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Smaller Sample Size, Please

This is an interesting tidbit from David Lykken’s “Professional Autobiography” that was once available on the webpage of the U of MN’s Psych department website:

When I was a graduate student circa 1950, I had a job for several months in the Student Counseling Bureau analyzing the returns from a “After High School What?” survey that one of the counseling faculty had administered to 57,000 seniors in Minnesota high schools. In the basement of Eddy Hall, I would run boxes of IBM cards, each bearing the responses of one student, through the IBM sorting machine. A few years later, when I was on the faculty myself, Paul Meehl and I used those data for our unpublished “crud factor” study in which we showed that, in psychology, everything is related to everything else, at least a little bit. We cross-tabulated all possible pairs of 15 categorical variables on the questionnaire and computed Chi-square values. All 105 Chisquares were statistically significant and 96% of them at p less than 10-6. Thus, we found that a majority (52%) of Episcopalians “like school” while only a minority (47%) of Lutherans do. Fewer ALC Lutherans than Missouri Synod Lutherans play a musical instrument.

What this silly-sounding study implies is that Group A is bound to differ from Group B on Variable X so that, if your theory predicts that A > B, you have about a 50:50 chance of confirming that prediction empiricallyat least if you have a large enough sampleeven if your theory is dead wrong.

Meehl used these data as illustrations in a 1967 paper in Philosophy of Science. He pointed out that the physical sciences, whose theories are strong enough to permit point predictions (Group A will average 125% of Group B’s score, rather than merely A > B), use significance tests in a way that is obverse to the way they are used in the soft sciences. Psychologists say, e.g., that X and Y will be correlated positively and, if that much proves true, then we try to “reject the null hypothesis” by showing that the correlation is so far above the zero or null point, that there is less than one chance in 20 (or more) that the true value of the correlation (which our obtained value estimates) could be as low as zero.

One unhappy consequence of this way of proceeding is that our conclusions become more suspect as our experiment gets better! If we use good, reliable measures of X and Y, then we are more likely to detect the (almost inevitable) correlation between them, and the larger our sample, the more likely it is that this detected correlation will be statistically significant, i.e., have a small enough sampling error and be far enough from zero to believe it really is not zero. A cheap, crappy experiment with poor measures and a small sample that can report a statistically significant result is therefore regarded as more persuasive than a good, big study!

I’ve added some bolding for emphasis. This form of data-mining isn’t really discussed anywhere, from what I can tell, in the popular press or even in academic settings.

Professor Lykken’s autobiography is worth a read.


Tech is bad for Kids

Also, good parents are good for kids.

New York (Reuters) – Recollections of strict, unaffectionate parents were more common among young adults with an unhealthy attachment to Internet use, compared to their peers, in a new Greek study.

Young adults who recall their parents being tough or demanding without showing affection tend to be sad or to have trouble making friends, and those personality traits raise their risk of Internet addiction, the researchers say.

“In short, good parenting, including parental warmth and affection, that is caring and protective parents, has been associated with lower risk for Internet addiction,” said lead author Argyroula E. Kalaitzaki of the Technological Education Institute (TEI) of Crete in Heraklion, “whereas bad parenting, including parental control and intrusion, that is authoritarian and neglectful parents, has been associated with higher risk for addiction.”


SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1m8inLg Addictive Behavior, online December 8, 2013.

You’re Not Special; Multitasking is Bad for You


Chronic media multitasking is quickly becoming ubiquitous, although processing multiple incoming streams of information is considered a challenge for human cognition. A series of experiments addressed whether there are systematic differences in information processing styles between chronically heavy and light media multitaskers. A trait media multitasking index was developed to identify groups of heavy and light media multitaskers. These two groups were then compared along established cognitive control dimensions. Results showed that heavy media multitaskers are more susceptible to interference from irrelevant environmental stimuli and from irrelevant representations in memory. This led to the surprising result that heavy media multitaskers performed worse on a test of task-switching ability, likely due to reduced ability to filter out interference from the irrelevant task set. These results demonstrate that media multitasking, a rapidly growing societal trend, is associated with a distinct approach to fundamental information processing.

I have made it a point to no longer have, ever, more than one screen on around me at one time. And I even make it a rule not to jump around from one article to the next when I working through a reading list. I read one article completely before moving on to the next.

