Writing Assignment 1: September 2011 Archives

A heuristic is a mental shortcut that helps people to make sense of and simplify things. Without them we'd become buried beneath all the information we are presented with all the time. Two types of heuristics are the representative heuristic, and the availability heuristic. The representativeness heuristic is comprised of judging the probability of something based on how much it resembles something else, or how similar they are. People tend to judge things based on stereotypes. If a person relies too much on the representativeness heuristic, he or she may forget to contemplate the base rate (how common a characteristic or behavior is in the general population). For example, based on just looking at the pictures, which person is likely to read more books?
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You might say the guy wearing the glasses, based on your stereotypes.

Another heuristic is the availability heuristic, which incorporates estimating the probability of something based on how easily it comes to your mind. You don't take the time to measure or calculate precise things, but instead estimate based on experiences and what you remember.
Heuristics can show that we can be fooled easily. We should keep in mind that not all heuristics are helpful that they can lead us to faulty conclusions- but many research methods can help us avoid the negative results of misapplying heuristics.
I wonder though, is it possible to control these heuristics? Take the representative heuristic for example, is it possible to not judge someone when you see them? As much a person says they don't judge others, I find it almost impossible to not judge people to some extent- it's almost like asking for someone to have a blank mind when meeting someone until you actually get to know them. I find it only natural to have some thoughts about the person- although you could just focus on positive aspects about the other person.

Equinox Egg Balancing

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Many people believe in very odd traditions. Stemming from the Chinese tradition of standing eggs on the vernal equinox, many believe that eggs can only be balanced this way on only that day. All over the world, people are up at midnight on the equinox, hanging out in their kitchens balancing eggs. winter-solstice-egg-balance.jpegWhile this may seem magical to them, they're wrong in thinking it's an amazing spectacle. This hoax is nothing more than confirmation bias at its best. So many people are enthralled by the idea of the vernal equinox as being some incredible earth changing experience that they forget that eggs can be balanced like this any day of the year.These people forget that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Of course, the evidence of being able to balance the egg on the equinox works, however they must also show the evidence that you cannot balance the egg on any other day, and unfortunately for them, that just isn't the case. We can use the Occam's Razor principle to dispel this hoax by choosing the simpler explanation: an egg's possibility of being balanced on its end depends on its smoothness, the surface it is being balanced upon, and the steadiness of the person doing the balancing.

Think seeing is believing? Check out the video below and make your own choice on whether or not the vernal equinox effects an egg's ability to balance. (Hint, it doesn't.)


The debate of nature vs. nurture has been going on for years, is very controversial, and will probably never come to a straight forward conclusion. The question is whether our intelligence, personality, and behavior should be attributed to genetics or to environmental factors and learning.
Psychologists originally believed that almost all traits were due to learning and experience, but throughout the years, views have changed. Genetic psychology, behavioral genetics, and evolutionary psychology all study this great debate and attempt to find answers. It is widely known that BOTH nature and nurture play huge roles in our personality and behavior, but the controversy is how much each of them comes into play.
Behavior genetics has shown that intelligence, personality traits, and general interests are based largely on genetics. Of course, we've also seen that the environment an individual grows up in affects them greatly as well. Adoption studies, family studies, and twin studies help us continue to find out more about nature vs. nurture.
The following article, titled "Identical Strangers" is about a study that was conducted on twins separated at birth. As the title suggests, the twins were extremely similar, proving that genetics is a key factor in psychological traits and behavior. The twins were separated and raised in completely different families and environments, and they reunited at age 35 to find they were very similar. They have had different experiences in their lives, of course, but their interests and personalities were so alike it was uncanny. "It's not just our taste in music or books; it goes beyond that. In her, I see the same basic personality. And yet, eventually we had to realize that we're different people with different life histories" (Joe Richmond).


