school


I documented my day today. It wasn’t an unusual Tuesday, but my days aren’t all like this; I have classes only three days a week and often have a dance practice or something else scheduled. Also, I only wake to an alarm a couple days a week. Still, I think this gives a sense of what I’m working on, the pace, and intensity.

7:45am—Woke to an alarm after more than 8 hours of sleep but kind of groggy and nauseous (not uncommon), and a little dehydrated. Rolled out of bed in about ten minutes. Tamed my bedhead a bit, opened my shades. It’s raining but not hard. I took a photo for the blog and I look grumpy, probably because I am grumpy.

Bedroom Window

Bedroom Window

Grumpy

Grumpy

Breakfast

Breakfast

Made my oatmeal like I usually do, with a lot of cinnamon and ginger, a big handful of raisins, and with butter and agave nectar on top. Delicious!

Said good morning to a couple early-rising housemates, Kyla and Nick.

Packed my computer bag full of school files. Also rain gear, fruit, a salad, workout gear (optimistically), my water bottle, PDA, and camera.My Load For the Day

Rain Gear

Rain Gear

Bike

Bike

8:35—Out the door. I bike fifteen minutes to school, mostly on a trail next to the Willamette River. It’s very pretty. The light is grey, the leaves yellow, and it’s cool, not cold.

Bike Trail 1

Bike Trail 1

Bike Trail 2

Bike Trail 2

Bike Trail 3

Bike Trail 3

Bike Trail 4

Bike Trail 4

Bike Trail 5

Bike Trail 5

Willamette River

Willamette River

Franklin Blvd

Franklin Blvd

Straub Hall

Straub Hall

Computer Lab

Computer Lab

8:50—Lock my bike up at Straub Hall, the psychology building on the University of Oregon campus. I go to the computer lab and start working on a homework assignment for my statistics class (called Applied Data Analysis) that’s due at 3 pm. It’s due every week at 3 pm and usually takes 12-15 hours to complete (and that’s not including the 5-9 hours of reading I have to summarize as part of it, full of sentences like “So, the regression coefficients associated with the contrast-coded categorical predictors in this model that includes their interactions with the covariate tell one about simple mean effects when and only when the covariate equals zero”). I spent 10 hours on the homework, already, over the weekend.

Karyn

Karyn

9:30—I meet with Karyn, the TA for Applied Data Analysis, and grill her with questions about the homework for 40 minutes. She is very smart and patient.

Labmates

Labmates

10:10—Back to work in the computer lab. Now several of my classmates are working alongside me. It’s stressful because of how involved the thinking is, and because of how many elements I have to remember and pull together, but it’s also fun, because we’re all in it together. No one else spent all weekend on it or went to see Karyn, though, so I end up doing a more helping than getting helped. It’s good—I understand things much better after I have to make a case for them. We go straight through with no breaks. Instead of my hoped-for lunch (not to mention workout) I eat the banana and apple I brought and drink a half gallon of water.

2:40pm—I email in my homework, 13 pages, 15 hours and 40 minutes long (I’ll post it for fun under ‘writing’), and ride to the local Whole-Foods clone for lunch: a chicken thigh and two bagels. I’m feeling hyped up and pretty good.

Lunch

Lunch

3:00—Back to the computer lab, I eat them, along with the salad I brought, as I write a weekly update for my practicum: I’m interning 10 hours a week at a residential treatment center for adjudicated youth. I wrote about a “Responsible Decision Making” class I sat in on with them, about homophobia, and how it related to a article I’m reading, called “Prejudice as Self-Image Maintenance: Affirming the Self Through Derogating Others.” It’s about some experiments that found people (successfully) use prejudice to feel better about themselves when they are put down.

Gerlinger Hall

Gerlinger Hall

3:35—I ride to Gerlinger Hall, where my first class is, and finish eating while I read for my Social Psychology class (the paper I mentioned above) and swap homework war stories with another stats student.

4:00—Applied Data Analysis, taught by Dr. Holly Arrow. The lecture is on factorial ANOVAs, which is a method of analyzing data from experiments with multiple independent or quasi-independent variables. I understand most of it. It’s a graduate level class, mostly for undergrads doing honors theses, like I am. It’s really difficult and often confusing but also fun and exciting because it’s such a challenge, and because my classmates are so smart—it’s (exactly) like being in a class that consists of only the one or two other smartest and hardest-working people from all of my other classes. There’s a sense of camaraderie—we can just look at each other and shake our heads, laughing, knowing what we are all going through.

