The social construction of the jaywalker

Jaywalking was one example I used in our course to illustrate the idea of social construction. There was a time when "jaywalking" did not exist and streets were shared by pedestrians and all manner of vehicles. We talked in the course about the way in which businesses lobbied against attempts by North American cities to slow the speed of automobiles on city streets and to create the view that roads are for cars. Peter Norton's book Fighting Traffic:; The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City considers this topic in detail. To get the gist of the story, check out this article by Norton in today's Globe and Mail.

From a   1910 postcard   of Toronto's King and Yonge intersection looking north

From a 1910 postcard of Toronto's King and Yonge intersection looking north

Final Exam

Our final exam will be held in the Aviva Tennis Centre at 7pm on Saturday, December 9. The exam is comprehensive, so be sure to review all of the material considered in the course. The latter part of the course has built quite a bit on the initial part, so attend to the connections that can be made between Moghaddam's ideas and those of Damasio and Butt. Some of the discussion facilitators will be leading a review session on Friday, the 8th, from noon to 2:00pm in 061 BSB.

The exam will be similar in style to the previous exams. You will have three hours to complete the exam. Be sure to bring your York ID or other photo ID. The photo below shows the tennis centre as it was laid out the last time I was involved in an exam there.

Best wishes for lots of success in your final preparations and with the exam on Saturday.

Aviva Tennis Centre exam site

Aviva Tennis Centre exam site

Honour, social construction, & the law

Today's Toronto Star features the following headline and intro:

Portuguese court says man who kidnapped, beat ex-wife won’t get jail time, ruling her affair insulted his ‘honour’

The appeals judges decided against giving the ex-husband jail time because they felt it was somewhat understandable that a husband in a “depressive state” would act out against a wife who had betrayed him.

You can read the full article here. You should be able to point out how the article illustrates several of the points made by Moghaddam in his chapters on Feminist Psychology, Multicultural Psychology, and Social Constructionism. In particular, give some thought to how the concept of "cultural relativism" introduced by Moghaddam applies to the situation described in the article.

Biological basis of memory

Moghaddam introduces LTP as a hypothesis about the biological basis of memory. He reviews a few earlier hypotheses including the possibility that memory is stored in RNA molecules. In the lecture period I mentioned a few hypotheses that have been considered since the time that Moghaddam wrote his book. This past week the neuroscience world was abuzz with evidence that the answer does lie at the molecule level, but the type of molecule is calcium/calmodulin dependent protein kinase, or CaMKII for short. Read the full story here.

Welcome to Psychology 1010!

Our first course meeting will be on Monday, September 11, in Curtis Lecture Hall E. At that time I will introduce myself and the members of the course team, and I will explain more about the work that we will be doing and the structure of our meetings.

On the website you will find both the Course Outline and the Reading Schedule for the course. For each meeting I will post an outline of the comments I make in class and a list of discussion questions that we will consider in small groups. Also, you can also expect to see announcements here on the blog about activities in the course, answers to frequently asked questions, and comments about topics or ideas I forgotten to mention during the class meeting. I hope the website will prove to be a valuable resource for you and that the course will prove to be an excellent experience.

While you are here today, please have a look around. In addition to the course-specific material I have mentioned, you will find links to a number of different resources, blogs, and podcasts relevant to Psychology in general. Also, because I have used this website for some previous offerings of Intro Psych, you can see many posts from those courses simply by scrolling down through the blog.

I look forward to meeting everyone in the course soon,


Nature/nurture, brain and experience

In the 1010 course we frequently discussed how psychological theory and research vary depending on one's position regarding the role played in psychological phenomena by genetic factors and environmental factors. Mental illness is one category of phenomena where current emphasis is on genetic predispositions to mental illness and the treatment of mental illness through drug regimens that impact the brain. My York Psychology Chris Green recently drew my attention to the BBC program In the Mind and to this blog post elicited by one episode of the program. The post features an eloquent letter from psychologist Richard Bentall arguing for greater attention to the ways in which experience, particularly childhood traumatic experience, should be studied as a source of mental illness in adulthood.

