Category Archives: Media literacy

Great on Sunday: the best letter to the NY Times in decades

Although my most read Funny on Sunday is about the current president of the US, it was my plan not to post jokes about Donald Trump anymore. But this letter by Demurs isn’t so much funny but just great.

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Filed under Media literacy, Psychology

“How neuroscience can benefit the learning and performance of music” Really?

Whenever I see a title such as “How neuroscience can benefit the learning and performance of music” I end up with the same question: really.

Let’s dig in a bit deeper. In the press release there is written:

Inette Swart of North-West University, South Africa shows how incorporating training in psychology into the music education system could be beneficial, particularly to those learners who have experienced traumatic events.

Ok, but training in psychology is not really the same as neuroscience and what do traumatic events have to do with it?

Neuroscientific research indicates that the right hemisphere of the brain, where the earliest-forming parts of the developing self and identity originate, appears to contribute most to the emotional meaning of music. The highly impressionable and malleable right-brain is also where early traumatic experiences are imprinted.

Ok… getting a bit sceptic because this is being put way too blunt and my left-right brain myth detector starts ringing, but maybe wrongly as this is not really the same story. And the article is referring to Alan Schore who published quite a lot about this. I have to admit I’m no expert on where in the brain our trauma’s are located – any help welcome – but Schore also seems to be perpetuating the L-R myth too besides the right-brain-trauma-link.

But more important: why do we need to know this and how should we alter our teaching based on this insight?

Thus, teachers should consider the role of music in a learner’s life and use this to their advantage in the teaching strategy, Swart says. For learners who have suffered significant trauma, it is particularly important to understand what role music fulfils in their lives, what best motivates them, and how their goals and reasons for participation in music might differ from a teacher’s expectations of them.

Right. We can have a big discussion now if this is a pedagogical good idea, but let’s stick to the question: did we need the brain explanation for this? Imho, still: no.

While memory for music is acquired and assessed through many different neural pathways, the processing of information involves brain structures — most notably, the amygdala and hippocampus — that are also involved in processing memories of fear. Neurons that fire together form connections and are likely to be retrieved together once an associated memory is recalled. This process is important in the memorization of music and also has implications for consciously separating the experience of fear and fear memories from the experience of learning and performing music.

Yeah, ok, but what does this mean. No, really?

To reduce the chances of debilitating stage fright patterns becoming established in previously traumatized learners, music performance should be associated with the anticipation of positive experience, Swart suggests. Such learners may benefit from practicing the art of performing in environments where they feel relatively safe, before playing at more important concerts or competitions.

Oh, I see. But what about the amygdala and hippocampus? Btw, I knew this part already. No, really!

Inette Swart said: “Music has great potential for providing emotionally and relationally reparative experiences, particularly, but not exclusively, to previously disadvantaged learners. Facilitating neural change takes discipline, while intersubjective models of human behavior, such as those proposed by neuropsychoanalyst Dr. Allan Schore, have shown clearly that human actions and development do not occur in isolation. It is time that this discipline becomes a shared societal responsibility.”

So we end up with the message: if you have had a bad experience you may end up with stage fright so teachers need to make sure you have some positive experiences and everything we do happens in interaction with others.

Now, please tell me: where did we need the brain for this?

But maybe I’m a bit too harsh. This was only the press release, what about the scientific article? Well check the abstract and try to answer the question yourself:

As advancements in neuroscience increasingly illuminate the traditional understanding of the human mind, many of the new insights are also of relevance to musicians as well as to music pedagogy. Especially the greater understanding of how intersubjective processes are integral to the development of the right brain has shown how, according to the neuropsychoanalyst Allan Schore, right-brain models can bridge the fields of psychiatry, music and trauma. Following a short introduction, the article discusses the development of ego boundaries and their relevance to young aspiring musicians as well as the close relation to self-esteem. This is followed by a short explanation of the psychodynamic processes underlying interpersonal interaction and relation. Right-brain function in development and trauma is discussed and its links to music are highlighted; the issue of fear and learned helplessness in musicians is also considered briefly. A discussion on the impact of fear on musicians’ memory follows. The paper concludes by showing that, while brain pathology can be associated with creativity, creative processes in and of themselves are not pathological. Throughout, special reference is made to aspects that have particular relevance to previously disadvantaged music learners.