Applied Data Analysis 1

Applied Data Analysis 1

Applied Data Analysis 2

Applied Data Analysis 2

5:20—Ride down the hill to Lillis Hall. It’s dark now, and raining pretty hard. Still not cold, though. It’s been a beautiful day.

5:30—Social Psychology, taught by Sean Laurent, who is also my honors thesis advisor. He’s an entertaining lecturer and the material is all of this counterintuitive stuff about how people are (usually without knowing it) shaped by their situation. For the first time in the term I haven’t done all of the reading for a class (didn’t finish the paper I mentioned above) but it didn’t hurt me. We covered it in a hurry at the end and I have a slightly slower day tomorrow, so I can catch up. We talk first about attitude change and how emotional and intellectual persuasion work best together: Someone is more likely to quite smoking when shown a photo of a diseased lung along with information on how to quit smoking than with neither or just one of those, for example. Then we talked about research on stereotyping and how it relates to death sentences (pretty shocking stuff—worse even than I thought), prejudice, and self-esteem boosting. A classmate, Annalisa, brought a bunch of leftover Halloween candy and I eat a few gummy creatures and body parts. Not great.

Social Psychology - Class

Social Psychology - Class

Social Psychology - Sean

Social Psychology - Sean

6:50—Class is over but I hang out, asking Sean a few more questions about the stereotyping research.

7:15—Ride back to Straub, go upstairs to a lab and work on my honors thesis. I finalize my new measures and manipulations, compose a modification document for the Institutional Review Board, and send it all to Sean to go over before I send it in. These are the final changes to my experiment—ideas I got from my lab when I did my project presentation a couple weeks ago. I’m strengthening the manipulation and adding a couple of measures, like one that asks how much you like your name. Did you know that how much you like your name is a reliable measure of self-esteem? During this process, I see that Patrick Johnston, an old friend of mine from high school, has friended me on Facebook. I’m pretty excited about that. He was one of my favorite people at Yucca Valley High and I haven’t talked to him in almost two decades. No time to make contact now, though.

8:50—I pack up and leave campus. It’s not raining anymore and it’s a really nice ride home. My mind is going strong, thinking, thinking, thinking. Thinking about writing this, partly.

Dinner

Dinner

9:10—Make and eat a light dinner, salad and a couple cheddar-in-corn-tortilla quesadillas. (Oh, and my current supplements, calcium/magnesium/D and fish oil.) The house is dark. My housemates are either gone or sleeping already.

9:30—Begin writing this, listening to Brian Eno’s Music for Airports, my favorite album of my year, so far. In my enthusiasm for the post, I forget that it’s my night to clean the kitchen, leaving it for the third time this term for Kyla to clean tomorrow. (Sorry, Kyla!)

Desk

Desk

Stretching Out Space

Stretching Out Space

10:40—Time to chill out and get ready for bed: clean my teeth, stretch, meditate, go over my choreography a couple times, sing a song, and do my daily chart, journal entry, and gratitude prayer. In bed by 11:30.

Bed

Bed

I am in good spirits today. I presented my honors project to my lab I and got an enthusiastic response. This lab is full of really smart and critical people. I’ve seen them demolish articles that I’d thought were good and send big projects practically back to the drawing board. That’s probably not fair to them… I mean, I don’t think they would quite agree with what I just wrote, and to be honest, I can’t quite keep up with their thinking most of the time. They talk quickly and with such certainty and use a lot of lingo that after a year of hard study I’m just getting on to. Anyway, I was nervous to make that presentation and happy to find that in this area of social psychology I’m able to keep up with the thinking of these scientists. I had even anticipated most of their concerns and was able to respond well. From that place, I was able to appreciate their suggestions instead of get defensive. It’s quite an honor, really, to have that many (there are about ten people in the lab) brilliant people helping me think. Wow.

I also ran my first four participants today and it went really smoothly. All of the work I put in on the front end (lots) is paying off. As I ran them, I was able to relax and allow the process to unfold. And as I was doing that I got a lot of good thinking done. One of those thoughts was, “I haven’t posted on my blog for a while, partly because I’ve been spending so much time on this project. Maybe it’s time to write about what I’m doing here.” I’ve been putting in 60-hour weeks on school work, and about a quarter of that has been on my honors project. So, here it is:

