All posts by John pullyblank

M. Jackson Group Update – July 2018 – Review of Antidepressant Medications

This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field.  His post is as follows:
 
Lancet includes an article: “Comparative efficacy and acceptability of 21 antidepressant drugs for the acute treatment of adults with major depressive disorder: a systematic review and network meta-analysis.”
 
The authors are Andrea Cipriani, Prof Toshi A Furukawa, MD†, Georgia Salanti, PhD†, Anna Chaimani, PhD, Lauren Z Atkinson, MSc, Yusuke Ogawa, MD, Prof Stefan Leucht, MD, Henricus G Ruhe, PhD, Erick H Turner, MD, Prof Julian P T Higgins, PhD, Prof Matthias Egger, PhD, Nozomi Takeshima, MD, Yu Hayasaka, MD, Hissei Imai, MD, Kiyomi Shinohara, MD, Aran Tajika, MD, Prof John P A Ioannidis, MD, Prof John R Geddes, MD.
 
AS USUAL, FOR THOSE WHO WOULD LIKE ACCESS TO THIS ARTICLE, I’LL INCLUDE *BOTH*THE AUTHOR’S EMAIL ADDRESS (FOR REQUESTING ELECTRONIC REPRINTS) *AND* A LINK TO THE COMPLETE ARTICLE AT THE END BELOW.
 
Here’s how it opens:
 
[begin excerpt]
 
Psychiatric disorders account for 22·8% of the global burden of diseases.1 The leading cause of this disability is depression, which has substantially increased since 1990, largely driven by population growth and ageing.2 With an estimated 350 million people affected globally, the economic burden of depressive disorders in the USA alone has been estimated to be more than US$210 billion, with approximately 45% attributable to direct costs, 5% to suicide-related costs, and 50% to workplace costs.3 This trend poses a substantial challenge for health systems in both developed and developing countries, with the need to treat patients, optimise resources, and improve overall health care in mental health.
 
Grouped into various classes of drugs with slightly different mechanisms of action, antidepressants are widely used treatments for major depressive disorder, which are available worldwide. However, there is a long-lasting debate and concern about their efficacy and effectiveness, because short-term benefits are, on average, modest; and because long-term balance of benefits and harms is often understudied.4 Therefore, innovation in psychopharmacology is of crucial importance, but the identification of new molecular targets is difficult, primarily because of the paucity of knowledge about how antidepressants work.5 In routine practice, clinicians have a wide choice of individual drugs and they need good evidence to make the best choice for each individual patient. Network meta-analyses of existing datasets make it possible to estimate comparative efficacy, summarise and interpret the wider picture of the evidence base, and to understand the relative merits of the multiple interventions.6 Therefore, in this study, we aimed to do a systematic review and network meta-analysis to inform clinical practice by comparing different antidepressants for the acute treatment of adults with unipolar major depressive disorder.
 
[end excerpt]
 
Here’s an excerpt from the Discussion section:
 
[begin excerpt]
 
We found that all antidepressants included in the meta-analysis were more efficacious than placebo in adults with major depressive disorder and the summary effect sizes were mostly modest. 
 
Some antidepressants, such as escitalopram, mirtazapine, paroxetine, agomelatine, and sertraline had a relatively higher response and lower dropout rate than the other antidepressants. 
 
By contrast, reboxetine, trazodone, and fluvoxamine were associated with generally inferior efficacy and acceptability profiles compared with the other antidepressants, making them less favourable options. To make our results as relevant and robust as possible to inform clinical practice, we decided to focus on head-to-head studies and at the same time emphasise the certainty of the retrieved evidence. Our assessment overall found few differences between antidepressants when all data were considered, while there was more diversity in the range of efficacy and dropout patterns seen across the head-to-head comparisons than the meta-analysis of antidepressants versus placebo.
 
The present findings in adults contrast with the efficacy of antidepressants in children and adolescents, for which fluoxetine is probably the only antidepressant that might reduce depressive symptoms.21 
 
This differential efficacy across age groups might reflect heterogeneous mechanisms and causes of depression,22 smaller number of studies in young people, or different methodological issues affecting adult and paediatric trials.23 
 
The effect sizes were also smaller in more recent and larger placebo-controlled trials than in older and smaller ones, which might be an indicator of bias.
 
[end excerpt]
 
Here’s how the article ends: “The findings from this network meta-analysis represent the most comprehensive currently available evidence base to guide the initial choice about pharmacological treatment for acute major depressive disorder in adults. All statements comparing the merits of one antidepressant with another must be tempered by the potential limitations of the methodology,32the complexity of specific patient populations, and the uncertainties that might result from choice of dose or treatment setting. We hope that these results will assist in shared decision making between patients, carers, and their clinicians.”
REPRINT REQUESTS & OTHER CORRESPONDENCE: mailto:andrea.cipriani@psych.ox.ac.uk
 
The article is online at:
 
Ken Pope
 
POPE & VASQUEZ:  ETHICS IN PSYCHOTHERAPY AND COUNSELING: A PRACTICAL GUIDE (5th EDITION)—John Wiley & Sons
Print—Kindle—Nook—eBook—Apple iBook—Google Book
 
POPE: FIVE STEPS TO STRENGTHEN ETHICS IN ORGANIZATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS: 
EFFECTIVE STRATEGIES INFORMED BY RESEARCH AND HISTORY—Routledge (imprint of Taylor & Francis)
Hardbound—Kindle—Nook—eBook—Google Book
 
POPE: “AWARD ADDRESS: THE CODE NOT TAKEN: THE PATH FROM GUILD ETHICS TO TORTURE AND OUR CONTINUING CHOICES”—
Canadian Psychology/psychologie Canadienne article free online at:
 
“Every sentence that I utter should be regarded by you not as an assertion but as a question.” 
—Niels Bohr, Nobel Prize in Physics (1885-1962) 

M. Jackson Group Update – June 2018 – Pseudoscience

This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field.  His post is as follows:
 
Scott Lilienfeld has written an excellent forward (“Navigating a Post-Truth World: Ten Enduring Lessons from the Study of Pseudoscience”) to an excellent book: Pseudoscience: The Conspiracy Against Scienceedited by Allison B. Kaufman & James C. Kaufman, published by MIT Press (2018).
 
Here’s how the forward opens: “We find ourselves living increasingly in a ‘post-truth’ world, one in which emotions and opinions count for more than well-established findings when it comes to evaluating assertions.  In much of contemporary Western culture, such catchphrases as ‘Don’t confuse me with the facts,’ ‘Everyone is entitled to my opinion,’ and ‘Trust your gut’ capture a troubling reality, namely, that many citizens do not—and in some cases, apparently cannot—adequately distinguish what is true from what they wish to be true.  This overreliance on the ‘affect heuristic,’ the tendency to gauge the truth value of a proposition based on our emotional reactions to it (Slovic, Finucane, Peters, and MacGregor, 2007), frequently leads us to accept dubious assertions that warm the cockles of our hearts, and to reject well-supported assertions that rub us the wrong way.  We are all prone to this error, but one hallmark of an educated person is the capacity to recognize and compensate for it, at least to some degree.”
 
Here are some excerpts from the 10 enduring lessons:
 
[begin excerpt]
 
(1) We are all biased. Yes, that includes you and me.
 
<snip>
 
(2) We are largely unaware of our biases. Research on bias blind spot (Pronin, Lin, and Ross, 2002) demonstrates that most of us can readily identify cognitive biases in just about everyone except for one person—ourselves. As a consequence of this metabias, we often believe ourselves largely immune to serious errors in thinking that afflict others.
 
