Back in the 1950s, a psychologist named Leon Festinger made a bold prediction. Based upon what he'd seen in other studies, he estimated that members of a doomsday cult (a group whose leader touts a specific day at the end of the world, or the end of all life on our planet) would remain members of that group even after the doomsday came and went without incident. Most social scientists disagreed with him, so he joined such a group to study them from inside, as a member. The results of his experience were then written up in one of the most groundbreaking psychology books of the 20th century, "When Prophesy Fails," a book in which Festinger coined the term Cognitive Dissonance to explain the phenomenon in which people cannot accept the truth about a subject that causes them too much pain, anxiety, or other negative consequence to perceive clearly.
Of course, Festinger's experience with doomsday cults isn't unique. Hundreds of such groups have existed over the centuries, one in our own backyard (Oakland, CA). Led by former Christian radio host Harold Camping, who predicted the end of the world not once, but multiple times, based on his own bizarre calculations from the Bible. Of course, those dates each came and went...and eventually, so did Camping. But by studying the phenomenon that causes people to remain in the group, we can learn not only about these people and their motives, but also about our own bad choices.
Back in the 1950s, psychologist Leon Festinger conducted a series of experiments that showed how people's beliefs are affected by Cognitive Dissonance, a psychological and emotional reaction in which people experience negative emotions because they have performed a behavior that is in conflict with their beliefs. Festinger set out to demonstrate that we unconsciously alter our beliefs so that they match with behaviors in order to avoid Cognitive Dissonance. He did this by showing that people's beliefs about a boring task could be altered by getting them to tell others that the task was actually fun. CLICK HERE to see a short educational clip about this landmark study.
Festinger later became fascinated by a doomsday cult known as The Seekers. He knew that their leader, a Chicago housewife named Dorothy Martin. Ms. Martin had amassed a large following of people convinced that she was communicating with beings in outer space through automatic writing. These beings supposedly told her of a great and terrible flood that would wipe out all of humanity, later revealing that she and her followers would be spared. The date for this end-of-the-world prophecy had come and gone without incident several times, but the core of her followers remained dedicated to her teachings and stayed with her.
Festinger took the unprecedented step of joing the cult (under false pretenses) in order to better witness and record their reactions during the next scheduled date. He later wrote about his experiences in a book titled "When Prophecy Fails," and introduced the scientific communited to the term Cognitive Dissonance. As Festinger predicted, members of The Seekers unconsciously altered their beliefs in a manner that allowed them to resolve this internal conflict, and giving themselves "permission" to stay in the cult even though the failed predictions should have (logically) proved Ms. Martin a fraud.
CLICK HERE to be taken to a wonderful website that allows you to become a subject in a study of racial or gender prejudice. Although the test concentrates on implicit prejudice toward specific groups, its methodology can be used to measure a wide array of prejudices and bigoted tendencies.
Having these tendencies does not mean that you are a "bad person," nor that you will necessarily ACT upon them (e.g., discrimination, hate crimes). Instead, it means that you are HUMAN. Our charge as "good people" is to become aware of our prejudices so that we can work to avoid and/or eliminate them.
CLICK HERE to visit the website for Harvard University's "Project Implicit," a data collection project that will allow you to contribute to a very large research project on all manner of (randomly chosen) biases that people unknowingly hold.
Keep an eye out for a new film entitled "A Dangerous Method," starring Michael Fassbender as Sigmund Freud, and Viggo Moretenson as Carl Jung. The film takes place just before WWI, a time that would test the complex and increasingly strained relationship between Freud and his young protégé. I'm sure it's available on DVD by now.
Reviewers are hailing it as a masterpiece of historical drama, and it seems destined to win many more awards than it already has, as well as to re-introduce the world to the achievements of these two men. Although the work of Freud and Jung has been largely discredited, they should be credited for getting the conversation started about the field of psychology, psychotherapy, etc.
