November 25, 2009

Steven Pinker on

So, I just saw an interesting interview on It's a recent one where Steven Pinker is being interviewed by science journalist, Robert Wright.

It's a longer interview (about an hour long), but it covers various milestones throughout his career. Of course, with it being Pinker, much of the conversation revolved around the human capacity for language. There's an interesting segment where he discusses his disagreements with the linguist, Noam Chomsky. And then there's some discussion of evolutionary psychology, the logic of science and our perception of reality, and even a little bit of quantum mechanics (well, not a serious discussion of quantum theory, but it's used as an example of how reality is really counterintuitive). The interview ends with a discussion of the new project he's working on. It's a book on violence, and how violence is actually decreasing world-wide, despite our intuitions. He's been working on this book for a while it seems. You may even remember a post of mine covering this topic from over two years ago!

Well, anyways, I'm posting the interview below, check it out:

November 24, 2009

Gladwell on Colbert . . .

Malcolm Gladwell was recently on the ColbertReport, discussing his new book: What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures. It is a book of essays that he wrote for the New Yorker. He's one of my favorite writers, so I'll definitely have to pick up the new book sometime.

The interview is pretty good, though it seems that perhaps Gladwell was a little nervous (he seemed a little tripped up when Colbert asked if he was a Christian). But I think Colbert took it easy on him. Check out the video below:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Malcolm Gladwell
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorU.S. Speedskating

Symphony of Science

Wow! Have you heard of the Symphony of Science?

This might be old news to some of you, but it's new to me (I found out through pharyngula, of course).

The Symphony of Science is a musical project "designed
to deliver scientific knowledge and philosophy in musical form." The project is the brainchild of electronic musician, John Boswell. He takes audio/video samples from various lectures and/or educational programs and mixes them against his original compositions. His songs feature clips from Carl Sagan, Richard Dawkins, Richard Feynman, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking, and even Bill Nye the Science Guy. One track, "A Glorious Dawn," was recently released on vinyl through Third Man Records (indie record label founded by Jack White of the White Stripes) for the 75th anniversary of Carl Sagan's birth. This is actually my favorite track, and am posting the video below (all videos, lyrics, and mp3 downloads can be found at the home site . . . check it out!):

November 18, 2009

Free Copy of The Origin . . . . from Ray Comfort?

So, for those of you not "in the know," Ray Comfort (yes, the creationist with the banana routine) has printed 100,000 copies of his own edition of The Origin of Species, with a "special" introduction of course. Well, today Comfort and his followers gave out their propaganda at various universities and colleges across the country. And guess what? Yep. I got my own copy too!

Yep, there were people passing them out today at the University of Kentucky. One of my grad school buddies was able to secure a copy for me, haha (Thanks Dave!). The "special" introduction is hilarious!

Oh, by the by, if they came to your campus today, and you received a copy, then send a picture to The Primate Diaries. According to Pharyngula, Eric Michael Johnson (blogger at The Primate Diaries) is putting together a collage "of smirking evilutionists with Comfort's folly."

October 7, 2009

A TEDtalk with Oliver Sacks!

Oliver Sacks, the famous British neurologist, recently gave a talk at TED concerning the topic of hallucinations.

Dr. Sacks is probably best known for his popular books in which he describes case studies of his patients with intriguing neurological disorders. One of my favorites is: The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat: And Other Clinical Tales. And then you probably know: Awakenings, which was made into a movie starring Robert De Niro and Robin Williams. I believe his most recent book is: Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, Revised and Expanded Edition, in which Dr. Sacks examines the effects of music on the brain.

Well, this TED talk is about hallucinations. Well, not just hallucinations, but a particular type of disorder that causes hallucinations called, Charles Bonnett Syndrome. This is a disorder in which people who are blind experience visual hallucinations, and people who are death experience auditory hallucinations. It's very interesting. Apparently the syndrome is common, occurring in about 10% of the blind population, though it is probably under-reported.

These people are not crazy. They are perfectly sane, healthy individuals. The syndrome seems to occur in people who are blind from macular degeneration. What seems to be happening is that, as the structures that gather sensory information gradually break down, the visual/auditory parts of the brain go in hyper-drive. They are over-working, and the brain is trying to make sense of the jumbled mess of activation. Well, Dr. Sacks describes it a lot better, and includes some funny stories (including one about a woman who hallucinates Kermit the Frog). I'm posting the talk below, so check it out:

October 1, 2009

Dawkins on Colbert!

Now for something a little more cheerful.

Richard Dawkins was on the Colbert Report last night promoting his new book, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. It's a new book that synthesizes the evidence for evolution in a manner that is simple and easy to understand. I'm looking forward to reading it.

Check out the clip:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Richard Dawkins
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorMichael Moore

September 30, 2009

Margo Wilson (1942 - 2009)

I recently learned over the weekend, through the Human Behavior and Evolution Society email listserv, that Professor Margo Wilson died due to complications with lymphoma. This is very sad news.

Margo Wilson was a professor at McMaster University in Canada. And she was a pioneer in the field of evolutionary psychology, along with her longtime collaborator, Martin Daly. She was a past president of HBES and founding editor of the society's flagship journal, Evolution and Human Behavior. And she was also a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Dr. Wilson might be best known for her classic work on homicide, in collaboration with Daly. Their influential book on the topic analyzes historical and anthropological data from around the world through an evolutionary framework. They argued that the most common type of homicide (that between two conflicting young men who know each other) is a by-product of behavior that is selectively advantageous for controlling the reproductive behavior of women.

