i. Fire works a little differently than people imagine. A great ask-science comment. See also AugustusFink-nottle’s comment in the same thread.
iii. I was very conflicted about whether to link to this because I haven’t actually spent any time looking at it myself so I don’t know if it’s any good, but according to somebody (?) who linked to it on SSC the people behind this stuff have academic backgrounds in evolutionary biology, which is something at least (whether you think this is a good thing or not will probably depend greatly on your opinion of evolutionary biologists, but I’ve definitely learned a lot more about human mating patterns, partner interaction patterns, etc. from evolutionary biologists than I have from personal experience, so I’m probably in the ‘they-sometimes-have-interesting-ideas-about-these-topics-and-those-ideas-may-not-be-terrible’-camp). I figure these guys are much more application-oriented than were some of the previous sources I’ve read on related topics, such as e.g. Kappeler et al. I add the link mostly so that if I in five years time have a stroke that obliterates most of my decision-making skills, causing me to decide that entering the dating market might be a good idea, I’ll have some idea where it might make sense to start.
“Are stereotypes accurate or inaccurate? We summarize evidence that stereotype accuracy is one of the largest and most replicable findings in social psychology. We address controversies in this literature, including the long-standing and continuing but unjustified emphasis on stereotype inaccuracy, how to define and assess stereotype accuracy, and whether stereotypic (vs. individuating) information can be used rationally in person perception. We conclude with suggestions for building theory and for future directions of stereotype (in)accuracy research.”
A few quotes from the paper:
“Demographic stereotypes are accurate. Research has consistently shown moderate to high levels of correspondence accuracy for demographic (e.g., race/ethnicity, gender) stereotypes […]. Nearly all accuracy correlations for consensual stereotypes about race/ethnicity and gender exceed .50 (compared to only 5% of social psychological findings; Richard, Bond, & Stokes-Zoota, 2003).[…] Rather than being based in cultural myths, the shared component of stereotypes is often highly accurate. This pattern cannot be easily explained by motivational or social-constructionist theories of stereotypes and probably reflects a “wisdom of crowds” effect […] personal stereotypes are also quite accurate, with correspondence accuracy for roughly half exceeding r =.50.”
“We found 34 published studies of racial-, ethnic-, and gender-stereotype accuracy. Although not every study examined discrepancy scores, when they did, a plurality or majority of all consensual stereotype judgments were accurate. […] In these 34 studies, when stereotypes were inaccurate, there was more evidence of underestimating than overestimating actual demographic group differences […] Research assessing the accuracy of miscellaneous other stereotypes (e.g., about occupations, college majors, sororities, etc.) has generally found accuracy levels comparable to those for demographic stereotypes”
“A common claim […] is that even though many stereotypes accurately capture group means, they are still not accurate because group means cannot describe every individual group member. […] If people were rational, they would use stereotypes to judge individual targets when they lack information about targets’ unique personal characteristics (i.e., individuating information), when the stereotype itself is highly diagnostic (i.e., highly informative regarding the judgment), and when available individuating information is ambiguous or incompletely useful. People’s judgments robustly conform to rational predictions. In the rare situations in which a stereotype is highly diagnostic, people rely on it (e.g., Crawford, Jussim, Madon, Cain, & Stevens, 2011). When highly diagnostic individuating information is available, people overwhelmingly rely on it (Kunda & Thagard, 1996; effect size averaging r = .70). Stereotype biases average no higher than r = .10 ( Jussim, 2012) but reach r = .25 in the absence of individuating information (Kunda & Thagard, 1996). The more diagnostic individuating information people have, the less they stereotype (Crawford et al., 2011; Krueger & Rothbart, 1988). Thus, people do not indiscriminately apply their stereotypes to all individual members of stereotyped groups.” (Funder incidentally talked about this stuff as well in his book Personality Judgment).
One thing worth mentioning in the context of stereotypes is that if you look at stuff like crime data – which sadly not many people do – and you stratify based on stuff like country of origin, then the sub-group differences you observe tend to be very large. Some of the differences you observe between subgroups are not in the order of something like 10%, which is probably the sort of difference which could easily be ignored without major consequences; some subgroup differences can easily be in the order of one or two orders of magnitude. The differences are in some contexts so large as to basically make it downright idiotic to assume there are no differences – it doesn’t make sense, it’s frankly a stupid thing to do. To give an example, in Germany the probability that a random person, about whom you know nothing, has been a suspect in a thievery case is 22% if that random person happens to be of Algerian extraction, whereas it’s only 0,27% if you’re dealing with an immigrant from China. Roughly one in 13 of those Algerians have also been involved in a case of ‘body (bodily?) harm’, which is the case for less than one in 400 of the Chinese immigrants.
v. Assessing Immigrant Integration in Sweden after the May 2013 Riots. Some data from the article:
“Today, about one-fifth of Sweden’s population has an immigrant background, defined as those who were either born abroad or born in Sweden to two immigrant parents. The foreign born comprised 15.4 percent of the Swedish population in 2012, up from 11.3 percent in 2000 and 9.2 percent in 1990 […] Of the estimated 331,975 asylum applicants registered in EU countries in 2012, 43,865 (or 13 percent) were in Sweden. […] More than half of these applications were from Syrians, Somalis, Afghanis, Serbians, and Eritreans. […] One town of about 80,000 people, Södertälje, since the mid-2000s has taken in more Iraqi refugees than the United States and Canada combined.”
“Coupled with […] macroeconomic changes, the largely humanitarian nature of immigrant arrivals since the 1970s has posed challenges of labor market integration for Sweden, as refugees often arrive with low levels of education and transferable skills […] high unemployment rates have disproportionately affected immigrant communities in Sweden. In 2009-10, Sweden had the highest gap between native and immigrant employment rates among OECD countries. Approximately 63 percent of immigrants were employed compared to 76 percent of the native-born population. This 13 percentage-point gap is significantly greater than the OECD average […] Explanations for the gap include less work experience and domestic formal qualifications such as language skills among immigrants […] Among recent immigrants, defined as those who have been in the country for less than five years, the employment rate differed from that of the native born by more than 27 percentage points. In 2011, the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter reported that 35 percent of the unemployed registered at the Swedish Public Employment Service were foreign born, up from 22 percent in 2005.”
“As immigrant populations have grown, Sweden has experienced a persistent level of segregation — among the highest in Western Europe. In 2008, 60 percent of native Swedes lived in areas where the majority of the population was also Swedish, and 20 percent lived in areas that were virtually 100 percent Swedish. In contrast, 20 percent of Sweden’s foreign born lived in areas where more than 40 percent of the population was also foreign born.”
vi. Book recommendations. Or rather, author recommendations. A while back I asked ‘the people of SSC’ if they knew of any fiction authors I hadn’t read yet which were both funny and easy to read. I got a lot of good suggestions, and the roughly 20 Dick Francis novels I’ve read during the fall I’ve read as a consequence of that thread.
“On the basis of an original survey among native Christians and Muslims of Turkish and Moroccan origin in Germany, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and Sweden, this paper investigates four research questions comparing native Christians to Muslim immigrants: (1) the extent of religious fundamentalism; (2) its socio-economic determinants; (3) whether it can be distinguished from other indicators of religiosity; and (4) its relationship to hostility towards out-groups (homosexuals, Jews, the West, and Muslims). The results indicate that religious fundamentalist attitudes are much more widespread among Sunnite Muslims than among native Christians, even after controlling for the different demographic and socio-economic compositions of these groups. […] Fundamentalist believers […] show very high levels of out-group hostility, especially among Muslims.”
ix. Portal: Dinosaurs. It would have been so incredibly awesome to have had access to this kind of stuff back when I was a child. The portal includes links to articles with names like ‘Bone Wars‘ – what’s not to like? Again, awesome!
x. “you can’t determine if something is truly random from observations alone. You can only determine if something is not truly random.” (link) An important insight well expressed.
xi. Chessprogramming. If you’re interested in having a look at how chess programs work, this is a neat resource. The wiki contains lots of links with information on specific sub-topics of interest. Also chess-related: The World Championship match between Carlsen and Karjakin has started. To the extent that I’ll be following the live coverage, I’ll be following Svidler et al.’s coverage on chess24. Robin van Kampen and Eric Hansen – both 2600+ elo GMs – did quite well yesterday, in my opinion.
xii. Justified by More Than Logos Alone (Razib Khan).
“Very few are Roman Catholic because they have read Aquinas’ Five Ways. Rather, they are Roman Catholic, in order of necessity, because God aligns with their deep intuitions, basic cognitive needs in terms of cosmological coherency, and because the church serves as an avenue for socialization and repetitive ritual which binds individuals to the greater whole. People do not believe in Catholicism as often as they are born Catholics, and the Catholic religion is rather well fitted to a range of predispositions to the typical human.”
i. A very long but entertaining chess stream by Peter Svidler was recently uploaded on the Chess24 youtube account – go watch it here, if you like that kind of stuff. The fact that it’s five hours long is a reason to rejoice, not a reason to think that it’s ‘too long to be watchable’ – watch it in segments…
People interested in chess might also be interested to know that Magnus Carlsen has made an account on the ICC on which he has played, which was a result of his recent participation in the ICC Open 2016 (link). A requirement for participation in the tournament was that people had to know whom they were playing against (so there would be no ultra-strong GMs playing using anonymous accounts in the finals – they could use accounts with strange names, but people had to know whom they were playing), so now we know that Magnus Carlsen has played under the nick ‘stoptryharding’ on the ICC. Carlsen did not win the tournament as he lost to Grischuk in the semi-finals. Some very strong players were incidentally kicked out in the qualifiers, including Nepomniachtchi, the current #5 in the world on the FIDE live blitz ratings.
ii. A lecture:
iii. Below I have added some new words I’ve encountered, most of them in books I’ve read (I have not spent much time on vocabulary.com recently). I’m sure if I were to look all of them up on vocabulary.com some (many?) of them would not be ‘new’ to me, but that’s not going to stop me from including them here (I included the word ‘inculcate’ below for a reason…). Do take note of the spelling of some of these words – some of them are tricky ones included in Bryson’s Dictionary of Troublesome Words: A Writer’s Guide to Getting It Right, which people often get wrong for one reason or another:
Conurbation, epizootic, equable, circumvallation, contravallation, exiguous, forbear, louche, vituperative, thitherto, congeries, inculcate, obtrude, palter, idiolect, hortatory, enthalpy (see also wiki, or Khan Academy), trove, composograph, indite, mugginess, apodosis, protasis, invidious, inveigle, inflorescence, kith, anatopism, laudation, luxuriant, maleficence, misogamy (I did not know this was a word, and I’ll definitely try to remember it/that it is…), obsolescent, delible, overweening, parlay (this word probably does not mean what you think it means…), perspicacity, perspicuity, temblor, precipitous, quinquennial, razzmatazz, turpitude, vicissitude, vitriform.
iv. Some quotes from this excellent book review, by Razib Khan:
“relatively old-fashioned anti-religious sentiments […] are socially acceptable among American Left-liberals so long as their targets are white Christians (“punching up”) but more “problematic” and perhaps even “Islamophobic” when the invective is hurled at Muslim “people of color” (all Muslims here being tacitly racialized as nonwhite). […] Muslims, as marginalized people, are now considered part of a broader coalition on the progressive Left. […] most Left-liberals who might fall back on the term Islamophobia, don’t actually take Islam, or religion generally, seriously. This explains the rapid and strident recourse toward a racial analogy for Islamic identity, as that is a framework that modern Left-liberals and progressives have internalized and mastered. The problem with this is that Islam is not a racial or ethnic identity, it is a set of beliefs and practices. Being a Muslim is not about being who you are in a passive sense, but it is a proactive expression of a set of ideas about the world and your behavior within the world. This category error renders much of Left-liberal and progressive analysis of Islam superficial, and likely wrong.”
“To get a genuine understanding of a topic as broad and boundless as Islam one needs to both set aside emotional considerations, as Ben Affleck can not, and dig deeply into the richer and more complex empirical texture, which Sam Harris has not.”
“One of the most obnoxious memes in my opinion during the Obama era has been the popularization of the maxim that “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” It is smug and self-assured in its presentation. […] too often it becomes an excuse for lazy thinking and shallow prognostication. […] Modern Western liberals have a particular idea of what a religion is, and so naturally know that Islam is in many ways just like United Methodism, except with a hijab and iconoclasm. But a Western liberalism that does not take cultural and religious difference seriously is not serious, and yet all too often it is what we have on offer. […] On both the American Left and Right there is a tendency to not even attempt to understand Islam. Rather, stylized models are preferred which lead to conclusions which are already arrived at.”
“It’s fine to be embarrassed by reality. But you still need to face up to reality. Where Hamid, Harris, and I all start is the fact that the vast majority of the world’s Muslims do not hold views on social issues that are aligned with the Muslim friends of Hollywood actors. […] Before the Green Revolution I told people to expect there to be a Islamic revival, as 86 percent of Egyptians polled agree with the killing of apostates. This is not a comfortable fact for me, as I am technically an apostate.* But it is a fact. Progressives who exhibit a hopefulness about human nature, and confuse majoritarian democracy with liberalism and individual rights, often don’t want to confront these facts. […] Their polar opposites are convinced anti-Muslims who don’t need any survey data, because they know that Muslims have particular views a priori by virtue of them being Muslims. […] There is a glass half-full/half-empty aspect to the Turkish data. 95 percent of Turks do not believe apostates should be killed. This is not surprising, I know many Turkish atheists personally. But, 5 percent is not a reassuring fraction as someone who is personally an apostate. The ideal, and frankly only acceptable, proportion is basically 0 percent.”
“Harris would give a simple explanation for why Islam sanctions the death penalty for apostates. To be reductive and hyperbolic, his perspective seems to be that Islam is a totalitarian cult, and its views are quite explicit in the Quran and the Hadith. Harris is correct here, and the views of the majority of Muslims in Egypt (and many other Muslim nations) has support in Islamic law. The consensus historical tradition is that apostates are subject to the death penalty. […] the very idea of accepting atheists is taboo in most Arab countries”.
“Christianity which Christians hold to be fundamental and constitutive of their religion would have seemed exotic and alien even to St. Paul. Similarly, there is a much smaller body of work which makes the same case for Islam.
A précis of this line of thinking is that non-Muslim sources do not make it clear that there was in fact a coherent new religion which burst forth out of south-central Arabia in the 7th century. Rather, many aspects of Islam’s 7th century were myths which developed over time, initially during the Umayyad period, but which eventually crystallized and matured into orthodoxy under the Abbasids, over a century after the death of Muhammad. This model holds that the Arab conquests were actually Arab conquests, not Muslim ones, and that a predominantly nominally Syrian Christian group of Arab tribes eventually developed a new religion to justify their status within the empire which they built, and to maintain their roles within it. The mawali (convert) revolution under the Abbasids in the latter half of the 8th century transformed a fundamentally Arab ethnic sect, into a universal religion. […] The debate about the historical Jesus only emerged when the public space was secularized enough so that such discussions would not elicit violent hostility from the populace or sanction form the authorities. [T]he fact is that the debate about the historical Muhammad is positively dangerous and thankless. That is not necessarily because there is that much more known about Muhammad than Jesus, it is because post-Christian society allows for an interrogation of Christian beliefs which Islamic society does not allow for in relation to Islam’s founding narratives.”
“When it comes to understanding religion you need to start with psychology. In particular, cognitive psychology. This feeds into the field of evolutionary anthropology in relation to the study of religion. Probably the best introduction to this field is Scott Atran’s dense In Gods We Trust: The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion. Another representative work is Theological Incorrectness: Why Religious People Believe What They Shouldn’t. This area of scholarship purports to explain why religion is ubiquitous, and, why as a phenomenon it tends to exhibit a particular distribution of characteristics.
What cognitive psychology suggests is that there is a strong disjunction between the verbal scripts that people give in terms of what they say they believe, and the internal Gestalt mental models which seem to actually be operative in terms of informing how they truly conceptualize the world. […] Muslims may aver that their god is omniscient and omnipresent, but their narrative stories in response to life circumstances seem to imply that their believe god may not see or know all things at all moments.
The deep problem here is understood [by] religious professionals: they’ve made their religion too complex for common people to understand without their intermediation. In fact, I would argue that theologians themselves don’t really understand what they’re talking about. To some extent this is a feature, not a bug. If the God of Abraham is transformed into an almost incomprehensible being, then religious professionals will have perpetual work as interpreters. […] even today most Muslims can not read the Quran. Most Muslims do not speak Arabic. […] The point isn’t to understand, the point is that they are the Word of God, in the abstract. […] The power of the Quran is that the Word of God is presumably potent. Comprehension is secondary to the command.”
“the majority of the book […] is focused on political and social facts in the Islamic world today. […] That is the best thing about Islamic Exceptionalism, it will put more facts in front of people who are fact-starved, and theory rich. That’s good.”
“the term ‘fundamentalist’ in the context of islam isn’t very informative.” (from the comments).
Below I have added some (very) superficially related links of my own, most of them ‘data-related’ (in general I’d say that I usually find ‘raw data’ more interesting than ‘big ideas’):
*My short review of Theological Correctness, one of the books Razib mentions.
*An analysis of Danish data conducted by the Rockwool Foundation found that for family-reunificated spouses/relatives etc. to fugitives, 22 % were employed after having lived in Denmark for five years (the family-reunificated individuals, that is, not the fugitives themselves). Only one in three of the family-reunificated individuals had managed to find a job after having stayed here for fifteen years. The employment rate of family-reunificated to immigrants is 49 % for people who have been in the country for 5 years, and the number is below 60 % after 15 years. In Denmark, the employment rate of immigrants from non-Western countries was 47,7 % in November 2013, compared to 73,8 % for people of (…’supposedly’, see also my comments and observations here) Danish origin, according to numbers from Statistics Denmark (link). When you look at the economic performance of the people with fugitive status themselves, 34 % are employed after 5 years, but that number is almost unchanged a decade later – only 37 % are employed after they’ve stayed in Denmark for 15 years.
Things of course sometimes look even worse at the local level than these numbers reflect, because those averages are, well, averages; for example of the 244 fugitives and family-reunificated who had arrived in the Danish Elsinore Municipality within the last three years, exactly 5 of them were in full-time employment.
*Rotherham child sexual exploitation scandal (“The report estimated that 1,400 children had been sexually abused in the town between 1997 and 2013, predominantly by gangs of British-Pakistani Muslim men […] Because most of the perpetrators were of Pakistani heritage, several council staff described themselves as being nervous about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist […] It was reported in June 2015 that about 300 suspects had been identified.”)
*A memorial service for the terrorist and murderer Omar El-Hussein who went on a shooting rampage in Copenhagen last year (link) gathered 1500 people, and 600-700 people also participated at the funeral (Danish link).
*Pew asked muslims in various large countries whether they thought ‘Suicide Bombing of Civilian Targets to Defend Islam [can] be Justified?’ More than a third of French muslims think that it can, either ‘often/sometimes’ (16 %) or ‘rarely’ (19 %). Roughly a fourth of British muslims think so as well (15 % often/sometimes, 9 % rarely). Of course in countries like Jordan, Nigeria, and Egypt the proportion of people who do not reply ‘never’ is above 50 %. In such contexts people often like to focus on what the majorities think, but I found it interesting to note that in only 2 of 11 countries (Germany – 7 %, & the US – 8 %) queried was it less than 10 % of muslims who thought suicide bombings were not either ‘often’ or ‘sometimes’ justified. Those numbers are some years old. Newer numbers (from non-Western countries only, unfortunately) tell us that e.g. fewer than two out of five Egyptians (38%) and fewer than three out of five (58%) Turks would answer ‘never’ when asked this question just a couple of years ago, in 2014.
*A few non-data related observations here towards the end. I do think Razib is right that cognitive psychology is a good starting point if you want to ‘understand religion’, but a more general point I would make is that there are many different analytical approaches to these sorts of topics which one might employ, and I think it’s important that one does not privilege any single analytical framework over the others (just to be clear, I’m not saying that Razib’s doing this); different approaches may yield different insights, perhaps at different analytical levels, and combining different approaches is likely to be very useful in order to get ‘the bigger picture’, or at least to not overlook important details. ‘History’, broadly defined, may provide one part of the explanatory model, cognitive psychology another part, mathematical anthropology (e.g. stuff like this) probably also has a role to play, etc., etc.. Survey data, economic figures, scientific literatures on a wide variety of topics like trust, norms, migration analysis, and conflict studies, e.g. those dealing with civil wars, may all help elucidate important questions of interest, if not by adding relevant data then by providing additional methodological approaches/scaffoldings which might be fruitfully employed to make sense of the data that is available.
vi. The Level and Nature of Autistic Intelligence. Autistics may be smarter than people have been led to believe:
“Autistics are presumed to be characterized by cognitive impairment, and their cognitive strengths (e.g., in Block Design performance) are frequently interpreted as low-level by-products of high-level deficits, not as direct manifestations of intelligence. Recent attempts to identify the neuroanatomical and neurofunctional signature of autism have been positioned on this universal, but untested, assumption. We therefore assessed a broad sample of 38 autistic children on the preeminent test of fluid intelligence, Raven’s Progressive Matrices. Their scores were, on average, 30 percentile points, and in some cases more than 70 percentile points, higher than their scores on the Wechsler scales of intelligence. Typically developing control children showed no such discrepancy, and a similar contrast was observed when a sample of autistic adults was compared with a sample of nonautistic adults. We conclude that intelligence has been underestimated in autistics.”
