Thursday, April 29, 2021

Book Review: The Quick Fix by Jesse Singal


As someone who has been a critic of many of the excesses and science fiction currently present in clinical psychology, psychiatry, and psychotherapy, I have often been frustrated by how little attention has been paid in these professions to the problems that I bring up. Yeah, I know, awwww, poor me, people won’t listen to me. But aside from my narcissistic injury, a lot of patients are receiving substandard care due to the alignment of the forces described in the masthead of my blog.

This excellent and entertaining book by Singal tackles similar issues that have recently been plaguing experimental and social psychology. For those who don’t know, the field of academic psychology is actually two separate fields: clinical psychology, which deals with psychotherapy and other treatments for people with psychological problems, and experimental psychology, which studies both normal and abnormal psychology from an academic perspective. Interestingly, these two branches of the academic discipline are often very critical of each other, and members often refuse to communicate with one another.

Singal’s focus is on what he clearly shows is an explosion of overly-simplified ideas about how to change widespread social behavior, which have been widely taken up by politicians, corporations and the media and praised in TED talks, but which are often backed by very weak and inconsistent evidence that was obtained by highly suspect means and invalid experimental designs. 

Unfortunately, quick fixes have a strong appeal to human beings who are often averse to complicated formulations that look at the wide variety of different influences on human beings that results in their overall behavioral tendencies.

He tackles such widely-believed ideas as the importance of self esteem, fear of so-called “super-predators,” and the belief that societal forces like sexism and racism can be defeated by victims who act as if they were powerful, have grit, or think positively. He looks at notions of “implicit bias” that corporations have been using to train their employees to make themselves feel better about decreasing racism and sexism in their midst—without actually doing anything about the explicit biases which are really at the heart of the problem. Let’s focus on repairing individuals without any reference to the collective forces with which they are faced! Gee, sounds a lot like my criticism of the current treatment of patients with personality disorders.

He brings up, often in very humorous ways,  frequently ignored issues that are widespread in psychological research such as self-report bias, third variables that aren’t even considered, the fundamental attribution error (familiar to my readers), the file drawer effect (studies which come out negative are not reported so that the number of positive studies is misleading), the questionable use of p values, overgeneralizing by ignoring the context in which a research project was done, range restriction in statistics, the “jangle” fallacy (calling the same phenomenon by different names),  social desirability considerations in subject self-report, hypothesizing after results are known to explain away seemingly contradictory results (“HARKing”), the lack of replication in findings, and “bullet point” bias (oversimplification of complex situations).

Wow! Highly recommended.

1 comment:

  1. As an aside, some research from the field of cultural psychology indicates that the fundamental attribution error may be an artifact of Western culture (Asians or "Easterners" have the tendency to do the reverse, over-emphasize contextual factors).