I have recently received word that a paper that I extracted from my master’s thesis, entitled “Is the ‘War on Terror’ a mortality salience prime? Framing effects of counterterrorism metaphors on anti-Muslim prejudice before and after the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings” has won first place at the Southeastern Psychological Association’s annual conference, for the Committee on Equality for Professional Opportunity’s (CEPO) graduate research award.

I will be giving a presentation based on the paper at the 2014 SEPA annual conference on March 6th, 2014, in Nashville, TN.


reddoMy brother David has a software development company called Evomobius.  While he was teaching English in Brazil, he came up with the idea to create an immersive language-learning RPG game that simulates the real world.  It’s a great idea based on sound psychological principles, so I offered to write up a short research brief as a behavioral research consultant that explains some of the science behind his idea.  If you’re interested in helping this idea come to pass, please consider visiting his Kickstarter and contributing.

The Science behind Immersive Language Learning and Virtual Environments

Our current state of behavioral research tends to support what many people find to be intuitive: it is better to learn a second language by immersing yourself more fully in an environment where that language is used. This is how we all learned our first language. As infants and toddlers, none of us learned how to speak our native language by sitting in a classroom, reading textbooks and pictures. Instead, the world was our classroom. As we interacted with the objects and people around us, we were reinforced to associate words and phrases with those objects. We learned the rules through trial-and-error in a fully immersive environment.

Some language theorists suggest that language learning can be understood in the context of operant conditioning (Skinner, 1957; Hayes, Barnes-Holmes, & Roche, 2001). In layman’s terms, language is a behavior, and we learn this behavior through our interactions with and reinforcements from our environment. Just like learning how to ride a bicycle, paint pictures, or play basketball requires doing and not just seeing or observing, language learning requires practice in the context of a real environment.

It is no wonder, then, that research comparing more immersive types of second language instruction to traditional classroom learning has long shown that immersion is better (Campbell, Gray, Rhodes, & Snow, 1985). Immersive programs focus on using the second language as a primary mode of instruction, and result in better and more rapid growth of vocabulary knowledge (Lo & Murphy, 2010). If they start early, students in immersion programs can achieve near-native fluency (Larazuk, 2007).

Additionally, learning a new language can be scary, and it is always tempting to fall back on one’s native language. Immersive language environments require the student to overcome his or her fears and actually use the language in order to achieve goals, and this may be one key to its effectiveness (see MacIntyre, Burns, & Alison, 2011).

The studies I have mentioned have largely compared immersive and traditional classroom settings. Reddo is not necessarily a structured or immersive classroom, but it will seek to emulate immersion by placing the user in a digital reality that mirrors the real world. Reinforcements will come in the form of quests that users can undertake that help them learn as they play. Research has shown that virtual reality can create a sort of “new reality” for people that use it, and as a result, virtual realities have been shown to be effective in learning environments, in settings as diverse as education for students with Asperger syndrome (Lorenzo, Pomares, & Lledó, 2013), and science education (Kartiko, Kavakli, & Cheng, 2010). Some researchers have even developed treatments for people with phobias by constructing virtual realities that can safely expose patients to the things they fear (Brakoulias, 2013).

As a result of these theories and findings, as soon as the technology became available, theorists have suggested that virtual realities can serve as potential tools for language learning (Schwienhorst, 2002).

Reddo will seek to emulate real-world situations that world travelers are likely to experience if they visit a country that speaks a new language (navigating through an airport, making purchases, taking the bus, etc.). This strategy may be the closest you can get to visiting a foreign country and immersing yourself in their language without actually leaving your home.

Since it hasn’t been created yet, I cannot evaluate whether Reddo will be more effective than other language-learning software. However, the research does seem to suggest 1) we learn language through direct behavioral interactions with our environment; 2) immersive language learning programs are more effective than traditional classroom language learning; and 3) virtual realities can serve as safe, “alternate realities” that can emulate the real world enough for therapeutic and learning value.

These three points do seem to suggest that Reddo has the potential to be a powerful new way to learn how to speak a second language.


Brakoulias, V. (2013). Virtual reality can help to develop a new reality. Australian And New Zealand Journal Of Psychiatry, 47(2), 186-187.

Campbell, R. N., Gray, T. C., Rhodes, N. C., & Snow, M. A. (1985). Foreign language learning in the elementary schools: A comparison of three language programs. Modern Language Journal, 69(1), 44-54.

Hayes S. C., Barnes-Holmes, D., & Roche, B., eds. Relational frame theory: A post-Skinnerian account of human language and cognition. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum; 2001.

Kartiko, I., Kavakli, M., & Cheng, K. (2010). Learning science in a virtual reality application: The impacts of animated-virtual actors’ visual complexity. Computers & Education, 55(2), 881-891.

