Wednesday, February 4, 2009

WTF Do I Do? Why, Social Psychology of course!

PhizzleDizzle put up this post before I left for vacation, her own "WTF Do You Do" meme. Since JLK is bored out of her freaking mind right now, I'm going to take this opportunity to explain my field to you.

(How many posts is this in 24 hours, like 7? Jeeez......I have to clean my house or something)
Fig 1: JLK is totally that hot.

So WTF does JLK do? My focus is the field of social psychology. Wikipedia defines social psych as "the study of how people and groups interact." I don't like that definition, what else does it say....
Their approach to the field focuses on the individual and attempts to explain how the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals are influenced by other people. Psychologically oriented researchers emphasize the immediate social situation and the interaction between person and situation variables. Their research tends to be empirical and quantitative, and it is often centered around laboratory experiments, but there are some computational modeling efforts in the field.
That's better, but still not quite right. I much prefer the definition that my social psych professor gave us at MRU:
Social psychology is the study of how the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors of individuals are influenced by the real or imagined presence of others. 
May not seem like an important distinction at first, but it is. Let's say, for example, that I told you I had hidden cameras all over your house, watching everything you do. Regardless of whether those cameras are actually there or not, you will act differently than if you thought you were alone, even though no one else is actually there. And quite frankly, if you don't act differently, that's even more interesting to social psychologists. 

Fig 2: JLK does this all the time. Whether she's alone or not. 

The other major sub-fields of psychology include the following (for comparison purposes):

Clinical Psychology:
...includes the scientific study and application of psychology for the purpose of understanding, preventing, and relieving psychologically-based distress or dysfunction and to promote subjective well-being and personal development.
Developmental Psychology: the scientific study of systematic psychological changes that occur in human beings over the course of the life span.
Cognitive Psychology: a branch of psychology that investigates internal mental processes such as problem solving, memory, and language.
Personality Psychology: a branch of psychology that studies personality and individual differences.
There are a ton of sub-sub fields in psychology, like health psychology, sports psychology, industrial and organizational psychology, etc. But the fields listed above are the most common specialty programs found at graduate institutions, with the smaller fields falling underneath their respective umbrellas. 

Personality psychology is the most closely related to social psychology. Many graduate programs combine the two, and the major journals are also combined, such as the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 

Social psychology has produced probably the most controversial and most important psychological studies in our history. Stanley Milgram's Obedience to Authority experiments, Philip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment, Bibb Latane and John Darley's Bystander Effect experiments, Eliot Aronson's Jigsaw Classroom studies, the list goes on and on.

The topics of research within social psych are numerous. My particular broad areas of interest include socialization and intergroup processes, though I also like to dabble a bit in personality psychology with respect to impression formation.

So WTF does that mean?

Let's start with socialization. I am going to define socialization as the process of the environment (other people, culture, etc.) acting on an individual as they develop an identity. Some people simply describe socialization as learning, which also works as long as you take into account observational/passive learning in addition to active processes. But I digress. 

I'm going to take a risk here and get more specific about my own interests, because at this point, frankly, who gives a shit. My apps are out, superfuckingrockstarholyshit.... program already rejected me, and I am without an institutional affiliation at the moment. So fuck it. 

Okay, so within socialization I am interested in two things: gender and birth order. Gender is my primary, birth order is just something I think is cool. I'll probably end up doing a separate post about gender, but I'll give you the basics here. 

How did you learn to be a "boy" or a "girl"? Chances are, from the moment you were born your parents and other adults were dressing you in either pink or blue clothing depending on your biological sex. You were given gender "appropriate" toys before you were old enough to develop a preference. You were read stories about princesses being rescued by princes. On and on it goes. You learned rules for behaving and looking like one gender or the other. Perhaps you were told "Act like a young lady" or "Boys don't cry." Regardless of the level or source of the influence, we were all socialized for gender based on our biological sex at birth. 
Fig 3: From a website that actually promises it can help you have a baby of the desired sex.

And make no mistake, biological sex and gender are two distinct, separate things. 

