Adoption: Legality and Journalistic Hype

So, there’s this article in The New Republic. Meet the New Anti-Adoption MovementThe surprising next frontier in reproductive justice. And I, being the sort who dutifully reads any instance of Someone Wrong On The Internet that crosses my field of vision, clicked.

It’s not bad. The title, fortunately, seems to be butchering the aims of the actual movement, which might be better represented as The Ethical Adoption Movement That’s Not Actually All That New. They’ve got some goals I strongly admire–preventing manipulation of distressed and pregnant parents, encouraging expectant parents to consider that adoption is a life-long process for everyone involved, promoting open adoption, and preventing agencies from lying to pregnant parents about abortion. Admirable, yeah?

Reported with a dangerously dramatic brush? Also yeah. For instance, take this:

They want, among other things, a ban on adoption agencies offering monetary support to pregnant women. They want to see laws put in place guaranteeing that “open” adoptions (where birthparents have some level of contact with their children) stay open. They want women to have more time after birth to decide whether to terminate their parental rights.

A ban on monetary support? It sounds like it would prevent bribing parents. It probably would! However, it would also prevent (as The New Republic’s wording stands) adoption agencies from providing expectant parents with maternity care, prenatal vitamins, assisting them in maintaining housing, etc. Do you know how to dramatically increase the health and functioning of a fetus–particularly one in poverty? Maternity care and vitamins. It is true that unethical agencies do some seriously sleazy behavior in pursuit of convincing expectant parents to choose adoption, and TNR’s article does cite that. (Paying for college in return for a child? No good, very bad.) But a ban is excessively absolutist.  Create ethical guidelines that protect parents; don’t prevent agencies from serving children and families.

But what about the idea of a mandatory wait before terminating parental rights?

I’m in favor!

….for a nuanced and careful definition of ‘more’.

The article fails to note that these EXIST. See: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, and West Virginia. That’s only the states that require forms terminating mothers’ rights to be filled out at least 48 hours after birth–many of the rest require at least 24 hours. Only two states, Alabama and Hawaii, allow the rights of the person who gave birth to be terminated before the child is born.

Map of 72+ and 48 hour wait post-birth for termination of birth parent rights, minus CA, which I forgot, and will fix ASAP. (Many of the blank states have <48 hour waiting periods)
Map via

That being said, saying “there should be a mandatory wait after birth before signing final papers” is COMPLICATED (and already exists in places, which the article entirely fails to address)

For instance, in Illinois, like many of the states listed, the wait is 72 hours, or three whole days. This sounds like a good idea in practice: the person who’s given birth is less likely to be under the influence of drugs, slightly less tired or emotionally exhausted from labor, and has met the child they just birthed.

Except, that it’s also true that 72 hours is longer than the time a parent with an uncomplicated birth would stay in the hospital. (Average stay for regular vaginal birth, 48 hours) Which means:

Option One: Birth parent has to go home with the child. Can you say huuuuuge stress on them if they want to continue with adoption and later have to give the child to the adoptive family? Also, sending an unwanted child who cries at all hours of the day, needs constant care, and will die of neglect or bad care is a risk. Babies are entirely dependent on their caregivers. This is especially there are compounding issues like postpartum depression or substance abuse. In theory, Child Protective Services should step in or catch those cases, and place the child elsewhere. In practice…

Along with this, working class birth parents (general PSA that most people over-estimate the number of parents who put children up for adoption who are teens, impoverished, or in their first pregnancy. I was one of them. Please don’t assume you’re the exception.) need to work or find alternate care for their children. That’s expensive. (Particularly, say, if a total ban on financial support from adoption agencies is enacted)

Option Two: The prospective adoptive family goes home with the child and with some legal decision-making capability over child’s care, (in IL, my understanding is that the agency in question holds Power of Attorney) but papers that terminate the rights of the legally-defined birth mother aren’t signed.

This is a massive legal and emotional risk, and some families just won’t do it. Sometimes families do it, and then the birth mother decides not to sign the papers–upon reflection, they decide to parent. (20-30% of expectant parents who select adoptive parents for their child go on to parent themselves instead.) In cases like that, the adoption agency has to call the family and request that they bring the child back, as it’s not theirs. NOT pleasant for anyone.

Not Really A Standard Option, But Let’s Talk About It: Placing the child in a nursery or some other form of care until papers are signed. There’s one agency in the entire U.S with an in-house nursery, and even then, many birth parents don’t want to put their ,  child in the care of strangers in a location that may be tough to access while they make their final decision. 


