EppsNet Archive: Psychology

25 Concepts to Facilitate Judicious Use of Psychiatric Drugs

20 Sep 2015 /

I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night . . . I also took a Colgate University class on medicating for mental health and judicious use of psychiatric drugs.

  1. A psychiatric medication is only one useful tool among a collection of useful tools. Remember to also consider non-drug options for therapy.
  2. The benefits of psychiatric medications are always accompanied by risk. Become familiar with the potential risk of your medication. Be alert to potential risks that might be intolerable to you.
  3. Establishing a diagnosis is a difficult and imperfect task, but it establishes the starting point for determining which treatments are appropriate.
  4. Engage your physician or a psychologist in a dialogue regarding the structure of your treatment program. Be an active participant in establishing the structure of that program. Having confidence that your treatment program will work is important for its success.
  5. Become familiar with the vocabulary of psychopharmacology and with some basic principles of psychopharmacology. It will improve your ability to communicate with your physician or therapist.
  6. Be forthcoming and candid with your physician or therapist when working to establish realistic goals for your use of psychiatric medication. These goals should include the meaningful improvement of symptoms and side effects that are acceptable to you.
  7. A treatment program should aim to not only produce meaningful improvement of symptoms but also should include a plan to prevent relapse.
  8. A psychiatric medication is limited in its effectiveness for improving a problem that has biological, psychological, and social characteristics.
  9. Ask whether the use of your recommended psychiatric medication is supported by published evidence or is an off-label prescription based upon educated guesswork. If your prescribing physician doesn’t know the answer to that question tell him or her to find out for you.
  10. Remind yourself that a psychiatric medication will alter the neurochemistry of your brain and that the effects of medication on the brain can persist and may be permanent.
  11. The ideal dosage of a psychiatric medication is the smallest dosage that is able to provide meaningful relief of symptoms.
  12. Fulfill your responsibilities for ensuring the success of your treatment program. Be fully cooperative regarding instructions for using medication and for taking the advice of the therapist.
  13. Remember that counseling, psychotherapy, or behavioral therapy may enhance the effectiveness of a psychiatric medication.
  14. Remember also that a psychiatric medication may enable counseling, psychotherapy, or behavioral therapy to be more effective.
  15. Newer psychiatric medications are often more expensive medications despite the fact that those newer drugs may not be more effective than older medications.
  16. Newer psychiatric medications have been used for a shorter period of time and by fewer people than older medications. This fact increases the likelihood that newer medications might bring unpleasant surprises.
  17. Herbal remedies and dietary supplements may or may not be effective or safe and very few of those remedies have been studied in well-designed experiments to evaluate their effectiveness and their relative safety.
  18. If possible, avoid using multiple medications in order to minimize the possibility of harmful drug interactions.
  19. Direct-to-consumer advertising of psychiatric medication is principally intended to get you to buy a product. That product may or may not be in the best interest of your own physiological, emotional and psychological well-being.
  20. Be aware that your health insurance provider may structure costs to you, the patient, in a way that provides some incentive to use one drug instead of some other drug or to use medication instead of psychotherapy. If possible, try to make the principal goal of your therapy to be the relief of symptoms, not the lowest cost of treatment.
  21. The elderly present special vulnerabilities for psychiatric medications — for example, enhanced sensitivity, likelihood of polypharmacy, or increased risk of falling.
  22. Exposing the young, still-developing brain of a child or adolescent to a potent psychiatric medication risks creating problems for those brains when they reach adulthood.
  23. The recent trend is to rely more upon psychiatric medication than upon non-drug therapies to treat psychopathology. Resist that trend when you are not convinced that medication is the best choice for you or for a member of your family.
  24. The study of brain and behavior is a frontier science. Thus the use of drugs that alter brain neurochemistry to treat psychopathology is based upon an incomplete understanding of brain and behavior.
  25. Because our current understanding of brain and behavior is incomplete, contemporary psychiatric medications are imperfect tools that are clinically useful until we learn enough to develop better tools.

