Spring Quarter: The Reading List

Books read in the last quarter and associated break time. By my count, about 23 books over ten weeks (not all of them pictured).

Books read in the last quarter and associated break time. By my count, about 23 books over ten weeks (not all of them pictured).

It’s the first day of my last quarter of undergrad; the hallowed Last First Day.

Winter quarter’s reading list, which was overwhelming and left incomplete (fourteen books for two classes over ten weeks, I ask you.) can be found here. This quarter’s list is far more manageable, and I imagine most of it will be read on buses and planes and trains to conferences and talks.

School Reading:

An Unconventional Family, Sandra Lipsitz Bem
I’ve read this before; sophomore year a housemate was in the psychology of gender class I’m now taking. It’s…weird. Premise: two professors who care about gender equality decide to raise their children (one boy, one girl) in entirely gender neutral ways. The writing is superb, the interviews with the children are enthralling. However, every single time I think about it or am in a class that discusses the Bem family, I am wildly uncomfortable with the metaphorical tapping on the glass that my peers do. How cool! Kids whose parents experimented on them by raising them in an entirely different way than their peers! That’s a touch too close to my lived experience to feel comfortably distant.

The Social Psychology of Gender: How Power and Intimacy Shape Gender RelationsLaurie A. Rudman, Peter Glick
A professor last year once asked the class, how many of us thought gender was primarily the result of underlying biological/genetic components, and how many thought it was the result of socialization. Then, without reacting, the professor asked the class which of them had taken more classes with Professor X (known for discussing socialization in relation to gender) and which had taken more classes with Professor Y (known for discussing the evo/bio basis of gender). Not surprisingly, the answers to the first and second question broke down along the same lines. I’ve not taken any classes with Professor Y, and this

Asian American Women and Men: Labor, Laws, and Love
This class has been interesting so far, but as the textbook hasn’t made it to my doorstep, all I can tell you is that I don’t know much about Asian American-specific gender studies, and that this might fix that.

Memory Alan Baddeley, Michael W. Eysenck, Michael C. Anderson
A textbook! About human memory! For a seminar on the neuroscience of memory! Yeah….that’s about all I know so far.

Just Because Reading:

Labyrinths of Reason: Paradox, Puzzles, and the Frailty of Knowledge, William Poundstone
I found out a few weeks back that after my freshman year, Northwestern offered a freshman-only class on paradoxes, with this as one of the textbooks. It was 1c on Amazon…and now here we are.

I Don’t Want To Talk About It: Overcoming the Secret Legacy of Male Depression, Terrence Real
I’m a few pages in, and find the book interesting, if light on data. Depression is my go-to example of psychopathology getting their maps and territories in disarray, and I’m hoping this might give me a better picture of why exactly we’re having such issues. Failing that, I want a better model of what it feels like/looks like to be a man with depression. The book is (so far) heavy on anecdotes and light on data. Enjoyable to read, but not telling me new information yet.

An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness, Kay Redfield Jamison
I’ve read this one before, but have forgotten much of it, except that I keep telling other people that I liked it. I saw Kay Redfield Jamison speak at NU earlier this year, and picked up a copy not long after.

Core Readings in Cognitive Psychology

Things On the Previous List, Still Unread

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, Ray Baumeister
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.

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.

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 DepressionPeter 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?

The Screwtape LettersC.S. Lewis
Mike, who gifted me with Good Omens (from last quarter’s list), included The Screwtape Letters, as the demons of the two seem to be similar. I dunno if I agree yet, but I will sharpish.

This list of reading will displace my current Reading List page at the top of Gruntled & Hinged, and will remain up there until mid-June.

 

 

Monday Miscellany: Vohs, Value, Online Vigilantism

Personal note: I’m concluding my undergraduate studies in June. Effective August, I’ll be starting a Masters in Social Work here. The only reason this isn’t in all caps is because I’m pretty sure I wore out all my all-capsing shouting with joy over the weekend, when I found out. So! Boston for me :) Now! Links!

1. I’m going to be reading all of this long article on ego depletion/decision fatigue. I don’t have much of an understanding, except that one days when I have to make lots of food/menu/when to eat choices, I end up entirely unable to locate willpower or motivation for nearly anything else.

