It’s an age-old refrain — adults claim that kids today are completely different from when they were growing up, usually for the worse. And that claim often extends to the TV shows that kids are exposed to – more sex, less depth, endless shows about celebrities and reality TV show stars.

But hasn’t Hollywood always glamorized being rich and famous? The pursuit of fame is embedded in the fabric of our society, in America – every person, no matter where they come from, is supposed to have the opportunity to become successful and achieve to their fullest extent.

So maybe adults are just waxing nostalgic about the past, and things really haven’t changed that drastically. Our study, completed at the Children’s Digital Media Center@LA and just published in Cyberpsychology here, suggests otherwise.

We took a look at the top two shows for tweens, age 9-12, in one year of the last 5 decades. Children at these ages are beginning to form their values, as they move from their families being the most important sphere of influence to peers and other forces outside of the home gaining more influence.

We found that the most important value of tween television shows in 2007 is fame, out of a list of 16 values. Moreover, in every other decade, from the sixties to the nineties, fame ranked at the bottom of the list! So, in just one decade, from 1997 to 2007, fame went from being the least important value to the most important value. In stark contrast, community feeling, number one or two in every other decade, dropped to number 11 in 2007.  The table below shows the ranking for each decade, keyed to the 2007 ranks.

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Perceptual Learning: Applications to Education

My lab at UCLA has been in the news twice recently, which is very exciting for us! You may have seen this article in the NYTimes last week or this interview on CBS’ The Early Show this morning. Both stories are about perceptual learning and its applications to education. I thought in this post I would expand on those ideas to give you a deeper sense of what perceptual learning is, why we study it, and what its limitations are.

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Sexting: Should adolescents be expelled?

This post was first published on parenting in the digital age.

Phones are being used by teens for sexual exploration via the exchange of sexually suggestive content (sexting).  Sexting includes explicit text, and nude or semi-nude personal pictures or videos captured on a cell phone or digital camera and sent via personal texts, emails, and instant messages. (Uhls et al, 2011).   Pew research in 2009 found that 4% of adolescents report sending sexts while 15% report receiving them.  The report also found that there was no difference in the amount of sexts sent or received even when parents checked their children’s cell phones.  Thus, kids seem to do it, even if they know their parents may see the photos!

Yet even adults, elected officials such as Anthony Weiner, have made these kind of boneheaded moves.  And so far, he is claiming that he won’t resign.  In this environment where everyone has access to this tool and thus bad (or stupid) behavior is easily documented and passed on to many others, should youth be punished? Continue reading

What’s in a font?

How likely are you to remember this post tomorrow?

The question above asks you to make a metacognitive judgment—that is, it asks you to evaluate your own thoughts. People use metacognitive judgments every day, whether it is to believe you know a route well enough to leave your GPS at home, decide that you know a certain chapter well enough to stop studying, or have enough confidence in your ideas before presenting them to others. We use a variety of cues to make metacognitive judgments: past experience, level of importance, and, as a wealth of recent literature has demonstrated, fluency.

Fluency is a broad term that refers to the subjective ease with which we process information. Just a few examples are how easily information comes to mind, how familiar something is, or how quickly we can read a given word. Unfortunately, fluency can be very misleading. To demonstrate the misleading effects of fluency on metacognitive judgments, Rhodes and Castel (2008) presented subjects with words in either 18-point font or 48-point font and asked them to rate on a scale of 1-100 how likely they were to recall the word later. Subjects gave significantly higher predictions for larger words, but recall did not differ between font sizes. Even when subjects were explicitly told prior to the experiment that font size would not affect their recall, they still gave significantly higher predictions for larger, more fluent items.

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Competence vs. Performance

The field of developmental psychology is fraught with some very popularized but misunderstood dichotomies.  Nature versus is nurture is probably the most well known, but another important distinction is that between competence and performance.  Jeff mentioned a little bit about this distinction a few months ago in his post about desirable difficulties in the classroom but it is worth bringing up again because it’s a dichotomy that is pervasive throughout psychology.

The basic distinction is this: whenever we want to measure whether someone knows something (a concept, a skill, a procedure, etc.), we create a task for them that should require that target knowledge for successful completion of the task, and then we measure the subject’s performance on the task in order to infer whether they have that knowledge or not.  For example, if we want to know whether a student knows how to do algebra, we give him an algebra test, and then measure how well he does.  So far we’re only talking about performance.

Competence comes into the picture when we start thinking about how good our tasks are: is it possible that a student who does poorly on an algebra test really does know algebra and the test is just a bad one?  If we acknowledge that our tests might be bad, then we might observe poor performance even when participants are actually competent.  This distinction between observable performance and underlying competence is one that drives the field to continually seek better tasks and methods to assess competence.

However, this distinction can be quite problematic.  Continue reading

What are the Areas of Study within Psychology?

The field of psychology had its modern origin just over 100 years ago, and yet interest in the field has grown rapidly. Researchers with broad and varied interests have expanded the field, and as a result there are many different subdisciplines. Highlighted here are several key areas of psychology.

Biological psychologists apply biological principles to the study of mental processes and behavior. The field examines the basic biological processes that underlie normal and abnormal behavior at the level of nerves, neurotransmitters, and brain circuitry.

In clinical psychology, science, theory, and clinical knowledge are combined to improve psychological distress or dysfunction, and to promote personal well-being. Clinical and counseling psychology are similar subdisciplines.

Cognitive psychology is the scientific study of how people perceive, remember, think, speak, and solve problems, by exploring internal mental processes in the brain.
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