Saturday, August 8, 2015

Why are mass shootings in the US on the rise?

An interesting take on the increase in mass shootings in the US:

Research shows that when an identity someone cares about is called into question, they are likely to react by over-demonstrating qualities associated with that identity. As this relates to gender, some sociologists call this “masculinity threat.” And while mass shootings are not common, research suggests that mass shooters experience masculinity threats from their peers and, sometimes, simply from an inability to live up to societal expectations associated with masculinity (like holding down a steady job, being able to obtain sexual access to women’s bodies, etc.) – some certainly more toxic than others.

The research on this topic is primarily experimental. Men who are brought into labs and have their masculinity experimentally “threatened” react in patterned ways: they are more supportive of violence, less likely to identify sexual coercion, more likely to support statements about the inherent superiority of males, and more.

This research provides important evidence of what men perceive as masculine in the first place (resources they rely on in a crisis) and a new kind evidence regarding the relationship of masculinity and violence. The research does not suggest that men are somehow inherently more violent than women. Rather, it suggests that men are likely to turn to violence when they perceive themselves to be otherwise unable to stake a claim to a masculine gender identity.

Note that this is merely an excerpt. Make sure to read the rest.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Growing up in a pornified culture

This is the video of Gail Dines' TED talk. When we ask ourselves about how one's worldview is cultivated by contemporary mass media, the mainstreaming and ready availability of pornographic imagery and videos must be part of that conversation, especially when we consider what is known about the antisocial effects of violent content in pornography that have been well-documented by Dolf Zillmann, Neil Malamuth, and a number of other behavioral and social scientists who study media violence. With that in mind, this video is well-worth your time and consideration.

Monday, August 3, 2015

ICPS and Open Science Framework

One of the cool things about the information age is that the ability to communicate and share findings is more immediate than ever. In the past, conference presentations have often fallen through the cracks. Often, once the presentations are over, there's often no good way to contact participants for copies of handouts, PowerPoint presentations, or anything data related beyond the hope that maybe the participants in question will answer their email. This year, the ICPS conference made available the opportunity for its participants to upload their posters and PowerPoints to an OSF site, making them available to anyone interested. You can find at least a subset of those presentations under the title International Convention of Psychological Science 2015 Posters & Talks. Obviously, this is not the first time that OSF has been used in this capacity by conference organizers. It is an emerging and welcome trend to the extent that it facilitates openness and communication among scientists sharing common research interests, and facilitates George Miller's dictum of giving away psychology in the public interest.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

APA and Torture: Fallout From the Hoffman Report Begins

Earlier this month, the Hoffman Report, an independent review of the American Psychological Association (APA) and its role in facilitating the practice of torture, was published. Needless to say, it's a huge document that takes considerable time to digest. That notwithstanding, there have been plenty of APA critics who had been keeping the public as informed as possible with regard to a number of serious ethical breaches that in addition to the resulting well-documented harm inflicted on those unfortunate enough to get thrown into any of a number of sites like Guantanamo Bay, has done serious damage to the legitimacy of the APA. I would certainly invite you to read the most recent post by Jeffrey Kaye for a summary of the findings, as well as the initial comments by Stephen Soldz and Steven Reisner about the document, its meaning, and some ways for the APA to move forward if it is to have any hope of rehabilitating itself. Indeed, rehabilitation for the organization may be a tall order. Time will tell. Back around seven years ago, a included a statement on my Social Psychology Network profile urging my colleagues to boycott the APA (i.e., withhold membership dues). Although I removed that statement some time ago, after the Withhold APA Dues campaign ran its course, I have no intention at this time of rejoining unless at bare minimum the conditions Soldz and Reisner recommend for reform are met.

At this point, the fallout is still somewhat unclear. We do know that the findings in the report were sufficient to cause a handful of APA senior officials (including Norman Anderson, the CEO) to lose their positions, not long after Stephen Behnke (APA ethics chief) was let go. Whether they are merely the sacrificial lambs or their "resignations" and "retirements" are a harbinger of a bigger shakeup remains to be seen. We do not know if some of their current leadership's statements are merely attempting to come across as anti-torture as a form of damage control or if an earnest reexamination is forthcoming. We don't yet know if those psychologists who enabled the DoD and CIA to engage in torture will themselves face criminal charges, although it is a possibility. We do know that apologies to those who criticized the APA from within, and who were essentially bullied because of it, will require more than apologies after the fact.

What we do know is that psychology in the US and abroad will never be looked at in quite the same way, and reestablishing faith in the field will take considerable effort, as others have duly noted. Whether APA is truly up to the task is questionable. The organization has experienced a sharp decrease in membership over the last half decade, and it is an open-ended question as to whether they will return. After all, there are other national and international organizations that serve sufficiently similar purposes, and many APA divisions are at least semi-independent. One can, for example belong to the Society for the Study of Personality and Social Psychology (aka Division 8) without being an APA member. For those of us whose specialties are more research-based, the Association for Psychological Science is a viable alternative without APA's baggage. Those of us who moved on, may have done so for good.

