September 2011 Archives

flu-vaccine.jpgThe use of correlation to support causation has been used since the dawn of man to spread propaganda and unscientific data. Even in recent times you can see this taking place all over the globe. The most recent case that I believe is the most hurtful to society is the claim that autism can somehow be attributed to vaccinations.

The fear spread back in 1998 when a fraudulent scientific paper published by the British Medical Journal was used to link vaccines, specifically the MMR vaccine, to autism. Over time this study was used by people to spread a biased agenda that had no real scientific backing. The so called evidence was spread using fear mongering and appeals to emotion, which caused many people to have biased views on the issue due to not unbiased and empirical.

The fact that the study was not able to be repeated shows that there is no hard evidence to support the original claim. In fact, the CDC, NHS, Institute of Medicine, and other bodies have found NO causal evidence linking the two together. Despite this, the propaganda is still being spread even though the original claim was disproven many times over.

How can we as a society continue to function if we let unscientific data run our society? Since 2009 the childhood vaccination rate for MMR has been around 90%, meaning that one out of ten children are not protected against measles, mumps, or rubella. If this kind of trend continues, a lot of unnecessary damage may impact us and our future generations. Instead of being lead down this road, we need to stop relying on just corollary data and focus on empirical data that follow the six principals of critical thinking.

Push the Button?

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In Psy. 1001 we learned about the placebo effect and how it is often used during drug trials and other psychological experiments. Recently I learned of another version of the placebo effect: placebo buttons. The button you push at a cross walk, the elevator door-close button, and the office thermostat are all examples of the placebo button. To illustrate, most elevator door-close buttons don't work in the United States. The elevator doors will close whether or not you push the button. However, because the door closes anyway, you attribute it to having pushed the button. Most placebo buttons weren't designed to do nothing but were disconnected over time or when no longer necessary. Still the actual button was left there. For instance the door-close button in an elevator is only meant to be used by workers or emergency personnel, and is accessible with a key. I found the idea of a placebo button very funny because I can picture myself standing in an elevator and pushing the door-close button until the doors closed, or pushing the cross walk button until the light changed. It's not a behavior I noticed until after reading this article. It would also be interesting to record at a busy intersection how many people use the cross walk button. Or, in an elevator, see how often people push the door-close button and how many times they push it until they believe it's worked. Often these placebo buttons give people the illusion of control and that is why they are used frequently even though they don't work. This leads me to wonder how important even a tiny sense of control is in people's everyday lives? And, would knowing some buttons are placebo buttons affect them in anyway?

http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/02/10/placebo-buttons/

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Synesthesia: a Gift or a Curse?

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Synesthesia.jpg Everyone has their own little "Gift". Sometimes it's a special talent, and sometimes it may be an exceptional apptitude to learn at a certain discipline, but can it be a neurological disorder?
Synesthesia is the neurological condition in which one sensory stimulation automatically and involuntarily stimulus in a second sense. The term "disorder" above is not entirely accurate, many people with Synesthesia, or "Synesthetes", report that their condition doesn't affect their daily functioning and is often a pleasant experience. The condition may also play a factor in learning. The sense associations aide in memorization and recall.

Synesthesia has been the subject of extensive research by psychologists, but was only recently rediscovered for modern study. Synesthesia is generally defined as a "crossover" of the sensory pathways of the brain. There are several types of Synesthesia and persons can experiences only one, a variety, or a combinations of several at once.

Grapheme - One type where the Synesthete may perceive certain letters or numbers as shaded or colored in. Ex.
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Sound --> Color Synesthesia - Synesthetes report experiencing visual "fireworks" of color when hearing certain or a wide range of sounds. The Colors may move and fade out as the sound ends. Below is how a Synesthete might "see" the sound of a cello. 'Notice the Blue hue'
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Some studies have shown that all humans may possess some form of cross-sensory perception, for example, the picture below is apart of the 'Kiki-bouba test'. Which Shape would you give the name 'Kiki' and which would be 'Bouba'?

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Almost everyone, about 98%, gives the name 'Kiki' to the more angular shape while naming the rounded one 'Bouba'. Very young children and isolated populations of humans with different languages have also confirmed the same effect. Some Psychologists suggest that the rounded shape may be intuitively named because the mouth makes a more rounded shape when saying "Bouba", While the sound of a 'K' is sharper and more forceful than 'B'.

Because all senses are interpreted and perceived by the brain, we can conclude that the cause of Synesthesia is neural in nature. One theory suggests that cross activation of dedicated parts of the brain may account for the various types of synesthesia. It has been proposed that this could be the result of the great excess of synapses formed during the first few years of life failing to be re-dedicated.

