Posted by & filed under Child Development, Cognitive Development: The Information-Processing Approach, Consciousness, Human Development, Motivation-Emotion, Research Methods, Social Influence, Social Psychology, Student Success.

Description: I have written about Carol Dweck’s research on the “growth mindset’ before. Dweck’s research indicates that when students encounter difficult material (like say in Math) the attributions they make when their performance is not good on exams etc. makes a difference in their future performance. Performing poorly and deciding this reflects one’s basic lack of talent in that area leads to less investment of effort and continued poor performance. On the other hand, deciding the poor performance reflects a challenge for harder work and more focused effort leads to performance improvement. Research supporting this analysis has led to interventions that involve, among other things, teaching students that their brains grow, develop and learn by building on failure and with the application of focus and effort. Nothing wrong with that but, as an intervention strategy, how effective is it? Put another way, does this strategy help all students in all circumstances all the time? (Beware, rarely is ANYTHING that good!). Before you read the article linked below hypothesize about what some of the other variables might be that influence whether the “Growth Mindset” hypothesis works or how well it works if it does. After that read through the article linked below and maybe have a look at the research article it discusses and see how your hypotheses fared.

Source: The Growth Mindset Works, but Not for Everyone, Art Markman, Ulterior Motives, Psychology Today.

Date: October 27, 2017

Photo Credit:  Life Sciences Database/Wikimedia Commons

Links:  Article Link —

How did your hypothesis do?  We have to remember that one of the things we routinely do when we set up research in the controlled environment of a research lab is that we simplify the situations we are interested in (at least initially) in order to better control the number and complexity of the variables at play.  What that means is that we need to conduct additional research that essentially “recomplicates” the situations we are studying as we move them back out of the lab and apply them to the world in all its wonderous complexity. This does not mean that “big” finding is not important for things in the world but just that we need to do the work to find out what works, when, for who under what circumstances and to what extent (just a few questions to consider when applying psychological research!).

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is the growth mindset and how does it work?
  2. How might the growth mindset be used to improve student lives and student performance??
  3. What else needs to be considered before deciding that interventions based on growth mindset research are going to improve school for everyone? What can you take awy from this and use in your own education?

References (Read Further):

Chao, M.M., Visaria, S., Dehejia, R., & Mukhopadhyay, A. (2017). Do rewards reinforce the growth mindset? Joint effects of the growth mindset and incentive schemes in a field intervention. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 146(10), 1402-1419.

Growth Mindset

Dweck, C. (2015). Carol dweck revisits the’growth mindset’. Education Week, 35(5), 20-24.

Dweck, C. S. (2010). Even geniuses work hard. Educational Leadership, 68(1), 16-20.

O’Rourke, E., Haimovitz, K., Ballweber, C., Dweck, C., & Popović, Z. (2014, April). Brain points: a growth mindset incentive structure boosts persistence in an educational game. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 3339-3348). ACM.




Posted by & filed under Anxiety OC PTSD, Clinical Neuropsychology, Consciousness, Health Psychology, Language-Thought, Neuroscience.

Description: When I am teaching about the brain in my introductory psychology classes and I talk about the cerebellum or “little brain” I (as psychology teachers and textbook authors have done for years) talk about the role that the cerebellum plays in “smoothing out” our motor movements and helping us be agile. That remains true but the article linked below tell us a much bigger story about the cerebellum. First, it tells us something I did not know, that this area of the brain got its name because it looks like a small brain (what I have been saying for years) but it also tells us the little brain was described as such my Leonardo da Vinci who, as were many of his fellow artists in the 1700’s was closely studying human anatomy in order to improve his depiction of it in his art. In his article, Christopher Bergland discusses recent research suggesting that in addition to smoothing motor movements the cerebellum may also smooth our “emotional processing, cognitive function, and overall mental health”. Quite an added array of roles for the smaller sibling of our brain! Have a read through the article and, while you are doing so, think a bit about what the research findings it discusses might suggest about how we think about and perhaps treat things like PTSD, anger management issues and stress.

Source: Our “Little Brain” Plays a Big Role in Coping with Distress, Christopher Bergland, The Athlete’s Way, Psychology Today.