She has also done some interesting work on the "Cinderella effect." The Cinderella effect describes phenomena wherein step-parents mistreat their step-children at much higher rates than their mistreatment of their own genetic offspring. This effect is robust across cultures and stays strong, even controlling for socioeconomic factors. For instance, they found that children in the UK were 100 times more likely to be beaten by stepfathers than by genetic fathers.

She has done great work in the field, and has helped build a strong foundation on which evolutionary psychology could grow, and her death is a significant loss to the field.

September 21, 2009

Darwin Lectures at UK!

Okay, I can't believe my wife beat me to it . . . well, on second thought, maybe I can.

Anyways, the University of Kentucky will be paying tribute to Darwin this October with a lecture series that's about a week long! Woo!

The Gaines Center of the Humanities is sponsoring this year's Bale Boone Symposium entitled: Science, Humanities, & Culture in the Wake of Darwin. There will be a host of great speakers, including Ken Miller, who I've heard talk before at a Darwin Day festival back in 2005 when I was still at VCU. I think that he does an excellent job of discussing the fact of evolution, and I will be glad to get to hear him again. Another talk that I think will be quite interesting is from Jonathan Gottschall (a professor of English at Washington and Jefferson College) entitled: Darwin in Wonderland: Evolution and the Science of Story. Looks like it'll be great fun!

All talks are within the student center at 6pm, are free, and open to the public! Here's a copy of the flyer for more details. My wife and I will be there, you should go too!

On a similar note, V. Betty Smocovitis, Biologist from the University of Florida, will be presenting a lecture titled Rhapsody on a Darwinian Theme: Darwin in Song and Musical Production this week! It will be on Thursday, Sep. 24 in the Lexmark Rm in the Adm. Bldg at 3:30 pm. Unfortunately, I will not be able to attend this lecture, as I have to teach . . . :(

But you may want to go nonetheless!

Lastly, the IdeaFestival is happening this week in Louisville, KY. It starts on Tuesday and runs through Saturday. It's an event that happens in Louisville (I think every year, but I'm not sure) where great thinkers and innovators come to speak. I like to compare it a bit to the TED talks. Well, anyways, you can check out the agenda on their site. It looks like there will be some pretty good talks there too, so I encourage you to go, if you plan to be in Kentucky this week. Tickets are a little pricey, as it's much like a conference, but you can purchase tickets for individual events if you just wanted to see one or two of the talks. Check it out!

August 19, 2009

The End of Summer

Wow, the summer is practically OVER!! School starts next week! Oh noes!

Ah well, I hope that everyone out there reading this has had an enjoyable summer.

I know, I know . . . I haven't posted much over the past couple months (I skipped the whole month of July even!). Well, I've either been too busy to think about my blog, or I've been out of town and rarely around a reliable internet connection.

Probably the coolest, or at least most interesting, thing that I've done this summer was participate in the 4th annual Summer Institute in Social Psychology (SISP) hosted by Northwestern University and sponsored by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology and the National Science Foundation. SISP is a selective program of intensive courses and workshops geared towards students who are early in their graduate careers in personality and social psychology. The courses that I participated in were the Biological Basis of Social Behavior and Personality course and the Meta-Analysis course. Needless to say, the experience was great! I really learned a lot, and the summer institute has helped me generate and/or solidify numerous ideas that I can now incorporate into my own research (though two weeks is not enough time to really become an expert with these methods, so I will definitely need more experience if I wish to pursue them further). It's even got me started thinking about possible post-docs that I may want to pursue in the future (but that's still a long ways away, haha).

But anyways, I've met a lot of new friends and possible collaborators, many interested in the same questions that I myself am interested in. The program even included a trip to downtown Chicago! (a city to which I have never been!) It was great! For any social/personality grad students out there reading this, I really do recommend participating in one of these SISP programs. You'll gain knowledge of some of the most up-to-date theory and methods in the field and you'll get to know a lot of new people, do networking, and form collaborations (many of these people will be future superstars in the field!).

Other than SISP, I've taught a summer lab on social psychology research methods, worked on my research, watched A LOT of movies, made a couple trips back "home" to Virginia and to North and South Carolina, and participated in a book club that my grad student buddies and I recently begun. The book club is going well, and I think that it's really a good idea. It's really hard to read stuff for "fun" when you are in graduate school, and this type of club kind of forces you to do it (otherwise discussion will not go well). So far we've read Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science and Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the Rise of Raunch Culture which were both pretty good. Naked Economics was really my first reading on economics and I thought that it was generally a good read as an introduction for the layperson. (Please see Medicine for Melancholy for a more detailed review, if interested.) Female Chauvinist Pigs was a more alarming book about the social problem of "raunch culture." Books I'm reading now include: Rock, Paper, Scissors: Game Theory in Everyday Life and Bozo Sapiens: Why to Err is Human. Perhaps I will eventually write up a review of one or two of these books . . . we'll see.

One last note. My wife recently started a blog called, Deconstructing the Flower, which focuses on modern feminist issues, and it might be of interest to some of you. I'm also linking it on my sidebar, under "Friends." So if feminism and/or women's issues is a concern or interest of yours, please visit her blog and enjoy!

June 24, 2009

Steven Pinker, George Church, Anne Wojcicki, & Linda Avey on Charlie Rose

Hello all! I hope that everyone is having a great summer so far!

I was browsing the Edge website and came across a link to a Charlie Rose clip featuring Steven Pinker, George Church, Anne Wojcicki, and Linda Avey (I guess that you could have gotten that from my title, right?). It's about the Personal Genome Project, which I've mentioned in previous posts.