Waiting periods: a good plan, in theory. I support them! Parents should sign stuff when not under the emotional strain of birth. However, really long ones are emotionally overwhelming and complicated, and just blanket advocating for more time is a dangerously simplistic position.

In the comments, please follow these guidelines for increased accuracy:

1) if someone is pregnant and considering adoption, they are expectant parents (because not all expectant parents give choose to give birth)
2) If someone has given birth, presto! Birthparent.
3) Strong preference for gender-neutral terms when referring to the person who has given birth. Trans men and nonbinary folk give birth, adopt, and otherwise parent kids.

[Sunday Assembly Chicago] Talk Notes, Citations, Oddments

[General version of what I’m saying at Sunday Assembly Chicago today. Yes, the footnotes start at 2. I edited and didn’t want to go fix all superscripts at 6 am this morning.]

Good morning!

I’m Kate Donovan, and in about two sentences, I’m going to stop talking. I’m going to smile (see?) and stare pleasantly back at you, but I won’t speak for thirty seconds. I ask you to wait, without checking your phones, and urge you to notice how comfortable or uncomfortable you are.


You probably tolerated that because I’ve been asked to speak today. I was introduced, I’m standing up here in front of you, and my name’s in the program.

I spoke clearly, said what I was going to do, and I’ve been practicing doing this for the past two weeks, so I wouldn’t accidentally combust from the awkward slowly congealing in this room.

And it was palpable, wasn’t it? Some of you fidgeted, tried to guess how much longer. I spent about half that time counting down.
20 seconds.
….okay, now I can talk.

The first iteration of this talk didn’t have that introduction. I was going to walk up here, smile at you, and stare for thirty seconds. In the end, I changed it. I was too afraid that you would think little of me, or that someone, assuming I had stage-fright, would try to rescue me.

Because that is the human impulse, isn’t it? To fill the spaces? In research into conversations, a conversational lapse was three seconds. I just made you sit ten times longer–an order of magnitude longer.

We’re susceptible to what Cialdini called the click, whirr2. Conversational silence? Fill it. We do it more quickly than we can recognize that it’s bothering us. For those of you in the audience who choose your words slowly, you might recognize what I’m talking about easily–you take a break to pick the next sentence and and someone else steps in for you. If you’ve ever had or have a stutter, people will try to give you words as you work on them.

Sitting with silence? Uncomfortable.

Think back to the beginning; hold on to that discomfort for a little while longer–we’re going to play with it.

What does it feel like? For me, it’s a pressing feeling of wrongness, the sort that feels like “do something, do something, do something” It’s not that things are uncomfortable, it’s that if I don’t do something right now, I’m failing.

And unfortunately, that do something impulse is actually what leads me to pick the Wrong Thing.

I’m going to borrow an example from Allie Brosh here. She writes in her fabulous book/blog about her experience of telling people about being depressed…and describes it like a conversation about dead fish with tenuous connection to reality.

Allie: My fish are dead.
Person: Oh, but have you looked over here?
Allie: But they’re dead.
Person: Let’s keep looking!
Allie: Looking is for lost fish. My fish are dead.

This is, well, a hyperbolic example. It’s emotional incongruence. Allie says something she feels is sad/negative/not good, and Person responds with something far too offbeat. Allie wants acknowledgement that her fish are dead–Person is uncomfortable with dead fish, so opts to start a search party of possibly-lost-but-definitely-not-dead fish.

Let’s pull a different example from the same story. Allie is suicidal. She’s decided she needs to tell someone about it. And so she does. And suddenly the person is SO UPSET AND ISN’T THIS AWFUL. And Allie finds herself comforting the person, who is so uncomfortable with her suicidalness that they have to show it and Allie just needs them to stop showing it, but argh.

And, not-unreasonably, we chuckle at the let’s-make-a-map-and-find-those-fish person. Of course the fish are dead, mapmaker, we say. Except, it’s quite likely that the mapmaker was sitting with similar discomfort to us five minutes ago. They’d heard something terrible (Allie had depression/her fish were dead!) and they wanted to fix it! Right then! Because they loved Allie and depression is bad and they didn’t want Allie to be in a bad place!

Similarly, the person Allie told about being suicidal felt bad. You don’t react flippantly to someone wanting to kill themselves, do you? That’s upsetting! So they got upset.

Okay, so, you’re always going to lose right? Someone tells you something sad like being depressed, and you’re too upbeat. Someone tells you something sad, you’re too sad in response. And how the heck were you supposed to know that the right response to a suicidal person was to be noncommittal and the same person’s depression needed a sad response?