Now, gender research is incredibly controversial and there are major debates going on in the scientific community about this very topic. Some scientists feel that gender is inborn - I read a book by a doctor in which she claimed that attempts to raise children as gender-neutral fail. She used the example of a little girl who was given a fire truck to play with who ended up wrapping the truck in a blanket and holding it like a baby. Can't remember the book right now, if anyone is interested email me and I'll find it. 
Fig 4: Found it! This book is a crock of shit.

In any event, there is really no evidence to support this claim. Gender appears to be affected by both environmental and biological factors. But there are many who believe it is exclusively one or the other. 

I am interested in how gender is socialized with respect to communication style (both verbal and non-verbal), what the implications are of raising children as gender neutral as possible, transgender studies, and the psychological effects (if there are any) of being androgynous. At its most basic level, I want to know what gender differences can be traced to biology as much as possible, and which differences are entirely (or almost entirely) due to socialization alone. 

Okay, on to birth order. I highly recommend reading the book The Birth Order Book by Kevin Leman. Everyone should read it just for the hell of it, for yourself or for your children. The basic premise behind birth order studies is that where you fall in the family order has remarkable and long-lasting (if not permanent) effects on your personality. There's a good amount of research to back this up. Think about people you know - do those who are only or oldest children have distinct personalities from those who were the youngest in their family? If you or someone you know has a much younger sibling (7+yrs age difference), does that sibling have the personality of an only child? 
Fig 5: I loved this book. It's not so scientific, but it's a great intro.

Basically, only and oldest children are the targets of parental anxiety. They're the first-born, when parents have no clue what they're doing. There is a lot of pressure on them to succeed, and they tend to develop perfectionist personalities. Only children are more subject to this, because parents have an "all eggs in one basket" mentality. Youngest children, by contrast, tend to be attention-seekers, class clowns, and are overall much less serious than their older siblings. Middle children are even-tempered negotiators. There are tons of traits associated with each birth order slot, and it's fascinating to think about how much of a person's personality comes from when they were born. 

Last but not least - intergroup processes. For me, that means the -isms: racism, sexism, ageism, etc. Us versus Them mentalities. In social psych, there are "in-groups" and "out-groups." The group you are a part of is your in-group. Everyone else is the out-group, however those groups may be divided up. (Blacks vs whites, women vs men, freshmen vs seniors, Steelers fans vs Cardinals fans, whatever.) Interesting point of fact - we tend to view our own group has being more diverse than the opposing group. This deals with stereotypes. I am interested in counteracting intergroup processes by whatever means possible, including the popular media, school classrooms, etc. We know that meaningful exposure helps to combat stereotyping and -isms. I want to work to bombard our culture with meaningful exposure to minimize grouping effects as much as I can. Naive? Maybe. Worth working for? Abso-fuckin-lutely. 

I think that concludes my discussion of WTF I do. I would be more than happy to answer questions or direct people to other resources, just let me know. 

I am totally going to clean my house now..... 


Comrade PhysioProf said...

You forgot physiomotherfuckinological psychology!!!!!!!

JLK said...

That's because it's a SUB-SUB field!!!!

Ambivalent Academic said...

Whoa! I LOVE that you're interested in gender.

Not to give the game away here (but you already knew this) -- my research is primarily on biological sex. Given the fact that gender and biological sex are NOT the same thing, I've done quite a lot of reading about the differences/disparities, how we think that biological sex influences gender, or doesn't. It's totally fascinating!

For a while I was thinking about a career in bioethics with a specialization in advocacy for transgendered, transsexual and other terribly under served and ostracized people. Maybe I still will since the science job market is totally in the toilet.

I'm so glad to know that you're into this from the social psych end -- I know virtually nothing of the research done from this direction. While I can say a lot about the research on how biological sex does/doesn't influence gender, the social/environmental stuff is an academic black box to me.

I look forward to some very interesting conversations in the future.

JLK said...

Oh, AA - we need to CHAT, my friend!

I don't know how it escaped my perception, but I didn't realize that your research was on biological sex.

But wasn't it you I was in that heated hormones debate with?? And you haven't read Ann Fausto-Sterling's book The Myths of Gender??

If you're up for it, email me about your research. I promise I won't "out" you for any of it!

Ambivalent Academic said...

