The Importance of Literacy in Science

A few weeks ago, I heard a parent attempting to describe to their little one what time it was in a different time zone.  I don’t precisely remember how the parent described the difference, but it got me to think about things of this nature and how we go about explaining them to our little ones. Further to that, it made me consider the importance of literacy in science.

My thought on this is that if a parent is better able to explain the science behind some things to their kids, it might make it easier for the kids to remember the concepts (or understand why things happen). The scientific explanation would replace the, “Oh that’s just the way it is,” or “Just because,” answer that kids might often hear from their parents.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful, though, if when kids ask parents why the sky is blue, parents are able to coolly and calmly explain Rayleigh scattering? Or when when kids ask parents about the sun always rising in the East and setting in the West, parents can explain the Earth’s rotation? Or what about when kids ask parents about things always falling to the ground and parents can explain the basics of gravity?

I suspect that if parents are able to offer kids a scientific explanation for why things happen, it could give kids a better rooted understanding of the natural world around them. More than that, I suspect that if it becomes the “norm” that parents (and people) have a basic understanding of scientific concepts, it might change the way we look at Science (or STEM!).


Now, I’m not saying that parents need to go out and get PhD’s in biology, chemistry, or physics, but having a basic understanding of some of the more popular questions could go a long way towards normalizing an understanding of the world around us. Think back to when you were a kid — right in the thick of that period when you asked your parents questions about everything. No doubt, your parents were able to answer some of your questions and give you reasonable explanations, but I suspect that up to a point, the explanation probably began to fell apart. That’s not for lack of trying on the parent’s part — you can only explain so much when it comes to things you don’t understand. But I wonder if your mom/dad were able to give you the best explanation (that is, what science seems to tell us is the most current theory for why something happens), would that have maybe motivated you to test that theory?

For instance, let’s say you were asking your parents about gravity and your mom/dad explained the difference between gravity on the Earth and gravity on the moon. Might that motivate you to consider what the gravity is like on other planets or what the gravity is like in space or what the gravity is like in something that even I can’t consider at this moment? Kids are full of imagination and creativity, and I think if we foster that imagination through some of humanity’s best understand of the world around us, we just might encourage our little ones to change the way we think about the world.


Babies Aren’t Meant to Sleep Alone: Parenting Without Borders, Part 1

In July, I began working on a series about the book Parenting Without Borders. Little did I know that I wouldn’t be able to write the second post in that series until about 4 months later. To refresh your memory:

Christine Gross-Loh exposes culturally determined norms we have about “good parenting,” and asks, Are there parenting strategies other countries are getting right that we are not?

With that out of the way, let’s get straight to Chapter 1 — Sleep.


Without a doubt, sleep is probably one of the most controversial topics when it comes to parenting, in part because if the baby/toddler isn’t sleeping, it usually means that Mamma/Dadda aren’t sleeping and when everyone’s not sleeping… it can be a recipe for disaster. Easing back on the hyperbole, when the parents aren’t sleeping, it makes it harder for them to patient with their young ones, which is usually what’s required most of the time.

In this chapter, I was struck by the range of methods that parents around the world use when it comes to sleep. For instance, it’s probably no surprise to you that in North America, it’s common for the baby/toddler to have their own room and for them to sleep on their own. But, would you believe that across the world, North America stands as an outlier int this regard? That is, it’s far more common for parents in the “rest” of the world to sleep with their baby (this is what’s known as co-sleeping).

For many of the cultures that co-sleep with their baby, they believe it fosters a sense of independence. That may seem counterintuitive at first, but think about it for a moment. If we put the baby in the other room and it needs comforting, it’s not able to get that when it wants. However, if we’re co-sleeping with the baby and it needs comfort, that need is able to be met instantly. Research bears this out, too. Gross-Loh discussed a study that showed children who co-slept with their parents (from birth) later became more independent and self-reliant (than their sleeping alone counterparts).


The big theme from this chapter is busting the myth that the baby has to sleep in its own room (for its own good). Science seems to support the idea that co-sleeping is better for the baby (and for the parents), but breaking through that cultural norm would be tough for lots of parents. I’ll leave you with one last bit from the chapter that even I bristled at, initially:

In Scandinavia, it’s customary for babies to take their naps outdoors despite the cold winters. (The Finnish government assures new mothers, “Many babies sleep better outdoors in the fresh air than in the bedroom. Sleeping outdoors is not dangerous for a baby.”) Babies are bundled up and left in prams [strollers] on terraces or outside of stores to sleep.

Can you imagine walking down the sidewalk in New York, Michigan, or Minnesota, in the dead of winter to see three or four strollers parked outside with sleeping babies in them!?

Why It’s Important to Have Diversity (in age!) in Your Work Teams

If you had to guess, would you say that younger people or older people are better at learning abstract causal principles?

