The Rise of Fake News and What Can Be Done

--Original published at Alex's Thoughts

In the recent tumult of national politics and partisan ideologies gaining traction in the United States, one must ask the question, why do people not bother to look at the other side’s viewpoints? Are they simply intellectually lazy, or do they attempt to rationalize their own partisan beliefs, even at the cost of the unabashed truth? Political scholars have been debating which one makes more sense in the context of modern society, especially after the 2016 election cycle. According to a recent study conducted by psychologists Dr. Gordon Pennycook and David Rand, the first theory is the most likely one.

The study in question relied on a convenience sample of Mechanical Turk workers. They were given a well-respected psychology test to determine political affiliation while avoiding the personal bias of the researchers. After being given the test, they were assigned tabloid and actual news headlines and asked to determine which ones were true and which ones were false. Generally speaking, neither side of the political spectrum was better or worse than the other at detecting false headlines. People who were more inclined towards critical thinking were more likely to detect false headlines, instead of attempting to rationalize them like the second theory would claim. This was true whether or not the headlines aligned with their own political views. After controlling for factors like level of education and political leaning, this was still found to be the case. Overall, the results of this study seem to coincide with the idea that people will not attempt to rationalize fake news for their own sense of entitlement, they simply do not care to research the topic in question.

While this study is merely a small sample and demographic relative to the United States population, it would seem to indicate that the question is still worth being researched. Increased samples with the same test administered would most likely corroborate with the findings of this study, adding more evidence to the idea that people will not rationalize false headlines, especially if they are adept at critical thinking.

This study and the topic as a whole are meant to address the question, what can be done about the proliferation of fake news? If the results of this study are found to be repeated a repeated pattern in further studies with much better samples and more diverse sampling options, then the answer would seem to be quite simple. Think before speaking, as thinking about the implications of the news versus the reality of the situation will give one a much better sense of what is occurring in the world. The American people do not need to be reminded about the partisanship in the nation, they need to be reminded about the innumerable benefits of being an informed, alert, and vocal citizen of the United States of America. Questioning news sources, reading literature and informing oneself about current events, and simply maintaining an open mind to the viewpoints of others would go a long way towards resolving both the ills of the media and the nation as a whole.

Original Article:


Pennycook, Gordon and David Rand. “Why Do People Fall for Fake News?” 19 January 2019. The New York Times. Website. 13 February 2019.

Original Research Article:


I learned a lot about how the media chooses to portray psychological research in order to sell a particular viewpoint to the public in the hopes that “new research” buzzwords will cause them to immediately and unquestioningly believe whatever is espoused in the article. I understand that it is done to garner interest in the publication and ultimately sell ads, but the sensationalism that is originally innocent could prove poisonous if proper research is not cited to back up the claims of the article. For example, the original article goes into great depth about how the original variables in the study were operationalized, but skimmed over how their participants were selected and grouped. If they mentioned this up front, it would have confounded any conclusions they were trying to draw with the data, as the participants were not randomly selected or grouped at all. Additionally, they attempted to generalize the findings to the American population. However, the convenience sample of Mechanical Turk workers do not come anywhere close to allowing the results to be generalized to the population of the United States. To be fair, the authors of the original article attempt to assert that they have other studies in the works that corroborate the results further, but the studies have not been published or peer-reviewed as of yet. As such, I attempted to remedy the ills of the original authors in my reinterpretation.

I was up front about the sampling methods and stated that it was a convenience sample of Mechanical Turk workers. I praised the method of operationalizing variables, and went into detail about how the test was conducted. I later stated that while the sample and demographic were small when compared with the population of the United States, the question was still worth looking into. Larger samples with more diverse sampling options would do much to bolster the assertions of the original article and the findings of the researchers.

Overall, the quality of the assertions of the original article were quite poor, as no deductions can be drawn from data that is derived from such a lacking sample. The way I finished my article was all based under the assumption that if further studies with better sampling methods were conducted and found to have the same results as the one conducted by the authors, then perhaps something can be done about the widespread proliferation of fake news. Until then, nothing has been distinctly proven or disproven about the topic, and the American people will have to draw their own conclusions as thinking citizens.