Nurture vs. Nature (Isabelle)

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Nurture vs. Nature
The Nurture vs. Nature debate is widely popular in psychology. The big question is what makes up who we are? It could be genetics, but it could also be the environment we are raised in. Another option is it could be part of both. For example, natural hair color, height and foot size all come from genetics. They are passed down form your parents. Things you develop from your environment are dyed hair of what kind of athlete you are. One thing that proves not only nature exists is the case of Isabelle. Isabelle was isolated in an attic with her deaf and mute mother the first six years of her life by her grandfather. She could not speak but could communicate to her mother with gestures. She had a disease known as rickets which is the result of a bad diet and a lack of sunshine. When she was discovered at the age of six, she was shy of men. It is said that she acted like a wild animal around them; she would hide from them because she was fearful. Within two years, Isabelle was at the appropriate intelligence level for her age. When first discovered, she only scored a little over zero on an IQ test. Isabelle had very little nurture when she was in the attic. It made her act as an animal and was also very unhealthy. After just two years of nurture, she was right on track. A big part of this was teaching her language. Language is key in communicating amongst humans. This story goes to show that our environment plays a role in who we are. Nurture vs. Nature relates to me because I can see how both affect me. Nature determined my phsical characteristics such as my black hair and hazel eyes. Nurture determined my studious side. I was raised to work hard in school. I also took courses that would challenge me. My environment made me studious.


Subliminal messaging can often occur in many scenarios, such as TV commercials, billboards, or magazine advertisements. These are ads, that although we don't perceive when we register the stimulus, we still subconsciously recognize in the back of our minds. The idea of these types of messages is so important because for businesses it is very beneficial to use. If these mind games are played without them knowing it then the customer will unknowingly be tricked into wanting what is being advertised, which is very good for the company. But if a person knows that they're going to be deceived using tricks in advertisements they probably won't want to be associated with that company. Examples of these subliminal messages are everywhere in our life today, one being this television clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMzbwa6PvEE If the person viewing this show had not consciously noticed the flicker of the McDonald's logo during the show, then after a while they may have randomly been craving some sort of food from McDonald's, not knowing that it was triggered by the short frame. However since the person watching the TV did notice he probably now has negative thoughts about McDonald's as a company trying to trick him. Some questions that occur to me when thinking about this is how often has this happened to me? Are these subliminal messages in almost every advertisement we see? How beneficial is subliminal messaging for a company, and how many more customers do they receive per year because of it? Should they be outlawed because of the unfair psychological trickery played on customers?

Inattentional Blindness

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Imagine that you are sitting alone in a room, studying very diligently for your next psychology exam. Maybe you're looking over your notes, reviewing the study guide, or completing the practice test. Regardless of what you're studying, the key point is that you are deeply immersed in the captivating world of psychology. However, you suddenly feel a strange sensation, as if someone has just poked you. Indeed, you have been poked. You begrudgingly turn your head away from your work to find that your friend is sitting in the chair next to you, attempting to get your attention. This incident raises several questions: How did this happen? Who actually pokes people outside of Facebook? More importantly, how did your friend enter the room and sit down in the chair right next to you, without you even noticing? The answer to this last question is inattentional blindness.

Inattentional blindness is the phenomenon that takes place when a person is focusing all of his/her attention upon a subject, consequently failing to notice other important things that are happening in their surrounding environment. In the example, you, the responsible and dedicated student that you are, are absorbed in your studying. All of your attention is centered on one task, leaving you clueless to the fact that someone else has entered the room. This situation occurs more than we realize as, evidently, we don't realize when it is actually happening.

Studies have been conducted to analyze such occurrences, whether people will notice external stimuli or merely miss it due to their high levels of concentration. One of the more prominent studies about inattentional blindness consists of the subjects watching a video of a group of people throwing a basketball around. They are instructed to count the number of times the basketball is thrown, causing the subjects to focus all their attention on keeping track of the passes. During the video, someone will walk across the screen in front of the basketball players, it could be a woman with an umbrella or a person dressed in a gorilla costume. Either way, a majority of the subjects entirely missed the fact that someone walked into the video even though it was blatantly obvious. This study and many other similar ones are discussed in an essay aptly named "Gorillas in our midst: sustained inattentional blindness for dynamic events" (http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=

