Category Archives: Psychology

Our learning capabilities are limited during slow wave sleep… (no, really)

It’s a myth we already discussed in our first book on myths about learning and education, but people keep dreaming of learning in our sleep.

This new study gives more insights about what is and isn’t possible: while the human brain is still able to perceive sounds during sleep, it is unable to group these sounds according to their organization in a sequence.

From the press release:

Hypnopedia, or the ability to learn during sleep, was popularized in the ’60s, with for example the dystopia Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, in which individuals are conditioned to their future tasks during sleep. This concept has been progressively abandoned due to a lack of reliable scientific evidence supporting in-sleep learning abilities.

Recently however, few studies showed that the acquisition of elementary associations such as stimulus-reflex response is possible during sleep, both in humans and in animals. Nevertheless, it is not clear if sleep allows for more sophisticated forms of learning.

A study published this August 6 in the journal Scientific Reportsby researchers from the ULB Neuroscience Institute (UNI) shows that while our brain is able to continue perceiving sounds during sleep like at wake, the ability to group these sounds according to their organization in a sequence is only present at wakefulness, and completely disappears during sleep.

Juliane Farthouat, while a Research Fellow of the FNRS under the direction of Philippe Peigneux, professor at the Faculty of Psychological Science and Education at Université libre de Bruxelles, ULB, used magnetoencephalography (MEG) to record the cerebral activity mirroring the statistical learning of series of sounds, both during slow wave sleep (a part of sleep during which brain activity is highly synchronized) and during wakefulness.

During sleep, participants were exposed to fast flows of pure sounds, either randomly organized or structured in such a way that the auditory stream could be statistically grouped into sets of 3 elements.

During sleep, brain MEG responses demonstrated preserved detection of isolated sounds, but no response reflecting statistical clustering.

During wakefulness, however, all participants presented brain MEG responses reflecting the grouping of sounds into sets of 3 elements.

The results of this study suggest intrinsic limitations in de novo learning during slow wave sleep, that might confine the sleeping brain’s learning capabilities to simple, elementary associations.

Abstract of the study:

Hypnopedia, or the capacity to learn during sleep, is debatable. De novo acquisition of reflex stimulus-response associations was shown possible both in man and animal. Whether sleep allows more sophisticated forms of learning remains unclear. We recorded during diurnal Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep auditory magnetoencephalographic (MEG) frequency-tagged responses mirroring ongoing statistical learning. While in NREM sleep, participants were exposed at non-awakenings thresholds to fast auditory streams of pure tones, either randomly organized or structured in such a way that the stream statistically segmented in sets of 3 elements (tritones). During NREM sleep, only tone-related frequency-tagged MEG responses were observed, evidencing successful perception of individual tones. No participant showed tritone-related frequency-tagged responses, suggesting lack of segmentation. In the ensuing wake period however, all participants exhibited robust tritone-related responses during exposure to statistical (but not random) streams. Our data suggest that associations embedded in statistical regularities remain undetected during NREM sleep, although implicitly learned during subsequent wakefulness. These results suggest intrinsic limitations in de novo learning during NREM sleep that might confine the NREM sleeping brain’s learning capabilities to simple, elementary associations. It remains to be ascertained whether it similarly applies to REM sleep.

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Are narcissist doing better in school?

This study is interesting, although I do think there is one element that makes me wonder for the rest of the paper:

But hey, maybe that could well be the reason for the reversed Flynn-effect?

From the press release:

Dr Kostas Papageorgiou, Director of the InteRRaCt lab in the School of Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast, has discovered that adolescents who score high on certain aspects of subclinical narcissism may be more mentally tough and can perform better at school.

The findings are the result of an international collaboration, which included Professor Yulia Kovas, Director of InLab at Goldsmiths University of London (UK); as well as leading experts from King’s College London, Manchester Metropolitan University, Huddersfield University and the University of Texas at Austin, USA.

In the study, 340 adolescent students, taking part in the Multi-Cohort Investigation into Learning and Educational Success study (MILES), were recruited from three different Italian high schools in the Milan Province. They took part in two assessment waves.

The research has been published in Personality and Individual Differences.

