Arts and Crafts in psychology – Partial Description of a practical masters level course.

Science is a craft. What is painstakingly, lovingly and carefully crafted are studies and experiments designed to test or capture something interesting. As any craft, it needs practice and honing, and the learning of a wealth of tricks and pragmatics that no text can ever cover. You need to do.

In all the courses I have designed (and they have allowed me to design a lot of courses) I’ve included practical elements. It could be the simple canned 2-hour experiment, which is not the most exciting thing in the world, but gets the students out of the books, and gives them a chance of experiencing how messy results in psychology really are. I often include a project section where the students, usually in small groups, pursue something practical.

Some years back, I was asked to co-design the introductory course for our new International Master’s Program. We already knew that half the new course would be on Theory/Philosophy of science, but we were unsure about what to do with the second part. During a discussion, one of the older lecturers mentioned a time where they had run day-long labs – 8 hour sessions where the students could become immersed in a laboratory project. This was the start of the ideas for the practice section of the introductory course.

I’m now running this course for the third time. So far, the students have enjoyed it (I haven’t gotten evaluations yet, but they were high even the first time)and there has been some evolution in how I handle the course.

It is divided into two parts. In the first part, we have 8 day-labs, and in the second they do a short project that ends in a poster presentation.

Day labs.

For the day-labs I recruited lecturers that are representative of the major research directions at our department. I want the students to be exposed to a broad variety of methods even if they have their heart set on a particular area and a particular methodology. As researchers we need to have some idea about the variety of ways to ask and answer questions. Since the implementation we have a Creativity lab, a personality lab which is focusing a great deal on being a data-detective, a Bayesian statistics lab, an ERP lab, and my two social psychology labs which I will go into in more detail. Our university has a good Industrial/Organizational department, so we have always had at least one day-lab focusing on these types of issues, but here the teachers have shifted. I also hope we will be able to once again have a developmental lab, and possibly to retain our Clinical lab, even if it is not possible to move to clinical psychology from non-clinical directly, the way the educations are set up here.

I, perhaps foolishly, decided to take on two day-labs. In one, participants get to program their own IAT. In the other – in the field – they get to go out and either observe or interfere with the public. Social cognition and the old, venerable tradition of field work.


Just about all the research I have ever done has been done on a computer, which, of course, means that I have programmed up a lot of experiments in different types of presentation software. In fact, the first software used was custom written in Pascal. Since then I have used DMDX (for its ability to record precise reaction times). I wouldn’t want to teach DMDX to students who do not have at least a little bit of computer programming back-ground. That turns out to be the vast and utter majority of my international masters, to my surprise. (I got my Cognitive Psychology degree during the hey-day of the computer metaphor of mind paradigm, so I have programmed in both Lisp and C++)

Our department has a license for e-prime, which, compared to DMDX is a docile and kind software, with both drag-and-drop and self-closing parentheses.

I spent a handful of days teaching myself how to use it prior to my first day-lab.

The first time you do anything is always a pilot and a learning experience for everybody. Here are a few of the take-homes.

  • There won’t be enough students with programming experience to take the lead, but this is not important.
  • Program in pairs, not in groups, because it is too inviting for social loafing, even in motivated students (the students themselves suggested this afterwards).
  • Don’t use pictures the first time you create an IAT. Too much time is spent on trying to figure out how to insert the pictures, and too little on figuring out how to create a functioning IAT. (This wouldn’t apply if the teacher is a very experienced e-prime programmer.).
  • You can learn to program your very own IAT from scratch in one day.

The past two times I have run this (and I run it in half class, so four repeats), the day has stabilized as follows:

I book our computer room, where there are enough computers for the students to work in pairs.

The first half hour or so, I lecture on background. First, the rationale for the lab:

  1. A lot of data is collected via computers. It is good to know how to create such programs so you can tailor them to your needs (and don’t need to engage others).
  2. A lot of times we read about some neat paradigm that we want to use. If it is described well enough, one can use the methods to re-create it.

I give them the Greenwald Banaji & Nosek 2003 paper where they compare different computations for the outcome, as that was the paper I used when I first programmed an IAT. Of course, I did that all by my lonesome, up hill in the snow both ways in DMDX (cue the violins).

I then tell them about the IAT: what is the rationale behind it, how is it structured and why (learning, fatigue, handedness, etc.). I got tired of using ethnic in-group and out-groups for my examples this time, so instead I used a comparison between chocolate lovers and frugivores. They get to do whatever comparison they want in their own program.

Next, we all go through the very nice tutorial that comes with e-prime. I sit by the teacher’s computer, projecting the programming onto the white-screen. I get to tell them about the importance of case, types of brackets, and frequent saving. The tutorial teaches them to do a one-block priming study. Simple, but still somewhat different from a single block of the IAT.

Once that is done, I let them loose. By now it is usually around 10 am, so they have the rest of the day.

So far, just about everybody has a functioning 7-block IAT by the end of the day. Usually several of the groups also get to test each other’s program. This time there was also a couple of groups that were done with functioning programs quite early – 2 pm, which means that there are 3 hours to go. I really do not want people to up and leave in the middle of the session. Fortunately, there is so much more one can learn once one has a functioning program (and I need to have that more clearly up my sleeve for the next time). Collecting the data is only half of the work. After that, one has to look at the output, extract the important data-points, and create the IAT score! Are you done with that? Work on either figuring out a proper counter-balancing, or how to add pictures to your IAT.

In the field.

When I first decided to do both Social Psychology day-labs, I started becoming a bit panicked about what to do for the second, and how much prep I might have to do. I’ve advised a lot of introductory students on their final short project, and a favorite of theirs is to do various field studies. That could be dropping things in front of single people or crowds to test dilution of responsibility; “stealing” ones bike when either well-dressed or poorly dressed (nobody interferes regardless), or one of my favorites where they left a bag in a public space and someone else later came to pick it up to test if anybody would interfere. (It matters if you are a man or a woman, if I recall right).

Field studies is a staple of Social psychology, and it has turned out this is a fun day. We structure it like this:

I start with a brief introduction where I summarize some of the seed-studies I give them to read beforehand (for inspiration), and summarize some of what earlier students have done. Then they are divided into 3 groups (5-6 people in each) and given until 10 to come up with a study, measures and all, that they can perform that day. I float around and help them shape their ideas, making sure they can do them that day, that they are not planning on doing something that can land them in trouble (a group had the idea of having a woman and a man pushing each other in order to check who intervened – I don’t think I would want to be responsible for that), and make sure they understand they can’t just wing it when it comes to the measures, but to have a very clear idea about what they are going to do. I give them very free hands otherwise.

By 10, we gather together and each group tells the others what they are planning to do. This allows for input from the other students that can help refine the work. Then, off they go to gather data.

I had them come back at 15 this time, but next time, I’ll have them return by 14. It turns out you can collect a lot of data in 4 hours’ time, and still have a nice, leisurely lunch.

When they get back, they summarize their data. I strictly forbid them to do any inferential statistics. The first time I ran this lab, students threw their data into a regression that they didn’t quite remember how to do, and I now have a very firm mindset that you do not get to do inferential stats that you don’t understand, especially not before you have looked at your descriptives. Besides, the exercise is not so much about testing hypothesis as it is about learning and experiencing what it means to do a field study.

This time I allotted 1 hour to do so, but I really think it is necessary to have more time than that.

Finally, each group presents their research and their data. I also ask this crucial question: Now that you have done it, what would you have done differently?

Something that frequently comes up is that it is difficult to keep track of a lot of data in the field. Also, that it is not always easy to pick the right spot or right way to do things the first time over – piloting is needed.

I wanted to share some of the favorite projects that they have done so far. (They are all fun, but some stick out).

The first time, we ended up talking about violating social norms, and how Swedes have this gigantic privacy bubbles. When you get on a bus, you always sit at free seats, as far as you possibly can. You only sit next to a stranger if there are no other options (but you are very polite about it). They decided to see what happens when you violate that norm – not on buses but in other public areas where there are a lot of options for sitting down, but you choose to sit down next to the sole person there.