During the Nazi takeover of Europe, Freud and his family were in trouble like all Jews in the affected regions. They were able to escape due to connections (including Princess Marie Bonaparte of France, who put up the necessary funds to buy his freedom and allow him an exit visa). CLICK HERE to read the details.
Please click the links below to download either the Stress Scale for Youth, or the Social Readjustment Rating Scale (for adults). Both are designed to provide you with insight into your level of stress, and help you decide whether it's time to take steps to cope better. Keep in mind that we can be under great stress and not even notice it, so don't assume that you'll know when you're at risk.
If you score particularly high, are concerned about your overall stress level, would like to learn some coping strategies, etc., please feel free to contact our Mental Health Counselor, Rosemary O'Neill (RONeill@ohlone.edu). She's a wonderful person and would be more than happy to offer advice and/or assistance.
CLICK HERE to take an online version of the Jenkins Activity Survey, an introspective measure that will allow you to test whether you fit into the category of Type A or Type B personality. This measure is based on research by Jenkins, Ayzanski, & Rosenman (1971), and consists of just 30 items.
More information on Type A and Type B personalities can be found HERE.
Click the link below to read an interesting article from Skeptic about research on nonhuman primate communication. For decades we've heard conflicting reports about efforts to teach chimps and gorillas (and sometimes orangutans) to "talk" using sign language, message boards, and other means. In the early 1970s, the answer seemed to be that it was possible that they might actually have the capacity to express themselves on something approaching a human level of communication. Since that time, the research has been criticized in terms of its methods, research design, conclustions and, in some cases, even its very authenticity!.
Imagine that you are a war veteran who is haunted by memories of death and destruction, or that you were abused by a parent as a child and are suffering from the effects of those memories. Then consider being offered a drug that would literally erase the memory of the events that are causing you such pain. Click the link below to download a recent report from ABC News on efforts by scientists to do just that - to chemically alter memory consolidation in humans, making them forget specific events forever.
Trials of drugs such as propranolol are showing promising results in literally erasing memories. Subjects are given the treatment either immediately after the event, or after triggering memories of a past event during therapy. Results indicate that these drugs can significantly alter the process of "memory consolidation," causing the person to forget the event and/or its emotional content.
The larger questions, of course, are those of medical ethics. As the story points out, issues of abuse, who gets to decide what a "traumatic" memory is and who gets the treatment, etc., have yet to be hashed out.
As many of you know, the story of Kitty Genovese is almost synonymous with the term "Bystander Apathy." Since her death in the 1960s, hundreds of scientific articles have been published on why some people freeze during emergencies, and attempting to explain why no assistance is given by crowds of people when others need help.
A recent article has brought to light many details that call into question whether Bystander Apathy played a role at all in the Genovese murder. One thing that is certain, however, is that the phenomenon is quite real, and that it plays out every day somewhere in the world.
Recently, Kitty's younger brother, Bill Genovese, created a moving documentary called "The Witness" in which he investigates his sister's murder, the aftermath, and the creation and spreading of the myth about the bystanders who were said to have done nothing to help. Watch the trailer below, then go watch it.
If you aren't already familiar with Jo Frost (the "Supernanny"), she's a reality show phenomenon who demonstrates effective child rearing techniques on her weekly show on ABC. Utilizing the best in child psychology, Jo shows parents how to change their children's behavior by consistent use of various Operant Conditioning principles.
Watch the video below to see how these techniques are exponentially more effective in the long term than using corporal punishment (aka, spanking, slapping, etc.), and create none of the unwanted side effects such as an increase in violence.
If solid empirical evidence is more your style, CLICK HERE to read the recent findings by Tulane University researchers. Their study of 2500 children is the largest and most conclusive yet that spanking, although effective in the moment, leads to serious issues such as violence and cognitive deficits.
Have you ever wished for a better memory? I think it's a very common (perhaps ubiquitous) human desire. Many might even go so far as to envy those who have "perfect recall," the ability to store and retrieve nearly every experience, fact, thought, etc.
