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If you have watched a 2019 Democratic Party debate, you perhaps have taken note: While Pete Buttigieg, Elizabeth Warren, and Cory Booker glide smoothly through their spoken words, Joe Biden sometimes hesitates, stammers, and stumbles. Is he just less mentally agile than his more lucid counterparts?

 

Perhaps we should cut him some slack, suggests John Hendrickson in an upcoming Atlantic essay. Biden experiences the lingering effects of childhood stuttering that made him a subject of mockery. An empathic Hendrickson, himself a stutterer, illustrates from Biden’s July debate:

 

“My plan makes a limit of co-pay to be One. Thousand. Dollars. Because we—”

He stopped. He pinched his eyes closed. He lifted his hands and thrust them forward, as if trying to pull the missing sound from his mouth. “We f-f-f-f-further support—” He opened his eyes. “The uh-uh-uh-uh—”

 

Hendrickson is not the only one who empathizes. As a childhood stutterer who received speech therapy in my Seattle public elementary school, and for whom such dysfluency has occasionally resurfaced in adulthood, I know the dismay of coming up to a word that gets stuck in the roof of the mouth, to everyone’s embarrassment, especially my own. For me, K has been a difficult consonant, and sometimes there seems no other way to call on “K-k-k-kathy.”

 

But often, those who stutter have learned that they can fake normal fluency by backing up and detouring around the verbal roadblock, rendering the impediment invisible. As with Joe Biden’s debate responses, listeners may notice the pauses and mid-sentence changes of direction. They just don’t attribute the dysfluency to stuttering (which Biden also does not blame).

 

And so it happens with the great invisible disability, hearing loss. “Can everyone hear me?” asks the person on stage. Given the inevitable answer from those hearing the question, the nodding heads lead the speaker to think, “I don’t need a mic.” And most in the audience likewise presume all’s well—oblivious to the unseen exclusion of so many of us (and hence my advocacy for user-friendly hearing accessibility technology in such settings—see here).

 

Like stutterers, those of us with hearing loss also finesse awkward situations. At a noisy party or in a restaurant, we fake hearing. As our conversational partner makes unheard social chatter, we smile and nod—not wanting to be a pain by asking people to repeat and repeat. Sometimes our response is inappropriate—smiling at someone’s sadness, or being unresponsive to a question. But mostly, after straining and failing to carve meaning out of sound, our pretending to hear hides our disability.

 

There’s practical wisdom to socially finessing one’s speech or hearing challenges. But some go further to hide their hearing disability. They respond to ads for “invisible hearing aids” that can keep people from knowing that—shame, shame—you have hearing loss. (Shame instead on the hearing professionals whose ads imply that hearing loss is something to be deeply ashamed of, and to hide.) Actually, the more public I am about my hearing loss, the more comfortable I become at seeking people’s help in coping with it—by finding quieter tables in quieter restaurants, facing the wall, sitting with my good ear toward the person, having them speak into that ear, and using a wireless mic that transmits to my hearing aids.

 

We can extend the list of hidden disabilities to include some forms of vision loss, brain injury, chronic fatigue, pain, phobias, dyslexia, depression, dementia, and a host of others. Given the invisibility of such disabilities, we often don’t see the challenges that lie behind everything from a child’s misspellings to a Joe Biden stammer. If only we knew—and if only those of us with the invisible challenges would let others know—we all could be less judgmental, more understanding, and more genuinely helpful.

 

(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit TalkPsych.com.)

Bill Gates wants people he hires to read two of his favorite books: The Better Angels of Our Nature, by psychologist Steven Pinker, and Factfulness by the late Hans Rosling.

 

I, too, have loved these books, which form a complementary pair. Pinker argues—our current malaise notwithstanding—that the world is getting better. World hunger is abating, child labor is disappearing. Murder and wars are less common. Literacy is increasing. Given a choice between living a half-century or century ago or today, any sane person would choose today.

 

Rosling mined world data to document these trends and many more. And now the Rosling family’s Swedish foundation is offering stunning dynamic graphic displays of world data.

 

For example, see here and click on the animation for a jaw-dropping depiction of the life-expectancy increase (in but an eye-blink of our total human history).

 

Today’s average human lives much longer, thanks partly to the dramatic decline in child mortality from a time when nearly half of children died by age 5 (and when there was biological wisdom to having more than two children).

 

Other show-the-class goodies include:

 

These facts should whet your informational appetite. For more, explore www.gapminder.com/data. “Gapminder makes global data easy to use and understand.”

 

And then explore www.OurWorldInData.org, founded by Max Roser. This is an Oxford-based source of world data on all sorts of topics. “Our World in Data is about research and data to make progress against the world’s largest problems.” An example, presenting World Bank/United Nations data on the “missing women” phenomenon in certain countries since the advent of prenatal sex determination:

 

 

On the commercial side, www.statista.com has a wealth of information—such as, from my recent searching, data on anti-Semitic crime trends, social media use, and dating app usage.

 

For us data geeks, so many numbers, so little time.

 

Not everything is “better angels” rosy. In addition to sex-selective abortions, we are menaced by climate change, nationalism, hate speech, and rampant misinformation. Even so, the Pinker/Rosling message—that in many important ways life is getting better—is further typified by these very websites, which provide easy access to incredible amounts of information that our ancestors could never know.

 

(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit TalkPsych.com.)

 

“Death is reversible.” So began NYU medical center’s director of Critical Care and Resuscitation Research Science, Sam Parnia, at a recent research consultation on people’s death experiences during and after cardiac resuscitation.

 

Biologically speaking, he explained, death and cardiac arrest are synonymous. When the heart stops, a person will stop breathing and, within 2 to 20 seconds, the brain will stop functioning. These are the criteria for declaring someone dead. When there’s no heartbeat, no breathing, and no discernible brain activity, the attending physician records the time of death.

