Thursday, December 15, 2016

Part of the problem

At least it is an open admission, I'll give the author of this post that much credit. I get it as far as the argument that junior researchers (such as grad students and post-docs) who are more willing to take on projects are going to reap more of the spoils. Good work ethic is nice. Splendid. What is really useful is that there is an open admission that to get this particular assistant published a good deal of p-hacking was deemed necessary. So great - research assistant has lines on a CV that may be helpful in the short term. However, long-term, what is this sort of practice doing to our science? Personally, I find the publish or perish culture that has become so much a part of academic life to be one that is rather inviting to some of our unhealthier impulses to submit research that may be worse than useless, when we really should be slowing down and ascertaining that we have adequately tested the hypotheses we set out to test. In the meantime, here's another lab that may be putting out some good research, but is probably also producing some problematic research based on little more than fishing expeditions. But hey - at least p < .05, right?

The role of social media on the normalization of prejudice

Remember when I highlighted the work of Chris Crandall and colleagues, who showed a normative shift in expression of prejudice towards groups Trump had targeted? Let's add to the discussion and see what a team of researchers has found in the UK post-Brexit. In essence this group of researchers found that there was a link between social media exposure and hate crime incidents, including on-line verbal abuse (keep in mind that in the US we would not refer to on-line verbal abuse as hate crime per se). According to the authors and those who are reading and interpreting their findings, it appears that what has happened in the UK is that social media have led to a sort of normalization of prejudice, much like what we see here. Although the focus is on social media exposure, we need to recall that increasingly sites like Facebook and Twitter are where we get much of our news, we do find echo chambers form, and we do see that individuals on social media find outlets to express toxic views about race, ethnicity, gender, and so on that they might not have done via other modes of communication. That social media themselves can contribute to normative shifts that lead to antisocial interactions is something that should be of concern to us all.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

More resources for evaluating news sites

At some point, I will simply have to create a widget with links to media literacy resources. I noticed a helpful (albeit incomplete) infographic on news quality at a blog called All Generalizations are False. The proprietor of that blog has been posting on twitter and Facebook as well. The author's rationale for ranking various sites on their level of bias and reputability are useful enough, and provide something of a rough guide for navigating today's rough media saturated waters. Another site that is quite comprehensive is Media Bias/Fact Check. The people behind this site are very open about their methodology and they do a very good job of covering just about any purported news sources that you are likely to run into. I stand by a statement I've made earlier: if a claim from a news source seems to outrageous or good to be true, you should be suspicious. News items should appear in multiple outlets, including ones that are relatively mainstream. Expect any outlet to have a slant or bias of one sort or another - this is a lesson that used to get taught to us in junior high school (at least it was back when I was attending around the start of the 1980s). It is also expected that regardless of a particular editorial slant, individual journalists will have their own perspectives, hence the need to look at multiple sources. My own bias is very simple: just avoid the conspiracy and clickbait sites altogether and starve them of advertising dollars. Stick to reputable sources of various ideological positions, and avoid getting caught in an echo chamber (social psychologists, including me, will argue that confirmation bias is something to be avoided as much as is humanly possible rather than embraced).

Friday, December 9, 2016

For narcissists, self-esteem is not the issue

Get past the provocative title of Brad Bushman's most recent blog post and you'll get a quick capsule summary of the link between narcissism and aggression. Conventional wisdom is that acts of aggressive behavior are due to low self-esteem. Individuals who tend to chronically hurt other people, whether physically or emotionally, presumably feel bad about themselves and are compensating somehow. This concept is so much embedded in our social fabric that it is portrayed quite regularly in our pop culture. Heck, an alternative rock band in the mid-1990s, The Offspring, even had a hit song on that very topic - just as one example. Here's the problem: the evidence for the belief that low self-esteem is one risk factor in aggressive behavior is practically non-existent. There is, on the other hand, evidence that narcissists do become angry and do behave aggressively when they are provoked in an ego-threatening manner, and that evidence has been steadily pouring in since the 1990s. Even better, a single item inventory can detect narcissists with a high degree of reliability and validity, as it turns out that narcissists cannot help but out themselves as such - and that is useful for those of us who design experiments who might want to use narcissism as a moderator variable, but have limited lab time per participant at our disposal. Now, the focus of the blog post is on sub-clinical narcissism. However, when one looks at individuals who are clinically diagnosable as narcissists, their track record is one of lack of empathy and harmful behavior towards others.

Although Bushman does not go into this, it turns out that narcissists have a "type" whom they are attracted to. A friend of mine recently completed a dissertation that was primarily a qualitative analysis of the partners and ex-partners of narcissists. In his interviews with these individuals, it becomes clear that most of them have no idea just who they were dating or marrying until it was a bit too late, but they do ultimately recognize that they are dealing with a narcissist at some point during the progression of the relationship. But more interesting was how they scored on the Big Five personality factors: in general they tended to score well above average on the traits of agreeableness and conscientiousness. Most of us will not put up with the abuse of a narcissist for very long, but for that subset who are nice and duty-bound almost to the point of overkill, the narcissist has his or her ideal target: a person who can be harmed whenever the narcissist feels threatened who will continue to take whatever aggression and anger the narcissist throws their way (at least up to some eventual breaking point). And it also becomes clear that the impression that the partners and ex-partners of narcissists do recognize that these individuals come across as highly confident and tend to have inflated views about themselves (that may well have been what sparked the attraction in the first place), may make great first impressions, but that over time they turn out to be not only less than they billed themselves but also rather easily angered and aggressive over the long haul.

Bottom line is that self-esteem is not the issue. Narcissists are doing quite well in that regard. Obviously I would not advocate for low self-esteem either. However, a dose of humility may not be a bad idea, and may put one at less risk to be verbally or physically harmful toward others.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

And once more with feeling: the bubble is real

 I've barely followed Vice, since I found my few experiences to be somewhat on the sensationalistic side. However, the infographic from this story and the story itself may be at least somewhat useful. In particular note how little overlap there is between Clinton and Trump supporters. Trump supporters especially appear to live in their own reality. Some of the other infographics are telling as well. We used to call this the echo chamber about a decade or two ago. Bubbles or echo chambers are not especially healthy for a democracy. It is useful to know where we are currently. That will help us sort out the extent to which we can improve our own media consumption and public discourse.

More media literacy: Some advice on reading the news

Infographic nicked from here. It is publicly posted on Facebook, and hopefully will remain that way. Of course, the list is far from complete, but it does serve as a template. It reinforces what I have attempted to state at various points over the last few weeks. Stick to a variety of sources representing varying views, keep the fact checking resources bookmarked, and keep an open mind.