Thursday, August 31, 2006


I know a lot of feminists dislike pornography and have written treatises on why it should be abolished. On the other side, people have written about free speech and expression and anti-censorship. What's the solution when there is clearly a market for it?

Over at An Idiot's blog, my friend calls attention to the move to remove on demand pornography from hotel rooms.

Apparently some conservatives don't want children to do the equivalent of "finding their dad's stash" or maybe they really want to reduce rape and abuse. Whatever the motivation, all I can say is that we have talked about the porn causes violence/abuse thing in my various psych classes and have never come to an agreement.

Students think it's weird that Japan is loaded with porn (especially of the comic book kind) but rape is rare compared with the U.S. Now there are a lot of ways of looking at this. Maybe sexual victimization is severely underreported in Japan. Maybe it's no less underreported than it is here.

That is totally irrelevant to the question at hand because such data is correlational; i.e. circumstantial evidence. I want better evidence before I'm willing to convict.

Neil Malamuth has done some interesting research on the subject. He's found, through experiments (!), that it is violence combined with sex that makes porn bad. It leads viewers to blame the victim more, discount the harmful effects of rape on women, etc.

I have seen some bad porn in my lifetime - girls who look underage being choked by a rough blow job, rape scenes, etc.

I don't get sexually excited by it, but I bet some do. Those people are not normal.

However, sexually violent imagery/audio is arousing stuff. And that is the problem: Arousal increases the tendency to violence. So does frustration. Lots of stimuli can produce arousal and frustration. Should we ban them too? Good luck trying.

Violent porn should not be available in hotel rooms. It ought to be regulated. But rather than having to legislate that, I would hope that hotels would make the morally appropriate choice not to buy that kind of programming.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Intro Psych Student Common Misconceptions

From my first day of class I gathered the following insight about what baggage students bring with them to their first class in psychology.

Students think:

1) Instinct determines many of our behaviors.
- WRONG. The key word is MANY. The list of bona fide instincts is short compared with the long list of what we learn. This view, like evolution & religion, is compatible with the view that evolutionary forces have impacted our development. As a species we are very flexible in response to environmental situations. I'd say that many animals are well-equipped to learn but are far from tabula rasa. Few have demonstrated Fixed Action Patterns, the closest to a scientific definition of instinct I can provide.

2) How a person demonstrates happiness depends on culture and upbringing.
-WRONG. Look at facial expressions of happiness. Around the world they are they same. Sure, we see some subtle cultural differences in the situations we show our emotion. Display rules govern when and where we'll actually smile when happy. If you're from MN or had MN parents, or have been married to someone from MN or raised by someone from MN, it may take a lot to make you smile! But when you do, you will move the same facial muscles that a Papau New Guinean who has never seen anyone from another culture moves. Read more about Paul Ekman's research on emotional expressions here.

3) Most of us would not follow instructions from an authority figure to hurt another person.
-WRONG. Take a look at Stanley Milgram's experiment. When he asked a bunch of his colleagues at Yale if his experiment was ethical, they said of course - no one will actually hurt anyone. Turns out most of them did. Milgram's experiment goes down as the most shocking one in the history of psychology.

4) The more motivated and aroused you are, the better your performance will be.
-WRONG. This is true, but only up to a certain point. For tasks that we know well and have practiced many times, a little arousal definitely helps. Not enough - you performance suffers because you're not as pumped. Too much - you choke under pressure. If you perform well under pressure, you've got an optimal level of arousal or are doing something that comes easy to you. If you choke under the pressure of a crowd, the arousal provided by an audience got to you.

5) We only use about 15% of our brains.
-WRONG. Although you probably believed your fourth grade teacher who first told you this because at the time s/he was the smartest person you knew, this is flat out wrong. Think abouit it this way: What would happen if someone scooped out 85% of your brain. You'd be less than a vegetable. It's possible to lose huge portions of one's brain as an infant and be fine. Young brains are very resilient. For a delightful story on the plasticity of young brains, check out this New Yorker Annals of Medicine story.

New Primate Links

All of following links from

Evolutionary Bio No-Go for Low Income Student Grants
A disturbing situation for those of us who need these. Hopefully it will be remedied and is not a sign of the coming apocalypse.

Gibbon Bipedal Walking Video
This is so neat. The way the gibbon walks leaves me with an image of how our early ancestors moved. Filmed at a zoo.

YouTube undercover clips of OHSU primate lab - **disturbing**
This crap is exactly the reason why I will never work in a primate lab. It's also the reason I did not apply to the grad program at Emory despite the opportunity to work with Frans de Waal. He doesn't participate in this sort of research, but his institution maintains an affiliation with a National Primate Research Center that does. I have to say, some of the clips could have been edited to make it look worse than it is; those shown could represent a vanishingly small propostion of the primates at OHSU; and there ARE researchers who study self-injurious behavior to help these primates, BUT I still hate to see this happen.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

First Day of Class - What to wear?

Recently I've read some posts about what to wear the first day of class, what to wear if you're a young-looking studentesque female professor, and what to wear in general if you don't fit the stodgy white male professor image. Most people say jeans are a big no-no because students won't take you seriously, will walk all over you, etc.

The first day I taught at Bowdoin College I wore jeans. I didn't care if students cared what I wore. I knew no matter what clothing I taught in, I would still have to earn their respect because: I am female, I am young, and I am also very likely to be mistaken as a student. Plus, even though it was the East, formality wasn't part of the atmosphere. How many benefit-of-the-doubt points could I expect to earn from donning a suit? Not many.

I am a firm believer that nonverbal communication (including clothing) is incredibly important in all sorts of situations. I ought to know: I teach an upper-level seminar in the subject. The sage advice of Polonius: The clothing oft proclaims the man, rings true to some extent. However, any initial bonus points you earn from dressing up will evaporate when you're subsequent behavior doesn't match. If you let your students walk all over you, regardless of whether you're wearing a suit or not, they will.

At W College, I rarely wore jeans. I rarely wore my beautifully tailored Ann Taylor suits either. I strove for somewhere in between. WC is a seriously informal place. Students and faculty usually address each other with first names, faculty rarely wear suits (ditto for the administration), and the whole place runs like butter this way.

Today I sat in on the first day of an Intro Psych class a former colleague teaches. Given that I won't be teaching this year and have few responsibilities others than finishing my dissertation, I look at this time as an unpaid pre-doctoral sabbatical. My own intro class has been the same for three years; I need some fresh ideas. My colleague was more than welcoming of my presence in class (I okay-ed it with him first). It is always neat to see how someone else does it. I very much recommend watching others teach. It doesn't matter if they are horrible or so outstanding you think you should switch careers because you'll never be that good; you will learn and gain inspiration for improving your own teaching. If you can watch master teachers, they are certainly going to provide the best fodder.

By the end of the semester I will be well-prepared to revamp and revitalize my class.

By the way, this prof wore jeans, a T-shirt, and sneakers. He hardly looked like a professor at all.

Perhaps it's just small liberal arts colleges that make it possible for us to get away with this informality, but I wouldn't want to work anywhere that had a dress code that made me feel uncomfortable or reinforces the notion that clothing makes up for lack of behavioral authority.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Nature is Sexy

If you love nature and sexual imagery, you have got to see these! Thanks to Francois for his post on it.

Academic Dishonesty

Today I had lunch with a fellow academic who has interests in evolutionary biology. I learned that a well-published evolutionary researcher, Anders Møller, was cited a while back for academic dishonesty. "A Danish government committee has ruled that one of the world's leading evolutionary biologists, Anders Pape Møller, is responsible for data fabricated in connection with an article that he co-authored in 1998 and subsequently retracted," the journal Science reported in 2004. According to my colleague, some professors don't have their students read Møller's work. That's a shame because not all of it is bad. In fact, Møller launched an intriguing line of research on fluctuating asymmetry that has generated a ton of papers, not to mention PhDs.

