Thursday, December 15, 2016

Part of the problem

At least it is an open admission, I'll give the author of this post that much credit. I get it as far as the argument that junior researchers (such as grad students and post-docs) who are more willing to take on projects are going to reap more of the spoils. Good work ethic is nice. Splendid. What is really useful is that there is an open admission that to get this particular assistant published a good deal of p-hacking was deemed necessary. So great - research assistant has lines on a CV that may be helpful in the short term. However, long-term, what is this sort of practice doing to our science? Personally, I find the publish or perish culture that has become so much a part of academic life to be one that is rather inviting to some of our unhealthier impulses to submit research that may be worse than useless, when we really should be slowing down and ascertaining that we have adequately tested the hypotheses we set out to test. In the meantime, here's another lab that may be putting out some good research, but is probably also producing some problematic research based on little more than fishing expeditions. But hey - at least p < .05, right?

The role of social media on the normalization of prejudice

Remember when I highlighted the work of Chris Crandall and colleagues, who showed a normative shift in expression of prejudice towards groups Trump had targeted? Let's add to the discussion and see what a team of researchers has found in the UK post-Brexit. In essence this group of researchers found that there was a link between social media exposure and hate crime incidents, including on-line verbal abuse (keep in mind that in the US we would not refer to on-line verbal abuse as hate crime per se). According to the authors and those who are reading and interpreting their findings, it appears that what has happened in the UK is that social media have led to a sort of normalization of prejudice, much like what we see here. Although the focus is on social media exposure, we need to recall that increasingly sites like Facebook and Twitter are where we get much of our news, we do find echo chambers form, and we do see that individuals on social media find outlets to express toxic views about race, ethnicity, gender, and so on that they might not have done via other modes of communication. That social media themselves can contribute to normative shifts that lead to antisocial interactions is something that should be of concern to us all.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

More resources for evaluating news sites

At some point, I will simply have to create a widget with links to media literacy resources. I noticed a helpful (albeit incomplete) infographic on news quality at a blog called All Generalizations are False. The proprietor of that blog has been posting on twitter and Facebook as well. The author's rationale for ranking various sites on their level of bias and reputability are useful enough, and provide something of a rough guide for navigating today's rough media saturated waters. Another site that is quite comprehensive is Media Bias/Fact Check. The people behind this site are very open about their methodology and they do a very good job of covering just about any purported news sources that you are likely to run into. I stand by a statement I've made earlier: if a claim from a news source seems to outrageous or good to be true, you should be suspicious. News items should appear in multiple outlets, including ones that are relatively mainstream. Expect any outlet to have a slant or bias of one sort or another - this is a lesson that used to get taught to us in junior high school (at least it was back when I was attending around the start of the 1980s). It is also expected that regardless of a particular editorial slant, individual journalists will have their own perspectives, hence the need to look at multiple sources. My own bias is very simple: just avoid the conspiracy and clickbait sites altogether and starve them of advertising dollars. Stick to reputable sources of various ideological positions, and avoid getting caught in an echo chamber (social psychologists, including me, will argue that confirmation bias is something to be avoided as much as is humanly possible rather than embraced).

Friday, December 9, 2016

For narcissists, self-esteem is not the issue

Get past the provocative title of Brad Bushman's most recent blog post and you'll get a quick capsule summary of the link between narcissism and aggression. Conventional wisdom is that acts of aggressive behavior are due to low self-esteem. Individuals who tend to chronically hurt other people, whether physically or emotionally, presumably feel bad about themselves and are compensating somehow. This concept is so much embedded in our social fabric that it is portrayed quite regularly in our pop culture. Heck, an alternative rock band in the mid-1990s, The Offspring, even had a hit song on that very topic - just as one example. Here's the problem: the evidence for the belief that low self-esteem is one risk factor in aggressive behavior is practically non-existent. There is, on the other hand, evidence that narcissists do become angry and do behave aggressively when they are provoked in an ego-threatening manner, and that evidence has been steadily pouring in since the 1990s. Even better, a single item inventory can detect narcissists with a high degree of reliability and validity, as it turns out that narcissists cannot help but out themselves as such - and that is useful for those of us who design experiments who might want to use narcissism as a moderator variable, but have limited lab time per participant at our disposal. Now, the focus of the blog post is on sub-clinical narcissism. However, when one looks at individuals who are clinically diagnosable as narcissists, their track record is one of lack of empathy and harmful behavior towards others.

Although Bushman does not go into this, it turns out that narcissists have a "type" whom they are attracted to. A friend of mine recently completed a dissertation that was primarily a qualitative analysis of the partners and ex-partners of narcissists. In his interviews with these individuals, it becomes clear that most of them have no idea just who they were dating or marrying until it was a bit too late, but they do ultimately recognize that they are dealing with a narcissist at some point during the progression of the relationship. But more interesting was how they scored on the Big Five personality factors: in general they tended to score well above average on the traits of agreeableness and conscientiousness. Most of us will not put up with the abuse of a narcissist for very long, but for that subset who are nice and duty-bound almost to the point of overkill, the narcissist has his or her ideal target: a person who can be harmed whenever the narcissist feels threatened who will continue to take whatever aggression and anger the narcissist throws their way (at least up to some eventual breaking point). And it also becomes clear that the impression that the partners and ex-partners of narcissists do recognize that these individuals come across as highly confident and tend to have inflated views about themselves (that may well have been what sparked the attraction in the first place), may make great first impressions, but that over time they turn out to be not only less than they billed themselves but also rather easily angered and aggressive over the long haul.

Bottom line is that self-esteem is not the issue. Narcissists are doing quite well in that regard. Obviously I would not advocate for low self-esteem either. However, a dose of humility may not be a bad idea, and may put one at less risk to be verbally or physically harmful toward others.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

And once more with feeling: the bubble is real

 I've barely followed Vice, since I found my few experiences to be somewhat on the sensationalistic side. However, the infographic from this story and the story itself may be at least somewhat useful. In particular note how little overlap there is between Clinton and Trump supporters. Trump supporters especially appear to live in their own reality. Some of the other infographics are telling as well. We used to call this the echo chamber about a decade or two ago. Bubbles or echo chambers are not especially healthy for a democracy. It is useful to know where we are currently. That will help us sort out the extent to which we can improve our own media consumption and public discourse.

More media literacy: Some advice on reading the news

Infographic nicked from here. It is publicly posted on Facebook, and hopefully will remain that way. Of course, the list is far from complete, but it does serve as a template. It reinforces what I have attempted to state at various points over the last few weeks. Stick to a variety of sources representing varying views, keep the fact checking resources bookmarked, and keep an open mind.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

More media literacy resources

In an earlier blog post, I introduced you to the work of Melissa Zimdars, who created some tips for analyzing news sources, and in the process, I advocated keeping some fact checking websites bookmarked for those occasions where a story seemed too sensational to be true. Since then, Zimdars has been updating her tips and her list. I thought a couple of the links she suggests visiting are well worth your while:

Truth, truthiness, triangulation: A news literacy toolkit for a “post-truth” world by Joyce Valenza for School Library Journal.

Digital Resource Center

I wish that we could count on our news sources to be accurate, but we can't. We have to put in a bit of legwork when we see a story that looks interesting. Of the various pieces of advice, triangulating (looking for multiple sources for a story rather than relying on a single source) and reading the "about us" link when looking at a new website (or new to you website) are invaluable. We should also remember that in a 24/7 news cycle world, "breaking news" should be treated with caution. Early breaking information is often inaccurate, so make sure to check back later as journalists do their job. Also a good idea to be aware of your own biases and open yourself up to reputable sources that might go outside your own comfort zone. The reason for that last bit of advice is simply to avoid ending up in an echo chamber. Confirmation bias is tempting, as it "feels good" to read or listen to information that essentially confirms your own pre-set beliefs. However, those who might approach a story from a different angle may provide useful information that will empower you to question your beliefs and modify as needed. Often, the interesting stories - especially during an election cycle - are enormously complex and can be examined from any of a number of angles. Although the facts (the data in a news story) might constrain conclusions that may be drawn, examining how others draw somewhat different conclusions from the same story can be informative. I would also be wary of making too much from photos or video clips, as they may only tell part of a story if accurate, and with the advent of guerrilla journalism and photo-editing software those photos or video clips may be entirely worthless. Reliable sources may be less prone to circulating inaccurate information, but can still get facets of a story wrong. So again, triangulate.

