Archive for August, 2014

Labor Day Message 2014

August 31, 2014


Regular readers of the healthymemory blog might receognize some striking similarities between this message and the 2013 message. Unfortunately, not much has changed. When I was in elementary school the predictions were that due to technology we would have much more leisure time ( in the future. I’ll remind you that at this time it was highly unusual for married mothers to be working. In my view, some of the technological achievements, particularly in computing and in broadband, have vastly exceeded these predictions. So I ask you, why are we working so hard? We’re working much harder than when I was in elementary school. And it’s getting worse. Americans now work for eight and a half hours more a week than they did in 1979.

I would further ask, exactly what are we producing? Suppose only those who provided the essentials for living and for safety went to work. What percentage of the working population would that be? Make your own guess, but mine would be less than 10%, so what is going on here?. Currently we are working hard to achieve an unemployment rate at or below 5%. But is this a realistically achievable unemployment rate? Remember that the previous two occasions when the employment rate was at or below 5%, the economic prosperity was bogus. There was the dot com bogus, when people expected to become rich via the internet. Then there was the bogus finance/real estate boom where riches were created via bogus and unsubstantiated financial instruments. So why, absent some other fictitious basis for a boom, do we expect to get back to 5% unemployment

To examine the question of why we are working so hard, I present the following study tht can be found in Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow.It found that being poor is bad. Of course, this finding is not surprising. The surprising finding is that a household income of $75,000 represented a satiation level beyond which experienced well being no longer increased. And this was in high cost living areas. In other areas the number would be lower. So, it is clear that we are working more for no real benefit. Why?

The world’s environmental and resource issues also need to be considered here. As the undeveloped world develops, the demands on resources, the pollution of the environment, and the rate of global warming will increase as the developing world hops on the same exhausting treadmill that the developed world has been on.

I think the problem is that classical economics has outlived its usefulness and has become destructive. Economics needs to undergo a paradigm shift. Classical economics is based on the rationale theory of man. Socials scientists have debunked this theory quite well as have behavioral economists. Computing the Gross National Product (GNP) in terms of hard dollars might seem to b objective, but reminds one of the drunk who is looking for his car keys under the streetlamp rather than in the dimly illuminated part of the parking where he dropped them. Economists need to consider subjective, relevant measures as happiness and life satisfaction, but these measures are given only glancing consideration. Perhaps this is due to the extreme economics supermeme that plagues us and has been discussed in previous healthymemory blog posts.

Once appropriate measures and appropriate philosophies regarding self fulfillment and self actualization are adopted we can get off the treadmill and enjoy the fruits of technology and our lives.

You also might visit or revisit the Healthymemory Blog Post “Gross National Happiness.” There is also an entry on this topic on

The Heroic Imagination Project

August 27, 2014

The immediately preceding blog explained Professor Zimbardo’s concept of the potential for good versus evil that is present in our species. There are situational factors that can push most of us to the evil side. Research regarding these situational factors was presented in the immediately preceding healthymemory blog post. There are also systemic factors stemming largely from poverty. However, I believe that Zimbardo would argue that there is present in all of us the potential to make us heroes in adverse circumstances. That is the objective of the Heroic Imagination Project. Moreover, this project can assist us in fostering our personal and social growth. The mission is to teach  individuals the skills and awareness needed to  make effective decisions in challenging situations.

They have developed a number of programs which have been designed to be useful for anyone and which incorporate the findings of recent and classic research in social psychology and related fields. Their programs teach ordinary people how to develop the skills needed to resist such behaviors as bullying, negative conformity, and mindless obedience and to act wisely and effectively during challenging social situations. Their programs use videos, stories from research, and hands on exercises to teach people about the psychological tendencies we all share, as well as how relying on them in unclear or novel situations can cause problems or even be dangerous. They evaluate our programs to verify that these programs are providing a measurable and lasting benefits for our participants and partners.

