Bayesian Bigots, Bad Charts, Bias: Adventures in Scientific Journals

Bones

“Evidence for JPSP researcher precognition. Although the data for this figure were not actually collected, the evidence it presents clearly demonstrates that such data collection is unnecessary.”

As I finish up my quarter (three papers, one debate, one exam, and a very long packing list left!) I’m flipping through old papers. Here a few of the oddities:

Bayesian Bigot? Statistical Discrimination, Stereotypes, and Employer Decision Making
A serious paper, despite the odd title. In short, curious researchers decide to do a series of in-depth interviews to determine if employers are making rational decisions about who they should hire. In results surprising very few, people discriminate, but don’t do so as the result of updating based on experiences.

Actually, a picture is worth less than 45 words: Narratives produce more false memories than photographs do
Nice figure of speech ya got there. It’d be a shame if we were to…test it.

Memory Distortion in People Reporting Abduction by Aliens
I
 don’t think anyone is surprised that there’s memory distortion in people who think they’ve been abducted by aliens, but did you know that there’s some overarching characteristics in domains unrelated to green men? Still curious: are there predictive characteristics beforehand?

We Knew the Future All Along : Scientific Hypothesizing is Much More Accurate Than Other Forms of Precognition: A Satire in One Part
Some social psychologist gets annoyed at the publication of Bem’s precognition research, writes snark, gets it published in the same journal that published the ESP research. Also, uses charts like the one found in this post’s heading.

 Sterling (1959) first documented psychologists’ remarkable precognitive capacities. He showed that 97% of articles across a random selection of psychology journals reported positive results. Further, Fanelli (2012) showed that psychologists have kept up this impressive prediction rate through the present. Moreover, his evidence suggests that psychologists have more positive results than virtually every other scientific discipline.

For example, biologists have excellent precognition but still not as good as psychologists (Fanelli, in press), political scientists appear to be guessing randomly (Tetlock, 2005), and economists are wrong about virtually everything (see Economics, all of it).  Psychology is number one!

AND

The evidence for precognition is psychological science itself. Just open a random issue of any psychology journal. In it, you will find dozens of a priori hypotheses anticipating findings that eventually occurred.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things Psychology Accidentally Taught Me

via Flickr user Deradian, some rights reserved

via Flickr user Deradian, some rights reserved

1. Never commit a crime unless you know you can get away with it. Otherwise you might end up in front of a jury, and juries are TERRIFYING. So are eyewitnesses.

2. If you want to read through research quickly, you can read the abstract and skip the methods and results reporting in favor of the discussion. This is particularly useful if you have four classes, each with daily readings, and want to get to the people who keep filling your inbox with interesting research. It’s unfortunate that it appears that even people who should read through all the mathematical analysis also fail to do this.

3. Brain pictures are very pretty. However, unless you have very specialized knowledge, this is about as much as you can offer when faced with a brain picture and little other information.

4. There are more than 100 neurotransmitters. However, there are less than ten that have familiar-to-the-public names. If you keep repeating this to yourself, headlines that read “TURNS OUT X WAS IMPLICATED IN BEHAVIOR Y” get exponentially less interesting.

5. If you’re unfamiliar with the prisoner’s dilemma, volunteer your services as a subject in social psychology studies. We’ll fix that for you.

6. Transcranial magnetic stimulation is awesome to watch until you realize that it’s a little tool that can disrupt your brain through the skull….and that your brain is fairly important for things like breathing and heart function, and TMS is “almost like a stroke” [If you're squicked by watching people lose brain function, I wouldn't click that link.]

7. Cohen’s d is a method for determining effect size. It’s also a great way for psych of gender researchers to make jokes while sounding serious.

8. Memory is fixed? Hahaha. hahah. Memory is only slightly less scary than twelve people determining your fate.

9. Trust nobody who tells you there’s a participant next door.

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.

 

 

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. 

The Groaning Bookshelf

booksbooksbooks

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.

So.

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
T
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.

Miscellaneous-But-Not-Psychology

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
T
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?