Date: October 28, 2017

Photo Credit:  Life Sciences Database/Wikimedia Commons

Links:  Article Link —

The cerebellum accounts for 10% of our brain volume but contains most of our brain’s total neurons so “whatever the cerebellum is doing, it’s doing a lot of it” (Larry Vanderverte). Ok so perhaps I have been somewhat neglectful of the activities of the cerebellum in my lectures about the brain. I will be looking more closely at this research area and we all might benefit form a better understanding for what the cerebellum does and how that fits in the bigger picture of human brain functioning.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What role does the cerebellum play in complex motor activities like walking a straight line?
  2. What additional roles does the “little brain” play in brain function according to the article linked above?
  3. Why might emotional and cognitive “smoothing” be as important as the role of motor movement smoothing attributed to the cerebellum?

References (Read Further):

Monti, D. A., Tobia, A., Stoner, M., Wintering, N., Matthews, M., Conklin, C. J., … & Newberg, A. B. (2017). Changes in cerebellar functional connectivity and autonomic regulation in cancer patients treated with the Neuro Emotional Technique for traumatic stress symptoms. Journal of Cancer Survivorship, 1-9.

Schmahmann, J. D. (1998). Dysmetria of thought: clinical consequences of cerebellar dysfunction on cognition and affect. Trends in cognitive sciences, 2(9), 362-371.

Wilkins, A. (2017). Cerebellar Dysfunction in Multiple Sclerosis. Frontiers in neurology, 8, 312.

Sokolov, A. A., Miall, R. C., & Ivry, R. B. (2017). The Cerebellum: Adaptive Prediction for Movement and Cognition. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 

Vandervert, L. (2016). The prominent role of the cerebellum in the learning, origin and advancement of culture. Cerebellum & ataxias, 3(1), 10.

Vandervert, L. Blog entry

Posted by & filed under General Psychology, Health Psychology, Industrial Organizational Psychlology, Industrial Organizational Psychology, Intelligence, Memory, Psychological Health, Research Methods, Stress Coping - Health, Student Success.

Description: I was walking through my local Psychology department the other day and noticed that just about every Psychologist had a desk in their office with an adjustable top that allowed them to raise their computer up so they could either work sitting at their desk in a office chair OR they could stand at their desks and still work comfortably view their monitor and reach their mouse and keyboard while standing.  I was thinking, something must be “up” if all the academic research psychologists are set up with standing options on their workstations. Health research has been telling us, for a while now, that standing up from our desks and moving around even a little bit at regular intervals over the work day is beneficial from a health perspective. Research from this perspective has tended to look to physiological measures such as blood sugar and blood pressure.  So all well and good, we should move a bit rather than sitting at our computers all day for health reasons. But, how might standing up regularly, or better yet (from a health perspective), how might walking on a treadmill or gently pedaling a stationary bike at our desks for a few minutes each effect our thought processes? Think about how you would design a study to test this question. What would you have people do? Who would you include in the study (at least the first time you ran it). What would you measure to look at thinking or thought processes? Once you have your design in mind, oh and once you have a hypothesis in mind as well, read the article linked below and see what the researchers found.

Source: Thinking on Your Feet, Gretchen Reynolds, Well, Move, The New York Times Magazine.

Date: October 26, 2017

Photo Credit:  Kelsey Dake

Links:  Article Link —

So, the research described in the linked article suggests that the short bits of movement improved thinking in the participants. There are two things we need to do, though, before deciding to simply tell people what sort of treadmill or stationary bike to get for their offices. First, we need to reflect a bit more on the results. Setting aside for the moment that we do not (at least from the linked article) know how the researchers measured thinking, we need to think about their explanations for their results. It may well be that the “physical and mental arousal” of activity DID improve attention, memory and related cognitive skills. But, it may simply have been driven by the novelty of the activity. Psychology has, for years, been aware of “Hawthorne effects” which indicate that basically any change in their environment can affect human performance. This is based on research done in the 1920’s and 1930’s at the Western Electric plant in Hawthorne (near Chicago) where it was discovered that worker production (temporarily) went up if you increased or decreased the light levels, shifted their work hours, their break schedule… any change lead to production increases. This leads to the idea that simply having someone observe and take interest in one’s work seemed to positively impact that work. So perhaps something like that is going on the motion study discussed in the linked article. Second, the participants in this study were selected for being rather sedentary and while that is an important group to reach and to change (behaviorally) it is NOT clear how far the results of the study can be generalized. So, yes, more research is needed but it is something that everyone of us who sit at our desks and computers for long stretches should be interested in. Try a few ideas out yourself such as 10 minutes of activity per hour of desk/studying work and see what is does for you.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What did the study described in the linked article suggest about standing, walking or cycling at your desk for a few minutes each hour?
  2. What sorts of things might you do if you cannot afford the currently rather steeply priced desk and office conversions necessary to do in your office what the people in the study did?
  3. What sorts of studies are needed before we can start to suggest personal health guidelines or organizational standards in this area?