There’s a solution! And it involves science! (I didn’t want to wander off onto this track in the talk, but while this sounds gimmicky, it replicates over3 and over4 and over5 and is taught as a microskill to therapists Aren’t footnotes fun?)

Instead of reacting in the way that removes your discomfort, take a deep breath. You might have to sit with it, at the price of seeming more empathetic

Mirroring. Are they taking long pauses between words? Try that in return. Pitch? High? Low? Do what you can to match it.

[A demonstration exists here–it stretches the abilities of my creative punctuation use to convey.]

What about their hands and legs? Posture? Do they have both hands on the table? In their lap? Legs crossed? Make like a mirror and match. In fact, the nonverbal part seems to convey empathy and caring even more strongly than verbal. Lean forward a little.

(A single exception–arms crossed over the chest–you likely don’t want to mimic the universal body language for “I’m deeply uncomfortable.” I usually go for loosely cupping my opposite forearms, which sounds extraordinarily weird. In practice, if you can’t picture that, I look like I’m cradling something.)

And look, it will probably feel a little stilted and weird to do, like acting a part. Remember the discomfort at the beginning? We’re still sitting with it in the pursuit of serving others. In fact, you might consider being even more explicit about it: “I’m not sure how you feel about this. Do you want me to offer advice? or commiserate with you? because this situation sounds like it would make me pretty upset”. There’s an important distinction there–I’m not performing or showing that upsetness at the person–putting them in a position where they’ll click, whirr into comforting me–I’m telling them what my current picture of their emotions is, and then letting them correct me.

[personal anecdote I’m going to leave off this blog]

Okay! But what if you have a slightly different problem. You’re getting overwhelmed by people and charities and everyone else who wants to tell you about their problems or have a serious discussion over dinner or just have the amount of money you would have spent on a cup of coffee.

And who says no to these things? (or, at the very least, a guiltless no?) One of my favorite writers, a Chicagoan who goes by the nym Captain Awkward writes about how “No” is a full sentence. And it is. It’s just a nearly impossible sentence to utter in isolation.

You’re supposed to want to help grieving friends, right? Give to charity? Support ill relatives? The thing is, I’m totally on board with social pressure pointing in this direction. I want people to do these things! Except that I want them to do these things in ‘enough but not too much so that they burn out’ increments, and also not feel resentful and guilty.

Burnout, that feeling of emotional exhaustion–not being able to find any well of empathy or caring or energy to dredge up investment in others–isn’t, as many people conceptualize it, from having lots of contained crises. While those will certainly exhaust you, they’re the terrifying spice of life, as it were. What overwhelms people, we’ve found, is the chronicity of stress. Of having people lean on your day in and out. And once emotional exhaustion has set in, it’s near impossible to give yourself the space to recover. It’s too easy to feel guilty from stepping back…and then there you are, without many emotions left but bone-deep tired and guilt.

But that discomfort! That do something do something do something!

I’m going to ask you to sit with it again.

You’ve got a friend who’s had a traumatic breakup and wants to talk. A relative who’s collecting money for a charity that supports an illness they’ve had.

Do something do something do something! Say yes! Write a check! Spend hours listening!

Deep breath.

Yes, by all means, do something! But do something effective that gives you emotional range to spare for yourself, for the next friend with a life crisis and that other charity you care more about, or next month’s rent.

Create an emotional buffer. Be nice to your future self, and arrange for some space. That charity Cousin James wants to tell you about? You’re really busy, but could he send you an email? You want to talk to work friend, but you’ve been having a really overwhelming week–what if they scheduled an hour to tell you all about it over coffee next week?

The goal here isn’t to give you space to ignore the email or never hear about the breakup–it’s to get space in a way that sounds like “I want to hear about you in ways that mean I can serve you best”

You can sit with that discomfort. You did it for me fifteen minutes ago, for far longer than it takes to ask for an email, mimic the posture of the person across from you, squash your impulsive emotional reaction, schedule coffee for another day.

We’re here at Sunday Assembly, nonreligious but waking up early and inconveniencing ourselves with the CTA here because we want to create an intentional community. Let’s make it one that keeps us coming back, that nourishes one another without burning out, that says, you’re hurt? Let me sit with you.

And on that note, I’ll ask you to pause with me for a hair longer.

Thank you.

[ack. I fiddled with the ending up to the last minute. Will update afterwards.]

