Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Two New Books on Psychology History

I'm wrapping up reading The Undoing Project right now, which details the friendship and professional collaboration of Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky, two giants in the field of decision-making. Today, I discovered two new books to add to my reading list:
Coincidentally, here is today's Cyanide & Happiness:

Reading List for the Day

Here are my open tabs at the moment:

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Why Same-Sex Marriage Laws Matter

According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults. Those rates are even higher among individuals who identify as LGBT. But a recent study out of Johns Hopkins University found that legislation to legalize same-sex marriage is connected to a 14% drop in suicide attempts among LGBT teens:
Researchers say suicide attempts among high school students fell by an average of 7% following the implementation of the legislation. The impact was especially significant among gay, lesbian and bisexual teenagers, for whom the passing of same-sex marriage laws was linked to a 14% drop in suicide attempts.

Julia Raifman, co-author of the research from Johns Hopkins University, said she hoped the research would help to draw wider attention to the scale of the issue among sexual minorities. “I would hope that policymakers and the public would consider the potential health implications of laws and policies affecting LGBT rights,” she added.
The study uses data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, a large survey conducted every 2 years by the CDC. 32 of the 47 states included in the study have same-sex marriage policies, so the researchers were able to look at trends across time (before and after the legislation passed) as well as between states that have legalized same-sex marriage and states that haven't. A secondary analysis was conducted looking specifically at sexual minorities. They identified a respondent as a sexual minority if he or she responded as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or not sure, when asked “Which of the following best describes you?”

The study looked specifically at suicide attempts because that information is captured in the data; a participant who succeeded obviously can't respond to a survey, but the study still provides important data that demonstrates why this legislation is so important. Even among teenagers who didn't identify as a sexual minority on the survey, suicide rates were lower in states with legal same-sex marriage. The teenage years are a difficult time, where people are still trying to figure out who they are. Even if they aren't struggling with their sexual identity, it's a still a time of struggle with greater identity, and legislation that demonstrates acceptance would probably help any teenager struggling with his/her identity to feel validated. Based on their study, they estimate a decrease of 134,000 suicide attempts by adolescents each year.

The main issue with the study is an issue with any studies using survey data: response bias. There could be bias in who responds to the survey as well as how honest they are in their responses. If anything, the survey will likely underestimate both the proportion of teenagers identifying as a sexual minority and the proportion of teenagers who have attempted suicide; not everyone will feel comfortable sharing that information, regardless of whether the survey is anonymous.

The full-text of the study is available at the first link above.

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Truth, The Whole Truth, and Nothing But the Truth

Today has been dubbed the "Day of Facts," and people and organizations around the world are participating:
A relevant fact is a powerful thing. In that spirit, Friday, Feb. 17, has been dubbed the “Day of Facts” and 270 cultural institutions in the United States and 13 other countries have signed up to use Twitter, Facebook and other social media to share important facts.

“The idea is for libraries and museums and archives across the country and around the world to post mission-related content as a way of reassuring the public that, as institutions, we remain trusted sources of knowledge,” said Alex Teller, director of communications at the Newberry Library. “It reflects recognition among a number of different institutions that while our missions haven’t changed, they’ve taken on a new significance in an era of alternative facts.”
Here's one of the contributions from Robert Martin, emeritus curator of the Integrative Research Center at the Field Museum:


