January 2010


This is part 3 of a series of things I learned during my Bachelor’s degree in psychology that I thought should have been headlines in the mainstream news. If you missed them, here’s part 1 and part 2. Again, if you’re interested or skeptical, leave me a comment with a specific question and I’ll give you my references.

Egaz Moniz Was Given the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1949 for Developing the Prefrontal Lobotomy: This “psychosurgery” involved slicing or scrambling the front part of the brain, and tended to produce more manageable behavior in “patients.”

40,000 Human Beings Were Lobotomized in the United States Between 1936 and 1977: These were men, women, and children with “illnesses” like schizophrenia, PTSD, depression, anxiety, homosexuality, criminal behavior, and being hard to manage.

Antipsychotic Thorazine Hailed as “Chemical Lobotomy”: Yes, this was meant as a compliment.

200,000,000 Prescriptions for Antidepressants in the US in 2007: That’s quite a few prescriptions.

80% of Antidepressant Prescriptions in the US Not Written by Psychiatrists: Consider that it may be a good idea to at least see a specialist in mental illness before taking psychotropic drugs or giving them to your kids.

Some Psychopharmaceuticals as Effective as Exercise in Treating Depression: But who wants to exercise when you’re depressed?

Sleep Deprivation the Most Effective Treatment For Depression, By Far: Never heard of this one? Maybe it’ll hit the news when someone figures out how to make money from sleep deprivation.

The World Health Organization Found That Schizophrenics Recover, But Only in Countries Without Easy Access to Psychopharmaceuticals: Schizophrenics can recover? Well, yes, it looks like they can. And yes, the WHO data shows a correlation, not necessarily causation, but an interesting correlation!

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Here’s part 2. (And if you missed it, here’s part 1.) Again, if you are either interested or skeptical, leave me a comment and I’ll point you to the evidence.

Statistically, Divorce is Not a Good Strategy for Getting a Better Marriage: 50 to 67% of first marriages end in divorce. 60 to 77% of second marriages end in divorce.

Your Brain Has Trouble Giving Information About Probabilities Due Weight, So Pay Attention to Base Rates: We have trouble taking the actual prevalence of events into account when making decisions. For example, people tend to be more afraid of dying in a plane crash (lifetime chance: 1 in 20,000) than dying in a car wreck (lifetime chance: 1 in 100) or even of a heart attack (lifetime chance: 1 in 5). One reason for this is that we confuse the ease with which we can think of an example to be an indication of how likely something is. Try this: What do you think is more common, words beginning with “r” or words with “r” as the third letter?

If You Test Positive For a Very Rare Disease, You Still Probably Do Not Have That Disease: This is a headline that should come from medicine, not psychology, but psychologists are better at probability than doctors, who are no better than laypeople, at least when it comes to thinking about this: Even with a very accurate test, if a disease is very rare, a positive result is still much more likely to be a false positive than an accurate positive. I’m going to explain this, but if you don’t get it, don’t worry. Just remember the headline. It’s true.

The table below shows a hypothetical situation with super-round numbers to make it easier to get. You have gotten positive results on a test that is 99% accurate for a disease that occurs only once in 10,000 people. Most people figure they are 99% likely to have the disease. They are wrong:

Test Results
Disease Present? Test Results Positive Test Results Negative Row Totals
Disease Present 99 1 100
Disease Not Present 9,999 989,901 999,900
Column Totals 10,098 989,902 1,000,000

Since your test results are positive, you are somewhere in the left-hand column. You are either one of the 99 who both have the disease and whose test results are positive, called “hits,” or one of the 9,999 who do not have the disease but whose test results are positive, called “false positives.” As you may see, even though your test results are positive, you still are 99% likely to be a false positive and not a hit, simply because the disease is so rare.

Yes, this is counter-intuitive. That’s why it’s important. And that’s why statistics are important. Again, if you don’t understand, don’t worry. If you don’t believe it, though, come up with a specific question, leave it as a comment, and I’ll answer it.

