Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?

Concerned About Unconventional Mental Health Interventions?
Alternative Psychotherapies: Evaluating Unconventional Mental Health Treatments

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Curriculum Vitae

                                                CURRICULUM VITAE

                                                   JEAN MERCER*
                

134 E. Main St., Moorestown, NJ 08057
E-mail: Jean.Mercer@stockton.edu

EDUCATION:
            Mt. Holyoke College, 1959-1961
            Occidental College. 1961-63; A.B. in Psychology, 1963
            Brandeis University, 1963-67; Ph.D. in Psychology, Feb. 1968

EMPLOYMENT:
            Assistant Professor, Wheaton College, Norton,MA. 9/67-6/69
            Assistant Professor, State University College, Buffalo, NY 9/69-6/71
            Assistant Professor, Richard Stockton College, Pomona, NJ 9/74-9/77
            Associate Professor, Professor, Richard Stockton College, Pomona NJ 9/77-2/81
            Professor of Psychology, Richard Stockton College, Pomona, NJ 2/81-2006
            Professor Emerita of Psychology, Richard Stockton College, 2006--

PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES:
            Consulting reader, Infants and Young Children,1992-
            Editor, The Phoenix (NJAIMH Quarterly Newsletter), 1994-1999; Editor,
            Nurture Notes (NJAIMH Newsletter), 2000-2001.
            Vice President, New Jersey Association for Infant Mental Health, 1996-2000
            President, New Jersey Association for Infant Mental Health, 2000-2005
            Past president, ex officio Board of Directors member, NJAIMH, 2005-
            Member, Prevention and Early Intervention Committee, New Jersey Community
                 Mental Health Board, 2000-
            Consulting editor, Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 2002-       
            Member, New Jersey Better Baby Care Campaign Advisory Committee, 2002-3

Fellow, Council for Scientific Medicine and Mental Health, 2003-
  Faculty member, Youth Consultation Services Institute for Infant and Preschool Mental             Health, 2003-    
  Chair, Board of Professional Advisors, Advocates for Children in Therapy, 2003--
  Expert witness, Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing, 2005
                (license revocation matter)






[*Name was legally changed from Gene Alice Lester, May, 1977]
                                                                                           
         
    
  Expert witness, Middlesex NJ Family Court, 2005 (best interest hearing)                  
  Member, "Critical Pathways" teleconference on training and credentials (formed after ZTT/Mailman Foundation Infant Mental Health Systems Development Summit Conference, September 2005)
Expert witness, Thibault vs. Thibault, Pasco County, Florida, 2006 (child custody and discipline matter)
Expert witness, California vs. Sylvia Jovanna Vasquez, Santa Barbara County, CA,         2007 (child abuse matter)
  Reviewer, American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 2008.
  Testimony, Robertson vs. Mannion, Montgomery County, PA, 2008 (child custody  matter)
  Founding member, Institute for Science in Medicine, 2009—
Reviewer, Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, 2009-
Board of Directors, Delaware Valley Group of WAIMH, 2010—

PUBLICATIONS:

Lester, G., & Morant, R. (1967). Sound localization during labyrinthian stimulation.
            Proceedings of the 75th Annual Convention of the American Psychological
            Association, 1,19-20.
Lester, G. (1968). The case for efferent change during prism adaptation. Journal of
            Psychology, 68, 9-13.
Lester, G. (1968). The rod-and-frame test: Some comments on methodology. Perceptual
            and Motor Skills, 26, 1307-1314.
Lester, G. (1969). Comparison of five methods of presenting the rod-and-frame test.
            Perceptual and Motor Skills, 29, 147-151.
Lester, G. (1969). The role of the felt position of the head in the audiogyral illusion. Acta
            Psychologica, 31, 375-384.
Lester, G. (1969). Disconfirmation of an hypothesis about the Mueller-Lyer illusion.
            Perceptual and Motor Skills, 29, 369-370.
Lester, D., & Lester, G. (1970). The problem of the less intelligent student in the   introductory psychology course. The Clinical Psychologist, 23(4), 11-12.
Lester, G., & Lester, D. (1970). The fear of death, the fear of dying, and threshold            differences for death words and neutral words. Omega,1, 175-180.
Lester, G. (1970). Haidinger’s brushes and the perception of polarization. Acta
            Psychologica, 34, 107-114.
Lester, G., & Morant, R. (1970). Apparent sound displacement during vestibular   stimulation. American Journal of Psychology, 83, 554-566.
Lester, G. (1971). Vestibular stimulation and auditory thresholds. Journal of General
            Psychology, 85, 103-105.
Lester, G. (1971). Subjects’ assumptions and scores on the rod-and-frame test.
            Perceptual and Motor Skills, 32, 205-206.
Lester, G., & Lester, D. (1971). Suicide: The gamble with death. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
            Prentice-Hall.
Lester, D., & Lester, G. (1975). Crime of passion: Murder and the murderer. Chicago:
            Nelson-Hall.
Lester, G., & Rando, H. (1975). No correlation between rod-and-frame and visual
            normalization scores. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 40, 846.                                                                                                                                    

