CLICK HERE to read an article written by my friend, Karen Stollznow, a Professor of Linguistics and former Editor of the "Australian Skeptic Magazine." I think you'll get a kick out of it.
The topic is Body Language. Not the real kind that social scientists attempt to decipher, but the current hype that's being popularized by self-help gurus and the new tv show "Lie to Me."
You wouldn't believe some of the claims being made, like "Only 7% of our communication is verbal." What?! Or, "The fabric your clothes are made of sends a clear message to others about who you are." Oh, brother!
I think Karen does a pretty good job of debunking a lot of the nonsense, but it's doubtless that we in the social sciences will be undoing the damage caused by people's exposure to this crap.
Click the link below to read an interesting article from Skeptic about research on nonhuman primate communication. For decades we've heard conflicting reports about efforts to teach chimps and gorillas (and sometimes orangutans) to "talk" using sign language, message boards, and other means. In the early 1970s, the answer seemed to be that it was possible that they might actually have the capacity to express themselves on something approaching a human level of communication. Since that time, the research has been criticized in terms of its methods, research design, conclustions and, in some cases, even its very authenticity!.
As we will discuss, one of the world's leading researchers in Memory is a psychologist namedElizabeth Loftus. Professor Loftus has published hundreds of articles, reporting the results of work with tens of thousands of subjects' memories. The big lesson from this research is that memory production is "constructive" and maleable. It is not a perfect reproduction of the experience, as many people assume.
CLICK HERE to listen to my ShelShocked Podcast episode on memory, which includes an interview with Elizabeth Loftus!
This is particularly important when questions of Eyewitness Testimony are considered. In the 1980s, for instance, a series of modern-day witch trials, mostly involving YOUNG CHILDRENbegan to sweep the country, causing parents and others to believe that children had been abused and molested by parents, day care workers, etc., and resulting in the destruction of many people's lives and livelihoods. Click the video below to watch a trailer for the film "Witch Hunt" produced and narrated by Sean Penn. It exposes the hysteria in my home town, Bakersfield, California, during the height of the child-molestation scare, and how an overzealous prosecuter and ill prepared law enforcement ruined the lives of dozens.
Imagine that you are a war veteran who is haunted by memories of death and destruction, or that you were abused by a parent as a child and are suffering from the effects of those memories. Then consider being offered a drug that would literally erase the memory of the events that are causing you such pain. Click the link below to download a recent report from ABC News on efforts by scientists to do just that - to chemically alter memory consolidation in humans, making them forget specific events forever.
Trials of drugs such as propranolol are showing promising results in literally erasing memories. Subjects are given the treatment either immediately after the event, or after triggering memories of a past event during therapy. Results indicate that these drugs can significantly alter the process of "memory consolidation," causing the person to forget the event and/or its emotional content.
The larger questions, of course, are those of medical ethics. As the story points out, issues of abuse, who gets to decide what a "traumatic" memory is and who gets the treatment, etc., have yet to be hashed out.
Have you ever wished for a better memory? I think it's a very common (perhaps ubiquitous) human desire. Many might even go so far as to envy those who have "perfect recall," the ability to store and retrieve nearly every experience, fact, thought, etc.
As with many such cases, however, the reality of perfect recall, often a result of Hyperthymesia, is far from the rosy picture many of us imagine. The case of Jill Price (The Woman Who Can't Forget) illustrates this quite well. Studied by researchers for years, always under a pseudonym, Price has marveled memory specialists with her ability to recite dates and facts down to the smallest detail, with little or no error. She even corrects entries in encyclopedias and other authoritative sources.
CLICK HERE to read a report about this fascinating woman, and watch the embedded video for additional details about how this "gift" can also carry a "curse."
Click the video below to watch a short documentary about Jill and her life history.