General Notes: There were a LOT of things I couldn’t fit into 15-20 minutes, including:
-More thoroughly discussing ego depletion
-forced choices in response to distressed people you want to help
-I didn’t even consider trying to make a talk that covered all the above and this, but effective altruism. I’m also wildly underqualified to discuss, but it’s easy to find information. Google away!
-possibly some of the above stuff I’d planned to talk about, who knows–this was prepared ahead of my talk

Other Sources for This Sort of Thing:

Real Social Skills
Captain Awkward


2. Cialdin, R. B. (1984). Influence: The psychology of persuasion. New York, New York: William Morrow and Company, Inc.

4. Feese, S., Arnrich, B.,  Troster, G., Meyer B., & Jonas, K. (2011) Detecting posture mirroring in social interactions with wearable sensors. In proceeding of: 15th IEEE International Symposium on Wearable Computers (ISWC 2011), 12-15 June 2011, San Francisco, CA, USA

5. Trout, D.L., & Rosenfeld, H. M. (1980) The effect of postural lean and body congruence on the judgement of psychotherapeutic rapport. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 4, 176-190.

6. Maurer, R. E. & Tindall, J. H. (1983). Effect of postural congruence on client’s perception of counselor empathy. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 30, 158-163.

Linehan, M. M. (1993). Skills training manual for treating borderline personality disorder. New York, New York: The Guilford Press.
(specifically the Interpersonal Effectiveness Handouts)

Antonides, G., Verhoef, P.C., & van Aalst, M. (2002). Consumer perception and evaluation of waiting time: A field experiment. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 12, 139-202.

Maslach, C. (2003). Burnout: The cost of caring. Englewood, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall.


Losing at Brain Games

[TW: ED]
Small post today, because I’m feeling contemplative.

I had something confirmed for me last week–that I have an unusual presentation and persistence of eating disorder/disordered eating* symptoms, given all the treatment, work, time I throw at it. In short, standard and adapted-for-me coping mechanisms and approaches for my anorexia tendencies (henceforth anorexia!brain) trigger my bulimic/bingeing tendencies…and coping mechanisms for bulimia!brain trigger my anorexic tendencies. Having both aspects isn’t terribly unusual, but that I split the difference so equally means that I never have an obvious choice about which eating habits to encourage. On days or weeks when I managed to eat properly, I’m balancing on a tightrope of tolerating the anorexia!brain and the bulimia!brain.

Which made this quote from Allie Brosh especially poignant:

For me, motivation is this horrible, scary game where I try to make myself do something while I actively avoid doing it. If I win, I have to do something I don’t want to do. If I lose, I’m one step closer to ruining my entire life. And I never know if I’m going to win or lose until the last second.

Replace ‘motivation’ with ‘eating’ and you have a summary of my mental calculus in sixty-two words.

Take this: It’s 3pm. I’m hungry.

Do I:

Eat an apple? After all, responding to hunger is important, and eating snacks is a skill I need to teach anorexia!brain.
On the other hand, this may lead to:
-I ate food at an unreasonable hour! All is lost! I’m uncomfortable and upset about this and now I want to binge.
-I ate food as a snack, and now maybe I can/should skip dinner.

So should I skip the apple? After all, dinner is more calories, and if eating the apple might trigger a binge or mean I don’t eat dinner, perhaps I should go for a solid option of a meal in a few hours?
On the other hand:
-I almost never feel hunger, and I need to learn to respond to it. Not to mention needing to get used to snacking. Teaching myself to ignore hunger didn’t exactly do good things for this whole eating disorder business.
-If I skip this snack, I might be so hungry at dinner that I accidentally overeat or trigger bingeing.

If I ‘win’ and eat enough food but not too much, anorexia!brain beats me up for eating, and bulimia!brain beats me up for the bingeing impulses I’m ignoring.  And so I spend cycle after mental cycle, trying to figure out which brain I can cope with when, how to trigger the least severe options, and only finding out if I’ve succeeded at the very last second.**

And nearly everyone else?

They just eat the damn apple.

*I don’t quite meet criteria for an eating disorder because I ‘win’ at feeding myself properly enough, but it fucks up my functioning and eats my willpower and brain enough that the distinction isn’t terribly clear. 

**A rough estimate, from the few times my brain has spontaneously clicked to non-ED (glorious weeks, those were) has me spending about 50% of my motivation/willpower towards eating properly. 

Science Meets Social Services: Helping Effectively

Used with permission from Sunday Assembly Chicago

This Sunday, at a bright and sunny hour, I’ll be speaking at Chicago’s Sunday Assembly. I’m testing out a new talk, a little lighter on the psychopathology research, and a little heavier on staying sane while serving others.

