Category Archives: Psychology

A week in replication, some failed, some successful: Big Five, note taking and stereotype threats

The past week I read several replication studies with mixed results:

First, although direct replications (using methods from Mueller and Oppenheimer 2014) yielded longhand-superiority effects, the effects relevant to the encoding function of note-taking were small and did not reach conventional levels of significance. Such outcomes do not support strong recommendations about whether students should take notes longhand or by laptop in class. Second, based on their evidence, Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014) hypothesized that the higher word count and verbatim overlap for laptop groups were in part responsible for diminished performance for laptop users. However, when combining results across the direct replications, differences in word count and verbatim overlap were large, whereas differences in performance were small (and not statistically significant). Thus, differences in word count and verbatim overlap do not appear sufficient to produce performance differences between longhand and laptop groups.

The effects of gender stereotype threat on mathematical test performance in the classroom have been extensively studied in several cultural contexts. Theory predicts that stereotype threat lowers girls’ performance on mathematics tests, while leaving boys’ math performance unaffected. We conducted a large-scale stereotype threat experiment in Dutch high schools (N = 2064) to study the generalizability of the effect. In this registered report, we set out to replicate the overall effect among female high school students and to study four core theoretical moderators, namely domain identification, gender identification, math anxiety, and test difficulty. Among the girls, we found neither an overall effect of stereotype threat on math performance, nor any moderated stereotype threat effects. Most variance in math performance was explained by gender, domain identification, and math identification. We discuss several theoretical and statistical explanations for these findings. Our results are limited to the studied population (i.e. Dutch high school students, age 13–14) and the studied domain (mathematics).

In both examples of failed replication it’s not the case that we should abolish the theories as such straightaway. It’s rather that these new studies show that it’s more complicated than thought maybe due to regional and age differences (stereotype threat), maybe due to maybe differences in personal experiences (note taking).

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Stop using long words to look smart or thrustworthy

I have been reading a lot lately and there is something I need to share. It’s an older study by Daniel Oppenheimer, but it seems a lot of the authors didn’t hear about it yet. The title of the study? Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity.

Oh you, didn’t get that? The subtitle will make it much more clear: problems with using long words needlessly.

I summarized this also in The Ingredients for Great Teaching:

If you are a speaker, it is obviously of vital importance that the people listening to you can understand what you are saying. There is no point in blinding your audience with the eloquence of your words. Nowhere is this truer than in the classroom, otherwise you run the risk that the pupils will stop listening. While research has shown that intelligent people are more inclined to use difficult words, it is ironic to note that other research suggests that the use of difficult words makes you seem less intelligent (Pennebakern, & King, 1999)! In three simple experiments, Daniel Oppenheimer (2006) has demonstrated that fluent texts with simple language are more positively assessed by readers. This does not mean that you should never learn jargon or must eliminate difficult words from your vocabulary. But the more easily a reader or listener is able to digest your message, the more highly you will be regarded as a speaker or writer.

References:

  • Pennebaker, J.W., & King, L.A. (1999). Linguistic styles: language use as an individual diffe- rence. Journal of personality and social psychology, 77(6), 1296.
  • Oppenheimer, D.M. (2006). Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: Problems with using long words needlessly. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20(2), 139-156.

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This post may cause stress for many parents, do be warned

Well, don’t say I didn’t warn you but a new study shows that the time parents spend with children can be key to academic success. But wait… it can be more complicated than that because they found a quite distinct way to measure this: the researchers analyzed data on children in Israel who lost a parent through death or divorce and looked at the remaining parent (quotes from the press release):

They found that when it came to one measure of a child’s academic success, the educational attainment of the surviving or custodial parent had more impact than the educational level of the parent who died or left the home.

And the longer the absence of a parent, the less impact his or her education had on the child’s success and the greater the impact of the remaining parent.

The study is quite large, to say the least, as it involved more than 22,000 children in Israel who lost a parent before age 18, more than 77,000 whose parents divorced and more than 600,000 who did not experience parental death or divorce. But what do we learn from this?