Teaching Computer Science: Combating Procrastination

6 Apr 2015 /

Students had a project due last week and I got a lot of messages and emails asking for help. Of course, when we handed out the assignment two months ago, we advised students not to wait till the last minute to work on it. Teachers and parents saying “Don’t wait till the last minute” is just an understood part of the process. It’s something that gets said but it’s background noise.

A couple of alternatives occur to me:

  1. Reverse psychology. Say “My advice is to start as late as possible. Try to do two months of work in the last week, or better yet, the last night.” This seems too easy to see through and therefore unlikely to work.
  2. Hand out the 20-page spec and tell the students that it’s due tomorrow. WHAT!? YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS! NOBODY COULD DO THIS IN ONE DAY! “You’re right. It’s actually due in two months. But now that we’ve agreed that it can’t be done in one day, I don’t want to see anyone working on it at the last minute.”

Big Fishes in Small Ponds

14 Mar 2015 /

Big fish, small pond

A colleague and I are discussing an article about too many kids quitting science because they don’t think they’re smart, in which Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford, says, among other things:

Being a good parent has become synonymous with giving out ability praise. Parents still think this is the greatest gift they can give to their children, and as a child gets more and more insecure, they give more and more of it. And, by the way, a lot of employers and coaches have said, “My employees cannot get through the day without accolades and validation.” Even professional coaches have said they cannot give feedback without these people feeling that they’ve crushed them. We’ve created several generations now of very fragile individuals because they’ve been praised and hyped. And feel that anything but praise is devastating.

My colleague mentions Malcolm Gladwell‘s book David and Goliath, in which Gladwell claims that while the worst STEM students at, say, Harvard may be as smart as the top third at a lower ranked college, the Harvard kids feel stupid and unsuccessful because they compare themselves to their Harvard peers. Gladwell then goes on to recommend attending non-elite institutions — to be a big fish in a small pond — in order not to have your dreams and confidence crushed.

“Why don’t kids just forget about four-year institutions completely and attend their local community college?” I reply. “They can test their mettle against classmates with no academic qualifications whatsoever. That should provide a much-needed confidence boost.”

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

12 Dec 2014 /

The notion that we have limited access to the workings of our minds is difficult to accept because, naturally, it is alien to our experience but it is true: You know far less about yourself than you feel you do.


A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.


It is the consistency of information that matters for a good story, not its completeness. Indeed, you will often find that knowing little makes it easier to fit everything you know into a coherent pattern.


The exaggerated faith in small samples is only one example of a more general illusion — we pay more attention to the content of messages than to information about their reliability, and as a result end up with a view of the world around us that is simpler and more coherent than the data justify.


Narrative fallacies arise inevitably from our continuous attempt to make sense of the world. The explanatory stories that people find compelling are simple; are concrete rather than abstract; assign a larger role to talent, stupidity, and intentions than to luck; and focus on a few striking events that happened rather than on the countless events that failed to happen.


Hindsight bias has pernicious effects on the evaluations of decision makers. It leads observers to assess the quality of a decision not be whether the process was sound but by whether its outcome was good or bad. . . . This outcome bias makes it almost impossible to evaluate a decision properly – in terms of the beliefs that were reasonable when the decision was made.


Stories of how businesses rise and fall strike a chord with readers by offering what the human mind needs: a simple message of triumph and failure that identifies clear causes and ignores the determinative power of luck and the inevitability of regression. These stories induce and maintain an illusion of understanding, imparting lessons of little enduring value to readers who are all too anxious to believe them.


For some of our most important beliefs we have no evidence at all, except that people we love and trust hold those beliefs.


Confidence is a feeling, which reflects the coherence of the information and the cognitive ease of processing it. It is wise to take admissions of uncertainty seriously, but declarations of high confidence mainly tell you that an individual has constructed a coherent story in his mind, not necessarily that the story is true.


We know that people can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they are sustained by a community of like-minded believers.