Social Sciences – Psychological and Cognitive Sciences: Eyal Ophir, Clifford Nass, and Anthony D. Wagner, Cognitive control in media multitaskers. PNAS 2009; published ahead of print August 24, 2009, doi:10.1073/pnas.0903620106

Darth Vader: Borderline or AntiSocial?

A survey of people who should be in the know suggests Darth Vader had Borderline Personality Disorder:

According to a popular blog over at CNN, French researchers have concluded that Mr. Vader (aka Anakin Skywalker) has, at various times, exhibited six of the nine criteria for borderline personality disorder. To be diagnosed with BPD, you need only showcase five of the behaviors.

Just what are these traits? Well, there are the unstable moods that Vader suffers. One minute he’s happy because he sliced Obi-Wan Kenobi in half. The next, he’s all huffy that his subordinates let the Millennium Falcon escape. And when Vader ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

There are also his unstable relationships to consider. Over the course of the “Star Wars” movies, Vader has tried to kill his son, Luke Skywalker, multiple times. However, he also saved Luke’s life from his boss, the impossible-to-please Emperor Palpatine. The researchers write that Palpatine had a “dark and destabilizing influence” on Vader and likely contributed to his borderline personality.

Some time ago, I thought he clearly had Antisocial Personality disorder:

Anakin clearly has three of the required criteria:

impulsivity or failure to plan ahead

This one is obvious, how often do we see Anakin just rushing into dangerous situations, like in Episode 2 where he attacks Dooku despite Obi-Wan’s caution. He gets married despite the fact it might end his employment, gets his wife pregnant, etc.

irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults

Yeah, he gets into a lot of fights, and does nothing to avoid them.

reckless disregard for safety of self or others

I don’t care if it is the Jedi way to give up on the self, Anakin is crazy with that whole jumping off the speeder deal in episode II.

deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure

In ROTS he lies to Master Yoda about his nightmares about Padme, besides the whole marriage in secret thing.

I’d also mention, as fas as I could tell, Anakin didn’t ever have any pets.

So, you decide. Upon reflection, I still feel I’m closer to the truth.

From the Notebook

-If anybody wants to make a big deal about it, today is the celebration of the anniversary of the day my life became legally protected under Roe v. Wade.

-Finished reading Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” earlier this month. I had about three weeks to read the novel and prepare a long essay on the topic to try to win a contest to help pay for some of my graduate school bills. I will probably save a longer critique of the book for a later day. I will mention I think Ayn Rand is occasionally a good storyteller. Atlas Shrugged held my interest through almost 900 pages. As a novel though, it falls apart after John Galt’s speech.

-Also finished Oliver Sacks’ “An Anthropologist on Mars”. It is a wonderful book of unusual case studies involving some fascinating bits of brain “conditions.” There is the artist who went colorblind (so colorblind in fact he lost the very memory of “color”). Another essay was about another artist who had an almost photographic memory about his childhood home in Italy. As someone interested in the field of Psychology, I found the book engrossing.

-A personal note, I finished up another quarter in the MBA program, got an A in both marketing and human resources. I’m getting to the last few classes of the program and will have to soon decide to do either a thesis or a business plan. Not sure which one to do.

They’re brainwashed of course

Where’s the bias?

People Choose News That Fits Their Views

News readers gorge on media messages that fit their pre-existing views, rather than graze on a wider range of perspectives. In other words, they consume what they agree with, researchers say.

The finding comes out of a recent study which tracked how college students spent their time reading media articles on hot-button issues such as abortion or gun ownership.

Unsurprisingly, students gravitated toward articles that supported their views.

Fairly straight forward. People seek out those things that re-enforce their own beliefs, what could possibly be biased about this article?

People with stronger party affiliation, conservative political views, and greater interest in politics proved more likely to click on articles with opposing views, according to the Ohio State study.

“It appears that people with these characteristics are more confident in their views and so they’re more inclined to at least take a quick look at the counterarguments,” Knobloch-Westerwick noted.

Oh yes, of course. Conservatives read both sides only because they’ve been so brainwashed they couldn’t possibly be open minded or thoughtful. They’re just stupid conservatives who can’t understand brilliance when they see it.

However, Knobloch-Westerwick added that her latest study was not designed to assess reader motives, and that she hopes to more carefully study the issue in the future.

D’oh. Didn’t have the numbers to fudge those conclusions, so you just made some stuff up. Good call.

