Archive for ‘Psychology’

August 31, 2011

Pronouns and Joint Authorship

by Vince Giordano

An interesting perspective on the Federalist papers and the work of John Lennon/Paul McCartney:

The songs on which [John Lennon and Paul McCartney] collaborated closely produced linguistic patterns strikingly different from those of either songwriter individually. The 15 songs that were true John-Paul partnerships, Mr. Pennebaker says, were “much more positive” in emotional tone and used “more I-words, fewer we-words and much shorter words than either artist normally used on his own.” Mr. Pennebaker discerns that same synergy at work in a very different collection of texts: The Federalist Papers, three of which were written jointly by Alexander Hamilton and James Madison.

More here.

July 29, 2011

Are Recessions All That Bad?

by Vince Giordano

As I read over Ezra Klein’s post that described the recovery-less recovery (more found here), a few words and phrases stuck out to me.

As Wolfers suggests, these numbers solve the mystery in the labor market. This isn’t about confidence or uncertainty or regulations or any of the other bankshot explanations we’ve been using to explain why unemployment seems stuck even as the economy rebounds. The economy isn’t rebounding. Demand isn’t returning. And without demand, there can’t be jobs.

Emphasis from here on out is from me. In terms of demand, is it all that bad for a country to scale back it’s purchases, it’s expenditures, and possibly live more within their means? Banks, for one, are not giving out loans as easily. I found this out over the past week. With a proposed deal I negotiated with Wells Fargo, I would of been facing a 40% mortgage payment to income ratio. The banks today want that ratio to be between 20% and 30%. Five years ago, I could have easily gotten a loan with a 40% ratio. I speak on this based on friends and family who have in fact received loans before the Great Recession with roughly 40% ratios. Banks are being more careful, people are not selling because the housing bubble has burst, and those willing to make moves have to cross their t’s and dot their i’s to prove that they truly will make x in a given year, not just think or hope they will.

Meanwhile, we’re in an economic crisis in which the main problem is too little spending.

Cutting spending and budgets in a recession does hurt an economy but, again, too little spending is not inherently bad. If anything, this Great Recession has helped us feel the purchases we make (credit cards numb the feeling of purchases. We do not see the actual money come out of our wallets or purses but only flash a piece of plastic. We delay this feeling from hitting us until later on).

I stand by less spending and lower demand as good signs for simplicity and understanding our behaviors. Whether these signals are actually making cognitive connections with fellow Americans, I cannot say for sure.

One final note: yes, over 9% unemployment nationwide (with that 2-3x the case for minorities – cry me a river white America) is bad. I will not deny that reality.

June 12, 2011

Our Subjective God, Ctd

by Vince Giordano

Tom Rees mulls over a study and continues this discussion:

What they found was consistent with a set up where religion makes people conservative, and that in turn makes them support torture. In other words, religion has a direct and an indirect effect. Basic religion (in their model) opposes torture, but it also religion increases support for conservative politics. As a result, it indirectly increases support for torture.

What’s more, this indirect effect was much stronger in in educated people. In educated people, religion is more likely to be linked to conservative views, and conservative views are more likely to be linked to support for torture.

In my view, the real interest in these results is that they underscore once again just how complex religion is. I think that the motives for educated people to embrace religion differ from the motives of the less educated.As a result, the kind of religion they have, and the purposes they put it too, are different.

They make religion in their own image.

June 12, 2011

Society Underneath the Hood

by Vince Giordano

NYT columnist David Brooks gives a talk in England on his new book The Social Animal. It isn’t the same old same old on social networking but delves into our subconscious decision making and connections made with the world around us. If his book interests you, look for it in your local library. There are several circulating already in the York County library system.

June 6, 2011

Mental Health Care Needed?

by Vince Giordano

Andrew Sullivan really makes the case for Sarah Palin after her comments on Paul Revere have been used as fact by her followers in attempt to edit the Wikipedia page.

June 1, 2011

Long Read and Slideshow of the Day

by Vince Giordano

Rolling Stone puts forth a biased (is it?) piece and slideshow on Roger Ailes, spinmaster behind Fox News.

