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Laura’s Psychology Blog.. by Laura Freberg - 6M ago

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I always wince a bit when I do my regular search of my textbooks to see what if anything people are saying and I get a notice of a new scholarly paper that cites my books. These articles usually have a title such as “What Introductory Psychology textbooks get wrong,” or something along those lines. I’m happy to report that we generally do quite well in these analyses, but they still make me super nervous.

Most recently, a search of Cacioppo Freberg brought up a new article by Regan Gurung called “Predicting learning: Comparing an open educational resource and standard textbooks.”  My first reaction was “Great! Somebody should have done this a long time ago!” My second reaction was “Oh no! What if we don’t measure up to something free?” So it was with some trepidation that I retrieved the article and hurriedly began to read.

The very good news for us, but not for Noba, is that Gurung’s data make a pretty strong case for the superiority of performance by students using a traditional textbook over OER, whether the materials were in print or electronic form. In addition to Cacioppo Freberg, Gurung included students using Hockenbury, Nolan, and Hockenbury. Gurung controlled for ACT scores and assessed students’ understanding of the two most difficult topics in intro–learning and biopsych. In all cases. performance on the tests was superior for students using standard texts compared to those using OER. Perhaps there is something going on here that is similar to the superior outcomes for people who pay for a gym, weight loss program, or smoking cessation program. Maybe you just take something more seriously when you’ve invested in it.

Standard textbooks have been under fire for their perceived contributions to the cost of higher ed, but in many ways, I think this is unfair. For fun, I did a quick comparison of the percentage of my first year costs at UCLA (1970-1971; and yes, I was paying my own way through school so I know) taken up by textbooks–6%–with the percentage of costs at Cal Poly taken up by textbooks–5%. Hmmm. This is not to say that tuition increases have been reasonable. They are not. But as many have pointed out, the biggest driving factor in cost increases has been a remarkable administrative bloat. Still, I’m happy to see the publishers work on reducing costs to students, especially via electronic sources. The fact that these worked as well as print books in Gurung (2017) helps dispel the “I can’t learn from a screen” phobia many students still face.

Personally, I think textbook choices are a bit like car choices. There should be a range. Some people want a Mercedes, while others are happy with a Honda. But understanding differences in student outcomes should be an important  part of that choice process. Gurung (2017) gives us a start in understanding student outcomes, but more research is definitely necessary.

Reference

Gurung, R. A. R. (2017). Predicting learning: Comparing an open educational resource and standard textbooks. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 3(3), 233-248.

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Laura’s Psychology Blog.. by Laura Freberg - 6M ago

Most of us can recall a time when we can identify with Archimedes’ exclamation of “Eureka,” which he uttered upon realizing that the volume of bathwater his body displaced is equal to the volume of the parts of his body submerged in the bath. What had seemed just moments before to be splintered, disconnected ideas suddenly merge into a new, simple, clear understanding, much like the shifting kaleidescope colors that suddenly coelesce into a beautiful image. Most recently, I experienced an “aha moment” while struggling with the nuances of high performance electrical neuroimaging (HPEN), a methodology favored by my co-author John Cacioppo and his brilliant wife, Steph. After studying volumes of material, I was frustrated by the feeling that I just wasn’t getting it. Putting my reading aside, I took my Australian shepherd out for a walk, determined to soak in the beautiful autumn sunshine and forget about neuroscience for a while. Much to my surprise, my thoughts drifted to stable microstates and their transitions, and it all seemed so easy!

Most of what we do in education involves analytical thought, where we plod step by logical step through a problem. How does the insight of an aha moment compare? Insight, which has been studied extensively by cognitive neuroscientists, has been defined as “any sudden comprehension, realization, or problem solution that involves a reorganization of the elements of a person’s mental representation of a stimulus, situation, or event to yield a nonobvious or nondominant interpretation” (Kounios & Beeman, 2014, p. 74). Insights often follow a blockage or impasse, such as my failure to comprehend HPEN, and are usually accompanied by surprise and positive emotion.

What makes insight experiences so memorable? We know that emotional memories can be especially memorable, so the ability of insight to trigger positive mood and surprise might “stamp” the new ideas into memory. We also know that information framed in your own words and associated with your own experience is more easily retrieved (the self-referent effect or SRE in memory). Solving problems, whether by insight or analytical thought, is rewarding, leading to positive associations between the material and the experience of retrieving it.

