Monthly Archives: October 2011

Time for a mid-semester course makeover

Well, I am officially about half way through the semester. It’s crazy how the Fall semester just kills me in comparison to the Spring semester. I would swear that I have been going strong for at least 12 weeks now, but it’s been more like 9 weeks or so. I am finding that I, along with my students, am starting to become a little weary with the semester. Those staring off into a daze moments are coming with ever increasing frequency, so I decided it’s time for a little class makeover!

Makeovers make everyone feel better, including rusty mid-semester courses. So, I’m endeavoring to make some changes in the courses I’m teaching in order liven things up a bit. Hey – we have to have some highlights to carry us through until Thanksgiving break. 🙂 So here are some of the changes I’m going to make in my courses.

1. Statistics. Now, I love statistics. I could do them all day every day. Working with numbers fascinates me. However, my students do not always feel the same. To switch it up, I’m going to make learning t-tests interesting. For those of you who just fell asleep or laughed at that comment, read on! I’m going to make the students divide into two meaningful groups (such as males vs. females). Then, we are going to figure out what types of tasks they hypothesize men and women will perform differently (solving anagrams, knowing sports trivia, knowing pop culture trivia, discussing makeup application, balancing a spoon on your nose??). This will allow me to: 1) demonstrate which variables it’s appropriate to examine (ones we would hypothesize would be different across gender; thus, the spoon trick wouldn’t really make sense theoretically), 2) get them up and moving doing tasks, and 3) show them how to run a t-test with REAL data that they were a part of collecting!

2. Social World I. This is my philosophy and social science interdisciplinary course. Right now, we are covering Augustine’s theory on just war and punishment. I’m going to put together a couple of criminal cases and see how they would try a criminal. Then, we will compare that to how Augustine would try them given his views on punishment and forgiveness. We will play with severity of crime to see when their own views overlap with Augustine’s views and when they are wildly different (theft, rape, murder, etc.). They will have to make a convincing argument/defense for their decision, forcing them to utilize Augustine’s theories and arguments to justify forgiving those who commit crimes, even in the case of murder. I think it will help drive home the point a little.

3. Examined Life. This is my introductory course to college life. I’m having my students blog about how the course connects to their day-to-day lives, so I am going to start having “Featured Blogs.” Each class period, I’ll pick a student to write a “Featured Blog” and we will spend a few minutes of class discussing how it relates to the readings. I’m hoping *fingers crossed* they get excited about this idea!

So, let’s hope these little makeovers help put a little “umph” back into the semester.

Anti “Mosque” attitudes at ground zero motivated by threat of America’s status?

A recent Psychological Science article by Jia, Karpen, and Hirt (2011)* found that individuals’ opposition to building a Mosque at ground zero (which was actually an Islamic community center but mislabeled by many) and perceived area surrounding Ground Zero in which it was not appropriate to build a Mosque increased as U.S. Group deference increased among individuals. But this effect only occurred when America was portrayed as on the decline. When America was portrayed as on the rise, this effect washed out.

This result affirms a longstanding theory in social psychology, namely that derogation of one’s out-group often occurs in order to increase the status of one’s in-group. Just refer to classical theory on Social Identity Theory. The idea here is that one’s in-group is an extension of one’s self, and thus we are motivated to protect our in-group’s status. Unfortunately, this is sometimes achieved through derogating one’s out-group. What is interesting about these results is that an effect that was so strongly portrayed in the media essentially washes out when America is viewed as being on the rise. Story made short: Groups who are doing well are, well, nicer?

My question is, when does this not occur? In other words, we may no longer feel the need to derogate out-groups or at the very least view their symbolic buildings as threats to our own in-group if we are “on the rise,” but does the out-group derogation simply wash away when all is swell within our in-group? My initial thought is no. This is why minorities have historically been and continue to be oppressed. But the question is, what determines when we oppose certain efforts of minorities and when we oppose the minorities themselves? Furthermore, how do we reduce this bias?

I think Jia et al.’s (2011) study helps shed some light on the issue. The goal is to focus on your in-group’s successes, but not to the detriment of other groups. I would like to see if attitudes specifically towards Muslims themselves are more malleable than support for a structure representing Muslims when status of a group changes. In other words, when America is viewed as on the rise, are attitudes toward Muslims more or less positive or do they not change? This is, fortunately, an empirical question. One that requires more inquiry and examination to understand more fully. Never the less, it seems that a successful American is a less anti-Mosque near Ground Zero American.



*Jia, L., Karpen, S.C., & Hirt, E.R. (2011). Beyond anti-Muslim sentiment: Opposing ground zero mosque as a means to pursuing a stronger America. Psychological Science, 22(10), 1327-1335.