Monthly Archives: August 2015

Work App: The Universality of Language

Work App: The Universality of Language

One of my past jobs involved foreign personnel escorts. When a ship came into port and a sailor from a different county, without the proper credentials for entering the United States needed to come onto land, while at port they could be escorted by an indigenous Security officer. They can go into town and acquire the necessary goods they need. These sailors were from all over the world, in the span of two years I probably escorted over 150 sailors from 17 different countries. Most of whom could not speak any English.  I thought it was interesting that even though there was a language barrier that may has well been 1000 foot brick wall, it was still relatively easy to perceive the meaning of the words through the emotions emitted by the foreigner.

When I spoke with the people that could speak broken English, I noticed that the context of what I was saying was being lost in translation due to lexical ambiguity. (Goldstein, 2011) When I would say something like, “we need to jump on that as soon as we can.” I was meaning to my coworkers that we needed to get to the next group of foreigners that needed escorted onto land as soon as we were done with the group we were currently dealing with. Some foreigners that could slightly catch some of what I was saying thought it was weird that I was telling my coworkers we needed to jump on someone, in the literal sense.

I think that this example highlights the understanding that words are influenced by the context you use them with in a sentence. These foreign individuals, although we are communicating, many of the meanings are lost in translation because the meaning of what I’m saying is based on semantic (word meanings) and syntax (rules for using words). I had a conversation with a man who was Greek and he was telling me about language barriers and he said there was an article he read in college stating a scientist made claims the language of Native Americans were too big a barrier to overcome. He believed Native Americans had different concepts for time, distance, and so on. I looked up the article and it’s based on how you think. The article stated your language shapes how you think.

It’s interesting to see how important language is to each of us, no matter what language we speak. As important as it is to understand the semantics and syntax, it’s also important to understand the emotion we put into our language.

 

Goldstein, E.B. (2011).  Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience, Third Ed. Belmont, CA. Wasdworth, Cengage Learning.

 

 

Diversity and solving problems

I’ve always been confused about what I’ve wanted to do for a career because I’m interested in so many different things, such as nutrition, psychology, the body, spirituality, and art. To many people, each one of these things is so different from one another but I believe they are all very connected and I’m inspired by the idea of people from different backgrounds and degrees working together to accomplish a goal. I believe it’s beneficial for a field to recruit people from other areas to create insight, which is that aha! moment when solving a problem, according to E. Bruce Goldstein, author of the textbook Cognitive Psychology. Why shouldn’t someone with a background in art go to medical school to use their precision skills to perform surgeries? Or why shouldn’t someone with a degree in psychology go to law school to use their knowledge on perception to help settle a case?

I believe this diversity can be used to our advantage by overcoming obstacles in problems faced on the job. The traditional uses of certain objects cause people to get stuck in functional fixedness, which is an issue many people face when solving a problem. When you have a different perspective from someone who comes in without the same background, I believe problems could be solved quicker.

Deciding to Feel

What is it about decision making that becomes so overwhelming to us? What is us decides to base our decisions off of logic and sometimes based on nothing but our pure and raw emotions? I personally have always had a problem with decision making, and often never make the most beneficial decision, why is it that I seem to choose wrongly and others may make all of the correct decisions?

I have had a problem for several years now with the concept of relationships. My boyfriend has a friend from Brazil (female) that visited recently, he payed more attention to her than he had to me in several months. In the beginning of this situation I had decided that I would completely ignore what I was feeling, I would not let it bother me because he hadn’t seen her in a while. As the week went on, it felt as if I was slowly losing control over how jealous I became, though I made the conscious decision to ignore it, I could not make my emotions subside. The issue I was and am having, is over the fact that I do not want to be bothered by lack of attention or jealousy over his attention being shared with someone else and yet my emotions did not agree with my desires.

I know that he loves me, adores me even, and yet, I get jealous whenever his attention is on another female, I logically understand that he would not do anything to hurt me in a million years but my emotions do not consider logic and are still hurt by even the smallest hint of neglect. Goldstein (2011)  says that emotions serve the purpose of letting us know what to do in a particular circumstance but at what point do we sacrifice our emotions for logic so that we do not interfere with the emotions of others?