2. I don’t have Aspergers, as this author does, but much of this article on value and feeling of value to friends resonated with me.

I have trouble with relationships in which I don’t feel like I’m of use—in which I don’t have something concrete to offer. I am much better at the explicit economy of professional relationships than the more nebulous territory of friendships. When it’s not explicit, I find it immensely difficult for me to eke out what’s expected of me.

[...]

Like Abed, I have trouble imagining a place for myself in any world not of my own making. I see other people’s tolerance of and interest in me as a finite resource, one I can renew to a limited extent by being of use, but which will eventually and inevitably run out. I have a long and serial history as a flavor of the month. I assume—based on precedent, although the individual countdowns can vary significantly—that most of my friendships are running on borrowed time.

I’ve only recently begun to feel as though I have relationships in my life that aren’t in this model; where it is reasonable and acceptable and right to assume that they will last.

3. There is some awful and unnuanced social justice writing on tumblr. This, however, is not it.

4. Miri takes on the ‘online vigilantes’ who are out to make strangers feel horrible For Their Own Good ™

The reason all this stuff has caught my attention isn’t just the sexism and body-shaming it often entails, but the circular reasoning of it–something I’ve noted about these types before. We’ll punish you for putting photos of yourself online because it’s a stupid thing to do. Putting photos of yourself online is a stupid thing to do because we’ll punish you for it. You shouldn’t wear ill-fitting clothing that exposes parts of your body that shouldn’t be exposed because then people have to look at it. People have to look at you wearing ill-fitting clothing that exposes parts of your body that shouldn’t be exposed because we just took a photo of you and put it on the internet. Women who put sexy photos online have no self-respect because putting sexy photos of yourself online is a bad thing to do because it shows you have no self-respect because putting sexy photos online is a bad thing to do because–at this point my ability to write words breaks down and I have nothing to say but WHAAAaaaaAAAAT A;LSDKFASLKDF;ASDFAJ;D?!

5. Two links over at Scott’s: an expansion/response to a conversation had on my wall about bad arguments and advice and the typical mind fallacy.

6. I laughed for a long while at this. Say what you will about Twitter, but it gives a great outlet for sharing humor.

Happy Monday!

Psychology For Gryffindors

This should work if you’ve read canon Harry Potter or Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, and is some blending of the two. You can probably make sense of it with one or the other, but let me not fail to remind you that Methods is here and you should read it.

Psychology for Gryffindors

If we conduct good research—that is, research that uses large sample sizes and ethical methods and avoids statistical handwavery, we are doing it properly, and we will be able to improve the world. The scientific method is a self-correcting mechanism, and we can rely on it to give us correct answers about the world. (Ignoring this bit and such.)

Psychology for Ravenclaws

If we conduct careful research—we can learn new things about minds and people and model them better. We can figure out where our brains fail and how and why and who doesn’t fit into those models. Brains are cool, and technology is advancing, and we can know more. Of course, it’s not entirely certain how to conduct this research best, and methods and methodology are complicated, so we need to do investigation of that as well. (ManyLabs is your friend.)

Psychology for Slytherins

If we conduct targeted research, we can model people and groups better, and get them to make different choices. We can sell them products we wish to see and prevent them from developing common mental illnesses and make them avoid things like smoking and unhealthy foods, except when we want them to choose those things, in which case, we’ll be very good at making them ignore all other impulses.

I was trying to think of a way to make Asch’s conformity experiment more humanly significant. I was dissatisfied that the test of conformity was about lines. I wondered whether groups could pressure a person into an act whose human import was more readily apparent, perhaps by behaving aggressively to another person, say by administering increasingly severe shocks to him.

[...]

The first thing to realize is that there are no easy solutions. In order to have civilization, you must have some degree of authority. Once that authority is established, it doesn’t matter much whether the system is called a democracy or a dictatorship; the common man responds to governmental policies with obedience, whether in Nazi Germany or democratic America.

[Stanley Milgram, as interviewed by Carol Tavris]

See also: Phillip Zimbardo. (And the Ravenclaws respond.)

Psychology for Hufflepuffs

You can use research to help people! There’s so much information out there about what works and what doesn’t, and it’s waiting around to improve lives. Mental illness is stigmatized and can be hard and lonely and nobody should have to go alone. Psychology gives us the tools to improve our world.