Dr Papageorgiou explains: “Narcissism is considered as a socially malevolent trait and it is part of the Dark Triad of personality traits — narcissism, psychopathy and Machiavellianism.

“Previous studies indicate that narcissism is a growing trend in our society but this does not necessarily mean that an individual who displays high narcissistic qualities has a personality disorder. In our research, we focused on subclinical or “normal” narcissism. Subclinical narcissism includes some of the same features of clinical syndrome — grandiosity, entitlement, dominance, and superiority.

“If you are a narcissist you believe strongly that you are better than anyone else and that you deserve reward. Being confident in your own abilities is one of the key signs of grandiose narcissism and is also at the core of mental toughness. If a person is mentally tough, they are likely to embrace challenges and see these as an opportunity for personal growth.”

Dr Papageorgiou’s research suggests that in some ways, narcissism might actually be a positive attribute. He says: “People who score high on subclinical narcissism may be at an advantage because their heightened sense of self-worth may mean they are more motivated, assertive, and successful in certain contexts.

“Previous research is our lab has shown that subclinical narcissism may increase mental toughness. If an individual scores high on mental toughness this means they can perform at their very best in pressured and diverse situations.

The research suggests that the relationship between narcissism and mental toughness could be one of the personality mechanisms that leads to variation in school achievement. However, at this stage, the findings have mainly theoretical rather than applied implications.

Dr Papageorgiou explains: “It is important that we reconsider how we, as a society, view narcissism. We perceive emotions or personality traits as being either bad or good but psychological traits are the products of evolution; they are neither bad nor good — they are adaptive or maladaptive. Perhaps we should expand conventional social morality to include and celebrate all expressions of human nature.”

Dr Papageorgiou is continuing this research and will explore if subclinical narcissism decreases symptoms of psychopathology through mental toughness.

Abstract of the study:

Mental toughness has been associated with optimal performance across diverse contexts including academic achievement. MT is positively associated with subclinical narcissism. Cross-sectional research reported that high narcissism may contribute indirectly to enhanced positive outcomes, through MT. This study is the first to explore longitudinally the development of the association between MT, narcissism and achievement in a sample of adolescents. MT correlated positively with narcissism and predicted a small percentage of the variation in school achievement. Narcissism did not correlate significantly with school achievement. However, subclinical narcissism exerted a significant positive indirect effect on school achievement through MT. The findings suggest that the relationship between narcissism and MT could be one of the non-cognitive mechanisms that underlie individual variation in school achievement.

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Follow your passion? Well, maybe that’s not the best advice…

It’s a study related to growth mindset, but before you start shouting ‘debunked‘ (check Dweck’s reply), the study is not about applying a growth mindset approach but all about how people think about passion being nature or nurture and the consequences of these views on giving up. And it seems people who think that passion is something magical placed in you (nature) will quit faster than people who think you can develop a passion for something.

From the press release:

As the world becomes increasingly interdisciplinary, having diverse interests can help people make important connections across fields, such as between the Arts and Sciences. A new study by Yale-NUS College Assistant Professor of Psychology Paul A O’Keefe and colleagues suggests that one’s belief about the nature of interests might prevent those insights from happening. Those who endorse a “fixed theory” about interest tend to think of it as something already there that simply needs to be found. Therefore, they are unlikely to stray beyond the interests they already have. By contrast, those with a “growth theory” tend to believe that interests can be developed and cultivated. The common advice to “find your passion” supports a fixed theory and may eventually be limiting.

Dr O’Keefe collaborated with Stanford University Professor Carol S Dweck, a psychologist known for her work in fixed and growth theories, as well as Associate Professor Gregory M Walton, also from Stanford. While fixed and growth theories about intelligence–beliefs about the malleability of intellectual abilities–have been heavily researched, applying this idea to people’s interests is a new area of investigation. The team’s research is forthcoming in Psychological Science, in which they examined the implications of fixed and growth theories of interest.

The research is of particular relevance to countries like Singapore, where students typically begin to specialise early in their education. Such early specialisation might discourage a growth theory by limiting the exploration of academic interests. However, since 2006, Singapore’s education system began requiring GCE A-level students to take at least one contrasting subject for admission into one of the six local autonomous universities. Research investigating a growth theory of interest will become more important in terms of understanding how to encourage students to explore new or different topics and value them more.

