On counting your blessings: August 2014


August was a tricky month for me. When I had an office job, August was the summer’s raison d’etre. To me, it used to mean taking time off work, lazy summer days of sunbathing and sea-dipping, dancing at panigyri until the wee hours of the morning, and at least one ceremony. It is the Sunday of summer, my favorite day. And this year was the first time in my life that I didn’t go to Chios, my island. It was the first and only year of my life that I missed panigyri. But I really got a chance to appreciate central Athens this month, in it’s quiet air and tourist bustle. Monastiraki Square is where it’s heart beats.



But lazy summer days and sea-dipping, dancing, and ceremonies abounded, and I’m glad I got to close off the summer celebrating with people I love and new friends. Besides… it’s not like I didn’t get to go anywhere.

PicMonkey Collage


And now it’s time to buckle down and start getting serious about what I want to be doing with my time. Whilst I do, I’ll have many things I can look back on and smile with.

🌻 staying at the Sani resort was like a little mini-break to Monte Carlo 🌻 being inspired by my Russian (yet again) and spending time with her wonderful little babes 🌻 discovering Pantone has an Instagram account!🌻 IMDB watch lists – I can’t believe I didn’t know this existed 🌻 being able to run 1k non stop 🌻 my new shades 🌻 finding peace in black + white 🌻 refuge in the shade 🌻 tan lines 🌻 energetic conversations about the world + strong women 🌻 dogs + cats + conspiracies 🌻 meditation 🌻 afternoon naps 🌻 overhearing Maraveyas in the distance 🌻 summer storms 🌻 beet root 🌻 talking child psychology 🌻 Champagne breakfasts🌻 garden coffees with future mothers 🌻 Stress Lab 🌻 warm summer air on my bare skin 🌻 dusk🌻 dirty souvlaki🌻 silences between words🌻 molecular cocktails at Momix🌻 this visual poem 🌻 mini ice cream cones 🌻 outdoor cinemas 🌻 indian food 🌻 being missed in Kards🌻 putting myself out there 🌻 Mykonos light 🌻 finding out Ancient Greece was covered in lions + panthers 🌻 Delos 🌻 sibling love 🌻 “we all have the same issues” 🌻 driving with the roof down 🌻 catching up with my Sunshine who is back in town!🌻 shout-outs🌻 meeting a  fellow career changer at last (!) 🌻 wine until 2am🌻 Gordon + Victor = BFF aka frenchie love forever 🌻 laughing so hard I can’t breath 🌻 love, in all it’s forms🌻 ceremonies 🌻 Coco’s affection 🌻 compliments + artful dresses 🌻 catching the bouquet – I can cross this off my list of things I never planned to do🌻 hilarious drunkeness with lively New Yorkers🌻 catching up w my Gold and her Midas🌻 glitter in the water🌻 poolside living🌻 meeting new people 🌻


What I Saw

Parks + Recreation

The Leftovers

Uprising: Hip Hop and the LA Riots

22 Jump Street

The Two Faces of January

Moonrise Kingdom


The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (love!)

The Princess and the Frog

What I Read

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

What I Wrote

On the best: Freddo Cappucino in Glyfada

On building identity through communication

On how adult personal development is affected by significant others – a thematic analysis

On the place of anonymity in theories of crowd behavior + associations with ‘loss of self’

On trait theory vs personal construct theory

On observing the brain + Phineas Gage

On small announcements: Stress Lab

On memory research + insider/outsider viewpoints

On Disney, princesses, fan art + some psychology

On discursive approaches to obedience

No discussion of obedience is complete without mention of Stanley Milgram. Milgram sought to offer an explanation of the atrocities that occurred as a result of the Second World War. By creating a pretense of memory testing between a teacher and a learner, Milgram was able to test how far volunteers (who would unknowingly always be assigned as teachers) would go in inflicting pain with the use of (what they thought were real) voltage shocks on their learner (an actor) in the presence of an authority figure (the experimenter), thereby building a framework of ‘destructive obedience’, whereby participants enter an ‘agentic state’ (Dixon, 2012) and relinquish all responsibility for their actions to the experimenter. Stephen Gibson (2011, as cited in Dixon, 2012) refutes this idea that participants are products of their environment by conducting a discursive analysis of recorded dialogues between the experimenter and participant in Milgram’s original studies to show how resistance to obedience is negotiated and achieved through the use of rhetoric, thereby giving power back to the participants. This essay will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the discursive approach by referencing these two perspectives, reflecting on variations of power thereof on the structure-agency spectrum. Power is discussed as a dynamic rather than property. (Hollway, 2012). Milgram’s study raised questions on power relations between the scientist and participants, thereby influencing how ethical guidelines in psychology would develop. However, Gibson argues that participants had quite a bit of power.