Perhaps no better example of the success of B.F. Skinner, the training of kamikaze pigions in Project Orcon in the 1940s and 1950s showed how Operant Conditioning could be used in some of the most extreme conditions imaginable. In it, Skinner shaped the behavior of the birds so well that they could actually guide missiles toward their target (ultimately killing the birds, of course, but they didn't know that).
CLICK HERE to be taken to a website that covers the project in detail, including strategic blueprints, as well as a short video clip that explains its history and problems.
One of the best known studies in the history of Behaviorism is that of Little Albert, an infant who was used as a subject by psychologist John B. Watson to study Classical Conditioning. Although it's shocking to us by today's standards and could never be replicated, these studies answered many questions about the principles of this type of Associative Learning. Perhaps the most enduring question, however, has been "Who was Little Albert, and what ever happened to him?"
CLICK HERE to be taken to a story about a young boy with the rare disorder "Congenital Insensitivity to Pain with Anhidrosis" (CIPA) a condition that leaves him unable to feel pain, or to regulate his body heat.
Although we often complain of headaches, toothaches, skinned knees, etc., the truth is, without pain to let us know where we need attention, trouble quickly arises. The heartbreaking stories of children like this remind us how lucky we are to feel pain from time to time, especially when one considers the fact that these children rarely live to the age of puberty.
CLICK HERE to read a New York Times report about Miracle Fruit (Synsepalum dulcificum), the tiny fruit that "tricks your tongue." Although its active ingredient, miraculin, is still being studied, the experience has been enjoyed by millions around the world.
The fruit (or the tablets made from freeze dried fruit) has little flavor, it causes your taste buds to experience everything as sugar for about two hours after you slosh one around in your mouth. Lemons taste like sweet lemonade. Strawberries become sweet almost beyond tolerance. And a host of other sour or disgusting foods (e.g., rhubarb) become at least tolerable, if not delicious.
You can purchase the plants, but they are notoriously difficult to grow, and slow to fruit. It's best to purchase the tablets, then invite your friends over and "flavor trip" all night.
Click here to read an article on the creation of the "Mosquito Noise," a 17 kilohertz sound file that was created to discourage young "troublemakers" from hanging out in front of stores, in construction zones, or in other places that they are creating trouble or putting themselves in danger.
Its genius lies in the fact that, generally speaking, only those under the age of about 25 can hear the noise (which I understand is quite shrill and annoying). Presumably, those over 25 years of age are less likely to make trouble, and can go about their business in a mature fashion. It may seem a bit "age-ist" and discriminatory, but initial reports are that it seems to work better than constantly calling the police.
In an interesting side note, clever youth have begun to download this file as a "silent" ring tone for their cell phones, allowing them to receive calls without the "old folks" knowing it. In the game between Youth and Age, I'd say the score is a 1:1 tie, then.
If you would like to experience a modern-day "Personality Test," click the links below and download the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. Based on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, the Keirsey uses a few dozen self-report questions to categorize you into one of 16 different personality types.
After answering the questions, use the KEY to add up the numbers and determine your 4-letter category. Then, look up your "type" on the list of all 16 personalities.
Clicking the hyperlink above will allow you to critically analyze the orignal MBTI and its creators, and to decide for yourself whether these types of tests have any validity.
Please use the links below to download and save your syllabus. We will be reading and discussing it on the first day of class. Some of you might like to take a look at it ahead of time, and/or bring a copy to class with you.
As there are five of them, you must be careful to download the correct syllabus. The one for your class will be different from the ones for my other classes.
P.S. For PC users viewing with Internet Explorer, simply RIGHT CLICK on the link and choose "Save Target As" to download the document to your desktop. For PC users viewing with Firefox, LEFT CLICK on the link and a pop-up box should open. (I have no knowledge of how to save using a Mac.)
They say the devil's in the details, but they never warned us that he may also be lurking in your I-Pod.
At least, that's what the proponents of BackMasking would have you believe. This phenomenon is not only predicated upon the belief that we can be affected by subliminal input, but even more outlandishly, that we can be affected by BACKWARD subliminal input.
