A Thirty-Something Flying Blind

Destination: ¯l_(ツ)_l¯

A Commentary on “The Personality Myth”

After reading online about Invisbilia’s latest episode on “The Personality Myth,” I decided to listen to the episode myself to see if the reactions from fellow personality psychologists were hyperbolic. In short, they were not. Chris Soto and Simine Vazire already have excellent, succinct explanations of the flaws of this episode. I also wanted to add my own somewhat longer response as someone who has researched both the stability and change in personality.

This episode of Invisbilia covered one side of the person-situation debate—the argument that personality is inconsistent, so therefore it doesn’t exist. The person-situation debate actually ended in a synthesis of the ideas—personality is relatively consistent over time, but it can also change across different situations. How? Imagine this exercise—let me ask you how extraverted you are right now. How about a few hours from now? Tomorrow morning? And the next day? When you ask people to answer how extraverted they are several times a day for two weeks, you get a better idea of their whole personality trait, which looks like a bell curve (or a distribution). Sometimes people are very extraverted in a situation, sometimes people are less extraverted in another situation, and the average level of all these different snapshots reflects a person’s trait. When you think of a personality traits in this way—as a distribution of how you are across situations—you can see how people are the same over time (the average of two weeks of these measurements) and how they change in different situations. You have a default, trait level, and situations (or stuff going on in your mind) can cause you to fluctuate around this average trait level.

Once you think of personality traits this way, you can start to try to understand why people change in different situations. People don’t just change at random—there are distinct patterns that can be studied. My work has looked at the goals that people are pursuing in a given moment—and we found that a huge part of these changes in extraversion and conscientiousness in a given moment are the specific goals people are pursuing. When you’re trying to have fun, connect with people, or make others laugh, you are more extraverted. When you are trying to get things done or use time effectively, you are more conscientious. We also did an experiment and an observer study that shows the same pattern of results.

This overview explains personality changes over a few days and hours, but what about changes over the years? How do people change over long periods of time? The Invisibilia episode talked about Dan, who said that he made a conscious decision to change who he was over a period of time. Personality development is complex, but it does develop and change over the lifespan. The most volatile time for this change appears to happen in young adulthood–when people have new experiences and social roles (e.g., go to college, start our first job, get married, etc.). We also have evidence that suggests that personality may change as a part of therapy treatment. Still, long-term change doesn’t appear to be drastic or quick, which echoes how Dan describes that it took a long time for him to change his personality.

Ultimately, our behavior is complicated, and it is a mixture of personality and situations. It is something we have known for a long time–Kurt Lewin famously made this case back in the 1930’s–but we now have technology to study personality in more complex ways, faster and easier than ever before.

Some might ask why we personality psychologists had such a strong reaction to this episode. The answer is in the podcast itself, when Walter Mischel casually mentions that he was accused of nearly destroying the field of personality. This claim alludes to the fact that the number of personality psychologists declined drastically in the 1970’s, both in terms of number of graduate students studying it and the number of universities hiring people who studied personality. Even today, personality psychology graduate programs are limited in the United States. To add insult to injury, we still have to defend why the thing that we spent years studying in graduate school actually exists and why it matters. So yes, personality psychologists may have a slight chip on our shoulders, but for good reason. Episodes like the one Invisbilia just aired does not help our situation, pun intended.

To see a modern view of Walter Mischel’s Personality and Assessment, the Journal of Research in Personality did a special issue in 2009 on its 40th anniversary called “Personality and Assessment at Age 40: Reflections on the Past Person–Situation Debate and Emerging Directions of Future Person-Situation Integration – Personality and Assessment at Age 40.” It is worth reading these articles to get a more up-to-date sense of the person-situation debate in the decades that followed.


Movin’ Right Along

Life announcement time!