From the release:

Donovan will discuss our world of grieving friends, social inequality, and thousands of charities competing to tug at our heartstrings. With so many important causes, it can feel impossible to do “enough” without getting overwhelmed. What can research from psychology, sociology, and related fields offer us about helping our fellow humans—without losing our sanity?

The details are on the event page.

Eating Disorders: The Stories We Tell

[This is a repost of a piece I wrote a year ago on Teen Skepchick. I’ve started therapy specifically focusing on disordered eating, with a goal of leaving college in a Mostly Functional state, and was reflecting on past experiences. I still live by the ballet studio, and I’ve stopped in once, to pick up a schedule. I’ve never gone back.]

When I committed to writing in the Teen Skepchick Eating Disorders series, I said I’d write about personal experiences. After all, I do already. It wasn’t going to be too hard to do it again, right?

But that’s not true, and it never works like that. I told this story yesterday. Unexpectedly. I’ve never told it in its entirety before. It is, ultimately, why I quit dancing.

[I’m going to put a big neon TRIGGER WARNING on this right now. I’m about to be pretty blunt about anorexia nervosa and anorexia athletica tendencies. I’m going to tell a story about things I’ve done, and if that’s going to make you feel bad, then please stop reading. Take care of yourself.]

I was a dancer, you see. Not a hobby dancer, not something I squashed into the occasional afternoon. By the time I graduated high school, I was spending around twenty hours a week at the studio. My feet changed shape. I damaged my knee. I wore leotards daily, compared the merits of my preferred pointe shoe (Grishko 2007, medium shank, 5X wide, size 6.5), and for a while, I wanted to be a professional dancer.

There’s a number of reasons I couldn’t do that, and I made the decision to pursue psychology at school with no regrets. I never thought I’d stop dancing. It would always be something I loved, one of my favorite things about coming home.  Over my first Christmas home, and my spring break, I threw myself back into the schedule. I’d take a full set of classes, waking up miserably sore for the first few days, until my muscles settled back into their place.

The inevitable happened–my ballet friends improved and were more powerful and flexible and talented each time I returned. We no longer spent most of our free time together, and they had grown closer as I’d been gone. We talked about summer, when I would be home for months, able to train properly again–to feel like I was part of the company. I was excited.

I came home mid-June, to find a small part waiting for me in a show. I was overjoyed. I wasn’t the too-old returning student; I was back in my old place. The show was fancy: excerpts from Swan Lake and Don Quixote and Carmen the troupe would perform at a country club. Several dancers had been commissioned for the show–hired on contracts to train and perform just for the occasion.

They spoke Spanish, their first language, together, and knew each other from past shows at other studios.

I speak Spanish. Actually, that’s not quite true–I speak it quite poorly. Years of high school reading drills and an immersion class in my junior year have assured that I understand it quite well, and I used to read entire books in the language.

So, it was a few days of adjusting to the Cuban accent and speed of speech before I started picking up on bits of what the guest performers were saying. It was a few days later when I heard “lift your fat ass”. A few weeks until I heard them complaining about how I never managed to get better. How sad it was to watch me. And then my brain adjusted and I could hear it nearly every day we rehearsed. I got better at hearing the jabs, and I started hating myself more. In the single studio, every time I stepped onto the floor to rehearse, everyone could see me. It was constant oversight. I couldn’t focus on my dancing. I was perpetually listening and trying to translate and trying to pretend it didn’t bother me.

I stopped eating, again. After more than two years of maintaining an average intake of >1,000 calories per day, I wasn’t doing it anymore…and I was slipping into anorexia athletica. I had a gym membership, and suddenly I was spending two hours lifting and pressing and running, a few more hours in the ballet studio, and spending the rest of the day in work or an internship.

On good days, I’d eat a sandwich and drink a few cups of coffee. On bad days it was half a sandwich.

I became a good deal skinnier, though never to the rock-bottom I hit in high school–when I actually qualified for the very narrow dictionary-and-DSM-definition of anorexia nervosa at 75% of my recommended body weight. Just like in high school, people told me how pretty I was looking.

Two months of sweaty gyms and barres and mirrors later, the costumes for our show arrived. There had been an order mixup. The only costume available to me was an extra small. We tried them on over our ballet clothes, all in the middle of the studio. Mine didn’t even fit over my hips.

