On Bullshit

One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it. So the phenomenon has not aroused much deliberate concern, or attracted much sustained inquiry. In consequence, we have no clear understanding of what bullshit is, why there is so much of it, or what functions it serves. And we lack a conscientiously developed appreciation of what it means to us. In other words, we have no theory. I propose to begin the development of a theoretical understanding of bullshit, mainly by providing some tentative and exploratory philosophical analysis.

Scholarly approach to the sociology and psychology of bullshit, it’s significance in American culture. Rather longish essay – and especially useful, I feel, in an election year.

Miss an appointment with your shrink? Phone it in!

Treating clinical depression on the telephone is nearly as effective as face-to-face consultations, a new Brigham Young University study finds.

The trial run included 30 people newly diagnosed with major depression. Instead of eight scheduled visits to the clinic, the participants covered the same material during a series of phone calls with the therapist. Calls varied in length, ranging from 21 to 52 minutes. The patients did not receive antidepressant medication.

At a six month follow-up, 42 percent of participants had recovered from depression. For comparison, similar therapy conducted in person has a 50 percent recovery rate.

Offering a phone or webcam option for psychotherapy does appear warranted from an efficacy point of view,” said Diane Spangler, a BYU psychology professor and a coauthor on the study. “It’s more user- friendly — no commutes, more flexibility of place and time — and has no side effects…”

Though a sample of 30 people is not large, the BYU researchers cite a previous antidepressant drug trial that happened to include a telephone counseling component. In that trial, the added benefit from phone counseling matched the results attained by the new BYU study.

Shows you how important that face-to-face couchside manner just may be. Or not.

Improve ethical behavior with citrus-scented Windex. WTF?

People are unconsciously fairer and more generous when they are in clean-smelling environments, according to a soon-to-be published study led by a Brigham Young University professor. The research found a dramatic improvement in ethical behavior with just a few spritzes of citrus-scented Windex.

Katie Liljenquist…is the lead author on the piece in a forthcoming issue of Psychological Science…

“Companies often employ heavy-handed interventions to regulate conduct, but they can be costly or oppressive,” said Liljenquist, whose office smells quite average. “This is a very simple, unobtrusive way to promote ethical behavior.”


He’s very clean…!

The study titled “The Smell of Virtue” was unusually simple and conclusive. Participants engaged in several tasks, the only difference being that some worked in unscented rooms, while others worked in rooms freshly spritzed with Windex.

The first experiment evaluated fairness. As a test of whether clean scents would enhance reciprocity, participants played a classic “trust game.” Subjects received $12 of real money (allegedly sent by an anonymous partner in another room). They had to decide how much of it to either keep or return to their partners who had trusted them to divide it fairly…

The second experiment evaluated whether clean scents would encourage charitable behavior. Subjects indicated their interest in volunteering with a campus organization for a Habitat for Humanity service project and their interest in donating funds to the cause…

“Basically, our study shows that morality and cleanliness can go hand-in-hand,” said Galinsky of the Kellogg School. “Researchers have known for years that scents play an active role in reviving positive or negative experiences. Now, our research can offer more insight into the links between people’s charitable actions and their surroundings…”

Har! I could relate some of my adventures on the BYU campus back in the day – right about here. But, our site would probably be relegated to the “Adult” bin.

Where’s the science? The sorry state of Psychotherapy

It’s a good thing couches are too heavy to throw, because the fight brewing among therapists is getting ugly. For years, psychologists who conduct research have lamented what they see as an antiscience bias among clinicians, who treat patients. But now the gloves have come off.

In a two-years-in-the-making analysis to be published in November in Perspectives on Psychological Science, psychologists led by Timothy B. Baker of the University of Wisconsin charge that many clinicians fail to “use the interventions for which there is the strongest evidence of efficacy” and “give more weight to their personal experiences than to science.” As a result, patients have no assurance that their “treatment will be informed by science.”

Walter Mischel of Columbia University, who wrote an accompanying editorial, is even more scathing. “The disconnect between what clinicians do and what science has discovered is an unconscionable embarrassment,” he told me, and there is a “widening gulf between clinical practice and science.”

The “widening” reflects the substantial progress that psychological research has made in identifying the most effective treatments. Thanks to clinical trials as rigorous as those for, say, cardiology, we now know that cognitive and cognitive-behavior therapy (teaching patients to think about their thoughts in new, healthier ways and to act on those new ways of thinking) are effective against depression, panic disorder, bulimia nervosa, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and -posttraumatic-stress disorder, with multiple trials showing that these treatments—the tools of psychology—bring more durable benefits with lower relapse rates than drugs, which non-M.D. psychologists cannot prescribe…

You wouldn’t know this if you sought help from a typical psychologist. Millions of patients are instead receiving chaotic meditation therapy, facilitated communication, dolphin-assisted therapy, eye-movement desensitization, and well, “someone once stopped counting at 1,000 forms of psychotherapy in use,” says Baker.

RTFA. I’m looking forward to the appearance of the complete study online.

The transformation of American psychology into a profit center for psychogenic drugs manufacturers is as corrupt as any other part of our distorted healthcare system.

Over a third of shootings involving police are ‘Suicide By Cop’

“Suicide by Cop” (SBC) is a suicide method in which a person engages in actual or apparent danger to others in an attempt to get oneself killed or injured by law enforcement. A new study in the Journal of Forensic Sciences examined the prevalence of this phenomenon among a large sample of officer-involved shootings.

Results show that SBC occurs at extremely high rates, with 36 percent of all shootings being categorized as SBC. The findings confirm the growing incidence of this method of suicide, with SBC cases more likely to result in the death or injury of the subjects 50 percent of the time.

The study was led by noted police and forensic psychologist Kris Mohandie, Ph.D.. Using the largest empirical sample of police shootings to examine the issue of SBC, they examined 707 cases of North American officer-involved shootings from 1998 to 2006. Materials reviewed included police reports, witness statements, criminal histories on subjects, photographs, videotapes, and external review reports.

SBC was found to occur at a momentous rate among officer-involved shooting cases. The fact that 36 percent of all shootings in the sample could be categorized as SBC underscores the significance of suicidal impulses among those who become involved in shootings and other uses of force with police officers.

The study also verifies that suicidal individuals can in fact threaten, injure, and kill others in their quest to commit suicide. These individuals are quite lethal to themselves, with a 97 percent likelihood of being injured or killed. There was a one in three chance of others being harmed during the incident.

Wow! I’ve always felt numbers were this high – and the European experience lends credence to this study. Scandanavian studies would add to the mix a number of single-car road accident deaths as being similar. Just adds to the perceived list of dangers faced by peace officers.