Monday Miscellany: ACT, Autism, Anorexia

1.  I haven’t started the book by the same name, but Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) for eating disorders seems fairly promising. (Psych Today article, academic abstract)

2. The New York Times has a lovely piece on the NYC Solstice Celebration, and secular celebrations as a whole.

3.  The title doesn’t convey this very clearly, but gender-flipping characters in children’s books is one way to easily populate a fictional world with equal representation. (Okay, leaving this pull quote up, because it was part of the original post, but do read this comment thread.)

Despite what can seem like a profusion of heroines in kids’ books, girls are still underrepresented in children’s literature. A 2011 study of 6,000 children’s books published between 1900 and 2000 showed that only 31 percent had female central characters. While the disparity has declined in recent years, it persists—particularly, and interestingly, among animal characters. And many books with girl protagonists take place in male-dominated worlds, peopled with male doctors and male farmers and mothers who have to ask fathers for grocery money (Richard Scarry, I’m looking at you). The imbalance is even worse in kids’ movies: Geena Davis’ Institute on Gender and Media found that for every female character in recent family films, there are three male characters. Crowd scenes, on average, are only 17 percent female.

More insidiously, children’s books with girl protagonists sometimes celebrate their heroines to a fault. Isn’t it amazing that a girl did these things, they seem to say—implying that these heroines are a freakish exception to their gender, not an inspiration for readers to follow. Children’s lit could benefit from a Finkbeiner Test. (Well-intentioned kids’ media can, ironically, introduce their youngest listeners and viewers to gender barriers: The first time my daughter heard the fabulous albumFree to Be … You and Me, she asked “Why isn’t it all right for boys to cry?”)

So Bilbo, with her matter-of-fact derring-do, was refreshing.

4. Scope insensitivity is a hell of a drug. Peter Singer with a nice holiday reminder about separating things that make you feel warm and fuzzy from things that are effective charity donations. And the Gawker piece about the piece (WHY is this a thing, internet?) is on point itself (with bonus self-awareness about clickbait titles!).

“It’s obvious, isn’t it,” Singer asks, “that saving a child’s life is better than fulfilling a child’s wish to be Batkid?” Yes. It is just as obvious as obvious can be. Even a five year-old could see that it’s obvious. But that will not stop this line of argument (and our perhaps overly provocative headline) from enraging those who prefer to luxuriate in a bath of warm and fuzzy emotional validation, rather than to think about this simple fact: In a world of scarce resources and limitless need, it’s just common sense (and common decency) to direct our charitable resources to those who need it the most. It is not moral to pour charity money into non-life-and-deathcauses when that money could be used to actually save human lives.

5. Harrumph. Waiting lists seem to impact effectiveness of treatment. File this under Could We Please Have Fewer Confounds, Maybe?

6. And in other things where Kate is Grouchy But Also More Informed, it seems like oxytocin is not as solidly linked to trusting behaviors as I’d thought.

With the relevant post-Kosfeld data favoring failures to replicate by 3:1, I think a dispassionate reader is justified in not believing that OT increases trusting behavior–at least not in the context of the trust game. Should we do a few more studies just to make sure? Fine by me, but it seems to me that we, as a field, should have some sort of stop-rule that would tell us when to turn away from this hypothesis entirely–as well, of course, as how much data in support of the hypothesis we would need to justify our acceptance of it. In addition, I’m struck by the fact that no one has ever gotten around to reporting the results of an exact replication of Kosfeld. In light of the Many Labs Projects’ recent successes in identifying experimental results that do and do not replicate, I’d personally be content to believe the results of several (five, perhaps?) large-N, coordinated, pre-registered exact replications of the Kosfeld experiment.

And from the same article, a nice reminder that nobody snarks like an annoyed psychologist.

I also remain unconvinced that intranasally administered OT even makes it into the human brain in the first place. (Many experts think the brain is involved in the control of behavior, so this particular gap in our scientific knowledge seems to me like a problem that OT researchers should be taking a lot more seriously.)

7. Still shopping? Give the gift of books. Specifically, this book: Conned Again, Watson! Canon-styled Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson solve tales based around probability and logic and math. I loved the original Conan Doyle versions, and these fit right in.