The Human Imagination Project believes that true heroism is not something reserved for those rare individuals who  accomplish something extraordinary or who take impulsive risks, but rather is a mindset and set of habits possible for anyone to achieve. They seek to redefine heroism and make it more relevant for a 21st century world as no longer being the exclusive province of the physically brave, but also embodied by any individual with firmly held ethics and the courage to act on them. Perhaps the most important aspect of heroism is the ability to create positive change in challenging situations.

According to the Heroic Imagination Project (HIP) heroism is the active attempt to address injustice or create positive change in the world despite pressures to do otherwise. It may involve coping effectively in unclear or emergency situations, helping others in need, or may involve setting and achieving goals to promote the well-being of others. Habits of wise and effective acts of heroism can be learned, encouraged, modeled, and are achievable by anyone at any point in their lives. Inspirational heroes like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., Vaclav Havel, and Irena Sendler harness the power of heroic imagination. The heroic imagination is the natural capacity we each possess to dream of a better tomorrow. At the HIP, they teach individuals the skills and awareness they will need to begin to translate these ambitions into reality. They believe that each of us possesses the ability to grow and to create meaningful and lasting change; a mindset that encourages our willingness to act on behalf of others or in the defense fairness and equality.

The approach of the HIP centers around:

1) Making people more aware of their universal (or culturally bound) human tendencies in social situations, as well as when uncritically relying on them can be problematic or even dangerous.

  1. Providing them with a model of key psychological processes which affect important outcomes and which are difficult to perceive without training.

  2. Teaching them research-based strategies and techniques for creating change in each areas

    I strongly urge you to visit

Good vs. Evil

August 23, 2014

Zimbardo presented some highly relevant research on this topic at the 2014 Convention of the American Psychological Association. Zimbardo, a retired, but still very active professor from Stanford University, grew up in the South Bronx of New York City. The South Bronx was, and I believe still is, a very poor and crime ridden part of the city. Since he was seven years old he wondered why some people became bad pursuing the routes of drug dealing, crime, and prostitution, whereas others managed to pursue good, legitimate lives. As a psychologist he has conducted some significant research to address this question.

At Stanford University he conducted research using a simulated prison, which is certainly the most famous experiment that was never completed. He recruited college students in the area, many of whom were Stanford students, to participate in a prison experiment for pay. Twenty-four participants were randomly assigned to experimental conditions. Half were designated to be guards, and half were designated to be prisoners. The experiment was scheduled to run for two weeks. The situation quickly degenerated into one where the guards were degrading and humiliating the prisoners. After only six days, some of the prisoners had been sent to the health center suffering from what were apparently nervous breakdowns. Bear in mind that any of the participants could have voluntarily left the experiment at any time, but only two of the prisoners did. Yet the guards persisted in degrading and humiliating the prisoners and the other prisoners who apparently chose suffering nervous breakdowns rather than simply quitting the experiment. Zimbardo’s fiance came to the prison to meet him for a dinner date. She was horrified by what she saw. She asked him how could he be doing this? He responded that he was collecting good data for his research. She told him that she did not know him and left the experimental setting in tears. Zimbardo left the prison and ran after her. Only after speaking to her again outside, did he realize what he was doing. He has said that had he not left that setting, he probably would have continued the research. But instead he immediately cancelled the experiment. He married his fiance the following year and they remain married today. Accounts of this experiment can be found in the Wikipedia or by entering “Stanford Prison Experiment” into the search block of any browser.