Historically, emphasis has been placed on the 65 per cent of Milgram’s participants who obeyed the experimenter to administer the strongest shock available, as opposed to the 35 per cent who resisted (Dixon, 2012), and for good reason. First of all, by varying his experiment in different ways, he single-handedly developed a theoretical framework of obedience (Dixon, 2012). As mentioned above, he claimed that under certain conditions, participants entered an ‘agentic state’ whereby they relinquished power to the authority figure and behaved as though said authority figure had assumed responsibility for the consequences of their actions (Dixon, 2012). Variations in Milgram’s study where this was less likely to happen include circumstances of when the victims of obedience were nearby; seeing others disobey; and a lack of a legitimate authority figure (Hollway, 2012, as cited in Dixon, 2012). Secondly, his results are consistent and can be reliably reproduced in a laboratory setting, regardless of cultural variations (Blass, 1999, as cited in Dixon, 2012), historically significant periods (Burger, 2009, as cited in Dixon, 2012), and revised ethical stipulations (Dunbrum and Vatine, 2011; Burger, 2009; as cited in Dixon, 2012). Finally, Dixon (2012) argues that Milgram’s study shows experimental realism; he is able to demonstrate analogous real-life psychological reactions to contextual experiences.

This brings this essay to the first argument in favor of a discursive approach – it is strongly applicable to ‘mundane reality’ (Dixon, 2012). Context is very important when discussing discursive psychology, as demonstrated in Hepburn and Potter’s research into interaction between parents and children during family mealtimes (2011, as cited in Dixon, 2012). If behavior is ‘always situated’ in context (Spears et al., 2005, as cited in Hollway, 2012), and talk functions as an ‘action orientation’ (Potter and Wetherell, 1987, as cited in Taylor, 2012), rhetoric can be used to facilitate a particular task – in the case of obedience, to defy the experimenter. However, given that Milgram’s study occurs outside natural settings, a discursive approach raises questions regarding the validity of interpretations of utterances within said experiment, particularly with regards to the prods, mentioned further below. More importantly, this raises questions regarding the nature and meaning of obedience itself (Gibson, 2011, as cited in Dixon, 2012).

Gibson seeks to draw attention to the interactional processes through which ‘obedience’ is ‘accomplished, negotiated, or resisted’ through the creative use of rhetoric (2011, as cited in Dixon, 2012).

EXPERIMENTER: It’s absolutely essential to the experiment that we continue.

In the example above, the experimenter discontinued the session after this exchange.

Milgram, who took the words at face value, posited that what happened was an internal psychological change that made the subject not disobey, but rather shift from who he was willing to take orders from, the experimenter versus the learner (Gibson, 2012, as cited in Dixon, 2012). Gibson, on the other hand, argued that this utterance was part of a rhetorical strategy to undermine the authority of the experimenter in order to extricate the participant from the experimental situation. (Dixon, 2012) He does not care whether the participant actually believes that the experimenter’s statement about tissue damage is simply a matter of opinion, but rather on the rhetorical function of his words, which provide the participant with a ‘way out’ (Gibson, 2011, as cited in Dixon, 2012). The interpretations of this exchange alone highlight differences in power differentials between the two psychologists, and therefore the two methods: Milgram veers to the side of structure, whilst Gibson uses rhetorical analysis to radically emphasize personal agency.

This can also be observed in Milgram’s four prods, which were devised specifically to elicit obedience from the participants (Dixon, 2012). Specifically, by analyzing the fourth prod (“You have no other choice, you must continue”), Gibson argued that not only did this specific command not yield obedience, but rather yielded the tools to its own refute.

E: You have no other choice you must continue

T: I have another choice. I won’t continue.

E: Then we’ll have to discontinue the ,er, the experiment.

(Extract 2, Participant 2032l 270v/225v, as cited in Dixon, 2012)

In the example above, this participant employs a direct rhetorical negation (Gibson, 2011, as cited in Dixon, 2012) by indicating the she does indeed have a choice. What is a pertinent point is its effectiveness as an order: “…the question of whether or not people obey this fourth prompt is decisive in establishing the validity of those interpretations of Milgram’s studies that see them as a demonstration of how people follow orders.” (Riecher and Haslam, 2011, as cited in Dixon, 2012) To this end, it is clear from Burger’s (2011, as cited in Dixon, 2012) research that ALL participants declined to continue after the fourth prompt was presented.

If the fourth prompt can be considered a ‘weak’ order, it stands to reason that participants could also negotiate their way out of the experiment’s standardized script with the use of ‘witcraft’ (Billig, 1996, as cited in Dixon, 2012). Participants initiated resistance in a way that was indirect via creative rhetoric; both by being as polite as possible (Milgram, 1974; Russell, 2009; Gibson, 2012 as cited in Dixon, 2012), framing their desires as part of their current thinking (Gibson, 2011, as cited in Dixon, 2012), or negotiating the conditions for the continuation of the experiment (Gibson, 2011, as cited in Dixon, 2012). In this way, the strength of the discursive approach is highlighted in the interaction between the experimenter and the participant, establishing a new power paradigm between them.

In other words, this is wher e the meaning of obedience itself comes into questions: “it is notable that the experimenter’s responses to participants who appear reluctant to continue do not take the form of orders designed to elicit obedience, but are instead arguments designed to convince and persuade.” (Gibson, 2011, as cited in Dixon, 2012)

The discursive approach also implies that the idea of a standardized experiment is a misnomer, as attempting to determine all potential scenarios is impossible, and if the participants’ go off-script, this in itself creates an opportunity for rhetoric negotiation (Gibson, 2011, as cited in Dixon, 2012).