References (Read Further):

The Hawthorne Effect, (with additional reading links included).

Bhammar, D. M., Sawyer, B. J., Tucker, W. J., & Gaesser, G. A. (2017). Breaks in Sitting Time: Effects on Continuously Monitored Glucose and Blood Pressure. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 49(10), 2119-2130.

Gaesser, G. A., Tucker, W. J., Jarrett, C. L., & Angadi, S. S. (2015). Fitness versus fatness: which influences health and mortality risk the most?. Current sports medicine reports, 14(4), 327-332.

MacEwen, B. T., MacDonald, D. J., & Burr, J. F. (2015). A systematic review of standing and treadmill desks in the workplace. Preventive medicine, 70, 50-58.

Straker, L., Dunstan, D., Gilson, N., & Healy, G. (2016). Sedentary work. Evidence on an emergent work health and safety issue.



Posted by & filed under Consciousness, Health Psychology, Student Success.

Description: Who do you predict would report sleeping better – someone who has a strong sense of purpose in their life or someone who is wandering around rather aimlessly?  If you picked the former, then your prediction is in line with the results of the study discussed in the article linked below. But even if you were right in your prediction there is a more important question you really should be able to (or wish you could) answer and that is — if there IS a relationship between sleep quality and life purpose why might that be? Think about how you might answer THAT question, or better yet, think about how you would research that question and then read the articled linked below.

Source: The Secret to a better night’s sleep: A sense of purpose? Daisy Grewal, Mental Health, Scientific American.

Date: October 18, 2017

Photo Credit:  Daly and Newton Getty Images

Links:  Article Link —

The author of the article linked above clearly states that the research discussed does NOT speak to the question of the nature of the causal relationship, if any, between life purpose and sleep quality. Given that what would a study that addresses that causal connection possibility look like and, as I ask below, would such a study be ethical? Before giving up on the possibility though think about the note in the article suggesting that other research has shown positive relationships between life purpose and brain functioning, income, and risk of heart attack. The article’s author’s point is well taken, maybe causal uncertainty does not rule out potential clinical usefulness….. or should it??

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Are life purpose and sleep quality related?
  2. If so how?
  3. What would a study that would shed light on the direction and degree of causal relationship between sleep quality and life purpose look like? Would it be ethical?

References (Read Further):

Turner, A. D., Smith, C. E., & Ong, J. C. (2017). Is purpose in life associated with less sleep disturbance in older adults?. Sleep Science and Practice, 1(1), 14.

Lewis, N. A., Turiano, N. A., Payne, B. R., & Hill, P. L. (2017). Purpose in life and cognitive functioning in adulthood. Aging, Neuropsychology, and Cognition, 24(6), 662-671.

Kim, E. S., Sun, J. K., Park, N., Kubzansky, L. D., & Peterson, C. (2013). Purpose in life and reduced risk of myocardial infarction among older US adults with coronary heart disease: a two-year follow-up. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 36(2), 124-133.

Hill, P. L., Turiano, N. A., Mroczek, D. K., & Burrow, A. L. (2016). The value of a purposeful life: Sense of purpose predicts greater income and net worth. Journal of Research in Personality, 65, 38-42.



Posted by & filed under Intelligence, Learning, Motivation-Emotion, Research Methods, Research Methods in ADA, Research Methods in AP, Research Methods in ChD, Research Methods in CP, Research Methods in SP.

