Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Oh, How the Mighty Have Fallen!

One of the most impressive (and sometimes frustrating) parts of teaching psychology is that, as a science, it is a subject constantly in a state of change. What we believe and assume to be true one day can (and often does) turn out to be not true the next. I would argue this is GOOD, because with each corrected error we get closer to the truth! Or...what we think is the truth.

I've recently been alerted by fellow bloggers of two very popular theories in psychology that are now under scrutiny. First, the folks at Neurotopia have provided an excellent background and critique of the Serotonin Theory of Depression in "Serotonin Theory (and why it's probably wrong)". Students in my classes will be talking about this theory within the next few weeks. Basically, it's the idea that depression may be caused by a lack of the neurotransmitter serotonin. The above article suggests that the picture on this is hardly clear.

Second, Michael Britt's most recent post on The PsychFiles concerns "The Learning Styles Myth: An Interview with Daniel Willingham." The interviewee, Daniel Willingham, calls into question the notion of "learning styles," a popular idea within educational psychology. In a nutshell, it claims that there are "visual learners", "kinesthetic learners", etc. and is closely related to Howard Gardener's ideas of Mulitple Intelligences. Willingham is not convinced. Maybe you shouldn't be either. Listen to the podcast and see what you think.

Perhaps either or both of these theories will go the way of Structuralism? Yeah, remember THAT term from Chapter 1?

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Psychology Teacher's Wish List

Everyone knows that psychology teachers are hard to shop for. Their continual need to overanalyze motivations makes gift-giving a nightmare: "What does this gift imply about our relationship? What does it say about the giver's impressions of me? Do my possessions suggest anything about my personality?" And the list goes on and on. Play it safe this holiday/birthday by purchasing a gift that says, "Here! Indulge your psychology geekiness!"

Or, why wait for a birthday? Next time you're groveling for extra points on that free-response, it might be to your advantage to be that "thoughtful student who brought me the Sigmund Freud action figure."


  1. The Stuffed Toy Neuron from Giantmicrobes.com. Thanks to the folks at the Teaching High School Psychology blog for pointing this one out to me. Also, this would make a great gift for the child of a psychology teacher, especially if the parent wants to corrupt him/her early.
  2. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung action figures! Enough said.
  3. Skydiving Sigmund Freud. If the action figure isn't enough... here you get Freud with the parachute so he can drop in an psychoanalyze anyone at a moment's notice!
  4. What about a Phrenology Head? Wouldn't this make a lovely addition to your favorite psychology teacher's desk? Also good for storing wigs. Apparently these are so popular that the folks at thepsychologyshop.com are temporarily out of them!
  5. For those who can't get enough abnormal psychology: The Obsessive-Compulsive Action Figure!
  6. Of course, you can't go wrong with psychology-related apparel. The folks at http://www.cafepress.com/ have a wide array of t-shirts to choose from, including my favorite: "I'm on that like Bandura on Bobo."

In case you were wondering, my birthday is September 3rd.

Edible "Brain" Projects

I've found the perfect activity for our next Psych Club meeting: making Brain Cakes. This seems the ultimate way to combine two AWESOME passtimes, studying neuroscience and eating fattening confections. Though, if you check out these directions it seems we might not be able to finish this in one lunch period.

Up for something easier? How about creating a cortex from Jello using a Brain Jello Mold? Though given the disturbingly realistic result, it may be a better activity for your next game of Truth or Dare.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

I'm Not Playing Computer Games! This is "Studying"

Sick of making flashcards with AP Psych terms? Ready to burn that 40 Day Countdown Packet? Here's a cool way to take a "break" from intense practice while still "studying" for your AP Psych Exam. Check out these cool psychology-related games at the Nobel Prize Educational Site.

The site has games related to the work of numerous Nobel Prize winners. While it is worthwhile to investigate some of the non-psychologist winners, here are a few that seem especially relevant for intro-psych students:
  1. Classical Conditioning - Pavlov's Dogs Can you make the dog drool on command?
  2. Split-Brain Experiments - Replicate an experiment on Mr. Split Brainy. Based, of course, on the work of Roger Sperry and Michael Gazzaniga. (Sperry split the Nobel Peace Prize with David Hubel and Torsten Weisel in 1981)
  3. The Ear Pages - Great tool for reviewing how the ear works! If you are struggling to remember the terms/parts of the ear from chapter 5, this simulation and quiz is for you!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Visual Impairments Lead to Hallucinations in Charles Bonnet Syndrome

Whoa. Just when you thought you had heard of all the strange disorders out there... Check out this post by the folks at Boing Boing about Charles Bonnet Syndrome, a disorder caused by visual impairment. This is NOT a psychological disorder per se, but you can easily see how it might be mistaken for one, given that sufferers report vivid visual hallucinations, often of things much smaller in size than they are in real life (e.g. "little people").

Monday, March 23, 2009

Confused about Defense Mechanisms?

Struggling to remember and differentiate between all those Freudian defense mechanisms we discussed in class? Michael Britt to the rescue again! Although this time we don't have a cool mnemonic video, Mr. Britt shares with us an audio podcast littered with examples of defense mechanisms in action.

The chart (provided by Britt) to the right organizes the info in the podcast for you quite nicely. Click on it for a larger image. It doesn't go over all of the nine I shared with you in class, but it's a good reference. To see show notes and more information about this episode of the PsychFiles, click here.