Since starting college, I have moved a lot:

  • Age 18: Moved to Atlanta, GA for undergrad. Moved in & out of dorms every year for 4 years.
  • Age 22: Moved to NC for my M.A. Moved after first year for super cheap rent with awesome roommates.
  • Age 24: Moved overseas to the Netherlands for my Ph.D. Moved to a new kamer after a year, and too tired of moving to even consider finding a new place.
  • Age 28: Moved to Perth, Australia for an awesome post-doc.
  • Age 29: Moved to Gold Coast, Australia to continue working on the awesome post-doc.

And while I have moved a lot, I have enjoyed all the places I’ve been and the opportunities I have had. And now, I’m happy to report that I have a new bullet point to add:

  • Age 30/31: I will be moving to Nashville, TN for a new, awesome post-doc at Vanderbilt University.

That’s right–I am moving back to the South, y’all!

Right around my birthday in July (hence the ambiguous age), I will make the move back to the U.S. While my international travels likely will decrease (for now), I am sure to travel more in the U.S. now than I did in the past. Still, it will be good to be back in the U.S. after living abroad for seven years…although I seriously hope this election year will not make me regret that decision. 😀

Darling, I don’t know why I go to extremes

Queenstown, New Zealand is known for its adventure tourism. According to their wiki page, they claim to have over 220 different adventure-related activities (sky diving, bungy jumping, canyon swings, paragliding, etc.).

That said, I did absolutely none of those things.

I’m not against going extreme, but I would rather spend my time and money on seeing and experiencing things I can’t do in other places. Some of these extreme things in Queenstown are unique (e.g., the canyon swing), but they didn’t appeal to me. In my mind, if I were to skydive, I could do so any time or anywhere else on the planet. Seeing kiwis or going on a Lord of the Rings tour, now that’s unique. And I now I can always tell people that I had tea and biscuits in the forest where Boromir died.

Also, I think I maxed out my “extreme” quota for my New Zealand trip when I went on a crazy heli-hike tour on Fox Glacier. As the name suggests, I rode in a helicopter and hiked on a glacier, which is something I never thought that I would do in my life. It was a great experience, but it was a terrible decision for someone who is legally blind (single-file, trying to see the path ahead. Not easy.). Still, I survived, and I lived to tell the tale.

Instead of going to extremes in Queenstown, I chose to do the following:

  • Lord of the Rings tour (because I am a nerd)
  • Rode the gondola up to the Bob’s Peak on Ben Lomond
  • Saw kiwis (and heard kiwi mating calls, which is rare) at the Kiwi Birdlife Park
  • Went to an ice bar.
  • Went on a wine tour
  • Planned to go stargazing, but canceled both nights due to weather.

Mind you, all of those activities were awesome, which goes to show that Queenstown is amazing even for those who might not be an adrenaline junkie.

Harper Lee (1926-2016)

Harper Lee passed away at the age of 89. I wanted to write a post for a  while regarding the release of Go Set a Watchman, but I now just reflect on my relationship with her work in general.

Unlike many of my peers, I read To Kill a Mockingbird on my own when I was 13. It wasn’t assigned reading in school for me until high school, but I saw that some classmates in another class were required to read it, and I decided to read it. I honestly knew nothing about the book or the story at the time, but I knew it won a Pulitzer Prize. I fell in love with the book right away, identifying with Scout in more ways than one (e.g., being smart, being a tomboy). Mockingbird is fiction, but the issues of race and segregation made me come face-to-face with white privilege, even if I didn’t completely comprehend it at the time. The book helped me in developing my complex Southern identify that I have–embrace the good, but recognize (and never forget) the bad.

To Kill a Mockingbird became one of my favorite books of all-time, and I would still place it there today (even after reading Go Set a Watchman). I’ve re-read the book in high school and a couple of times since then. I also do enjoy the movie adaptation. I even named a spider plant I had in college after Atticus Finch (my roommate named her plant in lieu of having no pets in the dorms. I decided to do the same). Like many, I was frustrated that Harper Lee never wrote any other books, but perhaps that decision made Mockingbird more special in the end.

