False psychology belief #10:


You are not right-brained, you are not left-brained, you are whole-brained. (Hopefully.) The whole notion that some people are left brain hemisphere-dominant vs. right brain hemisphere-dominant is a bit simplistic and not really true.

I understand using it in casual conversation and to express one’s intellectual strengths, but just saying that scientifically speaking it doesn’t really work like that.

Autonomy vs. shame/doubt

"Can I be myself?" is the next question posed in Erikson’s neo-Freudian psychosocial stage theory. Similarly to Freud’s psychosexual belief that potty training is an important stage in mental development, Erikson believed that it is at this stage in which toddlers exert their will over their own bodies for the first time. While the child is still obviously under the control of the parent at this stage (around the ages of 2-4), children are granted a type of autonomy during the potty training stage. Because children gain the ability to control their bodily functions in a sense (determining when to use the bathroom), they will gain a sense of “independence” that is new and unprecedented. Children will demonstrate their attempts to control themselves and their environments by the constant use of the word “NO!” In this stage, children will begin to explore different interests like music and outdoors. They will also begin to choose what colors and clothing they prefer.

Erikson believed that if we learn how to control ourselves and our environment in reasonable ways, we will develop a healthy will. In other words, we can then control our own body and emotional reactions when we face social challenges in the future. However, just like the trust vs. mistrust case, if caregivers set limits and boundaries at too early of a stage, or ridicule the choices that a child makes, or even refuse to allow children to make their own decisions, a sense of shame and doubt will develop. As they progress throughout life, this, according to Erikson, will become an impediment to their everyday life such that making decisions will be difficult.

Trust vs. Mistrust

Neo-freudian psychologist Erik Erikson devised a stage theory of development that was based on interactions with other people. He believed that humans go through eight stages that will ultimately define a person’s personality and outlook on life. On the first step of our journey, from when the moment when we come out of the womb to eighteen months into the world, we ask one simple question: “Can I trust the world?”

Babies have the special technique of “crying” as an indicator of something gone awry. According to Erikson, babies use this technique to see if they could trust the world or not. Babies tend to cry because their need is not fulfilled. Whether the problem be lack of food, comfort, warmth, shelter, or anything, Babies will, in this stage, learn to either trust or distrust their caregivers. If the infant’s needs are consistently met, (s)he will trust the caregiver and eventually go on to feel more secure in the world. However, the opposite is true also. If the infant’s needs are poorly met because of inconsistency or emotional unavailability of the caregiver, then (s)he will develop a sense of mistrust. This, in turn, can damage the child’s perception of the world by creating a fear of the unknown, inconsistent, or unpredictable.


TED Talk: Your body language shapes who you are

Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.

The Science of Perfect Pitch

Perfect pitch is the ability to identify a tone without having a reference note played. It is a rare phenomena (1 in 10,000) and almost impossible to fully develop after the age of 9. Through sociocultural influences and conditioning, this phenomena can easily be explained.

The two basic components of perfect pitch are pitch memory and pitch labeling. While pitch labeling does come through training, pitch memory is something that is learned from an early age and therefore is connected to the neuroplasticity function of the brain. This essentially means that while the child is younger, the brain has more ability to record data and ingrain habits. Reports have indicated that temporal lobes in people with perfect pitch are slightly bigger. However, this raises a “chicken-and-the-egg” question of whether or not perfect pitch was the stimuli that promoted temporal lobe growth or vice versa.

There have been interesting cases, however, of Asians having an astounding 4x likely chance of having perfect pitch. We must then pose the question, why? There have been many sociocultural influences suggested, such as the fact that children who have heard and spoken Mandarin Chinese since they were young had to distinguish between 6 different pitches. For example, the word “gou” can have many different meaning if placed with different accents. In the third pitch, “gou” can mean dog, while in the first pitch, “gou” can mean ditch, or in the fourth pitch where “gou” means enough/ample/many. At such a young age, these pitches that were commonly used will make the brain sensitive to such minute changes in pitch. Consequently, a benefit that people with perfect pitch who learn will eventually learn Chinese, Vietnamese, or any other language with different tones and pitches is that the tones and pitches will come more naturally to them.

