September 2011 Archives

French cats model image size

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This image of a cat basking in the warmth of a sunny place in Toulouse, France, has a width of 300 pixels and is aligned to float to the left.

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The image of the second cat--supervising her domain--has a width of 400 pixels. and also is aligned to the left.

calico-cat-TLS.pngThe last image, of the calico snoozing next to marvelous 19th century ironwork in Toulouse, France, has a width of 500 pixels, and is also aligned to the left.

The Onion, America's premier source of fake news, reports that historians are recommending that before policy makers implement radical changes to our society, they ought to "Check real quick first to see if human beings have ever done anything like it previously...see if it turned out to be a good idea or not."

"In the coming weeks and months, people will have to make some really important decisions about some really important issues," Columbia University historian Douglas R. Collins said during a press conference, speaking very slowly and clearly so the nation could follow his words. "And one thing we can do, before making a choice that has permanent consequences for our entire civilization, is check real quick first to see if human beings have ever done anything like it previously, and see if turned out to be a good idea or not."

"It's actually pretty simple: We just have to ask ourselves if people doing the same thing in the past caused something bad to happen," Collins continued. "Did the thing we're thinking of doing make people upset? Did it start a war? If it did, then we might want to think about not doing it."

In addition, Collins carefully explained that if a past decision proved to be favorable--if, for example, it led to increased employment, caused fewer deaths, or made lots of people feel good inside-- then the nation should consider following through with the same decision now."

Should we add this to Lilienfeld's list?

Gasping at beauty

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This morning my brother sent me this photo of a place in northern Minnesota that is dear to both of us; its beauty was such that I gasped out loud when I saw it. Later in the day I thought of that involuntary gasp at beauty when I came across this article from Scientific American on "the neuroscience of beauty"

"the aesthetic system of the brain evolved first for the appraisal of objects of biological importance, including food sources and suitable mates, and was later co-opted for artworks such as paintings and music.."

So my anterior insula lets me know when something is tasty/yummy or nasty/vile, not only with edibles such as apples but also with intangibles such as art and music. I find that fascinating.

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Any thoughts on why the cows in Autrans, France,seem to enjoy American Dixieland jazz?

Does Dr Who know about this?

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Screen shot 2011-09-25 at 2.58.56 PM.pngYou've probably already heard that physicists have measured particles traveling faster than the speed of light because communication on the internet also may travel faster than the speed of light. It's really awesome! But did you notice how five of the six principles of scientific thinking show up in the report that neutrinos travel faster than light.

First, characteristic of good scientific practice, there is well-established theory, Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity, that proposes that absolutely nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. This makes the theory FALSIFIABLE. Maybe it has been supported by a century of testing but find something that goes faster than light and...goodbye, theory! I've put up an image of Albert E. himself to remind us of the brilliance and solidity of that theory.

Next, the claim that neutrinos may go faster than light is EXTRAORDINARY and the researchers need to provide extradordinary evidence. So what kind of evidence did the researchers provide? "A total of 15,000 beams of neutrinos -- tiny particles that pervade the cosmos -- were fired over a period of 3 years from CERN toward Gran Sasso 730 (500 miles) km away, where they were picked up by giant detectors." and clocked at 60-billionths of second faster than light. I assume they checked the reliability of their clock, but measurement error is the first thing that occurs to me.

Third, being confident in their findings, having "checked and rechecked for anything that could have distorted our measurements" the researchers are asking their colleagues to REPLICATE their findings. It looks like good science practice to me, and the world will be eagerly waiting for the next set of findings. Meanwhile, I am sure that physicists will be generating ALTERNATE HYPOTHESES to account for the the evidence.

For now, I'm a skeptic. The most PARSIMONIOUS answer is that the Theory of Special Relativity has not been falsified, that the finding, while real, is caused by systematic measurement error of some kind.

But, still, imagine we COULD travel in time! Where would you want to go?

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I was struck by this report in this morning's New York Times, "When Your Therapist is only a click away," which describes the increasing use of video-conferencing technology for therapist-client sessions.