Anyways, it's a pretty good discussion about the importance of the project and about how having open access to people's genomes will open up many opportunities for researchers in developing new ways of analyzing the influence of genes on behavior.

Well, I'm posting the clip below. Check it out, and enjoy:

May 27, 2009

Hard-Wired Morality

This looks interesting.

University of Colorado, Boulder ecologist, Marc Beckoff, and philosopher, Jessica Pierce, have written a new book (Wild Justice
) that examines morality as an adaptive strategy for helping aggressive and/or competitive species to live together in groups. Morality, in the form of empathy, cooperation and reciprocity, provides what Beckoff calls, the "social glue," for group living.

The authors cite evidence from around the world and across a variety of species, from mice to elephants, that support the claim that animals have an innate sense of fairness and empathy. For instance, experiments with rats have shown that they will refuse to obtain food if their actions will protect other rats from being harmed. As well, in play, dominate wolves will self-handicap and allow lower ranked wolves to bite them. Additionally, neurological evidence is presented that shows how some species have structures in their brains that are similar to those "empathy" areas in human brains.

This is a very interesting topic, and I just might have to put this book on my summer reading list. I agree that what we call morality today probably started out as an adaptive strategy for group living, because social networks were so important for survival across species. And as such, evidence for this "social glue" should be abundant in nature.

Such evidence for a hard-wired morality could have strong implications for us humans. For one, morality is often seen as a philosophical and/or religious concept. It sometimes seems like scientists have no business talking about moral issues. But this book could show that one doesn't need religion to explain while we feel empathy for others, have urges to be honest, and want to protect others from harm. Such feelings could be . . . dare I say it . . . instinctual. Yet I'm not sure whether I would agree that animals can tell the difference between right and wrong, not in the abstract sense that we mean those concepts. I really liked what Emory primatologist, Frans de Waal, said on the topic:

"I don't believe animals are moral in the sense we humans are – with well developed and reasoned sense of right and wrong – rather that human morality incorporates a set of psychological tendencies and capacities such as empathy, reciprocity, a desire for co-operation and harmony that are older than our species. Human morality was not formed from scratch, but grew out of our primate psychology. Primate psychology has ancient roots, and I agree that other animals show many of the same tendencies and have an intense sociality."
Really cool, exciting stuff. Guess I'll have to pick the book up sometime.

May 25, 2009

Bridging the gap between the Humanities and the Sciences

So it's been a couple weeks since my last post. You know how it goes, classes ending, submitting grades, finishing papers, etc. And let's not forget the importance of taking a much needed rest from work!

Well, not too much is going on now . . . besides teaching the lab sections for summer courses and working on summer research projects. Anyways, the other day I was browsing the Edge website and came across this page celebrating the 50th anniversary of C.P. Snow's lecture on the "Two Cultures," that is the culture of the literary intellectual and the culture of the scientist. At the time, the two cultures were seen as divided camps of thinking. Those in the humanities were viewed as the true intellectuals (i.e., those in philosophy, literature/poetry, art, the social sciences, etc.). And the expectation was that scientists had very little to say about culture, the human experience, or human nature.

50 years later, Seed Magazine asked members of the "Third Culture" (i.e., those bridging the gap between the humanities and the sciences) whether the two cultures are still divided today. Visit the link and check out the videos. They're pretty good, and quite short (6-10 mins.). Overall, the answer seems to be that the two cultures are not as divided as once was and is more like a continuum from one pole to the other. Advancements made in the science of the mind have especially contributed to bridging this gap. It has helped changed how we think about those abstract concepts (e.g., human nature, religion, even beauty). As well, it is young scholars who are becoming more and more interested in collaboration among different fields of inquiry.

Below are the videos from Harvard psychologists, Steven Pinker and Marc Hauser. Enjoy!:

April 27, 2009

Why We Believe in Gods - Evolutionary Psychology and Religion

There was a lecture recently posted on (though I found out about it through pharyngula) that might be of interest for some of you.

It's a talk by Dr. Andy Thomson, (a psychiatrist from back home in Virginia!) concerning religion from the perspective of evolutionary psychology and cognitive neuroscience. It's quite a nice (and I think convincing) lecture. Essentially, his thesis is that religion is a cultural artifact or byproduct (like music) that has hijacked specific traits/modules in our brains that once provided a selective advantage for living in a social world (SCI anyone?). Of course, I cannot do his argument justice. You will have to watch it (if you haven't already) and decide for yourself. Though, remember, it's a normal academic talk . . . so it's about an hour long . . . but there's a brief Q&A near the end. The video is posted below, check it out and see what you think:


By the by, if you are not all video-ed out and you have some interest in that work by Simon Baron-Cohen, which Thomson mentioned, then check this video from the Edge website out! Besides being the brother of Sacha Baron-Cohen, Simon is a brilliant psychologist from the University of Cambridge. His work mostly concerns research on autism and theory of mind. The talk posted on the Edge site is about his experiments on how people can read the emotional expressions of others just by looking at their eyes. Specifically, he's examining sex differences on whether women can read emotional expressions from people's eyes quicker than men.

Well, that's about it. There's your two for one! Enjoy!

April 24, 2009


This week’s readings on the self seemed to concern a more classic topic than previous weeks, and that is the idea of self-presentation. In general, we like to manage the impressions that we give to others. We like to appear favorable. As well, we’ll even manipulate the impressions of others to make them appear unfavorable. For instance, Gilbert and Silvera found that people will try to hinder others by “overhelping” them. If a target person that we do not favor is performing on a task that is rather simple, or easily performed, we’ll likely help this person achieve his/her goal in order to undermine his/her competence. So, in effect, the target person will seem incompetent because he/she received help on an easy task.