However, Dixon (2012) makes the point that the discursive approach may overemphasize language. As a staunch social constructionist, Gibson counters by suggesting that language is what most clearly indicates what is happening in the mind. At the same time, he recognizes that not all information and understanding can occur as a result of linguistic interpretations. Thus he explores further ideas regarding non-verbal exchanges, such as embodiment as ‘a strategy of resistance’, whereby participants ‘physically removed themselves from the vicinity of the shock machine’ (The Open University, 2013). Gibson is unable to analyze the entire interactions between the authority figure and the learner in terms of non-verbal exchanges, nor explore their situated consequences (Dixon, 2012). So he admits that language might not be enough on its own. Similar ideas have also been put forward by Parkinson (2012) in using non-linguistic psychological phenomenon such as facial expressions, to further inform how phenomena, such as emotion, function.

At this point it is interesting to question whether in arguing in favor of individual willingness and agency, what does Gibson imply about the remaining 65 per cent that did not resist? Other than using linguistic tools, did they have any other way to resist? Furthermore, does he imply that personal agency (and therefore individual power) can only be reflected using linguistic tools?

It is evident that Gibson placed more emphasis on the agency side of the agency-structure paradigm, and was therefore strengthen the argument in favor of each individual’s capacity for resistance to authority (Dixon, 2012). However, it is difficult to argue with the fact that 65 per cent did indeed comply, and this is where Milgram’s strength lies – he was able to demonstrate exactly how much behavior is shaped by social pressure rather than personal intentions. Whilst talk gives power to the learner, and creates negotiation of actions rather than a straightforward command-obey structure, there is no denying the regardless of the words used a pressure exists for subjects to follow through with instructions.

According to Dixon, this work of Gibson’s was one of the first examples of a rhetoric analysis on obedience. Perhaps by conducting further research using a discursive approach, preferably ‘in the wild’ (similarly to Hepburn and Potter, 2011, as cited in Dixon, 2012), it could prove useful in discerning the appropriate linguistic devices and strategies to resist the power of a structure that lends itself to destructive obedience. According to Gibson, ‘we’ve tended to buy a little too readily into this story of individuals as relatively passively affected by group situations’. (The Open University, 2013) This is certainly a very interesting perspective to explore.


  • Dixon, J., (2012) ‘Obedience’ in Social Psychology Matters: Book 2, 2nd Edition, pp 153-182, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK
  • Hollway, W. (2012) ‘Social psychology: past and present’ in Social Psychology Matters: Book 1, 2nd Edition, pp 27-58, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK
  • Hollway, W. (2012) ‘Methods and Knowledge in social psychology’ in Social Psychology Matters: Book 1, 2nd Edition, pp 59-90, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK
  • Parkinson, B. (2012) ‘Emotion’ in Social Psychology Matters: Book 1, 2nd Edition, pp 145-170, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK
  • Taylor, S. (2012) ‘Attitudes’ in Social Psychology Matters: Book 2, 2nd Edition, pp 65-94, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK
  • The Open University. (Producer). (2013). DD307 Audio Clips, Block 5 audio: Stephen Gibson on Obedience. Retrieved from DD307 2014B module website

On Disney, princesses, fan art + some psychology

Who was your favorite disney princess? Mine was Mulan. I always thought she was so brave, sensitive, funny, wise and beautiful. Plus she wore a kimono and had a dragon, which is, like, a very big deal.


I cannot explain why I love Disney princesses, and the whole Disney/cartoon concept, so much. I just do. And I say this as a succesful product of post-modern feminism, if you want to go there. Which I do not.  Of all the searching I’ve done online that can explain this to me without getting political is this Psychology Today article by Valley Girl with a Brain:

Though the repercussions of Disney films may be psychologically damaging to some, I think they ultimate promulgate the message: Love is all you need. This is not very different from the message of the Beatles, the greatest band in history. And who can really argue with The Beatles?

If you can get love from your very own prince charming, great! (though highly unlikely) If you can get it from your God or God-spelled-backwards-Dog, awesome! If you can get it from a significant other that happens to know all the words to your favorite Disney song, lovely!

It really doesn’t matter where love comes from, but it will give you some sort of happy beginning. Fair?

I don’t think Disney was as nefarious as it’s been portrayed. I didn’t really believe everything in those films. Eventually, I figured out that no matter how long and hard I talked to a hermit crab, it would never talk back.

It can get interesting, like when they did the research with the eyes. But to be honest, I’m more interested to read how family is constructed in Disney movies, or how crime is depicted, or how movies like Tarzan can help us understand cognitive processes for language.

I also love the crossover between Disney/fairy tale characters and psychological conditions.

1. Peter Pan Syndrome


Peter Pan is the boy who won’t grow up. Does that accurately describe a person in your life? If so, they may have Peter Pan Syndrome. It’s not a syndrome officially recognized by the World Health Organization, but some studies have shown that it does exist. It’s characterized by emotional immaturity and an unwillingness to take on responsibilities. It is more common in men than in women (who can suffer from “Wendy Syndrome,” i.e., acting like mothers to their partners and others).

