Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Mommmmmyyyyyy! He won't stay on his side of the car!

A political post: The bailout has (for the time being) failed. According to this article,

House Republicans are pointing to remarks made by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) shortly after noon today to explain why so many Republicans voted against the financial sector bailout bill.

Evidently, the remarks:

blast(ed) Bush administration economic policies for leading America into the present crisis

Am I to understand that House Republicans didn't vote for the bill because Nancy Pelosi hurt their feelings? These people would make excellent humanists...or modern college students.

I can't not choke on it

This is an excellent article about "sex addiction" and simultaneously takes us through an interesting, anecdotal history of abnormal psychology. Early on it begins:

The modern notion that you can be "addicted" to sex, or to any behavior—like eating, shopping, gambling, or texting—has been in ascendance among scientists only for the past quarter-century.

It summarizes a history of changing theoretical viewpoints pretty well with:

(The modern take on addiction is that it is) a reversal of Freud's formulation from more than a century ago. We used to see drug abuse as a psychological problem—like compulsive masturbation. Now, with our advanced knowledge of the brain, we're starting to see compulsive masturbators as victims of a disease, like drug addicts.

And it addresses current controversies in the conclusion:

When it comes to compulsive sexual behavior, the professionals have their own ambivalence, which plays out as a question of semantics rather than aesthetics: The community argues over the inclusion of behavioral addictions—or even the word addiction itself—in the next version of the DSM. Some argue that the euphemistic use of dependence has done little to eliminate the stigma associated with the condition. Others see the medicalization of behavior—sexual or otherwise—as a form of social control.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

We sickologists are a sneaky bunch

Article: How to treat a "Money Disorder" - Actually, we're only talking about Fashionable & Stylish money disorders, similar to Fashionable & Stylish sex addiction and Fashionable & Stylish delusional psychosis, but all the same. Evidently there is a host of new "money disorders" we psychologists are treating:

overspending, underspending (a k a Depression mentality), serial borrowing, financial infidelity (“cheating” on a spouse by spending and lying about it), workaholism, financial incest (lording money over relatives to control them), financial enabling (throwing large sums at, say, adult children who then are not motivated to support themselves), hoarding, and plenty of guilt and shame around poverty and wealth.

How to treat it? Simple. Something called "Onsite"...

...is one of a number of programs and workshops devoted to problem money behaviors...It costs $2,650 and involves six days of group therapy and financial counseling.

Step 1: Medicalize the behavior. Step 2: Convince people you know how to cure it. Step 3: Sell the cure to people who are bad with money. Brilliant.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Am I a cocky son of a bitch?

I've just set up a Facebook profile. After the umpteenth invitation to visit someone else's profile that I couldn't accept because I didn't have my own profile, I caved. Now I'm wondering if I'm a narcissist. Psychologists gave a personality inventory to Facebook users, then evaluated their Facebook profiles.

The researchers found that the number of Facebook friends and wallposts that individuals have on their profile pages correlates with narcissism...(and that)...Narcissists are also more likely to choose glamorous, self-promoting pictures for their main profile photos...while others are more likely to use snapshots.

So I'm assuming that narcissism was measured by their personality inventory. Then what the hell is going on with the following?

Untrained observers were able to detect narcissism, too. The researchers found that the observers used three characteristics – quantity of social interaction, attractiveness of the individual and the degree of self promotion in the main photo – to form an impression of the individual’s personality.

For that to be the case (if I'm understanding correctly), I think "attractiveness of the individual" must, by any statistical procedure, be correlated with the researchers' measure of narcissism. And if that's the case, I wonder if it is a flawed measure of narcissism. And (one last time) if that's the case, does any of their data matter?

Right now it’s too early to predict if or how the norms of online self-promotion will change...since the study of social networking sites is still in its infancy.

Boy oh boy - the study of social networking...glad to see we psychologists are helping to make the world a better place. Anyway, I've only got 8 friends...but is my picture self-promoting? Is it glamorous? What if I now go to my Facebook profile and where it says "What are you doing right now" I type: "Wondering if I am a narcissist"? Is a vicious narcissist cycle?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Send in the stupid fucking clowns

How disappointing is it that being given factual information to counter misinformation can actually increase our beliefs in the misinformation?