“Red Flag” Decision Making

How do our emotions influence our everyday decision-making? Is it better to be logical or emotional when we make decisions? We live in a world full of many choices and opportunities that can make decision making emotional in our everyday life. Think about a trip to the grocery store or buying a new car or home and how emotional those decisions can become. It is important to understand our emotions and how they impact the decisions we face on a daily basis.

Most of our decisions are informed by our emotional responses because that is what emotions are designed to do. Emotions appraise and summarize an experience and inform our actions (www.psychologytoday.com). So if an emotion is triggered, just how much should we pay attention to it? For example, you may have an emotional reaction to a pushy salesperson. You may think that the best course of action is to ignore an intense emotion rather than figure it out. Emotions serve a purpose, informing us what to do (Goldstein 2011). If our brain comes across something and categorizes it as a “red flag” we will be notified through thoughts and feelings created by emotion (www.psychologytoday.com). This “red flag” alerts us to pay attention. Our emotions act as a cueing system notifying us to pay attention and take action. It is important for us to evaluate each “red flag” pay attention to it and see if it is appropriate to take action.

When we use logic to make decisions, we seek to exclude emotions, using only rational methods, and perhaps even mathematical tools. There is a wide range of decision-making that uses emotion, depending on the degree of logic that is included in the process (www.decision-making-solutions.com). A totally emotional decision is typically very fast. Common emotional decisions may use some logic, but the main driving force is emotion, which either overrides logic or uses pseudo-logic to support emotional choices. Another common use of emotion in decision making is to start with logic and then use emotion in the final choice. So at the point of decision, emotions are very important for choosing. In fact even with what we believe are logical decisions; the very point of choice is arguably always based on emotion (www.decision-making-solutions).

Our emotions drive the decisions we make today, and our success may depend upon our ability to understand and interpret them (www.decision-making-solutions.com). Recently I went to the grocery store on an empty stomach. Because I was hungry the force behind my decision to purchase more food than I needed was my emotion. I made a bad decision by not interpreting my hunger, which made my decision emotional in order to save time. If I was to just pay attention to my emotion “red flag” which was hunger I would have made a much better decision by going to the grocery store on a full stomach. Since I ignored the “red flag” and tried to save a little time. I ended up losing money by purchasing food that I really didn’t need. There was no logic in purchasing a bunch of food that I didn’t need because it caused me to go over my grocery budget for the month. I am a college student with limited funds. This emotional decision by going to the grocery story hungry was costly. The problem was that I know that my eyes get bigger than my stomach. When I go to the grocery store hungry and buy things that I don’t need, which are generally less healthy, it is my choice to go before eating in order to save time. Again logic went right out the window because I was determined to save time.

Our emotional system can give us an advantage in decision making if we make proper use of it. Emotions can tell us something about the world that we may not have accurately perceived in another way. Our lives are filled with emotional decision making on a daily basis. By simply paying attention to “red flags” and evaluate what they mean, we can help determine if it is appropriate to make an emotional based decision.

 

Goldstein, E.B. (2011).  Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience, Third Ed. Belmont, CA. Wasdworth, Cengage Learning.

Emotional Decision Making. (n.d.). Retrieved August 5, 2015, from http://www.decision-making-solutions.com/emotional_decision_making.html

Like it Or Not, Emotions Will Drive the Decisions You Make Today. (n.d.). Retrieved August 5, 2015, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/intense-emotions-and-strong-feelings/201012/it-or-not-emotions-will-drive-the-decisions-you

 

