Archive | May, 2012

Spoiled by PsycINFO

31 May

Ted and I are in the process of showing our house to potential buyers, meaning we spend a lot of time vacuuming and wondering what possessed us to choose long-haired cats instead of more practical pets like naked mole rats.

Oh wait, now I remember.

As per the holy wisdom of HGTV’s Designed to Sell, we’ve put a lot of time, money, and effort into staging our house (thanks again, by the way, to all the friends who helped us whip this place into shape!). Everything has been ruthlessly scrubbed, art and artificial plants are everywhere, the yard and garden look like someone actually cares about them,  the deck looks like someone actually uses it, all minor repairs have been made, and all evidence that real, slightly strange people live here has been erased as thoroughly as possible. There was no hiding my pet newt Spike, but hopefully people will just think he’s a deformed fish or something. Spike, UNLIKE our CATS, values our home-selling efforts and does not deposit hairs everywhere. Cats have a reputation for being imitative learners, so I make a point of complimenting Spike on his thoughtfulness whenever they’re around.

One thing I’ve realized as a product of house-staging is just how much I’ve come to rely on research to inform my decisions. Not just clinical decisions, although that’s where my research addiction began… we’re talking everyday, mundane issues. Should I be taking Omega 3 supplements? I’ll check PubMed. I don’t really feel like exercising. Is there any research that would justify me not exercising? (Not really, as it turns out. Maybe it’s just a matter of time?) This article says the “obesity epidemic” is overblown. What does the literature say? How does Ted’s and my retirement savings plan compare to the national average? Better see what I can pull up with Academic Search Premier. Don’t get me wrong – I’m as aware as anyone of the bias that can lurk in even the most objective-sounding study, and I’ve toyed with statistical software enough to know that you can often get the answers you’re looking for with enough prodding. Then again, “truth” is rarely clear-cut, and my faith in science as the best possible approximation of “truth” is still very much intact. My doctoral program has instilled a near-pathological need for empirical support in my brain, and with anecdotal methods still yielding less-than-accurate information (for example, our realtor insisted that we remove a peacock feather from its decorative location in our house because it would “bring bad luck”), I have yet to find a better source to guide my choices.

So you can imagine my disappointment when my search for controlled studies of how different house staging techniques affect buyer response yielded nothing. The only stuff I was able to dig up involved surveys of realtors (I might as well just watch HGTV) or comparisons of sale statistics for staged versus unstaged houses… funded, may I add, by the completely impartial Real Estate Staging Association. How’s a girl supposed to maximize sale potential in a research wasteland like this? I’ve been baking cookies like a fiend to make the house smell nice, but for all science knows, that could be totally pointless. It’s times like this that make me want to abandon my position of being a consumer, not a producer, of research… to get out there and answer important questions with the crushing power of SCIENCE!

But then I think about how much I hate SPSS. And who would fund a controlled study of house staging techniques, anyway? (The Real Estate Staging Association, duh.)

Anyone out there with loads of extra cash and a keen understanding of stats feel like doing some studies on home staging? I can provide cookies.



Feminist Win of the Week: Privilege and MMORPGs

20 May

John Scalzi has a nice piece on heterosexual white male privilege over at Whatever – check it out here. His follow-up article is worth a read, too. I think his massive MMORPG role playing game analogy is an accessible one.



Using Google Drive to Track Client Behaviors

9 May

I came across an article at Lifehacker recently that included a downloadable Google Drive form billed as a “Daily Personal Inventory.” The article, titled “Fill Out This One-Minute Form Every Day and Find Out Why Your Life Sucks (Or Doesn’t),” got me thinking about the countless ways Google Drive could be used to track client mood, eating patterns, self-care, or other behaviors related to therapeutic goals. Because spreadsheets on Google Drive can be shared and mutually edited, I could increase accountability by periodically checking client progress and leaving comments in a designated column. Client data could also be graphed for a quick visual assessment of progress, and it could ultimately be used as a rough measure of therapist effectiveness. Google Drive documents could even be shared with psychiatrists or other health professionals involved with a client to increase integration of care.

I’ve been playing around with a simple mood-tracking spreadsheet format, and I may try creating tracking documents for other behaviors. Although confidentiality could be an issue – Google’s confidentiality policy is relatively solid, but not water-tight by any means – clients could be informed of the risks and benefits and given the opportunity to sign a consent form prior to data tracking.

Have any of you ever used Google Drive as a therapeutic aid?


Amendment One and My Extinction Burst Theory

9 May

North Carolina passed Amendment One yesterday, and I’m extremely disappointed with my future home state. But I also think this piece of discriminatory legislation is the beginning of the end. As ThinkProgress points out, equality momentum is at a new high. Obama (finally) endorsed marriage equality today. And public support for same-sex marriage is growing.