Political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler provided two groups of volunteers with the Bush administration's prewar claims that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. One group was given a refutation -- the comprehensive 2004 Duelfer report that concluded that Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction before the United States invaded in 2003. Thirty-four percent of conservatives told only about the Bush administration's claims thought Iraq had hidden or destroyed its weapons before the U.S. invasion, but 64 percent of conservatives who heard both claim and refutation thought that Iraq really did have the weapons. The refutation, in other words, made the misinformation worse.

I've already noted it is unwise (and uncool) to rig a study to make conservatives look stupid. And I recognize flaws in the fact that most researchers investigating these issues are "raging liberals." But the fact that all the researchers are democrats only matters if you can show where bias may have crept into the study. I suspect (though I don't know for sure) they used double-blind procedures to cover for that. Sad, I tell you. Just sad.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Don't you dare hurt my feelings, or I'll have you arrested

Jonathan Haidt is one of my favorite working psychologists. He does fascinating research investigating how people make moral judgments. And I appreciate his attempts to:

...transcend the “culture wars” by using recent discoveries in moral psychology to foster more civil forms of politics.

Certainly, politics seems very uncivilized. As an homage again to the late DF Wallace, I'll quote him that:

(T)he likeliest reason why so many of us care so little about politics is that modern politicians make us sad, hurt us deep down in ways that are hard even to name, much less talk about...

But I have to express concern with some issues in this article. First, what a title: WHAT MAKES PEOPLE VOTE REPUBLICAN? As if it is some illness. He even admits, granted in a self-disparaging fashion, to diagnosing the condition:

In the psychological community, where almost all of us are politically liberal, our diagnosis of conservatism gives us the additional pleasure of shared righteous anger.

I've already brought attention to the flaws of rigging a study to make conservatives look stupid, but now it seems "liberal academics" (my god, I'm turning into Bill O'Reilly) are trying to make them look mentally ill (disclaimer: I'm a libertarian academic). Still, my concerns are primarily different, and related in parts to previous criticisms I've made. Haidt notes that his research finds that republicans and democrats tend to view morality differently. Democrats view morality in an "academic" way such that questions of morality deal primarily with harm and fairness (immoral behavior is harmful and/or unfair). Republicans accept those domains (as Haidt calls them) but also consider morality from the perspectives of group loyalty, respect for authority, and sacredness. He describes it this way:

(T)he second rule of moral psychology is that morality is not just about how we treat each other (as most liberals think); it is also about binding groups together, supporting essential institutions, and living in a sanctified and noble way.

I've noted previously the importance (but failure on Haidt's part) of differentiating *how* people make moral judgments (moral psychology) and how people *should* make moral judgments (moral philosophy). He seems to make this oddly clear when he writes about how he came to the above judgments regarding the domains of morality:

For my dissertation research, I made up stories about people who did things that were disgusting or disrespectful yet perfectly harmless. For example, what do you think about a woman who can't find any rags in her house so she cuts up an old American flag and uses the pieces to clean her toilet, in private? Or how about a family whose dog is killed by a car, so they dismember the body and cook it for dinner? I read these stories to 180 young adults and 180 eleven-year-old children, half from higher social classes and half from lower, in the USA and in Brazil. I found that most of the people I interviewed said that the actions in these stories were morally wrong, even when nobody was harmed. Only one group—college students at Penn—consistently exemplified [the traditional academic] definition of morality and overrode their own feelings of disgust to say that harmless acts were not wrong.

I'm trying to think of another area of academic research where the following scenario would occur: Questions about that area are posed to different types of people. Educated people answer it one way while others answer it a different way. The conclusion is that the educated people are answering it incorrectly and everyone else is answering it correctly. I can't think of another area of academic research where that would occur, but it seems to be exactly what Haidt's doing here. Educated people view morality one way, others view it differently, so we should change the understanding of morality to more closely reflect the most common views. Again, let me be clear: If the claim is that we are simply *describing* how people make moral judgments, Haidt's descriptions of how most people make them are relevant. But if we're looking at how people *should* make moral judgments, it does not seem appropriate that majority should rule. Would we change our understanding of calculus because most people didn't answer questions relating to calculus the way educated people do? What about evolution? Surveys find:

Belief that God created humans in their present form decreases as education increases, ranging from 58% of those with high school education or less who believe in the biblical explanation to only 25% of those with postgraduate education.

