Wednesday, February 09, 2011

On psychology and subversion

Neo-NeoCon has a good post on the NYT's article on the bias of social psychologists that many of you have been emailing me about (thanks btw):

For obvious reasons, several people have sent me this link to a NY Times article on the overwhelming presence of liberals in the field of personality and social psychology. Conservatives? This group has barely ever heard of em, except perhaps as subjects to study.

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has, however, and he addressed the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s recent convention, confronting members with the fact that their profession is almost completely dominated by liberals to a degree so profound that it is a “statistical impossibility” that it is accidental.

So Haidt has suggested that the group begin a affirmative action hiring policy for conservatives in order to offset it, and a few members (although not the executive committee) have even agreed that it would be a good idea to set a goal that by 2020 the Society include a whopping 10% conservatives.

Wow, talk about tokens! It’s hard to imagine that the affirmative action one out of ten would feel especially welcome around those casual discussions that tend to feature the knee-jerk dissing of conservatives and their political position. I know; I’ve been there too many times.

Haidt has a suggestion for that, too, although it’s a sly one. He gave the assembled psychologists an assignment: “to overcome taboos, he advised them to subscribe to National Review and to read Thomas Sowell’s A Conflict of Visions.”

Watch out, social psychologists! In Haidt, you not only have a conservative on your hands, you’ve got a subversive.

I was one of those token libertarians in my psychology program, and I admit, it was rough. I almost fell out of my seat listening to some of my professor's ideas about politics and society. I still hear some of this biased liberalism when I go to Continuing Education classes, so I usually do them online now so it won't bother me as much. I do speak up now whenever I go to one of these events but it is tiring to have to do that over and over. I can only imagine how the (rare) current crop of conservative or libertarian psychology grad students feel. My advice to those students: Don't let them run you out of the field. Stand your ground and try to make it to the other side of the PhD and get your ideas out there. Or just do what Haidt did, become a subversive. You just might change a few minds.



Blogger Target said...

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5:25 PM, February 09, 2011  
Blogger Target said...

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5:26 PM, February 09, 2011  
Blogger br549 said...

I think you are over reacting.

6:21 PM, February 09, 2011  
Blogger br549 said...

There is a new way of signing in to post all of a sudden. Perhaps that is the problem.

That's blogger's doings by the way. And it wasn't here yesterday.

6:23 PM, February 09, 2011  
Blogger Helen said...


I responded to MB in the other comment thread. I have no idea what you all are talking about. If posts are not showing up, it is a blogger problem. One reason I have a hard time commenting here is that my own posts get eaten from time to time. Blogger does have problems with comments. It seems to be working now, however. BTW, blogger does not have the ability to block individual people. It can only be set on moderate which would allow the host to read the comments before posting. I do that on older posts that are more than a week or two old so I can weed out spam etc.

6:30 PM, February 09, 2011  
Blogger DADvocate said...

In my experience, many of these liberal psychologists have a hyper-idealistic view of what society should be, how it should be structured and how people should act. The great irony is that psychology is the study of human behavior. The hyper-idealistic view ignores much of our basic knowledge of human behavior, motivation and emotion.

8:35 PM, February 09, 2011  
Blogger M said...

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5:39 AM, February 10, 2011  
Blogger M said...

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5:41 AM, February 10, 2011  
Blogger dr.alistair said...

helen, if you find psychology a tad leftie, you should try the masters in social work.

my wife works i children`s aid, which is an msw cult, while she holds her masters in psychology (token) and it is gay and lesbian throughout (75-80%).

10:04 AM, February 10, 2011  
Blogger Cham said...

OT, if I try to post a link within a comment on Helen's blog using a basic html tag: a href="...." /a, the comment section deletes the entire comment after I post it.

10:54 AM, February 10, 2011  
Blogger TMink said...

I was just starting to figure things out when I was getting my doctorate. First was a men's group, then the sexual discrimination police came to our department to certify us all as safe and we argued them off the floor.

My political change from liberal to conservative came a bit after that. I do not hang out with many psychologists, so not many of them know I am a conservative. Most of them know I am a Christian. I guess I talk about my faith more than I talk about my politics.

But I certainly write more about my politics than my faith.


1:45 PM, February 10, 2011  
Blogger Michael K said...

My daughter-in-law teaches Psychology at a Catholic college in Berkley. She is a pretty determined lefty but the funniest thing is her determination that Cal graduates are smarter than any other graduates. We were at a football tailgate party when she saw a banner being paraded around by some USC (Southern Cal) students.

Her husband (my son) and I are alumni but she has got him pretty well pussy whipped, on that subject at least. She got up from the party and followed the students, whose banner said USC freshmen have higher SAT scores than Cal or some such claim. She was just enraged that anyone would make such a claim and was going to demand they present their evidence. It was hilarious as she marched after them in high dudgeon. They blew her off as a nut and kept marching around with their banner.