As with many such cases, however, the reality of perfect recall, often a result of Hyperthymesia, is far from the rosy picture many of us imagine. The case of Jill Price (The Woman Who Can't Forget) illustrates this quite well. Studied by researchers for years, always under a pseudonym, Price has marveled memory specialists with her ability to recite dates and facts down to the smallest detail, with little or no error. She even corrects entries in encyclopedias and other authoritative sources.
CLICK HERE to read a report about this fascinating woman, and watch the embedded video for additional details about how this "gift" can also carry a "curse."
Click the video below to watch a short documentary about Jill and her life history.
As we will discuss, one of the world's leading researchers in Memory is a psychologist namedElizabeth Loftus. Professor Loftus has published hundreds of articles, reporting the results of work with tens of thousands of subjects' memories. The big lesson from this research is that memory production is "constructive" and maleable. It is not a perfect reproduction of the experience, as many people assume.
CLICK HERE to listen to my ShelShocked Podcast episode on memory, which includes an interview with Elizabeth Loftus!
This is particularly important when questions of Eyewitness Testimony are considered. In the 1980s, for instance, a series of modern-day witch trials, mostly involving YOUNG CHILDRENbegan to sweep the country, causing parents and others to believe that children had been abused and molested by parents, day care workers, etc., and resulting in the destruction of many people's lives and livelihoods. Click the video below to watch a trailer for the film "Witch Hunt" produced and narrated by Sean Penn. It exposes the hysteria in my home town, Bakersfield, California, during the height of the child-molestation scare, and how an overzealous prosecuter and ill prepared law enforcement ruined the lives of dozens.
One of the best known studies in the history of Behaviorism is that of Little Albert, an infant who was used as a subject by psychologist John B. Watson to study Classical Conditioning. Although it's shocking to us by today's standards and could never be replicated, these studies answered many questions about the principles of this type of Associative Learning. Perhaps the most enduring question, however, has been "Who was Little Albert, and what ever happened to him?"
CLICK HERE to be taken to a story about a young boy with the rare disorder "Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis" (CIPA) a condition that leaves him unable to feel pain, or to regulate his body heat.
Although we often complain of headaches, toothaches, skinned knees, etc., the truth is, without pain to let us know where we need attention, trouble quickly arises. The heartbreaking stories of children like this remind us how lucky we are to feel pain from time to time, especially when one considers the fact that these children rarely live to the age of puberty.
A few years ago, I was asked by the James Randi Educational Foundation to contribute to part of their educational efforts. The result of this collaboration was three chapters in their e-book, "Magic in the Classroom." In it, I wrote chapters on the following topics:
Your Nervous System Can Fool You (Chapter 25)
Your Common Sense Can Fail You (Chapter 26)
Your Beliefs are Malleable (Chapter 28)
Click here to visit the download page where you can get a FREE copy in multiple formats.
Click here to read an article on the creation of the "Mosquito Noise," a 17 kilohertz sound file that was created to discourage young "troublemakers" from hanging out in front of stores, in construction zones, or in other places that they are creating trouble or putting themselves in danger.
Its genius lies in the fact that, generally speaking, only those under the age of about 25 can hear the noise (which I understand is quite shrill and annoying). Presumably, those over 25 years of age are less likely to make trouble, and can go about their business in a mature fashion. It may seem a bit "age-ist" and discriminatory, but initial reports are that it seems to work better than constantly calling the police.
In an interesting side note, clever youth have begun to download this file as a "silent" ring tone for their cell phones, allowing them to receive calls without the "old folks" knowing it. In the game between Youth and Age, I'd say the score is a 1:1 tie, then.
CLICK HERE to be taken to a wonderful web site full of illusions that will test your perceptive abilities and make you better aware of just how the brain's perceptive abilities work (and don't work) to give us a sense of the world around us. For a preview of such wonders, click the image to the right and stare at it for a moment. Although your brain may tell you otherwise, I promise it's not actually moving.