The Power of Cognitive Dissonance

--Original published at Alex's Thoughts

Cognitive dissonance appears to be when one rationalizes a form of suffering they are going through in an attempt to come up with an idea why they are going through such an experience. In my personal experience, it would have to be when I worked an extremely boring job in high school for minimum wage.

I used to worker as a stock boy in a grocery store, and the work was mind-numbing to a ridiculous extent. The pay wasn’t good, and I certainly wasn’t enjoying putting time and energy into something that I had absolutely no interest in. However, I took a small measure of enjoyment from organizing the stock in the warehouse into neat and orderly piles, as it was one of the few tasks where I could engage my natural aptitudes. I am a very organized person by nature, and even though organizing grocery stock is still extremely boring and certainly not worth the pay I was getting in retrospect, I convinced myself that I enjoyed that task in an attempt to rationalize that my job was worth something even though I disliked basically every other aspect of it. I would have sought out another job, but the only other business in my hometown within a decent distance that was hiring high school students was another grocery store that still paid minimum wage, and was not as good at scheduling. As such, cognitive dissonance compelled me to take a small amount of pleasure from the least boring part of my job, as I gained very little from any other aspect of it.

I think that cognitive dissonance is not really a thing that should be promoted, as it is merely an attempt to rationalize suffering. Instead, people should be more focused on alleviating their suffering through alternative means. In my case, I should have focused more on attempting to find a different job or an alternative means of earning money. The amount of time and energy I wasted at that job was relatively disproportionate to the payout I was getting. If I could do it over again, I’d look for a different job at other businesses in the area. Instead of rationalizing the boredom and lack of opportunity I had, I should sought an alternative path that would have provided me with more opportunity and happiness.

On the Mozart Effect

--Original published at Alex's Thoughts

The Mozart Effect is an interesting topic, but I firmly believe that Governor Miller’s actions were no more than a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. In theory, the Mozart Effect is sound, but I do not believe it has any real effect in practice. I would like to cite my own life and the lives of my siblings as examples.

When I was growing up, my parents did not force anything upon me besides encouraging me to do well in school and go on to further my education. It did not matter whether the education was trade school or college, but they wanted me to get a certification beyond high school. The expectations were all the same for my siblings as well, and all of us have gone on to college and found successful employment in our respective fields afterwards. One of my siblings is in the process of getting their doctorate, while the other two either have or are on track to get their graduate degrees. I am in school for a dual concentration major in Engineering, so I believe that all of us can be categorized as relatively intelligent. However, none of us were exposed to the music of Mozart as children. Our parents did not put us in special programs beyond a typical preschool, we were not taught subjects like calculus when we were little, and nothing was expected of us but to learn in school, read when possible, and have a healthy and happy childhood. I am extremely glad that my parents raised us this way, as I still have many fond memories of growing up and firmly believe that further pressure besides succeeding in school (like forcing us to listen to Mozart) would have had an adverse effect. My siblings and I now have wildly different tastes in music, but that seems to be the only effect of not having a confining standard of music enforced on us when we were little. Mozart is beautiful in its own way, but I personally believe that forcing a small child to listen to his compositions when they are growing up would have about the same effect on their intelligence that putting a drop of water in a barrel would have on filling it. It may or may not help, probably has little to no effect, and your child is most likely not better off by doing so.

In science, you can never really prove anything to be completely and exhaustively correct. You can only disprove something or add to the evidence and refine the original theory. Cases like my siblings and I, along with countless other intelligent people that never bothered with Mozart when they were small, are the evidence that listening to Mozart as a small child has no noticeable effect on future intelligence or success.