Another relevant line of research was conducted earlier by a fellow professor who had grown up in the South Bronx, Stanley Milgram. Milgram was Jewish and wondered how the Germans could commit the atrocities the Nazis committed. And he wondered whether this was a uniquely German affliction. Milgram was at Yale, but he conducted his research at other settings in addition to Yale, Milgram’s experiment was framed as a learning experiment. Two participants arrived at the experiment, although one of the participants was a confidant of the experimenter. There was a pseudo random assignment to the conditions (the experimenter’s confederate was always the student). The student went into an adjacent room. It was set up as a learning experiment, and when the student made a mistake, the other participant, the “teacher,” was told to administer an electric shock. These shocks were (apparently to the trainer) on a panel indicating that the shocks were increasing in intensity. As the trainer progressed up the panel, the “student” indicated increasing amounts of pain. Close to the end, he was shrieking, and at the very end, there was complete silence. Now there were a few “trainers”, perhaps 10% who left at the beginning of the experiment. However, about 65% went all the way to the top. I’ve viewed videos of some of these experiments. The trainers were showing obvious signs of distress as they thought they were increasing in intensity, but when the experimenter told them to continue, they continued. In fact, when there were two trainers, the second one being a confederate of the experimenter, 91% of the trainers, influenced by peer pressure, went to the top. Over the many iterations of this experiment there were about 1,000 experimental subjects (the “trainers”). And these research participants could have left the experiment at any time. A more detailed account of this experiment can be found in the Wikipedia.

Zimbardo also showed videos of research on bystander apathy. This research used stooges dressed differently to collapse on a busy public sidewalk. One was dressed in an expensive suit. He was responded to quite quickly. However, others were passed by many people before someone offered to help. One was in apparent agony, but he was still ignored for a depressingly long period of time. However, once one “Good Samaritin” responded, others usually followed.

Here is Zimbardo’s theoretical account of the phenomena of good versus evil. Each of us has a thin line separating us from doing right versus doing wrong. Zimbardo estimates that perhaps ten percent of us are natural “heroes,” almost always disposed to the correct path. There are three levels to be considered: the individual, the situational, and the systemic. The research reported in this post shows the role of situational factors. There is also a systemic factor and that factor is poverty, the factor he saw in the South Bronx, and a factor that is endemic throughout the world.

Note that Zimbardo is not discounting the individual factor. It is an important factor and Zimbaro’s current work in his “retirement” is how how to develop this individual factor so that more of us can be heroes most often. The next healthymemory blog post will discuss this project.

A Moving Presentation

August 20, 2014

For me the high point of the APA convention was the award a former colleague of many years ago received. That colleague is Gilbert O. (Sandy) Sanders who received the American Psychological Foundation Award for his Lifetime Achievement in the Practice of Psychology. Here is the citation:

Gilbert O. Sanders, EdD, ABMP, has served as the point person for developing integrated programs of psychology and medicine in Vietnam, Alaska, California, and Germany. His leadership in psychotherapy and psychopharmacology earned him the rank of Captain, the highest rank authorized for psychologists in the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS). His contributions in the USPHS, the military, and as a civilian have improved fitness for duty of government personnel, reduced costs, and improved healthcare for the military and their families. His lifetime of achievements in the practice of psychology has served as a model for healthcare services for our United States civilian population.

I am not a clinician and when I was working with him, he was not working as a clinician, although he had training and degrees in clinical work and counseling. We had completely lost touch for many years. Several years ago I ran into him and learned that he was working in the PHS. When I learned and read of his award I was overwhelmed! I had no idea what he had been up to these many year! During his speech at the ceremony Sandy said that when he received the phone call telling him of his award he told them this must be a mistake. It can’t be correct. This was characteristic of Sandy’s modesty.

At the ceremony there were others who were also receiving awards for accomplishments in various areas of achievement. Sandy led off and was modest and grateful to his deceased parents, his wife, mentors, and colleagues. The other reward recipients followed suit. Awardee after awardee expressed their thanks and gratefulness. The common theme was that they could not have done it alone. Now you might think it might have been tedious and boring sitting in the audience, but it wasn’t. The modesty was genuine and the feelings were heartfelt. And these were the stars of my profession. I’ve told others that this was analogous to baseball players being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