Given the controversy around Go Set a Watchman (both its release and its content), it doesn’t count as a “second book” to me. It was a draft of an earlier version of Mockingbird, and the editors left the inconsistencies in there. It still has her style and voice with familiar characters; however, the length of the novel also reflects the amount of time passed. Mockingbird took place over the course over a few years and Watchman took place over a few days. You have to approach this book knowing its brevity and its limitations–it isn’t a fully fleshed out and edited novel. That said, there are truly moving and gripping scenes in Go Set a Watchman that are made more powerful because of the special place Mockingbird has in my heart.

The passing of Harper Lee is sad, but she did live a full life, choosing to live a life away from the spotlight. I will always appreciate her gift to the world, even if it is just one amazing piece of American literature.

Sydney Selfies

A non-politics post, I swear! I’m off to Japan tomorrow for a 2-week holiday, but I thought should post a lesson I learned on a short trip earlier this year:  I cannot take selfies, even if my life depended on it.

Premise:  I often travel solo. While I take tons of photos, I often get complaints (particularly from my mom) that I am not in these photos. Pretty scenery, cool angles, but where are you!?! Therefore, I made a travel rule to take at least one photo with me in it during my trips when and if I can manage it. Even with this rule, selfies were never really my thing. Until recently, I didn’t even have a decent camera on my smartphone to take a good selfie, so I would just have someone use my camera to take pictures of me when I traveled.

This past Easter weekend, I went to Sydney, and I had a nice new phone that took great photos.  Easter weekends are touristy times to travel, so I thought that finding someone else that I could trust to take a picture might be tricky. I decided a Sydney selfie would be nice to fulfill my self-picture quota for the trip, no fuss.

However, I did not totally think the process through. As obvious as it is to anyone but me at the time, selfies require you to hold your phone at some distance away from your face so you can line up the shot. One big problem–I am legally blind. Needless to say, this process did not go well. I posted the best of the bunch below. I made the process harder on myself, too. It was raining, so I was holding an umbrella while still trying to show the Opera House in the background, a process that was beyond idiotic. I also was oblivious to the scenic trash cans behind me. Complete and total disaster.

20150404_123351 20150404_123445

Still, I did not want to give up. The next day, the sun was shining, and I wandered back by the Opera House (and away from the trash cans) to try again for Sydney selfie take 2. These selfies improved a bit, but I could not see my screen at all with the sun shining. It was literally a shot in the dark for me.


So lesson learned–I solemnly swear that I will not take selfies ever again.

1920 & 2015: Xenophobia & Isolationism Yet Again

A while ago, I wrote about immigration issues from around the world, which was around the time the migrant crisis was gaining more attention. Since then, things have only become more xenophobic (to put it mildly).

After the recent terrorist attacks in Beirut and Paris, fear of ISIS has reached peak levels. Specifically, there is a belief that the influx of refugees are actually allowed terrorists to sneak in, despite evidence to the contrary. Specifically, in the Paris attacks, the current evidence is that all of the suicide bombers were from the EU–domestic terrorists inspired by ISIS. In other words, there is zero correlation between the refugees, who are also victims fleeing from Assad and ISIS, and this recent terrorist attack. With the limited numbers in ISIS and the rough path for refugees arriving in Europe, it makes total sense that ISIS would try to indoctrinate and influence people who are already there rather than those who are fleeing for their lives.

Despite this fact, more than half of the U.S. governors declared this week that they would not allow Syrian refugees into their state. Ignoring the obvious constitutional issues from anyone who actually paid half attention in U.S. government class, this reaction absolutely disgusted me. It is victim-blaming in its purest and most racist form. When other people have problem and U.S. citizens are afraid, isolationism rears its ugly head. Just ask the Chinese or Irish immigrants from the 19th century. Or perhaps, let’s bring back the Eugenics movement from the late 1910’s and the 1920’s, the peak of our isolationism.