<snip>
 
(3) Science is a systematic set of safeguards against biases. Despite what most of us learned in high school, there is probably no single “scientific method”—that is, a unitary recipe for conducting science that cuts across all research domains (McComas, 1996). Instead, what we term “science” is almost certainly an exceedingly diverse, but systematic and finely honed, set of tools that humans have developed over the centuries to compensate for our species’ biases (Lilienfeld, 2010). Perhaps foremost among these biases is confirmation bias, the propensity to selectively seek out, selectively interpret, and recall evidence that supports our hypotheses, and to deny, dismiss, and distort evidence that does not (Nickerson, 1998). As social psychologists Carol Tavris and Elliott Aronson (2007) have observed, science is a method of arrogance control; it helps to keep us honest. 
 
(4) Scientific thinking does not come naturally to the human species. As many authors have noted, scientific thinking is unnatural (McCauley, 2011). It needs to be acquired and practiced assiduously.
 
<snip>
 
(5) Scientific thinking is exasperatingly domain-specific. Findings in educational psychology suggest that scientific thinking skills generalize slowly, if at all, across different domains. This point probably helps to explain why it is so difficult to teach scientific thinking as a broad skill that can be applied to most or all fields (Willingham, 2007). This sobering truth probably also helps to explain why even many Nobel Prize winners and otherwise brilliant thinkers can easily fall prey to the seductive sway of pseudoscience.
 
<snip>
 
(6) Pseudoscience and science lie on a spectrum. As I noted earlier, there is almost surely no bright line distinguishing pseudoscience from science. Like many pairs of interrelated concepts, such as hill versus mountain and pond versus lake, pseudoscience and science bleed into each other imperceptibly.
 
<snip>
 
Still, as I have pointed out, the fact that there is no categorical distinction between pseudoscience and science does not mean that we cannot differentiate clear-cut exemplars of each concept.
 
(7) Pseudoscience is characterized by a set of fallible, but useful, warning signs.
 
<snip>
 
Such warning signs differ somewhat across authors, but often comprise an absence of self-correction, overuse of ad hoc maneuvers to immunize claims from refutation, use of scientific-sounding but vacuous language, extraordinary claims in the absence of compelling evidence, overreliance on anecdotal and testimonial assertions, avoidance of peer review, and the like (Lilienfeld, Lynn, and Lohr, 2014).  Despite their superficial differences, these warning signs all reflect a failure to compensate for confirmation bias, an overarching characteristic that sets them apart from mature sciences.
 
(8) Pseudoscientific claims differ from erroneous claims.  Intuitively, we all understand that there is a fundamental difference between fake new and false news. The latter is merely incorrect, and typically results from the media getting things wrong.  In contrast, the former is deceptive, often intentionally so. Similarly, many and arguably most assertions in science are surely erroneous, but that does not render them pseudoscientific.
 
<snip>
 
(9) Scientific and pseudoscientific thinking are cut from the same basic psychological cloth. In many respects, this is one of the most profound insights imparted by contemporary psychology.  Heuristics—mental shortcuts or rules of thumb—are immensely valuable in everyday life; without them, we would be psychologically paralyzed.  Furthermore, in most cases, heuristics lead us to approximately correct answers. 
 
<snip>
 
Still, when misapplied, heuristics can lead to mistaken conclusions.  For example, many unsubstantiated complementary and alternative medical remedies draw on the representativeness heuristic as a rationale for their effectiveness (Nisbett, 2015).  Many companies market raw brain concentrate in pill form to enhance memory and mood (Gilovich, 1991).  The reasoning, apparently, is that because psychological difficulties stem from an inadequately functioning brain, “more brain matter” will somehow help the brain to work better.
 
(10) Skepticism differs from cynicism. Skepticism has gotten a bad rap in many quarters, largely because it is commonly confused with cynicism. The term “skeptic” derives from the Greek word “skeptikos,” meaning “to consider carefully” (Shermer, 2002). Skepticism requires us to keep an open mind to new claims but to insist on compelling evidence before granting them provisional acceptance. In this respect, skepticism differs from cynicism, which implies a knee-jerk dismissal of implausible claims before we have had the opportunity to investigate them carefully (Beyerstein, 1995). In fairness, some individuals in the “skeptical movement” have at times blurred this crucial distinction by rejecting assertions out of hand. Skeptics need to be on guard against their propensities toward disconfirmation bias, a variant of confirmation bias in which we reflexively reject assertions that challenge our preconceptions (Edwards and Smith, 1996).
 
[end excerpts]
 
Here’s the publisher’s page for the book:
 
Here’s the Amazon page for the book:
Here’s the Barnes & Noble page for the book:
Ken Pope
 
POPE & VASQUEZ:  ETHICS IN PSYCHOTHERAPY AND COUNSELING: A PRACTICAL GUIDE (5th EDITION)—John Wiley & Sons
Print—Kindle—Nook—eBook—Apple iBook—Google Book
 
POPE: FIVE STEPS TO STRENGTHEN ETHICS IN ORGANIZATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS: 
EFFECTIVE STRATEGIES INFORMED BY RESEARCH AND HISTORY—Routledge (imprint of Taylor & Francis)
Hardbound—Kindle—Nook—eBook—Google Book
 
POPE: “AWARD ADDRESS: THE CODE NOT TAKEN: THE PATH FROM GUILD ETHICS TO TORTURE AND OUR CONTINUING CHOICES”—
Canadian Psychology/psychologie Canadienne article free online at:
 
“Science is more than a body of knowledge; it is a way of thinking.  I have a foreboding of an America in my children’s or grandchildren’s time–when the United States is a service and information economy; when nearly all the key manufacturing industries have slipped away to other countries; when awesome technological powers are in the hands of a very few, and no one representing the public interest can even grasp the issues; when the people have lost the ability to set their own agendas or knowledgeably question those in authority; when, clutching our crystals and nervously consulting our horoscopes, our critical faculties in decline, unable to distinguish between what feels good and what’s true, we slide, almost without noticing, back into superstition and darkness.”
—Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark (Random House, 1996, p. 25)

M. Jackson Group Update – May 2018 – Post-Truth

This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field.  His post is as follows:
 
I just finished a fascinating new book in the MIT Press Essential Knowledge series: Post-Truth by Lee McIntyre.
 
It provides a carefully documented account of the how more and more people are moving away from respecting and learning from science and evidence, and are moving toward trusting feelings, dogma, and in-groups.  It explores the move toward a world of “alternative facts” and the implications of that move for different aspects of our individual, social, cultural, and political lives.
Here’s an excerpt: 
 
[begin excerpt]
 
In his work on the psychology of emotion and moral judgment, David DeSteno, a psychologist at Northeastern University, has studied the effect of such “team affiliation” on moral reasoning. In one experiment, subjects who had just met were randomly divided into teams by giving them colored wristbands. Then they were separated. The first group was told that they would be given the option of performing either a fun ten-minute task or a difficult forty-five-minute one. Each subject was then placed alone in a room and told that he or she should choose which to do—or decide by a coin flip—but that in either case the person who entered the room afterward would be left with the remaining task. What subjects didn’t know is that they were being videotaped. Upon exiting the room 90 percent said that they had been fair, even though most had chosen the easier task for themselves and never bothered to flip the coin. But what is absolutely fascinating is what happened next. When the other half of the subjects were asked to watch a videotape of the liars and cheaters, they condemned them—unless they were wearing the same color wristband.7 If we are willing to excuse immoral behavior based on something as trivial as a wristband, imagine how our reasoning might be affected if we were really emotionally committed. 
 
