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September 2013

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Case Studies as Science

APA H. M. (Henry Molaison) had almost no memory for his past life after having experimental brain surgery in 1953. Suzanne Corkin summarized 55 years of research on H. M. in her book Permanent Present Tense: The Unforgettable Life of the Amnesic Patient, H. M. Kristi Multhaup's review of this book presents it as not only a description of good science, but also a good story that portrays H. M. as a person with an interesting life, although it is a life he cannot recall.

What must it be like to have this extremely limited memory? Multhaup drew this quotation from the book:

"mentally I'm uncomfortable to be so much trouble to everybody—not to remember.…And I keep debating with myself if I said anything that I shouldn't have, or done something that I shouldn't have done" (p. 106).
Multhaup notes that reading in the book of his death and the immediate harvesting of his brain would be "challenging" for some readers.

So this is a good, albeit sad, story, but it is also a story of good science because H. M.'s case can be placed in the context of the experimental memory literature, where it contributed to, for example, a multiple-store view of memory. "The book highlights what can be gained from a thoroughly documented case study."

What other case studies have made a similar contribution to psychological science? For me, the one that first comes to mind is Paul Broca's 19th-century study of Tan, which eventually led to the description of Broca's area in the brain for speech. Can readers come up with some others?

Read the Review
ReviewPay Attention to the Man Behind the Initials: H. M. and His Legacy
By Kristi S. Multhaup
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(39)

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Are Young Women Experiencing a Paradox of Sexual Freedom?

APA In Hard to Get: Twenty-Something Women and the Paradox of Sexual Freedom, sociologist Leslie C. Bell describes "the paradox of sexual freedom" experienced by young women: more sexual freedom but lack of guidance about how to balance this freedom with healthy self-development. She describes three strategies young women use to maintain personal control and safety while also exploring their sexuality: pursuing short-term, casual relationships in an effort to protect themselves from vulnerability; prioritizing safety by denying their sexuality through the "good girl" strategy; or accepting the risks associated with relationships and viewing their relational desires as being equally central to their sense of self as their need for independence and personal strength.

As to why the paradox exists, reviewer Sherri P. Pataki summarizes some of Bell's arguments, which include the lingering impact of traditional gender norms, contradictory societal messages regarding women's priorities (family, relationships versus career, education), and society's relatively new emphasis on "radical independence" for young women that places greater value on personal achievement over relationships.

Do you agree that a "paradox of sexual freedom" exists for young women? Does the existence of this paradox or women's use of the "good girl" strategy (denial of sexuality) point to a failure of the feminist movement? What role does pop culture, particularly the music, television, and movie industries, play in perpetuating the paradox of sexual freedom?

Read the Review
ReviewBalancing Intimate Connection and Personal Growth for Women in Their 20s
By Sherri P. Pataki
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(38)

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Statistics Addiction?

APA Is it possible that behavioral scientists have developed a bad research habit akin to drug addiction? In his review of Beyond Significance Testing: Statistics Reform in the Behavioral Sciences (2nd ed.), Gordon Pitz reflects the book author's criticism that the ubiquitous .05 and .01 levels of confidence do not really provide those probabilities nor the alleged confidence in related conclusions. Pitz uses this powerful metaphor:

My own observations of common statistical practice in psychology remind me too much of the commitment that addicts show toward their drug of choice. It has become a habit that provides comfort and relief at times of stress and demands very little from the participant. Abandoning the habit is difficult and painful. And when one is surrounded by friends or colleagues who engage in the same behavior, it is easy to conclude that there can be no harm.
Pitz says that Bayesian statistics should be more widely used because that approach "typically expresses directly what many researchers believe, or hope, is given by significance levels—the probability that a hypothesis of interest is correct." But that would take way too much work in learning something new and rewriting textbooks, reanalyzing data, and, even worse, discarding valued conclusions. Are we really just fooling ourselves with an illusion of confidence?

Read the Review
ReviewPromoting Reform in Statistics and Data Analysis
By Gordon Pitz
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(32)

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Where Social Policy and Human Rights, Privacy, and Ethical Concerns Collide

APA In William Holcomb's review of The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Crime, he notes the author's "impassioned call to action through a public health approach to violence prevention based on our growing scientific understanding of the brain." The book summarizes the current research on the biological basis of violence, and author Adrian Raine goes on to make violence prevention recommendations.

Holcomb's review generated two issues that seem important to consider. First, we argue for evidence-based interventions, and this is a good thing. However, in the behavioral realm, we have failed to set standards for the strength of the evidence and the effectiveness of the intervention required when a policy or practice generates human rights, privacy, and ethical concerns. For example, the idea that those who wish to have children must take a parenting class that would be a condition of getting a license to have a child seems logical until one considers the instances in which perfectly good parents have children who commit heinous crimes. In addition, what would happen to those who defied the requirement? Would their children be aborted or taken into state custody? If they are taken into custody, who would raise the children, and what would be the effects of this action? Would illiteracy mean that one may not bear children? Think of the people born to parents with limited education who went on to do great things; these people would be lost to us.

Second, in medicine there are screening tests available that are not recommended for the general population, because they lack the sensitivity and specificity to make screening appropriate or cost-effective. Shouldn't we as social scientists be expected to consider these issues before offering suggestions that deprive others of their constitutional right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," or are we so in awe of biology that we forget our humanity?

Read the Review
ReviewThe Neuroscience of Violence and the Moral Imperative for Treatment
By William R. Holcomb
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2013 Vol 58(36)

Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Chair of Behavioral Sciences,
College of Medicine,
American University of Antigua

Associate Editors of PsycCRITIQUES

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