Tests for Synesthetes are simple in nature and can be found in abundance on the web. Try your hand at a few if you think you could be a Synesthete(Ratio's for Synesthesia range from 1 in 200 to 1 in 100,000, Women have been known to exhibit the condition more often than men) Look at the picture below, How fast can you distinguish between numbers?
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http://youtu.be/a87C43FDEEI

http://www.mixsig.net/

http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/syne.html

Psychopath Test?

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I found this story about a "genuine" psychological test used to see if one has the same mentality as a killer. The test contains a story about a girl who falls in love with a man she does not know at her mother's funeral, and then a few days later, kills her own sister. The test then asks the participant why they think she would kill her own sister. If they answer, because she was hoping that he would show up to her sister's funeral, they have the mentality of a killer. While it's obvious that this test is in no way psychological, or was ever used by an actual psychologist, I thought it fit perfectly under the 'extraordinary claims' principle. The test claims to weed out any "psychopaths" in one's life with one simple test, yet there is hardly any evidence to why or how the test works. This also falls under the human tendency to over-simplify the world. The test proves to be a simpler way to get something done, so people tend to grasp easy-to-use tools, even if they might not be 100% scientific. We could also go into how a person's ignorance to what a true "psychopath" is could ever lead them to believe this test would work. I did a project on anti-social personality disorder, a disorder many psychopaths can be diagnosed with, which may be why this urban legend intrigued me so much. Most people with APD aren't cold-blooded killers. Many lack the knowledge of right and wrong, and have no regard for anyone in their life, but wouldn't exactly bludgeon someone to death just because. The extraordinary claims this test makes lack extraordinary evidence. However easy-to-use and simple this test may be in pinpointing the dangerous people in one's life, the difficulty involved in legitimately diagnosing a person with APD disproves the lack of science behind this test.

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Loch_Ness_monster.jpg.jpgThe Loch Ness Monster is a phenomenon most people start learning about in elementary school, reading stories and looking at fuzzy pictures of the supposed 'monster.' When someone sets out to the internet they can find the detailed sightings of the monster, the most famous being from the 1900's. Whether recent or not, all the sightings have somethings in common: A) a lack of physical evidence and B) they are outrageous. Some claim that Nessie looks like a prehistoric dinosaur and that it is up to 90 feet long (As a point of reference, the average blue whale is about 80 feet long, a giraffe 17 feet tall). That in itself is very extraordinary considering that an animal that large is living in Loch Ness (As another point of reference Lake Superior has a surface area of 31,820 square miles, Loch Ness is a mere 21.8 square miles). Also impressive is the fact that Nessie has been living for over 73 years since the first sightings in 1933. Even with all the detailed sightings, if an animal this large has been living in Loch Ness for so long, wouldn't it be easily picked up on sonar or photographed sticking its head out of the water?

Nearly all photographs, and even fuzzy video, and been proven false. The most famous being at the left, showing a large head sticking out of the water. Obviously this has to be a monster, right? No, shortly before the photographer, Christian Spurling, passed away in the 1990's he admitted that picture was all a hoax. The 'monster' actually being a toy submarine and plastic. Occam's Razor states that sometimes the best answer is the simplest. Many people were quick to jump to the conclusion that it was a monster, and never thought of the possibility that it was merely a toy.

Whether there really is a Loch Ness Monster or not, it will obviously remain a fun tale to tell. In the mean time, we can use the Scientific Principals of thinking to help determine whether the extraordinary claims are plausible.

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ESP: Does It Exist?

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Extrasensory perception (ESP) is defined in the text as "perception of events outside the known channels of sensation" (Lilienfeld). I believe to have ESP is to have some sort of magical power. Every human being is given the same amount of senses to use and we identify objects and events with these. However, people with ESP use senses besides the ones given to everyday people. Parapsychologists, who study ESP, have made three sections of ESP which include: precognition, telepathy, and clairvoyance. The study of ESP is important because people are constantly attempting to prove they have these extra senses. In most experiments that try to prove the existence of ESP, the experiment has either been flawed (and therefore invalid), or has shown low to no performance. There have also been many studies proving ESP to be nonexistent, but how can these people prove against a "magical power" they do not possess?
Recently, a CBS Early Show report has claimed that ESP may be real. Dr. Jennifer Hartstein defines ESP as a "sixth sense...gut instinct." This recent study (by Daryl Bem) proved that some people do have the ability to predict events in the future. However, there is skepticism because most do not believe that ESP exists. The CBS Early Show gave an example of the experiment, which appeared to be random and not proving much about ESP. Dr. Hartstein then gives an example of thinking about a song which then comes onto the radio next (which has happened to many people). The public is left wondering if they have ESP or if it was coincidence.
ESP is still questionable, and an unfathomable amount of studies will need to happen in order for people to believe it exists. It will be interesting to see if ESP can be a proven theory when our technology continues to advance and parapsychologists can further investigate.