I am sure that I will want to share more with you as we go forward. But for now, we have a working set of resources that will suffice.

The future of this blog

When I first started this blog, my intention was fairly modest: namely share a bit of my expertise in my areas of research and to perhaps do a bit to promote recently published and presented work that I have authored or coauthored with students or colleagues. I still intend to do so as I have in the past.

However, if this last year (and really the last several years) has taught me anything, it is that there is a considerable lack of both media literacy and science literacy in the US in particular, but probably to a degree elsewhere as well. As it turns out, my background uniquely positions me to address both concerns. I primarily teach methodology courses at my current university, and much of what I do is provide hands on training in conducting proper scientific research - beginning with learning the basics of descriptive and inferential statistics and creating research prospectuses, and culminating with completed research that can be presented at our Psychology Symposium each fall semester. I also am an aggression researcher who primarily is concerned with the influence of media violence on all facets of our cognitive, affective, and behavioral outcomes. Although my own focus has been on aggressive cognitive and behavioral outcomes, I do have some published work that address how certain forms of media manipulation can lead individuals to accept human rights violations that they otherwise might not accept. Given the exaggeration of violence in all facets of our mass media (including news reporting as it appears in traditional mass media as well as social media), I can take some inspiration from the work begun by George Gerbner and apply that work to our current situation.

I have been more keen to address science literacy in a number of ways, including examining the benefits and pitfalls of the path advocated by such organizations as the Open Science Foundation (with the caveat that I am generally supportive of OSF's general intentions), and have done so over the last year or so. I would love to devote some posts to how to make our work more available to the public, and how we can devote more classroom time from K-12 onward to providing better science training, including in the behavioral and social sciences. Although the scientific method is not perfect, its insistence on valid research design, well-reasoned conclusions based upon the available data, and independent verifiability and replication has been crucial to our civilization's development, and will continue to be crucial as we face this century's challenges. So, there is an area where I think we should spend some time in the months to years to come.

We clearly as a society need a crash course in media literacy. One of the hard lessons learned from this electoral cycle was just how little critical examination of news stories actually occurred. The proliferation of clickbait and fake news sites led to outrageous half-truths and often outright falsehoods going viral on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. I have been trying to provide a few posts as of late to highlight efforts to combat these particular fake news and clickbait sites. I may have a few more posts in me as new resources spring up. My general advice will be pretty straightforward: keep fact check sites bookmarked (Snopes, for example is well worth visiting), make certain that a story is appearing in more than one source (or related set of sources), and avoid echo chambers in order to prevent confirmation bias (a phenomenon I noticed way too often even among my own personal circle of friends - many of whom I expected to know better). In essence I am and will continue to advocate for being a good critical thinker when consuming news. My own morning go-to news sites span a number of ideological perspectives and are ones that are generally reputable. I actually rarely watch cable news outlets, preferring to read articles published on their sites instead if possible. My primary rationale started mainly from my media violence background and my understanding of Gerbner's cultivation theory: that overexposure to media, and especially portrayals of violence, have a number of unwanted outcomes on human behavior, and many of those outcomes are ones that are not healthy for any democratic society. So expect more of a conversation along those lines.

So, a fair amount of what you've read from me this year is likely a foreshadowing of what is to come. As always, my intention is to be evidence-based in my presentation to you. I may post a few other items that I think might be interesting as well, either because they provide some interesting historical context, or provide examples of internet memes that can be used to counter the prevailing tendency to fall for confirmation biases of one sort or another.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Think Before You Share

As part of my commitment to promoting media literacy, this video is worth sharing. As others have undoubtedly mentioned elsewhere (and as I have tried to highlight), if a news item appears on your social media feeds that seems too sensational to be true, it probably is. Do some basic fact checking before you contribute to making a misleading or fake story go viral. The fabric of our entire set of democratic institutions in the US and abroad are dependent upon us sharing accurate information rather than spreading falsehoods.

Please note that this video appears to be most compatible with Google Chrome (at least on the computers accessible to me).

Monday, November 21, 2016

The social psychology of prejudice in the Trump era

This column by social psychologist Chris Crandall should be on your reading list at some point this week, if you have not already seen it. Part of what makes the article useful to me is that Crandall and his colleagues at University of Kansas conducted a study in which they contacted 200 Trump supporters and 200 Clinton supporters and asked them about a wide variety of questions, including questions regarding attitudes toward a variety of groups that Trump has insulted over the course of his campaign, including persons with disabilities, Latinos (more specifically those from Mexico), Muslims, immigrants, and people who might be classified as overweight. Half were asked to rate their own views about these groups and the other half were asked what they thought others' attitudes toward these groups were. What was interesting was that participants showed a shift in negative attitudes toward people in these categories - not only by Trump supporters but also Clinton supporters as well - after Trump was named President-Elect. Their perception of the social norms had shifted, and so too had their expressed attitudes.

As Crandall notes, this is certainly not the only example of an experimental study showing a normative shift, but it is one very applicable to our own particular circumstances in the US. It appears that after decades of effort to cultivate more favorable attitudes toward inclusiveness, we are witnessing just how fragile those efforts have been. As a social psychologist who studies aggression, I can see how the shift in attitudes we are now witnessing could have some significant blowback in the coming months and years. What we study in the lab as social psychologists will become even more important and applicable than ever in the years to come. There is much work to be done, and shared with the public.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

A reminder that media narratives can be positive

Although positive narratives in our mass media are few and far between, it seems, I am always delighted when I can find one. This description of the protagonist from the new film Arrival strikes me as one of those rare moments (be aware of spoilers in the following description, as my friend who composed the following paragraphs would likely want to remind the reader):

In Arrival, we get to know the character of Dr. Louise Banks, and to see what she’s capable of in an extraordinary situation. Not only is it rare, percentage wise, to see a highly educated, White, middle-aged woman in the role of the extraordinary hero, the particular story we tell about Dr. Banks is inspiring. She is a quiet hero whose successes in life have centered around her talent for languages.When put in incredibly stressful situations, she feels the stress, but she moves forward anyway, relying on her own judgment. Here is a image from Arrival in which Dr. Banks makes a decision about how to speak to the aliens. She decides to take off her protective gear and reach out physically to them.
In a world where ongoing aggressions at home and abroad are on most people’s minds, there are other elements of the story that many of us may find reassuring. Louise chooses to put herself at physical risk while remaining non-aggressive and committed to communication. She endures others’ doubts and presses for factions from around the world to work together because she believes it is the only way to solve the problem for the collective good.

At a time when so many films offer the same solution – kick butt until the world does it your way – this film shows us a refreshing alternative. I do understand why we enjoy fantasies where we punch, kick or shoot people until we achieve world peace. However, since we use stories to inspire us in our own lives, this approach is only so useful. How often do most of us solve our problems by beating people up until they cooperate? (Some do metaphorically!) Dr. Banks’ character represents not only women, but all of us because her solutions are much more like ones we might actually use.

(Snip)

Like many films, at the center of this story are a man and a woman working together. Here, we have Jeremy Renner as Dr. Banks’ colleague, Dr. Ian Donnelly. Dr. Donnelly plays a supportive role. While a loving relationship develops between the two, the story doesn’t rush to conclude that romance solves anyone’s problems.

