Laura’s Psychology Blog

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

September 30, 2009

Are Women Really the Pickier Sex?

Filed under: Biological Psychology,General Psychology,Psychology — Laura Freberg @ 6:45 pm

It has been a longstanding truism in evolutionary psychology that because of the different investments men and women have in reproduction that the best strategy for men is to be relatively promiscuous and the best strategy for women is to be choosy. That still may be the case, but Eli Finkel and Paul Eastwick of Northwestern University have added a new wrinkle [1].  They asked whether “a confound as trivial as which sex romantically approaches the other” contributes to sex differences in romantic selectivity.

Are Women Really More Selective Speed-daters?

Are Women Really More Selective Speed-daters?

To pursue their hypothesis, Finkel and Eastwick set up a lot of speed dating events for undergraduate students and varied the roles of “sitter” and “rotator” between men and women.  Sure enough, when women were the ones approaching men, they seemed much less selective than when they were the approachees.

These results raise interesting follow-up questions.  In our current social environment, women are often encouraged to take the lead and ask men out. What effect does this have on their selectivity? Are women who are more old-fashioned and less inclined to do the asking more choosy?

1.  Finkel, E. J., & Eastwick, P. W. (2009).  Arbitrary social norms influence sex differences in romantic selectivity.  Psychological Science, epub ahead of print.

September 26, 2009

Welcome AP Psych Teachers!

Filed under: General Psychology,Psychology,Teaching Psychology,Textbook Publishing — Laura Freberg @ 10:14 am
Years ago, I was an AP exam grader!

Years ago, I was an AP exam grader!

I was delighted to hear from so many AP Psychology teachers regarding my post on “Clips for Class,” which was featured on Steve Jones et al.’s excellent blog, “Teaching High School Psychology.” I apologize for not making it more clear that Cengage is in process with this project. However, given the excitement this has generated, I’m guessing they’ll really be motivated to work on this.

Having taught Intro Psych at the community college and/or the university level for over thirty years, I’ve often thought it was odd that we have so little communication with those of you teaching high school Psych. The one chance I had to compare notes was when I participated in reading AP Psych exams in 1999, I think. I often have students enrolling in my Intro classes at Cal Poly who say they have taken a high school course, but I’m not sure exactly what that means and how I should adapt my materials to avoid boredom and repetition. So first on my list is to check out the Syllabi link on “Teaching.” If any of you have other questions or comments, I hope we can start a good conversation!

Some of you were also looking for some help with the bio aspect of your courses, and I’m very happy to do what I can to assist you. Obviously, this is an aspect of psychology that is near and dear to my heart, and I want students to be excited about it, too.

If you run into clips of your own that you’d like to share, I hope you’ll feel free to post those for us. With lots of eyes looking for great resources for our students, the job becomes so much easier!

September 23, 2009

Great New Resource for Psych Faculty

Filed under: Psychology,Teaching Psychology,Technology,Textbook Publishing — Laura Freberg @ 1:43 pm

All of us are “doing more with less,” especially this year, which means that faculty have precious little time to jazz up lectures. One of the resources that really engages students is the use of relevant videoclips from youtube or other online sources. Most of us are no longer showing traditional films that take up an entire class session. With videoclips of 2-3 minutes, students not only get a break from routine, but they can “get” complicated concepts very quickly.

In today’s classes, I showed a TED video of Martin Seligman talking about positive psychology and another clip of Robert Hare talking about the differences between the reactions of psychopaths and normal people to emotional words. In both cases, the films led to students coming to my office hour to learn more about the topics. Hooray! 

The downside of using videoclips is the timeconsuming nature of searching for the right ones. When we did our Instructor’s Manual for Discovering Biological Psychology, I spent many hours sifting through online videos to find just the right ones to recommend. The concept of doing this for all the courses I teach was daunting.