If You Need Help, Ask Someone Specific for Something Specific: Bystanders generally do not help people who are in trouble. The bigger the crowd, the less likely someone will help. It’s not because they are bad or lazy. It’s a specific kind of well-documented confusion. Kind of like in the clip below. What you need to know is, if you need help, even if it seems like it should be completely obvious to anyone around, like you’re having a heart attack, falling to the ground, gasping, whatever, point to a specific person and give them specific instructions: “You, in the red shirt. I’m having a heart attack. Call an ambulance.” Do not assume anything will happen that you did not specifically ask for. A corollary of this headline is, if you think someone might be in trouble, don’t assume they would ask you for help, and don’t assume someone else is helping them. Help them yourself. It could mean the difference between them living or dying.

Get Help For Your Marriage When the Trouble Starts (Or Before): On average, couples wait 6 years after their marriage is in trouble to get help. The average marriages last 7 years. That means that most people who come to couples counseling are deeply entrenched in problems that would have been relatively easy to resolve earlier. It is not uncommon for a couple to come in to counseling with a covert agenda to use the counselor to make their inevitable divorce easier. We can do this, but believe me we’d much rather meet you earlier and help you stay together! Also, I’m not joking about “or before.” Couples counselors are well-trained to give “tune-ups” to couples who are doing well. It’s a good idea.

Anger Is Not Destructive of Relationships, Contempt and Defensiveness Are: Everybody argues. Everybody screws up their communications. It’s the ability to repair things that is the key, and contempt and defensiveness get in the way of that.

I documented all of my landfill contribution for the year 2009. There is a little write-up of the project and photos of all my trash on my Landfill page.  The short version of the story is that I generated 57 pounds of non-recyclable, non-compostable garbage in 2009. That’s a lot more than I had anticipated, and when I look at the photos I get embarrassed. Very little, if any, of that trash was necessary. Still, it’s a bit better than the average American’s four pounds per day, according to the Clean Air Council’s page on American waste. How do people do that? I’m not sure I could keep up that pace if I was getting paid to. That’s 1,460 pounds per person per year. Canadians are whupping us here, by a lot. All of the estimates I came across for Canadian landfill per person per year were less than half of that. Even in Alberta.

Going though my undergraduate degree in psychology, I was often surprised about information that was well known by the field that should have hit the headlines but never made a dent. In the end it was one of my reasons for going into therapy instead of experimental psychology. At one point I asked my social psychology teacher for an example of basic social psych research that had had a real impact on mainstream society. He could not give me one. I know that basic research is done to find stuff out, not to directly help people, and I support that. I also know that psychology is a baby science, and tackling a very complex set of phenomena, and doing a pretty good job. Still, I was disappointed. It is too bad, because a lot of useful and sometimes very important stuff has been discovered by experimental psychologists, and it is mostly just ignored.

Here are a few things I came across in my classes and reading that I thought should have been mainstream headlines. If you are interested in references, leave a comment and I will get them to you.

It Is Important to Talk to Your Baby, Even in the Womb: Your baby can hear and recognize your voice in your womb, is already learning your language, and wants to hear your voice.

It Is Important to Sleep With Your Baby: Babies are not born fully self-regulating. One way this shows up is that babies do not breath out enough carbon dioxide–sleeping with parents provides them with a pool of carbon dioxide that keeps the baby breathing deeply enough. Another benefit is that their 90 minute hunger cycle (waking and nursing each 90 minutes) helps establish their 90 minute REM sleep cycle, which they are not born with, and also keeps them from getting into deep, delta wave sleep, which is dangerous for babies because they can stop breathing.

Don’t Worry Too Much About Your Decisions: Your brain has mechanisms to ensure that you will think you made the right decision, regardless of what you decide. This can be undermined, however, by thinking of reasons for your decision before you make it. In many cases, your coming-up-with-reasons ability can get in the way of your decision-making ability. As long as you get all the relevant information, you may have a better chance making a good decision without deliberation.

It Works to Ask People to Watch Your Stuff: People who you do not specifically ask to watch your stuff will do nothing while your stuff is stolen. People who you do ask, will go to great lengths to keep your stuff from being stolen.

