Psychology

Excerpt from “On the Heels of Ignorance” by Owen Whooley

October 10, 2019
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October 10 is #WorldMentalHealthDay, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world. In honor, we’d like to share a short excerpt from the introduction to On the Heels of Ignorance: Psychiatry and the Politics of Not Knowing by Owen Whooley. His well-researched history begins with psychiatry’s formal inception in the 1840s and moves through two centuries of constant struggle to define and redefine mental illness as well as the best ways to treat it. Whooley’s book is no antipsychiatric screed, however; instead, he reveals a field that has muddled through periodic reinventions and conflicting agendas of curiosity, compassion, and professional striving to get to where it is today. The history of American psychiatry is a history of ignorance. Underlying psychiatry’s curious past—its repeated crises and dramatic transformations, its faddish theories and epistemic somersaults, its occasional achievements and egregious abuses—is a stubborn, inconvenient fact. Psychiatrists lack basic knowledge regarding mental illness. Madness evades articulation. Charged with the quixotic, perhaps doomed, mandate to impose reason on madness, psychiatrists have searched for an understanding of the mechanisms that produce mental distress, be they psychological, neurological, genetic, or social. These searches have been in vain. The most fundamental . . .

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Read an Excerpt from “Redefining Success in America: A New Theory of Happiness and Human Development”

June 17, 2019
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In recent months, the news has been filled with the ongoing fallout of a college admissions scandal in which dozens of wealthy parents—including Hollywood stars—stand accused of bribing their children’s way into elite undergraduate institutions, presumably in a bid to guarantee them long-term success. But while the salacious combination of celebrity, money, and crime has consumed our attention, we’ve ignored some important central questions: Are the beliefs that motivated the purported crimes based in reality? Do an elite education and a successful career really guarantee a fulfilled, happy life? In his timely new book, interdisciplinary psychologist Michael B. Kaufman shows us that the answer is an emphatic “No.” Returning to the legendary Harvard Student Study of undergraduates from the 1960s and interviewing participants almost fifty years later, Kaufman reveals that formative experiences in family, school, and community largely shape a future adult’s worldview and well-being by late adolescence, and that fundamental change in adulthood, when it occurs, is shaped by adult family experiences, not by ever-greater competitive success. As the Harvard Class of 1964 at the heart of the study celebrates fifty-five years since graduation, and as controversy continues to swirl over college admissions and the long-term value of an . . .

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Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot on shifting parent-child relationships

March 10, 2017
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Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot on shifting parent-child relationships

Below follows an excerpt from a recent piece by MacArthur Award–winning sociologist Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot at Psychology Today, drawn from her work in Growing Each Other Up: When Our Children Become Our Teachers. *** A couple of years later after a huge blow up with my daughter about something that neither of us could even remember or name afterwards—at one of those moments when Bateson’s generous perspective had long since worn off—I called a close friend and told him that I was “at the end of my rope.” I had no more energy, no more fight in me. I wanted to throw in the towel and admit defeat. His response: “You are nowhere near the end of your rope.” And, of course, he was right. Just as Bateson was helping me see that my daughter was teaching me about the world; so too my friend was helping me acknowledge that our sometimes-tortured mother-daughter relationship was offering me the chance to know myself in new ways; that I was developing new capacities; stretching my emotional reserve and repertoire, becoming more patient and forgiving. I was learning a new kind of composure and restraint. I began to understand how important it was to be selective about . . .

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Free e-book for May: Don’t Look, Don’t Touch, Don’t Eat

May 7, 2015
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Free e-book for May: Don’t Look, Don’t Touch, Don’t Eat

Our free e-book for May, Valerie Curtis’s Don’t Look, Don’t Touch, Don’t Eat: The Science behind Revulsion, considers the narrative history and scientific basis behind the psychology of disgust. *** Every flu season, sneezing, coughing, and graphic throat-clearing become the day-to-day background noise in every workplace. And coworkers tend to move as far—and as quickly—away from the source of these bodily eruptions as possible. Instinctively, humans recoil from objects that they view as dirty and even struggle to overcome feelings of discomfort once the offending item has been cleaned. These reactions are universal, and although there are cultural and individual variations, by and large we are all disgusted by the same things. In Don’t Look, Don’t Touch, Don’t Eat, Valerie Curtis builds a strong case for disgust as a “shadow emotion”—less familiar than love or sadness, it nevertheless affects our day-to-day lives. In disgust, biological and sociocultural factors meet in dynamic ways to shape human and animal behavior. Curtis traces the evolutionary role of disgust in disease prevention and hygiene, but also shows that it is much more than a biological mechanism. Human social norms, from good manners to moral behavior, are deeply rooted in our sense of disgust. The . . .

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Excerpt: Jamie Cohen-Cole’s The Open Mind

January 17, 2014
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Excerpt: Jamie Cohen-Cole’s The Open Mind

Excerpt from The Open Mind: Cold War Politics and the Sciences of Human Nature by Jamie Cohen-Cole The Cold War was a time when psychology came into its own as a tool of social analysis. With marked rapidity the structural, institutional, and economic ways of understanding American society that had dominated academic and public discourse in preceding decades gave way to explanations framed in terms of the psyche. Historian Carl Schorski, recalling the intellectual currents of the immediate postwar period, found the “sudden blaze of interest in Sigmund Freud” particularly memorable. “Truly the premises for understanding man and society,” he wrote, “seemed to be shifting from the social-historical to the psychological scene.” The sociologist Daniel Bell observed at the threshold of the 1960s that the previous decade “mark the difference” between “a Marxist analysis of America” and one cast in a “cultural anthropology cum a Jungian and nervous sociological idiom.” So warmly, it seems, had American intellectuals and social critics embraced the psychological idiom that eight years later the political writer Samuel Lubell could write, in the influential political journal Public Interest, “our society seems to have developed a predilection, even craze, for reading psychological explanations into anything and everything . . .