I took a class last spring called Experimental Methods in which I was to design an implement an experiment. In my research for that project, I first came across an article by a rock star in the social psychology world,Adam Galinsky, called “Power and Perspectives Not Taken.” In a series of really creative experiments, he showed that having power over other people hurts your ability to take other people’s perspectives. That grabbed my attention because my main philosopher these days, Ken Wilber, is really into developing perspective taking, saying that it’s a super key cognitive ability. The journal articles I’ve been reading agree, too, showing that perspective taking is a major component of empathy and reduces stereotyping, for example. Then I came across an article, called “Power, Approach and Inhibition,” proposing a theory of power based on all the recent research. It painted power in a pretty bad light: Other than making you feel good, power is not a good thing to have, in terms of psychological outcomes. The more power you have, the more likely you are to stereotype, take credit for other people’s work, see others as a means to your own ends, and a bunch of other no-nos. It’s disturbing because these effects of power will tend to cause power to accumulate and keep the powerful ignorant of their faults.

This was a little disturbing personally, too, because in my community, “living powerfully” is a big deal. Don’t live a small, timid life! Live a big, impactful life! On the other hand, empathy is a big deal, too. And what good postmodernist likes stereotyping? But I also noticed that all the papers on power I was reading defined power as “having control of others’ outcomes.” In other words, the kind of power they were talking about is hierarchical power, and that’s not really the kind of power my community is into. In fact, for some of us, it’s against our religion.

Then I came across another, more obscure, article by some Dutch scientists named Van Dijke and Poppe, called “Striving for Personal Power as a Basis for Social Power Dynamics.” They had found that what people who strive for power want is not power over others, but freedom from the power of others. They call that freedom “personal power” to distinguish it from the hierarchical “social power” that has been getting all the attention in the research. When given a choice, people will act to increase their personal power instead of their social power. In fact, if they can get personal power, they will often give up social power. This is big news for any non-anarchist.

So then I did an extensive literature search for research on the psychological outcomes of having personal power, also called agency, autonomy, and a few other things. I found almost nothing, and absolutely nothing on how personal power might affect perspective taking. I was suspicious of that so I emailed MariusVan Dijke about it and he agreed: “I think the distinction is actually a new one, and I am not aware of any other research.” This is a dream for a scientist—a wide open field, and potentially an important one, too.

That’s what I’m doing this year. I’ve designed an experiment to replicate Galinsky’s (which showed that power hinders perspective taking) and adding a personal power dimension to it. If I can reproduce his results then I will be able to add some knowledge to the field. How does having personal power affect perspective taking? I have no idea. I have a hypothesis, of course, because that’s how you do science, but it’ll be exciting not matter how it turns out. If personal power is detrimental to perspective taking, like social power is, that’s pretty big news: Autonomy, bad for perspective taking! If personal power is not detrimental to perspective taking, that’s really big news: In all these struggles for power, the thing that people really want is benign! OK, I know, those are oversimplifications, but there is truth to them. And if it’s somewhere in between, if the perspective taking abilities of people with personal power fall somewhere between the tyrant’s and the slave’s, well, that’s something too. I think that’s most likely, and that’s my hypothesis: Having personal power will bring its own cost and benefit package, and for perspective taking it will be not great but not too bad.

So this term I’m running participants in my experiment, while I learn how to crunch numbers. Winter term I’ll crunch the numbers. Spring term I’ll write it all up. The best case scenario is that my results will be good enough that someone in my lab will do some follow-up experiments and publish it all in a research journal. That would be great. I’d love to be part of the conversation going on out there about human nature. I don’t think, though, that I am going to devote my life to perspective taking research, or power research, or even social psychology. Or even scientific research, though I’m closer to that than I’ve ever been. I think I’d be a good researcher—I’m thorough and smart and I love putting information into contexts and being on the cutting edge of a conversation—but so far I have no indication that I’d be brilliant. I know it’s not fair to compare myself to the others in my lab who’ve been working and studying in this field for years, but that’s what I do, and when I do think about it, so far, it seems that my best strengths lie in a more interpersonal direction. And, so far, that’s where I’m headed. But that’s another story. For now I’m happy being a scientist.

Add new knowledge to the field of social psychology

Break my habit of scratching and picking my skin, including biting my lip

Celibacy

Dance every day, working on 1) musicality 2) vocabulary 3) style

Finish bachelor’s degree

Get accepted into a couples and family therapy graduate program

Maintain this blog

Meditate every day

Produce a record with David Waingarten

Record an EP with my band, Abandon Ship

See healthcare provider each month until all my body concerns are resolved

Set up a slick system of musical collaboration over the internet and use it regularly

Shift my schedule three hours earlier for at least one term: In bed by 11 pm

Sing out every day

Take African dance classes

Write at least one song per month

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