There really was not much interaction at all. Quiet toleration, but evidently body language that indicated that something was amiss. The only person that talked to the experimenter was a homeless guy, who offered my student some Jägermeister.

Another year, one of the students came in dressed in a dinosaur suit. Their experiment was to approach people on the street and offer free hugs. They recorded approximate age, gender, and whether or not people accepted the hug . (Student was male, so it was dino-boy). In fact, more guys accepted hugs than the girls, although without good controls you don’t know what that means.

This year, a group was interesting in observing giving behavior, and observed some of the beggars that have entered Sweden most likely from Romania. They were particularly interested in when people are giving – on their way in or on their way out of the store, and what proportion of passers-by (categorized by approximate age and gender) were givers. In their “what would we have done different” discussion they brought up the issue with double-counting people going in or out of the store, and how to deal with that problem. It was clear from their observation that there are a reasonable percentage of people that give something – between 2 and 5%. Not always money, but there is giving. They, along with other groups, were also discussing how you make yourself inconspicuous, and whether people noticed that they were out recording data. Clearly there were those that were aware, and that actually asked the students if they were doing some kind of experiment – but this is Lund, and having students out and about doing funny things in public is not out of the ordinary.

But, I also mentioned that often people may not be aware at all. You are focused on your tasks, and the data-collector is as invisible as that proverbial gorilla. Which prompted the students to tell us that at one point they had been so focused on counting passers-by that they didn’t notice that the beggar had left.


The last two weeks of the course the students do a short project. I decided early on that it should be examined with a poster-session, as I didn’t want them to spend a lot of time on writing a paper (neither did I want to spend a lot of time grading papers, nor did I want the advisers spending time on giving feedback on papers either).

Turned out that it was very hard to stop them from doing papers. (They had to do a handout, and tried to turn that into a paper). To stop them from doing this, and to have them focus on the research process instead, I decided to use a portfolio method for grading. And, in true open science fashion, I have turned it into an exercise in what I call “Research Hygiene”. The focus is on keeping good track of the research process so that in the future when Jelte Wicherts write them about something, they can cheerfully share a properly labeled data-set and stimuli without any excuses.

I ask them to use the Open Science Framework to keep track of their project, and to share it with me. That is where their portfolio should reside.

I ask them to provide me with the following:

  • A pre-registration (to prevent HARKING). I tell them it is fine to say that it is exploratory, if it is.
  • Copies of their materials.
  • A Lab book/diary/protocol
  • A labeled data-set with code-book
  • Graphs and figures of their results.
  • A reflection – similar to what they do in “in the field”

They are still forbidden to do inferential statistics. (I may relent for correlations). In this exercise I don’t care if they get enough participants for proper power. The time is too short. It is nice if they show they are aware of it, though.

During the poster-session, I walk around and talk to all the presenters. They also get to peer-review a couple of the other participants posters. (I still have to update that peer-review sheet).

I use a handbook for poster presentations that were done internally by a former Admin. I also link them to Dr. Zen’s poster blog for inspiration and ideas.

We are in the middle of this session right now. It is the third time I’m running it, and only the second time with the Portfolio. Last time I had no idea how that would work out, but it turned out it worked just fine. There was one group that tried to write a paper (and submitted it in portfolio form, which meant that I had to open an awful lot of documents). This time, when I know it works, I think I feel more comfortable grading across the entire range. I expect that the grades will be high, as this really is a measure of conscientiousness.

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Minding our Children

Sometimes my life as a Lecturer/Researcher and life as a parent collide in, well, interesting ways. The situation I describe here has been resolved (as you will see). Originally I shared part of it on my “shielded from Search” blog, where I put up more personal and family oriented materials, because it was involving my kids, and the issue was ongoing. I wanted to share, but 140 characters simply wasn’t enough.
Discussions with Andrew Sabisky, Keith Laws, Matt Wall, Sophie Liljedahl, Rachel Maddux, Sam Mella and others on both twitter and facebook helped me gather my thoughts and I thank you.

I live in a nice sleepy town by the ocean opposite Denmark. It has beautiful old villas lining the water-front, and a carpet of yellow brick 70’s style houses neatly laid out like those puzzles with identical pieces, making sure that not too much of our rich soil gets spoiled. I live in a lovely “bostadsrättsförening”. We own our 4 room apartment on the second floor of one of the also yellow brick buildings, across the road (really a cul-de-sac) from our children’s school.

People live here. Then they go to work in either Lund or Malmö or even Helsingborg or Copenhagen, as lecturers, professors, medical doctors, researchers, upper management, business owners, police detectives, musicians, carpenters. The school sports so many Swedish accents that my children have not acquired the very distinct southern Sweden variant. (Skånska).

In short, it is a repository of the high-IQ striving middle class. We would all have done very well on aptitude tests, while valiantly refraining from eating that Marshmallow.

I like it. It feels like a safe place to have children.

My kids school is great. For a handful of years it was ranked number 1 in the country. It has slipped lately. The slip is mainly one of resources. A lot of families moved in, and the hiring of teachers and support has not kept up. But I really have no complaints about my children’s education.
Several times the school have brought in outside programs, programs designed for kids, but a little bit outside the standard curriculum. Last year one kid had a circus theme, where they got to learn a lot of tricks, like juggling, clowning, and even walking the tightrope (all of 30 cm above ground). Another year they brought in a team that specializes in teaching kids old traditional Swedish dances. This is great fun, and I’m glad they are doing it.
But, this time, for one of my kids, they planned on one of these outside themes that I’m a lot more concerned about.


Mind you, I have nothing against mindfulness per se. I’m no stranger to Woo. I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s. I spent 14 years in LA. I have tried on a few life-styles. On occasion, Woo has a point, and mindfulness seems to be potentially more potent than homeopathy.
It is more about how this was introduced.

My understanding is that the coach, who is a trained mindfulness coach (whatever that means) approached the school some time ago wanting to offer them a package of mindfulness training for kids. When her own son was having some issues in middle school, she had been looking for ways of helping him, and found that this did.

I’m sure it did. I have, since I heard of this, read some research that suggests that this could be beneficial, even in modern, secular scientific terms. It is grounded in Buddhist meditation, which has been around for a rather long time.

My mindfulness researching colleagues did share some research on it, and it looks like it can have some positive effect, at least on some kids. But, as one of my international clinical intervention researching colleague pointed out (and backed up with research), it is not uniformly benign for all individuals. In fact, for some it can be detrimental.

I looked over the overview of the curriculum they gave us. My take on it is that it is limited enough to most likely be harmless, and possibly even beneficial. I’m not worried about damage to our children’s sanity.

No, my issue is that they decided to bring in what is essentially a psychological intervention. They fully hoped that this training would alter the children’s ability to focus, to emotion regulate, to get to sleep, to pay attention, and that this would be long ranging changes. (For the better, of course. No concern that it might go in the other direction). They did so without consulting the parents. In fact, they simply assumed that parents would be fine with this, as evidenced by them asking that parents cooperate with this theme at home, and that parents complete assessment-questionnaires about their child. There was not a word about opting out. There was not a word about anonymity. In fact, they seem to have not considered the ethics at all.

Of course, I’m a lecturer in Psychology, I consider Ethics all the time. I would never, ever, ever be allowed to do this on 11 year old children without a) an ethics approval, b) Informed consent from the parents which would include c) assurance that participation is voluntary and that the child can opt out at any time without penalty and d) assurance that any measurements collected will be anonymous and that the identity of the children will be protected.

The assessment they asked us to complete – which is designed to measure burn-out – asked parents to rate their children on items like “my child complains about being tired” and “my child seems to be mentally tired” as well as “my child is active”. Potentially you could uncover clinical problems with this questionnaire; that is what it seems to be designed for. The reference reads: Shirom-Melamed Burnout Measure, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 6, 1999.
On top of the questionnaire is a place where you can put your name.

I wrote my child’s teachers about my concerns. I really would like them to re-think this

Now, I would be fine if they offered the children an opportunity for mindfulness training; optional, of course, and with more consideration about protecting the children’s anonymity. I might even consider letting my child do it. But, we need to be asked.