June 1, 2011

Humans as Patients as Consumers

by Vince Giordano

Andrew Sullivan cites a Krugman column with a logically binding quote:

HALF of all health care costs in the US is concentrated in only 5% of the population, and 80% of costs are accounted for by the top quintile! (source: Kaiser Foundation PDF)

So the effect here is that with such a concentration of costs in such a small segment of the population, the ability of the larger population to move the market is highly restricted. You can make 80% of consumers highly price sensitive, but they can only affect a tiny fraction of healthcare spending. And for the generally well, their costs are probably those which are least responsible for the spiraling inflation. They’re not getting $30,000 stents or prolonged ICU stays, or needing complex chronic disease management.

Conversely, those who are high consumers of health care simply cannot be made more price sensitive, since their costs are probably well beyond what they could pay in any event, and for most are well beyond the limits of even a catastrophic health insurance policy.

Once you are told that you need a bypass/chemo/stent/dialysis/NICU etc, etc, etc, the costs are so overwhelming that a consumer cannot possibly pay them out of pocket. Since, by definition, these catastrophic costs are paid by some form of insurance, the consumer cannot have much financial interest in cost containment. For most, when they are confronted with a major or life-threatening illness, their entire focus shifts to survival, and they could care less about the cost

This combats both Obama’s and the Republican approach to reform health care and Medicare. Some more feedback on this can be found here.

May 27, 2011

Beware of Metaphors

by Vince Giordano

Metaphors and imagery can be great tools for communicating. They also can be abused by pundits and invective slingers. Here is a stunning story on this when related to crime. A study: “the researchers asked 482 students to read one of two reports about crime in the City of Addison. Later, they had to suggest solutions for the problem. In the first report, crime was described as a “wild beast preying on the city” and “lurking in neighborhoods”.

The outcomes?

After reading these words, 75% of the students put forward solutions that involved enforcement or punishment, such as building more jails or even calling in the military for help. Only 25% suggested social reforms such as fixing the economy, improving education or providing better health care. The second report was exactly the same, except it described crime as a “virus infecting the city” and “plaguing” communities. After reading this version, only 56% opted for great law enforcement, while 44% suggested social reforms.

However, they found that the harsh wording didn’t necessarily derive draconian ideas for solutions or thoughts:

The researchers also discovered that the words themselves do not wield much influence without the right context. When Thibodeau and Boroditsky asked participants to come up with synonyms for either “beast” or “virus”before reading identical crime reports, they provided similar solutions for solving the city’s problems. In other words, the metaphors only worked if they framed the story. If, however, they appeared at the end of the report, they didn’t have any discernable effect. It seems that when it comes to the potency of metaphor, context is king.

May 25, 2011

Crime Rates Are Down

by Vince Giordano


The number of violent crimes in the United States dropped significantly last year, to what appeared to be the lowest rate in nearly 40 years, a development that was considered puzzling partly because it ran counter to the prevailing expectation that crime would increase during a recession.

In a way, this is contrary to the vibe the Tea Party has given off. It’s been insinuated that they have been so fed up with the government and many other issues plaguing whites over 45 that they are bound to storm Washington and “take matters into their own hands”.

A scientific take on this topic here.

May 24, 2011


by Vince Giordano

When we believe, we can run into some of this and that. Money quotes:

In my experience “I believe X” suggests that the speaker has chosen to affiliate with X, feeling loyal to it and making it part of his or her identity. The speaker is unlikely to offer much evidence for X, or to respond to criticism of X, and such criticism will likely be seen as a personal attack.

In his post Robin argued that people often convince themselves that they truly reconsider their strongly held beliefs, but what they do is false reconsideration with the real purpose of reassuring themselves and strengthening the belief. Before it was just a strong belief, but after false reconsideration it’s a strong belief that they’ve really, definitely, seriously reconsidered. But if you can’t  imagine yourself going through the day holding another set of competing beliefs than you never actually reconsidered it.