So we end up with a Journal of Music Research in Africa published by Routledge spreading insights about the brain and music that are… well probably wrong and selling us new stuff we actually already knew and where we don’t need the brain explanation for.

I don’t want to scapegoat mrs Swart who wrote the article. I only used her article to show something that I am seeing way too often. The only solution is just one question: do you need the brain for this claim?

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Filed under Education, Media literacy, Myths, Research, Review

How a selfie can make you feel happier (study)

To many people selfies are sign of the present narcissism. And pictures like this don’t help it:

But this new study does give some consolation: regularly snapping selfies with your smartphone and sharing photos with your friends can help make you a happier person.

Wait, this is the opposite of the idea that social media can make you more depressed? Well, we already saw it is a bit more complicated than that. This new study is quite interesting and has both a lot of data and a very limited amount of people involved. The latter is the weakest element of this study, imho.

From the press release:

By conducting exercises via smartphone photo technology and gauging users’ psychological and emotional states, the researchers found that the daily taking and sharing of certain types of images can positively affect people. The results of the study out of UCI’s Donald Bren School of Information & Computer Sciences were published recently in the Psychology of Well-Being.

“Our research showed that practicing exercises that can promote happiness via smartphone picture taking and sharing can lead to increased positive feelings for those who engage in it,” said lead author Yu Chen, a postdoctoral scholar in UCI’s Department of Informatics. “This is particularly useful information for returning college students to be aware of, since they face many sources of pressure.”

These stressors — financial difficulties, being away from home for the first time, feelings of loneliness and isolation, and the rigors of coursework — can negatively impact students’ academic performance and lead to depression.

“The good news is that despite their susceptibility to strain, most college students constantly carry around a mobile device, which can be used for stress relief,” Chen said. “Added to that are many applications and social media tools that make it easy to produce and send images.”

The goal of the study, she said, was to help researchers understand the effects of photo taking on well-being in three areas: self-perception, in which people manipulated positive facial expressions; self-efficacy, in which they did things to make themselves happy; and pro-social, in which people did things to make others happy.

Chen and her colleagues designed and conducted a four-week study involving 41 college students. The subjects — 28 female and 13 male — were instructed to continue their normal day-to-day activities (going to class, doing schoolwork, meeting with friends, etc.) while taking part in the research.

But first each was invited to the informatics lab for an informal interview and to fill out a general questionnaire and consent form. The scientists helped students load a survey app onto their phones to document their moods during the first “control” week of the study. Participants used a different app to take photos and record their emotional states over the following three-week “intervention” phase.

Subjects reported their moods three times a day using the smartphone apps. In evening surveys, they were asked to provide details of any significant events that may have affected their emotions during the course of the day.

The project involved three types of photos to help the researchers determine how smiling, reflecting and giving to others might impact users’ moods. The first was a selfie, to be taken daily while smiling. The second was an image of something that made the photo taker happy. The third was a picture of something the photographer believed would bring happiness to another person (which was then sent to that person). Participants were randomly assigned to take photos of one type.

Researchers collected nearly 2,900 mood measurements during the study and found that subjects in all three groups experienced increased positive moods. Some participants in the selfie group reported becoming more confident and comfortable with their smiling photos over time. The students taking photos of objects that made them happy became more reflective and appreciative. And those who took photos to make others happy became calmer and said that the connection to their friends and family helped relieve stress.

“You see a lot of reports in the media about the negative impacts of technology use, and we look very carefully at these issues here at UCI,” said senior author Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics. “But there have been expanded efforts over the past decade to study what’s become known as ‘positive computing,’ and I think this study shows that sometimes our gadgets can offer benefits to users.”

Abstract of the study:

With the increasing quality of smartphone cameras, taking photos has become ubiquitous. This paper investigates how smartphone photography can be leveraged to help individuals increase their positive affect.

Applying findings from positive psychology, we designed and conducted a 4-week study with 41 participants. Participants were instructed to take one photo every day in one of the following three conditions: a selfie photo with a smiling expression, a photo of something that would make oneself happy and a photo of something that would make another person happy.