The message of Arrival is, in fact, much deeper than that. What it offers is an existentialist view about life –that, despite the pain, choosing love in the face of life’s twists and turns is the only good choice we have.
From the description, this strikes me as a sci-fi film worth seeing. Although the prospect of encountering extraterrestrial life forms is the stuff of fantasy, what isn't fantasy is the fact that we as humans encounter fellow humans who are often quite diverse in their spoken languages, customs, and so on. How do we communicate with one another? How do we develop enough trust to arrive at beneficial resolutions to a potential conflict? What sorts of strategies are realistic for doing so peacefully? At a point in time when trust and goodwill are in short supply, it is worthwhile to see the behaviors that exemplify those qualities modeled on the big screen, and eventually on Blue Ray and streaming services.

Meet the professor whose efforts to combat clickbait went viral

The article itself is titled Meet the Professor Who's Trying to Help You Steer Clear of Clickbait. I have mentioned Melissa Zimdars' work before. You will do well to read this article about her and her work on media literacy. Obviously, there are some sites on the list whose owners are unhappy. Hers is not the only effort to combat the problem of false and misleading information going viral. As always I am an advocate of being a critical consumer of mass media and applaud efforts to foster media literacy. The survival of our democratic institutions depends upon the public developing enough literacy to distinguish between reasonably factual news sources and those that are not.

What happens when facts no longer matter?

This electoral cycle is certainly a unique and unsettling one in the sheer amount of false information has spread beyond the fringes and into the mainstream. I've made note earlier of the problem of fake "news" and click bait sites that polluted social media, especially late in the electoral cycle. I've also noted at least one tentative solution that although will do us no good this year may be of some value going forward.

I suspect that we've been trending towards a "fact-free" media culture for some time, and there have been efforts by extremists (both left and right) for as long as I have been aware to cultivate a cynical dismissal and suspicion of our nation's institutions and experts. That cultivation was certainly going on in earnest in talk radio in the 1980s and 1990s, and increasingly in cable news channels as the 1990s and early years of this century came and went. The development of the world wide web and various emerging media (such as social networking sites) merely accelerated a long-term trend. As time permits, I will provide some links to back up this particular assertion, but suffice it to say, I am relying a good deal on an analysis put forth by George Gerbner and to an extent sociologist Barry Glassner. The problem with this trend is that it ultimately threatens the very fabric of our democratic institutions upon which our particular form of government depends upon for its survival.

Although the following is from an economics blogger, I think his commentary speaks very much to the issue at hand. Barry Ritholz mainly focuses on how this post-truth phenomenon has played out with regard to such data as unemployment rates. In it, Ritholz examines Trump's campaign distortions of the Department of Labor's unemployment statistics (Bureau of Labor Statistics' U-3 unemployment estimates), making wild claims about the so-called "real" unemployment rate, and all while providing no evidence to back up his claims. The problem is that these fabricated claims go viral and become extremely difficult to counter. Add to that the problem that those most receptive to such false messaging are eager to believe it, and we have an enormous confirmation bias problem on our hands. Let me offer a few clips from Ritholz summarizing things as he lays it out nicely:
Catherine Rampell wrote an excellent piece in the Washington Post about the virtual impossibility of running a democracy if the facts don’t matter:

“You know those unemployment rates, inflation numbers, household spending figures, health insurance coverage rates, gross domestic product growth and other stats that companies and consumers rely on when making financial decisions? Nearly half of Americans, and a supermajority of Trump voters, believe the books are cooked.”

What’s interesting here is that it seems folks are all too eager to distrust and dismiss Obama-friendly numbers (job creation, the unemployment rate), but apparently have no problem whatsoever believing the Obama-unfriendly numbers (the low labor force participation rate, the low home ownership rate). So, apparently, the agencies are cooking some numbers, but not others, which is absolutely fascinating.

Snip

Once again to Ms. Rampell:

“The problem with elevating yourself by tearing down the existing authoritative institutions is that once you succeed, you’ve established a road map for others to tear you down, too. There will always be someone waiting in the wings with an even juicier conspiracy theory, an even zanier hidden truth, an even more intricate data-unskewing method — and there’s no longer any authority left to debunk any of it.

This is how a democracy crumbles: not with a bang, but with data trutherism.” 

We have crossed the rubicon
If I can offer anything of value on this blog it is simply be a voice for the experts and institutions that have served us well over the the decades. With regard to economic data, one great feature to the institutions that generate that data is that they are independent of whatever partisan shenanigans are going on at any given time. Sometimes their findings are ones that Presidents and Congressional members like and sometimes their findings are ones that are unappealing to Presidents and legislators alike. We can argue about how we proceed once we have the objective data at hand, but we cannot simply dismissively argue away objectivity altogether and expect to function as a healthy democratic society. I agree with Ritholz that we have crossed the proverbial rubicon. Whether or not we can cross back is an open question, and one for which at the moment I possess no answer.

I can advocate that we who are experts in our various areas do what we can to push back against a "fact free" media environment, and the cultural consequences that come along with that media environment. We can certainly do so in the classroom. I use my methodology classes to train students to examine data and to accept what the data are telling them, rather than to make stuff up. In other content courses, I've pointed out where conflicts of interest have led to potential data fabrication or poorly conducted research, and the consequences that have ensued. As it turns out I have a wealth of examples I can use at any given point. As a social psychologist, I make the case for combating confirmation bias when consuming mass media by instead reading from a variety of reliable news sources (note that I also tend to advocate turning off the television and tuning out the noise on social media), and to follow up by utilizing known and reliable fact checking sites. I do so in higher ed. My colleagues in the K-12 systems across the US can do something quite similar. Our objective is not to tell our students and the public what to think, but rather guide them through the process of learning how to think and drawing their own conclusions in as reality-based a manner as is humanly possible.

Where we do have media figures who are willing to advocate for objective examination of the truth, we should make certain that they are reinforced for their efforts. I loved the series Mythbusters over the course of its run precisely because its hosts were excellent at modeling scientific reasoning and accepting the evidence they found. Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye the Science Guy both serve a very similar function as public mass media figures. They all undoubtedly deserve more praise than they get.

Please note that what I am advocating is for a sense of healthy skepticism. We should certainly expect that our institutions and our experts are transparent in their methodology for collecting and analyzing their findings. At this point, that is precisely what our various institutions do, and generally what our experts in the various sciences do. A healthy respect for our experts and a healthy degree of skepticism are both essential to our society's well-being. We can witness now the consequences of losing both of those very necessary qualities.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

A solution to the fake news problem on Facebook

It only took these students 36 hours to fix Facebook's fake news problem. Obviously a Google Chrome extension is not the last word on Facebook fixing its problem with fake news, but this group of young people showed proof of concept. It can be done.

False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical “News” Sources

One of the features of this election cycle was the proliferation of articles shared on social media that often led to the circulation of false information. Or to put it more bluntly, there sensationalistic lies were being circulated from sources that themselves were not credible. Usually one set of defenses I recommend is to keep the following websites bookmarked:

Snopes

Politifact

Factcheck.org

These fact checking websites have the advantages of being politically neutral (completely independent, and offering no advocacy of a party affiliation or ideological affiliation), and are run and staffed by individuals really do examine the validity of statements made by politicians, websites, media figures and so forth. The articles you will get from Snopes, Politifact, and Factcheck are well-sourced and verified. They can be trusted.