“We found that if a mother dies, her education becomes less important for whether her child passes the test, while at the same time the father’s education becomes more important. If a father dies, the reverse happens,” he (Gould, one of the main authors) said.

“These relationships are stronger when the parent dies when the child is younger.”

In other words, Gould said, parenting matters.

“Student success is not coming just from smart parents having smart kids,” he said.

Study results rejected the argument that the parents’ income is really what helps the children of the highly educated succeed academically.

And now it gets really interesting:

If that were so, then losing a father should hurt children academically more than losing a mother because fathers tend to earn more.

“That’s not what we found. The loss of a mother – who tends to spend more time than the father with her children – had a bigger effect than loss of a father in our study,” Weinberg said.

But what about parents who remarry after losing a spouse? The study found that the negative effect on academic success of losing a mother can at least be partially minimized if the child gains a stepmother. If the father does not remarry, the effect of the loss is more acute: No one can compensate for the loss of the mother except for the father.

The study didn’t find any differences in academic success for children whose mothers remarried after their father died, versus those who did not. That may be because mothers’ education levels generally had more impact on their children’s success than that of fathers because of the more time moms spend with their kids.

Results also showed that mothers’ education was more closely linked to children’s academic success in larger families. The researchers believe that was because women with more children spent more time with their kids and less time working outside the home, according to findings.

Overall, the effects of losing a parent were stronger on girls than on boys, the study showed.

Similar results were also found with children whose parents had divorced. The educational level of the mother – whom the child typically lived with – had a larger effect on academic success than did the education of the other parent, Weinberg said.

“We found similar results in those children who experienced parental death and parental divorce. That provides strong evidence that our results are more general than just for children who suffered a parental death,” Weinberg said.

“Other studies show that highly educated parents tend to spend more time with their children. Our results may suggest one reason why they do: It has a strong impact on academic success.”

And… the importance of mothers.

Abstract of the study by Gould et al.:

This paper examines the transmission of human capital from parents to children using variation in parental influence due to parental death, divorce, and the increasing specialization of parental roles in larger families. All three sources of variation yield strikingly similar patterns which show that the strong parent-child correlation in human capital is largely causal. In each case, the parent-child correlation in education is stronger with the parent that spends more time with the child, and weaker with the parent that spends relatively less time parenting. These findings help us understand why educated parents spend more time with their children.

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She’s got the looks, but does she have the brains? New study on how sexy looks influence our thinking about capabilities

Looks can deceive, but it’s important to know that this deception is often in the head of the perceiver. This new, quite depressing study shows that female students who dress sexy at their graduation are perceived as being less competent and are believed to have performed worse in their degree than their peers who dress more professionally. From the conclusion:

Overall, female students chose their graduation outfit in order to appear beautiful and to express their personality and less so to appear competent. Hence, appearing competent seemed not to be their main concern. At the same time, outfit had a reliable impact on observers who attributed less effort and poorer outcomes (thesis points and higher final mark) to the students dressed in a sexy fashion (Study 1 and Study 3). Sexy outfits were even associated with fewer thesis points actually obtained by students in real life (Study 2). This result suggests that graduation committees may have been influenced by the students’ attire when evaluating their theses.

From the press release:

Females who dress ‘sexily’ at their graduation are perceived as being less competent and are believed to have performed worse in their degree than their peers who dress more professionally, new research from the University of Surrey reports.

During this unique study, published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers investigated perceptions of female clothing at university graduations in Italy. Participants were presented with 24 photographs of females who had recently graduated: 12 of these photographs involved ‘sexy’ outfits consisting of short dresses or skirts, low necklines and high heels, and 12 photographs of females in professional outfit of a jacket and trousers. Participants were then asked to estimate the final mark of the females in the pictures and, to rate their sexiness, competence and outfit appropriateness.