Across five studies, the team showed that a fixed theory, as compared to a growth theory, causes people to be less receptive to topics that are outside their existing interests. For example, in one study, the researchers recruited undergraduates with a well-established interest in either the Arts or the Sciences. Then, they had the students read two academic articles, one appealing to each of the two academic areas. Those led to endorse a fixed theory, as compared to a growth theory, reported less interest in the article outside of their established interest.

The researchers also found that fixed and growth theories influence one’s motivational expectations for pursuing their interests and passions. In one study, the researchers sparked students’ interest in astrophysics by having them watch a fun, animated video on the topic. Then, participants read a challenging academic article on the same topic. Those with a fixed theory reported losing more interest in the topic once engaging in it became difficult, as compared to those with a growth theory. This is because people with a fixed theory tend to expect that pursuing a newly discovered interest will be relatively easy, and might give up on it when engaging in it becomes difficult. They may come to believe that it was not a true interest after all.

The finding that a growth theory can make people more open to new interests, and that it can help sustain their interest despite difficulties, has important implications. Dr O’Keefe highlighted that in an increasingly complex and interconnected world, viewing interests as developable is important for encouraging innovation as new and interdisciplinary solutions are needed. Believing one’s interests are fixed might hinder exploration into other areas.

Instead of finding your passion, the researchers suggest that people should develop their passion.

“Encouraging people to develop their passion can not only promote a growth theory, but also suggests that it is an active process, not passive. A hidden positive implication of a growth theory is the expectation that pursuing one’s interests and passions will be difficult at times because people are less likely to give up on them when faced with a challenge,” Dr O’Keefe explained.

Dr O’Keefe is currently researching the impact of fixed and growth theories of interest in Singapore schools, as well as how teaching students to develop a growth theory can improve their learning and achievement.

Abstract of the study:

People are often told to find their passion as though passions and interests are pre-formed and must simply be discovered. This idea, however, has hidden motivational implications. Five studies examined implicit theories of interest—the idea that personal interests are relatively fixed (fixed theory) or developed (growth theory). Whether assessed or experimentally induced, a fixed theory was more likely to dampen interest in areas outside people’s existing interests (Studies 1–3). Those endorsing a fixed theory were also more likely to anticipate boundless motivation when passions were found, not anticipating possible difficulties (Study 4). Moreover, when engaging in a new interest became difficult, interest flagged significantly more for people induced to hold a fixed than a growth theory of interest (Study 5). Urging people to find their passion may lead them to put all their eggs in one basket but then to drop that basket when it becomes difficult to carry.

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Children have a nuanced understanding of fairness from a young age

This study reminded me of one of the many little experiments that Piaget did and while there has been many issues with the research of the infamous biologist and psychologist from Switzerland, the age group in this experiment isn’t that dissimilar…

From the press release:

New University of Michigan research indicates that children as young as 5 incorporate market concerns–the idea that what you get is in line with what you give or offer–into their decision making, and increasingly do so with age.

Some people think children are innately selfish–they want to get goodies for themselves. Other people think children are innately altruistic–they care about helping others. Most people think children are both.

“The trick is knowing when and how to balance self interest and concern for others–what is appropriate in different circumstances,” said lead author Margaret Echelbarger, a recent U-M psychology doctoral graduate.

By studying how children engage in different types of exchanges, researchers can discern the origins of these behaviors, as well as their developmental course.

“This in turn tells us a bit more about ourselves as adults,” Echelbarger said.

The U-M research included 195 children ages 5-10 and 60 adults helping a giver distribute stickers to friends. They distributed stickers equally between friends when offers were the same, but unequally when different offers were made.

There were times when the participants distributed more stickers to the friends offering more money, which meant children–as they aged–were willing to abandon equal norms for distribution. More specifically, older children distributed more stickers to friends who paid more even when the other friend wanted to pay but couldn’t.

“These findings are especially interesting in light of young children’s limited exposure to market/economic instruction,” Echelbarger said. “We show that, from a young age, children are developing an understanding of the ‘rules’ of market exchanges.”