Beyond that, it is important to have on hand a list of websites that are not providing valid information. Their articles on the surface appear to be "news" but they really aren't. Some, like The Onion, are satire. Unfortunately, I have witnessed a rise in people circulating stories from The Onion as if they are real. These are smart people, by the way, who are simply overwhelmed by the overload of information. Other sites are pretending to be legitimate but are not. In that spirit, keep bookmarked the following website:

False, Misleading, Clickbait-y, and Satirical "News" Sources

Basically, if it seems too outrageous to be true, it probably is. The author of this valuable resource offers the following advice, with which I will close this post:

Tips for analyzing news sources:
  • Avoid websites that end in “lo” ex: Newslo (above). These sites specialize in taking a piece of accurate information and then packaging that information with other false or misleading “facts.”
  • Watch out for websites that end in “.com.co” as they are often fake versions of real news sources.
  • Watch out if known/reputable news sites are not also reporting on the story. Sometimes lack of coverage is the result of corporate media bias and other factors, but there should typically be more than one source reporting on a topic or event.
  • Odd domain names generally equal odd and rarely truthful news.
  • Lack of author attribution may, but not always, signify that the news story is suspect and requires verification.
  • Check the “About Us” tab on websites or look up the website on Snopes or Wikipedia for more information about the source.
  • If the story makes you REALLY ANGRY it’s probably a good idea to keep reading about the topic via other sources to make sure the story you read wasn’t purposefully trying to make you angry (with potentially misleading or false information) in order to generate shares and ad revenue.
  • It’s always best to read multiple sources of information to get a variety of viewpoints and media frames. Some sources not specifically included in this list (although their practices at times may qualify them for addition), such as The Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, and Fox News, vacillate between providing legitimate, problematic, and/or hyperbolic news coverage, requiring readers and viewers to verify and contextualize information with other sources.

Monday, November 14, 2016

De-escalating bullying

Since there has been an increase in incidents of hate related bullying in the wake of the election on November 8, I want to provide a link to an article about how to shut down all types of bullying. Your individual mileage may vary, but it does help to eliminate one huge problem in emergency situations: the bystander effect (a topic we always discuss in social psychology courses). There is always the possibility that the aggressor might turn on you instead, and the article offers some tips for dealing with that as well. We may not be able to have the kinder, gentler nation that many of us would want, but each of us can make a commitment to help out as we can in the meantime. Here is the comic illustrating the steps you'll need to take if ever confronted with a bullying situation:



What leadership looks like.

Spend a moment to read the letter that the CEO for Linkedin wrote to his employees regarding his thoughts on the election. His words to them in the aftermath of the election are precisely the sorts of words concerned employees need to read or hear. There may be some lessons for us all, whether in formal leadership positions or not. As leaders, we have an obligation to model and maintain the core values of our organizations and to protect the interests of those who work for and with us. As educators, we have an obligation to maintain those same core values and to protect the interests of our students.

A few quick observations about the recent US election

As of this writing, not yet a week has passed since Tuesday's election. Trump has won the electoral votes, based on how the US system is set up, but appears to be losing the popular vote. If trends continue as remaining overseas and absentee ballots are counted, this will mark the second time in 16 years that a President-Elect will have won the Electoral College, but not the popular vote.

I am no political scientist, nor shall I pretend to be, and my remarks that follow should be considered strictly off the cuff. I will be awaiting more detailed and sober analyses in the months to follow, just as you will. However I think I can offer some sober off the cuff remarks as a starting point.

1. Our nation is still very divided. The popular vote itself is a good indication of what I am talking about. There are also rural-urban divisions, socioeconomic class divisions, and so on that are very present and made themselves felt during the electoral season.

2. Many of the polls and the polling aggregators got it wrong. I periodically follow their Twitter feeds and at the moment there are efforts to rationalize the failures to make a correct prediction. Perhaps one of the few to suggest that Clinton's electoral "firewall" was vulnerable was Nate Silver on his Five Thirty Eight blog. Regrettably, his concerns were largely dismissed.

3. Why the polls were wrong will be the subject of analysis over the months and years to come. There have been other instances in recent years across the globe of mismatches between the polls and the final outcomes, such as the recent UK referendum to leave the EU, SYRIZA's victories in Greece, the Scottish referendum to split from the UK, as well as the 2014 US midterm elections. Some have been written off as the results being within the margin of error. Other analysts are suggesting that either actual voters are being missed by the polls or that some form of social desirability effect is occurring. It is possible in the current election that once pollsters switched to likely voter screens, they missed infrequent voters who did come out to vote either in early voting or on Election Day. It is also possible that a "shy Trump effect" was at least somewhat real. In other words, individuals may have told pollsters one thing and then done something quite different when they voted. Some evidence to support this sort of social desirability effects might be gleaned from examining discrepancies between web-based polling and phone interviews. Regardless, a serious analysis of which polling methods work better and why polling went poorly is necessary under the circumstances.

4. To the extent that the polls are to be believed, neither of the two major party candidates was particularly popular. Some evidence for that assertion can be found from the decline in the number of votes for both Clinton and Trump this year relative to the number of votes their respective counterparts (Obama and Romney) received in 2012. Third party candidates and write-ins perhaps were beneficiaries, given that overall there appears to be no evidence that the percentage of eligible voters went down. But clearly there appeared to be less enthusiasm for this year's candidates than in recent memory.

5. From what I read periodically as time permitted, this was a very stressful election for many US citizens. No doubt some of that comes from choosing between candidates who offered stark contrasts, but were not particularly well liked by the electorate. Partially, the tendency for mass media to sensationalize and offer fear-based headlines and stories contributed. The outcome appears to be equally stressful. I suspect clinical and counseling psychologists will have their hands full.

6. Again keeping in mind that I am not a political scientist, but merely an interested observer, and as such I will note that the US is arguably not immune to trends affecting other nations. The 2016 election here has been compared to Brexit, and a case can be made for that, I suspect.

7. I am not aware of any evidence that the US has suddenly become a more racist, sexist, or homophobic nation than before the electoral outcome, but as numerous observers have noted, the election appears to have empowered those holding such views to engage in aggressive and violent behaviors at a rate they might not have done otherwise. This is a trend that I as both a scholar and a citizen find disturbing, and one where the expertise of behavioral and social scientists may offer some needed insights into reducing these incidents.

8. We are now a nation of media echo chambers. The amount of confirmation bias that we are witnessing is surely not healthy for a democratic republic.

9. I am influenced by George Gerbner's work on media violence, and one quick take-away observation is that the constant news cycle coverage of violent crimes (whether mass shooting events, police shootings, and so on) have contributed to a culture of fear. A population that is scared is more vulnerable to manipulation by any of a number of powerful people and organizations eager to exploit them, and is more vulnerable to accepting government sanctioned human rights abuses. We need to be very concerned with the amount of mass media exposure we allow ourselves, especially that with violent content (and most especially that content which is realistic). The rise of various emerging media such as social media and its contribution to the increased exposure to media violence should concern us all.

10. The legitimate economic concerns of those who have been left behind not only during the long recovery from the last recession, but from the changes to the economy over the last two or three decades are unlikely to be satisfied, and I would wager that many who could be considered working class or lower middle class are likely to continue to be frustrated in their efforts to get by, let alone find upward mobility. The research on frustration and anger, and frustration and aggression suggest that we are in for some very turbulent times ahead.

11. Given the lack of a popular vote win to match the electoral vote win, given the narrow lead the Preident-Elect's party holds in the Senate, and given that the President-Elect's party in the House owes much of its majority to gerrymandering, the optics for claims of a mandate to lead are not particularly favorable. Those biased to believe in a mandate may go along, but those who are either general evidence-based skeptics (as I am) and/or opposition partisans are not likely to accept the results as a mandate. I would suggest by way of repetition that the best the outcome tells us would be that our nation's electorate is very nearly evenly divided and highly polarized. How long those trends hold going forward goes beyond my particular expertise.

