A False Conviction

Poor Titus.

Psychological scientist Elizabeth Loftus studies memory and tells of an example of a faulty memory that ultimately ruined the life of a man: Titus (falsely convicted and accused by the victim of rape) who was innocent through and through. He is just one of the many cases of this same mistake. Elizabeth studies what she calls false memories: memories of things that never happened, or altered memories.

I learned that our memory is seen here as a fragile device. It is not a perfectly functional recorder. A striking quote that illustrated this was, “Our memories are constructive. They’re reconstructive.Memory works a little bit more like a Wikipedia page: You can go in there and change it, but so can other people.”

Elizabeth did several studies that showed that if you misinformed people, you could tamper and change what people would remember. This happens all the time. If we see media coverage or talk to someone who mentions what they saw, we are easily swayed. A large example was in the 90’s, when some people left psychotherapy got bizarre memories that had never occurred. Imagination, hypnosis, dream interpretation, and exposure to false ideas could lead to completely false memories.

To study this, Elizabeth gave scenarios and told about them and planted very visual false memories in a quarter of the subjects tested. This was also reproduced around the world. This is so frightening to me. I’ve seen this manipulation idea in movies and could not believe that this was quite prevalent in this world. I can see this false memory implantation method to be quite abused and could be used to harm others. It’s already seen that it can affect behaviors long after the mind manipulation.

It is crazy to think that just because that someone thinks that something happened and say it with such confidence and emotion, that doesn’t mean it actually occurred. People make memory mistakes and this is normal. 

This being said, I believe perhaps positive outcomes could come out of this. If bad habits could be removed and positive behaviors could be reinforced, maybe such mind manipulation of changing memories could be considered. Such as giving some people struggling with obesity and if you planted an idea that turned into a memory of theirs, saying that they loved to eat vegetables, this would indeed “naturally” help the person without them having to take medicine and other harder measures. Also another positive outcome could be helping a PTSD patient heal by not erasing their memories per say, but by tweaking it, perhaps changing it that they never saw their friends die in battle or that they never joined the military. This could save someone from trauma and possible suicide.

Still, to me this line is too blurry and too close to mind control and I could see this leading to very scary situations and outcomes, such as police planting false memories into suspects, causing them to plead guilty. I know that this sounds like a stretch, but it’s been shown in this video that things like this to this degree could indeed happen. It’s too often seen in history that we as humans abuse the powers we are given or get our hands on. These tactics should not be used on people for other’s own selfish means or bad intentions. Many lives could be destroyed and be scarred forever. We need to be careful and weary of this method and to be aware that people’s minds are easily influenced and could remember something “imaginary” or could reimagine something occurring another way.


Mind Readers Unite

Rebecca Saxe: How we read each other’s minds

Seeing a video suggesting that we would learn about how we as people, read what others are thinking, really caught my eye. I already wrote about how I struggle picking up on silent, social cues as well as being able to tell whether or not the person I was talking to was mad. As a funny personal little anecdote: Just recently, I mustered up the courage to talk to a boy and ask for his number. I texted him as a suggestion from my friend, but, he gave no response after 2 and a half days. Of course now I’m thinking, oh my gosh I made such a mistake. What was I thinking? What is he thinking? Why didn’t he respond? Why hasn’t this boy texted me back? This seems like a trivial problem, but when a boy I’m interested, or any other person in fact, doesn’t respond to my messages (whether that be through facebook messenger, text, DM, email, etc) I get super upset and anxious, wondering about what the other person is thinking on the other side.

This talk  basically surrounded the problem of  why it is hard to “know what somebody else wants” as well as “how is it so easy to know people’s minds.” Rebecca, the TED Talk speaker, began with showing a picture of a mother looking down (fondly) at her baby. She said that of course we could assume what the mother was thinking at that moment. Rebecca is a cognitive neuroscientist. She created a project and basically discovered the special place in our brains dedicated especially to think about what other’s might think- called the “Parietal Junction. It’s used just for the purpose of understanding others.

She also points out that it takes an extensive amount of time to develop this skill of understanding others. Understanding beliefs different from their own is something that we learned in psychology that it is no easy task and is not fully developed till adulthood. A standard puzzle false belief task was used. The kid at age 5 understood that other people get false beliefs and understands that there are consequences with those. The kid at age 3 could not see the other’s point of view. So, the three year old comes up with an alternative explanation. At age seven is when another kid finally says that the wind, not the person is to blame. The same is repeated for moral judgement. Rebecca’s study sent kids to get their brain scanned to track ability development. The children’s parietal junction’s This shows again, the continuous development of the human mind, especially in that parietal junction region.

