American Psychological Association
117th Annual Convention - Toronto
August 6-9, 2009
These edited reports were originally posted to the Current Topics, Therapy Online, and Cyberpsychology list-servs, August 2009.
2009 Convention Highlights:
Internet: Pathway for Networking, Connecting, and Addiction | Opening | Virtual Psychology & Therapy | Q&A with Zimbardo | Seligman: Positive Education | Future of Internet Media | Sex, Love, & Psychology | How Dogs Think
"Asynchronously Live" from Toronto
I was very careful to take accurate notes during these presentations (including several pithy verbatim quotes), using handouts and/or photos of graphics to verify my notes. I apologize for any remaining errors or typos, and will be happy to immediately correct any mis-quotes, misattributions or mis-spellings brought to my attention. I welcome presenters' submission of additional online references which are relevant to (or mentioned in) these reports. Thanks, and... Enjoy! I hope you find this slice of psychology interesting and informative.
Next stop: Virtual Psychology and Therapy
Here was a very dense-packed presentation with some leaders in the use of Virtual Reality (VR) applications, across a wide range of populations ranging from the military to clinical practice situations.
Introductions were made by the panel chair, Dr. Richard Wexler, who began by addressing the topic of virtual environments through the lens of a socio-cultural context. "One quarter of the world population is now on the web", he began, adding that this brings about a whole new set of opportunities: "The time for virtual psychology is today." Today is an era when an entire generation is becoming known as the "V" generation, reflecting their comfort level within virtual environments in which they navigate every day. [Dr. Wexler noted that the company he is involved with, "Virtually Better" has a number of applications which are applicable to more routine clinical use in addition to their efforts at developing a "virtual Iraq" to help with training and treatment relating to soldiers in Iraq. After the presentation I visited the booth, and saw both customizable applications which need nothing more than a PC and a range of more sophisticated and hardware-needy deployments of VR-based applications. Indeed, they are sophisticated.]
The first speaker to present was Dr. Stephane Bouchard, who sought to describe how VR can be a therapeutic tool, "the key" being that it be realistic enough so that "you forget you're in the psychologist's office". A number of "standardized, therapeutic experiences" are utilized via use of VR, and are said to be effective in a range of treatment goals. With anxiety, for example, "the great thing with VR is that you can control the *rate* of treatment". The type of presenting problems includes things like fear of public speaking, or phobias.
Dr. Bouchard cited the work of Rothbaum et al (2000, 2002), oriented towards treating fear of flying, which at the time of the second paper was seeing an increase, post 9/11. They enjoyed a success rate of over 80% using their VR-based treatment approach. They also found, in follow-up, a very low incidence of relapse.
From a business/practice point of view, people do ask, "why invest in VR?". For, say, a spider phobia, why not just grab one from the lawn? ("Because you need to feed the darn thing!")
With phobias at least, there continues to be evidence of growing use and success with treatment, cross-culturally. In a study in Spain, for example, Botella et al (2007) reported positive results in treating panic disorder with agoraphobia.
There have also been successful results in utilizing VR for treatment of PTSD. "Mostly used for in virtuo exposure", VR-based therapy has been used in Vietnam, Angola, Afghanistan and Iraq. It has been used, in addition to being a therapeutic tool, in prevention and supervision activities, as well as in military training, to facilitate acclimation and provide realistic practice. Other uses were illustrated, several involving trauma, as in the case of "Justina", a virtual girl who was raped, and whose persona one can "talk with" in a safe and supportive setting. "What about the realism?" "Does it feel real?" Citing the research of Zimmons (2004), an experiment was described where the subject was asked to throw (virtual) balls into a (virtual) pit, and heartbeat was monitored as a dependent measure, and affirmed that people reacted as they might in a real (non simulated) situation. One thing research has found is that in experiencing VR situations, "we think like an amygdala" (oriented towards basic survival "instinct") so that the converging lines tell us about our height and the depth below and signal if we are in danger, on a very basic level. Cote & Bouchard (2009) worked successfully with eating disorder treatments using VR, while Hoffman et al had good results working with VR as a means of minimizing awareness of pain. Other work has focused on identifying sexual preferences, with the equipment tracking one's visual focus when presented, for example, with nude images of males and females - in the case of sexual offenders one can see the response to different presentations of children and adults of varying age and gender. There has also been research into VR as a treatment tool with schizophrenia (Fornells & Ambrojo, 2008), in providing social skills training (e.g., a recent Korean study), and in reducing cravings among addicts (Bordnick et al) . In conclusion: VR has a well-established and documented efficacy as an agent of therapeutic change. If there were a summary "take-home" message to impart, it would be: 1) Yes, it's effective; and 2) We need to remember that it's only a tool that supports a good psychologist's skills.
The next presenter is Lt. Col Timothy Lacy, MD (a psychiatrist), from the US Air Force Medical Support Agency. His focus has been on military applications, with a goal-oriented interest in "moving from science to fielding solutions". Within a context of long tours of duty, many casualties, and harsh day-to-day conditions, as well as increasing reports of suicide and PTSD among the military, there has been a concerted effort since the release of a June 2007 Dept. of Defense report suggesting that more needed to be done in addressing the rising tide of PTSD. In terms of what was seen in "evidence-based" trials, "prolonged exposure therapy gets the best data" (Difede, Rothbaum, Rizzo et al). The type of virtual environment used to simulate the triggering environment included things like a recreation of driving through Fallujah (Iraq). Critical to keep in mind, "it's not a game". Aside from realism and relevance in general, there has been development of "discreet modules" to address specific contexts and experiences. Thus far there has been great progress. "The question", however, remains: "How much data is enough to move towards deployment?" Within the military the decision was made to go ahead and deploy the system with the best data. Key locations were identified within the Air Force, and it was decided to offer this treatment *as an option* available to personnel. Of those who participated at the Madigan/San Diego base, over 60% showed improvement and "prolonged success". The Madigan Army Medical Center soon identified the key components as training, supervision, and research, combined with a simple system using "Caring Technology". This system involves use of a HIPAA compliant server to begin with, while the military sought to also tighten security along other dimensions.
What is in store for the near future? Lacy hopes to see continued use of "virtual worlds", but not only targeting the soldier but also oriented towards family support and other needs such as anger management training.