Motivated reasoning has also been studied by neuroscientists, who have found that when our reasoning is colored by affective content a different part of our brain is engaged. When thirty committed political partisans were given a reasoning task that threatened their own candidate—or hurt the opposing candidate—a different part of their brain lit up (as measured by a functional-MRI scan) than when they were asked to reason about neutral content. It is perhaps unsurprising that our cognitive biases would be instantiated at the neural level, but this study provided the first experimental evidence of such differential function for motivated reasoning.8 With this as background we are now ready to consider two of the most fascinating cognitive biases that have been used to explain how our post-truth political beliefs can affect our willingness to accept facts and evidence.
 
[end excerpt]
 
Another excerpt: “The ‘backfire effect’ is based on experimental work by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler, in which they found that when partisans were presented with evidence that one of their politically expedient beliefs was wrong, they would reject the evidence and ‘double down’ on their mistaken belief.  Worse, in some cases the presentation of refutatory evidence caused some subjects to increase the strength of their mistaken beliefs.”
 
Another excerpt:
 
[begi excerpt]
 
Post-truth was foreshadowed by what has happened to science over the last several decades. Once respected for the authority of its method, scientific results are now openly questioned by legions of nonexperts who happen to disagree with them. It is important to point out that scientific results are routinely scrutinized by scientists themselves, but that is not what we are talking about here. When a scientist puts forth a theory, it is expected that it will be put through the paces of peer review, attempts at replication, and the highest order of empirical fact checking that can be performed by one’s scientific peers. The rules for this are fairly transparent, since they are in service of the scientific value that empirical evidence is paramount in evaluating the worth of a scientific theory. But mistakes can occur even with the most scrupulous safeguards in place. The process can be quite brutal, but it is necessary to make sure that, insofar as is possible, only good work gets through. Thus, failures to disclose any potential sources of bias—conflicts of interest, the source of one’s funding—are taken especially seriously. 
 
Given this high level of scientific self-scrutiny, why would nonscientists feel it necessary to question the results of science? Do they really think that scientists are lax? In most cases, no; yet this is exactly the sort of claim that is routinely spread by those who find their ideological beliefs in conflict with the conclusions of science.1 In some instances laypersons feel it is in their interest to question both the motives and the competence of scientists. And this is where “science denialism” is born.
 
[end excerpt]
 
Here’s a shortened version of the About the Author section: “Lee McIntyre is a Research Fellow at the Center for Philosophy and History of Science at Boston University and an Instructor in Ethics at Harvard Extension School. He is the author of Dark Ages: The Case for a Science of Human Behavior (MIT Press).”
 
The Amazon webpage for the paperback & Kindle versions is at:
The Basrnes & Noble page for the book is at:
Ken Pope
 
POPE & VASQUEZ:  ETHICS IN PSYCHOTHERAPY AND COUNSELING: A PRACTICAL GUIDE (5th EDITION)—John Wiley & Sons
Print—Kindle—Nook—eBook—Apple iBook—Google Book
 
POPE: FIVE STEPS TO STRENGTHEN ETHICS IN ORGANIZATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS: 
EFFECTIVE STRATEGIES INFORMED BY RESEARCH AND HISTORY—Routledge (imprint of Taylor & Francis)
Hardbound—Kindle—Nook—eBook—Google Book
 
POPE: “AWARD ADDRESS: THE CODE NOT TAKEN: THE PATH FROM GUILD ETHICS TO TORTURE AND OUR CONTINUING CHOICES”—
Canadian Psychology/psychologie Canadienne article free online at:
 
In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act. 
—George Orwell

M. Jackson Group Update – April 2018 – Counter-Intuitive Findings

10 of The Most Counter-Intuitive Psychology Findings Ever Published

By Christian Jarrett

One of the most annoying things you can say to a psychologist is: “Isn’t it all just common sense?”. No it’s not, as the list below demonstrates. But anyway, such a criticism of the field misses the point. Many findings in psychology can seem obvious after the fact, but we can’t know in advance which aspects of folk wisdom will stand up to scientific scrutiny. Striving for the objective truth through empirical testing – that’s what science is for, whether applied to molecules or minds.

That said, it’s always fun to share those findings that clash with received wisdom. So for your reading pleasure (and for the next time someone asks you the “common sense” question), here are 10 particularly counter-intuitive findings from the psychology archives. Please use comments to share your own favourites that we’ve missed.

1. Self-help Mantras Can Do More Harm Than Good
If you’ve got low self-esteem, you might want to avoid uttering positive mantras such as “I’m a lovable person”. A 2009 study found that people lacking in self-belief who spoke this phrase to themselves didn’t feel any better afterwards. In fact they felt worse, possibly because the repeated utterance led them to generate contradictory thoughts automatically. On a related note, there’s evidence that positive fantasies can also backfire. It’s thought that visualising your aims can cultivate a relaxed mindset that leads you to overlook the hurdles between you and your goals.

2. People Do Not Learn Better When Taught Via Their Preferred “Learning Style”
An incredibly popular idea, including among teachers, is that pupils learn better when they are taught information via their preferred modality, such as auditory, visual or by doing. In fact research has shown that people do not perform better when they are taught information via the modality that they say they prefer. A 2008 review of the learning styles concept put it like this: “there is no adequate evidence base to justify incorporating learning-styles assessments into general educational practice.” Want more? – here’s all you need to know about the learning styles myth in 2 minutes.

3. Criminals Show Cooperation and Prosocial Behaviour in Economic Games
It’s easy to demonise people who have broken the law. However, recent studies using economic games that test fairness and cooperation show that this is short-sighted. Last year, researchers observed prisoners’ performance on a famous game known as the “prisoner’s dilemma” – the convicted criminals actually displayed more cooperation during the game than undergrad students. Similarly, another study published this year found that people with a criminal record displayed just as much “prosocial motivation” (i.e. they distributed money fairly) in the “dictator game” as those without such a record.

4. Bottling Up Your Anger May Actually Be Good For You
Folk wisdom states that it’s better to relieve your anger by letting it out. In fact a tendency to lose one’s temper tends to go hand in hand with poorer health. Another study found that hitting a punch-bag while thinking about the person who made you angry actually just makes you angrier. It’s a complicated area, and expressing anger constructively may sometimes be a good thing to do, but the old rule that’s it always better to let it all it out is definitely flawed.

5. We Make Many Decisions Mindlessly
Unless we’re exhausted or intoxicated, we usually feel as though we are very much in control of our own choices and that we make them consciously and deliberately. This intuitive view is challenged by research on what’s known as “choice blindness”. In one study from 2005, participants picked out the face they found more attractive from successive pairs of photos. When researchers used sleight of hand to switch the chosen photo for the rejected photo, participants proceeded to justify their choice all the same, apparently ignorant of the switch. It was a similar story in 2010 when participants chose between different jams.

6. Opposites Don’t Attract
When it comes to human relationships, the aphorism that “opposites attract” turns out to be wide of the mark. There are of course exceptions, but mountains of evidence highlights how we are drawn to friends and romantic partners who are similar to ourselves, whether in terms of physical appearance, their personality, interests, or beliefs – known as “homophily”. To take just two examples, a study from 2010 found that people found faces more attractive when (unbeknown to them) they’d been morphed with their own; and a paper from 2011 found that people tend to choose to sit near others who look like themselves.