Description: You have likely been told over and over in your psychology classes that when you are thinking about designing a research study or when you are thinking about how to narrow a question you have down to one that is actually testable you need to make sure that you do not let any of your pre-existing assumptions about how that part of the world works get in the way of your asking clear questions or, perhaps more importantly, get in the way of you objectively interpreting the data you gathered in your study. Do you think you could do that? Well we tend to assume that people who are biased are sort of cheating if they are letting their beliefs influence their research data interpretations and that they could be objective if they just wanted to or tried. With that in mind, look at the picture below. Even if that were not your puppy I bet you would have a VERY hard time not attributing all sorts of friendly, positive communicative thoughts to that cute little creature (unless, of course, you are a “cat” person). Anyone who has a dog will likely tell you they are pretty sure their dog understands them when they talk to them and that their dog’s facial expressions are themselves communicative (ask a dog own how their dog’s face looks when their owner asks in a stern voice “Who did this?!!” Think a minute about how you might design a study to see if dogs DO, in fact use their facial “expressions” to communicate with humans. Oh, and simply asking dog owners if they think this is true of their dogs is NOT good science, at least in addressing this question. Once you have a design (including a scheme for interpreting the data) have a read through the article linked below and see how what your proposed compares to what the researchers in this study did.

Source: Dogs have pet facial expressions to use on humans, study finds, Nicola Davis, Science, The Guardian.

Date: October 19, 2017

Photo Credit:  Chris Radburn/PA

Links:  Article Link —

So maybe dogs don’t just look like that when they feel things and maybe puppies do not simply look cute (they DO but there might be more going on than that). Human faces and not food (an emotional topic for most dogs) produced nuances facial expressions. So maybe dog DO communicate with their owners. But, there are limits and uncertainties to these findings. As the researchers suggest we DO NOT know dog’s intensions and the shaping of dogs by the process of domestication may also be at play.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How do dog’s facial expression vary when their owner is or is not looking at them?
  2. If there IS a difference as asked above, what might it reflect?
  3. What does thinking about canine facial expressions suggest about the issues of objectivity, bias, and demand characteristics in psychological research?

References (Read Further):
Kaminski, Julianne, Hynds, Jennifer, Morris, Paul & Waller, Bridget (2017) Human attention affects facial expressions in domestic dogs, Scientific Reports, Published online.
Andics, A., Gábor, A., Gácsi, M., Faragó, T., Szabó, D., & Miklósi, Á. (2016). Neural mechanisms for lexical processing in dogs. Science, 353(6303), 1030-1032.

Posted by & filed under General Psychology, Industrial Organizational Psychlology, Industrial Organizational Psychology, Motivation-Emotion, Research Methods, Social Psychology, Stress Coping - Health, The Self.

Description: If your engagement with the field of psychology has been through your textbooks and your reading of research articles as part of your experiences in undergraduate (or even graduate) level courses you may not have had opportunity to directly observe the actual people (the researchers) who are designing, conducting, analyzing and writing up the research reported on in journals and textbooks. Lectures and written statements about how to properly design and conduct research or how to use research to properly inform your writing, thinking and actions in the world offered by teachers such as me somewhat obscure the fact that such decisions are an ongoing part of the everyday lives of researchers. Add to this the fact that the failure to replicate crisis in Social Psychology (if you missed my post on that see Crisis? What Crisis? Oh That Crisis! ) is not just a challenge to the foundational knowledge of the discipline but directly impacts the lives of the researchers that contributed to the building of those foundations. The article linked below is a detailed account of the impact that the replication crisis has had on the life of a Social Psychologist (Amy Cuddy, who delivered the second most popular TED talk of all time based on her research into the power posing) whose research on the effect of taking “power postures” on the psychological (replicated) and physiological (not replicated) correlates of social power. The article also introduces us to the key players in developing and advancing the replicability crisis also as human beings who happen to be working on research related issues. A read of the article will both provide a concise overview of the issues that make up the replication crisis and show you the human side of the researchers who do this sort of stuff for a living (and because they engaged in their research disciplines.

Source: When the Revolution Came for Amy Cuddy? Susan Dominus, Grey Matter, the New York Time Magazine, New York Times

Date: October 22, 2017

Photo Credit:  Alec Soth, New York Times

Links:  Article Link —

The issues of replicability and p-hacking and the related questions about the actual solidity of the foundations of science (and social science and social psychology) are nicely brought out in the linked article. The human side of the research enterprise is also displayed in ways we rarely get to experience (unless we are on the inside as a member of that or another research community). I hope you found it to be an interesting read.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is p-hacking?
  2. Why is p-hacking an issue for the fields of social psychology? Is it an issue unique to social psychology?
  3. How might or perhaps, how should, the things discussed in the article inform the ways in which we train graduate students in psychology?

