FtBConscience 2: Mental Illness in Society


It’s that time of year where you don’t know what I’m referencing, but if I keep sounding more excited, suspense will build!

…Which is to say, FtBConscience, our online conference extraordinaire, will be happening this weekend. I’ve been a little behind on announcing anything at all, in part because, see that date range up there? January 31st to February 2nd? Guess when my applications start coming due. Yeah, right in there. So as I dash madly into midterms and What an MSW Would Mean To Me, my fellow bloggers have been organizing and planning and prepping.*

This is the full schedule. 

Each talk (solo or panel) will be held using G+ (I know I’ll be brushing dust off my account), and you can access the link to the live video via the session page. Since videos are live streaming on youtube, they will all be immediately available post-talk.

It’s impossible to attend all of them. Really, don’t even try. Pick your favorites, and save the rest for post-conference. You’ll be able to watch talks for weeks that way. That being said, I was like a child in a candy shop, looking at all the options. Here’s what I’m particularly excited about:

Jewish Atheism: the Hows and Whys: Chana and Miri have been planning to do a version of this discussion for a while, and I’m overjoyed to see it happening. From the description:

“Jewish atheism: what it means, what challenges we face within both our atheist and our Jewish communities, how we deal with cognitive dissonance, how our views of both Judaism and atheism differ from those of others, and so on”

Sexual Harassment Law and You: Ken from Popehat will be giving this talk. I adore his writing: measured and thoughtful and, given his legal background and the topic, likely to be grounded in helpful advice.

Racism and the Zombie Apocalypse: Ian is funny. He is funny and smart and delightful to listen to, and hell, high water, and zombies cannot prevent me from attending this talk. (Bad wifi can, but let’s not talk about that.)

Effective Use of Social Media with Conferences: Some of you…many of you?…know that I work for the Secular Student Alliance, doing their social media. [Shameless plug: Twitter and Facebook] This panel is professional development for me–I’ve only attended a few conferences since taking the position.

Philosophy for Everyone: Julia Galef (of the Center for Applied Rationality), Jess Whittingstone (80,000 Hours and High Impact Ethical Careers), Dr. Richard Carrier, and Dan Fincke talk philosophy.

“This discussion will be aimed at anyone who doesn’t have a Ph.D. in philosophy, and will focus on the real-world benefits and applications of philosophy, not its arcane bits. Learn how you can study philosophy in your spare time and use it in your everyday life, your personal development and life goals, your voting and activism, and more.”

And since I’m making suggestions (and I’m not sure how much my readership knows about the first two participants and their respective organizations) I’ll suggest this piece on social interventions from 80,000 Hours and this experiment from CFAR. Bonus: I got lost in the research recommendation rabbit hole–it is real and it is dangerous–while tracking down the CFAR post, so here’s this bit on giving psychology away from one of my favorite psychologists.

Oh, right.

I’m going to be participating in a panel: Mental Illness and Society, with Stephanie and Miri.

“Last year, a new version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders was released. Disorders were added and removed for several reasons, but one of those reasons receives very little attention. Too little attention. Join us as we talk about what it means for a person to be able to function in society and what implications that has for what is and what is not classed as a mental disorder.”

Sunday, 11 AM Central!

*Particular thanks to Miri and Jason, who have been endlessly patient and dedicated, setting everything up and badgering the rest of our lazy butts. 



Gruntled & Hinged Housekeeping

Internal debate: I have homework! But Pratchett! But homework!

This is a periodic reminder that I have a Twitter and a Tumblr, and G&H has a Facebook Page. Twitter is an easy way to get in touch with me, but I’m entirely unlikely to engage in debates there–it’s a frustrating and overly brusque time-suck. The tumblr is probably least like this blog. It includes quotes, miniranting, and an affection for West Wing, Buffy, and bad puns.

If you’re a newer reader, it’s worth pointing out that I have two pages just above the header: Brain Self-Help and Decompressing. The former is a long list of resources for improving your mental health in the longer term. The second is a set of little activities for getting your brain out of a stressed-out rut.

I have a ridiculous reading list this quarter. I’m updating it consistently, underlining books as I complete them, adding books as I get them.

I’ll have a longer post on this later, but I’m going to be doing FtBConscience, an online conference, as I did this summer! I’ll be on a panel about how mental illnesses get codified.

I have updated my blogroll! (Left side, scroll down halfway) These are not blogs I consistently agree with, but they are the ones I consistently read. If there’s a blog you think I’m missing (even if it is yours!), speak up! I prefer science-type/rationality/psychology/citations-included reading, but it’s not a hard and fast rule.