Video of the Early Show:
http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/01/18/earlyshow/health/main7257611.shtml
Daryl Bem's Homepage:
http://dbem.ws/
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blind girl sees

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I found a story about a girl named Georgia Green who was a college student when the first atomic bomb was being tested in the U.S. Georgia Green was functionally blind, and this meant that she couldn't see mostly everything but could possibly see the difference between dark and light. The story claims that the explosion from the atomic bomb was big enough that a blind person could see a flash. Theories said that since there's rumors of the radiation causing unnatural things to living things, so possibly temporarily giving Georgia sight. This deals with the subject of sensation and perception because there's this girl who's supposed to not sense anything with her eyes, receives a sensation that then is perceived by her brain and recognized the stimulus. Principles that pose a problem to this theory of temporary sight is that there are many hypotheses that could explain it, there's no way to replicate this experiment unless you were to set up another atomic bomb explosion, and there's no extraordinary evidence to explain this extraordinary claim. There is also no simple explanation for this odd occurrence. The article can be found at http://www.snopes.com/science/atombomb.asp

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One of the most interesting psychological stories I've encountered in the short time I've studied psychology is one about a feral child, Genie. Genie, also known as "The Wild Child", spent the better part of her first thirteen years strapped to a potty chair, locked in her room. Her father claimed she was mentally disabled and couldn't be cared for. When she was discovered, she couldn't walk properly and could not speak, only made undecipherable noises. This presented the psychological community with a slightly imperfect, but very valuable, opportunity to investigate if speech is a learned skill, or if it's an instinctive skill that all humans are born with. After rehabilitating Genie and introducing her to the outside world a group of psychologists started doing intensive speech therapy with her. Eventually she seemed to intellectually plateau and still could not communicate effectively. This unfortunately did not give psychologists a definitive answer as to which type of intelligence speech is, nature or nurture. Many psychologists thought Genie to be autistic which would account for her difficulties communicating. Also, several of the people working with Genie believed that there is a critical time period in the human's life that is the only time one can absorb and develop language and communication skills, which could also explain why Genie never developed these critical tools. Not ruling out these rival hypotheses would result in an invalid and unreliable conclusion as to whether speech is a learned skill (nurture), or if we're born hard-wired to talk (nature).

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/story?id=4804490&page=1


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The article states that people who get embarrassed easily, not to be confused with anxiety or a feeling of shame, can be more generous, trustworthy, and desirable in social situations. There was a study done in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. A researcher named Matthew Feinberg says that moderate levels of embarrassment is a sign of virtue. He says it's something that people shouldn't fight. In order to test this, the researchers had a group of participants watch an actor get told that he got perfect on a test score. The actor either acted proud or embarrassed. After this test, they found that the participants liked it better when the actor acted embarrassed. They said that he was easier to relate to and easier to trust. Feinberg says that when a person gets embarrassed, you tend to want to affiliate with them more. This kind of shocked me, personally, just because when I get embarrassed, I feel, well, embarrassed. Nobody, I don't think, likes feeling embarrassed, but this study proves that it can be a very positive thing, or at least, it has positive implications on the other people around you. I would say that this probably has something to do with the part of the brain called the amygdala, which has a lot to do with a person's emotions. The amygdala usually deals with fear and excitement, but I'd bet it also has a lot to do with embarrassment as well. I guess I chose this article because it, first off, has something to do with psychology, and it also interested me. It presented an idea that I had never really thought of before.

Is it really possible for a person to feel the pain or emotions of somebody else? In an article published by LiveScience, a new condition has been identified as mirror-touch synesthesia. In lecture, we learned that synesthesia is where multiple sensations are blended together rather than being experienced separately. Mirror-touch synesthesia is where mirror neurons in the brain are hyperactive and cause people with the condition to feel sensations when others around them do. These sensations vary from feeling touch when somebody else is touched to feeling the pain of somebody suffering in a horror film and are believed to be linked to levels of empathy each person has. Synesthetes are diagnosed by filling out a questionnaire that looks at measures of empathy a person has and whether or not their scores are higher than others believed to be without the condition. With the lack of large amounts of strong evidence, however, some scientists believe that an actual condition may not actually exist, and people are just overreacting to a brain function everybody possesses. It may be somewhat of a placebo effect, where a person believes they are experiencing the same sensations when truly they aren't feeling anything at all. It seems in this case that the claims made about mirror-touch synesthesia are stronger than the actual evidence provided by science, going against the principle of extraordinary claims. A lot more needs to be done than conducting surveys and questionnaires about how empathetic people are towards others around them.

This article can be found at:
http://www.livescience.com/1628-study-people-literally-feel-pain.html

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Does a Sneeze Mean Disease?