Next up: Dr. Walter Greenleaf, of Virtually Better, which offers easy-to-implement VR applications such as described above, and on display at the APA exhibit hall. Dr. Greenleaf spoke about how efforts to create a virtual environment for behavioral medicine led to 25 years of research and development, with the product out there now being the "culmination of a journey" which has been ongoing for decades. He retraced some of the history, from the time his friend and colleague Jaron Lanier coined the phrase, Virtual Reality. He mentioned Rhinehardt, a leader in the field whose background was as a programmer. Until this time of sudden interest and growth, there had been "simulators" (such as for driving, flying, and fighting) but the equipment was unwieldy, at one point requiring essentially wearing "2 bricks" on one's head. Over time the value of VR has been demonstrated in numerous applications, including treatment of stroke and TBI, and in surgical planning. Wiederhold and others helped present platforms and demonstrations to continually improve the technology. Now we can look at avatars which move fluidly, and can be made "culture-specific". There has also been accelerated growth and development due to interest in multi-user virtual environments, driven by the game industry.
So, why use virtual environments?
For children and teens, a big attraction is that "you can change who you are" and experiment with role-playing.
- They are engaging.
- They facilitate active participation.
In conclusion, there are numerous ways VR therapies can be beneficial. In addition to what was already mentioned, VR therapies offer a means to destigmatize therapy. You can review a session any time. You can see the interactions from another's point of view. Finally, you can do "invisible observation and discrete coaching", for example providing feedback through an earpiece.
Last to speak now is Les Paschall, the CEO of CFG Health Systems (cfgpc.com). Speaking from his business/entrepreneurial perspective, Paschall offered the following observation: "Excitement and enthusiasm without a clear financial plan is just excitement and enthusiasm." He clearly focused on the business, and has managed to grow it over the past 14 years. His company uses a variety of methods including VR, and video/teleconferencing. Their role is technological, and the clients are from many types of settings, and utilized by several behavioral professions.
In developing a practice which employs VR applications, one needs to be cognizant of the challenges as well as the benefits:
- Regulatory - E.g., licensing/regulatory constraints in working across borders
- Cultural (Sometimes one may get some 'pushback')
- HIPAA - "On the Internet, can anyone else see your session?"
- Financial - Who's going to pay? Like many business professionals, he looks at Return on Investment (ROI)
- Wide applicability - It can be deployed in China, for example, covering vast distances and without the hassles of, say, the US, with all the states having their own licensing schemes.
Benefits include successes in treatment across a wide range of presenting issues. Recently children with ADD have been added to that list of who might be assisted through VR. Children in general enjoy this activity and many look forward to treatment sessions. There are also benefits to using VR applications in education, as well. "Now is the time", Paschall asserted, although there is still work to do. He concluded his presentation with a photo/slide of the Great Wall of China, where he has just returned from. He recalled what his hosts told him, which he continues to find inspirational: "If this can be done, other challenges seem small".
Asynchronously Live from APA - Toronto
7 August 2009 - Continued
From cyberpsychology to (f2f) social psychology now, as I caught the 2nd half of an "up close and personal" session with legendary Phil Zimbardo (of Stanford Prison Experiment fame). Interestingly, just yesterday (at the opening ceremony) he was cajoled by Congressman Brian Baird to stand up and speak out on what needs to be said, and today (when I arrived) he was answering audience questions, many about his Stanford years, both as professor and researcher. (As I arrived) Zimbardo was speaking about a phenomenon he'd described in his book about the prison experiment, "The Lucifer Effect", which he found disturbing when he saw it replicated at Abu Ghraib - the guards had little training for what lay ahead, and in the case of Iraq there were the least trained and least respected personnel placed into a position not unlike his prison scenario, with equally scary results.
Drs. Phil Zimbardo and Richard Suinn (chair)
QUESTION (from audience member, at the head of the queue for the open microphone): Of all the changes you've seen in your long career, what is the most significant you have seen?
Zimbardo: Women. (Questioner expecting more, apparently, as were others... He continued:)
About 60% of psychologists now are women. Across the field, except in the area of neuroscience and some specific cognitive areas. I think men are going into economics and computer science [more]. There are two issues: where women are going and where men are going. Another trend [is the movement] towards 'positive psychology'. People want to study relationships rather than conflict, peace rather than war. I don't want to say it's related to women being fundamentally different, but I see a sea change.
QUESTION (from a student, about his prison experiment): If you put monks or priests - or Sister Theresa - in the guard role, would it be different?
Zimbardo: [in the context of how he'd be unable to replicate or experiment further even if it was possible and permissible]- Following the Stanford experiment, I wanted to replicate it with well-trained guards, and use the [original] Stanford experiment as a control. We don't [even] *want* to "replicate". But I was turned down after being asked if we could assure the outcome. If we know the outcome, it wouldn't be research! Go to any prison - the women's prisons are worse, long term. They don't use physical force but they encourage *dependence*. It's the nature of the institution to *dominate* - prisons are all about power. It is the nature of prisons to crush individual initiative.
QUESTION: I hear a theme of individual empowerment. Is that fair?
Zimbardo: Good question! [He suggested people take a look, for free, at his website: lucifereffect.com ] How do you resist unwanted influence? Influence, attitude, change... I know the power of institutions to dominate people but that doesn't mean we need to become slaves.
QUESTION:Attitudes towards disobedience?
Zimbardo: Yeah. We train obedience. The two most powerful narratives are of Lucifer, and the story of Adam & Eve. Lucifer was sent to hell. Adam...loses paradise. In the Milgram study: There was 100% obedience, not 65%. I asked Stanley, 'How many people got up to see if the person who just passed out was ok?' Nobody. Not one. Because we're taught in school to stay in our seats unless told to get up.
A few additional bytes from the Q&A:
Zimbardo: There is no research on heroism in psychology, except one study of Christians who helped Jews during the Holocaust. We need a whole new body of research on heroism...Heroism is an act, not an attribute. That's how it differs from altruism.
Last QUESTION (grad student studying problematic Internet use!) :
Do you think that social psychology paradigms apply in the new ... world?
*** ZIMBARDO: It's a whole new world. Young people's brains are now wired for a digital world. Older people are wired for an analog world. [And so there are implications for schools and families, with classrooms often experienced as boring rather than stimulating and parents for the first time less adept at the latest technologies than their children.] The curriculum is inappropriate for the students... The war on drugs is not about the supply, it's about the demand! We are training kids to rely on drugs to address their problems, from kindergarten on. The problem is that the older generation is teaching the new generation in old ways.
I'll end this here for now, to get this out quickly, ending with a few real gems, n'est-ce-pas? Next up, another legend of psychology, earning fame for his study of "learned helplessness" and now dedicating his life to "positive psychology", hand in hand with "positive education" : Martin Seligman.
Asynchronously Live from APA
Toronto, 7 August 2009
From Zimbardo to equally legendary Martin Seligman, now devoting his life to promoting positive psychology (rather than learned helplessness lessons) and promoting, on this occasion,
Invited Plenary Address #2207, with Martin Seligman.