A Brief Summary of Sessions Attended at the 2014 APA Convention

August 17, 2014

The first session I attended was on training older adults to enhance their memories. Important here are the roles of self-efficacy and self-regulation. Metamemory refers to the knowledge we have and use regarding our own memories. Important here is one’s subjective age. That is, the age one feels. Feelings of being old can led one to self-defeating prophecies that one is old and therefore cannot do things or be successful. Consequently, one one is trying to perform a task, positive feedback is important. In studies where positive feedback, negative feedback, and no feedback was provided, it is not surprising that positive feedback yields positive results. What is interesting is that there was no difference between the no feedback and negative feedback conditions. This result suggest that people provide their own negative feedback when no feedback is given. So it is important when training memory strategies, it is also important to impart positive beliefs.

Previously difficulties have been encountered in demonstrating transfer from the trained memory tasks to other tasks. These researchers reported wide spread transfer effects Although these effects were wide spread, they were not universal. Depending upon the severity of the memory problem and the difficulty of the transfer tasks, sometimes the effects were diminished. But it seemed at most all levels of dementia, some type of transfer was exhibited.

Dunlosky of Kent State presented research on Strategy Adapted Training and a Learner-oriented approach. The notion here is to capitalize on the strengths of the elderly and to develop good metacognition. An important part of this training was self testing. This self-testing not only required information retrieval, which is evaluable itself in strengthening neural connections, but the outcome of these tests provides information for regulating future study.

I also attended the Psy Chi sponsored lecture by Daniel Schacter, one of the most renowned memory researchers (see the healthymemory blog post, “The Seven Sins of Memory”). The benefits of actually ry testing oneself and retrieving information from memory were mentioned. More shall be written about Schachter’s research in future posts.

There was an interesting session on creativity and intelligence using both psychometric and neuroscience approaches. There are standard tests for different types of intelligence and for the types of thinking that lead to creativity. Brain imaging is used to find what parts of the brain are involved in certain tasks as well as what areas of the brain are more highly activated in highly intelligent and creative people. Moreover, there are different types of creativity that foster different types of activity in the brain. For example, there was a presentation on the neural correlates of metaphorical expression. Another question is whether creative people better able to control their imaginations. The current answer is a tentative “Yes.”

Research was presented on the training of working memory. As the name implies, working memory is memory that works. For example, it is the memory used when there is a distance between the phone and the directory and you need to rehearse the number until you can dial it or you will likely forget it. Research suggest that a stronger working memory allows for more persistence trying a task, which will more likely lead to success.

There was a session on Mind Body, Creative, and Cross Cultural Extension. One presenter made the argument that mindfulness is a construct whereas meditation is a technique. I have no argument with this in a theoretical sense, but in a practical sense I would argue that mindfulness is a way of thinking and living. Meditation is used to build and support mindfulness. There are many types of meditation. This point was illustrated in a cross-cultural comparison. Unfortunately, results were presented indicating that one type of meditation was superior to another type of meditation. Let us hope that this competition will not continue. It is better to think that different types of meditation are appropriate for achieving different ends, that different approaches are appropriate for different people, and that they can all be used to increase mindfulness.

There a scale that measures mindfulness, the Langer Mindfulness Scale. It was used in a study of patients suffering from ALS, which is better known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. This scale predicted physical and psychological changes independently.

I attended an invited address by Bryan Stevenson, JD, from the Equal Justice Initiative on the Psycho-Social Dynamics of Achieving Justice. This man is remarkable. He is one of the best, perhaps the best, speakers I have every heard, and his message is an important one. I would advise everyone never to pass up an opportunity to hear this man speak. His website is