12. I suspect that more and more calls to reform or abolish the Electoral College will emerge in the aftermath of this election. As a personal comment, I'll add my voice to that call. As a matter of principle, I have questioned the wisdom in retaining the Electoral College, rather than simply relying on the popular vote for over three decades - essentially since I started voting. Although there are some legitimate concerns among those living in states that safely vote for one party or another, the truth is that most voters in most of the US are ignored by the candidates unless those voters happen to live in either one off a handful of swing states or in their respective candidates' firewall states. The rest of us never see the candidates visit with us. A case can be made that in the absence of the Electoral College, candidates would be required to go beyond their own bubbles and actually face more of their potential voters, which could lead to improved competition for votes - an outcome that might be healthier for our particular democratic republic going forward. It is certainly worth consideration.

13. Finally, those who have legitimate fears in the aftermath of this election deserve to be heard and they deserve empathy. Their concerns should not be dismissed, especially after the rash of hate crimes that have occurred since the election. In addition, the genuine concerns of those who have been left behind economically are ones that deserve to be heard and deserve empathy. My main concern is that empathy is in very short supply. For the health of our society, we need to make the effort to be understanding to one another. 

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Some advice for academic blogging

I came across this interesting article on my twitter feed, and thought you would find it helpful. The article goes into considerable detail about different types of blogs and how we as scientists can utilize blogs to share our research and expertise. I would still offer a word of caution. Editors and peer reviewers still frown on reporting original data first on blogs and then submitting to their journals. There has been a debate as to whether work published first on a blog is already "published" and hence a submission to a journal afterwards would be considered republishing the same data set - something considered a form of academic fraud (although I probably would not quite be that harsh in my judgment). In addition, blog posts simply will not be new lines on your CV for the purposes of finding a job or obtaining promotions. So proceed with caution. My approach has been to offer narrative descriptions of recently published work, and to attempt to provide links to those articles as best I can so that interested readers can examine the data analyses themselves.

So why commit to science blogging? I would say the simple reason is to open up the lines of communication, not only within our particular disciplines and specialties, but also outside of our academic disciplines and to the public at large. I consider blogging as part of a commitment to a mission advocated by the late cognitive psychologist George Miller, namely "the giving away of psychology in the public interest." Doing so makes our work more accessible and understandable. We benefit as scientists if we can cultivate public audiences who are engaged in our work as we fight various battles to maintain and enhance public funding for scientific research, and to regain the respect that the public once had for the difficult work that those of us with highly specialized expertise do on a day to day basis. In other words, blogging can be a needed counterweight to a climate of anti-intellectualism that has plagued my particular country, but also increasingly world-wide.

As for myself, I have not been able to blog nearly as much as I would like due to personal circumstances. I am hoping that the worst of those circumstances are over, and I should be posting a bit more regularly going forward. For those interested in my work, my ResearchGate profile and Social Psychology Network profile both remain up to date, as does my LinkedIn profile. Often I can provide downloadable pdf files of my published work, for those interested, and I invite you to do so.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Rifle emoji removal is a good first step

I am just getting back from AP reading, so am still trying to catch up on a number of items. This recent news article certain caught my attention - the next generation of emojis for your mobile phone will not include a rifle. As an aggression researcher with some expertise in the priming effect of weapons (see a recently published summary of weapons priming research I coauthored with Brad Bushman, for example), this is a welcome development. There is ample evidence that the mere exposure to a weapon (such as a rifle) will prime aggressive thoughts, hostile appraisals, and aggressive behavioral responses (both physical and non-physical). Right now I and Bushman have a meta-analysis under review that offers a comprehensive summary of the available published and unpublished research. Without going into the specifics of the meta-analysis (simply due to not wanting to publish original research on a blog), what I can say is that if one were to look up the numerous reports available, there is a clear causal link between weapon exposure and aggression (including cognitive and appraisal responses). In fact, aggression researchers have been well aware of this link for decades, and we have tried as best we can to make our findings as known to the public as possible. Although I seriously doubt a rifle emoji would be the trigger for a mass shooting, I would expect that individuals exposed to such emojis would show an uptick in aggressive thoughts, appraisals, and what I think of as mundane aggressive behaviors. I'm in favor of preventing negative behaviors if at all possible. One thing to point out is that you can still find pistol, weapon-like knife, and toy gun emojis - and the available evidence would suggest that these too would be as prone to prime aggression as the rifle emoji in question. The author of the article is clearly incorrect in dismissing the aggressive priming influence of a toy gun.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Writing Blog Posts From Your Articles

This looked like a good practical post, and one worth sharing. As more of us look for ways to share our findings with a wider audience, blogging can be one means for summarizing our published findings with anyone interested in learning more about our work.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

New Publication is Available

Some shameless self-promotion: an article on the weapons priming effect that Brad Bushman and I coauthored was recently accepted for publication in Current Opinion in Psychology and is now available for download until July 23, 2016.

APS 2016 in Chicago

Last weekend, I attended the annual APS convention in Chicago. I was there primarily to present some research that I have completed in collaboration with a student (Meagan Crosby) and a friend and colleague Brad Bushman (you can view our poster through this link). That was a success, and hopefully will spark some collaborations in the near future. My other objective was simply to view as many posters and attend as many talks and symposiums relevant to my research interests, as well as attend talks in which the so-called crisis in psychology is discussed. In the process, I think I can bring into the classroom something fairly cutting edge that will benefit my department's students. I saw some old friends and made some new contacts. All in all this was a successful trip.

Chicago has changed considerably since my grad school days. As a Mizzou student, I would have regularly attended MPA's annual conference, which is held each year in Chicago. I may make a point of getting to that one again, even though I am technically more in the southern regions of the US. Chicago is not terribly far from my corner of Arkansas, and the city of Chicago is a great place to visit.

Below is a photo of me next to our poster.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

More on the ethics of the OKC/OSF data dump

Here's another take on what was ethically incorrect about the Emil Kirkegaard data dump of nearly 70,000 OKCupid users.

There are essentially four points that are to be considered:

1. OKC users did not consent to their data being used in the way Kirkegaard used them or to be shared. In fact, even a cursory reading of the terms of service at OKC are clear on the matter of how their data are to be used.

2. OKC itself did not consent to the data being used as it was. We can certainly quibble about concern over a company's well-being, but certainly there is precedent for researchers obtaining a company's permission to analyze their members' data (with safeguards for anonymity put in place). The reason I add that last sentence is that some of my first research experiences as an undergrad involved analyzing data from a computer matching service, from which my mentor had obtained all necessary permission. Everything was above board. In the process, we were able to make a number of statements with that data, including confirming that successfully matched couples tended to have considerably more in common than couples that were not successful matches. It made for a couple conference presentations, if nothing else, and no one's privacy was harmed in the process. A win-win in my book.

3. Which leads to a third point - the way Kirkegaard went about releasing the database could lead to real harm to real people. That is not how we operate as scientists. A guiding ethical principle that was imparted to me and that I share with my students is that we do no harm to those we study. Putting others' privacy at risk is a good reason to not make a database public or go forward with a particular project. The potential for individuals in the OKCupid database to be personally identified is one I find rather unsettling (and that is really an understatement), especially to the extent that their being personally identified could lead to real physical or financial harm. The publishers of the database showed cavalier disregard to that possibility, and those who are using this data going forward are doing likewise.

4. Any work involving human participants requires review by an institution's ethics panel. That applies not only to faculty and staff members of an institution, but its students as well. Students in particular are still beginning to learn the research process, and the idea of students (at any level) being turned loose to simply run whatever they want without oversight is not something a reputable institution will stand for. However, regardless of whether one is a student or a seasoned professional, and regardless of how excited one might be about their research ideas, there is a need for an impartial third party to provide some modicum of oversight - if nothing else to determine the ethical soundness of a particular project. In addition, the Kirkegaard data dump along with its accompanying paper provides another problem: conflict of interest. Not only did Kirkegaard entirely sidestep his institution's IRB, but he made sure that another potential safeguard was sidestepped: the role of the journal editor and peer reviewers. As the editor in chief of the "journal" in which his work was published, Kirkegaard is his own judge, jury, and executioner.

