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Psychology and Math

I think it’s interesting how if I were to tell a grade 9 class (14-year-olds) that girls outperform boys in math until age 15, that the girls probably would outperform the boys, but if I said instead that boys surpass girls at age 13, the boys would outperform.

If I say, “This course is challenging,” does that mean that students will do poorly compared to if I had said “This course is easy”?  I would say it’s challenging in order to emphasize the importance of practice (i.e. homework) and studying, but could I instill the work ethic and create a better psychological effect with a different phrase?  “This course is easy for those who keep up with homework and studying”?  Or possibly even better, a single word, “This course is ___”

I would probably do well to learn more about this, so I can figure out how to have positive effects, but even more importantly, to avoid creating negative ones.

Anyone know of any resources?



Say you’re engaged, and because you’re religious, you and your partner are virgins.  Then your financee tells you she’s pregnant.  Not only that, but the father is some sort of “holy spirit”, rather than another man.  So she’s still technically a virgin.  Oh, and even though you’ll be married before then, she won’t have sex with you until after the baby’s born.  Right, and he’s the son of God.

I would love to know what would go through a Christian or Muslim guy’s mind if that happened to him today.

The Tooth Fairy

From what I can tell, the Tooth Fairy has at least some purpose.  I don’t remember what I felt when losing my teeth at age 7, but it’s certainly possible that some kids have a negative experience.  The Tooth Fairy seems like a way to improve this experience, because hey, free money!  Who needs a stupid tooth when I can buy candy with this dollar!  (Irony?)

What about Santa?  The fat guy who somehow gets into houses without chimneys – how on earth are parents explaining this part nowadays?  Not that a fat guy could have fit down a chimney in the first place, but maybe kids wouldn’t know that.  In fact, I’ll bet at least one kid has tried to climb up or down a chimney just to see if it’s possible.  But I digress.  Santa appears to have been popularized in our society in order to promote Coca-Cola, I mean, in order to make kids behave.  Be good, or Santa won’t bring you any presents!

My argument here is why can’t it just be “Be good, or Mommy and Daddy won’t buy you any presents*“?  I wonder if there’s a psychological reason why it’s better for behavioural development for there to be some outside party evaluating all this.  And that’s assuming that the use of Santa Claus does in fact help matters (has there been a study done?)

From my education in psychology and pedagogy, external rewards such as presents may be an effective way to improve behaviour in the short term, but decrease the likelihood of good behaviour in the absence of such rewards.  So maybe Santa Claus is worthless after all, and parents should say “We’re getting you presents because we love you, but be nice, because other people matter.”

Back to the Tooth Fairy.  What makes this a good idea?  I wonder if children would accept the idea that their parents would give them money every time they lost a tooth.  I can’t think of anything better at the moment.

I’m done what I wanted to say, but I might as well add that the Easter Bunny is even more useless and unbelievable.  So a rabbit hides eggs all over the place?  Not a chicken?  Okay.  My dad never pulled that wool over our eyes.  He made the egg-hunt like a treasure hunt: each time you found eggs, they came with clues to where the next ones would be.  Love you, Dad.

* Parents referring to themselves in the third person is a topic for another day

Shoe size on display

My friend mentioned that the most common shoe sizes on display for women’s shoes are smaller, and we were trying to figure out whether there was statistically significant research showing that smaller shoes on display results in better sales.   If there are, who would have researched that?   A company or a university?

Stereo Sound

I have a riddle for you: What’s worse than your headphones not working?

A: Only one side of the headphones not working. (Also acceptable: AIDS, being stabbed, the Toronto Maple Leafs…)
This was the unfortunate episode that presented itself to me today. It was a psychological dilemma! If your headphones are completely broken, you put your mp3 player away and read something, or even – get this – not block out any non-musical aural stimuli. Yeah, stimuli. I went there.

Anyway, with one side working, do you pack up your player? Or will the promise of Filter and the Tragically Hip enlighten you too much to say no? (Spoiler: They did). And if you wear your headphones, do you wear both sides or just one side?

My headphones are the “real” over-the-head kind, because I don’t like earbuds. Under most circumstances, I feel normal if I push one earspeaker away, but when that earspeaker wasn’t playing anything, I felt silly. It was like I was fooling myself. And then I had an even worse revelation: I was effectively listening to my music in mono. Mono! It’s been outdated since FM radio. I felt cheated. My left ear was in a state of self-pitying envy. My brain was confused (“Don’t we usually hear with BOTH ears?”) And yet – I don’t know what this says about me – I kept the one-ear set-up the whole way home.

It occurred to me that The Beatles recently (?) released a compilation of their music in mono. So people who already own the dozens of Beatles albums and compilations can now pay a handsome sum for the privilege of hearing the same music in lower quality sound. Yeah, sign me up! Maybe I’ll rent my favourite movie and wear an eyepatch when I watch it, too.