Lester, G., Bierbrauer, B., Selfridge, B., & Gomeringer, D. (1976). Distractibility,
            intensity of reaction, and nonnutritive sucking. Psychological Reports, 39, 1212-1214.
Lester, G. (1977). Size constancy scaling and the apparent thickness of the shaft in the
            Mueller-Lyer illusion. Journal of General Psychology, 97, 307-398.
Mercer, J. (1979). Small people: How children develop and what you can do about it.
            Chicago: Nelson-Hall.
Mercer, J. (1979). Personality development and the principle of reciprocal interweaving.
            Perceptual and Motor Skills, 48, 186.
Mercer, J. (1979). Guided observations in child development. Washington, D.C.:   University Press of America.
Mercer, J., & Russ, R. (1980). Variables affecting time between childbirth and the             establishment of lactation. Journal of General Psychology, 102, 155-156.
Mercer, J., & McMurphy, C. (1985). A stereotyped following behavior in young children.
            Journal of General Psychology, 112, 261-265.
Mercer, J. (1991). To everything there is a season: Development in the context of the
            lifespan. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Mercer, J.,& Gonsalves, S. (1992). Parental experience during treatment of very small
            preterm infants: Implications for mourning and for parent-infant relationships.
            Illness, Crisis, and Loss, 2, 70-73.
Gonsalves, S., & Mercer, J. (1993). Physiological correlates of painful stimulation in          preterm infants. Clinical Journal of Pain, 9, 88-93.
Mercer, J. (1998). Infant development: A multidisciplinary introduction. Belmont, CA:
            Brooks/Cole.
Mercer, J. (1999). ‘Psychological parenting” explained (letter). New Jersey Lawyer, July   12, 7.
Mercer, J. (2000/2001). Letter.Zero to Three, 21(3), 39.
Mercer, J. (2001). Warning: Are you aware of “holding therapy?” (letter). Pediatrics, 107,             1498.
Mercer, J. (2001). “Attachment therapy” using deliberate restraint: An object lesson on      the identification of unvalidated treatments. Journal of Child and Adolescent
            Psychiatric Nursing, 14(3), 105-114. This paper is posted at
            http://www.bpkids.org/learning/reference/articles/index.htm#journals_#
            with permission of the publisher to the Child and Adolescent Bipolar
            Foundation.
Mercer, J. (2002). Surrogate motherhood. In N. Salkind (Ed.), Child Development
            (pp. 399). New York: Macmillan Reference USA.
Mercer, J. (2002). Child psychotherapy involving physical restraint: Techniques used in     four approaches. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 19(4), 303-314.
Kennedy, S.S., Mercer, J., Mohr, W., & Huffine, C.W. (2002). Snake oil, ethics, and the   First Amendment: What’s a profession to do? American Journal of
            Orthopsychiatry, 72(1), 5-15.
Mercer, J. (2002). Attachment therapy: A treatment without empirical support. Scientific
Review of Mental Health Practice, 1(2), 9-16. Reprinted in S.O. Lilienfeld, J. Ruscio, & S.J. Lynn (Eds.), Navigating the mindfield: A user’s guide to distinguishing science from pseudoscience (pp. 435-453). Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books.
Mercer, J. (2002). The difficulties of double blinding (letter). Science,297, 2208.
Mercer, J. (2002) Attachment therapy. In M.Shermer (Ed.), The Skeptic Encyclopedia of
            Pseudoscience (pp. 43-47) .Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
Mercer, J., & Rosa, L. (2002). Letter on Attachment Therapy. New Jersey School
            Psychologist, 24 (8), 16-18.
Mercer, J., Sarner, L., & Rosa, L. (2003). Attachment therapy on trial: The torture
            and death of Candace Newmaker. Westport, CT: Praeger. (see also reviews in Scientific American, PsycCritique, Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice).
Mercer, J. (2003). Letter to the editor. APSAC Advisor,15(3), 19.
Mercer, J. (2003) Attachment therapy and adopted children: A caution. Readers’
            Forum. Contemporary Pediatrics, 20(10), 41.
Mercer, J. (2003). Violent  therapies: The rationale behind a potentially  harmful child        psychotherapy and its acceptance  by parents. Scientific Review of Mental Health
            Practice,  2(1), 27-37. 
Mercer, J. (2003). Media Watch: Radio and television programs approve of Coercive         Restraint Therapies. Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 2(2).(see also letters in subsequent issues)
Mercer, J. (2004). The dangers of Attachment Therapy: Parent education needed.
             Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, 20(10), 1, 6-7.
Mercer, J. (2005). Bubbles, bottles, baby talk, and basketty. Early Childhood Health Link
            (Newsletter of Healthy Child Care New Jersey), 4(1), 1-2.
Mercer, J. (2005). Coercive Restraint Therapies: A dangerous alternative mental health      intervention. Medscape General Medicine, 7(3). (see also letters in subsequent          issue). http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/508956.
Mercer, J. (2006). Understanding attachment: Parenthood, child care, and emotional         development. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Mercer, J. (2006). IEPs and Reactive Attachment Disorder: Recognizing and addressing   misinformation. Scope (Newsletter of the Washington State Association of School             Psychologists), 28(3), 2-6.
Mercer, J., Misbach, A., Pennington, R., & Rosa, L. (2006). Letter to the editor (age          regression definition). Child Maltreatment, 11, 378.
Mercer, J. (2007). Behaving yourself: Moral development in the secular family. In D..McGowan (Ed.), Parenting beyond belief (pp. 104-112). New York: Amacom    Books.
Mercer, J., & Pignotti, M. (2007). Letter to the editor (neurofeedback research critique).    International Journal of Behavioral and Consultation therapy, 3 (2), 324-325 (http://www.behavior-analyst-today.com/BAR2007/BAR-VOL-2.pdf ).

Pignotti, M., & Mercer, J. (2007). Holding Therapy and Dyadic Developmental     Psychotherapy are not supported, acceptable social work interventions: A         systematic research synthesis revisited. Research on Social Work Practice,  17 (4), 513-519.

Mercer, J. (2007). Systematic child maltreatment: Connections with unconventional           parent and professional education. Society for Child and Family Policy and Practice Advocate (Division 37 of APA), 30 (2),  pp.5-6.

Mercer, J. ( 2007).Media Watch: Wikipedia and "open source" mental health          information.  Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. 5(1), 88-92.

 Mercer, J. (2007) Destructive trends in alternative infant mental health approaches.           Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 5(2), 44-58.

 Mercer, J., & Pignotti, M.  (2007). Shortcuts cause errors in Systematic      Research          Syntheses: Rethinking evaluation of mental health interventions. Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 5(2), 59-77.

Mercer, J. (2008). Minding controls in curriculum study (letter). Science, 319, 1184.

Mercer, J. (2009).Child Development: Myths and Misunderstandings.Los Angeles,CA: Sage.

Mercer, J., Pennington, R.S., Pignotti, M., & Rosa, L. (2009). Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy is not "evidence-based": Comments in response to Becker-Weidman and Hughes (2009). Child and Family Social Work, 15,  1-5. http://www.wiley.com/bw/journal.asp?ref=1356-7500 . DOI:10.1111/j.1365-2206.2009.00609.x.

Mercer, J. (2009). Child custody evaluations, attachment theory, and an attachment measure: The science remains limited. Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 7(1), 37-54.

Mercer, J. (2010). Themes and variations in development: Can nanny-bots act like human caregivers? Interaction Studies, 11(2), 233-237.

 Mercer, J. (2011). Attachment theory and its vicissitudes: Toward an updated theory. Theory and Psychology, 21, 25-45.

Mercer, J. (2011). The concept of psychological regression: Metaphors, mapping, Queen Square, and Tavistock Square. History of Psychology,14, 174-196.

Mercer, J. (2011). Some aspects of CAM mental health interventions: Regression, recapitulation, and “secret sympathies”. Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 8, 36-55.

Mercer, J. (2011). Book review: Rachel Stryker’s (2010) The road to Evergreen. Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 8, 69-74.

Mercer.J. (2011). Martial arts research: Weak evidence. (Letter). Science, 334, 310-311.

Mercer, J. (2012). Reply to Sudbery, Shardlow, and Huntington: Holding therapy. British Journal of  Social Work, 42, 556-559 . DOI: 10.1093/bjsw.bcr078.

Mercer, J. (2013). Child development: Myths and misunderstandings, 2nd ed. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Mercer, J., (2013). Deliverance, demonic possession, and mental illness: Some considerations for mental health professionals. Mental Health, Religion, and Culture 16(6), 596-611. DOI:10.1080.13674676.2012.707272.

Mercer, J. (2012). Attachment in children and adolescents. (Childhood Studies section). H. Montgomery (Ed.), Oxford Bibliographies Online. www.oxfordbibliographies.com.

Mercer, J. (2013, in press). Attachment therapies. In R. Cautin &  S.O. Lilienfeld (Eds.), Encyclopedia of clinical psychology. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

Mercer, J. (2013, in press). Controversial therapies. In R. Cautin & S.O.Lilienfeld (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Clinical Psychology. New York:Wiley-Blackwell.

Mercer, J. (2013). Holding Therapy in Britain: Historical background, recent events, and ethical concerns. Adoption & Fostering, 37(2), 144-156. .

Mercer, J. (2013). Holding therapy: A harmful alternative mental health intervention. Focus on Alternative and Complementary Therapies, 18(2), 70-76.

Mercer, J. (2013). Giving parents information about Reactive Attachment Disorder: Some problems. Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, 29 (8), 1, 6-7.


             
UNPUBLISHED/ IN PREPARATION:
Lester, G. (1968). Some investigations of the audiogyral illusion. Unpublished Ph.D. thesis, Brandeis University.
Mercer, J. (1993) The successful single parent. Unpublished book-length ms.
Mercer, J.  The developing child in
            changing times: Infancy through adolescence  Unpublished book-length ms.
Invited comments on the New Jersey Children’s Initiative proposal (March 10, 2000);
             with Gerard Costa and Elaine Herzog.
Invited comments on the U.S. Bright Futures children’s mental health proposal (July 5,     2000); with Gerard Costa.
Mercer, J. (2000). Notes on Attachment Therapy: Relevant Research and Theory. Prepared for use by the prosecution in the trial of Connell Watkins, Colorado,                      April 2001.
Sarner, L., & Mercer, J. (2003). Statement to Human Resources Subcommittee of House   Ways and Means Committee. http:// waysandmeans.house.gov/hearings.asp?formmode+view&id+1342.
Mercer, J. (January, 2005). Expert witness report. State of Utah Division of Occupational             and Professional Licensing. Case number 2002-223.
Mercer, J. (April, 2005). Expert witness report.  Child custody case, Middlesex Family Court, New Brunswick, NJ.
Mercer, J. (October, 2006). Expert witness report. Child custody case, Pasco County,        Florida.


