The Economy, Global Warming, and Video Games

Knock on wood, I have never been in a car accident.  Granted, I’ve only been driving for 4 years, but you’re first few years of driving are supposed to be the most dangerous. I attribute this stroke of good fortune to my fast reflexes and ability to quickly asses a dangerous situation  — skills I picked up during my years of being a gamer.

I’ve always felt that the hours and hours I have spent playing video games as a child were not spent in vain.  Well, it turns out that gaming can also save the world:

(First of all, if you have no idea what TED is, do yourself a favor and check it out. Anyone who watches at least 1 TED video a day will not only become smarter, but will undoubtedly  become happier in the proses.)

There is this stigma in America today that gaming is sucking the productivity out of our youth. Instead of reading books or studying for a class, a good portion of today’s youth can be found playing video games — and yet many people still see it as a waste of time. It’s hard to see the positives behind gaming if you yourself have never spent a significant amount of time with a controller in your hands. I used to play a lot of video games and here are just a few things video games have taught me:

1) Critical Thinking Skills – It might look like we are just mindlessly blowing stuff up, however many games today need a large amount of critical thinking to complete levels.

2) Goal Setting – A popular genre in gaming today are RPGs, may of which require step by step completion of many tasks, which force the gamer to make plans and stick with them.

3) Running a Country – Surprisingly, I have learned a great deal about how societies are created and maintained by Sid Meier’s Civilization 4.

The list can go on for quite some time.

The truth is, video games really are a skill set on their own.  In addition to all of these benefits, video games excite and motivate their players like nothing else and they also  truly mastered the psychology of incentives and rewards. As seen in the video above, if we can manufacture video games to impact our real world (as opposed to some fictional game world) we may be able to solve many of the world’s biggest problems. Gamers may not be geniuses, but when put together to work on a task, they become our most valuable resource.

But what happens if these ideas get utilized by the wrong people? Well, you’ll have to wait until Wednesday to find that one out.

Photo Credit: mattc3004

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Casual Fridays

So as you know, I am new to this whole blogging thing. At first, I wanted to blog about psychology three times a week, if not more. Then, I realized how long it takes me just to write out one post, and I’ve since decided to publish new content every Monday and Wednesday (and I plan on sticking to that!). But there is just something, something about blogging that makes me want to write about life; my life, life in general and maybe even the lives of others. Sadly this doesn’t really “fit in” with the psychology theme I have going. So I have decided to start what I’m calling “Casual Fridays” , a post once a week that could be about anything.  I hope you like it.

The Day Will and I Spit FIRE

Will and I went to high school together, and I consider him one of my few best friends. More than a best friend though, he is my partner in crime. Potato cannons, explosions, the police (not the band), -69.5 degrees Fahrenheit, science, shenanigans and of course fire can all be “tags” for our friendship. One day I will die, and it will most likely be his fault (that’s not true, it’ll be my fault, but he’ll be the one egging me on).

Anywho, this post is about the day we took pictures of us spitting fire.

But first, a public-safety announcement:


(or anywhere else for that matter)

Especially at home though, because it’s breathing fire, and you’ll somehow catch your drapes on fire and everyone knows that once the drapes catch your house is done for.

What we used:

  • Corn Starch
  • A Stick
  • A Rag
  • Lighter Fluid (Rubbing Alcohol works too)
  • Seltzer Water

SOOOOO blowing fire is really easy, the hard part is getting it on film. All you do is wrap a sliver of the rag around the stick and tie it. Moisten the rag with the lighter fluid and set it ablaze. Word to the wise, always make sure your back is to the wind, even if it’s just a slight breeze (unless you want to lose your eyebrows). So all you have to do is take a big mouthful of the cornstarch hold the stick about a foot away and blow the powdery stuff into the flame. Don’t breath in trough your mouth, it’ll feel like you’re choking on cement. Also once your are done, the best way to get rid of the corn starch that has permanently stuck itself to the inside of your mouth is to gargle with seltzer.

But like I said, the hardest part is taking the picture.

