Idea for a Doctoral Dissertation in Psycholinguistics

One day in my psycholinguistics class in 2009, I had two ideas that my prof, Dare Baldwin, announced would make good doctoral dissertations. I wrote them down, thinking maybe I would use them. The way my mind works is that I seriously consider doing a Ph.D in every subject I study. A few months later I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to do more research in psycholinguistics, so I wrote myself a note: “Look through notes from Dare’s class and post dissertation ideas for aspiring psycholinguists.”

Well I’m sorry to say that I’ve just looked through those notes and I can’t find the dissertation ideas, and one of them I have completely forgotten. The other I remember the basics of and if you are an aspiring psycholinguist you are welcome to it. Remember, this was in 2009, so check around to see if this research hasn’t been done already.

In Dare’s lecture, she explained that it is something of a mystery how exactly we hear voiced and non-voiced consonants as distinct from each other. If you pay close attention while you say the words “poor” and “bore,” for example, you might be able to notice that the only difference (at least with my accent) is how soon the vowel sound starts after the lips make the consonant. A slight gap between consonant and vowel creates a “p” and a smaller gap makes a “b.”

Using a computer to manipulate that gap, you can test what size of gap produces each consonant, and it turns out it’s a very specific and arbitrary-seeming size. We all hear the transition the same. And to make it even more mysterious, some other animals hear the distinction just like we do. How can this be an important distinction for animals to be able to make?

I believe that this is all due to a psychoacoustic phenomenon called temporal fusion. Any recording engineer knows that if you take two copies of a sound and space them at more than about 30 ms, you will hear both copies, distinct from one another. The second copy will sound like an echo of the first. If you space them at less than about 30 ms, what you instead hear is one, longer, thicker sound.

I bet you that 30 ms is also about the length of gap that starts to distinguish voiced from non-voiced consonants. That is, the length of gap is not arbitrary, but based on human hearing acuity. I will also bet you that other animals that can distinguish between Ps and Bs have temporal fusion that kicks in around 30 ms as well.

There you go. It should be easy and relatively cheap to test. If no one else has thought of it since 2009, it’s yours. If I remember the second idea, I’ll post it too.

(first published February 9, 2012 on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape.)

The Elements of Friendship According to John Gottman

John Gottman is a rock star of the science of marriage relationships. He studies them in great detail, minute interactions, facial expressions, heart rate, stress hormones. Using that data he can predict with a high degree of accuracy which relationships are heading for happiness or unhappiness, stability or divorce. I should say that this is prediction in a technical, statistical sense, not in the sense of prophecy. He can’t tell you if your relationship will fail, only whether your relationship behaves in similar ways to those that have failed in the past. Still, that’s a lot better than nothing, and it’s been enough for him to build an exciting theory of relationships.

In his theory, the most important, without-which-all-is-lost part of your relationship is the friendship. By friendship, he means several very specific things. Here is a summary of his summary from his newest book, The Science of Trust:

  1. Track your partner’s inner experience by asking lots of questions and remembering the answers.
  2. Make a habit of finding things to appreciate your partner for and letting them know each time you do.
  3. Notice the things your partner does and says that could be responded to, and respond positively to them. Pretty much all of them—you can miss or fail to respond to at most 3 out of 20.

If you are not doing this work, he says, you are not behaving like couples who manage to sustain satisfying, meaningful, passionate relationships, who manage conflict well enough, and who stay together longer than 6 years. Maintaining friendship in this manner is the bare minimum.

(First published December 17, 2011 on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape.)

Review of the Sleep Cycle App

I bought Sleep Cycle for my iPod touch because it sounded right up my alley. It uses the accelerometer in i-devices to measure how much you move while asleep to track your sleep cycles. Then it wakes you up when you will be most alert. How cool is that?

Well, it is pretty cool, but not because it tracks your sleep cycles, or because it wakes you up alert. First of all, sleep cycles are defined by brainwave patterns, not by movement. Perhaps it’s a decent analog–I’ve read that claim–but the charts that Sleep Cycle produces from my nights of sleep don’t look much like the examples of EEG readouts of sleepers.

Where in this graph was I dreaming? It looks like I fell asleep and woke up pretty abruptly, and was awake for a short period just after 6 am, but that’s all I can tell. I can also say that the app does not always catch it when you wake up. I’ve gotten out of bed to pee and not made a spike out of the sleep zone.

It is also not really useful for its primary purpose–to wake you up during the period that you will feel most rested. You set an alarm for the latest you want to wake up, and then a period of time during which it would be acceptable to wake up. The alarm is supposed to go off at the point in that period when you are moving enough to indicate that you are in shallow sleep. Supposedly, if it waited longer and let you go back into deep sleep, you would wake up groggy because of it.

Perhaps it’s just me, and perhaps it’s just that I’ve been in grad school, but I found that Inever preferred to be woken up before I really needed to be up. I did not notice any benefit from being woken up when I started to move instead of when I had just enough time to get ready for school. Luckily, you can set it for “normal alarm clock mode” with no “wake-up phase.”