Dr. Seligman began by giving his large audience a 2-part "test". First we were asked to state, in 2 words or less, what we would most hope for in our children's' lives. He paused and then asked us to describe in 2 words or less what schools teach. Then he called for answers.
What would people want for their children? Curiosity, success, self-sufficiency, happiness...
What do schools teach? Facts. Rote knowledge. Note-taking. Test-taking.
OK, fine. Now, Seligman asked the audience to consider, is it not the case that there was no overlap whatsoever between the 2 sets of answers? It is his position that through "positive education" approaches, both sets of responses might be taught:
"I call these two together 'positive education'. We can teach both achievement AND well-being."
QUESTION: "Should it be taught in schools?"
Seligman answered by citing the widespread prevalence of depression among students.
Can well-being be taught? Absolutely. He addressed the importance of honing in on the real underlying dynamics, along the way pointing to huge cultural scams, such as that enjoyed by the diet industry. [Short version: Anyone can lose weight quickly... and 90% gain it back. There's no magic bullet.]
The key is in "teaching it, embedding it, living it". And for teachers: "live it before you teach it".
[some slides on Powerpoint with statistics - will add in]
Then too, there are "politics of well-being".
Our society - including educational attitudes - has been "the politics of getting rid of disabling conditions... We talk about a change of goal, from the focus on the negative to a focus on the positive."
How? What are the positives? "It's important to paint a distinction between disabling conditions and enabling conditions."
Seligman reminisced a bit about his own makeup, conceding he "was never a great therapist" but understanding that he was good at researching and speaking. [Similarly, he argued, one could envision focusing on people's strengths and nurturing them rather than fixating on vanquishing the "disability".]
"Building the enabling conditions is very different than what we've been doing. We should be just as concerned with making positive conditions as fixing negative ones."
He presented his general framework which is guiding his thinking at this time. First, he notes that in terms of research, "happiness is scientifically unwieldy". He has thus broken the concept down functionally into what he refers to as "three branches":
Seligman - not referring to ADD or executive functioning, though some may find this relevant - described how important the ability is, to sustain interest and concentration and become *absorbed* in something, pursuing "the engaged life". For Seligman, who clearly practices what he preaches (to the extent of shocking himself - and eating dog chow! - before experimenting with dogs) his own way of regularly focusing and engaging may take the form of daily bridge games on the Internet. [3 hours/day!]
- Positive emotions ("not just pasting up a smiley")
- Positive character (with someone living an "engaged life"); and
- Positive institutions
In the study of positive psychology, "the 3rd branch is the question of meaning. How do we belong to and serve things we think are bigger than we are?"
Seligman suggested a visit to his website (one of several): www.authentichappiness.org where more than a million registrants have self-administered a variety of tests.
Each branch must be measurable and teachable. Which leads to the first question: Should we do it? Here he cited charts indicating the prevalence of major depressive disorders over time and recalled how he had been studying and researching depression back in the 60's, and discussing ideas with Beck. Of note, in 1960 the mean age of onset with major depressive disorders was 29.5 ("middle age housewife syndrome"). Now, in 2009 the average age of onset is... 14.5 years. Other examples of how times change include how in 1950 1/5 of all children attended college. Now: 50%.
Perspective can be subjective. If you look objectively, now "everything is better, materially, than 50 years ago, and we should therefore feel better. But we don't. That raises questions."
He switched momentarily from the role of meaning in life to looking at the start of life. When a baby is anxious, s/he holds back, but when feeling safe tends to reach out, be curious, explore... This is a formative time in the evolution of "well-being". So should we make efforts to systematically encourage positive psychology, positive education? "Yes. Because: 1) It fights depression; 2) It increases life satisfaction; 3) it increases learning."
Here Seligman shared how "I always do stuff on myself first. When I was working on learned helplessness and shocked dogs, I would do it on myself first, and eat Purina Dog Chow." [I've no idea if the latter part was a joke, nor have I been paid by Purina!]
He continued with some self reflection, explaining that by nature "I'm a pessimist, and I think only a pessimist can write about optimism." He values all perspectives as well, typically bouncing ideas off his wife first, then his (7) kids, then his students.
He alluded to Beck's important paradigm about so much harm being done by the underlying belief that "I'm unloveable" [See my paper where Beck describes this himself, and compares his method with that of Ellis: www.fenichel.com/Beck-Ellis.shtml ] The core dynamic which Beck illuminates so well is that "emotional consequences follow from what you think. This is Tim Beck's contribution".
Next Seligman spoke about another tool and tenet he believes in using, as he does himself, and recommends as a tool for others. For 3 weeks, "write down 3 things that went well today, and why". He found on a pre-test/post-test comparison, less depression among those who participated. It has worked for him too, and still he finds it useful to end his waking day thinking of a positive moment rather some angst coming out of a faculty meeting or whatever.
He thinks therapy can easily embrace such approaches, rather than "fighting the mountain". Using exercises like the 3 blessings (which he does himself) tends to be "self-reinforcing and self-maintaining".
Seligman encouraged people to take the "Signature Strengths Test", if nothing else, on his web site, www.authentichappiness.com. Several in the audience were familiar with it.
Essentially the SST, now self-administered to over a million people, identifies a person's 5 greatest strengths, a broad menu including things like cognitive and social aptitude.
Sample: "Close your eyes and think of what you HATE at work. Open your eyes and now do what you don't like, using your greatest strength." For example, someone stuck bagging groceries at the market might use the affirmation of strength in social intelligence and now focus on the social interaction which occurs on the job.. In a random/controlled test, with this practiced for a week the experimental group still tested as more optimistic after 6 months.
Other examples of how to approach tasks in a positive way: "With marriage therapy, you can teach couples how to fight - more constructively."
Seligman next presented a table (2x2 cells, constructive/destructive dimension and both active/passive conditions). In a scenario where a spouse comes home and tells the other they just got a big promotion, a passive/destructive response might be: "What's for dinner?" An active/destructive communication might be: "Oh great, now we're in a higher tax bracket!" Passive/constructive: "Congratulations, you deserve it". Active/constructive: Any number of positive ways to build/maintain positive communication through actively sharing positive experience.
And it feels good to be positive towards others! "When people do something altruistic for another person, their whole day goes better". He cited some studies to support this too.
Seligman mentioned the Penn Resilience Training Program (PRP) - a program which provides "optimism training" for children. Research affirmed that the program led to decreased depression. In the UK 95 teachers (grades 5-7) were trained in positive education approaches and their students too exhibited lower depression levels than comparison peers. "Children learned to handle day-to-day stressors, and to be realistically optimistic". He spoke about the value of learning resilience as well.