This is Will by the way.

I took the picture a nano second too early, if you can time it out right, it should look like this:

Cool huh?

Just do yourself a favor and don’t make an idiotic face when blowing the stuff out.

Me (hahaha)

At least the fire looks cool.

This one is my favorite because of the fireball

SO that was my first Casual Friday post. I plan on having others, but of course if you’ve made it this far so, I do care about what you think.

Thanks for reading! More psych stuff to come on Monday.

Image Credit

Jeans: Ale_Paiva

Sign: ilco

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The Fundamental Attribution Error – How We Are Wrong Most of the Time

I work for an organization at Rutgers called Dance Marathon, a student run philanthropy where we raise money for the non medical needs of children with cancers and blood disorders. Dance marathon quickly became the best thing I have ever gotten involved in, and you can check out my personal fund-raising page if you’d like =).

Anyway, one day it was my job to hand out flyers around the food court in our student center, notifying everyone that if they ordered from Wendy’s, 15% of their purchase would go toward kids with cancer. After an hour of bothering everyone that entered the food court, I started getting very frustrated. Some people would take my flyer and consider Wendy’s for dinner, others would say “no thank you” and walk away (I was OK with that), but some people would just walk right past me as if I was invisible, THAT got to me.

After 3 people passed me by with nothing more than a grunt, I started getting frustrated. A fourth guy (tall, looked like he just got back from the gym) unintentionally pushed me over my edge.

Me: “Eat at Wendy’s and help support kids with cancer!”

I point my flyer toward him, he brushes past me not saying a word.

Me: “It’s OK, its just kids with cancer”

He stops walking, turns around and says:

“That’s right, it’s just kids with cancer” and keeps walking.

I was dumbfounded, what a jerk.

Later that week I was texting a friend who also works for DM, telling her about the guy and how upset he made me. Then she said something that completely blew me away, “maybe he was just having a bad day”. I was taken aback, not because she came up with a brilliant solution to his grumpiness, I was amazed because she had overcome the fundamental attribution error, something I rarely see people do. Needless to say, I quickly changed my opinions on this guy.

A good definition is found in Social Psychology & Human Nature, they define the Fundamental Attribution Error as,

“The tendency for observers to attribute other people’s behavior to internal or dispositional causes and to downplay situational causes”

In other words, you are more likely to come out of a situation thinking “He’s a grouch”, “she’s a really good person” or “He has a really bad temper”, without considering things like, she could be having a bad/good day or he might have just found his wife in bed with another man.

For example: You are waiting in line, in the hot sun, for Justin Bieber tickets (God only knows why you are doing this), and somewhere down the line you see a fellow fan turn around and scream at the person behind them. You think to yourself, “That person is a quick tempered lunatic”. However, when the guy behind you, with the big hairy arms, bumps into you FOR THE FIFTH TIME, you quickly turn around and start shouting at him. When asked why you did this, you will most likely complain about the heat and how you don’t like being touched by hairy armed Bieber fans. You attribute your behavior to the environment while attributing other people’s behaviors to their personality.

This is why I love Social Psych. You can take what you learn, and directly apply it to your life. Since learning about this phenomenon in Jussim’s Social Psych class, I try my hardest to bring it into the context of my daily life; I’ll admit that I didn’t in the story above, but I’m only human after all.

Still in the spirit of resolutions, I challenge everyone to try their hardest to stop making snap judgments on people we don’t know very well. Next time you witness someone act a certain way, before you label them as a drunk, a bitch or even a saint; realize that you are committing the FAE. Try to take the environment and their mood into consideration before you characterize their personality. We could all become better people because of it.


Photo Credit: atsoram

Baumeister, Roy Bushman, Brad. (2008) Social Psychology & Human Nature. United States; Thomson Wadsworth.

Posted in Social Psych | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Analyzing Batman

Batman Unmasked – The Psychology of the Dark Knight

“In Batman we can find the heroism, the fear and the darkness inside us all”

Usually, when the media tries to do anything psychological, they tend to screw it up big time. This is why the History Channel is awesome; this documentary is very well done  and makes some very valid points about the neurosis of this timeless American hero.

