It may be a dream afraid of waking up, or it may be a dream coming to realization in the next morning.

Friday, December 21, 2012

For Those Who Are Skeptical

Hindsight Bias, or Knew-It-All-Along phenomenon is a social cognitive error where people think they actually have knowledge of the outcome of an event long before it happens. Ali and Farah suddenly decide to get a divorce after a 2-year marriage? You knew it all along. Prime Minister A wins in the most recent election? You knew it all along. The economy faces the most devastating era in the decade? You knew it all along.

I don't want to talk about this generally, rather I want to talk about this in the context of people who don't believe in Psychology, who think that Psychology is just a common sense. They claim that most of what Psychologists study involve things that we can predict on our own. They will say that they knew it all along when Psychologists said that studies show that people are less likely to help when there are more people in the place where the emergency happens. They will say they knew it all along when Psychologists reported that symmetry is one of the major factors of attractiveness. If these people knew it all along, then why is there a need for psychology and psychological studies?

The reasons I outlined below:

1) Bell curve in statistic (or the normal distribution)

When Psychologists conduct a study, they would like to know how the curve in the graph looks like. The most usual curve that they are more likely to find out is the normal distribution along the graph - or as they call it the bell curve. The bell curve is when a distribution of individuals' scores is even, creating a curve that resembles a bell.

What does this mean? This means that Psychologists do not claim on extremity, they acknowledge the fact that there will always be: 1) events that are likely to occur, and 2) events that are less likely to occur, but could occur nonetheless. Take a look at the picture of a bell curve above, the one in the middle is event that is more likely to occur, and the extreme ends are the proportion of events that are less likely to occur. So, the aim of psychological studies is to inform you which event/outcome that would most likely to occur when a behavior is performed. So, the phenomenon that help is more likely to be offered when there are fewer people in an emergency place is the event that is reported from psychological studies that is located in the middle of the bell curve. The end extreme might tell you that even when there are fewer people in the emergency place, but someone decides to help anyway. So, it's an exception. But it's less likely to occur depending on various factors.

2) Our "knowing it all along" is a 50-50 chance of being correct

When you have an assumption in your mind of how things would be, you have a 50-50 chance of your assumption being correct. And when you find out that your assumption is actually correct, this is where you profess so gloriously, "I knew it all along, I don't know why there is a need to study this..." But when you are wrong, you either lie and say that you knew it all along too, or you just keep silent, trying not to put your wrongness into spotlight.

Rather than making a random assumption and waiting for your 50% chance of being correct, Psychological studies make an informed decision by looking at the bell curve and see what event that is more likely to occur. When the outcome is what is predicted to occur, then it is not them knowing it all along, it is informed. But when the outcome is not as predicted to occur, then there must have been other factors that chip in. For example, event when you found out that someone actually decides to help even when there are fewer people in the emergency case, there might have been a personality factor, personal factor, or environmental factors that lead to the decision of that person to help. So, this leads to another study that can help in future decision making. The point is, it is always informed and does not come from "gut".

So, these are the reasons to convince you skeptics out there that psychology is a legitimate science because it uses legitimate and rigorous research method to study about something. It might be about the everyday life, but psychology is the distinction between assuming and predicting.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Kids Are Smart When You Let Them

Last week I was baking cookies for my family. As usual and expected, my 6 out of 8 nieces and nephews were very excited that they got to eat some double choc chip cookies soon. they'd check in on me and the cookies every now and then to see if they could eat some if the first batch was done baked. So, I gave them the whole first batch for them to finish and as soon as they were done eating the cookies, they were expecting the second batch like flies swarming all over bad meat (bad methapor, but they did seem like flies - running around back and forth). After the third batch, I asked them to stop eating because apparently I haven't got any and I want some too, and also I need to pack some for my brother and sister who would come later and also I need to keep some for the other two nephews who were not home for later. But there was this one niece of mine who we call Sabrina who would not understand the meaning of "no" and keep asking. Because she's making this cute face that my other niece and nephews couldn't make, she was an exception.

Then, I baked my fourth batch and Sabrina came to me with me holding a hot pan of freshly baked cookies. I warned her that it was hot and she distanced away for a second then came back and I had to warn her again. Of all my nieces and nephews, she'd be the most courageously strong. She'd be the one to just lift up a hot bowl of cooked noodle when she's hungry, or stand very closely to the road to get into the car, etc. And this time, she couldn't wait and just went to me and wait beside me for her cookie. Then, her arm got burnt by the pan and for the first 5 seconds, we didn't know. We didn't know because she wouldn't scream or cry like other normal small kids - mostly because she didn't want to get scolded by us for not listening to what I told her. Then, my sister noticed that her arm got red and the skin peeled off and then we knew she got burnt.

This is Sabrina, who is a sucker for posing in front of the camera...

After holding it back, she finally cried very loudly. We knew that it was so painful because she was just a 4 year old kid. We did everything to calm her down and she just wouldn't shut up. But interestingly, looking at her fellow nephews and niece playing in the other room, she slowly calmed down and hesitantly joined them to play together. I scolded her a little earlier, just to show her that when I told her something, I meant business. But now, looking at her slowly regaining her spirit and sanity, I felt sorry and regretful. Then, I asked her to join me going out for a ride to buy something my mother asked me to.

