Wednesday Round Up #59

Sexism Still Winning at the Olympic Games

Most, if not all, of the IAAF investigations that have made it into the media have involved women from the Global South. Just recently, two female runners from Namibia were disqualified from running in the Olympic 400-meter event for having naturally high testosterone levels.

The regulatory focus on testosterone seems odd when you consider that there are plenty of other ways in which people have biological advantages over others, many of which aren’t considered problematic or unfair.

Take, for example, Michael Phelps, a swimmer who has exceptionally long arms and double jointed elbows, and apparently produces half the lactic acid (high lactic acid levels contribute to fatigue) of other athletes. His natural biological variation is celebrated rather than regulated, while Semenya’s is vilified—despite the fact that Phelps has won 23 Olympic gold medals, while Semenya has won only one.

The reality is that athletic performance is determined by a wide range of features, including but not limited to the complex (and not fully understood) interaction between genetics, various hormone levels, mentality, training, nutrition, recovery, and even just how the athlete feels the morning of an event. Artificially assigning one characteristic as the defining feature of athleticism oversimplifies a complex issue…

Overall, the Olympic rules seem to ignore most natural variation and perpetuate outdated feminine ideals and an overemphasis on the powers of testosterone. This fuels stereotypes, misunderstandings, and discrimination.

Vast early America: There is no American history without the histories of Indigenous and enslaved peoples. And this past has consequences today

The development of new sources, new methods and new perspectives that revise our understanding of the past constantly challenge fixed narratives… The reframing of early America – a field and a period with an outsized claim on the history of democracy – suggests that complex and newly understood histories are meeting the moment for both the nation and its publics.

Decades of research, reflected in close studies and synthetic histories, and the public writing of scholars alongside museum exhibits, are illustrating a wider appetite for nuanced history even as we hear more strident calls for the old ‘patriot’ narratives. A more capacious geography for early America, and deeper research in both slavery studies and Native American history, are showing not only a more complex era but much more connection among seemingly remote people, places and phenomena.

MOVE Bombing Remains Scandal Shows Enduring Racism in Anthropology

TV: What was it like to look up to Mann and Monge and then find out that they were involved in this?

ET-B: It’s disappointing, it’s disheartening, but not all that surprising. Anthropology as a discipline is built on a lot of racist, colonial foundations of, “There are savages over here; I’m a little bit curious what the savages are doing. Let me insinuate myself in their life and inconvenience them as much as possible to fulfill my own curiosity.” [The treatment of the remains] does not make me question the work that I want to do; it does make me question how I’m going to go about it.

(Monge did not reply to Teen Vogue’s request for comment. Mann declined to provide comment, citing the ongoing inquiries at Princeton and Penn.)

TV: What does it make you feel as a Black woman?

ET-B: There’s just this absolute sadness and despair that these remains were treated with such disregard and disrespect. These babies should have been buried. Period. They should have been buried right after it happened. And to me there’s no logical or reasonable explanation for why it didn’t happen.

Psychonautical Journalist Michael Pollan Is Finally Ready To End the War on Drugs

There are two main problems with relying on the FDA to decide how drugs should be treated. First, approval of a new medicine takes years and requires spending millions of dollars on clinical studies. Second, the agency’s mission is limited to assessing the safety and efficacy of drugs that are presented as a treatment for a recognized medical or psychiatric condition.

The war on weed continued after the FDA approved synthetic THC as a treatment for the side effects of cancer chemotherapy in 1985, after it added AIDS wasting syndrome as a recognized indication in 1992, and after it approved the first federally sanctioned cannabis-derived medicine as a treatment for two rare kinds of epilepsy in 2018. The war on psychedelics likewise will continue after the FDA approves MDMA as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder or psilocybin as a treatment for severe depression. FDA approval means only that patients who have the requisite diagnosis and prescription can legally use substances that are otherwise forbidden. Every other user is still treated as a criminal…

To his credit, however, Pollan has begun to overcome the “psychedelic exceptionalism” that irritates Columbia psychologist Carl Hart, author of Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear. Hart, a temperate heroin user, decries the bigotry of people who see nothing wrong with marijuana or psychedelic use but look down on drug consumers with different pharmacological tastes.