I recall that back when I was diagnosed I was subjected to a battery of different cognitive tests of various kinds, and a few of those tests I recall thinking were very difficult, compared to how difficult they somehow ‘ought to be’ – it was like ‘this should be an easy task for someone who has the mental hardware to solve this type of problem, but I don’t seem to have that piece of hardware; I have no idea how to manipulate these objects in my head so that I might answer that question’. This was an at least somewhat unfamiliar feeling to me in a testing context, and I definitely did not have this experience when doing the Mensa admissions test later on, which was based on Raven’s matrices. Despite the fact that all IQ tests are supposed to measure pretty much the same thing I do not find it hard to believe that there are some details here which may complicate matters a bit in specific contexts, e.g. for people whose brains may not be structured quite the same way ‘ordinary brains’ are (to put it very bluntly). But of course this is just one study and a few personal impressions – more research is needed, etc. (Even though the effect size is huge.)
Slightly related to the above is also this link – I must admit that I find the title question quite interesting. I find it very difficult to picture characters featuring in books I’m reading in my mind, and so usually when I read books I don’t form any sort of coherent mental image of what the character looks like. It doesn’t matter to me, I don’t care. I have no idea if this is how other people read (fiction) books, or if they actually imagine what the characters look like more or less continuously while those characters are described doing the things they might be doing; to me it would be just incredibly taxing to keep even a simplified mental model of the physical attributes of a character in my mind for even a minute. I can recall specific traits like left-handedness and similar without much difficulty if I think the trait might have relevance to the plot, which has helped me while reading e.g. Agatha Christie novels before, but actively imagining what people look like in my mind I just find very difficult. I find it weird to think that some people might do something like that almost automatically, without thinking about it.
vii. Computer Science Resources. I recently shared the link with a friend, but of course she was already aware of the existence of this resource. Some people reading along here may not be, so I’ll include the link here. It has a lot of stuff.
“The purpose of the book is to bring together a number of nonverbal behavior researchers to discuss current themes and research. The book is meant for senior undergraduates, graduates, academics and nonverbal communication researchers, as well as for everyone else who wants to interpret and understand better nonverbal behavior and the states of their interlocutors. The texts in this book show the results of contemporary research and theorization of the nature, functions, and modalities of nonverbal behavior in different areas of life.”
From the introduction of the book. The book has two parts; a theoretical part and an applied part. The first half of the book covers theoretical research and as I also noted in my goodreads review I found this part of the book quite weak, but a few of the chapters in the second half of the book, dealing with applied research into these topics, had some interesting stuff (‘If you decide to have a go at this book I’d probably be tempted to recommend only reading the first four chapters of part 2’ – from my goodreads review). My coverage of the book in this post will skip a lot of chapters; I’ll focus on the stuff I found interesting and just ignore the rest. The four chapters mentioned above cover ‘Nonverbal Firsts: When Nonverbal Cues Are the Impetus of Relational and Personal Change in Romantic Relationships’ (chapter 7), ‘Beyond Facial Expression: Spatial Distance as a Factor in the Communication of Discrete Emotions’ (chapter 8), Theoretical Foundation for Emotion-Based Strategies in Political Campaigns (chapter 9), and ‘The Impact of Nonverbal Behavior in the Job Interview’ (chapter 10).
I would note that I actually emailed a few quotes from the last of these chapters to a good friend of mine who recently had a job interview coming up, which is perhaps a good illustration of how potentially useful I consider some of the content covered here to be – this is worth keeping in mind when interpreting the two star (and ‘much closer to one star than three’) goodreads rating. It should however also be recalled that the authors of chapter 8, which is incidentally far from the worst chapter in the book, claim/think the so-called McClintock effect is real, based on outdated research. They write in the chapter that: “Martha McClintock and colleagues reported evidence that the menstrual cycles of co-habiting women can become synchronized, a phenomenon termed the McClintock effect (McClintock, 1971; Hummer & McClintock, 2009). Although controversial, the reality of the phenomenon is now generally accepted (Wysocki & Preti, 2004).” Compare with wikipedia: “A 2013 review of menstrual synchrony concluded that menstrual synchrony is an erroneous theory. […] Harris and Vitzthum concluded, “In light of the lack of empirical evidence for MS [menstrual synchrony] sensu stricto, it seems there should be more widespread doubt than acceptance of this hypothesis””.
Below I have added some quotes from the book, as well as a few observations of my own. I would note that I have read and written about stuff related to the content covered in this post before here on the blog, so if you’re curious to learn more after having read this post, you might consider following some of those links.
“[N]onverbal behaviors have the potential to be transformative. That is, they may act as triggers for a change in a relationship, perception, behavior, or affect. In particular, […] when a nonverbal behavior occurs or is noticed for the first time, these behavioral “firsts” can have big implications, positive or negative, for people in relationships. […] the authors find that touch, eye behavior, and personal space are the cues reported most commonly as triggers for change and which help bring about the start of a romantic relationship, perception of how much or little another cares, relational problems, instant break-ups, and indicators of another’s untrustworthiness.”
“Baxter and Bullis (1986) found that the first time their participants kissed or had sex with a partner altered the degree of commitment that they had to the relationship. In this way, the first appearance of certain nonverbal cues or acts may be important triggers of change within a relationship. […] In our respondents’ reports, we read many accounts of how a single behavior, used for what the respondent recalled was the first time, instantly changed the relationship or the perception of the relationship between the two individuals. There was some variety in the behaviors, but most typically they were handholding, prolonged gaze, kisses, closer proximity, and “changes” in touch behavior. In most of the situations described by our participants, the behavior was received positively and started a romantic relationship. In a few instances, however, it indicated to the respondent that they or another person had romantic feelings that were unreciprocated. These latter situations reportedly resulted in either the termination of the existing relationship or awkwardness in the relationship. […] the same actions – kisses, close personal distance – may have very different outcomes, depending on the reciprocity of the behaviors and feelings. […] a rather common claim about touch is that it “is a signal in the communication process that, above all other communication channels, most directly and immediately escalates the balance of intimacy” […]. Perhaps above all other nonverbal cues, touch has been shown to facilitate dramatic “surge[s] in affective involvement” […] nonverbal cues, although sometimes subtle and easy to miss, may actually be “big” actions in relational change.”
“[P]articipants often commented on the lack of a behavior (e.g., no eye contact, ignoring behavior [which presumably was determined by lack of gaze, not responding, and the like], and not talking [silence]). The themes were consistent whether they were discussing their own or their partner’s behaviors. […] Avoidance of eye contact, silence, and “ignoring,” rather than immediate, engaged, intimate, behavior was common in this group of entries and marked the beginning (or the first signal) of the relationship’s decline.”
The research they presented in the chapter was disappointing to me in a way, due to the methodology applied. Basically they asked people (…well, psychology undergrads…) which non-verbal behaviours ‘stood out’ to them, and then they interpreted the behaviours based on these accounts. Recall biases are a potentially serious problem, and if you ask people to explain relationship changes as a function of nonverbal behaviours then you’ll probably get answers indicating that nonverbal behaviours are important, regardless of whether they really are or not. But on a related note it seems hard to do ‘naturalistic/observational’ research into these topics (‘follow people around with video cameras and try to spot which nonverbal behaviours on display might be associated with relationship formation?’), and even if the self-reports are not wholly reliable they may provide some information. A big problem in the context of research into these things is of course that you can’t really directly observe relationships and relationship formation; these things are to a very large extent nothing but mental constructs in the minds of the people involved, meaning that you probably to some extent sort of have to rely on things like self-report variables. This makes everything quite a bit more ‘fuzzy’ than it otherwise would be. Note that the fact that ‘relationships are mental constructs existing only in the minds of the people involved’ does not to me seem to necessarily indicate that asking people what they think caused a relationship to change will yield reliable answers; people may not know why they feel the way they do about a given individual or why their feelings changed at some point, and/but if you give them a specific reason/variable to consider they’ll be likely to overestimate the importance of said variable. If they’d asked the same people if specific verbal exchanges (‘first time he said ‘I love you’?’) had changed how they felt about that individual, they might have got different answers.
When you consider how ‘squishy’ this stuff is, I think other approaches besides the ones considered by the authors might also be useful to consider if you want to get at the extent to which nonverbal behaviour is important; for example I feel tempted to conclude that the poor relationship outcomes of autistics (“In terms of outcome studies to date, very few adults with ASD have been reported to have successful, long-term romantic relationships […] Between 10 and 30 % of adults in recent studies […] had experience in a romantic relationship.” – link), a population including people who often have great difficulties interpreting nonverbal behaviours and cues, might provide stronger evidence in favour of the importance of nonverbal behaviours in relationship contexts than the study in question provides. Although I’d certainly agree that important confounders are present in this context (…as well), making it very difficult to take the poor relationship outcomes of this group as solely a consequence of nonverbal behavioural aspects.
“[In political contexts,] candidates and issues that emphasize freedom (e.g., fewer restrictions and external constraints on behavior and opportunities, less limitation on social and economic mobility) are more likely to appeal to men than to women. […] political messages or tactics that repeatedly produce anxious feelings (e.g., bewilderment, distress, pain, insecurity, fear) in voters are likely to magnify the influence of voter emotions on voter political judgments. Additional related effects are expected to include greater polarization of competing groups and simplification of decision rules and belief systems (e.g., increased single-issue voting, greater reliance on candidates’ physical features and communication styles than on candidates’ ideological positions).”
“Research shows that there is a positive relation between [job] applicant positive nonverbal behavior and recruiter evaluation. Positive nonverbal behavior can be defined as immediacy behavior which elicits proximity and liking in the interaction partner as for example a high level of eye contact, smiling, confirmative nodding, hand gestures, and variation in pitch and speaking rate […]. Applicants who used more immediacy behavior (i.e., eye contact, smiling, body orientation toward interviewer, less personal distance) were perceived as being more suitable for the job, more competent, more motivated, and more successful than applicants using less immediacy behavior […] Forbes and Jackson (1980) showed that selected applicants maintained more direct eye contact, smiled more, and nodded more during the job interview than applicants who were not selected for the job. Moreover, applicants who maintained a high amount of eye contact with the recruiter, who showed a high energy level, were affective, modulated their voice, and spoke fluently during the job interview were more likely to be invited for a second job interview than applicants revealing less of those nonverbal behaviors”.
“In terms of applicant characteristics, applicants high in communication apprehension who used more nonverbal avoidance behavior (i.e., less talking, less eye contact, less fluent talking) were less effective in mock job interviews and were perceived as less suitable for the job than applicants with low levels of communication apprehension […] Overall, there are only few studies that did not show an effect between applicant nonverbal immediacy behavior and a favorable hiring decision […] and meta-analyses reveal a clear net effect showing that the more the applicant uses nonverbal immediacy behavior, the better the interview outcome for the applicant (i.e., better chances of getting hired or of being evaluated positively) […] Applicant nonverbal behavior seems to have a remarkable impact on the job interview outcome. The more immediacy (or positive) nonverbal behavior the applicant shows during the job interview, the more positive recruiter evaluations of the applicant are.”
“the question can be asked how accurate recruiters are when inferring applicant characteristics. For many personality characteristics, they seem to use the “wrong,” meaning non-diagnostic, cues. […] many more nonverbal cues are used to infer applicant’s personality traits than are cues actually revealing these traits. […] recruiters seem to use the nonverbal cues that are not diagnostic to assess applicants – in a sense they use the wrong cues – and [yet] are still accurate in assessing applicants’ personality. It remains therefore largely unknown how the recruiters make those correct inferences.”
How accurate the inferences are is to some extent an open question (though it’s probably safe to say that interviews provide less relevant information than many people think – including the authors of that chapter: “[interviews] provide very little unique information about a candidate and show little incremental validity over established psychometric tests (of ability and personality) in the prediction of future job performance […] All sorts of extraneous factors like the perfume a person wears at interview have been shown to influence ratings.” – link). A related observation is that assessment accuracy definitely depends upon the dimension of the variable of interest; some personality characteristics are much easier to observe/deduce than are others, as noted e.g. in Funder’s (‘some behaviors are more dependent on the situation than are others’) book (‘traits like extraversion and agreeableness are the ones most likely to become visible in overt social behavior’).
“Dermatologists have an important role in the early diagnosis of eating disorders since skin signs are, at times, the only easily detectable symptoms of hidden anorexia and bulimia nervosa. Forty cutaneous signs have been recognized”
The full title of the book is Eating Disorders and the Skin, but there’s a lot of stuff about eating disorders in general in this book as well, and I figured I’d mostly focus on the ‘general stuff’ in this post. Here’s my goodreads review of the book, which I gave 3 stars.
Here are the DSM-IV-TR diagnostic criteria for anorexia nervosa:
“1. Refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height (e.g., weight loss leading to maintenance of body weight less than 85% of that expected, or failure to make expected weight gain during period of growth, leading to body weight less than 85% of that expected).
2. Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat even though underweight.
3. Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight.
4.4. In postmenarcheal females, amenorrhea, i.e., the absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles.”
Interestingly, aside from anorexia [-AN] and bulimia [-BN] (diagnostic criteria here), there’s also a big category called ED-NOS – Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. That’s for cases that don’t really fit into the standard criteria for specific eating disorders; they note than an example of this type could be a female fitting all diagnostic criteria for AN except that she has regular menses. It is perhaps worth mentioning here that surprisingly enough (…to me), menstrual irregularities are not limited to cases of AN, thus: “In almost 50% of bulimic patients, menstrual irregularities, such as oligomenorrhea or amenorrhea, take place”. They note in the book that there’s been some concern about the validity of the ED-NOS category, which makes up almost 60% of patients with an eating disorder. Eating disorders are much more common in females than in males (“Males are generally reported to account for 5–10% of anorectics and 10–15% of bulimics identified in the general population”), and particular subgroups mentioned to be at high risk are athletes, models and dancers. It’s noted in the book that most epidemiological studies are conducted in high-risk settings, whereas epidemiological studies assessing risk in the general population are somewhat rarer. One problem complicating matters a little in terms of estimating risk is that an eating disorder cannot be diagnosed through a self-report questionnaire; you need a structured or semi-structured interview to make a diagnosis, which makes things more expensive. As in other contexts one way to get around this issue, at least to some extent, is to employ multi-step screening protocols – in this case a two-step procedure in which individuals at high risk are identified at the first step through inexpensive means, and these individuals are then later assessed more carefully in the second step, employing more accurate (and expensive) methods.
They note that in Western countries, point prevalence of AN in female adolescent (the highest risk sub-group) is estimated at 0.2-1% of the population, whereas the prevalence studies on bulimia nervosa indicates that this eating disorder is somewhat more common, with the majority of studies finding prevalences of 1.5-5%; do recall again that most studies as already mentioned look at high-risk subgroups, so total population prevalence is likely to be lower than this. They observe in the book that general-practice studies find that the incidence of anorexia nervosa is less than one in ten-thousand per year (8 per 100,000 per year); so full-blown AN certainly is likely quite rare in low-risk populations.
On lifetime risk, the book notes that:
“Most of the epidemiological studies on ED [eating disorders] have evaluated the prevalence of full syndromes of both AN [anorexia nervosa] and BN [bulimia nervosa]. The few studies that have evaluated partial or subclinical manifestations of EDs in young females, however, found lifetime prevalence rates of 5–12% for atypical AN and 1–4.8% for atypical BN and up to 14.6% in adolescent samples”.
A review of epidemiological studies concluded that there’s no evidence of either a secular increase in AN or BN over time; to the extent that the number of people with diagnosed BN has increased over time, changes in diagnostic and referral practices likely account for this. On a related topic it is noted in the book that “It is a common idea among clinicians that early-onset cases of anorexia nervosa (AN) are increasing, but few data in the literature are available to demonstrate this trend.”
AN most commonly present among females at the age of 15-19, whereas BN presents a little later, most commonly at the age of 20-24. But eating disorders are not limited to teenagers and young adults: “Even if anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa occur characteristically in females during adolescence and young adulthood, there have been case reports of illness beginning after the age of 25 and even after the menopause, and some authors suggest that the rates of eating disorders in older patients may be increasing . Clinical impression suggests that the late-onset cases present with more depressive features than the adolescent counterpart. […] dieting is considered one of the most salient precipitating factors.”
Self-report metrics can only help you so much when you’re trying to assess risk; a major problem in this context is that denial of illness is a very common feature in these patient populations (so you certainly can’t just ask people if their relationship with food/exercise etc. might be unhealthy…): “typically, [the] course [of an eating disorder] is characterized by a high fluidity between the diagnostic classes; furthermore, the patient often denies even to himself the psychiatric nature of the disease” (recall also that “denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight” is included in the diagnostic criteria). The book covers a lot of symptoms which relate to low body weight – like cold intolerance, bradycardia (slow heart rate), acrocyanosis (bluish discoloration of the hands and feet, caused by slow circulation), systemic hypotension (low blood pressure), lots of skin signs (I haven’t decided yet how much detail I’ll go into, so let’s leave it at that now) – or e.g. to purging behaviours (throat and tooth pain due to vomiting and enamel erosion), but it would go much too far to discuss all these in detail here. One to me interesting aspect of the coverage was that whereas BMI is a useful sign, it’s not itself a diagnostic criterion; the authors note that a BMI below 18.5 is considered pathological, but when listing main signs of anorexia nervosa the most important diagnostic sign (or at least the first one listed) is a BMI below 17.5; I assume part of the discussion surrounding the validity of the ED-NOS category probably relate to individuals who’re in this ‘border area’; they likely have some symptoms due to low body mass (like e.g. cold intolerance), but they don’t have full-blown AN (there are a lot of things that can go wrong when you have low body mass – there are a lot of symptoms described in this book!). It’s also important to note that very different symptom patterns can be present at similar levels of BMI, as the severity of symptoms also relate to how fast body mass decreases – the body is actually capable of adjusting quite well to lower energy intake states (in the short run at least), and so “if weight loss is gradual, it is possible to maintain, even for a long time, an apparent metabolic equilibrium.”
Anorexics have high mortality rates: “From a meta-analysis of 119 studies involving 5,590 patients, Steinhausen reported a crude mortality rate of 5% which exceeded 9% in a followup of 10 years.” Remember when thinking about those estimates that most of the people in these studies were likely young women – these numbers are high, and the authors note that anorexia nervosa “represents the major cause of death of young women in the age between 12 and 25 years.”
Most deaths are due to ventricular arrhythmia; the book goes into some detail about how anorexia affects the cardiovascular system, but I won’t discuss this in detail. An important observation is that: “Cardiac findings tend to disappear with weight recovery.” I assume this comment relates mostly to findings like QTc prolongation, QTc dispersion, and mitral valve prolapse, all of which are found in anorexics, whereas I’d be surprised if cardiac abnormalities related to direct damage to the heart muscle resolve themselves after weight gain, but the book does not go into details on this topic, except in the sense that it is noted that heart failure is uncommon in anorexics. Among those who survive their illness, osteoporosis is a major irreversible long-term problem. People with higher body mass tend to have a higher bone mineral density and thus a lower risk of osteoporosis (unless they get type 2 diabetes, in which case the situation is, well, complicated), so perhaps it’s not really surprising that women with AN and very low body mass index tend to develop osteoporosis. They certainly do:
“Osteopenia and osteoporosis represent one of the most relevant and potentially not reversible complications of eating disorders. This complication is particularly severe when eating disorders have an early onset […] Bone loss is an early effect of the disease, already present after 6–12 months […] In untreated patients, bone loss ranges from 4% up to 10% per year […]. In case of recovery, the progressive loss of BMD [bone mineral density] stops, but in most cases, a normal bone mass is not restored .”
It’s noted that bone loss is due to both hormonal and metabolic factors; estrogen plays a role, and “BMD loss in AN is more rapid and severe than in other hypoestrogenic conditions”. Despite this observation weight gain is considered the primary treatment modality of osteoporosis in this context (i.e., not estrogen therapy), and research using estrogen therapy to try to boost bone mineral density in anorexics who did not also gain weight has not been successful.
A to me interesting aspect of the coverage which I could not help but discuss here is how eating disorders relate to diabetes; the book has a few remarks on this topic:
“The concurrence of an eating disorder with insulin-dependent diabetes has been outlined by several researchers: especially bulimia nervosa and disorder not otherwise specified (EDNOS) are reported to be significantly higher in females with type 1 diabetes […] In case of comorbidity, ED onset followed the diagnosis of IDDM in 70% of the patients . Specific aspects of diabetes and its management could, in fact, potentially increase a particular susceptibility to the development of an eating disorder: weight gain, associated with initiation of insulin treatment and dietary restraint, might, in fact, trigger body dissatisfaction and the drive for thinness with consequent weight control behaviors ranging from healthy to very unhealthy behaviors […] insulin omission [is] a common weight loss behavior in girls with IDDM and eating disorder […] APA Guidelines 2006 suggest that insulin omission should be considered a specific type of purging behavior in the next DSM revision”.
I don’t know if this suggested change has been implemented at this point, but it would make a lot of sense. To people who don’t know what this ‘insulin omission’ they talk about is all about, the short version is that if you’re a type 1 diabetic in need of regular insulin injections, if you don’t take enough insulin you lose weight and you can eat pretty much whatever you like without gaining weight; which is of course an unfortunate though likely very attractive option for young women to have. The downside of engaging in systematic insulin omission behaviour of that kind is that you’ll likely go blind from your diabetes and/or die of kidney failure or DKA if you do that for an extended period of time.
“A commonplace argument in contemporary writing on trust is that we would all be better off if we were all more trusting, and therefore we should all trust more […] Current writings commonly focus on trust as somehow the relevant variable in explaining differences across cases of successful cooperation. Typically, however, the crucial variable is the trustworthiness of those who are to be trusted or relied upon. […] It is not trust per se, but trusting the right people that makes for successful relationships and happiness.”
