Sunday, February 25, 2007

Beauty and the Geek: Science is Progressing But Are Societal Values Backwards?

In this weeks post, I will be commenting on two other blogs. I have decided to focus on two very different areas in psychology. The first comment is directed at a post that deals with technology and scientific discovery. After much research, it appears that a person’s personality can now be determined by looking at his or her eyes. “The Iris is the Window to the Soul” gives fascinating insight on the topic. The second comment is on a post discussing the American Psychological Association’s research on the media and the shocking effects it has on today’s youth. “APA Task Force Condemns Sexualization of Girls” provides detailed evidence and explains what the outcomes on girls in specific have been. It also gives suggestions to positive alternatives that may be helpful in solving this societal problem. The following are the comments I submitted on each subject matter.

1st Comment: “The Iris is the Window to the Soul”

I find this very fascinating. This almost seems like it should be expected, the eyes, a person’s outlet to view the world, should serve the opposite purpose right? looking into them, should too, reveal some sort of deeper information about the person that cannot be seen on the outside. Perhaps that is why it is said that cops look for movements in the eye to determine lies. Or why some people find confessions to be more meaningful when one looks them in the eyes. The crypts, pigment dots, and furrows of the iris psychologist have been looking at almost take the form of a ”vortex” like those seen in science fiction portrayals that lead to other dimensions, in this case to a person’s traits. I would however, like to pose a question that may not yet have an answer. Professor Humayan at the University of Southern California has been for some years now working on restoring vision through the implanting of a bionic eye. He recently received permission by the FDA to conduct an exploratory patient trial on about 50-75 patients. I wonder what kind of information these bionic eyes would reveal about a person, and if in the near future, airports begin to use eye scans to identify people like you mentioned, how this would affect those with implants.

2nd Comment: “APA Task Force Condemns Sexualization of Girls”

Although I agree with most of the research reported by the APA, I have to say that I also side with the counter argument given by Ann Pellegrini. The media does indeed objectify women and provide images of beauty that should not, but in some cases do become the center of a woman’s or young girl’s values. However, there are a lot of factors influencing this effect. Most people, even young kids are aware of the fact that, except for the news, most, if not all, even reality shows are scripted and are not real. With this in mind, parents and peers, have a lot to do with the “sexualization” of girls. Hence, I feel the report puts too much fault on the media. A person can only apply this view on physical attractiveness, sexual appeal or behavior to his or her own life, if that is what everyone in their surroundings has taught them to do. If a young girl, for instance learns that due to her good looks, she gets the response she wants from her peers, she will then assume that this a very important and valuable characteristic. In a way, a situation like this, although problematic, can be like professor Pellegrini states, be an “empowering” experience. A girl internalizes a sense of power among others and since this is constantly proven correct, she in turn feels more confident and has higher self-esteem.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Puffin' and Sniffin': The War on Drugs Must End

Those who feel the war in Iraq has progressed far too long and think it is time the U.S. government starts spending its money on more important things, need to also consider looking into the U.S. War on Drugs. The Drug War Clock shows that as of Tuesday February 20, 2007 the U.S. government has spent over 7, 132,404,175 dollars on the War on Drugs. Yet, according to research conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Mental Services Administration, over 112 million Americans aged 12 and over reported having used an illicit drug at least once in their lifetimes, which is nearly half of the U.S. population. This radical data is evidence that although the government is using so many of its resources to end drug use, deeming certain drugs illegal does not equate a stop in their consumption.

Lou Dobbs anchor of the weeknight program Lou Dobbs Tonight on CNN, posted an editorial February 14, 2007 titled, “The War Within, Killing Ourselves”. In which he emphasizes the need for treatment programs that actually work. Dobbs says; “We must end the abuse of drugs and alcohol, and provide successful treatment for Americans whose addictions are destroying their own lives and wounding our families and society.” He criticizes John Walters, Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, for claiming that anti-drug policies have helped reduce drug abuse. Although Walter is correct in claiming that there has been a minor decline in drug use, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported an increase of 113 percent in drug overdose rates. Lou Dobbs also discussed what he calls “The War Within” during a series of programs in his weeknight show, it is now available for viewing through

Like Dobbs, there are others who feel strongly about putting an end on the war on drugs. “Allow drugs but Control and Enforce, Activist Says” appeared Sunday, February 18, 2007 on the Palm Beach Post. Peter Christ, a retired police captain and member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, states how although he is against illicit drug use, and recognizes that drugs are dangerous, banning drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroine does not work. Christ says; “Because of prohibition, gangsters, not the government, decide where the drugs are sold, of what quality they are and what the price is.” The government should review its efforts against the War on Drugs, considering that it has been going on for almost three decades and there have been no significant improvements.