Lazaruk, W. (2007). Linguistic, academic, and cognitive benefits of French immersion. Canadian Modern Language Review, 63(5), 605-627.

Lorenzo, G., Pomares, J., & Lledó, A. (2013). Inclusion of immersive virtual learning environments and visual control systems to support the learning of students with Asperger syndrome. Computers & Education, 6288-101.

Lo, Y., & Murphy, V. A. (2010). Vocabulary knowledge and growth in immersion and regular language-learning programmes in Hong Kong. Language And Education, 24(3), 215-238.

MacIntyre, P. D., Burns, C., & Jessome, A. (2011). Ambivalence about communicating in a second language: A qualitative study of French immersion students’ willingness to communicate. Modern Language Journal, 95(1), 81-96.

Schwienhorst, K. (2002). Why virtual, why environments? Implementing virtual reality concepts in computer-assisted language learning. Simulation & Gaming, 33(2), 196-209.
Skinner B.F. Verbal behavior. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts; 1957

Many people and celebs wonder just how to get rich in 10 easy steps.  Now you can too, with these 10 easy steps used by celebs such as Rihanna.

  1. First start out with lots of money like Warren Buffett.  It is essential to get rich quick while working from home.
  2. Invest in gold in 10 easy steps like Rihanna and Johnny Cash.
  3. Consider creating a viral video on YouTube and get up to 15 million hits like Katy Perry.
  4. Promote your website using SEO optimization with no money down.
  5. Remember that The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones.
  6. Take the money and make it more numerous through smart investing with no money down.
  7. “Work from home” +no work +autotune
  8. “You have to spend money to make money”
  9. Don’t get discouraged depression lost hope no money
  10. Just be yourself Jesus loves you.
  11. I wrote this post to be satirical but I’m now realizing that spam on the Internet just isn’t funny.  In fact the Internet isn’t even funny.  You can’t even be meta about it.  Look at that junk – we have to wade through that crap every day.  Just joking about it actually just compounds the problem.  I’m sitting here literally looking through like 900 spam comments caught by Akismet on my blog.  Can people really sell stuff that way?  I guess they wouldn’t keep doing it if it didn’t work on some level.  But gosh, it’s just irritating.  And it’s irritating in a way that can’t even be funny, which is the worst kind of irritating.  The choice is between that stuff and inane image memes on Facebook – or go outside maybe.  And our generation just keeps plummeting deeper and deeper into the Internet, deceiving themselves into thinking that they’re establishing real human contact out there somewhere – but beyond a certain point you’re just taking yourselves away from the people and places you actually love – in real life.  We can’t find jobs, we’ve got student loans and enormous medical bills looming on the horizon, and Zuckerberg just keeps us glued to our computers, hoping to see that little red notification pop up so we can see if somebody we barely knew from high school “liked” our content-and-emotion-free status updates.  I wonder where this new digital age is taking us, and whether future digital-archaeologists will have to sift through 10,000 spam comments to find a genuine human interaction in the same way that archaeologists now sift through a hill-full of silt just to find a piece of pottery.

The_Nantucket_School_of_Philosophy__1887I just saw someone make a comment online that high schools should have philosophy in their curriculum, and that it would increase standardized test scores.

I used to think that philosophy was all sophistry and dumb thought experiments, and didn’t pay it much attention. I think it was because I resented a field that 1) I didn’t understand at the time, 2) had such an esoteric language that it seemed impenetrable, and 3) was full of people that seemed very, very full of themselves. However, University of Kentucky required a symbolic logic class to all undergraduates, and that class went over logical fallacies, symbolic logic, and basic philosophy. I have to say that in hindsight that was one of the hardest, yet most important classes I ever took. It really did improve the way I thought about arguments, the way I engaged in discourse, and the way I viewed my own ability to think. It caused me to re-evaluate the assumptions I used to navigate the world. It also drove me to really pursue philosophy due to the realization that there’s no getting around it. They say that “If you say you’re not doing philosophy, you’re probably just doing it poorly,” and that is so true.

It especially made a difference when I started to study the theories behind psychology.  I had such a hard time trying to study consciousness from a purely Dennettian-type materialism (that seems to under-gird a lot of modern psychological theory).  It just didn’t work for me, and it was hard to deal with psychology without a real working theory of consciousness (Aristotle and Aquinas made this much easier for me).

The other cool thing about knowing a little philosophy is that it becomes easier to spot the overbearing people online who look like they know a lot but are really just bullies.

I don’t claim to be a philosopher or an expert or anything like that. In fact, the deeper I get in philosophy, the more I realize that I’m pretty much an idiot (my friends might note the marked decrease in online arguments I’ve gotten into since, say, 2006). But even a little formal training in logic and philosophy went a long, long way for me. I would totally support mandatory basic philosophy instruction for people in every field, and even in high school.