Entirely personal: I graduate at the end of this school year. Relative to my peers, I seem to be pretty happy and okay with this eventuality. However! Between the end of undergrad and start of graduate school, there is a summer. And that means I need to do something with it, and have a strong preference for said Doing of Things to occur in Boston, though I could swing Chicago. Do you know of paid internships? Jobs I might like? Please let me know.

Monday Miscellany: Beersheba, Bailouts, TUESDAY

I was at a conference all weekend, and most of last week, so apologies for posting consistently, then disappearing. I’m going to crawl out from under this homework pile, and blogalogging shall resume!

1. I’m in a class about the Hebrew Bible this quarter, and we just covered the first two-thirds of Genesis. Which makes The Ride Back To Beersheba a timely link. (h/t Taylor)

2. “Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who refused to accept defeat in World War II until finally surrendering in 1974, died today. In thematically related news, Obamacare opponents have organized their latest campaign to repeal the “Obamacare bailout.”” That is a real opening to this article, and I think I love it.

3. Today in expensive things I want but shouldn’t buy, Durr watches. They vibrate every five minutes–no clock face, no readout–and make you attend to how much time is passing. Temporal orientation!

4. Wendy Davis Drops an Atomic Truth Bomb on Desperate Sexist Republicans. This headline is a real thing. On the other hand, this is a tumblr for kick-ass ledes.

5. On the other hand, Politico has a thoughtful article on Davis. Unlike many pieces of such style, it doesn’t pretend to know if it can answer whether she would make a good governor. Even more appealing to me–it doesn’t gloss over details in pursuit of a pretty picture. Yes, it’s possible that Davis’s ambition and work ethic might have resulted in the eventual divorce of the Davis family. Is it that surprising that a power shift within a relationship could be destabilizing? Journalists, take heed.


While she has been portrayed as the materialistic beneficiary of a duped husband, let me offer another plausible interpretation: At some point Jeff Davis astutely realized he had married a woman who aimed to do more than answer phones and serve salads. He saw that it would be not just in her interest, but his, if he facilitated her advance. He helped her go to law school not only out of the goodness of his heart but because he was betting on her economic prospects, as women have long bet on the prospects of men. How many hundreds of thousands of American women worked to put a husband through law or med school? Did we criticize the men who benefited? Jeff Davis did for his spouse what wives have long done for husbands: He invested in her—their—future.

6. I did not expect to find that a post titled “Why Scientific Papers Are Like Pop Music” would be an entirely apt metaphor, but here we are.

7. More snarky research papers.

8. Researchers have invented a bra that unhooks for ‘true love’. Yes, that is an actual claim they are making. I…..

…yeah, on that note, I think we’ll end. Happy Tuesday! If you live in the arctic tundra that is the Midwest, I hope you’re staying warm. Elsewhere, I am envying you. And I like winter.

Ask, Guess, Throw Up Hands in Confusion?

For some reason, Askers and Guessers put me in mind of the Seussian Yooks and Zooks of The Butter Battle Book.

[Credit for this post goes to Robby Bensinger, for posting his usual though-provoking Facebook statuses. I accidentally wrote him a novel, which turned into this blog.]

Around my corner of the internet, there’s a post that’s reappearing: Ask Culture and Guess Culture. The point isn’t so new–people relate to each other in different ways, and feelings get hurt and resentment builds when there’s poor alignment between conversational participants. What makes the Ask Culture/Guess Culture piece so loved–besides the ever-popular There Are Two Kinds Of People categorization–seems to be that it suddenly made everything make sense to everyone. Huge differences in what behaviors you and your family think are appropriate? They must be [Other Culture]! Arguing over etiquette? Must be a Culture difference. So, Asking? Guessing?

In some families, you grow up with the expectation that it’s OK to ask for anything at all, but you gotta realize you might get no for an answer. This is Ask Culture.

In Guess Culture, you avoid putting a request into words unless you’re pretty sure the answer will be yes. Guess Culture depends on a tight net of shared expectations. A key skill is putting out delicate feelers. If you do this with enough subtlety, you won’t even have to make the request directly; you’ll get an offer. Even then, the offer may be genuine or pro forma; it takes yet more skill and delicacy to discern whether you should accept.

All kinds of problems spring up around the edges. If you’re a Guess Culture person — and you obviously are — then unwelcome requests from Ask Culture people seem presumptuous and out of line, and you’re likely to feel angry, uncomfortable, and manipulated.

Brienne chimed in at Less Wrong with a definition of Tell Culture:

The two basic rules of Tell Culture: 1) Tell the other person what’s going on in your own mind whenever you suspect you’d both benefit from them knowing. (Do NOT assume others will accurately model your mind without your help, or that it will even occur to them to ask you questions to eliminate their ignorance.) 2) Interpret things people tell you as attempts to create common knowledge for shared benefit, rather than as requests or as presumptions of compliance.
Ex: “It would be awfully convenient networking for me to stick around for a bit after our meeting to talk with you and [the next person you're meeting with]. But on a scale of one to ten, it’s only about 3 useful to me. If you’d rate the loss of utility for you as two or higher, then I have a strong preference for not sticking around.”

