“Big Frog/Small Pond?”-University of Michigan Research

I often am intrigued by how people make decisions. Rarely, is it rationally. Whether it is choosing an automobile, a home, a college, or a career, there usually is some latent force that propels individuals to choose-often  without considering even the most basic facts of the options at hand.

This sort of unconscious motivation is not particularly new to any student of psychology/philosophy or even just a curious observer of human nature.

I love it, however, when researchers actually are able to identify the processes by which we humans function and are able to articulate them.

So, I was very pleased to read about University of Michigan doctoral candidate, Kaidi Wu’s research which identified the role of culture in individuals making college/ career decision.

Specifically, Wu’s research noted that Chinese individuals were about twice as likely as European-Americans to choose to be the “little frog in the big pond.” That is, to enroll in a top college, even when their grades were below the average, than European-Americans. Similarly, they prefered to work in a top 10 company, again almost twice as frequently as European-Americans.

Wu emphasizes the importance of cultural values and norms in making a decision, suggesting there is no gold-standard for decision making.

I think a follow up study in which students were asked to articulate their “reasons” for this decision which might help reveal the extent they themselves are aware of the impact that culture makes in decision making.

To read more about the research, please read Jared Wadley’s article from Michigan News.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why is understanding the decision making process important?
  2. Why did Wu choose this sample population?
  3. How large was the sample size-do you think this is a sufficient amount for this research?
  4. What would you choose- to be the big fish in the small pond, or vice-versa? Why do you think you chose this way?
  5. What additional information would you need to be sure it is “cultural appropriateness” and not some other factor contributing to this decision?
  6. How could one study whether or not the individual made the “right” decision for themselves?


Do Video Game Ratings Labels Work?


Yes, according to Iowa State University marketing professor Russell Laczniak.

In an excellent article posted by writer Angie Hunt, Laczniak states, “Parents must actually mediate kids purchase and play of video games, which requires effort and time.”

Professor Laczniak and his associates conducted the research by surveying 220 families online. The survey had questions for parents as well as children. Interestingly, the research respondents were primarily dyads of mothers and sons. He focused on children in the age range of 8-12 as that seemed to be a heightened time of cognitive change and growing influence of peers.

It is essential that parents must actually intervene and influence both the purchase of video games, but also the time that their child spends on video games. So, parents need to set clear limits and implement them consistently in order to have a positive impact.

So, what is this positive impact-simply reducing the number of hours playing video game? According to Laczniak and colleagues, the impact is so much more.  The article suggests that when video game use is limited in this age group, the children are less likely to demonstrate acting out behaviors. This comes as no surprise to most of us who have worked in education for a while, but is important to have yet more data that leads to this conclusion.

Previous research notes, that a particular parenting style also has the most impact on successful implementing the limits- parents who are warm and restrictive as opposed to “anxious” tend to have the best results. I think there is a body of evidence that shows that this is important in any parental interaction, not simply in the limitation of video game watching. Please also check out the science tab of Wide Open Research for further information on being a digitally wise parent or educator.

This is great research and all parents and educators would want to read the article. Teachers of Psychology, Child Development, Parenting, Marketing for sure could use this for a productive discussion. Teachers of an Intro to Law, or Media Studies course could use this to discuss the larger legal and cultural role that video games play in our society.

A few takeaways for teachers and administrators to share with parents:

  1. Read the labels on video games and follow their guidance.
  2. Calmly and firmly tell your child that you will not buy or let them play video games that are “too old” for them. Explain that you are trying to help them become the best students and people possible and this is going to help. Do not have an extended debate.
  3. Provide an alternative activity for the child.
  4. Network with other parents and educators who hold similar values. Common Sense Media is a great resource. 

Question for Discussion

  1. What is your experience in playing violent video games?
  2. Why do they hold such a fascination in our culture?
  3. Are these games popular throughout the world? Where?Who tends to play these games the most?
  4. What are some limitations of this research?
  5. How could professor Laczniak and his colleagues conduct follow up research?
  6. What do you think of the suggestions noted in the article regarding other ways companies could show a game’s rating? What other ways can you think of to help parents make more informed choices regarding video game use?
  7. Perhaps the creative teachers would like to help their students develop Public Service Announcements, to help parents use this research?
  8. What else does this inspire you to “learn, dream, do?”

