Weekly Roundup 5-31-14

School: A powerful case for why drawing should be a part of every school’s curriculum. “As a primary visual language, essential for communication and expression, drawing is as important as the development of written and verbal skills. The need to understand the world through visual means would seem more acute than ever; images transcend the barriers of language, and enhance communications in an increasingly globalised world.”

Psychology: If you want to win an argument, you need to change your paradigm. Rather than view the argument as a war you need to win, try to keep sight of your goal. In essence, stop trying to win. To cite one statistic, “69% of married couples problems are perpetual. Leaving those arguments unfought does not end the relationship. Vicious must-win tactics do.”

Scholarship: A recent study by researchers at the University of British Columbia found that being ostracized at work is more harmful than being bullied. “[P]eople who claimed to have experienced ostracism were significantly more likely to report a degraded sense of workplace belonging and commitment, a stronger intention to quit their job, and a larger proportion of health problems.”


Weekly Roundup 5-12-13

Programming note: I’m pre-empting the usual WR format in order to focus on a sort of battle royale brewing between the fields of psychology and psychiatry at the moment. Spurred by the impending release of the DSM-5, “statements” are flying. Today I’m only posting on the controversy and discussion about DSM-5, which is coming out on May 22.

Psychology: The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) issues a statement in which it withdraws its support of the DSM-5.

Psychology: The head of the DSM task force, psychiatrist David Kupfer, responds to NIMH’s statement.

Psychology: The British Psychological Society is preparing a statement challenging the biomedical model upon which psychiatry is based. (The roots of this can be found in a 2011 statement issued by The British Psychological Society in which it detailed, point by point (a.k.a. proposed disorder by proposed disorder), its objections to the overall paradigm embedded in the development of the DSM-5).

Psychology: An “array” of books slated for release this month launch an all-out assault on the DSM.

Psychology: Dr. Thomas Insel, director of NIMH, says that the DSM is “out of touch” with science. He says that the DSM’s continuing focus on symptoms rather than causes of mental disorders has created “a scientific nightmare.”

Psychology: But, none of this really matters because psychiatrists won’t read the new DSM anyway.

Weekly Roundup 5-5-13

School: A pretty convincing argument about what’s wrong with American education, with suggestions for how to start fixing it.

And…a pretty convincing argument that American education is doing quite well, thank you very much, especially when compared with the rest of the world.

Psychology: Despite the recent focus on deaths resulting from mass shootings, exponentially more people die each year from suicide. In addition, suicide rates in the U.S. have spiked in recent years. Currently more people die annually from suicide than car accidents – a shocking statistic. When you look a little more closely at the numbers, men are by far the largest group to die by suicide; look even closer and you see it’s middle-aged men. Even worse, some experts think suicide is “vastly under-reported” (for a variety of reasons).

This subject has clearly touched a nerve, there are currently 968 comments on the NY Times article about the spike in suicide rates. I’ve read through many of them, and it’s quite hard; a lot of very sad stories are shared. But someone pointed out that if women were killing themselves at the rate men are, it would be a national emergency. I think that’s an excellent point. Is it time we sounded the alarm for this growing crisis affecting men’s mental health?!

Scholarship: I recently discovered Retraction Watch – a blog that tracks scientific articles that are either flagged for concern or have been retracted for a variety of reasons. It’s a little like reading a gossip column about scientists (check out the most retracted scientist of all time! Read about the scientist being investigated for embezzlement! This scientist threatened to sue Retraction Watch!) Be warned: once you start thumbing through the posts, it’s kind of hard to stop!

Weekly Roundup 4-28-13

School: There is a growing movement to view atypical modes of thinking and learning not as deficits, per se, but as variations on brain wiring that are often accompanied by “unusual skills and aptitudes.” Sociologist Judy Singer coined the term neurodiversity in the 1990s, and the concept is set to become the “rallying cry” of a new kind of civil rights movement. The field of special education in particular is taking note.

Psychology: When wrongfully convicted people are finally set free after serving lengthy prison sentences, they often face an uphill battle coping with the psychological, emotional and practical aspects of life “on the outside.” A paper published in 2008, titled “Coping With Innocence After Death Row” was recently made available to read on the blog Deafinprison.wordpress.com. It explores some of the difficult issues exonerated inmates face.

Scholarship: Thomas Jefferson once said, “As for what is not true, you will always find abundance in the newspapers.” What was true about untruth in 1806 remains true about untruth today. As if we needed another reminder, a recent post on Discover’s Collide-a-Scape blog calls out an uncritical media for covering pseudoscience as if it were real science.

Weekly Roundup 4-21-13

School: A follow-up editorial in The New York Times about their recent article discussing some of the problems with increased police presence in schools. The comments section to the editorial is worth a look, too. Some interesting input from teachers who share their experience (mostly positive) with police officers in their schools.

Psychology: A good overview of research and opinion regarding reading on paper vs. screens. As people discover the limitations of books-on-screens (one finding: it’s harder to navigate long, difficult texts in a digital format), research seems to confirm that comprehension is actually reduced when we read pixels instead of print.

Scholarship: Research published just this week explores the subtle cognitive effects of Tylenol. Apparently, acetaminophen blunts neurological pathways related both to physical pain and social distress. “When people feel overwhelmed with uncertainty in life or distressed by a lack of purpose, what they’re feeling may actually be painful distress … We think that Tylenol is blocking existential unease in the same way it prevents pain, because a similar neurological process is responsible for both types of distress.”

Weekly Roundup 4-14-13

School: It’s not clear that increased police presence in schools actually makes children safer. But it is clear that more police in schools leads to more children being pulled into the legal system for minor infractions that used to handled in the principal’s office. What was once a “ding” on a school record is now a misdemeanor charge that leads to arrests, criminal citations, and court proceedings.

