Category Archives: psychology

IS ADD medicine over-prescribed in adults?

Or kids?

That is the $20,000 question.

This sort-of article in the NY times (maybe a blog post) does not really answer it.

First, if adults are now taking ADD meds, it can be because there is a real population of the needy who were not diagnosed or medicated. Is that over-prescribing?  Well, only if we can find that the people taking it are not fitting the diagnosis of ADD.

That is a valid question, but as the article points out, this report does not really nor can it, really answer that question.  So, instead, we tend to look at the question and answer it based on our own ideas.  If you think ADD is not a real or wide-spread problem, then, yes, it is over-prescribed.  If you think meds are a valid part of treating problematic problems, then this is progress.  If you think that perhaps people exhibit ADD symptoms due to their context, such as more stimulus, too little exercise, too little positive work structure, too many boring jobs, and so on, then we can medicate people to help them conform to context, but we are avoiding a full-spectrum approach.

I tend to be in the latter two camps.  Meds can help.  But it is worth asking if we have the best contexts for learning (kids) or working (bigger kids) for ADD people to be productive and resilient.

1 Comment

Filed under psychology, sociology, Uncategorized

Everyone is Obsessed with Atheists

Friend posted this link to a Chronicle of HE article about a study of atheists.

Author of blog post Tom Bartlett headlines his review with this headline:

“Do Atheists Really Believe in God?”

My response:
“Do Psychologists Really Believe in Skin Test?”

Meh. I think author’s question about whether any imagined external force, God, Squirrel, Bad Luck makes one “anxious’ is the right one. id they bother trying to figure out if one is an atheist, what they think the statement “I dare God to kill my children” means?

Like, right now, I am thinking about this, I am aetheist, and I am thinking “what a shitty thing to happen” and I am aware that there is some external mechanism or cause of the badness. I mean, if God does something bad, it is usually through an agent- a flood, a burning topiary, or a bearded guy. It is not like he shows up like Zeus and bangs some chick for no reason.

So, really, maybe the statement reminds us of how there are unknowns out there and it is frightening to think about them. So belief in God is really a fear of the unknown. And so the title could have been “Belief in God is fear of the unknown.”

So, interesting study. But like 99.9% of social science, what to make of it depends on interpretation.

5 Comments

Filed under psychology, Research, sociology

Karl Weick Keeps You on Your Toes

As we were discussing yesterday in class, Karl Weick’s work is an influential example of the open systems approach.  On the spot, I tried to get us to think of examples of retrospective rationalizing.  My memory is that it was…painful.  And that pained me as Weick is influential because his ideas are original and relevant.  They always keep you on your toes as a thinker.

In grad school, it was a treat to read The Social Psychology of Organizing (still in print since 1967!!).  Not least because he pointeClick to enlarged out that organizations are never stable.  They are always organizing.  And because he used cartoons!  Like this one.  Weick also built his understanding of organizations from the cognitive, the individual, not from the structure down.

What I took from our discussion was that there were two ideas Weick covers that we wanted to describe not in conceptual terms, but in empirical terms.  These were retrospective rationality and enacting the environment.  Retrospective rationality is the idea that we act in a myriad of ways and then “make sense” of our actions in cognitive and linguistic terms that attempt to make them rational.    This si not because humans are dumb or lazy.  We act and then think because the unending flow of activity of the world demands it of us.  The ways in which we act are also due to a myriad of past reasons and contingencies.  In other words, there are always more reasons we have acted or that may explain are actions than we need.

There is equivocality in the world.  We don’t always know why things are.  Hence retrospective rationality is about reducing equivocality; reducing the welter of contradicting reasons why we may have acted or that may explain why the world of human affairs is as it is.  To be adaptive to this environment, to be open, requires tolerating some messiness, some disorder. For example, in SPofO, he writes:

…the inability of organizations to tolerate equivocal processing may well be the the most importnat reason they have trouble.  It is the unwillingness to meet equivocality in an equivocal manner that produces failure, nonadaptation, autism, isolation form reality, psychological cost, etc.  It is the unwillingness to disrupt order, ironically, that makes it impossible for the organization to create order (41).

