Sunday, February 26, 2017

More wacky psychology research

Here is the latest on cats causing mental illness:
Cats host a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that other research has linked to various mental illnesses. So, for some time, people have wondered whether cats are unsafe; for example, pregnant women are usually told to stay away from litter boxes. (They should still do this because transmission during pregnancy is very real.) In a study published in the journal Psychological Medicine, researchers looked at data that tracked 5,000 Brits born in the early '90s until they were 18. This included information about whether the kids grew up with cats, or whether there were cats around when the mother was pregnant. After the scientists controlled for factors like socioeconomic status, there was no link between developing psychosis and having owned a cat. The researchers suggest that previous studies that did show a link had relatively small sample sizes. In addition, many of these studies asked people whether they remembered having cats, which is not quite as accurate. That said, it's important to keep in mind that some mental disorders linked to the parasite -- like schizophrenia -- tend to be diagnosed fairly late in life, so only tracking until age 18 might limit the study.
Yes, I would be surprised if cats cause full-blown schizophrenia by age 18. The effects are more subtle than that, and some of them have been proven in animals.

The book Thinking, Fast and Slow is widely considered a masterpiece from one of our greatest living intellectuals. See, for example, very high praise from Harvard Psychology professor Steven Pinker and Liar's Poker author Michael Lewis.

The book is crap, and I have criticized it before on this blog.

Here is another refutation:
In Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” he introduces research on social priming – the idea that subtle cues in the environment may have significant, reliable effects on behaviour. In that book, published in 2011, Kahneman writes “disbelief is not an option” about these results. Since then, the evidence against the reliability of social priming research has been mounting.

In a new analysis, ‘Reconstruction of a Train Wreck: How Priming Research Went off the Rails‘, Ulrich Schimmack, Moritz Heene, and Kamini Kesavan review chapter 4 of Thinking Fast and Slow, picking out the references which provide evidence for social priming and calculating how statistically reliable they:

Their conclusion:
The results are eye-opening and jaw-dropping.  The chapter cites 12 articles and 11 of the 12 articles have an R-Index below 50.  The combined analysis of 31 studies reported in the 12 articles shows 100% significant results with average (median) observed power of 57% and an inflation rate of 43%.  …readers of… “Thinking Fast and Slow” should not consider the presented studies as scientific evidence that subtle cues in their environment can have strong effects on their behavior outside their awareness.
In other words, his work relies on a flawed statistical analysis, and the claimed effects were not replicated in subsequent studies.

Here is a famous psychiatrist, giving his nutty political/academic opinions:
To the Editor:

Fevered media speculation about Donald Trump’s psychological motivations and psychiatric diagnosis has recently encouraged mental health professionals to disregard the usual ethical constraints against diagnosing public figures at a distance. They have sponsored several petitions and a Feb. 14 letter to The New York Times suggesting that Mr. Trump is incapable, on psychiatric grounds, of serving as president.

Most amateur diagnosticians have mislabeled President Trump with the diagnosis of narcissistic personality disorder. I wrote the criteria that define this disorder, and Mr. Trump doesn’t meet them. He may be a world-class narcissist, but this doesn’t make him mentally ill, because he does not suffer from the distress and impairment required to diagnose mental disorder.

Mr. Trump causes severe distress rather than experiencing it and has been richly rewarded, rather than punished, for his grandiosity, self-absorption and lack of empathy. It is a stigmatizing insult to the mentally ill (who are mostly well behaved and well meaning) to be lumped with Mr. Trump (who is neither).

Bad behavior is rarely a sign of mental illness, and the mentally ill behave badly only rarely. Psychiatric name-calling is a misguided way of countering Mr. Trump’s attack on democracy. He can, and should, be appropriately denounced for his ignorance, incompetence, impulsivity and pursuit of dictatorial powers.

His psychological motivations are too obvious to be interesting, and analyzing them will not halt his headlong power grab. The antidote to a dystopic Trumpean dark age is political, not psychological.

Coronado, Calif.

The writer, professor emeritus of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical College, was chairman of the task force that wrote the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV (D.S.M.-IV).
Maybe Frances should check whether he has one of those mental disorders.

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