The cognitive and brain system develops slowly. Even in adulthood, some adults vary in degrees of aptitude when thinking of others’ thoughts. Rebecca showed us some evidence that implied that it would be possible to see how adults think and how to actually change those thoughts slightly. I found the adult end results most interesting. Another example was used for the adults. It was basically talking about intent and how much blame if any the culprit should get for giving powder to another that was thought by her to be poison. Using the TMS: Trans-Cranial Magnetic Stimulation tool, a magnetic pulse was passed through the skull into that brain region which temporarily scrambled the neural functions in that space. If there was less activity in that region, people said the culprit deserved a lot of brain. If there was a lot of activity on the right side of the brain, people thought she deserved less brain for the accident.


To me, the presenter was very knowledgable as well as trustworthy. She spoke in a tone that was easy to understand and seemed to really say things with an authoritative tone, implying her understand of the research done. The way she stood up and talked as well as giving example after example of what had happened: case studies with kids, bringing up MIT student brains, saying that she took brain scans of both kids and adults,… really convinced me that the material was truthful especially when she seemed to speak with good intentions. Also, she never paused. I find when the presenter smoothly presents her work, I am more inclined to think that he or she knows what he or she is talking about.

A research idea of my own would be to test how long the usual Austin College boy waits to text a girl back. This a petty test, but humor me. Based on the talk, I would use another method to perform some tests asking people of their opinions. I would ask a random selection of boys freshman to senior year to listen to a scenario. It would take a while, but I would say something along the lines of: “A girl named Sophie texts you. You two hit it off and she gives you her number. How long would you wait to text her back.” So, in this case, the boy will need to realize that he should, in the scenario, already show interest in Sophie. Then, I would record all the results of how many hours or days or even if he replies at all. Then, I would find a region of the brain from past literature that showed thoughts about these things and then use that same TMS tool to see what would happen if I were to touch that region in the brain and then I would record my results.


The Struggles of Parenting

Now looking back, and after experiencing so much after living in San Francisco for about a month taking care of two kids, I see now how hard it is to “parent”. Nowadays, it seems that everybody and everyone is pointing fingers at the parents- blaming the adults for not taking proper care of the child, for letting the kids do what they want, for punishing the kids too harshly. It is almost as if every wrong move or bad the decision the child would make, could be traced back to the parent. If the child ended up with sloppy manners, or a rude demeanor, or even started to do petty crimes, society and other environmental factors are not considered first many times. It all goes back to how the parent taught the kid and whether or not he or she stopped or encouraged the bad behavior.

There seems to be no perfect parenting style. Everybody is bound to make an honest mistake or two, and children sometimes grow up and disregard everything that was taught to them due to different circumstances and environmental factors. All this being said, there are ways to prevent and promote good behavior.

To me, the best way to parent is to find a balance between being too strict and being too lenient. I believe there should be drawing of hard lines for behavior that is absolutely not allowed (such as stealing, hitting others, bullying, name calling, and extreme lying), and rewarding kids for things (like getting good grades, being polite, doing good deeds, cleaning up after themselves, showing respect to others, doing acts of kindness, etc…) Parents should take their prior experiences and lessons learned into account. What methods that their parents do that worked for them and what methods didn’t?

In addition, I think that parents should follow the rules that they set for their own kids. For instance, if you as a parent, tell your kid not to do something, then you should refrain from doing that action yourself. When the child sees the parent setting a good example and following through, naturally, the child will be more inclined to follow directions, or at least won’t bring up the excuse of the parent not following the rules.

Exposing the child to other kids and people will be super beneficial as well. The more they talk with others, the more they will learn to deal and handle different situations. If the parent can monitor and check over some of their interactions and correct or reprimand if they don’t share, or if they purposely bump or scream at other kids, then the kids should soon learn what is “good” and “bad behavior.”

Sometimes, kids just don’t understand what the parent is saying. No matter how you say it, or what you say, they might not get it. However, once they reach a certain age, or after you repeat things again and again, the child will eventually catch on to what you are trying to say. I’ve seen this work in person with my nephew. I believe that taking the time to explain with what is wrong, or with why things happen even if you don’t want them to, can really help the child understand and learn from the experience rather than just plain yelling at the child without giving them any explanation at all.

Even though it may be tough at times, if the parent maintains a happy visage and maintains a positive environment, the child should grow up with happy memories as they will have no negative experiences to draw from. If the home is safe and warm, it is my opinion that the child will be as such as well.