I am sure we all have our own various war stories to tell about our institutions' IRBs or ethics panels, but at the end of the day, they do serve an important function. Regardless of any frustrations I've had with my own, ultimately I and my students get to conduct our research. We may a wait on our hands, but we'd rather err on the side of safety.

I am sure that this incident will cast a shadow over the open science movement, which is a shame since I do think that this is a movement that serves a purpose as well. The appeal of the open science movement was its apparent dedication to transparency, leading to better and more ethically sound science. OSF, which housed the data set in question, should simply remove the data set posthaste. In other words, an organization that is the face of the movement needs to take a strong stand now, rather than freeze in a time of crisis. In any form of communication, there is a fine line between openness and TMI (aka., too much information). Kirkegaard has erred on the side of TMI, and could drag down a potentially beneficial movement within the sciences with him in the process. That should concern all of us.

Michael Gerson on dehumanization

Here is a clip (for those of us who would otherwise be frustrated by columns that are behind WaPo's  paywall:

“A significant part of the Roma are unfit for coexistence. . . . These Roma are animals, and they behave like animals. . . . Inarticulate sounds pour out of their bestial skulls. . . . These animals shouldn’t be allowed to exist. In no way. That needs to be solved — immediately and regardless of the method.”

These words were written not in 1943 but in 2013. They are from an article by Zsolt Bayer, one of the founders of Hungary’s ruling party, Fidesz, and a friend of Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Bayer’s attitude toward the Roma (Gypsies) is part of a broader theory that big corporations, leftists, Jews and Muslim migrants are engaged in a conspiracy to undermine Hungarian identity. “There are all kinds of weapons: traditional, chemical, atomic,” Bayer argues. “And now we see that there are also racial weapons. This is the weapon that they, the ‘invisible hands,’ have employed against Europe and against the white race.”

Orban is not quite so blunt, but he seems more than willing to gather the political benefit of ethno-nationalism. “We, the Hungarians of national solidarity,” he has said, “must squeeze all disunity out of Hungarian life.”

Hostility to outsiders, of course, preexisted the political movement taking advantage of it. But what role does leadership play in encouraging this attitude? This has been a topic of recent research by Emile Bruneau of the University of Pennsylvania and Nour Kteily of Northwestern University. They have devised an appropriately offensive scale on which to measure blatant dehumanization. In September 2014, a representative sample of Hungarians was asked to place Muslim migrants somewhere on the familiar “ascent of man” scientific illustration — the one showing the gradual development from ape to Homo sapiens. The same survey was conducted in October 2015. In a little over a year, the level of blatant dehumanization in Hungary doubled.

There are a number of possible explanations. But Bruneau postulates that political rhetoric played a role. “When people see this as normative,” he told me, “they are more likely to express themselves.”

Bruneau has also studied the disturbing neuroscience of bigotry. One might expect dehumanization to light up emotional, pre-rational parts of the limbic system. Instead, he said, “it is deeply seated in the cortex, in a reasoned cognitive response.” Viewing others as less than human involves a very conscious and deliberate decision.

“Dehumanization,” argued Bruneau, “morally disengages us.” Most humans hold to a morality that forbids harm to other humans. But if someone is regarded as less than human, those moral rules no longer apply. This rationalization is what allows people who commit genocide to go home, kiss their children and sleep at night. It is also what leads Bayer to say: “Whoever runs over a Gypsy child is acting correctly if he gives no thought to stopping and steps hard on the accelerator.”

How does this relate to U.S. politics? In a survey of Americans conducted by Bruneau and Kteily, the dehumanization of Muslims (as you’d expect) was a strong predictor of support for policies such as carpet bombing in the Middle East and denying visas to Muslims. “Conservatism does predict some support for these positions,” said Bruneau, “but dehumanization goes above and beyond this. It is more strongly predictive than political ideology.”

Blatant dehumanization was also more strongly correlated with support for Donald Trump than for any other candidate.

This recent research seems to dovetail with quite a bit of what we know about the impact of dehumanization, including attitudes toward torture, where a student and I were able to demonstrate that attitudes toward torture were significantly more favorable when the victim was Muslim than when non-Muslim American.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Ethically challenged "researcher" potentially doxes OKCupid website users

Since I had written a bit about the problems with researchers analyzing data from social media platforms without getting prior informed consent (remember Facebook?) I thought this latest fiasco deserves to at least be highlighted. I noticed a mention of the ethical breach in question in my twitter feed (via Vox) as I was taking a break from grading. Oliver Keyes has a well-written take-down of the ethical breach on his blog, as well as a good deal of eye-opening background on the lead researcher (Emil Kirkegaard) in question. The breach is one not only of informed consent but also the principles of the open data movement.

At the moment, Kirkegaard is unrepentant, and Arhus University (where he is currently a grad student) has issued a tepid response. As for Kirkegaard's "research", it largely speaks for itself. Much of it appears in a particular "journal" that is edited by, you guessed it, Emil Kirkegaard. Over half of the entries published in the stable of "journals" at Openpsych.net on which he is listed as editor (Open Differential Psychology, Open Behavioral Genetics, and Open Quantitative Sociology and Political Science) are ones authored or coauthored by Kirkegaard. In reality, Keyes is spot on when he refers to the journal as little more than a blog. The editorial boards consist of individuals who are either pseudonymous or ones who might not be obvious fits for the subject matter for each journal (I'll go ahead and use the term, albeit loosely), and the peer review process appears to be minimal at best. Although Beall's List is exclusively devoted to predatory publishers that amount to little more than vanity presses charging exorbitant fees to their authors with little to no peer review, at least some subset of what Kirkegaard is engaged in is predatory in a much deeper sense. Beall might wish to consider adding Kirkegaard's journals to the list as a warning to anyone biased toward the open data movement who might be suckered into thinking his journals are even remotely legit.

If one does look at Kirkegaard's Google Scholar or ResearchGate profiles, it shall become readily apparent that the bulk of the citations his work garners are self-citations. There are a handful of authors publishing in peer-review journals citing his work as well, although those appear for now to be a small minority. I certainly have plenty of questions that I would love to ask his advisor regarding the amount of oversight s/he has over Kirkegaard's work - after all, graduate students are expected to receive considerable mentoring, and clearly something has gone off the rails in this particular instance. In addition, I wonder what it says about an academic department and its host institution that essentially is facilitating the work of an alleged student who appears to be more interested in abusing a position of privilege. As for the OKCupid users affected, whatever one might want to say about internet and privacy, it should go without saying that they did not deserve to be Kirkegaard's victims.

I may say more if time permits.

A personal note

My wife broke a hip late February. Since then I have, in addition to attending to taking on many of her daily responsibilities and dealing with the usual problems that crop up when dealing with insurers and physicians, been simply trying to maintain some semblance of my own work-related responsibilities. After all, there are classes to teach, committee meetings to attend, and data sets to analyze and write up. She had some complications post-surgery that we are still dealing with. She is getting better and will undoubtedly be walking at her normal baseline level before all is said and done. The complications - namely visual from a mini-stroke occurring post-surgery - will take a bit longer to sort out. Blogging obviously was going to take a back seat under the circumstances. I'll have some new posts up as time permits.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

More on Trump and Authoritarianism.

As I was digesting the news earlier this morning, a couple articles stood out. One from NYT examined the tendency for Trump's supporters to be racially/ethnically intolerant (based on available polling data). The article is careful to point out that Trump hasn't actively encouraged racism, but is tapping into and exploiting a political undercurrent that was already there to begin with. That strikes me as sensible enough.