Here’s a quick history lesson for those who forgot the dark side of the Roaring 20’s. After World War I and the rise of communism in Russia, the U.S. entered a period of isolationism. Despite Woodrow Wilson’s proposed League of Nations, Congress did not ratify U.S. admission to it (boy does that sound familiar). Moreover, laws were enacted to limit the number of immigrants coming to the U.S., starting with the Immigration Act of 1917 and then quota laws that were continuously revised over the following years. It basically allowed racial profiling of immigrants entering this country. Psychologists didn’t help either, using evidence from awful intelligence testing to support the idea that those coming in from Ellis Island were intellectually inferior. The idea was that we wanted to only bring in the good immigrants in–not those inferior ones who would pollute the U.S. gene pool or corrupt the established American identity. Eugenics went as far as forced sterilization of the “feeble-minded.” And yes, these ideas were in the U.S., not Germany. In fact, the Nazis found some inspiration in the U.S. eugenics movement (although its own eugenics movement obviously had different goals than the U.S. one). These influences also impacted perceptions of Jewish refugees on the eve of WWII, which shows a strong parallel to perceptions of the refugees today. The U.S. did not change its quotas of Jewish immigrants to account for these refugees, only making serious efforts starting in 1944, a year before the war ended in Europe.

Fast-forward nearly a 100 years, and now isolationism is rearing its ugly head again, invoking our psychological biases against the “out-group.” Instead of excluding Chinese, Japanese, or Eastern Europeans, many U.S. governors want to exclude refugees from the Middle East (also the on-going issues with immigrants from Latin America, but that’s another story). The threat of terrorism and our prolonged wars in the Middle East have raised our isolationist and xenophobic tendencies to an extreme. While intelligence tests are not being promoted now, religious tests are being discussed. The vetting process for refugees can take years (a 2-year average). During this process, extensive information is gathered and about only half the applicants actually make it through. This process is way more difficult than process used by the 9/11 terrorists, who came to the U.S. using student visa and tourist visas.

But here’s the catch. Refugees don’t become terrorists. We’re so afraid of ISIS and terrorists who claim to be Muslim (but who clearly are not), yet we ignore the fact that our biggest terrorist threat is domestic terrorism. 9/11 was done by foreign terrorists, but we’ve had plenty of bombings (e.g. Oklahoma City, Atlanta Olympics, etc.) and an apparent never-ending slew of mass shootings (e.g., Aurora, Newton, Charleston, and so many others) that were all born and raised in the U.S.A. We’ve had our share of terrorists inspired by a warped view of Islam (e.g., the D.C. sniper), but we’ve also had plenty of terrorists inspired by a warped view of Christianity, too.

Moreover, the United States successfully dealt with a refugee crisis in our not-too-distant past. Operation New Life was the process by which we processed refugees fleeing Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War. They went to Guam first to be processed  before coming to the U.S. We took over 100,000 refugees then, and now we’re talking about 10,000 Syrian refugees. To my knowledge, we had no issues of communists sneaking in among the Vietnamese refugees. Considering our role in destabilizing Iraq, perhaps we should also consider our role in taking in refugees created by the power vacuum in the region.

One common response to those against taking refugees is that “it isn’t my problem” or “we should take care of our own homeless first.” While we should take care of our homeless, we shouldn’t use that as an excuse. We can argue about the political and systemic issues surrounding our homelessness in the U.S. (particularly the criminalization of the homeless, a whole other post, I think), but we rarely are in an active process of helping the homeless when people cite it as a reason. Moreover, refugees have legal rights under the U.N. And as John Green pointed out, operating under the delusion that regional crises have no bearing on us is a failure to recognize how interconnected and global our world is. When the Ebola outbreak happened, a Liberian and Nigerian problem became a U.S. and international problem. A medical epidemic and social epidemic require international efforts. For those espousing Christian ideals as American ideals, then the path to helping thy neighbor should be extremely clear.  Or are we just like past U.S. citizens ignoring the plight of Jewish refugees until it was far too late? Simply put, we are all people, and we should start treating these people as if they are our own.

I’m sorry for the long, preachy post here, but I was beyond ticked off reading racist, ignorant, and xenophobic reactions to the Paris attacks (because most people ignored Beirut). There is real tragedy and suffering in the world, but giving in to fear, xenophobia, and misinformation only makes the whole situation worse. Punishing refugees and spouting anti-Islam rhetoric does not help, and really, it just helps promote the message that ISIS wants. In sum, just watch this video to get the broader point.