 

Yet recent advances in science reveal that it may take many hours for individual brain cells to die. In a 2019 Nature report, slaughtered pigs’ brains, given a substitute blood infusion 4 hours after death, had brain function gradually restored over a 6-10 hour period. For many years now, brain cells from human cadaver biopsies have been used to grow brain cells up to 20 hours after death, explained Parnia. His underappreciated conclusion: “Brain cells die very, very slowly,” especially for those whose brains have been chilled, either medically or by drowning in cold water.

 

But what is death? A Newsweek cover showing a resuscitated heart attack victim proclaimed, “This man was dead. He isn’t any more.” Parnia thinks Newsweek got it right. The man didn’t have a “near death experience” (NDE). He had a death experience (DE).

 

Ah, but Merriam-Webster defines death as “a permanent cessation of all vital functions.” So, I asked Parnia, has a resuscitated person actually died? Yes, replied Parnia. Imagine two sisters simultaneously undergoing cardiac arrest, one while hiking in the Sahara Desert, the other in a hospital ER, where she was resuscitated. Because the second could be resuscitated, would we assume that the first, in the same minutes following the cessation of heart and brain function, was not dead?

 

Of 2.8 million CDC-reported deaths in the United States annually, Parnia cites estimates of possibly 1.1 million attempted U.S. cardiac resuscitations a year. How many benefit from such attempts? And of those who survive, how many have some memory of their death experiences (cognitive activity during cardiac arrest)?

 

For answers, Parnia offers his multi-site study of 2060 people who suffered cardiac arrests. In that group, 1730 (84 percent) died and 330 survived. Among the survivors, 60 percent later reported no recall of their death experience. The remaining 40 percent had some recollection, including 10 percent who had a meaningful “transformative” recall. If these estimates are roughly accurate, then some 18,000 Americans a year recall a death experience.

 

NDEs (or DEs) are reportedly recalled as a peaceful and pleasant sense of being pulled toward a light, often accompanied by an out-of-body experience with a time-compressed life review. After returning to life, patients report a diminished fear of death, a kinder spirit, and more benevolent values—a “transformational” experience that Parnia is planning to study with the support of 17 major university hospitals. In this study, cardiac-arrest survivors who do and don’t recall cognitive experiences will complete positive psychology measures of human flourishing.

 

One wonders (and Parnia does, too), when did the recalled death experiences occur? During the cardiac-arrest period of brain inactivity? During the moments before and at cardiac arrest? When the resuscitated patient was gradually re-emerging from a coma? Or even as a later constructed false memory?

 

Answers may come from a future Parnia study, focusing on aortic repair patients, some of whom experience a controlled condition that biologically approximates death, with no heartbeat and flat-lined brain activity. This version of aortic repair surgery puts a person under anesthesia, cools the body to 70 degrees, stops the heart, and drains the blood, creating a death-like state, during which the cardiac surgeon has 40 minutes to repair the aorta before warming the body and restarting the heart. Functionally, for that 40 or so minutes, the patient is dead . . . but then lives again. So, will some of these people whose brains have stopped functioning experience DEs? One study suggests that at least a few aortic repair patients, despite also being under anesthesia, do report a cognitive experience during their cardiac arrest.

 

Parnia hopes to take this research a step further, by exposing these “deep hypothermia” patients to stimuli during their clinical death. Afterwards he will ascertain whether any of them can report accurately on events occurring while they lacked a functioning brain. (Such has been claimed by people having transformative DEs.)

 

Given that a positive result would be truly mind blowing—it would challenge our understanding of the embodied person and the mind-brain connection—my colleagues and I encouraged Parnia to

  •      preregister his hypotheses and methods with the Open Science Framework.
  •      conduct the experiment as an “adversarial collaboration” with a neuroscientist who would expect a null result.
  •      have credible, independent researchers gather the data, as happens with clinical safety trials.

 

If this experiment happens, what do you predict: Will there be someone (anyone) who will accurately report on events occurring while their brain is dormant?

 

Sam Parnia thinks yes. I think not.

 

Parnia is persuaded by his accumulation of credible-seeming accounts of resuscitated patients recalling actual happenings during their brain-inactive time. He cites the case of one young Britisher who, after all efforts to restart his heart had failed and his body turned blue, was declared dead. When the attending physician later returned to the room, he noticed that the patient’s normal color was returning and discovered that his heart had somehow restarted. The next week, reported Parnia, the patient astoundingly recounted events from his death period. As Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, reflected “It wasn’t what I expected. But facts are facts, and if one is proved to be wrong, one must just be humble about it and start again.”

 

My skepticism arises from three lines of research: the failure of parapsychology experiments to confirm out-of-body travel with remote viewing, the mountain of cognitive neuroscience evidence linking brain and mind, and scientific observations showing that brain oxygen deprivation and hallucinogenic drugs can cause similar mystical experiences (complete with the tunnel, beam of light, and life review).

 

Nevertheless, Parnia and I agree with Miss Marple: Sometimes reality surprises us (as mind-boggling DE reports have surprised him). So stay tuned. When the data speak, we will both listen.

 

(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit TalkPsych.com.)

 

P.S. For those wanting more information: Parnia and other death researchers will present at a November 18th New York Academy of Sciences symposium on “What Happens When We Die?” (see here and here)--with a live stream link to come.

 

For those with religious interests: My colleagues, British cognitive neuroscientist Malcolm Jeeves and American developmental psychologist Thomas Ludwig, reflect on the brain-mind relationship in their recent book, Psychological Science and Christian Faith. If you think that biblical religion assumes a death-denying dualism (thanks to Plato’s immortal soul) prepare to be surprised.

A tweet from my colleague Jean Twenge—a world-class expert at tracking youth well-being in massive data sets—alerted me to the recently released 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. Among its dozens of results, which you can view here, several struck me as worthy of note by high school and college teachers, administrators, and counselors. 

First some good news: From 2002 to 2018, cigarette smoking plummeted and is now but 2.7 percent of U.S. 12- to 17-year-olds. Reaching back to 1976, high school senior smoking has plunged even more, from 28.8 percent to 3.6 percent. Although smoking has become gauche, seniors’ e-cigarette use has soared—from 1.5 percent in 2010 to 26.7 percent in 2018. (Will widely publicized news of vaping-related lung illnesses and deaths reverse this trend?)