2. Sleeping Beauty Syndrome

Sleeping Beauty is the story of a 16 year old girl who pricks her finger on a spinning wheel and falls into a deep sleep, only to be woken by a prince’s kiss years later. Real life Sleeping Beauties might suffer from Klene-Levin Syndrome, a rare neurological disorder characterized by periods of excessive sleep and altered behavior. During an episode, the patient becomes very drowsy and sleeps for the majority of the day and night. They will only wake up to eat or go to the bathroom. These episodes can last up to months at a time, inhibiting the ability to work or go to school.

3. Rapunzel Syndrome

“Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair!” Just don’t eat it. Rapunzel Syndrome is an intestinal condition that results from people eating hair, a disorder known as trichophagia. They swallow so much that, over the course of years, the hair accumulates, resulting in a giant hair ball in the stomach or small intestine called a trichobezoar. Occasionally, this mass can wrap around organs and cause perforations. People can’t digest human hair, so the trichobezoar must be removed surgically. Rapunzel Syndrome is very rare, and only about 24 cases have been reported. If you’ve got a weak stomach, I don’t suggest looking up pictures of the hair ball. (Seriously. Don’t do it.)

4. Bambi Complex

Bambi, the cute little deer whose mother got shot and killed, is also the namesake of this other not-officially-recognized complex. People affected by the Bambi Complex are very sentimental and sympathetic towards wildlife and wild animals. They usually have very strong feelings against hunting, controlled fires, and any other inhumane treatment of animals, especially the cute ones like deer.

5. Cinderella Complex

Ah, Cinderella. She’s stuck cooking and cleaning for her stepmother and stepsisters while they are off having a ball at … a ball. A person, typically a woman, with Cinderella Complex is very dependent on men for emotional and financial purposes. This complex is also characterized by the desire to be swept off her feet and saved by a Prince Charming. This isn’t officially recognized as a psychological disorder—the term was coined in 1981 by Collette Downing, who wrote The Cinderella Complex: Women’s Hidden Fear of Independence—but can help some women to understand why they feel the way they do.

Interesting, no?

Well…. I guess if this type of research isn’t your thing, perhaps you’ll enjoy my small collection of Disney fan art below.

as Civilians: Retro // College Students  //more College Students // Twerking // Prom // Instagram // Hipsters // more Hipsters

as WomenGrown up // Fallen // Housewives // Celebrities // Real Women // Mothers // Burlesque Showgirls //Pin-Ups

as Anti-Heroes: Dark + Twisted // Assasins

in Dress-Up: Avengers // Final Fantasy Classes // Halloween // Pop Culture Heros

in Fashion: Period  //Fashion //High Fashion

in Music: Snow White Dubstep // Once Upon a Dream

Switching it Up: Clothing // Gender

just Bizarre Slothes // Beards // Japanese Dolls

And if you’re looking for a blog dedicated to Disney fan art: Fuck Yeah Disney Fan Art

Have I left anything out? Feel free to add it in the comments and I’ll include it!

On memory research + insider/outsider viewpoints

Understanding how memory works is a complex yet crucial endeavor in psychology, as it plays an crucial role in everyday life. Memory serves to preserve information by a series of processes (Miell, 2007):

  • encoding (putting information into memory)
  • storing (retaining information)
  • retrieval (getting information back out of memory)

By examining these processes (namely encoding and retrieval), cognitive studies shed light on different levels of analyses, including information-processing and memory construction. Several research methods exist; some psychologists ardently favor scientific and objective research based on experiments, whilst others prefer insider perspectives in the form of narratives and case studies. Each can operate independently, however benefits are apparent when a combination of both is used to obtain results. Experimental results can be enriched by insider viewpoints, and insider perspectives can be standardized for use in statistical analysis. Since there are myriad of ways to study memory, research in this area remains active and robust.

It is important to clarify the definitions of the outsider approach and the insider approach. In simple terms, outsider approaches measure people, whilst insider approaches understand them. Aside from functionality, memory unwittingly grants people a sense of self, which is why memory research plays such an important role in holistic psychological approaches and identity formation (Miell, 2007). This is ultimately a question of objectivity versus subjectivity, and both are equally important in psychology: the study (objective) of the soul (subjective) (Online Etymology Dictionary, 2012). This essay will assess the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches in an attempt to gauge their contributions to memory research.

Introspection and reflection are very common in psychology. This subjective approach offers nuanced insight and acknowledges individual differences. At the same time, the data obtained from this approach lacks transferability due to variations that naturally occur between people. A great example of this is Marigold Linton. Linton(1982) conducted a pioneering diary study (a purely insider approach) (Miell, 2007). She recorded her activities and used this record to observe her own autobiographical memory over a six year period. Through this she yielded interesting results, such as discovering that her memory for events decreased annually by 5 per cent. Whilst her results that later coincided with similar results from fellow researchers (eg, Conway, 1996, as cited in Miell, 2007), there are several limitations with this kind of study.

The first limitation is precisely the fact that each individual marks the information that they personally have attended to. As attentional resources are limited (Kahneman, 1973) objectivity about the actual situation is ambiguous. Secondly, the very act of writing down the event may also aide future memory retrieval (Miell, 2007), thus skewing the results. Finally, according to Conway (1996), autobiographical memories are personal interpretations of events and inaccurate as a representation of past experience (Miell, 2007). This is further supported by Frederick Bartlett’s findings on the influence social factors have on memory; he stated current knowledge and past experiences shape how individuals make sense of material, a process known as ‘effort after meaning’ (Miell, 2007). As Bartlett suggested, insider perspectives may operate in a top-down manner which could influence the process of perception and memory, and thus our own expectations and knowledge of events and information (Miell, 2007).