Echelbarger and colleagues also found that children are sensitive to the reasons underlying the different offers. Children penalize recipients refusing to pay more than recipients willing but unable to pay, she said.

The findings, which appear in Child Development, are also consistent with prior research that children incorporate equity concerns, such as merit and need, into their distribution decisions.

Abstract of the study:

Children are sensitive to a number of considerations influencing distributions of resources, including equality, equity, and reciprocity. We tested whether children use a specific type of reciprocity norm—market norms—in which resources are distributed differentially based strictly on amount offered in return. In two studies, 195 children 5–10 years and 60 adults distributed stickers to friends offering same or different amounts of money. Overall, participants distributed more equally when offers were the same and more unequally when offers were different. Although sensitive to why friends offered different amounts of money, children increasingly incorporated market norms into their distributions with age, as the oldest children and adults distributed more to those offering more, irrespective of the reasons provided.

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Again: the power of forgetting

People who read my book or who saw a presentation probably know it already, but I’m a big fan of Ebbinghaus who described the forgetting curve in 1885. His influence on things such as spaced repetition – one of the most effective ways to remember stuff – is big. Spaced repetition already shows the power of forgetting, this announcement of a talk by Bjork, Robert A. that is, gives a good short overview:

Contextual clues play a role in what people are able to store and retrieve from their memory, says Robert A. Bjork, PhD, distinguished research professor in the department of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles. A change in context can cause forgetting, but it can also change–and enrich–how information is encoded and retrieved, which can enhance learning. Bjork defines forgetting as “a decrease in how readily accessible some information or procedure is at a given point in time.” For example, some items may be strongly imprinted in our memories (referred to as “strong storage strength”)–such as a childhood phone number–but may be difficult to retrieve quickly due to the length of time since that information has been accessed (“weak retrieval strength”).


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Just don’t be a helicopter parent

We’ve seen before that being a tiger mom is not a good idea. But being a helicopter parent isn’t a good idea neither. A new study suggests that children with overcontrolling parents may later struggle to adjust in school and social environments.

From the press release:

“Our research showed that children with helicopter parents may be less able to deal with the challenging demands of growing up, especially with navigating the complex school environment,” said Nicole B. Perry, PhD, from the University of Minnesota, and lead author of the study. “Children who cannot regulate their emotions and behavior effectively are more likely to act out in the classroom, to have a harder time making friends and to struggle in school.”

Children rely on caregivers for guidance and understanding of their emotions. They need parents who are sensitive to their needs, who recognize when they are capable of managing a situation and who will guide them when emotional situations become too challenging. This helps children develop the ability to handle challenging situations on their own as they grow up, and leads to better mental and physical health, healthier social relationships and academic success. Managing emotions and behavior are fundamental skills that all children need to learn and overcontrolling parenting can limits those opportunities, according to Perry.

The researchers followed the same 422 children over the course of eight years and assessed them at ages 2, 5 and 10, as part of a study of social and emotional development. Children in the study were predominantly white and African-American and from economically diverse backgrounds. Data were collected from observations of parent-child interactions, teacher-reported responses and self-reports from the 10-year-olds.

During the observations, the research team asked the parents and children to play as they would at home.

“Helicopter parenting behavior we saw included parents constantly guiding their child by telling him or her what to play with, how to play with a toy, how to clean up after playtime and being too strict or demanding,” said Perry. “The kids reacted in a variety of ways. Some became defiant, others were apathetic and some showed frustration.”

Overcontrolling parenting when a child was 2 was associated with poorer emotional and behavioral regulation at age 5, the researchers found. Conversely, the greater a child’s emotional regulation at age 5, the less likely he or she was to have emotional problems and the more likely he or she was to have better social skills and be more productive in school at age 10. Similarly, by age 10, children with better impulse control were less likely to experience emotional and social problems and were more likely to do better in school.

“Children who developed the ability to effectively calm themselves during distressing situations and to conduct themselves appropriately had an easier time adjusting to the increasingly difficult demands of preadolescent school environments,” said Perry. “Our findings underscore the importance of educating often well-intentioned parents about supporting children’s autonomy with handling emotional challenges.”