Female graduates who dressed more professionally were perceived by participants as having a higher final mark and thesis points and to be more competent than their peers who dressed in short dresses and skirts. Participants also deemed professional attire more appropriate for graduation.

Examining perceptions further, researchers exposed an additional group of 573 participants, namely female students, university professors and members of the general population, to photographs of 37 female students who were asked to wear two outfits, one professional and one ‘sexy.’ Participants were asked to rate the students’ performance, future career success and whether they would have worn the outfits they were presented with. Similar to previous results, participants viewed students who dressed more professionally to be more competent and as having achieving a higher final mark.

Interestingly, female student peers perceived the professionally dressed students as more likely to find a job and to have a successful career than when the same students were dressed in a ‘sexy’ outfit. Conversely, adult participants judged the students wearing a ‘sexy’ outfit as having an advantage, and having higher chances of success in the job market. Also when asked which outfit they would have chosen, professional or ‘sexy’, male participants were more likely than female participants to claim that they would have chosen to wear the ‘sexy’ outfit if they were the student.

Dr Fabio Fasoli, Lecturer in Social Psychology at the University of Surrey, said: “The intelligence and competence of females is unfairly linked to how they present themselves. A top student who decides to wear a short dress to her graduation is perceived to be less capable than another who chooses to wear trousers and a jacket.

“It is often thought that how we dress is a reflection of our personality but this may not be the case for women, given that they are constantly scrutinised for their appearance and that unmerited conclusions are drawn about them, including their intelligence and professional capability.”

Abstract of the study:

This research investigates how female students choose their graduation outfit and how clothing affects observers’ judgments. In Study 1, we manipulated the students’ graduation outfit so as to look professional or sexy. Female peers, adults, and professors formed a first impression about the students, their thesis work and guessed their graduation scores (thesis points and final mark). All participant groups judged the professionally dressed students as more competent, as having put more effort in their thesis, and as having obtained better scores than when the same students dressed sexy. In Studies 2 and 3 we replicated previous findings by using photos portraying real students in their actual graduation outfits. We found that sexy clothing, considered inappropriate for the occasion, affected estimated and actual graduation scores negatively and that this effect was mediated by perceived incompetence. Results are discussed with respect to women’s evaluation on the basis of their appearance.

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Interesting: babies who hear two languages at home develop advantages in attention

There has been a lot of debate about the benefits of being raised bilingual, this new study shows a possible positive effect on attention as this new study shows that infants who are exposed to more than one language show better attentional control than infants who are exposed to only one language.

From the press release:

The advantages of growing up in a bilingual home can start as early as six months of age, according to new research led by York University’s Faculty of Health. In the study, infants who are exposed to more than one language show better attentional control than infants who are exposed to only one language. This means that exposure to bilingual environments should be considered a significant factor in the early development of attention in infancy, the researchers say, and could set the stage for lifelong cognitive benefits.

The research was conducted by Ellen Bialystok, Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology and Walter Gordon Research Chair of Lifespan Cognitive Development at York University and Scott Adler, associate professor in York’s Department of Psychology and the Centre for Vision Research, along with lead author Kyle J. Comishen, a former Master’s student in their lab. It will be published January 30, 2019 in Developmental Science.

The researchers conducted two separate studies in which infants’ eye movements were measured to assess attention and learning. Half of the infants who were studied were being raised in monolingual environments while others were being raised in environments in which they heard two languages spoken approximately half of the time each. The infants were shown images as they lay in a crib equipped with a camera and screen, and their eye movements were tracked and recorded as they watched pictures appear above them, in different areas of the screen. The tracking was conducted 60 times for each infant.

“By studying infants – a population that does not yet speak any language – we discovered that the real difference between monolingual and bilingual individuals later in life is not in the language itself, but rather, in the attention system used to focus on language,” says Bialystok, co-senior author of the study. “This study tells us that from the very earliest stage of development, the networks that are the basis for developing attention are forming differently in infants who are being raised in a bilingual environment. Why is that important? It’s because attention is the basis for all cognition.”