This raises questions about the reliability of memory, which is the strongest rebuttal to a purely insider viewpoint. In a study by Loftus and Palmer (1974), Loftus observed the misinformation effect by asking participants leading questions. The results indicate that certain words triggered ‘memories’ that didn’t actually exist. Crombag et al (1996) yielded similar results regarding the Boeing 747 crash in The Netherlands (Miell, 2007). Even entire histories can be re-written (Gergen, 1999). Whilst this may be adverse in the long-term study of memory research, there are clear benefits to humanity in being able to do so. Rewriting collective memories in order to re-negotiate the past (Nuttall and Coetzee, 1998) can aide reconciliation efforts, and allow groups to start from a clean slate. As an idea, it subscribes to the concept of social constructionism (Miell, 2007). In other words, memory (and its pliability) is contingent upon a person’s sense of identity and how it changes over time.

Brown and Kulik (1977) challenge this idea of inconsistency with ‘flashbulb’ memory, where certain events evoke such deep emotions that the encoding that occurs during this time is extremely elaborative, and is therefore remembered with crystal clear accuracy. This is especially true if the autobiographical memory is highly significant to the viewer (Conway et al, 1994). As a result, whilst memory is indeed pliable, the theory of ‘flashbulb’ memory reminds psychologists that memory can be completely accurate (Miell, 2007), a theory that would remain unknown without both insider and outsider perspectives.

This combination of both perspectives is the crux of this essay. Whilst outsider viewpoints abound in memory research as they are easily measurable and objective, there are instances where a reflection of inner experiences could enrich the results. This next part is dedicated to identifying the strengths and weaknesses of outsider experiments, and how insider viewpoints could have been beneficial.

In an effort to understand the encoding process in memory, Martin Conway conducted a longitudinal study of twelve years on students who had just completed their cognitive psychology course in order to observe how long they would be able to retain information from said course (Conway et al, 1991, as cited in Miell, 2007). He found that certain types of information, such as concepts and ideas about the course, were retained for a longer period of time than others, such as names. In fact, during the first 3-4 years, when memories regarding the course started to decline, names declined more than any other kind of knowledge (Miell, 2007). According to the levels of processing theory (Craik and Longhart, 1972), how deeply information is engrained in memory relates to how long it is retained (Miell, 2007). Conway’s study implies that elaborative rehearsal is the reason why students were able to retain data in their long-term memory. It does not explain why names were easier to forget.

The encoding specificity principle was coined by Tulving (1975, 1983, as cited in Miell, 2007). It is based on the idea that retrieval of information from memory relies on cues that are available both upon encoding and at retrieval (Miell, 2007). If the retrieval cues share features with the memory that is being retrieved, Tulving found that it was possible to remember more (Miell, 2007). A good example of this might be recognizing a face (cue) and remembering the name (memory). Cues are any stimulus that can help people recall information from long-term memory; as a result, they vary from person to person. Seeking a deeper understanding of what makes some cues more salient than others requires an insider’s perspective, and may offer insight regarding their efficiency.

Furthermore, in order to understand memory endurance, Bahrick et al (1975, as cited in Miell, 2007) conducted a cross-sectional quasi-experimental study regarding classmate recognition with the use of old yearbooks. He designed several recognition and matching tests, and found that hardly any forgetting took place during the first 35 years after graduation. Bahrick argued that this was because the material being retrieved involved repeated learning, and had been acquired over a long period of time and with distributed practice (Miell, 2007). This study indicated that visual cues aide memory. Constant contact with classmates may also play a role; evidence suggests that conceptual principles of scientific texts become more embedded in memory if individuals are repeatedly exposed to them (Mayer, 1983, as cited in Miell, 2007). Differences between ‘remembering’ and ‘knowing’ (Tulving, 1985) are also acknowledged, however they are beyond the scope of this essay.

Repeated exposure to individuals could yield similar results, thereby the more frequent and meaningful interaction is between individuals, the more likely it is that they will remember each others names years later. In other words, each participant’s personal relationships could reflect the impact these relationships have on memory, and what makes some names easier to forget than others. Also, with regards to Mayer’s findings, whilst the results indicate that repeated exposure does improve understanding and therefore memory of the contents of the text, perhaps there still is a gap in determining the speed at which this happens and why. Individual interest in the subject matter may play a role in how quickly and effectively the text is encoded in memory.

Stevens (1988) discovered waitresses use visual imagery of the restaurants they work in to link orders to customers. Visual imagery is the basis for all mnemonic devices which is a technique used to enhance memory. However, this does not take into account the particular mnemonic devices each waitress uses, something which an insider viewpoint might clarify. Research on mnemonists by Wilding and Valentine (1994) indicates some participants had variations in memory strategies, whereas others had a ‘natural’ knack for remembering specific subject matters, and others a combination of the two. Advances in technology have given scientists a material link between the biology of the brain and visual imagery in the use of memory.