This needs to be brief now, as I'm both injured and sleepless and need to catch 3-4 hours of sleep, as tomorrow is a long day too.
The duration of Seligman's presentation covered his training of teachers and the value of "embedding" his principles into curriculum. He asked, "Should well-being be taught?" Yes. Can it be? Yes. Is it being taught? Yes, with promising results.
Seligman spoke of some other principles such as society's reaction to suffering, cross-cultural differences, and more. (For example, in a study of 23 EU countries, in terms of well-being perceptions, 33% of Danes were "flourishing", compared with 15% of Brits and 5% of Russians.)
He ended by repeating a favorite reference to Nietzsche, who saw life as reflecting 3 possible ways:
1. The Camel - "sits there and moans and takes it. That's 4000 years of history".
2. The Rebel - "says no to tyranny, the plague, poverty, racism..." - from the time of the Magna Carta.
3. The Lion, or Child Reborn - "What every human being can say 'yes' to. Every human being can say yes to a more noble and meaningful purpose in life".
Seligman opened up the floor for questions, walking out in the audience, the better (he said) to lip read. He referred to aging, saying he's "almost 67". Just as he was preparing to end quickly, to yield the room to the next scheduled event, which was to be a conversation with Aaron T. Beck, Dr. Farley arrived with the unfortunate news that Dr. Beck was under medical advice not to travel, due to illness, and thus would not be able to attend. Farley invited Seligman to continue as long as he was up for it, as the room was his now to keep. In fact Seligman agreed and a line queued up with students and colleagues eager to ask questions or get comments on issues, etc.
There were a wide range of questions, on how he'd relate his work to Norman Vincent Peele ("How to win friends and influence people"), on military applications (he's actually been working very closely and enthusiastically with the military), and on thoughts about refugee situations (to which he responded with a reference to Gladwell's notion of there being "tipping points"). A quick sound byte from the midst of the 2nd round of Q&A: "Happiness is more contagious than depression".
And this seems like the perfect note to end on after this long day.
Still to come: Harvard's Lawrence Kutner on the interaction between psychologists and the media. I attended a media division event (mostly awards and some great conversations with some different legends, like Jerome Singer, about psychoanalysis, and Leon Hoffman - an accomplished cellist/psychologist, and with a fellow photography aficionado.
And now it's time to crash and burn... Tomorrow is another interesting day, beginning with a symposium entitled: The Future of Internet and Media Psychology. There are some additional sessions with both Seligman and Zimbardo, but having gotten my dose of both of today I may focus on some (very) different areas of psychology. Stay tuned...
Regards from the lovely city of Toronto, where the weather's gotten nice, and the locals are showing resilience in the face of deep disappointment with their beloved Blue Jays.
Disclaimer: I try to ensure accurate reports of study results, names, dates, etc., and use a combination of verbatim notes, presenter materials, Power Point data summaries, and direct follow-ups with presenters. If I have inadvertently mis-stated any information (names, dates, numbers, etc.) I would be grateful for any corrections and will be sure to update/correct any articles I present pertaining to these presentations.
FWIW, this is a front page story here in Canada today, in the Globe and Mail.... on a down side of that old "disinhibition effect" which may be fostered by easy online anonymity:
Asynchronously Live from APA
Greetings from the 117th Annual APA Convention.
This morning's front page of the local paper (Globe & Mail) was coincidentally about a potential down side of Internet anonymity:
For me the day begins very early this Saturday morning, with a topical event near and dear to my heart:
Symposium # 3073: The Future of Internet and Media Psychology -
Left to Right: Drs. Sumerson, Wedding, and Shapiro (Photo by Fenichel)
The chair, Frank Farley, introduced the panel and suggested a somewhat informal structure where each would speak but also allow time for audience interaction: comments, personal stories, questions, etc. Dr. Joanne Broder Sumerson encouraged Div. 46 members to join the division's Facebook group, designed mostly to foster f2f social interaction (in keeping with facebook's premise). She also wondered why there is not more published research available, relating to the use and dynamics of facebook.
David Shapiro, a forensic psychologist by background, threw out a topic he deemed worthy of some discussion, specifically the way in which mainstream media (and even in-house publications) have distorted the recent movement (and action) within APA to condemn psychologists' participating in activities related to torture. The way it comes out is that half the nation's psychologists in fact condone torture; "there is little which is said that is accurate". Some of it is benign, such as suggestions that APA is "apathetic" about the topic, to the more malevolent interpretations of the recent vote to make an official policy statement opposing psychology's participation in activities which relate to (ongoing) torture. He'd like to see a stronger effort to counteract the negative images and distortions which are out there.
Another possible discussion point might be "the Dr. Phil Phenomenon": the idea of making psychology into entertainment, which is what Dr. Phil says he is doing. It's a 2-edged sword: It does bring psychology to people, but *what* is being brought to people? One particularly contentious show featured a family, where a mother was told that her son exhibited 9 of the 15 symptoms seen among serial killers, whereas mass-murderer Jeffrey Dalmer exhibited only six. Dr. Shapiro, a forensics expert, said that he does not know of any literature which supports such a list, and therefore it seems to him that such statements are irresponsible.
Given his expertise in criminal behavior, Shapiro is often asked by the media to comment on the psychological functioning (or diagnosis) of criminals. He reminded the audience (most of whom were psychologists who know this, but also for the benefit of some media professionals in the room) that a long-standing axiom of ethical practice holds that one should not render diagnostic opinions without having personally evaluated the subject, with a few exceptions such as speaking generally about a common behavior or general principle, rather than an individual diagnosis. He described the less-than-happy reaction he has received from network media when he declined to do armchair diagnosis ("What good are you?"/phone slam) but still he complied with ethical, best practice as is appropriate.
Danny Wedding, recently returned from Korea, where he lived and worked under a Fulbright grant, described how he had been very involved in lecturing abut suicide, in an area (Japan and Korea) which has a very high rate of adolescent suicide. In exploring the roots of this phenomenon he "googled" the topic of suicide and what he found were a range of sites whose content ranged from people or messages encouraging help-seeking to sites where users shared tips on how to die most easily and painlessly (e.g., step-by-step instructions on how to engineer death by carbon monoxide in one's garage). As a bit of "pushback" or consequence to his evolving focus on suicide, Wedding recalled how his (American) university administration expressed concern about how the publicity about his suicide studies might play out.
Returning to the cross-cultural (and media/technology) perspective, Dr. Wedding mentioned how in Korea there is a 103% saturation rate of cell phones. (More than one cell-phone per person). He was initially surprised to see Buddhist monks talking on cell phones. But they do. "In Seoul it's wired so you can find wi-fi almost everywhere. In one class a student got a text just when it was breaking news that a popular star had committed suicide, and in turn the text was then shared with others" - during a lecture on suicide, in real-time.
