Psychology News by the Numbers

$4 Million: The fine Kaiser Permanente will face for failing to provide mental health treatment in a timely manner.

1 in 4: The number of stroke survivors who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a new study from Columbia University Medical Center.

70%: The ability of a computer to accurately guess a person’s emotions in a new study by researchers at Carnegie Mellon University.

85.8%: The percentage of gang members diagnosed with an antisocial personality disorder in new research from the Forensic Psychiatry Research Unit at Queen Mary, University of London.

49.4%: The number of adolescents reporting zero mentally unhealthy days in 2010 (a significant decrease from 60.9%, which was reported in 2005-2006).

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Stranger than Fiction

Who says psychology is just common sense? Sometimes the truth—as revealed by psychological research—truly is stranger than fiction.

“When you tell someone that you’re taking, teaching, or practicing psychology, you’re likely to get the reaction that ‘it’s all common sense,’” says Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in a recent article in Psychology Today.   “However, having taught introductory psychology for over 30 years, I’ve accumulated an armamentarium of facts to teach students that challenge this myth about psychology’s knowledge base.”

Whitbourne’s “armamentarium” includes some surprising facts:

  • Getting paid for doing something you like can make you less creative.
  • Maslow’s study of 3000 college students found that none met the criteria for self-actualization.
  • Placebos can often offer as much relief as actual treatments.
  • Posting a calorie chart in fast food restaurants leads people to choose less healthy foods.
  • Van Gogh probably developed the symptoms that led to his hospitalization from absinthe poisoning.
  • Rorschach’s nickname as a child was “Inkblot.”
Thinking about these kinds of strange-but-true phenomena may be important for more than just countering the “common sense” charge.  Considering the unusual, the unlikely, and the counterintuitive may be a useful way to stretch the imagination and explore unconventional ideas.  In his book 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology*, Emory University Professor and PAR author Scott Lilienfeld and his coauthors examine common misconceptions about human behavior. A short postscript at the end of the book, however, includes a fascinating group of unexpected findings from psychological research, including:
  • Patients who have experienced strokes resulting in severe language loss are better at detecting lies than people without brain damage.
  • Handshake style is predictive of certain personality traits. Women with firm handshakes tend to show more openness, intellectual curiosity, and willingness to seek out novel experiences.
  • Dogs really do resemble their owners. In one study, judges matched faces of dog owners to their dogs at significantly better than chance levels—although this was true only with purebred, not mixed-breed dogs.

“Many of these findings may strike us as myths because they are counterintuitive, even bizarre,” says Lilienfeld.  “They remind us to doubt our common sense” (p. 247).

What do you think? What research results have been surprising to you? Have unexpected findings changed the way you think or work?  PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

*Lilienfeld, S., Lynn, S.J., Ruscio, J., & Beyerstein, B.L. (2010). 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Blackwell.

Should You Bank Your Credentials?

Imagine this: Twenty years into your career, you decide to move between states. In order to practice in your new state, you simply need to submit documentation from your internship supervisor, previous jobs, and former managers. However, it’s been decades since you saw these people or worked in some of these places – you may not be able to find them, the organizations may not exist anymore, and there is no paper trail to back up your years of experience. Unfortunately, this is happening to many psychologists, making the process of obtaining a license in a new state a daunting task.

Once most psychologists complete the rigorous process of completing internship, passing boards, and applying for state licensure, many never give a second thought to documenting the path they took along the way. Organization like the National Register of Health Service Providers in Psychology and the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards have created credential banks in order to serve as a reliable clearinghouse for this professional information.

These banks provide a way for psychologists to safely store EPPP scores, transcripts, letters of recommendation, internship and postdoctoral hours, continuing education information, state licensure information, and more in a secure place. Information stored throughout one’s career is then conveniently located in one archive. While credential banks charge a nominal fee for storing information, proponents believe that saving the hassle is worth the cost.

Have you run into problems documenting your work experience? Would you encourage psychologists early in their career to begin to bank their credentials? How have you kept track of your professional information throughout the years?

Can Animals Help When Psychologists Can’t?

Some of the world’s best ideas happen by accident – as did the creation of animal-assisted therapy (AAT). In the 1950s, psychologist Boris Levinson discovered that his dog, Jingles, was able to engage a child with autism in a way that humans had not been able to. Since that time, the theory and practice of using animals in therapeutic ways has grown and a substantial body of research has documented the health benefits unique to the human-animal bond.

The Delta Society is an organization dedicated to improving people’s lives through positive interactions with animals. The society trains dogs, the most frequently used therapy animals, but also trains cats, birds, reptiles, and more. According to their research, when people hold or stroke an animal, their blood pressure lowers, their ability to be more extroverted and verbal increases, and the individual reports a decreased sense of loneliness and an increase in self-esteem. Another organization, the Equine Assisted Growth & Learning Association (EAGALA), focuses specifically on how horses and humans work together to improve mental health.