References (Read Further):

Carney, D. R., Cuddy, A. J., & Yap, A. J. (2010). Power posing: Brief nonverbal displays affect neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance. Psychological science, 21(10), 1363-1368.

Cuddy, Amy Your body language may shape who you are. TED Talk

Overview of the state of the science on postural feedback,

Inside the debate about power posing: A Q & A with Amy Cuddy

A colleague of mine (Alex Bierman, thanks Alex!) found these follow up or responce links:

For those interested, there was something of a response to the NYT piece from Andy Gelman, who has been one of the main voices quite critical of the power pose research:
See also this article from Slate, which in some ways provides a counter-counterpoint to Gelman’s counterpoint:


Posted by & filed under Abnormal Psychology, Anxiety OC PTSD, Human Development, Intervention: Children and Adolescents, mental illness, Stress, Student Success.

Description: Do you have feelings of anxiety especially associated with school, college or University? If you do you are not alone, and in fact, you may actually be in the majority of recent data is valid. Before reading the article linked below think a bit about why it might be that students these days are experiencing significantly more anxiety that was true for students even just 5 to 10 years ago. Once you have a few hypotheses in mind read the article linked below to see what data and some student experiences are saying about this question.

Source: Why are more American Teenagers Than Ever Suffering From Severe Anxiety? Benoit Denizet-Lewis, New York Times Magazine.

Date: October 11, 2017

Links:  Article Link —

The article linked above does a very good job raising the issue of increased rates of anxiety among adolescents and emerging adults and also provides some case examples of young people struggling with anxiety but provides really nothing in the way of an explanation for the increased rates of anxiety. Typically when rates of anything jump the first hypothesis is related to increased rates of disclosure. That is, more people are coming forward and so it looks like the rate has increased when really we are just more aware of cases than before. But if not that (and I think it is not that) then what? Is the world a tougher place? Well maybe yes maybe no. Is the world as it appears to adolescents and emerging adults readying themselves to head out into that world and do whatever they are going to do a less certain place? Well THAT is most certainly true. But how does sociohistorical change of opportunity rattle down to the level of individual psychology and anxiety? Now there is an interesting and complicated question. I do not have an answer to it but we DO need to look into it more closely. I have tried to find a few links below that may be places to start looking.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What is the prevalence of anxiety and anxiety related issues among high school, college and university students “these days”?
  2. Do we most need better psychological or better sociological (societal level) hypotheses (or both) for why these changes might be happening?
  3. Is there any value at all in considering the hypothesis that “students these days are just not tough enough for the demands of the world?

References (Read Further):

Holmes, A., & Silvestri, R. (2016). Rates of Mental Illness and Associated Academic Impacts in Ontario’s College Students. Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 31(1), 27-46.

Munro, M. A. (2017). THE TREATMENT OF YOUTH ANXIETY: HISTORICAL AND CURRENT NARRATIVES (Doctoral dissertation, University of Prince Edward Island).

Posted by & filed under Anxiety OC PTSD, Assessment: Intellectual Cognitive Measures, Child Development, Clinical Neuropsychology, Consciousness, General Psychology, Intervention: Adults-Couples, Intervention: Children Adolescents, Neuroscience, Psychological Disorders, Schizophrenia, Treatment of Psychological Disorders.

Description: Executive function or the process by which parts of your brain essentially tell other parts of your brain what to do, is a topic of intense interest as executive functioning, or [problems in executive functioning, may be related to a very broad range of issues from ADHD, to anxiety to OCD to name a few. The article linked below describes research by Robert Reinhart that looks at the synchronization of two brain regions, the medial frontal cortex and the right lateral prefrontal cortex. If these functioning of these two brain regions are synchronized we show more executive function (think smarter) and when they are de-synchronized we act with less executive function or dumber. While interesting observationally, Reinhart has developed a way of directly affecting the level of synchronization in an immediate and targeted fashion using a form of electronic stimulation called high-definition transcranial alternating current stimulation (HD-tACS).  When synchronized people show more executive function and more self-control and make better decisions. The quick and short-lived nature of these effects have some interesting implications for treatment possibilities for disorders like autism, ADHD and anxiety. Give the article a read and then think about what would need to be done to even start to examine possible treatment applications of this technique.