“If we wish to understand the role of trust in society […], we must get beyond the flaccid – and often wrong – assumption that trust is simply good. This supposition must be heavily qualified, because trusting the malevolent or the radically incompetent can be foolish and often even grossly harmful. […] trust only make[s] sense in dealings with those who are or who could be induced to be trustworthy. To trust the untrustworthy can be disastrous.”
That it’s stupid to trust people who cannot be trusted should in my opinion be blatantly obvious, yet somehow to a lot of people it doesn’t seem to be at all obvious; in light of this problem (…I maintain that this is indeed a problem) the above observations are probably among the most important ones included in Hardin’s book. The book includes some strong criticism of much of the current/extant literature on trust. The two most common fields of study within this area of research are game-theoretic ‘trust games’, which according to the author are ill-named as they don’t really seem to be dealing much, if at all, with the topic of trust, and (poor) survey research which asks people questions which are hard to answer and tend to yield answers which are even harder to interpret. I have included below a few concluding remarks from the chapter on these topics:
“Both of the current empirical research programs on trust are largely misguided. The T-games [‘trust-games’], as played […] do not elicit or measure anything resembling ordinary trust relations; and their findings are basically irrelevant to the modeling and assessment of trust and trustworthiness. The only thing that relates the so-called trust game […] to trust is its name, which is wrong and misleading. Survey questions currently in wide use are radically unconstrained. They therefore force subjects to assume the relevant degrees of constraint, such as how costly the risk of failed cooperation would be. […] In sum, therefore, there is relatively little to learn about trust from these two massive research programs. Without returning their protocols to address standard conceptions of trust, they cannot contribute much to understanding trust as we generally know it, and they cannot play a very constructive role in explaining social behavior, institutions, or social and political change. These are distressing conclusions because both these enterprises have been enormous, and in many ways they have been carried out with admirable care.”
There is ‘relatively little to learn about trust from these two massive research programs’, but one to me potentially important observation, hidden away in the notes at the end of the book, is perhaps worth mentioning here: “There is a commonplace claim that trust will beget trustworthiness […] Schotter [as an aside this guy was incidentally the author of the Micro textbook we used in introductory Microeconomics] and Sopher (2006) do not find this to be true in game experiments that they run, while they do find that trustworthiness (cooperativeness in the play of games) does beget trust (or cooperation).”
There were a few parts of the coverage which confused me somewhat until it occurred to me that the author might not have read Boyd and Richerson, or other people who might have familiarized him with their line of thinking and research (once again, you should read Boyd and Richerson).
Moving on, a few remarks on social capital:
“Like other forms of capital and human capital, social capital is not completely fungible but may be specific to certain activities. A given form of social capital that is valuable in facilitating certain actions may be useless or even harmful for others. […] [A] mistake is the tendency to speak of social capital as though it were a particular kind of thing that has generalized value, as money very nearly does […] it[‘s value] must vary in the sense that what is functional in one context may not be in another.”
It is important to keep in mind that trust which leads to increased cooperation can end up leading to both good outcomes and bad:
“Widespread customs and even very local practices of personal networks can impose destructive norms on people, norms that have all of the structural qualities of interpersonal capital. […] in general, social capital has no normative valence […] It is generally about means for doing things, and the things can be hideously bad as well as good, although the literature on social capital focuses almost exclusively on the good things it can enable and it often lauds social capital as itself a wonderful thing to develop […] Community and social capital are not per se good. It is a grand normative fiction of our time to suppose that they are.”
The book has a chapter specifically about trust on the internet which related to the coverage included in Barak et al.‘s book, a publication which I have unfortunately neglected to blog (this book of course goes into a lot more detail). A key point in that chapter is that the internet is not really all that special in terms of these things, in the sense that to the extent that it facilitates coordination etc., it can be used to accomplish beneficial things as well as harmful things – i.e. it’s also neutrally valenced. Barak et al.‘s book has a lot more stuff about how this medium impacts communication and optimal communication strategies etc., which links in quite a bit with trust aspects, but I won’t go into this stuff here and I’m pretty sure I’ve covered related topics before here on the blog, e.g. back when I covered Hargie.
The chapter about terrorism and distrust had some interesting observations. A few quotes:
“We know from varied contexts that people can have a more positive view of individuals from a group than they have of the group.”
“Mere statistical doubt in the likely trustworthiness of the members of some identifiable group can be sufficient to induce distrust of all members of the group with whom one has no personal relationship on which to have established trust. […] This statistical doubt can trump relational considerations and can block the initial risk-taking that might allow for a test of another individual’s trustworthiness by stereotyping that individual as primarily a member of some group. If there are many people with whom one can have a particular beneficial interaction, narrowing the set by excluding certain stereotypes is efficient […] Unfortunately, however, excluding very systematically on the basis of ethnicity or race becomes pervasively destructive of community relations.”
One thing to keep in mind here is that people’s stereotypes are often quite accurate. When groups don’t trust each other it’s always a lot of fun to argue about who’s to blame for that state of affairs, but it’s important here to keep in mind that both groups will always have mental models of both the in-group and the out-group (see also the coverage below). Also it should be kept in mind that to the extent that people’s stereotypes are accurate, blaming stereotyping behaviours for the problems of the people who get stereotyped is conceptually equivalent to blaming people for discriminating against untrustworthy people by not trusting people who are not trustworthy. You always come back to the problem that what’s at the heart of the matter is never just trust, but rather trustworthiness. To the extent that the two are related, trust follows trustworthiness, not the other way around.
“There’s a fairly extensive literature on so-called generalized trust, which is trust in the anonymous or general other person, including strangers, whom we might encounter, perhaps with some restrictions on what isues would come under that trust. […] [Generalized trust] is an implausible notion. In any real-world context, I trust some more than others and I trust any given person more about some things than about others and more in some contexts than in others. […] Whereas generalized trust or group-generalized trust makes little or no sense (other than as a claim of optimism), group-generalized distrust in many contexts makes very good sense. If you were Jewish, Gypsy, or gay, you had good reason to distrust all officers of the Nazi state and probably most citizens in Nazi Germany as well. American Indians of the western plains had very good reason to distrust whites. During Milosevic’s wars and pogroms, Serbs, Croatians, and Muslims in then Yugoslavia had increasingly good reasons to distrust most members of the other groups, especially while the latter were acting as groups. […] In all of these cases, distrust is defined by the belief that members of the other groups and their representatives are hostile to one’s interests. Trust relationships between members of these various groups are the unusual cases that require explanation; the relatively group-generalized distrust is easy to understand and justify.”
“In the current circumstances of mostly Arab and Islamic terrorism against israel and the West and much of the rest of the world, it is surely a very tiny fraction of all Arabs and Islamists who are genuinely a threat, but the scale of their threat may make many Israelis and westerners wary of virtually all Arabs and Islamists […] many who are not prospects for taking terrorist action evidently sympathize with and even support these actions”
“When cooperation is organized by communal norms, it can become highly exclusionary, so that only members of the community can have cooperative relations with those in the community. In such a case, the norms of cooperativeness are norms of exclusion […] For many fundamentalist groups, continued loyalty to the group and its beliefs is secured by isolating the group and its members from many other influences so that relations within the community are governed by extensive norms of exclusion. When this happens, it is not only trust relations but also basic beliefs that are constrained. If we encounter no one with contrary beliefs our own beliefs will tend to prevail by inertia and lack of questioning and they will be reinforced by our secluded, exclusionary community. There are many strong, extreme beliefs about religious issues as well as about many other things. […] The two matters for which such staunch loyalty to unquestioned beliefs are politically most important are probably religious and nationalist commitments […] Such beliefs are often maintained by blocking our alternative views and by sanctioning those within the group who stray. […] Narrowing one’s associations to others in an isolated extremist group cripples one’s epistemology by blocking out general questioning of the group’s beliefs […] To an outsider those beliefs might be utterly crazy. Indeed, virtually all strong religious beliefs sound crazy or silly to those who do not share them. […] In some ways, the internet allows individuals and small groups to be quite isolated while nevertheless maintaining substantial contact with others of like mind. Islamic terrorists in the West can be almost completely isolated individually while maintaining nearly instant, frequent contact with other and with groups in the Middle East, Pakistan, or Afghanistan, as well as with groups of other potential terrorists in target nations.”
I didn’t finish this book and I didn’t have a lot of nice things to say about it in my review on goodreads, but as I did read roughly half of it and it seemed easy to blog, I figured I might as well cover it here.
I have added some observations from the book and a few comments below:
“While we know that every marriage brings not only promise but substantial risk, to date we know more about the harmful processes in relationships than we do about what makes them work”
“expressions of positivity, especially gratitude, promote relationship maintenance in intimate bonds”
“Baxter and Montgomery (1996) maintain that the closeness of a relationship may be determined by the extent to which the ‘self becomes’ or changes through participation in that relationship, suggesting that boundaries between ‘self’ and ‘other’ are more permeable and fluid in a close, intimate relationship. […] Not surprisingly, this collective sense of an ‘us’ appears to grow stronger with time and age with older couples demonstrating greater levels of we-ness than couples at middle-age”
“It has been demonstrated […] that affirmation by one’s partner that is in keeping with one’s own self-ideal, is associated with better relationship adjustment and stability […]. Moreover, if a spouse’s positive view of his or her mate is more favorable than the mate’s own view, and if the spouse tries to stabilize such positive impressions then, over time, the person’s negative self-view could begin to change for the better […] Perceiving one’s partner as responsive to one’s needs, goals, values and so forth has generally been associated with greater relationship satisfaction and personal well-being […]. The concomitant experience of feeling validated, understood and cared for […] would arguably be that much more imperative when one partner is in distress. Such responsiveness entails the ability “to discern non-verbal cues, and to ‘read between the lines’ about motivations, emotions, and experiences,” […] Being attuned and responsive to non-verbal and para-verbal cues, in turn, is conducive to couple coping because it enables well spouses to be appropriately supportive without having to be explicitly directed or asked.” (I recall thinking that the topic of ‘hidden support’ along these lines was a very important topic to keep in mind in the future when I first read about it. It’s covered in much more detail in one of the previous books I’ve read on related topics, though I can’t recall at the moment if it was in Vangelisti & Perlman, Hargie, or Regan).
“Sexual resilience […] is a term used to describe individuals or couples who are able to withstand, adapt, and find solutions to events and experiences that challenge their sexual relationship.[…] the most common challenges to sexuality include the birth of the first child […]; the onset of a physical or mental illness […]; an emotional blow to the relationship, such as betrayal or hurt; lack of relational intimacy, such as becoming absorbed by other priorities such as career; and changes associated with aging, such as vaginal dryness or erectile dysfunction. […] People who place a relatively low value on sex for physical pleasure and a relatively high value on sex for relational intimacy […] are motivated to engage in sexual activity primarily to feel emotionally close to their partner. […] these individuals may respond to sexual challenges with less distress than those who place a high value on sex for physical pleasure. On an individual level, they are not overly concerned about specific sexual dysfunctions, but are motivated to find alternative ways of continuing to be sexually intimate with their partner, which may or may not include intercourse. […] Facing sexual difficulties with a high value placed on sex for relational intimacy, with strong dyadic adjustment, and with effective and open communication skills primes a couple to respond well to sexual challenges. […] Acceptance, flexibility, and persistence are characteristics most commonly associated with couples who successfully negotiated the challenges to their sexual relationship. […] When the physical pleasure aspect of sex is viewed as an enjoyed, but not essential, component of sex, couples no longer need to rely on perfect sexual functioning to engage in satisfying sex. Physical pleasure can come to be seen as “icing on the cake”, while relational intimacy is the cake itself.”
“Overall findings from neuroimaging studies of resilience suggest that the brains of resilient people are better equipped to tamp down negative emotion. […] In studies of rodents […] and primates […], early stress has consistently been associated with impaired brain development. Specifically, chronic stress has been found to damage neurons and inhibit neurogenesis in the hippocampus and medial prefrontal cortex […]. Stress has the opposite effect on the amygdala, causing dendritic growth accompanied by increased anxiety and aggression […]. Human studies yield results that are consistent with animal studies.”
I won’t cover the human studies in detail, but for example people have found when looking at the brains of children raised under bad conditions in orphanages in Eastern Europe and Asia that children who were adopted early in life (i.e., got away from the terrible conditions early on) had smaller amygdalae than children who were adopted later. They also note that smaller orbitofrontal volumes have been observed in physically abused children, with arguably(?) (I’m not sure about the validity of the instrument applied) a dose-response relationship between severity of abuse and the level of brain differences/changes observed, and smaller hippocampal volumes have been noted in depressed women with a history of childhood maltreatment (their brains were compared with the brains of depressed women without a history of childhood maltreatment).
“The positive associations between social support and physical health may be due in large part to the effect of positive relationships on cortisol levels […]. The presence of close, supportive relationships have been associated with lower cortisol levels in adolescents […], middle class mothers of 2-year old children […], elderly widowed adults […], men and women aged 47–59 […], healthy men […], college students […], 18–36 year olds from the UCLA community […], parents expecting their first child […], and relationship partners […] Overall, studies on relationship quality and cortisol levels suggest that close supportive relationships play an important role in boosting resilience.”
“Sharpe (2000) offered an insightful, developmental approach to understanding mutuality in romantic relationships. She described mutuality as a result of “merging” that consists of several steps, which occur and often overlap in the lifetime of a relationship. With the progression of the relationship, the partners start to recognize differences that exist between them and try to incorporate them into their existing concept of relationship. Additionally, both partners search for “his or her own comfort level and balance between time together and time apart” […]. As merging progresses, partners are able to cultivate their existing commonalities and differences, as well as develop multiple ways of staying connected. In truly mutual couples, both partners respect and validate each other’s views, work together to accomplish common goals, and resolve their differences through compromise. Moreover, a critical achievement of mutuality is the internalization of the loving relationship.”
I gave the book two stars on goodreads. The contributors to this volume are from Brazil, Spain, Mexico, Japan, Turkey, Denmark, and the Czech Republic; the editor is from Taiwan. In most chapters you can tell that the first language of these authors is not English; the language is occasionally quite bad, although you can usually tell what the authors are trying to say.
The book is open access and you can read it here. I have included some quotes from the book below:
“It is estimated that men and women with depression are 20.9 and 27 times, respectively, more likely to commit suicide than those without depression (Briley & Lépine, 2011).” [Well, that’s one way to communicate risk… See also this comment].
“depression is on average twice as common in women as in men (Bromet et al., 2011). […] sex differences have been observed in the prevalence of mental disorders as well as in responses to treatment […] When this [sexual] dimorphism is present [in rats, a common animal model], the drug effect is generally stronger in males than in females.”
“Several reports indicate that follicular stimulating and luteinizing hormones and estradiol oscillations are correlated with the onset or worsening of depression symptoms during early perimenopause […], when major depressive disorder incidence is 3-5 times higher than the male matched population of the same [age] […]. Several longitudinal studies that followed women across the menopausal transition indicate that the risk for significant depressive symptoms increases during the menopausal transition and then decreases in […] early postmenopause […] the impact of hormone oscillations during perimenopause transition may affect the serotonergic system function and increase vulnerability to develop depression.”
“The use of antidepressant drugs for treating patients with depression began in the late 1950s. Since then, many drugs with potential antidepressants have been made available and significant advances have been made in understanding their possible mechanisms of action […]. Only two classes of antidepressants were known until the 80’s: tricyclic antidepressants and monoamine oxidase inhibitors. Both, although effective, were nonspecific and caused numerous side effects […]. Over the past 20 years, new classes of antidepressants have been discovered: selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, selective serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, serotonin reuptake inhibitors and alpha-2 antagonists, serotonin reuptake stimulants, selective norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, selective dopamine reuptake inhibitors and alpha-2 adrenoceptor antagonists […] Neither the biological basis of depression […] nor the precise mechanism of antidepressant efficacy are completely understood […]. Indeed, antidepressants are widely prescribed for anxiety and disorders other than depression.”
“Taken together the TCAs and the MAO-Is can be considered to be non-selective or multidimensional drugs, comparable to a more or less rational polypharmacy at the receptor level. This is even when used as monotherapy in the acute therapy of major depression. The new generation of selective antidepressants (the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)), or the selective noradrenaline and serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) have a selective mechanism of action, thus avoiding polypharmacy. However, the new generation antidepressants such as the SSRIs or SNRIs are less effective than the TCAs. […] The most selective second generation antidepressants have not proved in monotherapy to be more effective on the core symptoms of depression than the first generation TCAs or MAOIs. It is by their safety profiles, either in overdose or in terms of long term side effects, that the second generation antidepressants have outperformed the first generation.”
“Suicide is a serious global public health problem. Nearly 1 million individuals commit suicide every year. […] Suicide […] ranks among the top 10 causes of death in every country, and is one of the three leading causes of death in 15 to 35-year olds.”
“Considering patients that commit suicide, about half of them, at some point, had contact with psychiatric services, yet only a quarter had current or recent contact (Andersen et al., 2000; Lee et al., 2008). A study conducted by Gunnell & Frankel (1994) revealed that 20-25% of those committing suicide had contact with a health care professional in the week before death and 40% had such contact one month before death” (I’m assuming ‘things have changed’ during the last couple of decades, but it would be interesting to know how much they’ve changed).
“In cases of suicide by drug overdose, TCAs have the highest fatal toxicity, followed by serotonin and noradrenalin reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), specific serotonergic antidepressants (NaSSA) and SSRIs […] SSRIs are considered to be less toxic than TCAs and MAOIs because they have an extended therapeutic window. The ingestion of up to 30 times its recommended daily dose produces little or no symptoms. The intake of 50 to 70 times the recommended daily dose can cause vomiting, mild depression of the CNS or tremors. Death rarely occurs, even at very high doses […] When we talk about suicide and suicide attempt with antidepressants overdose, we are referring mainly to women in their twenties – thirties who are suicide repeaters.”
“Physical pain is one of the most common somatic symptoms in patients that suffer depression and conversely, patients suffering from chronic pain of diverse origins are often depressed. […] While […] data strongly suggest that depression is linked to altered pain perception, pain management has received little attention to date in the field of psychiatric research […] The monoaminergic system influences both mood and pain […], and since many antidepressants modify properties of monoamines, these compounds may be effective in managing chronic pain of diverse origins in non-depressed patients and to alleviate pain in depressed patients. There are abundant evidences in support of the analgesic properties of tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), particularly amitriptyline, and another TCA, duloxetine, has been approved as an analgesic for diabetic neuropathic pain. By contrast, there is only limited data regarding the analgesic properties of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) […]. In general, compounds with noradrenergic and serotonergic modes of action are more effective analgesics […], although the underlying mechanisms of action remain poorly understood […] While the utility of many antidepressant drugs in pain treatment is well established, it remains unclear whether antidepressants alleviate pain by acting on mood (emotional pain) or nociceptive transmission (sensorial pain). Indeed, in many cases, no correlation exists between the level of pain experienced by the patient and the effect of antidepressants on mood. […] Currently, TCAs (amitriptyline, nortriptiline, imipramine and clomipramine) are the most common antidepressants used in the treatment of neuropathic pain processes associated with diabetes, cancer, viral infections and nerve compression. […] TCAs appear to provide effective pain relief at lower doses than those required for their antidepressant effects, while medium to high doses of SNRIs are necessary to produce analgesia”. Do keep in mind here that in a neuropathy setting one should not expect to get anywhere near complete pain relief with these drugs – see also this post.
“Prevalence of a more or less severe depression is approximately double in patients with diabetes compared to a general population [for more on related topics, see incidentally this previous post of mine]. […] Diabetes as a primary disease is typically superimposed by depression as a reactive state. Depression is usually a result of exposure to psycho-social factors that are related to hardship caused by chronic disease. […] Several studies concerning comorbidity of type 1 diabetes and depression identified risk factors of depression development; chronic somatic comorbidity and polypharmacy, female gender, higher age, solitary life, lower than secondary education, lower financial status, cigarette smoking, obesity, diabetes complications and a higher glycosylated hemoglobin [Engum, 2005; Bell, 2005; Hermanns, 2005; Katon, 2004]”
“This monograph introduces, defines, exemplifies, and characterizes hope that is directed toward others rather than toward the self. […] Because vicarious hope remains a relatively neglected topic within hope theory and research, the current work aims to provide, for the first time, a robust conceptualization of other-oriented hope, and to review and critically examine existing literature on other-oriented hope.”
I really should be blogging more interesting books here instead, such as e.g. Gigerenzer’s book, but this one is easy to blog.
I’ll make this post short, but I do want to make sure no-one misses this crucial point, which is the most important observation in the context of this book: The book is a terrible book. Given that I’ve already shared (some of) my negative views about the book on goodreads I won’t go into all the many reasons why you probably shouldn’t read it here as well; instead I’ll share below a few observations from the book which might be of interest to some of the people reading along.
“Whereas other-interest encapsulates a broad and generalized orientation toward valuing, recognizing, facilitating, promoting, and celebrating positive outcomes for others that have occurred in the past or present, or that may occur in the future, other-oriented hope cleaves that portion of other-interest specific to the harbouring of future-oriented hope for others and (where possible) attendant strivings toward meeting those ends. […] Other-oriented hope is viewed as a specific form of other-interest, one in which we reveal our interest in the welfare of others by apportioning some of our future-oriented mental imaginings to others’ welfare in addition to our own, more self-focused, hope. […] we define other-oriented hope as future-oriented belief, desire, and mental imagining surrounding a valued outcome of another person that is uncertain but possible. […] The dimensions emphasized by Novotny (1989) within an illness context are that hope: is future-oriented; involves active engagement; is an inner resource; reflects possibility; is relational; and concerns issues of importance.”
