The Gray Matter in this Book

An innovative feature in this book is the existence of two different levels of material, one with a white background, the other with a gray background. (Apologies to students accustomed to the British spelling, which is "grey." I had to make a decision and stick with it.) The labels white matter and gray matter are of course shameless puns based on the two types of brain tissue called white matter and gray matter. Initially I thought the gray matter would be only for the brainier students, but it turned out to be helpful for average students as well.

Why have the gray matter? Originally (in the year 2000 edition of the book) the gray matter was intended to be more difficult, extra credit material. That did not work out; the students who needed extra credit were the ones doing worst in the course, and this was a different group from the students who enjoyed additional, supplementary material. So the two original functions of the gray matter (a source of extra credit and a source of more advanced information) were at cross-purposes. I ended up not using the gray matter for extra credit; I just left it optional. Most students said they nevertheless read part of it, because it helped them understand the white matter better, and often they found it interesting.

Then, during a summer course on Personality Theories, I tried a similar scheme but with a slight modification: this time I used gray matter for commentaries and extra information that might not normally be included in a textbook. The material was not for extra credit, nor was it optional, nor was it especially difficult. Now the gray matter simply supplemented the regular text and added opinions and observations and elaborations of it. That worked better than using it for advanced material. Students said they enjoyed getting inside information they would not normally receive in print.

What is the gray matter used for?

Consequently, in this edition, the gray matter is not designed to be more difficult or higher level. Now it consists of:

1. Student essays

2. Long examples, anecdotes, quotes, or background stories about how a concept was discovered or how students experienced it in their own lives

3. Commentaries, criticisms, asides and opinions by the author

4. References to web sites

All the web links in the text were active (working) at the time this text was revised. However, web sites are constantly disappearing and relocating, so if one of the sites has disappeared, let me know by e-mail, and I will tell you if I have a more recent address for it. My current e-mail address is at the bottom of every page, if you have javascript enabled in your browser.

To summarize: unlike during my first experiment with gray matter, when it was optional, this time it is a regular part of the text. If the page is assigned as part of a reading, then the gray matter is required reading just like the rest. However, only the concepts mentioned in study questions in the margin are covered in the quiz items that come along with the text. (If your instructor makes up additional quiz items, you might need additional study questions.) The correspondence of quiz items to study questions is true for both the white matter and gray matter. This section, for example, has a single study question: "What is the gray matter used for?" The rest of this section is here because you might benefit from the information, not because it is the subject of quiz items.


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Copyright © 2007 Russ Dewey