Memories, Words and A Psychology of Living

Does everyone in the world return to signifiant memories in their lives? Does finding just the right word in a conversation depend on a person’s context?

Two members of Gordon’s psychology department explore such questions in  their recent scholarship. Jonathan Gerber, associate professor (who’s also begun blogging on such issues), addresses the transcendent nature of nostalgia for the scholarly journal, Emotion, in an article published this spring. Bert Hodges, professor of psychology, has written “Righting language: The view from ecological psychology,” which was published this month in Language Sciences. Here’s how they described their work:

IMG_0002Gerber: “The study was a large cross-cultural study of nostalgia involving 18 countries across five continents. I collected the Australian data. The study argues that nostalgia is a pan-cultural emotion that is experienced with two major features in nearly every culture: 1.) It involves fond, social, self-relevant memories; 2.) It is more pleasant than unpleasant. Why is this important? Because it’s worth knowing that people all over the world look back to better times, that we all have enjoyed the social things in our past, and that looking back on these memories makes us more happy than it makes us sad. This should inspire us to live more connected lives now, to create the happy, social memories that we will enjoy looking back on.”

image002Hodges: “Scientific models of language have tended to focus on forms deprived of their ecological context: Speaking and listening have been viewed as disembodied and unaddressed. An ecological approach works to return language to its rightful place, as a socially embedded, morally accountable set of activities that are fundamentally dialogical. Language is viewed as a distributed set of meaning-seeking activities that are primarily physical and pragmatic, the function of which is to realize values, including caring for others and self, and the places they inhabit. Psychologically, language is focused in dialogical arrays, which can function as distributed cognitive systems for perceiving, acting, and reasoning. This more distributed, embodied view of linguistic activity draws attention to its systematic, multi-scalar complexity; to its ability to tie its participants to a place, a history, and a way of life; to the frustration and responsibility entailed in speaking and listening; and to the possibility that it is a form of direct acting and perceiving that extends human capabilities by orders of magnitude.”

Considering the Conflict in Conformity

image002Agreeing with others, even when they appear to be more knowledgeable on a subject, is not always easy, or predictable, according to Bert Hodges, professor of psychology, who along with  a team of scholars, conducted a series of experiments to explore the social psychology of conformity. The result is a new article, “Speaking from ignorance: Not agreeing with others we believe are correct,” in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 106, 218-234. doi: 10.1037/a0034662. 

Hodges‘s co-authors (Meagher, B. R., Norton, D. J., McBain, R., & Sroubek, A.) are all former Gordon students finishing doctoral degrees in psychology or public health (University of Connecticut, Boston University, Harvard University, and Yeshiva University). Their work takes one of the most famous experiments in social psychology, inverts it, and shows that even when people “should” conform, they often do not. Instead people appear to act in ways that are sensitive to the demands of values such as truth, social solidarity, and trust.  Here’s how Hodges described it:

“The experiments had an individual participant answer questions about words on the screen that they could not see clearly from their position, after having heard two other people who were in much better positions answer correctly. What do you do when asked to speak from a position of ignorance? Although it seems obvious that people would always agree with others who have greater knowledge, participants made up their own, incorrect answers about 30 percent of the time, sometimes choosing not to agree even when they could win money for correct answers.

Why make up wrong answers? It seems awkward, even wrong, to repeatedly answer questions based only on others’ claims. Always agreeing raises the specter of not speaking truthfully (participants cannot see the words themselves) and taking advantage of one’s peers (plagiarizing, as it were), thus threatening social solidarity. This speaking from ignorance effect (i.e., disagreeing with correct answers) was predicted by Hodges and Geyer’s (2006) theory, offered to explain social dilemmas in which there is a conflict between one’s own perception and the testimony of others.”

Exploring the Dynamics between Rural Poverty and Education

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Phillips explored the area in many ways!

 It’s cold in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. And its economy, once built on forest and maple products, has faltered into today’s sparsely populated, economically disadvantaged region of the state. But neither stopped Suzanne Phillips, professor of psychology, from spending a year long sabbatical in 2012-2013 there. In fact, she felt right at home.

That’s because she was born there. As a first generation college student herself, Phillips wanted to merge scholarship interests as a community psychologist into a specific research project: rural populations, post-secondary education and first generation college students. So she settled into a borrowed office at White Mountains Community College, in the heart of Coos County just south of the Canadian border, and went to work.

“New Hampshire is a wealthy state but the wealth is not distributed evenly,” she said. “I wanted to understand the impact poverty had on education, why people born in Coos County seemed to have less access to education and what the implications of both were for the local quality of life. 