Fixation in virtual reality

Throughout our entire lives we are expected and required to solve problems. Everyday we encounter dilemmas that need to be solved, from deciding what we should have for dinner to complicated mathematical formulae that have baffled even the brightest mathematicians for centuries. Often times, in order to solve these more difficult problems we have to do what as known as think-outside-the-box, meaning to ignore traditional strategies that in this case have been unsuccessful and consider the problem in ways that have never been considered. However, it has been shown time and time again that this is far more difficult than it would seem, and many highly intelligent people have failed to break out this restrictive way of thinking. This phenomena is known as fixation, and it’s presence can be (and likely has been) experienced by all of us at one time or another.
Fixation is a process in which people focus on a particular characteristic of a problem that prevents them arriving at a satisfactory conclusion. One of the most notable forms of this sort of fixation is functional fixation, in which the individual become so fixated on an item’s intended use or the manner it was used in the past that they cannot consider using it in any other way (Goldstein 2012, pg 329). This is not the only way that fixation can effect us. Fixation can also occur when we fail to consider certain actions simply because they were never a possibility before. A good example of this is certain video games I have played in the past. The best example I have for this from my experience with various video games. In most video the player is often presented certain obstacles that must be overcome. These obstacles often have only one solution to overcome them. For example, in the Pokemon series of games the player will often encounter small trees blocking their paths that can only be removed with the move cut. No alternative is ever presented to remove the trees. You can not use the move slash, which would imply a similar action, nor can you burn them down with a fire based move or even climb over them. This kind of scenario is common in many games and has caused me some difficulty with more open games that allow for solving problems in various ways. For example, in another game I had played I was surprised when a friend told me that I didn’t have to fire on a group of unarmed soldiers that were attacking me, but instead could disperse them by firing into the air. In most games, enemy combatants will always attack the player and will not retreat or surrender for any reason, continuing to fight no matter how outmatched until the player kills them. Because the option had never been presented to me in a virtual setting before, a possibility I would have likely considered in real life never even crossed my mind in this context.

Goldstein, B. E. (2011). Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind Research and Everyday Experience (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Stereotypes: The beginning of an end

Stereotyping: The generalization about in a group in which certain traits are assigned to persons apart of the group, regardless of their distinctions.  In today’s society, stereotyping is more common than ever.  With an increasing number of African Americans facing ill fate because of their race, stereotypes have become narratives that we hear daily.  An article posted in the Huffington Post highlights the unjust and unfair result of stereotyping.  The article spoke about the Zimmerman/Trayvon Martin incident and how Zimmerman pursued Trayvon Martin simply because he looks suspicious, wearing a hoodie and baggy clothes.  This pursuit lead to Trayvon Martin’s death, as Zimmerman said he feared for his life. This begs the question, does stereotyping cause people to be more fearful of African Americans?

When we reason things out, we are taking the information that we have gathered and formed a conclusion based on that information.  Just as in deductive reasoning, we take a general scenario and narrow the focus to be more specific, while inductive reasoning is the opposite of that.  When we stereotype, we are basically profiling a person with the assumption that they fit the mold.  As an example, our deductive reasoning would suggests that according to the media, most African Americans are violent, therefore my neighbor Marc, must also be violent.  So, whenever I encounter Marc, my attitude towards him will reflect this reasoning.  Peter Bloom, lecturer in Organization Studies, Department of People and Organization at The Open University, confirms “In today’s America, racial fear is most obviously manifest in the widely held stereotype of African-American males as dangerous criminals. The image of the “violent thug” terrorizing the inner city and increasingly the suburbs remains a strong”. (para. 2).  As the media plays a vital role in showing stereotypes, there are also other sources that walk us down roads that lead to inaccurate perceptions.

Additionally, one of those roads is the use of heuristics are also used in the cases of stereotypes and they can lead us down the path to the wrong conclusion. Taversky and Kahneman write “people rely on a limited number of heuristic principles which reduce the complex tasks of assessing probabilities and predicting values to simpler judgmental operations.” (p. 1124). Often, it is easier to make judgments than to consider all of the variables involved, as heuristics offer a quick solution to solving problems. As an example, I saw a woman that was in her car and she saw an African American walking in her direction.  The use of heuristics caused her to lock her car door and put her purse under her chair.  Of course, there was really no need for her to do that, as it was my husband coming back from his deployment. Relying on heuristics definitely lead her to a faulty conclusion.

To conclude, I believe that stereotypes cause people to be more fearful of African Americans.  Stereotypes are first and foremost one of the most inaccurate perceptions a person can make about another.  If we continue to engage in these behaviors without at least attempting to reduce them, this unfair treatment will continue to persist much longer than it has to.

References

Bloom, Peter. (Nov. 2011). Racial Fear-mongering and Ferguson: US stereotypes of violent African American Men as old as slavery.  Retrieved from: http://juancole/2011/11freamongering-stereotypes-american-html

Tversky, A., Kahneman, D., (Sep. 1974). Judgement Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases. The US National Library of Medicine National Library of Health. 158(4157): 1124-31.  Retrieved from: PubMed. PMID:17835457

Don’t Let Your Mind Restrict Yourself

 

When I was a kid, my parents kept telling me that you need to be creative, and don’t restrict your imagination. At that moment, I had no idea what they were talking about. Nowadays, I start to realize what they are taking about is one of the fixations, the functional fixedness.

