Tag Archives: Psychology

The misnamed Pavlok Electro Wristband

1 Sep

I have no idea if the Pavlok Electro Wristband really helps you break bad habits by administering small electric shocks. What I do know is that this product is badly misnamed. According to BoingBoing:

Got a bad habit you’re aching to break? Don’t make yourself crazy with methods that don’t work – train yourself like Pavlov’s dog with the Pavlok. This little shock wristband sends you a light shock every time you engage in your bad habit by pressing the lightning bolt on the band or the zap button on the phone app. You can also set up automatic shocks through one of the many integrations. Any habit, same solution. Your brain will create an aversion to your bad habit when it’s paired with a shock, that’s just classical conditioning.

Pardon me, but this is not Pavlov’s classical conditioning, this is operant conditioning where behavior is changed by its consequences. Specifically it uses punishment, defined as a consequence that decreases the probability of a behavior recurring.

“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.

Documentary: “Resurrect Dead”

10 May

Over the weekend, my wife and I watched the documentary Resurrect Dead: The Mystery of the Toynbee Tiles.

Toynbee tiles are mysterious plaques that are embedded into the asphalt on many streets in a number of cities. There are two of them in Cleveland. Most of the tiles carry the message:

IN MOViE `2001

The tiles all appear to be carved by the same individual. The documentary is the utterly adsorbing story of a group of men who try to discover the origin of the tiles.

As a psychologist, I was fascinated both by the tiler himself who appears to have schizotypal traits and by the obsession of his pursuers. The film does not disappoint and the we do discover the identity of the tiler. But not until we have pursued leads including a David Mamet play, Larry King, historian Arnold Toynbee, and pirate radio stations.

Prisoner’s Dilemma Videos

19 Apr

Last night I was teaching the prisoner’s dilemma to my students. Turns out there are a lot of entertaining videos on the topic. For example:

My students found these especially enjoyable:

For a more serious look at the background:

Sleep deprived judges hand out longer sentences

20 Feb

This study just appeared in the journal Psychological Science:

The degree of punishment assigned to criminals is of pivotal importance for the maintenance of social order and cooperation. Nonetheless, the amount of punishment assigned to transgressors can be affected by factors other than the content of the transgressions. We propose that sleep deprivation in judges increases the severity of their sentences. We took advantage of the natural quasi-manipulation of sleep deprivation during the shift to daylight saving time in the spring and analyzed archival data from judicial punishment handed out in the U.S. federal courts. The results supported our hypothesis: Judges doled out longer sentences when they were sleep deprived.

The Monday after the shift to day light savings time is associated with about 40 minutes of lost sleep. Other studies have found an increased number of car accidents on that day. The authors of this study report that sentences are 5% longer than those on comparison Mondays.

An interesting result, although I do have some skepticism about how well confounding variables can be controlled statistically.

Psychological explanations of physical illness: Time for some skepticism?

17 Oct

A startling paper in Perspectives on Psychological Science:

In some patients with chronic physical complaints, detailed examination fails to reveal a well-recognized underlying disease process. In this situation, the physician may suspect a psychological cause. In this review, we critically evaluated the evidence for this causal claim, focusing on complaints presenting as neurological disorders. There were four main conclusions. First, patients with these complaints frequently exhibit psychopathology but not consistently more often than patients with a comparable “organic” diagnosis, so a causal role cannot be inferred. Second, these patients report a high incidence of adverse life experiences, but again, there is insufficient evidence to indicate a causal role for any particular type of experience. Third, although psychogenic illnesses are believed to be more responsive to psychological interventions than comparable “organic” illnesses, there is currently no evidence to support this claim. Finally, recent evidence suggests that biological and physical factors play a much greater causal role in these illnesses than previously believed. We conclude that there is currently little evidential support for psychogenic theories of illness in the neurological domain. In future research, researchers need to take a wider view concerning the etiology of these illnesses.

From the paper’s conclusion:

Given our current limited understanding of medical disease and its markers, it is perhaps not surprising that not all physical complaints can be associated with a specific, well-recognized disease process. In these circumstances, it is tempting to offer a psychological explanation. However, in this review, we have argued that such explanations are not currently supported by the evidence, at least not in the domains considered here. Further, these explanations may be harmful for the patient. To find better treatments for these illnesses, researchers and practitioners may need to retire those overworked psychological explanations that are commonly invoked in the face of uncertainty and instead adopt a completely fresh perspective. Such an approach may lead to a much deeper understanding of this perplexing collection of illnesses.

Interesting video on the therapeutic use of psychedelic drugs

19 Sep

(hat tip to boingboing)

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