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Many of us have heard the myths about sneezes. For example, you can't keep your eyes open when you sneeze or that looking at a bright light will cause you to sneeze. Other thoughts about why we sneeze lead us to believe it is brought on by a sickness or allergies. These thoughts are examples of believing that correlation is causation. If you sneeze you must have a cold or allergies, and if you look into a bright light, you will most definitely sneeze.
The truth is, when examined with scientific thinking, it is easier to understand more truths about what triggers a sneeze. This article explains that a sneeze is a "complex reflex involving nerves in the nose that detect swelling of the nasal membranes, particles of a certain size, or substances to which you are allergic."
Therefore, a sneeze occurs when a particle in the nasal passage is detected and forcefully expelled by contractions of the muscles in the face. Because of this, we know a sneeze is not always an indication of illness.
The author of this article, however, did find evidence to support the claim that looking into bright light will trigger a sneeze. In that case, there is a cause and effect relationship between bright light and sneezing. The overall theme of this article was not to believe that a person was getting sick or had allergies just because he or she sneezed.


You can read more of the article from MSN here. http://health.msn.com/health-topics/allergies/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100200704&page=2

Prejudice - Nature vs Nurture

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For as long as anyone can remember in our country's history, prejudice of all kinds has been evident. During that time everyone has wondered whether that was because of an inherent quality all people have or if it came from our culture. This article says that our culture is to blame for everyone's stereotypes and prejudices. Between TV, movies, the internet, and all other types of media these stereotypes have been represented even though we have been so adamant about eliminating them. These ideas have been hammered into our minds so often that it almost becomes "an unconscious, gut-level type of prejudice."
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This relates to psychology through the nature vs nurture debate. According to the author of this article, prejudice comes from the nurture side of our lives. It doesn't come from our genes, but from the way we were raised and from the culture surrounding us. In my opinion, this is very accurate because I believe that everyone and everything around us influences us to a degree that we don't fully realize. While nature definitely plays a major role in a lot of things, this isn't one of them. We grow up with people telling us how we should act and who we should and shouldn't associate with. For example, when parents say to stay away from a certain part of town, its not always because they know for a fact that it is a bad area, sometimes it is an assumption based on stereotypes they learned throughout their life. Those, in turn, get passed on to their kids, perpetuating those same stereotypes. The nature vs nurture debate is the most relevant psychology idea to evaluate this article.

Hindsight Bias

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An important concept in psychology that I believe is important is the hindsight bias. The hindsight bias is when the tendency to overestimate how well we could have successfully forecast known outcomes. Just like the cartoon above us here. The doctor is telling the obese man that if he had came earlier, the doctor would be able to help him. This is a really good example of the hindsight bias. The question I have is, "how would the doctor know if he could be able to cure the sick obese man?" Sometimes I think the hindsight bias hurts a lot of people, especially in a scenario like the man above us. Let me give you an example, when I took one of my younger brother to see the dentist, the dentist told me that I should have took my brother in early, so there would have been less damage to his teeth. I think back to myself like, "Is he serious? or was he just trying to make me feel bad of not taking my younger brother in earlier?" Since these questions comes to mind, I don't know how to react to this situation.
In my opinion, I think the hindsight bias makes people regret their decision, but base on the situation they are in. Such as, "I knew I should have went for her". I knew I should've went for her, but I didn't, so I'm going to regret later on in life. Situations like this will make me regret. In the end, I still think that the hindsight bias makes people feel regret more than anything else.

Illusions. Why?

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We run into illusions everywhere. Why does it happen and what is the reason for the illusion? It is because of the way our brain functions and our visual system is the main part of it. We are tricked by optical illusions because when we are awake we have a neural lag in our eyes. According to Jeanna Bryner, in her article she states that "when light hits your retina, about one-tenth of a second goes by before the brain translates the signal into a visual perception of the world" (1). Because our brain can guess a bit into the future, the lag is compensated for. Mark Changizi says that "Illusions occur when our brains attempt to perceive the future, and those perceptions don't match reality," (1). Illusions mess with our mind and its because our brains sometimes cant guess into the future causing what our brain does predict not to match what is happening or will in the real world. Scientists have been trying to find out why we are being tricked by illusions. And from the work of Mark Changizi, his theory was that angular size, speed and contrast differentiate too when getting closer to an object. Optical illusions trick everyone but many scientists and researchers are trying to find ways to discover more in depth. I have learned a lot from this because I had no idea that our brain can see a little bit into the future and that it is from the lag in our visual system that we see illusions.

http://www.livescience.com/4950-key-optical-illusions-discovered.html

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Like any normal person should, I applied antiperspirant/deodorant every day before I left for school. One morning, however, my mother stopped me saying, "If you wear that too much you could get breast cancer, you know." When she said this I laughed and continued to put on my deodorant, but as the day went on I was curious to see if what she said was really true.