The question now stands, how does inattentional blindness affect us in our daily lives? Looking at it from multiple perspectives, it can affect our lives in positive or negative ways. The positive aspect includes it allowing us to concentrate when we need to, allowing students to work on their homework even when their roommate has the TV on in the background. On the other hand, it can be harmful if a person doesn't notice a dangerous change in their environment due to their concentration. Questions for further investigation include: How can we discern when to be on our guard and when to let ourselves fully become unaware of our environment? Is there a way to control when we are subject to inattentional blindness or is it completely "inattentional"? Although it may often be harmless, inattentional blindness is a central concept to understand and one that will need further investigation in the future.
(For more information and examples of inattentional blindness see:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b7LuvAM6XLg&feature=bf_next&list=PLA8472D081B0EA6FC&lf=results_main )

The hype created by hair loss

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Scientists and Researchers have been searching for a baldness cure for years.
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So far, in America, the 35 million bald/ balding men, are without luck, according to The Today Show.

So why do these men fall for the 3.5 billion dollar 'hair loss cure' hype? This happens because of the bandwagon effect. The bandwagon effect is the phenomenon of a popular trend continuing to gain popularity. These men believe, that maybe if it "worked" for these men, it'll work for me too! George Costanza even fell for this hype, in the Seinfeld episode, The Tape.

There is no proven evidence for any of these hair loss hypes. Even Caboki has no scientific or researched evidence behind it. Although these visuals look real and seem unreal! And it is just that, unreal. Check out these results from people you tried Caboki. Sorry men, but this may just be one wagon you want to stay off.

During the lectures in psych, I was curious of the consequences of not using the scientific method. Surely our ancestors had gotten along just fine without them using the everyday heuristics. Or had they? I was born in Central America so I know a thing or two about the cultures that exist down there. When I asked my question about the scientific method one of those cultures immediately came to mind. The Aztec civilization. The Aztecs had faulty Cause/Correlation thinking and it led to the slaughter of thousands of people. The Aztec society was a very large practitioner of human sacrifice. How they came to believe it was helpful is very interesting. They believed the universe ran on a perpetual energy of motion called "Tonalli" which literally means animating spirit. (http://wynja.com/arch/aztec.html) They beleieved the sun ran on it and without tonalli the universe comes to a stop. They also believed in humans, blood was where our tonalli dwelt. This cause correlation between the tonalli and what they thought the universe needed to run on made them believe that they needed sacrifice to help the universe to continue working. How sad that so much death could have been avoided if only the minds of that time had realized that the blood oh mankind did nothing to change the way the sun or the mechanics of the earth worked. In modern times we don't have things like this happening but its good to look back and reflect on what was done in the past.

For myself, the intricacy of the brain is difficult to really fully comprehend. From the microscopic neural cells to the teamwork of the different lobes, it's astonishing to learn about all of the ways in which the brain controls our body. With one single malfunction, the whole system could be thrown off and we would be unable to accomplish many things. A simple bump on the head could turn life changing and an intense brain surgery could be life threatening. As we discussed in class, however, the brain exhibits a special characteristic that keeps malfunctions in the brain from affecting us entirely. This trait is referred to as plasticity and it explains the concept that our brain is able to altar parts of its structure in order to recover from an injury or in response to learning something new.

In order to help describe the miracles of the brain, I found an intriguing Youtube video that follows a young girl that undergoes a complete hemispheric lobotomy at a very young age. With only half of a brain left, it would seem that things would be very tough for her in terms of functioning, but impressively, it's not! Her story is a wonderful example of the brains plasticity because one can see that although an entire hemisphere of crucial material in the body was removed, the other parts of the brain are able to pick up the slack and allow the body to function close to its normal capacity. After seeing an example like this, it makes me wonder at what age this sort of recovery is impossible. Will Jodi (the young girl) continue to make progress or are there certain functions of the brain that can't be recovered?

Mother Knows Best?