Should we pose a "second rule" of human biological development that states:

(T)he second rule of biology is that human biological development is not just a function of evolution (as most liberals think); it is also about God creating people in their present form.

Wouldn't that be consistent with Haidt's reasoning on moral psychology? I suppose one could argue that morality is different than calculus and evolution. Haidt does that, suggesting that unlike areas where there are objective answers, morality is subjective, it "varies across cultures" and therefore "isn't it unfair to impose on all cultures a definition of morality drawn from the European Enlightenment tradition?" But I say he's wrong. His specific topic is morality and American politics. Because our democratic political system is based largely on a "morality drawn from the European Enlightenment tradition" we (at least try to) educate citizens to make political judgments based on that tradition. It seems appropriate, then, to educate people to make moral judgments on that tradition, also, as our political system is what it is because of its moral underpinnings. Haidt's data indicates that educating people to make such moral judgments works. Why not advocate for that rather than simply redefining morality as whatever regresses to the norm?

Monday, September 15, 2008

Finite Jest

David Foster Wallace killed himself last Friday. I'd been considering a post about this article, another on morality from one of my favorite working psychologists - Jon Haidt at UVA. But I've been immersed in Foster Wallace obits and following links here and there. I've decided that, for the day, a better way to think closely about morality is for me to re-read this. So that's what I'm going to do.
So then here is a question that’s all but unavoidable at the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, and may arise in kitchens across the U.S.: Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure? A related set of concerns: Is the previous question irksomely PC or sentimental? What does “all right” even mean in this context? Is it all just a matter of individual choice?

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Fashionable & Stylish Sex Addiction

I'm not going to say much about this article on sex addiction. It is titled "No sympathy for the Sex Addict" and includes the following:

A few mental health professionals still argue that sex addiction is not a real disease...Sex addiction is not listed as a disorder in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), the bible of psychiatric disorders

Listen, I'm not suggesting that people who exhibit behaviors with easily predictable negative consequences deserve no sympathy/empathy/whatever, but if a mental disorder ain't in the DSM, there are way more than "a few mental health professionals" who don't think it is a real disease. What intrigues me most, again, is the placement of the article: the NYT "Fashion & Style" section. Fashionable & Stylish sex addiction?

I would, just for the heck of it, like to point out that I hate Chuck Palahniuk and find those who really dig him just adorable.

Monday, September 8, 2008

You say "tom-ay-to" I say "gateway drug"

I think I've a bit of a problem with this article from the APA Psychport page. The article, titled "Prescription drugs a gateway for teen drug abuse: With many substances harder to find, study shows drop in illegal drug abuse," suggests that for many teenagers nonmedical use of prescription drugs is their first drug use. I've no problem with the data in support of that claim (which is available for free here). Indeed, the data show that, as the Psychport article accurately states:

About 2.5 million new teen substance abusers were initiated through prescription drugs. Next was marijuana, with 2.1 million new adolescent users.

My concern is the use of the term "gateway drug" in the Psychport article's title. I'm not sure that an "initiation drug" is quite the same as a "gateway drug." The original data source describes "initiation" as:

Information on substance use initiation, also known as incidence or first-time use...

In this sense, initiation deals with first-time drug use. If you google "gateway drug" though, you'll find the term isn't generally used to indicate first-time usage, but rather more commonly refers to the gateway drug theory, described by The Encyclopedia of Public Health as follows:

The "gateway drug theory" describes the phenomenon in which an introduction to drug-using behavior through the use of tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana is related to subsequent use of other illicit drugs.

