Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Project Implicit Assignment

Discrimination and prejudice, though much less a part of public life than they once were, are still ugly realities in our world. Where do these harmful and erroneous thought (and behavior) patterns come from and why do they persist?

One theory currently being explored by researchers at Harvard University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Washington is that we learn associations (perhaps unconsciously) between certain images and general feelings or attitudes. It is hypothesized that, even if we explicitly report no preference for say, white faces over black ones, perhaps through learning our brains actually behave differently. The exercises at are meant to test subjects' implicit (unspoken, unconscious) attitudes about different images.

The idea is that, if you have a more difficult time matching positive words like "love" and "good" with black faces (or females, or presidential candidates) as compared to white ones, your brain may be sabotaging your professed egalitarian beliefs and revealing your true, albeit hidden, feelings. What does this mean? That's a topic for class discussion...

Refer to the directions on the handout you received in class for the requirements for this project, particularly the written reflection portion. Due Friday, May 1.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Revisiting Columbine

April 20, 2009 marked the 10-year anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. I'll admit, though it clearly reveals my age, that I was a senior in high school when this frightening event dominated the US media. I remember being very shaken by it, and like many people I still find descriptions of the shooting highly disturbing.

The recent release of the book Columbine, by Dave Cullen, is forcing many people to rethink what happened on that day. This book is currently on my to-read list, as it refutes many commonly accepted myths about the killers and their deeds (admittedly, things I had believed to be true as well). For example, the boys were not social outcasts targeted by bullies; rather, Cullen argues that they were the bullies.

Below, Dave Cullen on Columbine.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Stanford Prison Experiment

One of the most famous experiments in social psychology was conducted in a basement at Stanford University in 1971. Led by psychologist Philip Zimbardo, the study was meant to simulate the conditions normally faced by prison inmates and guards on a daily basis. Subjects were young men, but unlike "real" prisoners, they had no history of criminal or deviant behavior.

Randomly assigned to be either "guards" or "prisoners", the subjects quickly delved into their assigned roles. In fact, a little too much, it turned out. The study had to be prematurely cancelled as prisoners suffered psychological breakdowns and guards began to exibit increasingly dangerous and abusive behavior.

This experiment, which launched Zimbardo's career (despite concerns that the procedure went "too far" and violated ethical considerations), was a landmark study because it so obviously challenged the dispositional hypothesis as an explanation for the known bad behavior of prisoners and prison guards (e.g. it can't just be because they're "bad" people). "Good" people, placed in a "bad" situation, engage in bad behavior.

The website chronicles the now-famous experiment in a slide show with photos and video clips of the "prison" conditions and subject behavior. For extra credit, view/read the slide show and type answers to 3 of the discussion questions. You may pick which three you would like to respond to.

Also of interest, Zimbardo's recent book, The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil (2007) not only describes the experiment, but includes some of Zimbardo's more personal reflections on possible ethical breaches. It also discusses how the Abu Ghraib prison scandal recalls, with haunting familiarity, how situations can create monstrous behavior. Check out Zimbardo's interview on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show (below), which is proof that even psychologists have street cred'. The book's companion website, is also worth a visit.

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Thursday, April 16, 2009

New Vocab Review Tool: Quizlet

Want to impress all your friends by nailing the next Term o' the Day? Sick of writing out your own color-coded notecards? Well, today is your lucky day. I'm starting to put together a vocab review for AP Psych using the popular study site Quizlet.
The site is a pretty handy tool, as it lets you print your own notecards and offers several review games and "tests" of your vocab knowledge. So far, my favorite is Space Race because it's so challenging. It's hard to type "generativity vs. stagnation" before the definition scrolls across the screen...especially if you're having a bad spelling/typing day.
Most of the terms on the AP Psychology Review - Mrs. Welle set are ones I've nabbed from other Psych teachers, but I'll be updating our list over the next couple of weeks. I hope to add a separate list of famous psychologists for your reviewing pleasure as well.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Reviewing those Psych Disorders

Here's a link to a good website with summaries of diagnostic criteria for mental disorders: AllPsychOnline. Enjoy!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Too Good to Pass Up!

Okay, I generally try to limit my posts here to one a day, but this one was too good to pass up, given what we've just been talking about in class.

The bloggers at Mind Hacks shared some interesting information about How Death Row Inmates Cope with Impending Death. The pieces of research discussed tie in very nicely with our study of the psychoanalytic perspective, defense mechanisms and mental illness in prison in general.

Facebook: Spawn of Satan?