Fluctuating asymmetry (FA) refers to deviations in size of the left and right halves of an animal's body. Animals, including humans, who are very symmetrical (their left and right sides are near mirror images) are more attractive to potential mates. Møller's original line of research showed that barn swallows, who have long forked tails, mate more successfully if the forks of their tails are symmetrical. Similar studies have been performed with humans with the same conclusion: symmetry is beautiful. Some deviations can be visible to the naked eye, as was the case with Møller's research, however some are so vanishingly small that it's a genuine mystery how the signal could ever be received and therefore useful in mate selection.

I was very curious what my colleague could tell me about the reputation of FA research. He told me about a 1999 meta-analysis published in Nature. I tried to follow as best I could. It still intrigued me by the tiome I got home, so I looked up the article. And, I am glad I did. I left lunch feeling like the link between mate quality and symmetry was debunked 7 years ago and I was the last scientist to know about it. It turns out that the only part that was debunked was a piece that I wasn't really aware of - probably because I have been reading newer research based on a refined understanding of the phenomenon. Symmetry signals fitness. Scientists originally thought this occurred because homozygous genes caused asymmetry, however, the 1999 meta-analysis of 42 genetic studies showed this wasn't the case. The authors concluded that heterozygosity explained only a very small amount of variation in symmetry.

What is now thought to cause asymmetry?

Parasites, infection, pollution, poor nutrition... basically growing up in a harsh environment. Possessing an immune system that can't handle the deleterious side effects of testosterone is another one.

Stalk-eyed flies would seem to make a great candidate for investigating the link between symmetry and reproductive success because their eyes are at the end of inch long stalks that jut out from their head like antennae. A lot could go wrong when growing them so long, symmetricla ones seem like they'd be a good fitness signal. This group has found no connection however. Perhaps the female flies are so rapt with the length of the stalks that they can't see past them to the symmetry.

Nevertheless, there are enough studies that have found a link between mate quality, attractiveness and symmetry for me to continue to be intrigued by it AND to have my students read some of the literature.

Recently I read an old paper (1999) in Proceedings that showed a publication bias in research on how parasites change their host's behavior by making the parasite reproduce more prolificly. The author, whom I recognized from his research on cleaner fish grooming behavior, concluded that a paradigm shift occured. Scientists are no longer sure that parasites manuipulate their host's behavior, and papers published more recently are less likely to show it. This doesn't necessarily mean that parasites don't affect their host's behavior. It could be a publication bias caused by journal reviewers and editors who publish papers that don't show the effect. My conclusion is that science IS a biased endeavor in spite of efforts to be objective. I supppose one may even conclude there is no such thing as Truth in science, ever. I disagree. How about gravity?

I actually had a student say that gravity is a social construction during an oral defense!

It took all I had to fight against the force that drew my lower mandible to the floor.

This student said in the same oral that ALL women are mentally ill.

Although I thought her thesis was a pile of bovine waste, we graduated one opinionated woman that day.

Right now I am wondering if anyone is still reading this, and if so, whether you wonder how I plan to transition back to the point of my story about academic dishonesty. It certainly would be a tidy though round about story if that student had failed her oral exam because her committee discovered she had plagiarized.

She may have, but we didn't discover it. In fact, no one got flagged for plagiarism last year.

I bet it happened given these statistics on academic dishonesty based on self-reports from established scientists.

From Nature (2005) by Martinson et al.

1. Falsifying or "cooking" research data (0.3)
2. Ignoring major aspects of human-subject requirements (0.3)
3. Not properly disclosing involvement in firms whose products are based on one’s own research (0.3)
4. Relationships with students, research subjects or clients that may be interpreted as questionable (1.4)
5. Using another’s ideas without obtaining permission or giving due credit (1.4)
6. Unauthorized use of confidential information in connection with one’s own research (1.7)
7. Failing to present data that contradict one’s own previous research (6.0)
8. Circumventing certain minor aspects of human-subject requirements (7.6)
9. Overlooking others’ use of flawed data or questionable interpretation of data (12.5)
10. Changing the design, methodology or results of a study in response to pressure from a funding source (15.5)
11. Publishing the same data or results in two or more publications (4.7)
12. Inappropriately assigning authorship credit (10.0)
13. Withholding details of methodology or results in papers or Proposals (10.8)
14. Using inadequate or inappropriate research designs (13.5)
15. Dropping observations or data points from analyses based on a gut
feeling that they were inaccurate (15.3)
16. Inadequate record keeping related to research projects (27.5)

I love Number 15. I wonder how often that happens in psychology research.

According to the Dutch group that cited Møller in 1999:
"Scientific dishonesty includes actions or omissions in research which give rise to falsification or distortion of the scientific message or gross misrepresentation of
a person’s involvement in the research, and includes:
1. Fabrication and construction of data.
2. Selective and surreptitious discarding of undesirable results.
3. Substitution with fictitious data.
4. Consciously misleading use of statistical methods.
5. Consciously distorted interpretation of results and distortion of conclusions.
6. Plagiarization of others’ results or publications.
7. Consciously distorted reproduction of others’ results.
8. Inappropriate credit as the author or authors.
9. Applications containing incorrect information.
In order to label a conduct as scientific dishonesty, it must be possible to document that the person in question has acted deliberately or exercised gross negligence in connection with the activities under consideration."

It would be interesting to have a list of all of the scientists who have been caught engaging in academic dishonesty, but even more interesting to know what percentage of ACTUAL cheating they represent.

Have you ever discovered a student cheating?

What happened and what did you do?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Praying Mantises & Statements of Faith

This afternoon when I went out to gather more snapdragon seeds I discovered a small, pale praying mantis on one of them. Wow! It reminded me of a time years ago when I found myself showering with one, a much, much larger one. It was so pale it was translucent. How it got into the Jewett Hall 4th floor showers remains an unsolved mystery.

I've been reminscing lately about my life as an undergraduate. It happens frequently at this time of year. Last night we met a father from our old neck of the woods in New England who dropped off his daughter. It was a little surreal when I realized that I am almost old enough to be the age my mom was when I left for college.

I consider a praying mantis in my garden good luck. These carnivorous insects eat garden pests! Though they don't have binocular vision, they excel at catching prey through motion detection. They sort of achieve the "camera 1, camera 2" effect by peering from side to side before they pounce on their prey. Evidently they can kill and eat hummingbirds!

Praying mantis males commit sexual suicide to reproduce. The female bites the head off of the male once he makes his move. She has to bite off his head in order to trigger his ejaculation. If he didn't lose his head, he'd never be able to fertilize her eggs.

You'd be surprised how many males sacrifice their lives to be able to impregnate a female.

Read more here.

Did you also know that when soaked in water petunia seeds color the water a deep purple? That seredipitous discovery led me to think about the possibilities for staining my handmade paper. I can also visualize ancestral women foraging and gathering seeds and making similar accidental innovations. This purple die would make great eye shadow.

Considering I'm on the subject of praying, do you think it's foolish for an evolutionary psychologist to apply for faculty positions at schools that maintain religious affiliations and for which signing a statement of faith or writing a statement of how faith influences the applicant's teaching is part of the application process? Has anyone written anything like this? If so, what approach did you or would you take?

