Archive for the ‘ Current Affairs ’ Category

Art as Propaganda

As it turns out, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency was using artwork from the abstract expressionist (AbEx) movement to glorify the freedoms afforded under a non-communist government during the Cold War years (link). Work from the main-stays of the AbEx movement (e.g. Pollock & De Kooning) were on tour throughout Europe in at least one show known as “The New American Painting.” A complete list of the artists included can be found here (Wiki link).

Would be interesting to know more about the effectiveness of such a campaign, or the effectiveness of similar propaganda efforts. I do know that Psychological Operations units still exist in the military.

Seated Woman (J. Tworkov)

The Name I (B. Newman)

– Posted by Tyler

“Folie a Deux”

I’ve always been fascinated by Folie a Deux, a psychological disorder characterized by two people sharing the same delusion(s). Considering the recent behavior of actor Randy Quaid and his wife Evi Quaid, people are starting to consider whether or not the disorder could be an explanation (link).

Remember when Mr. Quaid was just Cousin Eddie from National Lampoons? I do.

-posted by Tyler

Mystery Solved

John Watson’s classical conditioning experiment is quite famous in the world of psychology.  First year university students everywhere hear about “Little Albert”, who was a baby around 9 months old who had not been exposed to rats before the experiment began.  Tests were done judging the child’s reaction to a number of various stimulus, including a white rat, and it was found that he regarded most of the stimulus’ with no fear.

Experimenters brought in a white rat and let Little Albert play with it.  The experiment began when the unconditioned stimulus (a loud noise which occurred when a steel bar was hit with a hammer behind Little Albert’s back) was found to produce the desired unconditioned response (fear).  Every time Little Albert would reach out to pet the white rat, experimenters would hit the steel bar with the hammer.  After repeated trials Little Albert – quite understandably – began to fear the white rabbit.

Unfortunately, Little Albert was removed from the experiment before Watson could de-condition him.  The child himself became lost to psychologists, and they were unable to follow up on how the experiment effected his life.  This mystery has puzzled psychologist’s for years, but finally, the mystery has been solved.

Douglas Merritte, a boy who died at the age of 6 due to a condition called hydrocephalus (an excess of fluids in the brain) fits the criteria for the child most commonly known as Little Albert.  Unfortunately we’ll never know what his life may have been like due to the experiment, but he most likely had other much worse problems to worry about.  Hall P. Beck, with a team of colleagues and students are the ones responsible for tracking down the information to solve this mystery.

The article I found this information in can be found in Monitor on Psychology in the January 2010 edition.

-Posted by Alyssa Pilkington

Jobs of Affective Scientists are safe, for now

The Fox TV show Lie to Me is based loosely on the work of Dr. Paul Ekman. Actually, to say it is loosely based on Ekman’s work is probably an overstatement. Ekman is a psychologist known for his research on emotions, namely the universality of basic emotions (i.e. happy, sad, fear, anger, disgust, surprise).

In contrast, the main character of the show is a entrepreneur-scientist who solves crimes based on emotional clues of witnesses and suspects. Paul Ekman actually has a weekly blog about the show, and he says that “most of what you see is based on scientific evidence,” but admits that the show takes poetic license.

Now get this, research is being done on a TV show based on research! How Meta! The executive summary of the research reported here is that the jobs of affective scientists are safe.

Lie to Me appears to increase skepticism at the cost of accuracy,” reports a research team led by Timothy Levine, a professor of communication at Michigan State University. Its study, published in the journalCommunication Research, finds watching the drama increases suspicion of others even as it reduces one’s ability to detect deception.

-Posted by Tyler

The Limits of Democratizing Data Collection

There is an interesting article by Gary Wolfe at NYTimes (link) about people’s self-tracking behavior and the data that is accumulated. People count calories, document fitness regimens, keep calendars, and on and on and on. People have long tracked their behavior but now, rather than using pencil and paper, it is digital, often widely available (e.g. through Facebook, Twitter, 4square, MyFitnessPal), and it’s in a form that can be analyzed. This last piece is crucial, while the accumulated data is in a form that can be analyzed, some people might not have the knowledge to do so — a point made in the piece and the focus of this post.

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Multi-Task Supers: What’s so Special about These People?

There is a glut of evidence that shows divided attention leads to decreased performance. Using a cellular phones and texting while driving have been particularly hot news topics, one of our own bloggers posted on this recently (link). But even more recently several news outlets (Nat. Geo., Time, MSNBC) have run articles about a new study showing a small group of people that can ACTUALLY multi-task without performance detriments.

Who are these Supertaskers? and what’s so special about them? Strayer had this to say about this specialness during one interview:

There is clearly something special about the supertaskers. Why can they do something that most of us cannot? Psychologists may need to rethink what they know about multitasking in light of this new evidence. We may learn from these very rare individuals that the multitasking regions of the brain are different and that there may be a genetic basis for this difference.

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Arm Yourselves: The West is Not Won

The drug war in Mexico and the United States is too close to home for one town in West Texas, residents there were recently warned by the Sheriff to “arm themselves.”

Fort Hancock, Texas is a “sleepy agricultural town” near the Mexico border and looks like a set from No Country for Old Men (NPR story). The sherrif recently gathered the residents in a school gymnasium and told them to “arm themselves” and that it was “better to be tried by 12 then carried by 6.” Truer words were never spoken.

It’s stories like this that make me both discouraged and relieved that 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is in place. Discouraged because it’s needed and relieved because if violence like this came to my town, I would want to protect myself and my family.

There is no telling what kind of fear people along the border feel right now. There’s a nice post at Brain Blogger about excessive fear, its side effects, and treatments.  A new treatment that uses extinction during a critical window after exposure to fear stimuli is showing promise for longer lasting desensitization.

Lets hope Obama’s top priority on the Mexico agenda does some good (linklink).

-Posted by Tyler