The Power of a High Five

One of my earliest memories is my dad giving me a high five. He was training for a marathon and agreed to take me, his talkative four year-old, on a run. I ran an entire mile. When I finished, red-faced and smiling, he said, “Give me five, son.” It was my first high five.  According to a new study, high fives go a long way in motivating children. 

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Psychology’s Most Controversial Studies

What would you consider psychology’s ten most provocative and controversial studies?  Christian Jarrett, a great communicator of psychological science via the British Psychological Society’s free Research Digest, offers his top ten list here.  A quick recap:

1)     The Stanford Prison Experiment (aka the Stanford Prison Simulation)

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Can Electricity Improve Your Memory? A Shocking Finding

Have you ever just met someone, learned his name, and immediately forgotten it? This happens all of the time. People try all sorts of tricks to remember names, driving routes, or the location of your favorite Hong Kong noodle house. But we might be looking in the wrong spot. All we need is a healthy dose of electricity.

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New in the APS Observer: Nathan on the Stability of Psychopathy, David on the Stability of Intelligence

The October APS Observer is out with an essay by Nathan, “Once a Psychopath, Always a Psychopath?” on people who “commit horrific crimes, experience little guilt or remorse, and then commit similar crimes again.” What is their potential for change, and how can we teach students about them?

In the same issue, I offer “The Story of My Life and Yours: Stability and Change.” It’s a celebration 

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Do Look-Alikes Act Alike?

Behavior geneticists have gifted us with two stunning findings—discoveries that overturned what I used to believe about the environment’s power to shape personality.  One, dramatically illustrated by the studies of identical twins separated near birth, is the heritability of personality and intelligence.  

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Why We Evolved to Size Up Angry Faces

Most of our daily lives hum along effortlessly. We automatically rise when we wake, speak when we wish to communicate, and eat when our empty bellies grumble. These behaviors helped our ancestors survive and reproduce. But we also need to size up situations and people that might threaten us. How well do we do this?

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How to Be Productive: Preserve Your Energy for What Matters

My wife loves me, despite smirking that I am “boringly predictable.”  Every day, I go to bed at pretty much the same time, rise at the same time, pull on my khaki pants and brown shoes, frequent the same coffee shops, ride the same old bicycle, and exercise every weekday noon hour.  As I walk into my Monday-Wednesday-Friday breakfast spot, the staff order up my oatmeal and tea.  I’ll admit to boring.  But there is an upside to mindless predictability.  

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Another Big Round Number: Did Masters and Johnson Really Observe 10,000 Sexual Cycles?

Every once in a while I reread something that I’ve reported across editions of my texts, scratch my head, and ask myself: Is this really true?

Such was the case as I reread my reporting that “With the help of 382 female and 312 male volunteers. . . Masters and Johnson monitored or filmed more than 10,000 ‘sexual cycles.’”


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How Do We Know Ourselves? If You Said One Thing and Heard Yourself Saying Another, What Would You Think You Said?

How do we know ourselves?  It’s partly by observing our own actions, proposed Daryl Bem’s self-perception theory.  Hearing ourselves talk can give us clues to our own attitudes.  Witnessing our actions gives us insight into the strength of our convictions (much as we observe others’ behavior and make inferences).  Our behavior is often self-revealing.

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Senior Citizen Discounts: Would Young Adult Discounts Make More Sense?

Skimming Paul Taylor’s, The Next America: Boomers, Millennials, and the Looming Generational Showdown, a 2014 report of Pew Research Center data on U.S. social trends, brought to mind one of my pet peeves: the favoritism shown to seniors over today’s more economically challenged Millennials and their children. 

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Does My Dog Really Get Jealous?

Graduation brings few guarantees. Jobs are scarce, job security is even more difficult to find, and many people earn less and receive fewer employee benefits than they anticipated. But graduation often brings at least two things: pomp and presents. When I finished graduate school, my parents bought me a dog. I knew he had basic emotions, such as happiness and fear. Now I know he also gets jealous.

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Why Do We Fear the Wrong Things?

One of psychology’s big discoveries is our almost irresistible tendency to judge the likelihood of events by how mentally available they are—a mental shortcut that Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky identified as “the availability heuristic.”  Thus anything that makes information pop into mind—its vividness, recency, or distinc­tiveness—can make it seem common­place. 

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