There is, however, one aspect of this clip that I want to comment on.

Who is the “real batman”? As pointed out in the documentary, Bruce Wayne is seen as 3 separate persona’s: The “playboy millionaire”, Bruce when he is not maintaining a public face, and of course — The Batman. Many love to argue as to which persona is his true identity and which are his “masks”. It is easy to fall for the romantic idea of  a crime fighting vigilante forced to “act normal” during the day, all the while fighting to contain the persona within. However, I believe that (other than that black piece of plastic which conceals his identity) Bruce Wayne, The Batman, wears no masks.

Take those with Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD) or Dissociative Identity disorder, or whatever the hell they’re calling it these days. MPDs are often characterized as having multiple selves; one may be be a 30 something aristicrat, another may be a young boy and a third still can be an 80 year old grandmother. The mistake that many people make is believing that there is a “right” self among all the personalities. Each personality in someone who suffers from MPD is a piece of that person who has split apart, almost always during trauma, and serves a specific function . Only once put back together do these pieces create the true person.

I am not saying that Batman suffers from MPD, but am merely saying that we need to look at him in the same way. Each of Bruce Wayne’s personalities serves a different purpose toward the same ultimate goal of avenging his parents’ death and dealing with the trauma he experienced as a child. The Batman fights the crime, the millionaire foots the bill and Bruce lives the life that falls in between. Whenever Bruce Wayne ventures out into the world, no matter what persona he must be, he always takes the other two with him.

This does not take away from The Batman, if anything it makes him seem that much stronger.His ability to live virtually three parallel lives, all the while protecting the citizens of Gotham from some of the most disturbed villains ever created, is what makes The Batman such an appealing super hero.

I’d love to hear some of your thoughts and possibly some theories you may have pertaining to Batman’s awesome cast of super villains.

Posted in Abnormal, Movies | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Good Samaritan – The Psychology of Time

The name is taken from an old biblical parable about a man who had been robbed beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. Passed twice, first by a priest then by a Levite, things were not looking good. Luckily, when a Samaritan came down the road, the traveler was seized with passion and stopped. Not only did the Samaritan dress the man’s wounds, but he also brought him to an Inn and paid the caretaker to watch after him until he was restored to full health. You can find a lot more on this parable on Wikipedia.

The Experiment

In a study performed by Darley and Batson in 1973, the experimenters attempted to see if priming an individual, by keeping the ideas of helping salient in their minds, had any impact on whether or not they would exhibit helping behavior.

Students at the Princeton Theological Seminary were asked to partake in this study. Participants arrive at the psych building with a speech prepared; half were instructed to write their speech on The Good Samaritan (hopefully to get the ideas of helping into their heads) while the other half were told to give a speech on job opportunities.

The variable of time was also introduced into the study. After arriving at the psych building, all students were told that the speech would be given in a different building. Some students were reassured that they had plenty of time, others were told they were right on time but should leave promptly. The last group was told that they were late, and that their audience was waiting for them!

While on their way to the other building, every student passed a confederate who was acting sick (hunched over, coughing and groaning), quite literally simulating the parable half of them were giving a speech on. The main focus of this study was to see who would stop and help.

Personally, as seminary students, I think they should have all stopped and helped, unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way. One would venture to guess that those who had the story of The Good Samaritan fresh in their heads would stop and help more often, you would be wrong. Some students who were on their way to giving a speech on the famous parable even stepped over the “sick man” while hurrying to give their presentations!

Time turned out to be the key variable in this study, those who believed that they had time were more likely to stop and help no matter what speech they were giving. In fact, participants who were told that they had plenty of time were six times more likely to help than those who thought they were late.

So What?

You don’t need me to tell you people these day are, or at least feel, pretty damn busy… all the time. I actually just finished a really good book on time, coincidentally by Zimbardo, called The Time Paradox. I suggest taking their quiz and getting your “time profile”, it’s fun.