The Normal Are Not Detectably Sane: The methods of this study were not well laid out, so I do not know how strong this evidence is, but it was quite clever. Normal people got admitted into mental hospitals by saying they had heard a voice say the words “empty,” “hollow,” and “thud.” Other than that they behaved as usual. None were discovered to be sane by the staff, no matter how long they stayed hospitalized.

Reanna and I got engaged on January 3, 2010. I’m so happy!

Here are a couple of photos (taken by Maya) from our recent trip to Joshua Tree. Reanna made the quilt in the second photograph. It was my Christmas present.

Gussied Up

In Quilt

I’m back from a wonderful vacation with Reanna and my family in Joshua Tree and hunkering down for my winter term. I’ve heard that my last term had the most intense workload of the program, but now that I’ve compiled the list of reading and assignments, I wonder if that’s true, especially considering that we have our comp exams the first week of spring term, which includes writing four 6-8 page papers from memory. I’m thinking of ways to take it easier on myself this term because I lost some of my near-focus vision during fall term and I’m not cool with that. (Yes, I was taking breaks, looking up frequently etc. Reading 30 hours a week is reading 30 hours a week.) Anyway, here’s my reading and writing list for the next 10 weeks. The number codes are for the classes: 610 is my second Family Models class, 620 is my Psychopathology (read DSM and deconstruction of such) class, 621 is Professional and Ethical Issues in Family Therapy, and 632 is Medical Family Therapy. I’m excited about all of them.

620 “Remembering Masturbatory Insanity” (URL) 1/6/2010

620 “Mental Disorders are Not Diseases” (URL) 1/6/2010

620 “The Myth of the Reliability of DSM” (URL) 1/6/2010

620 “On Being Sane in Insane Places” (Blackboard) 1/6/2010

620 “Patient Autobiographies” (Blackboard) 1/6/2010

621 Corey ch 1 1/11/2010

621 Corey ch 2 1/11/2010

621 Woody ch 1 1/11/2010

621 reflection paper 1 1/11/2010

610 Nichols ch 6 1/13/2010

610 Nichols ch 9 1/13/2010

610 BB Bobrow & Ray 1/13/2010

620 Munson: Look at Visuals section. 1/13/2010

620 Munson: Read: Introduction, 1/13/2010

620 Munson: Ch. 3 (for overview), 1/13/2010

620 Munson: Ch. 4 (focus on structure of multiaxial system). 1/13/2010

620 Munson: Skim Ch. 21 1/13/2010

620 Munson: Skim Ch. 23 1/13/2010

620 DSM: Introduction, Use of the Manual, Multiaxial Assessment (through p. 37) 1/13/2010

620 Skim “APA Guidelines for Providers…” 1/13/2010

620 D’Avanzo & Geissler: Read Foreword 1/13/2010

620 D’Avanzo & Geissler: Preface 1/13/2010

620 D’Avanzo & Geissler: Appendix 1/13/2010

620 D’Avanzo & Geissler: look at index. 1/13/2010

620 D’Avanzo & Geissler: Look up people of your ethnic heritage, country(s) of origin, or with whose culture you are familiar in order to evaluate strengths and limitations of this resource 1/13/2010