After 3 weeks, participants’ positive affect in all conditions increased. Those who took photos to make others happy became much less aroused. Qualitative results showed that those in the selfie group observed changes in their smile over time; the group taking photos to improve their own affect became more reflective and those taking photos for others found that connecting with family members and friends helped to relieve stress.

The findings can offer insights for designers to create systems that enhance emotional well-being.



Filed under Media literacy, Research, Social Media, Technology, Youngsters

Funny on Sunday: how to give a TED talk (and be a thought leader)

I posted this video a couple of months ago on my Dutch blog and now I rediscovered it via Paul Kirschner:

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How to convince people… (episode 311)

This morning I received the following question via twitter:

And I did know about these studies, as I wrote about them on this blog before:

I’ll add this little picture so you believe me:

Than Harry gave me something nice in return, a link to this study:

Previous work has found that people feel significantly more satisfied with explanations of psychological phenomena when those explanations contain neuroscience information—even when this information is entirely irrelevant to the logic of the explanations. Thisseductive allure effect was first demonstrated by Weisberg, Keil, Goodstein, Rawson, and Gray (2008), and has since been replicated several times (Fernandez-Duque, Evans, Christian, & Hodges, 2015; Minahan & Siedlecki, 2016; Rhodes, Rodriguez, & Shah, 2014; Weisberg, Taylor, & Hopkins, 2015). However, these studies only examined psychological phenomena. The current study thus investigated the generality of this effect and found that it occurs across several scientific disciplines whenever the explanations include reductive information: reference to smaller components or more fundamental processes. These data suggest that people have a general preference for reductive information, even when it is irrelevant to the logic of an explanation.

(btw, the study has also a great open source addendum)

Honestly, I’m not surprised. To me it’s closely related to many of the mechanisms Kahneman – and other behavioral economics – describe. It’s not similar to What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI), but it’s not that different too:

This theory states that when the mind makes decisions, it deals primarily withKnown Knowns, phenomena it has already observed. It rarely considers Known Unknowns, phenomena that it knows to be relevant but about which it has no information. Finally it appears oblivious to the possibility of Unknown Unknowns, unknown phenomena of unknown relevance. (source Wikipedia, but do read the book this summer!)

Or simply put – as Ben Goldacre said before – you’ll find that it’s often a bit more complicated than you thought…

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Funny on Sunday: use this test to check your social media friends

There are some infamous laws about social media. You have Godwin’s law:

As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazism or Hitlerapproaches 1[2][3]that is, if an online discussion (regardless of topic or scope) goes on long enough, sooner or later someone will compare someone or something to Hitler or Nazism.

There is also a second Godwin’s law:

His secondary law is that; as the likely-hood of Nazi’s and/or Hitler being mentioned in a thread, in direct reference to his Primary law, increases, so to must the chances of his own law being referred to.

But there is maybe another law: most people react to scientific findings shared on Facebook purely on basis of the title. And you can check this by sharing this link: Study: 70% of Facebook users only read the headline of science stories before commenting. Or do they?

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A different kind of multitasking: kids who text and watch TV simultaneously likely to underperform at school

Multitasking is a bad idea, no really, and we know it can be bad for learning. But this new study looks at both a somewhat strange and interesting correlation: kids who text and watch TV simultaneously likely to underperform at school. And yes, I wrote correlation.

Abstract of the study:

The more time teenagers spend splitting their attention between various devices such as their phones, video games or TV, the lower their test scores in math and English tend to be. More time spent multitasking between different types of media is also associated with greater impulsivity and a poorer working memory in adolescents, says Amy S. Finn of the University of Toronto. Finn was one of the leaders of a study on the topic published in Springer’s journal Psychonomic Bulletin & Review.

According to Finn, the term “media multitasking” describes the act of using multiple media simultaneously, such as having the television on in the background while texting on a smartphone. While it has been on the rise over the past two decades, especially among adolescents, its influence on cognition, performance at school, and personality has not been assessed before.

