November 13 – Frightfully Fun

Today’s Factismal: Fear of Friday the 13th is known as paraskevidekatriaphobia or friggatriskaidekaphobia .

One of the more interesting things about humans is that if something exists, there’s someone out there who is unreasonably afraid of it; in layman’s terms. they have a phobia. (Phobia is one of those words that started out being used with precision and grace by scientists before it was stolen by the popular press and used in every situation, appropriate or not. See “-gate” and “green” for more examples.) And in honor of Friday the 13th, here is a list of twenty-five phobias. Enjoy – unless you have pinaciphobia (a fear of lists)!

If you have Then you fear
Anthophobia Flowers
Barophobia Gravity
Chiroptophobia Bats
 

It's Bat-Banyan! (My camera)

It’s Bat-Banyan!
(My camera)

Decidophobia Choosing
Ergophobia Work or functioning
Frigophobia Becoming too cold

Definitely NOT the place for a frigiphobic! (My camera)

Definitely NOT the place for a frigophobic!
(My camera)

Gephyrophobia Bridges
Hierophobia Priests
Ichthyophobia Fish
Koumpounophobia Buttons
Lipophobia Fats in food
Melissophobia Bees

Who could be afraid of such a cute little - OUCH! (My camera)

Who could be afraid of such a cute little – OUCH!
(My camera)

Nyctophobia Darkness
Ombrophobia Rain
Pogonophobia Beards
Radiophobia Radioactivity or X-rays
Selenophobia The Moon

I'm only afraid that we might never make it back! (My camera)

I’m only afraid that we might never make it back!
(My camera)

Uranophobia Outer space
Workplace phobia The workplace
Xerophobia Dryness
Ylophobia Trees, forests or woods
Zoophobia Animals

October 26 – The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether

Today’s factismal: Pavlov used both children and dogs in his famous experiments.

If there’s one joke that all Introductory Psychology students know, it is “Do you know Pavlov? The name rings a bell!” That’s because Pavlov was one of the founders of modern psychology who helped change it from a purely descriptive and qualitative science into an experimental and quantitative one. But what many of those students don’t realize is that Pavlov did his work on children as well as dogs!

To understand how Pavlov could have used children in an experiment, you first need to remember that he worked in the late 1800s and early 1900s when experimental conditions were much looser and “informed consent” wasn’t even a gleam in a regulator’s eye. (And he was hardly the worst offender; consider Watson’s “Little Albert” experiment or the even more problematic Tuskegee Syphilis experiment.) Indeed, Pavlov’s work was considered to be a giant step forward because he didn’t kill his animals as part of the work!

Pavlov during his heyday (Image courtesy National Institute of Medicine)

Pavlov during his heyday
(Image courtesy National Institute of Medicine)

And his work produced amazing results. As with so many scientific discoveries, it happened when he noticed something odd while looking for something completely different. Pavlov was researching the chemical makeup of saliva in dogs when he noticed that they would begin to salivate before they got the food. He reasoned that they had begun to associate the sounds of food preparation with the food itself (anyone who has ever opened a can of tuna near a cat will understand this), which then led to the salivation. He tested his idea by presenting the dogs with a variety of stimuli, ranging from the clang of tuning forks to the sight of a picture; in every case, the dogs soon began to associate the stimulus with the food and would salivate on cue.

Pavlov then took his work to the next level by running the same tests on children. Sure enough, they would associate the stimulus with the promise of food and begin to salivate before the food actually arrived (anyone who has heard kids complain about being hungry after they’ve seen the “Golden Arches” on a road trip can understand this). In essence, Pavlov proved that some things that had been thought of as involuntary reflexes in people could actually be created or destroyed by the appropriate training.

What is interesting is that language is one of those things that can train a person. (If you doubt this, consider what happens when you hear your mother call you by your entire name.) And there is a group of scientists trying to describe the verbs in speech so that they can do a better job of training computers; they do it by getting citizen scientists like you to play games with words. If that sounds like fun, then head over to VerbCorner and give it a go!
http://www.gameswithwords.org/VerbCorner/loginSuccess.php

August 5 – Point of View

Today’s factismal: Your retina actually processes images before they are sent to the brain; this is the cause of many optical illusions.

One of the more interesting things to do when you are stuck in a tiled waiting room is stare at the floor. If you are lucky, then the floor tiles will be arranged so that they look like little three-dimensional boxes; they will be an optical illusion. (And with a little training, you can make the boxes flip-flop.) But what drives that illusion? It turns out that optical illusions are great tools for examining how we see and how we think. They reveal our innate preconceptions and our social training, and can (and have!) keep a researcher busy for his entire life.

A tiled floor can look like little boxes popping up (or down), thanks to the way our retinas work (Image courtesy Tino Warinowski)

A tiled floor can look like little boxes popping up (or down), thanks to the way our retinas work
(Image courtesy Tino Warinowski)

A researcher like Ewald Hering, who was born 180 years ago today. Ewald was fascinated by how we perceive things, and invented one of the earliest and best-known optical illusions. Known today as the Hering illusion, his little trick helped show that the retina actually interprets part of the image it sees before sending it on to the brain. Though this may seem surprising, it helps to remember that the retina is actually a very specialized bit of neural tissue that some have called “the only visible part of the brain”. For example, some psychologists say that the retina interprets the radial lines in the Hering illusion as being similar to what parallel lines meeting at infinity; if that is the case, then the two vertical lines must be curved. Of course, they aren’t – but our retinas don’t know that! Because they impose an innate pattern they change a pair of straight lines into curved ones.