The problem has gone from being a street related, urban neighborhood problem, to an issue that is continuously being addressed in mainstream culture. For those who have spent their entire academic career in the U.S. the programs D.A.R.E. and S.A.N.E. are indicators that drugs are commonly introduced at a young age and that it is important for children to be educated enough to say “no”. A Survey by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse finds that 28% of middle school students say that drugs are available in their schools. However, this is no longer a problem that occurs away from the public eye in school playgrounds anymore, now celebrities are openly checking themselves into rehabilitation centers and making their addictions public. Stars such as actress Lindsey Lohan and former pop princess Britney Spears have been subject to this during this last month. They are attempting to regulate their lives, drug and alcohol problems. Courtney Love has been in and out of rehabilitation battling drug abuse since 2003. Likewise, in 2006, prominent actor Robin Williams admitted to having a cocaine and alcohol problem and worked on ameliorating his addiction. These are just a few examples, celebrity gossip almost makes it seem like no celebrity can escape being tempted into consuming drugs. Like stated by Courtney Love in an interview with E! News, “it is almost like a rite of passage.”

This “rite of passage” has not only cost the U.S. government billions of dollars every year, but most importantly it has taken people’s lives. From the homeless person, to the richest celebrity out there, drugs are a part of every industry and institution. Those unfortunate people who have become addicted to any illicit substance present greater danger risks because the process of obtaining illegal drugs can be a dangerous act in an of itself. People go to many extremes to satisfy their cravings, yet, once “high” the satisfied person does not pose such a major threat. Therefore, legalization, but strong regulation seems to be the best possible alternative. For, people are still finding ways to get their hands on what they desire, and without legalization, it is harder for people to openly admit they have a problem and get help.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Technological Advancements: Should All Technology Be Trusted?

Although we are a highly innovative society and strive to find ways in which to make everything easier, there are certain limits to how far we “should” exploit today’s technology. In a recent
Press release from the Max Planck Institute (8 Feb), researchers have discovered a way to determine people’s intentions from patterns of brain activity. Although it seems like a great tool there are certain concerns that should be taken into consideration before putting to use such highly advanced and technical tool. Another highly sophisticated device that people of all ages have become very familiar with is the Internet. Yet, although its purpose is to serve as a life facilitator, predators have, in some cases, turned it into a weapon. Thus, making the cyber realm a place to enter with caution. This may account for Internet anxiety disorder, an illness that has recently manifested itself on some part of the population. The following are my comments on blogs I found pertaining to both these issues.

1st Comment: Revealing Secret Intentions of the Brain
Being able to tap into someone’s mind is an incredible scientific breakthrough. Technology has really come far. However, to say that hidden intentions can be read with looking at patterns of brain activity raises red flags in a skeptics mind. If, like you mention, in the future this tool may be used in criminal interrogations, how sure can we be that this technology will not yield the same results the lie detector test did? A human mind is very complicated and to think that a machine could tell you what a person is going to do before he or she does it is very difficult to determine. From personal experience I can say that my intentions are many, however my actions are often times completely different than what my initial intentions were. This poses the question of accuracy and reliability. The lie detector test is currently not admissible in many court rooms due to the great percentage of false positives it yields, it seems that technology of this capacity would produce the same results. And the last thing we need is more innocent people in jail.

2nd Comment: What Is Internet Anxiety?
When used wisely and carefully the Internet is great tool and resource. It almost seems like life before the Internet should be defined as a prehistoric age, a time where “doing research” probably meant spending days in a row looking through book stacks at library basements. Mastery of the Internet can definitely be helpful in facilitating less stressful, more convenient, do it all from your own home lives, but of course, there is a dark side. Perhaps this Internet anxiety people demonstrate is rooted from the horrible news reports we so often hear about internet predators. The horror stories so common to the public about scams and deadly encounters with strangers (through chatting devices like the one in the picture to the right) can bring some to fear and become anxious when using the Internet. However, Internet anxiety should not be labeled a “disorder”. I think its more reasonable to inform people on how to take necessary precautions when using this resource than to solve the problem by classifying it a disorder. We have plenty of serious illnesses to worry about, Internet anxiety disorder seems like something that can very easily be treated.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Compulsive Buying Disorder: A Habit Gone Wild