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Seed Gathering

It's late August and many flowering plants and trees have gone to seed. Gathering the seeds can be a wonderful way to spend an afternoon as I've discovered. My inventory includes snapdragons, gladiolus, a couple of species of lavender, and several others, including catalpa seeds. I have been saving them in plastic box with dividers that I found at a fabric store. I am fairly clueless about how to make these things grow but thank goodness for blogs. I finally found information about storing and germinating seeds here. I have already corrected one of my mistakes (storing seeds in airtight containers). Storage before a complete dry out can lead to mold or premature germination. I have also decided to not label everthing even though every site I've found says I should. I can catalog the seeds in my head. There's no need to bring paper and ink into this. I also discovered this tip for a simple germination test at You Grow Girl:

"If you are saving your seeds for extended periods of time, test the seeds before you use them to see if they will still germinate. This is easily done by placing 20 or so seeds (depending on size) onto a half-piece of damp paper towel. Fold it over so that the seeds are covered. Then place it in a plastic baggy with a few pinholes punched into it and set it aside in a dark, warm place. Bear in mind that some seeds need light to germinate and some have other specific requirements-some may need to be soaked first, or may require a certain temperature for germination. Knowing your seeds will help you in this process: however most seeds will do fine with the standard procedure. After a week check to see how many seeds have germinated. Again some seeds will have a longer germination period than others, so if they haven't germinated by week's end, wait another week to be certain. If a fair number of seeds have germinated then the seeds are good and can be used with little trouble. If few seeds germinate, increase the number of seeds sown per inch or don't bother using them at all."

I would have never thought of that!

I also didn't realize that I should germinate seeds in a DARK place.

Hmmm... I may have to replicate my little botany experiment in a different location.

I will be so happy if I can get a lavender seed to germinate and become an adult plant. If I can do the same with the jasmine I think my mum-in-law will start coming to me for gardening advice! And I will have a present for my mom. She loves jasmine too.

This information about germinating lavender seeds says that lavender germinates slowly and unevenly. That's good to know! The seeds of several species can be germinated outside or started indoors for more success.

Intelligence Testing

This month's issue of GQ reports the results of some psychological testing two psychologists at Washington University ran on Albert Pujols. The tests duplicate those Babe Ruth took at the same age. In the words of Davy Jones, "Pujols scored out of sight on hand-eye coordination and showed an unusual (anecdotally, anyway) and apparently baseball-useful way of processing visual information." The ESPN story has a few more details.

The symbol transfer test Pujols scored off the charts on might be similar to a portion of a widely used I.Q. test: WAIS-R or the Weschler Adult Intelligence Scale-Revised. My bet is that the symbol transfer test Pujols took was the Digit/Symbol transfer test from the WAIS-R. Anyone could design a similar test, but you wouldn't have the norms to be able to judge how well people taking your test do compared with the average. Psychology became a bona fide and lucrative profession because of intelligence testing so naturally, the company that makes the WAIS-R keeps it under lock and key. You'd be lucky to find a complete set for sale anywhere. I think this Japanese company might be selling one.

After I performed extremely well on the Block Design portion of the WAIS-R that I took for a clinical psych course, the person who oversaw the administration of the test exclaimed, "You must have played with Legos as a kid!" I certainly had.

The perennial question about intelligence testing from a scientific perspective is of course whether a person's performance depends on their innate ability or the practice they've had with those skills that are tested. Did Pujols score well on high-eye coordination tests because he's had tons of practice as a baseball player or is he a great baseball player who scores well on those tests because he's got innate talent? No doubt it's both. The real question and the difficult one to answer from a scientific perspective is what contribution each piece makes. How much does practice matter vs. innate skill?

"Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I'll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select" boasted John B. Watson, founder of behaviorism.

Is this really true?

No way. If genetics mattered not one whit, I could train my dog to outperform Pujols and me both on block design, symbol transfer, and a whole host of other tests. You might say: BUT dogs lack opposable thumbs. They can't manipulate blocks and pencils to demonstrate their skill! Hand arrangement arises from genetic differences between the two species. Why can't differences in the structure of two brains similarly limit performance? No two people are born with exactly the same brain structure. How well you perform on an intelligence test and how well you play baseball depends on how dexterously you play the cards you were dealt.

Unfortunately, we weren't all dealt a hand with 4 aces in it.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

On Using Psychological Science Carefully

Is psychology science?

Certainly, but the people who consume it aren't, generally speaking. I know, I know: We're ALL scientists at some level. But at best we are naive scientists.

One of the lessons incumbent on ALL professors to teach, regardless of discipline, is critical thinking. Part of this is getting students to ask tough questions of research and researchers. Another part is teaching them to be careful consumers of reports from journalists who distill that research. I'd also say that a final piece is getting students to think about the implications and application of research.

Take this story that caught my eye:
New ‘doll test’ produces ugly results.

It presents a replication of an old 1950s study from Mamie Clark that found young black children had negative perceptions of black dolls and positive ones about white dolls. Her study found its way to the Supreme Court and ended up influencing their Brown v. Board of Education decision that school segregation is unconstitutional.

Catchy headline. Decently written story.
You might think this study is important. For one, it was conducted by a high school student to which I say that is not an automatic knock against it. Second, it touches on a really important topic. Third, it replicates a study that should really be replicated. But is it all that scientifically significant? Yes, if the findings warrant the conclusion (that young black children suffer low self-esteem because they don't meet the beauty standards doled out by the media). But, they don't.

Here's how the study apparently went:
[researcher] “Can you show me the doll that looks bad?”

The child, a preschool-aged Black girl, quickly picks up and shows the Black doll over a white one that is identical in every respect except complexion.

[researcher] “And why does that look bad?”

“Because she’s Black,” the little girl answers emphatically.

[researcher] “And why is this the nice doll?”

“Because she’s white.”

[researcher] “And can you give me the doll that looks like you?”

The little girl hesitates for a split second before handing over the Black doll that she has just designated as the uglier one.

15 of the 21 children preferred the white doll to the black one. In Clark's original study, out of 16 black children, 11 preferred the black doll and 9 said the white doll looked “nice."

71% vs 69% of the kids preferred the white doll. That's all fine and shocking and disturbing.

But what about sampling?
That's a very, very small sample size. If the study were replicated with a different sample, would we get the same results? Results from small samples are questionable because the sample might not reflect the population we wish to generalize to. How representative are these kids of the average black child?

What about experimenter effects?
Just as in physics when trying to observe the behavior of subatomic particles, simply by observing them we change their behavior. If the person who knows the hypothesis and who wants to confirm it (no one ever really wants to refute their predictions, do they?) is the same person who conducts the experiment, interview, or words the survey, that person can unconsciously elicit the very behavior they hope to find. It's called experimenter expectancy. One way to limit this is to make sure the person who collects the data is blind to the hypothesis and purpose of the study.

Another problem I have with this research is that choosing an "ugly" doll means the child has low self-esteem. Do girls really derive ALL of their self-esteem from their appearance? No. If they do, those girls aren't normal and therefore are not representative.

Is the media to blame for creating beauty standards?


Our wretched psychological biases are. We create the beauty standards and enforce and reinforce them by continuing to pay black women less than white women and by refusing to date and marry black women.

Psychologist David Buss -- who makes uninformed, ignorant feminists' heads spin and bodies convulse in paroxysms of spitting venom at him and anyone who is a card-carrying sociobiologist... I should write a manifesto on what a feminist sociobiologist is, but that's beside the point, as is a similar manifesto on how EP is not social Darwinism or eugenics -- says this ((I'll quote him at length because I think he makes a valid point on this topic of media driven beauty standards - emphasis mine)):

'The journalist Naomi Wolf has described the media advertisements as creating a false ideal, called the beauty myth, in order to subjugate women sexually, economically, and politically, and hence to turn back the clock on feminism. The beauty myth is presumed to have taken on causal properties, covertly undoing all the accomplishments of feminism in improved conditions for women. The surgical technologies of breast implants and face lifts are believed to be designed to institute medical control of women. The diet, cosmetics, and cosmetic surgery industries combined... are said to stem from the need to keep women in line. Standards of beauty, the argument goes, are arbitrary -- capriciously linked with age, highly variable across cultures, not universal in nature, and hence not a function of evolution. Myths, however, cannot have causal force - only the individuals who carry myths can. Power structures cannot have causal force - only the individuals who wield power can. The story depicted by this view of the beauty myth is therefore unflattering to women. It implies that women are unsuspecting dupes, passive receptacles, with no preferences and no individuality, buffeted and brainwashed by the powerful forces of entities like "power structures" and "myths" that seek to subjugate them. In contrast an evolutionary psychological approach shows that women have far more autonomy and choice in their deployment of attraction tactics than proponents of the beauty myth would have us believe.... Women purchase beauty products not because they have been brainwashed by the media, but rather because they determine that their power to get what they want will be increased." (Excerpted from The Evolution of Desire, 1994, p. 113)

And that is why Beyonce wears her hair blond and straightened.