I have no idea how this will play out. I feel bad in many ways about having to bring this up. They seemed so genuinely excited about this, and I’m pissing on their parade.

Changing ones mind.

I didn’t get a direct response, but we did get a response in a mail to all parents. They canceled the mindfulness theme. Reading between the lines, it seems I was not the only one voicing my concerns. The questionnaires were collected and shredded, and we were assured that the woman who would have lead the theme is bound by confidentiality.

I was right that it originated at the top. It had all been planned and developed over a longer time period. Their thought was that it would be good and fun for the kids.

I’m glad they listened, and took action.

But, I have some general commentary here on schooling – some of it coming up in exchanges with Andrew Sabisky.

Fads and fixes
My first reaction as I was sitting in the meeting was “oh, yes, another fad that people are enthusiastic about that will Fix things”. As I age, I have seen those come and go. Team building, therapies, all sorts of stuff that will Make Things Better. Only they don’t. Better for some, perhaps. Irritating for others. I don’t think of it so much in school terms as in corporate terms for some reason. I think, perhaps, I didn’t experience so many of them as I was coming up through school.

When I read the review article on Mindfulness in school I found myself finding my usually deeply buried inner sociologist. Some of the arguments why teaching Mindfulness to children would be so great, is because school has become so stressful, and to handle this human made situation, one need to teach the victims students to be mindful, focus on the now, to stop their suffering.

Of course, changing school is easier said than done (and god knows, there are lots of people saying lots of things about what one ought to do about school – it seems even more popular than the urge to edit, back-seat driving, and Monday evening quarterbacking – or is that Monday morning?).
I don’t think obligatory mindfulness is the route to educational Nirvana.

Andrew sent me a blog discussing this also – the urge to add what is in essence psychological interventions to the curriculum in hope of, well, fairness? Equity? Mental Health? World peace?

The urge to back-seat social engineering also asks of teachers to do things I don’t think is humanly possible. There was a sad and awful case this spring, that made all the newspapers. An 8 year old girl was found dead at her home. She was living with relatives. The likelihood was that they killed her. Not long ago the head-master of that school was suspended for not having reported worries about her well-being to the social services. Evidently, teachers have an obligation to do so. Which means that apart from knowing how to teach, they also have to make the kind of judgment that you usually get specialized training to do. I can imagine there are instances where there is obvious worry and perhaps you need to do something about it, but a lot of times things are just that much more ambiguous, and starts becoming ridiculously meddly (like the time we were told that my son needed good winter shoes when he went to school a balmy September day in sandals).

What teachers are asked to do must be reasonable. But, the social engineering urge seems to have been present for a long time (at least in Sweden), as I routinely heard my teacher parents kvetch about it.

I have received e-mails about our kids all sorts of hours. Sunday at 9 pm, late Friday to mention a few. I know because I use my gmail for school contact rather than work-mail. I don’t check my work-mail after hours. I strictly deal with teaching communications during business hours. (Research is another thing, which is why I use both for that).

I know that teachers in Sweden are overworked and underpaid, aren’t we always? But, there also seems to be an expressed ethic, at least in some places, that teaching should be a calling rather than a job, with boundaries between pupils and teachers occasionally being so blurred I’m not sure it is healthy. Being dedicated is not bad, and I figure all teaching (like mine) involves times when you can’t do the work in 8 hours 5 hours a week, but that has to be temporary.
I think it is fine with teachers focusing on teaching (and whatever the management that is needed, which is always the case), and I figure often they are very good at it. I have no complaints. It is all that additional crap that is overloaded on the teachers.

Incidentally, my son asked me to buy him marshmallows for his Saturday candy treat. He gleefully tore into the bag, but a bit later he came to me and said, you know, after a while, they kind of get disgusting.

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A sad story about the students who plagiarized.

A long time ago, in a little country tucked under the polar circle, there were two students, lets call them Pat and Sam, who were doing a research project for a class. No matter what level, just say, far enough along that one ought to know better.

The project stretched over half a semester, culminating in a research report. Four days prior to deadline, I, who was the course leader but not the advisor, got e-mails from both Pat and Sam as well as their Advisor. Advisor said the project is not in good enough shape to turn in and has recommended waiting. (In this little Nordic country, there are always second, and third, and fourth, and fifth chances to turn things in. Only time you get restricted is if we stop giving the course). Pat and Sam did not want to wait. I, their intrepid course leader spoke to Advisor, who apprised me of the situation. But, as we both knew and agreed on, students can turn things in if they want to. We can only recommend against. Which I tell the students.

Come morning after deadline (Pat and Sam have dutifully turned in their paper), Advisor e-mails me and tells me that their paper looks awfully lot like the introduction of AdvisorAvisor’s paper that was given to Pat and Sam as inspiration. Said paper is cross-disciplinary and under review (but not yet accepted and not published).

At a rather cursory glance, I first compare a chunk of yellowed out area, several sentences long, which looks like a slightly re-written chunk from Advisors paper. A little bit different wording, but basically the same content. Also nothing like “as mentioned by Advisor in the not yet published paper” indicating where they had gotten their ideas. (The paper is listed in the references though).

As I scroll down, I start being able to predict what will come next in Pat & Sam’s paper from what is in Avisor’s paper. Pat and Sam also refers to research that belongs to the other cross-discipline, which really has very little to do with their actual project.

On top of this, there is an e-mail exchange between Advisor and Pat & Sam, prior to turning the paper in, where Advisor tells them that their intro now looks awfully close to Advisors intro, and to make sure that they do not plagiarize. Sure, Pat and Sam answers. We’ll fix that. We just want to know we are on the right track.

This little Nordic country has very stringent rules about suspected plagiarism. As soon as there is a suspicion, it should immediately be turned over to the disciplinary committee, for them to look it over, determine whether there really is plagiarism, and, if it is, determine what the consequences are. The consequences can be relatively mild (from a US perspective) – a couple of months where you are not allowed to be at the university, which means you may miss exams and obligatory moments.

We, as teachers, or even the chair, are not allowed to take any actions. In fact, we shouldn’t even speak much about it once the suspicion is there, but just turn it over. That is not very psychological in some ways. We did talk, but really, because both Adviser and I needed to get used to the idea, because we had never encountered this before. Also, to feel that we were backed up, and that we knew how to behave.

I found out, for example, that I’m not allowed to fail students on the grounds of plagiarism. That is from the top down, in the laws surrounding university education. That is because it is seen as so serious that it is immediately taken out of our hands.

I had some thoughts that it would be nice to have options to just fail and scold in some instances – letting the students know how much trouble they are in, but this time they will only get the fail, and a re-do.

But, I can see how arbitrary that can become. In some ways it is nice that it is taken out of our hands. That the law says we are Obligated to report this – we have no choice.

In this case, it is panic plagiarism, because why on earth would you plagiarize your adviser, especially after having been told that it looks too close. But, really, Pat and Sam are too far along to claim that they did not understand that what they were doing – borrowing a structure, and just slightly re-writing – is not permitted.

It feels sad. And, I put it here possibly as a kind of warning. I always mention that we have policies on academic misconduct, usually casting it as a protection for those who do the right thing (which it is), rather than as a “we’re on to you, you cheating bastards”, because I recall feeling slightly offended by that. One of my friends says that too. I also link in the site with the clear policy on what constitutes misconduct, and also another tutorial site on how to avoid plagiarizing. But, having the didactic story, the personal anecdote of the very sad story of Pat and Sam who thought, in a panic, they could borrow the structure of a paper to get a paper in, may be more effective – story telling animal that we are.


I wrote the above a long time ago, when it just happened, but didn’t want to post it close to the event. I’m a public person, and students can read my blog. I don’t want them to walk around wondering which ones of their class mates it might be, so I delayed until it could be none.

