Althouse | category: psychology



an endless succession of beans and nuts.

"Appropriately titled 'Tightness-Looseness Across the 50 United States,' the study calculated a catalog of measures for each state..."

"... including the incidence of natural disasters, disease prevalence, residents’ levels of openness and conscientiousness, drug and alcohol use, homelessness and incarceration rates.... The South dominated the tight states: Mississippi, Alabama Arkansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, South Carolina and North Carolina. With two exceptions — Nevada and Hawaii — states in New England and on the West Coast were the loosest: California, Oregon, Washington, Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont...."

In a 2019 interview, [psychprof Michele J.] Gelfand said that 
Some groups have much stronger norms than others; they’re tight. Others have much weaker norms; they’re loose. Of course, all cultures have areas in which they are tight and loose — but cultures vary in the degree to which they emphasize norms and compliance with them. 
Cultural differences, Gelfand continued, “have a certain logic — a rationale that makes good sense,” noting that “cultures that have threats need rules to coordinate to survive (think about how incredibly coordinated Japan is in response to natural disasters). But cultures that don’t have a lot of threat can afford to be more permissive and loose.”

The researcher is choosing which things to inspect for tightness or looseness. What if you had to argue that California and Oregon were "tight"? You'd just identify some areas of ideology about which leftish folk are harshly disciplinarian. 

The tight-loose concept, Gelfand argued, is an important framework to understand the rise of President Donald Trump and other leaders in Poland, Hungary, Italy, and France, among others. The gist is this: when people perceive threat — whether real or imagined, they want strong rules and autocratic leaders to help them survive.

I'd say we need to watch out for autocrats, but if you think they're all coming from the right, you're going to get blindsided. 

My research has found that within minutes of exposing study participants to false information about terrorist incidents, overpopulation, pathogen outbreaks and natural disasters, their minds tightened. They wanted stronger rules and punishments.

"Tight" is a confusing word. It could describe orderliness and cool practicality. I think of a "tight ship." But it could imply rigidity and fear of change. Why was "tight" ever used for "drunk"? "Loose" is confusing too. Is it relaxed and creative or lazy and disorganized? I wrote that before reading this:

In her book, Gelfand writes that tightness encourages conscientiousness, social order and self-control on the plus side, along with close-mindedness, conventional thinking and cultural inertia on the minus side. Looseness, Gelfand posits, fosters tolerance, creativity and adaptability, along with such liabilities as social disorder, a lack of coordination and impulsive behavior.

So, Gelfand embraces the confusingness. We need a balance of loose and tight, apparently — like yin and yang.

Edsall poses the question:

If liberalism and conservatism have historically played a complementary role, each checking the other to constrain extremism, why are the left and right so destructively hostile to each other now, and why is the contemporary political system so polarized?

Psychprof Laura Niemi answered:

Unlike liberals, conservatives strongly endorse the binding moral values aimed at protecting groups and relationships. They judge transgressions involving personal and national betrayal, disobedience to authority, and disgusting or impure acts such as sexually or spiritually unchaste behavior, as morally relevant and wrong... [Liberals stress] caring, kindness, fairness and rights — known among scholars as “individualizing values” — while conservatives focus more on loyalty, hierarchy, deference to authority, sanctity and a higher standard of disgust, known as “binding values.”

The left supports individualism? The left goes for fairness and rights? I think that's only because you are choosing where to look and your choice is based on what you want to see. 

"The via about recognizing that when you don’t know the right way forward, you might succeed by focusing on what you know to be wrong...."

"For example, after a weekend at the beach with your family, you can probably list the irritations far more easily than the pleasant aspects, even if on balance the trip was all right.... When you get home, you’ll have a list of things you experienced, and you can easily name the ones you didn’t like and don’t want to repeat next time (for example, bringing your brother-in-law). In contrast, the things you might add (such as a different guest, who, you hope, won’t get arrested) are hypothetical. Subtractive knowledge is practically guaranteed to lead to improvement, but additive knowledge is often just a guess. "

This is consistent with my adage Better than nothing is a high standard. And the famous saying Less is more

Brooks assures us that following the negative way does not make you a "negative person." I feel sorry for anyone who's governed by the fear of negativity. How cluttered your world must be!  