If we really wish to become a colorblind society an awful lot has to change.

This high school student's research, despite the problems, suggests we need to have a ways to go.

Where should we begin?

Monday, August 21, 2006

An Inconvenient Truth

Polar bears are drowning.
It rained in Antarctica.
There will be no glaciers in a decade in Glacier National Park.

These are some of the inconvenient truths I was exposed to while watching a Melissa Etheridge video that promotes Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth, which I have not yet seen. And, I don't feel compelled in the slightest way to get in my SUV drive to go see it either. That's not because I don't care about the environment - I certainly do. It's just that I'm already in the choir so preaching to me won't change by watching the movie. I did visit the website and counted my personal carbon impact by aswering a few questions about my energy consumption here. I came in 33% below the average. How well do you do?

Now, if the movie actually has concrete take home suggestions for personal action after an impactful call-to-arms message for those who need a kick in the pants, I would watch it. But don't tell me something I already know. It'll only make my anger and resentment grow. I might come away feeling hopeless and helpless rather than empowered.

At this point, I've heard the message and I want to know what I can do to reduce my personal impact on the income that my family has. I add the income part because if you look around, it actually costs something to make immediate green changes to your lifestyle that take a while to 'pay off.'

For instance, we could sell our house and have a totally green one built. Geothermal heat pump. Solar power. Composting toilet. Xeriscape yard with organic garden. It would be within walking distance to work, groceries, banking, the vet, doctor, and the post office. I'd have a second car that is a hybrid for trips to visit family and get out into the remaining wilderness. That's my dream life.

For now, I resolve to think globally and act locally.

Here are a few things I already do and that you can easily do too in order to minimize your impact:
1. Shut off the lights you don't use.
Be an Energy Ant. You should install efficient fluorescent bulbs in high-use spots.
2. Turn up the thermostat in summer and down in winter.
Put in good insulation and seal cracks around windows, doors, in the attic. Open the windows at night and shut them in the morning to trap the cool air inside. Don't run the AC/heat while you aren't home.
3. WALK or bike everywhere you can.
It takes longer so plan ahead. You may have to trade driving to your gym for walking to work, getting groceries, etc. It's excellent exercise. If you have to drive, plan ahead so that you run all of your errands in the order that amounts to the least driving. Better yet, combine with a friend or more so you use one car rather than more. Incorporate walking into your family together time.
4. Water at night.
There's no reason to let the sun dry it up before it makes it into the ground.
5. Install a low-flow showerhead.
We found one for less than ten bucks and it didn't reduce the water pressure. It does the opposite.
6. Reduce the amount of stuff you buy.
Use the things you already have longer. If it's broken, fix it first.
7. Recycle everything you can.
Buy products that come in recyclable containers. In my town curbside recycling only takes #1 plastic. I haven't heard of a curbside that doesn't take glass so buy products that come in glass (peanut butter, jam, etc) rather than plastic you can't recycle.
8. Re-use stuff.
You can clean out jam jars and use them for drinking cups. You can use yogurt cups to start seeds for your garden. Dust with used dryer sheets - they are fantastic for picking up pet hair. Wash your windows with newspapers. It really works. Seriously.
9. Use Seventh Generation products.
I love their lavender dish soap. They've even got a line of products for your baby. Think about the environmental impact of diapers. We've had the debate about cloth vs. disposable and we don't even have kids yet. With cloth, you've got tons of washing and chemicals. With plastic you've got plastic, the stuffing, and landfill accumulation. Which is better? I have no idea but I will figure it out when the time comes.
10. Ask other people what they do to conserve.
You'll get ideas and you'll force people to think about the impact of their actions.

On that note, what do you do to reduce your impact on the environment?

Friday, August 18, 2006

No Dirty Gold Campaign

Don't trash your old cell phone - recycle it.

That's the advice Alasdair provides over at his blog where he highlights a much needed organization ( that can hook you up with a way to safely dispose your old cell phone so its contaminants don't pollute the landfills. He's even got his employer on board with the mission.

Little by little he's doing gorillas a favor.

He's already recycling unread and unsold copies of newly released books that get sent to his company along with hoards of promotional material they expect his company to disseminate. When the books don't sell, he puts them up for sale to the lowest bidder at an online clearinghouse for books. The proceeds go to the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund and the United Way.

By recycling cell phones, pressure may be reduced on coltan mining. Coltan is a mineral used to make cell phones. Guess where it's mined? Deep in the heart of darkness in the Congo. Roads in - miners in - guerillas in - dead gorillas out and prime habitat polluted and destroyed for all.

The cell phone recyclers have teamed up with the No Dirty Gold Campaign that seeks to make gold mining less horrible.

They say that the tiny band of gold around my finger created 20 tons of mining waste to produce. Holy crap. That's a lot of cyanide and mercury. And that's not to mention the impressive diamond nearby - for all I know it's a conflict diamond.

What's so impressive about a diamond anyway except for the mining?

As I look at the tokens of love and commitment on my finger and my nearby cell phone that I use to stay in touch with loved ones, I can't help but to reflect with new eyes on the impact these things have.

And, I am reminded of a favorite line in a song from Sarah McLachlan:
love-- a tight, thorny thread that you spin in a circle of gold

From an EP standpoint, it's crucial to have a signal of commitment and monogamy to deter others from trying to poach your mate. Yes - mate poaching. It's a named phenomenon that happens often enough for it to be a serious problem. Would be adulterers are well known for slipping off the symbol so as to increase their pool of potentials, so we know at some level that rings do signal availability.

We obviously didn't have rings of gold to signal a bond in ancestral times, so what did we do then and why not do that?

It would probably be a whole lot more environmentally responsible.

Can PhDs Get Regular Jobs?

Can a PhD get a regular job?

Like say, "bather for our grooming dept," or "part-time barista," or "optometry asst." or the real ticket: "highly motivated Sales Professional" at "Walla Walla County's #1 Volume Chrysler, Jeep, Dodge Store."

I ask this question as I look at my shrinking bank account and the lack of open academic positions that I am qualified for in this town of 5 institutions of higher education.

For the first time in quite a while I will not be working 60+ hours a week teaching.

Sure, I could go to town on dissertation writing and get 'er done, but I know it won't take 40 hours a week for the next 9 months to finish it. I am already more than half way done.

I could knuckle down and force myself to use the time to submit my MA research for publication at another journal, but that certainly doesn't take a whole lot of time - maybe an hour here and there tops.

Projects around the house? I can invent projects 'til the cows come home.

However, none of this solves the money problem. My house needs a new roof, and I've got student loans to pay off. Plus, I like to travel, buy books, and drink those expensive frou-frou coffees from time to time.

So, I ask the question, could I be hired to be a used car salesman?

I use that non-gender neutral term because around here, I wouldn't be surprised if you had to have a masculine name, voice, and appearance to be hired. But, you never know.