A study recently published in the American Journal of Psychiatry reveals that compulsive buying disorder affects more than one in twenty people in the U.S. Although it might sound harmless, this often-misunderstood condition can be very detrimental to one’s health and personal life. It is often associated with depression, anxiety and other psychiatric disorders and may in some cases lead to suicide. A mental disorder is defined as, “any clinically significant behavioral or psychological syndrome characterized by the presence of distressing symptoms, impairment of functioning, or significantly increased risk of suffering death, pain, disability, or loss of freedom.” Hence, mental health professionals are considering its inclusion in the next edition of the DSM-IV, Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. However, this issue continues to cause great controversy, on the one hand those suffering from the disorder are reporting feeling the above mentioned symptoms, yet, most unaffected individuals do not agree with including overspending issues in the next DSM-IV.

The “Estimated Prevalence of Compulsive Buying Behavior” in the United States was a study conducted in the summer and spring of 2004. It consisted of a national, random-sample household telephone survey, including 2,513 adult participants. Participants were questioned about their buying attitudes, behaviors and their demographic and financial data. Dr. Lorrin M. Koran, author of the study and professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, feels that compulsive buying disorder fits the characteristics of a mental illness. The sufferer gets an irresistible and intrusive impulse to buy. “Kristi,” a person suffering the disorder says, “It’s just like something I feel like I have to do or I’ll literally panic and I’m in almost a trance when I do it.” This feeling often leads to shopping binges in which the person accumulates unnecessary items that later result in feelings of remorse, shame and guilt. “People don’t realize the extent of damage it does to the sufferer,” said Koran. It is difficult however, for the general public to accept that this is an uncontrollable problem. Jerrold Pollak, a psychologist at Seacoast Mental Health Center, states, “It’s a societal and cultural issue that’s not taken seriously or seen as an issue. ‘Shop ‘till you drop’ is considered a cool thing to do.” In a materialistic society like ours, the factors contributing to compulsive buying disorder are vast.

One factor is the overpowering effect the media has on the population. According to the A.C. Nielsen Co., the average American watches more than 4 hours of television each day (or 28 hours per week, or 2 months of nonstop television-watching per year). This includes corporate influence through commercials, subliminal advertising, and the television programs themselves. Rachel Bilson, actress in the highly viewed television show The OC, is shown to the right advertising a very costly brand. The main goal of commercials is to get people to purchase their products. Expert, Helga Dittmar, author of a study investigating the psychological roots of compulsive buying, published in the September 2005 issue of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, asserted that, “unrelenting pressure from advertising and the media are pushing people to spend more recklessly than ever before, and that spending is even easier now via 24-hour shopping channels and the Internet.” Unmistakably, there are those who are easily persuaded by these images and portrayals of materialistic products. Those trying to emulate celebrities and their possessions can develop serious health related problems such as poor eating habits due to the anxiety experienced while on a buying binge or extreme headaches when stressed once billing time arrives. Catherine Steinberg, a marital family therapist says, “compulsive shoppers often don’t feel good enough, so being dressed well and wearing lots of jewelry is used to enhance a weak self image.”

However, there is one major difference between celebrity figures and those on the other side of the television set, money. Undoubtedly, it would be more difficult for those with more capital to experience stress and remorse after overspending, considering the fact that capital is being replenished at a faster rate than it is being spent. Hence, this is where some of the controversy on making compulsive a disorder arises. There is no other mental disorder with monetary requirements or restrictions. A mental disorder transcends all racial and economic barriers and affects the rich and poor the same way. Of course, compulsive shopping disorder can affect the rich as well as the underprivileged, yet, it would take a lot longer for a negative impact to be felt. Dr. Koran’s study showed that, “households of young adults (ages 24-34 years) with incomes below $50,000 are the most affected by compulsive buying.” This information is quite obvious without extensive research, those who make less money are quickly affected by large amounts of spending.

Those who suffer from compulsive buying disorder have psychological issues that need to be carefully treated. There is therapy, counseling, and self-help groups such as Debtors Anonymous that seek to help those whose lives are unfortunately disrupted by this disorder. The consequences of overspending are vary harmful and one needs to examine at the real underlying cause for this behavior. The issue is complicated because although it fits the definition of a mental disorder, the effect is not equally distributed among all social classes. While mental heath professionals discuss the issue, those living with this disorder must learn to better control these invading impulses to spend.