 

The not-so-good news: From 2011 to 2018, major depressive episodes increased from 11 to 14 percent among 12- to 17-year-olds, and, similarly, from 8 to 14 percent among 18- to 25-year-olds.

 

 

 

Not surprisingly, youth and young adults’ increased rate of depression has been accompanied by an increase in suicidal thoughts (shown below), suicide attempts, and actual suicides (see new CDC data here).

 

 

As I explained in a previous TalkPsych.com essay, the increase in teens’ (especially teen girls’) vulnerability to depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicide has occurred in other Western countries as well, and it corresponds neatly with the spread of smart phones and social media. That fact of life has stimulated new research that 

  • correlates teens’ social media use with their mental health.
  • follows teens longitudinally (through time) to see if their social media use predicts their future mental health.
  • experiments by asking if volunteers randomly assigned to a restrained social media diet become, compared with a control group, less depressed and lonely. 

 

Stay tuned. This scientific story is still being written, amid some conflicting results. As Twenge summarizes in a concise and readable new essay, up to two hours of daily screen time predicts no lessening of teen well-being. But as daily screen time increases to six hours—with associated diminishing of face-to-face relationships, sleep, exercise, reading, and time outdoors—the risk of depression and anxiety rise. 

 

The alarming rise in youth and young adult depression, especially over such a thin slice of history, compels our attention. Is screen time the major culprit (both for its drain on other healthy activities and for the upward social comparisons of one’s own mundane life with the lives of cooler-seeming others)? If not, what other social forces are at work? And what can be done to protect and improve youth and young adult well-being?

 

(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit TalkPsych.com.)

Photo courtesy Virginia Welle

 

At a recent Teaching of Psychology in Secondary Schools workshop hosted by Oregon State University, I celebrated and illustrated three sets of big ideas from psychological science. Without further explanation, here is a quick synopsis.

 

Questions: Which of these would not be on your corresponding lists? And which would you add?

 

Twelve unsurprising but important findings (significant facts of life for our students to understand):

  • There is continuity to our traits, temperament, and intelligence.
    • With age, emotional stability and conscientiousness increase.
    • Yet individual differences (extraversion and IQ) persist.
  • Specific cognitive abilities are distinct yet correlated (g, general intelligence).
  • Human traits (intelligence, personality, sexual orientation, psychiatric disorders, autism spectrum) are influenced by “many genes having small effects”
  • A pessimistic explanatory style increases depression risk.
  • To a striking extent, perceptual set guides what we see.
  • Rewards shape behavior.
  • We prioritize basic needs.
  • Cultures differ in  
    • how we dress, eat, and speak.
    • values.
  • Conformity and social contagion influence our behavior.
  • Group polarization amplifies our differences.
  • Ingroup bias (us > them) is powerful and perilous.
  • Nevertheless, worldwide, we are all kin beneath the skin (we share a human nature).

 

Eleven surprising findings that may challenge our beliefs and assumptions:

  • Behavior genetics studies with twins and adoptees reveal a stunning fact: Within the normal range of environments, the “shared environment” effect on personality and intelligence (including parental nurture shared by siblings) is ~nil. As Robert Plomin says (2019), “We would essentially be the same person if we had been adopted at birth and raised in a different family.”
    • Caveats:
      • Parental extremes (neglect/abuse) matter.
      • Parents influence values/beliefs (politics, religion, etc.).
      • Parents help provide peer context (neighborhood, schools).
      • Stable co-parenting correlates with children’s flourishing.
  • Marriage (enduring partnership) matters . . . more than high school seniors assume . . . and predicts greater health, longevity, happiness, income, parental stability, and children’s flourishing. Yet most single adults and their children flourish.
  • Sexual orientation is a natural disposition (parental influence appears nil), not a moral choice.
  • Many gay men’s and women’s traits appear intermediate to those of straight women and men (for example, spatial ability).
  • Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) may not exist (judging from new CDC data and people’s Google searches for help, by month).
  • Learning styles—assuming that teaching should align with students’ varying ways of thinking and learning—have been discounted.
  • We too often fear the wrong things (air crashes, terrorism, immigrants, school shootings).
  • Brief “wise interventions” with at-risk youth sometimes succeed where big interventions have failed.
  • Random data (as in coin tosses and sports) are streakier than expected.
  • Reality is often not as we perceive it.
  • Repression rarely occurs.

 

Some surprising findings reveal things unimagined:

  • Astonishing insights—great lessons of psychological science—that are now accepted wisdom include
    • split-brain experiments: the differing functions of our two hemispheres.
    • sleep experiments: sleep stages and REM-related dreaming.
    • misinformation effect experiments: the malleability of memory.
  • We’ve been surprised to learn
    • what works as therapy (ECT, light therapy).
    • what doesn’t (Critical Incident Debriefing for trauma victims, D.A.R.E. drug abuse prevention, sexual reorientation therapies, permanent weight-loss programs).
  • We’ve been astounded at our dual-processing powers—our two-track (controlled vs. automatic) mind, as evident in phenomena such as
    • blindsight.
    • implicit memory.
    • implicit bias.
    • thinking without thinking (not-thinking => creativity).
  • We’ve been amazed at the robustness of
    • the testing effect (we retain information better after self-testing/rehearsing it)  
    • the Dunning-Krueger effect (ignorance of one’s own incompetence).   

 

The bottom line: Psychological science works! It affirms important, if unsurprising, truths. And it sometimes surprises us with findings that challenge our assumptions, and with discoveries that astonish us.

 

(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit TalkPsych.com.)

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance—it is the illusion of knowledge.”

 

This wisdom, often attributed to American historian Daniel Boorstin, suggests a sister aphorism: The great enemy of democracy is not ill will, but the illusion of understanding. It is social and political opinion that, even if well-intentioned and sincerely believed, sprouts from self-confident misinformation.

