Category: Psychology


In Pursuit of Happiness

Happiness is being ONE with the Dog

Robin the Newf knows about FLOW.

In an interesting article entitled “The What, Why, When, and How of Teaching the Science of Subjective Well-Being” in the April 2014 issue of the journal Teaching of Psychology Ed Diener and Christi Napa Scollon point out that in the past few years there have been over 10,00 publications per year on the topic of happiness. Anyone interested in teaching a course about Subjective Well-Being (I myself developed and taught such a course once for Freshmen) might find this article especially useful. It includes sample discussion questions, sample syllabus topics, exercises for enhancing well-being, and scholarly references. Here are webpages describing related work of two scholars I admire Richard Davidson and Sonja Lyubormirsky.

Some relatively recent “SWB” research is summarized in this  Happify link.

Below are some germane videos I have come across that made me laugh, smile, or think and that I might use were I to teach such a course again.








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Giving Away (Social) Psychology

Old Main

When I initially arrived at Carroll with my “ABD” degree (All But Dissertation) in 1978 it made much sense to me and to my chair, Dr. Ralph Parsons, to teach what I had specialized in during graduate school at The Ohio State University.

David, Ralph, and Virginia

David, Ralph, and Virginia Briefly Reunited February 1, 2014

My introduction to the field of social psychology had come while I was an  undergraduate at Oberlin College, and I hoped to give back to my Carroll students the excitement that I felt at that time of actually being a social psychologist.

At Oberlin  my academic adviser, Ralph Turner, was a self-described “arm-chair” social psychologist—i.e not at a researcher—interested in creating dithering devices to facilitate learning that would cascade within and outside the classroom. As an adviser and professor Ralph Turner was kind to and patient with me. He was a role model of a dynamic teacher and a voracious reader who regularly wrote book reviews and who played a leadership role in Division 2 (Teaching of Psychology). He encouraged my intellectual curiosity and accepted me as I was, unformed and uninformed but eager to learn. He introduced me to the idea that psychological principles of persuasion and attitude change could be used to make the world a better place—or a worse place if applications of these same social psychological principles and findings failed to be guided by ethics.

These were my most (in)formative years especially, perhaps, because I was taking all my classes “credit/no entry” (that is, ungraded).  This freedom from being graded allowed me to read voraciously, to be exposed first hand to social justice and war/peace issues, and to read and reflect upon works such as Postman and Weingartner’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity. I was also at that time inspired by APA President George Miller’s 1969 address advocating that we should give psychology away.

While a perennial graduate student at Ohio State I was surrounded by students who already were far better scientists than I was or would ever become and who subsequently have made major contributions to the field. Once again I was heavily influenced by personal relationships formed with a few key faculty—in particular by my academic adviser, mentor, and friend Tom Ostrom and more indirectly but in many positive ways, by the teachings by example of Tony Greenwald. Both of them, in their kind but brutally candid way convinced me that my calling most likely would be in teaching rather than in conducting creative, seminal, path-breaking research. And here I am thirty-some years later!

It pleases me that a number of Carroll students have chosen to pursue advanced graduate degrees in social psychology (e.g. Mark Klinger, Pam Propsom, Deana Julka, Darcy Reich, Jenny Welbourne, Cathy Carnot-Bond ) or in related disciplines (e.g. Mike Schwerin). Some of them have developed enviable scholarly reputations. But my goal in my experimental social psychology class is not so much as to be a pipeline to graduate schools in social psychology as to attempt to provide a capstone-like experience in their developed abilities of thinking about research.

I’m at a point of giving serious consideration to changing what I teach and how I teach my experimental social psychology course—if I continue to teach it. Two or my colleagues have a professional identity with my discipline, and I’m sure that they could step in. One possibility is to teach it entirely based upon readings (e.g. classic studies and recently published articles). Such a change in format might allow for more extensive, daily discussion and the potential development of student research ideas resulting from such discussion. This possibility would work best, however, if the class were small. There are years, though when I’ve had up to 35 students.

A second possibility is to teach it from a much more global, international perspective. A third possibility is to dramatically introduce hands-on Internet-based resources and experiences—drawing upon my recent interest in developing Web 2.0 learning tool. A good start in identifying some such resources has already been made by Scott Plous in his development of the Social Psychology Network  and is reflected in the work of Jonathon Mueller in developing teaching resources for social psychology.  And, of course, I could draw more upon the expertise of former students who are active experimental social psychologists. (Are you interest in some good students directed to you? Let’s connect!)