“Schrank et al. (2010) factor analyzed 60-items taken from three existing hope scales. Four dimensions of hope arose, labelled trust and confidence (e.g., goal striving, positive past experience), positive future orientation (e.g., looking forward, making plans), social relations and personal value (e.g., feeling loved and needed), and lack of perspective (e.g., feeling trapped, becoming uninvolved). […] In the most influential psychological perspective on hope, […] Snyder and colleagues posit that hope is “a positive motivational state that is based on an interactively derived sense of successful (a) agency (goal-directed energy), and (b) pathways (planning to meet goals)” […]. According to this view, hope-agency beliefs provide motivation to pursue valued goals, and hope-pathways beliefs provide plausible routes to meet those goals. […] hope is most often construed as an emotion or as an emotion-based coping process.”
“Lapierre et al. (1993) report that wishes for others is a more frequent category among relatively younger elderly participants and among non-impaired relative to impaired participants. The authors suggest that less healthy individuals (i.e., relatively older and impaired) are more self-focused in their aspirations, emphasizing such fundamental goals as preserving their health. […] Herth identified changes [in hope patterns] as a function of age and impairment level of respondents, with those older than 80 and experiencing mild to moderate impairment being more likely to harbour hope focused on others compared to those who were higher functioning. Moreover, those living in long-term care facilities with moderate to severe impairment directed their hope almost entirely toward others. […] [research] strongly points to the element of vulnerability in another person as a situational influence on other-oriented hope. Learning about others’ vulnerability likely triggers compassion or empathy which, in turn, elicits other-oriented hope. […] In addition to other-oriented hope occurring in response to another’s vulnerability, vicarious hope appears also to be triggered by one’s own vulnerability. […] In related work, Hollis et al. (2007) discuss borrowed hope; for those with no hope, others who have hope for them can be impactful, because hope can be viewed as ‘contagious’.”
“Similar to recognized drawbacks or risks of self-oriented hope, other-oriented hope may be associated with a failure to accept things the way they are, frustration upon hope being dashed, risk taking, or the failure to limit losses […] There is also an opportunity-cost to other-oriented hope: Time spent hoping for another is time not spent generating, contemplating, or acting toward either one’s own hope or to yet other people’s hope. […] There may be costs to the recipient of other-oriented hope in the form of feeling coerced or controlled by others whose vicarious hope is not shared by the recipient. Therefore, some forms of other-oriented hope may reveal only the desired outcomes of the hoping agent as opposed to the person to whom the hope applies. In the classic example, a parent’s hope for a child may not be hope that is held by the child him- or herself, and therefore may be experienced as a significant source of undue pressure and stress by the child. Such coercive hope is, in turn, likely to be harmful to the relationship between the person harbouring the other-oriented hope and the target of that hope. […] In an extreme form, other-oriented hope bears resemblance to other-oriented perfectionism. Hewitt and Flett (2004) argue that perfectionism can be directed toward the self or others. In the former case, perfectionism involves expectations placed upon oneself for unreasonably high performance, whereas in the latter case, perfectionism involves expecting others to uphold an unreasonably high standard and expressing criticism when others fail to meet this expectation. It is possible that other-oriented hope occasionally takes the form of other-oriented expectations for perfection. For example, a parent may hope that a child performs well in school, but this could take the form of an overly demanding standard of achievement that is difficult or impossible for the child to attain, creating distress in the child’s life and conflict within the parent-child relationship.”
“McGeer (2004) argues for responsive hope being an optimal point between wishful hope, on the one hand (i.e., desire but too little agency, as in wishful thinking) and willful hope, on the other hand (desire but too much agency, as in an incautious or unrealistic pursuit of one’s dreams). To expand on McGeer’s views, responsive other-oriented hope would fall between wishful other-oriented hope, on the one hand (i.e., desires aimed at others but divorced from an action-orientation toward the fulfillment of such desires), and willful other-oriented hope, on the other hand (i.e., desire for, and overzealous facilitation of, others’ future outcomes, ignoring whether such actions are in the other’s best interest or are endorsed by the other). […] Like self-oriented hope, other-oriented hope can be contested and, in extreme instances, such hope may impede coping, such as by encouraging ongoing denial among family members of the objective circumstances faced by their loved one. Hoping against hope for others may, at times, be more costly than beneficial.”
“Acceptance toward others may be exhibited through not judging others, being tolerant of others who are perceived as different than oneself, being willing to engage with others, and not avoiding others who might be predicted to displease us or upset us. It would appear, therefore, that acceptance, like hope, can be directed toward the self or toward others. Interestingly, acceptance of the self and acceptance of others are included, respectively, in measures of psychological well-being and social well-being (Keyes 2005), suggesting that both self-acceptance and other-acceptance are considered key aspects of psychological health.”
“Davis and Asliturk (2011) review research showing that a realistic orientation toward future outcomes, in which one considers both positive and negative possibilities, is associated with coping more effectively with adversity.”
“Weis and Speridakos (2011) conducted a meta-analysis on 27 studies that employed strategies to enhance hope among both mental health clients and community members. They reported modest effects of such psychotherapy on measures of hope and life satisfaction, but not on measures of psychological distress. The authors caution that effects were relatively small in comparison to other psychoeducational or psychotherapeutic interventions.”
I could theoretically write a lot of posts about this handbook, but I’m probably not going to do that. As I’ve mentioned before I own a physical copy of this book, and blogging physical books is a pain in the neck compared to blogging e-books – this is one of the main reasons why I’m only now starting to blog the book, despite having finished it some time ago.
The book is a 600+ pages long handbook (752 pages if you include glossary, index etc.), and it has 16 chapters on various topics. Though I’m far from sure, I’d estimate that I spent something like 50 hours on the book altogether so far – 3 hours per chapter on average – and that’s just for ‘reading the pages’, so to speak; if I do decide to blog this book in any amount of detail, the amount of time spent on the material in there will go up quite a bit.
So what’s the book about – what is ‘cognitive psychology’? Here are a few remarks on these topics from the preface and the first chapter:
“the leading contemporary approach to human cognition involves studying the brain as well as behaviour. We have used the term “cognitive psychology” in the title of this book to refer to this approach, which forms the basis for our coverage of human cognition. Note, however, that the term “cognitive neuroscience” is often used to describe this approach. […] Note that the distinction between cognitive psychology and cognitive neuroscience is often blurred – the term ‘cognitive psychology” can be used in a broader sense to include cognitive neuroscience. Indeed, it is in that broader sense that it is used in the title of this book.”
The first chapter – about ‘approaches to human cognition’ – is a bit dense, but I decided to talk a little about it anyway because it seemed like a good way to give you some idea about what the book is about and which sort of content you’ll encounter in it. In the chapter the authors outline four different approaches to human cognition and talk about each of these in a bit of detail. Experimental cognitive psychology is an approach which basically limits itself to behavioural evidence. What they term cognitive neuroscience is an approach using evidence from both behaviour and the brain (that can be accomplished by having people do stuff while their brain activity is being monitored). Cognitive neuropsychology is an approach where you try to use data from brain-damaged individuals to help understand how normal cognition works. The last approach, computational cognitive science, I recently dealt with in the Science of Reading handbook – this approach involves constructing computational models to understand/simulate specific aspects of human cognition. All four approaches are used throughout the book to obtain a greater understanding of the topics covered.
The introductory chapter also gives the reader some information about what the brain looks like and how it’s structured, adds some comments about distinctions between various forms of processing, such as bottom-up processing and top-down processing and serial processing and parallel processing, and adds information about common techniques used to study brain activity in neuroscience (single-unit recording, event-related potentials, positron emission tomography, fMRI, efMRI, magnetoencephalography, and transcranial magnetic stimulation). I don’t want to go too much into the specifics of all those topics here, but I should note that I was unaware of the existence of TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) research methodologies and that it sounds like an interesting approach; basically what people do when they use this approach is to use magnetic pulses to try to (briefly, for a short amount of time) disrupt the functioning of some area of the brain and then evaluate performance on cognitive tasks performed while the brain area in question is disrupted – if people perform more poorly on a given task when the brain area in question is disrupted by the magnetic field, it might indicate that the brain area is involved in that task. For various reasons it’s not unproblematic to interpret the results of TMS research and there are various limitations to the application of this method, but this is experimental manipulation of a kind I’d basically assumed did not exist in this field before I started out reading the book.
It’s noted in the first chapter that: “much research in cognitive psychology suffers from a relative lack of ecological validity […] and paradigm specificity (findings do not generalise from one paradigm to others). The same limitations apply to cognitive neuroscience since cognitive neuroscientists generally use tasks previously developed by cognitive psychologists. Indeed, the problem of ecological validity may be greater in cognitive neuroscience.” In the context of cognitive neuropsychology, there are also various problems which I’m reasonably sure I’ve talked about here before – for example brain damage is rarely conveniently localized to just one brain area the researcher happens to be interested in, and the use of compensatory strategies by individuals with brain damage may cause problems with interpretation. Small sample sizes and large patient heterogeneities within these samples also do not help. As for the last approach, computational cognitive science, the problems mentioned are probably mostly the ones you’d expect; the models developed are rarely used to make new predictions because they’re often too general to really make them at all easy to evaluate one way or the other (lots of free parameters you can fit however you like), and despite their complexity they tend to ignore a lot of presumably highly relevant details.
The above was an outline of some stuff covered in the first chapter. The book as mentioned has 16 chapters. ‘Part 1’ deals with visual perception and attention – there’s a lot of stuff about that kind of thing in the book, almost 200 pages – and includes chapters about ‘basic processes in visual perception’, ‘object and face recognition’, ‘perception, motion, and action’, and ‘attention and performance’. Part 2 deals with memory, including chapters about ‘learning, memory, and forgetting’, ‘long-term memory systems’ and ‘everyday memory’. That part I found interesting and I hope I’ll manage to find the time to cover some of that stuff here later on. Part 3 deals with language and includes chapters about ‘reading and speech perception’, ‘language comprehension’, and ‘language production’. I recall wondering a long time ago on this blog if people doing research on those kinds of topics distinguished between language production and language comprehension; it’s pretty obvious that they do.. Part 5 deals with ‘thinking and reasoning’ and includes chapters about ‘problem solving and expertise’, ‘judgment and decision making’, and ‘inductive and deductive reasoning’. Interestingly the first of these chapters talks quite a bit about chess, because chess expertise is one of the research areas people have looked at when looking at the topic of expertise. I may decide to talk about these things later on, but I’m not sure I’ll cover the stuff in part 5 in much detail because Gigerenzer (whose research the authors discuss in chapter 13) covers some related topics in his book Simply Rational, which I’m currently reading, and I frankly like his coverage better (I should perhaps clarify in light of the previous remarks that Gigerenzer does not cover chess, but rather talks about other topics also covered in that section – the coverage overlap relates to Gigerenzer’s work on heuristics). The last part of the book has a chapter on cognition and emotion and a chapter about consciousness.
As you read the chapters, the authors start out by outlining some key features/distinctions of interest. They talk about what the specific theory/hypothesis/etc. is about, then they talk about the research results, and then they give their own evaluation of the research and conclude the coverage with outlining some limitations of the available research. Multiple topics are covered this way – presentation, research, evaluation, limitations – in each chapter, and when multiple competing hypotheses/approaches have been presented the evaluations will highlight strengths and weaknesses of each approach. Along the way you’ll encounter boxes at the bottom of the pages with bolded ‘key terms’ and definitions of those terms, as well as figures and tables with research results and illustrations of brain areas involved; key terms are also bolded in the text, so even if you don’t completely destroy the book by painting all over the pages with highlighters of different colours the way I do, it should be reasonably easy to navigate the content on a second reading. Usually the research on a given topic will be divided into sections if multiple approaches have been used to elucidate problems of interest; so there’ll be one section dealing with cognitive neuropsychology research, and another section about the cognitive neuroscience results. All chapters end with a brief outline of key terms/models/approaches encountered in the chapter and some of the main results discussed. The book is well structured. Coverage is in my opinion a bit superficial, which is one of the main reasons why I only gave the book three stars, and the authors are not always as skeptical as I’d have liked them to be – I did not always agree with the conclusions they drew from the research they discussed in the chapters, and occasionally I think they miss alternative explanations or misinterpret what the data is telling us. Some of the theoretical approaches they discuss in the text I frankly considered (/next to) worthless and a waste of time. It’s been a while since I finished the book and of course I don’t recall details as well as I’d like, but from what I remember and what I’ve gathered from a brief skim again while writing the post it’s far from a terrible book and on a general note it covers some interesting stuff – we’ll see how much of it I’ll manage to talk about here on the blog in the time to come. Regardless of how much more time I’ll be able to devote to the book here on the blog, this post should at least have given you some idea about which topics are covered in the book and how they’re covered.
The last part of the book was disappointing, as the coverage was generally weak and chapter 13 even basically devolved into a self-help chapter; I dislike self-help books immensely. I gave the book 2 stars on goodreads, but ended up significantly closer to one star than three. The truth of the matter is that if the book had been covering a different topic in which I had only had a more fleeting interest, there’s no way I’d have read it to the end.
A few observations from the last part of the book below.
“In 2006 we set out to test the impact of loneliness on responses to inequitable treatment. Our strategy involved a game in which the researcher designates one player as “proposer” and the other as “decider” and gives the proposer ten dollars. The proposer must split the money with the decider—along whatever lines he can get the decider to accept. If the decider rejects the proposal, neither player gets any money. […] It will probably come as no surprise that most people are sensitive to whether or not another person is dealing with them fairly, and that they agree to accept more fair offers than unfair ones. They do this even when, as in our experiment, rejecting an offer leaves them with no reward but their pride and their sense of right and wrong. Lonely players generally followed this pattern, and lonely and non-lonely participants in our game accepted comparable numbers of fair offers. However, lonely players accepted more unfair offers than did nonlonely players. They went along more often when their partner treated them unfairly, even though both lonely and nonlonely players rated the offers as equally and profoundly unfair.
This willingness to endure exploitation even when we have a clear sense that the other person is treating us unfairly does not bode well for our chances of achieving satisfying social connections in the long run, and it can place lonely individuals at greater risk of being scammed, or at least disappointed. Over time, the bad experiences that follow can contribute to the lonely person’s impression that, when you come right down to it, betrayal or rejection is lurking around every corner—a perception that plays into fear, hostility, learned helplessness, and passive coping. […] With an impaired ability to discriminate, persevere, and self-regulate, the lonely, both as children and as adults, often engage in extremes. Sometimes, in an effort to belong, they allow themselves to be pushed around, as in our “proposer/decider” game, when a lonely adult feels resentment, but goes ahead and accepts unfair offers. […] At other times, fear might lead […] to almost paranoid levels of self-protection […] whether driven by loneliness or by other factors, it is usually maladaptive to allow yourself to be taken advantage of. […] the most adaptive strategy is to maintain both the ability to detect cheating or betrayal and the ability to carefully modulate one’s response. The dysregulation caused by loneliness consigns us to the extremes of either suffering passively (responding too little) or being “difficult” (responding too intensely).”
“Among bonobos, if a low-ranking female commits some offense against a dominant female’s child, or grabs a piece of food that an older female had her eye on, or fails to surrender ground when a matriarch moves in to groom a male, the higher-ranking female may refuse to share food with or to accept grooming from her subordinate. This kind of rebuke can throw the younger animal into a tantrum right in front of the cold and rejecting elder. The affront is so stressful that it makes the subordinate physically sick, often causing her to vomit at the feet of her nemesis. It appears that apes do not enjoy social rejection any more than humans do.”
“The solution to loneliness is not quantity but quality of relationships. Human connections have to be meaningful and satisfying for each of the people involved, and not according to some external measure. Moreover, relationships are necessarily mutual and require fairly similar levels of intimacy and intensity on both sides. Even casual chitchat […] needs to proceed at a pace that is comfortable for everyone. Coming on too strong, oblivious to the other person’s response, is the quickest way to push someone away. So part of selection is sensing which prospective relationships are promising, and which would be climbing the wrong tree. Loneliness makes us very attentive to social signals. The trick is to be sufficiently calm and “in the moment” to interpret those signals accurately.”
“The kinds of connections — pets, computers — we substitute for human contact are called “parasocial relationships.” You can form a parasocial relationship with television characters, with people you “meet” online, or with your Yorkshire terrier. Is this an effective way to fill the void when connection with other humans, face to face, is thwarted?
The Greeks […] used the term “anthropomorphism” […] to describe the projection of specifically human attributes onto nonhuman entities. Increasing the strength of anthropomorphic beliefs appears to be a useful tactic for coping with loneliness, divorce, widowhood, or merely being single.16 Pet owners project all sorts of human attributes onto their animal companions, and elderly people who have pets appear to be buffered somewhat from the negative impact of stressful life events. They visit their doctors less often than do their petless age-mates. Individuals diagnosed with AIDS are less likely to become depressed if they own a pet. […] whether it’s a god, a devil, an animal, a machine […], a landmark, or a piece of cast-off sports equipment, the anthropomorphized being becomes a social surrogate, and the same neural systems that are activated when we make judgments about other humans are activated when we assess these parasocial relationships.21 […] Our parasocial relationships follow certain patterns based on aspects of our human relationships. People with insecure, anxious attachment styles are more likely than those with secure attachment styles to form perceived social bonds with television characters. They are also more likely than those with secure attachment styles to report an intensification of religious belief over a given time period, including sudden religious conversions later in life. […] Many proponents of technology tell us that computer-mediated social encounters will fill the void left by the decline of community in the real world. […] Studies have shown that the richer the medium […] the more it fosters social cohesion. This may be why, for those who do choose to connect electronically, multiplayer sites […] are becoming popular meeting places. […] forming connections with pets or online friends or even God is a noble attempt by an obligatorily gregarious creature to satisfy a compelling need. But surrogates can never make up completely for the absence of the real thing.”
Here’s my first post about the book. I’d probably have liked the book better if I hadn’t read the Cognitive Psychology text before this one, as knowledge from that book has made me think a few times in specific contexts that ‘that’s a bit more complicated than you’re making it out to be’ – as I also mentioned in the first post, the book is a bit too popular science-y for my taste. I have been reading other books in the last few days – for example I started reading Darwin a couple of days ago – and so I haven’t really spent much time on this one since my first post; however I have read the first 10 chapters (out of 14) by now, and below I’ve added a few observations from the chapters in the middle.
“In 1958, in a now-legendary, perhaps infamous experiment, the psychologist Harry Harlow of the University of Wisconsin removed newborn rhesus monkeys from their mothers. He presented these newborns instead with two surrogates, one made of wire and one made of cloth […]. Either stand-in could be rigged with a milk bottle, but regardless of which “mother” provided food, infant monkeys spent most of their time clinging to the one made of cloth, running to it immediately when startled or upset. They visited the wire mother only when that surrogate provided food, and then, only for as long as it took to feed.2
Harlow found that monkeys deprived of tactile comfort showed significant delays in their progress, both mentally and emotionally. Those deprived of tactile comfort and also raised in isolation from other monkeys developed additional behavioral aberrations, often severe, from which they never recovered. Even after they had rejoined the troop, these deprived monkeys would sit alone and rock back and forth. They were overly aggressive with their playmates, and later in life they remained unable to form normal attachments. They were, in fact, socially inept — a deficiency that extended down into the most basic biological behaviors. If a socially deprived female was approached by a normal male during the time when hormones made her sexually receptive, she would squat on the floor rather than present her hindquarters. When a previously isolated male approached a receptive female, he would clasp her head instead of her hindquarters, then engage in pelvic thrusts. […] Females raised in isolation became either incompetent or abusive mothers. Even monkeys raised in cages where they could see, smell, and hear — but not touch — other monkeys developed what the neuroscientist Mary Carlson has called an “autistic-like syndrome,” with excessive grooming, self-clasping, social withdrawal, and rocking. As Carlson told a reporter, “You were not really a monkey unless you were raised in an interactive monkey environment.””
In the authors’ coverage of oxytocin’s various roles in human- and animal social interaction they’re laying it on a bit thick in my opinion, and the less than skeptical coverage there leads me to also be somewhat skeptical of their coverage of the topic of mirror neurons, also on account of stuff like this. However I decided to add a little of the coverage of this topic anyway:
“In the 1980s the neurophysiologist Giacomo Rizzolatti began experimenting with macaque monkeys, running electrodes directly into their brains and giving them various objects to handle. The wiring was so precise that it allowed Rizzolatti and his colleagues to identify the specific monkey neurons that were activated at any moment.
When the monkeys carried out an action, such as reaching for a peanut, an area in the premotor cortex called F5 would fire […]. But then the scientists noticed something quite unexpected. When one of the researchers picked up a peanut to hand it to the monkey, those same motor neurons in the monkey’s brain fired. It was as if the animal itself had picked up the peanut. Likewise, the same neurons that fired when the monkey put a peanut in its mouth would fire when the monkey watched a researcher put a peanut in his mouth. […] Rizzolatti gave these structures the name “mirror neurons.” They fire even when the critical point of the action—the person’s hand grasping the peanut, for instance — is hidden from view behind some object, provided that the monkey knows there is a peanut back there. Even simply hearing the action — a peanut shell being cracked — can trigger the response. In all these instances, it is the goal rather than the observed action itself that is being mirrored in the monkey’s neural response. […] Rizzolatti and his colleagues confirmed the role of goals […] by performing brain scans while people watched humans, monkeys, and dogs opening and closing their jaws as if biting. Then they repeated the scans while the study subjects watched humans speak, monkeys smack their lips, and dogs bark.9 When the participants watched any of the three species carrying out the biting motion, the same areas of their brains were activated that activate when humans themselves bite. That is, observing actions that could reasonably be performed by humans, even when the performers were monkeys or dogs, activated the appropriate portion of the mirror neuron system in the human brain. […] the mirror neuron system isn’t simply “monkey see, monkey do,” or even “human see, human do.” It functions to give the observing individual knowledge of the observed action from a “personal” perspective. This “personal” understanding of others’ actions, it appears, promotes our understanding of and resonance with others.”