The other article that grabbed my eye was by Matthew MacWilliams, whom I have mentioned before. Once more he lays out his case for the link between authoritarianism and support for Trump. The other variable that seems to act as a predictor is fear of terrorism. One helpful thing about this particular column was that the author goes on to discuss how he has been measuring authoritarianism (itself a contentious issue in social psychology, political psychology, and political science) and provides at least some of the data analyses (at least in graph form) to make his case. Essentially, he uses a four question instrument to measure authoritarianism that largely focuses on parenting that appears to have been used successfully by previous political scientists studying the construct of authoritarianism. It helps to know how the variable is being measured as we evaluate his work. So far, it appears that those who score higher in authoritarian attitudes show higher levels of support for Trump. What is striking about the author's thesis is that the predictive link between fear of terrorism and support for Trump suggests that contrary to conventional wisdom, there may not be a ceiling for Trump support. To the extent that Trump can successfully exploit terrorist attacks occurring in the US (in particular if there is a link to, say, ISIS, as was the apparent case in the recent San Bernardino mass shooting) or in Europe, he may be able to gain traction as the primary season continues.

I'm also not surprised that Trump would periodically show support for the use of torture, as there is a link between authoritarian attitudes and attitudes for torture - something that has been found in some of my research that is currently in press, as well as by others. Anyway, this is fairly interesting work. Trump won't have to really do much to stoke racial or ethnic resentment, as the link between that variable and authoritarianism is well-established (most recently in an article I published last year), but if he continues to use fear-based rhetoric with regard to potential terrorist threats, he could be a formidable opponent and contender for the GOP nomination as the election season progresses. Assuming he wins the nomination, he could be a more formidable opponent for the eventual Democratic nominee than conventional wisdom has suggested as election season ramps up later this fall. The great unknown is whether our "Authoritarian Spring" will last past the early primaries. We'll see.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

One characteristic that appears to distinguish Trump supporters

According to a national survey of 1,800 registered voters, the variable that best predicted support for Donald Trump was authoritarianism. The idea that highly authoritarian individuals tend to be highly obedient and gravitate toward strong or charismatic leaders is nothing new, as the author duly notes. In the context of the current electoral season, though, it should give us something to consider as the first caucuses and primaries are to be held within a matter of weeks. The author suggests that pollsters may be incorrect in assuming that Trump has a ceiling of support within the Republican Party that he has already reached. Rather, the author of the study suggests that there is the distinct possibility that Trump will fare better than pundits have predicted (including one whom I tremendously respect, Nate Silver, of 538 blog).

The only other variable that the author claims was statistically significant was fear of terrorism, which seemed to indicate support for Trump. Other variables, such as income level, race, etc., did not serve as significant predictors, according to the author. The author's narrative does seem to fit with some data I published last year that showed a significant positive link between authoritarianism and racial/ethnic resentment, social conservatism, and intolerance, which may well be what characterize the attitudes of Trump's base of supporters.

Some skepticism is always in order. There has been some question about how much of the variability authoritarianism actually predicts, with some scholars suggesting that other variables, such as social dominance orientation are better predictors of political attitudes and behavior than authoritarianism.

The researcher behind the survey, Matthew MacWilliams, is a doctoral candidate at University of Massachusetts. His research was conducted very recently and as of yet has not gone through the usual vetting process that academic research normally undergoes. I am guessing or at least hoping that other social scientists will have the opportunity to examine the data as well, and that MacWilliams has the opportunity to present his findings in venues other than a political blog. The results are interesting, nonetheless.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Passings: Leonard Berkowitz

Earlier this month, social psychologist Leonard Berkowitz passed away. You can read his obituary here. It is practically impossible to be an aggression researcher and not encounter his influence. Much of his work focused on media violence and cognitive cues on aggressive behavior. He also was well known for his efforts to advance theory and research on the relationship between frustration and aggression. His own theoretical model, the Cognitive Neoassociation Model, shared quite a bit in common with the theoretical model that has guided much of my own research. Berkowitz was a solid methodologist, and one who wrote quite extensively in defense of the lab experiment - a research approach that was at one point under attack (look up the "crisis" in social psychology). When I was initially admitted to the University of Missouri's Social Psychology doctoral program, my summer reading list included work by Berkowitz, and I was strongly encouraged to get a hold of a copy of his then-current textbook on aggression. One of Mizzou's Social Psychology faculty members, Russ Geen, was in fact one of Berkowitz's students, and Berkowitz was an informal mentor to one of my friends and a current collaborator, Brad Bushman (one of Russ Geen's students).

Leonard Berkowitz continued to publish long after he retired, and although I did not know him particularly well, we did share some correspondence periodically with regard to the weapons effect, a phenomenon that he is credited (along with Anthony LePage) with discovering. His work will undoubtedly continue to be influential for many decades to come. Any aggression researcher studying the weapons effect will be citing his famous article that established the phenomenon. Many of us studying media violence or provocation effects will be citing Berkowitz's key research articles or his theoretical work for the foreseeable future. He has left an impressive legacy. That said, he will be tremendously missed in my particular corner of social psychology.

David Bowie and Reinvention

A couple bloggers at Psychology Today offered their personal perspectives on how the work of the late David Bowie affected them. I'll share my own thoughts. My first exposure to David Bowie was as a child. I had read a brief passage about David Bowie in one of the Colliers Yearbooks that my parents subscribed to, and found the description of his work and the photo of him taken during his Ziggy Stardust phase to be intriguing. Later I would see him sing a song on national television with Bing Crosby. However, what was most significant for me was the first album of his that I ever purchased: Lodger, which was the last of the Low/Heroes/Lodger trilogy of the late 1970s. That album would be significant as it introduced my 13-year-old ears to the likes of Brian Eno, Adrian Belew, and a little later Robert Fripp - artists whose work I quickly grew to appreciate. His appearance on one of SNL's fifth season episodes (performing with him would be Klaus Nomi I would later learn) was unlike anything else I'd seen. As an artist, Bowie was quite adept at challenging gender role expectations and assumptions regarding sexual orientation that at the time was quite revolutionary.

What I came to appreciate most about Bowie as a performer was his willingness to reinvent himself on a regular basis, and to do so not just in terms of stage appearance, but in terms of trying out different musical styles - a quality that characterized his work up until his final recording (which caught my attention in large part due to the jazz musicians who accompanied him). As I reflect on how I have developed as a professional, I would have to say that a certain amount of reinvention is not only necessary but desirable. Reinvention means taking risks, opening oneself to new experiences. In my particular domain, doing so entails mastering new theoretical models and methodological skill sets. The primary benefit is obvious: increased versatility, which can help one navigate a very difficult job market - especially if one is intending to make a living in an academic environment. The potential pitfall is the risk of appearing unfocused. Bowie, for all his reinventions, as an artist came across as consistent. His experiments with R&B or German progressive rock in the 1970s were an extension of his earlier work, and his overtly pop recordings in the early to mid 1980s employed the lessons learned from the late 1970s, and so on. As a professional, one should maintain focus on a particular theme or set of related themes while remaining open to new ways of addressing those particular interests and remaining cognizant of available resources for research. Bowie rarely appeared to stagnate during his lengthy career. Any of us as researchers or educators can use Bowie's example as a vehicle for assessing how our own careers are progressing. Is there a new methodological advance or a new (or new to you) area of inquiry that would add a new dimension to your own research program? Is there a new pedagogical approach that you are thinking about trying out? Is there some new opportunity or challenge that you seek? Those are certainly questions I periodically ask myself, especially during those slightly quieter intervals in between semesters. I would like to think my CV reflects the outcome of those periods of reflection. Hopefully yours will as well.

