Monday, November 29, 2010

Leggo my ego

Hello! I've finally returned back to school from Thanksgiving break.

Before I left I had made great headway with my Experimental Methods in psychology project; I had successfully collected twenty-five points of data from Clark students, as had the three other members of my group. Additionally, I was able to draft out the methods section of my final paper (using APA format), without too much difficulty. Because our data has not yet been analyzed, I left specific values blank, substituting an X for the time being; for example, I wrote "a questionnaire was distributed to X undergraduate students at Clark University".

Though it feels sometimes that I am simply running through the motions of conducting an experiment without much purpose (our hypothesis is interesting but of course our sample is limited, seeing as it is a convenience sample made up of the Clark student body), I feel as though this core class is rather necessary. It has given me a concrete idea of what it could be like to conduct research, as well as re-asserting concepts such as ethical values (we don't want another Milgram Experiment  dilemma). Overall this class has been extremely beneficial (and required for Psychology majors), despite its somewhat mundane content at times. I am grateful (get it? Because Thanksgiving just happened) for the opportunity to actually follow-through with collecting and analyzing real data points, especially after hearing from an older student that this class hasn't always been run this way; it used to be that data analyzing was practiced, but using made-up data.

The semester is almost over and classes will become a bit more intense in these last two weeks, with everyone trying to finish up chapters and projects and papers. I will keep updating with my data analyses and conclusions from Experimental Methods, as well as with points of interest from my other two classes. Belated happy Thanksgiving wishes to everyone!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?

One, but the light bulb has to want to change.


My roommate is singing a celebratory song about winning Solitaire to the tune of "Take On Me" louder than I would have thought possible. His lung capacity is amazing, the notes are being extended to an incredible length. He is a double major in European History and Music with a concentration in Holocaust & Genocide studies. Don't misinterpret, however, because his major in music does not imply that he is good at staying on key. It certainly makes the day more amusing, though. Too often I wish that my life was a musical. But then I remember that not everyone can sing (including me) and I would probably spend most of my life laughing at off-key notes and silly dance moves. Um, that sounds excellent, actually.

I ended up seeing the Clark University Fall 2010 musical, "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" (link to a touring company site here and a link to a youtube clip of the Clark version here). I enjoyed it very much! A few audience members were asked to go on stage and participate with the spelling bee, and one young lady was so great at spelling that they had to call her forward twice in row to spell, in order to get her eliminated before the intermission. I really enjoyed watching the audience members on stage while the actors around them were singing; their expressions were a cross between amused and embarrassed.

An update on my Experimental Methods (PSYC 108) project: so far seventeen Clark students have participated. Only eight more before Friday! Mostly I've been able to ask friends or acquaintances to help out, but have also had some people from various classes participate. Though it wasn't the project's intent, it's given me reason to talk to people that I normally wouldn't speak with. I've had many pleasant conversations with my participants (afterwards! Of course, so as not to mess up the results).

In about two hours I will be heading to my Experimental Methods discussion in which we will practice entering data in a systematic manner (I think). Before then, though, I will be reading All But My Life, a memoir written by Gerda Weissmann Klein, about her experiences with the Holocaust. I'm a big fan of memoirs, so I'm excited to finish it up (it's due tomorrow but I might not finish because of other homework shhhhh).

I get really excited about all of the identity concepts that my Holocaust: Agency & Action professor brings up. I'm not sure why exactly, save that I am a bit infatuated with the ideas of the fluidity of identity and the maintainability of self even through difficult times. Anyway, so in class on Tuesday we went around the classroom and said the three words (nouns) that we would use to identify ourselves (I picked Jewish, Feminist, and Mainer). Most people used familial relationships in order to identify (e.g. daughter, mother, brother) and almost everyone included their gender. I found it interesting, because it sort of points to the concepts that society dictates are important in our minds. We talked about how the victims of the Holocaust would have identified (probably similarly to the way we did) and my professor again posed the question: "Are you who you think you are, or are you who others think you are?"

I don't know, maybe both? It's hard to imagine how many of the things I like now I would in turn like naturally without societal implications and peer influences getting in the way. How much of our identities are defined by ourselves, and how much of it is an expression of what's expected of us?

I'm off to read now! It's warmer but it's windy and the tree outside my window is orange and red. Autumn is so soothing, and I'm pleased to spend my afternoon reading.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"Did you think you were unique, Mr. Angier?"

I feel as though it's a bit late for me to be posting, but I won't be sleeping otherwise. I've just returned to my room from one of the Clark University Film Society (CUFS) screenings. This week we showed The Prestige, which I highly recommend.

The Prestige, though entertaining and definitely a good use of my evening, did get me thinking about a class from earlier today. We spent most of our time in Holocaust: Agency & Action hearing about/discussing the Jews' escape efforts and hiding experiences around 1942. It was a continuation of stories from the previous lecture, and the professor (Deb√≥rah Dwork) ended the lecture a few minutes early. Instead of having us leave, she reiterated the importance of identity in this (the Holocaust) scenario. My mind drifted back to a previously assigned reading which discussed Jewish children's exclusion from schools as new laws banning Jews from certain areas came into effect (as an example that I can actually remember the name of: the Nuremberg Laws of 1935). Prior to this, Jewish children had never really had a reason to question their identities. And now, as they were removed from schools, they were forced to decide: how did they view themselves, and in contrast, how did others view them? What was different about the children that caused them to be excluded?