 

Such is not the province of any one political perspective. Consider:

  • A CivicScience poll asked 3624 Americans if schools should “teach Arabic numerals as part of their curriculum.” Fifty-six percent answered “No.” Among Republican respondents, 74 percent objected; among Democrats, the number was 40 percent. (Do the respondents advise, instead, teaching Roman numerals?)
  • CivicScience also asked people if schools should teach the “creation theory of Catholic priest Georges Lemaitre as part of their science curriculum.” Democrats overwhelmingly objected: 73 percent opposed such teaching (compared with 33 percent of Republicans) … of the Big Bang theory.

 

Such ill-informed opinions—illusions of understanding—are powered by what social psychologists know as the overconfidence phenomenon (a tendency to be more confident than correct) and the Dunning-Krueger effect (incompetence not recognizing itself). And, as I have previously noted, illusory understanding—and what it portends for our civic life--matters because our collective future matters. Consider further:

  • When—despite plummeting violent and property crime rates—7 in 10 adults annually believe there has been more crime in the current year than in the prior year, then fear-mongering politicians may triumph.
  • When immigrants crossing the southern U.S. border are seen as oftentimes “vicious predators and bloodthirsty killers,” then—notwithstanding the somewhat lower actual crime and incarceration rate of immigrants—we will call for the shifting of public resources to “build the wall.”
  • When statistically infrequent (but traumatizing) incidents of air crashes, domestic terrorism, and school shootings hijack our consciousness—thanks to our heuristic of judging risk by readily available images of horrific happenings—then we will disproportionately fear such things. Gallup reports that nearly half of Americans (38 percent of men and 58 percent of women) now are “worried” that they or a family member will be a mass shooting victim. Feeling such fear, we may allocate scarce public resources in less-than-optimal ways—as when transforming schools into fortresses with frightened children—while being unconcerned about the vastly greater dangers posed by car accidents, guns in the home, and future mass destruction from climate change. (It’s so difficult to feel empathy for the unseen future victims of grave dangers.)

 

Red or blue, we agree that our children’s and grandchildren’s future matters. The problem is that democracy requires an informed and thoughtful populace. Democracy’s skeptics argue that most people lack the motivation and ability to do the needed work—to absorb large amounts of information and then, with appropriate humility and openness, to sift the true from the false. Consider our collective ignorance on such diverse topics as the U.S. federal budget percentage going to foreign aid (1 percent, not Americans’ average guess of 31 percent) to the mere 38 percent knowing which party currently controls the U.S. House of Representatives.

 

Such ignorance needn’t reflect stupidity.  Perhaps you, too, have rationalized: If the odds of my vote affecting an election or referendum outcome are infinitesimal, then why invest time in becoming informed? Why not, instead, care for my family, pay the bills, manage my health, pursue relationships, and have fun? Or why not trust the simple answers offered by authoritarian leaders?

 

Ergo, the great enemy of an informed and prudent populace, and of a flourishing democracy, is misinformation that is sustained by an illusion of understanding. But there is good news: Education matters. Education helps us recognize how errors infuse our thinking. Education makes us less gullible to conspiracy theories. Education, rightly done, draws us out of our tribal social media bubbles. And education teaches us to think critically—to ask questions with curiosity, to assess claims with evidence, and to be humble about our own understanding. Said differently, education increases our willingness to ask the two big critical thinking questions: What do you mean? and How do you know?

 

So three cheers for education. Education informs us. It teaches us how to think smarter. And as Aristotle long ago taught us, it supports civic virtues and human flourishing.

 

(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit TalkPsych.com.)

Students appreciate examples that are meaningful to them. How about a little selfie research?

 

After covering experiments in the Intro Psych research methods chapter, ask students to think about how they would do an experiment to find out if people perceived those who post a lot of selfies to Instagram differently than those who post a lot of “posies”—photos of themselves taken by other people. Emphasize that the question is not how the people actually are, but how others think they are.

 

Give students the independent variable: the last 30 Instagram photos—mostly selfies or mostly posies. Next, ask students to jot down some dependent variables. What might those different perceptions be? For example, would your students expect those with lots of selfies to be perceived as being more self-absorbed? After students have had a couple minutes to think about these, ask students to work in pairs or small groups to come up with their list of dependent variables. Once discussion has died down, ask each group to volunteer one dependent variable that has not already been identified by a previous group. Write the dependent variables where the class can see them. After each group has given one, ask students for any other dependent variables they came up with that haven’t already been named.

 

Explain that in an experimental study, researchers could create fake Instagram accounts and manipulate how many selfies and how many posies to show participants who would then rate the owners of those fake accounts on each of the dependent variables. 

 

In a recent correlational study, researchers wanted to know exactly that. Do people perceived Instagram users differently depending on how many selfies or posies the users posted (Barry et al., 2019)? Participants in this study rated 30 individuals based on the last 30 photos posted to their Instagram accounts. Researchers measured 13 dependent variables. Remember, these are all perceptions people had of the Instagram users based on their last 30 photos: self-esteem, liking adventure, loneliness, extraversion, trying new things, success, likeability, dependability, would be a good friend, self-absorption, worried about being left out, emotionality, and considerate of others.

 

Those who had more selfies were perceived to:

Have low self-esteem

Not like adventure

Be lonely

Not be outgoing

Not like trying new things

Not be successful

Not be likeable

 

Those who had more posies were perceived to:

Have high self-esteem

Like adventure

Not be lonely

Be outgoing

Be dependable

Like trying new things

Be successful

Be likeable

Be a good friend

 

There were no significant correlations between number of selfies or number of posies and perceptions of being self-absorbed, worried about being left out, being emotional, or being considerate of others.

 

After sharing these results, ask students what follow-up research questions should be addressed next. Or, if students were to replicate this study, what changes would they make?