In the first study, the infants saw one of two images in the centre of the screen followed by another image appearing on either the left or right side of the screen. The babies learned to expect that if, for example, a pink and white image appears in the centre of the screen, it would be followed by an attractive target image on the left; If a blue and yellow image appeared in the centre, then the target would appear on the right. All the infants could learn these rules.

In the second study, which began in the same way, researchers switched the rule halfway through the experiment. When they tracked the babies’ eye movements, they found that infants who were exposed to a bilingual environment were better at learning the new rule and at anticipating where the target image would appear. This is difficult because they needed to learn a new association and replace a successful response with a new contrasting one.

“Infants only know which way to look if they can discriminate between the two pictures that appear in the centre,” said Adler, co-senior author of the study. “They will eventually anticipate the picture appearing on the right, for example, by making an eye movement even before that picture appears on the right. What we found was that the infants who were raised in bilingual environments were able to do this better after the rule is switched than those raised in a monolingual environment.”

Anything that comes through the brain’s processing system interacts with this attentional mechanism, says Adler. Therefore, language as well as visual information can influence the development of the attentional system.

Researchers say the experience of attending to a complex environment in which infants simultaneously process and contrast two languages may account for why infants raised in bilingual environments have greater attentional control than those raised in monolingual environments.

In previous research, bilingual children and adults outperformed monolinguals on some cognitive tasks that require them to switch responses or deal with conflict. The reason for those differences were thought to follow from the ongoing need for bilinguals to select which language to speak. This new study pushes back the explanation to a time before individuals are actively using languages and switching between them.

“What is so ground-breaking about these results, is that they look at infants who are not bilingual yet and who are only hearing the bilingual environment. This is what’s having the impact on cognitive performance,” says Adler.

Abstract of the study:

Bilingualism has been observed to influence cognitive processing across the lifespan but whether bilingual environments have an effect on selective attention and attention strategies in infancy remains an unresolved question. In Study 1, infants exposed to monolingual or bilingual environments participated in an eye‐tracking cueing task in which they saw centrally presented stimuli followed by a target appearing on either the left or right side of the screen. Halfway through the trials, the central stimuli reliably predicted targets’ locations. In Study 2, the first half of the trials consisted of centrally presented cues that predicted targets’ locations; in the second half, the cue–target location relation switched. All infants performed similarly in Study 1, but in Study 2 infants raised in bilingual, but not monolingual, environments were able to successfully update their expectations by making more correct anticipatory eye movements to the target and expressing faster reactive eye latencies toward the target in the post‐switch condition. The experience of attending to a complex environment in which infants simultaneously process and contrast two languages may account for why infants raised in bilingual environments have greater attentional control than those raised in monolingual environments.

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How do children draw themselves? Well, it depends on who’s looking (study)

Past week Andreas Schleicher (OECD) referred to children’s drawings of the future in one of the talks related to the new Trends Shaping Education report. Thinking and using children’s drawings is nothing new, e.g. in a therapeutic setting. A new study does shed an interesting light on what happens when children are asked to draw themselves: children vary how they draw themselves depending on the profession of the audience, and whether or not they are familiar to the child.

This doesn’t mean that these kind of drawings are unusable, but it helps finetuning how they should be interpreted.

From the press release:

It’s the archetypal child’s drawing – family, pet, maybe a house and garden, and the child themselves. Yet how do children represent themselves in their drawings, and does this representation alter according to who will look at the picture?

A research team led by academics from the University of Chichester has examined this issue and found that children’s expressive drawings of themselves vary according to the authority of and familiarity with the adult who will view the picture. The study is published today, 25th January 2019, in the British Journal of Developmental Psychology.

The results of the study are significant, because it is important to understand children’s drawings for different audiences. Drawings are often used in clinical, forensic, educational and therapeutic situations to garner information about how a child feels and to supplement verbal communication.