BLOGS AND OTHER INTERNET MATERIALS:


“Attachment therapies and associated parenting techniques.” www.scienceinmedicine.org/policy/papers/AttachmentTherapy.pdf.

“Critical thinking and the mastery of child development concepts.” www.thelizlibrary.org/liz/critical-thinking.html.




RECENT PRESENTATIONS:
Various presentations on child development and parenting issues to parent groups and
            training workshops, including CASA.

“Law, policy, and attachment issues”; presentation at the Second Annual Conference on   Attachment of the New Jersey Psychological Association. June 9, 2000,        Newark, NJ.

“Custody changes and their effect on children’s development”; presentation at New          Jersey State Child Placement Advisory Council conference, April, 2001. 

“Bad language: How the professions confuse each other with words,” welcoming address             at conference on Attachment, New Jersey Association for Infant Mental Health,
            Piscataway, NJ, April, 2002.

“That cranky, crying baby”; presentation at National Association for Education of Young             Children  Conference on Health in Child Care, Princeton, NJ, May, 2002;      repeated May, 2003,  May, 2004.

“Warning Signals: When parents consider unusual mental health treatments for their          children”; presentation at Third Annual Multicultural Health Conference, Richard       Stockton College, Pomona, NJ, Sept. 2002.

“Misuse and abuse of attachment theory”; keynote speech at 2002 Annual Meeting, New Jersey Association for Infant Mental Health, Piscataway, NJ, Nov. 2002.

“Attachment Therapy: Science adversaries appeal to scientific evidence.” Institute of        Contemporary British History conference, “Science, Its Advocates and      Adversaries”, London, July 7-9, 2003.

“Analyzing Attachment Therapy”, at “Right From the Start: Supporting the Earliest          Relationships and their Impact on Later Years,” professional conference presented by Youth Consultation Services  Institute for Infant and Preschool Mental Health,        Newark, Sept. 24-25, 2003 (continuing professional education credit-bearing).

“Principles of Infant Mental Health”, at “What Does Infant Mental Health Mean to Me?”,            professional conference sponsored by New Jersey Association for Infant Mental            Health, Gateway Maternal-Child Health Consortium, Northwest Maternal-Child         Health Consortium, Piscataway, NJ, Nov. 13, 2003 (continuing professional     education credit-bearing).

“Attachment and Attachment Therapy: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, at  annual       meeting, Gateway  Maternal-Child Health  Consortium. East  Orange, NJ, March          25, 2004 (Continuing professional education credit).

“Attachment.” Annual conference of New Jersey Association for Education of Young      Children, East Brunswick, NJ, Oct. 16, 2004 (continuing professional education
            credit)

Discussion of Attachment Therapy. “All in the Mind”, Australian Broadcasting     Company,        Dec. 18, 2004. Transcript available at http://abc.net.au/rn/science/mind.

“Attachment: Social and Emotional Development from Birth to Preschool.” Conference    of  Coalition of Infant and Toddler Educators, East Brunswick, NJ, March 18, 2005.

“Attachment Therapy: Concerns on Unvalidated Treatments.” Institute for Infant and       Preschool Mental Health Didactic Series, Youth Consultation Service, East    Orange, NJ, May 12, 2005.

"Violent therapies with children: History and theory.” 9th  International Family Violence Research Conference, Portsmouth, NH, July 11, 2005.

Invited state delegate and New Jersey presenter, Infant Mental Health Systems Development Summit conference, sponsored by Mailman Foundation/Zero to Three. Washington DC, Sept. 22-24, 2005.

New Jersey Perinatal Mood Disorders training program presentations, 2005-2006.

“Dangerous therapies”, with Alan Misbach. LCSW.  Independent Educational Consultants Association conference, Philadelphia, Nov. 14, 2005.

"Attachment Therapy". Institute for Infant and Preschool Mental Health Didactic Series, Youth Consultation Service, East Orange, NJ, April 27, 2006.

"Attachment Therapy" comments, Paula Zahn show, CNN, Nov. 14, 2006.

"Attachment Therapy" comments, Court TV, Nov. 27, 2006.

"Understanding attachment." Delaware Valley Group, WAIMH. Dec. 1, 2006.

"Strategies for picky eaters." Jan 31, 2007, NJ WIC training, Ewing, NJ.

"Just the facts, ma'am: Asking and answering the right questions about evidence-based treatment." May 17, 2007. Florida Association for Infant Mental Health, Ft. Lauderdale.

Panel on secular parenting, moderated by Dale McGowan. Atheist Alliance International,
             annual conference, Arlington, VA, Sept. 29, 2007.

"Circumstantial Evidence: Evaluating Design and Details of Outcome Research" (poster presentation). Dec. 1, 2007. Zero to Three National Training Institute, Orlando, Florida.

"Theory of Mind: A New Approach to Attachment." Conference of Coalition of Infant and Toddler Educators, New Brunswick, NJ, March 14, 2008.

"Novel Unsupported Therapies: Pseudoscientific and Cult-like". With Monica Pignotti and James Herbert. International Cultic Studies Association conference, Philadelphia, June 27, 2008

"Attachment Theory, Evidence-based Practice, and Rogue Therapies: Using and Misusing the Concept of Attachment." With R.S. Pennington, L. Rosa, and L. Sarner. Wisconsin School Psychologists Association conference, LaCrosse, WI, Oct. 29, 2008.

"Are There Research-based Child Custody Evaluations? An Ongoing Case and an Ongoing Discussion." Annual  Conference, New Jersey Association for Infant Mental Health, Dec. 12, 2008, North Brunswick, NJ.

“A Problematic Parenting Pattern Associated With Child Deaths.” Eastern Psychological Association, March7, 2009, Pittsburgh, PA. 

“Personalities and Power Struggles: Discipline, Temperament, and Attachment.” Coalition of Infant and Toddler Educators Annual Conference, March 14, 2009, Somerset, NJ.

“Don’t Be So [Un]critical! Using Critical Thinking to Foster Mastery of Child development Concepts.”  Developmental Science Teaching Institute, Society for Research in Child Development, April 1, 2009, Denver, CO.

“Psychological Concepts and Measures in the Family Court”. Judicial Orientation, Essex Vicinage (NJ). Princeton, NJ, Oct. 2, 2009. (With Michelle DeKlyen, Ph.D.)

“Are There Research-Based Child Custody Evaluations?”. Conference on Infants and Children in the Courts, sponsored by Youth Consultation Service and NJAIMH; Clara Maass Medical Center, Belleville, NJ, March 19, 2010.

“Unconventional Psychotherapies: Some Questions About Their History.” Eastern Psychological Association, March 11, 2011, Cambridge, MA.

“Myths and Misunderstandings.” Conference of the Delaware Valley Group of the World Association for Infant Mental Health, Feb. 3, 2012, Philadelphia, PA.

Comments on Attachment Therapy and treatment of Russian adoptees. “Life with Mikhail Zelensky”, Rossiya-1 TV, Feb. 21, 2013.