[Note: Both because Brienne wrote her post after I'd written much of this and because I see much more crossover in Askers and Tellers than between Guess-Tell or Guess-Ask, I've grouped Ask and Tell together for the rest of the piece. Dissent and debate encouraged in the comments.]

I come from a Guess Culture that tried with all its might to be an Ask Culture. Straightening out that “you can just ask us, the worst we can say is no!” said earnestly and regularly was entirely false did wonders for me. As it turns out, you can say no in ways that sound like, “you’re a horrible person for considering asking, why would you even do that?” Body language! Tone! Turns out they matter. 

I seem to default to Ask Culture in behavior. Which is to say, I will Guess: “Oh, Acquaintance, sorry, I need to pick something up at the library, so sorry, but I can’t walk to our next class with you.” (Subtext: I’m way out socialized and need time to walk without providing any sort of social face.)

My preference for Ask/Tell, however, will define who I get close to, date, and otherwise prioritize in my life.  As a result, my ingroup is distinctly Ask Culture, and I adore it. To me, it seems very caring and warm. We confirm and decline with each other in out-loud ways. When I spend time with someone, I know its because they’ve decided this is something that will make them happy, not because they didn’t have a fast excuse at hand when I asked.


Ask/Tell Culture is really hard to break into! I would bet that joining our group of friends is hard, even prohibitively so, if you either haven’t figured out that we do voice our preferences like that (ie, you feel like your non-explicit preferences are being ignored, but we just don’t know that they exist, and assume you would tell us if they did.) Also, if you hate being put on the spot, that can be awful. Also, Ask Culture can be overly certain that it’s accounting for everyone (because they’d just ask….right?) and that, over time, can cause resentment.

I’ve seen this be explosive or divisive in cases where the person did finally say something. When they opened with, in their frustration, “You guys have been doing this to me for AGES” we were upset that they had been angry with us, because we would have changed! And we don’t want to feel guilty. I mean, if they had only told us… They were angry that we hadn’t noticed.

And, because so much of what makes friendships happened is accidents and coincidences, this is particularly hard to negotiate. You show up in a class of mine, and then we run into each other on the way to an event, and then we have mutual acquaintances, or we meet again at a party
(hey, you’re in my—
—yeah! have you started that assignment?)
And in all of this, the little things of Asking/Telling, can be too blunt. (She cut our coffee meeting off early because she said she was getting overwhelmed by socializing and needed to be alone, instead of making polite white lies. He said he was feeling overwhelmed and needed to change the topic, instead of maneuvering it himself.) Explicit communication of those Cultures can jar. Maybe not even enough to register as too rude or impolite or socially awkward, but to be the tipping point in just not mentioning that party you’re hosting? Seems plausible.

Okay, says you, but why would I want someone who doesn’t have the same communication style as me? On the entirely utilitarian side, they might be useful. Surely you’ll need to befriend someone because they’re your sister’s girlfriend or boss’s wife, no? Or you’ll need to have the reputation of being approachable or nice or friendly. A Guesser will be your boss, a client, a professor you need to impress. 

Me? I have an unsustainable need to be liked by everyone I meet, and the idea of putting someone off seems too scary to write off Guessing entirely.

Yeah, okay, but still, why would anyone do Guess Culture anyways? Shouldn’t we encourage everyone towards Ask/Tell?

Sure, social interactions and interpersonal relationships would be so much easier if everyone around me could Ask and Tell. Not even a question.

Conversely, Guess Culture doesn’t fault people who are shy, unsure of how to justify their preferences, or socially anxious *nearly* as much as Ask Culture can. If you’re Asked point-blank if you want to do something, or in a position where you aren’t comfortable (or even sure!) why you strongly prefer one option, or have years of conditioning against asserting your needs, you’ll want to be near Guessers. 

Further, I’d be willing to bet that for some people, Guessing is how they’ve gotten attentive to things like body cues, etc. For all that I’m a fan of Asking for myself, but it’s certainly used to justify pursuing someone in uncomfortable ways. “I know ey wasn’t opposed to that time I cornered em and flirted while they were trying to work because ey would have said something!”*

 So, what say you? Should we make more people Ask? How? I’m unlikely to be persuaded, I think, but what’s the best case for everyone switching to Guess? 


*A Facebook commenter pointed out that Guess Culture can be used to do similar awfulness: “Asking might get me an answer I don’t like, so I’m going to use my powers of Intuition(tm) that are telling me ey totally wants it.”