"In three years, this will take off like a rocket," said Eric A. Harris, a lawyer and psychologist who consults with the American Psychological Association Insurance Trust. "Everyone will have real-time audiovisual availability. There will be a group of true believers who will think that being in a room with a client is special and you can't replicate that by remote involvement. But a lot of people, especially younger clinicians, will feel there is no basis for thinking this. Still, appropriate professional standards will have to be followed."

After some reflection, I can see both pros and cons in this new use of technology, but my first reaction was just what Eric Harris describes, an immediate reaction that "being in a room with a client is special" because there is so much communication that is non-verbal! But when I start to imagine how useful it might be in some situations--for example, emergency walk-in counseling sessions, or sessions when the therapists and clients face physical barriers to being together--perhaps they are temporarily separated due to travel for work or bad weather; or even as a way to lower barriers to starting counseling--I can see real advantages for online capability. But I would still totally worry about the credentials of online therapists and issues of confidentiality and privacy, however!! This seems like a technology that could be easily abused by the unscrupulous or careless.

But what about you? If you were advising a friend who was thinking about going to a psychologist, what advice would you give your friend? Would you recommend online therapy if it were offered? What safeguards would recommend to stay safe?

Unexplainable cat behavior

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This is not how my cat would behave if awakened by a tasty morsel. Any ideas? Or is this just the sweetest animal behavior ever?

[This post, of course, is just a simple cut and paste of an "embed" code from YouTube (plus a little text.)]

I wish I could find a more timely tie-in to Psy 1001...but these are worth posting, just because they are stylish, rude, funny, and clever. But are they good ads? At the end, do you know who the advertiser is?

When we get to behavioral psychology in a few weeks, we'll be talking about advertising, and later in the semester we'll be talking about In-group versus Out-group loyalty, but until then, if you have time, enjoy this series of six ads in which Yankee fan, Alec Baldwin and Red Sox fan, John Krasinski trade insults, taunts and blows in defense of Their Teams.

Here's the first salvo. You can click on the link above and scroll down to see the rest (or follow the YouTube trail.)

(The way to embed a YouTube video, by the way, is to click on "share" then embed. You just paste that code into this entry page, and when you save (or preview) you will see the video.)

In today's class, Dr. Gewirtz described the neural impulse (or action potential) and neural communication from the pre-synaptic cell to the post-synaptic receptor. You can find terrific animations of this process on YouTube. I have one that I'd like to share with you, but I can't embed it (because embedding was disabled.) So, I'll use a screenshot and import some visual interest and post THIS LINK to the video on YouTube. Click on the link and bingo!
Screen shot 2011-09-21 at 5.12.14 PM.png

This video shows the stages of neural communication:
1) the dendrites receiving an electrical impulse,
2) (about 10 second in) the electrical impulse racing down the axon, negative ions leaving the cell
3) (around 18 secs) positive ions entering the axon;
4) (around 31 seconds) the message reaching the terminal field and the release of neurotransmitters from the synaptic vesicles into the synapse;
5) the neurotransmitters reaching the post-synaptic receptors.

It does not illustrate the final step in neural transmission, that of the clearance of the neurotransmitter from the synapse either through recycling/reabsorption or through degradation via enzymes. Does this video help you visualize the process?

By the way, has it occurred to you that you are learning the British pronunciations for these processes (and sometimes the British term?) thanks to our British professor?


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This post from Section 23 on eyewitness identification reminded me of work at the University on prosopagnosia, the inability to recognize faces. On Wednesday, we'll see a video of a woman with this condition. I was shocked to learn that it may be more common than previously thought.

"Imagine you're a school-aged child and this is your reality: You go to school and nobody looks familiar; your classmates are essentially a sea of faces, none of which is recognizable from the day before. A girl walks over to chat and she seems to know a lot about you, but you can't place the face--and she seems equally perplexed, if not a bit agitated. "

"Then, at a family gathering, you find out that the strange faces in your house are actually cousins, although you wouldn't know them from your classmates, whom you wouldn't know from anyone else on the street. "

"The condition is known as prosopagnosia, or "face blindness," and according to U professor Al Yonas, it may affect 1 to 2 percent of the population. The problem is, very few people are aware of it, which makes proper diagnosis problematic. Yonas is hoping to change that reality."