“Fetal Psychology in Psychohistory.” Eastern Psychological Association, March 2, 2013, New York.

“Jirina Prekopova’s holding therapy: Scientifically founded or otherwise?” Conference of the International Working Group on Abuse in Child Psychotherapy, April 20, 2013, London.

“  ‘Nancy Thomas parenting’ in the U.S. and Russia: Another part of the holding therapy problem.”  With Yulia Massino. Conference of the International Working Group on Abuse in Child Psychotherapy, April 20, 2013, London.




Friday, May 15, 2009

Humans and animals: "Free will", or not?

An intriguing statement appeared in the journal Science a few days ago. Writing about the way humans experience the decision to move and act, Patrick Haggard said the following: "Every day we make actions that seem to depend on our 'free will' rather than on any obvious external stimulus. This capacity not only differentiates humans from other animals, but also gives us the clear sense of controlling our bodies and our lives" (p. 731).

It is difficult to know whether this remarkable statement was or was not intended to be provocative, but it raises many questions.

Certainly human beings have a sense of free will, and many of them will fight fiercely to maintain that they have not only the sense of free will, but free will itself. The achievement of a feeling of autonomy is one of the great motivating forces of several stages of human development, and the feeling of being controlled is one that is often associated with anxiety and shame at an existential level, as if loss of control is equivalent to loss of being. In addition, some religious traditions stress the role of free will for human beings, who in order to achieve salvation must make conscious decisions to love God, obey commandments, submit to authority, and so on. For persons committed to such traditions, the absence of free will implies a universe without meaning or pattern, in which salvation is granted in an arbitrary way like that proposed by Calvin.

When free will is perceived as related to religious belief and to the ultimate fate of souls, animals are generally seen as lacking in both souls and free will-- even in all conscious experience, as the Jansenist system claimed. Thinkers with this perspective equate a soul (the part of personality they consider to survive the death of the body) to be the same as a mind, and therefore to be necessary for experiencing any events, internal or external to the person. If a dog had conscious experience or free will, they argue, it would have a soul, and its soul would have the same potential fates of salvation or damnation as a human being, which would not be an acceptable idea.

It is not clear whether Haggard wants to say that humans are different from animals in that they feel they have free will-- their actions "seem to depend on our 'free will'-- or are different because they actually do have free will. The latter question goes far beyond what scientific evidence can answer and involves the differences between natural and supernatural events. The former question is not as profound, but is not answerable by any methods we presently have. How could we know whether a cat or dog or camel thinks it has free will? Given that human beings who have not given the issue much thought generally believe that they have free will, it seems likely that animals, insofar as they are even capable of posing the question, would also believe this.

Until we can teach an animal to communicate in symbols we can understand, we won't know the answer to the question of animal beliefs or experiences. But if an animal did learn complex communication-- would what they told us also be true of the experiences of non-talking animals? No wonder we tend to pay more attention to brain functions than to the really difficult topics!



Haggard, P. (2009). The sources of human volition. Science, 324, 731-733.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Eye contact? Part 2

"Eye contact", or prolonged mutual gaze, is something adults do when they want to communicate some emotional information. They may stare in order to try to intimidate another person, who looks back in resistance or drops her eyes in submissive response. They may gaze in order to flirt with an attractive companion, who may avoid the gaze, make repeated brief eye contact in a coy way, and perhaps finally permit a long mutual gaze as he or she acknowledges interest. Strangers who want to play with a baby they meet in public may keep on trying to catch the baby's gaze-- but for babies of 8-10 months old or older, this action is alarming, and the more the stranger tries, the more the baby avoids the look or even begins to cry. Lovers walking toward each other in public maintain their mutual gaze, and so do parents and toddlers as they approach each other, but acquaintances only glance at each other periodically, and even when standing together and talking will make and break eye contact frequently.

So, eye contact indicates the nature of a relationship or of the attitude of one person toward another. But, does eye contact actually cause the relationship, as would be suggested by popular beliefs about parents gazing into babies' eyes? Is the attachment of a toddler to a parent based on past experience of eye contact?

When several factors seem to work together, or have mutual effects on each other, it's quite hard to tell which cause determines which outcome. This is especially true when we can only look at natural events rather than doing experimentation. Sometimes, fortunately, natural events provide us with some information that can rule out an explanation.

Considering the connection between eye contact and attachment, it turns out that we do have some natural events that tell us that eye contact is at most one of several causes of attachment. There are some babies for whom a typical experience of eye contact is not possible. There are babies who are born blind or who lose their vision very early in life, and there are sighted babies who have blind parents. In either case, the baby and its parents did not spend time making "eye contact", although up to a few months of age a blind baby may appear to be doing so. Nevertheless, blind babies do develop attachment to their parents, provided they have opportunities for consistent caregiving experiences and social interactions like vocalization or mutual touch.

The fact of attachment without the opportunity for eye contact suggests that the cause and effect connection may be the other way around: that is, toddlers make eye contact with their parents because they are attached to them, not vice-versa.

What about autism? One of the most common ideas about autistic children is that they avoid eye contact and therefore fail to learn the ways of emotional communication which typical humans use with each other. It does seem to be the case that autistic toddlers don't show the "joint attention" behavior of shifting the gaze from someone's eyes to an interesting object and back again, nor do they use eye contact to try to get an adult to do something for them. A typically-developing toddler who wants help to open a container will make eye contact with an adult and hold the container out to the person; an autistic toddler does not gaze at the adult's eyes, but reaches for the person's hand and tries to put it on the container. However, recent research suggests that autistic children can actually pay attention to things they are not apparently "looking at", so questions about their gaze may need a lot more work.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Eye contact with babies-- how important is it?

People have believed for centuries that the human gaze had remarkable powers. In the distant past, most people thought that rays came out of the eyes and explored the world, carrying information about objects back to the brain. (Some still believe this-- even college freshmen.)

One of the important abilities attributed to gazing involved the mutual gaze, or "eye contact", where two people look into each other's eyes and feel as if they are communicating powerful emotions. "Eye contact" is often said to play a critical role in interactions between adults and babies, and even to help create emotional attachment in early life. A related idea is that breastfeeding mothers and babies gaze intently into each other's eyes and thus establish an emotional connection.

Let's examine some of these ideas. Do babies see well when very young, and do they spend time in mutual gaze with their caregivers?

Newborn babies have vision, but it still has to develop for quite a while before it's as good as an older child's. Newborns (infants in the first month of life) can only see clearly at certain limited distances. They are well adapted to looking at a face from about 10-18 inches from their eyes, which would be a typical distance if an adult held the baby in his or her arms. Babies are more interested in some things they can look at than in others. They like things that are shiny, that move around, and that have patterns rather than just a blank surface. Of course, this set of characteristics describes human eyes-- they are moist and reflect light, they move as we examine something we're looking at, and they have white, colored, and dark parts, as well as eyelashes and lids that move. So, babies with normal vision do look at eyes when they get a chance. What this means to the baby, we can't tell, but it is very exciting and gratifying for the adult when "eye contact" is made.

A curious thing about young babies' eye contact is that blind babies do it too. How? They listen to the adult voice, then move their gaze so they are "looking" in the right direction. It appears to the adult that the baby is looking at him or her, and the adult may not even realize that the baby can't see.

What about the breastfeeding baby? Does he or she gaze into the mother's eyes while nursing? Actually, no; young babies, especially, usually squeeze their eyes tight shut while they nurse. In any case, because the baby has to turn its face toward the breast to take the nipple, it would have to work hard to be able to look up at the face at the same time. Older babies (8 months or so) may have figured out how to hold the nipple in their mouths while turning to look up at the mother or at someone else in the room, and they may let go the nipple and play or babble to the mother for a little while before nursing again. But an intense mutual gaze during breastfeeding is pretty infrequent. (And remember, breastfeeding mothers are not necessarily gazing at the infant. They may be eating, drinking, talking on the phone, or reading to an older child.)