The way I see it, I've been fired from every food service oriented position I've ever had so I probably shouldn't look into pouring coffee. That leaves 3 other great jobs I could potentially be occupied with. Should I wash dogs and cats (I love animals), work in an eye doc's office answering phones and printing out receipts (good lord I'd go nuts), or try to use some of my PhD level psychology to manipulate people to buy cars I wouldn't buy myself (I would be damned good at it)?

If you're a PhD who has failed in academia, can you get a regular job?

How do you do it? What do you put on your resume? In your cover letter?

Do you lie and omit your educational background?

Why would you not hire someone with a PhD, especially a useful one like in psychology?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Photo Collage

As requested, here are some photos from around the home and town.

I often get asked how well the fur balls get along.

Mr Man & Big Girl get along - when they're both worn out from too much excitement. Here they wait under the dining room table for the next big thing to happen.

She's been teething so she's been cranky. Earlier this week she lost her baby canine. She's got one more to go. We'll all be much happier when she's got her adult mouth.

Over the weekend we visited the Black Door Gallery & Museum of Unnatural History. I've visited a few natural history museums but this was a first for unnatural ones. It was loaded to the brim with quirky, good-humored, political statement type art.

I think this one is titled "Diana Goddess of the Third Grade." The artist, who I noticed was reading Ulysses while he wasn't walking around with a handheld guest counter that looked an awful lot like one of those gizmos you can use to shock someone who's gullible enough to still shake your hand in spite of your Cheshire cat grin, was all too eager to comment on Charlton Heston's "not from my cold blah blah blah hands" speech to the NRA while I looked at this piece. I just wanted to admire the taxidermed pet opposum at her feet, the miniature skulls hanging from her hip, the dog bone in her mouth, and her toy weaponry - in peace. How ironic. I may have said something about Ben-Hur. The dude, CH that is, has Old Timer's.

The mechanical sperm bank was what brought us into the gallery. The photos do not do it justice. I especially like the phallic faucet and the plastic babies in the testicle jar.

On my walk around campus this afternoon, I noticed another old tree got sacked right around the corner from us. It was a maple tree. Today at lunch I got to chat with a Phi alum and the Phi house chef about the historic catalpa that got taken down in their front yard last week. Maybe a picnic table can be made from some of the wood. I like that idea. It would be wonderful to keep the tree around campus in some form. That tree meant a lot to many people in the neighborhood.

We found another old catalpa growing elsewhere on campus, hopefully that one won't get axed too.

This gives you an idea of the size of the catalpa's leaves and sead pod. That ruler is a little more than 12 inches long. I'm waiting for the seeds to ripen, then I'll harvest and germinate them, and if I'm successful, someday there will be another catalpa in town.

A few days ago I located a huge wisteria vine growing near the Y. The property it's located on is up for sale. Got a million bucks?

One of the weird things about this town is the mixture of relative poverty and unbelievable wealth in the same neighborhood. A walk through my neighborhood reveals scruffy, cheap properties and well-kept mansions.

I very much prefer this way to the usual segregation of rich and poor.

I brought some of the fragrant flowers home and put them in a bud vase in the bathroom. I'd love to grow a wisteria in the back on an arbor near the fence.

I did some homework on wisteria. It will grow fairly easily here but if I start it from seeds, it could take a decade before it blooms. From cuttings appears to be the best way to go, and wouldn't you know it, August is the best time to do cuttings!

I need some stuff called vermiculite to condition the soil so that the roots grow well.

Cat Crap Cootie Changes Culture

A scientist working for the US Geological Survey and the CA university system has found out that a parasite commonly acquired by cleaning up after house cats can alter personality on a national level depending on country-wide exposure rates.

“The geographic variation in the latent prevalence of Toxoplasma gondii may explain a substantial proportion of human population differences we see in cultural aspects that relate to ego, money, material possessions, work and rules,” he says in the press release.

Apparently the parasite affects the personality trait of neuroticism. Neurotic people tend to be anxious and moody.

It's a stretch to go from there to "ego, money, material possessions, work, and rules" and the part about it explaining "a substantial portion" of cultural differences really overstates the findings I'd guess.

It all makes me wonder what the published study in the Aug 2, 2006 issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society actually says.

My libraries only carry the electronic version up until 2000 and the print version won't arrive for several more weeks.... so I guess for now, we'll just have to take his word for it.

It is very interesting though! I love the studies that investigate how parasites manipulate their hosts so they can replicate even more efficiently. Parasite-host co-evolution is definitely one of my favorite evolutionary topics!

Here's an easier to digest version of the press release.

Dissertation Fellowships for Women

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) offers $20,000 fellowships to women who complete their dissertation writing between July 1, 2007, and June 30, 2008. To qualify, applicants must have completed all course work, passed all required preliminary examinations, and received approval for their research proposal or plan by Nov. 15, 2006. Students holding any fellowship for writing a dissertation in the year prior to the AAUW Educational Foundation fellowship year are not eligible. Open to applicants in all fields of study, except engineering. (For engineering, see Selected Professions Fellowships.) Scholars engaged in researching gender issues are encouraged to apply.

For more information click here.

It's too late for me (I wish I had a mentor who told me about this a year ago!!) but if you know any female PhD students who are eligible, please tell them!

Explaining Evolution to the Masses

Francois asks over on his blog, in the face of such little acceptance of evolution among the general population in my country, how do I explain my research to non-scientists?

That's a good question - How do I explain my research?

I just come right out and say it, using non-jargon filled language. I explain it as if I am talking to my grandma or a 10 year old.

I study the nonverbal behaviors that humans have in common with primates. These include facial expressions, gesture, and patterns of touch. I want to know what we do, why we do it, and what it means when it happens.

Being someone who works in the field of evolutionary science (and specifically the much poopoo-ed version known as evolutionary psychology or SOCIOBIOLOGY) and being someone who is not shy about saying exactly what I think, I have experienced a variety of responses to my research.

From a lifelong family friend who is an evangelical Christian - how can you talk about animal cognition when they don't have souls? I guess I could see the point if psychology is taken as it literally means from its root PSYCHE meaning soul so that psychology is the study of the soul at least as it was originally conceived, but my field has changed a lot in the 130 years that the discipline has been around. Matter of faith have a very small place in psychology now. I think having the question of having a soul is totally irrelevant and arbitrary way to decide what should and should not be studied in psychology.

When I told a distant relative that I had just met that I study the behaviors that humans have in common with primates, she said "oh, ew" and didn't ask anymore questions of me the entire night. It was weird.

Others - scientists! - have expressed a lot of encouragement for my exploration of human-primate similarities.

But at least one person in my field, Kanazawa, has gone on the record (in a peer reviewed journal) to say that it is better to hide the similarities so as not to fuel discontent for our field among the uneducated masses.

I don't agree with him.

I have NEVER had a student attack evolution or the concept of applying it to human behavior. Perhaps that is a function of the types of colleges I have taught at.

Nevertheless, I am fully prepared to discuss evolution and human behavior with anyone, anywhere, anytime. I think it is my responsibility to keep doing what I'm doing.

Trouble is, the average American won't really read my stuff. We are self-selecting consumers. We like to consume what we like and know already.

"give us something familiar
something similar
to what we know already
that will keep us steady
steady going nowhere
~Fiona Apple

If you ask me, discomfort is the only way to g(r)o(w).

Those of us in evolutionary science ought to write columns for our local papers.

I wish I could do that but given that my husband works at the paper as an editor, I can't.

However, I do very much look forward to making my students (and any evangelical crusaders who knock on my door) uncomfortable.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

How biased are you?

To find out how much of a bigot you might unconsciously be, try taking the Implicit Associations Tests. Whether it's bias to ethnicity, gender, sexuality, weight, disability, or political party, these tests offer a neat way to discover the hidden biases we all carry around.

The News Irks Me

Yesterday I read an AP story about how the state of PA benefits financially from selling confiscated items from airline travelers on ebay.