CLICK HERE to see some creative examples of pareidolia created by photos of solar prominences. Very funny stuff! See Bigfoot in the image to the right?!
For another real-life example of how people can be fooled by their own senses, take the recent event in Florida that many hailed as miraculous. Some would say the miracle was the of the appearance of the "Virgin Mary" in a grilled cheese sandwich. Others would say that the true miracle occurred some 10 years later, when the owner (and griller) of the sandwich sold it on eBay for $28,000.
What is it about the human nervous system that allows us to make order out of the disorder in stimulus input around us? Why do we unconsciously seek out faces in random visual stimuli? How do our brains make sense of this chaos of light rays, sound waves, tactile sensations, etc., and in what ways do we "get it wrong"?
Answers to questions such as these may lead us to a better understanding of such illusions as that on the sandwich in question (which I, personally, think looks more like Mary Pickford), as well as to the bumps in the night that some interpret as proof of ghosts, the phantom limb sensations of amputees, and the many other that we misperceive the world around us.
They say the devil's in the details, but they never warned us that he may also be lurking in your I-Pod.
At least, that's what the proponents of BackMasking would have you believe. This phenomenon is not only predicated upon the belief that we can be affected by subliminal input, but even more outlandishly, that we can be affected by BACKWARD subliminal input.
CLICK HERE to be taken to a web site where you can hear excerpts from songs of the accused, played forward and backward. Numerous music artists throughout the years have been accused of "corrupting America's youth" with messages of death, destruction, suicide, and evil supposedly hidden within their music.
The best defense against the nonsense of BackMasking lies in how difficult it is to determine what the message is before reading the "reverse lyrics." An area of the brain responsible for language comprehension (the Wernicke's Area) creates this auditory phenomenon. Ever on the lookout for input, the Wernicke's Area only needs the slightest suggestion to give us the perception of language. With an almost endless supply of recordings to search, it is almost certain that a combination of sounds will present themselves that are close enough to actual words to be perceived as language, especially once we are prompted to listen for them.
As mentioned in class, the word "transgender" is an umbrella term that covers any individual who expresses (through behavior, mode of dress, etc.) the opposite sex from the one assigned by biology. This includes transsexuals, who are different from the other transgender categories in that the sex they were assigned by nature is the wrong one. In other words, their "brain sex" is truly who they are, while their bodies represent an incorrect assignment by nature.
Some transsexual men and women choose surgery to alter their bodies in ways that match their true gender, while others don't (for various reasons). As a society, it is our ethical responsibility to learn the proper terminology, to accept trans men and women for who they really are, and I think, to fight for equal protection and respect under the law.
And click the link below to download a one-page description to learn how to speak of, and to, trans people with the proper terminology.
CLICK HERE to read about the lack of legal protections for people in the Trans Community.
CLICK HERE to learn what you can do to help end discrimination against trans men and women.
I'm happy to announce that my friend, Cassandra Cass, is one of the stars of a new reality series called "Strut" on the Oxygen Network. Producer Whoopi Goldberg brings us behind the scenes at the world's first Transgender modeling agency. Check the trailer below.
Sadly, Ohlone College does not currently offer even a SINGLE course in "Queer Theory," nor do we thoroughly review the contributions of gay men and women in our History curriculum (the way such is, thankfully, done for Chicano and African American History).
Until this is done (and as I encourage the college to correct this omission), I offer the following information for my students.
Born a male, a botched circumcision led his parents to make the difficult and fateful decision to surgically alter his genitals and attempt to raise him as a girl. Encouraged by sex researcher John Money (a man who did much to assist those suffering from Gender Identity Dysphoria), the Reimers followed every script given to them down to the smallest detail, but in the end, this experiment would prove a complete failure. These results, and others like them, strongly suggest that gender is not determined by how we are raised (our name, clothing, reflected appraisal from others, etc.), but by our genes, all of which were telling David, "You are a boy."