As babies get a few months older, they can see better, and they also begin to use their eyes in a way that gives signals to an adult. For example, suppose you are playing with a baby and the baby gets tired, or maybe you have just come on a little too strong and been too stimulating. The baby turns the gaze away from your face, gets quiet for a moment, and just withdraws to have a little rest. The averted gaze works to tell a sensitive adult that the baby needs to back off for a bit. Then, rested up, the baby looks back at your eyes, smiles, and shows readiness to play some more. This slightly older baby gazes at the adult sometimes, but has the mature capacity to be able to stop looking. A baby who gazed at its caregiver's eyes a great deal of the time would not be showing the level of development we would expect by 3-6 months of age.

In the second half of the first year, babies begin to show a new use of the gaze for communication. They develop the ability for an important skill called "joint attention." The baby sees something interesting like puppies playing-- watches intently-- then turns to "catch the eye" of an adult, and looks back at the puppies again. Babies will do this several times until they get the adult to look at the puppies. Just like an adult, the older baby can use the gaze to point, as a pointing finger would be used. Also like an adult, the older baby wants to share the fun with a loved person, and wants to look at the puppies together with someone else. At the end of the sequence, the two look at each other and smile. (Notice that the baby does not do this in order to get the adult to do anything other than share the interesting sight. This is not a way to get fed, or picked up, or even carried over to see the puppies.) Again, mutual gaze or "eye contact" is only a part of the communication the adult and baby carry out with their eyes.

*** Readers, if you have found this post in your search for current material about eye contact and autism, please look at my post for Nov. 7, 2013,which discusses the Nature article by Warren Jones and Ami Klin.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Robot nannies and applied ethics

In the journal "Science", 24 April 2009, pp. 463-464, two letters from computer specialists take different sides on the desirability of proposed "child-minding" robots. One letter states, "Intuitively, we... suspect that nanny-bots are not good for the psychological development of children left in their care, but until empirical research demonstrates this, we must suspend judgment; such research might, in fact, find no harm at all." The other letter rejoins, " I think that waiting for empirical research to demonstrate psychological harm to children is dangerous. Suspending judgment about possible harm when many empirical studies show the lasting effects of neglect is not a good option."

A critical point about this disagreement has to do with the fact that there will be no empirical research on "nanny-bots", unless some dramatic changes in research ethics take place. Research that has the potential for harming children is not approved, much less funded, unless its dangers are balanced by the likelihood of finding information that will prevent some existing cause of harm from functioning. "Primum non nocere"-- first, do no harm-- is the principal guideline for researchers who work with infants and children. Institutional Review Boards, groups that review and approve or disapprove research plans, are equally concerned with the possibility that experimental work might cause developmental problems.

Very well, though, aren't there different approaches to research? Nanny-bots are not against the law. Suppose some parents chose to use them? Could researchers not collect data about the bot-reared children and use that information to decide whether robots fostered good development? Yes, this could be done; but no, the results of this research would not give us satisfactory answers about the effect or robot-rearing. This type of quasi-experimental research design is plagued by confounded variables-- factors that occur together in such a way that we can't figure out which of them has which effect. For example, we might guess that the average parent would not choose to use a nanny-bot. What kind of parent might make this choice? We can only speculate, but such a choice might accompany an unusual level or type of education; family income; family realtionships outside the marriage; marriage itself; involvement with the community; professional demands on the parents; health status of parents; mental health and personality; characteristics of the child that make him or her difficult or easy to care for; and many other possibilities. If a bot-reared child develops worse than other children-- or better-- we have no way to know which factor or factors caused the difference.

Interestingly, the authors of these letters were concerned that robot-rearing might be analogized to neglect, and have effects similar to neglect, but presumably a nanny-bot would be built to respond quickly to infant cues. The big problem would seem to be that the nature of those cues changes rapidly in the course of early development, so the nanny-bot would need to be re-set to different types of cues as time passed. The authors also referred to "bonding" and "attachment" as problems resulting from the children's "anthropomorphic projection", but the meaning of this concern was not clear. The most likely developmental problem for the bot-reared would probably have to do with communication and language, both of which involve complex cognitive abilities on the part of adults partnering with communicating infants.

Goodman, K.W., & Einspruch, N.G. (2009, April 24). The way forward in the world of robotics. Science, 324, 463-464.

Sharkey, N. (2009, April 24). Response. Science, 324, 464.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Jean Mercer's publication list

PUBLICATIONS: N.B. Jean Mercer's name was legally changed from Gene Lester in 1977.

Lester, G., & Morant, R. (1967). Sound localization during labyrinthian stimulation.
Proceedings of the 75th Annual Convention of the American Psychological
Association, 1,19-20.
Lester, G. (1968). The case for efferent change during prism adaptation. Journal of
Psychology, 68, 9-13.
Lester, G. (1968). The rod-and-frame test: Some comments on methodology. Perceptual
and Motor Skills, 26, 1307-1314.
Lester, G. (1969). Comparison of five methods of presenting the rod-and-frame test.
Perceptual and Motor Skills, 29, 147-151.
Lester, G. (1969). The role of the felt position of the head in the audiogyral illusion. Acta
Psychologica, 31, 375-384.
Lester, G. (1969). Disconfirmation of an hypothesis about the Mueller-Lyer illusion.
Perceptual and Motor Skills, 29, 369-370.
Lester, D., & Lester, G. (1970). The problem of the less intelligent student in the introductory psychology course. The Clinical Psychologist, 23(4), 11-12.
Lester, G., & Lester, D. (1970). The fear of death, the fear of dying, and threshold differences for death words and neutral words. Omega,1, 175-180.
Lester, G. (1970). Haidinger’s brushes and the perception of polarization. Acta
Psychologica, 34, 107-114.
Lester, G., & Morant, R. (1970). Apparent sound displacement during vestibular stimulation. American Journal of Psychology, 83, 554-566.
Lester, G. (1971). Vestibular stimulation and auditory thresholds. Journal of General
Psychology, 85, 103-105.
Lester, G. (1971). Subjects’ assumptions and scores on the rod-and-frame test.
Perceptual and Motor Skills, 32, 205-206.
Lester, G., & Lester, D. (1971). Suicide: The gamble with death. Englewood Cliffs, NJ:
Prentice-Hall.
Lester, D., & Lester, G. (1975). Crime of passion: Murder and the murderer. Chicago:
Nelson-Hall.
Lester, G., & Rando, H. (1975). No correlation between rod-and-frame and visual
normalization scores. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 40, 846.