Fortunately, my publisher, Cengage, has put together a great new free resource for faculty they’re calling “Clips for Class.” The clips are organized by psychology topic, such as abnormal, consciousness, memory, etc. A preview of the video is accompanied by a short verbal description of the film. Among the featured films is the viral Bowling Green Classical Conditioning clip, in which a student conditions his roommate to flinch after pairing a sound with being shot with an airsoft gun. The description of the clip includes the appropriate thought question: “What ethical violations may have occurred during the making of this video?”

Clips for Class Makes Lecture Preps Easier

Clips for Class Makes Lecture Preps Easier

 So if you’re looking for ways to include videoclips in your course without spending your entire lifetime searching through youtube, check out the Cengage site. If you have videos of your own to recommend, let me know and I’ll pass them along.

September 17, 2009

Binge Drinking and Back to School

Filed under: Biological Psychology,Dieting,General Psychology,Psychology — Laura Freberg @ 1:12 pm

School doesn’t start until next Tuesday, and we still have a weekend to go, but the binge drinking has already begun. The local paper reported that 11 alcohol-related cases had been treated at an Emergency Room near campus, one a 17-year-old with a blood alcohol level of .38. This is definitely a life-threatening level BAC, and this young lady is very lucky to be alive.

Part of the momentum of college binge drinking seems to be the “everybody’s doing it” mentality, which in fact, is not true.  According to data from the U.S. Department of Justice, 49% of 18-20 year-olds do not drink at all. Seventy-two percent of American adults do not drink (46 percent) or drink less than one alcoholic beverage per week (26 percent–this would include Mr. F and me). Each month, only 23 percent of American adults consume more than 5 drinks (men) or 4 drinks (women) at one sitting, the standard definition of a binge (although they consume a whopping 76 percent of all alcohol sold in the US). Seven percent binge 5 or more times per month. So the bottom line is that a minority of Americans do the vast majority of the drinking.

The Vast Majority of Americans Don't Drink Very Much

The Vast Majority of Americans Don't Drink Very Much

What is truly sad is that alcohol advertising (in excess of $4 billion per year) drowns out the cautionary messages. In a previous post, I talked about diffusion tensor imaging results that showed that teenage binge drinking had adverse effects on the development of white matter (connections) in the brain. We only get one shot at growing a brain–what you have in your early 20s is all you’re ever going to get. Do it wrong, and you live with the results for the next 60 or so years. Most of my students have never seen the recommendations about alcohol from the American Cancer Society–for many cancers, abstention from alcohol use is the best course of prevention. Nor do we talk much about the obvious caloric contributions of binge drinking to obesity. It’s so very sad to see young people walking around with obviously alcohol-related bellies.

This doesn’t even begin to count the carnage from drunk driving. Mr. F and I, frequent walkers that we are, would NEVER consider walking the main street near our house late at night on weekends. It is the rare Monday when we don’t see sign poles knocked down, tire tracks on the sidewalk and into the bushes by the middle school, bus benches and trash cans totaled, and even a crunch into the apartment units across the street (none of which, by the way, ever appears in the local paper).

So what to do? The Justice Department makes the following suggestions:

  1. Make alcohol more expensive.  Right now, cheap beer doesn’t cost much more than a soda. Even quality wine is much more affordable than when I was in college. Because 77 percent of the population buys little if any alcohol, they wouldn’t feel increased prices as a burden. What higher costs might do is decrease affordability for the bingeing 23 percent.
  2. Restrict alcohol outlets.  Studies have shown that the higher the density of places selling booze, the worse the problem. In our little college/tourist town, alcohol is available everywhere.
  3. Strengthen and enforce minimum purchase age laws.  Recently, college presidents lobbied for lowering the drinking age to 18. Although this might take them off the legal hook, it is inconsistent with data suggesting that the brain is not mature until the early 20s, and the decision-making parts mature last.
  4. Curb social availability.  My students tell me that you can always find a party in SLO with booze, whether you know the people or not.  Again, raising the cost might solve this problem.
  5. Control advertising. This worked with tobacco, and it would likely work with booze. The problem is the people paying that $4 billion to advertise–they’re not going to give up without a fight. Look at how Big Booze went after General Motors for donating to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Who could be “for” drunk driving?

