December 7, 2014 § 2 Comments
The field of psychology influences just about every element of our lives. Business, government and educational organisations rely on psychological studies to form their methods and approaches. Not only that, the media – be it broadcast journalism, informative articles or opinion pieces – greatly rely on the field for support and evidence. It is inherently the study of us; our mental processes and behaviours. As such, there is no overestimating the importance and potential of the field. When psychology is so heavily influential, then, it proves extremely worrying when we find out how it is conducted.
A recent article indicates that 83% of experimental psychology studies in the esteemed journal ‘Science’ are unreliable. Not only that, 82% of studies in ‘Psychological Science’ were also found to be unreliable. While the article concluded that the data in these studies is not always purposefully manoeuvred, and the inaccuracy often merely poor practice and misinterpretation of statistics, these results present a worrying image of scientific practice within psychology, possibly extending to other fields of science. Psychology has historically received a poor reception; it has been criticised as a pseudo-science, and many of the methods of the field’s pioneers, such as the likes of Freud, have been completely discredited.
However, since the early 20th century, psychologists have struggled towards a more quantifiable, scientific method. Behaviourists such as John Watson and B.F. Skinner distinguished themselves from the previously popular psychoanalytical, introspective approach of Freud and Jung, believing that psychology should be empirical and scientific, and the only way to do so was by observing quantifiable behaviour. Seeing the limitations of behaviourism in narrowing the scope of focus, Noam Chomsky sparked the cognitive revolution with his criticism of B.F. Skinner’s work in 1959. Since then, cognitive psychology, the scientific study of mental processes, has dominated the field.
The Problem: How and Why
Why is it that we’re still seeing such a lack of reliability in psychology? Scott Lilienfeld, a psychology professor, says “virtually all psychological phenomena hinge on unknown contextual variables”. It goes without saying that we are all unique, hugely complex, and unpredictable. Combine that complexity with an ” abundance of positive results (due to) questionable practices, selective reporting, as well as data fabrication“, and it comes as no surprise that we see such a large majority (83%) of publications as inaccurate. Authors will also often subconsciously select data that is in harmony with their theory, known as confirmation bias.
The main fault within psychology is that it is conducted by humans. How very droll…maybe in a couple of hundred years, we’ll have sentient robots do our scientific research for us. The thing is, humans make mistakes and bend truths, especially those with ambiguous data at their hands, and pressure from those who provide the funding. No one wants to publish something inconclusive. As Nassim Taleb says, “The same past data can confirm a theory and its exact opposite! If you survive until tomorrow, it could mean that either a) you are more likely to be immortal or b) that you are closer to death“.
Implications and Solutions
We simply need a more rigorous publication process. Scientists hold such an important role in our society, and that importance should be respected in authoring potentially deceptive studies, and letting said studies make their way past the peer-reviewing process. Psychology is a very young science. If psychologists wish to gain the respect of the scientific community, as well as the public, standards need to raised. Combined with pioneering technologies posed by the cognitive and neurosciences such as brain imaging, psychology has the potential to make some truly ground-breaking discoveries and revelations.
Finally (wait, you read all of that?), what does this really mean for me and you? I’d use this article as an opportunity for a call to action. Scientists not only have the potential to be very wrong, they often are. Inform yourself with a wide range of sources and question information that is fed to you at face value. I’m not asking you to study scholarly articles on every opinion piece or news item, but remain sceptical. The truth is bent, brushed over or treated subjectively, and information can influence every element of our lives. Something that has such powerful potential should be treated accordingly.
December 4, 2014 § Leave a comment
I’ve recently been thinking about the direction of this blog. It’s true, I haven’t been updating it very much, which is down to my own procrastination. However, I feel like a change in direction is warranted. I want this to be a quality blog, filled with cultural commentary and thought-provoking ideas. As such, I’ll be distancing myself from the self-help stuff (there’s only so much you can say without sounding like a broken record!) and focus more on news events and stories, intelligent art (film, TV and literature) and the likes. If anyone has any suggestions or requests, I’d be willing to oblige. I’m also looking for people to collaborate with. If that means swapping guest blog posts, by all means, lets do it. Cheers guys.
