Psychologists React to Robin Williams’ Death

Robin Williams

Shock and Sadness

How has the mental health community reacted to Robin Williams’ suicide? I’ve been reflecting on my own reaction as well as reading blog posts and news articles from other mental health professionals. Here’s my take on what we’re thinking.

Like everyone else, mental health professionals found themselves saddened and speechless at Williams’ loss. He was so unique and gave so much. He will be so missed.

But Why Couldn’t He Have…

It’s so natural for us to think, “But he was rich and famous – couldn’t he have brought himself out of this?”. There are two things we need to understand here:

Hedonic Adaptation – the term to describe the fact that we all get used to what we have. Almost all of us think that if we had more money, a new car, or more X, Y or Z we would be happier. And maybe, for a little while, we would. But we don’t stay delirious forever.Our minds adapt and whatever our current state soon becomes the daily grind. In the civilized world we already have more than most people. You probably already have more money and more stuff (cars, smartphones, TVs, etc.) than you had 10 years ago. Bet you’ve gotten used to it. Robin Williams had been famous for 30+ years. I’m sure he was used to it. I doubt it gave him the kind of joy we imagine it would give us. We are quite poor at what we call “emotional forecasting“: we think we’ll feel a certain way in the future, but we’re usually wrong.
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Ep 224 (Video): If Freud Worked Tech Support

PlayPlay

A humorous way to learn about the Freudian defense mechanisms (actually elaborated by Anna Freud) of Displacement, Denial, Sublimation, Reaction Formation, and Projection. A little dream analysis thrown in. Who knows? Maybe Freud would have been good at tech support…(technically, this is a video version of episode 209).

Ep 223: Little Albert’s Real Identity – Time to Rewrite the Textbooks

[This] dispute … has been settled to the satisfaction of all neutral observers from journal editors to manuscript reviewers to … textbook authors who have seen our articles. The argument is settled…..I would turn to the question of why it took the field of psychology 5+ years to get this sorted out.”

What was the name of that baby in John Watson‘s famous videos in which he attempts to demonstrate that fears can be acquired through conditioning (pairing a loud noise with a furry animal)? A few years ago we were presented with information indicating that a boy named Douglas Merrite was the true identity of “Little Albert“. The data looked pretty convincing at that time. However, a few pieces of that data simply did not fit together for researchers Nancy Digdon, Russell Powell and Ben Harris.
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Ep 222: How To Remember Jokes

How to Remember Jokes

Mnemonic image for remembering 4 jokes: dead cat, flipping coins, toast and ice cream, twins. How many times have you wanted to remember a joke at a party but you just can’t? Well, there IS a way to remember jokes and I have got 4 jokes for you along with a mnemonic to help you remember all 4 of them. I challenge you to listen to these 4 jokes, then listen to and picture my mnemonic images. Then wait a little while and go through the mnemonic image and I guarantee you’ll remember all 4 jokes.

Remembering anything for more than a few minutes requires not only repetition, but also something else that will make the to-be-remembered thing stick in your head. That thing can be a mnemonic device. In this episode I’ll use a combination of the keyword technique, crazy images and a modified approach to the method of loci. I’ll use your body to help you remember these jokes. Let’s have some fun.

Ep 221: The Facebook Experiment: Reaction from Psychologists

Facebook Experiment on Social Contagion

Facebook Experiment on Social ContagionYou may have heard that Facebook manipulated the content of user’s New Feeds during January of 2012 so that some users saw more positive posts than others, which other Facebook users saw more negative posts. They interpret this as an indication of Social Contagion on a massive scale (almost 700,000 Facebook users were part of the study). How did this affect these users? Did those who say negative posts become more negative and vice versa? The answer is that the research indicates that some of them – though a very, very few of them – did subsequently write posts that were similar to the ones that saw on their News Feed. How big of an effect is this? Is it unethical? Does agreeing to Facebook’s Terms of Use constitute “informed consent“. I examine these questions in this episode of The Psych Files.
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220: PsycExplorer Roundup: More Evidence That Animals Think and Feel

imageschicken_web.png

In episode 217 I asked you to be frank with yourself: Does your animal really think? It’s easy to believe they do, but if you’re going to study this issue scientifically you have to eliminate our human tendency to anthropomorphize – to want to believe that animal actions are motivated by internal states.

Here’s a roundup of a few articles I found in my PsycExplorer app (PsycExplorerHD for iPad) which show exactly what psychologists are doing to find out what exactly is going on (if anything…) in the minds of dogs, cats, rats, chickens and yes fruit flies. Are they really thinking in there? Well, maybe so. These examples certainly convinced me, although it might all depend on what you mean by “thinking” and “feeling”. [Read more…]

Ep 219: Mental Health Professionals: Why So Liberal?

Surveys find that psychologists tend to align themselves with a liberal political orientation. Why is that? Are liberal-minded people drawn to human service professions or is there something about working in human services that causes people to become more liberal in their political views? In this episode I propose a few ideas that I think explains why mental health professionals tend to be on the liberal side of the political spectrum. I invite your constructive feedback on these suggestions.
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Ep 218: Good News for Older Folks

Rena and Roy on their wedding day

Guess what? There are a good number of positives to growing older. Let’s put aside all the negative stereotypes of older folks and realize that they can demonstrate a surprising level of “coolness” about life. There’s a certain perspective you get when you’re older that’s enviable. Older folks have passed many of life’s challenges and they can look back with satisfaction. But they also can have a surprising nonchalance about the challenges they face which we – as younger people – often think would make us terribly unhappy. Let’s take another look at aging and see it from a different light. [Read more…]

Psychology Tip to Help You Get More Tips

Do you have a tip jar at work? Here’s one way to use a little psychology to increase the likelihood that customers will put a little money in there:

  • Set out not one but two tip jars
  • Label the jars with two competing themes

Okay, so what do I mean by “competing themes”? What you want to do is to motivate people to drop in a little (or a lot of course) money by tapping into their social identities. For example, if you know that there is a natural rivalry between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox (and especially if there is a game between them coming up), label one tip jar Yankees and the other Red Sox (or better yet, print out an image of their logos and tape them to the jars). People want their team to win. It makes us feel good. Here are some examples…
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Ep 217: Let’s Be Honest: Is Your Dog Really Intelligent?

Are Dogs (or Cats) Really Smart?

Are Dogs (or Cats) Really Smart?It’s easy to find videos on the web of animals showing what appears to be some pretty smart behavior. But is it really “smarts”? How can you tell? In this episode I’ll point out examples that look like intelligence but probably aren’t – as well as an example of animal behavior that is really hard to dismiss as anything but “smarts”. In doing so we’ll talk about the behavioral principle of “chaining” – the method by which you can get animals – and humans – to display some pretty sophisticated and complex behavior as the result of reinforcement, prompts and cues.
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