Making Practical Use of Psychology

I was interested to hear on NPR other day that 2 cognitive psychologists were able to pinpoint the location of a sunken Australian ship from WWII.

They used the techniques of the discipline to examine the stories — previously discounted — of the eye witness accounts of nearly 300 Germans who were rescued from a German ship involved in the same skirmish. The stories that were told by the eyewitnesses were even more fuzzy than most eye witness accounts.

The psychologists were able to pin point the spot that had the most in common with all the different versions, and came within less than 3 miles of where the ship Sydney actually was found.

While this may not be all that helpful in finding other ships (unless there were lots of eye witnesses), it might be useful in figuring out where our politicians really stand. We could map out all of Rick Perry’s or Barak Obama’s comments about social security and see where the truth is buried!

I am not meaning to imply these guys have different positions just because of faulty memories, but the distortions of memories that we all have may provide the statistical noise that allows us to find what was the essence of what they were saying.


Ms. Smith Goes to Washington

On this day in 1939, the movie Mr Smith Goes to Washington, starring James Stewart and directed by Frank Capra premiered. In the current climate, all the tea party women and their immitators  plan to make it Ms. (or perhaps they would insist Mrs.) Smith instead, when they talk us into sending them to Washington. The original movie was fiction, and I have to say the real world has never produced a real life version, although Paul Wellstone, the Minnesotta senator who died in a plane crash, came close.

The current crop of Republican women are making the news, and making noise like they are just plain folk. Whether it be Sarah Palin’s winks, or the mantra “I am you,” by Christine Samantha O’Donnell, they seem to think that they are  not politicians.  Bull. They are more like politicians than they are citizens. The witch can’t seem to pay her taxes, something she shares with tea party Governor candidate NIcki Haley of South Carolina.  That’s kind of normal, I guess, but not something that would inspire me to vote for them, and certainly not something a good citizen like Mr. Smith would have tried.

How many of us have had the opportuity or inclination to run for the senate and lose, then run again, like Ms. O’Donnell? Or to participate on Bill Maher TV roundtable discussions, when, like Christine, we were too young to even drop out of school? And why would she (falsely) claim she went to Princeton if she is such a plain (Palin?) Jane…. What kind of work has she actually held?  Has there ever been dirt under her fingernails?

If these tea party witches  think they are more normal, well maybe they are, when compared to Meg Whitman and Carly (Send all the jobs abroad) Fiorino, who both bring all the money they could squeeze out of the working folks to their quest to be liked by the majority of the less well-heeled voters in California.  Are we really going to have government by auction?

I like the idea of a citizen politician. If I ever see one, I will gladly give them some money and my vote.  But none of these celebrity tea party candidates seem to have any credible claim to being normal.

Published in: on October 17, 2010 at 9:54 am  Leave a Comment  
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My Genes Made Me Vote for OBama!



While the title is meant to be humorous, the question of genetic components of voting behavior is interesting, and it has been studied. Nancy Siegal in her Psychology Today Blog, discussed some of the most recent research by James Fowler, conducted in Twinsburg, Ohio.

Dr. Fowler’s initial studies have detected, across 8 elections, a tendency for biological twins to vote more similarly than fraternal twins. In genetic research, such a result is generally interpretted as supporting evidence for a possible genetic link. In his most recent study, Fowler found that while there was not so much a noteworthy relationship with political party choice, there seemed to be a relationship to the degree of partisanship the twins expressed.

This line of research presents some interesting opportunities for future research. As I noted in a comment elsewhere, I suspect that there may be a genetic component to some personality dimensions that have been identified. For example a 5 item socio-political dimension (SPIE) of Rotter’s Locus of Control scale, has been found to predict basic involvement and awareness such as being able to name your congressman.  More recent research looking at the differences in attributions made by Democrats and Republicans may have resurrected that discussion. Also of interest is research by John Alford  at Rice that noted differences in brain reactions to positive and negative stimuli.

Bipartisan Palin Panel Finds She Abused Her Powers

The Troopergate panel, including 10 Republicans and 4 Democrats found Sarah Palin abused her office while pursuing her personal vendetta. Palin now looks very much like an insider politician and certainly one who does not tell the truth. What might be lost in this discussion of Sarah as an old school politician is her highhanded behaviors that seem to put her above the law.

A judge specifically barred her from this type of activity about her brother-in-law, and she thumbed her nose at him, and also refused to answer a subpeona. This makes her a huge liability at this point and undermines his while reason for picking her- a political outsider. She brings the inexperience and lack of intellectual curiosity, while all the bad habits we have grown to know and love in George Bush and Cheney.

For those interested in why she is not in legal trouble, the firing itself was essentially legal. It was the multiple contacts and coercive efforts for personal matters that were the problem. Her false claims about Wooten are an ethical violation, as is the abuse of power, and she would be eligible for impeachment for her abuse of power. But that could only happen if she had been having sex with somebody. Can somebody try to give her oral sex please?

Time for the Media to Step To the Plate



Now that members of the press can no longer cover the news safely, maybe they will stop rolling over and stand up for America. The press let Bush give away all the rest of the bill of rights, but now that mob rule threatens free speech and freedom of the press, and reporters as well as candidates are being threatened as traitors and terrorists, the news media has got to start being responsible.

First and foremost, talking heads, stop covering that hatefilled swill. Especially in the case of Sarah Palin, who refuses to give a press conference, you the media, do not owe her a second of coverage. If you do send someone to cover her (and hopefully you will not have to provide body armor) you do not need to report her hate speech. I agree with Andrew Sullivan  who maintained that Ms. Palin does not deserve a moment of coverage (Fox news of course will show her 24/7) until she agrees to discuss her views with the Press. But that is just the beginning.

