September 2011 Archives

Digital Drugs

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Digital Drugs
In these modern times, everything we do is digital. Our banking, our shopping even the application we fill out for college; all of these things we do online. Now there are even digital drugs. The above link (top) to a company called I-doser sells these recordings stating that the binaural tones used in their recordings create certain physical changes in stimuli in the brain (for a deeper look at the definition of binaural tones see the 2rd link). Supposedly these recordings of binaural beats are designed to bring about different emotions and states in the brain including happiness, euphoria, fear and more. I-doser's products are intended for not only recreational but also clinical use as in the case of people with depression. To evaluate such an astounding claim we must use the six steps for scientific thinking. The website above certainly appears to have extraordinary evidence, claiming that binaural beats can create a predictable change in our brain waves. The Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Department of Duke University as well as Sunderland Royal Hospital have repeatedly found the results from the above claim true. It can be safely said that this claim passes the replicability step of critical thinking. In my opinion there is an obvious correlation between alterations in the brain and binaural beats. However, even if the brain can be controlled through this method, how can it be tweaked to produce specific moods or emotions? The process to create a specific mood has not been researched enough that claims of very exact states could be produced. This could also be partially due to the Placebo affect. There is substantial evidence but also flaws to this statement that in my eyes render it questionable and requiring more experimentation. The 3rd link listed above is an example of what these recordings consist of.

The Pituitary Gland and its Effects on Athletes

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It is amazing how one small gland in the human body can control a person's mood, growth, and the other glands and functions of the body. Just as a mailman collects letters from the master post office and delivers mail to each person's home, the pituitary gland is the "master gland" for other glands that delivers hormone "mail" to parts of our body. The pituitary gland naturally produces a human growth hormone that is integral for growth and physical performance. Athletes monitor their levels of HGH closely because of its link to metabolism and growth; finding new ways to stimulate or encourage more HGH in the human body is a major part of athletic science and new technologies are enabling athletes to improve and stimulate their pituitary gland's abilities.
Science has shown that lactic acid stimulates the release of the pituitary glands, and the pituitary glands stimulate growth and performance. Thus, to help athletes perform better, scientists need to find ways to produce and contain lactic acid in the body to lead the athletes to become stronger in their sport. A scientist named Peter Wasowski created the Vasper, an exercise machine that does concentrate lactic acid to eventually increase performance and growth potential. The statement provided about the technology says that the athlete or user "wears compression cuffs on the arms and legs and core-cooling panels on the chest and head. During exercise, the machine traps large amounts of lactic acid in the body, stimulating the pituitary gland and producing more human growth hormone." The cooling panels, just like when running outside, are receptor sites for the lactic acid, and the research of this new exercise machine states that the equivalent of a two-and-a-half hour workout can be achieved in twenty minutes on the machine. Thus, this technology is perfect for athletes and people who would like more performance and energy in their daily lives.

Link to VIDEO:

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Doogie Vanquishes Dementia

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Not long ago in Professor Gewirtz's final lecture, Psychology 1001 students learned about Doogie the "smart mouse." Intrigued, I decided to find out more. In an article published by Princeton University ( I found plenty of interesting information.


Doogie was "created" (let the Frankenstein flashbacks ensue) by neurobiologist Joe
Tsien. By adding a single gene called NR2B, he was able to increase the animal's ability
to solve, reason, and learn from his environment. During lecture, we saw how Doogie had
a significantly faster learning curve than his unmodified peers did. Beyond this original
extraordinary learning, modified mice retained certain features of juvenile mice into adulthood that allow them to remain better learners.

This is an extremely important finding for humanity as well as scientists. With such a simple modification, memory and learning problems could be wiped from the face of the Earth. My grandma and aunt have been diagnosed with memory loss problems and past research has shown that the difficulties they face are genetic. Someday I could be the one forgetting where I put things or not remembering my friends' names. This procedure has not been used on humans yet, but with Doogie's help it is only a matter of time before it could be. Looking to avoid gene modification, pharmaceutical companies could look into making drugs to enhance current NR2B effects in our bodies.

While these findings seem promising, there are questions left. Tsien's modified mice experienced chronic pain and had shorter life spans as a side effect of accelerated learning and retention abilities. Would these problems carry into a human application and if so how severe would they be? It is also unknown how effective NR2B treatment would be on humans and if there are other side effects that remain undetected in the mice. With such uncertainties, the NR2B discovery has much left to be discovered but offers hope to the millions who suffer from previously incurable diseases.

Writing #1

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The debate about nature versus nurture has the ability to never be concluded. Those who debate that nature has the most significant impact believe that one's surrounding environmental influences causes a person to be who they are. On the contrary, those who argue that nurture has the largest impact believe that a person becomes who they are based on genes.
This notion has been studied at large to determine what influences are most important in how one acts and behaves. To most accurately decide how one develops behavioral traits, studies have focused on twins, both identical and fraternal. These studies have been aimed towards identical twins due to the fact that they share the same genetic makeup, making it easier to identify which influences have the greatest affect.
Jim Lewis and Jim Springer illustrate one example of this study. The twins were separated at birth at met for the first time 39 years later. The two were astonished to discover that they had grown up 45 miles apart. They soon came to realize that was not the only thing they had in common. The two had both been names James by the families that adopted them. They both grew up to have two wives, the first named Linda and the second names Betty. One named one of his children James Alen and the other named one of his children James Allan. The two both had once had a pet dog named Toy. Apart from the strange similarities in family life, they both enjoyed alike things, as well. The two smoked the same brand of cigarettes and beer, had woodworking shops in their houses, drove the same kind of car, and even were in the same profession.
As far as the debate between nature versus nurture, I still remain in the middle ground between the two. Despite the bizarre similarities between the two Jims, I can't say that I believe solely in nurture. This study does make me wonder whether one of the two is stronger, though. What if they had grown up together? Would they both have enjoyed all of the same things? Would growing up together have influenced more similarities between the twins or could it have made them like different things from each other? Does growing up apart and still having all these similarities mean that nurture is indeed a stronger influence?