Source: Turbo charge for your brain?  ScienceDaily.

Date: October 9, 2017

Links:  Article Link —

The ability and apparent benefit to being able to “turn on” or stimulate executive function without having to use the messy tools that are drugs could well be a valuable management or even treatment tool. The key with suggestive finding like this (as the researcher who wrote the linked article suggests) is to further investigate what works, understand why it works and then to begin to carefully investigate treatment possibilities. More research IS needed but the opposites are quite exciting, given the central role of executive function in so many processes and disorders.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What does (HD-tACS) do?
  2. What disorders and conditions might this technique and the functioning of these brain areas be related to?
  3. What do you see as the next steps necessary to looking further into the treatment possibilities of this technique?

References (Read Further):

Robert M. G. Reinhart. Disruption and rescue of interareal theta phase coupling and adaptive behavior. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2017; 201710257 DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1710257114

Agoston, A. M., & Rudolph, K. D. (2016). Interactive contributions of cumulative peer stress and executive function deficits to depression in early adolescence. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 36(8), 1070-1094.

Craig, F., Margari, F., Legrottaglie, A. R., Palumbi, R., de Giambattista, C., & Margari, L. (2016). A review of executive function deficits in autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Neuropsychiatric disease and treatment, 12, 1191.

Posted by & filed under Basic Cognitive Functions In Aging: Information Processing Attention Memory, Consciousness, Industrial Organizational Psychlology, Industrial Organizational Psychology, Language-Thought, Legal Ethical Issues.

Description: An economist named Richard Thaler just won the Nobel prize in Economics for his work in an area called Behavioral Economics. What is behavioral economics? Well it is the study of how human beings make decisions. Sound like Psychology, well yes it does because it really is. I am not getting Psychologically petty and picky here but Daniel Kahneman along with Vernon Smith won the 2002 Nobel prize in economics for his work in behavioral economics based in his cognitive science work on human judgement and decision making. Psychology IS everywhere, but that is not what I want you to think about here. Both Kahneman and Thaler have contributed mightily our understanding of how non-rational and illogical human thinking can be. Despite what we might like to believe (that most of the time we are clear rational thinkers) it turns out we are actually influenced by biases and use heuristics (quick solutions) rather than logic. Thaler built on Kahneman’ s (much done with Amos Tversky prior to his death in 1996) work and developed applications to consumer behavior and to health related human decision making. Basically Thaler has shown that while we typically know what is good for us and we would like to believe that we make decisions in rational ways that are to our short and long term benefit we simply do not. We eat too much we eat the wrong things we do not get enough exercise we do not agree to donate out organs if we die unexpectedly. Economic theorists call the person we are NOT (that we like to think we are) Homo Economicus (rational thinking and rational investor of time, money and other choices). Thomas Leonard, the author of the book (Thaler’s) review linked below suggests we are instead Homer Economicus (after that prototypical self-serving irrational thinker Homer Simpson). Now, while the psychology of human irrationality is become well established and known what Thaler’s work has given rise to is interesting. He suggests that what is needed in order for us to behave better (in ways that are “better” for us and for us to make “better” decisions) we need Nudges. That is, we need to be lightly bumped into better decisions and better behavior. An example? Well when people are asked to check of a box on their driver license application indicating that they would be willing to donate their organs and tissues when they die about 10% of drivers do so and the health care community bemoans the resulting long wait times and lost transplant opportunities that result. However, many jurisdictions have simply moved to a negative option (a kind of nudge) in which license applicants are asked to check a box if they do not wish to donate their organs and in those countries 90% of drivers “agree” to donate their organs. Other “nudges” include outlawing or heavily taxing super large sugared soft drinks as many cities are doing, allowing only fruit, water and milk in school vending machines, and heavily taxing cigarette and alcohol. Arguable all of these things are economics that are good for us. As sometimes happens at various points in the development of a scientific area of enquiry, what a line of research tells us about ourselves raised philosophical questions often having to do with whether we are comfortable not with the results of the research but with what the results lead psychologists and economists to suggest about how we should proceed in dealing with or managing human behavior and human decisions. You can and should read the articles linked below and figure out what your own thoughts are on these questions but let me suggest that what we should consider is how comfortable we are with Thaler’s “Nudge” approach to marketing and human decision driving. There is a paternalistic feel to what Thaler is suggesting. If we are Homer Economicus then someone better nudge us in the direction of better behavior. But who? Do you recall Plato’s allegory of the cave from a philosophy class you may have taken? If I recall correctly (and my philosophy course was a long time ago), he suggested that most people see only the reflections or shadows of the world on the walls of the caves they are living in and that only philosopher kings, the truly enlightened, who have seen the real outside world, should be making decisions for all the rest of us. The third article linked below is by a philosopher and he discusses this particular question. So give the articles a read and then see what you think. Should we resist where psychology done by economists is taking us or should we all embrace it and go in to marketing as there may be a lot of money to be made with this Nobel prize winning research in hand.