CLICK HERE to be taken to a web site where you can hear excerpts from songs of the accused, played forward and backward. Numerous music artists throughout the years have been accused of "corrupting America's youth" with messages of death, destruction, suicide, and evil supposedly hidden within their music.
The best defense against the nonsense of BackMasking lies in how difficult it is to determine what the message is before reading the "reverse lyrics." An area of the brain responsible for language comprehension (the Wernicke's Area) creates this auditory phenomenon. Ever on the lookout for input, the Wernicke's Area only needs the slightest suggestion to give us the perception of language. With an almost endless supply of recordings to search, it is almost certain that a combination of sounds will present themselves that are close enough to actual words to be perceived as language, especially once we are prompted to listen for them.
CLICK HERE to be taken to a wonderful web site full of illusions that will test your perceptive abilities and make you better aware of just how the brain's perceptive abilities work (and don't work) to give us a sense of the world around us. For a preview of such wonders, click the image to the right and stare at it for a moment. Although your brain may tell you otherwise, I promise it's not actually moving.
CLICK HERE to see some creative examples of pareidolia created by photos of solar prominences. Very funny stuff! See Bigfoot in the image to the right?!
For another real-life example of how people can be fooled by their own senses, take the recent event in Florida that many hailed as miraculous. Some would say the miracle was the of the appearance of the "Virgin Mary" in a grilled cheese sandwich. Others would say that the true miracle occurred some 10 years later, when the owner (and griller) of the sandwich sold it on eBay for $28,000.
What is it about the human nervous system that allows us to make order out of the disorder in stimulus input around us? Why do we unconsciously seek out faces in random visual stimuli? How do our brains make sense of this chaos of light rays, sound waves, tactile sensations, etc., and in what ways do we "get it wrong"?
Answers to questions such as these may lead us to a better understanding of such illusions as that on the sandwich in question (which I, personally, think looks more like Mary Pickford), as well as to the bumps in the night that some interpret as proof of ghosts, the phantom limb sensations of amputees, and the many other that we misperceive the world around us.
As discussed in class, you will be writing a Course Paper for credit. Below is a basic description of what I’m looking for.We will discuss these in class with each other at some point so that everyone can learn about each other’s projects, experiences, successes, failures, etc.
As mentioned in class, the word "transgender" is an umbrella term that covers any individual who expresses (through behavior, mode of dress, etc.) the opposite sex from the one assigned by biology. This includes transsexuals, who are different from the other transgender categories in that the sex they were assigned by nature is the wrong one. In other words, their "brain sex" is truly who they are, while their bodies represent an incorrect assignment by nature.
Some transsexual men and women choose surgery to alter their bodies in ways that match their true gender, while others don't (for various reasons). As a society, it is our ethical responsibility to learn the proper terminology, to accept trans men and women for who they really are, and I think, to fight for equal protection and respect under the law.
And click the link below to download a one-page description to learn how to speak of, and to, trans people with the proper terminology.
CLICK HERE to read about the lack of legal protections for people in the Trans Community.
CLICK HERE to learn what you can do to help end discrimination against trans men and women.
I'm happy to announce that my friend, Cassandra Cass, is one of the stars of a new reality series called "Strut" on the Oxygen Network. Producer Whoopi Goldberg brings us behind the scenes at the world's first Transgender modeling agency. Check the trailer below.
Please CLICK HERE to be taken to the home page of The Kinsey Institute for Sex, Gender and Reproduction. Once there, you can learn about the institute, its founder, and the ongoing research being conducted.
Afred Kinsey's contribution to the field of Human Sexuality research cannot be understated. In a time when social norms about sexuality were such that the topic was not discussed, research on human sexual behavior was scant. Kinsey's nonjudgmental approach and fearless activism in the name of scientific investigation helped us understand our sexuality better, and set the stage for many later researchers such as Masters and Johnson, Sandra Bem, Simon LeVay, J. Michael Bailey, and countless others.