Still, Sleep Cycle is cool for a couple of reasons. First, It tracks how much time I give myself for sleeping. It starts counting when you set the alarm at night and stops when you wake up and keeps track. That’s how I know, for example, that I gave myself an average of 8 hours and 35 minutes to sleep in for the 155 nights before Reanna moved to Eugene. (It doesn’t work with two people in bed.) (And that included my last 125 days of grad school–not too bad!) That means I averaged fairly close to eight hours of sleep a night, with an estimated average sleep latency of 30 minutes. And that brings me to the coolest part.

As a chronic, intermittent insomniac, I’ve always wanted to know how long it actually takes me to get to sleep. Now I have a pretty good idea, thanks to Sleep Cycle. Many of my graphs look something like this:

I started trying to sleep just after 1 AM and drifted off around 1:45. I probably would have told you that I lay awake for at least an hour. Here’s another:

That looks like about an hour of insomnia. Don’t be fooled by the little initial drop–that was me lying very still, trying to sleep, before starting to toss and turn.

To finish off, here are a few other graphs, just so you can see some of the variety:

(First published on August 29, 2011 on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape.)

Exponential Growth is Counterintuitive

In his new lecture for the Long Now Foundation, Geoffrey West asserts that part of the problem humans face is that we tend not to understand exponential growth. An economy growing at a miserable 2%, for example, is still growing exponentially. And economic growth is still largely a measure of the acceleration of entropy–how much faster are we turning resources into pollution. He advises figuring out ways that periods of slow or no growth OK, because it will have to be.

Exponential growth really is counterintuitive. Here’s the way he describes it:

Imagine you are going to grow a test tube of a bacteria, starting with one bacterium at 8 AM and ending with a full test tube precisely at noon. The bacteria grow by doubling–a kind of exponential growth–each second. So at the end of one second we have two, after two seconds we have four, after three seconds we have eight, and so on. That being the case, at what time will the test tube be one-half full?

Right. Precisely one second before noon. And two seconds before noon it’s a quarter full. Three seconds is an eighth, four seconds a sixteenth. At 11:59.55 AM, the tube is only 1/32 full. Imagine being a bacterium in the tube at five seconds to noon. It would seem more crowded than usual, but look at all that space to go, and we’ve been doubling like this for almost four hours! There may be a problem in the next few days, but certainly not in the next few seconds–exponential growth is probably also counterintuitive for bacteria.

(Published first on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape as “Exponential Growth,” August 21, 2011.)

Three Umpires Asked How They Call Balls & Strikes

This was from the lecture “The Mismeasure of Man” by Ralph Horwitz at Stanford. It’s a nice way to distinguish between a few different ideas about our relationship to reality.

1) “I call them how they are.” This umpire believes that he has direct access to reality. In his mind, he just watches what happens and makes the call appropriately.

2) “I call them the way I see them.” This umpire acknowledges the limitation of his senses. He knows he may make a call that doesn’t reflect reality accurately because of his lack of direct access to reality.

3) “They ain’t nothing til I call them.” This umpire thinks he defines reality. Horwitz paints this one as the most arrogant, and he probably is. Whether or not this umpire thinks he has direct access to reality, he knows that he is the person who can say what we call a particular human/bat/ball interaction.

It shows a certain amount of self-awareness to be able to say what the third umpire said, which I admire. It is a kind of awareness that is necessary (though not nearly sufficient) for those of us with the inappropriate power to define the situations of others to give up that power. That is, no matter whether our power comes from race, gender, money, or whatever, we can’t give it up until we understand that we have it.

A note on gender in this post: Horwitz used the title of his lecture as a way to get in an apology about how much more research is done on men than women. He also used male pronouns for his umpires. Thinking that there are probably umpires of all genders, I tried to use “they” instead of “he,” “she,” or variations on “he/she.” It felt like bad writing so I went back to “he.” No offense meant, and if you want to take a crack at it, send me what you come up with.

[First published on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape, August 6, 2011.]

When Nietzsche Wept

The first fiction I read after graduating from my Couples & Family Therapy masters program was the novel by Irvin Yalom, When Nietzsche Wept. I loved it and read it out loud to Reanna directly afterwards. I was fully engaged and deeply moved each time I read it. Yalom imagines a pre-Zarathustra Nietzsche becoming involved therapeutically with a mentor of Freud’s in 1882.

Before rushing out to get it, consider my caveats: I am a therapist and this is a novel about therapy. I am a fan of Yalom’s from having loved two of his clinical books, An Open Letter to New Therapists and The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy. (The Group book split my cohort–most hated it. I never understood why. It was great.) I am also very interested in existential philosophy.

If you do read it, consider a doing a couple things that helped me enjoy it. I created a Pandora station for the 1880s out of Wagner, Mahler, and Strauss. It really shifted the tone of the book to be listening to the ultra-dramatic German music of the time. Second, all of the major characters are historical figures with images available online–Nietzsche and Freud, of course, but also Bertha Pappenheim, Lou Salome, and Josef and Mathilde Breuer. That was fun to see.