November 21, 2014 § 1 Comment
From the vast, mysterious dark of outer space in ‘Interstellar’, to the night-time Los Angeles gloom of ‘Nightcrawler’, cinema-goers are spoilt for choice this fall, that is if they’re looking for moments of thrilling disquiet, and the saturnine, gloomy intensity that comes with all-engulfing darkness. ‘Interstellar’ sees Matthew McConaughey reinforcing his new-found place in serious cinema as Cooper, a former NASA pilot tasked with one last mission; to journey into outer space to find a new home planet for mankind. Christopher Nolan reaffirms himself as king of cerebral, fast-paced science fiction films, taking pages from his own creations (Inception, Dark Knight series) as well as his influences (namely, 2001: A Space Odyssey), creating something entirely refreshing and pioneering in the process. Nightcrawler is Dan Gilroy’s directorial début, following Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal) as he scours the night for crashes and crime scenes, filming them for profit. While less ambitious thematically, it is sleek and efficient, cold and calculated, much like its protagonist, and proves to be both a poignant reflection on our modern taste for dramatic violence, as well as a spine-chilling commentary on how sociopaths such as Lou Bloom thrive in such environments.
At first glance, there is no doubt that Lou belongs to the night. His skin is pale and light-deprived, his mannerisms and interactions with people are eerily eccentric, as one might expect after a considerable period of isolation. His eyes, however, his eyes…they are sunken, enlarged and unblinking; always looking and always searching for the spoils of the night. Shakespeare said that the eyes are “the windows to the soul”. This soul is driven by an intensity of appetite that takes precedence above all. Daytime in this film feels odd, as if it somehow doesn’t belong in Lou’s world. His days show him in isolation, performing banal tasks such as watering his plants or ironing, waiting for the night to fall. As such, L.A. becomes a place of eternal night and uninterrupted violence, a stylistic approach that lends weight to Gilroy’s vision.
The character of Lou Bloom could be said to be the archetypal man of capitalism and the American dream. He is enterprising; from the get go, he systematically works his way up from buying a cheap police radio and camcorder to expanding into what appears to be a legitimate video journalism business. He repeats time-worn motifs of ‘hard work and initiative’, that ring hollowly, especially considering how he gains all of his success stealing, blackmailing or taking advantage of those around him. In this overt paradox, it is clear that Dan Gilroy poses Nightcrawler as a criticism of the free market and the flawed socio-economic structure that it ingratiates. How can such a system be successful if it not only permits but actively enables sociopathic opportunists such as Lou Bloom?
Stylistically, Nightcrawler follows in the steps of the likes of ‘Drive’, moody and intense, fast-paced and hypnotic. The focus of ‘the road’, as in Drive, lends a sense of purpose and direction to Lou Bloom that is all but an illusion. He drives the night searching for opportunity, but he remains a mere predatory outsider stuck in a rotten, filthy city. Above all, Nightcrawler is an enthralling character study of a sociopath and his remorselessness in taking advantage of the ill fates of strangers, as well as those directly around him. Like Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle, he isn’t a hero, yet is praised and rewarded as one, and escapes the legal or moral punishment one might expect to be exacted on a villain.
Interstellar is much more ambitious in its narrative scope. It rises beyond the filth of the streets, following McConaughey as he and a small crew of astronauts travel across space to find a new inhabitable planet for humankind. It is the 2050s (or thereabouts), and earth is experiencing some sort of global crop blight. McConaughey’s character proclaims that he was ‘born for this’. As Gyllenhaal’s cold, merciless character in Nightcrawler is suited to his new-found occupation, so is McConaughey’s Cooper. That is where the similarities end, however. Cooper is very human in the sense that his motivations are mixed where Lou Bloom’s are singularly self-focused. In his mission, he is part fuelled by the love of his family, partly by an altruistic desire to help his species, and part glory and self-fulfilment. Strangely, for a dystopian film, Nolan’s approach is much more sympathetic in comparison to Nightcrawlers cynical, resigned tone.