I'm excerpting from this article, so let me assure you that Brooks covers the religious aspect of the via negativa, which is fantastically important. Get more info about that at "Apophatic theology" (Wikipedia). 

To continue excerpting:
Write down the things you do out of habit or obligation, even though they lower your spirits. Perhaps you’ll resolve to avoid a few toxic friends.... After a relationship ends, write down a list of all the dimensions of your romance that were problematic, and that you should avoid in the future if possible. 
Be very specific, such as “Do not get a pet together” or “Do not move into his van.”...

Ha ha ha. I hope your list is that funny.

The via negativa is also useful for reviving an existing romance that isn’t going so well. If that’s the case for you and your beloved, sit down together and ask yourselves, “What are we doing that is making us unhappy?” Then resolve together to chip away the detritus harming your relationship and find a much better one within the old shell.

This sounds like the old story of how Michelangelo made a sculpture: "You Just Chip Away Everything That Doesn’t Look Like David" (Quote Investigator).

And it reminds me of an old expression that I haven't heard in a long time: Let's not and say we did.


"In the middle of one night eight years ago, when my daughter was an infant, I was nursing her on our living-room sofa when a hulking blur loomed in the corner of my eye."

"I turned toward the nursery, adjacent to the living room, and saw, for a single billowing moment, a giant floating baby—a kind of Mylar-balloon version of my own baby—hovering in the doorframe. I knew it wasn’t real, yet there it was. Two years later... holding my infant son, I felt a hard yet yielding pressure just below my shoulder blades.... A few nights later in that room, I sensed a hand on my shoulder that wasn’t there. A ghost, or something like a ghost, was in the room with us. I felt this to be true, and I knew it was not true.... When both of my children were infants, the same image flashed inside my eyes several times a day: that by some spasm or seizure or uncontrollable urge I would throw the baby against a wall. The image was blurry, monochrome, sped-up, a squiggly pencil animation that instantly erased itself. Outside of the flash, I felt no fear that I would actually hurt my child. But I was frightened and ashamed.... The vast majority of new mothers have unwanted thoughts about their infant being harmed...."

"Greg [Lukianoff] hypothesized that if colleges supported the use of these cognitive distortions, rather than teaching students skills of critical thinking (which is basically what CBT is), then..."

"... this could cause students to become depressed. Greg feared that colleges were performing reverse CBT. I thought the idea was brilliant because I had just begun to see these new ways of thinking among some students at NYU. I volunteered to help Greg write it up, and in August 2015 our essay appeared in The Atlantic with the title: 'The Coddling of the American Mind.' Greg did not like that title; his original suggestion was 'Arguing Towards Misery: How Campuses Teach Cognitive Distortions.' He wanted to put the reverse CBT hypothesis in the title. After our essay came out, things on campus got much worse...."

I'm reading "Why the Mental Health of Liberal Girls Sank First and Fastest/Evidence for Lukianoff’s reverse CBT hypothesis," by Jonathan Haidt.

Let me add the radical feminist hypothesis: The subordination of women is the age-old way of the world, and we ought to suspect that any new efforts to protect or help women are new mechanisms of subordination.

"One agency, which the officials did not name, determined that it was 'unlikely' that a foreign actor was at fault, a slightly less emphatic finding..."

"... that did not appreciably change the consensus. One agency abstained in its conclusion regarding a foreign actor. But when asked, no agency dissented from the conclusion that a foreign actor did not cause the symptoms, one of the intelligence officials said.... 'There was nothing,' the official said. This person added that there was no intelligence that foreign leaders, including in Russia, had any knowledge of or had authorized an attack on U.S. personnel that could explain the symptoms."

I'm reading "'Havana syndrome' not caused by energy weapon or foreign adversary, intelligence review finds/After a years-long assessment, five U.S. intelligence agencies conclude it is 'very unlikely' an enemy wielding a secret weapon was behind the mysterious ailment" (WaPo).