There have been no shortage of articles and editorials decrying young people's fascination with the social networking site Facebook. The much-loved and much-maligned time-waster has attracted the attention of researchers in psychology and in education, as well as the casual columnist. Here's a smattering of recent news about Facebook (brace yourself...much of it is not pretty):

  • "What Facebook Users Share: Lower Grades" - TIME Magazine article comments on recently released research indicating that Facebook users have, on average, lower grades than their non-Facebook using counterparts. Yikes! However, kudos to author Anita Hamilton for including critical analysis of this research: correlation does not equal causation, so it's too early to claim that Facebook actually lowers your GPA. Perhaps easily distractable procrastinators (who were likely to get lower grades anyway)are just drawn to it?
  • "Facebook Profiles Out Narcissism" - Article outlines research supporting something many of us have suspected for some time: that Facebook is a playground for narcissists. How could a narcissist resist a site that allows you to manipulate how you're viewed by others, constantly broadcast your "status" to everyone you know, and post flattering (or not-so-flattering) profile pictures of yourself? The not-so-ground-breaking news? They're as easy to spot online as they are in real life.
  • "25 Things I Didn't Want to Know About You" - TIME editorial discusses the annoying online meme: the "25 Things About Me" post.

Hey, it can't be all bad! Here's a different take: "Facebook's Latest Role: College Guidance Counselor". Maybe when we're not playing Mafia Wars or voting on which friend is the most outgoing, we actually can get useful information from this site.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happiness: It's All in Your Head

This past weekend on To the Best of Our Knowledge, a weekly radio program on Wisconsin Public Radio, listeners had the chance to hear a smattering of the most intriguing and up-to-date research on an elusive subject: happiness. The show, which you can listen to in its entirety by clicking here, was a part of the program's "Future Perfect" series and featured several famous and noteable names in psychology:
  • Jill Bolte Taylor, a Harvard-trained neuroanatomist who suffered a stroke and has since written and spoken extensively on the experience. In her latest book, My Stroke of Insight, she addresses the euphoria she felt during the stroke and how being forced to utilize her right brain (due to left brain damage caused by the stroke) has led her to greater happiness.

  • Richard Davidson of UW-Madison speaks about his research on meditation and Buddhist monks. Friend of the Dalai Lama, he has famously performed fMRI scans on meditating monks, and suggests it is a way to "train" our brains for happiness.

  • Sonja Lyubomirsky, from the University of California-Riverside, discusses current research on happiness and areas of interest. One that I found interesting (and that we've discussed in class under a different name) was "hedonic adaptation": the phenomenon whereby you obtain something or achieve something that makes you happy...but the happiness inevitably fades.

  • Robert Biswas-Diener, the "Indiana Jones" of happiness research, addresses cultural differences and cultural constants when it comes to happiness. Turns out that we ALL desire happiness, but what happiness is may differ from culture to culture.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Abuse of Antidepressant Drugs

During class today, one of my students presented an interesting question: what happens if you are not depressed, but you take an antidepressant (particularly an SSRI)? Would you still get a boost in mood?

I did not have a great answer for this question, since (unlike some other psychoactive medications) I hadn't heard any reports of abuse of antidepressants. Usually, if a drug can make you feel good, there's someone out there who will attempt to abuse it. After a little online sleuthing, the picture appears to look like this: some folks out there have been abusing antidepressants, but it seems to be mostly limited to those who already suffer from addictions and have run out of other options to get a "fix."

Consider this article on California jail inmates who have been faking mental illness to gain access to medication. Dated 4/6/09, the report indicates that prisoners had been falsely reporting symptoms in order to get doses of either Seroquel, an antipsychotic, or Wellbutrin, a popular antidepressant. Wellbutrin (bupropion) is NOT an SSRI, but rather a dopamine and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, and is often used in combination with SSRI's. Apparently, the prisoners who took it reported a speed-like effect. The article seems to suggest that the larger problem was with Seroquel (quetiapene), which produced a hypnotic-like effect in users who didn't really need it. The article also noted that the Santa Clara County Jail addressed the problem by substituting other antidepressants and antipsychotics in response to patient symptoms, and the problem has since subsided, though there were some interesting unintended consequences, notably an increase in depression among inmates (presumably previously masked by their drug use) and an incredible cost savings.

I was able to turn up one other article, this one on reported cases of abuse of SSRI's. Some limited reports of abuse have surfaced, though it appears the majority of abusers were attempting to use the SSRI's to replace some other addiction.