Danielle Leigh: Good evening Jacksonville and happy Saturday. I am Danielle Leigh, here with Dr Ali Kasraeian, thank you for joining us. Give us a call at 3-4-0-1-0-4-5. It’s a little chilly outside today.
Dr Kasraeian: Happy New Year. It is, it finally feels like winter.
Danielle Leigh: Yeah. I mean it’s December, I mean January, jeez.
Dr Kasraeian: It’s January, new year. Come on.
Danielle Leigh: Whatever.
Dr Kasraeian: The first show of the new year?
Danielle Leigh: First show of the new year, that’s right. Lets start this off right. I’m really excited about our show today.
Dr Kasraeian: I am too, I am too. So today on our show we’re very honored to have Dr Tracy Alloway. So, as a backstory, I met Dr Alloway at TEDx talks here in Jacksonville. That were a few months ago. And I was just blown away by her talk and these are 50 minute talks where people take a very very broad topic and what they do with it is, in a very very short amount of time, take a topic and bring it to life, in a way that’s not only profoundly enlightening but also incredibly entertaining and she did both.
And the topic was essentially social media and it’s impact on a whole number of topics. Our relationships, our memory was the other aspect of things that I found profoundly interesting. And what we’re going to do today is talk about both the myths and truths related to the social media as it impacts our lives in ways we assume and the ways that science backs up. So Dr Alloway thank you very much.
Tracy Alloway: Thank you so much for having me here.
Dr Kasraeian: So, as much as your British accent may deceive us, you are a professor here at University of North Florida in the department of psychology and I must ask, how does one land here in Jacksonville Florida, from the beautiful continent of Europe?
Tracy Alloway: Well I used to live in Scotland and the weather was like it is today, but it’s like this 365 days a year over there, and that is the reason I’m here in sunny Florida.
Dr Kasraeian: So let me ask you, how did you get interested in your line of research?
Tracy Alloway: It was actually, oddly enough, I was the recipient of the Young Science Award by the British Science Association in the UK. And as part of that I had a chance to talk a lot about some research as well as conduct research with a large demographic of people that are interested in our memories of the British Science Association.
So as part of that I was looking at how social media is used and at that time people were very interested in Facebook, Twitter, you know as sort of upcoming mediums of communication and what it’s actually doing to our brain. And that really set me off on this research journey, really.
Dr Kasraeian: So some of your areas of expertise are in working memory. And you do a lot of research in terms of working memory as a theory across a lifespan, you talk about it in terms of learning and on an offshoot of this is the impacts of social media as a medium to help memory. And again we’re going to talk a lot about in terms of the fact that probably everyone in the audience is really interested in the impact of relationships and things which actually, this month’s issue of Cosmopolitan had some references to your work in terms of those things. What do they seem to be interested in in terms of a psychologist looking at social media and memory?
Tracy Alloway: Well yes they had me under the love and relationships section, for the January issue and I’m not an expert on either but they used my research on social media there because they were look at back stalking. And so the question really they were posing to the reader is should you back stalk if you’re going to go on a blind date and they interviewed me, and used some of my quotes looking at my research on empathy in social media.
And my take home really was that back stalking can help you understand something about the person that you’re about to meet, or even a coworker that you might have prejudged them just when you met them or you heard about them from someone else and by looking a little bit more deeply in their social media presence, that might provide a clue for you to say wow, I never realised that, that’s why she acts this way or that’s why he says things in this way and so, it can help us develop a kinder way of responding and interacting with peers.
Dr Kasraeian: So let me ask you this, and this is more a question that I find interesting in talking with my friends. Do men or women seem to go on to Google and as you put it back stalk the people that they may or may not be entering into new relationships?
Tracy Alloway: I think everyone back stalks.
Dr Kasraeian: Everyone back stalks.
Tracy Alloway: But I think women probably do it a little bit more and that may be driven more by a safety issue too because you’re–
Dr Kasraeian: No which I think is very responsible.
Tracy Alloway: Yes.
Dr Kasraeian: Men may do it we just may not speak about it as much.
Danielle Leigh: I don’t talk about my back stalking but, just a little public with it.
Dr Kasraeian: I guess we’ve done things we’re not supposed to?