 

 

Reference

 

Barry, C. T., McDougall, K. H., Anderson, A. C., Perkins, M. D., Lee-Rowland, L. M., Bender, I., & Charles, N. E. (2019). ‘Check your selfie before you wreck your selfie’: Personality ratings of Instagram users as a function of self-image posts. Journal of Research in Personality, 82, 103843. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2019.07.001

 If you're feeling stressed or anxious, consider the work of Viktor Frankl, who taught us that finding meaning in life is our most important quest: Viktor Frankl: Doctor prescribed the meaning of life - Big Think psychstudentrss

Several years ago, back when I was still giving in-class exams, I was convinced by Roddy Roediger to give a comprehensive final exam. By asking students to review the course material one more time by studying for the final, this increased the chances students would remember more of the course content some time later. You’ll recognize the use of the spacing effect.

 

When I completely revamped my courses, going all-in with my variation on interteaching (see this blog post), I eliminated my in-class exams. With no comprehensive final, what could I do insteaad that would encourage students to go back through the course content one more time? Since what I really want to know is what my students got out of the course, I decided to just ask them.

 

Final Course Review:

 

Looking back over the course, identify the 10 most important things you learned in this course. Rank order them so the most important is number 1, the second most important is number 2, and so on.

 

For each of those important things, explain what the concept is, and explain why it is important to you. 

An "important thing" could be a concept -- think bold-faced term -- or a research finding. Please do not list entire chapters. 

 

Those are all of the instructions. I purposefully leave it wide open to what “things” students couldn’t identify. And I leave “important” undefined. Most often students interpret it as things that are important to them personally, but some interpret this as things important for anyone to know, or even things that are important functions of being human.

 

When I assign this in a face-to-face class, we meet during our scheduled final time. Each student submits their list to the course management system before class, and they also bring them to class–or access them on a device. I ask a volunteer to share their number 1 item and why they chose it. I write the concept on the board, then briefly summarize the concept, maybe even referring back to something I covered in lecture or was covered in the textbook to help students with retrieval. Next, I ask if anyone else had that item on their top ten list. If so, I ask each to share why it made their lists. From that group of students, I ask one to share their number one item. We repeat until everyone has had an opportunity to share their number one most important item.

 

Because I want students to not only review the course content when they are creating their lists, but to also review the course content in class when we go through the lists, my scoring of this assignment is a little creative. The assignment is worth 30 points. Each of the 10 items is worth 3 points: identify something from the course, correctly explain what it is, and discuss why it is important. If a student is in class for this final review, students earn 5 points extra credit. If they are absent, they lose 15 points.

 

For my online courses, the instructions for the Final Course Review are the same, but I assign it as a discussion. I want students to not only have reviewed the course content to create their own lists, I want students to read the lists of other students. I ask students to respond to read the lists of two of their discussion groupmates, and reply with at least two of these types of comments:

 

A compliment, e.g., "I like how... because...," I like that... because..."

A comment, e.g., "I agree that... because...," "I disagree that... because..."

A connection, e.g., "I have also read that...," "I have also thought that...," "That reminds me of..."

A question, e.g., "I wonder why...," "I wonder how..." 

 

Reading what students submit for the Final Course Review is an important reminder to me that there is much value in the content covered by Intro Psych. I love ending the course with this assignment not only because it gives students an opportunity to review the course content one more time, but it also allows me to see what students are taking with them as they leave my classroom (or my virtual classroom) for the last time. It’s what they’ve written that I take with me into the next term as I consider the course content I want to keep, I want to eliminate, and I want to add.

“Do something!” shouted a lone voice at Ohio’s governor during a post-massacre candlelight vigil in downtown Dayton. Others soon chimed into what became a crowd chant, which has now challenged Congress to, indeed, do something in response to the repeated mass shootings.

 

In response, politicians and pundits offered varied diagnoses and remedies. Some blamed mental illness or violent video gaming or White nationalist hate speech. Others noted that such do not set the United States apart from countries that also have mental illness, video game enthusiasts, and hate speech—yet have vastly fewer homicides and virtually no mass shootings. What distinguishes the United States is, simply, guns.

 

Despite broad and growing public support for strengthened background checks and assault weapon bans, America’s nearly 400 million guns are not disappearing soon. So what, realistically, is something effective we can do?

 

Might “red flag” gun laws, which aim to take guns away from dangerous people, be a remedy? If someone expresses suicidal or destructive fantasies, or is mentally ill, could we save lives by confiscating their weapons?

 

The idea of identifying at-risk individuals is not new. Former Speaker of the U.S. House Paul Ryan had the idea in 2015: “People with mental illness are getting guns and committing these mass shootings.” In the wake of the 2018 slaughter of 17 people at a Parkland, Florida high school, Florida’s Governor (now-Senator) Rick Scott went a step further, urging stronger rules to red-flag high-risk people: “I want to make it virtually impossible for anyone who has mental issues to use a gun. I want to make it virtually impossible for anyone who is a danger to themselves or others to use a gun.” President Donald Trump suggested opening more mental hospitals that could house would-be mass murders: “When you have some person like this, you can bring them into a mental institution.” After the El Paso and Dayton massacres, he declared that mass killers are “mentally ill monsters.” At an August 15th New Hampshire rally he added that "These people are mentally ill. I think we have to start building institutions again."

 

The general public has supported red-flagging. In a 2012 Gallup survey, 84 percent of Americans agreed that “increased government spending on mental health screening and treatment” would be a “somewhat” or “very” effective “approach to preventing mass shootings at schools.”

 

While we psychologists welcome the expressed high regard for our supposed powers of discernment, the hard reality is otherwise. Extremely rare events such as mass shootings are inherently difficult to predict, even by the best psychological science. One analysis reviewed 73 studies that attempted to predict violent or antisocial behavior. Its conclusion: Using psychology’s risk assessment tools “as sole determinants of detention, sentencing, and release is not supported by the current evidence.”

 

Moreover, among the millions of troubled people who could potentially murder or commit suicide, it is impossible to identify in advance the infinitesimal fraction who will do so. And it would surely be unfair to stigmatize all “mentally ill” people. Most mentally ill people do not commit violent acts, and most violent criminals are not mentally ill. Violent acts are better predicted by anger, alcohol use, previous violence, gun availability, and young-male demography. (The El Paso and Dayton shooters were 21 and 24-year-old males.) As the late psychologist David Lykken once observed, “We could avoid two-thirds of all crime simply by putting all able-bodied young men in cryogenic sleep from the age of 12 through 28.”