“In a study of how people monitor social cues, when researchers gave participants facts related to interpersonal or collective social ties presented in a diary format, those who were lonely remembered a greater proportion of this information than did those who were not lonely. Feeling lonely increases a person’s attentiveness to social cues just as being hungry increases a person’s attentiveness to food cues.28 […] They [later] presented images of twenty-four male and female faces depicting four emotions — anger, fear, happiness, and sadness — in two modes, high intensity and low intensity. The faces appeared individually for only one second, during which participants had to judge the emotional timbre. The higher the participants’ level of loneliness, the less accurate their interpretation of the facial expressions.”
“As we try to determine the meaning of events around us, we humans are not particularly good at knowing the causes of our own feelings or behavior. We overestimate our own strengths and underestimate our faults. We overestimate the importance of our contribution to group activities, the pervasiveness of our beliefs within the wider population, and the likelihood that an event we desire will occur.3 A At the same time we underestimate the contribution of others, as well as the likelihood that risks in the world apply to us. Events that unfold unexpectedly are not reasoned about as much as they are rationalized, and the act of remembering itself […] is far more of a biased reconstruction than an accurate recollection of events. […] Amid all the standard distortions we engage in, […] loneliness also sets us apart by making us more fragile, negative, and self-critical. […] One of the distinguishing characteristics of people who have become chronically lonely is the perception that they are doomed to social failure, with little if any control over external circumstances. Awash in pessimism, and feeling the need to protect themselves at every turn, they tend to withdraw, or to rely on the passive forms of coping under stress […] The social strategy that loneliness induces — high in social avoidance, low in social approach — also predicts future loneliness. The cynical worldview induced by loneliness, which consists of alienation and little faith in others, in turn, has been shown to contribute to actual social rejection. This is how feeling lonely creates self-fulfilling prophesies. If you maintain a subjective sense of rejection long enough, over time you are far more likely to confront the actual social rejection that you dread.8 […] In an effort to protect themselves against disappointment and the pain of rejection, the lonely can come up with endless numbers of reasons why a particular effort to reach out will be pointless, or why a particular relationship will never work. This may help explain why, when we’re feeling lonely, we undermine ourselves by assuming that we lack social skills that in fact, we do have available.”
“Because the emotional system that governs human self-preservation was built for a primitive environment and simple, direct dangers, it can be extremely naïve. It is impressionable and prefers shallow, social, and anecdotal information to abstract data. […] A sense of isolation can make [humans] feel unsafe. When we feel unsafe, we do the same thing a hunter-gatherer on the plains of Africa would do — we scan the horizon for threats. And just like a hunter-gatherer hearing an ominous sound in the brush, the lonely person too often assumes the worst, tightens up, and goes into the psychological equivalent of a protective crouch.”
“One might expect that a lonely person, hungry to fulfill unmet social needs, would be very accepting of a new acquaintance, just as a famished person might take pleasure in food that was not perfectly prepared or her favorite item on the menu. However, when people feel lonely they are actually far less accepting of potential new friends than when they feel socially contented.17 Studies show that lonely undergraduates hold more negative perceptions of their roommates than do their nonlonely peers.”
This is not a very ‘meaty’ post, but it’s been a long time since I had one of these and I figured it was time for another one. As always links and comments are welcome.
i. The unbearable accuracy of stereotypes. I made a mental note of reading this paper later a long time ago, but I’ve been busy with other things. Today I skimmed it and decided that it looks interesting enough to give it a detailed read later. Some remarks from the summary towards the end of the paper:
“The scientific evidence provides more evidence of accuracy than of inaccuracy in social stereotypes. The most appropriate generalization based on the evidence is that people’s beliefs about groups are usually moderately to highly accurate, and are occasionally highly inaccurate. […] This pattern of empirical support for moderate to high stereotype accuracy is not unique to any particular target or perceiver group. Accuracy has been found with racial and ethnic groups, gender, occupations, and college groups. […] The pattern of moderate to high stereotype accuracy is not unique to any particular research team or methodology. […] This pattern of moderate to high stereotype accuracy is not unique to the substance of the stereotype belief. It occurs for stereotypes regarding personality traits, demographic characteristics, achievement, attitudes, and behavior. […] The strong form of the exaggeration hypothesis – either defining stereotypes as exaggerations or as claiming that stereotypes usually lead to exaggeration – is not supported by data. Exaggeration does sometimes occur, but it does not appear to occur much more frequently than does accuracy or underestimation, and may even occur less frequently.”
ii. I’ve spent approximately 150 hours on vocabulary.com altogether at this point (having ‘mastered’ ~10.200 words in the process). A few words I’ve recently encountered on the site: Nescience (note to self: if someone calls you ‘nescient’ during a conversation, in many contexts that’ll be an insult, not a compliment) (Related note to self: I should find myself some smarter enemies, who use words like ‘nescient’…), eristic, carrel, oleaginous, decal, gable, epigone, armoire, chalet, cashmere, arrogate, ovine.
iv. A while back I posted a few comments on SSC and I figured I might as well link to them here (at least it’ll make it easier for me to find them later on). Here is where I posted a few comments on a recent study dealing with Ramadan-related IQ effects, a topic which I’ve covered here on the blog before, and here I discuss some of the benefits of not having low self-esteem.
On a completely unrelated note, today I left a comment in a reddit thread about ‘Books That Challenged You / Made You See the World Differently’ which may also be of interest to readers of this blog. I realized while writing the comment that this question is probably getting more and more difficult for me to answer as time goes by. It really all depends upon what part of the world you want to see in a different light; which aspects you’re most interested in. For people wondering about where the books about mathematics and statistics were in that comment (I do like to think these fields play some role in terms of ‘how I see the world‘), I wasn’t really sure which book to include on such topics, if any; I can’t think of any single math or stats textbook that’s dramatically changed the way I thought about the world – to the extent that my knowledge about these topics has changed how I think about the world, it’s been a long drawn-out process.
People who care the least bit about such things probably already know that a really strong tournament is currently being played in St. Louis, the so-called Sinquefield Cup, so I’m not going to talk about that here (for resources and relevant links, go here).
I talked about the strong rating pools on ICC not too long ago, but one thing I did not mention when discussing this topic back then was that yes, I also occasionally win against some of those grandmasters the rating pool throws at me – at least I’ve won a few times against GMs by now in bullet. I’m aware that for many ‘serious chess players’ bullet ‘doesn’t really count’ because the time dimension is much more important than it is in other chess settings, but to people who think skill doesn’t matter much in bullet I’d say they should have a match with Hikaru Nakamura and see how well they do against him (if you’re interested in how that might turn out, see e.g. this video – and keep in mind that at the beginning of the video Nakamura had already won 8 games in a row, out of 8, against his opponent in the first games, who incidentally is not exactly a beginner). The skill-sets required do not overlap perfectly between bullet and classical time control games, but when I started playing bullet online I quickly realized that good players really require very little time to completely outplay people who just play random moves (fast). Below I have posted a screencap I took while kibitzing a game of one of my former opponents, an anonymous GM from Germany, against whom I currently have a 2.5/6 score, with two wins, one draw, and three losses (see the ‘My score vs CPE’ box).
I like to think of a score like this as at least some kind of accomplishment, though admittedly perhaps not a very big one.
Also in chess-related news, I’m currently reading Jesús de la Villa’s 100 Endgames book, which Christof Sielecki has said some very nice things about. A lot of the stuff I’ve encountered so far is stuff I’ve seen before, positions I’ve already encountered and worked on, endgame principles I’m familiar with, etc., but not all of it is known stuff and I really like the structure of the book. There are a lot of pages left, and as it is I’m planning to read this book from cover to cover, which is something I usually do not do when I read chess books (few people do, judging from various comments I’ve seen people make in all kinds of different contexts).
Lastly, a lecture:
I’m currently reading this book by John Cacioppo and William Patrick. It’s a bit too soft/popular science-y for my taste, but the material is interesting.
Below some observations from the book’s part one:
“Serving as a prompt to restore social bonds, loneliness increases the sensitivity of our receptors for social signals. At the same time, because of the deeply rooted fear it represents, loneliness disrupts the way those signals are processed, diminishing the accuracy of the message that actually gets through. When we are persistently lonely, this dual influence — higher sensitivity, less accuracy — can leave us misconstruing social signals that others do not even detect, or if they detect, interpret quite differently.
Reading and interpreting social cues is for any of us, at any time, a demanding and cognitively complex activity, which is why our minds embrace any shortcut that simplifies the job. […] We [all] invariably take cognitive shortcuts, but when we are lonely, the social expectations and snap judgments we create are generally pessimistic. We then use them to construct a bulwark against the negative evaluations and ultimate rejection that the fearful nature of loneliness encourages us to anticipate.”
“When we feel socially connected […] we tend to attribute success to our own actions and failure to bad luck. When we feel socially isolated and depressed, we tend to reverse this useful illusion and turn even small errors into catastrophes—at least in our own minds. Meanwhile, we use the same everyday cognitive shortcuts to try to barricade ourselves against criticism and responsibility for our screw-ups. The net result is that, over time, if we get stuck in loneliness, this complex pattern of behavior can contribute to our isolation from other people. […] What makes loneliness especially insidious is that it contains this Catch-22: Real relief from loneliness requires the cooperation of at least one other person, and yet the more chronic our loneliness becomes, the less equipped we may be to entice such cooperation. Other negative states, such as hunger and pain, that motivate us to make changes to modify unpleasant or aversive conditions can be dealt with by simple, individual action. When you feel hungry, you eat. […] But when the unpleasant state is loneliness, the best way to get relief is to form a connection with someone else. Each of the individuals involved must be willing to connect, must be free to do so, and must agree to more or less the same timetable. Frustration with the difficulty imposed by these terms can trigger hostility, depression, despair, impaired skills in social perception, as well as a sense of diminished personal control. This is when failures of self-regulation, combined with the desire to mask pain with whatever pleasure is readily available, can lead to unwise sexual encounters, too much to drink, or a sticky spoon in the bottom of an empty quart of ice cream. Once this negative feedback loop starts rumbling through our lives, others may start to view us less favorably because of our self-protective, sometimes distant, sometimes caustic behavior. This, in turn, merely reinforces our pessimistic social expectations. Now others really are beginning to treat us badly, which seems like adding insult to injury, which spins the cycle of defensive behavior and negative social results even further downhill.”
“In 2002 our team at the University of Chicago began collecting longitudinal data on a representative sample of middle-aged and older citizens in the greater Chicago metropolitan area. We subjected these volunteers to numerous physiological and psychological measurements, including the UCLA Loneliness Scale. […] When we analyzed the diets of these older adults, what they ate week after week, month after month in real life [we found that] older adults who felt lonely in their daily lives had a substantially higher intake of fatty foods. […] we found that the calories of fat they consumed increased by 2.56 percent for each standard deviation increase in loneliness as measured by the UCLA Loneliness Scale.12“
I must admit I found this finding in particular quite interesting, and surprising:
“In another study, researchers asked participants either to describe a personal problem to an assigned partner, or to adopt the role of listener while the partner described his or her problem.17 Lonely individuals, when specifically requested to take the helping role, were just as socially skilled as the others. They were active listeners, they offered assistance to their partners, and they stayed with the conversation longer than those who were describing their troubles. So we retain the ability to be socially adept when we feel lonely. […] [However] [d]espite their display of skill in the experiment, the lonely participants consistently rated themselves as being less socially adept than other people.”
“factor analysis tells us that loneliness and depression are, in fact, two distinct dimensions of experience.10 […] Loneliness reflects how you feel about your relationships. Depression reflects how you feel, period. Although both are aversive, uncomfortable states, loneliness and depression are in many ways opposites. Loneliness, like hunger, is a warning to do something to alter an uncomfortable and possibly dangerous condition. Depression makes us apathetic. Whereas loneliness urges us to move forward, depression holds us back. But where depression and loneliness converge is in a diminished sense of personal control, which leads to passive coping. This induced passivity is one of the reasons that, despite the pain and urgency that loneliness imposes, it does not always lead to effective action. Loss of executive control leads to lack of persistence, and frustration leads to what the psychologist Martin Seligman has termed “learned helplessness.””
“For our cross-sectional analysis, we went back to the large population of Ohio State students that had supplied volunteers for our dichotic listening test. We refined our sample down to 135 participants, 44 of them high in loneliness, 46 average, and 45 low in loneliness, with each subset equally divided between men and women.16 […] this study population gave us a clear picture of the full psychological drama accompanying loneliness as it occurs in the day-to-day lives of a great many people observed during a specific period of time. The cluster of characteristics we found were the ones we had anticipated: depressed affect, shyness, low self-esteem, anxiety, hostility, pessimism, low agreeableness, neuroticism, introversion, and fear of negative evaluation. […] Analysis of the longitudinal data from our middle-aged and older adults showed that a person’s degree of loneliness in the first year of the study predicted changes in that person’s depressive symptoms during the next two years.21 The lonelier that people were at the beginning, the more depressive affect they experienced in the following years, even after we statistically controlled for their depressive feelings in the first year. We also found that a person’s level of depressive symptoms in the first year of the study predicted changes in that person’s loneliness during the next two years. Those who felt depressed withdrew from others and became lonelier over time.”
“In 1988 an article in Science reviewed [research on loneliness], and that meta-analysis indicated that social isolation is on a par with high blood pressure, obesity, lack of exercise, or smoking as a risk factor for illness and early death.4 For some time the most common explanation for this sizeable effect has been the “social control hypothesis.” This theory holds that, in the absence of a spouse or close friends who might provide material help or a more positive influence, individuals may have a greater tendency to gain weight, to drink too much, or to skip exercise. […] But epidemiological research done on the heels of the analysis published in Science determined that the health effect associated with isolation was statistically too large and too dramatic to be attributed entirely to differences in behavior.”
However behaviour does matter:
“we found that the health-related behaviors of lonely young people were no worse than those of socially embedded young people. In terms of alcohol consumption, their behavior was, in fact, more restrained and healthful. […] our study of older adults did [however] indicate that, by middle age, time had taken its toll, and the health habits of the lonely had indeed become worse than those of socially embedded people of similar age and circumstances.21 Although lonely young adults were no different from others in their exercise habits, measured either by frequency of activity or by total hours per week, the picture changed with our middle-aged and older population. Socially contented older adults were thirty-seven percent more likely than lonely older adults to have engaged in some type of vigorous physical activity in the previous two weeks. On average they exercised ten minutes more per day than their lonelier counterparts.”
“It may be that the decline in healthful behavior in the lonely can be partially explained by the impairment in executive function, and therefore in self-regulation, that we saw in individuals induced to feel socially rejected. Doing what is good for you, rather than what merely feels good in the moment, requires disciplined self-regulation. Going for a run might feel good when you’re finished, but for most of us, getting out the door in the first place requires an act of willpower. The executive control required for such discipline is compromised by loneliness, and loneliness also tends to lower self-esteem. If you perceive that others see you as worthless, you are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors and less likely to take good care of yourself.
Moreover, for lonely older adults, it appears that emotional distress about loneliness, combined with a decline in executive function, leads to attempts to manage mood by smoking, drinking, eating too much, or acting out sexually. Exercise would be a far better way to try to achieve a lift in mood, but disciplined exercise, again, requires executive control. Getting down to the gym or the yoga class three times a week also is much easier if you have friends you enjoy seeing there who reinforce your attempts to stay in shape.”
“Our surveys with the undergraduates at Ohio State showed that lonely and non-lonely young adults did not differ in their exposure to major life stressors, or in the number of major changes they had endured in the previous twelve months. […] However, among the older adults we studied, we found that those who were lonelier also reported larger numbers of objective stressors as being “current” in their lives. It appears that, over time, the “self-protective” behavior associated with loneliness leads to greater marital strife, more run-ins with neighbors, and more social problems overall. […] Even setting aside the larger number of objective stressors in their lives, the lonely express greater feelings of helplessness and threat. In our studies, the lonely, both young and old, perceived the hassles and stresses of everyday life to be more severe than did their non-lonely counterparts, even though the objective stressors they encountered were essentially the same. Compounding the problem, the lonely found the small social uplifts of everyday life to be less intense and less gratifying. […] when people feel lonely, they are far less likely to see any given stressor as an invigorating challenge. Instead of responding with realistic optimism and active engagement, they tend to respond with pessimism and avoidance. They are more likely to cope passively, which means enduring without attempting to change the situation.”
“We found loneliness to be associated with higher traces of the stress hormone epinephrine in the morning urine of older adults.30 Other studies have shown that the allostatic load of feeling lonely also affects the body’s immune and cardiovascular function. Years ago, a classic test with medical students showed that the stress of exams could have a dramatic dampening effect on the immune response, leaving the students more vulnerable to infections. Further studies showed that lonely students were far more adversely affected than those who felt socially contented.”
“One clearly demonstrable consequence of social alienation and isolation for physiological resilience and recovery occurs in the context of the quintessential restorative behavior — sleep. […] when we asked participants to wear a device called the “nightcap” to record changes in the depth and quality of their sleep, we found that total sleep time did not differ across the groups. However, lonely young adults reported taking longer to fall sleep and also feeling greater daytime fatigue.39 Our studies of older adults yielded similar findings, and longitudinal analyses confirmed that it was loneliness specifically that was associated with changes in daytime fatigue. Even though the lonely got the same quantity of sleep as the nonlonely, their quality of sleep was greatly diminished.40″
As mentioned in my first post about the book, I realized late in the writing process that I’d be unable to cover it in one post, so this post will not cover nearly as much of the book as did the first post and it will not be particularly long. However some of the observations in the last part I found interesting, so I wanted to talk a little bit about them here.
“The definition of violence indicates that the aggressor is the one who deliberately hurts the partner, and the victim is the one deliberately hurt by the partner. The definition is indifferent to the reasons leading up to the act of violence and its goals. I collaborated in a study that examined how partners perceive the violence between them […] In some cases, the research participants argued that the injury was extremely mild. In other cases, they claimed that the injury was not intentional. Some cases combined both arguments. But even when intentionally hurtful behavior was acknowledged, the tendency to reject responsibility and blame was still identified. In such cases, it was argued that the intentionally hurtful behavior is not to be considered as violence if the offender was not an aggressor or if the offended was not a victim. Such cases emphasize that examining behavior in terms of intentional injury to identify violence produces inadequate results; the causality sequence and the conduct of the offender and offended during the incident should also be examined. […] intentional infliction is insufficient to establish violence. […] Despite the limitations […] of the definition of violence as an intentional hurtful behavior, it was […] and still is used by numerous studies to design the individual behavioral observation unit of partner violence.”
On a related note, this part was really interesting to me:
“I had the opportunity to hold a series of sessions with adolescents at the ages of 12–16 within the framework of a project for coping with school violence, conducted in 2007. […] One of the sessions addressed boys’ and girls’ methods of initiating a dating relationship. The students mentioned that when a boy likes a girl, is attracted to her and would like to have an intimate relationship with her, he can approach her and make a direct intimate proposition. If she accepts, then “everyone is happy,” but if she turns him down, then “it is a huge embarrassment.” The session participants explained that such rejection is usually a difficult, humiliating, and intimidating experience, and therefore, many are deterred from initiating in this way. Many boys and girls avoid a direct, clear, and unequivocal approach and prefer other, more indirect methods of “checking” the other party’s willingness to start a relationship with them. These methods often employ violence, which can be interpreted as expressions of either hostility or affection. For example, the boy can playfully grab the girl’s hand while pinning her against a wall. If the girl chooses a hostile, nonreceptive response, the boy will interpret this as evidence that she is not interested in a relationship with him and in most cases will retreat. If the girl chooses to respond playfully or display vague affection and receptiveness, the boy can interpret this as an invitation. A negative response on behalf of the girl will not be experienced as rejection by the boy because he did not express his interest clearly. A positive, tolerant response by the girl can encourage the boy to continue approaching her, maybe with less aggression next time. The students considered this behavior to be an acceptable and reasonable method of dating initiation. […] It is a widespread behavior which many people, and not only adolescents, do not regard as violent behavior (Playful Violence) (Denzin, 1984). Such behaviors are especially frequent among youth and […] may include holding/grasping/pinning down, pushing, and shoving by boys, and pushing, pinching, hair pulling, and mild blows by girls.” (my bold).
Part of why the above observations were interesting to me was that during my own childhood/youth I had no idea such behaviour was an approach tactic, and I was at a loss to explain such behaviours the few times in the past that I observed such behaviours myself. While reading the chapter I suddenly came to realize that I may have been the target of such behaviour myself during my childhood (let’s just say that one particular sequence of events which I had a great deal of difficulty making sense of in the past makes a lot more sense in light of the above observations). My lack of awareness of the relevant social dynamics embedded in such interactions of course means that my response to the approach behaviour may not have been the response I would have employed had I known about these things (due to being completely clueless, I probably treated that girl very badly. Oh well, as Rochefoucauld’s aptly put it: ‘Il n’y a guère d’homme assez habile pour connaître tout le mal qu’il fait’).