Motion Blindness

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Motion blindness, or Akinetopsia, is a disorder where individuals are unable to put together still images in their visual cortex, affectively loosing the perception of motion. This disorder can be easily understood by comparing our perception of motion to a movie. Movies are in essence hundreds of still photos shooting across the screen every minute. In motion blindness the patients are missing many of these photos so they loose the perception of motion. Lesions in the visual cortex cause many of these photos to be lost. This concept is important because for individuals with this disorder it is extremely difficult to perform everyday tasks. Simple tasks that take little or no concentration, such as walking across the street or turning a blind corner, are some of the most challenging and dangerous tasks for individuals with motion blindness. In this video it demonstrates you might perceive the world if you suffered from Akinetopsia. It is important to continue to learn about motion blindness and how it is works in order to help find solutions for treating the disorder. As someone who loves to be active and is involved in many different sports motion blindness would be a serious hindrance to my lifestyle. Activities such as skiing and soccer would become virtually impossible. Motion blindness would in fact alter who I am. After researching this disorder I am still interested in how other aspects of life are affected by motion blindness and how people with this disorder cope and adapted to these changes.

Nature versus Nurture: Foxes

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I was reading an article in National Geographic not too long ago about how there is a team of biologists in Novosibirsk, Siberia who has dedicated their research to discovering which genetic factors bring about domestication in wild animals. Ultimately, the project concerns the 'Nature versus Nurture' question. Their main focus: replicating the domestication of wolves into dogs using silver foxes as the vehicle.

The project originally began with biologist Dmitry Belyaev who chose to create his base group by going to local fur farms and taking foxes; by the 1960s the experiment was going better than anyone could have expected, and it is still the only domestication research lab devoted to foxes in the world. In a mere nine generations, Belyaev was able to breed a strand of foxes that actually strove to create bonds with humans, not just foxes who would respond to humans due to conditioning.

The experiment involves testing the new litters of kits for either amicable or aggressive reactions to humans, and then only keeping the most approachable for further breeding. Over time, they developed one line of foxes that was completely domesticated and another that was excessively aggressive. This provided a great way to test whether the 'domestication trait' is due to genetics or environment. By taking a kit from an aggressive mother and having it be raised by a tame mother, the nature/nurture question was answered: the kit was still aggressive as an adult. After this clarification, the team became determined to pinpoint the exact gene(s) that code for domestication.

It is hard to narrow it down to just one gene, but once they figure out which is/are responsible, scientists will hopefully be able to apply it humans in order to better understand how we moved from chimpanzee to 'domestic' human.



The Amazing Plasticity

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As I write this blog post, nearly every part of my brain is at work. All of the lobes, cortexes, nerves, and systems within my brain are fully responsible for my ability to see the words I'm typing, to type the words I'm thinking, and to think about what words I'll type next. All parts are also responsible for my heavy breathing as I worry about the upcoming exam, my occasional distractions from my roommate, and my hunger that I'm reminded of with every stomach murmur.

The countless functions of the brain truly astound me. In particular, I am amazed by plasticity: our brain's ability to change and reinvent itself after injury. How is this possible? In order to answer this burning question, I researched a Hemispherectomy.

A Hemispherectomy is a rare surgery in which an entire hemisphere (half) of the brain is removed. In only extreme cases, the surgery is performed to eliminate severe seizures that no medicine or other procedure is able to fix.

There is no way this practice would take place if it weren't for plasticity. In all successful cases of a Hemispherectomy, the remaining hemisphere changes and remolds itself to take on many roles from both sides of the body. Typically, our right hemisphere controls the left side of our body and the left hemisphere controls our right. With just one hemisphere intact after a Hemispherectomy, plasticity works to control both sides of the body and take over tasks to improve motor control and generic abilities.

The plasticity of the brain decreases as we age, so most successful surgeries take place in early childhood. In some rare cases, adolescents receive the procedure and are able to function normally. However, it is much harder for one hemisphere to assume the tasks of the other as the body ages.

Our brain has so many amazing abilities, especially plasticity. The idea that our brain can change and reform itself when necessary is simply amazing to me. As I see the words I'm typing, type the words I'm thinking, and think of which words to use next, my brain is changing. This is all due to plasticity - the brain's ability to change. Although I will never fully understand plasticity, the principle is shocking to me.