To do so, a Media Use Questionnaire was administered to 73 eighth grade students living in the greater Boston area. It asked them how many hours per week they spent watching television or videos, listening to music, playing video games, for reading print or electronic media, talking on the phone, using instant or text messaging, creating crafts or writing. Participants rated how often they combined these with another such activity. Aspects of their working memory, their manual dexterity and vocabulary, and their levels of grit, conscientiousness and impulsiveness were also tested. Participants were also asked whether they believed that their ability was fixed or could be improved. The researchers ascertained the 73 students’ scholastic performance by looking at their 2012 Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System scores in English and math.

Overall, participants reported consuming a great deal of media, and on average watched 12 hours of television per week. They tended to multitask between mediums 25 percent of the time.

The results show how participants’ media consumption patterns outside of school are related to their performance in school tests. Teenagers who spent more time media multitasking fared significantly worse academically than others. They scored lower in certain aspects of their working memory, tended to be more impulsive and were more likely to believe that intelligence is not malleable. These results extend previous findings from adults and suggest that the relationships between cognitive abilities and media multitasking are already established by middle adolescence.

“We found a link between greater media multitasking and worse academic outcomes in adolescents. This relationship may be due to decreased executive functions and increased impulsiveness–both previously associated with both greater media multitasking and worse academic outcomes,” summarises Finn.

Improving scholastic performance isn’t just a simple matter of regulating the amount of time that teenagers spend watching television, playing video games or using their phones. “The direction of causality is difficult to establish. For example, media multitasking may be a consequence of underlying cognitive differences and not vice versa,” says Finn. Future research with larger samples may shed light on the causal link.

Abstract of the study:

Media use has been on the rise in adolescents overall, and in particular, the amount of media multitasking-multiple media consumed simultaneously, such as having a text message conversation while watching TV-has been increasing. In adults, heavy media multitasking has been linked with poorer performance on a number of laboratory measures of cognition, but no relationship has yet been established between media-multitasking behavior and real-world outcomes. Examining individual differences across a group of adolescents, we found that more frequent media multitasking in daily life was associated with poorer performance on statewide standardized achievement tests of math and English in the classroom, poorer performance on behavioral measures of executive function (working memory capacity) in the laboratory, and traits of greater impulsivity and lesser growth mindset. Greater media multitasking had a relatively circumscribed set of associations, and was not related to behavioral measures of cognitive processing speed, implicit learning, or manual dexterity, or to traits of grit and conscientiousness. Thus, individual differences in adolescent media multitasking were related to specific differences in executive function and in performance on real-world academic achievement measures: More media multitasking was associated with poorer executive function ability, worse academic achievement, and a reduced growth mindset.

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Filed under At home, Education, Media literacy, Research, Social Media, Technology

New report on parental controls & social media, a matter of trust

Since Windows 10 you have the option to get a report on your kids online behavior. There are also many tools that can help you follow your kids. But is this a good idea. There is a new EU Kids report on parental controls and an answer is in part: trust is very important and using these kinds of controls – certainly behind the back of your kid – could damage more than one might think.

The summary of the report:

This research report provides:

  • A thoughtful understanding of the functionalities of parental controls to guide families with children and adolescents to use them wisely;
  • A fine-grained analysis of the characteristics of technical mediation, to support parental mediation researchers in the development of up-to-date scales and analysis schemes;
  • A substantiated analysis of the potential for the design of the next generation of parental controls that may inspire industry.

The results highlight three important avenues for families, researchers and industry with respect to the use, investigation and design of parental controls:

  • First, this report argues for a more nuanced approach towards parental controls that lies beyond a one-sided focus on child protection to avoid over-controlling and over-protective parenting, which is found negatively to affect the development of the child.
  • Second, it outlines future avenues for parental mediation research, by pointing out the need to refine existing measurement instruments of technical mediation, to focus more on how and when parents employ parental controls, and how these tools may work (instead of only questioning whether parents use them, and whether they are effective), and to move beyond the generalised notion of the parent as protector and (all knowing) teacher.
  • Finally, this report addresses industry’s accountability in shaping future affordances of parental controls, and making the internet a better place for children.

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Filed under At home, Media literacy, Research

Funny on Sunday: Substitutions that make reading the news more fun from XKCD

Found these little gems that can make your news-reading so much sweeter at XKCD

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This is great: John Oliver on Scientific Studies (e.g. p-hacking, replication,…)

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