Then, I asked her in the car (in Malay of course), "Sabrina, why would you touch the pan? You know that it's hot right?" She just nodded slightly with her unhappy face. Then, I went on and on about when I told her something, she needed to listen. After that, she said two things that broke my heart. First, I offered her a cookie I brought along and she refused saying, "No, I am scared of getting burnt again." This shows how easy for kids to be sensitive to "traumatic" events. And then, she continued, "It's my fault, because I didn't wait for you to give me the cookie..."

I was surprised. I didn't even say anything about waiting, or patience or anything like that. But she had the ability to reason and realized that if she had waited for a bit more, she'd not get burnt. It broke my heart because all this while we thought that we needed to remind her again and again in the aftermath of getting burnt because we wanted to make sure that she got the message, but she got it just fine. She understood her behavior and this is something even most adults couldn't do.

Do you remember my post about even when we don't realize it, we are actually progressing? Kids do too. But we, as adults, keep forgetting that kids also have their own capacity to understand the world and understand how it works. Although they need guidance from adults, but when you let them and when you ease down on the restricting, they could actually exhibit potential more than we would have expected. And then, you can be proud as I am a proud uncle of Sabrina.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Just-World Hypothesis

So, finally today I had the opportunity to return back home after a while in the university and usually at home, I watch drama on the TV that my family watches everyday. And when I finally got the chance to settle down and sit in front of the TV, I grunted when I found out that they were watching an Indonesian drama about a lady who was abused by the villagers resulting from an evil influence of another evil lady. I am usually OK with Indonesian movies especially the Islamic ones because sometimes they address issues that Malaysian films rarely do like the effects of tsunami, a journey of an Islamic scholar who found love, and so on. But this is one of those drama programs that have this lazy writing with the clichéd "good guy got abused then suddenly miraculously, bad guy got into accident and then begged the good guy to forgive him."

I mean, it's noble to give the message that patience is a virtue, but for the guy to be abused, just sits there and waits for miracles, and then suddenly the bad guy is involved in an unfortunate incident that leads to a miraculous change of evil personality to a saintly one is just too over-the-top for me. I mean, this is the classic example of just-world hypothesis - a concept coined by a social psychologist to describe the erroneous kind of thinking of someone who believes that good people get good things and vice versa. In another way of putting it, the world always works in a way where justice will always restore moral balance.

Just imagine, the good lady in the drama just went along with the abuse. When she was asked to take her small business elsewhere, she went away and took it elsewhere, when she was asked to move out of the village, she did just that and of course the bad guy was happy until the latter got into an accident and became poor while the good lady became rich and the role is reversed. Don't you think it's a an easy way out to solve a large-scale conflict? It's a lazy writing, isn't it?

Not to mention that you are giving out the ideas to those naive gullible individuals out there that patience alone can be enough to assure you a good life. No need for efforts or good planning to get what you desire in life. No need to do things you don't want to just because it's a requirement to get what you want. No need to be heartbroken because the the obstacles seem to be bigger than you can handle. Now I'm starting to sound like I'm ranting.

And then after the drama, suddenly there is a behind-the-scene for a new self-professed unique Malay film called "Strawberi Cinta". As if "Karipap-Karipap Cinta" is not a gag enough. Ugh....

Sunday, December 2, 2012

We Are Actually Better Than Yesterday

Have you ever wondered how your life is in static state - not moving forward and not progressing. You believe that whatever you do, you'd be back to the beginning point, where you had zero. If you do ever feel that way, try to reminisce about your past, preferably a long time ago where the memory is so blurry it almost felt like it didn't happen. One way to do it is by singing in to your email and go to your very first email that you received when you first used that email (of course to do this, you need an email that you have used for a long time). You will be shocked at how different you might sound, how you could actually think, "Wow, is this me? I sound like an idiot!" And you quickly realize that you have gone a long way now - that you are actually better.

I did this just now and coincidentally I was wondering yesterday if my life was actually in a better condition now. When I was going through my emails, I was suddenly moved spiritually to go to my very first emails and boy, do I sound like a kid who asked about the availability of a certain candy in a candy shop. I sounded very immature, childish and, well, embarrassing. And then, I looked at my emails now, and I realized I have gone  along way in my life journey.

I believe that even when you're not trying, your mind is psychologically engineered to be better. You are equipped with the ability to learn from your errors and mistakes, and be better than how you do it today. Just imagine when you are better when you don't realize it, how better could you be when you consciously put your efforts to it? This is the difference between successful and unsuccessful persons. They are mindful of his or her own self and are aware of what he or she is becoming, while others just sit back and wait for miracles.

I believe the first step to becoming mindful to your existence is to be thankful. I admit, sometimes I get lost in my own insecurity and feeling of inadequacy that I forget how lucky I am right now. I don't have to mention in what ways I am so lucky, but we all have our own things to be thankful for, especially YOU.