The fallout was that the disciplinary group deemed it plagiarism (phew). They got a warning, and the excuse for this was that they had studied abroad (in decidedly western countries), and thought that delaying turning things in would mean that they would get kicked out of the program. (Hmmmm – the repeated chances is not a secret – it is Swedish law – but I am telling the powers that be that evidently we have to repeat this over and over). And, they didn’t realize that they needed close contact with advisor. Hmmmmm. I’ve advised a lot of people, and they have been wonderfully good at scheduling themselves. In fact, the class-mates that I advised had no problem getting in contact with me. It is just kind of typical of the disciplinary group that the students get a lot of benefit of the doubt. But, I thought just having it recognized as plagiarism was a win. It was close to the outcome I wanted anyway – it is plagiarism, now, go rewrite.

But, one thing that gave me pause was that, evidently Pat and Sam thought what they had done was OK – that it wasn’t plagiarism.

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On Ekman And Friesen, and methodological critiques.

Jim Coan put out a long post on Negative Psychology the other night.

Others can comment and debate the rest of it, but one thing caught my eye, in his defense of perhaps wild, not methodologically sound work that we admire, and that was Ekman and Friesen’s early work.

My eyebrows kind of arched here, as this is something I have followed for a long time.

The Ekman/Friesen work and its legacy is part of a very very long standing psychological conflict, which you can find echoing in publications to this day. It is every bit as acrimonious as the current social psychology skirmish, and rumour has it that Ekman and Russell cannot be in the same room. The conflict breaks down – roughly – between the categorical/universals and the Dimensional, with Russell being the proponent of the dimensional and Ekman the categorical. Neither view was new when they were debating this in the 90’s. Darwin’s book on expression is very categorical (and the methods he used rather similar to what was used by Ekman). Ekman came out of Silvan Tomkins work on rehabilitating the importance of emotion. The dimensional account was present with Schlossberg, and Osgood and Suchi in the 40’s and 50’s. (Emotion Review had an interesting account by Phoebe Ellsworth on the beginnings of Ekmans pancultural research, and which faces were used).

As I was reading these accounts for my graduate research, it was clear that neither the dimensional nor the categorical won. Both theories are very useful conceptualizations, depending on what you look at. I always felt that Russell didn’t quite have the evidence on his side (which could possibly be because it was not yet clear how to find good evidence – or could be because I started out with a more categorical conceptualization), but I always thought he did a good job poking at the areas of weakness in the categorical/universal account. Also, Alan Fridlund aimed very pointed critique towards Ekman in accounts that I’m very sympathetic towards, but held the echoes of an unspoken conflict in their writing.

This is very much the idea that Hull says when he says:

Scientists rarely refute their own pet hypotheses, especially after they have appeared in print, ut that is all right. Their fellow scientists will be happy to expose these hypotheses to sever testing.

These days, it is not so much Ekman and Russell, but Feldman-Barrett (for the dimension side) against – I don’t know. It seems that outside the emotion researchers the categorical has taken hold as canonical, but inside there is a much more nuanced view. Point is, that the articles about this are still dripping with the conflict, derogating straw-persons of the opposite view, to the point that I actually have a very hard time reading the articles because I get too upset. My firm belief is still that both views are important, and perhaps there is a need for a different kind of conceptualization – more dynamical – which I think in part is out there.

In his intro, David Hull speaks of the science myths that are used to give evidence for some kind of scientific practice, and how, as they are myths (that is not true) cannot be used as actual evidence for how science is done.
The Wallace-Friesen is undergoing, to this day, the same kind of negative psychology that Jim goes against. It just has not been done in social media. It was done in articles and books, and the conflict is evident.

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To Sivilise or not to Sivilise

We had a brief exchange on Twitter, James Coyne, Tom Hartley, Helen South, and me, with some comment Keith Laws and Mark Bolstrige on rudeness and civility.

Occasion is, of course, the current tribal clash between those who think science needs fixing, and those that think – well, as that is not my particular ingroup I will (in the name of civility, and demonstrating my working knowledge of Social Psychology) refrain from labeling them.

A lot of the discussion/debate has not been about the research, but etiquette and behavior (some questions about the research has been brought up also). There has been charges of bullying, of defamation, of snark, of unseemly behavior. I’m not sure if I should bring the popcorn, or bring the swords, or flee in horror.

I have very conflicted thoughts about calls for civility or allowing the rude. I believe in freedom of speech. I think this is extremely important for democracies to function. And, I think you need to tolerate a bit of rudeness and heat and snark. It is fun snarking, being at the receiving end makes you realize it is a boojum, but, fair is fair.

But, there is also a downside, in that people really vary in how much of this they can tolerate.

I’m going to try to illustrate. I’ve been hanging on a forum for over a decade that was started by a woman who is extremely polarizing – and she knows it. She is very smart, very outspoken, and not afraid of taking the fight. People either love or hate her. Those who love her have oversight with the more prickly parts (me), those who hate her work on pushing her out, either through banning her, or through moving elsewhere (I have seen both). The pushing is extremely nasty, and upsets me as a form of bullying, but she is also capable of giving as good as she gets. She also doesn’t hold a grudge.

The forum has a contingent that like to argue Politics. Participants there openly say they enjoy the nasty, ad hominem fighting, and as the sides keep coming back for more, I believe them. I don’t understand that mind-set, because I don’t (and I make good use of the scrolling function).

One of the “rules” on this forum is that you don’t get to be a tone police. You either deal or leave. And, one way to deal, if you are like me and don’t like the pummeling matches, you just don’t join in some of the discussions, and there are other discussions where you are kind of measured. So, in many ways, the voice of the meek may be much more filtered than of those that bluster.

This is not entirely wrong though, as Cyberspace sometimes gives the illusion of privacy, when it actually means shouting to anybody with a device and access to a modem (as I figure John Bargh realized a couple of years ago). There may be things you don’t want to leave as a legacy for people to rub your face in later. (I figure as this new online record stuff keeps going, we learn to deal with that shit too. It is not like not having any privacy is a new state of being for humans).

The blustering is, I believe, a means of defeating the other. I wrote about this last year in “welcome to the monkey house”. Because I’m meek, that kind of behavior would silence me. Not the thinking in my head, but I would most certainly not voice my beliefs and opinions in the face of that. Now, others are willing to step in and bluster, so I don’t really have to. But, it then becomes a forum for the pugilistic, and the rest is silent.

The willingness to bluster and attack is also not particularly correlated with being… right. It is a means of trying to assert power, and it can be used against those doing bad science, those doing good science, those critiquing ones hypothesis, those people being uppity, those researchers pursuing explanations for something that we don’t like. It is used by anti-vaxers and pro-vaxers, by creationists and evolutionists, by republicans and democrats, by bros and feminists, and on and on and on.

It is much more tribal than anything.

But the shushing and the tone-police can also, insidiously, be used to silence. To keep control. To keep status quo.

I really don’t know a good way out (which means, trying to find some solution where I feel reasonably comfortable without having to grow an armor, which it seems I’m incapable of anyway). My suspicion is that this simply can’t be done, and that the arguing is needed.

Right now, I’m simultaneously reading two books (I know, multitasking, but I’m just too scatter brained to focus) – one is Christopher Boehm’s “Hierarchy in the Forest” and the other is a re-reading of Hull’s “Science as a process”. Both are very evolutionary based. What Boehm is investigating (and then continued to investigate in his later book Moral Origins) is the curious human penchant for egalitarianism. When you look at the anthropological record, bands and tribes are egalitarian (at least among men). There is no alpha, no boss, no top bully. This is very odd, as our nearest primate relatives are highly hierarchichal with a male bullying himself to the top. This suggests that the evolved legacy for humans would also be a tendency to hierarchy. But, for humans, across a great deal of ethnographies, it seems that there is an effort to suppress this kind of effort. What Boehm proposes is, that for humans, there has been a tendency for those with less drive to dominate to band together and suppress this tendency in any individual. This is done through rather quiet, but coordinated means, by snark, pointed disobedience, gossiping and cutting down anybody that tries to be an upstart. This is part of the moral code. Those who don’t abide may be shunned or ostracized, and in extreme cases executed. It is not entirely comfortable reading this. It doesn’t seem to be an easy, comfortable egalitarianism where I’m ok and You’re Ok, but a case of constant monitoring and vigilantism against anybody trying to lord it over anybody else – but done very quietly. Both comforting and uncomfortable to me, because I know what it is like to be a target for the “don’t think you are anything special” growing up. In the egalitarianism (nobody is the boss of anybody) there is also a strong push for conformity. But, it is also interesting in that it means that there is a need to negotiate and discuss, and the possibility of more freedom (at least against domination) than it is in a hierarchichal species – or a hierarchichal human society.