Lester, G., Bierbrauer, B., Selfridge, B., & Gomeringer, D. (1976). Distractibility,
intensity of reaction, and nonnutritive sucking. Psychological Reports, 39, 1212-1214.
Lester, G. (1977). Size constancy scaling and the apparent thickness of the shaft in the
Mueller-Lyer illusion. Journal of General Psychology, 97, 307-398.
Mercer, J. (1979). Small people: How children develop and what you can do about it.
Chicago: Nelson-Hall.
Mercer, J. (1979). Personality development and the principle of reciprocal interweaving.
Perceptual and Motor Skills, 48, 186.
Mercer, J. (1979). Guided observations in child development. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America.
Mercer, J., & Russ, R. (1980). Variables affecting time between childbirth and the establishment of lactation. Journal of General Psychology, 102, 155-156.
Mercer, J., & McMurphy, C. (1985). A stereotyped following behavior in young children.
Journal of General Psychology, 112, 261-265.
Mercer, J. (1991). To everything there is a season: Development in the context of the
lifespan. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Mercer, J.,& Gonsalves, S. (1992). Parental experience during treatment of very small
preterm infants: Implications for mourning and for parent-infant relationships.
Illness, Crisis, and Loss, 2, 70-73.
Gonsalves, S., & Mercer, J. (1993). Physiological correlates of painful stimulation in preterm infants. Clinical Journal of Pain, 9, 88-93.
Mercer, J. (1998). Infant development: A multidisciplinary introduction. Belmont, CA:
Brooks/Cole.
Mercer, J. (1999). ‘Psychological parenting” explained (letter). New Jersey Lawyer, July 12, 7.
Mercer, J. (2000/2001). Letter.Zero to Three, 21(3), 39.
Mercer, J. (2001). Warning: Are you aware of “holding therapy?” (letter). Pediatrics, 107, 1498.
Mercer, J. (2001). “Attachment therapy” using deliberate restraint: An object lesson on the identification of unvalidated treatments. Journal of Child and Adolescent
Psychiatric Nursing, 14(3), 105-114. This paper is posted at
http://www.bpkids.org/learning/reference/articles/index.htm#journals_#
with permission of the publisher to the Child and Adolescent Bipolar
Foundation.
Mercer, J. (2002). Surrogate motherhood. In N. Salkind (Ed.), Child Development
(pp. 399). New York: Macmillan Reference USA.
Mercer, J. (2002). Child psychotherapy involving physical restraint: Techniques used in four approaches. Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, 19(4), 303-314.
Kennedy, S.S., Mercer, J., Mohr, W., & Huffine, C.W. (2002). Snake oil, ethics, and the First Amendment: What’s a profession to do? American Journal of
Orthopsychiatry, 72(1), 5-15.
Mercer, J. (2002). Attachment therapy: A treatment without empirical support. Scientific
Review of Mental Health Practice, 1(2), 9-16.
Mercer, J. (2002). The difficulties of double blinding (letter). Science,297, 2208.
Mercer, J. (2002) Attachment therapy. In M.Shermer (Ed.), The Skeptic Encyclopedia of
Pseudoscience (pp. 43-47) .Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.
Mercer, J., & Rosa, L. (2002). Letter on Attachment Therapy. New Jersey School
Psychologist, 24 (8), 16-18.
Mercer, J., Sarner, L., & Rosa, L. (2003). Attachment therapy on trial: The torture
and death of Candace Newmaker. Westport, CT: Praeger. (see also reviews in Scientific American, PsycCritique, Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice).
Mercer, J. (2003). Letter to the editor. APSAC Advisor,15(3), 19.
Mercer, J. (2003) Attachment therapy and adopted children: A caution. Readers’
Forum. Contemporary Pediatrics, 20(10), 41.
Mercer, J. (2003). Violent therapies: The rationale behind a potentially harmful child psychotherapy and its acceptance by parents. Scientific Review of Mental Health
Practice, 2(1), 27-37.
Mercer, J. (2003). Media Watch: Radio and television programs approve of Coercive Restraint Therapies. Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 2(2).(see also letters in subsequent issues)
Mercer, J. (2004). The dangers of Attachment Therapy: Parent education needed.
Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, 20(10), 1, 6-7.
Mercer, J. (2005). Bubbles, bottles, baby talk, and basketty. Early Childhood Health Link
(Newsletter of Healthy Child Care New Jersey), 4(1), 1-2.
Mercer, J. (2005). Coercive Restraint Therapies: A dangerous alternative mental health intervention. Medscape General Medicine, 7(3). (see also letters in subsequent issue). http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/508956.
Mercer, J. (2006). Understanding attachment: Parenthood, child care, and emotional development. Westport, CT: Praeger.
Mercer, J. (2006). IEPs and Reactive Attachment Disorder: Recognizing and addressing misinformation. Scope (Newsletter of the Washington State Association of School Psychologists), 28(3), 2-6.
Mercer, J., Misbach, A., Pennington, R., & Rosa, L. (2006). Letter to the editor (age regression definition). Child Maltreatment, 11, 378.
Mercer, J. (2007). Behaving yourself: Moral development in the secular family. In D..McGowan (Ed.), Parenting beyond belief (pp. 104-112). New York: Amacom Books.
Mercer, J., & Pignotti, M. (2007). Letter to the editor (neurofeedback research critique). International Journal of Behavioral and Consultation therapy, 3 (2), 324-325 (http://www.behavior-analyst-today.com/BAR2007/BAR-VOL-2.pdf ).

Pignotti, M., & Mercer, J. (2007). Holding Therapy and Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy are not supported, acceptable social work interventions: A
systematic research synthesis revisited. Research on Social Work Practice,
17 (4), 513-519.

Mercer, J. (2007). Systematic child maltreatment: Connections with unconventional parent and professional education. Society for Child and Family Policy and Practice Advocate (Division 37 of APA), 30 (2), pp.5-6.

Mercer, J. ( 2007).Media Watch: Wikipedia and "open source" mental health information. Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. 5(1), 88-92.
Mercer, J. (2007) Destructive trends in alternative infant mental health approaches. Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 5(2), 44-58.

Mercer, J., & Pignotti, M. (2007). Shortcuts cause errors in Systematic Research Syntheses: Rethinking evaluation of mental health interventions. Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 5(2), 59-77.

Mercer, J. (2008). Minding controls in curriculum study (letter). Science, 319, 1184.

Mercer, J. (2009).Child Development: Myths and Misunderstandings.Los Angeles,CA: Sage.

Mercer, J., Pennington, R.S., Pignotti, M., & Rosa, L. (2009, in press). Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy is not "evidence-based": Comments in response to Becker-Weidman and Hughes (2009, in production). Child and Family Social Work.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

An unpublished paper

The posts following this one are sections of an unpublished paper discussing the importance of critical thinking abilities for mastery of child development concepts.

Scroll down to the "Introduction" section to begin reading, then follow the numbered sections.

Critical thinking and mastery of child development concepts, References

This is the reference section of an unpublished paper on critical thinking and the teaching of child development.