When first thinking about this question, I would have thought that older people would be better at this given that they have more experience and that they might have been in analogous situations. However, the research seems to indicate that younger folks are better at things like this. Here’s a passage from the researchers that specifically address my thought that experience would be helpful:

The very fact that older learners know more may make it more difficult for them to learn something new. Once a learner has inferred a general principle (e.g., that people act because of their traits, or that individual objects, rather than combinations of objects or relations between them, have causal powers), that principle may constrain his or her interpretation of new data. Causal relationships that conflict with that principle may then be more difficult to learn.

Certainly this research is important, but the thing I want to highlight here is work teams. Specifically, this study points to the importance of having diverse w0rk teams. It’s important to remember that diversity doesn’t just mean people of different genders and different races, but people of different ages, too. If we mix in folks with different “levels of experience,” we might have a better chance of coming up with a solution to the issue than if we just used folks who were all of the same level experience.

Further to that, I was thinking about how this research comes into play when we think of top management teams or corporate boards. Recall the post I wrote recently that discussed the importance of diversity at the board-level. I don’t remember there being anything related to age in that article, but I also suspect that conducting research on age as it relates to boards or top management teams might be difficult. Usually, we find folks who’ve reached a certain level of experience before they’re considered for work on a corporate board or considered for a promotion to the top management team. Maybe we need to start thinking about considering some younger folks for positions in these roles.

ResearchBlogging.orgGopnik, A., Griffiths, T., & Lucas, C. (2015). When Younger Learners Can Be Better (or at Least More Open-Minded) Than Older Ones Current Directions in Psychological Science, 24 (2), 87-92 DOI: 10.1177/0963721414556653

Psychologists Want an Alternative to the DSM

In another life (or a different timeline, if you prefer) I didn’t change paths and continued on to become a clinical psychologist. In that life (or timeline), I, and many other psychologists are using something totally different than the DSM and the psychologists in this timeline are jealous. Confused?

Recent research published sought to see if the attitudes of psychologists, with regard to the DSM, have changed at all. It turns out, they haven’t:

The results are no different from what was found three decades ago, namely, that a significant number of psychologists are unhappy with the DSM, but almost all of them use it.

So, why do we continue to update the DSM instead of scrapping it and making something better? Well, that’s probably a can of worms for a different post, but it seems telling that in 30 years that psychologists still aren’t happy with what is supposed to be a very important source book for the profession. More than that, as 30 years have spanned, it’s fair to say that even the next generation of psychologists aren’t warming to the DSM.

In reading this study, the most troubling sentence comes from near the end of the article [Emphasis Added]:

They appreciate its help in making diagnoses and supplying reimbursable diagnostic codes, but continue to have scientific, professional, economic, and ethical concerns about it.

That’s troubling, indeed. Scientific, professional, and ethical!

It seems to me that a profession whose bedrock is based in morality and ethics should be motivated to rectify this concern. If they were to change things, what would they change it to? [Emphasis Added]

Even though they may not see the categories in the DSM as merely problems in living, psychologists are interested in alternatives not rooted in the medical model common to the DSM and ICD. Psychologists might be prepared to further develop and use psychologically focused diagnostic alternatives if conditions encouraging them to do so were in place.

That sounds congruent. I remember my time in as a doctoral candidate and many of my colleagues at the time were far more interested in modes of analysis that didn’t subscribe to medical models. There are a number of reasons for this, but for this kind of a wholesale change to occur, I think there needs to be a push from the APA. I suspect that other psychologists would agree with that, but there’s also the possibility that there’s some sort of grassroots “uprising” that starts with individual psychologists. The one hitch with that possibility that I see is that many psychologists work on their own. That is, instead of working alongside their colleagues, they have their own office space and work by themselves. I think if psychologists had something resembling a “union” like there are in some other professions, it would be far easier for them to organize and create the kind of change they’re looking for.

To be clear, I’m not advocating for or suggesting that psychologists should form something like a union, I’m merely saying that if there were this kind of infrastructure in place, I believe it might be easier for there to be a change to the way psychologists diagnose.

ResearchBlogging.orgRaskin, J., & Gayle, M. (2015). DSM-5: Do Psychologists Really Want an Alternative? Journal of Humanistic Psychology DOI: 10.1177/0022167815577897

Perseverance Negatively Correlated with Counterproductive Work Behaviours

New research shows that perseverance might be a key character strength when it comes to counterproductive work behaviours. The researchers were interested in finding the character strengths that were most correlated with work performance and counterproductive work behaviours (things like absenteeism, lateness, incivility, etc.). As the title of this post suggests, the researchers found that perseverance is the character strength that is most negatively correlated with counterproductive work behaviours. Meaning, when a person is found to have a lot of perseverance, they’re also found to have a lower level of counterproductive work behaviours.

In thinking about these findings, the thing I most wonder about is when we draw out perseverance to an unhealthy form. That is, of course, it’s great when employees are driven and they persevere, but what happens when they “go over the edge” in their pursuits? I suspect that as we get employees who persevere to these great lengths, it should no longer be thought of as a character strength. And similarly, the negative correlation with counterproductive work behaviours might not hold. In fact, I’d expect that we’d then see a positive correlation with counterproductive work behaviours. Meaning, when the perseverance becomes pathological, I’d expect the employee to exhibit some counterproductive work behaviours. Of course, this is all speculation, so it’d be interesting to see someone test for this in future iterations of this research.