Several of the comments at the end of the post are also informative; the one by Elspeth Webb is particularly interesting for its argument that psychologists do themselves a disservice by proceeding as though mental illness were the result of a single kind of event. She writes, for example: 

"The weight of evidence that has emerged from the life course sciences over the last 20 years or so, the increasing understanding of the impact of early life experiences on the way the brains develop, wire up and function, and our increasing understanding of epigentic mechanisms mean that we need to look at mental illness as a function of:

1 our genes
2 how the environment influences and sometimes limit how those genes are expressed
3 how adverse environments in early years directly affects early brain development ( with lifelong consequences for structure and function)
4 how psychologically adverse experiences later in childhood and adulthood interact with the first three."

Final Exam Review Sessions

Our discussion facilitators have organized review sessions for Friday, April 17, from 8:30 to 10:30. Because the only rooms available to us for the sessions are small, we are dividing the class into two groups as follows:

  • Students who have tutorials with Holly and Irina: 3017 Vari Hall
  • Students who have tutorials with Sarah and Ron: 103 Founders College

The facilitators who normally work with Holly and Irina will lead the Vari Hall group, while those who work with Sarah and Ron will lead the Founders group.

Schedule for final weeks

I am now able to provide a comprehensive description of how the course will proceed as we move to the end of the term. If you have questions after reading through the description below, feel free to contact your tutorial leader for additional assistance in sorting out either the course requirements or your particular situation.

Calendar for Assignments


The deadlines for posting responses on the Dialogue Forum have also been altered to take into account that all students have now returned to classes. Check the Dialogue Forum for specifics in your tutorial section.

Calendar of class meetings

Friday, April 3: Holiday, no classes (make-up date for these classes is April 13, see below)

Wednesday, April 8: We will have a class in CLH – I at the usual time. I will talk about the Dixon article and the fifth chapter of the Butt book. There will also be some small-group discussion of this material during the class. A bit of time will also be available for project groups to meet and plan.

Friday, April 10: All of the tutorials will meet at the usual times in the usual rooms. There will be an opportunity to ask questions about assigned readings and about group inquiry projects. See comments from your tutorial leader on the Dialogue Forum about any assignments or other expectations for the tutorial.

Monday April 13: Despite the fact that April 13 is a Monday throughout the rest of the world, here at York it will be a Friday. All of the tutorials will meet at the usual Friday times in the usual Friday rooms. There will be an opportunity to ask questions about assigned readings and about group inquiry projects. See comments from your tutorial leader on the Dialogue Forum about any assignments or other expectations for the tutorial.

The last day of classes for all Psychology courses is April 13, but we have been told that our regular rooms will remain available to us for the rest of this week in order to hold make-up classes and review sessions. Consequently for those who would like to participate, the following additional opportunities will be available.

Wednesday, April 15: I will lead a discussion in CLH – I from 8:30 to 10:30 on material assigned for the weeks when the strike was still in progress. I will help students work through the discussion questions provided for the Milgram podcast, the Zimbardo website, the first two chapters of the Butt textbook. I will focus on Milgram and Zimbardo in the first hour and on Butt’s chapters in the second hour.

Friday, April 17: Final exam review sessions will be held from 8:30 to 10:30 on this morning. More than one room will be used if attendance warrants. The sessions will be led by our Discussion Facilitators, and will be similar in nature to those held before previous exams.

Monday, April 20: The final exam will be held from 7:00pm to 10:00pm. The location has not yet been announced.

Psyc 1010 during the strike

The University's Senate Executive Committee has announced that classes will be cancelled until there is a resolution to the contract issues with CUPE 3903. Consequently we will have no lectures or tutorials until that time. I know that some students are worried about losing their momentum in the course as a result of this interruption, and consequently my plan is to continue posting relevant course material more or less on the original schedule. There is no obligation for anyone to do anything with this material until the time when classes resume. However, those who are eager to continue reading and completing as much work as possible will be able to do so.

