psychology

Save the Drama For Your Llama: Cal’s First Llamapalooza

It was a Friday morning and I was feeling distressed, unsettled. Maybe because I sensed the stress of Cal students as finals week approached… or maybe it was the bad lamb I had the night before. Regardless of cause, there was one thing for certain: I needed a reason to smile (and to get a paycheck). So I grabbed my notebook and headed to Llamapalooza, UC Berkeley’s first llama festival, in the hopes of lightening my emotional load.

Horns, Haloes, and Heroism: The Science of Doing the Right Thing

Yesenia Guitron knew something was wrong at the bank branch where she worked. She was getting complaints from customers—many from Mexico and undocumented—that they were being charged for accounts they had never opened and were receiving debit cards they had never requested. Guitron, a personal banker at a local Wells Fargo in the Napa Valley town of St. Helena, began to realize that some of her colleagues, under intense pressure to open accounts, were doing so without customers’ knowledge.

From the Spring 2017 Virtue and Vice issue of California.

Unboggling Minds: New Brain Study May Impact Language Research

Scientists have long believed that the cortex, the outer layer of the brain, was responsible for figuring out the meaning in a sentence. But a new study out of UC Berkeley shows that the hippocampus, a brain structure long believed to act as a center for linking memories together, plays an active role in extracting meaning from language.

“This gives us a new insight into how memory works in humans, and how memory interacts with the rest of the brain to produce behavior,” says study co-author and Berkeley psychology professor Robert Knight.

Out of the Gate: Laughing Through Tears

In 1966, the same year that I finished my studies at UC Berkeley, the psychology department made a scientific breakthrough. A graduate student discovered that watching an extremely graphic film documenting the subincision rites (the ritual cutting of the undersides of the penises) of Australian aboriginal boys could raise stress levels, particularly in men.

From the Fall 2015 Questions of Race issue of California.

Preschoolers Really Do Outsmart Adults: Here’s How They Do It

My not-quite-2-year-old can’t articulate beyond the monosyllabic level: “Ma” and “Pa,” of course, and “Wa” for water. But what really gets him jacked is his “La”: an old iPad that is now his exclusive, if crusty and sticky, property. He plays games that still confound me, and cruises the internet with ease, ferreting out YouTube clips and videos that amuse him. In short, when watching him, I sometimes get the uneasy feeling that I’m witnessing the evolution of a (terribly cute n’ cuddly) cyborg: O brave new world, That has such people in’t, etc.

Strike a Pose: How Modeling Behaviors Can Change Your Outlook

Feeling downtrodden and powerless? Take a tip from the bantam rooster. It may be the most diminutive of chickens, but it struts its stuff like a cassowary. When it strides the barnyard, all the other fowl give it a wide berth.  And by practicing a similar swagger, you can achieve the same ends. By acting powerful you become, in effect – powerful.

Behind the Curtain

Berkeley psychology professor Arthur Shimamura is unabashedly obsessed with cinema, but his day job is studying the brain. So, as both cineaste and scientist, it made sense to merge his livelihood with his passion.

Shimamura has coined the term “psychocinematics” to describe the cognitive aspects of the movie-going experience. He has a blog and a new book, Psychocinematics: Exploring Cognition at the Movies (Oxford University Press, 2013). For anyone who revels in the smell of popcorn and the roar of the Dolby sound system, it’s fascinating stuff.

From the Fall 2013 Film Issue issue of California.

The Kids Are Alright

If you’re reading this, you were once a child. We won’t all become parents, or get married, or live to a ripe old age, but we’ve all experienced childhood. And yet, for all its universality, it is by no means a fixed idea or immutable reality. Our very notions of childhood—the nature of the experience, what expectations and privileges attend to it, how long it lasts—these things have changed with time and circumstance, and differ across cultures.

From the Spring 2013 Growing Up issue of California.
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