To watch the trailer for the 2004 film "Kinsey," click the image below:
Born a male, a botched circumcision led his parents to make the difficult and fateful decision to surgically alter his genitals and attempt to raise him as a girl. Encouraged by sex researcher John Money (a man who did much to assist those suffering from Gender Identity Dysphoria), the Reimers followed every script given to them down to the smallest detail, but in the end, this experiment would prove a complete failure. These results, and others like them, strongly suggest that gender is not determined by how we are raised (our name, clothing, reflected appraisal from others, etc.), but by our genes, all of which were telling David, "You are a boy."
Although the story has a tragic ending, the results had led to a somewhat better understanding of Gender Identity, and will hopefully help put an end to the suffering and confusion of many whose bodies do not match the gender their brains tell them the truly are.
Click the links below to watch the TLC video (in four parts) that chronicles the story of David Reimer.
Sadly, Ohlone College does not currently offer even a SINGLE course in "Queer Theory," nor do we thoroughly review the contributions of gay men and women in our History curriculum (the way such is, thankfully, done for Chicano and African American History).
Until this is done (and as I encourage the college to correct this omission), I offer the following information for my students.
Use the link below to download an Excel spreadsheet that shows which Survey Team you are assigned to. Future posts will guide you in using the Google Drive system to construct your surveys and distribute their links.
Thanks to the field of Developmental Psychology, our understanding of cognitive development has changed dramatically over the centuries. Philosophers and even some scientists used to believe that we are "blank slates" at birth, an approach known as Tabula Rasa. In the 1950s, all that changed. Thanks to the findings of people like Jean Piaget, we now know that children have a sophisticated (and predictable) path toward adult reasoning that is better understood than ever before. And the findings are challenging the notion that infants are born with no ability to understand the world around them.
Take, for instance, the work being done at Yale University's "Center for Infant Cognition," also known as the Baby Lab. Researchers there are using observations of infant reactions to puppet shows to delve into the minds of children too young to take surveys or verbally express their likes, dislikes, emotions, or reasoning abilities. Click the link below to watch a "60 Minutes" report on some of this research, and shudder along with the rest of us as you realize that babies are born with the tendency toward bias, bigotry, and even some antisocial behaviors and attitudes. Then, stay tuned to find out what we can do to moderate those natural tendencies, and encourage more prosocial behavior.
The primary goal in this assignment is to "provoke" your classmates to learn, process, and utilize the material in the chapter. You may do this by numerous methods of your own choosing, including lecture, in-class assignments, formal or informal quizzing, memorization exercises, handouts, etc. Whatever method(s) you choose will be up to you as individuals and as a group. I choose this "Collaborative Learning" format because 1) you are adult students who do not need to be spoon-fed the material, and 2) my experience is that it is more entertaining and effective than a straight lecture format.
I am pleased to announce the 16th installment of the Ohlone Psychology Club Speaker Series!
This semester, our speaker is the amazing Dr. Marty Klein, sex therapist and author of six books, including his latest "His Porn, Her Pain." Dr. Klein has appeared on Penn & Teller's Showtime series, "Bullshit," has been interviewed by CNN, 20/20, Dateline NBC, and is often quoted in editorials and other columns in the NY Times, USA Today, and numerous other publications. A world-renowned sex therapist, Dr. Klein has aimed his entire career toward a single set of goals: telling the truth about sexuality, helping people feel sexually adequate & powerful, and supporting the healthy sexual expression and exploration of women and men. He pursues his goal of a sexually enlightened world through therapy, lectures, writing, lobbying, media, and forensic (courtroom) work.
Please join us for this one-hour talk entitled, Pornography 2016: Porn Panic, Public Health, and Porn Literacy, on Friday, October 14th at 7:00 PM in the Smith Center for the Performing Arts on Ohlone College's Fremont campus.
CLICK HERE for more information, and to purchase tickets.
