Wanted: political diversity in social psychology

A fascinating article on why social psychology needs more political diversity is due to be published in Behavioral and Brain Sciences. Sadly the full article is locked behind a paywall but the abstract gives an excellent summary of the article and the wider problem itself.

Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science.

Duarte JL, Crawford JT, Stern C, Haidt J, Jussim L, Tetlock PE.
Behav Brain Sci. 2014 Jul 18:1-54. [Epub ahead of print]

Psychologists have demonstrated the value of diversity-particularly diversity of viewpoints-for enhancing creativity, discovery, and problem solving. But one key type of viewpoint diversity is lacking in academic psychology in general and social psychology in particular: political diversity. This article reviews the available evidence and finds support for four claims:

1) Academic psychology once had considerable political diversity, but has lost nearly all of it in the last 50 years;

2) This lack of political diversity can undermine the validity of social psychological science via mechanisms such as the embedding of liberal values into research questions and methods, steering researchers away from important but politically unpalatable research topics, and producing conclusions that mischaracterize liberals and conservatives alike;

3) Increased political diversity would improve social psychological science by reducing the impact of bias mechanisms such as confirmation bias, and by empowering dissenting minorities to improve the quality of the majority’s thinking; and

4) The underrepresentation of non-liberals in social psychology is most likely due to a combination of self-selection, hostile climate, and discrimination.

We close with recommendations for increasing political diversity in social psychology.

As the article notes there is considerable evidence that social diversity is beneficial on many levels for numerous types of social groups.

This is widely believed in social science and community work except when it comes to political opinion where many believe that non-liberal views are incompatible with this type of work, when clearly they are not. This affects the field to the point where people are seemingly prepared to actively discriminate against non-liberals.

The defence of diversity matters most when you are defending the inclusion of people with whom you disagree or who make you uncomfortable. And we will all be better off as a result.
 

Link to PubMed entry for article.

Spike activity 12-06-2015

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:

The New York Times has a fascinating piece about the three waves of ancient peoples who arrived in Europe to found the modern population.

I am shocked, shocked I tell you, that the UK Government are deliberately side-lining their own scientific advisors to implement an unworkable ban on psychoactive substances. Reported by BBC News.

Narratively has a gallery from a photographer covering an innovative treatment program for violent offenders to reintegrate into society.

Injectable electronics holds promise for basic neuroscience, treatment of neuro-degenerative diseases. Coverage from PhysOrg.

Motherboard have had an excellent week of special articles on neuroscience.

The British police are deploying face recognition technology to scan festival crowds for matches to their mugshot database, according to the hacks at The Register.

Head quarters covers the dodgy popularity of online quizes to test if you’re a psychopath.

A short history of medicalising stress. Good piece in The FT.

Nature reports on The Pentagon’s focus on brain implants, bionic limbs and combat exoskeletons. Sounds sinister but they’re just tooling up humans for when the robot war comes. To the bunkers fellow cyborgs!

A new big budget fantasy video game has a hero who experiences psychosis. Motherboard has a piece on what could be a groundbreaking moment for mental health, or could be a soulbreaking moment for mental health stigma.

Aeon has an interesting piece on the work of a ‘metaphor designer‘ to use in PR campaigns.

Context Is the New Black

The New Yorker has one of the best articles I’ve ever read on the Stanford prison experiment – the notorious and mythologised study that probably doesn’t tell us that we ‘all have the potential to be monsters’.

It’s a study that’s often taught as one of the cornerstones of psychology and like many foundational stories, it has come to serve a purpose beyond what we can confidently conclude from it.

Was the study about our individual fallibility, or about broken institutions? Were its findings about prisons, specifically, or about life in general? What did the Stanford Prison Experiment really show?

The appeal of the experiment has a lot to do with its apparently simple setup: prisoners, guards, a fake jail, and some ground rules. But, in reality, the Stanford County Prison was a heavily manipulated environment, and the guards and prisoners acted in ways that were largely predetermined by how their roles were presented. To understand the meaning of the experiment, you have to understand that it wasn’t a blank slate; from the start, its goal was to evoke the experience of working and living in a brutal jail.

It’s a great piece that I can probably do little to add to here, so you’re best off reading it in full.
 

Link to The Real Lesson of the Stanford Prison Experiment.

Hallucinating children

CC Licensed Photo by Flickr user Tali Le Bamba. Click for source.I’ve got an article in The Observer about childhood hallucinations which are much more common than we previously imagined.

You tend to get one of two reactions when you discuss children hallucination: that’s obvious – children live in a fantasy world, or that’s horrendous – there must be something very wrong with them.

The answer is that neither response is particularly accurate. Children’s fantasies are not the same as hallucinations but neither are they normally a sign of something ‘going wrong’ – although certain forms of hallucinations can suggest a more serious problem.