At the same time, positive mood not only results from an insight, but also promotes the likelihood of insight. Anxiety results in reduced focus. From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense to focus narrowly on a source of threat, whether that is a snake in the road ahead or the fear of failure. In contrast, a relaxed positive mood opens people’s perspectives and stimulates exploration. This broader focus is more conducive to thinking “outside the box” in creative and less restricted ways.

What are the implications of our understanding of insight for educators? First, there is a time and a place for insight. Insight cannot occur in the absence of understanding the problem (Wallas, 1926, as cited in Kounios & Beeman, 2014). Students need to know the nuts and bolts of a problem before they are expected to interact with it creatively. Second, educators wishing to stimulate insight should strive to maintain a positive environment where it’s okay to fail as long as you learn something from your failure. An environment characterized by anxiety is counterproductive to the experience of insight.

We cannot guarantee that our students will experience insight in our classes, but seeing a light bulb go on in a student’s head is quite possibly one of the most rewarding experiences we have as educators.

Reference

Kounios, J., & Beeman, M. (2014). The cognitive neuroscience of insight. Annual Review

            of Psychology, 65, 71—93. doi: 10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115154

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Our Mouse Pad… get one at a conference we attend!

Here’s what we are reading today:

“green tea is widely considered to be beneficial for the brain. The antioxidant and detoxifying properties of green tea extracts help fight catastrophic diseases such as Alzheimer’s. However, scientists have never fully understood how they work at the molecular level and how they could be harnessed to find better treatments.”

““Social and biological sciences over the years have demonstrated the profound desire of individuals to connect with others and the array of skills people possess to discern emotions or intentions. But, in the presence of both will and skill, people often inaccurately perceive others’ emotions,” said author Michael Kraus, PhD, of Yale University. “Our research suggests that relying on a combination of vocal and facial cues, or solely facial cues, may not be the best strategy for accurately recognizing the emotions or intentions of others.””

“Previous studies found morning bright light therapy reduced symptoms of depression in patients with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD.). But patients with bipolar disorder can experience side effects such as mania or mixed symptoms from this type of depression treatment. This study implemented a novel midday light therapy intervention in an effort to provide relief for bipolar depression and avoid those side effects.”

“The consumption of energy-dense foods dramatically increases in developed and developing countries. The chronic consumption of high-fat/high sugar palatable foods leads to the development of obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes, but also cognitive alterations.

Adolescents are especially sensitive to palatable foods and increase their consumption of high-fat/high-sugar obesogenic diet. However, adolescence is also a critical period for cognitive and brain development.

The long-term consequences of the chronic consumption of palatable foods during adolescence are still poorly understood but might involve alterations of the reward system.

Dopamine (DA) is a neuromodulator that plays a central role in motivational and learning processes for natural rewards like palatable foods, but also for drugs of abuse.

In particular, dopamine synthesized by specific neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) projecting to the nucleus accumbens (NAc) is crucial for these processes.””

“Mother’s milk contains various nutrients, including oxytocin, which is derived from the blood. The digestive tract forms a barrier to avoid uptake of undesirable macromolecules, the gut closure, soon after birth. Therefore, it was thought that oxytocin would not be freely permeable from the digestive tract. On the other hand, the oxytocin level in the blood of babies drinking mother’s milk has been found to be elevated, suggesting oxytocin could somehow be transported even in the presence of such a barrier.”

““There is a need to include sex differences in neuropsychiatric research and endocrinology because men and women do respond differently to drugs,” says first author Jordan Marrocco, a postdoctoral associate in the neuroendocrinology lab of Bruce S. McEwen, Rockefeller’s Alfred E. Mirsky Professor

Death Therapy

Laura Freberg speaking to Professor Bill Murray on the fundamentals of his new Death Therapy technique.

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There is no question that English can be a complicated, confusing language. I have a great deal of respect for those who master English as a second language. Not only do we have different ways to pronounce things like “ough” (through, slough, tough, and on and on), but many of our words have multiple meanings as well. On occasion, as in the case of “theory,” this gets us into trouble.