8. This post gives me many thoughts, but right now, I’ll present it without comment (though a trigger warning for some glamorizing of eating disorders)

Ginia Bellafante put it well a few years ago, in a book review for the New York Times:“Anorexia is a disease of contradiction: it demands both discipline and indulgence …. The anorexic disappears in order to be seen; she labors to self-improve as she self-annihilates.” Bellafante describes the condition as “an intellectualized hallucination.” That concise definition is better than any I’ve read, and it points to the conflicted way in which we talk about the disease: our intention is critical, but our language is celebratory.

9. The one study to RULE THEM ALL.

And on that note, Happy Monday!

Some ‘Exercise for Mental Health!’ Headscratching

[CN: Brief mention of eating disorders, exercise for weight loss]

“Even a little bit of exercise can improve mental functioning!” 

The little display-quotes at the top of Psychology Today’s page always make me a touch antsy. The thing about writing popular psychology is that you want to to actually be popular, and “well, we tested this on college students, and in at least this one iteration of the research, it seems like mayyyybe there’s a relationship between This One Cool Trick and increased performance on IQ tests”  has far too many caveats to make for a headline. So we assure you that doing ten jumping jacks before bed will make you pass your math test, and the things we’re a little more certain about get less fanfare.

(In the spirit of fixing that, look at this, it seems pretty conclusive that narcolepsy is the result of an autoimmune response to hypocretin neurons. This doesn’t sound very exciting, but is actually worth at least three large headlines.)

But I’m stuck on a bus, and I started thinking about that claim. A little bit of exercise? I mean, I usually feel better for going for a walk, but I’ve never thought that’s a direct result of exercise. More like inevitable results of the interplay of being away from a to-do list, trading fluorescent light for natural light, and stomping around in the snow. Sure, there’s some very basic cardio happening, but I live in the Midwest, the flattest of flatlands.

…which also got me thinking about how I’ll avoid exercising when I’m having especially bad brain days. There’s significant amounts of societal pressure to exercise–to not just be slim but toned and fit and lean–and heading to the gym uniquely taps into a whole host of too-positive feelings about potentially losing weight and fitting into beauty norms.  When you add jerkbrain, then BAM sudden impulses towards obsessive exercising! So I stay away on bad days, and on the good I try to aim my happiness about exercise in the direction of appreciation for strength and endurance building, rather than skinniness.

Which led me to The Hunch*:

It seems unlikely–possible, but unlikely–that exercising briefly is dramatically changing brain chemistry. It seems to improve functioning in moderate depression. It usually improves circulation, which does nice things all over your body. But it also plays into norms about how being a good person means having a gym membership and being healthy (in the colloquial, appearance-based sense).

If we’re going to take the Psych Today quote at face value**–and I’ve been writing on a bumpy bus just so we can–then what if the improvement from just a little exercising is less a function of the actual motions of moving your body, and more to do with the rewards of doing something we’ve been conditioned to associate with being a good person? Sure, there are copious benefits resulting from the exercise -> [mysterious*** brain changes] -> better mental and physical health pathway. But getting them from brief exercise? Seems more plausible that there’s a boost in mood and functioning from doing a societally rewarded action. (“I’m doing a good thing! I am a responsible person!”)

By all means, were this to be correct (and see the part about it being a hunch) this would not be a reason to stop exercising! In fact, it might be a better reason to exercise than ever. Taking advantage of brain quirks, or placebo effects generally, to improve your life is still improving your life.


*I mean it. This is a hunch. Somewhat more than a wild guess, but only because I think “studies this stuff for fun and a diploma” counts for more than Wild Guesser status.

**Also, I’m disinclined to think that it was entirely made up. There’s likely at least one study suggesting this conclusion.

***Not so mysterious, but if I’m going to be hunch-ing, I’d rather not shoot myself in the foot by also demonstrating a poor grasp of neuroscience.

Monday Miscellany: Solstice, Schizophrenia, Substance Addiction

Robby, Miri and I, reunited and silly with happiness pre-Solstice and post-bagel.

1. I talk a lot with adjectives–things are spectacular and wonderful and glorious and amazing and awesome. But I think, to catch the joy of what the Brighter Than Today Solstice in New York was, I think I’d tell little stories.

How it felt to sing among friends–something I haven’t done in years.
The joy of watching an entire group of people laugh and cry and be in awe together.
Book recommendations flying thick and fast at the reception–attendees carrying books! (That’s not even including CFAR’s box of Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality)

Joyous singing, gathering, community. What a way to close the quarter.

