Tag Archives: Social Self

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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If You Compare Yourself With Michael Phelps, Will You Become A Better Swimmer?


“Remember, the Ukrainians are doing this in the snow,” warns a concerned McDonald’s consumer to Team USA boxer Marlen Esparza, as the pseudocoach chows down on a burger and watches Esparza train in one of Mickey D’s new 2012 Olympics commercials. I’m not sure if they realize it, but when McDonald’s instructed the actress to coach Esparza by saying this, they tapped into the logic underlying a fundamental psychological concept: Social Comparison Theory.

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Having it All, Happily.

Image by Robert Whitehead via Flickr

When The Atlantic published a controversial article by Anne-Marie Slaughter about how difficult it truly is for women to ‘have it all,’ it added more fuel to the raging fire of the work-life-balance debate, which has likely been going on in some form since humankind first realized that there are ways to make other people feel bad about their life choices. Apparently, the stereotype of the harried, working mom who has a high-level career and still tries her damnedest not to disappoint the other mothers at her daughter’s bake sale has become somewhat of a cultural icon — if you don’t believe me, just read the book I Don’t Know How She Does It (or watch the recent movie, starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Greg Kinnear).

Whether people choose to view self-identification as a complicated juggling act or opt instead to focus on a limited number of areas is the important distinction underlying Patricia Linville’s self-complexity theory. Someone who is high in self-complexity would define herself in terms of many different possible domains (e.g. I’m a mother, a wife, a marathoner, a tenured professor, and a singer), while someone who is low in self-complexity would use fewer. And although self-complexity theory doesn’t necessarily stake any claims about particular sides in the work-life-balance-debate being “right” or “wrong,” research in this area has shown — perhaps surprisingly to some — that people who define themselves using multiple domains may actually, at least in some ways, be happier and healthier.

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Why Jersey Shore won’t make you dumber: The importance of responsible science journalism

I was browsing my Facebook news feed yesterday when I saw that someone I know from college had linked to this article on the MSNBC website: “Watching ‘Jersey Shore’ might make you dumber, study suggests.” The description underneath the link read, “Take note, fans of mindless reality shows like ‘Jersey Shore’: New research suggests watching something dumb might make you dumber.”

At that point, I should have thought to myself, “I have a lot of work that I need to get done today. I probably should not read this article and risk getting very worked up over what will likely be a really painful misrepresentation of psychological research.”

Oh, if only I ever actually thought that way. But alas, I do not. So I clicked on the link.

My bad.
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America: Land of the free, and home of the…discontent?

American Flag

Many Americans celebrated July 4th with fireworks and barbecues. But how much thought did everyone give to the true spirit of Independence Day?

Independence is one of those things that America is known for. In fact, “independent” tends to be America’s adjectival calling card. Not only is America frequently thought of as a superpower responsible for spreading the light of freedom throughout the world, but people are often only successful within American society if they are self-sufficient and largely self-focused.

However, this vision of America has fallen out of favor lately. Many global citizens simply aren’t thrilled by the thought of a country whose national stereotype paints it as self-serving, and plenty of Americans are well aware of that fact. To examine this phenomenon in greater detail, MarYam Hamedani, Hazel Markus, and Alyssa Fu ran a series of studies where they tested exactly what it is that people think of when they think of ‘America,’ and how this vision impacts thoughts and actions.

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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