I Demand Causation!

alt text from original: Correlation doesn’t imply causation, but it does waggle its eyebrows suggestively while mouthing, “look over there”.

[I do not, in fact, demand causation. At current abilities, this would be wildly unethical to actually get, but the sheer number of things that were listed as correlated and almost definitely, somewhat, probably related was leaving me grumpy. There are these things! They might be related! Brains are incredibly complicated and we're not really sure how any of the feedback loops and mediating variables could be at play here! But here are correlations! Hopefully they're the hinty kind!]

Things that I have been informed, via a single paper, are correlated in some degree of statistical significance with being a poor reader at the point of having a developmental dyslexia classification:

-Inability or low ability to ignore background noise when attending to language.

-Dyslexia is highly correlated with having other sensory processing issues. About 50% of people with dyslexia have some other sensory processing impairment.

-Inability to improve sensory processing with repetition. Part of how we pick up language as babies comes from attending to what sounds repeat (This leads us to the theory that language learning in childhood is fundamentally different from in adulthood because young children learn new syllables and syllable combinations, rather than trying to learn at the word-level.) In tasks with lots and lots of trials, good readers improve over time at picking up new syllables but poor readers do not.

-Stop consonants, who are also, delightfully, called plosives, like the sounds in [da], [ga], and [ba] can be tricky to tell apart. High differentiation is correlated with high reading ability in children, poor differentiation between the sounds is correlated with poor reading.

-Language can be divvied up into harmonics, timing, and pitch. Processing of timing and harmonics in the subcortex seem to be correlated with reading capabilities….

-…in fact, in particular with the sound [da. Significant relationship between reading and encoding of timing and harmonics of /da/ (But the pitch-encoding of [da] didn’t seem to matter.)

-Having cortical symmetry in the auditory cortex is (say it with me now) is also correlated with poor reading abilities.


Chandrasekaran, B. and Kraus, N. (2012). Biological factors contributing to reading ability: Subcortical auditory function.  In Benasich, A. and Fitch, R. (Eds.), Developmental dyslexia: Early precursers, neurobiological markers and biological substrates.  Baltimore, MD: Brookes. (pp. 83-98).

featured image via xkcd 

Monday Miscellany: Misophonia, Maps, Marshmallows

1. The Edge Question is up: What scientific idea is ready for retirement? I haven’t made it through all of them (and every time I try, I lose hours to exploring past questions too). This response, Science as Self-Correcting, is one of the best thus far. It is a feel-good trope, it is a great way to make a fast and sloppy argument for science over religion, but it is simply not accurate. We’re not great at correcting ourselves in the best of circumstances, why would this mysteriously be true in science? (h/t Ed Yong)

But hiring, promotion, and grant committees typically don’t value the contributions made by individual researchers using these tools. As long as this continues, progress may be slow. As Max Planck observed, revolutions in science sometimes have to wait for funerals. Even after the defenders of old practices assume their final resting places, the antiquated traditions sometimes endure, in part from the support of institutional policies. A policy does not die until someone kills it. New reforms and innovations need our active support—only then can science live up to its self-correcting tagline.

2. I would really really like to see a psychotherapeutic treatment for anorexia succeed. Unfortunately, what I see is poor data collection,, treatments with little impact, and statistical handwavery. This is an excellent exploration of one such study, but contains photos of anorexia and discussion of weight.

3. And speaking of disordered eating, Andrea looks at eating disorder prevention, and what actually works. Using evidence!

4. Also at SED, misophonia in patients with eating disorders. File this under “…hunh”


A lot of people have a red handle installed deep in their person, where if somebody yanks on it, it hurts. For some people, it’s some terrible mistake they regret, and for some people, it’s something they’re always trying to get better at that hasn’t worked, or a relationship they can’t repair, or a weakness that makes them self-conscious, or a memory that’s sort of awful. I’m not any better or worse off than anybody else in having something like this in my nature/history; the only difference between mine and anybody else’s is that mine ison the outside.

I mean, let’s say your red handle is that you have a busted relationship with your parents. You’re a happy person, but there’s this one thing that’s really hard, that you haven’t really figured out, that’s just … a thing you haven’t overcome. Imagine if you had to walk around with a big sign around your neck that said, “Once called my mother a terrible name and we haven’t spoken in 10 years.” So that everybody knew – strangers, friends, nice people, mean people, salespeople, people on the train, people who drove by you in their cars while you were walking. Eeeeeeverybody. This is what it’s like to have your red handle on the outside. It can feel a bit like you are at the mercy of literally everyone.

In other words, stop with the fat jokes at Chris Christie. Actually, drop the proper noun there. People are fat, and sometimes this is their red handle, and perhaps you should stop pulling it.