Hallucinations often reflect a bizarre, blurry version of our realities and because play is an everyday reality for children, the content can seem similar. Both can contain quirky characters, strange scenarios and inspire curious behaviour. One child described how he saw a wolf in the house, another that he had “Yahoos” living inside him that ate all his medicine. On the surface, these could just as easily be a child’s whimsy, but genuine hallucinations have a very different flavour. “In play and make-believe, children are imagining,” says Elena Garralda, a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at Imperial College London. “They do not have the actual perceptual experience of seeing and hearing.” Another key difference, notes Garralda, is that “hallucinations feel imposed and children cannot exercise a direct control over them”.

There’s more on these fascinating experiences in the full article linked below.
 

Link to ‘Childhood hallucinations are surprisingly common – but why?’

Spike activity 05-06-2015

Quick links from the past week in mind and brain news:

Fusion has an oddly fascinating piece on the AI of dick pic detection which turns out to be a surprisingly hard problem (matron).

Uber poaches 40 people from Carnegie Mellon’s robotics researcher community wanting to boost their autonomous car technology according to the Market Watch.

Brain Metrics has an excellent primer on a key neuroscience technique: What does MEG measure?

There’s an excellent in-depth article in The New York Times on pregnancy and depression by writer Andrew Solomon.

MIT Tech Review covers AI’s first cheating scandal. Apparently, some of the puny humans it was trying to wipe out were already critically ill to start with.

Interesting piece in The Guardian. “My son has autism. That’s why I won’t be finishing Norman Doidge’s book.” My condolences for starting.

BBC Future has a fascinating piece on highly multilingual people.

There’s a good profile of behavioural economist Richard Thaler in Bloomberg.

Discover has a fascinating short piece on ‘phantom eye syndrome’ – like a phantom limb limb after eye removal: “symptoms included pain, visual sensations, or the impression of actually seeing with the missing eye”.

This looks excellent: trailer for an upcoming six-part documentary series on neuroscience called The Brain. Hosted by neuroscientist David Eagleman.

Essential Forbes piece on the almost approved ‘female Viagra’ flibanserin: 0.7 extra sexually satisfying events per month, no effect on sexual desire, “very significant side effects” and promoted by an astroturfed ‘equality’ campaign. Progress people!

The thin white line of future drug control

CC Licensed Image from Wikipedia. Click for source.The UK Government have announced they want to change the drugs law and ban “[any] substance which is capable of producing a psychoactive effect”. It’s a fairly clumsy attempt to tackle the wave of ‘legal highs’ but there’s a little psychopharmacological gem, hidden away, in the Home Secretary’s letter that accompanies the proposed changes.

There’s been plenty of news coverage of the proposed blanket ban, both for and against, and you can read the official documents on the Home Office Psychoactive Substances Bill webpage.

From the government’s point of view, it’s pretty much all they can do. The list of banned drugs has got so large that they’ve decided it is easier to say what isn’t prohibited. So apart from the specifically mentioned exceptions (the respectable dangerous drugs: booze, nicotine, meds) they’ve decided to ban

“[any] substance [that] produces a psychoactive effect in a person if, by stimulating or depressing the person’s central nervous system, it affects the person’s mental functioning or emotional state”

It’s a vague and unhelpful definition that could include half the products in your cleaning cupboard. But it leaves a more interesting question which the Home Secretary is clearly aware of. That is – how do you know a substance is psychoactive at all?

In other words, imagine the police find a suspicious looking white powder but the drug isn’t in their database. New drugs are appearing at about one a week, so it’s a very likely scenario. Working out whether it is psychoactive or not is key for legal purposes.

This issue has clearly already troubled the Home Secretary. In her letter to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, the Home Secretary says “I would welcome the Council’s views on how best we can establish a comprehensive scientific approach for determining psychoactivity for evidential purposes.”

But what science tells us is that the only way of confidently working out whether something is psychoactive or not, is to take it.

This is because you can’t confidently predict what a drug will do to the mind from its chemical structure.

We can say some general structures are more likely to be psychoactive than others, but it’s never guaranteed. For example lots of tryptamines are psychoactive but even here structurally very similar drugs may have very different effects.

Some tryptamines – like DMT and psilocybin are powerfully hallucinogenic – other very similar tryptamines – like the drugs used to treat migraines, are not.

As drugs are essentially keys to the ‘locks’ of the brain’s synaptic receptors – even a tiny change might suddenly mean it won’t fit in the keyhole and has no psychoactive effect.

Interestingly, this means both the manufacturers of new psychoactive compounds and the UK government will have the same problem. Because you can’t do a chemical test on a new drug and say for sure it’s psychoactive, and animal tests won’t give you a definite answer, someone has to take it to find out.

Grey market labs in China and Eastern Europe solve this problem by, well, getting someone to take the drugs. Christ knows what the Government are going to do.

Cheeky line of as-yet-untested phenethylamine derivative Home Secretary?