Korea is also at the forefront of treating Internet Addiction, which is a very big problem, to the extent of hard-core gamers not infrequently found dead at their computers, after continuous periods of doing nothing but gaming (i.e., no food or sleep). Now there is an emergence of camps to provide treatment for such hard-core gamers. Dr. Wedding is now hoping that perhaps Div. 46 (media), under his incoming leadership, might have some input into promoting policy which results in some preventive types of activity.
The power of Twitter was mentioned, and the response was that it's not that the form is limited to 140 characters - "I wouldn't mind if it was 140 *words* - that's the length of the Gettysburg Address". It's the behavior and use which raise some questions. Also it is evokes the whole issue, speaking of new media and technologies, in terms of the "Flynne effect" - the notion that as a generation, "kids are getting brighter".
Dr. Farley asked if anyone has seen the blog getting media play now, of Sodini, the man in Western PA who just mass-murdered women in a health club, the LA Fitness Center. "Over and over he talks about killing people and himself. 'I'm 48 and hasn't [had sex] in 19 years... women don't like me... maybe I need to get drunk because I [was too cowardly when I went out to do this before]." On and on about women, but also his family: his mother's a bully, father an absent wimp, etc. Farley said it's right up there as about "the scariest document I've seen". And it's out there. Now what can or should be done? Does anyone remember the V-chip, as an effort to mandate decency? On the other hand, all sorts of things are out there, and many do have consequences. Others need parental mediation. For example, Farley's children enjoy American Idol. Once out of curiosity he googled a very popular contestant and quickly ended up seeing photos of her involved in graphic sexual acts. Now if he could find this (quickly and unintentionally!) so can children, he reasons. Therefore, he suggests, "parents and their children need to have cyber-sitdowns on a regular basis".
A brief Q & A followed, about the role of media vs society vs psychologist, and a consensus seemed to be there that we do have an obligation to play some role as a profession, certainly in terms of research.
Now I must run.
Still ahead, something different:
Sex, Love & Psychology. And for something completely out of the ordinary: How Dogs Think.
Then I'm off to the annual ISMHO dinner before I can get out the final reports, so we'll see what I can get out a bit later, either in long or condensed form.
Ciao for now, and regards from Toronto!
Disclaimer: I try to ensure accurate reports of study results, names, dates, etc., and use a combination of verbatim notes, presenter materials, Power Point data summaries, and direct follow-ups with presenters. If I have inadvertently misstated or mis-typed any information (names, dates, numbers, etc.) I would be grateful for any corrections and will be sure to update/correct any articles I present pertaining to these presentations. +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Asynchronously Live from APA 2009 (Toronto)
Now here is one of the catchiest-titled (annual) events!
Town Hall Meeting #3233: Sex, Love, and Psychology
with Drs. Ryan Niemiec, Lenore Walker, Frank Farley (Chair), & Judith Kuriansky
Judith Kuriansky and Frank Farley recall the history of these SLP Town Hall Meetings
Farley began by asking the large audience to identify "the #1 thing we'd expect to be on people's mind". "Love!" "Sex!"
[Facebook? ->He winced at the thought.]
Actually, the historical record indicates that the #1 thing on people's mind over time has been... love. And sex is usually related. And so Dr. Farley asked this large and diverse group of APA members if he thought there might be support for a (new) Division which addresses love and sex. Several dozen, at least, indicated interest.
Farley, who for those who may not know, is a past APA President and past/present President of numerous divisions. Over the years I've attended these conventions, many of the best dialogues in psychology were facilitated by him.
Dr. Farley recalled how long and rich a history these "Sex & Love" discussions have, with past participants including (at the time he was APA President) people like Masters (of Masters & Johnson), and "Dr. Judy" Kuriansky, who he ventured to say probably has been on television more than any other psychologist. Among her many TV and radio programs, one which brought particularly wide fame was her "Money and Emotions" show on CNBC. Also on the panel today we have Lenore Walker, who - in the 1970's - coined the phrase, "the battered woman syndrome". A book by that name is now in its 3rd edition, and is based on empirical study. Lastly, Ryan Niemiec ("pronounced 'knee - mick'") is the movie editor for the APA journal PsyCritiques, and also is involved with the VIA Institute on Character (a close relative of "positive psychology" as defined by Seligman).
Dr. Niemiec opened the formal presentation by joking that Twitter says, "Love is in the air". Not letting that pass, Farley immediately asked if that constituted "a sweet tweet". And back to love and sex, via an introduction to Seligman's notions of positive psychology and love.
[I won't repeat the next few minutes, a primer on Seligman's system, as I just reported on this in detail yesterday, directly from Seligman: positive traits, core virtues, etc. ] Dr. Niemiec cited a study by Seligman & Peterson which reviewed a large number of texts and identified 6 core virtues. At the center - and here is where it relates to the topic of love and sex - is the stated goal of facilitating "a life of purpose and meaning", consistent with the notion of positive psychology (and positive education embedded into the process, as described by Seligman yesterday).
Having heard Seligman's description of how he uses various tests, notions, and tools, including those offered by the VIA character strength test, Dr. Niemiec described how their instrument for measuring character strengths, and clusters has an N of about 655, 000 now. [The site is www.viacharacter.org and Seligman also has links to various tests on his own website.]
Of the clusters which were identified as the "top 5 strengths" (which Seligman -- see above/article -- would like to see used as guideposts to potential rather than focusing on individual DISabilities) are:
Again, Seligman spoke earlier about this at length and if you've not read that report, please do.
After this overview, Dr. Niemiec recommended a few seminal books which inform the mainstream notion of positive psychology. Some of these were referred to by Seligman without identifying the specific source or author, and so this may be useful:
Barbara Fredrickson has written elegantly about "Broaden and Build Theory". Seligman, Niemiec shared, "calls her 'the genius of positive psychology'".
Another pioneer he spotlighted is Shelly Gable (U of Cal) who is studying the phenomenon of "capitalization" in close relationship, which is the way we respond to the good news shared by the other. This is the 2x2 model described by Seligman, with active and passive modes of being either destructive or constructive. Again, not to repeat it all, but Niemiec's example of a constructive active response (as opposed to the more passive, "that's nice.. very good", might entail not only an enthusiastic congratulation but some active questioning and engaging - a *joining* in the positive experience... (The passive/constructive version would be "that's nice, let's eat dinner".
What are the 3 character strengths Gale sees as the most important?