On a related note, check out this article on the neuroscience behind the Freudian concept of transference: "Are You My Mother? Psychological Transference May Be More Pronounced When We Are Tired"

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Intelligence & Genes: More Evidence of a Connection

More Evidence That Intelligence Is Largely Inherited: Researchers Find That Genes Determine Brain's Processing Speed

ScienceDaily (2009-03-18) -- A new type of brain imaging scanner shows that intelligence is strongly influenced by the quality of the brain's axons or wiring that sends signals throughout the brain. The faster the signaling, the faster the brain processes information. And since the integrity of the brain's wiring is influenced by genes, the genes we inherit play a far greater role in intelligence than was previously thought. ... > read full article

An MMPI for your Puppy? Personality Tests for Pets

Bizarre as it seems, personality testing has now crossed the species line. Increasingly, animal shelters are attempting to match potential pet owners with their ideal companions on the basis of canine or feline personality tests. This article, which appeared in TIME Magazine in 2007, sites numerous benefits of the procedure, including fewer dogs and cats being euthanized (a 40% reduction)! For the full article from TIME Magazine, click here.

Psych students, your assignment is to post a comment here after reading this article. And not simply, "Yup, I read it." Some questions to fuel your thinking: If you were in the market for a new canine companion or feline friend, would you want to get information from a pet personality test to help you make your decision? Given how successful these tests seem to be in pets (and, some claim, internet dating sites like eHarmony and Chemistry.com) would you consider using the results from a (human) personality test to help select friends or a date? Are there any drawbacks to our continuing obsession with personality testing (in animals or in humans)?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Hypnotist Al Kaytraz to Perform at Chi-Hi

This Friday, March 20, psychology students in Chippewa Falls have an opportunity to see a hypnotist in action. The Psychology Club of Chi-Hi is sponsoring a performance of Michael Johnson (a.k.a. Al Kaytraz), a licensed hypnotist.

Johnson will take the stage in the Chi-Hi Auditorium at 7:00 PM with an act guaranteed to provide fun for all ages. Members of the audience may volunteer to undergo hypnosis as part of the night's entertainment. Frightened by the prospect of being hypnotized? Don't worry. You can just sit back and enjoy watching the show. Johnson notes on his website:
"During my performances, I work only with willing volunteers. We have fun exploring the power of the human mind, and I enjoy demonstrating how easy (and safe) it is to enter the hypnotic state. Additionally I am certifed by the National Guild of Hypnotist, and I am trained to instruct others how to utilize self-hypnosis and hypnosis to improve their own lives."

What should you expect to see at Friday night's performance? Volunteers undergoing hypnosis will provide much of the show, as they are asked to perform various tasks while in their hypnotic state. Johnson describes the show like this:
"The hypnosis show is a fantastic blend of routines that truly give you and your guests the chance to experience the power of hypnosis. The induction is fast and the action just keeps coming. Your guests will laugh as the volunteers forget their names, become 5 years old, have hallucinations, and so much more. The volunteers will have a great experience and will be surprized at how fun and relaxing the hypnotic state is."

Tickets are $5 in advance and $7 at the door. Contact Mrs. Welle (wellevk@chipfalls.k12.wi.us) with questions.

Remembering Erikson's Eight Stages

As promised...

Today's Term O' the Day was Erik Erikson, famous for his difficult-to-remember Eight Stage Theory of Psychosocial Development. As I've mentioned before in class, his theory is particularly hard for students to memorize because so many of the terms begin with vowels, making it quite a chore to make acronyms from them.

Well, here's Micheal Britt again to save the day! In the podcast below, he creates another clever mnemonic, this time using the Peg-Word System to remember Erikson's conflicts in an orderly fashion.

Michael has also kindly provided us with a pdf. file of the ideas he uses. To print a list of the words/concepts used in this mnemonic, click here.

Check out more videos and tips from Michael Britt at http://www.thepsychfiles.com/.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Failing Economy...And Fewer Shark Attacks?

Savvy psychology students know that correlation does not equal causation. Here's more proof if you need it.

In a perfect example of how a "hidden third factor" can explain both variables in a correlation, shark attacks have apparently decreased with the declining U.S. economy. Is is because sharks pay attention to the Dow Jones Industrial average? No. Nor do they have more pity on penniless surfers.

Follow the link to find out why Shark Attacks Decline: Ailing Economy to Blame

AP Psychology Exam Review

With AP Exam Registrations due soon here at Chi-Hi (March 13th, everyone!), it's time to start thinking about preparing for the AP Psych exam. With that in mind, I've put together a few links to get you started.

http://www.collegeboard.com/student/testing/ap/psych/exam.html?phych - From the horse's mouth. This is a link to the College Board's description of the exam. You'll also find links to sample questions and overviews of the content of the exam.

http://chihi.chipfalls.k12.wi.us/departments/socialstudies/wellevk/cool_links.htm - This is a link to the section of the course webpage dedicated to topic-sorted websites. Some of the websites I had showed you in class, others are just cool FYI.

http://www.thepsychfiles.com/ - Psychology professor and enthusiast Michael Britt has an impressive collection of podcasts (video and audio) designed to help intro psychology students memorize terms for their exams. For example, in the episode below, he helps you memorize parts of the brain. Corny, but IT WORKS! If you're "too cool" to use goofy mnemonics, you also might be "too cool" to pass the AP Psych Exam. Think about it.

Also, if you've endured my class to this point, your threshold for goofy has got to be quite high to begin with, so you'll probably like this guy, too.