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Nature_Made_Vitamin_C.jpgGrowing up my mother always told me that taking more Vitamin C would help prevent me from getting a cold. In fact, she always had me take a supplement pill with Vitamin C at the first signs of a "runny" nose. Going along with the saying "mother knows best", I always believed her. But did it actually work?

According to Linus Pauling's 1970 book, Vitamin C and the Common Cold, taking a supplement pill for Vitamin C will prevent the common cold. After his book, many people rushed to the store and took his advice. They believed him because his studies showed it worked.

However, his evidence could have been a fluke. Most recent evidence shows that his findings cannot be consistently replicated. In fact, they show that people will get a cold regardless of whether they take in extra Vitamin C. They also demonstrate that the intake of a supplement Vitamin C pill has no effect on cold symptoms (Examples of studies that demonstrate this point can be found here and here)

This demonstrates one of the Six Principles of Scientific Thinking: Replicability. This principle states that evidence from scientific experiments must be able to be duplicated consistently by multiple investigators. If it cannot be, the results should not be considered reliable.

Because multiple experiments could not replicate Pauling's original findings, his evidence should not be considered reliable. Therefore, the idea that a Vitamin C supplement pill will help prevent or reduce the symptoms of the common cold is incorrect.

So my mother was wrong; extra intake of Vitamin C will not necessarily prevent me from getting a cold. Now I have to wonder, how many other times has my mother NOT known best?


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Nature vs. Nurture is one method of studying behaviors. The "Nature" aspect is based on the idea that your genes shape you. The "Nurture" aspect is based on the idea that the environment shapes you. I feel that this theory is important because you really have to scientifically examine all the possibilities. You cannot just assume something like causation vs. correlation. You can also apply replicability to finding in studies such as adolescents engaging in smoking at a young age are more likely to engage in health risk behaviors (Drs DuRant, Kreiter, and Krowchuk). Basically, you can use multiple methods of scientific thinking in regards to nature vs. nurture.
But it has to make you wonder though whether or not nature vs. nurture can be confused with one another or work together hand in hand. For example, I'm a clean freak. I like to keep things tidy and in order. So does my mother. So it makes me wonder, is it by nature or by nurture? My mother likes to clean so maybe it got passed down to me through traits? Or is it because I've always grown up in a clean house that now I feel the need to live in a clean environment? An example like that makes me really wonder if the two can be linked together. With more studying of nature and nurture, things can be examined more in depth. An article online looks at this a little bit closer.


Overall, I feel that the best way to observe the nature vs. nurture debate is to study in through natural observation.

Water Treatment-Does It Work?

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In early August of 2004 an interesting method for treating several different diseases found its way to message boards all over the Internet. This method claimed that drinking four glasses of water immediately after waking up would help cure several different disease and the person suffering from the disease would see results fast.
When looking at all of the claims as to what this form of treatment can cure, it is easy to see that there is a lot of pseudoscience occurring. This treatment claims that it can cure the following diseases, headache, body ache, heart system, arthritis, fast heart beat, epilepsy, excess fatness, bronchitis, asthma, TB, Meningitis, Kidney and Urine disease, vomiting gastritis, diarrhea, piles, diabetes, constipation, all eye diseases, womb cancer and menstrual disorders, ear nose and throat diseases. Now can drinking four glasses of water right away in the morning actually cure these diseases? This claim if most definitely exaggerated. Some of the diseases listed above can hardly be cured with today's latest medical advancements so it is highly unlikely that it can be cured by four glasses of water. It is also important to note that maybe people suffering from these diseases who tried this water treatment could have started using other treatments at the same time. In order to actually prove this treatment would actually work the creators needed to rule out rival hypotheses. Also, one must notice that there isn't any scientific evidence to support this treatment. In the original post, there were claims that "scientific tests have proven its value" and "water treatment had been found successful by a Japanese medical society as a hundred percent cure for various disease" when researchers went to look for these scientific tests and claims by a Japanese medical society none could be found.
By drinking water more frequently at certain times of day it is said by the National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse that it can help constipation but that's it. So can this water treatment actually work? Based on pseudoscience this blogger would have to disagree. To learn more about how this treatment doesn't work visit, http://www.snopes.com/medical/myths/water.asp.

