Ep 230: Questionable Research – With A Famous Psychologist Involved


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.

Resources for this Episode

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.

Key Points

  • Humans are pattern seekers (see this episode on Gestalt Principles of Perception and we seek patterns in what we see and what we hear
  • The Mere Exposure effect: if you hear anything enough times (or meet anyone enough times), they “grow on you”, i.e., liking increases with familiarity)
  • We find repetition in music across cultures
  • One segment of a song serves as a cue to the next sebment, allowing us to know what’s coming next (we even come to predict what what song will come next if we listen to the same sequence of songs over and over again)
  • “Repetition invites us into music as participants” – watch the video below which summarizes Elizabeth Hellmuth Margulis’ research
  • The Psychology of Music: The Role of Expectations and Minor Chords

Music Featured in this Episode

Ep 228 (video): Did B.F. Skinner Raise His Children in a Skinner Box?


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

More on B.F. Skinner

More Psychology Episodes Using Animation

How I Created This Animation

There were a lot of steps to putting this video together, but here’s a rough outline of the key steps and the software I used (I’m using a Mac so you may have to find PC alternatives to the programs mentioned below):

  1. Get a picture of the person you want to animate. I downloaded a public domain photo from Wikipedia. Also, you may find useful resources on Archive.org site.
  2. Using a photo-editing software like Photoshop Elements ($100), or Acorn ($50), remove the background of the image so that you have just the person. I just used the eraser tool to erase around the person’s body. Save this image as a .png file.
  3. Get or create the audio. I found videos of Skinner talking on YouTube and then used an audio capture program called Audio HiJack Pro ($30) (mac) to record and save just the audio part of the video to my computer.
  4. Edit the audio you’ve just saved so that you have an audio file (.mp3, .wav or .aif) containing the most relevant part of what the person said. I used Amadeus Pro ($30) as my audio editor, though the free Audacity program will work too.
  5. Use Crazy Talk to create the animation. Open a new project and import the .png image from step 2, then import the audio file from step 4. You’ll have to learn to set up Crazy Talk so that it knows where the eyes are, where the nose is, etc.
  6. Crazy Talk will create the animation and lip synch the image with the audio. Export this animation as a video.
  7. Record video of yourself using your smartphone or use a program like iMovie, Camtasia or ScreenFlow to combine videos of the different characters.
  8. Export your project as a .mp4 file and voila!

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


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


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.”
In this episode I use a very cool presentation tool called GinkoApp to walk you through a study which shows how effective marking can be in an overall learning and rehearsal strategy.

Dance and Psychology

  • The Cognitive Benefits of Movement Reduction: Evidence From Dance Marking. Edward C. Warburton, Margaret Wilson, Molly Lynch, and Shannon Cuykendall
  • Lead author Edward Warburton’s homepage
  • Going Through the Motions Improves Dance Performance
  • Cognitive Load (wikipedia): “…the more a person attempts to learn in a shorter amount of time, the more difficult it is to process that information in working memory.”
  • “Although dancers, teachers, and choreographers intuitively know that marking during some portions of the rehearsal process is beneficial, the accepted explanation is that it saves energy. Our results suggest that dancers have in fact evolved a strategy that benefits them cognitively by **relieving cognitive load** and **supporting more efficient encoding and consolidation…Far from being a necessary evil in the rehearsal process, marking could be strategically used by teachers and choreographers…” – Warburton et. al (2013).

  • Bläsing, B., Calvo-Merino, B., Cross, E. S., Jola, C., Honisch, J., & Stevens, C. J. (2012). Neurocognitive control in dance perception and performance. Acta Psychologica, 139, 300–308.
  • Chaffin, R., Lisboa, T., Logan, T., & Begosh, K. T. (2010). Preparing for memorized cello performance: The role of performance cues. Psychology of Music, 38, 3–30.
  • Hanrahan, C., & Vergeer, I. (2001). Multiple uses of mental imagery by professional modern dancers. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 20, 231–255.
  • Noice, T., & Noice, H. (2002). Very long-term recall and recognition of well-learned material. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 16, 259–272.
  • Nordin, S. M., & Cumming, J. (2005). Professional dancers describe their imagery: Where, when, what, why and how. The Sport Psychologist, 19, 395–416.
  • Wilson, M. (2002). Six views of embodied cognition. Psychonomic Bulletin and Review, 9, 625–636.

Ep 225: What’s Best for Memory – Coffee or a Nap – or Both?


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.

The Psychology Test Prep App Bundle is Here!

Everything you need to prepare for your psych tests. Click the image below!