Fuel Efficiency Index-University of Chicago Research

For a great look at using economics attempting to solve environmental problems, read Vicki Ekstrom High’s article on  University of Chicago professor Ryan Kellogg’s research.

Kellogg has developed an approach to using a “market” approach to developing fuel efficiency standards, based on the cost of gasoline. So, when the cost of gasoline is higher, the fuel efficiency standards would go higher with the assumption that consumers would purchase more fuel efficient vehicles.

If the gas prices are lower, the fuel efficiency standards will go down as consumers are likely to purchase larger “gas-guzzlers.” The assumption then is that it would not put undue burden on auto makers to develop cars that might very high standards.

Based on Kellogg’s research the market will develop an optimal response to this that maximizes fuel efficiency in times of high gas prices while not straining the auto makers in times of low gas prices to achieve high emissions standards that are mismatched to consumer preference.

Kellogg suggests that this “Fuel Efficiency Index” approach (my nomenclature) provides a better response than the current system which is based on wheel base size and does not require congressional legislation.

According to Kellogg”…. it provides the maximum benefit to consumers and the general public by reducing greenhouse gas pollution at the lowest possible cost.”

Teachers of  Economics, Ecology, Automotive Engineering would find this research worth sharing with their students.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Why does Kellogg’s research provide a better solution than the current system?
  2. What assumptions are imbedded in Kellogg’s research?
  3. What data do you think professor Kellogg used to develop his new solution?
  4. What are the fluctuations in gasoline prices noted in the graph in this article?
  5. Over what period of time would this Fuel Efficiency Index need to cover to be practical for automakers and consumers?
  6. How would this solution be implemented?
  7. If you were a policy maker, what other data would you want to analyze before agreeing with professor Kellogg’s Fuel Efficiency Index?

We are Montana in the Classroom-University of Montana Outreach

Congratulations to the University of Montana for sharing their faculty with K-12 students. through the We are Montana in the Classroom program in which  faculty connect with K-12 teachers and students, through distance learning.

Recent events included discussion on Native American Studies:Human Rights by Dr. Shanley and Iva Coff, What is it Like to be  a Chemist? by Dr. Thomas, Moses Leavens, and Ranaldo Tsosie.

What I love about these interactions is that they include faculty and graduate student not only sharing their research, but sharing their story on how they chose to pursue higher education.

For so many of our students higher education seems out of reach or simply an abstract concept as they may not have people in their social networks with extensive higher education or backgrounds in higher education. Simply having the opportunity to interact with the faculty and graduate students about the fascinating research they may be engaged in, but also just about what higher education is all really like can help dispel the many misconceptions that a student may have.

I love these resources that they shared as well. Please check them out and share them with your fellow educators!

The Name Game-University of Toledo Analyzes Baby Naming Trends

What is in a name?

Well, a specific time in history according to University of Toledo graduate student  Ram Mukherjee. Ram analyzed data for girl baby names from 1880 to 2004 and found many interesting patterns.

Do you know a Grace? Unless they are over 100 years old, they were probably from the resurgent wave of Grace’s born in the late 1990’s to early 2000’s.

Their research focused on identifying the trends of baby names and found that some were due to influences in popular culture, and others were a slight variation on a more traditional name. The next step is to use their data to try to predict trends for future names.

This article and research could be used by high school math teachers as a brief warm up activity as it includes a graph with the most common names. It could also be used to foster a discussion of data modeling techniques and could spark a discussion of how to view this data to actually make the predictions for the next set of popular names. I think it is also interesting to consider how popular culture impacts something as fundamental as child naming.

Interestingly, the article notes that “out of 104,100 unique names, 64,911 are female and 39,119 are male.” Anyone care to speculate as to why this might be?

Questions for Discussion

  1. How did they analyze this data?
  2. Elizabeth and Kelly were popular in the 1920’s and then surged again together in the 1970’s-any guesses as to why this might be?
  3. Which were some of the least common names?
  4. Do you think it might be better to have a common name, or a unique name? Explain your answer?
  5. How else could you present the data to communicate the important information?