As mentioned in one of the reads, it may be better to say ‘I feel’ than ‘I believe’. They mention this because it makes clear the personal attachment. I would add that feel instead of believe takes away the broad brush-ness of, say, religious statements that in reality are subjective (then by default not objective) and are highly unlikely to have been shared with their religious forefathers thousands of years ago. Here is a decent thought to close on:

Conservatives, could you imagine becoming someone believes that higher taxes and unemployment insurance don’t hurt economic growth or employment? Liberals can you imagine becoming someone who believes that that minimum wages decrease employment and fiscal stimulus doesn’t work? If the answer is no, you should think about whether it’s because holding such a belief would conflict with your identity or affiliations.

May 23, 2011

Deliberate Practice vs. Repetition

by Vince Giordano

This topic can apply to many fields. I will mention “quiet time” as seen in the Christian traditions and in today’s world of education.

Quiet Time is known as time each day a Christian spends intentionally with God. This may include Bible reading, prayer, reflective reading, writing, written or thought out reflections, and more. In education, much of our school days are made up of repetition. We repeat our times tables, look over and over our Spanish vocab, or try to memorize dates or formulas.

An alternative to some (I see it as a complimentary approach) is deliberate practice:

Deliberate practice requires careful reflection on what worked and what didn’t work. A budding concert pianist may practice a particularly troublesome passage listening for places where his fingers do not flow smoothly. A chess student may spend hours analyzing one move of a world-championship chess match trying to see what the grandmasters saw. This kind of practice demands time for reflection and intense concentration, so intense that it is difficult to sustain for longer than 3 hours per day.

This topic has been expounded on by others, but the general point is that basic subjects and foundations of knowledge are vital for one to creatively and reflectively learn. Without that base, we cannot reflect on our spiritual direction or cognitive processes in learning.

May 17, 2011

Addressing Thy Fears

by Vince Giordano

From our military budget ($800 billion – part of it goes to nuclear subs, which we have over a dozen and China doesn’t even have 1 yet) to our fears, we clearly are still in a Cold War frame of mind. Notice the fears of nuclear attacks, nuclear run-off, poisoning, and so on. Even in Japan after their tsunami and earthquake, the bulk of news reporting was focused on nuclear contamination. In the long run, a few hundred people could die from the nuclear contamination. In the short run, tens of thousands of people died from the earthquake. Irrational?

We worry about some things more than the evidence warrants (vaccines, nuclear radiation, genetically modified food), and less about some threats than the evidence warns (climate change, obesity, using our mobiles when we drive). … [This Perception Gap] produces social policies that protect us more from what we’re afraid of than from what in fact threatens us the most (we spend more to protect ourselves from terrorism than heart disease)…which in effect raises our overall risk.

May 14, 2011

Fuel Psychology

by Vince Giordano

If you ever cared about saving money at the gas pump, you may have driven out of your way to save a few cents per gallon. Read this:

As the NACS notes, such a trip is more likely to increase your costs than it is to save you money. A 10-minute detour theoretically results in a 20-minute round trip. At an average speed of 45 mph, the trip would cover 15 miles. If your car gets 30 miles to the gallon, you have to burn half a gallon of gas to reach the station with the cheaper prices. At $4 a gallon, that’s a cost of $2. To make such a trip worth your while (without factoring in the value of your time or the additional wear and tear on your vehicle), you’d need a fuel tank capable of holding 67 gallons. At a savings of three cents a gallon, that 67-gallon tank would cost $2.01 less to fill up at the cheap station versus the more expensive station. This means that after subtracting the cost of the extra fuel it necessitations, your excursion would save you a penny!

One other note for those bemoaning the car/fuel age:

Indeed, while the gas that cost 36 cents per gallon in 1970 would only cost $2 per gallon today, the average fuel economy for cars in that era was approximately 13.5 miles per gallon. In contrast, a 2011 Ford Fiesta gets 28 miles per gallon in the city and 37 miles per gallon on the highway — so until gas prices top $4 per gallon, Fiesta drivers are actually paying less per mile for gas than the drivers of the 1970s did. And they’re not paying a premium to achieve such efficiencies — the Fiesta starts at $13,320 (that’s just $2312.72 in 1970 dollars).