Some attempts to allay suspicion stimulate suspicion. I wonder what else does "not appreciably change the consensus." I remember when "consensus" used to feel reassuring.

The intelligence assessment also examined whether an adversary possessed a device capable of using energy to cause the reported symptoms. Of the seven agencies, five determined that it was “very unlikely,” while the other two said it was “unlikely.”

But what did cause the symptoms? Is every possible cause is unlikely? If so, the unlikely causes remain in play, because something caused them.

“There are multiple possible explanations for the apparent discrepancy between the failure to identify a malefactor and the plausibility of directed energy as a mechanism. One should not necessarily discount the latter,” [said David Relman, who headed a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine panel that reached a similar conclusion]....

Representatives and lawyers for people suffering with symptoms lambasted the new report as incomplete and opaque....

[T]he final intelligence report found that medical experts could not attribute the symptoms to an external cause separate from a preexisting condition or environmental factors, including conditions such as clogged air ducts in office buildings that could cause headaches, the officials aid.... 
Secretary of State Antony Blinken... has long doubted that personnel are suffering from mass hysteria or some psychogenic event, officials have said. Previous investigations, notably by the FBI, had raised the possibility that the symptoms had a psychological origin, not a physical one, outraging many sufferers who felt their pain had been marginalized and their claims not taken seriously by medical personnel....

So it seems the real conclusion is that it's a psychological problem, but they're afraid to say it directly. Look what happened to Spratlen:

[In 2021], the State Department’s top official overseeing cases, Ambassador Pamela Spratlen, left her position after six months amid calls for her resignation. Spratlen had held a teleconference with sufferers who asked about the FBI study that determined that the symptoms were psychogenic.

It seems they've retreated to tactfulness, but it stirs up suspicion that they are hiding something. I'm giving this post my "propaganda" tag, because that's what this is, isn't it? Not very effective propaganda, but maybe it's the best they can do.

Let's read that NYT article from 1963, "Growth of Overt Homosexuality In City Provokes Wide Concern."

I found this article because it was cited in that open letter to the NYT that we were talking about yesterday. The letter criticized the NYT for its recent approach to transgenderism, but it also went back into the archive:

In 1963, the New York Times published a front⁠-⁠page story with the title “Growth of Overt Homosexuality in City Provokes Wide Concern,” which stated that homosexuals saw their own sexuality as “an inborn, incurable disease”—one that scientists, the Times announced, now thought could be “cured.”

I was curious about those scientists. But it turns out there's much, much more in that 1963 article, one of the most interesting and complicated newspaper articles I have ever read. The article begins on the front page of the December 17, 1963 issue. That is, it's 25 days after the assassination of JFK.

What was this article really trying to say? We're told NYC has what is probably "the greatest homosexual population in the world," which I take to mean the largest number, though I bet it was true that this was "the greatest homosexual population in the world" in the other sense of the word "great." The article is full of material that nudges the reader to conclude that the "problem of homosexuality" isn't a proper matter for criminal law enforcement. The police commissioner is quoted saying it's "medical and sociological in nature." 

A gay male reader could easily find the parts of the article that encourage him to move to New York City. Choose "an occupation in which his clique is predominant," and he "can shape for himself a life lived almost exclusively in an inverted world from which the rough, unsympathetic edges of straight society can be almost totally excluded." 

The article contrasts the opinions of the medical experts with the activists:

Two conflicting viewpoints converge today to overcome the silence and promote public discussion.

The first is the organized homophile movement — a minority of militant homosexuals that is openly agitating for removal of legal, social and cultural discriminations against sexual inverts.

Fundamental to this aim is the concept that homosexuality is an incurable, congenital disorder (this is disputed by the bulk of the scientific evidence) and that homosexuals should be treated by an increasingly tolerant society as just another minority.

This view is challenged by a second group, the analytical psychiatrists, who advocate an end to what it calls a head-in-sand approach to homosexuality.