Not to sound repetitive, but self-presentation makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, especially if Kurzban’s idea of the self (the SCI) is an accurate representation of reality. If the self is a collection of modules that help us function in a social world, by manipulating others, then self-presentation fits in as one tool we use to manipulate others. As I stated before, we manipulate the representations of ourselves to appear favorable to others, and we manipulate the representations of others to make them appear less favorable. An important motive that seems to be behind self-presentation is belongingness and acceptance, but it is by no means the only motive. As the SCI would predict, the activation of multiple modules will differentially affect self-presentation. In support of this notion, Griskevicius et al. found that activating self-protection versus mating goals will differentially affect whether we conform to a group or not. When people are primed with self-protection goals, they generally conform to group attitudes/norms. This is because fitting in with groups often proved to be beneficial for protection. At the same time, priming men with mate goals will make them less likely to conform to group attitudes, as being perceived as independent and differentiated from the group could potentially lead to greater reproductive success. Women on the other hand were more likely to conform, as agreeableness is often cited as a sought after quality from men. I do wonder which goal would have precedence over the other though. If self-protection and mate goals were each activated simultaneously, how would that affect conformity? Would people be more likely to conform because self-protection goals are stronger?

We also learned that self-presentation seems to depend on self-regulatory energy. It takes energy to control our self representations, as well, when our energy has been depleted, we are less likely to control them. Interestingly, representations that are familiar (overly practiced) do not deplete regulatory energy. For instance, obeying gender rules is usually familiar to us, so it doesn’t take energy to obey them. This is very reminiscent of the formation of implementation intentions, and lends support to the notion that perhaps forming implementations intentions will not endanger one to becoming thoroughly depleted. Thinking back on the Griskevicius work, it must take energy to not conform to group behavior. Will the activation of mate goals be hindered by regulatory depletion? Or will the mate goals be so familiar that their effects on self-regulation be minimal? Just some questions to think about I guess.

Citations for further reading:

Cialdini, R.B., & De Nicholas, M.E. (1989). Self-presentation by association. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 57, 626-631.

Gilbert, D.T.,, & Silvera, D.H. (1996). Overhelping. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 70, 678-690.

Griskevicius, V., Goldstein, N.J., Mortensen, C.R., Cialdini, R.B., & Kenrick, D.T. (2006). Going along versus going alone: When fundamental motives facilitate strategic (non)conformity. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 91, 63-76.

Tice, D.M. (1992). Self-concept change and self-presentation: The looking-glass self is also a magnifying glass. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 63, 435-451.

Vohs, K.D., Baumeister, R.F., & Ciarocco, N.J. (2005). Self-regulation and self-presentation: Regulatory resource depletion impairs impression management and effortful self-presentation depletes regulatory resources. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 88, 632-657.

April 18, 2009

Social Neuroscience and the Self

The studies from this week’s readings examined the self from a social neuroscience perspective. There were some pretty interesting findings in general, but I think the most important implication of all the studies is that the “self” can be linked back to physical/biological structures. For instance, Gailliot (along with my advisor and their colleagues) observed that acts of self-regulation actually deplete blood glucose levels. And Kelley et al. even found that self-referential (comparing traits to ourselves) thought is related to the deactivation of unique areas of the brain (the medial prefrontal cortex). It’s possible that this area is related to the processing of unique self-knowledge. These findings help remove the self from just being some abstract, theoretical concept, and instead shows how the self is linked to our evolutionary development.

We can also view threats against the self through brain imaging. Eisenberger et al. have shown that social exclusion is linked with activation of the same brain areas that are activated for physical pain. This has significant implications for how important belongingness was for us during our evolutionary development. Our social pain system has co-opted the physical pain system. When we feel exclusion, we really feel pained. It makes sense. Not only is having one pain system suited to deal similarly with physical and social pain more efficient/resourceful, but feeling pained after exclusion is a good way to motivate one to avoid social exclusion. It’s likely that those early humans who were not motivated to avoid exclusion were at a significant survival disadvantage. I think that this also goes in hand with Kurzban’s perspective of the self, in that the self-system evolved in order for us to succeed socially. I wonder then if those self-referential areas (the MPFC) in the brain developed at the same time as when the social pain system started to co-opt the physical pain system.

Another cool finding came from Neiss et al., who were able to link the relationship between self-esteem, executive function and negative affect to genetic influences. Generally, they found that people with low self-esteem had greater negative affect. As well, people with low executive function (self-regulation) had greater negative affect. And they also found that the relationship between self-esteem and affect mediated the self-regulation/affect link. Lastly, genetic factors accounted for a significant portion of variance (38 - 44%) in self-esteem, executive function and negative affect, though the largest contributing factor was due to the non-shared environment. Overall, they concluded that the executive self did not display a genetic or environmental link with negative affect above that shared with self-esteem. This makes sense to me from the sociometer/SCI perspective as well. If we developed our sense of self as a means for succeeding socially, and our self-esteem acts as a guage for our social worth, then negative feelings that come out of an inability to self-regulate should only arise when the regulation issue is connected to social worth (which will be gauged by the self-esteem). So when our self-regulation is low, and we have increased negative affect, it should be because our self-esteem is low too. Very cool.

There is one comment that I have wondered about though. They stated that genetic influences explain 30 – 50 % of the variance in self-esteem usually. I wonder what implications this has for the sociometer hypothesis. If self-esteem is just a guage for our social worth, then I would hypothesize that most of the variance in self-esteem (if not all) would be explained by non-shared environmental factors (i.e., whether we’ve been threatened with exclusion).