It’s hard to seperate the bias of the reporter from the bias of the study authors, but you get the point. I’ve exaggerated the completely made up conclusions about conservatives, not much though.

Maybe journalists need consciousness raising excercises to discover the true nature of their society.

Dr. Will Horton Interview

Talked about Barack Obama last night with Psychologist and Master Hypnotist William Horton in a half hour long podcast available here.

About Dr. Horton:

Dr. William D. Horton, D. Psy.D, CADC, CI, MH, Considered by many to be the world’s Leading NLP Trainer, is also a Licensed Psychologist, Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor, and Master Hypnotist. He was one of the few non-law enforcement people to be asked to attend the FBI Crisis/Hostage Negotiation Course at the FBI academy. He is the author of the books, “Mind Control, How To Get Other To Do What You Want”, “Primary Objective- Neuro-Linguistic Psychology and Guerrilla Warfar”e and Co-author of The “New Psychology of Sale”s. His 2 new books will fall, “Subconscious Communication, the Key to Success”, and Fat Loss Forever, a 12 Step Approach to Weight Loss”. His courses and workbooks have won acclaim for their easy-to-understand format. His articles are considered a must-read in the field of hypnosis and psychology. His passion for this technology comes from personal experience. He has a Black Belt in Karate and has won tournaments and been published in Martial Arts Journals. Learn from the leader in the field.

Dr. Horton’s articles are featured regularly in The Journal of Hypnotism, the country’s largest hypnosis publication. He presently travels throughout the world training people in the skills of NeuroLinguistic Programming, Hypnosis, Performance Enhancement, and the Art of Business Communications. He is the founder of the National Federation of NeuroLinguistic Psychology-NLP for the 21st Century and creator of several best selling home study courses in NLP and Hypnosis You will often find him on your favorite radio or television station sharing his extensive knowledge with his audience. His next book, Mind Control in the 21st Century, will be out this fall.

I also wanted to mention this; I will be doing a live, 4 hour long webcast the night of the election starting at 10pm CT. I would love to have some people on the air with me throughout the night. Right now I’m emailing around and looking for guests and whatnot, but if any of my readers (I’m talking to you plebe) have an inkling, I’d love to have you on. I’ve never had so much time to fill and it will get a little dull if it’s just me reading the SOS’s website all night.

Send me an email or go through the contact page or leave a comment. I especially would like some volunteers for the after midnight show. You don’t need to be on long, ten minutes will help break things up for me. Want to do an hour? Why not. The number is 646.652.4947.

Seat Belts and Saving Lives

From Wikipedia:

Professor John Adams of University College London was sceptical of such claims and set out to analyse the effect of seat belt laws as then in force and assess how well they matched predictions. His findings were published in 1982 and can be found in the Society of Automotive Engineers transactions of that year[5]. His conclusion was that in the eighteen countries surveyed, accounting for approximately 80% of the world’s motoring, those countries with seat belt laws had fared no better, and in some cases (e.g. Sweden, Ireland and New Zealand) significantly worse than those without.

In summarising the paradox, Adams agreed that :

The evidence that the use of a seat belt improves a car occupant’s chances of surviving a crash is convincing. That a person travelling at speed inside a hard metal shell will stand a better chance of surviving a crash if he is restrained from rattling about inside the shell is both intuitively obvious and supported by an impressive body of empirical evidence.[6]

In order to explain the disparity between the agreed improvement in a crash and the observed results, Adams advanced the hypothesis that protecting car occupants from the consequences of bad driving encourages bad driving.

He has suggested that a number of mechanisms are in play:

-Better protected drivers take less care (risk compensation or risk homeostasis).
-Case-control studies based on voluntary use of safety aids can attribute to the aid benefits that actually come from the risk-averse nature of those likely to use them voluntarily (confounding), particularly early adopters.
-Fatality rates are subject to considerable stochastic noise and comparison of single years or short periods can be misleading.

In response the UK’s Department of Transport commissioned a study on the effects of seat belt laws in Sweden, West Germany, Denmark, Spain, Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands and Norway. This study, known as “the Isles report” after its author, used the United Kingdom and Italy as controls for no-law countries compared casualty trends for both those inside and outside cars between law and no-law states. The report predicted that, based on the experiences of the eight countries studied, a UK seat belt law would be followed by a 2.3% increase in fatalities among car occupants [10] [11].

The Isles report was written by a civil servant in the Department of Transport. It did not back the pre-existing and still current position of Government, and it was never published.[10] [11] It is known mainly because it was leaked to The Spectator magazine some time after the law was passed.