In striking contrast to the enormous corpus of psychological research concerning the impact of biases and heuristics on human judgment is the paucity of psychological research on debiasing (Arkes, 1991; Larrick, 2004). It seems fair to say that psychologists have made far more progress in cataloguing cognitive biases (see Krueger & Funder’s, 2004, list of 42 such biases) than in finding ways to correct or prevent them.

[…]

If one accepts the dual propositions that ideological extremism is a significant contributor to inter- and intragroup conflict and human suffering and that confirmation bias and its cognitive cousins (naive realism, bias blind spot, false consensus effect, insider perspective) are significant contributors to ideological extremism, the central research question becomes: ‘‘Can scientific psychology promote human welfare by debiasing the general public?’’

[Lilienfeld et al, 2009, Give Debiasing Away]

And just because, psychology for cynics

We are hampered by many factors, but perhaps the most annoying has been the existence of ‘‘pop psych,’’ a massive amalgam of pseudo-expertise that has shadowed the legitimate field for more than a century (Benjamin, 1986). The public has no way of distinguishing empirically based findings from the ramblings of self-proclaimed experts, and there is no easy solution to this problem. One sad result is the ever wavering and often negative image that people have of both clinicians and behavioral scientists. In its early years, Psychology Today  may have been the best corrective the field ever had for all the pop psychology; in its current form, the magazine is probably harming psychology’s name more than helping it.

[Epstein, Giving Psychology Away: A Personal Journey]

Boring, Small Things, That Made My Mental Illness Less Bad

apps apps appsBuying cheap or free apps for my smartphone. 

It took some work, and plenty of the apps were used for a few days or a week and then discarded as unhelpful or useless, but at a grand total of 99c spent across six or seven apps to find two gems (Self-Help Anxiety Management and Recovery Record) that massively improved my quality of life? Well worth it.

Sometimes the apps were mental illness specific, for anxiety or meal-tracking. But I also use Annoyster to send me random alarm reminders, (“Therapy is helpful and worth going to,” reads my most recent one. “Eating mindfully is a new habit I’m developing.” and “Have you had a glass of water recently?” have been previous alarms.) Fitocracy* to gamify exercising without obsessing over calories burned, and PepperPlate to make menus for the week.

Fidget rings and other fidget objects

Having something to play with or occupy your hands in conversation can help with dermatillomania, trichtillomania, nail biting, and a host of other nervous/anxious habits. Fidget/spinner rings are especially nice for professional situations–where you can’t pull out buckyballs or rubberbands, etc. A friend and I bought gorgeous, matching ones, and I’ve toyed with mine during interviews, therapy, and particularly boring lectures. Almost immediately after purchasing, I ended up with long enough fingernails to paint–I wasn’t biting or tearing at my nail beds constantly.

Even if you’re not the anxious type, I recommend them as a way to get respite in a conversation or interaction. More socially acceptable than looking at your phone, they give me something to focus on when I need a few seconds of space or distance. Here are some on Etsy, and cheaper variants on Amazon.

Though I haven’t used it personally, some friends use what I know as massage putty, but I’m sure the expensive stuff could be replaced with some cheap, dollar store putty. Build hand strength, make weird shapes, copy newsprint.  Rubik’s cubes are favorites of my friends, though I’ve never picked up the appeal.

Books, books, books

Books can add up in cost more than a phone app, but honestly, if a single book is cheaper in time and money than therapy….it’s well worth it. Though I’ve had access to free therapy for years now, books have been where I developed coping strategies, learned to recognize failure-mode patterns of thinking, and have me the words to explain what was going wrong in my head. And these haven’t been highly technical books–I’d just wander into the psychology section of a bookstore and find the ones that seemed to be less about spirituality and bad tropes and more about science, particularly ones that talked about coping strategies, evidence-based therapy, or didn’t rail against medication on the back cover.

Finding people with other mental illnesses. 

I actually don’t seek out people with eating disorders–it can put a real strain on me if we’re not at similar levels of recovery. But spending time around people who are used to having bad brain days that make socializing hard has taken a lot of the pressure of social interactions. I wasn’t trying to hide my coping mechanisms, and I got praise and reward for little victories (I ate a snack! I decided not to go to the gym today and felt good about it!) that wouldn’t mean much to a neurotypical observer.