Extrasensory Perception: "The 6th Sense"

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Extrasensory Perception (ESP) the reception of information not previously gained from your physical senses. It is also know as the "6th Sense". The three types of ESP are Precognition, Telepathy, and Clairvoyance (132). Precognition is predicting future events, Telepathy is reading other people's minds, and Clairvoyance is knowing where and object is when its hidden from view. Joseph Rhine was the first scientist to actually study ESP in the 1930's. He used the famous Zener cards (as shown below) to test whether this "6th sense" actually existed. When using the cards he would ask the subject to guess which card was going to appear next, what card he was thinking of, and what card was hidden from view. His results were positive with his subjects getting the answers right 7 out of 25 times, which beat the 5 out of 25 a person would normally get with chance performance. However, since then many experiments have been conducted and Rhine's results have yet to be replicated. It is hypothesized that during Rhine's experiments he failed to realize that at times its easy to see the symbol on the back of the card and also that Rhine failed to randomize the cards every time.

Since so many experiments have tested the claims related to ESP and shown negative results, you would think that hardly anyone would believe in such nonsense. However, close to 41% of American adults believe in ESP and over two-thirds of Americans say they have experienced ESP themselves. I have to admit, I am apart of the large two-thirds. Almost 5 years ago, I had a dream that my mom got into a car accident and sure enough, two days later she did get into a pretty bad wreck. I don't think I have any special powers but I do think ESP exists and that it can happen to anyone. It also makes me wonder since so many people have a direct experience with ESP, why can't scientists find any proof for it? Scientists believe the main reason why people believe in ESP is due to illusionary correlation, which is when we tend to only remember the weird coincidences rather than the thousands of times when nothing happened.

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If you want to see if you have ESP you should try playing this fun game I found.

Source: Lilienfeld, Scott. Psychology. United States: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2010. Print

Correlation versus Causation: Why Cause a Hassle?

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One of the main research methods in psychology is the correlational design, which observes the amount that two variables are related. A key point in correlation is if two variables are correlated they are related statistically. A cause cannot alone be inferred from a correlational study, although there is sometimes a causal relationship between the two variables. This leads to the correlation versus causation fallacy. In the correlation versus causation fallacy, there is still a correlation present from the two variables, but the relationship between the two is usually mistaken as the two variables having a direct cause on one another. The correlation between variables A and B could be due to an outside variable, variable C. The variable C can be correlated with both variables A and B, but because variable C is not present in the data being observed, it would look as if A and B have a causal relationship when they do not.
This concept of correlation versus causation is important in the correlational study because it gives insight on how variables are related to each other. When a researcher is conducting or looking at a correlational study and are aware of the correlation versus causation fallacy, it allows them to understand the relationship between the two variables and understand that the relationship could be caused by an outside variable.

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In this example of a correlational study two variables, global average temperature and number of pirates, are compared. When first looking at this data, it would appear there is a causal relationship that as the average global temperatures increase the number of pirates increase. However, this relationship between variables could be caused from another outside variable. One possible outside variable is that as the global average temperature increases the sea becomes calmer. With the sea being calmer more pirates would want to be out sailing. Without considering this outside variable it would seem as if the global average temperature and the number of pirates have a causal relationship when they do not.

The Placebo Effect: "Pretty Fricken Weird."

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Placebo is the Latin word for "I will please." In Psychology, the "placebo effect" refers to improvement from the expectancy of improvement. Take for example two experimental groups in which one group receives a treatment and the other group receives nothing. Just knowing that they had received a treatment may have resulted in improvement within that group. Their expectations created their reality; hence, THE PLACEBO EFFECT.

Some experiments use placebo drugs to control for the placebo effect. For example, one experimental group may be receiving a real drug while the other group receives a placebo drug, sometimes a sugar pill or even an injected placebo. This way, patients are blind to whether they've received an actual medication or just a placebo, which controls the experiment.

Have you ever had a headache, taken some medicine, and immediately felt like your headache was gone? I'm guilty of it, especially when I was younger; I assumed that taking a pain reliever should immediately relieve my pain! In fact, researchers attribute as much as 80% of the effectiveness of antidepressant drugs is due to placebo effect.
But what causes the placebo effect neurologically? My guess is that it is due in part to heuristics and our assumptions about how things work. Looks like we'll be learning more about it in chapters 12 and 16.

check out this video on the placebo effect:

Cocktail Party Effect

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I chose to write about the cocktail party effect. We have all certainly experienced this effect because its quite common and many people may not realize that it has an actual name. The cocktail party effect can be described as when our brain is tuning out things and tuning back in into certain things. For example , having a conversation with somebody at a party and then moments later all the way across the room you hear your name being said. Its strange to think of, because our brain blocks out things that we don't necessarily want to hear and then tunes back when we recognize something familiar that is said. You weren't paying attention to the other side of the party minutes before you heard your name, and as soon as you heard your name you start to focus. This phenonomen explains that our brain only lets us hear what it wants us to hear. This makes me question about how I focus in class and wether I'm actually listening to what is said or I'm being distracted by my thoughts and the surroundings around me. It also makes me wonder if my brain has adapted to certain things that I have heard before and if it blocks out the new things that I am hearing.
I have experienced this many times, but usually hearing the same sound.

My name is Elza and whenever I hear somebody start off a word with "El" I usually focus to where that sound is coming from.