Source: Various, see links below

Date: October 14, 2017

Photo Credit:  Scott Olson/Getty Images and PD-USGov-NIH

Links:  Article Links —

So, I have no bright snappy conclusions to draw at this point as I believe the questions are too big for quick conclusions to be drawn. It IS, however, important to at least be aware of the philosophical issues arising from well-regarded front line psychological research and it is the case that when philosophy pops up in psychology ethical reflection and possible policy guidelines should not be far behind.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. How rational or human decision makers??
  2. Should we try to be rational thinkers?
  3. Should we dive into the task of figuring out what nudges are needed to improve the lives of the general population?

References (Read Further):

Leonard, T. C. (2008). Richard H. Thaler, Cass R. Sunstein, Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness. Constitutional Political Economy, 19(4), 356-360. (Second link above)

Thaler, R. H., Sunstein, C. R., & Balz, J. P. (2014). Choice architecture.

Oullier, O., Cialdini, R., Thaler, R. H., & Mullainathan, S. (2010). Improving public health prevention with a nudge. Economic Perspectives, 6(2), 117-36.

Blumenthal-Barby, J. S., & Burroughs, H. (2012). Seeking better health care outcomes: the ethics of using the “nudge”. The American Journal of Bioethics, 12(2), 1-10.

Posted by & filed under Human Development, Learning, Psychological Health, Stress, Stress Coping - Health, Stress: Coping Reducing, Student Success.

Description: I have done some research looking at factors involved in how (or how not) first year students adapt to their first year of post-secondary study. A LOT of the research into that question focuses on all of the things that can go wrong or be otherwise challenging about being a new college or university student. Stress, anxiety, depression, avoidant coping to name but a few, are commonly measured concepts and variables. While there has been a lot of work done on how to reduce the rates of these issues in the first year student population it is not clear whether things are getting significant better (actually to be fair things ARE better for a LOT of students by the time they enter 2nd or third year) for first year students. The research article linked below describes a single study aimed at shifting focus from a “what can go or is wrong” focus to a focus arising out of Positive Psychology. Positive Psychology is a relatively recent area of theory and research in psychology that try’s, instead of focusing on problems, challenges, and negative functioning, to focus upon positive aspects of human functioning and looks at ways to increase positive ways of being rather than reduce negative ways of being. So have a look through the article and see what it suggests may be of assistance in increasing the positive experiences of first year students.

Source: Stress and subjective well-being among first year UK undergraduate students (see reference below).

Date: October 8, 2017

Photo Credit:  Piotr Marcinski – Fotolia

Links:  Article Link —

Much advice to new college and university students involves some version of the statement that “it is up to you”. The article linked above takes that a little bit further by suggesting that learner autonomy and learner self-efficacy and how they play off relative to one another especially when things do not go strongly or well in first year are important parts of understanding how students manage first year and how they can do so more positively. These variables are the ones that shift and change not the stress levels that students experience. The goal of adjustment then is perhaps not making the stress go away but, rather, developing ways to positively address it.

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What happens to the levels of stress experienced by students over their first year of college or university?
  2. What are self-efficacy, academic alienation and leaner autonomy and how do they relate to one another and to student stress levels?
  3. What sorts of things might we do to help first year student better manage their transition to first year (according to the results of the linked study)?

References (Read Further):

Denovan, A., & Macaskill, A. (2017). Stress and subjective well-being among first year UK undergraduate students. Journal of Happiness Studies, 18(2), 505-525.