In particular, I will continue to post the lecture outlines and discussion questions each week. I will record some comments about the reading material and will include links to those comments in the lecture outlines. I will post the questions for the Dialogue Forum every week as usual. No deadlines for responding will be given until classes resume, but those who wish to do the reading and complete their responses on the original schedule will be able to do so. All of the library's resources will continue to be available during the strike, so this would be a good time for the groups to get together and make sure that they are collecting good material for the projects. The wiki site will be available for anyone who wants to work on their project pages. The URPP, however, will not be operating during the strike, and it won't be possible to book research participation again until after classes resume.

I will be available by email ( throughout the strike. I will do my best to respond to your questions and comments in a timely manner.

In the event of a strike

The CUPE union for York's contract instructors has designated Tuesday, March 3 as the date when the union may initiate strike action at the university. Today the University's Senate Executive Committee announced that if a strike occurs, classes will not be held during the period of the strike. Personally I think that an agreement will be reached at the last minute, but I could well be wrong. If a strike does begin, I will keep you informed here about whether and how we will adjust the course in any way.

Reviewing for Exam 3

I have recorded some comments that I hope will help you with your review of the course material prior to Exam 3. You will find a link to the recording under the "Lecture Outlines" tab (February 14) or you can go directly to it here

Review sessions for Exam 3 will be offered by Course Facilitators at the following times and locations:

Wednesday 18th @ 1:30  -- 104 Accolade West

Friday 20th @ 10:30  -- 209 Accolade West

Monday 23rd @ 3:30  -- 107 Stedman Lecture Hall

Tuesday 24th @ 10:30  -- N145 Ross Building

Looking for (your copy of) Spinoza?

Someone left behind their copy of Looking for Spinoza in this morning's lecture. Perhaps a commentary on the book, but probably just an oversight. Either way, if the book is yours and you would like to have it back, let me know and we'll figure out a way to get it to you.

Dates for the exam review sessions will be posted here this weekend. There will be sessions in the last few days of Reading Week and also for the two days before the exam on the 24th. A brief overview of the material covered by the exam will also be posted this weekend.

Tolstoy's smiles

Damasio distinguishes emotion from feeling and describes the former as visible bodily reactions. He allows that facial features such as smiles can be considered in this emotion category, and mentions how actors can learn to express these emotions physically. He cites cases of people trained to produce the body features of an emotion who then begin to experience the comparable feeling. In class we asked a question concerning the reverse possibility -- can a person who experiences a particular feeling succeed in hiding the visible bodily characteristics of the emotion that precedes that feeling? Following are two excerpts from Anna Karenina, written in 1877, that suggest Tolstoy was very familiar with the difficulties of hiding one's emotions.

There happened to him at that instant what happens to people when they are unexpectantly caught in something very disgraceful. He did not succeed in assuming an expression suitable to the position in which he was placed by his wife’s discovery of his guilt. Instead of acting hurt, denying, defending himself, begging forgiveness, instead of remaining indifferent (anything would have better than what he did), his face utterly involuntarily (reflex action of the brain, reflected Stepan Arkadyevich, who was fond of physiology)—utterly involuntarily assumed its habitual, good-humored, and therefore foolish smile.

This first passage is from the opening chapter of Tolstoy's book. The passage below, from Chapter 18 of Part 1, describes the first time that Anna encounters Vronsky, who will eventually become her lover.

Her brilliant grey eyes, darker because of her thick lashes, rested on his face for a moment and gave him a friendly and attentive look, as though recognizing him, and then at once turned to the approaching crowd as if in search of someone. In that brief glance Vronsky had time to notice the restrained animation of her face, which seemed to flutter between her brilliant eyes and the barely perceptible smile that curved her red lips. It was as though her entire being were brimming over with something that against her will expressed itself now in the sparkle of her eyes, now in her smile. She deliberately extinguished the light in her eyes, but it gleamed in spite of her in her barely perceptible smile.