Citations for further reading:

Eisenberger, N.I., Liberman, M.D., & Williams, K.D. (2003). Does rejection hurt? An fMRI study of social exclusion. Science, 302, 290 - 292.

Gailliot, M.T., Baumeister, R.F., DeWall, C.N., Maner, J.K., Plant, E.A., Tice, D.M., Brewer, L.E., & Schmeichel, B.J. (2007). Self-control relies on glucose as a limited energy source: Willpower is more than a metaphor. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 92, 325-336.

Kelley, W.M., Macrae, C.N., Wyland, C.L., Caglar, S., Inati, S., and Heatherton, T.F. (2003). Finding the self? An event-related fMRI study. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.

Neiss, M.B., Stevenson, J., Sedikides, C., Kumashiro, M., Finkel, E., & Rusbult, C.E. (2005). Executive self, self-esteem, and negative affectivity: Relations at the phenotypic and genotypic level. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 4, 593– 606.

April 4, 2009

the implicit self

This past week’s readings on the self concerned the implicit or automatic self. The implicit/automatic self are those self-evaluations and goals that are most practiced and evaluated. Those representations are activated so often that they eventually become ingrained into the unconscious and become automated. This idea of the implicit self is related to the concept of the adaptive unconscious. We do not have the cognitive resources to deal with all the stimuli that we are presented with in our environment. Instead the unconscious takes on much of the workload.

It seems that much of our behavior is guided by goals that are outside of our conscious awareness. Once non-conscious goals are activated by the outside world, we are motivated to pursue those goals. Take the above picture for example. Cats are predatory animals and often like to attack birds among other things. This goal is activated so often that it's unconscious (and in the cat's case, probably instinctual). Nonetheless, when the cat's goal of attacking birds is activated, it strikes, even though the chicken (or rooster or whatever) is so much bigger. This is just an example that I'm using, but that's pretty much how non-conscious goals work for humans. Activation of non-conscious goals even help us persist in the face of obstacles. Such evidence seems to support the prior argument for forming implementation intentions.
For implementation intentions, one would form and practice a self-regulation goal until it is automated. Then once that goal is activated, he/she would be guided to pursue that goal (self-regulate). This idea is even more interesting, after reading up on non-conscious goal pursuit. If non-conscious goals are formed when one does not have the cognitive resources to pursue the goal consciously, and they make you persist in the face of obstacles, then perhaps implementation intentions really do have a minimal effect on regulatory resources. Though, I still think that it would take some energy to complete the goal and am not convinced that non-conscious goal pursuit would not deplete self-regulatory resources at all.

On another note, our implicit associations seem to have a strong effect on our behavior. For instance, for the most part, we like ourselves, so much so that we hold positive implicit self-associations. These associations make us favor things that resemble the self. People are more likely to live in cities that resemble their names. We’re more likely to favor people who have the same birthday as us. We’re even more likely to prefer teas, crackers, chocolates, etc. that share letters with our names. Additionally, when our self-worth is threatened, we compensate by having higher implicit self-esteem.

The implicit self is separate from the explicit self. In fact, Rudman et al. explained that “the picture that emerges is not of a unitary self, but of one composed of multiple subsystems that can operate in tandem or apart.” This is very interesting to me. It is remarkably similar to the Social Cognitive Interface theory of the self, which states that the self is a collection of cognitive modules that help us navigate the social world, but their actions are outside of our conscious awareness. I think the evidence from the research on implicit egotism and self-esteem are congruent with predictions from the SCI perspective. It would make sense that we would unconsciously seek out, and prefer things that are similar to us. People who are similar to us are probably more likely to accept us. Also, often times when we are threatened, we unconsciously compensate by gaining in implicit self-esteem. This compensation leads to an increased intergroup bias. Essentially, we’ll be more likely to favor groups that we are a part of. This, again, makes sense from the SCI perspective. In the evolutionary past, if we were threatened, it would be better to seek out the groups that we belonged to for protection. Of course, this increased intergroup bias has negative social side-effects for groups we are not a part of. This is more of a problem in modern times because different groups live in such close proximity to each other now. I think this issue would be good to explore further.

Citations for further reading:

Bargh, J. A., Gollwitzer, P. M., Lee-Chai, A., Barndollar, K., Trotschel, R. (2001). The automated will: Nonconscious activation and pursuit of behavioral goals. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 81, 1014 – 1027.

Fitzsimons, G. M., & Bargh, J. A. (2003). Thinking of you: Nonconscious pursuit of interpersonal goals associated with relationship partners. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 84, 148 – 164.

Koole, S. L., Dijksterhuis, A., & Knippenberg, A. (2001). What’s in a name: Implicit self-esteem and the automatic self. Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, 80, 669 – 685.

Pelham, B. W., Carvallo, M., & Jones, J. T. (2005). Implicit egotism. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 106 – 110.

Rudman, L., Dohn, M. C., & Fairchild, K. (2007). Implicit self-esteem compensation: Automatic threat defense. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 93, 798 – 813.

March 29, 2009

Correlation or Causation?

So I just recently came across this webcomic called: xkcd. It's pretty cool. The comics are pretty good, plus they often include topics concerning science and math. I especially love the one above. It concerns correlation and causation, and what the difference is between the two. Unfortunately, very often people confuse correlation for causation. For instance, the eating of ice cream might have an association (be correlated) with hot weather. Perhaps the hotter it is outside, the more ice cream I eat. So, yes, we would say the eating of ice cream is correlated with hot weather. But it would be a mistake to conclude that ice cream causes hot weather, right?

