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.

Back to writing

It’s been quite a while since I have graced the blogging scene with my writing. And with this blog post comes a return to or rather continuing of writing both in the blogging sense and the professional sense. As part of a graduate student training program with the Academy for Teaching and Learning (ATL) at Baylor, I am co-leading a 12-week graduate student writing workshop with the Assistant Director of the ATL, Ashley Palmer. As daunting as the task seems to me, I am extremely excited about others helping me boost my writing productivity as well as helping other people boost their own productivity.

The course builds off of the foundations of Paul Silvia’s book, How to Write a Lot, and Wendy Belcher’s workbook, Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks. Both of these resources provide excellent tools, tips, and practical advice on how to increase your writing productivity just by committing to writing every day.

In starting this course, I am realizing how difficult it is to stick to writing 1-2 hours EVERY SINGLE DAY. That’s not that much time. I can think of a million things I would do in that time and ordinarily do in that amount of time. Eat lunch, cook dinner, hang out with friends, teach class, etc. Heck, I’d almost endure Jersey Shore for an hour or two before wanting to write for that long.

Part of the process of learning how to lead this writing group better is understanding why we fight writing so much. I think it is because we have lost the art of fluidity and articulation. So often, I pressure myself to have a perfect, pristine first draft the first time through, but that never happens. Strangely, it is my own obsession with perfection that prevents me from producing good articles in the first place. Sadly, with this goal of perfection in mind, I often skip the most important parts of writing well: 1) talking through my ideas/main points and 2) outlining my ideas/paper! Obviously if I can’t articulate and outline where I am going with my paper, I will not magically write it clearly later on. “Well, duh,” I say to myself. But the revelation is groundbreaking for me.

In these moments of fearing writing, I often turn to blogging. I wonder why I am able to blog so easily, but I FIGHT the need to write professionally? I think it is because when I blog, I allow myself to think out loud, so to speak. Strangely, it is this thinking out loud – that art of sitting down and informally telling my audience what I want them to know about my topic – that allows me to be the most comprehensible and clear writer I can be. Sure, I may get a little lost, but at least I’m writing! And this is precisely why I have my students blog. I want them to become used to the art of writing EVERY SINGLE DAY. Just like exercise, it’s getting into the habit of doing something every day that eventually makes that very thing part of your daily routine.

So I set out on this journey to write more and to write better. And I’m starting off with blogging as my inspiration for getting my ideas flowing. For the next couple of weeks, I will start every manuscript out more informally with outlining and talking through the main points I want to address.

Does anyone out there have thoughts/ideas/suggestions on how to improve daily writing?

Entering the blog world again

My my it’s been a while since I have been on my blog. In many ways, I have missed this writing platform. I have been doing so much writing on manuscripts, job applications, and the like that it is nice to sit down at a computer and finally just write on my blog again.

Much has happened in this lag time. I don’t care to pretend that most of you care in least bit what has happened during this time, so I will just highlight a few exciting things relevant (or mostly relevant) to the world of teaching, research, and science. Here we go:

  • I went to University of California Santa Barbara for a two week summer institute in cognitive neuroscience where I got the opportunity to dissect human brains, get an fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) and examine the data, work with FML (a software program designed to analyze fMRI data), be around genius graduate students in the field, and oh yeah, hang out at the beach. It was an incredible opportunity, funded by NIMH, that I would recommend all psychology Ph.D. students engage in. It reignited a spark in me to make learning hands on and exciting. Obviously, I don’t have too many human brains on hand or a giant magnet (fMRI machine), but the principle remains the same. We learn best by doing and doing is fun. So as I approach the fall semester, I am brainstorming how to “do” more things with my students in order to make learning hands on.
  • Speaking of “doing,” I am putting together a 12-week long graduate student seminar/workshop on writing. That’s right – the most avoided and hated component of academia. Despite the fact that I am constantly reminded I should be a more productive writer, I actually quite enjoy the process. Nothing could be better to me than to have a three or more hours blocked off in my mornings just to write! To write manuscripts, on my blog, anything really. I find it so refreshing and rewarding. It’s so exciting to see your data come alive and tell a story in a manuscript and (hopefully) ultimately see the printed page (i.e., journal article or book chapter). I do not pretend to believe that I have anything to offer these students other than resources from experts and enthusiasm. We will be using Paul Silvia’s book How to Write a Lot, some excerpts from Bob Boice’s Advice for New Faculty Members, and perhaps a workbook…more details to come. For any of you writers out there, advice is welcome!
  • Speaking of Bob Boice, I met this pleasant gentleman this summer. For those of you who do not know, this guys is THE GUY on writing productivity, especially in the social sciences. I got the rare opportunity to drive him for almost two hours  to the airport. We discussed jobs, life, and most importantly, writing! His comments, encouragements, and tips were very helpful. In fact, I have been doing brief daily sessions (small writing sessions each day) since he left. It’s been a difficult but nice exercise in writing self-discipline. I’m hoping I continue.
  • Now I’m off to another summer fellowship – Summer Institute in Social Psychology (SISP). This one is in my area of specialty, so I am very excited. I’ll try to blog on how it’s going.