Case Example

Miguel here like most students, is having trouble with his schoolwork. He finds it hard to concentrate on his work. He is tired and cannot sleep and during the day, and gets mad easily in the day and lets that out on his roommates. Also, he blames himself for making a small mistake and doubts himself in accomplishing anything.

There are many ways to interpret his behaviors depending on what school of thought one chooses.

Psychoanalytic Theory: Freud believed that life was a constant competition among unconscious forces trying to reach conscious forces. He would say that childhood experiences set the stage for later psychology functions. Freud would think that Miguel had something in his childhood that held him back from correctly learning how to study or something discouraged him from getting the highest grades possible. In terms of focus, Freud believed there were certain milestones needed to achieve for emotional adjustment. So possibly, Miguel never fixed his bad habit of concentration in the window of time he should have. In terms of Miguel’s anger issues with others and himself, it might be an imbalance of tensions and push and pull from internal desires to do better between his conscious and subconscious psyche, all which should govern all his behavior in the Freudian school of thought.

Behaviorism Theory: Pavlov believed that every stimuli gives way to response, response gives way to a consequence, and the future responds to stimuli. So, for Miguel, there must have been a stimuli. The stimuli could’ve been a distracting home environment and he might have been held down to high standards by his parents, which made him feel like he has to do everything right. However, he doesn’t think he can; which could have been a result of a bad grade or two. After getting certain amount of not-so-good grades, Miguel might have been conditioned to believe that he cannot do any better and that he is incapable. The bad grades could then be, in a way, negative reinforcements, in Skinner’s words. It increased the likelihood of him avoiding the undesired outcome by not studying.

Humanistic Psychology: Perhaps in Miguel’s case, he did not believe in himself and did not find his strength based and focused on how he grew. Maybe Miguel did not see that he had freedom to grow and improve and this caused all this self doubt and self hatred.

Cognitive Psychology: Cognitive psychologists would study how the inner workings of Miguel’s brain affect him. The way he processes info might be different from others and affect him in concentrating. Also, maybe the way he thinks and processes information as he develops has affected him in such a way to stress him out and not allow him to get enough sleep at night because of all those firing of neurons going on in his head.

Biologic Perspective: This branch focuses on behavioral genetics as well as evolutionary psychology. So for Miguel, his the way society is organized must have affected his behavior in such a way for him to blame himself and get mad at others easily without much thought.

Cultural Psychology: Focuses on how mental processes and behaviors differ in different cultures but some are universal and some are in fact specific. This doesn’t really apply I think too much. All I can think of is how perhaps in such asian cultures, schools are super competitive and as such, most students will only think about school and will not allow failure to be the result and will keep on working instead of just giving up and thinking that you cannot do it.


The Beginning

Just a little background on me…

Hi everyone!

My name is Christina Mao. I’m currently a junior here at Austin College. You might think it’s strange- wow! Why is a third  year student attempting to take this entry level psychology course? Well I’ve tried to take this class in the past and it didn’t quite work out the first time, as my other chemistry and biology heavy classes took and diverted all my attention to energy to them. Now, I am back and here with more experience and knowledge and am eager to take this course and hopefully succeed with great grades. I actually need this class as a pre-req for nursing school, so yes, I am doing this because I HAVE to. But at the same time, I am taking it here because I WANT to. I’ve heard that psychology can provide insight into my own mind and psyche as well as help me to better analyze and understand others; especially in what they don’t mention or say to me.

I took Psychology AP in high school, however, I did not do as well as I would’ve liked on the AP exam because I did not take the course seriously back then. I enjoyed it, but didn’t think of it as that important. Now, I see my mistakes and hope to move forward really trying to actively learn in this class.

When I hear the word ”psychology”, I think of feelings, emotions, tests that access what personality types we are, as well as famous psychologists that made momentous strides in bringing attention to mental illnesses and human behaviors. I think this is a science, just harder to quantify and deem completely true due to the nature of the tests and its subjectivity and ethical concerns at times.

Three topics that interest me the most are effects of sleep (because I want to truly see how it affects us after years of sleeping enough or not enough), effects of drugs and alcohol on the brain (as our society is so tempted to consume these), and dealing with stress (as I deal with this myself almost everyday).

By the end of the class I want to answer the question: “Why are we the way we are? Why are people so hard to read and why do they say and do the things they do?”

I know this mind sound typical of a question to ask but it is quite hard for me to read people and understand their nonverbal cues. I want to get better at this because I feel it will benefit me greatly in the future.