The Neal Miller lecture was presented by Dr. Stuart M. Zola. In addition to being a psychologist, he is also a magician, so it was not surprising that his talk was titled “Memory, Magic, and the Brain.”He made interesting points and illustrated them with magic. I am unable to show his magic tricks, and as he made several points, I’ll just present one. This has to do with how our memories can fool us. The day after the shuttle disaster a psychologist, Ulric Neisser, had the prescience to have his students write down what they remembered regarding the tragedy. He had the further wisdom to have these same students write down their recollections again. The students also rated the confidence they had in their recollections. Neisser compared the two written accounts. There were some that were consistent. However, there were many more, some of which were wildly discrepant. When shown their original accounts, some swore that they were not theirs, that they had been switched. Most importantly is that the correlations between the confidence they expressed and the accuracy of their recollections were low. The lesson here is to be wary not only in the accuracy of our own memories, but certainly to be wary of the accuracy of others. Moreover, the confidence people express in their recollections should be ignored. What is disturbing is that research has found that in courts of law, jurors are much more prone to believe the confident witness, when in reality the memories of the cautious witness are much more likely to be accurate. It is likely that this tendency to believe confident witnesses has led to the execution of innocent individuals.

On the final day I attended sessions on impact validation, that is on validations of programs and interventions, and on consciousness. The papers on consciousness were interesting, but nothing was resolved, of course.

There will be subsequent posts on a former colleague who received a prestigious and deserved award, and on the work of Philip Zimbardo.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Attendance at 2014 Convention of the American Psychological Association

August 13, 2014

Before posting about the substantive information from the convention, I shall first review some human factors technology issues. The convention was held in the Convention Center of Washington DC. The informational signs were not satisfactory. Even though I had been there before, navigation was a problem. In all fairness I must admit that the DC Convention Center is not unique in having this problem. I cannot remember any place I have been that did not suffer from this deficiency. The same problem applied to highway signs. The signs are useful to people who know the area. They are not useful for those unfamiliar with the area. In all fairness to the APA, at least, there were human guides strategically placed throughout the convention center to provide directions and information.

Road signs present an interesting case. There are standards for road sign legibility, although I do not think they are well enforced, nor that there needs to be a requirement about the illumination of these signs. Now what is the point of being able to read a sign if you don’t know what it means?

The fundamental problem is that the people who design the signs know the area quite well for which they are designing. The utility of these signs need to be tested with people who do not know the area. Were this to be done effectively, the problem would largely disappear.

I also took my iPad to the convention. I am a new iPad user. I recently purchased a MacPro rather than undergo the frustration of Windows 8. I had been avoiding Apple for many years for a couple of reasons. The first being their contention that the MacIntosh was intuitive. All one needed to do was to be able to point and click. Personal experience supplemented with volumes of empirical data provide ample proof that this claim was unsubstantiated. Secondly, I could not believe the gaul of Apple to sue Microsoft for Windows. The windows graphical user interface was developed at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and implemented the their Star computer. Xerox is to be faulted for not commercializing and supporting the Star computer. They could have captured both the commercial and the academic markets. Regardless, Apple had no claim on the Windows concept.

And as far as being intuitively obvious, I found there to be nothing intuitive about the iPad. Although it does have Siri, I have not found Siri to have the information I needed when I needed it. However, she did provide a means of venting and cursing that I found to be cathartic. She never is offended and proffers, “You are entitled to your opinion.” But Apple does have Apple Geniuses. One can schedule appointments without difficulty and have a real human being, who is quite knowledgeable and easy to worth with. I hope that Apple keeps these geniuses and that other companies follow their lead.

The APA had a downloadable APP for the meeting in addition to the large, bulky conventional program of 592 pages. I found them both to be useful. Unfortunately the convention APP could not stand alone to my satisfaction. Although it might have contained all the information that the paper program had, I still found that it was easier to find certain things in the paper program.

I had planned to try taking notes on my iPad. I could do this either by typing or by writing. I found my writing to be both illegible and uneconomical. One of the benefits of typing is that it is legible. Moreover, I had read an article that disabused me of this idea. According to a piece in theMonitor on Psychology (page 21 July/August, 2014) this question was addressed by researchers from the University of California and Princeton University. In a study reported in Psychological Science. The researchers asked 65 college students to watch a TED talk with the option of taking notes via the laptop or by hand. A half hour after the talk the students answered factual recall questions and conceptual application questions about the lecture. Both types of note takers performed equally well on fact recall questions, but the laptop note takers performed significantly worse on the conceptual questions. Moreover, one week later when the students were given a chance to review their notes before taking the test, the longhand note takers still performed better.