“This is uncomfortable territory, partly because few Americans regard pleasure as a legitimate reason to take drugs and partly because the drug war (with its supporters in academia and the media) has produced such a dense fog of misinformation, especially about addiction,” Pollan writes. “Many people (myself included) are surprised to learn that the overwhelming majority of people who take hard drugs do so without becoming addicted. We think of addictiveness as a property of certain chemicals and addiction as a disease that people, in effect, catch from those chemicals, but there is good reason to believe otherwise. Addiction may be less a disease than a symptom—of trauma, social disconnection, depression or economic distress.”

Although addiction experts such as Stanton Peele have been making these points for half a century, they apparently were news to Pollan, despite his keen interest in chemically assisted mind alteration. In support of the observation that drugs do not cause addiction, Pollan cites the “Rat Park” experiments that Canadian psychologist Bruce Alexander conducted in the late 1970s, inspired by Peele’s 1975 book Love and Addiction (co-authored by Archie Brodsky). Pollan also mentions a classic study of veterans who used heroin in Vietnam that was published in 1974.

The Campaign Toolkit

The Campaign Toolkit is a new and dynamic digital resource for educating, enabling, and empowering the next generation of activists and community organizations as they mobilize to outcompete hate and to promote community cohesion, inclusion and tolerance.

The Toolkit immerses you in the journey of planning, producing and promoting campaigns for global audiences. It is built from insights we’ve drawn at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) from a decade of research and work with practitioners and activists around the world. It provides a step-by-step guide as well as resources from leading technology companies and civil society.

Do conversations end when people want them to?

Do conversations end when people want them to? Surprisingly, behavioral science provides no answer to this fundamental question about the most ubiquitous of all human social activities. In two studies of 932 conversations, we asked conversants to report when they had wanted a conversation to end and to estimate when their partner (who was an intimate in Study 1 and a stranger in Study 2) had wanted it to end.

Results showed that conversations almost never ended when both conversants wanted them to and rarely ended when even one conversant wanted them to and that the average discrepancy between desired and actual durations was roughly half the duration of the conversation. Conversants had little idea when their partners wanted to end and underestimated how discrepant their partners’ desires were from their own. These studies suggest that ending conversations is a classic “coordination problem” that humans are unable to solve because doing so requires information that they normally keep from each other. As a result, most conversations appear to end when no one wants them to.

How to Tell Whether You’re Stressed or Depressed

Stress is phasic

When it comes to stress versus depression, there are distinct differences, especially when it comes to effective treatment options. One of the primary ways stress and depression differ is that stress can come and go.

“Stress is something that is phasic for most people. You have a stressful period and you come out of it,” Muskin says. “Depression is not like that. Depression goes on for years in some people. It can spontaneously remit in some people, but not everybody.”

For example, if a happy event happens, such as friends or loved ones coming for a visit, a stressed person will be able to feel happy in that moment, although the stress will probably return once they have left. For a depressed person, they won’t be able to feel happiness in that moment, even when they know they should.

“If you can get home from work and still recharge, that’s not major, clinical depression,” says Sheryl Ziegler, a psychologist and author of the book Mommy Burnout: How to Reclaim Your Life and Raise Healthier Children in the Process. “Clinical depression doesn’t come and go.”

Beyond Statistical Ritual: Theory in Psychological Science

More than 40 years ago, Paul Meehl (1978) published a seminal critique of the state of theorizing in psychological science. According to Meehl, the quality of theories had diminished in the preceding decades, resulting in statistical methods standing in for theoretical rigor. In this introduction to the special issue Theory in Psychological Science, we apply Meehl’s account to contemporary psychological science. We suggest that by the time of Meehl’s writing, psychology found itself in the midst of a crisis that is typical of maturing sciences, in which the theories that had been guiding research were gradually cast into doubt. Psychologists were faced with the same general choice when worldviews fail: Face reality and pursue knowledge in the absence of certainty, or shift emphasis toward sources of synthetic certainty. We suggest that psychologists have too often chosen the latter option, substituting synthetic certainties for theory-guided research, in much the same manner as Scholastic scholars did centuries ago. Drawing from our contributors, we go on to make recommendations for how psychological science may fully reengage with theory-based science.

A Critique of Wierzbicka’s Theory of Cultural Scripts: The Case of Ifaluk Fago

The linguist Anna Wierzbicka casts linguistic meaning in terms of cultural scripts, which she constructs from a short list of 60 or so conceptual primes, each with a grammar, deemed basic to human language, in the sense that these occur in all languages. I focus on the Ifaluk Islander lexeme fago, for which she has published such a script, and which I have also analyzed in another context. I argue that her script for fago does not adequately capture its meaning. Instead, I show, a culturally adequate definition of this emotion term cannot be founded on metalinguistics but must incorporate relevant nonlinguistic experience pertaining to the domain in question—in the case of fago, early attachment and the cultural defenses that emerge in response to it. My analysis of fago is compatible with a theory of cultural meaning as susceptible to considerable cross-cultural variability while constrained by shared features of human neurobiology in combination with common features of the world in which humans all live.

