Posts Tagged ‘Psychology’

By Jane Wendorff-Craps, English Faculty.

When the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts began our curriculum meeting one winter’s morning with a kitty meme from the internet, I thought, “No, no, not here, not now…” though internally I was clapping vigorously with my fingertips. It was so stinking cute I could puke right there in my auditorium chair with the pull up desktop, which strangely (and totally from a 70s timewarp) had a pencil etching of Kilroy.

Coincidentally, or not, our CLA (College of Liberal Arts) team put it upon themselves to have running jokes about kitties, their cuteness, and the sometimes pathetic human need to share and overshare this trendy feline phenomenon: cat memes. It is worse than the cute baby memes, in my opinion, because the baby pictures and videos are real time cuteness, and who doesn’t like to see babies doing what they do best: smile, burp, pass gas, and giggle.

It seems kitty memes have no proverbial line drawn in the sand. Each day on social media, and the televised news programs nonetheless, kitties are doing more than what kitties do. People are setting kitties in baskets of fruit with a title of “Still Life Cats.” Or, kitties are playing the piano with phantom human hands from underneath guiding poor Garfield’s paws as he tickles the ivories. Or, good ole Rover is curled up for a nap in the sunbeam with little tabby furball scrunched under his slobbery jowels… aw, ain’t that cute.

But oh, that is the least of our perturbed psyche expose; animal memes date way back… even before the invention of the internet by Al Gore. When I saw, as the article describes it, the “morbidly adorable work” by 19th century Walter Potter of Sussex, England, I had the Roger Rabbit double-take, eyes bulging out of sockets then springing back on coils, OMG WTF is this kind of reaction. I’ve heard of taxidermy, and I know many people with deer heads on their walls. I’ve read of people who stuff their pet dogs to have a continual remembrance of them after they pass. Heck, every museum I’ve ever visited had stuffed animals on display for whatever exhibit in whatever section, you know, as a learning tool for patrons. However, let us think about what Mr. Potter had to be doing in this image.


Tea Time for Kittens?

We have what looks like 12 cute and adorable kitties having tea. No, those are not Beenie Babies set upon Barbie chairs. This is Victorian era craziness at its finest.

It makes one wonder… If the kitties are real, albeit stuffed, are the tiny foods real too. Did the “artist” bake mini crumpets, pour drops of tea in the miniature china tea service, and are those real biscuits on that diminutive Wedgewood?

The worst pursuit of realistic wonder would have to be where he found 12 kittens, all of the tiger variety, and what kind of person would expire a tiny living creature and then stuff it for a bizzaro tea party only more out-weirded by Louis Carroll. Is it a coincidence the two men are from the same era, and even lived their adult lives just miles apart in Surrey and Sussex? Just what is it about south England residents in the Victorian era?

I imagine psychologists are having a hey-day over this one. I’m searching for an article by Freud to show the connection of sexually repressed Victorians and stuffing animals. Or not, I’m not sure I could sleep well after that enlightening read.


Fluffy bunnies exhibiting test anxiety.

What is it that humans are fascinated by in the “recreation” of a dead animal and posing it in some form? Hunters do it with their prey, saying something to the extent of “I killed this animal, and it was great, and I am great, let’s show this greatness to all who come into my living room.” Yet, what Mr. Potter did is a step further down the yellow brick road. He didn’t pose the animal in its natural form but in human situations. Was he the perverse(er) version of “the cat lady” who needs companionship of herds of animals in her living quarters? But dead ones. That’s the key point here. I’m alive, you’re dead, therefore I have power over your domain? Could it be the simple reason that Potter wanted to show how humans and animals are so similar? Yet when do cats ever elect to have a tea party? Or bunnies go to school to learn their ABC’s?

I’m having a hard time understanding how Potter is paying homage to the natural world by repositioning tiny animals in typical human activities. For some reason, when men of the past stuffed the now extinct dodo bird for posterity, I feel like that might have been of some service to the human race. Having a museum of kitties, bunnies, and hamsters eating and playing like they were the maker’s faux children seems a bit off (a bit Victorian cray-cray, so to speak). But that’s just one gal’s opinion.


By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

My youngest daughter turned five last October. For her birthday, her aunt and uncle, my sister-in-law and brother, got her a funky pair of pink 578688_10201388189609185_1668997307_nrimmed glasses.  She was extremely excited, and so was her older sister.  The seven year old sis instantly knew what she wanted for her upcoming birthday. ‘I want some glasses just like that!’

When December rolled around, said older daughter got a package in the mail from said aunt and uncle.  Sure enough, inside was a new pair of glasses.  Happy day!

Neither of my girls need glasses to read or to see far away (unlike their parents), and so these glasses are simply fashion accessories. They wear them some days, and not others.  Often, when they want to ‘dress up’ fancy, they will break out their frames.  Wearing them to school, or preschool is all about the image.