Psychology: Traditionally, extroverts were presumed to good salespeople, while introverts were presumed to be terrible at sales. But a new study turns such assumptions on their head, and proposes a new personality type that excels above all others when it comes to sales: the ambivert. As it turns out, being enthusiastic but also able to listen well is the best predictor of sales prowess. And, as it also turns out, most people are ambiverts. Go figure!

Scholarship: A relatively brief blog post citing lots of research on how to break a bad habit and replace it with a desirable one. Citations galore!

Weekly Roundup 4-7-13

School: My alma mater has started a pilot mentoring program in Santa Fe, NM that pairs college students one-on-one with local elementary students who need help in math and reading. Way to go, St. John’s!

Psychology: In honor of World Autism Awareness Day (April 2), the publisher Wiley has opened access to selected journal articles on the topic of autism. The free articles are arranged by topic and intended audience, making them easily accessible to everyone.

Scholarship: Can you make yourself smarter by “training your brain” with computerized games of memory and repetition? In a meta-analysis of the best research on the effects of memory training from around the world, British scientists conclude that you cannot make yourself smarter by playing “brain games.” While the games may provide a temporary uptick in performance on the specific task being trained (e.g. memorization), this do not translate to broader skills or an increase in intelligence. In other words, brain games train you to get really good at brain games.

Weekly Roundup 3-31-13

School: A British education expert writes that children need to be given the opportunity to be bored. Constant stimulation – via video games, television, smartphones, etc. – hampers creativity and reflection. Dr. Teresa Belton says that instead of letting children find ways to occupy themselves with down time, our society has “developed an expectation of being constantly occupied and constantly stimulated.”

And here’s another psychologist who supports letting children get bored. She even offers suggestions for shifting responsibility for “entertainment” to the child in the form of a Boredom Jar full of ideas for activities to engage in – and none of them involve a screen!

Psychology: A wonderful profile in The New Yorker delves into the story of a teenager who had transgender surgery (female-to-male) at the age of sixteen. It’s a sensitive exploration of the experience of a transgendered child/teen, with attention to both the positive aspects of society’s recent openness to gender exploration as well as parental concerns about when it is appropriate to pursue permanent body modification.

The article itself is locked unless you are a New Yorker subscriber, but it’s worth knowing about in case you can access it at your local library. A shorter online piece accompanying the original article is openly available, however; it shares the author’s exploration of transgender video diaries posted on YouTube as she researched the topic.  

Scholarship: A recent study finds that the older and more experienced a therapist is, the more likely he or she is to cry in therapy. Of the 684 U.S. therapists polled online, 72% reported crying in therapy “in their role as therapist.” Women therapists were no more likely to report crying than their male counterparts (although they reported crying more often in “daily life”). For a more detailed breakdown and analysis of the data, read here.

Weekly Roundup 3-10-13

School: A new study indicates that when children exercise, it sparks hormonal changes that help reduce their cortisol levels, and, in turn, their stress. “In a school, a child who gets more activity on a daily basis…will respond better to everyday stressors like tests and social challenges.”

Psychology: “Psychologists have an aversion to some essential aspects of science that they perceive to be unexciting or less valuable. Historically, the discipline has done almost nothing to ensure the reliability of findings through the publication of repeat studies and negative (“null”) findings.”

A recent article in the UK Guardian suggests it’s time for psychologists to get their collective research house in order. The author even includes some shocking results from a 2011 study of nearly 6,000 American psychologists:

“The majority” admitted to:

  • …being guilty of selectively reporting studies that “worked” (67%)
  • …failing to report all dependent measures (74%)
  • …continuing to collect data to reach a significant result (71%)
  • …reporting unexpected findings as expected (54%)
  • …and excluding data post-hoc (58%).

“Remarkably, 35% indicated that they had doubts about the integrity of their own research on at least one occasion and 1.7% admitted to having faked their data.”


Scholarship: Once again, Vaughan Bell delivers the goods with an excellent post titled “The History of the Birth of Neuroculture.”

Weekly Roundup 3-3-13

School: An NPR story explores the use of technology in schools. Schools across the country are spending billions on technology initiatives, despite a lack of evidence that technology furthers education in any measurable way: “In some districts where schools have invested heavily in computers and e-readers, test scores have remained the same or fallen.” Without a specific plan for how the technology will be used, the benefits of its use are not exactly clear. Put another way: if your school’s plan is just to put an iPad in every child’s hands, then you’d be better off investing in spiral notebooks.

Psychology: We all know neuroscience is the white-hot topic of the moment. And while genuine scientific progress towards understanding the human brain has been made in recent years, there is also the pitfall of “folk neuroscience.” Vaughan Bell’s recent article for The Observer talks about how Folk Neuroscience has led to lots of popular misconceptions about the brain. I’m going to coin my own phrase for this phenomenon and call it Urban Brain Myths. Bell cites examples such as:

  • The “left-brain” is rational, the “right-brain” is creative
  • Dopamine is a pleasure chemical
  • Low serotonin causes depression [this one he attributes solely to pharmaceutical companies’ advertising in the 80’s and 90’s promoting Prozac]
  • Video games, TV violence, porn or any other social spectre of the moment “rewires the brain”
  • We have no control over our brain but we can control our mind

Scholarship: A new study describes the most effective learning techniques in a school setting. Specifically, 10 learning techniques are discussed, as well as their “relative utility.” The techniques were designed to be easy to use by the average student, thus easily adopted. The original paper is dense, and at 54 pages I doubt many of us will be clamoring for a personal copy. But here is a nice visual summary of the data, as well as a description of each technique (neat graphics, too!).