Stay cool and enjoy the summer. I’ll try to stop by more often.

Responsible citizens of the internet

I’ve been thinking a lot about digital citizenship lately. My job with the Academy for Teaching and Learning at Baylor (ATL) has made me more aware that I’m living in a digital world and must consider what it means to be a responsible digital citizen.

It’s funny that we rarely think of that, given the large amounts of time most of us spend online. We Facebook, email, Skype, research, get the news, chat, watch media, listen to media, etc. Think about how much of your communication would break down without the internet. However, we rarely (if ever) think about how to take care of this community or how to give back to it. How many times have you used Wikipedia, the NYTimes (which WAS free), Pandora, Hulu, Facebook, or a myriad of other free online services? And how many times have you given back? Exactly. Often, the answer is zero. Nada. Nothing.

I will admit that I’m one of these people. I think about community service and sponsoring NPR for all of the NPR I listen to, but I never think about giving back to the online community I so frequently live in. Blogging is my feeble attempt to give back to my community. But let’s be serious, that’s probably helping me more than you (oh the vague, mysterious you out there). So I’ve been brainstorming on how to give back to my community.

Lucky for me, a recent article was written on the Association for Psychological Science’s webpage by a leading social psychologist (my field), Mahzarin Banaji. In it, Banaji discusses how Wikipedia is becoming one of the largest sources of information. How many professors out there lament that their students are constantly looking up information on (and gasp, sometimes citing) Wikipedia? Me. I’m that professor. But Banaji brings up a good point. We as educated citizens of the internet can actually make Wikipedia a priceless resource. And let’s face it, our students are not going to stop using it, so we should probably just make it better, right? If professionals in each of their fields undertake large projects like that proposed by Banaji to overhaul Wikipedia with accurate, up to date, and solid information, students could start getting valuable information from Wikipedia. And why not?

The problem, of course, becomes the time needed to undertake such a project. Why should I care? Well, for the same reason I volunteer. Because it’s my world (online or not), and if I want good things from it, I’ve got to give good things back. Now, this is an idealistic approach to getting it done. Lucky for us, Banaji gives a more practical approach. She suggests giving it to students as class assignments. What a brilliant idea! Have students read, write, and edit Wikipedia articles for school projects. I’m seriously thinking of implementing this in my classrooms this Fall. Thoughts?

Research with a purpose

Recently here in Texas, students at the University of Texas at Austin have been protesting Governor Rick Perry’s push to force faculty members to focus more on teaching and less on research. A recent article in the Chronicle of Higher education discusses the ongoing debate between students and Perry’s camp. Students are arguing that forcing faculty members (many of whom are world-class researchers at UT Austin) to focus less on research would devalue their education and worsen their job prospects. However, Perry’s camp argues that professors ought to focus more on teaching in order to serve students better.

Tony McDonald questions the importance of ongoing research in universities because “in many cases, they’re [professors] just compiling data to publish in a journal that few people really read.” In some ways, I agree with Tony. Often, professors and academics (myself included) get so focused on publishing and answering their own questions of intrigue that we forget to take a step back and ask, “How is this applicable to the real world?” Research should be fueled by the need to solve real-world problems, and sometimes the focus gets off.

I was surprised, however, that so many students were vying for keeping rigorous research programs on the table rather than focusing more on teaching. I wonder if this push exists merely because students know that top-of-the-line researchers are often required for top tier universities, thus their dependence on it. Or, are these students actually receiving real-world benefits from research? I do not know the answer to that question, but I do know how students could start directly benefiting from university research.

Simply put, more students need to be involved in the research process. Often, students are coddled and given too simple of assignments for classes. For instance, students are continuously told to write literature reviews in psychology but rarely conduct their own research. Or, they might do simple labs each week instead of collecting a semester’s worth of data and then writing it up as a brief journal article. I think if professors would invite more students into ongoing research, several benefits would occur: 1) students would get hands-on experience doing actual research, 2) professors could collect more data (more hands!), and 3) hopefully professors who are forced to turn their own research into a learning exercise would  think more about the practical implications of their research.