She started by noticing how six of the seven campuses that comprise the Community College System of NH are clustered in the southern part of the state.  White Mountains Community College, located three miles from downtown Berlin, is the only higher education institution in Coos County where 300-350 high school students graduate in a typical year.

Phillips gained access to government and college databases to determine how many go on to higher education. What she discovered was startling, even for local educators she talked with: between 2007 and 2011, the percentage of new high school graduates in Coos County starting college jumped from 58 percent to 69 percent.  By contrast, the state as a whole did not see a change in college matriculation rates and during this same period, other counties declined.  Continue reading

Psychology Beyond the Classroom

Gerber_JP_0666_sm_2011_11_22_11_02_26Though the new semester has officially begun, like most Gordon scholars, Jonathan Gerber, associate professor of psychology, is preparing for more than his classes. This spring, he will be chairing two symposia to celebrate the 60th anniversary of social comparison theory. The first is an invited symposium at Eastern Psychological Association in Boston this March, and involves several regional researchers. The second is at theAssociation for Psychological Science, a large psychology conference, in San Francisco this May.

Chairing both reflects on the work Gerber has been doing with Ladd Wheeler on a social comparison meta-analysis. Wheeler is one of the foremost experts on the theory, having followed it for 50 years, and suggested Gerber do a second meta-analysis after seeing his work on rejection. Social comparison is a large research area, and most prominent social psychologists have addressed it in their scholarship. Gerber also plans to follow up this work  with a grant application to put a social comparison research database online, which would involve a number of social comparison researchers.

Earlier this month, Gerber also published an article on how preparing for rejection can lessen its effects. In it, he takes apart the accepted academic view of rejection—which suggests rejection hurts because it devalues existing relationships—and shows that rejection does hurt even when you don’t have a relationship. Gerber then shows that expectations might be a better model of why rejection hurts. Expecting rejection makes it much less harmful to us, even if it doesn’t quite totally remove the harm.

Gordon Scholars Explore: Rejection and Cinema, Values and Mentoring

Around the world and across the Internet, Gordon professors continue to offer their expertise and scholarship for the greater good. Here are more examples of recent contributions from Gordon faculty at the start of a new academic year:

Jonathan Gerber, associate professor of psychology, continues his scholarship on rejection with an article in The Journal of Social Psychology on, “Clarifying the Relationship Between Ostracism and Relational Devaluation,” which recently went online.  In it Gerber and co-author, Ladd Wheeler, examine “how three perspectives on relational devaluation relate to needs that threat following ostracism. In two experiments with 179 first-year psychology students, distress was greatest when participants were ostracized without any prior throws, and distress decreased linearly with increasing prior inclusion.”

In this month’s print and online edition of Texas Monthly Magazine, filmmaker and communication arts assistant professor, Toddy Burton, offered her expertise in an article exploring Christians in cinema. The story is entitled, “Americas Next Top Mogul: Why Rick Santorum Decided to Leave Politics (for now) and Become the CEO of a Texas-based Christian Film Studio,” and Burton is quoted about the growing number of filmmakers who are also Christians who “understand the rigor of doing (film) well.”

Bert Hodges, professor of psychology, just returned from a symposium at the University of Southern Denmark (Odense, DK), entitled “Values and Systems in Interactivity, Language and Cognition,” which brought together scholars from Denmark, Poland, Russia, England, and Sweden,  around his work on values-realizing theory (Hodges, 2007, 2009; Hodges & Baron, 1992). Each speaker described his or her own theoretical or empirical work and related it to values-realizing theory. Hodges also presented a paper, “Breaking the symmetry: Realizing values in remembering, trusting, and learning,” and held a one-day workshop before the symposium on values-realizing theory for faculty and advanced graduate students at the university.

At the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture, Dan Russ, academic dean and professor of English, recently gave a key note address at a two day gathering called, “The Education Forum: What is a Teacher?” His talk, “The Gift of Blind Hope: The Teacher as Seer”—which was an excerpt from a book chapter he wrote of the same name and around the same question of what is a teacher—focused on the story of Athena’s guiding young Telemachus in the guise of a king Mentor, the origin of our word mentoring.

Six Faculty + Summer Grants = Interesting Scholarship, Part III

Each summer at Gordon, the Provost’s Office invites applications for small grants that Faculty can use toward ongoing research and scholarship in between academic years. This summer, six were awarded stipends, ranging in projects from screenwriting and data reviews to humanitarian logistics and fiction writing. Here are profiles of the final two recipients: (Read about the others HERE)

In between travel to scout locations and research, Toddy Burton, assistant professor of communication arts, has been completing a feature screenplay for a spring 2014 production that coincides with her sabbatical then.  In addition to her other scholarship and award winning films, Burton’s current project will explore the genres of drama and comedy. Here’s how she described her creative process for the development grant:The undertaking will involve revising different projects I have been developing, resulting in selection of the script that I will then lock into a production-ready draft. Work will include writing, soliciting feedback and launching of pre-production strategies. Additionally, I am overseeing an independent study this semester (with a film student) to shoot a short based on one of the feature ideas. The resulting film will used in fundraising efforts for the feature. Some of the work this summer will involve completing post-production and distribution on that short film.”