Testing Daily-Level Drinking and Negative Consequences as Predictors of Next-Day Drinking Cognitions

Limited research has examined how alcohol use and related consequences affect drinking-related cognitions, which is important as these cognitions may contribute to future drinking. The current study examines daily associations between alcohol use and alcohol-related negative consequences with next-day Prototype Willingness Model (PWM) social reaction pathway cognitions.

Method: Participants ages 15-25 years (N = 124, Mean age 18.7, SD = 2.87) completed daily surveys for up to three weeks (i.e., up to 11 surveys/week) using an ecological momentary assessment design. Linear mixed models and Poisson generalized mixed models were conducted to examine whether number of alcoholic drinks or number of negative alcohol-related consequences were associated with next-day PWM social reaction cognitions, including perceived vulnerability, descriptive normative perceptions of number of drinks consumed and the percentage of friends who drink, prototype favorability, prototype similarity, and willingness (i.e., openness) to drink.

Results: Within-person results indicated more alcohol use on a given day was associated with lower next-day normative perceptions of the percentage of friends who drink on that day of the week and higher prototype similarity. Furthermore, within-person results indicated that experiencing more negative alcohol-related consequences on a given day was associated with higher perceived vulnerability and lower willingness to drink the next day.

Conclusions: Findings showed that next-day social reaction PWM cognitions were associated with prior day alcohol use and negative alcohol-related consequences, suggesting that an intervention might be timed to target drinking cognitions the morning following a drinking event, particularly after experiencing negative alcohol-related consequences.

False beliefs can bootstrap cooperative communities through social norms

Building cooperative communities is a crucial problem for human societies. Much research suggests that cooperation is facilitated by knowing who the cooperators and defectors are, and being able to respond accordingly. As such, anonymous games are thought to hinder cooperation. Here, we show that this conclusion is altered dramatically in the presence of conditional cooperation norms and heterogeneous beliefs about others’ behaviours.

Specifically, we show that inaccurate beliefs about other players’ behaviours can foster and stabilise cooperation via social norms. To show this, we combine a community’s population dynamics with the behavioural dynamics of their members. In our model, individuals can join a community based on beliefs generated by public signals regarding the level of cooperation within, and decide to cooperate or not depending on these beliefs. These signals may overstate how much cooperation there really is.

We show that even if individuals eventually learn the true level of cooperation, the initially false beliefs can trigger a dynamic that sustains high levels of cooperation. We also characterise how the rates of joining, leaving and learning in the community affect the cooperation level and community size simultaneously. Our results illustrate how false beliefs and social norms can help build cooperative communities.

Pain and the field of affordances: an enactive approach to acute and chronic pain

In recent years, the societal and personal impacts of pain, and the fact that we still lack an effective method of treatment, has motivated researchers from diverse disciplines to try to think in new ways about pain and its management. In this paper, we aim to develop an enactive approach to pain and the transition to chronicity. Two aspects are central to this project.

First, the paper conceptualizes differences between acute and chronic pain, as well as the dynamic process of pain chronification, in terms of changes in the field of affordances. This is, in terms of the possibilities for action perceived by subjects in pain. As such, we aim to do justice to the lived experience of patients as well as the dynamic role of behavioral learning, neural reorganization, and socio-cultural practices in the generation and maintenance of pain.

Second, we aim to show in which manners such an enactive approach may contribute to a comprehensive understanding of pain that avoids conceptual and methodological issues of reductionist and fragmented approaches. It proves particularly beneficial as a heuristic in pain therapy addressing the heterogenous yet dynamically intertwined aspects that may contribute to pain and its chronification.

Why do we buy what we buy?

I recently spoke with Juliet Schor, a sociologist at Boston College, about the history of modern American consumerism — what it’s rooted in, how it’s evolved, and how different groups of people have experienced it. Schor, who is the author of books on consumerism, wealth, and spending, has a bit of a unique view on the matter. She tends to focus on the roles of work, inequality, and social pressures in determining what people buy and when. In her view, marketers have less to do with what we want than, say, our neighbors, coworkers, or the people we follow on social media.

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