Skip navigation
All Places > The Psychology Community > Blog > 2017 > July
2017

On rare occasion, I have reported startling findings that challenge current wisdom: Brain training games do NOT boost intelligence. Traumatic experiences are NOT often repressed. Seasonal affective disorder (wintertime blues) is NOT widespread.

 

The just-arrived lectures from the 2016 Bial Symposium on Placebo Effects, Healing and Meditation, offers another shocker: In an update on his meta-analyses, Irving Kirsch concludes that antidepressant drug effects are close to nil.

 

Here’s Kirsch’s gist: Many, many studies, including unpublished drug trials made available by the FDA, consistently show that

  1. Antidepressants work. They produce clinically significant benefits (using a standard depression scale).
  2. Placebos work, too. In two large meta-analyses, placebos produced 82 percent of the antidepressant effect. Moreover, “the difference between drug and placebo is . . . so small that clinicians cannot detect it.”
  3. Side effects can “unblind” a drug. The statistically (but not clinically) detectable drug effect may be attributable to antidepressants’ detectable side effects.
  4. The FDA only counts “successful trials.” Kirsch reports that despite meager evidence of antidepressant efficacy, the drugs gain approval because of a stunning FDA policy—which ignores trials that find no drug effect and reports only successful trials.
  5. “All antidepressant drugs seem to be equally effective.” As one would expect from a placebo effect, the benefits of various antidepressant drugs are “exactly the same regardless of type of drug.” Various serotonin-increasing drugs relieve depression, but so does a drug that decreases serotonin! “What do you call pills, the effects of which are independent of their chemical composition?,” asks Kirsch. “I call them ‘placebos.’”

 

Given that antidepressants work, even if they are hardly more than active placebos, what’s a clinician to recommend? Kirsch notes three considerations:

  1. Antidepressants have side effects, which can include sexual dysfunction, weight gain, insomnia, and diarrhea.
  2. Antidepressant use increases the risk of relapse after recovery.
  3. Cognitive behavioral therapy, acupuncture, and physical exercise also effectively treat depression.

Ergo, “When different treatments are equally effective, choice should be based on risk and harm, and of all of these treatments, antidepressant drugs are the riskiest and most harmful. If they are to be used at all, it should be as a last resort.”

 

But surely this is not the last word. Stay tuned for more findings and debate.

David Myers

My Amazing Co-Authors

Posted by David Myers Expert Jul 24, 2017

I am blessed to be collaborating with two incredibly high-achieving people. My introductory text co-author, Nathan DeWall, tells the story (here) of how he harnessed his own latent power of self-control. As research has shown and Nathan has experienced, self-control is like a muscle that can be temporarily depleted with use, but that gains strength with exercise—and with spillover benefits into other aspects of one’s life. Men’s Fitness has also just told the story of how Nathan became one of the world’s elite ultra marathoners.

Jean Twenge, my co-author for new Social Psychology editions, has also made national news for her books, Generation Me and The Narcissism Epidemic. And she’s about to do so again with the late-August release of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy--and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood--and What That Means for the Rest of Us. The book, which no doubt will spark debate, will be featured in the September Atlantic.

After covering the therapy chapter in Intro Psych, students should have some tools to help them find a psychologist for themselves, family members, or friends when the time arises.

 

The American Psychological Association (APA) has a “How to Choose a Psychologist” webpage. Ask students to read that page and then, working in pairs, small groups, or as a written assignment, answer the following questions.

 

  1. Under what circumstances does the APA suggest you should consider therapy?
  2. APA provides several suggestions for finding a psychologist. Which avenue would you try first and which would you try last? Why?
  3. Identify a potential issue that someone may have, such as high levels of anxiety. For each of the “Questions to ask,” what are some sample responses you would like to hear from a psychologist you are considering working with? [For the “What kinds of treatments” question, use what you learned from the therapy chapter to provide a sample response.]

Next, ask students to read this New York Times Article, “How to find the right therapist.” Ask students to match the steps the author took to find a therapist with the steps the APA recommends. Using the APA recommendations, what else should the author have done?

 

If doing this as part of a discussion, ask volunteers to report out.

Louis is 13 years old and gay; Percy is 78 years old and gay. They sit down for a conversation in this 11-minute video.

 

[Note: The recording is closed captioned, but the captions were automatically generated and have not been cleaned up.]

 

During your coverage of sexuality, show this recording in class or ask students to watch it outside of class. Following the viewing ask students to discuss in small groups (or in an online discussion forum, or as a written assignment) the following questions:

 

What was similar between Louis’ and Percy’s experiences? What was different?

 

What questions would you like to ask Louis? What questions would you like to ask Percy?

 

If discussing during class, ask volunteers to share their responses. While it may not be possible to ask Louis and Percy these questions, consider contacting your local PFLAG chapter. They may be able to put you in contact with some people who would be willing to respond.

Do you remember life before the Internet? Do you remember when you first got dial up? And then when cable internet first came along? And each time we were so excited. And then the excitement faded. Whatever change we experienced soon became the new normal. This is called adaptation-level phenomenon. 

 

In 2015, Louis C. K., on Conan, gave us several good examples of adaptation-level phenomenon. He said, “Everything is amazing right now, and nobody‘s happy.” He blames it on the current generation. I blame it on being human.

 

After playing this 4-minute clip for your students, ask your students to work in pairs or small groups to generate other examples that illustrate adaptation-level phenomenon. Ask volunteers to share their examples.

 

 

Vacuum cleaners? They were originally billed as a labor-saving device. But we adapted to them pretty quickly, and the end result? Standards of cleanliness went up. Washing machines? Same thing (Roy, 2016).

 

[Shout out to my sister, Carol Laughlin, for sending me the video!]

 

Reference

Roy, R. (2016). Consumer product innovation and sustainable design: The evolution and impacts of successful products. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Originally posted on Quartz on July 2, 2017.

 

I'm often asked how I was able to go from inactive academic to participating in invitation-only ultramarathons. 

While it's no small feat, the three components of self-control--standards, monitoring, and strength--fortified my self-discipline. With those factors, and the additional and necessary support from my close relationships, practicing self-control ensured my success and gave me the opportunity to grow. 

 

Read more about my running journey the factors of self control here

Imagine that you and a colleague (or spouse) have been at odds. You have argued and fought, each trying to persuade the other. Alas, there has been no meeting of the minds. What might you do next to create an opportunity for conflict resolution?

To “put behind” where you have been stuck, to “move on” from your standstill, to “get beyond” your impasse, one simple, practical strategy is literally to take steps forward—to go for a walk. In a new American Psychologist article, Christine Webb, Maya Rossignac-Milon, and E. Tory Higgins argue “that walking together can facilitate both the intra- and interpersonal pathways to conflict resolution.”

 

At the individual level, they report, walking supports creativity. It boosts mood. It embodies notions of forward progress.

At the interpersonal level, walking does more. Walkers’ synchronous movements, as they jointly attend to their environment and coordinate their steps, increases mutual rapport and empathy. It softens the boundary between self and other. And it engenders cooperation beyond the shared walking cadence.

 

If, indeed, synchronous walking increases rapport and prosociality, might there be a similar effect of synchronized singing? Does group singing help unify a diverse audience?

 

The question crossed my mind as folk singer Peter Yarrow (of “Peter, Paul and Mary”) rose near the beginning of a recent small group retreat of diverse people and invited us to join him in singing “Music Speaks Louder Than Words.” Yarrow, now age 79, has spent his career—from the civil rights and anti-war movements of the ´60s to today—in engaging audiences in synchronized singing of prosocial poetry.

 

Photo courtesy Byron Buck

 

What do you think? Does music speak louder than words alone? Do synchronized walking and group singing have overlapping psychological effects? Can both lift us beyond where words, in isolation, can take us?

Social psychologist Robert Cialdini has identified six principles of persuasion: scarcity, authority, consistency, reciprocity, consensus, and liking.

[Read the transcript]

Here are some examples for your next social psychology lecture.

 

In 2015, Leslie, an employee at Food52, gave us a beautiful example of scarcity at work. “My mom brainwashed me as a kid. She put all of the candy out in the open and told me I could eat it whenever I wanted, but she'd hide the vegetables and tell me I could only eat them as a special treat at dinner. It worked. When I was six, I asked if I could have a bowl of brussels sprouts for my birthday instead of a cake” (Petertil, 2015).

 

Authority isn’t that hard to pull off if you’re a grandmother trolling your grandchildren. Reddit user pillowcurtain wrote in 2014 “My grandma told us that smelling each others [sic] farts would make us stronger. Worst Christmas ever for us, funniest Christmas for her.”

 

Consistency is the principle that makes the foot-in-the-door technique work. A month ago I wrote a blog post explaining how airlines use foot-in-the-door to get us to pay more money to fly.

 

Speaking of flying, reciprocity works with flight attendants, because, well, they’re human. Treats for flight attendants often result in reciprocated kindnesses (Strutner, 2016). I truly appreciate the work that flight attendants do, and I know that some of my fellow passengers can be challenging. I often bring baked goods to show a little love. But I don’t mind the reciprocity. On one flight, we were in the very last row. We brought Starbucks chocolate chunk muffins for the flight attendants. Not only did we get served food and adult beverages first (instead of last), we got them for free. And the flight attendants were very happy! Goodness all around.

 

A couple days ago I bought a new computer monitor for my home office. Do you have any idea how many different models of monitors are out there? Me neither, but the number has to be in the hundreds if not thousands. How in the world can I possibly get the best one for my price range? I started by reading reviews on sites like PCMagazine and CNET to narrow the field. And then I relied on consensus. The monitor I chose had 71% of the 232 customer reviews giving it 5 stars; another 15% gave it 4 stars. With 86% of the reviewers being pretty pleased with this particular monitor, well, that’s good enough for me. I’m looking at it now as I type.

 

The more likeable you are, the more likely you are to get what you want. Or even avoid something you don’t want. Malpractice attorney Alice Burkin said, “People just don't sue doctors they like. In all the years I've been in this business, I've never had a potential client walk in and say, ‘I really like this doctor, and I feel terrible about doing it, but I want to sue him.’ We've had people come in saying they want to sue some specialist, and we'll say ‘We don't think that doctor was negligent. We think it's your primary care doctor who was at fault:' And the client will say ‘I don't care what she did. I love her, and I'm not suing her’" (Rice, 2000). And I’m willing to bet it’s not just true for physicians. I recently heard from a department chair who had a student come by to vent about a policy her professor had that the student didn’t like. The chair asked the student if he would like to file a formal complaint against the professor. The student replied, “No! I like him!”

 

There you have it, six roads to persuasion. After covering these in class, ask students to work in pairs or small groups to generate their own examples. You can either assign a particular principle or two to each group or you can ask each group to generate at least one example for each principle. Afterwards, ask volunteers to share their examples. 

 

References

 

Petertil, H. (2015, May 1). Remembering mom's best weird foods. Retrieved June 24, 2017, from https://food52.com/blog/12884-too-many-cooks-what-weird-food-was-your-mom-eating

 

Rice, B. (2000). How plaintiff’s lawyers pick their targets. Medical Economics, 77(8), 94-110.

 

Strutner, S. (2016, October 28). Flight attendants agree this is the easiest way to get on their good side. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/flight-attendant-treats_us_581244d8e4b0390e69ced776