If what comes out of this whole human rights nightmare that a once-respected professional organization allowed itself to become entangled is a much more clearly defined set of ethical standards for those in both research and practitioner settings, perhaps some good will come of it. We're a long way from that particular happy ending, however. Rather, it is a work in progress, and one requiring the continued critical eye of the watchdogs who served us well (e.g., Kaye, Soldz, Reisner, and Arrigo, to name only a few) this past decade. What I do know is that we as a profession are much better than the actions of the APA leaders and members who are implicated in the Hoffman Report.

What the discovery of fraud says about the state of academic scientific research

The upshot is that we're doing just fine. The article was written by the political scientists who blew the whistle on a fraudulent study by Michael Lacouris (remember I mentioned it this past spring). Bottom line is that those of us who conduct research today are doing so in an environment that makes discovering fraud easier, and that the norms in place in the academic disciplines of which I am aware (those in the behavioral and social sciences) offer positive reinforcement for those who discover mistakes and outright fraud. So, the increase in retractions as a result is actually one that can be interpreted as a positive development. When we publish, there are more watchful eyes than ever. Of course there are some potential headwinds, including a push by policymakers to decimate public funding for social science research, for example, that would push more of us into research environments that are privatized and proprietary (and in which secretiveness in the name of profit may become a primary consideration). Barring something catastrophic, we should be okay. If anything, I expect more of a push toward encouraging (if not compelling) researchers to publicly archive data sets that accompany published research, as well as discourage authors from HARKing (i.e., hypothesizing after the results are known). Expect such trends to strengthen over the coming decade or so. If you are starting your career, you will already be socialized to this new set of realities. For those of us who are veteran academicians, the trends toward more transparency are welcome.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Think venting will calm you down? Think again.

Here's a news article summarizing some research done on venting - we might call it tests of the catharsis hypothesis. Contrary to the old catharsis hypothesis, the bottom line is that venting does not work. Individuals given a chance to vent end up feeling angrier and behaving more aggressively than if they had not done so in the first place. This is research that is especially timely given all the ways we have at our disposal to vent thanks to the miracle of mobile devices and social media. Venting may even feel good at the time. Unfortunately, as decades of research show, venting has damaging consequences.

So where does this idea of venting come from? I mentioned the so-called catharsis hypothesis. It was initially an idea of Freud's regarding emotional energy. Presumably, emotions such as anger would be discharged, hence leaving the patient feeling better. The idea was picked up by neobehaviorists (in particular the Yale Group back in the 1930s and 1940s) as a means of examining the potential reinforcement value of certain motivated behaviors. In order for catharsis to work when it comes to a powerful emotion, such as anger, one needs to demonstrate that individuals are demonstrably less angry and behave less aggressively than they were before they started venting their anger or rage. However, as research by Russ Geen, Brad Bushman, and others has shown in experiment after experiment, what actually happens is that anger and aggression levels increase. What appears to happen is that when a person vents, they are rehearsing the same negative behaviors that we'd ordinarily want to avoid (e.g., screaming, yelling, etc.). When such behaviors are rehearsed they become more frequently used in the future.

By the way, these are effects that we can observe very easily in our own daily lives if we are willing to look. I spent some time, for example, in training retreats for leading peer counseling groups in which many of the techniques we practiced were ones that included venting (many of our faculty supervisors were Freudian in orientation, as it turned out). One thing that I noticed repeatedly was that sessions where individuals would act out their anger tended not to calm down but rather become more intensely angry. The outcome would be best described - in the parlance of our times - as a fail.

So what to do? The usual advice my professional friends and colleagues will give is to count to 10, take a relaxing walk, unplug (i.e., get away from the computer or mobile) or practically any relaxing activity other than vent anger. Take some time to calm down, and then tackle whatever issue is in need of tackling when you are thinking more clearly and can control impulses. I see nothing wrong with stating that something is angering you, but then taking the focus away from the intensity of the emotion experienced and instead concentrate on finding solutions to the anger-inducing situation. In other words, it is one thing to experience emotions such as anger and to have those experiences validated. That is actually healthy. It is quite another thing to act on the impulses created by anger. As an old friend might have put it a couple decades ago, when in doubt, chill out.

Friday, May 29, 2015

An issue that we knew would eventually need addressing

It practically goes without saying that we live in a period of history in which social media are a primary means of communication for many of us. With this change in how we socialize, we have seen an increase in the development of large scale experiments using as unwitting participants subscribers to services such as Facebook. I've briefly discussed this before. In that spirit, I would like to direct you to a well-thought-out post by Dr. Ilka Gleibs, entitled the importance of informed consent in social media research.