They have what they consider to be overwhelming evidence that homosexuals are created — generally by ill-adjusted parents —  not born. 
They assert that homosexuality can be cured by sophisticated analytical and therapeutic techniques. 
More significantly, the weight of the most recent findings suggests that public discussion of the nature of these parental misdeeds and attitudes that tend to foster homosexual development of children could improve family environments and reduced the incidence of sexual inversion. 

We're told of a 9-year study of gay men in psychoanalysis which found, in almost all cases, "some combination of what they termed a 'close-binding, intimate' mother and/or a hostile, detached or unrespected father, or other aberrations."

The "explicitly hostile" father came in for special blame, and researchers concluded that "a constructive, supportive, warmly related father precludes the possibility of a homosexual son; he acts as a neutralizing, protective agent should the mother make seductive or close-binding attempts."

The researchers claimed that 27% of their patients "achieved a heterosexual orientation." They were "firmly convinced that psychoanalysts may well orient themselves to a heterosexual objective in treating homosexual patients."

The article ends with the opinion of gay men as reported by a young writer named Randolfe Wicker. He asked 300 homosexuals to answer two questions: "If you and a son would you want him to be homosexual?" and "If a quick, easy cure were available, would you take it?"

Only 2% of the men said yes to the first question. But 97% said they would not take the "quick, easy cure"!

That's how the article ends. There's plenty in this article to offend and outrage people of today, 60 years distant from that historical era. But I wouldn't be surprised if the article writer was himself gay, thought the psychoanalysts were full of it, and intended to get out the message that gay men can have a good and satisfying life if they move to New York City. 

That headline — "Growth of Overt Homosexuality In City Provokes Wide Concern" — really means gay men ought to concern themselves with moving to New York City. 


These days, Randolfe Wicker is 85. You can read about him here, in Wikipedia. Here he is on the Les Crane show in 1964: 

"Once I’d finished this brief summary of my impostor syndrome... my dinner companion, another white female academic, replied curtly, 'That’s such a white-lady thing to say.'"

Writes Leslie Jamison, in "Why Everyone Feels Like They’re Faking It/The concept of Impostor Syndrome has become ubiquitous. Critics, and even the idea’s originators, question its value" (The New Yorker).
In the wake of her comment, the table quieted a bit as people sensed—the way a constellation of strangers often can—the presence of some minor friction. My seatmate and I turned to the only woman of color at the table, a Black professor, so that she could, presumably, tell us what to think about the whiteness of impostor syndrome....

Yikes. You're not supposed to do that! Bad etiquette! 

... though perhaps there were things she wanted to do (like finish eating dinner) more than she wanted to mediate a spat between two white ladies about whether we were saying white-lady things or not. She graciously explained that she didn’t particularly identify with the experience. She hadn’t often felt like an impostor, because she had more frequently found herself in situations where her competence or intelligence had been underestimated than in ones where it was taken for granted. 
In the years since then, I’ve heard many women of color—friends, colleagues, students, and people I’ve interviewed on the subject—articulate some version of this sentiment. Lisa Factora-Borchers, a Filipinx American author...


... and activist, told me, “Whenever I’d hear white friends talk about impostor syndrome, I’d wonder, How can you think you’re an impostor when every mold was made for you? When you see mirror reflections of yourself everywhere, and versions of what your success might look like?”


"My channel was as raw and honest as I would have been in my diary. That’s part of the culture."

"Being known as you are — and praised for it — lures in those of us with a deep desire to be seen. But another part of the culture is to make yourself into a product and figure out how to sell that product. Success is measured in views and subscriber counts, visible to all. The numbers feel like an adrenaline shot to your self-esteem.... When done right, YouTube can quickly become a lucrative career. But maintaining it is a delicate balancing act... In 2018, I impulsively released a video about my struggle with burnout.... [I]t brought me even more attention.... I kept making videos.... I was entering adulthood and trying to live my childhood dream, but now, to be 'authentic,' I had to be the product I had long been posting online, as opposed to the person I was growing up to be.... Changing an online persona is something at which few have been successful.... Staying unchanged brings its own challenges — stagnancy, inauthenticity, burnout.... But to those who will walk the path I did, I hope you will learn... [to] use these platforms to open opportunities, but not at the cost of giving all of yourself away."