The nature vs. nurture debate is one that has been going on for hundreds of years. Some people believe that our behavior is based on nature, genes that were passed down to us from our parents. Others believe that it is based on nurture and the environment that we were raised in. This debate is important because not only does it tell us why people behave the way they do, but it also helps us to potentially predict the behavior of generations to come. This debate has not been proven right one way or another but in my opinion I believe both nature and nurture have has an effect on the behavior of humans.

Scientists have used family studies, twin studies and adoption studies to test this out. By using these studies, scientists have been able to study how personality traits run in both blood related families and families with adopted children. A good example of this is the Paula Bernstein and Elyse Schein story (article link below). Both Paula and Elyse were twins that were separated when they were babies and adopted by separate families. Researchers then began to conduct a study to see how nature and nurture affects their behavior. They conducted this survey for 35 years without them knowing and found that both girls had very similar personalities although their interests and talents were different.

This story helps prove that both nature and nurture are contributing factors to a person's behavior and personality. The nature vs. nurture theory also helps explain why our world is so diverse and why everyone behaves in different ways. It all comes down to genetics and the environment that we were raised in.

Nature vs. Nurture and Sexual Abuse

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The nature versus nurture debate is far from clear-cut. The idea itself consists on whether nature, being our nervous systems and genes, or nurture, being our surrounding environments and influences, model us as human beings. There is a lot of gray area when it comes to what traits about people are caused by what. For instance, does the fact that his father sexually abused his child make the child more likely to also be a sexual offender? This kind of question is exactly the kind that is usually discussed with nature vs. nurture.
Specifically for this blog post, I'm going to focus on Nature vs. Nurture in regards to sexual abuse in families. The question posed is how do you prove that this trait is likely to run in a sexually abused child. Will they become a sex offender because they witnessed it growing up, or because it was in their genetic code from the beginning? The idea of nature vs. nurture can really never honestly be proved it can only lean maybe one way stronger than the other, but one can never know for sure.
The articles attached are the articles is particular I'd like to discuss. This first article describes how important proper development for a child is in their early stages of life. That if proper care is not given it will cause issues in proper brain functioning and development. This article is saying that childhood abuse and its effects are nature, because their later behaviors are derived from malfunctions in the human mind and parts of the brain that have not been developed properly. The second article discusses a specific study of people affected by abuse, and looked at their likelihood to be involved with violence and then abuse themselves. It turned out that a large amount of women affected by sexual abuse fell to violent and drug tendencies and in turn repeated the abuse later in life. This article proves the nurture side of the argument that a person can be conditioned to think that abuse is the way about life
From these articles it leaves one still wondering does sexual abuse fall to stereotyping? It would be beneficial from here to take the research to the next level by separating stereotypes and seeing if the information still correlates. It would also help to look at those who from a good home who became abusive to find then where those tendencies initiated.

Understanding Increased Violence

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The amount of violence among the youth has increased greatly within the past few years. With all the movies, music and video games one could argue that the media is partially responsible for the increased violence in the youth today. Understanding these violent medias and those who it reaches can help uncover if there is a relationship to the increased amount of violence. This relationship can be understood by using one of the six principles of scientific thinking called "correlation versus causation," understanding which causes which. In this case is it the violent song lyrics, movie scenes or video games that send the message that it is accepted and perhaps glorified or is it simply the media just responding to what the world is already like. The claim that the media causes an increased amount of violence is more plausible. A person is exposed to on average anywhere from 400 to 600 forms of media each day. Knowing that the media is an inescapable part of life it is obviously going to have an impact on how we live our lives. So much of music today has violence not only in their lyrics, but also with the music videos. Movies and video games constantly show this as well. Many of the popular video games today are all about shooting the enemy, and showing every detail of the kill. Knowing this it is easy to understand the media has a direct affect on the amount of violence in the youth today. Another way to look at the media's influence is using the classic debate of nature versus nurture. Is it the way a person is raised that causes violence or is something they are predisposition to? Many people can argue for either side. However both sides can be correct. Many factors contribute to be violent behavior, such as their mental state, substance abuse and their exposure to violence as a young person. Their mental state can be due to their family history so nature plays a role in this, however how they were raised to handle that would be nurture. All three are involved in whether or not a person can become violent.

Nature vs. Nurture: The gray scale debate

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The Nature vs. Nurture debate argues whether or not human behavior is a result of genes or the environments that people grew up in. Although this topic may appear black and white at first, after digging deeper into both sides of the argument it becomes evident that this debate is a grey scale. By gray scale I mean that both nature and Nurture play a role in human behavior. Sometimes biological influences are stronger and other times environmental influences have more power in contributing to a person's behavior.
To find evidence for this debate, psychologists have tested various behavioral genetic designs in order to learn more about heritability of certain traits. Twin studies specifically allow scientists to see the difference in behaviors of identical twins (same DNA) and fraternal twins (50% same DNA). Such studies show evidence of nature influences, while adoption studies show to what extent adopted children absorb their new environment. As it turns out though nature and nurture both have effects on peoples behavior.
I believe this debate is extremely important to psychology - the study of mind, brain and behavior. Without having a clear understanding of how both nature and nurture effects human behavior it is difficult to study psychology. Also this debate applies to everyday life when we interact with other people, and it may help us connect with others.

What is it that makes some biological traits overpower environmental influences while others not?