The research team worked with 175 children aged eight and nine, 85 boys and 90 girls. The children were arranged in seven groups – one where no audience was specified and six audience groups varying by audience type. These groups represented professionals (policeman, teacher) and men with whom the children were familiar, and those with whom they were not.

The children were invited to draw three pictures of themselves – one as a baseline, one happy and one sad.

The results of the study show that children’s drawings of themselves are more expressive if the audience for those drawings is familiar to the child. Girls drew themselves more expressively than boys.

Some anomalies appeared in the results. For example, boys and girls performed differently in happy and sad drawings for the familiar and unfamiliar policeman groups. Girls showed more expressivity than boys in their happy drawings when the audience was a policeman they knew, whereas boys’ sad drawings showed more expressivity than girls’ in the unfamiliar policeman group. While the authors of the study suggest reasons for this, they see merit in further study.

They also suggest that this current study could be used as the basis for future studies investigating other professional and personal interactions, such as between a doctor and their patient.

The study was led by Dr Esther Burkitt, Reader in Developmental Psychology at the University of Chichester. She commented: “This current study builds on the findings of previous studies carried out by our team. Its findings have implications for the use of children’s drawings by professionals as a means to supplement and improve verbal communication. Being aware that children may draw emotions differently for different professional groups may help practitioners to better understand what a child feels about the topics being drawn. This awareness could provide the basis of a discussion with the child about why they drew certain information for certain people. Our findings indicate that it matters for which profession children think they are drawing themselves, and whether they are familiar with a member of that profession.”

Abstract of the study:

This study investigated whether children’s expressive drawings of themselves vary as a function of audience authority and familiarity. One hundred and seventy‐five children, 85 boys and 90 girls, aged between 8 years 1 months and 9 years 2 months (= 8 years 5 months) were allocated into seven groups: a reference group (= 25), where no audience was specified, and six audience groups (= 25 per group) varying by audience type (policeman vs. teacher vs. man) and familiarity (familiar vs. unfamiliar). They drew baseline then happy and sad drawings of themselves, rated affect towards drawings type, and rated perceived audience authority. Audience familiarity and authority impacted expressive drawing strategy use and this varied by gender. There was higher overall expressive strategy use for happy drawings and for girls, and influences of affect type, familiarity, and authority were found. The implications of children’s perceptions of audience type on their expressive drawings are discussed.

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Best Evidence in Brief: Does personality matter for effective teaching and burnout?

There is a new Best Evidence in Brief with among others, this study (with bold by me):

Lisa Kim and colleagues recently conducted a meta-analysis to try to identify whether personality characteristics are associated with effective teaching.

The study, which was published in Educational Psychology Review, looked at 25 studies (total number of participants = 6,294) that reported on relationships between five teacher personality traits (openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and emotional stability) and two teacher job-related outcomes (teacher effectiveness and burnout).

Overall, the results showed that teacher personality may be associated with teacher effectiveness and job burnout. For teacher effectiveness, extraversion was found to have the largest effect size (+0.17), and agreeableness the lowest (+0.03). The characteristic most associated with less teacher burnout was emotional stability (effect size =+0.21), and openness had the smallest effect size (+0.04). However, as the effect sizes for burnout were very small, the authors suggest that the results should be approached with caution.

The researchers also looked at whether the source of the teacher personality report (i.e., self-report vs. other-report) and educational level had any moderating effects on the relationship between personality and job-related outcomes. The findings indicated that other-reports of teacher personality were more strongly associated with effectiveness and burnout than self-reports. There were no differences in the strength of the associations between the educational levels.

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Casper Hulshof talking about “Voodoo, rats and… growth mindset”

I don’t think it’s a secret anymore, but Paul, Casper and myself have been working on a new Myth book. The Dutch version due to be published in February, meanwhile we are working on the English version to be published later this year. Casper did this talk on one of the chapters at ResearchED Netherlands:

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Drawing better than writing for memory retention (for older people for sure)

This study doesn’t surprise me that much. Everybody who read about dual coding knows how drawing can help retention. This study adds to this knowledge by showing that older adults who take up drawing could enhance their memory. Do note while the 3 experiments are interesting and relevant, they only used 3 times 2 groups of 24 participants (24 students, 24 older people).