The researchers of this study also tied in studies on the Big 5, specifically as it relates to conscientiousness. It seems pretty well-known that conscientiousness is the characteristic of the Big 5 that is mostly closely correlated with work success and so the researchers of this study made mention of the fact that perseverance is shown to be highly correlated with conscientiousness. If we draw this out a little, the implication is that employees who demonstrate perseverance as one of their character strengths should also show signs of higher work performance (through their expected Big 5 personality trait of conscientiousness).


I suspect that research like this will give folks in HR something else to look for when recruiting new employees. There was already information out there about conscientiousness, but now they can also look for candidates who demonstrate a higher degree of perseverance. Maybe when contacting their references, the recruiter can ask about whether the candidate has demonstrated (or how the candidate has demonstrated) perseverance in their work.

ResearchBlogging.orgLittman-Ovadia, H., & Lavy, S. (2015). Going the Extra Mile: Perseverance as a Key Character Strength at Work Journal of Career Assessment DOI: 10.1177/1069072715580322

Board Diversity Paramount for Achieving Corporate Benefits

Earlier this year, there was some interesting research published about board diversity, as it relates to achieving corporate benefits. Specifically:

Board diversity improves governance and product development especially in firms led by White men CEOs. There are at least two important implications of these findings. First, we have no evidence that firms with White CEOs and diverse boards experience greater conflict than other firms due to distrust, lack of social similarity, or resultant communication barriers. Indeed, it appears that the presence of ethnic diversity on the governing body only advances strong corporate governance.

I should clarify that the researchers acknowledged the limitations of their findings because they limited their sample to Fortune 500 companies. The second implication:

Diverse leaders may bring perspectives, priorities, and ideas to organizations that significantly affect organizational trajectories. In particular, minority leaders at the board level affect the likelihood that a firm will pursue strong governance and effective product development. This strongly supports the business case for diversity. Our findings also suggest that relative numbers and influence on the board in conjunction with the CEO matter for realizing the benefits of diversity. Both the percentage of minorities on the board and the presence of influential minorities significantly impact governance and product innovation when traditional leaders serve as CEOs.

This is certainly not the first study published about the importance of board diversity, but I find this one particularly interesting because it puts things in the context of corporate benefits, which is something that I would think might be more likely to motivate action.

The researchers also draw attention to a specific avenue for further research: top management teams. I would suspect that we might find a similar effect, with regard to diversity, when studying the composition of top management teams. The importance being that different perspectives are represented and diversity is one of the ways to do that. It could be, however, that this same effect doesn’t hold when analyzing the level of top management teams, which would then increase the importance of having diversity within board composition.

ResearchBlogging.orgCook, A., & Glass, C. (2014). Do minority leaders affect corporate practice? Analyzing the effect of leadership composition on governance and product development Strategic Organization, 13 (2), 117-140 DOI: 10.1177/1476127014564109

How To Be a Better Person: Awe Yourself

Research published earlier this year seems to indicate that when we’re “awed,” we’re more likely to engage in prosocial or altrusitic behaviour. The researchers conducted five different studies:

Individuals higher in dispositional tendencies to experience awe exhibited more generosity in an economic game (Study 1). Experimentally inducing awe caused individuals to endorse more ethical decisions (Study 2), to be more generous to a stranger (Study 3), and to report more prosocial values (Study 4). A naturalistic induction of awe in which participants looked up at a grove of towering trees led to increased helpfulness, greater ethicality, and decreased entitlement (Study 5).

There’s so much to unpack in these findings. Experiencing awe can make us more generous, more ethical, more altruistic, more helpful, and less entitled. These findings have implications for a number of areas, not the least of which, is essentially, creating a roadmap for how to be a better person.

As someone who often trumpets the importance of perspective, I was pleased to read the following from the discussion section:

It would seem, as hypothesized, that awe leads to more prosocial tendencies by broadening the individual’s perspective to include entities vaster and more powerful than oneself and diminishing the salience of the individual self.

So, maybe instead of writing articles highlighting different perspectives, I should be writing fiction (or articles) that allow you to experience a sense of awe?

In thinking about the findings of this research, I’d be very interested to see how it plays out in the Prisoner’s Dilemma. I imagine that the results would probably still hold, but it’d be great to have confirmation of that. Furthermore, I’d be interested to see how economists would incorporate this into our understanding of the “rational actor.” If we’re experiencing awe and, as a result, becoming more prosocial, it would — theoretically — begin to wreak havoc on the idea that we’re acting rationally (as it takes a laboured interpretation of the rational actor to include prosocial behaviour).

Just for good measure, here’s a second picture that I hope allows you to feel a sense of awe.

ResearchBlogging.orgPiff PK, Dietze P, Feinberg M, Stancato DM, & Keltner D (2015). Awe, the small self, and prosocial behavior. Journal of personality and social psychology, 108 (6), 883-99 PMID: 25984788