Naure Vs. Nurture: Causes of Eating Disorders

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Eating Disorders affect roughly 8 million people in the United States of America. Many people with eating disorders are girls between the ages of 18 and 25. However, those affected by eating disorders are not limited to this range. A girl as young as 13 can develop eating disorders and it is not just limited to girls; males can develop eating disorders too. Why is this?
Some people may say that people who develop eating disorders are genetically predisposed to having one develop in them. However, others argue that it is their environment that shows them how to be a certain way. Sound familiar? The classic Nature vs. Nurture debate is evident in the causes of eating disorders. Many people specifically blame the media for what we call the "thin ideal". Advertisements often show thin, beautiful models that present the "thin ideal" to consumers. Thus, in turn, showing an image of how people feel they should look. After seeing a myriad of advertisements all depicting thin, beautiful models, people tend to feel inadequate with how they look, and feel society wants them to be thin like these models that are portrayed in the media. People mimic what they see, and it can lead to an eating disorder fairly quickly. The media plays a detrimental role in our environment, and can cause people to feel inadequate with their body image.
There is no knowing for sure what causes eating disorders. Is it the genetics fro chemical imbalances in our brains that make us depressed and upset with ourselves? Is it entirely dependent on how much TV we watch or how much media we are exposed to? Neither one can be answered entirely because there are so many possibilities to why eating disorders occur, but we do know for certain that the media does not help the issue with eating disorders.thin model.jpg

The Art of Pseudoscience

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Pseudoscience has been around for many years and is something that will most likely never go away. It is just one of those things that will always have believers even when evidence to support it cannot be found. Pseudoscience can come in many forms one example would be horoscopes. This claims that the moon and stars effect what will happen to us, whether we will fall in love or win the lottery. Although there is no scientific evidence to support these claims, you can still find your horoscope at the back of almost any magazine.

So why is it that people still believe? One reason is that people want to make sense out of things that are too complicated to understand. The human mind tries to simplify things for us so that we do not become overwhelmed. Pseudoscience helps simplify the chaotic and confusing world. So naturally humans will be drawn to it.

Another reason pseudoscience is popular is because we want to believe. We want to know what's going to happen in the future. Uncertainty about our future and world is not a feeling most of us like to have. So when humans are given things to believe, "such as astrology, [it] may give us comfort because they seem to offer us a sense of control over an often unpredictable world." (Lilienfeld 16) Even though it doesn't have support, will you believe? It may not always be right but it gives us hope and interesting ideas to ponder.

Lilienfeld. Psychology: From Inquiry to Understanding.

Selective Attention: Cocktail Party Effect

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Untitled.pngThere is a phenomenon called the cocktail party effect that is talked about in Chapter Four. The cocktail party effect is our ability to tune everything out and listen to one conversation that caught our attention.

The conversation caught our attention because we might have heard our name said by a person talking. Even though the conversation has nothing to do with us, we still perk up at the sound of our name. This phenomenon shows that our brains have a certain involuntary action, which perks up when we hear a name that we recognize. The cocktail party effect also shows that we can block out other conversations that are not important to us.

My name is Angela and whenever I hear someone say a name or anything that starts with An I automatically turn to see if they are talking to me. Almost all of the time they are not talking to me and I do not even recognize the person who said the name. The cocktail party effect makes me wonder if there is such a filter in our brain that we can access that would allow us to block out background noise and listen in on a conversation far away. Even if this conversation has nothing to do with us but we are just curious about what they are saying. I believe there is because whenever I hear my name said I hear every word after my name crystal clear and if we can access that part of the brain we could hear ever conversation that interested us clear.

Navigate The Mind: Wild Prediction VS Critical Thinking

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"I'll tell you what kind of brains they have: gullible!"
I post the cartoon above because it is interesting how it mocks human's tendency to search answers to nonsense subjects, in this case the emergenetics believers is trying predict their characteristics based on the "colors" of their brain. It also criticizes those of us who are credulous for believing in everything experts says without bothering to think rationally about what is wrong with the claim. This psychology cartoon points out our flaws for being simple-minded thinkers and lazy skeptics. The concept of critical thinking is one of the most important concepts that are constantly brought up in the past lectures.
The reason that we are lazy thinkers is because we are confident in our common sense and we always believe that we are pretty well at predicting which one is the right one. For instance in a Freakonomic podcast, Stephen Dubner introduced Tetlock, a psychologist who studied the correlation of how accurate experts predict future events versus how confident they think their prediction. They are assigned in perform a prediction survey in their own field and later the records are backtracked to see how accurate was their predictions. Tetlock then found out that relative to purely random guessing, experts "did a little better than that, but not as much as you might hope" yet they are very confident that they are right (Freakonomics). In fact, according to Tetlock the more overconfident the experts are the worse they did in the research. This demonstrates that even in experts, common sense sometimes can leads human away from critical thinking that enable us make accurate prediction. Not only that, the study also emphasizes people to not believe in wild prediction of experts but instead use their own reasoning and evaluate the claim instead of just accepting a claim because we have a hunch that it is right.
From the Lilienfeld textbook, we know that our brain always trying to make "order out of disorder and find sense in nonsense." This is why we are often vulnerable to predicting and finding the meaning and symbolic significance in every little event within our vicinity (Lilienfeld 14). There are some ways to avoid making wild guesses and using critical thinking. For example, we can evaluate the claim with skepticism and see if the claim is testable and duplicated through other studies. If there is stronger evidence on the opposite side, we should be ready to change our mind. The last and most essential principle of critical thinking is that an "extraordinary claim requires extraordinary evidence" (Lielienfeld 25).
Listen to the Freakonomic podcast The Folly of Predictions to learn more about critical thinking and our love for prediction at podcast-the-folly-of-prediction/