One of the challenges instructors of psychology face is convincing students that we are in fact a science. In introductory psychology, we generally spend a fair amount of time explaining the process of science. I would love to assume that students at the college level would already know this backwards and forwards, but misunderstandings are common. Students often believe that science can “prove” that facts are correct–it can’t. All we can do is show that something is wrong. The reason we can’t prove something is right is that somewhere down the road, somebody might invent a new technology that would show us we’re wrong. In my own college days, we dutifully related “Dale’s Law,” which is actually unfair to Dale who really didn’t state his namesake law the way it became used. The law maintained that a neuron released a single neurotransmitter. We know today, of course, that neurons can release multiple chemicals, although there is usually a “main” one. So our improved technology required us to rethink the previous “law.”

Another common misunderstanding is due to the multiple meanings of a theory. Theories can be guesses or hunches, as in “I have a theory that the USC football team will have a good year,” but this is not a scientific theory. A scientific theory is a massively supported set of facts and relationships between facts that explains and predicts phenomena. Theories stand until somebody shows they are incorrect, at which time they must be revised or discarded.

So I saw with dismay a Facebook message from none other than the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) that stated “Climate change isn’t a theory. It’s a fact that belongs in our children’s science curriculum.” Oh dear. This would be bad coming from a middle schooler, but coming from AAAS itself, this is highly discouraging. Shall we no longer teach the Theory of Evolution because it is “only” a theory? I’m hopeful that somebody who is scientifically literate at AAAS has had a conversation with their social media team, but the same message has appeared on my feed on more than one occasion. Several commenters made the same point as I’m making here, but apparently, they’re not getting through.

While we’re on the topic of climate change, please don’t get me started on the oft-repeated “97% of climate change scientists believe in global warming.” This is a topic for another blog, but as a preview, the study that serves as a source for this statistic is humorous. The researchers asked if the scientists thought the planet was warmer now than before 1850. I’m no climate scientist, but I am aware that there was a mini Ice Age in the early 1800s–think the snowy London of Dickens’ books. So one needs to worry about the 3% who somehow missed the fact that the mini Ice Age ended.

The greater point, though, is that science is not a democracy. At different times in our history, the majority of learned people have been just flat out wrong. I’m reminded of the difficulty John Garcia had in publishing his first paper on taste aversion. Science is about data, not how people think about data. When people replicated Garcia and could see the data for themselves, they all changed their minds. This is science at its finest.

We also need to resist the idea that any scientific hypotheses and theories are somehow beyond reproach. Good science is never defensive. Theories only get better when people question them and try to prove them wrong.

I’m not optimistic that AAAS will change its message, but at least it does provide us with a very good starting point for class discussion about what a scientific theory really means.

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readings for today:

“Scientists have long known about such animal kinship attachments, some known as “imprinting,” but the mechanisms underlying them have been hidden in a black box at the cellular and molecular levels. Now biologists at the University of California San Diego have unlocked key elements of these mysteries, with implications for understanding social attraction and aversion in a range of animals and humans.

Davide Dulcis of UC San Diego’s Psychiatry Department at the School of Medicine, Giordano Lippi, Darwin Berg and Nick Spitzer of the Division of Biological Sciences and their colleagues published their results in the August 31, 2017 online issue of the journal Neuron.”

“The results lead us to revise the often neuro-centric view of brain development to now appreciate the contributions for non-neuronal cells such as glia,” explains Vilaiwan Fernandes, a postdoctoral fellow in New York University’s Department of Biology and the study’s lead author. “Indeed, our study found that fundamental questions in brain development with regard to the timing, identity, and coordination of nerve cell birth can only be understood when the glial contribution is accounted for.”

“When the first U.S. team to edit human embryos with CRISPR revealed their success earlier this month, the field reeled with the possibility that the gene-editing technique might soon produce children free of their parents’ genetic defects. But the way CRISPR repaired the paternal mutation targeted in the embryos was also a surprise. Instead of replacing the gene defect with strands of DNA that the researchers inserted, the embryos appeared to use the mother’s healthy gene as a template for repairing the cut made by CRISPR’s enzyme.”

“Nerve injury-induced pain affects millions and is a comorbidity factor for individuals living with traumatic spinal cord or peripheral nerve injuries. Pain is associated with aberrant plasticity and sprouting in the injured peripheral and central nervous systems. However, the mechanisms underlying these structural changes are not understood. Here, new data implicate stress hormones (steroids) and GR activation as a novel mechanism underlying enhanced sensory neuron plasticity in injured peripheral nerves. These data also have important implications for the development and care of nerve-injury induced pain, including the use of steroids as a treatment for inflammatory pain.”