In a study of London taxi drivers, Maguire et al (1997) used positron emission tomography (PET) to brain-scan the drivers as they imagined the routes they were planning on taking. The scans revealed intense activity in the right hippocampus, something that did not occur occur otherwise (Miell, 2007). In a follow-up study, Maguire et al. (2000) was able to see physical differences in the hippocampal areas of taxi-drivers and control participants – the posterior hippocampal area of taxi-drivers was bigger as a result of an increase in the number of connections between nerve cells – a direct result from years of intense training (Miell, 2007). Without the PET scans, Mayer would have been unable to observe the plasticity of the brain and make inferences about cognitive function. This outsider perspective complimented the taxi drivers’ inner experience, indicating that as new skills are acquired, the brain adapts (Miell, 2007). In some cases, where memory has atypical function, this may be a hindrance to the human experience rather than a blessing (Luria,1969).

Neuropsychological case studies investigate memory deficits that arise from brain damage. Not only might functionality be reduced (outsider), but personality may also be affected (insider). This was discussed by Vargha-Khadem and her patient J. Forbes, who was unable to form ‘truly vivid memories with personal meaning for him‘ (Hippocampus Damage, 2012). She was able to show images of his brain via scans and his impaired hippocampus, which is responsible for storing and retrieving ‘all emotional and sensory aspects of an experience‘ (Hippocampus Damage, 2012). Without outsider observation from a biological perspective, and an insider account of what is happening to the patient, psychologists would be unable to determine the cause of John’s memory loss.

To conclude, studies regarding memory employ introspection, experimentation, and biological psychology to understand the cognitive processes involved. Examples have been given of how these approaches can be integrated, despite the differences between methods. There is an undeniable interplay between the insider and outsider perspectives, and new approaches endow current models with a greater variety of methodologies, thus empowering memory research.

- first submitted as an Open University coursework



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Maguire, E.A., Frackowiak, R.S.J., and Frith, C.D. (1997) ‘Recalling routes around London: activation of the right hippocampus in taxi drivers’, Journal of Neuroscience, vol.17, 7103–10.

Maguire, E.A., Gadian, D.G., Johnsrude, I.S., Good, C.D., Ashburner, J., Frackowiack, R.S.J. and Frith, C.D. (2000) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) vol.97, pp.4398–403.

Mayer, R.E. (1983) ‘Can you repeat this? Qualitative effects of repetition and advanced organizers on learning from science prose’, Journal of Educational Psychology, vol.75, pp.40–9.

Miell, D., Phoenix, A., and Thomas, K. (2007) DSE212 Mapping Psychology, Milton Keynes, The Open University

Nuttall, S. and Coetzee, C. (eds) (1998) Negotiating the Past: The Making of memory in South Africa, Oxford University Press.

Stevens, J. (1988) ‘An activity approach to practical memory’, in Gruneberg, M.M., Morris, P.E., and Sykes, R.N. (eds) Practical Aspects of Memory: Current Research and Issues, Vol.1: Memory in Everyday Life, Chichester,Wiley, pp.335–41.

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On observing the brain + Phineas Gage

The bridge between biology and psychology has often been the subject of frequent debate, with staunch positions taken all along the nurture-versus-nature spectrum, and subsequently explored. Whilst evidence in support of either extreme is inconclusive, the majority of psychologists deny the determinism of biology or environment alone, and as a result opt to explore the interactions between the two. We will explore the many ways we can learn about the relationship between the brain and behavior from a biological psychologist perspective by looking at a variety of processes, ranging from modern methods which apply the latest discoveries in technology and biology to Phineas Gage and perhaps one of the most famous accidents in history. This essay will be split into roughly three parts- accidental, invasive, and non-invasive techniques used to observe the relationship between biology and psychology, as well as their limitations.

Accidental Approaches

In 1848, railroad worker Phineas Gage became a victim of an explosion whilst constructing a new railway line in Vermont (Miell, 2007). A miraculous survivor of this accident, he nevertheless suffered serious injury-an iron bar with a diameter of 3cm passed straight through his brain, thus damaging his prefrontal lobe (Macmillan, 1986; Damasio, 1996, as cited in Miell, 2007). There was virtually no impact to his motor skills, his language capabilities, or his intelligence. However, Gage’s personality changed drastically and he became rude, aggressive, and impulsive (but apparently, only temporarily). By observing this change in behavior, psychologists could speculate that this region was responsible for inhibiting emotional responses, a speculation that has been verified with the use of modern techniques. Today we can observe how the prefrontal cortex responds through the use of brain imaging, a method which will be discussed later in the Non-Invasive Technique section below.