I call additionally for a general boycott of all negative ads, of any candidate, unless they are judged by the editorial boards of your newsroom to be both 1. Truthful and 2. Not scary or hate inducing.  I think that any and all ads should be allowed to run, but not freely promoted by the talking heads. If you must review them, review the facts without the dangerous music and menacing images and hateful words. 

And let’s see some interviews with psychologists and others who can shed some light on mob mentality, discussing group phenomena like groupthink and obedience research, as part of the reason that things are goin so awry. Main Stream Media, its your turn to step up to the plate and bring out the best in America and call foul on the worst as it rears its ugly head.

Palin Calls McCain a “Pal” of Terrorists

“You betcha,” Sarah answered with a wink.” She had been asked if her running mate McCain “palled around” with terrorists. When told that McCain had shared a stage, and even worked with terrorist Barak Obama, she suggested that we all take a closer look at McCain 

“The relationship sounds sinister,” added her running mate John McCain who indicated that whatever his trophy running mate said was right, because she draws bigger crowds. “If Sarah Palin says I have a relationship with Barak Obama, then I guess I do.” Palin added they even worked for the same company, one that has been known to be cozy at times with Saudi Arabia, Mexico, and even Canda.

Governor Palin also remarked that she was “darn shocked” to hear that McCain had spent several years living amongst the communists in Viet Nam, before he ran for Congress. “If I can go after Obama for what he did when he was 8, then what McCain did in that same Vietnam era is fair game too.” “I know for a fact he asociated with more than 5 communists!” she decried.

Ms. Palin asked both McCain and Obama to put their country first and withdraw from the race, now that their terrorist and communist ties have been revealed. She suggested that she was ready to be both the Democrat and Republican presidential candidates and would not blink about her readiness to lead both parties.

Palin added that her husband, First Dude “Todd” was ready to take over as Vice President, where he could work on helping Alaska to seceed fro the 49 other states. “At least Todd doesn’t hang out with anti-American Terrorists.” Joe Biden can take care of our kids, she aded, noting that she was impressed with his skills as a parent, if not as a debator.

The Sick Humor of John McCain

real funny

real funny

As a psychologist I am bound by professional standards to not make a diagnosis of someone I have not met, so I will refrain from labeling John McCain. However in your comments you can say anything you want. I thought, to shed a little light on how he thinks, I would share a few jokes he had told, to give you a veiw into how he thinks uncensored:


  1.  Enjoying Rape -Did you hear the one about the woman who is attacked on a street by a guerrilla, beaten senseless, raped repeatedly and left to die? When she finally regain consciousness and tried to speak, her doctor then leans over to hear her sigh contentedly and ask feebly “where is that marvelous ape?” Tucson Citizen, October 26, 2007.
  2. Clinton a Lesbian? “Why is Chelsea Clinton so ugly? Because her father is Janet Reno!” – told to his paper the Arizona Republic – 
  3. and then there was the quip, referring to Cindy as the C word.

How about killing, torture and war?

  1. Let’s start with the twist he gave to the beach boys song Bomb Iran
  2.   Or when told our biggest export to Iran was cigarettes “Maybe that’s a way of killing em.”
  3. and then the fact that he jokingly threatens his staffers with waterboarding.

Senior Citizens –And then their was the reference to the elderly Leisure World as “sezuire world” and his joke about alzheimers: “The nice thing about Alzheimer’s is you get to hide your own Easter eggs.” –1999 (when apolgizing for Clinton joke)

 In the end, we are left with a residue that suggests at the very best a mean spirit and disdain for those he considers his foil.

Palin and McCain- 2 personal planes

The McCain Palin team owns 2 personal planes. The “straight talk express” needs to give us some plain talk about why each of them  has long owned a personal plane. The “hockeymom” millionaire owns a plane, and 2 vacation retreats, while Biden commutes on a train to his office. None of the 4 candidates is in danger of losing their homes, so it is preposterous for any of the 4 to claim the middle class as theirs.

On a lighter note- McCain Cartoon

Please check out the following link:

Published in: on September 23, 2008 at 3:08 am  Leave a Comment  
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Change and Variance, a Statistical Look at Politics

Change is the big buzz word in this election, but let me raise up instead variance, a statisticians way of thinking about change. If you are for change you are for having things vary. The more they vary the less predictable they are. Thats a statistical fact. The more Obama succeeds at convincing us he’s all about change, the more fear we will see however, from Joe Public. Because while some change is good, in times of stress most people also want some predictability too. The Republicans have in recent years played the fear card, and McCain, who stands for “just a little change” is trying to offer change thats not scary, while the other guy’s is dangerous. The fact that he is the traditional white male surrounded by lobbyists and big oil is in some way reassuring to some who might otherwise take a gamble on a black man or an idealist but not on an idealsitic young black man who wants to change several things.

I was teaching my introductory class in psychology today and realized this basic tension is being played out in our election. I was talking about how research that is predictable and close to the ground serves one purpose, and innovation typically results in research with greater variance, and this research typically does not get published as easily. If McCain is re-elected it will because he sold the USA on just a little change, and not anything scary. If Obama wants to counter that he should consider labelling McCain’s change as scary as well. I bet his better minds could scare up (ahem) some examples of scary McCain change.. like what he will do with Iran, and with nuclear waste, and with his choices for the supreme court.