June 4, 2012

Get a Psych Degree, Find a Job

According to the latest report from the Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University, the unemployment rate of recent Psych majors is 7.6%.

How does that compare to, let's say, Sociology? Unemployment for Sociology majors is 8.6%.

Let's see, how about...

History majors? 10% unemployment
Biology majors? 7.7% unemployment
Information Services majors? 11.7% unemployment
English majors? 9.2% unemployment
Computer Science majors? 7.8%
Political Science & Government majors? 9.1% unemployment

Hmmm. Psychology as a major is looking a little better now, isn't it?

May 27, 2012

"There's an Eye Watching You"

Every wonder why there is an eye at the top of the pyramid on the $1 bill?

One of the hymns that scared me as a kid was the one that had the line, "There's an all-seeing eye watching you." I envisoned a huge celestrial eyeball looking down from heaven.

Maybe the hymn writer and the currency designer knew something about keeping people honest.

According to an article in the online journal, biology letters, Melissa Bateson and associates at the University of Newcastle on Tyne placed a picture of a pair of eyes over the honesty box where people put money for coffee (and tea, of course, since it was in England) in the university's employee break room.

Result? "People paid nearly three times as much for their drinks when eyes were displayed (than when they were not)."

No break room attendant. No cameras. No threats. Just an image of a pair of eyes.

Maybe that's why my mom use to tell me, "I have eyes in the back of my head!"

May 2, 2012

I Slept in Because I Am Trying to Lose Weight

This research opens the door to a new excuse: "Sorry I was late to class this morning, Dr. G. I slept in because I am trying to lose weight."

According to an article in the journal SLEEP, getting more sleep suppresses the genes involved in obesity. Researchers led by Nathaniel Watson, M.D. at the University of Washington Medicine Sleep Center took over a 1,000 pair of twins and had one twin sleep less than seven hours a night while the other slept at least nine hours.

"Among twins who slept less than seven hours per night, genes accounted for 70% of the differences in body mass index (BMI), while so-called environmental factors, such as diet and exercise habits, were responsible for just 4% of the differences. The pattern was reversed among twins who slept nine or more hours per night. In this group, environmental factors accounted for 51% of BMI differences and genes accounted for just 32%. Getting adequate sleep, in other words, appears to dampen genetic risk and allow the influence of diet, exercise, and other controllable lifestyle factors to 'surface'. The less you sleep, the more important genetic factors are to how much you weigh. The longer you sleep, the greater the influence of environmental factors like meal composition and timing."

In case you were wondering, no, there isn't a "fat gene." Researchers say that more than 20 genes are linked to obesity risk through their effects on appetite, blood sugar, metabolism, and other channels.

March 11, 2012

New Meaning to "It's a Jeans Kind of Day"

Does your mood affect what you wear?

Yes, according to research at the University of Hertfordshire, Hatfield, England. One's choice of outfit is a good reflection of your mood.

Specifically, the researchers found that "denim jeans are what most people wear when depressed."

I read that on the university's website and found myself wondering exactly how they conducted the research. Did they wander around campus and ask students who were wearing jeans, "How are you feeling?" (Probably not.)

I also wondered about the results, "Why?" How about this as a possibility: depression makes it difficult to make decisions and jeans take the least amount of decision-making. "Oh, just throw on some jeans, everything goes with them." When depressed, we often just put ourselves on auto-pilot, and jeans are kind of the "default" choice.

BTW, I would have guessed sweatpants instead of jeans. According to the eminent student of human behavior, Jerry Seinfeld, sweatpants are for those who have given up.

So, what are you wearing and how do you feel?

March 6, 2012

IQ - Low Today, High Tomorrow?

IQ, the result of genetics, environment, or a combination of both? IQ, stable or changeable? IQ tests, tests of one's intellectual capacity or of one's achievements?

The journal Nature reported last year that researchers at University College London studied the IQs of 33 adolescents. Tested four years apart, IQs improved in some as much as 20 points, scores of others dropped an equal amount.

What else changed? Their brains, for one thing. "The degree to which their IQ had changed was proportional to the degree to which different parts of their brains had changed." For example, an increase in verbal IQ score correlated with a structural change in the left motor cortex of the brain that is activated when we speak.

Their education, for another. "Lots of prior research has found that educational environment is key. Some researchers have found that rigorous academic curricula lead to improved IQ scores."

Personalities, work ethics, and home environments change over time as well.

My belief? Genetics sets the ceiling for one's IQ, how high it can go, but going no higher. Environment determines if it ever reaches that ceiling. Find yourself in a nurturing, facilitating environment (higher socio-economic level, good education, verbal parents, etc.), you reach your IQ-potential. Live without the benefits of such an environment, maybe never reach it.

Remember, IQ is reflective of genetics and environment, not deterministic of one's future.

