Recently in BEH Category

I was interested in this article on what helps people learn from the excellent blog, The Frontal Cortex, written by journalist and science writer, Jonah Lehrer.

"It turned out that those subjects with a growth mindset were significantly better at learning from their mistakes. As a result, they showed a spike in accuracy immediately following an error. Most interesting, though, was the EEG data, which demonstrated that those with a growth mindset generated a much larger Pe signal, indicating increased attention to their mistakes. (While those with an extremely fixed mindset generated a Pe amplitude around five, those with a growth mindset were closer to fifteen.) What's more, this increased Pe signal was nicely correlated with improvement after error, implying that the extra awareness was paying dividends in performance. Because the subjects were thinking about what they got wrong, they learned how to get it right."

Carole Dweck's research has a lot of appeal. Her recent research has looked at what she calls a "growth mindset" versus "a fixed one." A growth mindset believes that in learning effort counts most, that we make mistakes because we are still learning. A fixed mindset believes that our ability to learn is fixed. We make mistakes because we can't learn, not because we haven't tried hard enough or are still in the process of learning.

The study reported in The Frontal Cortex went one step further, to see what happened in the brain as one tried to learn. First, participants had to detect that they had made an error. Then, they had increased attention to avoid making the error again. The researchers found differences in brain activity between people in the "Growth Mindset" group and in the "Fixed Mindset" group.

But as I thought about this research in the context of Behavioral Psychology, I was struck by the level of theoretical buzz going on here. In class yesterday, Dr Peterson was describing the effectiveness of clicker training for animals and athletes. A radical behaviorist would say that you don't need to hypothesize the existence of mental states such as a "growth mindset" or a "fixed mindset." You just need to provide reinforcement (***CLICK!***) for successive approximations to the target behavior of correctly identifying the middle letter in a meaningless sequence of letters, such as "MMMMM" or "NNMNN." I wonder what the results of this study would look like if the researcher used clicker feedback to reward participants when they correctly identified the middle letter rather than waiting to see what happens when participants makes an error.


Have you discovered the Nice Ride bike system yet, that fantastic commuting alternative? For a small fee, you can take a bike and cycle to the next station, not just for health and pleasure, but for the betterment of urban congestion and the environment.

I have been riding my bike to campus for years in nice weather; I have this this great Breezer bike--in ruby red, no less--and a route to campus that takes me along the lovely River Road bike path. What is not to like?

Screen shot 2011-10-07 at 8.34.10 PM.pngBut this morning, instead of taking my cheerful Breezer, I picked up a green bike from the Nice Ride station near my house. The convenience of being able to park the bike at the Elliott Hall station and just walk away made me choose to take a Nice Ride instead of my own ruby red bike. It seems HUGE; I feel like I have stepped into the future of commuting.

So, what does this have to do with Psychology?

This week, you will read about Bandura's experiments that gave rise to Social Learning Theory (with its useful concepts of self-efficacy and modeling.) Later in the semester, we will learn about social referencing in Child Development, and social norming in Social Psychology. These independent lines of research support something you already know: In novel or ambiguous situations, we look to the people around us to help us make sense of what we are experiencing. Leadership takes many forms. Ask yourself how did I get hooked into Nice Rides?

I knew there was a station at Elliott but had done nothing more until one afternoon in late August when my son--one of those amazing Minnesotans who commute by bike throughout the winter--proposed that he and I take a Nice Ride across campus. He provided a 24-hour guest pass so it was free, and he showed me how it worked. He even put the bike seat at the correct height for me. One Nice Ride later I was completely sold.

I purchased the annual pass the next day ($60, but sometimes available for $40), and I have been riding around campus on the Nice Ride bikes ever since. Riding to my house in Saint Paul was an experiment. Riding from my house to campus was a transformation.

Leadership. Sometimes leadership is as simple as helping someone take their first Nice Ride.

Things that made me laugh...

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A commercial for Ikea that uses surprise (which helps memory) and humor (which makes us bond together) to increase awareness for Ikea's delivery service:

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