6. Things West Wing taught me. Well, that and forever associating Andrew Jackson’s presidency with cheese.

7. SW friends in particular, you should be reading the whole sky, but this piece on book recommendations in jail ought to convince you. I’ve linked previously to Doing time.

8.  I might endorse switching to describing biases and heuristics as doing mental triage–there are all sorts of flaws with biases–people view them as universally negative, then don’t want to consider that they might have been caught in one, people use them to snipe at arguments rather than address substance, etc–and heuristic isn’t a sticky word that people are liable to recall and use. (h/t Peter Hurford)

Again, we all do this, but we are often reluctant to admit it because we want to present to the world a façade of rationality: I hold my views firmly because I have carefully examined the alternatives and have justifiably rejected them. And sometimes we have indeed carefully examined the alternatives; but usually we haven’t. We’ve undertaken intellectual triage and set a great many possibilities aside with limited or no scrutiny. This is what Dawkins has done with Christianity; he just thinks he hasn’t.

In general, practicing such triage is okay — indeed, it has to be okay because there’s no plausible alternative until we live much longer, eliminate sleep, and acquire faster internal processors — but it’s the sort of thing that can easily go wrong, primarily because, as a self-justifying defense mechanism, we try to fortify our position by attacking or dismissing all the people who believe the things that we’ve decided not to investigate.

9. I’m probably not going to get tired of analyses of the marshmallow test, but this one is from the NYT, and it’s excellent.


A Week

Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 10.52.33 PM

There aren’t really any pre-eating disorder Kate photos in my possession–very few exist–but this isn’t long after it started.

[The eating disorder content note on this post is so loud it tapdances in sequined tights. Skip the latter half if that seems bad for you.]

It’s a Friday. 12:42 in the morning. And I’ve done something for the first time in seven years. I have fed myself properly for a week.

Twenty-one meals in a row.

I have eaten seven breakfasts and seven lunches and seven dinners, one each day, and the last time I can point to and say, “that happened” was when I was fourteen.

It has always made me feel like a child, in the helpless, immature, possibly-unfair-to-children way. Accomplish all manner of things, come of age, go to college, hold a job, spend years working on recovering, and you still can’t feed yourself for a week, can you?

I am twenty one years old, and I have spent one third my life depriving and counting and adding and crying over calorie totals. I have binged and exercised obsessively and hallucinated and measured and feared

And I did it.

I haven’t beaten the parts of my brain that want this to be a loss–who think failure is eating when you are hungry. But they’re a little quieter, a little cowed. And that’s enough.

Seven years ago, I wore braces. I hadn’t been kissed, and Kate Donovan certainly didn’t exist. I wanted to be a ballet dancer. Was one, actually. And nearly the happiest I could be was starving.

There was this sharp piece in the New Yorker two months ago. We write about anorexia too positively, the author claimed. And she wasn’t wrong. It’s hard to capture what it takes to override something like wanting to survive. So you dig deep when you write, and try to find it–what could possibly be worth all of that?

There was something, though. That intersection of feeling competent and sparkling and happy. God, the happiness. Hard and diamond-bright and just so easy to get. You can’t get away from hunger easily, and the two melded a bit. Feel clenching hunger? A rush of joy. Over and over and over. And the choice? Happiness or food and feeling slightly duller and slower and sadder? Why, you’d have to be crazy to pick eating.

I felt a little bit of it today–late to dinner with an errand that ate into my time. My stomach growled and it flared.

Be happier…go to the gym instead.

It’s a hell of a drug, this madness.

But I’m winning. I will sleep and tomorrow, I will eat breakfast before class. I will come home for lunch, and commiserate with housemates about approaching midterms over dinner. In the coming days and weeks, I’ll slip up at some point. Rome and days of building, you know. It’ll be harder to come back if I make this an all-or-nothing game. So I’ll expect that sometimes, the feelings will win.

But for now? For now, I’ll be really goddamn proud. Proud of eating, imagine that. I’m not sure fourteen-year-old-Kate could have. I’m going to have a hell of a Friday for her.

Monday Miscellany: Ghost-Story Provocative Musicals Edition

1. I love everything about snarky psychology writing. Which makes these hidden gems in psychology publications wonderful.

B.J.H. would also like to thank the U.S. Immigration Service under the Bush administration, whose visa background security check forced her to spend two months (following an international conference) in a third country, free of routine obligations—it was during this time that the hypothesis presented herein was initially conjectured.

2. I think I contribute more to practical psychology than theoretical, lab-research stuff, but this makes me pretty happy I didn’t test that hypothesis.

3. Over at Science of Eating Disorders, Tetyana keeps investigating Mandometer(r) treatment for eating disorders. In particular, their claims about EDs not being mental illnesses.