7. Wine Experts Don’t Know if They’re Smelling Red or White Wine
There is a vast literature on the limitations of expertise (for instance, political pundits are mostly useless at predicting electoral outcomes), but one of my favourite examples concerns people who study wine. A 2001 investigation showed that all it took to trick trainee oenologists into thinking a white wine smelt of red wine, was to dye it red. This research also challenges the intuitive belief that our senses are largely separate – in fact, perceptual experience derives from a blending of the senses, as shown for example via the McGurk Effect.

8. It Helps to Have Narcissists on Your Team
We usually think of narcissists – people with inflated views of their own skills and self-importance – as individuals to avoid. However, a study published in 2010 found that their presence can have a beneficial effect in the context of creative team work. When groups of four people were challenged to come up with new ways for a company to improve, it was the groups with two narcissists in their ranks who performed the best. The researchers think the presence of some narcissists helps generate healthy in-group competition.

9. Placebo Treatments Can Work Even When People Are Told It’s A Placebo
The amazing power of the placebo effect – the way that our beliefs about the action of an inert medicine can trigger substantial physiological effects – is itself, counter-intuitive. More surprising perhaps, is that the effect can still occur even when people know the medicine is inert. This was shown in a 2010 study involving people with IBS. “Our study suggests that openly described inert interventions when delivered with a plausible rationale can produce placebo responses,” the researchers said.

10. Sometimes a Pregnant Woman’s Depression is Advantageous For Her Baby
There is lots of evidence showing the adverse effects of a stressful pregnancy. But dig deeper into this field and you find some surprising results. For instance, a 2012 study uncovered an association between depression in pregnancy and superior functioning in the child at ages three and six months. This was found in the specific context in which the mother’s depression continued into the postnatal period. The finding is consistent with the “predictive-adaptive response model”, which says that adversity in-utero can have adaptive advantages if adversity is also encountered after birth.

Please do share your own favourite counter-intuitive findings via comments!
_________________________________

–Further reading–
The 10 most controversial psychology studies ever published.

Christian Jarrett (@Psych_Writer) is Editor of BPS Research Digest

M. Jackson Group Update – March 2018 – Retirement and Memory

This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field.  In posting this article to Facebook, I had an interesting discussion regarding the subgroup of retirees who actually engage in as many or more activities after “retirement” than in their former employment. In my opinion, it’s quite possible that they are protected from the cognitive changes discussed below. Overall, it turns out that we have to keep the cognitive, social, and physical motors running…  The article summary is as follows:
The European Journal of Epidemiology has scheduled a study for publication in a future issue: “Effect of retirement on cognitive function: the Whitehall II cohort study.”
 
The authors are Dorina Cadar, Maria Fleischmann, Stephen Stansfeld, Ewan Carr, Mika Kivimäki, Anne McMunn, & Jenny Head.
 
Here’s the abstract: “According to the ‘use it or lose it’ hypothesis, a lack of mentally challenging activities might exacerbate the loss of cognitive function. On this basis, retirement has been suggested to increase the risk of cognitive decline, but evidence from studies with long follow-up is lacking. We tested this hypothesis in a cohort of 3,433 civil servants who participated in the Whitehall II Study, including repeated measurements of cognitive functioning up to 14 years before and 14 years after retirement. Piecewise models, centred at the year of retirement, were used to compare trajectories of verbal memory, abstract reasoning, phonemic verbal fluency, and semantic verbal fluency before and after retirement. We found that all domains of cognition declined over time. Declines in verbal memory were 38% faster after retirement compared to before, after taking account of age-related decline. In analyses stratified by employment grade, higher employment grade was protective against verbal memory decline while people were still working, but this ‘protective effect’ was lost when individuals retired, resulting in a similar rate of decline post-retirement across employment grades. We did not find a significant impact of retirement on the other cognitive domains. In conclusion, these findings are consistent with the hypothesis that retirement accelerates the decline in verbal memory function. This study points to the benefits of cognitively stimulating activities associated with employment that could benefit older people’s memory.”
 
The article is online at:
 
Ken Pope
 
POPE: “AWARD ADDRESS: THE CODE NOT TAKEN: THE PATH FROM GUILD ETHICS TO TORTURE AND OUR CONTINUING CHOICES”—
Canadian Psychology/psychologie Canadienne article free online at:
 
POPE: FIVE STEPS TO STRENGTHEN ETHICS IN ORGANIZATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS: 
EFFECTIVE STRATEGIES INFORMED BY RESEARCH AND HISTORY—Routledge (imprint of Taylor & Francis)
Hardbound—Kindle—Nook—eBook—Google Book
 
POPE & VASQUEZ:  ETHICS IN PSYCHOTHERAPY AND COUNSELING: A PRACTICAL GUIDE (5th EDITION)—John Wiley & Sons
Print—Kindle—Nook—eBook—Apple iBook—Google Book
 
“He not busy being born
Is busy dying.”
—Bob Dylan

M. Jackson Group Update – February 2018 –Gender Dysphoria

This month’s post is from the British Psychological Society Research Digest from January 17, 2018 (https://digest.bps.org.uk/2018/01/17/most-children-and-teens-with-gender-dysphoria-also-have-multiple-other-psychological-issues/).

Most children and teens with gender dysphoria also have multiple other psychological issues

GettyImages-811322022.jpgBy Alex Fradera

New research on gender identity disorder (also known as gender dysphoria, in which a person does not identify with their biological sex) questions how best to handle the condition when it arises in children and adolescents. Should biological treatments be used as early as possible to help a young client transition, or is caution required, in case of complicating psychological issues?

Melanie Bechard of the University of Toronto and her colleagues examined the prevalence of “psychosocial and psychological vulnerabilities” in 50 child and teen cases of gender dysphoria, and writing in a recent issue of the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, they argue their findings show that physicians should be considering these factors more seriously when deciding on a treatment plan. Salting the situation, one of the paper’s co-authors is Kenneth Zucker, an expert on gender dysphoria who was last year considered too controversial for Canadian state television.

As recently as 2013, Zucker headed the American Psychiatric Association’s group deciding the diagnostic criteria for gender dysphoria, but he fell from grace in 2015 when he was fired from his clinic at the Toronto Centre for Addiction and Mental Health for failing to follow the now prominent “gender-affirmative” approach that places a clinical emphasis on smoothing the process of gender transition for children and adolescents who say they no longer identify with their biological sex.

Zucker’s approach, in contrast, was more hesitant and he questioned the ease with which young people can draw conclusions about their gender identity during a universally tumultuous stage of life. He also placed more emphasis on the costs that transition may bear upon an individual. To say that he considered transition a last resort would be as much of a caricature as saying the gender affirmative approach considers it a first resort, but they clearly represent different points on this spectrum.

To Zucker’s critics he was a transphobe, his approach analogous to gay conversion therapy (the now widely condemned use of psychological therapy to attempt to alter a client’s sexual orientation) – for example, he reportedly advised some parents to discourage their younger children from behaving in ways that contradicted their assigned gender.

Last year, hostility toward Zucker’s views was substantive enough to lead the Canadian broadcaster CBC to pull a BBC documentary that reported his perspective. For his part,  Zucker continues to maintain that his priority has always been the wellbeing of his clinical charges. The recent articlethat he co-authored with Bechard and others puts into the scientific record one of the concerns of his clinic, that gender dysphoric youth are a psychologically vulnerable population.