*For over a year, I’ve encouraged friends and, well, strangers on the internet to use Fitocracy for their non-shamey system. Recently, the emails from the site have been all about weight loss and fat burning. I’ve solved this by disabling all emails, but the trend from site-for-people-who-want-to-feel-good-about-exercise to site-for-people-with-also-some-guilt is annoying. 

Counterintuitive Underreactions and Overreactions

I love Pride and Prejudice but this is the image in my head for Bad At Serious Conversations.

The quality of not reacting in an upset way to new information has been on my mind recently. People seem to tell me things regularly—a driving force, if not the initial impetus behind my career choice–and something I’ve noticed as a skill is knowing when to react strongly to emotionally-loaded information…and when to treat an offhand remark like a plea for help.

That is, how do you decide when the reaction to–

“Yeah, sorry I’m late on this piece of the project–I had some friend trouble last week–but what if we scheduled a meeting on Tuesday and went over this section right now?”

–should sound like:

“Oh, that sounds [expression of sympathy], I’m so [sad/apologetic]! [Tell me more/how have you been handling it]?”

And when the appropriate response to–

“Yeah, I’ve had some struggles with depression and repeated hospitalizations meant I had to take an extra year of college.”

–is best phrased as:

“Oh, okay, [brief smile] [topic change, offer of ice cream, return to task at hand]“

My initial impulse was to say that a good heuristic is “the weirder/more emotional the information, the more noncommittal the response” But this breaks down very quickly. For one, I hang out in a social group that is almost definitely breaking my Weird and Emotional Information Disclosure alarms. Casual references to hallucinations and depressive episodes are par for the course, and dissecting how one feels about a surprise phone call is the norm.

Each time I try to break down exactly how I decide which of these to do in what situation–because sometimes ‘I had some friend trouble’ is an offhand aside, and ‘struggles with depression and repeated hospitalization’ does call for processing and discussion of current feelings–my brain comes back with ‘well, it was obvious in the situation!’ Thank you, brain, for that helpful contribution.

And then there’s another complication: what if in attending to this; in trying to figure out when to be noncommittal about Serious Things and take parenthetical remarks as openings for Deep Conversations, you do more harm? If you maintain even mediocre relationships, it seems high-risk to play around with how you respond to disclosures. If the learning curve means messing up a few times in large ways, you might be better served by not accidentally tanking your friendships.

And these interactions can and do make or break relationships and friendships. I can hear it now (in part, because I have heard it before):

“I confessed my deepest secret to her, and she just asked if I still wanted to go bowling!”

or, from my own life:

“Every time (this is only slightly hyperbolic) I offhandedly mention that my parents recently divorced, everyone thinks it’s The Worst Thing In The World, and I have to convince them I think it was a good idea. And then when I say I’m glad, everyone assumes I had a horrible home life. Now I just never mention it.”

At the same time, filing this as a skill that some people have and some people don’t, and one for which there is no ability to intentionally jump from one camp to the other just grates on me. Most of my social skills are learned, and I pick up new ones best from explicit instructions and scripts that I, over time and testing, adapt. They’re social skills, after all, not social I can just miraculously do it and you can’t so pbthhh.

So….how? Accept that straining some friendships is the price for being a slightly better friend overall? Try some other heuristic for how to react? What do you do?

Monday Miscellany: SkepTech, SATs, State-of-the-Art Prosthetics

I re-emerge! I have survived finals and am (impatiently, nervously) waiting on answers from grad school. This week involves vacationing in Boston and the reanimation of my blogging.

1. Every year, my college runs an Eating Disorder Awareness Week. And every year, I avoid the student union like a plague during the Eating Disorder Awareness week. I find the idea of everyone focusing on talking about loving their bodies overwhelming and triggering as hell, and know most of my friends with eating disorders do the same–avoiding an event that’s supposed to be about supporting their conditions. So, are there other benefits to be gained from the Week? Are we, perhaps decreasing stigma? Or preventing people who might be at risk for EDs from developing them? Yeah, no, probably not.