Tldr: History repeats itself. Xenophobia and isolationism won’t solve anything.

Cover photo from Political Humor.

*edit 11/20/16: Just fixed a typo that I spotted.


This hashtag has been trending among my psychology friends, and I thought it would be a good idea to write a blog post about it. #ThisPsychMajor stems from some recent comments made by Republican presidential candidate, Jeb Bush:

“Universities ought to have skin in the game,” former Florida governor and current presidential candidate Jeb Bush said at a South Carolina town hall meeting Saturday morning, “When a student shows up, they ought to say ‘Hey, that psych major deal, that philosophy major thing, that’s great, it’s important to have liberal arts … but realize, you’re going to be working a Chick-fil-A.’”

“The number one degree program for students in this country … is psychology,” Bush said. “I don’t think we should dictate majors. But I just don’t think people are getting jobs as psych majors. We have huge shortages of electricians, welders, plumbers, information technologists, teachers.”

Now, I don’t need Jeb Bush to validate my career decisions. Still, he is wrong on a bunch of levels. I’ll leave it to this article to discuss the specific points, such as the popularity of psych majors and the careers of psych graduates (spoiler alert:  a lot of us actually use our degree in a psych-related field). And honestly, among the many, many crazy and offensive comments made by Republicans running for president in 2016, this comment is tame by comparison. Still, the #thispsychmajor response has been awesome, which was inspired by this video.

I do think there are a other things worth pointing out as a foundation for these not-so-eloquent comments.

Picking on Psych:  Psychology is an easy target. It is a popular major, and people do have a variety of reasons why they choose this major (with an incorrect cliche that people just want to “find themselves”). Psychology is a rigorous science, but there are many people like Jeb Bush who view it as a fluffy liberal arts degree or maybe begrudgingly call it a “soft science.” An implicit recognition of this view is that many universities give out Bachelors of Arts to psychology majors, not Bachelors in Science. While there are some trends to the contrary, I still think many people consider outdated concepts as the key things we learn in our degree (e.g., Freudian theory) rather than recognize the research methods and statistical work we do. Other people may not realize how psychology majors can be applied to so many different fields and jobs. I bet there is a good chance that Jeb Bush has a few psych majors working on his campaign…perhaps someone who is giving him feedback on debate prep or someone who is running stats on his campaign?

A Degree vs. A Career: Now, I think Jeb Bush was trying to make this point (poorly), but it is an issue that isn’t unique to psychology majors. There are some students who pick majors without necessarily considering their career options after graduation. For me, I knew from Day 1 that I wanted to major in psychology, and I also knew that I would need to go to graduate school for the career I wanted. I know that I’m the exception and not the rule. Some students consider these options quite late when the reality of graduation is upon them. Other students may just want a flexible degree because they don’t necessarily know what they want to do after graduation. I do think students should seriously consider why they are picking certain majors before they accumulate student debt (this idea applies for graduate school, too). But assuming that all of us don’t plan ahead or work hard to get into graduate school is absurd. Also, you cannot claim that certain degrees are more valuable than others, especially when the skills gained in that degree can be applied to so many different jobs. This idea goes for people majoring in psychology, philosophy, art history…or Jeb Bush’s B.A. degree in Latin American studies (which he used to work at an entry-level job at a bank after graduation, apparently).

Assuming Minimum Wage = Failure: One final point is the incorrect notion that working at Chick-fil-A means you are a failure if you are someone with a college degree. I think this view is totally a reflection of an over-simplistic and elitist perspective by the former governor. Many students with student loans can’t rely on family friends or family money after graduation, so they may have to work in a service industry job to make ends meet, to save money before graduate school, or a whole host of other reasons. They may work at these jobs just have a job, period. Many people in my generation graduated into a terrible job market, so any job is a job. Making assumptions and shaming people for the reasons why they work minimum wage or service industry jobs ventures into dangerous territory in my book.