It is interesting to speculate why this result was obtained. As the students were not randomly assigned to one group or the other, it is possible that the longhand note takers were better students. But if the students had been randomly assigned to the groups, then some of the students would be performing a different way of taking notes that might have been awkward. This was one of those situations where random assignment would have been ill advised. Perhaps the requirements of typing used up attention that could have ben spent processing the lecture. Or perhaps there was more freedom taking notes longhand as diagrams and links could have been used. This might have especially aided conceptual understanding.

Another reason for taking conventional handwritten notes, is that I feared losing information with the undesirable consequence that my posts about the Convention would have been rather thin.

© Douglas Griffith and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Gone to the 2014 Meeting of the American Psychological Association (APA)

August 6, 2014

There will be a brief hiatus in new blog posts while I attend, assimilate, and perhaps write some new blog posts. However, with 500 plus posts already posted, I think there is plenty to read and consider in the meantime. The category mnemonic techniques contains not only techniques for directly improving memory, but also posts on mindfulness and meditation. The category transactive memory has posts on how to use technology and interact with our fellow humans to promote memory health and to grow cognitively The category Human Memory Theory and Data has posts on the fascinating and relevant topic of human cognition.

Please use the healthymemory blog’s search block. You might be surprised by the diversity of topics you will see covered.

Regression to the Mean

August 3, 2014

Regression to the mean is a little-known and a difficult-to-understand concept. Nevertheless it is quite important. Let me begin with an anecdote from Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. John Brockman, the editor of the online publication Edge, asked scientists to report their favorite equations. Kahneman’s contributions were as follows:

success = talent + luck

great success = a little more talent + a lot of luck

It’s important to appreciate that there is a component of luck in all success (see the healthymemory blog post, “The Matthew Effect”). Talent and preparation can increase the probability of success, but there is always a component of luck, of being in the right place at the right time. I believe that historically there have been many outstanding people who were never recognized as such. The lack of connections, plus being in the wrong place at the wrong time is the likely reason. Today I believe that there are many more people making notable contributions, or potential contributions, who are never noticed given the vast amount of content in cyberspace.

Regression to the mean was discovered and named late in the nineteenth century by Sir Francis Galton. This was two hundred years after the theory of gravitation and the development of calculus. The definitive article was published in 1886 with the title “Regression towards Mediocrity in Hereditary Stature.” He found that offspring did not tend to resemble their parent in size, but to tend to be more mediocre than their parents. If their parents were large, they tended to be smaller than their parents. If their parents were small, they tended to be larger than their parents. Remember that the mean is average, and the tendency is for extremes to regress to the average.

This phenomenon provides just one of many reasons control groups are needed. Suppose you read an article that reported that depressed children treated with an energy drink improved significantly over a three-month period. Would you accept the conclusion that the energy drink reduced the depression? You shouldn’t unless there was a control group of depressed children who were not given the energy drink. The reason for this is extremes regress to the mean, so you would expect improvement on these statistical grounds alone. So the control group is needed to assess the amount of improvement that can be attributed to statistics alone.

Should you find this concept of regression to the mean difficult, you are not alone. Lawyers hate to make this argument to a jury.

We humans do not like to accept statistical explanations. We like to look for causes. Consider the following true statement:

Highly intelligent women tend to marry men who are less intelligent than they are.

I’m sure you can think of reasons that this might be the case. Moreover, the reasons might be true, but the following statistical result can also account for this relationship, “The correlation between the intelligence scores of spouses is less than perfect.”

© Douglas Griffith and, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.