The idea that the future is unpredictable is undermined every day by the ease with which the past is explained. . . Everything makes sense in hindsight . . . And we cannot suppress the powerful intuition that what makes sense in hindsight was predictable yesterday. The illusion that we understand the past fosters overconfidence in our ability to predict the future.


[Philip Tetlock, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania] interviewed 284 people who made their living “commenting or offering advice on political and economic trends. . . . In all, Tetlock gathered more than 80,000 predictions. . . . Respondents were asked to rate the probabilities of three alternative outcomes in every case: the persistence of the status quo, more of something such as political freedom or economic growth, or less of that thing.

The results were devastating. The experts performed worse than they would have if they had simply assigned equal probabilities to each of the three potential outcomes. In other words, people who spend their time, and earn their living, studying a particular topic produce poorer predictions than dart-throwing monkeys who would have distributed their choices evenly over the options. Even in the region they knew best, experts were not significantly better than nonspecialists.


Rehearse the mantra that will get you significantly closer to economic reality: you win a few, you lose a few.


Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it.


During the last 10 years we have learned many new facts about happiness. But we have also learned that the word happiness does not have a simple meaning and should not be used as if it does. Sometimes scientific progress leaves us more puzzled than we were before.

Why “We” Believed Jackie’s Rape Story

7 Dec 2014 /

That’s the title (minus the quotation marks) of an article on politico.com regarding Rolling Stone‘s retraction of a story about a gang rape at the University of Virginia. The article is written by a female student at that university.

“We” believed the story for the same reason Rolling Stone didn’t fact check it: because when you know little, it’s easier to fit everything you do know into a simple story about the world, e.g., “white men are rapists.”

Also because people can maintain an unshakable faith in any proposition, however absurd, when they’re sustained by a community of like-minded believers.

On the flip side, a different group of people can now use the incident to confirm their simple story about the world, e.g., “women are liars.”

Personally I find labeling and smearing people based on genetic traits ugly and offensive no matter whose agenda is being advanced . . .

The Hedgehog and the Fox

6 Dec 2014 /

Stuffed hedgehogs outside a store in Athens

Hedgehogs “know one big thing” and have a theory about the world: they account for particular events within a coherent framework, bristle with impatience toward those who don’t see things their way, and are confident in their forecasts. They are also especially reluctant to admit error. For hedgehogs, a failed prediction is almost always “off only on timing” or “very nearly right.” They are opinionated and clear, which is exactly what television producers love to see on programs. Two hedgehogs on different sides of an issue, each attacking the idiotic ideas of the adversary, make for a good show.

Foxes, by contrast, are complex thinkers. They don’t believe that one big thing drives the march of history . . . Instead the foxes recognize that reality emerges from the interactions of many different agents and forces, including blind luck, often producing large and unpredictable outcomes. . . . They are less likely than hedgehogs to be invited to participate in television debates.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

I Was Never More Hated Than When I Tried to Be Honest

22 Jun 2014 /

I was never more hated than when I tried to be honest. Or when, even as just now I’ve tried to articulate exactly what I felt to be the truth. No one was satisfied — not even I. On the other hand, I’ve never been more loved and appreciated than when I tried to “justify” and affirm someone’s mistaken beliefs; or when I’ve tried to give my friends the incorrect, absurd answers they wished to hear. In my presence they could talk and agree with themselves, the world was nailed down, and they loved it.

— Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man

On the Evaluation of One-Sided Evidence

2 Mar 2014 /

We examine predictions and judgments of confidence based on one-sided evidence. Some subjects saw arguments for only one side of a legal dispute while other subjects (called ‘jurors’) saw arguments for both sides. Subjects predicted the number of jurors who favored the plaintiff in each case. Subjects who saw only one side made predictions that were biased in favor of that side. Furthermore, they were more confident but generally less accurate than subjects who saw both sides. The results indicate that people do not compensate sufficiently for missing information even when it is painfully obvious that the information available to them is incomplete.