Kaye Cook, professor of psychology, has been continuing her scholarship on, “Teaching Integration, and Understanding Alumni Views of God.”  For her two-part summer project, Cook has been preparing an article for a special edition of the Journal of Psychology and Theology on faith-learning integration in developmental psychology, co-authoring it with Kathleen Leonard (University of Massachusetts—Lowell, Gordon graduate). Their goals are to summarize contemporary perspectives, teaching strategies, and scholarly resources, and to develop materials and propose creative pedagogical strategies for use in the field. Some of Cook’s students are helping with the review of current material. 

Here’s what Cook wrote on the second part of her project: “I have the transcriptions of 120 interviews with Gordon alumni, which current students and I will code for alumni views of God. After a review of the data, I believe they will challenge Chris Smiths’ well-respected description of emerging adult religiosity as marked by MTD (moralistic, therapeutic, deism). MTD refers to a belief in God that God is moralistic (i.e., the source of morals), therapeutic i.e., God is primarily a problem-solver), and deistic (i.e., God as distant and uninvolved in everyday lives). I expect to prepare a publishable manuscript of these data for a peer-reviewed journal and/or write it into a chapter I write on ‘Spiritual Formation in Emerging Adulthood’ this fall.”

Christian Scholars Address Ethics Crises

Whether there’s a new cultural crises in ethics or such crises have simply become more public through the information age, the need to address them is real. At this year’s interdisciplinary  Christian Scholars Conference in June and around the theme, “Crises in Ethics: Theology, Business, Law and the Liberal and Fine Arts,” two Gordon professors travelled to Nashville to present papers on panel discussions.

Joining two other bible scholars on a panel called, “Old Testament Theology of Prayer,” Elaine Phillips, professor of biblical studies and Christian ministries, discussed, “The Prayer of the Upright:  Confession, Petition, Accusation, and Intercession in Wisdom Literature.” There are several studies on prayer in the Psalms or on select prayers within the Old Testament, but little in the way of a comprehensive exploration of the theology of prayer in all the Old Testament.  Her session was the second in a three-year project to examine the theology of prayer in the various sections of the Old Testament with the intent of providing the groundwork for a canonical Old Testament theology of prayer. 

Across campus, Jonathan P. Gerber, assistant professor of psychology, discussed the recent number of high-profile lapses in research ethics, where many of these cases emerged due to new analytic techniques for detecting and managing fraud, techniques which are broadly applicable to other empirical disciplines. Gerber’s peer-reviewed panel discussed the impact of recent cases of social psychological ethics, the techniques used to uncover fraud, the role of Christian institutions in maintaining research integrity, and the application of these techniques to other disciplines.

Specifically, Gerber addressed the fraud of Diederik Stapel and whether it led to calls to revise research practices in psychology.  Gerber’s paper—entitled, “Did Stapel’s research fraud lead to knowledge distortion or reputation reduction?”—provided the preliminary results of a 60 year meta-analysis of social comparison research, including over 600 research papers. Gerber said, “The effect sizes in Stapel’s work were not significantly different to other researcher’s findings, suggesting that knowledge about social comparison has not suffered from Stapel’s misconduct, even though the field’s reputation has. It appears that, sometimes, you can fake too well.”

Discovering a New Way to Listen to Sufjan’s “Illinois”

There are several ways to listen to music, and new theories are emerging often, even for classic rock albums. As part of his ongoing musical scholarship, Jonathan Gerber, assistant professor of psychology, and his wife Alison, also a musician and poet, have explored one such new theory. As a result, the Gerber’s—who toured with their band in their native country of Australia—have been accepted to present at the Calvin College Festival of Faith and Music, April 11-13, 2013, in Grand Rapids, MI. Here’s Gerber’s abstract of their talk entitled, “How to Listen to Illinoise“:

Jonathan and Alison Gerber

“This talk will outline a new theory of Sufjan’s Illinois, the last great post-rock album, and perhaps the last great Christian statement of art. While often appreciated as an auteur piece or as an influence on the banjo-folk revival, Illinois is best listened to as a minimalist piece in the tradition of Wim Merten’s book, American Minimal Music. In Illinois, Sufjan neatly weaved together threads from many areas of twentieth century music, using the post-rock techniques of one of his heroes: Stereolab. This paper and presentation thus charts a history from early 20th century classical through Phillip Glass, Brian Wilson, Talking Heads, and the post-rock of Stereolab.