Critical Thinking.jpg
Critical thinking--

Lilienfeld. Psychology: From Inquiry to Understanding.
Dubner, Stephen. Freakonomics Podcast. The Folly of Predictions . podcast-the-folly-of-prediction/

The Seemingly Timeless Debate: Nature vs. Nurture

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A recent topic in our lectures and discussions has been the nature vs. nurture debate. So we should all know the basis of it, but I will run through it nonetheless. The driving question behind the debate is whether nature (one's genes), or nurture (one's upbringing and environmental surroundings), play the role of shaping who we are and how we behave. There have been many theories that have been derived to sway the scientific community towards one side or the other. One such theory, proposed by British philosopher John Locke, is known as tablula rosa. This theory states that everybody is born with a "blank slate", that is, they have no genetic makeup pertaining to behavioral tendencies or ideals. Basically, the theory states that our environment (nurture) is totally responsible for all learning and behavior.
This was a popular belief but as time went on, more research was done, test run, and experiments conducted. Studies conducted by behavior geneticists such as twin and adoption studies have come to show that genes do, in fact, play a major role in human development. Twin and adoption studies showed that even in brought up in different environments, twins could still maintain basic similarities in behavior and other psychological traits. Studies such as these and many others have now come to show that environment and genetics do indeed both have strong influences on behavior and other such traits. This can be exemplified by a recent area of discussion we had in our sections.
The Bogle family is a family comprised of life criminals. The question at hand last week was whether you could make an argument for either nature or nurture contributing to the offspring of the family having similar traits to their predecessors. There were many good examples for both sides brought up in discussion. For nature, the trait of aggression was posed to be a trait that could have been passed down through genetics. On the nurture topic, it was suggested that the children learned and or/were taught to behave in such criminal manners. From what I gathered, it is my opinion that both nature and nurture are involved in keeping the family "tradition" of criminality alive.

Hydroxycut, the most popular weight-loss supplement on the market today, has now fallen victim to FDA regulation changes once again. The brand, which has been around since the early 90s (Supplement Critic, 2010) was once recalled in 2004 because of the ingredient ephedra. Ephedra was a common ingredient in weight loss pills until many cases of strokes and heart attacks were presenting themselves in users (Theissen AP, 2005).
In May 2009, the FDA placed a plea to users to stop use of Hydroxycut completely due to cases of liver damage and liver failure. The company voluntarily recalled every product on sale. No one ingredient was to blame for the liver issues but Hydroxycut reformulated immediately and rereleased the product within a year (CNN, 2009).
Hydroxycut encourages users to eat healthy and exercise in addition to the use of their product. While there may be results that Hydroxycut is effective in weight loss, no one can for sure single out what is causing the weight loss, and if the supplement is even helping at all. Clinical studies need to have patients taking the supplement without exercising and dieting, as well as have a control group that is using exercising and dieting alone to lose weight, to determine whether the supplement is aiding anything.
Advertising allows Hydroxycut to claim that their supplement causes weight loss. While there is a correlation between the supplement and users loss of weight it is possible that their exercise and eating routines are actually causing the weight loss and that the supplement is doing nothing more than wasting their money.
Hydroxycut's findings of weight loss through use of their supplement have been replicated in many studies and have been proven time and time again that in addition to exercise the supplement does work to help users lose weight. Studies done by the University of Copenhagen and the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition have both yielded positive results (Duncan, 2006). This supplement has had its findings replicated many times, placing more weight on the theory that it works to help weight loss.
I think that the principle most useful in evaluating the weight loss claims of Hydroxycut would be replicability. Because Hydroxycut can and has replicated their findings, as well as independent researchers stating the same results, they can advertise testimonials and still have raw data and findings to support the effectiveness of their claims.
While Hydroxycut has had it's finding replicated time and time again, their studies may not be being conducted in a way that can show causation through correlation. In general, reviewers and researchers believe in the findings released and believe in the ability for Hydroxycut to help with weight loss.


CNN Article May 2009:

Washington Post Article April 2005: Washington Post Article April 2009

Hydroxycut Reviews/Research:

Vanderbilt University Hydroxycut Research October 2006:

Humans vs. Everything else

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In class, we talked about some theories of what makes humans different from other animals. One theory we discussed was that humans were the only animals to make and use tools. Of course, Sally the crow proved this wrong! This theory was actually first disproven in 1960, when primatologist Jane Goodall showed chimpanzees make and use tools to fish termites, a favorite food, out of their mounds. Here's a video with chimpanzees using a couple different tools:

This made me wonder about what other theories have been put forth concerning the difference between humans and other animals. According to Wikipedia, Darwin and Aristotle both claimed humans had the greatest brain-to-body-mass ratio, which was the reason for their superiority. Humans do score highly on this measure (1:40). However, small birds have an even higher ratio (1:12) and shrews have the highest (1:10)! There's a more complicated version of this measure called the encephalization quotient, which compares actual brain size and expected brain size based off of the animal's size, and humans do have the highest score on this measure:

Looking at the graph, humans don't seem that much higher than other great apes. In some ways, this isn't that surprising considering our shared ancestry. But humans have always seen themselves as so advanced over all other animals. Looking at all this evidence, should humans really see ourselves as so superior? Or are the differences between other animals and us not so great?

