Monthly Archives: January 2010

Kids Tomorrow!

The implications of the fast-paced technological advances in the last decade reach further than what they allow us to do, changing the very nature of social interaction. New York Times columnist Brad Stone addresses this issue citing that children today are growing up in a completely distinct technological world relative to those just ten years older. Such rapid advances could create generation gaps in skills and aptitude as small as 2 to 3 years apart. Stone cites entertainment and communication as two major areas where technology has impacted behavior (e.g., teenagers send more texts and play more online games than people in their twenties). Some worry that this environment could create a generation of children who will come to expect instant access to everyone and everything potentially harming their ability to perform in school.

Research by Campbell and Park (2008) focuses on the increased mobility of technology in recent decades. They propose that a shift to a  ‘personal communication society’ is occurring that has symbolically changed the meaning of technology, created new forms of social networking, personalized public domain, and made the youth culture more mobile. Given the vast technological advances we have seen in the first decade of this new century it is almost impossible to imagine what changes are ahead and how fast they might come. Take heart though, if you can’t figure it out just ask the nearest eight-year old. She’ll know exactly what to do.

The Children of Cyberspace: Old Fogies by Their 20s

Campbel & Park (2008)

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The evolution of language

Doctor John Dolittle satisfied a nagging curiosity for young readers: What are animals saying? Even scientists can appreciate the premise behind Hugh Lofting’s children books, though not many likely seek the secret language of squid. For social psychologists, the evolution of language has been a fascination at least since the pragmatists.

The New York Times reports efforts to decipher early traces of language development among non-human primates. The review comes over 30 years after a Times reporter allegedly used sign language to communicate with a chimpanzee. More recently, scientists differentiated alarm calls by vervet monkeys, each one indicating a specific predator. Others suggested that baboons understand social hierarchy based on the order of sounds among their peers. And Campbell’s monkeys seem to add suffixes to alarm calls to signify whether a threat has been directly or indirectly observed.

Given that many non-human primates are physically able to generate human language sounds, the findings beg the question: How do we develop language while our relatives fail? Or in the words of the article author, Nicholas Wade, “What is it that has kept all other primates locked in the prison of their own thoughts?”

George Herbert Mead suggested that language development stems from a child’s ability, through early role-playing games, to take on the role of the other. The development of the self relates to the ability to recognize how others’ actions affect one’s own. Contrary to Wade’s suggestion that non-human primates simply cannot communicate their thoughts, Mead suggests that communication is at the root of, and in some sense precedes, human thought.

While the presence of primitive communication does not necessarily mean that Campbell’s monkeys are able to think like humans, we can still learn about language development by observing, following Ludwig Wittgenstein, how the words are used.

Run for the hills?

Many non-affiliated runners this year may be considering joining one of the many local running clubs in order to gain valuable support and knowledge for races later in the year. So what can social and sports psychologists tell us about the benefits/costs of joining a running club (or any other sports club or group)?

One of the main areas of interest for both sport (Widmeyer et al., 1992) and social psychologists (Forsyth, 1999) is group/team dynamics and cohesion. Research has identified a number of important factors that can influence the level or type of cohesion (e.g. task or social) and its effect on performance. These include: group size, propinquity (physical proximity between members), joining costs, leadership style(s) of the group, in-group competition and group success and similarity (Bray and Whaley, 2001). However what it is still unclear from the research, is to what extent these determinants encourage cohesiveness or indeed inhibit group development and performance. For example, research by Janis (1982) found that group similarity had a negative effect on performance.

For those who are contemplating joining a running or sports club it may prove more beneficial to shop around by attending a few (normally free) taster sessions to gain an insight into the club/group structure and dynamics and how that may effect their future running performance.

Joining a running club

Group cohesiveness

Group structure

Really not seeing the elephant in the room

By Erica Zaiser

When something changes in our visual field, it seems obvious that the bigger the change the more likely it is that we would notice. However, much research has shown that in fact, we are often blind to large changes when we don’t know to focus on them. An interesting video posted on Boing Boing demonstrates the change-blindness effect well. In this experiment, participants walk over to a desk and are given a consent form to sign by an experimenter. When the experimenter bends down to “put the form away”, a completely different experimenter (wearing a different colored shirt) stands up and continues the instructions. Over 75% of participants fail to notice that the man who stands up is not the same man with whom they had just been conversing.

According to Simons and Ambinder (2005), most research on change blindness has shown that when a major change occurs outside of a person’s visual field (as opposed to a change that is visible as it happens) or in a situation where they are distracted, people are particularly bad at noticing any change. The failure to notice change seems to occur not because of an inability to represent visual information but because we aren’t very good at comparing information from before with information presented after the change. Change blindness is important to understand because people assume that they notice major changes when they actually do not. For example, in witness identification, people might not be accurate spotting differences between people coming and going. Another example, cited by the authors, is in driving safety; people assume they would notice a pedestrian crossing the street even if distracted by talking on a cell phone. The change-blindness effect shows us that we are not as capable of noticing changes in our visual environment as we think we are.

Read More: Simons, D.J., Ambinder, M.S.(2005).Change blindness: theory and consequences. Current Directions in Psychological Science.

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Behind Workplace Abuse

People finding themselves in a job where a boss or supervisor is aggressive should consider the reasons for the boss’ behavior. A survey from NPR news revealed several anecdotes describing how bosses abused their employees. The “double-dealing” supervisor, for instance, is said to be one of the worst type of bosses; this type of boss will threaten (perhaps with insults) an employee, then at a later time compliment the employee and completely ignore previous behavior. “The User” is said to be an aggressive type boss who has other individuals to assert his authoritative position. Basically telling others to be aggressive toward their peers. When this person receives negative feedback from their peers the boss turns on the individual.

Driving these behaviors, according to Fast & Cheng (2009) is the perception of incompetence on the part of the boss. However, when perceived competence has been restored, via self-affirmation, the aggressive behavior is reduced. The show “Talk of the Nation” discussed the psychology of the boss and speakers talked about culture as a contributing factor to the boss’ aggressive behavior.

In sum, company culture dictates whether the boss can get away with aggressive behavior. Also, the perceived competence on the part of the boss determines the likelihood of the boss being aggressive toward workers. It appears that complementing your boss is just as important as selecting where to work.

Read more: exploring the psychology of the boss

Read more: types of bosses

Fast, N., Chen, S. (2009) When the boss feels inadequate: power, incompetence, and aggression.

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