Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rejection, Psychology, and Hidden Assumption

Psychology really needs to examine the assumption that they can generalize these single-impulse* type experiments to chronic or acute cases in real life. Basically, they need to actually investigate how and if these things are continuous. That, when exposed to a small amount of rejection, people become more aggressive, and therefore when exposed to a large amount of rejection or to continuous rejection, the reaction is the same.

*(Using the term like physicists do.)

They need to understand it, because occasionally there are apparent phase-changes in psychology. From what I've read of experiments linking video games and violence, the methodology is to have them play games and then let them at a human-shaped punching bag, and they found that players of aggressive games were more aggressive with the bag. The problem is the bag is still a game, which turns the results from 'Oh no!' to 'No shit!' The studies tell us nothing about the link between video game violence and real world violence, and the same flaws apply to links between TV and real violence.

I am reminded of the cross-examination study of rat navigation, where the original scientists basically concluded that the rats had ESP, but after carefully eliminating something like a dozen factors, the cross-examining scientist finally realized they were navigating by listening to the sound the floor made when they walked on it. (The experiment originally had something to do with changing the walls and letting the rats run it again. The scientists were baffled because they couldn't properly fool the rats.) He countered this by covering the floor with sand, muffling the sound, and causing the rats to duly become lost again.

So conclusions; scientist blow at controlling for things, simply because of the huge number of things to consider. Finding the answer is possible, but difficult and tedious.

So, er, what factors haven't the psychologists controlled for? Nobody knows, because nobody's done the groundwork. Basically we have a very nice tower, intricate and soaring, with no real foundation. (This is a symptom of grant-based science.)

All this for an assumption I think works pretty well, actually. I definitely agree; rejection biases the rejected to view the world as aggressing against them. In extreme cases, even positive, helping overtures are seen as aggression and duly counter-rejected, something I'm sure you've personally experienced.

And now some random stupidities, once again supporting the hypothesis that all journalism is spin:
"“Prior case studies show the majority of school shooters have experienced chronic peer rejection,” said the study’s lead author, C. Nathan DeWall, Ph.D., from the University of Kentucky. “And while not everyone who feels rejected reacts violently, we found they tend to act out aggressively in other ways. We wanted to help explain psychologically why this happens.”"
That's unfortunate. Your study doesn't address how, only the fact that it does.

I do like how the link apparently has an actual abstract at the bottom, which is far more accurate. It uses phrases like, "A series of experiments tested the hypothesis that social exclusion increases the inclination to perceive neutral information as hostile, which has implications for aggression."
"They were also told that the author was up for a research assistant position and were asked whether they thought the author would be a good candidate, based on what they had read."
Bad experiment design hurts. The subjects don't have enough information to determine if the author is a good candidate or not. You can get the same information without asking them to disentangle this crap.

"Is this essay evidence that they would be a good candidate, or does is it evidence that they would be a bad candidate?"

Aaaargh. (X-phi people do this all the time.)
"The findings may help explain why social exclusion is often linked to aggression – which sometimes boils over dramatically, as in the case of school shootings, for example."
Everyone, and the press especially, is obsessed with school shootings. If you don't believe me, go look at the grand total of school shooting deaths.* Compare them to 9/11. Also compare it to car accidents and the flu. (Don't compare it to old-age related deaths, like cancer and heart failure, though this would be even more striking. Only a journalist would do that.)

*(I know this to order of magnitude, if you're really feeling lazy.)

Also compare to this hypothetical scenario; during the Medieval Ages, there is a 'rash' of crossbow murders during Mass. Does the reaction to the school shootings now seem...reminiscent?
"“Excluded people see the world through blood-colored glasses and it is our hope that this research can lead to a better understanding of why rejection causes aggression and what we can do to prevent such unwanted and harmful behavior,” said DeWall."
Gross. Let me translate. 'unwanted' and 'harmful' are both words of rejection. Basically DeWall is saying we need to understand rejected people so we can reject these behaviours better. DeWall is oblivious...but how well do you think that's going to work? (Incidentally, unless DeWall was drunk during the interview, this is hard proof that's he's not an expert, regardless of credentials.)

Further, who gets to decide what's 'unwanted?' Since a scientist is saying this in newspeak, it's supposed to be all objective. It's impressive how far they can twist the language, really.

No, even under these assumptions, the best conclusion is that the 'unwanted' and 'harmful' behaviour here is the rejection itself. While the school system is trying that already, you probably noticed how completely backhanded their 'acceptance' really is. All my classmates clearly did, anyway.
"“This suggests these people feel betrayed by others.""
Actually...no. There is no evidence for or against. And since you're not an expert, you have no idea either.

I continue to be troubled by the fact that lying to your subjects is blatantly unethical. It bothers me but I have no idea why.

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