Ep 233: White Policemen and Young Black Men – What’s Really Going on?

White Police and Young Black Men

In the US, we’ve experienced a number of recent incidences of white policemen shooting black men. What’s going on? Are these more examples of prejudice and discrimination or unprovoked attacks on police? How do we know what really happened? In this episode of The Psych Files we look at how key social psychological theories are on display in these incidences: false memories, attribution biases, blaming the victim and social identity theory.


the criminal justice system that, flawed as it is, still insists that indictments be based on facts instead of emotions, which are fed by long-simmering prejudices and all the cognitive biases and memory distortions that come packaged in the human mind. – Michael Shermer, What Really Happened in Ferguson?

Resources for this Episode

Ep 232: Psychologists Involved in Torture: What To Do About It?

You may have heard from the US Senate report on terrorism and the “enhanced interrogations” that a small group of psychologists were involved in the interrogations of detainees from the 9/11 incident. How could psychologists, who have a long tradition of concern and adherence to ethical standards in the treatment of others, become involved in such activities? Is it justified? More important: would YOU have become involved in these activities in the swirl of confusion and fear after the attacks? We examine these issues in this episode of The Psych Files.

Questions to Ask Yourself

  1. Might you have become involved in the development or monitoring of questionable “enhanced interrogation” techniques if you were asked to do so by the government? Remember the context: the time is just after the 9/11 attacks (though it did continue for years afterward) when there was a great deal of fear and uncertainty over what terrorists might do next.
  2. What do the results of the Milgram and Zimbardo studies suggest about your answer to the above question?
  3. If it is found that the APA altered its ethical code in order to allow psychologists to become involved in these questionable interrogations, what should the APA do next to rectify the situation?
  4. Does the fact that these were “bad men” make what we did okay?
  5. What do you think of B.F. Skinner’s comment that knowing that someone is a “bad man” does no good in helping us to make sure that man’s actions won’t be repeated?

Psychology’s Involvement in Detainee Interrogations


Ep: 231: Multiple Personalities and Tips on Getting People to Help

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Is there such a thing as a person having multiple personalities? What about Sybil and “All About Eve” – did they really have multiple personalities? The idea makes for great headlines and fascinating talk shows, but what’s the real story? I talk about that in this episode of The Psych Files along with giving tips on how to maximize the chances you’ll get help in an emergency and answer the question: is the new generation of teens lazy or is something wrong with the way we’re thinking about them? Another good example of Social Comparison theory.

Multiple Personalities

Social Comparison Theory


Bystander Intervention


Ep 230: Questionable Research – With A Famous Psychologist Involved

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Might you be able to rid yourself of an illness by “turning back the clock”? That is, by immersing yourself in a time in your life when you were not ill? We know that thinking about things in a positive way – which we sometimes call “reframing” can make us feel and act differently, and we know that the “placebo effect” is real, but how far can these ideas be taken Psychology has always struggled to separate itself from those who would “borrow” good ideas and take them too far or twist them in ways that promise people too much. We’re now more sensitive than ever about how psychological research is conducted and there are a lot of questions about a proposed new study by Ellen Langer that seems to be skirting some serious ethical issues in order to carry out a study with cancer patients – a study that could be done much less elaborately than is planned. Is this groundbreaking research, or as James Coyne suggests, quackery? We’ll find out what’s going on in this episode of The Psych Files. And by the way, what the heck is the nocebo effect? We find out.
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Ep 229: What Makes a Song Popular? How We Detect Melody

Why Are Some Tunes So Popular?

What makes some songs so popular? Guess what – psychologists actually know a lot of the answers. In this episode we’ll listen to excerpts from Leonard Cohen’s song Hallelujah, as well as Noisestorm’s Ignite, Adele’s Someone Like You, the Enterprise Theme from Star Trek, and even two pieces of music from the motion picture Koyaanisqatsi. We’ll especially deconstruct “Hallelujah” to figure out why it is such a popular song. Many thanks to musician extraordinaire – Steve Kessler.
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Ep 228 (video): Did B.F. Skinner Raise His Children in a Skinner Box?

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You may have heard this rumor about B.F. Skinner raising his children in one of his (presumably oversized) “Skinner boxes”. Is there any truth to this? Related rumors: that Skinner’s daughter became mentally ill as a result of being raised in this box and that she sued her father when she became an adult. We finally find the answer to this long held belief in this fictional interview with B.F. himself (the audio is really Skinner talking).

…Ladies Home Journal ran a piece on the new crib in 1945…The title of the article, “Baby in a Box,” as well as Skinner’s use of the word “experiment” to describe the experience likely contributed to public skepticism about the device.. The image accompanying the article was similarly damaging; it showed Deborah enclosed within the crib, peering out with her face and hands pressed up against the glass. In addition, select parts of the article were reprinted in other major outlets. As a result, many readers did not get the entire story. Some began to make inferences about the nature of the crib based on the much more famous Skinner box. The air crib therefore became associated with rewards, pellets, levers, and the like. – Joyce and Faye

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Ep 227: I Remember How I Felt (Or Do You)?

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Do “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation” or are we actually pretty happy most of the time? As it turns out humans are far more resilient than you think. Ever heard of the term “affective forecasting“? It’s something we do every day and very often we make mistakes doing it. In this episode you’ll learn more about positive psychology from the authors of a new book called Pollyanna’s Revenge. Another myth put to rest: “depressive realism” – the idea that there’s an advantage to being depressed – that depressed people are more realistic about the world than non-depressed people. That’s not so either and I think you’ll find a lot of interesting information in this episode about what affects your own level of happiness. Join me for a fascinating discussion about how we really react to the ups and downs of life.
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Ep 226 (video): The Psychology of Dance Part 2 – Importance of Marking

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Most performers “mark” when they’re tired during rehearsals. Are they “not giving it their all” or are they getting quite a benefit from doing this? You’d be surprised at how beneficial marking can be. I talked about the psychology of dance in a previous episode but in this one I review the research on “marking”, a practice which many performers do.

If you’re not familiar with marking, here’s a definition from the authors of a recent study on how marking benefits dancers: “Marking involves enacting the sequence of movements with curtailed size and energy by diminishing the size of steps, height of jumps and leaps, and extension of limbs. The dancer often does not leave the floor and may even substitute hand gestures for certain steps.”
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Ep 225: What’s Best for Memory – Coffee or a Nap – or Both?

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You may have been heard that taking a nap or going to sleep after you learn something helps you to retain it (which is true), but you may also have heard that drinking coffee helps your memory. So which is it? How can you drink coffee AND take a nap? Well, apparently you can get the benefit of both – if you do it right. In this episode we not only learn about the so-called “students’ coffee” but we learn about the “coffee nap”. If you do it just right you can get some great memory boosts.

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Dementia: When “Living in the Moment” is Not A Good Thing

Enjoying A Fleeting Birthday Moment

Tomorrow my mother turns 94 and her physical health is amazing. I have spoken about my mother and her husband Roy (who turns 99 next Spring) on this podcast several times including this episode where I interview him since he is in the final stage of Erikson’s Eight Stages of PsychoSocial Development. Like many people her age my mother suffers from dementia which means that while her long term memory is good, her short term memory is not good at all.
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