Sleep Habits

--Original published at Alex's Thoughts

My sleeping habits are relatively healthy, and I make sure that I get at least six hours of sleep per night. I simply cannot function properly if I am sleep deprived, I fall asleep at odd intervals and can’t focus if I get less than six hours of sleep. I also generally enjoy sleeping, as I tend to have vivid dreams. As such, I like to strive for at least eight hours of sleep so that I can have a decent amount of dreams while not gaining an excessive amount of sleep. I tend to have headaches if I get too much sleep, and I often cannot think clearly for an extended period of time if I go over nine hours of sleep. A realistic amount of sleep to be expected from the standard college student should be at least six hours, as I understand that homework and studying often take up a lot of time that would otherwise be occupied by sleeping. Any less, and the student risks losing the ability to learn in class because they will be too fatigued. More than six is obviously preferable, but six at the least is the desirable goal.

To improve one’s sleeping habits, a few easy steps can be followed. The first would be to limit screen time before you go to bed. Focus on reading or paperwork before you go so that you brain has time to process information while not being bombarded by the light produced from electronics. The second would be to clear one’s mind while trying to fall asleep. If you are not thinking, your thoughts are not preventing you from falling asleep. The third would be to have a large amount of blankets in a cool environment. I personally sleep the best when the temperature is cool, but I am well insulated from the ambient air because of my bedding.

Honestly, the biggest motivator for me to sleep is the idea that I’ll be able to dream. I generally enjoy most dreams that I have, and the thought that I’ll be able to create an entire world to explore in the space of a few minutes is astonishing. If nothing else, sleep offers much in the way of entertainment.

Why Elizabethtown?

--Original published at Alex's Thoughts

Elizabethtown College was not originally my first choice for going to college. But when I was comparing it with the other school I intended on attending, several reasons caused me to choose Etown.

The school I intended to go to at that point was not Elizabethtown. I was debating on going to a large state school that had accepted me into its honors program. It had a large alumni network, virtually unlimited resources, and a well-established program. However, something about Elizabethtown caused me to reconsider. When I toured Elizabethtown, I noticed that the students seemed to be generally more cheerful. I also got to meet my professors, whereas I didn’t even see an engineering professor at the school I was intending on going to at that point. The more I thought about it, the more I began to seriously reconsider going to the state school. On paper, it was the obvious choice in terms of resources and prestige. However, something about Elizabethtown drew me back to it every time. Two years later, I believe that I can finally put into words what I felt at that time.

The state school would have set me up for life. I would’ve met an employer at one of their job fairs, gotten a decent job by virtue of where I got my degree from instead of the quality of education, and lived out my life as a good alumnus. Easy as that. But I don’t want that. I want challenge, and the comfort that whatever job or employment I find is by virtue of whatever skills and relationships I cultivate. In other words, I was raised to expect nothing but a fair chance and to earn everything. I would not have felt that I was rightfully earning what I would have gotten at that state school, while Elizabethtown offered much more in terms of growing as a person.

Our department was not as large as that state school’s, nor does it have as many resources. However, I can be a contributing individual in the department. I can earn my own way by attending job fairs and win opportunities through the virtue of who I am, the different opportunities for growth I have been offered at Elizabethtown, and the secure education I have received with the classes I have taken. I am able to have a dual concentration in engineering, with some extra business classes thrown in. I would not have had nearly the amount of freedom to customize my degree at the state school that I do here. In other words, I would not have been able to tailor my education to what I truly want to do to nearly the same extent. I want a challenge in terms of receiving my education, as confining myself to the status quo would just be boring to a
mind-numbing extent. I can challenge myself and grow as an individual. This will ultimately give me more opportunities than anything I could have found at the state school. All by virtue of giving me more room to grow as an individual engineer instead of being confined to a single, set concentration.