Hull, of course, advances an evolutionary view of science in his book. I was reading his introductory chapter as the skirmishes on twitter and face-book and blogs were going on, and he states, very much, that individual scientists and individual research groups need not be unbiased and behave like some kind of stereotype of good, objective people. Of the researchers he investigated, many of them were very ill behaved; bullying, blustering, derogating. Somehow, in these clashes, a better understanding of the world was chiseled out. Nobody has to be right. One just has to be willing to stick it out there for others to take a potshot at it, and then to defend it. As long as that dynamic is allowed, the work will go forward.

So, that is another reason I’m so conflicted about this. I would like things to be nicer, because I’m so intensely oversensitised I go into hiding faster than a sensitized aplysiasiphon, I find it difficult to engage, and I doubt I’m alone.

Being loud, snarky and obnoxious – or maintaining a “hush, think of the children” behavior is orthogonal to, well, truth, or whatever it is we try to find in science. They are means of maintaining the tribe, right or wrong. You punish the deviant and the intruder. It can be used to stand up to corrupt power. It can be used to usurp and topple precarious beliefs. It can be used to drown out unpleasant and inconvenient – well – things. Good or bad kind of depends on which side you are on.

The meek – I don’t know. Perhaps only the bible calls us blessed…

As this was happening I reviewed an absolutely excellent Masters Thesis investigating some of the factors underlying football hooliganism – comparing football supporters love for their team to social science students love for their study topic. She was reviewing the kinds of group processes underlying supporter behavior that Social Psychology has investigated, usually not with football fans, of course, but still. It just seemed really apt. Incidentally , social science students feel nowhere near as strongly about their topic as football fans do. I guess at that level one hasn’t extracted enough of true fanatics.

I may simply have to select a tribe, as reluctant as I usually feel about this. Reading Hull, there seems that within the research demes, there is the kind of camaraderie and tolerance that allows for the more meek to get a voice.

A little note on the title spelling, for those who have yet to read the wonder that is Huckleberry Finn – that is, how Mark Twain spells it.

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Are Swedish Universities heading for another “Pisa” collapse – in response to a Swedish Editorial. Consider the teaching.

The other day, there was a somewhat alarmist editorial in one of the Swedish National papers (written by two professors, one here in Lund), considering the state of Swedish Higher Education. There has been some alarmist commentary about its status in the papers (in part prompted by some of our universities no longer cracking the top 100 list – never mind the measurement problems with those lists), and some recent task-force that has visited Stanford and Berkeley, compared our universities to them, and found us Wanting.

The article in DN brings up 3 points where they think the Swedish Universities are wanting (compared to Stanford and Berkeley): The university is not led by top-researchers, Swedish universities have a tendency to “grow their own”, that is, the lecturers and professors are people who have spent their entire higher education career at the same university, from undergrad to pension. The third point is related to that, and has to do with a promotion reform that was just done, which has resulted in a possible lowering of status for the title (many professors are, supposedly, invisible in the international research community). This makes (possibly) for dull, derivative research.

What they didn’t bring up in this editorial, but which was lifted up in the report comparing us to Stanford and Berkeley is that this report claimed that one of the hallmarks of these world class universities (both in the Bay-area, California, on either side of silicon valley) is that they value teaching much higher than the universities in Sweden. This made me go seriously Hmmmmm. Of course, I never went to either Berkeley or Stanford, but I did go to the little bear in the UC system – UCLA. It is a while ago (early 90’s). I don’t have anything to complain about when it comes to education really. I had some really stellar teachers, especially in the smaller courses. I also had some “meh” teachers. All the big topic classes – intro psychology, and introduction to topics like developmental, social, cognitive, neuro were done in huge lecture halls (about 300 students) accompanied by smaller sections of about 20 students led by a Teaching Assistant. All of these exams were multiple-choice. Other types of exams were given in other areas.

What I’m reading now from colleagues in the US (via twitter) is how teaching is more and more de-valued. Classes are taught by adjuncts who don’t have job-security. Universities are looking into creating MOOC’s so they can save even more on the teaching staff. Teaching is not what brings you fame and fortune, but I’d suggest you follow Rebecca Schuman for this discussion (this article on the Soul of the Research University is also very interesting, as both Stanford and Berkeley are Research Universities – and the UC system is figuring in this discussion). Teaching is no more valued there than here.

But, let’s see if there was something that I think the universities I went to did differently than what Lund does, and keep in mind this is a very amateurish case-study from one single observer at a particular department in Lund (a department I like very much).

At the three research-universities where I have obtained my education, undergraduates taking the introductory psychology course were required to participate in experiments – the participant pool. Anything from 3 to 4 experiments. Other courses also used research participation as a means of getting extra credit. In part, this benefits the researchers, of course, but it also has a great deal of educational value, which is why we have it. It is a win-win situation. Of course, you cannot force people to participate in experiments, so there is always an alternative for those who absolutely do not want to participate.

Why is it educational? Because experience is educational. When we teach psychology to our students, what we teach them are based on findings from thousands upon thousands of experiments and studies, upon even more participants, painstakingly trying to understand how the human psyche works.

I did my intro psych at a community college, and therefore was not required to do any participation. The first time I did, it was an eye-opener. The actual experience of participating – the task I had to do (and I have since done many) – seemed rather removed from the kinds of conclusions I had been reading about. There were also a number of varying experiences that I had that is not generally discussed in papers or books, but may potentially be important to consider. In one case I had to respond to a dot that was flashed on a computer screen. It was terrifically boring. But, what they were trying to find was if they could measure how fast a signal is sent across the corpus callossum. You need a lot of data-points for that.

In another experiment, I had to classify faces and words. This was working well for about two of the blocks, and then I was losing concentration and making a lot of misses. When you run a test, you have to consider that after a while people get bored and fatigued. If your experiment or your set of questionnaires is too long, the responses towards the end become meaningless for what you are trying to answer because the responses will be indicative of something very different from what you are asking. I have answered questionnaires where the questions seem to not make sense (but I can understand why someone wants them answered).

I know, first hand, from circling Likert scales, that they really are ordinal, and that the intervals between the numbers really are meaningless, because it is clear to me that I can’t make a difference between a 7 and an 8 on a 9 pt scale. I have experienced the kind of jolt you get when you get an “error” message for having misclassified something, and wondered how that may influence my next response.

I have filled in a State Trait anxiety scale at a time when I felt happy and content, and I very strongly felt I had no interest in letting anybody know that I have had past instances of anxiety and depression that is possibly more indicative of my slightly pessimistic base state – and I did this post getting my PhD, knowing full well how researchers interpret the data, and realizing how many additional factors that play a role in any one individuals current state that can influence how you interpret the data.

I don’t get this as strongly from creating my questionnaires and experiments, because then I’m focused on the research question at hand. Reminding myself how it is to be on the other side is invaluable for my ability to design experiments, and for my ability to interpret research, based on how it was conducted.

Now, simply doing a lot of experiments is of course not enough, and it was never meant as this. You pair it with the theoretical teaching, and with lab work, in order to make sure your student has insight into all parts of the research cycle, and can be properly skeptical, but also properly accepting.

I see it as akin to how we require psychologists to go through therapy themselves before becoming therapists. And, there are plenty of anecdotal stories from doctors who became patients and had their eyes open to suggest that this would be a good exercise for everybody.

When I got to Lund, this did not exist. It does now, in a limited way, in that we have the option to let students do experiments as their compensation for missed obligatory seminars. Limited, of course, as there is always a reason why you want something in your course to require obligatory participations – usually because this is something you cannot acquire from simply reading books and articles and write a paper such as laboratory exercises or presentations, or discussions, or other empirical exercises. Let’s replace something empirical with something else empirical, should you have the misfortune to become ill.