Confusing correlation with causation is a problem that occurs all the time, especially in the media (for instance, I found one headline stating that "TV Raises Blood Pressure in Obese Kids," when only a strong association between hours of tv and hypertension was found). If you are interested, here's a website that keeps a long list of news articles that confuse correlation with causation, plus some resources related to the issue.

As well, if you are in psychology, the following two links may be of great interest, that is, if you're looking to increase your expertise in the application of statistics to the field:

Evaluation, Measurement, and Statistics - This is Division 5 of the American Psychological Association.

Summer Statistics Workshop - Dr. Alan Reifman has put together a list of resources for various summer statistics trainings meant for researchers in the soical sciences. These trainings are held at a variety of institutions. This looks like a very good resource.


On an unrelated note, I have a new blogging buddy. Another one of my fellow graduate students, Dave, has started a blog about Somalia, called Somalfocus. If you have an interest in what's going on in Somalia, or perhaps in internaltional relations in general, then you should check it out.

Lastly, I'm running a little late with my next "Self" post. It will probably be up in the next day or two.

March 18, 2009


Last week’s readings on the self covered the topic of self-regulation and motivation. Self-regulation is essentially the ability to deliberately control our own behavior. Self-regulation has an adaptive quality to it. For instance, it would seem beneficial for one to be able to control one’s impulses, and plan for the future. And indeed, as Mischel et al. (1989) has found, children who are better at self-regulation often have better outcomes later in life, such as in academics.

Even though self-regulation is very beneficial, it seems to come from a limited resource. It’s like a muscle, and as you use it, it tires. As Baumeister et al. (1998) has shown, self-regulatory acts deplete the “ego,” thereby making one less able to self-regulate in the future. Self-regulation seems to require energy (i.e., glucose) and/or a resting period. It’s a good thing to keep in mind, I think.

Interestingly, conscious thought isn’t exactly needed for the initiation of self-regulation. Through “implementation intentions”, one can automate self-regulation for various goal pursuits. For instance, if one desired to be less prejudiced against the elderly, then one could train him/herself to “tell” him/herself not to consider a person’s age every time an elderly person is encountered. One thought that came to mind, after reading about this, is whether automating self-regulation uses less ego resources than directed self-regulation. In particular, when thinking of the concept of the adaptive unconscious from the prior articles, it seems that the automatic unconscious is useful and adaptive for its ability to take in a lot of information without using up our resources. So automated self-regulation might just take up less energy than consciously directed self-control. Yet it still seems as though directed thought is needed in sustaining the self-regulatory behavior. Only the initiation of self-regulation seems to be automated, and after training oneself to automate this behavior. If implementation intentions use ego resources as much as that of deliberate self-regulation, then I would think that such cueing could be detrimental to the self-regulatory ability. For instance, if one created implementation intentions for multiple behaviors, and one encounters many cues throughout the day that activate these intentions, then one could become quickly and thoroughly depleted. At what level would these implementation intentions become detrimental? Or does the mere training that automates this behavior build up self-regulation? So, perhaps the automation does deplete self-regulatory resources, but the practice of automating self-control built up a larger inventory of self-regulatory resources to take from? Thoughts to explore further perhaps.

Citations for further reading:

Baumeister, R.F., Bratslavsky, E., Muraven, M., & Tice, D.M. (1998). Ego depletion: Is the active self a limited resource? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1252-1265.

Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2008). Feedback processes in the simultaneous regulation of action and affect. In J. Y. Shah & W. L. Gardner (Eds.), Handbook of motivation science (pp. 208-224). New York: Guilford.

Gollwitzer, P. M. (1999). Implementation intentions: Strong effects of simple plans. American Psychologist, 54, 493-503.

Higgins, E. T. (1997). Beyond pleasure and pain. American Psychologist, 52, 1280-1300.

Mischel, W., Shoda, Y., & Rodriguez, M. L. (1989). Delay of gratification in children. Science, 244, 933-938.

March 7, 2009

Culture and the Self

This week’s readings on the self were pretty interesting. They were about the “cultural self.” Essentially, the readings discussed the different self-construals that can be found cross-culturally. As one might imagine, people within more individualistic societies are more likely to have independent self-construals, characterized by a focus on autonomy, uniqueness and internal attributes and emotions. Those from more collectivistic nations are more likely to have interdependent construals of the self. The interdependent self-construal is characterized by belongingness, self-in-relation to other representations, and a connection of the self to specific social contexts. Of course, this does not mean that people can’t vary within a society according to how independent/interdependent they are.

Markus and Kitayama’s review paper on the independent versus the interdependent self-construal was particularly thought provoking for me. I had a strong desire to connect their ideas to those from our past readings. If you really think about the interdependent self-construal, it fits in well with the Social Cognitive Interface (SCI) framework of Rob Kurzban, and especially with Leary’s sociometer theory. (I know, I know . . . . I seem to refer to these two theories a lot. What can I say?) Firstly, having an interdependent self-construal means that you define yourself in relation to your group members and the social context. You are constantly aware of and focus on the needs and desires of others within your in-group. And your basis for self-esteem is “the ability to adjust, and restrain the self, and maintain harmony with the social context.” This sounds remarkably similar to sociometer theory, in which it is theorized that self-esteem is a gauge for social acceptance. And according to the SCI, the self is a set of cognitive mechanisms that help us function socially, because belongingness was/still is very important for our survival. The interdependent self-construal seems to be the ultimate example of this, if the SCI perspective is valid. On the other hand, according to SCI theory, along with other past readings, the self makes up a story for you that may not be valid but will ultimately help you in the social world. I’m not sure if that’s happening here. To me, it seems that the SCI is not hiding itself (or it’s intentions) in those who have the interdependent self-construal. They are defining themselves in relation to their group members, and they know it. The SCI is telling a story. Whereas, for more individualist societies, belongingness is very important but it seems to be more of an underlying or unconscious value. This is where the SCI would work for us. I questioned: Do those with interdependent self-construals have more accurate self-knowledge?

