Laura’s Psychology Blog

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

March 31, 2009

It’s All in the Wiring

Filed under: Biological Psychology,Psychology,Technology — Laura Freberg @ 8:02 pm

Paul Thompson of UCLA asks questions that some people think are unaskable, or should be–like what is the genetic and anatomical basis of human intelligence? First of all, psychologists still maintain a lively debate about the nature of intelligence. Is it a single factor, like Spearman’s g? Or do we have multiple intelligences? Is intelligence simply the factor that intelligence tests test? If we do find the genetic basis for intelligence, will that lead to determinism? Reduced opportunities for education for some?

Now Thompson and his group are using diffusion-tensor imaging (DTI), a form of MRI that allows you to image white matter, to compare the brains of identical and fraternal twins. White matter “integrity” and performance on a standardized IQ test were positively correlated. The correlations were not uniform, with a range of heritability from 85% in the parietal lobe to 45% in the temporal lobe. Previous studies had focused on gray matter volume, but white matter is of interest due to its deterioration in Alzheimer’s disease, alcoholism, and traumatic brain injury.

DTI Images of White Matter

DTI Images of White Matter

Thompson’s group is also looking at genes that might contribute to the differences in white matter they observed, and variations in a gene that produces BDNF has emerged as an important candidate.

Will we have the wisdom to use new findings about the biological bases of intelligence responsibly?  As Thompson points out, knowing something is largely genetic doesn’t mean that it cannot be influenced. Both the mediocre and elite athlete benefit from practice.

Ming-Chang Chiang, Marina Barysheva, David W. Shattuck, Agatha D. Lee, Sarah K. Madsen, Christina Avedissian, Andrea D. Klunder, Arthur W. Toga, Katie L. McMahon, Greig I. de Zubicaray, Margaret J. Wright, Anuj Srivastava, Nikolay Balov, and Paul M. Thompson
Genetics of Brain Fiber Architecture and Intellectual Performance
J. Neurosci., Feb 2009; 29: 2212 – 2224 ; doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4184-08.2009

March 26, 2009

Getting Feedback from Adopters

Publishers do a wonderful job of obtaining reviews for our work. I don’t know how I would manage without these underpaid (in my view) but hard-working people. Still, nothing beats meeting people face-to-face to discuss their reactions to your books. Just about one year ago (wow, time flies), I met with some fabulous and engaged students and faculty at College of the Canyons to talk about Discovering Biological Psychology. One of the ideas we implemented out of that discussion was the incorporation of a coloring book feature into our Student Study Guide for the second edition.

Last Monday, I met with Skirmantas Janusonis of the University of California Santa Barbara to hear his reaction to the second edition. It was obvious from our discussion that Skirmantas is a gifted and enthusiastic teacher–his major concern is that students see the “beauty” of the nervous system. He had some great suggestions for new art–glad I brought Mr. F, my art consultant, along on the trip. I even got a tour of the lab, which was great fun!

00makingbiopsycheasy

One of the other practical suggestions coming out of our conversation was the need of instructors to have video content at their fingertips. Perfect timing–As I’m revising the Instructor’s Manual, I’m going to be able to incorporate some suggested videos. At Karen’s insistence, I’m also going to include some suggestions for using Twitter and other social media in the classroom. If you have any other suggestions, I’d be happy to hear them!

More Fun With iClickers!

Spring break for those of us on quarter system is short–very, very short. So I am happy to report that the process of gearing up for my first term using i<clickers has not been nearly as scary as I expected it to be. I am especially relieved, given that I’m using i<clickers in not one, but two of my courses. Nothing like just jumping in with both feet!

The materials provided by i<clicker on their website were incredibly clear and useful. I modified their “first day” powerpoint slides to show my students how to use and register the technology. I also found a powerpoint by Sandra Virtue of DePaul, entitled What Should New i-Clicker Users Know? to be very helpful. I especially liked her suggestion to “tag” each powerpoint slide with a clicker icon, so that students would immediately know the content was a clicker question. I used a little version of an image Mr. F made for my website of a hand holding an i<clicker.

