Psycasm is the exploration of the world psychological. Every day phenomenon explained and manipulated to one's own advantage. Written by a slightly overambitious undergrad, Psycasm aims at exploring a whole range of social and cognitive processes in order to best understand how our minds, and those mechanisms that drive them, work.
My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.
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[Wherein our Hero seeks to understand the benefits of both reading and writing blogs]
How meta- of me. A blog about blogging. It was sure to happen, as surely as it has happened everywhere else.
In my defence at least it’s a researchblogging article about blogging.
I have to say that the decision to start a blog was one of unintended consequences, all positive, I assure you.
I had two motivations in doing so – the first was to combat the rash of opinion being passed off as fact. I was sick of reading how so-and-so says this, but you-who say that, and the meaningless, factless battles the followed. I know that my blog does not begin to make a dent in the wealth of opinion-as-fact out there, but at least I proved to myself that one can be a solid skeptic and student-of-fact when dealing with my own life.
The second goal was to self-educate. I could just as easily have blogged about any given field, any given hobby, or broaden my range to ‘what’s in the news’, but since I hope to make a career in Psychology it seemed prudent to self-educate in Psychology.
With regard to the second fact I must recount a story. I was in Lab Group the day, and we (there were about a dozen of us) were trying to chip away at a problem another student was having in making his PhD application. The topic was ego-depletion, and they were looking at ways of restoring executive function after a depleting task. It went on for some time before I summoned up the balls to raise a point – a point that, if wrong, would expose my ignorance for what it was; but if relevant, would serve to demonstrate my commitment above-and-beyond to the cause of the undergrad and volunteer research assistant.
Let me point out that the professor running the Lab Group is currently Head of School, and has what appears to be encyclopaedic mental-access to papers and authors covering a huge range of topics. In any discussion he’s entirely likely to say “… there’s work by Smith and Jones on this, but you could check out McDonald and Sanders, too”.
So anyway, Ego-Depletion is his thing, and I – taking a risk – managed to bring up a paper I had blogged about previously that he had not heard of, and with its own novel implications to the work at hand.
It was a brief conversation, followed up by an email and a pdf, but it was a fairly proud moment. In a certain sense I stood on my own – a feat I would like to describe as being before its expected time. I am, after all, only an undergrad. Undergrads aren’t expected to know anything…
And so, given my fortuitous example of blogging as a useful educational tool, I wondered what research was out there.
Chong (2010) was looking at a small group (N=3) of third-year undergrads who were asked to blog about their research in order to determine what kind of relationship between student-teacher emerge, and how the students benefited. It was interesting the distinction they cited between blogging and research (and presumably research blogging):
Blogging is personal, transparent and ‘just in time’. Research is impersonal, filtered and time-consuming (Chong, 2010).
That’s not to say the two aren’t mutually beneficial. My anecdote highlights the personal benefits of doing so. Yet I would be truly hesitant to ‘come out’ as a blogger to my Prof. I would feel way too exposed. That’s not to say I object to his knowing, just that I would rather it find its way to him (or he to it) than me introducing one to the other.
Chong (2010) also cites evidence that suggests integrating blogging into course work can be an effective learning tool. However, ‘flogging’ (forced blogging, ha ha) is rarely met with success. Notably PZ Myers asks his students to blog, and gives them huge amounts of publicity via his blog, Pharyngula.
Chong (2010) finally concludes that the value in ‘academic’ blogging, as it were, is that the supervisor can keep a close eye on progress and coach or redirect where needed. Interestingly, as I would be hesitant to ask for such input from my Prof, I seem to attract it from other highly competent academics in the Blogosphere anyway, which correct and encourage where appropriate.
Then I found a separate paper which is more about you, the reader, than it is about me, the author. After an initial scan I thought this seemed like a pretty interesting paper, but after thinking it over, it seems to have lost some of its gloss – but I’ll persevere anyway.
Li & Chignell (2010) asked a number of participants to write a blog entry (that was either a diary or commentary style blog) and to take a personality test. A second group of participants then read the entry, and rated the personality of the author, and took the test themselves.
Unsurprisingly, readers liked reading blogs with authors who have similar personalities to their own (remembering this is about commentary and diary-style entries). The mechanism? ‘psycholinguistic style’. Apparently this written linguistic style is a stable trait, where text can be analysed to accurately predict personality traits (notably neuroticism and extraversion). It seems to all come down to the choice of words. Now I’ve blogged about first impressions before, and how we seem to be able to make reasonably reliable inferences about someone based solely on their photograph. So it’s hardly surprising that our powers of social inference are equal to (if not greater) when analysing the expressions of an individual.
However, they did find some other interesting things. Not all blogs are equal. Diary-style blog authors are generally considered more introverted – because their blogs are all about their thoughts on their life. Whereas authors of commentary-style blogs were more conscientious and considered to be more emotional stable (Li & Chignell, 2010).
In my mind, at any rate, this isn’t very surprising. I read PZ Meyers, but not the Huffington Post. I read Freakonomics, but not the NY Times. I used to read Dilbert, but then Scott Adams became a kook and I stopped. We self-select into this kind of thing. Why would I want to read about something that’s not related to me or my personal interests? I try to read every blog here on labspaces, but sometimes the Bio blogs just don’t catch me. Almost certainly there are posts I make here that people start, but skip after the first two paragraphs. That’s just how people are. We don’t always want to be challenged, we want to be confirmed and reminded how great we are and how great our interests are.
At any rate it’s interesting to know that I can have a fairly decent fix on my readers – they’re like me (at least in some respects). The bigger question, I think, is do I write as I truly am? Or at least, as I think I am? You can probably estimate how positive I am, how neurotic I am, and some other tangential traits (at least, traits not explicitly expressed, as opposed to political leanings, etc).
So take a stab – give me your impression of me on something that I have not explicitly expressed. Am I confrontational? Am I outdoorsy? Am I prone to Anger? Addiction? Sport?
I’d be interested to see how I am perceived through my writings. Personally, I always think I come across as a little stiff and, perhaps, contrived. But it’s more likely that’s who I am I just don’t recognize it.
Li, J., & Chignell, M. (2010). Birds of a feather: How personality influences blog writing and reading International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 68 (9), 589-602 DOI: 10.1016/j.ijhcs.2010.04.001
Chong, E. (2010). Using blogging to enhance the initiation of students into academic research Computers & Education, 55 (2), 798-807 DOI: 10.1016/j.compedu.2010.03.012
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