The film is, on face value, a blockbuster epic about the survival of mankind, and space travel (in case you missed that). Unusually, Nolan puts these themes second to love. As Anne Hathaway’s character Brand says, “love is the only thing that transcends time and space”. Interstellar is – compared to the likes of Inception and the Dark Knight trilogy – very sentimental, almost soppy. Where Nightcrawler is cold and precise in its aims and vision, Interstellar is all encompassing, and flails a little because of this. The sentimentality – between Cooper and his children, as well as Anne Hathaway’s character, can be clichéd at times. There are also various unanswered questions and plot holes.
However, with a film that tackles themes of space/time travel, human extinction, love and self-sacrifice, it is my opinion that Nolan deserves some slack. Like the best of us, the film is ambitious and loveable, and that is what makes it utterly human. While Nightcrawler will leave you feeling dirty and cynical and Interstellar inspired and uplifted, both films are not only exhilarating for their entirety, they also make you think. Both veterans such as Nolan and newcomers like Gilroy are vital to intelligent cinema and the ability to entertain and inspire, inform and provoke, and it is my hope that both directors keep producing such quality work in the future.
October 22, 2014 § Leave a comment
That line is an invisible razor edge. There is an innate value in being able to examine our thought processes, beliefs and actions in a weird sort of detached ‘consciousness observing consciousness’ way (mindfulness, anyone?). We can reason against harmful and illogical thought patterns, and limit self-destructive behaviour. In fact, philosophy itself is based upon inquiry and examination.
However, we’ve all, I’m sure, experienced how easy it is to fall into self-criticism. We criticise ourselves for the actions we take or don’t, for what we lack – for our weaknesses. Why, then, do we spend such a huge chunk of our time in this self-critical state, rather than a productive, self-examining one?
Our self-perception is formed from an early age. Factors such as the amount and quality of maternal attention during childhood to negative/positive reinforcement from peers all determine how we perceive ourselves. Self-perception is complicated, and is formed over years, mainly in response to stimuli in one’s environment. We often end up treating ourselves as we’d imagine we deserve to be treated. It is no wonder, then, that self-criticism and condemnation are linked with anxiety, low self-esteem and depression.
The biggest enemies of willpower: temptation, self-criticism, and stress. (…) these three skills —self-awareness, self-care, and remembering what matter most— are the foundation for self-control. –The Willpower Instinct, Kelly McGonigal
Self-criticism is inherently an evolved survival tool. In an inhospitable environment, where survival itself meant success, criticising mistakes / missed opportunities (or whatever the negative element might be) ensured a higher chance of success and therefore procreation in the future. However, in an era where the survival ‘basics’ (shelter/food/air/water) are met for most of us in the Western world, these evolutionary traits are defunct. Sadly, however, our brains haven’t evolved as quickly as our societies and their respective technologies.
This is where we have to smarten up. If you find yourself having trouble with self-criticism, there are methods that you can use to deal with it. Ben Martin from PsychCentral has a good article on combating what he calls ‘negative self talk’. These steps, involving logic and reasoning against illogical thoughts and fears, can be found in a wide spectrum of practices, from mindfulness to cognitive behavioural therapy. They’re tried and tested, and simply need consistency in application to work.
Until you make the unconscious conscious,
it will direct your life and you will call it fate –Carl Jung
Self-reflection and examination, on the other hand, is both beautiful and useful. Urban Lifestyle Blog have a relevant article about self-reflection as part of a modern lifestyle. It’s a productive habit that allows you to process your thoughts, emotions and experiences, and potentially learn a lot from them. We spend so much time paying attention to external variables in our lives (careers, families, hobbies). If we spent a little of that time becoming more aware of the way we perceive ourselves and our thoughts, we’d be better off for it.