Archive by Author

A Chicken or Egg Question

1 Jun

I have always wondered why middle schoolers, or teenagers in the U.S. are always thought to be rebels and little devils. Many parents dread the day when their children enter teenage years. And my friends told me how lucky I am to have never gone to middle school in the U.S, because everyone in middle school is so miserable and they take their misery out on everyone else.

Duane from the Little Miss Sunshine

I understand that there are psychological reasons for teenager’s rebellion. But I also think that how teenagers are depicted in the movies play a significant role. Movies reflect the values, beliefs of a society. It is a mirror of its culture. But at the same time, we should not ignore their reinforcing effect on the values and phenomena of a society. It has priming effect. If one watch a violent movie, he/she will behave more aggressively afterwards. If we take a look at the majority of teenagers depicted in the American movies, we can’t fail to notice their anger, insecurity and hostile attitude towards the world around them.  Such depictions could be an accurate reflection of reality, yet they also reinforce the behavior, and to some extent trigger it. Continue reading

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Ellen Langer on Mindfulness and Health

30 Mar

Ellen Langer is a professor of psychology at Harvard University. Her research covers topics such as the illusion of control, aging, decision-making and mindfulness theory. Her books written for general and academic readers include Mindfulness, The Power of Mindful Learning, On Becoming An Artist, and Counterclockwise. Her lab’s current work in progress is concerned with the interaction of mindfulness and health, business, and education.

In Counterclockwise, Professor Langer discusses how mindful living can affect our health. She talks about an immensely fascinating experiment she did with a group of elderly people. In the experiment, the elders were taken into a setting where they were instructed to live as if they are in 1959. After a week, she discovered that this group of people were acting significantly younger. Their hearing improved, they have stronger grip and more joint flexibility. In Professor Langer’s words:

Mindful health is not about how we should eat right, exercise, or follow medical recommendations, nor is it about abandoning these things… It is about the need to free ourselves from constricting mindsets and the limits they place on our health and well-being, and to appreciate the importance of becoming the guardians of our own health.

Professor Langer talks about many interesting ideas in her book. One is reverse Zeno’s Paradox. Continue reading

Three Scholars Worth Your Time: Part 6

8 Mar

Daniel Gilbert

Daniel Gilbert is a professor of psychology at Harvard University. He is the author of the immensely intriguing New York Times bestseller Stumbling on Happiness. He also gave several intriguing talks at TED.

In one of his talks, he says that human beings have a unconscious cognitive process that could be called “a psychological immune system”. This system helps us change our view of the world so that we can feel about our position in the world.  For example, in an experiment he did, a group of people were asked to rank a series of paintings. Afterwards, they were given a painting that ranked low on their list for free. When these people came back weeks later and were asked to rank the paintings again, the painting they were given rose in rank. This shows that we unconsciously change our preferences according to what we have. His research also shows that when we have too many choices and much longer time to make a decision, we become indecisive and unhappy. This is very similar to the idea Barry Schwartz expressed in his talk The Paradox of Choice.

In addition, Professor Gilbert also does research on mistaken expectations. According to him, sometimes we are wrong about what will make us happy. For example, when there are three bottles of different wine in a store at $5, $20 and $30. We are likely to choose the $20 one, because we do not want to get the most expensive or the cheapest one. However, if there is another $50 wine on the same shelf, which makes the $30 one appear much less expensive than before, we might end up buying the $30. But when once we get home and start drinking the wine, we no longer have a comparison to make and the $30 wine might taste just as good as the $20 one. In a word, comparison changes the value of things when we are appraising a product but not when we are consuming it. This shift could impede our ability to make rational decisions.

Continue reading

The Influence of Schools on A Child

23 Feb

In a 2009 issue of Scientific American Mind, there is an interview of Judith Rich Harris, the author of The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do and No Two Alike. In the interview, Harris emphasizes the importance of teachers in shaping a child’s development and the influence of peers on a child. Parents are not as powerful of an influence as many of us think. In Harris’ own words:

One of my purposes in writing the book was to reassure parents. I wanted them to know that parenting didn’t have to be such a difficult, anxiety-producing job…

According to Harris, when at home, children learn from parents how to behave at home. But once they are outside home, they learn rules about how to behave outside home . Therefore, a school-based intervention is the way to improve a child’s behavior in a classroom, be it making them more diligent or less disruptive. A child’s peers could have significantly more influence on her as she grows older and start spending more time outside of home. In an earlier paper, Harris described the harsh peer group sanctions given to a 11-year-old girl when she violated the group taboo by voluntarily sitting next to a boy. This pressure to conform to the expected behavior of a group, however, by adolescence years, becomes less of a push to conform than a desire to “participate in experiences that are seen as relevant, or potentially relevant, to group identity.” At home, on the other hand, most parents probably would not find their adolescents to desire doing what they say.

This is why teachers have such big powers over a child’s development. A good teacher can influence a whole classroom of kids and push them in the right direction. A talented teach is also careful to not let the class split into two factions, the prolearning and the antilearning. Because when that happens, the difference between the two will quickly widen.

I think Harris provides very insightful ideas which are potentially very useful in crime prevention. Most students in underserved communities do not lack parents who care about their child’s future, even though their parents might be too busy trying to making ends meet to spend enough time with their child. But what these children lack is a nurturing environment when they are in school. When the teacher emphasizes the importance of education and instills good values in a child from an early age, it makes a huge difference in the child’s life and more than makes up for the lack of support from home. The KIPP program is a very good example.

Continue reading

Association between Law, Competitiveness, and the Pursuit of Self-interest

6 Feb

In Association between Law, Competitiveness, and the pursuit of self-interest, Mitchell Callan and Aaron Kay discuss how law and the way our legal system functions affect and shape our thinking and interpersonal relations. In particular, it fosters the assumption that people are self-interested, competitive and untrustworthy. Callan and Kay supports their theory through theories and research results from various social cognition studies.

Callan and Kay argue that one reason people associate the law with competition and the pursuit of self-interest is “legal socialization”, the acquisition of attitudes, beliefs and knowledge of the legal system and law. The overarching philosophy of our Anglo-American legal system is that truth is more likely to be exposed from confrontation, competition and each party zealously pursuing their own interests. The “you against me” and “winner takes all” mindset is a common assumption among parties involved in litigation. Continue reading

Law and Mind Sciences Blogs, Part 10

4 Feb

Experimental Philosophy

Experimental philosophy (call x-phi in short) is “a new philosophical movement that supplements the traditional tools of analytic philosophy with the scientific methods of cognitive science.” (definition taken from here)

The blog is coordinated by Thomas Nadelhoffer, who is currently pursuing a  two-year post-doc at the Kenan Institute for Ethic at Duke University. The substantive entries are mostly about recent papers. Although some of the blog entries are quite technical, a good number of the entries are fascinating and straight forward. The authors of the posts usually do a good job of explaining their findings in simple terms.

One post, talks about a paper on our automatic attribution of a variety of psychological state (feelings, beliefs, etc) as soon as we classify an entity as an agent. It gives an example:

The entry goes on to say:

Continue reading

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