 

Suicide is likewise hard to predict. One research team summarized 50 years of research on suicide’s unpredictability: “The vast majority of people who possess a specific risk factor [for suicide] will never engage in suicidal behavior.” Moreover, our ability to predict suicide “has not improved across 50 years.”

 

Even given our inability to offer accurate predictions of who will commit murder or suicide, we do know some risk factors. As every psychology student knows, one of the best predictors of future behavior is past behavior:  Prior violent acts increase the risk of future violent acts--and prior suicide attempts raise the risk of a future suicide. This was seemingly illustrated by the death of convicted pedophile financier Jeffrey Epstein, after he was removed from suicide watch, which the New York Times reports would normally be decided by the chief psychologist at a federal prison facility after “a face-to-face psychological evaluation.” Shortly after apparently being deemed not at risk, despite his prior attempt, Epstein reportedly died by hanging in his prison cell.

 

But even without knowing who will commit suicide, we can modify the environment to reduce its probability. For example, fences that negate jumping from bridges and buildings have reduced the likelihood of impulsive suicides. Reducing the number of in-home guns has also been effective. States with high gun ownership rates are states with high suicide rates, even after controlling for other factors such as poverty. After Missouri repealed its tough handgun law, its suicide rate went up 15 percent; when Connecticut enacted such a law, its suicide rate dropped 16 percent.

 

And we can reduce, even if we cannot predict, mass shootings. As my psychologist colleague Linda Woolf wrote after a 2018 massacre, and again after El Paso and Dayton, it is time “to focus on the evidence—mass shootings occur, and guns make these atrocities all too easy and frequent.” Our politicians, she adds, should initiate gun safety reforms including “a ban on assault weapons, ban on large-capacity magazines, universal background checks, stiffer licensing laws, red flag laws, and lifting of all Federal restrictions on gun violence research.” Although we cannot predict the next tragedy, we can act to reduce its likelihood.

 

(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit TalkPsych.com. An earlier essay also reported some of the evidence on the unpredictability of mass shootings.)

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On 48 occasions during his recent testimony regarding Russian election interference, former special counsel Robert Mueller—seeming “confused,” “uncertain,” and “forgetful”—asked to have questions repeated. Was Mueller, who turns 75 this week, exhibiting, as so many pundits surmised,cognitive agingor perhaps even early signs of dementia?

 

Win McNamee/Getty Images 

 

The chatter among those of us with hearing loss suggested a much simpler explanation: Robert Mueller is likely one of us. Might his struggle to hear suggest normal age-related hearing loss, exacerbated by his Vietnam combat? Among Americans 75 and older, half “have difficulty hearing,” reports the National Institute on Deafness and Other Hearing Disorders. For war veterans of Mueller’s age, some hearing loss is to be expected.

 

In response, we empathized. Struggling to hear, especially in important social situations, is stressful and tiring. It drains cognitive energy—energy that is then unavailable for quick processing and responding. Moreover, the challenge is compounded in a cavernous room with distant ceiling speakers that produce a verbal fog as sounds bounce off hard walls. Add to that fast-talking (time-constrained) questioners, some of whom were looking down at their script while speaking, impeding natural lip reading. Those of us with hearing loss dread, and avoid, such situations.

 

There is, admittedly, accumulating evidence (here and here) that hearing loss is associated with accelerated cognitive decline in later life. Compared with people with good hearing, those with hearing loss show declines in memory, attention, and learning about three years earlier—though less if they get hearing aids. But Robert Mueller’s slowness in understanding and processing questions seems explainable not only by his four dozen requests for having questions re-voiced, but likely also by his not completely hearing or perhaps mishearing other questions.

 

And it was all so easily avoidable in one of three ways—each of which I have experienced as a god-send:

  1. A table speaker 20 inches from his ears could have given him vastly clearer sound than what reached his ears after reverberating around the spacious room.
  2. Real-time captioning on a table screen, like the TV captioning we use at home, could have made the spoken words instantly clear.
  3. A room hearing loop could have magnetically transmitted the voice from each microphone directly to the inexpensive telecoil sensor that comes with most modern hearing aids. Other Capitol buildings—including the U.S. House and Senate main chambers and the U.S. Supreme Court chamber—now have hearing loops. Voila! With the mere push of a button (with no need to obtain extra equipment), we can hear deliciously clear sound. (See here, here, and here for more hearing loop information. Full disclosure: The first site is my own informational website, and the last describes our collective advocacy to bring this technology to all of the United States.)

 

Here ye! Hear ye! Let Robert Mueller’s struggling to hear remind our culture that hearing loss—the great invisible disability—is commonplace and, thanks to population aging and a life history of toxic noise, growing. And let us resolve to create a more hearing-friendly environment, from quieter restaurants to hearing-looped auditoriums, worship places, and airports.

 

(For David Myers’ other essays on psychological science and everyday life, visit TalkPsych.com.)

The American Psychological Association’s Board of Educational Affairs, at the behest of the Committee on Associate and Baccalaureate Education, convened a working group under the title Introductory Psychology Initiative (IPI). The working group was tasked with sorting out four major areas related to the Intro Psych course. First, can we, as a discipline, please agree on a set of student learning outcomes? And while we’re at it, can we have some sample assessments for measuring those outcomes? Second, what are some different ways the course can be structured? Third, what sort of training should there be for Intro Psych instructors, and how can we deliver that training? And fourth, how can what students learn in Intro Psych help them succeed in their courses, in their careers, and in their lives?

 

The IPI working group will be rolling out recommendations over the coming months. First up are the student learning outcomes.

 

By the end of the introductory psychology course, students should be able to:

 

- Identify basic concepts and research findings, and give examples of psychology's integrative themes.

 

Psychological science relies on empirical evidence adapting as new data develop.

