In the next two weeks I will take my final psychology exams. I only started studying this year, but it was only a minor, so I’ve already completed my eight units. Over the space of two first year and two second year subjects I’ve learnt some insane, interesting and inspiring things and I wanted to share a small selection with you. If you study psychology, want to study it, or just find human behaviour fascinating, here are some of the highlights of UQ’s School of Psychology.
1. Baby talk is a good thing
There’s always a parent/grandparent like Robert De Niro from Meet the Fockers preaching about how they don’t want to talk baby talk to their baby, because they want to stimulate their mind. And for a while I tended to think, why not? Sure, stimulate bub’s mind with big words. Well, Bobby, it turns out that ‘motherese” or that adorable/annoying way we talk to babies (or our pets…guilty) is good for their language acquisition. Research in the field indicates that babies prefer the sound and that the circular conversation trains babies for real life social interaction. So before you roll your eyes at your friend’s high-pitched conversation with her baby, consider that she’s helping wittle pumpkin acquire language and social skills.
2. We’re all a little WEIRD
WEIRD. You’re WEIRD, I’m WEIRD. If you’re Westernised, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic, that is. WEIRD was a term coined to describe the majority of participants participating in psychological research. The use of such participants can, and has been, problematised. If we focus on westernised participants and build some of our most supported theories around them, we risk “othering” other cultures. How does Milgram’s obedience study hold up against collectivist cultures vs individualistic cultures? Does group polarisation happen among the Nso people of Cameroon when deciding how to divide resources? Studying other participants opens up a number of fascinating doors into psychological phenomenon that we may have never considered. Imagine what we could learn if we just looked next door.
3. Conservatives can’t help but be disgusted
The fact that there has been a party of reform and a party of stability for some time indicates evolutionary origins. The theory proposed is the Behavioural Immune System. Way back when survival was dependent on avoiding disease, we avoided people who looked like they could make us sick. This is still a part of our basic instincts and we tend to drive people away who seem like a threat, mostly unconsciously. Specifically, research has indicated that the more you find things disgusting, the more conservative you tend to be. Ah, my love of ER must make me a true liberal…
4. if you’re trying not to be stereotypical, you probably will be
It’s called stereotype threat and happens when you’re made aware of a stereotype relating to a group to which you have membership. When you’re made aware of this stereotype and are then put in a situation where you need to prove that it isn’t so, you’re more likely to act in that stereotypical way; even if you don’t usually. Female mathematics majors at an “Ivy League” university in the US completed a study where they were told about the stereotype: women aren’t really expected to do well at this task (i.e the stereotype that women aren’t good at math). Despite the fact that these were smart, high achieving women who were in fact mathematics majors, the majority performed, on average, one standard deviation below the mean. Makes you think about how casually we use stereotypes, and how significant the effects can be.
5. Nothing will ever make you happy forever
How many times have you said..”If I can just get X, I’ll be happy forever”? From an evolutionary perspective, this can just never happen. This is because human beings are evolved to live in the future, and we’re wired so that nothing ever makes us permanently happy. That’s because if you were a caveman who’s ultimate goal was to nail that wooly mammoth, if once you did it you were satisfied beyond belief you wouldn’t have much interest in reproduction. Since evolutionary fitness is dependent on reproduction and passing on those favourable genes, you can’t be wired to get happy forever from one event; otherwise life just wouldn’t go on.
These do make rather good bar conversations, or possibly even good pick up lines if that’s your thing, and it makes you think about those other humans in the world and what exactly their motivation is for doing things.