Writing Assignment 1: 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?



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.

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'

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'?


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?




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.


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.


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:
Daryl Bem's Homepage:

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:


Does a Sneeze Mean Disease?

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10) Cartoon Sick.png

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

Hindsight Bias

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Hindsight bias.jpg
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.

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.

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.


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.

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