One principal we can use to out rule this hypothesis is correlation vs. causation. Just because most all woman that test positive for breast cancer are wearing antiperspirant/deodorant, does not mean that it is the cause of the cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, all the claims of this myth are false. These claim most often heard is that, "Underarm shaving allows cancer-causing substances in antiperspirants to be absorbed through razor nicks." People believed that the cuts or holes in your skin that women receive from shaving would allow certain chemicals from the antiperspirant/deodorant to seep into the lymph nodes under your arm, creating toxins that would later cause cancer. However, the National Cancer Institute claims that there must be a different cause for breast cancer, because there is no concrete evidence linking the two together.
In 2002, results from a study were released about this topic. Scientists interviewed 813 women with breast cancer and 793 woman without, finding no correlation between antiperspirant/deodorant and cancer. Another study was conducted finding the shocking result that women who were diagnosed at an earlier age were using antiperspirant/deodorant then ones who were diagnosed at a later age. However, the American Cancer Society says, "Probably, in general, younger women are more likely than older women to shave their underarms and use antiperspirants, whether or not they develop breast cancer later." It is partially just our generation. We are more exposed to using these hygiene products than older women were when they were our age. So when we look at the big picture, there is no correlation between antiperspirant/deodorant and the cause of breast cancer. This is why the principal of correlation vs causation is the most effective way to evaluate this false claim.


National Cancer Institute
http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/AP-Deo

American Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/CancerCauses/OtherCarcinogens/AtHome/antiperspirants-and-breast-cancer-risk

Cell Phones Cause Cancer

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One evening while watching the news with my family there was a short segment stating that talking on the phone causes cancer. When I heard this claim I immediately knew the statement was incorrect. In my head I knew there would have to been a reason why scientist associated cell phones with cancer. One principle of critical thinking we can use to test this claim is the principle of correlation vs. causation. We need to ask ourselves does cell phones cause cancer, or is there a third variable responsible for causing cancer? According to the National Cancer Institute they state that cell phones emit radio frequency energy (radio waves), which can damage tissues in the ear. This statement can be true but it does not prove it causes cancer, it's just a hypothesis. Also, according to the National Cancer Institute "The number of cell phone users has increased rapidly. As of 2010, there were more than 303 million subscribers to cell phone service in the United States. Over time, the number of cell phone calls per day, the length of each call, and the amount of time people use cell phones has increased." Also, just because many cancer patients reported using cell phones we cannot draw conclusions that cells phones cause cancer, maybe, these cancer patients all were long time smokers and that is the reason why they suffer from this disease. For many years scientist have proven and provided extensive evidence that smoking does indeed cause cancer. Another concept we can use to provide an alternative explanation is the idea of Nature vs. Nurture. In other words genetics could be another important variable responsible to cause cancer. In addition, the other side of the idea involves nature, a possibility could include an individual exposed to extreme amount of sunlight develops skin cancer throughout their life due to their environment. The cause of cancer does not only include cell phone use it can be influenced by other variables including environmental or genetic factors. Using the principle of correlation vs. causation is the most useful for evaluating this claim.

http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/cellphones


Hindsight Bias is common

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When a test is over and the answer is posted online, I always heard my classmates complain like that "I knew it! The answer of that question should be B!" or "I knew professor will choose that question from chapter 5, I should review it!" and I also heard many claims like those above. That's all hindsight bias. And I think if we surface on the internet and see people's facebook, twitter or blog, we will find this phenomenon is widely common.

Hindsight bias is one concept I consider is important. Hindsight bias, or so-called know-it-all-along effect, in my words, is the propensity to judge things have already happened as being more likely than the time when this event didn't occur. It's one of our human cognitive biases that can lead us to get misleading conclusions. Because we all human beings, we can find this biases, but we can't totally prevent it naturally.

The reason I believe this conception is that I find it can apply most of my friends' everyday life. For example, when my friends and I watch a basketball game, before the start of the game, we always like to guess which team will be the winner. If they are right, they will so confident that it can not have more evident that why the team they choose is over the other. Or they lose the guessing game, they will not mention this again.

On the other hand, I suppose sometimes we can benefit from hindsight bias. When one events occur, though it is easy to predict, we will think of the whole things and analyze the flaw in order to prevent the same thing from happening again.

But I wonder is there someone in the world doesn't have hindsight bias and what kind of people he or she will be?

Writing assignment 1

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One concept I think is important is the nature versus nurture concept. Nature versus nurture is basically trying to figure out if certain behaviors are due to genetics or the environment one is raised in. For example, if a child is raised in a family where the parents steal, they will most likely grow up to steal also. The question is why? Is there something in genes that biologically makes the family feel the need to steal things or does the child pick up on those behaviors because they were raised that way? This is what the nature versus nurture concept tries to investigate.

I think this concept is important because it helps us find out more about human kind. It can help us prevent the behaviors that are not ideal. For example, if we find that stealing is based on environment, and if we remove the child from that environment, he or she is less likely to steal.