What motivates me to succeed at Elizabethtown are a few simple things. The first and most prevalent is that I simply cannot succeed the way I want to in any discipline besides engineering and the art of industry. I do not have the patience or composure to deal with customers for a prolonged amount of time, and I do not have any interest in pursuing fields outside of science and mathematics professionally. I also do not have much patience for abstract reasoning, so sciences and mathematics that do not correlate to real-world solutions are not my forte either. I have always been fascinated by machines and factories, so my only course for making a living would appear to be involving myself in industry. The second reason is to be able to provide for myself and my family. Engineering is a very lucrative field, and extremely adaptable in terms of location. This is a good thing, as I would like to eventually have a family in a location of my choosing. Being able to afford to live there while working at a job I enjoy is all I want. The third thing that motivates me to succeed is a sense of pride. I have already started down the track I wish, and nothing short of a disaster will stop me from trying my best to succeed on my given track.

As for an intervention, I typically drive to the area I am originally from whenever I need more motivation to succeed in my classes. I am not far away, and I grew up in an economically depressed area. Offshoring and the decline of American manufacturing hit my home area hard, and it shows. Whenever I need motivation to succeed, I drive through my home area, and look at the abandoned factories, the rusty machines, the polluted rivers, and the mountains that seem more like walls. As an engineer and a professional, it is my duty to succeed such that I may bring prosperity into areas such as this. While people older than I am took opportunity from the Rust Belt in favor of cutting costs, my ultimate goal is to bring opportunity back. It is a dream of mine to be able to imagine industry in place of rot, fish in place of pollutants, and an overall sense of well-being in place of the grey skies of my homeland. Whenever I lose motivation, I dream of my homeland, and hope that I may do something to ensure its future prosperity.


--Original published at Alex's Thoughts

After watching Mr. Tammet explain his experiences with synesthesia and demonstrate some of the perceptions he experiences to the audience, I was struck by how nonchalant he seemed about the entire experience. I’m sure that he is quite used to the effects of synesthesia at this point in his life, but I find the extra depth that his subjective experience has versus the average human to be remarkable. In experiencing life, the extra perceptions that accompany his normal existence seem to add more meaningful connections between himself and the world around him. For example, associating digits with shapes and colors not only seemed to increase his understanding of mathematics, but added an extra layer of beauty to a topic many would consider to be very dry. This personal experience of the topic would most likely allow the person to draw more connections to the topic, thereby learning it at a much easier rate than normal.

While synesthesia itself is not really an illness, as it has no ill effects, it is definitely not a normal experience for a human. I believe it to be a benefit based on what I know, as the ability to perceive our outside world through multiple senses, especially ones that would not normally be stimulated by the type of stimulus, would appear to only increase the meaningful connections a synesthesiac has to the world. As for the effect on day to day life, I believe that it would add another layer of beauty to the overall life experience. What most people would consider to be a long, boring list of numbers and names, a synesthesiac would see as a beautiful collage of a myriad of colors and shapes. Every type of weather could have a different taste, every type of novel could have its own color based on the tone. As such, synesthesia would appear to be a rare gift to a synesthesiac. Their experience and perception will always be so much more than anyone who is not one can ever begin to imagine.

I am quite glad that Mr. Tammet was able to concisely give a relative description of synesthesia, because the way he perceives the world is remarkable.

On Memory

--Original published at Alex's Thoughts

I think that memory is a fickle thing. How the memory is experienced depends on the viewpoint of the person who is the subject of the memory. While someone may remember an event a certain way, other people who witnessed the same event at the time may have different associations with it, or remember the events occurring slightly different. As such, the experiences and memories that one has of life would appear to be entirely subjective to the person. As for why certain events appear to be set in memory stronger than others, I believe that hindsight is the best means for gauging this.

In particular, a personal experience that I remember like it was yesterday was when I decided I wanted to become an engineer. I was assisting my father in disassembling a tractor engine under a warm June sun. I was having a bit of difficulty getting the head off the engine, so he gave me some advice on loosening the bolts and told me that if another man created it, I should never be afraid to disassemble or work on a machine. He told me that I was just as capable as anyone who created the machine, so I shouldn’t underestimate my ability to work with machines in general. I went to sleep that night with the thought in my head, “If I can work with machines, why shouldn’t I be able to design them?” I began researching my career options, and soon settled on engineering as my desired career path. I believe that if I had not decided to become an engineer, I would merely have filed this memory away as a fond experience with my dad. However, hindsight has set this memory as the moment I made a life-altering decision, for better or worse.