“However, Illinois is far from being a bower-bird collection of styles that these other artists became because the concrete topic of a state allowed this twentieth century noise to become something new, for a coherent narrative statement to arise out of the bubbling influences. Illinois solved the problem of minimalism by breaking its boundaries. To listen to this solution, we need a new way of listening, a way that is truly minimal. We will explore how to listen like a minimalist and then how that impacts our appreciation of Illinois. In doing so, we will see a hidden structure at the heart of the album, one that all existing critics, and perhaps Sufjan himself, have missed.”

Voting and Coolness, Lectures and Leadership

Faculty contributions beyond the classroom have been many during the past few weeks. Here’s a sampling:

On election day, Paul Brink, associate professor of political science, was a featured guest on the “John Hall and Kathy Eamons Show” at 5 o’clock p.m. for the Salem Network Radio affiliate in Pittsburgh, PA, to discuss a Christian approach to voting.

Jonathan Gerber, assistant professor of psychology, published the results of his study, “Measuring the existence of cool using an extended Social Relations Model” in the current edition of peer reviewed online journal Psychnology. Gerber was also recently interviewed about his study by a reporter for the Boston Globe for a story that was published in the print and online editions, Thursday, Nov. 8.

Judith Oleson, associate professor of social work, has been asked to lead a pre-conference session at the American Academy of Religion’s Annual meeting Nov. 16th in Chicago for evangelical theologians/scholars involved in the Postcolonial Theological Network. The session entitled, “Enhancing and Equalizing the Roundtable in Postcolonial Theological Dialogue” will explore themes such as the power of dialogue, and power dynamics within dialogue across culture, traditions and historical contexts.

Dwight Tshudy, associate professor of chemistry, was the invited speaker for the Fourth Annual Sigma Xi (Northshore chapter) Lecture in October. Dwight’s lecture on green chemistry and sustainability was delivered to an audience of students and faculty from Endicott College, Gordon College and Salem State University.

Peter Iltis, professor of kinesiology and horn, gave a talk entitled, “Musician’s Dystonia: What do we know, and what can be done?” on October 24th at the New England Conservatory. Attendees included students, faculty, several clinicians and medical people who work with dystonia patients, and at least one patient suffering from dystonia as a violinist.

During the last weekend of October, Joel Boyd, associate professor of chemistry, lead a group of nine students to Boston’s Museum of Science where they facilitated the museum’s outreach activities. The Museum’s annual event during National Chemistry Week brings hundreds of visitors to participate in hands-on activities.

Sean Clark, associate professor of  kinesiology, gave a lecture entitled, “Exercises for Balance and Mobility: From Fitness to Fall-Prevention” at the Massachusetts Clinical Exercise Physiologist 2012 fall meeting. Clark’s talk included a practical, learning by doing component where attendees performed various progressive exercises similar to those in our program at the Center for Balance, Mobility and Wellness.

On the Air: Gordon Team Wins Radio Grant

Psychology professor and contemporary music scholar Jonathan Gerber, center, with Scot Radio student leaders.

First, there is the Tune Tracker, a new radio software that allows disc jockeys to schedule, stream and loop tracks so people can tune in to listen any time. Then there’s the Presonus Studiolive Mixer, a device that improves broadcast quality while limiting feedback and boosting processing capabilities. Then there’s, well, so many other new gadgets that one thing is clear: this is not your grandfather’s radio station.

Which is, of course, the point. This is Scot Radio, Gordon College’s student-run radio station—named after the college mascot—which first went live on the Internet during the fall of 2010. Now, thanks to a team effort led by club advisor Jonathan Gerber, assistant professor of psychology, the radio station has won an $8,000 grant from the Kendrick Foundation to upgrade and develop their station with such equipment as the Tune Tracker, the mixer and other necessary technology.

Two years ago, Gerber came on board as advisor of the radio club. Last year, he worked with student leaders Mac Gostow (of Santa Barbara, CA) and Naama Mendes (of Medford, MA) as well as Gordon development officer Fred DiStefano to write the grant proposal. They described their current and dated studio (near storage closets in Jenks Library) and researched specific software, turntables, microphones, mixers, computers, even an ON AIR Sign that allows hosts to know when to enter and exit the studio. Their combined work impressed the staff at the Kendrick Foundation, which provides gifts to organizations “that are focused on spreading the Gospel through radio and television media, and gives preference to those financially sound organizations that demonstrate the ability to reach a large radio or television audience, or audiences previously without access to programming.” Continue reading