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In November 2009 I wrote this draft about the Zeigarnik effect:

“I was first introduced to the¬†Zeigarnik¬†effect (people typically recalling interrupted tasks better than their recalling completed ones) by my first Oberlin College Introductory Psychology professor,¬†Celeste McCollough. My participation in her visual perception studies of the¬†“McCollough effect”¬†formally introduced me to the science of psychology. I remember being both amused and fascinated by Professor McCullough’s sharing an anecdote where she intentionally used the Zeigarnik phenomenon as a motivator for her to resume working on manuscripts that she was writing for publication.¬†I find it curious how a phenomenon such as the¬†Zeigarnik effect¬†can be discovered, experimentally investigated, popularized, misrepresented, forgotten, and rediscovered.”

I was able to use that anecdote in a review I completed of Bob Cialdini’s newest book Pre-suasion. Equally important, I was able to use that Zeigarnik tension to motivate me to complete the revisions suggested by my editor and to successfully have the review accepted for publication. One common theme among my¬†unfinished work is¬†the tensions I feel between rigorous, experimental psychological science and well-intentioned attempts to popularize psychological findings. How can one avoid¬†avoiding¬†overstatement and misrepresentation? ¬†Why is there such a disconnect between what is popularized (or advertised) and what empirical evidence actually shows? Across the past fifty years I’ve seen oversimplification¬†and¬†misrepresentation of research investigating learning styles, mindfulness, subliminal perception, and most recently brain fitness training. I’ve taken an increased interest lately in memory research–in part because a number of Carroll alumni have been actively involved in that area (e.g. Michelle Braun, John DenBoer and Mark Klinger). I’ve always been fascinated by the too much neglected research of Ellen Langer’s exploring concepts of¬†mindfulness and mindlessness–as she uses the terms. I found fascinating her book¬†Counterclockwise, though I am still struggling with believing its implications of age-reversal. Still, there¬†IS¬†empirical evidence¬†(needful of replication and extension) that¬†subjective perceptions of age¬†can be affected by the mere process of measuring variables related to aging. This merits further study.¬†Perhaps because I just recently read that the CEO of¬†Evernote¬†wants me to be able to remember everything, I’ve been thinking a lot about¬†Jorge Luis Borges‘¬†Funes Memorius¬†and about those¬†Seven Sins of Memory¬†outlined by Psychologist Daniel Schacter. One of the¬†down-sides¬† joys of being liberally educated is that one sees interconnections among seemingly disparate things. Based upon my thinking about the links above, I’m convinced that I don’t want a¬†perfect¬†memory—nor do I want technological tools for remembering everything. Still, as I grow older I am increasingly sensitive to issues of¬†memory loss. I am haunted by the descriptions of ¬†dementia so graphically and accurately described in Walter Mosley’s novel¬†The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey.¬†Here is an interview with the author. There is so much¬†hype¬†interest today in using technology to improve one’s brain power, ¬†health and well-being. Try, for example, doing an online search on “brain fitness.”¬†You’ll ¬†be overwhelmed with the results though (hopefully) be underwhelmed by the validity of the claims. The challenge is to know how to decide which claims are “snake oil,” which represent vaporware, and which are truly science-based. ¬†Consider these ¬†Internet “tools”¬†(none of which I am endorsing¬†but each of which I am considering investigating¬†with my students) ¬†… and their promises and claims of success at improving one’s life
  1. lumosity.com
  2. happify.com
  3. learningrx.com
  4. brainhq.com
  5. neuronation.com
Which (if any) is based upon valid psychological science? Which is merely entertainment? Which make false or unverifiable claims? Which is patently wrong? Do brain training programs really work? A very thoughtful and thorough¬†¬†scholarly review was recently completed which provides some useful caveats and preliminary answers. A shortened summary of that report can be found here¬†and the complete article is¬†here. A relatively recent citizen science project, the game “Stall Catchers” (found here) provides an interesting crowdsourcing avenue for conducting Alzheimer’s research. I hope to share my answers to these questions in the near future. Hopefully these thoughts won’t merely end up in my draft pile!  ]]>