The show was that weekend, and I dropped out gracefully, citing a work schedule conflict that really, would just make iteasier if I didn’t dance after all. It was no trouble at all.

I haven’t danced since that summer. Not once. I’ve put on the clothes, the shoes, found an empty room and played the music for plies….and I just couldn’t.

I don’t call myself a dancer anymore. I talk about how I used to dance. I cut my hair short–I no longer needed it long enough to put up for a performance. Sometimes it overwhelms me. I can’t hear music without seeing choreography, and that’s been true for as long as I remember. But I no longer see myself performing the pieces. I’m too heavy to be lifted by a partner, you see. No one’s going to want to lift my fat ass.

I went home last summer and I worked at the same places. I went to the studio twice. I said hi, I hugged everyone. We socialized a bit, and I plead errands. I drove to the closest Starbucks and cried.

This year, I live by a ballet studio. I walk by it each day–it’s impossible to avoid on my way to school. The girls slip in, black leotards and elbows and knees and bobby pins. When I come home from my night classes, I can hear the music bouncing off the mirrors and wood floors.

I grieve.

For anyone concerned: I’m in treatment and therapy. Every Thursday, I get to talk and feel a little bit better. 
This also isn’t a story about what causes eating disorders. I had one before this story takes place. Ballet didn’t cause it. Comments about my body didn’t cause it. What they did do is make it so much harder to accept that it was okay to gain back the weight I had lost.

Monday Miscellany: Weasleys, Trolls, Regret

1. Rude doctors aren’t just annoying, they’re dangerous to patient health.

A substantial body of data attributes medical errors to interactions among hospital workers. Calls for improved patient safety gained traction from the late 1980s through the early ’90s, when Australian researchers reported a shocking find: the vast majority of medical errors, some 70‑80 per cent, are related to interactions within the health care team. In the early 2000s, a report by the Joint Commission that accredits health care organisations in the US studied adverse events over a 10‑year period and discovered that communication failure was the number-one cause for medication errors, delays in treatment, and surgeries at the wrong site. It was also the second leading cause of operative mishaps, postoperative events, and fatal falls.

The link between harsh words and medical errors was reignited in 2012 when Lucian Leape, professor of health policy at the Harvard School of Pub­lic Health, published a two-part series in Academic Medicine. ‘A substantial barrier to progress in patient safety is a dysfunctional culture rooted in widespread disrespect,’ Leape and his co-authors asserted. ‘Disrespect is a threat to patient safety because it inhibits collegiality and co-operation essential to teamwork, cuts off communication, undermines morale, and inhibits compliance with and implementation of new practices.’

2. On the myth of ‘girls don’t count’

They were real. They were real and they counted. They’re not shadows among the men I saw. But I wanted them to be. I wanted to avoid the consequences, to avoid thinking, to avoid wondering what it meant. These men, they told me what it meant: it meant nothing.

3. This appears to be an evidence-based eating disorder app. [!!!!!!] (I’ve downloaded but not had a chance to play too much.) There’s also a version for clinicians!

E.E. Buckels et al, "Trolls just want to have fun," Personality and Individual Differences, 2014.

E.E. Buckels et al, “Trolls just want to have fun,” Personality and Individual Differences, 2014.

4. Research into internet trolling: exactly as terrifying as reading the comments sections on your average news site would have you believe. Identified trolls scored high on psychopathy, sadism, narcissism (caveat: I’ve not been terribly impressed with previous measures of narcissism), Machiavellianism. You know, exactly the sorts of people you want clogging up the conversations.

I’m going to take a moment here to be thankful for first time comment moderation and you, thoughtful readers.

5. While I adored the Harry Potter books, I fell into a common pattern–I admired and identified with Hermione and saw Harry as the protagonist. Ron? The sidekick. This defense persuaded me that I’ve done a grievous wrong.

So what about Ron? He actually tends to a very clear gap in the ranks—providing a sense of family unity and street smarts. While Ron himself may often feel crushed by the burden of familial expectations, he extends the closeness of the Weasley clan to his friends both figuratively and literally. Harry and Hermione do both eventually become members of his family through marriage, but more importantly, Ron always treats them as blood. It’s there in every holiday Harry spends with the Weasley family, with that first sweater Harry receives on Christmas, and the unconditional love Harry and Hermione are both offered only because Ron’s family know how much these children mean to their son. I mean, he steals the family hover-car with the help of the twins because he’s worried that Harry is being held hostage by his abusive relatives. That knight parallel from their mega chess battle is looking more and more apt.