The paper examines the case files of 17 people assigned a male gender and 33 people assigned a female gender, at birth, based on their biological sex. Following their experience of gender dysphoria, the clients had been referred to a specialist gender identity service for young people, at which time they were aged 13 to 20. Sixty-four per cent of the clients were homosexual with respect to the gender they were assigned at birth.

The researchers looked for evidence of 15 factors that can signify or contribute to psychological issues, from self-harm to a previous outpatient therapy visit, and found that over half their sample had six or more of these factors. The majority had two or more prior diagnoses of a psychological disorder, the most common being a mood disorder such as depression. More than half had reported thinking about suicide, a third had dropped out of high school, a quarter had self harmed. A history of sexual abuse was rarer, observed in ”only” 10 per cent of cases.

All these measures are likely to be underestimates because they depended on the clients’ own descriptions during their initial interview at the gender identity clinic. Without a control group, it’s hard to say whether these rates of psychological distress are higher than for other client groups. Certainly though, the findings are consistent with the sense that these individuals were already in a state of psychological vulnerability when they were referred for gender dysphoria.

Bechard’s team present in-depth examples of two clients, both assigned as female at birth, that bring these psychological complexities to life, demonstrating the kinds of situations these cases often involve.

The first individual was very intelligent but struggling socially, especially around girls. They were fixated on emphasising their femininity in selfies, leading the parents to suspect body dysmorphic disorder (a troubling belief that there is something wrong with one’s body). This individual’s boyfriend then came out as gay. Sometime following this, the client disclosed that they identified as a boy. This change in identity happened “overnight” with no developmental history of cross-gender identification.

The second client’s history is more convoluted: at around age 14-15 this individual had disclosed that they were transgender (now identifying as male), and had felt this way for a while. This individual also had a history of anxiety, social problems interacting with girls, and extreme anxiety about sexuality. From the point of disclosing their gender dysphoria, they also reported that they were gay (oriented towards men) but had no interest in romantic/sexual relations.

In both these cases, after an initial assessment the individual was given testosterone treatment by a physician against the wishes of the parents – in the first case, the physician actually refused to meet the parents, and in the second, the physician recorded that the issues raised by the parents regarding anxiety, sexual and social problems weren’t relevant for the course of action. Sadly, in the case of the second individual, a few months after the start of the hormone treatment, they made a suicide attempt that required hospitalisation; the reasons for this were not reported.

Are the indicators of psychological vulnerability identified in these case histories the consequence, cause or simply coincident to gender identity disorder? If they are all solely a fall-out from the gender dysphoria, then the decisive approach of the physicians described above has a certain sense to it. But if some of the psychological complications pre-dated the gender dysphoria, or were separate from it, then at the very least this would suggest that the consulted physicians should have considered a broader treatment plan, and considered the psychological complications when judging their clients’ “readiness” to commence biomedical treatments.

The possibility that disclosure of gender dysphoria may in some cases be driven by earlier psychological vulnerabilities and social problems seems likely to be greater than zero. This is a controversial idea among many online trans activists, but actually it isn’t among health practitioners, even those who espouse the gender affirmation philosophy, who recognise that some young gender identity referrals may be transiently mixed-up individuals.

The issue of pre-existing or concurrent psychological vulnerabilities also speaks to the fact that a substantial proportion, perhaps even the majority, of children who experience some form of gender identity challenge, later come to endorse the gender they were raised as (further commentary and discussion); the new findings may also be relevant to the experience of detransitioning individuals, who reach similar conclusions, but often after a much greater investment in the process of transition – a phenomenon that is struggling to get scientific attention.

However, when a child with gender dysphoria is “insistent, persistent, and consistent” over an extended period, then (under the gender affirmative approach) this is typically treated as a good indicator that it is appropriate to begin facilitating the transition process. The trouble is, psychological vulnerabilities can also be persistent, and if a young person feels like they’ve found the solution, it’s understandable that they might not want to let go.

Life can sometimes feel as complicated as the Gordian knot, the legendary challenge that was seemingly impossible to disentangle. It’s understandable to weigh up a radical solution, like Alexander the Great cleaving the knot with a single sword-stroke: to abandon your external environment for a new home, to step outside of the confines of an identity that may be the source of the myriad issues plaguing you.

This research from Bechard, Zucker and company provides preliminary evidence about the psychological vulnerabilities of children and teens with gender dysphoria, extending previous workthat’s shown high rates of self-harm and suicidal ideation in this group, but more research is required to give us the full clinical picture. As such, this new paper represents just the latest sally in a difficult, complicated conversation that’s far from over: a conversation about how we can most compassionately treat those who feel out of step with where they find themselves in the social world.

Psychosocial and Psychological Vulnerability in Adolescents with Gender Dysphoria: A “Proof of Principle” Study

M. Jackson Group Update – January 2018 – Keeping Resolutions

This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field.
The New York Times includes an article: “The Only Way to Keep Your Resolutions” by David DeSteno.
 
Here are some excerpts:
 
[begin excerpts]
 
It’s Day 1 on the road to a “new you.” But this road, as we all know, is difficult to follow. Humans are notoriously bad at resisting temptation, especially (as research confirms) if we’re busy, tired or stressed. 
 
By Jan. 8, some 25 percent of resolutions have fallen by the wayside. And by the time the year ends, fewer than 10 percent have been fully kept.
 
Unfortunately, the problem of New Year’s resolutions is, in a way, the problem of life itself.  Our tendency to be shortsighted — to value the pleasures of the present more than the satisfactions of the future — comes at a considerable cost.  Surely by now you’ve heard of the psychologist Walter Mischel’s famous marshmallow experiments, in which children who could resist the temptation to immediately eat one sweet would be rewarded with a second sweet about 15 minutes later.  Professor Mischel found that those who could wait — those who had self-control — were also the ones who had better academic and professional success years later.
 
Since then, study after study has linked self-control to achievement in a wide range of areas, including personal finance, healthful eating and exercise, and job performance. 
 
Put simply, those who can persevere toward their long-term goals in the face of temptation to do otherwise — those who have “grit” — are best positioned for success.
 
If what I’ve said so far sounds familiar, that’s because over the past 30 years, in response to these findings, something of a cottage industry has sprung up to tell us how to increase our self-control.  If you peruse the books on the best-seller lists, you’ll find variations on a theme: The best way to increase self-control is to use our willpower (and related mental capacities like executive function — that part of the mind that directs planning and reasoning) to ignore or suppress our craving for immediate pleasure.
 
But after a few decades of using this information, not much seems to have changed.  We’re still spending too much on impulse buys rather than saving for retirement, still continuing to indulge our sweet tooth rather than eating healthfully.  Why?
 
The answer, I contend, is that this view of self-control is wrong. In choosing to rely on rational analysis and willpower to stick to our goals, we’re disadvantaging ourselves. 
 
We’re using tools that aren’t only weak; they’re also potentially harmful. If using willpower to keep your nose to the grindstone feels like a struggle, that’s because it is. Your mind is fighting against itself. It’s trying to convince, cajole and, if that fails, suppress a desire for immediate pleasure. Given self-control’s importance for success, it seems as if evolution should have provided us with a tool for it that was less excruciating to use.
 