— Lyle A. Brenner, Derek J. Koehler and Amos Tversky, “On the Evaluation of One-sided Evidence” (emphasis added)

See You in Hell: The Fritz Pollard Edition

1 Mar 2014 /



[See You in Hell is a feature by our guest blogger, Satan — PE]

The head of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which monitors diversity in the NFL, expects the league to institute a rule where players would be penalized 15 yards for using the N-word on the field.

The N-word. Let’s see . . . the N-word is “National,” the F-word is “Football” and the L-word is “League.”

Wait — what?! I’m now being informed that the N-word in this case is “nigger.” That’s what the Fritz Pollard Alliance wants to penalize. OK, that’s a great idea, Fritz Pollard Alliance, and by “great” I mean “bullshit.”

Has anyone at the Fritz Pollard Alliance read the Harry Potter books? In the Harry Potter books, Voldemort is known as He Who Must Not Be Named. He’s so powerful and scary and evil that you’re not even allowed to say his name! The only person who’s not afraid to say Voldemort’s name is Harry Potter.

I wish someone would ban my name from being spoken. I hate to hear my name bandied about — “Satan this” and “Satan that.” It makes me seem unremarkable, like someone you might chat with at a dinner party or meet at Starbucks for a coffee.

If people were banned from speaking my name, every time someone did speak it, accidentally or on purpose, it would be like “AUUUUGH! SATAN HAS BEEN UNLEASHED FROM THE DEPTHS OF HELL!” I’d be 10 times more fearsome than I am already.

You see where I’m going with this, Fritz Pollard Alliance? Banning the use of a word makes the word more scary and powerful, not less.

Who knows better than me that if you make a thing forbidden, people will want that thing more than ever? I call that Satan’s Paradox.


Except for the N-word, all racial, ethnic or religious zingers, epithets and provocations remain A-okay with Fritz and his boys. The Kailee Wong Alliance has proposed that calling a Chinese player a gook or a Vietnamese player a chink, instead of the other way around, be grounds for automatic ejection, but adoption of the proposal is considered unlikely.

See you in Hell . . .

The ‘Why’ Technique

16 Feb 2014 /

The usual purpose of ‘why’ is to elicit information. One wants to be comforted with some explanation which one can accept and be satisfied with. The lateral use of why is quite opposite. The intention is to create discomfort with any explanation. By refusing to be comforted with an explanation one tries to look at things in a different way and so increases the possibility of restructuring a pattern.

— Edward de Bono, Lateral Thinking

Challenge Assumptions

15 Feb 2014 /

General agreement about an assumption is no guarantee that it is correct. It is historical continuity that maintains most assumptions – not a repeated assessment of their validity.

— Edward de Bono, Lateral Thinking

EppsNet Book Reviews: The Big Short by Michael Lewis

10 Nov 2013 /

I worked in the information technology department of a mortgage bank in the run-up to the 2007 implosion of the subprime mortgage market . . .

Given that it was fairly evident at the time that complicated financial instruments were being dreamed up for the sole purpose of lending money to people who could never repay it, it’s remarkable that very few people foresaw the catastrophe and that even fewer actually had the nerve to bet on it to happen.

Long story short, the major rating agencies — Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s — were incompetent in their rating of subprime mortgage bonds, giving investment-grade and, in some cases, triple-A ratings to high-risk instruments. A lot of people took the ratings — which implied that subprime mortgage derivatives were no riskier than U.S. Treasury bonds — at face value and acted accordingly.

But there were also some interesting psychological factors in play, not specific to the investment arena:

  1. Nothing really bad had ever happened in the subprime mortgage market. Every tiny panic was followed by a robust boom. Since nothing really bad had ever happened (albeit over a short and statistically insignificant period of time), nothing really bad ever would happen.
  2. The collapse of the subprime mortgage market would be a national catastrophe, and was unlikely precisely because it would be such a catastrophe. Nothing that bad could ever actually happen.

Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not just surrounded by assholes. — William Gibson

Online Porn May Make You Forget

7 Feb 2013 /

Pornographic Picture Processing Interferes with Working Memory Performance

Journal of Sex Research, 2012 Nov 20

Researchers at the University of Duisburg-Essen found that looking at internet porn has a negative effect on working memory.

Wait a second . . . did I already post this link?

Rough Layouts Sell the Idea Better Than Polished Ones

29 Nov 2012 /

This was written by an ad man but I can see it applying to other endeavors, like designing a software interface:


If you show a client a highly polished computer layout, he will probably reject it.

There is either too much to worry about or not enough to worry about. They are equally bad.

It is a fait accompli.

There is nothing for him to do. It’s not his work, it’s your work. He doesn’t feel involved.

If he doesn’t like the face of the girl in your rendering, or the style of the trousers on the man on the right, or the choice of the car he’s driving, he’s going to reject it.

He won’t see the big idea. He will look at the girl’s face and think, ‘I don’t like her, this doesn’t feel right.’

It is very difficult for him to imagine anything else if what you show him has such detail.

Show the client a scribble.

Explain it to him, talk him through it, let him use his imagination.

Get him involved.

Because you haven’t shown the exact way it’s going to be, there’s scope to interpret it and develop and change it as you progress.

Work with him rather than confronting him with your idea.

Politicians Making Things Happen

6 Nov 2012 /

Now, if we want people to do certain things and if we are indifferent as to why they do them, then no affective appeals need be excluded. Some political candidates want us to vote for them regardless of our reasons for doing so. Therefore, if we hate the rich, they will snarl at the rich for us; if we dislike strikers, they will snarl at the strikers; if we like clambakes, they will throw clambakes; if the majority of us like hillbilly music, they may say nothing about the problems of government, but travel among their constituencies with hillbilly bands.

Accurate Self-Perceptions Considered Harmful

3 Sep 2012 /

Consider a survey of nearly one million high school seniors. When asked to judge their ability to get along with others, 100 percent rated themselves as at least average, 60 percent rated themselves in the top 10 percent, and 25 percent considered themselves in the top 1 percent. And when asked about their leadership skills, only 2 percent assessed themselves as below average. Teachers aren’t any more realistic: 94 percent of college professors say they do above-average work.

The human brain is a better lawyer than scientist. A scientific brain would form hypotheses, test them against the evidence and reject the ones that don’t pass. The lawyer brain starts with a conclusion that it wants to be true, formulates supporting arguments and discounts evidence to the contrary.

Studies show that people with the most accurate self-perceptions tend to be moderately depressed, suffer from low self-esteem or both. An overly positive self-evaluation, on the other hand, helps our minds defend us against unhappiness and inspires us to become what we think we are.

If You Tolerate It, You Insist On It

19 Nov 2011 /

Whenever you perceive that a virtue is missing or that a vice is present, you either tolerate the situation or try to change it. If you cannot “fix” it, you can at least withdraw your participation. The problem with tolerating the absence of virtue or the existence of vice is that this choice summons them into your life.

You might tell yourself stories about the problem you perceive and your tolerance of it:

  • That’s just the way it is in the real world.
  • Others will not listen even-handedly to your perceptions and advice.
  • It’s not your place to say truthful but difficult things.
  • The problem lies in another department.
  • You are not reading the situation correctly. You may not be able to discern beauty from ugliness or efficiency from waste, and your ignorance will be exposed. You’ll be rejected or ridiculed.
  • You will look dumb if you ask for help to resolve any uncertainty.

Acknowledge that if you tolerate it, you insist on it. If you insist on something, you are its creator.

— Jim and Michele McCarthy, Software for Your Head

The Law of Conservation of Ignorance

10 Sep 2011 /

A false conclusion once arrived at and widely accepted is not easily dislodged, and the less it is understood the more tenaciously it is held.

The Difference Between You and Me

30 Nov 2010 /

I was late because the directions were useless. You were late because you’re a disorganized person . . .


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