Perry suggested that parents can help their children learn to control their emotions and behavior by talking with them about how to understand their feelings and by explaining what behaviors may result from feeling certain emotions, as well as the consequences of different responses. Then parents can help their children identify positive coping strategies, like deep breathing, listening to music, coloring or retreating to a quiet space.

“Parents can also set good examples for their children by using positive coping strategies to manage their own emotions and behavior when upset,” said Perry.

Abstract of the study:

We examined longitudinal associations across an 8-year time span between overcontrolling parenting during toddlerhood, self-regulation during early childhood, and social, emotional, and academic adjustment in preadolescence (N 422). Overcontrolling parenting, emotion regulation (ER), and inhibitory control (IC) were observed in the laboratory; preadolescent adjustment was teacher-reported and child self-reported. Results from path analysis indicated that overcontrolling parenting at age 2 was associated negatively with ER and IC at age 5, which, in turn, were associated with more child-reported emotional and school problems, fewer teacher-reported social skills, and less teacher-reported academic productivity at age 10. These effects held even when controlling for prior levels of adjustment at age 5, suggesting that ER and IC in early childhood may be associated with increases and decreases in social, emotional, and academic functioning from childhood to preadolescence. Finally, indirect effects from overcontrolling parenting at age 2 to preadolescent outcomes at age 10 were significant, both through IC and ER at age 5. These results support the notion that parenting during toddlerhood is associated with child adjustment into adolescence through its relation with early developing self-regulatory skills.

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What can parents do to stimulate the IQ of their children?

The saved-you-a-click answer: not that much, but do read on.

This week there was the news of the drop of the average IQ aka the reverse Flynn-effect. The big insight of this new study was that this isn’t probably due to genetics, but rather due to the environment. So, if the environment can affect this IQ – besides the obvious genetic element – what can we do as a parent? This new study tries to answer this question by looking at children that were adopted to control for genetic confounding, but the answer is sobering: parenting has a marginal and inconsistent influence on offspring IQ.

So if we combine the insights of both studies we learn:

  • the environment is important related to the Flynn-effect and
  • family and parenting characteristics are not significant contributors to variation in IQ scores.

Well, than we have to look further to education, media, …

Abstract of the study:

The association between family/parenting and offspring IQ remains the matter of debate because of threats related to genetic confounding. The current study is designed to shed some light on this association by examining the influence of parenting influences on adolescent and young adult IQ scores. To do so, a nationally representative sample of youth is analyzed along with a sample of adoptees. The sample of adoptees is able to more fully control for genetic confounding. The results of the study revealed that there is only a marginal and inconsistent influence of parenting on offspring IQ in adolescence and young adulthood. These weak associations were detected in both the nationally representative sample and the adoptee subsample. Sensitivity analyses that focused only on monozygotic twins also revealed no consistent associations between parenting/family measures and verbal intelligence. Taken together, the results of these statistical models indicate that family and parenting characteristics are not significant contributors to variation in IQ scores. The implications of this study are discussed in relation to research examining the effects of family/parenting on offspring IQ scores.



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It’s true: being watched makes people do better

Last week my band and I released a new album ‘Edward‘ – sorry for the not so subtle plug – and played a release concert for a sold-out crowd. It was our first gig with the new songs, but the audience helped us a lot. Or this was our impression. But a new study actually confirms this. Do note the small sample!

From the press release:

When people know they are being observed, parts of the brain associated with social awareness and reward invigorate a part of the brain that controls motor skills, improving their performance at skilled tasks. The findings, which could help people become more effective in the workplace and in school, are set to be published Friday in the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

“You might think having people watch you isn’t going to help, but it might actually make you perforbiomedical m better,” said lead author Vikram Chib, an assistant professor of biomedical engineering at Johns Hopkins and the Kennedy Krieger Institute. “An audience can serve as an extra bit of incentive.”

Chib, who has studied what happens in the brain when people choke under pressure, originally launched this project to investigate how performance suffers under social observation. But it quickly became clear that in certain situations, having an audience spurred people to do better, the same way it would if money was on the line.

Previous studies have shown that when people are observed, brain activity jumps in areas of the brain known for thinking about others, even if people aren’t doing anything that others could judge. But researchers had not tested to what degree, if any, people in front of an audience might work harder in pursuit of a reward, or what happens in the brain during this type of social situation.