I welcome input from students and former students concerning which directions I should explore. How best should I proceed to give social psychology away?


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Tyler speaks: A loving Mother shares lessons learned with her ASD child



Many WordPress bloggers have shared their vicarious and first-hand experiences with autism. A number of books attempt to describe the autistic experience through fiction and there are many films dealing with this topic. Below, Keri J. Johnson, one of my Carroll University research students shares her observations as a mother.

According to Autism Speaks a staggering 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), with an even higher amount of boys with 1 in 42. Raising and caring for a child on the spectrum is challenging both emotionally and physically. All any parent wishes is the best for their child, and when you see your child struggle it can be heartbreaking. This is my journey raising a child with ASD.


Tyler speaks…


 My son, Tyler is a charming boy with a bright future. He likes to play video games, watch television, swim, and play sports. He is passionate about weather, and can name all the clouds in the sky. He has an endearing quirkiness about him that you will notice as soon as you start talking to him.

      When Tyler turned two years old I noticed he did things differently than other children his age. Although he could speak well, he did not comprehend what others were telling him. For example, he would understand if you asked him if he wanted something to eat, but if you told him to put the block on top of the table he would give you a blank look. I also noticed at playgroups that he would play differently than other children his age. Instead of driving the toy cars around on the floor, he would line them up.  Also when the other kids were playing in a preschool playhouse Tyler just kept opening and closing the door as if he needed to know how the door was put together.

     I knew all children at his age had tantrums, but Tyler’s were different. They were full-on meltdowns that could last for over an hour, and would leave both him and me completely exhausted.  Looking back now I can see these episodes as having been red flags, but at the time I didn’t recognize them as such. I made excuses for him saying to myself and to others that he was just very passionate with a very analytical mind—maybe a future engineer. I decided to bring the subject up at his next doctor’s appointment, in hopes that the doctor would ease my concerns.

     I took Tyler to his three year well-child checkup and communicated my concerns to the pediatrician’s attention. I point blank asked the doctor if he thought it was possible that Tyler was autistic.  He said that he believed it was very possible.

    With this diagnosis my world stopped. I came home from the appointment and cried. As a parent you have so many hopes and dreams for your children, and when you get a diagnosis such as this all you can think of is what kind of future will they have. Needless to say I was very angry, but I knew I needed to do everything I could to help him. I had to learn everything I could about autism.

     I enrolled him into an early childhood school program and he was assigned both an occupational therapist and a speech therapist. Things were not always easy for Tyler; meltdowns ranged from 10 to 60 minutes and were extremely exhausting for everyone.

     By the time Tyler was in elementary school I was getting called every day to come and help calm him. I would hold him in my arm and just rock with him back and forth until the meltdown would subside. Sometimes the meltdowns were so bad that I would break down and start crying right along with him. Anything and everything could trigger a meltdown such as smells, sounds, and having to wait in line. He would always feel miserable afterwards, and I knew I had to find a way to help him.

     I looked to no avail for therapists who would work with children with mild autism. Frustratingly, there was just no one who was willing work with him. I felt abandoned and  completely alone, but I never gave up.  I started to research different calming and coping techniques that I could teach him.

     Social stories were a huge success, because he was able to learn how to cope in different situations. I found that tickling his arm and back soothed him and could stop a meltdown before it started. Schedules were also very important, and seemed to agree with him. I had made him a schedule that told him what he needed to do from the time he woke up until he went to bed.  I discovered  that he had a need for constant manipulation. He learned how to finger knit, and the feeling of the yarn and the movement of his fingers helped soothe him.

     As a result of these interventions, Tyler  was doing really well at home, but school was still very hard on him. His anxiety over homework, tests, and talking to other students made for very hard days,  and he would come home emotionally exhausted. It was very sad because he knew he did not want to act that way.

     Tyler would ask me why he was like this, and why was he different than the other kids. These questions  broke my heart.  It was hard as a parent to see him this way because I knew he had so much potential. His teacher suggested I look into putting him on medications. I was extremely upset that she would suggest such a thing, and I fought it for several months. However, I eventually decided it might be the best thing for him.

