Category Archives: The Internet

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, How Does Psych Reflect Us All?

“Our environment, the world in which we live and work, is a mirror of our attitudes and expectations.” – Earl Nightingale, American motivational speaker

ResearchBlogging.orgIn 1898, Norman Triplett stumbled upon an interesting observation as he watched a group of cyclists competing in a race: He noticed that the athletes tended to ride faster when they were around other people than when they were alone. He successfully replicated this phenomenon in the laboratory by asking groups of children to reel in spools of fishing line, noting that the children working in pairs reeled the line in faster than those who worked alone. Triplett published the findings, labeled the phenomenon “social facilitation,” and kicked off the entire field of experimental social psychology as we know it with (arguably) the first-ever published social psychology paper.*

The fact that the first paper in social psychology derived its hypotheses from a real-life experience is not surprising. After all, social psychology itself is supposed to be the “scientific study of how thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others.”1 If people in a field that revolves around interpersonal interactions don’t draw our examples and scientific questions from real life, from where exactly are we supposed to get them?

Yet it’s not only casual anecdotes, observations, or everyday happenings that have influenced the trajectory of our field. Social psychology has actually served a truly interesting historical function: Throughout the years, the field has managed to become a cultural mirror, consistently reflecting society’s standards, norms, and cultural traditions in its zeitgeists and trends. Going back through the annals of social psychological science can almost feel like reading a history textbook; as you parse through the findings, you see how the current events, pop culture, societal phenomena, and core values of each era shifted and grew along with the research trends.

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Seeing psychology everywhere: The case of Gangnam Style

This semester, I’m teaching Intro to Social Psychology — which I pretty much see as an excuse to share my joint obsessions with social psychology and pop culture with a group of one hundred 18-to-21-year-olds who essentially have to be my captive audience.

Last week, I asked my students to watch the viral video “Gangnam Style” by Korean pop sensation Psy and come up with ways to use anything we’ve learned in the course so far to explain any aspect of the video. Because I have an awesome group of students, I got some really interesting and creative answers! So, below is a sampling of some of the social psych phenomena that my students found in the video, though there were many more great responses that I didn’t touch on in this post. Like I always say, once you know about the concepts, you really can find psychology in everything around you!

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Algebra Is Necessary, But What About How It’s Taught?

stock image In a recent New York Times op-ed, Andrew Hacker suggested that the typical math curriculum might not really be a necessary aspect of modern education — at least, not in the form that it currently takes. Hacker suggests that the textbook formulas found in algebra, geometry, and trigonometry classes are rarely used in “real life,” and the high level of difficulty that many students have with these subjects might unnecessarily inflate dropout rates and cause a handful of other negative educational outcomes. As Hacker suggests, it might be beneficial to focus on the history and philosophy of mathematics or emphasize “real life” applications of various mathematical fields, rather than zeroing in on the nitty-gritty formulas and minutiae of the math itself. After all, as he acknowledges, one of the most important reasons to learn math is not the math itself – it is the importance of learning how to engage in deductive reasoning, problem solving, and critical analysis.

However, as fellow science blogger Joanne Manaster noted in a comment about the article, “I’d argue that perhaps this is not so much about if math is needed, but how it is taught…geometry really helps with logic and thinking skills and algebra with general problem solving, so I don’t think it should go by the wayside altogether.”

I happen to agree enthusiastically with Manaster, and I’d like to hope that Hacker was intending for this larger pedagogical issue to be the main takeaway point for his article. I think it would be a mistake to conclude from this piece that we should simply remove algebra (or any math) from the typical school curriculum, or even that we should replace specific algebra, trigonometry, or geometry classes with broader “quantitative literacy” courses, as Hacker suggests we should consider at one point. Rather, much as blogger and author Jennifer Ouellette did with calculus in her book The Calculus Diaries, I think the answer lies in finding ways to take this idea of “real world applications” and using them to help instructors continue teaching the typical lessons of the algebra, trigonometry, or geometry classrooms in a more effective manner, not using them to replace those lessons.1 Luckily, social psychology offers some theories that can help us understand how students might better learn and understand otherwise-esoteric knowledge.

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Gaming and exercise: Will Diablo III derail your discipline?

Even though I’m hardly a gamer, I couldn’t miss the fact that the highly-anticipated new game Diablo III was released this week. It’s difficult not to notice when half of your friends suddenly decide not to leave home for a few days. As they sit in their apartments, blissfully wrapped up in…whatever the levels or characters are called (as I said before, I’m not exactly a gamer), it’s difficult to really blame them for doing this. After all, what’s really the harm in claiming a few summer days for a well-earned gaming break?

Well, naysayers love to hate on video games for all sorts of things. Usually the complaints tend to fall on two different ends of the “activity” spectrum; either people are bemoaning the idea that video gaming activity encourages violence, or they’re claiming that gaming’s sedentary nature encourages laziness.

But what about other, healthier activities — like exercise? If video games encourage violence, do they also encourage positive physical activity, like exercise? Or, if video games make people lazy, are gamers less motivated to go for a jog?

Should my friends be thinking about their waistlines while they’re tied to their computers?

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Weiner’s wiener? Too perfect to be a coincidence.

By now, you’ve probably heard about Congressman Anthony Weiner – and his infamous wiener.Photo: Alex Wong / Getty Images found at The Daily Beast

Everyone’s had fun ragging on Representative Weiner for his online gaffe, where he accidentally exposed a meant-to-be-privately-sent picture of his privates to the entire Twitter community. There’s certainly been no shortage of news references to the funny coincidence of his last name. But is it necessarily such a coincidence? Continue reading