Tag Archives: Psychologists

Maybe The Handwriting Isn’t On The Wall After All

Our brain must understand that each possible iteration of, say, an “a” is the same, no matter how we see it written. Being able to decipher the messiness of each “a” may be more helpful in establishing that eventual representation than seeing the same result repeatedly.

The same research also notes that there could be a difference in the brains of young learners between those who only know how to print block letters (Hello! I’m mostly one of those. Long story.) and those who learn how to write in cursive.

In dysgraphia, a condition where the ability to write is impaired, sometimes after brain injury, the deficit can take on a curious form: In some people, cursive writing remains relatively unimpaired, while in others, printing does.

In alexia, or impaired reading ability, some individuals who are unable to process print can still read cursive, and vice versa — suggesting that the two writing modes activate separate brain networks and engage more cognitive resources than would be the case with a single approach.

That might not be all that much of a big deal, if it weren’t for the fact that cursive writing is disappearing as a subject being taught to the little dudes and dudettes in school. My youngest, Hyper Lad, really only had cursive for about a single year.

He had to learn the letters, try to put them together, and then was forced to write his spelling sentences in cursive each week for the rest of the year. And, really, that was it.

Now it’s years later and, because he didn’t get cursive reinforced in school and because his dad didn’t get a chance to really learn cursive his ownself, I now have to do the reading for him when it comes to cursive notes written by his oldest relatives. Annoying, but also, apparently, only the smallest of problems relating to not knowing cursive.

It turns out, the benefits of learning both handwriting and cursive will last through childhood and into adulthood. Most adults know how to type and consider it an efficient method for taking notes, certainly above using a messy handwriting. However, the very efficiency of typing could be working against adults trying to assimilate new information.

Two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, have reported that in both laboratory settings and real-world classrooms, students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard. Contrary to earlier studies attributing the difference to the distracting effects of computers, the new research suggests that writing by hand allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and reframe it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding.

All of which means . . . what?

I’m not going to say that you must emphasize handwriting in the young dudes and dudettes, but it’s looking like it might be a good idea.

Heck, even just having them handwrite the really important bits from their notes might offer a significant improvement in their ability to assimilate new information. Definitely something to think about as you sit down for your . . . erm. . . their homework come fall.

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The Angrier I Get, The More Optimistic I Get! Wait. What?

by Richard

Don’t make me angry. You dudes wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

Or, maybe you would.

Depends on whether or not you’re part of a hypothetical group of people who could be saved or killed after I make a hypothetical decision, either risk averse or risk prone. If that makes no sense at all to you, that’s all right. You didn’t suddenly drop 60 IQ points and I’m not babbling. Well, not much.

I’m talking about a 2001 study recently noticed by web writers that looks at how our emotions influence our decisions. There’s a surprising result. People who are angry tend to make decisions just like people who are happy. That is, their decisions both seem to be optimistic, as opposed to people who are fearful, who’s decisions seem to be more pessimistic.

Let’s hear it for anger! Whoop! Whoop!


In 2001, Jennifer S. Lerner and Dacher Keltner published a study documenting a series of psychological tests they’d conducted on undergraduate volunteers. The tests measured the subjects’ general moods, and then asked them to make a series of decisions about how they would proceed in situations where there were high probabilities that many people would be killed — but also the possibility that those people could be saved, too. What they found was that people who were angry made the more optimistic decisions, aiming to take more risks if it meant saving more people. Fearful people, on the other hand, usually made pessimistic choices where they were willing to sacrifice more people if it meant taking fewer risks.

And here’s the interesting part. The angry people scored very similarly to the way that happy people did on the same tests. What that means is that people who are happy and people who are angry tend to make decisions based on optimism. Of course, optimism also entails risk. Angry and happy people are less risk-averse than fearful ones. 

See? I think that’s pretty cool. Taking risks is seen as being optimistic because you wouldn’t take that risk if you didn’t think it would succeed. See? Optimism.

It’s obvious that fearful people would be more risk-averse, considering that they would be afraid that the risk wouldn’t pan out.

Fearful individuals consistently made relatively pessimistic judgments and choices, whereas both happy and angry individuals consistently made relatively optimistic judgments and choices … Fear and anger have opposite effects on risk perception. Whereas fearful people expressed pessimistic risk estimates and risk-averse choices, angry people expressed optimistic risk estimates and risk-seeking choices. These opposing patterns emerged for naturally occurring and experimentally induced fear and anger. Moreover, estimates of angry people more closely resembled those of happy people than those of fearful people.

Becoming angry when something bad happens in your environment might not be a bad idea. You’d end up taking more risks, which might or might not work out. But I’d consider that to be a plus over being so risk averse that you simply accept whatever bad thing is happening because you don’t want to try and fail.

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Freaky Friday: Writing Away Your Fears

by Richard

There’s nothing worse for a student than studying hard, knowing you have a good grasp of the material, then walking in to take the test and choking like you’ve just tried to swallow an entire roast chicken, bones and all.

For a lot of students (and I include myself in that group. Well, when I was a student. . . ) that horrible anxiety of walking in to take a test can overwhelm all the studying and preparation, causing what should be a slam-dunk to end up as that horribly funny miss that keeps getting shown on ESPN highlights for the day.

There is, however, good news. Actual good news. Actual scientifically backed good news. Dudes, I’m telling you there is something you or any student can do that will help significantly decrease your test-taking anxiety and help boost the test score.

And it’s simple.

Students who quickly write down their fears and anxieties just before the test begins, actually score substantially better than those students who don’t write down their fears.

A new study suggests that students who write down their anxieties a few minutes before taking an exam are much less likely to choke on the test. University of Chicago psychologists Gerardo Ramirez and Sian Beilock ran one study for two years at a high school. Students who spent ten minutes writing about feelings and worries about the test scored six percent higher than those who wrote about non-“expressive” topics.

Just on the face of it, this really makes sense to me. I mean, the worry that hurts the most is the one you can’t really pin down. If you actually face your worries, face your fears, I know I can get a much better handle on them and that helps to squash them like the bugs they really are.

The researchers published their findings in the current issue of the journal, Science. Here’s something transcribed from the podcast:

Beilock: There’s work in clinical psychology showing that getting clinically depressed individuals to journal or write about emotional or traumatic experiences in their lives can help decrease rumination. And we have a lot of work in our lab showing that students worry in testing situations, and this is something that can really derail their ability to attend to and remember information they need for the test. So, we hypothesized that perhaps having students write about their thoughts and feelings about an upcoming test before they took the exam might, in a sense, allow them to deal with some of these worries, such that when they were in the actual exam situation they were less likely to pop up.

I’m going to start encouraging both Sarcasmo and Zippy the Monkey Boy to try this out. Sarcasmo especially, as he’s got some severe test worries before most exams. I’ll let you know if it works for them.

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