In Iran and Syria, women are forbidden from wearing all sorts of make-up in public. I don't even think it can brought into those countries by airline passengers. How is our fascist fundamentalist government any better when it thinks the solution to the latest 'terror plot' is to confiscate make-up?

More people can name "the three stooges" than the three branches of government and vanishingly few can name even 2 Supreme Court justices.

An idiot politician who wants to be leader of the "free" world got caught making a racial slur and now it's all over YouTube and CNN. He called an Indian student working for the other side a Makaka. Now that republican Bible Belt jackass is trying to explain it away. This blog summarizes the incident well. When people invoke monkeys and apes to disparage others, I hate that. Hate that. Rotten desert religions.

Maybe it's good that only half the people who can vote in this country actually do.

Monday, August 14, 2006

PhD Student Rant #1

After almost two months of not ranting about graduate school, my advisor, or how hopeless and *pointless* at some level this whole "get a PhD" endeavor seems, I've had a change of heart. Maybe I just woke up a little feisty this morning. The Twins have been squabbling for days too. Maybe there's something in the water. I actually heard myself say out loud this weekend, "There's no fighting in this house!" As if some mandate handed down from above ever succeeded...

This morning I had to write back to an established researcher whose work I admire and whom I'd like to publish with in the near future. I contacted this person last week when I realized that if I didn't do anything, inertia would leave me in the same spot I've been in for YEARS as a graduate student: publicationless.

I'm bright, have a solid scientific mind, can write well, and have no lack of research ideas. So then WHY do I still have ZERO publications after 6 years of graduate school?

I'll have to set aside my strong tendency toward accepting responsibility for my own predicament and my knowledge of how pervasive the self-serving bias is to do exactly that: blame someone else. Who gets it?

My advisor, the department, the institution, the structural inequality that breeds discontent but provides no tools to get ahead.

See, I am a first generation college graduate from a working-class, single parent home. I had the audacity to think that I could make it in academia. I want some kind of affirmative action too. I don't know how to negotiate my way in academia. I attended graduate school with kids of professors who know exactly what to do and when they don't, they have mommy and daddy to steer them. I've gone to graduate school with students whose advisors let them ride their coattails onto the royal road of publications. My advisor publishes textbooks and was already heading toward retirement when I came along. I don't think my advisor has published a research article in 15 years. I was assigned TA position after TA position - never an RA. Why not balance it out a little? Everyone in my program is fully supported by a tuition waiver and a stipend in exchange for serving as a teaching and/or research assistant. If it hadn't been for that, I would never have signed up for it. The least they could do when making assignments is to make sure that everyone gets both TA and RA experience.

I'd better not start on the program that got me to apply there in the first place... I have opinions on that too.

Recently I looked at my bank account, my CV, and my goals. Where am I? Motivated to get that dissertation done so that I can *at least* have those 3 virtually worthless letters behind my name. What do I want to do with my life? Teach the material I love at a small, private selective liberal arts college in a small town with a dry, sunny climate. I don't even need to make a lot of money. I just want to be able to 1) live comfortably, not luxuriously, 2) pay off my student loans from going to just that kind of school, and 3) have enough left over to travel to an exotic place occasionally. Before I get too old to be able to thoroughly enjoy the experience, I want to see mountain gorillas in Rwanda. I don't think I'll be able to do that while pouring coffee like every other PhD who couldn't make it. And I certainly won't be able to look back over my life and feel like I've made a difference.

I am a teacher. It is a calling.

If I want to live up to that, the way I see it, I have to get a publication. I haven't done it by relying solely on myself, my advisor, my department, or my institution so I took a chance and am now trying to get something going with an established researcher.

It's a lot like dating but just different enough that one cannot rely on instinct alone.

I could use some good advice from those who've been down this path and succeeded.

Friday, August 11, 2006

National Champion Catalpa Cut Down

The largest Catalpa tree in America is being cut down this week in Walla Walla. I've walked past this impressive and well-loved tree many, many times and am saddened to see that yet another old tree on campus has been axed. It had a rotten core they say.

Reports from ground zero last night said that someone had left flowers.

The catalpa takes its name from a Cherokee word that means bean tree, and I can see why. The tree produces seed pods that look like giant spring beans. It also flowers in the spring.

The tree measured 22 feet in circumference and was 79 feet tall.

What's Exotic is Erotic

If 90% of the people on this planet sport the usual primate pattern of dark hair and dark eyes, then why do some people come in paler shades?

Consider a simple experiment:
Place a photo of a fair skinned redhead with blue eyes among 3 photos of brunettes who have darker skin and brown eyes. Place that same redhead among larger crop of brunettes. Is the same woman rated more attractive when she's seen with a larger number of brunettes?

Yes, that's exactly what happened when Thomas Thelen conducted the experiment. He found the reverse too - when the brunette was rare, she was more attractive.

Sexual selection, in addition to natural selection, provides a mechanism by which organisms can change over time. Sexual selection involves two parts: 1) outcompeting same-sex rivals for mates and 2) being selected as a mate - often in that order.

So, what's exotic is erotic.

A Persian immigrant in a sea of Scandanavian blonds will be able to attract attention away from her fair haired rivals, all other things being equal.

Those other things?
Healthy skin & hair, symmetrical face and body, hourglass shape, and - KINDNESS!

For all of the EP talk about the importance of physical beauty for women in the mating game, we rarely hear about personality.

Personality goes a long way.

What do you think this "rarity principle" has to say about the evolution of personality?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Kinkaku Illusion

If you enjoyed the cool illusion I posted earlier and have been to Japan, you might enjoy this version of that illusion even MORE.

Animal Personality

In my previous post, "Crash Course..." I described some child temperaments. All animals have temperaments. This also means they all have personalities. I know it's not a shocking statement to most, but for psychologists, it is.

See, not everyone accepts that animals have personalities. Perhaps they don't like the implication of the word. I think they bought into the "ANTHROPOMORPHISM is a SIN" bit. Some compromise by agreeing that animals have temperaments, but it's just semantics. What matters is that living organisms demonstrate individual differences in behavior, the phenotypic expression of their genetic differences. Personality/ temperament is what evolution (natural and sexual selection) acts on. It never made sense to me to deny that animals have personality, for it is akin to thinking that evolution is bunk. For all I know, they may be card carrying members of the Flat Earth Society.

That way of thinking is quickly becoming obsolete under the leadership of psychologist Sam Gosling, a young professor at the University of Texas. His research is solid, and he has a knack for catchy titles. "A room with a cue" and "From mice to men: What can we learn about personality from animal research?" are two of his best.

The first discusses how people indicate their personality by the way they keep their offices and bedrooms. Nonverbal behavior includes not only our facial expressions and "body language" but also signals based on the quality and quantity of clothing, scent, and room decor to name a few. Most of this kind of communication occurs unconsciously which means it reveals people in all of their uncensored glory, or lack thereof. This kind of information can be very useful in mate selection, a topic of great concern for EPs. "If you're looking for someone who's extroverted and agreeable, you'd probably do better meeting him or her. But if it's conscientiousness and openness you want, take a look in their bedroom." You can read more of the APA's synopsis here.

The second Gosling article is a massive review that synthesizes ALL of the research that has ever been published on animal temperament and personality, including a few studies of insect personality - butterflies and ants. E. O. Wilson would be proud. This is not the "What animal are you? sort of drivel that comes up when you google "animal personality." This is bona fide science.

You can download both articles in PDF format on Gosling's website. I wouldn't blame you if you went in for the lighter reading here or even here instead.

My Newfy has demonstrated herself to be 'slow-to-warm-up.' Skateboards, drum beats in a Shakira song, hammers, and fireworks really freak her out. So do strangers. She would rather run at maximum speed to hide in a box, behind a desk, a tree, a toilet - anything - to be away from the frightening stimuli.