 

Psychology explains general principles that govern behavior, while recognizing individual differences.

 

Psychological, biological, social, and cultural factors influence mental processes and behavior.

 

Our perceptions filter experience of the world through an imperfect personal lens.

 

Applying psychological principles can change our lives in positive ways.

 

- Apply psychological principles to everyday life.

 

- Draw appropriate, logical, and objective conclusions about behavior and mental processes from empirical evidence.

 

- Evaluate misconceptions or erroneous behavioral claims based on evidence from psychological science.

 

- Design, conduct, or evaluate basic psychological research. 

 

- Describe ethical principles that guide psychologists in research and therapy.

 

For a seasoned Intro Psych instructor, there is probably nothing in here that is too shocking. As you read through the themes, the content you currently cover in your course likely already fits these themes. What we’re asking is that the themes be made explicit to students. While students may not remember years later much specific content, such as Piaget’s third stage of development, we would love students to remember these larger themes.

 

In the psychological research student learning outcome, we recognize that different instructors working with different class sizes and student populations, such as honors courses, will decide to do different things. Perhaps you want students to design a basic study, correctly applying independent variables and dependent variables. Or perhaps you want your students to conduct a basic study, inside or outside the class. Or perhaps you would like your students to read a summary of a less-than-well-designed study and identify some of the flaws. In all cases, students will gain an appreciation for what is involved in doing psychological science.

 

Where I expect most Intro Psych instructors to say, “Oooo, I haven’t been teaching that,” is the ethical principles that guide therapists. A lot of Intro Psych textbooks cover the ethics of research, but not the ethics of therapy. Intro Psych students will likely encounter a therapist sometime in their lives—whether it be for themselves, a family member, a friend, or a co-worker/employee. Intro Psych students should know what ethical guidelines therapists are expected to follow and to know when those ethical guidelines have been breached. For myself, I will take it one step beyond the listed student learning outcome and ask my students to identify some next steps they can take if they believe a therapist has acted unethically—once I figure out what those are myself.

 

This is the first time the discipline of psychology has a set of student learning outcomes for Intro Psych. Try them out. Let us know what you think.

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In an article I had written on interteaching (2015), I wrote,

 

I was working harder on the course than they appeared to be. I was reading the textbook; my students were not. I was trying to find good examples of concepts covered in the textbook; my students were not. I was scoring perfectly on the exams; my students were not.

 

The basic premise of interteaching is that students answer instructor-prepared questions before they come to class, discuss in pairs or small groups while in class, tell the instructor where they’d like some clarification, and then the instructor only lectures on that material. The students are doing the work of learning. The instructor is there to help the students.

 

I moved to this model in 2014, modified it to fit my pedagogical goals, and now I can’t imagine teaching any other way.

 

Setting the context

 

I teach primarily Intro Psych at a community college near Seattle with a student population approaching 80% ethnic minority. Many of my students are immigrants and refugees. Many of my U.S.-born students have had a lifetime of struggle.

 

My face-to-face classes cap at 38 and meet twice a week in 2.5-hour blocks. The interteaching format has also been used successfully in 50-minute class sessions. With the right resources, it could be used in larger classes. I use this same format in my online courses; the primary difference is that the discussions are more prescribed.

 

We are on the quarter system, so students are expected to spend 15 hours each week working on a typical course. The coursework is designed with that time commitment in mind. (Calculate how much work is in your course.) I am explicit with students about this expectation.

 

How I do it

 

By Sunday night, in preparation for a week of class starting on Monday, students answer 12 to 15 essay/short answer questions. The questions encourage students to apply what they have learned in the chapter to new situations. Responses are submitted via the course management system.

 

When students come to class, I assign them to small groups or no more than four per group. Students spend 40 minutes or so in their groups discussing their responses to the questions. Some students bring printed copies of their answers. Other students access digital versions. During this time, students are sorting out what content they know and what content they don’t know. What they don’t know, their fellow group members may be able to explain it to them. If they can’t, or if no one in the group knows either, the students in the group make a note of it. When the group is done discussing, a volunteer from their group goes to the board and writes down the content—not just the question number—that they would like me to cover in lecture.

 

Following discussion, we take a 10-minute break. During that time, I read what each group would like me to cover and formulate a plan.

 

You may be wondering, “You don’t know what you’re going to cover?!” Sort of. Remember, I’m the one who chose the questions in the first place. I am prepared to cover all of them with relevant and illustrative demonstrations at the ready. If you are teaching in 50-minute sessions, you could do discussion one day, then give a short lecture at the beginning of the next class session.

 

Students earn five points per class session for completing an “exit ticket.” The half sheet submitted at the end of each class session asks students for the most interesting thing they learned in class and for what questions they still have.

The next class session later that week, students get into their same groups for a short discussion. Were there things that were still unclear after the last class? Is there content that they decided I didn’t need to cover but have since changed their minds? In this class lecture, I address those concerns as well as cover whatever I didn’t get to last class session.

Using what they learned in class that week, students have until the following Sunday night to revise any or all of their assignment responses. I do not read drafts and provide feedback. Students are responsible for comparing their written responses with what others in their group are saying and with the lecture. At the end of the week, if students have any lingering questions, they are encouraged to ask me.

 

At the same time students are working on their revisions, they are preparing their initial draft responses to the next set of questions.

 

The questions

 

I change at least one question in each write-to-learn assignment each term. While a rare occurrence, I have had students submit assignments written by other students in previous terms. Students who handed over their files are often shocked to learn that their work was used in this way. It is an important lesson for them to learn. Changing one question doesn’t stop this kind of cheating, but it does make it easier for me to detect since the person submitting the file doesn’t bother to make sure that all of the questions are the same. By seeing the wrong question in the submitted file, I can narrow down the term based on when that question was used. And then it’s just a matter of flipping through the submissions for that assignment.

 

Here are some examples of assignment questions. Again, there are 12 to 15 of these for each week’s assignment.

