Untattoo You

Several people have forwarded to me the story of the criminal defendant in Florida whose attorney successfully petitioned the court to pay for a cosmetologist to help him cover up his swastika tattoos with makeup before trial each morning...

War on Christmas

Ours is an era fraught with urgent social problems.  That's why it's such a relief to find out that at least one of the truly pressing crises of our time is on the road to resolution. According to recent reports, the "War on Christmas" may be in its final throes, and contrary to the fears of many, Christmas is winning...

More than Meets the Eye, Part III

In the first two parts of this post, I began recounting my recent experiences as an expert witness. My testimony focused on the general limitations of eyewitness memory, but the photo array that police presented to the victims was problematic in its own right. The image of the defendant seemed to leap right off the page..

More than Meets the Eye, Part II

In my previous post, I began to recount my recent experiences testifying as an eyewitness memory expert. The victims in the case had described their assailant as a 20-something-year-old Black man, 6'5" tall, with missing or broken teeth. The defendant, however, was 18 years-old, 5'10", and not the slightest bit dentally challenged...

More than Meets the Eye, Part I

Earlier this month, I got to change up the ole' routine for a day. Instead of a morning lecture, an afternoon seminar, and some writing in my office sandwiched in between, I woke up and dressed like a grown-up for once, got in the car, and drove to a Superior Courthouse in another part of the state to testify as an expert witness...

Out of Thin Air, Part II

In Part I of this post, I wrote about the power of stereotypes to shape human performance even when they aren't discussed aloud. Simply suspecting that others are making evaluations based on preconceived notions about "people like you" has an impact. Psychologists refer to this phenomenon as stereotype threat, and it explains why being asked to record their race on a demographic form was enough to lead Black (but not White) Stanford students to underperform on a subsequent SAT test...

Out of Thin Air, Part I

It's back to school time on college campuses everywhere, which means you can spot the freshmen coming from a mile away. For some students, the challenge of this transition is even more daunting because the distracting whispers of anxiety and self-doubt are even louder...

Back to School Psychology

It's that time of year again. Teachers are updating lesson plans; parents are getting the ole' car pool warmed up. So when it comes to starting your own back-to-school shopping, don't forget perhaps the most important item on the list: the right frame of mind...

Psychology and the Prop 8 Ruling

Last night I decided to stay up late and do a bit of bedtime reading. 136-pages of it, to be exact. Of course, I'm talking about yesterday's ruling by a U.S. District Court that California's ban on same-sex marriage–Proposition 8–is unconstitutional. OK, so maybe you wouldn't print off the pdf to bring to the beach, but for the most part, the decision is a pretty fascinating read. As you turn the pages, it becomes easy to forget you're reading a legal document and start thinking you're looking through a psychology course syllabus...

Every Little Bit Counts

On a regular basis, we see or hear about the negative behaviors of others and think, "what is wrong with this person?" We tell ourselves, "I would never do that," firmly convinced in the veracity of our assessment. But we're too quick to jump to such conclusions about personality, to assume that the behavior of others reflects some sort of stable predisposition. We often overlook the impact of daily situations on human nature–in particular, the power of small increments.

Is LeBron Really LeLeaving?

Have a gut feeling about where LeBron James is headed? Of course you do. Just like credit cards, Twitter accounts, and... ahem... belly buttons, everybody's got one these days.

Fatherly Love

Garish ties. Gadgets. Golfing accoutrement. Soap-on-a-rope. That's right, this Sunday is Father's Day, a holiday known as much for its litany of lousy gifts as for its underlying heartfelt sentiment. So why not try something different this year?

Mars and Venus at the Video Arcade

We like easy answers. W're particularly fond of turning to biology to explain human nature. Take apparent gender differences in how we think and act: Fields like math and science are male-dominated? Well, men must have more natural aptitude for this type of thinking, at least at the high end of the talent distribution. School-aged girls outperform boys on reading and writing? Probably similar processes at play, just in reverse–the female brain must be better suited for such tasks. But don't these Mars and Venus intuitions make for *too* easy an answer?

Don't Stop Believin'

Yesterday was a rough one for serial liars. First, the story out of Boston that a 23-year-old has been charged with larceny and identity fraud after years of forging transcripts, letters of recommendation, and other academic paperwork. As a result of the alleged scheme, he not only managed to gain acceptance to Harvard, but had also earned more than $45,000 in awards and scholarships. Next, the even bigger Richard Blumenthal Vietnam story took center stage... 

Don't Drink the Water

We have no water in Boston. Well, that's not exactly true–since Saturday afternoon, we have had no *drinking* water thanks to a rupture in the pipe that connects a major water treatment plant with the city and 29 of its most populous suburbs...