So think about it. Imagine a police line-up, where they want you, the eye witness, to identify a criminal. What if you were one of those 1-2% of people who don't realize they have prosopagnosia? Would justice be served? Would you be able to identify the culprit?

The image above is from the original article. According to the caption, there is one recurring face in each row...can you see it? Are you ready to be an eyewitness?

Your section leader may have some topics for you, too. These are generic topics to get you started.

Pick one of the following topics and write ~250 words about it. Feel free to add images, videos or links. Actually, let me make that stronger. We prefer images, videos and links are almost a necessity.

1) Identify one important concept, research finding, theory or idea from Psy 1001 lectures or the Lilienfeld text from the past two weeks. Summarize the concept in your own words and explain why you believe this concept research finding, theory or idea is important. Apply this to some aspect of your life (real life example are an excellent way to learn. Photos, You-tube videos, etc. are encouraged.) As you reflect on this concept, research finding, theory or other idea, what other questions occur to you? What are you still wondering about?

2) Provide a link to an article, hoax or claim that has been made in the media and evaluate the claim using one or more of the six principles of critical thinking. (You can find a rich source of urban legends at

Apply a concept, research finding, theory or idea that you have learned about in Psychology to provide an alternative explanation. Which principle is most useful for evaluating this particular claim? Remember to cite your sources.

3) If you can think of a different explanation or want to support something one of your classmates has posted, you can respond to a classmates post with a post of your own. Be sure to provide evidence to support your response.

For this first writing assignment, our primary goal is to get you online and writing.

1) Say you need to direct your reader to an original source (perhaps a news article, another blog post or online article) that is serving as your prompt. Click on the title of the blog post or article to get its url. It will look like this: Copy this

Note that if you post just the blog url--for example, reader will see the most recent posts, not necessarily the one on which you want to focus your reader's attention.

2) Next click on the Link button in the create entry screen, the one that looks like a little chain link. You are going to paste the url, the link address, here.

3) After pasting the url, the Create Entry screen will embed the url in the html code. It will look like this: ^a href=""> There should be a little < before the initial a, but if I put that in, the code won't be visible to you. So I used a ^ as a proxy for <.

4) This seems formidable but don't panic! You have one last thing to do. You need to insert linking text to make the url link visible to your reader. Note the >< in the html code. The text goes there, like this: <[insert text]> .

For example, you want to comment , "I found this cartoon very droll. Sometimes I do feel that blog posts are like incessant, pointless barking." You need to cite the cartoon, and the obvious place to do that is to make the link text "this cartoon."

What you do is this:

You write, "I found" then you insert the link. Then you insert the text, THIS CARTOON, between the >< as directed above. Your entry will now read "I found ^a href="">THIS CARTOON /a> very droll. etc". (again, ^ = <.) What your reader will see is: "I found THIS CARTOON very droll. etc"

Not too hard!

Screen shot 2011-09-18 at 7.23.03 PM.png1) Obviously, first you need a photo. I've just gone to google images and found a photo of a young William James, founder of Psychology and the approach called functionalism. That's cool. [**Snap screenshot of James**]

2) When you click on the "insert image' link, you need to first "upload new image" by finding your image using "browse." Upload the photo and specify its size (try pixel width of 250) and where you want the photo to appear (left, right, etc.) I prefer left justified.

3) When the image is uploaded, you will see a stream of html code in your "create entry." Panic not! Preview to check the placement of your photo. If you like what you see, click on save. If you want to continue editing, click on re-edit.

4) SAVE when you are satisfied with your post.

TIP: You can cut the html text and paste it to vary its relationship to the text. For this post, I have pasted the code before the text.

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

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