 

Research methods

 

Hypothesis: If people are frequently interrupted by messages on their cell phones while studying, then they will do worse on a test. Design an experiment that would test this hypothesis. In your description, identify the independent variable (including the experimental and control conditions) and the dependent variable. Be sure to include operational definitions of both the independent and dependent variables. 

 

Consciousness

 

A friend says that she keeps falling asleep during the day. She wonders if she has a sleep disorder. What questions would you ask your friend to sort out if she might have insomnia, narcolepsy, or sleep apnea? Explain how each question would point toward a particular disorder or eliminate a particular disorder.

 

Sensation and perception

You and your friend Abdul are standing side by side. When you start to hear a low hum, you ask Abdul, "Did you hear that?" Abdul says, "No." As you hear the sound getting louder, Abdul says, "Now I hear it!" As the hum stays at a steady volume, neither of you can hear it any more. 

First, explain the difference between absolute threshold and difference threshold. Next, explain how absolute threshold, difference threshold, and sensory adaptation apply to this example.

Learning

Every time Cato talks to the woman he has recently fallen in love with, Julita, he feels all warm and fuzzy. He just created a ring tone just for her calls, an excerpt from Sam Smith's song Stay with Me. It won't take very many phone calls for that song to be enough to make him feel warm and fuzzy. 

  1. In this example, identify the unconditioned stimulus, unconditioned response, conditioned stimulus, and conditioned response. 
  2. Use this example to explain generalization and discrimination.
  3. What would need to happen in order to bring about extinction? What would spontaneous recovery look like?

Memory

It's been a week since you last saw your chemistry textbook. The last place you remember having it was in class the day you learned that got a perfect score on your biology exam. How could you use what is known about context-dependent memory and state-dependent memory to help you find it?

Social

Read this article. Describe the different groups represented in this article. What superordinate goal has brought them together? Explain. 

 

Grading

 

Assignments are worth 60 points each and are not scored until the final revision is submitted.

 

I look at the first draft, and award up to twenty points for effort. To “exceed expectations” (20/20) students need to make a good faith effort to answer all parts of all questions. The responses do not need to be correct. Remember, students wrote this first draft using the assigned readings, including the textbook chapter, and any additional research students chose to do. At this point, we haven’t yet covered this content in class. To “meet expectations” (15/20) most of the questions need to be addressed. For a 10-point “needs improvement” score, students answered about half of the questions. Answering at least one question but less than half yields a 5-point “inadequate” score. Not submitting the assignment by the deadline results in a zero for the effort score. I take deadlines very seriously. Students need to have completed the initial draft to be active group participants who provide useful feedback to their group members and useful information to me on what content I need to cover.

 

Next, I choose two questions to score for correctness, each worth twenty points. I create a rubric specific to those two questions. No, students do not know what questions I am going to choose. In fact, I don’t know which two questions I am going to score until after the final revision deadline has passed, and I am ready to grade. Students are expected to have solid answers to each question, and there is no reason they can’t.

 

Some students struggle with the idea that they have written all of this stuff, but only two questions will be graded. I explain in the first week of class that this course is structured not unlike some work environments.

 

You have a task. To complete that task, you have at your disposable the resources I’ve given you, the assistance of your fellow workers (classmates), your ready-to-answer-any-questions boss (me), and whatever else you’d like to use, including phone-a-friend and the Internet. As your boss, I am going to spot-check your work. I am not going to listen in on every interaction you have with customers. I am not going to review each database entry you input. As your instructor, I am not going to score everything you write. In fact, in-class exams work the same way. You study everything in the assigned chapters, but only some of what you studied will be on the exam. The difference is that I’m telling you exactly what will be on the exam, and I’m giving you a couple weeks to work on it.

 

While you may choose to skip a question because it feels too difficult to figure out, the danger is that question may be one of the ones chosen. In this course, with everything that you have at your disposal, the expectation is that you can understand and apply all of what you are learning.

 

What about exams?

 

I no longer have exams. If that makes you nervous, you can call these assignments take home exams. When I moved to this format, I still gave in-class multiple-choice/short answer exams. Students who did well on the assignments, did well on the exams. The students who didn’t, didn’t. The in-class exams weren’t adding anything, so I removed them. We now have more in-class time to spend learning course content, and students can spend their time practicing important job and life skills, like reading, discussing, and writing, and less time working on their multiple-choice test-taking skills.

 

Not even a final exam?

 

Not even a final exam. Instead, I ask students to identify and rank order the ten most important things they learned in the course, describe what each thing is, and why each made their top ten list. “Important things” is intentionally ambiguous. A thing could be a particular concept, like operant conditioning. It could be a big content-related take-away, like the importance of sleep. Or it could be a more general lesson learned in the course, like “I learned how much I can get done when my phone is off.” In these examples, "important" was interpreted to mean what was important to this student personally. Some students interpret “important” to mean what is good for humanity to know, like “Everyone should know about false memories.”

 

During our final exam time, I ask a volunteer to share their number 1 thing learned and why they chose it. I write the item on the board, and then I ask if anyone else had it on their list. If so, I ask why they chose it. Then I pick another person to share their number one, and so on. This provides a wonderfully fascinating review of the entire course.

 

Why I like it

 

This course format turns the responsibility for learning back to the students. Students are working with the assigned readings, figuring out what they know and don’t know. They learn from their group members, and what they don’t get there, I am ready to support them. Our class time is spent focused on where students are struggling, and not on course content they understand.

 

Students are working with the course content and applying it to new situations. By writing the questions, I am directing students to the content that I think is most useful for them to know. This format makes it easy to bring in current events. Questions can direct students to read, say, a New York Times article, and then apply relevant course concepts to what they’ve read.

 

For the students who take the time to reflect on where they missed points and why, their writing improves. I recommend a reflections assignment such as an assignment wrapper. (Here I describe the one I use.) I explain to students that writing skills are ridiculously important. In whatever job they go into, if they write well, they will stand out, and that can lead to opportunities that can lead to promotions.

 

 

 

Reference

Frantz, S. (2015). Shifting responsibility. Psychology Teacher Network, 25(1).