Prof. Dwork ended the lecture with a question on a similar note: how do we (the students) identify ourselves? She asked us to decide then, with seven minutes remaining in class, which three traits we would use to state our identities. No one seemed sure how to answer, so she passed it on as a homework assignment and told us to have our three by Tuesday.

The Prestige was certainly not any more about identity than any other film - surely all films must relate to this concept if they focus on a human being - but one character experienced (SPOILERS) a sort of death/rebirth process each of the one hundred times that he performed a certain magic trick. In summary, he used a machine created by Tesla in order to achieve this trick; the machine would clone him and transport the clone a certain distance away. However, the original person would be killed in each instance. The clone would continue living in his place until the trick occurred again, when a new clone would be born, and the older clone killed.

It was this that made me think more about identity. The clone looked the same, but many aspects would theoretically be missing; experiences, and memories. For argument's sake I won't follow what the movie implies in that the character's experiences/memories/knowledge were indeed passed along to the clone, but will assume instead that the clone only maintains the genetic make-up of the original. Because without experiences or memories or feelings, most of my identity would be gone. I would be made up of mostly facts, and of barely nothing more.

In this way, I am having trouble discerning which three words I would like to use to define my identity. "Feminist", "Jewish", and "female" all come to mind, as do adjectives, such as "compassionate" and "timid", but I cannot decide which three words hold the most power in defining who I am. I'd like to think more about this, and find words that encompass my experiences and feelings and adjectives. I don't even know how to begin to define myself in a way that will make me have my own identity, as opposed to an identity that is eerily similar to many others.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Freudian slip is when you say one thing, but you mean Clark

I like Wednesdays. I don't have anything to do until my Experimental Methods discussion at 4:15, so I am able to sleep in a bit and then transition into the day doing something semi-peaceful, like reading. Though, this only holds true if my lovely roommate chooses to be not-too-noisy. He wasn't awful this morning (yes, Clark allows for co-ed rooming after freshman year, which has worked well for me) so I was able to read a bit of a book I borrowed from one of my friends (an Environmental and Conservation Biology major and an English minor); a ghost story, entitled The Turn of the Screw by Henry James.

So far it's been an intriguing tale, though not one that I am able to follow easily (probably because it uses the "putting a story into a story" narration technique). I feel as though it's something I just need to read, though, if only because as a general rule I really enjoy horror. "No, no - there are depths, depths! The more I go over it, the more I see in it, and the more I see in it, the more I fear. I don't know what I don't see - what I don't fear!" - Henry James. 

Alrighty, now, moving on to things I understand more than books written pre-1900. 

On Thursdays at 6pm I have a radio show on ROCU with two friends, so I've spent a bit of my afternoon thus far finalizing our playlist for tomorrow. Our theme for this week is "places", so we'll be playing some Beach Boys ("Kokomo"), Elliott Smith ("Baby Britain"), Supertramp ("Breakfast in America") The Shins ("Australia"), and more. I really enjoy having a radio show! I'm fairly certain that our audience is made up mainly of the family members we can coerce to listen, but it's fun nonetheless. 

Soon I will be conducting a psychology experiment of sorts; there is a long-term project in place for Experimental Methods in which students are divided into groups and then work through the methodology of conducting a study and writing a report directly following. Soon I will begin data collection, and I feel somewhat excited to approach strangers (well, Clarkie strangers) and have them participate. I will not write more about the logistics of the experiment, so as not to muddle my results. Hopefully something especially humorous will occur while I'm data-collecting.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Sort of like in that movie 'Mean Girls'

I am taking three courses this semester: "Adolescent Development" (which goes towards my psychology major requirements), "Holocaust: Agency and Action" (which goes towards my Jewish studies concentration requirements), and "Experimental Methods in Psychology" (which is a course that every psych major has to take). The norm is to take four classes per semester, but moderate sickness in August slowed me down a bit (literally, because I had mono) and I ended up dropping one course. Three has been manageable, though I am looking forward to taking four classes again next semester.

This week is busy for me; I have two tests, a quiz, and an article analysis due. Article analyses seem to be common in most psychology courses, at least in my experience. I first worried that it would be horribly boring, but in all honesty the topics of study are so intriguing that I often forget that the article is thirty or forty pages. The most recent article that I read for Adolescent Development was about relational aggression: non-physical forms of aggression such as gossiping, rumor-spreading, snubbing, and exclusion. It's categorized by covert, indirect forms of aggression, and it's most common among girls (many participants in the study described it as bitchiness). The two researchers who conducted the study were unique in the way that they included male participants as well as females; past research has been done mainly on females because it is viewed as a "girl thing". Their interviews with boys and girls aged 11-13 concluded that girls and boys experience relational aggression differently; boys experience it mainly in larger groups, and in more direct "in-your-face" ways. Is anyone else reminded of 'Mean Girls'?

Adolescent Development has been a very interesting course because of a few reasons. Articles, such as the one I just mentioned, often serve as a reflection point on past experiences. The professor (Jeffrey Arnett) encourages class discussions based on the material we are studying, and in this way we are able to connect our own experiences to what researchers say is common. The class also takes a cultural approach when examining adolescent development - we study different practices in different cultures, because adolescence is very much so a concept that relies on its society for definition. It has been one of the more interesting courses I've taken, and I do recommend it to psych majors as a way of fulfilling the Developmental (psychology) requirement.