In the mid-1980s, I (JJP) was teaching a course on the History of Psychology. When it came time to distribute the take-home final, I decided to tell students that they could use humor in answering the questions. A week later when the final exam was due, I was surprised to see that every student in the class had used humor in their answers. The inclusion of humor seemed to unleash some pent-up creativity in the students.
When the next semester began, I invited past students to stop by my office to see if they could use their experience in my class to write some “funny stuff ” related to psychology. Several students and I sat on the floor for what seemed like hours (it was actually 20 minutes) wiThnothing to show for our eff orts. Suddenly the dam burst, and we started writing one humorous bit aft er another. Eventually, we rewrote, polished, and organized the material into a presentation for the Mid-America Undergraduate Psychology Research Conference (held at the University of Southern Indiana). The presentation was known as Psych Follies and was patterned after the news segment of Saturday Night Live, with one exception — all of the material related to psychology in some way.
In subsequent years, Psych Follies has been presented numerous times at conferences around the country, including the American Psychological Association and all of the regional conferences. The authors of this column were most oft en the presenters, although in some case, guests such as Dr. Charles Brewer (Furman University) and Dr. Elizabeth Loftus (University of California) took part in the presentation.
The original Psych Follies was written by students; thus, we believe it would make for an excellent chapter activity. Shared humor is a powerful way to bring people together (provided that the humor is shared by everyone rather than targeted at some). You can present your version of Psych Follies at banquets, conferences, fundraising events, holiday parties, and as stand-alone events. You can even present (“road test”) little bits of the presentation at regular chapter meetings.
We have a few ideas to get you started. We like to create names for our coanchors. For example, we have used “Anal Retentive, Sr.” and “Random Assignment” as names for our anchors in the past. However, there are countless other possibilities that are (a) funny, and (b) alert the audience quickly to the psychology content. The names and the rest of the introduction are quite important in setting the mood so the audience knows what to expect from a presentation that usually lasts about 30 minutes. Here is the introduction we used for years:
Around the world, across the nation, within your social support network, teetering on the edge of a visual cliff, splitting your corpus callosum, synpasing your limbic system, and expressing unconditional positive regard, this is Psi Witness News. The news for psychologists concerned about their discipline, their profession, and the prospects of third party reimbursement. Psi Witness News is brought to you on recycled paper, using recycled words, clang associations, delusions, and neologisms.
We suggest that you play with the names of the anchors, the content of the introduction, and the rest of the presentation to make it specific to your school and chapter. We would, however, caution you to stay away from including material about faculty members unless you clear it with them. The goal is to bring people together by sharing a common experience, not to be targeting someone as a victim. If you do want to use faculty members in the material, make it an homage rather than a roast! When you ask permission of faculty members, be sure they are clear about what will be presented: Even when good-natured, some faculty may not want to be immortalized in this way.
Because we set up Psych Follies as a newscast, we always have commercials from our “sponsors.” One of our favorites over the years has been the “Man-U-Matic Manuscript Writer—the new menu-driven way to expedite write-ups of empirical studies.” Here’s some material from this segment:
Each set of menus represents a part of your article, from title to tables, from footnotes to figures, from results to references. Here are a few examples: [SLIDE] The title: The effects of _______and _______on _______and_______ Man-U-Matic is flexible. Just type in the names of up to three independent variables and three dependent variables. For more than three of each variable, buy the new Man-U-Matic Multivariate Upgrade for only $199.95.
The menu automatically prompts you for the all-important colon and subtitle. Man-U-Matic retains in memory the number of articles you’ve written and automatically supplies suggested subtitles.
For the first article: “An exploratory study”
For the second article: “A replication and extension”
For the third article: “New findings and reformulation”
For the fourth article: “A review of the literature”
And for the fifth article: “A meta-analysis”
And what humorous presentation would be complete without a Top Ten list (thanks to David Letterman)? Our list started out as a Top Ten list and grew to the “Top 14 plus or minus two reasons we are proud to be psychologists.” We will share some of the items, in the hopes that you will find others to fill in your own Top 10 or Top 14 list.
Top Fourteen Plus or Minus Two Reasons We are Proud to be Psychologists
14. We know the CORRECT answers to all items on intelligence tests.
13. Most people believe we can read minds.
12. We knew they would say that.
11. Over 200 DSM diagnoses make for great cocktail hour small talk. …
1. New Phil Zimbardo videotape, “Rappin Psycholgy,” hits NUMBER ONE on the MTV top forty.
[We did ask Dr. Zimbardo for permission to include his name in our Top 14 list and he graciously agreed.]
Despite how it appears when you read journal articles, psychology is an inherently hilarious discipline. There is no shortage of potential material for the body of the newscast. One of the most important sources of material is the body of well-known classic studies in psychology. In fact, two of the first Psych Follies bits fall into this category, now complete wiThPower Point visuals (We’re so old, we originally used slides!). Here is an item based on Bandura’s Bobo doll study and another one from Miligram.
Far from imitating violence and aggression on television, the children in Bandura’s Bobo doll study of aggression were actually assaulted first, making their aggression an acceptable form of self-defense. Witnesses to the experiment now admit that Bandura ignored the children’s repeated cries of “He hit me first.” The National Institute of Mental HealThwarns parents to keep Bobo dolls away from television as their study now suggests that imitation occurs exclusively in Bobo dolls, not children.
Recent evidence, complete with photographs, leads us to believe that due to a well-meaning janitor, three to six of Milgram’s confederates did indeed receive lethal doses of shock in his study of obedience to authority figures. Survivors report having no recollection of participating in the experiment… . In fact, they have no recollection of anything at all.
Joseph J. Palladino, PhD, is professor and chair of psychology at the University of Southern Indiana. He earned a PhD in general-theoretical psychology from Fordham University (NY). In 1989, he was elected to the status of fellow of APA. He has served in Division 2 of APA as president (1991-92), editor of the Methods and Techniques section of Teaching of Psychology, and chairperson of the Program Committee. In 2000, he was elected Psi Chi Midwestern Regional Vice-President.
Mitch Handelsman received his PhD in clinical psychology from the University of Kansas in 1981. He is currently professor of psychology and a CU President’s Teaching Scholar at the University of Colorado Denver. He served for a year (1989-90) in Washington DC as an APA Congressional Science Fellow. He has won numerous teaching awards, including the 1992 CASE (Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) Colorado Professor of the Year Award, and APA’s Division 2 Excellence in Teaching Award in 1995. He has published several book chapters and over 50 articles in journals ranging from Professional Psychology: Research and Practice to the Journal of Polymorphous Perversity.