I believe it did; we’re just ignoring it. That tool is our social emotions. These are the emotions — things like gratitude and compassion — that support the positive aspects of social life.  For years I’ve been studying the effects of these emotions on decision-making and behavior, and I’ve found that unlike reason and willpower, they naturally incline us to be patient and persevere. When you are experiencing these emotions, self-control is no longer a battle, for they work not by squashing our desires for pleasure in the moment but by increasing how much we value the future.
 
We too often think about self-improvement and the pursuit of our goals in bracing, self-flagellating terms: I will do better, I will muscle through, I will wake up earlier. But it doesn’t need to be that way, and it shouldn’t: Self-control isn’t about feeling miserable.
 
The research on self-control shows that willpower, for all its benefits, wanes over time. As we try to make ourselves study, work, exercise or save money, the mental effort to keep focused and motivated increases until it seems too difficult to bear.
 
Worse, exerting willpower can take a psychological and physical toll. As recent work by the Northwestern University psychologist Greg Miller has shown, willing oneself to be “gritty” can be quite stressful. Studying about 300 teenagers from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, Professor Miller found that those who were better at using self-control did have more success when it came to resisting temptations, but at a cost to their health. Their bodies suffered not only from increased stress responses, but also from premature aging of their immune cells.
 
<snip>
 
When people who are exceedingly focused and dedicated to using force of will to achieve their goals come up short, they report a hit to their well-being that is 120 percent greater than that reported by those who follow a less austere and stressful path.
 
<snip>
 
But to establish and maintain relationships, people would have had to be fair, honest, generous, diligent and loyal. They would have had to be perceived as good partners. In other words, they would have had to behave morally.
 
What underlies these moral traits is the ability to put something else ahead of your own immediate desires and interests — to exercise self-control. Working hard to keep up your end of a deal or helping another person by giving time, money, food or a shoulder to cry on all require a willingness to sacrifice some resources in the moment. In exchange, you reap the benefits of those strong relationships down the line.
 
When it comes to making such short-term sacrifices, most of us don’t rely on a cold, rational analysis of costs and benefits. We don’t normally calculate what’s to be gained by helping someone else. We just feel like we should. It’s our emotions — specifically, gratitude, compassion and an authentic sense of pride (not hubris) — that push us to behave in ways that show self-control.
 
I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that I’ve moved more couches and spent more time making gifts for friends than I thought possible when I felt gratitude toward them and wanted to show appreciation. Or that I’ve worked longer and harder on difficult tasks when I wanted to feel proud about my abilities and contributions to a team. Or that I’ve given more support to people when moved by compassion to do so.
 
More than a decade’s worth of research backs up this picture. Studies from my lab, for example, show that gratitude directly increases self-control. In a version of the marshmallow test adapted for adults, we had people take a few minutes to recall an event that made them feel grateful, neutral or happy. Next, we had them answer a series of questions of the form “Would you rather have $X now or $Y in Z days?” with Y always being bigger than X, and Z varying over weeks to months. From these questions, we could calculate how much people discounted the value of the future.
 
Those feeling neutral or happy were pretty impatient. They were willing to forgo receiving $100 in a year if we gave them $18 today. Those who were feeling gratitude, however, showed nearly double the self-control. They required at least $30 to forgo the later reward. In a similar vein, we followed people for three weeks, measuring their levels of daily gratitude, and found the same boost to self-control. Our research also shows that when we make people feel grateful, they’ll spend more time helping anyone who asks for assistance, they’ll make financial decisions that benefit partners equally (rather than ones that allow profit at a partner’s expense), and they’ll show loyalty to those who have helped them even at costs to themselves.
 
What my lab, and others, found when we looked at pride was similar. Making people feel proud — not arrogant, but proud of the skills they have — makes them more willing to wait for future rewards and more willing to take on leadership roles in groups and work longer and harder to help a team solve a difficult problem. Likewise, when we make people feel compassion, they’ll take on the burdens of others, spending more time and effort to help get others out of jams and ease their distress.
 
What these findings show is that pride, gratitude and compassion, whether we consciously realize it or not, reduce the human mind’s tendency to discount the value of the future. In so doing, they push us not only to cooperate with other people but also to help our own future selves. Feeling pride or compassion has been shown to increase perseverance on difficult tasks by over 30 percent. Likewise, gratitude and compassion have been tied to better academic performance, a greater willingness to exercise and eat healthily, and lower levels of consumerism, impulsivity and tobacco and alcohol use.
 
If using willpower causes stress, using these emotions actually heals: They slow heart rate, lower blood pressure and reduce feelings of anxiety and depression. 
 
By making us value the future more, they ease the way to patience and perseverance.
 
Perhaps most important, while these emotions enhance self-control, they also combat another problem of modern life: loneliness. 
 
From 1985 to 2004, the percentage of people who reported having at least one friend on whom they could rely and with whom they could discuss important matters dropped to 57 percent from 80 percent. Today, more than half of all Americans report feeling lonely, especially in their professional lives. But study after study has shown that those who are seen as grateful, warm and justifiably confident draw others to them. Because these emotions automatically make us less selfish, they help ensure we can form relationships with people who will be there to support us when we need it.
 
Cultivating the social emotions maximizes both our “résumé virtues” (those that underlie professional success) and our “eulogy virtues” (those for which we want to be remembered). In nudging the mind to be more patient and more selfless, they benefit everyone whom our decisions impact, including our own future selves. In short, they give us not only grit but also grace.
 
So as 2018 commences, take more time to cultivate these emotions. Reflect on what you’re grateful to have been given. Allow your mind to step into the shoes of those in need and feel for them. Take pride in the small achievements on the path to your goals. 
 
[end excerpts]
 
The article is online at:
 
Ken Pope
 
FIVE STEPS TO STRENGTHEN ETHICS IN ORGANIZATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS: 
EFFECTIVE STRATEGIES INFORMED BY RESEARCH AND HISTORY
Hardbound—Kindle—Nook—eBook—Google Book
 
AWARD ADDRESS: “THE CODE NOT TAKEN: THE PATH FROM GUILD ETHICS TO TORTURE AND OUR CONTINUING CHOICES”—
Canadian Psychology/psychologie Canadienne article free online at:
 
POPE & VASQUEZ:  ETHICS IN PSYCHOTHERAPY AND COUNSELING: A PRACTICAL GUIDE (5th EDITION)—John Wiley & Sons
Print—Kindle—Nook—eBook—Apple iBook—Google Book
 
“Scrooge was better than his word.  He did it all, and infinitely more….  He became as good a friend…and as good a person, as the good old city knew….  Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh….  His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.”
—Charles Dickens (1812-1870), whose tombstone in Westminster Abbey’s Poet’s Corner reads: “He was a sympathiser to the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed; and by his death, one of England’s greatest writers is lost to the world.”

M. Jackson Group Update – December 2017 – Coffee Consumption and Health

This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field.
It could be argued that it is somewhat self-serving to push articles that support my own lifestyle.  However, it really is striking how positive the data is on the use of coffee.  Also, this article is short, allowing time to get a coffee.
 
The article is as follows (excerpting and editing is by Ken Pope):
 
The British Medical Journal includes an article: “Coffee consumption and health: umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes.”
 
The authors are Robin Poole, specialty registrar in public health1, Oliver J Kennedy, graduate medical student1, Paul Roderick, professor of public health1, Jonathan A Fallowfield, NHS Research Scotland senior clinical fellow2, Peter C Hayes, professor of hepatology2, Julie Parkes, associate professor of public health1.
 