“Although most of the quantitative research [on violence] is based on data regarding individual single violent behaviors isolated from the immediate situational context, in many cases, the analyses, the interpretations, and conclusions are performed as if the behaviors are sequenced (the hurtful behaviors of one party are regarded as a defensive response to the violence of the other party). This is similar to looking at a series of photos set in no particular order while trying to make sense of the timeline of the incident that they describe. […] Defining the boundaries of a conflict (where it starts and ends) is crucial to the identification of the relevant interactions to be studied.”
“Swann, Pelham, and Roberts (1987) argued that, as a rule, individuals simplify their interactions by forming, arranging, and perceiving them in “discrete causal chunks.” These chunks affect individuals’ awareness of the effect of their actions upon others, and the effect of others’ actions upon themselves. They form “self-causal chunks” when they believe that their behavior has affected others. They form “other-causal chunks” when they believe that others have affected their behavior. It is likely that in partner violence, most individuals feel that they are responding rather than initiating (Winstok, 2008).”
“Same-gender involvement in conflicts may enhance status, and avoiding a same-gender conflict may diminish it. On the other hand, involvement in conflicts with the opposite gender might work the other way around. For example, a man who avoids aggressive conflict with another man can be regarded as weak or cowardly. A man who gets involved in aggressive conflict with a woman can be regarded as a bully, which is also an indication of weakness and cowardice. […] Women in general are aware of men’s chivalry code by which they are expected not to hurt women (Felson, 2002; Felson & Feld, 2009). […] Men’s chivalry code commitment and their female partners’ awareness of it may increase men’s vulnerability in partner conflicts.”
The comments and results below relate to repondents’ answers to questions dealing with how they thought they would respond in various different conflict contexts (involving their own partner, or strangers of both gender), with a specific focus on the (hypothetical) willingness to escalate, not actual observed conflict behaviour, so you may take the responses with a grain of salt – however I think they are still interesting:
“First, let me begin with the escalatory intention of men in response to the verbal aggression of various aggressors: the highest escalation level was toward male strangers and lower toward female strangers; the lowest escalation level was toward their female partners. The same rates with larger values were found also for the escalatory intentions of men in response to physical aggression by the various opponent types. As to the escalatory intentions of women in response to verbal aggression, the highest level was toward their male partners, and a little less so, but not significantly, toward female strangers. The lowest escalation intention level was toward male strangers. The same rates with similar values were also found in the women’s escalatory intentions in response to physical aggression of various opponents. The most important finding of these comparisons is that relative to the escalation levels of research participants toward strangers, the escalation levels of men toward their partners’ aggression was the lowest, and of women, the highest. […] in intimate relationships, women’s tendency was more escalatory than men’s. […] escalatory intentions of men are more affected by the severity of aggression toward them than those of women. This study provides initial evidence of the lack of gender symmetry in escalatory intentions. In partner conflicts, women tend to escalate more than men.”
Below I have added some observations and quotes from the book. When I started out writing the post my intention was to cover the book in one post, however I realized quite late in the process that this was not feasible, so you can expect me to cover the rest of the book later on (I decided not to cover the rest because there’s some stuff in the last chapters which I thought was really quite interesting, and I did not want these things to get lost in a very long post, and/or covered in too little detail). After I’ve now written this blog post, I’m actually strongly considering changing my goodreads rating to a two star evaluation; this is a very selective account of the material covered in the book, but it did actually include quite a lot of interesting observations. Given the length of the post I decided to bold a few key observations from the book’s coverage (the bolded sections below are not bolded in the book).
“let us focus on the empirical evidence regarding the differences in aggressive tendencies within the couple. The research in this area is led by two groups with opposing outlooks. One is dubbed “feminist scholars,” who view the problem as asymmetric in terms of gender: they maintain that intimate violence is perpetrated by the man against his female partner […] In this case, using the term “asymmetry” reflects the notion that a significant difference exists between men’s tendency toward violence against their female partners and women’s tendency toward violence against their male partners. The second group is referred to as “family violence scholars,” who view the problem of partner violence as gender symmetric: the violence is perpetrated by both men and women […]. They use the term “symmetry” to convey the idea that a significant (not necessarily equal) proportion of both genders use violence in their intimate relationships. […] for feminist scholars, gender is a primary significant factor in predicting partner violence, whereas for family violence scholars, gender is secondary and marginal. […] The only fact on which both approaches agree is that the rates of injury caused by male violence are higher than those caused by female violence […] there is broad agreement that the results of partner violence are more severe for women than for men […]. Most family violence scholars do not view this information as a relevant factor in challenging their approach to the role of gender in partner violence because they focus their attention on aggression. They do not consider victimization to be a straightforward derivative of aggression but rather an issue that warrants independent empirical testing.”
“The cumulative empirical evidence, mostly presented by family violence scholars, supports gender symmetry of violence in intimate relationships. […] An examination of research findings on the gender aspects of partner violence leads many scholars, specifically of family violence, to the conclusion that gender plays a minor, secondary role in the problem: both men and women use violence in their intimate relationships and for the same reasons. Despite the empirical evidence, it is widely accepted that in intimate relationships, the violence is perpetrated by men against their female partners.”
“It is my opinion, based on conversations with social workers treating partner violence, that in Israel, much like in other parts of the Western world, feminist thinking is predominant in intervention. Men’s violence against women is the major, if not the only, problem focused on and addressed by practitioners. Even if the practitioners acknowledge female partner violence, they regard it as marginal and inherently different from male partner violence. Practice, guided by feminist thinking, leads many professionals to assume the following: (1) in partner violence, the woman is the victim and (2) the main goal of intervention in partner violence is to stop the man from perpetrating any kind of mild or severe violence against the woman. These assumptions dictate several widely accepted intervention principles: (1) the treatment must serve primarily what is perceived to be the woman’s needs and wishes; (2) the treatment must change the man’s behavior. The response to the man’s perceived needs is secondary and marginal in the process; and (3) the woman’s treatment is best provided by a woman and not a man.”
“A considerable group of family violence scholars believes that violence against women is a particular case (unique or not) of partner violence. […] They have difficulty understanding why feminist scholars can make theoretical arguments on the one hand and then object to them being empirically tested on the other.” One of the reasons may be this one: “a significant group of feminist scholars view the link between politics and research as unbreakable, and in this reality, feel free to emphasize their association with the feminist agenda. They even regard the seemingly apolitical position of family violence scholars as double standard and a sham, because they do not believe that research can be devoid of politics.”
“[An] association between threats and battering among intimate partners has been extensively documented” (…so if your partner threatens you, it seems like a good idea to take the threat seriously).
“It is incorrect to assume that emotions drive people to behave irrationally, and that if one wants to make a rational decision, emotions must be set aside. Not only are rational choices not devoid of emotions but they also play a vital role in the process of choosing an action to attain a certain goal — from focusing attention on details most relevant in a situation, to choosing the most suitable behavior to achieve the goals called for in that situation […] Emotions are a central component of decision making […]. They help to focus attention on details, such as what the opponent is saying, his/her tone of voice, what his/her facial expression and body gestures convey, what means of defense and offence are available and the possible escape routes. Anger might focus attention on the details most relevant in the case of a fight, whereas fear might focus attention on the details more relevant to flight […] Emotions speed up the information collection process, because they switch it on to automatic, or semi-automatic, pilot mode. […] [Anger and fear are] emotions that [have] received special attention in the study of violence [, as they have been] found to be highly relevant to the development of conflict […]. Fear is future oriented and emerges when a negative event is perceived as possible or imminent. On the other hand, anger is past oriented and emerges when a negative event has already occurred […] Anger is associated with the tendency to fight, whereas fear is associated with the tendency to flight […]. Studies have shown that anger boosts the frequency and severity of aggression […], whereas fear inhibits them […] As in many other fields, men and women differ in the case of emotional experience […]. Women tend to experience emotions more intensely than men […] and this includes negative emotions […]. Campbell (1999) suggested that fear is the mechanism that considers costs. When men and women face the same risks, women would experience fear with greater intensity than men. […] gender differences in the experience of anger are less evident than in experiences of fear (Winstok, 2007). […] interviews [with violent offenders] taught me that we are not dealing with loss of control, but rather with a temporary, voluntary forfeit of control. […] The ability to control the loss of control seriously contradicts the suggestion of irrationality.”
“The study of deterrence in partner violence is mainly focused on men using violence against their female partners. It is maintained that men would avoid violent behavior if they perceive its cost as severe and certain […]. In this context, the first line of deterrence is based on women’s willingness and readiness to act against their violent partners and includes seeking the support of informal and formal agents, and/or leaving the violent partner. […] I conducted a study of a sample of 218 men […]. It examined the association between men’s evaluation of their partner’s willingness to breach the dyadic boundaries in response to aggression, and their evaluation of their own tendency to use aggression against their partner. Findings indicated that the men tended to restrain aggression if they evaluated that in response, their partners would involve informal and formal agents, or would even leave them. Based on these findings, it can be hypothesized that such actions by women threaten, deter, and restrain men’s aggressive tendencies.”
“In most cases, the combination of causes that bring about partner violence is not completely known or clear. Therefore, evaluations of the probability of the occurrence of future violence are based, at least in part, on behavioral history. Predictions based solely on behavioral history are prone to false-negative and false-positive errors, at least in cases in which the unknown causes of past violent behavior have changed. One critical example is that this approach will always fail to predict the first time that violence is used. […] interviews with men and women who were perpetrators or victims of partner violence demonstrate that violence is often part of a behavioral move rather than a single action. The move is based on a series of behaviors resulting from several cycles of information processing […] Studying one incident of violent behavior rather than a series of incidents resembles an attempt to understand a branch (interaction between partners), a tree (an incident), and a forest (a series of incidents) by looking merely at the leaves. […] The term “escalation” is at the core of the discussion on conflict dynamics. Most often, in the context of partner conflicts, escalation describes a trend of increasing aggression severity. The term can describe escalation of aggressive acts within a specific conflict, or escalation of aggression across relationship periods (from one incident to the next) […] It is commonly argued that once partner violence erupts, it continues until the end of the relationship (by separation or death) and increases over time (in frequency, intensity, and form), especially when the violence is against women […] Although these arguments sound plausible, they are not supported by research findings […] [Only] in a small portion of cases [does violence] increase over time. […] in a given conflict, violence is the outcome of escalation. This has led many to believe that from one conflict to the next, escalation itself escalates. Despite evidence showing that most cases of partner violence subside over time […] such statements as “once a batterer, always a batterer” and “violence increases over time” are still frequent and widespread.”
“Those who use violence, as compared to those who do not, invest less time and effort in collecting situational cues, and assign higher value to internal rather than external cues while interpreting a situation. Their attention is more focused on aggressive than on nonaggressive cues. They rely more than others on cues that appear at the end of a social interaction and less on those at its beginning […] Studies of children provide a strong support for a link between the types of responses they generate to particular situations and the behavior that they exhibit in those situations. Aggressive children access a fewer number of responses to social situations than do their peers […] They also access responses that are more aggressive than those accessed by peers for provocation, group entry, object acquisition, and friendship initiation situations”.
“When I started studying partner violence, I expected to be able to identify the aggressor and the victim easily. I was surprised to find that these definitions are often blurred, and this is an understatement. Men and women who used violence against their partners often perceived themselves to be the victims, and not the aggressors.” [I should note that this notion comes across as much less far-fetched/outrageous than you’d think once you read a few of the cases included in the book]. […] Dynamics of partner conflict is a direct result of a series of interactions between the partners. It takes a short step from here to maintain that violence in escalatory conflicts is a result of actions and reactions by both parties. Hence, an examination of these interactions, that is, causal analysis, may lead to the blurring of the distinction between victim and aggressor. For those who associate causality with guilt and accountability, this blur is problematic because they need the clear distinction to allocate guilt and accountability. This, in my view, is why no real attempts are made by scholars to study escalatory dynamics. Their moral stance against violence goes beyond their obligation to examine and propose approaches for effective coping with the problem.”
“Violence […] is age related. […] The use of violence is common in very young children [and] [i]ncreasing evidence indicates that from adolescence onward, the use of interpersonal violence tends to decrease in various life contexts […] A cross study by Straus, Gelles, and Steimetz (1980), examining four age groups (18–30, 31–50, 51–65, 65, and up) in the general population found that with the increase in the age of the partners, the violence between them decreases. Short and mid-range longitudinal studies (3–10 years) […] as well as studies that analyzed life paths […] identified similar trends: over time, there was significant decrease in the incidence of partner violence. These studies contradict the perception that partner violence persists and even escalates over time. […] no single typical pattern of partner violence over time exists. Violence between intimate partners can become more moderate, can subside, can continue at a steady severity level and, at times, can escalate. However, accumulating evidence indicates that in most cases, in the short term, violence can escalate, and in the long term, it can cease. It is clear that changes in violence patterns over time (severity and frequency) are not random. Conflicts that escalate to violence in which the aggressor draws “positive” results that exceed negative ones may encourage the said party to continue using this tactic. Negative outcomes may encourage the aggressor to increase the severity of violence or stop using it and look for alternative tactics […] Conflict opportunities on the one hand and the perception of violence as an effective or noneffective means of dealing with conflict on the other, shape the problem to a large extent.”
“Many of the studies reporting comparable rates of violence perpetration by men and women do not examine contextual factors, such as who initiated the violence, who was injured, whether the violence was in self-defense, and the psychological impact of victimization […] when contextual factors are examined, a complex picture of gender dynamics […] begins to emerge […] [For example, in Allen and Swan (2009)] the scholars found that women’s use of mild violence exceeds that of men.”
“Studies [have] showed that violence can be a result of [both] low self-control and restraint capability […] as well as a means of achieving some desired goals […]. As the need to control the partner increases and the capability for self-control and restraint decreases, violence erupts and becomes increasingly severe. The use of violence at one level of severity (e.g., verbal aggression), increases the probability that another level of violence, of higher severity, will be used as well (e.g., threatening with physical violence). […] escalation to and of violence is a tactic that ensures minimum investment in achieving a goal, whether it is eventually achieved or not. Escalatory dynamics deteriorates the conflict because it increases the severity of violence, but at the same time, it also puts on the breaks, as it ensures that the violence ceases when it becomes of no value. […] By using mild violence that becomes increasingly severe, the aggressor demonstrates the possibility of imminent severe danger to the victim. Thus, the aggressor ensures that the victim complies long before the threat is fully executed.”
“when force is used according to the tit for tat principle, it [may escalate]. [Research] findings […] support the suggestion that people are more sensitive to the force exerted on them by others than to the force they exert upon others. If we replace the term ‘force’ with ‘injury,’ this would read: people are more sensitive to the injury exerted on them by others than to the injury they exert upon others. In light of this sensitivity gap in interpersonal conflicts, the injured party wishing to retaliate with an equally severe injury (balancing) may generate a more serious injury. This sensitivity gap works the same way on the second party and will cause him/her to retaliate with a more serious injury, even when attempting an equally severe (balancing) response. In this fashion, the actions and injuries escalate. […] Hurt that is perceived as unfair will be evaluated as more severe than an identical hurt (in terms of form, intensity, and duration) that is perceived as fair. It can be assumed that those who hurt their partners believe, at least at the moment of perpetration, that their action is justifiable. […] Whereas the offender perceives the offense as justified at the time of offending, the offended will probably not take it as such. Such perception gaps between the partners regarding the actions taken during their conflict may [also] promote escalation.”
The Institute for Advanced Studies recently released a number of new lectures on youtube and I’ve watched a few of them.
Both this lecture and the one below start abruptly with no introduction, but I don’t think much stuff was covered before the beginning of this recording. The stuff in both lectures is ‘reasonably’ closely related to content covered in the book on pulsars/supernovae/neutron stars by McNamara which I recently finished (goodreads link) (…for some definitions of ‘reasonably’ I should perhaps add – it’s not that closely related, and for example Ramirez’ comment around the 50 minute mark that they’re disregarding magnetic fields seemed weird to me in the context of McNamara’s coverage). The first lecture was definitely much easier for me to follow than was the last one. The fact that you can’t hear the questions being asked I found annoying, but there aren’t that many questions being asked along the way. I was surprised to learn via google that Ramirez seems to be affiliated with the Niels Bohr Institute of Copenhagen (link).
Here’s a third lecture from the IAS:
I really didn’t think much of this lecture, but some of you might like it. It’s very non-technical compared to the first two lectures above, and unlike them the video recording did not start abruptly in the ‘middle’ of the lecture – which in this case on the other hand also means that you can actually easily skip the first 6-7 minutes without missing out on anything. Given the stuff he talks about in roughly the last 10 minutes of the lecture (aside from the concluding remarks) this is probably a reasonable place to remind you that Feynman’s lectures on the character of physical law are available on youtube and uploaded on this blog (see the link). If you have not watched those lectures, I actually think you should probably do that before watching a lecture like the one above – it’s in all likelihood a better use of your time. If you’re curious about things like cosmological scales and haven’t watched any of videos in the Khan Academy cosmology and astronomy lecture series, this is incidentally a good place to go have a look; the first few videos in the lecture series are really nice. Tegmark talks in his lecture about how we’ve underestimated how large the universe is, but I don’t really think the lecture adequately conveys just how mindbogglingly large the universe is, and I think Salman Khan’s lectures are much better if you want to get ‘a proper perspective’ of these things, to the extent that obtaining a ‘proper perspective’ is even possible given the limitations of the human mind.
Lastly, a couple more lectures from khanacademymedicine:
This is a neat little overview, especially if you’re unfamiliar with the topic.
This will be my last post about the book. Below I have added some more observations from some of the remaining chapters of the book – I noticed after I’d published this post that a few similar observations were also included in the first post, but in the end I decided against removing those arguably superfluous observations from this post (‘if the authors are allowed to repeat themselves, so am I…’).
“General avoidance often weaves its way through the fabric of depressed persons’ lives. One of my (Pettit’s) first clinical supervisors proposed that avoidance captures the true essence of depression. He argued that depression, at its root, is simply the opposite of participation. Although this is surely an overly broad and simplistic conceptualization of depression, it highlights the idea that depressed people are often passive recipients of life, rather than active participants in life. […] depressed persons often have less developed social networks […] depressed persons often exhibit generalized problems with social avoidance. What’s more, evidence suggests that depression is frequently preceded by anxiety of some form […]. Anxiety, of course, is characterized by avoidance of some feared object, cognition, or event. Although anxiety and general social avoidance certainly play a role in depression, a more specific form of social avoidance appears more pertinent to the propagation of depression: Avoidance of interpersonal conflict. We argue that depression is characterized, and even propagated, by a pattern of interpersonal conflict avoidance.”
“It is well-known that depression is associated with a number of factors related to interpersonal avoidance. Four such factors (i.e., low assertiveness, social withdrawal, general avoidance, and shyness) have specifically been identified as interpersonal characteristics of a large number of depressed individuals. […] Two characteristics of assertive behaviors may be of great difficulty to depressed persons. First, asserting oneself requires active engagement with others, which forces the depressed person to overcome feelings of general social anxiety, in addition to overcoming the lethargy and indifference that retard activity in general among such individuals. Second, and more important, assertive behaviors entail making explicit requests of others. Social conventions dictate that requests naturally merit a response, be it positive or negative, and it is at this point that the interpersonal stage for potential disharmony is set. To reach this point, one must conquer general social anxiety and place himself or herself in a position that allows for the possibility of negative, rejecting responses from others. This latter possibility appears to be the sticking point for many depressed persons. That is, depressed persons overcome social inhibition and inertia but are often unwilling to knowingly make themselves vulnerable to interpersonal rejection (although they often engage in behaviors that unknowingly place themselves at greater risk of rejection, such as excessive reassurance-seeking). […] assertiveness is often quite difficult for depressed people. Assertiveness is a necessary component of successful conflict negotiation. […] Avoiding assertive behaviors […] allows the individual to escape the discomfort of receiving negative reactions from others. It also, however, lessens the individual’s chances of obtaining desired outcomes”.
“Price, Sloman, Gardner, Gilbert, and Rohde (1994) argued that depression-related states and behaviors represent evolved forms of a primordial “involuntary subordinate strategy.” Price et al. contended that the involuntary subordinate strategy arose primarily as a means to cope with social competition and conflict, particularly losses therein. Out of this framework, the primary function of depression is to resolve interpersonal conflicts by presenting a “no threat” signal to others. Recent animal research has provided a degree of support for this proposition. In work with cynomolgus monkeys, Shively, Laber-Laird, and Anton (1997) manipulated the social status of a group of females, such that previously dominant monkeys became subordinate to formerly subordinate monkeys. This reduction in social status produced behavioral and hormonal reactions corresponding to depressive reactions among humans. Behaviorally, these monkeys exhibited fearful scanning of the environment, and more important, decreased social affiliation. These behavioral changes suggest that the newly subordinate monkeys were engaging in interpersonal avoidance. Similarly, the monkeys’ hormonal activity transformed, and they began hypersecreting cortisol. Research has demonstrated that hypersecretion of cortisol occurs more frequently among depressed humans […]. Other studies of animal social hierarchies and avoidance provide results consistent with those of Shively et al.”
“It is interesting to note that [a] pattern of being overly reserved or acquiescing with strangers, but extremely negative and antagonistic toward close relatives or romantic partners, is quite common among people who are depressed.”