Danielle Leigh: Exactly.
Tracy Alloway: Well Cosmopolitan endorsed it.
Danielle Leigh: I’m a big fan of Cosmo, I can’t wait for my January issue to get to my iPad.
Dr Kasraeian: Another award that you won is actually the Joseph Lister Award from the British Science Association. So congratulations.
Tracy Alloway: Thank you.
Dr Kasraeian: And that was for outstanding skills in communicating, and I find that interesting because Joseph Lister is a pioneer in antiseptic, he was a British surgeon of antiquity and the fact that we can use antibiotics and things of that nature in the world of surgery is really on the shoulders of his work and some people that may not have gotten a credit around that time, there’s some controversies of medical history that we won’t get into today.
But congratulations on your expertise and thank you again for joining us today.
Tracy Alloway: Oh thank you.
Dr Kasraeian: So when we kind of begin talking about your work on working memory, what exactly is working memory as opposed to our general idea of we think of something, something happens and we kind of take that into our brain and it’s either a happy thought or a negative thought. How is that different from our working memory from day to day?
Tracy Alloway: Working memory is your active memory. So you’re actually working with information and I like to use the example of a conductor. So the conductor doesn’t play any music but it brings together the different parts of the orchestra, and working memory is like that. It physically, functionally actually sits in the front of the brain, just like a conductor in an orchestra. And brings together memories from our long term memory. Autobiographical memories, it brings together pieces from our amygdala, the emotional cues that you just mentioned. The happy, the sad pieces. It brings together how we want to speak from Broca’s area, our language center.
So it’s this conductor that brings it all together in the moment, it’s that at the moment processing. And we use it at all stages of our lives. As babies, when we’re recognizing novel stimuli, as adults in interviews, in children at school, it plays an important role even in Alzheimer’s and dementia. So we’re looking at that side of research actually very recently we’re just starting that up here in Jacksonville.
Dr Kasraeian: You kind of imagine the important things for learning in general and for us to learn how these processes are shaped, and especially from a young age, and as a constant through our lifespan. The reason these things are important, especially in a dynamic world that’s constantly changing and the amazing thing of how much things change.
You know we talked recently about how much in the world of medicine, we’re getting so much information and things are changing at such a rapid pace, it’s important for us to understand that, you know the brain I think is the next frontier. And as a surgeon, looking at anatomy of the body, every part of the body seems to have a little bit of a mix of form and function. The brain is one that to me seems the most amazing because when you just look at it, it is so amazing that, the breadth of the amazing things that it does because it just looks like this kind of grey, yellowish blob.
And like you said, like a conductor it takes all these amazing things that our body can do and our body can think and our body can feel and it puts it together and it needs that conductor to be able to take the things from your past, the things from your future, and the things from your now and try to coordinate it in a way so that you can make decisions right or wrong, that you can actually make a decision.
And it’s amazing that that is a process that we have to figure out how to do and that figuring out portion is a constantly evolving thing. In some of the research that you’ve done with regards to social media, is that learning process can not only evolve, but that social media, especially in younger children and younger adults, as they begin to use mediums like social media, can actually make them better or make us better at engaging with our world.
Tracy Alloway: Yes, certainly and we touched on empathy a little while earlier and that was one of the things I started looking at with young adults, here in Jacksonville and with students at UNF, where we had over 400 young adults and really it was to address this issue of is social media actually making us more narcissistic.
And you know we heard just recently as today there’s these big claims that we’re a selfie generation, we’re just obsessed with putting ourselves out there, and certainly there’s greater incidents of that, but is that really linked into narcissism and is that really leading to this decrease of empathy that we’re noticing? And that was really what motivated my desire to research this further.
So we gave participants narcissistic question of the NPI, the narcissistic personality index, where they had to choose different statements like I prefer to talk a lot about myself in front of people, versus, I like to listen and hear what other people say. Some very dichotomous statements like that. And we also gave them empathy questionnaires, we asked them how they would feel, you know would they try to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. And we looked at their social media use. How often did the post pictures? How often did they comment?
We also looked at what I call more impersonal use of social media, where it’s just, you post links or you share oh this is funny watch this little meme or this cat runs into a glass window or something so it’s not directly interacting with some–