9:06 PM, February 10, 2011  
Blogger Scootland Economics said...

hmm interesting post. im trying to understand it all

- micro economics and market systems

11:09 PM, February 10, 2011  
Blogger TMink said...

Open subversion is a really powerful model. You are working to change the thinking of people who do not want to change their thinking, but you refuse to manipulate or hide your agenda. The attempt is open and acknowledged.

I think that is a very powerful approach to change.


12:05 PM, February 11, 2011  
Blogger dweeb said...

DADvocate - "In my experience, many of these liberal psychologists have a hyper-idealistic view of what society should be, how it should be structured and how people should act."

Of course, and that's natural. Try to find an engineer who doesn't have strong views of how cars should be designed. Psychology is inherently statist and authoritarian, hence, leftist.
Why do humans investigate and study something, except with an end of manipulating or exploiting it? Physicists study the universe so as to manipulate its components to produce usable energy, etc. Chemists study the molecular structure of matter so they can manipulate it to create useful substances and materials. Biologists study living organisms so they can interfere with natural processes like diseases, aging, and now, to create new organisms that function in a manner which we find beneficial. Why should the social sciences be any different (except for their failure in the most important part of science, achieving deterministic predictability.) Social sciences are ultimately about controlling people.

The most entertaining part of this blog is Helen's continually being surprised that her chosen field leans int he only way it naturally can.

12:09 PM, February 11, 2011  
Blogger Helen said...


"most entertaining part of this blog is Helen's continually being surprised that her chosen field leans int he only way it naturally can."

No, psychology is not supposed to be about controlling people. If it does, that is a mistake. It is, among other things, about helping people make choices that give them more autonomy and a greater sense of personal responsibility. It is not my fault that many psychologists choose to control others. If a psychologist is trying to control his or her patients, something is wrong. Psychology is the study of the individual--if this study turns statist, it is not the fault of the study of human behavior, but rather the fault of the human nature of the researcher/psychologist doing the studying. Why throw the baby out with the bath water? Human behavior can be studied and mental health can be improved without turning to statism.

12:51 PM, February 11, 2011  
Blogger TMink said...

dweeb wrote: "Psychology is inherently statist and authoritarian, hence, leftist."

I have to disagree with you there. Humanistic, non-directive therapy has been a part of psychology since at least the 1950s when Carl Rogers and his group started the first psychotherapy outcome research.

There are lots of approaches to therapy and treatment that are not authoritarian. Intersubjectivity and to a lesser extent Self Psychology are relational and non-authoritarian. It would be difficult to call the Jungian folks out in Boulder authoritarian as well. Finally, all the good folks in Chicago and elsewhere working with Scott Miller are tying in the research and noting that if you are treating your patient in an authoritarian manner you are not doing therapy at all.

To show this, they get two of their new grad students and tell them that they will get their first patient, a patient who has a delusion that they are a therapist. They tell each new therapist this, put them in a room, and watch the ensuing power struggle as each person works to get the other to be the patient.

It is really quite funny, and is a graet teaching tool that if you do not let the patient set the agenda, you are not doing therapy.

But then, most psychologists are indeed as you describe them, just not all of us, so not many people are actually doing therapy so much as indoctrination.

So I completely disagree that psychology HAS to be authoritarian, but I completely agree with you that it TENDS to be that way. But I would be interested in your thoughts.


12:58 PM, February 11, 2011  
Blogger dr.alistair said...

trey posits;

"To show this, they get two of their new grad students and tell them that they will get their first patient, a patient who has a delusion that they are a therapist. They tell each new therapist this, put them in a room, and watch the ensuing power struggle as each person works to get the other to be the patient."

he then comments;

It is really quite funny, and is a graet teaching tool that if you do not let the patient set the agenda, you are not doing therapy.

my question is; how long do you allow him the delusion?

i do agree though trey, you must let the patient set the pace/agenda, though in my training one has to step in eventially and spoil the delusion, especially if it`s harming/limiting to the patient or others, though i realise the psych. approach never intercedes, only waiting for self-awareness.

1:13 PM, February 11, 2011  
Blogger TMink said...

In my work, I have decided that the reason I get paid is cause I will be kindly but unequivocally honest.

Then I get fired by the person with the delusion.

Delusional disorders are a bear to treat, but getting into a power struggle with your patient can't help it much.

So I have not been mean about it, but have said that after carefully considering their story I have to conclude that it is more likely that they are delusional than the government has a secret ufo training base behind their house.

Then they fire me.


1:55 PM, February 11, 2011  
Blogger dr.alistair said...

trey, i think that people`s delusions are useful to them in one way or another and can be co-opted to work with other parts of the personality to become functional.

i know one quite famous professional violinist who says he has met aliens, yet he makes his living between publishing books and playing sessions with the likes of paul mccartney and kylie minogue...and a client who is a professor of history writing a book about catherine the great and recieving a large cash advance for the book he feels he really doesn`t need to deliver.

and of course there are those who`s delusions destroy their lives and those around them.

