First it should be noted that I don't really have time to watch the news. So most of what I'm about to say is based on what I've gathered on the periphery. I've always had one issue with the media when it comes to these events, namely, when they bring up mental health into the mix. These are my thoughts:
1. The Nominal Fallacy: The first thing that bothers me is the use of the phrase mental health. One of the biggest issues faced by the layman (which I still consider myself to be) when they enter the scientific world, is thinking that things which are named, are things which are tamed. You learn a fancy word like anosognosia and walk away thinking you're smarter for having known it. But many times we don't know anything about the thing other than the name we gave it. Many times these are just fancy Greek and Latin ways of saying something like "can't remember," "can't speak," and "has no knowledge of self (anosognosia)" (Firestein, 2012).
Sometimes I feel the same is happening with the words Mental Illness (Barlow & Durand, 2015, pp. G-11). I think people think they know what they’re saying, but they really don’t (Hinshaw & Stier, 2008). They seem to be referring to psychological disorder, but we have specific names for those, such as schizophrenia, depression, and dissociative disorders. From what I have seen they rarely name a specific disorder; they just use mental health and mental illness as a synonym for crazy, which brings me to my second point (Weiss, 1988).
2. Anti-Normalizing.. We have a natural tendency to comfort ourselves by dismissing similarities on account of the differences. If we hear of a plane crash such as the recent Russian one, we might have been initially worried, but then we tell ourselves its ok, because we don’t fly that airline and have never been on such a strange yellow “wing-over-body” plane. Therefore, that'll never be us (From Youtube Comments).
The same thing happens when we hear of atrocities such as shootings and murders. We tell ourselves, they’re just crazy people. They were born demented. They were psychopaths and criminals since birth. They’re not like us, we’re normal, we would never do that. Comforting as these thoughts might be, the line between a 'crazy murderer' and a 'normal person' is often just the few millimeters it takes to squeeze the trigger. I think we’re all capable of committing atrocities given the right situation and circumstances. The Stanford Prison Experiments show how human behavior becomes corrupted when power and authority is given to a person (Zimbardo, 2007). The Milgram (1963) experiment shows how we can justify our wrong actions, so long as we have someone else to put the blame on. Concepts like Running Amok and Going Postal get their stereotyped names precisely because of their unusual likeliness. Most often, these are normal people, like you. Then you get into the strange world of neurological conditions. A seizure can make a faithful mother of 40 years, suddenly divorce her husband and go running off to Hollywood to become a movie star (Sheth et al., 2007, p. 8). A tumor in the wrong place of the brain, can create a Charles Whitman, sniping people from the top of a university tower (Eagleman, 2011). Your own 'normal' brain can turn you into a murderer (Raine, 2013).
Crazy doesn't exist in psychology. Most abnormal behavior is categorized thus because they are statistically rare. Not because they are biologically pathological (Barlow & Durand, 2015).
3. HARKing (Hypothesizing After Results are Known). My last issue with how people view events such as the recent shooting, is how quick people try to make sense of it. They go back and look through their posts and Instagram and tell themselves, look, they’re posting a picture with a gun, wasn’t it obvious they were going to shoot up a school!? No, and this way of thinking is problematic for the same reason I see evolutionary explanations of behavior as problematic: they are post hoc (Kerr, 1998).
We tend to think certain events are obvious in retrospect, despite them not being obvious as a predictive factor (Fischhoff, 2007). Only in retrospect does Trump winning the presidency seem obvious, blame it on Middle America, but not too long ago did we think Hillary would be the clear winner. It’s a ‘creeping determinism,” it’s the sense that what happened was inevitable when we look at things in retrospect. Its going back in the timeline, and connecting all the dots that led to the present events, because you already know how the story turns out (Gladwell, 2003). But its near impossible to take the present dots, and predict the next school shooter. We turn truly unexpected and unpredictable events into obvious and expected occurrences (Fischhoff & Beyth, 1975). We couldn't have predicted this; so we should stop pretending like we could (McRaney, 2011).
-Barlow, D. H., & Durand, V. M. (2015). Abnormal psychology: An integrative approach (7th ed.). Stamford: Cengage.
-Eaglemn, D. (2011). Incognito: The secret lives of the brain. New York: Pantheon Books.
-Firestein, S. (2012). The name game. In J. Brockman, This will make you smarter (pp. 62-65). New York: Harper Perennial.
-Fischhoff, B. (2007). An early history of hindsight research. Social Cognition, 10-13.
-Fischhoff, B., & Beyth, R. (1975). I knew it would happen: Remembered probabilities of once future things. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 1-16.
-Gladwell, M. (2003, March 10). Connecting the dots. Retrieved from The New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2003/03/10/connecting-the-dots
-Hinshaw, S. P., & Stier, A. (2008). Stigma as related to mental disorders. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 367-393.
-Kerr, N. (1998). HARKing: Hypothesizing after the results are known. Peronality and Social Psychology Review, 196-217.
-McRaney, D. (2011). You are not so smart. Gotham Books.
-Milgram, S. (1963). Behavioral study of obedience. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 371-378.
-Raine, A. (2013). The anatomy of violence: The biological roots of crime. New York: Pantheon Books.
-Sheth, K., Harris, O. A., Cho, T., & Caughey, A. (2007). Neurology: Clinical cases. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.
-Weiss, M. F. (1988). Children's attitude toward the mentally ill: An eight-year longitudinal follow-up. J. Personal. Soc. Psychol, 738-748.
-Zimbardo, P. (2007). The lucifer effect. New York: Random House.
Choosing to subscribe to this topic will automatically register you for email notifications for comments and updates on this thread.
Email notifications will be sent out daily by default unless specified otherwise on your account which you can edit by going to your userpage here and clicking on the subscriptions tab.