Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Pitfalls for Psych 101 Students

Well, actually, I am gong to disclose only one pitfall, today.  Many first-semester students of psychology read and hear the material, and find that what they are learning is so consistent with their preconceptions and intuitive beliefs, that they assume that the material is easy and conclude that they don't have to study much.  Then they get their grade for the first exam, and realize that it is not really as simple as it seems at first.  

There are many aspects of that run counter to what you might think.  For example, in the 1980's, a form of psychotherapy known as was just getting to be popular.  One of the tenets of cognitive therapy was the belief that was caused by unrealistically negative thinking.  

Some folks eventually decided to test the hypothesis.  They got some depressed people and some non-depressed people, and gave them all a quiz, asking them to estimate the risks of various misfortunes.  The hypothesis was that depressed people would unrealistically overestimate the risks of unfortunate events.  In fact, the outcome was the opposite.  Happy people are the unrealistic ones; depressed people see the world more realistically.  

Now comes a study that shows similar results:
Mildly depressed people more perceptive than others,
new Queen’s study shows

Monday November 21, 2005

KINGSTON, Ont. – Surprisingly, people with mild depression are actually more tuned into the feelings of others than those who aren’t depressed, a team of Queen’s psychologists has discovered.

“This was quite unexpected because we tend to think that the opposite is true,” says lead researcher Kate Harkness. “For example, people with depression are more likely to have problems in a number of social areas.”

The researchers were so taken aback by the findings, they decided to replicate the study with another group of participants. The second study produced the same results: People with mild symptoms of depression pay more attention to details of their social environment than those who are not depressed.
So mild depression actually sharpens one's emotional perceptiveness.  

If I believed in evolutionary psychology, I might be tempted to wonder about a possible adaptive value for this, and entertain notions about a balanced polymorphism.  In order to even be worth speculating about, though, we would have to know if their findings are a state or a trait characteristic.