In the textbook chapter 12, functional fixedness is referring to “ the restriction of the use of an object to its familiar functions”(Goldstein, 2011). For instance, in the candle problem, people would normal treat the matchbox as a container rather than a support. People’s mind are restricted by ordinary function of the subject. And that is a great example of functional fixedness. This concept reminds me the mind-set that we used to talk about. However, sometimes, a way of solving a problem is to break that functional fixedness. And I met a great example few days ago.

Last weekend, we got back from hiking. On the highway, we saw a really funny scene that made everyone of us laugh so loudly. We saw a car in front of us; interestingly, the left side mirror was broken. When we drove pass the car, the left side mirror was replaced by a pair of sunglass and well taped! When my friend told us the fact that sunglasses were being used as a temporary replacement of side mirror, every one of us was joking about that driver. We said that driver must have the greatest reflection sunglass in the world. We all amused by that scene and ignored the usefulness of that sunglass.

Today, I realize that is actually a great example of functional fixedness. When we use the sunglass, we normally wear it and prevent the intensive sunlight. That is the main function of the sunglasses. Does anyone realize it can also used as an emergency side mirror when the mirror is broken? I think none of us would realize that, to be honest. And sometimes, breaking the functional fixedness is actually the best way to solve the problem. I would say that is actually a brilliant idea with emergency condition. Of course, I am not saying it is the best way to solve the problem. The safety concern also need to be considering at the same time.

In our life, there are different types of problems waiting us to solve. When you don’t have a practicable solution, maybe try another way. Break the fixation might be another practicable way. Through breaking the functional fixedness, it might help you achieve the solution. There is nothing means to be something. Remember: don’t let your old, stereotypical mind restrict yourself. Sometimes, another way of insight might open another door for you.

 

Goldstein, E.B. (2011).  Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday Experience, Third Ed. Belmont, CA. Wasdworth, Cengage Learning.

 

Well that is not what I expected!

I am sure at one time in your life, you may have read a book then eventually saw the movie and were a bit disappointed, or you watched a program on television about a city or town you have never visited then had the chance to go there and it was not how you pictured it.  I know I have, I was disappointed because I developed in my mind, a mental picture of what I thought this imaginary place or place I have never been would actually look like, most of the time to be disappointed when I actually saw the writer’s/director’s vision or the layout of an actual town/city and it was nothing like what I had envisioned.

I find it fascinating that we do this, we make inferences about the books we read and even the television or movies we watch without even really thinking about it.  We know that inferences are made by using our own knowledge to determine what the text or information provided means and to go beyond and develop a perception of something (Goldstein, 2011).   The experiment by Bransford and Johnson was very interesting to me.  They had participants read a passage about John fixing a birdhouse, however this passage did not specifically mention a hammer, just something about pounding a nail.  The participants were found more likely to indicate they read a hammer was used in the passage.  They inferred a hammer was used even though there was no mention of a hammer because they read he was pounding a nail (Goldstein, 2011).  That made me think of a few times I was completely mislead by my own inference of certain situations.

I grew up in a suburban Philadelphia town until I was 23 years old, we never really went anywhere on vacation that was not within driving distance of no longer than 6 hours.  I joined the military and eventually was transferred to Miami, FL.  I had never been to Florida and everything that I knew about it was from television, movies, or what I had read.  I had developed this picture in my mind of how what Miami was supposed to look from what I have just described but in addition I probably made up the rest by how I felt it should look.   To me this is an example of a situational model since this was my mental representation of text or pictures I had been presented with about Miami (Goldstein, 2011).

I will admit I was very disillusioned when I arrived in Miami Beach.  I realized the cruise ships were not directly on Miami Beach as I had been led to believe on television, but just off the island  west on the causeway at the Port of Miami.  Mostly it was the orientation of things that surprised me the most.  I always thought of the buildings on Miami Beach to be across from the water being on the right, so if you were standing looking down the street, the ocean would be on the left, and the famous art deco buildings on the right.  That is correct if you are facing south, when I initially visited Miami Beach, I came in over Macarthur Causeway and that comes in from the south, so my view was looking north.  When I saw the buildings on the left and the ocean on the right it just ruined what I thought I had known. I know that may seem silly to some of you but before this, every time I saw Miami Beach on television, the ocean was on the left and that is what helped to form my situation model (Goldstein, 2011).