- Social Intelligence
- Self Regulation
The 3rd aspect refers to how one can refrain from interrupting and truly listen and then thoughtfully respond.
Other studies were cited such as Lyubomirsky - on altruistic love and the extended effect of exhibiting multiple acts of love, all in one day, for example. (Dr. Walker likened this to an opposite phenomenon, in the *negative* realm of psychology, when an abuser fires off "blasts of abuse". Dr. Farley wondered if she hadn't just come up with a new book title.)
Another study (Peterson and Parti -sp?) related "life satisfaction" to a top-5 attributes list:
Extremely close behind, almost dead even with #5, is "perspective".
Researcher George Valliant did a longitudinal study of people who had disastrous childhoods, following them at age 25 and again at 50. [Results on slide]
Sternberg has a well-known triangle of relationships.
And then love... At the movies for sure it is "the most dominant of the character strengths", though not so much of the romantic and real-life dynamics such as commitment, with a Hollywood version emerging. He ended in mentioning that he and Danny Wedding are looking at what he terms "cinematic elevation".
Next up, a veteran show-woman and expert on love/sex/relationships, Dr. Judith Kurianski. Walking into the audience, mic in hand, she asked if anyone would share some feelings about intimacy and love in their life, and a few in the audience courageously mentioned positive physical and emotional bonds and Kurianski thanked them for being open and positive. She proceeded to enter the media lens on love and relationship by sharing a WABC segment from the evening before, about a woman who "married a carnival ride". No joke. She rode the ride over a thousand times, 300 days of the year. A video clip showed her tenderly attending to her beloved. (G rated!) . "Elsewhere in the news", she continued, we have a governor's wife who moved out and so what he do? Head to Argentina. So much for a brief break from the more theoretical and empirical discussions surrounding us.
Kurianski, who teaches at Columbia, asked her students to identify things in the news which are relevant to relationships. One area which has emerged in that of relationships in Palestine/Israel. Recently in the news (early August 2009, as this convention was about to begin) much attention was drawn to "the Pittsburgh Murderer" who announced to the world repeatedly (via facebook) that he's had "no sex in year", which has - along with his specific plan to kill people - has evoked many questions about duty to act on warnings, the causes for his being the way he was (he said it was a wimpy, absent father and a domineering mother, combined with a long-time lack of physical or other connection with women). He even said on his blog that he'd complete the act already, but lacked the courage. With all the post-event analysis, Kurianski was surprise to be asked in front of millions on CNN whether she thought maybe the killer's gun was a substitute phallic symbol. This led to a brief discussion (as she shared she has with Dr.Farley) about "the obligations of psychologists". Should we be (or support) "cyber-cops?" Someone in the audience suggested googling "government web 2.0 for a chilling possibility.
End scene/cut to a slide Kurianski cues up. Boston is doing something positive in promoting a Safer Sex Campaign. [ facebook.com/sexed ] which is essentially driven and promoted as "peer education". This may be timely; did you know that syphilis is coming back?
Some who follow public health trends and women's health in particular "have some hope" that more rational approaches than Bush's AO (abstinence-only) programs are forthcoming. With big corporate assistance (e.g., from Trojan), there are programs being implemented in places like Sierra Leone where there is huge challenge in AIDS prevention. More than "just say no", which clearly hasn't helped, the key messages are: 1) stay in school 2) don't have sex 3) don't have "transactional sex" (a common practice of "trading" sex with older men who provide money for books. There is a Sisi Amanata program, getting the message out via radio, commercial media, schools, and community.
Does listening to sex make teens go out and do it? Studies say no, and so the claims that education leads to disinhibition rings hollow. When couples do have sex despite warnings, "they think about safety". There are groups that take the classic ABC approach and add a "D" for decision-making.
Moving from Africa to Europe, some video was shown of sex museums (e.g., in Prague, right in the Old Town Square) and museums/exhibitions in various other countries. The point is that they differ in reaction to the social mores and attitude of the authorities. In Japan, historically a respectful and inhibited culture, a study shows about 10% of men are fixated on young girls. It's not only the "schoolgirl" look or even soft-core pornography - they now have vending machines offering girls underwear for those who may be aroused by that. [Slide #9920]
Sometimes tolerant cultures try to bring about some good through their accepted sexual institutions - for example the Berlin Sex Museum has actively lobbied for contraceptive rights. Other sex exhibitions are a balance of novelty and forbidden fruit, as in Singapore, where trade shows and exhibitions feature bits of S&M, and transvestites, and toys which seem cuddly and pleasing.
Other aspects of sexuality Dr. Kurianski gets involved with include "brain issues", and scandals too: Michael Jackson, Sarah Palin... Some politicians... and then there is a big movement of "cougars": Older women with younger men. And then there is the completely "dark side", but today, that topic is reserved for the final speaker, Lenore Walker.
Dr. Walker, known for her work with battered wives, noted that love and sex don't always go together, not only in instances of battered wives but also in circumstances such as pedophilia. The media has been attentive to such stories, most recently in their interest in exposing how young boys had been prematurely sexualized - by priests. But her own work is in forensic psychology, working with abuse victims such as battered wives AND "women/men, or girls/boys" who have been abused on cruise ships. "Remember the Loveboat?" On cruises people tend to let down their guard, seek excitement, and maybe drink a bit, and tend to be inattentive to things like condom use. There are also cases where things may get slipped into some of those drinks. She described one case in which a girl was basically raped by some older boys and is now in limbo waiting to learn if she acquired HIV. For she got herpes. And it's not always boys plying girls with alcohol - sometimes girls will engage in a bit of alcohol "for a kick".
Unfortunately, I missed the last 5 minutes or so, but it is for a good cause - to allow me to get to the next session and get a seat so I can bring you this final report on something I've never before heard or reported about, and which is unrelated to the cruelty or suffering of humankind. Coming up, from APA 2009, something completely different than the norm: How Dogs Think.
Disclaimer: I try to ensure accurate reports of study results, names, dates, etc., and use a combination of verbatim notes, presenter materials, Power Point data summaries, and direct follow-ups with presenters. If I have inadvertently misstated or mis-typed any information (names, dates, numbers, etc.) I would be grateful for any corrections and will be sure to update/correct any articles I present pertaining to these presentations.