Modified "First Day" i<clicker Slide

Modified "First Day" iClicker Slide with my Discovering Biological Psychology Background

Making up questions was fun, and if anything, I found I needed to restrain my impulses to put in dozens. Most users suggest you start small, maybe 2 per lecture, and then build up as you see fit. One can immediately sense that the process is time-consuming. You can’t just throw up a question about the ethics of stem cells and move on immediately with your other topics. I’m trying to anticipate how this will impact the amount of material I can cover in class.

The other modification I’m making is to no longer post my powerpoints on blackboard. I don’t have time to make two sets–one with i<clicker content and another without–and I don’t want students to see my questions before coming to class. I have mixed feelings about this. In previous quarters, students found printing off the powerpoints to be a helpful note-taking aid, but in some ways, it’s a little too helpful. I noticed that attendance dropped and people just stop taking notes of any kind. So I’m going to be interested in the outcome. Wish us luck!

March 22, 2009

Does Being a Parent Make You Happy?

Filed under: General Psychology,Political Psychology,Psychology — Laura Freberg @ 9:19 am

The search for the basis of happiness is convoluted, to say the least. As we mentioned in an earlier post, happiness is vastly different between conservatives and liberals, world-wide as well as in the United States. Money certainly doesn’t guarantee happiness, which given our current back-to-the-Stone-Age economy, is probably a good thing. But what about the legendary joys of parenting?

Nattavudh Powdthavee, an economist at the University of York, argues that parents are no more happy than people without children, and that in the United States, there is a tendency for parents to be less-satisfied than non-parents. Poor Professor Powdthavee has apparently heard a lot of negative feedback on this issue, and tries to deflect some of the ire over to Dan Gilbert.

What I would add to this study, however, would be a measure of how satisfied you are with your children’s outcomes as a moderating factor. In my experience, the unhappiest people I know are those who are disappointed with how their children turned out. Usually this happens when the parents do not share a common set of core values. What is acceptable in a partner can be very different when you see those values applied to raising your children.

One also has to look at the circumstances in which people are parenting. Current data suggest that 40% of American babies born last year were born to unmarried mothers. It’s hard enough to be a good parent without tying one hand behind your back this way.  The Hollywood notion that you can go ahead and have babies and think about marriage later and live happily ever after is just another trip to fantasyland.

The Pew Study on happiness is provocative in its suggestion that conservatives, who report being more satisfied with their family life, are also more likely to be married, to be religious, and to believe in an internal locus of control. People with an internal locus of control will feel personally responsible for how their children turn out, as opposed to believing that parents have little impact a la Judith Rich Harris, and are therefore less likely to adopt the permissive, uninvolved parenting style that usually results in disastrous offspring behaviors.

Not everyone should be a parent, and it’s important to recognize whether you should be or not, but in the right time, in the right place, and with the right person, being a parent can be a source of remarkable joy. I have learned so much from my daughters, and learned so much about myself from the mirror they hold up to me.

Karla, Kristin, and Karen Freberg

Karla, Kristin, and Karen Freberg

March 19, 2009

Discovering Biological Psychology 2e Hits the Bookshelves!

Thanks to Cindy Giambalvo, our El Corral bookstore manager at Cal Poly, I learned that my second edition Discovering Biological Psychology textbooks were now on the shelf for Spring Quarter. So Mr. F and I ventured into the bookstore to see how they look. Well, as you can see below, our infrared thermograph on the cover is hard to miss! My iClickers were there, too, which is going to be fun. I’m putting together a set of clicker questions to go along with the textbook, so if any faculty are interested, let me know.

There's This Groundbreaking New Book...

There's This Groundbreaking New Book...

I do take a bit of teasing from my family, who are prone to quote from What About Bob? –“There’s this groundbreaking new book….” If you haven’t seen the film, it’s a must-see for psychologists!

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

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