I’d like to add my own thoughts to the list:

  1. Parents–start inspecting what you expect. Somebody is paying for all of these kegs. Somebody is renting the houses where the parties occur. Please don’t complain to us about textbook and tuition costs when your son/daughter is spending tons of money on booze.
  2. Students–we are in a different economy and it’s a good idea to prepare for that. I haven’t read anybody who thinks we’ll go back to where we were 2 years ago. Today’s students are going to graduate into a highly competitive environment in which employers can be very picky. Drinking students need to recognize that while they’re boozing, somebody (remember, 49 percent of 18-20 year olds do not drink at all) is making himself/herself into a better person by studying, learning a skill, forming a meaningful relationship, doing a kindness for another person, etc. You can’t catch up for all of this lost time, and you can’t reverse the brain damage.

Last Spring, 60 percent of my students reported having barfed after drinking using anonymous i<clicker input. Barfing usually occurs when BAC is at least .12 to .15.  This leads me to believe that there is some truth to the “buzz” on Cal Poly–that you can get a degree without impacting your social life. Our drinking statistics seem to be higher than the norm.  Hopefully, we can reverse this trend by encouraging our students to think healthfully and competitively.  Maybe we need to ask more of them in the classroom. It’s a tough world out there, and the prize rarely goes to the person who can drink the most.

September 16, 2009

Can We Really Taste Much Difference in Wines?

Filed under: Avocations,General Psychology,Hobbies,Psychology,Random Fun — Laura Freberg @ 10:35 am

I live in California, the Central Coast of California to be exact, and as far as the eye can see, we have vineyards. Needless to say, a major hobby in this part of the world is winetasting, made even more popular by the cult film Sideways. So when my childhood friends came to town to deliver their daughter to Cal Poly, we headed for Talley Vineyard to sample the local offerings.

The Intrepid Tasters at Work

The Intrepid Tasters at Work

As we sampled, talk turned to the differences between what experts can taste and what novices like ourselves (with the exception of Mr. F, who is a member of Knights of the Vines) can taste.  Being me, I’m afraid that even in such recreational circumstances, I went into professor mode.

While I’m sure that you could train yourself to make small distinctions (dissociative learning as opposed to the associative type), a few things are working against the average taster. First of all, people differ vastly in the number of taste receptors they possess, and we can group them into nontasters, medium tasters, and supertasters. According to most of the tests, which you can take yourself by clicking the previous link, I am somewhere between a nontaster and a medium taster. So it’s pretty likely that I’m somewhat oblivious to bitter (also supported by my legendary coffee drinking), and pretty much all of the wines will taste good. Mr. F is a supertaster, and like most supertasters, he preferred a lighter Pinot, and opted out of the heavy red Cabernet at the end of the menu, which was my favorite.

Second, we have that nasty issue of expectation demonstrated so hilariously by Brian Wansink and his North Dakota wine. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the study, unsuspecting diners were served 2-buck-chuck with either a California wine label or a North Dakota wine label placed on the bottle by the experimenters. The people served “California” wine not only rated the wine as being better, but they rated the food served with the wine as better, ate 11% more of it (!!), and were more likely to make return reservations.

A more recent study looked at the influence of hearing an “expert’s” opinion before drinking it, and once again, we see that expectations matter. So a more reasonable line of research might be “why do we have critics in the first place?”  I know chez Freberg that our movie interests are so different from most of the critics that we tend to avoid films with high ratings. Mr. F still hasn’t recovered from negative critical reviews at the debut of the original Star Wars.  My guess is that people are influenced by conformity and other social factors to like what is generally considered good, or to show others that they have good taste. 

Maybe the best approach is to ignore the critics, and have the confidence in your own judgment to just like what you like, even if it’s a North Dakota wine or Eddie Murphy’s Norbit. Check out this link for North Dakota pumpkin wine. Reminds me of “7 star patata” in Tea House of the August Moon. Oh, and the Talley wines were excellent (in my personal opinion, not to influence your expectations), and the service was, too.

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