[First published on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape, on August 3, 2011.]

Graduation Photos

“Hullo, I would like a photo of you in your cap and gown, grinning, please. If such a picture exists, anyway,” wrote Maya.

Yes, Maya, they do, thanks to Gabriel, Maggie, and Rachael Seluga:

In the Lineup, Grinning

In the Lineup, Grinning

Nathen Gets Diploma (Grinning)

Nathen Gets Diploma from Grinning President

Nathen, Graduated, Grinning

Nathen, Graduated, Grinning

Nathen and Gabriel, Grinning

Nathen and Gabriel, Grinning

Nathen and Christine, Grinning

Nathen and Christine, Grinning

Gabriel Takes Grinning Nathen to Dinner

Gabriel Takes Grinning Nathen to Dinner

[First published on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape

Lee’s Love Typology: Love Styles

Another psychometrically-produced typology of love is John Lee’s “colors of love.” LikeSternberg, Lee found three primary styles of love, or “primary colors,” which Lee called eros, ludus, and storge. He found that these styles combined to form three secondary styles or colors, for six love styles total:

Erotic love: Immediate, powerful, exclusive, preoccupying, sexual

Ludic love: Love as entertainment, for pleasure rather than for bonding, commitment-phobic

Storgic love: Stable, not intense, based on bond and shared interests

Pragmatic love: A combination of storgic and ludic love, which Lee called “shopping for a suitable mate.”

Manic love: A combination of erotic and ludic love, obsessive, jealous, self-defeating

Agapic love: A combination of erotic and storgic love, unconditional devotion, difficult to maintain

Here’s a visual of the typology I stole from

(First published June 1, 2011 on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape.)

Sternberg’s Triangular Love Typology

Before the mid-20th century, typologies of love were works of philosophy, ethics, introspection, and intuition. In the 1980s, Robert Sternberg produced a typology of love psychometrically, meaning he asked people about their experiences and used factor analysis to determine which experiences tended to co-occur. He came up with a three-factor model of love: intimacy, passion, and commitment. Intimacy is stuff like warmth, closeness, and bondedness. Passion is stuff like romance, physical attraction, and sex. Commitment is the decisions involved in maintaining love over time. By combining those factors, he came up with the following typology:

Relationship Type Intimacy Passion Commitment
Nonlove Low Low Low
Liking High Low Low
Infatuation Low High Low
Empty Love Low Low High
Romantic Love High High Low
Companionate Love High Low High
Fatuous Love Low High High
Consummate Love High High High

Here’s a typical triangular image of the system:

(First published May 31, 2011 on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape.)


A Very Brief Introduction to Loneliness and Dating

It’s funny to find myself giving a presentation about getting a date, as I’ve asked exactly one person for a date and was rejected. I agreed to help with a presentation in my Sex Therapy class about clients who are lonely and want to date. This is my rough (but roughly accurate) outline for my part of the presentation, about what the research says:

Things to Know About Loneliness

It’s common. 10-25% of people are significantly lonely. Adolescents and young adults are the loneliest groups.

There are two kinds: Social and emotional—a lack of a sense of social integration, and the absence of an attachment figure. Most research is about social loneliness, and the two can get confounded. Our clients may mistake one for the other.

It is bad for us. Both social integration and attachment figures are human needs. It significantly increases morbidity and mortality, probably mediated by stress and also possibly by metabolic syndrome. Predicts 25-30% of suicidal behavior. Loneliness is a key vulnerability in sexual offending.

Things to Know About Dating

Lots of people are single. Maybe close to half.

Rejection hurts. Physically. Seriously. It may actually help to take a Tylenol. Normalize the pain and the fear of pain.

There is a lot of research and it may be good to know, for psychoed purposes:

Awareness. To get a date, other people must be aware of you. Are your clients making others aware of them? The general rule here is to stand out from the crowd in some way that does not violate social norms. Standing out in a negative way will not help.


Physical attractiveness is a big deal. Sorry, it just is. If it is an issue, consider a conversation with clients about grooming. Beyond that, blame the media and move on to the points below.

Appropriateness. Again, violating social norms generally will turn people off. There is also a lot of research on stuff like age, social/economic status, and race/ethnicity acting as “appropriateness” filters for affiliation, but I’m not sure how helpful that will be for clients.

Familiarity. People will like you more just because they know you. As long as you didn’t make an initial negative impression, becoming a regular will help you.

Similarity. Opposites attract is wrong. People like people who are like them. This is a good plug for meeting people at special-interest events. (Bars are an exception. Very few real relationships start in bars.)

Responsiveness. We like people who seem interested in us. Eye contact, questions, turning towards bids for attention. Check your clients for an exaggerated sense of putting themselves out there.

Approach/Affiliation. If you want someone to approach you and choose you, you need to be accessible and receptive. These are much like the awareness, familiarity, and responsiveness principles, above.

(First published May 32, 2011 on Nathen’s Miraculous Escape.)