Laura’s Psychology Blog

One Professor’s Observations of the World of Psychology….   

September 20, 2011

readings in psychology for 20th september 2011

Here is what I am reading today:

“Online daters are reluctant to use partisan politics to attract a potential mate, according to new research co-authored by Brown political scientist Rose McDermott. The study, published in Evolution and Human Behavior, shows that singles are more likely to admit they are overweight on their online dating profiles than to say they are politically liberal or conservative.”

“For decades, researchers have observed that, on average, firstborns score higher on intelligence tests than their later-born siblings. The further down a child is in birth order rank, the lower his or her IQ compared to older siblings.This is nothing I’d brag about. I think it inspires resentment and eye-rolling among later-borns. (Not to mention that intelligence tests and what they really measure are a controversial bugaboo.  But let’s put that aside for now.)  There’s no obvious reason for the difference in test scores because siblings often have the same parents and grow up in the same family environment. “

“Rambunctious one-year-old Teco, a third-generation captive-born bonobo at the Great Ape Trust in Des Moines, Iowa, has an ape’s usual fondness for games and grapes. But perhaps because of trauma from a difficult birth (his mother was in labor for 60 hours) or a genetic predisposition, Teco is different from his bonobo peers in ways that resemble autism in young children. He could not cling to his mother or nurse the way healthy young apes do instinctively, mimicking the aversion to physical contact seen in children with autism. Teco also tends to fixate on shiny objects and avoids eye contact, and he has trouble coordinating his four limbs. A genetic analysis of bonobos, already under way, may shed light on Teco’s condition and offer new perspectives on autism’s genetic roots in humans.”

“A study led by Andrew Gallup, a postdoctoral research associate in Princeton University’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, is the first involving humans to show that yawning frequency varies with the season and that people are less likely to yawn when the heat outdoors exceeds body temperature. Gallup and his co-author Omar Eldakar, a postdoctoral fellow in the University of Arizona’s Center for Insect Science, report this month in the journal Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience that this seasonal disparity indicates that yawning could serve as a method for …”

 

April 9, 2011

readings in psychology for April 9th 2011

My daughters know my love of flowers and on occcasions or for fun they send me some -- it's nice to be remembered. These are from Karen

Here is what I am reading today (in Chicago):

“With the help of two sets of brothers with autism, Johns Hopkins scientists have identified a gene associated with autism that appears to be linked very specifically to the severity of social interaction deficits.”

“Contagious yawning is not just a marker of sleepiness or boredom. For chimpanzees, it may actually be a sign of a social connection between individuals.”

“Individuals who call themselves liberal tend to have larger anterior cingulate cortexes, while those who call themselves conservative have larger amygdalas. Based on what is known about the functions of those two brain regions, the structural differences are consistent with reports showing a greater ability of liberals to cope with conflicting information and a greater ability of conservatives to recognize a threat, the researchers say.”

“Beauty is said to be in the eye of the beholder, but a new study reveals that the reverse is also true; unattractiveness is in the eye of the beheld. Research published in Ethology finds that people with bloodshot eyes are considered sadder, unhealthier and less attractive than people whose eye whites are untinted, a cue which is uniquely human.”

“Hearing the heartbeat of someone you are talking to gives the same feeling of personal contact as looking each other in the eye. This is the remarkable conclusion of research at Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) in partnership with Stanford University and Philips Research. The research focuses on improving human contact when using digital communication channels.”

“The study is the world’s first investigation of how real-time functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) feedback from the brain region responsible for higher-order thoughts, including introspection, affects our ability to control these thoughts. The researchers find that real-time brain feedback significantly improves people’s ability to control their thoughts and effectively ‘train their brains.'”

September 26, 2010

readings in psychology for september 26th 2010

me and a friend from high school watching a cal poly vs. cal swim meet

me and Cathy -- a friend from high school - watching a cal poly vs. cal swim meet

“WHEN the French legislative assembly met for the first time, in October 1791, it organised itself in such a way that conservative members sat to the right and liberals sat to the left. Over the years, this arrangement became a metaphor for political views, with liberals being considered on the left of the political spectrum and conservatives being on the right. It seems, though, that these terms may be more than mere metaphor, for a study by Daniel Oppenheimer and Thomas Trail of Princeton University suggests that leaning left physically may cause an individual to lean that way mentally, too.”