I'm debating whether to do a similar "WTF do you do?" post. My field is pretty small, but I may be able to talk about some things without going into the nitty-gritty that would make it too obvious. Also, I should be graduating soon and moving on to another project so in that case it probably won't matter either. I'll think about it some more and if I don't post about it I will try to compose a "WTF do I do" email when I have a spare moment.

I have sort of dabbled in "Myths of Gender" the time I really wanted to go to Brown for grad school and thought I might do research under her. It seemed that she wasn't doing much biological research by then (I can't recall now if that's what she started in or if the research statements on her webpage left naive little me with some incorrect assumptions). Anyway, I was informed that that wouldn't be an option and I was waaaaay to into the biology to give that up. So I opted for a program/lab at another institution that better suited my interests.

I fully intended to keep reading Myths of Gender but then grad school happened. Perhaps MoG is still on one of my shelves of paartially-read books, mocking me.

Silver Fox said...

A great post, JLK, very intresting stuff! So far from what I do, but it affects all of us.

JLK said...

Thanks Silver Fox!

@ AA - It's mocking you?! LOL. I totally have books that do that. They're doing it right now as a matter of fact...... When (if) you have time, you should really finish it. Especially considering what you do, it's (I think) an important read, albeit moreso written for the masses.

PhizzleDizzle said...

JLK - Awesome post. Thanks!!! Mind linking it to the "wtf do you do" request post? so everything is aggregated together and easy for selfish me to find in the future :).

I had never heard of the jigsaw method, but man, is it cool. It makes total sense though.

I also totally want to read the birth order book because I so think that has a lot to do with my personality, my sister's, and Mr. Phizz and his siblings.

And I should read Myths of Gender too. I'm into that shit.

JLK said...

PD - I did, silly. The first line links directly to your request post.

DuWayne Brayton said...

I am so going to have to find the time to write about my experiences with gender identification. I discovered a long time ago, that in spite of not being into the boys, the boys really like me. Then I discovered that for some reason, trans people seem to really adore me - though in a more platonic way.

Personally, I am limited to an occasional proclivity for wearing those really long, light weight "hippie" skirts - sans unders. Next best thing to being naked. But I have long been of the opinion that it is horribly unfair that men are given so little to accessorize with. (I've also had a number of lady friends who were all about getting me to wear their clothes)

Don't get me wrong, I am not big on drag or anything, I just don't mind it. And I love me a comfy skirt. Beyond that and even in that, I am definitely a man.

But I have a lot of trans friends. I even roomed with a male born women, when she went through her surgery - talk about an intense experience. She soaked many of my shirts with the post-op clinical depression tears.

About two years ago now, my friend Nic killed himself. He was born intersexed and a few months later his penis was removed. Unfortunately, that was the wrong choice. Then, when he finally had the ability to get surgery, the post-op depression drove his GF/fiance away and it was all too much. I fucking hate burying friends, especially when they suicide.

And I had the great joy of taking part in a dear friend's civil unionization last summer (being rather well spoken, I "officiated" the ceremony - in the nude). She is a male born women, who doesn't intend on having surgery and often forgoes shaving. Sounds strange, but if you were to meet her, it wouldn't seem surprising.

Those are just the closest trans friends. I really have to say that I am glad to have so many trans people in my life. I have a much different perspective on gender than your average midwestern boy.

If it weren't for my damned fixation on addiction, I would love to dive into gender issues, from a neuropsych perspective.

I am looking forward to gender studies classes. There's one at the U I'll be transferring to (may get dispensation to take psych classes there pretransfer) and if I end up back in Portland, the program at Reed is supposed to fucking rock. But if I end up in the Bay area instead, I'm sure that I'll find something fun there too.

Of course I could have fun before that. After reading my anti-puritans post, my writing/research instructor is begging me to take her women's lit class....

PhizzleDizzle said...

Wow, I just realized how silly I am. I had originally meant that you comment to the original post with a link, but then...I just noticed that when someone link to a post, it shows up as "Links to this post" (amazingly enough), and there is no need for an additional comment to provide a link. HA!!! I have never paid attention to that before.

My bad.

DuWayne Brayton said...

You know, I think we're missing the really important question in all of this. I would assume that everyone reading is just dying of curiosity, so I'm going to ask....

