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!


  1. says

    The “2011 study of 6000 children’s books” is a classic example of how to hide unwanted data and spin a study so that it reinforces the popular narrative. We find that in the present (well, actually the 1990s, the last decade studied) there are actually more girl main characters than boy main characters in children’s books. So the reporting ignores that number and focuses on all books published since 1900 (seriously? 1900? I could use that same data to prove there’s a smallpox epidemic going on!) so they can talk about what an atrocious gender disparity there is.

    • Kate Donovan says

      I’m not so sure that gender parity in recent years negates the article or research. The author mentions reading the Hobbit (1937), The Secret Garden (1910) and the Narnia tales (1950-1956) to her daughter. A quick run-through of lists of classic and popular children’s books (I’m using Goodreads and Wikipedia here and here) suggests that 1990’s children’s books haven’t even made it to being common or popular. I’m hard-pressed to name any–and I was a child in exactly that time–but Harry Potter and the Hunger Games series, and both of those might be more accurately filed as Young Adult lit.

      The author could pick only recent writing (and certainly could have done less of the implying that literature wasn’t re-orienting itself to equal representation), but along the way, her daughter will miss out on lots of really excellent books.

  2. Alexander Stanislaw says

    Regarding scope insensitivity. Well its not obvious that saving a child’s life is better than fulfilling a child’s wish to be Batkid if the second child is your son. Selfishness makes the (capitalist) world go round, and the capitalist world is awesome despite its flaws.

    I believe the price to save a child’s life according to GiveWell is something like $1000? Well in that case I suppose I do value a trip to my parents house more than I value the life of a child and I don’t feel particularly bad about that. Should I? Almost no one values all human lives equally, and frankly I think its bizarre to do so. I value my life, and people who are close to me much more than complete strangers. I also value people who I am connected to way more than the lives of people who I am completely unconnected to. I think most people are likewise. I’m not asserting that my position is right of course, just that it is the mainstream.

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