My theory is that the slew of discriminatory legislative efforts we have seen of late – not just those targeting same-sex couples, but also those targeting women – represent an extinction burst.

Let’s say you’ve got a kid who has learned that if he screams in the supermarket, Mom will buy him a candy bar to keep him quiet. He likes candy bars, so he screams every time he and Mom go to the store. Mom gets extremely tired of this, orders the first season of Super Nanny, and learns that to put an end to the screaming, she’s going to have to stop inadvertently reinforcing it with candy. The next time she and kiddo go to the store, he starts screaming as usual. But this time Mom doesn’t get him a candy bar. He is confused. He is upset. This behavior has always worked before. Maybe he’s just not screaming loud enough. He screams louder, but nothing happens. He wants that candy bar and is getting frantic now, so he throws in some flailing too. Mom doesn’t give in. The same thing happens the next few times he and Mom go to the store. Eventually the screaming stops.

This is an example of an extinction burst – an escalation in undesired behavior in response to that behavior no longer producing the desired reward. I think anti-feminist, anti-LGBT legislators are in the same boat as our hypothetical screaming kid. This kind of legislation used to produce the “reward” of smoothly maintaining the status quo, ensuring the continued power of male heterosexual leaders, and providing comfort to those with prejudicial fears. But we live in a country that is increasingly less willing to provide those rewards without a fight, and legislators are upset and screaming. Our job is to keep withholding that candy bar, and to continue fighting, writing, talking, and voting with the knowledge that we’re slowly but surely ushering a discriminatory past to extinction.

Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education is “Evidence-Based.” Also, Unicorns Are Real

2 May

The Department of Health and Human Services recently released an updated list of “evidence-based” programs for teen pregnancy prevention. Since we have apparently been plopped into an alternate universe where “evidence-based” means exactly the opposite of what it sounds like, the Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education program somehow made the list, despite a glaring lack of support in peer-reviewed research literature.

No surprise about the lack of effectiveness. A few choice quotes from the Heritage Keepers Student Manual, pulled from RH Reality Check’s piece on the curriculum:

  • “Males and females are aroused at different levels of intimacy. Males are more sight orientated whereas females are more touch orientated… This is why girls need to be careful with what they wear, because males are looking! The girl might be thinking fashion, while the boy is thinking sex. For this reason, girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn’t invite lustful thoughts.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 46)
  • Sex is like fire. Inside the appropriate boundary of marriage, sex is a great thing! Outside of marriage, sex can be dangerous.” (Heritage Keeper, Student Manual, p. 22)
  • “Cohabitation (when two people live together before marriage) is not like marriage! [Heritage Keepers, p. 30] When couples live together outside of marriage, the relationships are weaker, more violent, less [equal], and more likely to lead to divorce” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 26)
  • “One reason may be that when people bond closely through sexual activity, then break up and bond with someone else, and then someone else, it may become increasingly difficult to maintain a lasting bond.” (Heritage Keepers, Teacher Manual, p. 56)
  • Young men are asked to envision their wedding day: “The doors swing open and there stands your bride in her white dress…This is the woman you have waited for (remained abstinent for) who has waited for you…This woman loves you and trusts you with all that she is and all that she has. You want to be strong, respectful and courageous for her. With all your heart, you want to protect her, and by waiting (sexually) you have.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 59)
  • Young women are asked to envision their wedding day: “Everything is just as you have seen it in a million daydreams…” When the bride takes her father’s arm: “Your true love stands at the front. This is the man who you have waited for (remained abstinent for) and who has waited for you…This man wants to be strong and courageous for you, to cherish and protect you… You are ready to trust him with all that you have and all that you are, because you have waited (sexually) you have it all to give.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 49)

Gross, gross, gross, gross. What was the Obama administration thinking? This program drips with dated gender attitudes, unsubstantiated (and often blatantly false) claims about the dangers of premarital sex, heterosexism, and slut-shaming. Even if Heritage Keepers somehow manages to produce scientific support of the caliber expected for other programs on the “evidence based” list (very unlikely), its deeply problematic premise and language choices make it an unacceptable choice for schools or any other public sphere. Punching someone in the mouth may be an effective way to remove teeth, but dentists don’t use it in practice because it’s damaging, unethical, and a generally crappy thing to do. Again, I doubt Heritage Keepers will ever prove its effectiveness in peer-reviewed literature, but regardless of research outcome, I sincerely hope the Department of Health and Human Services recognizes its error and pulls its endorsement for a program that should never have received serious consideration in the first place.

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