Asynchronously Live from APA Toronto, 8 August 2009
Greetings from Toronto, and stay tuned for this final "asynchronously live" report from the APA convention, onsite. This is going to be the last "asynchronously live" report for this convention, as it's nearly sunrise and I've only got one event planned for Sunday, the last day of the conference. The event is a special look at the "Appeal of Albert Ellis: Why the Media and Millions of Admirers Couldn't Get Enough of Him". I'd imagine he'd enjoy that title. His wife, Dr. Debbie Joffe-Ellis is going to be interviewed by some media and provide her perspective. For those who would enjoy her recollections, I'd suggest my article from last year, covering the "wake" held at the convention shortly after his death. Not only his wife, but many friends, admirers, and even clients delivered anecdotes, eulogies, and remembrances of singular occasions. I will pay my respects but not cover the details in a report. I may have omitted one report, and if so I'll get that out - (still barely) Harvard Professor and media pioneer Lawrence Kutner gave a presentation full of pointers about how to woo the media and please story editors, by thinking in terms of "the story". That's what I will try to do "here and now", give you a bit of the story of how dogs think, combining empirical research with some pictures, videos and stats. I'll try to find some of the video bits and add them as links. This was a very fast-paced media-rich presentation, so I'll try to emulate his presentation by following the story, and if I can add some of the graphics or links to the videos will do that in the next stage of editing this raw material into the first of several drafts and ultimately into a more polished paper. Now, without further adieu, Dr. Stanley Coren.
Invited Plenary Address: Stanley Coren, Ph.D., FRSC, University of British Columbia.
HOW DOGS THINK
Dr. Coren was introduced as professor emeritus, and Ph.D. from Stanford, best known for his books on dogs but also known for his work in areas of neuropsychology, cognition, and sensorimotor functioning. He lives in Vancouver with 2 dogs, his wife, and her cat.
OK, so where do we begin in looking at how dogs think? This was not to be a "dog & pony show" where animals are merely a source of entertainment, but a loving and empirical look at how dogs actually think, employing a scientific framework not unlike the work of Piaget and others who look at early acquisition of language, "object constancy", and goal-directed behavior. The methodology may vary, but some of the well-known dimensions of human learning, such as learning of words and sequences and quantity, are quite amenable to rigorous study. Some of the results are quite interesting, and Dr. Coren presents an engaging blend of historical and sociological canine functioning, as well as some empirical study of cognitive functioning. Along the way he joked about the way people dearly love their breeds and tend to forget the origins of how that breeding came about. Clearly he loves them all, whether smart or not so smart, and his humor underscored how we have many preconceptions of what "smart" really means - to dogs. Here are some scientific studies of dogs, along with some video clips (in his presentation) and clever, engaging graphics to illustrate some of the talents and foibles of (wo)man's best friend. Here's a taste of this dense-packed, multi-media presentation.
First, Dr. Coren said, "You gotta understand: Our thinking about dogs comes in 2 extremes:
1. "Dogs are 4-footed people in fur coats", versus
2. "Dogs are unthinking concomitants - a programmable chassis...."
Where did dogs come from, anyway? Possibly from wolves, and/or jackals, coyotes, selected fox species, and wild dogs. Their remains from earliest history suggest they've long been "man's best friend", with one curious exception: "Neanderthals never formed an alliance with dogs, which may have contributed to their extinction." Embraced by generations of societies, dogs are arguably "the best example of behavioral engineering we've got." They have long been genetically engineered to produce specific behaviors and body types.
For 14,000 years dogs have been our friends. They were the first domesticated animal, in fact, before sheep, cattle, cats, chickens or horses.
And so, we ask, How intelligent are dogs?
Dr.Coren showed a video clip to illustrate cleverness. (Imagine) The doorbell rings and the human goes to the front door as the dog quickly helps himself/herself to some food on the kitchen counter, and then a drink. Very quickly the dog runs out and fetches the cat by the scruff of its neck and deposits it on the kitchen counter just before the human returns to the kitchen. Clever?
Some have looked at animal intelligence in terms of "cephalization index", or the size of the brain relative to the body.
The top of the list for big brains:
- Homo sapiens
Labrador retrievers do relatively well on the cephalization index; moles and rats do particularly poorly in the brain mass continuum.
Coren sees intelligence as being more than one unidimensional entity, positing an instinctive intelligence, adaptive intelligence, and working/obedience intelligence. Instinctive Intelligence references what the dog was bred to do, and thus this is a hard measure to employ comparatively. Adaptive Intelligence refers to problem-solving ability and adaptation skills. (Even within breeds there can be wide variability.) It is in this domain that much research has been done, including language, quantitative, and problem-solving ability. Lastly there is Working and Obedience Intelligence, which can be operationalized as "how well the dog will learn to perform commands and execute instructions for humans." This is said to be the canine equivalent of "school learning", and tends to be seen as a good general indicator of ability in this domain.
Even after arriving at some broad types of "intelligence" is there not an aspect of subjective judgment? Is retrieving, for example, truly "smarter", say, than herding? One needs to consider, in the case of dogs, what a dog was bred to do - E.g., "herding dogs herd & retrievers retrieve".
There are several standardized tests which have been developed to assess dogs along various dimensions of (canine) intelligence. "Obedience performance" is considered a good measure", one we see at play in contests, for example.
Two hundred eight [dog competition] judges were asked to identify the top breeds for intelligence and the responses were "very consistent". With an N of 99 (of the 208 judges), the most esteemed dog in terms of intellect is not, as some might expect, a poodle. "Yes. The poodle is a retriever. He did not ask for that stupid haircut! Poodles can compete as retrievers." [Still, poodle lovers can take comfort: they are #2 on the list, second only to border collies.]
Beagles, however, "descended from the bottom, so the chair you're sitting on is more trainable than a beagle." Other dogs attributed with great intelligence also may not be as sharp as they look. Dr. Coren wondered aloud, "Why keep an Afghan?"
[Video of an advertisement for long, flowing hair -- pick your choice and visualize for 10 seconds.]
Afghans' breeding makes them particularly good at running after antelope, and they are a beautiful sight to watch, but not too many of us do actual work with antelope. Fine as eye-candy, they are at the bottom of the list, cognitively.
Of course, individual tastes do vary, and social popularity changes too over time. While we know hounds are low on the scale in terms of natural dog-brights, Pharaoh Rameses the Great (circa 1275 BC) buried his hound with him. Actually, an image of the mummified dog reveals it to be a greyhound. [Feel free to speculate what cultural or religious priorities made a greyhound, in particular, so prized.]
But hounds are, practically speaking, not very specialized: "All a hound needs to be able to do is get to the prey and not eat it." Of the bottom 10 (in estimated canine intelligence among trainers and borne out by experimentation), 60% are Hounds, and 100% are "old breeds" that have been around for centuries. Moreover, "hounds were designed to be independent hunters that did not depend upon interaction with humans to do their job."