I don't want to overstate the influence of a pop musician on my own professional work. Clearly, there are others - in particular those who mentored me, and those whose theoretical and experimental research that I have read over the years - who have had considerably more influence on me. Many of those individuals have themselves undergone a reinvention or two. What I do think is fair to state is that at some point during my formative years, some pop performers who were particularly adventurous ended up inspiring me. The experience of watching others try - sometimes successfully, sometimes not - to do something a bit out of their comfort zone encouraged me to do likewise. Later in life, I would continue to draw on that experience as I began to develop as a professional, and continue to draw on that experience to this day.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Recent scholarly activity

When I decided to make the move from Oklahoma Panhandle State University to my current post at University of Arkansas-Fort Smith, my intention was to increase my research productivity by having access to larger samples and a larger pool of potential undergraduate research assistants. My hopes have begun to bear fruit, especially over the last couple years.

For example, my book chapter on aggression in the most recent edition of the Encyclopedia of Mental Health was published late last fall. You can read the abstract here. I do have an article on authoritarianism and attitudes toward torture as well as an article applying framing theory to attitudes toward torture (the latter coauthored with Sara Oelke, a UAFS alumna who is currently finishing her Masters in Counseling), both of which should be in print later this summer. There are a couple other papers coauthored with Brad Bushman that are in various stages of the review process that should appear in print later this year or sometime the following year. I also have some data collected with the assistance of various UAFS psychology majors that I hope to work on writing up over the May interterm or during the summer, and hopefully will have those under review late in the year.

Overall, I am happy with my level of productivity, given my teaching load (I usually teach four courses per semester) and lack of a stable lab space for conducting experiments. I am hoping one or both of those particular constraints are removed sufficiently to really do the quality and quantity of research that I expect of myself. That is, of course, a work in progress.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Busting Myths About Gun Violence

On the day that President Obama held a town hall appearance to address gun violence in the US, Mother Jones posted an article entitled 7 Myths About Gun Violence, Debunked. The article provides links to previous articles that have addressed various claims made about gun violence, in the process separating fiction from fact. What I like best about the article (and the links therein) is that it takes an evidence-based approach to reporting and interpreting the available evidence. A few of the issues raised in the article are ones I've discussed before, including the controversy over how to define mass shootings (Mother Jones uses a very cautious operational definition, which is probably wise) as well as the lack of evidence to support a popular but wrong claim regarding the role of mental illness on mass shootings (to which I would add gun violence in general). What I appreciate most about this particular article is that it lays out a legitimate social and public health problem in a way that cuts through the misinformation, and in the process hopefully spurs thought and conversation rather than ill-informed panic.

Some study tips

With a new semester coming up, this would appear to be as good a time as any to post a friendly reminder that your best bet as a student is to study smarter (courtesy of Vox):

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Gender equality on "The Force Awakens": Two thumbs up!

My friend, Karen Dill Shackleford, recently posted about The Force Awakens on her blog. Suffice it to say, she likes what she sees. As a long time fan of the Star Wars franchise, I'm quite pleased as well. The latest film in the series has been panned in some circles for being a bit of a throwback to the original back in the late 1970s. However, when it comes to gender equality and how women are portrayed, the newest film is very much a product of the social changes occurring currently.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Fried Green Y'all Qaedas, Anyone?

As many of you are undoubtedly aware at this point, there is currently an armed standoff on a federal wildlife sanctuary near Burns, Oregon. The root cause of this particular standoff is simple enough: a couple ranchers were convicted of arson on federal property, and received a mandatory minimum sentence of five years each. The original judge who presided over the case thought the mandatory minimum sentence was excessive, and instead opted to sentence the individuals to serve a fraction of that time. The federal government successfully appealed that sentence, and as a result, these individuals are to serve the remainder of their five year prison terms. Although there is a legitimate discussion about the usefulness of mandatory minimum sentences, themselves a relic of the "get tough on crime" ethos that dominated the 1980s and 1990s political landscape in the US, that discussion has been obscured by the antics of those who showed up to protest.

Initially there was minimal national media coverage, and CNN in particular managed to botch coverage of the protest in Burns and the armed standoff that ensued. As of this writing that appears to have changed. Hence, on social media platforms such as Twitter, the hashtag #OregonUnderAttack began to trend as a critical mass of users decided to spread the news on their own. As of this writing, that particular hashtag continues to trend on Twitter. There appeared to be some pushback by apologists for the militia members who seized the nearby wildlife sanctuary in response. What followed, however, was an example of what Twitter users with mainstream political views do best: they created additional hashtags to mock those involved in this particular armed standoff. Among those hashtags are #YallQaeda, #VanillaISIS, #YeeHawd, #YokelHaram, #CowTippingTerrorists, #FailQaeda, #Infantada, #WhiteSIS, #SaturdayNightTreason, and #TrailerDaesh. The first three of those hashtags in particular caught on. These hashtags accompanied any of a number of clever quips, humorous photoshopped images, and also links to some serious commentary about terrorism, white privilege, racism (the Bundy family, a member of whom is leading this particular action, is notorious in that regard) and gun use. None of the users of these hashtags appeared to accept the explanation by the would be insurrectionists and their apologists that the armed occupiers were harming no one. Given some of the rhetoric to the contrary used by some of the members of this particular militia, that is understandable.

The negative reaction to any sort of armed action is not terribly surprising, given the potential for violence. There is ample evidence in the psychological literature that protests that are violent or threaten violence do change attitudes, but not in the direction the protesters would intend. Rather, violent and potentially violent protests persuade onlookers to become more pro-government in their attitudes. I can think of a number of experiments that Bob Altemeyer ran and published back in the 1980s and early 1990s that demonstrated this phenomenon quite well. Even if you read the coverage of what the locals in Burns think about the protesters, the impression you'll be left with is that the protesters are largely unwanted, even if they agree that the sentence given to the two convicted of arson was excessive, and even if many of them may be rather jaded in their views regarding the federal government and its land management policies.

As an aside, it is worth noting that in recent history, attempts to instigate armed revolt or revolution in stable democratic societies have typically failed to win over the public. The member of the Bundy family who has spearheaded this particular armed standoff in Oregon has argued that his militia's purpose is simple: the residents in Burns are too weak to stand up to the federal government and need the militia's help to gain sufficient courage to fight. The same rationale has been used previously by revolutionary groups. The notorious Red Army Faction, which terrorized West Germany during the 1970s and into the 1980s rationalized their acts of terrorism as needed because the average West German would not do so. The public reception of the Red Army Faction was not entirely negative at first, when their actions did not involve casualties, but once they began to kill civilians, support vanished. The organization was mocked as the Baader-Meinhof Gang, and it became popular to voice distance from the Red Army Faction by placing bumper stickers on vehicles (especially BMWs, given that the group drove stolen BMWs for a while) stating “Ich gehöre nicht zur Baader-Meinhof Gruppe" ("I am not a member of the Baader-Meinhof Group"). When the West German government cracked down on leftist organizations, as a result of the terrorism caused by that organization (as well as some splinter organizations), there was broad support for the government's decision. Rather than act as a vanguard for resistance, the organization became something of a laughingstock and something to be loathed. Interestingly enough, both the right-wing militia and the RAF appear to be arguing from a position of privilege, to the extent that they claim to have the necessary background and courage to overthrow the system that the rest of the population is too weak or ignorant to do themselves. That rhetorical tactic will be unlikely to win over too many converts.

The lesson to be learned is that violent rhetoric and actions rarely persuade those outside the circles of the already converted. In a social psychology course, we could start using terms like polarization and reactance to describe the typical reaction toward such tactics. It really matters little what the ideology of those involved in using such rhetoric and actions happens to be. The reaction among those with attitudes that are more within the mainstream will be generally negative.

A belated happy new year to those of you who read this blog. I will be back later in the month with some fresh content.