Is your house clean yet?

Full disclosure; I'm killing a huge bag of Doritos as I type....

PhizzleDizzle said...

DuWayne, I ate 5/6 of an entire full bag of sour cream and cheddar lays TODAY.

I hope you are enjoying your doritos :).

Now I'm hungry. Damn it!

JLK said...

Okay, I'll admit it.

All I did was clean the cat hair that is all. over. my. house.

But I DID eat a fuckton of frozen TGI Friday's potato skins with sour cream.

Goddamn do I wish I had me some Doritos....

Ambivalent Academic said...

You know JLK - I looked for MoG and couldn't find it on my shelves of mockery...I must have checked it out from the library all that time ago. This will require another binge I suspect.

Here's the deal - I am going to order and read MoG (though it may take me a while with my stupidly busy schedule). HOwever, I am first going to finish "The woman that never evolved" by Sarah Blaffer Hrdy. Are you reading this yet??? Get on it! Because I really want to talk to you about it! Actually, I want to talk to you about both of them so let's do it OK?

DuWayne - Thanks for relating your experiences and those of your friends (I'm so sorry about the one that couldn't pull out of the post-op depression). While I am pretty far removed from the clinical treatment of trans and intersex individuals, I do work very intimately on the biological processes that drive biological sex determination (genes, chromosomes, anatomy...but not gender). In the system that I study, when something goes "wrong" (that's not a value judgment on my's just to say that when the genes and chromosomes mis-regulate), the outcome is often an intersex phentoype, or some other disparity between the sex of the gonads and the rest of the anatomy. Obviously, when you're working in biomed research the next logical step is figure out how this applies to people and how we can best treat them.

Again, I am far removed from clinical outcomes but I've been by-and-large pretty horrified at the "conventional treatment" for such conditions. The best solution would be to change societal perceptions of gender so that trans and intersexed people can either just be as is or take the surgical option when they feel ready and get to a point where they are no longer ostracized, but I think we're a long way from achieving that kind of tolerance. I don't know what the best solution is in the meantime, but I think it must depend greatly on the individual's preference...and yet I see clinician's pressing for some suggested standard treatment. I think it's just because they really don't know what to do and a flow chart of treatment options would make them more comfortable when faced with such a complex issue. I really would like to learn more about the clinical treatments and ethics of such. I think that there is great need to change this system so that it better serves the people for whom it is intended.

Oh and re the skirts - that's awesome! My other half is from Scotland and he loves his kilt for all the same reasons....I think that there is less of a "drag" stigma associated with this. You're right, women got past the pants why is it still "weird" for men to wear skirts. Kind of ridiculous. I bet you rock those hippie skirts!

DuWayne Brayton said...

AA -

One of the things that absolutely drives me to distraction is this notion that we can just reduce something as complex as the human reaction to gender issues to standardized approaches. This is true of most aspects of psychology, but becomes especially complex when dealing with gender identity.

One of my trans friends has been going through significant complications. He was born a women and went through the first stage of surgery, which was getting a penis. He is very firmly a man and has been aware of his gender identity since he was a small child. There is no question whatever, about who and what he is.

Yet when it came time for the second stage, he found that he just didn't want to eliminate his vage, as he refers to it. He goes up and down about it, but I think it is more of an issue of feeling like he should want it gone, than any actual desire to have it gone.

This is a person that I really don't know very well, which is what made him more comfortable really talking about his feelings about it (we have some close mutual friends). Basically, almost all of my experience with him has been discussing this with him - so I don't really know him outside this context. Which I think really made the conversation that much more valuable - no baggage to color my take.

The point that I threw out there, is that while he is most definitely a man, the anatomy he was born with is also very much a part of him. Just because it isn't directly conducive to his gender identity, doesn't make it any less valid a part of who he is. The important thing is not what social norms think it should be, but what and who you are comfortable being.

Apparently this flew dead in the face of what his therapist (who specializes in gender issues) was trying to push on him. His therapist has this boilerplate standard that said the best thing for a trans person who has taken the step of surgery, is to let go of their non-gender sex and completely embrace their gender. She was actually putting a lot of pressure on him to get rid of the vage and physically, fully integrate his masculinity.