Recently, there have been many amazing claims about the Acai Berry Diet. In an article found at the link http://acaiberrydietnow.com/, the writer talks about how the Acai Berry found in the Amazon helps people lose weight. It also states that the berry is a "Super Food" filled with the highest levels of antioxidants. It even says that it was promoted by Dr. Oz and Oprah. These claims sound great! However, there are many problems with this article and the accusations it makes.
One major problem is that it has many warning signs of pseudoscience. It gives exaggerated claims when saying that this berry will help with not only weight loss, but sexual dysfunction, insomnia, cancerous cells, and diabetes as well. It has an overreliance on anecdotes. In fact, the only evidence given for the diet is anecdotal. The only other "evidence" really isn't evidence because it doesn't have a connection to research. It states the claims but gives no links to any actual studies. Even the claim that Dr. Oz and Oprah recommended it, upon further investigation, was found to be completely false! In fact, they are suing companies who said they endorsed it.
Near the end of the article, it talks about how Amazonian people have been using the Acai Berry for years and that is why they are so healthy. However, the Scientific Thinking Principle of Ruling out Rival Hypotheses helps the most in seeing that this is an unsupported claim. There could be many other hypotheses for why the Amazonian people are healthy. Maybe they walk more, or eat less, or their genetics keep them healthier. One or all of these hypotheses could have caused the Amazonian people to be healthy. So when the article says that the health of the Amazonian people speaks for itself it's really saying absolutely nothing!
In this blogger's personal opinion, this Acai Berry diet is a waste of time and, if anything, potentially dangerous. Maybe the Acai Berry diet does have great health benefits. However, I'm going to wait until there is more evidence before running out to buy these pills.

We've all got to admit that when watching the news, whether it be morning, mid-day, or late at night, when the anchorman reports to us about a crime that has been committed we tend to jump to the conclusion that that person is immediately an evil being that deserves whatever is coming to him/her. Before, everyone could agree, that that person is terrible and really needs help, but now that we've learned about the concept of Nature vs. Nurture, it's difficult to determine if the blame really lies with the person themselves, or can it be blamed on his/her upbringing or say...genetics?
For example, recently on WCCO news, the story of a man killing his wife appeared on the news. Of course the normal reaction to this is...go to jail.
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But here's the thing...what we don't know, what we don't hear is what is in his genes and what his upbringing was like. These things are things that the public don't hear, things like this aren't reported on the news. What was reported was how the man killed his wife and what he testified before court. It was said that he "it seemed that he somehow left his body and became a spectator to the shooting." (WCCO, Crime News) What can we say to this? Of course, normally we would scoff at it but let's try to apply the knowledge of what we've learned about Nature vs. Nurture. If we look at this through the lens of a critical thinker without bias thoughts, wouldn't we first wonder what this man's upbringing was like or whether any of his family members had any aggressive, violent, or abusive tempers, reactions, etc. Is it because of his upbringing that he zoned out and let whatever anger take over and run wild? Or was it part of his genes that he can lose control and look back at it remorsefully later because he couldn't control that anger? Now, the news never gives us any of this information, so we can never draw the right conclusion that because of this man's environment or genetics he is acting this way. We are only given the details of wrongdoing, we are not given the details that because of how he was raised or what is within his DNA is the reason he reacted the way he did. Now, of course this does not justify his actions either. It's always questionable about why someone does something and why they don't do something. But the thing is, because the news only gives us one side of the story, does it also mean that they are right? Can't assumptions based upon news or the media be considered extraordinary claims? The duty of the media is to inform the public of crimes being committed and to help keep the public safe but at the same time if it chooses not to reveal the nature vs. nurture side of things, so how do we know what drives the guilty to do what they do? Can right assumptions be made through the media without the Nature vs. Nurture facts?

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