Lessons from the Stanford Prison Experiment

26 03 2007

Phil Zimbardo writes an interesting article for the Chronicle of Higher Education on situational influences on behavior. He talks about the Stanford Prison experiment’s lessons for understanding abuse of power. If you’re a PCC student, you have free access to the Chronicle articles. Contact a PCC librarian for details.

The Chronicle: 3/30/2007: Revisiting the Stanford Prison Experiment: a Lesson in the Power of Situation:

If the goals of the criminal system are simply to blame and punish individual perpetrators — to get our pound of flesh — then focusing almost exclusively on the individual defendant makes sense. If, however, the goal is actually to reduce the behavior that we now call “criminal” (and its resultant suffering), and to assign punishments that correspond with culpability, then the criminal-justice system is obligated, much as I was in the Stanford prison experiment, to confront the situation and our role in creating and perpetuating it. It is clear to most reasonable observers that the social experiment of imprisoning society’s criminals for long terms is a failure on virtually all levels. By recognizing the situational determinants of behavior, we can move to a more productive public-health model of prevention and intervention, and away from the individualistic medical and religious “sin” model that has never worked since its inception during the Inquisition.

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Reading textbooks in introductory courses

23 03 2007

As a community college instructor, I teach exclusively introductory survey courses: Introduction to Psychology; Abnormal Psychology; Human Sexuality; Organizational Psychology. I can occasionally assign a technical reading, or a primary source, but for the most part, my students will be reading textbooks.

I was recently reading a post about college reading over on the Uncertain Principles blog. It concerns mostly technical reading, of primary science sources. But it got me thinking about reading textbooks and what makes it different from, say, pleasure reading or technical article reading.

Textbooks in psychology are generally arranged in such a way as to lay out the development of thinking around a particular topic. They will expound upon the major theorists in a particular area, and go on to talk about the experimental evidence supporting the theoretical position. These books often will point to both historical research as well as contemporary findings, and explore how the various perspectives in the field (e.g. biological, social, evolutionary, cultural, psychodynamic, behavioral) approach studying the topic.

It would be difficult to skim textbooks in the way one skims technical reading or journal articles or even literature. You really need to read every sentence to get the full usefulness. And it certainly is not pleasure reading. You cannot take the time to leisurely read as you would a summer novel on the beach. You will have to read efficiently.

So, how do I read textbook material to get the most out of it? Well, I’ll tell ya…

First, put the hi-liter away! Hi-liting texts is the quickest way to read without the slightest comprehension. It will give you the illusion of having read (and by extension, comprehended) the textbook material, but after you’re done, you’ll wind up with little comprehension.

Second, take out a pad of paper. In order to really comprehend textbook material, you’ll need to take notes on what you’re reading. You want to turn it into your own knowledge, not the textbook author’s knowledge. That means taking what’s in the book and writing down what’s important in your own words. How do you do that? Read on, oh intrepid reader.

Second, do NOT read the chapter starting with the first page! You need some context within which to “hang” the details in the textbook material. Virtually all textbooks include an outline at the beginning of the chapter. Read that first. Write it down on your pad of paper. This will form the beginning of the framework in your mind (schemas, in the parlance of cognitive psychology) which will hold the details of the chapter. If a text does not have a chapter outline, use the topic headings within the chapter to write your own.

Third, read (and take notes on) the chapter summary. Virtually all textbooks include a summary of the key points at the end of each chapter. This will begin to flesh out the framework you started with the chapter outline.

Fourth, paraphrase in your own words. When you read the chapter summary, stop yourself after reading a paragraph (or two) and ask yourself, “what did that just say?” then write down on your pad of paper, in your own words, a paraphrase of the paragraph(s). If you can’t, or get stuck, reread the paragraph(s), and continue on. Keep at this until the end of the chapter summary. Now, do the same for the whole chapter, beginning from the first page. When you’re done, you’ll have the chapter in your own words, a much more valuable way to understand the chapter’s contents.

Fifth, and last, check yourself. Use the review questions in the textbook (or textbook’s study guide) to see if you can recount what you learned in the chapter. If not, go over your paraphrased notes, and see what is missing, or what you forgot. Modify your paraphrasing technique to help you understand in the context of the review questions.

One more point about textbooks: keep them! It is tempting to take ten or twenty bucks from a used book buyer and go get yourself a double-skinny-half-caf-no-foam-caramel-whipped-cream monstrosity from Charbuck$, but resist the temptation. In a subsequent semester or year, when you want to later review what you learned, it will be easier if you do so using the materials you originally used in learning. You never know when you might want that information later. Keep your original paraphrased notes with your textbook or in a file.

Do you have any other handy tips for reading textbooks? Add them in the comments.

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Psychology podcast listing

12 03 2007

BPS RESEARCH DIGEST: Psychology podcasts: a clickable list:

Thanks to Mind Hacks, I present this site — a beginning of a listing of psychology podcasts. Good stuff.

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Bad media reports of psychology research

7 03 2007

PsyBlog presents an article related to the skills my Intro to Psychology students are learning: critical thinking and interpreting research. It comes complete with examples. Well done.

PsyBlog | Psychology Blog: Revealed: Eight Ways The Media Distorts Psychology:

In a revelation that has shocked the world, PsyBlog reveals mainstream media reporting of psychology studies has been grossly distorted for decades. PsyBlog can now exclusively expose the eight ‘specialist’ techniques journalists use to misrepresent psychology studies.

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Podcasting in Teaching Presentation

2 03 2007

I presented at the 19th Southeastern Conference for the Teaching of Psychology on my use of podcasts as a pedagogical tool. Here is a description:

“Web 2.0” “Wiki” “Blog” “Podcast” — Words that are often unfamiliar to faculty, yet hugely meaningful to students. This session will introduce not only these concepts, but also show their use as part of the pedagogical toolbox. Podcasts can bring our thinking (and our lectures) to students on their terms, deepening meaningful dialogs inside and outside of class. Dana Leighton will explain how podcasting works, explore why it’s useful in pedagogy, and also present data on student use of podcast lectures.

You can play it in the player below, or you can download it using the following link:


If you download it, unzip the file (usually happens automatically), and be sure you have iTunes to play it, and to open the iTunes Artwork Viewer (instructions here) so you can see the presentation sildes. It will load as an audiobook.

Presentation at SETOP