Sunday, December 25, 2011

Are There Psychological Benefits to Being Superstitious?

Are you a superstitious person? Do you cross your fingers before an important event? Do you try to avoid going out on Friday the 13th? Do you carry a lucky charm? If you answer yes to some of all of these questions, it's quite obvious that you are superstitious. Well, you are not alone because many people are superstitious as well. You have probably read about how there are always 31 lucky cents in John McCain's pocket because he wants to reverse the unlucky number "13" to gain some advantage. Some athletes go to the extreme of wearing the same uniform when they are on a winning streak. Are there psychological benefits to being superstitious? Let's take a look.
Most superstitious people believe in the element of luck. In sports, a game can be won or lost by a missed call or a fraction of an inch. As in the game of soccer, a striker kicks the ball towards the goal with all his might, and the ball hits the goal post at an angle which is just millimeters away from being a goal or a miss. Is it luck? How about the sailors who go out to sea, believing that their lives are in the hands of the gods? Do they gain a psychological edge with their superstitions? It's hard to tell. In a series of interesting experiments, the University of Cologne's Lysann Damisch explored these ideas and the findings are quite fascinating. If nothing else, she discovered that superstition can boost a person's self-confidence, helping them to perform better in various tasks.
In the first experiment, Damisch picked 51 students to participate in a test of dexterity. The object used was a cube with a grid of 36 holes and 36 ball bearings. Their task was to get all the ball bearings into the holes in the shortest possible time. Armed with a stop watch, Damisch timed the students. When she said, "I press the watch for you" or "On 'go', you go", the time taken for the students to complete the task was about 5 to 6 minutes. In Germany, a lucky phrase, which is similar to "touch on wood" is "I press the thumb for you". When she said this to the students, amazingly, they completed the task in about 3 minutes.
In another experiment, Jamisch put together a group of 41 students to study the impact of lucky charms on their performance in a memory game. Earlier, she asked the students to bring their lucky charms to school. Randomly, she left some of the luck charms in another room while she returned with lucky charms for some of the students. In the memory game, the students were to turn over two face-down cards at a time until all the 18 pairs were matched. The results showed that the students who were without their lucky charms performed much worse than the students who had their lucky charms.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Between The Law and the Mind: Forensic Science

There's little doubt that today, many people love sitting down in the comfort of their own home, flicking on the television, and enjoying some nail-biting crime show. The increase of interest in this style of police show, which focuses on the criminals more than just on the crime, is most likely related to the fact that we are no longer simply interested in seeing the law upheld and criminals punished. As a culture, we have taken an overall interest in understanding the psychology of the criminal or the roots of criminal motivation. Action, chase scenes and violent interrogations are fun as entertainment up to a certain extent. But as a culture becomes more educated, the relationship between psychology and the law have a greater appeal precisely because they appeal to our desire to penetrate beyond flashy entertainment to deeper understanding of why human beings are pushed to the extremes of criminal behavior.
If our quest for knowledge is the reason why the work of a Jason Gideon (Criminal Minds) or a Patrick Jane (The Mentalist) is more fascinating than, say, a Dirty Harry or Baretta, then it is no surprise that more and more people are interested in turning from television shows to real-world education in the forensic sciences. And just as we engage in these programs from home, so can we take advantage of online learning to get an education in criminal or forensic psychology. For those considering this exciting field, here are a few of the subjects one can expect to cover:
· Criminal Psychology- This branch focuses on criminals, specifically, what motivates them into crime. It penetrates far deeper than regular motivations based on financial need. It employs the knowledge of profiling, mental disorder, and sociological pressures.
· Police Psychology- Learn to evaluate personalities of law enforcement officers to determine their ability and efficacy in dealing with serious crimes. This also learns to help officers who have experienced traumas in the line of duty.
· Victimology- Help victims of violent crimes learn to deal with their traumas and adapt back into everyday society. Focus on making it easy for victims to help the police and justice system track and prosecute their offenders.
· Court Psychology- Understanding the special dynamics in court as criminals, victims, the police and the law are all brought together. Court psychology often works with criminal psychology for offering testimony.
· Correctional Psychology- This branch studies the rehabilitation of criminals and offenders in prisons and other correctional facilities. Also serving to evaluate criminals for parole.

Thursday, December 8, 2011