Monday, August 25, 2008

New year is almost here

CASA classes start next week and I'm getting excited about this year. There will be some new ideas in the curriculum this year. I am particularly excited about some ideas I have for exposing the kids to more current research in the very, very broad field that is contemporary psychology.

I am also eager to see last spring's AP Exam scores - I think they're going to be very good.

See you Tuesday.

Friday, August 22, 2008


Suprise, surprise! We caught a racoon in the humane trap. It will find a new home in a park a few miles away. This experiment will be shut down for a few weeks as the animal control officer in town is now on vacation. (I'd rather let the animal control officer handle the racoon - she's well-trained in handling such animals and I'm not.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Good links

I've added a couple of new links to the list on the right. Mind matters is published by Scientific American. Cognitive Daily comes from Greta Munger and her husband Dave. She is a psychology professor at Davidson College.

Take a look - when you have some spare time. I've spent a good bit of my vacation time on them.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Possums, part 2

We recaptured the possum again, which supports my hypothesis.

What if I am teaching the possum that he gets a free meal in return for a little discomfort in being confined in the cage for a few hours? Beware of unintended consequences!

Friday, August 15, 2008

How smart are possums?

Here's a little naturalistic observation I am conducting. At my home we have a racoon problem. Racoons in my pleasant suburban neighborhood have been raiding garbage cans for a while, but recently one or more began scraping away at the shingles on our roof, causing rain leaks which damaged our ceiling. It got so bad that we recently reshingled the hourse.

I have placed a live animal trap in the yard, near where we store the garbage cans. My hope is that we can humanely capture the critter and release him or her in a more rural area.

So far, we have captured the cat from next door and the same possum twice. (I think it's the same possum - I claim no expertise in possum diffentiation, but they look like the same to me.)

My prediction is that we won't capture the cat again. Cats are pretty smart and learn quickly. I predict we will capture the possum again. I don't think possums learn as quickly as cats. I think racoons are really smart and I'm not confident we'll ever catch the racoon.

I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Good videos

Here's a link to the Top Ten psychology videos. They are from Psych Central.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Fun with attention

You're pretty observant, right? Don't believe in magic? See if you can tell how this magic trick is done. Follow this link for a real magic trick!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Constructing memories

My first of the memory of the Olympics is the 1960 Games from Rome. I was in Canada, near Windsor where my cousins had a summer house on Lake St. Clair. My cousin Bill and I were 11 that summer and both of us were sports nuts. (We invented a way to play baseball with just the two of us.)

I have very clear memories of watching the Games live on TV, after midnight. Part of the excitement for us, of course, was staying up really late. Of course, Wilma Rudolph, Rafer Johnson and the rest of the American team were pretty exciting, too.

The problem with these memories - vivid, very clear memories - is that they can't possibly be true. For one thing, midnight in Windsor is 6 a.m. in Rome. There probably wasn't a lot of competition at that hour. I have also read recently that the US TV networks flew film of the events to New York, where it would be edited and broadcast. I'm sure the Canadian TV network did something similar. We surely didn't see any events live.

So these are constructed memories. (They're not lies - I really remember them, even though I know they didn't happen.) How do we construct such memories?

There is much truth to the memories. I did spend a lot of summer weeks at my cousin's summer home; we were sports nuts; we surely would have been excited about the Olympics; the 1960 Games were the first extensively televised in the US (and, I suppose, in Canada.) Somehow, after 48 years, the memories of the 1960 Games have become more exciting, more extreme.

Elizabeth Loftus has done a great deal of research on false memories. One of her areas of specialization has been the problem of eyewitnesses at criminal trials who remember things differently from the way they really occurred. It turns out that eyewitness testimony is trials is often wrong, though many of us think it's the best kind of evidence. Here's a link to an article she wrote about some research in which she purposely planted false memories in people's minds.

It makes little difference in the world if I remember the summer of 1960 as more exciting than it really was. It makes a big difference if a defendent is sent to prison for a crime someone else committed.