The Political Incorrectness of Political Correctness

It's now cool to be politically incorrect. There are few better or easier ways these days to establish one's iconoclastic street cred than bashing political correctness. Pundits, columnists, and even public officials now voice anti-PC sentiment to achieve their anti-establishment bona fides. "Politically correct" has become a pejorative term and opposing it has become a badge of honor...

Really, Really, High-Stakes Testing

In college I spent a semester as a TA assisting a student who was blind. One of my responsibilities was to administer his exams, asking him multiple-choice questions aloud and recording his responses. I spent a lot of time with this student, and I grew to like the guy. So I'll admit that it pained me when, on occasion, he clearly hadn't studied enough for the test I was reading him. It was tempting to throw him a bone once in a while. No, nothing obvious like circling the right response instead of the wrong one he had chosen. But in the midst of the awkward silences that would fill the air as he pondered which guess to go with, I'd often mentally catalog the subtle ways I could conceivably guide his answers...

The Not-So Great Debate

If you had told me a few years ago that a U.S. policy debate would spark an emotionally-laden, visceral, violent-threat-producing controversy that would dominate political news for more than a year, my first three guesses at the issue at its core would never have included health care. Abortion? Sure. Foreign policy? Absolutely. But health care? Really?

Just as I Expected

The experts approached the teachers at the Oak School with an offer that seemed too good to be true: our new diagnostic test will identify the hidden gems in each of your classrooms. The name of their diagnostic test was no less impressive than the results it promised: "The Harvard Test of Inflected Acquisition." And it seemed to work wonders...

Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

Out of the corner of your eye, you catch a glimpse of the bottom-of-the-TV-crawl with breaking news of a mass shooting on a college campus. Quick–what's your first thought? Lonely male student frustrated by perceived social slights? Perhaps a revenge killing based on unrequited romantic interest? Neither of these knee-jerk reactions to the recent campus shooting in Alabama were accurate, of course...

Down on Luck

One of the recurring themes of this blog has been the basic human tendency to overlook the external forces that shape our lives. We prefer to think of the social universe as a predictable and orderly place. It's a reassuring notion in a world that otherwise can seem disconcertingly random. And it's also why we're so down on luck–why we don't cotton too well to the suggestion that chance dictates important outcomes in life.

The Greatest Blog Post Ever

Sex. Discussion of young, attractive people having sex. Allusions to young, attractive people having sex. Anything even tangentially related to the possibility of that, at some point in time, people of even moderate youth or attractiveness had themselves a bit of sex...

Global Warming is Dead. Long Live Global Warming!

Baby, it's cold outside. Not just up here in New England, but across continents. Citrus farmers in Florida are worried about freezing crops. Britain is experiencing its worst cold spell in three decades. There's record snowfall in China. You know what this means, of course. Brace yourself for yet another spate of obituaries declaring the end of global warming...

The Specifics of Helping Out

We humans are capable of great kindnesses as well as heroic acts. Every so often we hear the news report of the neighbor who rushes into a burning building to save a young child or the tourist who jumps into the ocean to rescue the drowning stranger. We read these stories and we feel good about humankind.

What Tiger Teaches Us

Few public figures in recent memory have fallen as far as fast as Tiger Woods. Of course, falling so far requires one to first have scaled the highest of heights. But Tiger's athletic and business accomplishments are not the only reasons this story continues to have legs. Its momentum owes just as much to the fact that his alleged behaviors seem so very much at odds with the type of person we believed Tiger to be...

News of the (Turkey) Day

Thanksgiving. A weekend of time-tested traditions like visiting with family you don't see enough, eating when you don't feel hungry anymore, and watching televised parades and football games that you don't actually care about. And then there are the newer traditions as well, like discussing the latest holiday installment of the cable/internet news story du jour...

Fort Hood Fallout

Psychologists call it illusory correlation. The idea is that when we think about others, we tend to overestimate the association between groups and distinctive actions. It's one of the ways in which societal stereotypes are perpetuated and endure . And it's exactly what has many an American Muslim concerned in the wake of this week's tragic shooting spree at the Fort Hood Army base...

I'll Have What He's Having

The scene: New Orleans, the French Quarter. I'm out with college friends to celebrate the wedding weekend of a fellow buddy. It sounds like the set-up for a Vince Vaughn or Seth Rogen movie, but this story doesn't end in Judd Apatow-inspired, plastic-bead-related debauchery. Instead, it's a tale of mundane daily life with a social psychological moral...

Obama’s Pyrrhic Prize

If my morning radio talk shows, workplace chatter, and Facebook news feed are to be trusted, the big topic of discussion this weekend is going to be Barack Obama's surprising win of the Nobel Peace Prize. Specifically, the first question most people are turning to–that is, after, wait, are you serious?–is whether this honor will help or hurt Obama politically...

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