But what about examples?  In his 1995 book, Sensemaking in Organizations, Weick offers tow research-based examples (29-30).  One involves asking film executives about the future of the film industry after they look at financial reports for the preceding three years.  Logical approach, right?  As it was reported, the exercise reflected how much variation in understanding there was about what had happened in the past.  Hence, any attempt to udnerstand the present and future was beset by equivocality.  Something explained past performance?  But what?  Consumer tastes?  Directors’ abilities?  Cultural zeitgeist?  A second example was a control group psychology experiment (very classic in style) where peopel were randomly assigned to groups that would be arbitrarily assigned low or high performance status (irrespective of actual results).  Those in high performance groups reported that in most areas of group function, guess what, they scored higher than low performing groups.

Closer to home, here is an example that came to me.  Faculty over years have been adapting their teaching differently in different disciplines.  In addition, students come to expect different outcomes in their grades.  There is often a unspoken negotiation about the meaning of grades.  At some point, the observation (which is verifiable) that average grades have gone up is made. Why?  Suddenly, retrospective rationalizing and sense-making kick in.  Is it smarter students?  A corrupted grading regime?  Reasonable adaptation to job market?  Better teaching?  Evaluation score-seeking faculty?  Equivocality is high, but everyone in higher eduction starts taking organizational action DESPITE the equivocality.  They make sense of the situation.

Enacting the environment will have to come in a second part.

Oh, this is also my book contribution, although not technically new books…

Leave a comment

Filed under psychology, social theory

Hope for me! Willpower can be trained.

Wow!  Hope for me.  The article does state two contradictory results.  In the short term, you should avoid wearing out your will power.  If you try hard not to eat ice cream, later you  will eat something else.  So, avoid exposure to the ice cream.   In the long term, exercising willpoer increases capacity.  So, if ou wnat oa void eating icecream today and tomorrow, keep avoiding it until you can avoid ice cream and cookies afterward.  That seems logically problematic since avoiding will power today will make me susceptible to impulses tomorrow.  Maybe you build up will power in different arenas, like, going to the gym then helps you control the impulse to eat ice cream and cookies in a month.

Tighten Your Belt, Strengthen Your Mind – New York Times
In psychological studies, even something as simple as using your nondominant hand to brush your teeth for two weeks can increase willpower capacity. People who stick to an exercise program for two months report reducing their impulsive spending, junk food intake, alcohol use and smoking. They also study more, watch less television and do more housework. Other forms of willpower training, like money-management classes, work as well.

Leave a comment

Filed under psychology

Teenage Suicides Bewilder an Island, and the Experts

That is the headline of a very sad story about a cluster of three suicides on Nantucket.  Too bad they didn’t seem to look for any sociology experts.  Starting with Durkheim’s Suicide there  is a lot of evidence that suicide is not exclusively a problem of the “head” but also of the community and society.  All of the experts are trying to help the individuals (and I am sure with the best of intentions).

My students and I read  about how suicides often spread like other social contagions or information cascades in Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point.  If this is the case, the the specific network structure will matter.  One advantage to understanding suicide as a social and not merely a psychological phenomenon is that intervention strategies can shift or adapt.  Unfortunately, it is not clear that the psychiatrists are making much headway on what to do.  This article summarizes research on suicides in Micronesia and ends up concluding that “sociocultural factors” may matter.

Teenage Suicides Bewilder an Island, and the Experts – New York Times
Then the specialists began to descend. Some visited classrooms, wanting to talk students through their grief. Another emphasized the importance of telling young people that suicide was wrong, and an awful way to solve problems. Still another promoted relaxation techniques and warned that suicidal behavior could be contagious.

I want to find out more about what conclusions and recommendations come from looking at this problem as a social fact as much as a psychological one.

Leave a comment

Filed under psychology, Social Networks, sociology