From "YouTube Gave Me Everything. Then I Grew Up" by Elle Mills (NYT).

Here's that 2018 video:   

I started blogging when I was 53 — already way beyond grown up — and I've continued for 19 years, with never anything that felt like burnout. I get up in the morning feeling good about getting to live freely in writing on my little patch of social media. Because so much of my life is in the past, what I have to say is only partially relevant to a young person starting out, but, for what it's worth, I offer this insight into how to live happily with the exposure of social media, composed 5 years ago. I was able to find it because it contained the word "blinds." I have always pictured blogging with the metaphor of Venetian blinds. I get to adjust the slats continually and control how much or how little of me is on view.

January 14, 2018

All right... time to start Year 15.

It was 14 years ago today that I opened the blinds on this little window into my head. I didn't know who would peek in, only that I had made it possible to see the things I let show, and the sheer possibility felt incredibly exciting and almost too frightening.

As I said in the second post on that first day, January 14, 2004:
I had just emailed [a blogging colleague] about my admiration for her and my own timidity: "I'll have to think about getting up the nerve to do this sort of thing. It seems if you're going to do it, you need to become somewhat chatty and revealing, which is a strange thing to do to the entire world." Then it seemed altogether too lame not to go ahead and start the blog.
Having set aside my lifelong timidity, I got on the blog ride that let me see what I thought about everything that happened — including things that happened to me — for 14 years. I got to pick what I genuinely felt like talking about and to say only what I wanted to say...

I write for the flow — the sheer intrinsic pleasure of unfiltered writing. I love having readers, but only if you like this sort of thing. Why else would you be here?....

It's fine if you're reading because I annoy you and you want to fight about it in the comments. The main thing I wanted in going into law teaching was to have more vibrant conversation than I'd experienced in law school, and what drew me into the blog was a desire to get into discussions that in real life were muffled and suppressed.

The desire still rages, so onward to Year 15.

"I genuinely wake up most mornings convinced I look great. I feel thin, fit, good looking and ready to take on the day."

"And untrue though this may be, I see no flaws, imagined or otherwise, to ruin the mood. If that counts as 'reverse body dysmorphia,' then that might be what I’ve got. I look pretty much the same as I did 20 years ago, sometimes even better as I spent most of my 30s either pregnant, covered in baby sick and/or sleep deprived to the point of madness.... Among my friends who are not lucky enough to suffer from reverse body dysmorphia I see two main tendencies: one is to surrender unconditionally, abandoning their former sense of style, gaining weight, wearing 'comfortable' clothes and relegating frivolities such as nail varnish and heels to a dim and distant past. The other is to panic and go for radical solutions that fool nobody, such as facelifts, often resulting in them looking like rather unsettling versions of Madonna.... Should this reverse dysmorphia become a disorder all of its own?... [W]hy on earth shouldn’t you be the best version of yourself and own that glorious self-image until they drag you out kicking and screaming?... As the poet T.S. Eliot summed up: 'Humankind cannot bear too much reality.'"

Writes Helena Frith Powell (at her own website).

I found that because — go to the link to see — it contains the phrase "body eumorphia," an unusual phrase that I'd arrived at independently after stumbling into the New York Post headline, "Sam Smith on finally having the 'opposite' of body dysmorphia: ' look fabulous.'"

Anyone trying to think of "the opposite of body dysmorphia" ought to independently coin the term "body eumorphia," so why is it such a rare term? Are people refraining from using it because they are afraid of stoking a new kind of delusion?

"Eumorphia" is not in the OED, but "eu-" is the opposite of "dys-'" and "dysmorphia" is in the OED, though it's quite recent. Meaning physical deformity, it's been around since the mid-19th century, but as a psychiatric term, it only goes back to 1994. That surprised me. Here's the oldest appearance in print:

1994    J. R. Marshall Social Phobia vii. 129 People with body dysmorphia do not consider their anxiety and concern to be inappropriate, and they do not experience the relief that is characteristic for socially phobic people when they are finally alone.