While this may not be exactly the same as some of the experiments we saw in the “orientation” experiment by Stanfield and Zwaan (2001) or the “shape” experiment by Zwann and coworkers (2002).  Those experiments were focused on the participants being tested by reading sentences that describe a situation and then as quickly as possible, indicating if a picture shows the object mentioned in the sentence.   Learning about these experiments by Bransford and Johnson and Zwann (Goldstein, 2011), made me realize how much inferences and mental representations control and shape my perceptions and I never really thought about it.  In addition to how we even use inference to retrieve memories of things from our past (Goldstein, 2011).  It makes more sense to me now and makes me a bit more cognizant of perceptions that I make about places or things I have not seen in person, I try not to make such assumptions anymore.

 

 

Goldstein, E.B. (2011).  Cognitive Psychology: Connecting Mind, Research, and Everyday

Experience, Third Ed. Belmont, CA. Wasdworth, Cengage Learning.

 

Why do we make bad decisions?

How do people make decisions? Especially the difficult ones? Why do we make bad decisions from time to time? These are loaded questions but there has to be some reasoning for them right? It can be especially astonishing when you look back on your own decisions or the decisions of another and think, how could I or (they) have thought that it would have been a good idea? This reasoning seems to be justification. We justify decisions prior to and after to make ourselves “ok” with following through or reflecting on why we have made a particular decision. I am going to take a closer look at how justification works.

Many decisions in life cause a feeling of dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is defined as conflicting attitudes, beliefs, or behaviors (McLeod, 2014). In the cognitive dissonance theory we have a drive to keep our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors in harmony and avoid dissonance (Festinger, 1957). Imagine you are accepted to the college that you have dreamed to get into for years…but there is a catch. It means you have to move over a thousand miles away from the girl or guy you have been together and in love with for a couple years now. This will probably cause ALOT of dissonance. In weighing these decisions there is good and bad outcomes of each but the real issue is that you cannot have the good outcomes of both situations. There are many situations like this that you have to choose or decide. Another example would be a person to stop drinking alcohol because they were recently arrested for a D.U.I. The good outcome of quitting would not be getting into any more trouble because of alcohol but wouldn’t get the good outcomes of continuing to drink such as feeling relaxed and feeling a part of with friends. The issue is you cannot have both good outcomes of choices. This is where the idea of justification comes into play in making decisions.

One other idea to consider before getting to justification is the role that emotions play in decision making. A lot of emotions come into play in decisions expected, immediate, and incidental emotions can all become involved (Goldstein, 2011). (Goldstein, 2011) also notes that people tend to overestimate what their negative feelings about a decision will be. This is linked to that people do not take into consideration the different coping mechanisms they use to deal with adversity (Goldstein, 2011). This is where people begin to use justification. Justification is defined as an acceptable reason that a person finds to do something (Webster, 2008). (McLeod, 2008) reports that to do this we either change our attitudes or beliefs, acquire new information, or reduce the importance of certain beliefs or attitudes. Going back to the two prior examples maybe a person would say “if my boy/girlfriend really loved me they would move across the country to be with me” or in the drinking example one might say “I wasn’t that drunk and the cop made up a reason to pull me over”.

Both of those examples are using justifications the first is changing attitudes because even though you know the girl or guy loves you it a big decisions to let some of your goals to the side to stay in a relationship. The drinking one is reducing the importance because it is deflecting responsibility onto the cop not looking at the idea that it is dangerous to operate a vehicle under the influence. These coping mechanisms such as justification seem to be built into us.  How do we avoid justification?

The first step is to become aware you are doing so (this often requires help from an outside source) then identify why you are trying to justify a given belief, attitude or behavior.  Is it self preservation, pleasure, or pride etc. that is keeping you to continue using it? I think a major key is getting feedback or thoughts on big decisions we are going to need to make and becoming educated. A pro’s and con’s list can sometimes help in the decision making process. There is many things that can help reduce justification but awareness is key. Although they help I do not think justification in decision making is going anywhere soon.

McLeod, S. (2008). Cognitive Dissonance Theory | Simply Psychology. Retrieved August 2, 2015.
Goldstein, E. (2011). Cognitive psychology: Connecting mind, research, and everyday experience (3rd ed.). Australia: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Festinger, L. (1957). A Theory of cognitive dissonance. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.