Psychology’s Second Most Misunderstood Concept?

My nominee for psychology’s most misunderstood concept is negative reinforcement (which is not punishment, but actually a rewarding event—withdrawing or reducing something aversive, as when taking aspirin is followed by the alleviation of a headache). 

In second place on my list of oft-misunderstood concepts is heritability

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Dogs Know When We’re Happy or Sad, Even in Photos

From across the room, both dogs seem to suspect when we’re angry or happy. All they need is a peek at our body language and facial expressions. If you have a dog, you’ve likely noticed the same thing. But did you know that dogs also can tell the difference between happy and angry faces in photographs? 

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I’m Happy, But What If I’m Supposed to Be Miserable?

This morning my wife, our one-month-old daughter, and I went to a local diner. It was a snow day, my workplace was closed, and we were enjoying a rare morning together. Before our food arrived, I took a sip of coffee, looked outside, and said, “I’m so happy.” The story should end there, with our tiny family devouring pancakes and running errands. But then I returned to my house, opened my email, and received some bad news. I was supposed to be miserable.

Or so suggested the latest Gallup Report, “The State of American Well-Being: 2014 State Well-Being Rankings.”

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Feeling depressed? Turn off that television!

Did you watch all five seasons of “Breaking Bad” over a long weekend? Have you ever longed for the weekend so that you can watch episode after episode of your new favorite television show? Are you counting down until Netflix releases Season 3 of “House of Cards” later this month? You’re not alone.

Binge-watching seems harmless—I’ve been known to veg out occasionally after a long week, watching hours of “The Wire”—but is it really? New research says maybe not.

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“Lyin’ Brian”? Or a Victim of the False Memory Phenomenon?

After falsely reporting being grounded by rocket fire while on a military helicopter in Iraq, and subsequently having his reported experiences during Hurricane Katrina challenged, NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams has been grounded by pundit fire.

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Is My Professor “Smart” or “Sweet”? The Answer Depends on . . .

Northeastern University history professor Benjamin Schmidt is making waves, after harvesting 14 million student reviews from “Rate My Professor.”  He offers a simple interactive tool that can allow you—perhaps as an in-class demonstration—to compare words that students use to describe male and female professors. 

You can give it a try, here.  I entered some intelligence-related words (“smart,” “brilliant,” “genius”) and some emotion-related words (“sweet,” “nasty”).  Even as one who writes about gender stereotypes, I was stunned by the gender effect.

Worst Coaching Call Ever? Hindsight Bias and the Super Bowl

Carroll made two end-of-half decisions in Sunday’s Super Bowl, both questioned by the NBC announcers.  Their differing outcomes, and the resulting pundit and fan reactions, offer potent examples of a mental pitfall that has been the subject of 800 psychological science publications.

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Are Smartphones Making Our Thumbs Smarter?

Even though the smartphone has only been around for the past seven or eight years, it’s sometimes difficult to remember what life was like before we had so much information at our fingertips. You could argue with a friend about what year “Back to the Future, Part 2” came out, or in what year the “future” was set. (It was released in 1989. The future, filled with flying cars and floating skateboards, was set in 2015.) 

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Fans Cheering Their Ears Out?

Friday my focus was hearing research and care—at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, where I sit on the Advisory Council (assessing federal support for hearing research and hearing health).  Days later, I was cheering on my ill-fated hometown Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.

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What’s Your Resolution? 3 Keys to Success

At the beginning of each year, millions of people reflect on the previous year and find things they could have done better. Exercised more, eaten healthier, watched less television, drank less alcohol. They vow—most knowing they won’t keep their promise—to make more of the new year, to become their best selves.

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New in the APS Observer: Nathan on “How Mindfulness Works,” David on “Happy Marriages and Healthy Bodies”

In the January Observer (here), Nathan digests—and suggests how to teach—David Creswell and Emily Lindsay’s explanations of how mindfulness improves health.  David (here) notes that marriage predicts happiness.  Does it also predict physical health?  

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Why Do We Care Who Wins?

Last night’s national championship college football game, today’s New York Times article on America’s greatest small college rivalry (involving my own Hope College), and the upcoming Super Bowl all bring an interesting psychological question to mind:  Why do we care who wins? What psychological dynamics energize rabid fans?

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Can Therapy Save Lives? Yes!

Self-preservation is a core instinct, but sometimes people reach an emotional valley in their lives and the best way out seems to be self-harm. Unfortunately, a history of self-harm is one of the best predictors of future self-harm and death by suicide. Can psychotherapy weaken the cycle of self-harm and its relationship to death by suicide?

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