My theory is that in hindsight, memories that correspond to important events in our current life are the ones that stand out the strongest. For example, a person that is stranded on a desert island would have little use for memories about enjoyable movies they saw as a teenager, but be attempting to recall any survival information they’ve absorbed over their life. In my example, this memory serves as the basic structure to why I became an engineer as I am actively pursuing a degree in Engineering. As for a means to measure this phenomenon, I’d interview participants about their current status in life. This includes everything ranging from marital status to income stability. I’d then ask what 3 memories stand out the strongest to them after talking about their life. In theory, the most prevalent events occurring in their life should prompt a memory related to the event to stand out above the rest. For example, if a subject is getting married, an event that would most likely stand out to them is when they met their significant other. If they are dissatisfied with their current job, a memory that might stand out is that one opportunity that may have worked if they had taken it. If correlations like this are present in a majority of subjects, then my theory that current events hold some influence over how strongly we perceive certain memories is validated.

Memory is strange, but it is an essential part of how humans interact and learn throughout life.

On Free Will

--Original published at Alex's Thoughts

B.F. Skinner is a respected psychologist in his own right, and asserted that there is truly no thing as free will. However he came to conclude this, I disagree with his assumption for several reasons. My evidence is that of human expression, ingenuity, and scientific logic.

Expression of emotions has always been an integral part of human culture and the fabric of society itself. While other lower beings such as dogs and cats are capable of expressing emotion, nothing comes close to the means by which humans have been able to portray it. Media, literature, and even language itself have given humans the means to describe and record the way they are feeling about a particular topic at a given time, theoretically to the point where anyone can read it thousands of years after their death. No other creature has come anywhere near that kind of power, especially if it is not recorded in their genes. So while Skinner asserts that free will can merely be attributed to genes and reactions to the environment, I would argue that free will is what drives people to develop forms of expression and art such that they may convey their individual experience to others. If individuals go to the lengths required just to convey the uniqueness of their own experience, is there really no such thing as free will and a sense of individuality that accompanies it?

As for human ingenuity, I would point to the Industrial Revolution. No other creature had the cleverness to invent machines to do work for them, perfect mathematical and chemical sciences, construct manufacturing facilities, and work together to create shining cities from metals and wood. While many organisms create communities and rely on natural materials they can either scavenge or create themselves, no creature had the ingenuity to create the machine lathe, or the steam engine. Why would a creature that has no free will bother to create such oddities when their personal energy would be much more suited to finding or growing food and constructing a shelter out of local materials? Why would our world be so complex today with its interwoven economies and technological marvels when everyone would theoretically be better off if they merely looked out for themselves? In the argument for free will, I say look no further than the plethora of manufactured goods that would not be available to you if humans had no free will like Skinner claimed.

As for the scientific logic portion of my argument, I would like to quote Rene Descartes in saying, “I think, therefore, I am”. If free will can be broken down into basic life functions, what other expressions of free will can be attributed to life functions? Do works of art and cultural significance have anything to do with basic life functions? Does the concept of calculus and abstract mathematics fall under the purview of having no free will? I can personally attest that it takes a lot of willpower and determination to willingly learn the concepts and apply them. If I can think about myself as an individual, distinguish myself from others, and hold abstract ideas in my mind with no basis in the absolute reality that I experience, then apply those concepts to change my reality, how can I not have free will? The basic idea behind Skinner’s claims were that animals without free will learn to survive and sustain themselves. If that were the case with humans, why do we spend so much energy conveying ourselves, creating machines when our energy would be better suited to sustaining basic life functions, and dreaming of abstract concepts that have little basis in reality? One could claim that our end goal would ultimately be to increase physical comfort with all these innovations, but where does the creativity for such ideas come from if not a being with free will? Especially a being with the will to create their surroundings out of an initially inhospitable and dangerous environment. As such, I would argue that free will is the purest expression of human ingenuity and creativity.