Either way, I think that research and teaching should stop being competing forces and instead should be synthesized. If teaching fuels research and research fuels teaching, there might just be a whole lot more time, knowledge, and energy to go around among faculty members.

Hybrid education

A recent article on the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s website discusses the lack of hybrid courses (online and face-to-face interaction) existing to meet the demands of students. According to the article, a recent survey of 20,000 current and prospective adult students found that 33% of students prefer hybrid course formats. However, only 19% of respondents said they were in such a class. So the question is, when and how will universities implement more of these much desired hybrid courses?

Perhaps the biggest issue is cost. A lot of universities have jumped on the online course bandwagon to cut costs, but this could be causing them to forget that a hybrid format may be ideal. It’s the blending of face-to-face interaction with the best of what the online environment has to offer that creates the best learning spaces.

So what might an ideal learning environment look like?

Here are some examples. Combining a face-to-face discussion class with online blogging entries to spark class discussion. Professors could use the blogs to help drive class discussion and guide the students in their specific areas of interest or confusion. One could also utilize online role-playing games to teach certain principles, such as using a poverty simulation game to teach basic principles of poverty. That online experience can then be used to spark more discussion in class. Without the in-class portion; however, most students miss out on some of the greatest features of online learning, such as community building, increasing interest in the classroom, and sparking classroom discussion.

Snooping around

Last night, I had the opportunity to teach an honors colloquium to a group of sophomore university students. In these colloquiums, a given faculty member gets to choose a text and topic of his or her choice. Then, students write an essay prompt given by their professor. It’s one of those dream academic experiences where you get to choose what your students read, what assignment you want to give them, and then discuss said interesting topic of your choice with eager honors students. Dream come true.

For my colloquium, I my students read the book Snoop by Sam Gosling, a personality psychologist at the University of Texas at Austin. Snoop discusses research by Gosling on how to interpret what individuals’ spaces (home, office, etc.) say about their personalities. Using years worth of research, Gosling guides his readers through the snooping process so that they can start to become proficient snoopers themselves.

The first part of my students’ assignment was, of course, to read the book. As for giving them a writing assignment, I decided to ask myself, “What’s interesting?” when assigning the prompt. This is a question I have decided to start asking myself as a teacher so that I can give better, more engaging assignments to my students. The sky was the limit here, so I decided to think outside of the box a little. I did this with the help of my dear colleague and friend who is also a very talented teacher, Jordan LaBouff. Together, we decided on a very interesting assignment.

For this assignment, I required my students to do some snooping themselves. I had each student pick a friend or someone he or she knew whose space (room or office) he or she could “snoop” around for clues. Students were then required to write a detailed analysis of the room and make inferences about these individuals’ personalities based off the information provided in Snoop. Finally, students compared their results from snooping to what they knew about this person as a friend. In addition to completing this assignment, I had students send in pictures of their rooms, facebook pages, or offices. Then, I uploaded these pictures to a PowerPoint where we would be practicing some snooping ourselves at the colloquium.

The response I received on the assignment even before the colloquium was overwhelmingly positive. I had students writing me to tell me how much they loved the assignment and were really excited about the colloquium. One student showed up (even though she had attended enough colloquiums to gain her needed amount of points) just because she wanted to learn! It was my dream come true as a teacher – to teach something so interesting that students are naturally excited to come learn.

When students arrived for the colloquium (after having already completed their snooping assignments), we first discussed the Big Five personality traits (openness to new experiences, agreeableness, extraversion, neuroticism, and conscientiousness). These are personality traits dominantly studied in personality psychology and the focus of the book Snoop. After doing this, I had students fill out personality inventories to measure their ratings on each of the Big Five. Finally, it was time to snoop. We went through each picture (of rooms offices, and facebook pages) and tried to infer what type of personality the owner of the room had. Was the person a male or a female? Was he or she high or low on conscientousness? What about openness?

The students seemed to be very into the project. Hands flew up all over the room to make guesses based on what they had read in the book. After guessing for a while, we would then reveal the owner of the room and ask him or her how accurate we were. Finally, we would compare our analysis to the actual Big Five measures of each student. It was like being real-life snoopers, and the students loved it.

I learned a lot through this process. I learned to think outside of the box when creating assignments. I learned that doing is always better than listening. But the most basic thing I learned is to always ask, “What’s interesting?” And then do that.