Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Another bit of hindsight bias

Here is a link to a political blog called Talking Points Memo. In this post, Josh Marshall suggests that separate incidents of political advertising by Senator McCain will be seen after the election as parts of a congruent whole, as part of, in Marshall's opinion, a not-very-admirable campaign strategy. During the heat of the campaign the news media, however, do not seem to connect these separate incidents. That is to say, what is not obvious now will seem very clear in hindsight.

Marshall's blog is generally described as liberal or left-leaning and you may not agree with his conclusions. For the moment I am more interested in his application of the concept of hindsight bias.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

RIP Katherine Kincade

Katherine Kincade was one of the founders of Twin Oaks, a commune founded in the late 1960s based on the principles of B. F. Skinner. She passed away July 3 at age 77.

Skinner was one of the premier behaviorists in 20th Century psychology. The intention behind Twin Oaks was that Skinner's principles of reinforcing desired behavior could be the basis for a successful and harmonious society. Skinner even wrote a novel describing such an ideal society. The book is Walden Two. Here's a link to it at Amazon.

Here is a link to her obituary in the New York Times.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Singing the blues

Here's Billie Holiday singing "Fine and Mellow", accompanied by Lester Young in 1957. After listening to her, you might take a look at this article from the APA Monitor on Psychology about research on the link between creativity, mood disorders and ruminative thinking. Its title is "Why We Sing the Blues."

Why We Sing the Blues

Louis Armstrong, Jack Teagarden and "Rockin' Chair"

Just for fun, this is Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden singing "Rockin' Chair" at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. Teagarden was a well-known trombonist from the 1920s and 1930s until he died in 1964.

Moms and their babies

According to some recent research using MRI imaging, the sight of a mom's own smiling baby triggers a reward-processing center in the mom's brain, posssibly by releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine. And one's own baby triggers a higher level of response than a picture of a similar smiling baby.

We have long known that smiling babies are attractive to adults. From the evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that we automatically respond positively to babies - raising them takes a lot of energy over a long time. This research suggests ways that that response actually happens in our brains. Here's a link to an article in the New York Times about the research.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Iraq and PTSD

Most people probably know that more than 4,000 U.S. military personnel have died in Iraq. How many of us know how many Iraqis have died? How many Iraqis have been displaced? How many Americans and Iraqis have been wounded? How many from the other countries who sent troops (Britain, Australia, Poland, etc) have been killed or wounded?

According to an article in Monitor on Psychology (in the July/August 2008 issue) about 16% of U.S. Iraq/Afghanistan veterans have shown symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The percentage is higher for those wounded and for Reserve and National Guard veterans. I can't find the citation right now, but I have read that there is some evidence that around 16% of combat veterans in World War I, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam showed symptoms of PTSD as well. (Although, in past wars the disorder was called "shell shock" or "battle fatigue.")

There is at least some god news: the Pentagon seems to be at last taking it seriously that PTSD is a serious disorder and common among veterans of war.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Reaction times

Some of the earliest research in modern psychology measured reaction times. Wundt did so in the first modern experimental psychology lab in Leipzig, Germany in the 1870s.

Here is a link to an article from the New York Times on current research into reaction times. The research indicated that sprinters who are closer to the starter's gun react slightly faster to it. One possible explanation is that people react faster to louder noises. Of course, the closer you are to a sound, the louder you will perceive it to be.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Hindsight bias in action

In yesterday's game between the Detroit Tigers and the Seattle Mariners, we saw a nice example of hindsight bias in action. The game was tied 1 - 1 at the end of nine innings and went to extra innings. Unfortunately, the Mariners ran out of pitchers after 14 innings and their back-up catcher had to pitch the 15th inning. There's a reason he's in the major leagues as a catcher, not as a pitcher: he isn't a major league quality pitcher. Not surprisingly, the Tigers scored a run in the 15th and held on to beat the Mariners 2- 1.

The announcer for the Tigers noted that the Seattle manager did not manage his pitching staff very well. Of the six pitchers who pitched for the Mariners, four pitched only one or two innings. In hindsight, it's pretty obvious that the manager could have left one or more of them in for a longer stint on the mound so that he would have had a major league quality pitcher available in the 15th inning. Alas, baseball managers work in real time, not in hindsight. If the Mariners had won the game in the 14th inning, the announcer might have praised the manager for getting the most out of his pitching staff.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Teenage Brain

Psychologists have known for some time that teenagers' brain are still developing. Some recent research suggests that teenage brain development has some interesting twists. For example, the prefrontal cortex is, in adults, responsible for cognitive control and behavior inhibition. We know that the prefrontal cortex continues to develop into teenage years, so it may not be surprising that sometimes teenagers have some difficulty controlling certain behaviors (like driving too fast.) Eventually, of course, most teenagers do develop the behavior control that we expect in adults.

What is interesting is that the development of the prefrontal cortex is also associated with an increase in social anxiety. Would it surprise parents to hear that teenagers sometimes exhibit poor judgment and worry excessively about their place in the social world of high school?

The mechanisms behind these related phenomena are not clear yet. One researcher suggests that the developing ability to think abstractly, which is useful in making judgments about the consequences of behaviors like driving too fast, also enables a teenager to be more aware of how others see him or her.

from Monitor on Psychology, April, 2007, p. 20.