     Tyler went through over a dozen different types of medication with many different side effects until we found some that worked for him. Although he seemed to be doing better on meds, I often wondered if I was doing the right thing. I felt that they were just a bandaid or temporary fix, and that he might never learn how to cope on his own. I wanted him to be able to self-soothe without relying on medication.

     During fourth grade I started to read about the benefits of a gluten free diet. I really wanted to find an alternative to medication, and thus we started our gluten free journey. I am not going to lie; the first couple months were extremely difficult, but I knew we needed to stick with it.  After three long months I started to notice a difference in Tyler.  His anxiety was lower, he was happier, and his meltdowns were nonexistent.

     Fifth grade was very good for Tyler. He was happy, had good grades, and not one meltdown the entire year! I was thrilled for him.

     He is now almost finished with the sixth grade, and has been medication free for over a year. He is still gluten free, and doing wonderfully.  It has been a long journey, but we never gave up.


Keri J. Johnson will graduate from Carroll University on Mothers’ Day, May 11, 2014. She is writing a book about her lessons learned with Tyler.

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Where does the time go? Oh!

Gert and DavidMonday…

A typical whirlwind day. Arrive at the office by 7:15, but no time to flirt with Gert (pictured above)  because I needed to establish work assignments for the student assistants before they came in. Maybe I should make  time to explore the new free for teachers accounts of Basecamp. Wednesday will be the 2nd Exam in PSY205.

I had a good but too brief Skype session with Inci Aslan for updates on her Rainbow Kids project in Turkey. Must make the time for a more leisurely follow up.

I’ve been using Skype A LOT lately now that I have mastered some software (Pamela and CallNote)  that lets me easily record the conversations for later study. Recently it has proven invaluable as I attempted to mentor an undergraduate at another institution seeking advice about a survey she was conducting in Argentina.

I brief follow-up regarding several students’ letters of recommendations. Two students delightfully inform me that they have been invited for interviews (at Marquette and Illinois State, respectively). Then it is (past) time to submit a PsyCRITIQUES revision of the most interesting, provocative book I have reviewed in the past seven years. Meanwhile, my Research seminar students experience first hand the purported advantages of brain training software. There are so many claims made on the Internet and in the media in general (Science News, NPR, ABC News) about such “programs like Lumosity and Positscience.  Finally, I join my research students for a brief review of SPSS.  Here is YOUR chance to see how much statistics and experimental design you recall from when YOU took my course:). Try me . Hee, hee.

I was generally pleased with the quality of the surveys they developed using our new Gold Survey Monkey account.

So much to teach. So much to learn. So much research which could/should be done.  So much to share. But the clock is winding down…



… And now it is two days later. Time to take stock while I proctor two consecutive exams for the next five hours. The book review revision was accepted for publication and forwarded to the American Psychological Association. I hope that my citation of Jane Hart’s seminal work will introduce her to a broad audience of psychology technological learning neophytes who might benefit from all she has taught me. Thank you again, inspirational Virtual Friend and Mentor.

The Gardner and Davis book  is now “required reading” for all my friends, parents of friends, and “followers.” Here is a good synopsis (not mine) for those who, alas, don’t have the time to read it:)

David Simpson Teaching 1


Ten Meditations on Meditating

There is an interesting, well-written article in Time Magazine about Mindful Meditation that recently drew my attention for several reasons.

  1. This is a semester I finally have an unusually large amount of time to focus on reading, writing, reflection and research as I plan an ordered exit from Carroll Land within the next two-to-four years. There is much yet for me to do before I move on.

2. Since my Oberlin College days I have been interested in “East Asian” philosophies and religions. I recall being intrigued by Herbert Benson’s first empirical studies of the “Relaxation response”.

3. I have always admired his holiness the Dalai Lama, who holds an honorary degree from Carroll COLLEGE (WI).  Ah, the things things I remember that many here at Carroll do not know or recall since they weren’t here then:).

4.  I have been very impressed by the research and values of Richard Davidson, who shared the evolution of his research program in a well-written, thoughtful book The Emotional Life of Your BrainHere are some of his current activities.

5. I have also found of value thinking about (though I have been remiss in practicing) the ideas in Rick Hanson and Richard Mendius’s Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. I truly have been blessed to have opportunities to pursue each in my 35 years here surrounded by bright students and colleagues.