The data, though, provide no evidence that nonmedical prescription drug use "is related to subsequent use of other illicit drugs." Appears to me that the use of the term gateway drug is inappropriate, then...although it might make for excellent drug law propaganda given that most people don't pay much attention.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

All the unborn chicken voices in my head

Check this out. People are having delusions about being in reality television shows. Or, alternatively, being in The Matrix. It really isn't that surprising. Psychotic folk commonly incorporate their beliefs into their delusions. I don't suspect you'll find a lot of atheist schizophrenics thinking God tells them to kill their children. But you will get plenty of Christians who do. This though,

"But the more radical view is that this pushes some people over the threshold; the environment tips them over the edge," said Dr. Joel Gold, who is a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University. "And if culture can make people crazy, then we need to look at it."

It is probably radical because it doesn't fit that well with common thinking about psychosis. Not that culture can't affect the content of delusions...but I'm unaware of much thinking that culture can result in delusions.

Last winter, my wife and her mother went on a Rock of Love marathon while we were visiting for Christmas. Sure, it almost sent me over the edge, but not such that I thought I was part of the show. But that's just me, and as dumb as I am, I'm not nearly dumb enough to be on that show. A professor of mine once told me of a hospital where he was working with three schizophrenic patients each thinking they were Jesus. I'll bet their conversations were much more interesting than the contestants on reality TV.

Here's the coolest part about the article - where the NYT editors decided to include it: the "Fashion & Style" section. I guess psychotic delusions about being in The Truman Show are fashionable and stylish, compared to those fuddy-duddy psychotic delusions about the government secretly monitoring your every action. No way would someone with a Truman Show delusion wear white after Labor Day. Way too fashionable and stylish them folk are.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Is it best that the gospel only be according to the lecturer?

I teach two sections of "lecture" Intro Psychology and two sections of "online" Intro Psychology. Why should I ever lecture if students could simply read the book? That's the question posed in this blog post, Why Are We Here? (In A Big Lecture, That Is), by a UC Berkeley economist. He argues the history of the university lecture stems from back when books could not be easily copied, and thus it was more cost efficient for a lecturer to read to a group. Students would take notes, because they'd never ever see the book that was being read to them. Notes were required.

Nowadays, of course, people can buy and read books themselves, and any lecture notes can be provided. Students don't need to take notes, but do they even need a lecture, what with the book available and all? The authors poses four possible reasons for the continued existence of lectures, I think the most interesting being that lectures are:

A sociological event: East African Plains Apes like to do things in groups that involve language--that is just who we are--and the lecture is just another example of this

Though I hate to mix human origin metaphors, an interesting comparison is that between the university lecture and the church (or other religious building) sermon. In both cases, books can be bought - assigned textbook or (for example) bibles. Yet, in both cases, people seem to prefer the person in the front of the room talking about the book rather than they themselves reading the book. If indeed that comparison is at all accurate (and I'm not confident it is), it shines a potentially harsh light on both lecture and book reading. Consider that "Americans are among the world's most 'Bible-literate' people" while simultaneously "(t)he Christian body in America is immersed in a crisis of biblical illiteracy".

I wonder if that, periodically in both instances of the university lecture and the religious sermon, the lecturer would prefer the person not read the associated book at all, but only hear what the lecturer says. Now to mixing faiths, take for example the semi-recent declaration by Imam Muhammad Adam El-Sheikh, co-founder and chief cleric at the Dar Al Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Va. that "Beheadings are not mentioned in the Koran at all." That makes for a pretty decent lecture topic. But it doesn't quite mesh with the book the students might choose to read instead of attending lecture:

When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads. (The Koran, Sura 47, Verse 4)

Likely, different people learn better from different sources. Books for some, lectures for others, still other sources for others. Perhaps it is the lectures and the books that should be of interest, instead.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Walking Spanish Down the Hall

This is an interesting story about "mentally ill" foster kids being shackled when brought to court for hearings not related to any crimes. It is difficult to determine quite what is going on, though. The author, for example, claims that in some states:

...children have a right to be free of shackles in court, lacking a specific danger.

...which seems right. But the story also quotes a spokesperson saying:

The fabric restraints are only used when a patient is determined to be a flight risk...

Can one be a flight risk without any specific danger of flight? It does seem strange to shackle kids just to bring them to court to discuss foster care. But it doesn't seem that odd to shackle 'em if there's evidence they may try to take off.