Anyways, I think I’ve spent far too much time dwelling on these ridiculous comments. Moral of this story:  Be wary of pissing off psych majors. We are everywhere. 🙂

50 Beatles Covers

New playlist time!

I love the Beatles. Pretty cliché, I know. Now that I listen to most of my music on Spotify, I don’t listen to their albums as often as I would like. I know the Beatles copyright and song catalog is a total mess, but it does not make the issue any less annoying.

As a temporary solution, I collected a bunch of Beatles covers and put them into a playlist. The easy option would have been just to copy and paste the entire soundtracks of I Am Sam and Across the Universe. While I did use several songs from those soundtracks, I put a bit more effort into this playlist than that. I actually found this wiki page of Beatles covers, but I went through to find versions that were on Spotify. Along the way, I found some cool covers by a surprising range of artists. I also found a disturbing cover: Elmo singing “Drive My Car.” I didn’t even link to that one for a reason–listen at your own risk!!

The final mix has 50 songs, arranged in chronological order*. I kept to basic music mix rules with no repeat artists and no repeat songs. There were a few surprises, such as Dolly Parton singing “Help!” and Stevie Wonder’s awesome version of “We Can Work it Out.” Also, I hought there was a morbid irony that John Denver covered “When I’m Sixty-Four,” but maybe that’s just me.

There were also some cool covers that were not available on Spotify, including:

Anyways, I hope you enjoy!


* The chronological order is to the best of my ability o the best of my ability. There are different U.K./U.S. versions of albums & singles out there. Some songs were released multiple times as well, so it might be slightly off. The order mainly was to keep the style in roughly the same periods, as early Beatles and late Beatles songs are quite different.

M.A. & Ph.D. Music Mixes

Things have been busy as of late, but I will try to make up for it with some old music mixes. In particular, I made these mixes while working on my master’s thesis and my PhD dissertation.

First of all, I listen to music all the time when I work. It is an old habit from middle school and high school that persisted through the college years. Seriously, I bought my first ipod at the end of my sophomore year of college to save money on all the portable CD players I would wear out. Some people don’t get how I can read extensively or write papers with music (with lyrics) and still function. It works for me because it blocks out all external noise. The caveat is that it has to be music I know well so I can weirdly enough, tune it out. I’m weird, I know.

Anyways, on to the mixes!

I made the first mix in 2008-2009 in the months leading up to the submission of my master’s thesis. A graduate student a year ahead of me gave me the idea. For her classmates, she made a music mix dedicated to the Major Area Paper (essentially a mini-thesis due at the beginning of our second year), and she passed down the mix to my class. As a follow-up, I decided to make a mix for my classmates. I *think* my classmates liked it (or perhaps they said that they liked it to indulge my whims), but I know I listened to it a lot. I’ve posted the original version form in 8tracks and the slightly modified Spotify version (no Beatles in Spotify).

I made the second mix a few years later in 2012. I have not shared this mix as it was a personal mix at the time. I made it in Spotify, and it slowly took shape and changed as I listened to it. I actually lost a couple of songs that left Spotify over the years, so I made a YouTube playlist with the original version and I listed the changes. Of course, I made this mix longer as it was for my PhD dissertation (37 songs rather than 19 songs). I also did not want to use the same songs from the thesis mix. With Spotify, the mix became more eclectic than the first mix.

Like most of my mixes, they are designed to be played in order; however, I can’t stop you from using that shuffle button. 😉  Anyways, I hope you enjoy!

Minor edit:  Apparently the old songs appear in the embedded Spotify, but don’t play. Also, the reason you see two copies of The Clash is that one version stopped working so I replaced it with another. Only one song should play though.

Thesis Mix

Dissertation Mix 

Original & complete version:  YouTube playlist

Changed Songs

I had Alex Vargas’s cover of “More”, but I substituted the Usher version available (still not the original, but a remix).

Omitted Songs

After Eve 6, Mark B & Blade “Ya Don’t See The Signs”

After P.O.D., Joanna Pacitti “Watch Me Shine” (I think I watched Legally Blonde one too many times)

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