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The Last Walk: the bioethics of end-of-life care for our companion animals

September 24, 2012
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The Last Walk: the bioethics of end-of-life care for our companion animals

“People ask me how I knew it was time. There was no watershed, but a slow accumulation of miseries. Ody had been in serious decline for six months. Partial paralysis of his laryngeal muscles made it hard for him to breathe, and he would begin to pant at the slightest exertion. His once deep tenor bark had transformed into a raspy Darth Vader croak. The signals from his addled brain often failed to reach his body, so when I walked him he left a Hansel and Gretel trail of pee and poop behind him. His muscles atrophied, and his walk was crab-like and unsteady. He grew increasingly uninterested in food and people, his two great passions. Worst of all, he began falling more and more frequently and was unable to get up by himself. Toward the end, I would wake in the night to scuffling sounds. I’d search the house and find Ody trapped behind the piano or tangled up in the exercise equipment. It was on the fourth such night that my husband said: ‘It’s time. We can’t do this to Ody anymore.’ Euthanasia is deeply entrenched in the culture of pet keeping in America, and for the vast . . .

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Marc Bekoff on the sentience of animals

May 9, 2012
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Marc Bekoff on the sentience of animals

Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is an internationally acknowledged expert on animal behavior and cognition. In 2009, the University of Chicago Press published Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, a book he coauthored with Jessica Pierce, which uses cutting-edge developments in psychology, biology, and cognitive science to demonstrate  the broad repertoire of moral behaviors and nuanced emotions exhibited by animals. Recently, Bekoff was a guest on ABC News with Diane Sawyer, where he contributed to a feature about service veterans reuniting with their companion animals. The juxtaposition of Bekoff’s commentary, which was fed into the segment via video chat, with the documentary footage of dogs greeting their returning owners in backyards, airports, and living rooms, illustrated another angle of Bekoff’s research: animals are sentient, social beings, capable of developing deep bonds—the experience of which clearly transcends even technological mediation. Bekoff recently commented on Pierce’s forthcoming book The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives, which combines wrenching personal narratives and scientific research to consider a wide range of questions about animal aging, end-of-life care, and death. “Decisions about how to treat an animal toward . . .

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I thought Don Draper wanted Nixon to win?

November 10, 2010
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I thought Don Draper wanted Nixon to win?

Uh-oh. TV Squad has the contemporary political equivalent of the long-stemming left brain-right brain debate: a chart of the most popular Republican and Democratic television shows (with the opposing party’s strangely proportional tally in parentheses!). Based on a new study by Experian Simmons, the results situate the Grand Old Party on the couch in front of populist-charting favorites such as American Idol and Dancing with the Stars, while the lefties decompress with Law and Order: SVU and Mad Men. Chart toppers? Op-ed news network programming faves Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann, rather unsurprisingly. Nearly twenty-five years ago, public opinion studies pioneers Shanto Iyengar and Donald R. Kinder first published News that Matters: Television and American Opinion. Just released in an updated edition, the book was the first to document a series of sophisticated and innovative experiments that demonstrated how the order and emphasis of news stories varied in selected television broadcasts. Now hailed as a political science classic, News that Matters, Updated Edition (with a new preface and epilogue, and available as an ebook) shows how and why extended coverage in the national news and broadcast television causes matters to gain or lose credibility, as criteria for everything from evaluating . . .

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Press Release: Paley, The Boy on the Beach

April 15, 2010
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Press Release: Paley, The Boy on the Beach

Study after study has tackled the question of how young children learn—and for decades Vivian Gussin Paley has argued that if we want the best answers to that question, we simply need to listen to children. In her nearly fifty years as a teacher and writer, Paley has done just that, listening closely as kids, at play and at school, tell stories, invent characters, and imagine situations to help them understand the complicated and surprising world around them. With The Boy on the Beach, Paley continues her listening, using the stories of young children—recounted in their own words—to help understand how they use play and stories to build community in the classroom, on the playground, and at home. She then follows a kindergarten class through one school year, letting us watch as the children get to know one another and their teacher, and incisively analyzing the role their increasingly shared imaginative lives play in their education and development. Never less than charming, yet rich with ideas and insight, The Boy on the Beach is vintage Vivian Paley, sure to be embraced by teachers and parents alike. Read the press release. Also read an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Haiti—What is the lesson here?

January 20, 2010
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Haiti—What is the lesson here?

Kevin Rosario, author of The Culture of Calamity: Disaster and the Making of Modern America has written an insightful piece for the Wall Street Journal on Haiti’s recent tragedy. Drawing on the topic of his book Rosario’s article offers a brief historical account of how Western culture has interpreted similar disasters in the past and details the rise of what he calls a “dominant narrative of disasters as instruments of progress”—a narrative which, in light of recent calamities like Katrina and Haiti, Rosario notes might itself be starting to fall apart. Navigate to the Wall Street Journal website to read the article, or for a more thorough examination of how disasters have played out in the Western consciousness pick up a copy of The Culture of Calamity, or read an excerpt. . . .

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