2. On “why didn’t you tell me?”

3. The language we use to talk about substance addiction matters. In fact, it matters very much:

Those clinicians exposed to the “substance abuser” term were significantly more likely to judge the person as more to blame and more deserving of punishment than the exact same individual described as having a substance use disorder. We tested these terms in a general population sample and found even larger differences with more negative and punitive judgments strongly associated with the “abuser” term.

Luckily, the current federal drug czar (try putting that on your resume) seems to be on board with treating drug addiction more like a complicated problem for science and less like a convenient political football.

4. When I was working in schizophrenia research, and in discussions I’ve had since, that marijuana can trigger earlier onset of schizophrenia in those at-risk already has always been a foregone conclusion. I’ve certainly repeated it enough–bolstered by studies such as this and this. Now, some new research that makes the opposite claim: marijuana has no measurable effect on schizophrenia onset. (academic link)

5. For those with disordered eating, veganism and vegetarianism are not as simple as investment in animal-rights or environmentalism.

Food justice is complicated, and we live in a world in which the use of animals for human profit is taken for granted, often invisible, and ingrained culturally (I just realized there are at least three animal-marginalizing expressions in this post that I wouldn’t have used when I was a vegan). I don’t begrudge anyone what they choose to eat, or not eat, anymore. I respect vegans and I will continue to try to find a place where my values and my health are both satisfied. But I’ve learned that food is so much more than just food––for some, due to health concerns, it’s an enemy. For others, it’s love. For still others, it’s power and control. And for far too many people, it’s an unmet need.

6. An ode to the crazy, messy, impulsive, and uncomfortably honest romance of Love, Actually.

Love Actually is only a traditional romantic comedy insofar as it is a film about romance that has humor. It does not have the structure required of the genre. To be honest, if you’re going to compare it to any one film you should probably compare it to Crash, the working title of which I’d like to think was Racism, Actually.

If the theme of Crash is “We’re all at least a little bit racist deep inside” the theme of Love Actually is “We’re all a little crazily romantic deep inside.”

Love Actually is, in fact, less a film about love as it is a film about people who think they are in love. Almost all of the stories center around people who either early on, or before the film even begins, figure out they’re nuts about someone and then spend the five weeks before Christmas wondering, “What do I do now?” It’s a bit like Hamlet but with romantic gestures instead of, you know, death.


7. A long read on the story behind the Intense World theory of autism. Well worth the time, with bonus accessible neuroscience and not-terrible coverage of autism!

What have you been reading lately?

Monday Miscellany: Dunning, Kruger, & I Can’t Even

1. You know you’ve done a good job (or at least, you’re overestimating less than usual…) when David Dunning himself comments on your writeup of the Dunning-Kruger effect. For bonus, read the original paper–or at least the abstract. It begins…

In 1995, McArthur Wheeler walked into two Pittsburgh banks and robbed them in broad daylight, with no visible attempt at disguise. He was arrested later that night, less than an hour after videotapes of him taken .from surveillance cameras were broadcast on the 11 o’clock news. When police later showed him the surveillance tapes, Mr. Wheeler stared in incredulity. “But I wore the juice,” he mumbled. Apparently, Mr. Wheeler was under the impression that rubbing one’s face with lemon juice rendered it invisible to videotape cameras (Fuocco, 1996).

….and it only gets better from there.

2. Beautiful things to look at: a crisp infographic–how many millions of lines of code? Your genome, World of Warcraft, the Large Hadron Collider? And even prettier: abandoned observatories.

3. Once upon a time there was a terrible article about habits of the rich that the poor should emulate. And then there was this article, and we could all go back to trying to live happily ever after.

Dave Ramsey probably wasn’t expecting this much pushback when he shared a piece by Tim Corley contrasting the habits of the rich with those of the poor. In her response on CNNRachel Held Evans noted that Ramsey and Corley mistake correlation for causality when they suggest (without actually proving) that these habits are the cause of a person’s financial situation. (Did it never occur to them that it might be the other way around?)

Ramsey fired back, calling the pushback “immature and ignorant.” This from a guy who just made 20 sweeping assertions about 47 million poor people in the US — all based on a survey of 361 individuals.