Although the story has a tragic ending, the results had led to a somewhat better understanding of Gender Identity, and will hopefully help put an end to the suffering and confusion of many whose bodies do not match the gender their brains tell them the truly are.
Click the links below to watch the TLC video (in four parts) that chronicles the story of David Reimer.
In 2010, I was honored to receive an invitation to become part of a collaborative effort to educate the public about the importance of sleep. This group, now called the Stanford Sleepwell Society, operates under the auspices of one of the biggest names in sleep research, Stanford University professor/researcher William C. Dement, MD, PhD.
In a previous semester, several members of the Ohlone Psychology Club and some of my other students attended a talk by Dr Dement.
In addition to being an icon within the field of psychology, Dr Dement is a pioneer in Sleep Research, having co-discovered the REM stage of sleep, and worked with none other than Nathaniel Kleitman and Eugene Aserinsky!
Each of us got a copy of Dement's latest book, and both he and I got a little tired as the night wore on. : )
According to Dement, sleep research is the most important field of medicine ever, and lack of sleep affects our lives in countless ways (some of them deadly). I strongly urge you all to look into his and others' work in this field. It's not only fascinating, but also enlightening and educational!
Be sure and check out his book, The Promise of Sleep, which compiles over 50 years of his scientific research into one easy-to-read work.
As you already know, your Course Paper is to be constructed using peer-reviewed journal articles only as your scientific source material. To that end, please use the Ohlone Library's databases to find these. Click the link below to open this blog post and follow the instructions:
As promised in class, I am posting some documents that will assist you in writing your Course Paper for out class. Since I trust that you are capable of making professional decisions about this assignment, I have been brief in the structure and requirements area. Please use what you have learned in other classes about how to create an Informational Essay, making sure to address the topic you chose in a professional manner.
The documents below will mostly assist you with learning the few APA rules necessary to write such a paper (e.g., how to create a cover page, references page, and how to cite using APA style). Please read each document carefully, and use them when you are actually writing your paper.
BRING IT TO CLASS AS INSTRUCTED BELOW ON THE DATE LISTED IN THE SYLLABUS.
Dear General Psychology Students:
Click the link below to download the APA take-home test. Be sure and read the instructions thoroughly before filling it out This a TEST, and must be turned on ON TIME, on the day it is due. I do not accept late tests, so you must be on time to turn it in to receive credit. Do not email it to me.
1: Type out the answers to the four items on the first page. Please do not type them on a blank sheet. (Do not use ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, since part of the grading is based on proper capitalization.) If you write them by hand instead of typing, you will NOT receive a grade.
2: The References page must be typed on a separate page using proper APA style as discussed in class. Do not type your name on this page, however, since that would affect the formatting. Also, be sure and read the warning at the top of page two of the test; the best advice I can give you is to do this test alone. DO NOT PUT YOUR NAME ON THE REFERENCES PAGE.
3. PRINT AND STAPLE the two documents, and bring them to class on the date listed in the syllabus as "APA Test." No late work will be accepted,and I will not accept tests that are late or that are not stapled together.
4. If you are late to class, your test will not be accepted.
As many of you may know, we have a thriving Psychology Club here at Ohlone College. One of the most visible and active clubs on campus, the Psychology Club regularly hosts guest speakers, organizes off-campus field trips, has regular fund raisers, and engages in regular discussions related to the field of psychology.
Our meetings are held every Wednesday, from 3:00 - 4:00 pm.
We meet in Room FP-3
Please join our Facebook page (see sidebar on this blog) for more info and updates.
Please consider adding the class below, taught by Ohlone professor Steve Hanna. It will be held on Tuesday evenings, from 6:30 to 9:40 PM. Given today's political landscape, it's more important than ever that all Americans understand the U.S. Constitution, and defend it from those who would ignore or alter it.
AJ 121/PS 106: Constitutional Law and the U.S.