The benefits of animal-assisted therapy have been documented through studies with many different groups, from children with pervasive developmental disorders to senior citizens in assisted living situations. Studies have even gone so far as to say that statistics show that individuals exposed to AAT in psychiatric rehabilitation settings exhibit better outcomes than those in a control group that did not have the benefit of AAT, with the AAT group scoring higher on interaction, sociability, and responsiveness to surroundings. EAGALA has found that equine-assisted therapy has been helpful with at-risk youth, military, veteran, and trauma populations.

Do you use animals in your practice? How have they helped your clients?

 

Therapy Goes Online…

If you’re looking for a good laugh (and sometimes, at the expense of the profession), Showtime’s new comedy, Web Therapy , may be just what you are looking for to blow off some steam after a tough day. Starring Lisa Kudrow as Fiona Wallice, a therapist who invented “web therapy,” the main character, who is sorely lacking in professional skills, makes her living by seeing clients via webcam.

While this is a fictional account of one therapist providing services online (as Fiona’s unique brand of therapy would never pass any kind of ethics codes), the area of telepsychology is a growing one. Although supporters of telepsychology tout a provider’s ability to serve clients all over the world, those who question the practice bring up issues related to licensure issues, privacy concerns, and the general effectiveness of outcomes.

Because the body of research on this practice is still evolving and best practices have not yet emerged, this year’s APA president, Melba J. T. Vasquez, PhD, has made a point to work on creating and adopting guidelines for telepsychology services.

Do you provide services via the web, e-mail, or telephone? How do you feel about the telepsychology movement? What do you think should be included in the guidelines?

PAR Author Adele Gottfried Recipient of WPA Social Responsibility Award

PAR author Adele Eskeles Gottfried, professor of educational psychology and counseling at the California State University at Northridge, is being honored by the Western Psychological Association (WPA) at their convention next month in Los Angeles. Dr. Gottfried, creator of the Children’s Academic Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (CAIMI), has been named recipient of the WPA’s 2011 Social Responsibility Award based on her research in the field of intrinsic motivation that has contributed to enhancing knowledge about children’s motivational development and educational attainment. In recognition of her award, she has received a special invitation to present at the convention; her talk will be entitled, “Searching for Motivation from Childhood through Adulthood: Findings and Implications.” Dr. Gottfried will also present her research on intrinsic motivation at the 2011 Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) Biennial Meeting next week in Montreal. This presentation will be entitled, “Developmental Motivation Roots and the Need for Cognition: A 20-Year Longitudinal Study.”

Dr. Gottfried developed the Children’s Academic Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (CAIMI) as a tool to help differentiate motivation from achievement and ability factors in students with academic difficulties. The CAIMI is also useful for counseling students in the general population with regard to academic interests and course selection, in instructional planning to stimulate motivation in weak areas and facilitate intrinsic motivation in strong areas, in providing individualized program planning, and in program and educational evaluation by schools and school districts. In addition, the CAIMI is the basis for the construct of gifted motivation, which addresses the concept that individuals with exceptionally high intrinsic motivation have a history of higher academic competence and functioning. Through the years, the evidence for the validity and stability of the CAIMI has continued to mount. Dr. Gottfried currently has both a book chapter and a journal article in press that extend the CAIMI to leadership literature.

To learn more about Dr. Gottfried’s research, click here for her intrinsic motivation bibliography.

Congratulations to Dr. Gottfried on this honor!

Words of “Wisdom” from Some of Psychology’s Favorite Names

While the forefathers of psychology established many theories that became building blocks of what we study today, sometimes some of our highest-regarded researchers came up with some ideas that don’t necessarily fit with today’s view of the world of psychology. The following are some bits of “wisdom” from some familiar names.

“I wish that one would be persuaded that psychological experiments, especially those on the complex functions, are not improved [by large studies]; the statistical method gives only mediocre results; some recent examples demonstrate that. The American authors, who love to do things big, often publish experiments that have been conducted on hundreds and thousands of people; they instinctively obey the prejudice that the persuasiveness of a work is proportional to the number of observations. This is only an illusion.”
— Alfred Binet (1903). L’ Études expérimentale de l’intelligence (p. 299). Paris, France: Schleicher.

“Being in love with the one parent and hating the other are among the essential constituents of the stock of psychical impulses which is formed at that time and which is of such importance in determining the symptoms of the later neurosis… This discovery is confirmed by a legend that has come down to us from classical antiquity: a legend whose profound and universal power to move can only be understood if the hypothesis I have put forward in regard to the psychology of children has an equally universal validity. What I have in mind is the legend of King Oedipus and Sophocles’ drama which bears his name.”
— Sigmund Freud (1953). The Interpretation of Dreams. In J. Strachey (Ed.), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (Vol. 4, pp. 260-261). Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books (Original work published 1900)

“Since my mother is the type that’s called schizophrenogenic in the literature—she’s the one who makes crazy people, crazy children—I was awfully curious to find out why I didn’t go insane.”
— Abraham Harold Maslow (2001). In Colin Wilson, New Pathways in Psychology: Maslow and the Post-Freudian Revolution (pp. 155-156). Retrieved from http://books.google.com/books (Original work published in 1972)

What do you think is psychology’s funniest or most interesting misstep?