“[R]esearch on a phenomenon called self-handicapping indicates that depressed people may gain self-protective and other rewards for depressive cognition and behavior. These rewards serve to maintain depressive cognition and behavior, and thereby perpetuate depression. Self-handicapping, a concept with origins in the field of social psychology, refers to placing obstacles in the way of one’s performance on tasks so as to furnish oneself with an external attribution when future outcomes are uncertain […]. That is, in the anticipation of a possible failure or a poor performance of some sort, people may either claim to have some limitation or actuallyproduce a limitation that provides an explanation in the event that they perform poorly. Self-handicapping is a frequently occurring phenomenon and is not limited to depressed people. […] A series of studies by Baumgardner (1991) found self-handicapping, in general, appears to occur in one of two situations. First, it may occur when people have experienced a failure privately and hold concerns about that failure becoming public. […] People may also self-handicap when they have experienced a success publicly yet doubt their ability to maintain that success.”
“[T]wo forms of self-handicapping exist: claimed and acquired (these have also been referred to as self-reported and behavioral, respectively). Claimed handicaps are likely more common than acquired handicaps. […] claimed handicaps occur when people believe that the handicap will explain their poor performance. Acquired handicaps, however, occur when people (a) believe the handicap will explain their poor performance and (b) believe that the handicap will lower others’ future expectations. Both forms of self-handicapping are likely relevant to depression […] evidence suggests that self-handicapping, at least behavioral self-handicapping, occurs more frequently among men than women […]. Self-reported, or claimed, handicaps occur at similar rates among men and women. […] empirical evidence confirms that depressed people are more likely to self-handicap than others.”
“[S]elf-handicapping operates on both intrapsychic and interpersonal levels. That is, the handicap provides the individual a cognitive explanation of the failed performance and also provides an explanation to others who may be privy to the failure. […] In addition to providing an external attribution for failure, barriers to performance increase the likelihood of internal credit for success (i.e., self-enhancement). Consequently, individuals who self-handicap apparently benefit regardless of whether they succeed or fail. […] people self-handicap in the social arena with the goal of promoting a more positive image. Ironically, self-handicapping tends to have the reverse effect [“the perception that people [are] making excuses for their performance” can be damaging, regardless of actual performance] […] lower social expectations presage lower social opportunities, which by itself is a bad prognostic sign for depression. […] Although further empirical research on the interpersonal sequelae of these behaviors is needed before firm conclusions are drawn, they likely reduce opportunities for positive social engagement, increase antagonistic behaviors from others, and reconfirm depressed persons’ views that they are socially inept. The end result, tragically, is continued and exacerbated depression. […] When taken to an extreme, chronic behavioral self-handicapping may significantly hinder interpersonal relations and lead to the development of maladaptive behaviors such as alcoholism and substance dependence.”
“Sacco [argued in a publication] that depressed people’s relationship partners develop mental representations of them that become relatively autonomous and that bias subsequent perceptions of their depressed partners. […] students [in the study] were more likely to attribute the depressed person’s failures to internal, controllable causes, whereas the nondepressed person’s failures were judged to result more from external, uncontrollable factors. Students also considered the causes for failures to be more stable and have a wider impact on the depressed person’s life, as compared with the nondepressed person. The reverse pattern was seen for successful events. That is, successes were judged to result from external, uncontrollable factors among the depressed person but internal, controllable factors for the nondepressed person. Both of these processes are important — depressed persons not only are blamed more for negative events but also are given less credit when positive events occur […] [That] [f]ailures [are] attributed to enduring traits of depressed persons [by others] [and are] viewed as under the control of depressed persons (i.e., the depressed person could have avoided the failure if they had really tried) […] is strikingly similar to depressed persons’ characteristic self-blaming attitude. They attribute their own failures to internal, stable, and global factors […] [In short,] most depressed persons’, attributions are clearly saturated with self-directed blame [and] others tend to adopt the same negative, blaming attributions and behaviors toward depressed persons. […] Once formed, the mental representations [of others] remain stable, regardless of whether the depression has remitted. […] representations of negative behaviors, once solidified, are more difficult to alter than representations of positive behaviors”.
“Others not only fail to recognize positive attributes but also alter their interaction styles with the depressed person. There is evidence that others’ negative views subserve the communications they emit to the negatively represented person. For example, the literature on attributions and relationship functioning has documented a connection between negative attributions and blaming communications […] In short, negative attributions lead to blaming communications and decreased relationship satisfaction. […] Blaming communications, in turn, represent a specific instance of the array of interpersonal indicators shown to predict depression chronicity. […] blame maintenance essentially assures that others will continue to hold negative views of depressed persons, regardless of the depressed persons’ presentations. […] In the context of specifically targeting blame maintenance (or any of the other processes), simultaneous attention to the other processes is warranted, lest resolution of one exacerbate another […]. As an example, blame may serve as a source of selfverification for depressed people. If blame is reduced, negative self-verification strivings may be thwarted, which, in turn, may lead to attempts to restore blame or to meet self-verification needs in other ways (e.g., by reducing performance in a previously adaptive domain) or in other relationships (e.g., with friends).”
“The tendency to avoid potentially uncomfortable social interactions is a stable trait, with shyness demonstrating remarkable consistency from early childhood until late adulthood. […] Shyness has been implicated as a risk factor for depression. […] Social skills represent another potential stable vulnerability to depression. […] people who display poor social skills are less likely to obtain positive outcomes and avoid negative outcomes in interpersonal relationships. As a result, they are more likely to become and stay depressed […] an impressive amount of evidence suggests that people who are depressed also display poor social skills. […] When maladaptive interpersonal behaviors compromise relationships, shy people are more likely to experience loneliness [and] less likely to have good social support […], and are therefore more likely to become even more depressed.”
“This book develops a new explanatory framework for chronic depression […]. The framework rests on the premise that depression appears to include self-sustaining processes, that these processes may be, at least in part, interpersonal, and that understanding of these processes from an interpersonal standpoint may be useful in applied settings.”
I read this book a couple of days ago – here’s my short goodreads review. As mentioned in the review, the book includes quite a bit of rather old research and a lot of theorizing, which would probably be my two main points of criticism. I gave the book two stars on goodreads, but I should emphasize that this two star rating doesn’t really mean I think it’s a bad book; sometimes two star books are ‘borderline’, but this one isn’t and I found some of the coverage quite interesting. Given that the book explores how depression relates to interpersonal factors, I’ve of course read at least some stuff about many of the topics touched upon in the book before, e.g. here, here, here, here, and here. There was quite a bit of new stuff as well, though – in particular previous works dealing with depression which I’ve read have not had that much to say about how depression impacts people’s behaviours towards others and others’ behaviours towards the person who is depressed; the ‘interpersonal factors’ part of the coverage of previous works I’ve read on these topics has usually been limited to observations to the effect that lonely people are more likely to be depressed and similar, though the effects of social anxiety, often observed in depressed individuals (“the co-occurrence of depression and anxiety is very common. As many as 50% of people with major depression also experience an anxiety disorder” – a quote from the book), have admittedly also been pointed out to me before. This book however goes into more detail about these things and cover effects I do not recall having seen mentioned before.
Below I have added some observations from the book.
“There is good reason to emphasize the chronic nature of depression. First, some forms of depression, such as dysthymia, are chronic by definition (at least 2 years’ persistence in the case of dysthymia). Second, depression appears to be persistent within an episode, and, once it finally lets up, it tends to come back. Depression is both persistent within episodes and recurrent across episodes. […] Recurrence is defined as the reestablishment of clinical depression following a diagnosis-free period. […] Relapse is the resumption of symptoms in the vulnerable timeframe just following remission of a depressive episode. […] Several theorists have argued that depressive symptoms have a way of sustaining themselves. In this view, it is as if depression “feeds off itself,” “maintains its own momentum,” and “self-amplifies.” A key argument of this book is that these self-sustaining processes in depression may be interpersonal in nature. […] interpersonal factors are among the strongest predictors of depression chronicity. […] People with more interpersonal problems experience longer duration of depressive episodes”.
“Dysregulations of serotonin neurotransmitter systems, as well as of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (which regulates cortisol levels), have […] been proposed as a stable depression risk. There is little question that serotonin and cortisol levels are altered during depressive episodes (and related phenomena such as suicide). It is interesting to note that animals defeated in social skirmishes display behavioral and neurochemical similarities to depressed people […]. However, there is little persuasive evidence that dysregulation of these systems provides a full account of depression’s causes. [You can find some recent discussion of these topics, which also touches upon the observations included below, here] […] Regarding psychological explanations […], these theories can be grouped into those emphasizing cognitive vulnerability factors (e.g., pessimism), those emphasizing interpersonal vulnerability factors (e.g., excessive dependency), and those emphasizing personality-based vulnerability factors (e.g., high neuroticism, low extroversion). As with genetic—neurobiological explanations, psychological approaches have made some progress but cannot claim to provide a complete account of depression’s causes. […] shyness represents a stable vulnerability for depression. […] Although the notion that stable vulnerabilities like shyness only lead to depression in the context of some stressor is a reasonable view, it does not account for the finding that some shy (or otherwise vulnerable) people experience depression independent of negative life events. Partly in response to this quandary, a main purpose of this book is to explore interpersonal mechanisms whereby depression prolongs itself, even in the absence of external causes like negative life events.”
“there is some reason to suspect that depression’s properties may differ in certain subsets of people. Regarding late-life populations — for example, depressions that first occur in later life, as compared with those that first occur in early adulthood — occurrences may be about equally common in men and women (whereas “early” depressions are more common in women […]). In addition, late-life first occurrences are less associated with first-degree relatives’ depression risk […]; more related to neurological or medical disease […]; less severe […]; less associated with suicidal and anxious symptoms […]; and less related to personality problems, such as excessive dependency and avoidance […] Definitional problems plague depression research.”
“The incidence of clinical depression and depressive symptoms is two to three times higher among women than men. […] Although the gender differential in depression is consistent and well documented, little is known about the processes that underlie these differences.”
“In studies with follow-ups of 10 years or more, Coryell and Winokur (1992) found that 70% of people with one depressive episode subsequently experienced at least one more.”
“The link between life stress and depression is well-known — in general, the occurrence of life stressors appears to contribute to the development of depression […] Haramen (1991) theorized that depressed people are particularly stress-prone, in the sense that they actively generate negative life events. (It is important to distinguish active from intentional here — we do not believe that depressed people intentionally create problems for themselves, but that some of their behaviors have the unintended consequence of making life more stressful). If so, a self-sustaining process would be implicated in which formerly depressed people actively generate future life events that, in turn, sow the seeds of future depression. This would explain, at least in part, why depression persists and recurs. In a series of empirical studies, Hammen, Davila, Brown, Ellicott, and Gitlin, (1992) have documented the phenomenon of “stress generation.” […] In a 1-year study of women with depression, bipolar disorder, medical illness, or no disorder, Hammen (1991) showed that depressed women experienced more interpersonal stress to which the women themselves contributed (e.g., disputes with teachers or bosses; conflicts with children or partners), even compared with the women with bipolar disorder and medical illness. The finding was specific to interpersonal events — depressed women did not differ from others with regard to “fateful” events (i.e., those that really are randomly foisted on people). This result highlights the importance of interpersonal events, as well as the idea that nonrandom, self-produced negative events are characteristic of depressed people. Notably, the depressed women in Hammen’s (1991) study all experienced chronic forms of depression. This finding has been replicated in samples of men and women […] marital couples […] adolescent women […] children […] as well as by other research groups […] This line of research implicates the important possibility that, although depression may occur in the wake of stress, so may stress occur in depression’s wake.”
“Evidence suggests that people who are depressed demonstrate average problem-solving skills in impersonal settings (e.g., solving a puzzle), yet display specific problem-solving deficits in interpersonal settings […]. Examples of lapses in interpersonal problem solving may include the misperception of an offhand, trivial comment as an insulting attack; persistently avoiding someone who represents a key source of social support because of a minor misunderstanding; and angry, accusing confrontation of someone who was sincerely trying to help.”
“Many stress generation studies examine the links between self-reported depression and self-reported negative life stress. Because self-report is the source for assessment of both depression and stress, it is possible that increases in reported negative life events may merely reflect an increasingly hopeless outlook, rather than actual stress increases. A depressed person may thus perceive and report stress, even when stress is not actually present. […] the possible influence of increasing hopelessness in stress generation deserves attention […], especially insofar as hopelessness is a hallmark of major descriptive and etiological accounts of depression […] hopelessness, because of its embittering and stultifying effects on other people, may be particularly likely to disaffect others (i.e., to generate the stress of interpersonal rejection).”
“depression chronicity itself may be involved in stress generation. As depression persists, those who experience it may become more and more hopeless, and their significant others may become more and more burdened and disaffected. […] A second possibility is that hopelessness, because it has embittering and stultifying effects, may lead to cognitive representations of depressed people in the minds of significant others that are negative and change resistant. Sacco (1999) argued that once these representations are developed, they selectively guide attention and expectancies to confirm the representation. These social-cognitive processes may occur spontaneously and outside of awareness […] Once crystallized, cognitive representations of negative behaviors are more change resistant than representations of positive behaviors […]. Moreover, such representations gain momentum with use, in that they come to disproportionately influence social cognition relative to actual subsequent behaviors of the represented person […] With regard to others’ perceptions, the hopeless and potentially depressed person may face a very difficult problem: Continued hopelessness may only serve to maintain others’ negative views and thus generate stress in the form of criticism; positive changes, because they do not match others’ schemata, may be unnoticed or misattributed, leaving others’ negative representations unchanged.”
“there is accumulating evidence that depressed people actively generate their own stress, especially interpersonal stress […] For example, negative feedback-seeking (defined as the tendency to directly or indirectly invite criticism from other people and viewed as motivated by self-verification strivings […] represents a specific mechanism by which depression-prone people contribute to such stressors as relationship dissatisfaction and dissolution. Similarly, excessive reassurance-seeking (defined as the tendency to repeatedly and persistently demand assurance from others as to one’s lovability and worth, even after such is provided; […] also directly contributes to interpersonal stress. Interpersonal conflict avoidance ([…] defined as the anxious avoidance of self-assertion situations), also sows the seeds of stress generation. […] Research on self-handicapping and inoculation indicates that depressed people may gain self-protective and other rewards for depressive cognition and behavior. These rewards serve to maintain depressive cognition and behavior, and thereby [also] increase depression chronicity”.
[S]elf-verification theory […] proposes that people strive to attain and preserve predictable, certain, and familiar self-concepts. Further, the theory indicates that people accomplish this by actively seeking self-confirming interpersonal responses from those in their social environment. A key and perhaps counterintuitive implication of the theory is that there is no difference in the self-verification needs between people with positive self-concepts and people with negative self-concepts. […] In Study 1 [of Katz and Joiner (2002)], people in stable dating relationships were most intimate with and somewhat more committed to partners when they perceived that partners evaluated them as they evaluated themselves (even if negative). In Study 2, men reported the greatest esteem for same-sex roommates who evaluated them in a self-verifying manner (even if negative). Results from Study 2 were replicated and extended to both male and female roommate dyads in Study 3. […] In related research, it has been demonstrated that feedback that matches one’s self-concept is more “attention-grabbing,” more memorable, more rewarding, and more believable […]. In addition, a growing body of research suggests that people are more satisfied with and intimate in self-verifying relationships”.
“neither we nor self-verification theory imply that people enjoy the pain of abusive relationships and therefore seek them out. That is, self-verification theory is not talking about masochism. Rather, the theory points out the intractable dilemma of people with low self-esteem. If they choose (by whatever means, conscious or not) affirming relationships, relationship dysfunction, including abuse, may be in the cards. If they choose healthier relationships, they may have to grapple with the feeling that these relationships, despite their healthy qualities, do not provide them with self-confirmation. This represents a very difficult problem that has obvious effects on people’s well-being. […] there is growing evidence that people with depressive symptoms actively seek self-verification (i.e., negative feedback), often receive it, and may become depressed as a result. […] Depression may [also] perpetuate itself as a function of encouraging negative feedback-seeking. That is, people with depressive symptoms may solicit negative appraisals (and get them), and the receipt of negative feedback may serve to maintain or amplify their depression.”
“Coyne’s interpersonal theory of depression (1976b) proposed that in response to doubts as to their own worth or as to whether others truly care about them, initially nondepressed individuals may seek reassurance from others. Others may provide reassurance, but with little effect, because potentially depressed people doubt the reassurance, attributing it instead to others’ sense of pity or obligation. Potentially depressed people thus face a very difficult problem: They both need and doubt others’ reassurance. The need is emotionally powerful and thus may win out (at least temporarily), compelling the potentially depressed individuals to again “go back to the well” for reassurance from others; even if received, however, the reassurance is again doubted, and the pattern is repeated. Because the pattern is repetitive and resistant to change, the increasingly depressed persons’ significant others become confused, frustrated, and irritated and thus increasingly likely to reject the depressed persons and to become depressed themselves. […] We suggest that there is a considerable difference between the routine and adaptive solicitation of social support across distinct situations, and the repeated and persistent seeking of reassurance within the same situation, even when reassurance has already been provided.”
“Joiner and Katz (1999) reviewed the literature on contagious depression, and concluded that 40 findings from 36 separate studies provided substantial overall support for the proposition that depressed mood, and particularly, depressive symptoms, are contagious. […] excessive reassurance-seeking may explain, in part, when depression will be interpersonally transmitted. Taken together with research on interpersonal rejection, the work on contagious depression suggests that the joint operation of depressive symptoms and excessive reassurance-seeking disaffects significant others, by distancing them actually (e.g., ending the relationship) or functionally (e.g., emotional unavailability due to frustration or to contagious depression). […] In the interpersonal arena, excessive reassurance-seeking and negative feedback-seeking compound one another by creating a particularly confusing and frustrating experience for relationship partners of depressed people. […] It is interesting to note that this process has been confirmed empirically: Joiner and Metalsky (1995) found that relationship partners of depressed people are particularly likely to evaluate them negatively if they engaged in both excessive reassurance-seeking and negative feedback-seeking.”
Providing practical support for people with autism spectrum disorder – supported living in the community
“The last few chapters managed to almost push me all the way towards giving the book one star. You can’t just claim in a book like this that very expensive and comprehensive support systems which you’re dreaming about are cost-effective without citing a single study, especially not in a context where you’ve just claimed that activities which usually end up costing a lot of money will end up saving money. If you envision a much more comprehensive support system, you can’t not address obvious cost drivers.
Some interesting stuff and important observations are included in the book, but the level of coverage is not high and you should not take my two star (‘ok’) rating to indicate that I am in agreement with the author. The main reason why I ended up finishing it was that it was easy to read, not that it was a good book.”
There are no inline citations, and examples of things people with ASD might need help with and ways to help them with these problems seem to be derived from anecdotes, not systematic research. The author repeatedly emphasizes that aid should be individualized and focused on the specific needs of the person with ASD, and although this makes a lot of sense it also makes recommendations very difficult to evaluate (it’s a bit like figuring out what’s going on in the context of other areas of psychological research, where therapists will often ‘mix methods’ when dealing with specific individuals, making it impossible to figure out which components of the treatment regime are actually helpful and which are not because even if people were to try to figure this out, power issues would make it impossible to estimate the relevant interaction effects even in theory); though it should be made clear that the author makes no attempt to do this.
I however found some of the observations included and specific points raised in the book to be interesting, and I’ll mention some of these in the coverage below.
“Professional support needs to be developed and executed in partnership with people and families. For support to be successful, all concerned need to be aware of its objectives and agree with the plan and strategies involved.”
I decided to start out the coverage with this quote because the book is full of postulates like these. Often specific cases will be used to illustrate points like these, but don’t expect any references to actual research on such topics – it’s not that kind of book. The approach employed makes the book incredibly hard for me to evaluate; some of the ideas are presumably sound, but it’s difficult to tell which because they didn’t do the research. In theory it’s sometimes easy to see how a given approach mentioned might lead to, or solve, specific problems, but you’ll often get the idea that perhaps there are tradeoffs at play here which the advice included does not take into account, meaning that in specific cases an alternative solution/piece of advice to the one proposed might lead to better outcomes by trading off the problems associated with the approach mentioned and the problems associated with an alternative approach. In some cases you perhaps would ideally prefer the parents of an adult child living outside the home of the parents to not have too much influence on support strategies employed even though they might traditionally have had a significant role to play in the context of support provision, because the family’s approach to problem solving might be counterproductive, in which case a support plan not supported by the parents might still in some cases be preferable to one which would be supported by them. The emphasis on individualized care throughout the book is, it must be said, on the other hand helpful in terms of thinking about such potential problems, but you still have this impression that a lot of the suggestions in the book are really not based on anywhere near a sufficient amount of data or research, and although they’re often ‘common sense suggestions’ it’s quite clear from a lot of different areas of psychological research by now that common sense can sometimes deceive us.