The case of Phineas Gage gave psychologists a unique opportunity to observe the effects of damage of the brain both before and after the accident. However, this presents several limitations. First, their uniqueness is in itself a problem-such “neat” examples of lesions are few and far between, and in most cases, they affect several parts of the brain at once. Second, it is impossible to create a control group to compare and contrast the effects of said damage between peers. Third, the plasticity of the brain allows for new communication between neurons to be formed. This means that whilst one part of the brain suffers damage, it is possible for another part to “take over”, thus creating obstacles regarding what the damage is whilst also offering hope for restoration in specific cases of accidental injury, whether it is external, e.g., a gunshot, or internal, e.g,. a blood clot. Perhaps this is why Phineas Ga

Invasive Approaches

Experimental lesions on non-human animals have been the source of controversy. Scientists have purposely damaged specific parts of the brain, known as a sham lesion, to investigate what effect this has had on the animal’s behavior, by comparing them to a control group (Miell, 2007). Animals have also been used in single unit recording. SUR is the monitoring of a single neuron in terms of its frequency in generating action potentials (Miell, 2007). This method allows us to understand our nervous system, however its implementation is quite controversial. Greene (1990, as cited in Miell. 2007) uses a diagram to indicate how a very fine microelectrode wire which connects an oscilloscope to a cat’s retinal ganglion cell to detect and measure activity. The process in itself is invasive – this means that the nervous system is disturbed by a piece of technology. The cat has been anesthetized to prevent movement. Whilst in theory the results of these methods would be interesting to explore, in reality, they bear severe ethical breaches. In extenuating circumstances, it might be possible to turn a blind eye to harming an animal, but it would never be acceptable for humans.

Brain surgery offers another interesting invasive approach. In 1969, Roger Sperry discovered that by severing the corpus callosum, a bundle of neurons which connect the two hemispheres of the brain together, epilepsy could be restrained. However, there was a major side affect: the integrity of the corpus callosum was imperative to learning, so whilst the patient appeared unchanged, he was unable to learn new things. These days, such extreme methods are discouraged at best. Brain surgery can be performed on conscious humans since the tips of the neurons in the brain are not sensitive to pain. (Miell, 2007) From this, we can find out many things about the brain, as discovered by Penfield and Rasmussen (1968, as cited in Miell, 2007). Whilst being operated on for the removal of diseased cerebral tissue, different people received electrical stimulation to different regions of the brain and asked to report what they felt in their conscious state. Several discoveries were made. For example, it was found that early memories arose when the temporal lobe was stimulated. Miell (2007) states that such evidence enables theories on the biological bases of memory to be produced. As these discoveries continued, psychologists were able to identify more links between the brain and behavior. For example, increases in the electrical activity in the neural systems of the brain that are associated with joy decrease stress in the systems associated with pain (Miell, 2007).

Non-Invasive Approaches

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) was mentioned earlier as brain scanning. Activity in the brain is indicated by an increased blood flow to one or more regions, and by the utilization of oxygen and glucose, which work as fuel. To observe this, a radioactive substance known as a tracer is injected into the blood stream (Myers, Spinks, Luthra, and Brooks, 1992) and then monitored. PET scans are incredibly helpful devices. They can show us how each brain region can be measured according to its respective activity level in normal everyday behavior, and then contrast it to the behavior of someone ill or injured or even mentally unstable-evidence suggests that criminals tend to have under-active frontal lobes (Raine, Buchsbaum, and LaCasse, 1997). They can spot irregularities, and also indicate methods of treatment depending on the results. Not least of all, they give psychologists the opportunity to observe whether they see an improvement in a patients therapy over time.


In summary, it is important to understand the relationship between the brain and behavior.. These techniques, while varied in both style and notoriety, illuminate the ways we can better understand ourselves and others. Biological psychology suggests that our emotional worlds are based on our nervous system, and are affected by disease, medication, and drugs. Whilst it is clear that our bodies provide the foundation, there are still many questions unanswered. People are nuanced – medications have different effects on different people. Some merely need the illusion of drugs to feel better – aka the placebo effect (Wall, 1993). Why these differences occur is still unknown, and biological psychologists are insatiably curious to explore them.

- first submitted as an Open University coursework

**Wanna see how Phineas Gage’s post-mortem neuroportraits have evolved over time?



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Penfield, W. and Rasmussen, T. (1968) The Cerebral Cortex of Man, New York, Hafner Publishing

Raine, A., Buchsbaum, M., and LaCasse, L. (1997) ‘Brain abnormalities in murderers indicated by positron emission tomography’, Biological Psychiatry, vol. 42, pp. 495-508

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Wall, P.D. (1993) ‘Pain and the Placebo Response’, in Bock, G.R., and Marsh, J. (eds) Experimental and Theoretical Studies of Consciousness, Chichester, New York, Wiley

On trait theory vs personal construct theory

When it comes to theories of personality, perception is reality. Whilst some argue that research into personality says something about the way in which people are perceived, others argue the existence of a trait structure that is responsible for behavior. The usefulness of both approaches will be compared and contrasted in this essay. This essay will explore this idea first by defining Trait Theory and Personal Construct Theory in terms of how an individual person is conceptualized, and then identify exactly what each aims to achieve, primarily through the research and work of Eysenck and Rachman (1965) and Salmon (2003), respectively. Next, the methodologies used in each approach (Eysenck Personality Inventory – EPI, repertory grid technique, ‘Salmon’ line) will be described, whereby the advantages and disadvantages of each theory’s aims and methods will be discussed. In doing so, this essay will conclude by recognizing the complementary nature of both approaches, despite inherent differences.