That’s right. To come up with his 20 habits, Corley talked to just 233 wealthy people and 128 poor people. Ramsey can talk all he wants about Corley’s research passing the “common-sense smell test,” but it doesn’t pass the “research methodology 101” test.

To balance the picture a bit, I wanted to take a fact-based look at 20 things the poor do on a daily basis…

4. NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts has Dessa. That is all.

5. Over at Brute Reason, What This Depression Survivor Hears When You Call Religion A Mental Illness

“Whether or not I think someone is mentally ill is more important than whether or not they think they’re mentally ill.”

And in addition to that, the fact that probably zero religious believers think that their religion qualifies as a mental illness is a good indication that you should stop saying that it is. Of course, you can and should disagree with them on other things, external things, like whether or not god exists or whether or not religion is a net good in society or whether or not people can be ethical without religion. But what goes on in their own minds is something they know much more about than you ever will.

My week involved a lot of walking past this sign.

My week involved a lot of walking past this sign.

6.  I have a lot of feelings about this article about negative vs. excessive feelings.

7. This article on internet linguistics. Much thought-provoking. Very analysis. Wow.

In other news, my finals are donedonedoneDONE. (I mean, for at least ten weeks, until the next round. Go away, reality.)

Monday Miscellany: Forensic Psychology, Fighting, & Replicating Research

1. Free access to popular forensic psych articles! I’ve been caught up in work and school, but Citizenship: A Response to the Marginalization of People with Mental Illnesses and The Ethics of Life and Death: Advance Directives and End of Life Decision Making in Persons with Dementia open on my computer.

2. This is not like what I normally post, but THIS IS A WEBSITE FOR UNGRUNTLING. Obviously, relevant to my interests.

3. Wait vs. Interrupt Culture.

4. Captain Awkward #524: How do I fight with my partner without ruining everything? Captain Awkward posts give me the urge to print them out and hand them to passing strangers.

Another part of love is telling the other person when they can help you better, which from your examples it sounds like you’re doing already.
But you and your partner don’t fight at all, and that is wigging you out. So I want you to think about what a fight is, versus a disagreement or a need. To me, a FIGHT is insulting and yelling and cursing and slammed doors. It’s rage and wanting to hurt feelings and sticking metaphorical pins in your loved one’s soft places.
You do not have to fight to prove that your love is true.

5. A Day in The Life of an Empowered Female Heroine

She strolled up to the bar and planted a firm-yet-sexy pump-encased foot down on the rail. The bartender looked at her and started pulling out little frilly umbrellas and Malibu and speared slices of pineapple to make some kind of girl drink, but she held up her hand. “A whiskey,” she said, her voice low in her throat. “Neat.”

Behind her the pool table exploded. Every man in the bar immediately grew a beard. The jukebox made a record-scratching sound, even though it was an mp3-playing jukebox.

6. Evaluating positive psychology interventions in school. The results are about what I’d expect, but the article is great.

7. What happens when a data-driven person has a tumblr and a divorce? Quantified Breakup.

8. Oh, psychology and reproducibility. Social psychology is a tricksy beast, and one way to tackle that has been the ManyLabs project, which attempted to do large-scale replications of 13 previous findings. Surprising (to me, at least, the occasional cynic) all but two of them replicated. So no, it’s probably not true that exposing people to American flags makes them more conservative, and no, people probably don’t endorse the current social set-up if you show them money. (We should take heed, social-justicey-liberals, these have been two the oft-cited psych-derived talking points.) Concerningly, anchoring seems to be stronger than we thought.
8a) Here’s a thoughtful piece on what we should get from the ManyLabs research.
8b) And some concerns about replication-driven psychology research.

9. Maria Bello’s piece on bisexuality and partnerships makes me ache with feelings. Resonant. Rich. (I’m starting to sound like I’m describing a wine. Just go read it.)

It’s hard for me even to define the term “partner.” For five years I considered my partner to be a friend then in his 70s, John Calley, with whom I talked daily. He was the one who picked me up each time I had a breakdown about another failed romance. Because we were platonic, did that make him any less of a partner?

And I have never understood the distinction of “primary” partner. Does that imply we have secondary and tertiary partners, too? Can my primary partner be my sister or child or best friend, or does it have to be someone I am having sex with? I have two friends who are sisters who have lived together for 15 years and raised a daughter. Are they not partners because they don’t have sex? And many married couples I know haven’t had sex for years. Are they any less partners?