IF YOU ARE ENROLLED IN ONE OF MY CLASSES THIS SEMESTER, YOU MAY DROP YOUR LOWEST TEST SCORE BY ATTENDING. SIMPLY BRING YOUR TICKET STUB, AND YOUR AUTOGRAPHED PROGRAM.
Tickets are $10.00 for Students with ID, and $15.00 for the general public.
A recent discussion in some of my classes led me to look further for sources to answer some questions my students brought up. In the search, I was reminded of V. S. Ramachandran's amazing works (which see). Although Dr Ramachandran specializes in neurology, don't let that put you off. He writes in the style of Oliver Sacks (one of his biggest fans!), and Richard Dawkins (who wrote the forward in one of his books), making the information accessible to the professional and layperson, alike. My advice is to purchase only ONE of these books. They have a great deal of similar content, so you won't get much more if you buy them both.
One of my favorite topics in the field of psychology is the true story of an attempt by neurologist Oliver Sacks to help people suffering from a never-before-seen disease called Encephalitis Lethargica (Sleepy Sickness).
As you already know, your Course Paper is to be constructed using peer-reviewed journal articles only as your scientific source material. To that end, please use the Ohlone Library's databases to find these. Click the link below to open this blog post and follow the instructions:
Please click below and read the two articles I have linked to. In one, David Grimm reports in Science about a recent attempt by the National Institute for Health (NIH) to evaluate the use of nonhuman primates in scientific research. In the other, Eric Boodman recounts the use of pregnant monkeys in research on the effects of the Zika virus.
It is my hope that, by contrasting these reports, you will begin to see the dilemma created within the sciences in answering questions about medicine, psychology, etc. using animals. Some of the concerns being brought up are unique to nonhuman animals, and others apply directly to us. Please be prepared to answer questions about these stories and their issues in class, and to participate in group discussion about them. Printing them out may also be useful.
As many of you may know, we have a thriving Psychology Club here at Ohlone College. One of the most visible and active clubs on campus, the Psychology Club regularly hosts guest speakers, organizes off-campus field trips, has regular fund raisers, and engages in regular discussions related to the field of psychology.
Our meetings are held every Wednesday, from 3:30 - 4:30 pm.
We meet in Room 7102 (in the new Student Services Building).
Please join our Facebook page (see sidebar on this blog) for more info and updates.
Information about required textbooks for your classes is available in the Ohlone College Bookstore on campus, with classes organized in the store by department, instructor, and course. Just ask any of the floor staff to help you find the section marked "Psychology," and find the book(s) with my name on the tag. To assist you, however, I have included the information below.
If a book is available in e-book format, that's fine. I don't usually require their use in class, and if I do, there are usually enough students with a book that can share.
Nota bene: It doesn't much matter to me how you get these books (in the campus bookstore, online, through a friend, etc.), but I cannot hold lectures or tests because you're still awaiting your book's arrival.
Many of you have likely heard of Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly, Multiple Personality Disorder), the disorder in which people exhibit more than one alternating personality.
Introduced to the American public in the 1950s in a film called "The Three Faces of Eve," its popularity increased dramatically after the made-for-television version of the book "Sybil" was aired in the mid-1970s. Since then, thousands of people have been professionally diagnosed as having DID, and countless movies and TV shows have used it as a vehicle for drama, as well as occasional low-brow comedy.
Although always controversial, a new, more detailed indictment was published in 2011, entitled "Sybil Exposed," which accuses those originally involved in the Sybil case of fraud and deceit. Author Debbie Nathan maintains that three women set out to purposely create the story out of whole cloth, duping the world into believing that the Sybil story was real, and lending unwarranted credibility to the existence of the disorder itself.
CLICK HERE to read a short summary on Salon, and judge for yourself.
P.S. Since the book came out, the real Sybil has admitted in an NPR report that the story was fake.