6. More of this, please.

Abortion opponents have been pushing the idea that abortion hurts women, that they feel regret. With 1.3 million women having an abortion every year, it’s likely that a certain number do feel regret. That’s the natural curve of any kind of big decision. What we want to know is: Who are those women and what do they need?

7. Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is a disorder of collagen, making connective tissue or skin weak. These functional-but-decorative finger splints are gorgeous and creative. Too often, assistive devices are designed to hide, instead of taking advantage of their position as eye-catching accessories.

[#FtBCon] Mental Illness & Society

I live in a large house with eleven people and occasionally questionable wifi. So, on the morning of Sunday’s FtBCon, I walked to campus to find a quiet room to do my panel.

Option 1: temporarily under reorganization, which seemed to involve moving desks around and dropping them for maximum noise.

Option 2: Mysteriously full. It was Sunday morning, fellow students! This is when you nurse that post-Saturday hangover, not take over campus in the wee hours of the morning.

Option 3: All of the electrical outlets, save one (under a water fountain, of all places) were non-functional. Occasional hordes of singing? shouting? who knows? students.

But! It was 11:02 at this point, and so we began! I was a bit frazzled to start, and occasionally impaired by students doing whatever the hell they were trying to do, but I enjoyed the conversation.

[preface: uptalking. kill it with fire. I’m working on tackling it, but hearing the rising intonation in my own voice still drives me insane.]


Monday Miscellany: Bobulating, Addiction, Empathy

1. I may be occasionally gruntled or hinged, but I’ve got nothing on Robby’s wordplay.

I love discombobulating words; and recombobulating them; really, bobulating them in all sorts of ways. Though especially in ways that make new poetries possible, or lead to new insights about the world and its value.

I’m very fond of the approach of restricting myself to common words (Up-Goer Five), and of other systematic approaches. But I think my favorite of all is the artificial language Anglish: English using only native roots.

2. Phillip Seymour Hoffman died, sparking a discussion about addiction and recovery. Aaron Sorkin writes a tribute, and Mind Hacks has a wonderful wrap up:

Addiction has a massive effect on people’s choices but not so much by altering the control of actions but by changing the value and consequences of those actions.

If that’s not clear, try thinking of it like this. You probably have full mechanical control over your speech: you can talk when you want and you can stay silent when you want. Most people would say you have free will to speak or to not speak.

But try not speaking for a month and see what the consequences are. Strained relationship? Lost job maybe? Friends who ditch you? You are free to choose your actions but you are not free to choose your outcomes.

For heroin addicts, the situation is similar. As well as the pleasurable effects of taking it, not taking heroin has strong, negative and painful effects.

This is usually thought of as the effects of physical withdrawal but these are not the whole story. These are certainly important, but withdrawing from junk is like suffering a bad case of flu. Hardly something that would prevent most people from saving their lives from falling apart.

 3. Writing about research is important–and it matters who you use as the baseline.

4. Filed under: Hunh: The Difference Between “Significant” and “Not Significant” is not Itself Statistically Significant

5. I tried to make the appropriate skeptical response face to this, but my facial muscles weren’t up to it: is long term psychoanalysis better than other psychotherapies?

6. This post on empathy and being a standardized patient…yes. If you read nothing else, read this.

Empathy isn’t just something that happens to us—a meteor shower of synapses firing across the brain—it’s also a choice we make: to pay attention, to extend ourselves. It’s made of exertion, that dowdier cousin of impulse. Sometimes we care for another because we know we should, or because it’s asked for, but this doesn’t make our caring hollow. The act of choosing simply means we’ve committed ourselves to a set of behaviors greater than the sum of our individual inclinations: I will listen to his sadness, even when I’m deep in my own. To say “going through the motions”—this isn’t reduction so much as acknowledgment of the effort—the labor, the motions, the dance—of getting inside another person’s state of heart or mind.

This confession of effort chafes against the notion that empathy should always arise unbidden, that genuine means the same thing as unwilled, that intentionality is the enemy of love. But I believe in intention and I believe in work. I believe in waking up in the middle of the night and packing our bags and leaving our worst selves for our better ones.

7. …and now that you’ve read one thing this week, you should read another: Scott’s response on seeming and being empathetic.

One of my mentors taught me the important technique of having a tissue box near me at all times. If someone gets into an emotional situation, I unobtrusively place the tissue box closer to them, which signals that I suspect they’re upset and I’m okay with it, without bludgeoning them over the head with the fact. Sometimes questions work: “Are you okay?”, “Is there anything I can do to help?”, “Do you want to talk about this more, or do you want to move on?”

