Tag Archives: psychology

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.

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Filed under psychology, Research, sociology

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.

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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.

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Filed under psychology, Social Networks, sociology

Army Social Scientists Calm Afghanistan, Make Enemies at Home

Tanks again to Valdis Krebs for pushing this out to SOCNET.

Army Social Scientists Calm Afghanistan, Make Enemies at Home
Each team is getting a half-dozen laptops, a satellite dish and software for social network analysis, so they can diagram how all of the important players in an area are connected. Digital timelines will mark key cultural and political events. Mapmaking programs will plot out the economic, ethnic and tribal landscape.

I wonder what this history of the US military is in terms of using social scientists.  I remember one of my grad school professors, Steve Nock, talked about how some of the early advance in statistics and social surveys grew out of studies of morale in WWII.  What happened in Viet Nam?  Were their cultural or social scientists there?  Why is the military resistant to this kind of expertise?  Because it may humanize potential enemies?  But don’t effective commanders at the ground level become amateur social scientists anyway?

What are the ethical concerns about using this technology for war making?  I recall the American Psychological Associations’s controversy over the role of psychologists in detainees, interrogation, and torture.  For story, here.  For APA controversy, here.

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Filed under ethics, Military, national security, policy, Social Networks, Torture