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March 11, 2011

The Case For Not Focusing

by Vince Giordano

Jonah Lehrer makes it. If you follow his blog, he from time to time posts articles on this very topic:

The takeaway is that we need to broaden our definition of “productive” thinking. For too long, we’ve assumed that every thought process that isn’t focused attention is a waste of time. We’ve trained our kids to believe that the only way to succeed is to stare at the blackboard, to fixate on the lesson plan. But that’s wrong. Consider this recent study, which makes me sad: In 1995, psychologists at Union College surveyed several dozen elementary school teachers. While every teacher said they wanted creative kids in their classroom, they were mistaken. In fact, when the teachers were asked to rate their students on a variety of personality measures – the list included everything from “individualistic” to “risk-seeking” to “accepting of authority” – the traits mostly closely aligned with creative thinking were also closely associated with their “least favorite” students. As the researchers note, “Judgments for the favorite student were negatively correlated with creativity; judgments for the least favorite student were positively correlated with creativity.

This is a point of interest to me for two reasons. I personally strive to be creative as an individual and I believe it is important for my students to be creative as well. I will admit that I am not the best at providing an environment for that in my classroom (my most recent project – comparing Thomas Jefferson to John Adams on a poster – felt lame). Thankfully, I have the freedom too revise and do differently next time.

March 2, 2011

Inside My Mind

by Vince Giordano

Let me share with you all this article by Jonah Lehrer on the psychological understanding behind simple decisions becoming overcomplicated. The story of my life. Money quote:

The problem, of course, is that the modern marketplace is a conspiracy to confuse, to trick the mind into believing that our most banal choices are actually extremely significant. Companies spend a fortune trying to convince us that only their toothpaste will clean our teeth, or that only their detergent will remove the stains from our clothes, or that every other cereal tastes like cardboard. And then there is the surreal abundance of the store shelf. Do we really need 13 different varieties of Cheerios? Why does the average drug store contain 55 floss alternatives and more than 350 kinds of toothpaste? While all these products are designed to cater to particular consumer niches, they end up duping the brain into believing that picking a floss is a high-stakes game, since it’s so damn hard. And so we get mired in decision-making quicksand.

January 15, 2011

Food for a Lazy Saturday

by Vince Giordano

Jonah Lehrer has a piece on the benefits of taking a vacation. It seems the common wisdom of today is that vacations revieve us and help our performance in work, school, and life in general. I ask this: what if some of us cannot afford a vacation to a far away, exotic location, much less a week long get away?

In college, I use to take Saturdays to disconnect; be away from school, the computer (the best I could), and get outside. I believe Lehrer’s article can be beneficial for those of us simply looking to let go on our day(s) off:

Too often, we fail to consider the ways in which our surroundings constrain our creativity. When we are always “close” to the problems of work, when we never silence our phones or stop responding to e-mail, we get trapped into certain mental habits. We assume that there is no other way to think about things, that this is how it must always be done. It’s not until we’re napping by the pool with a pina colada in hand — when work seems a million miles away — that we suddenly find the answer we’ve needed all along.

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January 10, 2011

The Media Swirling Around Tuscan

by Vince Giordano

So much has been posted lately on the insane shooting in Tuscan. Much light has been shed on the shooter (mugshot left) as well on the interesting crosshair map made by Sarah Palin.

MJ and I discussed what we knew about the incident yesterday as we walked to get the Sunday paper. Does anyone know if U.S. Congressmen and Women get much security to protect them? Reports have stated that after Jared Lee Loughner ran out of bullets, Rep. Gabrielle Gifford’s staff and a few bystanders tackled him. I just wonder how much security can be given to all 460+ serving us in Congress (the last time a Congressman was killed was in 1978).

I pray for all those injured, killed, and for Loughner.