“Many mentally handicapped Danes, including children, were lobotomized between 1947 and 1983, and many died from the operation, a historian behind a soon-to-be-published book on the topic told Danish media Thursday.”Doctors did not count on curing them completely, but wanted to pacify them, perhaps to better their condition,” Jesper Vaczy Kragh told the Christian daily Kristelig Dagbladet.”

“She said, “The results clearly show that even with low blood alcohol concentrations, reactions to sudden gait perturbations are seriously affected. After ingestion of 2 alcoholic drinks, obstacles were hit twice as often, response times were delayed and response amplitudes were reduced. These changes were most obvious in situations with little available response time.””

” Developing language skills appears to be more important for boys than girls in helping them to develop self-control and, ultimately, succeed in school, according to a study led by a Michigan State University researcher”

June 28, 2010

Where Neuromarketing and Politics Meet…

Here in California, we just finished another primary election, and I find it personally refreshing to get a short break from the phone calls and mailers, at least until November rolls around. As I watch little if any network television (with the notable exception of college football), I am at least spared the indignity of having all of this negativity spewed into my own living room.

For those of us who find contemporary politicking unpleasant at best, neuroscience offers a solution! You don’t like politicians’ speeches you say? Well, enter the experts at MindSign, who promise to “take your political speech, both video and or audio and compare it to our database to see if speech is more or less activating than the average brain response for all similar speeches over each and every demographic and political affiliation.”  Oh, they will evaluate your print ads, television ads, and website, too, for $2000 per participant hour plus time needed to prepare reports (they recommend a minimum of 16 participants). So if you don’t like one speech, hey–no worries–they’ll come up with another one you’ll love, tailored to whatever “political affiliation” niche you occupy!

What Exactly Does "Brain Activation" Mean?

Now the word in all of this that catches my eye is “activating.”  I’m sure the MindSign website is a bit dummied down (couldn’t find much in the way of technical data there or published reports), but to me, “activation” of the brain can mean many things–maybe the brain is “activated” because you really hate something.

I understand the need to get the most “bang for the advertising buck,” but shouldn’t politicians be sharing their real views with voters instead of whatever they think we want to hear? I find it somewhat disturbing that the political services page on MindSign is called “Pennsylvania Avenue.”

Once again, technology races along far ahead of any type of discussion about the ethics of its use.

May 3, 2009

Young Children Think Gender-Related Behavior is Biological…Well, I do, too.

A recent study by Marianne Taylor of Pacific Lutheran University and her colleagues has been getting a lot of press [1]. In a nutshell, Taylor and colleagues found that children until the age of 10 or so view the behavioral differences between boys and girls, such as their different preferences for playing football or with dolls, as biological ordained as the differences in the behavior of different species, like cats and dogs. The cynic in me, and I’m feeling a little cranky today, would suggest that by the age of 10, kids have just learned to be politically correct.

Okay, I obviously don’t believe that ALL gender-related behavior is biological (I like football and the Legend of Zelda), but I think the cultural/socialization thing popular in the 70s was a huge mistake. Poor Bruce Reimer paid for that mistake with his life.

Vervet Monkeys Arent Socialized to Prefer Sex-Typed Toys

Vervet Monkeys Aren't Socialized to Prefer Sex-Typed Toys

There is substantial evidence suggesting that toy preferences in monkeys follow the same pattern as in human children, and I don’t think we want to be arguing that monkeys are “socialized” into liking boy or girl toys. Click on the link for a New Scientist video of this research:

Monkey Toy Preferences

Human children begin to prefer sex-typed toys between the ages of 12 and 18 months, yet they are unable at these ages to match sex-typed toys to male or female voices, suggesting that they have not yet learned that the toys are supposed to match one gender or the other [2].

Gloria Steinem has argued that research into sex differences is “anti-American.” Wow. What ever happened to “ye shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free?”

1.  Taylor, M.G., Rhodes, M., & Gelman, S.A. (2009).  Boys will be boys; Cows will be cows: Children’s essentialist reasoning about gender categories and animal species. Child Development, 80(2).

2.  Serbin, L.A., Poulin-Dubois, D., Colburne, K.A., Sen, M.G., & Eichstedt, J.A. (2001).  Gender stereotyping in infancy:  Visual preferences for and knowledge of gender-stereotyped toys in the second year. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 25(1), 7-15.

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Quote to Ponder

It is not a lack of love,
but a lack of friendship
that makes unhappy marriages
-------- Nietzsche



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