Chib and his co-authors devised an experiment, held at the California Institute of Technology, in which 20 participants performed a task and were paid a small amount of money contingent on how well they did. The task was a video game similar to Wii or Xbox Kinect. The participants performed the task both in front of an audience of two and with no one watching. Their brain activity was monitored with functional magnetic resonance imaging.

When participants knew an audience was watching, a part of the prefrontal cortex associated with social cognition, particularly the thoughts and intentions of others, activated along with another part of the cortex associated with reward. Together these signals triggered activity in the ventral striatum, an area of the brain that motivates action and motor skills.

In essence, the presence of an audience, at least a small one, increased people’s incentive to perform well, Chib said, and the brain scans validated this by showing the neural mechanism for how it happens.

While people were watching, participants were an average of 5 percent better at the video game — and as much as 20 percent better. Only two participants didn’t perform better in front of others.

But if the audience was a lot bigger, and the stakes higher, the results could have gone the other way.

“Here, people with social anxiety tended to perform better,” Chib said, “but at some point, the size of the audience could increase the size of one’s anxiety. … We still need to figure that out.”

Abstract of the study:

Throughout our lives we must perform tasks while being observed by others. Previous studies have shown that the presence of an audience can cause increases in an individual’s performance as compared to when they are not being observed—a phenomenon called ‘social facilitation’. However, the neural mechanisms underlying this effect, in the context of skilled-task performance for monetary incentives, are not well understood. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to monitor brain activity while healthy human participants performed a skilled-task during conditions in which they were paid based on their performance and observed and not observed by an audience. We found that during social facilitation, social signals represented in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) enhanced reward value computations in ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). We also found that functional connectivity between dmPFC and ventral striatum was enhanced when participants exhibited social facilitation effects, indicative of a means by which social signals serve to modulate brain regions involved in regulating behavioral motivation. These findings illustrate how neural processing of social judgments gives rise to the enhanced motivational state that results in social facilitation of incentive-based performance.

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Men perceive themselves as smarter

This is a study that can fuel some discussions: in the college biology classroom, men perceive themselves as smarter, even when compared to women whose grades prove they are just as smart. But there is more in this study as the press release explains:

Katelyn Cooper, a doctoral student in the Arizona State University School of Life Sciences and lead author of the study, has talked with hundreds of students as an academic advisor and those conversations led to this project.

“I would ask students about how their classes were going and I noticed a trend,” shared Cooper. “Over and over again, women would tell me that they were afraid that other students thought that they were ‘stupid.’ I never heard this from the men in those same biology classes, so I wanted to study it.”

The ASU research team asked college students enrolled in a 250-person biology course about their intelligence. Specifically, the students were asked to estimate their own intelligence compared to everyone in the class and to the student they worked most closely with in class.

The researchers were surprised to find that women were far more likely to underestimate their own intelligence than men. And, when comparing a female and a male student, both with a GPA of 3.3, the male student is likely to say he is smarter than 66 percent of the class, and the female student is likely to say she is smarter than only 54 percent of the class.

In addition, when asked whether they are smarter than the person they worked most with in class, the pattern continued. Male students are 3.2 times more likely than females to say they are smarter than the person they are working with, regardless of whether their class partners are men or women.

A previous ASU study has shown that male students in undergraduate biology classes perceive men to be smarter than women about course material, but this is the first study to examine undergraduate student perceptions about their own intelligence compared to other people in the class.

Is this a problem?

“As we transition more of our courses into active learning classes where students interact more closely with each other, we need to consider that this might influence how students feel about themselves and their academic abilities,” shared Sara Brownell, senior author of the study and assistant professor in the school. “When students are working together, they are going to be comparing themselves more to each other. This study shows that women are disproportionately thinking that they are not as good as other students, so this a worrisome result of increased interactions among students.”

Brownell added that in a world where perceptions are important, female students may choose not to continue in science because they may not believe they are smart enough. These false perceptions of self-intelligence could be a negative factor in the retention of women in science.