The Beauty of Believing

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Julia-Roberts-Lancome-Ad-Campaign-Teint-Miracle.jpgWith the final arrival of fall, there's no doubt that most people head to the doctor when they're feeling a bit under the weather. After what seems to be forever in the waiting room, you expect your doctor to provide you a somewhat legible slip called a prescription. Based on the level of trust, you probably won't question what's in your medication. After all, it's supposed to get you back on your feet. When you have finally recovered from your treatment, what would happen if you learned that your medication was a fake? This major phenomenon, known as the placebo effect, has puzzled researchers for years because of its powerful effects. To put it in a nutshell, a placebo is a treatment that has no medical effect but can produce real results based on the expectation of improving.

By following this same train of thought, is it possible that the placebo effect can apply to products too? While flipping through my usually fashion magazines, I couldn't help but wonder if believing the claims made by advertisements of beauty products plays a part in the effectiveness of a product. For instance, many companies make extraordinary statements by promising women a more radiant and flawless appearance. At the same time, a majority don't even include any extraordinary evidence in their ads. Nonetheless, there's a possibility that our heighten expectations could increase the results of a marketed product based on the placebo effect. Especially when something is on the pricier side, people refuse to admit that they've wasted their money on some hyped up item. I'm totally guilty of that. However, I know from experience that it's harder to trick a mirror rather than the mind. Whether or not the placebo effect plays a significant role in the beauty industry, I guess it wouldn't hurt to have a positive state of mind.

Click here to read about a study dealing with the placebo effect and an "energy drink"

Nature Versus Nurture: What Made You Who You Are?

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After reading about the Bogle family and nature and nurture in the textbook, I am left wondering about myself and two things in particular: alcoholism and divorce.

I believe that the Bogle family was the way that it is, with jail time being a common, casual thing having a lot to do with nurture. After reading in the book, I've learned that there really is no way to pinpoint whether this shared trait is caused by genetics, or the environment, but to me it just seems like common sense. The Bogle article talked about how the children were taught to lie, steal, and cheat at a very young age. It's no wonder that's what they resorted to in adulthood; that's all they knew how to do.

Saying this, I then look at my family where commitment in marriage is rare, and alcoholism is definitely not. My parents' marriage failed when I was 10 years old, followed by my aunt's, and then my uncle's. These weren't the first in the family either. This makes me wonder: is this lack of concern for relationship commitment a shared belief, or is there actually a gene that leads us to be worse at committing to things. I wonder this because I crave healthy, whole relationships, and tend to leave my family to spend time with families that have a more solid household, whereas my siblings do not.
Am I missing this gene, or what did I experience in my life that my siblings did not?

Alcoholism also is very prominent in my family, with a huge trend line streaming down both sides of the family, not to mention addiction to cocaine and other serious drugs. Again, I am an outsider in this when grouped with the rest of my family. This leads me to my other question of maybe there is a gene, or something I experienced in my life that has lead me to not follow the path that the rest of my family is taking.

This question of why we are the way we are is extremely exciting to me. How is it that the world is filled with such diversity? What makes us all the way we are, and could that change tomorrow?

Nature versus Nurture

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Nature versus nurture, an idea that is always questioned by the public and an idea everyone has a different opinion on. The question of, is our actions based on our genetic background or how our parents raised us? Or is it a little bit of both? Since the idea of nature versus nurture is known, do people try to change their lifestyle based upon that? By researching more on nature versus nurture it can open up many doors in the field of genetics. It will be able to show a different side of the human genome project by looking more closely at epigenetics. Is certain genes more likely to change based on a persons environment? Could nature versus nurture actually only be nurture? A person's environment is the driving force of how we act? If it were looked at it through evolution, a human being adapts to its surroundings and being influenced by the environment, perhaps changing how they are as a person. But on the other hand, the natural instinct of a human is something that is within one self that cannot always be explained. Where is this force coming from that is uncontrollable? An idea that goes well with nature versus nurture is alcoholism. Is it an inheritable trait that is passed on through generations or is it strictly an environmental issue? In my family, this has been questioned on both sides. My grandma grew up in a home where alcohol was very dominant; all of her siblings had problems with alcohol except for her. She married into a marriage where alcohol was prominent in later years with my grandpa and my aunt developed a problem. The question arises whether or not an alcohol related gene is passable or is it the matter of seeing alcohol daily as a lifestyle. Nature versus nurture will always be an ongoing theory that will always be questioned.

One of the six principles of scientific thinking is that correlation is not the same as causation.  This means that while the likeliness of one thing happening at the same time as the other varies, it does not mean that one causes the other.  The cause-effect relationship could go in either direction, or there could be a third variable that causes both.  It is also possible that the two variables are not actually related in the slightest.


