Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hate this post, please

Unhappy? Stop thinking so much.

A University of Texas psychologist says it appears that people have better opinions of themselves if they don't use their higher brain functions.

That may explain why demagogues always seem so smug and self-satisfied.

Assistant professor Jennifer Beer has some good news: "In healthy people, the more you activate a portion of your frontal lobes, the more accurate your view of yourself is; and some bad: "And the more you view yourself as desirable or better than your peers, the less you use those lobes."

Before you try to turn the logic around (like I did to start this piece), i.e. if you're so smug, you must be wrong about something, that's not what the results say. Also, 20 subjects is a teaser; something like a grant proposal for a larger study. It would be interesting to see studies in areas other than self-comparison.

Then again, maybe pointy-heads, intellectuals and other assorted geeks really aren't as good as everybody else.

Fear the fear

I'd be cautious about drawing too many conclusions from studies like that because the are based on self-reporting. Less cautiously, I'd say the press release headline Fear of anxiety linked to depression in above-average worriers is the only conclusion to be drawn from the studied silliness it promotes.

The authors recruited 94 above-average worriers and found that "Statistical analyses of questionnaire responses showed that anxiety sensitivity, after controlling for worry and generalized anxiety symptoms in above-average worriers, significantly predicted depression symptoms."

Forgive them, for they are educators and psychologists, but that's a fancy way of saying that people who are afraid of their depression ("fear of cognitive dyscontrol") and don't want it to show ("fear of publically observable anxiety symptoms") are different from other worriers. Don't those sound more like symptoms than "predictors"?

Now, I don't want to make light of the serious problems of depression and anxiety disorder. But the authors of this study? Pah, humbug.

Are we not men?

It probably won't matter to our descendants anyway, they will probably be more depressed even if they don't think about it too much. Biologist Michael Lynch tells us we've gotten too successful as a species for natural selection to do its dirty work.

He says harmful genes are building up in each succeeding generation "with significant incapacitation at the morphological, physiological, and neurobiological levels." That theory has been around for decades, but Lynch puts some numbers together to show how fast it's happening. At least, I think he does. Interested, I'm still too cheap to drop ten bucks on reading the original paper.

This is important stuff: there are still misguided believers in eugenics among us, and the debate over genetic engineering is just beginning. There are implications for health care, assisted suicide and the abortion debate. That's just off the top of my head.

At least Carl Zimmer doesn't fall into the trap of problematic statistics by predicting some improbable dollar cost.

Is that a fact?

It's nice to be reminded that the 'expert' saying x proposal will cost y dollars is probably making more assumptions than a credit-card user. Those 'statistics' are often more comfort food-for-thought than mental nutrition.

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