632 Sapolsky ch 1 1/15/2010

632 Sapolsky ch 12 1/15/2010

632 Sapolsky ch 16 1/15/2010

632 Medical Family Therapy ch 3 1/15/2010

632 Medical Family Therapy ch 6 1/15/2010

610 BB Shields & McDaniel 1/20/2010

610 Tomm part 2 1/20/2010

610 reflection paper 1 1/20/2010

620 Munson: Ch. 19, 11 1/20/2010

620 DSM: Adjustment DOs (p. 679-683), Anxiety DOs (p. 429-484) 1/20/2010

620 Kessler 1/20/2010

620 Barrett 1/20/2010

620 Ung 1/20/2010

620 Burroughs 1/20/2010

620 Munson 14 1/20/2010

620 DSM: Dissociative DOs (p. 519-33), 1/20/2010

620 DSM: Eating DOs (p. 583-595) 1/20/2010

620 Schreiber 1/20/2010

620 Knapp 1/20/2010

632 Rolland part I 1/22/2010

632 Rolland part II 1/22/2010

621 Corey ch 3 1/25/2010

621 Corey ch 4 1/25/2010

621 Woody ch 8 1/25/2010

621 reflection paper 2 1/25/2010

621 reflection paper 3 1/25/2010

610 BB Tomm part 1 1/27/2010

620 Munson: Ch. 10 1/27/2010

620 DSM Bipolar DOs (p. 382-401) 1/27/2010

620 DSM: Mood DOs (p. 345-382 1/27/2010

620 Styron 1/27/2010

620 Jamison 1/27/2010

632 Rolland part III 1/29/2010

621 Corey ch 5 2/1/2010

610 Nichols ch 13 2/3/2010

610 BB carr 1998 2/3/2010

620 reading to be assigned 2/3/2010

620 quiz 2/3/2010

620 summary of small group discussion 2/3/2010

632 Gawande 2/5/2010

632 Patients from different cultures ch 2 2/5/2010

632 Patients from Different cultures ch 4 2/5/2010

621 Corey ch 6 2/8/2010

621 Woody ch 7 2/8/2010

621 reflection paper 4 2/8/2010

621 professional disclosure statement 2/8/2010

610 BB Gergen 1985 2/10/2010

610 quiz 1 2/10/2010

620 Munson 9 2/10/2010

620 Munson 16 2/10/2010

620 DSM: Schizophrenic spectrum DOs (p. 297-338) 2/10/2010

620 Alda mother 2/10/2010

620 Love mother 2/10/2010

620 Steele 2/10/2010

620 Hunt 2/10/2010

620 “lobotomies” coleman 2/10/2010

620 Dully and Fleming 2/10/2010

620 El-Hai 2/10/2010

620 Grand Rounds 2/10/2010

632 Shared experience ch 1 2/12/2010

632 Shared experience ch 14 2/12/2010

632 Shared experience ch 15 2/12/2010

632 Medical family therapy ch 4 2/12/2010

632 Medical family therapy ch 11 2/12/2010

632 Sherret 2/12/2010

632 health genogram due 2/12/2010

621Corey ch 7 2/15/2010

621 Woody ch 3 2/15/2010

621 reflection paper 5 2/15/2010

610 Nichols 12 2/17/2010

610 BB Molnar & DeShazer 1987 2/17/2010

620 Munson 20 2/17/2010

620 Munson 16 2/17/2010

620 DSM: Personality DOs (p. 685-729) 2/17/2010

620 Wurtzel 2/17/2010

620 Levine 2/17/2010

620 Miller 2/17/2010

620 Crimmins 2/17/2010

620 DSM: Alzheimer’s (p. 147-158) 2/17/2010

632 psychotherapist’s guide to psychoparmacology 2/19/2010

621 Corey ch 8 2/22/2010

621 Corey ch 9 2/22/2010

621 Woody ch 4 2/22/2010

621 reflection paper 6 2/22/2010

610 reflection 2 2/24/2010

620 review readings 2/24/2010

620 Exam 2/25/2010

632 LBL chapter 1 2/26/2010

632 LBL chapter 3 2/26/2010

632 LBL chapter 7 2/26/2010

632 Candib 2/26/2010

621 Corey ch 11 3/1/2010

621 Corey ch 12 3/1/2010

621 reflection paper 7 3/1/2010

621 legal statutes and rules summary 3/1/2010

610 Nichols 11 3/3/2010

610 BB Goldner 1992 or so 3/3/2010

610 OSCR reflection 3/3/2010

620 trans readings TBA 3/3/2010

632 LBL chapter 8 3/5/2010

632 LBL chapter 9 3/5/2010

632 Becvar 3/5/2010

621 Corey ch 10 3/8/2010

621 Corey ch 13 3/8/2010

621 reflection paper 8 3/8/2010

621 Take home final due 3/8/2010

610 Nichols 14 3/10/2010

610 quiz 2 3/10/2010

632 interview project due 3/12/2010

610 final paper due 10 am 3/15/2010