Here’s an excerpt from the Discussion section: ” We carried out this umbrella review to bring this existing evidence together and draw conclusions for the overall effects of coffee consumption on health. We identified 201 meta-analyses of observational research with 67 unique outcomes and 17 meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials with nine unique outcomes.”
 
Another excerpt: “The conclusion of benefit associated with coffee consumption was supported by significant associations with lower risk for the generic outcomes of all cause mortality,28 cardiovascular mortality,28 and total cancer.38 Consumption was associated with a lower risk of specific cancers, including prostate cancer,394490 endometrial cancer,394091 melanoma,4145 non-melanoma skin cancer,42 and liver cancer.43 Consumption also had beneficial associations with metabolic conditions including type 2 diabetes,2165 metabolic syndrome,26 gallstones,25 gout,67 and renal stones66 and for liver conditions including hepatic fibrosis,63 cirrhosis,963 cirrhosis mortality,9 and chronic liver disease combined.43 The beneficial associations between consumption and liver conditions stand out as consistently having the highest magnitude compared with other outcomes across exposure categories. Finally, there seems to be beneficial associations between coffee consumption and Parkinson’s disease,227677 depression,7879 and Alzheimer’s disease.80”
 
The article is online at:
 
Ken Pope
Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/KenSPope
 
FIVE STEPS TO STRENGTHEN ETHICS IN ORGANIZATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS: 
EFFECTIVE STRATEGIES INFORMED BY RESEARCH AND HISTORY
Hardbound—Kindle—Nook—eBook—Google Book
 
AWARD ADDRESS: “THE CODE NOT TAKEN: THE PATH FROM GUILD ETHICS TO TORTURE AND OUR CONTINUING CHOICES”—
Canadian Psychology/psychologie Canadienne article free online at:
 
POPE & VASQUEZ:  ETHICS IN PSYCHOTHERAPY AND COUNSELING: A PRACTICAL GUIDE (5th EDITION)—John Wiley & Sons
Print—Kindle—Nook—eBook—Apple iBook—Google Book
 
“Do not believe that it is very much of an advance to do the unnecessary three times as fast.”
 –Peter Drucker (1909-2005)

M. Jackson Group Update – November 2017 – Sexual Harassment: Traits of Perpetrators

This month’s post is again from Ken Pope’s listserv, where he kindly provides daily summaries of current articles in the field.

The article is as follows (excerpting and editing is by Ken Pope):

Scientific American includes an article: “Sexual Harassment: 4 Psychological Traits of Perpetrators.”

The author is psychologist Ellen Hendriksen.

Here are some excerpts:

[begin excerpts]

In recent weeks, revelations about sexual harassment and its devastating effects have flooded the news and social media. But aside from a few legal-team-filtered statements, we don’t have an insight into the mindset of the accused harassers. So what are they thinking? How could they think this was a good idea? What makes someone prone to harass others?

<snip>

What specifies sexual harassment is that it is tied to power structures in employment and career advancement. The harasser holds the keys and creates a catch-22 for the victim: either submit and be exploited or resist and be punished.

It’s a no-win situation of power, control, and intimidation.

Therefore, sexual harassment can and does include demeaning comments, requests for sexual favors, unwanted sexual advances, but importantly, can also include sexual assault, which is any non-consensual or coerced sexual act, including sexual touching.

Harassment is also different than unwanted sexual attention, which consists of unwelcome come-ons and comments that are not primarily designed to demean and intimidate. Think terrible pick-up lines. Therefore, “Do you work at Subway? Because you just gave me a foot-long!” from a guy at the bar is unwanted sexual attention, but from your boss, it’s sexual harassment.

To be sure, it’s not always women as victims and men as perpetrators, even though that is the vast majority of the cases. In 2016, of the almost 13,000 charges of sexual harassment logged by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (widely regarded as the tip of the iceberg), 83% of them were filed by women.

And women who face sexual harassment by bosses and supervisors aren’t just rising Hollywood starlets or Yale-educated lawyers who once worked for Supreme Court nominees. They’re restaurant workers, clerks, flight attendants, students, health care workers, programmers, and any of millions of other everyday workers whose bosses control scheduling, raises, promotions, and references.

So who are these bosses? Who sexually harasses? I dug through the research and found four common characteristics of the (mostly) men who sexually harass (mostly) women. Here they are.

The 4 Characteristics of Sexual Harassers:

Characteristic #1: The Dark Triad

Characteristic #2: Moral disengagement

Characteristic #3: Working in a male-dominated field

Characteristic #4: Hostile attitudes towards women

Let’s explore each a little further.

Characteristic #1: The Dark Triad

<snip>

Actually, it’s three in one: narcissism, psychopathy, and Machiavellianism.

You’ve definitely heard of the first two: narcissism is a grandiose view of one’s own talents coupled with a lack of empathy and a deep need for admiration. Narcissists don’t care if you like them, but they do need you to think they’re powerful and impressive.

Narcissists might justify sexual harassment if they think they’ve been deprived of a sexual experience they “deserve.” They can’t fathom that someone just isn’t that into them.

Next, psychopathy revolves around two things: fearless dominance and aggressive impulsivity. In other words, psychopaths are bold, manipulative exploiters. They also have no empathy, but are good at mimicking it in order to exploit their victims.

<snip>

Finally, there’s Machiavellianism, named for the Italian Renaissance politician Niccolo Machiavelli. His masterwork, The Prince, describes an unscrupulous, deceptive political philosophy with an eye on long-term goals at any cost.

Put it all together and you essentially get a gleeful enthusiasm for exploitation, deception, and manipulation combined with a callous blindness to the feelings of others, all tied together with a bow of grandiosity. In other words, a perfect recipe for sexual harassment.

Indeed, in a study of almost 2,000 everyday community members, researchers found that—unsurprisingly—each of the three Dark Triad characteristics added to a tendency to sexually harass others.

Characteristic #2: Moral disengagement

<snip>

Moral disengagement is a slippery slope by which people justify their own corruption. It’s a cognitive process by which individuals create their own version of reality where moral principles don’t apply to them.

The mind is a tricky thing: often we choose our behavior to match our values, but sometimes, through moral disengagement, we change our values to justify our behavior.

Moral disengagement was first proposed by the psychologist Albert Bandura, who is often called the greatest living psychologist. His theory, as applied to sexual harassment, has several parts:

First comes moral justification, or portraying harassment as acceptable. Think Harvey Weinstein’s line, “I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.”

Next is euphemistic labeling, or using sanitized substitutions for naming their behavior, like Bill Cosby’s characterization of his sexual assaults as “rendezvous.”

Third is displacement of responsibility, which attributes the harassment to outside forces (like Weinstein’s “that was the culture then.”)

There’s also advantageous comparison, which is the assertion that their behavior could have been worse, and distortion of consequences, where individuals minimize the harm wrought by their actions.

And finally, there are dehumanization and attribution of blame, which respectively eliminate concern for the victim and blame her for the incident. Bill O’Reilly did this when he commented that a woman who was raped and killed was “moronic” because she was wearing a miniskirt and a halter top, and that ”every predator in the world is gonna pick that up.” The end result? Harassers sleep well at night because, through moral disengagement, they rest assured that what they did was within the realm of normalcy, deserved, and didn’t cause any harm.

The mind is a tricky thing: often we choose our behavior to match our values, but sometimes, through moral disengagement, we change our values to justify our behavior. This is how sexual harassers can maintain their view of themselves as decent, even morally upstanding, people.