Reason #1: The failure of psychotherapy argues against an underlying mental health disorder. The poor long-term remission rate for patients with eating disorders using interventions aimed at treating their psychiatric symptoms (reviewed in the Introduction) suggests that these symptoms are not the cause of their eating disorder.

Oh, now I understand! If it’s not cured by psychotherapy, it’s not a disorder! Hey, where are you going with those goal posts?

4. I know I wrote a whole piece about an overgeneralization spotted on PsychToday, but these Ten Research-Based Wedding Vows are brain-meltingly adorable.

5. I have a dopey devotion to Netflix. It has brightened many a badbrain day and been a source for all those Big Lebowski references that had been stumping me. This longread on reverse engineering Netflix is joyous.

6. Electroconvulsive therapy gets a terrible rap–in my experience few undergrad psych students seem to even know it’s a viable therapy for some with depression and bipolar disorder. This theory is appealing (lookie there, full text!), but if wanting neatly packaged theories to be true made them so, damn, would research be easy.
[Laymen's version of conclusions promoted by paper: getting electroconvulsive therapy changes how much grey matter you have. How this changes is what can be used to predict how patients respond to ECT. Also, since the grey matter changes are localized, it might be possible to use a more targeted type of intervention in the future.]

7. Family goes in for 23anMe genetic testing, finding out that daughter isn’t related to her father. Normally, this would lead to family tensions and uncomfortable conclusions. Not…quite? (h/t Ed Yong)

8. Dr. Isis on how we structure graduate programs. Predictably, I read this between working on grad school applications.

Graduate education in the United States is structured such that advancement is predicated on success in a couple of high-stakes events. As a student, I took a qualifying exam in my second year and it tested my basic knowledge of my field. I took another exam in my third year which tested my understanding of the scientific method and process. At the end, I defended my thesis. At the time, each of these events felt like they could make or break me; if I failed, my career was over and there was no redemption for me. In retrospect, having now been on the other side of this process, I realize that there was enough investment in me that I was not going to be allowed to fail miserably. I was too clouded by the idea of failing a test to be able to see that.

Structuring graduate education as a series of high-stakes events is problematic. There are few events in my career that feel high-stakes anymore. I submit an article to a journal, it gets reviewed and rejected. I take the reviews, revise the paper, and try again. I write a grant. It doesn’t get funded. I revise it and submit it again. Or I submit another one. I teach and get some negative feedback. I incorporate that feedback into my lectures next term. Short of complete and total incompetence, no single event really has the potential to end my career. With each thing I do, I learn and I keep plugging forward toward my goals. I surround myself with mentors and more senior scientists who objectively and routinely evaluate my career and provide me feedback.


The Groaning Bookshelf


I asked for books for Christmas. In fact, I got books and money-for-books for Christmas. And not just a novel or two…several shelves worth! And then I got back to school, and found myself with fourteen books to order between just two of my classes. And suddenly, I had a Book List of Formidable Size.


This is what I’m reading in the next ten weeks. They’re roughly sorted by classes and interests (Feminism, Social Policy, Psychology, Not-Psychology) and suggestions and commentary are highly encouraged! I don’t anticipate posting reviews, though the first half–the books for school–will likely inform the next weeks of writing.

Feminisms and Feminist-like Stuff

The Feminine Mystique, Betty Friedan
Classic feminism book…that I haven’t read. I’ll quietly slink away now.

Women, Race, & Class, Angela Davis
Intersectionality! Feminisms! It’s embarrassing how little I know about Angela Davis. Hopefully, I’ll fix that.

Fear of Flying, Erica Jong
his is a romance novel, and it was assigned for class. A quick search about suggests things about changing the face of feminism? Or resonating therein? I’m sure I’ll find out. The second heading in the Wikipedia entry is for the zipless fuck, so I’m sure it will be dignified and stodgy reading material on the topic of pteromerhanophobia.

Woman on the Edge of TimeMarge Piercy
I…I am really not sure why this was assigned for my feminism class, but hey, it’s got sci-fi undertones and a female lead, so why not?

Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism, bell hooks
Yep, bell hooks. Another feminist writer I’ve never properly read. Academic pressure to catch up on necessary reading + needing a specific sort of gen. ed credit = 90% of what caused me to enroll in this class. And 100% of my prior knowledge of this book comes from quotes floating about tumblr, so at the very least I can source-check those!

Social Policy (But Especially Prisons)

Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates, Erving Goffman
Goffman is fairly famous (by which I mean he’s the sixth most quoted author in the social sciences) but my experience of the last book I was assigned that he’d written (Stigma) was…ah…dense. Not impossible to understand, but dense. Probably in part because Goffman coined the term itself, and much of the conclusions he was drawing (people are stigmatized! sometimes they have passing privileges! stigma can intersect with other identities!) didn’t seem new or revolutionary. Anyways, I have to read it, and I’m told that the book lead to the deinstitutionalization and changes in psychiatric care. Also, I’m a sucker for case studies. (I am overly fond of Oliver Sacks’ writing, it’s true.)