Obviously, spreading misinformation is bad, and we should always strive to only share things that are true, but as we know, that doesn't always happen. The problem is that, even people with the best of intentions, who repeat the misinformation in order to correct it and offer the truth, can still misinform people. People will often remember things they read, but not necessarily the source, and occasionally, if they read something that repeats a myth (stating explicitly that it's a myth), people will sometimes just remember that portion. So they walk away from an article intended to dispel that myth with a stronger belief that it is true. This results in misinformation continuing to be spread. I know I've done the same thing even here on this blog, and it pains me to think anyone would walk away from something I wrote with only the falsehood. So here's a list of psychology myths rewritten as facts:
  • You use 100% of your brain, and depend on both sides equally.
  • Memory is incredibly malleable, even being changed by the present. Every memory you have is likely inaccurate in small or big ways.
  • Déjà vu is a perfectly normal, non-clairvoyant experience.
  • There is little support that people have unique "learning styles."
  • Mental illness is likely to be caused by a combination of environmental factors and physiological factors.
  • The most subliminal messages can do is affect your mood, and there is a tenuous connection between mood and behavior.
  • Classical music might make your baby a music snob, but not a genius.
  • Lie detector tests measure physiological arousal only. The results have to be interpreted by a person, and people are really bad at guessing whether a person is lying.
  • You're more likely to be attracted to people who are similar to you.
  • Increases in the prevalence of autism are likely due to a better understanding of the disorder, resulting in better diagnosis (and less misdiagnosis). We're also more aware of it now, so it could just feel more prevalent than it used to be.
For more of today's activities, check out the Day of Facts hashtag on Twitter.

Goodreads for Film-Lovers

I love movies. I own a lot of movies - probably one of the first things people notice about me when visiting my place. And as a scientist, I love collecting data and making lists, even if it's all completely self-interested. I've been using Goodreads for a while to log what I read, get recommendations, and see what my friends are reading. And if you've been wondering why there isn't a similar site for movie lovers, you should definitely check out Letterboxd.

You can use the site to log, rate, and review the movies you watch. And much like Goodreads, it's a social networking site, so you can connect with friends and see what they're watching. You can also create lists on any movie topic. After a couple of conversations this week, I'm tempted to make a list of movies to watch when you're not in the mood to see any love story elements or happy endings (yes, I've been there).

You can check out my Letterboxd page here - and if you join the site, feel free to add me! I definitely don't have all the films I've watched logged, but I try to make a little time every once in a while to go in and add movies I've seen. It's a work in progress.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Movie Review: Split

Last night, I went to see Split, M. Night Shyamanlan's new movie. Shyamalan seems to be like cilantro: you either love him or you hate him. And his newest contribution is probably no exception. In fact, I had many mixed feelings about the movie.


The basic premise is this: Kevin is a young man with dissociative identity disorder (DID, previously known as split personality or multiple personality disorder, though these are both antiquated terms). He has 23 confirmed personalities, and there is a potential 24th personality alluded to by the other personalities. At the start of the movie, Claire, Marcia, and Casey are leaving Claire's birthday party and are kidnapped by Dennis, one of Kevin's personalities. He locks them in a room, and though Claire insists they have to fight with every ounce of strength they have, Casey instead says they should watch and wait for an opening. We see flashbacks to Casey's childhood that help show us her approach from what she learned hunting with her father and uncle.

Kevin is also receiving treatment from Dr. Fletcher and sets up emergency appointments with her via email. Dr. Fletcher senses something is seriously wrong in Kevin's life, brought on by a triggering event at Kevin's work, but is met at the appointments by Barry, another of Kevin's personalities (the one who is presumably in control of Kevin and the other personalities) who enjoys fashion design. He spends the appointments instead talking about his latest designs, rather than whatever is bothering him. Dr. Fletcher tries to use her pre-existing rapport with Barry to get at the truth. We also learn that she believes DID is more than simply a mental disorder; it is a way to overcome physical disabilities, and "unlock the potential of the human mind."

In the meantime, Claire, Marcia, and Casey meet 2 of Kevin's other personalities, Patricia, a controlling English woman and Hedwig, a 9-year-old boy who tells them they are going to be sacrificed to the Beast, Kevin's as-yet unseen 24th personality. Casey forms a bond with Hedwig, that she exploits to help them escape. Unfortunately, Hedwig is suspicious and very dependent on Patricia and Dennis, so this exploitation doesn't get Casey very far. Claire and Marcia make fruitless escape attempts that instead result in them being locked up separately from Casey and each other.