“ASU Associate Professor of psychology Samuel McClure and researcher Ian Ballard wanted to know why. Their paper, “More is meaningful: The magnitude effect in intertemporal choice depends on self-control,” published today in the journal Psychological Science, may provide some answers. In it, the duo detail how they were able to use neuroimaging to show that self-control varies depending on how important a decision is, and that it can be augmented when people are asked to justify their decision.”

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You’ve all probably seen and read about “the dress,” or the color constancy phenomenon than not only launched a viral reaction but promoted a special edition of The Journal of Vision. Of course, we are going to include this in our new editions of Discovering Behavioral Neuroscience and Discovering Psychology: The Science of Mind, right? Well, not so fast! Both permissions teams at Cengage ran into a brick wall. Although people share images all over the Internet, the rules for publishers’ use of images are really strict. We couldn’t get anything, even the advertisement for the dress by its maker, Roman Originals in the UK. Wikipedia has a line art graphic that supposedly illustrates the point, but yuck. So what to do?

Well, enter eBay as our savior! Going online, I found two versions of “the Dress” in what I hoped might be something close to my size. One came with the original labels, so I thought that was a safe bet. When the dress arrived, my first thought was “who would wear this to a wedding,” and my second thought was that I am SO going to wear this thing to WPA this year!

My husband knows his way around photography, having actually taken a very personal interest in ads he developed for Nestle and Mars in the day, and he understood the mission. So we walked around the house trying to recreate the image that caused the illusion. We didn’t want to just Photoshop it–that’s cheating! Finally, Roger took a photo in front of our bookcase in the living room that is flanked by two big windows. Voila! The illusion recreated!

What’s really surprising is how blue and black this dress really is! I still see it at blue and brown–I’m one of apparently about 11% who persist in that view.

I’m not sure that we still won’t get in trouble for our image–it’s that close. I thought it WAS the original image until Roger pointed out “there’s your watch and you hold your fingers in a funny way like that all the time….” I didn’t know about the latter.

We have ended up taking quite a few images for our textbooks. Getting permissions for images is not only difficult, but expensive. So by taking this one for the books, it’s not only free, but we had a bit of fun with it.

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I haven’t had much time in between working on my three books this year to post many original blogs, but I just couldn’t pass this up. One of the most important things I do during textbook revisions is fact check everything. Very often, “truisms” like contagious yawning suddenly become controversial, so revising is much more than just adding new stuff. You have to give everything another look.

Today, I was reviewing literature on the mimicry of the viceroy butterfly and the “truism” that the viceroy copies the appearance of the monarch in order to escape predation. Because the monarch retains cardiac glycosides from the milkweed it ingests, most birds get sick after eating them and subsequently leave them alone.  It’s an interesting example, I think, of classical conditioning. The truism about the viceroy’s mimicry of the monarch, though, seems not as clear cut as it used to be, so I ended up reading quite a bit about butterflies.

My search for truth led me to a rather grim 1964 article in the Journal of the Lepidopterists’ Society by Bruce Petersen, “Monarch butterflies are eaten by birds,” in which butterflies with their wings trimmed off were left to the birds. The article was quite descriptive, and I quote: “The last one to be eaten had been lying dead on the patio for four days.” In a table listing the tragic fates of the butterflies, the author apologizes for the smaller numbers at the beginning of the study: “It was difficult to catch enough butterflies at first.” Given the reverence with which the monarchs are held here in San Luis Obispo (their display in the eucalyptus trees of Morro Bay are splendid), the idea of the poor things hopping around as bird food was kind of tough.

Just when I was recovering from reading that article, my search returned the following headline: The Case of the Barfing Blue Jay. As much as I love Sherlock, I think this headline might give Dr. Watson’s blog a run for its money. Even better, the Science Friday episode from 2013 featured….you got it…..a photo of a barfing blue jay, provided by Lincoln Brower of Sweet Briar College in Virginia. I just had to share.

Only true diehard taste aversion experimenters like myself would probably know that the poor blue jay had one advantage over our lab rats. They can’t barf. So when they’re given lithium chloride in taste aversion experiments, they get very sick indeed. Just to make sure this memory of the past also holds up to current knowledge, I ran another search, only to find message boards where people were arguing about whether rats burp (no), vomit (no), or fart (yes), leading to efforts to kill them with Coca Cola.