"... I spend a lot of time thoughtless, just living life. At the same time, whenever I speak, ideas condense out of the mental cloud...."

"My head isn’t entirely word-free; like many people, I occasionally talk to myself in an inner monologue. (Remember the milk! Ten more reps!) On the whole, though, silence reigns. Blankness, too: I see hardly any visual images, rarely picturing things, people, or places. Thinking happens as a kind of pressure behind my eyes, but I need to talk out loud in order to complete most of my thoughts. My wife, consequently, is the other half of my brain. If no interlocutor is available, I write. When that fails, I pace my empty house, muttering.... My minimalist mental theatre has shaped my life.... I’m scarcely alone in having a mental 'style,' or believing I do. Ask someone how she thinks and you might learn that she talks to herself silently, or cogitates visually, or moves through mental space by traversing physical space...."

Writes Joshua Rothman, in "How Should We Think About Our Different Styles of Thinking?Some people say their thought takes place in images, some in words. But our mental processes are more mysterious than we realize" (The New Yorker).

Rothman quotes questions — from psychologist Linda Silverman — that test whether you're a visual thinker (but don't seem to test whether you are a verbal thinker):

Do you think mainly in pictures instead of words?

Do you know things without being able to explain how or why?

Do you remember what you see and forget what you hear?

Can you visualize objects from different perspectives?

Would you rather read a map than follow verbal directions? 

Rothman answered "no" to almost all of that.

Is it better to be a visual thinker?

The imagistic minds in [Temple Grandin's] “Visual Thinking” can seem glamorous compared with the verbal ones depicted in “Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It,” by Ethan Kross, a psychologist and neuroscientist who teaches at the University of Michigan. Kross is interested in what’s known as the phonological loop—a neural system, consisting of an “inner ear” and an “inner voice,” that serves as a “clearinghouse for everything related to words that occurs around us in the present.”

If Grandin’s visual thinkers are attending Cirque du Soleil, then Kross’s verbal thinkers are stuck at an Off Broadway one-man show. It’s just one long monologue.

Ha ha. Great metaphor! Didn't Rothman need to be a somewhat of a visual thinker to picture that? Or maybe he didn't picture it. He just thought it in words... or thought nothing, but just typed those words. 

Frankly, I know the feeling! I don't have much of a voice in my head or any clear pictures, but I can come up with a lot of material, quite flowingly, if I just start talking or writing. "Ideas condense out of the mental cloud" — that makes sense to me. And, again, doesn't that seem quite visual, thoughts like precipitation from the mental state that seems like a cloud?

Rothman describes research by Russell T. Hurburt, who used a beeping recording device to get people to say what was just going on in their head. Among the categories of thinkers, he found some who engaged in “unsymbolized thinking”:

They often have “an explicit, differentiated thought that does not include the experience of words, images, or any other symbols.” Reading this description a few years ago, I felt at last that I had a term that described my mind: it’s not “empty”; my thoughts are just unsymbolized.

But Hurlburt’s work suggests that it’s a mistake to ascribe to oneself a definitive cast of thought. Most people, he’s found, don’t actually know how they think; asked to describe their minds pre-beeper, they are often wildly off the mark about what they’ll report post-beeper.

They’re prone to make “faux generalizations”—groundless assertions about how they think. It’s easy for me to assume that most of my thinking is unsymbolized. But how closely have I examined it?

And, Rothman recognizes, to examine "it" is to generate new thoughts. You can never really look at it at all... look at it... listen to it... unsymbolically grok it it... whatever it is you're doing.


"Grok" is my paraphrase. The word — which I think is perfect — does not appear in the article. I've blogged "grok" before, so I won't expatiate on it this time. I'll just make a tag for it and add it retrospectively: here. This is the 6th post with that tag, which pleases me more than makes any sense.

"The via about recognizing that when you don’t know the right way forward, you might succeed by focusing on what you know to be wrong...."Let's read that NYT article from 1963, "Growth of Overt Homosexuality In City Provokes Wide Concern.""My channel was as raw and honest as I would have been in my diary. That’s part of the culture."

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