Effective Study Practices, Coffee and Naps

  • My episode on the most effective study techniques
  • The Coffitivity Website
  • Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition
  • Caffeine can help jolt your memory
  • …there is no magic in taking caffeine five minutes after something that occurs that you need to remember. “Before or between or after or during, it would all work,” he said. “The only thing I would say is don’t drink caffeine to pull an all-nighter. Sleep is really good for memory, but if you are going to drink coffee to stay up you won’t get the boost from either one.” – Caffeine can help jolt…

  • The Science Behind What Naps Do For Your Brain and Why You Should Have One Today
  • Naps have been shown to benefit the learning process, helping us take in and retain information better….After memorizing a set of cards, they had a 40-minute break wherein one group napped, and the other stayed awake. After the break, both groups were tested on their memory of the cards, and the group who had napped performed better:….Research indicates that when memory is first recorded in the brain–in the hippocampus, to be specific–it’s still “fragile” and easily forgotten, especially if the brain is asked to memorize more things. Napping, it seems, pushes memories to the neocortex, the brain’s “more permanent storage,” preventing them from being “overwritten.” – The Science Behind…

  • Scientists agree: Coffee naps are better than coffee or naps alone
  • Caffeine Improves Long-Term Memory When Consumed After Learning
  • Dementia: When “Living in the Moment” is Not A Good Thing

    Enjoying A Fleeting Birthday Moment

    Enjoying A Fleeting Birthday MomentTomorrow 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.

    When she meets a new person you have to tell her that person’s name many, many times. Eventually she will get it, but she does not remember that she has asked you what the person’s name is over and over again. Living with someone who has dementia requires a great deal of patience.

    Living in the Moment

    There are some advantages to living in the moment, which in many ways is what people with dementia do because they cannot remember (or cannot remember very well anyway) what happened a few minutes ago.

    One advantage of living in the moment is that when something annoying occurs – such as your elderly husband becoming ornery over something and is a real pain in the ass – you forget it within minutes. You quickly forget that he is in fact, a pain in the ass.

    But here’s a disadvantage of this phrase we have come to associate only positive things. Recently we had to hire an live-in home health care aid to help her and her husband manage their lives (he needs help moving about the house without falling and she needs to be watched to make sure she doesn’t leave the stove on and start a fire). The aid spends most of her time sitting and waiting for either one of them to need help so she is a new presence right there in their lives. I can understand how it’s uncomfortable to have a stranger in your house. On the other hand, now I can take my mother out for day trips without having to worry about her husband.

    So I took my mother out for an afternoon so we could celebrate her birthday. She was out with friends and relatives for about 5 hours and she had a great time. A great time.

    She forgot almost all of it soon after I returned her home. Her focus returned to this “stranger” and how she can’t understand/remember why this person is living in their house. The recent good times – made possible only because we now have this home health aid – are lost and her focus returns to how unhappy she is to have this person in her home.

    It’s sad. And more and more of us “sandwich generation” children/adults are having to deal with it.

    Our memories – so essential to our happiness – are delicate. Take care of yours. Get exercise, be active, eat well.

    Ep 224 (Video): If Freud Worked Tech Support


    A humorous way to learn about the Freudian defense mechanisms (actually elaborated by Anna Freud) of Displacement, Denial, Sublimation, Reaction Formation, and Projection. A little dream analysis thrown in. Who knows? Maybe Freud would have been good at tech support…(technically, this is a video version of episode 209).

    Ep 223: Little Albert’s Real Identity – Time to Rewrite the Textbooks

    [This] dispute … has been settled to the satisfaction of all neutral observers from journal editors to manuscript reviewers to … textbook authors who have seen our articles. The argument is settled…..I would turn to the question of why it took the field of psychology 5+ years to get this sorted out.”

    What was the name of that baby in John Watson‘s famous videos in which he attempts to demonstrate that fears can be acquired through conditioning (pairing a loud noise with a furry animal)? A few years ago we were presented with information indicating that a boy named Douglas Merrite was the true identity of “Little Albert“. The data looked pretty convincing at that time. However, a few pieces of that data simply did not fit together for researchers Nancy Digdon, Russell Powell and Ben Harris.
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    Ep 222: How To Remember Jokes

    How to Remember Jokes

    Mnemonic image for remembering 4 jokes: dead cat, flipping coins, toast and ice cream, twins. How many times have you wanted to remember a joke at a party but you just can’t? Well, there IS a way to remember jokes and I have got 4 jokes for you along with a mnemonic to help you remember all 4 of them. I challenge you to listen to these 4 jokes, then listen to and picture my mnemonic images. Then wait a little while and go through the mnemonic image and I guarantee you’ll remember all 4 jokes.

    Remembering anything for more than a few minutes requires not only repetition, but also something else that will make the to-be-remembered thing stick in your head. That thing can be a mnemonic device. In this episode I’ll use a combination of the keyword technique, crazy images and a modified approach to the method of loci. I’ll use your body to help you remember these jokes. Let’s have some fun.