6. Some of my younger Carroll University colleagues are starting to gain well-deserved  recognition exploring these topics and building bridges across interdisciplinary areas. And, their enviable publication rate even motivates me (in my own way) to match/complement/ supplement their scholarly contributions—but at my own speed as I savor the twilight of my career here.

7.  Recently President Obama (who is visiting Waukesha, WI today which may explain the many hovering helicopters) has called for a BRAIN Initiative. Concomitantly, there is an explosion of apps and software claiming to improve thinking and to optimize brain power.

8. I have been intrigued by recent attempts to popularize and capitalize on such findings and initiatives and am contemplating doing some modest research to address their claims—particularly those that purport to improve memory, enhance happiness, and enhance one’s ability to focus.

9. I’ve always been fascinated by the too much neglected research of Ellen Langer’s creative work exploring concepts of mindfulness and mindlessness—as she uses the terms. I found fascinating her book Counterclockwise, though I am still struggling with believing its implications of age-reversal. Still there IS empirical evidence (needful of replication and extension) that subjective perceptions of age can be affected by the mere process of measuring variables related to aging. This merits further study.

10. So many questions to answer. Time to make some decisions and see where the research takes us.


Two Simple Studies with Potentially Impactful Results—if Replicated

When I was a graduate student, I would religiously read every article in every journal to which I subscribed. Alas, I have fallen out of that habit. One of my resolutions for the new semester is to invest more time in reading the scholarly journals to which I subscribe—and weaving the knowledge either into my teaching or my life.

As I prepare for a research oriented semester (two sections of Statistics and Experimental Design) and a Research Seminar, two articles in the December 2013 issue of Psychological Science intrigued me because of the simplicity of the experimental design and data analyses and the import of the results (if replicable).

In a short report entitled “Tryptophan Promotes Interpersonal Trust” Colzato et al. exposed 40 healthy adults to either an oral dosage of TRP a food supplement which is an essential amino acid contained in spinach, eggs, soybeans, and fish) or a neutral placebo. After an hour participants interacted in a game designed to measure trust. The participants who had ingested the TRP exhibited behavior indicative of trust to a significantly greater degree than participants who had received the placebo.

In an  equally intriguing group of studies reported in the same journal issue entitled “Aging 5 Years in 5 Minutes: The Effect of Taking a Memory Test on Older Adults’ Subjective Age” Hughes et al. experimentally demonstrated that older (but not younger) adults felt subjectively older after taking (or even after expecting to take) a standard neurological screening test which dealt with memory! Tremendous implications here for future research on the effects of context on self-perceptions of aging.

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Thanks for the Memories…

Memories of North Lake, WI

Perhaps because I just recently read that the CEO of Evernote wants me to be able to remember everything, I’ve been thinking a lot about elephants lately and about  Jorge Luis BorgesFunes Memorius and about those Seven Sins of Memory outlined by Psychologist Daniel Schacter. One of the downsides  joys of being liberally educated is that one sees interconnections among seemingly disparate things.

Based upon my thinking about the links above, I’m convinced that I don’t want a perfect memory—nor do I want technological tools for remembering everything. Still, as I grow older I am increasingly sensitive to issues of memory loss. I am haunted by the descriptions of  dementia so graphically and accurately described in Walter Mosely’s  novel The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey.

Here is an interview with the author.

There is so much hype interest today in using technology to improve one’s brain power,  health and well-being. Try, for example, doing an online search on “brain power.” You’ll  be overwhelmed with the results though (hopefully) be underwhelmed by the validity of the claims. The challenge is to know how to decide  which claims are “snake oil,” which represent vaporware, and which are  science-based.  Consider these three Internet “tools” (none of which I am endorsing but each of which I am investigating with my students)  … and their promises and claims of success at improving one’s life


Which (if any) in your informed judgment is based upon valid psychological science? Which is merely entertainment? Which make false or unverifiable claims? Which is patently wrong?

Here is a video of some evidence-based things we can do to improve our health and psychological well-being. The first presenter, Dr. Michelle Braun, is a Carroll graduate who recently returned to campus to receive the Joseph E. Runkel Excellence in Psychology award. She is also the first speaker in the accompanying video. Her message is uplifting, well-presented, and data based. Thank you, Michelle, for your advocacy and for serving as a touchstone for my learning. You continue to enrich my life and those of my students.