2. On April 4th through the 6th, I’ll be in Minneapolis, attending/speaking/running SkepTech. I attend a number of skeptoatheist conferences year to year, and SkepTech is one where I expect to attend and learn entirely new things from the speakers. Talks I’m anticipating: The Game Theory of Firefly, medical technology and making evidence-based funding decisions, and hearing all the interesting discussion on creating effective sex ed on the panel I’ll be moderating.

3. Forget the emotional burden of deciding to seek therapy–narrowing down who is a good therapist for you is hard. Here’s some advice.

4. And speaking of therapy and mental illness, yet ANOTHER excellent response to the question Are we pathologizing normalcy? Next, I’d like to stop having to constantly answer it. 
As a sidenote, if anyone has high quality books that critique psychiatry or clinical psychology, please refer me. I’ve read American Psychosis (good, but focused on institutional care and deinstitutionalization), am reading Listening to Prozac (mostly because anti-psychiatry people always open by asking if I’ve read it) and was utterly unimpressed by Book of Woe.

As a psychiatrist, I see this as the biggest challenge facing psychiatry today. A large part of the population – perhaps even the majority – might benefit from some form of mental health care, but too many fear that modern psychiatry is on a mission to pathologise normal individuals with some dystopian plan fuelled by the greed of the pharmaceutical industry, all in order to put the populace on mind-numbing medications. Debates about psychiatric overdiagnosis have amplified in the wake of last year’s release of the newest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the so-called ‘bible of psychiatry’, with some particularly vocal critics coming from within the profession.

It’s true that the scope of psychiatry has greatly expanded over the past century. A hundred years ago, the profession had a near-exclusive focus on the custodial care of severely ill asylum patients. Now, psychiatric practice includes the office-based management of the ‘worried well’. The advent of psychotherapy, starting with the arrival of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis at the turn of the 20th century, drove the shift. The ability to treat less severe forms of psychopathology – such as anxiety and so-called adjustment disorders related to life stressors – with the talking cure has had profound effects on mental health care in the United States.

5. Part of my job currently involves assessing surveys about religion and nonbelief; it’s lovely to see Pacific Standard talk about how careless survey questions and reporting can lead to unhelpful information.

6. This is an excellent summary of why engineering psychology is important. Pretty prostheses are not the most functional prostheses.

It’s easy to watch video clips of dexterous and dynamic prostheses and think, who wouldn’t want that? But there are plenty of circumstances in which prescribing such a device would be a misunderstanding of what a patient really needs. In one study that explored the needs of amputee farmers, the researchers interviewed a man who was given a myoelectric arm—something that is not only expensive, but also completely unsuited for farm work. Myoelectric devices cannot get wet or dirty, two things that are nearly guaranteed during a day of farming. The farmer in question simply kept the arm in his closet—a $100,000 device sitting there gathering dust.

 

Monday Miscellany: Puns, Purple Line, Pets

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 8.03.37 AM1.  Watch out friends, “that’s ambiguous news!” might be my new favorite exclamation. Leah on the Congressional Budget Office.

2. I’ve a hunch that this exchange (excerpted at right) from A Moment of Innocence will make some large portion of my readers go all starry-eyed.

3. The What Happens After Game, a coping strategy via Mitchell.

4. A list of weird psych experiments. I’m pretty unnerved by what the footsie experiment implies…and unnerved that I can say “unnerving footsie experiment” and mean it.

5. Today in catering to my exact interests, someone’s made a map of coffee shops by their proximity to Chicago’s public transportation. I can personally vouch for everything off the Purple Line.

6. A thoughtful discussion of owning and pets and pet diets for vegans and vegetarians.

7. Open adoption is the most common standard in adoption services now. (The author claims 95%, when I worked in adoption services I was told around 85%). This piece from The Atlantic is a warm story of what that can look like.

8. A self-experiment in noticing confusion. Linking to this not because it was new to me, but because it’s the sort of psych-ish-somewhat-related-articles I enjoy finding on Less Wrong.

9. This is a well written article on eating disorders and relationships. I wish I didn’t have an instinctive recognition for this excerpt:

The authors also highlight literature arguing that women with eating disorders may also avoid sexual encounters due to psycho-social factors including self-consciousness and/or anxiety, body shame, and low sexual satisfaction. Perceptions of sexual intimacy may be lower for women with anorexia and bulimia, and while this may improve with recovery, sexual difficulties may persist.

10. Punning fuckery, biology edition.