March 5, 2012

I am Feeling One of the Eleven. Guess Which One

It was going to be a simple series on the universal, basic human emotions. I was going to blog on each one separately.

Paul Ekman produced the first list of "universal emotions" in 1972. His six were based on universal facial expressions. He found that members of the Fore tribe in Papau New Guinea were able to tell what the caucasion Americans in the photos were feeling just from their facial expressions.

Then I found 34 different emotions that show up on 14 different "authoritative" lists of "basic emotions". The number of emotions on the lists vary from 3 to 11. 18 emotions show up only on one person's list. 5 show up on just two lists. Here are the 11 emotions that show up on three or more lists, with the number of lists they appear on.

Fear (9)
Anger (7)
Disgust (7)
Sadness (6)
Joy (5)
Surprise (5)
Happiness (4)
Rage (4)
Anxiety (3)
Interest (3)
Love (3)

Wait one little minute. As I was clicking the button to post this I noticed that the top 6 on this list are Paul Ekman's original six, although he called "joy" "happiness." What a coincidence. Maybe I will still do my little series. Wait while I boot up my webcam so you can see #6 alternating with #5 on my face.

March 4, 2012

Can People With Multiple Personalities Tickle Themselves?

Go ahead, try to tickle yourself. Can't do it, can you? Ever wonder why?

The answer probably lies in your cerebellum (Latin for "little brain"), part of your hind-brain. The cerebellum automatically monitors and regulates motor behavior and movements. Because the cerebellum does what it does without conscious input from you it knows the "tickle" is coming and ruins it. In other words, it makes it so that you cannot sneak up on yourself.

Researchers at University College in London found that "the cerebellum can predict how self-administered touches will feel and alerts other tickle-sensitive areas of the brain. Since a truly successful tickle requires an element of surprise, this early-warning system makes self-tickling an exercse in futility."

Now, back to my original question, what about people with Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly called Multiple Personalities)? Could one of Sybil's alternate personalities sneak up on and tickle her original personality? I can see it now. Sybil, sitting alone in a room, jerks and giggles. "Somebody just tickled me!"

March 3, 2012

That's Rude, Dude!

I am glad to learn it is not just my imaginaton that people in jobs lowest on an organization's totem pole often seem to be the rudest and most abusive. Research reported in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology says yes, they can be.

Why? Because in their job they have power but no status. Power over you: "Take a number and have a seat until I call you up here!" No status because no one wants or respects their job. Researchers said that their low status is "threatening and aversive" to them, and their power frees them "to act on their internal (negative or rude) states and feelings."

Supervisors, bosses, etc., are usually a lot less rude or abusive. Why, when they have even more power? Because they also have more status.

Researchers at three universities randomly assigned participants to roles in a fictitious company and asked them to assign tasks that varied in how demeaning they were to others. "Individuals in high-power/low-status roles chose more demeaning activities for their partners than did those in any other comination of power and status roles."

What can social psychologists do to help? Train bosses and supervisors how to raise the status of entry level jobs, in the minds of those who hold them, by (1) constant reminders of how important their jobs are to the success of the company because they are the ones who interface with the public the most, and (2) bonuses and promotions for postive uses of their power.

It also might help if you will be polite, courteous, and appreciative to employees you have to deal with. (My evil twin adds, "And say to them on your way out, 'I hope you find a job you actually like some day'" but I don't think that will actually help.)

February 26, 2012

Lose Weight, Improve Your Memory

Here is another example of the mind-body connection, i.e., the mind affects the body and the body affects the mind. Researchers at Northwestern University's Northwestern Medical found this specific connection between weight and memory in older women.

The study, which involved 8,745 women ages 65-79 and was published in Journal of the American Geriatric Society, found that "the more an older woman weighs, the worse her memory... On average, there is a one-point drop in the memory score for every one-point increase in body-mass index."

How do you break the news to the woman? "I have bad news, bad news and more bad news. Which do you want to hear first? #1, you are an older woman. #2, you are overweight. #3, you have declining memory. Oh, and, #4, you have a pear body shape (you carry your excess fat around your hips) so your memory is even more affected than if you had an apple shape (fat around the waist)."

This surely raises a number of questions in your mind. If not, go study law instead of psychology. I'm probably weird but one question that came to my mind was, how much weight would an older woman have to gain in order to forget this research?

February 25, 2012

I Don't Care How Much Potential You Have

"We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done." (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Kavanagh: A Tale, 1849)

Longfellow may not have been a psychologist but 160 years later a team of psychologists led by Elanor Williams at the University of Florida, Gainesville, proved that he was right. They conducted six studies and found that "potential plays a bigger role in people's self-assesments than in their assessments of others... People care more about feedback when it relates to their own potential than when it relates to someone else's potential." (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 38(2), 2012)

Want to impress someone? Show them what you have already accomplished, don't tell them what you are capable of doing.

