Tuesday, June 28, 2011


On my recent drive back from Madison I was listening to a show entitled "Healthy Minds" as part of the "On Being" program from NPR. At that moment I really missed my co-pilot. I once knew a girl who would have loved to listen to that episode, and I would have loved to hear her opinion. The focus of the hour was on Richard Davidson, and in part his work teaching kindergarteners in Madison how to meditate. I know, sounds wacky. But if you think about it, much of our modern education concerns stuff we want students to know. Yet very little time - if any - is spent on how we might make it easier for students to know and learn the stuff we want them too. For example, I was recently sent this paper: Social-Psychological Interventions in Education:They’re Not Magic
Recent randomized experiments have found that seemingly “small” socialpsychological interventions in education—that is, brief exercises that target students’ thoughts, feelings, and beliefs in and about school—can lead to large gains in student achievement and sharply reduce achievement gaps even months and years later. These interventions do not teach students academic content but instead target students’ psychology, such as their beliefs that they have the potential to improve their intelligence or that they belong and are valued in school. When social-psychological interventions have lasting effects, it can seem surprising and even “magical,” leading people either to think of them as quick fixes to complicated problems or to consider them unworthy of serious consideration. The present article discourages both responses. It reviews the theoretical basis of several prominent social-psychological interventions and emphasizes that they have lasting effects because they target students’ subjective experiences in school, because they use persuasive yet stealthy methods for conveying psychological ideas, and because they tap into recursive processes present in educational environments. By understanding psychological interventions as powerful but context-dependent tools, educational researchers will be better equipped to take them to scale. This review concludes by discussing challenges to scaling psychological interventions and how these challenges may be overcome.
Some examples include having students who demonstrate test anxiety, write the fears on paper, before taking the exam. It has the effect of helping them reduce their anxiety - let it go - and improves their test scores dramatically. Richard Davidson also talked about how people can make themselves happy. The brain as it turns out has a great deal of plasticity. And it is within our capacity to alter it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Dan Ariely and Qualtrics

An interesting interview with Dan Ariely in part about his use of surveys. Particularly interesting for students in Behavioral Econ and BUS 230. From the interview:


What people do is not what they say. In general, most of our findings suggest that we should not think very highly of focus groups.

I suspect that many market research companies use focus groups because they want a statement to put in a PowerPoint presentation for a client. But the problem is that what people say doesn’t always reflect what they think or, even more important, the reasons for their actions.


You can ask people what they have done, or what they think they will do in the future. They can answer those questions. But, the moment you get into reasons, into why, interpreting their answers as correct becomes much more tricky.

It is also important to ask about categories that are ones which people can accurately quantify. The more concrete your response scale is, the more likely people are to answer your questions in an informative way.


Take the question, “How often have you done X?”

If you create a scale from “very rarely” to “very frequently”, that’s not as useful as offering, “2 times last week” or “3 times last week”.

The more concrete you get, the more people feel inclined to answer accurately and honestly.


Often people use a 5-point response scale, but we find most people have an aversion to the extremes. This means that when we use a 5-point scale, effectively we are using a 3-point scale. That makes our sensitivity of our measurement less useful.

I would encourage researchers to think whether people will have that extreme aversion, and if that is the case, to have more levels. A continuous scale with just 2 anchors in the extremes in such cases is ideal.