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.


Science in a Post-Bush World

As a psychologist who is also a scientist/researcher I have been impatient with my Government and it’s contempt for science in the past 8 years. While some of the areas in which science was attcked effected me, like you, on a personal level (eg. global warming) there also was a professional impact, whether through draconian budget priorities or the corportaization of the FDA and other relevannt regulating bodies. The Follwing article is relevant reading:

What Science in a Post Bush World Will Look Like

After eight years of brawls with the Bush administration on issues including climate change, stem cell research and health care, scientists across the country aren’t just hungry for change they can believe in, but science they can trust. The underlying issue that has sparked outrage is Bush’s politicization of the scientific discipline.

read more | digg story

Published in: on November 7, 2008 at 12:49 pm  Leave a Comment  
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What Secret is Sarah Palin Hiding?

Palin Hiding?

Palin Hiding?

Two Vice Presidential Candidates in modern history were poorly vetted. We know that little effort went into checking out Sarah Palin, but what about when Senator Thomas Eagleton was the candidate for McGovern? Do you remember what OOPS moment caused him to be dropped from the ticket? It was when they found out that he had been treated for depression with Electroshock therapy.

Is it possible that Sarah is hiding some other deep dark medical secret? She is the only candidate I remember ever getting by with releasing absolutely NO RECORDS. In her only interview with NBC she finally agreed to do so, but her handlers quickly scotched the deal. What don’t they want us to see?  As a psychologist I cannot make even an armchair diagnosis of Ms. Palin, but let me just say it would not surprise me if some of her excesses on the stump reflected some kind of issue that she has yet to fully address.  If the rumors on the net (that she has depression) are true, that certainly would not even come close to disqualifying her, and that would provide an opportunity to put forth a discussion of mental health in our public discourse.  Could she have a Bipolar Disorder? One symptom we sometimes see in that diagnosis is wild excessive spending. Should she be exempt from scutiny?

More likely the secret medical problem, that is so worth hiding (at least to her handlers) is something more mundane like cosmetic surgery for her beauty pageant. Several prominent female politicans have remodeled their public face. But whatever the secret, it’s not likely to be an empty file filled only with sonograms. That could have been handled on a slow news night with a brief release and some baby pictures. There would be no reason to not follow through on her promise. Instead one is left to wonder if she might have some problems in common with Cindy McCain and Rush Limbaugh. We need to find out what she brings to the table, if she wants to work for us.

What she does say is carefully worded. She told Brian Williams of NBC that she was happy, healthy, had 5 kids and had “never been seroiusly hurt.” Notice that she never denied any past problems or illnesses.  She does not talk about whether she is currently on any medications. Let’s get this out.

Optimism Wins- Psychologists’ Analysis of the Candidates

Research has shown that 80% of the time since 1900, the most optimistic candidate wins the presidential race in the USA. So it is interesting to note that researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have analyzed the current race. Researchers at the Penn Positive Psychology Center, founded my Dr. Martin E. P. Selgman, looked at a sample of speeches.

Both Barack Obama and John McCain were noted to be more optimistic than their VP choices, and Biden was the least optimistic of the 4 candidates. Obama and McCain were essentially tied in their optimism. The analysis however was dated: It was based on the convention acceptance speeches and the Saddleback forum. More recent speeches have not been analyzed formally, but it might well be that the more optimitic debator (you judge) will have a leg up, if prior research is applicable. I am grateful to Laura Freberg for drawing my attention to this study at her blog.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Market

As a psychologist I thought in these tough times I could offer:

Five Stress Busting Techniques to Deal with Market Volatilty

1. Find something compelling to take your mind off it. The wild swings of the market and steep slides can be absorbing, but if you think about it, there are many equally compelling things in your life to dwell on instead. What consumed your attention and time a month ago? Switch chanels in your mind to that other interest.
2. Figure out something you can do and then do it. You don’t have any control over market swings but there are things you could do. If you are worried about the value of your home you could plant an attractive tree to improve curb appeal. And if stocks are your concern, find the stock in your portfolio you don’t feel comfortable with and sell it.
3. Take Care of Your Family. While its unlikely that the recession would progress to a depression, it might feel a little safer at home if you buy some extra canned goods and bottled water, just in case things did go south fast.
4. Exercize. Now is a good time to put on your running shoes or cut the sweets out of your diet. You may not be able to control your finances as much as you like, but you do have a lot of impact on how your body feels and looks.
5. Learn some stress Reduction Techniques. Meditation and prayer can be helpful if you do that sort of thing, but there are plenty of alternatives. An online search will lead you to many sites that have breathing exercizes, and they boil down to take several very deep slow breaths, paying attention to making your breathing full and rhythmic. Doing this can help reset your nervous system from an anxious fearful stance to a resting place from which it is much easier to make good choices.

Mental Health Parity Now in Sight

Recently, mingled in with the 700 billion bailout, something good happened. Legislation passed that put mental health care on a par with other illnesses. What that means is still somewhat unclear, (the implimentaton rules will be written by the next president likely) but it boils down to this.