The Hering Illusion (Image courtesy Fibonacci {No, not that one})

The Hering Illusion
(Image courtesy Fibonacci {No, not that one})

What is more fascinating is that this sort of misperception happens with all of our senses. We can have audible illusions, tactile illusions, taste illusions, and even prioceptive illusions. We can also have illusions about how we peceive the social world. And that’s what the folks at Project Implicit are testing. They want to find out how our preconceived notions interfere (or don’t) with our abilities to view each other as people. If you’d like to help, then why not head over to the website?
https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/

September 27 – Ring A Bell?

Today’s factismal: Pavlov used both children and dogs in his famous experiments.

If there’s one joke that all Introductory Psychology students know, it is “Do you know Pavlov? The name rings a bell!” That’s because Pavlov was one of the founders of modern psychology who helped change it from a purely descriptive and qualitative science into an experimental and quantitative one. But what many of those students don’t realize is that Pavlov did his work on children as well as dogs!

To understand how Pavlov could have used children in an experiment, you first need to remember that he worked in the late 1800s and early 1900s when experimental conditions were much looser and “informed consent” wasn’t even a gleam in a regulator’s eye. (And he was hardly the worst offender; consider Watson’s “Little Albert” experiment or the even more problematic Tuskegee Syphilis experiment.)  Indeed, Pavlov’s work was considered to be a giant step forward because he didn’t kill his animals as part of the work!

Pavlov during his heyday (Image courtesy National Institute of Medicine)

Pavlov during his heyday
(Image courtesy National Institute of Medicine)

And his work produced amazing results. As with so many scientific discoveries, it happened when he noticed something odd while looking for something completely different. Pavlov was researching the chemical makeup of saliva in dogs when he noticed that they would begin to salivate before they got the food. He reasoned that they had begun to associate the sounds of food preparation with the food itself (anyone who has ever opened a can of tuna near a cat will understand this), which then led to the salivation. He tested his idea by presenting the dogs with a variety of stimuli, ranging from the clang of tuning forks to the sight of a picture; in every case, the dogs soon began to associate the stimulus with the food and would salivate on cue.

Pavlov then took his work to the next level by running the same tests on children. Sure enough, they would associate the stimulus with the promise of food and begin to salivate before the food actually arrived (anyone who has heard kids complain about being hungry after they’ve seen the “Golden Arches” on a road trip can understand this). In essence, Pavlov proved that some things that had been thought of as involuntary reflexes in people could actually be created or destroyed by the appropriate training.

What is interesting is that language is one of those things that can train a person. (If you doubt this, consider what happens when you hear your mother call you by your entire name.) And there is a group of scientists trying to describe the verbs in speech so that they can do a better job of training computers; they do it by getting citizen scientists like you to play games with words. If that sounds like fun, then head over to VerbCorner and give it a go!
http://www.gameswithwords.org/VerbCorner/loginSuccess.php

August 5 – Point of view

Today’s factismal: Your retina actually processes images before they are sent to the brain; this is the cause of many optical illusions.

One of the more interesting things to do when you are stuck in a tiled waiting room is stare at the floor. If you are lucky, then the floor tiles will be arranged so that they look like little three-dimensional boxes; they will be an optical illusion. (And with a little training, you can make the boxes flip-flop.) But what drives that illusion? It turns out that optical illusions are great tools for examining how we see and how we think. They reveal our innate preconceptions and our social training, and can (and have!) keep a researcher busy for his entire life.

A tiled floor can look like little boxes popping up (or down), thanks to the way our retinas work (Image courtesy Tino Warinowski)

A tiled floor can look like little boxes popping up (or down), thanks to the way our retinas work
(Image courtesy Tino Warinowski)

A researcher like Ewald Hering, who was born 179 years ago today. Ewald was fascinated by how we perceive things, and invented one of the earliest and best-known optical illusions. Known today as the Hering illusion, his little trick helped show that the retina actually interprets part of the image it sees before sending it on to the brain. Though this may seem surprising, it helps to remember that the retina is actually a very specialized bit of neural tissue that some have called “the only visible part of the brain”. For example, some psychologists say that the retina interprets the radial lines in the Hering illusion as being similar to what parallel lines meeting at infinity; if that is the case, then the two vertical lines must be curved. Of course, they aren’t – but our retinas don’t know that! Because they impose an innate pattern they change a pair of straight lines into curved ones.

The Hering Illusion (Image courtesy Fibonacci {No, not that one})

The Hering Illusion
(Image courtesy Fibonacci {No, not that one})

What is more fascinating is that this sort of misperception happens with all of our senses. We can have audible illusions, tactile illusions, taste illusions, and even prioceptive illusions. We can also have illusions about how we peceive the social world. And that’s what the folks at Project Implicit are testing. They want to find out how our preconceived notions interfere (or don’t) with our abilities to view each other as people. If you’d like to help, then why not head over to the website?
https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/