While I can understand that for the majority of trans people this is very important, it simply cannot be considered an absolute.

This is very much the approach that I am pushing with my discussions of addiction. Our current paradigm is very firmly entrenched in the idea that there is only one way to deal with addiction and substance abuse. It pretty much says fuck the vast majority of addicts, who just don't fit that approach.

Humans are far more complex than any standardized approach can encompass. While I see the idea of standards in diagnostic and even in the early stages of treatment as being quite reasonable - even essential, at some point it is probably going to diverge.

Arg. I could go on and on, but I have a paper to write in the next half hour. I accidentally wrote the one that's due in two weeks, instead of the one due today. And my math instructor frowns upon people doing work for other classes in his. So now I must describe ten things I appreciate about the sense of smell. Thankfully I took a xanax about half an hour ago. Writing these stupid papers tends to put me in a violently irritable mood.....

Ambivalent Academic said...

DuWayne - you said that better than I could have. As a biologist it is useful to me to be able to separate sex and gender into a dichotomy. From a purely Darwinian standpoint this works -- individuals which are "fully" male or female are capable of passing on their genes, while those that fall somewhere other than the the extreme ends of the sex/gender continuum generally cannot (for reasons of fertility, anatomy, behavior, or some combination). As I said, this dichotomous model is useful for looking at the genes involved in patterning biological sex and perhaps to a limited extent, gender.

But we get into BIG problems when we start trying to apply this to people. We are just animals after all but we know that humans are incredibly complex psychologically and that our ideas about gender are highly culturally influenced. So it's not as simple as a black or white, male or female dichotomy. I think that the Kinsey report, flaws notwithstanding, demonstrated this quite clearly.

You are right that standards are useful for diagnosis of physical conditions (not being a psychologist, I am no position to make a judgment call on their standards), but when it comes to treatment, it really should be driven by the individual. I can't believe that your friend's therapist is pushing him to get rid of his vage! What's the harm in keeping it really? I really don't get that. It really worries me that there are so many people out there who are trying to "help" trans and intersexed people by insisting that they fit themselves into their own rigid sex and gender definitions. We've come a long way in just being able to acknowledge that such conditions exist...but we've got a HELL of a long way to go still.

Good luck on your paper.

DuWayne Brayton said...

AA -

Hah, I had enough time after the paper to smoke and make it to class early. And I wrote it in such a fashion that my instructor will believe that I really love writing those fucking obnoxious damned things.

While "Bill"'s therapist really pisses me off, it's not so much the therapists fault, as it is the one size fits all approach. I actually can understand the logic behind it and for the most part can see it as reasonable. For a lot of people, holding out on aspects of their non-gender sex, can lend itself to harsher bouts of depression. For the most part though, this is not based on the preference of the individual, but to move the surgery process along. I.e. many trangendered people want to get it all done with and the psychological theory backs that up.

But what has happened in all of this, is that many therapists have taken that concept beyond patient preference. In "Bill"'s case, his physiological sex, while long since abandoned in his gender identity, was still an important part of his body. And after perusing some gender support forums with him, we discovered that this isn't all that uncommon an issue.

And after running across people who felt much the same as he did, and even better, running across people who regretted bowing to the pressure, the shame quickly dissipated. That's what really made me the most angry about this fucking therapist - he managed to make "Bill" feel like it was somehow wrong for him to be reticent to lose the vage. Which is silly, because I would bet money, that in a few years he'll be ready to take that step without any pressure.

leigh said...

ooh, what a fun post! i know nothing of the psych stuff, which is kinda funny to me somehow since i spend a lot of time on the brain.

that whole "i'm a princess" thing we see so often in little girls just drives me insane. why the hell are we putting this crap into their heads? i feel like that's somehow got to be damaging- placing these hapless little waifs... who wait around for their big, masculine prince to come rescue them from whatever pathetic situation they've found their way into... as ROLE MODELS to these kids. wtf?

btw, i mow through fruit smoothies like nobody's business while i'm grading papers- and my kitchen is a total mess because i've been doing a lot of grading lately!

viagra online said...

social psychology is still an inmature science but we love it even knowing that fact.

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