This is a course on the U.S. Constitution, its interpretation, its applicability to law enforcement, and its impact on the lives of all Americans. The emphasis will be on the different interpretations of the Constitution that have been applied by Supreme Court justices at various times. As Chief Justice John Marshall said, “It is emphatically the job of the Supreme Court to say what the law is.” What criteria do justices use to determine “what the law is”? Is one method of interpretation better than another? How often do different interpretations yield different outcomes?
CLICK HERE for more information, and/or contact Dr. Hanna at SHanna@ohlone.edu .
Please click the appropriate link below to download your syllabus. I teach a lot of classes, and multiple sections of some, so make sure that you download and save only the syllabus for the class that you have registered for. Each syllabus has information (room numbers, test dates, etc.) that is specific to YOUR class. These syllabi will remain on my blog for the entire semester.
Moreover, if I mention a schedule change in class (they're rare, but they are sometimes unavoidable), or if I happen to miss a class due to illness, it is your responsibility to check back here to see if a revised version of your syllabus has been posted.
Please download and complete the Student Data Sheet below, then bring it to class next time we meet.
IT REQUIRES A CLEAR FACE PICTURE OF YOU. You can insert a picture of yourself and then print it out on the sheet, or just staple a picture to the sheet if that's easier. Please make sure it's one that allows me to recognize you (no big sun glasses, artistic turns of the head, etc.). I'm using these to get to know my students by name and face, in the hope that the information will help me adjust my teaching to students' needs and backgrounds.
I have included the document below in two different file types, due to complaints from students who do not yet have Microsoft Office 2010.
Many of you laughed when I mentioned the Flat Earth Society in class (and it is, indeed, laughable). But believe me, I'm not kidding. There are litereally thousands of otherwise normal, everyday folks around the world who believe that our planet is flat.
This view of the world is ancient, and derives from staggering ignorance. Even Christopher Columbus knew that the world was a sphere (regardless of the children's tale that says otherwise). To find people who believed this, you'd have to go back much further than the 1400s. In fact, it was the Greek philosopher Pythagoras who first proposed a spherical Earth in the 6th century (the 500s)!
CLICK HERE to read a report about the Flat Earthers and their ridiculous beliefs. Then, consider what other beliefs people hold (homophobia, Creationism, sexism, anti-GMO, racial superiority, vaccine denial), as well as any that you yourself may hold that aren't supported by the facts.
I'm pleased to announce that my long-awaited podcast has finally aired. Each week, my co-host Amanda DeVaus (from the Australian Skeptics) will cover a different topic from science or skepticism, and feature interviews from famous scientists, authors, critical thinkers, etc.
NOW AVAILABLE in the iTunes store! Just search for "ShelShocked," then subscribe so that episodes will download automatically each week FREE.
CLICK HERE to join our Facebook fan page where each new episode will post, and related information can be found.
In addition, you can listen to (or download) episodes directly from my website HERE.
The James Randi Educational Foundation recently announced the release of a FREE e-book entitled, "Magic in the Classroom - Using Extraordinary Claims to Teach Critical Thinking." I'm proud to say that three of its 28 chapters were written by me (so you know they're good!).
In each section, a topic is introduced along with guidance in encouraging rational answers to complex issues. These include paranormal events, psychic powers, Creationism, pseudoscience, and other topic, accompanied with professional references for supporting the author's claims.
CLICK HERE to visit the download page where you'll find copies for iPad, Kindle, and PDF.
I'm happy to report that Operation Bumblebee (San Jose) was a rousing success. Several of us to took part have written up articles about the experience, and some are already taking part in podcast interviews to spread the word. In addition to tricking self-described psychic Chip Coffey into connecting with our fake dead relatives, we also hoped to spark skeptical activism in our community. When you have a moment, click the link below to read (or listen to) my take on the evening. It was an emotionally exhausting experience, but very gratifying, nonetheless.
CLICK HERE to read a report of the evening's events (also available in audio format on that page). We have some interest from several major publications and a TV show, and I'll keep you posted about those as they develop.