In Big 5 (OCEAN) language, she is moderate on Openness, low on Extraversion, high on Agreeableness, and moderately low on Neuroticism. Dogs lack Conscientiousness. [So do many people!] She is also moderately dominant, at least for the time being. Don't ask the Old Man though, he'd tell you she's a domineering buttinski. He also wouldn't tell you that he's high on O, high on E, low on A, high on N, and high on dominance unless she's around. All of that means that she's a giant but slightly stubborn scarred sweetheart who's really pretty easy-going if there are no loud, unexpected sounds or people. Meanwhile and he's an anxious, curious, affable curmudgeon.

Dogs and all other animals (except people according to the Big 5 personality theorists) have "surgency" (dominance) added as a measurable personality factor. I think humans also have dominance hierarchies and dominance behavior, but no one asked me before publishing the five factor model of personality - and - they didn't ask Abraham Maslow either. Although he is best known for founding Humanism (a major 'school' of psychology in the 60s and the forerunner of today's "positive psychology" movement), he started out studying chimpanzee dominance as a student of Harry Harlow. If they had asked us, they would have included "dominance" as a 6th factor. Frans de Waal would agree on this one. They should have included dominance!

If you have time to kill, first take my survey (only 5 mins!), and then if you still want to learn more about personality and who your Star Wars twin is, click here.

If you do both, I'll tell you who my Star Wars twin is ;-)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Crash Course in Attachment Style & Developmental Psychology

Recently I told my mom about a psychology article that appeared in the local newspaper. It described new research by Chris Fraley who found that people who are anxiously attached to romantic partners misread facial expressions of emotion because they judge too quickly what the person might be feeling. But, when they are forced to take their time before deciding what a person might be feeling, they are MORE accurate than other people.

I found it all really interesting and was able to report it and some background information in what she called "mom language, not Holly lingo."

So, here's the crash course in attachment style & developmental psychology in my best "mom" language:


Ok, so - every child is born with a "temperament" which later becomes that child's personality. Temperament is inborn and genetically based. A baby also has a 'primary caregiver' (mom or dad, or aunt, or nanny, etc) who takes care of the baby's needs in a particular way called a 'caregiving style.' The baby's temperament and the parent's caregiving style interact with each other to create the baby's "attachment style."

The attachment style is the child's expectations for how others will take care of its needs. Are my needs being met? Does my caregiver take care of me in the way I need it, when I need it? Or are they sometimes not available, or make me wait, or take care of the wrong problem (like feeding me when I really needed my diaper changed or playing with me when I really just wanted to be rocked... that sort of thing). The attachment style that a child develops early in life gets carried into his/her adult romantic relationships and affects how s/he interacts with romantic partners.

There are some disagreements among psychologists about how many different attachment styles there are, but I agree with the people who think there are two qualities that underlie it all: ANXIETY and AVOIDANCE.

People can be a little to a lot anxious about significant others. People with "anxious attachment styles" worry their partner will abandon them. They desperately want emotional closeness and try to get it from their partners, sometimes through physical affection. This may make them feel like they can prevent their partner from leaving them.

People can also be a lot or a little avoidant of close emotional relationships. People who have "avoidant attachment styles" don't really want to be emotionally close to others. They would prefer to have a series of shallow relationships rather than getting deeply involved with someone romantically.

Anxious and avoidant people (i.e. people with INSECURE attachment styles) may be that way because they were born a little more "reactive" or sensitive to stimuli (like loud noises, absence of caregiver, etc) compared to other babies. It's like their brain chemistry makes them constantly on edge and revved up, sensitive and ready to react to anything. On top of that, they may have had a caregiver who was inconsistent in responding to their needs as a child. Anxious people hold out hope that the caregiver will get it right someday and will take care of them appropriately. On the other hand - avoidant people maybe turned out that way because they gave up hope that someone would take care of them the right way, so they avoid relationships to keep from getting hurt.

People with a SECURE attachment style were probably babies born with an easy-going temperament (they didn't overly react to weird stimuli, didn't cry too much & when they did they calmed down easily). Sometimes, babies who are born with difficult temperaments can become like easy-going babies through sensitive and proper caregiving. It's all about how the caregiving they get in childhood interacts with their inborn temperament. That influences how they will handle romantic relationships as an adult.

It's a REALLY neat area of psychological theory and research and it is MY AREA.

The cool thing is that this has been studied for 50 years in primates!

In fact, there's this really famous psychologist, Harry Harlow, who did the first research on attachment style in the 50s with MONKEYS. He named his study "Mother Love." He paved the way for others to study it in people. I love this whole area of research. It ties in love, babies, primates, nonverbal behavior like touch and affection, and even evolutionary theory. There's a really good book about Harry Harlow that tells the whole story of attachment research - it is fun & written by a non-scientist in mom-language. You might like it!

Here's the link to the attachment research newstory.


To figure out what a baby's temperament is, there are some simple observations you can make, just like any good psychologist:
* How does the baby react to a sudden noise?
* How does s/he react to the appearance of a new toy, something scary, strangers, the absence of her "primary caregiver"?

If the baby is quiet and doesn't really flinch or cry too much then the baby has an "easy" temperament. If the baby flinches, cries a lot and can't be easily calmed, that baby has a "difficult" temperament. Some babies are "slow to warm up" if they initially act like difficult babies but then later calm down and appear to be easy babies. Difficult babies, through sensitive and appropriate caregiving, can become "easy" babies but you'll have your work cut out for you! Every child, no matter the innate temperament, can become a secure child and a secure adult through responsive caregiving.

For more background on attachment theory, read Chris Fraley's essay.


Speaking of his new research on facial expression, I see two great applications of this research provided the effect is replicable.

First, the skills of anxiously attached people could be harnessed to help in situations where people need to be "sized up," but not when that has to be done quickly. Anxiously attached people might make terrible security screeners in airports and at borders, but what about inside the criminal justice system where contact is more sustained? Second, anxiously attached people could create conflict within their relationships because they misread their partners. They might not be able to resolve that conflict easily either, so it stands to reason that anxiously attached people could be coached to slow down and take time before communicating with their partner.

Finally, everyone could benefit by learning more about nonverbal communication!

Stay tuned for more on that.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Masculine Voices are Sexy, especially if you're UGLY

Finally I have finished reading two academic articles: "Menstrual cycle, trait estrogen level, and masculinity preferences in the human voice" and "Adult attachment and the perception of emotional expressions" which I will present later.

The first one follows in the tradition of some recent EP work that shows changes in a woman's hormonal condition coincide with different preferences for sexual partners. The interesting findings show up for non-hormone based contraceptive using women around the time they ovulate (release an egg and can become pregnant). I mentioned this in class once and found that some of the men thought ovulation was when women had their periods. I was shocked; I learned something valuable that day in class to say the least.

But back to the real story:

In a nutshell, fertile women find more masculine looking men more attractive than they do more rounded, feminine looking men. EPs assert that at the time women are most likely to become pregnant they prefer 'good genes' signals from potential partners. Masculine facial features, such as a protruding brow ridge and prominent chin, represent secondary sexual characteristics that develop in response to testosterone.

Because testosterone exerts harmful effects on the immune system, anyone who has masculine features and also appears to be healthy basically signals that they have a strong immune system. Of course, we also assume people are healthy if they are attractive, and sometimes we are wrong. Attractive people are not necessarily in better condition. But, more often than not, they are.

By preferring men who are more masculine looking at the time they are most likely to conceive if they have vaginal intercourse with that man, women increase the odds that their child will have 'good genes' in the good immune system sense. It's sort of like female peahens preferring to mate with peacocks who have gloriously long, symmetrical, colorful tails. Those tails handicap the owners, slowing them down. Any male who has managed to carry around such a burden without being damaged or eaten sends the message that he is a high quality bird. The ladies flock to him. EPs have run with Zahavi's handicap principle.