References
Ainsworth, M.D.S., Blehar, M., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
Alberts, B. (2009). Redefining science education. Science, 323, 437.
Brown, J.A.C. (1963). Techniques of persuasion. Baltimore: Penguin.
Burbules, N., & Linn, M. (1988). Response to contradiction: Scientific reasoning during adolescence. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80, 67-75.
Daniel Yankelovitch Group for Zero to Three and Civitas. (2000). What grownups understand about child development: A benchmark study. Washington, DC: Zero to Three.
Des Jarlais, D.C., Lyles, C., & Crepaz, N., for the TREND Group (2004). Improving the reporting quality of nonrandomized evaluations of behavioral and public health interventions. American Journal of Public Health, 94, 361-366.
Gula,R.J.(2002).Nonsense:A handbook of logical fallacies. Mount Jackson,VA:Axios.
Johnson-Laird, P.N., Legrenzi, P., Girotto, V., & Legrenzi, M. (2000). Illusions in reasoning about consistency. Science, 288, 531-532.
Kagan, J. (2000). Three seductive ideas. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Klaczynski, P., & Narasimham, G. (1998). Development of scientific reasoning biases. Developmental Psychology, 34, 175-187.
Kuhn, D. (1993). Connecting scientific and informal reasoning. Merrill-Palmer Quarterly, 39, 74-103.
Lawson, T.J. (1999). Assessing psychological crtical thinking as a learning outcome for psychology majors. Teaching of Psychology, 26, 207-209.
Lilienfeld, S.O., Lynn, S.J., & Lohr, J.M. (2003). Science and pseudoscience in clinical psychology: Initial thoughts, reflections, and considerations. In Lilienfeld, S.O., Lynn, S.J., & Lohr, J.M. (Eds.), Science and pseudoscience in clinical psychology (pp. 1-14). New York: Guilford.
McCabe, D., & Castel, A. (2008). Seeing is believing: The effects of brain images on judgment of scientific reasoning. Cognition, 107, (1), 343-352.
Mercer, J. (2009). Child development: Myths and misunderstandings. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Moher, D., Jones, A., & LePage, L., for the CONSORT Group (2001). Use of the CONSORT statement and quality of reports of randomized trials: A comparative before-and-after evaluation. Journal of the American Medical Association, 285, 1992-1995.
Moore, J.A. (1999).Science as a way of knowing. Cambridge,MA: Harvard University.
Penningroth, S.L., Despain, L.H., & Gray, M.J. (2007). A course designed to improve psychological critical thinking. Teaching of Psychology, 34(3), 153-157.
Perry, W.G. (1970). Forms of intellectual and ethical development in the college years: A scheme. New York: Holt, Rinehart, Winston.
Piaget, J. (1922). Essai sur la multiplication logique et les debuts de la pensee formelle. Journal de Psychologie Normale et Pathologique, 19, 222-261.
Price, M. (2009). Programmed for life? Monitor on Psychology, 40 (2), 29-31.
Prose, F. (1999). I know why the caged bird cannot read: How American high school students come to loathe literature. Harper’s, 149, 76-84.
Roisman , G. I., Fraley, R.C., & Belsky, J. (2007). A taxometric study of the Adult Attachment Interview. Developmental Psychology, 43(3), 675-686.
Santiago Declaration(2007).Retrieved Jan. 26, 2009,from http://www.jsmf.org/santiagodeclaration/
Sharp, I.R., Herbert, J.D., & Redding, R. (2008). The role of critical thinking skills in practicing clinical psychologists’ choice of intervention techniques. Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, 6 (1), 21-30.
Stanovich, K.E. (2004). How to think straight about psychology. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1974). Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Science, 185, 1124-1131.
Waldrop, M.M. (1987).Causality, structure, and common sense.Science,237, 1297-1299.
Waters, E., Kondo-Ikemura, K. Posada, G., & Richters, J. (1991). Learning to love: Mechanisms and milestones. In Gunnar, M., & Sroufe, L. (Eds.), Minnesota Symposia on Child Psychology,23; Self-processes and development (pp. 217-255). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.Weisberg, D.S., Keil, F.C., Goodstein, J., Rawson, E., & Gray, J.R. (2008). The seductive allure of neuroscience explanations. Journal of Cognitive

Critical thinking and mastery of child development concepts, Part 6

This is the sixth section of an unpublished paper on critical thinking and the teaching of child development.