Chapter I First Impression Theoretical Research Scenario

--Original published at Alex's Thoughts

My research scenario would be focused on how people’s literacy levels affect their memory. Does the amount that a person reads in their life affect how they perceive and remember the world around them? This particular question interests me, as I have noticed that people who tend to read more are often able to draw on the experiences depicted in the works they have read, even if they read the work very far in the past. The hypothesis that I would like to test would be that the more a person reads or has read, the better their memory should be, both short-term and long-term. As such, I would introduce a questionnaire to my participants with these questions.

  1. How often would you say that you read in a week?
  2. Give a rough estimate of the amount of books you have read in your life, and another estimate of the amount of articles you have read.
  3. What genre of books tends to hold your attention the most?
  4. Would you say that you are a forgetful person?
  5. What is your age?
  6. Would you describe yourself as a well-read person?
  7. If you enjoy reading, why do you enjoy it?
  8. What is your gender?

After the participants have filled out the questionnaire, I’d assign them a random candidate number to ensure their test results are paired with their questionnaires, while their actual identities remain anonymous. I’d have them play Simon Says, the simple memory game. I’d measure how far each candidate got in the game in terms of rounds. I’d allow each candidate five trials with Simon Says, then have them read a short story, no more than 10 pages. After that, I’d have them play five more trials of Simon Says. I’d then have them memorize the layout of a small fictional town, with a 3 minute time limit. This would be followed by 5 more trials of Simon Says. After the final trial, the subject should recite the plot of the short story to the best of their knowledge, especially with respect to character names, locations, and plot actions. This should be followed by five more trials of Simon Says, then finally, the subject will be given a blank map of the small town and asked to find and identify the major landmarks in the town. The trials with Simon Says is testing the subject’s ability to recall short-term events, while the plot summary is a test to recall long-term events. In the case that the person is not particularly literate, the map of the small town should provide an extra opportunity to test long-term memory. The interruptions with trials of Simon Says also provide an additional challenge for the person’s long-term memory to cope with a current task. I would be interested to see the results of such an experiment.

A Little About Me

--Original published at Alex's Thoughts

To whoever is reading this, I feel that it would be best to tell you a little about myself so that you may gain some insight into my experiences and feelings. I have created this blog as an assignment for my introductory psychology class, which I am taking to fulfill a requirement for my Industrial Engineering degree. I do not have any background in psychology beyond what has been popularized in the media and what little I have learned from friends who are interested in the topic. When I hear the word, “psychology,” it makes me think about how deep the human intellect actually is. For all we know around the world around us, there is very little we definitively know about what is actually occurring inside our heads. Three topics I am particularly interested in studying are the development of personalities, the creation of memories, and research design and experimentation. I feel that the personalities unit will teach me a lot about myself, and I am always open to introspection. I have always been interested in memory and how people remember the same occurrence or topic differently, so learning the theories behind it will build my understanding. The final interesting topic to me is purely because I enjoy statistics and scientific experimentation, as they provide answers to questions that previously had none. As for the three I am not particularly interested in, the actual structure of the brain, obedience, and group dynamics do not appeal to me naturally. I am not particularly interested in anatomy, so brain structure does not hold appeal for me. I am not interested in obedience for the simple reason that I am not personally invested in learning the theories behind obedience for any foreseeable reason. As for group dynamics, I am a pretty introverted person. As such, I have little interest in learning about how groups function and more interest in learning about individualistic behaviors. That is not to say that I will not approach these topics with an open mind and willingness to learn, because they may very well apply to me in unforeseen ways. But I currently am not as excited about them as I am with the former three. Finally, I hope to gain a better sense of introspection from this class. I want to be able to answer why I behave the way I do, and why other people behave in ways different from me. What makes each of our cognitive processes unique such that we are individuals instead of a collective consciousness?