3:24 PM, February 11, 2011  
Blogger Michael K said...

Psychology, as a field of therapy, has barely recovered from the "recovered memories" scandal. It has a way to go to restore trust by anyone who knows the story. Notably the story has gone down the memory hole but I wonder how many therapists are still using that theory quietly. It was the lawsuits that blew the cover.

It was always interesting to me that the day care molestation scandal and the recovered memories scandal both appeared about the time that managed care was squeezing psychologists' incomes.

I think psychology is a useful field of study but there are some problems with the therapeutic application. First, to help anyone, you have to be a certain sort of person, especially if your method of therapy is interpersonal interaction. Not very many people have the right sort of attitude to be really helpful.

5:04 PM, February 11, 2011  
Blogger TMink said...

Michael, you are completely correct in your critique.


7:04 PM, February 12, 2011  
Blogger Sloan said...

Having been under the care of a psychologist for a year or so (for depression), I can say that in my experience, at least, psychology is not about manipulating or controlling people. Dr. Helen's description squares nicely with the way my therapist handled things. His preferred technique was Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I don't recall ever feeling like I was being manipulated or controlled or otherwise wrestled into thinking a particular way. Instead, his whole approach was geared toward helping me to tease out on my own just why I was thinking and feeling the way I did. Then we talked about strategies for dealing with those thoughts and feelings. In short, he helped ME to get control over MY own life again. It was tremendously helpful and I still rely on those techniques, years after the therapy ended.

The field of psychology certainly has its problems, but it can also be very, very useful. Personally I would like to see more of an emphasis on the role of biology in explaining human behavior; we're learning more and more about that every day.

9:06 AM, February 13, 2011  
Blogger Sloan said...

"...tease out on my own REASONS FOR just why I was thinking..."



9:08 AM, February 13, 2011  
Blogger dweeb said...

Regardless of your, and some anecdotal others' personal motivations, control of others is intrinsic to the very nature of the science. A science, or really any objective field of inquiry, is a means to an end, or it's just so much woolgathering. Very few people study something out of pure curiosity. Physicists studied the atom in order to alter and exploit it. Chemists study the molecular structure of matter in order to change it, to create new substances or extract energy or some other benefit. Humans do not ask why, or how the universe works without the follow up question being, now what can I do with this knowledge? People seek to understand the world in order to exploit the way it naturally works, or to alter how it works to their benefit. Thus, the study of the human mind inevitably leads to expoiting or manipulating it. Such a study will overwhelmingly attract those who lean to elitism and authoritarianism. A true, live and let live libertarian, uninterested in imposing their will on anyone else, has no use for psychology, unless maybe they're in sales or some other profession that depends upon manipulating others, and even then, they can gain all the insight they need from the great philosophers, religious writings, and dramatic authors of history.

It's not an accident that what constitutes mental illness is such a political football, or that the USSR used it so extensively as a persecution tool. The determination that someone's mind is disordered is a powerful tool for taking away their autonomy. Almost no one spends 6-8 years in school, going deeply into debt in the first half and being a virtual slave in the second half, to obtain a hammer, if they don't plan on driving some nails.

James Randi once observed that if there really were people out there who could bend spoons and move objects with their mind, one of them would have cleaned out Las Vegas by now. Conversely, if there was a long, expensive, and grueling program to teach people that ability, 99% of the people who signed up would intend to hit Vegas upon graduation and 1% might plan to help retrieve kids who fell down wells.

As far as increasing autonomy and responsibility, the mental health industry is currently all about allowing people to characterize the choices they make as something happening to them. For human behavior to be the subject of scientific study, it has to be deterministic to the point that all autonomy is an illusion. Physics works because subatomic particles don't have free will. Skinner was one of the few true scientists in psychology to admit the real consequence of it being a real science, when he wrote Beyond Freedom and Dignity. If psychologists ever gain as much understanding of human behavior as physicists have of electron behavior, then human society will be organized so people have no more choices than do the electrons in your computer's processor. Human history shows that if it can be done, it will be done, and the only way it won't happen is if human behavior truly is non-deterministic enough to be studied scientifically.

8:02 PM, February 13, 2011  
Blogger TMink said...

Are you referring to the Amazing Randi?


1:19 PM, February 14, 2011  
Blogger dweeb said...

Yes, and my last sentence should have concluded "the only way it won't happen is if human behavior truly is too non-deterministic to be studied scientifically.

9:24 PM, February 14, 2011  
Blogger TMink said...

I usually like the amazing one's work. However, he completely wimped out with Fremer.


9:32 AM, February 15, 2011  

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