Schema-Based?

foxoreilly_markfoleydem_100306.jpgOne of the things my students and I frequently discuss is the extent to which discriminatory, erroneous, or otherwise unexpected behavior is intentional or not. I may be naive, but I tend to err on the side of assuming that most prejudice and the like are unintentional, or even unknown to the perpetrator.

Well, in the midst of the Mark Foley scandal, which obviously is ripe with psychology, some people with the stomach to watch Fox News noticed that the channel “erred” in labeling Foley as “D-FL.” The accurate tag, of course, would be “R-FL.” Nevertheless, this label remained for a while, and when it was corrected, unlike with CNN, which apparently briefly made the same mistake and announced the correction.

Now, the discounting principle would lead us to lend less credence to Fox’s potential argument of an innocent mistake. But if it was innocent, it may be that a conservative schema led producers (or whoever writes those descriptions) to act on the implicit belief that scandals are Democrat territory or that they were dissociating from Foley. Either way, it doesn’t bode well for the objectivity that most of us would like to see in the media!

via bradblog

6 October 2006 Posted by | Cognitive, Social | Leave a comment

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

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