For the curious (and not representing any personal opinion by this neutral reporter!) here are the top and bottom breeds as reported in terms of their canine cognition rating:
Smartest Dogs (Descending Order)
- Border Collie
- German Shepherd
- Golden Retreiver
- Doberman Pinscher
- Shetland Sheepdog
- Labrador Retriever
- Australian Cattle Dog
The Bottom 10 (Ascending Order)
- 101. Basset Hound
- 102. Mastiff
- 103. Beagle
- 104. Pekingese
- 105. Bloodhound
- 106. Borzoi
- 107. Chow Chow
- 108. Bulldog
- 109. Basenji
- 110. Afghan Hound
Dogs can learn up to 165 words or so (including gestures), and a few "super dogs" can learn around 200 words, similar to the human equivalent at around 2 years. Some of our language comprehension tests shown to be useful with young children have been adapted to use with dogs (e.g., the MacArthur Communicative Development Inventory). Rico the border collie (considered overwhelmingly to be the smartest dog) understands over 200 words.
Research has shown dogs engage in "exclusive thinking", meaning they can be taught to label objects. Shown 4 familiar objects and a 5th unknown one, after identifying the 4 known objects by name, it readily learns that the 5th word being said must be the name of the still-unidentified 5th object rather than any of the others. They hold this learned information for around 4 weeks.
Dogs can demonstrate some remarkable skills with receptive language, as illustrated in some fascinating video clips where dogs follow both explicit and subtle direction. [E.g., David Hartwig and Skidboot.] They also listen carefully to other dogs and can learn specific types of barks. (Wolves too can learn social barks by being around dogs.)
Dogs are less capable with productive language (sounds). The average dog has a repertoire of about 35 different sounds and signals. What's the best we get?
Some retrievers can count to 5. The video shows a dog following the directions: "Paco, fetch it up!" and Paco gets one of five objects. "Paco, fetch it up!" and Paco gets object # 2. Then 3, and 4, and 5. If the human then asks Paco to "fetch it up" again, Paco won't be fooled and knows there are only five and he has fetched them all. Some researchers look at size discrimination among dogs, too (e.g., Norton Milgram, at University of Toronto).
In looking at this level of thinking and learning, Piaget's work was invoked, and his interest in whether (human) infants can add/subtract. Dogs took tests similar to Piaget's object constancy tests, and they generally knew whether to expect an object or not, unless the Experimenter cheats and removes or adds something in which case the dog stops and looks confused, *knowing* that something changed unpredictably. Some of the most sophisticated dog-specific research on object constancy comes from Gagnon and Doré with their "Invisible Placement Test", similar to Piaget's procedure, though modified. One interesting finding is that dogs, whose survival skills need to develop relatively quickly, demonstrate object permanency equivalent to that of an 18-month old child at only 8 weeks.
Geometry? Dogs don't care about triangle formulas, but they can find the shortest distance between 2 places.
Do dogs dream? REM studies suggest yes, the average-sized dog will have a dream (REM) about every 20-25 minutes, each lasting 2-3 minutes. Smaller dogs tend to have shorter but more frequent dreams - a pug, for example, exhibits 1 minute of REM for every 10 minutes asleep. Usually REM surpresses movement but dog owners know that sometimes dogs do appear to be chasing or running in their sleep. As we can't simply ask what their dreams are made of, that remains a realm for speculation.
Dogs have some unique differences from other "smart" primates, like chimps. Chimps can become absorbed by their mirror reflection and realize it is themselves, play around and mug, etc. Dogs don't. Why? Is it that they're not so vane? More likely it's that their keen sense of smell doesn't match the image on the glass and they lose interest or dismiss it as not meaningful. (Beckoff, U of Colorado, did some heroic "yellow snow" research to look at this important factor in dog processing and daily experience: smell).
Then there are other tasks of great intelligence and occasional mystery, like the dogs from the Hospice of St. Bernard. They are trained in groups of 3, where one dog remains in the area of an accident, a second keeps the victim warm and calm, and the 3rd seeks help. What happens is fascinating as dog teams seem to demonstrate preferences and end up choosing whether to become a "goer" or "stayer". Learning happens independent of simple reward and punishment explanations. Social learning plays a key role across many breeds and typical tasks. For example, herding and herd-guarding dogs learn faster if sent out to the flock with experienced dogs. Dogs are also attentive to human gestures and behavior, having been selected and bred to do so for centuries.
We know dogs learn through watching and imitating other dogs. Can they learn from watching humans? Yes. One study in Budapest used a V-shaped barrier where the way to get to the treat was to do the opposite of what was tried, and back off enough to go around the side rather than directly proceed forward. Interestingly, the dogs imitated the human model exactly, and if a hole was cut to provide an easier approach, the dogs stuck with the first solution they learned.
"Dogs have a theory of mind", figuring out intent, for example, when the human points at something. Wolves won't do this, though they will visually track the hand. More: If 2 people have a treat and one person is blindfolded, the dog will beg only to the one who can see. Dogs can not only be practical like this, but clever in other ways, such as *deceiving* another dog so as to get its food (illustrated in a few video clips). [A comparison chart shows that the success rate implementing deception slides, but not badly "relative to people".] Although religious and cultural belief has opposed such notions (as consciousness implies a soul), laboratory experiments, to say nothing of our daily experience, suggest that indeed dogs have conscious intent, knowledge, and experience. Descartes, on the other hand, argued that animals were all merely machines. The era of Behaviorism in psychology (e.g., Watson) continued to supress any real efforts at exploring the inner life (or even overt behavior) of dogs, as pigeons and rats were preferred in the lab. Only Darwin made the case that animals do indeed have consciousness.
Dogs of course do learn human words and their meaning. They seem to readily understand the human's intention too, like "BALL, get the BALL", or more complex behaviors such as "fetch" and "roll over". One tip teaching: the most powerful place to repeat an action word is at the end of a sentence.
Finally this should be mentioned: Dogs can learn undesirable behaviors too! [A clip was presented of a dog smoking a cigarette and blowing smoke.] And dogs do master some rather complex activities. [Clip of a dog pushing itself along on a skateboard and then gliding, doing a few laps across a parking lot. Currently making the rounds on YouTube/Facebook, both a border collie as well as a very athletically talented bulldog.] Another clip shows a border collie, our brightest dog, doing a choreographed dance routine with a Charlie Chaplin character.
And as time ran out, the speaker received a rousing applause.
Disclaimer: I try to ensure accurate reports of study results, names, dates, etc., and use a combination of verbatim notes, presenter materials, Power Point data summaries, and direct follow-ups with presenters. If I have inadvertently misstated or mis-typed any information (names, dates, numbers, etc.) I would be grateful for any corrections and will be sure to update/correct any articles I present pertaining to these presentations.
Michael Fenichel, Ph.D.