And then I read Balcetis et al., whose research seems to support the notion that, yes people who are more interdependent also have more accurate self-knowledge. Yet, I do have questions about their dependent variables. It seems that the more collectivist a person was, the more likely he/she would accurately predict his/her future behavior. But each of those behaviors were pro-social in nature, and people who are more collectivistic may be more accurate in estimating pro-social behavior because it is very important to their self-concepts, thereby being more salient. I’d like to know if collectivists have more accurate self-knowledge in domains that are not related to sociality.

Nonetheless, in the grand scheme of things, it seems most of the world (outside of Western Europe and America) are more collectivistic. As well, these people have more accurate self-knowledge. This leads me to the following question: Is the individualistic/independent self-construal a relatively recent phenomenon (whether evolutionarily or culturally)? And what is the benefit of having an independent self-construal if it contributes to our inaccuracy in self-knowledge? We talked in class about how we probably have modules or at least the general capacities for both independent and interdependent self-construal. And these modules are probably activated differentially depending on the social context. There are circumstances where an independent self-construal would be best and vice versa. I think viewing such cross-cultural differences from the SCI perspective would be interesting to explore further.

Citations for further reading:

Balcetis, E., Dunning, D., & Miller, R. L. (2008). Do collectivists know themselves better than individualists? Cross-cultural studies of the holier than thou phenomenon. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1252-1267.

Markus, H., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98, 224-253.

Heine, S. J., Lehman, D. R., Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1999). Is there a universal need for positive self-regard? Psychological Review, 106, 766-794.

Sedikides, C., Gaertner, L., & Toguchi, Y. (2003). Pancultural self-enhancement. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84, 60-79.

Heine, S.J. (2005). Where is the evidence for pancultural self-enhancement? A reply to Sedikides, Gaertner, and Toguchi (2003). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89, 531-538.

March 1, 2009

the function of self-esteem

As you might notice, this past week’s readings were on the topic of “self-esteem.” Specifically the readings were focused on the function of self-esteem, the benefits of having high self-esteem, and whether we should focus policy on improving the self-esteem of children. A short review of the findings from the articles we read shows that self-esteem is often given a bit more credit than it may deserve. For example, high global self-esteem is not linked to improvements in performance (whether academic or not), although it is linked with persistence in the face of failure. As well, high self-esteem in the form of narcissism is linked with anti-social behavior. Those who have high self-esteem, but are also high in narcissism act more aggressive after an insult than those who are not high in both. Yet, this is not exactly an open and shut case. There are researchers on both sides of the issue that argue whether boosting people's self-esteem is good or not. Please see the Baumeister and Swann citations below for a good review on the debate.

At the moment I’m much more interested in the function of self-esteem than the effects of having high self-esteem, which brings me to the Greenberg article. Greenberg et al. (1992) proposed the “terror management” idea that self-esteem serves as an anxiety-buffer against things that threaten us, and specifically death. In three experiments, the authors showed that people with high self-esteem were less anxious than neutral others when threatened, and this effect was not due to positive or negative affect.

In their experiments, participants were essentially given false feedback on a personality or intelligence test. One group was given feedback meant to elicit feelings of high self-esteem, whereas another group was either given neutral or no feedback. Participants were then asked to watch either a graphic film clip (threat-group), or a neutral clip (no-threat) in one experiment, or, in the other two experiments, they were told that they would receive painful shocks (threat) or receive non-painful sensations from lightwaves (no-threat). The experimenters then measured how anxious the participants were, either by self-report or by physiological measures, such as sweating. They found that people who had high self-esteem were less anxious than low self-esteem individuals in the threat group. And the protection offered by self-esteem was not due to increased positive affect or decreased negative affect.

It’s pretty cool, but I’m still not totally convinced of the terror management interpretation of self-esteem. For instance, as mentioned earlier, the authors primed their participants in the threat condition by making them watch a graphic movie clip (depicting real deaths) or by telling them to expect painful shocks. The painful shock condition was employed as a way of testing the generality of the anxiety-buffer effect. But pain does not seem that far removed from feelings of mortality. Pain and death are often associated with each other, and both are strongly attached to our primal need for survival and safety. I’d like to know, instead, whether self-esteem can buffer against anxiety from weaker threats (e.g., a poor evaluation, a break-up). Additionally, this interpretation of self-esteem needs to be tested against other theories of self-esteem, such as Leary’s sociometer theory. As mentioned in an earlier post, sociometer theory posits that self-esteem acts as a gauge of social acceptance/rejection. When we are threatened with social rejection, our self-esteem should lower. This could then tell us that we need to adjust our behavior, so that we are accepted back into the group. Sociometer theory seems to work better within the evolutionary perspective of the Social Cognitive Interface (SCI).

