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Why do we change our minds?

As a science cat, I’ve changed my mind a lot over the years. I used to wear a fancy neck scarf called a cravat all the time. Now I’m comfy in my lab coat.

I talked about that with my friend Makita White. She’s a graduate student in the psychology department at Washington State University.

She told me that we change our minds when we get new information or insight that tells us we need to make a different choice.

It turns out that we have lots of opinions and beliefs. They’re also called attitudes. We have attitudes about what we like to eat or wear. We have attitudes about other people and how the world should be.

White told me that having attitudes helps us out.

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‘Growth mindset’ improves first-generation college students’ grades

A study conducted by Washington State University (WSU) has found that notifying students of their instructors’ growth mindset results in better grades for first generation students.

Growth mindset refers to “the belief that abilities are not innate but can be improved.”

WSU psychology researcher and lead author of the study Elizabeth Canning and graduate student Makita White used an 400-student introductory biology class to conduct their research. Dividing the class evenly into an experimental and control group, Canning and White found that first-generation students who received growth mindset emails after taking their initial exams did better in the course overall than students who received standard emails without any mention of the growth mindset.

Averaging one-third of a grade higher, the research showed that first-generation students from the experimental group performed just as well as students whose parents had graduated college, which the release refers to as “continuing-generation” students.

“It’s a pretty sizable effect,” said Canning. “Many studies have shown that continuing generation students outperform first-generation students, but in the condition where we sent emails from the instructor that had growth mindset language, we saw that difference in performance completely go away.”

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WSU Insider

New program emphasizes service learning

A partnership between Washington State University’s Center for Civic Engagement and the LAUNCH Program is bringing service-learning into the classroom, with positive impacts on student success.

The two offices collaborated on an effort to include service-learning in Psychology 105 and Human Development 200 courses in the 2023-24 academic year. More than 800 students were asked to engage in service-learning experiences scaffolded into the courses and then reflect on the experience as part of their fall semester course curriculum.

“Our goal was to give students the space and opportunity to think about who they are, where they want to go, and what learning experiences could help them in that developmental process,” Samantha Swindell, psychology professor and associate dean of undergraduate studies in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Service-learning doesn’t just give students an opportunity to live their values – it also has a substantial impact on their success. A study conducted by biology faculty and CCE staff during academic years 2017-18 and 2018-19 found that students who participated in a similar service-learning project received an academic boost: end-of-semester grades for participants were almost 10% higher than non-participants’ grades, and participants’ fall-to-fall retention was 9.3% higher. The impact was particularly pronounced among students of color.

“We have every reason to believe that the benefits of service-learning are as true for our students as they were in the group that was studied,” Swindell said. “Service-learning helps students be more civic-minded, feel more like a member of the community, improves self-efficacy, and is great practice in stepping into an unfamiliar situation and seeing it as a learning opportunity.”

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‘Exploding head syndrome’? Inside a mysterious, disturbing sleep condition

A musician and guitar luthier who’s no stranger to loud noises, Dave Lovos admits to being a bit undone by the boom he heard in his head one night earlier this year. It hit just as Lovos was drifting off to sleep, the force of it snapping him to attention.

What Lovos experienced is known by the unscientific but evocative moniker “exploding head syndrome” (EHS), a mysterious example of a parasomnia, or sleep disorder. Parasomnias include sleepwalking, sleep talking, sleep paralysis, and pesky muscle spasms known as “myoclonic jerks.” In most cases, these parasomnias are normal and harmless, except when physical danger or pain is involved.

“My office would be a lot messier if heads were actually exploding,” says Brian Sharpless, [former WSU psychology faculty member and] a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in sleep. Sharpless is among the handful of psychologists and others researching EHS. He says the condition is harmless.

Classified as a sleep disorder in 2005 by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, the small number of studies to date have dismissed earlier clinical claims that women over 50 were more prone to EHS. Data today show that the incidents are almost equally divided among men and women. In a study out of Washington State University, authored by Sharpless, upwards of 13 percent of college students reported at least one episode.

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National Geographic Magazine

‘It’s not enough to just be nice’

A Washington State University (WSU) study found it’s not enough for a teacher to be nice. What students really crave is an instructor who thinks they could improve.

The idea of a “growth mindset” compared to a “fixed mindset” has been around for quite some time. This study found that a teachers’ growth mindset appears more important than warmth.

Makita White, a psychology Ph.D. candidate at WSU [and] the lead author for the study, and Elizabeth Canning, assistant professor of psychology, said they found students responded well to a warm and friendly instructor, but what they really craved is an instructor who thought they could improve.

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