There were a lot of discussions about this before we could implement it, and it is only a handful of courses that take advantage of this possibility, but I was astounded that asking students to participate in experiments were even questioned. Presumably you want universities to do both research and teaching, because you think there is a synergistic relationship between them, not an absolute separation.

Still, you have to keep in mind that participating must just be an option, that there are other ways of doing completions, or of fulfilling your requirements (in the version where it is part of the course), and there are.

But, there is a clear pedagogical reason why you want psychology students participating in psychological research even as participants and canned experiments just are not the same thing.

Another thing offered by the universities I attended, was being a lab-assistant for course-credit. In fact, at one university, this was the requirement that earned you a Bachelors of Science rather than a Bachelor of Arts.

This doesn’t exist, although we are working on it, considering that our international Masters, as well as other international exchange students are asking for it. As it is, some researchers with funding can pay you to be a research assistant. In other cases, students can work as research-assistants in exchange for a certificate stating that they have this experience. It is actually very valuable, especially for those that want to continue doing a PhD. But, working in a lab is generally valuable experience, even if you don’t plan on becoming a researcher. Currently, there isn’t a really clear path for students on how to get experience as researchers. This is short-changing them, and this is an area where at least some American research universities are better at integrating teaching and research.

Now, I don’t know if those were the areas that the report considered, but I think it is something that Swedish universities have to consider. Don’t keep research and teaching apart. Work on the synergy. That is a win-win situation.

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On Movies and Psychology, report from a meeting.

I’m siiiiinging in the rain, I’m siinging in the Rain….

I’m part of a Film studies group, as a quantitative psychologists with more interests than brain-capacity. Most of the others are Film scholars with a humanistic/sociological bent, but with an interest in what people like me can add. And, I’m interested in what they can add to what I do. It is immensely fun when we get together, which, for this post, was April 25 at Copenhagen University, on a very lovely day which ended with wine and tapas outside on the 3-rd floor terrace.

Compelling art (deliberately vague) is psychologically interesting, because it wouldn’t be compelling unless it can harness something in the human psyche (to use Changizi’s terminology). And, those creating compelling art – be it movies or music or books or paintings – are able to harness, well, something, and that something is immensely interesting for a psychologist to try to understand. This is, of course, not my unique insight. Shimamura brings it up in his introduction, and brings up the fact that, although a whole lot of heuristics have been worked out for how to make a film (continuity editing, 180 degree rule, 30 degree rule, their violations for effect), the explanations that the film professionals give are not necessarily well grounded in, well, psychology. So, this is a perfect place for a psychologist to attempt some reverse engineering.

I was asked to present something on experimental method. I actually decided to do a little – well –tapas like sampling of quantitative methods, as the experimental variant is just one of the quantitative variants.

To prepare, I plowed through Arhur Shimamura’s edited volume “Psychocinematics”, and pulled a bunch of papers, before settling on presenting the methods in two papers: Rooney & Hennesy’s field study comparing 2D and 3D movies, and Magliano, Dijkstra & Zwaan’s work on predictive inference. Neither of those are true experiments, but we had already decided on doing a close reading of a paper by Marilyn Boltz, which is a true experiment.

The work in the first paper compared experiences of 2D and 3D movies, and did a very simple set up – ask people as they emerge from the 2D or 3D version of a movie to complete some questionnaires. The selected movie was Thor.

Participants completed 4 questionnaires: For perceived apparent reality they used a validated questionnaire: the ITC-Sense of Presence Inventory: a five-item, 5-point Likert scale validated questionnaire. (Lessiter, Freeman, Keogh & Davidoff, 2001). Typical question (that they cite) is “I had a strong sense that the characters and objects were solid”.

For attention they actually did not use attention, but self-reported distraction: How often distracted by other people, own thoughts, etc. Which, we discussed a bit. Is this really attention? Also, here they used a 6 point likert scale.

For Emotional Arousal they used Lang’s SAM, where you indicate how aroused you are, and how positive or negative you feel. Nine points. Well used scale – even I have used it.

Finally, again on a 6 point scale, they measured satisfaction basically by asking to rate “liked very much, would watch again, and bring my friends with”. Well, not like that – broken up in separate questions so as not to have them assess multiple questions on one scale.
Now, why they used so many different scales came up for discussion. In part, of course, because two of the scales were validated scale, and you simply do not just change the scale on a validated instrument.


Why on earth their self-created scales used 6, I don’t know, and it is not discussed, but it allowed me to expound a bit on ordinal scales and all that.
The only effect they found were on perceived realism and distraction (that they call attention). They reported cohen’s d, so I got to explain what effect sizes are. They also had a truly bizarre df for one of the measures (it has fractions), but I’m guessing it is one of those adjustment for data that does not fit the assumptions of the test. (Which one this could be I don’t know, because the standard deviations are close enough, but the ratings are close to ceiling, so I’m guessing some severe skew).

And, of course, we got to discuss whether people deliberately selecting a 2D version are really the same as those deliberately selecting the same movie in 3D. It is experiment-LIKE, but not a true experiment.

I then went on to the Magliano et al Moonraker paper – which is correlational. The question is: Is there some distinct features that directors use in a film – Mise an Scene, Montage, Framing, Music, Dialog – that makes viewers predict correctly what will happen next? One of the film-scholars said, of course there is, and told how she has used it in her teaching. This is her expertise though. The paper looks how everyday viewer (students) pick up on the predictions too (perhaps without knowing the source of that prediction). Very simple (but work-intensive) methodology: Participants are instructed to stop the movie when it occurs to them that they can predict what will happen next, write down what their prediction is, and note where they stopped the film. Then came the extensive coding of all the answers. Only predictions made by at least two people were included for the analysis. For all those times, the researcher looked at what was happening in the film, and whether any or all of the five predictor features were present. They weren’t always. Some predictions were likely from general genre knowledge (Bond will sleep with the good looking woman). But, more often than not there was something in the set-up of the movie that helped prediction, and the more of the predictors were present, the more of the viewers did correct predictions.

We finally moved on to the Marilyn Boltz paper, which truly is an experiment, with an impressive amount of selecting and pre-testing before running the actual experiment, but, as always with any experiment, there are places one can go in for critique. I think the interesting thing is that, depending on what our back-ground was, what we critiqued was different.

Music fills an important function in movies. (I was taught early on that when I got too scared, I could turn off the music and it wouldn’t be scary. I didn’t heed that kind of emotion regulation, though, but preferred to use the “avoidance” method.) It is often thought of as adding emotional tone to the scene, but the question here was also whether it guided the viewer’s attention, person-perception and memory. She uses schema theory as her theoretical underpinning: you set up some expectations, your person-perception, your attention, and your subsequent memory will be affected.

To test this, she first spent time selecting cuts from commercial movies that were ambiguous in nature. These came from cat-people, vertigo and a series called “the hitch-hiker”.

She then set out to select positive and negative music that she could pair with the movies (one positive, one negative for each clip). There were three different pieces of each affective type, whittled down from a larger set of nominations, and these were subsequently matched with a movie based on perceived “appropriateness” – more on this, because this was a place where we had a lot of discussion, and where we differed in the type of critique we were giving.
Each participant viewed all three clips, but with different music pairing, one with positive, one with negative and one with no music. It was all sorted and counterbalanced in all the appropriate ways to correct for order effects and other confounds. The participants were also divided into two testing groups: the first one were asked to give an extrapolation of the ending of each clip, and an interpretation of the intentions, as well as rating the intensions and emotions and moods of characters and scenes right after the clips were seen. The questions were specifically tailored for each scene. The other half did none of that, but returned a week later to participate in a memory test where they had to indicate whether described items (e.g. Flower bouquets, Tomb stones) had been present or not in the film – that is, an “old/New” recognition test. (We had some discussion about why not all of them did the memory test, or why there wasn’t an immediate memory test. I think the answer here is that in the design they wanted half of them to answer an interpretive question, and the other be tested for memory. I see no particular reason for waiting a week with the memory test. It could likely have been conducted right after, but see no argument against waiting a week either, other than the risk of participant attrition).