This concept could apply to anybody's life, but when I think of my family, alcoholism pops into my head. My mom's dad, her two brothers, their sons, one of my dad's brothers, and my older sister all suffer from alcoholism. I would really like to know how much environment contributes to this and how much heredity has to do with it. I am really interested to find out because I'm worried for myself and for my little sister. Do we have to be especially careful when we grow up? Could this possibly be a coincidence or does it run in the family? Out of the seven people in my family I know have an alcohol problem, four have gone to treatment. My older sister just got put in a thirty-day inpatient program last week, which is why this subject is on my mind so often. After seeing what she goes through, how she acts, and everything she has lost, I never want to end up like that. I just want to know my chances.

I searched online and I found an article that somewhat answers my questions. It seems like there isn't really an answer for what my chances are, but here is the article.

Overachieving Brain

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Can you see anything peculiar about these pictures? Each one has a "hidden object". The first picture shows Mars' surface where there is a protrusion of rock that is commonly mistaken for a man or alien. The next is a wrinkly pillow case, yet some people see a frowning face amongst the wrinkles. The last picture is of a spotted horse. If you focus on the hind-end of the horse you can make out a wolf in the spots.

What is this phenomenon and why does it occur? This is called pareidolia, seeing meaningful images and connections in visual stimuli that are not actually there. This phenomenon is the brain "tricking" us into believing something. Our brain works by creating a whole image out of the parts of information it receives from the eye. In cases with pareidolia, our brain creates a whole image where one does not actually exist. It's like our brain is an overachiever in making connections.

This odd occurance is surprisingly common. Almost every one of us, if not all of us has had an experience like this happen to us. I remember one day at the park when I was about 10 years old. I was swinging and watching the clouds and I remember seeing one cloud shift to show a face that looked exactly like my dad. A different cloud did the same but looked exactly like my mom. I am sure my parents faces weren't up in the sky for all to see, but some people believe occurences like this prove ESP and supernatural forces. That is an extraordinary claim that cannot be backed up with evidence.

Overall, this shows how important scientific evidence is and how closely-related it is to our everyday life.
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Perceptual Sets

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When you look at the picture on the left you see an old lady's face and when you look at the picture on the right you now see a woman sitting on her knees with her hand covering her face. However, when you look at the picture in the middle, which one do you see? Whatever you saw depended on which end you started viewing these pictures. This drawing is an example of perceptual sets.

Perceptual sets are very similar to top-down processing, which is processing based on beliefs and expectancies. Perceptual sets are when our expectations influence our perceptions or in other words it's a bias to perceive certain aspects of sensory data and to ignore others. In this case, if you looked at the middle picture and only saw the old lady's face then your mind is ignoring the sensory aspect of the woman sitting down. Here is a link to a few different studies performed on perceptual sets. Heres a link that shows a few different studies performed on perceptual sets.
http://www.aber.ac.uk/media/Modules/MC10220/visper06.html

If you have just run a red traffic light, you would tend to be more inclined to view a flashing light as a police car rather than just a bright turn signal. Why does our mind do this? Why do we ignore the bright turn signal and instead see something different out of it? Well, the answer is based on our expectations. If we accidentally run a red light, we would expect to get pulled over for it. Since we're expecting to get pulled over, our minds believe we're seeing the flashing police lights instead of the turn signal. Since I have never ran a red light I can't truly relate to this. However, I have sped and the same thing happened to me. While I was speeding I saw bright flashing lights in my rear view mirror and my first reaction to it was 'shoot I'm going to get a ticket'. Although, when I looked back behind me again, I didn't see the police car and instead saw another car's blinker on. Perceptual sets happen to us every day, except they aren't always the same for everyone because we each perceive things differently.

It's safe to say that almost all Americans enjoy vegging out in front of the TV for a couple of hours to watch their favorite TV show or sports team. Unfortunately, what you can't avoid is the numerous commercials and advertisements that are trying so hard to sell and capture your attention. There are many different methods of advertisements that are used to effectively persuade you to go out and buy the product that is being sold.

The Hydroxycut commercial is a perfect example of a testimonial type advertisement. Typically, the commercial is shot on the beach with good-looking people in swimsuits telling their own testimonies about how they claim that Hydroxycut helped them lose a ton of weight fast. Then it proceeds to show a before and after picture of the person and how much better they look after using Hydroxycut. Sometimes a doctor appears with a certificate looking piece of paper (which I think is the patent materials in the product) in a clinical setting and spews off some facts and numbers about how well the drug is working and so on. To see a real Hydroxycut commercial go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1auZTcYi6w

After seeing this commercial you are left thinking that Hydroxycut will work fast at making you loose weight and you will be skinny just like the people in the commercial. Seems legit, right? The Hydroxycut commercial is a perfect example of pseudoscience, a set of claims that seem scientific but aren't. We don't know for sure that if that doctor looking person in the commercial was even a certified doctor or if all the facts and statistics he was saying were even true. This is were our critical thinking skills come into handy to decide if this extraordinary claim has extraordinary evidence to back it up. Yes the before and after pictures could be evidence that it really works. But with how advanced technology is, it could of simply been just a few hours on Photoshop to enhance a picture to look better than the original. So the next time your watching TV and notice commercials that make you believe something extraordinary, use your critical thinking skills to evaluate how realistic the set of claims are. Remember not everything you see on TV is true.

