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 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 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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220: PsycExplorer Roundup: More Evidence That Animals Think and Feel

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In episode 217 I asked you to be frank with yourself: Does your animal really think? It’s easy to believe they do, but if you’re going to study this issue scientifically you have to eliminate our human tendency to anthropomorphize – to want to believe that animal actions are motivated by internal states.

Here’s a roundup of a few articles I found in my PsycExplorer app (PsycExplorerHD for iPad) which show exactly what psychologists are doing to find out what exactly is going on (if anything…) in the minds of dogs, cats, rats, chickens and yes fruit flies. Are they really thinking in there? Well, maybe so. These examples certainly convinced me, although it might all depend on what you mean by “thinking” and “feeling”. [Read more…]

Ep 218: Good News for Older Folks

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Guess what? There are a good number of positives to growing older. Let’s put aside all the negative stereotypes of older folks and realize that they can demonstrate a surprising level of “coolness” about life. There’s a certain perspective you get when you’re older that’s enviable. Older folks have passed many of life’s challenges and they can look back with satisfaction. But they also can have a surprising nonchalance about the challenges they face which we – as younger people – often think would make us terribly unhappy. Let’s take another look at aging and see it from a different light. [Read more…]

Ep 217: Let’s Be Honest: Is Your Dog Really Intelligent?

Are Dogs (or Cats) Really Smart?

Are Dogs (or Cats) Really Smart?It’s easy to find videos on the web of animals showing what appears to be some pretty smart behavior. But is it really “smarts”? How can you tell? In this episode I’ll point out examples that look like intelligence but probably aren’t – as well as an example of animal behavior that is really hard to dismiss as anything but “smarts”. In doing so we’ll talk about the behavioral principle of “chaining” – the method by which you can get animals – and humans – to display some pretty sophisticated and complex behavior as the result of reinforcement, prompts and cues.
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Ep 213: Leveraging Our Natural Curiosity for Learning (and for Blog and Video Clicks)

The Motivation to Learn

How do we motivate you to click online? Well, we don’t necessarily have to pay you to get you to do things (extrinsic motivation) because you’re already a curious person. We also don’t necessarily have to find things you’re already interested in (intrinsic motivation) we just have to find things that are naturally interesting to all of us to get you excited about learning or interested in clicking on a link. How does our attraction to puzzles, questions, and unsolved mysteries get used to get us to click on videos or blog posts? And how can it be used to get students to want to learn (motivation to learn)? You’ll find out that there are ways to get students excited about learning without having to pay them and there are ways to attract people to your content by tapping into their natural curiosity. Just don’t overuse it (watch out UpWorthy) and don’t fail to deliver! Hopefully this episode will deliver on introducing you to some new ideas to help you motivate others. [Read more…]

Ep 212: The Psychology of The Matrix Movie

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MatrixWhat are the psychological themes in the movie The Matrix? In this episode I talk about connections between The Matrix and Jung‘s idea of the Collective Unconscious, Joseph Campbell‘s notion of the Hero’s Journey and some recent research that explains why you experience Déjà vu. Also, can you change your whole world by thinking differently about it? Let’s find out what psychologists (well at least me) think about this fascinating movie.

A wonderful company called Rev transcribed this episode for me. They did a great job and I highly recommend them. You can view or download the transcription of this episode here.
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