The findings, mainly, is that the music will induce participants to interpret the story differently (and, usually differently from when no music is present), and people will perform differently on the memory task – recalling more positive items in positive conditions, and more negative items in negative conditions, and similarly for the false alarms.

But, let’s go through some of the issues – most of them mine (because, well, my blog) but also some interesting commentary from the participants which I thought was very interesting.

First, I had an issue with the music that they used as either negative or positive. Here are the selections, with the descriptive adjectives (from the appendix of the paper). All the negative excerpt came from Tangerine Dream’s Rubycon album. This is electronic music – synth music. The excerpts were described as “Eerie, Mysterious, Unsettling”, “Eerie, Unsettling, Edgy, Suspenseful” and “Anxious, Mysterious, Evil”. I decided to listen to it – how I love Spotify – and it reminded me very much of “Bladerunner”. One of the film scholars pointed out that that soundtrack was by Vangelis, but that, yes, this was a “genre” sound – something a regular movie-goer would recognize as the music accompanying scary and eerie movies. I actually didn’t find it terribly eerie or scary when I listened to it. I just noted the style.

The positive music was more varied, and I also found it a bit odd. The article states clearly that positive music tends to be in a major key and fast paced – which is exactly a criterion I would use for inducing some kind of happy/contented emotion (and I believe that research on music and psychology would suggest something similar). The first piece is called Blossom Meadow, and characterized as a new age piano piece. It is described as “Calm, Light, Airy, Cheerful, Pleasant”. Never heard it, but I get a kind of music image from it – perhaps even that very genre indicative. Another positive piece is Schutzliesel, a German drinking song, with woodwinds, brass and percussive, described as Fun, Boisterous and Folksy. Hmmmm. I might use that to make people feel happy too, even though I have never heard it. The last one, though, is Barber’s adagio for strings. You know, Platoon (or, like I said, from that Vietnam movie where all the cute guys get shot). Described as Sad, Tender, yearning, Wistful, Solemn. Yes. Exactly. Sad induction.

What is this? Clearly, their terminology is at variance with mine as an emotion researcher (and I was not the only one that objected. Some of them got into meta-emotions also – you know, I cried my eyes out/almost shit my pants from fear – it was SOOOOOOO Goood – but psychologists have barely gotten into that area yet, from what I know).

Yet, if you look at results (which are labeled positive/negative), all the ratings for the clips paired with “positive” music goes in the same direction. In all cases, participants think that there will be no harm, the interpretation is positive, and mostly positive adjectives are used to describe the man (kind, loving, playful, etc) – but, god knows, this part is messy from a measurement point of view.

The semantic differential for each movie showed similar results – but the questions for each movie was custom made – thus not quite comparable (although they range from what one would consider positive to negative). Granted, they do not actually compare them statistically, but there is a comparison going on.
I was thinking that rather than positive negative, there is an indication of something being benign or malign – no harm or harm – safe or unsafe. Or, like one of the film scholars pointed out, genre recognition. (Here I go, the psychologist, thinking about basic human concerns, and the film scholar about what western humans have picked up from watching Hollywood style movies since before childhood amnesia sets in).

We also pursued an interesting discussion on the word “appropriate”. In the research some judges had been given a set of music pieces and asked to judge which piece of music was most “appropriate” for each film clip, which is how they decided on the different pairings. I kind of vaguely have a notion what that means (let’s do a pilot to see what seems to fit best by vote), and my main objection was that I thought they should have used the same piece for all clips, in order to make a good comparison – experimental psychologist as I am.

But, the objection from non-psychologists was that, what the hell is “appropriate”? Without any more specification? As an example, is Alex, in “a clockwork orange” singing “singing in the rain” while behaving atrociously appropriate? Certainly effective, achieving what the director intended. And, yes, if you really want to look at it there is no such thing as the vague appropriate. There is an active fitting of music for effect – and here I really get in over my head, considering that so many of the scholars there are specialist in film-music.

Still, with the flaws, I thought the paper interesting. It opened up a lot of questions, and in some ways that is what papers like this is for – making things very explicit.

Boltz, Marily G. (2001) Musical soundtracks as a schematic influence on the congitive processing of filmed events. Music Perception: An interdisciplinary Journal., 18(4) 427-454.

Magliano, Joseph P., Dijkstra, Katinka, & Zwaan, Rolf A. (1996). generating predictive inferences while viewing a movie, Discourse processes, 22(3), 199-224.

Rooney, Brendan & Hennessy, Eilis (2013). Actually in the cinema: A field study comparing real 3D and 2D movie patrons’ attention, emotion and film satisfaction, Media Psychology, 16, 441-460.

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What a difference a century makes – On March 8. For those who get gloomy.

My grandmothers were born 1898 and 1902, when women were yet allowed to vote in either Sweden or Norway. When my grandfather talked to one of the head political honchos in the small village where he was the post-master, for a loan (or a signature for a loan) so he could pay for higher education of his eldest daughter, my mother, this head honcho thought this was just a waste of money, spending it on educating daughters who could, you know, become hairdressers or something. Happily my grandfather didn’t agree, and my mother got her teaching degree.

One day, late 50’s, early 60’s, the headmaster of the school where my mother and father were teaching (and, good friends of theirs) saw my mother wearing pants to work, and he asked if she was having an “idrotts dag” – days we have in Swedish schools where all students do some sports, or at the very minimum spend some time outdoors. Women just did not wear pants to work.

A couple of years ago, when I was running a seminar where we were discussing a paper where they investigated how dress-style influence judgments of competence, warmth, and other measures, a few of the female students reacted strongly to the fact that business-attire for American Women in the late 90’s meant skirt and pumps. As one of them said, some of us just feel awkward in a skirt!

The times they are a’changing.

Jill Ker Conway, contemporary with my parents, grew up in the Australian Bush, and had a stellar academic career in the US and Canada. In her books, Road from Coorain and True North, especially true north, she chronicles the blatant and hostile sexism she encountered during her academic career. I have encountered none of that.

Too bad that that cigarette company took that slogan, because we have come a long way.

Doesn’t mean it is all roses. Doesn’t mean there aren’t things to do. Doesn’t mean we are now safe from sliding back to where women are routinely seen as possessions, chattel or high-prized pets. But we are, now, in a place in the west at least where we clearly can say that if no women are present it is because the dudes in charge just didn’t look carefully enough, not because there are no competent women.

And, yes, sometimes you do have to remind them that, along with the dudes, there were also some sharp women present*, and some men have not yet to get the memo that being a letch is just so passe.

But, whenever I’m tempted to be depressed, I look back just a tiny amount of time, on the circumstances for the women who came before me – some of whom are still around (like my mom, and Jill).

Not bad. Not bad in slightly more than a century.

* Scroll down to Bobbie Spellmans comment, and David lists all of them. Impressive bunch. Or just read the whole post with the comments. Definitely worth your time.

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Reflections on teaching and science.

I’m reflecting on teaching. Which in itself can be good, as long as it isn’t so much reflection that you end up in a mirror maze with copies of your thoughts to infinity and beyond.

But, in this case, the reflection was prompted by a post from John Horgan, where he speculated that perhaps the current reproducibility crisis could be traced to practices in teaching the labs. Supposedly students would fudge data obtained to get it correct on reports, in order to get good grades.
Fudging data-points is not something that would get you better grades in psychology. It really isn’t a point in doing so for grade purposes (at least where I have been), because we know damned well how hard it is to get significant results so grading is never based on whether your experiment worked out or not. I actually had one of my profs telling me I could get my PhD based on a non-significant dissertation, as long as the reasoning and method was reasonable. (With my 12 x 30000 data points, that was not a problem!). I usually tell my own students something similar.

I have engaged in some sinful things like fishing for p-values (usually with the embarrassed caveat that this is not really how you should do it) so that my undergraduate students can practice writing up results section with something that we can pretend is meaningful. And, yes, those beautiful euphemisms for p > .05 (which surely God loves just as much) that Matthew Hankins so nicely collate for us – I’ve used them.