If you remember, the SCI is a set of cognitive mechanisms that evolved with the purpose of helping us function socially. In essence, evolution has given us a sense of self so that we are better equipped for a social world. One in which staying connected with others is crucial for survival. Now, I am not saying that terror management theory (TMT) is resistant to evolutionary explanations for self-esteem. On the contrary, I think TMT works well within that approach. If self-esteem buffers against anxiety, then I think that would prove to be a very beneficial/adaptive function. But I do think that the sociometer interpretation works better within the SCI approach, than does terror management. Of course, this is assuming that self-esteem, and the self in general, only has one adaptive function and/or is not a by-product of some other cognitive mechanism. All in all, I think that terror management and sociometer theory can be reconciled with each other with-in an evolutionary framework. After all, isn’t death the ultimate form of social exclusion?


Crocker, J., & Park, L. E. (2004). The costly pursuit of self-esteem. Psychological Bulletin, 130, 392-414.

Baumeister, R. F., Campbell, J. D., Krueger, J. I., & Vohs, K. D. (2003). Does high self-esteem cause better performance, interpersonal success, happiness, or healthier lifestyles? Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 4, 1-44.

Bushman, B. J., Baumeister, R. F., Thomaes, S., Ryu, E., Begeer, S., & West, S. G. (in press). Looking again, and harder, for a link between low self-esteem and aggression. Journal of Personality.

Swann, W. B., Chang-Schneider, C., & McClarty, K. L. (2007). Do our self-views matter? Self-concept and self-esteem in everyday life. American Psychologist, 62, 84-94.

Greenberg, J., Solomon, S., Pyszczynski, T., Rosenblatt, A., et al. (1992). Why do people need self-esteem? Converging evidence that self-esteem serves an anxiety-buffering function. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 913-922.

more blogging friends . . .

Well, I have some more blogging buddies out there.

I figured that I could link them here and add them to my blogroll, so that everyone who reads like a lake will have a chance to visit these new and exciting venues of the blogosphere.

First we have the blog, Ready, Set . . ., by some old buddies of mine, Joel and Nathan. It's mostly about their daily going-ons, comic inspiration, and progress on a cartoon/comic they are developing.

Next we have Intellectual Capital, by friend and fellow UK grad student Ryan. This blog concerns topics in social psychology and political/social commentary.

Lastly, we have Ridiculous Claims, by another grad student buddy, Tim. This one is for all you football nuts out there. And I mean American Football . . . not soccer . . . er, um, rest of the world football, haha.

Well that's it for today, so go check them out and enjoy!

February 22, 2009

Daniel Gilbert on TED

Harvard Social psychologist, Daniel Gilbert, recently had a talk posted on TED, though it looks like the talk was originally given in 2005.

It's good though. Gilbert is widely known for his research on happiness. What makes us happy? Can we predict future happiness? How do traumatic events effect our long-term happiness? And such.

Though related to his happiness research, this talk centered on general decision making (and specifically, erroneous economic decisions that we make). Basically, the gist of the talk is that people are notoriously bad in money matters because of two cognitive biases. The first causes us to make erroneous judgments in estimating the odds of a potential gain. The second causes us to make erroneous estimates in the positive value of the potential gain.

His reasoning for why we have these cognitive biases goes back to us being evolved creatures. Firstly, we evolved in environments that rarely changed. We lived in small groups, had short lives and had to make relatively few choices. Instead our ancestors focused on the here and now. In his words: "the highest priority was to eat and mate today."

Well, anyways, check out the video. It's good, and there's a Q&A section at the end.

Check it out:

February 21, 2009


This week’s readings were on the topic of “using the self.” Particularly, how do we evaluate ourselves, in what contexts, and the readings even examined self-fulfilling prophecies. When we make self-evaluations, do we search for accurate information? Or do we focus on what makes us feel better about ourselves?

Much of what I read pitted the self-enhancement perspective against the self-verification perspective. Self-enhancement is when a person focuses on positive central traits over negative ones. Self-verification, on the other hand, refers to preferring accurate information about the self, whether positive or negative. Essentially, it seems that people self-enhance more than they self-verify. For instance, we prefer accurate information about positive traits of ours over negative ones. We are also more likely to disconfirm negative traits that are central to our identity as opposed to those that are more peripheral. As well, we think our faces are more attractive than they actually are. And we would be quicker to pick out our face when morphed with an attractive face than when viewing our original face, or our face morphed with an unattractive face.

These self-enhancements that we make seem to be more related to implicit, unconscious processes (e.g., gut feelings) than more explicit, direct processes. As well, these self-enhancements are related to social comparison and self-perception processes. When people view us as more positive for a certain trait, we view ourselves as positive on the trait. And when we view others that are positive on a trait, we again self-enhance. Connecting themes, this idea goes back to the previous literature that we have read throughout the past couple weeks. Specifically, our self-concept is a story that our unconscious makes up about ourselves, and it may not be a true story. It’s hard to access accurate information about ourselves. Not much of our self can come from introspection and deliberation. Instead, it’s a story and we use that story to feel better about ourselves and to get along better with group members.

Here are some citations for further reading:

Epley, N., & Whitchurch, E. (2008). Mirror, mirror on the wall: Enhancement in self-recognition. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34, 1159-1170.

Kwan, V. S. Y., John, O. P., Kenny, D. A., Bond, M. H., & Robins, R. W. (2004). Reconceptualizing individual differences in self-enhancement bias: An interpersonal approach. Psychological Review, 111, 94-111.

Sedikides, C. (1993). Assessment, enhancement, and verification determinants of the self-evaluation process. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65, 317-338.

Swann, W. B., Jr. (1987). Identity negotiation: Where two roads meet. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 53, 1038-1051.

Madon, S., Guyll, M., Buller, A. A., Scherr, Williard, J., & Spoth, R. (2008). The mediation of mothers' self-fulfilling effects on their children's alcohol use: Self-verification, informational conformity, and modeling processes. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 369-384.