Long story short, we all need to take pains to slow down a little, or at the very least, not to rush. It’s a fact that busier people are happier, I know I’m happiest when I have plenty to do. But we need to all be careful not to put too much on our plates. Just as seen above, as soon as we start rushing from point A to point B we start to miss things. Who knows how many people we’ve metaphorically stepped over while rushing from one important thing to another.

I encourage comments =)


Darley, J.M. & Batson, C. D. (1973). From Jerusalem to Jericho: A study of situational and  dis positional variables in helping behavior. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 27, 100-108.

Posted in Social Psych | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

5 Monkeys – How norms are perpetuated

I stumbled on this video a while back. It’s thought-provoking and ties in well with the Stanford Prison Experiment post from yesterday. I would love to hear what some of you think of this, Enjoy.

Posted in Social Psych | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

The Stanford Prison Experiment

The Experiment

“What happens when you put good people in an evil place?” – Philip G. Zimbardo –

In what could be called the most famous psych experiment ever performed, Zimbardo and his colleges aimed to answer just that.

In the summer of 1971, long before internal review boards were enacted to ensure the safety of human research participants, a newspaper add called for college age volunteers in the Stanford, California area.

Out of the 75 people who applied to partake in this study, 25 were chosen at random; all of which were healthy college males, who after a thorough psychological examination, were deemed to be  mentally sound.

Participants were randomly divided into two groups, prisoners and guards. Through the cooperation of local law enforcement, prisoners were arrested, taken to the county jail, processed and placed in a holding cell. After every prisoner had been processed they were all blindfolded and brought to the basement of the Stanford University psych building. The basement had been transformed into a prison, complete with 3 cells, a large hallway which they called the “courtyard”, an officers room, and a broom closet which was used for solitary confinement.

“Each prisoner was systematically searched and stripped naked. He was then deloused with a spray, to convey our belief that he may have germs or lice”

The only difference between the prisoners and the guards were their dress. Prisoners wore large white t shirts with numbers stenciled onto them, they also wore stocking caps to simulated a shaved head. Guards wore khaki police uniforms and reflective aviators, they carried a whistle and a night stick.  What’s amazing is that these Guards were not given any special instructions, they were simply told to guard the prisoners. What came to follow has changed the way we look at power and obedience.

Guards immediately began to assert their authority. Each Prisoner was only referred to by his number and was subject to periodical “counts” where prisoners were to line up outside of their cells in number order. Prisoners quickly grew angry at this treatment and began to resist orders, in retaliation, the Guards would often punish them by having them do push ups or clean the toilets in the bathroom. And so it went, prisoners would rebel, and the Guards would punish. It eventually got as far as a prison riot which was only quelled with the use of fire extinguishers. Although they never used force, Guards became ruthless, continually punishing and verbally abusing prisoners. They would not stop until they broke down every prisoner into submission.

Prisoners began complaining of emotional disturbances, this experiment had become too much for them.  Zimbardo, who had given himself the role of prison warden, was so engulfed in his role that he became more worried about the order of his “prison” than the well being of his research participants.

The experiment was planned to last two weeks, after six days it was shut down by Zimbardo himself. Enough was enough.

For a more comprehensive rundown of the SPE along with pictures and videos, please visit this site.

Also there is a great chapter on this in Lauren Slater’s Opening Skinners Box, which I highly recommend.

What does it all mean?

Let’s be clear, every participant volunteered for this experiment, and although they were being paid 15 dollars an hour, they were told that they could leave at any time and still get paid.

The participants instantly assimilated into their roles, roles given to them by society, and perpetuated by themselves. Many of the Guards were seen by their friends and family as kind, well adjusted men; only to be transformed into a ruthless punishing authority figures by a pair of aviators.

Obedience isn’t bad, in fact it is needed for any group to function successfully. However, it is important to look at those who hold power and ask, what makes this person powerful, their skills and knowledge? or their title?


Posted in Social Psych | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments