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2018
Sue Frantz

LGBT experiences in prison

Posted by Sue Frantz Aug 31, 2018

Do you cover transgender and sexual orientation issues in your psychology courses? Before or after your coverage, ask students where incarcerated transgender people should be housed. Should they be housed based on the appearance of their physical body or based on their outward gendered appearance? In other words, if someone was born male, identifies and dresses as female, is convicted of a crime, and sentenced to time in prison, should the person be sent to a women’s prison or to a men’s prison?

 

States determine where an inmate should be housed based on genitalia (Routh et al., 2017). That means that transgender women who have not had sex reassignment surgery are housed in men’s prisons.

 

Have students listen to the 35-minute Episode 18 of the Ear Hustle podcast, broadcasting from San Quentin State Prison. (There is a little salty language and a lot of frank discussion; the LGBT part of the episode runs about 27 minutes.)

 

Questions for students to consider as they listen to the podcast. After listening, students can discuss their responses in an online class discussion board, in small groups during class, or as an entire class:

 

How many out gay men are there at San Quentin? What reasons do the prisoners give for that number?

 

How many transgender women are there at San Quentin?

 

Who is Lady J? Write a short biography for Lady J. What is your reaction to Lady J’s story?

 

How have attitudes toward transgender women in prison changed since the 1980s?  

 

Who is Mike? Write a short biography for Mike. What is your reaction to Mike’s story?

 

Compare attitudes toward transgender women and gay men in your community with the attitudes in San Quentin.

 

What is your reaction to this podcast episode?

 

As of 2015, nine U.S. states provided sex reassignment surgery for state prisoners, including California. Most states provide counseling, some states will start hormone treatments whereas others will only maintain hormone treatment if the inmate has started prior to incarceration (Routh et al., 2017). Investigate what policies are in place for your state or province.

 

Reference

 

Routh, D., Abess, G., Makin, D., Stohr, M. K., Hemmens, C., & Yoo, J. (2017). Transgender inmates in prisons: A review of applicable statutes and policies. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 61(6), 645–666. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306624X15603745

Imagine that you’re about to buy a $5000 used car. To pay for it, you’ll need to sell some of your stocks. Which of the following would you rather sell?

  • $5000 of Stock X shares, which you originally purchased for $2500.
  • $5000 of Stock Y shares, which you originally purchased for $10,000.

 

If you’d rather sell Stock X and reap your $2500 profit now, you’re not alone. One analysis of 10,000 investor accounts revealed that most people strongly prefer to lock in a profit rather than absorb a loss. Investors’ loss aversion is curious: What matters is each stock’s future value, not whether it has made or lost money in the past. (If anything, tax considerations favor selling the loser for a tax loss and avoiding the capital gains tax on the winner.)

 

Loss aversion is ubiquitous, and not just in big financial decisions. Participants in experiments, where rewards are small, will choose a sure gain over flipping a coin for double or nothing—but they will readily flip a coin on a double-or-nothing chance to avert a loss. As Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky reported, we feel the pain from a loss twice as keenly as we feel the pleasure from a similar-sized gain. Losing $20 feels worse than finding $20 feels good. No surprise, then, that we so vigorously avoid losing in so many situations.

 

The phenomenon extends to the endowment effect—our attachment to what we own and our aversion to losing it, as when those given a coffee mug demand more money to sell it than those not given the mug are willing to pay for it. Small wonder our homes are cluttered with things we wouldn’t today buy, yet won’t part with.

 

Loss aversion is but one example of a larger bad-is-stronger-than-good phenomenon, note Roy Baumeister and his colleagues. Bad events evoke more misery than good events evoke joy. Cruel words hurt us more than compliments please us. A bad reputation is easier to acquire—with a single lie or heartless act—than is a good reputation. “In everyday life, bad events have stronger and more lasting consequences than comparable good events.” Psychologically, loss is larger than gain. Emotionally, bad is stronger than good.  

           

Coaches and players are aware of the pain of losses, so it’s no surprise that loss aversion plays out in sports. Consider this example from basketball: Say your team is behind by 2 points, with time only for one last shot. Would you prefer a 2-point or a 3-point attempt?

 

Most coaches, wanting to avoid a loss, will seek to put the game into overtime with a 2-point shot. After all, an average 3-point shot will produce a win only one-third of the time. But if the team averages 50 percent of its 2-point attempts, and has about a 50 percent chance of overtime in this toss-up game, the loss-aversion strategy will yield but a 25 percent chance of both (a) sending the game to overtime, followed by (b) an overtime victory. Thus, by averting an immediate loss, these coaches reduce the chance of an ultimate win—rather like investors who place their money in loss-avoiding bonds and thus forego the likelihood, over extended time, of a much greater stock index win.

 

And now comes news (kindly shared by a mathematician friend) of loss aversion in baseball and softball base-running. Statistician Peter MacDonald, mathematician Dan McQuillan, and computer scientist Ian McQuillan invite us to imagine “a tie game in the bottom of the ninth inning, and there is one out—a single run will win the game. You are on first base, hoping the next batter gets a hit.”

 

As the batter hits a fly to shallow right, you hesitate between first and second to see if the sprinting outfielder will make the catch. When the outfielder traps rather than catches the ball, you zoom to second. The next batter hits a fly to center field and, alas, the last batter strikes out.

 

You probably didn’t question this cautious base-running scenario, because it’s what players do and what coaches commend. But consider an alternative strategy, say MacDonald and his colleagues. If you had risked running to third on that first fly ball, you would have scored the winning run on the ensuing fly ball. Using data from 32 years of Major League Baseball, the researchers calculate that any time the fly ball is at least 38 percent likely to fall for a hit, the runner should abandon caution and streak for third. Yet, when in doubt, that rational aggressive running strategy “is never attempted.”

 

You may object that players cannot compute probabilities. But, says the MacDonald team, “players and their third-base coaches make these sorts of calculations all the time. They gamble on sacrifice flies and stolen base attempts using probabilities of success.” Nevertheless, when it comes to running from first, their first goal is to avert loss—and to avoid, even at the cost of a possible run, the risk of looking like a fool. We implicitly think “What if I fail?” before “How can I succeed?”

 

Often in life, it seems, our excessive fear of losing subverts our opportunities to win. Caution thwarts triumph. Little ventured, little gained.

 

My late friend Gerry Haworth understood the risk-reward relationship. A shop teacher at our local high school, he began making wood products in his garage shop. Then, in 1948, he ventured the business equivalent of running to third base—quitting his job and launching a business, supported by his dad’s life savings. Today, family-owned Haworth Inc., America’s third-largest furniture manufacturer, has more than 6000 employees and nearly $2 billion in annual sales. Something ventured, something gained.

Mexican immigrants, President Trump has repeatedly told his approving base, are “bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” In this week’s West Virginia rally he highlighted Mollie Tibbetts’ accused “illegal alien” killer as a vivid example. Hence the wish to “build a wall”—to keep out those who, we are told, would exploit Americans and take their jobs.

 

In an earlier 2018 essay, I responded to the inaccuracy of fear mongering about immigrant crime. But consider a different question: Who believes it? Is it people who live in regions with a greater number of unauthorized immigrants, and who have suffered the presumed crime, conflict, and competition?

 

At the recent Sydney Symposium on Social Psychology, Christian Unkelbach (University of Cologne) reported an intriguing finding: In Germany, anti-immigrant views are strongest in the states with fewest immigrants. Across Germany’s 16 states, intentions to vote for the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland (Alternative for Germany [AfD]) was greatest in states with the fewest asylum applications. (My thanks to Dr. Unkelbach for permission to share his translated figure.)

 

I wondered: Might a similar pattern emerge  in U.S. states? To find out, I combined two data sets:

  1. A 2016 Pew report provided data on the percentage of unauthorized immigrants in each state’s population.
  2. A 2016 PRRI report provided state-by-state data on immigrant acceptance.

The result? Voila! In the United States, more immigrants predicts more state-level acceptance of immigrants. And fewer immigrants predicts more fear of immigrants. (West Virginia, with the lowest unauthorized immigrant proportion, also is the least immigrant-supportive.) Moreover, the U.S. correlations are very similar to the German:

  • Across the 16 German states, the correlation between immigrant noncitizen population and anti-immigrant attitudes was -.61.
  • Across the 50 U.S. states, the correlation between immigrant noncitizen population and immigrant-supportive attitudes was +.72.

 

 

 

The legendary prejudice researcher Thomas Pettigrew would not be surprised. In a new article at age 87 (I want to be like him when I grow up), Pettigrew reports that in 477 studies of nearly 200,000 people across 36 cultures, intergroup contact predicted lower prejudice in every culture. With cross-racial contact, especially cooperative contact, people from South Africa to the United States develop more favorable racial attitudes. In a new study by Jared Nai and colleagues, living in a racially diverse U.S. neighborhood—or even just imagining doing so—leads people to identify more with all humanity, and to help strangers more.

 

As straight folks get to know gay folks, they, too, become more gay-supportive. And, these new data suggest, as citizens interact with and benefit from their immigrant neighbors, they, too, become more open-hearted and welcoming.

 

In my own Midwestern town, where minority students (mostly Hispanic) are a slight majority of public school students, these yard signs (this one from my front yard) abound. We have known enough immigrants—as neighbors, colleagues, business owners, and workers—to know that they, like our own immigrant ancestors, can be a blessing.

 

[Afterword: In kindly commenting on this essay, Thomas Pettigrew noted that one exception to the contact-with-immigrants benefit occurs “when the infusion of newcomers is large and sudden.  Then threat takes over without the time for contact to work its magic” (quoted with permission).]

No, your students will not be texting or talking/listening to a phone in a crosswalk! Instead, they will be observing others who are.

 

A recent study (Alsaleh, Sayed, & Zaki, 2018)* found that people who were on their phones – either looking at their screens or talking/listening to their phone – took longer to cross the street. This is dangerous for a number of reasons. For example, distracted pedestrians are not on the lookout for distracted motorists. When distracted pedestrians and distracted motorists meet, distracted pedestrians always lose. Since distracted pedestrians spend more time in the crosswalk, they have a greater chance of being hit by a distracted motorist.

 

How much time does it take?

 

In urban areas, lanes should be 10 feet (3 meters) wide (National Association of City Transportation Officials, n.d.). That makes a four-lane road 40 feet (12 meters) wide. In the distraction study (Alsaleh et al., 2018), non-distracted pedestrians walked at a rate of 1.66 meters/second. That means it took them about 7 seconds to cross a four-lane road. In contrast, researchers found that phone-distracted pedestrians walked at a rate of about 1.5 meters/second, taking about 8 seconds to cross a four-lane road.

 

The activity

 

The researchers used observers on the ground to determine whether and how pedestrians were using their phones and used cameras to determine walking speed. For this activity, all measures will be done by observers.

Divide students into groups no smaller than three students. One student will determine if the pedestrian is distracted by their phone or not. Since the researchers found no difference in walking speed between looking at the phone and talking/listening, let’s keep this simple and not ask students to make the distinction. One student will be the timer. Using a stopwatch app on their own phone, the student will time how long it takes the pedestrian to cross the street. The third student will be the recorder – recording whether the pedestrian was distracted and recording the time it took the pedestrian to cross the street.

 

Students will need to make some decisions before heading out. If you would like to compile the data across groups, then you should have this discussion as a class. If you would like to discuss how each group’s decisions affected their results afterwards, then let each group decide these on their own.

 

Consider these as starter questions. When students return from the activity, they may have other issues that should have been considered in advance. That is a great opportunity to talk about the importance of pilot studies and their role in helping sort out these issues before investing time in a larger study.

 

  1. Where are they going to do their observations? Ideally, it will be a street with a lot of pedestrian traffic. The wider the street, the easier it will be see differences in the time it takes to cross.
  2. If there is a group of people waiting to cross the street, how will students determine who to time? The first person to cross? The right-most person?
  3. How will the students identify the person to each other to make sure that the student noting the phone behavior and the student doing the timing are looking at the same pedestrian?
  4. When will the timing start? When the target pedestrian lifts a foot to step off the curb? When the foot first hits the street?
  5. When will the timing stop? When the target pedestrian lifts a foot to stop onto the curb? When the last foot leaves the pavement?
  6. How will the recorder record the data? How many columns will be in the data sheet? To how many decimal places will the stopwatch times be recorded?
  7. How long will they collect data? Or how many pedestrians should they time? What if all of the pedestrians are on a phone?

 

When students return with their data, either that same class period or the next class period, have the recording student enter their data in a shared Google spreadsheet, for example. One column should be the first and last initials of each member of the group, one column is for non-distracted times, and one column is for distracted times.

 

Calculate means for the non-distracted and distracted pedestrians. If you’d like, conduct a t-test if you want to talk about statistical significance.

 

If some groups seem to have much slower or longer times than other groups, discuss the methodology they used.

Give each group an opportunity to share with the class what they would do differently if they were to conduct this observational research study again.

 

Conclusion

 

To conclude the activity, explain that if the class were to submit this study for publication, the authors would summarize the research related to this topic, explain in detail how the study was conducted, reveal the results, and finally explain what the findings mean, how they add to the body of research on this topic, and identify what could be done differently or better next time. Now is also a good time to explain the peer review process and the importance of replication.

 

References

 

Alsaleh, R., Sayed, T., & Zaki, M. H. (2018). Assessing the effect of pedestrians’ use of cell phones on their walking behavior. Transportation Research Record, Advance online publication. https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1177/0361198118780708

 

National Association of City Transportation Officials. (n.d.). Lane width. Retrieved August 17, 2018, from https://nacto.org/publication/urban-street-design-guide/street-design-elements/lane-width/

 

*Note: The full article by Alsaleh et al. is available through ResearchGate.

Some years ago an NBC Television producer invited me, while in New York City, to meet in her office to brainstorm possible psychology-related segments. But a focused conversation proved difficult, because every three minutes or so she would turn away to check an incoming email or take a call—leaving me feeling a bit demeaned.

 

In today’s smartphone age, such interruptions are pervasive. In the midst of conversation, your friend’s attention is diverted by the ding of an incoming message, the buzz of a phone call, or just the urge to check email. You’re being phubbed—an Australian-coined term meaning phone-snubbed.

 

In U.S. surveys by James Roberts and Meredith David, 46 percent reported being phubbed by their partners, and 23 percent said it was a problem in their relationship. More phubbing—as when partners place the phone where they can glance at it during conversation, or check it during conversational lulls—predicted lower relationship satisfaction.

 

EmirMemedovski/E+/Getty Images

 

Could such effects of phubbing be shown experimentally? In a forthcoming study, Ryan Dwyer and his University of British Columbia colleagues recruited people to share a restaurant meal with their phones on the table or not. “When phones were present (vs. absent), participants felt more distracted, which reduced how much they enjoyed spending time with their friends/family.”

 

Another new experiment, by University of Kent psychologists Varoth Chotpitayasunondh and Karen Douglas, helps explain phubbing’s social harm. When putting themselves in the skin of one participant in an animation of a conversation, people who were phubbed felt a diminished sense of belonging, self-esteem, and control. Phubbing is micro-ostracism. It leaves someone, even while with another, suddenly alone.

 

Screenshot courtesy Karen Douglas

 

Smartphones, to be sure, are a boon to relationships as well as a bane. They connect us to people we don’t see—enlarging our sense of belonging. As one who lives thousands of miles from family members, I love Facetime and instant messaging. Yet a real touch beats being pinged. A real smile beats an emoticon. An eye-to-eye blether (as the Scots would say) beats an online chat. We are made for face-to-face relationship.

 

When I mentioned this essay to my wife, Carol, she wryly observed that I (blush) phub her “all the time.” So, what can we do, while enjoying our smartphones, to cut the phubbing? I reached out to some friends and family and got variations on these ideas:

  • “When we get together to play cards, I often put everyone's phone in the next room.”
  • “When out to dinner, I often ask friends to put their phones away. I find the presence of phones so distracting; the mere threat of interruption diminishes the conversation.” Even better: “When some of us go out to dinner, we pile up our phones; the first person to give in and reach for a phone pays for the meal.”
  • I sometimes stop talking until the person reestablishes eye-contact.” Another version: “I just wait until they stop reading.”
  • “I say, ‘I hope everything is OK.’” Or this: “I stop and ask is everything ok? Do you need a minute? I often receive an apology and the phone is put away.”
  • “I have ADHD and I am easily distracted. Thus when someone looks at their phone, and I'm distracted, I say, "I'm sorry, but I am easily distracted. Where was I?" . . . It's extremely effective, because nobody wants me to have to start over.”

 

Seeing the effects of phubbing has helped me change my own behavior. Since that unfocused conversation at NBC I have made a practice, when meeting with someone in my office, to ignore the ringing phone. Nearly always, people pause the conversation to let me take the call. But no, I explain, we are having a conversation and you have taken the time to be here with me. Whoever that is can leave a message or call back. Right now, you are who’s important.

 

Come to think of it, I should take that same attitude home.

Dog walking, according to a recent news report, is healthy for people. That little report follows three massive new research reviews that confirm earlier findings of the mental health benefits of exercise:

  • An American Journal of Psychiatry analysis of 49 studies followed 266,939 people across an average 7 years. In every part of the world, people of all ages had a lower risk of becoming depressed if physically active rather than inactive.
  • JAMA Psychiatry reports that, for teens, “regular physical activity [contributes] to positive mental health.”
  • Another JAMA Psychiatry analysis of 33 clinical trials found an additional depression-protecting effect of “resistance exercise training” (such as weight lifting and strength-building).

 

Faba-Photography/Moment/Getty Images

 

A skeptic might wonder if mentally healthy people have more energy for exercise. (Being really depressed comes with a heaviness that may entail trouble getting out of bed.) But the “prospective studies”—which follow lives through time—can discern a sequence of exercise predicting future reduced depression risk. Moreover, many clinical trial experiments—with people assigned to exercise or control conditions—confirm that exercise not only contributes to health and longevity, it also treats and protects against depression and anxiety. Mens sana in corpore sano: A healthy mind in a healthy body.

 

Indeed, given the modest benefits of antidepressant drugs, some researchers are now recommending therapeutic lifestyle change as a potentially more potent therapy for mild to moderate depression—or as a protection against such. When people modify their living to include the exercise, sunlight exposure, ample sleep, and social connections that marked our ancestors’ lives—a lifestyle for which they were bred—they tend to flourish, with greater vitality and joy. In one study, substantial depression relief was experienced by 19 percent of patients in a treatment-as-usual control group and by 68 percent undergoing therapeutic lifestyle change.

 

Finally, more good news—for dog walkers: Dog walking is said to be healthy and calming for dogs, too. But I suspect that will not surprise any dog owner or their dog.