I have wondered about the role of teaching in the problems abounding, contemplating, as I am right now, on its low status. In coming up, though stats was usually taught by people who had done it for a long time, methods were relegated to the grad-students and the recent docs who needed something to do. In fact, at my grad institution, the methods and APA style course was handed to all the graduate students in year three, as part of their education. Actually, education wise, that was nice for us. The rest of methods were very much learned on the job as a lab assistant. Informally, it was suggested this was done because faculty did not want to be stuck with methods, and why not make it a learning expericens for the new grad students? (True? Not sure). Doesn’t say much about the value of teaching, especially about the basic mechanisms of doing research.

The other day, “Simply statistics” (in this post) stated that the squabbling agains p is misguided. The problem isn’t really the p-value, and that one should use effect sizes or other statistical procedures. The problem is a lack of analytical skill, and a lack of teaching analysis. Statistics is, after all, just a tool. Something that should help us keep track of our data, and sort out our results. It cannot provide a magical line that demarcates results from non-results. But, this is how it has been used.

What he suggests is that, beyond statistics and probability, there need to be teaching on how to analyze – the part of the theory and ideas that are not just in the statistical package. This I agree with. I’d like to add, it would be good if this was maintained throughout the schooling. Statistics and analysis of data is a skill that must be trained and repeated, not something to suffer through, get a good enough grade, and then forget. To do so, of course, you need to plan the teaching in a more overarching way. Did students learn statistics and methods last semester? Great, now that we have an area course, make sure that students keep using their fledgling skills in reading papers, planning research and analyzing results in any possible project. Do that in the next course also. This is not something you acquire overnight and once and for all.

You start, like pedagogic texts will tell you, learning some rule about “how it is”, because, really, that is probably the best way to start. A rule – we look for rules (if I believe Tomasello and Bloom, and I do), and tend to treat them as laws. Until, in the next stage, you confuse the students with exceptions. Slowly, you can build the skill necessary to understand and analyze what acquired data may actually mean, which is more than pushing buttons on SPSS. This learning does not end. I’m still at it, and my PhD is over a decade old.

Teaching Takes Time. And Skill.

In the chapter on culture and cognition in Viren Swami’s Evolutionary Psychology, which I used for my course in Evolutionary Psychology, they spend a lot of time trying to understand the evolution of the learning mechanisms that have allowed us to accumulate and transfer our technical knowledge across time, distributed across people. There’s imitation, there is emulation, and there is direct teaching. This teaching has a cost, to the teacher. That is, the teacher must take the time to create learning situations that fit with the stage of the learner. Having gone through the process is not enough. We forget how we learned, and how it was to not know – the Curse of Knowledge. This teaching exist in other species also. I was charmed by the sequence meerkats teach their young to hunt scorpions: from dead, to disabled, to fully functional prey.

Also, you cannot transfer your current level of knowledge directly to the students, even at college level (until Gibson’s Sim Stims become a reality, which is never). It has to be adjusted to allow learning to occur. This adjustment is in itself a learning process. So loopy.

The time you teach, and prepare to teach to those new in the field is time you cannot spend working on other projects, or keep abreast of the literature, or write grants. There is a possibility for synergy. The act of teaching helps with consolidating and deepening knowledge. It is well known, of course, that in order to really learn something, the best way is to teach it. (One of the reasons I keep designing new courses).

But, it doesn’t bring glory, it doesn’t bring grants, it doesn’t bring status, as it is set up right now.

But, perhaps John Horgan is right, that this is what has undermined the quality of the science that is done, because the new scientists do not get sufficient training to be able to do really good work (which is such a waste, considering the passion and cleverness of this group), and the glory comes with publishing papers. (I just read through this paper by Charles Lambdin which bring this up and more. Either Fred Hasselman or Hans Ijserman linked that in on Twitter. Paywall, alas).

Another lesson from evolutionary psychology (and also Richerson & Boyds work on cultural transfer) is that knowledge can become watered down and disappear if it is not carried forward. In their example, from Tasmania, it was because the population shrank, and key knowledge-bearers died without having transferred their knowledge sufficiently. The population in science is not under threat of shrinking, but the lowering of status of those involved in the knowledge transfer (adjuncts anyone?) may have a similar effect. (Here I’m wildly speculating – I’d like to think up a way of empirically test that conjecture).

I teach too much, at least from the perspective of current incentives, and research and publish way too little, and I sometimes feel my effort is invisible. In fact, I have no clear idea whether I’m any good at it. I like thinking about what students of psychology need to know and need to learn in order to be astute consumers and possibly producers of knowledge, and then to stick that in my courses. There is an element of self-interest here, because I’d like to feel like I’m valued, and teaching constantly gets dissed.

But, if not enough time is set aside to properly train the new generations – and this can be done in an apprentice setting – we will produce what?

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Some continuous musings on emotion.

I’m trying to think about emotion. Or think about how to think about them. What is a good, fruitful conceptualization.

Perhaps, first, in line with Joseph LeDoux one should really jettison the term “Emotion” as it is more of a folk-psychological term, which muddies how you think about it. (Emotion Review have had issues recently discussing this). Of course, the folk psychology of emotion is itself interesting – lots of cultural variation. Swedish doesn’t have a word for emotions. We use feelings. Covers roughly the same thing. There’s also variation across history.

The first Emotion Review of 2014 has a section looking at James legacy. If you have read any intro book on psychology the past 15 or so years (when they even had anything about emotion), you would have heard about the bear, and running, and that was the emotion, whereas Cannon said no, it is all in the brain – all this is covered in the issue, in its proper historical view. It always irritated me that these cartoon versions of their theories were something that we taught our undergrads in what would, perhaps, be their only encounter with emotion research, considering that the state of research is very different, and has been for a very long time. Not wrong to look at the historical, of course, but it was not presented as historical. In our book it was presented as “theories of emotion”. I would have liked them to, instead, look at categorical vs. dimensional accounts, and expand on the appraisal theories.

But, an account by Phoebe Ellsworth  in the Emotion Review issue stuck with me for a couple of reasons. (Title is “Basic Emotions and the Rocks of New Hampshire”)

She worked with Ekman and Friesen on their basic emotion program. She had come into this, viscerally convinced that there were similarities in emotional experience and expression across cultures from some films she had seen.

At the time, in text books she said, textbooks used to display picture of faces that were distorted in a grimace, asking if one could tell what the person was feeling. Then they would feel the entire picture in context and reveal that it was some winning moment and go ha-HA you thought you could read emotions from faces, but neener neener you are soooo wrong. (OK, I’m exaggerating). But, this was mainly the result from the Landis work that no IRB would approve these days.

So nothing is new under the sun, because I have seen things like that published in the 2000 – showing how the body informs, and the face is not necessarily the man informant, as a refutation to the basic emotion in the face thing. Sure, context, body, face, all matters in how we interpret what someone is feeling, and that may not entirely be signaled by the face (I’m thinking studies by deGelder and Todorov, and similar). And, yes, that it is important to keep in mind. But, I just found out that is not new…. Why is research memory so damned short?

She also gave a bit of insider info on how they were preparing for the cross-cultural work on expression recognition, and how they selected the expressions. The six is, in some ways, an artifact of the time and resources they had. They had enough pictures of these expressions that were viable, but not enough of other theoretical expressions. (Much of them were derived from Silvan Tomkins ideas).

And, yes, even I know that what is supposed to be the basic emotions vary, and vary across the researchers. You can find that in tables in emotion textbooks. I read that in papers during the late nineties. You can find it on the web. There are some overlaps always, and some odd ones.

Also, historically, what are the emotions and what are not seems to have shifted. Is love? Shame? Awe? Fear?  emotions? Why? Why not?

I’m not happy with either the categorical or the dimensional, or the various appraisal theories. But, at least they are theories. I think they are frequently compatible, neither of them seem to win.

Really, what I want is a more dynamical system account of emotions. But, I may muse on that one later.


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