Cooper said: “This is not an easy problem to fix. It’s a mindset that has likely been engrained in female students since they began their academic journeys. However, we can start by structuring group work in a way that ensures everyone’s voices are heard. One of our previous studies showed us that telling students it’s important to hear from everyone in the group could be enough to help them take a more equitable approach to group work.”

Abstract of the study:

Academic self-concept is one’s perception of his or her ability in an academic domain and is formed by comparing oneself to other students. As college biology classrooms transition from lecturing to active learning, students interact more with each other and are likely comparing themselves more to other students in the class. Student characteristics can impact students’ academic self-concept; however, this has been unexplored in the context of undergraduate biology. In this study, we explored whether student characteristics can affect academic self-concept in the context of an active learning college physiology course. Using a survey, students self-reported how smart they perceived themselves to be in the context of physiology relative to the whole class and relative to their groupmate, the student with whom they worked most closely in class. Using linear regression, we found that men and native English speakers had significantly higher academic self-concept relative to the whole class compared with women and nonnative English speakers. Using logistic regression, we found that men had significantly higher academic self-concept relative to their groupmate compared with women. Using constant comparison methods, we identified nine factors that students reported influenced how they determined whether they were more or less smart than their groupmate. Finally, we found that students were more likely to report participating more than their groupmate if they had a higher academic self-concept. These findings suggest that student characteristics can influence students’ academic self-concept, which in turn may influence their participation in small-group discussion and their academic achievement in active learning classes.

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Is there really a system 1 and a system 2 in our mind?

A lot of people have read the book by Kahneman Thinking fast and slow, which actually refers to the two thought-systems we as people would have one that is thinking slow, more rationally and one thinking faster, more emotionally driven.

But is this true. A new paper by Melnikoff and Bargh that I found via a tweet by Neuroskeptic collected arguments to say no. Or wait, it’s not really saying it isn’t so, the authors rather try to explain that it ain’t that simple.

I’ll share with you this part of their conclusion which makes it more clear:

We suspect that the response of many researchers when they hear ‘there are not two types of processes’ will be to dismiss the claim out of hand. ‘Of course there are two types of processes. There are unconscious automatic ones, and there are conscious deliberate ones.’ However, we are asking the reader to check their work before accepting the intuitive answer.

Consider this analogy: we say that there are two types of cars, convertibles and hard-tops. No debate there. But now we say: there are two types of cars, automatic and manual transmission. Yes, those are certainly two different types of cars. And still further: there are two types of cars, gasoline and electric motors. Or: foreign and domestic. The point is that all of these are different types of cars. But we all know that there are not just two types of cars overall: convertibles that all have manual transmission, gasoline engines, and are manufactured overseas; and hard-tops that all have automatic transmission, electric engines, and are made in our own country. All around us we see counterexamples, automobiles that are some other combination of these basic features.

So, the issue is not whether mental processes differ on various dimensions – they certainly do. The issue, we argue, is that the degree of alignment between the various dimensions has not been tested. Furthermore, as outlined above, entire swaths of psychological phenomena are characterized by misalignments of these dimensions. Perhaps more troubling, the underlying dimensions themselves lack internal consistency – a problem that, if irremediable, is absolutely fatal to the dual-process typology.

It is time that we as a field come to terms with these issues. With institutions like the World Bank and Institute of Medicine now endorsing our highly speculative and frequently misleading typology, we cannot afford to wait. Luckily, the solution is straightforward: researchers should rigorously explore each feature of a given process one by one, without making assumptions or drawing conclusions about other features that are not being studied. For too long the dual-process typology has obscured the rich diversity of the human mind. Let us embrace that diversity instead.

Abstract of the paper:

It is often said that there are two types of psychological processes: one that is intentional, controllable, conscious, and inefficient, and another that is unintentional, uncontrollable, unconscious, and efficient. Yet, there have been persistent and increasing objections to this widely influential dual-process typology. Critics point out that the ‘two types’ framework lacks empirical support, contradicts well-established findings, and is internally incoherent. Moreover, the untested and untenable assumption that psychological phenomena can be partitioned into two types, we argue, has the consequence of systematically thwarting scientific progress. It is time that we as a field come to terms with these issues. In short, the dual-process typology is a convenient and seductive myth, and we think cognitive science can do better.


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