For example, which is more impressive to you, the fact that I am working on an article for publication or the fact that I had my first article published when I was just 14 years old?

February 24, 2012

The Bigger Your Amygdala, the More Friends You Have

The amygdala, located in the temporal lobe of the brain, is involved in our emotions such as fear and anger. It also determines what memories are stored and where they are stored, possibly by how huge an emotional response an event invokes.

Now, according to an article in Nature, researchers at Boston University and Harvard University have discovered a positive correlation between the size of one's amygdala and the size of their online social network, specifically how many Facebook friends they have an how many social groups those friends are part of: "The bigger the amygdala, the bigger and more complex the network."

The bigger your amygdala, the more Facebook friends you have. Or is it that the more Facebook friends you have, the bigger your amygdala? And, why? Good question. Good questions. No one can know for sure. A third factor may be causing the size of both.

Buchanan, et al, in The Human Amygdala, suggests that a larger amygdala "allows for greater emotional intelligence, enabling greater societal integration and cooperation with others."

Other articles on this interesting correlation have been in Nature Neuroscience, and Time Healthland.

February 11, 2012

Need Help? Better Hope Someone Eating Dessert Is Near By

My wife rarely gets excited about research results I share with her. This is one of the exceptions: "I knew there was a good reason for my sweet tooth!"

According to a recent article in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, "When presented with three food options, people who indulged in dessert (as opposed to those who chose a savory snack or ate nothing at all) proved to be more likely to help a person in need... Candy-is-dandy types are generally considered kinder by their peers than are people who pass up the pastry trolley."

So, sugar makes the people sweeter. Candy makes people more caring. Dessert makes people more destined to help. (Somebody stop me!)

(I know, I know. This is correlational, so I can't really say that the dessert is the cause of the kindness. The fact that they are kind may drive them to sweets. Or, a third variable may cause both of them. Perhaps as children their parents rewarded their kind behaviors with something sweet and they learned to associate the two.)

February 5, 2012

What are you looking at, baby? ¿Qué estás mirando, bebé?

Babies don't know what part of the face they are supposed to look at. Their eyes start out spending the most time looking at the forehead while scanning other features from the chin to the eyes. Quickly they recognize the importance of the eyes and stare at them when they look at someone's face. (An early sign of Autism is that children suffering from it do not make eye-contact.)

By about four months infants begin to stare at a person's mouth when the person is speaking. According to research by David Lewkowicz, PhD, at Florida Atlantic University, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the mouth appears to be as important in the learning of speech as hearing the sounds. Lewkowicz said, "The baby, in order to imitate you, has to figure out how to shape their lips to make that particular sound they're hearing."

By approximately 12 months of age they spend less time watching the mouth. They go back to focusing on the eyes even when the person is speaking.

That is unless you start speaking to them in a different language. Try speaking in Spanish to an infant who has only heard English. Watch them shift their gaze back to the lips, just like when they were babies.

Piaget was right. Babies are not Tabula Rasa, a blank slate. They are actively involved in learning. They try to figure out things they don't understand. Including Spanish.

February 3, 2012

First SpongeBob, Now Sugar

Yesterday some organization proposed regulating and restricting sales of sugar, like cigarettes. The doctor I saw quoted on TV said something like, "Sugar activates the same addictive centers of the brain as addictive drugs. We need to consider it addictive and regulate it."

What, in the brain, was he talking about? Probably the "Dopamine-Producing Center" (my term). Dopamine is a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are chemicals produced by neurons (brain cells) that affect the communication between neurons. The release of the neurotransmitter Dopamine produces the sensation of pleasure. Nicotine, for example, goes straight to the "D-PC", releasing Dopamine, a factor in nicotine's addictiveness.

Does sugar release Dopamine? Probably. Why? It could be simply because you like sugar. Dopamine is released when you do anything you enjoy. Give money to a cause you believe in? Dopamine is released. Your team wins the Super Bowl? Dopamine is released. Sexual climax? Dopamine is released.

The release of Dopamine is one of the reasons you repeat any behavior that you enjoy. It causes the sensation of pleasure.

I guess we need to regulate and restrict giving to good causes, your team winning the Super Bowl, sex. After all, they all "activate the addictive centers of the brain."

Now that I think about it I think watching SpongeBob Square Pants produces dopamine in me. I like it! (See my blog post on the recent attack on SpongeBob.)

January 29, 2012

I'm Glad Babies Often Sit in Front of Me in Church

She was facing backward, on the shoulder of her proud grandmother, looking at me from the pew ahead of me in church this morning. She was between 1-month and 4-months old.

POP QUIZ: How do I know her age?
#1 - She smiled at some things that happened during church, like when certain songs started.
#2 - She did NOT smile in response to my smiling at her.