And part of what I had to do was unlearn my habits from communication classes and empathy exams. In the exams your goal is always very virtue-ethics-y: to demonstrate that you are The Kind Of Doctor Who Feels Empathy. In real life, your goal is consequentialist: there’s a person in pain in front of you, and you need to figure out how to help them. In what I think is C. S. Lewis’ phrase, you need to get out of your own head and do what’s best for the patient. Which sometimes involves reference to the content of my own head – all psychiatrists know that the therapeutic relationship is one of the most powerful weapons in medicine – but only if the patient cares what’s in there.

8. This is the Mental Elf blog. Say what you will about needing food and shelter, but I think I could subsist on puns and mental health research.

Monday Miscellany: Allomancy, Bargh, Cherrypicking, Divorce

1. This week in results I can barely believe, gentrification appears to decrease the chances that longtime residents will leave. I’m slightly less skeptical given that the researcher himself didn’t anticipate getting these results–he expected the opposite. (h/t Scott)

Lance Freeman, the director of the Urban Planning program at Columbia University, says that’s what he believed was happening, too. He launched a study, first in Harlem and then nationally, calculating how many people were pushed out of their homes when wealthy people moved in.

“My intuition would be that people were being displaced,” Freeman explains, “so they’re going to be moving more quickly. I was really aiming to quantify how much displacement was occurring.”

Except that’s not what he found.

“To my surprise,” Freeman says, “it seemed to suggest that people in neighborhoods classified as gentrifying were moving less frequently.”

Freeman’s work found that low-income residents were no more likely to move out of their homes when a neighborhood gentrifies than when it doesn’t.

2. I used to think Allomancy was my favorite system of magic. I was so, so wrong. (Also, credit to Scott)

3. Mental health issues in hospitals and emergency rooms are a growing problem.

Nationally, more than 6.4 million visits to emergency rooms in 2010, or about 5 percent of total visits, involved patients whose primary diagnosis was a mental health condition or substance abuse. That is up 28 percent from just four years earlier, according to the latest figures available from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality in Rockville, Md.

By one federal estimate, spending by general hospitals to care for these patients is expected to nearly double to $38.5 billion in 2014, from $20.3 billion in 2003.

The problem has been building for decades as mental health systems have been largely decentralized, pushing oversight and responsibility for psychiatric care into overwhelmed communities and, often, to hospitals, like WakeMed.

In North Carolina, the problem is becoming particularly acute. A recent study said that the number of mental patients entering emergency rooms in the state was double the nation’s average in 2010.

More than 10 years after overhauling its own state mental health system, North Carolina is grappling with the consequences of a lost number of beds and a reduction in funding amid a growing outcry that the state’s mentally ill need more help.

4. So, uh, how does being a hitman work? Oh good, someone did quantitative research on that.

The results of their detailed search of British cases that matched this description in the period between 1974 and 2013 only turned up 27 contracted hits or attempted hits “committed by a total of 36 hitmen” (there was only a single “hitwoman”), but the researchers used the sample to tease out the details and profiles of typical killers-for-hire.

The main thrust of the paper, which will be published in the Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, is that hitmen do not operate with the drama, professionalism, or glamour that mob films and spy novels afford them. In actuality, the majority of killers select jejune settings for their crimes, have occasionally bumbling performances, and are often hired by contractors with lame motivations.

5. I once had a professor who offhandedly said “hah, he probably just cherrypicked whichever results looked pretty” when a student expressed shock at the results of some priming research from John Bargh.

(The example of priming I hear most often cited in popular conversation is that giving a stranger a cup of hot coffee, rather than iced, will make them think more positively of you.)

Not five minutes later, the professor praised Bargh for being the leading researcher in this growing new field. The ridiculousness of being known for squashing data into conclusions and being one of the most well known social psychologists didn’t seem to register.

That story makes this article investigating Bargh’s work even more compelling. (And because aaaah, what, Donellan has a blog?! </psychnerdery> I’m going to particularly note this in-blog link on Bargh as well.)

ETA: as I was scheduling this post, there was an update. It’s like a soap opera!*

6. Hunh. Discussing relationship movies decreased divorce rates. In retrospect, I suppose this makes sense. Instead of some awkward feeling counseling session, the movie couple can serve as a proxy. As long as everyone pretends they’re talking about Jack and Rose you can debate issues like differing family backgrounds or drawing one another naked. (link via Julia)

*Really, who can resist making bad shower puns? Not I.