The law mandating the compulsory wearing of seat belts for front seat occupiers came into force on January 31, 1983 in the UK[18]. Evidential breath testing was introduced at the same time.

There was a reduction in driver fatalities and an increase in fatalities of rear passengers (not covered by the law)[19]. A subsequent study of 19,000 cyclist and 72,000 pedestrian casualties seen at the time suggests that seat belt wearing drivers were 11-13% more likely to injure pedestrians and 7-8% more likely to injure cyclists

To simplify, seat belts make people feel safer in their vehicles. The safer they feel, the more aggressively they drive. Aggressive driving leads to more accidents, more pedestrian deaths and more injuries though the the likelihood of the aggressive driver getting hurt in an accident is reduced significantly. Compulsory seat belt laws have probably had no positive effect in reducing actual traffic related deaths.

Yes, the physics of car accidents would suggest wearing seat belts is a good idea. But the psychology of human behaviour suggests seat belt wearing makes people more accepting of risks and accidents by reducing the negative consequences of bad judgment. Trying to find the psychological component of suggested laws often leads to different conclusions over what previous assumptions (and even common sense) would dictate.

So please, enough with those annoying “buckle up” commercials on TV.

Some Quick Reviews

Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull…Yeah…Terrible. Look, ask anybody, when it comes to government conspiracies about UFOs, I’m on board. There’s no better therapy for the id than a good paranoid delusion. Crystal skulls are cool, I own a few. Indiana Jones: The Old Fart Version, was charismatic and funny. Communists as the bad guys? Awesome. But this movie was unbearable. Cartoon physics, plot holes, continuity errors and an out rightly stupid climax combined to make a theatre soup not quite as bad as Doomsday. But just about. Lucas has allowed Indiana Jones to sink to the “zombies attack” level of cinematic achievement and should probably just do us all a favor and stop working in the business.

Recount, the HBO movie on the 2000 election. I hate to say it, but I really enjoyed this film. It wasn’t nearly as biased as I thought it would be though it clearly was much more sympathetic to the Democrats than the Republicans. (The story is told through the eyes of a Democrat, so no surprise there.) As someone who has been schooled in the political arts it was fun to see a true political brawl portrayed about as accurately as possible. To me, it looked like fun (did I mention I’m a student of the Dark Side?). Of course, we don’t know who won the Florida 2000 presidential election because it was beyond our ability to measure. It was simply too close, much like this present Democratic nomination is this year, too close to measure. It’s like trying to measure the width of two different hairs from a human head with a yardstick; you won’t know the truth no matter how much you try. I say go ahead an watch it.

David Lykken’s professional autobiography. I don’t remember exactly why I read the now late Prof. Lykken’s autobiography. It was worth it though, Lykken was a wonderful writer and his humorous look at his life is about as good as readings get in the psychological world. Prof. Lykken was a hippie who promoted trying to create a parental license and he fought against the polygraph machine as an ineffective tool for finding guilt. Lykken also studied genetic influences on individual differences and passages of his autobography dealing with his various findings are fascinating. For Psychology students I think this little work is a gold mine of information. How much interest it would hold for people who haven’t studied a lot of psychology I can only guess.

The Words of Jesus Christ. Can’t really add anything here other than to open the floor and ask if collections like this have value to those interested in pursuing a Christian life. (Since this book only includes a small portion of the New Testament). Personally, I think it does.

Confirmation of the Character of Socrates, written by Xenophon. It’s just 9 pages of stuff about Socrates from one of his students, and one of the few sources outside of Plato. This will make sense to only a few of my readers, but it could be said Socrates had misgivings about “the beautiful people” like a certain former BigTen jackass. Otherwise it’s pretty boring.

Jim Cramer’s Stay Mad for Life. I’m a huge Jim Cramer fan and his latest book is perhaps the most useful he’s written. It teaches how to get out of debt, save for retirement and otherwise how to make the right decisions to build lasting wealth. This book really is for everyone.


The way most people study is very inefficient. Cram sessions, intense periods of heavy study, it’s mostly wasted. Long term recall is based on regular, intermittent use of knowledge. The graph above shows the way long term memory can be solidified and at what intervals work best.

This article goes into more detail and here is where you can get software which will help you absorb the knowledge need, permanently.

Students especially can gain a lot even from the graph.