The Discovery of the Asylum : Social Order and Disorder in the New Republic, David Rothman
How the hell did we end up with prisons and asylums and how did we sort people into each? I have no idea, but apparently I’m going to learn! That is, if my massive textbook order actually arrives.

Stateville: The Penitentiary in Mass Society, James Jacobs
A case study (see: Kate is a sucker for case studies) of an Illinois high-security prison–prisoners, guards, administrators.

The Homeless, Christopher Jencks
Not content with tackling the easy stuff, we’re looking at questions like “why are people homeless?” and “how do we fix it?”

Is There No Place on Earth For Me? Susan Sheehan
Case study (need I say more?) of a young woman with schizophrenia as she goes in and out of mental institutions. Near and dear to my heart–I worked briefly in schizophrenia research/case work.

Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980, Charles Murray
Did welfare in the 60’s do more harm than good? I have no idea, but Murray has arguments for it. It’ll be an adventure! (Especially since this class has me reading eight books in eight weeks.)

Gaining Ground in Illinois: Welfare Reform and Person-Centered Policy Analysis, Dan Lewis
From the description:

In 1997, then state Senator Barack Obama sponsored legislation in the Illinois General Assembly to study the newly passed federal welfare reform and how it would affect the citizens of Illinois. [...] Dan A. Lewis was selected to direct the study and report back to the legislature. For four years, Lewis and his team of researchers tracked a random group of 1,000 people who were on welfare when the new law went into effect. He reported on their income, their general well being, and the lives of their children under the new system. Gaining Ground in Illinois illuminates the findings of the study and offers advice for future policy makers. Lewis uses quantitative and qualitative data to draw clear conclusions but also to make the real experiences of the people he studied as vivid as possible. The reports allowed the legislature to debate the issue with the facts at hand.

You mean, empirical research about welfare laws?! [*buries nose in book*]

Miscellaneous Psychology

Making Habits, Breaking Habits, Jeremy Dean
(1) I want to have better habits, and to make some things I force myself to do (plan meals, drink enough water) to be non-conscious habits.
(2) It would appear that everything I know about habits is completely wrong.
…and (3), I learned (2) from one chapter in, with lots of spiffy new research to explore. Twenty-one days to form a habit? Yeah, no, and how did we get that number anyways? Turns out we pulled it from a doctor who noted that it took 21 days for amputees to habituate to having a missing limb, and then generalized wildly. Not exactly the same as taking a walk after dinner, no?

The Secret Life of Pronouns, James Pennebaker
Social psychology about how we communicate? *Swoon* I actually borrowed a copy of TSLoP this summer, but only made it a few chapters in. A friend gifted me this copy, and onwards we go. Play around with this quiz to get an idea of the research and claims Pennebaker is pulling together.

Listening to ProzacPeter Kramer
A well-known-ish popular psychology book that I keep hearing people reference. I’m overly skeptical–the blurb wonders if Prozac work on character rather than illness–but that might be gimmicky publishing. All things considered, I need to have a better idea of the popular-writing-on-psychiatry.

Against Depression, Peter Kramer
Pennies and pounds and all that–I picked up Kramer’s other book. It seems less sweeping: who has depression, and what’s that like?

Thinking, Fast & SlowDaniel Kahneman
Kahneman’s work on decision-making is worth reading. MegasuperADJECTIVE worth reading. None the least because it’s a nifty shorthand for categorizing feelings in conversation. (“My System 2 knows that this is stupid and completely untrue, but my System 1 is having a lot of trouble with not feeling like I deserve to eat.”)

Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
You know when you get completely caught up in a task and time flies by? You’re working and passionate and impossible to distract? That’s called ‘flow’, coined by Csikszentmihalyi and I haven’t been feeling it. Or the creativity. Which brings us here.

Feeling Good Together, David Burns
I’ve read When Panic Attacks, and I keep suggesting Feeling Good to other people (confession: I’ve only skimmed it.) Though When Panic Attacks didn’t give me new information, I have nearly no knowledge about tackling troubled relationships (the topic of FGT). Marriage/Family Therapy is definitively out of the picture in my future-planning, but Burns writes clearly, if basically.

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength
I have an odd affection for Baumeister, having once given a very long presentation about why I thought he was wrong. I’ve never read any of his non-academic publications, and since everyone seems to have very certain and completely opposite ideas about how willpower works, I’m starting with the book I hear people citing most in casual conversation.

Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder, Marsha Linehan
There’s a reason that this…
Screen Shot 2014-01-10 at 8.09.56 PM…is a well populated and only-sort-of-joking tag on my tumblr. I’m sucker for manuals–the how-to handbooks for some therapeutic techniques. (Not all use them–for instance psychodynamic and existential therapy tend to be far more freeform, and intentionally so.) Linehan is a hero of mine (here’s why), and a post I’ll write another day.


The Golden Compass/The Subtle Knife/The Amber Spyglass
I’ve taken too long to read the His Dark Materials books. But! Good news! You all were exactly right about how fantastic they are. I’m halfway through The Amber Spyglass.

Good Omens, Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett
Finished today! 10/10 would reread while laughing too loudly at demons and angels and the Hellhound.
“He rather liked people. It was a major failing in a demon.”
Really, need you know more?

The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis
Mike, who gifted me with Good Omens, included The Screwtape Letters, as the demons of the two seem to be similar. I dunno if I agree yet, but I will sharpish.

An Abundance of Katherines, John Green
he only reread on the list–and the only John Green book I’ve read. Boy genius dates 19 Katherines  in a row. Now what? Adventures and sarcastic footnotes, that’s what! I know people have unreasonable attachments to their names–enough that we’ve named the effect and designed a test for it…and yeah, this might have been why I liked the book. Emmas and Matthews and Jameses of the world, let me know if I’m biased?

Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh
Because comics drawn in MS Paint have never been so great.

What should I immediately devour? Turn into kindling? What are you reading?

Monday Miscellany: Cold, Cold, COLD

Due to horrifying cold and some reasonable concerns by drivers about the safety of piloting a double-decker bus on incredibly icy roads, I’m spending a few more days in Columbus, Ohio, complete with cuddling and this hot chocolate. Stay warm and safe, lovely readers! Here’s some links to read by the fire.

1. To be honest, I expected this study, When Sex Doesn’t Sell: Using Sexualized Images of Women Reduces Support for Ethical Campaigns, to be poorly conducted. I was pleasantly surprised to see attention to confounding variables and replications!

In Study 1, a sample of Australian male undergraduates (N = 82) viewed PETA advertisements containing either sexualized or non-sexualized images of women. Intentions to support the ethical organization were reduced for those exposed to the sexualized advertising, and this was explained by their dehumanization of the sexualized women, and not by increased arousal. Study 2 used a mixed-gender community sample from the United States (N = 280), replicating this finding and extending it by showing that behaviors helpful to the ethical cause diminished after viewing the sexualized advertisements, which was again mediated by the dehumanization of the women depicted. Alternative explanations relating to the reduced credibility of the sexualized women and their objectification were not supported.

2. Voldemort! Horcruxes! Harry Potter name-calling! This is international diplomacy. No, really, it is.

3. You should definitely not listen if you find discussion of childhood sexual abuse triggering or especially unpleasant, but This American Life did a segment on recovered memories. The movement, which is an embarrassing chapter of psychotherapy, involved therapists assisting and encouraging their clients in falsifying memories, usually about sexual abuse (though you’ve likely heard of the satanic ritual abuse cases). TAL interviews one victim of the therapy, and Linda Ross, a therapist who practiced this therapy, implanting false memories for years, before recanting.

4. This. This so much. Even my favorite books–those by Tamora Pierce, with feminist, strong, spidren-slaying heroines–play into this trope. I’m quite sure that Cosmo and fashion models aren’t realistic models, but find me an admired protagonist woman who isn’t slim or lanky or statuesque. (Source article wasn’t my favorite, but is here)

One of the most insightful things I’ve ever read about eating disorders and body esteem in general was a comment on my blog a while ago that I regret being unable to find now. The writer was saying that most people think girls want to be skinny because of Hollywood and Vogue. This girl wanted to be skinny because she wanted to be a protagonist.

She didn’t expose herself to mainstream fashion magazines or TV; she was interested in art films and books and indie music. But no matter how alternative the movie, the protagonist was almost always skinny. And wanting to be a protagonist means wanting to be someone, as most people do. Apparently, your story is only worth hearing, you’re only someone, if you’re skinny—it’s like, theblueprint of a human. Once that’s down, you’re allowed to be as interesting and protagonist-y as you want! Apparently.

No matter how much people our age have been raised on girl power and believe in yourself and you are beautiful, ignoring the beauty standards of the culture we live in is close to impossible. And as this lady pointed out, these standards and expectations exist outside mainstream culture like reality TV and tabloids; they exist in punk and indie cultures, in “artsy” Tumblr cultures that are all about looking like a fairy, but only if you’re a skinny white girl.

5.  I’m not planning to have children, but this post by Julia was wonderful. What would you add. (Twitter friend suggested identifying enemies and responding appropriately to hate, Facebook friend suggested rhetoric and argument, particularly assessing the claims of others.)