Snoring causes DEATH!

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Our generation has become very concerned with their health. Merchandising companies love to play with this idea. In the article, "Are you snoring yourself to death?" a company claims there is a positive correlation between snoring and very serious causes of death, such as heart disease and diabetes. They furthermore suggest that the supposed correlation actually causes the effects. Ever so conveniently, at the end of the page there is a product that offers a solution to the problem and you can even buy two for the price of one!
The article tries to rule out other hypothesis by giving this cause a name, obstructive sleep apnea (OSA). Since this condition seems legit to the average population, it easier to trick the viewer. It is highly unlikely that OSA leads to heart disease or diabetes because no support is offered on this issue. Without support, the claim is easily falsifiable. Perhaps, using Occam's Razor, there is a different answer to these diseases. With much research, we already know the causes of the health conditions OSA claims to prevent. They are much more direct and simpler causes, such as blockage in arteries causes heart disease. At this time, that information is common knowledge to most of the population, but due to the health fad people are gullible to many health issues. I'm sure the claimed correlation is replicable. Many people with heart disease or diabetes probably have OSA, but that doesn't mean it causes the diseases. For example, OSA is perhaps another side-effect of obesity as well as heart disease and diabetes.
At the end of the day, this is an extraordinary claim. Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence; this article offers zero evidence. Merchandising companies use common trends in the psychological minds of the population, such as health concern, to trick them. However, using the six principles of scientific thinking we can out rule them all and save our money.

Nature-Nurture Debate

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Tard Carter is known as a violence-interrupter in the hoods of East Baltimore. Carter takes it into his own hands to talk to young teenagers about violence, drugs, and dealing. He also opens up to teens, telling them that he hates cops just like they do, but what he hates more the that the authorities are getting paid off the dumb decisions that teens make. A resident of Chicago makes a good point by saying "All of them are not gangbangers. All of them are not dropouts. But the ones that are, they need our help." Carter had also said "Many kids look up to drug dealers." Carter comes to the explanation that some families want their kids to grow up the way the parents did. Even parents that know what they do is wrong, teach their kids the same habits, and the cycle never stops. Carter tries to interrupt the cycle of teen violence in the article. To get to the article, go to http://www.cnn.com/2011/CRIME/09/27/chicago.teen.violence/index.html?hpt=hp_c1

The people we normally look up to in life are famous people, not drug dealers. I believe that the article I read relates to psychology because of the whole nature-nurture debate. Many people ask the same question, do kids grow up and act the way they do because of nature or because of nurture. Nurture is our rearing environments, and how we grew up. When our behaviors are because of the genes that we have, that is where nature comes in to play. Many people think behavior is because of nature, saying "it's in their genes." I myself think that habits like violence and drugs, as demonstrated in the news issue, happen because of nurture. I think this way because of personal experiences I have had. When my brothers were younger, they would hang out with others who did an enormous amount of drugs, and would drink as often as possible. I, on the other hand, did not. Because of my brothers' status as "party people," I get comments such as "Come on, your a Stevenson, you gotta drink beer!" They say having the last name, as in having the same genes, would describe what type of person I was. I beg to differ with that statement. Nature may have something to do with some of the ways people act, but overall I believe nurture is the reason people act the way that they do. The nature-nurture debate is one of the largest debates in Psychology and it might remain that way for a very long time.

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Gullible America

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On October 15, 2009 the Heene family triggered a nation-wide police search for their boy. The family claimed that "Falcon" (their 6 year old son) was stranded approximately 7,000 ft in the air in a homemade balloon somewhere over Colorado. As the story goes, Falcon climbed into the gas filled balloon and his two parents(Richard and Mayumi) released it into the atmosphere not knowing that their son was on board. After an hour long 50 mile flight, the silver, saucer-shaped balloon landed just north of the Denver International Airport. The balloon had no boy inside, however the story does not stop here. Then police began a manhunt of the entire area after hearing reports of objects falling from the balloon. Later that afternoon the boy was found hiding in the family's attic. The whole incident was resolved to be a hoax.

Here's a clip of the video: http://youtu.be/FIYKGz7cABg


Now how does this relate to Psychology you ask? Well, if you l compare critical thinking to this whole media coverage, it is easy to see just how quickly the whole nation was fooled into believe this extraordinary claim. When this happened we all automatically thought that of course the boy is in the balloon, and went straight to criticizing the parents for being so irresponsible. Even after the balloon had landed and there was no boy, we still insisted that he must have been on board but just fell out.
How gullible America was in jumping to such a conclusion even when there was no way to prove that he was not in the balloon. In other words the claim was not falsifiable but yet we still believed it. Not everything that the media says is true. We must be skeptical yet precautious because certainly if this was not a hoax we would want to be responsive as possible to return the boy to safety. After all the commotion, According to the Huntington Post, "The public services were reimbursed by the Heene family $36,000." What an expensive misconception of a boy in a balloon.

