Making Practical Use of Psychology

I was interested to hear on NPR other day that 2 cognitive psychologists were able to pinpoint the location of a sunken Australian ship from WWII.

They used the techniques of the discipline to examine the stories — previously discounted — of the eye witness accounts of nearly 300 Germans who were rescued from a German ship involved in the same skirmish. The stories that were told by the eyewitnesses were even more fuzzy than most eye witness accounts.

The psychologists were able to pin point the spot that had the most in common with all the different versions, and came within less than 3 miles of where the ship Sydney actually was found.

While this may not be all that helpful in finding other ships (unless there were lots of eye witnesses), it might be useful in figuring out where our politicians really stand. We could map out all of Rick Perry’s or Barak Obama’s comments about social security and see where the truth is buried!

I am not meaning to imply these guys have different positions just because of faulty memories, but the distortions of memories that we all have may provide the statistical noise that allows us to find what was the essence of what they were saying.

Hemispheric Brain Differences From a New Perspective

I wanted to share with my readers a memorable video by a brain researcher, Jill Bolte Taylor, who was able to use her own scientific skills to observe her experiences with a left hemisphere stroke, as it took over her mind, and as she recovered from it.

As a clinical psychologist who also likes to stay on the cutting edge, I am a big fan of TED, (technology, entertainment and design) in my opinion the most innovative group of people you can conference with. Ms. Taylor gave this gift of a lecture/video during a TED conference in the spring of 2008.

The right hemsiphere and left hemisphere have very different functions, as many of you know, and she likens the non-dominant right hemisphere to a parallel processor, concerned not only with creativity, and connections, but with the here and now.

The left hemisphere, the dominant one, she likens to a parallel processor, and it is involved with linear, methodical thinking and language. These are not new concepts, but she is able to vividly describe how they feel, as she experiences one side or the other as her stroke progressed.

Her most unique contribution was, however, was to note that the non-dominant hemisphere feels connected to the whole universe, and fails to distinguish us as separate from our surroundings. It is all about the present, and in that moment, we are all one.

The dominant hemisphere — in contrast –sees us as separate. It is focused on the past and future, and be seeing us as disconnected from our surroundings and the present, it narrows our sense of self.

Of course both sides are useful, for different kinds of tasks, but I think you may well enjoy, as much as I did, her vivid and inspiring descriptions of her stroke and recovery. I strongly recommend TED conferences to anyone who likes this video.

Girls and Boys Preference for Pink

In a recent child development study, on gender-based preferences, there is new evidence that girls develop a preference for pink at about age 2, and while their prefernce may fade somewhat by age 5, the aversion to pink by boys stays steady  between ages 2 and 5.

The study, by Lobue and Deloache in the Brittish Journal of Developmental Psychology , casts doubt on recent speculation that the preference has to do with an innate preference for louder colors, like pink. Indeed if there was such an innate preference we would likely see it reflected sooner.

In the study, toddlers indicated their preference by a paired choice of otherwise identical items, differing only in color. While this choice seems to overlap with a developmental phase that includes verbalization of some ability to distinguish genders verbally, it is still a long way from showing that these changes reflect acculturation.

The study did not look at a preference for blue, a preference that has not been shown to be very robust.

An interesting approach would be to control for language development, and look at the children of parents who themselves have differing views of gender equality, to see if these results are independent of these two factors.

DSM-5 Personality Will Be a Hybrid

In psychiatry, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuals (DSM) are a process in an evolving diagnostic system, that undergoes considerable transformation with each new version. DSM-5 is the version due out in the spring of 2012.

The DSM-5 committee looking at personality disorders, apparently heavily influenced this go-around by psychologists seemed to be headed towards a change from the current system, which has personality categories to a new system that looked instead at dimensions of personality.

While one could (and I did) quibble with the specifics of the dimensions, it seemed to be a step away from the system that earlier versions used, and which was widely regarded as deficient.

However when the committee reported out their recommendations people were confused, and so, in response to feedback from the powers that are currently in charge of DSM, they added six of the personality categories back in (with some minor modifications) and introduced the new dimensional model in an experimental new addition. The dimensions are intended to be used whenever one of the six diagnoses cannot be made, and instead (in the old system) there would be something akin to Personality Disorder, NOS.

This makes for an even more confusing hybrid of two conflicting models. It is not lost on this psychologist that the original six categories were, for the most part, an outgrowth of a system ny Ted Millon, which at least theoretically originated in a dimensional model as well.

In a future post I will attempt to clarify this new hybrid so we can all understand it better, and plan on my psychology knowledge website to introduce it more fully, well before next spring.

Published in: on September 5, 2011 at 5:44 pm  Leave a Comment  
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