"Reflex Smiling" begins at about 1-month of age. Smiling and laughing at something an infant finds pleasing or funny is an automatic, universal reflex (even in blind people who have never seen a smile). It often occurs first while the infant is sleeping.

"Social Smiling" begins at about 4-months of age. It is the conditioned response of smiling in response to someone smiling at you. They now recognize a smile and smile back.

She was also dreaming during the last song this morning. How do I know? She was asleep in the arms of her grams (who did not stand for the song) and her eyes were moving rapidly behind her eyelips. In other words, she was in REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, in which we dream.

Infants sitting in front of me in church easily keep me entertained but, yes, I did listen to the sermon this morning. It was on, um; it was on, uh; it was on...

January 28, 2012

You Didn't Take Naps as a Kid Did You?

How would you like to do research with toddlers who had not had their naps? That is what Colorado University Boulder Assistant Professor Monique LeBourgeois did.

According to an article on CU-Boulder's website, to be published in the Journal of Sleep Research, toddlers who missed even just one nap "had a 34 percent decrease in positive emotional responses... (and) showed a 31 percent increase in negative emotional responses." Children who DID have a nap showed "a 39 percent decrease in the expression of 'confusion' (when attempting to solve an unsolvable puzzle)."

"Less positive, more negative and decreased cognitive engagement when facing challenges." Sounds like some adults (and college students) I know. They must not have taken naps as toddlers.

In fact, LeBourgeois said that her research suggests, "Lack of sleep (as toddlers) disrupts their ability to build skills for managing emotions... That puts them at risk for lifelong mood-related problems such as anxiety and depression."

So, looking for another reason to blame your mother for your current inability to cope with life's challenges? "Mom didn't make me take naps as a kid and I still have negativity, anxiety and depression." Even if it is "her fault" you are the way you are it is your fault if you stay that way. Learn now the skills you should have learned as a toddler.

January 17, 2012

When Does 1 Equal 810?

When the 1 is the IQ difference between you and your sibling.

According to research by the American Enterprise Institute, "By age 35, every IQ point you're lording over your sibling earns you $810 more each year."

"Na na na na naa na. Not only am I smarter than you, but I am also going to make more money than you!"

Really? Do you really want to rub it in? It may come back to haunt you when your sibling gets dates and you can't.

January 16, 2012

Start Exercising, Stop Depressing

Feeling depressed? Exercising will help elevate your mood.

I know, I know. When you are depressed you don't FEEL like exercising. Rule-of-thumb: the things you don't feel like doing when you are depressed are probably the very things you need to start doing, to help pull you out of your depression.

According to Michael Otto, PhD, at Boston University, "The link between exercise and mood is pretty strong. Usually within five minutes after moderate exercise you get a mood-enhancement effect... active people are less depressed than inactive people." (Monitor on Psychology, December 2011)

Why? We suspect that there are both physical and cognitive reasons.

Exercise increases serotonin (a neurotransmitter that elevates mood), fights neurotropia (by supporting the growth of neurons), and helps normalize sleep. Beginning to exercise boosts a person's outlook by being a step toward meaningful activities and a sense of accomplishment.

Start slowly, add a small amount of exercise at first. As you finish each session look in the mirror and say to yourself, "Ata boy! Well done!"

January 15, 2012

You Think I Look HOW Old?

Before you ask someone how old they think you are...

Do not ask a kid. They guess that everyone is about a year older than they are.

Smile first. Those who make happy faces are consistently guessed to be younger than they really are.

Ask an older person. They tend to rate faces of all ages as equally attractive.

All of this is according to the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, as reported in a recent issue of Psychology Today.

Trying to make yourself look younger than you are? You might want to consider which is more important, being thought to be younger or being considered to be likable and honest. A University of Kansas study revealed that "When older adults look like they are trying to pass as more youthful versions of themselves, younger people see them as less likable and more deceitful."

Good thing I am not yet an "older adult".

January 14, 2012

Open to More Mushrooms?

Personality psychologists arm wrestle over which aspects of our personalities change over time, why they change, and how much they change.

According to a report in the September 28, 2011 Journal of Psychopharmacology, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have added a new dimension to the debate... an hallucinogenic one.

51 adults volunteered to have a "mystical experience" from taking psilocybin, the active ingredient in hallucinogenic mushrooms, to investigate how it changed their personality.

Step One: Take an inventory to determine their score on the Big Five Factor called Openness. (POP QUIZ: How many global personality factors are there, according to the Big Five Theory?)

Step Two: Ingest psilocybin and have a "mystical experience."

Step Three: Retake the inventory.

Step Four: Wait one year and take the inventory a third time.

The finding? Participants "tested higher on scores of openness... than they had before they took the drugs. The change was still in place at a follow-up test one year later."

Hmmm. So taking drugs can change your personality? Who would have guessed? (he says sarcastically)