Characteristic #3: Working in a male-dominated field

Sexual harassment is well-documented to be more prevalent in traditionally masculine fields, like the military, the police, surgery, finance, and more recently, high tech and the upper echelons of the entertainment industry.

This goes back decades: a classic 1989 study of 100 female factory workers found that women who worked as machinists, a position dominated by men, reported being harassed significantly more often than women who worked on the assembly line, which was more gender-equal.

Characteristic #4: Hostile attitudes towards women

Even though psychology is a science, it’s not a totally objective field, in most part because research is done by people, and people are a product of their culture and the biases of a given place and time.

Interestingly, while researching this episode I found a study on sexual harassment from the early 1980s—almost a decade prior to Anita Hill’s testimony at Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings—that stated that most male sexual harassers had no idea that their advances were unwanted. The conclusion was that people who engaged in sexual harassment were simply clueless and lovelorn. But now we know better

A 2012 study out of the University of Bielefeld in Germany tested whether harassment was driven by what the researchers called a “short term mating orientation,” which is basically an academic euphemism for love ‘em and leave ‘em, or was driven by something called hostile sexism, and therefore served less as a way to get sex and more as a way to intimidate women.

The researchers asked 100 heterosexual male college students to chat online with “Julia,” an attractive 23-year-old woman. With each chat exchange, participants were asked to choose among three different pre-written messages to send to Julia.

The men were also told that this was a memory test, that Julia would later be quizzed on recalling the messages they sent to her, and that previous studies had found gender differences in memory performance, thus creating an atmosphere of competition.

For each message, the men chose among a joke, a personal comment, and a neutral statement. Now, some of the exchanges were carefully calibrated to include opportunities to harass. For example, in one combination, the choice included a sexist joke not specifically about Julia: “What’s the difference between a woman having her period and a terrorist? With a terrorist you can negotiate.” It also included a sexist remark directed specifically toward Julia—one of those terrible pickup lines: “You’re a sweet chocolate and I’ve got the filling for you.” Thankfully, there was also a neutral statement, simply: “You seem like a cheerful person.” Participants chose one of the messages to send, and then repeated this over 20 different trials.

The results found that the choice to send the pickup lines hung together with approving attitudes about short-term sexual encounters. The men who were more likely to send the bad pickup lines were also more likely to agree with statements like “sex without love is OK,” or “I would consider having sex with a stranger if it was safe and she was attractive.”

The guys who chose to send sexist jokes also scored highly on the short-term sexual attitudes questionnaire. But there was something else: they scored highly on a questionnaire of hostile sexism, endorsing items like, “Women are too easily offended,” and “The world would be a better place if women supported men more and criticized them less.”

In other words, sexual motives predicted unwanted sexual attention but hostile motives predicted both unwanted sexual attention and gender harassment. The researchers concluded that choosing to send the jokes wasn’t about sex at all; instead, it was about creating a disparaging, hostile climate for Julia in the context of a competitive atmosphere.

A good litmus test for whether comments are sexist or just a joke is to ask, “Would I say this to a man?” This is a good test for statements that might get defended by a harasser as “harmless fun,” or “What, I can’t even give a compliment?” For instance, a male supervisor wouldn’t tell a man he should smile more, comment on the attractiveness of his body, or say, “You don’t have to get all emotional about it.”

To sum it all up, harassment indicates a willingness to exploit and manipulate as a way to maintain or gain power.

It indicates callousness toward the victims and aims to “keep them in their place.”

Hopefully, with all the attention given to sexual harassment, more victims and more bystanders will speak up and speak out, and someday, the place for sexual harassment will be exactly nowhere.

[end excerpts]

The article is online at:

http://bit.ly/KenPopeReview4PerpTraits

Ken Pope

Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/KenSPope

FIVE STEPS TO STRENGTHEN ETHICS IN ORGANIZATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS:

EFFECTIVE STRATEGIES INFORMED BY RESEARCH AND HISTORY

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“It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator.  All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing.  He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil.  The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain.  The victim demands action, engagement and remembering.”

–Judy Herman

M. Jackson Group Update – October 2017 – Animal Hoarding

This month’s post is taken from the British Psychological Society Research Digest and is as follows:
 
“Animal hoarding” may provide comfort to people who struggle to form relationships
2282775250_56e27bd253_b.jpg
Consistent with the cultural archetype of a “cat lady”, two thirds of the animal hoarders were women

By Alex Fradera

The latest version of psychiatry’s principal diagnostic manual (the DSM-V) defines Hoarding Disorder as a psychopathology where the collection of items significantly impacts the person’s functioning, as they find it difficult and indeed painful to discard the items, creating congestion within the home and encouraging poor hygiene and accidents. However not only objects, but also living things can be collected pathologically, popularly enshrined in the notion of a “cat lady”. According to the psychiatric manual, this is just a special case of hoarding. But a team of psychologists from the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul has investigated people who hoard animals, and in their new paper in Psychiatry Research they make the case that it ought to be considered a distinct illness.

Elisa Arrienti Ferreira and her colleagues investigated animal hoarding cases in the city of Porto Alegre, following up a survey conducted by the city’s Secretariat for Animal Rights. Of 75 potential cases, they managed to reach residents in 48 dwellings, and from those, found 33 who agreed to participate and fit the diagnostic criteria for the animal subtype of hoarding. The team arrived with vets to check the conditions of animals, they also surveyed the conditions of the residence and interviewed the animal hoarders about their lives.

The conditions in which these people lived might be hard to take in: there were a total of 1,357 animals – “composed of 915 dogs, 382 cats, and 50 ducks” – with an average of 41 per hoarder. Only 22 per cent ensured their animals were neutered, and the sanitary and health conditions were often very poor. The researchers also report that “dramatic situations such as violent fights for territory, extreme malnutrition, cannibalism, caged animals injured and untreated, were observed in most of the houses visited.”

Two-thirds of the hoarders were elderly, but they’d all begun accumulating animals earlier in their lives. Ferreira’s team speculate that it’s only later in life when the burden of animal collection becomes most apparent, as the number proliferate due to the individual’s reluctance to give animals away. Two-thirds of animal hoarders were women, and most lived alone, consistent with the sense that the animals provided companionship and comfort to people who otherwise struggle to form relationships.

There are a two main reasons why Ferreira’s team advocate for this to be considered as separate from standard hoarding. First, some of the technical definition of hoarding just seems off: take the concept of “congestion”, which makes sense in a house piled precariously high with magazines or wine bottles, but doesn’t really apply to mobile creatures. Second, the researchers note that their sample also seemed to show more self-awareness than is associated with object hoarding, many admitting to difficulties that resulted from their compulsion, and recognising that it took a toll on their quality of life.

If they see the problem, why don’t the animal hoarders do something about it? Well, it’s harder to rid yourself of an animal than trash, both logistically and emotionally. The presence of care-bonding with living things transforms the dynamic, and would suggest that the tactics appropriate for managing an item-hoarder may simply not apply in these cases. The researchers conclude that distinguishing animal hoarding as its own mental health condition can lead to investment into interventions that address a disorder that “causes serious damage to the environment, suffering for individuals, their families, and the animals.”

Animal Hoarding Disorder: A new psychopathology?

Image: Bansky cat ladies, via piX dust/Flickr

Alex Fradera (@alexfradera) is Staff Writer at BPS Research Digest