One year from when it passed, in October of 2009, health insurers will now have to, when they offer mental health, offer it on the same terms as other medical issues. That includes the same deductibles and copays. That also means the same lifetime limits (no caps). 

But it does not assure all insurers will offer mental health. That’s a fight that will be fought in the wider health care debate bound to be decided with the next president. It also is not applicable to businesses with less than 50 people. Individually insured individuals are not covered. Some sights, such as, seem puzzled whether it will make a difference.

For now I for one am heartened. It does begin the deconstruction of the stygmatization, and gets a seat at the table now for the health care debate. Its important that the mental health community assertively make sure we have a prominent voice when those discussions begin in Washington.

McCain’s Wife Disrespects Troops

Cindy McCain in a recent interview, made some statements that will send a chill down the spine of at least 1/3 of the military family members of Soldiers stationed in Iraq. When discussing the types of symptoms which these soldiers have, she said “The guys who had the trouble were the 18-year-olds who were drafted…” and went on to say John did not have these type of problems because “he was trained.”

Implied in that statement is that the 1/3 of the Iraq veterans who suffer from PTSD do so because of poor training or preparation. As a psychologist who has often treated PTSD this is an alarming statement for me to hear. PTSD does not come because of weakness of the victim or inadequate training. IED’s and rocket propelled granades do not discriminate as to whether or not you are a graduate of Annapolis or a raw recruit. If your buddy loses a leg or his life while sitting next to you, it’s not likely you have had adequate training to deal with that.

McCain has gotten “D”s and “F”s from most veteran’s groups for his failure to support adequate health care or to get behind funding for PTSD, or other psychological treatments. But Cindy does not have to worry because, in her world view, her son is safe, since he is not a raw recruit. Let’s hope for her sake she never has to learn the truth about PTSD.

Published in: on October 10, 2008 at 2:10 am  Comments (2)  
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Time for the Media to Step To the Plate



Now that members of the press can no longer cover the news safely, maybe they will stop rolling over and stand up for America. The press let Bush give away all the rest of the bill of rights, but now that mob rule threatens free speech and freedom of the press, and reporters as well as candidates are being threatened as traitors and terrorists, the news media has got to start being responsible.

First and foremost, talking heads, stop covering that hatefilled swill. Especially in the case of Sarah Palin, who refuses to give a press conference, you the media, do not owe her a second of coverage. If you do send someone to cover her (and hopefully you will not have to provide body armor) you do not need to report her hate speech. I agree with Andrew Sullivan  who maintained that Ms. Palin does not deserve a moment of coverage (Fox news of course will show her 24/7) until she agrees to discuss her views with the Press. But that is just the beginning.

I call additionally for a general boycott of all negative ads, of any candidate, unless they are judged by the editorial boards of your newsroom to be both 1. Truthful and 2. Not scary or hate inducing.  I think that any and all ads should be allowed to run, but not freely promoted by the talking heads. If you must review them, review the facts without the dangerous music and menacing images and hateful words. 

And let’s see some interviews with psychologists and others who can shed some light on mob mentality, discussing group phenomena like groupthink and obedience research, as part of the reason that things are goin so awry. Main Stream Media, its your turn to step up to the plate and bring out the best in America and call foul on the worst as it rears its ugly head.

Mental Health Parity Hidden in Bailout

The week of October 5-11, 2008 is Mental Illness Awareness Week, and Congress just passed the mental health parity bill that has been languishing there since Norm Coleman replaced Paul Wellstone as the Senator from Minnesota.

What this provision will mean (but of course devil is in the details) is that insurers will now have to treat mental illnesses on a par with other medical problems and can no longer deny coverage just because they dont want to spend the money. I am glad that at least one good thing came out of the bailout. Maybe they were worried about all the fatcats jumping from several stories up.

Women Who Blog are Not Neurotic

A recent post by Kitsune discussed blogger personality styles.  He noted research that revealed that all bloggers are more open to new ideas and creative, but some also may be  more neurotic. The observation that female bloggers score high on “neuroticism” needs a closer look.

As a psychologist, blogger, published test author and digger, I am fairly qualified to dig a little deeper. The study uses the five factor model, and two of the three rersearchers who did the cited study are females. The term neuroticism is “old school” in psychology and fell into disfavor many years ago, partly because of gender bias issues.  That doesn’t mean the research cited didn’t mean anything, it just says that we need to be careful how we interpret it.

The dimension in question really gets at a tendency to be open to emotions, especially the negative ones. I can believe that female bloggers may be more emotionally available than me (and most of the other male bloggers), and possibly even more vulnerable. But the use of the label “neurotic” has long been used to diminish women and keep them down as second class citizens. Women in general and especially female bloggers are not only first class, but more often than not, they are classier, at least than the male bloggers I have met.

One of the ways women bloggers have a leg up on men is that they are more open to their emotions. Rather than call this “neurotic” why not, instead say women are more interpersonally sensitive?