Trait theory labels individuals according to traits, which are defined as key characteristics that distinguish one individual from another. An example of a significant trait is extroversion, which is measured along an introversion-extroversion spectrum. According to Eysenck and Rachman a ‘typical’ introvert would be a quiet, calm, reserved person, as opposed to a ‘typical’ extrovert, who would be loud, outgoing, and sociable (Eysenck and Rachman, as cited in Butt, 2012). They argue that where an individual would fall on the introversion-extroversion continuum, or on the neuroticism-stability continuum, occurs as a result of differences in individual physiology, specifically in cortical and autonomic arousal (Butt, 2012). It is interesting to note here that Eysenck and Rachman introduce and recognize the presence of an organism (the human) within the traditional behaviorist stimulus-response paradigm, thereby creating a causal link between an organism and its environment that will be discussed further below. Their results also indicate that most people rarely fall into either extreme and tend to mediate towards the center of each respective spectrum. Trait theory is a very popular approach to personality as it appeals to people’s need for clarity and consistency when it comes to individual behavior. In other words, it attempts to explain how two different individuals could have a distinctly opposite impression of the same event (Butt, 2012). According to Eysenck and Rachman, the primary aim of this approach is that personality is fixed and that individuals behave within given norms (Butt, 2012).

However, trait theory is not without its flaws. For one, it is argued that traits merely act as labels rather than as explanations for behavior. For example, describing an individual as ‘aggressive’ does not explain his aggression (Butt, 2012). Furthermore, issues arise around the assumption that personality is stable and consistent, a criticism observed by Walter Mischel (1968, as cited in Butt, 2012). He claims that ‘the attribution of dispositions reflects the perceptual prejudices of raters, who draw on culturally shared trait theory to frame their observations’ (Butt, 2012, p. 53). It is important to recognize here the apparent situated knowledge in this context, as the western concept of an individual being separate from society varies greatly from culture to culture. Mischel claimed that that personality differences occur as a result of the observers own cultural and social experiences that shape their psychological reality and subsequently become reflected projections of their on experiences. This idea is strongly rooted in the phenomenological approach favored by Butt (2012) and is the foundation of Personal Construct Theory.

Personal Construct Theory, developed by George Kelly, challenges the assumption that personality is fixed by positing instead that an individual develops an internal understand of the world based in individual perceptions, as per the phenomenological approach, and which attempts to capture the richness of an individual’s experience (Butt, 2012). Phillida Salmon explored this idea in the context of teaching and learning. By quashing the notion that knowledge comes in a pre-packaged format, she argued that knowledge is temporary and susceptible to change, where ‘learning is the shifting of meanings’ (Open University, 2014). She further discusses the inherent risks of taking on new forms in knowledge as threats to a valued identity. For example, some children may avoid taking up the language of the curriculum for that very reason (Salmon, as cited in Butt, 2012). If trait theory is interested in defining norms, personal constructivism focuses on capturing the richness of each individual’s experience by recognizing the way each person interprets the world subject to their environment. As mentioned above, both trait theory and personal construct theory recognize a disruption within the stimulus-response paradigm in the form of an organism; however their key difference lies in understanding (personal construct theory) versus scientific explanation (trait theory) (Butt, 2012). The heart of each theory lies in its methodology, which will be described below.

Eysenck and Rachman’s approach is scientific and attempts to predict behavior within certain situations by the use of questionnaires designed to measure extraversion, introversion, neuroticism, and others, such as the Eysenck Personality Inventory (EPI) which, as the name suggests, they devised. These scales enable the scientists to compare the scores across different individuals and groups, and are used consistently in the field of occupational psychology to identify and predict behavior in an occupational setting.

Contrarily, the approach used by Kelly (1955, as cited in Butt, 2012), and later enhanced by Salmon (2003, as cited in Butt, 2012) features understanding rather than defining an individual’s behavior and perhaps attempting to change it. George Kelly applied the repertory grid technique, which attempts to ‘make personal meanings more available to reflection and to help the individual articulate their bases for action’ (OU Website, 2014). In other words, it enables researches to understand how an individual perceives the social world. Salmon refined this technique with the use of the Salmon Line, which creates a line of best fit as represented by the individual to reflect their own personal meaning. These methods would be especially useful in a clinical context, where change is the desired outcome.

It is interesting to remark at this point that even though Salmon takes a firm stance in personal construct theory, she also recognizes people’s need to hold on to their valued identities – ‘after all, a lot is at stake here. Each of us has a great deal invested in our constructions; they do not represent some detached and idle intellectual exercise’ (Butt, 2012, p.55). In other words, she recognizes the importance of black-and-white identity to an individual over the gray of the organism and its environment, the same way that Eysenck and Rachman recognized that most individuals fall in the gray zone of their trait spectrums, being neither perfectly extrovert or introvert, for example.

Trait theory is a scientific approach that objectively measures personality, and assumes it is fixed. Personal Construct theory applies a subjective approach and assumes personality is ‘rich’ and subject to knowledge and context. However, taking the previous paragraph into consideration, one could argue that both theories are opposite sides of the same coin.

- first submitted as an Open University coursework



Butt, T. (2012), ‘Chapter 3: Individual Differences’ in Landridge, D., Mahendran, K., and Taylor, S. (eds), Critical Readings in Social Psychology Book 2, Milton Keynes, UK, The Open University, pp 45-64

Open University Module Website, 2014