A general problem I have with the book is, I think, that I think the author is too confident about which support approaches/strategies/etc. might, or might not, work – and perhaps a key reason why she seems overconfident is that she’s not provided the research results in the book which one would in my opinion need in order to draw conclusions like the ones she draws, regardless of whether such research actually exists. A related problem is that quite a few of the concluding statements in the book are at least partly normative statements (which I generally dislike to encounter in non-fiction), not descriptive statements (which I do like to encounter). In the book she repeatedly makes claims about what people with ASD are like without referring to research on these topics, so you’re wondering how she knows these things, and whether or not those claims are actually true, or just true for a small subset of people with ASD which she’s encountered or read about. Many of the observations seemed familiar to me (having encountered them either in other textbooks, or having personal experience with the issues mentioned) so I’d be likely to grant that many of the observations are valid, but you are sometimes wondering how she knows the things she claims to know. A big problem is actually the way she covers the material; she covers various topics in various chapters, but the way she does is makes it relatively hard for a reader to know which parts of a given chapter might actually be useful for a specific individual curious about these things; another way to do things might have been to split the coverage up into chapters about support provision for people with low support requirements, and other chapters about support provision for people with high support requirements. It’s made clear in the book that needs are different for different individuals, but you’re often sort of wondering which passages are most relevant to which groups of people with ASD. One might argue that ‘people ought to be able to tell this on their own’, but then we get to the problems that people with ASD tend to be bad at asking for support, perhaps not realizing that they need it, and the problem that people without ASD who do not know much about ASD perhaps have a difficult time figuring out which types of help might be useful in a specific setting. This stuff is difficult as it is, but I don’t think the way the coverage is structured in this book is helping at all with solving these sorts of issues.
Oh well, let’s move on…:
“The ultimate aim of support should be to improve skills and develop strategies to enable the person with ASD to feel in control and better able to cope independently.”
“The fact is that extremely able people with ASD frequently struggle with day-to-day life skills. Very intelligent students cannot organize themselves to launder their clothes, and may get up to find they are all dirty or still wet in the machine from several days ago. This is one of those superficially trivial things that can be a major problem to the person it repeatedly happens to. On a practical domestic front, what may be a massive difficulty for a person with ASD, may be an easily solved problem for someone without it. […] People with ASD like to have regular routines. The ability to adhere to routine is an advantage in many situations, and this skill can be used productively. Structure and organization can be brought to running the household. As a plan is constructed, problems can be considered and systems put in place to deal with them. A planning session when the individual collaborates with support to work out a weekly menu and the necessary shopping plan, gives the person more autonomy, than having someone turn up to go shopping or cook with them. Having someone alongside is sometimes necessary, but has the disadvantage of creating dependence. The individual is empowered instead by being facilitated to complete tasks independently. […] The best support methods promote independence. […] The aspects of forward planning can be incredibly challenging for a person with ASD, regardless of their intellectual level. […] As people with ASD have great difficulty seeing consequences or planning ahead, they may find it hard to become motivated if the gratification is not instant. Things have to be broken down and explained in a practical way.”
“Most people instigate minor changes easily. It may be more convenient to vary a normal routine on a particular day, even pleasurable. I might decide that as it is a sunny day I will go out, and do the housework in the evening. As a supporter for someone with ASD it is vital to remember, that he will not have the flexibility of thought that people generally have and so may need routines to be more stringently adhered to. Such a simple adjustment may not be easy, and it may be preferable to stay with the usual unless there is a strong argument for change. The world becomes easier to interpret if as much as possible is held constant. […] Change is easier to manage if we know it is coming. The better prepared someone is for a change, generally the easier it is to cope. For people with ASD, it helps if the preparation can be as concrete as possible.”
“The paradoxical nature of ASD is demonstrated again in attention span. The person will be absolutely absorbed, blocking out the rest of the world, when he is engrossed in something of particular interest; but at other times his attention span can be low. Most people will recognize the experience of being called away to answer a phone call, or speaking to a visitor and completely forgetting that they were in the middle of doing something. This distractibility is a common experience for those with ASD. […] I often think that ASD is the source of the stereotype of the ‘absent-minded professor’.”
A personal remark on these topics is perhaps in order here, and I add it because it is my impression that mass media portrails of individuals with these sorts of traits are generally if anything favourably inclined; in the sense that distractibility, forgetfulness and these sorts of traits are in those contexts in general traits you smile about and which are mildly funny. My impression is that the first word that springs to mind in these contexts is ‘amusing’, or something along those lines, not ‘annoying’. The downsides are usually to some extent neglected. However I know from Real Life experience that things like forgetfulness and distractability can be really annoying. Forgetting the key to your flat and locking yourself out of your flat (multiple times); forgetting to bring home your laptop from the university and having to go back and get it while worrying about whether or not it’s been stolen in the meantime (it fortunately wasn’t); getting caught up in an interesting exchange on the internet causing you to you forget that you turned on the stove an hour ago (or was it two hours ago? Time flies when you’re engaged in stuff that interests you…), so now you’ll have to spend another hour trying to clean the pot and separate the charred chunks of vegetables and the metal; getting a burn while taking something out of the oven because you were thinking about something else and didn’t pay sufficient attention to the task at hand – these things border from annoying to dangerous, as also noted in the book: “Depending on what we were doing, finding that we have left something in the middle of it can be anything from mildly annoying (left the kitchen half cleaned) to very distressing (left the pan on the hob and burnt the house down).” Similar observations might be made in the context of ‘clumsiness’ (not a diagnostic trait, but apparently often observed) and combinations of these traits. The sorts of things people often find amusing when they happen to, say, cartoon characters are a lot less funny when they happen to you personally, especially if you are having difficulties finding ways to address the issues and other people are impacted by them as well. Problems like these may cause amusement among others, but I know from both personal experience and the experiences of a good friend of mine that they may also cause profound exasperation among the people around you.
“Difficulty with communication is a core problem for those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Some people have little or no speech, some have an extensive vocabulary, some make grammatical mistakes, some have a wide use of language – but all people with ASD have problems with communication. These problems are extremely complex, leading to much misunderstanding, confusion and stress. The more sophisticated the person’s language is the greater the problem may be. Ros Blackburn, a highly intelligent British woman with ASD who gives many talks on the subject, highlights that a person’s ability can also be their greatest disability. As a verbal, intellectually able woman, she finds that people do not appreciate the support that she needs in everyday and social situations. The power to have a seemingly normal conversation can cause many troubles for a person with ASD by giving a false impression of their comprehension. […] Care should be taken not to give too much information at one time. People with ASD generally process language slowly and have difficulty handling a lot of verbal input. […] People with ASD work through matters slowly, and speed of discussion is problematic. […] So time needs to be offered to assimilate information before a response is expected. […] For most people with ASD, it is easier to talk if there are fewer people in the group. In a large meeting there is too much to take in, and few silences in which to process what has been said. […] They almost always prefer one to one conversation to group discussion, and small intimate gatherings to parties.”
“We all make blunders in relationships. We misjudge what is acceptable in a situation, mistake another person’s intention or misinterpret someone’s meaning. We then feel upset, isolated and embarrassed. People with ASD are more prone to doing this sort of thing than most – and they do experience the same unpleasant aftermath. […] Coping well is a double-edged sword; the better a person manages, the more likely he is to be judged harshly when he does make a mistake. […] Some people with ASD are able to think their way through social situations. They teach themselves or have been taught to interpret non-verbal signals. They can use cognition to remember that the other person may feel differently to them, and to compute what their perception and emotions may be. This is a slow, cumbersome method compared to the automatic, rapid assimilation that those without ASD make. Even those who compensate well appear slow, stilted, awkward, and are liable to make significant mistakes.”
“Neurotypical people (NTs) are as lacking in empathy towards people with ASD as vice versa.” This is in my opinion a bold claim and I’m not sure it’s true, but I think she does have a point here. I think it’s likely that NTs often judge people with ASD based on the standards of NTs; standards which may well be impossible for the person with ASD to ever meet, regardless of the amount of effort the individual puts into meeting those standards. She however argues later on in the coverage that: “Most people are not unkind, but are unthinking or, because of lack of knowledge about disability, make incorrect assumptions.” This seems plausible.
“The rigidity of AS thinking and the tendency to obsess means that a worry can escalate and dominate a person’s life. […] As a basic rule of thumb, regular, familiar routines are better stress busters than a novel idea. A holiday, for example, is more likely to add to stress than relieve it.” (This sounds very familiar, and I’ll keep this quote in mind…)
“Many people with ASD remain more susceptible to parental influence than the majority of their peers. […] All people with ASD, including the highly intelligent, are susceptible to being led by others and it is very easy for the person offering support, either knowingly or unwittingly, to lead the person down a route, which is not the course he wants to follow.”
“Social inabilities create problems for people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in establishing peer relationships and so naturally accessing the support that evolves between members of groups, such as work colleagues, fellow students or regulars in the pub. Asking for assistance appropriately will be challenging for people with ASD. […] adults often only appear on the services ‘radar’ when they reach crisis point. Forty-nine per cent of adults with ASD are still living with their parents. […] Only 6 per cent of adults with ASD are in full-time employment [no sources provided, US]”
“It is not always possible to tell from meeting a person or even from having regular contact with him that he has autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Individuals therefore face the decision as to whether or not to disclose that they have the disorder. […] Generally disclosure is on a sliding scale. Most people tell close family; whilst it would probably be inappropriate to tell a casual stranger. Some will disclose to professionals, but prefer to keep the information from social contacts. […] There are no easy answers as to who and when to tell. Disclosure to professionals in formal situations appears advisable so that all are aware of the condition and any differences are accepted and planned for. Informal social situations are more fluid and difficult to read.”
“NAS statistics show that only six per cent of people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) (12% of those with Asperger Syndrome (AS)) in the UK are in full-time employment. This compares with 49 per cent of people with general disabilities who are employed. […] Given the talents which many with ASD have, this is a great loss to the workforce. […] Traits common to ASD, such as conscientiousness, attention to detail, perseverance and loyalty, are great assets to an employer. […] People with ASD tend to be loyal, to stick to routines and dislike change. […] The characteristics of the disorder mean that the individual may not make a good impression at interview. Social skills will not be a forté. […] The employer needs to be aware of any ASD traits the person displays, such as lack of eye contact. Questions may be prepared with support so that they elicit the information needed, but are specific, factual and clear. Broad questions, such as, ‘Tell me about yourself ’, will leave the interviewee floundering. […] Interviews are not always the most appropriate way of assessing candidates, especially not those with ASD.”
The author does not address in the book the specific problems and tradeoffs related to the question of whether or not it’s optimal to disclose an autism spectrum disorder to a potential employer, but rather seems to take it for granted that the interviewee should always disclose, preferably beforehand. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and I’m really not convinced this is always the right approach.
i. Lock (water transport). Zumerchik and Danver’s book covered this kind of stuff as well, sort of, and I figured that since I’m not going to blog the book – for reasons provided in my goodreads review here – I might as well add a link or two here instead. The words ‘sort of’ above are in my opinion justified because the book coverage is so horrid you’d never even know what a lock is used for from reading that book; you’d need to look that up elsewhere.
On a related note there’s a lot of stuff in that book about the history of water transport etc. which you probably won’t get from these articles, but having a look here will give you some idea about which sort of topics many of the chapters of the book are dealing with. Also, stuff like this and this. The book coverage of the latter topic is incidentally much, much more detailed than is that wiki article, and the article – as well as many other articles about related topics (economic history, etc.) on the wiki, to the extent that they even exist – could clearly be improved greatly by adding content from books like this one. However I’m not going to be the guy doing that.
ii. Congruence (geometry).
I’d note that this is a topic which seems to be reasonably well covered on wikipedia; there’s for example also a ‘good article’ on the Everglades and a featured article about the Everglades National Park. A few quotes and observations from the article:
“The geography and ecology of the Everglades involve the complex elements affecting the natural environment throughout the southern region of the U.S. state of Florida. Before drainage, the Everglades were an interwoven mesh of marshes and prairies covering 4,000 square miles (10,000 km2). […] Although sawgrass and sloughs are the enduring geographical icons of the Everglades, other ecosystems are just as vital, and the borders marking them are subtle or nonexistent. Pinelands and tropical hardwood hammocks are located throughout the sloughs; the trees, rooted in soil inches above the peat, marl, or water, support a variety of wildlife. The oldest and tallest trees are cypresses, whose roots are specially adapted to grow underwater for months at a time.”
“A vast marshland could only have been formed due to the underlying rock formations in southern Florida. The floor of the Everglades formed between 25 million and 2 million years ago when the Florida peninsula was a shallow sea floor. The peninsula has been covered by sea water at least seven times since the earliest bedrock formation. […] At only 5,000 years of age, the Everglades is a young region in geological terms. Its ecosystems are in constant flux as a result of the interplay of three factors: the type and amount of water present, the geology of the region, and the frequency and severity of fires. […] Water is the dominant element in the Everglades, and it shapes the land, vegetation, and animal life of South Florida. The South Florida climate was once arid and semi-arid, interspersed with wet periods. Between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago, sea levels rose, submerging portions of the Florida peninsula and causing the water table to rise. Fresh water saturated the limestone, eroding some of it and creating springs and sinkholes. The abundance of fresh water allowed new vegetation to take root, and through evaporation formed thunderstorms. Limestone was dissolved by the slightly acidic rainwater. The limestone wore away, and groundwater came into contact with the surface, creating a massive wetland ecosystem. […] Only two seasons exist in the Everglades: wet (May to November) and dry (December to April). […] The Everglades are unique; no other wetland system in the world is nourished primarily from the atmosphere. […] Average annual rainfall in the Everglades is approximately 62 inches (160 cm), though fluctuations of precipitation are normal.”
“Between 1871 and 2003, 40 tropical cyclones struck the Everglades, usually every one to three years.”
“Islands of trees featuring dense temperate or tropical trees are called tropical hardwood hammocks. They may rise between 1 and 3 feet (0.30 and 0.91 m) above water level in freshwater sloughs, sawgrass prairies, or pineland. These islands illustrate the difficulty of characterizing the climate of the Everglades as tropical or subtropical. Hammocks in the northern portion of the Everglades consist of more temperate plant species, but closer to Florida Bay the trees are tropical and smaller shrubs are more prevalent. […] Islands vary in size, but most range between 1 and 10 acres (0.40 and 4.05 ha); the water slowly flowing around them limits their size and gives them a teardrop appearance from above. The height of the trees is limited by factors such as frost, lightning, and wind: the majority of trees in hammocks grow no higher than 55 feet (17 m). […] There are more than 50 varieties of tree snails in the Everglades; the color patterns and designs unique to single islands may be a result of the isolation of certain hammocks. […] An estimated 11,000 species of seed-bearing plants and 400 species of land or water vertebrates live in the Everglades, but slight variations in water levels affect many organisms and reshape land formations.”
“Because much of the coast and inner estuaries are built by mangroves—and there is no border between the coastal marshes and the bay—the ecosystems in Florida Bay are considered part of the Everglades. […] Sea grasses stabilize sea beds and protect shorelines from erosion by absorbing energy from waves. […] Sea floor patterns of Florida Bay are formed by currents and winds. However, since 1932, sea levels have been rising at a rate of 1 foot (0.30 m) per 100 years. Though mangroves serve to build and stabilize the coastline, seas may be rising more rapidly than the trees are able to build.”
iv. Chang and Eng Bunker. Not a long article, but interesting:
“Chang (Chinese: 昌; pinyin: Chāng; Thai: จัน, Jan, rtgs: Chan) and Eng (Chinese: 恩; pinyin: Ēn; Thai: อิน In) Bunker (May 11, 1811 – January 17, 1874) were Thai-American conjoined twin brothers whose condition and birthplace became the basis for the term “Siamese twins”.”
I loved some of the implicit assumptions in this article: “Determined to live as normal a life they could, Chang and Eng settled on their small plantation and bought slaves to do the work they could not do themselves. […] Chang and Adelaide [his wife] would become the parents of eleven children. Eng and Sarah [‘the other wife’] had ten.”
A ‘normal life’ indeed… The women the twins married were incidentally sisters who ended up disliking each other (I can’t imagine why…).
v. Genie (feral child). This is a very long article, and you should be warned that many parts of it may not be pleasant to read. From the article:
“Genie (born 1957) is the pseudonym of a feral child who was the victim of extraordinarily severe abuse, neglect and social isolation. Her circumstances are prominently recorded in the annals of abnormal child psychology. When Genie was a baby her father decided that she was severely mentally retarded, causing him to dislike her and withhold as much care and attention as possible. Around the time she reached the age of 20 months Genie’s father decided to keep her as socially isolated as possible, so from that point until she reached 13 years, 7 months, he kept her locked alone in a room. During this time he almost always strapped her to a child’s toilet or bound her in a crib with her arms and legs completely immobilized, forbade anyone from interacting with her, and left her severely malnourished. The extent of Genie’s isolation prevented her from being exposed to any significant amount of speech, and as a result she did not acquire language during childhood. Her abuse came to the attention of Los Angeles child welfare authorities on November 4, 1970.
In the first several years after Genie’s early life and circumstances came to light, psychologists, linguists and other scientists focused a great deal of attention on Genie’s case, seeing in her near-total isolation an opportunity to study many aspects of human development. […] In early January 1978 Genie’s mother suddenly decided to forbid all of the scientists except for one from having any contact with Genie, and all testing and scientific observations of her immediately ceased. Most of the scientists who studied and worked with Genie have not seen her since this time. The only post-1977 updates on Genie and her whereabouts are personal observations or secondary accounts of them, and all are spaced several years apart. […]
Genie’s father had an extremely low tolerance for noise, to the point of refusing to have a working television or radio in the house. Due to this, the only sounds Genie ever heard from her parents or brother on a regular basis were noises when they used the bathroom. Although Genie’s mother claimed that Genie had been able to hear other people talking in the house, her father almost never allowed his wife or son to speak and viciously beat them if he heard them talking without permission. They were particularly forbidden to speak to or around Genie, so what conversations they had were therefore always very quiet and out of Genie’s earshot, preventing her from being exposed to any meaningful language besides her father’s occasional swearing. […] Genie’s father fed Genie as little as possible and refused to give her solid food […]
In late October 1970, Genie’s mother and father had a violent argument in which she threatened to leave if she could not call her parents. He eventually relented, and later that day Genie’s mother was able to get herself and Genie away from her husband while he was out of the house […] She and Genie went to live with her parents in Monterey Park. Around three weeks later, on November 4, after being told to seek disability benefits for the blind, Genie’s mother decided to do so in nearby Temple City, California and brought Genie along with her.
On account of her near-blindness, instead of the disabilities benefits office Genie’s mother accidentally entered the general social services office next door. The social worker who greeted them instantly sensed something was not right when she first saw Genie and was shocked to learn Genie’s true age was 13, having estimated from her appearance and demeanor that she was around 6 or 7 and possibly autistic. She notified her supervisor, and after questioning Genie’s mother and confirming Genie’s age they immediately contacted the police. […]
Upon admission to Children’s Hospital, Genie was extremely pale and grossly malnourished. She was severely undersized and underweight for her age, standing 4 ft 6 in (1.37 m) and weighing only 59 pounds (27 kg) […] Genie’s gross motor skills were extremely weak; she could not stand up straight nor fully straighten any of her limbs. Her movements were very hesitant and unsteady, and her characteristic “bunny walk”, in which she held her hands in front of her like claws, suggested extreme difficulty with sensory processing and an inability to integrate visual and tactile information. She had very little endurance, only able to engage in any physical activity for brief periods of time. […]
Despite tests conducted shortly after her admission which determined Genie had normal vision in both eyes she could not focus them on anything more than 10 feet (3 m) away, which corresponded to the dimensions of the room she was kept in. She was also completely incontinent, and gave no response whatsoever to extreme temperatures. As Genie never ate solid food as a child she was completely unable to chew and had very severe dysphagia, completely unable to swallow any solid or even soft food and barely able to swallow liquids. Because of this she would hold anything which she could not swallow in her mouth until her saliva broke it down, and if this took too long she would spit it out and mash it with her fingers. She constantly salivated and spat, and continually sniffed and blew her nose on anything that happened to be nearby.
Genie’s behavior was typically highly anti-social, and proved extremely difficult for others to control. She had no sense of personal property, frequently pointing to or simply taking something she wanted from someone else, and did not have any situational awareness whatsoever, acting on any of her impulses regardless of the setting. […] Doctors found it extremely difficult to test Genie’s mental age, but on two attempts they found Genie scored at the level of a 13-month-old. […] When upset Genie would wildly spit, blow her nose into her clothing, rub mucus all over her body, frequently urinate, and scratch and strike herself. These tantrums were usually the only times Genie was at all demonstrative in her behavior. […] Genie clearly distinguished speaking from other environmental sounds, but she remained almost completely silent and was almost entirely unresponsive to speech. When she did vocalize, it was always extremely soft and devoid of tone. Hospital staff initially thought that the responsiveness she did show to them meant she understood what they were saying, but later determined that she was instead responding to nonverbal signals that accompanied their speaking. […] Linguists later determined that in January 1971, two months after her admission, Genie only showed understanding of a few names and about 15–20 words. Upon hearing any of these, she invariably responded to them as if they had been spoken in isolation. Hospital staff concluded that her active vocabulary at that time consisted of just two short phrases, “stop it” and “no more”. Beyond negative commands, and possibly intonation indicating a question, she showed no understanding of any grammar whatsoever. […] Genie had a great deal of difficulty learning to count in sequential order. During Genie’s stay with the Riglers, the scientists spent a great deal of time attempting to teach her to count. She did not start to do so at all until late 1972, and when she did her efforts were extremely deliberate and laborious. By 1975 she could only count up to 7, which even then remained very difficult for her.”
“From January 1978 until 1993, Genie moved through a series of at least four additional foster homes and institutions. In some of these locations she was further physically abused and harassed to extreme degrees, and her development continued to regress. […] Genie is a ward of the state of California, and is living in an undisclosed location in the Los Angeles area. In May 2008, ABC News reported that someone who spoke under condition of anonymity had hired a private investigator who located Genie in 2000. She was reportedly living a relatively simple lifestyle in a small private facility for mentally underdeveloped adults, and appeared to be happy. Although she only spoke a few words, she could still communicate fairly well in sign language.“