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Shouldn’t we know if the Implicit Association Test is valid before we hype it?

2 Feb

The normally careful Association for Psychological Science has a piece on its website about the Implicit Association Test. Buried in the article is in article is this short paragraph:

Opinions on the IAT are mixed. Controversy about the test was evident in a 2013 meta-analysis by APS Fellows Fred Oswald and Phillip E. Tetlock and colleagues. They found weaker correlations between IAT scores and discriminatory behavior compared with what Greenwald, Banaji, and their colleagues found in a 2009 meta-analysis.

So there’s a debate about the validity (and the reliability, for that matter) of the IAT. But let’s not allow that pesky fact get in the way of hyping this instrument!

Here is an account of the problems with the IAT.


Podcast on prospective memory

26 Jan

I must warn you that the first part of this Inexact Science podcast is hard to listen to. But it shows the critical importance of prospective memory in our lives.

Psychology podcast on children’s imaginary friends

10 Jan

An InExact Science is a podcast sponsored by the Association for Psychological Science. I just listened to this episode about children’s imaginary friends and I highly recommend it.

Flat Earthers

27 Nov

My students doubted me when I told them that there are still people who believe the earth is flat. Then I showed them this video:


I particularly like the guy who argues that nobody likes living on a spherical earth, therefore it couldn’t be true.

Psychiatric Disorders and Brain pH

27 Oct

From Scientific American:

There were earlier hints of the acid-disorder link: studies that directly measured pH—a metric of how acidic or basic something is—in dozens of postmortem human brains revealed lower pH (higher acidity) in patients with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Multiple studies in the past few decades have found that when people with panic disorder are exposed to air with a higher than normal concentration of carbon dioxide—which can combine with water in the body to form carbonic acid—they are more likely to experience panic attacks than healthy individuals are. Other research has revealed that the brains of people with panic disorder produce elevated levels of lactate, an acidic source of fuel that is constantly generated and consumed in the energy-hungry brain.

If these findings hold up, there may be new avenues for treatment.


How little information is enough to guess social class?

6 Sep

It turns out not very much.

Researchers from Yale University and the University of California-San Francisco published their findings in the May issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science. The data from these studies showed that participants were able to guess the approximate income level of another person using one of three cues: a 60-second video of their behavior, 20 photos from their Facebook profile, or recordings of them speaking seven standard, isolated words.

You can read the original paper here. Here is the abstract:

By some accounts, global economic inequality is at its highest point on record. The pernicious effects of this broad societal trend are striking: Rising inequality is linked to poorer health and well-being across countries, continents, and cultures. The economic and psychological forces that perpetuate inequality continue to be studied, and in this theoretical review, we examine the role of daily experiences of economic inequality—the communication of social class signals between interaction partners—in this process. We theorize that social class signals activate social comparison processes that strengthen group boundaries between the haves and have nots in society. In particular, we argue that class signals are a frequent, rapid, and accurate component of person perception, and we provide new data and analyses demonstrating the accuracy of class signaling in 60-s interactions, Facebook photographs, and isolated recordings of brief speech. We suggest that barriers to the reduction of economic inequality in society arise directly from this class signaling process through the augmentation of class boundaries and the elicitation of beliefs and behaviors that favor the economic status quo.

“Dying is unexpectedly positive”

23 Aug

This has to be the best journal article title of the year. Here is the abstract:

In people’s imagination, dying seems dreadful; however, these perceptions may not reflect reality. In two studies, we compared the affective experience of people facing imminent death with that of people imagining imminent death. Study 1 revealed that blog posts of near-death patients with cancer and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis were more positive and less negative than the simulated blog posts of nonpatients—and also that the patients’ blog posts became more positive as death neared. Study 2 revealed that the last words of death-row inmates were more positive and less negative than the simulated last words of noninmates—and also that these last words were less negative than poetry written by death-row inmates. Together, these results suggest that the experience of dying—even because of terminal illness or execution—may be more pleasant than one imagines.

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