Critical Thinking Problems Related to Topics in Developmental Science
In this section, I will describe some specific problems of critical thinking-- incidents where many thinkers make systematic errors-- and their relevance to some topics and problems of developmental science. It is possible that correction of these types of errors can help students understand material that they otherwise find confusing. It is also possible that the modeling of these errors by lecture or textbook may limit students’ ability to detect them. The types of errors discussed here were chosen from a list put together by Gula (2002), who did not use examples from child development.
Problems of Irrelevance
A major critical thinking issue for most students is their inability to discriminate between relevant and irrelevant information, and their tendency to be distracted or confused by irrelevancies. I would point out again that our well-intentioned efforts to make textbooks and lectures vivid and engaging, through the use of vignettes and illustrations, add to the amount of irrelevant and distracting information presented to students.
The argumentum ad hominem. Forms of argument that focus on personal characteristics of theorists and researchers are appealing to students, but distract attention from the theory or research itself. Weaknesses of the individual or of his or her work are used as ways to evaluate entire systems. For example, a discussion of economics on National Public Radio recently began with some of the less attractive personal characteristics of John Maynard Keynes, and one discussant expressed surprise that the country was turning to such a person for solution of its economic difficulties. In discussions of developmental science, here are some similar situations, where an instructor might offer “gossip” as a way to get interest, and students might then reject the more important information:
Piaget’s observations of his own children are considered a reason to dismiss the entire theory of cognitive development.
J.B. Watson’s questionable treatment of little Albert, and his ill-judged advice about parenting, are seen as arguments against behaviorism.
Kohlberg’s suicide is taken to mean that his work on moral development is worthless.
The non sequitur. The presentation of conclusions that do not logically follow from evidence is distracting to student thought, but usually not recognized by students as causing any problem. An illustration caption in the textbook mentioned earlier reads:“… overstimulating babies with academic training and other lessons can impede brain development and the child’s desire to learn” (the connection between brain development and the desire to learn being the non sequitur).
The Appeal to Irrelevant Authority
Irrelevance can be confounded with other factors, too.
The appeal to the past. Arguments that begin with references to past claims (“Freud said…”, “Parents have long known…”), without presenting further evidence, are distracting and conceal their irrelevance to the cognitive task at hand.
Apriority and the appeal to personal belief or experience: Students like to hear personal stories from their instructors, and publishers certainly believe that vivid personal details add to the desirability of a textbook. However, the use of such details presents two problems: first, the distraction of general irrelevancy, and second, the suggestion that if one individual’s experience is of a certain kind, all or many others have similar experiences, and the vividly described experience can be taken as typical of an entire population. In fact, however, an individual’s experience may be quite atypical and therefore irrelevant to population characteristics.
More generally, the appeal to personal experience involves the problem of apriority, or the building of argument on unexamined a priori assumptions of various kinds.
Confident Speculation
It is a common error of critical thinking to present speculation as if it is reliable evidence that backs up a claim. This error is an easy one to make in teaching about developmental science, as many claims are based on complex research whose details are far beyond what can be handled in a first undergraduate class. In addition, the many aspects of developmental work that are value-laden—for example, questions about physical punishment of children—may have little or no actual evidence basis.
Personal assurances of certainty. Especially when discussing emotionally-laden topics, instructors are often driven to say, “Nobody really knows, but I’ll tell you what I think, for what it’s worth.” Students may attend much more carefully to the personal assurance given in this statement than to the warnings of possible uncertainty that the instructor feels he or she has given. In cases where instructors use the classroom as a bully pulpit, of course, the impact of their assurances may be inappropriately great.
Appeal to personal experience. Because pedagogy for the last 40 years has stressed the need for students to make a personal connection with topics they are studying, most instructors and textbooks make a point of asking students to review their personal experiences. This was apparent in a number of the textbook quotations given earlier. In fact, however, the appeal to personal experience is a matter of confident speculation to the effect that the individual’s experience is typical and representative of members of a group under study.
Oversimplification
Developmental science, and development itself, are complex and multifactorial, and in many cases involve nonlinear relationships. Teaching and writing for undergraduates requires us to abstract and simplify some complicated material. The danger in terms of critical thinking is that necessary simplification will become oversimplification, and that we will fail to correct oversimplification by students.
Posing complex questions that contain apriority. The textbook question quoted earlier, “Cite a difference between******” addresses complex issues of variability and its causes. However, it oversimplifies by implying that generational differences are larger than individual differences within a generation, an a priori assumption that may or may not be correct.
The excluded middle, or categorical thinking. It is an error of critical thinking to assume, without evidence, that an idea is either completely correct or completely incorrect, or that phenomena belong to clearly dichotomous categories. This type of error is common in textbook statements and questions (“Do you believe…?”), but historically speaking, it is also a characteristic of the study of development, with its long discussion of a dichotomized Nature vs. Nurture. The love of typology is one of the more problematic aspects of the study of development, although the existence of cases of three rather than two categories may obscure this issue. For example, note the many decades of acceptance of categories of attachment security (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters, & Wall, 1978), and the minor interest displayed in attempts to examine attachment phenomena in terms of continuous variables (Roisman, Fraley, & Belsky, 2007). Students for whom critical thinking is difficult may be drawn to categorical descriptions which require memorization of a short list of categories and provide easy applications to real-world events.
The fallacy of the beard. This problem of critical thinking has to do with the understanding of overlapping categories. If a person has no whiskers, he doesn’t have a beard; if he has hundreds of whiskers, he does have a beard. If he has two whiskers, or three, he has no beard, but the addition of more whiskers will eventually mean that there is a beard. Problems of this kind challenge critical thinking abilities because they require systematic discrimination of evidence and the recognition that definitions may be arbitrary. For the weak critical thinker, it is much easier to assume that if the phenomena overlap, there is no difference between them, or that, if the overlap is small, there are no similarities between them. To avoid this kind of error, it is essential to work through and agree upon definitions of terms.
The beard error is especially problematic for the understanding of gender differences and other population differences, like those associated with culture. Even more importantly for the teaching of developmental science, the fallacy of the beard interferes with the understanding of developmentally appropriate practice. Students prone to this fallacy may confuse the characteristics of toddlers, preschoolers, school-age children, and adolescents as they group all these ages under the rubric “children”. Alternatively, and even alternately, they may exaggerate differences between adolescents and people of other ages, blurring the resemblances between adolescents and younger children. Students who ask practical questions in class (I know a boy who… what should I do?”) rarely indicate the age of the child in question and must be asked before an answer can be given. Similarly, both students and parents tend to prefer preschool child care that resembles elementary school, and exaggerate the resemblances between older and younger children rather than the developmental differences.
The fallacy of determination. An oversimplified view of behavior concentrates on an individual’s wish to carry out an action, claiming that if a person, particularly a child, wants to do something, he or she will do it, and that if he or she does not act, the reason is a lack of motivation. From this critical thinking error follows the assumption that behavioral or cognitive change results solely from the manipulation of motivation by means of reward or punishment. Such assumptions interfere with understanding of cognitive development and indeed of all development based on maturational change.
Analogies and Metaphors
Analogies and metaphors are useful thinking techniques that compare two different things by showing the ways in which they are similar. These techniques are helpful in teaching about development, as many developmental events are difficult to observe directly or occur over long periods of time. The problem with analogies and metaphors is that although they may be used to convey ideas, they cannot in themselves establish an argument or support an inference. To attempt to use them in that way is to risk the error called “abusing an analogy.”
Common analogies. Here are some common analogies and metaphors used in the teaching of developmental science: 1) “stages” or “milestones” of development; 2) the term “attachment” or “bond” to describe an attitude toward another person; 3) brain/cortical/ hand/ gene “dominance” (this metaphor may be one reason why it is so difficult for students to define dominant and recessive genes); 4) “regression” (not the statistical kind); 5) the term “sexual” in the description of psychosexual stages of development. These comparisons may be extremely valuable for teaching purposes, but their downside is the student’s assumption that phenomena that have some things in common will have everything in common.
Abusing analogies. As Gula (2002) has suggested, analogies are abused when the terms of one element are used (and assumed) to predict the terms of another element. In order to avoid such abuse, several steps in evaluation are needed. 1) The thinker needs to ask whether all the properties of X and Y—the two elements or phenomena—have been cited. Concentrating on similarities alone is potentially problematic. 2) The thinker needs to ask what proportion of the characteristics show similarities. 3) The thinker needs to ask what proportion of the similarities are actually relevant to the issue under study; for example, the fact that many mice and many human beings have brown eyes is irrelevant to the use of mouse developmental information to draw conclusions about human beings. 4) The thinker needs to ask to what extent X is actually different from Y—that is, what proportion of the characteristics of the two are different. No clear rule exists for accepting or rejecting an analogy on the basis of these questions, but questioning the analogy can help prevent misuse of this type of reasoning.
Easily abused analogies. In the study of development, one common instance of abuse of analogies involves reasoning from aspects of non-human development to aspects of human development. For example, John Bowlby’s application of ethological concepts of imprinting in birds to human attachment abused an analogy, and was fortunately rejected after some consideration by developmental scientists. But this type of critical thinking error is still with us, and not in textbooks alone. For example, a recent article in the APA Monitor on Psychology (Price, 2009), entitled “Programmed for life?” has a subhead stating that “Your developmental environment can undercut your memory, give it a boost, or possibly even predict how you’ll treat your children.” Examining this article, one sees that the only information relevant to “how you’ll treat your children” is a study of factors influencing how much mice lick and groom their pups. A comparison of the characteristics of mouse and human infant care suggests that this author has abused an analogy in order to conclude that the factors being discussed “may” predict how humans will treat their children.
A bad example: Attachment as a “tie”. A particularly questionable use of analogy occurs when a comparison is presented as if it were a definition. For example, many textbooks and other sources define attachment as “an emotional tie between parent and child.” In fact, attachment is only somewhat comparable to a tie of a physical nature. It keeps the individuals close together, but being tied is different from attachment in that attachment changes with age, is not directly measurable but is implied by behavior, and influences the two partners differently. If the tie in question is a social relationship rather than a physical tie (using an analogy to create another analogy), the definition and the comparison become circular, and the only meaningful part of the definition is “between parent and child”; even this is deceptive, as it implies that the emotions of parent and child are similar, which they are not.
Affirming the Consequent and Other Forms of Transductive Reasoning
Piaget’s discussion of preoperational cognition included a description of transductive reasoning, a form of primitive logic in which a child assumes that when two events share some characteristics, they are likely to share others, including a cause-and-effect relationship which may work in either direction. Piaget’s famous example of this was a situation in which his daughter, given a cup of orange-colored chamomile tea, insisted that a green orange she wanted must have become ripe and attained the color that meant she could eat it. Similar examples involve the wind being made to blow by trees waving their branches, and fire engines causing (“putting out”) fires. The adult version is the belief that correlated events are causally related. Other specific forms of this error may be highly relevant to the teaching of developmental science.
Affirming the consequent: This fallacy or error in critical thinking involves the practice of assuming that the converse, or reverse order, of a claimed condition is true. For example, let’s take the statement that
If a child has Reactive Attachment Disorder, she has lived in an orphanage or under similar conditions. [this is true, as the DSM list of criteria for the RAD diagnosis includes the etiology.]
The converse of this statement is the following:
If a child has lived in an orphanage (or under similar conditions), she has Reactive Attachment Disorder. [this claim is available to students on a number of Internet sites.] To assume that this converse statement is true without requiring other evidence is to affirm the consequent.
Similarly, here is a correct claim:
Children who are developing normally have gone through many repetitions of infant reflex movements.
The converse of this statement is the following:
Children who have gone through many repetitions of infant reflex movements develop normally. [Affirmation of the consequent in this case argues support for the CAM treatment “patterning”.]
Denying the antecedent. This critical thinking error involves the assumption that if a positively-stated claim is true, a negative statement (the obverse) can also be assumed to be true, without further evidence. For an example, here is a common (although questionable) claim:
If a toddler carries a blanket around, it means he feels insecure without it.
Here is the obverse of the claim:
A toddler does not feel insecure [without a blanket], if he does not carry a blanket around. [The problem, once again, is in the assumption that manipulating the words of the claim permits an accurate conclusion, whereas in fact additional evidence would be needed to support the obverse statement. In its present form, the statement suggests that insecurity can be cured by taking away a toddler’s blanket, and this view is sometimes taken by students.]