As I mention in each of my classes, I do not allow video or audio recording of my lectures. This has apparently been confusing for some, so I wanted to be very clear about it.
The lectures that I give are extemporaneous and, although they may seem to be "off the top of my head" at times, I can assure you that that is an illusion. Each of my lectures contains a great deal of carefully planned information and is "performed" as much as recited. Therefore, my lectures and those performances constitute my Intellectual Property. Without ownership of this property, a faculty member can become somewhat obsolete, as well as having her/his property disseminated without consent.
I hope this clarifies my policy; let me know if you have any questions.
California Education Code 78907 prohibits students taping a class, and violation is a misdemeanor:
78907. The use by any person, including a student, of any electronic listening or recording device in any classroom without the prior consent of the instructor is prohibited, except as necessary to provide reasonable auxiliary aids and academic adjustments to disabled students. Any person, other than a student, who willfully violates this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. Any student violating this section shall be subject to appropriate disciplinary action.
Many of you laughed when I mentioned the Flat Earth Society in class (and it is, indeed, laughable). But believe me, I'm not kidding. There are litereally thousands of otherwise normal, everyday folks around the world who believe that our planet is flat.
This view of the world is ancient, and derives from staggering ignorance. Even Christopher Columbus knew that the world was a sphere (regardless of the children's tale that says otherwise). To find people who believed this, you'd have to go back much further than the 1400s. In fact, it was the Greek philosopher Pythagoras who first proposed a spherical Earth in the 6th century (the 500s)!
CLICK HERE to read a report about the Flat Earthers and their ridiculous beliefs. Then, consider what other beliefs people hold (homophobia, Creationism, sexism, anti-GMO, racial superiority, vaccine denial), as well as any that you yourself may hold that aren't supported by the facts.
Please download and complete the Student Data Sheet below, then bring it to class next time we meet.
IT REQUIRES A CLEAR FACE PICTURE OF YOU. You can insert a picture of yourself and then print it out on the sheet, or just staple a picture to the sheet if that's easier. Please make sure it's one that allows me to recognize you (no big sun glasses, artistic turns of the head, etc.). I'm using these to get to know my students by name and face, in the hope that the information will help me adjust my teaching to students' needs and backgrounds.
I have included the document below in two different file types, due to complaints from students who do not yet have Microsoft Office 2010.
I'm pleased to announce that my long-awaited podcast has finally aired. Each week, my co-host Amanda DeVaus (from the Australian Skeptics) will cover a different topic from science or skepticism, and feature interviews from famous scientists, authors, critical thinkers, etc.
NOW AVAILABLE in the iTunes store! Just search for "ShelShocked," then subscribe so that episodes will download automatically each week FREE.
CLICK HERE to join our Facebook fan page where each new episode will post, and related information can be found.
In addition, you can listen to (or download) episodes directly from my website HERE.
The James Randi Educational Foundation recently announced the release of a FREE e-book entitled, "Magic in the Classroom - Using Extraordinary Claims to Teach Critical Thinking." I'm proud to say that three of its 28 chapters were written by me (so you know they're good!).
In each section, a topic is introduced along with guidance in encouraging rational answers to complex issues. These include paranormal events, psychic powers, Creationism, pseudoscience, and other topic, accompanied with professional references for supporting the author's claims.
CLICK HERE to visit the download page where you'll find copies for iPad, Kindle, and PDF.
I'm happy to report that Operation Bumblebee (San Jose) was a rousing success. Several of us to took part have written up articles about the experience, and some are already taking part in podcast interviews to spread the word. In addition to tricking self-described psychic Chip Coffey into connecting with our fake dead relatives, we also hoped to spark skeptical activism in our community. When you have a moment, click the link below to read (or listen to) my take on the evening. It was an emotionally exhausting experience, but very gratifying, nonetheless.
CLICK HERE to read a report of the evening's events (also available in audio format on that page). We have some interest from several major publications and a TV show, and I'll keep you posted about those as they develop.