January 5, 2011

The Language of Cursing

by Vince Giordano

This was a neat lecture to watch over my hot soup lunch. Enjoy!

H/T: John

November 30, 2010

Myth Bust: “Muslims Don’t Get Patted Down by TSA”

by Vince Giordano

A funny cartoon but an even better article here; it includes an interview with the TSA director, which should carry more weight than your favorite pundit.

November 29, 2010

Marriage for Procreation’s Sake

by Vince Giordano

Here is a long essay mulling over North America’s shifts within the same-sex marriage fight. Although I don’t fully agree with it all, it is a good read and makes me think / form questions.

Should the Catholic church be forced to evolve or rethink its stances via laws against its stances on adoption and same-sex parents?

I appreciate the honesty of the author and his lamentations over fanatics with signs hijacking the evangelical/Christian movement. Here’s a big statement worth quoting:

Worst of all, we have failed to deal honestly with the major threat to marriage and the family: heterosexual adultery and divorce. Evangelicals divorce at the same rate as the rest of the population. Many evangelical leaders have failed to speak against cheap divorce because they and their people were getting divorced just like everyone else. And yet we have had the gall to use the tiny (5 percent or less) gay community as a whipping boy that we labeled as the great threat to marriage.

Here are some other worthy quotes:

The former vice president of Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, Ed Dobson, got it right. After he left Liberty to become pastor of Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, he regularly visited a former parishioner’s hospitalized son who turned out to have AIDS. Slowly, he sensed a call to serve other people with AIDS.

He decided to visit the local AIDS resource center run by the gay community. The director was shocked that the pastor of the largest evangelical church in town would visit. Dobson’s church was soon deeply engaged with the gay community. Calvary placed a church member on the board of the AIDS resource center, bought Christmas gifts for families affected by AIDS, paid for funeral expenses for impoverished people who died of AIDS, and welcomed the gay community to attend the church.

Of course, it was controversial. One church member warned that the church would be “overrun by homosexuals.” Dobson responded in his next Sunday sermon: “If the church gets overrun with homosexuals, that will be terrific. They can take their place in the pews right next to the liars, gossips, and materialists.”

At one point in this essay, I reflected on the topic of “witnessing”. I first knew the phrase as an approach to sharing one’s faith with non-believers (or who we thought were non-believers). I have heard quite a bit before from evangelical circles or individuals that being a good “witness” is important. They were referring to one’s lifestyle and how it may be interpreted by others and especially those outside the church. Christianity is seen by non-church goers as anti-gay (held by 91%) as well within its own pews (held by 80%). That is a witness that is buttressed by the Westboro Baptist Church, wing nut evangelicals, and various other pundits. In the end, the church at large has been branded, as Dobson has noted, as “better at hating than loving”, better at focusing on the differences between other children of God than the similarities, and most notably better at not communicating, listening, or learning others stories (the grey areas – everything is not black and white).

Finally to the procreation point:

But everything depends on the definition. If marriage is not about bringing up children, but about how adults solemnize their emotional commitment to each other, gay marriage becomes plausible.

Is emotional commitment between two adults what the state should care about in marriage? What should a state that does not establish any religion understand marriage to be? I think the answer is clear. The state must promote the best setting in which to nurture the next generation of wholesome citizens.

Evangelical wing nuts, such as Bryan Fischer, see marriage as meant for birthing a minimum of 3 kids and should be ready for our youth by the time they are 16. I don’t know why marriage has been hijacked and held up with a  “procreate or your marriage is not a true marriage’ mantle. Many couples, I bet, have contemplated not having kids after being married and spending time with friends and their children. It is extremely ignorant and hurtful to imply that couples who get married and don’t have kids are not fulfilling an unwritten duty.

In the end, this comes down to what we each define as Truth, what black and white stereotypes we hold up as molds everyone truly fits into, discerning how our houses of worship and communities have turned from communal (seen as evil socialism!!!!) into a narcissistic individualism (free capitalism! America!), and asking the questions or taking down the guards to see these situations/battles/ideological wars in a softer, more pragmatic frame of being.