How do we make civic and political decisions? Why is it so hard to empathize with views different than our own? To find answers to these questions and more, last week we teamed up with the award-winning nonprofit magazine Miller-McCune in a News Hunt for good journalism on Psychology -- with a focus on how it affects our politics.
Timely stories that related social trends and cultural issues to the science that explains our actions were not easy to come by -- not a surprise, given what the Project for Excellence in Journalism called a lack of editor enthusiasm for science reporting in major newspapers. But below the surface we found an informative sampling of stories from a range of sources that included magazines, mainstream newspapers and niche blogs.
We posted 57 stories in all (36 news and 21 opinion), 29 of which received three or more reviews. Here's a list of some of our top rated stories:
God, the Army and PTSD - Boston Review
When soldiers snap - New York Times
Does biased news have a 'time bomb' effect? - Miller-McCune
Are there asexuals among us? - Scientific American
Healing our troubled vets - Los Angeles Times
For a full list of our most trusted psychology stories, click here.
The Political Divide
We kicked off our News Hunt last Monday by looking for good journalism about the American political divide and and what's causing America's culture wars.
Miller-McCune reported on a fascinating study by a researcher at the London School of Economics and Political Science who identified a so-called "time bomb effect" that comes with constant exposure to biased news:
"Michael Bruter, a senior lecturer in European politics at the school, fed a steady diet of slanted newsletters about Europe and the European Union — either all good news or all bad — to 1,200 citizens of six countries over two years.
Over time, Bruter found, and without exception, the readers subconsciously adopted the bias to varying degrees and changed their view of the EU and of themselves as Europeans, a few of them in the extreme. Surprisingly, they didn't register any change right after the newsletters stopped — not until full six months later, when they had obviously let down their guard."
This story also addressed the impact of media bias in the United States, where the politically conservative Fox News and liberal MSNBC hold the highest cable news ratings.
In a similar story, an ABC News column discussed a Stanford University study showing that the most outspoken and extreme political pundits are often motivated by the belief that their views are widely held, but are probably wrong.
The Psychology of Temptation
To give our reviewers an alternative to research about the political realm, we compared a few stories about what drives temptation, from Scientific American and Scienceblogs.com. Our reviewers gave high marks to Don't Eat the Marshmallow Yet, a video speech from Ted Talk, which made an important point about the value of delayed gratification -- and was also fun to watch.
The Psychology of Climate Change
On Tuesday we turned to the approaching Copenhagen Climate Conference as an opportunity to learn what influences popular attitudes about climate change. The Guardian's Adam Corner called psychology the "missing link" between policy and action in the debate over how to address climate change:
"The assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have provided the scientific evidence of human impact on the climate, and a glimpse of what the future may hold if we don't act fast. But while the consensus may be growing on the need for changes in behaviour, we're no closer to understanding how we're going to do it. Attempting an unprecedented shift in human behaviour without the input of psychologists is like setting sail for a faraway land without the aid of nautical maps."
Research shows, he added, that many people don't feel threatened by climate change because they don't feel personally vulnerable to it. "People simply don't worry about things they can't see (or even imagine)," he wrote. The solution? Campaigns encouraging lifestyle changes that pay off when undertaken en masse.
Larry O'Hanlon also wrote in Discover News that public impressions about the severity of climate change had delayed action. Many people are not convinced that climate change is as serious as most scientists claim, he said, in large part because scientists have failed to make an effective case that it is a real and urgent issue.
The Psychology of War
The highlight of our News Hunt came with our comparison of stories about the psychology of war and conflict-induced stress, which we featured in recognition of Veterans Day. This theme brought us some of our highest rated stories.
In "God, the Army and PTSD," our top rated story in this News Hunt, a Boston Review writer investigated whether religious pressure had interfered with returning soldiers' ability to get effective treatment for PTSD. In extensive research and interviews with soldiers, the Boston Review found that religious healing, even in an Army where most identify as Christian, prevented some soldiers from receiving medical treatment for this condition:
"the great difficulty veterans experienced in getting psychiatric care—greater than before—was not a product of cost-cutting, but of conviction: many Bush administration officials believed that soldiers who supported the war would not face psychological problems, and if they did, they would find comfort in faith. ... [Roger] Benimoff and the others who returned with devastating psychological injuries found a faith-based bureau within the VA. At veterans’ hospitals, chaplains were conducting spirituality assessments of patients.
The story of the mistreatment of returning veterans from Iraq is well known and shocking. But the role of religious ideology in that mistreatment—how, inside the government, it was a potent tool in the betrayal of an overwhelmingly Christian Army—is much less known."
The story quoted military officials and caregivers who tried to discredit PTSD, even in the face of soldier suicides (if they "believed in God and country," one official said, "they would not come home with PTSD”).
A New York Times article examined PTSD in the context of the massacre at the Fort Hood military base in Texas. The Times looked at the evolution of diagnosing and treating trauma:
"[Major Nidal Malik Hasan's] case invites a look at the long history of psychiatric medicine in war, if only because of his status as a battlefield psychiatrist, and the chance that his own psyche was, on some level, undone by the kind of stress he treated.Our community also gave good reviews to an LA Times editorial on the deficiencies of care for traumatized soldiers and an ABC News story on whether Hasan's actions could be considered terrorism or mental illness.
Over the centuries, soldiers have often broken under such stress, and in modern times each generation of psychiatrists has felt it was closer to understanding what makes soldiers break. But each generation has also been confounded by the unpredictability with which aggressions sometimes explode, in a fury no one sees coming."
More Psychology Stories
Several other stories from our partners at Miller-McCune received high ratings. "I'd like the same plan better if it was Bill Clinton's" looked at how "implicit racism" affects many Americans' political views, health care reform being the prime example. Another story, "The biggest roadblock to change may be in our minds," explored another side of the health care debate -- how innate mechanisms cause us to cling to the status quo and can make large-scale change unpalatable.
Other noteworthy stories included a Scientific American article on how we make purchases, a Slate report that explained how animal research benefits child psychology, and a Psychology Today post about a study that showed people are more generous when researchers invoked god.
Check out our full listing of stories from this Psychology News Hunt on our Psychology page.
Thanks to our Partners
We're very grateful to our partners at Miller-McCune for their enthusiastic support and active participation in this News Hunt. Thanks especially to Michael Todd, Janice Sinclaire and Tom Jacobs for personally reviewing, posting and recommending stories for this News Hunt. It was a true pleasure to collaborate with you to find quality journalism on this fascinating topic!
This Week: Who Runs Climate Change?
This week NewsTrust is joining forces with the Washington Post's WhoRunsGov site to find good journalism about lobbying, climate change and the environment. As the debate over a climate change bill begins in CongressWe are looking for quality news and opinion on the Washington lobbyists working to influence lawmakers on these issues, leading up to a U.S. Congress vote on climate change in early 2010. Join our News Hunt by reviewing (or posting) stories on our Lobbying page.
WhoRunsGov features profiles of prominent government officials, lobbyists and experts "who comprise the world of unofficial Washington." We're honored to work with them to bring more transparency to the debate over climate change. After you've reviewed a couple related stories on NewsTrust, we invite you to apply what you have learned to help fill profiles of climate change lobbyists on their site.
-- by Derek Hawkins, with Kaizar Campwala and Fabrice Florin