Diana Deutsch has done extensive research on this field of work and has conducted many experiments. More info on that here.

B.F. Skinner’s Operant Conditioning

Remember when you used to get crayons and you would go through sheets of white printer paper as if it grew on trees? (Well, technically…) And then when you were done with those sheets, you’d look for the bigger canvas. And a bigger canvas. And a bigger one, until you find the biggest one in your house? You know which canvas I’m talking about. The wall. You start scribbling ferociously on the wall, writing the ABCs that you just learned, or drawing long contour lines, or perhaps even rainbow scribbles with no purpose or meaning. Then your parents come home. Your parents see this drawing and they are screaming, yelling, angry, and you’re crying. Later on in life, you look back onto the walls that you drew on and you have to ask, “Why did I draw on walls?”

Behaviorism was a popular school of though in psychology during the early 20th century. The founding principle was that only observable phenomena counted as accurate and reliable data, and this data was usually limited to only stimuli and responses. B.F. Skinner was a popular behaviorist as he came up with an idea called reinforcement, which was a type of operant conditioning (Skinner coined this term). Operant conditioning, in a nutshell, is receiving rewards or punishments (like it is so with the case of the crazy crayons) for behavior. Conditioning strengthens behavior. However, operant conditioning works on many different levels.

Going back to the crayon example, we see a type of punishment called positive punishment. Though it seems like an oxymoron, positive punishment is simply the addition of an unwanted (or aversive, if you want to be fancy) stimuli to improve conditioning. The parents scolding the child as a result of his misdeed is a positive punishment. Because the child misbehaved, he is being scolded. The scolding is necessary for positive punishment because the subject will now be aware of the consequences that may follow after a behavior that is discouraged. A way to thinking about this is that something is added (+) to the situation to make it dissuade a behavior.

Let’s say for example instead of scolding, the parents decide that the best form of punishment is to take the crayons away. The child will, undoubtedly, be sad and learn from this experience. This is a punishment, but it’s a negative punishment as something desirable is taken away as an effect of the bad behavior. The absence of the desirable object will cause people to understand that what they had done is bad and wrong. You can use the same way of memorizing this as something good is taken away (-).

However, we don’t always need another human to tell us what to do and what not to do.  Let’s take eating your favorite food for example. Nobody needed to tell you what kind of food you should like, how you should eat it, and why you should like it. Absolutely not. You like crepes because of the frail texture of the dough melded perfectly with whipped cream, nutella, and bananas. Nobody was there to tell you the first time you ate crepes that this is what you like to eat. Ordinary things that we learn like this throughout our lives is a type of reinforcement of behavior called primary reinforcement.

Adding onto primary reinforcement, there is secondary reinforcement, which is essentially something that trains us in addition to the primary reinforcement. A great example would be teaching a dog how to sit (or any command really). Let’s say for instance that you want to teach a dog how to sit. Every time it sits down, you  say “sit.” The dog will most definitely learn this pattern, but a second reinforcement is sometimes needed to affirm or solidify the primary reinforcement. When a dog sits when you tell it, “sit”, you will most likely say “Good boy/girl!” The dog smiles or wags its tail. Why? Because it knows that it did well, and the fact that he gets a “Good boy/girl!” after he sits successfully appeases the dog, and encourages the behavior of following the words of a human. 

Just like punishments, however, reinforcement can come with both a negative and positive type.

Positive reinforcement is essentially incentives. If the dog does sit when the master says “sit”, then he will get a treat.

Negative reinforcement is a little more tricky. It’s a bit like an “if” situation in the fact that a negative stimuli would be removed if something is done. If you thought of positive punishment as adding a stimuli, you can think of negative reinforcement as subtracting a stimuli to take away something bad. For example, if your parents threatened to take your phone away if you didn’t do your homework, you would then learn that doing your homework appeases your parents and that not doing it can lead to dire consequences. 

While conditioning really is a subconscious concept, there are just so many layers of what it truly is, that (almost) each and every interaction that a human has is simply just another way of reinforcement or punishment.