September 27, 2007

Celebrating the Cognitive Revolution

Yeah, so I was just browsing around Steven Pinker's website, and noticed that he had a link to some interesting video.

Basically, the Mind/Brain/Behavior Interfaculty Initiative at Harvard held a discussion celebrating the beginning of the cognitive revolution, and which inaugurated a new, permanent exhibit in William James Hall on the history behind the revolution. The talk (discussion) is titled: "The Cognitive Revolution at Fifty Plus or Minus One." The discussion includes a panel of none other than: George Miller, Noam Chomsky, Susan Carey and Jerome Bruner. The discussion is also introduced and moderated by Pinker himself. (all are pictured above: Pinker, Carey, Miller, Chomsky and Bruner) Oh . . . and this took place around April! (How did I miss this?)

The talk is very awesome! The panel discussion is broken into 4 videos and I definitely recommend viewing them all! Well, to anyone who's interested in the History of Science/Psychology/Cognitive Science anyways. Of course, it is pretty "Harvard-centric," as I think Pinker himself said, but the panel does mention some other important players, such as Piaget and Edward Tolman. It's really cool just to hear about how a department absorbed in radical behaviorism in the 1950's (B.F. Skinner) could give birth to an influential paradigm that allowed purposeful thought! It's also really cool to hear about all the thinkers who influenced each on the panel.

Check it out!

September 14, 2007

Today in the History of Psychology

Today, in 1907, one of the most famous pioneers in social psychology was born. The man that I am speaking of, and who is pictured to the right, is of course Solomon Asch. Like many in his day, Asch was trained as a gestalt psychologist. (An approach that advocates that the "whole is greater than the sum of its parts." For instance, the brain cannot be defined just by its seperate parts, but by how each acts on each other simultaneously).

Asch studied many aspects of social behavior including impression formation, and even wrote one of the first influential social psychology text books, simply called, Social Psychology (1952). But what he is probably most famous for is a set of experiments he conducted in the 1950's on the topic of conformity.

In his experiments, participants viewed a picture of a line and were to compare this line to a separate set of lines to see which best resembled the first (pictured below):
All participants were confederates (basically fake participants/actors) except one. Before being asked which line correctly resembled the first, the confederates were instructed to give an incorrect answer. The confederates and one participant were all seated in a classroom, where the one participant occupied the last seat. And they were instructed to announce their answer aloud, with the real participant answering last. When the confederates were unanimous in their incorrect judgments, most real participants felt discomfort from the answer they thought was right and the answer that they heard the confederates say. Most of the participants caved under the social pressure, leaving only about 29% of his subjects who refused to "join the bogus majority." Of course if the confederates were not unanimous in their incorrect judgments, then most participants would give the correct answer.

This experiment had some interesting implications for the power of conformity in social groups and has laid the groundwork for the famous obedience experiments by Stanley Milgram.

Happy Birthday Solomon Asch!

September 13, 2007

"The Stuff of Thought"

Steven Pinker's new book, The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window Into Human Nature, is finally out! Woohoo! It came out on Tuesday and I rushed to the local Barnes and Noble to pick up my copy. I can't wait to start reading it! I'm going to try to get to it this weekend, at least start on it if I can get my other work done. I'm so excited!

September 9, 2007

Darwinian Medicine

For those of you interested, evolutionary psychologist/psychiatrist Dr. Randolph Nesse has put together a series of lectures for the Henry Stewart Talks called, Evolution and Medicine: How New Applications Advance Research and Practice.

The combined lectures were designed to be a complete introductory course to the field of evolutionary medicine with over 30 expert contributors. Topics include: Fundamentals of evolution and medicine, evolutionary genetics, infectious diseases, co-evolution and arms races, environmental factors, constraints and trade-offs, sexual selection and reproduction, cancer, mental disorders, and practical applications. Power-point slides come along with each talk as well.

The only bad thing about the lectures is that you cannot view them for free. That's right, you have to purchase them! But many, not all, of the lectures offer a playable extract for free. It's a little 5 minute sample of the talk, I guess so you can decide whether you want to buy the rest or not. Of course the single user license is about $650! Wow! So it's just like enrolling in a online course I suppose, just without the grade. From what I heard from the playable extracts . . . they seem pretty interesting.

Go check them out!

Today in the History of Psychology

"There is nothing so practical as a good theory."
- Kurt Lewin, 1951

Today in 1890, the "founder of social psychology," Kurt Lewin, was born!

Originally from Prussia, he emigrated to the United States as a result of World War II. He held a position at the University of Iowa, where he developed his interests in social phenomena and even began research, in order to help the war effort, such as examining troop morale. Of course, coming from the German tradition of Gestalt Psychology, he was a true believer in a good theory. One cannot fix a problem from evidence alone. To create a solution to a social problem, one must fully understand the issue. Lewin was really the first to utilize theory-building for the understanding of social "facts," and he rigorously employed experimentation to test his hypotheses.

He moved to MIT around 1944, where he established the Research Center for Group Dynamics. One might say, the field of group dynamics is where his importance lays and where his legacy proliferates. Here he developed and refined his field theory of social behavior, B=ƒ(P,E), (behavior is a function of a person and his/her environment). That basically means, one's behavior is due to the situation the person is in when the behavior occurs, rather than emphasizing past experiences (upbringing). He also looked at concepts such as group performance and leadership styles, and even found that democratic leadership proved to be the most productive type of leadership.

Lewin died in 1947, just three years after the establishment of his research center, yet his legacy lived on through his students. One of these students was Leon Festinger. Festinger studied under Lewin at the University of Iowa where he received his Ph.D in 1942. He later followed Lewin to MIT and headed the Research Center for Group Dynamics after Lewin died.

Happy Birthday Kurt Lewin!