Psychology in the News

Quad in Fall

Please contact Jenny Whelan with questions about press releases. For more news from the University of Washington, visit the UW News site.

Image of Peter Kahn

Peter Kahn is interviewed by Quartz Media about the effect of technology on humans' relationship with nature.

August 11, 2017

Technology is changing our relationship with nature as we know it

University of Washington psychology professor Peter Kahn has spent much of his career analyzing the relationship humans have with nature—and he thinks that relationship is more fragile than many of us realize.

Kahn works to understand the intersection of two modern phenomena: the destruction of nature, and the growth of technology. As UW’s director of the Human Interaction with Nature and Technological Systems Lab (HINTS), Khan researches humans in relation to both real nature and “technological nature”: digital representations of the wild, such as nature-focused documentaries, video games, and VR stimulations.

Technological nature has its benefits; engaging with it makes us feel good by triggering our innate “biophilia,” a term for humanity’s inborn, primordial affiliation with the environment. For example, researchers have found that nature videos played in prisons drastically reduce violence amongst inmates, suggesting nature’s relaxing influence translates through screens. Studies have also found that watching Planet Earth brings viewers joy and markedly lowers anxiety, and that workers in offices with plasma-screen “windows” that play livestreams of the outdoors are happier and more productive than their counterparts working in rooms without any windows at all.

We’re seeking these nature alternatives as society urbanizes and wild places become harder to access. Yet there is a limit to the extent technological representations of nature can provide the soothing, restorative, creativity-enhancing benefits of a walk in the real woods.

Kahn’s concern is that in the process of pursuing more realistic technological nature, we are becoming increasingly alienated from the real thing, growing to accept a digital substitute for engagement with the wild, and compromising our fundamental affiliation for the environment in the process.

Read the entire article here.

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Andrew Meltzoff discusses how imitation makes us human in this news article.

August 9, 2017

Beyond flattery: Why imitation could be humanity's most distinctive feature

Forget ‘monkey see, monkey do.’ ‘Human see, human do’ might be more accurate. But what does our incredible ability to imitate do for us?

— Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, or so the saying goes. But more than that, it might also be at the root of what makes us, well, human.

Starting in infancy, humans begin imitating others around them, sticking their tongues out when a caretaker does, holding toy telephones up to their ears, and waving back to anyone who waves at them. Imitation continues into adulthood, as we pick up the body language of someone we like, ask friends where they bought their “fabulous red shoes,” and don a certain company’s apparel because Michael Jordan wears it.

Imitation can get a bad reputation, but researchers say our species’ drive to imitate so readily is a significant mechanism through which we learn social norms, integrate into society, and build social connection. And, they say, this level of imitation might be what sets us apart from other species and may have set us on the path to building an advanced society.

"Human beings are the premier imitators on the planet," says Andrew Meltzoff, co-director of the University of Washington Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences.

Read the entire article here.

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Marsha Linehan is featured in a story about a Chico clinic changing lives with the use of DBT.

August 8, 2017

Finding the life worth living

Zen-like therapy helps patients contain harmful impulses

By Vic Cantu 

This article was published on .

Sara Mayne was just six months out of Chico State with her master’s degree in social work when she encountered a patient who’d make one of the more powerful transformations she’s witnessed as a counselor.

In early 2015, Mayne, an associate social worker, was working as a therapist for a new mental health practice in Chico where she still works called Genuine DBT (the “DBT” stands for dialectical behavior therapy), which incorporates Zen concepts such as mindfulness and acceptance.

“I have always been interested in helping people with strong needs, and allowing them to see their inner beauty,” Mayne said.

This particular patient was a deeply troubled teenage girl who said she had attempted suicide more times than she could count. Dialectical behavior therapy helped make an astonishing improvement in the girl’s life.

“The patient has not tried to end her life in the two years since she started DBT training,” Mayne said. “Before the treatment, she had recurring terror, misery and darkness, but now she has a lot of joy and healthy relationships.”

Read the entire article here.

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Geoff Boynton emphasizes the safety risks of distracted driving in a Daily of the University of Washington article.

August 4, 2017

Seattle bike safety may still hinge on distracted driving, even after new legislation

Max Wasserman The Daily

Graduate student Colby Samstag raced bikes for years without incident, but that changed the day a car pulled in front of him as he raced downhill at over 40 miles per hour, becoming his first accident in a string of unfortunate encounters with reckless drivers.

Later on, it would be a hit-and-run on the state Route 520 bridge. After that, getting doored near Husky Stadium. Once, the wiry genome researcher was grazed by a truck on the Lake Washington Loop, a measly three inches of space, the difference between life and death. Had he not retired from bike racing, the list might have gone on. 

“In Seattle, I’m so on edge with drivers that sometimes I don’t think it’s possible to be cautious enough,” Samstag said.

Samstag is only one voice among thousands of bike-riders who are frustrated with negligent drivers, a problem that Seattle has so far struggled with. Distracted driving has been largely responsible for the recent nationwide surge in traffic related accidents. In Seattle, it’s the leading cause of traffic related accidents, having surpassed impairment and speeding in the past five years. 

Read the entire article here.