From the press release:

Researchers from the University of Waterloo found that even if people weren’t good at it, drawing, as a method to help retain new information, was better than re-writing notes, visualization exercises or passively looking at images.

“We found that drawing enhanced memory in older adults more than other known study techniques,” said Melissa Meade, PhD candidate in cognitive neuroscience at Waterloo. “We’re really encouraged by these results and are looking into ways that it can be used to help people with dementia, who experience rapid declines in memory and language function.”

As part of a series of studies, the researchers asked both young people and older adults to do a variety of memory-encoding techniques and then tested their recall. Meade conducted this study with Myra Fernandes a Psychology professor in cognitive neuroscience at Waterloo and recent UW PhD graduate Jeffrey Wammes.

The researchers believe that drawing led to better memory when compared with other study techniques because it incorporated multiple ways of representing the information–visual, spatial, verbal, semantic and motoric.

“Drawing improves memory across a variety of tasks and populations, and the simplicity of the strategy means that it can be used in many settings,” said Myra Fernandes.

As part of the studies, the researchers compared different types of memory techniques in aiding retention of a set of words, in a group of undergraduate students and a group of senior citizens. Participants would either encode each word by writing it out, by drawing it, or by listing physical attributes related to each item. Later on after performing each task, memory was assessed. Both groups showed better retention when they used drawing rather than writing to encode the new information, and this effect was especially large in older adults.

Retention of new information typically declines as people age, due to deterioration of critical brain structures involved in memory such as the hippocampus and frontal lobes. In contrast, we know that visuospatial processing regions of the brain, involved in representing images and pictures, are mostly intact in normal aging, and in dementia. “We think that drawing is particularly relevant for people with dementia because it makes better use of brain regions that are still preserved, and could help people experiencing cognitive impairment with memory function,” said Meade. “Our findings have exciting implications for therapeutic interventions to help dementia patients hold on to valuable episodic memories throughout the progression of their disease”

Abstract of the study:

Background/Study Context. In a recent study, drawing pictures relative to writing words at encoding has been shown to benefit later memory performance in young adults. In the current study, we sought to test whether older adults’ memory might also benefit from drawing as an encoding strategy. Our prediction was that drawing would serve as a particularly effective form of environmental support at encoding as it encourages a more detailed perceptual representation.

Methods. Participants were presented 30 nouns, one at a time, and asked to either draw a picture or repeatedly write out the word, which was followed by a free recall test for all words (Experiment 1). In Experiment 2, we added an elaborative processing task in which we asked participants to list physical characteristics of the objects. In Experiment 3, we probed recognition memory for the words.

Results. Of the words recalled in Experiment 1, a larger proportion had been drawn than written at encoding, and this effect was larger in older relative to younger adults. In Experiment 2, we demonstrated that drawing improves memory in both younger and older adults more than does an elaborative encoding task consisting of listing descriptive characteristics of the target nouns. In Experiment 3, older and younger adults drew or wrote out words at encoding, and subsequently provided Remember-Know-New recognition memory decisions. We showed that drawing reduced age-related differences in Remember responses.

Conclusions. We suggest that incorporating visuo-perceptual information into the memory trace, by drawing pictures at study, increases reliance of the memory trace on visual sensory regions, which are relatively intact in normal aging, relative to simply writing out or elaborately encoding words. Overall, results indicate that drawing is a highly valuable form of environmental support that can significantly enhance memory performance in older adults.

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About nature versus nurture: the four laws of behavioural genetics

This tweet by Steve Stewart-Williams is so relevant I wanted to share it here on this blog as I know a lot of people who follow my posts aren’t on Twitter.

If you feel angry after reading the first two laws, do read on. Both articles mentioned in the tweet are also must reads.

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