So textbook writing is nothing if not downright bizarre at times. But you do end up learning some really interesting things!

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Ronnie’s 4th birthday recently and a view of earlier pictures

Here is what we are reading today:

“Salk Institute scientists, building on earlier work that identified a gene pathway triggered by running, have discovered how to fully activate that pathway in sedentary mice with a chemical compound, mimicking the beneficial effects of exercise, including increased fat burning and stamina. The study, which appears in Cell Metabolism on May 2, 2017…”

““We found that skeletal muscle cells have machinery to directly sense glucose—in a certain sense it’s like the muscles can taste sugar, too,” said senior study author Jiandie Lin, a faculty member at the LSI, where his lab is located.”

“Folds in the human brain enlarge the surface of this important processing organ and in this way create more space for higher functions including thought and action. However…”

“Taking folic acid supplements throughout pregnancy may improve psychological development in children.

That is the finding of research by Professor Tony Cassidy and colleagues from Ulster University who will present their study today, Thursday 4 May, to the Annual Conference of the British Psychological Society in Brighton.”

“Medical Xpress)—The human brain’s capacity for learning is adaptable to a variety of conditions. When the environment changes repeatedly and constantly, learning is difficult, because the brain automatically seeks patterns in incoming information. This requires weighting prior knowledge and incoming data according to reliability.”

“Prof. Philip Van Damme (VIB-KU Leuven/University Hospital Leuven): “Our findings suggest that dysfunction of lysosomal enzymes such as cathepsin D can contribute to neuronal dysfunction caused by progranulin deficiency in diseases such as frontotemporal dementia. These are important new insights in our search for solutions.””

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Ever make a from scratch Rueben Sandwich? Start off with corned beef, smoke it then steam it! Its wonderful!

What we are reading today:

“The research was led by Doris Tsao (BS ’96), professor of biology, Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Center for Systems Neuroscience Leadership Chair, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. A paper describing the work appeared online in the March 13 issue of Nature Neuroscience.

“Face cells will produce the maximum response when a subject is observing faces, but they will also produce a small amount of activity when a subject is looking at round objects like an apple or a clock,” says Tsao. “There has been a long debate in cognitive science: Is the brain actually using these small responses to generate perception? Do face cells help us perceive clocks and apples?”

“The lead author, Dr Cassandra Gould van Praag said, “We are all familiar with the feeling of relaxation and ‘switching-off’ which comes from a walk in the countryside, and now we have evidence from the brain and the body which helps us understand this effect. This has been an exciting collaboration between artists and scientists, and it has produced results which may have a real-world impact, particularly for people who are experiencing high levels of stress.””

“Mihaela Pavličev, PhD of the Center for Prevention of Preterm Birth, Perinatal Institute, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and colleagues use the word “negotiation” to describe the unique relationship that must be established early in a pregnancy and then maintained, for a birth to result.

“We cannot understand pregnancy by focusing on the fetal side (placenta) alone, or on the maternal (uterus) alone. How do we maintain stability, not as a war, but rather without damage to mom or fetus? Most pregnancy defects can be seen as interrupting this temporary stable unit. But to be able to study that, we need to know which cells are talking to which other cells,” explains Dr. Pavličev.”

“In a new study, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine and their colleagues have identified a handful of nerve cells in the brainstem that connect breathing to states of mind.

A paper describing the findings were published March 31 in Science. Mark Krasnow, MD, PhD, professor of biochemistry, is the senior author. The lead author is former Stanford graduate student Kevin Yackle, MD, PhD, now a faculty fellow at the University of California-San Francisco.

Medical practitioners sometimes prescribe breathing-control exercises for people with stress disorders. Similarly, the practice of pranayama — controlling breath in order to shift one’s consciousness from an aroused or even frantic state to a more meditative one — is a core component of virtually all varieties of yoga.”

“Hamster pups are born with weakened immune systems and impaired endocrine activity when their parents don’t receive a natural mix of daylight and darkness prior to mating, found researchers at The Ohio State University.

“This suggests that circadian disruptions can have long-ranging effects in offspring and that’s concerning,” said lead author Yasmine Cisse, a graduate student in neuroscience at Ohio State. The study appears in Scientific Reports.

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