Fear Mongering for Votes

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If you Google the name Michele Bachmann, Minnesota's 6th District Congressional Representative, you'll find a large number of links that relate to things that she's been quoted as saying. A sampling includes "The Craziest Things Michele Bachmann Has Ever Said" and "Michele Bachmann Says the Darndest Things."

In keeping with these headlines, Bachmann recently claimed that the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine, which protects against cervical cancer, causes mental retardation. Her proof: anecdotal evidence, from the "I know someone who" school of thought. A woman had come up to Bachmann after a debate among Republican candidates for president and told her that her daughter had become mentally retarded after having been given the vaccine. Additionally, the morning after the debate, Bachmann appeared on the Today show and said that the vaccine "can have very dangerous side effects." Here is a link to a You Tube clip of her interview.

Not only does Bachmann assume that the two variables, the HPV vaccine and mental retardation, have a high positive correlation, she is also violating the important scientific thinking principle that even if there were a positive correlation, correlation doesn't necessarily mean causation. She is assuming that the vaccine caused the woman's daughter's condition, rather than basing her comment on empirical evidence. The Centers for Disease Control responded to Bachmann's comment by indicating that the HPV vaccination has been administered to more than 35 million girls, and that no cause and effect has been detected for the 35 deaths that were reported to have occurred later. The CDC also indicated that the vaccine causes no serious side effects. Meanwhile, cervical cancer is killing 4000 women per year.

It's particularly dangerous and irresponsible of Bachmann to make this kind of claim, because she's potentially putting the public's health at risk. She is a high-profile politician, in a position to influence the behavior and thoughts of others. It's conceivable that by her erroneous statement, she convinced someone not to have their child vaccinated against HPV, that the HPV vaccine causes mental retardation, or both. Please, Michele, going forward, at least have someone on your staff verify a claim before you declare it to be factual. Meanwhile, we all need to beware of the politician who fear mongers in an attempt get votes.

Executing the Wrong Man?

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troy_davis11-04-2008.jpgThe recent execution of Troy Davis, an African American man convicted of murdering a police officer, brings into question the accuracy and procedures of our current justice system. Our justice system bases its convictions on expert and eye-witness testimony rather than on empirical data.


In the case of Troy Davis, his conviction and subsequent execution were based almost entirely on eye-witness testimony. Unfortunately for Troy Davis, Psychology has long known the fallibility of eye-witness testimony. Eye-witness testimony can be swayed by subtle cues from interrogators, the way the line-ups were presented, and subsequent discussions and recall of the events.


It has been reported in the news media that in the case of Troy Davis that the eye-witness accounts were subject to all kinds of problems that could easily have altered people's memory of the event. For example, it was reported that police placed wanted posters of Troy Davis in the neighborhood, cued witnesses as to who they expected the witness to pick from the line-up, and creating a mock-up of the event. These factors could have easily produced false memories of Troy Davis' role in the shooting of the police officer. Out of the nine eye-witnesses who identified Troy Davis as the killer, seven individuals have subsequently retracted their testimony. They are no longer confident that he was the real killer.


How can we execute a man based solely on eye-witness testimony when we know that such testimony can be so flawed? What if we just killed the wrong man? Perhaps, we should rethink how our justice system uses information to convict individuals. I believe we should focus more on verifiable evidence and focus less on eye-witness testimony which is so often intrinsically flawed.


For some good news articles on the Troy Davis case (and my inspiration for writing this post) check out CNN and Slate News.


For a good review of our knowledge of eyewitness testimony and its flaws see this article.

Blog It

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Welcome class! This is your new blog site.

You can find more specifics about your assignment in your syllabus, but I wanted to point out a few things that make a good blog post.

1. Pick a good topic that is relevant to Psychology. Make sure you clearly show in your post how it is relevant to Psychology.

2. Connect it to every day life. This could be your own life or another person's life.
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3. Be creative in your posts. You are encouraged to include media (photos, videos, and links) to improve the quality and content of your post (and to make it eye catching!).

4. Read each other's blogs. Commenting on each other's blogs is strongly encouraged. This is particularly true if you are writing on the same topic.

5. Use appropriate writing mechanics and styles to clearly communicate your topic and points.

Thanks to Jhon Wlashin for ideas on the key points for blogs (see his tips here).

You can also check out more tips on good blogging by reading:
The 4 pillars of exceptional blogs


For Topics (from your syllabus):
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 Snopes.com.)

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.

Good luck and have fun!

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