Sexual Identity Formation survey

Dustin McCarty, one of the fourth-year students in the Psychology Department, is asking for volunteers to complete an anonymous survey on the formation of sexual identity. His survey has received ethics approval and is supervised by a Psychology Department faculty member. It is available by clicking on the link, and it will take about 15 minutes to complete. Completing the survey will not count towards URPP credit, but may well prove quite interesting. You may recall that when I first introduced URPP in an early lecture, I mentioned that many researchers are skeptical about the quality of results they receive when their research participants are working for course credit. Perhaps those of you who have now completed several URPP projects have some thoughts on this debate. If so, you could certainly add them as comments on this post. 

York - Seneca Rehabilitation Services

This week I spoke briefly in the lecture about the York - Seneca Rehabilitation Program, and afterwards some told me they were interested but unable to attend the information session. The Department made a recording of the information session, and it is available now on this webpage. The page also includes links to contacts, other relevant program information, and to the application form.


If you are one of the many students who are fascinated by the case studies Damasio presents in Looking for Spinoza, I think you will enjoy the new NPR podast Invisibilia. In each episode Alix Spiegel and Lulu Miller speak with people whose behaviour is atypical as a result of the invisible workings of the human neurological system. In this week's episode, for example, Spiegel and Miller speak to a woman who has no experience of fear, and they ask the question whether we could all learn to feel less fear.

Spiegel and Miller have worked in the past with popular podcasts This American Life and Radiolab, and last week both of those podcasts featured previews of stories that will eventually appear on Invisibilia. The Radiolab episode considers the feeling of being male or female - how this feeling arises in the brain and why for a few people it is not stable. The This American Life episode features a man who had his eyes removed as an infant because of tumors but then proceeded to learn to see with his ears. The neurological details of vision are presented most explicitly beginning at 38:24 in Act Two of the episode.

Each of the stories in these podcasts can be easily connected to the descriptions that Damasio gives of the chain of neurological events that lead to sensation, emotion, and feelings. Each provides an example of the ways in which those chains might be blocked or stimulated at various points with interesting and informative consequences. They are all good examples of the biological reductionist approach to studying psychological phenomena; but the Invisibilia producers are also interested in how the psychological phenomena (feelings and beliefs, for example) have the ability to feed back into the biological system and behaviour.

I haven't been to the exhibit myself, but I know that a current feature at the Ontario Science Centre is Brain: The Inside Story. In relation to the exhibit, Globe and Mail Science writer Ivan Semeniuk yesterday published this feature on neuroscience research. The exhibit continues until March 29. Anyone who attends and would like to give their thumbs up or thumbs down comments is welcome to do that here or in the Point of Order section of the Dialogue Forum.

Exam 2 results available

A list of the Exam 1 and Exam 2 results together are now available here. The first column in the list contains student numbers arranged in order according to the last four digits of the number. The second column contains the total numerical grades on Exam 1 for the students with the paired student numbers. The third column gives the total numerical grades on Exam 2. To convert the total grades to GPA-style grades, divide by 8 (the number of questions on the exam). To convert directly to letter grades, you can use the following minimum total scores for each letter grade: A+-68, A-60, B+-52, B-44, C+-36, C-28, D+-20, D-12, E-4. I expect to return the exam booklets in next Friday's tutorials.

Exam 1 Results

A list of the Exam 1 results is now available here. The first column in the list contains student numbers arranged in order according to the last four digits of the number. The second column contains the letter grades on the exam for the students with the paired student numbers. The letter "x" indicates that either the student did not write the exam or that the grade is not yet available. 

A set of marked responses to two of the exam questions is available here.