An example of this can be seen in a research study done at the University of Pittsburgh.  The study was to see how reading or listening to music is related to the likeliness of depression in teens.  About half the test subjects in this study had been previously diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder.  As part of the study the researchers would call the subjects weekly to see what types of leisurely media there were using: reading, listening to their iPods, watching TV, etc. They would also ask the subjects questions about their moods.  The researchers would then record this information and make analyses based on the usual symptoms of depression.


The results of the experiment showed that people who listened to music more often had more symptoms of depression, or, for those already diagnosed, their depression worsened.  This is a positive correlation.  On the other hand, people who did other activities, such as read more books, seemed to show fewer symptoms of depression, or their depression improved.  This shows a negative correlation.


However, researchers also mentioned that they cannot be sure whether listening to music causes depression, or depression causes teens to listen to music, or if there is a confounding factor which links to both.  Similarly, we cannot tell if reading books can treat or prevent depression in teens.


Similar studies have also shown links between depression and playing video games or watching TV.  Again, the researchers mentioned that this is only a correlation that is being tested.  There is not enough information to infer a cause from this correlation study.


For more information, here is the link to the article:


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Pseudoscience can be a dangerous thing, especially to an audience that doesn't know better. The danger of pseudoscience resides within its seemingly scientific background when it, in actuality, contains no scientific evidence. However, because of this seemingly scientific research people are willing to trust it with something as huge as how to live their lives. A perfect example of this is astrology.
The definition of astrology, as stated by the free online dictionary, is, "The study of the positions and aspects of celestial bodies in the belief that they have an influence on the course of natural earthly occurrences and human affairs." In common tongue astrology claims that the positions of stars and other objects in space determine what is going to happen on Earth. Astrology claims things as even as specific as telling people to not think too hard today or that accidents are likely to happen today (claims from This is dangerous because it's human nature to believe things like this.
Because we are naturally looking for order where there isn't any we can fall prey to many claims and ideas, especially those that "pretend" to have scientific backgrounds. When we read a horoscope that says, "Things have been stressful lately. It's time for you to relax and not worry about everything," we immediately think of the stresses we've faced recently and think to ourselves, "You know, I have been stressed lately. I'm going to stop worrying." Now although there is probably no danger in reducing your worries, you've done it because something with absolutely no real reason has told you to. Another danger comes into play when one gets comfortable listening to pseudoscience claims and now suddenly someone is changing his/her life due to falsehoods. This is a start of a scary process.

Manning on the Stem Cell Bandwagon

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Peyton Manning seems to be the next celebrity to jump on the stem cell bandwagon. According to this most recent article,Manning has received injection of his own body fat cells into his neck to accompany healing in order to get back on the football field this season. It sounds like he has had quite a rough history with his neck, having three surgeries already.

Stem cells are cells, generally embryonic, that have the ability to become a completely different specialized cell. Stem cells are useful in all different parts of the body replacing damaged cells; Lilienfeld describes them in Chapter 3 as "treating diseases marked by neural degeneration." Stem cell research has been plagued as an extremely controversial issue because of the possible destruction of young embryos that could have been a human life.

Though most of political debate and controversy is regarding embryonic stem cells, Manning received his own fat stem cells to repair damaged cells in his neck. This specific type of body fat stem cell treatment Manning received has not yet been approved in the U.S., but Manning flew his private jet to Europe to get the job done. Medical experts are wary about this treatment because not enough clinical trials have been conducted as it lacks replicability. This is a crucial component to any credible source experimental data, that results can replicated to ensure validity. Some critics have even said that most people seeking these experimental treatments, such as this procedure, aren't fully aware of the treatment they are receiving because there isn't even regulation for the procedure yet. One may wonder that maybe American medical professionals may be warning high alert because medical tourism seems to be on the rise. There is obvious health risk as well, with any procedure.

High risk, high reward? The reward may save Mannings' season, and the Colts' season at that.

Check out this vid from FOX SPORTS

Cognitive fallacy

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Among all the things we have learned in class for the past two weeks, the most important concept that interested me most is the relationship of correlation and causation. According to the text book and what the professor said, the correlation-causation fallacy is that people often neglect the real causation of two factors but directly build a causal connection between the two factors even though they are just related to each other. Although people always try their best to be rational, they often fall into "traps" unconsciously. Just like the correlation vs. causation fallacy, there are some other cognitive traps that may confuse people. For example, the public usually believe that a good theory can not been disproved. However, if that is true, this theory will be able to explain everything, which also means it can explain nothing. Otherwise, some one will totally rely on the only result that he or she get from their first try and forget to repeat the activities to examine their results. All these "traps" are misleading and hard to discover when we are careless. Thus, many firms often use these strategies to earn a better influence on advertisements. By both changing the way they describe the products or exaggerate the initial functions, they can make their products more attractive and valuable. Sometimes, the consumers may be mislead by the firms and purchase the products, which are not as good as the consumers expected. In order to avoid these situations, we should always keep claim and rational by using the critical thinking and try our best to get away from these traps not only in the laboratory, but also in everyday life.

Another day, another post

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Who knew blogging was so complicated?


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Hello everyone,
Welcome to the PSY 1001 blog for discussion sections 014 & 015! This is where you can post your biweekly blog posts, read other students' thoughts, and respond with your own ideas. Feel free to play around and make some sample posts to learn how to use the site, or start blogging!

Remember, your first blog posts are due on Sunday, October 2, by 11:59pm!

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This page is an archive of entries from September 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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