This article is just the latest installment. Rather than using facial stimuli Feinberg et al use vocal stimuli. They had men and women pronounce vowels which were then tweaked up or down in pitch to masculinize and feminize them. As expected, the authors found that menstrual cycle affected preference for masculinized voices - but - only for male voices - and - especially for women who had low circulating estradiol levels, i.e. less feminine, less attractive women.

EPs refer to high estrogen women as "feminine and attractive" because of the connection between estrogen and waist-to-hip ratio and feminine facial features such as full lips. The preference for masculine male voices was more pronounced for "lower quality women."

What was interesting about this article was the lengths the authors went to in order to explain that finding. First, they cited previous research that found preferences for masculinity were most robust for short term mating (STM) contexts (i.e. evaluating a partner for a one-night stand as opposed to marriage). Next they present research that found low-E women were more likely to engage in STM. The authors propose that high-E women are more able to get high quality (i.e. masculine) men as long-term partners and the cost to them of choosing a high quality man is lower.

The authors don't really explain what the "cost" is, but I think they mean that high-T men will be less likely to "dump" a high-E woman. People who match each other in terms of "mate value" are more likely to stay together. It's very much like Joey's advice on Friends. Hit on someone who is a max of +/- 2 away from you in attractiveness. If you're a 6, aim for 4-8. Don't waste your time trying to get a 10 who will leave you when another 10 comes along.

So, we could read this article as a study of condition-dependent mating strategy.

What doesn't make a lot of sense at first glance is that women in comparatively 'poor' condition set their sights even higher than women who are in 'good' condition.

Lower quality women appear to want 'good genes' even more, but are they likely to get them?

Well, they do have more sex partners, so someone is mating with these women. Previous research has found that men lower their standards for STM, so a woman in relatively poor condition will be able to mate with a high quality man and maybe become pregnant by him, but she had better be self-sufficient. A woman in good condition (such as Aishwarya Rai, above, you may recognize her from Bride & Prejudice) could do both. She could have the 'good genes' and the 'good provider.'

Monday, August 07, 2006

A fed bear is a dead bear.

This morning I awoke to NPR's Morning Edition discussing orangutan problems in Indonesia - Sumatra to be exact. You can listen to it on the NPR website and read a synopsis. They mentioned the problems some places are having with ecotourists feeding the orangutans. Orangutans gravitate to the garbage left by people.

A fed bear is a dead bear.

'N 'Uf said.

Ecotourism can work to help endangered species and the habitat they occupy, BUT it has to be done right.

Don't touch or feed the animals. Pack out what you pack in.
That means ALL of your shit, including your shit.
Leave no trace. Take only memories.

I like this lesson from Le Petit Prince:
Once you tame something you are responsible for its well-being.

"Men have forgotten this truth," said the fox. "But you must not forget it. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.”

The french version is four times as long:
..."Qu'est-ce que signifie <>?
- C'est une chose trop oubliée, dit le renard. Ça signifie <>
- Créer des liens?
- Bien sûr,
dit le renard. Tu n'es encore pour moi qu'un petit garçon tout semblable à cent mille petits garçons. Et je n'ai ps besoin de toi. Et tu n'as pas besoin de moli non plus. Je ne suis pout toi qu'un renard semblable à cent mille renards. Mais, si tu m'apprivoises, nous aurons besoin l'un de l'autre. Tu seras pour moi unique au monde. Je serai pour toi unique au monde..."
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Fox begs for the Little Prince to tame him, but the Little Prince says he doesn't have enough time. That's a good lesson for everyone for relationships of all kinds. If you don't have the time to care for something, don't even start.

The Fox also delivers one of the most quoted of all of St. X's lines:
"Adieu, dit le renard. Voici mon secret. Il est très simple: on ne voit bien qu'avec le coeur. L'essential est invisible pour les yeux."

“And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

Cool Optical Illusion

I love illusions. This one is hands down the best I have seen in recent memory.

Kudos for anyone who can explain it!

Giant Puppy and Old Man

Giant Puppy and Little Old Man anxiously shared his couch one morning last week for about 15 seconds, both sitting at alert upon my arrival at the back door. Observation made:
* She is capable of not making him jump down, at least when I am present.

These two have a lot to learn, and they are making good progress. In the process, I happen to be getting a lot of exercise which is very welcome. I would like to avoid the dissertation spread.

I have been teaching her to let him share his couch with her. I am also teaching him to tolerate her presence near him on his couch. I praise her enthusiastically when she sits nicely next to him. She gets a stern warning and stare whenever she paws or leans on him. At the same time I correct her, I need to be aware of what Old Man does. He needs praise whenever he stays sitting next to her. Sometimes I find myself correcting one while simultaneously praising the other. She seems to get which message is hers, but he's clueless. She may be confused too, but she covers it well - unlike students who smile and nod even while completely lost. Old Man's first impulse is to let Giant Puppy have her way by jumping down from his couch when she barges in. She then jumps down on top of him. This has to stop because Giant 60 pound Puppy will soon outweigh me and could injure him if she doesn't learn to sit nicely next to him. My guess is that they'll work it out in the times I'm not home or not looking. My prediction:
* Max will cede the couch to her and only use it when she's kenneled.

I am also teaching her to let me clean her water drool off of the floor and her jowls without her biting at the towel. She loves towels. And, she makes an impressive amount of water drool every time she gets a drink - about 60 times a day. Sometimes the water runs out of her mouth in parallel fangs that can reach the floor. I don't mind really, but having water spots - some of which are large - on the floor constantly means that an unwary walker may slip. That's happened a few times. All of this ends up ensuring that our floors get 'cleaned' patch by patch every day without abrasive chemicals - just good ol' dog drool plus water and elbow grease. WW is a very dusty place so this is a very welcome new habit to be into, so long as I can get the biting at the towel thing under control. I never deliberately reinforce her for biting at the towel, but sometimes I think she gets reinforced for biting at the towel when I dry her face.

Over the weekend Giant Puppy perfected sitting on Max's couch so that she could keep a close eye on Loom Sleyer's outdoor project. She also noticed Max's Fom pillow. So, now she's got another lesson to learn and I probably have a new pillow to sew for he so she can still have fun dragging around what looks like a giant floppy cloth basketball. I would let her have the pillow to play with but 1) it is His, 2) she's already appropriated enough of His stuff, and 3) it's full of tiny foam beads that are no doubt not fit for anyone's consumption. She has already demonstrated that she can discriminate her bone from his bone so it stands to reason that she can learn to tell the difference between his and her pillow.

We also had guests visit over the weekend. Observation made:
* Giant Puppy is as freightened of people as she is fireworks.
The arrival of three people sent her scurrying behind the washing machine. I lured her out with a treat and gave each of our visitors a treat. She came around eventually. All of this led me to decide that we need to have people over much more often so she doesn't wimp out at the sight of people. I think driving her downtown for walks wouldn't hurt. It's a reliable place to run into crowds. Maybe she'll be able to handle the farmer's market in a few months! Then she can try to not follow in her brother's foot steps by not thieving from vendors. He can be so sneaky.

Finally, my new iPod arrived! Conclusion drawn:
* The on-the-go playlist function is the best surprise.
You can select and add songs to a playlist on the fly right on the iPod. I *love* that!
* Worst surprise: It did not come with an AC adapter! 400 plus bucks and you have to charge it through the computer! I plug my iPod into the car stereo for road trips and do not want to pack a freaking laptop just to be able to charge it back up for the return trip. Being a PhD packer, I could squeaze it in but I'm also a giant lightweight so keeping the poundage down is a big plus.
* I bought an AC adapter - made by Apple.
It works great. Don't buy the non-Apple adapters. I found out they can fry your iPod.