My reactions to the movie are multi-faceted, and really align with my different roles:

As a writer, my response is that Shyamalan is a good storyteller, but as a writer first and filmmaker second, he has a tendency to tell us rather than showing us. He tries to overcome this by telling us then showing us, but it is not always as organic as it should be. For instance, he tells us about a gift one of Kevin's personalities is of capable of then shows us for no real purpose in the story other than, "Oh, hey, look what he can do!" That is, his storytelling is primarily dialogue driven and secondarily visually driven, when as a filmmaker, it should really be the other way around. Shyamalan also continues to use his favorite literary concept playbook of red herring and Chekhov's gun.

As a Shyamalan fan specifically, I enjoyed much of the movie, and really liked the tie-in to another work. I won't say more because


But if you're a Shyamalan fan, you'll probably enjoy the movie.

As a psychologist... oh, boy, where to begin. My main issue with the movie is the connection he draws between mental illness and the supernatural. For millennia, people with genuine mental illness were exorcised, accused of witchcraft and conspiring with the devil, rather than being treated. This was my primary complaint about a recent horror movie, The Taking of Deborah Logan. While Split switches the relationship - rather than the supernatural causing the mental illness, it is the mental illness causing the supernatural - the connection is still problematic.

I also take issue with the fact that Kevin, a victim of horrific child abuse (which is the primary cause of DID), becomes the antagonist. There are so many better examples of the changes survival of such abuse brings about in a person that does not result in them being the bad guy. And to be fair, Casey is an example of a victim who becomes stronger as a result. (And yes, the movie passes the Bechdel test.)

So the movie, while trying to be somewhat accurate in its portrayal of DID (but also taking the concept out for a spin) ends up depending on stereotypes and myths. Dr. Fletcher's comment on "unlocking potential" of the human brain had me bracing myself for a "we only use 10% of our brain" myth eye-roll. She fortunately didn't use this myth, but I feel like it was creeping under the surface.

Overall, if you're a Shyamalan fan, I'd recommend checking the movie out. If you're a fellow psychologist (or at least knowledgeable about psychology), you'll probably have many of the same reactions, so be forewarned.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Be the Very Model of a Modern Academy Awards Show

FiveThirtyEight seems to be having a lot of fun modeling and predicting what's going to happen with this year's Academy Awards. And according to their data, the most contested (and unclear) is the race for Best Actor:
The vaunted Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has begun voting on who wins what at the Oscars, and if one race is still slightly clouded in mystery, it’s the one for best actor. This contest — among Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”), Denzel Washington (“Fences”), Ryan Gosling (“La La Land”), Andrew Garfield (“Hacksaw Ridge”) and Viggo Mortensen (“Captain Fantastic”) — has been an odd one to watch.

Now we get to the real competition: Washington, who plays the lead in a film he directed, and Affleck, the gruff Bostonian who utterly transformed in the film “Manchester by the Sea” to play a dour New Englander. Washington received the top male acting honor from the Screen Actors Guild, and Affleck won just about everything else.

In 18 of the past 22 years, the actor who won at SAG went on to win the Oscar. The best actor SAG award is one of the most historically predictive shows in our database of 25 years of critic and guild prizes.
So Denzel won the most predictive award, but Affleck's cumulative wins give him better odds. The other issue, though, is whether people will vote for Affleck given recent sexual harassment allegations:
This contest is such a wild card partly because we have no idea whether Affleck’s PR counteroffensive is convincing academy members to consider his performance over allegations that he sexually harassed women who worked on his 2010 film “I’m Still Here.”

Washington’s SAG win could be interpreted as a sign that the academy’s largest branch is not behind Affleck. It could also be interpreted as a sign that Washington is way more famous than Affleck, had never won a SAG Award and was overdue, and was in a very good film. Affleck’s win at the BAFTAs could be interpreted as a sign that the insiders who vote on the Oscars are comfortable voting for him. It could also be interpreted as a sign that Affleck can win, but only when he’s not competing against Denzel.
Here's where the odds stand now:


Not to politicize this, but does the whole "race between candidates where one is alleged to have done some awful things to women and the other is unbelievably overqualified to win" seem familiar? Just me?