I would be remiss to point out how wonderful I find this.   The perception surrounding glasses seems to be evolving from when I was a kid. 715swU1WPgL Back then, there was a stigma to wearing glasses, and that stigma was an American tradition.  It was so common that you can even find the normalization of this stigma in children’s books of my era.   Take for instance Marc Brown’s book Arthur’s Eyes, in which Arthur the Aardvark needs to get glasses.  The first day he shows up at the bus stop with his new eye-wear his friends laugh at him.  His best friend Buster even calls him a  ‘freak’. In 1979, when this book was published, glasses were obviously a symbol of the social outsider that everyone, even children, could recognize. If my daughters’ friends and classmates are any indication, this traditional stigma is dissipating among kids today.

What a revolutionary change  this could be for American culture!  Just look at the twentieth-century outsider terms for those who wore glasses: Nerds, geeks, and eggheads.  These people were outsiders in schools, at parties and within pop-culture because they were intellectuals. Glasses=brainiacs=social outcasts. Perhaps now this stereotype is transforming. Perhaps being smart is becoming, dare I say it, cool?

I hope so, but I want glasses to remain a perceived sign of intelligence, since the psychological process called  ‘enclothed cognition‘ may make this perception into a reality.  Put simply, ‘enclothed cognition’ studies have found wearing certain clothes can have positive or negative effects on cognitive processes.  Wearing a lab coat can make people think more clearly; wearing exercise clothes will make people want to work-out more. As far as I know, studies have never been done regarding the effect of wearing glasses on our cognitive processes. But, it seems only logical that the perception that glasses make you look smarter will make you feel smarter, which, in turn, will actually make you smarter.


Are glasses going to remain cool, or is this just a fad?  I don’t know. All I know is that I will keep pushing my kids to wear glasses, even if they never need them for medical reasons. They and their friends may or may not think it makes them look smarter; there is no question in my mind it makes them look cute.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty

When I discuss urban living with my students, and ask them to compare city living to small-town living, they usually point out the fact that city living is more violent, cold and impersonal than village life.  Now, for people growing up in Chicago, ‘small town’ has a pretty wide range of meanings.  A ‘small town’ for today’s Chicagoans might be anything from a tiny rural community to a major suburb.   To put things into perspective, in 1790, the largest city in the nascent United States was Philadelphia with 42,000 people.  To Chicagoans today, 42,000 people is a single neighborhood, and the fact that social critics in the early Republic crowed about the immorality, the corruption, and bustle of 18th century Philly seems laughable and naïve.

 The question then: Is city life really colder than small town life, or is this just a widely accepted myth?  I actually think it is true, though I think the reason for this is different from what most people believe.  Students usually point to the anonymity of urban living as the reason for the lack of fellow-feeling.  The number of people living in a crowded area seems like the obvious reason, and throughout history, this impersonality has often been pointed out as a source of heartlessness.  Add this to corruption, disease, and poverty, and perhaps it is no wonder that American politicians have often pointed to the city as the center of sin.  Famously anti-urban Thomas Jefferson said “I think our governments will remain virtuous for many centuries as long as they are chiefly agricultural….”

 Urban cruelty seems most obvious when fellow citizens in need are simply ignored. Everyone has heard the stories about city-dwellers paying no mind to people lying on the street, and instead, stepping over those that requires assistance.  These are stories you don’t usually associate with small towns.  Why is it so different in the big city?

Anonymity is important, but I think just as central is our modern obsession with time.  Time is our most ‘valuable commodity’.  We live in a fast-paced world, which gets faster every day.  The linguist George Lakoff displayed the centrality of time to American’s thirty years ago, by studying the many metaphors we have equating time and money.  Think about all the instances in which you automatically link time and money in your speech: “You wasted my time.” “How do you spend your time?” “Invest some time in me.”

A forty year old study conducted by two psychologists at Princeton University, C.D. Bateson and J.M. Darley, displays how our concern with time can affect our ethical behavior. The two psychologists invited 40 seminary students to present a lecture on the New Testament story of the ‘Good Samaritan’.  The catch was the graduate students had to present this lecture on the far end of their campus.  For some of these students, they were informed they had a great deal of time to get to the lecture hall (low hurry).  A second group (medium hurry) were informed they had to rush to get there on time; lastly, a third group (high hurry) were told they were already late, but still had to conduct the lecture.  Little did these students know, the experiment was actually to see if they would help a stranger in need.

On the way across campus, each student crossed paths with an anonymous man in physical distress. As students well versed in Judeo-Christian ethics, you may expect that they would stop and help the man. Unfortunately, you would be wrong.  63% of the students in ‘low hurry’ group helped the man; 45% in ‘medium hurry’ helped; only 10% in ‘high hurry’ helped.  This was, and still is, a shocking finding.  Even for intelligent, ‘morally educated’, ‘good’ people, the strain of time can cause them to be unethical.

Forty years have now passed since this experiment, and to say that our pace of life has quickened would be an understatement.  We now live in a world in which speed is not just a luxury, it is an absolute necessity. Speed is virtue, and patience is a waste.  In the big city, this is truer than ever, and studies now show that the bigger the city, the faster the pace of life. Unfortunately, with this quickened pace, the “Good Samaritan” seem to be an endangered species.